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.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From Washington

I’ve felt a little bit out of touch with reality for the past 2 days, but that’s all attributable to the fact that I am in Washington, DC, where that seems to be the norm.

No matter how dismal or boring the matter that brings me to Washington may be, I have always enjoyed the city, and this time is no exception. I have begun to run again, having been sidelined for the better part of a month with tendinitis in the knee. I’m still not pushing myself 100%, but this morning was able to run from the Capitol to the WWII Memorial. It was a dry mouth that made me decide to turn around after paying my respects to the WWII Memorial (my first visit since its completion), and not exhaustion or my knee.

En route back I essentially ran a block and then walked a block, alternating accordingly until stopping at a convenience store to get some OJ and H2O. Before I hit the convenience store, I stopped at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and paid respect to all of the fallen law enforcement officers mentioned previously in this Blog, and all of the others listed there as well. I hope and pray that the number of names added in future years will be minimal (unfortunately, it is unrealistic to hope for zero).

And I deliberately avoided those two side-by-side whorehouses at, respectively, 1500 and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It would be such a pity to spoil an otherwise scenic and enjoyable run.

Yesterday, I was able to run up the inoperative escalator at the DuPont Circle Metro Station.

And so, the business that brought me to Washington has been on the northern side of neutral, and my enjoyment of the city has, as usual, been very, very positive. Tomorrow I shall return home. I hope that the plane ride home will afford me more room than the trip down here, where the fatso woman in the next seat gave me less wiggle room than I paid for.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Window into Prayer

My calendar schedule has suddenly become robust. There's a meeting tomorrow, I'm due in court soon, and someone wants to do lunch with me to discuss a possible gig. In another week-and-a-half, there seems to be an excursion to our Nation's Capital in my future -- I am now attempting to work in so that I can get some personal in along with the business. Accordingly, the next posting after this may be tomorrow, or in a month, or something in between.

We are now also in the first nine days of the month of Av, which have certain restrictions which my household observes. This includes no swimming (I've been doing bicycling and running for my workouts) and we don't eat meat (except for Shabbat), so my wife is now having fun with the various vegetarian and vegan recipes. Last night she made some Ma-Po Tofu, which was delicious. Not that I plan to become strictly vegetarian any time soon, but a vegetarian or vegan diet need not be dull, drab or boring.

As mentioned or alluded to in various prior postings, the insular religious Jewish community is now faced with several crises and issues, all of which somehow, directly or indirectly, tie in to the cultural effects of modern technology and communication.

Information can now be conveyed more quickly and efficiently. This has implications for politics, business and social relationships. America's economic greatness is due, in no small part, to the healthy independent press dating back to Colonial times. And I also hasten to note that the fall of the former Soviet Union had much to do with the Politburo's loss of its ability to completely control the flow of information.

Modern technology has made information far more difficult to control than in yesteryear. This has implications for the insularity which many of these social groups within the religious Jewish community have long strived to maintain. And it presents some significant cultural issues in the way the leadership of these insular groups conduct themselves. They nominally ban the use of the Internet (but make so many exceptions that the "ban" is meaningless).

The Agudath Israel of America, the leading insular community Rabbis, their social welfare organizations, their Yeshivas -- all are interconnected (though not without their differences and factions). One social welfare organization for the insular religious Jewish community in Israel is Kupat Ha'Ir, which has an American (and Canadian, for that matter) support group. They aid widows, orphans, and others in impecunious situations. I myself have occasion, from time to time, to modestly contribute to Kupat Ha'Ir.

The typical Kupat Ha'Ir solicitation brochure (from the American Friends of Kupat Ha'Ir) is usually received in multiplicate in our household, what with the various mailing lists upon which my my wife and I have, through not affirmative wishes of our own, had our names inscribed, and also as blow-ins to the various Jewish newspapers to which we subscribe. They all have the same themes: (A) G-d helps those who contribute to Kupat Ha'Ir; and (B) the great sages and Rabbis and students of Torah will beseech G-d in their prayers to confer blessings upon those who contribute to Kupat Ha'Ir (including, frequently, healing for the sick and infirm).

[For the record, I myself pray daily for the healing and recovery of various sick individuals, as does my wife, who is a physician. Taking it a step further, I have had occasion to see some of those individuals recover, and yes, I do believe that my prayers play a role in that recovery. But everyone, including and especially the physicians, must do their part; prayer, while necessary, is no substitute for skillful medical practice.].

Consistent with usual patterns and practices, the latest Kupat Ha'Ir solicitation promises contributors that, in organized shifts, various Rabbis and Torah scholars will recite the Book of Psalms ("T'hillim" in Hebrew) at the Western Wall (the "Kotel") in Jerusalem for 40 days and nights, for a total of 516 cycles culminating with the end of Yom Kippur, and that those who contribute will have their names specifically mentioned 516 times (never mind the significance of the number 516).

I certainly endorse the project, and will likely throw a few of my own dollars at it.

Against that verbose background, I note that the leatest solicitation piece from Kupat Ha'Ir contains a few paragraphs under the subheading "Complete Transparency," which tells the prospective contributor of all the meticulous preparations and precautions instituted by Kupat Ha'Ir in the project to ensure that everyone's name is included, spelled correctly, and spoken by someone who is concentrating wholeheartedly on his prayers. The solicitation brochure says, "Everything is transparent; there are no secrets and no loopholes."

For centuries, the Rabbis have operated covertly, and kept their counsel on even the most minute matters. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but trying to play both sides against the middle can backfire big time (as it seems to have with the Agudath Israel and its political posturing in the New York City election contests). Transparency is not part of the culture of these insular religious communities and their leaders. But now, they speak of "transparency" (and "Complete Transparency" at that).

[It is also noted that the word "transparency" is frequently bandied about in terms of the regulation of securities, tax-exempt organizations, and government.].

Praying at the Kotel is a very moving experience, and, as emotionally-laded as my first Kotel experience thirty-something years ago was, my awe, in many respects, increases each time I return. You just know that G-d is watching you when you go to the Kotel.

But nowadays, it is not just G-d who watches you. The Aish HaTorah Yeshiva, located next to the Kotel plaza, has a camera trained on the Kotel and now, effectively, the whole world can see you there!

Transparency at the Kotel is already a fait accompli. The whole world can see you there!

And so, the Kupat Ha'Ir has implicitly conceded that it not only fears G-d, but also fears the scrutiny of mortal human beings! Whether and when they begin to conduct their affairs with true transparency remains to be seen.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Taxing the Seed

William C. Naylor, Jr.’s academic and athletic achievements are noteworthy, but are greatly exceeded by his estimation of himself. Naylor established the Free Fertility Foundation, so that he could distribute his own sperm to women of his sole choosing. Naylor sought a tax exemption for his foundation, but the IRS nixed it, and the Tax Court upheld the IRS’s decision.

Specifically, the IRS contended that Naylor’s foundation does not promote health or serve a charitable purpose, notwithstanding Naylor’s contention that the public is well served by the free distribution of Naylor’s semen to women of his own choice.

With all due empathy to those having fertility issues (the building of our own family was not without its difficulties), Naylor’s foundation is the antithesis of serving the public good. Naylor is merely using his foundation as an instrumentality of his own ego.

I note that Naylor’s son is active in the foundation, and question the son’s integrity in that regard. Also noted is Naylor’s representation by Marcus Owens, Esq., formerly the IRS’s head honcho for tax-exempt organizations.

If Naylor wishes to go around sowing his seed, let him pay taxes on the same basis as everyone else. And let him pay for the kids he spawns!

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Disarming the Tax Cheats

It happens every year around this time. Some Fourth of July reveler gets injured while playing with illegal fireworks (and a disproportionate number of them seem to be firefighters, law enforcement officers, or spouses or kids thereof).

It is only the 3rd of July, and Long Island has already scored at least one this year. Seems that one Eric Smith, of Islip Terrace, had his arm severed in a mishap involving a 3-foot mortar tube.

[If truth be told, I actually have some amount of empathy for Mr. Smith. Suffice it to say that there was a time in my youth, many years ago, when I myself was into fireworks. I am now older and wiser. I do hope that the surgeons at Southside Hospital are successful in reattaching Smith's arm. And, if truth be told, even as I draft this posting, I look out my window and enjoy the view of fireworks lighting the night sky, such fireworks, in all likelihood, having been launched from the back yard of a certain neighbor less than a quarter mile away, and, beyond a shadow of a doubt, illegally.].

Smith no doubt will be nominated for a Darwin Award, and other bloggers will certainly opine what a shmuck the guy must be. This posting will forego such commentaries, and focus on the tax aspects of the case.

New York imposes a Sales Tax. In Suffolk County, the rate is 8.625%, of which, 4% goes to the State and 4.625% goes to the County. But you cannot legally avoid the Sales Tax by purchasing items out or state, because New York also imposes a Use Tax, which amounts to New York's Sales Tax, minus any Sales Tax actually paid to another state. And the Use Tax also includes transportation charges paid to bring the goods into New York. And New York's personal Income Tax form has provisions for reporting and paying whatever Sales and Use Tax shortfall you may have racked up during the prior year.

I am not personally familiar with the facts and circumstances regarding how Mr. Smith obtained his fireworks. Nevertheless, the smart money says that their procurement gave less than full regard to New York's Sales and Use Taxes. And a 3-foot mortar tube is not an inexpensive item.

Given all of the whining and pissing and moaning from Albany and elsewhere regarding the budgetary woes of New York State, perhaps the New York State Department of Taxation & Finance should ramp up its tax enforcements. One area where this can be done is in the Sales and Use Taxes on illegal fireworks. The NYSDTF should send Smith a letter to remind him of his Sales and Use Tax obligations regarding the fireworks. More to the point, the NYSDTF and the Suffolk County Police ought to collaborate on this one.

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 02, 2010

Keeping the Workplace Safe.

As a resolution to a dispute over changing from a unionized to a non-unionized janitorial contractor, it seems that the NLRB now requires the Matrix Realty Group to post a notice to its employees. [See here and here]. The notice must recite, inter alia, that Matrix Realty will "NOT threaten to kill you or to cause you bodily harm because you engage in activities in support of SEIU, Local 32BJ."

Fair enough!

But shouldn't the union thugs at SEIU be held to the same standard?

Labels: , ,