October 24, 2012

People surveyed in 21 countries overwhelmingly favor President Obama over Mitt Romney. What's behind that landslide?

President Obama and Mitt Romney are locked in an incredibly tight race at home, but overseas, the vote isn't even close. A BBC World Service opinion poll found that residents of 21 foreign countries overwhelmingly support Obama, with an average of 50 percent hoping that he wins a second term and only 9 percent favoring Romney. France is Obama's biggest booster — 72 percent of respondents support him. The only country where Romney enjoyed greater support than Obama? Pakistan. So why are foreigners in the bag for Obama? Here, three theories:

1. Obama's foreign policy works
Overseas, the president has an undeniably strong record, says Jeffrey Simpson at Canada's Globe and Mail. Obama has shown he's capable of "mixing muscularity with restraint," extricating the U.S. from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, avoiding direct intervention in Syria, and resisting "the push to recklessly attack Iran" — all while relentlessly going after terrorists and playing a limited but key role in forcing regime change in Libya. Meanwhile, the world sees Romney displaying "the hubris of the powerful and the ignorance of the uninformed," thumping his chest and scaring folks overseas.

2. The world is associating Romney with Bush
In many ways, this isn't really a reflection on Romney, says Max Fisher at The Washington Post. In Pakistan, for example, people aren't embracing Romney so much as protesting Obama's drone program in areas near the Afghan border. And more broadly, Romney's overseas poll numbers "are consistent with [Sen. John] McCain's in 2008, suggesting the possibility that many foreign publics associate Republicans with George W. Bush, whose administration was deeply unpopular abroad."

3. Soaking the rich is popular overseas
The fact that France is more pro-Obama than anyone else says it all, says Matthew Balan at News Busters. France is a leftist nanny state, and Socialist President Francois Hollande is trying to slap a 75 percent marginal income tax on people earning more than 1 million euros a year, a move the Heritage Foundation's Nile Gardiner called "economic suicide." Such proposals "line up nicely with the president's platform." No wonder he polls so well there.

August 21, 2012
Michael Jordan probably doesn't have to sweat losing $1.5 million in a gym investment -- which is good for him because it could happen soon, reports say.

A Jordan-backed Chicago workout emporium that attracted superstars such as Kobe Bryant and Donovan McNabb is close to foreclosing. A bankruptcy bid by Tim Grover, the owner of Attack Athletics Gym in Chicago, was rejected by a judge last month, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. That means the mortgage holder is free to pursue foreclosure.

A pending appeal by Grover's company, Attack Properties, could take a month or so, wrote the Chicago Tribune.

Another former NBA player, Michael Finley, is also listed as a creditor, the paper said, after he guaranteed a $2 million loan.

The 65,000-square-foot gym, formerly known as Hoops, had four basketball courts and a 10,000-square-foot weight room, according to ESPN. Grover developed relationships with Jordan and other jocks such as Dwayne Wade and Tracy McGrady to build his business.

The entrepreneur, who was Jordan's personal trainer at the star's peak, was credited with attempting to revitalize Chicago's West Side and having a positive influence on hundreds of athletes, Yahoo wrote. But business apparently hasn't been good -- either in the gym or in legal procedure. Outlets say Attack Properties LLC never submitted the required monthly operating reports to seek bankruptcy and faces liens totaling $12 million.

"The record shows no plausible route out of this predicament,” said U.S. Bankruptcy Judge A. Benjamin Goldgar, reported the Sun-Times.

November 23, 2012

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's president is making one last attempt to get the "United States" out of Mexico — at least as far as the country's name is concerned.

The name "United Mexican States," or "Estados Unidos Mexicanos," was adopted in 1824 after independence from Spain in imitation of Mexico's democratic northern neighbor, but it is rarely used except on official documents, money and other government material.

Still, President Felipe Calderon called a news conference Thursday to announce that he wants to make the name simply "Mexico." His country doesn't need to copy anyone, he said.

Calderon first proposed the name change as a congressman in 2003 but the bill did not make it to a vote. The new constitutional reform he proposed would have to be approved by both houses of Congress and a majority of Mexico's 31 state legislatures.

However, Calderon leaves office on Dec. 1, raising the question of whether his proposal is a largely symbolic gesture. His proposal was widely mocked on Twitter as a ridiculous parting shot from a lame-duck president.

A mariachi plays his trumpet during a mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City November 22, 2012. Hundreds of mariachis took part in the annual pilgrimage to celebrate Saint Cecilia's day, the patron saint of musicians.

Calderon said that while the name change "doesn't have the urgency of other reforms," it should be seen as a relevant issue. "Mexico doesn't need a name that emulates another country and that no one uses on a daily basis," he said.

The United States looms larger than perhaps any other country in the Mexican cultural imagination: Mexicans follow U.S. sports teams, watch U.S. television shows and buy U.S.-made products. For many, however, there is also resentment of a larger and more powerful northern neighbor that's often seen as ignoring or looking down its nose at Mexico.

Calderon has tried to keep Mexico's international image, and its vital tourism industry, from being tarred by the waves of violence set off by his six-year, militarized offensive against drug cartels. At least 47,500 people have died in cartel-related violence during his term in office, although the number is believed to be far higher, since his administration stopped releasing an official count last year.

A poll released this week by the Vianovo consulting firm said that half of all Americans view Mexico unfavorably and more than 70 percent believe it's unsafe to travel south of the border. The poll of 1,000 adults had a margin of error of four percentage points.

"It's time for Mexicans to return to the beauty and simplicity of the name of our country, Mexico," Calderon said. "A name that we chant, that we sing, that makes us happy, that we identify with, that fills us with pride."

December 20, 2012

Country crooner Tate Stevens, from judge L.A. Reid's Over 25s group, has won "The X Factor" Season 2.
The dad of two beat out Carly Rose Sonenclar, from Britney Spears' Teens team, who took second.

The group put together on the show - Fifth Harmony - and who were mentored by Simon Cowell, came in third.
Tate appeared emotional as his name was announced, his voice cracking as he shared his reaction with the crowd.

"First and foremost, I've gotta thank the man upstairs for taking care of me. My family, all the country music fans, God bless you," he said. "And thank you so very much for the all the votes. This is the best day of my life."

L.A. famously got upset when he found out he got the Over 25s group earlier on in the season, but he not only won with Tate, but the 37-year-old no doubt makes his upcoming departure from the show (L.A. previously revealed to Access Hollywood's Shaun Robinson, he would not return for Season 3) that much sweeter.

Speaking on stage, L.A. said Tate was a true champion.

"Congratulations to you. You deserve this. I'm proud to work with you. I think you represent the 'X Factor' really, really well so on behalf of myself Simon and all of the judges, congratulations," he said.

September 25, 2012
Rihanna tweets support before Brown's probation hearing: 'I'm praying for you and wishing u the best today!!'

Chris Brown hit a road block in his probation Monday (September 24), thanks to recently surfaced evidence of a failed drug test, but a judge decided to give him a break.

According to TMZ, Brown tested positive for marijuana back in June when he was fulfilling his court-ordered community service in Virginia as part of the sentence he received in June 2009 after pleading guilty to one count of felony assault on then-girlfriend Rihanna. Judge Patricia Schnegg said she never ordered Brown to undergo mandatory drug testing as part of his probation, so she ruled that she would not revoke his probation and let him off with a stern warning.

Judge Schnegg also ordered the case be relocated to California, where Brown lives, and that he must meet with his probation officer within 72 hours to sort out a discrepancy in community-service hours.

Brown received countless messages of support from his dedicated fans via Twitter, and for added good measure, his ex Rihanna tweeted her support of him going into the court hearing.

"Praying for you baby, my best wishes are with you today! Remember that whatever God does in our lives, it is WELL DONE!!! #1Love." Rihanna later tweeted directly at Brown, which he then re-tweeted and responded with his own thanks for her support.

"I'm praying for you and wishing u the best today!" Rihanna wrote to Brown.

"Thank u so much," he wrote back.

January 14, 2013

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - A Maine lobsterman and his son pleaded not guilty on Monday to illegally possessing more than 400 protected egg-bearing female lobsters and face a possible $190,000 fine, authorities said.

Marine patrol officers discovered the lobsters, marked with a v-shaped notch in their tails or mutilated to remove the notch, during an inspection last year of a boat owned by Ricky Curtis, the state Department of Marine Resources said in a statement.

Maine requires lobstermen to notch the tails of egg-bearing female lobsters before returning them to the ocean as a conservation measure. The lobsters may then reproduce several more times.

"We consider this a very serious crime," Colonel Joseph Fessenden, Marine Patrol chief, said in the statement.

"The illegal taking of any lobsters negatively affects the resource and is a direct theft from those lobstermen who abide by the laws every day that they fish," Fessenden said.

Ricky Curtis, 48, and his son Todd Curtis, 29, entered a not guilty plea through the mail at Knox County District Court in Rockland, Maine, a court clerk said.

They face a fine of more than $190,000 if they are convicted of the crime, the statement from wildlife authorities said.

Their attorney, Philip Cohen, declined to comment on the charges.

By Daniel Lovering | Reuters

November 7, 2012

Obama's lease renewed despite tough economic times

WASHINGTON (AP) — His lease renewed in trying economic times, President Barack Obama claimed a second term from an incredibly divided electorate and immediately braced for daunting challenges and progress that comes only in fits and starts.

"We have fought our way back and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come," Obama said.

The same voters who gave Obama another four years also elected a divided Congress, re-upping the dynamic that has made it so hard for the president to advance his agenda. Democrats retained control of the Senate; Republicans renewed their majority in the House.

It was a sweet victory for Obama, but nothing like the jubilant celebration of four years earlier, when his hope-and-change election as the nation's first black president captivated the world. This time, Obama ground out his win with a stay-the-course pitch that essentially boiled down to a plea for more time to make things right and a hope that Congress will be more accommodating than in the past.

The vanquished Republican, Mitt Romney, tried to set a more conciliatory tone on the way off the stage.
"At a time like this, we can't risk partisan bickering," Romney said after a campaign filled with it. "Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people's work."

House Speaker John Boehner spoke of a dual mandate, saying, "If there is a mandate, it is a mandate for both parties to find common ground and take steps together to help our economy grow and create jobs."
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had a more harsh assessment.

"The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the president's first term," McConnell said. "They have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together" with a balanced Congress.
Obama claimed a commanding electoral mandate — at least 303 electoral votes to 206 for Romney — and had a near-sweep of the nine most hotly contested battleground states.

But the close breakdown in the popular vote showed Americans' differences over how best to meet the nation's challenges. With more than 90 percent of precincts reporting, the popular vote went 50 percent for Obama to 48.4 percent for Romney, the businessman-turned-politician who had argued that Obama had failed to turn around the economy and said it was time for a new approach keyed to lower taxes and a less intrusive government.

Obama's re-election assured certainty on some fronts: His signature health-care overhaul will endure, as will the Wall Street reforms enacted after the economic meltdown. The drawdown of troops in Afghanistan will continue apace. And with an aging Supreme Court, the president is likely to have at least one more nomination to the high court.

The challenges immediately ahead for the 44th president are all too familiar: an economy still baby-stepping its way toward full health, 23 million Americans still out of work or in search of better jobs, civil war in Syria, an ominous standoff over Iran's nuclear program, and more.

Sharp differences with Republicans in Congress on taxes, spending, deficit reduction, immigration and more await.
And even before Obama gets to his second inaugural on Jan. 20, he must grapple with the threatened "fiscal cliff" — a combination of automatic tax increases and steep across-the-board spending cuts that are set to take effect in January if Washington doesn't quickly come up with a workaround budget deal. Economists have warned the economy could tip back into recession absent a deal.

Despite long lines at polls in many places, turnout overall looked to be down from four years ago as the president pieced together a winning coalition of women, young people, minorities and lower-income voters that reflected the country's changing demographics. Obama's superior ground organization in the battleground states was key to his success.

The president's victory speech — he'd written a concession, too, just in case — reflected the realities of the rough road ahead.

"By itself the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won't end all the gridlock, or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward," Obama said.

"But that common bond is where we must begin. Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over, and whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you and you have made me a better president."

The president said he hoped to meet with Romney and discuss how they can work together. They may have battled fiercely, he said, "but it's only because we love this country deeply."

Romney's short concession — with misplaced confidence, he'd only prepared an acceptance speech — was a gracious end note after a grueling campaign.

He wished the president's family well and told subdued supporters in Boston, "I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction, but the nation chose another leader and so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation."

Obama's re-election was a remarkable achievement given that Americans are anything but enthusiastic about the state they're in: Only about 4 in 10 voters thought the economy is getting better, just one quarter thought they're better off financially than four years ago and a little more than half think the country is on the wrong track, exit polls showed.

But even now, four years after George W. Bush left office, voters were more likely to blame Bush than Obama for the fix they're in.

It wasn't just the president and Congress who were on the ballot. Voters around the country considered ballot measures on a number of divisive social issues, with Maine and Maryland becoming the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote while Washington state and Colorado legalized recreational use of marijuana.

From the beginning, Obama had an easier path than Romney to the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. The most expensive campaign in history was narrowly targeted at people in nine battleground states that held the key to victory, and the two sides drenched voters there with more than a million ads, the overwhelming share of them negative.

Obama claimed at least seven of the battleground states, most notably Ohio, the Ground Zero of campaign 2012. He also got Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin, and he was ahead in Florida. Romney got North Carolina.

Overall, Obama won 25 states and the District of Columbia and was leading in too-close-to-call Florida. Romney won 24 states.

It was a more measured victory than four years ago, when Obama claimed 365 electoral votes to McCain's 173, winning with 53 percent of the popular vote.

Obama was judged by 53 percent of voters to be more in touch with people like them. More good news for him: Six in 10 voters said that taxes should be increased. And nearly half of voters said taxes should be increased on income over $250,000, as Obama has called for.

Obama's list of promises to keep includes many holdovers he was unable to deliver on in his first term: rolling back tax cuts for upper-income people, immigration reform, reducing federal deficits, and more.

A second term is sure to produce turnover in his Cabinet: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has made it clear he wants to leave at the end of Obama's first term but is expected to remain in the post until a successor is confirmed. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's rival for the presidency four years ago, is ready to leave too.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta isn't expected to stay on.

To the end, the presidential race was a nail-biter. About 1 in 10 voters said they'd only settled on their presidential choice within the last few days or even on Election Day, and they were closely divided between Obama and Romney. Nearly 1 percent of voters went for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, who was on the ballot in 48 states.

In an election offering sharply different views on the role of government, voters ultimately narrowly tilted toward Obama's approach.

"We have seen growth in the economy," said 25-year-old Matt Wieczorek, a registered Republican from Cincinnati who backed the president. "Maybe not as fast as we want it to be, but Obama has made a difference and I don't want to see that growth come to an end."

Notwithstanding his victory, Obama will lead a nation with plenty of people who were ready for a change.

July 10, 2012
After more than 25 years in stand-up comedy, Steve Harvey will take his final bow after his last stand-up performance scheduled for August.

The comedian, best-selling author, radio and TV host said his final stand-up performance will be bittersweet, but necessary to advance his career.

“I’ve learned in life that oftentimes to the next level, you have [to] shed something. Usually, when you’re going to a much higher level, the thing that you shed is going to have to be something that you care very deeply about. The thing that I have to let go of at this point in my life is standup,” he told The Augusta Chronicle in March.

Steve’s final farewell will air live from Las Vegas on Pay-Per-View August 2nd at 11 p.m. EST as part of the 10th Ford Hoodie Awards, which celebrates the nation’s best neighborhood leaders, educators, churches, and local businesses for their service and dedication to their communities.

The four-day, star-studded event will kick off at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and will include events such as the State Farm All White Freedom Friday Party, and Ford VIP After-Party, The Hoodie Awards Interactive Expo, The Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation Charity Golf Tournament, and a live broadcast of The Steve Harvey Morning Show prior to the 2012 Ford Hoodie Awards show on August 4.

“Celebrating this 10th anniversary is very special,” Steve said in a statement. “The Hoodie Awards is an awards show for everyday men and women, honoring them as the real stars of their neighborhoods for their beliefs, courage, and commitment pursing their dream and serving their fellow neighbors and youth. I look forward to hosting an unforgettable weekend and seeing who will take home the Hoodie Awards this year!”

February 9, 2013

Don't let a knowledge gap prevent you from taking advantage of these money-saving tax breaks.

Every year, the IRS dutifully reports the most common blunders that taxpayers make on their returns. And every year, at or near the top of the "oops" list is forgetting to enter their Social Security number at the top of the tax form -- or making a mistake when entering those nine digits.

But think about it for a minute: Do you really think that's the most common mistake ... or simply the easiest to notice?

One thing we know for sure is that the opportunity to make mistakes is almost unlimited, and missed deductions can be the most costly. About 45 million of us itemize on our 1040s -- claiming more than $1 trillion worth of deductions. That's right: $1,000,000,000,000, a number rarely spoken out loud until Congress started tying itself up in knots trying to deal with the budget deficit and national debt.

Another 92 million taxpayers claim about $700 billion worth using standard deductions -- and some of you who take the easy way out probably shortchange yourselves. (If you turned 65 in 2012, remember that you now deserve a bigger standard deduction than when you were younger.)

Yes, friends, tax time is a dangerous time. It's all too easy to miss a trick and pay too much. Years ago, the fellow who ran the IRS at the time told Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine that he figured millions of taxpayers overpay their taxes every year by overlooking just one of the money-savers listed below.

State sales taxes

This is an especially dangerous issue for 2012 returns because, throughout 2012, this tax deduction simply didn't exist. The right for taxpayers to deduct state sales taxes paid expired at the end of 2011. Everyone expected Congress to revive the tax break sometime during 2012, but the issue got tangled up in fiscal cliff negotiations. Finally, in the bill approved January 1, 2013, the deduction was restored ... retroactively for 2012 and for 2013 returns that will be filed next year.

This is particularly important to you if you live in a state that does not impose a state income tax. You see, Congress offers you the choice between deducting state income taxes paid or state sales taxes paid. You choose whichever gives you the largest deduction, of course, and if your state doesn't have an income tax, the sales tax write-off is clearly the way to go.

In some cases, even filers who pay state income taxes can come out ahead with the sales tax choice.

The IRS has tables that show how much residents of various states can deduct, based on their income and state and local sales tax rates. But the tables aren't the last word. If you purchased a vehicle, boat or airplane, you may add the sales tax you paid on that big-ticket item to the amount shown in the IRS table for your state.

The same goes for any homebuilding materials you purchased. These add-on items are easy to overlook, but could make the sales-tax deduction a better deal even if you live in a state with an income tax. The IRS has a calculator on its Web site to help you figure the deduction. (As this is written, the IRS is working to update the calculator for 2012 returns.)

Reinvested dividends

This isn't really a tax deduction, but it is an important subtraction that can save you a bundle. And this is the break that former IRS commissioner Fred Goldberg told Kiplinger's that a lot of taxpayers miss.

If, like most investors, your mutual fund dividends are automatically used to buy extra shares, remember that each reinvestment increases your tax basis in the fund. That, in turn, reduces the taxable capital gain (or increases the tax-saving loss) when you redeem shares. Forgetting to include the reinvested dividends in your basis results in double taxation of the dividends -- once when they were paid out and immediately reinvested in more shares and later when they're included in the proceeds of the sale. Don't make that costly mistake.

If you're not sure what your basis is, ask the fund for help. (Starting with sales in 2012, mutual funds must report to investors -- and the IRS -- the tax basis of shares redeemed during the year. But note this: The new rule applies only to shares purchased in 2012 and later years. If you redeemed shares you purchased prior to 2012, it's still up to you to figure your basis. Don't forget those reinvested dividends!)

Out-of-pocket charitable contributions

It's hard to overlook the big charitable gifts you made during the year, by check or payroll deduction (check your December pay stub).

But the little things add up, too, and you can write off out-of-pocket costs incurred while doing work for a charity. For example, ingredients for casseroles you prepare for a nonprofit organization's soup kitchen and stamps you buy for your school's fundraising mailing count as a charitable contribution. Keep your receipts and if your contribution totals more than $250, you'll need an acknowledgement from the charity documenting the support you provided. If you drove your car for charity in 2012, remember to deduct 14 cents per mile plus parking and tolls paid in your philanthropic journeys.

Student-loan interest paid by Mom and Dad

Generally, you can only deduct mortgage or student-loan interest if you are legally required to repay the debt. But if parents pay back a child's student loans, the IRS treats the money as if it was given to the child, who then paid the debt. So, a child who's not claimed as a dependent can qualify to deduct up to $2,500 of student-loan interest paid by Mom and Dad. And he or she doesn't have to itemize to use this money-saver. Mom and Dad can't claim the interest deduction even though they actually foot the bill since they are not liable for the debt.

Job-hunting costs

If you're among the millions of unemployed Americans who were looking for a job in 2012, we hope you kept track of your job-search expenses ... or can reconstruct them. If you're looking for a position in the same line of work, you can deduct job-hunting costs as miscellaneous expenses if you itemize. Qualifying expenses can be written off even if you didn't land a new job. In any case, such expenses can be deducted only to the extent that your total miscellaneous expenses exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income. Job-hunting expenses incurred while looking for your first job don't qualify. Deductible job-search costs include, but aren't limited to:
Transportation expenses incurred as part of the job search, including 55.5 cents a mile for driving your own car plus + parking and tolls
+ Food and lodging expenses if your search takes you away from home overnight
+ Cab fares
+ Employment agency fees
+ Costs of printing resumes, business cards, postage, and advertising

The cost of moving for your first job

Although job-hunting expenses are not deductible when looking for your first job, moving expenses to get to that job are. And you get this write-off even if you don't itemize.

To qualify for the deduction, your first job must be at least 50 miles away from your old home. If you qualify, you can deduct the cost of getting yourself and your household goods to the new area. If you drove your own car on a 2012 move, deduct 23 cents a mile, plus what you paid for parking and tolls.

Military reservists' travel expenses

Members of the National Guard or military reserve may tap a deduction for travel expenses to drills or meetings. To qualify, you must travel more than 100 miles from home and be away from home overnight. If you qualify, you can deduct the cost of lodging and half the cost of your meals, plus an allowance for driving your own car to get to and from drills. For 2012 travel, the rate is 55.5 cents a mile, plus what you paid for parking fees and tolls.

Deduction of Medicare premiums for the self-employed

Folks who continue to run their own businesses after qualifying for Medicare can deduct the premiums they pay for Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D and the cost of supplemental Medicare (medigap) policies. This deduction is available whether or not you itemize and is not subject the 7.5% of AGI test that applies to itemized medical expenses. One caveat: You can't claim this deduction if you are eligible to be covered under an employer-subsidized health plan offered by your employer (if you have a job as well as your business) or your spouse's employer if he or she has a job that offers family medical coverage.

Child-care credit

A credit is so much better than a deduction; it reduces your tax bill dollar for dollar. So missing one is even more painful than missing a deduction that simply reduces the amount of income that's subject to tax. In the 25% bracket, each dollar of deductions is worth a quarter; each dollar of credits is worth a greenback.

You can qualify for a tax credit worth between 20% and 35% of what you pay for child care while you work. But if your boss offers a child care reimbursement account -- which allows you to pay for the child care with pre-tax dollars -- that might be an even better deal. If you qualify for a 20% credit but are in the 25% tax bracket, for example, the reimbursement plan is the way to go. (In any case, only amounts paid for the care of children under age 13 count.)

You can't double dip. Expenses paid through a plan can't also be used to generate the tax credit. But get this: Although only $5,000 in expenses can be paid through a tax-favored reimbursement account, up to $6,000 for the care of two or more children can qualify for the credit. So, if you run the maximum through a plan at work but spend even more for work-related child care, you can claim the credit on as much as $1,000 of additional expenses. That would cut your tax bill by at least $200.

Estate tax on income in respect of a decedent

This sounds complicated, but it can save you a lot of money if you inherited an IRA from someone whose estate was big enough to be subject to the federal estate tax.

Basically, you get an income-tax deduction for the amount of estate tax paid on the IRA assets you received. Let's say you inherited a $100,000 IRA, and the fact that the money was included in your benefactor's estate added $35,000 to the estate-tax bill. You get to deduct that $35,000 on your tax returns as you withdraw the money from the IRA. If you withdraw $50,000 in one year, for example, you get to claim a $17,500 itemized deduction on Schedule A. That would save you $4,900 in the 28% bracket.

State tax paid last spring

Did you owe tax when you filed your 2011 state income tax return in the spring of 2012? Then, for goodness' sake, remember to include that amount in your state-tax deduction on your 2012 federal return, along with state income taxes withheld from your paychecks or paid via quarterly estimated payments.

Refinancing points

When you buy a house, you get to deduct in one fell swoop the points paid to get your mortgage. When you refinance, though, you have to deduct the points on the new loan over the life of that loan. That means you can deduct 1/30th of the points a year if it's a 30-year mortgage. That's $33 a year for each $1,000 of points you paid -- not much, maybe, but don't throw it away.

Even more important, in the year you pay off the loan -- because you sell the house or refinance again -- you get to deduct all as-yet-undeducted points. There's one exception to this sweet rule: If you refinance a refinanced loan with the same lender, you add the points paid on the latest deal to the leftovers from the previous refinancing -- and deduct that amount gradually over the life of the new loan. A pain? Yes, but at least you'll be compensated for the hassle.

Jury pay turned over to your employer

Many employers continue to pay employees' full salary while they serve on jury duty, and some impose a quid pro quo: the employees have to turn over their jury pay to the company coffers. The only problem is that the IRS demands that you report those jury fees as taxable income. To even things out, you get to deduct the amount you give to your employer.

But how do you do it? There's no line on the Form 1040 labeled jury fees. Instead the write-off goes on line 36, which purports to be for simply totaling up deductions that get their own lines. Add your jury fees to the total of your other write-offs and write "jury pay" on the dotted line.

American Opportunity Credit

Unlike the Hope Credit that this one has temporarily replaced, the American Opportunity Credit is good for all four years of college, not just the first two. Don't shortchange yourself by missing this critical difference. This tax credit is based on 100% of the first $2,000 spent on qualifying college expenses and 25% of the next $2,000 . . . for a maximum annual credit per student of $2,500. The full credit is available to individuals whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less ($160,000 or less for married couples filing a joint return). The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above those levels. If the credit exceeds your tax liability, it can trigger a refund. (Most credits can reduce your tax to $0, but not get you a check from the IRS.)

Deduct those blasted baggage fees

In recent years airlines have been driving passengers batty with extra fees for baggage and for making changes in travel plans. All together, such fees add up to billions of dollars each year. If you get burned, maybe Uncle Sam will help ease the pain. If you're self-employed and travelling on business, be sure to add those cost to your deductible travel expenses.

Credits for energy-saving home improvements

It's widely believed that tax credit for energy saving home improvement have expired. And that's true for the credits that encouraged homeowners to replace windows and doors, add insulation and upgrade air conditioning and furnace systems to more energy-efficient units. But the most valuable credits still exist ... and will through 2016. These credits effectively refund 30% of the cost (including labor) of installing l qualified residential alternative energy equipment, such as solar hot water heaters, geothermal heat pumps and wind turbines. If you installed such a system in 2012, be sure to let Uncle Sam lend you a hand with the cost.

Additional bonus depreciation

A break that allowed business owners -- including those who run businesses out of their homes -- to write off 100% of the cost of qualified assets placed in service expired at the end of 2011. Although Congress did not extend this break retroactively as part of the fiscal cliff deal, bonus deprecation didn't disappear completely – it's available at the 50% level for qualified assets purchased in 2012.

Perhaps more valuable is a break Congress did make retroactive for 2012 purchases. The lawmakers restored a supercharged “expensing” provision -- which basically lets you write off the full cost of new assets in the year you put them into service. While the dollar limit for expensing had fallen to $139,000 worth of assets for 2012, the fiscal cliff deal boosted the cap to $500,000. Note that the right to use expensing phases out if you put more than $2 million worth of assets into service in 2012

Break on the sale of demutualized stock

The year 2012 brought another court victory for taxpayers battling the IRS over the issue of demutualized stock. That's stock that a life insurance policyholder receives when the insurer switches from being a mutual company owned by policyholders to a stock company owned by stockholders. The IRS's longstanding position is that such stock had no tax basis, so that when the shares were sold, the taxpayer owed tax on 100% of the proceeds of the sale. But after a long legal struggle, a federal court ruled in 2009 that the IRS was wrong. And this year, a federal district court sided with taxpayers, too. The courts haven't said what the basis of the stock should be, but many experts think it's whatever the shares were worth when they were distributed to policyholders. If you sold stock in 2012 that you received in a demutualization, be sure to claim a basis to hold down your tax bill.

Tax-free transit subsidy

The fiscal cliff deal signed by President Obama's autopen on January 2 brought a retroactive break for commuters who use public transit to get to work in 2012. Last year, folks who drove to work could receive up to $240 tax-free from their employers to cover the cost of parking. But, due to a glitch in the law, workers who used mass transit were limited to $125 a month tax-free to pay for their bus, subway and train rides to the job. The new law brings parity to the tax break, hiking the tax-free limit for transit expenses to $240 ... retroactive to January 1, 2012.

At this writing, it's unclear exactly how transit riders will be able to claim this money-saver. But if your employer offers a transit-subsidy program and you spent more than $125 a month in 2012, you could be due a refund of both income and Social Security taxes. Check with your human resources office.

June 18, 2013
This year's 10 top paid tech CEOs all make more than $15 million annually.

1. Larry Ellison: $96.2 million

Company: Oracle
Cash compensation: $5.5 million
Stock and options: $90.7 million
Total compensation 1-yr. change: 24%
Despite his $1 salary, Ellison is not only the highest paid tech CEO this year, but the highest paid of all CEOs.

Most of Ellison's pay ($90.7 million) comes from his stock grants. In June of 2011 he was given an option to purchase 7 million shares of Oracle (ORCL, Fortune 500) common stock.

2. Marissa Mayer: $36.6 million

Company: Yahoo
Cash compensation: $1.6 million
Stock and options: $35 million
Total compensation 1-yr. change: N/A
Mayer left Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) to join Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) as its CEO, president and a board member in July of 2012. Her base salary was set at $1 million with an annual bonus target set at $2 million a year.

Though she only took home $6 million last year, Mayer reached No. 2 on this list because she was also offered a one-time retention award when she was hired, consisting of stock grants that could total $30 million when they vest over the next five years.

3. John Donahoe: $29.7 million

Company: eBay
Cash compensation: $4 million
Stock and options: $25.7 million
Total compensation 1-yr. change: 81%
The 81% jump in in Donahoe's salary this year is largely due to a one-time award of about $14.9 million paid in stock.

According to a regulatory filing, Donahoe got the grant because he led eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500) "successfully through a difficult turnaround ... and positioned it well for additional growth."

4. Marc Benioff: $22.1 million

Cash compensation: $3.2 million
Stock and options: $18.9 million
Total compensation 1-yr. change: 25%
Benioff's base salary has been set at $1 million for the past two years.

He received a $1.3 million cash bonus last year and almost $19 million in (CRM) stock options and awards. He also received $650,000 to cover costs related to his personal security which are "of paramount importance to the company," according to a regulatory filing.

5. Randall Stephenson: $21 million

Company: AT&T
Cash compensation: $8.4 million
Stock and options: $12.6 million
Total compensation 1-yr. change: 12%
Stephenson, who has served as CEO and president of AT&T (T, Fortune 500) since 2007, was paid a $6 million bonus on top of his $1.6 million base salary in 2012. About $13 million of his pay came in the form of stock and awards.

6. Paul Jacobs: $20.7 million

Company: Qualcomm
Cash compensation: $5.7 million
Stock and options: $15 million
Total compensation 1-yr. change: -5%
Jacobs was given a $3.4 million cash bonus on top of his $1.2 million salary. Other compensation for the CEO included more than $280,000 for personal use of Qualcomm's (QCOM, Fortune 500) corporate aircraft and more than $4,000 for things such as home office costs, personal travel and entertainment.

7. Paul Otellini: $18.9 million

Company: Intel
Cash compensation: $7 million
Stock and options: $11.9 million
Total compensation 1-yr. change: 10%
Otellini was granted a 10% raise in 2012 partly to keep his compensation in the 50th percentile of a group of CEOs at similar companies. His base salary jumped from $1.1 million to $1.2 million and his incentive cash bonus jumped from about $4.8 million to $5.3 million.

Otellini retired as the CEO of Intel (INTC, Fortune 500) in May after working for the company for 38 years.

8. John Coyne: $17.2 million

Company: Western Digital
Cash compensation: $7.8 million
Stock and options: $9.4 million
Total compensation 1-yr. change: 146%
Coyne's compensation more than doubled over the previous year. When he retired in January 2013, all of his Western Digital (WDC, Fortune 500) stock options granted to him prior to 2012 became fully vested. Hence the giant pay haul: His stock awards jumped to $6.3 million from $0 in the previous year.

9. Joseph Tucci: $16.6 million

Company: EMC
Cash compensation: $2.6 million
Stock and options: $14 million
Total compensation 1-yr. change: 25%
Tucci's base salary ($1.1 million) and target cash bonus ($1.5 million) have not increased since 2001, but that didn't not keep him off this year's list of highest-paid tech CEOs.

Like some other CEOs that made the list, Tucci is thinking about retirement, but EMC's (EMC, Fortune 500) board has requested that he stay through at least February of 2015.

10. Meg Whitman: $15.4 million

Company: Hewlett-Packard
Cash compensation: $1.9 million
Stock and options: $13.5 million
Total compensation 1-yr. change: N/A
Whitman, who has served as CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500) since September of 2011, is another executive whose annual salary is just $1. Most of her compensation comes from stock and option awards.