Monday, December 12, 2011

Spitzer and BU's Hurley Discuss SEC Reform

With President Obama and SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro called for increased penalties for violators of securities laws; it seemed prudent to check if this would actually protect the investing public. Professor Cornelius Hurley, director of Boston University’s Center for Finance, Law & Policy, supports the escalation in fines. “Companies will think twice about committing fraud if they can’t settle for chump change,” he said.

Hurley’s preferred reform would be to combine the SEC and CFTC. Combining the two agencies would save money by eliminating the duplication of oversight and allow for a more efficient deployment of a staff and other resources. “The collapse of MF Global suggests that we are paying a price for not combining the CFTC and SEC, which was suggested in a white paper about financial reform developed by the Treasury Department soon after Obama arrived in town,” he said. “Anyone can see that an organizational chart where two regulators are regulating the same space is absurd.”

Unfortunately, the greed of members of Congress killed the unification efforts. “The House and Senate Financial Services Committees oversee the SEC while the Agriculture Committee administers the CFTC.  Members of the agricultural committee did not want to lose the tremendous contributions to their campaigns from the commodities firms,” explained Hurley. He marvels at the hypocrisy of the Republican Party for championing the free market discipline, yet be against any efforts to increase transparency.

Former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer emphasized a different solution.  “The days of the neither admits nor denies must be over.” Neither admits nor denies is the controversial, decade’s long SEC practice of not extracting a confession from guilty parties in a settlement so that they can encourage settlements and avoid lengthy and costly trials against well-funded defendants.

Spitzer, known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street” during his tenure as NY State Attorney General, lauded Federal Judge Jed Rakoff for rejecting a proposed SEC settlement of Citigroup’s securities fraud charges partially over the lack of an admission of guilt on the part of repeat offender Citigroup. “We need more judges like Jed Rakoff that do not rubberstamp the SEC’s deals,” he said.

Hurley hopes the New Jersey federal judge overseeing the settlement of securities fraud by Wachovia, now Wells Fargo, considers the Rakoff decision when making her own decision. Although the Department of Justice insisted on an admission of guilt for the Wachovia settlement, the SEC inexplicably still used their boiler plate language of “neither admits nor denies.” Hurley said, “It defies logic that the two agencies can produce such different settlements."

The one problem with the elimination of “neither admits nor denies” is that it is difficult to sanction corporations that provide jobs for thousands of people. Spitzer conceded, “One of the Occupy Wall Street signs made the point – “Until the State of Texas executes a corporation, corporations are not people”.  You cannot just kill Citibank.”

Under the current system, it is the shareholders, not the corporate executives that committed the wrongdoing, that bear much of the financial pain of a corporation’s malfeasance. Spitzer wants to change that. “There must be individual responsibility. “Right now, the SEC now uses restitution as a proxy,” said Spitzer. “Executives of corporations must be held accountable for the corporation’s bad behavior.”

Besides no allocution of guilty behavior, the SEC settlement required Citigroup to only pay $285 million -$160 million for disgorgement of profits and $125 million in fines. Goldman Sachs for a similar offense paid $535 million in penalties. Spitzer and many others were shocked at this light punishment for repeat offender Citigroup.

“The issue of corporations’ recidivism must be addressed,” he said. “When I was an assistant district attorney, I worked in the career criminals unit. Those that had committed more than two felonies were punished more severely. They were sent away for a long time.  For corporations that repeatedly offend, we need to increase exponentially the financial penalties and insist on structural changes such as compensation.” He urges the SEC to drop standard practice and use creativity to tackle recidivism.

None of the experts contacted thinks that there needs to be additional laws or new agencies to regulate the financial industry. Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, just wishes that Congress would increase the budget of the SEC.

Spitzer urges the SEC to be more aggressive. “If Congress does not like it, take your case to the public,” suggests Spitzer. “The SEC has enough power. They just need the will to use it.”

Hurley pointed out that the collapse of MF Global violated long existing securities laws about customer account segregation not newer regulations like Dodd Frank. “Regulation is about individuals, culture.  Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan could have protected the mortgage borrower with powers given to him in the Home Owners Equity Protection Act had he been a different person – not a free market champion and devotee of Ayn Rand,” he said.

He was reserved in his praise for the current group of regulators. He was happy to see that Shapiro is changing the SEC culture by hiring more financial professionals to investigate fraud. Yet there was no reason for her to do Wall Street's bidding by lobbying successfully to exclude brokerage firms from the oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Hurley wonders how CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs colleague of former MF Global chairman Jon Corzine, “could have seen no conflict of interest while regulating MF Global but now that the CFTC is investigating wrongdoing he suddenly has a conflict of interest.”

Spitzer may have summed up the problem with the SEC best. “Whenever I was down there, I could not wait to get out of there.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bob Seger Played First-Rate "Old Time Rock and Roll"

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band played first-rate “Old Time Rock and Roll” at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia on December 3. The “ramblin’ gamblin’ man’s rollicky “Roll Me Away,” and “Trying to Live My Life without You” brought the audience to their feet in delight.  While it is a radio staple, Seger played for the first time live his version of “Little Drummer Boy”. Showing his versatility, he tickled the ivories with great élan for “We Got Tonight”. He saved the anthem of my youth, “Against the Wind” for the first of two encores.

Seger paid homage to his roots with Little Richard’s “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey Going Back to Birmingham” and Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits”. The artfulness of Alto Reed, who has been with the Silver Bullet Band since 1971, on the saxophone during the intro to “Turn the Page,” rivaled that of Kenny G and the late Clarence Clemons. The mastery of legendary drummer Don Brewer, originally of the Grand Funk, was on display throughout the night.

Although Seger is now 66 years old, his trademark raspy voice sounded great. During a high energy performance, he boogied on both sides of the stage and repeatedly exhorted his fans to sing along. He graciously prefaced each song with its history. “I wrote “Turn the Page” in a hotel room in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Alto did his thing, and then we recorded it in Leon Russell’s studio in Oklahoma.”

While one reviewer lamented the plain sets and dearth of sparkly costumes, I think that Katy Perry could learn a thing or two from Seger.  The virtuosity and richness of his music does not require pink hair, lollipops, and swings.

The opening act, Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, delivered a strong honky tonky/ country performance.

I left the concert wondering why Seger is not a well- known as Springsteen and Eric Clapton.  As my guest at the concert said, “This is the music I grew up with.” To paraphrase the last song of the night, Rock and Rollers never forget. I will be first in line when Seger’s highly anticipated new album comes out.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gingrich is Smarter than Krugman Thinks

On "This Week," this morning, New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman smarmily commented about Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, "He's a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like." While I do not agree with Gingrich's platform, I have to defend his intellectual capacity.

When I interviewed about electronic health records for Rx Communications newsletter., he displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of electronic records. Unlike many of his Republican counterparts, he has staked out a very progressive position on healthcare. I have reprinted the interview below.

In an interview with HOC , former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he founded his Center for Health Transformation because “I wanted to have an effect; I wanted to save lives and money. America ’s healthcare system is becoming obsolete. The changes that are needed are complex and cannot be done bit by bit. We need an overhaul of the entire system.”
Gingrich cites transparency as a major issue in healthcare. For example, a US Congressional Bill requiring hospitals to report the number of infections was challenged by hospitals because, Gingrich contends, “they don’t want anyone to know the number of infections.”
One of Gingrich’s main goals is to secure a “21st century science and technology budget” that will allow significant research in the fields of Alzheimer’s, and cancer. He wants to secure funding for scientific research and technology “not for one year but for a generation. It is the only way we will achieve significant scientific breakthroughs.”
When asked about the challenge of doing all this during the current economic crisis, Gingrich said: “I don’t not feel sorry for a Congress that could find $1.2 trillion on short notice to bail out Wall Street.”
Another priority for the former Speaker: “We need to study what works and adopt it all across the country. We have learned that the practice that leads to the best outcome turns out to be the least expensive in the long run,” he believes.
But Gingrich’s favourite cause is electronic health records, and particularly e-prescribing. To highlight the issue, the Center for Health Transformation published Paper Kills: Transforming Health and Healthcare with Information Technology , a book by David Merritt, a project director at the Center for Health Transformation and the Gingrich Group. Moreover, he considers that the needed infrastructure investment in electronic health records is just as vital to the country as the railroads were in the 19th century. The total devastation of the paper-based health records of the citizens of Louisiana after hurricane Katrina proves his point.
But he thinks that adopting electronic health records is meeting resistance because “Doctors have deeply ingrained habits. They are very conscious of time. For them, time literally means money. Doctors have also been against this because they are instinctively against big government and the insurance companies,” who may force it on them.
Newt Gingrich dismisses privacy concerns. “When I speak in front of a group, I ask how many use an ATM in a foreign country. The hands of almost everyone in the room are raised. I tell them that the information in their accounts has travelled across borders. They were not concerned about that.” But he believes that “fraud is the more insidious reason that doctors oppose electronic health records. With electronic health records, fraud will be easier to detect.” Over-prescribing and over-billing will be more closely monitored. The Wall Street Journal estimates that 10% of all Medicare billing is fraudulent. Asked how he would propose paying for this, he says that eliminating fraud “will allow electronic records to pay for themselves. The federal government should subsidize the conversion to electronic health records.”
While Gingrich acknowledges that adopting electronic health records for 100% of the population will take time but he is pressing for immediate adoption of e-prescribing. He praises the Medicare Electronic Medication and Safety Protection Act, which established bonuses for the adoption of e-prescribing technology.
Finally, Mr Gingrich had this to say about the cost of adoption: “Would we tolerate it if the airline industry said, ‘we would like to be safer but we can’t afford it’?”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Former Blue Cross CEO: Company Struggled to Provide Employee Insurance

There has to be wrong with the current national paradigm for health insurance when Blue Cross, which provides health insurance for 1 out of every 3 Americans, struggles to provide for health insurance for their own employees.

Joseph Frick, former President and CEO of Independence Blue Cross, spoke at the America Israel Chamber of Commerce healthcare IT conference. Frick, who currently is Vice Chairman and Managing Partner at Diversified Search, considered the mission of Blue Cross was not to sell insurance but to provide health care security.

From his speech:

"As the former CEO of a company that employed over 6000 employees, I cared deeply about the health and vitality of my workforce and their families, but grappled with the annual, unpredictable costs of over $50 million to provide healthcare coverage. Some asked isn't it free for your company. The answer is no."

He argued that the current system is not maintainable.

 "Despite over $2.6 trillion dollars in healthcare spending (over 16% of GDP), the number of non- insured elderly patients reached 49.1 million in 2010. In short, the current operating model is not sustainable. 

He proposed solutions.

 "We need to accelerate the transformation of our industry from one that is architected around activity and volume to one that is structured, aligned, and incented around outcomes and value.

Female Venture Capitalist: Women Tech Entrepreneurs Can't Cut It

It is 2011, there are still few women in venture capital or  heading tech start- ups. Attending the Israel American Chamber of Commerce on healthcare IT,  I decided to explore this issue with with two women at the Israel America Chamber of Commerce Conference on Healthcare IT.

Donna Usiskin, Vice President of Business Development at Edison Ventures is the only woman employee on the investment side at Edison Ventures, which has 23 employees. Usiskin said, "I do everything that I can do to mentor women tech entrepreneurs." She then listed several female mentoring organizations that she is a member of.

Usiskin continued, "Women are not cut out to be tech entrepreneurs. It is 24 hour a day, 7 day a week job.  Women chose family, a husband over that lifestyle." It was a little disappointing to hear this ancient stereotype about women was being parroted by a woman.

Usiskin was "thrilled" that she had to wait in line for the ladies room at this conference. "This conference is a little different. There are more women. The Israeli army teaches women how to handle a gun and be leaders," noted Usiskin.

Elizabeth Rounsavall, director of Research and Analytics at Chrysalis Ventures voiced the same sentiments. She said, "There are no women on the investment side at Chrysalis. I am sort of a bridge to administration. There is another woman employee in marketing. Part of the problem is lifestyle. A lot of travel is involved with the job."

Rounsavall continued, "The situation is also bad in private equity. A female speaker  at a private equity conference thanked the industry for being more progressive than the Taliban."

Later, she mentioned two women entrepreneurs that Chrysalis works with -  Liz Griggs, CEO of Nextimage Medical and Jan Bruce, who was an entrepreneur-in-residence at Chrysalis before they invested in her startup, Quilibrium. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

See The Artistry Behind a Billion Dollar Fortune

When I saw Cirque du Soleil Quidam last night, I was reminded that 100 million people on six continents have  seen a Cirque show. The founder Guy Laliberte, whose net worth is over $2.5 billion, proves that the secrets of success may be following your dreams and doing what you love. His irresistible charm and nerves of steel  are credited with his success in this compelling Barbara Walter's interview.

Quidam is a captivating mix of clowns, which make you laugh, and death defying aerobic feats that elicit an involuntary gasp. I often found myself literally on the edge of my seat, alternatively holding my breath and saying wow.

Pictures courtesy of Matt Beard

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sex Is Not Why Cain's Sexual Harassment Settlements are Important

As a victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault, many might feel that it is a knee jerk response, on my part, to attach importance to the sexual harassment settlements made on behalf of Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain. They would be wrong.

I am paying attention to these allegations and settlements because it gives you a window into Herman Cain's character. Since he has only recently arrived on the national scene, we do not know much about him. The national media has not properly vetted him.

The subsequent history of the men that harassed me might be illustrative. One  was my regional sales manager of the brokerage firm that I employed me. Since I filed my charges in the 90's during the Wild West period of Wall Street, nothing happened to the perpetrator after the firm settled with me. 18 months later, he was fired after black brokers named him in a class action discrimination suit. The suit alleged that he poked fun of blacks by performing "in white face during a minstrel type show at the firm's Christmas party". The settlement in that case was in seven figures. The lesson drawn from this case could be that sexual harassers are usually equal opportunity bigots.The firm should have drawn the right conclusion from my lawsuit - they had a problem employee. If they had, they might have insisted that he undergo sensitivity training and avoided the second lawsuit and its multi-million payout.

The second man was a tycoon of finance held in the highest esteem when I leveled my charges. By the way he behaved during the attack and handled my accusations, it was clear that he took too many risks, played fast and loose with the facts, wanted to win at all costs, and did not know how to deal with people.The public discovered this afterwards. His firm shortly thereafter took a company public that went bankrupt six weeks later. Accusations were leveled that his firm knew the company was failing and rushed taking it public so that they could cash in before the bankruptcy. Later, his partners pushed him out the door of the firm that he singlehandly founded in a bitter dispute.

Since Herman Cain has not handled the fallout from the revelation of the sexual harassment charges particularly well, many in the media, who do not like to talk about sex, have decided the pr debacle is the issue. They are wrong. The issue is his character. His lack of knowledge about the settlements indicates arrogance. He did not ask about the settlements because that would have been admitting that he made a mistake. Then, he might been forced to alter his behavior.  Even if he thought that his actions were funny or non -offensive, he needed to change them because it was costing the organizations that he worked for money.

This also says something about our corporate culture.Except in the case of serial harassers, businesses do not tolerate employees, even star ones, that keep costing the company money.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

MF Global Bankruptcy Proves Need for Privatization of Financial Regulation

Here we go again. After all of the public outcry to rein in Wall Street, the eighth largest commodities trading firm in the United States has declared bankruptcy, three short years after the Lehman Bankruptcy.  This bankruptcy comes with a twist - $593 million of customer money is missing. The FBI, as well as the securities regulators, is now camped out the firm's headquarters. Will we ever learn?

I have been arguing for privatization of financial regulation for some time. This bankruptcy proves that we need to find a new paradigm for regulation. The regulations and regulators that we have now in place are not working. After the last financial crisis, it seems incredible that there were no rules in place to limit the leverage and concentration of trades done with firm's money. Once again, one trader has bankrupted an entire firm by taking outsized risks without any fear of a clawback of his earning.

My new paradigm for securities regulations is to empower outside lawyers, with a vote by the commissioners, with the ability to investigate securities and commodities firm, prosecute violators and pocket the fines imposed. I am working on this with the community reporting news site, Spot. us. More details here. 

Regulators are always Johnny Come Lately if they arrive at all. The CFTC did not detect the lack of controls over the segregation of client money. Exactly when MF Global clients  need his insight and wisdom the most, the head of the CFTC, Gary Gensler, has withdrawn from any involvement in the case due to his close relationship with the firm's former CEO Jon Corzine, his former boss at Goldman Sachs.  Funny, that close relationship never seemed to be a problem when Corzine was lobbying for what he wanted.

MF Global clients may lose as much as 40% of the capital in their personal accounts. Some of these losses could have prevented if regulators were paying attention,  Many institutional investors, having their ear to the ground, rushed to withdraw their money last week. A money manager in Chicago told the New York Times that his firm, hearing the rumors, pulled out $5 million last week. The CTFC gave sophisticated investors an advantage by not blocking last week's hastily arranged withdrawals. Maybe, the withdrawals can be clawed back like they are in a Ponzi scheme.

Corzine, who should have known better, was using the commodities firm, which was also a registered broker-dealer, as his own private casino. He was making huge bets, leveraged 40 to 1, on European sovereign debt with the firm's money.  If he won, he would become richer. If he lost, he would walk away as he has done.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a private organization, first raised the alarm about MF Global's risky bet. Then the panic spread. MF Global tried to sell itself to Interactive Brokers but the missing client money precluded a deal. The firm may not have been properly segregating customer money.; It  may have been using the money to shore up their under the water positions.

We might be able to write this off this speculative use of firm money as a one time incident except that Corzine and the CEOs of other commodity firms were lobbying the CTFC  to even further relax the rules surrounding commodity firms' uses of customers' money. Gensler wanted to tighten the rules, but apparently was unable to stand up to the bulldozer that is Corzine. The Republican commissioners were also against more regulation. Gensler isn't perfect. When he served in the Clinton White House, he was against additional regulation of derivatives.

The coziness of Gensler and Corzine may be unseemly but probably had very little effect on the final result. When I was at Wharton, Gensler and his twin brother were the most intelligent and best prepared students in every class I attended. If Gensler was blindsided by Corzine's actions, then probably no one could have seen it. When traders leave Wall Street and become Washington regulators, something appears to happen to them. It must be the brand of cool aid they serve in Washington.

While many treat Elizabeth Warren as a hero for dreaming up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, this bureau also would not have prevented the MF Global disaster.  More regulations and regulators are not the answer. Smart people in the private sector must be given tools by which they can protect the consumer. Regulators are not up to the job.

There may be one good thing to come out of the MF Global bankruptcy. While it is a commodity firm and not a bank, the bankruptcy should shore up support for the Volcker Rule, which is meant to curtail speculative investments by the banks.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Biden's Future Jewish Son-In-Law is My Doctor

What woman can resist a Jewish doctor. Apparently not, Ashley Biden, daughter of Vice President Joe Biden.I have been a big fan of Biden since I volunteered and donated to his ill-fated 1980 Presidential campaign. So you can imagine my happiness when I found out that his daughter, Ashley, was engaged to my doctor, Dr. Howard Krein.

Dr. Krein is a very nice, thorough doctor. He is part of a big ear, nose and throat practice at Jefferson Hospital. My only complaint is that he kept me waiting over an hour and did not offer any apology when he did finally see me.

The office is very automated probably due to Krein's sideline. When you enter the office, you are asked to type your name into a computer and sit down.

Howard Krein is Chief Medical Officer at OrganizedWisdom Health. His brother Steve is a serial internet entrepreneur, with Organized Wisdom being the latest. The company "helps doctors set up their digital offices in minutes." The website  boasts, "The Most Effective Way to Save Doctors Time While Creating Healthier, Happier Patients". Former Time Warner CEO Gerry Levin serves on the board of directors of the company while Internet guru Esther Dyson is on the board of advisers.

Employees of Jefferson Hospital told me that Howard is proud of being Jewish so expect some Jewish elements at the wedding. Maybe that will shut up some of Obama's Jewish critics.

While Ashley Biden is marrying outside her Catholic religion, she not marrying outside of her party. She is marrying a liberal.

Mazel Tov Howard and Ashley!

Update: I saw Dr. Krein today. He had a sense of humor about my blog posts. Ashley is a very lucky girl.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupy Philly Defeats Eric Cantor

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was scheduled to speak at the Wharton School late this afternoon. His office cancelled this morning when they found out that protesters from Occupy Philly and unions would be allowed to attend.

Cantor was expected to speak about the GOP's plan for wealth redistribution or "income mobility".

Justice Breyer Riffs On The Death Penalty, Citizens United, Bush v Gore

Last week, I had a chance to hear Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer speak at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. Breyer came to discuss his most recent book, "Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View.

Breyer described his job this way to his son, "Being a Supreme Court Justice means doing homework for the rest of your life. It is reading and writing done in isolation. Each day, I am in front of a word processor."

He even read briefs for the cases that the court will hear in November on his way to Philadelphia by train. He joked, "Why are they called briefs since they are not brief. The average case has 12-15 amicus briefs; right to die cases have 80; affirmative action cases have 120."

In the book, Breyer criticizes the legal theory of originalism that is favored by Justice Scalia and other conservatives. While originalism believes that judicial decisions should be based on the original intent of the founding fathers, Breyer contends "Politics are not law. George Washington could not have imagined the internet. Historical values do not change but the circumstances do change. We now need computer experts not historians."

Legal differences aside, Breyer said, "Nino and I are good friends. We talk about everything like opera, baseball." The dissension on the court seems to be exaggerated. Breyer ticked off these statistics: "40% of all of the Supreme Court cases are unanimous. Only 20%-25% are 5 to 4."

According to Breyer, there is only one reason that the Supreme Court will decide to hear a case - "Whether or not, the lower court came to a different conclusion about the meaning of a federal statue. The Justices are hesitant to declare a law unconstitutional."

The judges use their "imagination" to understand how their ruling will affect a lot of people. They review a law by asking if it is "pragmatic, pertinent, workable, has purpose, and underlying reason for existence."

Breyer, who dissented from the majority, still thinks the court should not have heard Bush v Gore that installed Bush as President. "Elections are a state issue," asserted Breyer. He marveled that after the decision "the people followed the rule of law and no riots or deaths ensued after the decision. The Supreme Court is a national treasure."

Although he dissented, he defended the controversial Citizens United decision by invoking the 14th amendment. Breyer said, "The 14th amendment protects persons. Case law has deemed corporations individuals for 100 years now."

The easygoing, affable Breyer only became defensive when the subject of the death penalty was raised. "You have to understand that each death penalty case usually comes before the court three times. The average defendant is on death row for 15 years," said Breyer.

He continued, "The recanting of witnesses is often raised. That is not enough. It is necessary to have proof that someone else has had to pull the trigger. There would have to be something really wrong for the Supreme Court to hear anything significantly new that was not heard before by the lower courts. We are presented with roughly the same arguments, just at the last minute."

Breyer explained that the court can not rule on the death penalty itself or address the racial disparity of its imposition since "it is mostly imposed by state law, rarely federal law. Only the legislature can abolish the death penalty," said Breyer.

Citing the example of French President Mitterand, Breyer utilized his bully pulpit to urge the executive and legislative branches to abolish the death penalty in America. "Europe is against the death penalty now," he said. "In 1980, 2/3 of the French electorate supported the death penalty. Still Mitterand, in a television interview, came out against the death penalty. He immediately went up in the polls because he took a position of conscience. The same thing could happen here."

He doubts that abolition of the death penalty will happen. "Politicians were in the popular club in high school. They hold their finger up to the wind to measure popularity," opined Breyer. "Judges are terrible politicians."

An audience member asked him what his typical month looked like when the court was in session. Breyer answered "The first two weeks of each month from October to June, we listen to oral arguments. Tomorrow, I will talk to my law clerks about a tentative position on the cases that the court will hear in November. I read the average of twelve briefs on each case and assign each clerk three briefs to read. They answer the questions that I ask and ask their own questions."

He continued, "Next week, the judges will conference. The justices are not arguing or convincing you of their point of view instead we go back and forth on the legal reasoning that will be helpful in making a decision. Starting with Chief Justice Roberts, each judge speaks in order of seniority. Everyone has to speak once before someone can speak again."

Each judge can ask questions during the half hour of oral arguments before the court. The Chief Justice assigns someone to write the majority opinion. If Breyer is chosen to write the arguments, he and his his clerks work on it together. After it is written, the writer circulates it for signatures.

Off the court, Supreme Court Justices often entertains foreign dignitaries. The first question that supreme court justices from other lands ask is "why would anyone listen?" Breyer answers, "The word is mightier than the sword. We will follow the rule of law here."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Philly is Starting "The People's Law School"

The Occupy Philly site is currently a sea of tents. When the scheduled $50 million renovation of Dilworth Plaza is scheduled to begin in approximately three weeks, the protesters will be forced to move unless they want to face arrest. The City of Philadelphia has so far not granted permission for the protesters to move to another site. With the protest costing the city $80,000 a day in police overtime, the city is not in a hurry to issue a permit for a new site.

Occupy Philadelphia has partially become a pedagogical movement. One of the protesters, Aaron, has been arranging for speakers to inform the crowd about the issues. The schedule of events is posted on a big calendar. Last night's lecture, "Financial Inequality" was given by a Swarthmore College professor. The public relations team is offering "Harvey's Homeless Reality Tour" at 4pm daily.

Next week, Occupy Philadelphia is starting the "People's Law School". Community Legal Services lawyer Michael Froehlich, at the request of his union, will be conducting classes at 5 30pm Monday thru Thursday each week. He will start with tenant rights, but will address disability, discrimination, etc.

The protesters stood outside the main Philadelphia branch of Wells Fargo on Wednesday afternoon and chanted "Give it back" to the accompaniment of drums. The crowd, which was more racially mixed than the main protest, was objecting to a $63 million payment by the Philadelphia School District to Wells Fargo due to interest rate swaps.

Prison reform has been a focus in Philadelphia. Signs like "Prisons Are Concentration Camps for the Poor" and "$93 million for Jail Cells for Pot instead of a ticket" captures the zeitgeist.

Occupy Philly has a sub-genre, which I have named "Occupy Judaism." Rabbis from the Reconstructionist branch of Judaism, including Rabbis Julie Greenberg and Mordechai Liebling, regularly visit the site. I participated today in the ceremonial blessing over the lulav (branches) and etrog (lemon) with Rabbi Lauren, who heads a congregation in West Philadelphia. The site's Sukkah (ceremonial hut), which urges those that enter to "enjoy and respect the space," is her old Sukkah. There was a moving Kol Nidre service to commemorate the beginning of Yom Kippur.

The demonstrators include families with small children and a hunger striker. Artist RJ Smith is on Day 6 of a hunger strike. He will not feed until "Wall Street Ends the Greed". His fiancée begs, "Don't Let Wall Street Kill My Fiancé."

Among the protesters that are employed, I have noticed several in the computer field. Some of the people, who initially came out of curiosity, have been converted to protesters. Peter, the head of an IT firm, claims not to be a protester, but yet I have seen him there several times.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Gaza: Pictures From A Mediterranean Paradise

The picture to the left is of the central public library in Gaza. If it does not look familiar to you, I am not surprised. Whenever there is a story on Gaza, a picture of the squalid refugee camps is usually attached. Most people do not realize that the majority of Gaza is developed and very beautiful. I hope these pictures dispel the myth of the indigence of Gaza.

I hate to scream media bias against Israel. I just hope that you realize that the reporters that neglected to show you the presentable sections of Gaza are the same ones that tell you about the suffering of the Palestinians. Draw your own conclusions. Imagine the image of New York if all the stories featured Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville instead of the Manhattan skyline, Times Square, or Wall Street.

While the plight of the Palestinian is constantly told and retold, the media talks very little about the excruciation of the Lebanese Christians at the hands of the Palestinians and other Arabs. Since the United States is a predominately Christian country, this aperture in the reporting from the Middle East seems odd.

My neighbor George, a Lebanese Christian from the southern town of Sarba (near Saida), reminded me "the Palestinians were willing to leave Gaza in the late sixties and early seventies and resettle in Lebanon." During the long war between the Palestinians and Lebanese, the Palestinians killed 20 of his relatives. Some members of his family were murdered at a family funeral to mourn the original members of the clan that had been killed by the Palestinians. George can not go back to his family home because the Palestinians have stolen it from them.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupy Phillly Pictures Day 2

The overnight crowds were buoyed by a surprise visit from Philadelphia Mayor Nutter at 1 30 am last night. Protesters urged him to "Stop Nutting on Us" and begged him not to be Mayor Bloomberg, the billionaire who criticizes the poor. "Let Freedom Ring," a complaint that the Eagles football team manufactures their memorabilia in China, and protesters in Philly shirts added a Philadelphia touch to the protest.

On the second day, the crowds were thinned out, but were hardcore. The group, who are extremely well organized are still determined to effectuate change. The most thoughtful slogan was "Tax the Rich, They Lose a Yacht, Tax Me, I Lose my Home." Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was singled out for attention. The protests in Philadelphia are more anti-Fed than anti-Wall Street. Think "Skank America." Healthcare is a major focal point of the protests. "Cancer Is Not A Business" reflected many of the demonstrators sentiments.