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, March 29, 2010

Pesach Greetings, Next Year in Jerusalem

I'm busy with prepping for the Passover holiday (Pesach in Hebrew), and am not in any position to make anything more than this perfunctory posting to convey my Pesach greetings to the world.

The Passover meal, the Seder, ends with the words "L'Shanah HaBa'ah B'Yerushalayim," which means "Next Year in Jerusalem!"

And so, to all, I say "L'Shanah HaBa'ah B'Yerushalayim!" Next Year in the Holy City of Jerusalem!

Because Jerusalem is our Holy City, given to us by G-d. And we have a G-d-given right to settle there, and to build our homes there. And Barack Hussein Obama cannot change that! And we will remain there, whether Obama or Bin Laden or any other enemy of the Jewish people likes it or not!

"L'Shanah HaBa'ah B'Yerushalayim!"

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Steve Levy and the Religion Card

It is now clear that David Paterson will not stand for reelection to the New York Governor's office (and may even depart from the office before the election). The two announced candidates for the Republican nomination are Rick Lazio and Steve Levy.

This posting is purely speculative, purely "what if" conjecturing of an eventuality which at this point seems far less likely than not to ever occur, namely, the playing of the "Religion Card" in the political campaign.

Steve Levy is the son of a Jewish father and a Italian (Sicilian, I believe) Catholic mother. He was raised as a Catholic (including Catholic school in the earlier grades). To what degree he practices his Catholicism and/or the standing in which the Catholic Church holds him I neither know nor care, other than he married his wife in an Episcopal church. To the best of my knowledge, he has never purported himself to be Jewish.

Steve Levy has served as a County Legislator in Suffolk County, New York, and as a New York State Assemblyman. He is now the County Executive of Suffolk County. I have had occasion to shake hands with him at several Bar Association events, but that's as far as my personal familiarity with him goes. My objections to him are strictly political and not personal (for the record, my vote here now leans towards a Catholic named Lazio).

In Suffolk County, Levy's religious affiliation is, by and large, irrelevant. The Catholics in the electorate do not seem to care that his father is Jewish and that his name is Levy. The Jews in his constituency (who, with a few exceptions including myself, do not heavily practice their religion) don't really care that Steve Levy is Catholic (except for a few isolated exceptions who get themselves indignant about that kind of thing). It's a matter of everyone knows but nobody cares.

To be sure, Steve has visited Israel. In New York (at least New York City and Long Island), politicians of all religious backgrounds frequently do the "3 I's" (that is, visit Ireland, Italy and Israel).

As long as Steve Levy has a purely Suffolk County constituency, religion is a non-issue.

But now that Steve Levy is running for statewide office, I can envision a few conceivable situations in which the "Religion Card" might, perhaps, come into play. Again, the card may well never be played, which would suit me just fine.

If, for example, Steve tries to get the votes in Monsey or Williamsburgh or Kiryas Joel or New Square, or even Borough Park or Kew Gardens Hills or the 5 Towns, et cetera, he would have to be careful to not explicitly tout his Jewishness or else the issue will explode in his face. The typical voter in those areas would think that Steve Levy is a nice Jewish boy from Suffolk County, and might treat him as such. [Several of my friends and relatives from outside of Long Island who have read of Steve were of that mind until I set them straight.].

It is unlikely that Rick Lazio would bring up the issue because Rick is also a Catholic boy, and he has nothing "better" to offer voters in the aforementioned heavily Jewish areas. Most of the voters in those neighborhoods understand that Steve Levy himself is not to blame for his not being Jewish, and it would make Lazio look worse than Levy.

Likewise, an outsider to the Republican primary (i.e., a Democrat) would have little to gain by bringing up the issue.

But suppose the issue is brought up not by Levy or Lazio or any other candidate of any party, but by some loose cannon in the camp of one candidate or the other? Recall that during the 1884 Presidential election, it was the Rev. Samuel Burchard who, perhaps unwittingly, irretrievably sabotaged the campaign of James G. Blaine when he uttered his infamous "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion" speech (Blaine was not exactly friendly towards Catholic education, and Jewish education is a big issue in the communities mentioned above, so the parallel hypothecized here would be strikingly apropos were it to occur).

Figuratively, the highways of America are littered with the bones of those who have tried to prognosticate political campaigns. I reiterate that the "Religion Card" will likely not be played in Steve Levy's quest for the Executive Chamber in Albany. But then again, some ideological descendant of Samuel Burchard might prove me wrong.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

SEIU Must Comply with the Law

Like other labor unions, the Service Employees International Union ("SEIU") is exempt from the income tax. In return for this exemption, the SEIU and other unions must submit information returns to the IRS. Unlike other tax returns, these information returns (Form 990) are available to the public. Guidestar, itself a tax-exempt entity, works in cooperation with the IRS to make the Forms 990 available to the public on its website [http://www.guidestar.org].

There are penalties that apply when a labor union or other tax-exempt organization is remiss in filing its Form 990.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in one of its comparatively rare pro-America moments, has ruled that the IRS has no discretion to partially abate the late 990 penalties. The decision is available here.

Accordingly, the SEIU is stuck with the lateness penalties assessed by the IRS for not timely filing its information returns for the public to see.

Nemo est supra leges!

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Meting Out Meter Justice

Headline in yesterday's (7 March 2010) New York Daily News on page 37:

"Queens Center Mall Steers Shoppers to its Garage with Bogus Signs on Parking Meters" [Also reposted here].

The first sentence of the article: "Parking attendants at a Queens mall have been caught red-handed posting phony no-parking signs on street meters that lure drivers into their garage."

Not a bad scam! If the shoppers believe that parking is prohibited on the street, and there is a parking garage right there, then lots of shoppers will park in the parking garage and pay for the privilege, in this case more than they would pay if they used the municipal parking meters on the street.

A spokeswoman for the Mall said that the signs were intended to "facilitate traffic flow." Indeed! Facilitate traffic flow right into the mall's parking garage, no doubt.

This, of course, is tantamount to an admission that mall personnel were behind the unauthorized (read "illegal") cordoning off of the parking meters.

And the Queens DA's mouthpiece will neither confirm nor deny that they are on the case, but that a criminal complaint had not, as of the moment, been filed.

My take on it:

Both the City of New York and the Queens Center Mall have reason to want to put this matter behind them. The DA's office can easily get a criminal conviction against the Mall, but would have to really line up lots of ducks and witnesses to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt with respect to any individual. New York City (which technically is a quasi-separate entity from the County of Queens, which is the District Attorney's district) needs the money that wasn't deposited in its meters. Indeed, the NYPD's metermaids and metermen have, of late, seemed to show their faces (and ticket pads) on the street with greater frequency than in the recent past.

Moreover, there are questions as to whether society would be best served by putting one or two or three more people into prison for this nonviolent crime. If it's about money and not blood, then New York City and the Queens DA's office want to find some economical strategy.

I have no inside info on this (my contact in the Queens DA's office is scrupulously adhering to the "no comment" policy), but one possible scenario is that there are ongoing negotiations for a corporate misdemeanor and/or civil penalty entailing little or no jail time, but the transfer more than a few dollars into the city's seriously depleted coffers.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Dismal Science

Notwithstanding the plurality of undergraduate and graduate credits in Economics on my transcripts, I am not, and have never aspired to be, an economist. The Econ courses I took were never my favorite courses (though I did mildly enjoy some of the ones given in grad school). Nevertheless, I do know the basics, and I do understand that we all function in an economic environment as well as a social, political, legal and climatic environment, each such environment affected by remote events and forces.

Our rabbi is away this week, so it has been somewhat of a challenge to get a minyan (English translation: At least 10 Jewish men so that a proper prayer service can be conducted). Last night, while waiting for numbers 9 and 10, the discussion came to health care. One of the guys present, who lives in Melbourne, Australia but who is here for a month visiting his mother-in-law, mentioned that he can cover the gap in Australia's socialized medicine system by purchasing insurance for his family for the equivalent of about $300 per month, which is obviously far less expensive than the equivalent coverage here in the US.

One of the other guys, who is an electronics engineer, wondered aloud why it is so much cheaper in Australia than in the United States. I said that the Aussies do not have as high an incidence of illegal aliens using the hospital emergency rooms as their primary health care providers. At which point the engineer became very angry and started screaming "What does that have to do with it? Your health insurance is for you, not the illegal aliens! The illegal aliens should not affect your health insurance rates!" And on and on.

This man is an engineer. He certainly understands that too many electronic devices place a load on an electrical circuit. How can he not understand that too many non-paying patients place a load on the health care system? And that the more the healthcare system is strained, the greater the load imposed by one more patient, paying or otherwise! [This is known in economics as the marginal cost.].

It deteriorated even further! As this engineer was advocating for socialized medicine as a cure for the healthcare system's woes, I mentioned that his plan would require even higher taxes. He said, "I don't care what my taxes are, I just want affordable health insurance!"

This is a man who is intelligent, very handy with tools on the workbench, and whom I do hold in high personal regard (he and his wife were, after all, among the first to welcome us to the community when we moved in about 20 years ago). He understands electronics. He understands physics. He even understands meteorology and the workings of storm systems on the weather. But when it comes to economics, the Dismal Science, he goes totally irrational.

What is it about Economics that alienates so many people? It's not just this engineer, but a very sizable cross-section of the population that cannot cope with the simple principles of supply and demand. Including those apparatchiks in the various education unions who, as I write this, are now planning to converge upon Albany to demand more funding and no cutbacks for education, and for lower tuition, all at a time when New York State's budget is in deficit mode.

As for that argument last night, the physician among us did the wise thing. He stayed out of the healthcare argument.

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