The cat's out of the bag. That cat being the announcement Mayor Vincent Gray planned to make tomorrow in our interview at The Q&A Cafe: DC has a $415 million budget surplus from 2012. It will be Topic A in our interview, which begins approximately 12:15 at the Ritz Carlton Georgetown. Please join us. And please, between now and then, send me your suggestions how the city should use the money. Spend it? Save it? Invest it? Truth is, the law may determine its fate. But why not discuss? Speculation is a lot of the money comes from photo enforcement tickets, the sizable inheritance tax paid by a Georgetown woman's estate, commercial property tax and a few other sources.
Again, what do you think?
Mayor Vincent Gray told me Sunday night at an inauguration party that he has an important news-making announcement which he'll discuss when I interview him next week at The Q&A Cafe. So, please make a reservation to be there. Smiling, he told me it is positive news, but he did not go into the details. He did say he hopes DC Cable will do a quick turn around to air the show, to which I said, "that's up to you. It's your channel." He laughed.
The Q&A Cafe tapes next Tuesday, January 29, at the Ritz Carlton Georgetown Hotel. We begin seating at noon and generally wrap by 1:15. The fee is only $38, and that includes all food, soft beverages, tax and tip. For reservations, please email or phone Esmaralda Prifold 202-912-4121.
For several weeks I've been thinking that this is the year the Staycation will be the trend across the country. This morning, in a report on rapidly rising travel costs, NBC News as much as said the same thing. Having just returned from a week-long trip, I can testify to how ambitious and expensive it is to have even a modest journey. After making monthly payments on the mortgage, the car, utilities, insurance and a few other essential bills, I barely have money left to buy food, and certainly not clothing or other indulgences, much less consider a holiday. Hey, but at least I'm employed. No small thing. And I created a college fund for my son 15 years ago. (Phew!) Honestly, I don't know how people get by who have 2, 3 or 4 children. I can't imagine.
The trip to Austin and New Orleans was possible because I raced to consignment and sold as much of my stuff that would sell, used points for airline tickets, got a good price on a good hotel in Austin (the Stephen Austin Intercontinental) and we stayed with friends in New Orleans. For meals we sought affordable quality. We did the $20.12 prix fix lunch at three of NoLa's "grand dames" - Galatoire's, Antoine's and Commander's Palace - and these meals were delicious. Also, martinis were 25-cents. So we had that and it was good. But one step over the line of restraint and the trip would have been unaffordable.
I know I'm not alone. At a recent lunch with a successful Washington business owner I was frankly shocked to learn that her current financial plight is the same as mine: simply not able to make ends meet due to the rising costs of everything. What we're each earning is good, but income is not enough, and in her profession -- the food industry -- the forecast is not promising. She's put her home up for sale.
This brings us back to the Staycation. Done right and well it can be as rewarding as any lavish getaway. Certainly innovative. The secret is to be into it, to embrace it as an opportunity, a bounty of possibilities. And by Staycation I don't mean take a week off but at home, doing chores and watching "America Idol" at night. You gotta go away from the zone of routine ... only not too far away, and nothing that involves planes or trains.
If I were a DC hotel manager, rather than going overboard in promoting ridiculous $40K+ inauguration suite packages that aren't the draw this time around, I would be thinking of ways to lure in the many residents of the Metro area for an affordable but quality spring or summer holiday spree. A three-day weekend at the right place, at the right price, with a few perks, can fully rejuvenate the body and mind without slaying the wallet.
There are borders to a Staycation. For me the measure is any getaway that is down the street or within a 2-3 hour drive. So, that could include Colonial Williamsburg, Annapolis, Middleburg and environs, a cabin on Skyline Drive, the region around St. Mary's or Solomons Island, Maryland; Baltimore, the Eastern Shore; journeys that can involve raft trips, canoeing, hiking, climbing (Old Rag remains a fun challenge), sailing, antiquing, good food and drink, historic touring, and plain old chill time, reading a good book.
If a person were to decide to do an at-home Staycation there would be rules. For example, no chores. No going through the mail. Turn off the smartphone. Treat the house as if it is a rental, and behave as a tourist in one's own home, neighborhood and town. Movie matinees. Theater. Maybe some meals out -- but at new places -- and stock up on some fun foods and appealing recipes to indulge in with a little time on your hands.
Every time I get together with a friend who is also trying to survive this Great Recession, we say, "it has to be over soon." And then it just seems to get worse. That's because businesses that weren't raising prices now have no choice but to make up for their losses. It's like the payroll tax. It's make-up time. As people have less expendable income, the cost of living is more. We're living through a time that will be looked back on the way we look back on the Great Depression. People got through that - somehow. We will get through this - somehow, too. But a Staycation might help to preserve sanity.
(I'll have more on this theme in coming weeks.)
The Economic Club of Washington reliably serves up one of the most interesting monthly luncheons. As the host of an interview program, I sit in appreciation of David Rubenstein's skill in hosting his own version of the Q&A. He could make a career of it if he wasn't already running Carlyle Group. Also, as one of DC's few bilionaires, it seems he's doing okay in his day job. Still, I love attending his program. Yesterday the guest was World Bank head Robert Zoellick. Read the full story: Economic Club of Washington.
So many people ask, "what's up at Katharine Graham's house?" They want to know why Mark Ein bought it and what his intentions are for the historic home. What's going on there? Does he live in it? Does anybody live in it? Will anybody ever live in it?
These questions will be answered on Thursday at The Q&A Cafe, when Mark is the quest. We'll also talk DC, business and tennis, as he owns the Washington Kastles. But, yes, we will talk about the Graham house. He gave me a behind-the-scenes tour last weekend, and there's a lot to talk about.
Please make your reservations now with the Georgetown Ritz Carlton Hotel - 202.912.4110, or by email to Ozan Yalcindag. The fee is our 2009 price of $35, all inclusive, with dessert courtesy of Georgetown Cupcake. Seating begins at noon. We'll start shortly after and be wrapped up by 1:30.
I hope to see you there. You'll get some answers.
On washingtonian.com today I have a story about the latest goings on at the Watergate complex. Everything appears to be on the up and up for a giant hunk of DC real estate that recently has been challenged. Are the new owners right, that the future is bright? Please read Watergate Gets New Owners.
My dear, sweet, solid & sturdy BMW is for sale. I hate to part with it, but so it goes. You know how the sales people like to say "driven by a grandmother," well, technically I could be a grandmother - a few times over -- but I'm not, but still I like to think I drove the car with grandmotherly TLC. I also took good care of maintenance. Regular check ups, oil change, new tires as needed, new brake pads, got the engine overhauled last spring at BMW of Alexandria. 80,500 miles. Good gas mileage. The price is $8000, a Very Good Price. This model and vintage is one of BMW's greats.
btw, the money will go to a good cause: my mortgage fund!
To BUY THIS CAR, please contact C.C. Sloane at 703.609.9500.
On behalf of the many folks who got bilked by her husband, it's legit to doubt Ruth Madoff's claim that she and Bernie attempted suicide. It's the part about saying they used Ambien but not being able to say how many pills they took, and how they just woke up in the morning, and then - in the interview - how she smiled after recounting the story, recalling how happy she was to wake up and be alive.Sort of like the way his clients felt after waking up to realize all their money was gone. This is not an attempted-suicide story, it's a sympathy-grab story that doesn't play. Ruth, some unsolicited advice: best to stay off the grid.
The only sympathetic portrayal of Ruth Madoff was Lily Tomlin's on "Damages" last season. Tomlin gave her nuance and pathos. She's not able to do that for herself.
I'm back from my love affair with Texas, and it was a love affair, plus a serious flirtation with Chicago. Still enjoying being off the grid. More than that: enthusiastically seeking to rejoin the work force, such as it is in Great Recession America, after two years of being employed by a book.
Before the trip Cristophe gave me a haircut. It's a great haircut. Thank you, Cristophe. It was time.
How do I go about my job hunt? I'm pursuing some opportunities that are seriously appealing to me, but they involve interviews and patience. As a safety net, I am also applying to two jobs a day. If you know of a job, please let me know - I'm tan, rested and ready. Also, I'm open to recommendations of good headhunters. I don't have to stay in Washington. My work is done here.
From The Glass Hammer, this is about a friend of mine, Stephanie Ruhle Hubbard, and worth a read. The full story is at the link at the bottom:
filed under Voices of Experience
By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
“It’s an interesting time to be a woman in this business – you have the opportunity to be a pioneer and affect change. Women might be on the verge of real change thanks to women supporting women. There is a sense of urgency to promote and empower,” said Stephanie Ruhle, Managing Director in Relationship Management at Deutsche Bank.
Ruhle thinks more women are entering the discussion for senior roles on Wall Street. She spoke enthusiastically about the opportunities afforded by the field, as well as the importance of senior female role models to empower the next generation of women.
Ruhle began her career in 1997. While studying abroad in Italy, she took an internship with Merrill Lynch – which sent her to New York for the summer.
“On my first visit to the trading floor I was so impressed by the energy and spontaneity. This was a business environment unlike anything I had imagined. The sense of opportunity was palpable – a real meritocracy.”
Ruhle joined Credit Suisse and took a role in sales and trading right after graduating college. “I began in corporate bond sales and started to focus on credit derivatives – and this was really when hedge funds were getting into the CDS space,” she recalled. She stayed at Credit Suisse for six years working in hedge fund sales, and moved to Deutsche Bank in 2002.
She explained, “Deutsche Bank is the preeminent powerhouse for credit derivatives on the Street.” Last year, Ruhle transitioned to senior relationship management, covering some of the banks largest clients for all Corporate & Investment Bank business.
“Based on the way the market has moved, it’s been great. In 2010, Deutsche integrated investment banking and sales and trading. You could see the synergies day one.”
Currently, Ruhle said, she is energized by the...continue
These clips were recorded on Tuesday, June 21, at Rivers at the Watergate and recorded by autographaroo.com.
Well, I'm in MONEY (if not the money), but nonetheless, this is groovy. Front of the "green" section of the very newspaper where I once worked, serving as Washington bureau chief of the one-time USA Today: The TV Show. (But please understand one is not related to the other).
The story is important and covers more than my book, including other spouses and their stories, but I'm grateful for the good play for the book. Read the full story by Sandra Block: IRS INNOCENT SPOUSE RULES CAN BE TOUGH.
Innocent Spouse by Carol Ross Joynt (Crown 2011) is a great new book about a common tax problem. When a couple files a joint tax return both are fully liable not only for what’s on the return but also for what may not be, like illegal income, gambling winnings, or foreign bank accounts. The IRS can judge one party “innocent” to let him (or more often her) off the hook, but convincing the IRS isn’t easy.
Innocent spouse cases clog the courts and are a hot topic among tax reformers. National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson has rightly lambasted the IRS for its caustic handling of some cases. Many in Congress recently asked for reform, and IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman has promised to review of innocent spouse procedures. See IRS To Give Innocent Spouse A Facelift. But the problems and inequities run deep, as Carol Joynt’s book reveals.
When Carol’s husband died unexpectedly, she ended up owning Nathans, a D.C. restaurant and bar. Unfortunately, she learns her husband was under criminal investigation by the IRS, and it’s going to take $3 million to pay them off. Seeing what she’s up against, Carol receives an IRS report about her reading “like the tumescent tabloid profile of a frivolous, spendthrift airhead.” p. 39.
Not knowing that her husband couldn’t pay for the life they were living and that his statements about family money were lies, she asks herself why she never asked any questions! She refers to her spousal relationship as “marital don’t ask, don’t tell.” p. 171. Such head-in-the-sand attitudes make our national obsession with joint tax return filing–95% of married couples file jointly–difficult to understand. See Consider Tax Filing Status Carefully.
But it’s not only Carol who faced tax problems. The restaurant had dozens of employees whose lives and finances were upended. Signature authority can mean payroll tax liability, and some received off the books income they hadn’t reported. Yet despite Carol’s terrible tale, the IRS eventually granted her innocent spouse status.
That makes Carol one of the lucky ones. Many women face a kind of IRS inquisition. The putative innocent spouse puts her own character and actions in issue by claiming she had no idea what was going on. Yet the IRS seems to go overboard, often painting an abused spouse as a willing accomplice to her tax-cheat husband or a feckless ignoramus spending money she should have known was owed for taxes.
Innocent Spouse does a great job of highlighting a huge tax problem and is entertaining to boot. It is a page-turning read about unexpected reversals of fortune, and all of us should be wary of such threats. For 95% of married Americans, that threat is a veritable sword of Damocles–we never know when it may fall. After all, who knows what evil (or sloth or honest but stupid mistakes) lurks in the hearts of men (and women)?
Innocent Spouse, by Carol Ross Joynt, ISBN 978-0-307-59209-5, is available at www.crownpublishing.com.
For more see:
And here’s another one: how your husband can keep financial secrets in a marriage and leave you with $3 million in debt when he passes away.
It sounds like a financial urban legend, but it happened to Carol Ross Joynt. In 1997, Joynt was 47 years old and living in Maryland, a successful producer for Larry King Live, mother of a healthy little boy, and happily married to her husband Howard, who owned the legendary Georgetown restaurant and bar Nathans. They lived a lavish lifestyle complete with vacation homes and designer clothes, and she was very much in love.
Then Howard died from pneumonia. Joynt’s grief was multiplied by the shocking revelation that he had hidden a financial mess from her for years–most notably, he was under investigation for tax fraud, and the IRS was turning to her for the $3 million owed.
In her new book Innocent Spouse, Joynt reveals in painful yet honest detail how she coped with becoming a widow, a tax delinquent, a single mom, and the owner of a struggling business in one blow, and how she beat the rap with the help of the IRS’s “Innocent Spouse” clause.
We interviewed Joynt to find out what she learned from her harrowing experience.
No. When it came to our finances, he always said, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll figure it out.” It never even occurred to me–because marriage is trust–that I might have been able to prompt him to explain.
Ironically, knowing all the numbers now, we could have been okay–we just would have had to cut back. But since he didn’t discuss it with me, I wasn’t able to make that recommendation. I would have said, “We’re not living like this. We have to downsize.” I can’t bear debt.
About two weeks after he died I was asked to come see his tax lawyers. They told me he had been under investigation for tax fraud, and that since I was his heir, I was now responsible for the debts. The actual debt was $800,000, but with the penalties and interest over five years, it came to $3 million. I told them I didn’t have that money.
He had been lying about many aspects of our financial situation. He told me that he was getting $20,000 a month from his trust, and I found out it was $15,000 every three months. I also found out that the restaurant, Nathans, was hemorrhaging money. I didn’t know that his father used to bail him out periodically, to the tune of around one to two million over his lifetime.
Whatever income level you’re at, if the bottom falls out, it’s chaos. When he died we had a lifestyle we couldn’t afford, and I had to quickly regroup. I had to sell the house and ratchet down. I was swimming in quicksand. I would take a painting and sell it, or take a piece of furniture and sell it. I was always selling things. I was like Scarlett O’Hara, taking down the curtains to use.
Before he died, the lawyers figured we had a cost of living of over $500,000 a year. It went down to about $75,000 after I paid taxes on the restaurant. And whatever money I had in savings ultimately went back to Nathans, because I kept trying to save the restaurant.
It was always my highest priority to pay for my son’s schooling. At the time, the DC school system was not robust so I kept him in private school. Now a friend is helping pay for his education at Georgetown, and he qualified for some loans.
The lawyers I inherited from Howard didn’t believe me when I said I had no idea what had been going on. Luckily, I found new attorneys who believed me, and after a year, I won on the Innocent Spouse relief. The Innocent Spouse relief absolved me of any guilt in the tax fraud case, and it meant they couldn’t come after my assets. The IRS still got Howard’s estate, but at least I got to keep whatever was in my name.
If I hadn’t been granted Innocent Spouse, I would have lost my house , I would have lost my income, I would have lost my savings.
I think anybody at any economic level can relate. The message in my story is that I got a lawyer who believed me. Don’t try to take the IRS on yourself. It may cost you, but it will save you in the long run. A good lawyer will protect you. In every town in America, there is a lawyer who can deal with the IRS.
You’re shark bait, because you’re perceived as vulnerable, and I had to become hip to that. A plumber would come, he would tinker around, I would give him a check, he would leave, and it wasn’t even fixed! People just feel they can dump on you. For whatever reason, women aren’t given the same credibility as men. You have to be a little stronger, talk a little louder, be a little more assertive.
I would say, “I’m a widow, can you please make sure you get this right?” I was basically saying, “Take advantage of me.” I don’t do that anymore.
It was one of the great bars of Washington, but it couldn’t afford itself. Its rent was ridiculously high, the insurance and taxes were ridiculously high.
At first I thought I could turn the business around and get income from it. After the first year, I signed a personal guaranty on the lease because I thought I could sell the restaurant. That was my biggest mistake. No one who owns a small business should use their own money. The smart small business owners always use someone else’s money and they don’t sign personal guaranties.
Without the guaranty I could have filed for bankruptcy the moment I learned Nathans was bankrupt. Instead, I became personally responsible for the restaurant’s debts.
My only asset at this point was my home, which I owned free and clear. So I had to take out a half a million dollar mortgage on my home to fund my getting free of Nathans: paying off the landlords, paying the tax and other debts I was legally bound to as an LLC.
Well, I had to leave my job as a producer to focus on the restaurant. I have a just a little bit left. I make about $25,000 a year, and I have a half million dollar mortgage to make payments on.
I tell my friends, I’m a post-Jimmy-Choo woman. I gave up all that stuff. In the end I didn’t really need it. It became symbols of what wasn’t real. I can still appreciate things, but I don’t covet them. If I miss anything, I miss the freedom of travel, and being able to go where I want, when I want. I miss the luxury of time, and things that are taken care of.
Don’t not fall in love. Falling in love is the best thing in the world. I wish that everyone falls in love with the man of their dreams.
But if you are on a joint tax return, don’t just take it for granted. An accountant did our taxes, and I didn’t even read them; I just signed them. That was just stupid. Also, if you end up being the heir to your spouse’s business, it would behoove you to learn something about it.
I’m always telling my son, like Reagan said: “Trust but verify.”
Carol had a fairytale life, until the lies at its foundation caused it to crumble and come crashing down. She admits that she was just too trusting (actually, she bluntly calls it being stupid) by putting her financial life into her husband’s hands and always taking him at his word.
So talk to your partner or spouse. Keep a separate checking account (learn how to open one here) and credit card (find the right card for you). Ask to be a part in all the financial decisions. And always read the fine print before signing anything.
(NOTE: There were no criminal charges filed in the case of J. Howard Joynt. Not against him or Carol as his heir. It was a tax fraud case, but not a criminal tax fraud case.)
At the end of "The Company Men" I wanted to walk into the screen, get down on bended knee and beg for a job. It is a quietly powerful and well made movie that resonated with many recognized truths from the last decade of my own life. At times it prompted painful memories that almost brought tears, but in the end I smiled because I felt, "Yes, that's where I am now." I could smell, taste and feel the conclusion, though for me in reality it has not happened yet.
While it is set in a big Boston maritime corporation and has to do with the downsizing that came after the Wall Street crash, and almost uniformly focuses on the white collar class (which is why some will hate it), at heart its about losing the (good) life well known, the comforts taken for granted, and finding a way to get through it and to the other side, where faith, hope and determination pay off. I was not literally fired from my job. But my husband's crimes, and the aftermath, caused me to be effectively fired from the life I'd known and built and, yes, took for granted. Nothing was ever the same again, and I had the choice of living in denial or adapting. Fortunately, though painfully, I adapted. I'm still adapting. The fallout hasn't stopped for me or my son, though now we understand it and cope.
In the case of this film, I related both to the Ben Affleck character, "Bobby Walker," the husband/breadwinner/seeming success, who starts out in deep denial, and Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays "Maggie Walker," his understanding and wise wife who brings reality and solutions to the table. Fortunately I did not relate to the Chris Cooper character, "Phil Woodward," who could not adapt to his new reality, though I fully and achingly understand his torment.
On the home front, the script is pitch perfect in capturing those moments when the bills no longer can be paid, the absurd phone conversations with collection agencies, the humiliation of knowing its not possible to keep the old lifestyle, to fool the friends and neighbors, the lengths and depths of cost-cutting, and having to eat big slices of humble pie. When Maggie points out to Bobby that they not only can't afford their current mortgage but won't be able to buy a smaller home because they can't quality for a new mortgage, I was like, "Hello, how do you do?" My predicament exactly.
On the job front, its one humiliating rejection after another--and yet, and yet, the job seeker has to remain upbeat, unrelenting, calm, well turned out, and able to smile through any number of professional insults. I've reached the point where I consider it a success if I get a reply thats a rejection, because most of the applications I submit go into the black hole. There's no reply, initially or to follow ups. Nothing. As in true life, the job applicants don't always smile. Sometimes they leave nasty messages for Human Resources.
I was right there with him when Bobby tells Maggie he feels like a loser because he can't still provide for his family as before, because no one wants to hire him, because he just can't seem to fit in. Fighting those feelings is the hardest part of survival, because they are what shut you down. You feel like a fraud because you may look like everyone else but inside you know you lost your place in line.
On another front, while the fired employees scramble for survival, the film vividly shows the cold demeanor of the corporate environment, particularly the board room, where heroes are hard to come by. As a former boss, I related to that, too. I mean at Nathans we were always downsizing. To open each day chewed up me, the employees and ultimately the business itself.
SPOILER ALERT: The end is about rising from the ashes, as it should be. Why work so hard to push through if there's not the hope of finding resurrection? I loved that it was about a start-up. What I'd give to find a start up--and in just about any industry--that may be lean on early resources but strong on skill and purpose. I don't need luxury and amenities, but I do need a paycheck and real benefits. Those are way way more important than leather upholstery, curtains and a desk made of polished wood. Its not clear whether Bobby's new office even has heat. That's okay. He got back in the game.
Hooray for "The Company Men," written and directed by John Wells, who has a long list of credits as a producer, though this may be his first directing gig. I know January is typically a dumping ground for Hollywood's waste, but every now and then a solid Indie slips into the mix, and that's what's happened here. Solid, moving, rewarding. Even if you are fortunate to be employed you'll want to see this film. And if you are a Kevin Costner fan, then there's another good reason.
The Q&A Cafe interview with Christopher Kennedy Lawford will air on Friday May 17 at 8 pm on DCN, channel 16. We discuss his life, his addictions, his recovery and it's all good. Please tune in.
Author, interviewer, and photographer. Read more...
Here is information for book clubs that have chosen Innocent Spouse: Book Club Discussions...