Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Ben Ladner affair

Our current tax policy is to exempt certain eleemosynary organizations from taxation, in light of their good works that benefit society. In return for this favored treatment, such organizations are expected to operate within certain limits, and are expected to conduct their affairs in a transparent manner.

Of late, there have been some notable abuses by the tax-exempt organizations. Indeed, Congress has shown an interest in improving the transparency of how the tax-exempts operate. You can expect enhanced scrutiny of the tax-exempts in the foreseeable future.

One tax-exempt entity is American University. And now, there is a big tempest regarding the generous severance package granted to its former president Ben Ladner, who was terminated for cause on account of, inter alia, his lavish spending habits with University funds.

[This is reminiscent of former NYC Mayor David Dinkins, who seemed to confer plaudits, praises and rewards to the lawbreakers, thus giving the rats cookies when they should have received electric shocks.]

Well now, it seems that the Senate Finance Committee is interested in American University's fiscal practices with respect to Ben Ladner. Senator Grassley has written a letter to the AU Board, requesting lots of documents.

I have mixed feelings about this all. I certainly applaud Grassley's tenacity, and certainly believe that AU should be held accountable for its fiscal actions (as should Ladner). But now it seems that the Senate is playing the role of the IRS auditor. I'm not entirely comfortable with that.

On the other hand, isn't that what the Federal system of checks and balances is all about?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ward Churchill at Shoreline Community College

Several bloggers have noted the Ward Churchill (with hidden assault rifle) at Shoreline Community College doctored photo story, including LGF and Michelle Malkin and Bos'un Locker. I have nothing profound to add except to say that the folks at Shoreline Community College should know that we know that the photo has been doctored.

The relevant contact info:

Donna Myers, Public Information Office,
Shoreline Community College,
16101 Greenwood Avenue North,
Shoreline, Washington 98133-5696.

Tel: (206) 546-4717.
Fax: (206) 546-4630.

E-mail: dmyers@shoreline.edu

Keep the letters, calls, faxes and e-mails coming!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Harriet Miers withdraws

Well, we all know that Harriet Miers has withdrawn her nomination for the Supreme Court. She has done the honorable and gracious thing. The reason for her withdrawal was to protect from disclosure certain confidential "internal documents" from her White House stint, or at least that is the story according to both Ms. Miers and President Bush.

I am a backer of the President, but not his sycophant (remember that this Blog is "a politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line"). Methinks that Harriet's withdrawal has more to do with the prospect of having to disclose her personal income tax returns than anything the White House is reluctant to pass on to the Senate.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Update on the " Harriet Miers and the Judiciary" post of 10 October 2005:

According to the New York Post, "October 20, 2005 -- Brooklyn prosecutors are targeting up to 10 judges they suspect paid to get on the bench -- and told former Democratic boss Clarence Norman he'd better dish on alleged dirty jurists if he wants a plea deal."

Good odds that some more of Chief Judge Judith Kaye's black-robed bench brats will be acting up soon in the headlines. Can we expect Judge Judy to protest that the reports in the press about this one will cause the public to lose respect for the judiciary?

Never mind Harriet Miers, just watch out for all of those Brooklyn bench bums.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

School scandals and locomotives

On Long Island, ex Roslyn school superintendent Frank Tassone has pleaded guilty to his role in what may be the biggest school embezzlement scandal in New York's history. As part of his plea agreement, Tassone is turning over for the Nassau County District Attorney, and has already implicated his butt buddy Stephen Signorelli, a vendor with whom the school district had a sweetheart deal. Tassone will be sentenced to a maximum of 4 - 12 years by Judge Alan Honorof.

[Memo to Judge Honorof: Give Tassone as little jail time as possible! The longer he's in prison, the more he'll ENJOY all the freewheeling anal sex! That would defeat the whole purpose of sentencing him! Your courtroom will be packed with angry Roslyn taxpayers when you impose sentence. So just send all your court officers on a half-hour break and let Tassone walk! The people of Roslyn will be pleased to take care of Tassone themselves.]

In other Long Island school news (as reported in the 17 October 2005 issue of Newsday), "Hauppauge schools have run up a $5.6-million budget surplus while cutting student services and raising class sizes - a sore point among PTA leaders and others who wonder why they were not told of the accumulating windfall last spring when reductions were being planned."

These school districts are burning a hole in the wallets of the Long Island taxpayers! And don't bet the rent money that Roslyn and Hauppauge are the only Long Island schools with accounting irregularities.

I think that Robert Benchley had this whole thing correctly pegged nearly 70 years ago in his sketch entitled "The Lost Locomotive":

The day that Mr. MacGregor lost the locomotive was a confusing one for our accountants. They didn't know whom to charge it to.

"We have an account called 'Alterations,'" said the head accountant (Mr. MacGregor). "We might charge it to that. Losing a locomotive is certainly an alteration in something."

"I am afraid that you are whistling in the dark, Mr. MacGregor," I said quietly.

"The point is not what account we are going to charge the lost locomotive to," I continued. "It is how you happened to lose it."

"I have already told you," he replied, with a touch of asperity, "that I haven't the slightest idea. I was tired and nervous and -- well -- I lost it, that's all!"

"As a matter of fact," he snapped, "I am not at all sure that the locomotive is lost. And, if it is, I am not at all sure that I lost it."

[from Robert Benchley, "My Ten Years in a Quandry," page 1 (Blue Ribbon Books, New York, 1936)]

The late Mr. Benchley was prescient indeed!

And if the school districts on Long Island are into all this fiscal chicanery, then what about the Long Island Railroad?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tonight is Yom Kippur

We are now getting ready for Yom Kippur, which begins tonight. This includes carbo-loading and hydro-loading in preparation for the fast. Think of it as the great Jewish hunger strike. Whenever the Provos in Maze Prison go on a hunger strike it drives the Brits banging ballistic bonkers and they eventually make concessions to the Provos. Yom Kippur works along similar principles, except that we seek concessions from a Power even greater than the British government (though much more fair and benevolent).

And so, as we afflict our souls with the fasting and the praying, we are able to attain a high spiritual level conducive to forgiveness.

Many things have happened to us this year. The Israeli government cut funding to Torah schools, and the Bush administration compelled Israel to begin to give away some of the land which G-d says is ours to the terrorists. And all of the natural disasters (which really are the hand of G-d) such as Hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and now, the earthquake in India and Pakistan and Afghanistan. Though these latter two events no doubt rid the world of a significant number of enemies of the Jewish people and of America, they are still tragedies in human suffering. And we do not celebrate and rejoice in the downfall of our wicked enemies (compare that to how the Arab street people celebrated when we had the attack on the World Trade Center)

It is going to be very difficult this year, but we must afflict our souls with the fasting and the praying, so that we are able to attain a high spiritual level conducive to forgiveness. It will be very painful, but deep in my heart I do believe that when it is all said and done, the Jewish people will be able to grant forgiveness to G-d for all that has happened this past year.

Along these lines, today is the 5th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen on 12 October 2000. And it begs the question: While all Muslims are certainly not terrorists, why is it that most terrorists are Muslim?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

How Safe is Your Personal Information in the Hands of the Tax Collector?

The U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration ("TIGTA") has released a report with the self-explanatory title "Increased IRS Oversight of State Agencies is Needed to Ensure Federal Tax Information is Protected." TIGTA Report No. 2005-20-184 is available on the Internet in pdf and html format.

By way of some very basic backgrounding, the Internal Revenue Service has certain sensitive information regarding each and every individual taxpayer in America. This information, if offered at public auction to the identity thief community, would no doubt command a very sumptuous price.

In order to enforce the tax laws, the IRS has a need to know personal information such as our names, addresses, social security numbers, names of our spouses and children, salaries, and employers. An IRS auditor who examines the books and records of a taxpayer is exposed to additional sensitive information about the taxpayer, including bank and brokerage account numbers, and account numbers of credit cards. And also the identities of the donees to whom the taxpayer made charitable contributions, which can give good insight as to the taxpayer's political, social and religious orientation, which leaves an opening for abuse if such personal sentiments differ from those of the IRS auditor.

The IRS shares this taxpayer information with the various state taxation authorities. So now, the TIGTA evinces great concern that at least some of the state tax departments with whom the IRS shares the tax info leave much to be desired as far as security is concerned. That's scary!

What is even scarier is that when TIGTA vetted its draft report to the IRS Office of Mission Assurance and Security Services ("MA&SS") for comment, MA&SS did not agree with TIGTA's recommendations because IRS takes the position that the state tax authorities are not bound by the requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act ("FISMA"). Fortunately, the MA&SS has indicated that it grudgingly would effectively implement TIGTA's recommendations pending a definitive ruling on the applicability of FISMA to the state tax bureaucracies.

The whole thing does not leave us with any great sense of confidence or security in our tax collectors, state or Federal.

As a postscript, within a week after TIGTA released Report No. 2005-20-184, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced that a Philadelphia IRS contact representative now stands charged with abusing her access to the IRS data systems for personal financial gain. A copy of the criminal information document is available here.

If indeed the charges can be proven, this is a very serious criminal offense because, if left unpunished, it would give the public one more reason to not comply with the tax laws.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Farrakhan's Millions More March

The Millions More March scheduled for this coming weekend in Washington is a project of Louis Farrakhan. As far as the real agenda and intent of the event go, Farrakhan's involvement is essentially the end of discussion!

Though I do not engage in the hero worship of Martin Luther King, I did have some respect for him during his lifetime. In fact, even though my political orientation has shifted decidedly to the right in the intervening years, I still hold a certain amount of esteem for him. Dr. King, after all, did not go about making remarks which, if their equivalent were to be made by a white person, would be considered racist. And Dr. King did not engage in wholesale attacks upon the Jewish people. Farrakhan, Sharpton, Jesse Jackson -- not one of them is fit to carry Dr. King's lunchpail.

In May 1968, following Dr. King's death, hundreds of his followers converged on Washington and erected an expanse of tents and shanties by the Reflecting Pool. It was called Resurrection City, and was occupied by approximately 2,500 people until the Washington police dismantled it about a month later. At the time, I was a junior high school student, and I believed (and still believe) that the people there had a valid gripe.

But then, during the summer of 1968, I visited Washington with my family. I saw the muddy torn-up turf where Resurrection City had been just a few weeks before, and I remarked "What right do they have to leave such a mess in the public park over there?" or something to that effect. My aunt instantly agreed with me.

And so, not only was the park soiled with mud, but, from that moment forward, so was my view of the civil rights movement. I still pulled for them, still considered myself to be a liberal, and still supported public protest gatherings in our nation's Capital (and continue to do so), but somehow, the American Black leadership, bereft of Dr. King, had lost some of its luster.

Harriet Miers and the Judiciary

I don't know that I can do anything to elucidate this mudsling-alooza over Harriet Miers and her judicial qualifications (if any). Suffice it to say that I have been growing increasingly very skeptical of late.

Having said this, it is noted that most Americans will be immediately affected not by the nine men and women who sit behind the bench in that classical Corinthian marble building across the street from the United States Capitol, but by the judges of the local trial courts located (often literally) on Main Street in the villages, towns and cities of our country.

Here are two contrasting examples of what is happening with the judges in the local nisi prius courts;

1. On 7 October 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court removed Judge George R. Robertson from the bench of the Kansas 28th Judicial District Court. His Dishonor had, for the better part of a year, been using courthouse computers on courthouse time to view pornographic websites.

2. On 18 March 2005, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct had to decide what to do about Judge Diane S. Lebedeff, who was up before it for giving preferential treatment to friends who appeared in a case before her. The Commission declined to remove Judge Lebedeff from the bench, but instead censured her. This was less than 18 months after the Commission had censured Judge Lebedeff for giving other friends preferential treatment in a prior case. Diane Lebedeff is still sitting on the bench, and if I ever appear before her I can be assured that I will not receive preferential treatment because I do not know her.

I would say that the Lebedeff matter speaks for itself, but that would be understatement. On 22 February 1996, the New York Law Journal featured a page one article entitled "Kaye Warns Judiciary is Threatened," in which it was reported that the top judge in New York, Court of Appeals Judge Judith S. Kaye, expressed "grave concern" that recent criticism of certain judges would have a chilling effect upon judicial independence and respect for the judiciary. Also appearing on the very same first page of the 22 February 1996 the New York Law Journal was an article entitled "Removal of Nassau County Judge Urged by Judicial Conduct Panel," detailing the recommended unbenching of Judge B. Marc Mogil for sending harassive anonymous faxes to an attorney with whom he had a personal vendetta.

The Lebedeff matter merely gave lie to the contention that the two contrasting articles on the front page of the 22 February 1996 New York Law Journal was a mere case of misfortuitous timing. In the almost ten years since, many more New York judges have sullied the bench with their misconduct. Indeed, within the past month, Judge David Gross of the Nassau County District Court has been suspended with pay after being indicted on money laundering charges.

Judge Kaye's concern about judicial independence is certainly quite valid, but how can she ever expect the public and the bar to respect the judiciary if, at any given time, one or more of her cadre of black-robed bench brats is in the process of acting up?

Without in any way detracting from the seriousness of this Harriet Miers thing, it is by no means the only issue imperiling the American judiciary.

My Decision to Blog

To blog or not to blog, that is the question. I am, by nature, very opinionated and outspoken, and thus would be a natural to keep a blog. But I also tend to look very skeptically at popular trends, pastimes and fashions.

Until lately, the best reason I had been able to come up with for blogging was to give vent to my ego. While this is obviously a significant and compelling reason to blog, something more than pandering to my own narcissism was necessary to get me to do it. There are negative aspects of blogging to be considered. With my natural tendency towards stridency and my diverse pet peeves, excited utterances put into print may well come back to haunt me.

But there are good reasons to blog. For one thing, blogging is rapidly emerging as a new means of networking with others in the age of a new information media. Last week I lectured my class on the importance of networking to one's career. The blogosphere is a network, and my blog is my entry into it.

Moreover, by putting my two cents into the blogosphere, I can do my small share to counteract those views that run counter to my own (and indeed, counter to the well-being of humanity).

And besides, there is nobody around to really, really advocate my views and interests, because I just do not comfortably fit into any of the typical or stereotypical categories expected of me by society. This will likely become apparent through the contents of my blogs.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to blog, however, is that there are points which need to be made but which either are not being adequately communicated or are not being said at all. This is a void I shall strive to fill.

And so, the Expatriate Owl has entered the blogosphere.