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The Daily Docket

 

By WCBA President P. Daniel Hollis III

 

Welcome to the President’s Daily Docket.

The President’s Daily Docket will appear every weekday here on our website and on the WCBA’s Facebook page and be referenced on WCBA’s Twitter account (@WCBAPresident) and may consist of a reference to an interesting article or decision, be notices of upcoming events of interest or, from time to time, may be simply musings of my own on a given issue.

As a preliminary and cautionary note, whenever there may be a “musing” or an “opinion” or a “take” expressed by me, it is solely my opinion as an individual and is not the position of the Westchester County Bar Association and its Members.

My goal is to expand our membership well beyond my contemporaries by using technology to reach and attract younger attorneys so that they, like me, will recognize the wonderful experience membership in the WCBA can be and how valuable on so many levels the professional contacts made within the Association can be.

Please make it a habit of checking all three sites, the Website, Twitter and Facebook on a daily basis so that you can be kept abreast of important developments in our profession and announcements from our Association and perhaps even be entertained by my random thoughts.

CARPE DIEM!


___________________

Posted:  4/29/16

Docket Retrospective

There will be nmore Daily Dockets after today.

The Docket’s topics have been varied over the past year, but arecurring theme has been the deeds, misdeeds and mischievousness of those we have elected to represent us.  Bless them all for all the fodder they have provided me!

We have followed Shelly Silver, who will be sentenced on May 3rd.

Most people have trouble with one significant other at a time,Silver went for the trifecta with a wife and 2 mistresses according to published reports.  Further, Shelly’s “apology” makes for interesting reading as the ultimate hedge, which I paraphrase as “I’m sorry … but on advice of counsel I can’t talk about what I did wrong because I might appeal if I don’t get the sentence I want.”

The Skeloses are also about to hear what the next few years will hold for them...no new trial was granted and I am doubtful they will miss out on the orange jump suit.

Mayor deBlasio seems to have some supporters who have crossed the line from just being pals to currying favor with the NYPD and City Administrative Agencies with inappropriate "gratuities” and further attempting to influence the balance of power in the State Senate … including elections in Northern Westchester and Putnam!!!

Readership has varied...some days Dockets I thought were interesting and would bring high readership numbers barely made it out of "Family"/ "friend" readership categories while others I viewed as pedestrian would hit 440 readers.  

I have sparked some controversy and actually lost a friend for my being critical of Mr. Trump by saying that the only candidate saying exactly what he means is the Junior Senator from Vermont. Go figure.

It has been both a challenge and a blast to write this Docket and I actually feel a sense of loss akin to a child going off to college..as I have reached the end. 

Many thanks to all who have faithfully read and commented on the Docket.  My goal in penning it was to bring readers to our Facebook page and the Westchester County Bar Association website so as to cause attention to be paid to all else the WCBA does.  I think I might have done that.  I hope all of you have enjoyed reading the Dockets as much as I have enjoyed writing them!

The Docket is having some trouble finding the best platform from which to continue, so it, in the words of General MacArthur, will not die; but just fade away for now.  “30” 

___________________

 Posted:  4/28/16

 “Friendship in the Age of Trump”

This was the title of an Op Ed piece that appeared in the New York Times Sunday Review on April 23, 2016.  The article was written by Peter Wehner.  It really hit a responsive chord with me.

 

I actually experienced the loss of a friendship over Dockets that I have written which my former friend felt were anti-Trump.  My friend had not even read the “offending” articles but their content had been related to my friend by a friend of that friend.  The friend told me, in no uncertain terms, that my words as written gave evidence of some epic flaw in my character and thinking and that our friendship could not continue.  Remarkable reaction really!

 

Mr. Wehner wrote:

At this stage in a presidential campaign, Republicans, generally a rather disciplined lot, have usually united and begun to train their fire on Democrats. Circular firing squads are for them, not us.

Not this year.

The candidacy of Donald J. Trump is not only fracturing the Republican Party, it is breaking up friendships as well.

A prominent Republican, describing a Trump-related disagreement with another influential Republican with whom he has been close for decades, sent me a note that stated things in a matter-of-fact way: “We had a friendship-ending email exchange.”

Others have confided that differences over the Trump candidacy have caused such a loss of respect that they feared their friendships would not survive, and that even if they did, they would never be the same.

While I haven’t lost any friendships during this Trumpian moment, at least not yet, I certainly haven’t been immune to the heightened tension. Several friends whose political views have often coincided with mine in the past have voiced their anger to me over my public opposition to Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

One close longtime friend told me that my criticism of Mr. Trump stemmed from my desire for attention and notoriety and a longing for the favor of liberals. He was questioning not my reasoning but my motivations. His concern wasn’t about policy; it was about the state of my soul.

Last week, a friend I am in frequent contact with and who is sympathetic to Mr. Trump informed me that my attitude was “unhinged” and utterly close-minded. A woman I attended church with for several years expressed her unhappiness with my anti-Trump “screeds.”

These people aren’t stupid or malicious; they are upset because I see things in a profoundly different way from them and because I have referred to a candidate they like as the avatar of unreason.

Strained relationships resulting from political differences are pretty common. What makes this moment so unusual is that the ruptures are occurring among people who have for years been political allies, whose friendships were forged through common battles, often standing shoulder to shoulder.

This dynamic is playing out in public, too. Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, while not lifelong friends, were once close. Mr. Beck described her in 2010 as one of the few people who could “possibly lead us out of where we are”; Ms. Palin referred to him as an “inspiring patriot.” Yet in part because Mr. Beck supports Ted Cruz while Ms. Palin supports Mr. Trump, they now trade insults. Mr. Beck accused Ms. Palin of abandoning her principles, while she has mocked Mr. Beck for having distributed care packages to illegal immigrant children.

Similar stories are happening all over. National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, whose opposition to Mr. Trump has also put him at odds with people he has long liked and respected, admitted, “I hate the idea that political disagreements will poison friendships.”

The reason for the envenoming is Mr. Trump, who inspires deep loyalty among his followers and revulsion among his critics. For some, he is a breath of fresh air: perhaps a bit rough around the edges, but a strong person, plain-spoken and able to make America great again. Others, like me, consider him emotionally unstable, unprincipled, cruel and careless, the kind of demagogic figure the ancient Greeks and the American founders feared.

Given the fundamental and intense disagreement over the advent of Mr. Trump, then, we should not be surprised that even longtime friendships are feeling the strain. In his short book “The Four Loves,” C. S. Lewis writes that while lovers stand face to face, friends stand side by side, absorbed in common interests, seeing some common truths. When these common truths become competing truths, a distancing is inevitable — perhaps especially when political differences arise among people who have devoted their lives to politics, who view it as a means to advance justice and human flourishing and therefore consider it a core part of who they are.

And therein lies the problem: When political differences shatter friendships, when we attribute disagreements to deep character flaws, it usually means politics has become too central to our lives.

I will be the first to admit that for those of us who inhabit the world of politics, political differences aren’t trivial. I am guilty of having sometimes lost sight of the fact that friendships aren’t meant to reinforce every one of my views. But the best friendships are those in which one person elevates the sensibilities of the other, including from time to time helping us see things from a different angle. They are, as Aristotle put it, friendships of virtue rather than of utility or pleasure.

Years ago I wrote my friend and mentor, Steve Hayner, worried that our differences over a political issue we both had strong feelings about might hurt our relationship. Our relationship mattered more to me than politics, I told him, and I didn’t want a breach to occur.

“I want to assure you that I don’t think that our disagreements on most anything could affect our relationship,” he wrote to me. “My love for you has nothing to do with your views.”

My relationship with Steve, who died last year, was among the deepest in my life. I had known him since college — I was a student and he was an associate pastor — and he had accompanied me through times of joy and hardship. This insulated our relationship against mere political differences. But the main point applies even to friendships that may have taken root in the soil of politics: We need to work to stay in relationships with people despite deep differences of opinion, not just across the aisle but on either side of it.

This isn’t always easy. One example: I was friends with a journalist with whom I had some similar instincts, if not complete political agreement. Our relationship was characterized by respect, affection and interests beyond politics. Yet after I joined the Bush White House in 2001, it hit a very rough patch. I sensed that he believed I had gone over to the Dark Side, loyally supporting indefensible policies; I felt that he was unfair and unreasonable in his critiques of our administration. Neither of us was inclined to give ground; each of us was happy to point out the flaws we suddenly saw so clearly in each other.

Thankfully, since then we have reconciled, although it took almost the entire length of the Obama administration. I felt last summer was time to explore the possibility of re-connecting. It turned out it was.

Time and distance helped repair the breach. Passions cool, the gaps between you don’t seem quite as wide. The qualities that once attracted you to others come back into focus. Conversations turn to topics deeper and more personal than politics. But the restoration of fractured friendships doesn’t happen by accident; it is a matter of choice.

Mr. Trump’s candidacy is putting more stress on more friendships than any other political development in my experience. Precisely because of the antipathy I have for Mr. Trump, I need to try doubly hard to resist the temptation to assume the worst of his supporters even as my worries about him mount. Absent compelling evidence to the contrary, I need to grant to them the same good faith I hope others would grant to me.

In his first inaugural address, with the Civil War looming, Abraham Lincoln told his fellow citizens that we are not enemies but friends. “Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection,” he said. During his second inaugural, at the war’s end, he asked us to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” with “malice toward none, with charity for all.” This was an almost superhuman ideal, but it needed to be stated.

None of us is Lincoln, and our divisions today obviously pale in comparison to those he and the country faced. Yet we can still learn from him. Having lived through the previous decade of tumult and political division, he knew the importance an attitude of conciliation can play in the life of a nation. We should strive for a bit of the grace and largeness of spirit he showed.

 

I was saddened by my friend’s reaction to my Dockets and that friend’s statement that “I was not the person” that person thought me to be, but I feel that I have been true to my own beliefs throughout the Docket’s life and have criticized each and all of the remaining Presidential Candidates at one time or another as well as having been critical of corrupt politicians on both sides of the aisle.

 

It is sad that free speech, even among friends, now seems to be so constrained and strained.

___________________

Posted: 4/27/16

Let Them Eat Cake … Or How the ‘Bern’ Was Ignited

Two articles on Sunday caught my eye.

The first was via an email alert I receive on a daily basis from Yahoo Sports.  It was entitled “Yankees Stadium Introduces a New Way of Alienating Fans.”  The alert’s premise was that if the $13 beers that the Yankees sell is a way to keep the 99% “out of the premium seats behind home plate” (which seem most often as vacant during regular season games), the Yankees have seem to taken a further step into creating a separate class of baseball fans.

The latest twist was called by the author of an article “Elites’ Excess” at Yankee Stadium and is able to be observed from the right field box seats if one were to look to the left towards home plate where one can easily notice tinted dark blue glass enclosures standing between the right field box seats and in the field.  These little enclaves measure 15 x 10 feet and have replaced previously open air spaces between the concession stands and the field level seating.

These eyesores prohibit the unwashed fans from experiencing the game and not missing any action as they return from buying a $14 meatball sandwich, a two foot long steak for $27 or a 12 oz. beer for $9.50. 

We need only to examine examples such as to be found at Yankee Stadium and with the Norwegian Cruise Line so as to understand why Bernie Sanders has developed such a large and enthusiastic following.

I mention the Norwegian Cruise Line because on the front page, upper right hand corner of the New York Times on Sunday was an article entitled “In New Age of Privilege, Not All Are in the Same Boat.”  This article provided a report about a magic door aboard the Norwegian Cruise Lines’ newest ship, a door that is closed to most of that ship’s 4,200 passengers and through which they will never enter or spy.  That little haven is called just that, The Haven, an area where about 275 elite guests can enjoy not only concierge and 24 hour butler service, but their own private pool, a sun deck and a restaurant with white linen table cloths creating a spa atmosphere free from crowds elsewhere on that ship.

While I believe people with far more money than you or I have are free to spend it however they want, the “in your face” disparity between the moneyed class and those less moneyed is becoming more evident, spawning, I suspect, the rise of the “Democratic Socialists” supporting Senator Sanders.

Also, the article made reference to the Titanic which separated the different classes of travelers with metal gates.  Apparently, there was no greater survival rate among those Titanic passengers on the higher end of the gates than in the steerage.

A lot of economic upheaval has happened in our time.  Professionals i.e. physicians and attorneys, have seen their incomes stagnate against the wealthy, especially those in Westchester County.

The top 1% of American households now controls 42% of the Nation’s wealth, up 30% from two decades ago.  In that period, the positions of attorneys in the economic pyramid I would submit has gone downward.

My barometer of such a thing is to be found in the house that my former wife and I bought in 1985.  In the 31 years since that time my income has blessedly not gone down.  My former wife is now and has been employed since the time of our divorce as a teacher in one our area’s more widely respected public school systems.  If we were to combine her income and mine today, we still would not be able to buy and then afford the house we once owned together. 

A number of years ago when I was Chairman of the Board of Northern Westchester Hospital, discussions were held as to how to increase our hospital’s market share.

A very bright and accomplished fellow Trustee proposed creating a separate level of service for wealthier donors.  One of the recommendations was for a quicker check in ability, concierge service and a separate entrance.  I was so appalled at this suggestion that I responded quite snarkily as to whether or not my fellow Trustee proposed separate drinking fountains and bathrooms as well.

The Times article quoted one of Royal Caribbean’s top executives who said:

“For a long time there was an acceptance that outside the door of your room, you were on an equal footing.  We didn’t attempt to have any differentiation in how services were delivered.”

There is that attempt at differentiation now for sure.  The constant validation that if you are able to spend more, you are a little more equal than the rest of us is not the way to breed cohesiveness in a Country that is already torn apart by the political litmus tests.

E pluribus unum is our motto and should remain such in both adage and practice.

___________________

Posted: 4/26/16

Currency Kerfuffle … While Rome and the Rest of the World Turns

The announcement last week that Harriet Tubman’s visage will replace that of Andrew Jackson on the front of the twenty dollar bill with “Old Hickory” being dispatched to the rear of the bill caused quite a bit of chatter among the talking heads and other pundits on the political front.  More about Ms. Tubman and others whose likenesses appear on currency in a bit, but first, a word about the lunacy in the way our politicians and our media discuss “issues.”

 

Not only did Ms. Tubman’s likeness on the currency grab headlines last week but so did the death of the entertainer, Prince, the ill-tempered and thoughtless comments of Curt Schilling  became lead stories while other news items which have far more impact on our Country and each of us, were put on the back burner.

 

South Korea apparently fired a ballistic missile from a submarine according to the South Korean Military.  The fact that North Korea, whose land launched missiles have the range of a Roman Candle, has the ability to target the nearly 50,000 American Troops stationed just across the border and a large portion of South Korean population.

 

Perhaps more troubling is the fact that China, already building artificial islands for the stationing of military bases quite near to major trade routes in the South China Sea and to our strategic military base in the Philippines, is now planning on building as many as 20 floating nuclear power plants to supply power to those remote man made locations.  Those power plants could support offshore drilling rigs and the islands that China has spent the last two years building up and speedily turning into military bases.

 

Closer to home, while Presidential Candidate Trump is concerned about Mexicans crossing the border to find jobs and a better life for themselves and their families, he might properly be more concerned with the government of Mexico, which seems to be held hostage by the drug cartel and gangs.

 

In last Saturday’s New York Times, it was reported that international investigators had indicated that they are unable to complete their investigation and solve a case they were brought to Mexico to solve a number of years ago by the seemingly coordinated attempts of the Mexican government and those who control that government to thwart that investigation into the abduction, and then murder, of 43 college students on a September night in 2014.

 

Those students were in the City of Iguala as part of a protest movement.  They were kidnapped by local police officers working for the criminal gangs, then killed and perhaps dumped into a local incinerator.  The remains of only one of the 43 have been found.

 

A Guatemalan lawyer who has been leading the investigation has been intimated by the Mexican government and thwarted at every turn.  It seems to me that the fact the government to the south of our southern border is controlled by gangs and cartels that carry out large scale abductions and murders is a far greater threat to our security than undocumented workers finding their way into our Country to take jobs which apparently American Citizens are not interested in taking.

 

Back then to Ms. Tubman.  Ms. Tubman was a woman of strong Christian faith who was raised in slavery in Eastern Maryland but escaped in 1849.

 

Recognizing the great gift freedom was to her, Ms. Tubman was not satisfied with just her own freedom and safety but made 19 return trips to slave holding states and helped to deliver 300 slaves to freedom.

 

In an interview later in her life she said “I never lost a passenger.”  She further felt her faith to be her protector and her inspiration “… I always told God I’m going to hold steady on you and you’ve got to see me through.”  Ms. Tubman was given the name of “Moses,” who,  as we all know had earlier led an enslaved people to freedom, had a $40,000 award posted on her head by an enraged slave holder.  Seems to me she earned her place.

 

In conclusion, a quickie quiz for all of you, name the individuals whose face appears on the following bills?

 

                        $1

                        $2

                        $5

                        $10

                        $20

                        $50

                        $100

                        $500

                        $1,000

Posted: 4/25/16

No Way to Elect a President

Frank Bruni is an Op Ed columnist for the New York Times and the first openly gay Op Ed columnist for the Times.  He is a very insightful writer who prompts thoughtful consideration of the points he makes, even if one disagrees with his premises.

I am including, in whole, his column of April 20, 2016 entitled “No Way To Elect A President.”  This column reflects my thinking … and probably a lot of yours.

With Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s victories in New York, we’re one furious contest closer to the end of this spectacle. But we’ve known for a while now where we’re headed, and it isn’t anyplace good.

American voters are displeased with the candidates they’ve been given. They’re disengaged from the process that winnows the field.

And that process disregards the political center, erodes common ground and leaves us with a government that can’t build the necessary consensus for, let alone implement, sensible action in regard to taxes, to infrastructure, to immigration, to guns, to just about anything.

Make America great again? We need to start by making it functional.

This election has certainly been extraordinary for its characters, but it’s equally remarkable for its context, one of profound, paralyzing sourness.

A poll released by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal on Sunday showed that 68 percent of American voters couldn’t imagine themselves casting a vote in the general election for Trump, while 61 percent said the same about Ted Cruz and 58 percent about Clinton.

A much, much higher percentage of voters viewed each of these three unfavorably than favorably. “Unpopularity Contest” was the headline on the story on the NBC News website, which rightly asked how well any president of such polarizing effect would be able to govern.

We’ve had such presidents (and candidates) before. And pessimism isn’t new.

But there have been developments and differences in 2016 that may well be making the situation worse.

The media, for one. This election isn’t being covered so much as marketed, by news organizations whose desperation for eyeballs has turned many of them into drama queens. Each new poll is a major scoop. There are countdown clocks for events as humdrum as candidate town halls. Debates are teased with ominous soundtracks and photographs better befitting prizefights.

When you treat a campaign as if it were an athletic competition, you turn it into more of a blood sport than it already is. And when you breathlessly promote it the way you would a hit TV show’s season finale, it becomes just another piece of theater. Neither approach encourages sober-minded engagement.

Nor does the manner in which so many voters use the Internet in general and social media in particular, to curate and wallow in echo chambers that amplify their prejudices, exacerbate their tribalism and widen the fault lines between us. The online behavior of the Bernie Bros is a great example, but it’s hardly the only one.

Additionally, the precise unfolding of the Republican and Democratic races this time around, along with complaints from the candidates themselves, has exposed the undemocratic quirks and mess of the process: the peculiarity of caucuses; the seduction of delegates and super delegates; closed versus open primaries; states that are winner-take-all as opposed to states that are winner-take-most; the possibility of a brokered convention at which an interloper could be crowned.

To prevail, a candidate doesn’t even have to persuade an especially large share of the electorate, given how splintered and detached voters are. In an important commentary published in The Hill on Monday, the Democratic pollster and strategist Mark Penn extrapolated from Trump’s and Clinton’s vote tallies to note that, in his estimation, “We now have a system in which it takes just 10 million votes out of 321 million people to seize one of the two coveted nominations.”

“The result,” he wrote, “is a democracy that is veering off course, increasingly reflecting the will of powerful activist groups and the political extremes.” Would-be nominees needn’t worry much about the roughly 40 percent of Americans who at least technically consider themselves independents — a group that’s grown over the last decade — or the 60 percent who say that a third political party is needed.

No, these candidates “can just double down on elements of their base,” Penn observed. “Rather than bring the country together, they demonize their opponents to hype turnout among select groups, targeted by race, religion or ethnicity.”

Penn suggested several smart reforms to increase voters’ participation and sense of investment, including the abolition of caucuses and a rotation of the order in which states vote, so that Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina don’t always get such outsize sway.

I wish we could also find a way to shorten these presidential campaigns significantly, so that they’re not such a soul-draining, throat-ravaging turnoff to almost anyone who’s not an epic narcissist or mired in politics to the point of no return.

Then maybe we’d look up one of these years and be choosing among the greater of goods, not the lesser of evils, and the victor would be left, physically and ideologically, with a voice that still carries.

In an electorate world where, as Mr. Bruni reports, 60% of us feel a third party is needed, 68% of American voters couldn’t imagine themselves casting a vote for Mr. Trump, 61% have the same feeling about Mr. Cruz and 58% about Secretary Clinton, I would hope a responsible third party might emerge and be the answer to all of our prayers.  The path we are on is not a healthy one.

If we all sat in a room … all of us … all 320 million of us … we could probably agree on well over 65% of the issues that confront our Country.  For those issues upon which we disagree, if there were a viable third party, an opportunity for debate on those issues without litmus tests on either the right or the left could be available.

As I come to the close of the Daily Docket, my hope for our Country, for my children and grandchildren and for all of us is that such a responsible third party does emerge from what I could only describe as the dark depths of our political climate.

___________________

Posted: 4/22/16

TMZ Equals TMI

Now that the days of the Daily Docket have dwindled down to the proverbial precious few, I feel comfortable in disclosing some of my secrets for topic gathering for the Dockets.

There would be days when thoughts about possible topics would spring forth like Old Faithful, but on other days, it could be like that slow drip in your bathroom faucet when you are trying to sleep at 3:00 in the morning … the drip of ideas would come, but only intermittently.

To ward off the threat of a topic drought, I would stash articlesfrom various news sources or magazines or the internet, highlight them and save them for the proverbial rainy day topic.

One of those articles appeared in the February 22nd edition of The New Yorker and I did such a good job of filing it away that I only found it this week as I began to sit down to prepare the “stand down” of the Daily Docket.

That article was a troubling article by Nicholas Schmidle about the website TMZ.

Schmidle’s first article for the New Yorker was entitled “Getting Bin Laden” for which he became a National Magazine Award Finalist.  Schmidle worked in Pakistan for two years, from 2006 until 2008, covering the machinations and intrigue only that part of the world can produce.  

His article about TMZ produced a world only slightly less nefarious than the workings of the Pakistan equivalent of the CIA, the ISI.

The founder of TMZ is Harvey Levin, a 65 year old former law professor, who to me seems like that uncle who wants to play with the cool kid millennial nephews … the intended target demographic for the “news” TMZ generates.

The disturbing and disgusting aspects of TMZ’s practices do not speak well of its methods but perhaps even less well of all of us whose voyeurism gives rise to the need to peek into the dirty laundry of the rich, famous and prominent.  

The news story that first brought TMZ sharply to my attention was the horrible incident involving Ray Rice, a former high school football standout at New Rochelle High School, then Rutgers University, then the Baltimore Ravens.

In February of 2014, video surveillance turned up on TMZ after initial reports of an incident of domestic violence indicated that Rice had administered a knockout punch worthy of Mike Tyson in his prime to Rice’s then fiancé and now wife, Janay Palmer.

A surveillance officer monitoring security cameras throughout the Revel Hotel in Atlantic City where the incident took place surreptitiously violated the code of his or her job and recorded on his private phone the screen displaying the sordid incident between Mr. Rice and Ms. Palmer.

Football fans know that Rice’s original two game suspension was extended to a full year’s suspension which resulted in his being cut by the Baltimore Ravens after a second surveillance video … the one that showed the punch actually being administered to Ms. Palmer, was purchased for $90,000!

TMZ has employed “tipsters” all over Los Angeles for the purpose of providing the TMZ with leads on unsavory behavior by the gilded members of the entertain and sports world.

Other TMZ favorite famous news stories were:

Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic drunk driving arrest. 

 

Donald Sterling’s conversation with his mistress urging her not to bring her African American friends, including Magic Johnson, to LA Clipper games.

 

Tips that Michael Jackson had died.

 

TMZ even went so far as to obtain a paid photograph of the bathtub Whitney Houston had succumbed in with the water still in it!

 

Mr. Levin is a graduate of the University of Chicago School of Law and has had teaching positions at the University of Miami and Whittier College Law School.

He caught the entertainment bug when he joined the staff and began consulting on “The People’s Court” and then joined the staff of a rival program called “Superior Court” in 1986.

Insiders at TMZ say that the Mel Gibson tape put TMZ on the map, but that the Michael Richards (a/k/a Kramer) making racist comments to a crowd during a nightclub performance “made us what we are.”

There wouldn’t be a TMZ if people didn’t suck it up and encourage the outing of the rich and famous of the celebrity world.

Schmidle’s article caused me to start to think that the constant intrusion that outfits like TMZ make into the lives of the rich and famous, but which intrusions have already found their way into the more day to day of our lives as mean-spirited teenagers and college students have filmed their classmates in unfortunate poses or behavior and have sent those films “viral.

Mr. Levin tried to set up a bureau in Washington, D.C., but withsomewhat of a nod of encouragement and support to our political class, the people who work in Washington aren’t as likely to rat out a philandering member of Congress for $50 or $100 as TMZ “tipsters” are of “ratting out” Lindsay Lohan orHope Solo, other targets of TMZ.

___________________

Posted: 4/21/16


Hon. Harold L. Wood, J.S.C. … RIP

 

I had the honor and privilege of attending the funeral of the Honorable Harold L. Wood, J.S.C. on Tuesday, April 19, 2016 at the Antioch Baptist Church in Bedford Hills, New York.

The service was moving and powerful and captured the essence of Judge Wood.

I hate to be repetitive, but I have such respect and admiration for Judge Wood that I republish here my January 2016 article for the Westchester Lawyer which summarizes my feelings about Judge Wood.

Westchester Lawyer – January 2016

“Not By the Color of Their Skin… By The Content of Their Character”

In January we celebrate the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King with a Monday holiday, but I believe we should reflect on far more than that particular State and Federal holiday.

One of the great speeches of all time in my view is Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. There are many lines and phrases from that form of speech that are oft quoted.

The one I wish to dwell on for this article is the one in which Dr. King spoke “I Have a Dream,” that his four little children would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

When I thought of how to commemorate Dr. King’s memory in this article, I thought of a man who was a role model for me as a young lawyer and someone I considered to be a mentor and a friend, the Honorable Harold Wood.

Judge Wood is 95 years old.

Back in the 70’s and the 80’s I was part of a rotating Wednesday night tennis group that included Supreme Court Justice Theodore Dachenhausen Jr., my then law partner the Honorable William F. Banks, Town Judge of the Town of Bedford, the Honorable Evan C. Brewster, Surrogate, Boyd Henson, a former White Plains City Court Judge, Buddy Barrett, a partner at Bleakley Platt, and Judge Wood. I was able to get to know Judge Wood as more than a well-respected Judge through those games.

Judge Wood was a lawyer’s judge was and is a consummate gentleman. One need only to take a small glance at Judge Wood’s life to be able to marvel at all that he accomplished in times that were not necessarily geared to providing him with the success that he so deservedly achieved.

Judge Wood grew up in Ossining, the grandson of slaves and the son of a “truck man” and a “housekeeper.”

When World War II erupted, Judge Wood found himself attached to the Tuskegee Airfields in Alabama, not the friendliest place in the world for an African American man in the 1940’s.

Judge Wood married his wife in 1940 and was fortunate enough not to go overseas during the War.

In an article that appeared in the local paper in 2013, The Somers Record, Judge Wood said “I don’t think there’s any black man who went to Alabama in 1940 and didn’t suffer from severe forms of discrimination.”

Judge Wood started his academic career at Lincoln University, a predominantly African American university in Pennsylvania. After the War, he enrolled and graduated from Cornell Law School thanks to the GI Bill. He did that with his wife and two children in tow.

The Judge returned to Ossining after Cornell but soon relocated to Mount Vernon where he began his law practice.

In the same Somers Record article the Judge said in his usual self-effacing way, “I didn’t have memorable cases. I was a lawyer. People bought houses. Their children got into trouble, they went into business and I served them. I did what everybody else did, I raised my family.”

The Judge also began working with the Republican Party in Westchester County and became a staffer to a State Senator.

In 1957 Judge Wood was elected to what was then the Westchester County Board of Supervisors, one of five Supervisors allocated to the City of Mount Vernon. He served on the Board of Supervisors for ten years and then the Mount Vernon City Common Council from 1968 through 1969.

The Judge was the first African American to become a Westchester Supervisor. He was first African American to become a Family Court Judge, a County Judge, and the first to become a Supreme Court Justice.

The Judge also worked tirelessly for and served as President of the Westchester County Branch of the NAACP.

Judge Wood is a man of tremendous intellect, work ethic, grace and a total sense of calm which calm enveloped his courtroom even in the most tense of situations.

In the nearly 80 years since Judge Wood arrived at Tuskegee Airfield much has changed for the better in race relations in our Country.

Obviously not enough has been accomplished as there still remain sharp differences and divisions where there ought to be none.

In following Dr. King’s admonition, I shall not wallow in the valley of despair for I too have the dream that one day all of our little children and grandchildren will live in a nation where no none will be judged by the color of their skin, their country of their origin, their sexual orientation, their religion or lack thereof, but solely by the content of their character.

If the World were filled with people with the content of character of the Honorable Harold Wood, it would be a far, far better place.

The Eulogy on Tuesday was delivered by the Pastor of the church, Reverend Merle D. McJunkin. As Reverend McJunkin moved to closure, he talked about the length of Judge Wood’s life, the heights that he achieved, the breadth of his experience. But what impressed the Pastor the most, and has always impressed me, was the depth of Judge Wood’s character and being.

Reverend McJunkin recounted Judge Wood’s advice to his children, grandchildren, family and loved ones … when in doubt … take the high road.

Rest in Peace Judge Wood … your highway to heaven was always the high road.

______________________

POSTED: 4/15/16

What Could They Possibly Have Been Thinking

I find Chicago, which I have only visited a few times, to be a great city to visit but it also is sadly leading the league in murders.

There have been stray bullet killings, intentional killings, and killings incidental to other crimes.

Sadly, most of the victims of these murders are young African American men.

Phil Mushnick reported in the New York Post last week about the fact that one of the two baseball teams in the Windy City named an individual by the name of “Chance the Rapper” as the Team’s “Ambassador.”

Mr. Chance is 22 years old and grew up in suburban Chicago, not the Windy City.  His father had been involved in Chicago politics working for former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, current Mayor Rahm Emanuel and for, at the time a young rising State Senator by the name of Obama.

Mr. Chance was chosen to throw out the first pitch of the new season for the Chicago White Sox.

Both Chicago Major League Baseball teams are off to a good start with each leading their respective divisions as I write this Docket.

In his column, Mushnick called attention to Mr. Chance’s lyrics in an opus named “Smoke Again.”  Mushnick bemoaned the fact that the lyrics by this young man perhaps may not be what we want to have attributed to an Ambassador for any institution, including a major league sports team, when there have been so many reported instances of late of players from different professional teams being charged with domestic violence.

I will provide you with only a few snippets of the stanzas of Mr. Chance’s “Smoke Again” … blocking out the words in full and leaving them to your imagination to figure out:

I don’t even talk to them on the phone again

Leave in the AM, on the road again

So b ****, let’s f***  so I can smoke again

I gotta smoke again, I got s*** to do

 

Who smoking in my car?

It’s that n**** Chano

 

I got a b**** but she know

 

My d*** won’t even call her

Cause she left all that lipstick

 

That’s the f****** bombast

Lean all on the square

That’s a f***** rhombus

 

Cops could eat a d***

If you ain’t the hitter

 

Killin’ in the hood like Trayvon

Shoppin’ like I got a coupon

 

Cookin’ crack in my apron

Dressed like a n**** had 8 proms

Tell shorty I may change

And I made it and I napalm

Trippy s*** to watch

Drugs while on the clock

Acid on the face

That’s a work of art

 

It seems to be that the White Sox may have taken the wrong chance on Mr. Chance.

A City that has had a sports icon like Michael Jordan, Gale Sayers and Ernie Banks certainly could do better than young Mr. Chance.

It is disappointing that such crass lyrics are not just tolerated but celebrated.  Not an example I would want to set for my children or grandchildren.

The Docket will be on a brief hiatus as I travel to Manhattan Beach to be with my granddaughters, my daughter and my son-in-law celebrating a special time with them.

We will be returning with a Docket on April 21st for the last seven days of publication of the Daily Docket which will then become “The Docket,” penned Tuesdays by Dick Gardella and Thursdays by me starting May 3rd.


Posted: 4/14/16

Congratulations, You’ve Been Fired

The title of today’s Docket has nothing to do with a certain reality show hosted by a leading Presidential contender.  No, it has to with Dan Lyons, the author of an article in last Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Review in which he wrote of what he viewed as a modern day sweatshop.  My title today is borrowed from his of Sunday.

HubSpot is the software company where Lyons worked for two years before he was fired; the article starts out speaking about firing euphemisms at that company.

Lyons has a tough string of luck.  He joined the company in 2013 after spending 25 years in journalism and getting laid off from a top position from the first foundering, then moribund, Newsweek Magazine.  Lyons thought that joining a startup would be lots of fun, but he then learned separately. 

HubSpot is like other start up high tech companies where nobody wears a suit and tie and apparently has beanbag chairs and unlimited vacations, is a work environment portrayed as a corporate utopia when in fact, the climate is more dog eat dog than peace, love and brown rice.

Lyons described the milieu at HubSpot as being part frat house and part kindergarten with a dash of Scientology thrown in for flavor.

When one is hired at HubSpot, which is boiled down to the simplest description a “cold calling” telemarketing operation, you are told you are “a rock star” whose job would be “inspiring people” and that you would be “changing the world.”  Your job description is “business development representative.”

When you are fired, as Lyons was in 2015 and as a 35 year old woman recently who had been there for four years and was told without explanation by her manager that it was time for her to move on with two weeks’ notice, emails explaining your departure refer to you as having “a graduation.”  One of the more bizarre aspects of the woman’s cashiering was that upon her departure the manager who canned her organized a farewell party for her on her last day.

The frat house, kindergarten, Scientology concoction Lyons referred to seems more to me part Orwell and part Steve Carell and “The Office.”

HubSpot was founded in 2006 and has been in an acquisitive mode having acquired Google Chrome, Chime and other entities.  HubSpot filed for an initial public offering in August, 2014.

According to Lyon’s article the headquarters are in the old A.H. Davenport factory in Massachusetts.  The A.H. Davenport factory once housed skilled furniture craftsmen who made hand carved custom pieces of furniture. 

It seems as if the “business development representatives” are paid about $3,000 a month, which works out to $18.75 per hour if they work 40 hours a week.

The “business development representatives” were told to use their “super powers” to “change people live by spreading ‘delightion’ to their customers. 

While the trendy unlimited vacation and beanbags create a “whatever,” laisse-faire atmosphere, the measurements in the evaluation of employees is brutal. 

HubSpot uses a metric called “VORP” which stands for value over replacement plan.  This type of metric is what the new age baseball general managers use in evaluating talent.

At HubSpot each employee got a VORP score in the annual review.  The employee’s long day’s cold calling prospects is analyzed under VORP, and the employee is compared to other employees and to a “replacement player” poised to take that employee’s place upon “graduation.”

In doing some research for this Docket after I read the article in the New York Times, I found that HubSpot’s CMO, which I presume means Chief Marketing Officer, was dismissed for violating HubSpot’s code of business conduct in ethics after the Board of Directors of HubSpot found that the CMO had tried to procure a draft copy of a book by Lyons entitled “Disrupted: My Misadventure in a Start-Up Bubble.”   Materials were released by the FBI last month under the Freedom of Information Act which indicated that some HubSpot executives viewed Mr. Lyons’s book as a “financial threat to HubSpot, its share price in the company’s future potential,” the Boston Globe reported.

The FBI report discussed “tactics such as email hacking and extortion” in an attempt to thwart the publication of Lyon’s book.  Eventually, no charges were lodged for any wrongdoing, but the FBI records do not indicate why.

I would rather be dangled and twirl over the fires of hell than be chained to my screen and my headpiece on trying to convince people to buy something they may not necessarily need or want for $18.75 an hour, always worried that my VORP score would have me “graduating” in no time flat.


POSTED: 4/13/16

Speech That’s Not So Free

The Wall Street Journal contained a disturbing article last week that presented to me the same sort of narrowing of interests and balkanizing of our society that gives to the stifling political correctness that has helped raise the level of vitriol and venom manifested most vociferously and conspicuously in the current Presidential Primaries.

Marquette University is one of the outstanding universities founded and run by the Jesuits, the Society of Jesus.  Parenthetically, Pope Francis, who has exercised a velvet glove in his heading of the Catholic Church, is a Jesuit.

The case reported in the Wall Street Journal last Friday arose out of an undergraduate philosophy course at Marquette.  At the end of one of the classes on John Rawls’ theory of equal liberty, a student approached the instructor, a PhD candidate, and said he objected to her suggestion that same sex marriage is not open for debate because “everyone agrees on this.”

Unbeknownst to the instructor, the student recorded the conversation between them.  During that conversation the instructor told the student “there are some opinions that are not appropriate, that are harmful, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions…”

When the student countered that he had a right to present his opinion and argue in support of it, the instructor said:  “you can have whatever opinions you want but I can tell you right now, in this class homophobic comments, racist comments and sexist comments will not be tolerated.  If you don’t like that you are more than free to drop this class.”  This interchange was reported to a professor by the name of John McAdams, who writes a blog called the “Marquette Warrior” in which he frequently criticizes the Jesuit school for failing to act in accordance with its Catholic mission.

In his blog, McAdams wrote that the instructor was “using a tactic typical among liberals now.  Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.”  His blog went viral; the PhD instructor received vicious emails and left the University.

That is not the end of the story because in December of 2014, the Marquette administration sent a letter to McAdams suspending his teaching duties and banning him from campus while reviewing his “conduct.”  The letter McAdams received said “You are to remain off campus during this time, and should you need to come to campus, you are to contact me in writing beforehand to explain the purpose of your visit, to obtain my consent and to make appropriate arrangements for that visit.”

The Marquette President told McAdams, who was tenured, that he was suspended without pay and would not be reinstated unless he admitted his conduct was “reckless” and apologized for the unpleasant emails his blog caused the instructor to have received.

Apparently, this is all contrary to the Marquette Faculty Handbook, section 306.03 which says that ‘in no case’ may just cause for dismissal be interpreted ‘to impair the full and free enjoyment of legitimate personal or academic freedoms of thought, doctrine, discourse, association, advocacy, or action.”

McAdams told the University President that he would not participate in “compelled speech” demanded by the University by April 14th in exchange for reinstatement.

Isn’t even wrong-headed thinking or speech permitted anymore?

______________________

POSTED: 4/12/16

Look Up …Redux

Nearly a year ago in my inaugural address I had posed as a theme “Look Up … Look Out.”  That theme served as a backdrop to an article I read last Friday in a daily blog I subscribe to.

One of the frequent contributors to that blog is a man named Steven Dilla whose topic last Friday was “How Technology Can Erode Community.” 

In my inaugural address I asked all those in attendance to:

“Look up from your phones and tablet 

Look across the table at the person sitting there 

Look at that person there for the human being she or he is . . . and recognize that she . . . or he is … as a practicing attorney . . . just like yourself . . .   facing some . . . if not all . . . of the same pressures and struggles you do as she or he attempts to practice law . . . promote their practice . . . the purposes of our profession . . . and of our Association.  

It is in looking up . . . away from ourselves and the technology that has so bettered our lives and our ability to communicate in so many ways . . . while . . . at the same time . . .  has so limited our ability to effectively communicate on a direct and personal level . . . that we will all better embrace our professional lives . . . and our personal lives . . . and strengthen our Association.

Look up and see the opportunity for greater positive interaction between and among us.

It is in looking up that one can see the horizon. 

It is in looking up that one can see possibility . . .  the future. 

Unless we all look up . . . and out . . . while not abandoning the technological advancements available to us . . . and see the whole of society . . . both within our profession and without . . .  there is the chance we will become too self-focused and too self-absorbed . . . lacking in the ability to understand the other attorneys’ position and point of view . . . and not achieve professional fulfillment.

The practice of law should not be akin to trial by combat on even the simplest things   . . . an adjournment of a motion . . . the postponement of a closing . . . negotiating a settlement.

When one breaks bread with another attorney . . . when one interacts with other attorneys at CLE’s … when one serves on a Bar Association Committee or Section with another attorney . . . when one works on the Fellowship with another attorney . . . it makes it virtually impossible to have sharp elbows or a sharp edge in dealing with that attorney in any professional setting.

I wish for that spirit of collegiality . . . so much more pervasive when I began . . . but somehow eroded in our more introspective . . . fast paced . . . techno-centered society . . . to be rekindled . . . so as to allow us to be able to disagree without being disagreeable . . . to find the fulfillment that strong professional and personal bonds can bring. 

Thankfully, we will never go back to a time when we lacked diversity . . . when we lacked inclusion . . . but we should go back to a time when an attorney’s word was her or his bond . . . when we treated each other with far more civility than is found now.”

 

Mr. Dilla’s blog on April 8, 2016, called attention to Professor Sherry Turkle, an MIT researcher of whom we have written before in the Docket.

Mr. Dilla reported that the average person checks their phone 85 times a day.  That figure represents 26% more times than the average amount of notifications people receive on their phones each day.

Turkle has said that this frenetic connection to the phone has rewired the way we look at conversation.  She said “we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens.” 

Turkle continued:  “Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding.  We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology.  And the move from conversation to connection is part of this.  But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves.  Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.”

Mr. Dilla also quoted C.S. Lewis.  “Man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power.”

In conclusion he quoted Professor Turkle again:  “We expect more technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.  Always on/always on you devices provide three powerful fantasies; that we will always be heard; that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; and that we never have to be alone.

It seems to me that now, a year later, my urging of looking up and looking out might still be pretty good advice for you, me and for all of us.


POSTED: 4/11/16

Tell Me Who Your Friends Are … I’ll Tell You Who You Are

This was a quote I heard from my mother time and time again … whether it was prompted by my hanging out with new friends at school or in the neighborhood and that new someone was someone who did not meet my mother’s standards for deportment and commitment to academics, athletics and overall social mores I heard that maxim over and again.  As I have aged and become a parent and grandparent myself, I have heard myself use my mother’s maxims over and again so often I must believe in them having had them often proven to me to be true, including this one.

As the Presidential Primaries now seem to be pointed to both our own State’s on April 19th and then to California in June to determine whether or not a clear winner will be named in each party before their respective conventions and/or whether there will be “open conventions,”  the road for the candidates has become steeper and rougher for all.

Ted Cruz’s overall un-likability by his Senate confreres will certainly be discussed in the weeks to come.  Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy “chops” and his position on the Second Amendment will certainly be something that won’t miss Secretary Clinton’s scrutiny or comment.

Secretary Clinton’s email server and her foreign policy missteps will be commented on by whoever her opponent is at whatever stage.

Donald Trump, whose major repetitive theme is that he will make America great again by making great deals for America, will certainly be reviewed through the prism of some of the deals that he has made in his business life which have not turned out quite so well.

One of the stated manifestations of Mr. Trump’s pursued toughness is his general policy to not settle lawsuits, a point of considerable pride for him.

He was quoted recently as saying “I don’t settle lawsuits … very rare … because once you settle lawsuits, everybody sues you.”

A New York Times article on April 6, 2016 disclosed an exception to the Trump rule of not settling lawsuits.  That settlement of that litigation had a somewhat twisted path and involved a 46-story luxury condominium building in Lower Manhattan called Trump SoHo.  Mr. Trump and his co-defendants settled that case in 2011 by agreeing to refund 90% of $3.16 million dollars in deposits, while admitting to no wrongdoing.   I will speak more of some of the interesting aspects of the settlement later.

That lawsuit also had tagging along with it a criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office as to whether the fraud alleged by the plaintiffs in the civil suit broke any laws. 

In the Trump SoHo case, Mr. Trump partnered with the Bayrock Group, also a defendant Bayrock Group was a small development company with offices in the Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan.  According to deposition testimony, Felix H. Sater, a Bayrock associate approached Mr. Trump in the early 2000s.  Sater is a Russian immigrant who had jointed Bayrock at the behest of its founders Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet-era commerce official originally from Kazakhstan. 

Bayrock was intent on developing commercial properties in Brooklyn and proposed to Mr. Trump that he license his name to hotel projects in Florida, Arizona and New York, including Trump SoHo.

The other development partner for Trump SoHo was the Sapir Organization.  The founder of the Sapir Organization was Tamir Sapir, who hails from the Soviet republic of Georgia.

Mr. Trump said of Bayrock:

“Bayrock knew the people, knew the investors, and in some cases I believe they were friends of Mr. Arif … and this was going to be Trump International Hotel and Tower Moscow, Kiev, Istanbul, etc. Poland, Warsaw.”

Whatever investigation Mr. Trump might have made into Mr. Sater might have been a little less than thorough because Mr. Sater had a somewhat tawdry past having been convicted and sent to prison in 1993 after a New York bar fight in which he stabbed a man in the face with a broken margarita glass.  Five years after that conviction, Sater was implicated in a huge stock manipulation scheme involving Mafia figures and Russian criminals, resulting in his becoming a confidential F.B.I. informant.

Another Bayrock associate of Mr. Sater was Salvatore Lauria, who sometimes turned up to work with a stylish court ordered ankle monitor on.  Mr. Lauria had brokered a $50 million dollar investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects including one from an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians “in favor with” President Vladimir Putin.  I wonder what the recent disclosures about the in the Panama Papers about the involvement of Mr. Putin in those schemes along with the former Icelandic Prime Minister might turn up about Bayrock.

The economics of the Trump SoHo were somewhat complicated because local zoning permitted the owners to only live in the units 120 days a year and the rest of time those units had to be rented out as hotel rooms, with the owner sharing with the developers in the revenue from the rentals.

The project did not succeed as it was predicted and advertised and promoted with only 15-30% of the units having been sold by the start of 2009 although Mr. Trump’s daughter had indicated that 60% had been sold and Donald Jr. said that 55% had been sold. 

The lawyer for the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants’ representations were not just bits of harmless self-promotion and bravado but amounted to fraudulent inducement of investors who believed that they were buying into a project far healthier than its actual condition.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers claimed that plaintiffs relied on those misrepresentations to their detriment.  The settlement of the case came about after negative headlines for Bayrock in 2010 when a former finance director alleged that Bayrock had occasionally received unexplained infusions of cash from accounts in Kazakhstan and Russia.

The suit for the return of the down payment was settled but had some curious nondisclosure elements to it.  Part of the settlement required the plaintiffs to notify any investigative agency i.e., the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, with whom they “May have previously cooperated” that they did not want to “participate in any investigation or criminal prosecution.”

Further, while the plaintiffs could respond to a subpoena or court order under the terms of the settlement, the plaintiffs would be required to notify the defendants once they received such a subpoena and court order.

The criminal investigation was shut down shortly after the settlement of the civil litigation.

This might not be the last this deal is heard about.

______________________

POSTED: 4/8/16

Panama Papers

As we are observers of the New York State political and legal scene await the sentencing of Sheldon Silver and Skelos pere et frere on April 13th, a story of larger global corruption and proportion involving politicians appeared this week.

Panama hasn’t had this much notoriety in the news since 1989 when Operation Nifty Package was undertaken by U.S. Navy Seals to capture the very, very wealthy Panamanian strong man Manuel Noriega. 

As you will recall, Manuel Noriega had taken refuge in the diplomatic quarters of the Holy See (i.e. the Vatican) until deafening music and other psychological warfare drove him possibly out of his mind and into the arms of the Seals.

Some of the gentle songs played over and over included “I Fought the Law” along with “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses and “Too Old to Rock N’Roll, Too Young to Die” by Jethro Tull.  Try to stop humming “I Fought the Law” now that you’ve read this paragraph!

The “Panama Papers” bombshell exploded when the database of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca, with offices in Marbella in the Republic of Panama, was hacked.

Records obtained from that firm whose services include providing off shore companies for the use of clients to avoid taxes while not unlawful, raised fundamental questions about tax havens and who plants their money there.  Companies were harbored in the Seychelles, the British Virgin Islands, Panama and other jurisdictions.  Some of the folks who have parked their money in these tax havens are 12 national leaders among the 143 politicians, their families and close friends from around the world.

A $2 billion dollar money trail led to none other than Vladimir Putin, a world leader best known recently as the focus of admiration for one of our Presidential Candidates.

The scale of this leak is unprecedented and will lead to, I would be willing to bet, the naming of other prominent figures throughout the world, possibly some within our Country who have parked their money there.

Having just submitted my own tax return, I would love to be able to pay less tax than I do, but I acknowledge that we are fortunate enough to live in a Country where we can earn enough to pay the taxes we pay.

One wonders where Mr. Putin’s money may have come from.  The bigger question for me is the source of the funds of some of the others parking money and whether that money was originally your tax money and mine.

For example, some of those who have turned up in the database are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-present of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of the Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, the son of Egypt’s former president, 

In addition to these possible beneficiaries of U.S. taxpayers’ largesse are six members of the House of Lords, three former conservative members of Parliament and dozens of donors to British political parties.

The Prime Minister of Iceland had dough stashed there and has already resigned under pressure.

The families of eight current and former members of China’s supreme ruling body, the Politburo, have been found to have hidden wealth offshore.  The Chinese usually act summarily and brutally in matters of exposed political corruption.

Twenty-three individuals who have had sanctions imposed on them for supporting the North Korea, Zimbabwe, Russian, Iran and Syria have been reported as clients of Mossack Fonseca. 

A key member of FIFA’s powerful ethics committee, which is supposed to be bringing reform and cleaning up world soccer’s scandal-hit governing body, acted as a lawyer for the individuals and companies recently charged with bribery and corruption.  Much of this information was obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper, Sűddeutsche Zeitung. 

Sergei Roldugin, a childhood pal of Vladimir Putin, was somewhat key to the investigation leading its way back to Putin because Mr. Roldugin, a cellist by trade, seems to be at the center of transactions involving more than $2 billion dollars in Bank Rossiya.  That bank is under sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department, because it has been described as “the personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation.”  Cellists do okay in Russia it seems.

I present this tale to you to help us feel better about the level of corruption of our own politicians as the misdeeds of Messrs. Silver and Skelos seem to pale by comparison in dollars to the antics of these other leaders of more worldwide notoriety.


POSTED: 4/7/16

Gawker, Stalker and the Code

A regularly appearing column in the New York Times Business Section on Monday entitled “Drawing the Line on Gossip After the Gawker Trial” caused me to revisit the recent Hulk Hogan/Gawker trial and the behavior of both one D’Angelo Russell and a young man by the name of Andrew Caspersen, a 2016 version of a Master of the Universes who sold out not only certain charities, but one of his college classmates.

That regular column in the New York Times is called the “Mediator” and is authored by Jim Rutenberg.”

Mr. Rutenberg made reference to the glass and steel, high tech offices of Gawker Media in downtown Manhattan and what the future might hold for the sustainability of those offices given the more than $100 million dollars in civil awards against Gawker for showing a private sex tape starring Mr. Hogan.  Apparently, Mr. Hogan was featured in a sex tape with the wife of a very close friend, Todd Allen Clem, known better as the radio host “Bubba the Love Sponge.”

Mr. Hogan told that great arbiter of taste, Howard Stern, during one of Mr. Stern’s radio shows, that Mr. Clem, a/k/a “Mr. Love Sponge,” had allowed Mr. Hogan to have sex with Mr. Love Sponge’s then wife, Heather Clem, and that session was filmed.  The tape was somehow obtained by Gawker and went viral. 

When Mr. Hogan tried to get Gawker to take the tape down but he was told:

“While this this may be an embarrassing ordeal for you to go through right now, it doesn’t need to be… you are bigger than Andre the Giant where it matters…”

The trial featured the testimony of Albert J. Daulerio, one of the defendants and a former editor in chief of Gawker, in which Mr. Daulerio responded to the following questions in the following fashion:

“Can you imagine a situation where a celebrity sex tape would not be newsworthy?” Asked the lawyer, Douglas E. Mirell. 

“If they were a child,” Mr. Daulerio replied.  

“Under what age?” the lawyer pressed.  “Four.”

Other comments for attribution to Mr. Daulerio included that “it was pretty standard operating procedure” to seize upon and publish photos and videos of celebrities in compromising or intimate situations regardless of whether the celebrity might object or be embarrassed citing two examples, one of lewd images of the former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre and the other photographs of a topless Duchess of Cambridge, also known as Kate Middleton.

Mr. Rutenberg, who had once worked for the New York Daily News, in a confessional tone,  admitted to having once gone to the Los Angeles home of the obstetrician tending to the mother of Michael Jackson’s children to find out whether or not that famous patient’s baby was made in the customary fashion and showed up at the doctor’s house on the day of the doctor’s daughter’s bat mitzvah class.

John F. Kennedy Jr. also nabbed Mr. Rutenberg crouching behind a car spying on his new bride as she ate breakfast in a local coffee shop.

Mr. Rutenberg missed some definite opportunities with regard to cataloging new societal lows when he left out of his article the recent exploits and efforts of one D’Angelo Danté Russell.  Mr. Russell, who turned 20 on February 23, plies his trade as a professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association.  He attended high school in Louisville, Kentucky for one year before transferring to Monteverde Academy in Florida for the remainder of his high school education.  He also received a single year of education at The Ohio State University where he averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists during that solitary academic year.  His academic transcript was not available.  He was drafted by the LA Lakers last June and was the second overall pick in the Draft.

More recently, he felt it incumbent upon himself to secretly film a conversation with one of his co-workers for the Lakers, one Nick Young, inquiring of Mr. Young whether he had been true to his fiancée, Ms. Iggy Azalea, an Australian Pop and Hip-hop star.  Mr. Young, not knowing his comments were being preserved for posterity, indicated that he had not.

Ms. Azalea, upon viewing the video and/or learning of the admission, canceled the proposed nuptials with Mr. Young.  Mr. Young’s performance for the Lakers has gone the way of the Laker’s season … straight down … since the airing of the “confession.”

The code of the locker room when I was a high school and college athlete was that all conversations that took place there stayed there, whether the conversation was one complaining about the coach, a professor or a girlfriend.

Mr. Russell, because of his exalted status playing round ball, felt no such level of restraint.

Perhaps Mr. Rutenberg could also have included in on one Andrew Caspersen, of Bronxville, New York.  Mr. Caspersen was paid $3.68 million dollars last year for his efforts working for Park Hill Group, a division of PJT Partners which had been spun off from the private equity giant Blackstone Group.  Apparently that compensation package was insufficient for Mr. Caspersen.

Mr. Caspersen attended Princeton University (where he was a classmate of one James McIntyre), Harvard Law School and received an MBA from Columbia University.

Mr. McIntyre is a managing director of the hedge fund at Moore Charitable Foundation, and was hoodwinked by Mr. Caspersen into investing $400,000 of his own money and $25 million dollars of a charitable trust affiliated with Moore Capital into an investment vehicle touted by Caspersen that was not real.

On March 26th, the 39 year old Mr. Caspersen was arrested on charges of securities fraud and wire fraud.  On March 28th, he appeared in Court where he was released after putting up $5 million dollar bond, using his Bronxville home and a home in Manhattan as collateral.

Mr. Caspersen violated the code of cheating friends in a way different from Mr. Russell, but no less devastating to those victimized.

To answer Mr. Rutenberg’s question posed in his column as to whether or not we have reached bottom, I don’t know if we have reached the bottom yet as or if the limit of outrageous behavior will become more and more accepted and winked at as opposed to being criticized. 

So if this were one of those exam questions that went “Which does not belong?”  (1) Gawker/Albert J. Daulerio (2) D’Angelo Russell (3) Andrew Caspersen (4) All Belong or (5) None Belong.  The answer would of course be (4)!


POSTED: 4/6/16

The End of a ‘Masterful’ Era … Perhaps

Tiger Woods announced last Friday evening that he would not be playing in this week’s Masters Tournament due to the need of his rehabilitating injuries after surgery.  He put out that Tweet at about 9:00 p.m. Friday night, the traditional time for putting out bad news.  He said:

I’ve been dedicated to my rehab and improving daily.  But I am not physically ready to compete in the Masters.”

That Twitter post was particularly timely from my point of view as I had just read an hour or two before an article in the April 4th edition of Sports Illustrated by Alan Shipnuck entitled “What Happened?” dealing with the eight year drought that Tiger Woods has had in trying to win a major title such as the Masters. 

Let me say at the outset that I became a huge fan of Tiger Woods in 1995 when he first exploded onto the scene in winning the 1995 United States Amateur. 

In addition to being extremely impressed by the skill set of this  golf prodigy, I also became captivated by his laser-like focus and overwhelming ability to “just win.”

I attributed those traits, as many did, to his father, Earl, who was a retired career Green Beret.

Little did I know that Tiger Wood’s inability to keep the ball “in play” in his private life was based in no small part upon the lesser example set for him by that father.

It all began to come unraveled for Woods on Thanksgiving Day in 2009 when a single car accident outside of his home in Florida produced a tsunami of reports of domestic strife and infidelity.

Since that time, Woods has been belabored by problems physical and perhaps mental and emotional as he has struggled to regain the dominance that was so his for the period of time from 1995 when he exploded on the scene until 2009 when he self-immolated.

Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, died in 2006 and I had believed that Tiger’s fall from grace could have been attributed to his father’s disappearance from his life on a daily basis.

Little did I know that the elder Woods was less than the positive example I had thought as was reported in the Sports Illustrated article.

During the stretch from 1995 until 2009 Tiger Woods was nearly unbeatable, especially in big tournaments and especially when the chips were down.

His opponents on the professional golfers’ tour were both mesmerized by his talent and psyched out by the fact that they knew that if Tiger were breathing down their necks on Sunday afternoon, that their jugular was what he was focused on.

The decline from grace began not on that Thanksgiving Day in 2009 as I read the article but perhaps upon the death of Earl Woods when Tiger then began to fantasize about becoming a Navy Seal.

He even trained at Fort Bragg, the home base of his dad and played video games featuring Seals combat insistently.

Woods went on numerous training missions after his Fort Bragg visit.  He then took on an unhealthy obsession running with weighted vests, jogging in combat boots, and lifting super heavy weights in the gym.

Woods was 6’1” and sinewy when he arrived on the Tour in 1996, but he packed on more than 20 pounds of muscle after his father’s death, which added poundage could have led to his ACL surgery in 2008.

During Tiger’s heyday, he was revered for being a true sportsman as well as a golfing legend, but that reputation for sportsmanship came undone after the 2009 domestic crash and burn when he received penalties for failing to properly penalize himself for a ball movement situation.

According to the Sports Illustrated article, he has also become more isolated and a recluse.

There are those who feel Woods may simply retire because of “physical ailments” rather than push the rock up the hill like Sisyphus seeking further major golf tournament wins on the way to the history books, a goal which may seem as futile now as that of Sisyphus.

That being said, I will miss watching the major golf tournaments, especially on Sunday, as Tiger turned the back nine with his eye on the prize and his competition’s jugulars clearly in his sights.

______________________

POSTED: 4/5/16

A Not So Restrictive Deed Restriction… New York City Style

Mayor Bill de Blasio has set a goal, and has labored strenuously and admirably, to create the ability to provide for more affordable housing within New York City and to retard the widespread gentrification which has driven affordable housing out of certain historically middle to lower income neighborhoods.

Despite that stated goal, an obscure New York City agency acted in less than transparent fashion in lifting a deed restriction on a former New York City property once used as a school at 45 Rivington Street.

The deed restriction on the subject property was put in place by the City when the City sold the property, a red brick former school at 45 Rivington Street, to Village Care, a non-profit that was committed to running an AIDS Hospice at the site.

The deed restriction on this property prevented any use for it other than non-profit residential health care. 

Notwithstanding that deed restriction, the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services was paid $16.15 million in November of 2015 by Village Care, to lift that restriction without any further conditions or restrictions on the property’s use.

That lifting of the deed restriction set off other transactions surrounding this property.

After the lifting of the deed restriction, the building was sold by the existing owner to the Allure Group, a nursing home operator.  The Allure Group then flipped the property in February of this year to a condominium developer for a tidy $116 million dollars.  The Mayor claims he was blindsided by this transaction and angered by it.

A review of the City records, correspondence and lobbying reports might suggest something different.

As we know from our law practices, lifting deed restrictions is not easily accomplished and a nightmare to accomplish with plenty of concessions if such a lifting of the restriction is achievable at all. 

I know from an experience as a young lawyer that simply trying to obtain a license over New York City property near a New York City reservoir to allow my client to have insurable title for ingress and egress over that New York City property from that client’s land-locked property to a town road took months and months of effort and the disintegration of several layers of the lining of my stomach before we were able to obtain that access by license … lifting of a deed restriction by New York City has to be harder to achieve.

Since Mayor de Blasio took office in 2014, there have been at least nine deed restrictions lifted.

The Mayor has expressed his “disbelief” claiming that the City officials were “lied to” by Allure which purchased the Rivington property in February 2015 for $28 million.  Village Care seems to have made $12 million dollars on the sale to Allure, having paid the City $16 million for the lifting of the deed restriction.

Allure made much much more than that obviously. 

Village Care had in its corner a heavy weight fund raiser and lobbyist for Mr. de Blasio, whose lobbying firm earned $12.9 million dollars lobbying City Hall in 2015.

That lobbyist was hired to push for the changes to the Rivington Street deed.

There was a considerable back and forth between October of 2014 by this lobbyist until May 11, 2015, when for a single day, a public notice of a hearing on the proposed deed change appeared in the City Record.  On that very day, Allure went to contract to sell the property to the condominium developer for the further gentrification of the area with the notice saying “This action is in the best interest of the city.”  None of the local advocates and elected officials were alerted.  The District Manager of the local Community Board however feels that this notice was not quite as public a Notice as one might hope.

In addition to having a real big year in the lobbying business last year, that lobbyist also has also “bundled” $44,940 for the de Blasio re-election campaign since last October.

Village Care had an unsuccessful two year campaign to have the deed restriction lifted before it hired the lobbyist/campaign fund bundler.

Further reaction came about at the end of the week when the Mayor went from being in “disbelief” to being “livid” and “angry.”

The Mayor began to investigate the deal that was run by a First Deputy Mayor on last Friday.

The Mayor said that the City’s Investigation Department had issued subpoenas to the Department of Citywide Administration Services and that the City was exploring its “legal options” as to the transaction.

In addition, the City Comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, has his own investigation underway.

The investigations seem to be focusing on what the City had been told, or promised, by the Allure Group for lifting the restrictions on the property and whether the City had correctly appraised the value of lifting the restrictions.

I would suspect that we will hear more about these transactions in the days to come. 

I guess a deed restriction isn’t always that restrictive.

______________________

POSTED: 4/4/16

The Final Four Leaves But One

Tonight we will enjoy the championship game between two of the four participants from the “Final Four” games of Saturday night.  One of Syracuse, North Carolina, Villanova or Oklahoma will be National Collegiate Basketball Champion by the end of tonight.

The Finals always bring me back to what was my junior year as a college basketball player at Siena in the 1965/66 season when Texas Western stunned the world and won the National Championship.

The players on the Texas Western team included Willie Worsley from New York City who eventually became the basketball coach at Spring Valley High School and Dean of Students of the Boys’ Choir of Harlem.

The all African American Texas Western team was matched up against the all-white University of Kentucky team coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp.

Rupp was the coach at Kentucky from 1930 until 1972, a tenure that included the 1951 point shaving scandal in which four of his players were arrested for taking bribes from gamblers to shave points during the National Invitational Tournament during the 1948/49 season.   Rupp denied any knowledge of the point shaving and no charges were ever brought against him.

During Rupp’s tenure over 80% of the players came from the State of Kentucky and, until after the Texas Western game, none of them were African American.

The NCAA Tournament was a far different tournament in 1966.  Only 22 teams were invited instead of the 68 that started the tournament three weeks ago.  The NIT was the bigger tournament then and 14 teams participated in that.  Only 36 teams played in the post-season.

In 1966, the participants in the NIT were Army, Boston College, BYU, DePaul, Louisville, Manhattan, NYU, Penn State, St. John’s San Francisco, Temple, Villanova, Virginia Tech and Wichita State … a stellar array.   NYU was in the final, with NYU having beaten Villanova in the semi-final and BYU having beaten Army lead by its All American Mike Silliman.  BYU won the final.

Both Mike Silliman and Larry Conley from Kentucky played basketball in the Army in San Francisco when I was there playing for my company’s team.

Texas Western was no lucky seed sneaking up on anyone as they entered the post season with only one loss, having beaten teams during the regular season which were ranked nationally as follows at the time they were played:

Seattle                         9

Arizona State              6

New Mexico State      6

Arizona State              4

Colorado State           3

Cincinnati                   3

Kansas                       4

Utah                           3

Kentucky                    1

The people coaching during the 1966 NCAA Tournament were as follows:

Team                                       Coach

Davidson                                Lefty Driesell

Duke                                       Vic Bubas

Providence                             Joe Mullaney

Rhode Island                          Ernie Calverley

Syracuse                                Fred Lewis (one of his players was Jim Boeheim)

Dayton                                    Don Donoher

Kansas                                   Ten Owens

Houston                                  Guy Lewis

… all coaches of legendary proportions.

In that NCAA Tournament, Texas Western beat Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, Kansas and Utah before polishing off the Kentucky Wildcats at Cole Field House in College Park, Maryland 72-65.

In that game, Kentucky was led by Louie Dampier and a young fellow from Schenectady, New York named Pat Riley.  Riley scored 19 points in the championship game.

Overlooked in huge social significance of the 1966 NCAA Tournament was the academic integrity position taken by the University of Pennsylvania.  Penn, having played bridesmaid to the Bill Bradley led Princeton Tigers for a number of years with Bradley finally having graduated in 1965 when he headed off to Oxford instead of the NBA, finally won the Ivy League Championship but was denied the ability to participate in the NCAA tournament because of the fact that the then Penn Athletic Director, one Jeremiah Ford II, refused to comply with a new NCAA rule requiring all student athletes to maintain a minimum grade point average of 1.6. 

In both practice and theory this regulation would not have been a problem for any of the Penn student athletes, but the University’s complaint was that a national organization such as the NCAA should not determine institutional policy on academics.

The rest of Ivy League also shared this view, but it was the Penn team which had won the regular season title and therefore was chosen for the NCAA Tournament, that was forced to sacrifice for this academic principle.

How many athletic directors today would sacrifice a trip to the NCAA over an academic issue??

______________________

POSTED: 4/1/16

The Gentleman’s C … Morphs Into … a Gentleman’s A

I read a most distressing article on the opinion pages of the Washington Post earlier this week with regard to the changes in grading that have taken place at colleges and universities across our land.  This dilution of the value of grades happens at the most prestigious universities as well as those with lesser academic credentials.

I present to you for your consideration the article written by Catherine Rampell on March 28, 2016.

The waters of Lake Wobegon have flooded U.S. college campuses.  A’s - once reserved for recognizing excellence and distinction – are today the most commonly awarded grades in America 

That’s true at both Ivy League institutions and community colleges, at huge flagship publics and tiny liberal arts schools, and in English, ethnic studies and engineering departments alike.  Across the country, wherever and whatever they study, mediocre students are increasingly likely to receive supposedly superlative grades. 

Such is the takeaway of a massive new report on grade inflation from Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke University professor, using data he and Furman University Professor Chris Healy collected.  Analyzing 70 years of transcript records from more than 400 schools, the researchers found that the share of A grades has tripled, from just 15 percent of grades in 1940 to 45 percent in 2013.  At private schools, A’s account for nearly a majority of grades awarded.

These findings raise questions not only about whether the United States has been watering down its educational standards – and hampering the ability of students to compete in the global marketplace in the process.  They also lend credence to the perception that campuses leave their students coddled, pampered and unchallenged, awarding them trophies just for showing up.

So, what’s behind the sharp rise in GPA’s?

Students sometimes argue that their talents have improved so dramatically that they are deserving of higher grades.  Past studies, however, have found little evidence of this.

While it’s true that top schools have become more selective, the overall universe of students attending college has gotten broader, reflecting a wider distribution of abilities and levels of preparation, especially at the bottom.  College students today also study less and do not appear to be more literate than their predecessors were.

Plus, of course, even if students have gotten smarter, or at least more efficient at studying (hey, computers do help), grades are arguably also supposed to measure relative achievement among classmates.

Affirmative action also sometimes gets blamed for rising grades; supposedly, professors have been loath to hurt the feelings of underprepared minority students.  Rojstaczer and Healy note, however, that much of the increase in minority enrollment occurred from the mid-1970s to mid-80’s, the only period in recent decades when average GPAs fell.

Rapid inflation instead occurred during two distinct periods: first from the 1960s through the early 1970s, then during the mid-1980’s through today. 

The first era, the researchers say, can be explained by changes in pedagogical philosophy (some professors began seeing grades as overly authoritarian and ineffective at motivating students) and mortal exigencies (male students needed higher grades to avoid the Vietnam draft).

The authors attribute today’s inflation to the consumerization of higher education.  That is, students pay more in tuition, and expect more in return – better service, better facilities and better grades.  Or at least a leg up in employment and graduate school admissions through stronger transcripts.

And indeed, some universities have explicitly lifted their grading curves (sometimes retroactively) to make graduates more competitive in the job market, leading to a sort of grade inflation arms race.

But rising tuition may not be the sole driver of students’ expectations for better grades, given that high school grades have also risen in recent decades.  And rather than some top-down directive from administrators, grade inflation also seems related to a steady creep of pressure on professors to give higher grades in exchange for better teaching evaluations.

It’s unclear how the clustering of grades near the top is affecting student effort.  But it certainly makes it harder to accurately measure how much students have learned.  It also makes it more challenging for grad schools and employers to sort the superstars from the also-rans (which, if you’re an elite school like Harvard, is probably a feature, not a bug).

Lax or at least inconsistent grading standards can also distort what students – especially women – choose to study, pushing them away from more stingily graded science, technology, engineering and math fields and into humanities, where high grades are easier to come by.

But what to do about the rise of the Gentleman’s A?

A decade ago my alma mater, Princeton, decided to lead the charge against grade inflation.  But when students grumbled, and other schools didn’t follow, the school abruptly abandoned its fight.  Wellesley, which had the highest GPA in Rojstaczer’s database in 2000 (3.55), underwent a similar endeavor, only to see its grades creep back up more recently.

Without collective action – which means both standing up to students and publicly shaming other schools into adopting higher standards – the arms race will continue.

Is it any surprise at all that the rise of gentleman’s A’s, coupled with self-created majors, has created a generation of college graduates many of whom are not equipped to fend for themselves or take on the serious discipline that a profession and/or being an adult requires.

Participation trophies have now crept into higher education.


POSTED: 3/31/16

Well Prepared Revolutionary …. Or Perhaps Socialist

It was in late June of 1968 and I was home on my 30 day leave prior to going off to Vietnam.  One of my college buddies came to visit before I would off on that assignment, and he, my father and I sat on the front porch of our family home in Bedford discussing the ways of the World.

My buddy, at the time, was a self-styled revolutionary and was also was the proud owner of an Austin Healey 1600 Sprite.

My father was a little bit to the right of Genghis Khan and his politics.

As those two Irishmen were debating political points of view as only those of Irish heritage of opposite view points can, my father finally blurted out “Billy, you may be a revolutionary” ….  as he looked over at that awesome Austin Healey in the driveway nearby and smiled and said … “but you’re a well prepared revolutionary in case the revolution fails.”

That revolution lost that foot soldier in part as my buddy eventually became a successful attorney, first as an Assistant District Attorney, then a partner in a law firm in private practice, and a part time City Judge in upstate New York before his untimely death from cancer half a decade ago.

I was reminded of this exchange this past week when I saw an article in the Washington Post that indicated that Millennials favor socialism.

This made me curious as the preferred Millennial Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders describes himself as a Democratic Socialist.  I wonder how many Millennials actually know the definition of socialism which is:

1.  a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies 

Or

2.  any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

Or

3.  a system of society or group living in which there is no private property; a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state.

A recent Reason –Rupe survey found that 53% of Americans under 30 have a favorable view of socialism compared with less than a 1/3 of those over 30.

The famous Gallup Poll reports that 69% of Millennials are willing to vote for a “socialist” candidate for President.

That survey produced astounding findings because only 32% of Millennials favor “an economy managed by the government.”  I am curious then to what brand of Socialism the Millennials are attracted to.

One seasoned NCO I encountered during my training in the Army said “nothing sharpens your focus quicker and better than coming under fire.” 

I would submit that nothing sharpens your economic focus better than having to earn your own way and support your own family.

The aforementioned Reason Rupe Poll found that while Millennials still on their parents’ health policy were in support of the concept of paying higher premiums i.e., someone other than themselves, to help cover the uninsured, that support reversed itself among Millennials paying for their own health insurance with 59% opposed to higher premiums.

There you go!  Focus.

Many Millennials live quite an insulated and isolated life either living with their parents, having their housing and/or student loans paid for by their parents and/or their trendy vacations to destination weddings also paid for by their parents.

President Obama’s visit last week to Cuba was a wonderfully staged photo opportunity for all involved but brought to the fore the fact that no matter how freshly painted the baseball stadium was, Cuban society still had major industries owned and controlled by government and that the quality of life for most of those in Cuba is far below that of most of the citizens of our Country.

While the free market capitalist system certainly has faults and we need to do a better job to protect those who are unable to care for themselves, I hope I don’t live to see the day when government controls major industries … or professions such as ours … rather than the individual.

In conclusion, I would submit that most nascent Millennial Socialists are quite well prepared Socialists. 

 


POSTED: 3/30/16

"We’re Going Toward the Light” … But So Did Icarus

Today’s Docket is going to be a republishing of a column by Phil Reisman that appeared in March 23rd’s edition of LoHud.  Mr. Reisman alerted us to a troubling legislative initiative put forward by one of our County’s County Legislators.  This proposal was more than troubling to me on many levels including the purpose and intent of the “Family Bill of Rights,” the cost attendant to the task force’s work and how the proposer of this particular bit of legislation could have possibly thought it could be afforded or enforced.

Our County’s most level-headed and effective Board Chairman, Mike Kaplowitz, came to the rescue and Mr. Reisman’s column speaks for itself.

Government serves an important purpose, but people generally don’t trust those who do the governing.

There are many reasons why this is so.  One dead-certain reason is that elected leaders frequently make unaffordable promises they cannot possibly keep.  It’s a pathological impulse that invariably breeds disappointment, anger and cynicism.

History is filled with false promises large and small.

One was recently on display in Westchester County government – however, because of a timely intervention, the idea was killed before it was fully hatched.

The idea was embodied in something called the “Family Bill of Rights,” a page-long wish list that was variously denounced by critics as naïve fantasy and Bernie Sanders-style socialism.  Covered under this Utopian dreamscape of “rights” was everything from affordable housing to low-cost physical and mental health care.

One of the shorter items reads as follows:

“WHEREAS, family members have the right to meaningful employment in jobs that provide sufficient pay, benefits and suitable skill-training that lead to advancement or future jobs …”

The Bill of Rights was drafted over a period of several weeks by the county Task Force on Families, a volunteer group of nonprofit social-service provides headed by Legislator Catherine Borgia, D-Ossining.

Borgia had hope that the Board of Legislators would accept the document in resolution form, as a philosophical statement of purpose.  Last Friday, she held a meeting to give task force members strategies on how to “pivot,” or deflect, pointed questions concerning the potential costs of such a far-reaching set of goals.

And that was the whole problem:  What would this cost?  The very word “rights” implied that county taxpayers would somehow be obligated to foot the bill for a perfect society, a kind of Lake Woebegone where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.”

To achieve all that would run into the billions of dollars – which was exactly what Board Chairman Mike Kaplowitz told Borgia at a meeting of the public Safety & Social services committee on Tuesday.

Kaplowitz, a Democrat, said the Bill of Rights concept was well meaning.  He even used the word “aspirational.”  But he also said it would raise unrealistic expectations without the money to pay for them.  For example, Kaplowitz noted that one item – the right to free or low cost public transportation – was naïve in light of the fact that the county is already stretched to the limit to fund the Bee Line bus system.

“Promising everything like the Wizard of Oz doesn’t make it happen,” he said.

Moreover, he said, the concept of rights was “frankly offensive” to families in the so-called “silent majority” who themselves ask very little of county government.

So there it is in the nutshell: Over-promising guarantees a double whammy of mistrust of government.  When reality sets in, those who are promised are always disappointed and disillusioned and the taxpayers who are expected to fund the promises, smolder in resentment.

Half way through the two-hour meeting, Borgia began to choke back tears.

Reached Wednesday, Kaplowitz stood by his comments.

“It was in good faith,” he said of the bill of rights.  It comes from the heart.  It’s well intentioned, but it’s not practical.  It’s absolutely naïve.”

Legislator Sheila Marcotte, R-Eastchester, who chairs the Budge & Appropriations committee, echoed Kaplowitz’s sentiments when she said the bill of rights “seeks to impose a socialistic mindset at the Board of Legislators” and disregarded “taxpayers and hard working families.”

There’s a saying that the best way to kill an idea is to hold a meeting.

In the case of the Family Bill of Rights idea, several meetings were held and the fatal blow was delivered on Tuesday.  However, despite the setback, Borgia didn’t seem any worse for wear when I talked to her on Wednesday.

She said the notion that the bill of rights amounted to guaranteed promises was misunderstanding.  The resolution, she said, was meant as “a policy direction, not a demand for all these things.”

However, Borgia acknowledged that her critics had a “visceral dislike” for the words “rights” and everything it implied, and that was “the crux of the problem.”

The resolution, she said, was intended to support a wide swath of the county’s citizenry – among them middle class families, young people and the elderly.

“It’s not about a lot of poor people, zombies, with their hands out saying, ‘Rich guys, you better give me this,’ she said.  That’s not the intention.  The intention is that here’s the concerns that we heard from a lot of different people in Westchester that have real concerns for families.”

Borgia cheerfully said she plans to go back to the drawing board.

“Here’s the thing, she said.  History is kind of on our side.  We’re going toward the light.”

The light that Ms. Borgia feels we may be going towards is either the subway train barreling down that track at us as we are strapped to the rails or the sunlight that Icarus flew so close to with unmeasurable hubris.

______________________

POSTED: 3/29/16

Garagiola to Scully to Mercer

I’m pretty sure I developed my love of language from my father who always pointed out a well-turned phrase in a newspaper article or in a lyric

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