Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Consul and the Crime

I have refrained from making comments on the matter of Devyani Kohbragade, the Indian diplomat arrested in New York, because it seemed to be a diplomatic fracas of little long term import. On the one hand, you have Preet Bharara, the Indian born American US attorney for New York taking aim at the alleged illegalities of an Indian diplomat stationed within his jurisdiction. On the other, you have two countries awkwardly addressing an issue that should have been dealt with very differently.

I continue to be confused by why partial diplomatic immunity did not trigger a more gentle approach to Ms. Kohbragade and her arrest. At the same time, I am bewildered by both the decision by India's foreign service not to remove Ms. Khobragade from the US upon receiving notification that she was under criminal investigation (in September 2013) and its most recent decision to relocate her to India's UN Mission, also in New York. Ms. Kohbragade is no stranger to controversy, having been involved in the Adarsh Housing Society, a corruption riddled housing development in Mumbai. In this instance, she attempted to do something her limited diplomatic immunity did not allow her to do, namely commit visa fraud and violate US federal labor laws. While another American prosecutor may have been more deferential to Ms. Kohbragade's limited immunity, the rather aggressive Preet Bharara was not.

While US Attorney Bharara's posture smacks of a poor understanding of international relations (or blatant disregard thereof), India's childish removal of security barriers from the US Embassy in Delhi as retaliation does not even remotely befit the august role a country's official position must fill. India and Indians have far more important matters to address than this potential diplomatic misstep. At very least, Ms. Kohbragade's conduct -- and the apparent misguided insistence by the Indian government that she remain in the United States -- should not become the cause célèbre for a large swath of angry Indian citizens. US Secretary of State John Kerry has already expressed "regret" over the incident; India's government should do the same and move on from this silly affair.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A prayer for Claire

Claire Davis is 17 years old. She is a student at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado. Karl Pierson is 18 years old. According to the National Rifle Association, Karl had the right to purchase a shotgun quickly and easily. He exercised that right. Then, while carrying his new shotgun through his school yesterday, he shot Claire in the head and at close range.

I have long decried the number of guns in America and the alarming ease with which we are adding more. Firearms have transformed our country into a constant battlefield. On this the one year anniversary of the carnage in Newtown, Connecticut, let us again ask why. Why does the most powerful country on earth seem so powerless in the face of this scourge?

Claire Davis is in critical condition tonight, suffering from severe head trauma from her gunshot wound. Please add her to your thoughts and prayers. Let us all pray that our leaders have the courage to take action to finally end this madness.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson holds a picture of Claire Davis, the 17-year-old student who was shot on Friday. (Ed Andrieski / Associated Press / December 14, 2013)

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Do we really need more guns?

Yesterday, it was a Naval facility, Last week it was a school. Tomorrow it might be a doctor's office. Last year it was a District Attorney's home. Today it was a TSA counter at LAX. Gun violence is raging in America. 
Add more guns, we are told by the NRA. 
As a former student of the US Constitution, I ask this question: at what point do we say, enough is enough? At what point do we realize that each additional gun circulating in society makes us exponentially more unsafe? At what point do we place the Second Amendment alongside the others, not above them? I weep for our country because we have become a literal battleground. Human beings will be born as they are and societies will continue to develop them as they do. When you add the number of guns we have in America to a mix which includes the naturally occurring rate of mental illness, you get a really toxic brew. More legally available guns is not the answer. It has proven itself not to be. Just as we cannot gauge and prevent the mentally infirm from acquiring weapons, we cannot entrust our future to a militarized life where you must live with your guns drawn at all times. 

America, it is time for a change.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Game Changer From T-Mobile

Starting October 20st for new accounts (and October 31st for existing accounts), T-Mobile is offering nearly unlimited international data roaming for its US customers. I remember the days of roaming within the US where you would pay roaming charges for phone calls outside your home network area (which, back then, were narrowly drawn).  Those were the days when banking and many other services were not truly nationalized within the US. Interstate commerce had its internal borders.

That eventually gave way to unlimited nationwide roaming and the now commoditized domestic mobile phone and data service. Most other inter-state barriers have now fallen.  T-Mobile's move to remove international data roaming across its broad network is groundbreaking and will, in due course, serve as an international leveler. It's high time. Kudos, T-Mobile!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Call for a More Perfect Political Union

Today's Senate passing of a bill to end the fiscal impasse delivers a stinging defeat for hard liners in Congress. While the opportunity to come together and work as a proper legislative body was lost long ago, I continue to fear that the idiocy of the far right will continue in to the next budget discussion only months away.  How members of a legislative body can be elected and serve with such destructive political philosophies continues to bewilder me. Creation of consensus from wide ranging viewpoints, not the perpetuation of poles, is the true sign of leadership. I call upon my friends from all political leanings to pledge to form a new political class which does just that. I suspect that history will not judge kindly this epoch and the errant cowboys who held our Federal government hostage for two weeks; let history also note that this low point served as a foundation for a better and more sound political union. For now, I am thankful that this ugly episode has passed. God bless America and guide her to that more stable place. 

Sunday, February 03, 2013

My Time with "Hizzoner" - Mayor Edward I. Koch

New York, 1996

It was 1996 and I was a Legal Assistant at the law firm of Robinson, Silverman, Pearce, Aronsohn & Berman in New York.  I already knew that being being paralegal had no glory.  My time at Teitelbaum, Hiller, Rodman, Paden & Hibsher had already disavowed me of that notion.  But I wasn't yet looking for glory. I had graduated from Middlebury two summers ago and was still finding my way in the world. Having worked for my father's company as an executive at an early age, I thought I had a good internal gauge of my own capabilities, but had yet to prove them to many in the outside world. At my dad's company only recently, I had navigated ourselves to a large contract from the United States Navy for advanced strategic computer based linguistic systems at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. I personally bid for the project, procured and negotiated the contract, and built and delivered the computer hardware -- and all as a teenager.

Far from my life at my father's company, in New York I was a relatively new paralegal just out of college.  With as much innovation and intelligence as I was allowed to exercise, I would produce litigation files, research which polluters had polluted which amounts and when for one of many massive EPA Superfund litigations, or help prepare court filings. The work was unsophisticated, but required diligence and some level of care.  I arrived every morning at 1290 Avenue of the Americas ready to do whatever the lawyers I worked for would tell me.  I grew to dislike my job for many reasons: (a) I worked in New York yet made a salary that made living with any degree of style very challenging, (b) I worked for lawyers who I looked up to (merely because they were lawyers, and heck, what did I know in those days?) but who didn't share the same respect or fascination for me, and (c) I was, in effect, the lowest member of the "legal professional" totem pole; a role I didn't like one bit.

I met former Mayor Ed Koch, or "hizzoner" as he was affectionately called, while working at Robinson Silverman.  I had joined the firm along with several attorneys from Teitelbaum Hiller, which was collapsing in an old fashioned law firm split dust-up. Except for the fact that I knew Robinson Silverman was larger and had fancier offices, I knew nothing else about the firm.  When I first learned that Ed Koch worked there, I was clearly awestruck. While I had met prominent figures before, I had never had an opportunity to work in the same space as them and had never met them the way I met Mayor Koch.  Koch and I first met in the most unorthodox way: as we were both entering the men's room at our firm. I had gone to the men's room on a thankless errand for myself, to do what people do when they have to use the restroom. Mr. Koch had surely done the same. Yet the interaction that ensued would help alter my remaining time at the firm and ultimately shape my career.

My dissatisfaction with being a Legal Assistant had grown over time, and was now nearing its peak. I was looking to move on but wondered whether leaving the firm so soon after arriving would adversely affect my resume and job prospects.  Arriving at the rest room, however, none of those thoughts were primary. Rather, in addition to the need that had brought me to the restroom, I had a litigation project that Peter Paden, another partner at the firm, had given me, deeply on my mind. I entered the rest room and pulled up to a urinal.  As I approached, I saw that another person, mostly bald with tufts of grey hair, had also approached a urinal nearby. I glanced over, exercising the locational awareness that most humans like having when peeing next to others.  About the same time, my new bathroom companion glanced over at me. I instantly recognized this fellow restroom patron as the former Mayor of New York and quickly returned my gaze to my appointed task. Processing the fact that I was about to pee next to Mr. Koch distracted me from actually doing so, because what followed next was the most awkward 40 seconds of silence of my young career. As both Ed Koch and I stood there attempting to urinate, staring at our respective urinal walls, neither of us actually could. Finally breaking the silence after about forty five seconds, Mayor Koch zipped up, looked over at me, and with a wry smile said, "well, I guess I must have gotten stage fright."

Over the next few months, Mayor Koch made an effort to say hello to me, call me into his office on occasion, and share thoughts on politics, the profession, and on people. He and I shared a culinary love: Peking Duck House in Chinatown, and we referred to that love often. Beyond food, we talked about politics in New York. I recall asking him why he had switched parties to endorse Rudy Guiliani over David Dinkins, who had defeated Mayor Koch only one term prior. After all, Mayor Koch had supported Dinkins in the general election after his defeat in the primaries. Why the switch? Mayor Koch explained that Dinkins bore significant responsibility for the lawlessness of the anti-Semitic riots that raged in Crown Heights and that the riots had convinced him that Dinkins was no longer deserving of his support. The person is more important than the party, he quickly added. Having supported Guiliani in the previous election, Mayor Koch explained to me that he was pulling his support, suggesting that Guiliani's candor and tone bothered him.  The people of New York, Mr. Koch beamed, "deserved better."

When I told him about my dream of being a lawyer despite my disdain for being a paralegal, he spoke candidly about the challenges of the profession but also bullishly about its potential to protect and foster civil rights and aid in the governance of free people. "Bhijit," the Mayor told me in his New York accent, "if being a lawyer is what you want, go get it. Don't worry about your resume, just go do the best you can - nobody will fault you."  Soon after, I followed his advice and left the firm on my own journey to go to law school.

While I didn't keep in touch with Mayor Koch except to thank him after starting law school, his love for his city and the passion with which he lived his life remind me today, as they informed me in 1996, that a life worth living is born of conviction and the courage to pursue it. “How’m I doin?” he famously used to ask his constituents.  You did great, Mayor.

Rest in Peace.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

NYT: Law Schools’ Applications Fall as Costs Rise and Jobs Are Cut

Paul Sakuma/Associated Press
This year's law school applicant pool is 30% smaller than last year's and nearly 40% smaller than in 2010, according to an article in today's The New York Times.  While I can understand the elasticity of demand based on macro-economic considerations, I firmly believe that applicants to all graduate programs, including law schools, must separate their beliefs about employment prospects from their  intellectual and professional passions.

My career has seen much evolution since I graduated from law school, but despite the changing focus and job environment, the intellectual process of law school and the training and refinement it provided remain invaluable to me. While I experienced a very comfortable job environment upon graduation, the economy cratered only a few years after, only to rebound and fall several times thereafter. Applicants to law schools must know that the job market may contain volatility, but also, and perhaps more importantly, that there will always be a need and role for qualified, passionate and intelligent lawyers. That is just as true today as it has always been.  A focus on just the availability of a big corporate law firm job after graduation robs the decision of whether to go to law school of much of its other essential considerations.

That said, we must address the broader issues of the financing and cost of modern American education so that bright students of all economic backgrounds are able to pursue and obtain the highest level and quality of education available anywhere in the world. That availability will define and reinforce America's greatness in the next century. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Senate Approves Sen. Kerry for Secretary of State

Congratulations to Sen. Kerry on his confirmation as our next Secretary of State. He enters service in his new role as the geopolitical situation remains complicated, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. I am hopeful that he will put his significant experience to good use in furtherance of President Obama's foreign policy. Best of luck, Sen. Kerry.