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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Stock Market Plunge Monday on Fiscal Cliff Approach

Midday Sunday reports out of Washington DC indicate that "negotiations" on resolving the fiscal cliff have broken down.  This presages a major stock market drop in all worldwide markets starting in about five hours when Far East markets open around 7pm Eastern time.

Stock market futures were already down significantly after the market close Friday, following a sharp Friday afternoon selloff.

Monday is not a stock market holiday.  American stock markets are open between 9:30 am and 1:00 pm tomorrow.  This may be a fun day to sit at home and watch the action.  Expect lots of loss-taking because institutional investors like hedge funds and mutual funds will want to protect their gains (or cut their losses) as much as possible.  This is a form of "window dressing" as fund managers try to protect their annual and quarterly results.  To a lesser extent, there may be tax-driven selling as tomorrow is the last day in 2012 in which one can sell and realize taxable events (gains in 2012, to capture a presumably lower rate since rates are expected to rise sharply starting January 1st; taking losses is also advantageous as a writeoff against any realized gains).  

We may see a manic panic rush to the exits as people covering the trading desks for others still on vacation get panicked calls from higher-ups to dump stocks, bonds, possibly any asset class.  One notable asset class exception may be derivatives and exchange-traded funds which attempt to move inversely to the market.  Holders in those funds -- or others which fled stocks in anticipation of a fiscal cliff crisis actually occurring -- may be partying well in advance of the ball being dropped tomorrow. 


Small Businesses Fighting ObamaCare

The mainstream financial media is already out with articles suggesting ways for small businesses to circumvent the costly burdens of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (which you and I know as ObamaCare).  However, the anecdotal evidence of these survival strategies gets really interesting.

Perhaps the most obvious trigger of the ObamaCare mandates on businesses to provide health insurance to employees is the headcount, that is, the number of employees a business has.  Here, the tragic number is 50.

In Manhattan, I do a lot of walking around.  The reason is that walking -- or running -- allows me to avoid cross-contamination from unclean surfaces and, in particular, unclean people.  In the process, I will sometimes step into a food establishment, and I enjoy going into the so-called mom-and-pops.  I get a different read on the economy than I do when I enter a chain store like the ubiquitous Qdobas, Chipotles or -- heavens forbid -- Starbucks.  

A glance into the so-called independent stores began to spark in me a curious sense of deja vu.  As in, I've seen this food before, the same display, the same rotating LED screen.  Soon, I've discovered that many purported independent stores are connected and must have some common ownership or management; certainly, drilling down several layers uncovered circumstantial evidence (which I won't disclose) indicating that there's either one heck of a coincidence, or a concerted effort by a big group to separate each of more than one dozen establishments into individual companies, each likely with fewer than 50 employees and hence avoiding the ObamaCare employee trigger.

Arguably, this could be construed as an evasion of the law.  The regulatory and even prosecutorial decisions starting in 2014 may be very interesting (or terrifying).  The situation bears watching.   As the legal and financial burdens mount, expect more efforts by business owners and managers to respond -- with cost cuts, staff reductions, store closings and other legal maneuvers -- in order to compete and preserve their slim profit margins and competitive positions in an uncertain and what some fear will be a possibly hostile-to-business second term Obama Administration.


This is News? New York City Full of Dangerous Crazy People!

Really?

In the wake of two subway deaths in the past month, this New York Post report claims that New York City is full of thousands of mentally ill homeless people.

This is NOT news to anyone to works or lives in New York City -- and specifically, the People's Republic of Manhattan.

I've been chronicling for years how Manhattan's major transportation hubs and other public places have become overrun with the homeless, the mentally ill (the two groups don't always overlap), and the opportunistic who prey upon the misguided altruism of New Yorkers and particularly, stupid tourists who are spending other people's money.  But a pharmacist friend of mine (who to his credit never divulges patient information) confides that in his professional opinion, many seemingly and outwardly normal white-collar professionals are really seriously overmedicated, flying high as kites on prescription meds, and engaging in worse drug abuse than some addicts hooked on so-called hard, illicit drugs.

(PS -- Recommending reading: Here is a recent Wall Street Journal story on the number of deaths from opiods -- painkillers like Vicodin.  This danger is one likely reason for the number of federal prosecutions of pill mills.)

But today, I just stick to the certifiable nuts.  Unlike the Post's article (see the link above), here's the real deal -- a compilation of my extensive observations over the past several years:
  • Grand Central Station's relatively new underground food court may have a nice selection of food, but you'd be advised to never, ever sit down anywhere, as a homeless person may have been sitting there just minutes ago.  Beware the perils of cross-contamination.  The stinking, revolting homeless regularly circle customers waiting to intercept leftovers before they are tossed in the trash.
  • As I detailed in an article two years ago, the Port Authority bus station at 42nd Street is headed back towards the dark days of B.G. -- Before Giuliani.  The cops chase the vagrants out of the station at 1 A.M., with the unintended consequence of encouraging the bums to sleep on chairs, couches and floors in the station during the rush hour!  
  • Penn Station has enough nooks and crannies to allow vagrants to evade detection, and is generally the nicest of the transportation hubs, but still requires caution.
  • Central Park has a motley crew of homeless, mentally ill, opportunistic criminals preying on clueless tourists, and an assorted bunch of deviants.  It's still safe to run there -- if you're a man and you're not wearing headphones.
  • There is a homeless box-dweller who is so permanently entrenched across from Madison Square Park's Shake Shack that she should be paying rent.
  • Early morning and late night trains to the Bronx and Brooklyn reveal that many of these apparent vagrants are headed outbound, presumably to real residences.  Their day job is preying on the altruistic guilt of working Manhattanites (or their suburban counterparts, homo sapiens stupidus Snookius), much like the so-called Occupy Wall Street protestors went home to luxury condos after marching around the fetid Zuccotti Park last year.
It is clear that, in Mike Bloomberg's illegitimate third term, New York City has continued its regression back to the dark days of the 1980s.  Fear does not rule, not yet, but the utter cluelessness of the white-collar professional set makes many of the under-40 set particularly vulnerable to unexpected crime.  Those of us who grew up in New York B.G. grew up in a climate of fear (remember the 2,000-plus homicides in 1989?) but out of that fear rose vigilance.  Today's young adults and teenagers, lollygagging around Manhattan as urban playground, are unaware of the dangers that are increasing.

The recent subway attacks, the random mindless mayhem, are a shock to this under-40 set.  Those of us who remember the days of Abe Beame and Ed Koch remember a different New York.  

This indicates a serious challenge for the next mayor.


Friday, December 21, 2012

When Crime DOES Pay: The Moral Hazard Of Too Big To Fail, Too Big To Jail

See my latest research report, published by the nonprofit economic think tank Financial Policy Council on Friday, December 21st and on the nationally-recognized financial equivalent of the Drudge Report, RealClearMarkets.com, on Christmas Eve, December 24th in its Research Reports section.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New York City Marathon Finally Offers Refund for 2012 Race

The New York Road Runners Club will announce today (December 20th) that it will offer full refunds to all entrants for the 2012 New York City Marathon, which was scheduled for November 4th but cancelled after Hurricane Sandy.

The decision comes weeks after a disastrous and horribly insensitive attempt by both the Bloomberg Administration and New  York Road Runners to allocate supplies, including portable generators, to the race, which begins in Staten Island less than one mile from the heavily damaged South Beach section which is at sea level and was inundated by the record 20-foot storm surge.  Make no mistake about it, the race was cancelled only after serious public protests, including by some runners.  And serious runners (such as myself) felt that running the race was not only grossly insensitive but also would have been counterproductive for serious runners and would basically eviscerate the very reason for a serious athletic competition.

And the New York Road Runners Club, a nonprofit organization which is overseen by the New York State Attorney General's Office (and to whom I asked to investigate the NYRR's initial attempt to retain runners' entry fees) has suffered possibly permanent brand damage.   Read these quotes from the Times' initial article:
Mary Wittenberg has also had to mend relations with sponsors of the race. As a nonprofit, Road Runners does not have a large financial cushion, and it no doubt wanted to avoid paying refunds. As a result, some partners, like ABC and ESPN, which was going to broadcast the race, may have their contracts extended for an additional year at no cost.
The larger question is how much the fiasco surrounding the cancellation of the race, which included planned protests, online petitions and attacks by local politicians, damaged the Road Runners brand. Road Runners is now in talks with ING, the Dutch bank that is the title sponsor of the race. If the bank decides to end its affiliation with the race, Road Runners could be forced to scramble for a new lead sponsor.
A victory for runners.  But this ten-time marathoner still recommends you run the Philadelphia Marathon -- a superior race and running experience -- next November.  (PS: Time to brag. I finished the 2012 Philadelphia Marathon in an okay 3:49:59.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is New York Attacking Free Speech?

The office of New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, has released proposed rules that would require so-called 501(c)(4) "social welfare" organizations and certain other non-profit organizations that engage in any political activity (whether issue-specific or candidate-related) to disclose their donors.  Is this an attack on political free speech?

The proposed disclosure rules appear to target anonymous political speech -- that is, they intend to force any group raising and spending money on campaigns or issues to disclose who their contributors are and how much they've given.  The rationale behind people wanting to be anonymous, to avoid disclosure, is not to circumvent the limits on political contributions, but rather to avoid negative publicity, reprisals, retaliation and the like.  Some people will be at risk of losing business, of losing their jobs, or receiving other harassment if their political inclinations become known.  There is already a chilling effect on free speech and political participation, and that's without this new rule.  

Notably, the Attorney General concedes that this fear of political reprisal is legitimate.  The explanation for the rules includes a provision that organizations whose donors fear reprisal if they are disclosed publicly can napply for a waiver.  But this option admits that such reprisals and "blowback" can and does occur.  Now, since its occurrence is admitted, doesn't it then make sense to acknowledge that there is a value to one's privacy and anonymity?  Isn't there a right to anonymous speech?

And, to be real, isn't that chilling effect the very point behind this rule?  Isn't this all about discouraging unpopular political speech, to kneecap your political opponents by cutting off their funding source by threatening their supporters with being revealed?  




Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sleep Deprivation Not a Crime: Tragic Bus Driver Acquitted

A New York jury acquitted the bus driver of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for a tragic March 2011 accident in which the driver fell asleep -- or was barely alert -- and the bus struck the highway median and tipped over, killing fifteen passengers and seriously wounding many others.

The driver walks out a free man, after having served more than one year in jail for crimes for which he was found not guilty.

This prosecution illustrates the danger of the trend of overcriminalization, when bad judgment or accidents become the excuse for charging people with serious crimes. 

More ominously, we are seeing crimes being charged for actions which really are just serving as the pretext to mask a real animus -- racial, sexual, ideological -- against the defendant.  You know, like what used to happen in the Jim Crow South before the 1970s.




Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trenton Mayor Indicted

Breaking


On a separate note, I observe that the lawyer for Trenton Mayor Tony Mack has been way too free with his comments to the news media.  In my mind, there should be no comments regarding the status of plea negotiations (if any), or even the admission (if true) that plea discussions are even taking place.  These comments imply or indicate some degree of guilt on the part of the client.  I fail to see how such public statements serve the best interests of the client, even if he is a public figure as the mayor of Trenton, NJ.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Second NJ Foreclosure Transformation Act Passes, Awaits Christie Decision

A second iteration of the infamous New Jersey Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act has passed both houses of the New Jersey Legislature and heads to the desk of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  Christie, facing re-election in 2013 in an admittedly "blue" state, has not indicated his decision, but a veto is no sure bet given the political considerations at play.

The first version of this Act was roundly criticized by me in the spring of 2012 (browse the archives) and despite its passage, was ultimately vetoed without comment by Christie in late June 2012.  I testified against the original version before the Assembly Appropriations Committee in June 2012.  My concerns about the original bill are equally applicable to the second, revised version.  




Saturday, December 1, 2012

Redistricting of NYC City Council Districts Back To Square One?

The currently proposed redistricting of the New York City City Council's 51 districts may be scrapped, according to a letter from the chairman of the New York City Districting Commission.

The letter, from Commission chairman (and former Manhattan United States Attorney) Benito Romano to City Council President Christine Quinn, states that withdrawal by the Commission of the currently proposed redistricting plan would allow for the public to have additional input on redistricting.  Presumably, such input would result in revisions to the current redistricting lines.

One consequence of the continued delays in adopting new district boundaries is that many candidates or potential candidates will be unable to determine in which district they live in or wish to run in, or to size up potential competition.  Many potential candidates who have registered with the New York City Campaign Finance Board have not specified the city councilmanic districts in which they intend to run, and instead have opted to declare themselves as candidates for an undetermined office and undetermined district.  Continued delays may affect fundraising, particularly for insurgent candidates.  Potentially, such effects could prompt an additional wave of complaints to the Department of Justice, which still has to "pre-clear" election law changes and district changes affecting New York City because most of the city is still a "covered district" under the federal Voting Rights Act.  These complaints, or federal constitutional litigation, could allege racial or ethnic discrimination and use the Voting Rights Act as the basis for the complaint.

Stay tuned.

Eric Dixon is a corporate lawyer who handles complex investigations and political matters for businesses, candidates and other individuals, and practices in both New York and New Jersey.






Monday, November 26, 2012

Tea Party Strategy for 2013 And Beyond?

Here's one angle arguing from a Tea Party perspective that Mitt Romney's defeat puts the Tea Party, fiscal conservatives and small-government libertarians in a better position in the Republican Party.
 
We are recovering, we are retrenching, and there is much to be encouraged about in the loss earlier this month.  Seriously.

Make no mistake about it, had Mitt Romney won, this would not have been our victory.  it is quite likely that the Tea Party and Constitutional conservative movements would have been discarded like this morning's coffee within moments of the victory speech.  We would have been shunted outside, left in the cold of night, to press our noses against the glass like the little child who isn't invited to the party.  Indeed, the Tea Party News Network (http://tpnn.com) declined to endorse Romney on the eve of the election, instead endorsing none of the above.

What is curious -- and which must not be forgotten -- is the eagerness with which our detractors -- our enemies, let's not kid ourselves -- have assigned blame for defeat to our side. We are called radicals, extremists.  If this is what we are called by the Republican establishment, then why are we not celebrating their defeat?  So, raise your glass...
 
WHAT IS ENCOURAGING:

(1)   Perhaps Obama's vote totals in 2012 will be the "high water" mark for Democrats for decades to come.  Future, white candidates may be unable to match the voter turnout of America's first minority President, even by giving away the store. That is because it is hard to imagine a Democratic candidate who could be more efficient than President Obama at buying votes through government-sponsored giveaways.  How will future Democrats run to the left of Obama? How will future Democrats appease a voter base now conditioned to giveaways and special constituency-driven handouts?  Future Democrats may drive away their base -- or at least, will be unable to match Obama's numbers -- merely by acknowledging the fiscal problems as to which uncomfortable solutions may have gained universal acceptance by 2016.  By this reasoning, Democrats could only gain more votes through a broad economic recovery prompting greater numbers of the middle-class and upper-class electorate to vote Democratic.

(2)   What is also encouraging is that it is also hard to imagine a Republican candidate who could be less effective and less beloved by the conservative base than Mitt Romney.  Here is a candidate who garnered little warmth and passion, and who was consistently passed over in favor of other primary candidates by 75% of the Republican primary electorate in polls until the Republican field was reduced to no more than five candidates.  If Obama 2012 represents the Democratic high water mark, Romney 2012 may represent the Republican low water mark, the absolute floor below which one cannot fall. 

Perhaps the Romney defeat is in part attributable to the refusal of the "base" -- whether it be hard-core conservatives forever and justifiably suspicious of Romney and the Beltway Republicans, or the Ron Paul libertarians treated scornfully at the national convention -- to turn out to elect the candidate of an Establishment that derides, disparages and disrespects them when not exploiting them.  But an alternative theory is implied by many Republican establishment strategists blaming the "extremist" or Tea Party wing of the party for the defeat in 2012.  This theory holds that Romney lost, not because the tea partiers or Ron Paul crowd didn't turn out in sufficient numbers, but because their very presence in the party turned other "moderate" voters and the legendary "independent" voters into indifferent voters who either didn't vote at all or were driven to vote for the incumbent. This is pure rubbish.  Whatever the theory, they are motivated by one thing: the desire to divert responsibility and blame away from the establishment political consultants and the milquetoast candidates (like Romney).  Without the Tea Party as scapegoat, blame necessarily -- and by default -- must go to the established strategists and the establishment candidate.  Make no mistake, 2008 and 2012 were their failures.  They should never be permitted to forget this.  RINOs -- not fiscal conservatives nor libertarians -- are the reason we will have eight years of Obama.

(3)   Further encouraging is the nature of exactly who lost in 2012. The loss to Obama was not by a fiscal, Constitutional conservative, but by the handmaiden of the dreaded, arguably unconstitutional individual health care mandate. Other high-profile losers were far from "tea party" candidates.  Missouri Senate candidate Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin was actually supported by incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in the GOP primary.  During the primary election, Akin was NOT supported by the tea party movement in Missouri.  That's why the Democrat incumbent wanted Akin to win: he'd be the easiest general election challenger to beat. Sound familiar?  As for losses by people like Allen West, understand that West was redistricted out and moved into a new district; his loss may, however, also illustrate a tactical failure to win on the ground.

(4)  More encouraging is the drive by moderate Republicans, RINOs, Democrats and the media elite to call for Republicans to move to the middle, to embrace minorities, and so on.  At first glance this may not sound quite right.  But understand the logical failure in any argument that any of this advice should actually be followed. The army that is victorious in battle does not give advice to its enemy on how to win the next time.  Tom Coughlin does not advise Bill Belichick on how the Patriots can beat the Giants if they meet in another Super Bowl. The Nazi armies sweeping into France did not give friendly advice to their new captives in the infamous railroad car (in which the terms of the armistice ending World War I were dictated to the defeated Axis nations).  This is why when the spider tells the fly to "come closer," you know a trap has been set. No, the victorious army is only interested in total conquest, unconditional surrender, and extinction of the enemy if subjugation cannot be achieved.  So take the talking heads' advice with the scorn that you viscerally feel it has earned. The other side -- and that includes many appeasing, complicit Republicans -- wants to win total victory by turning the Republican Party into a Democratic Party clone, the better method with which to turn the GOP from the 48% party into a permanent minority, regional party.

BUT HERE'S THE REALITY: Republicans got outworked on the "ground war" side of the election.  Democrats prevail in door-knocking, delivering voters to the polls, absentee ballot drives, voter registration, early voting operations, you name it, they do it better.  Very notably, Democratic consultants are talking about how their strategy, their methodology, won the battle, while on the other hand the Republican defeat is attributed to a supposed repudiation of fiscal, Constitutional conservatism.  It is as if there are two unspeakable truths: first, that Democrats really won because they appealed to the basest, most selfish instincts -- or what Ayn Rand acolytes might identify as apparently rational economic self-interest -- of an increasingly selfish younger generation and segments of the population taught through generations to embrace the greed of the layabout culture of entitlement, and second, that Republicans really lost despite their message (as bland and uninspiring as it was) because Republicans don't know the first thing about campaigning, messaging or getting their own voters to the polls.

This presents a renewed appreciation among political elites for the ground war skills, too long ignored and disdained by those same elites.  Tea party organizations can step in to fill this skill set.  We can excel at the battle of the elbow grease.  However, now our efforts must be appreciated, must not be taken for granted.  There is a price for our support. But the next time we take the field for battle, we need to stop complaining about the rules, recognize the rules of the game, rededicate ourselves to learning how to fight and win along those rules.  Our challenge is not monetary, it is not even strategic or tactical; it is attitudinal.

STICK WITH WHAT WORKS.  Our principles are not the problem.  Our principles are our core and are the reason we've won where we've won.  We're winning the battle of ideas -- and among Americans who are "producers" and "caregivers" we are winning, have won, by significant margins.  The Democrats are winning the battle of tactics.  We don't have to adopt any changes to principles but we need to narrow the Democrats' tactical advantage. 

Remember that 2012 was not a social-issues campaign.  Republicans will not gain more votes by becoming pro-abortion (abortion advocates will vote Democratic anyway), pro-gay marriage or pro-immigration amnesty (ditto).  All three lightning-rod issues have brought devoted, obsessed single-issue voters into the Democratic fold.  These voters are often the most passionate Democratic voters even though they are single-issue voters.  It is foolishness if not insanity to suggest that any one issue switch will magically cause significant single-issue voters to switch their allegiance to the Republican Party. As for immigration, the amnesty advocates are either stupid or think we are stupid enough to take their advice.  Among Hispanics, two of the three largest lands of origin are Puerto Rico and Cuba.  Puerto Ricans are born citizens of the United States, and Cuban-Americans most often have parents who were granted asylum or refugee status prior to applying for citizenship. Providing a "path to citizenship" or legal status to illegals does nothing to help either Puerto Ricans or Cubans.  Is it thus any surprise that amnesty in 1986 failed to drive significant Hispanic voters to the GOP?
 
Comments are welcome.  Especially if you are Anonymous.
 
 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Is FEMA Picking Winners and Losers?

Anecdotal evidence and the results of my ongoing investigation suggest that the Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA") is either inefficient, ineffective or incompetent.  Take your pick.  All three may be right.

FEMA apparently has given out checks rather quickly to some, often on little proof other than blind faith in the fact of real damage, while other homeowners claim to have not gotten a FEMA inspection -- never mind a check -- despite putting in claims the week of the storm.  Even more puzzling are reports that FEMA has overpaid to compensate for car damage -- like paying someone $10,000 for a 2002 Taurus -- while giving the owner of that same car only $6,000 for home repair.  And there are further reports that FEMA checks were written very quickly in the days after the storm -- and before Election Day -- while aid dried up and FEMA representatives became absent after Election Day.

(Question: Where are the state and local authorities?)

The depth of the destruction and impact on residents must be seen, felt and smelled to be truly understood.  Nearly one month after Hurricane Sandy's epic storm surge washed over the Long Island and New Jersey shore, the Rockaway peninsula and Coney Island (which were overrun) and Staten Island, a dusty, dirty film continues to coat the roads and really, all surfaces, in what I will call the "Dead Zone," the area where water rose to such levels to make those areas at least temporarily uninhabitable if not life-threatening.

Save for NY1 and News12 (both Long Island and New Jersey's versions of the Cablevision news channel), the major news outlets are focusing on the "sexy" stories of Manhattan flood damage and the destruction of the Seaside Heights beachfront amusement park. The reality on the ground is far grimier and grittier.

The local buildings departments have condemned a substantial number of homes in New York City, Long Island and New Jersey.  In New York City, a red sticker means it's uninhabitable.  Most Staten Island homes on the South Shore within five blocks of the beach have yellow stickers, meaning they need remediation.  The Coney Island peninsula, including Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach and Sea Gate, has suffered significant infrastructure damage.  While homes and apartment buildings may have electricity and heat restored, many traffic lights south of Neptune Avenue in Coney Island and Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island remain inoperable. 

The worst damage appears to have been sustained in the Sea Gate neighborhood, lying on the west end of the Coney Island peninsula, appears largely ruined. Many brick homes appear to be virtual teardowns.  This area was very close to the ocean and had previously suffered flooding in nor'easters.  The epic storm surge (over 13 feet), combined with the timing at both a high tide and during the full moon phase, and further combined with waves estimated by one offshore buoy to be 30 feet above sea level apparently packed a force strong enough to level brick, stone and metal structures.

The Staten Island South Shore remains hard hit and appears to be the area where daily life has been the most disrupted. There is the semblance of normalcy; buses are running, and there is a fully-open shopping center in the Oakwood Beach area (Hylan Boulevard and Tysens Lane) that itself appears to have suffered little to no damage.  But a major supermarket was virtually empty on Black Friday, with the number of shoppers which one would expect late at night. And no wonder, for this shopping center lies just three blocks away from a Dead Zone.  Go south those three blocks, cross a road called Mill Road, and one suddenly crosses into a different world. A dirt film covers everything, street lights no longer work, and portable generators power sharp, bright floodlights serving as beacons of a police presence that one finds on seemingly every second street corner.  There are now outdoor relief tents and virtual outdoor supermarkets on the sidewalks of Midland Avenue, the main drag leading from and perpendicular to the beachfront.  This area remains without power (except for generators). 

In the South Beach, Midland Beach and New Dorp Beach neighborhoods of Staten Island, these portable floodlights and a police car are a presence on many streets.  No doubt this is to help guard against looters.  However, the hardy residents insist on staying in their homes (if they haven't been condemned) to keep out looters, even in the face of going without lights or heat on the cusp of winter.  This fortitude, the desire to guard one's home, was actually the cause of several deaths in Staten Island; one family who evacuated their Tottenville home during Hurricane Irene in August 2011 only to find it ransacked after that storm decided to stay this year -- and three people either drowned or were crushed by falling debris.

To the outside world, these people go about their business. They drive around, or walk to the main drag to catch the bus.  No doubt, this is to get some heat, some entertainment, to be with friends.  (Without power, you realize how much you are "cut off" from the world if you depend on the Internet and social media for your social interaction.) But at home, their existence is in a dark, unlit, unheated home.

Unlike the Jersey Shore, where most ruined homes were second homes, the destruction in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, and much of the Atlantic shore in Nassau County too, was sustained by primary residences. For them, relief and a true return to normalcy will be slow indeed.



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Congresswoman's Dad To Plead On Bribery

According to this breaking report from the New York Post, former New York State Assemblyman Jimmy Meng will plead guilty later today to federal criminal charges of bribery.  Meng served one term in the State Assembly, and is the father of Grace Meng, who was just elected to the House of Representatives from the new northeastern Queens district (ex-Ackerman) following the 2010 census redistricting.
 
Jimmy Meng's case involved charges that he solicited bribes from a man to make the man's criminal tax charges go away.  According to court papers, the bribe money -- some $80,000 -- was to be placed in a fruit basket.  Food containers have become the apparent new modus operandi for elected officials to hide illicit money; former Louisiana congressman William Jefferson (now D-Club Fed) reputedly hid a large sum of cash in frozen vegetable boxes in his freezer.
 
 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gringos Being Wrong on Republicans and Hispanics

There is a lot of foolish talk about how Republicans need the Hispanic vote in order to avoid political oblivion.  Most of these pundits ignore a basic saying: better to be silent and thought a fool, than to speak and erase all doubt.
 
As a Hispanic Republican from the Northeast, I am no more qualified than anyone else to divine political mysteries -- but I am also no less qualified than the "anglo" pundits and other "useful idiots" who reveal their biases and intellectual arrogance each time they play "identity politics" with this incredibly diverse ethnic category. (Note I do not use "group," as there is often little in common among the many ethnicities whose ancestors came from or through Latin America.)
 
First, the immigration issue is just flat-out irrelevant to most Hispanic voters.  That doesn't mean that immigration stances cannot affect the vote.  They can.  People who feel they are being pandered to on immigration may feel insulted and can just stay home.  Wonder why Romney's vote totals were several million less than John McCain's in 2008, and this while running against an unpopular incumbent? 
 
Why is immigration irrelevant to Hispanic voters?  Consider that two of the three largest components of the Hispanic voter base are Puerto Ricans and Cuban-Americans (the third being Mexican-Americans).  As most educated people should know, Puerto Ricans are natural-born American citizens.  They could care less about this issue -- and in fact should object to an open-borders policy on economic grounds that an influx of bilingual and blue-collar labor will reduce their prospects in the labor force. Cuban-Americans are the children of emigres, of whom most fled Communist Cuba and received asylum.  Far from being immigration hardship sources, both groups should gain from a fair and just enforcement of current immigration laws.   As for the third group, Mexican-Americans, most want amnesty for the obvious legal relief and economic benefits.  This presents the Republican Party with a conflict between the promise -- but by no means certain benefit -- of political gain, and the risk of alienating existing supporters and other potential supporters by rewarding the "moral hazard" of immigration lawbreaking and thereby making all other immigrants who applied and waited patiently (or got rejected) for visas and green cards feel like, well, second-class citizens.  
 
The real solution is to recognize that Democrats have been winning the battle in appealing to the economically rational self-interest of most Hispanics.  It is all about economics.  Someone who is poor and dependent on the government -- whether he works at a low-salary full-time job or exists solely on government programs -- will respond to being given "free" stuff. 
 
I argue that competing on the basis of who can give away more is a sucker's bet and an entirely unwinnable one.  It is a race to the bottom.  The problem is, once you are pricing your product at the "free" level, you cannot go below that except to actually give away (other people's) money in addition to free stuff.  In other words, once you decide to play that game, you have hit bottom.  With a thud.
 
As with all other immigrant groups before them, Hispanics who start to climb into the middle class and amass even the barest of assets, possessions which they actually own, rapidly realize that the government stops being their benefactor (if it ever was that to begin with) and view it as an oppressor, a predator, an uncaring force out to take from them any time they dare to hold on to any savings of their own.
 
In my own experience, very few Hispanics who work hard and aspire to either own homes or their own businesses need any help in being taught where their economic interests lie.  Their hardship makes them more aware of the raw, visceral instinct, the desire to simply be left alone by government.  Forget the "social issues." On economics, they are conservative, make no mistake about it. 
 
What my experiences have taught me is that Hispanics "with ambitions," as I'll call it, have a choice between being involved in Republican and conservative politics, and being totally uninvolved.  Successful outreach by the Republican Party will consist of little more than not pandering or condescending to Hispanics.  There are few insults as grave as to diminish someone's accomplishments by suggesting they need special treatment or mangling Spanish in an effort to show cultural sensitivity.  The practitioners of such tactics -- who are more prevalent in the Democratic Party, incidentally -- efficiently and effortlessly reveal their latent racism.  Downtrodden Hispanics (and other minorities) suffering from low self-esteem will accept, ignore or fail to recognize such insults.  But achievers, those with "skin in the game" and plenty of assets placed at risk, will recognize those insults and will not be inclined to forget them. 
 
In essence, the best way for Republicans to appeal to Hispanics, is to ignore their background altogether and treat them as they would treat any other American.  That, mi amigos, is true inclusion.
 
Eric Dixon is a corporate lawyer who practices in New York City and handles business, investigative and political matters.
 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Do Anti-Gouging Laws Kill People?

Living in the New York City metropolitan area the past two weeks has made productive people bear the brunt of both natural disasters (Superstorm Sandy and a strong nor'easter) and man-made disasters in horrible policy reactions to crises.  This is in the news because the recent storms hitting the Northeast, and particularly New York and New Jersey, are being blamed for oil refinery damage which has led to gasoline shortages in that region.  But are these anti-gouging laws worse that the problem they seek to address?  And are they making the gas shortages worse, the lines longer and your hardship even deeper?

New Jersey has been under an odd-even rationing system (that is, vehicles whose last license plate number ends in an even number can only get gas on an even-numbered calendar day) for more than a week, and New York City and Long Island will implement that rationing starting at noon today. 

(For your reference, check out an interesting guest opinion column today criticizing the New Jersey anti-gouging law and arguing that price gouging will actually be beneficial to consumers.) 

From personal observation, it appears that rationing does little to reduce overall demand, the impulse to hoard, or the gross inefficiency caused by waiting hours for gasThe logical first reaction is to get a full refill in order to wring as much inefficiency from the wait time. It may, over time, reduce the amount people drive as people gradually weight the costs and benefits of any car usage against the gasoline depletion and ultimate inconvenience of a wait (with the promise but not the assurance of a refill) necessitated by that use.  But what of people in the suburbs or rural areas, or people whose job necessitates driving around?  How much economic activity is lost -- never to be regained?  (Note that commercial vehicles are generally exempt, but many independent contractors drive personal, noncommercial vehicles for business use and are stuck in the odd-even system).

The impacts of the rationing are already seen in the behavior modification of less driving, and perhaps increasingly "efficient" uses of vehicles.  But at what cost?  Consider the immediate and easily recognizable costs of lost time, the related inefficiency, and a seriously degraded lifestyle.

There are downstream economic costs.  A business owner who now spends 70 hours instead of 60 hours a week to make the same net income will either pass that cost down to consumers, or cut back on other expenses.  Somewhere, someone will lose his or her job when owners cut back due to revenue declines or physical fatigue, or even demoralization at continued government policies that reduce or eliminate the marginal benefit of added work.  This is a perfectly rational decision.  Other businesses will pass on costs, and the price increases or declines in service quality, quantity or variety of offered goods and services will reduce the savings or standard of living of downstream consumers.  Somewhere, somehow, the price is going to be paid. 

But there are more problems.  An anti-gouging law is intended to protect the consumer from presumed exploitation by a business owner who raises prices at all following a natural disaster or other emergency event.   But the government presumption that businesses are exploiters leads to further, unintended -- and unproductive and harmful -- consequences.

The government scrutiny fuels (no pun intended) the public perception that gas retailers are greedy and somehow profiting unfairly.  This subtly encourages a temptation for the consumer to cheat the gas station owner, to try to escape without paying, to otherwise ignore rules such as to cut in line, and that type of thing.  The rule of law, the sense of fairness, will deteriorate further.  In a society where our re-elected President Obama has exhorted Americans to "pay their fair share" and degraded business owners' efforts on their own behalf, arbitrary government policies which inflict hardship or create a sense of injustice threaten to produce more lawbreaking and antisocial behavior, not less.  The danger is that more and more people will feel that they are being robbed. (Whether they should feel this way is not relevant.  I only acknowledge the existence of the sentiment and do not attempt to deny the sentiment and dismiss the people feeling it by imposing my judgments of reasonableness upon them.)  That sentiment will lead to harsher reactions, to less hesitancy to pass on costs or to withhold benefits from others.  I can see charitable contributions and investments drying up, in both an economic and emotional reaction. We will have hoarding, not merely of gasoline but of almost any asset or resource.  Even sleep.  And some are even resorting to violence against the police.

But the very worst collateral consequence may be one that is ultimately infinite and not capable of being measured in dollars.  What happens when car owners start losing sleep because they are waiting on line four, six, even eight hours a week?  This time comes out of another productive -- or essential -- activity: sleep.  At our core, humans need three things: food, water -- and sleep.  How do you measure the efficiency of rationing against the infinite human loss of life or serious injuries caused by sleep-deprived drivers?   

Do people need to be driving off highways and causing major accidents, killing and maiming dozens of innocent unfortunates in the wrong place at the wrong time, for our elected leaders like Governor Chris Christie and Mayor Mike Bloomberg to realize that command and control economic policies spark an uncontrollable chain reaction of misery?

The solution is not to fight people, to fight demand.  The solution is to open up supply.  Let gas station owners charge whatever they want.  Those who abuse consumers will soon pay a heavy price when they are shunned by their former customers.  This will encourage gas station owners to stay in business, wholesalers to deliver gas, and refineries to get back in business.  Elected leaders should spend their energies working on the supply and supply chain problems, instead of fighting their people.  The major Northeast metropolitan areas cannot spark any economic revival when their governments act like the savage bikers out of the dystopian, post-apocalyptic movie "The Road Warrior."  Governments must serve their people, not treat them like the enemy for the sin of wanting to drive.  Otherwise, we may see a new form of "road rage."






Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tea Party A Winner With Obama Victory

President Obama's re-election is not a defeat for the Tea Party movement.  On the contrary, it shows the electoral weakness -- if not the outright inviability -- of Republican candidates who either abandon or run away from the Tea Party.

Mitt Romney ran to the middle in his campaign.  He did not run as a conservative.  The major news media outlets bought the Democratic line about Romney's conservatism, incredibly ignoring the clamor of the grass-roots base since the Iowa mid-summer 2011 straw poll (if not well before) that Romney was perhaps the least conservative candidate (other than Obama's appointee to the ambassadorship to China, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman) in a then-crowded Republican primary field.  Even well into the summer of 2012, grass-roots discontent with Romney was reported widely by the media.  His portrayal as a conservative was a Democratic strategy which worked very well, together with the media's incredible complicity.  The truth was that Romney ran a race befitting his true nature; Romney is a moderate with few core principles, and campaigned like one. Like most GOP establishment candidates since Reagan, he also was the type of person whose nature did not easily "connect" with "average" Americans.  Not surprisingly, he ran into defeat.  Establishment Republicans now succeed in spite of their principles and personality, not because of them.

While he was clearly preferable to Obama, let's not forget that Romney was the preferred candidate of virtually no one within the tea party movement at this time last year. One reason: Romney was the architect -- and stubborn defender -- of the Massachusetts health care mandate.  Romney was hardly a classic tea party candidate, and his embrace of the movement was clearly one of desperation and necessity. Those true colors shone through, and to the extent tea party support was less than we would have hoped, one could hardly blame the bedrock of our movement for being less than totally enthusiastic about his candidacy. 

As for the overall movement, it bears repeating that Romney was hardly an effective or charismatic advocate of tea party principles of fiscal responsibility, Constitutionally limited government and free markets; even on the latter point he was open to charges of being more of a crony capitalist and eager government interventionist on regulatory and overcriminalization issues.  If anything, Romney's avoidance of the tea party platform -- and his subsequent defeat, however narrow in the battleground states -- illustrates that the tea party principles remain the only part of the Republican ideological core which has not been sharply rejected in a national election.  Obama's victory is far from a defeat for the tea party movement; if anything, his victory "clears the field" of moderate, liberal-lite candidates (aka, RINOs) to allow a true principled leader to emerge.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Criminal Trial Pressure Drives Defendant College Dean To Suicide

A St. John's University dean under trial for embezzlement was found dead in her home this morning of an apparent suicide, one day after testifying on her own behalf in a widely-covered criminal trial in Brooklyn federal district court.

Trial pressure can be extremely difficult to withstand.  The pressure of being investigated, prosecuted and imprisoned can be a unique and rare ordeal, comparable to battlefield stress or life-endangering work such as police or fire department duty.  This is something which I have assisted people with in the past.  Trials can and have reduced strong men to mere shells of their former selves.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Postpone the New York City Marathon

The still-emerging human and financial disaster from Hurricane Sandy compels a postponement -- but not a cancellation -- of the ING New York City Marathon scheduled for this Sunday, November 4th.

I have a different perspective as a professional marathoner, native Staten Islander and entrant in Sunday's New York City Marathon.  There are several reasons to postpone it, and really only one questionable economic rationale to proceed with it as scheduled.  From a purely racing standpoint, when dead bodies are likely to remain undiscovered within shouting distance of the start of the race, it is too disturbing for serious runners to actually perform.  Real runners who train 30-60 miles a week for several months are running a marathon for time, not to have their photos taken or to sightsee.  Real runners know that this week's tragedy is a huge distraction that will diminish their ability to run well, and most will welcome a postponement for that reason. The New York Road Runners Club should be making this point; alas, the NYRRC has become more of a philanthropic organization, devoted to furthering pet causes on other peoples' dime, and it has destroyed much goodwill by maintaining that this race should be run.

(Full disclosure: I am also entered in the November 18th Philadelphia Marathon, which I find preferable on just about every level.  Therefore, I lack the deep personal compulsion to run this race.)

As for our first responders, including policemen, firemen and paramedics, they are physically exhausted from a week of preparations and then cleanup after Sandy. The Marathon will divert their attention and scarce energy. Besides, the Marathon will be held five days after Sandy hit the region. Earthquake survivors have been known to survive without food and water for as long as seven days (some even longer), so it is possible there are yet-to-be-found survivors. Any diversion of resources from finding and rescuing these people -- whom I suspect remain holed up in attics of flooded houses on Staten Island's South Shore -- would be an act of depraved indifference.  Incidentally, both the NYRRC and the New York Police Department have recognized the strain of road running events on city resources; as NYRRC members will attest, there are fewer races run on the streets of New York City, or even within Central Park, now than in past years.

Finally, a postponement would allow for sponsors and vendors to enjoy a second wave of economic activity from returning runners and their families and friends.  Granted, this benefit comes with a corresponding cost to runners who are not residents of the New York metropolitan area and who would incur repeat hotel and travel costs, but see my point above about the performance concerns of serious runners.  Besides, when the number of runners has tripled in 20 years to more than 47,000, there is surely enough demand to compensate for anyone who decides to stay away from New York.  Sponsors would also benefit from avoiding the negative backlash that being associated with this year's Marathon may bring.  These reasons overwhelm the concerns (the excuse, really) of lost economic activity voiced by New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and New York Road Runners Club President Mary Wittenberg. 

I am willing to expand on these sentiments to anyone wanting further information; please contact me by e-mail at ericdixonlaw@gmail.com




Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Obama/Christie Money Pit: FEMA as QE4 For Shore Rebuild

The New Jersey shoreline has been radically altered by Hurricane* Sandy. (* -- Let's see how the National Hurricane Center classifies this storm once it does its off-season storm analysis.)  Many beach towns have lost their boardwalks, and oceanfront homes and businesses have been wiped out.  Insurance will help -- but to varying degrees -- so homeowners and businessowners will still bear significant losses; no one will be made whole status quo ante.

While people are still recovering from a serious natural disaster, to which the Northeast (unlike those in the Gulf states or Carolinas) is unaccustomed, we must ask whether a mega-billion, fourteen-figure rebuild ($50 billion? $100 billion?) is the best use of our money to rebuild beaches, residences and businesses in areas where -- for decades -- scientists have warned of a geography-altering, life-threatening storm like this?

Why are we considering a bailout of the reckless?  Why, to rebuild in areas not meant for human habitation?

Let colonial history be our guide. In those times, people were forced to act rationally. They often perished if they did not. Historically, in colonial times, towns that got wiped out in flood zones or shorelines simply rebuilt...on higher ground!  You didn't have towns built in swamps, where inhabitants were endangered by floods, malaria, yellow fever and other mosquito-borne diseases.  Ports were built in harbors where ships were considered the safest from the ravages of the ocean tide and fierce storms. Buildings were constructed on solid bedrock so they couldn't be washed away by floods which would often leave the structure intact but wash away the soil under its foundation. Survivors rebuilt where they could, and chose new locations much more likely to survive. Earlier generations did not place themselves in harm's way, because they bore the entire risk of and responsibility for their losses in the next calamity.

People in the pre-altruistic age (before the 20th Century) grew up with a rugged self-reliance and concept of responsibility, rooted in a raw survival instinct and belief that others would neither be able nor inclined to come to their rescue. In those earlier times, survival of the fittest had a literal meaning far different from the current meaning that evokes the Ironman Triathlon. Reckless or stupid behavior was not often imitated, because its practitioners did not survive long enough to be emulated.

Today's generations have a religious faith in insurance, and failing that, in a government bailout if they are connected or favored enough. Then again, today's generations include the stubborn or the stupid, who believe that they can call first responders for aid in evacuating during the height of a hurricane -- i.e., putting others in life-threatening situations to escape one's life-threatening situation often of one's own making. 

So, as I type, President Obama is on his way to the New Jersey Shore to meet with Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.  We assuredly will hear promises later today that the federal government will help rebuild, on the locations just obliterated, to restore the childhood memories of our youth.

But an update...Check out the comments from one old-time resident of Sayreville, NJ, which lies at the mouth of the Raritan River and which received a direct shot of the storm surge coming directly west from the Atlantic Ocean and into the funnel of Raritan Bay:
 "I think, Governor, we need to level this whole area," said Cody Buck, whose foundation was ripped out by the storm. "Turn it into soccer fields, we can't keep rebuilding.
The storm damage is not just on the Jersey Shore.  North of Sayreville lies Perth Amboy, whose waterfront neighborhood was decimated.  Across from Perth Amboy lies Staten Island, whose south shore likely will look considerably different in future maps. And directly across from Staten Island, across the Lower Bay of New York Harbor, are Coney Island and, to its east, the barrier peninsula of the Rockaways, all overrun by the Atlantic Ocean.

Our President, and perhaps the man who plans on being our Next Inevitable President, will have us indulge in the fantasy of the Time Machine, to take us back in time.  Naturally, they will use Other People's Money, billions of dollars borrowed from future generations.  The prudent, those of us who built safely inland, will pay the price for the recklessness of others who have -- for decades -- ignored scientists' warnings of The Big One, of how the Jersey Shore was grossly overbuilt with far too few evacuation routes and far too much building on sites situated barely above sea level and built on little more than quicksand and a prayer.  Therefore, we will have a new, mammoth government reconstruction, with new buildings, ports, dunes, levees, seawalls and windmills (can't leave out the green energy, can we!), which taxpayers will be forced (or resigned) to subsidize, all so our elected officials can get re-elected, favored businesses can reap windfalls, the reckless can indulge themselves in their daydreams of yesteryear, and others can be duped into believing we have an uptick in economic activity. The rest of us realize that Superstorm Sandy is going to be merely the next, latest and greatest excuse for redistributing wealth.  Taxes will go up.  Bond ratings will suffer.  Government budget deficits will skyrocket. Our insurance rates will continue to go up, courtesy of an industry that thrives by spreading the risk around so the responsible pay for the irresponsible, while those same insurance companies curtail their coverage and increasingly compel policyholders to go to court to seek enforcement of insurance policy contracts. When we have a $16 trillion national debt, what's a few hundred billion more, right?

Eric Dixon is a business and corporate attorney in New York and New Jersey. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Philadelphia Marathon Better Than New York City Marathon

As a veteran marathoner who has run the Philadelphia Marathon and New York City Marathon a combined nine times (with a personal best of 3:34 in 2003's Philly), I'll tell anyone that the Philadelphia Marathon is a vastly superior race.  That's why this year, I'm registered for both races (something I did just in case the weather for one is real bad), but I'm skipping New York's on November 4th and doing Philadelphia on November 18th, and here's why.

I get two more weeks to train. 

Philadelphia runs its race at 7 am sharp.  You can be done by 10am or 11am, and home in time for the afternoon football games.  New York makes you get there by 9am, it starts at 10am, and by the time you run and finish and then clear customs in Central Park after the finish (or whatever gauntlet they call it now), it's almost dark. New York blows your day, and neither the race nor the people are worth it. 

Philadelphia's weather is usually a little cooler and drier because it's the last Sunday before Thanksgiving.  For runners, this is prime running weather.  For spectators, it's football weather. 

Philadelphia has a nicer course, more scenic and fewer hills.  It is superior in every way.

New York has more potholes, and many more narrow streets.  That matters, because New York's race is designed for 15,000 runners.  When I first ran the New York City Marathon they had fewer than 19,000 runners start.  Now, it's over 40,000.  Absolute greed means the race route is much more clogged, particularly with slower runners and other runners -- usually foreigners -- who are there to sightsee, take pictures and wave, but all on the course and blocking the path of other runners who, ya know, are there to run and run for time.  Nothing like four guys from Peru, straddling the course, running in line (and blocking you), to frustrate you after months of training.  Or when these same four guys decide to run in unison while holding one flag, to really hold you up. 

I like Philadelphia.  It's a nice little unpretentious city, and the people are nicer. (Exceptions are the Eagles fans, but I give them credit; they care.) And to be frank, the young ladies handing out water are much more attractive.  I'm allowed to write that.

New Yorkers are jerks, and that city attracts and retains a tremendous amount of trash.  I mean, the Eurotrash.  These snooty bastards -- and their female golddigger moocher counterparts -- live off of the work of others, then come over to this continent to use us like a dog uses a tree, and worse, then they come up with the bridge-and-tunnel putdown.  Real New Yorkers don't do that.

There's less dog poop on the sidewalks in Philadelphia.  Maybe that's because the people are nicer and find company with, well, other people.  Many New Yorkers are so obnoxious that only a dog will tolerate them.

At mile 18 of the New York City Marathon, volunteers hand out PowerGel or some other sugary goo.

At mile 18 of the Philadelphia Marathon, volunteers hand out beer.  And it's a dark amber microbrew!  Better, you run past them again on mile 21 for a refill.  After you've run that far, you'll want a beer, anything other than tap water and the green stuff they now call Gatorade, but which isn't the real thing like the orange stuff they sold in the 1970s.

But the biggest difference between the races is that I can run the Philadelphia Marathon without getting covered in a sticky spray.  Here's the explanation. When I run New York, the race starts on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. That means I have to go into Staten Island (which is bad enough).  But running the New York City Marathon means you'll deal with the first-mile occupational hazard known as the World's Longest Urinal.  Now, many years ago, I had to "go" before the race, and started asking around for the "World's Longest Urinal" (which race organizers had been promoting).  Couldn't find it. I made other arrangements.  But then, running across the bridge, I noticed hundreds -- no, thousands -- of racers (including some women!) urinating off the side of the Verrazano Bridge! 

Now, when you are spraying into the air, a few hundred feet above sea level, you have wind currents much stronger than those at the earth's surface.  The wind -- the breeze -- turns this moisture into an aerosolized spray and that gets blown around and back.  So unless you are in the middle of the road surface on either the top or bottom level of the bridge (and runners go on both the top and bottom levels), you stand an excellent chance of feeling a mist during your run across the Verrazano.  But now you know what that refreshing spray is.  It's the urine of a few thousand strangers!  Imagine taking a golden shower, and then running 25 miles until the end of the race.

There ought to be a new race slogan: Welcome to Urinetown! Next sink with running water and soap: 25 miles! Have a nice day!

Philadelphia has no such hazard.  The cops let you pee freely on Marathon Morning.  They're more concerned with real crime, like the vagrants along Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

So these are the reasons I'll be home next Sunday, waiting for the real race on Tuesday.

Eric Dixon is a veteran marathoner.




Friday, October 26, 2012

Obama's Ayn Rand Distortion

Imagine a lifetime of being a slave to negative peer pressure and feeling endless rejection in the pursuit of elusive acceptance from others who don't care about you.  That is the utopian fantasy President Obama alludes to in a recent interview, while distorting the capitalism-defending Atlas Shrugged author Ayn Rand.

In the new issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Obama is quoted as saying:

"Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we'd pick up.  Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we're only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we're considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity – that that's a pretty narrow vision."
Obama's directive for people to be outerdirected, to subordinate one's needs to those of others, makes a fatally flawed assumption that the "others" are likewise putting your needs ahead of theirs. This is a utopian fantasy that assumes -- no, it requires -- that everyone act in harmony. This ignores the essential flaws of human nature, flaws which are recognized most poignantly in our culture by our major religions and, in the United States, by a Constitution and developed rule of law which respects the rights of the minority and safeguards them against "the tyranny of the majority."  This perspective is incorporated into the mistaken belief (or a horribly Machiavellian deception to exploit "useful idiots") that "the government" and "the people" are one and the same, that the government is benevolent and can be trusted.

Moving the discussion from the political to the sharply personal, these words should resonate very negatively with anyone who remembers not being in the "cool" group or got rejected by a fraternity or sorority, if you've been an "outsider" or "newcomer."  You should feel chills running down your spine when reading Obama's comments. (Hint to the top achievers, the leaders in our society: many of you were outsiders precisely because of your achievement, and the raw envy it sparked in others.  This is you!)

Obama's comments are dangerous to us on a personal level, because he is all about pressuring you to spend a lifetime seeking the approval of others -- and getting a tremendous amount of rejection in the process.  So when Obama wants you to subordinate your desires, your ambitions, your wants -- and these are things you are entitled to pursue and shouldn't be made to feel guilty for aspiring to have -- what Obama is really saying, is this: You don't deserve that.  

You didn't build that.

You couldn't have done those things without us.

That isn't yours. (No, it's ours.)

Pay your fair share.

You need us.

You're NOTHING without us.

Accept these messages as gospel, and your reward will be lifelong misery.  But for the Machiavellian Obama and his acolytes who know the psychological manipulative techniques of Saul Alinsky, this is the recipe for making you so miserable (read: dirt poor AND unhappy) that you will do anything for relief from pain.  You'll be like a strung-out drug addict, always needing a psychological "fix."  You'll become -- and remain -- desperate, docile, obedient, and easy to control.

That, my friends, is the essence of power.  And this leads easy to tyranny and repression.

Understand this: Obama's mandate for people to subjugate their needs and wants to those of others does more than compel one's dependence upon the group; it makes one vulnerable to the "tyranny of the majority," to the malice and depravity of the group should it turn on you. Whereas the American model of Constitutional democracy protects individuals against the excesses and tyranny of both the mob and the state, the Obama philosophy makes people dependent on those who can easily abuse their power and strength in numbers to persecute disfavored minorities. 

It is appalling that this worldview is voiced by an African-American born into the 20th Century which not only saw America go through its civil rights movement, but also fight wave after wave of foreign repression and genuinely evil leaders: Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Khomeini, Qadhafi, Castro.  Nazism, Fascism, Communism, all were examples of government utopian philosophies gone horribly wrong when evil men gained power. 

Don't think that Obama ignores these lessons.  Obama is too intelligent to fail to realize the implications of his position. It's not that he doesn't understand.  He does -- and therein lies the problem. Obama is trying to instill groupthink, of reliance and dependence upon, and obedience to the group, above all other values. Yet as we approach Election Day, we must recognize that Obama's philosophy shows a depraved indifference to the plight of the truly disadvantaged and victimized, to the minorities among us, who would be the first to be preyed upon by a tyrannical, evil collective. 

Ever wonder why some minority groups (whether they be racial, ethnic or sexual orientation minorities, however you want to slice society) seem wedded to the hip of the Obama "progressive" worldview, even when economic and social conditions are deteriorating?  It's not ideological affinity.  It's psychological desperation, a collective groupthink where these groups are driven to beg.

Far from being truly compassionate, Obama's mindset indicates he would place the poor, the disadvantaged and exploited minorities, at the greatest risk of degradation, deprivation and enslavement.

When the wolves turn on the sheep and decide what they're having for dinner, Obama's philosophy is silent.  That's because the truth of the perspective must remain hidden, for it is too unpalatable to speak, and because its revelation would make continued obedience unlikely or impossible.  When individuals are expected to self-sacrifice for the group, the group's needs justify any harm on the individual.  So in Obama's worldview, if the wolves want to eat the sheep, Obama will turn on the oven and tell the sheep it's time has ended.

Does the reality behind the admonitions to "pay your fair share," and the fear behind ObamaCare's "death panels," now come into sharper focus?  When the individual must submit to the group, you stop owning even your own life.  That is the ultimate danger of Obama's philosophy.  He has no choice but to attack the philosophy of the libertarian Rand, because Rand exposes Obama's ugliest truth: that individuals will be sacrificed ruthlessly to serve the society and the state.

Eric Dixon is a corporate and investigative attorney in New York and New Jersey. Mr. Dixon regularly represents business and opinion leaders, public officials and political candidates in sensitive legal and investigative matters.  Mr. Dixon is also on the board of directors of the Financial Policy Council, an independent economic think tank.



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How Foreclosure Relief Discriminates Against The Poor

The dreadful New Jersey Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act, revised from an earlier version that was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie earlier this year, is working its way through the New Jersey Assembly to threaten homeowner wealth once more.

The new bill passed the Assembly's Housing and Local Government Committee earlier today. It is one step closer to a full vote. But the new bill is no different from the old bill in that it threatens the meager homeowner wealth of the most vulnerable homeowners: minority, first-generation homeowners who may have strived the most for their piece of America.

Many Democratic representatives come from districts which trend towards lower-income and working-class, minority populations. Yet this Act stands to hurt minorities, the poor and the working class the very most. While middle-class and upper-class suburban homeowners will risk major wealth destruction, the proportion of total wealth that poor homeowners stand to lose from the Act may be nearly 100%. Poor and working-class homeowners --- many of whom are from minority, underprivileged backgrounds and worked their way up tirelessly into homeownership -- will be most vulnerable from this Act. That's because the bill allows the state to swoop in and convert formerly private property falling into foreclosure into affordable housing. Assuming that the state will seek to "help" the greatest number of people asserting a "need" for "affordable" housing (translation: they want free housing paid for by you and me), the state should seek to buy up the greatest number of foreclosed properties. Further assuming a finite amount of available funds, one would expect the state to concentrate on the cheapest homes which are in turnkey, move-in condition (and don't need rehabilitation). It stands to reason the cheapest buys would be in the cheapest markets and neighborhoods, tending to be the areas most populated by the poor and minorities.

The adverse impacts of the Act will be felt disproportionately in poor and minority areas. That is because the cheapest or most cost-effective conversion policy under the Act will concentrate foreclosure conversions in poor and minority neighborhoods. The first result will be to concentrate new affordable housing in these areas -- with the perverse effect of displacing some poor and minority homeowners who struggled honesty to maintain their mortgage payments with other poor and minority homeowners who will be able to buy homes at a serious discount to their prior value. The second result will be to concentrate halfway houses, rehab centers and other social welfare programs run by nonprofits -- and the often-undesirable people who use these services -- in these same poor, minority areas. What does that do to home values in these poor, minority neighborhoods? Of course, it drives them down further, obliterating the remaining home equity of homeowners and throwing more and more in these communities well underwater on their mortgages. If this isn't a financial persecution of minorities, I don't know what qualifies as one.

Some Democrats will claim the Act will help the needy. We already have heard about how all these nonprofit social welfare programs help the poor inner-city population, and that this Act will help those programs serve the needy. This is nonsense. First, these programs exist -- for the profit of their organizers. People are making a living -- and a profit, thank you -- off these nonprofits. (Don't believe me? Just look at what happens when you remove the state grant money from these nonprofits. No one does any fundraising. This is a complete system of relying on government handouts.) And most often, these nonprofits get their funding, all their funding, from the federal government, state government or county government grants. Pure pork. Pure waste. Any benefit to the community is incidental. Then consider that these nonprofits will buy properties from the state, after which the home value death spiral will accelerate (as I've explained before in writing that the Act will be the greatest single manmade act of wealth destruction to ever hit New Jersey).

The Act will have a clear disproportionate and discriminatory effect upon minorities. A discriminatory effect alone is sufficient to state a claim of a civil rights violation and make a constitutional challenge to a law. The Act is legally suspect and constitutionally challengable. The Democrats seem willing to sacrifice their inner-city loyal constituents to financial ruin in order for banks to make handsome fees from originating and servicing mortgages on converted foreclosures and for real estate agents to make commissions on sales.

Note that the major banking and real estate lobbies support the Foreclosure Transformation Act. But homeowner groups, taxpayer groups and the Tea Party are vigorously against it. It turns out that on this crucial legislation, the interests of minority homeowners and small business owners -- the bedrock of many working-class and poor communities -- are finding their strongest support in the Tea Party. Not the Democrats. And not Governor Christie. Remember that in the 2013 New Jersey elections.  

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer, also admitted to practice in New Jersey. Mr. Dixon has testified before the State Assembly Appropriations Committee against the original Act.  Mr. Dixon regularly issues policy reports for the Financial Policy Council think tank, and has been published in RealClearMarkets.com and other outlets.

Islanders To Move To Brooklyn

Breaking -- as reported by NY Post --

http://www.nypost.com/p/sports/islanders/islanders_skate_to_barclays_in_brooklyn_s8QVci06EOnyL06hK4atnL


Did Solomon Dwek Help The Feds Jail Innocent People?

The reliability of government informants has long been questioned by lawyers, because informants need to implicate other people in order to get a recommendation for leniency -- that is, a shorter jail sentence or no jail sentence at all.  By extension, there is the temptation for government agents to use probably (or knowingly) false and perjurious witness and informant testimony as evidence to prosecute and jail juicy high-profile targets.
This issue arises again in the emerging and potentially blockbuster controversy surrounding former Monmouth County sheriff and former Monmouth County Republican Party chairman Joseph Oxley, whom New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has nominated to be a Superior Court judge.  Oxley has been in the news, because infamous government informant (or cooperating witness, in legal parlance) Solomon Dwek identified Oxley as someone who tipped him off about pending foreclosure sales.  Dwek's testimony and covert videotaping of dozens of New Jersey elected officeholders, candidates, rabbis and others in the Bid Rig investigation -- most of which occurred on Christie's watch while he was sitting United States Attorney in Newark, NJ -- led to more than 40 criminal prosecutions in which Dwek's credibility was a central issue.

So what's the difference between Dwek's testimony about those people, and his testimony about Oxley?  Good question.


Here's what Chris Christie had to say about this yesterday



"Let me tell you as someone who has read over the course of my career a lot of raw FBI data from cooperating witnesses. Sometimes it can be reliable and sometimes it can be absolute fiction. And I think it's unfair to put that type of fiction out into the public stream."

So how do the feds determine when someone is telling the truth, and when they are absolutely scamming them? Does it matter who or what is the target of the investigation?

 

Now, if the feds allowed for videotaping of these sessions, witnesses -- and defense lawyers -- could more easily defend themselves against charges and protect themselves against falling into agents' manufactured traps leading to perjury or false statement charges like the ones used to convict Martha Stewart. But FBI policy prohibits recording of witness interviews, so you have no defense if FBI agents claim you lied to them.  Therefore, the only source of information about Dwek's statements to FBI agents about Oxley is whatever is contained in the FBI's official Forms 302, which are compiled by investigating agents and which may conceal as much as they reveal.  But without videotaping, we cannot see and measure the accuracy of these claims -- that is, we cannot tell how accurate the reports are in conveying what Dwek really said.

Oxley is refusing to consent to the release of FBI files on him. Christie maintains that Oxley was cleared by investigators working under his successor as U.S. Attorney, Paul Fishman.  But New Jersey legislators led by Senator Raymond Lesniak are blocking the nomination.


This controversy raises the seminal question: Were innocent people investigated, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned, on the strength of government debriefings of a man whom federal agents either knew or should have known to be -- at best -- inconsistently credible, and a serial, pathological liar at worst?


The answer may be hinted at by the words earlier this year of federal district court judge Jose Linares. 


Here are the words used by Linares to describe Dwek:



"A consummate defrauder and an extremely cunning liar."

Maybe the real question is, what did the U.S. Attorney's Office and federal investigators know?


And, are innocent people in jail for no reason?


Eric Dixon is a corporate lawyer who handles sensitive investigative matters involving the worlds of finance, business and politics, as well as sensitive personal matters.  



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Crony Justice, New Jersey Style? Questions, Questions...

So is this why Chris Christie didn't run for President -- or why he wasn't selected to be Romney's Vice President? (Or maybe this is why Christie earlier declared he wouldn't serve in Romney's Cabinet -- as attorney general? -- because he suspects he would not survive confirmation?)
Consider the following: After bouncing two checks for a total of $50 MILLION, caught-dead-to-rights admitted felon Solomon Dwek -- the "moser" of Deal, NJ -- fingers a whole bunch of people as criminals in corruption, fraud, tax evasion, kidney brokering, etc. (Dwek would later try to claim he suffered from compulsive criminality to get a shorter jail sentence.) The United States Attorney's Office in Newark had to wade through all these Dwekian allegations. How did the NJUSAO determine whether Dwek was telling the truth? Did politics play a role in determining who got investigated, who got charged with a crime, and perhaps who is even in jail today?
The presently unfolding events surrounding now-Governor Christie's nomination of former county sheriff Joseph Oxley to be a judge on a county court may shed some light.  See the latest coverage including this article at http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/10/gov_christie_charges_dems_with.html.
Eric Dixon is a New York corporate lawyer who handles investigative matters.

Nor'easter or Hurricane Headed For New York?

A respected hurricane forecast model is predicting that current Tropical Storm Sandy will hit the New Jersey and Long Island coastlines early next week, either as a tropical system (possibly at hurricane strength) or as a nor'easter should it lose its tropical "warm core" characteristics before reaching shore.

Sandy is currently a 50-mph tropical storm a few hundred miles south of Jamaica and moving north.  Some models show Sandy curving out to the Atlantic and not threatening land (other than Bermuda) as it is predicted to interact with a baroclinic front (after which it would lose its tropical cyclone characteristics).

Eric Dixon is a lawyer, political activist and strategist, and described by friends as a weather nerd.



Hurricane Names and Exhausting The Alphabet

We are about to get another named tropical cyclone in the Atlantic.  A small swirl southeast of Bermuda is on the verge of being designated "Tony."  We are rapidly running out of "names" (here's the official National Hurricane Center list of names for 2012) for tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Basin. 

Many of these systems are, in my opinion, glorified thunderstorms swirling around a tight center and barely qualify as tropical storms.  (A storm gets a "name" when it has sustained winds of 39 miles per hour. Many systems, particularly in the far eastern Atlantic, are designated on the basis of satellite observations.)

After "Tony" there are only two more  names, Valerie and William.  After that, we go to Greek alphabet names.  In 2005, we had three Greek alphabet storms: Alpha, Beta and Gamma.


Jail Time For Failing To Predict Quake

Leave it to the legal savants in Italy to show the Western world how to use the legal system to encourage expert knowledge.

An Italian court has sentenced six seismologists and geologists, plus one government official, to six years in jail for their "failure to warn" of an impending earthquake in 2009 in which more than 300 people died.

This is an example of overcriminalization.  This movement is occurring in the United States as well; the difference is that "negligence" is now being transformed into the "criminal intent" which remains an essential element of most crimes.  This movement has opened the door for prosecutorial and judicial second-guessing of legitimate, good-faith judgments.  However, when courts and prosecutors seek to punish experts for what amounts to bad luck -- particularly in the earthquake-prediction game which is by no means clear science -- one can be sure of this different prediction: massive retirements by scientists, doctors, engineers and other experts with advanced knowledge in their fields who will rightfully fear that they will be held criminally accountable for "bad luck" or "acts of God" by courts seeking to inflict retribution on a mantra of "someone's gotta pay."

Eric Dixon is a corporate, business and investigative attorney who practices in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere.  Mr. Dixon is a member of the board of directors of the Financial Policy Council think tank.