Issue 4

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How to Design a Successful Out of Town Conference

Planning an out of town conference does not need to be stressful when you are working with the expert staff of innovative professionals at Mohegan Sun Pocono. While a conference at a casino may seem unconventional, Mohegan Sun Pocono is a “one-stop shop” that offers meeting organizers the ability to create tailor-made experiences. Mohegan Sun […]

Planning an out of town conference does not need to be stressful when you are working with the expert staff of innovative professionals at Mohegan Sun Pocono. While a conference at a casino may seem unconventional, Mohegan Sun Pocono is a “one-stop shop” that offers meeting organizers the ability to create tailor-made experiences.

Mohegan Sun Pocono meets every objective and fits every budget, while allowing attendees to have experiences they won’t soon forget.

“At Mohegan Sun Pocono our meeting expectations are as high as yours. We host over 600 meetings and conferences every year,” said Mike Slivka, Director of Sales and Catering. “We work with Association and Corporate meeting organizers from all over the country to ensure that every detail is handled and that the event runs smoothly so when everyone is onsite they can have a productive meeting and then enjoy all our property has to offer.”

Slivka’s advice to meeting organizers outside the area is simple. “Disclose your budget and we will help you maximize it. When we have that information early on in the process, we can customize your experience with greater success all around.”

Slivka adds, “We love to be creative, and our clients love it too. Once you secure the date, talk to our food and beverage team early in the process and let us know your goals and objectives and feel free to send us some photos. The more information we have, the better we can design an event that is perfect for your organization; we can have some fun with it too, and make it uniquely yours.”

Finally Slivka states “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Call or email any time and we are happy to talk things through with you, no matter where you’re located. At Mohegan Sun Pocono, unparalleled service is an expectation, not an exception. We are here for you, from that first phone call or email until the event is complete. We aren’t satisfied until you are.”

Whether it’s a traditional meeting for 10 to 1,600 inside Mohegan Sun Pocono’s 20,000 square-foot Convention Center, its multiple, flexible and strikingly-designed individual meeting rooms, a unique meeting space inside Timbers Buffet, Pacers Clubhouse, Seasons Ballroom overlooking the track or in the center of it all at Center Bar; Mohegan Sun Pocono is dedicated to make your meeting a memorable and successful one.

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Chianti Wine Tour

Traveling through Chianti’s Wine Region Tuscany has always been the most sought after destination in Italy and remains so today. Besides exploring the cradle of the Renaissance and the picturesque countryside, food and wine are also big motivators for planning a vacation here.  There are the large wine estates we all know about such as; […]

Traveling through Chianti’s Wine Region

Tuscany has always been the most sought after destination in Italy and remains so today. Besides exploring the cradle of the Renaissance and the picturesque countryside, food and wine are also big motivators for planning a vacation here.  There are the large wine estates we all know about such as; Banfi, Avignonesi and Antinori but most of Italy’s wine is produced by smaller vineyards.  Some are so small they don’t produce enough to export to the United States.   A visit to either style winery is a nice way to spend a day in Tuscany and you can manage both in a day.  Best to hire a driver so everyone in the group can enjoy the tastings.

Note that larger wineries are open year round, 5 to 6 days a week with fully staffed tasting rooms and tour guides proficient in many languages. Many will accept tours on demand but to enjoy it fully with lunch afterwards, reservations are suggested. Smaller wineries most definitely need an advanced request of at least two or three days as the tour guide may be the owner and arriving unannounced may find him working in the vineyard and unable to give you a tour. Normally lunch is not offered but some cheese and salumi compliment the tastings.

When choosing a vineyard tour, many visit the vineyards of the wines they love drinking at home but there are many great small vineyards that you may have never heard of.   For a list of Tuscany’s famous chianti wines, stop at the Chianti wine consortium Consorzio vino Chianti Classico, Via Scopeti, 155 – Sant Andrea in Percussina  for maps of vineyards along the Chianti Wine Road, www.chianticlassico.com  ( in Italian only).  A lovely little place for a lunch or dinner break is Taverna Machiavelli, via Scopeti 175.  It is the same tavern frequented nightly by Machiavelli when he was exiled from Florence in 1512.  It’s still possible to tour the house. On my visit, the waiter at the Taverna just gave me the keys and told me to lock the door on my way out.

If you want to peruse a list of small vineyards prior to your trip, visit www.florencewine.it, there you can search any vineyard small or large that belongs to the consorzio with contact information and links to their website.   If your journey takes you to Greve in Chianti, the local butcher opened a small wine museum dedicated to the history and culture of wine making Museo del Vino www.museovino.it. Admission includes a self-guided audio guide and a tasting from over 200 wines to choose from.   Currently closed for renovations but due to open in 2016 for the 300 anniversary of the classification of Chianti wine, please confirm before you go.

For a day on your own, you can start in Panzano in Chianti and visit the small vineyard of Casaloste where Sig. Battista d’orsi produces only 60,000 bottles a year, www.casaloste.com. Every detail is overseen by him directly, from the plantings, care, harvest and winemaking.  From there, take the small and partial dirt roads towards Montefioralle where Amerigo Vespucci’s family moved to during Florence’s plague.

Continue on for lunch at Ristorante La Scuderia via di Passignano, 17, Tavarnelle val di Pesa, www.ristorolanticascuderia.com located across from the ancient monastery of Bada a Passignano. After lunch continue on to Castellina in Chianti to a small family vineyard, Setriolo, The Sig. Soderi and his family will offer a warm welcome. www.setriolo.com.

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The Wines of Piedmont

From World Class Collectibles to Every Day Values Located in the Northwest of Italy, the Piedmont region is the home of two of the most renowned red wines in the world, Barolo and Barbaresco. Sought after by connoisseurs and collectors, these magnificent wines are fairly expensive and can need years of bottle age before they […]

From World Class Collectibles to Every Day Values

Located in the Northwest of Italy, the Piedmont region is the home of two of the most renowned red wines in the world, Barolo and Barbaresco. Sought after by connoisseurs and collectors, these magnificent wines are fairly expensive and can need years of bottle age before they are ready to drink. Yet what really puts Piedmont on the map for the majority of wine lovers is that it also produces a wide range of wines that are affordable, ready to drink, food friendly and perfect for everyday enjoyment.

Like all great wine regions, the style and quality of Piedmontese wines is the result of millions of years of geologic evolution combined with the influences of climate (Mediterranean meets Alps, Continental Eurasian meets African tectonic plate), the grape varieties grown and the traditions and wine making methods used to craft them.

Piedmont, which means “foothills” in Italian, lies at the intersection of two great geological forces where the African and European continents collide. This massive force not only created the Alps, which are visible on a clear day from much of the region but also pushed up an ancient seafloor to the surface creating a jumbled series of steep hills with a mix of different soils, slopes, altitudes and exposures that are perfect for growing the regions grapes.

The subtle differences between vineyard sites favor grapes with different ripening requirements and a host of grape varieties are planted in the region depending on the specific microclimate where they are planted. While Piedmont is best known for its reds, there are also delicious white, rosè, sparkling and sweet wines too.

Piedmontese whites are typically crisp, clean and mostly on the light, refreshing side. Some of the best-known are made from local varieties such as Arneis, Cortese (the grape in Gavi) and a few lesser-known indigenous grapes including Erbaluce and Favorita. There are some international varieties including Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc too.

Moscato is widely planted and is mainly used in the production of sparkling sweet wine called Moscato d’Asti and Asti (or Asti Spumante). Red grapes include Grignolino, Brachetto, Grachetto, Friesa, Croatina and Vespolina to name a few obscure local varieties. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir are the international representatives. But the majority of its red wines, and arguably Piedmonts best, are made from Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo.

Both Dolcetto and Barbera are fairly early ripeners making lovely fresh, lively wines that have the dual benefit that wine makers can sell them a year or so after harvest (and get paid sooner) and that wine lovers can drink them pretty much when they are released.

Since they ripen earlier, they can be grown in vineyards in cooler sites and are a little less demanding than Nebbiolo. Dolcetto has a dark, edgy cherry character with moderate tannins and moderate acidity. It can be made in a slightly rustic style with more structure or in a more modern style that is juicier and more fruit driven. Either way, it can be drunk young and fresh within a few years of the vintage. Barbera is typically a bit higher in acid and slightly lower in tannins than Dolcetto. Most Barbera is pretty simple and straightforward, yet deliciously juicy wine with bright red fruits and cherry notes. When it is planted in top vineyard sites, it can morph into a wine with much more stature, depth and power. Barbera can be vinified in a more traditional style in stainless steel, large neutral barrels or concrete or in a modern style and aged in new French oak barriques. The best can age and improve for 8-10 years.

Nebbiolo, the sole grape in Barolo and Barbaresco, is a late ripening varietal. It is rumored that it took its name from the mist and fog (Nebbia in Italian) that is typical in the late fall when the grape finally ripens. While Dolcetto and Barbera can thrive in cooler sites, Nebbiolo destined for Barolo and Barbaresco needs to be planted in the best of the region’s sun exposed, warmer and south facing vineyards to capture the heat and become fully mature. It produces wines that can range in style from fresh, lively and ready to drink (Langhe Nebbiolo for example) to solid, densely structured and firmly tannic wines that need a decade or two to reach their peak when planted in the Barbaresco and Barolo DOCGs. The main determining factors in the quality and style of Nebbiolo are vintage conditions, vine age, vinification method, and perhaps most importantly, vineyard location or terroir.

When made in the lighter style, it undergoes shorter fermentation and maceration in order to keep its red fruit and freshness. Nebbiolo destined for Barolo and Barbaresco undergoes much longer fermentation and maturation, with several years of barrel and bottle aging required by law before they can be sold and only the best Nebbiolo grapes are used.

Most of the wine made in Piedmont is in the vineyards around the towns of Asti, Alba and Alessandria but there are five main regions: Canavese (including Carema and Caluso), Colline Novarese and Coste della Sesia in the north, Langhe – including the hill country around the city of Alba and the Roero and Monferrato which includes the areas around Asti and Alessandria.

The Barolo DOCG has several sub zones – Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba – and each has its own unique terroir and style. Barbaresco also has several sub zones – Barbaresco, Treiso, and Neive – again with subtle influences on the style of wines produced. In both Barolo and Barbaresco, producer is important as styles can range from very traditional, austere and almost rustic to much more extracted, riper and more modern styles. The grape, with its firm tannins, good acidity and relatively low color component makes wines that are rarely inky dark purple rather they have a little more garnet and lighter hues, almost brick hints at the edges. Barolo and Barbaresco are often described as “big wines” but to me, while definitely intense, they are more nervy, racy and highly strung, less generous and fruit driven. They are more reserved and tight especially when young, with more dried fruits, earth and leather notes than sheer power and opulence. In this sense they can be a bit stand-offish at first for lovers of riper, oaky and more fruit oriented wines.

The more traditional approach employs longer macerations and fermentations, often in large, neutral casks or concrete with aging in large neutral casks. These feature more of a dried red fruit character, again, sometimes a bit rustic with firmer tannins and structure especially when young. The modern approach seeks to keep the nature of Barolo but often with shorter fermentations and efforts made to soften Nebbiolo’s grippy tannins, with aging in new or partially in new French oak barrels. There also are some who pull a little bit from both schools of thought.

In the northern reaches of Piedmont lie the lesser-known regions of Lessona, Carema, Gattinara, Erbaluce and others. Wines from these regions, especially the reds, tend to be slightly more rustic, lighter in color and body but in intensity. They often show the rugged mineral laden elements from their roots in the rocky steep vineyards at the very base of the Alps.

The wines of Piedmont are fantastic partners at the table. From light fresh whites which are perfect as an aperitif, with fish, appetizers, risotto or pasta with seafood, to medium bodied reds like Barbera or Dolcetto which are great with light meats, pasta with red sauce or pizza. The Barolo and Barbaresco with grilled lamb, veal chops or beef are well worth getting to know. For after dinner there are sweetly sparkling Moscato d’Asti with its peachy pear notes or Brachetto d’Aqui, a sweet sparkling red that is like sparkling liquid raspberry. A series of great vintages has made a wealth of wine available for affordable everyday drinking as well as for the collector looking to stock the cellar with age worthy gems making this a great time to explore this excellent wine region.

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Cigar Reviews: Spring 2016

Alec Bradley Black Market Vandal Perfecto Honduras     5.8”x60     Full 94-Rated This 60-ring Perfecto is a dream to look at. Burly, heavy in the heavy, and glistening with oils oozing from the dark Honduran wrapper. Underneath, a unique fusion of long-fillers from Honduras and the Panama is met with a proprietary leaf that brings spice in […]

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Alec Bradley Black Market Vandal Perfecto

Honduras     5.8”x60     Full

94-Rated

This 60-ring Perfecto is a dream to look at. Burly, heavy in the heavy, and glistening with oils oozing from the dark Honduran wrapper. Underneath, a unique fusion of long-fillers from Honduras and the Panama is met with a proprietary leaf that brings spice in spades. This stick is a flavor bomb, unloading deep spices and blasts of pepper from first light. More mellow hints of hickory, cashew and rich tobacco linger on the satisfying finish.

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Ashton Magnum

Dominican Republic     5.0”x50     Mild

92-Rated

This flawless Robusto is silky and smooth in appearance, thanks to a beautiful, Grade A Connecticut wrapper. The flavor mimics its appearance, as every Ashton delivers a mellow bouquet that’s creamy to the core and mellow with every puff. Sit back and enjoy the smooth Dominican long-fillers as they coat every taste bud with delicate notes of cream, sweet cedar, sweet tobacco, and a dash of white pepper. Mild, yet soothing.

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Cohiba Nicaragua N5.5×54 (Toro)

Nicaragua     5.5”x54     Medium-Full

93-Rated

Cloaked by a reddish-hued Sun Grown Oscuro wrapper, this Toro is jam-packed with rich long-fillers from Nicaragua’s top valleys, Esteli and Jalapa, secured inside a Jalapa-grown binder. Expect rich and creamy notes of cedar and leather throughout the medium to full-bodied bouquet. Tamer hints of pepper and coffee bean complement each puff, and completing an eventful yet balanced cigar that grows stronger towards the nub.

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Oliva Serie ‘V’ Belicoso

Nicaragua     5.0”x54     Full

95-Rated

Leather, pepper, nuts, wood, and so much more. There’s a lot going on inside this milk chocolate brown Torpedo. A graceful display of power, made possible by oily Habana Sun Grown wrappers, which hug a powerful marriage of long-leaf ligeros from Nicaragua. Each silky draw produces clouds of thick smoke, smothering the palate with tasty nuances that linger long after the exhale. Deliciously complex from start to finish.

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Relic Robusto

Nicaragua     5.25”x52     Medium-Full

94-Rated

The bold pre-light aroma emitted from the foot of Relic promises a flavorful smoke. The Nicaraguan long-leaf ligeros and shade grown Habano wrapper from Nicaragua delivers this promise. Earthy nuances mingle with leather and espresso, while subtle hints of oak and dark chocolate shine through underlying spices. The strength builds during the burn. Aromatic smoke wafts overhead. This Relic hits all the senses.

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Ideology & Intelligence: A Recipe for Disaster

Part I My entry into the world of intelligence gathering began in 1996 when I joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  Before my retirement in 2014, most of my career was spent overseas as an Operations Officer in countries comprising the former Soviet Union. Serving abroad in the CIA was a great way to increase one’s […]

Part I

My entry into the world of intelligence gathering began in 1996 when I joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  Before my retirement in 2014, most of my career was spent overseas as an Operations Officer in countries comprising the former Soviet Union.

Serving abroad in the CIA was a great way to increase one’s understanding of the world. As an operations officer, I was trained and charged to identify, develop and recruit foreign nationals to provide information to me – which in turn was passed to the US Intelligence Community (IC).  The IC uses Humint (Human Intelligence gathered from live sources),  in conjunction with Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and other forms to aid United States policymakers in making clear-eyed decisions about matters of foreign policy.

This is the purpose of the IC.  Regarding Humint, people’s reasons for spying against their own country are numerous.  The motivations of money, ego or ideology have been behind history’s most damaging spies.  Compromise or coercion has also been important factors (most often used as tools against the West by hostile Intelligence services).

Recruitment of foreign assets (agents, in CIA parlance) was and is the raison d’etre of my profession.  In order to recruit effectively, a good working knowledge of human psychology was essential; understanding how emotions such as pride, jealousy, hatred and shame can motivate individuals.  This knowledge was the most important item in my “toolbox”.   A good intelligence officer always views situations, actions and people in this fashion. It is an excellent technique with which to understand why things are the way they are.   For decades now, it is automatic for me to view much of the world and its interactions through this “Operational Lens”.    Looking at history and current events is continually fascinating to me. An ops officer can (or should) divine the personal, institutional and national motivations that are behind every event that occurs on the world stage.

I have long been fascinated by the subject of failure.  It’s important to understand success – in business or politics – but failure is often the more common outcome.  Businesses and government, even individuals, can often learn more by examining cases of failure – what those organizations did wrong and the steps needed to avoid falling into similar traps – than studying success.  Business leaders and academics are now studying the phenomenon of failure more closely, as it became clear that there were many nuggets of wisdom within.

Failures in the Intelligence community are some of the more dramatic types of institutional failure.  If an intelligence service, or a national government, should fail in its understanding of a threat – possible national ruin is in the works.  Throughout history, governments have fallen due to the insufficient redress of their security challenges.   Many people ask, “How can these multi-billion dollar agencies or governments fail when the stakes are so high?” The answer is because they are made up of fallible, error-prone human beings – the same as in any business or family unit.  Emotions or mindsets such as ambition, hubris, jealousy, petulance, hatred or irrational denial course through their veins as surely as through your own.   Bureaucracies have been designed to filter out, or at least mitigate, this “human factor”.    Despite this, how many readers can recall having a problem at the DMV just because the bureaucrat they were dealing with had a fight with his wife at breakfast?  Our institutions are thus very fallible.

There are two major factors contributing to Intelligence Failure:

  1. Mirror Imaging
  2. Perception Bias/Willful Blindness

(These factors can be as devastating to a business as to a government.  I have used examples from both spheres to illustrate my point.)

Mirror Imaging has several symptoms, which can include:

  • Examining information/evidence that is only consistent with one’s preconceptions
    (examples:  Relying on Sales figures which show strength – but ignoring factors liable to work against your business in the future)
  • Inappropriate analogies (Believing that the Iranian government operates along similar lines to Western governments)
  • Stovepiping – Favoring one source/technique of Information over another.
    (Examples: favoring one type of sales study that flatters your company. Choose to believe the sales rep with whom you play golf rather than a recent consumer study.)
  • The Rational Actor Hypothesis – Defining the other sides’ rationality; according to how one may measure rationality in one’s own culture.
    (For example, the other side may have a higher risk tolerance than your culture.  Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was willing to risk war with the West to maintain the fiction of Weapons of Mass Destruction to prop up his regional stature)
  • Proportionality Bias – The belief that “small things” in one’s own culture are “small things” in another, distinct culture.
    (Examples may include being “on time” in the Northwestern European culture versus more relaxed, southern cultures.  An extreme example would be how a seemingly minor sexual indiscretion in a Western family might lead to an “honor” killing in an orthodox Muslim family)

To break out of the Mirror Imaging stranglehold, organizations/companies must make a concerted effort to take a step outside of themselves, leave their comfort zone and methodically and unemotionally appraise “The Other”, be it a rival company or a rival nation state.

The Below Four (1-4) Touchstones can help:

  1. The “other side” is different
    (The Pacific War: in 1941, it seemed inconceivable to US leadership that the Japanese would be so foolish to attack the United States whose resources so exceeded those of Japan, thus virtually guaranteeing the defeat of that island nation.)
  2. The “other side” makes different assumptions regarding technology.
    (Nazi Germany, despite growing evidence to the contrary, refused to believe that their Enigma cypher system had been compromised.  The cracking of Enigma assisted in winning World War 2 and the other side of the coin – 9/11.  Who in the US had considered that the billions spend on airport security and air defense would be defeated by a dozen Islamic terrorists armed with boxcutters?)
  3. The “other side” doesn’t make decisions as you do.
    (Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh was willing to endure casualty ratios of more than 10-1 to ensure his dream of a Communist Vietnam. Separately, Japanese culture prizes consensus decision-making over incisive, executive decision-making.
  4. The “other side” may be trying to confuse you.
    (Today, there are ongoing Russian cyber/TV propaganda campaigns which mirror traditional Soviet tactics to sow discord within the West.  Also, North Korea historically swings between negotiation and abrupt nuclear saber-rattling with its neighbors.)

In addition to the error of Mirror Imaging is the second half of Intelligence Failure – Perception Bias/Willful Blindness.

This can be summarized as:

One Sees What One Wants to See 

A scientist named Leon Festinger coined the term Cognitive Dissonance to explain the mental stress experienced by an individual (or institution) which is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.   This Cognitive Dissonance is what leads individuals/organizations to fall under the sway of Perception Bias.
Simply put, humans strive for internal consistency.  An individual who experiences inconsistency (dissonance) tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to try to reduce this dissonance—as well as actively avoid situations and information likely to increase it.

 

Read Part II of Scott Uehlinger’s Ideology & Intelligence in the next issue of Network Magazine

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A Greek Tragedy

This is a true story. The red-haired middle-aged man who showed up in my office was highly distraught. I will call him Carl. He spoke with a British accent. He told me that he was a stockbroker who until recently lived in a beautiful condominium in Jersey City overlooking the NY City skyline, with his […]

This is a true story. The red-haired middle-aged man who showed up in my office was highly distraught. I will call him Carl. He spoke with a British accent. He told me that he was a stockbroker who until recently lived in a beautiful condominium in Jersey City overlooking the NY City skyline, with his wife and son, a six-year-old boy. His hands shook as he showed me a picture of him walking with his young son in the park and playing with action figures, Elmo and Thomas the train. He had not seen his son, Andrew in three months. The last time he saw him he had watched him eat his breakfast cereal before going to his job in New York City. His wife, Katerina, had said that she would take Andrew shopping that day. When he came home from work his son’s clothes and his wife’s clothes were gone as well as his wife’s personal items.

Carl had met Katerina, a beautiful Greek brunette on the internet and had traveled to Greece to marry her and eventually brought her to the United States. He paid for her to get her Associate’s Degree in Psychology and she had just gotten her degree when she disappeared. Katerina, he had found out, was prone to explosions of rage and had become obsessed with Wicca and the occult as well as Cabala. He held on, however, because of his love for his baby boy, Andrew who was his entire life.

Through hiring a detective in Greece, we found out that Katerina had taken the child to Greece and had moved in with her parents in Athens. We told Carl, who by this time was increasingly despondent and crushed by fearing that his son was losing touch with and forgetting his father. He missed him terribly, spending his days thinking about what they did together. He took a leave of absence from his job due to depression.

I took this case personally. I could not imagine not being with or seeing my kids for any such length of time. As the ABA Liaison to Greece and as a US and Greek lawyer, I had handled such cases before but never one with such emotion. Attempts to contact the mother both by our client and us were met with slammed doors and hung up phone calls. We decided that we needed to take action. We filed a Petition under The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction with the US Department of State, Office of Children’s issues. This Hague Convention basically says that a parent cannot take a child away from his habitual residence to another country. Any custody disputes must be determined by the court where the child was last living with both parents – in this case Jersey City. Our Petition was transmitted by the US State Department to the Greek Ministry of Justice which appointed a Ministry lawyer to commence proceedings in Greece against the mother.

We met with the Ministry lawyer in Athens, a wonderful and sympathetic woman, who explained that the Ministry lawyers’ role in these cases was formal and that the father’s lawyers would have to intervene in the case and actually try the case. We did this and I and my Greek legal partners began to prepare for the case. In the meantime, the Greek court ordered that our client, Carl, could see his son – which he did under the hateful glare of the mother and her family. He was devastated to discover that the child had started to forget him and had become fearful of him. Trial in Greece was set 4 months after our initial Hague Petition.

During this time, our client received anonymous, dire warnings, satanic messages, Wicca symbols and death threats. They warned him that if he proceeds in this course he would be ruined. We brought these to the attention of the court but there was no proof that Katerina sent them. (However, we saw that these pentagrams matched her earliest drawings). In the week before the trial, our client’s parents flew in from the UK to support their son and concerned that they would never be able to see their grandchild. Carl had been in Greece preparing with us for a week before the trial and had been a mess in his hotel room every time we saw him. We also heard that the wife’s father, a Greek General, would appear at the trial to intimidate us and perhaps influence the judge. We also heard that Katerina had retained a famous Greek “celebrity” lawyer – the “F. Lee Bailey” of Greece, as her attorney. She was determined to keep the child in Greece at all costs. We all realized, as did Carl reluctantly, that all along she had planned to use him to pay for her education in the US and that she never wanted to live in the US. We found out that she had been seeing a boyfriend in Greece for some time – maybe even during the marriage.

On the day of trial, tension ran high but we were prepared. Katerina claimed that Carl took drugs but we had blood tests and hair sample tests for several months previously showing he was drug free. She said he drank and was abusive but we had witnesses and affidavits that he did not drink. She said that the US home was unfit for living – but we had photographs of the beautiful condominium. She said he was a bad father but we had dozens of photographs of Carl with his son showing his obvious love for his son. We had Affidavits from friends and pre-school staff. She questioned that he supported the family properly but we had Affidavits from his employers that he had a promising career and a steady job. The General blustered that his daughter was intimidated and bullied by Carl and the Greek celebrity lawyer tried to impeach him (claiming that he had evicted his wife) but all these claims were proven to be lies.

One month after the Hearing, the Greek judge ruled in our favor ordering that the child had to be returned to Jersey City for a custody hearing there. We were overjoyed but a new problem surfaced. Under the former law the court constables and the police were authorized to break in and seize the child. The law had changed because this was deemed psychologically detrimental to the children. Therefore, enforcement proceedings had to be filed to impose contempt charges and fines on the offending parent who did not turn over the child. It was clear that the Greek legal bureaucracy was completely confused as to how to enforce this Order – as is often the case in Greece (and which legal bureaucracy had been a main cause in Greece’s financial problems).

Months passed while we tried to work out how to enforce the Athens Court order and actually take possession of the child. One ministry and government lawyer referred us to another lawyer for the police department. Then there were other lawyers involved for the civil court and another lawyer for the justice ministry and another lawyer for the constables.
One terrible morning, I walked into my US office to find my secretary looking pale and shocked. Carl’s parents had called. Carl had committed suicide. He was found suffocated, his head wrapped in a plastic bag. He could not wait anymore and his depression got the better of him. Perhaps the black magic of Katerina worked.

It has been years and I have not yet recovered. Justice delayed is indeed justice denied. This experience, more than any other, has led me to try to reform the Greek legal system so that predictable and efficient justice can be rendered. In today’s global economy and interconnected world stories such as Carl’s are becoming more common. International law is more critical than ever whether it be on terrorism or refugees or privacy. That, however, is another story. For now, I have to live with the fact that I was not able to get justice for Carl nor was I able to give Andrew the priceless gift of a great father.

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Democrats: Make your choice on April 26

As another presidential election approaches, America once again has to lead the world this time facing new challenges that seem bigger than anything before in our lifetimes. Despite the media’s obsession with the presidential primary race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, a number of state races are just as important to our future in […]

As another presidential election approaches, America once again has to lead the world this time facing new challenges that seem bigger than anything before in our lifetimes.

Despite the media’s obsession with the presidential primary race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, a number of state races are just as important to our future in the Lehigh Valley. Seven talented Democrats with very different backgrounds are running in the April 26 Primary for U.S. Senate and Attorney General. Five candidates from both parties filed for their respective primary ballots to succeed retiring State Rep. Julie Harhart in the 183rd District across northern Northampton and Lehigh counties.

In this contest of problems and decisions, we Democrats are solidly committed to values that were passed down to us generations ago. Americans faced the Great Depression along with World War II and we prevailed because WE AMERICANS ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

We Democrats stand for:

  • Rebuilding a resilient economy on the foundation of a broader, stronger and more stable middle class;
  • Strengthening small businesses that create local jobs;
  • Vastly improved access to higher education and training, ensuring citizens can thrive individually and collectively;
  • Safeguarding women’s rights and equal protection under the law for everyone;
    Transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources that reduce carbon emissions and protect clean air and water;
  • Foreign policy that emphasizes international relationships rather than unilateral actions which lead to a permanent state of military conflict;
  • Balancing the budget while lowering property taxes in PA by closing tax loopholes;
  • Ending governmental gridlock and getting the job done by the politics of inclusion, not the politics of obstruction.

We Democrats remember that our policy differences within our party and between our own candidates are minor compared to the policy proposals of the opposition.

We remember that America has always prevailed when we fought together for justice, not on behalf of any single group’s ideology.

Above all, we Democrats operate on the knowledge that every person is a potential ally in the solution of problems, not a potential enemy.

As a reminder of what’s at stake in November, the modern Republican Party stands in stark contrast to these principles. Donald Trump, the current ring-leader of the circus our opposition has become, uses fear along with racially and religiously divisive language to motivate potential voters.

But the surprising success Trump has enjoyed only highlights his most vociferous and hateful renditions of the same themes shared by his nearest front-runners, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Trump, Rubio, and Cruz all share the same basic views on the major issues of the day.

The Republican front-runners ignore the scientific evidence, consensus and potential solutions for climate change. They support mining and drilling our land and off our shores for the cheapest possible energy sources, even those known to poison our air, water, and citizens. They want to continue or even expand subsidies for fossil fuel industries that are making record profits while condemning incentives for a nascent renewable energy sector.

The GOP leaders oppose rights for workers and collective bargaining claiming the “free market” will make sure workers get what they deserve from large, corporate employers. Meanwhile, they prescribe lower taxes on large corporations and the wealthy, despite most of these wealthiest citizens and businesses using numerous loopholes and subsidies to already pay a significantly lower effective tax rate than struggling middle class Americans.

Republicans scapegoat immigrants and Muslims for our problems, suggesting if we build a giant wall or apply a religious test that it would solve everything. They seek to expand and escalate our involvement in military conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere with no end in sight. Ignoring those new terrorist groups such as ISIS formed in consequence to our decade-plus interventions.

Rather than suggesting improvements to health care access and containing long-term costs, they repeatedly seek to repeal the Affordable Care Act and with it the protections ensuring Americans with pre-existing conditions or on limited incomes can afford coverage and preventive care.

Democrats should vote their preferences for President, Senator, and Attorney General on April 26, remembering the values that unite us as our strongest connection to our shared humanity.

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Republican Response to Public Pension Reform

As we approach the two-hundredth and forty-second day without a Pennsylvania state budget, 2016 holds no promise of quelling the budget impasse that is raging in Harrisburg. There is one issue that has contributed more then anything else to the Commonwealth’s partisan fiscal tensions present today. This issue has been ignored by some and inherited […]

As we approach the two-hundredth and forty-second day without a Pennsylvania state budget, 2016 holds no promise of quelling the budget impasse that is raging in Harrisburg. There is one issue that has contributed more then anything else to the Commonwealth’s partisan fiscal tensions present today. This issue has been ignored by some and inherited by others; it is the Public Pension problem. Addressing the fiscal issue that is State Pension Reform is not only essential in providing future generations of Pennsylvanians with opportunities that their parents had, but also imperative if we aim to once again become a leader among the states that comprise our union.

To begin, we will examine decisions made by our leaders in a time when recessions and economic downturns seemed somewhat improbable because of the 1990’s economic boom. This economic boom was the longest, continuous, economic expansion of its size in U.S History and leads many pension programs across the country to increase benefits for retirees. The Pennsylvania State Pension Benefit increase, which is the single biggest contributor to the states budget problems, began in 2001. Decisions made by legislators in 2001 with Act 9 and to a lesser extent in 2002 and 2003 with Act 38 and Act 40, can be traced as some of the roots of our current fiscal predicament. Because the economy was doing so well in the decade prior to 2001, Act 9 seemed feasible at the time it was passed. Basically, what Act 9 did was make a political compromise with the Pennsylvania State Education Association by increasing pension benefits by using positive investment returns to cover the increased cost. The fiscal platform created for Act 9 basically absorbed the increased pension benefit costs over the following decade. Since these new pension benefits required strong investment returns to stay solvent, something legislators at the time took for granted, it is no surprise that this plan ultimately lead to an increase in allocated tax payer money once investment returns decreased. In 2002 Act 38 was passed, which included benefit increases to retirees who were not included in 2001. The following year, after another bad cycle of investment returns, the taxpayer-funded support began to grow. In 2003, once Harrisburg realized that the Act 9 platform was no longer attainable, Act 40 was passed which essentially refinanced the financial deficiencies acquired from Act 9 by spreading pension obligations out over a 30-year period. By 2010, the taxpayer-funded liabilities reached $1 Billion and by the 2015-2016 fiscal year they have reached about $3.8 Billion. The growth rate of our pension benefit system is beyond Pennsylvania’s means and as you can tell, it is not sustainable. The fiscal “Can” has been kicked down the road for far to long and now it is up to our current legislative leadership to pick the can up and throw it away.

This pension dilemma can and will be addressed, there is no other option. The Republican proposed platform for responding to and reorganizing the states public pension system lies in a process that is prevalent among private sector employees and companies. The Republican plan includes a “defined contribution” program that is essentially a 401K-style retirement plan. This plan is aimed more so at future employees. These future employees would be required to contribute about 3% of their earnings. These earnings (about 3%) would be placed into a cash balance plan that would earn interest from yields on U.S Treasury Bonds. The interest would be capped at 4%. Future earnings for both PSERS and SERS employees will see an increased contribution of 3% and 2.5% respectively. This proposed plan transfers the risk from future recessions or other financial problems away from Pennsylvanian taxpayers while also protecting the retirement security of state employees. As stated above, this type of retirement plan is common among private sector employees and can provide public employees a retirement plan that fits the needs of our current economic environment.
This article aims to give the reader a basic understanding of what has contributed to the pension problems but in no way pretends to address every aspect of this very complex situation. It is recommended that anyone seeking more information on this subject review material available on the Pennsylvania state legislative website.

In closing, pension reforms require trade offs and bi-partisan support which has always been clear. But continuing to fund a program created during a fundamentally different fiscal environment can only cause economic catastrophe for future generations. As we walk deeper into this American century, it is clear that Pennsylvanian lawmakers will have to make tough decisions in order to guarantee future generations the ability to grow and flourish.

Commonwealth Foundation, “Pennsylvania Pensions: Man-Made Financial Disasters” (March 7, 2006)
See Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1

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The Politics of Homeownership

One of the questions I’m most often asked is whether presidential elections affect the real estate market. Realtor® Associations don’t play sides and don’t pick parties. We talk issues that impact the industry and homeowners across Pennsylvania. It’s our responsibility to educate voters about issues at the Federal level that can impact our industry and […]

One of the questions I’m most often asked is whether presidential elections affect the real estate market. Realtor® Associations don’t play sides and don’t pick parties. We talk issues that impact the industry and homeowners across Pennsylvania. It’s our responsibility to educate voters about issues at the Federal level that can impact our industry and our member’s businesses. Although some presidential candidates do have a plan geared towards housing, we need to be cognizant of the lengthy process it takes to send such plans to Congress and to have these plans eventually implemented.

I personally feel very strongly that housing should be a visible issue in every election from local to Federal. There is ample evidence that where you live — the home itself and where it is located — have a tremendous impact on health, opportunity, education and economic outcomes.

Home Ownership is truly the essence of the American Dream. Studies show that 87 percent of Americans believe homeownership is part of their personal American Dream, giving them financial stability and providing individuals a place to raise their family and a nest egg to retire.

One of the issues that congressmen and senators from both parties express a great deal of interest in is tax reform. Ongoing debate puts a variety of tax laws under scrutiny, including those that affect commercial and residential real estate. Locally, school property taxes are most often discussed and impact our members and the public the most.
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) continues to educate Congress and its staff members on the vital role that real estate tax provisions play in the nation’s housing market and therefore the economy as a whole. Although we don’t expect to see tax reform enacted any time soon, there are a large number of proposals aimed at creating healthier housing and mortgage markets currently under discussion.

Mortgage interest deduction is another important part of homeownership as it allows taxpayers who own their homes to reduce their taxable income by the amount of interest paid on the loan which is secured by their principal residence. The amount of deductible mortgage interest is reported each year by the homeowner’s mortgage company and is a key deduction offered as an incentive for homeowners. This deduction adds yet another benefit to being a homeowner and is a key factor on how the housing market impacts the economy. It is extremely important to have this deduction offered, as it puts consumers in a position where it is more beneficial to own a home compared to renting a home. It is imperative to have this available to consumers and is a key benefit for all homeowners. This is one of many issues we are constantly discussing with our elected officials to make sure the American dream of homeownership continues to be available.

More than $1.2 trillion in commercial real estate loans will come due over the next few years and many of these deals will have trouble with financing. NAR supports consideration of legislation and regulations to protect and enhance the flow of capital to commercial real estate. Additionally, Congress must reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program to avoid the potential loss of 40,000 home sales each month (according to NAR research). In our region, flood insurance is an important and necessary part of many transactions due to the fact the Lehigh Valley has many water ways surrounding and moving through our counties.

Condominiums are another important key for housing throughout the Lehigh Valley. Condos are sometimes a buyer’s first home purchase due to more affordable pricing and flexibility. NAR supports developing policies that will give current homeowners and potential buyers of condos access to more financing opportunities and a wider choice of approved condo developments.

On February 2, 2016, the “Housing Opportunity through Modernization Act,” (H.R. 3700) passed the U.S. House of Representatives. It is expected that this legislation will put homeownership in reach for more families. During NAR’s Conference and Expo in San Diego, NAR President Tom Salomone said, “We look forward to seeing it advance through the legislative process and to the President’s desk, so it can be signed into law.”

This legislation includes efforts to make FHA’s recertification process “substantially less burdensome,” improving a process that is often costly and which condo developments must repeat every 24 months. H.R. 3700 also lowers FHA’s current owner-occupancy requirement from 50 percent to 35 percent and requires FHA to replace existing policy on transfer fees with the less-restrictive model already in place at the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Additionally, the “Housing Opportunity through Modernization Act” streamlines the process for exemptions to FHA’s rule requiring that condominium projects have no more than 25 percent of the space dedicated to commercial use. This effort is in line with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s initiative to promote neighborhoods with a mix of residential housing, businesses and access to public transportation.

REALTORS mostly advocate for Consumers in the governmental process. Making sure that the American Dream is obtainable, ensuring that this large personal transaction is not impeded by governmental policies or procedures.

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Trials and Tribulations of a Restauranteur

Plenty of people nurture the dream of owning a restaurant. They might envision themselves donning chef whites and presiding over a bustling professional kitchen or serving as the gracious host who welcomes guests and keeps the front of the house running smoothly. As chef de cuisine, I wear both of these hats and many more. […]

Plenty of people nurture the dream of owning a restaurant. They might envision themselves donning chef whites and presiding over a bustling professional kitchen or serving as the gracious host who welcomes guests and keeps the front of the house running smoothly. As chef de cuisine, I wear both of these hats and many more. If you want a successful restaurant – or to be successful in any business – you have to be involved 100%. You need to be one with your business.

Some new restaurateurs approach the business more like a hobby, which is risky behavior in an industry with an alarmingly high failure rate. I met a successful man who started a long-desired restaurant late in life. I asked how it was going and he said to me, ‘Well, I learned how to make a small fortune in this business: You’ve got to start with a big one.’ That is an all too common scenario.

Watching your pocketbook can determine success or failure of a restaurant, whether its food, labor or overall operating costs. From a simple napkin to the finest dried meats or finest aged wine, to a simple candle burning on the table, or a straw on a glass – everything needs to have accountability and a profit margin.

Opening and running a restaurant isn’t just hiring people to work for you. Being a restaurateur means knowing absolutely every aspect of the business. To name just a few – you need to understand how your kitchen operates, how your bar operates, how your wait staff caters to your customers and how a sommelier defines your wine.

A restaurateur’s goal should be to make his guests feel comfortable. Hospitality is very important – coming to your restaurant should be the same as coming to your house. We have to take care of our guests in every way. It’s important to create a relationship with your customers. Always be looking at customer satisfaction.

Naturally, delivering a pleasurable gustatory experience is a primary focus. High-quality ingredients should be the foundation of the menu, which is driven by freshness and seasonality. For example, choose meats that are dry-aged in-house which ensures a superior product while holding the line on costs. Presentation, too, is critical. For example, Saranda’s signature smoked tuna tartare provides a near-magical moment when a glass dome is lifted off the plate and fragrant smoke wafts through the air. Inventive drinks also get a theatrical edge as mixologists ignite flaming cocktails. Smoked whiskey and unusual house-infused liquor enhance the more traditional list of fine wines and craft beers served at the bar.

Opening a fine dining restaurant is not just a fantasy; it’s a way of life. You’ve got to live, breathe and eat restaurant. This might not be right for everyone but providing guests with a premium dining experience – one that keeps them hungry for more – is a fulfilling mission for any successful restaurateur.

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