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Looking for 2011 Tax Relief? There’s Still Time PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ginny Grimsley   
Thursday, 26 January 2012 15:34
Tips for Saving on Your Income Tax

If you’re just beginning to think about your 2011 income tax return, you’ve got a late start – but it’s still not too late to cash in on some savings.

“A lot of the deductions associated with the economic stimulus package will disappear in 2012, so if you want to take advantage of them, you’ve got only until Dec. 31,” says Jessica James, CPA and author of Justice for None (www.AuthorJessicaJames.com), an insider look at IRS tactics in a tax fraud investigation and trial.

But, she says, there’s still plenty of time for some other measures to ease your share of the tax burden. Now is also a good time to resolve to start earlier in 2012 to minimize that year’s tax bill. Here are some tips for both 2011 and 2012 savings:

• Contribute to retirement accounts. If you haven’t already put money into your traditional or ROTH IRA account for 2011, you’ve got until April 17 to do it. If you have a Keogh or SEP (Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Arrangement for businesses), and you get a filing extension to Oct. 15, you’ve got until then to make your 2011 deposits. The maximum IRA contribution for 2011 is $5,000, or $6,000 if you’re 50 or older by the end of the year. For self-employed people, the maximum for SEPs and Keoghs for 2011 is $49,000.

• Don't fear the home office deduction. In the past, many tax filers didn’t claim a home office deduction because it was seen as an IRS red flag. But the requirements and forms have been clarified so people can do that properly – and not make mistakes that can lead to an audit. Also, the rules have been expanded so more people can claim the deduction. If you use a home office exclusively for business, even if you don’t meet your clients there, you’re eligible. For instance, a handyman who does his work other people’s houses can claim the deduction if he does his paperwork at his home office. Another change is that, in the past, if you claimed 10 percent of your home as an office, that amount would not be included in the $250,000 tax-free profit from the home’s sale that’s allowed for an individual by the IRS. Be sure to make your claim reasonable, or it will get questioned; a $25,000 home office deduction for a business with $50,000 annual gross revenue is not reasonable.

• Maximize your Flexible Spending Account. The Health Care Act will limit the maximum you can put into these pre-tax medical expense accounts in 2013. So 2012 is the last year to use an FSA to pay for orthodontics and other large medical expenses using pre-tax earnings. A medical expense flexible spending account, or FSA, allows you to use before-tax earnings to pay for medical or health care expenses not covered by your health insurance. Assuming a 25 percent tax rate, you avoid $25 in taxes for every $100 you spend from your FSA.

• Need to sell an investment? Next year may be the time. The Tax Relief Act maintains the tax rate cap on capital gains and dividends at 15 percent through 2012. In 2013, the cap for capital gains will increase to 20 percent and for dividends, 39.6 percent. The Health Care Act also created a 3.8 percent Medicare tax on investment income, effective in 2013. Given those scheduled increases, plan to take advantage of the rates next year.

James is an author pseudonym used because she fears her novel may provoke IRS retaliation. It’s a fictionalized account of her experience as a minor player swept up in an IRS probe that included anyone associated with the primary target, a corporation. She says that, though she was innocent of any wrongdoing, she was coerced into accepting a plea deal by the IRS, which was bent on amassing adjudications of guilt to justify the investigation’s expense. She pled guilty to a count of falsifying a tax return and continues to work as a CPA.

About Jessica James

Jessica James is a CPA and the author of a novel, Justice for None, about her experiences as a minor target in a major federal tax fraud case.  After her ordeal, she decided to write about it as a warning to others who think they can take on the government and win.

 
Raising Resilient Teen Girls PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ginny Grimsley   
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 13:34
Five Tips to Combat Effects of Sexual Abuse
By: Kalyani Gopal, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

One in five girls in the United States is sexually abused each year.  Some do not disclose sexual abuse until they are much older.  These children find themselves in foster care if their parent does not protect them from ongoing harm.  The most common perpetrators are boyfriends, step-parents, and relatives, with 80% of the perpetrators being within the birth family.  Studies have shown that in the aftermath of sexual abuse, 50% of sexually abused girls later become juvenile delinquents, run away, are significantly more aggressive, engage in promiscuous activities when poverty is factored in, engage in drug related activities, can self-mutilate, have uncontrolled outbursts of rage, need to always be in control of situations, and become abusive towards boyfriends, or get into abusive relationships. Sexually abused children and teens also develop eating disorders, and have guilt, shame, anxiety and depression, and poor self-esteem.

So how can we make our girls fight back and become resilient young teens?  How do we protect our young girls and teach them the right ways of coping?

Here are the top five techniques that have worked very successfully in my practice with teen girls (www.thesupportivefosterparent.com):

• Develop Body Boundaries: Sexually abused girls tend to have poor body boundaries. TEACH body space, appropriate distance, hugging from the side, not pushing themselves into others’ in the front, and maintaining appropriate distance from males

• Teens and Dating: Sexually abused teens also either get victimized or become aggressive towards their dating partner.  Develop self-worth in young teens, teach them to respect their bodies, teach them about being a woman in this world and be a role model for your teen.  They learn from your actions, not just words.

• Manage Eating Disorders: Eating can be excessive with binging and purging, or refusal to eat at all.  Both forms are ways young girls attempt to control their environment.  This need to control comes from the helplessness and lack of control due to sexual abuse.  Food is a way that a young teen can exert power over adults and cause anxiety in others.  Anorexia and Bulimia are common with these teens.  To develop a healthy sense of control, provide your young teen with healthy foods, give her areas of her life over which she has control and allow her to make decisions about the foods she eats.  Making a fuss about how much she is eating is going to worsen the situation and strengthen the eating disorder instead of reducing it. Rather, make food fun, use humor at dinner and provide her with healthy childhood snacks she loved.  Creating a low tension environment with a relaxed family non-judgmental environment will gradually relax your young teen daughter and she will substitute food with activities that you have introduced her to in which she can exert control and feel empowered.

• Deal with Bouts of Rage: Intense rage reactions are fairly common in children with sexual abuse histories and they can sometimes get violent. Often they are misdiagnosed as being Bipolar and placed on medication to keep them calm.  However, their rage is a primitive reaction to the emotional trauma of sexual abuse and can be explosive.  What works for these teens is trauma therapy and most importantly predictability.  They dislike sudden changes, unpredictable actions, sudden changes in schedules, and power struggles more so than the average teen.  Allowing your teen time to regroup, holding her when she wants you to, and giving her space when she asks for it so that she can bolster her defenses will help her handle stress, get “unstuck” and cope with new situations better.  What will worsen this situation is forcing her to talk to you when she is not ready and forcing her to complete chores and engaging in a power struggle.

• How to Handle Panic Attacks: Bouts of anxiety with fear of choking up, nausea, trembling, fearing that the walls are closing in and that she is going to die are all too common for our sexually abused teen.  Create resilience by identifying the triggers that have caused the anxiety and combat these triggers by pairing them with healthy effective empowering activities. The negative effect of these triggers will disappear over time, and your teen will become resilient and strong.

Successful parenting of your sexually abused female teenager will depend on CONSISTENCY, CALMNESS and CREATIVITY; the three Cs of parenting children with boundary issues.

About Dr. Kalyani Gopal

Dr. Kalyani Gopal is a licensed clinical psychologist with special interests in child sexual abuse assessment and treatment, attachment issues, and foster care assessment, adjustment and training. She serves on the Lake County, Ind., Child Protection and Child Fatality teams, and was the recipient of the Outstanding Service to Lake County award in 2004.

 
Reactions to the President's State of the Unon Address PDF Print E-mail
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Written by various   
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 10:36
Below is a comment from Senator Chuck Grassley regarding tonight’s State of the Union address by President Obama.

“Americans are looking for leadership.  The 13 million people who are unemployed need to know that leaders in Washington can come together to get people back to work and move the country in the right direction.

“Washington needs to focus on fostering opportunities with an environment where the economy can improve and jobs can be created.  Tax certainty and low taxes are a major factor, and one of the biggest tax increases in history will happen at the end of this year if Congress and the President don’t stop it.  America’s fiscal problems don’t come from a revenue shortage, but from too much spending, and government spending needs to be reduced.  A massive federal debt gets in the way of economic growth.  So does the heavy hand of government regulation, and it must be lifted.  America also needs new export markets for our products and services, and the economy is helped by affordable energy, so domestic production has got to be a priority.  The President’s decision last week, to deny the Keystone pipeline project, prevents energy-related infrastructure development that creates jobs, in this case as many as 20,000 jobs.  The decision also stymies an energy partnership with a friendly neighbor, and whether or not the United States approves the Keystone project, the oil will be produced, and if it doesn’t come here, China likely will get it.  The result of this decision is just the opposite of what our national priority ought to be and that’s opportunity.

“Since 2009, President Obama’s theory of economic stimulus and government intervention has failed in terms of job creation, economic growth and fiscal responsibility, so we need a new direction.  At the same time, President Obama seems determined to test and even exceed the powers of his office.  America has a system of checks and balances that’s generally worked for more than two centuries.  The President’s interest in putting the executive branch above the other branches of government is unconstitutional and counter-productive.  It’s something Americans rejected 235 years ago.  Today, finding common ground with the elected representatives of Congress would be more productive than trying to govern by edict from the Oval Office.”

 

Harkin Statement on President Obama’s Third State of the Union Address

The state of our union depends on the strength of the middle class

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today issued the following statement in response to President Obama’s third State of the Union address.  Harkin chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, as well as the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

“Tonight, it was encouraging to hear the President outline his blueprint for getting our country back on track with policies that invest in America and promote a better, more fair tax structure.  This is a blueprint that will make America strong for the decades to come.

“It is clear from my travel in Iowa and hearings in Washington that there is no greater challenge facing Congress in the year ahead than to protect and restore the middle class, which is being crushed by widespread unemployment, rising income inequality, and a system that no longer works for them.

“As a woman from DeWitt, Iowa told the Committee back in June, ‘All we have ever wanted is security and a little comfort: to know that our bills are paid, our needs are met, that we can have a real getaway every now and then, that our children can pursue higher education without the burden of student loan debt, and that someday we can retire and enjoy our final years together in the way we choose.’  In short, she wants to be part of the working middle class.

“While Congressional Republicans have advocated failed trickle-down economics for the rich, it is time for percolate-up economics for the middle class.  As we say in the Midwest, you don’t fertilize a tree from the top down, you fertilize the roots.

“I have argued that the more urgent task is in creating jobs and rebuilding the middle class.  This means continuing to make investments in areas like education and workforce training as well as securing pensions and ensuring college is affordable.  Our country must rebuild our physical infrastructure to include 21st century transportation and energy systems and we need policies to reverse the long-term decline in manufacturing jobs.  These are the investments that will make America competitive in the global economy with a stronger, educated workforce, and these will be the investments at the heart of legislation I plan to introduce in the coming months to rebuild the middle class.  

“The fact is, the state of our union depends on the strength of the middle class.  The middle class is the backbone of this country, and it is time for Congress to have the backbone to not only defend it, but rebuild it.”


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Braley Response to State of the Union Address 

Washington, DC – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) released the following statement after attending President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight:

“I’m glad the President so strongly emphasized strengthening the middle class tonight.  I was especially encouraged by his focus on economic fairness, creating jobs, and investing in education.

“The American middle class is being squeezed more than ever, yet Wall Street bankers and big corporations are making record profits.  It seems like there are two sets of rules – one for the elite, and one for everyone else.  America has always been about opportunity.  We need to level the playing field and keep the promise that if you work hard, you can get ahead.  An easy first step in strengthening the middle class is to pass a yearlong extension of the payroll tax cut.

“Our schools, colleges, and universities are avenues of opportunity.  We need to strengthen education if we are going to succeed in the global economy.  China and India are churning out well-educated and skilled workers.  We need to meet their challenge.”

# # #

 

Governor Quinn Statement on President Obama’s State of the Union Address

CHICAGO – January 24, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today released a statement regarding President Barack Obama’s fourth State of the Union Address.

“We in Illinois applaud President Obama for the vision he laid out in tonight’s State of the Union. The President put forth a blueprint for a growing economy that gives all Americans equal access to the success through hard work that has always made this nation great. We agree with the President that we can’t wait – we need to keep pushing to restore our economy and the American middle class.

“In Illinois, we are focused on the same issues that the President laid out tonight: creating manufacturing jobs and training our workforce for the 21st century; making education more accessible; modernizing our roads and bridges; and prioritizing housing for our families.

“And as the President said, an America built to last calls for responsibility from each of us and fairness for all. We commend the President on his vision, and look forward to working together as a nation to restore our economy and create opportunities for all Americans.”

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Lt. Governor Simon Statement on State of the Union

CARBONDALE - January 24, 2011. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon pledged to work with President Obama and Illinois schools to send more students into the workforce with college credentials that qualify them for in-demand jobs.

"President Obama's blueprint for our economy is built on a strong, skilled American workforce," Simon said. "A growing number of jobs require employees to hold more than a high school education, but not necessarily a bachelor's degree. Illinois community colleges are poised to help more students earn career certificates and associate degrees that translate to good-paying jobs. I will work with the colleges, state leaders, and President Obama to ensure that we offer clear paths to employment. If our students work hard in school, we want them to find a job here in Illinois that will enable them to raise a family, own a home, and save for retirement. Our focus on college completion will help create an America that's built to last."

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Tea Party Response to State of the Union

Dear Friends,

Tonight Obama did what he has done for the past 3 years: showcased the class warfare rhetoric WE HAVE REJECTED while showing no interest in providing some semblance of leadership.

He just isn’t going to get it. WE ARE DONE listening to Obama pit employees against employers, job creators against those looking for opportunity. He says he will fight obstructionists with action, but has yet to engage in substantive discussion. Instead he does his politicking in front of the camera with carefully-crafted speeches.   Republicans have passed legislation to address major issues, but they just sit and rot away in the Democratic Senate without any consideration by the President.
NO ONE IS BEING FOOLED BY HIS EMPTY PROMISES OF HOPE AND CHANGE. WE MUST STAND UP AND DEFEAT OBAMA IN 2012! DONATE NOW AND JOIN TEA PARTY EXPRESS’ 2012 RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN!

Tonight he even went as far to say, ‘No bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs.’ However, after 3 years as President, he has embarked on a path of bailing out company after company, giving handouts to his friends like Warren Buffet and George Soros through crony capitalism, and blaming everyone but himself for the horrendous state of our economy. There are no twisting words here - Obama has not only failed at showing any leadership, but has done so while blatantly deceiving hardworking Americans with empty promises.
We must continue to be committed to reducing the size, cost and intrusiveness of the federal government. An important part of our economic recovery is a pro-growth agenda – something we WILL NOT get from this President. We do not need more government spending, but the creation of an economic environment of lower taxes and a less stringent regulatory system.
It starts by reforming our corrupt tax code with a flat tax, a fair tax or a combination of the two like 9-9-9. It starts by approving much needed shovel-ready jobs like the Keystone XL Pipeline. It starts by pursuing bold ideas that will restore the fundamentals America was built in. IT STARTS WITH YOU!

 
Braley to Sit with Republican Charlie Dent at State of the Union Address Tonight PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Jeff Giertz   
Tuesday, 24 January 2012 14:59

Washington, DC – In a show of bipartisanship, Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) will sit with Republican Rep. Charlie Dent (PA-15) during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address this evening.

Until last year, Members of Congress traditionally sat with elected officials from their respective political parties in a divided chamber. However, in 2011 that tradition was abandoned by some Representatives who embraced calls for greater displays of bipartisan cooperation and sat with colleagues from the other party.

“It won’t fix everything that’s broken in Washington, but sitting together in a bipartisan way is a good reminder that at the end of the day, we’re all Americans – not just Republicans or Democrats,” Braley said.  “Charlie and I don’t agree on everything, but we’re friends and we do agree that when it comes to facing our nation’s challenges, we face them as a united people, not as members of political parties.”

“On a night the President outlines his vision for 2012, it is important elected officials illustrate to the American people our determination to tackle the major issues facing our nation in a bipartisan manner,” said Rep. Dent. “Sitting with my colleague and friend Bruce Braley is a simple gesture to show our shared commitment to working together. This show of unity is particularly poignant this evening, as we celebrate the service of U.S. Rep Gabby Giffords (AZ-8), who will soon resign from Congress to focus on her rehabilitation.”

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ICYMI: Slate: Government by Gobbledygook PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Jeff Giertz   
Tuesday, 24 January 2012 14:47

In case you missed it…

 

Into this stew dives Iowa Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley, who unveiled his Plain Regulations Act on Wednesday, saying, “Gobbledygook dominates the regulations issued by government agencies, making it almost impossible for small businesses to understand the rules of the road.” Forcing the government to write in plain English is a great idea. So good, in fact, that it’s enough to make you wonder why it hasn’t happened already.

 

 

Government by Gobbledygook

Federal regulations are wordy, jargon-filled and incomprehensible. Will a new bill remedy that?

Slate.com

1/20/12

 

When businesspeople complain about regulations, you should generally be skeptical. The regulations, after all, are there precisely because some businesses can make more money by despoiling the environment, endangering public health and safety, and threatening the financial system. A regulation that’s not annoying someone by wrecking his money-making scheme would be completely pointless.

 

But there is one category of complaints about regulations that should earn your sympathy: the complaints that too many government regulations are unreadable. Incomprehensible rules undermine, rather than enhance, the goal of preventing misconduct. They create unique burdens on smaller organizations or new entrants into a line of work. Hard-to-understand rules are a lawyer’s best friend, and the need for companies to lawyer up is a huge advantage to large or established entities.

 

Consider, for example, the relevant federal rules about renovating an old building suspected of containing lead paint. I hesitate to even quote examples of confusing regulatory language lest my column itself become unreadable, but surely the U.S. government can do better than: “On or after July 6, 2010, all renovations must be performed in accordance with the work practice standards in §745.85 and the associated recordkeeping requirements in §745.86(b)(1) and (b)(6) in target housing or child-occupied facilities, unless the renovation qualifies for the exception identified in §745.82(a).” You’ll be glad to know, however, that §745.82(a) does, among other things, offer an exemption for “emergency renovations” (which has a word salad definition of its own)—with the sub-exception that “emergency renovations are not exempt from the cleaning requirements of §745.85(a)(5), which must be performed by certified renovators or individuals trained in accordance with §745.90(b)(2), the cleaning verification requirements of §745.85(b), which must be performed by certified renovators, and the recordkeeping requirements of §745.86(b)(6) and (b)(7).” Got it? Me neither.

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Into this stew dives Iowa Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley, who unveiled his Plain Regulations Act on Wednesday, saying, “Gobbledygook dominates the regulations issued by government agencies, making it almost impossible for small businesses to understand the rules of the road.” Forcing the government to write in plain English is a great idea. So good, in fact, that it’s enough to make you wonder why it hasn’t happened already.

 

The answer turns out to be that it has. Many times.

 

Braley himself authored the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which passed in the fall of that year and was signed into law by President Obama. The act requires the federal government to present newly written forms and other documents in a “clear, concise, well-organized” manner. This, too, was a good idea, and has produced some genuine progress: Check out the before and after versions of this Medicare fraud letter. At the same time, clarity is perhaps in the eye of the beholder. I’m not sure I would consider this new NOAA draft statement of priorities to be model English, despite having been written in the post-Plain Writing Act era.

 

Braley’s new bill proposes extending the plain-English requirement to new regulations. Legal demands for clearer writing date back at least to the 1970s, when Jimmy Carter issued executive orders requiring regulations to be “cost-effective and easy-to-understand by those who were required to comply with them.” The Reagan administration decided to rescind those orders, but they made a comeback in the Clinton years. Executive Order 12866 demands that regulations be “simple and easy to understand, with the goal of minimizing uncertainty and litigation,” and Executive Order 12988 contains eight separate references to “clear language.” Vice President Al Gore presented regular No Gobbledygook Awards as part of his reinventing-government initiative.

And yet after all these executive borders, we still need Rep. Braley and his bills.

 

Perhaps the beginning of wisdom here would be to admit that writing well is hard. It’s even harder when a regulation serves both as an instruction for citizens and businesses and as a potential object of litigation. Making text easy to understand and minimizing the possibility of lawsuits are two different jobs. “Legalese” is a term of disparagement, but lawyers write that way for a reason. And it’s not as if government is the only place where bad writing afflicts us. We’ve all been baffled by instruction manuals, annoyed by consultant jargon, and confused by health insurance forms. Some of us are full-time professional writers and still wrestle with the question of how to explain complicated subjects in a way that’s accessible, informative, and accurate. If getting the job done were as simple as editors handing out a memo ordering everyone to write better, the media would be a very different place.

 

What’s really needed is more resources and more support. The PlainLanguage.gov website maintained by an informal group of federal employees who call themselves the Plain Language Action and Information Network, is a useful tool, but it’s a bit threadbare. The government could use an active and feisty core of dedicated writers, editors, and graphic designers to punch up key documents. The EPA lead rule, for example, probably needs to stay wordy and unreadable for legal purposes but could be easily punched up by a flowchart that would help you figure out which category you belong in.

The Internet should be a godsend for clarity, enabling agencies to bury wordy definitions beneath links or helping you find the relevant rule by asking questions the way TurboTax does. But to do that stuff, someone would have to roll up her sleeves and do the work. That would require some money and some new personnel, which are in short supply. Also, that hard and boring work lacks the populist common sense appeal of simply mandating clearer writing and making fun of gobbledygook.

 
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