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TurboTax Uses A “Military Discount” to Trick Troops Into Paying to File Their Taxes

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Corporations really are unethical and greedy. We need a government that actually monitors and regulates them and punishes bad behavior. Justin Elliott and Kengo Tsutsumi report in ProPublica:

In patriotism-drenched promotions, press releases and tweets, TurboTax promotes special deals for military service members, promising to help them file their taxes online for free or at a discount.

Yet some service members who’ve filed by going to the TurboTax Military landing page told ProPublica they were charged as much as $150 — even though, under a deal with the government, service members making under $66,000 are supposed to be able to file on TurboTax for free.

Liz Zimmerman is a mother of two teenage daughters and a toddler who lives with her husband, a Navy chief petty officer, in Bettendorf, Iowa, just across the river from the Rock Island military facility. When Zimmerman went to do her taxes this year, she Googled “tax preparation military free” and, she recalled in an interview, TurboTax was the first link that popped up, promising “free military taxes.” She clicked and came to the site emblazoned with miniature American flags.

But when Zimmerman got to the end of the process, TurboTax charged her $60, even though the family makes under the $66,000 income threshold to file for free. “I’ve got a kid in braces and I’ve got a kid in preschool; $60 is half a week’s worth of groceries,” she said. “Who needs date night this month? At least I filed my taxes.”

In the commercial version of TurboTax that includes the “military discount,” customers are charged based on the tax forms they file. The Zimmermans used a form to claim a retirement savings credit that TurboTax required a paid upgrade to file. If they’d started from the TurboTax Free File landing page instead of the military page, they would have been able to file for free.

Like many other tax prep companies, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, participates in the Free File program with the IRS, under which the industry offers most Americans free tax filing. In return, the IRS agrees not to create its own free filing system that would compete with the companies. But few of those who are eligible use the program, in part because the companies aggressively market paid versions, often misleading customers. We’ve documented how Intuit had deliberately made its Free File version difficult to find, including by hiding it from search engines.

In a statement, Intuit spokesman Rick Heineman said, “Intuit has long supported active-military and veterans, both in filing their taxes and in their communities, overseas, and in the Intuit workplace.” He added: “Intuit is proud to support active military, including the millions of men and women in uniform who have filed their tax returns completely free using TurboTax.”

To find TurboTax’s Free File landing page, service members typically have to go through the IRS website. TurboTax Military, by contrast, is promoted on the company’s home page and elsewhere. Starting through the Military landing page directs many users to paid products even when they are eligible to get the same service for no cost using the Free File edition.

An Intuit press release this year announced “TurboTax Offers Free Filing for Military E1- E5” — but refers users to TurboTax Military and does not mention the actual Free File option. (E1-E5 refers to military pay grades.) It was promoted on the company’s Twitter feed with a smiling picture of a woman wearing fatigues outside her suburban home. Google searches for “TurboTax military,” “TurboTax for soldiers” and “TurboTax for troops” all produce top results sending users to the TurboTax Military page.

That site offers a “military discount.” Some service members can use it to file for free, depending on their pay grade and tax situation. Others are informed — only after inputting their tax data — that they will have to pay.

In one instance, Petty Officer Laurell, a hospital corpsman in the Navy who didn’t want his full name used, was charged even though he makes under $66,000. TurboTax charged Laurell $95 this year and $100 last year, his receipts show.

“I am upset and troubled that TurboTax would intentionally mislead members of the military,” said Laurell, who has been in the service for a decade.

Using receipts, tax returns and other documentation, we verified the accounts from four service members who were charged by TurboTax even though they were eligible to use Free File. They include an Army second lieutenant, a Navy hospital corpsman and a Navy yeoman.

The New York regulator investigating TurboTax is also examining the military issue, according to a person familiar with the probe.

Active-duty members of the military get greater access to Free File products than other taxpayers. All Americans who make under $66,000 can use products offered by one of 12 participating companies in the program. But each company then imposes additional, sometimes confusing eligibility requirements based on income, age and location. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2019 at 1:51 pm

New findings on cholesterol that contradict old recommendations

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2019 at 9:58 am

Winner of best caption contest

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2019 at 9:36 am

Posted in Daily life

Why you MUST be careful in buying extra-virgin olive oil

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Julie Al-Zoubi reports in the Olive Oil Times:

Europol’s intellectual property crime unit seized 150,000 liters of adulterated olive oil heading for German restaurants and arrested 20 people in a joint operation with the Italian NAS Carabinieri and the Tribunal of Darmstadt in Germany.

The accused allegedly modified low-quality sunflower oil with chlorophyll, beta-carotene and soya, which was then passed off as extra virgin olive oil to be sold in Germany. In some cases, genuine olive oil had been completely replaced with fake oil but was still touted as olive oil.

The oil adulteration took place by a well-organized gang at an unregulated mill in Italy under unsanitary conditions. It was then transported to warehouses in Germany for distribution to buyers.

SEE MORE: Olive Oil Fraud

The accused included drivers who made fortnightly deliveries of the fake oil to Germany in trucks and accomplices who were responsible for the production and packaging of the oil.

Twenty houses were searched in Italy whilst in Germany five trucks, each carrying 23,000 liters of fake oil, were hauled in. Overall, 150,000 liters of fake olive oil were confiscated at a range of locations during the operation.

The accused are believed to have pocketed around €8 million ($8.93 million) annually from their adulterating operation. It is also believed that they acquired one million liters of sunflower oil each year for around €100,000,000 ($111,690,000) and then sold on their fake olive oil for between €5 and €10 ($5.58 and $11.17) per liter.

This seizure was part of an ongoing effort by Operation OPSON to eradicate food fraud and prevent substandard food and drinks being distributed across Europe and further afield.

Europol gave its full support to the operation, which began in March 2019 with a briefing attended by representatives from the Italian and German authorities at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague.

The organization’s role included processing and analyzing information obtained by investigating units as well as making experts from the Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition available on the day of action to provide onsite support.

Back In 2017, Europol issued warnings to producers and consumers that fraudulent food products, including olive oil, cheese, wines and spirits were on the rise across the E.U. Germany was named as one of the countries most affected along with Spain, France, Italy and Greece.

In the same year, a joint operation between Interpol and Europol resulted in €230 million ($290 million) of counterfeit and substandard food and beverages being seized in an operation spanning across 61 countries. This operation unveiled widespread fraudulence in . . .

Continue reading.

This list of good (and bad) olive oils is updated regularly. I just bought this one locally at a price so low I was uneasy, so I was relieved to see it listed:

TERRA Delyssa – Certified Organic EVOO, 100% Tunisian Certified Organic Extra Virgin – Meets and exceeds USDA and International “IOC” standards. Brought to you by the same farmers and millers that controlled the quality of Terra Delyssa from tree to bottle.

Still, I find I don’t like the taste and I am suspicious of the very low price.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2019 at 8:36 am

Avoiding dietary disasters

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Along with How Not to Die, by Michael Greger M.D., I’m reading Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health, by Deborah Minger. This is from the Prologue:

The diet world is a dangerous place for the uninitiated. When we first step into its murky, scam-infested innards, we barely realize how close we are to bonking our heads on a beam of pseudoscience, or slipping down a slope lined with wheatgrass and dihydrogen monoxide supplements. We assume, in the beginning, that The Truth has already been excavated—sitting behind bullet-proof glass somewhere, crowned by a golden nimbus—and all we have to do is find the right book or website to tell us what it is.

In many cases, we put our trust in celebrity doctors and other purveyors of conventional wisdom, diligently following their dietary lead, hoping they’ve got it right. In other cases, like mine, we stumble around until some guy in a blazer sells us a compelling story and a box of discounted mangoes.

In either situation, the outcome is the same: we end up a few miles south of real vitality, stranded with our damaged goods and the unshakable feeling we’ve just been swindled. Unable to navigate the nutrition terrain on our own, we stumble blindly—maybe with a ketchup-stained Rand McNally tucked under one arm—looking for the safest road to health, and the loudest voice to lead us there. If we’re not careful (and sometimes even when we are), we’ll get taken in by hucksters, woo, hyperbole, or outdated advice too stale to be effectual.

In my case, raw veganism ushered in health problems with impressive speed. But for others—including the millions of Americans who think they’re eating well by following USDA recommendations or similar “official” advice—the crash-and-burn process unfurls in slow motion, swerving through years-long valleys of expanding waistlines, insulin resistance, arthritic joints, and other conditions we’ve somehow accepted as normal parts of aging.

Whether the diet-damage strikes fast or creeps stealthily, we rarely gain the competence or foresight to steer our health in the right direction on our own.

And it’s not because we’re a nation of bumbling fools, either. The reality is that most of us grow up strapped in an educational system that favors obedience over independent thinking. We’re rewarded for trusting authority, and punished for challenging it. We focus on memorizing the stuff other people came up with—formulas in math, grammar rules in English, theories in physics, cell functions in biology—rather than grasping the logic behind our most important breakthroughs and tracing the footsteps of their discovery. We answer test questions with what we think our teacher wants to hear. We chase grades instead of knowledge. And worst of all, we leave the classroom woefully unequipped with the thinking skills that matter most: how to balance open-mindedness with skepticism, how to identify bias, and how to challenge assumptions—including our own—in a way that’s truly objective.

To hijack a famous analogy, most school systems give us fish instead of teaching us how to fish. That might be fine for a meal or two. But it ultimately grooms us for a lifelong dependency on others to feed us what we’re too ham-fisted to catch ourselves. And when it comes to our health, that means we end up hopping from authority to purported authority—sometimes unscrupulously—in search of our next premade meal of advice.

Contrary to popular belief, America’s dietary guidelines aren’t the magnum opuses of high-ranking scientists, cerebral cortexes pulsating in the moonlight as they solve the mysteries of human nutrition. What reaches our ears has been squeezed, tortured, reshaped, paid off, and defiled by a phenomenal number of sources. And as my own story proves, the USDA’s wisdom, pyramid and beyond, isn’t the only source of misguided health information out there. But it is some of the most pervasive, the most coddled by the food industry, the most sheltered from criticism, and—as a consequence—the most hazardous to public health.

The path to knowledge is not paved with hubris. The first step in reaching that destination is acknowledging that there’s a vast expanse we’ve yet to understand. Without that humility, that willingness to follow the truth wherever it leads, the scientific process will never bloom to completion.

Sadly, even when we think we’ve finally broken free from the pack and are thinking independently—questioning, exploring, examining—we often find ourselves sinking back into a new ideology that demands a prompt re-closing of an otherwise open mind. This can be true of those who venture off the beaten path and into fruitarianism, veganism, gluten-free, low-carb, lowfat, or paleo-style eating—the list is endless.

Rarely are any of us detached enough to seek as well as accept whatever new information appears. As is human nature, the diet journey is more of a hop from island to island: forming tribes wherever we go, seeking like-minds, and eventually finding ourselves stuck in giant echo chambers, where the only thing changed are the words that reverberate.

This book is an attempt to unite those disparate islands and learn—from ourselves and from each other—on a more global scale. The only way our understanding of diet and health can advance is if we allow all voices to be part of the dialogue. . .

Nobody has all the answers. Science is still evolving. So is our understanding of what it’s dredged up. And most importantly, there’s no magic-pill diet that will work equally well for all people. It’s a reality just as frustrating as it is liberating, and one many health gurus will never admit to you (or to themselves, perhaps). After all, uncertainty isn’t very profitable.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2019 at 5:47 pm

Why You Should Try to Be a Little More Scarce

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Cindy Lamothe writes in the NY Times:

Back in college, I was always the first to raise my hand in class (a behavior that didn’t win me many friends, let me tell you). Now as a freelance writer, I’m no stranger to that same overeagerness when it comes to work — translated in prompt replies and more than the occasional emoji. Emails, tweets, Slack messages — you name it — being affable and amenable is kind of my thing.

And while conventional wisdom tells us we should eagerly embrace every opportunity that comes our way, playing a little hard to get has its advantages.

Study after study has shown that opportunities are seen to be more valuable as they become less available, meaning that people want more of what they can’t have, according to Robert Cialdini, a leading expert on influence and the author of “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.”

“What the scarcity principle says is that people are more attracted to those options or opportunities that are rare, unique or dwindling in availability,” Dr. Cialdini said. The reason behind this idea has to do with the psychology of “reactance”: Essentially, when we think something is limited to us, we tend to want it more.

Luckily for us, according to experts, it’s possible to harness this concept and increase our appeal in things like negotiations and career advancement. So if you find yourself becoming overzealous over every little opportunity that comes your way, here are a few ways to keep things in balance:

Appearing readily available can work against you, according to Jeremy Nicholson, a social psychologist who focuses on decision-making, social influence and relationship dynamics. This comes down to economics — if you’re in low supply and high demand, you’re worth more.

Think about it this way: If you’re overly excited about a work opportunity, that might communicate that you are in low demand. All the more reason to play it cool. Making something harder to get, Dr. Nicholson said, “tends to increase at least the perception of the value, if not its actual value.”

Part of making this work means keeping your enthusiasm in check.

“Overeagerness can be a sign of naïveté or sound like plain desperation,” said John Lees, a Britain-based career strategist and the author of “How to Get a Job You Love.”

When it comes to things like compensation negotiations, be clear that you are really interested in finding out more about the opportunity, Mr. Lees suggests, but give a sense that you are aware of your skills and your market value.

If you find yourself approached by hiring managers or potential clients, Dr. Nicholson recommends responding in a way that respects their interest without coming across as too eager. In other words, “You’re selective with who you work with, but you would consider working with or for them.”

Be confident and assertive, Dr. Nicholson advises, with responses like: “Well, I do have a couple of other projects that I’m working on. However, I could prioritize this for you if you want.” By being selectively interested, you’re not being so hard to get that you insult the person who is seeking a relationship with you, he said, but rather letting them know that you have options. “Plus, you’re prioritizing them because they’re valuable to you as well.”

And if you are still nervous about appearing overzealous, give yourself time to recalibrate before answering an email or hopping on the phone.

Better yet: Get physical. Taking a moment to go on a walk has been shown to lower stress and boost your well-being. This allows your brain to quiet a little, said Liz Ryan, founder of Human Workplace and the author of “Reinvention Roadmap: Break the Rules to Get the Job You Want and Career You Deserve. The point here is to decrease your anxiety so you can focus on the negotiation at hand.

It’s easy to become excited when an unexpected opportunity presents itself, Ms. Ryan said, but remember that your power in any negotiation is related to your ability to walk away.

Once you have interest, channel that into due diligence, Mr. Lees said. “Research the organization as if you were going to invest half your life savings in it,” he said.

It’s also important to continually check in with your gut, Ms. Ryan added, and remember: Don’t accept an offer before fully considering the terms. Playing hard to get can feel scary because you may really need the money, “but no one will value you more highly than you value yourself,” she said. Sometimes it’s a matter of giving yourself the space to calm down and evaluate.

Ms. Ryan recommends asking a lot of questions, reading up on the organization from third-party perspectives, and checking out job-search websites like to see what employees and ex-employees say about it. Keep in mind: The goal is to approach any negotiation cautiously and with a clear head.

Not only should we do our homework in the moment, Dr. Cialdini said, we should also be continually assessing our market worth, “so that if an unexpected opportunity comes up, you don’t have to rush and do a slack job on this crucial factor.”

Keep an updated spreadsheet on hand with a list of your skills and achievements so you can quickly review it when you have an offer. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2019 at 4:10 pm

How a city was ruined by money: San Francisco

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Karen Heller reports in the Washington Post:

 A Tuesday afternoon in the Mission District of America’s tech wonderland.

Michael Feno stands outside Lucca Ravioli, his beloved pasta emporium on Valencia, a vestige of old San Francisco, puffing on a cigar while posing for pictures, his customers in tears.

Living in this city’s radically shifting landscape, veterinarian Gina Henriksen found comfort by telling herself, “Thank God, Lucca is still here. If Lucca goes, I’m going to have to leave San Francisco. What do we have left?”

Lucca is no longer here.

After 94 years, doors shuttered on the last day of April. The parking lot sold for $3.5 million. A three-building parcel, including the store, listed for $8.3 million and was purchased by — need you inquire? — a developer.

A few blocks away, in this neighborhood of shops hawking $2,600 electric bikes and $8 lemonade, Borderlands Cafe — a throwback with plants cascading from the ceiling — closed the same day after a decade in business.

Owner Alan Beatts couldn’t retain staff, even with a $15 minimum hourly wage. Who can live on $15 an hour in this city transformed by innovation?

How can Alba Guerra, co-owner of nearby Sun Rise restaurant, continue to charge $10.95 for the housemade vegan chorizo platter after her rent spiked 62 percent last year to $7,800 a month?

For decades, this coruscating city of hills, bordered by water on three sides, was a beloved haven for reinvention, a refuge for immigrants, bohemians, artists and outcasts. It was the great American romantic city, the Paris of the West.

No longer. In a time of scarce consensus, everyone agrees that something has rotted in San Francisco.

Conservatives have long loathed it as the axis of liberal politics and political correctness, but now progressives are carping, too. They mourn it for what has been lost, a city that long welcomed everyone and has been altered by an earthquake of wealth. It is a place that people disparage constantly, especially residents.

Real estate is the nation’s costliest. Listings read like typos, a median $1.6 million for a single-family home and $3,700 monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment.

“This is unregulated capitalism, unbridled capitalism, capitalism run amok. There are no guardrails,” says Salesforce founder and chairman Marc Benioff, a fourth-generation San Franciscan who in a TV interview branded his city “a train wreck.”

You no longer leave your heart in San Francisco. The city breaks it.

The city is filthy rich in what other regions crave: growth, start-ups, high-paying jobs, educated young people, soaring property values, commercial and residential construction, a vibrant street life, and so much disposable revenue. But San Francisco, a city of 883,305 residents, 100,000 more than two decades ago, is the Patient Zero of issues affecting urban areas. The sole constant is its staggering beauty.

Downtown is a theme park of seismic start-ups — Uber, Airbnb, Slack and Lyft, with Twitter in the nearby Tenderloin, every app a skyscraper. The 58-story Millennium Tower is a sinking, tilting luxury condo folly that will take $100 million to right — writer Rebecca Solnit dubbed it “the leaning tower of hubris.”

In the shadow of such wealth, San Francisco grapples with a very visible homeless crisis of 7,500 residents, some shooting up in the parks and defecating on the sidewalks, which a 2018 United Nations report deemed “a violation of multiple human rights.” Last year, new Mayor London Breed assigned a five-person crew, dubbed the “poop patrol,” to clean streets and alleys of human feces.

The small downtown’s streets are choked with Google and Apple employee buses, and 45,000 daily Uber and Lyft drivers, some commuting from hours away and unfamiliar with the city. By comparison, there are 25,000 ride-sharing drivers in Philadelphia, a much larger and more populous city.

There’s an ongoing battle between the NIMBYs and YIMBYs over development in one of the nation’s densest cities. Tech companies here are the beneficiaries of gilded carrots, tax breaks. Longtime residents worry that tech workers are drawn here for the jobs, not the city, and may never become stakeholders in San Francisco’s future.

“Our rich are richer. Our homeless are more desperate. Our hipsters are more pretentious,” says Solnit, who once wrote that “San Francisco is now a cruel place and a divided one.”

The Bay Area is home to more billionaires per capita than anywhere on Earth, one out of every 11,600 residents, according to Vox. The entire region, as far as two hours away, has been affected by spiraling real estate prices. Venture capitalist John Doerr has claimed that the area’s economic growth is “the greatest legal accumulation of wealth in history.”

And it’s only likely to keep growing. Several San Francisco tech companies, such as Slack and Postmates, are scheduled to go public this year — Uber did on May 10. This IPO fever could mint thousands more messenger bag-toting millionaires and, denizens fear, more absurd prices.

“The city is losing the very things that people moved to the city for,” Beatts says. “People think that the best thing to happen is to get a lot of people to move here. But what happens when you get everything you want?”

Tech isn’t what everyone talks about in San Francisco. It’s money.

Real estate, income inequality, $20 salads, the homeless, adult children unable to move out, non-tech workers unable to move in.

San Francisco has experienced plenty of change through its rich history: the Gold Rush, corruption, earthquakes, fire, reconstruction, strikes, multiple waves of immigration, the rise of gay culture, the Summer of Love, the dot-com bubble and the dot-com bust.

What residents resent now is the shift to one industry, a monoculture.

“What I wanted was this flow of humanity and culture,” says editor and former nonprofit executive Julie Levak-Madding, who manages the VanishingSF page on Facebook, documenting the “hyper-gentrifiction” of her city. “It’s so devastating to a huge amount of the population.”

To many inhabitants, San Francisco has become unrecognizable in a decade, as though it had gone on a cosmetic surgery bender.

“I can’t tell you the number of friends who tell me how much they hate San Francisco,” says former city supervisor Jane Kim. Which is something given that she ran for mayor in the 2018 special election. (Kim came in third.) “They say it’s too homogenous.”

Too homogenous. Too expensive. Too tech. Too millennial. Too white. Too elite. Too bro.

To take a midday tour downtown is to be enveloped by a jeaned and athleisured army of young workers, mostly white and Asian, and predominantly male. The presence of a boomer or toddler is akin to spotting an endangered species.

San Francisco has less of what makes a city dynamic. It has  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s grim. The city has been destroyed, in effect. It’s become simply an office building, broken into parts and scattered around.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2019 at 2:15 pm

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