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, October 26, 2008

Bits & Pieces

Okay, the holidays are over (they were very enjoyable), my sukkah is all dismantled and packed away for next year, and it is time to catch up on a few odds and ends. In no particular order:

1. Bianca Jagger: As noted on this Blog on 19 October 2007, Bianca Jagger, as an alien in the US on a tourist visa, could not claim the benefits of New York City's rent stabilization law for her NYC apartment. The case has gone to the New York Court of Appeals (which is the highest state tribunal in New York), and the landlord has been upheld. This decision is roundly applauded. Aliens are not necessarily entitled to the rights of citizens, particularly rights which weigh on the purses of citizens (such as Bianca's landlord). But by the same token, at least Bianca is here legally. How many illegals are benefiting from NYC rent stabilization?

2. An antidote to PETA: www.heifer.org. Check out the Heifer.org catalog.

3. Within the past 100 hours, I have had two manuscripts accepted for publication in prestigious scholarly journals. Estimated time before ink hits the paper (what with the editorial processes, etc.) is approximately 6 months. I am, of course, elated to the point of gloating over this. But if the author of an article (or book or other literary or creative work) fails to get excited by the prospect of publication, then that literary work probably has little or no redeeming value.

4. From Albany we get the news that Charlie O'Byrne, Governor Paterson's top staffer (who started his career as a horse in the Kennedy Family stable), has tendered his resignation following revelations that he failed to pay his income taxes for nearly 5 years. Definitely the appropriate thing to do! I have little sympathy for him. As a former IRS employee, I would be given very harsh treatment by the IRS and the courts were I to neglect my taxes for 5 years. In this era of New York State budget cuts, having tax evaders in high State positions sends the wrong message!

The news reports all speak of O'Byrne's FEDERAL taxes (that is, his tax debts with the IRS), but not a word thus far on his New York State income taxes. Usually, where there is a failure of a New York resident to file a Federal tax return and/or pay the Federal taxes, there is a corresponding dereliction for the state taxes. Are the Kennedy Family pursers going to help Charlie O'Byrne out on his tax debts?

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Friday, October 24, 2008

The Senator's Husband

This really, really felt good!

One of the Department secretaries where I teach informed me that ex-President Clinton would be coming to campus at about 8 PM this evening, and requested that I inform my students of that fact.

I told her that my classes were more important than our Senator's husband!

The midterm exam is next week, so I reviewed for it in class. I ended my last class on the early side, and promptly departed campus, just as the traffic was beginning to build up.

Surely I'll read about it in the campus newspaper next week. Which is better than having to go and see him in person!

And I never did get around to announcing the Senator's husband's appearance on campus to my classes.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Iron Bars do not a Prison Make

President Bush has signed H.R. 7802, which is now Public Law No. 110-428 [The GPO has yet to post it, but give them a week or two or three.] We now have on the books the Inmate Tax Fraud Prevention Act of 2008.

Background: There are significant restrictions as to when, to whom and how much information from taxpayers' tax returns may be disclosed by the IRS. This is a good, nay, vital requirement, because nobody in their sound mind would file a tax return with the IRS if they thought the info on the tax return would become public information. But there are circumstances where tax return information must be disclosed, and so, Internal Revenue Code Section 6103 sets forth the particulars. [N.B. The version hyperlinked in this post, on the GPO website, is NOT the latest version, but if you look at it you will get an idea of Section 6103's general scheme, and general prolix verbosity.].

It seems that it is possible to outsmart the IRS by filing a tax return claiming a refund when no refund is actually warranted, because the IRS sends out the refund checks before auditing the tax return. This in and of itself is not so bad, BUT, there the criminals out there not only cheat on their own tax returns, but file false returns in the name of other people as well.

Taking it a step further, prisoners can and do successfully file false tax returns from the security of inside the prison walls. From Florida prisoners alone, there were fraudulent returns of over $4 million filed (at least that is what the IRS caught). A South Carolina inmate admitted at a Congressional hearing that he filed over 600 returns for himself or other inmates, face value approximately $3.5 million, approximately 90% of which were "successful."

More disturbing still, according to this South Carolina inmate, is that most of the money goes to the illegal drug market, and, he paid protection money to the Muslims in the prison to ensure his personal safety.

And so, President Bush has signed into law the Inmate Tax Fraud Prevention Act of 2008. In addition to a little rider that protects the pensions of retired federal judges for their widows and other surviving relatives, the Act adds Section 6103(k)(10) to the Internal Revenue Code, which permits the IRS to disclose tax return information on Federal inmates suspected of tax return fraud to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

To which I say "Bravissimo!!"

(A) The provision currently sunsets after 2011; and

(B) The IRS still cannot disclose the info to State prison officials, effectively leaving people like the South Carolina inmate out of the IRS's reach.

It is not a totally bad thing that Congress is proceeding with caution in tinkering with the disclosure provisions of Section 6103. But I hope that this obviously experimental legislation proves to be successful enough to warrant the removal of the sunset provision, and its expansion to include state inmates within the sweep of the statute.

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Fitness, Fatness, and Fitting into the Sukkah

We are now amidst the Festival of Sukkot (as briefly mentioned in the prior posting). It has been quite enjoyable to us, for all of the reasons it is enjoyable to everyone everywhere. My one observation thus far involves the social dynamic at the meal.

Specifically, at the first night's meal I was the only nonfatso in our Sukkah, outnumbered three to one. The three fatsos were (1) my wife, (2) our houseguest known in this blog as "He" (discussed here and here), and (3) a fellow attorney, graduate of an Ivy League law school, who has an uncanny knack for getting himself into some strange predicaments in his personal and professional life.

On the other hand, at last night's meal, the Shabbat meal during the Festival, there were six of us in the Sukkah all told, of whom, my wife was the only fatso. In fact, three of the guests (Mom, Dad and 20-something daughter) are tall, and thin as rails.

It was amazing to observe the differences in my wife's food intake when she was in the company of other fatsos, as compared with her food intake when she was outnumbered by nonfatsos. Seems that she ate less food, and healthier foods, when she was not with the other fatsos.

This observation by a non-scientist is obviously not of the quality for publication in some sort of medical journal, but maybe someone would like to do some sort of controlled scientific experiment on the effects of the presence of multiple fatsos on the dining behavior of one another.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Chag Sameach Sukkot

In a few hours the sun will set, and it will be the Festival of Sukkot. I finished building my sukkah within the past 24 hours, and now need to verify that the electrification in the sukkah is properly operational (i.e., the timer is properly working) so the lights go on and off at the proper times.

We have a house guest, namely, "He" as discussed in the post of 31 August. And, sure enough, He stopped by earlier with some pies and other fatso food, which surely will do little to help my wife get to healthy eating habits.

Fortunately, the projected weather seems to be reasonably fair, so my wife will at least get some exercise by walking the mile to shul and back.

In any event, I still have a lot to do, so everyone have a good holiday!

Chag Sameach Sukkot!!

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Sarah's Charity & Other Odds & Ends

My family has just broken the Yom Kippur fast. The Day of Atonement has ended. We wish everyone Muchos AƱos!

Now for some tax odds and ends:

(1) President Bush has signed H.R. 6893, which is now officially Public No: 110-351 [At this writing, the GPO has yet to put it into the United States Statutes at Large; give them a few days.] The popular name for the legislation is the "Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008."

Of interest to this ex-IRS attorney is Section 501 of the Act, which clarifies the Internal Revenue Code's definition of a child for dependency exemption purposes. In order to qualify as a dependent for income tax purposes, the child must be unmarried and younger than the person claiming the exemption. And if the person claiming the credit is not the child's parent, the claimant's adjusted gross income must exceed that of the child's parent or parents.

(2) On 15 September this Blog commented on the Presidential candidates' tax returns. Sarah Palin has released her tax returns for 2006 and 2007. The Tax History website has posted them (along with the other candidates, etc.). Sarah's stats (actually, Sarah and Todd's joint stats) are as follows:


$166,080 Adjusted Gross Income.
Cash donated to charity: $2,500 (1.5% of AGI).
Plus $825 non-cash goods donated to Salvation Army.

2006: $127,869 AGI.
Cash donated to charity: $4,250 (3.3% of AGI).
Plus $630 non-cash goods donated to Salvation Army.

My comments:

1. Sarah is sort of in the range of where Barack Hussein Obama was in 2003 and 2004, before he became a national messianic idol. Her AGI is approximately half of Biden's, but her charitable giving (disregarding the Salvation Army rummage donation) is than twice in percentage, and, at worst, more than fivefold in dollars. Like the other candidates, she is well below McCain.
2. Sarah's decrease in charitable dollars from 2006 to 2007, despite a significant increase in AGI, is not entirely comforting. There may well be reasons; it may well be a temporary thing. I don't know because there are only 2 years of tax returns to go with. But if she has any class whatsoever, there will be an increase come 31 December 2008.

3. Sarah's philanthropic exploits are really nothing to write home about, and I am somewhat disappointed in her. There are many people whose household income is far less than hers, but who give more. Now that Sarah strives for a position of national leadership, should start leading by example.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sex Subsidy Disallowed

The New York State Division of Tax Appeals has upheld a New York State income tax audit of the tax returns of one William G. Halby. Seems as though Mr. Halby wanted the already overtaxed New York State taxpayers to subsidize his sexual activities.

The Tax Appeals Determination in Matter of William G. Halby, DTA Nos. 821494 & 821810 (18 September 2008) is a good read. One sample paragraph is set forth below

"For the 2002 tax year, petitioner claimed a medical expense deduction of $105,271.00, after the 7.5% limitation on federal adjusted gross income (AGI). Included among the medical expenses claimed was an expense of $111,364.00, of which $40,588.00 was categorized on an attachment to Schedule A on petitioner's federal return as 'therapeutic sex' and $70,776.00 as 'massage therapy to relieve osteoarthritis and enhance erectile function through frequent orgasms.' Also included as part of the medical expense deduction claimed were the sums of $658.00 for medical books, videos and periodicals and $2,173.00 for 'pornography to enhance sexual performance in lieu of taking Viagra.'"

Read the whole thing here.

My question: It specifically indicated on the taxpayer's FEDERAL tax return that he was claiming these relatively large dollar value deductions. The New York people threw a flag on the play. How did this ever get by my ex-colleagues at the IRS?

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Good News & Bad News

Rosh HaShanah was basically uneventful, which is not such a bad thing, considering our experience last year. No houseguests, but we did have a guest for lunch on the 2nd day. To everyone, I wish a happy and healthy and sweet and good year.

During the Rosh HaShanah holiday, while I was incommunicado from the high tech media world, some good and some bad things happened.

The bad news: The New York Sun has ceased publication. This former subscriber will miss it greatly.

The good news: The Government Accountability Office (formerly known as the General Accounting Office) now charges for copies of its printed publications. I say that this is good news even though I heretofore have, approximately once a month, ordered my free printed copies of GAO reports of interest to me. I now will have to either charge them to my credit card, or be satisfied to read the Internet versions of the GAO reports (and print out, at my computer, those which I really, really, really want in hard copy format.

But the GAO needs to set the example of accountability to all other government agencies. By instituting the new "no-freebies" system, the GAO is (A) reducing its printing and postage costs (which are really footed, in the final analysis, by the taxpayers) and (B) engaging in some entrepreneurship to approximate a fiscal responsibility so often absent from entities which have no profit motive. So, personal inconveniences notwithstanding, I do applaud the GAO's new system.

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting to see what does or does not fall into place regarding a possible excursion to Washington and/or Baltimore in about a month. I was in Washington about a year ago, and, as mentioned in the posting, I have always enjoyed visiting Washington. As an adult I have always enjoyed visiting Baltimore (when I was a little boy, my uncle and aunt lived there, and the interpersonal dynamics between me, my sister and my aunt just didn't play well). Engaging and exhausting as such an excursion would be, I'm hoping that something does happen in that regard. It's healthy to get out of your office once in a while. It is too early to tell just yet, but I'm hoping for at least one overnight in either Baltimore or Washington.

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