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 29, 2007



Been in Washington DC this past week. I have always enjoyed visiting our Capital City, from the very first time my father took the family there when I was 8 years old. I had several occasions to go there when I worked for Uncle Sam, and several more since I turned in my badge 15+ years ago, both business and personal. Regardless of the failure or success of my particular mission, there has not been a single visit which I did not enjoy.

This time around it rained a bit more than had been predicted, which didn't adversely affect my agenda too much, what with all of the hotels and venues on my official schedule being within 2 blocks of one Metro station or another. The only time I really, really got soaked was on my morning run by the White House and the Mall, but I hung my sweatpants and t-shirt up over the air circulation unit in the hotel room and they were dry within a few hours. My last day there, I resorted to the hotel's fitness center so that my workout gear would not be nearly as soaked when I packed it into my suitcase. I definitely prefer an outdoor workout run, but sometimes the fitness center will have to make do. I was there between 5 and 6 AM, so that it really wasn't too crowded.

The first thing I noticed was that the newsstands in Union Station, which had been Faber's the last time I was there, are now under the banner of Hudson News. Call me a bigot or a racist if you will, but I cannot help but wonder as to the legality of the people who staff the various Hudson News establishments in New York Penn Station and now, Union Station. And, more than the legality, I cannot help but wonder about their loyalty and their compatibility with America's security. Not that this deterred me from purchasing their wares, and not that I have any objections to immigrants who are willing to work, and pay their taxes, and who want to buy into the American way of life. But I would be less than honest if I were to tell you that I am not bothered by the demographics of the Hudson News. Through what may well be no fault of their own, the Hudson News personnel just worry me. I hope that the future will prove my concerns to be unfounded. But don't say that I didn't warn you! Maybe if I were to get to know some of them personally, my concerns would subside. But I'm not ready to bet the mortgage money on it.

During the height of the tourist season in Washington, there are any number of souvenir vendors and hawkers who will personalize a coffee mug or badge or other trinket with the photograph of anyone who is willing to pay (or whose mommy or daddy or grandparent is willing to pay) anywhere from $5 to $25 or more for it. But I got my photo-personalized trinket for free!! A Library of Congress Reader Identification Card! Just go to the Library of Congress, show a photo ID, and you, too, can have a personalized Library of Congress Reader Identification Card! I got mine when I was in Washington (actually, I renewed it. You've got to renew them every 2 years).
It is against that backdrop that I note the agreement reached, during my absence from New York, by Governor Spitzer and Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff regarding the issuance of New York State driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

Our illustrious Governor does have a point, in theory at least, when he claims that his plan would bring the many illegal aliens who now drive automobiles without licenses under the umbrella of the mandatory insurance coverage. I question how well this theory will operate when placed into practice, however.

It is well-known that insurance companies stand squarely behind their customers, until the customer makes a claim on the insurance policy. At that point, the insurance company will do all in its power to deny coverage. Specifically, insurance policies typically include a clause to the effect that the insured must promptly notify the insurer in the event of any incident upon which a claim might be made. In the context of the automobile insurance policy, such incident usually means some sort of collision. How many of those illegal aliens, if given a Spitzer License, would, if involved in a collision, promptly notify their insurers? How many possess sufficient English language skills to do so? How many will fail to notify the insurer? I see lots of devils in the details here, Governor Spitzer!!

The REAL ID Act, Public Law 109-13, Section 202(a)(1) [109 Stat. 312], provides:

"Beginning 3 years after the date of the enactment of this division, a Federal agency may not accept, for any official purpose, a driver’s license or identification card issued by a State to any person unless the State is meeting the requirements of this section."

According to what Spitzer (and Chertoff) would have us all believe, the new Spitzer Licenses would allow the illegals to drive cars and obtain insurance, but would not be accepted by the Federal government "for any official purpose."

Query: Does "any official purpose" include the issuance of a Library of Congress Reader Identification Card? The theoretical answer should be a resounding and unequivocal "Nay!" It must be remembered, however, that Chertoff, whose own boys and girls have significant behavioral problems, is NOT the head honcho over at the Library of Congress. In fact, the LOC is not even an Executive Branch agency, so the guy/gal in the Oval Office doesn't even have any say-so over the LOC. As its name implies, the Library of Congress is a Congressional agency.

Unless the Librarian of Congress himself is aboard the wagon, then the actual answer will be determined by some relatively low-ranking LOC bureaucrat in Room LM 140 of the Madison Building, diagonally across from the Capitol and a block away from the Supreme Court.

Whatever my worries may be regarding the invasion of Union Station by the Hudson News, they pale in comparison to the worries caused by the Governor and the Secretary with their agreement for the new Spitzer licenses.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Bianca can't get no satisfaction or shelter

New York City has this thing called rent stabilization. It is a complex and Byzantine system which was "temporarily" imposed after WWII, when returning GIs increased the demand (and therefore, the going rate of rent) for housing. The regime continues to this day, with the result that a significant number of New Yorkers live in apartments for which they pay far, far below the fair market rental.

Rent-stabilized tenants often go to great lengths to maintain their NYC rent-stabilized apartments. This means keeping the apartment as one's primary residence, which means that people who otherwise would have relocated to Florida (or the Piedmont or who knows where else) frequently travel back to NYC to be physically present in their apartment. And, because one can pass the apartment on to members of one's "family" (including one's homosexual homeboy or lezzie live-in), the stakes are all the greater.

The system, initially concocted as a fix to a housing emergency, is now a permanent fixture in New York City and has transformed the right to a rent-stabilized apartment into an heirloom to be passed down from generation to generation.

The only case I ever had that in any way entailed the NYC Rent Stabilization Code demonstrates the system's absurdity. My client, an kind-hearted elderly woman, had taken in a needy homeless person. Turns out that this "guest" not only stole my client's property, but also physically attacked my client. Another lawyer tried to obtain an order of protection, but this "guest" claimed that because she had lived in a room in my client's apartment for more than 30 consecutive days, she was entitled to a statutory rent-stabilized lease for the room in my client's apartment!

For reasons not relevant here, the guest-cum-assailant finally left my client's apartment. It turns out that claiming a rent-stabilized lease in the apartment of a generous host this was the "guest's" usual modus operandi.

But the system is not in TOTAL dysfunction. Turns out that Bianca Jagger's landlord was able to evict Bianca (and thus rent the apartment to a more remunerative tenant) because Bianca, as an alien on a B-2 tourist visa, cannot claim a primary residence in New York City or anywhere else in America.

The case is Katz Park Ave. Corp. v Jagger, 2007 NY Slip Op 07908 (App.Div., 1st Dept. 2007).

To the Court, I say "Bravissimo!!" But what about all of those who are not B-2 tourists because they are in America illegally? Are the courts going to enforce the law against them, too? Quite frankly, at least Mick Jagger's ex is in America legally.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Horsing Around with Dr. Nora

Yesterday's Tax Court opinions included the matter of Nora E. Keating & Richard L. Shearer v. Commissioner, T.C. Memorandum Opinion 2007-309. Nora is an emergency room physician who absolutely loves horses. Nora and Richard, husband & wife, filed joint income tax returns for years 1996 - 2002, on which they claimed significant losses totaling in excess of $300,000 from Nora's horse breeding activity.

Among the standard fare of the Tax Court are cases where losses are claimed from hobby-type pastimes which lack a significant business (i.e., profit-making) motive. Where losses from such activities exceed the income derived, no deduction is allowed.

I have neither interest nor expertise in horses, and do not tout myself as an expert in the business. Having said this, certain things about Nora's situation evoke my comment:

A. The Tax Court opinion includes a tabular listing of Nora's 20 horses. Of the 20, 6 are geldings purchased by Nora (including Aw Fames Ovation, purchased for $5,000, her most expensive equine acquisition), and 5 are "home-foaled" geldings, that is, geldings actually bred by Nora. As for the remaining 9 horses, two are ponies who were purchased for the purpose of riding. Only 3 of the horses were specifically purchased for breeding purposes.

It is my understanding that a gelding is a castrated horse. If Nora wishes to breed horses, why is she purchasing geldings, and why is she cutting off the beitzim of the horses she actually breeds? This does not seem to be an efficient use of assets.

B. Of even greater concern: "Throughout the years in issue, petitioner worked approximately 60 hours a week as a physician--typically two 24-hour shifts and one 12-hour shift." Hey, isn't this the Libby Zion case all over again? What of the patients who are being treated by a sleep-deprived doctor?

Never mind the horses!! Never mind the income tax returns!! This doctor presents a danger to her patients, on account of her lack of sleep!!

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