Monthly Archives: October 2015

Support Your Local Police Department…Er, Collection Agency

Facing tough budget challenges, growing numbers of cities and towns are turning to a new source to raise revenue: their police departments.

Yes, their police departments.

Instead of letting police officers do their real job, which is “to protect and serve,” they’re passing new laws and enforcing old ones that seem to exist for only one purpose: to raise money for the town.

Mother Jones, The Curmudgeon’s favorite liberal magazine, recently published a fascinating report on this fairly recent development. The following are excerpts from the article that he found especially interesting. (Actually, the entire article is interesting and worth a few minutes of your time: find it here.)

We saw a glimpse of this when the Justice Department released its report on Ferguson in March. In his statement, then-Attorney General Eric Holder referenced a lady in town whose life sounded Walter Scott-like. She had received two parking tickets totaling $151. Her efforts to pay those fines fell so behind that she eventually paid out more than $500. At one point, she was jailed for nonpayment and—eight years later—still owes $541 in accrued fees.

The judge largely responsible for the extraction of these fees from Ferguson’s poor, Ronald J. Brockmeyer, owed $172,646 in back taxes, a sum orders of magnitude greater than any late fine coming before his bench. Even as he was jailing black ladies for parking tickets, Brockmeyer was allegedly erasing citations for white Ferguson residents who happened to be his friends. After the report’s publication, he resigned so that Ferguson could “begin its healing process.”

But consider: In 2010, this collaboration between the Ferguson police and the courts generated $1.4 million in income for the city. This year, they will more than double that amount—$3.1 million—providing nearly a quarter of the city’s $13 million budget, almost all of it extracted from its poorest African American citizens. 

*            *            *

“Essentially, these small towns in urban areas have municipal infrastructure that can’t be supported by the tax base, and so they ticket everything in sight to keep the town functioning,” said William Maurer, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice who has been studying the sudden rise in “nontraffic-related fines.”

Take the St. Louis suburb of Pagedale, where, among other Norman Rockwell-worthy features deemed illegal, “you can’t have a hedge more than three feet high,” Maurer says. “You can’t have a basketball hoop or a wading pool in front of a house. You can’t have a dish antenna on the front of your house. You can’t walk on the roadway if there is a sidewalk, and if there is not a sidewalk, they must walk on the left side of the roadway. They must walk on the right of the crosswalk. They can’t conduct a barbecue in the front yard and can’t have an alcoholic beverage within 150 feet of a barbecue. Kids cannot play in the street. They also have restrictions against pants being worn below the waist in public. Cars must be within 500 feet of a lamp or a source of illumination during nighttime hours. Blinds must be neatly hung in respectable appearance, properly maintained, and in a state of good repair.”

Where did this Kafkaesque laundry list come from? Maurer explains that in 2010, Missouri passed a law that capped the amount of city revenue that any agency could generate from traffic stops. The intent was to limit small-town speed traps, but the unintentional consequences are now clear: Pagedale saw a 495 percent increase in nontraffic-related arrests. “In Frontenac, the increase was 364 percent,” Maurer says. “In Lakeshire, it was 209 percent.”

*            *            *

A different strategy in San Diego simply tacks on various fees to an existing fine. A 2012 Union Tribune investigation revealed that while speeding is a simple $35 fine, other government agencies can tack on as many as 10 other surcharges, including: a state penalty assessment, $40; county penalty assessment, $36; court construction, $20; state surcharge, $8; DNA identification, $16; criminal conviction fee, $35; court operations, $40; emergency medical air transportation penalty, $4; and night court, $1. When it’s all said and done, that $35 ticket comes to $235.

*            *            *

There is still no comprehensive study to determine just how many cities pay their bills by indenturing the poor, but it is probably no coincidence that when you examine the recent rash of police killings, you find that the offenses they were initially stopped for were preposterously minor. Bland’s lane change signal, DuBose’s missing plate. Walter Scott had that busted taillight—which, we all later learned, is not even a crime in South Carolina. Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes. When Darren Wilson was called to look into a robbery, the reason he initially stopped Michael Brown was for walking in the street—in Ferguson, an illegal act according to Section 44-344 of the local code. Between 2011 and 2013, 95 percent of the perpetrators of this atrocity were African American, meaning that “walking while black” is not a punch line. It is a crime.

And not just a crime, but a crime that comes with fines that are strictly enforced. In 2014, Ferguson’s bottom-line-driven police force issued 16,000 arrest warrants to three-fourths of the town’s total population of 21,000. Stop and think about that for a moment: In Ferguson, 75 percent of all residents had active outstanding arrest warrants. Most of the entire city was a virtual plantation of indentured revenue producers.

Back in Pagedale, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jennifer Mann recently calculated  a 500 percent increase in petty fines over the last five years. “Pagedale handed out 2,255 citations for these types of offenses last year,” Mann wrote, “or nearly two per household.”

“Once the system is primed for maximizing revenue—starting with fines and fine enforcement,” Holder said apropos Ferguson, “the city relies on the police force to serve, essentially, as a collection agency for the municipal court rather than a law enforcement entity.”

*            *            *

In Alabama, a circuit court judge, Hub Harrington, wrote a blistering opinion three years ago asserting that the Shelby County Jail had become a kind of “debtors’ prison” and that the court system had devolved into a “judicially sanctioned extortion racket.” This pattern leads to a cruel paradox: One arm of the state is paying a large sum to lock up a person who can’t pay a small sum owed to a different arm of the state. The result? Bigger state deficits. As the director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program put it, “Having taxpayers foot a bill of $4,000 to incarcerate a man who owes the state $745 or a woman who owes a predatory lender $425 and removing them from the job force makes sense in no reasonable world.”

 

 

 

Spicing Up the Republican Presidential Debates

Now that the novelty of the Trump candidacy – if not the desire to take a shower every time you hear him speak – has worn off, it looks like the Republican presidential debates are going to become as boring as presidential debates normally are. The Curmudgeon finds that sad, but rather than sit around and mope about it, he’d rather find a way to spice things up a little.

And he’s come up with something.

He calls it “Survivor: The Republican Presidential Debates.”

Here’s how it works.

As of this writing – the Friday night before you’re reading this (yes, he knows, this says a lot about his social life) – the following is a look at the latest composite standings, based on six different major polls, showing the candidates’ current positions in the race to the nomination:

  • Trump – 23.8%
  • Carson – 19.7%
  • Rubio – 9.7%
  • Fiorina – 7.8%
  • Cruz – 7.3%
  • Bush – 7.3%
  • Huckabee – 2.8%
  • Paul – 2.7%
  • Kasich – 2.3%
  • Christie – 1.7%
  • Jindal – 0.7%
  • Santorum – 0.5%
  • Graham – 0.5%
  • Pataki – 0.3%

Everyone agrees that putting all these folks on one stage is impractical, and even dividing them into two groups isn’t working very well: you don’t really get much of a sense of anyone but Trump, because either he’s talking or they’re talking about him. The debates have been clumsy, rewarding chutzpah more than substance.

If The Curmudgeon had his druthers, he’d tell Huckabee, Paul, Kasich, Christie, Jindal, Santorum, Graham, and Pataki that their fifteen minutes are up and send them packing with some parting gifts – you know, a year’s supply of Turtle Wax and Rice-A-Roni, the ultra-high sodium San Francisco treat. Alas, we haven’t yet reached the point where that’s acceptable – you hear platitudes about “letting the people decide,” as if the abysmal poll numbers of some of the candidates don’t suggest that the people have indeed decided – so we have to keep some of these folks around a little longer.

But not all of them. The Curmudgeon would create 1% cut-off and inform Jindal, Santorum, Graham, and Pataki that they’re no longer welcome at any major debates until and unless they get their polls up to a solid 1%. There’s simply no way to take seriously a candidate who can’t even score 1% in the polls.

So The Curmudgeon would vote them off Debate Island.

candidatesHe would tell Trump, Carson, and Rubio, the three clear leaders, that they’re safe for now, that as long as they remain in the top three, they’ll be in every major debate. Let’s call them group 1.

That leaves seven people: Fiorina, Cruz, Bush, Huckabee, Paul, Kasich, and Christie. Let’s call them group 2.

And that’s still too many for a single debate.

So here’s what The Curmudgeon would do.

He would make every major debate a three-night extravaganza.

On night one, four of the seven members of group 2 would debate; they’d all draw lots to see who ends up in which debate. After the debate, a credible polling organization chosen by the network broadcasting the event would identify, within a few hours, the “winner” of the debate. The prize: the winner of night one gets to join group 1 for a debate on night three. The others are voted off Debate Island, at least for this round of debates.

Then, on night two, the remaining three of the seven members of group two would debate. After the debate, the same polling organization would make its calls and declare a winner of night two. The prize, again: participate in the night three with group one and the previous night’s winner. Again, the losers are voted off Debate Island for this round of debates.

Finally, on night three, the five survivors – the three members of group 1 and the winners of nights two and three – would hold the main event.

Debates with fewer candidates would certainly give all of the candidates more time to talk and make an impression on viewers while making the debates more interesting and raising the stakes for candidates who haven’t really made any kind of meaningful impression at all on the American public.

And it might make for some good television, too.

 

Taking Care of Business (chapters 28 and 29)

For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here, to the Taking Care of Business resources page. To see every part of Taking Care of Business posted so far in one place, go here.) 

Chapter 28

The days following the Philadelphia police department’s successful break-up of the prostitution ring were frenetic and chaotic. Forty-eight hours after the arrests, the accused ring-leader, Eugene Doctoroff, made good on his promise to begin releasing the names of prominent customers if charges against him were not dropped. The first person he named was Freddy Logan, an outfielder on the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. Logan was humiliated, an immediate object of derision for local pundits and barflies and even from women’s groups that made a great deal of noise even though the player was single – as if single men suddenly had no right to seek sex. His teammates were sympathetic: many shared his view that frequenting prostitutes was far safer, both medically and emotionally, than indulging in the groupies who appeared wherever players could be found. Some of his teammates, moreover, recognized that their own names could be next: the Philadelphia Escort Service, it turned out, was practically a preferred provider for local professional sports teams and the players who came to Philadelphia to compete against them.

When the revelation about the baseball player produced a large splash but not the enormous splash that Doctoroff sought – some people simply refused to be shocked to learn that a professional athlete would pay for sex – the accused modified his tactics slightly: instead of waiting another forty-eight hours to reveal the next name, he announced a schedule for his next five announcements. In two days, he said, he would name the patriarch of one of the city’s wealthiest and most prominent families; two days after that, he would name the CEO of a large corporation headquartered in the city; two days after that, he said, he would name a very prominent member of the local clergy; two days after that, an Academy Award-winning actor who had spent three weeks in Philadelphia filming a movie the previous year; and two days after that, a leader of what he described as “one of the most prominent family values organizations” in the eastern United States.

A media feeding frenzy ensued. On the days when it published – exclusively – the latest name, the Post’s circulation almost doubled; talk radio hosts encouraged their listeners to speculate on whose name Doctoroff might offer next; newspaper columnists alternately condemned the tactic and reveled in delicious anticipation of the next announcement; office pools materialized in businesses throughout the region; and Doctoroff – now free on bail – found himself besieged by television and newspaper reporters hoping to get a tip on the next name. This Philadelphia story quickly became a national news story: newspapers from across the country sent reporters to Philadelphia, internet blogs sizzled with speculation, and cable television talk and political programs devoted large portions of their broadcasts to the big story coming out of Philadelphia. Eugene Doctoroff immediately found himself a local celebrity and was followed so closely and persistently, everywhere he went, by both the news media and the simply curious that after a few days of near-constant harassment he retreated to his suburban home and essentially lived under a sort of self-imposed house arrest.

But Doctoroff’s telephone still worked, and he began receiving calls from former clients desperate not to be named publicly. Recognizing the opportunity this afforded – he was, after all, a man who sold sex for a living – he began offering his callers an opportunity to avoid immediate exposure. His legal defense, he told them, was clearly going to be very expensive, and he was a man of limited means who no longer had any means of earning a living. Anyone willing to contribute fifty thousand non-tax-deductible dollars to his legal defense fund, he told his callers, could be assured of four months of protection from revelation by Doctoroff himself. More than a few of these callers found such terms eminently acceptable, and within a matter of days Doctoroff had amassed a defense fund of $400,000.

Chapter 29

Perhaps the busiest man in Philadelphia during this hectic period was Jon Ravelsky. Even before Norbert’s election, Ravelsky had long been viewed as the most politically connected private citizen in town. With his best friend now mayor, his cachet had grown even greater, and now, literally dozens of prominent Philadelphians who knew their names were on Doctoroff’s client list called him night and day, at home and at his office, desperate to be spared the public humiliation of seeing their photo on the front page of the local newspaper – and in the tabloid Post, of all places – for all the wrong reasons. Ravelsky knew he could not help them, so all he generally did was advise those among them who were married to speak to their spouses so that if they were named publicly, at least their families would be spared the surprise, if not the humiliation.

After two days of fielding such calls, however, Ravelsky thought he might know a way to soften the blow of public shame for these otherwise upstanding citizens – and possibly even prevent it entirely. With this in mind, he invited the mayor and his wife to dinner at his home. After eating, Ravelsky begged the indulgence of their wives for ten minutes so he could speak to the mayor in private. This was not an uncommon occurrence at such gatherings, and Ravelsky and Norbert retreated to the attorney’s study.

Ravelsky came directly to the point.

“Jim, this Doctoroff business is spiraling out of control.”

“I know,” Norbert replied, laughing. “It’s actually pretty funny, when you think about it.”

“No, it’s not, not really,” Ravelsky replied. “There are a lot of good people out there who’re afraid their lives and reputations are on the verge of being destroyed.”

“Maybe they should’ve thought about that before they started paying for sex,” Norbert replied.

“It’s not as simple as that, Jim, and you know it.”

“What’s the problem here, Jon? Surely you’re not one of them.”

“No, of course not, but what if I were? How would you feel if I were, and if I stood to lose my wife and my livelihood based on the whim of a pimp?”

“I’d be very sad, Jon, and I’d certainly stand by you, but what would you have me do?”

“I’m getting calls, Jim. Dozens and dozens of calls from a veritable who’s who of Philadelphia. Something like this could literally destroy the civic fabric of the town. These are people we all count on to be the leaders of our city. Not only do they contribute to our campaigns, but they also serve on our boards and our committees, donate their time and staff and money to our cultural institutions, and represent us outside the region. Some of them are the face of Philadelphia in some circles. And yes, some of them are my friends and my partners – and yours, too. Surely you’re getting calls.”

“A few.”

“I’m getting dozens. I’m amazed. We have to do something.”

“What do you want me to do? Ask the DA to drop the case?”

“No, but I was thinking…”

“Yes?”

“Again, I’m just thinking, so hear me out for a minute.

“Let us assume, for the sake of discussion, that the DA’s case is solid and it’s not going away. Let us also assume that you’re not going to ask him to back off.

“Frank Ryan said there’s probably a mob connection to the prostitution ring. I’m assuming that you’re more interested in prosecuting the mob than you are in stopping call girls.”

“I’m not involved in that, Jon. That’s strictly the DA’s call, not mine.”

“Agreed, and I wasn’t suggesting otherwise. What I mean is that I’m assuming the DA is offering some kind of deal to Doctoroff in which he faces drastically reduced charges in exchange for evidence about the mob connection.”

“That sounds like a reasonable assumption.”

“Okay, and I’m also assuming that Doctoroff’s both afraid of giving up his mob connection for the obvious reasons and still confident that threatening to out his johns will get him off, and that as a result, he rejects any deal and continues outing some poor slob every other day.

“So if that’s the case, why don’t you preempt him?”

“Me?”

“I mean the police and the DA.”

“Tell me what you have in mind.”

“I mean that the DA tells Doctoroff that he has one last chance to give up his mob connection, and if he doesn’t, the city will preempt him and name the johns, he’ll lose all his leverage, and he’ll go to jail. If he doesn’t want that, he has one more chance to give up the mob connection, with a promise that if he does, the feds will put him into the witness protection program for the rest of his life.”

“What’s the point of doing that?”

“It gives the DA a new way to leverage the information you really want out of Doctoroff, and if he goes for it, the names remain private.”

“So how does this help the people worrying about being named?”

“If you threaten to name the names, he realizes that his leverage is about to disappear, which would make talking more attractive to him. If he deals, the naming names stops immediately. It wouldn’t be a threat, either. If Doctoroff rejects the deal, you reveal the names – just hand them over to the press.”

Norbert just looked at Ravelsky, astonished.

“What would be the point of that? What possible good would that do?”

“Look at what Freddy Logan of the Phillies and Skip Cathcart are going through. They’re being pilloried and ridiculed and humiliated, and their humiliation won’t end until we open the paper tomorrow morning and see the next name – a name, by the way, that’s not as well-known as theirs but is a lot more important.”

“You know?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“I’m not telling you that.”

“Why not?”

“Because if you’re ever asked, you never want to be in a position to confirm that you knew,” Ravelsky said.

“But it’s big?”

“Huge.”

“So if Doctoroff doesn’t take the bait and deal, what’s the value of going ahead and releasing all the names at once?”

“There’s nothing we can do for the guy who’s being named tomorrow. When his turn comes, he’s going to be vilified for two whole days. Everyone’s going to be talking about him and nothing else. I know him, and I’m sure he’s going to feel that he should offer to resign as CEO of his company. I know his board, too, and they’re just stupid enough to accept his resignation. When that happens, this city will lose a major civic leader. And then the cycle will start all over again in two days.”

“So your idea?”

“If Doctoroff goes for it, the naming names ends immediately and a lot of otherwise good people are spared. If he doesn’t and you announce them all at once, no one has to withstand such intense public scrutiny all by himself. The attention is diffused, no one bears it all alone all at once, entire families aren’t humiliated as much, and you have more survivors.”

“It’s an interesting idea, Jon. It’s humanitarian, and even though the people it would benefit all did something they shouldn’t have done, they all deserve better than what’s going to happen to them in the days and weeks to come.

“But you know we can’t do it.”

“Why not?”

“Come on, Jon. The courts would come down on the city like a ton of bricks, and accurate or not, everyone whose name we reveal would have grounds to sue us. Aside from maintaining that what we did was unconscionable and illegal, they’d all be in a position to say that there was no telling that their name ever would have been revealed. We just couldn’t do it.”

“I guess not,” Ravelsky conceded.

“Now there’s no reason,” Norbert said, “that the DA couldn’t try to run this as a bluff with Doctoroff. I can’t take the idea to him myself, because I’ve been clear that I’m staying out of the decision-making and only want to be kept informed of those decisions before they’re made public.

“But if someone else were to suggest something like this to the DA, I’m sure he’d at least consider it, because as a strategy, it could work. There’s certainly nothing to lose by trying.”

“Say no more, Jim. Let’s get back to our wives.”
(more next Sunday)

 

The Headline Read…

legend…”John Legend, Chrissy Teagen announce pregnancy.”

Hers, presumably.

So Which Group is the Violent One?

planned parenthood fireWhile the “Black Lives Matter” movement continues to gain momentum through peaceful (although forceful) demonstrations and advocacy, four Planned Parenthood facilities – in Pullman, Washington; Thousand Oaks, California; Green Bay, Wisconsin; and New Orleans – have been bombed or the victims of arson since the beginning of September.

So which is the more violent group?

Black Lives Matter is making its point, and making it with sometimes pretty angry rhetoric. But it’s the so-called grown-ups, the denizens of America’s far right wing conservative movement, who are showing less respect for the sanctity of human life and engaging in acts of criminal violence.

Of domestic terrorism.

A Fair Trade

ocean cityWhile Hurricane Joaquin got most of the attention two weeks ago, a storm they refer to as a “nor’easter” did serious damage to some southern New Jersey beaches. While the dunes did their job, which was to protect property, large chunks of beach washed out to sea and the rough surf carved cliffs into some beaches (see the photo on the right) that mother nature will probably restore at least in part before next year’s beach season begins.

Some of these south Jersey shore towns are going to be turning to the federal government for help with beach replenishment, and that’s long been a role the federal government has been willing to play.

But The Curmudgeon has other ideas.

Starting with the notion that the towns are looking for “help.” They’re not looking for a helping hand; they’re mostly interested in a handout, with the federal government providing most of the money for beach replenishment and the towns promising to stop their whining in return for the assistance.

Putting aside the question of whether man should really rebuild what nature so clearly wants to destroy, should federal taxpayers help with what are clearly local needs?

Well, in The Curmudgeon’s eyes, the answer is “Sometimes.”

Some of the Jersey shore towns closest to The Curmudgeon exist primarily for the benefit of the people who own homes there. They don’t have many hotel and motel rooms, don’t have tons of tacky shops selling t-shirts and caps emblazoned with the name of the town, don’t have boardwalks and amusement piers and miniature golf courses. Their attitudes toward tourists and vacationers generally fall somewhere between indifferent and hostile. A growing proportion of the homes in these towns are second homes occupied only part of the year by their well-to-do owners and either sit vacant much of the time or are rented occasionally to vacationers.

So to those towns, and The Curmudgeon is talking to you, Avalon, Stone Harbor, Longport, Ventnor, Brigantine, and the six different municipalities that constitute Long Beach Island, The Curmudgeon says – pardon the pun – “Go pound sand. You’re on your own financially, although we’ll be happy to send in the Army Corps of Engineers to tell you how to fix your problem and to oversee the work.”

To other towns, though – in this region, The Curmudgeon is thinking of Ocean City, Atlantic City, and the Wildwoods – the story is different. These towns have been developed with tourism in mind, and at the center of that tourism are the beaches. A reasonable case can be made that it’s in the public interest to help these towns both because of the tourist economy they have created and because of the many people who turn to these tourist towns, year after year, for vacations and fun.

But in The Curmudgeon’s eyes, there’s a catch – at least there should be, not only for these towns but also for all tourist-oriented coastal communities that we know are built too close to the water to avoid mother nature’s occasional wrath.

Most New Jersey shore towns charge beach fees: to go onto the beach, you need to buy a beach tag. Towns typically sell daily, weekly, and seasonal tags that range in price from five dollars a day to fifty dollars for the summer season. Near where The Curmudgeon lives, the Wildwoods and Atlantic City are pretty much alone in not charging beach fees, but Ocean City, alas, does charge for access to the beach: five dollars a day, ten dollars a week, or twenty-five dollars for the entire season.

And therein lies the rub.

In light of how little these shore towns spend on their own beach replenishment, The Curmudgeon thinks the federal government, in exchange for continuing to foot much of the bill, should ask for something in return.

No, it should demand something in return.

Like waiving beach fees for five years.

Considering that the federal government and taxpayers across the country are being asked to pay two-thirds of the bill for beach replenishment, doesn’t it seem only fair for the towns to get some skin in the game by showing their gratitude for how the rest of us are helping them by giving us something in return?

And if their answer is that they can’t afford it, that they need the money to pay lifeguards and maintain restroom facilities (of course, some towns only provide a few porta-potties, but that’s an entirely separate rant) and care for the beach, then they should start rethinking their reasons for existing and how they do business because the gravy train should come to a halt and the American taxpayer should no longer be expected to foot the bill to ensure the continued ability of upper-class families that can afford to own two homes to continue living in the manner to which they have grown accustomed in places where we now know man has no business building homes and establishing communities.

It’s like those people with the expensive cars who take up two parking spaces because they don’t want their baby to get a scratch: if you can afford to make that kind of extravagant purchase you should be prepared to pay for the maintenance that extravagant purchase sometimes requires.

It seems only fair.

 

What the Heck Happened With Network News Anchors?

David Muir?

Lester Holt?

Scott Pelley?

Excuse The Curmudgeon’s French, but who the hell are these guys and how in the world did they become major television network news anchors?

Is this the best ABC, NBC, and CBS have to offer – David, Lester, and Scott? Manny, Moe, and Jack? Larry, Moe, and Shemp? Dino, Desi, and Billy?

Are any of them better than the local news-reader where you live?

Is there anyone out there thinking “I’ve got to tune in to see David Muir tonight?” Or “If I hear it from Lester Holt it must be true?”

Has network news become so thoroughly irrelevant that the networks no longer feel they need to put their best foot forward anymore?

Or are these guys the best feet the networks have to offer?

A Capital Idea

The Curmudgeon has this thing about starting words with capital letters.

He doesn’t like it.

Now before you go thinking that he’s some kind of ee cummings, er, E.E. Cummings wannabe, he has no problem with the usual reasons for starting words with capital letters, like names, the first word of a sentence, the names of places, and things like that. You know: what your third-grade teacher referred to as “proper nouns” (as if there also are “improper nouns”). No, he understands the rules. He even likes the rules. He also understands that rules are sometimes subject to interpretation.

And that’s where the problem begins: he wants to be the person doing the interpretating.

Once upon a time The Curmudgeon was a pretty liberal user of the first letter capital, but as he has aged his use of that capital letter, like his hairline, has receded. “City Council,” for example, has become “city council.” “French fries” became “french fries.” “Draconian” is now “draconian.”

capital 2In his professional life, The Curmudgeon has been working for years to bend his co-workers to his will, but with only limited success.

In his work he often finds himself writing about public officials. In his view, you write

“The new policy was announced today by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf…”

But not

“The new policy was announced today by Pennsylvania’s Governor, Tom Wolf…”

Which he believes should be

“The new policy was announced today by Pennsylvania’s governor, Tom Wolf…”

So when “governor” is part of the title, you capitalize.

But when it’s part of a description – “Pennsylvania’s governor, Tom Wolf,” you don’t.

That’s pretty clear, is it not?

Oh, it’s not?

Another example is how one refers to the state of Pennsylvania, which technically, for obscure reasons that lost their relevance more than two hundred years ago, is a commonwealth and not a state.

So when you are referring to the commonwealth by title, as in

“…is the official policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania…”

…you capitalize commonwealth.

But when you’re referring to the state and just using “commonwealth” as an alternative, as in

“Across the commonwealth, we have seen a rise in the number of people enrolling in college…”

…commonwealth is presented in the lower case.

Yet his co-workers insist on

“…the policy in the Commonwealth is to…”

Which is wrong – and again, is obvious, right?

(Well, it is to The Curmudgeon, who nevertheless must admit that capitalizing the “t” in “The Curmudgeon” was a difficult but conscious decision he made when he decided to launch this blog and is, he knows, technically incorrect. For those of you who have not been with him since the beginning, he explained how he came up with that name here.)

capital letter - small letterThe Curmudgeon’s co-workers kindly indulge him his little rules and idiosyncrasies, which he appreciates very much, and recently one of them even sent him a news clip that showed a rare correct use of “commonwealth.”

On the other hand, he insists that correspondence should refer to “the congressman” but is almost certain that when he’s not looking, someone changes that to “the Congressman” before it goes out the door.

(Actually, he has a theory that capital letters often are used in a self-aggrandizing manner, and you certainly don’t get more self-aggrandizing than the Congress of the United States.)

His displeasure about how people use capital letters, however, goes well beyond his own workplace.

He is displeased, for example, when he sees a reference in the newspaper to a company’s new “Chief Operating Officer.” He believes “Chief Operating Officer” is appropriate for a job description, a table of organization, or a business card but when used in ordinary writing should simply be “chief operating officer.” He believes a city has a mayor, not a Mayor, and a mayor named Jones is either the town’s mayor, Ms. Jones, or Mayor Jones. The current season is fall, not Fall (or autumn, and not Autumn).

Yes, The Curmudgeon knows; he has issues.

What brought this to a head for him recently was a feature in the Philadelphia Business Journal. For work he receives a daily email with headlines from the publication and one of the headlines most days is for a “Home of the Day,” a use of capitalization he accepts because it is the title of a feature. (And another pet peeve, aside from a paid advertisement being slipped into real headlines, is that the home of the day is usually the home of the day for several days, which means it should more appropriately be called the “home of however long someone is willing to pay to keep it the home of the day.” But we digress yet again.)

The home of the day/Home of the Day is generally a spectacular home along the New Jersey shore with a price tag well over one million dollars. Real estate agents, or more often Real Estate Agents, write these “articles” themselves, so The Curmudgeon understands that he has no business expecting purple prose (when his own house was on the market two years ago he had to restrain himself from putting a red pen to his realtor’s Zillow description of his condo), and he finds most of them cringe-worthy.

But the description of one of those houses recently left his head spinning. Instead of offering excerpts and then commenting snarkily he will end his portion of this diatribe here, present the entire article for your reading pleasure and amusement, and let your imagination suggest to you what The Curmudgeon’s response to this offense to civilization as we know it might be. (Oops: he may tipped his hand with that last suggestion.)

Enjoy.

You must see this fantastic beach block home in Avalon. The current owners have completely Renovated the entire home. As you drive up you will notice the well Manicured Landscaping, featuring low voltage accent lights, Stone Paver driveway and walkways. This leads you to the Ultimate Relaxing Part of the home featuring New Pool with a Spectacular Water Fall, and Cool feel of Travertine Stone surrounding the poolside. There is the Ultimate privacy with 18 feet Evergreen Shrubs and white vinyl fencing enclosing this featured area. Pool has Remote Automatic Cover and skimmer for Ease. Plenty of room for Entertaining and enjoying your evening refreshments with Friends and family. Outstanding Full Functioning Cabana with Large Serving window. This Cabana serves as your 2nd Kitchen with top of the line glass tile backsplash, Granite tops, Sub-Zero Fridge & Freezer, Wolf 2 burner induction range, Meile dishwasher, Stainless Sink, and Plenty of Cabinet for storage; Even has electric Wall Heater if needed for those cool nights in the fall. One of the nicest you will find on the island. 

Enter the home into an open foyer with Stone Flooring leading to 3 Bedrooms plus 2 Full Bathrooms with Glass tile shower walls; quartz pebble stone floor; porcelain sink; bamboo faucets; white marble counter tops; Kohler fixtures, with Jetted Tub/shower. First floor also has Full service Laundry room with Electrolux washer/dryer; Kohler sink with Faucets with large Granite top. There is an exterior access so when pool activities are complete, clean up is easy.. Continuing on, the kids can enjoy large family room with Large flat screen tv and Full Audio system.

 There is also a Sun Porch with Stone Flooring which has Radiant heat on those cold winter nights. What a great feel in this room has for reading or entertaining with plenty of windows claiming the natural light with Natural Teak Wood Ceilings. Custom staircase will take you up to second floor living that includes a Large Master Suite with a feel of comfort. The Wood Cathedral ceiling with Accent lighting exhibits space. Comfortable Walk- in Closet with burgundy cabinets. Master Bath has been dressed with Kohler fixtures; one-of-a kind dolphin faucets and handles; Flat screenTV; stone floor, Granite counter tops; Kohler jetted one flow tub surrounded with River Stone setting. Also has Glass and stone shower walls with option steam shower. 2nd bath is upgraded as well with stone tile floors and granite countertop; Kohler fixtures; bronze faucets; & goldfish hammered brass sinks. 

Upon entering the Kitchen and Living area, you will notice the captivating Brazilian Cherry hardwood floors and white Wood Installed on Cathedral Ceilings. Custom built cab inets housing the Surround Sound and Complete Audio Video, which can be adjusted in each room of the house, for your listening pleasure. Kitchen is Enriched with black granite counters tops, with colorful Glass Backsplash, accented with Cherry Cabinets with Black inset. All doors and drawers are self closing. The Island Counter is perfect for additional entertaining space or quick meal at the bar. Appliances are all high end with; Meile dishwasher; Wolf 6 burner gas range; Thermodor side –by -side fridge/freezer, Wolf microwave drawer; Kohler sink and faucets, Viking wine cooler. After your meal relax by the fire viewing the Honey onyx surrounded fireplace in the living room or walk out onto a Very Large 2nd floor deck with Fabulous beach & sunset views. Sit under the Canvas covered  portion of the deck on the hot sunny days, or there is plenty of open space for sunning if you prefer. this home has it all with Exquisite Features, Steps to the beach, One block from play ground, a few blocks from the Stone Harbor Recreation Center. In addition and Directly across the street is the Tranquil bird Sanctuary which has been known to be home to large white cranes in the summer time.. Great place to be for Summer or Year round. This home is a must see.

Happy Columbus Day!

And what better way to celebrate the man who conned Queen Isabella into underwriting a voyage of three ships he probably named after his favorite prostitutes (oh, that Nina!) and who then sailed west, certain he was forging a new path to India only to land smack dab in the middle of sixteen million square miles of two continents he didn’t even know were there than by holding…

 
A mattress sale!

Ortho-Mattress-Columbus-Day-Sale1

Taking Care of Business (chapter 27)

For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here, to the Taking Care of Business resources page. To see every part of Taking Care of Business posted so far in one place, go here.) 

Two hours later staff members wandered, one by one, into Norbert’s city hall office. This was the mayor’s morning staff meeting, and the regular participants were Wilma O’Neill, the city’s managing director; Cisco Estevez, the city’s lawyer; Todd Dixon, the finance director; Rikki Johnston, the mayor’s press secretary; and Ed Williams and Larry Newman, two special assistants to the mayor. Joining them this morning at the mayor’s request were police commissioner Frank Ryan and Jon Ravelsky.

Once everyone was seated the mayor wasted no time beginning.

“What the hell happened last night?” he asked.

“As you read in the paper,” O’Neill began, but the mayor cut her off.

“I’d like to hear this directly from my police commissioner, please.”

O’Neill nodded and let Ryan speak.

“We’ve been watching these folks for nearly a year, and closely for about seven months. This was a major bust of a large, very high-priced prostitution ring.”

“I had no idea we cared about prostitution,” Norbert said.

“Normally we don’t, but it’s different when it’s flouted right in front of us, as it was in this case.

“We certainly don’t go searching for high-priced call girls. What little time we spend on this kind of thing is devoted to quality-of-life crimes, and that generally means sweeping up fifty-dollar hookers off street corners on Spruce and Locust and near the convention center when there are events in town. Otherwise, we don’t really care about it.”

“Then why this? Because you know we’re going to be asked.”

“Nearly a year ago there was a flood in the building where the operation has its headquarters and our licenses and inspections department had to clear the repairs before it could be reoccupied. The inspector found a few violations – pretty minor stuff, actually – but instead of just getting it fixed, Doctoroff tried to slip the inspector two hundred dollars. The inspector immediately called us.”

“I see,” Norbert said, paused for a moment, and then asked, “Wait a minute: licenses and inspections has an honest inspector who reported an attempted bribe instead of just pocketing it? Since when?”

“Yeah, who knew?” Newman interjected.

“Well,” commissioner Ryan continued, “this particular inspector’s father is a cop and two of his brothers are cops and the only reason he’s not a cop is that he took some shrapnel in Desert Storm, so he settled for L&I inspector. The family takes law enforcement very seriously.

“So we sent him back wearing a wire and a story that he would consider taking care of the violations but that whether he did or he didn’t, he still needed to measure and diagram the space to make sure the room configuration was the same as it was before the flood. We wanted to get them to offer him money again and for us to have our guys catch it on tape it when they did.”

“And?”

“And Doctoroff wasn’t there when he arrived, so he started diagramming and measuring the rooms while the receptionist hunted down Doctoroff. The inspector became suspicious because he thought the place had way too many phone jacks for what was supposed to be an accountant’s office. At first we thought maybe Doctoroff was making book, so we decided to keep an eye on the place rather than take him down immediately for the bribe. Well, we saw pretty quickly that it was a decent-sized operation and that some pretty well-known people might be involved. We took our time gathering evidence because we figured that sooner or later we’d see a mob tie-in, which became our primary interest, and that once that surfaced, we’d move in on Doctoroff. We finally had what we needed late last week and moved in late last night.”

“Why wasn’t I told about this?” Norbert demanded.

“You don’t want to know about individual criminal investigations unless it’s in response to a visible public crime,” Estevez said. “It raises too many political complications down the road – especially in situations like this where you may be acquainted with some of the customers.”

“Am I?” Norbert asked.

“Yes. A lot of them,” Ryan replied.

“And Representative Ianucci is one of them?”

“Yes.”

“A frequent customer?”

“Does it really matter?”

“And there’s no doubt?”

“None.”

“Are you planning to prosecute?”

“The johns? That’s the DA’s decision, not ours, but I doubt it.”

“So I guess you have a problem in your department, Frank.”

“Sir?”

“The leak. Somebody leaked Ianucci’s name to the press.”

“No sir. Doctoroff himself gave his name to Megan Malone of the Post.”

“You’re kidding. How?”

“One of my men overheard it. He did it with his one phone call. Instead of calling a lawyer, he called Malone and told her his story and a few more choice bits and then asked Malone to call his lawyer.”

“Unbelievable.”

“No, sir, that’s only the start.”

“There’s more?”

“Malone told me that Doctoroff told her that if the charges aren’t dropped within forty-eight hours he’s going to start giving her more names – one every other day. Each one will be someone prominent, and Doctoroff claims he can do it for months without repeating himself. Doctoroff apparently claims to have city officials past and present, other elected officials, the heads of some local companies, a few local TV and radio people, some prominent members of the clergy, some professional athletes, and even a few high-profile women who’ve been his customers and hired women from him.”

“Cisco, can he do that?”

“Probably,” the city solicitor said. “A judge could cut off his direct access to the press, but there are plenty of other ways to disseminate that kind of information.”

“Has he attempted to use this yet as a bargaining chip?”

“No, not yet,” the police commissioner said. “But his lawyer hinted at it last night. She’s meeting with the DA later this morning.”

Norbert turned to his press secretary.

“Rikki, how do we handle this?”

“’We’ don’t,” Johnston replied. “This is a police matter and the police and the DA should handle it. I’ll work with police public affairs to develop the overall strategy, if that’s okay with you, commissioner, but the one and only statement that should come from this office is that this is an ongoing police investigation, that you have no intention of commenting on it, and that you’re leaving the decisions about police work to the police commissioner and decisions about prosecution to the DA.”

“That sounds good, but I also want it to be the truth,” Norbert said.

“Frank,” Norbert said, turning to his police commissioner, “this isn’t a matter of an immediate threat to the public safety, so I don’t want to be involved in the decision-making unless something arises that’s different from what we already know. If that happens, you take it to Cisco and Wilma. Otherwise, I want an update of no more than one page sent to me, Wilma, Cisco, and Rikki every day by five. Those reports should include the status of prosecution plans as you best understand them. I’ll ask the DA to keep you in the loop on those decisions, but I have a city to run and I have no intention of getting bogged down in a criminal investigation – and of prostitution, of all things.”

The others in the room nodded.

“Thank you for joining us, Frank,” the mayor said to his police commissioner. Ryan took this as his cue to depart.

Norbert turned to Ravelsky.

“I have a feeling that’s going to be the easy part. So Jon, what does this mean politically?”

Ravelsky, who had been silent so far and had looked almost disinterested, leaned forward in his chair.

“The implications,” he began, “are enormous, and potentially catastrophic for the city and your administration.

“Unless Ianucci is vindicated almost immediately – something that sounds highly unlikely – he’ll lose at least some of his influence in Harrisburg, if not all of it.”

“Vindicated?” one of the mayor’s aides asked.

“Something bizarre, like maybe it was someone who looks a lot like him, or if it’s another Michael Ianucci, or if the evidence is lost. But that sounds highly unlikely, and what it means for you is that forces that have nothing to do with you personally are going to react in ways that are probably going to cause you a lot of pain.”

“Such as?”

“No disrespect to you, but Michael’s the most powerful politician in Philadelphia and the most powerful politician in Harrisburg. If – no, when – he’s seen as vulnerable, everyone he’s ever beaten or hurt or just kept in his shadow is going to be looking for blood. People have been waiting for years for this kind of opportunity. The governor hates him. Council hates him. The legislature hates him. Even his protégés – the people who’d be writing tickets for the parking authority if it weren’t for him – they hate him, too. They’re going to try to hurt him, and one of the best ways to do that is to take advantage of his sudden and unexpected loss of influence to hurt the interests that are nearest and dearest to him.”

“And that is…?”

“Philadelphia, for one. First and foremost, at least in the state capital, Michael’s perceived as the city’s champion. He carries the city’s water there every year, and all these years, he’s beaten off every attempt to hurt the city. He’s been the guard at the door, and now he’ll be gone and the door will be unguarded.

“And the thing is, even hurt, he could still be formidable, but he’s going to be too distracted.”

“But Frank said he doubts they’ll prosecute.”

“That’s not it. First, there’ll be a lot of press attention, which Michael’s never really faced before. He and his organization have always pretty much flown under the radar. Those days are now gone. More important, he’s up for renomination in six weeks.”

“That’s never been a problem for him, and as I understand it, he has no opposition.”

“Now,” Ravelsky said. “But when this comes out someone will run, you can be sure of it. His political enemies will find someone to put up against him, and any such candidates will have important advantages.

“Like?”

“Like they weren’t caught with their pants down around their ankles in a whorehouse, Jim.”

“Yeah, I guess that matters.”

“It does. He could still win despite that, especially since time’s so short, but for the first time since he won the seat twenty years ago he’s probably going to have to work for it. He’s going to have to raise money and canvass and put his own organization to work for himself for once. He’ll have to take his opponents seriously, knowing that no matter what he says or does there’ll be people intent on going into the voting booth to cast their ballot for anyone but him.”

“So what do you think we should do?” Norbert asked.

“When your horse breaks down before the race begins, you have a choice: find another horse or sit out the race.”

“The latter doesn’t seem like much of an option for us, does it?”

“No, it’s doesn’t.”

“Then what?”

“There’s no one person who can step in and replace Michael in Harrisburg. You’re going to need the entire delegation. Like everyone else in Harrisburg, they’re all ambitious – they want to be mayor or governor or chair one committee or another, and they’ve all felt held down by Michael’s overwhelming power over the years. They’ll see this as their big opportunity to step up and show what they can do without him. You’re going to have to take advantage of that and convince them, individually and collectively, that they can begin doing that now by showing that they can do what Michael always does: rescue the city from the anti-Philadelphia forces in Harrisburg.”

“How do I do that if they’re all competing?”

“You’re going to have to charm them and appeal to their ambitions. You’ll have to organize them, work with them to develop a strategy, and then help them execute that strategy. I’ll help you with that, and so will the chairman. The local Republican leadership will, too.”

“The Republicans?”

“Absolutely. They’re the majority party in the legislature, but the local guys have never been able to protect the city’s interests. Michael’s always given them cover. If the city takes it in the neck in the budget, they know that people will look at them and complain that they couldn’t even successfully work their fellow Republicans. They don’t want to risk looking like the incompetent, impotent fools they are. Don’t worry; they’ll help.

“This is all going to cost you, though. The funny thing is, when Michael wins on your behalf, he never asks for anything in return – at least not right away. He just banks your goodwill until he needs it. These guys, though, have years of unfulfilled wishes and limited access, and they’re all going to have their wish lists. If you expect them to deliver for you, you’re going to have to deliver for them.

“What kind of relationships do you have with them?”

“Decent, I think,” Norbert said.

“Meaning…”

“Meaning that Ed and Larry both talk to them all every week, without fail. I check in with all of them every two weeks or so. It’s mostly courtesy calls, but they seem to appreciate it. My predecessor never gave them the time of day. I also let them know that they’ll always be able to get through to me without a hassle and that my staff has been instructed not to screen their calls.”

“And what do they want from you?”

“The usual – some jobs, a playground, a call to a potential donor, things like that. I think we’ve been pretty supportive.”

Wilma O’Neill, silent as always during political discussions, now interrupted.

“But not entirely supportive, Mr. Mayor.”

Norbert looked at her.

“What?” Ravelsky asked.

“You’ve given them all a lot, but there’s one thing they all want that you repeatedly refuse to give them.”

Norbert had no idea what she was talking about.

“What?” he asked.

“They want Shaniqua Watson. They want her out.”

(more next Sunday)