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, June 30, 2013

Another Rabbi Behaving Poorly

Here we go again!  Another rabbi behaving poorly.

New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (who reportedly goes into rage mode when referred to as "Eric Schneiderman" without the initial "T") has just announced the court-ordered temporary (for now) shutdown of 19 charities operated out of Brooklyn by one Rabbi Yaakov Weingarten.

[It is with profound shame that I now admit to having personally donated to a few of those charities, albeit only in the two figure range.].

The problem was that the 19 charities, mostly purporting to aid needy causes in Israel, did not send any appreciable amounts of money to those causes.  Instead, during the past 5 years, there have been questionable expenditures from the charities' bank accounts amounting to millions in the aggregate.  These include utility bills, dental care, video rentals, mortgage payments, and an Atlantic City casino trip.  And let us not forget some significant home improvements to the house owned by Weingarten's wife.

While there are no sure things here, there may well be some criminal charges in the coming weeks or months.  And it is very tempting to speculate as to what excuses and/or mitigational assertions might be tendered by Weingarten and/or his supporters and sympathizers.

Two issues that have not been so visibly addressed in the Jewish blogosphere are the following:

A.  The modus operandi of the charities has been for various individuals to make telephone solicitations, often but not always falsely claiming that a pledge allegedly made by the recipient of the telephone call has yet to be fulfilled.   There were several telephone callers involved, each using their personal cell phone or some other "boiler room" phone bank.  Query:  What did the individual callers know and when did they know it?  How knowingly complicit were they in Weingarten's scams?  How much did they benefit?

B.  The standard line used by the insular religious Jewish community whenever one of theirs gets foul ink in the press is that he (or sometimes, she) is an aberration.  I once heard a certain spokesman reply to a query by a reporter regarding some poor behavior by a high school student, to the effect that the insular Jewish community has 1 or 2, the Catholic schools have 10, and the public schools have 100 such bad actors.  This, perhaps, has some validity, though the exact statistics may not be so exact.

But be that as it may, I have to wonder whether Weingarten is the only player in his league.  One key reason my wife and I do not live in such communities (and have taken pains to avoid locating ourselves in such communities) is the degree to which everyone insinuates themselves into everyone else's personal business.  Therefore, if Weingarten is living such a charmed lifestyle, it surely has been noticed.  And neighbors and friends desirous of such a life would naturally attempt to emulate Weingarten's means of supporting such a modus vivendi.

And how could a major trip to an Atlantic City casino escape notice?

If Weingarten and his cohorts were not shunned by the community, then it would not astonish me in the least if there are a few more just like him.

A little more than a year ago, I publicly stated at a certain conference that I expected some sort of financial scandal to arise involving some charitable organizations within the insular religious Jewish community.  Painful as it is, I must now thank New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman for vindicating me from the naysayers at that conference.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

If There Were No Income Tax ...

If there were no Income Tax and no Estate Tax, then ...

A person's marital status would be irrelevant to the government.

And there would be no tax advantage or disadvantage to being married.

And then, people would be free to contractually make the living arrangements of their own choosing, regardless of the popularity or unpopularity of their choices.

And that way, the government and legal system would not be compelled to choose between equality and morality.

An oversimplification?  Perhaps.

But remember that it was a taxation issue that impelled Edith Windsor to pursue her case all the way up to the Supreme Court, and not the expressions of disapproval of her personal choices by moralistic prudes such as myself.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Skinny on the AMA and Obesity

The American Medical Association has just announced that it has recognized obesity as a disease.

[Disclosure:  I am married to an obese physician, whose activities with the AMA have, over the years, declined from sparse to zero.].

There is no doubt that fat people are extremely predisposed to a wide range of illnesses and medical issues, that the ranks of the fatsos are growing (individually and collectively), and that it is a major public health issue.

Be that as it may, I'm not so sure that the AMA's latest action is such a great thing.  Changing labels does not, in and of itself, address the root causes of any problem, and what the AMA is doing is updating labels if not creating them.  And once the labels are in place and utilized by the population in general and the healthcare industry in particular, obese patients, having been labeled (synonym:  Stereotyped), will likely be subjected to treatment based upon the label and not based upon their individualized medical situation and lifestyle.

The insinuation of Obamacare into the healthcare equation (including the IRS) can only exacerbate the negative attributes of the foregoing dynamic.

What bothers me the most, however, is not whether obesity is or is not a disease, but rather, the political dynamic behind the whole thing.  Politics has usually done more harm than good to the delivery and efficacy of healthcare, whether in the prevention of administering the polio vaccine by the jihadis in Muslim countries, or the politicization of the AIDS/HIV epidemic.  And in that regard, the medical profession's politicoes have already shown that designation or nondesignation of a condition as a "disease" is based more upon political than health considerations when political correctness induced the declassification of homosexuality as a disease.

Whether a given person's weight, sexual preferences, or eating or drinking habits are or are not a disease is a red-herring issue.  The real issue here is the corruption of the healthcare delivery system, and the doctor-patient relationship, by political agendas, and the squelching of patient autonomy and informed consent.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Sick? Call Your Lawyer!

Even before I started law school, I was troubled by the Supreme Court decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977).  That case opinion, delivered by the late Justice Harry Blackmun, essentially legalized attorney advertising on par with advertising by any other commercial concern.  Once Blackmun opened the flood gates, the worst of our profession have been able to garner the best public attention.

[To set matters straight regarding my own promotion of my professional services to the public, I have essentially adhered to the pre-Bates standard:  A listing in the telephone directory and in Martindale-Hubbell, business cards, and ads in fundraiser dinner journals.  This suits my practice quite well, inasmuch as I have a small group of existing clients whose respective legal issues periodically require my attention, and to whose numbers I am not in any hurry to add, what with my other activities, including but in no way limited to teaching and researching for other attorneys.].

Being in the medical profession, my wife gets particularly exercised when she hears radio ads by attorneys in general, and attorneys practicing medical malpractice in particular.  Beyond this, my wife and I do differ, and have gotten into some animated disagreements, not over the obnoxiousness of advertising by doctors or lawyers (over which we agree), but over the absence of clean hands on the part of the medical profession.  My posture essentially is that the lawyer ads are obnoxious and sickening, but that the doctors they sue are getting what they deserve.

This afternoon, however, we found ourselves in agreement over an obnoxious lawyer ad by the firm of Acosta & Williams, LLC, an ad we heard on at least 4 occasions during our afternoon excursion and return.  A&W is now trying to drum up some business from patients who developed diabetes from taking Lipitor for their cholesterol.  Per the radio commercial, their targeted defendants are not the physicians, but the pharmaceutical companies.

Surprisingly, my wife agreed with me that lawyers such as A&W are the just desserts for Big Pharma, in light of Big Pharma's shifting of its advertising from the medical profession publications such as the Journal of the American Medical Association  or the New England Journal of Medicine  to the common, ordinary, everyday consumer tabloids.  Now that Big Pharma has largely cut out the physician as the facilitator, the plaintiff's injury bar is cutting out the physician and dealing directly with the drug manufacturers.

Ironically, about a year before Justice Blackmun green-lighted attorney advertising, he authored the opinion in Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U.S. 748 (1976), which allowed pharmacists to advertise the prices of drugs to the public.

One thing is clear:  As the cost of health care rises (which it cannot help but doing under the Obamacare scheme), lawsuits against physicians and drug companies will continue to play a very vital role in underwriting the procurement of medical treatments and remedies.  Though it is not my own area of practice, it cannot now be said that the legal profession is unprepared to help the public finance its healthcare expenses.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Real Threats! (Or Not?)

So now the media is reporting that Lois Lerner and Steve Miller, key figures in this Internal Revenue Service controversy, have supposedly been the subjects of death threats.  My gut hunch, without the benefit of any further information, is that those aforenamed individuals did in fact receive some sort of verbal threats.  And if indeed such threats were made, then the perpetuators of those threats should be sent to the slammer.

This does not in any way constitute any manner of support or sympathy for Ms. Lerner or Mr. Miller.  It is very likely that they each knew more than they have thus far admitted, and that they still are sitting on some even more info regarding even more egregious details of the IRS's questionable deeds and omissions.  If they have committed crimes, then they certainly should be properly punished.

Nor can be ignored the value in alleging threats for the purpose of discrediting the alleged threatener.  It would play well into the agenda of certain political interests if certain people, Tea Partiers and otherwise, were made to look like irrational madmen/women.  Accordingly, one cannot totally dismiss the possibility that the alleged threats were (A) exaggerations of utterances (e.g., some passerby on the street, recognizing Lois or Steve, shouted "Go to Hell" to them); or (B) perhaps fabricated entirely.

Meanwhile, law and order need to prevail (if there still are such things in Washington any more), and the alleged threats need to be investigated and, if founded, decisively acted upon.

During my own time with the IRS, I was, to the best of my knowledge, never the target of any threats of violence.  The closest thing to any threat of violence I ever had was when I went on a field audit involving a certain organized crime figure, and some man, in all likelihood a Mob bodyguard, greeted me, escorted me to the office where I would conduct the audit, and told me to let him know if anyone made any threats to me.

I shortly thereafter learned that my experience in that regard was not unique.  Seems that the Mob likes to keep its disputes with the IRS off the public radar screens, and, with the ambiguities of the financial transactions and the ability to magically make money appear when needed, is usually well postured to settle its IRS cases early and quietly.  This is possible only if there are no criminal tax charges pending.  And threatening the tax man or tax woman is one sure way to turn a civil tax dispute into a criminal tax prosecution.

By ensuring the physical safety of the IRS guy/gal, and getting an early agreement in the case, the Mob's affairs stay out of the public eye, the IRS guy/gal chalks up a closed case for their statistics, and (at least in my day) everyone involved can rest assured that the particulars of the matter will be the topic of no further discussion.

And of course, when I left the IRS for private practice, I made sure to send out announcement cards to all of the lawyers, accountants and enrolled agents with whom I had cases.  I would later get a few referrals from them.

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