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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Taxman or Taxwoman?

John A. Gillmartin at the Sheep's Crib has spotted a suspicious-looking story with the duplicitous fingerprints of the State Department on it. I have nothing to add to it at this time, other than to recommend it for reading.

The present discourse is on how the current system of taxation causes the taxman (or woman) to become entangled in hot button sociopolitical issues. Though my particular (and admittedly strident) social, religious and political views will likely show through in this posting, they are largely irrelevant to the analysis that follows.

Ricardo observed that taxation "frequently operates very differently from the intention of the legislature by its indirect effects." The Income Tax as we know it in America certainly has many indirect effects upon matters not otherwise logically connected to taxation. Like sex change operations.

That class of procedures known in the medical lingo as Gender Reassignment Surgery ("GRS") are the subject of dispute and debate within the medical profession. Now it is certainly easy for me to say that men should be men and women should be women, and I do in fact take such a position. From my way of thinking, it is plainly obvious that most of these so-called "Gender Reassignment Surgeries" should not occur (though, in cases of chromosomal abnormalities or actual androgynia, I can see possible justifications for it). And while believe that the government should avoid insinuating itself into the doctor-patient relationship, it is no less imperative that the doctors practice ethical medicine. And there is no doubt in my mind that political correctness has trumped medical ethics in much if not most GRS situations.

Certain elements of society have weakened and corrupted healthy gender identity, thus stoking the demand for GRS. Mixed singles tennis player Renee Richards (formerly Richard Rashkind) had a childhood devoid of healthy gender standards (and has expressed subsequent regrets over having undergone the surgery).

Okay, so I take a strident and closed-minded view of GRS. Whether you agree with me or disagree with me does not really matter. Either way, the subject is a very politicized and controversy-ridded admixture of medical ethics (or lack thereof) and social and moral values. Last week, the IRS also was in the picture. It must be remembered that the IRS is a bureaucracy and behaves accordingly.

On 20 January 2006, the IRS Office of Chief Counsel issued Memorandum Number 200603025. A taxpayer who had undergone GRS attempted to claim the costs of the operation as a medical expense deduction on his (her?) tax return. The cognizant IRS official, obviously aware that whichever way the IRS ruled would have potential for repercussions, denied the deduction on a morality-neutral basis.

It has long been settled law that income tax deductions must be strictly construed to conform to the statute, so the IRS found that GRS does not unambiguously fit the statutory definition of a deductible expense. Consistent with its well developed bureaucratic instincts to deflect criticism and flak, the Memorandum states that "[o]nly an unequivocal expression of Congressional intent that expenses of this type qualify under [Internal Revenue Code] Section 213 would justify the allowance of the deduction in this case. Otherwise, it would seem we would be moving beyond the generally accepted boundaries that define this type of deduction."

The IRS thus threw the hot potato into the lap of Congress. And because the IRS came up with a rational and well-researched morality-neutral reason for its ruling, the courts are likely to let the ruling stand unless and until Congress specifically weighs in on the matter. Moreover, a Chief Counsel Memorandum is only valid for the taxpayer involved; it does not precedentially bind the IRS for other such cases (though there is a tacit understanding among the IRS and the taxation bar that the IRS will usually strive to be consistent in similar taxpayer situations). By issuing this as a CCM instead of a precedential Revenue Ruling, the IRS has limited its entanglement in a controversial sociopolitical matter.

Because the American public fisc is financed chiefly through the personal income taxes instead of a sales tax or an excise tax, the IRS finds itself intruding into the personal lives of the populace. A purchaser's gender, whether male, female or otherwise, is simply irrelevant in computing a sales tax paid at the cash register. But, as exemplified by CCM 200603025, a taxpayer's gender can become an issue when computing the income tax.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Note the Asterisk *

Now that Transport Workers Union Local 100 has rejected, by seven (7) votes, the agreement hammered out by its representatives and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, we all know the likely subject the front page headlines in the New York tabloids. All of this blog's prior comments on the TWU - MTA dispute are still operative, and further comments will be posted if and when warranted.

Other bloggers and commentators will surely give good analyses of this latest TWU/MTA development and its implications for Pataki, Bloomberg, Spitzer, Kalikow, Toussaint and New York. My only observation at this time is that the New York State tuition tax credit story has now been, at least to some extent, pre-empted by the TWU vote and its consequences.

As a parent who has chosen to send his child to a non-public school (and who pays full freight tuition in connection with the same), I am, of course, very concerned about the skyrocketing costs of education. And though my perspective is primarily upon Jewish education, there are other groups of parents who have also chosen alternatives to the public school system (and who are paying accordingly) whose interests and concerns are not all that incompatible with mine.

As a background, there are three factors that collectively and synergistically impact and complicate the situation in New York with respect to any issues regarding school education funding:

(1) A very big and influential teacher's labor union, the New York State United Teachers and its affiliates (as further detailed and disclosed in my 18 December 2005 posting, I am a member of one of those NYSUT affiliated unions in connection with my teaching gig at a New York public educational institution);

(2) Significant numbers of New York school children attend religious-oriented nonpublic schools, including but not limited to the Catholic schools and Jewish yeshivas and religious day schools; and

(3) Article 11, Section 3 of the New York State Constitution prohibits the use of state money or credit "in aid or maintenance, other than for examination or inspection, of any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination, or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine is taught." This is known as the Blaine Amendment, a provision born of 19th Century anti-Catholic bigotry and inserted into the Constitutions of several states, including New York, at the instigation of Maine Congresscritter and POTUS wannabe James G. Blaine, after his own attempt to amend the United States Constitution failed.

Immediately before this TWU vote story broke, New York Attorney General and Governor wannabe Eliot Spitzer did a little bit of a backpedal on his views regarding Governor Pataki's tuition tax credit proposals. In light of the Blaine Amendment, Spitzer had questioned the legality of Pataki's budget proposals regarding tuition tax credits. Many non-public school parents (including this one) have long distrusted Spitzer on the issue, and his comments accordingly drew the flak.

There is a rally for tuition tax credits scheduled for 14 February 2006 in Albany. Scheduling conflicts preclude my personal attendance. Those who cannot personally attend can still write or call or e-mail Governor Pataki and Attorney General Spitzer to remind them of their support for tuition tax credits.

Given our current system in New York and America, I support* Pataki's tuition tax credit proposals. You will note that this support is marked with an asterisk. I shall now explain the asterisk.

I do not per se oppose public schools, but the public schools as we know them today are not the public schools I attended. And while my own public school experience was not without its very significant flaws and adversities, the environment was more conducive to good education than that now found in the typical public school. I shall not now get into issues of curriculum, but I will discuss issues of finance.

Approximately 65% of my real estate tax bill is for the local school district. In New York, the school district provides the textbooks in the non-religious subjects to non-public school students. Other than that, I receive nothing in return for the school taxes I pay. So, in addition to paying non-public school tuition, I also subsidize quite heavily the education of the public school kids. My next door neighbors, whose children have long since graduated from the public schools, married and moved out, likewise subsidize a school system which no longer confers a direct benefit upon them.

Do I oppose public tax revenues going towards the education of my neighbors' children? Not per se, but why can't they control the costs? Take athletics, for example. My son's school, while not totally devoid of athletics, has foregone much of the athletic facilities and programs to be found in public schools. Much of the acreage of the local high school near my home consists of ballfields and similar athletic facilities. This is land that is (A) off the tax rolls, and (B) costs public money to maintain and level the playing fields. Other school districts have even more extensive athletic facilities. I do not oppose athletics in the schools (and was a high school jock myself), but must question the priority that has been placed on athletics by society in general and our schools in particular. What purpose is served by having top-of-the-line athletic equipment and facilities as opposed to just the basics? If it is to provide a source for the major leagues, then shouldn't major league baseball and the NHL and the NFL be kicking into the schools' athletic budgets? Athletics is, to be sure, a worthy component of an educational program because, using the principles of competition, brings out excellence.

Why is the cost of education so high? The answer is that whenever the school district has a budgetary shortfall they can always raise the taxes (I shall not get into the school budget voter approval process in New York, except to say that even when a school budget is rejected by the voters the school taxes still go up). There is no meaningful incentive to control costs! There is no competition!

One reason for the decline of the public schools is that each public school district enjoys a legal monopoly in its geographical territory. Any competition with the public school system is not done on a level playing field. But whenever some non-public school does manage to rival a public school in spite of that monopoly, the public school usually improves.

The public schools need competition in order to excel. Moreover, if the purpose of public schools is to have a well-educated population, then there is no reason why that goal ought not be achieved with the help of the non-public schools, whose ability to deliver on that score has long been established.

And so, I support Governor Pataki's proposal for tuition tax credits. Understand, however, that there is much, much more needed in order to adequately address the condition of education in America, Jewish or otherwise.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

TWU's Tax Attitude

Well, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 will soon conclude the ratification vote on the contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It is a real sellout by Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg. The benefits under the new contract include, but are not limited to: Lifetime medical coverage, the pension kick-in refund discussed in this blog's 3 January 2006 posting, and no prescription drug deductible for retirees. TWU is boasting and gloating over the success of their illegal strike, and indeed, Pataki's boys gave them plenty over which to boast and gloat.

That the taxpayers are footing such a steep bill is one thing, but what really galls is the attitude of the TWU and its members.

Well, it seems that the attitude of at least one TWU member, Alexander Hyatt, goes even beyond the official union extreme. Hyatt, you see, has taken the position that he is not responsible for paying New York State income taxes on his MTA wages.

Nobody is expected to actually enjoy paying one's taxes. Taxes and the bureaucracies that collect them were no doubt viewed with negativity even as far back as when King Hammurabi imposed taxes upon his subjects. And if NASA finds intelligent civilizations on distant planets, the smart money says that populace of such civilizations will similarly detest the taxation process.

But everyone is expected to comply with the tax laws, even if there be no smile on one's face. And the complexity of the tax laws frequently leaves room for ambiguity and dispute in the computation of one's tax. But government employees, whose support derives directly from the taxes paid by the citizenry, have a special obligation to timely comply with the tax laws as best they can. Mr. Hyatt has stepped well beyond a bona fide contrary position rooted in the tax code's complexity.

Alexander Hyatt and other MTA employees who flout their tax obligations should be terminated from their positions. But given the spinelessness thus demonstrated by Pataki and Kalikow, expect Hyatt's contemptuous attitude to continue.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Go Sick 'em, IRS!

According to Mike Harden and Joe Hallett's article in yesterday's Columbus Dispatch, more than 30 Columbus area clergy have cosigned a letter to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Mark Everson requesting that the IRS audit the World Harvest Church of Columbus and Fairfield Christian Church of Lancaster for violations of the Internal Revenue Code provisions that prohibit political activities by tax-exempt entities. The letter accuses the subjects of the complaints of, among other things, doing the political bidding of J. Kenneth Blackwell, Republican candidate for the Ohio governorship.

The letter was drafted with the help of attorney Marcus Owens, mentioned in this blog's postings of 9 November 2005 and 16 December 2005 as counsel for All Saint's Church in Pasadena, an organization with a decidedly leftward bent and which is currently undergoing the IRS's scrutiny. I personally do not know whether this is reflective of Owens's personal politics or whether it is just mercenary lawyering by one of the top in the legal specialty, nor does it particularly matter.

The World Harvest Church and other enterprises of Rev. Rod Parsley may wall have crossed the fuzzy blurry legal line between religion and politics. If so, then the church should be dealt with accordingly, to a degree commensurate with what would be meted out to a similarly behaving organization at the opposite end of the political spectrum.

The tax laws should be enforced, the taxpaying public ought not subsidize those tax-exempt organizations that do not comply with the requirements for their exemptions, and tax-exempt organizations ought not be used to manipulate money used in illegal activities (including but not limited to terrorism). Sometimes the IRS is the agency best suited to enforce the law, as, for example, the well known matter of gangster Al Capone, or the entree to the books of various organizations that support terrorism.

But sicking the IRS on one's adversaries is a double-edged sword. The IRS itself ought not get too politicized, and ought not be abused for individual politicians' political agendas (as the Kennedy administration, by several reputable and credible accounts, supposedly did).

I claim no familiarity with the individual and organizational situations of the particular 30+ clergy members who signed onto the letter, but I am not willing to bet that they and their respective congregations are all totally free of the politics taint.

And speaking of religion and politics, howcum the Reverend Parsley is criticized for acting upon his political views, but The Reverend Jesse Jackson and The Reverend Al Sharpton can freely comport themselves as candidates for public office?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Flying over Switzerland

Well, it now seems that Switzerland is now on the verge of complaining that American CIA flights violated Swiss airspace in transporting suspected terrorists. The Swiss people prize their political neutrality in world conflicts, and Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey seems concerned that transiting Swiss airspace to facilitate the interrogation of terror suspects in a language they understand impugns this neutrality.

Now never mind that during World War II, neutral Switzerland allowed German railroad trains to traverse its territory to access to port of Genoa, thus prolonging the fighting in Southern Europe and increasing American casualties! Never mind that Swiss banks participated in the theft of assets from Jews, and bankrolled Hitler! And never mind that the Swiss had several occasions to turn away Jewish refugees from Hitler's extermination machinery!

Fact is that during World War II, many American soldiers were interned as prisoners of war in Switzerland, with the full cooperation of the Swiss government.

If the Swiss wish to talk about their neutrality, then we Americans can also talk about Swiss neutrality!!

Appeal from Center-RIght Bloggers

Well, folks, in my 4 January 2006 posting I stated, regarding the Jack Abramoff affair, that " I likely will have little to say about it (unless, of course, I come across some unique or unusual evidence, or espouse some unique or particularly atypical view on the Abramoff affair)."

It is now obvious that the Abramoff affair's roots and branches run very wide and deep. This blog can be restrained in its treatment of the unfolding Abramoff saga, but it will not be 100% unaffected by it.

This "Appeal from Center-Right Bloggers" initiated by The Truth Laid Bear is the antithesis of unique because so many bloggers have signed onto it in such a short time. My name is among them because I think that popular consensus is important on this matter. After some thought and deliberation, I have concluded that adding my name to this is sufficiently significant to warrant another post to this blog.

I reproduce the statement below.

An Appeal from Center-Right Bloggers:

We are not naive about lobbying, and we know it can and has in fact advanced crucial issues and has often served to inform rather than simply influence Members.

But we are certain that the public is disgusted with excess and with privilege. We hope the Hastert-Dreier effort leads to sweeping reforms including the end of subsidized travel and other obvious influence operations. Just as importantly, we call for major changes to increase openness, transparency and accountability in Congressional operations and in the appropriations process.

As for the Republican leadership elections, we hope to see more candidates who will support these goals, and we therefore welcome the entry of Congressman John Shadegg to the race for Majority Leader. We hope every Congressman who is committed to ethical and transparent conduct supports a reform agenda and a reform candidate. And we hope all would-be members of the leadership make themselves available to new media to answer questions now and on a regular basis in the future.

Friday, January 13, 2006

ACLU and the Praying Marines

Well, folks, this one is making the e-mail rounds again. The one where the American Civil Liberties Union supposedly objected to Marines praying in public at a Marine Corps ceremony.

In the strictest sense, it is disinformation. There are several websites that document and analyze and confirm/debunk these types of "urban legends." These include, but are not limited to, snopes.com, urbanlegens.about.com, breakthechain.org, truthorfiction.com, et cetera. Websites such as these are valuable resources for substantiating your info. We check out our food to make sure that it is kosher; ascertaining that our information is kosher is no less important.

Regardless of your views regarding the ACLU, you are not justified in lying about it (and you don't have to lie because there are sufficient truthful FACTS about the ACLU which can reduce them to absurdity). So stick to the facts and don't lie.

One relevant fact in this issue is the ACLU's own response to the e-mail in question. On the ACLU's own website, the ACLU has this to say:

"Why does the ACLU object to federal employees bowing their heads?

The ACLU has no knowledge about the photograph of Marines praying that has circulated on the Internet. The ACLU has also never had a spokesperson -- quoted by news organizations as "Lucius Traveler" -- by this name."

The ACLU's purported "answer" is a non-sequitur. It only denies knowledge of the supposed story (probably a valid denial), but DOES NOT address the question of the ACLU's objections (or absence thereof) to Federal employees bowing their heads and praying on government time.

Am I reading too much into this? Given some of the other documented and substantiated wacko positions espoused by the ACLU, I wouldn't be so sure that the ACLU does not oppose government employees, military or civilian, praying on government time.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Obama's Israel Excursion

The mainstream media is now making a big to do over Senator Barack Obama's trip to Israel. But just who is facilitating this trip, and what is its real agenda?

Looking at some of the people mentioned in connection with Obama's trip can give us some indication.

Alan Solow, an official of the Chicago Jewish Community Relations Council, has likened Obama to Martin Luther King.

Robert Schrayer, long active in the Chicago Jewish Federation, became an early backer of Obama based upon their mutual pro-abortion and pro-gun control leanings.

It should, of course, be a dead giveaway that Obama's main sponsor from the Knesset is Tommy Lapid, leader of the stridently anti-religious Shinui Party.

The Chicago JCRC, like other local JCRCs, is and has long been pervaded by those with a moonbat political orientation, being recalcitrantly opposed, for example, to funding education through vouchers in the name of separation of church and state. [Query: Howcum they complain about how industrial monopolies stifle competition and oppress people, but insist upon governmental monopolies for education? All this in the face of the manifest failure of the public schools and success of the private schools (even the religion-based ones)?].

Conspicuous by their absence from Obama's trip to Israel are members of the religious Jewish community. Contrary to the images portrayed in the MSM, there are many Jews who oppose abortion, support the right to bear arms, and have no problem with religious values being taught in the public schools. In other words, there are Jews who have held onto true Torah values.

The religious Jews, by and large, are NOT the ones who are orchestrating Obama's trip to Israel.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

IRS Problem Number 4

Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate, submitted her 2005 Report to Congress on 31 December 2005. It discusses 21 of the most serious tax problems afflicting the taxpayers. They are all serious, but, without in any way negating or detracting from the gravity of the other 20, this posting will spotlight Problem Number 4, the training of the private debt collectors who will shortly be engaged by the IRS to help collect the revenue.

The American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 permits (and indeed, encourages) the IRS to engage hired guns to help collect the taxes. Conceptually simple and straightforward, but it presents several practical problems that, in my humble opinion, our congresscritters didn't fully appreciate when they enacted it into law.

Ms. Olson is concerned, quite appropriately, that the hired guns might not fully comprehend the tax laws and, in their ignorance and/or zeal, might severely compromise the taxpayers' rights. The IRS itself understands that it is a problem, but is much less cautious than Ms. Olson about the potential pitfalls of implementation.

After reading Ms. Olson's well-written analysis of Problem Number 4, my own concerns and observations, in no particular order, include (but are not limited to) the following:

1. The IRS is not liable to the taxpayer for collections contractors' acts and omissions [I.R.C. ยง 6306(d)]. This should give you pause even if you are not a rocket scientist. Even the fact that the hired guns are personally liable for their damages gives only small reassurances at best.

2. The hired gun tax collectors will be paid a percentage of what they collect. At first blush, this should present few issues. After all, almost all commercial collection agencies and collections attorneys are compensated on a percentage contingency fee basis, which gives them incentive to maximize the dollars collected for the creditor. There supposedly will be safeguards to ensure that the hired gun collectors do not violate the taxpayer' rights; indeed, they specifically are not permitted to do anything forbidden to an IRS employee on the official IRS payroll. What concerns me is the organizational cultural conflicts, because it is illegal to evaluate IRS employees based upon dollar collection results. The IRS already has problems ensuring that this rule is honored; bringing on the hired guns can only further complicate the situation.

3. [Parenthetical historical note: Under the Income Tax Act of 1862, revenue collectors were compensated on a commission basis.]

4. It has been tried before! King Louis, preoccupied has he was with his partying at Versailles, also saw fit to farm out the tax collection function to the high bidder. These private tax collectors were more abusive by far than Louis's men ever could be. The public did not take too well to those abuses, and the result was the Reign of Terror, when blood flowed in the streets of Paris, and lots of people (including Louis and Marie Antoinette) lost their heads.

5. The following recent incidents are noted:

A. Carolyn R. Harris, who was the manager of the IRS's Refund Inquiry Unit in Kansas City , was indicted for stealing refund checks and for accessing taxpayer information about her boyfriend's ex-wife.

B. IRS Revenue Officer William Koskos took bribes from the principal of the entity whose back taxes he was supposed to be collecting.

C. IRS mail clerk Shawnda E. Schmidt was indicted for stealing the taxpayer remittance checks out of the envelopes, and giving them to her brother to cash (her brother pleaded guilty for his part in the scheme). This one is particularly troubling because the checks, in all likelihood, were not timely posted to the accounts of the taxpayers involved. It is not difficult to imagine the consequences of this to the taxpayers involved.

D. IRS employee Michael Sapp illegally accessed taxpayer information and sold it to identity thieves, who then used the info to file fraudulent tax refund claims with the IRS.

E. At his retirement party, IRS Special Agent Greg Heck publicly disclosed information which should have been kept confidential regarding a criminal tax investigation.

F. Other IRS employees have pulled shtick of a similar nature.

As matters currently stand, the IRS has more than a just single isolated problem with its own boys and girls committing fraud, abusing the taxpayer rights, and other misdeeds which compromise the integrity of the tax system. If the IRS cannot control its own employees, what makes anyone think that they will be able to control the hired gun tax collectors?

Like Karl Marx's analysis of the economic systems, it may well look good on paper, but there will be some very serious -- and possibly insurmountable -- practical problems in making the system work.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

TRAC-ing the IRS

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) exists under the aegis of Syracuse University. TRAC's mission is " to provide the American people -- and institutions of oversight such as Congress, news organizations, public interest groups, businesses, scholars and lawyers -- with comprehensive information about federal staffing, spending, and the enforcement activities of the federal government." One of the Federal agencies TRAC especially follows is the Internal Revenue Service. TRAC is obviously dependent upon the Freedom of Information Act for its info.

Though I am not at ease with the political orientation of certain individuals and organizations that fraternize with and bankroll TRAC, I must acknowledge TRAC's meticulousness with the authoritative information it purveys. Indeed, one of TRAC's co-directors is David Burnham, a well reputed investigative reporter with an upstanding publication record. TRAC certainly has better credibility than Burnham's alma mater, the New York Times.

In 1976, Susan B. Long, now TRAC's other co-director, obtained a court order on consent which requires the IRS to provide her with ongoing statistics regarding the IRS's audit, collection and other enforcement activities. This I have absolutely no problem with because it is only statistics, and not individual tax information. The American public certainly has the right to know how the IRS is doing its job, and indeed, the IRS should be doing its job so well that it should want the public to know how it is doing, statistically speaking. It should further be emphasized that the statistical info the IRS is required to provide to Ms. Long is not done specially to humor Susan Long; it is data that the IRS is required to and does compile in the course of its normal operations.

In any event, the IRS stopped providing Susan Long with the info as required under the court order. TRAC has just filed a lawsuit to enforce the court order.

Assuming that Susan B. Long's allegations are all founded (and I have every reason to expect that she will be able to substantiate them), I can well understand that the IRS is sick and tired of having to send the data to her. Having been similarly affected by FOIA requests when I worked at a visible job with the great Federal Bureaucracy, I can really empathize with the IRS on that one.

What bothers me about this, however, is that according to Susan Long, when she called the IRS out of bounds on this one the IRS initially denied any knowledge of that court order to which the IRS consented and which the IRS has obeyed (if only grudgingly) for the past 28 years.

I timely file my tax returns and pay my own taxes, and I fully expect the IRS to ensure that my fellow citizens are kicking in their fair share. Complying with the tax laws is never a pleasant thing to do, and the IRS regularly encounters resistance from the citizenry in that regard. The common citizen, then, expects the IRS to be diligent, relentless, and perhaps a bit harsh and cantankerous, because those qualities are often what it takes to enforce tax compliance. What the public does not expect, and what the courts should not tolerate, is the IRS lying.

If the ordinary citizen would take a similar attitude regarding the information he or she is required by law to timely provide to the IRS, what would happen next is quite obvious! The IRS should also be required to comply with the law.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Abramoff affair clarification

In my previous post, my comment regarding this Jack Abramoff story was, " I likely will have little to say about it (unless, of course, I come across some unique or unusual evidence, or espouse some unique or particularly atypical view on the Abramoff affair).

I may have spoken too soon. The Abramoff criminal information document mentions stuff such as tax evasion and the use of tax-exempt organizations as conduits for questionable money transfers. Which are ongoing topics of interest for me and this blog.

Expect repercussions throughout the tax-exempt organizations community!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Abramoff: For the Record.

To paraphrase Churchill, the plea deal Jack Abramoff just made with the Department of Justice is not the end and is not even the beginning of the end, but may prove to be the end of the beginning. I likely will have little to say about it (unless, of course, I come across some unique or unusual evidence, or espouse some unique or particularly atypical view on the Abramoff affair).

For the record, however, this political and social conservative, and religious Jew (you can call me an "Orthodox Jew" if that is how you would label me) now says that the behavior admitted by Abramoff is to be condemned and not condoned. Abramoff has promised to cooperate in ongoing investigations, which means that we can expect significant disclosures about lots of people, including, perhaps, many in high places.

I condemn such behavior, and so should my fellow political conservatives, and my fellow Jews.

Let the investigators and the grand jury hear Abramoff sing, and let the chips fall where they may!!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Pataki the Piano Player

The 2 January 2006 New York Post has an article "Gov Fury at 'Train Robbery'" by Carl Campanile, Stefan C. Friedman & Dan Mangan. Seems that the MTA made a secret side deal with the TWU, agreeing to reimburse the transit workers for their pensions from MTA funds even if the New York State Legislature fails to pass legislation providing for the same. This would, from the transit workers' perspective, more than compensate for the 6 days' pay that the Taylor Law requires be docked for illegally striking. This is NOT part of the new and (as of this writing) yet to be ratified labor contract, but a secret sweetheart deal!

Pataki's public statement "I never had any briefing or knowledge that there was a side agreement, and I have to say it's extremely upsetting to me. I made it plain from the beginning: You don't reward illegal strikes. You don't benefit as a result of illegal acts. And I am extremely unhappy that this side deal apparently exists."

Most of us have to make some sort of contribution to our own pensions. And, as the American life expectancy increases, we will surely need to work longer in order to keep our pension funds solvent. Retirement at age 55 and living to age 95? This means that the erstwhile employee is being supported by the system longer than he or she has supported it. Multiply this by all the employees out there and it just cannot work! The system has to crash eventually, unless something is done! Now the MTA work is certainly not without its dangers, but it just doesn't have the risks that are inherent in jobs such as, say, career military. And, speaking of career military, how many MTA workers would actually be brought up on charges and face imprisonment for refusing an assignment on the other side of the city, let alone the other side of the world?

[And, as an aside, what does it say about our society if we all are looking forward to retirement? Why can't we have jobs that we enjoy? Rare is the person who wants to keep working at their job until the very end (though some notables, including John Philip Sousa, did keep doing what they loved until they keeled over doing it).]

But I digress. Pataki now claims that he knew nothing about the secret side agreement! Well, yes, it is theoretically possible for the guy who, having played piano on the ground floor of a bordello for 6 months, to honestly claim that he didn't know what was happening upstairs after the vice squad raid. Theoretical, but in real life, how many bordello piano players are really that clueless as to the business transacted on the upper floors? During my high school days, when I had the job after school at the local drug store, I actually made deliveries to a bordello, and even though I never went beyond the threshold of the front door, I knew what was going on upstairs! Okay, I'm superintelligent, so don't use me as the norm, but the junior high kids who lived on the street, no intellectual heavyweights, also knew what business the madame was in. Pataki has made some very abysmally stupid mistakes, but now he wants me to believe that he was really, really clueless to this secret deal made by his own boys!

Okay, let us say that you have a job, and you make a secret sweetheart deal with a customer to give away millions of dollars in company funds to which you have absolutely no authority to spend. How much longer would you expect to be employed? Or, from the boss's perspective, let us say that your employee agreed to a thing of such magnitude with a customer, without getting you in on the loop. Would you be inclined to accelerate the employee's promotion, or would you be inclined to accelerate the employee's butt out the door? If, indeed, Pataki's boys on the MTA Board made a sweetheart deal of which Pataki was totally clueless, then MTA Chair Peter Kalikow's toochas should be hitting the pavement in front of 347 Madison Avenue very soon!

But I'm not putting any chips down on the wheel for that one. In my 18 December 2005 posting I questioned whether Pataki or Bloomberg had the wherewithal to enforce the Taylor Law's prescribed consequences for those individuals and unions that go on illegal strikes. And in my 21 December 2005 posting I said, "[a]s long as TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint is the only player in the game who engages in sound and intelligent leadership practices, you can expect the strike to continue until Pataki and Bloomberg give away the entire store!" As of now, those statements still stand!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Why Did the Admiral go Ashore?

Well, Senator Chuck Grassley and his Finance Committee are once again taking a look at the American Red DoubleCross. Grassley's 29 December 2005 letter to Red Cross chair Bonnie McElveen-Hunter requests documents and info relating to the organization's governance by its Board, its response to Katrina and other disasters, the compensation it pays its employees, and its tax filings with the IRS.

The Red Cross has indicated its intention to respond by the 30 January 2006 deadline set by Grassley.

One underlying theme of the request seems to be the circumstances giving rise to the recent departure of former Red Cross President and CEO Marsha Evans. Grassley makes no attempts to hide his desire to learn the REAL reasons for Adm. Evans's departure [as a former flag officer with an honorable service record, she is properly addressed by her last military title]. Did she leave because the Red Cross was resisting her expressed and explicit desire to reform the organization? If so, then who was resisting what? And, notwithstanding (or, perhaps, on account of) Adm. Evans's impressive record of accomplishments, Grassley is also asking for info regarding her own emolument and severance package with the Red Cross.

Grandstanding by Grassley? Perhaps. But understand that when I was in grade school, my penmanship was not very calligraphic (and it has been significantly deteriorating ever since). During those years, when criticized by my teachers, I had several occasions to point out to them that then-President Lyndon B. Johnson's handwriting did not exactly comply with all of the Zaner-Bloser handwriting specifications to which we students were expected to adhere.

The Red Cross was placed into a position of prominence and leadership when it was chartered by Congress, and, like it or not, is now a role model for all tax-exempt organizations. There were serious questions regarding its handling of funds which were supposed to go to the World Trade Center victims. Its shortcomings will, consciously or otherwise, be used by the governing and administrative personnel of other tax-exempt organizations as excuses for their own lapses. While I am very wary of any branch of the government wielding too much power (including Grassley, who often acts as though he is a separate branch of the government), I view this latest request by Grassley as a healthy and appropriate one.

Because I also want to know the real story behind Adm. Evans's departure.