Wait, WHAT? Alimony Is Deductible? Why?

Family law attorney Corri Fetman received a lot of publicity—much of it bad— when her all-female law firm ran the above cheeky advertisement to spur business. No, it’s not exactly unethical to encourage people to break up their families because there is better sex to be had, it’s just sleazy. (Funny! But sleazy….) Now, however, marital-dissolution lawyers are engaged in due diligence and meeting the ethical the  of communication by telling their clients–particularly the wealthy ones— that if they want out, the clock is running.

One of the features in the new Republican tax law that the news media didn’t tell you about while it was trying to get you angry about it will eliminate the tax break for alimony payments. I didn’t even know that alimony was deductible, but you can bet Donald Trump did.  Now, they won’t be if they are finalized after December 31, 2018.

Under the new law, Americans who finalize or modify divorce agreements in 2019 or later will no longer be able to deduct alimony payments from their taxes. The IRS says that about 600,000 taxpayers claim the deduction each year, and the cost to the Treasury is not chump change. The current, soon-to-be-ended system allows those paying alimony or so-called unallocated support, which are payments  meant to help a divorcing spouse and children at the same time, to deduct all of it from their income before calculating what they owe in taxes.

I’d like to know why alimony was ever deductible. Deductions are supposed to encourage conduct and expenditures that benefit society, like buying a home (domestic stability, the economy) and giving to charity. Why would the government want to encourage divorces, and reward the guy who is paying alimony because he cheated on his wife and got nailed in the settlement? Why should I be paying part of Donald Trump’s/ Tom Cruise’s/ George Clooney’s/ Harrison Ford’s alimony payments?

Analysts suggest that the absence of the deduction may lower divorce rates slightly. Good.

I have to find out what else is in that tax law, which was generally irresponsible, since it adds to the national debt. Apparently there are some silver linings…

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/28/2017: Bad Lawyer, Bad Losers, Bad Lottery, Bad Policy

 

GOOD MORNING!

1 Gee, I wonder how this happened? I’m doing a year-end legal ethics seminar for D.C. Bar members this afternoon, and this story showed up in time for me to use. A federal jury has found Evan Greebel, the former lawyer for convicted fraudster Martin “Pharma Bro” Shkreli guilty of helping the fick pharmaceutical executive craft a scam to repay defrauded investors. You remember Shkreli—this guy, who entered the Hall of Infamy for his unapologetic price-gouging of the HIV drug Daraprim after he bought the rights to the drug and  then hiked its price from $13.50 to $750.

Prosecutors  claimed Greebel, Shkreli’s lawyer during  scheme, gave his client detailed advice on how to pay off investors in his  hedge funds, MSMB Capital and MSMB Healthcare, with his company’s  funds, as well as how to circumvent trading restrictions. He was also was accused of participating in fraudulent backdating of documents and helping draft phony settlement and consulting agreements. Greebel’s lawyers countered that Shkreli was an evil manipulator who dragged his own lawyers, unaware, into his crimes. his own lawyers. Greebel, they said, acted in good faith as the outside attorney for Shkreli’s company, and lacked criminal intent.

The news story ends with this:

“Greebel, a partner with Katten Muchin Rosenman, saw his annual salary triple from $355,000 in fiscal year 2013 to $900,000 in 2014, when he was advising Shkreli.”

The moral: Nothing freezes ethics alarms like a lot of money.

2. What do Roy Moore, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton have in common? They are lousy losers. Moore, the horrible GOP candidate for the empty Alabama Senate seat, has filed a lawsuit to try to stop Alabama from certifying Democrat Doug Jones as the winner of the U.S. Senate race. Moore lost by 20,000 votes, but insists that there were irregularities. He wants a fraud investigation and a new election. Once upon a time, even the losers in close elections where some funny things went on conceded gracefully and accepted the results. This was a traditional demonstration of respect for the system and democracy, and girded our elections from cynicism and distrust. Even Samuel J. Tilden, the Democrat who was cheated out of the Presidency despite winning both the popular and the electoral vote, acceded to the back room deal that gave Hayes the victory.

No longer. Al Gore permanently killed that tradition in 2000, and Hillary’s minions set the corpse on fire in 2016. Now losing candidates can be expected to exploit any excuse imaginable to try to reverse election results. This is a dangerous slippery slope the endless Florida recount put us on, and I fear that it will eventually slide into violence. Better that the occasional election be won illicitly than to have every election be a potential court case.

In other news, the determination of a tie-breaker to settle who won a decisive seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates has been delayed after lawyers representing Democratic candidate Shelly Simonds filed a motion asking a trio of circuit court judges to reconsider their decision to allow a controversial ballot to be counted as a vote cast for her Republican opponent.

Of course! Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/26/17: No, Everything Isn’t Horrible, But It’s Much Better If You Aren’t Ugly Or Paul Krugman…

Good Morning!

1 A strange disconnect. Does anyone else find it strange that Turner Movie Classics, which I would generally describe as a national cultural treasure, would choose Christmas Day of this year to highlight the career of director Alfred Hitchcock? As Hollywood and the movie industry are going to extreme lengths to purge themselves of the sexual predators in their midst, in some cases literally sending artistically outstanding works and careers into cultural purgatory, and with even calls for moderation and proportion (Matt Damon) or protestations of naive or denial-fueled ignorance (Meryl Streep) being sufficient to spark a professional crisis and widespread public criticism,  TCM, the modern day TV curator of Hollywood’s Golden Age, selected the most infamous sexual predator among all legendary American directors as its special Christmas treat.

Yeesh.

I don’t know what to make of this. Did the ethics alarms just go dead at TCM? Is this a case of “The King’s Pass,” as in, “Yes, male power figures in Hollywood engaging in sexual misconduct has been a terrible problem and it is important that this is finally being addressed, buuuut this is Alfred Hitchcock, after all. We have to over-look all of that because he’s a genius…”? The work of an artist should not be devalued because of his character or his unethical conduct, personal or professional, but at the same time, cheering the great sexual harassers of the past while trying to destroy tolerance of sexual harassment in the present seems like activities that should not be occurring simultaneously, since the two objectives undermine each other.

2. Is fake “doom and gloom” unethical?

The constant representation to the American people that the nation is in the midst of existential disaster when it obviously–well, if one isn’t completely addled by confirmation bias it should be obvious—is not can’t exactly be called “fake news,” but it is just as sinister in intent and just as dangerous in its potential results.

My errant focus was brought to this phenomenon in a film review, of all places. A.O. Scott, the New York Times reviewer who is incapable of not bringing his partisan and political biases into his reviews (thus making him a lousy reviewer, like the New Yorker’s late Pauline Kael) began his take on Matt Damon’s eco-fantasy “Downsizing” with this statement:

“A radically dystopian future seems like the best we deserve these days..”

Then I began looking for sentiments in pundit pieces and other commentary in the news media about how uniquely horrible it was to be an American in 2017. That assumption has tainted so much news reporting this year that it amounts to virtual brainwashing, and yet that characterization is false, in both comparative and absolute terms. Not only are many trends and developments uncontroversially positive, such as the long-delayed economic recovery, including booming business and consumer confidence, but in other areas as well. Yet The New York Times consistently publishes pieces like this one, by Paul Krugman on Christmas Day, titled, “America Is Not Yet Lost.” It is like a medical school case study on derangement, or a broadcast from the Bizarro Planet. We are told, directly or indirectly, that the reasons that the United States is in historically dire straits is because the Democrats lost the election, the headlong rush towards becoming just like the European socialist nanny states that they thought was finally assured has been stalled, and because, most of all, Donald Trump is President.

I can’t decide whether all these pundits really believe this, in which case they are mentally and emotionally unfit to do their jobs, or if this is a concerted, desperate effort to create panic and hysteria in defiance of reality, in order to justify undoing the election.  The characterization of the GOP tax bill was the most recent example of how the negativism makes legitimate analysis impossible. “This is wrong !” is always a perfectly responsible argument in a democratic society. “This is evil and will destroy us all!” is not. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/21/2017: Shut Up And Act, Tom…

GOOD MORNING!

Finally! I get to hang the collected history of three families that are our tree ornaments. You know, the fun part…

1 And this is why actors speak from scripts. Tom Hanks, pimping for the mainstream news media-extolling Washington Post movie, the one with Harvey Weinstein enabler Meryl Streep playing Katherine Graham, actually uttered this Authentic Frontier Gibberish:

“It is relatively obvious, I think, what is trying to go forward, when you tear down these institutions to a level of, so you can’t believe anything that is in any of them. That raises the stock of those agenda-filled other institutions and whatnot, so that if you can’t believe them, well, that means you get to believe some of the other stuff that is in these.”

I have generally thought Hanks unusually thoughtful for an actor, but this is disgraceful. First, whatever diminishment journalism has suffered in credibility is 100% the fault of journalists, their arrogance, their incompetence, their bias, and their deliberate abandonment of their own stated ethics principles. 100%. Second, Hanks needs a primer on trust, and to read B.F. Skinner’s work on the effects of intermittent negative reinforcement on rats. (Quick summary: it drives them nuts.) If news sources are sometimes telling the truth and sometimes spinning, sometimes lying and sometimes hiding the ball, and major, revered “institutions” like the New York Times announce mid-Presidential campaign that their mission is no longer to report facts but to stop a particular candidate, then those news sources cannot be trusted, as in “believed.”

Third,  anyone, in light of, oh, the past 20 years, who does not believe that the mainstream media organizations have “agendas” is certifiably stupid. I don’t believe Hanks is stupid, despite the fact that his statement easily makes the Garbled Syntax and Logic Hall of Blather. What he is arguing, however, is that other sources of information have agendas, while those he follows are just Undeniably Correct. Continue reading