Twitter drones – are you one of them? Part 1.

My previous post about the Israeli-Palestinian clashes has caught some attention and brought me to twitter for more than just posting links to my articles. I decided to take a deeper look at what’s going on there with regards to actual, or perceived, news reporting. Specifically I decided to take a look at the #GazaUnderAttack and #IsraelUnderAttack channels.

First, my methodology. Pretty simple actually, I just chose random users from each of the channels that I saw and send them questions contrary to their expressed opinions. Devil’s advocate, if you may.

Continue reading

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Nothing new in the Middle East. What about the news?

It is summer again, and as usual – there’s another little war going on between Israel and the Palestinians. P’s are throwing rockets indiscriminately all around Israel, I’s are bombing headquarters and weapons’ storage facilities in Gaza ignoring the human shields, and the reporters and the propagandists are having a party.

But what’s new in the reports? Apparently nothing. Continue reading

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In case you’ve missed – some updates from eBay and Amazon

Those of us who use the Amazon marketplace and eBay, should pay attention to the following changes:

1. eBay recently announced the new Global Shipping Program. This program allows you to ship your items to foreign buyers without shipping internationally or worrying of items disappearing in transit. You ship to eBay center in the US and they’ll take care of the rest.

However, Global Shipping Program (GSP) overrides your exclusions list. So if you do not want to sell your items to people in certain countries – using the GSP will override these exclusions and people from these countries will be able to buy your items.

What should you do? You need to protectively opt-out of the override. You can opt-out from GSP entirely, or go here to specifically opt-out of the override feature. You can also do this through this location in your account settings: My eBay > Account > Site Preferences > Shipping Preferences.

2. eBay also announced that several listing categories, you’ll be able to list up to 100 auction-style listings without insertion fees. However, for fixed-price listings you’ll have to pay $0.30 per listing unless you have a store subscription. See more details here.

3. Amazon also announced that starting of August 1st, US coins, bulions and mint sets can only be sold through a “collector store”. You can apply for such a store here, if you qualify. However, to qualify you must be a member of NGC, PCGS, PNG or ICTA. Members of other organizations (like ANA, PNNA, FUN) can only apply if they’re also members of one of the first four. The meaning of this qualification requirement is that small-scale individual collectors are effectively barred from selling on Amazon. Welcome to eBay.

Happy selling,

Your Little Advisor

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In Rialto the Holocaust has never happened…

Most major outlets mentioned it only briefly, but the same month when the Israelis commemorate the death of more than half of the Jewish population of the world in the Holocaust, the California’s Rialto teachers decided to give their students a “critical thinking” assignment – denying it.

You can read more here, or here, or even here. But not here.

I can’t say what bothers me more…Is it the fact that the “critical thinking” exercise of denial is targeting one of the most documented and most heinous crimes in the human history?… Is it the fact that the question formulated to guide the students towards the ever antisemitic claim that Jews only care about money and gains?… Or is it the obvious bias of the board administrators against Jews in general and Israel in particular?..

Interim superintendent, named Mohammed Islam, and his spokesperson, named Sayeda Jafri, were very apologetic. They said that they didn’t receive any complaints from the parents or teachers. Friendly crowd, apparently.

Rialto is about an hour drive from Los Angeles, home to the Simon Wiesenthal Center - an organization founded by the Nobel Peace Prize nominee Simon Wiesenthal, a holocaust survivor and a Nazi hunter. I’m sure they could have helped the teachers with some education materials and topics to encourage the students’ critical thinking abilities without asking the students to justify denying facts. Was one hour drive or even a phone call such a hard task for Mr. Islam?

One would wonder how these people get to a position where they can poison children’s minds, but America is apparently too politically correct for such questions to be asked in the mainstream media.

I advise you to think long and hard when you’re electing your representatives to the school boards next time.

Your Little Advisor, who had personally met and spoke with the people who had numbers tattooed on their hands.

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Something about free speach and tolerance…

Mozilla’s newly appointed CEO, Brendan Eich, resigned yesterday. Apparently, it is not always clear to people where the the freedom of speech and the tolerance end and acceptance begins.

Eich was definitely in his right to give $1000 to the Prop 8 campaign, and was definitely in his right to voice his opposition to other people having the same rights as him. After all, it wouldn’t be a free country otherwise.

What other people have is exactly the same – they have the right to voice their opinion, their opposition to Eich’s behavior and their desire not to use products developed by the company he’s the face of.

Boycotting companies for the opinions of their owners/CEO’s is not news. Some people decide to boycott companies because they’re owned/led by bigots, others decide to support these companies for that same reason. Check the Chick-Fil-A story – enough said.

But apparently, it is only allowed to use the power of the dollar when it is for the “right” cause. When the boycott of Mozilla drives Eich out, it is apparently bullying and intolerance that was the reason, not Eich’s own actions.

So let me educate you on the difference between “Free Speech“, “Tolerance” and “Acceptance“:

1. Free speech – you’re free to say as you like. No law can prevent you from saying whatever you want. Some laws may punish you if by saying things you’re causing significant damage (like, for example, exposing the NSA surveillance program…), but you’re still free to say it. You must accept the responsibility for what you say. That’s free speech.

2. Tolerance – people who’re tolerant will not try to actively preventing you from speaking out your mind. For example, you won’t see gays pushing laws to forbid preaching bigotry or forcing churches to discuss Darwinism and Creationalism as two equal theories. Gay people tolerate Eich’s opinions, even if his opinions (and actions) come to strip gay people of their equal rights. No-one demanded Eich to be put in prison. That’s tolerance.

3. Acceptance – accepting one’s opinion means living/acting by them. While Eich’s is free to say what he wants, and I’m tolerant to him saying that, I’m in no way obligated to accept what he’s saying. Thus, the fact that I oppose his opinions doesn’t mean that I’m against his free speech or not tolerant – it means I do not accept. That’s acceptance.

Same goes both ways – In California, and many other states, gay marriages are (now) legal. It is the gay people’s free speech right to get married (declare in public their love to their partner and willingness to share their lives together), it is everyone else tolerance not to interfere and let them live their lives as they want. But everyone else doesn’t have to accept that opinion and rush into gay marriage themselves. No-one was forcing Mr. Eich to marry another man when he was contributing money to Prop 8. He was not forced to accept anyone’s else opinion. He was merely asked to tolerate it. He was not willing to. He was willing to force his belief on others, force gay people to accept his way of life through law.

And now he’s paid the price for that. And its free market: if I don’t want to use Mozilla products – I won’t. Same as me never stepping foot at the neighborhood Chick-Fil-A.

Think about this,

Your Little Advisor.

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How to choose your tax preparer?

We’re at that time of the year again, where everyone is trying to get the most of their tax refunds. Many people are doing it on their own, and I wrote a couple of articles on how to choose the tax preparation software best for you.

For those of you doing it themselves, there’s an additional benefit this year: You can get an additional Amazon credit of 10% of your refund when using TurboTax Deluxe or TurboTax Premier bought through Amazon.

But if you’re looking to hire a professional to do your taxes – I’ve got some tips for you.

1. First and foremost: anyone giving you a tax advice must be properly licensed. If the advice is not given with regard to filling the tax forms, only people who hold the EA (Enrolled Agent) credentials from the IRS, or people licensed as CPA/PA (Certified Public Accountants) or an Attorney by your State are allowed to give you a tax advice. No-one else. Not even a tax preparer in your neighborhood H&R Block store (unless they’re licensed accordingly). You can verify the status and the credentials of the professional with your State (for CPA/Attorney) or the IRS (for EAs).

2. Some states also license people who prepare taxes. For example in California, such a person should have a CRTP designation, unless he or she is also a EA/CPA/Attorney – those are allowed to prepare taxes as part of their legal ability to provide tax advice in any matter. Employing a licensed/registered tax preparer ensures the person passed a certain process of ensuring his knowledge in tax matters. However, not all States license and regulate tax preparers, in fact – most don’t.

3. Make sure the preparer uses a professional software. It is illegal for a paid preparer to use “retail” personal-use software such as TurboTax or H&R Block At Home.

4. Make sure your preparer signs the return he/she prepared for you, in the designated area for the paid preparer signature. Also, make sure that the preparer’s PTIN (IRS identification number for all paid preparers, including EAs, CPAs and Attorneys) appears next to the preparer signature. The preparer signature designated area is at the bottom of the second page of the main form for your tax return – form 1040.

5. Make sure your return is e-filed. While it is not legally required to file your return electronically – it is beneficial for you: you save the money on sending it via certified mail, you save the paper needed to print it, and you save the time needed for the IRS to scan it, process it, and issue you the refund you’re entitled to. It also reduces the chances of identity theft somewhat, since the IRS gets your information faster and without a danger of someone snooping into the envelope on the way.

Paid preparers preparing more than 10 returns a year are required to e-file the returns they prepare. You will sign an authorization form, and will receive a confirmation that the return has been filed and accepted by the IRS, from your preparer. You can verify that yourself now using this system.

6. When selecting a preparer, check for reviews and references. Being licensed is not enough, as to pass the licensing requirements (even for the IRS EA designation, which is all about tax), the candidates need to be proficient only in the most basic applications of the tax law. Your average tax preparer will probably not know anything about international taxation and tax treaties (for those of you who are international students, H1B/L1 employees or US citizens living abroad). Not all the tax preparers are familiar with corporate taxation (for those of you working as self-employed and want to explore options of incorporating as a S-Corp or C-Corp). In short, check with people in a situation similar to yours if the preparer you’re thinking of is capable of doing the job.

7. Check the preparer’s history. You can find information about the person’s license at the appropriate regulating agency (IRS or the State), and see how long he/she has been in business. Check whether they were working in a larger firm were they could have been exposed to more complex and challenging cases, and see if there were any complaints and negative reviews against them, or if they’ve been cited by their oversight agencies.

8. Verify that your tax preparer will be there for you after the tax season is over. Many people prepare taxes as their hobby/second job during the tax season, but will not be available for you after that, until the next season starts. Sometimes its OK, especially if your tax situation is standard and no special tax advice or treatment is needed (for example – you’re a W2 employee without any unusual circumstances). But for some the ability to call their tax adviser throughout the year is critical.

This also related to the point #1 above – since issues arising during the year are not necessarily related to the tax return preparation, if this is relevant to you, you’d probably want your tax preparer to be a licensed tax adviser (EA/CPA/Attorney).

9. Make sure your tax preparer can deal with issues related to the tax return. For example – make sure the tax preparer will write his/her information as a contact person on the form 1040, and will be available to respond and deal with any IRS questions or audits. Only EA/CPA/Attorney can represent you in front of the IRS/State, so if your tax preparer is not licensed as such – ask who would be the professional representing you in case of an audit. Many “un-enrolled” (not licensed as EA/CPA/Attorney) preparers collaborate with the “enrolled” ones on the matter for their clients – check who that “enrolled” person is.

10. Get a copy of the return prepared for you, and go through it before signing and sending/e-filing it. Make sure you understand every number, and have your preparer explain to you everything you don’t understand. Make sure you agree to everything. The tax return is your responsibility, even if you paid someone else to prepare it. Remember that.

Happy Tax Season!

Your Little Advisor.

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Great new service from the IRS – get your account transcripts online!

That’s right – the IRS now provides online access to your account records!

This comes after last year the IRS discontinued an online system that allowed tax professionals (EAs, CPAs and attorneys) representing tax payers in various tax-related proceedings to get their clients’ account information on-line.

Now you no longer need to pay your CPA to check what is your status with the IRS and whether the IRS has received that return you sent two years ago without a tracking number. Now you can do it yourself. Your tax professional no longer needs to sign you up on an authorization form and fax it to the IRS just to get access to your account – you can print it out at home and bring it to your next meeting! It almost feels like the 2000s are here.

So how does it work?

You start from this IRS.GOV page: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Get-Transcript. For your safety, copy it from the article to the address bar of your browser, or type it yourself. This way you’re sure that the page you’re getting is the one you want. Since it involves a lot of sensitive and personal information – this precaution seems to be in order here.

On that page you have an option to chose whether you’ll get the requested information on-line or via email. I suggest on-line – you never know who might peek inside the official envelope bearing the IRS logo.

Once you click the button, you continue to a secured web site. Check your browser’s identification that the site is indeed secured. In most browsers it would be an image of a locked lock appearing in the status bar or in the address bar.

Next step would be to provide your name and email. The IRS then will send a random pair of numbers to that email which you’ll be required to enter. This ensures that you’re a real person, with a real email address, which you can access and read.

Next step would be filling some personal information that is expected to match your recent tax return. If you didn’t file a tax return in the last 7 years – there’s a special procedure which you must follow. At this step you can chose whether you want to create a permanent username, or repeat the same authentication procedure next time you get to this page.

After that your identity will be verified through several random questions based on your credit report.

Once your identity is verified – you get to the page which specifies all the transcripts available. There are several “standard” reasons for people to want these transcripts, and when you chose the reason most closely related to yours – the transcripts most likely needed will be highlighted. But you can chose whatever you want.

Please make sure to enable popups, and to have Adobe Acrobat Reader (free PDF reader software) installed. The transcripts will appear as popups in PDF format. You can then save them on your own computer or print them out. They’ll appear exactly the same as if they were mailed by the IRS.

Voila. What all the banks and credit companies have been doing for the last 15-20 years is now available at the IRS as well!

For those of you in California, the CA FTB has a similar service at https://webapp.ftb.ca.gov/MyFTBAccess. Check your State taxing agency for more information.

Happy Tax Season!

Your Little Adviser

Posted in Taxes - General | Tagged , , | 3 Comments