Time for new World Order

(Political insolvency on all fronts is leading to narrower options)

By: Hussein Al-Rumaithi

Although many observers are skeptic of the phrase ‘world order’, yet its definition in the post 9/11 era has mandated new interpretations regarding many political, economic and social concepts around the world. Discussing any of the previous eras, whether post WWII or post-Cold-War era is bound by one unifying notion, which makes theorizing and governance more feasible and approachable than the current realities around globe. The fact that world order was centered around the concept of STATE was inevitable since the global ideological struggle (Capitalism VS Communism) was based upon application by state. Therefore, neither sides was ready to accept any alternative for the presence of state and its authority, even though the competition between the poles was more like a clash and conflict.

The rise of non-state actors and their overwhelming influence in decision-making circles has placed the international community with several obstacles without any evident solution in the near future. The influence and role of many intergovernmental non-state actors is also bound and limited by many variable and new domestic or regional legislations, which only expands the power of non-governmental actors around the world. In addition, majority of global actors and IGOs have not been able to cope and align themselves with new political guidelines and criterions to contain the means and factors behind emergence of non-state actors. However, there are many non-governmental actors around the world with superb record in helping humanity and aiding states in law and order promotion. Nonetheless, the violent non-state actors or what the modern world call terrorism and rouge elements are the actors that influencing our world today. Unfortunately, the notion of proxies has been transformed into having non-state actors as allies in a certain country or region to mandate certain policies and gains, which only complicates the job for the international community.

Narrowing down the focus of this subject would be facilitated if the Middle East is considered as a study case, where non-state actors have been the real cause of distress and instability or order and stability in some cases. In addition, the influence of this geographical region in the world contains many other aspects other than political variables, due to its complex ethnic, religious and sectarian divisions, which have been politically mobilized and misused.

Fortunately or unfortunately is a judgement for future generations, yet modern non-state (non-governmental) actors have been able to achieve and accomplish much farther goals and gains than many states in the region. Although the resources and means of wealth were always controlled by the states, yet Middle Eastern governments have proven to be the most incompetent around the world, even though they had numerous models and examples from around the world. Therefore, non-governmental organizations have been able to create complex and well-built social networks and popular bases for themselves. The influence of those NGO came to reality and was capitalized through organized and planned political endeavours, armed conflicts, and violent methods and in case of Yemen total take-over of power and ousting a government. The efforts of the international community has proven to be unworthy as the mindset of those organizations is still unclear, since majority of the conflicts are still ongoing. Therefore, finding solutions and placing authority in the hands of legit and elected governments is far from the reach.

The notion of categorizing states by their cooperation with the international community, economic distribution to the world markets and alliances has been useless, as conceptualizing the world based on realism and liberalism is irrelevant.

To be continued

Terror in Baghdad

 

The continuous bloodshed and ravished life in Iraq

SHIA WISDOM

It is heartbreaking that not long ago the world mourned the innocent lives of Belgium terrorist attacks and Paris, where Daesh claimed responsibility for, yet today a new wound has been added to the devitalized body of Iraq. Yesterday the Iraqi Capital witnessed a series of terrorist acts against innocent civilians in crowded sites and markets, where dozens of people mostly women and children lost their lives. The pictures being circulated from after the attacks are devastating and heartbreaking and the amount of innocent children with severe wounds or ravished corps would only translates the horror and pain a parent would have to experience.

According to early statements by Iraqi interior ministry, the cars carrying the explosives and terrorists were entered to the area with official badges, license plates and uniforms belonging to the ministry. This statement only shows the incompetency of Iraq’s political and bureaucratic elites in diminishing corruption and favoritism that has costed Iraq thousands of innocent lives and billions of dollars. In addition, the continuous failures of Iraq’s ruling elites to establish healthy, transparent and strong infrastructure and steady service of basic necessities is beyond apprehension. Meanwhile, the international community must place enormous pressure on the Iraqi government to implement influential and actual steps toward crushing and diminishing corruption and favoritism in Iraq. The massive flow of suspicious transactions, the normality of bribe and bribery in government’s institutions and infiltrated security agencies must be the priority of any Iraqi government.

Shia Wisdom urges the respected religious authority in Iraq, illustrated in Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali Al-Sistani, the Iraqi people and all conscience and patriots of Iraq to form a unified front that supports drastic change and reform through peaceful means. The past months and weeks have shown the Iraqi masses are capable of change and reform, yet they need to be cautious for any political entity that might use their march and movement for own interests.

Shia Wisdom and staff offer their sincere condolences to the families of all those fallen in the terrorist attacks of Baghdad, asking the almighty to grant them patience and tranquility and gives mercy to the victims.

Shia Wisdom  

Challenging the traditions

Mainstream Islam & legacy of violence against minorities

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By: Hussein Al-Rumaithi
Majority of observers, researchers, activists and writers have accused the Saudi regime sponsored Wahhabi sect for the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism and use of violent methods. Although, the Saudi family and their Wahhabi branch is responsible for some the most horrific crimes against humanity and free will, yet the root of these actions and ideologies was only capitalized and implemented by Wahhabism. The ideological implementations of Ibn Taymiya and other scholars within this sect are derived from earlier and traditional texts, where minorities like Sufis, Shias, Jews, Mutazilies and others were subjected to ideological and physical elimination.
Throughout previous articles the foundation of a violent trails of actions, statements and decisions was identified in the early post-Prophet Mohammad era, where certain companions carried out terrorizing acts. In addition, other decisions by the first three Caliphs and later on by the Umayyad and Abbasids became the preliminary bases for any ideological theorizing and legitimizing use of violence and force. Therefore, the early stage of Islamic history and the horrific crimes against minorities, the holy household of Prophet Mohammad and Islam itself, were only actions or organized efforts by individuals and groups to gain influence and control. However, the actions of this mentioned era was used by later scholars as mean of general ruling and fatwa extraditing tools and methods.
Early stages of theorizing violence
The early stages of legitimizing use of violence was primarily for political purposes according to many historical findings, since most scholars of those eras were linked and affiliated with political dynasties of the time. For instance the most direct and clear indication of violence legitimization is witnessed during the Seljuk dynasty and its famous Vazir Nizam Al-Mulk, who is the founder of Nizamiya School in Baghdad.
This man is considered a very wise, just, trustworthy and eloquent individual, who counseled the Seljuk king and ultimately wrote a book exhorting kings about the methods of governance and leadership. The book is named ‘Siyasat Nameh’ and has several chapters categorizing the priorities, responsibilities and governance methods for any ruler or king, which urges some historian to think that Siyasat Nameh was a book for the elites only. Regardless, the author of this book launched and initiated a systematic and planned elimination of Shia Muslims inside Iraq and other places, by alerting the king about the danger of leaving Shias alone. Nizam Al-Mulk suggests that Shia Muslims are an element of instability and chaos, and prevailing stability and headache-less rule is achieved by eliminating those rouge elements, alongside other minorities like the Esoteric sects.
The trails of Nizam Al-Mulk and his influence is transferred to individuals effected by him and his political rationale. The use of religious rationalization for political gain is later capitalized and implemented by scholars like Abu Hamed Al-Ghazali, who is considered among the greatest scholars of Sunni Islam. The affiliation of this scholar with the political entity of that time, forced him to develop a religious fundamental for eliminating oppositions and any group of minorities that were considered dangerous. Therefore, sources indicate that Al-Ghazali legitimized and set the foundation for physical elimination and total abandonment of entire groups and sects, in the name of guarding the Islamic Empire and nation.
Unfortunately, the theological rationales of such individuals was used to wage war against dynasties and groups, under the pretense of being an infidel, esoteric, Shia, non-believer, apostate or blasphemers. Saladin Al-Ayoubi used the work of Nizam Al-Mulk and Al-Ghazali and their likes to legitimize his crimes against the Shias of Egypt and other minorities under his rule. Therefore, although radical scholars like Ibn Taymiya were always condemned and challenged by other Sunni scholars, yet the traditional sources and texts of this school is filled with legitimization of hate, violence and use of force against other groups. It might be right to argue that Wahhabism and its famous scholar Ibn Taymiya and Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab have placed the entire world as their nemesis, due to difference in ideology, yet what is considered mainstream Islam is filled with similar claims as well.
Fortunately, the recent years have presented several individuals with a tendency to come in Public and denounce the content of these traditional sources, which are considered as sacred and worthy of being taught. Several Arab and Muslims channels have aired debates and panels with scholars from numerous schools of thought challenging one another upon the substance of those books and their hateful ideology. Although the trend of such challenges is slow and require more time and additional cleansed resources, and alongside the challenge a healthy and complete alternative is require as well. Once contemporary free-minds and Muslim scholars start to question and challenge the content so these books, they must begin to seek answers and alternatives, as they will have to reassess the entire foundation of what is considered mainstream Islam.

Terror in Belgium

The continuous trail of a bloody ideology

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Shia Wisdom
The heart of European Union was struck this morning by two explosions that consumed many innocent lives and left others injured. The previous attacks throughout this continent have always left the impression that the end is not near, and terror will steal security and prosperity from this part of the world and innocents again. Well, here we are in the second day of spring and 2016, yet the world and specifically the western powers would not outline and blame the source of this bloodshed and tyranny, which is called terrorism.
The explosions of Belgium would reveal some facts about the carriers of these horrendous actions, and the ones responsible shall suffer for their crimes against humanity, yet Belgium and other European powers must start to acknowledge the following:
Drying the ideological root of terrorism is more crucial than fighting the actual terrorists in Iraq, Syria and other places.
Identifying the ideological root of terrorism has been conducted and outlined by various global institutions and foundations, which place the institution of Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia in the frontline of terror sponsorship.
Engagement with domestic Muslim youths and addressing their concerns and afflictions to prevent any intrusion using their inability to advance and create opportunity. The notion of Home Grown Terrorism has been the center of many conversations in the west, which creates a necessity about the importance of observing the needs and grievances of minorities in general and Muslims specifically.
Forcing the Muslims leaders to be engaged with Muslims youths and radical elements more frequently is very important. The primary reason, radical individuals are able to persuade and recruit younger generations, is the absence of wise, elder and more knowledgeable scholars and Muslim leaders. The presence of these leaders would enable the Muslims youth to make a better choice using the information provided by those scholars and leaders, which will show them about the bogus claims of radical groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Shia wisdom would like to take this opportunity to send condolences to the families of victims, and may the almighty grant them patience and tranquility. In addition, Shia wisdom and staff condemn these horrific acts in the name of Islam and stand in solidarity with the Belgian people and its officials.
Shia Wisdom

Resolution Methods for Privation & Adversity Based on the thoughts & theories of Ayatollah Sayed Murtadha Al-Shirazi

Part 11: The economic factors for generating, sustaining and developing wealth to fight poverty (7) (Social Symbiosis)

By: Hussein Al-Rumaithi
Imam Ali (P.B.U.H) have asserted the pillars of social symbiosis and solidarity, which have been introduced by Islam on various levels, and this notion is considered among the primary methods to fight poverty, and social instability. The holy Prophet of Islam states in a narration: “He doesn’t believe and follow me, he who sleeps full while his neighbor starves”.
Defining social symbiosis and solidarity according to Islamic principles can be summarized as following: Members of a society are collectively responsible for guarding and protecting the public and private interests, and prevent all damages and harms (materialistic & non-materialistic), where each individual feels that he/she has a social obligation toward society. This feeling will also include the obligation toward the needy and deprived ones, where members of a society will protect this group and prevent any harm that might occur to them. Islamic social solidarity and symbiosis is defined in the narration of Prophet Mohammad (P.B.U.H): “The example of believers in their harmony, mercy and sympathy among each other and for each other is like a single body, as if a body part becomes ill, rest of the body will suffer and feel the pain as well”.
The late Grand Ayatollah Sayed Mohammad Al-Shirazi mentions the following about this topic in his jurisprudence encyclopedia: “This topic is either ethical, where absolute belief and submission is the goal, or it is jurisprudential, where it is accompanied with necessity. For instance, during a starvation (famine) year an individual is permitted take what he/she needs as necessary and if repayment is not possible the public treasury is his/her guarantor”.
The 2nd verse of Quran’s 5th chapter states: “and cooperate in righteousness and piety”, and an example for righteousness has been presented by the Quran as well, where the 14th, 15th and 16th verses of Quran’s 90th chapter state: “or feeding on a day of severe hunger. An orphan of near relationship. Or a needy person in misery”.
Islamic law has legislated the financial obligation of a husband toward his spouse’s expenditures and needs, and the financial obligation of a father toward his children as far as they are unable to provide for themselves. In addition, Islamic law has even legislated the financial obligation of a son toward his parents, as far as they are not able to provide for themselves, and all of these legislations are different methods to contain poverty on all sides and levels, since parents, spouses and children form majority of a society.

Is the West really after Middle Eastern Oil?

 

Petro-Dollars & Post Fordism global variables

By: Hussein Al-Rumaithi

One of the questions that has a unilateral answer by majority of Muslims and Arabs is, ‘what are the western powers doing in the Middle East?” The answer that will be presented for this question is: “they are after our oil”. However, this answer might be somehow true if we were living in post WWII, when Fordism and Keynesianism was the prominent way of life that drove politics, economics and social evolvements. Nonetheless, since the mid-70s or specifically after the global oil crisis in 1973, the rationales and tendencies of western powers regarding their foreign policy in the Middle East shifted drastically in an entirely new and different direction. The priorities of the western world in that part of the world had changed, as the entire western political and economic system was evolving and shifting itself toward new means, as the old system was viewed as limitation on benefiting from global economy.

Fordism & Keynesianism

The notion of Fordism and Keynesianism is applied to the time after WWII (1945) until mid-1970s, where the global economy was entirely dependent on oil, as almost all commodities and prices were linked to oil. The characteristics of western societies during that period, which was named after Henry Ford can be summarized in the following points:

  • Giant manufacturing firms, where assembly lines and division of labour was sought to be the best way for mass production of standardized goods.
  • High wages, job protection (unions) and growth of Middle class.
  • Suburbanization or manufacturing regions.
  • Heavy participation in politics.
  • Heavy government intervention.

Therefore, once the oil crisis hit the global economy the western powers were facing what was known as the ‘legitimacy crisis’, as majority of people lost the hope and trust in their governments, since they were unable to address the rising prices and stagnant growth. This crisis was mandating a drastic and total evolvement and change, as diversifying the global economy was becoming a necessity since alternative sources of fuel and means of revenues were becoming necessitated.

Post-Fordism & Neo-Liberalism

As mentioned earlier, the old system was viewed as a limitation on benefiting from the global economy, which was rapidly growing in different parts of the world. Therefore, the states shifted their intervention toward facilitating globalization and free-trade. Due to this shift, majority of large corporations and manufacturing firms moved their operations to the (third world countries) or what is known today as the developing world or global south. This action, which was as a result of multi-national corporations forming in various part of the world, enabled those companies to maximize their revenues, as high wages and job protection means were not sought in their new locations.

In addition, to diversify the local economies of western societies and address the employment plunging rates, emphasis on new industries was introduced. Finance, Insurance and Real State were the new industries that were leading the global powers, and all the previous upper giant manufacturing firms had to adopt to the new system. Therefore, to facilitate the growth of those new industries, empowering new means of evolvement and sufficiency was conducted by emphasis on high-tech and innovational firms. Silicon Valley, Seattle, Wall Street and other destinations were rapidly becoming the new economic giants leading the global economy, as they were creating and developing various means revenue generation and alternatives for diversification.

As the technological superiority of the west grew the tendency to reduce dependency on oil was increasing, as corporations started researches to develop new sources of fuel. Wind Turbines, electric generators, nuclear reactors, Hybrid technology, Flex Fuel capability and most recently the technology to extract oil and fuel from sand was the last path to achieve energy and fuel alternatives.

In addition, the new world had introduced certain cities that were controlling the entire global economic system, and even the oil market was being driven by these market and their supply and demand ratios. Places, like New York, London, Tokyo, Beijing and ultimately the new emerging economic powers (India, Brazil, China, Indonesia and Russia) developed a system were the entire world market is dependent on their market and its fluctuation. Therefore, oil was not the driving force of world economy any more, as even oil producing countries have realized that high prices of oil are not in their benefit, since such a notion would only encourage the tendency to develop alternative sources of energy.

Petro-Dollars

However, to conclude that oil is no factor in Middle Eastern politics is a vague and inaccurate statement, as the impact of petro-dollars in Middle Eastern politics is very evident and affectual.  The revenues generated by oil has enabled Middle Eastern states to adopt a distributive system, where wealth is allocated according to political agendas, legitimacy and containment means. Presently, it is obvious that oil producing countries (Gulf States, Iraq and Iran) are the centre of various regional conflicts and tensions, were petro-dollars fuel proxies and direct military intervention. Therefore, other priorities and necessities such as global security, economic security and collective stabilization of the Middle Eastern region have mandated western powers to re-shape their involvement in this part of the world.

Islamic Taxation System (KHOMOS)

 

Jurisprudential Principles & Implementations in Society

By: Hussein Al-Rumaithi

The revenue generation method of today’s modern states is conducted through taxation, which varies from a country to another according to the GDP and financial obligations of that specific state toward its citizens. The revenues generated from these taxes enables the state to provide necessary services for its citizens, which include infrastructure, health care, pension, education, security, social welfare and other services. Therefore, taxation in another word is the financial life line of any system, which presents itself as the governing entity to manage the affairs of a state or a nation.

However, one of the principles that is exclusive to Shia Muslims that falls under the category of taxation, is the concept of ‘Khomos’, which translates to one-fifth in English. The direct indication to this concept is found in the 41st verse of Chapter 8 in the Holy Quran, where it says: “and know that anything you obtain, then indeed, for Allah is one fifth of it and for the messenger and for his holy household and the orphans, the needy, and the stranded traveller”. This concept is also legislated through many other narrations from the Holy Prophet and the 12 Imams, where they have clarified the criteria, details, collection methods, deliverance and disbursement methods and means.

According to this principle, Shia Muslims are obligated to pay 20% of their earnings to an Imam or an agent of an Imam, where he will spend those revenues in the fields provided by the Quran and the narrations from the Prophet and his holy household. However, this Islamic obligation considers all the aspects of a Shia Muslim’s life, as Islam acknowledges the various financial responsibilities that each individual carries. Therefore, the actual law goes as following:

    • Each Shia Muslim, who has reached the age of adolescence is obligated to take aside 20% of his/her yearly earnings, after he/she covers all of the debts obligations, shelter, food, transportation and other financial responsibilities. Therefore, if a Shia Person earned $50,000 during a year cycle, he should pay all of his/her financial obligations, then whatever is left from that earning is subjected to that 20% taxation (Khomos).
    • The legal taxation that a Shia Muslim is subjected to, where he/she resides is included in the financial obligations that he/she has to fulfill before taking that 20% aside.

 

  • For Example:

 

$50,000 Yearly Earning

– $9,000 Taxes

– $38,000 Financial Obligations (Shelter, Health Care, Education, Transportation, Food, etc…)

Remaining: $3,000

$3,000 x 20% = $600 (Khomos)

Therefore, whether the remaining balance of the yearly earnings is $3,000 or $1,000,000, the Khomos rate applies and mandatory to be paid before the end of yearly cycle, which is set according to the person’s decision. Note: the start of each yearly cycle can be set on any date, the Shia Muslim chooses, however, it must be according to the Islamic Lunar calendar.

Who Do I give the Khomos to?

The deliverance of Khomos, was not a major issue during the life time of the Imams, as Shia Muslims were either delivering those funds to them directly, or giving them to the agents sent by the Imams around the Muslim world. However, after the occultation of the 12th Imam, many questions about the legitimacy of this concept have been raised, where some scholars have argued that Shias are not subjected to this principle during the absence of an infallible Imam. A specific school of thought within Shia Islam, argued that Shia Muslims are obligated to save aside the khomos during the absence of the Imam, but they should either bury it, or hide far away from ever being found. Nonetheless, these hidden and buried funds will be taken out by the 12th Imam, once he returns and reappears to his followers.

However, majority of Shia scholars and Shia Muslims practice this principle, as this law is considered to be behind the continuous independent Shia scholars have benefited from since the occultation of the 12th Imam. According to this school of thought, jurists (Shia Scholars) are the general agents of the Imam, where Shias are obligated to follow and take the laws and rules of their religion from, as they are considered the narrators of Prophet’s traditions. Therefore, majority of Shia Muslims give their Khomos to the scholars, and scholars distribute these funds according to the guidelines set by the Quran and the traditions of Prophet Mohammad and his holy household.

How is Khomos spent and distributed?

Presently, Shia scholars divide the Khomos into two categories:

  1. Right of the Imam (Imam Al-Mahdi, which falls under the category of: for Allah, his messenger and his household)
  2. Right of the Sadah (Plural of Sayed, which means the progeny and descendants of Prophet Mohammad)

The right of Sadah is allocated to this group, since they are not allowed to receive charity, as charity is forbidden for the Prophet, his holy household and his progeny and descendants. Therefore, this allocation was designated to be a mean for this category to help them in case they face hardships and financial problems, where they are not able to provide for themselves and their families. However, in certain occasions the scholars allow Shia Muslims to deliver the Sadah Right themselves to virtuous individuals and families, who descend from the progeny of Prophet Mohammad. This method is followed in places, where delivering the Khomos to the scholar is hard or harmful for Shias, as they are allowed to distribute this part of the Khomos themselves. In addition, due to other necessities such building a mosque, school, orphanage, shelter house and other means, Shia scholars allow their followers to distribute the entire Khomos on their behalf by themselves. However, this type of exemption require a direct permission and ruling from the scholar himself, as Shia Muslims are not allowed take this decision by themselves.

The first part of the Khomos (Right of the Imam) is usually taken by Shia scholars, and it is spent on issues and necessities sought as important and mandatory by them. The funds allocated to the Right of the Imam category are spent for seminaries, as these religious schools require substantial funds to operate. The necessity of these seminaries come from the desperate need of the Shia communities around the world for Shia Imams and clergies to manage their religious and spiritual affairs.

The other means for spending the right of the Imam, include, helping the needy, the stranded travellers, orphans, sheltering the homeless, marriage allowances for the needy and other means to simplify the lives of those who need such help.

The deliverance of Khomos to Shia scholars has enabled them to stay away from the influence of states and governments, since these political entities view the religious authority of scholars as a great tool for obtaining legitimacy and validity. Therefore, Shia religious authority has been able to mandate its needs and requests upon the governments, during oppression and dictatorships, where the state is very hostile toward them. However, Shia scholars have managed to stay away from politics during this entire time, and never let their financial independence be a mean for interfering with the affairs of the state, whether the state is democratic or coercive.

 

 

Planning a Family Vacation: How to Get the Most for Your Money

Planning a family vacation is never quite as simple or as straight-ahead as parents might hope it will be. You want to have fun, and to select a destination, accommodations, and activities that will please everyone. You want to create positive family memories for your kids, and to a large extent you’re happy to pay any price to make that happen—but then again: You do have a family budget to think about, and you need to stretch your vacation dollars as far as possible.

In short, you want value—but getting it can prove tricky. How can you ensure that your family vacation is smartly budgeted, offering maximum enjoyment for all parties, neither breaking the bank nor cutting any corners?

Getting There

Some of the biggest expenses come from actually traveling to your family vacation destination. If you are driving an hour north to spend time in the mountains, that’s one thing; for longer trips, some decisions need to be made.

You might assume that driving to your vacation spot is the cheapest way to go, and you’re likely correct—but don’t just assume it. Run the numbers on how many tanks of gas you will need; on meals you’ll have to buy on the road, and additional hotel costs if the trip takes more than a day. Think about the wear and tear on your vehicle, as well.

Work up a basic figure for driving costs, then head to the Web to comparison-shop. Look at some of the big travel websites that offer package deals on airfare and hotel rooms. Driving may still be the affordable route, but don’t make that call until you do your research. Additionally, think about whether many hours spent in a car represents a better value for your family than taking a plane and getting there sooner.

Measuring Meal Costs

Something else to plan in advance—something else that tends to eat into the vacation budget—is dining out. Some hotel chains offer kids-eat-free deals, which are well worth taking advantage of and factoring into your total vacation budget. You can also research restaurants that offer kids-eat-free options on certain nights of the week, and do a bit of advanced planning in this way.

You might also consider taking some supplies for breakfasts and/or lunches in your hotel room. Make sure to get a hotel room with a refrigerator and necessary kitchen features, should this be the road you take.

Also note that even if you’re making your own meals rather than eating out, you can still make it fun and special: Try a family picnic at a well-known local park, on the beach, or somewhere else that’s scenic.

A final tip: If you do really want to experience a nice meal at a fancy restaurant, plan on doing so for lunch. Get the full experience for just part of the cost.

Planning for Entertainment

Obviously you want to plan some fun activities on your vacation, but perhaps it would be prudent to make a few of those activities low-key and inexpensive. For example: If you know your hotel room has a DVD player and a microwave, you can pack a couple of favorite family movies, a box of popcorn, and plan on having one family movie night.

For the other things you want to do—theme parks, aquariums, zoos, or what have you—research ticket prices in advance, and buy family passes online if possible. Almost always, you can save some money this way, as opposed to buying your tickets at the gate.

Finally: Don’t overthink things! Does your family love relaxing or playing on the beach? Then you may not need to spend too much money on entertainment; just take ‘em to the sand and shore!

Family vacations are meant to be fun—and your job in making the budget is to ensure optimal fun through optimal value.

6 Tax Audit Red Flags

Here it comes.  April 15th.  The date otherwise known as the annual deadline for filing income taxes.  In the past year, the IRS has faced some significant budget cuts, meaning that staffing numbers have been reduced when compared to previous years.  That means that taxpayers across the country may face a lessened chance of actually being audited.  However, realize that this is a cautionary tale—and not everyone is going to get off so lucky.  Learn about the red flags that make your chances of being audited by the IRS higher.

Things to be Aware of

  1. If you run a small business—you need to be able to prove it.  It’s true that few people immediately make a profit when they start their own business, and a loss is acceptable by the IRS—at least up to a point.  If you start reporting losses for three years or more, the IRS is going to begin to assume that your “business” is more of a hobby and that you aren’t looking to make this a venture that will ever be profitable. This can ultimately activate a field audit, a process that happens one-on-one, in-person, and is significantly more difficult than a simple correspondence audit.   In order to avoid this, keep meticulous records that show that you were dedicated to your business, the time you spent on it, and other supporting materials.
  2. If something looks odd, explain it.  The IRS searches for instances of unreported income, so if you look to explain something in advance that looks off or odd, you reduce your risk for being audited.  A for instance: your net income is low. In this regard, include a statement that explains how you handled yourself financially—whether you ran up your credit cards or tapped into savings, etc.  Providing this information can help in the long run.
  3. Report all of your income.  The majority of your wages are going to be found on W-2 forms.  Interest, dividends, and capital gains will be reported on 1099 as well as income you earned through contracting or freelancing work.  Realize that these forms are not only sent to you, but also to the IRS, and there is an automated process that is used for ensuring you have reported these documents. Therefore, don’t pretend you didn’t receive something—the IRS will send you a bill in the mail for any additional amount that you owe, and the agency has the right to garnish your bank account and seize property.
  4. Report any money overseas.  U.S. taxpayers who have bank or investment accounts abroad are required to report any income they earned on these accounts to the IRS.  Moreover, a recently established law, called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, means that a foreign financial institution might start reporting this income to the IRS directly.  If you have had an account for several years and have never reported it to the IRS, you could face some serious penalties and back taxes if the agency catches wind of it.
  5. Watch the home office deductions. Most people have one primary office, either on company property or in a home.  Therefore, don’t report a deduction for both if you cannot explain why you have two offices.  Moreover, if you have a primary office through your company that is available for you to use the majority of the time, it’s recommended that you skip taking a home office deduction at all. It’s a huge red flag.
  6. If you sold your home, report it.  The title company will end up sending you and the IRS a 1099-S form that records the proceeds from this sale.  Even if all proceeds are tax exempt because they don’t exceed federal limits, it’s necessary to report the information on the 1099-S anyway.  This again comes back to the fact that the IRS matches forms through an automated program and not reporting this could trigger a correspondence audit.  While you may very well be in the right, it’s still a headache you don’t need.

In closing, an IRS audit is a headache that no one wants to deal with.  As the April 15th tax deadline approaches, make sure you consult with a trusted and ethical accountant to protect your interests and ensure that you are following all of the rules to a “t.”

How to Talk to Your Spouse about End-of-Life Plans

By: Amanda C.
Edited by Ali Reza

Thinking about the end of your life and what will happen after you pass away is never a pleasant thought.  However, facing the fact that no one lives forever is something that every person must come to terms with.  Moreover, this is a conversation that must be had in the open with a spouse or loved one.

It is a reality that broaching this topic with a spouse is something that many people do put off.  However, realize that it is an important part of the process as it pertains to establishing advanced directives about medical care and end-of-life wishes.  Just as loving couples talk about their hopes and dreams, it is also important to discuss the items that are considered less than pleasant.  Realize that you might not need to actually face any of these issues for a very long time—but that it is better to prepare 20 years too early as opposed to one day too late.

Why It’s Important to Talk about These Wishes—and Record Them Legally

It’s one thing to talk about end-of-life wishes, but it is equally important, if not more so, to make sure these  are recorded from a legal standpoint.   If you do not have healthcare or medical directives logged in a legal capacity with an attorney, and cannot make decisions for yourself because you are incapacitated, someone else has to make these for you.  In this circumstance, those decisions may not coincide with your actual wishes.  At the same time, if you have passed away without a Will, Living Trust, or other estate planning documentation in place, it could be necessary for the courts to decide on the administration of your estate—and your preferences for burial, cremation, or other types of memorialization may be overlooked.

Preparing for “The Talk”

Next, it is necessary for you to prepare for having “the talk” about end-of-life wishes with your spouse or loved one.  Keep the following in mind:

  • Acknowledge that this is a process.  This is not something that is an item on a to-do list.
  • Realize that your spouse might disagree with you on points. This is okay.
  • Understand that you cannot plan for every scenario or circumstance.  Plan in a general sense.
  • Think about your own beliefs, values, and preferences in your life right now and how these apply to the future.  Write them down so you can organize your thoughts.
  • Identify the things that you do and don’t want—if you are incapacitated medically as well as what happens to you after you pass away.
  • Understand that it is never too soon to begin this process.

Talking with a Spouse

After you have decided what is important to you, then it is time to talk with a spouse. There are certain items that must be discussed and decided upon.

  • Who should make decisions for you or your spouse if faced with incapacitation?  This relates to healthcare matters as well as financial decisions. This may or may not be the same person for both of you.
  • What medical treatments or care are acceptable to you?  Is there anything you fear?
  • Do you opt for resuscitation if your heart stops or you aren’t breathing?
  • Do you opt for hospitalization? Or do you prefer to stay at home, or somewhere else, if you are terminally ill?
  • How will care be paid for?
  • What do you wish to happen to your remains after you die?  How do you wish to be memorialized?

Once you have identified answers to these questions, it is then necessary to record them legally.  An attorney can help you with this.  Then, once documents are drafted, ensure that children or other loved ones or caregivers know about them, so they can be accessed if needed.