Most of my generation spent our childhoods in the back seat of an automobile, being driven around by parents, grandparents and older siblings. At some point, as you become a preteen, you get the right to sit up front and begin to see up close the mechanics of driving. A little later, you start learning to drive a car (unless you grew up in Manhattan) and finally you pass a few tests and receive a driver’s license. Getting a driver’s license literally puts you in the “driver’s seat” and gives you the right to determine who gets to sit up front or in the back seat.
I started thinking about this as I was driving my 10-year old grandson and one of his best friends to Jerusalem a few weeks ago. We truly had a great time. We parked the car in one of Jerusalem’s older neighborhoods, rode the light rail, toured the Old City of Jerusalem, and as the piece de resistance, I bought the boys hamburgers. As we drove back home, the boys were having a good time playing with a smart phone video game in which kids from all over Israel compete against each other online. I realized they became so absorbed in the game that my role as the driver was unimportant to them at that moment. Part of me wanted to shout out, “Hey boys, remember me? Aren’t we still doing something together?”.
Instead of blurting something out, I started thinking about when I used to sit in the back seat. As memories came into focus, I clearly recalled sitting with my best friend Bernie in the back of my grandfather’s 1958 Oldsmobile Delta 88. It was truly a massive car with no seatbelts and plenty of room for two 10-year olds to horse around. In fact, there was so much room that we started tossing a football back and forth, since there was no smartphone to play with in those days. It was summer, and in 1958 cars did not come with air-conditioning. The windows were all open, and before we knew it, the football went flying out one of the back windows, and quickly disappeared from our sight. We were driving through a neighborhood in which ownerless footballs would quickly disappear, so we had to move quickly. I took a deep breath, and yelled out to my grandfather to stop the car. His reply was to say “Why?”. By the time I explained, we were several blocks from my lost football. Eventually, my grandfather put on the brakes, and we ran back (no turning the car around; it was clearly our problem) and eventually found the ball in a sunken garden below street level. The ball was a little muddied, but it was safely back in my possession. I don’t recall my grandfather giving me a lecture, and he just gave us a look which said “boys will be boys”.
Fast forward 50 years. I am longer in the back seat, my grandfather is long gone, and I am now the grandfather driving around two fun loving 10-year-olds. Funny how our roles change so quickly, yet we can never pinpoint the exact moment that we moved from the back seat to the front seat. When did we become the adults with the car keys? I can’t really answer that question, but I am grateful for getting to the stage in life where I am in the front seat, and also happy that I stayed quiet as my grandson was victorious over some other kid battling him on the internet. As they say, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.
Despite all the hype this spring, I, a die-hard South Sider and Chicago White Sox fan, had no interest in the Cubs back on opening day. In fact, I could not name you more than three or four players on the roster and had no idea where any of the position players played. Nonetheless, over the last few weeks I could not get my mind off this North Side of Chicago team. I learned the players’ names and positions, followed every playoff game and was rooting for their continued success. I was becoming so deeply involved with this team that I found myself in tears as I was listening to Eddie Vetter sing, Take Me Out to the Ball Game while dedicating it to Harry Caray the late long-time Cub’s announcer during the fifth game of the World Series. What was happening to me; why was I suddenly so deeply identifying with this long-suffering team and seemingly abandoning my loyalties to the Cubs’ South Side rival?
It seems hearing and seeing that rendition of the traditional 7th inning’s stretch anthem opened a floodgate of memories. Those memories included:
- Coming home from elementary school in the spring and fall and sitting with our housekeeper Katy Hall to watch on TV the last two innings of a Cub game with less than 5,000 fans in attendance. Katy was an African American who grew up in the south; whose parents had been freed slaves. She loved the black stars of those 1960’s Cubs, by the names of Ernie Banks and Billy Williams. She got me to love them too, such that I came to hold my bat in Little League just like Ernie Banks did.
- Going to a Cubs-Giants game back in the mid 60’s with my Dad. It was a day game (all the Cub’s home games were day games back then) and my late father took me out of school to sit right behind the Giants’ dugout. My Dad had a customer who was a utility infielder for the Giants named Don Mason and he got us the best seats at Wrigley. I got to see one of my childhood heroes, Willie Mays, up close, it was a magical day.
- The Summer of 69 – As Dickens had written, ‘it was the best of times it was the worst of times”. Back in the summer of 1969, I was forcibly removed from my beloved neighborhood of South Shore to the northern suburbs. Due to deteriorating conditions in urban America and the massive racial changes in our neighborhood, most white families fled by the end of the 1969 school year from neighborhoods they had lived in for generations. What was a 15-year-old to do, in a new neighborhood, with no connections to his new environs? Well, first I reconnected with my fellow refugees from the South Side and then together we discovered that we could travel by public transportation to Wrigley Field without getting mugged, and for $3.50 enjoy a professional baseball game in great seats just above the expensive boxes. It turned out that the Cubs were the best team in baseball that summer and we instantly became loyal fans. We fell in love with that team just like a first girlfriend, they could do nothing wrong in our eyes and we attended games whenever they were in town. But then came a historic collapse during the September pennant race – the Cubs went from first place with a huge lead to never even making post-season – and our young hearts, having fallen in love, were broken beyond repair. Yes, we tried to reconcile with the Cubs in 1970, but the love was lost and by 1971 we went off to university and back to the White Sox.
- Memories of a last visit to my beloved 107-year-old Aunt Belle, my grandmother’s younger sister, were evoked as well. We took a break from a Cubs game she was watching and went out for a walk. While we were wheeling her up the walk, she gave us come Cracker Jacks and sang a full rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, which we were able to record for posterity.
So, what happened to me today as I was walking through rural China listening to the local Cubs announcer dramatically portray game 7 of the World Series? I believe that I experienced the joy of success that my 15-year-old self had been denied. That for a moment in time I was a back with Katy Hall, Aunt Belle, my father and was sitting once again with my childhood friends in Wrigley Field. I am so grateful to have experienced such a moment after so many years, and truly share in the happiness that my friends and family who are true Cubs fans are now experiencing. Congratulations and thanks for the memories, and may all of us be able to enjoy the feeling of triumph and success.
Whether or not you were aware of Brexit before the UK referendum, it seems to have become one of the most popular topics of conversation these past few days. Today everyone knows the term Brexit, but very few, if any, understand the consequences of what the vote will mean for any of us. The Brexit vote evokes a similar media vibe to that of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, when no one saw that crisis coming. It now appears that both the leading advocates and a significant number of pro Brexit voters had no idea what would really happen “the day after”.
History tells us that the Communists/Bolsheviks were not the initial victors of the Russian Revolution, but rather a more democratic group called the Mensheviks. Unfortunately, the Mensheviks, while knowing how to remove the Czar, had no plan for “the day after”. Mr. Lenin however did take the time to think about the consequences of a Russia without a royal family and had a plan to put in place, which led to consequences that the world suffers from to this very day.
So the UK wants to be free from European bureaucrats, just like the American colonists wished to free themselves from the British 240 years ago on the 4th of July 1776. Ultimately, that declaration of independence took more than a decade to actualize and put in place. It required leaders of great intelligence, determination and vision to turn that “declaration” into a viable plan. While they understood the need to be independent, they were well aware that the famous Declaration of Independence was only the beginning.
So to the 52 percent of UK voters who “wanted out”, I suggest they listen to the lyrics of the famous Paul Simon song “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover“, particularly the line “make a new plan Stan”, because you desperately need one….
And to the country of my birth and my father-in-law who is a happy and active 90, Happy Birthday.
However, things weren’t always this way. It has been said that when President Truman left the White House after Eisenhower’s inauguration, he and his wife left for the train station unaccompanied. Apparently, the fact that famous people did not have to be distanced from the general public only changed in recent years. Back in 1965, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were still alive, LBJ was still popular as president, student protests against the Vietnam War were in a nascent stage and Muhammed Ali bought a house in my neighborhood. In fact, my regular bike rides to the local JCC took me right past the heavyweight champion’s house on a regular basis. On one of those bike rides down Jeffery Avenue, I noticed a tall, handsome black man, mowing his lawn in front of his very small house . It was none other than Muhammed Ali himself, no bodyguards, no gardener, just the champ himself cutting his grass. I slowed down my bike, shouted out the typical Chicago greeting “how ya doin?” and Mr. Ali waved back and said “pretty good, kid’. No selfie, no stopping for an autograph, or running to a pay phone to call my friends, I just kept peddling along, happy to have exchanged some pleasantry with my neighbor. It’s funny how today, if we don’t put a picture up on Facebook or Instagram within minutes of an experience like I had many years ago, it is as if it did not happen. In fact, in my case I don’t even recall that it was important enough to tell my parents that night at dinner. I am not passing judgement on today’s need to get so much up on social media, but I do wonder if this will remain part of our daily lives or if we will revert back to a less publicized style of life. I had not thought about Muhammed Ali for a long time, but I am happy to say I once met him, if even for a few seconds.
One thing in common between a bet and a debt is that someone has to pay up and the other side gets paid. Generally, bets are paid after the results of the wager are finalized. In fact, just this week a lucky or prescient person could have bet 1,000-pound sterling on an English soccer team called Leicester City to win the league championship and would have won 5,000,000 sterling (yes, five million!). Debts on the hand get paid when a specific date arrives or action takes place (such as a sale of a home) according to the terms of the loan agreement. In general, in most cases that’s how the world works, and millions of debts and bets are settled every day of the year around the world.
Upon hearing about the huge payout in the UK, I began to think about a bet that I made that will never be paid, and a debt that I plan to collect after delay of almost 40 years.
First the bet, over 50 years ago I made a bet with my best friend Bernie, (we are still best friends to this very day) about a colorful (no pun intended) politician named Adam Clayton Powell, who was the first black elected to Congress from the State of New York https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Clayton_Powell,_Jr. We both acknowledge that we made a bet, but neither of us remembers what the bet was about, who had what side of the wager, nor the amount at stake. Nonetheless, we have repeatedly referred to this bet whenever we appear to owe each other some money over the last five decades. For example, in our student years we might go out for a beer or cup of coffee and one of us would pick up the tab; the one who paid would then ask the other for his share of the bill, and the one who did not pay would say, “but you still owe me from the Adam Clayton Powell bet”. This dialogue has gone on for years and we both suppose that we are even, although the original obligation to pay to bet has been long forgotten.
Now to the debt, I had the privilege to spend two years of my life getting an MBA at the University of Michigan, which is located in beautiful Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was the furthest east I had ever lived, and while geographically at the eastern end of the Midwest, the fact that you could buy the New York Times at the corner newsstand made me feel at times that I was living out east. As I was finishing my MBA I happened to be reading the famous autobiography of one of the most interesting Supreme Court justices of the 20th century, namely William O. Douglas https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_O._Douglas. Justice Douglas’s book was called “Go East Young Man” and while I don’t believe I ever finished the book, I was drawn to its title and started to day dream of a grand road trip out east before taking my first job back in Chicago. The plan would be for my new bride and I to take our 1965 Chevy Impala (this was 1977) which required a pint (nearly a liter) of oil every time you filled up with gas due to a leak in its aging engine across the border of Canada and drive to Niagara Falls; from there we would head to Cooperstown, New York, the site of the Baseball of Fame and then drive back to Chicago via Cleveland Ohio where we would visit good friends. I had planned the route, budgeted the cost and began to mark my calendar. My presentation of this plan met with some healthy skepticism; My wife said, “we really can’t afford it; I am not sure the car will make it, and how can we shlep all of our personal belongings on a trip?” Her arguments certainly made sense, then she hit me with the perfect punchline, “Let’s first get settled, and then I promise you we can take such a trip in the near future”. I eventually acquiesced to her persuasive arguments and assumed the day was soon coming where I would experience one of nature’s wonders at Niagara Falls and make a “holy pilgrimage” to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Fast forward 39 years, and we are planning a family reunion in Chicago in honor of my father-in-law’s 90th birthday. I realized an opportunity now presented itself, the time had come to collect on my wife’s promise/debt, I asked her if she remembered her promise, to which she replied in the affirmative. At that moment I felt time had stood still, I was no less excited than back when I looked over those maps so many years ago; now with the help of the internet and a few phone calls, reservations were made, dates confirmed and the debt would be paid.
My take away from the above is that some things in life are best forgotten, such as a bet that served to bond a friendship for over half a century, and to never give up collecting on promises from people you love. Some of you may never make a wager but all of all us can fulfill promises to ourselves and to others; it’s never too late.
|It’s All About Service!
Shopping is not my favorite activity, but when I do shop, it is generally during one of my business trips to the U.S. I have established my own spectrum of the best and worst consumer experiences in America.
So what is the secret of my rating system? If it was based strictly on price, the lists would flip; in other words, the bottom would be on top and the top would be on the bottom. If it would be based on a variety of merchandise and branches, these lists would also change places. My rating system is actually quite simple. I love- yes, love- shopping at my top list, because all of those store share qualities that I value. Those stores have pleasant, knowledgeable and engaged staff that make shopping a pleasure. They are not afraid to listen to your questions, they give answers that show thought, and they make sure you find what you are looking for. In short, they provide superior service to their customers. I find the exact opposite with my bottom three (even though my wife and kids love shopping at these places). I find it impossible to find someone to even ask a question to, and when you do find that person, they usually have no idea what you are talking about.
Nonetheless, you might think that in the end the only important thing is getting what you want at the cheapest price, but I strongly disagree. I believe that when you buy a product or a service, you should get the best thing that your money can buy. I believe that in the end you will have something that will last much longer and give you customer satisfaction, because someone cared to make sure you ended up with something you wanted and needed.
Recently, I have been thinking about the Chinese strategy that low prices are the only thing customers care about. I believe that such a strategy will leave people without consumer satisfaction and without personnel who really care about their clients. I know that our firm and my staff believe in connecting with their clients in a caring and committed manner. We are committed to giving our clients the best consumer experience that we can provide, and we are constantly looking for new ways to improve our customer experience. I want our clients to have the same feeling I have when I walk into my top 3 stores in the U.S. I want my clients to enjoy “shopping” at Philip Stein & Associates, and feel they “got their money’s worth”. That is what we are committed to 365 days a year.
One of my favorite Beatles songs is called “My Life” https://youtu.be/UKQpRgxyyqo.
It speaks of people and places we knew and loved, who are no longer with us or inaccessible to us. In my life, there are also beloved things that are no longer with me. Those things might be my ice hockey equipment or the tallit that served as the chuppa at our wedding. It also could also include my baseball card collection, my bar mitzvah speech or a Super 8 movie of a football game I played. These things are all connected to powerful memories, filled with emotions, evoking pleasant thoughts.
No matter how dented or scratched one’s first vehicle was, it is a sweet memory and something one never forgets. My first car was a Peugeot 404. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/39/Peu404vitfr.jpg.
If fact it was my late father’s car, but upon reaching age 16 and learning to drive a stick shift, I took ownership by using it non-stop. There were very few Peugeots in the United States in the 1970’s, so driving one gave me a unique status of driving a car that no one else had. In addition, the car had a manual sunroof and drove like a sports car; in other words, it was heaven on earth for a 16-year-old boy. Now, that is not to say that the car did not have it deficits. I once had to drive through a rainstorm with no windshield wipers, and another time drove a date down the “Magnificent Mile” in Chicago when the car’s horn would not stop beeping. Nonetheless, that Peugeot and I became deeply attached. Unfortunately, as the ability to find spare parts became increasingly difficult, we had to eventually part, and it was sent to the junkyard.
About 5 years after Peugeot #1 and I parted, I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, and I noticed a small classified ad listing a used Peugeot 404 for sale! I immediately dropped what I was doing and grabbed my fiancée (now wife) and rushed over to the address listed. As soon as I arrived, a line of other interested buyers began to form. As the first to arrive, I exercised my right to take a test drive, which the seller agreed to. Getting behind the wheel, I was overcome with the feeling of being reunited with an old friend. However, I had a serious dilemma. Since my maximum budget for this car was about $125, and with other people who looked more prosperous then I waiting for their test drive, I was sure to be outbid. I tried coming up with an idea quickly so as not lose this car. Suddenly, an opportunity presented itself, a sign pointing to the highway to Detroit – just what I needed! Before the owner of the car could react, I made a quick turn onto the ramp, with the owner shouting, “what are you doing? There is no exit for another 20 miles!!” Knowing that it would now take us 45 minutes to get back to the other potential purchasers, I assumed (and it proved to be correct) that everyone would be gone. I now had no competition, so while my first offer of $100 was turned down, we closed the deal at $125, and Peugeot 404 #2 was mine.
My drive home was exhilarating, and with the roof open and an ice cream cone in hand, I was flying even though the car had no wings. However, Peugeot #2, had some serious rust problems and there was actually a hole in the floor. In addition, finding spare parts was even more difficult than 5 years earlier. I was able to get the car back to Chicago, but #2 barely made it through the following summer, and now a married man, #2 would not be joining me back in Ann Arbor. I gave the car to my Dad to keep as a monument in the family’s driveway. Eventually after a harsh Chicago winter, my mother forced #2 also to the junkyard. Basically, that ended my physical relationship with any Peugeot 404; yes, while occasionally I would see one during my first few years in Israel in the 1980’s, I could now only dream.
Fast forward 40 years, I am sitting in my Ramat Gan office this week having just finished a meeting with a new client. As I often do, I like to chat with clients about their interests, work and hobbies after the formal part of the meeting ends. This particular client told me that he restored antique cars. I asked, “How old are the cars you work on?”; he replied “Oh from the early 30’s.” Nonetheless, I decided to share my love affair with Peugeot #1 and #2; and much to my pleasant surprise he said, “I have three Peugeot 404’s in my workshop!” I asked if I could come see them, and he replied “you can even take one for a drive”. My spirits soared, I was to be reunited with something that I assumed was long gone and never to return.
I can tell you, at this stage of my life there are many people that are long gone and I will never see again. There are places, especially of my Chicago South Side childhood, that while they exist have changed so much that I will never see again. But in the coming weeks, I will happily get to sit behind the wheel of a Peugeot 404, open the sun roof and if I am lucky, turn on the AM radio and maybe the Beatles song “My Life” will be on. If it is not, then I will turn on my iPhone and sing along.
I have taken cab rides all over Israel and in as exotic places as Cairo, Egypt, LiJiang,China and Tijuana, Mexico. I had not thought of my Mexican cab ride in Tijuana in over 40 years ago until last week while taking a cab in Jerusalem.
My parents, sister and I were returning from a Jai Lai match on a day trip from Southern California. My late father wanted us to experience a live Jai Lai match, and he apparently wanted to place some bets to help defray the cost of this vacation. For those who have never been to Tijuana, I can only describe it as one of the scariest places I have ever been to. Run down, dirty, with people offering all kinds of illegal products and services that a young teenager should not witness, nonetheless, we survived the day in the market and proceeded to the Jai Lai match.
Despite the grungy stadium, it turned out to be a lot of fun, particularly when we were made aware of the players my father was betting on.
The final match of the evening began and my Dad revealed to us that if a certain player won, he would win $500! We starting cheering for “our” player like crazy, and much to our surprise, he won! My father immediately got us down to the cashier to collect his winnings and onto to the street to find a cab back to the safety of the good old USA. We quickly found a beat up cab, circa late 1950’s and looked forward to celebrating my father’s windfall. As we approached the border, I could not control my excitement and blurted out, “I can’t believe, we won $500!”. My memory or family lore, says that as soon as I said this,the cab driver pulled onto a side street and seemed to be taking an off the beaten track route back to the border. My father gave me a look that said we are about to be kidnapped and held for ransom, thanks to your big mouth. After a few very tense minutes, we found ourselves in front of a big sign “Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos”, we were safe after all, and the cabbie had simply taken a shortcut and was not trying to rob us.
Fast forward to a fall evening in Jerusalem 2015, a few weeks before Chanukah. Despite the early darkness, I have always enjoyed being in the city at this time of the year as Chanukah approaches.
Bidding farewell to one of my daughters with whom I spent a lovely evening on the lower portion of Jaffa Road, I sought a cab on Rehov Yannai, a formerly friendly place in Jerusalem of 20 years ago. I opened one of my favorite apps called Gett (formerly Get Taxi). My cab would be arriving 5 minutes, which seemed reasonable. Besides feeling a bit cold I suddenly realized I was on a poorly lit street with several young Arabs wandering around me. Without even thinking, I starting to feel uncomfortable/unsafe even though no one made any threatening gestures toward me. In fact as those 5 minutes dragged on I realized I was looking for the best lit spot on the street to wait while keeping an eye on all passersbys.
Normally feeling safe in my city, the last three months of senseless violence was subconsciously bringing back my survival instincts well honed back on the Southside of Chicago many, many years ago. 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, “Your driver has arrived!”. Now I would be feeling safe again! However as the cab approached I saw the cab was not a shiny Mercedes but a rather beat up Skoda, and the driver was not a fellow Jewish Israeli but rather an Arab from East Jerusalem. I got into the cab and then immediately realized the most direct route back to where I left my car was via East Jerusalem and not via Rehavia in the Western city. I quickly began to try suggesting an alternate route back to my car but every one of my lame excuses was dismissed by my driver as a waste of time and gas. So I found myself in a cab,with an Arab cab driver driving through East Jerusalem, very anxiously feeling that I was back in that cab driving through the back alleys of Tijuana Mexico.
Even if we are not witnesses to a terror event, we are all affected by our current environment. Three months ago I would have gotten in that cab and never given it a second thought as to who was the driver or what route he was taking. However, much has changed since summer’s end and it fills me with sadness that the terrorists are succeeding in penetrating our psyches, causing us to distrust our fellow citizens and bringing the emotion of fear to the forefront. Of course this pales to the horrible crimes these terrorists are committing on a daily basis, but nonetheless the current situation affects us all. Yet despite my discomfort and fear, I remember other dark times our people have faced. We all know from Chanukah, that one small light can lead to a feeling of hope and triumph. I pray that in these dark times we can look to at our Chanukah lights and be inspired with the belief that the forces of light will prevail as they always have in the past.
Regarding my own cab ride, the driver was charming and we had a pleasant conversation about living in Jerusalem these days. May these crazy days come to an end sooner rather than later.
I just got off the phone with my 89 year old father-in-law as he was rushing off to work (yes, he’s still working daily as a psychologist). He wanted to let me know about an article that appeared in this week’s Sunday New York Times. He said columnist Frank Bruni wrote a beautiful piece about…., and before he could finish, I blurted out “The Myth of Quality Time”. I had in fact read it online and distributed to my immediate family; it is a wonderfully written piece about the necessity of time spent with family.
This piece came out at a perfect time for me. We had just spent three weeks on vacation in two locations in Northern Italy and Switzerland. Our vacationing style is to find a suitable apartment, pack a pot, pan and basic supplies and live amongst the locals. This type of travelling usually requires a daily trip to the super or vegetable markets and the evenings are filled with creative and time consuming food preparation. My wife and I were accompanied by my father-in-law, two of my daughters (25 and 16) and another daughter who happened to be working for a few days in Milan, who arranged to join us for 2 days. Our family moves slowly in the morning while on vacation, which led me to say to the daughter who was coming from Milan, “we don’t pack that much activity in during a typical day”, to which she responded, “packing a lot of activities in a day is overrated”. She was speaking specifically of vacations in Italy! When she said that, it struck me that she was right. Vacation mode means by definition “going with the flow”. We had many pleasant drives, hikes, meals on our porch and time together. We laughed, napped, yelled (when we missed a turn-off) but generally just enjoyed the pleasure of hanging out together.
Most of my friends and colleagues raised their eyebrows when I informed them of the length of our vacation plans. I heard the following, “How can you get away for so long?”, “Won’t you be bored?”, “Won’t you drive each other crazy?” In fact we did not drive each other crazy, did not get bored (even on two very long rainy Shabbatot), and I learned the value and pleasure of just being. Our lives are so sped-up these days, that the opportunities to “chill” seem to be few and far between. I recall childhood summers as a laid back time that even adults took advantage of, but we seem to have lost that ability. I don’t know when I will be next be privileged to take such a vacation, but I know that doing so is perhaps the best gift you can give to yourself and your loved ones. These thoughts inspired me to put my Rosh Hashanah greeting in a video format this year.
I hope you enjoy it and that my wishes for you come true.
Shana Tova V’ K’tivah Tova,
What is the connection between Houston and Katmandu , you may ask ? I spent a few days this week visiting my sister , a long time resident of Houston, and in fact I have never been to Nepal.
However , after witnessing first hand and hearing about the loss of lives and property from flooding in Houston last week, my thoughts turned to Nepal.
My community has a very socially active member who feels compelled to visit areas that have recently suffered from natural disasters. He is a generous soul and tries to relieve a little bit of suffering by putting himself out on the front line. Recently he returned from Nepal and reported to our community about not only the devastation but the utter despair of the people. The Nepalese have suffered beyond words, but to make matters worse there is no local infrastructure in place to help relieve the citizens of their pain or to give them hope that things will improve.
Contrast that with Houston ! I arrived less than one week after a terrible flood. Neighborhoods were flooded, houses ruined and possessions of a lifetime were ruined beyond repair. Yet, less than one week after this terrible storm, the public and private sector s were visibly engaged in a massive clean-up, while offering a myriad of assistance programs. One day I would see countless lawns, piled with mattresses, furniture, rotted dry wall, and then next day it all been collected and the lawns appeared to have just been mowed. Road construction crews were busy at work, countless contractors and their crews were repairing and rebuilding homes. In other words, life was riding forward on all cylinders.
I have come to read many articles in the last few years claiming that America is on the decline, that China has already superseded the United States as the most powerful nation in the world. I suggest these journalists come to Houston, Texas. American hard work, management and dedication to a task is alive and well without much fanfare. I very much doubt that if a similar disaster hit a major city in China that a week later you would have to look hard to notice that a flood had recently taken place.
Granted, America does not dominate the world economically or diplomatically as it once did, but I believe it is way too premature to move it off its pedestal.
G-d bless America,
One year ago today, my late father fell and broke his hip. That fall ultimately led to his demise 3 months later at the age of 90 1/2. My father was born in the “Roaring Twenties” and grew up during the Great Depression. His generation in general and his friends in particular were very different than their European parents who were basically trying to just survive. He was of a generation that heavily identified as being Jewish but enjoyed the best of what America had to offer at the time. He and his friends embraced the music of the “swing era”, became aficionados of American sports, learned how to “shoot craps” (play dice), bet on horse races, and basically put no small energy into fun – in between going off to fight a war.
Many people of this era received nicknames from their friends and my father’s moniker was Angel because, despite the rough and tumble friends he associated with, he always spoke gently, never engaged in gossip, was always polite and never got into a fight. He carried those “angelic” qualities with him throughout his entire life. In short, he was a quiet man, who led a simple life and was a great source of enjoyment to his family and friends. He was called Angel until his final days.
This week we will sit down with our families at our seders and we will remember events that took place 3500 years ago; we will drink 4 cups of wine, and generally enjoy ourselves. Life goes on, as they say, but I feel this year I will take a moment at my seder to remember an Angel that fell to the ground a year ago. He will not be at our seder table this year, as many family and friends who have passed away this year will be missed at their family’s seders. This year I plan to mention my Dad and other relatives who are no longer with us, and I encourage others to do the same. None of us would be where we are today without our parents and grandparents, and I think it appropriate to remember them on this special night. Perhaps my father now has real wings and is soaring around having a good time with his friends, I certainly hope so.
When I was a young boy growing up in Chicago, going to the East Side meant you ended up in Lake Michigan. In fact, until I was in my teens, I had never been further east than Hammond, Indiana. I had a great-aunt living there and the 30 minute drive from the South Side of Chicago seemed liked a major expedition.
At 19, I had a major and thrilling breakthrough in my travels to the East when participating in a college student mission to Israel following the Yom Kippur War. Soon after returning from that inspirational trip, a book was published that immediately appealed to me, entitled “Go East. Young Man” by the late Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas. Justice Douglas was one of the most colorful judges to ever sit on the Supreme Court. He grew up in the American West, and the book told of his adventurous life there. When I moved to Israel, my new frontier, in my mid-twenties, I put that book in my lift; for the next 35 years my eastern border became the Jordan River…… until two weeks ago.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of joining my wife (a practitioner of Chinese Medicine and amazing boutique tour operator to China) on her 5th trip to the Middle Kingdom, with myself as her only traveler. The weather was very cold and we carried 7 pieces of hand luggage on 6 flights, including 2 pots for cooking Chinese medicinal herbs and kosher food. It was a challenging and exhilarating trip. For someone like myself, so grounded in Western Culture, the experience caused a major sensory blast to my brain. The language and music, aromas of grilled food and medicinal herbs, and sights – primitive tribal costumes to gilded crimson and gold of traditional China cum modern urban chic, were all sensations that I had never experienced before. When asked “what was the highlight?” I would have to say the discussions I had with our guides, friends and drivers. The changes that normal people in China have experienced in the last 30 years are probably unparalleled in history. If one brought together travelers to China in the 80’s, the 90’s, the 00’s and currently, each one would have completely different experiences and insights.
As I travelled back home heading west, my thoughts returned to Justice Douglas’ book. What does it really mean to “Go East”? It is interesting that in Biblical Hebrew, East is “Kedma” which has the same root as “Kadima”, meaning going forward. Perhaps Justice Douglas also was connecting being young to going forward. In China, one is immediately struck not only by the forward progress, but also by how young and vibrant the population is, despite the one-child policy of the last generation. The marketplaces, business districts, subway stations and airports are packed with well-dressed, purposeful and friendly 20- and 30-somethings on the move, some carrying chrysanthemum-embroidered baby papooses or pedaling bicycles laden with home-grown produce while their age-mates rush forward with mini-skirts and smartphones, rolling shiny fiberglass colored suitcases and briefcases along the pavement. If you want to be shaken up, move outside of your comfort zone and gain some new perspectives, I highly recommend booking a plane ticket to China. Perhaps it will change not only your direction but your outlook, as it has caused me to consider.
The last few years, we have made a lot of forward progress at Philip Stein & Associates. I think this progress has been a result of hiring and investing in a young talented staff. Enthusiasm and team spirit combined with youth makes for a winning combination. I am proud that our firm is moving forward with not only a young staff but a young management team. In the same vein, we try to challenge our employees daily to widen their horizons by sharing perspectives and looking outward. I feel that this spirit lends to innovation which will allow us to improve our service to you in the coming years.
When I was a kid, my late grandmother used to watch a soap opera called “The Days of Our Lives”. The show would open with some dramatic music and a narrator saying ‘Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.’ Recently I had an encounter with sand while experiencing the unique pleasure of travelling to Namibia in southwest Africa. One of Namibia’s most famous attractions is its sand dunes at Sossusvlei, a salt and clay pan surrounded by high red dunes, located in the southern part of the Namib Desert in the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia. In order to fully experience these red sand dunes, one needs to arrive at the park shortly after sunrise. By arriving at that hour one observes unique shadows and colors that reflect off the dunes. The other thing that one experiences is a sudden urge to climb one of these dunes. All through the drive in the early African morning, you see cars pulled over and small figures in the distance making their way to to top of a dune, looking like ants.
When we reached our destination, I could not control this urge, and set off to climb a huge dune with my 15 year old daughter and the 10 year child of our Afrikaner hosts in Namibia. Much to my surprise, the sand on the spine of the dune was soft, making it hard to make headway. Step after step, one made progress, but not much distance had been covered. My breathing got intense as I passed on occasion my fellow climbers, and when we finally reached the top, the view was spectacular. Looking back, I noticed our previous steps were no longer to be found; the desert winds and flowing sands had quickly erased them. The way down looked so scarily steep that it required me to take a leap of faith and descend, my feet sink up to my calves and then I seemingly floated down. The entire experience in the clean desert air was exhilarating.
I think climbing those dunes makes for a nice metaphor as we approach Rosh HaShanah. I think we should view the new year’s challenges as lovely sand dunes calling out to us to climb. We may or may not succeed in all of those goals, but we should always try, and not expect that our efforts leave a lasting impact. In other words, we should always enjoy the ride, whatever the results. I would love to share with you one of my favorite James Taylor songs that follows that theme.
Wishing you all some enjoyable and interesting climbs in the coming year, as well as much health and success.
Two main events marked the end of December: 1) Congress and The Obama Administration were battling over the future of the “Bush Tax Cuts” and 2) I was following the annual reading of the end of Sefer Breishit, the first book of the Bible, where the story of Yosef and his brothers unfolds.
These two stories – one contemporary and the other ancient – share a common theme. Yosef’s strategic economic plan for the kingdom of Egypt was to effectuate the greatest transfer of wealth from the private sector to the public sector in history. President Obama in the same vein was also attempting to shift wealth from the “upper class” (those earning more than $250,000) to the public sector. In the end, while the US did not go over the “fiscal cliff”, all income classes were affected, and almost anyone who would be earning the same amount of income in 2013 that they did in 2012 will see a bit less in his/her wallet in the coming year. While Yosef’s plan assured public security even in the years of famine, let’s see below a list of ten of the more popular US tax changes instituted by President Obama and the Congress, and how they will affect you, the taxpaying public.
1. Tax Rates – If you earn less than $400,000 per year ($450,000 if you file jointly), you will see no changes to your tax brackets.
2. Alternative Minimum Tax Exemption – Less chance you will get bit by this nasty tax, the exemption jumped to nearly $80,000 for marrieds and $50,000 for singles. This is retroactive for 2012.
3. Dividends and Long Term Capital Gains – We were most concerned that the rate on dividend income would jump to marginal tax rates. In the end the 15% tax rate remains except for those who fall intothe high income levels mentioned in #1.
4. “PEP” and “PEASE” – These acronym’s represent a sneaky way of raising your taxes. if you earn more that $250,000 ($300,000 for marrieds) your personal exemptions will be reduced and you will not be able to deduct all of your itemized deductions. Romney had proposed leaving the “Bush Tax Cuts” alone in exchange for a limitation of benefits from deductions. It seems that Obama likes that idea and still got rid of some of the Bush Tax Cuts for high earners.
5. Depreciation – The new law preserves (retroactively) the generous depreciation deductions we have been enjoying the last few years.
6. Estate & Gift Tax Exemption – These exemptions remain untouched, at $5,000,0000 per person ($5,250,000 for 2013). Portability remains, meaning that any part of the exemption that is not used by the first spouse to die, gets added to the surviving spouses exemption. Finally the exemption for gifts and estates continues to be the same amount.
7. Yearly Gift Exemption – This was increased to $14,000 in 2013.
8. FICA and Self-Employment Tax – The 2% reduction in FICA (employee portion) and Self-Employment Tax has been rescinded, so everyone earning at least $113,700 will pay $2,274 more in taxes.
In addition, under Obamacare anyone earning more than $200,000 ($250,000 for marrieds) will pay an additional 0.9% of Medicare.
9. Net Investment Income Tax – If you earn more than $200,000 ($250,000 marrieds) and you have investment income, interest, dividends, rents, capital gains, etc. you will have to pay a 3.8% Medicare Tax, on the smaller of your investment income or the portion that exceeds the income levels previously mentioned. From our understanding, these taxes will not be creditable against your Israeli tax.
10. Child Tax Credit – This controversial provision (for people living in Israel) remains intact at $1000.
So at the end of the day, some changes came through, and many things stayed the same. Nonetheless we have much to think about in the coming year.
Wishing you all a healthy 2013 with many “happy returns”,
Many of you may have missed the passing of Hal David a few weeks ago, at the age of 91. Mr. David wrote some of the most famous songs that we sang and hummed during the 60’s and 70’s. I could not help be struck by the irony that he died in the period between the Republican and Democratic conventions, and that one of his most famous songs was called Promises, Promises. Part of the lyrics goes,
Oh, promises, their kind of promises,
Can just destroy your life,
Oh, promises, those kind of promises,
Take all the joy from life,….
I have been watching political conventions since 1964 and had the privilege to witness the infamous 1968 Democratic up close (before the riots broke out). I can say with complete certainty that in every one of those conventions up until today that the candidates make promises that they know they will not be able to fulfill.We are promised prosperity, security, jobs, education, low inflation, healthcare [fill-in-the-blank], etc. Nonetheless every four years (generally less in Israel), we hope that those promises will be fulfilled and that we will not be disappointed by our elected officials.
Yet when speaking of promises, we also make promises to ourselves, to our families and friends,
Oh, promises, promises, my kind of promises,
Can lead to joy and hope and love,
As we start out the new year, our thoughts turn to promises we pledge to make and hope that G-d will fulfill his promises of health, prosperity and peace to all of us. We make these promises with complete sincerity, but very often the realities of daily living get in the way. We all have good intentions, but sometimes the ability to execute those wishes fall short.
In our practice at Philip Stein and Associates we have seen the IRS make promises to offer amnesty programs to taxpayers that will relieve them of penalties, but the results don’t always agree with the program guidelines. We have seen a myriad of tax audits where auditors promise to accept certain types of evidence, and then change their minds. We have been told by the IRS that “cases are closed” when in fact the collection department “did not get the memo”. Nonetheless, we accept the fact that we are dealing with large bureaucracy and none of the above is particularly surprising.
As the new year is beginning I would like to share with you some promises that we at Philip Stein & Associates are committed to:
1. Being Up to Date – The longer that I am in practice I am amazed about how many new laws, rules and forms we have to deal with every year. We are committed to not only educating ourselves but gaining expertise on issues that we feel will effect you. This includes continuing to expand our professional network of people who can answer questions about areas that we need additional expertise.
2. Being in Touch – We are constantly updating our Facebook page and adding interesting items to our website. We have now recorded 15 Podcasts (see iTunes) which is a way to share with you knowledge of colleagues of ours that can help you in your daily lives.
3. Being Available – This is probably our biggest challenge. We now have almost 25 employees and in 2012 we have had 7 women give birth to date! (more to come G-d willing this year). This phenomena has required our to staff to juggle many clients and we admit at times people have “fallen through the cracks”. In the coming years we plan to add additional administrative staff who will assist our associates in order to improve primarily communication with you.
One of the verses of the song “Promises, Promises” is (I have made some editorial changes to fit our firm, my apologizes to Hal David)
Don’t you worry we’ll see you through
You just have to reach out to us
We’ll be there and we’ll help you
That’s our pledge, our Promise.
I want to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous Year.
According to Charles Murray in his recent book- Coming Apart, the most popular program on television during the week that President Kennedy was killed was The Beverly Hillbillies. Less than 20 years later a program by the name of Hills Street Blues about the real life of policemen became enormously popular. The opening scene of the show always started with the veteran Sargent, Phil delivering his daily briefing; which always ended with him demanding, “… let’s be careful out there”
If I were to give a daily briefing to my clients and staff I would stand up like Sargent Esterhaus and warn you all to be careful out there. In my entire career (this month marks 35 years working as a CPA) I have never seen so many risks for taxpayers that live outside of the U.S. The IRS’s current attitude, combined with increased compliance requirements and draconian penalties makes for an environment that poses enormous challenges to both taxpayers and tax professionals. When I think about how to operate in this environment, my thoughts take me to the amazing technology called GPS. A recent experience my daughter had with this wonderful tool will help me explain.
A few weeks ago I was on a very interesting business trip to the US. I had the privilege of traveling with one of my adult daughters who also works with the firm. We happened to spend Shabbat in Chicago, she spent it in the city with a cousin and I spent it in the suburbs with my best friend from childhood. We agreed to meet Saturday night at a nieces apartment in Evanston which happened to be the mid-point between each of our Shabbat locations. She had taken the rental car and GPS and said she would meet me there. After about 45 minutes from my arrival at my niece’s apartment, I began to wonder what had become of my daughter (she was no more that 20 minutes away). Soon thereafter I received a call from her saying she was in a public park next to a pond with no apartments in sight. This seemed rather strange, so I asked her to look for the closest street signs, after looking around she announced, ” I am at 53rd and Racine!” (this is one of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago). We immediately realized that instead of putting Evanston as the city in the GPS device she put Chicago, this lead her to the right address, but in the wrong city! She immediately, put the correct city into the GPS device and was soon on her way to safety.
My point of telling this story is that I see our firm/staff as being your GPS these days regarding US income tax issues. We have invested enormous efforts in educating ourselves in order to give the right advice that complies with the current law. I know at times you may feel frustrated that the “route” to finishing your tax return is not as direct as it once was. I want you to be assured that our team is personally invested in getting your tax return and FBAR right at the least cost to you. However, as mentioned above, we are navigating through dangerous “neighborhoods” these days, and “getting it right” is our number one priority.
Remember, if you want us to prepare your returns correctly, we need complete and correct data, so that we can submit a correct and timely tax return. We will be your GPS so you can sit back and enjoy the ride.
By the way if you are old enough to remember Hill Street Blues, here is the opening theme.
As we come to the end of the tax/secular year, I wish to reflect on one of the main issues our firm has had to contend with this year. The headline for 2011 was definitely the word disclosure. In February 2009, following the famous case where the IRS successfully sued the iconic Swiss bank-UBS, the IRS announced the first Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI), which ultimately resulted in 15,000 US citizens stepping up and admitting that they had financial accounts outside of the US. In February 2011, the IRS announced OVDI II, and finally in June 2011 added OVDI IIb, which came to a close December 9th 2011, bringing in another 12,000 Americans. In our practice while we began to work with clients during OVDI #1, but most of our work dealt with the 2011 initiative. Before I share with you my conclusions and outlook, I would like to share with you a slightly different perspective regarding disclosure.
During these last few months as my staff and I were dealing with attorneys, clients, banks, and Israeli accountants over OVDI issues, I could not help but notice that the idea of disclosure kept popping up in the weekly Torah reading. While my late grandfather, who I worked for as a child, would caution me whenever I made a delivery to one his customers, (restaurants, Ma & Pa grocery stores, fast food stands) not “to mix business with politics or religion”, I cannot help but share with you my idea that the issue of voluntary/involuntary disclosure has been been part of our history and culture for a millennium.
Here is a list (not complete) of incidents that appear in the book of Genesis:
1. Adam and Eve getting caught eating the apple in the Garden of Eden.
2. Cain getting caught after killing Abel, Noah, after getting drunk, being outraged at his son.
3. Avraham and Sarah (husband and wife) posing as sister and brother in Egypt, Hagar (second wife) running away from Sarah, who was mean to her.
4. Sarah caught laughing blasphemously when told she would have a baby, Lot trying to hide the identity of his house guests (to protect them from mad hordes), Avraham and Sarah posing as brother and sister in Gerar (to protect his life), the almost sacrifice of Isaac when G-d reveals himself to Avraham.
5. Rebecca revealing her family identity.
6. Jacob and Rebecca (spouses) posing as brother and sister in Gerar, Isaac posing as Esau (to steal the birthright).
7. Laban’s deception of subsituting Leah for Rachel, Laban catching Jacob after he flees with his wives, Rachel’s stealing Laban’s idols, then hiding her theft by sitting on them.
8. Simon and Levy’s deception of Schehem.
9. Tamar’s deception of her father in law Yehuda, then revelation of her identity, Joseph and Potiphar’s wife – his identity kept a secret.
10. Pharoah’s revelation of his dreams, the brother’s revelation of their identities.
11. The most famous voluntary disclosure of all time, Joseph revealing his identity to his brothers!
Obviously, the above list show us that people have been keeping secrets since the beginning of mankind. There are many ways for the truth to come out. Sometimes it is voluntary and sometimes the truth is coaxed out. While the Talmud teaches us that the actions of our forefathers can provide guidance for us, there is no perfect formula for disclosing the truth.
Back to 2011 and the issue of disclosing the truth regarding financial assets: we have found that while the IRS’s programs offered a “one-size” fits all, the reality was that many people could simply not fit into any of the OVDI programs. Most commonly, people resisted the IRS’s offer for economic reasons; the cost “of coming clean” (tax) was disproportionate to the the “crime”. Our office has heard many heart-rending stories of innocent people who were simply unaware of the IRS rules. We have also seen people whose parents or grandparents left them an inheritance with a myriad of IRS problems. Fortunately, we have helped many people wishing to comply to remove any criminal claims and try to minimize their tax exposure and penalties.
In 2012, the IRS will begin to require the disclosure of non-US based financial assets on US citizens’ income tax returns (this in addition to the FBAR). Further, in 2013/14, foreign banks, brokerage houses and insurance companies will have to disclose their US customers to the IRS. In short, the window for being someone who voluntarily discloses is quickly closing. The IRS still allows someone to voluntarily disclose and avoid criminal prosecution; we just don’t know what civil penalties a taxpayer who chooses this path will face. In addition, the IRS announced last week that US citizens not owing US income tax can amend their tax returns and send in their FBAR’s without penalties (Quiet Disclosure).
In short, if you are still someone who needs to disclose, please come into the office for a discussion. We will share with you all our experience to help you make the right decision. Also be aware that Israel has just announced its own voluntary disclosure initiative regarding income that should have been declared in Israel (we can help you with this as well).
My feeling is that one needs to be proactive in this current environment, but one must do so with a good legal/accounting team on your side so you can clear the past at a minimal cost. Hopefully, we can not only learn from our forefathers about how and when to reveal the truth, but to use experienced professionals to make to the disclosure as painless as possible.
If you need us, we are there for you.
Two weeks ago, an Irishman (North Ireland) by the name of Darren Clarke won the British Open, one of the four most important professional golf tournaments played annually. What was most interesting about his win was that he was nearly 43 years old and it was his firs professional win! While I was reading about his impressive achievement, the article mentioned that the last “over 40” winner of the British Open had been Roberto De Vicenzo in 1967, at the age of 44.
De Vicenzo is best remembered for his misfortune in the 1968 Masters.
On the par-4 17th hole, Roberto De Vicenzo made a birdie, but playing partner Tommy Aaron inadvertently entered a 4 instead of 3 on the scorecard. He did not check the scorecard for the error before signing it, and according to the Rules of Golf the higher score had to stand and be counted. If not for this mistake, De Vicenzo would have tied for first place with Bob Goalby, and the two would have met in an 18-hole playoff the next day. His quote afterwards became legendary for its poignancy: “What a stupid I am!”
The Pesach Seder is rife with declarations of the freedom of the Jewish people. The following line is said every year at the seder and it carries significant meaning in our daily lives, but even more so in the wake of the death of Osama Bin Laden. In the Hagada it states:
והיא שעמדה לאבותינו ולנו, שלא אחד בלבד עמד עלינו לכלותנו,
אלא שבכל דור ודור עומדים עלינו לכלותינו, והקדוש ברוך הוא מצילנו מידם.
The Jewish people have been the target of persecution throughout history. Many people and causes have tried to kill the Jews and destroy the nation; Amalek in the desert, The Crusaders, Pogroms, The Holocaust and anti-Israel terrorism are just a few of the historical and more recent attempts at our demise. Somehow, though, I am able to openly celebrate Pesach with my family as part of a free nation in our ancient homeland. It is truly miraculous.
Following Pesach, we have the emotional rollercoaster that is the Jewish calendar – Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim and Shavuot.
Before we even reach Yom HaShoah one can find Israeli flags on many cars and buildings throughout the country. The pride our people have in our country and our nation is more than warranted. We have outlived even the harshest dictators and overcome even the strongest tyrants. We have surpassed the expectations of other religions and we are able to stand proud for what we believe in, with a thriving country to show for it.
By historical standards, what was just yesterday, when the Jewish people as a religion and as a nation were at one of their lowest point ever, we find that the tables have turned. We are living in one of the most innovative and successful countries in the world and Judaism and Jewish studies are as prominent and popular as ever.
Yom HaShoah always beings a mix of emotions; on the one hand so many of our ancestors were killed (most of my father’s family was wiped out in the Holocaust) yet on the other hand, here we stand today, in large part thanks to their immense sacrifice, living how we want to live, where we want to live and by our own rules.
When I woke up early yesterday morning to the news about Osama Bin Laden’s death, I was ecstatic. It still feels like yesterday when I was living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and working at Deloitte & Touche’s World Financial Center office a few feet from what has become known as Ground Zero. On the morning of Sept 11, I took my usual 1/9 subway line down to work. I exited the Chamber Street station at around 8:45 happy to be able to get to work early. Not long after I emerged from the subway station, I heard an airplane flying pretty low overhead. Before I had a chance to realize how low the airplane truly was, a massive explosion was heard. The tall buildings in front of me and around me obstructed my view so I was unable to see the massacre and destruction that would soon be unveiled as I got closer. Still unaware of the damage done and the havoc that was to ensue, I continued walking to work. As I did, I saw debris flying every which way in the air. Maneuvering around the buildings to try to see what was happening, I saw that a massive fire engulfed the first tower.
Being young and somewhat naïve, I figured I would continue on my way to work and if the company sent us home later in the day, I would leave then. Not long after the first plane hit, the second plane collided into the second tower. That is when I came to my senses: I knew that I’d better get away. I, along with thousands of other New Yorkers, tried to flee the site as we saw people jumping from the top of the towers in an attempt to save their lives. Just as I began to leave the scene, New York’s heroic rescue forces were rushing to the site. I managed to walk all the way north to my apartment (over 100 blocks), the apartment I had left only a few hours earlier when the world was a calmer, safer and saner place.
Yesterday when Bin Laden was killed, he ceased being a supreme evil threat with the ultimate plan of annihilating freedom and all who believe its principles. He became a statistic of those who have attempted to kill innocent freedom loving people and ultimately failed. While he did manage to kill thousands, his life was destroyed before he was able to carry out his chief goal. Those of us lucky enough to survive can continue with our mission of living our lives while remembering those that perished at the hand of evil, an evil that is gone forever.
Specifically at this time, in light of the death of a tyrant who solely had our demise at heart, it is very fitting to remember the words of the Hagada,
והיא שעמדה לאבותינו ולנו, שלא אחד בלבד עמד עלינו לכלותנו,
אלא שבכל דור ודור עומדים עלינו לכלותינו, והקדוש ברוך הוא מצילנו מידם.
Spanning the time from our forefathers, no one has been able to destroy us, G-d has held our hand through tragedy and destruction and brought us to this day, a day when we can reflect on the strength of the Jewish people and the joy we share while living in our own land.
Please feel free to share your own 9/11 story with us. Where you were at the time, how you heard about it, or your feelings about it today. Just leave a comment, we will be sure to post.
When one thinks of the term “Acts of Loving kindness” [גמילות חסדים], one does not usually think of gruff males. Either our minds turn to images of self-effacing women or pious old men. Nonetheless, when I hear about “Acts of loving kindness, I think of to two men: one I never knew, although saw on many occasions and the other I knew quite well and but is no longer with us. I would like to share my experiences with each of these men and the lessons they taught me about helping your fellow man.
For those of you who remember the old Jerusalem Central Bus Station there was a man that everyone encountered any time they were planning to ride an inter-city bus. As soon as you came into the entrance, he had a paper stand set up on a larger metal box piled with newspapers. He was not particularly friendly and maintained a fairly stern look on his face as you purchased your newspaper or magazine. I used to imagine his serious personality may have been a reflection of the fact that he was missing an arm, which was probably the reason he had the newspaper concession to begin with. Generally, you would pick up a paper, hand him some money and he would show quickness and dexterity in giving you your change. In any case, I never exchanged a word with the man other than to say “Thank You” and I never remember him responding anyway.
As many of you know for many years our office was on Sderot Herzl in Bet HaKerem. It was 20 years ago when even then I had to travel to Tel Aviv, and since we had one car and several small children, I took the bus. I don’t remember whom I was to meet in Tel Aviv, but I do recall it was important and I was running late. I looked at my watch and had no time to spare to catch the inter-city bus. As I entered the bus station and approached the ticket seller I realized I had left my wallet at the office. There was no time to go back to the office – i would be late to Tel Aviv. My first reaction was to look around for someone I knew (common in those days) , so I walked from one end of the bus station to another and unfortunately did not find anyone. So there I was in an obvious state of distress standing in front of the paper stand at the bus station. Suddenly the one- armed owner of the stand spoke to me and asked me what was wrong. I explained to him my dilemma, and without saying a word he reached under his table and opened up a cigar box filled with cash. He said take whatever you need and you will pay me back when you can. He did not ask me my name, ID or anything, he just said catch your bus. I was stunned by his willingness to help unconditionally and I always took the opportunity to thank him whenever I passed his stand. I am not sure whatever happened to him, but I sense he was a part of Jerusalem that is quickly fading away.
The other man that comes to mind particularly at this time of the year is Eliezer “Laizer” Shor, who used to own the Nada Bakery on Emek Refaim. Laizer was a well known character and was known to have a gruff side. What was less known about him was that for many years he dedicated himself to collecting money for poor soldiers around Pesach time. I originally met him as a fellow congregant in a small synagogue in Bet HaKerem. Several weeks before Pesach, Laizer would go door to door to and ask for donations. One year, he climbed up to our third floor apartment and knocked on our door requesting some money; I did not realize that in fact he had something else in mind, he had come to recruit me to help him “make the rounds”. I had raised some money for Israel in college but I had never done anything like this. Over the years we would go around together collecting the money and bringing it to “Mahaneh Schneller” to an Army Rabbi who was in charge of passing out the funds to the needy soldiers. The stories we would hear after Pesach made us feel that our efforts were well worth it. Hundreds of soldiers were able to bring home food baskets that literally allowed their families to have food in their house for the Chag. Over the years I moved away from Bet HaKerem. We decided it was better for me to enlarge my circle of donors to my work colleagues and neighbors and leave Laizer going around to our old list in Bet HaKerem. This plan worked quite well for many years until Laizer succumbed to Alzheimers and soon could no longer remember his nearest and dearest as well as his beloved activity of collecting funds for soldiers from poor families.
Fortunately, Leizer son’s and wife decided that we would continue his activities and now almost 30 years later I am still following in Laizer’s footsteps on the eve of Pesach, and helping soldiers who are serving our country return as heroes to their homes with food vouchers for their families.
I am using this blog to ask you to help me expand my circle of those who help me provide some “Loving Kindness” to soldiers in need before Pesach. It is a fabulous charity – these kids literally often cannot go home because there is no chicken for them to eat, or no oven to cook it in, and occasionally, their officers are able to designate especially needy soldiers and grant them a larger amount of holiday cash for the family. The charity (which is tax deductible) is called Sela. You can mail checks to our office POBox 23376, Jerusalem 91233. I am excited to report that this year you can also contribute through the following PayPal account: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will mail you a receipt. Also, we will be happy to pick up a check if you are located in the Jerusalem/Modiin area, just let us know. The great thing about this charity is EVERYTHING IS DONE ON A VOLUNTEER BASIS, AND WE HAVE NO COSTS. YOUR ENTIRE DONATION GOES TO THE SOLDIERS.
I want to also take this opportunity to wish you all a Chag Kasher v Sameach and to thank you in advance in being a part of this wonderful cause and adding a little loving kindness to the world at this time of the year.
Two months ago China celebrated its New Year, the year of the Rabbit. The Rabbit is the fourth sign of the Chinese zodiac and is said to be a very lucky sign. While the Rabbit symbolizes looking forward to life getting better, the Chinese say you have to be pro-active and implement change to your circumstances.
There are many areas, I have found, in which I need to be pro-active to implement change. At Philip Stein & Associates, I am constantly seeking to invest in education and technology to improve not only how we do our work but to increase our knowledge base so that we can handle more of your questions and problems. I believe that not being pro-active in 2011 leaves a professional at a clear disadvantage and will lead very quickly to obsolescence. In addition, being pro-active usually brings improvement and satisfaction. If that is really what is behind the “Year of the Rabbit” then I wish all of you the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from improvement in whatever area you would like to invest in this year.
One area that one sees immediate improvement is when one invests their energies in running. It is no revelation that if one wishes to improve their ability to run, then one has to get out there (either outside or on a treadmill) and invest the time and energy to improve. In fact, I would say that there is probably no other activity that I know of where one can see as high a correlation between one’s investment in training time and one’s improved performance.
I have had an over 25-year long relationship with running until this very day (I went out for a 3k run this morning). One of my earliest memories (I was probably about 5) was trying to avoid my father on a Chicago summer evening who was trying to get me to come into the house. While I was quite sure I had the agility and speed to avoid my father’s grasp, my behind soon discovered a 5 year old is no match for a determined 35 year old (who at the time I perceived as being a very old man). As I grew and matured I discovered I was actually quite fast and it contributed to a great deal of satisfaction in such sports as football, baseball and ice hockey; things did not work out so well in basketball because not only did I have to move fast, but my hand had to simultaneously dribble the ball (a problem of coordination for me). By the time I was well into my early 30′s I found I was no longer participating in competitive group sports and I began to jog. I can’t say I fell in love with jogging but with the invention of the Walkman, I could listen to music and not think about the stress on my joints and muscles. Soon I started to participate in races, of short length- 3k, 5, and at the most 10k, and found while I was never competitive, I enjoyed being part of an event and always loved eating snacks passed out at the end of the race.
As the running industry has developed, I have been a major consumer of shoes, socks, running shorts, hi-tech running jerseys, watches with embedded GPS, heart monitors, and various devices for listening to music. In other words, somehow running has become my hobby even though I have never been that good at it. The last few years I have run in many Tel Aviv events, but it has been a long time since I ventured to participate in a race in Jerusalem. I decided to “bite the bullet” this Friday and test my legs on the 10k route of the Jerusalem Marathon. Last night after I consumed a few glasses of wine at our Purim Seudah, I decided to go online and check out the route. Much to my shock I discovered there are several times where a runner has to climb over 60 meters in elevation, which is not something you ever encounter while running through Park HaYarkon (see one of my favorite things). So here I find myself not in the best running shape, signed up for probably the hardest 10k race in the world. Nonetheless, I will be out there on Friday with my best friend from childhood, Bernie, one of his sons who is studying in Jerusalem this year, and my daughter Gefen who is currently serving in the IDF. You are also welcome to follow us on twitter to get live updates from the marathon.
Now while the Jerusalem Marathon gives you a nice shirt to wear at the race, I will not be wearing the official running jersey. Rather, Bernie and I will be wearing a shirt promoting one of the best known products in the western world, namely Heinz Ketchup. The reason I have chosen to wear this shirt is because a number appears on the shirt that is connected to my birthday which falls on this Shabbat, the day after the race. If you happen to figure out the clue then I will treat you to a bottle of Heinz Ketchup this year as a reminder of the race. If you happen to be out at the race on Friday and see two middle aged men jogging (or sometimes walking at steep elevation) wave your hand and wish us Happy Birthday (Bernie’s birthday is a week before mine). We promise to wave back and wish you success and good luck on your journey. So while the Chinese may be celebrating the year of the Rabbit, I will be celebrating the year of the Ketchup, a product that always enhances what you are eating and adds to you satisfaction.May we all have a year that adds to our satisfaction that is based on pro-activity and performance.
Happy Birthday to all who were born in the “Year of the Ketchup”.
8.3.2011 @ Israeli Export Institute, Tel Aviv
I may have shared with you in the past that as a young boy and teenager, I used to work for my grandfather of blessed memory, Nathan Hecht. He was in partnership with his brother, my great uncle Sam Echt in a wholesale poultry and egg business. My grandfather once told me that in 1940, the business had gross revenues of a $1,000,000 ($12,500,000 in today’s money) in the pre-large grocery chain age, even though its customers were small “Ma and Pa” grocery stores, butcher shops and restaurants. In other words, it was a substantial business once upon a time. However, by the time I came along to work as a child in the mid 60’s until the business closed in 1975 it was still serving those same small customers that were nearing their own extinction. My duties ranged from sweeping sawdust off the floor, loading small delivery trucks with cases of eggs and chickens, candling and grading eggs (a skill that is no longer needed; I will give you a lesson if anyone is interested), and accompanying the driver on his delivery route to help unload the truck and bring the merchandise in to the customers. As the business shrunk, there were less and less permanent workers hired. We did hire a great deal of daily or weekly workers who were generally from Mexico (most likely illegals or commonly known as “wetbacks”). In fact when I was 14 years old, I was assigned to supervise a work crew of 3 Mexican workers who did not speak a word of English. I always said I learned more Spanish in the two weeks of working with them than in four years of high school Spanish.
Nonetheless, through the entire 10 year period that I worked for my grandfather, there was one steady worker, named Charlie Mack. To this day, I am not entirely sure if his first name was in fact Charlie-Mac, but I assume Mack was his surname because he allegedly had 12 children (maybe more) from numerous women who were called Bobby Mack, Billy Mack, Johnny Mack, etc. Charlie was a large black man with huge hands who could throw a 70 pound wooden case of chicken filled with ice into the truck, as if it were a pillow. He was the driver, in fact the last driver in my grandfather’s business and I was often sent out with him to unload the truck, or to watch the truck while he went into a customer to collect some money or call my grandfather from a payphone about a problem that arose along the way (remember no cell phones in those days). In fact on one typical hot, Chicago summer day, I came to realize that here I was on a delivery route deep in what was called the “ghetto” and I was probably the only Caucasian (white) person for miles around. In other words, if I wandered around these parts of the city without Charlie Mack at my side I would probably not be around today to write this entry in my blog. In fact one time when I was “riding shot-gun” and guarding the truck while he went into one of our customers, a couple of tough looking guys walked up to me and started asking me what I had in the back of the truck. Since there was no air conditioning in the truck, the windows were wide open and a large stick shift prevented me from moving away from the window that these guys were sticking their heads through. Suddenly, I heard Charlie Mack’s booming voice and before I knew it these guys were running at full speed down the street, in fear of their lives.
In any case, I had not thought about Charlie Mack for a long time until the other day when I got off the train at the Haganah train station in Tel Aviv. I had about 20 minutes before an appointment on Rehov Rothschild in one of the fancier buildings in the banking and financial district and decided to enjoy the nice weather and walk through South Tel Aviv to get to my appointment. After about 10 minutes, I realized as I approached what is left of the old Tel Aviv bus station that I was in the midst of a neighborhood filled with refugees from Africa, principally the Sudan. In fact, I paused for a moment and looked in all directons and did not was see one Israeli, or person of white skin. At that moment I thought of myself driving with Charlie Mack through the ghetto, yet this time I experienced no fear (perhaps naively), despite being such a distinct minority at that moment in time. How ironic; in the old days back in Chicago I had no fear because Charlie Mack was by my side and yet today, I was in my own country walking alone and felt like I was walking down Rehov Ben Yehuda in Jerusalem.
The above incident got me thinking how Philip Stein & Associates functions a bit like Charlie Mack for many of you at times. We are the ones that need to watch over you and keep you out of danger even in uncertain economic times. My staff recently discussed with a colleague from the US how the IRS is definitely going to increase its audits of Americans living outside of the US. We need to anticipate those audits and be diligent in protecting your interests by preparing the most complete tax return that we can. We continue to invest a great deal of time and energy in education which will help us defend your returns against any potential audits and avoid problematic high profile areas. While we hope those audits will be few and far between, I just wanted let you to know that we will be there to protect you. I may not have Charlie Mack around anymore to watch over me, but Philip Stein and Associates will be there to watch over YOU. And so I leave you with a classic performances by Frank Sinatra of one of the 20th century’s greatest songs written by George Gershwin.
I hope you enjoy it as I do.
I am writing this edition of my blog as I sit on the Amtrak train from Newark, New Jersey to Baltimore, Maryland. For the last 10 days I have been on a coast to coast journey mixing family, friends and business. I started my journey in Houston visiting my parents who are recent arrivals to Texas. Last Sunday I began the first stop of my Nefesh B’Nefesh speaking engagement in Los Angeles to potential olim. The following night I spoke in San Francisco but decided to spend the day touring the Napa Valley in search of a Kosher Winery. I am pleased to say that not only did I find the Hagefen Winery, but spent a delightful morning sitting with some fellow tourists sampling the wonderful array of wines that this winery produces. From there I made my way back to San Francisco for speech #2.
After my second speech I hopped into my car and drove due west to one of the icons of Americana namely, Yosemite National Park (a 4 hour drive). Early the next morning, led by a guide I hiked/snowshoed up a beautiful path to a place called Inspiration Point. From there I drove to Fresno California where I caught a flight to Chicago (my hometown) to give speech #3. After a few days of catching up with family and friends in Chicago I flew to New Jersey yesterday for speech #4.
During all of the above I was following with great interest the final phases of the Congressional battles over the Bush Tax Cuts that literally went down to the proverbial “wire”. I am happy to report that on December 17th President Obama signed into law the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010.
As a spectator extremely interested in the outcome, and definitely rooting for one side of the argument (I wanted the Bush Tax Cuts extended), I felt like I was watching a long football game. In fact yesterday there was an incredible football game played between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles that is being referred to as the “Miracle of the New Meadowlands”. What made this game so unique was that despite the fact that the Giants were winning by 21 points with 7:18 to play they lost the game!!! This result is what inspired me to quote the famous Yogi Berra as the title of this blog that “It ain’t over until it’s over”. That statement reflects my feelings as I followed the political and legislative process the past year. I feel that comparing this process to a football game is very fitting. I would describe the game to get to the goal line (The tax cuts extended) as follows:
1. First Quarter- March 23rd President Obama hits the zenith of his powers as President and signs into law his health care bill. It appears that with both Houses of Congress in his pocket he can score at will and will not let the Bush Tax Cuts be extended. Momentum and lead with the anti-extenders.
2. Second Quarter- In May, unemployment ticks upward and the Democrats seem to be showing some weakness. We begin to hear the first arguments from economists that the government should not raise taxes if the economy is weakening. The extenders begin to score a few points. The anti-extenders are still clearly in the lead but the there is a glimmer of hope.
3. Third Quarter- Here is where things begin to get interesting. Vice President Biden comes out publicly that the White House may be willing to discuss a compromise. President Obama suggests the Bush Tax Cuts will only be extended for couples earning less than $250,000. Polls begin to show a growing dissatisfaction with the White House and Congress and Democrats are backing away from an all or nothing approach. Extenders gaining ground and momentum. The anti-extenders have moved to defense and they are not used to this role.
4. Fourth Quarter- The decisive blow comes with the November mid-term elections. The Republicans retake the House of Representatives and stun the administration. White House spokesmen and Democratic Senators start suggesting face-saving measures to appease the Republicans. Liberal columnists and commentators fight back and make a concerted effort to call the extension a windfall for billionaires. Finally, Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont makes a final futile attempt to end the Bush Tax Cuts by filibustering for seven hours in the Senate last week. A comeback victory for the extenders, as time expires.
Several months ago a client asked me whether the tax cuts would be extended. I responded I wasn’t entirely sure, but he pressed for a definitive prediction, no hedging allowed. I took a short breath and said, “They will be extended”. Truthfully, I was not 100% certain, but I am glad that my 50 years of following politics and 35 years of following tax legislation allowed me to get this one right.
Just don’t forget these tax laws are only in effect until December 31st, 2012. So give me a call in 2 years and I will tell you what I think. We are attaching a summary of the highlights of the tax bill that we think you will be interested in.
All the best,
Actually I loved the sound of the title and although I returned from Prague on Tuesday night, I still wanted to use it for my blog. Today’s theme concerns Rahm Emannuael, Tweetie Bird, and the Chilean Miners. As we come to the end of October you may have forgotten the month opened with Rahm Emannuel’s resignation from the Obama administration on October 1st; mid-month we had the dramatic rescue of the Chilean Miners, and today we begin to close the month on the 81st anniversary of the great stock market crash on “Black Tuesday” October 29th, 1929. So what’s the connection between, Rahm, Tweetie and Chilean Miners?
One of coal mining’s earliest systems for warning of the presence of methane gas, the canary in the coal mine, though low-tech, was extremely effective and rather easy to read: if the bird died, miners had to get out of the shaft. As coal mines became deeper, so did problems of ventilation. Gas was an eternal problem in the mines, and it was known that without adequate oxygen in the air, the miners would die. The solution: taking canaries into the mine.
As the Obama administration seems about to be overcome by problems (not methane gas), I believe that Rahm Emannuel may in fact be the ultimate canary that gives off early warning signs. Take a look a his career for a moment:
Senior advisor in the Clinton Administration – 1993 until 1998:
These were the “golden years of the Clinton Administration and he decided to go into investment banking just before Monica Lewinsky and impeachment proceedings blackened Clinton’s legacy.
Investment Banker – 1998 until 2002:
Rahm was hired by Wasserstein Perella as an investment banker during the “dot-com” years. Despite the fact that he did not have an MBA or a degree in banking he managed to make $16.2 million dollars in 2 1/2 years!! After the tech bubble burst in 2000 Rahm had enough time to count his profits and head into politics.
United States Congressman – 2003 until 2008:
Rahm saw an opportunity to run for Congress when a Congressman named Rod Blagojevich ran for governor of Illinois, creating a vacancy in a seat that had previously been held by the same Congressman for 50 years. Rahm served a few years learning the legislative side of Federal government and then jumped on to the next “gravy train”: the Obama “Yes We Can” presidential campaign.
White House Chief of Staff – 2009 until October 1st 2010:
I sense that Rahm did not want to be around this November 2nd when the House of Representative and perhaps the Senate (not likely) go over to the Republicans. Rahm claims he had to make his move right now in order to run for Mayor of Chicago, one of the few times in the last 55 years that a Daley was not running for Mayor.
Following the above analysis, I believe Rahm is the canary of political and economic change. His timing and sense of the right trend are impeccable. I am certainly not sure whether he will be the next Mayor of Chicago, but I would not bet against him.
The media circus that surrounded the Chilean miners had not only continuous television coverage, but was even able to coin a phrase “The Chilean Way”. The Chilean Way came to represent the right way to do something. The right way to manage a problem, people, and any surprises that pop up along the way. I felt this phrase was a real tribute to the people who managed this crisis both inside and outside the mine. It was the best example of how human ingenuity and spirit can overcome serious problems.
So how does all of this relate to Philip Stein & Associates Ltd? My hope is that we can be your canary giving you an early warning of changes in the tax laws and allow you to take advantage of opportunities and trends that may arise. In other words to get things right, to do things the “Chilean Way” when it comes to solving your problems. At this time of the year we are reviewing pending changes in the tax laws in order to see how you will be affected, as well as looking at ways to improve the way we serve you. There is some exciting technology out in the market which we hope to invest in to help serve you better. We are looking forward in the coming months to recharge our batteries, train our staff and hear from you about your concerns for the coming year.
I cannot close without wishing a happy 87th birthday to my father Leonard Stein, may he live and be well, now residing in Houston, Texas, and happy 104th birthday to my Aunt Belle, who is still going strong. Keep up the good work.
Last week, I travelled to an appointment in Tel Aviv and returned to my Jerusalem office for the day’s work. On the face of it, this is no big deal in 2010, with Highway #1 and Road 443, buses, cabs and cars allowing us to make the round trip in little more than an hour. What made the trip “down” to Tel Aviv unique was that I was given a ride in of the most famous sports cars in the world. The leather seats, perfect sound system and quiet, smooth ride was something I had never experienced before. However, for the second part of my journey, the ride “up” to Jerusalem, I departed from the Tel Aviv bus station and rode Egged #405 to the Jerusalem Central bus station. I could not help being struck by the contrast; one hour I am riding in a state-of- the-art sports car and drinking expresso at a meeting, and soon thereafter I am wandering half-lost through one of the most poorly designed and maintained bus stations in our country. As I boarded the bus, I had in my possession a cell phone, my Kindle, laptop and Itouch, causing me to wish/imagine that I could beam myself out of this mess and back to the lap-of-luxury travel. I found myself thinking of Roger Miller, a very famous country singer who had a chart-topping 1964 hit called “King of the Road” . I had not heard or thought about Roger Miller and his famous song for a long time but the trip to and from Jerusalem starting me humming the melody.
“King of the Road” is about a man satisfied with his lot in life, even though according to the song he is living from “hand to mouth”. With Rosh Hashanah only a few days away, I think it is a time of the year when we reflect on the past year and think about how our lot is going to be in the coming one. Are we going to go down in a sports car or up in an Egged bus? In business terms, are we going to be distracted by our immediate surroundings and circumstances or are we going to pay attention to the essence of where we are heading. I think this is a major challenge for all us and not one easily mastered. We are so bombarded today by outside stimulii and pressures to respond, and we tend to lose track of where we are heading. I have seen many clients over the years with their businesses or investment portfolios melting away, yet they ignore warning signs that could help them make critical changes to improve their lot. On the other hand, I have seen others with valuable assets or businesses, yet they sometimes miss the opportunity to profit at the right time. Some of my clients have stayed with a job too long while others leave a “good” job for the wrong reasons. Yes, “timing is everything”, but we need to have our eyes always open to know whether we are on the way up or down.
Speaking for all of us at Philip Stein & Associates Ltd., we are comitted to having our eyes open to follow which way tax legislation is headed, where the IRS is going to put its resources in the coming year, what issues are going to be subject to audits and whether the Israel/US tax treaty may to be amended, to name a few. We owe it to you, our clients, to be your eyes and ears when it comes to taxes. Once we get past the Chagim, we will be shifting our energies to see which way taxes are headed in order to insure that you can make the right decisions before the end of the tax year. We need to help you be aware whether taxes are going up or heading down in the coming year, and apprise you of the moves you can make to deal with those changes.
So as Rosh Hashanah approaches, I wish to extend to all of you one of the traditional blessings we say to each other. “May it be His will, that we be as the head and not as the tail”. In other words may we all use the powers in our head to make the right decisions (our brains), based on the right observations (our eyes), from words that we clearly hear (our ears), and we can always communicate to our families, friends and clients what they need to hear from us (our mouths). And finally to paraphrase Roger Miller, may all of us be satisfied with the blessings we receive in the coming year and feel like the “King/Queen of the Road”.
Shana Tova U’ Mtuka,
Many years ago, well before the Internet and CNN, the BBC had a weekly broadcast from the United States, hosted by their veteran correspondent Alistair Cooke. Every Sunday anyone in Israel could tune into the BBC radio signal and listen to Alistair Cooke’s view of America. While I have in fact been back in Israel for a week I would like to share with you some of my experiences and observations that I had in America over a 3-week trip as Alistair Cooke once did.
Any meeting I had or event I attended I was struck by the amazing impact of devices like the Iphone, Blackberry and Android. It seems that everywhere you look these devices (they are more than phones) are being used to make phone calls, send e-mails, browse the Internet, listen to music or just play games. In addition, there were no shortage of IPads and Kindles that were in use on planes, trains and park benches.
One of our stops was a place called Bethel Maine, which lies along Androscoggin River, in Southwestern Maine sitting in the shadow of Mount Washington. One evening while in Maine, we watched a charming movie called “You’ve Got Mail”. The title of the movie was based on the greeting one used to receive when getting e-mail on AOL. The movie came out in 1998 when AOL was at the peak of its popularity and told a story of how Tom Hanks, owner and manager of a fictional Barnes & Noble book chain, was putting out of business Meg Ryan’s neighborhood bookshop. The movie made a very strong point that the “mega-bookstore would determine how we would buy our books and music. How ironic that while I was in the U.S. the real Barnes & Noble is struggling and looking for a buyer or investor just to survive.
In other words, in just a decade, the devices I mentioned above are bringing the publishing, newspaper and music industry to their knees. The majority of people you see on subways these days are no longer reading newspapers but looking at their Iphones or Blackberrys. I sense that just like record stores have disappeared, (there is a Disney Store replacing the legendary Virgin Records in Times Square) so will bookstores and newspaper stands become an endangered species. While this may make you sad, I know I personally listen to more music (Itouch), listen to more Podcasts (Itouch plugged into my car radio) and read more books (courtesy of my Kindle).
As Bob Dylan wrote in his epic song “The Times They Are a-Changin”, we are witnessing this ourselves in the tax world. Congress has recently gone on a tear introducing new rules regarding foreign reporting (FACTA, more details to come in the next newsletter) and the IRS is bombarding us with new reporting requirements, while we have no clue what Congress will do with the Bush tax cuts that are about to expire. I don’t remember a period in the last 20 years where so many aspects of our practice have to deal with so many changes.
I suppose this is the primary challenge of our times. We need to identify the rapid changes we face, make the necessary adjustments to deal with these changes and then absorb those changes into our lifestyle. This is not to say that every change is positive, but particularly in the tax world, it can be very expensive to pretend that one can ignore these changes. We at Philip Stein & Associates Ltd. are committed to tracking these changes and keeping you abreast of how to live with them without disrupting your lives.
While I have written above about a few of the changes we face nowadays, allow me to share with you one my American experiences, which I describe, as timeless. We spent the end of our trip in the “Big Apple” which is always a treat. I was travelling with my wife and several of my children and grandchildren. At the end of a very hot New York City summer day I met my family at the corner of 59th and 5th Avenue. I offered to relieve my oldest daughter of her very active 4-year-old son for a few hours. She readily agreed, and I had the privilege of walking with my grandson through Central Park (see my favorite things) from 59th and 5th to 72nd and Central Park West. As we began our stroll I bought him a popsicle (“kartiv” in Israel), came across a small Luna Park at the site of the Wollman ice skating rink where he went on several rides much to both of our delight. In one of the playgrounds in the park he scratched his hand and we found and old Ma and Pa Pharmacy where the pharmacist offered to clean and bandage his hand with a Spiderman band aid and finally we came across a kosher pizza store near 72nd and Broadway where we bought pizza for the whole family. We finally arrived at our hotel on 76th and Broadway hot, tired and sweaty, but I said to myself, “What more could a person ask for in this world then a few hours like I just spent.”? I did not need an iphone, ipad, or blackberry to enjoy the walk; I wore no headphone and even turned my cell phone off for a few hours. In other words all of these modern devices are not always necessary to “enjoy the moment”.
While many of us may feel we are riding a rollercoaster of daily changes I want to remind you not to forget how to identify and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
As I prepare for my summer vacation I recall one of my classmates turning to me on the last day of school and saying “I am absolutely miserable”. I asked him how could that be, we had waited all year for the last day of school and it had finally arrived. He said, “That’s the problem, there is nothing to look forward to now….!” I was thinking about that remark the other day as we head into the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, it is a day that many people dread, and it marks not only the end of the “Three Weeks”, but actually the beginning of the fun part of summer. So on the one hand we would prefer if the 9th of Av would never come, on the other hand once the day has passed we can begin to enjoy our summer vacation. During the year we have many contrasts where we go from serious/sad to happy/joyous in a short time frame ie; Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haazmaut, Tisha B’av/Tu b’av, Yom Kippur/Sukkot, Taanit Esther/Purim. I thought it would be interesting to share with you an article that my wife Judy (a practitioner of Chinese Medicine) sent to me today; I hope it will help you enjoy the happy times that much more.
Have a wonderful summer and hope to report back to you in 3 weeks.
5 Things That Will Make You Happier
By Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience Senior Writer
SAN DIEGO – The pursuit of happiness is sometimes easier said than done.
Some scientists have argued that happiness is largely determined by genetics, health and other factors mostly outside of our control. But recent research suggests people actually can take charge of their own happiness and boost it through certain practices.
“The billion-dollar question is, is it possible to become happier?” said psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside. “Despite the finding that happiness is partially genetically determined, and despite the finding that life situations have a smaller influence on our happiness than we think they do, we argue that still a large portion of happiness is in our power to change.”
Lyubomirsky spoke here Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She and colleagues last year reviewed 51 studies that tested attempts to increase happiness through different types of positive thinking, and found that these practices can significantly enhance well-being. The results were published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
Here are five things that research has shown can improve happiness:
1. Be grateful – Some study participants were asked to write letters of gratitude to people who had helped them in some way. The study found that these people reported a lasting increase in happiness – over weeks and even months – after implementing the habit. What’s even more surprising: Sending the letter is not necessary. Even when people wrote letters but never delivered them to the addressee, they still reported feeling better afterwards.
2. Be optimistic – Another practice that seems to help is optimistic thinking. Study participants were asked to visualize an ideal future – for example, living with a loving and supportive partner, or finding a job that was fulfilling – and describe the image in a journal entry. After doing this for a few weeks, these people too reported increased feelings of well-being.
3. Count your blessings – People who practice writing down three good things that have happened to them every week show significant boosts in happiness, studies have found. It seems the act of focusing on the positive helps people remember reasons to be glad.
4. Use your strengths – Another study asked people to identify their greatest strengths, and then to try to use these strengths in new ways. For example, someone who says they have a good sense of humor could try telling jokes to lighten up business meetings or cheer up sad friends. This habit, too, seems to heighten happiness.
5. Commit acts of kindness – It turns out helping others also helps ourselves. People who donate time or money to charity, or who altruistically assist people in need, report improvements in their own happiness.
Lyubomirsky has also created a free iPhone application, called Live Happy, to help people boost their well being.
It has been over a month since I have added to my blog due to tax deadlines and writer’s block. Nonetheless, we are past the half-way point for 2010 and summer is definitely upon us. I once had a summer accounting job when I was a student. My boss was a rather large Irish Catholic, a former IRS agent who one day came out of his office after the July 4th holiday and bellowed in front of all of the clerical staff, “We are now closer to next Christmas than last Christmas”. That was the extent of his communication to the staff that summer.
Back in the 1970’s before the break-up of AT&T, the phone number 411 used to be called “Information” as opposed to “Directory Assistance”. The reason that AT&T made that change was because people used to call 411 on Thanksgiving Day and ask “How long do I have to cook my turkey?”, or on Election Day someone would call and say, “Where is my polling station?” People assumed that if AT&T was offering a phone number called “information”, then all of one’s questions could be answered.
We are currently faced with a similar dilemma regarding questions about Form 90-22.1 (FBAR). Despite our best efforts to inform clients of the need to file by June 30th, my staff reports being inundated with questions about filing FBAR’s late. We get questions such as:
- “Can we file late”?
- “Will we be penalized”?
- “What is the penalty”?
The IRS has clearly stated the penalties for non filing of the FBAR:
The maximum annual penalties for failure to file are as follows:
- $10,000 for non-willful noncompliance.
- $100,000 or 50% of the amount of underlying accounts balance at the time of the violation if determined to be willful.
- $250,000 fine and 5 years imprisonment.
- $500,000 fine and 10 years imprisonment if in tandem with any other U.S. law.
Now these penalties are quite nasty and will be imposed according to the IRS if you “fail to file”. On the other hand if you do file and you declare all of the income in your foreign accounts on your U.S. tax return, it would seem you are no longer under the penalties listed above. It would appear if you file (even late) that a different set of penalties apply, that would fall under the Voluntary Disclosure Program, which are as follows:
- Failure to file FBAR and to report foreign income and pay tax:
- File six years of amended or delinquent tax returns and FBARs.
- Pay all taxes and interest due for the six years.
- Pay a 20% accuracy penalty or 25% delinquency penalty.
- Pay a one-time 50% penalty in the year with the highest aggregate account balance. In certain circumstances this penalty will be reduced.
2. Failure to file FBAR only:
- Assumes all income from foreign accounts has been reported and taxes have been paid.
- Taxpayer should file delinquent FBAR’s and attach an explanation for late filing.
- IRS will not impose a penalty (see Penalties for failure to file above) for the failure to file the FBARs.
It would therefore seem to appear that if you have been declaring all of your foreign income, than you only have to contend with #2 above. We would then recommend you write an explanation to the IRS why you have not filed FBAR’s on time.
If you fall into category #1 we suggest you seek legal counsel. In the end the IRS is not “showing its cards” on late filed FBARs, and we and all of our colleagues cannot guarantee how the IRS will ultimately process these late forms.
I certainly can understand your frustration assuming that we, like the old AT&T, should have all of the answers. However, the IRS is not revealing at this time their new rules, and subsequently our answers may sometimes be “we don’t know”. I can assure you we can help you file your FBAR returns and amend your income tax returns. However, we cannot offer any guarantees of how the IRS will react.
As in my other blogs I like to end with something in the news and personal. Many of you may have never heard of Slonim Hassidim, until the recent publicity surrounding an Israeli court decision. However, if history had been a little different I might have been one of those Hassidim protesting or being arrested a few weeks ago.
96 years ago this month, my mother’s family lived in a small town near Bialystok, Poland (it was actually part of Russia at the time) called Horoduk. My late grandfather of blessed memory was 12 years old at the time and his father had run out of educational resources for his young son in their small town. My great grandfather decided therefore to travel to Slonim to enroll my grandfather at the well known Yeshiva there, hoping that he would excel in Torah learning. The arrangements were made (not to my grandfather’s liking) and he was set to start his studies on Rosh Chodesh Elul, which would have been August 23rd 1914. However something else was to happen in the world that August, namely the outbreak of World War I. My grandfather would never make it to Slonim, and our family took a different path that took them far away from that Yeshiva, but that is another story for another blog.
Jack Brickhouse, a famous Chicago sportscaster used to say whenever a team failed to catch up and win a game: “A day late and a dollar short”. In other words, the team should have started their comeback earlier in the game and shouldn’t have waited until the last minute. I hope that my reference to Memorial Day on June 1st does not qualify for being too late. In Israel, Memorial Day or Yom HaZikaron is experienced much differently than Memorial Day is in the U.S., however the very name of day calls upon us to simply remember, principally those who have fallen in combat on behalf of the United States. We of course have everyday of the year to remember people, events or things that happened in our lives; we don’t need a special day in order to remember. Nonetheless, I have found in my practice that while there are certain things we may commit to memory, we should not rely on our memory in order to remember valuable information. I am constantly confronted with clients who fail to remember transactions, dates, events etc’. that are pertinent to their tax returns. I would suggest the following items should be saved on your computer or printed out and saved in a safe and secure place. This list is merely a suggestion and may certainly be expanded:
1. Purchase Price of Major Assets – These may be anything from your home to an investment in real estate or even a piece of artwork you acquired at an auction. I can tell you their are very few people that can even go back 10, 20, 30 or 40 years and remember what they paid for these things.
2. Inherited Assets – If you are an heir, ask for a copy of the will as well as the value of the assets you received on the date of the decedent’s death. If the decedents executor filed an estate tax return, then he can easily provide you with those values. If the executor did not file an estate tax return, then save a copy of the values of any securities on the date of the decedents death, or ask an appraiser to give you a value of a non listed asset.
3. Gifts – If you are the lucky recipient of a non cash gift, then be sure and ask what the donor paid for the item; his cost will determine your tax basis. If you are the donor; give the donee some documentation regarding what you paid for the asset.
4. Dates – Most people can remember birthdays and anniversaries, but it is sometimes very important to remember moving dates, whether in or out of a certain state, as well as the date you moved to Israel. We also urge you to save dates of option grants, bonuses and receipt of gifts from non U.S. citizens or trusts.
5. Stock Splits – Very often stocks that you have held a long time may have split; it is important to note those dates. In addition, if you ever change brokers, please keep track of the basis of the stocks before you transfer them, very often the new broker’s computer system will assume your basis is “zero”.
So go set up those archives and of course remember where you put them.
Before I end this weeks blog I wish to go back to where I started, writing about remembering. Whether one reads the obituary page of a daily newspaper as my father does, or scans the internet for famous and infamous people who have died, we are often affected in some way by the passing of people we never even met. I myself and many of my contemporaries were never the same after the assassination of President Kennedy. In the mid 70’s when I was a graduate student I remember feeling a great loss, hearing about the sudden death of Richard J. Daley, who had been the mayor of Chicago my entire life , and of course the murder of John Lennon in 1980 left me in a great funk. If any of you ever watch This Week on ABC, they end the weeks show with a segment called “In Memoriam” which looks back at famous people that died the previous week as well as active servicemen who died in combat, it is very moving. One of the people who passed away last week was a man named Art Linkletter, I am sure many people under the age of 40 never heard of him. However Art Linkletter was one of the pioneers of TV entertainment who appealed to kids, their parents and grandparents, it is the type of entertainment that would not be broadcasted today, but back then it was very amusing, I invite you to take a look, http://youtu.be/EBMOhM31EyM.
And finally, be sure and remember the birthdays of those dear to you.
Back in the “old days”, if you were an accounting student, the month of May meant one thing only: the first time of the year that one could sit and take the CPA exam. Today there are multiple opportunities to take parts of the exam, but back then you only had two choices, May and November. In fact most students did not pass the entire exam the first time they sat for it, and usually exited the last day saying “I’ll be back in November”. Many years later my oldest daughter aka Zippora Zadok, Office Manager, Philip Stein & Assocates Ltd., had a favorite song that was called “Gone Till November”, I invite you to listen to that wonderful song http://www.pstein.com/blog-and-networking/videos/tax-tips/. I in fact did have to come back in November to retake the auditing section of the exam; I may be the only person who related the song to the CPA exam.
In any case today as we are experiencing the height of spring in the last half of May I invite you to take the time to organize your materials for your tax returns and FBAR filings while you still have time before the mad dash to the June 15th (tax return) and June 30th (FBAR) deadlines. Here is my short “top ten” checklist:
1. Collect your Form 106’s from your employers.
2. Make sure you have all of your 1099’s from banks and brokerages (today these can generally be downloaded on the Internet).
3. Call or stop into your Israeli banks/brokerage and ask for Form 867.
4. Review your Israeli bank statements and highlight the highest balance during 2009.
5. If you are a partner in a partnership or LLC, check with them if you have received all of your K-1’s.
6. If you are self-employed or have an Israeli corporation; ask your Israeli CPA for your end of the year financial statements.
7. Summarize your itemized deductions; charity, mortgage interest, real estate taxes, and other miscellaneous expenses.
8. If you have had a child born in 2009, please tell us about that, and make sure you have a social security number for your newest family member.
9. If you traveled and worked in the U.S. please give us the dates you were in the U.S.
10. Write or call your associate to ask about anything that I did not mention in 1 through 9.
If you take care of these things in the coming days, there is no reason that you need to call our office in “November”.
Now for the story behind the title of this weeks blog. In the final days leading up to the CPA exam, my roommates and friends became extremely protective of me. They made sure I had a room to myself in our apartment, they cooked the food and did not allow anything to distract me from my studies. My best friend from the Akiba Nursery School in Chicago, Bernie Dyme (please visit his company’s website) who was one of my college roommates generously offered me the keys to his car to drive myself to the exam. The exam was not on campus (University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana) and getting there would have required taking a few buses; so his offer was not only thoughtful but a real time saver. Bernie had a snazzy new red Ford Maverick with a stick shift that would allow me to arrive at the CPA exam in style . The morning of the exam my roommates left for their respective classes and Bernie left the keys to the car on the kitchen table. All I had to do was get up on time, make sure I ate and drank something (no food or drink allowed in in the exam in those days) and have a bunch of sharpened pencils. With an hour to go before the exam I set out to the start the car and discovered that there was no gas!!! What was I to do? No cell phones in those days to call a friend, no student would call a cab in those days and there was not a enough time to take the bus! There was only one thing left to do and that was get some gasoline from the gas station, however I did not have a gas can to bring the gas back to the car; what to do? I eyed a Mason Jar on the kitchen counter, that had held my late grandmother’s Pesach gefilte fish. I had just enough time to fill up the jar (about a liter) which would cost me about 10 cents and then pour it into the gas tank and make it to the exam.
Well the Mason Jar did the trick, the Maverick started up perfectly and I ultimately passed most of the exam back in the merry month of May, 1975.
Hope to hear from you all soon.
I have always been fascinated by numbers, particularly years, distances, quantities and of course the entire spectrum of financial references. Nonetheless, I am surprised, amused and sometimes even moved by numbers. During any normal week I may review numbers on tax returns, IRS notices, brokerage statements, etc. However the last week I came across the following numbers that I want to share with you: 208,800, 158,000, 35 and 219. Before I reveal what these numbers mean I want to jump to some other numbers that I saw last week.
Almost every US citizen knows what 1040 stands for the number for the individual tax return; anyone who owns a corporation would know that 1120 is the corporate tax return. However I would estimate that probably 95% of US tax accountants and 99.9% of US citizens have never heard of Forms 926, 5471, 5472, 8865, 8621, 8858, 3520, and 90-22.1. Yet the IRS has come out with new rules that not only assess severe penalties for non-filing of these forms but suspends the statute of limitation of your tax return if most of these forms are not attached. In other words the IRS could show up at your door-step 10 years from now, long after you filed your tax return, to assess these penalties. Fortunately for you, we have great expertise in filling out these forms which, if filed in a timely fashion, will eliminate any penalties and start the statute of limitations running on your returns. In order for us to help you, please let us know if you or any entity that you control owns any of the following:
1. Foreign corporation
2. Foreign partnership
3. Foreign bank or brokerage account
In addition please let us know if you:
1. Invested in a foreign corporation during the year
2. Established a foreign trust
3. Are the beneficiary of a foreign trust.
If anything listed above “rings a bell”, then please share with me or one of my associates which one of these items applies to you . Once we clarify what you have, we can fill out the relevant form. In these times, the IRS being very aggressive regarding US citizens with assets abroad, I can not stress enough the importance of being aware of the forms that I mentioned above.
And now to the numbers I mentioned at the beginning of the blog.
1. $208,800 – That is the cost of a 4-year bachelor’s degree at Dartmouth College, a well known Ivy League school. I recently heard an interview with the current president, Jim Yong Kim. I was truly charmed by the way he extolled the benefits of a great liberal arts education as well as living and learning away from the big city in Hanover, New Hampshire. He said that Dartmouth graduates earn more money in any field they eventually choose to pursue, including jobs on Wall Street! I found this particularlly interesting since the trend nowadays is to pick a very technical field and downplay a liberal arts education. I think if someone has the money, it sounds like a great investment.
2. 158,000 programmers – That is the number of people and/or companies that are writing “apps” for the iPhone, iTouch, and iPad from Apple. If you don’t have one of the devices, you don’t know what you are missing. I personally have 56 “apps” on my Itouch. My “apps” are to name a few, a siddur (prayer book), a radio (can list to any Internet radio station), watch any baseball game, read the NY Times, convert measurements, check my altitude, play scrabble, etc. What is so fascinating is that Apple opened their device to anybody with an idea. Some “apps” are free, some are 99 cents, and some a few bucks. In any case anybody with a clever idea can sell his “app” at the Itunes Store to over 30 million iPhone/iTouch/iPad owners!!! Pretty cool! I guess this may be the easiest time in history to become a millionaire.
3. 35 years – This week was the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. For those of us old enough who remember the sight of those helicopters carrying people off the roof of the US Embassy, it was a sad last chapter of a conflict where so many lives were lost. While I haven’t thought much about the Vietnam War lately, this anniversary did introduce me to a story about a woman named Betty Tisdale who served in Vietnam and is the key to my last number.
4. 219 orphans – Betty Tisdale saved that number of children from Saigon by her own determination in those final days of the Vietnam War. The Talmud (Masechet Sanhedrin) says “Saving one life is as if you saved the entire world”. I had trouble understanding that statement when I was young; too bad I did not see the following video clip from ABC News with Diane Sawyer that appeared last week. I invite you to watch this, it is quite moving, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODQSRV-zPq8.
Finally, I wish to remind you that it is Mother’s Day this Sunday. Thought I would share with you one of my favorite songs about mothers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcNL7W0vsF4. Betty Tisdale was a mother to 219 children, in addition to those she adopted herself.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom….
I have read many articles recently and heard from a lot of clients regarding President Obama and taxes. I want to share with you some thoughts about this.
Let me start by telling you about one of my favorite places in the world – Ellis Island in NYC. If you have never had a chance to visit, I highly recommend it, even if you did not have an ancestor who passed through there. I have been there several times including last summer with my wife and several children. In fact, this time I was able to spend some time at one of the computer terminals and actually found the ship manifest of the voyage of my grandfather and great grandparents! In any case what is the connection between Ellis Island and taxes?
I am imagining a new immigrant to America in 2010, be it from India or China or even Israel. Let’s say the immigrant is single, hardworking and self-employed and he starts his life in New York City. He works 15 hour days and succeeds in earning a $100,000 profit. How much tax do you think he will pay in the land of opportunity? A whopping $42,595 or an effective tax of 42.5%!! Out of what’s left let’s assume he spends another $3,000 on sales taxes; that gets him pretty close to paying almost 50% of his earnings in taxes. This does not seem to be a positive trend.
And let’s assume he really succeeds and manages to hit the top tax brackets in 2013, he will have the privilege of paying over 57% of his income in taxes, and that’s before sales tax. Are these the level of taxes that are going to continue to attract talent to the U.S.? Taxes are a definite determinant as to where capital and entrepreneurs end up, and it looks to me that the U.S. may be as my mother used to say “asleep at the switch”.
And yet it seems Uncle Sam has no other alternative but to get Americans used to paying higher taxes. The experts say there is no other alternative to close the deficit and pay for all of the entitlement programs ie; Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
It’s funny that last year everyone said Congress would never let the Estate Tax expire and yet our dysfunctional Congress did just that, and who knows if they will be able to reinstate the 2009 estate tax exemption next year? I am concerned this precedent may lead to dividends being taxed at one’s top marginal rate next year. The proposal to tax dividends at 20% is only a proposal and Congress and the President need to get their act together to keep dividend income at 20%; let’s hope they see the light.
On a lighter note, I have come across a great Internet radio station called Boomer Radio (boomerradio.com); even if you are not a “Baby Boomer” you should find a genre of music you like; Itunes even has an “App” for the Iphone.
Also I was quite upset to see the Ministry of Communication’s reaction to the importation of Ipads. It reminded me of the “old days” when they would not let you bring a fax machine in from the states unless it was on an approved list, and I remember certain cordless phones were also blacklisted. I recall that smuggling these items through the “green line” became a national pastime. Thank goodness that the Israeli government modified their original order and is now allowing individuals to bring them in. I would love to hear from any of you who are already a Kindle user on whether you are considering switching to an Ipad. I have seen one client stopping printing any documents and does all of his pleasure and business reading on his Kindle; certainly good for the environment.
Wishing you and the State of Israel a Happy 62nd birthday.
Launching my blog is something I have wanted to do for some time and I am excited that it coincides with the launch of our new website. I hope my blog gives you my insights as to what is going on in the world of taxes as well as other updates about me and my firm.
One of the hottest topics at the moment is the IRS’s frontal attack on those taxpayers who have claimed the child tax credit. These credits have been around almost a decade now. Apparently the IRS suspected that fraud was taking place with regard to the declaration of false amount of income. Last summer it was rumored that the IRS sent a task force to Israel in order to compare income that was reported on U.S. tax returns with income tax records that were reflected in Israel. Based on the results of those investigations, the IRS has taken a very tough approach on returns that have been selected for audit. In order to get a taxpayer’s attention, the IRS sends out a notice denying all exemptions, child credits and foreign tax credits. These changes cause a significant increase in tax, and then penalties and interest are tacked on. Our sources tell us that there are over 5,000 cases under investigation. Stay tuned.
We continue monitoring closely all changes in the FBAR issue and urge everyone to report on time this year, and that means June 30th. The IRS’s voluntary disclosure program has proved to be a big success in bringing a lot of offshore money back into the tax system. The IRS still allows people to make a voluntary disclosure, but they have not disclosed if they will abate anything other than criminal charges. I have been told by several attorneys working in this area that Israeli banks are definitely on the IRS’s agenda in the coming year.
Finally, I want to share with you that I spent 9 wonderful days in Panama a couple of months ago visiting a friend. Panama has a fascinating history and I highly recommend the book “Pathway to the Seas” about the building of the Panama Canal. Panama does not get the publicity that Costa Rica gets, but it is a next door neighbor and has a very strong Jewish Community (10 kosher restaurants and 2 kosher supermarkets in Panama City!!).
Looking forward to hearing from you.