Monday, October 26, 2015

a Socialist?

The Opinion Pages | Contributing Op-Ed Writer

Guess Who Else Is a Socialist?


The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor

Why Tipping Is Wrong

Credit Wesley Allsbrook          

Mr. Meyer’s move to establish a transparent, fair salary for his staff is laudable, and I hope it will help set a new standard for the industry. But to achieve change across the restaurant business nationwide, we need reform to the law that has created a lower minimum wage for tipped workers.
Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo threw his support behind a statewide $15 minimum wage for all New Yorkers, but his proposal is expected to exclude the state’s 380,000 tipped workers. Despite the planned raise to $15 an hour already approved for workers in the fast-food industry, most restaurant staffers will continue to suffer under a lower minimum wage. Median pay for a tipped worker in New York, including tips, stands at just $9.43 an hour.
The omission of these workers in New York not only perpetuates an unfair pay system — in particular, one that reinforces pay inequity for a largely female work force — but also extends an ugly, racialized history. The practice of tipping originated in the aristocratic homes of feudal Europe. Then, in the 19th century, Americans returning from travel abroad would attempt to tip workers here to show that they knew the rules of Europe.
Toward the end of that century, a powerful anti-tipping movement arose. It called the practice undemocratic and un-American, arguing that employers, not customers, should pay their workers. In turn, American restaurant owners and railway companies fought to keep the system on the grounds that tipping was a legitimate alternative to wages — especially since many of their workers were African-American, in many cases freed slaves whom these employers resented having to pay at all. One writer of the period noted that he could never feel comfortable tipping a white person, since the practice should be reserved for “Negroes.”

Ruining Comedy

Television | On Comedy

Political Correctness Isn’t Ruining Comedy. It’s Helping.

Anthony Jeselnik in “Thoughts and Prayers,” on Netflix. Credit Phil Bray/Netflix
It was not received well. After pressure from Comedy Central, which broadcast his short-lived show, “The Jeselnik Offensive,” he deleted the tweet. In his new Netflix special, “Thoughts and Prayers,” he has punch lines about abortion, child molestation, pedophilia and dead babies, but the only thing he expresses regret about is erasing this joke. His hour of rigorously insensitive, finely crafted comedy feels like penance for a betrayal of a perverse artistic conscience.
We are living in the age of the joke controversy. On the Internet, they seem to arrive with the frequency of subway trains. But despite what you might have heard, a new political correctness is not ruining the art of comedy. In some quarters, it may be helping.
The power of online outrage is highly overrated. Trevor Noah didn’t lose his job over idiotic tweets and Stephen Colbert wasn’t canceled over an Asian joke. Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham survived criticism of racial and ethnic jokes. Even comics without star power who have set off furors, like Sam Morril and Kurt Metzger, are doing fine. Does fear of backlash make some comics self-censor? Probably, but if the possibility of blowback makes artists think twice before delivering a rape joke, that’s a good thing. Comedians have never been able to joke about provocative subjects without repercussions, and what’s often overlooked is how, during the past few decades, the ability of comics to push the line of good taste for a national audience has actually dramatically increased.
It is easier than ever to see the kind of risqué comedy that was once the province of the big-city club. Today you can say all of the curses in George Carlin’s famously brilliant seven words you can never say on television on the Internet and several of them on cable TV.
The cantankerous debates online today can be seen as moral pushback and a reminder that those dastardly censors at the network were standing in for audiences with strong opinions about what is offensive. Since these squabbles now begin online, comedians are more likely to be harshly criticized in public, but this presents a new foil for comedy that depends on violating social or ethical norms, a broad tradition that includes everything from National Lampoon to Sarah Silverman. While many try to give high-minded explanations for button-pushing jokes, anyone who sees enough stand-up knows the truth: Transgression gets laughs.
The real consequence of the proliferation of joke controversies is that the realm of the taboo has appeared to expand. There are more lines to cross, more things you’re not supposed to say. Artistically, this is good news for Mr. Jeselnik, whose trademark aesthetic is succinctly crafted setups punctuated by misdirection and a shock. “I lost my grandfather,” begins one joke on the new special, before a sober pause. “I lost my grandfather in the Holocaust museum.” In this joke, there are two twists in a dozen words, the second one lasts less than a second, right before he says “museum.” Then he caps the joke by ratcheting up the absurdity and nastiness: “It was the Holocaust museum of modern art, which is just like a normal Holocaust museum, except you walk around all day thinking, ‘I should have thought of that.’ ”
His jokes have the rhythm of a magic trick and the concision of a bubble-gum-pop lyric: Not a word wasted. Mr. Jeselnik, who has the smug smile and good looks of a Neil LaBute villain, has always been a spectacular joke writer in search of a good subject. He’s such a formalist that he can indulge in some truly lame puns. “I ran over a deer,” he says on the special. “Dear, dear friend.”
The special not only keeps current on taboos (mass shooting jokes), but he turns them into the subject of his show, filmed in San Francisco, because, as he says, people think it’s the most politically correct city in the world. He makes a show of a tense relationship with audience members, needling them, anticipating and insulting their reactions. It’s the rare special in which the cutaway shots are to people not laughing. What makes “Thoughts and Prayers” a departure for Mr. Jeselnik is that two-thirds of the way into the special, he says he’s finished with his jokes, which he explains were all fiction. The rest of the show, he says, will be honest. He begins with something that sounds like a mission statement.
“I don’t tell dark jokes because I’m a comedian,” Mr. Jeselnik says. “I am a comedian because I tell dark jokes.”
Building on this point, he concedes that he’s messed up in the head (in coarser language): “I can’t help myself.”
But he sends mixed signals, arguing that his subject matter is also a choice, a test of the purity of his comedy. One wonders if Mr. Jeselnik has ever also considered it a sign of weakness, a crutch that his audience has come to expect. Wouldn’t benign jokes about airplane food be the real test of his craftsmanship?
Mr. Jeselnik is not as indifferent to his audience as he seems, and he knows the possibility of going too far raises the tension of his jokes, which then result in bigger laughs. When it comes to criticism, he doesn’t play the victim in interviews or defensively cry “Free speech!” like some comics. He understands he’s going to be disliked and uses it. The sociopathic persona is a choice. “You can hate me and still laugh at me,” he says. “That’s how talented I am.”
What’s odd about the prevalence of online dust-ups is that they can pose more of a problem for cautious or clean comics, which is why it’s not that surprising that Jerry Seinfeld has been so outspoken about political correctness. Mr. Seinfeld and Mr. Jeselnik are both alert to contemporary mores, but only one of them wants to violate them aggressively. When Mr. Seinfeld went on “Late Show With David Letterman” toward the end of its run and did a set that he had first performed in the early 1980s, Mr. Letterman told him his material hadn’t aged. Mr. Seinfeld disagreed, pointing out that fat jokes (he had told one) are now more taboo. He’s right, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them, if you’re willing to take the heat.

Delaware for Art Collectors

Fritz Dietl, left, owner of Delaware Freeport, a fine arts storage facility, unpacks a piece of art work with operations manager Andreas Aigner inside his warehouse in Newark, Del. Credit Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

NEWARK, Del. — It may not summon up a sense of international intrigue like Geneva or Luxembourg, but this small city, just off the Interstate and down the road from Wilmington, can now boast that it has joined those more glamorous locales as a tax haven for art collectors.
Fritz Dietl, who for years watched collectors ship artworks from sales in New York to tax-advantageous free ports overseas, has opened his own here in a former foam peanut packing factory beside the train tracks.
He is gradually filling it with plywood crates containing artworks. The warehouse, he says, offers art owners the same benefits as its better known European counterparts: discretion, security and tax savings.
“In the past, they would have shipped it to Switzerland,” he said one morning recently, gesturing at about 20 large crates in a 16,000-square-foot, climate-controlled space.
The artworks packed in the crates were worth in total about $10 million to $15 million, he said. But more would arrive soon, and he was readying another, 20,000-square-foot room next door in the same warehouse.
“Within a month, it will be close to $100 million,” he said. “I am planning to have this full by the end of next year.”
In June, another art storage complex opened in Delaware, a 50,000-square-foot warehouse run by a Philadelphia art storage company, Atelier, that promises to keep the art at a constant 68 degrees. Next month, Crozier Fine Arts, which operates storage spaces in Manhattan, New Jersey and other areas, is scheduled to open a 40,000-square-foot storage space in Delaware.
This state is special because storage spots in most other states cannot offer the same tax advantages as Delaware. It is one of only five states without any sales or use tax, meaning that a Manhattan collector who might owe, say, $887,500 in sales tax on the purchase of a $10 million painting at Sotheby’s in New York, would owe nothing by shipping the art to Delaware directly after purchasing it.
Once there, art can be bought and sold within a storage space without any tax on the transactions for as long as it remains there.
“Delaware has a lot of trust and tax advantages,” said Derek Jones, executive director of Atelier.
As interest in art as an investment — not a wall hanging — grows, the appeal of storing it tax free while it possibly appreciates in value has grown, too, spurring the expansion of free ports in Geneva and elsewhere in Europe and Asia. Owners do not have to pay import or export taxes when they ship to and from those locations. But, as Mr. Dietl points out, they are far away for American collectors, and there is no export tax on shipping an artwork into or around the United States, either.
As a result, Mr. Dietl thinks his new warehouse can replicate the benefits of overseas free ports “100 percent,” and maybe surpass them, because New York owners have to move their art less than 200 miles to Delaware.
He has even called his new facility, which opened last month, the Delaware Freeport. Each week, his truck shuttles along Interstate 95 from Manhattan carrying art for private buyers, museums and other institutions.
“As an investor in art, it just makes a lot of sense to have the advantage of places where you can safely store your artwork without the tax burden,” Mr. Dietl said.
“We just decided to finally give collectors and investors the ability to do this here in the United States.”
Storing art in Delaware is not new. Eighteen years ago, Bayshore here, received a call from a California collector who wanted to store art. Since then, the art portion of its business has grown. Works are locked in rows of private vaults resembling prison cells, defended by cameras, double roofs and two security firms, occupying space “well north of 50,000 square feet,” said Matt Larmore, one of the owners.
Business has skyrocketed in the past three years, he said, though he declined to speculate on why collectors chose to store with him. It’s their business, he said.
Simon Hornby, president of art services for Crozier, said it is clear, though, why it makes sense for art storage companies to look at Delaware as the next hot spot. “It is lower-cost real estate for long-term clients with no tax issues at all,” he said.
Market forces are in many ways responsible for the primacy of tax planning in so many collectors’ minds. With contemporary art prices so high, the benefits of saving on taxes in a place like Delaware are palpable.
Another reason may be a more aggressive attitude by New York authorities toward the proper payment of sales and use taxes on art transactions. Mr. Dietl and Mr. Jones and several lawyers who specialize in advising collectors said that they had seen an uptick in requests from the authorities to review transactions to make sure dealers and owners are fully complying with the tax code.
Diana Wierbicki, a partner at the law firm Withers Bergman, where she leads the global art practice, said recent big sales such as Christie’s spring auctions, when more than $1 billion worth of art changed hands in a week, had likely drawn the state tax office’s closer attention. A billion dollars is enough to draw anyone’s scrutiny.
“It is very active,” she said. “We are seeing them pay more attention.”
In a statement, Geoffrey Gloak, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, said, “The N.Y.S. tax department takes tax evasion very seriously and has a rigorous audit program to ensure that all taxpayers pay their fair share of taxes — in relation to art and all other taxable items and enterprises.”
A rush to build in Delaware could create a glut of art storage space.
Evan Beard, who leads the art and finance practice in the United States for Deloitte, a consulting and advisory firm, said the new warehouses in Delaware will have to work hard to distinguish themselves from one another.
“There has been a proliferation of these art storage facilities in the United States,” he said.
Steve Novenstein, chief executive of Uovo, an art storage company in Long Island City and Rockland County, both in New York, said he had no plans for Delaware.

“We understand the benefits of doing it taxwise, but we have not had enough interest from customers in doing something in Delaware,” Mr. Novenstein said.
Still, Mr. Dietl said he was optimistic about his prospects. He came to the United States from Austria in 1988 when he was 25. After he started an art transportation company in 1991, with a fax machine, a rented room at Kennedy Airport and a $60,000 investment from the collector Serge Sabarsky, his company is now one of the largest international art shippers. Mr. Dietl said he thought that gave him the pulse of the art market and the contacts to make a success of art storage.
He is applying for free-trade-zone status in Delaware, which could lend him further advantages, such as extending customs tax benefits to other collectibles like furniture and allowing collectors to authenticate artworks and send them back abroad if they don’t like them, without the art ever crossing the United States border, he said.
And for American art owners, Delaware is so much closer than Geneva.
“There is no need,” Mr. Dietl said, “to ship something with the risk and cost of shipping it overseas.”