Saturday, August 31, 2013

To paraphrase Harry Nilsson, I guess the lord must not be in New York City

I have a neighbor, George Capsis, the publisher of Westview, a local monthly paper serving the West Village, who has recently been in the news because of a public incident in which he allegedly slapped a New York state senator.  ("Allegedly" because I gather one could quarrel about whether that's the best description of exactly what he did.)  It made such a big stir that even national press and bloggers, such as the snarkmeisters at Wonkette, have featured it.

I know Capsis decently well.  He's a neighbor, and a constant presence on my block who has been here for decades as other things have changed around him (and, since 1995, around me).  I have several times written short pieces on tax or budget policy for Westview, and he was kind enough to publish a feature in it concerning my novel, Getting It.

Much hilarity from snarkmeisters everywhere over this latest incident (and yes, I do enjoy reading Wonkette, although this time less so, given the personal association).  But let's pause for just a second to look at the backstory.

The incident occurred at a political rally in front of the former site of St. Vincent's Hospital.  St. Vincent's was for decades the only hospital, with the only true ER, on the lower west side of Manhattan.  I've gone there numerous times with family members, and have had a child born there.  It failed a few years back, apparently due to managerial failures and despite its having a large pool of successful doctors and a very large customer base, ranging well up in the affluence scale.

Vigorous community efforts to get another hospital, or even just a true ER or anything that would help meet local medical needs, lost politically (Mayor Bloomberg decreed that not everyone needs to have a hospital nearby).  Capsis and Westview played a very active role in the campaign.  The interesting thing about this political failure is that the community behind it is much more likely to get listened to by politicians than most of the communities in New York City.  We're downtown near the financial district (some of whose big ticket people live here), with money, connections, etc.  Imagine a much poorer community, more in the city's outskirts, trying to get listened to - all else equal, it would face much longer odds.

But there's a monkey's paw kind of irony to why we ended up losing anyway (and so far as I can tell, we never came close or had a chance).  The real estate down here is enormously valuable (this is why you need to be relatively affluent to live here), and there was simply no way that a hospital was going to come close to maxing out the site's market value.  So, while people in the outer boroughs generally have less political clout, they also wouldn't have had to ask for something so prohibitively valuable, just to have local medical aid.

So here's the outcome.  The main block on which St. Vincent's used to stand, serving thousands of people per week, is now a construction site for six luxury townhouses, which I would guess will sell for well over $10 million each, plus some luxury condos.

This is a classic twenty-first century NYC story, a version of what I suppose has been happening here for more than 20 years (and I surely benefited from earlier stages of this process).  But why get into a slapping controversy with a state senator?  Well, it turns out that said state senator was participating in a rally in front of the site that, at least in the view of some, was disingenuous in purporting to complain about what is happening there.  And Capsis, as he reveals in the latest issue of Westview (not yet available on line) just lost his wife of many decades.  Because St. Vincent's is gone, she died in a hospice on 181st Street in the Bronx, where he had to go to see her, day after day until the end via a long, multi-stage trip by public transit, and with much less ability than he would have had around the corner to make sure that she was getting the best care.

So what a funny thing, huh.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The glass is 1/3 (or perhaps even 40 percent) full

Today was kind of a landmark for me.  Just under 4 months since I tore the ACL in my right knee, I hit tennis balls for an hour.  I am at a professional conference in my field that is being held at a tennis resort, and my physical therapist cleared me to hit balls with a pro who could hit consistently right back to me if I was able to sustain my half of the rally.

I hit for an hour, on an outdoor hartru court on a beautiful warm but not hot day, wearing a bulky, gigantic robo tennis brace on my knee.  I then iced afterwards, and am taking ibuprofen.

The good news is that I survived, and am not even especially sore at the moment.   My form of course was awful, though I did hit some good balls with decent racquet speed.  The bad news is that I really can't move much at all, especially if I am at all surprised by the placement of the ball that's coming towards me.  No moving more than a couple of steps even if I anticipate it correctly, and absolutely no changing directions.

So I am very, very far from playing again, and for that matter also undecided about whether or not to have ACL surgery.  (I would do it in early December, after finishing my fall classes at NYU.)  But I suppose it is something to be able to hit at all.  I haven't completely forgotten my strokes, and when I'm in position I can hit it pretty well despite the knee.  But then again, back in the day my game was always based more on movement, court coverage, determination, and strategy than perfect form.  Hard to see that all coming back, at least absent successful surgery followed by six months to a year of hard work and then permanent maintenance.

So the glass is leaning full, not empty, even if I'm feeling sour enough to call it less than half so.

Monday, August 19, 2013

One more "100 years of the income tax" conference

On Tuesday, September 10, in the Rayburn House Office Building, the Office of Tax Policy Research, National Tax Association, and Tax Policy Center are sponsoring a full-day program called "The Federal Income Tax at 100: How Did We Get Here and Where Should We Go Next?  A Forum of Tax Policy Experts and Tax Policy Makers."

The program is available here, and registration info is available here.

I will be a mid-afternoon speaker, addressing corporate and international tax reform in a broader session entitled "Reforming the Existing Income Tax."  While there are some obvious things that I will certainly feel I have to say (they're obvious because they're true and important), I will also try to be interesting and yet on-point in some less predictable ways.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

NYU Tax Policy Colloquium, 2014 schedule

My prior post gave the list of speakers for the 2014 NYU Tax Policy Colloquium, which I'll be co-leading with Alan Auerbach, but here is the actual schedule with dates:

1.  January 21 - Saul Levmore, University of Chicago Law School.
2.  January 28 - Fadi Shaheen, Rutgers-Newark School of Law.
3.  February 4 - Nancy Staudt, USC Law School, and Victor Fleischer, University of San Diego Law School.
4.  February 11 - Thomas J. Brennan, Northwestern University School of Law.
5.  February 25 - Chris Sanchirico, University of Pennsylvania Law School.
6.  March 4 - James R. Hines, University of Michigan Economics Department and Law School.
7.  March 11 - Stephanie Sikes, Wharton School Accounting Department, University of Pennsylvania.
8.  March 25 - Matthew Weinzierl, Harvard Business School.
9.  April 1 - Andrew Biggs, American Enterprise Institute.
10.  April 8 - Susannah Camic Tahk, University of Wisconsin Law School.
11.  April 15 - Nirupama Rao, NYU Wagner School.
12.  April 22 - Kimberly Clausing, Reed College Economics Department
13.  April 29 - David Gamage, Berkeley Law School.
14.  May 6 - Mitchell Kane, NYU Law School.

Friday, August 02, 2013

NYU Tax Policy Colloquium, spring 2014 speakers list

Next "spring," as we optimistically call the second semester of the NYU academic year although it starts in January, I will be co-convening the NYU Tax Policy Colloquium for the nineteenth (!) time.  Alan Auerbach will be my co-convenor.  We will meet on Tuesdays, from 4 to 6 pm, starting on January 21 and running through May 6 (though not on February 18 or March 18).

Our speakers list is now complete, although we haven't yet worked out the week-by-week scheduling.  As Elvis Presley would say, it goes something like this:

1. Andrew Biggs, American Enterprise Institute
1. Thomas J. Brennan, Northwestern University School of Law
3. Kimberly Clausing, Reed College Economics Department
4. David Gamage, Berkeley Law School
5. James R. Hines, University of Michigan Economics Department and Law School
6. Mitchell Kane, NYU Law School
7. Saul Levmore, University of Chicago Law School
8. Nirupama Rao, NYU Wagner School
9. Chris Sanchirico, University of Pennsylvania Law School
10. Fadi Shaheen, Rutgers School of Law
11. Stephanie Sikes, Wharton School Accounting Department, University of Pennsylvania
12. Nancy Staudt, USC Law School
13. Susannah Camic Tahk, University of Wisconsin Law School
14. Matthew C. Weinzierl, Harvard Business School