Sunday, November 23, 2008

Charlie Rangell Is A Criminal.... Update Dec. 4th, 2008

Charlie Rangell is a criminal in all but a verdict 
by a jury....Time to throw the bum out!

He's defrauded the taxpayer's, his fellow citizens, and his landlord by his fraudulent use of more than one rent-controlled apartment in NY City, as detailed by this New York Post article: 

In 1988, he began renting three rent-stabilized apartments in the Lenox Terrace building on 135th Street in Harlem, which he combined into one 2,500-square-foot home. Later, Rangel rented a fourth unit - a studio apartment that he used as an office.

He was forced to relinquish the office last month as the House of Representatives' Committee on Standards and Official Conduct voted to conduct a probe of his personal finances.

The investigation, which Rangel requested, was announced shortly after The Post revealed that he had failed to report income on the rental of a beachfront villa he owns in the Dominican Republic. He later admitted that he failed to report $75,000 in income from the villa over a 20-year period and owed $9,500 in taxes.

At first, Rangel blamed the accounting mishaps on sloppy bookkeeping and his wife, who he said was in charge of the family's finances. He also said he did not receive regular financial reports from the Punta Cana Resort and did not understand the paperwork because it was in Spanish.

Amid calls for him to give up his position as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rangel promised in September to hire a forensic accountant to scour his tax returns and financial disclosures and to present the results to the Ethics Committee. After The Post reported on Nov. 2 that he had not yet hired a CPA, a spokesman for Rangel announced that he finally did so on Nov. 9. 

We now find out that Rangell has been cheating in several other ways on his taxes:

Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel took a "homestead" tax break on a Washington, DC, house for years while simultaneously occupying multiple rent-stabilized apartments in New York City, possibly violating laws and regulations in both cases.

The situation raises a number of potential problems for the congressman, including:

* New York City law requires that tenants use rent-stabilized apartments as their primary residence.

* DC's real Property Homestead Deduction Act also requires that a property receiving the benefit be a primary residence.

* Tax lawyers told The Post that a property owner cannot have two primary residences - or take advantages provided to primary residences at two different addresses simultaneously.

* DC's law also requires that the owner of a property benefiting from the tax break be a personal-income taxpayer in DC. District law exempts members of Congress from paying personal DC income tax, but they must pay property tax.

The DC rules state that "by maintaining a residence in his home state and actively voting there, [a member of Congress] is demonstrating that he continues to be a part of the body politic of his home state . . . The Member is a domiciliary of his home state. Because he is not domiciled in the District, the Member cannot claim the District's homestead deduction." 
Update:Dec. 1st, 2008
Step Aside, Rep. Rangel
The chairman of Ways and Means becomes an unnecessary distraction.
Saturday, November 29, 2008; A14

WHEN WE last wrote about Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, we urged that the House ethics committee be allowed to investigate before anyone drew final conclusions. But the latest revelation of Mr. Rangel's ethical tin ear is the most galling yet. While he remains innocent until proven otherwise, he should step aside as chairman while the ethics committee expands its inquiry.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Mr. Rangel helped preserve a valuable tax loophole for an oil and gas drilling company while the company's chief executive, Eugene M. Isenberg, was pledging $1 million to the Charles B. Rangel School of Public Service at City College of New York. Mr. Rangel insists that the mutual favors were entirely coincidental. And quite a coincidence it seems to have been. On Feb. 12, 2007, the Times reported, the day the tax legislation was being considered in his committee, Mr. Rangel met in New York City with Mr. Isenberg to discuss the businessman's support of the Rangel School. Then Mr. Isenberg escorted Mr. Rangel across the room to his lobbyist, Kenneth J. Kies, who wanted to make sure Mr. Rangel would not close the loophole.
The revelation is the latest in a litany that has come to light since the summer. It was disclosed that Mr. Rangel was paying below-market rents on four Harlem apartments. One, which he has since given up, was illegally used as a campaign office. He owed taxes on at least $75,000 in rental income on a vacation home in the Dominican Republic. (He has since paid $10,800 to the IRS and New York State for three tax years and has hired a forensic accountant to determine how much he owes for the remaining 17 years.) Mr. Rangel underreported the value of a condominium he and his wife owned in Florida. He neglected to fully account on House travel disclosure forms for some privately sponsored trips. And he used his official stationary to ask for meetings to discuss his eponymous school of public service with titans of business and philanthropy.
At a time when President-elect Barack Obama is holding frequent news conferences to reassure the markets and the American people that he is ready to lead the nation to economic recovery, the last thing he will need is a chairman of Ways and Means caught up in a swirl of serious allegations.

Update December 4th, 2008:
From the folks at the New York Observer:
Why Charlie Rangel Is Still Smiling 
 The 78-year-old Harlem Democrat, a fixture on Capitol Hill since 1971, has been the subject of a stream of revelations about potential financial and ethical improprieties, the sort of never-ending scandal that would pose a serious threat to his electability if he represented a marginally competitive district. But New York's 15th District is tailor-made for an entrenched Democratic incumbent to stay in office as long as he wants, so Rangel need not fear the wrath of the voters.
The only real threat to a congressional lifer like Rangel is internal, from within the ranks of his fellow Democrats in the U.S. House. If they want to strip him of his powerful Ways and Means gavel, they can. And, technically, that is what they are now mulling, with the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct - otherwise known as the Ethics Committee - set to report back on his supposed misdeeds just before the new Congress convenes in early January. But don't hold your breath waiting for any drama.
Even if Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a majority of the Democratic caucus were inclined to remove Rangel from his post - and, as of now, it doesn't seem that they are - numerous obstacles, including the obstinate chairman and his allies and some recent history within the Democratic caucus, would make it a trying experience for them.
Start with the ethics committee itself. It's no accident that Rangel is the one who actually requested that the panel review his case, or that he declared this week, "Am I confident? You're damn right. I'm the one who asked for it."
The House ethics committee has a richly-earned reputation for giving its colleagues the benefit of the doubt. Rangel has found the perfect body to hear out his various denials and explanations. Very likely, the panel will either clear Rangel or, at worst, declare him guilty of a slight, venial infraction or two. It will be a surprise if the report includes any real ammunition for those hoping to push him out.Given the historic opportunity that waits Democrats on January, when a president willing to sign their legislation will take office, it probably won't make sense for Pelosi to embark on a protracted and highly public chairmanship fight that would pit members of her own caucus against one another. It's also worth noting that she decided last year to maintain the three-term committee chairmanship limit imposed by Republicans in 1995. That means she'll be rid of Rangel by 2012, if he hangs on now.
The most likely outcome of this fiasco, then, is that Republicans will spend the early weeks of the new Congress shouting to the heavens about Rangel's ethics, offering resolutions to strip him of his chairmanship, and challenging Democrats to join them. As theater, it won't be bad. But Democrats will probably decide that they'd rather take the heat from the G.O.P. than go to war with themselves.

Education's Rhee Of Hope

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity"....Albert Einstein

With all the apocalyptic visions that the politicians have been spinning about our country and our society, and all the calamitous events roiling our faith in our economic markets, there has really been only one issue that I haven't been optimistic about - our public school system.  I believe that the major issues that are currently causing us anxiety and fear will be resolved in the near term, but the issue of our failing schools is one that doesn't really involve money....if it did, it would have been solved already, but requires a fundamental and radical change in structure and approach.  

The fundamental change required, however, has become so politicized by the teacher's unions and Democrats, that my perspective on when, or if, it could happen has been primarily one of "not in my life-time".

But, there are two elements that mightpotentially change that.  One is the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency, and the other is Michelle Rhee, the Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. school system and a Democrat, who has recently been quoted as saying "Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions, but it has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults."  

Her stance on this issue is a seismic event, and it's happening in the epicenter of the problem - Washington, D.C., the lowest-performing school district in the nation. Only 12% of D.C. eighth graders are proficient readers, 8% in math. A mere 60% of high schoolers finish in four years with a diploma. And, once again, the problem can't be money; Washington's per-pupil spending is the third-highest in the nation, $13,000 per pupil.

Ms. Rhee has:

  • offered a new teacher contract proposal with two options. Teachers could choose a plan under which their pay would rise spectacularly -- nearly doubling by 2010 -- in exchange for giving up tenure. Or they could opt for a smaller pay bump and still lose some seniority rights.
  • announcing the district would seek to dismiss tenured teachers who are ineffective. 
  • hinted she'll go around the union by creating more nonunionized charter schools
  • getting the federal government to deem her district in a "state of emergency."
  • closed 23 failing schools and restructured 27 more. 
  • fired nearly one-third of the district's principals and reduced a bloated bureaucracy.
  • dismissed as "complete crap" the argument that students can't learn because of disadvantaged backgrounds.
Why is tenure a causal element in school failure? Unqualified teachers  are at the basis of non-learning children (parents are another issue, but not the subject here), but unqualified teachers have lifetime job security unless they commit rape or murder.  Although most cities contracts provide ways to fire incompetent teacher's, the unions make the process so burdensome, that it's almost immposible. In New York City, it costs an average of $250,000 to fire a teacher; the city last year dismissed 10 out of 55,000. New Jersey fired precisely 47 (of 100,000) in the 10 years ending in 2005.  

Compare those numbers to any other industry, where employee effectiveness is rated at least annually, and ineffective employees are justifiably terminated, and you can understand how this culture of incompetence has robbed our children of the foundational birth-right that we intended to provide them with.

Ms. Rhee's proposal would use financial incentives to raise the salaries of effective teachers, and attract even better ones.  Teachers willing to be judged on effectiveness could earn up to $130,000 a year, based on merit.

The WTU has refused to allow a vote, claiming it's members reject the plan, despite the fact that similar experiments across the country have worked and been supported by the participating teachers. The  American Federation of Teachers, is petrified that Ms. Rhee's plan will set a national precedent. 

OK, where's the "Hope" in all of this?  Well, just as it took a Republican, Nixon, to create the door opening to China, and a Democrat, Clinton, to sign Welfare Reform, it may be that another Democrat, Obama, could be the change-agent that will be able to initiate true, and positive, reform on this most fundamental element of our society.  During the Presidential debates, her situation was discussed by McCain and Obama, so the ball has been passed by Ms. Rhee, the question now is can the new President Obama, drive in and dunk it?  

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