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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Judges, Investment Advice, Florida Homeowners Insurance, the Holocaust, Hamas and Evil

How the Judge Got on the Bench

This summary of how judges in our 50 states get to be judges was prepared by the American Bar Association about a dozen years ago, and so it may not be totally accurate today.  Nevertheless, it points up the fact that some judges are elected with party labels, some elected without party labels, some are appointed and many have to run in elections to retain judgeships they already have, either by election or appointment. 

The point of all of this is that while appointment of judges by governors or by legislatures isn’t very democratic, the fact that those doing the appointing had to have been elected by the people somewhere along the line injects a degree of democracy into such judicial appointments.  On the other hand, having judges run for office demands that they campaign stressing experience but avoiding issues, and look for campaign funding, acts which conceivably can ultimately affect their performance on the bench, despite laws and canons requiring objectivity and neutrality.

Ms. Gullett campaigned for her position in a partisan election as a Republican.  (She won an eight year term back in 2012 in North Carolina. Oddly, if she were running for a position on a lower "trial" court in that state, she would have run in a non-partisan election, without the "elephant" on her sign.  Check out the fact sheet below.)  

So, if you find yourself in a State court of law presided over by a judge, you (or at least your lawyer) should be aware of how “his or her honor” got on the bench in the first place.  (Judges in Federal Courts are appointed by the President and confirmed by Congress.)


State High Courts:
For state high courts (which are called supreme courts in 48 states) a total of 38 states have some
type of judicial elections. The breakdown of selection systems for state high courts is as follows:
·  Seven (7) states have partisan elections (AL, IL, LA, NC, PA, TX, WV; All judges in
both Illinois and Pennsylvania run in uncontested retention elections for additional terms
after winning a first term through a contested partisan election)
·  Fourteen (14) states have nonpartisan elections (AR, GA, ID, KY, MI, MN, MS, MT,
NV, ND, OH, OR, WA, WI; Ohio and Michigan have nonpartisan general elections, but
political parties are involved with the nomination of candidates, who frequently run with
party endorsements)
·  Seventeen (17) states have uncontested retention elections after initial appointment
(AK, AZ, CA, CO, FL, IN, IA, KS, MD, MO, NE, NM, OK, SD, TN, UT, WY; All
judges in New Mexico are initially appointed, face a contested partisan election for a full
term, and then run in uncontested retention elections for additional terms)
·  The remaining 12 states grant life tenure or use reappointment of some type for
their highest courts (CT, DE, HI, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, RI, VT, VA, SC)

Intermediate Appellate Courts:
Thirty-nine (39) states have intermediate appellate courts. The breakdown of selection systems for intermediate appellate courts is as follows:
·  Six (6) states have partisan elections (AL, IL, LA, NC, PA, TX; see note above on IL
and PA)
·  Eleven (11) states have nonpartisan elections (AR, GA, ID, KY, MI, MN, MS, OH,
OR, WA, WI; see note above on MI and OH)
·  Fourteen (14) states have uncontested retention elections after initial appointment
(AK, AZ, CA, CO, FL, IN, IA, KS, MO, NE, NM, OK, TN, UT; see note above on NM)
·  Eight (8) states grant life tenure or use reappointment of some type for their
intermediate appellate courts (CT, HI, MD, MA, NJ, NY, SC, VA)
·  Eleven (11) states do not have intermediate appellate courts (DE, ME, MT, NV, NH,

Trial Courts:
A total of 39 states hold elections—whether partisan, nonpartisan, or uncontested retention
elections—for trial courts of general jurisdiction. The breakdown of selection systems for trial
courts of general jurisdiction is as follows:
·  Eight (8) states have partisan elections for all general jurisdiction trial court judges
(AL, IL, LA, NY, PA, TN, TX, WV; see note above on IL and PA)
·  Twenty (20) states have nonpartisan elections for all general jurisdiction trial court
judges (AR, CA, FL, GA, ID, KY, MD, MI, MN, MS, MT, NV, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR,
·  Seven (7) states have uncontested retention elections for all general jurisdiction
trial courts (AK, CO, IA, NE, NM, UT, WY; see note above on NM)
·  Four (4) states use different types of elections—partisan, nonpartisan, or
retention—for general jurisdiction trial courts in different counties or judicial
districts (AZ, IN, KS, MO)
·  Eleven (11) states grant life tenure or use reappointment of some type for all
general jurisdiction trial courts (CT, DE, HI, ME, MA, NH, NJ, RI, SC, VT, VA)


Where to Invest with Stocks Near Record Highs

For those of you who do your own investing, or who might want a different take from what their financial adviser suggests, I recommend this insightful column from last Tuesday's Palm Beach Post written by Professor Peter Morici.  If you want to invest like a Professor of Economics does, read on.

Peter Morici Peter Morici

Stocks trading near record highs are again striking fear into investors with fresh memories of the financial crisis, but prospects for the U.S. economy are looking up and equities remain a good bet for ordinary investors. 

Stocks are trading near record highs

Nowadays, digital technologies permit entrepreneurs and executives to use capital much more efficiently to start new ventures, distribute products and manage supply chains. Google used off-the-shelf servers and the free Internet to convert its search engine into a global company, and convert an investment of $25 million in 1999 into a company worth $23 billion at its initial public offering in just five years.  Industrial-era entrepreneurs like Henry Ford required a lot more capital and decades to build networks of factories, suppliers and dealers, and never accomplished such a quick return on initial investment. 

The low cost of building out new ideas and reinvesting in established businesses is why so many U.S. companies are flush with billions in extra cash, and new businesses like Twitter and Uber can be launched on a shoestring. All that makes capital cheap and plentiful, and stock prices high but not overvalued. 

The Federal Reserve is phasing out purchases of U.S. Treasury and mortgage-backed securities, yet bond prices are surging and interest rates on fixed income investments remain low, making stocks an attractive alternative. For example, an S&P 500 index fund yields a higher quarterly dividend than ordinary folks can earn on a 3-year bank CD. 

China is printing and selling billions of yuan to buy U.S. Treasuries to push down the yuan exchange rate against the dollar. Troubles in the Ukraine and Middle East, along with concerns about another recession in Europe and the longterm security of investments in China are causing investors to seek safe haven in U.S. bonds.  In 2015, those will frustrate Federal Reserve efforts to raise medium- and long-term interest rates by pushing up short-term bank borrowing rates. 

The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index, which encompasses about four-fifths of U.S. publicly traded companies, is trading at about 1990 with a price-earnings ratio of about 19.16. That is not terribly high, considering that the average for the past 25 years is 18.9. And digital technologies permitting business to create more wealth with less cash likely justify P/E ratios much higher than the historical norm.  All that means stocks could surge another 25 percent over the next two or three years, and individual investors should continue buying stocks. 

My basic advice remains simple. Don’t try to outsmart the market—gradually buy in and diversify.  Folks nearing retirement should keep about half their money in cash, CDs and low-risk bonds with maturities less than three or five years, and invest the rest in a diversified portfolio of stocks, such as an S&P 500 index fund.  Putting about 20 percent in foreign stocks can smooth performance, because sometimes the U.S. economy and stocks do better while at other times foreign equities outperform. Consider the Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund.

If you’re younger, put aside some cash for emergencies and invest a reasonable amount each month in a similar basket of equities, follow that discipline through thick and thin, and you’ll do fine over the long run.

For the last 40 years, that’s where my wife and I have put our money. Though professors don’t often get rich, at 65 we are well positioned to retire and travel.   Shush, don’t tell my dean!

Investing "right" will get you there (or you could just get a job as a gondolier)

Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland.

The Holocaust, Hamas and Evil

Here's an eloquent speech by the Israeli Finance Minister, Yair Lapid, in which in addition to restating the reasons for saying "Never Again," he also defines the evil which Hamas represents.  Speech was made about two weeks days ago in Germany and is well worth the few minutes it takes to watch it.  If clicking on this link, doesn't get you there, please copy and paste it on your browser line.

Yair Lapid A former Israeli TV news anchor, Lapid leads the party with the second largest number of seats in the Knesset, and is part of the Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud coalition.
(For those who cannot access the youtube version, here is the full transcript of Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s speech at Platform 17 in Berlin in memory of the victims of the Holocaust on August 20, 2014.)

The Holocaust causes us all to ask of ourselves the same question: What would I have done?

What would I have done if I was a Jew in Berlin in 1933, when Hitler rose to power? Would I have run? Would I have sold my house, my business? Removed my children from school in the middle of the year? Or would I have said to myself: it will pass, it is just momentary madness, Hitler says all these things because he is a politician seeking election. Yes, he’s anti-Semitic, but who isn’t? We’ve been through worse than this. It’s better to wait, to keep my head down. it will pass.”

What would I do if I was a German in Berlin on the 18th October 1941, when the first train left this platform, heading East and on it 1,013 Jews – children, women, the elderly – all destined for death.

I don’t ask what I would have done if I was a Nazi, but what would I have done if I was an honest German man, waiting for his train here? A German citizen the same age I am now, with three children like mine. A man who educated his children on the values of basic human decency and the right to life and respect? Would I have remained silent? Would I have protested? Would I have been one of the few Berliners to join the anti-Nazi underground? or one of the many Berliners who carried on with life and pretended that nothing was happening?

And what if I was one of the 1,013 Jews on that train? Would I have boarded the train? Would I have smuggled my 18 year old daughter to the northern forests? would I have told my two sons to fight until the end? Would I have dropped my suitcase and started to run? Or would I have attacked the guards in the black uniforms and died an honorable, quick death instead of dying slowly of hunger and torture?

I think I know the answer. I think you do too.

None of the 1,013 Jews departing for their deaths fought the guards. Not them and not the tens of thousands who followed them from this place. Neither did my grandfather, Bela Lampel, when a German soldier took him from his home late at night on the 18th March 1944. “Bitte”, said his moher – my great-grandmother Hermine – to the German soldier. She slowly got down on her knees and hugged the soldiers boots. “Bitte, don’t forget that you also have a mother.” The soldier didn’t say a word. he didn’t know that from the bed, hiding under the duvet, my father was looking at him. A Jewish boy of 13 who overnight became a man.

Why didn’t they fight? That is the question that haunts me. That is the question that the Jewish people have struggled with since the last train left for Auschwitz. And the answer – the only answer – is that they didn’t believe in the totality of evil.

They knew, of course, that there were bad people in the world, but they didn’t believe in total evil, organized evil, without mercy or hesitation, cold evil that looked at them but didn’t see them, not even for a moment, as human.

According to their murderers, they weren’t people. They weren’t mothers or fathers, they weren’t somebodies children. According to their murderers they never celebrated the birth of a child, never fell in love, never took their old dog for a walk at two in the morning or laughed until they cried at the latest comedy by Max  Ehrlich.

That’s what you need to kill another man. To be convinced that he isn’t a man at all. When the murderers looked upon the people who departed from this platform on their final journey they didn’t see Jewish parents, only Jews. They weren’t Jewish poets or Jewish musicians, only Jews. They weren’t Herr Braun or Frau Schwartz, only Jews.

Destruction starts with the destruction of identity. It is no surprise that the first thing done to them, when they arrived at Auschwitz, was to tattoo a number on their arm. It is hard to kill Rebecca Grunwald, a beautiful, fair haired 18 year old romantic, but Jew number 7762 A is easy to murder. Yet it remains the same person.

75 years later, do we know any more? Do we understand more?

The Holocaust placed before Israel a dual challenge:

On the one hand it taught us that we must survive at any price, and be able to defend ourselves at any price. Trainloads of Jews will never again depart from a platform anywhere in the world. The security of the State of Israel and its citizens must forever be in our hands alone. We have friends, and I stand here among friends. The new Germany has proven its friendship to Israel time and again, but we must not, and we cannot, rely on anyone but ourselves.

On the other hand, the Holocaust taught us that no matter the circumstances we must always remain  moral people. Human morality is not judged when everything is ok, it is judged by our ability to see the suffering of the other, even when we have every reason to see only our own.

The Holocaust cannot be compared, and must not be compared, to any other event in human history. It was, in the words of the author K Zetnik, a survivor of Aushwitz, “another planet.” We must not compare, but we must always remember what we learnt.

A war like the one we fight today, which looks likely to continue and which the civilized world – whether it wants to or not – will be a part of, causes the two lessons we learnt from the Holocaust to stand opposite one another.

The need to survive teaches us to strike hard to defend ourselves.

The need to remain moral, even when circumstances are immoral, teaches us to minimize human suffering as much as possible.

Our moral test is not taking place in a sterile laboratory or upon the philosophers’ page. In the past weeks the moral test put before us has taken place during intense fighting. Thousands of rockets were fired at our citizens and armed terrorists dug tunnels next to kindergartens with the aim of killing or kidnapping our children. Anyone who criticizes us must ask themselves one question: “What would you do if someone came to your child’s school with a gun in their hand and started shooting?”

Hamas, as opposed to us, wants to kill Jews. Young or old, men or women, soldiers or civilians. They see no difference, because for them we are not people. We are Jews and that is reason enough to murder us.

Our moral test, even under these circumstances, is to continue to distinguish between enemies and innocents. Every time a child in Gaza dies it breaks my heart. They are not Hamas, they are not the enemy, they are just children.

There for Israel is the first country in military history that informs its enemy in advance where and when it will attack, so as to avoid civilian causalities. Israel is the only country that transfers food and medication to its enemy while the fighting continues. Israel is the only country where pilots abandon their mission because they see civilians on the ground. And despite it all, children die, and children are not supposed to die.

Here in Europe, and elsewhere in the world, people sit in their comfortable homes, watching the evening news, and tell us that we are failing the test. Why? Because in Gaza people suffer more. They don’t understand – or don’t want to understand – that the suffering of Gaza is the main tool of evil. When we explain to them, time after time, that Hamas uses the children of Gaza as human shields, that Hamas intentionally places them in the firing line, to ensure they die, that Hamas sacrifices the lives of the young to win its propaganda war, people refuse to believe it. Why? Because they cannot believe that human beings – human beings who look like them and sound like them – are capable of behaving that way. Because good people always refuse to recognize the totality of evil until it’s too late.

Time after time we ask ourselves why people in the world prefer to blame us when the facts so clearly indicate otherwise. Across the world fanatic Muslims are massacring other Muslims. In Syria, in Iraq, in Libya, in Nigeria more children are killed in a week than they die in Gaza in a decade. Every week, women are raped, homosexuals are hung and Christians are beheaded. The world watches, offers its polite condemnation, and returns obsessively to condemning Israel for fighting for our lives.

Some of the criticism stems from anti-Semitism. It has raised its ugly head once more. To those people we say: we will fight you everywhere. The days when Jews ran away from you are over. We will not be silent in the face of anti-Semitism and we expect every government, in every country, to stand shoulder to shoulder with us and fight this evil with us.

Other critics, perhaps more enlightened in their own eyes, prefer to blame only us for what happens in Gaza because they know we are the only ones who listen. They prefer to focus their anger upon us not in spite of but because we are committed to the same human values which Hamas rejects – compassion for the weak, rationality, protection of gay people, of women rights, of the freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Let us not fool ourselves. Evil is here. It is around us. It seeks to hurt us. Fundamentalist Islam is an ultimate evil, and like the evil which came before it learnt how to use all our tools against us: Our TV cameras, our international organizations, our commissions of inquiry and our legal system. Just as terror uses rockets and suicide bombers, it uses our inability to accept that someone would sacrifice the children of their people just to get a supportive headline or an eye-catching photograph.

Standing here, in this place, I want to say clearly – that the leaders of Hamas, an anti-western, anti-Semitic terrorist organization cannot be safe while they continue to target innocent civilians. Just as every European leader would do, just as the United States did with Osama Bin Laden, so we will pursue every leader of Hamas.
This is the evil which we all face and Israel stands at the front. Europe must know, if we will fail to stop them, they will come for you. We must do everything to avoid suffering and the death of innocents but we stand in the right place from which to say to the entire world: We will not board the train again. We will protect ourselves from total evil.

Thank you.

Homeowners Insurance in Florida

Here’s a letter of mine which was published in the Palm Beach Post, my local newspaper, about a year ago. 

"I wish the Palm Beach Post would stop referring to homeowners insurance as if it were something legitimate. It isn’t. Unlike life insurance, health insurance or automobile insurance, homeowners insurance in Florida is in reality more like a “racket” involving “racketeers” such as the property and casualty insurance companies, their hired "inspectors," their reinsurers, the Office of Insurance Regulation and most of all, the State Legislature.  Anyone who reads the newspapers knows this.  It is no wonder that few of these "property insurance companies" are involved in the more legitimate parts of the insurance industry mentioned above, or are admitted to do business directly in other states.  Of course, the victims of this are the homeowners.  (Yes, along with the letter writer of September 9, I too have just received an obscene and unjustified increase in premium.)"

Well, I went along with that obscene premium increase of about $450 last year when my broker told me that less expensive coverage just wasn’t available at that time without a significant reduction in coverage.  It’s a year later now and that same company has decided to raise my premium another $330.  Obviously, they "low-balled" me when I first purchased the policy a couple of years ago.


This time my broker told me they were out of their minds and placed my homeowners coverage for about $1000 less with another company of which I also had never heard and which also does business in Florida only.  I repeat, as I said in last year’s letter, homeowners insurance is a “racket” in Florida.  Live with it.   I know I am probably being "low-balled" again.

Only after a major hurricane, when all of these weakly-capitalized companies go broke which they will, will the Legislature of the State of Florida shut down its Office of Insurance Regulation and contract with a real State, like New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania or Illinois, all of which have real Departments of Insurance, to properly do the job for them?  I hope so.


Until that happens, a simple measure might be to stop the sale of automobile insurance in Florida by all companies which sell, or have related companies or subsidiaries which sell homeowners insurance elsewhere, but not in Florida.  And once they were "forced" to sell it in Florida, to do so at competitive rates! 

http://www.chaseagencyinsurance.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/flo_progressive-150x150.jpg   For example, Floridians might be amused by Progressive Insurance's pitchperson, Flo, on TV when she is peddling their automobile insurance, but they should avoid asking her company about homeowners insurance. Why?  Of course they sell it, but not in Florida nor Alaska. Do alligator and polar bear invasions make those states too risky for her and her employer?



Next Door to "Traif"                                                                              
The prior posting featured a pork-serving restaurant in the Williamsburgh section of Brooklyn, which is worthy of mention primarily because of its name (meaning non-kosher) and its location in the middle of an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic community.  Well, just a few doors away is another restaurant, again going against the grain of the neighborhood.  Its name is "Shiksa." (A gentile girl.)  We will try to get a picture for a future blog posting. 



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Jack Lippman 

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