Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cleaning The Garage

I spend some time each week at a legal clinic where my professional services are provided pro bono. In the past two weeks, two separate clients have come to the clinic because they are being sued by financial entities for failing to pay agreed-upon monies for material things provided to them. One of these clients purchased a used car from a local dealer, drove the car for seven months. and then abandoned the automobile and stopped paying on the note. The other client ran up $33,000 on a credit card and, quite simply, has not paid a penny on the obligation. To be candid, I am unfamiliar with the attitude that says "I can take something of value from you, but do not expect me to hold up my end of the deal." Stepping back, these local incidents are but a small part of a big picture nationally in which everyone seems to be expecting someone else to pick up the tab for material excesses. We hear about the threat of deflation arising from the basic human desire to preserve one's assets. Apparently, deflation is caused by people who stop spending money, thus causing a chain reaction of non-events; I don't buy that new TV so TV sellers lose business and they cannot order new stock., TV manufacturers cannot replenish the stock of the sellers so they cannot make new TVs. Because they cannot make new TVs they have no money to pay their workers so their workers become unable to buy new TVs. A circle of life, indeed. What all of this feels like to me at the moment is a cleaning of the garage. Like most people, we accumulate "stuff" in our garage. Month after month a variety of items pile up, dust and dirt accumulates, and finally, we get fed up and clean out the garage. We throw things out we do not want or need and we promise to ourselves for the umpteenth time that we will never purchase another widget which will be used once and then placed somewhere on the shelf behind the can of once used bug spray. Lending institutions have their dirty garages too, full of garbage loans and hollow promises of payment. Contraction of our economy is good and necessary. Sending billions of dollars to GM only postpones the inevitable if the net result fails to provide cars that are worth buying. Let's eat at home tonight, tuna sandwiches and a bowl of soup, then play scrabble, turn the heat and the lights down low, feel the warmth and comfort of those close to us. Let others do the same. Let's clean the garage.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Frat Boy

After listening to Obama speak last night, one thought came most to mind; Wow. Actually, there was a second thought; the contrast between our current leader and frat boy. George W. Bush never once assumed the mantle of leadership bestowed upon him without the ever-present smirk on his face that belied the truth of his reading of his teleprompter messages that said, in effect, this is what they have told me to say. Where our previous president was a hollow shell, Obama has substance and guts. Why am I returning to Bush at this moment? It is not simply that I no longer have him to kick around any more, but I did view Frost Nixon this week and the impact of that film on its subject matter served as a timely reminder that Bush and his minions utterly failed to grasp the lesson that politicians needed to learn from the Nixon failure. Instead of substance, Bush as frat boy brought the keg of beer to the party. He ran the country by serving up generous sloppy mugs full of the beer of the nation's largesse to his friends. His minions drank to excess and became sloppy drunk while the rest of us pressed our noses to the windows of the frat house watching what was going on and wondering if we could just have a sip. Last night, there were no smirks. We were told that we too had to share the responsibility of the burden. We were told, in essence, that the party is over. Wow!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Political Attention Deficit Disorder

The very recent imbroglio by and about CNBC's Rick Santelli and his rant about bailing out spendthrifts and wastrels in the mortgage crisis by using the dollars of honest and hardworking Americans is said to be the equivalent of the initial response to the designation of Sarah Palin as the VP Republican candidate. In a reaction very much along party lines, the Republicans are screaming bloody murder about the injustice of it all. In the truest sense of the word, this reaction is akin to a tantrum being thrown by a child whose toys have been removed from the living room to clean up for company. There are a hundred different ways to look at this, but the view I prefer is considering what we are hearing as an example of short term attention deficit disorder in the community-at--large which was previously known as Republicans.(FAKARS). These FAKARS are now on the outside looking in and after eight years of systematically destroying the foundation of our economic way of life from unmitigated and unregulated conduct based on greed. They profess to be shocked at the concept that the little people in our society are getting screwed by their neighbors who bought homes too expensive for their means. Let me give these people a little reality therapy. It is true. Some people who should not benefit will benefit. Two wrongs don't make a right. But, the bottom line is that things are such a mess, something has to be done. The FAKARS were the ;people who pushed through the idea that mortgages could not be adjusted in bankruptcy courts. They were the people who pushed through the selling concepts that money could be lent without restriction to people who could ill afford to pay by failing to disclose adequately the concepts of adjusted mortgage rates to thousands of people who just simply want to do better in life than previous generations. All this prattle about morality is disgusting and its superficiality will last about as long as Sarah Palin did on the national political scene.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Telling My Grand Kid About Global Warming

The supreme joy of my life has been the watching my three beautiful daughters grow up and assume their positions in this world as mothers, wives and thoughtful, functioning, loving, sensitive beings living daily with an obvious sense of purpose. (If I haven't said this positively enough, its not for not having tried. In truth, without wanting to sound maudling, I can't say enough about what I feel about each of them and how proud I am to be part of their existence). What I feel for them goes equally with my feelings for my grand kids. The occasional designation of them as 'rug rats' is meant only in jest and as a term of endearment. This hyperbole is preliminary to what I have to say about a serious topic; global warming because the continuity of future generations of my family and yours and the families of the rest of the world is contingent upon our immediate and necessary adaptation to the its peril. My parents were born in 1918, almost a century ago, and they were a meaningful part of my current family's makeup until recently. My point here is that when the perils of global warming are discussed, we are not talking about the future in a science fiction way, 10-15 generations down the road, but as having a direct impact on the children or grandchildren of those people in our lives at the moment. The latest comprehensive assessment of the impact of global warming has coastal water levels rising 1 1/2 to 3 feet throughout the world by the year 2100, i.e., about the time my grandchildren's lives are ending. Their children and their grandchildren, however, will be in the active stages of their lives and forced to deal or adapt with what our generations have wrought upon them. In truth, a substantial portion of the globe's population lives close to the various water's edges meaning that there will be intense competition as these populations move away from the danger. I envision, crudely, my home in Lakewood Ranch now approximately 15 miles inland, becoming the new lakefront property. Lot's of opportunity for humor here, but the thought of billions of people scrambling and fighting for new land tempers any such thought. The reality of this emerging problem has been politicized the past eight years, but the point is being missed entirely. It really doesn't matter whether global warming is man made or occurring as part of the cyclical nature of the universe. We need to deal with the issue either way by being prepared for the changes that are necessary in relocating millions of displaced persons from current living situations. The aftermath of Katrina presents only a small vision of what it may be like 90 years from now in locales throughout the world.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Disturbing Trend: The Same Old Same Old

There is the kernel of a disturbing notion beginning to lodge somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind. This kernel is being created by the sorting together of separate pieces of information about Obama's presidential moves that are beginning to cause some discontent, sort of like the beginning of a rash or a severe head cold. The first incident was the decision of the Justice Department under Holder to continue with the the Bush policy of claiming the benefit of the Secrecy Act in the cases of the individuals who brought suit against the federal government for the process of illegal rendition. These persons were literally snatched without warrant or due process off the streets of the United States and transported to foreign countries where they were tortured and beaten. I haven't taken a head count, but I would surmise that pretty much everybody who voted for Obama, including the three judge panel sitting on the case, was surprised that the current government continued with the ruse that state secrets were too important a consideration to allow innocent citizens to proceed with their case. The most apt description I can come up with is that this continuation is the political equivalent of furthering the penetration of a dagger right into the very heart of our Constitution. The second piece that appears is the ruling by the Obama administration that is a gift to the gun lobby. The government says that it will, for now, continue to allow concealed, loaded firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges. The third is the bending of the rules that puts Timothy Geithner in place as the head monitor of the stimulus program even after he gets caught trying to evade significant amounts of legally owed taxes. The next was the lobbyist guy who just had to come into the administration because of his expertise on defense and weapons systems. Are these two people really the only ones in the country who are qualified to perform their assigned tasks? I doubt it. While admittedly I don't quite know yet what to make of these disparate acts, something tells me that a pattern is emerging that is contrary to what I thought was going to happen on Obama's watch. Change was going to get us back to a simple concept; principles are important, more important than politics. Each of the disturbing pieces of the puzzle that I have mentioned suggest a disturbing trend that politics trump principle even in this new administration. Stay tuned; I am going top keep a watchful (and hopeful) eye on this ongoing saga. I think everyone will acknowledge that Obama is a lot smarter and more presidential than Bush in so many ways, but I sincerely hope that there is more principle-based substance to the man than these nagging incidents seem to suggest.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

How Long?

We ate last evening at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in Sarasota which holds an annual event where the consumption of food prepared by church members is so wonderful that one cannot simply get enough of it. We dined at long tables elbow to elbow with others and listened to Greek music and watched people dance to that music. Two observations fascinated me; First, the attendees were having a great time participating in an activity that was as far removed from the stereotypical American dance scene as one could imagine. Second was the realization that in this typical American city was this purely Greek ethnic festival that has been totally absorbed into the fabric of American society. I wondered aloud (nobody could hear me, however, because of the music and laughter) how long before a similar phenomenon for other sub-cultures of our society would require to take their rightful places in the melting pot which is the heart of America? Granted there are certain areas of our country where ethnic groups have flourished. Deaborn, Michigan is one where it is said that the city contains the largest number of Muslims in the world outside of the middle east. The Greeks retain their cultural identity and, yet, participate freely without bias or ethnic hatred in the activities of our society. The same holds true for the Irish, the Italian, the Polish and others. The assimilation and acceptance of the Muslim population, while starting, cannot come fast enough. How long? The truer we hold to our basic values and ideals that all people "are created equal", the lesson to the rest of the world will be seen as the change that was the preferred rhetoric of the last election.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

President Obama, Come With Me

There are them and there are us. "Them" as we are finding out is that special class of people who think it's horrible and a fundamental flaw in moral character that a father or a single mother seeks help from the government to feed their kids, provide medical care or a roof over their heads. "Them" have no qualms in not paying their taxes or using unfathomable taxpayers monies for luxury jets, multi-thousand dollar waste baskets, and billions of dollars of bonuses for job performances at the level of null and void. When the government provides "them" with billions of dollars to save their sorry asses from their greedy and irresponsible management of their businesses, they thumb their noses at the taxpayers and refuse to divulge what they do with the money.

On the other hand, one of the dangers of the presidency as exemplified by Bush is the creation of a bubble in which the president lives aloof and remote from the reality of what is going on out here among "us." In that context I would like to relate information about a local clinic which provides free legal services to those who qualify. Legal Aid of Manasota handles civil areas of law including family law (limited to domestic violence, child abuse and/or neglect), guardianships, bankruptcy (to preserve homes), housing law, consumer law and probate for any person who resides in Sarasota or Manatee County or whose legal problem is in these counties who meet case eligibility guidelines and whose household income and assets are within 150% of the federal poverty guidelines (125% for family law). Legal Aid of Manasota also offers a Pro Se Divorce Clinic for income eligible people who would like to learn how to represent themselves in a divorce proceeding. This clinic is taught by attorneys who walk the clients through the necessary steps. Seniors, age 55 an over, or the terminally ill may qualify to obtain a will, power of attorney, or designation of health care surrogate without charge. Legal assistance is also provided to individuals with AIDS or who are HIV positive.

Before President Obama gets too far into his presidency, I respectfully invite him to visit this clinic with me which would help him bring into sharp focus what "us" are experiencing while the Nero's of American life are fiddling away our money. On a typical day, he will see and hear about scurrilous used car dealers screwing people out of hard earned dollars, banks foreclosing on disabled people living in mobile homes who simply cannot afford to meet monthly payments because of lost jobs, and other dastardly life situations caused by the current economic downturn such as to cause one's heart to nearly break. Mr. President, if you think giving up on the tax-cheating Tom Daschle was disturbing, try listening to the young father of four small children whose power was cut off the night of a near freeze in Bradenton because he could not pay the electric bill. This is the "us" of our society and it should be noted that Legal Aid of Manasota has just had its funding reduced so that employees are reduced to a four day week. It should also be noted that I make no claim personally to have experienced any of these profound hardships that one sees daily at this clinic. It is just that these people are the "us" of our society and they are hurting bad. They need help.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Weasels and Litigation

Weasels. Or, perhaps more appropriately, weasel-like behaviors on the part of humans who should know better is the reason why we need litigation. One of the lead stories in today's New York Times contains the information that the FDA had to seek permission from the Peanut Corporation of America in order to issue a recall of products known to contain Salmonella after a severe outbreak resulting in multiple deaths occurred in users. From information already available we know that officials at this Georgia-based company knew that their products were contaminated before they were shipped for human consumption. Now let me ask you a question; suppose that you were head of the FDA and knew that there was such a company shipping contaminated products, such as peanut butter eaten by most of the kids in the United States nearly every day, would you meekly approach that company and ask them if it is all right if you could send a recall notice to sellers of these products?

The answer to this question needs to be considered in the context of the role of litigation in our society in performing the vital conservative function of holding people and corporations responsible for their behaviors, including criminal wrongdoing. Big business, including the insurance and drug industries, have paid politicians and judges enough campaign money over the past twenty years in the conduct of a war on litigation that can best be characterized by their mantra 'nuisance lawsuits.' The public mind set, including brainwashed jurors, has been that every lawsuit brought is a nuisance lawsuit and that it is unfair to hold a giant corporation responsible for their conduct if the FDA said what they are doing is all right. The net result of this effort is that we now have a system that, by and large, says if the FDA has approved the marketing of drugs, medical devices and foods, this means that these substances are safe (unless, as in the present situation, the FDA is able to get a company to agree that there product may not be safe).

In the hours and days that passed while the FDA and the Peanut Company of America negotiated the language in the recall statement, how many children were killed? How many elderly people died? This is not the first and only time that this type of event has occurred. The list of catastrophes gone unpunished caused by the negligence and/or criminal behavior of the large industries in our society because they were protected by hiding behind the skirts of the FDA and bought judges and legislators would fill a note book, several note books.

The solution is simple; allow people hurt by a product to hold the manufacturer of that product responsible. I once represented a young man pro bono who was fired from his mid-level county government job because his hobby was writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper about the shenanigans of various elected county officials. The language of the appellate judge who reinstated this man to his job has stayed with me all these years because of the principle it supports; "If this is the way that [this county] treats letter writers, then we need more letter writers, not less." The analogy to the present discussion is apt; we need more litigation, not less, to restore the proper balance to our society. At the present time, the baby has been thrown out with the bath water.