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 31, 2013

This Business Stuff

Marie Baran is one of the remaining defendants in a Long Island Railroad pension fraud scheme (some of the other defendants having taken plea agreements).  Her testimony at her trial was reported in today's Newsday.  Marie had been the District Office manager for the Railroad Retirement Board, and, almost immediately upon her retirement from that Federal agency, set up shop in the free office space provided in the LIRR workers' union headquarters as a consultant to advise LIRR employees how to put in the papers to get their disability pensions and retire early.  Her own husband is an ex-LIRR worker on disability.  She charged the LIRR workers she advised $1,200 each as a consulting fee.

Marie admitted to amending her income tax return to reflect more than $50,000 additional income after she received a visit from the FBI.  She claimed that she insisted on cash payments because she didn't want to have to worry about bounced checks, and that hiding income was the furthest thing from her mind. 

She further claimed that the $50,000 + underreported from her initial return was an honest mistake.  " 'I wasn't very good at this business stuff,' she testified. 'I didn't keep records the first year. When I did my taxes, I just winged it.'"

I wasn't there; I only know what I read in Newsday.  The judge and jury are best postured to evaluate the testimony of the witnesses, and I do not now purport to second-guess them.  Nevertheless, I shall exercise my First Amendment rights and proffer my personal opinion:

Marie, if you held the union members in such high regard as you claimed (hey, they did, after all, give you some rent-free office digs), why couldn't you trust them to write good checks to you?  And Marie, you were not a GS-5 automaton, you were the freakin' District Office Manager of the RRB's Long Island Office!  This "business stuff" couldn't have been all that strange to you!  In fact, you couldn't have lasted more than a few weeks as District Office Manager if you were totally clueless about "this business stuff!"

I'm sure that the GS-3s, GS-4s and GS-5's I had occasion to supervise during my Federal employment years (who, notwithstanding their low scope of authority, job functions and salaries, were certainly not automatons) would not have missed the $50K+ discrepancy you claimed was an innocent error.  They understood "this business stuff!"

Marie, I think that you now stand a good chance of getting some rent-free housing from the Federal government!  In a Big House!

Labels: , ,

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Beer for Snowden

On an evening following a hot sultry summer day (and sometimes even in the cold of winter), a cold beer really hits the spot for the train ride home.  Just a block from Penn Station in Manhattan in any direction can be found a deli or a bodega where the proprietor is all too happy to sell me a beer and some pretzels or other munchies.  So, if I have time, I patronize those establishments instead of the ones in Penn Station itself, for the simple reason that the price I pay for their wares is less than that charged by the merchants in Penn Station.

This is nothing more, and nothing less, than an actualization of the laws of supply and demand (and, I daresay, of monopolies).  And it is true not only of Penn Station, but of well-nigh any train station or airport.  Moreover, because the passengers can, if they are so inclined and able-bodied, freely take a walk from inside Penn Station to the mini-mart a block away, the merchants inside the Penn Station concourse do have some degree of competition from the neighborhood convenience stores.

Not so with airports.  Once the passengers go through the metal detectors, they are in an economically-isolated marketplace, and the merchants inside airports can get away with charging even higher prices than those charged in Penn Station (and every other railroad passenger hub).  Indeed, they must, for the rent those airport merchants pay to the airport is higher per square foot than in the same city's passenger rail depot.  And not only do goods, consumable and durable, command higher prices inside airport terminals, but so do services such as shoe shines and haircuts -- and lodgings.

Edward Snowden has been inside the transit zone of the Sheremetyevo International Airport for over a month, eating and sleeping and doing whatever else he has been doing there.

It must be costing him a pretty penny.  Who, pray tell, is bankrolling him?

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Saturday Night Kipling

Six over at The Warrior Class has habitually been posting "Sunday Kipling" posts (which, as the title implies, consist of selected Rudyard Kipling poems and are posted on Sundays).  I have enjoyed Kipling's poetry and prose since I was old enough for my nursery school teacher to read me and my classmates his "Just So Stories" as a ruse to lull us to sleep for our afternoon naps.

I do not now purpose to usurp Six's function as the purveyor of Kipling poetry, but this Kipling piece came to mind this afternoon, as the discussion turned to the Obama Administration's practices regarding the funding and support of the military in particular, and the protection of American technology and know-how in general.

The implications are quite disturbing.

The Dutch in the Medway (1664-72)
by Rudyard Kipling

If wars were won by feasting,
Or victory by song,
Or safety found, by sleeping sound
How England would be strong!
But honour and dominion
Are not maintained so,
Threy’re only got by sword and shot
And this the Dutchmen know!

The moneys that should feed us
you spend on your delight,
How can you then, have sailor-men
To aid you in your fight?
Our fish and cheese are rotten,
Which makes the scurvy grow –
We cannot serve you if we starve,
And this the Dutchmen know!

Our ships in every harbour
Be neither whole nor sound,
And when we seek to mend a leak,
No Oakum can be found,
Or, if it is, the caulkers,
and carpenters also,
For lack of pay have gone away,
And this the Dutch men know!

Mere powder, guns and bullets,
we scarce can get at all;
Their price was spent in merriment
and revel at Whitehall,
While we in tattered doublets
From ship to ship must row,
Beseeching friends for odds and ends –
And this the Dutchmen know!

No King will heed our warnings,
No Court will pay our claims –
Our King and Court for their disport
Do sell the very Thames!
For, now De Ruyter’s topsails
Off naked Chatham show,
We dare not meet him with our fleet –
And this the Dutchmen know!

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 26, 2013

Freedom of Speech? Freedom of Violence?

Freedom of Speech? Freedom of Violence? Another instance of Zimmerman Derangement Syndrome, a disease caused by the Jackson-Sharpton-Obama virus.


 A sharp-eyed NYPD detective caught it, and Newson was arrested and charged with making terroristic threats. Newson had claimed that he is just an aspiring rapper, and that what he posted were just lyrics (which are, of course, protected under the First Amendment).

 Now the charges have been dropped.

 Without in any way trying to promote Newson as anything resembling a productive and contributing citizen (he does, after all, have a prison record for a crime of violence, and he is only 20 years old), I would have to say that the dropping of the charges was the correct decision. There really wasn't enough evidence to make the charge stick, what with all of the reasonable doubts as to his true intention ("reasonable doubt" being a legal term, and not necessarily based in common sense/street sense/cop sense logic). Why strain the public resources any more with a futile trial, when there is every reason to expect that Newson will once again have a further encounter with the criminal justice system, and where there is a good chance that the evidence in the next case will be far better?

 Query: Would similar charges have been dropped so quickly against a white Facebook poster of "lyrics" advocating the killing of police officers and Black people?

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, July 15, 2013

Selective Visa Reciprocity

There is nothing simple as far as America's relationships with Middle East nations goes.  This is true even when there is an Administration that is driven by true American values; it is all the more true when the Administration in power has based its foreign policy upon continual apology to the world for being American.

As reported in various news outlets, there is legislation now in the House and in the Senate which would, among other things, designate Israel as a Visa Waiver Program country, but would not provide for total reciprocity because it would effectively give Israel greater discretion to reject American passports than the United States to reject Israeli passports.  This has some people all upset.

Whether such asymmetry is or is not appropriate is a matter of personal opinion.   For the record, I strongly believe it to be appropriate, given the relative and actual numbers of American passport holders who have avowed to destroy Israel and exterminate its citizens, as compared to the relative and actual numbers of Israeli passport holders who have avowed to destroy America and exterminate its citizens.  [Never mind that so many of the American passport holders who have avowed to destroy Israel and exterminate its citizens have also vowed similar for America.].

But if you are going to piss and moan and whine about Israel not giving visiting Americans 100% of the same privileges the United States extends to visiting Israelis, then don't single out Israel!  Demand that Mexico give Americans who are illegally in Mexico free access to education, healthcare, public assistance and other such privileges of Mexican citizens.  Ditto for all other countries.

Hold all the other countries to the same standard to which you would hold Israel!

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 05, 2013

Independence Day on the 4th of July

I wasn't particularly planning to do a barbecue for Independence Day (which is the more formal and more appropriate name for the Fourth of July).

But my wife got a phone call from a friend of hers whom she had not seen in quite a while, what with the two women's respective personal and professional schedules (though I did run into "Vivianne" at the Post Office about 2 months ago).  The two decided to do dinner together, and my wife asked me if I would be interested in working the barbecue grill.

I replied in the affirmative, and thus the impromptu barbecue.  Vivianne brought chicken cutlets and hamburger rolls, my wife made the potato salad and hamburger patties, and I had to get the grill up and running.  Though I usually like start from wood and create my own charcoal, I decided to use our gas grill.  It needed cleaning, and the propane tank needed a refill.  After attending to those matters, we were ready to go.

It wasn't clear just who was the third wheel in that matter, me (the one man at the table with two women) or Vivianne (the widow at the table with a married couple).  Fortunately, the conversation carried reasonably well as we discussed the burning current events issues of the day, and, all in all, a very enjoyable dinner.

Nothing to report, and yet, everything to report.  We basically remembered what happened in Philadelphia on the fourth day of July in 1776.  We did not go to the various mad mob crowd events such as the Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest or fireworks shows (although more than a handful of our neighbors had procured some pyrotechnic devices of questionable legality, and treated  us to fireworks displays visible from our backyard picnic table).  Just some good conversation, good food, and serious intellectual discussion about the state of affairs in America and the world.

Put another way, for us it was an Independence Day event more than a Fourth of July event.

Happy Birthday, America!

Labels: , ,