Adonis Diaries

Archive for January 3rd, 2016

An artist is asking to get paid in Lebanon: She has guts

Let me say this one more time and I’m sure all artists out there echo my thoughts

I spent almost 7 years in performing arts schools and universities
I exercise to stay fit and work on my stamina so I don’t collapse when performing
I try hula hooping as much as I can
I read different books to keep my imagination alive
I follow up on world news
I go out and observe people
I take time to research and write
I take time to create and rehearse
I try to learn new skills to become a better performer
I attend workshops when I can
I try to watch as many performances and movies as I can
I spend hours and hours trying to figure out the bubble soap recipe in different climates
And so on ….

So guess what, what I do needs ALL DAY FULL TIME commitment, perseverance, trial and failure until the end of my time on earth!
Next time you invite me to perform or do anything for you don’t roll your eyes when I ask to get paid!

Ps: I get to choose where and when to volunteer and I definitely do it more than all of those money makers out there asking for my services for free!

Note 1: Sabine is a member of clown without borders and entertained the refugees in the Island of Lesbos for 2 weeks and she performs houla houps on the Cornish of Beirut as her gymnastic routine.

Note 2: Sabine announced the schedule of her coming clowning workshop
Here’s an opportunity to start your year with 5 days of laughter and fun.
Meet a new group and experience something totally different.
Put on a red nose/ Step on stage/ Dig into yourself

A Clown Me In workshop will be held from the 18th to the 22nd of January 2016
between 7.00pm and 10.00pm
fees: USD 175
USD 150 for registration before the 11th of January



Syrian Family’s Tragedy Goes Beyond Iconic Image of Boy on Beach


Hivrun Kurdi, an aunt of Alan’s, with her children in a refugee shelter in Bramsche, Germany, this month. 
Weeks after Alan drowned, Hivrun and her children made the same perilous sea journey from Turkey to Greece.
Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

ISTANBUL — When Alan Kurdi’s tiny body washed up on a beach in Turkey, forcing the world to grasp the pain of Syria’s refugees, the 2-year-old boy was just one member of a family on the run, scattered by nearly five years of upheaval.

As a Turkish officer lifted the boy from the shallow waves at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, one of Alan’s teenage cousins was alone on a bus in Hungary, fleeing the fighting back home in Damascus.

An aunt was stuck in Istanbul, nursing a baby, as her son and daughter worked 18-hour shifts in a sweatshop so the family could eat. Dozens of other relatives — aunts, uncles and cousins — had fled the war in Syria or were making plans to flee.

And just weeks after Alan’s image shocked the world in September, another aunt prepared to do what she had promised herself to avoid: set sail with four of her children on the same perilous journey.

“We die together, or we live together and make a future,” her 15-year-old daughter said, concluding, as have hundreds of thousands of other Syrians, that there was no going back, and that the way to security led through great risk.

Alan, whose mother and brother drowned with him, belonged to a sprawling clan from Syria’s long-oppressed Kurdish minority. But for most of his closest relatives, that identity was secondary to the cosmopolitan ethos of the Syrian capital, Damascus, where they grew up. They barely spoke Kurdish, identified mainly as Syrian and joined no faction.

So when war broke out, and political ties, sect and ethnicity became life-or-death matters, they were on their own

Interviews with 20 relatives, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in Istanbul, in five German towns and by phone in Syria, tell a story of a family chewed up by one party to the Syrian conflict after another: the Syrian government, the Islamic State, neighboring countries, the West.

Since Alan’s death, at least 100 more children have drowned in the Mediterranean.

A million refugees and migrants entered Europe this year, half of them Syrians, part of the biblical dispersion of a country where half the population has fled.

Alan’s father, Abdullah, who is 39, sometimes blames himself, wishing he could turn back time and not get on the boat. He was trying to steer it in the chaos when it foundered in the waves.

But even for Abdullah’s sister Hivrun, grieving her nephew, the calculus remained in favor of risking her children to save them. Weeks after Alan died, she tried again to start for Germany. Once again, she and her children clambered onto a rubber raft.

Kurdish Roots

Alan’s grandfather was born in Kobani, a mostly Kurdish enclave near the Turkish border in the north. After compulsory army service, he moved to Damascus looking for work and settled in the mostly Kurdish neighborhood of Rukineddine, on the slopes of Mount Qasioun. He opened a barbershop and married a Kurdish woman who considered herself above all Damascene.

Rukineddine grew fast, with jumbled, unplanned housing and steep, narrow alleys cramming in poor rural workers, the kind of place where rebellion would later flare.

They had six children. They remember living modest lives not much affected by tensions between the government and Kurds. They spent the summers harvesting olives in Kobani, but saw themselves as city kids. Most left school after ninth grade to learn the family’s barbering trade.

Fatima, the oldest daughter, was the first to emigrate. In 1992, she moved to Canada to marry an Iraqi Kurd. They soon divorced, and she raised their son. Working nights in a printing plant, she caught the attention of a kindly boss.

“She said, ‘Every night I’ll teach you 10 English words,’” Fatima, known as Tima, recalled recently. “The rest I got from watching ‘Barney’ with my son.”

English led to a hairstyling license, jobs at high-end salons and citizenship — successes that made the family’s later journeys possible.

A commanding presence, Fatima became her siblings’ source of advice, information and emergency cash.

When war broke out, she became their fiercest advocate, supplying the plans and means to seek asylum in the West and, later, the political savvy to make Alan’s death a force for change.

But before the war, the rest of the Kurdis were not thinking of leaving Syria. They were putting down roots in the patchwork of communities that gave Syria its richness.

They acquired in-laws and property in the Damascus suburbs, in Kobani and in the bustling Palestinian district of the Yarmouk refugee camp — all places soon to be shattered by violence.

Driven From Damascus

The ripples of conflict reached the capital in the spring of 2011, just as Abdullah Kurdi was starting a family with his wife, Rihanna, a cousin from Kobani.

As the protests, inspired by other Arab uprisings, began to spread against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, Rihanna headed back to Kobani to give birth to Ghalib, Alan’s older brother. Abdullah went back and forth, working in the family’s Damascus barbershop.

Some of the Kurdis sympathized with the initially peaceful demonstrations, but most avoided involvement. They feared going into details, since some relatives are still in Damascus. Abdullah said only, “I participated.”

The government cracked down across Syria, and the neighborhood quickly came under pressure. Security forces, always able to detain people at will, became jumpier, quicker to scapegoat Kurds or anyone without political connections.

“After the revolution started, I saw the differences between me and others, the racism,” Abdullah recalled. “Any simple policeman can accuse you. If someone writes a fake report against me, saying this Kurd did this or that, I will never come back.” (Only a victory in a civil war can change behaviour)

One day, officers burst into the family home of some of the Kurdis’ in-laws and dragged away two brothers, who had no known political involvement. They have not been heard from since.

Next, Alan’s cousin Shergo, 13, saw a friend die, shot through the neck by the police while protesting outside school.

Government artillery began shelling the restive suburbs of Damascus — where an armed insurgency was taking shape — from bases atop Mount Qasioun, up the slope from Rukineddine. The army guns were so close that the pressure of outgoing blasts cracked the wall of a family house.

The flight to Kobani came after Shergo and another teenage cousin witnessed a suicide bombing in the street. Flesh stuck to a wall, and shrapnel lodged in one boy’s leg.

At the hospital, security officials questioned the boys, who were afraid to say what they had seen. The secret police started asking to talk to the Kurdi men.

“So I said: ‘Let’s go. Let’s leave,’” Shergo’s mother, Ghousoun recalled. “It’s better than if they take us.”

Kobani seemed like a refuge then, as Kurds there tried to establish a safe semiautonomous zone. But, Abdullah lamented, “It didn’t work out that way.”

Life on the Run

At first, the problems were strictly economic. Kobani offered few jobs.

Abdullah went to Istanbul to work, while his wife raised Ghalib, and later gave birth to Alan, sometimes spelled the Turkish way, Aylan. (Previous reports put his age at 3.) Ghousoun and her family lived for a time in a sheep stable; she made money by bringing clothes from Damascus to sell.

“I suffered a lot, because I’m a very neat person,” Ghousoun recalled later, in her small and spotless Istanbul apartment.

Then a new threat arose. The extremist Islamic State group split from others fighting Mr. Assad, declared a state, and preyed on Kurds and other minorities.

Ghousoun’s travels grew perilous. Her accentless Arabic and conservative dress hid her Kurdishness at Islamic State checkpoints, but made her suspect at Kurdish roadblocks.

By September 2014, the Islamic State was shelling Kobani. Word came that the militants would invade. Families fled toward Turkey, and some were caught between Islamic State fighters and the border fence.

There, fighters grabbed Ghousoun’s husband, Mohammad, Abdullah’s brother. They spoke Arabic, but their accent was not Syrian.

“They beat and beat and beat him with a gun, my husband,” Ghousoun said later, sobbing. “In front of me.” Next, she said, they handed her son Shergo, by then 15, a gun.

“Shoot your father,” they told him.

“They kept saying we were infidels,” Ghousoun said. “But we are not.”

She collapsed on the ground, calling on God, begging the fighters, and somehow, she said, “they took mercy.”

The family spent days looking for a crossing, with hundreds of other Kurds. Finally, the group tried to breach the border. The Turkish police beat most of them back, but a Kurdish woman on the Turkish side hid Ghousoun’s family in her cowshed.

Back in Kobani, the Kurdi clan’s olive groves were burned, houses destroyed, and 18 relatives slaughtered.

Many of the survivors made it to Istanbul, and a new round of ordeals.

A Way Station in Turkey

Abdullah had managed to send money from Istanbul by working, and sleeping, in a clothing workshop. But when his wife and children finally joined him, he said, the burden overwhelmed him, “like a chain on my hands.”

The only apartments he could afford were so far from his work that he had to quit his job, instead lifting 200-pound bags of cement, making $9 per 12-hour day.

Ghalib and Alan jumped into his bed each morning to snuggle before he slathered them with ointment for their eczema, a ritual that he relished, even as he fretted over the cost of the balm.

“They sat in the house all day,” he said, choking with tears. “The only thing they were waiting for was me.”

Other Kurdis fared no better in Turkey.

Syrians there were often invited to bring their children to factory job interviews, but found, instead of day care, children packing goods in boxes.

Jobs disappeared when new Syrians arrived, willing to work for less, and employers sometimes withheld pay. Abdullah’s sister Hivrun cleaned hotel rooms, dozens a day. Ghousoun washed dishes in a restaurant; her son Shergo worked in a clothing sweatshop.

The promise of emigrating to the West seemed distant.

In Canada, Alan’s aunt Fatima raised $20,000 to sponsor Mohammad for asylum, with his wife, Ghousoun, and their five children. But Canada required proof of refugee status. Turkey granted Syrians only guest status, which Canada did not accept.

Hivrun applied for resettlement in Germany. Last summer, she received a date for her first interview: Sept. 27, 2016.

Options dwindling, Abdullah, Mohammad and Shergo traveled west and crossed a river to Greece. The police beat them with sticks, then sent them back in a rubber raft.

In June, Mohammad took a smugglers’ boat to Greece and made it to Germany.

Alan’s cousin Yasser, 16, fled Damascus to avoid the draft. He, too, boarded a smuggler’s boat out of Turkey.

Disasters at Sea

Hivrun and her husband were the first to take children to sea. They took four children and an adult nephew south to Izmir, the epicenter of the smuggling trade in Turkey.

Smugglers packed them in windowless vans, left them alone in a wooded area to dodge the police, then put them on a raft aimed at a Greek island a few miles off, but the raft had a broken engine. Only when Hivrun objected was the trip aborted.

On the next try, they were out to sea when water started rushing in. Hivrun saw a Turkish coast guard boat and shouted for help, not stopping even when other passengers, who preferred to risk it, angrily shushed her.

Hivrun’s husband and the older children wanted to try again. Hivrun refused. She took the children back to Istanbul, and her husband and nephew sailed off to Greece.

Soon afterward, Abdullah tried the voyage with his family. “We had decided to go to paradise,” Abdullah explained, a better life, whether in Europe — or the hereafter.

Hours after Alan’s drowning, Abdullah told the story in anguish: The small boat foundered and flipped a few minutes into the journey. He tried to hold on to Ghalib and Alan, calling to his wife, “Just keep his head above water!” But all three drowned, one by one.

Other survivors added new details: Alan cried as water sprayed his eyes; an older woman took him on her lap; the smuggler leapt out, and Abdullah took the tiller. Nervous and inexperienced, he swerved over the waves, telling his children, “I’m with you; don’t worry,” just before the boat capsized. One woman remembered Abdullah, in the water, kissing one of his boys.

In the news media blitz that followed, some reports, quoting an Iraqi couple who lost two children in the disaster, said Abdullah was a smuggler. But it is a standard smugglers’ practice to have an ordinary refugee steer, often in exchange for a discount, and in a later interview, the Iraqis said they believed Abdullah was merely the designated refugee pilot.

Abdullah says that he got no discount, and that he and others tried to take control of the boat because “someone had to.”

Regardless, one thing is clear: Abdullah lost his family.

Little Solace

Within hours, Alan’s aunt in Canada, Fatima, leapt into action.

From her home near Vancouver, she took calls from the news media, blaming Canada’s red tape and the world’s indifference. Soon she was touring Europe to advocate on behalf of refugees.

“Those kids were born when the war was on,” she recalled telling António Guterres, the United Nations’ high commissioner for refugees. “And they die with the war still on.”

Her raw message helped spur Western countries — briefly, at least — to open their doors to Syrians.

But none of that changed the calculus for the Kurdis.

In the remote German town of Villingen, on the edge of the Black Forest, Ghousoun’s husband, Mohammad, worried for his family in Istanbul. He emerged one night from a barracks-like refugee shelter ringed with concertina wire and confided his dilemma: It could take a year or more to bring his family legally, so his decision to keep them off the dangerous boats meant indefinite separation.

“The most important thing,” he said, “is to be together.”

For the same reason, Hivrun broke her vow never to set sail again, determined to rendezvous with her husband. This time, she and her children made it.

In Meppen, Germany, a few weeks later, her children recounted the wet, terrifying moments on the boat — “a horror film!” one said — but now they were eating ice cream with a view of yellow autumn leaves.

Their father was stuck in a separate camp, three hours away. But after several weeks of haranguing the authorities, they got their wish: They could move, all together, to an apartment.

To the south, near Heidelberg, Yasser, the teenager who fled alone, was even more bullish on Germany, pinning the colors of its flag over a bed with a heart-shaped plush pillow. As an unaccompanied minor, he receives benefits like carpentry classes and excursions.

He misses his mother, but he already speaks passable German, knows the city and even has a German girlfriend. Wearing his hair in an Elvis-like pompadour, he plans to open a barbershop and study acting.

“I don’t want to lie to you and tell you that I am not happy,” he said. “I am!”

Ghousoun and Mohammad expect to be reunited in Canada on Monday, among 10,000 Syrians admitted by a new Liberal government. Fatima has a job for Mohammad in her new salon, where the sign over the door reads “Kurdi.”

“People always need a haircut,” she said.

A Father’s Heartache

A few weeks after the tragedy, Abdullah sat, angular and stiff and out of place, on a leather sofa in the piano bar of a gilt-trimmed hotel in Erbil, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. The sea had sheared him of all trappings of identity: his documents, his sisters’ phone numbers, even his dentures

I have become a shadow,” Abdullah said.

After he buried his family in Kobani, in three graves on a treeless plain, he was whisked to Erbil by the powerful Barzani clan. He had resolved to use the spotlight on his grief to aid other Syrians, and the Barzanis were promising help.

Barely understanding Kurdish, he went gamely to meetings with the rich and powerful, and delivered aid to refugee camps, happiest when playing with children.

But he often seemed dazed. He wore a single plain, khaki-colored outfit every day, refusing to let his benefactors buy more. He had never been in a place like this, with a $99 Sunday brunch, and could not stop thinking: “Where was all this when my children were alive?”

He called his Canadian sister, Fatima, who was collecting his family’s things in Istanbul. She was coming to see him, and the thought of it brightened him. He asked her for his sons’ favorite stuffed dog, the one with the tongue sticking out, or maybe the Teletubby doll with the missing eye that he had promised to fix.

“I want something,” he said, “with their smell.”




For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions

The very richest are able to quietly shape tax policy that will allow them to shield billions in income.

WASHINGTON — The hedge fund magnates Daniel S. Loeb, Louis Moore Bacon and Steven A. Cohen have much in common. They have managed billions of dollars in capital, earning vast fortunes.

They have invested large sums in art — and millions more in political candidates.

Andrew Bossone shared a link.
The very richest are able to quietly shape tax policy that will allow them to shield billions in income.|By PATRICIA COHEN

Each has exploited an esoteric tax loophole that saved them millions in taxes. The trick? Route the money to Bermuda and back.

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes.

Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means. (All you need is an experienced and affordable tax lawyer?)

In recent years, this apparatus has become one of the most powerful avenues of influence for wealthy Americans of all political stripes, including Mr. Loeb and Mr. Cohen, who give heavily to Republicans, and the liberal billionaire George Soros, who has called for higher levies on the rich while at the same time using tax loopholes to bolster his own fortune.

All are among a small group providing much of the early cash for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them.

The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans (the old money and new billionaires? Read this bogus charity trust of Zukerberg).

The impact on their own fortunes has been stark.

Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data.

By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups.

The ultra-wealthy “literally pay millions of dollars for these services,” said Jeffrey A. Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies economic elites, “and save in the tens or hundreds of millions in taxes.”

Some of the biggest current tax battles are being waged by some of the most generous supporters of 2016 candidates.

They include the families of the hedge fund investors Robert Mercer, who gives to Republicans, and James Simons, who gives to Democrats; as well as the options trader Jeffrey Yass, a libertarian-leaning donor to Republicans.

Mr. Yass’s firm is litigating what the agency deemed to be tens of millions of dollars in underpaid taxes. Renaissance Technologies, the hedge fund Mr. Simons founded and which Mr. Mercer helps run, is currently under review by the I.R.S. over a loophole that saved their fund an estimated $6.8 billion in taxes over roughly a decade, according to a Senate investigation.

Some of these same families have also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative groups that have attacked virtually any effort to raises taxes on the wealthy.

In the heat of the presidential race, the influence of wealthy donors is being tested.

At stake is the Obama administration’s 2013 tax increase on high earners — the first substantial increase in two decades — and an I.R.S. initiative to ensure that, in effect, the higher rates stick by cracking down on tax avoidance by the wealthy.

While Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have pledged to raise taxes on these voters, virtually every Republican has advanced policies that would vastly reduce their tax bills, sometimes to as little as 10 percent of their income.

At the same time, most Republican candidates favor eliminating the inheritance tax, a move that would allow the new rich, and the old, to bequeath their fortunes intact, solidifying the wealth gap far into the future.

And several have proposed a substantial reduction — or even elimination — in the already deeply discounted tax rates on investment gains, a foundation of the most lucrative tax strategies.

“There’s this notion that the wealthy use their money to buy politicians; more accurately, it’s that they can buy policy, and specifically, tax policy,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who served as chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “That’s why these egregious loopholes exist, and why it’s so hard to close them.”

The Family Office

Each of the top 400 earners took home, on average, about $336 million in 2012, the latest year for which data is available. If the bulk of that money had been paid out as salary or wages, as it is for the typical American, the tax obligations of those wealthy taxpayers could have more than doubled.

Instead, much of their income came from convoluted partnerships and high-end investment funds.

Other earnings accrued in opaque family trusts and foreign shell corporations, beyond the reach of the tax authorities.

The well-paid technicians who devise these arrangements toil away at white-shoe law firms and elite investment banks, as well as a variety of obscure boutiques.

But at the fulcrum of the strategizing over how to minimize taxes are so-called family offices, the customized wealth management departments of Americans with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in assets.

Family offices have existed since the late 19th century, when the Rockefellers pioneered the institution, and gained popularity in the 1980s. But they have proliferated rapidly over the last decade, as the ranks of the super-rich, and the size of their fortunes, swelled to record proportions.

“We have so much wealth being created, significant wealth, that it creates a need for the family office structure now,” said Sree Arimilli, an industry recruiting consultant.

Family offices, many of which are dedicated to managing and protecting the wealth of a single family, oversee everything from investment strategy to philanthropy.

But tax planning is a core function.

While the specific techniques these advisers employ to minimize taxes can be mind-numbingly complex, they generally follow a few simple principles, like converting one type of income into another type that’s taxed at a lower rate.

Mr. Loeb, for example, has invested in a Bermuda-based reinsurer — an insurer to insurance companies — that turns around and invests the money in his hedge fund.

That maneuver transforms his profits from short-term bets in the market, which the government taxes at roughly 40 percent, into long-term profits, known as capital gains, which are taxed at roughly half that rate.

It has had the added advantage of letting Mr. Loeb defer taxes on this income indefinitely, allowing his wealth to compound and grow more quickly.

The Bermuda insurer Mr. Loeb helped set up went public in 2013 and is active in the insurance business, not merely a tax dodge. Mr. Cohen and Mr. Bacon abandoned similar insurance-based strategies in recent years.

“Our investment in Max Re was not a tax-driven scheme, but rather a sound investment response to investor interest in a more dynamically managed portfolio akin to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway,” said Mr. Bacon, who leads Moore Capital Management. “Hedge funds were a minority of the investment portfolio, and Moore Capital’s products a much smaller subset of this alternative portfolio.” Mr. Loeb and Mr. Cohen declined to comment.

Organizing one’s business as a partnership can be lucrative in its own right.

Some of the partnerships from which the wealthy derive their income are allowed to sell shares to the public, making it easy to cash out a chunk of the business while retaining control.

But unlike publicly traded corporations, they pay no corporate income tax; the partners pay taxes as individuals. And the income taxes are often reduced by large deductions, such as for depreciation.

For large private partnerships, meanwhile, the I.R.S. often struggles “to determine whether a tax shelter exists, an abusive tax transaction is being used,” according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office. The agency is not allowed to collect underpaid taxes directly from these partnerships, even those with several hundred partners. Instead, it must collect from each individual partner, requiring the agency to commit significant time and manpower.

The wealthy can also avail themselves of a range of esoteric and customized tax deductions that go far beyond writing off a home office or dinner with a client. One aggressive strategy is to place income in a type of charitable trust, generating a deduction that offsets the income tax.

The trust then purchases what’s known as a private placement life insurance policy, which invests the money on a tax-free basis, frequently in a number of hedge funds. The person’s heirs can inherit, also tax-free, whatever money is left after the trust pays out a percentage each year to charity, often a considerable sum.

Many of these maneuvers are well established, and wealthy taxpayers say they are well within their rights to exploit them.

Others exist in a legal gray area, its boundaries defined by the willingness of taxpayers to defend their strategies against the I.R.S. Almost all are outside the price range of the average taxpayer.

Among tax lawyers and accountants, “the best and brightest get a high from figuring out how to do tricky little deals,” said Karen L. Hawkins, who until recently headed the I.R.S. office that oversees tax practitioners. “Frankly, it is almost beyond the intellectual and resource capacity of the Internal Revenue Service to catch.”

(This cliché that the public institutions  cannot afford and lack the best minds and expertise)

The combination of cost and complexity has had a profound effect, tax experts said. Whatever tax rates Congress sets, the actual rates paid by the ultra-wealthy tend to fall over time as they exploit their numerous advantages.

From Mr. Obama’s inauguration through the end of 2012, federal income tax rates on individuals did not change (excluding payroll taxes). But the highest-earning one-thousandth of Americans went from paying an average of 20.9 percent to 17.6 percent. By contrast, the top 1 percent, excluding the very wealthy, went from paying just under 24 percent on average to just over that level.

“We do have two different tax systems, one for normal wage-earners and another for those who can afford sophisticated tax advice,” said Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of San Diego who studies the intersection of tax policy and inequality. “

At the very top of the income distribution, the effective rate of tax goes down, contrary to the principles of a progressive income tax system.”

A Very Quiet Defense

Having helped foster an alternative tax system, wealthy Americans have been aggressive in defending it.

Trade groups representing the Bermuda-based insurance company Mr. Loeb helped set up, for example, have spent the last several months pleading with the I.R.S. that its proposed rules tightening the hedge fund insurance loophole are too onerous.

The major industry group representing private equity funds spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year lobbying on such issues as “carried interest,” the granddaddy of Wall Street tax loopholes, which makes it possible for fund managers to pay the capital gains rate rather than the higher standard tax rate on a substantial share of their income for running the fund.

The budget deal that Congress approved in October allows the I.R.S. to collect underpaid taxes from large partnerships at the firm level for the first time — which is far easier for the agency — thanks to a provision that lawmakers slipped into the deal at the last minute, before many lobbyists could mobilize.

But the new rules are relatively weak — firms can still choose to have partners pay the taxes — and don’t take effect until 2018, giving the wealthy plenty of time to weaken them further.

Shortly after the provision passed, the Managed Funds Association, an industry group that represents prominent hedge funds like D. E. Shaw, Renaissance Technologies, Tiger Management and Third Point, began meeting with members of Congress to discuss a wish list of adjustments.

The founders of these funds have all donated at least $500,000 to 2016 presidential candidates.

During the Obama presidency, the association itself has risen to become one of the most powerful trade groups in Washington, spending over $4 million a year on lobbying.

The buying power

lobbying clout of the wealthy is most often deployed through industry trade associations and lawyers, some rich families have locked arms to advance their interests more directly.

The inheritance tax has been a primary target.

In the early 1990s, a California family office executive named Patricia Soldano began lobbying on behalf of wealthy families to repeal the tax, which would not only save them money, but also make it easier to preserve their business empires from one generation to the next.

The idea struck many hardened operatives as unrealistic at the time, given that the tax affected only the wealthiest Americans. But Ms. Soldano’s efforts — funded in part by the Mars and Koch families — laid the groundwork for a one-year elimination in 2010.

The tax has been restored, but currently applies only to couples leaving roughly $11 million or more to their heirs, up from those leaving more than $1.2 million when Ms. Soldano started her campaign. It affected fewer than 5,200 families last year.

“If anyone would have told me we’d be where we are today, I would never have guessed it,” Ms. Soldano said in an interview.

Some of the most profound victories are barely known outside the insular world of the wealthy and their financial managers.

In 2009, Congress set out to require that investment partnerships like hedge funds register with the Securities and Exchange Commission, partly so that regulators would have a better grasp on the risks they posed to the financial system.

The early legislative language would have required single-family offices to register as well, exposing the highly secretive institutions to scrutiny that their clients were eager to avoid. Some of the I.R.S.’s cases against the wealthy originate with tips from the S.E.C., which is often better positioned to spot tax evasion.

By the summer of 2009, several family office executives had formed a lobbying group called the Private Investor Coalition to push back against the proposal. The coalition won an exemption in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, then spent much of the next year persuading the S.E.C. to largely adopt its preferred definition of “family office.”

So expansive was the resulting loophole that Mr. Soros’s $24.5 billion hedge fund took advantage of it, converting to a family office after returning capital to its remaining outside investors. The hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller, a former business partner of Mr. Soros, took the same step.

The Soros family, which generally supports Democrats, has committed at least $1 million to the 2016 presidential campaign; Mr. Druckenmiller, who favors Republicans, has put slightly more than $300,000 behind three different G.O.P. presidential candidates.

A slide presentation from the Private Investor Coalition’s 2013 annual meeting credited the success to multiple meetings with members of the Senate Banking Committee, the House Financial Services Committee, congressional staff and S.E.C. staff. “All with a low profile,” the document noted. “We got most of what we wanted AND a few extras we didn’t request.”

A Hobbled Monitor

After all the loopholes and all the lobbying, what remains of the government’s ability to collect taxes from the wealthy runs up against one final hurdle: the crisis facing the I.R.S.

President Obama has made fighting tax evasion by the rich a priority. In 2010, he signed legislation making it easier to identify Americans who squirreled away assets in Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Islands shelters

His I.R.S. convened a Global High Wealth Industry Group, known colloquially as “the wealth squad,” to scrutinize the returns of Americans with incomes of at least $10 million a year.

But while these measures have helped the government retrieve billions, the agency’s efforts have flagged in the face of scandal, political pressure and budget cuts. Between 2010, the year before Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, and 2014, the I.R.S. budget dropped by almost $2 billion in real terms, or nearly 15 percent. That has forced it to shed about 5,000 high-level enforcement positions out of about 23,000, according to the agency.

Audit rates for the $10 million-plus club spiked in the first few years of the Global High Wealth program, but have plummeted since then.

The political challenge for the agency became especially acute in 2013, after the agency acknowledged singling out conservative nonprofits in a review of political activity by tax-exempt groups. (Senior officials left the agency as a result of the controversy.)

Several former I.R.S. officials, including Marcus Owens, who once headed the agency’s Exempt Organizations division, said the controversy badly damaged the agency’s willingness to investigate other taxpayers, even outside the exempt division.

“I.R.S. enforcement is either absent or diminished” in certain areas, he said. Mr. Owens added that his former department — which provides some oversight of money used by charities and nonprofits — has been decimated.

Groups like FreedomWorks and Americans for Tax Reform, which are financed partly by the foundations of wealthy families and large businesses, have called for impeaching the I.R.S. commissioner.

They are bolstered by deep-pocketed advocacy groups like the Club for Growth, which has aided primary challenges against Republicans who have voted in favor of higher taxes.

In 2014, the Club for Growth Action fund raised more than $9 million and spent much of it helping candidates critical of the I.R.S. Roughly 60 percent of the money raised by the fund came from just 12 donors, including Mr. Mercer, who has given the group $2 million in the last five years.

Mr. Mercer and his immediate family have also donated more than $11 million to several super PACs supporting Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, an outspoken I.R.S. critic and a presidential candidate.

Another prominent donor is Mr. Yass, who helps run a trading firm called the Susquehanna International Group. He donated $100,000 to the Club for Growth Action fund in September. Mr. Yass serves on the board of the libertarian Cato Institute and, like Mr. Mercer, appears to subscribe to limited-government views that partly motivate his political spending.

But he may also have more than a passing interest in creating a political environment that undermines the I.R.S. Susquehanna is currently challenging a proposed I.R.S. determination that an affiliate of the firm effectively repatriated more than $375 million in income from subsidiaries located in Ireland and the Cayman Islands in 2007, creating a large tax liability.

(The affiliate brought the money back to the United States in later years and paid dividend taxes on it; the I.R.S. asserts that it should have paid the ordinary income tax rate, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars more.)

In June, Mr. Yass donated more than $2 million to three super PACs aligned with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has called for taxing all income at a flat rate of 14.5 percent. That change in itself would save wealthy supporters like Mr. Yass millions of dollars.

Mr. Paul, also a presidential candididate, has suggested going even further, calling the I.R.S. a “rogue agency” and circulating a petition in 2013 calling for the tax equivalent of regime change. “Be it now therefore resolved,” the petition reads, “that we, the undersigned, demand the immediate abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service.”

But even if that campaign is a long shot, the richest taxpayers will continue to enjoy advantages over everyone else.

For the ultra-wealthy, “our tax code is like a leaky barrel,” said J. Todd Metcalf, the Democrats’ chief tax counsel on the Senate Finance Committee. ”Unless you plug every hole or get a new barrel, it’s going to leak out.”

Here You My New Year Resolution; Crossing the Mediterranean By #Syria Love Boat

Contrary to many people’s new year resolutions, Nawar Bulbul, Syrian actor and activist, has decided to take some young Syrian refugees from Zaatari Camp in Jordan to cross the Mediterranean with his #LoveBoat.

I have known Nawar since I was a kid my self. He starred in many Syrian series, but after 2011, another face of the famous and cool actor emerged. Like many Syrians Nawar today is a dedicated activist.

His belief in Art as a driver for change is eloquently articulated in his artistic works with Syrian refugee children, mostly in Jordan’s camps of refuge.

January 1, 2016

Shakespeare  was brought to life in 2014 by Nawar and the kids of the infamous Syrian refugees camp in Jordon; Zaatari through a live theatrical  performance called: Shakespeare In Zaatari. The performance was a great success. The Economist wrote  about how Nawar motivated his little and young actors: “He would only let them act if they promised to return to education”

I open 2016 by blogging for the guys of Shakespeare in Zaatari who are planning to take on the ‪#‎Mediterranean‬.

Contrary to many people’s new year resolutions, Nawar Bulbul, Syrian actor and activist, has decided to take some young Syrian refugees from Zaatari Camp in…

After the massive success of the first play, it was the time for Romeo and Juliette to be brought to life by another batch of Syrian refugee kids. However, the Syrian Romeo was never reunited with his Juliette but over Skype.

By incarnating the conditions of the Syrian tragedy, Nawar adapted the masterpiece to speak for the current state of Syria and Syrians. While Romeo was brought to Jordan as a war survival, Juliette remained somewhere in Homs, central Syria, living under a siege, by the Syrian regime, that claimed the lives of tens.

“Ibraheem, the Syrian Romeo, is 12 years old. In 2014, he lost his mother and three of his brothers and sisters due to Syrian regime bombardment. His right leg escaped amputation after three surgeies and two more to go” Writes Al-Arab leading london-based paper.

So Nawar is planning to produce a new play. This play speaks for the risky hope of many Syrians to reach Europe by sea. The total budget amounts to 22.000$ so far around 4,500$ are raised.

Wait. What Will Nawar Do With My Contribution?

Oh many things. For instance: the hard working kids will need to have some juice during the rehearsals. No body wants the actors angry or thirsty !! They need to build a ship that mamics the boats people use to cross towards Europe. You can check here more details about where every penny is spent.

Ok, but Why to Support Nawar’s project and not the other 100 projects I heard of?

Do you want the simple answer? He makes kids happy, they feel worthy, important and special. Do you want a technical boring answer?  He delivers measurable outcome that have long-lasting impact in the local communities where he works.

Therefore, the New York Times profiled his work.




January 2016

Blog Stats

  • 1,522,052 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by

Join 769 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: