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, September 25, 2006

Glenn Winuk

Among my list of heroes is "FDNY," the Fire Department of the City of New York. The specific listing of FDNY is not intended as a slight to other firefighters in other cities across America and beyond. Even before the Muslim terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, the firefighters of FDNY, collectively and individually, paid dearly for the right to represent all firefighters of all time everywhere, and accordingly, they are on my list of heroes in such a capacity. Firefighters in other cities, towns and hamlets across America are no less brave or dedicated than the FDNY firefighters, and, if confronted with disasters of the magnitude of September 11th, would surely respond with the same valor. They ALL are my heroes.

I say this fully cognizant of the fact that the off-duty behavior of some of them leaves much to be desired [e.g., Gill v. City of New York, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6481 (S.D.N.Y. 2004)]. Such rowdy propensities are certainly not to be condoned. But how many times do we hear an excuse to the effect that one who has significant character flaws or cultural deficiencies cannot be expected to contribute to society's welfare? There are plenty of people in the firehouses who have character flaws and cultural deficiencies, but they at least contribute to the good of society. Studs Terkel's book Working includes an interview of a New York City firefighter named Tom Patrick, who says, "You get guys that talk about niggers, spics, and they're the first guys into the fire to save 'em." [Studs Terkel, Working, p. 589 [Pantheon Books, 1972]. The FDNYers have shown the world that personal flaws and deficiencies are no excuse for not doing good for society.

On a more basic level, firefighters have been trained in the practical and scientific aspects of the combustion process. They understand and appreciate the danger even more than the average citizen. And yet, instead of doing the rational thing and running away from the fire, they go right into the burning buildings to save people -- and pets, for that matter! There is a certain heroism in that.

But not all firefighters are misfits who would be among the indolent homeless if they weren't in the firehouse. There are many, including and especially with suburban volunteer fire companies, who could be quite comfortable with their leisure time elsewhere if they so chose.

One such firefighter was Glenn J. Winuk. He was a partner in a major New York law firm, and also a decorated volunteer firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician. On September 11th, 2001, Glenn Winuk ran from his law firm's offices towards the World Trade Center in order to rescue people (instead of running away from Ground Zero like most others in his building). He was killed in the collapse of the South Tower. His medical bag was at his side when his remains were finally recovered a few months later.

No doubt on account of his responsibilities with his law firm, Glenn Winuk had downgraded from an active member of the Jericho, New York Fire Department to an associate member. This technicality has caused the Justice Department to deny his family the benefits to which survivors of public safety officers who died in the September 11th attack are entitled.

The DOJ ruling comes in spite of the fact that the New York State Legislature enacted Chapter 368 of the 2005 Laws of New York, which posthumously reactivated Glenn Winuk to an active member. Winuk's family intends to appeal.

Having once been employed by the IRS, I have been trained to think in jaundiced terms of human avarice when it comes to monetary transactions. It therefore has instinctively occurred to me that the Winuk family quest may have more to do with clearing the the DOJ check for $250,000.00 than clearing the Glenn Winuk name. How much of the surviving Winuk family's motivation is motivated by honoring the deceased, and how much is motivated by the prospects for monetary gain? I really cannot say because I do not personally know anything more about the Winuk family than I read in the newspapers.

But even if, arguendo, Winuk's family really is grabbing for the gelt, pecking at the peso, kicking for the kapoosta and dialing for the dinero, this would not make Glenn Winuk any less of a hero.

So rest in peace, Glenn Winuk! You fought the good fight, for which this American is grateful!

Friday, September 08, 2006

A bad tip

Congressman Mike Sodrel from Indiana has introduced H.R. 5917, which would exempt tips from income and Social Security taxes. It's not a blanket exemption for tips, just those received by those who perform certain "qualified services," which means "cosmetology, hospitality (including lodging and food and beverage services), recreation, taxi, newspaper deliveries and shoe shine services." There are other limitations, including a maximum exemption of $10,000 per year. The exemption also does not apply to tips to the extent that they are part of the employee's minimum wage.

It certainly is a wonderful "feel good" bill, especially to those of us who for a period of our lives were or are gainfully employed in one or more of those "qualified services." If "feel good" were the sole criterion, then I would certainly be imploring my own Congressman to jump on Sodrel's bandwagon.

But "feel good" isn't good enough. There are several problems with Mr. Sodrel's proposal.

First of all, it would be just one more complication in the tax law. Hey, Congressman Mike, isn't the Internal Revenue Code complex and verbose enough?

Secondly, it not only imposes a double standard upon the taxpaying public, but also imposes a double standard upon income segments of the same taxpayer. There would be more complex recordkeeping requirements for people who, say, receive more than $10,000 in tips in a given year. This means a greater burden upon the taxpayer and the tax enforcer alike.

Thirdly, some of those denominated "qualified services" need some further clarification. The taxi driver obviously performs a "qualified service," but what about the driver of a chartered bus? Is the service he or she performs a "qualified" one? The hair stylist at the beauty parlor who receives a tip from his or her customer is certainly performing a "qualified service," the tips received for which would surely be exempt from taxation if otherwise within the limitations. But what if the hair being styled is detached from the customer's head? Would the services performed by a wig stylist be similarly "qualified" and exempted from the tax on tips?

[The very mention of "newspaper deliveries" in the bill rankles this former newsboy because a number of years ago Newsday, the Long Island MSM rag, gave pink slips to all of its delivery boys and girls and transferred its delivery to adults with cars, thus depriving hundreds of youngsters the opportunity to benefit from responsible gainful employment.].

I appreciate Congressman Sodrel's noble intentions, but H.R. 5917 is just an ineffective quick fix which can only complicate the situation. What Congress really needs to do is (1) completely overhaul our taxation system to a more plain and simple and manageable scheme, and (2) enact policies, taxation and otherwise, that will bring economic prosperity to all of America.