Monday, March 31, 2008

Uno, dos, tres...

I must admit that I am a little less than thrilled with the liking Elizabeth has taken to soccer as in our household we prefer a sport where you are supposed to use your hands. We lay the blame at the animated feet of Dora, Boots, and Go Diego Go!

These shows are at least good for more than buying me the time to take a decent shower...while at the playground on Saturday and again today, Elizabeth has been doing some of her counting in Spanish. As I took 2 years of French in high school and 1 more year in college - and can only say "$hit in your face, you red neck" (thanks Auntie Patty!), the essential phrase, "gimme a beer" and some other quality words like "ham," "here," etc. Needless to say, not a whole lot stuck from those quality years of French when my brain was not at its best for accepting a foreign language...any who, I've is really amazing to hear our little amazing 2 year old saying a couple of numbers in Spanish - especially since no one in either of our families speak Spanish, she can only count to 12, and basically the only Spanish she is hearing is on Dora and Diego. Oh how we need to find a foreign language class for tots while her little brain is able to mop this up!!!

I Need...

It seems like every time we get into the car these days Elizabeth shouts from the backseat, "I neeeeed 'Ginia!" So the obsession with the Pride of West Virginia, the Mountaineer Marching Band.

On Saturday, Reid, Elizabeth, & I went to the elementary school's playground in West Liberty so Elizabeth could play on the slide - as she has been interested in the slide from some pictures in a few of her books. I took my camera, but am bummed that I didn't pack the video camera as well. She had a blast! Nearly every one of the (> 150) pictures Reid & I took of her is with her mouth open because she was laughing. "Watch this, Daddy." "I need slide." "I can do it." "I'm coming." "I go slide." Just a few of the expressions we heard during the trip to the park. What a blast she is!!!

We got a stove/oven for the house in West Liberty. (Sorry, Rikki, it wasn't moved in with the amount of fan-fare that some of your furniture was done photos of items being lifted high in the air...) The closest we came to fan-fare while moving in the oven/stove was Elizabeth informing us, "I neeeed cheese, Mommy. I need cheese." (She is her father's daughter!) I'm amazed at how I am so dependent on that one kitchen appliance (sorry Kitchen Aide mixer, but it is true.)

I need to be able to go to sleep. Dang cough...dang sweet afternoon nap...I need to first post this series of pictures of Elizabeth...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter 2008

Elizabeth is now an expert egg colorer. Per my post of last week, she got off to a fabulous start thanks to weeks of prepping at Camp Nana. By the time Elizabeth & Caylin were coloring eggs, she was an old pro. So much so that on a few occasions Erin had to step in as the substitute colorer when Elizabeth got down to run around.

It was really fun watching Elizabeth & Caylin play together. Caylin can dish out some serious attitude when provoked, but she is so good with Elizabeth - very patient, good to share, very loving...but there is no doubt about who is in charge.

I made a sugar cookie dough earlier in the week and took it to Aunt Cathy's for some sweet treats. I would roll out the dough and Erin & Caylin would cut out the cookies. (Caylin still needs to learn the value of cutting from the edge first...every time she went straight for the middle...making us have to roll out a little more than what should have been necessary. You have to learn somehow, though!) After the cookies were all baked, the three "Maries" (Jennie Marie, Erin Marie, & Caylin Marie - the thrid of which cheats at Clue) iced & decorated the cookies. Elizabeth helped herself to the icing that dripped onto the wax paper. That was quite a bit of icing, too, mind you.

From Saturday until today, I have heard E's little voice on more than one occasion saying, "I need cookie, Mommy." Just like when we are in the car and she "needs" 'Ginia.

As usual, I outdid myself in shopping for Elizabeth. Great TJMaxx score again this year for Easter. She & her Cabbage Patch doll wore matching dresses. $15 for both...I think I paid the same for the cardigan as the dress is sleeveless...the Stride Right patten leather shoes were a Gabes score for $7. Damn I'm good!

E really enjoyed the egg hunt on Sunday. She only needed a little help to locate an egg or two. She is so much fun to watch!!!

I am learning some mad skills on PhotoShop (well, mad skills for me at least!) On Sunday I took a couple of pictures of my most adorable nephew, Alex, for his 1st birthday invitations. (That's where those mad PhotoShop skills are going to come in quite handy. I'll post the invite once I've permitted Anne & Sean to make their recommendations (not that this shouldn't be all about me, but...whatever...) I'm not using this pic of Alex for the invite, but thought it was rather cute!

Speaking of which...I'm bummed that the Lady Mountaineers lost in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tourney, but proud of the strides the team has made during Mike Carey's tenure (not to say that I am surprised...)

Tomorrow's Sweet 16 match up of WVU vs. Xavier - tip off at 7:10 PM. I'm so excited for what the Mountaineers have done this season...and already getting nervous for tomorrow night's game.
Let's Gooooo Mountaineers!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sounds of Spring

It was strange waking up to the Red Sox on the TV on opening day "@" the Okland A's in the Tokyo Dome...but great to hear the sounds of spring with baseball officially underway. It doesn't hurt that Okajima got a win (6-5 in 10 innings)...and with that the defending World Series Champions are off to a 1-0 start! All is right in the universe - the Sox are leading the AL East.

Have I told you that with the move to Wheeling...we've switched from Dish to DirectTV? I know, you're thinking, "Who cares?" BUT, with the DirectTV package...we're getting NESN (ooooh! So exciting) and the MLB package - high def! Ahhhhh (I think I hear angels singing...)

Go Sox!

(Photo is from today - Manny being Manny celebrates his two-run double in the 10th: Getty Images)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Coloring Eggs - Round 1

Elizabeth colored her Easter eggs at Nana's & Papa's house this evening. She had a great time, but was worn out after all of the excitement! She fell asleep in no time flat - now I have the secret to getting a good night's sleep.

We're really looking forward to spending time with the Mortons this weekend! Enjoy the pics of her coloring eggs...will post more soon...

And in regards to the first Round of the NCAA Tournament -
Let's Gooooo Mountaineers!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Weezie's sick...

On Friday I went to Indiana, PA, to watch WSLC's women's basketball team in the NCAA East Regional Tourney. They didn't play particularly well and lost to Shepherd. Reid was contracted by Shepherd to broadcast the WLSC v. Shepherd game on Friday (nothing like getting paid extra for a game you'll already be broadcasting!) and to also broadcast any subsequent games in which Shepherd might play.

I got my broadcasting debut (aside from my spectacular work on the State Farm and USA Steak Buffet spots of a couple of years ago - still shocked that ESPN didn't come calling after that work to have me fill in for Robin Roberts calling the hoop action after she took the full time desk job at Good Morning America...but I digress)...I got my broadcasting debut as Reid's color bunny on the Shepherd v. Mount Olive game on Saturday. If you didn't get the email from Reid in time to tune in, you missed the opportunity of a lifetime to listen to a perfect job by yours truly - insightful, spot-on, witty (but not too witty), timely, you name it, broadcast. Actually, I was serviceable at best, but had a good time on the broadcast.

While we were on our way out of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (and not a moment too soon, I might add), Nana called with the bad news that Elizabeth had been sick. She was running a fever...

Must have been a stomach bug of some sort because, although she was lethargic on Sunday, and still a bit so on Monday, she seems to be just fine right now. Nana appears to have recovered as well (not to say that she had the same bug...but playing Florence Nightingale to a toddler that seldom complains is quite taxing.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Ultimate How To Guide & Sox Gear (what not to wear)

I've been telling myself for a while now that I want to learn how to knit. I get that I could ask my Aunt Cathy...or my Aunt Sarah to teach me this, but it seems that when I am "home" with the Mortons, we are too busy BSing to stop long enough for me to learn how to knit. Anyway, I stumbled upon this website that is a how to for nearly everything: There are pictures with the knitting instructions, but there is all sorts of other good stuff on this site like how to sell you home (something I'll be doing more research on in the coming months), recipes, how to wrap a gift, how to organize your home, information on baseball (if you don't know the basics to MLB stats)...and it's in Wiki format, so if you can contribute your knowledge, all the better. Pretty cool!!!

Now, if you are wanting a sweater wrapped up (Quamut has instructions on wrapping, too) for Christmas next year, I strongly recommend you tell someone to purchase the sweater for you rather than wait for me to learn how to knit one for you...maybe someday though...

I am still "mad to"'s shop. I don't think I will ever order anything from them again, I recommend you steer clear of them as well if you are interested in actually possessing anything for your favorite MLB team. (Go Sox!) Despite placing an order for items (hats and shirts) of Boston Red Sox goodies for Christmas at least 3 weeks prior to when I needed them, I have still not received the shirt for Mom and the WS hat for Daddy. (When a box arrived at my house two weeks ago, I was all aflutter thinking their stuff had finally arrived. Alas, it was a shirt I ordered for myself, at the same time as their orders and Reid's hat and Anne's Manny shirt that arrived in time for Christmas - barely...anyway, I got my shirt that I ordered for myself so that I could save a sum total of $5 and get free S&H.) MLB's online shop sucks out loud - purchase elsewhere!!!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Typical - More Corporate Corruption

I was astounded by this article in yesterday's Boston Globe. I'm posting here for your shock & awe. [NOTE: Any bold throughout the article has been added by me for emphasis.]

Top Iraq contractor skirts US taxes offshore
Shell companies in Cayman Islands allow KBR to avoid Medicare, Social Security deductions
By Farah Stockman
Globe Staff / March 6, 2008

CAYMAN ISLANDS - Kellogg Brown & Root, the nation's top Iraq war contractor and until last year a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in this tropical tax haven.

When Texas pipe-fitter Danny Langford applied for unemployment compensation after being let go by Service Employers International Inc., he was rejected, he was told, because he worked for a foreign company.

More than 21,000 people working for KBR in Iraq - including about 10,500 Americans - are listed as employees of two companies that exist in a computer file on the fourth floor of a building on a palm-studded boulevard here in the Caribbean. Neither company has an office or phone number in the Cayman Islands.

The Defense Department has known since at least 2004 that KBR was avoiding taxes by declaring its American workers as employees of Cayman Islands shell companies, and officials said the move allowed KBR to perform the work more cheaply, saving Defense dollars.

But the use of the loophole results in a significantly greater loss of revenue to the government as a whole, particularly to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. And the creation of shell companies in places such as the Cayman Islands to avoid taxes has long been attacked by members of Congress.

A Globe survey found that the practice is unusual enough that only one other major contractor in Iraq said it does something similar.

"Failing to contribute to Social Security and Medicare thousands of times over isn't shielding the taxpayers they claim to protect, it's costing our citizens in the name of short-term corporate greed," said Senator John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee who has introduced legislation to close loopholes for companies registering overseas.

With an estimated $16 billion in contracts, KBR is by far the largest contractor in Iraq, with eight times the work of its nearest competitor.

The no-bid contract it received in 2002 to rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure and a multibillion-dollar contract to provide support services to troops have long drawn scrutiny because Vice President Dick Cheney was Halliburton's chief executive from 1995 until he joined the Republican ticket with President Bush in 2000.

The largest of the Cayman Islands shell companies - called Service Employers International Inc., which is now listed as having more than 20,000 workers in Iraq, according to KBR - was created two years before Cheney became Halliburton's chief executive. But a second Cayman Islands company called Overseas Administrative Services, which now is listed as the employer of 1,020 mostly managerial workers in Iraq, was established two months after Cheney's appointment.

Cheney's office at the White House referred questions to his personal lawyer, who did not return phone calls.

Heather Browne, a spokeswoman for KBR, acknowledged via e-mail that the two Cayman Islands companies were set up "in order to allow us to reduce certain tax obligations of the company and its employees."

Social Security and Medicare taxes amount to 15.3 percent of each employees' salary, split evenly between the worker and the employer. While KBR's use of the shell companies saves workers their half of the taxes, it deprives them of future retirement benefits.

In addition, the practice enables KBR to avoid paying unemployment taxes in Texas, where the company is registered, amounting to between $20 and $559 per American employee per year, depending on the company's rate of turnover.

As a result, workers hired through the Cayman Island companies cannot receive unemployment assistance should they lose their jobs.

In interviews with more than a dozen KBR workers registered through the Cayman Islands companies, most said they did not realize that they had been employed by a foreign firm until they arrived in Iraq and were told by their foremen, or until they returned home and applied for unemployment benefits.

"They never explained it to us," said Arthur Faust, 57, who got a job loading convoys in Iraq in 2004 after putting his resume on and going to orientation with KBR officials in Houston.

But there is one circumstance in which KBR does claim the workers as its own: when it comes to receiving the legal immunity extended to employers working in Iraq.

In one previously unreported case, a group of Service Employers International workers accused KBR of knowingly exposing them to cancer-causing chemicals at an Iraqi water treatment plant. Under the Defense Base Act of 1941, a federal workers compensation law, employers working with the military have immunity in most cases from such employee lawsuits.

So when KBR lawyers argued that the workers were KBR employees, lawyers for the men objected; the case remains in arbitration.

"When it benefits them, KBR takes the position that these men really are employees," said Michael Doyle, the lawyer for nine American men who were allegedly exposed to the dangerous chemicals. "You don't get to take both positions."

Founded by two brothers in Texas in 1919, the construction firm of Brown & Root quickly became associated with some of the largest public-works projects of the early 20th century, from oil platforms to warships to dams that provided electricity to rural areas.

Its political clout, particularly with fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson, was legendary, and it became a major overseas contractor, building roads and ports during the Vietnam war.

Halliburton, a Houston-based oil conglomerate, acquired Brown & Root in 1962. And after the Vietnam cease-fire agreement in 1973, it all but stopped doing overseas military work for two decades.

But in 1991, during the Gulf War, Halliburton decided to try to revive its military business. The next year, Brown & Root won a $3.9 million contract from the Defense Department under Secretary Dick Cheney to develop contingency plans to support, feed, house, and maintain the US military in 13 hot spots around the world.

That small contract soon grew into a massive logistical-support contract under which the company did everything from building military camps to cooking meals and providing transportation for troops. Under the contract, the military agreed to reimburse Brown & Root for all expenses, and to pay a profit of between 1 and 9 percent, depending on performance.

In Somalia, starting in December 1992, Brown & Root employees helped US soldiers and UN workers dig wells and collect garbage, among many other tasks. The company quickly became the largest civilian employer in the country, with about 2,500 people on its payroll. Its headquarters in Texas had a "war room," where executives would get daily updates about events in Mogadishu.

Later the company would play similar roles supporting US troops in Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan.

As its military work increased, Brown & Root sent more American workers overseas. Americans working and living abroad receive significant breaks on their income tax, but still must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes if they work for an American company. The reasoning is that such workers are likely to return to the United States and collect benefits, so they and their employers ought to help pay for them.

But the taxes drive up costs. A former Halliburton executive who was in a senior position at the company in the early 1990s said construction companies that avoid taxes by setting up foreign subsidiaries have obvious advantages in bidding for military contracts.

Payroll taxes can be a significant cost, he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "If you are bidding against [rival construction firms] Fluor and Bechtel, it might give you a competitive advantage."

Service Employers International was set up in 1993, as Brown & Root was ramping up its roster of overseas workers. Two years later, the company set up Overseas Administrative Services, which serves more senior workers and provides a pension plan.

The parent company became Kellogg Brown & Root in 1998, when it joined with the oil-pipe manufacturer, M. W. Kellogg.

Around that time, KBR lost its exclusive contract to provide logistical support to the US military. But in 2001 it outbid DynCorp to win it back, by agreeing to a maximum profit of 3 percent of costs.

Then, in 2002, the firm received a secret contract to draw up plans to restore Iraq's oil production after the US-led invasion of Iraq. The Defense Department has said the firm was chosen mainly for its assets and expertise, not its ability to control costs.

Nonetheless, KBR's top competitors in Iraq do not appear to have gone to the same lengths to avoid taxes. Other top Iraq war contractors - including Bechtel, Parsons, Washington Group International, L-3 Communications, Perini, and Fluor - told the Globe that they pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for their American workers.

"It has been Fluor Corporation's policy to compensate our employees who are US citizens the same as if they worked in the geographic United States," said Keith Stephens, Fluor's director of global media relations. "With the exception of hardship and danger pay additives for work performed in Iraq, they receive the same benefits as their US-based colleagues, and Fluor pays or remits all required US taxes and payroll burdens, including FICA payments and unemployment insurance."

Only one other top contractor, the construction and logistics firm IAP Worldwide Services Inc., said it employs a "limited number" of Americans through an offshore subsidiary.

Officials at DynCorp, the company that KBR outbid for the logistics contract, did not return numerous calls.
KBR is now widely believed to be the largest private employer of foreigners in Iraq, and it hires twice as many workers through its Cayman Island subsidiaries as it does by direct hires. Service Employers International alone employs more than 20,000 truck drivers, electricians, accountants, and engineers, roughly half of whom are American, according to Browne, the KBR spokeswoman.

KBR declined to release salary information. But workers interviewed by the Globe who served in a range of jobs said they earned between $48,000 and $85,000 per year. If KBR's American workers averaged even as much as $63,000 per year, they and KBR would have owed more than $100 million per year in Social Security and Medicare taxes, split evenly between them. Over the course of the five-year war, their tax bill would have been more than $500 million.

In 2004, auditors with the Pentagon's Defense Contract Audit Agency questioned KBR about the two Cayman Island companies but ultimately made no complaint. The auditors told the Globe in an email exchange facilitated by Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Brian Maka that any tax savings resulting from the offshore subsidiaries "are passed on" to the US military.

Browne, the KBR spokeswoman, said the loss to Social Security could eventually be offset by the fact that the workers will receive less money when they retire, since benefits are generally based on how much workers and their companies have paid into the system.

Medicare, however, does not reduce benefits for workers who don't contribute, and Browne acknowledged that KBR has not calculated the impact of its tax practices on the government as a whole.

She said KBR does not save money from the practice, since its contracts allow for its labor expenses to be reimbursed by the US military. But the practice gives KBR a competitive advantage over other contractors who pay their share of employment taxes.

And critics of tax loopholes note that the use of offshore shell companies to avoid payroll taxes places a greater burden on other taxpayers.

"The argument that by not paying taxes they are saving the government money is just absurd," said Robert McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington advocacy group.

To the people listed as its workers, Service Employers International Inc. - known to them as SEII - remains something of a mystery.

"Does anybody know what or where in the Grand Cayman Islands SEII is located?" a recently returned worker wrote in a complaint about the company on, an employment website. He speculated that the office in the Cayman Islands must be "the size of a jail cell . . . with only a desk and chair."

In fact, the address on file at the Registry of Companies in the Cayman Islands leads to a nondescript building in the Grand Cayman business district that houses Trident Trust, one of the Caymans' largest offshore registered agents. Trident Trust collects $1,000 a year to forward mail and serve as KBR's representative on the island.

The real managers of Service Employers International work out of KBR's office in Dubai. KBR and Halliburton, which also moved to Dubai, severed ties last year.

Both KBR and the US military appear to regard Service Employers International and KBR interchangeably, except for tax purposes. According to the Defense Contract Auditing Agency, KBR bills the Service Employers workers as "direct labor costs," and charges almost the same amount for them as for direct hires.

The contract that workers sign in Houston before traveling to Iraq commits workers to abide by KBR's code of ethics and dispute-resolution mechanisms but states that the agreement is with Service Employers International.

Some workers said they were told that Service Employers International was just KBR's payroll company.

Others mistook the name as a reference to the well-known, large union, Service Employees International.
Henry Bunting, a Houston man who served as a procurement officer for a KBR project in Iraq in 2003, said he first found out that he was working for a foreign subsidiary when he looked closely at his paycheck.

"Their whole mindset was deceit," Bunting said. He said that he wrote to KBR several times asking for a W-2 form so he could file his taxes, but that KBR never responded.

David Boiles, a truck driver in Iraq from 2004 to 2006, said that he realized he was working for Service Employers International when he arrived in Iraq and his foreman told him he was not a KBR employee, despite the fact that his military-issued identification card said "KBR."

"At first, I didn't believe him," Boiles said.

Danny Langford, a Texas pipe-fitter who was sent to work in a water treatment plant in southern Iraq in July 2003, said he, too, initially believed that he was an employee of KBR.

But when he allegedly got ill from chemicals at the plant and was terminated that fall, he said, his application for unemployment compensation was rejected because he worked for a foreign company.

"Now, I don't know who I was working for," he said in a telephone interview.

For decades Congress has sought to crack down on corporations that use offshore subsidiaries to lower their taxes, but most of the debates have focused on schemes that reduce corporate income taxes, not payroll taxes. Last year a Senate subcommittee estimated that US corporations avoid paying $30 and $60 billion annually in income taxes by using offshore tax havens.

Senators Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat; Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat; and Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, are trying to pass the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which would give the US Treasury Department the authority to take special measures against foreign jurisdictions that impede US tax enforcement.

American companies that evade payroll taxes face fines or other criminal penalties. The use of foreign subsidiaries to avoid payroll taxes, while allowed by the Defense Department, may still be subject to challenge by the Internal Revenue Service, according to Eric Toder, a former director of the office of research for the IRS.

Toder said the IRS could try to take action against a firm if the sole purpose of setting up an offshore subsidiary was to reduce tax liability. The practice could become a more costly problem in the future, Toder said, as an increasing number of American companies register subsidiaries overseas and bring American employees to work abroad.

"It obviously looks unseemly where you have a situation where, if you did it in a straightforward way, they would pay payroll taxes," Toder said. "If this becomes the norm, and other companies do that as well, it could further erode the tax base."

Peter Singer, a specialist in the outsourcing of military functions at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, said the practice will probably attract more scrutiny in the future, as the military expands its outsourcing and as workplaces become increasingly global.

"It is fascinating and troubling at the same time," Singer said. "If you are an executive in a company, you are thinking: 'Wow. Cash savings and a potential loophole from certain domestic laws, lawsuits, and taxes. It's win-win.' But if you are a US taxpayer, it is not a positive synergy."

Globe correspondents Stephanie Vallejo and Matt Negrin contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Talk Dirty to Me: A Whole New Meaning to Adobe Reader

Just a little while ago when I was slaving away here at work...I created a PDF from a Women in Project Controls awards application that I was working on. I don't know what shortcut keystroke I used (because I was making the PDF something you could fill out and then send back to me electronically - something I have done a hundred times before.) Anyway, I did something that turned on the feature where Adobe will read your document out loud to you.

Yes, I've since figured out how to turn the feature off...but Christian and I thought it could be hilarious (could just be slap-happy since our main server nearly crashed & burned yesterday if it weren't for some of Christian's McGuiver-hand work...could just be something in the air...) but we thought it would be too, too funny to have Adobe "talk" dirty to you (in it's computer voice.)

If you want to test it out...create a PDF of whatever you want your Adobe to read to you. (I haven't come up with a name for my Adobe yet.) Then when you are viewing the PDF, you will need to go to VIEW, then READ OUT LOUD.

Funny, funny, funny. Try it, you'll like it!