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.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Muslim Attack in Mumbai

Of course, the Muslim terrorist attack in Mumbai is all over the Internet.

My comment:

The line used by the Muslims has been that they don't hate Jews per se, but that they object to Jews taking the land of Israel.

If such be the case, how does one explain the terrorists' specific targeting of the Chabad House in Mumbai, and specific singling out of Jewish people in Mumbai as hostages and murder victims?

And where is the CAIR denunciation of this terrorist attack?

It wasn't on the CAIR website when I looked just before posting this!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Taxation and the Second Amendment

Sometimes the visceral impulse is at odds with the intellect.

For example, South Carolina will hold its annual Second Amendment Sales Tax Holiday on Friday 28 November and Saturday 29 November 2008. All handguns, rifles and shotguns (but not ammunition or other firearms paraphernalia) can be purchased in South Carolina, exempt of the state sales tax, during that window of opportunity.

On one hand, I get a nice warm feeling to know that at least one state is taking a stand in favor of the public's Second Amendment rights.

But, on the other hand, I believe that sales tax holidays are poor policy. They are complicated to administer, are tempting opportunities for tax evasion (and the consequent deterioration of respect for the law), encourage unnecessary consumption for consumption's own sake, and present an increased chance for the individual merchant of an encounter with the taxation authority.

On a personal level, this year, tax savings I might realize would be handily outweighed by the costs and hassles of traveling to South Carolina.

But hey, if you will be anywhere in or near the Palmetto State just after Thanksgiving, you can get a little tax break on your Second Amendment purchases.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rest in Peace, Lt. Robert J. Ryan, Jr.

The Fire Department of the City of New York, which has already paid a very steep price for its collective excellence and dedication in protecting the city's populace, has lost another of its Bravest. Lt. Robert J. Ryan, Jr. fell in the line of duty while attempting to extinguish a fire in a Staten Island home. I, of course, proffer the all too usual condolences and regrets. My specific comments, other than those standard procedural sentiments, are as follows:

A. The posting of 16 November 2008 questions New York City's promotion policies for its uniformed services, including but not limited to posthumous promotions for those incurring line of duty deaths. This is, of course, an unpopular subject, but New York, like any other governmental unit, has the need for fiscal prudence, and also the need to appropriately reward/punish its employees for their performance. Oftentimes, these two imperatives are propelled on a collision course with one another, particularly in times such as this when the budget is exceedingly tight.

I do not know whether Lt. Ryan will be posthumously promoted to Captain, and do not now pass any judgment as to whether he should or should not be so promoted. What I do assert is that the decision, one way or the other, ought to be based upon the particular facts and merits of the individual case, whatever they happen to be.

B. Reportedly, Lt. Ryan was seriously burned in 2005 while responding to a fire. He worked hard to recover and to rehabilitate himself for more than a year, so that he could once again join the ranks of the active FDNY. Plenty of governmental employees have no doubt retired on disability for injuries which are superficial in comparison with Lt. Ryan's 2005 burns. Lt. Ryan surely could have gone into retirement and collected his monthly check while finding gainful employment in some sinecure position (or, perhaps, totally retired altogether). He affirmatively chose to make a comeback with FDNY. While this should not be dispositive in any posthumous promotion decision, it certainly should be among the many relevant factors.

C. Lt. Ryan apparently did work to reconstitute his firefighting unit following its personnel losses in the wake of the September 11th attack. This could not have been as easy as it sounds.

D. It is now reported that the occupant of the house which collapsed upon Lt. Ryan escaped unharmed. I know nothing about this person, but fervently hope that he or she is worth the trade, and will, in his or her own way, make positive contributions to society, just as Lt. Ryan did in his own way.

Rest in Peace, Lt. Ryan. Your family and colleagues have every reason to be proud of you!

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Two More Slow Learners

Henry and Patricia Langer are slow learners. They have just lost their case in the United States Tax Court because they failed to substantiate the deductions claimed on their 2001 tax return.

The Internal Revenue Code is notoriously complex, convoluted and confusing. But one key rule in taxation is that the taxpayer must substantiate all claimed deductions. This can be done in various ways. For example, a contemporaneous automotive mileage log can substantiate deductible business miles driven. Accordingly, I maintain a mileage log, with the odometer readings at the various points of my daily itinerary. The log is consistent with my appointment calendar, and also with the gasoline purchase log, and also with the mileage readings when my car is serviced (which are noted by the automobile dealer, a disinterested third party).

The totality of Henry and Patricia's substantiation of items such as entertainment expenses, gifts for Patricia's piano students, business meals and travel was their own self-serving testimony, without any back-up documentation such as mileage logs, et cetera. And much of Henry's oral testimony only dug him in deeper. One of the claimed expenses was "A crystal vase costing $2,635 purchased to cheer Mr. Langer up after the events of September 11, 2001" because he likes fresh cut flowers. Folks, you don't have to spend $100 a seat to see Jackie Mason on Broadway; the comedy is almost as good in the Tax Court, which you can go in and watch for free.

But before you start waxing too empathetic for Henry and Patricia and their misunderstanding of the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code, note that this wasn't their first time in court to dispute their taxes. Patricia's business taxes for 1993 and 1994 were in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. In 1992, Henry and Patricia had an earlier Tax Court dispute over their 1984, 1985 and 1986 tax returns, in which they also failed to provide substantiation for their verbal assertions. Their 1983 income tax return was the subject of an even earlier Tax Court dispute in 1990, again with unsubstantiated testimony. One would think that by the time they did their 2001 tax return, Henry and Patricia would have learned to keep records.

And if you still feel sorry for Henry and Patricia, and their cluelessness as to the need to keep business records, consider that until at least May 1990, Henry was employed as an IRS Agent.

The best that can be said about the Langers is that they are model slow learners.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Timoshenko Killer Trial

As posted on this Blog here and here on 15 July 2007, NYPD Detectives Russel Timoshenko and Herman Yan were shot, Timoshenko fatally, while arresting three suspects driving a stolen BMW. Now, as reported here, here here and here, the trial is now underway for the suspects.

Of course I share the sentiments of the other law-abiding citizenry who will be following the trial. But this Blog is not intended to be a "me, too" screed, so this posting will zero in on some issues which are not being hyped in the mainstream media and mainstream blogosphere. In no particular order:

A. The suspects are now taking conflicting positions against one another. Accordingtly, three juries have been seated, one for each suspect. This is a wise economy of judicial resources, provided that Judge Lott conducts the trial in such a way as to avoid reversible error. Even if each of the suspects were tried separately, it seems that 90+ % of the evidence would be common to all. But Judge Lott has been on the bench since 1991, and, before that, had ample occasion to sit at both the Defense and Prosecution tables in criminal trials. There is every reason to expect that His Honor will conduct the trial in a manner that should withstand the inevitable appeals that will follow.

B. The prior posts refer to "Officer" Timoshenko and "Officer" Yan. The late Russel Timoshenko was posthumously promoted to Detective, and Herman Yan, still serving on the force, was similarly promoted following the incident. Such promotions are common, and, all else being equal, are fitting and appropriate ways to recognize heroism in the line of duty. But, as a New York State taxpayer (fiscally speaking, the suburban and upstate counties subsidize New York City), I will note, against all political correctness, that promotions of police officers and firefighters who were injured or killed in the line of duty also serve to increase pension and/or death benefits paid out from the public fisc. Without in any way detracting from the significant heroism displayed by the two, I did think about this taboo aspect of their respective promotions.

But as information surfaced regarding Russel Timoshenko's personal life before the incident which claimed his life, my reservations dissipated. He, in all likelihood, would have achieved promotion to Detective had he continued to serve.

Amidst the public hype on Detective Timoshenko, Detective Yan cut a very low profile in the media, no doubt due in part to his proactive efforts to stay out of print. Accordingly, I continued to wonder about Detective Yan's promotion to that rank. But Detective Yan once again made the news when he testified at the trial, and, having read about his comporture as a witness, I now have no doubt that he fully merits his rank, and would not be surprised to see him merit further promotions in the future.

Accordingly, this Post (and any future ones on the subject) will refer to the two officers by their respective ranks of "Detective" (unless, of course, Detective Yan advances to Sergeant).

This does not in any way invalidate my concern for the possible misuse of promotions to game the pension system. Public sympathies are not a valid excuse for fiscal irresponsibility. The public finances must be responsibly managed. And, at the same time, police officers, firefighters, and, for that matter, all other public employees, must be responsibly rewarded for individual performance.

C. According to the prosecutor, ADA Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, the three did not wish to get caught in a stolen car filled with illegal guns, particularly Dexter Bostic, the one accused of actually firing the shots that killed Detective Timoshenko. The three wished to avoid going back to prison.

It would seem to me that if one desires to stay out of prison, then one does not ride in a stolen car (particularly a high-profile stolen car such as a BMW), and one does not carry multiple illegal weapons. And firing a weapon at a police officer, as I understand it, is the diametric antithesis of behavior calculated to keep oneself out of prison.

D. Other heroes in this affair are Detective Timoshenko's parents, who are attending the trial and staring down the three suspects. This must be exceedingly difficult for them, but it needs to be done, and they are doing it.

E. The three suspects, it seems, have no regard for the lives of their fellow human beings, and had they not been apprehended, they, in all likelihood, would have continued in their lethal practices. Unfortunately, the capture operation temporarily cost society the services of Detective Yan as he recovered from his significant injuries, and permanently cost society the diligent services of Detective Timoshenko.

My second 15 July 2007 posting stated: "The alleged driver, Lee Woods, was captured very shortly after the shooting. He would be the logical guy with whom to work for a plea bargain in exchange for testimony."

While one really cannot tell for sure, it doesn't seem like Woods has gotten into any plea deal at this point. It now seems that ADA Nicolazzi is going for full convictions on accomplice liability for all three, probably on account of such overwhelming evidence that Woods was more than a clueless chauffeur. If so, then maybe he, too, will spend the remainder of his life behind bars (few would bet that Dexter Bostic or Robert Ellis will ever find freedom in their lifetimes). If Nicolazzi gets the hat trick on all of them, then that will bring Detective Russel Timoshenko as close as he can get to a peaceful repose.

Bostic, Woods and Ellis are headed for the Big House. I am concerned for the Corrections Officers who will be watching over them.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Though this posting is not primarily intended as a nostalgic memorial tribute to my two grandmothers, neither can it be entirely devoid of such sentiments. I was fortunate to have known all four of my grandparents. This was all the more fortunate because my mother, in attending to the medical issues which afflicted her at the time, frequently needed help in providing child care to me and my siblings. Much of that need was fulfilled by my grandmothers.

Later on, I was able, nay, privileged, to assist each of my grandmothers in their waning years. For quite a while, I was the one who took Bubby shopping every week or two. And while my other grandmother's living situation provided for those needs, I did attend to drafting and overseeing the execution of certain legal documents for her, which greatly simplified matters for her (and later, for her estate) in ways which were unexpected at the time such arrangements were made.

At the time of the first-mentioned Bubby's demise, I was employed at a situs closer to her apartment than to my home (I was still living with my parents at the time), so the usual routine would be that after I finished working at about 10 or 11 PM, I would drive directly to her apartment, sleep on her couch, and take her shopping the next morning (which was my day off).

One evening, when I arrived at her apartment, my parents, aunt, uncle and cousin were there. I instinctively knew that Bubby had passed on, and so, instead of taking her shopping, I followed Jewish law and tradition by taking my turn watching over her body until the undertaker's men arrived to remove her. I knew that my supervisor was still in, so I called him to inform him that I would not be coming to work for the next 3 or 4 days. My supervisor was certainly empathetic, and told me to take as much time off as I needed. But understand that I was paid on commission, and accordingly, did feel the financial pinch from my absence from work.

Approximately 20 years later, my other Bubby, who had survived well into her 90's, died. By then, I was married, had a child, and had moved away from the area. It was in the middle of the winter, and a storm was approaching. But my wife and I and our son traveled to the funeral, which was a quick and simple graveside affair. My wife and son promptly returned home, arriving just ahead of the worst of the snow. I stayed with my parents for a few days, and then returned on my own, using the services of various cabs and trains, in a 6+ hour trek.

My mother and her siblings all decided to go forward with the burial, even though her brother from California would not be able to arrive for another 36 - 48 hours. But he did arrive, and joined everyone else in sitting shiva at my parents' home.

The unexpected travel certainly caused some glitches in my law practice. My wife had to burn annual leave for the excursion. It was very inconvenient. But now, more than a decade later, nobody regrets how they handled the situation. My son was fortunate enough to know his great-grandmother, and to have had a relationship with her, and all the hassle of pulling him from school to attend the burial for the few minutes he was there was certainly worthwhile.

I cannot help but contrast and compare my family experiences regarding my respective grandmothers' funerals to the way Barack Hussein Obama is attending (or rather, not attending) to his own grandmother's funeral. It seems that Madelyn Payne ("Toot") Dunham's funeral is not planned until sometime in December, more than a full month after her demise.

The funeral arrangements for each of my grandmothers cost me money. Each disrupted my routine and plans, particularly the one after I had moved away from my hometown. As for my uncle, while he was not present at the actual burial, he did arrive as soon as he practically could, and there is no doubt that his plans were also disrupted considerably.

I can understand (and perhaps approve of) Obama's "The-Show-Must-Go-On" attitude when his grandmother died a little more than a day before the election. It strikes me, however, that once the election was over, a man of Barack Hussein Obama's wealth and power should certainly be able to find a way to get himself and his children to Hawaii to pay their respects to the woman who provided even more care to him than my grandmothers provided for me.

I stated it in my posting of 10 November 2008, and I shall now quote Justice Musmanno again:

"Those who have no respect for the dead can have but little appreciation of the dignity of man, either living or dead." -- Kotal v. Goldberg, 375 Pa. 397, 405, 100 A.2d 630, 634 (1953) (Musmanno, J.).

To which I shall add: "Or woman!"

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The Citi Never Sleeps

Here are the first five paragraphs of a news item from this morning:

"NEW YORK – Citigroup says it is imposing a moratorium on most foreclosures as part of a series of initiatives aimed at helping at-risk borrowers remain in their homes — making Citi the latest big bank to announce sweeping efforts to try to curtail losses from souring mortgages.

Citi said late Monday it won't initiate a foreclosure or complete a foreclosure sale on any eligible borrower who seeks to stay in a home if it is the borrower's principal residence, the homeowner is working in good faith with Citi and has sufficient income to make affordable mortgage payments.

Citi said it is also working to expand the program to include mortgages the bank services but does not own.

Additionally, over the next six months, Citi plans to reach out to 500,000 homeowners who are not currently behind on their mortgage payments, but who are deemed as potentially needing assistance to keep current with their payments. This represents about one-third of all the mortgages that Citigroup owns, the bank said.

Citi plans to devote a team of 600 salespeople to assist the targeted borrowers by adjusting their rates, reducing principal, or increasing the term of the loan, steps known in the mortgage industry as a workout."

I'm sure that it will promote societal stability by keeping more people in their homes.

Query: How about people like me and my wife, who have at all times remained punctual and current in paying our mortgages to Citigroup? What sort of freebies do we get? Wouldn't we be better off defaulting, so that Citigroup can then reduce our mortgages too?

Just wondering!

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Dissection for Dissection's Sake:

The case is Ross v Saberhagen Holdings Inc., which has been filed in the Superior Court of King County, Washington under Index No. 08-2-02434-2.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that can only be caused by inhaling asbestos. It inevitably is fatal. This is not in dispute.

James Ross, who lives in the Seattle area, has worked with asbestos and has contracted mesothelioma. This is not in dispute.

So what's the dispute? There apparently is a stupid-ass court rule which requires autopsy as a condition of a settlement payment to a mesothelioma victim's estate. James Ross does not want his remains autopsied. He believes that the autopsy is unnecessary because, barring some sort of accident or violence, when he passes on, there would be no question that his death will have been caused by mesothelioma.

Understand that Ross could, if he chooses, preemptively have his remains exempted from the autopsy if he were to declare that autopsy violates his religious beliefs (a stance I myself would in fact take were I in his unfortunate situation). Ross acknowledges that, unlike my own religious beliefs, his personal religious beliefs (whatever they may be) do not per se prohibit autopsy. But Ross objects to autopsy based upon on his personal moral values, religious beliefs notwithstanding.

And so, Ross has instructed his attorney to bring a lawsuit to declare this stupid-ass court rule unconstitutional because it requires inquiry regarding the cadaver-to-be's personal religious beliefs.

My comments:

(A) A quotation from the late Justice Michael Musmanno:

"Those who have no respect for the dead can have but little appreciation of the dignity of man, either living or dead." -- Kotal v. Goldberg, 375 Pa. 397, 405, 100 A.2d 630, 634 (1953) (Musmanno, J.).

(B) In this day and age of MRI and CAT Scan technology, can't they do a "virtual autopsy" of Mr. Ross when the time comes? That way they can see what went on inside of him without cutting him open. I don't know where Mr. Ross stands on the subject, but as for me, I have neither moral nor religious objection to such procedures.

(C) We have men and women who could have chosen safer and easier alternatives, but who have chosen to put on the uniform and place their lives on the line to fight to defend our liberties. James Ross surely has lots of things he wishes to accomplish and experience before he departs from among the living, but he has chosen to put his time and money into fighting for his right to have his earthly remains accorded some respect after his departure. And he is also fighting for your right, and my right, and everyone else's right to not have their corporeal infrastructures violated if we so choose. Accordingly, I publicly express my appreciations to Mr. Ross now, while he is still alive. Thank you, James Ross!

(D) Have you ever wondered why the cost of litigation and legal services has gotten more expensive of late? Have you ever wondered why the cost of health care has gotten more expensive of late? Have you ever wondered why the cost of insurance has gotten more expensive of late? James Ross might be on to something as far as connecting those mysterious fiscal phenomena!

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Condolences to Obama

As has been bandied about the blogosphere and the news media within the past few hours, Barack Hussein Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Payne "Toot" Dunham, passed away today, the day before Election Day, at the age of 86.

I join everyone who, regardless of political affiliation, is extending their sincere and heartfelt condolences to Mr. Obama. I, too, was fortunate enough to have a grandmother who survived well into her years, and her loss was profoundly felt by the entire family. Toot's family, no doubt, feels a similar loss.

Having said that, I will suggest that given the lax adherence to statute and procedure exhibited by those involved in her grandson's campaign, it would be most appropriate for someone to check out and ensure that Toot's vote is not counted on a postmortem basis.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Off the Derekh


"Derekh" is Hebrew for road or path. Speaking of someone going "off the derekh" usually does not mean that the person is taking a detour for lunch or shopping, but rather, that he or she has strayed from the values of the Torah and Jewish law.

Judah Touro (1775 - 1854) was an American Jewish merchant and philanthropist who supported diverse charitable causes. In about 1971, Bernard Lander founded an educational institution called Touro College, which was named in honor of Judah Touro. According to its mission statement, Touro College was "established to perpetuate and enrich the Jewish heritage, to support Jewish continuity, as well as to serve the general community in keeping with the Judaic commitment to intellectual inquiry and social justice."

And indeed, Touro College's undergraduate units include Lander College for Men, whose students are all religious Jewish young men who learn Talmud and secular academic courses, and there is a Lander College for Women, which does ditto for religious Jewish young women.

So far, so good! A number of Lander men and women have been enrolled in some of the summer session courses I have taught over the years, and if they are any indication, then the respective Lander Colleges are fulfilling their missions rather well.

But all of those wonderful Jewish values seem to be circling the bottom of the toilet bowl when it comes to Touro's law school, more formally known as the Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center. I have had numerous occasions over the years to use the law library there, and now that Touro Law has relocated to a site across the parking lot from the Court Complex in Central Islip, New York, it is a good place to get a kosher meal.

As a lawyer practicing on Long Island, I can depend upon Touro Law's fundraising friends to send out those familiar solicitation letters from time to time. I am not particularly ashamed that once upon a time I did pull out my checkbook to respond to those solicitations, but neither am I particularly ashamed that, of late, I no longer do so. Okay, any law school anywhere will have programs and aspects which do not suit me; this is understood. But Touro Law has gone a bit too far off the derekh for my tastes and sensibilities.

For example, Touro Law now sponsors the William Randolph Hearst Public Advocacy Center. I cannot help but get an ever so slightly sour taste in my mouth from anyone in the Hearst family (except for WRH's granddaughter, Patty Hearst, who makes me feel like vomiting). But that wouldn't be so bad, except that the organizations hosted by the WRHPAC include ACORN and the Long Island franchise of the ACLU, and some other organizations having questionable compatibility with Touro College's state mission.

What would Judah Touro say?

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