Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Of Publicity and Privacy: Who's Outing Whom?

The news media, the so-called "Fourth Estate," likes to pride itself in keeping the governing powers and the people honest.  Having been suckled on that pap since journalism school, many Fourth Estaters actually believe that they in fact perform such a function.

And if indeed they really did, then I would be their number one fan.

But, unfortunately, the Fourth Estate has long yielded its independence, and has, by and large, allowed itself to be an instrumentality of the corruptocrats in (and out of) government.

So who, then, is going to be the Fourth Estate to the Fourth Estate (or, in Juvenal's original phraseology from his Satires, "Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?").

Sometimes, all it takes is one blogger to do that.

As part of the Newtown Sandy Hook Elementary hoplophobe gun-grabber media fest, the Journal-News, of White Plains, New York, has published an article about pistol permit holders, and, as an Internet companion piece, used the cyber mapping technologies to post an interactive map showing the names and locations of all pistol permit holders registered in Westchester and Rockland Counties (inasmuch as I have never lived in either of those two counties, you will not find my name there).

This has caused a big uproar.  Everyone is screaming about (A) privacy rights; and/or (B) now that the burglars know who has handguns, they know which houses to avoid -- and, by inference, which to target.

[This is assuming, of course, that those who are not registered pistol permit holders do not in fact have pistols.  On that score, I will humor the hoplophobes, but cannot in good conscience give 100% assurances to those in the burglary business that every non-registered residence they target is in fact devoid of munition/ammunition.].

But, as Christopher Fountain notes, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  Chris, of Greenwich, CT, has posted on his blog "For What It's Worth" a listing of the home addresses and contacts for the Journal-News publisher, editors, and reporters who were behind the articles.

It is going to be quite interesting to see how the Fourth Estate in White Plains deals with this one.  After all, they cannot now scream "invasion of privacy!" without being laughed out of town.

Not that Chris is invulnerable.  On his blog bio-line, Chris discloses that he is "a non-practicing lawyer and glad of it."  I'm wondering how long it will take the Journal-News to ask whether he is the same Christopher C. Fountain who, in 2000, had his 3-month suspension from the practice of law for forging a signature and notarization affirmed by the Appellate Court of Connecticut.  [Disclosure:  I am personally friendly with more than one ex-lawyer who has been slapped with harsher discipline than that.  Hate the sin but love the sinner!].

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Monday, December 24, 2012

The Depressing Theology of Fraud

Judge Deborah Batts, a Federal judge who sits in the Southern District of New York, has allowed Jonathan Bristol, the disbarred former partner at Winston & Strawn who used his attorney escrow account to launder money in a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme, to walk away with no prison time.

One would think that a partner at such a prestigious large international law firm who so misbehaved would get some slammer time, or, if not in a slammer-type facility, a year or two at a low- or minimum-security Club Fed institution such as Allenwood or Morgantown.

But Judge Batts bought off on the sob story arguments of Bristol's lawyer, Susan Kellman, who tugged at Batts's heart strings with the stories of Bristol's troubled childhood, and his treatments for depression, and the fact that his downfall wrecked his marriage and now leaves him living alone in a small 1-bedroom apartment with his dog.

Judge Batts agreed that Bristol's "hero worship" of now disbarred attorney-CPA Kenneth I. Starr (not to be confused with the former Solicitor General and Judge, Kenneth W. Starr), beclouded his better judgment.  Starr's retinue of celebrity clients such as Martin Scorsese, Uma Thurman, Lauren Bacall, Nora Ephron and Matt Lauer, reasoned Bristol, would enhance his law practice.

There are reasons for judges to impose below-range sentences.  Bristol did enter a plea deal, thereby sparing the time and resources of the courts and the U.S. Attorney's office.  And, in all fairness, it must be noted that Batts did hold Bristol jointly and severally liable, with Starr, for the $18 million that passed through his escrow account (but not until Starr kicks in past the $5 million threshold).

The chances of Bristol and/or Starr attaining such wealth are not something I would lay any wager to.  Bristol is certainly ruined financially in a huge way.

But what kind of lesson does the example of Jonathan Bristol teach?  That getting caught up in hero worship is a valid excuse?  If so, why not the followers of Charles Manson?  Will the next arrogant snot-nosed big New York law firm partner who gets caught in a big financial fraud (and there will be a next one, mark my words) invoke Bristol's excuses of hero worship?

Yes, I can see where Judge Batts's dispensation of mercy is sparing the penal system the strain of having to accommodate Bristol.  I can see where Bristol is already consigned to a life of suffering (though being privileged to live with a canine companion is certainly not anywhere near the hottest region of the netherworld inferno).  Yet, somehow, I am uncomfortable about the whole thing.

Adding to my discomfort is that the sentencing proceeding was done "before a jury box full of elementary school students from the Aaron School, a K-12 special education school in Manhattan, who were there to learn about the court system."  Which aspect of Bristol's sentence will those kids absorb, the financial ruination, or a sense of entitlement to mercy from the courts for yielding one's own locus of control to the hero one worships?

I am informed that tomorrow is a date of religious significance for my Christian friends.  In the event that I don't post anything further before then, let me now wish to all of you, a Merry one!!!


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Banking on School Safety

Banking on School Safety

This past week there was a bank robbery within a few miles of my home (I happen to have had prior occasion to visit that particular bank in a past legal matter).  Verbal demand for cash, no weapons brandished, nobody killed or injured, would probably be classified as a strongarm type robbery.

So this morning at shul, when the matter came up in conversation, I said that the banks should have armed guards and/or armed tellers.  One of my fellow congregants heartily agreed with me.

What made this conversation so notable is that this same person, whose hoplophobic tendencies have long been very pronounced, had just a few days ago told me how wrongheaded I was to advocate armed guards and teachers in schools (even before the NRA's public announcement yesterday).

And then, another guy (whose wife is an arsy-fartsy knee-jerk Obamatronic limousine liberal, albeit without the limousine) said that the banks don't need armed guards but that the schools do (!).  His rationale:  The people who go shoot up the schools are crazies, but the ones who rob banks are rational.  Banks, after all, are where the money is!

Good thing that his wife wasn't present at the time!

On the other hand, it would have been very interesting and entertaining to observe the conversation if she had been there.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Victims, Plaintiffs and Defendants

None are so blind as those who refuse to see.

To those who are not in denial, it is plain that the media is having a field day with the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting rampage, and that the same media is totally in the tank for the gun grabber lobby.

Going along with this media feeding frenzy is Governor Dannel P. Molloy of Connecticut.  He is asking that there be, as public memorial gesture, a moment of silence this coming Friday.  I'm completely okay with that.

And he is asking that churches ring their bells.  I can accept that, with a few reservations.  The reservations are that once upon a time, in the old country, the ringing of church bells was the signal for the pogroms against the Jews to begin.  When I was in my elementary school years, my grandparents lived around the block from a Catholic church.  My grandmother never really made peace with the daily tintinnabulation of the church bells, having, as a young girl, come to America in the process of escaping a pogrom in her town.  So while the particular church bell ringings requested by the Governor will carry none of the evil accoutrements of those heard by my grandmother in the old country, there still is a little bit of baggage in the trunk for some of us.

But the Governor is specifically requesting that the bells be rung 26 times.

There were 28 people killed in that rampage, including the shooter himself (whose name will not be set forth in this posting).  It is appropriate, if not imperative, that he not be glorified in the same breath as his victims.

So now we are down to 27 people.  They are the 26 victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School itself, plus one victim who was killed off premises.  The 27th victim – actually, the very first victim chronologically – was the shooter's mother.  Why should she not be counted among the victims?  Why is she being marginalized?

I see an agenda here.  Recall that, notwithstanding the hoplophobes' hue and cry for more gun control, no anti-gun statute could have prevented the rampage because the guns used were taken by the shooter from his mom, who collected them.

Lawyers, myself included, have been trained to find and target partners with whom to share the blame for situations.  It is fair to state that few if any lawyers would fail to entertain the thought that the gunman's mother (or, now, her estate) may be at fault for not properly securing her lethal hardware.

If I represented a party who planned to sue the old lady's estate, I would advise the client to not declare the old lady to be a victim on par with those who were killed at the school.

And so, I smell a device.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Taking the hit in Connecticut



Of course, the buzz is all about the horrific massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  To say that it rends my heart is an understatement.  Like every other decent American of good will, my hopes and prayers are with the families of the murdered victims, and with the wounded survivors.


The population of the United States (including the illegals) is approximately 39 times the population of Israel.  On numerous occasions, schools, homes, parks and businesses in Israel have been attacked by terrorists, resulting in the death of one or more children.  To appreciate, in American terms, the hit taken by Israel in such instances, multiply by 39 the number of casualties.


 [The above calculations include Israel's Arab population, which is not the target of the terrorists.].


Israel, unfortunately, is accustomed to such decimations of its population, and, unfortunately, the world has become accustomed to dismissing such murders as inconsequential when the victims are Jews.


My condolences and sympathies go to the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre, and to the community.


Note to all of the hoplophobes who are now using the Sandy Hook Elementary incident as fodder for their campaign to restrict the availability of firearms to law-abiding citizens:


The Connecticut Legislature has enacted a statute, Connecticut Code Section 53-344, which prohibits the sale or purchase of cigarettes to or by individuals under the age of 18.  The Legislature has likewise enacted the Section 30-86 of the Connecticut Code, which prohibits the sales of alcoholic beverages to individuals under the age of 21.  And even though Connecticut is one of the states that is more tolerant of cannabis than most others, it does have a general prohibition (albeit one riddled with exceptions and loopholes), Code Section 21a-278, against the purchase, sale and use of marijuana.


So, theoretically, nobody under the age of 21 should be drinking, nobody under the age of 18 should be smoking, and nobody without a medical necessity should be using marijuana.  But, unless you are long-term comatose, you have witnessed numerous occasions of such laws being infracted.  What makes you think that statutes restricting the availability of firearms would prevent criminals such as the depraved perpetuator of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre (whose name will not be set forth in this posting) from obtaining firearms?


And if you ever have been an infractor of the tobacco, alcohol or marijuana restrictions, then, all the more, STFU!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Children Doing the Time

Not a week ever, ever goes by without at least one solicitation for a donation arriving for me and/or my wife.  This in and of itself is not a bad thing.  We do divert 10% of our income into a special checking account from which we draw checks towards charitable causes, and we do wish to help those less fortunate than ourselves.  The practice of what in Hebrew is known as "tzedaka," a term which really has no exact English equivalent but which is commonly translated as "charity," was a core value of ours even before we met one another.  As mentioned in an earlier post, my own great-grandmother was once the beneficiary of tzedaka, which, a century later, has been and continues to be given back to the community many times over by her descendants.

Of course, some weeks bring more envelopes and phone calls than others.  And this time of year, what with the Chanukah holiday which is now upon us, is one of those periods.

We got one in the mail which somehow bothers me, but until now I have not been able to figure out just why.  The card bears the legend "This Chanukah, don't let innocent children suffer because of their parents' mistake!"  It purports to aid the families, within the insular religious Jewish community, whose parent (implicitly the male one) is incarcerated.

And I do agree that such is a valid and worthy application of a tzedaka dollar.  Yes, there is the concept to which I subscribe of "If you can't do the time, then don't do the crime."  And doing the time includes having your uneducated and unskilled wife, along with those kids of yours she cranked out for you, suffer from your inability to go out and support them.  But the children ARE (usually) innocent, and when they grow up either (A) they will have it out with you on the matter; (B) they will clam up about it but resent you and possibly become estranged from you to one extent or another; or (C) if you man up in time, you will preempt them by acknowledging to them what a sleazeball you were by getting involved in whatever illegal activity it was that led to your incarceration.  I know people on either side of each of the three aforementioned options, and would strongly suggest that option "C" should be the first choice.  But not everyone has what it takes to travel the high road.

Yet, there was something about this particular solicitation which bothers me which I couldn't quite place my finger on.  Of course I researched this particular organization, and verified that it is approved as tax-exempt by the IRS, and is registered with the New York State Charities Bureau.  The fact that there is no available Form 990 posted on the Guidestar website (Guidestar, itself a tax-exempt organization, has a deal with the IRS to publicly post the Form 990s submitted to the IRS -- some of those 990s can give you lots of interesting information), while not particularly encouraging, is not in and of itself necessarily an indicium of illegitimacy, inasmuch as the organization may be new and/or small.  Indeed, my wife and I regularly contribute to such an organization, run out of a home located in the same Brooklyn neighborhood as this questionable one, the principal personnel of which we personally know and trust.

I wouldn't want to see Charityland consist solely of the big organizations; the little ones often hit the needs which the big players miss.  Besides, as alluded to in a prior posting, if the charitable sector were overly dominated by the mega-charities, then it would be all the more susceptible to a governmental takeover which would make the degree of regulation now exercised by the IRS and the state attorneys general seem benign in comparison.

After waking up from what little sleep I managed to get last night (other matters, including a complaining gastrointestinal tract, were the primary cause of my insomnia), I now realize what bothers me about this particular solicitation.  Amongst the social group targeted by this particular organization, few leaders even attempt to drive home the fact that the illegal activities for which most of the incarceratees are incarcerated -- the so-called "white collar" crimes, insurance fraud, et cetera -- are WRONG!  Without going into details, it is perfectly acceptable to amongst those social circles to cheat the government and the insurance companies (and put firefighters at risk in the process).  And these children I purportedly would be helping are being indoctrinated accordingly!  If indeed such is the case, then my tzedaka dollars would be wasted.

Hard-hearted and cold-blooded?  Perhaps!  But if the community keeps on rewarding the behavior, then the behavior will continue.  Using the resources to teach the children to respect the law would go further than buying them a bag of those foil-covered chocolate coins for Chanukah.

So now, I am damned if I do and damned if I don't.  If I don't send them a check, then there will be less available to help the innocent wives and children of the criminals now serving time in prison (assuming that a reasonable percentage of the donation actually reaches the targets).  And if I do send them a check, I will feel violated.

And so, during this festival of Chanukah, while I cannot yet bring myself to donate to this particular organization, neither can I toss the solicitation into the paper recycle box just yet.  There are a few more inquiries I can make, and just maybe, some bit of intelligence will emerge within the next few days which will enable me to make a definitive decision one way or another.

Wishing all a Happy Chanukah!