Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hilarious must read: Dave Barry’s Review of 2013, the Year of the Zombies

From: Dave Barry's Review of 2013, the Year of the Zombies




Dave Barry's Review of 2013, the Year of the Zombies

 

(Illustrations by Dale Stephanos)

Written by Dave Barry

Published: December 20 Updated: Friday, December 27, 3:00 PM

It was the Year of the Zombies. Not in the sense of most of humanity dying from a horrible plague and then reanimating as mindless flesh-eating ghouls. No, it was much worse than that. Because as bad as a zombie apocalypse would be, at least it wouldn't involve the resurrection of Anthony Weiner's most private part.

We thought that thing was out of our lives forever, but suddenly there it was again, all over the Internet, as Weiner came back from the political grave like the phoenix, the mythical bird that arose from the ashes to run for mayor of New York and use the name "Carlos Danger" to text obscene photos of its privates to somebody named "Sydney Leathers."

Speaking of pathologically narcissistic sex weasels: Also coming back from the dead in 2013 to seek elective office in New York (What IS it with New York?) was Eliot "Client 9" Spitzer, who ran for city comptroller under the slogan: "If you can't trust a proven sleazebag with your municipal finances, who CAN you trust?"

And then — not to leave out the ladies — there was Miley Cyrus. We thought her career was over; we remembered her fondly as a cute and perky child star who played Hannah Montana, wholesome idol of millions of preteens. And then one night we turned on MTV's Video Music Awards and YIKES there was this horrifying, mutant, vaguely reptilian creature in Slut Barbie underwear twerking all over the stage while committing unhygienic acts with both Robin Thicke and a foam finger, both of which we hope were confiscated by a hazmat team.

This year was so bad that twerking wasn't even the stupidest dance craze. That would be the "Harlem Shake," which is not so much a dance as a mass nervous-system disorder, and which makes the "Gangnam Style" dance we mocked in 2012 look like "Swan Lake."

We miss 2012.

But getting back to the zombies: It wasn't just people who came back alarmingly in 2013. The Cold War with Russia came back. Al-Qaeda came back. Turmoil in the Middle East came back. The debt ceiling came back. The major league baseball drug scandal came back. Dennis Rodman came back and went on humanitarian missions to North Korea (or maybe we just hallucinated that). The Endlessly Looming Government Shutdown came back. People lining up to buy iPhones to replace iPhones that they bought only minutes earlier came back. And for approximately the 250th time, the Obama administration pivoted back to the economy, which has somehow been recovering for years now without actually getting any better. Unfortunately, before they could get the darned thing fixed, the administration had to pivot back to yet another zombie issue, health care, because it turned out that Obamacare, despite all the massive brainpower behind it, had some "glitches," in the same sense that the universe has some "atoms."

Were there any new trends in 2013? Yes, but they were not good. Kale, for example. Suddenly this year restaurants started putting kale into everything, despite the fact that it is an unappetizing form of plant life that until recently was used primarily for insulation. Even goats will not eat it. Goats, when presented with kale, are like, "No, thanks, we'll just chew on used seat cushions."

Another annoying 2013 trend was people who think it is clever to say "hashtag" in front of everything. Listen carefully, people who think this is clever: Hashtag shut up.

Did anything good happen in 2013? Yes! There was one shining ray of hope in the person of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford , who admitted that, while in office, he smoked crack cocaine, but noted, by way of explanation, that this happened "probably in one of my drunken stupors." This was probably the most honest statement emitted by any elected official this year, and we can only hope that more of our leaders follow Mayor Ford's lead in 2014. (We mean being honest, not smoking crack in a drunken stupor.) (Although really, how much worse would that be?)

But before we look ahead to next year, let's take one last look back at the fiasco that was 2013, starting with …

January

… which begins with a crisis in Washington, a city that — despite having no industries and a workforce consisting almost entirely of former student council presidents — manages to produce 93 percent of the nation's crises. This particular crisis is a "fiscal cliff" caused by the fact that for years the government has been spending spectacular quantities of money that it does not have, which has resulted in a mess that nobody could possibly have foreseen unless that person had a higher level of financial awareness than a cucumber. At the last minute, congressional leaders and the White House reach an agreement under which the government will be able to continue spending spectacular quantities of money that it does not have, thus temporarily averting the very real looming danger that somebody might have to make a decision.

In other Washington news, President Obama is sworn in for a second term at a quiet White House ceremony that, because of an e-mail glitch, Vice President Biden does not find out about until several days later.

Abroad (this actually happened) Iran announces that the Iranian Space Agency has sent a monkey into space aboard the Pishgam rocket and returned it safely to Earth. Intelligence experts fear the Iranians are developing a much larger, more powerful monkey that could be used to rampage around Tel Aviv knocking down buildings. The New York Times reports that Chinese hackers broke into its computer system, a security breach resulting in what observers describe as "the hardest crossword puzzle ever."

On the business front, Boeing suffers a setback when the Federal Aviation Administration issues an order grounding all of the new 787 "Dreamliners" after inspections reveal that many of the planes have just the one wing.

NASA announces that the latest data sent back by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter appear to confirm data previously transmitted by the Mars Pathfinder, Mars Surveyor, Mars Wanderer, Mars Trailbreaker, Mars Roamer, Mars Walker, Mars Strider, Mars Meanderer, Mars Stroller, Mars Lunger and Mars Traipser, suggesting that Mars is pretty much covered with rocks.

In a shocking interview, Lance Armstrong, after years of denial, admits to Oprah Winfrey that he took illegal drugs in all seven of his Tour de France victories, as well as using a motorcycle for certain stages of the race and "occasionally" shooting opponents with poison-tipped darts. Also he played "a small role" in the JFK assassination.

Elsewhere in sports, Alabama wins the college football national championship by trouncing Notre Dame, which had been ranked No. 1 by a computer program coincidentally created by the same company that is developing the much-anticipated Obamacare Web site. Major league baseball is once again rocked by scandal following published reports that a number of players — including such stars as Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera — have on more than one occasion participated in the Tour de France.

Speaking of shocking developments that nobody could have seen coming,
in …

February

… Washington faces another crisis in the form of a "sequester" that will happen automatically unless Congress can agree on a budget, which seems unlikely inasmuch as Congress cannot agree on what planet this is. If the sequester goes into effect, federal spending will continue to rise, but not quite as fast as it would have risen without the sequester. To a normal human, this means government spending is still increasing, but to Washington, the sequester means "draconian cuts" and is a looming disaster of epic proportions. Panic grips the city, as grim-faced former student council presidents write talking points far into the night.

In the month's biggest surprise, Pope Benedict XVI announces his resignation after giving an interview to Oprah Winfrey in which he reveals that he is not Catholic. Also stepping down is Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, after decades of public service, resigns as secretary of state so she will finally have a chance to spend some personal quality time with her team of campaign advisers.

The beleaguered cruise-ship industry suffers another blow when the Carnival Triumph loses power in a fire and drifts helplessly for days in the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately, the passengers are able to survive the ordeal by eating each other. In other transportation news, American Airlines and US Airways announce plans to merge into one huge company that will be, according to the official announcement, "the most bankrupt airline in the world."

Abroad, an increasingly belligerent North Korea gets drunk and detonates a small nuclear device. In the worsening European economic crisis, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece, facing massive debts, are forced to move in with Germany.

Speaking of crises, in …

March

… as the federal budget deadline passes without Congress reaching agreement, the devastating, draconian, historically catastrophic sequester goes into effect, causing a mild reduction in the rate of increase in government spending that for some inexplicable reason goes unnoticed by pretty much everybody outside the federal government. Undaunted, Washington turns its massive collective brainpower toward the task of deciding what to do about the next major national crisis, whatever it may be.

In other government-finance news, the Securities and Exchange Commission accuses Illinois of fraud after determining that the assets of the state employee pension fund — which has liabilities totaling more than $100 billion — consist entirely of expired Groupons.

President Obama departs on a planned four-day trip to the Middle East, although because of what administration officials describe as a technical scheduling "glitch," he winds up spending two of the days in Albania. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council, meeting in emergency session, votes to unfollow North Korea after the increasingly belligerent rogue nation posts an unmistakably threatening tweet about South Korea.

In Rome, the College of Cardinals, apparently seeking to move the church in a new direction, chooses, as the first non-European pope in over a thousand years, a retired New Jersey tax accountant named Harvey Schwartz. Appearing before a massive crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square, the new pontiff vows to, quote, "give it a shot."

In what could be seen as a troubling omen, on March 10, millions of Americans are forced to turn their clocks ahead one hour, despite repeated assurances from the Obama administration that "if you like the current time, you can keep the current time."

Speaking of troubling, in…

April

… tensions on the Korean peninsula mount still further as South Korea is awakened at 3 a.m. to discover that its northern border is blocked by a burning bag of dog excrement the size of a soccer stadium. North Korea denies any involvement, but the U.N. Security Council goes into emergency session, after which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announces that he wants to have his name legally changed.

In other alarming foreign developments, Iran announces that it is constructing a new uranium enrichment plant, which according to a government spokesman will be used for "youth sports."

At home, the horrific Boston Marathon bombing demonstrates yet again the vital service provided by the powerful information-gathering resource that is the journalism/Twitter complex, which — faced with a wildly chaotic, confusing situation — is somehow able, within mere minutes, to get pretty much everything wrong. Leading the way is CNN, which is forced to retract a widely repeated report, attributed to "high-level police sources," that the attack was carried out by a Belgian submarine. Eventually the facts surrounding the tragedy are sorted out, enabling both the media and the political establishment to get on with the crucial work of using it to score political points.

Weather scientists at both the Weather Channel and Colorado State University, using sophisticated computer models, predict that the 2013 hurricane season will be unusually active. These scientists are immediately recruited to work on the much-anticipated rollout of Obamacare.

In sports, basketball player Jason Collins becomes the first athlete in a major U.S. professional sport to openly declare that he has participated in the Tour de France. Meanwhile, in Masters golf action, Tiger Woods, after hitting a ball into the water, drops a replacement ball two yards from where he should have; this turns out to be just about the most exciting thing that has ever happened in the history of golf.

Speaking of excitement, in …

May

… Washington, exhausted from dealing with crises, turns its attention to the other thing it is really good at: scandals. The two main ones involve the Internal Revenue Service, which admits that it has been targeting conservative political groups for special scrutiny, and the Justice Department, which admits that it secretly seized phone records from the Associated Press. A shocked and outraged and, of course, surprised President Obama states that he knew nothing about these activities until he read about them in the newspapers; he vows to make every effort, as chief executive of the executive branch, to find out who is responsible. For their part, Republican leaders vow to harp on these scandals until everybody hates them even more.

In New York City, Anthony Weiner announces his intention to enter … No, let's rephrase that. Weiner announces his intention to plunge into … No, wait, sorry. He announces that he plans to run for mayor, using the campaign slogan "Weiner: You Know Where He Stands." His announcement sets off a joyous celebration among headline writers for the New York Post.

In other urban news, the city of Detroit admits that for the past 15 years it has been stealing all of its electricity from Cleveland.

In technology news, Microsoft, acknowledging widespread consumer dissatisfaction with Windows 8, announces that it has been chosen as the operating system for the much-anticipated Obamacare Web site.

In sports, the Kentucky Derby is won by a Harley-Davidson ridden by Lance Armstrong.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the worsening unemployment crisis leaves millions of jobless workers with nothing to do except sit around in cafes all day drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. This is also what they do when they are employed, but still. Elsewhere abroad, tensions on the Korean peninsula continue to mount when 17 million South Korean mailboxes are destroyed by what are believed to be North Korean firecrackers.

Speaking of worsening, in …

June

… Washington is rocked by leaked documents showing that the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting massive amounts of data on the phone calls, e-mails and other electronic activities of millions of American citizens. An NSA spokesperson insists that this program is vital to the fight against terrorism, and that Americans "have absolutely no reason to fear that their privacy is being invaded, or that there are tiny government video cameras concealed in every low-flow toilet in America." The spokesperson adds that "as a totally unrelated side note, you people need to increase your dietary fiber."

The person responsible for leaking the NSA documents is identified as former CIA computer specialist Edward Snowden, who has all classified U.S. documents for the past 50 years on a single thumb drive, which apparently was handed out as a favor at the CIA Christmas party.

In legal affairs, the Supreme Court overturns the Defense of Marriage Act, eliciting high praise from many politicians who enacted the Defense of Marriage Act. The California legislature, as always staying ahead of the curve, passes a law making it mandatory for state residents to possess marijuana.

In an annual rite of passage, millions of young people graduate from college, and, following in the footsteps of the millions who have gone before them, move back in with their parents.

In sports, organizers of the Tour de France announce that this year they're going to skip the bicycle-riding part and instead just gather all the competitors into a room and see who can do the most drugs.

In Rome, Pope Schwartz introduces the Vatican's first-ever Mah-Jongg Night. Elsewhere abroad, U.N. observers express concern when Syria receives a large shipment of crates from North Korea marked "AQUARIUM SUPPLIES. OR FRUIT. DEFINITELY NOT CHEMICAL WEAPONS."

Speaking of trouble in the Middle East, in …

July

… the Egyptian military ousts President Mohamed Morsi and, in a move that worries international observers, installs, as his replacement, Richie Incognito.

Elsewhere abroad, the already tense relationship between the United States and Pakistan worsens when Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returns home to find his wife in bed with a Predator drone. A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department insists that they are "just friends."

In Obamacare action, the White House announces a one-year delay on the mandate requiring businesses to provide health insurance but insists that "we are right on schedule for rolling out the Web thing on the Intertubes." With that concern out of the way, the Obama administration decides to once again pivot back to the economy, which continues to falter because — economists agree unanimously on this — not enough presidential speeches have been given about it.

George Zimmerman is acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and accepts a high-level post as a security adviser to North Korea.

The beleaguered city of Detroit, having run out of all other financial options, formally applies to become a province of Canada.

In baseball, Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers is suspended for the season without pay after testing positive for trans-fats.

In the month's happiest story, Great Britain rejoices at the much-anticipated birth of a royal baby who one day will, in accordance with hallowed tradition, become an old person waiting around for an even older person to kick the bucket.

And the good times continue to roll in …

August

… when Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos buys The Washington Post with his own personal money, thereby ensuring that one of the nation's most important newspapers will be able to continue producing in-depth, hard-hitting journalism, including an estimated 400 stories and columns in August alone about what a genuinely brilliant yet humanitarian genius Jeff Bezos is. Bezos says he does not plan to make any major changes, other than to deliver the paper in cardboard boxes and replace the stories with reader reviews of news events, using a five-star ranking system.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, signaling a major change in the federal government's policy regarding the War on Drugs, tells a meeting of the American Bar Association that he has a family of tiny, invisible harmonica-playing giraffes living inside his nose.

In sports, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is indicted for murder; if convicted, under the strict new NFL rules aimed at reducing violence, he will have to sit out at least two games.

In politics, San Diego Mayor Bob "Bob" Filner resigns as a result of allegations that he is a compulsive serial horn dog who groped pretty much the entire female population of Southern California. He immediately becomes a leading contender in the New York City mayoral race.

But the big story brewing in August concerns the crisis in Syria, which becomes a huge issue when the White House accuses Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons, thereby crossing the "red line" that President Obama announced in 2012 while distracted by an important putt. Secretary of State John Kerry, making the case for a military strike, calls Assad "a thug and a murderer" who killed nearly 1,500 people, including children, in a chemical attack. Citing the urgency of the situation, the administration prepares to launch an attack without congressional approval. But then, in a surprise move, the president announces that he has decided to take the matter to Congress after all, raising the distinct possibility that nothing will actually happen during anybody's lifetime.

The situation becomes even murkier in …

September

… when Kerry, continuing to stress the dire urgency of the situation, compares Assad to Hitler, only to declare a few days later — moments before his aides are able to fell him with a tranquilizer dart — that any strike against Assad will be an "unbelievably small, limited kind of effort." President Obama clarifies this by stating that "the United States military doesn't do pinpricks."

Just when it seems as if there is no good way out of the Syria mess, help miraculously arrives in the form of our generous old friends the Russians, who, despite being longtime allies of Syria, are willing to lend us a helping hand without any thought of benefiting themselves. Under their plan, Assad gets to remain in power but must give up his chemical weapons and go back to killing people in a more humane, less Hitlerish way. With the crisis averted, everybody in Washington heaves a sigh of relief, and that is the last we hear about the crisis in Syria.

In other foreign-affairs news, Dennis Rodman travels to North Korea for a loon-to-loon meeting with Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, who presents the former NBA star with a commemorative set of 50 political prisoners.

In technology news, Apple introduces the iPhone 5, which features an improved camera, time travel and the ability to text with the dead.

On the entertainment front, "Breaking Bad" airs its final episode, leaving us with basically no reason to go on living.

Diana Nyad completes an unprecedented swim from Cuba to Florida, a feat made all the more difficult by the fact that she had a family of five clinging to her back.

With Obamacare about to go into effect, Sen. Ted Cruz, a staunch opponent of the program, stages a 21-hour filibuster on the Senate floor in an effort to drive home to the American people the inarguable fact that the letters in "Senator Ted Cruz" can be rearranged to spell "A Zero-Scent Turd."

As the month draws to a close, Washington again lurches into crisis mode as Congress is unable to agree on a budget, which means that at midnight on the first day of …

October

… the federal government, in an unthinkable development that we cannot even think about, partially shuts down. The result is a catastrophe of near-sequester proportions. Within hours wolves are roaming the streets of major U.S. cities, and bacteria the size of mature salmon are openly cavorting in the nation's water supply. In the Midwest, thousands of cows, no longer supervised by the Department of Agriculture, spontaneously explode. Yellowstone National Park — ALL of it — is stolen. In some areas gravity stops working altogether, forcing people to tie themselves to trees so they won't float away. With the nation virtually defenseless, the Bermudan army invades the East Coast, within hours capturing Delaware and most of New Jersey.

By day 17, the situation has become so dire that Congress, resorting to desperate measures, decides to actually do something. It passes, and the president signs, a law raising the debt ceiling, thereby ensuring that the federal government can continue spending spectacular quantities of money that it does not have until the next major totally unforeseeable government financial crisis, scheduled for February 2014.

Things do not go nearly as smoothly with the rollout of Obamacare , which turns out to have a lot of problems despite being conceived of by super-smart people with extensive experience in the field of being former student council presidents. The federal Web site, Healthcare.gov, is riddled with glitches, resulting in people being unable to log in, people getting cut off, people being electrocuted by their keyboards, people having their sensitive financial information suddenly appear on millions of TV screens during episodes of "Duck Dynasty," etc.

Fortunately, as the initial rush of applicants tapers off, the system starts to work a little better, and by the end of the second week U.S. Secretary of Blame Kathleen Sebelius is able to announce that the program has amassed a total enrollment, nationwide, of nearly two people, one of whom later turns out to be imaginary. But this is not good enough for a visibly angry and frustrated and, of course, surprised President Obama, who promises to get the Web site fixed just as soon as somebody answers the Technical Support hotline, which has had the White House on hold for 73 hours.

In an aviation landmark, a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles becomes the first plane to fly under new FAA rules allowing expanded passenger use of electronic gadgets, landing safely and uneventfully in Moscow.

In sports, another major league baseball season draws to a satisfying close with a World Series victory by some team other than the Yankees.

In foreign affairs, the German government angrily accuses the United States of spying after German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone conversations are repeatedly interrupted by somebody with an American accent asking her to "please speak English." An NSA spokesperson denies involvement, saying, "We don't even have international roaming."

Speaking of angry, in …

November

… public dissatisfaction with Obamacare continues to grow as many Americans discover that their current insurance plans are being canceled. A frustrated and — it goes without saying — surprised President Obama reveals to the nation that "insurance is complicated to buy" and clarifies that when he said "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan," he was using "you" in the sense of "not necessarily you personally." Observers note that the White House has stopped referring to the program as "Obamacare" and is now calling it by the more formal legal name "George W. Bush."

As the president's popularity slides in the polls, House Speaker John Boehner, sensing a tactical opening for the Republicans, calls a press conference to point out that he is exactly the same color as a Creamsicle.

In non-Obamacare news, George Zimmerman, continuing a pattern of increasingly erratic behavior, invades Taiwan. But the big international story takes place in Geneva, where Iran, pressured by the United States and five other powers, accepts an arms-limitation agreement under which it may continue making enriched uranium but must promise that it will be used only for science fairs.

In other international news, U.N. Secretary-General Trevor Ki-moon asks the security council to send U.N. peacekeeping troops to Manhattan in an effort to quell Alec Baldwin.

In politics, Chris Christie establishes himself as a leading contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination when he handily wins reelection as governor of New Jersey after defeating the occupying Bermudan army by threatening to sit on it.

As the month draws to a close, Americans pause to observe the Thanksgiving holiday by assaulting each other over discounted electronics. In what has become a Washington tradition, President Obama attempts to pardon two turkeys but fails to get enough votes in the House.

Speaking of failure, in …

December

… retailers report that the Black Friday shopping weekend was weaker than expected, with a nationwide total of just six shoppers killed, 148 seriously injured and only 357 arrested — all numbers well below last year's totals.

In other retail news, Jeff Bezos reveals that Amazon is experimenting with a system that would deliver parcels weighing up to five pounds via drones; heavier packages would be delivered via surplus World War II howitzers. Some observers express concerns about this concept, but it gets a rare five-star rating from The Washington Post.

Detroit is kicked out of Canada for shoplifting.

On the Obamacare front, the administration declares that the federal Web site has been significantly improved, although there are still occasional glitches, such as one that enables a Milwaukee woman seeking to compare dental plans to accidentally launch a tactical nuclear strike against Guatemala. But as Secretary of Blame Sebelius notes, "This kind of thing happens all the time with Orbitz."

In other government news, the Federal Communications Commission meets to consider allowing airline passengers to talk on their mobile phones in flight, as it has been shown that this does not interfere with navigational equipment. Other activities that do not interfere with navigational equipment include blowing air horns, throwing knives and beekeeping, so WHAT THE HELL LET'S ALLOW THOSE ACTIVITIES ON PLANES, TOO.

Sorry.

In foreign news, Bermuda offers to return Delaware to the United States; the United States rejects the offer. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, in a move that raises eyebrows, officiates at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a meth lab.

On a happier holiday note, the traditional Christmas Eve service at the Vatican ends with Pope Schwartz going into St. Peter's Square and personally leading thousands of the faithful to dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

As the year draws to a close, hopes for peace on the Korean peninsula soar when North Korea's Kim Jong Un, in what is seen as a conciliatory gesture, sends a gift to South Korea's President Park Geun-hye. Unfortunately, the gift — a set of professional-quality barbells weighing nearly a ton — is delivered via Amazon's new "Nowitzer!" system and levels the presidential residence.

And with that, this hideous brain-dead zombie of a year finally staggers off into oblivion, making way for 2014, which surely will be better, because how could it possibly be worse?

Do NOT answer that.

Happy New Year.

E-mail us at wpmagazine@washpost.com.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

8 disappearing tax breaks

8 disappearing tax breaks
A handful of tax breaks benefiting everyone from teachers to homeowners are scheduled to expire at the end of the year, unless Congress extends them.

How to help clients make the right Social Security election

Your Money in Pictures: The Top 5 Charts of 2013

Your Money in Pictures: The Top 5 Charts of 2013

As part of our countdown to the new year, here are Heritage's top five must-see charts of 2013.

5. What If a Typical Family Spent Money Like the Federal Government?

While middle-class families are still plagued by a sluggish recovery in the Obama economy, this is what their finances would look like if they spent money like the government—and it's not a pretty picture. Most families understand that it is unwise to constantly spend excessive amounts compared to what they take in, but the government continues its shopping spree on the taxpayer credit card with seemingly no regard to the stack of bills that has already piled up.

SpendingByTheNumbers600649

4. Obamacare's Barrage of Tax Hikes

Remember President Obama's promise that he would not raise taxes on the middle class? Much like his pledge that Americans could keep their health insurance, this turned out to be another promise Obamacare was bound to break. As this chart shows, tax hikes included in Obamacare are huge and pervasive, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenues. Since this chart was published, new numbers for Obamacare's taxes have become available, and a study by Heritage's Alyene Senger shows that Obamacare will impose even more in taxes—amounting to a whopping $771 billion in new revenue through 2022.

TaxHikes600649

3. Sequestration Cuts Only 2.5 Percent of Spending

As it turns out, sequestration isn't much of a "meat cleaver" after all. While the sequester is an imperfect mechanism to reduce spending, as the brunt of the cuts falls disproportionally on defense, it only amounts to a 2.5 percent reduction in spending over 10 years. This hardly lives up to the President's warnings that the cuts would be "harmful" to the economy and would decimate government services. As you can see, the U.S. has a long way to go to rein in its growing spending.

FedSpendingChart600649

2. Where Did Your Tax Dollar Go?

Wonder what happens to your hard-earned cash after you hand it over the IRS each year? Almost half goes toward paying for the ballooning entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—a proportion that will only increase as the number of retirees expands in the near future. Even worse, your tax money only funded 70 cents of every federal dollar spent in 2012, meaning the remaining 30 cents was borrowed and tacked on to the massive national debt.

Dollar600649

1. Each American's Share of Publicly Held Debt

As Washington lawmakers continue to spend more and pile on debt, each American's share of public debt has risen to $36,000—about six times more than in 1970—and is set to rise astronomically in coming years. Without reform, the government will have borrowed $135,547 in public debt for each American, or almost three times the current median income, by 2036. This chart shows that serious consequences lie ahead if the government continues on its current path of reckless spending with no reform in sight.

ShareofDebt600649

To address the serious issues highlighted in these charts, Congress must put America on a path to balance by reforming the major entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—that are the key sources of higher spending and debt. By implementing entitlement reforms and discretionary spending cuts, Congress can lift a tremendous burden off the economy, freeing up resources for investment in jobs and growth in the private sector.

Quick Hits:

The post Your Money in Pictures: The Top 5 Charts of 2013 appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News Blog from The Heritage Foundation.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Obamacare Website Is a Security Nightmare

Obamacare Website Is a Security Nightmare
http://feedly.com/e/RZiKoj1f

Obamacare Website Is a Security Nightmare

December 24, 2013 at 10:00 am

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Credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

Credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

The Obama administration is urging its supporters to make the most of the holidays by turning family dinners and other social gatherings into platforms for boosting enrollment in Obamacare.

Supporters can even log on to a working website for talking points that can help them push loved ones including those who, due to Obamacare regulations, have lost "the insurance they liked" to sign up for health insurance through HealthCare.gov.

If you find yourself being pressured at the dinner table to "sign up now," take a deep breath and consider the risks before going online.

HealthCare.gov debuted Oct. 1 and, overnight, became the new poster child for government ineptitude. From its propensity to crash to its multitude of security problems and bureaucratic inefficiencies, it provided a seemingly inexhaustible supply of material for late night comedians.

But the site is no laughing matter. It is a security nightmare, one that leaves users' personal information vulnerable to hackers and others. And that vulnerability appears to be open-ended.

In late October, a North Carolina man accidently discovered a security breach on the site: It allowed him to access a stranger's private enrollment and subsidy information. The user Justin Hadley immediately contacted the Department of Health and Human Services about the breach, and asked them to remove his own account from the site to protect his own information. After weeks of waiting, his information account was finally deleted in mid-November.

And when it comes to security, state health exchange sites haven't fared much better.

Officials at CoverOregon, Oregon's health exchange, are reviewing their privacy protections after workers there committed three personal data breaches in three days. Vermont officials overseeing the state's health exchange website confirmed a security breach there that gave one user improper access to another's Social Security number and other data.

Two months after HealthCare.gov's disastrous debut, the administration claimed the site had made "dramatic progress" and was, essentially, "fixed." But those assurances addressed only the site's ability to handle more traffic without going into cardiac arrest.

While the metrics the government used to declare HealthCare.gov "fixed" are fine as far as they go, they are woefully incomplete. Notably missing is any metric addressing security.

On Nov. 19, four IT experts testified before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. All agreed that HealthCare.gov was a security nightmare that presented unacceptable risks to users. One went so far as to dub the website "IdentityTheft.gov."

Since then, of course, the administration once again has pronounced the website "fixed." Unfortunately, it "doesn't appear that any security fixes were done at all," says David Kennedy, CEO of the online security firm TrustedSec.

Indeed, Kennedy told The Washington Free Beacon, the "fixes" made to increase the site's capacity may have left the site even less secure. His professional advice? "I would still definitely advise individuals to not use the website."

And the website isn't the only source of security concerns over the Obamacare enrollment process. Obamacare navigators nearly 50,000 people contracted by the government to help consumers wade through the insurance process and select a plan never had to undergo background checks.

Folks who disclose their personal financial and medical information to navigators during the sign-up process may leave themselves wide open to fraud and identity theft.

Stealing a medical identity is more lucrative than other kinds of identity theft. Consumers are left facing bogus charges and ruined credit scores.

Whether flying solo on HealthCare.gov or enlisting the aid of a navigator, the security risks of signing up for Obamacare remain sky high. All Americans and especially the young might want to hold off for a while until you get an official "all clear."

You wouldn't settle for a half-baked Christmas dinner. Why take a chance on the half-baked HealthCare.gov?

Originally distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service


Monday, December 23, 2013

The 14 Ways You Can Get Out Of Being Forced To Have Health Insurance

Shared via feedly // published on Infowars // visit site
The 14 Ways You Can Get Out Of Being Forced To Have Health Insurance
businessinsider.com | Losing your health insurance is not the only experience that qualifies a person for a waiver.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Obamacare Medicare Taxes -- Increasing Your 2013 Tax Bill

With Individual Mandate Softened, Americans Paying a Very Unfair Obamacare Tax

Obamacare Is Falling Apart Before Our Eyes | The Weekly Standard

The individual mandate no longer applies to people whose plans were canceled - The Washington Post

Mixed Messages Add Anxiety as Deadline Nears in Health Act

Saturday, December 21, 2013

How Will the IRS Tax Bitcoin?

How Will the IRS Tax Bitcoin?

http://feedly.com/e/tr_IXReE


Cumming Woman Accused of Embezzling $120K - Police & Fire - Cumming, GA Patch

There Are Plenty of Good Reasons to Hate Facebook, But Tax Breaks Are Not Among Them

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There Are Plenty of Good Reasons to Hate Facebook, But Tax Breaks Are Not Among Them

When you write about tax law, you interact with a lot of commenters, most of them of the angry variety. Of course, most people are of the angry variety, so it adds up. But I'll say this – when it comes to tax law, at least the anger is often justified. It can be very frustrating to stare at your depleted paycheck every week and wonder where all of your hard-earned money is going.

In fact, the only thing more infuriating than having no idea how your tax dollars are being used is finding out exactly how they're being used. 

On Tuesday, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), released his annual "Wastebook," a 177-page report detailing outflows by the government that were, shall we say…less than prudent.

Included in this year's report are examples of spending that Mike Tyson would find extravagant and frivolous.  See if you can guess which one I made up!

  • $125,000 to build a 3-D printer to make pizzas for NASA.
  • $8,000 to hang drapes in front of nude statues in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice.
  • $566,000 paid by the U.S. Postal Service to a "futurist," Faith Popcorn, to try and envision a viable future for the post office.
  • $15,000 to collect thousands of gallons of human urine and test it as a hay field fertilizer.
  • $18,000 apiece to "pillownauts" — people whom NASA recruited to lie on a bed for two straight months.

Guess what? I didn't make any of them up! To be fair, however, the second one was done way back in 2002, when crazy person former Attorney General John Ashcroft didn't feel comfortable being photographed in front of art deco boobies.

Also included in Coburn's report was this little nugget, which as a tax guy, naturally caught my eye (footnotes removed):

Despite bringing in more than $1 billion in U.S. pretax profits last year, the social-media giant Facebook reported a combined $429 million refund from its federal and state tax filings.

By providing stock options as a major form of their compensation, to date, Facebook has claimed $3.2 billion in federal and state stock option deductions, $1.03 billion of which was used to offset their total U.S. pretax profit of $1.1 billion in 2012, and $429 million was refunded from its 2010 and 2011 tax bills.

The remaining $2.17 billion in stock option tax deductions can now be carried forward by the company and used to offset future tax liabilities. This rollover, in addition to currently outstanding employee stock options, may once again make this year's tax bill disappear.

If Facebook has the same U.S. pretax profit in 2013 as last year ($1.1 billion), the company will be able to zero out their tax bill for the next year.

First things first, I get it. I understand that it makes for an interesting headline when a billion-dollar enterprise pays no federal taxes, and in fact gets a large refund. But using the Facebook refund as an example of the utilization of a corporate loophole reflects a gross inability on the part of Senator Coburn to understand how the tax law actually works when it comes to stock options. Facebook isn't avoiding corporate taxes through the use of some fancy, perverted-sounding tax shelter like a Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich; rather, the company is simply reducing its tax liability by paying compensation –- compensation that the recipients are paying tax on, a fact that Coburn fails to understand or acknowledge.

And because chances are good that a large number of current GC readers will grow into future Congressmen and women, I want to prepare you so that when you reach a position of power, you're not guilty of the same ignorance. So here goes…

When a corporation wants to compensate its employees, it typically uses cash. But it doesn't have to. In fact, the corporation may prefer to pay the employees in its own stock.

During Facebook's formative years, this was a common practice. To compensate everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to the guy who painted the office, Facebook issued shares of restricted stock.

Restricted stock is more desirable in the eyes of an employer because it not only rewards employees for past services, it also provides incentive for employees to continue working hard. This is because when restricted stock is issued, the employee does not own the stock outright until some future bogey is hit, whether it's years of service or the reaching of certain financial goals. As you can see, restricted stock provides employers with the opportunity to dangle a carrot for the unwashed masses to pursue.

When restricted stock is issued, the recipient is typically not required to pay anything for the shares. But that's where the good news ends. The stock typically can't be transferred, and there is a continued risk that the employee will have to forfeit the stock until some predetermined event occurs, at which point the restricted stock "vests." In the case of Facebook, the vesting of most shares of restricted stock was tied to the public offering.

From an income tax perspective, the granting of restricted stock is governed by Section 83. This provision provides that when a taxpayer receives property in exchange for past, present or future services, the recipient must recognize compensation income to the extent the fair market value of the property exceeds any amount paid for the property by the recipient.

Section 83 also acts as a deferral provision, however; the idea being that a recipient of property shouldn't pay tax on the value of the property until he or she truly owns it. Within the meaning of Section 83, this is defined as the first date on which the property is either: A) freely transferable or B) no longer subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture.

Because restricted stock is typically not transferable and is subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture, Section 83 will not tax the grant of such stock (unless a Section 83(b) election is made, but that's a topic for another day). When the stock eventually vests, however, Section 83 will rear its head once again, and tax the employee on the fair market value of the (now un)restricted stock, with the income inclusion reported as compensation income to the employee.

How about an example?

On January 1, 2011, X Co. grants to employee A 1,000 shares of X Co. stock with a fair market value of $5,000. The stock is restricted; as a result, A cannot own the stock until a triggering event occurs, in this case, the employee must continue to be employed six months after the public offering of X Co. stock.

In January 2014, X Co. goes public, and six months later, the fair market value of the stock is $20,000. At that time, the restrictions on the stock lapse, and A must recognize $20,000 of compensation income related to the restricted stock.

After the Facebook IPO, hundreds of millions of shares of restricted stock suddenly became unrestricted. As a result, at that time anyone who had previously received restricted stock was now taxed on the fair market value of the stock on the date it became unrestricted. Because the value of the Facebook stock was so high at that time, the combined income inclusion was huge.

To illustrate, simultaneous with the IPO, Zuckerberg became entitled to 60 million shares that were worth approximately $35 per share. While Zuckerberg did have an exercise price for the shares, it was an immaterial 60 cents per share. Do the math, and upon receipt of the now unrestricted shares, Zuckerberg had taxable compensation income of approximately $2.1 billion.

So what's this have to do with Coburn's outrage? Section 83(h) provides the rather logical rule that when a recipient of restricted stock recognizes compensation income, the corporation issuing the stock is entitled to a corresponding compensation tax deduction equal to the amount included in the recipient's income. So when Zuckerberg got his shares and picked up $2.1 billion of income, Facebook got a $2.1 billion tax deduction.

Add in all the other people who simultaneous vested in their Facebook shares after the IPO, and you get the $3.2 billion stock-based compensation deduction Coburn refers to in his report. As a result, despite earning a pre-tax profit of $1.062 billion in 2012, courtesy of its stock-based compensation deduction, the company reported a huge net loss for tax purposes; large enough to generate big ol' refunds and with enough left over to carry into 2013, where it will likely once again wipe out all of the corporate income.

But what Coburn's missing is that EVERY DOLLAR of that $3.2 billion deduction was included in the taxable income of the collective recipients of the stock.  So the government isn't losing any money on the stock-based compensation play, particularly when you factor that the stock-based compensation is subject to payroll taxes.

So while Coburn is right to point a finger at many of the government's spending practices -- which appear to be the fiscal equivalent of lighting a pile of cash on fire – his anger with Facebook is misplaced. The company's "loophole" was a zero-sum proposition from a tax revenue perspective, something the Senator should have understood before publishing his report.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

IRS reveals start date for 2014 tax filing season

IRS reveals start date for 2014 tax filing season
The IRS has finally announced an official start date for the 2014 filing season: It will start accepting returns on Jan. 31. This date is 10 days later than the originally planned starting date of Jan. 21. 'The late January opening gives us enough time to get things right with our

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

This Is Your Last Chance to Avoid a Tax Penalty for 2013 - DailyFinance [feedly]


 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Reports of erroneous WA health exchange debits

Reports of erroneous WA health exchange debits

Credit: KING
Washington state's health exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder
Link to original article here.
by ELISA HAHN / KING 5 News
Posted on December 10, 2013 at 8:28 AM


For the second week in a row, the Washington Healthplanfinder website is down, and it's causing problems for people who are dealing with billing issues. Some of them say the website is mistakenly debiting their accounts. 

Shannon Bruner of Indianola logged on to her checking account Monday morning, and found she was almost 800 dollars in the negative.

“The first thing I thought was, ‘I got screwed,’” she said. 

The Bruners enrolled for insurance on the Washington Healthplanfinder website, last October. They say they selected the bill pay date to be December 24th. Instead the Washington Healthplanfinder drafted the 835 dollar premium Monday.

Josh Bruner started his own business this year as an engineering recruiter. They said it’s forced them to pay a lot of attention to their bills and their bank accounts. 

“Big knot in my gut because we're trying to keep it together,” said Shannon Bruner. “It's important to me that this kind of stuff doesn't happen.”

They're not alone.

One viewer emailed KING 5 saying, "They drafted my account this morning for a second time."
Another woman on Facebook with a similar problem commented, "We are all in the same boat."
“We've got to figure out how to get money to pay the bills for the next week or two until we have another check come through,” said Josh Bruner. “It's just crazy.” 

Washington Healthplanfinder emailed the Bruners a few days ago telling them to log in to view their invoice, something they couldn't do because the website has been down. The Bruners haven't been able to get through on the helpline either. They finally contacted Healthplanfinder administrators by posting a message on their Facebook page.

Washington Healthplanfinder tells KING 5 their staff is looking into the problem.

Until it's resolved, the couple is putting their best face forward.

“We haven't bought anyone's Christmas gifts yet,” said Shannon Bruner. “We're just kind of waiting.”
“We wrote a check to our nanny last week, it isn't going to work,” said Josh Bruner. “So she can't get paid.”


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Forbes: De Blasio's New Tax Could Drive Wealthy from New York

What’s changed in QuickBooks: Invoicing Customers

What's changed in QuickBooks: Invoicing Customers

In our continuing series on what's new in QBO, we're excited to share with you the improvements we've made to creating and sending invoices! In this article we'll explain how things work in the new world. 

A new streamlined form

As mentioned before, the + at the top of the screen is your one-stop shop for creating any transaction. You can create invoices, sales receipts, estimates and more from this single control.

create

Let's dive into invoicing. When you first come to the form, you'll see that it takes over the full width of your screen. This is to provide you with as much real estate as possible for your work – creating the invoice or any form. We redesigned all the forms to have a consistent, modern look. You will find these new forms work much better across your desktop, laptop and tablet devices. They also load faster than in the old version of QBO!

Blank Invoice

You can start working anywhere in the form, even before adding a customer. In the old version we heard complaints about being forced to select a customer before you could do anything on the form. We want to encourage you to get in there and play around with the new version!

If you ever need to change what fields appear on this form (like Shipping, Discounts or Service Dates), go to Company Settings, accessible from the gear in the top right. From Company Settings, go to the Sales Form Entry section and you'll see you can change your logo, and add or remove fields.

settings

A better way to send invoices

Invoicing in the new QBO is so much more powerful. We improved how it works based on the fact that most of you (well 87% to be exact) email your invoices.

Here's how it works

When you Save and Send an invoice, you will now see a preview of your message and the invoice. This makes it easy to personalize your default email message (which you can always change under Company Settings).

Send Invoice

When you hit Send, QBO sends an email to your customer with your personalized message and a link to view the invoice.

Your customer will receive an email that looks like this – with a big blue button to view the invoice.

Email Received

When your customer clicks View Invoice Now, this opens their invoice in a browser window.

Invoice Site

Benefits of online invoices

When your customer views the invoice, that is captured in QBO so you know exactly when your customer viewed it – no more "my spam filter ate the invoice".

Customers can send you a message right from here. If your customer sends a message, it is also saved with the invoice in QBO. You can send messages to your customer from the invoice form in QBO, and they're saved along with messages from your customer. You can view the entire thread on the invoice form in QBO – very handy if you need to refer to it later. Scroll to the bottom of the invoice form in QBO to view the history of when your customer viewed the invoice and messages back and forth.

Invoice Feed

All updates to the invoice are automatically saved in QBO and on the online invoice your customer sees. Your customers can also print or save a PDF of the invoice anytime.

If you receive partial payments on invoices, they will be reflected in the Balance Due at the top of your invoice in QBO AND the site where your customer views the online invoice. Now your customer will always have a single, up-to-date view of what they owe you.

And if you turn on QuickBooks Payments, customers can click the Pay now button to pay the invoice right there. The balance due is updated immediately in QBO. Boom, it's like your Accounts Receivable takes care of itself.

Pay Now button

Now that we've covered the basics of invoicing, let's close out with a few more highlights.

Panel for handling estimates and billables

Whenever you create estimates or billables like time activity, billable expenses or charges, QBO keeps track of them for you. When you go to create a new invoice, the estimates and billables are waiting for you in a panel on the right of the form. This is an easy way to view and add the ones you want to include on a given invoice.

Panel

When you add an estimate or billable to the invoice, the rows in the table are updated so you can see exactly how they will appear on the invoice. These linked transactions are accessible at the top of the form. You can always take estimates and billables off the invoice and stick them back in the panel by clicking the Remove button.

linked txn

An additional benefit in the new QBO is that you can make changes to the details of estimates and billables that appear on the invoice without affecting the original estimate or billable item you're tracking in QBO.

For more details on the new panel, check out Stacy Kildal's post here: http://www.sleeter.com/blog/2013/11/quickbooks-online-drawers/

A few more tips 

Preview

Although Save and Send always shows you a Preview of your invoice before you send it, you can also use Print at the bottom of the form…

print

…to Preview your invoice in a large window.

print preview

Creating templates for repeat use

If your looking for an easy way to create an invoice template you can reuse over time, check out the Make Recurring link at the bottom of the form. Give the template a name and then under Type, select "Unscheduled". You can also have QBO automatically send out invoices for you by selecting "Scheduled" under Type.

recurring template

These templates are stored under Recurring Transactions, accessible from under Lists in the Company menu. To use a template to create a new invoice, select the template from the list and click Use. This gives you a head start on the invoice by including all the information from the template you created – a big time saver!

recurring txn list

Creating a stack of invoices

If you print invoices and want to create a bunch at once, you can use a shortcut for Save and New:

  • On Windows: CTRL + ALT + s
  • On Mac: CTRL + Option + s

Add, Remove, and Rearrange Invoice Lines

To quickly change the order in which a row in your invoice table appears, click the little square icon on the far left and drag the row to where you want it. You can easily delete the row by clicking the trashcan icon on the far right of each row. Another feature we are bringing back due to feedback is the ability to insert a row anywhere. Coming as part of our next release (end of December) you will see a green plus icon when you click into an invoice row. Click the plus icon and you will get a line inserted above the row you are in.

move rows

There's always More

Lastly, at the bottom of the form, under More you'll find handy tools like Copy and Delete

.more

There's more exciting work underway on invoicing and of course, we'll tell you all about it right here on the blog.

Not seeing the new forms in QBO yet? You will.

These features are in the new version of QBO today, but for those of you who started out on the previous version of QBO, we are moving those companies to the new version over time. Our goal is to ensure a smooth transition for every customer. With over 500K companies on QBO that is a tall order! See this post for more details: https://community.intuit.com/questions/791220-how-do-i-switch-to-the-new-version-of-qbo?jump_to=answer_1832181

We hope you find the new forms delightful, powerful and generally awesome! As always, please keep the feedback coming so we know what's working well for you and what can be made even better. Please vote on suggestions or add your ideas to our user voice.

We'll have more to share in the coming weeks so check back here to learn what's new in QBO!