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.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman, R.I.P.

Many of my fellow right-wingers have looked askance at the late actor Paul Newman's political and social views and activities.

Whatever else might be said about Paul Newman, it must be noted that a significant amount of his charitable largesse was directed to the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum, and to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. You really cannot get much more patriotic and pro-American than the Interpid!

Paul had his own ideas of what was right, and he acted upon them.

Rest in peace, Paul Newman!

[And, as I write this post, the Interpid is in the process of being towed back to its berth at Pier 86, at 12th Avenue and 46th Street in Manhattan, after a refurbishing in drydock. My own family membership in the museum has been in lapse for the past few years, but perhaps now is the time for us to reactivate it.]

Labels: , ,

Getting Ready for Rosh Hashanah

As background for the benefit of readers who are not fully informed on the basics of the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah will arrive at sundown on Monday night, 30 September 2008. The process of atoning for our sins is not limited to Yom Kippur, so in addition to being the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah also begins the Ten Days until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. During those 10 days we not only are required to settle our sins against G-d, but we also must ask forgiveness from the humans we may have wronged during the year.

It is against the foregoing background that this posting is written.

On 12 June 2003, one Mordechai Samet was given a 27-year prison sentence, following conviction in December 2002 on various fraud and racketeering charges. At the time, I thought that the sentence was a bit on the heavy side of severe. And, at the time, I wondered whether Samet's professed religious Jewish faith played any role in the perceived severity of the sentence. We religious Jews (I am not particularly comfortable with the label "Orthodox") are, after all, supposed to be a light unto the nations, and whenever we fall short of our G-d given role, it engenders much disappointment amongst the nations of the world. For this reason, religious Jews who commit crimes often do receive heavier sentences. This is not conceptually different from the especially stringent standards to which lawyers are often held in criminal matters, nor the especially stringent standards to which IRS employees are held in their personal tax affairs.

Prior to his relocation to the Federal Correctional Institution at Otisville, NY, Samet resided in a community known as Kiryas Joel, New York. Kiryas Joel is an insular community of Satmar Hassidim. I give this information by way of background, and not to per se belittle Kiryas Joel or its residents or the Satmar Hassidim in general.

Well, it has come to my attention that Samet is now complaining, via the "Rescue Samet" website (apparently maintained by his family and/or friends, inasmuch as he is unlikely to have Internet access in the Big House where he now resides), that he is a victim! Samet has purportedly written a tome entitled Crusade by a Religious Activist in our Courtrooms: The Hijacking of our Court Systems by a Fanatical U.S. Judge, wherein he attempts to make the case that Judge Colleen McMahon, the judge who presided over his trial and who imposed sentence upon him, was motivated by a religious-based bias against him. I was initially willing to buy into Samet's thesis, at least until I began to read the very first page of the Introduction to Samet's magnum opus. it. In no particular order, the following matters struck me as inconsistent or disingenuous:

A. Describing the bust made by the Federal agents on 29 March, 2001: "The operation was carried out as if the agents were arresting the 10 most wanted criminals in America, or some big crime Mafia. Access to the town was shut down by the agents toting shotguns, with helicopters hovering over. Cars were not allowed to enter or leave the town. The government labeled the 12 men arrested the 'Samet Group'".

As mentioned earlier, Kiryas Joel is a very insular town. That is the way the Satmar Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum, the great-uncle of the two rabbis who now are locked in a contentious battle for the leadership of the Satmar Hassidim (and, not coincidentally, control over assets estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars), intended Kiryas Joel to be. And I do not denigrate the Kiryas Joel community for its engineered insularity; there is much to be said for living life free of televisions or newspapers and other sources of negative influence from contemporary society -- provided that a community such as Kiryas Joel abides by the law.

It must be remembered that the purpose of the law enforcement operation was not only to bring the suspects into custody, but also to preserve evidence. The Feds could not have expected any cooperation from the residents of the Kiryas Joel community, and therefore, the tactics used in the bust of 29 March 2001 were warranted.

B. "Kiryas Joel is a quiet religious town with no history of violence or criminal activity."

Not quite! Below are some incidents of violence and/or criminal activity in Kiryas Joel. These are just those appearing in the news media (and this is not an endorsement of the New York Times). There are more, including some of which I am not entirely familiar, and/or of which my professional confidences preclude discussion. And of course, there likely are even more which were never reported to the police in the first place.

** "On Sunday; Pious Village Is No Stranger To the Police" by Michael Winerip, New York Times, 20 September 1992, Section 1, p. 41: Seems that those who disagree with the Kiryas Joel body politic political agenda are subject to assault on their person and vandalism of their property.

** "Hasidic Men Riot Over Visit of Rabbi," New York Times, 2 August 1995, Section B, p. 5: "Five police agencies quieted a rock- and egg-throwing riot of an estimated 1,000 Hasidic men, sparked by a dissident rabbi's visit this week. The Sunday night melee left one person injured and eight vehicles damaged and resulted in six arrests, the authorities said."

** "A Village Faces Another Kind Of Storm" by Evelyn Nieves, New York Times, 14 January 1996, Section 1, p. 27: "While the snow quieted New York City, this Satmar Hasidic village 50 miles away tallied another in a long line of violent episodes. Early Monday morning, the storm in full force, vandals broke a window in Joseph Waldman's Ford station wagon, threw in a flammable liquid and lit a match. Unfortunately, Mr. Waldman is getting used to it. This was his third car firebombed in the driveway in the last four months."

** "In the Ashes of Arson at Kiryas Joel, Tensions of Bitter Factionalism" by Robert Hanley, New York Times, 29 July 1996, Section B, p. 1: Arson is a crime of violence. Don't take my word for it, though; just ask a firefighter who has been injured while fighting an intentionally-set blaze (or the widow or orphan of a firefighter who died while doing so).

C. "The total number of victims was less then ten and they were mainly financial institutions and government agencies that were protected by insurance companies."

Notwithstanding my numerous gripes concerning the excesses of the insurance industry, insurance companies are entitled to the protection of this Country's laws, and are entitled to not have their funds pilfered by criminals. The fact that the insurance companies are the ultimate victims does not mitigate the crime.

Moreover, the "government agencies" included the IRS, which paid out falsely-claimed tax refunds.
Who really pays when insurance companies or the government are swindled? Who must make up for the loss? The ratepayers and the public, that's who. The total number of victims was far more than ten!

D. "As the legal challenge in the case was ongoing, the defendants paid back in full the 3.5 million dollars to the victims of the crime they were alleged to have committed."

Would the money have been paid back had there been no arrests, and no preservation of the evidence?

Of no less moment is the fact that uncharged offenses figured into the calculus of Samet's sentence. In other words, it wasn't just the $3.5 million. On pages 28, 34 and 64 of Samet's long song of excuses, much is made of Samet's generousity to charities. Specifically, on page 34, "At most, the evidence showed, only that most of the money alleged to have been part of the offense, went to charity." This presents two problems. Firstly, if the money is not kosher then it doesn't count for tzedaka (the Hebrew equivalent for "charity" and a word whose root is "tzedek" or justice). My own rabbi, for example, has been known to refuse donations of questionable provenance. The second problem is that if so much of the money swindled by Samet was given over to charity, then where did he get the 3.5 million to make the restitution? Again, it wasn't just the $3.5 million.

All of the above is just from the first page of the Introduction (save the references to pages 28, 34 and 64)! I shall spare you the trouble of reading the remainder of Samet's whining and pouting piece. He says that Judge McMahon is biased against him! He says that the FBI and other federal agencies are biased against him! He says that the evidence was spun in a negative light! He says that he was misunderstood! It's all everyone else's fault -- It's the fault of everyone except for Mordechai Samet!

The High Holy Days will soon be upon us. I ask forgiveness of all I may have wronged, and grant forgiveness to all who may have wronged me this past year.

And I hope that Mordechai Samet will take the step of acknowledging the wrongfulness of his own misdeeds, and accept the responsibility for them so that he, too, can begin the process of atonement.

L'Shanah Tovah Tikotevu!

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I am not a Scotsman, and therefore, feel no need to coddle or tolerate thistle weeds growing in my back yard (though, in all fairness to the Scotsmen, it must be disclosed that I do imbibe their whisky, normally at least once per week.). Given my busy schedule, I have made relatively few visits to my own back yard during the past month or so, except to swim laps in the pool, when I normally do not wear my corrective lenses. And so, it only yesterday came to my attention that the beautiful pink flowers growing in the bushes by the fence were not just the minature roses, but were also the thistles going into bloom.

And so, today, after taking my wife's car to the shop and riding my bike home for the exercise, I decided to tackle the thistles before swimming laps in the pool. I put on the thick leather gloves, got the pruning shears, and proceeded. I was able to yank most of the thistle plants by their roots. I usually compost weeds, but these prickly nuisances were going to seed, so I placed them in an old cardboard box, which will go out with the trash and get burned in the municipal incinerator (which is run, under contract, by an energy-generating concern). I do not want those thistle seeds to propagate.

Then, after yanking out the thistles and some other weeds, including some Rhus Toxicodendron (commonly known as poison ivy), I dove into the pool and swam a few laps. My expeditious immersion into the pool no doubt spared me lots of itching from the Toxicodendron.

Where did the summer go? I was active, busy, and gainfully engaged in my profession, but this time around there was little opportunity to work in my garden.

And it looks like the pace will keep up. Once we get past the religious holidays, there is the distinct possibility of an excursion to Washington and/or Baltimore in late October and/or early November. Nothing definite yet, but things may have started to fall into place.

Rosh HaShanah is next week. I hope to be able to post again before then, but if not, let me wish everyone a good year. Shanah Tovah!

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What Color is Your Racial Prejudice?

"Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House" an Associated Press article proclaims. It is available here, here, and here, and hundreds of other places. The article makes a big deal of the fact that many white people are reluctant to vote for Barack Hussein Obama because he is b-l-a-c-k.

Yes, there is prejudice in this country; this we cannot deny. And not voting for Obama on account of his race is very shortsighted, considering that there are so many cogent race-neutral reasons for not voting for him. His policies (or lack thereof). His lack of consistency. The people with whom he associates or formerly associated, including but not limited to Bill Ayers and Jeremiah "Pastor G-ddamn America" Wright.

One of my own numerous reasons for not voting for him is that he owes his meteoric rise to the Chicago Democratic political machine. He owes that machine a big time, jumbo mortgage debt at a subprime rate. McCain, on the other hand, has already paid his dues, including but not limited to his involuntary stay at the Hanoi Hilton for more than 5 years. McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, has gone against her state's political establishment, and similarly does not carry a major political marker that can be called in.

Yes, there are people who will not vote for Obama on account of his race. While I cannot personally identify with such a mentality, such is their right when they step into the voting booth in this great Nation.

But I have an even bigger quarrel with many of those who criticize those race-based voters against Obama. Because, just as there are those who will not vote for Obama because he is b-l-a-c-k, there also are those who, this coming Election Day, will cast their vote for Obama solely on account of the fact that his is b-l-a-c-k.

Why isn't the latter manifestation of racial prejudice decried?

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Returns Have Returned

Ah, Taxes!! This former IRS agent is once again posting about taxes.

The Tax History Project has posted some Presidential Tax Returns on one of its webpages. (Caution: They are PDF files, and they are long downloads). In addition to FDR, Nixon, Carter, Bush I and Clinton, they have the current Bush II & VP Dick Cheney. Now, they also have Barack Hussein Obama and Joe Biden, and some of McCain's. Sarah Palin has promised to release her tax returns soon, and Tax Analysts, the sponsors of the Tax History Project, has promised to post Sarah's there when they become available.

This posting will show the statistics in the following format:

Year: Charitable Contributions / Adjusted Gross Income (Charitable contributions as percentage of AGI)


2007: $240,370 / $4,139,965 (5.8%)
2006: $60,307 / $983,826 (6.1%)
2005: $77,315 / $1,655,106 (4.7%)
2004: $2,500 / $207,647 (1.2%)
2003: $3,400 / $238,327 (1.2%)
2002: $1,050 / $259,394 (0.4%)
2001: $1,470 / $272,759 (0.5%)
2000: $2,350 / $240,505 (1.0%)


2007: $995 * / $319,853 (0.3%)
2006: $380 / $248,459 (0.2%)
2005: $380 / $321,379 (0.1%)
2004: $380 / $244,271 (0.2%)
2003: $260 / $231,375 (0.1%)
2002: $260 / $277,811 (0.1%)
2001: $360 / $220,712 (0.2%)
2000: $360 / $219,953 (0.2%)

* Joe Biden's 2007 charitable contributions consisted of $595 cash + $400 other property.


2007: $105,467 / $386,527 (27.3%)
2006: $96,758 ** / $338,809 (28.6%)

** John McCain's 2006 charitable contributions include a $32,063 carryover from a prior year.


2006: $569,737 / $6,066,431 (9.4%)

My comments on the foregoing statistics (in no particular order):

1. Within the past week alone, I drew more checks to charitable organizations than Joe Biden did in all of 2006 and 2007 combined. Being that this is Rosh HaShanah season, there will, no doubt, be more drawn within the next 2 weeks.

2. Unless Biden is doing some significant charitable works off the books, his charitable giving habits are a disgrace! There are households which are really, really, poor, but which give way more than he does in any given year.

3. Notice the difference in Barack Hussein Obama's charitable giving habits after he became a national idol in 2004. Prior to 2004, his charitable giving habits were rather disgraceful (though a little bit more honorable than Biden's). If this is just Obama getting religion, then I welcome Barack into the camp of the charitable donors. The real test is what kind of charitable donations will he make at such time as he no longer is bucking for the public approval in the voting booth. Given the entitlement attitude of Barack (and, even more so, Michelle), I'm not willing to bet that he will not revert to his pre-2004 charitable giving patterns.

4. For the purposes of this posting, I shall not concern myself with the political or religious or social orientation of the donee organizations which received the various candidates' charitable bounties. The only question is whether and how much they gave. In a certain sense, I can respect BHO's contributions to his spiritual advisor Jeremiah Wright's Church of Hate Whitey & G-ddamn America more than Biden's extreme overprotectiveness of his own funds.

5. John McCain's situation is somewhat different from Joe Biden's and BHO's because he and Cindy filed separate returns. This is an option which married couples have, and, given the McCains' situation, I think it was well-advised.

6. Cindy McCain's 2006 tax return has been disclosed. Where's her 2007? I do not know about Cindy's personal 2007 tax affairs, but I do know that she, like everyone else, can get an extention to 15 August for the asking, and another one until 15 October if she can show good cause (which is not difficult to do). My guess: She might not have even filed it yet.

7. The McCains have a McCain Family Foundation in their financial picture. The Foundation's returns for 2006 and 2007 have been disclosed and are posted on the website. The Foundation is the recipient of John and Cindy's charitable contributions. The Foundation distributed $182,639 to various charitable causes in 2006, and $78,250 in 2007. I note that neither John nor Cindy (nor anyone else) received any compensation or employee benefits from the Foundation; some private foundations do confer such benefits upon their contributors (or friends and relatives thereof).

8. The McCain Family Foundation had a little problem with the IRS. Seems that it contributed $5,000 to what was initially thought to be a general education fund, but which turned out to be a private fund to pay for the college education of some deceased person's children. The Foundation was charged a 20% excise tax ($1,000) for the transaction. The Foundation's Director requested John and Cindy to reimburse the Foundation the $6,000 in non-charitable distributions related to the transaction. In the general scheme of things, that little error is analogous to receiving a ticket for overtime parking. I do not impute any negativity of character to McCain on account of it.

9. And likewise, Obama's tax returns reflect penalties for not fully paying the estimated tax. I just cannot get upset over it because it is often difficult to predict what your required estimated tax payment should be until after you owe it. This is more a failing of the Internal Revenue Code than of Barack Hussein Obama.

10. Given my criticisms of the various candidates, I shall disclose my own household's charitable habits: Our charitable contributions tend to run just a bit above 7% of our AGI. If you subtract from our AGI the Federal and State income taxes we pay, and the Social Security & Medicare deductions taken from our paychecks, and the union dues which are maced from us by the public employees unions to which my wife and I respectively belong, our deductions come to a bit more than 10% of our take-home income. In fact, we have a second checking account at our bank, and whenever we deposit the paychecks or my legal fees or any other income, we skim off 10% into the second account, from which we write our charitable checks.

And some of our charitable contributions are not claimed (or claimable) as deductions. The small change I deposit into the pushke at whichever shul I go to daven, and, this year, the wad of money (approximately $100 U.S. dollar equivalent) I distributed to various poor people in the Holy City of Jerusalem when we were there.

11. And what of Sarah Palin's tax return? What interesting facts and factoids will it tell us? I do not know, but if her charitable giving habits are anywhere near as paltry as Joe Biden's (or, for that matter, pre-2005 Obama), then she deserves whatever negative criticism she receives. If the government is to encourage a strong charitable sector, then the government leaders must personally set the public example.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Skirting the Election

Am I the only one who has this impression? It seems that ever since Sarah Palin was chosen by John McCain to be his running mate, the women on the street seem to be more into wearing skirts and/or pantyhose. While Hillary Rodham Clinton and Michelle Obama were the leading ladies in the news media, it seemed that more women followed Hillary's cue and wore pantsuits, and Michelle's point blank statement that she abhors wearing pantyhose.

Now, I seem to see more skirts and pantyhose on women. Including the college campus where I teach (and college campuses are among the last place one would expect to find an increase in skirts or pantyhose these days).

Is it just the cooling weather? [Not likely.]. The seasonal shift of the calendar to September? Or is Sarah Palin actually exerting a subconscious influence upon so many women in America?

My family hasn't been in the apparel business since my grandfather retired from Gimbels in the early 1970's (he went there after trying his hand in a failed clothing store and a bankrupt garment manufacturing shop). Does anyone out there have any data on the latest women's apparel sales trends for the past few weeks?

Labels: , ,

I Needed This Number to Work There

The 19 July 2007 posting discusses the case of Gomez v. F & T Int'l (Flushing, NY) LLC, 2007 NY Slip Op 27269, 2007 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4646, 16 Misc. 3d 867; 842 N.Y.S.2d 298 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. 2007). In Gomez, you will recall, Justice Acosta nixed a former employer's motion for discovery of an injured former employee's income tax returns and immigration status because the ex-employer paid the ex-employee off the books and made no attempt to comply with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 ("IRCA") provisions requiring verification of the employee's eligibility to work in the United States. I applauded Judge Acosta's decision because it sends the signal to employers that they, too, must do their part if this tide of illegal aliens is to be reversed.

But what if the employer makes a colorable attempt to comply with IRCA, but the employee is an illegal who submits forged and fraudulent documents and credentials?

Justice Acosta's sister jurista on the New York County Supreme Court bench, Carol Robinson Edmead, was confronted with just such a fact pattern in Macedo v J.D. Posillico, Inc., 2008 NY Slip Op 51787(U), N.Y.L.J., 8 September 2008, p. 18, col. 1 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. 2008).

[Disclosure: Before she ascended to the bench, Carol provided me some much appreciated assistance and facilitation in obtaining a major professional career credential.].

Some of the dialogue from Macedo is quite telling:

Q. What is your social security number?
A. 189—- I don't have the social number. I use this number to work.
* * *

Q. Is this a number that was given to you by immigration for the purposes of filing taxes?
A. No.

Q. What is the purpose of the number you just provided?
A. At my work, a person gave me this number because I needed this number to work there.

* * *

Q. Who gave you this number?
A. In 95, somebody with whom you work, I think his name was Miguel.

* * *

Q. You also have a tax identification number?
A. Yes.

Q. What is your tax identification number?
A. I don't know it by heart. It's probably in my files.

Q. When was the last time you saw your tax identification number?
A. I just use it when I have to file taxes.

Justice Edmead ruled that "plaintiff's violation of IRCA, by producing a false social security number in order to obtain employment, bars his claim for lost wages." This decision is also to be applauded.

I only hope that Justice Edmead's Macedo decision is not overturned on appeal. Even the best of trial court judges are occasionally overruled, and Carol Edmead is no exception. Specifically, in Barry & Sons, Inc. v. Instinct Productions, LLC, 5 Misc. 3d 172, 783 N.Y.S.2d 225, 2004 NY Slip Op 24261 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. 2004), Justice Edmead presided over litigation in connection with the death in a Bahamas airplane crash on 25 August 2001 of singer, actress and teen entertainment icon Aaliyah. The family corporation that was Aaliyah's business promotion agent alleged that Aaliyah was Blackground's principal artist and its principal asset. Justice Edmead allowed the claim for negligence in destroying the asset to go forward. The Appellate Division, however, disagreed:

"The concept that a person is a property asset of another is, of course, abhorrent to modern day thinking. Courts almost universally reject the antiquated proprietary view of the master/servant relationship."

Barry & Sons, Inc. v. Instinct Productions, LLC, 15 A.D.3d 62, 69, 788 N.Y.S.2d 71, 76, 2005 NY Slip Op 00096 (1st Dept. 2005).

Justice Carol Robinson Edmead happens to be an African-American. What kind of flak would have been flying if a white judge had authored the same trial court decision?

Labels: ,

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Bristol Stomp

"Death and taxes and childbirth. There's never any convenient time for any of them."

So famously wrote Margaret Mitchell in her novel-cum-film Gone with the Wind.

Ah, but Bristol Palin's pregnancy, ergo, her childbirth, certainly comes at a convenient time for her mother's campaign.

And now, the tin-foil hat Democratic moonbats are all doing the Bristol Stomp. There is a certain irony in it all, proof, I daresay, that there really is a G-d who runs this world.

I applaud Bristol and the dad for their choice to keep and rear the child, wish them and the child and the grandparents the best, and will now leave them to their own devices to address the formidable challenges of parenthood.

Back in high school, my English teacher did not like the fact that I was reading a book while in class, so she confiscated the book. I checked another copy out of the library and continued to read the book in class. So the teacher conspired with the librarian (who really didn't like kids coming into the school library) to totally exclude me from the library. I also found that I was receiving failing grades for what should have been A papers (this is back in the days before grade inflation, when an "A" was a real accomplishment).

Okay, so I didn't have the optimal attitude. But howcum all of my other teachers were able to make their respective subjects interesting?

In any event, I was complaining to the guidance counselor, and I was trying to get transferred out of this particular teacher's class. It even got to the point of a 5-way conference between me, my parents, the teacher and the guidance counselor. My parents, to their credit, were inclined to let me face the consequences of my ill-advised attitude, and were backing up the teacher.

It continued to get worse -- until the teacher's pregnancy became obvious and she let it be known that she would soon be going out on maternity leave.

The word in the hallways, which I did nothing to discourage, was that I had made all the arrangements to set up the situation, if you know what I mean.

And I did quite well when the class was taught by the new teacher who came in to substitute for the remainder of the school year.

So, contrary to Margaret Mitchell's famed line, sometimes there IS a convenient time for childbirth!

Labels: ,