10.31.2005

A Bad Reason to Go to Law School

This is probably the worst reason to go to law school I've ever seen.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...heh...

Associate Justice Alito?

In an unsurprising move, Bush nominated Third Circuit Judge Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court this morning.

There will be a fight, what with Alito having dissented in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 947 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1991) reversed and remanded by Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), but after the dust settles, he'll probably be confirmed.

I'm giving 2-1 in favor of his confirmation, for those who are gamblers.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...crystal ball peering...

10.27.2005

AU Board of Trustees v. United States Senate

Anyone want to take some bets on who's going to win this one?

The Washington Post is reporting that our calls for Congress to step in have been answered.

The Senate Finance Committee has asked for every document related to ousted American University president Benjamin Ladner's severance package and compensation and for the board's plans for an audit of all 11 years of his tenure.

In a four-page letter, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) asked for details on all no-bid contracts over $100,000, copies of all correspondence with the Internal Revenue Service for the past five years, biographies of each trustee and documentation of how the board made certain decisions.



Looks like the Gang of 13 made a pretty big error in pushing the 'platinum parachute' for through over the objections of pretty much everyone at or affiliated with AU who wasn't them. Gee, rescinding that severance package seems a lot easier to do now that you're under Senate investigation, doesn't it Mr. Gottschalk?

In his letter, Grassley, the chairman of the committee, called "particularly troubling" a situation in which a nonprofit organization believes "that it is proper to provide approximately $3.75 million in payments to an individual who has failed to pay taxes on nearly $400,000 in income [for the past three years] after the board terminated his employment. Such actions raise significant questions about what other things a charity that has such a cavalier attitude toward the tax laws might be doing."



Thank you Senator Grassley for reiterating to the Board what we have been saying for weeks. Perhaps your voice will pierce through their 'hear no evil' selective deafness.

If you haven't already contacted the Board of Trustees or Congress, you can do it here and here.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...we're not gonna take it...

UPDATE: Thanks for the links, UD and Hiram Hover. Good to know somebody notices. Also, USA Today is piling on:

After an investigation of Ladner's lavish spending in the past three years, American's trustees voted earlier this month that Ladner would have to go. This week, they sweetened that goodbye with $2.75 million in "deferred compensation" and a $950,000 "settlement." That comes to about $340 per student on the District of Columbia campus. But who's counting? Apparently not the trustees.

In corporate America, excessive rewards for bad behavior are as common as they are embarrassing. At a non-profit university where students, parents and contributors are footing the bill, a golden parachute is irresponsible and insulting.



What they said.

10.26.2005

Campus to Board of Trustees: You Suck!

What sort of bizzaro world do the remaining members of the Board of Trustees live in that they think they can give Ben 'I Spend Your Tuition on Private Parties to Build a Community and You Should Thank Me For It' Ladner a fat severance deal and have the campus accept it? As noted today in the Post, we're more than a little bit angry.

Four of the former trustees have written an open letter slamming the Board decision.

We are dismayed not only by the amount of the platinum parachute, but also by the way it was determined. The students, the deans, the faculty, and donors should have been heard before a decision was made. The trustees only worsened the matter by holding their meetings in secret and demanding oaths of confidentiality. We now know why. They needed to hide behind a cloak of secrecy to avoid listening to dissent, to conceal as long as possible their goal to put Ben Ladner's demands first and the University's needs a distant second. If this is the Board's new approach to governance and transparency, we are certainly glad that we are no longer part of it.



How does Thomas 'Trust Me, I'm Doing a Good Job, Honest' Gottschalk respond? From the Post article:

Gottschalk said the letter "does a disservice" to the school, "states facts and legal certainties that were very much in question and violates assurances of confidentiality in ways that misrepresent the board's action and misleads the public."



Seriously, where do you get a tin ear like that from? Maybe if the Board didn't operate like a shadowy cabal, making decisions in secret, then expecting people to 'trust them,' we wouldn't need former members to tell us the truth. Asshole.

On the bright side, the WCL Faculty once again does us proud with the following (unanimous) resolution. Lawyers are extra sensitive about ethical impropriety. No, really.

RESOLUTION OF THE FACULTY OF THE WASHINGTON COLLEGE OF LAW (WCL)

The Faculty of the Washington College of Law condemns the decision of the Board of Trustees of American University to offer a multimillion dollar settlement to former President Benjamin Ladner, and expresses its lack of confidence in the Board. The Board’s decision represents a waste of university resources and betrays the educational mission of the institution. The reported settlement entered into by the Board is a violation of its legal duties, and should be revoked.

Only a thorough restructuring of the university’s system of governance, emphasizing transparency and representativeness, can put behind us the continuing crisis created by Mr. Ladner’s and the Board’s actions. Therefore, the Faculty urges that no search for a new President takes place before the systemic issues of governance are addressed and resolved.

Unanimously adopted by the WCL Faculty on October 25, 2005.



The worst part is that the Board won't comment on their decision. Thankfully, AU Deserves Better has posted a convenient list of contact info for the Board members here. Use it.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...fight the power...

10.25.2005

Ladner Resigns, Takes Severance

The AU Board of Trustees (what's left of it after the good ones have resigned, e.g. Leslie Bains, Paul Wolff, Michael Capellas, Leonard Jaskol, and George Collins) has accepted Ben Ladner's resignation in exchange for a $3.7 million package ($2.75 million in deferred compensation and $950,000 in severance).

The $2.75 million includes just over $1 million in insurance and about $1.75 million in two trusts, Gottschalk said. That's money already set aside by the university, he said. The $950,000 is the only part of the payment "that might be colloquially referred to as a parachute," Gottschalk said.

Ladner will have to reimburse the school $134,000 for three years in question, Gottschalk said; report an additional $398,000 in taxable income to the IRS; and pay AU the amount the school would have withheld on that income.

"He doesn't walk away with the lion's share of that $950,000" after paying taxes and reimbursing AU, Gottschalk said.



The upshot of this is that the Board gave him the money to reimburse the school with. That's a firm message, all right. Gottschalk's letter to the community is here.

I guess I'm happy that he's gone, but the fact that the Board would continue to act without shame in spite of the flurry of resignations is very disappointing.

Getting rid of Ladner: old and busted. Ousting the current Board of Trustees: the new hotness.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...has a long memory...


UPDATE: Four of the former trustees have published an open letter to the community. Here it is, in its entirety:

An Open Letter to the American University Community

We write to set the record straight. The golden, now platinum, parachute given Ben Ladner is not a mere $950,000 the Board of Trustees has disingenuously claimed. It is the entire $3.75 Million reported in the newspapers. Each and every dollar is a gift. The University owes Ben Ladner nothing.

First, the Board has placed itself and the University in the midst of an outrageous and expensive inconsistency. The Board is on record as having determined at its Board meeting October 20th that Ben Ladner was an employee at will, with no contractual rights against the University and that Ben Ladner should be discharged for cause. Notwithstanding these findings, the Board gave him $950,000 as severance. There can be no more contradictory positions. To be consistent and to fulfill its fiduciary obligation, the Board had only one option and that was to give Ladner zero, as the four of us have repeatedly urged.

Second, the Board only tells half the story regarding the insurance policy. Yes, Ben Ladner was entitled to the $1 Million in the split dollar policy. But he was also obligated under the policy to repay the University the premiums it had paid on his behalf. Because the investments in the policy were quite unsuccessful, the policy's value was almost exactly the same as the premiums owed. Thus, the University owed Ben Ladner $1 Million and he owed the University $1 Million in premiums paid. Accordingly, he was owed nothing. Giving him the policy without asking for the premiums back is exactly the same as writing him a check for $1 Million.

Third, the reference to $1.75 Million in two trusts is flat-out misleading. Here's the true story. Ben Ladner had $1.75 Million in deferred compensation which did not become his until 2010. Between now and 2010, he risked losing all of it, 100%, if he were to be fired for cause. Since the Board determined at its last meeting that he should be fired for cause, allowing him to resign is effectively a gift of the $1.75 Million. Had principle and not expediency carried the day, the University would have kept each and every cent of the $1.75 Million.

But that is not the whole story. Remember he misspent over $125,000 for purely personal enjoyment. He also misspent almost $400,000 which the audit committee in its generosity called imputed income, giving Ben the benefit of calling the invalid 1997 contract valid. Now that two law firms, University counsel and the Board itself have opined that the contract has no merit and was neither authorized nor ratified, we can add this amount to the list of misspent University money. Add to this the over $1 Million that the investigation cost. Thus, the true dollar cost is over $5 Million. And this is only part of the damage. Because of Ladner's behavior, an ethical cloud
hangs over the University. The School has become the target of jokes and criticism. And most importantly, several significant donors have withdrawn pledges and we assume more will follow. After all, who would want their donation to fund a reward for bad behavior?

We dismiss the Board's alleged fear of litigation as a mere excuse for the Board's largesse. It is totally without merit. First, principle should rule. There should be no deviation from the only guideline to be followed - wrongdoing must not be compensated. Second, we repeat that the Board has three legal opinions that the 1997 contract has no validity. The Board has adopted this position. The insurance policy is clear. Ben Ladner owes the University the premiums. There is no ambiguity in the deferred compensation arrangement. Ben takes nothing if he's fired for cause. Third, the cost of litigation to the University if pursued by Ladner would be only a small
fraction of the severance package just awarded to him. The University has in-house counsel and we are certain that the law school faculty would provide any additional assistance needed.

We are dismayed not only by the amount of the platinum parachute, but also by the way it was determined. The students, the deans, the faculty, and donors should have been heard before a decision was made. The trustees only worsened the matter by holding their meetings in secret and demanding oaths of confidentiality. We now know why. They needed to hide behind a cloak of secrecy to avoid listening to dissent, to conceal as long as possible their goal to put Ben Ladner's demands first and the University's needs a distant second. If this is the Board's new approach to governance and transparency, we are certainly glad that we are no longer part of it.

The Board has significantly worsened an already sad chapter in the University's history. It has lost sight of its true constituency - the students, the faculty and the alumni. The Board has given $3.75 Million to an undeserving individual. Had it earmarked this money for the deserving, Ladner's platinum parachute could have funded the salary of over three dozen faculty members for a year; provided for almost 200 full tuition scholarships for a year; and provided in perpetuity 10 full scholarships. This is where American University's resources should go and that is why we voted for no money for Ben Ladner and why ultimately we sadly resigned from the Board.

Sincerely,

Leslie E. Bains, former Chair of the Board of Trustees
George J. Collins, former Chair of the Board of Trustees
Leonard R. Jaskol, former Chair of the Audit Committee
Paul Martin Wolff, former Trustee

Do What Needs To Be Done

Today's quote from Thus Spoke Epictetus is a very powerful one:

“Once you allow outward things to dominate what is your own, you had better become a slave and have done with it. Don’t be drawn this way and that, wishing to be a slave one moment and free another, but be this or that simply and with all your mind, free or slave, philosopher or unenlightened, a fighting cock of spirit, or one of no spirit; either bear stroke after stroke patiently till you die, or give way at once. Let it not be your lot to suffer many blows and then give way in the end.”


-Epictetus, Discourses 2.2.12-14 [Matheson Trans.]

This reminder comes at a good time for me, when I've been contemplating giving up on law school from the pressure. It's tempting to leave the struggle and the deadlines and the pressure to return to a life where I have leisure time. As Epictetus points out, it's fine to join the struggle and equally fine to not struggle, but vacillating between the two is unacceptable.

Also, thanks to DT Strain for creating the emblem.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...getting back on track...

10.21.2005

My Little Crony

I've avoided the Miers nomination like the plague, mostly because I don't care. However, this cartoon makes a pretty succinct argument.

Also, the VC's Jim Lindgren has a good post about her lack of writing ability. Since writing is what Justices do, this is a hefty weight against her.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...still doesn't care...

10.18.2005

Biker Gang Book, Redux

Bill Queen spent two years infiltrating the Mongols motorcycle club for the ATF. As a
story in this morning's WaPo points out, bikers like publicity, even if it involves them going to jail.

While his former Mongol associates were still in prison, Queen retired from the ATF and published a book about his adventures called "Under and Alone: The True Story of the Undercover Agent Who Infiltrated America's Most Violent Outlaw Motorcycle Gang." It reached bestseller lists this summer.

The book describes the Mongols as the worst of the worst -- beer-breathed, meth-snorting, misogynist marauders who lived by a code of fierce loyalty to their brothers -- and to hell with the rest. Their motto: "Respect few, fear none." In the book, Queen's chief antagonist is none other than Red Dog.

Guess what? The Mongols dug the book, or at least parts of it. "I hear they were overjoyed," Queen says. "The more violent and hard and mean you call them, the happier they are."



In the end, biker gangs are not the menace they're made out to be by the fear mongers in the media, and certainly not worthy of the kind of effort that the ATF put into busting them. Despite that, people are still intrigued by the mystery of the outlaw, even if the outlaw is a dirty, meth-addled, misogynist loser.

For my money, Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels remains the definitive classic of the genre.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...get your motor running...

10.17.2005

Post Puff Piece on Poor Prez

The Post has a new profile piece on Ladner and his contradictions, in which they try to show the human face of the man they helped oust.

Before the audit, before the no-confidence votes, before trustees removed him as president of American University, Benjamin Ladner taught ethics.


That's the heart of his now contradictory story: He's a philosopher, known for the eloquence of his speeches, with more than a little Southern preacher in him. His friends describe him as an honorable, charismatic leader. But his critics -- who have been growing in number since an investigation found that the Ladners spent university money on foie gras, limousines, French wine and family parties -- say he's unethical, manipulative and imperious.



My summary: He was a nice guy who taught ethics and whose friends like him, but he apparently skimmed a bunch of money. Gosh, where did he lose the plot?

Frankly, I don't care if he's a nice guy who is good to his autistic, retarded son. He partied with students' tuition money. That's not okay, even if he doesn't kick puppies.

It sucks that there are still trustees on the Board who want to give him a hefty severance, sucking so bad that two of them have resigned. My proposed severance package: Ladner leaves quickly and he doesn't get his package severed.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...available for a trusteeship...

Pussy Beer

No, not the watery and near-tasteless (though improved immensely by the addition of Gatorade) Michelob Ultra that John, Boozie, and I drank after our 13.1 miles of hell on Saturday. That's beer for pussies.

This is rather beer from pussies. Or rather from one pussy. Toi Sennhauser's pussy, to be exact.

By adding a trace amount of my vaginal yeast to regular brewer's yeast, my "Original Pussy Beer" pays homage to beer's ancient creators from "the cradle of civilization." Woman is literally reunited with the beer.


I wonder how it tastes with fish and chips...

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...fruit of the womb...

UPDATE: For those of you looking to make your own booty brew, the Stranger article reviewing the installation has this detail about the...umm...method of collection:

Oktoberfest viewers sat at a long wooden table with pretzels and coasters advertising her "Original Pussy Beer: the Mother of All Beers." Sennhauser wore a St. Pauli Girl outfit and a stereo played what sounded like Bavarian beer hall music. She offered me a cup and a pretzel while a photographer hovered to catch my reaction. Sennhauser said she brewed the beer with oak chips and stuck a few up her vagina before tossing them into the mix. I sat down at the table, toasted with a few other participants, and drank.

10.14.2005

Poker Stars Blogger Tournament

Poker Championship

I have registered to play in the
Online Poker Blogger Championship!

This event is powered by PokerStars.

Registration code: 4897179



You ought to sign up too.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...more the merrier...

UPDATE: Out at 463 out of a field of 1473. Not bad, but not a winner either.

10.13.2005

Ladnergate: Wolff Leaves Board

According to the Washington Post, trustee Paul Wolff has resigned, news that comes only a couple of days after Leslie Bains resigned.
An American University trustee who had been openly critical of ousted president Benjamin Ladner resigned from the board yesterday, saying he could not support the effort underway to negotiate a severance deal with Ladner.

Paul M. Wolff's departure followed that of the chairman, Leslie E. Bains, who left the board just days ago criticizing Ladner's "imperial lifestyle" and his supporters on the board.

I'm sorry to see Wolff go; he was a calm voice of reason during the whole affair. On the other hand, if the Board is determined to give Ladner a golden parachute, resignation may be the only honorable course.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...ceteris parabis...

UPDATE: BenLadner.com has a copy of Wolff's resignation letter, which is very good in its entirety, though this passage stands out:

The need to sever all relationships with Ben Ladner and to have him leave with no severance package is not only a question of money, but a question regarding the future of AU. As Acting Provost Ivy Broder so eloquently stated, "an ethical cloud" hangs over the school. There is an unfathomable depth of resentment on the campus toward Ben Ladner. As our faculty pointed out, Ben's behavior has subjected the University, the deans, the faculty and the students to embarrassment. We must remove the cloud. We must speak out clearly and unequivocally. We must tell the University and all of our constituencies that a new day is dawning and that behavior such as Ben's will not be countenanced. Any payment beyond that required by law will send a clear message that bad behavior has its rewards. People will continue to look cynically upon our University. To compensate ethical lapses only compounds our problems. As I leave the Board, I urge you to do what is right, not what is expedient. If we are to be a school that shows zero tolerance for misbehavior, we must also mete out zero reward for such lapses.

In Case You Need a Reason Not to Drink in DC

This should suffice.

Stupid DC laws.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...test case...

Morning Mencken

A little something to think about this morning:
You can't do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth. -H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...digging and spreading...

10.10.2005

Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Ass

Ben Ladner, found to have been getting high on our supply, has been sacked by the AU Board of Trustees.

American University trustees announced this evening that suspended President Benjamin Ladner will not return to the university after a months-long investigation into his personal spending and travel expenses.

The announcement, which came at about 8:30 p.m., followed a day-long meeting on the matter. There were no details immediately available about the decision and no response from Ladner.


Now the trick will be for the University to get through the federal investigation and find a new president, hopefully one who doesn't require $800K/year and a personal chef, at least not on my dime.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...pleasantly surprised...

10.06.2005

Don't Check Your Common Sense at the Door

The whole point of law school is to teach a person how to 'think like a lawyer' and impart a basic understanding of the law. Thinking like a lawyer doesn't mean that you should forget how to think. As my lawyer once told me, "Law is a distillation of common sense. 99% of the time, the common sense answer is the right one." 1

Russ at Barely Legal illustrates this perfectly with this anecdote:
I had to file a petition to become a provisional federal attorney. I didn't want to read the 4 pages of instructions so I just called the clerk's office and introduced myself and asked them what I should do. The clerk was very nice and she gave me some convoluted instructions about the series of mailings we'd have to have back and forth. "Cindy," (that was the clerk's name), "I only live ten minutes away. Is it allright if I just come down there and you and I fill out everything all at once. That way it's easier for everyone and, as a plus, I'll get a chance to meet you." She said that would be a great idea and I went down there and took care of everything.


Social engineering is the most effective hacking skill there is.

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...delaying the inevitable...

1 - Except for criminal procedure, especially Fourth Amendment law; that's all kinds of insane.