I overdo it by flagging receipts that indicate charitable donations or medical bills throughout the year to help with tax prep and in the event I get a dreaded I.R.S. notification that I'm being audited. It has happened to several friends of modest ...
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  1. Service of Slipping Through Cracks the Size of the Grand Canyon: I.R.S. Asleep at the Switch
  2. Service of Waiting
  3. How to Evaluate Fine Handmade Objects
  4. Service of Burying the Lead in a Story About Art Recovery
  5. Service of Lunch Breaks Here and in France
  6. More Recent Articles

Service of Slipping Through Cracks the Size of the Grand Canyon: I.R.S. Asleep at the Switch


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I overdo it by flagging receipts that indicate charitable donations or medical bills throughout the year to help with tax prep and in the event I get a dreaded I.R.S. notification that I’m being audited. It has happened to several friends of modest means and standard sources of income. The I.R.S., which claims it doesn’t have the staff to catch scofflaws, seems to waste time on microscopic fries while letting master cheaters they have been alerted to fly free.

David A. Fahrenthold, Troy Closson and Julie Tate reported on a flagrant example in their article “76 Fake Charities Shared a Mailbox. The I.R.S. Approved Them All.

The American Cancer Society alerted the IRS to one fake–American Cancer Society of Michigan headquartered in a Staten Island PO Box–run by Ian Hosang, previously convicted for stock market fraud and barred from the industry in 1997. Hosang next launched another scam–the United Way of Ohio at the same “headquarters.” The reporters wrote that the “long-running charity fraud that has astounded nonprofit regulators and watchdogs — [and] raised concerns about the I.R.S.’s ability to serve as gatekeeper for the American charity system.” Hosang had also warmed his heels in jail for two years for fraud and money laundering.

According to the reporters, the I.R.S. approved all but one in 2,400 applications from potential charities. “The agency declined to answer questions about Mr. Hosang’s case, citing taxpayer privacy laws. It also declined to make officials available for in-person interviews, but it released a written statement saying that the fast-track approval system ‘continues to reduce taxpayer burden and increase cost effectiveness of I.R.S. operations.'”


Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Hosang, who said he was filled with remorse, asked the reporters “’If you file something with an agency and they approve it, do you think it’s illegal?”

In addition to the faux American Cancer Society of Michigan, he created them for Detroit, Green Bay, Cleveland and for Children to name a few–17 in this disease group alone. The real American Cancer Society launched local and national initiatives with a lawyer to alert the I.R.S. “American Cancer Society officials said they never heard back from the I.R.S.”

“The first problem,” wrote the reporters, “according to former I.R.S. officials: Tax law does not prohibit nonprofits from impersonating better-known nonprofits by using sound-alike names. The second: There are no systematic checks for a history of fraud.” They quote a former employee who admitted you could apply for tax-free status from jail.

They reported: “One 2019 study by the agency’s taxpayer advocate found that 46 percent of the applicants it approved were not actually qualified, usually because their charters did not conform to charity law. It also noted that the ‘mission statements’ were often so vague as to be useless. In 2021, federal records show, the I.R.S. approved groups whose mission statements were, in their entirety, ‘CHARITABLE ACTIVITY,’ ‘NON-PROFIT’ and ‘Need to fill in’ (possibly a forgotten note to self).”

There’s more but you get the gist.

Shouldn’t a simple search of prison records be part of a fast-track I.R.S. charity approval system? Given the lax approach to this aspect of the I.R.S.’s responsibility, do you think Joe and Jane Citizen are also pretty safe from scrutiny?

   

Service of Waiting

New Yorkers are used to waiting in lines

My dad had no patience and wouldn’t tolerate lines. If he had a restaurant reservation he demanded to be seated immediately. Cooling his heels at the bar was out of the question. He’d be so unhappy in today’s world not only on arrival at some watering holes but killing time on hold to speak with a human to sort out glitches with his phone, credit card or electric bill or to argue over coverage with a health or drug prescription insurance provider—even hanging around for an hour + for medical appointments.

Waiting for bagels for lunch in Manhattan

A couple from Indianapolis in their 20s, on line in front of me at Katz’s Deli last Sunday took it for granted that they’d wait at the airport on their trip home and were buying reinforcements. Their travel to NYC was delayed a few hours at the airport and three more on the plane before takeoff.

A flight attendant who’d written a post that is circulating on Facebook gave advice to today’s traveler. Drive if it would take seven or fewer hours to reach your destination she counseled. Book the earliest flight and never get the cheapest seat she warned. You have the best chance of taking off in the former instance and if nobody volunteers to deplane in the event of an overbooked flight, passengers with the cheapest tickets will be the ones excised.

In her Wall Street Journal article Dawn Gilbertson shared similar suggestions: “Download your airline’s mobile app, bookmark the website, follow them on Twitter or Facebook and put those telephone customer service numbers in your cellphone.” She reported :”American spokeswoman Rachel Warner said the airline gives priority to customers based on a variety of factors including proximity to day of travel, frequent flier membership and type of support needed.”


Image by Bilal EL-Daou from Pixabay 

In addition: “Mr. Hauenstein’s best piece of summer travel advice for travelers trying to reach an airline? “’Seek a digital answer first.’” Glen Hauenstein is president of Delta.

Gilbertson quoted the dreaded voice message for airline passengers: “Due to an earlier technical issue we’re receiving more calls than we typically do and are unable to take your call at this time.” Wait times for call backs at a major US airline ranged from an hour 14 minutes to an hour 42 minutes on a “relatively calm day.”

She wrote about a business traveler who couldn’t get the app at this airline to respond and the phone wait time was 8 hours. He needed to change his return flight when his meeting was cut short two days. Online chat wait was 1.5 hours. Next he couldn’t chose his seats and waited on the phone almost four hours on a Sunday morning and ended up driving 45 minutes to the airport to do literal face-time with someone at a ticket counter.

A California travel agent waited over three hours on a “key accounts” line to speak with someone at a prominent foreign airline wrote Gilbertson. The agent “blames the spike in travel volume combined with a flurry of flight issues stemming from staffing shortages, a scarcity of seats to rebook travelers on and other challenges across the industry. The number of people passing through TSA checkpoints on Sunday [June 26] was the highest since early 2020. Those numbers are only expected to increase as the July 4th holiday weekend kicks off this week.”

If you need to wait more than a few minutes for service or a seat, do you have effective ways of distracting and/or calming yourself?  Any tips to share with airline travelers to smooth their journeys?


Image by Lars Nissen from Pixabay
   

How to Evaluate Fine Handmade Objects


By decorative fabric needle felting artist Juliana Boyd, South Hamilton, Mass.

Great Barrington-based potter Dan Bellow

Most people sell their time in addition to their service and/or skill. That goes for a chauffeur, bus driver, plumber, PR person, dentist, lawyer, babysitter, computer techie, physician, financial advisor, artisan or artist for starters.

So how do fine craft artists calculate the prices of objects they have designed and created?

I asked my client, Richard Rothbard, who with his wife Joanna Rothbard, has promoted the work of artists and artisans for over three decades in his galleries and at shows and festivals. He owns An American Craftsman Galleries in Lenox, Mass. and is days away from swinging open the gate on the 21st annual Berkshires Arts Festival, July 1, 2 and 3, in Great Barrington at scenic Ski Butternut.


Iva Kalikow, Fine Art in Glass, Beckett, MA

Artists shoulder the same skyrocketing costs as any business, he reminded. To exhibit their work there’s gas for hours-long trips via van and propane or oil to run a  kiln or furnace 24/7 for potters or glass blowers. Just as the price of commercial construction supplies have increased, so have fine woods–some quadrupling–for the vessels, sculptures and implements artisans fashion.


Designer Dahlia Popovits, Boston,
Mass.

The time to create one fine work precludes making a normal living said Rothbard. “It can take six hours for a glass artist to fabricate a piece for which he charges $400. If there were no expenses–such as the purchase and maintenance of a furnace, shears, paddles, tweezers, blowpipe and raw material, not to mention marketing and insurance costs–the artisan would make less than $60/hour. And consider the years it took to perfect the skill.”

Some of the exhibitors at the Berkshires Arts Festival who use furnaces or kilns are Michael Radigan, Pittsford, N.Y., creator of fused glass plates, bowls, pendants and sculptures and stained glass artist Iva Kalikow, Fine Art in Glass, Beckett, Mass.; potters Lynne Puhalla, North Attleboro, Mass.; Dan Bellows, master potter, Great Barrington and Jenna Cranna Cahalan, New Milford, Conn. as well as ceramicist Gail Markiewicz, Woodbridge, Conn.

Rothbard observed that if artisans paid themselves what their customers make an hour, few could afford their work. According to comparably.com, the average salary of a crafter in the U.S. in 2018 was $33,572, the median $30,720 with ranges from $18,680  to $59,750. In the “Quality of Life” section of the website: “With a take-home pay of roughly $2,478/month, and the median 2BR apartment rental price of $2,506/mo, a Crafter would pay 101.14% of their monthly take-home salary towards rent.”

Do you own and enjoy jewelry, ceramics, wood pieces, fashions, photographs, art glass, prints or paintings you bought in a craft boutique or art festival?


Sculpture by fine wood turning artist Paul Petrie, Gloversville, N.Y.
   

Service of Burying the Lead in a Story About Art Recovery

Congrats to the New Paltz, N.Y. curator and librarian who located two Ammi Phillips [1788-1865] oil paintings of Dirck D. Wynkoop and his wife, Annatje Eltinge stolen from the local historical society– Historic Huguenot Street–50 years ago. New York Times reporter Vimal Patel wrote a good piece covering how they unearthed the primitive portraits of descendants of first Dutch settlers in the area so the FBI could close the recapture. The buyer didn’t know that the pictures were stolen and they are back at the historical society.

The amateur detectives found the pictures in a Sotheby’s catalog. They had been sold in 2005 for $13,000. Phillips portraits have sold as much as in the early seven figures.

Phillips worked for 50 years and of 2,000 pictures he was thought to have painted, some 400 have been attributed to him. Many 19th century American itinerant primitive portrait artists didn’t sign their work or for other reasons remain anonymous.

But what got me in this story was the auction house’s passive role 17 years ago. I think if not a headline, it should warrant a subhead.

Sotheby’s didn’t appear to perform due diligence when it accepted the portraits. Patel reported: “The couple’s names were on the backs of the paintings. Ms. Johnson said that should have been enough information for the auction house to know the paintings were stolen.” Carol Johnson, one of the successful sleuths, is a librarian at Elting Memorial Library in town.

Patel wrote: “A lack of transparency among auction houses and a desire to protect the privacy of art buyers and sellers create a culture in which art theft can flourish, said Erin Thompson, an associate professor of art crime at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Dr. Thompson says auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s argue that art is often sold under sensitive circumstances — the ‘three D’s’ of death, divorce and debt. According to Dr. Thompson, these are the circumstances that the auction houses contend beg for privacy.”

Thompson added that this approach sets the stage for laundering stolen work.

Have you heard of other citizens being instrumental in finding long lost art or objects? Do you think that auction houses should be proactive in vetting the work they sell so as to identify stolen works?

   

Service of Lunch Breaks Here and in France

Front of a long line of people waiting for takeout at lunchtime on Third Avenue in the 40’s last week.

In the last office in which I rented space, before the pandemic raged, a bevy of IT workers in there also never left their chairs except for brief trips to the WC or unless they were called out on a job. I admit to too many similar days even though I never had a nine to five job. But if I lunched out daily for 60 to 90 minutes I think I’d tack on work at the beginning and end and would have to budget for the added expense as well.

The pandemic has changed white collar workplace culture in NYC in countless ways, slowing the frenetic pace for some, I suspect, especially for employees who continue to work remotely some of the time. On the days they’re in an office many bring their lunches from home while others order takeout and eat quickly, if they work at companies that don’t have cafeterias.

But not in France where there is a labor code, launched in 1894, forbidding workers to eat at their desks. “La pause déjeuner” can last up to an hour and a half according to Gregory Warner in his NPR podcast, “Rough Translation.”  

The lunch break started in France, said Martin Bruegel on the podcast, some 130 years ago during the Industrial Revolution when, to avert disease, workplace airborne poison was thought to be cleaned out by opening factory windows. It survived a few almost reversals, said the historian.  Women workers went on strike in the beginning because they felt harassed on the streets and wanted the protection of eating in the factory, but they lost. It was suspended during the recent pandemic, but it’s back.

Bruegel concluded that after research he is convinced that the break has all sorts of benefits–well-being and happiness for starters. He reported less burnout and depression and increased productivity despite the 35 hour workweek. As employees get to know their colleagues their work becomes more collaborative. Although addressing work-related subjects at lunch is discouraged, coworkers learn more about each other such as the background to why one insists on an approach to a challenge or why another is super stressed which is impacting attitude and output.

A labor law here, like this one, would thrill restaurants and takeout businesses but, I imagine, not employers. Do you think it would work or would we, in certain industries, perceive a long daily lunch break away from our desks as slothful? Do or did you eat lunch at your desk?

   

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