Monday, April 18, 2011

Taxpayers have until midnight today to file their returns after a three-day grace period, granted because the federal government observed Washington D.C.'s Emancipation Day on Friday.

And as last-minute filers fill out their forms, another American tradition takes place: protesting taxes.

A group of tax watchers was planning a demonstration this afternoon in downtown Tampa to voice concerns about large corporations using loopholes to get out of paying the maximum amount.

The Make Them Pay protest was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. in front of the Bank of America tower, 101 E. Kennedy Blvd.

Organizer Chris Radulich said he hopes for 100 to 150 people to show up.

"There is quite a number of organizations and unions involved," he said.

"We can't stand the way the state is progressing, and the national government," he said. "This one is to point out the fact that while we individuals are paying taxes, corporations are using loopholes and even getting rebates."

Meanwhile, rank-and-file taxpayers who don't utilize online tax services are expected to hoof it to post offices to get their returns postmarked today.

Tampa's main post office at Tampa International Airport will remain open until midnight with workers stationed along the drive collecting returns. St. Petersburg's main post office will stay open until 7 p.m.

"We stopped getting the huge crush a few years ago" because of online filing, said Gary Sawtelle, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Tampa. "It's a lot slower than it used to be. We're expecting a good right-after-work crowd, but after that, it tapers off."

The convenience for those mailing returns at the airport office is the drive-thru feature. Postal workers will collect returns from drivers and postmark them without the customers having to get out of their cars, Sawtelle said.

The trend away from paper returns means fewer people mailing at the last minute, he said.

"A few years ago, we opened up other post offices," around the Tampa Bay area, he said. "But now we don't need it. It's been very, very light the last couple of years."

IRS officials said about 6.4 million Floridians have already filed returns, with 2.4 million still missing.

Electronic filing is gaining popularity, up 7 percent from last year. Officials said that electronically filed returns made up 84 percent of the returns the IRS has received.

That percentage will drop, as a majority of those filing close to the deadline use paper forms, officials said.

Those who can't make the deadline can request an extension, but that request has to be sent by today. Filers who want more time need to send the IRS a Form 4868 by mail or electronically. Typically, the government grants a six-month grace period for taxpayers who properly file requests for extensions.

The IRS expected to get more than 10 million requests for extensions, tax experts said.

The IRS has penalties for failing to file or pay on time. Typically, the failure to file on time carries a heftier fine, so if taxpayers can't pay right way they still should get their forms filed. There are options available for payments after the tax returns are in.
Gasoline declined as equities tumbled after Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services revised its outlook on the U.S.’s long-term sovereign credit rating to negative from stable.

Futures fell from a 33-month high as Standard & Poor’s said there’s a “material risk” that U.S. policy makers may not agree on a plan to address long-term budget issues by 2013. Prices rose 0.9 percent last week as East Coast refinery shutdowns curtailed fuel production and a jump in consumer confidence indicated fuel demand may increase.

“What’s really moved the market is the S&P downgraded our outlook to negative,” said Phil Flynn, vice president of research at PFGBest in Chicago. “This raises concern that the U.S. is going to have to raise interest rates to attract equity, which will slow demand for oil down the road.”

Gasoline for May delivery dropped 4.34 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $3.2458 a gallon at 1:04 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

At the same time, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index retreated 1.6 percent in New York.

Standard & Poor’s affirmed its AAA long-term and A-1+ short-term sovereign credit ratings on the U.S.

Gasoline fell before the S&P report, following crude oil, after Saudi Oil Minister Al al-Naimi said the global “market is oversupplied” and China increased bank reserve requirements.

As we previously reported, Pia and Mark went out on a date the NIGHT AFTER she got the boot from "Idol" ... and have since ratcheted up their romance.

There's a report out that Pia unceremoniously dumped her caterer boyfriend Carlos Nunez to trade up to Ballas.

But our "Dancing with the Stars"/"American Idol" spies tell us ... Carlos was history long before Mark entered the picture.

Check out the pics we got of Pia and her ex. Ah, what could have been.
The most famous yet-to-be revealed dress in the world is being designed by the bride herself. Kate Middleton’s wedding dress is top secret, but that hasn’t stopped the British media from trying to parse the details together from leaked snippets here are there.

The latest breathless news, quoting an “impeccably placed source,” London’s Daily Mail suggests that Ms. Middleton began designing her own dress immediately after her engagement, taking her cue from “the Renaissance period,” (For fashion samples click here)which she studied in Florence during her gap year.

The dress will also offer a “nod” to Princess Diana’s wedding gown, minus the “flounce,” the Mail reports. It has reportedly been created by 34-year-old Sophie Cranston, whose label Libelula was created in 2002, and includes a bridal collection. (Kate Middleton has worn Libelula before- in January she sported this velvet coat.)

The dress, kept under lock and key at Clarence House, is made of “ ivory satin and lace, with a pearl button detail and 10 foot train,” according to the Mail.

And some lucky bidder will have the pleasure of taking the gown home after royal wedding. It will be put up for auction to raise money for charity.
Sean Bean’s latest role didn’t require him to master many new skills from scratch. “I’m pretty good at horse riding and sword-fighting already,” he chuckles in his gruff Northern burr, “though I did have to brush up on them both a bit before filming.” It has, after all, been 18 years since Bean saddled up as Sergeant Richard Sharpe in the first of 16 swashbuckling adventures on ITV1. “Though generally,” he says, “we practise with sticks instead of swords.”

Bean is discussing his latest heroic incarnation: Lord Eddard Stark, the lead character in the new HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones. Comparisons with his biggest film role, as Boromir in Lord of the Rings, are inevitable. But Game of Thrones, says Bean, is quite different – “an edgier, sexy, dark, brooding piece, where no one is safe” and that has more “brutality, betrayal, back-stabbing, corruption and hordes of unsavoury characters.”

Based on A Song of Fire and Ice, the popular series of books by America’s contemporary answer to Tolkien, George RR Martin, Game of Thrones is indeed a sumptuous, sprawling tale of feuding families and the pursuit of power. Bloody and barbarous, but also beautiful, it has no shortage of sex, swords and savagery.

Told across 10 intense and, at times, eerie 60-minute episodes, the epic, multilayered story is set in the fictional land of Westeros, where competing clans, or Houses, have fought for generations, each dominating a different realm. Years ago, one tribe, the Targaryens, invaded to unite the Seven Kingdoms under the Iron Throne; now there’s a battle brewing to regain that throne once more.

Maybe you saw that actor Nicolas Cage was arrested in New Orleans after an argument with his wife. He was booked on suspicion of domestic abuse battery, disturbing the peace and public drunkenness.

nicolas cage crop 320What intrigued me was that the police said Cage and his wife were standing in front of a home and arguing about whether it was where they lived.

Well, I can get behind that in a big way. If there’s one thing my wife and I always argue about, it’s which house is ours.

Honey, this is our place! No, our house is on another street! Hold on, it’s that green one! Wait, this isn’t even our city!

Because I’ve been through this so often, I’ve devised some helpful tricks. They’ve saved my marriage, and maybe they’ll work for other guys:

Look in your pocket. If you have a key to the front door, it’s probably your house.
Check the address on your diver’s license to see if the numbers match the ones on the door.

Use your cell phone to dial your home number, then listen carefully for a ring inside the house.

Go to nearby homes and ask the neighbors if you look familiar.

Stumble back to the bar. Another drink could help jog your memory.

By using these simple tricks, you and your wife will be back at home in no time. I mean, assuming she’s really your wife.
Around Wyoming this week, the National Weather Service and emergency agencies are taking part in Severe Weather Awareness Week, with each day focusing on a different theme.

Keith Meier is a Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings. He explains the purpose of the week.

Speaking of a tornado watch, the entire state of Wyoming will be undergoing a Tornado Warning test this Wednesday, April 20th, at around 10 or 10:30 a.m. Meier.

Meier says that it will be very clear throughout the Tornado Warning test on radio and television broadcasts and electronic media alerts that this is a test. He adds that if the weather happens to be inclement that day, they will postpone running the test so as not to confuse citizens.

Meier indicates that local emergency management agencies around the state are involved as well.

Along with that big test on Wednesday, the rest of the week highlights a different theme under the campaign of “Ready, Set, Go.”

“Ready” signifies the habit of monitoring hazardous weather outlooks seven days in advance. “Set” indicates that as confidence in a system increases, watches will be issued to give you a heads up that preparations are in order. And “Go” is an upgrade to warnings that will be issued when the weather service is certain a storm is producing severe weather and shelter should be sought.
A furious storm system that kicked up tornadoes, flash floods and hail as big as grapefruits has claimed at least 45 lives across the southern U.S.

Emergency crews searched for victims in hard-hit swaths of North Carolina, where 62 tornadoes were reported from the worst spring storm in two decades to hit the state. Authorities warned the death toll was likely to rise further Sunday as searchers probed shattered homes and businesses.

The storm claimed its first lives Thursday night in Oklahoma, then roared through Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. They hit North Carolina and neighbouring Virginia on Saturday before the sprawling, potent storm bands moved eastward over the Atlantic.

When Jonathan Robinson saw a tornado moving toward his mobile home in Dunn, N.C., he grabbed his cousin's 3-month-old son and dashed for a closet in his bedroom. But as he dove for safety, the twister took his home apart around him and swept the baby into the dark, swirling afternoon sky.

“As soon as I jumped in the closet, it came down and that little baby flew out of my hand,” he said. “I seen him leave my arms. That's how strong the wind was.”

Immediately after digging himself out, Mr. Robinson joined family members at the Cedar Creek Mobile Home Park frantically digging through the rubble for little Ayden.

“I thought he was lost,” Mr. Robinson said.

Tension between Gulf states and Iran has risen again, with the Sunni monarchies accusing their Shiite neighbour of "flagrant" meddling and Tehran charging Washington with sowing regional discord.

In a strong statement on Sunday, Gulf Cooperation Council member states told Iran to stop its "provocations," a month after Bahrain quelled a Shiite-led uprising, triggering a tirade of Iranian condemnation.

The group called on "the international community and the (UN) Security Council to take the necessary measures to stop flagrant Iranian interference and provocation aimed at sowing discord and destruction" among GCC nations.

Saudi Arabia on Sunday also threatened to recall its diplomats from Tehran unless they were better protected, a week after students protested outside the Saudi embassy against Riyadh's military intervention in Bahrain last month.

"The main reason (for the GCC move) is the uncovering of Iranian (espionage) cells in Gulf countries, in addition to direct and indirect interference," said the head of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre, Abdulaziz Sager.

Zuma gave Gaddafi a call

Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma phoned Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at the weekend, his spokesperson said on Monday, after the collapse of a truce he had brokered with a team of African leaders.

Zuma's spokesperson Zizi Kodwa told AFP that the two leaders spoke after Zuma returned from a Brics emerging markets summit in China, which also includes Russia, India and Brazil.

"The conversation was between the two leaders," Kodwa said. "I can't disclose the conversation between the two leaders."

After the summit on Thursday, the five nations spoke out against using force in Libya and across the Arab world, with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev saying force was not authorised by the United Nations.

Zuma visited Tripoli on April 10 as part of a high-ranking African Union delegation to broker a truce between Gaddafi and rebels, but a peace plan fell through when the rebels insisted the strongman step down.

South Africa voted for the UN resolution authorising the no-fly zone over Libya, while the other four Brics countries abstained.

Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa's vote had not emerged as a sore point during the summit in China.

"In our bilateral meetings, not a single member said they were aggrieved by South Africa voting the way we did," she said. "There was no awkwardness whatsoever."
Despite the sense of relief after Monday's deal for a humanitarian corridor into the besieged city of Misrata, some rebels remain skeptical of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's motives for the gesture.

The city's name has become a rallying cry for the rebellion, and a shorthand among international diplomats for the compelling reasons to escalate efforts in Libya. In that context, Col. Gadhafi made a politically astute decision by cutting a deal with the United Nations to allow overland shipments of food and medicine into Misrata. Such supplies are desperately needed in the embattled city, and the deliveries will soften the impression that the regime wants to wipe Misrata from the map.

Libya's third-largest city stands as the biggest exception to the east-west split emerging in the country, and it's now perhaps the most hotly contested patch of ground. Rebels hold the neighbourhoods around the port, sneaking boatloads of food and weapons into the city at night. Government troops occupy the main avenue. Nobody knows precisely how many have been killed, after almost two months, but it's easily into the hundreds.

The deal could prove tactically useful for the regime, as well, if it allows the government to eventually claim that only armed rebels remain in some areas. A spokesman in Tripoli was quoted saying the deal will allow “safe passage for people to leave Misrata,” presumably clearing the way for more intense offensives against the fighters who stay behind.

Col. Gadhafi's forces have already faced criticism for using cluster bombs in Misrata, and some rebels fear the humanitarian corridor could become a prelude to further attacks with heavy weapons. One rebel sympathizer commented on Twitter: “The UN is doing Gadhafi's work for him. What the ---- is wrong with you?”
Movie fans are going to "Rio" in big numbers, but they're not quite screaming over the latest installment of a horror-comedy franchise.

Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg's animated family flick "Rio" led the weekend box office with a healthy $40 million debut, according to studio estimates Sunday.

But the slasher comedy "Scream 4" opened at No. 2 with just $19.3 million, a fraction of the business for the previous two sequels, which both debuted at over $30 million more than a decade ago.

After two weekends in the No. 1 spot, Russell Brand's Easter bunny tale "Hop" slipped to third-place with $11.2 million, raising its total to $82.6 million.
The assassination today of the top law enforcement official in Kandahar province signals a dangerous escalation of Taliban violence and tactical sophistication that has chilled Afghanistan’s second-largest city.

The provincial police chief, Khan Mohammad Mujahid, died inside his headquarters in the early afternoon, the victim of a suicide bomber who somehow breached what is supposed to be one of the most heavily guarded places in the city.

Over the last six months, American-led forces have concentrated on wresting rural districts near the city from the Taliban, and NATO officials have insisted they have turned a corner in disabling the insurgency. But their operations have been accompanied by a surge of suicide attacks on local police in the provincial capital, killings of Afghan officials and threats to anyone working for the government.

In an interview earlier this week, the Afghan-Canadian provincial governor, Tooryalai Wesa, worried out loud that the Taliban was switching from battles with foreign forces to targeted attacks by militants who can blend into the crowds in the city’s serpentine alleyways and markets.

That a human bomb strapped with explosives could penetrate the headquarters compound, where every man entering is usually patted down, is a devastating blow to both the Afghan and NATO attempts to demonstrate they are in control.

Mr. Mujahid had survived three other Taliban assassination attempts in the last few months, including an all-out assault by insurgents who shelled the police compound and blew themselves up at its gates.