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BIRCHWOOD FARMS

Polly and I are privileged to be spending our twilight years in a magnificent residential community within sight of the beautiful, crystal blue waters of Lake Michigan, surrounded by stately forests and providing us with all of the amenities associated with the finest country clubs in America.

Twenty-seven spectacular holes of championship golf; an Olympic swimming pool, with a smaller version for the kiddies; tennis courts, pickle ball courts, bocce ball courts, hiking trails, even a fishing pond. And sunsets, you wouldn’t believe.

The developer, a visionary man named Bill Cottrill, wisely provided in the covenants that there would be a Property Owners Association, to which all lot owners would belong. And pay dues. Owners are entitled to the full use of all the amenities.  

Many people, particularly those living in lake front properties, purchased vacant lots at Birchwood Farms for the express purpose of acquiring membership in the Property Owners Association, and access to its many recreational opportunities.

In due course, to emphasize its upscale status, the Property Owners Association adopted the pseudonym “Birchwood Farms Golf and Country Club.” Unlike other country clubs, however, Birchwood was not legally entitled to charge an initiation fee. Membership in the Property Owners Association – the Club, as it came to be known – was automatic and mandatory upon purchase of a lot.

As Mr. Cottrill divested himself of the real estate and other developers came to Birchwood, the practice of paying the club a lump sum upon sale of lots to new members, in lieu of accumulated dues, became common.

Dubbed a “transfer fee” this payment was originally $1,000. In due course, the fee was imposed on every transfer, whether from a developer or any other owner.

Eventually, spearheaded by owners who had paid substantial initiation fees at other country clubs, the “transfer fee” grew from $1,000, to $3,000, to $7,000 and currently to $10,000.

Having been burdened with a classical legal education and some years of experience in the administration of civil and criminal justice, I have opined, for the benefit of anyone who would listen, that the “transfer fee” is illegal, unjust, immoral and just plain stupid.

The stupidity of it has lately come acropper, as home sites at Birchwood are now being advertised for $1.00, hardly a flattering bit of public information about the value of owning a lot at Birchwood.

It has been said that Property Owners Associations are the embryo of democracy. Election to their unpaid governing boards is seen as an admirable community service, and the members of such organizations are prone to leave the decision making to those hardy and sacrificing souls who are willing to take up the yoke.

Still, incumbency is always a heady state. As Lord Acton said, “power corrupts.”

This year, Birchwood, like all such clubs, is feeling the pinch. Some older members, wishing to divest themselves of membership, have discovered that they must pay the club $10,000 for the dubious privilege of selling their lot for $1.00. Their option: pay dues for the rest of your life. 

The Board has concluded that a dues increase of $60 per month is needed. They scheduled three ‘town hall’ meetings to test the receptivity of the members and ostensibly listen to the views of their constituents.

One meeting was enough to suggest that the natives are restless. They hastily circulated ballots for bylaw changes at the September annual meeting which they perceive as protecting the transfer fee from legal challenge, and which emphasize the on going financial obligation of members who may wish to sell or abandon their lots.  

The old judge has had a belly full of public service, dating from 1962. Still, politics at every level is an integral part of the stuff of life. I am constrained to admit that I will vote NO on the Birchwood dues increase, and I will continue to advocate that the Board consider alternative sources of revenue to replace the transfer fee before I will support any dues increase.

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TRUMP’S WALL, REPRISE

Back in September of last year, I wrote a blog saying that I didn’t like Donald Trump’s idea of building a wall along the U.S – Mexican border.

I am having second thoughts.

Partly, I am persuaded to reconsider by Bill Clinton. Here is what the 42nd President had to say in his 1995 State of the Union address:

The difference between Bill Clinton and Donald Trump on the issue of immigration is a study in politics and leadership. Both men have expressed concern over uncontrolled illegal immigration.

Clinton claimed that his administration had “moved aggressively” to stem the tide; hiring more border guards, deporting more who commit crimes.

He concluded with a rousing call that “we must do more to stop it” and his words were greeted by a standing ovation on both sides of the aisle.

That, obviously, is the popular political position. Do more. We must do more. Spend more money. Hire more people. Just, ‘do more.’

Trump wants to ‘do more’ too. He wants to build a wall. Is it merely symbolic? Would it work? Can we actually stem the tide of illegal immigrants by building a wall?

I’m no expert, but it is significant that the Border Guards Union has endorsed Donald Trump.

Clinton’s speech was more than 20 years ago. What have we accomplished by 20 years of “doing more”?

Someone once observed that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. What Donald Trump has proposed is not merely that we ‘do more’ but that we ‘do different.’

We have all seen the film clips taken from surveillance cameras showing literally crowds of people; men, women and children walking into the United States across unguarded, unmarked borders.

Frequently, these transitory mobs enter our country in isolated areas; deserts which often post temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Hundreds die each year.

The United States issues border crossing cards which last for ten years and permit visitors from Mexico to enter the U.S. for limited times, and to visit in limited areas. In general, a card costs $160 or more.

No doubt there are many illegals who enter the States legally, but stay beyond the limits of the card. But the real surge of immigrants who cross at lonely places along the border consists of people who cannot afford to purchase a crossing card.

Would a wall keep them out? Certainly a wall would keep some of them out. Where currently the border is nothing but a line in the sand, the construction of a wall will make entry more difficult.

The time and effort to tunnel under a wall will discourage many; the physical effort to scale a wall will bar others. But most of all, the presence of a dividing wall will convey the clear message that crossing the border at that point is not permitted.

Surely the wall will be equipped with cameras and signaling devices, so that whenever a breech is attempted the border patrol will be alerted.

Perhaps the most effective aspect of a wall is that the person who contemplates breeching it does not know what is on the other side. Of course, the ingenuity of mankind being what it is, those challenges will no doubt be overcome from time to time.

Maybe the greatest value of a border wall is the appearance of security; not only to discourage attempts at entry, but also to give assurance to citizens in the United States that mass unauthorized immigration is at an end.

Not the least of the benefits to be derived from that is the fact that Hispanics in our country should be assumed by all as legally among us.   

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THE WEDDING

They came from far and near. From California and Virginia, from Michigan, Colorado and Georgia. By plane, train and automobile, they journeyed to Chicago.

They were greeted at the gracious old Union League Club on West Jackson Boulevard with a box of Chicago treats, a map of the Loop where festivities would be held and an itinerary for the weekend.

They were welcomed at historic Old Saint Patrick’s Church to witness Peter Gregory Strittmatter and Mary Katherine Radelet take their wedding vows. For better or for worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. Until death do they part. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

By the power vested in Father Tom Hurley by the State of Illinois, my “numero uno” grandchild, Mary Kate, and the love of her life, Peter, became husband and wife.

The Big Event took nearly a year of careful plotting and planning under the relentless baton of my daughter, Peggy.

First, they locked in the church date. Then found the venue. A weekend was spent saying “yes to the dress” and when it was chosen, Dad was called in to see. With a lump in his throat and misty eyes, he told his daughter she was beautiful.

Every detail was considered. Monogrammed button-down shirts for the bride and bridesmaids to wear during the professional make-up session. Little boxes of champagne candies for all the ladies at the bridal luncheon. Buses to transport guests from one gathering to the next.

Of course, some things can’t be controlled. The weather, which cooperated magnificently. The recalcitrant zipper on Polly’s dress, which didn’t until Marybeth came to the rescue. (My wife looked stunning, by the way.)

And food. Food and more food. For those of us who arrived a day early, a seafood dinner at the Smack Shack. The next night, a sumptuous rehearsal dinner hosted by the groom’s parents, Caleb and Greta Strittmatter.

And, of course, after the ceremony, the Reception in the magnificent ballroom at the Union League Club. With music, to be sure. A full orchestra.

The usual and timeless rituals were performed: something old, new, borrowed, blue. The cutting of the wedding cake, the first dance by the bride and groom to THEIR song, “Nice and Easy Does It.” The long rehearsed bride’s dance with her adoring father.

But there were unplanned moments during the weekend, too. As expected at a gathering of so many young people, bursting with energy and imbued with familial chauvinism, there was a pick-up basketball game in the upstairs gym at the Union League Club.

Teams were comprised of a motley mix of Brennans and Radelets, girls and boys, athletes and pretenders, from ages 14 to 64.   

There was a day when Dave Radelet would have been dominant on the floor. He was an All-State quarterback in high school. Recruited by dozens of colleges, Dave chose to stay home and play for his beloved Michigan State.

But on this day, he wasn’t a jock. He was the Father of the Bride. His darling and beloved Mary Kate, oldest of the four beautiful “Radeladies,” needed to be escorted down the aisle, and he had to stay cool.

And cool he was. Bursting with pride and grinning effusively, he brought the spectacularly beautiful MK to the altar in stately grace and presented her to Peter with a hand shake and a friendly slap.

Later, at the reception, the 260 or so guests got a glimpse of the persona that has escalated the Father of the Bride to the pinnacle of the legal profession in Chicago.

In a commanding, but folksy manner, Dave Radelet thanked everyone for sharing in the celebration, which he described very simply as “Joyful.”

He concluded by telling his guests that he has always claimed having the very best Mother-in-Law in the whole world. Polly beamed and squeezed my hand.

Then Dave announced that he would no longer be alone in his good fortune. Now Peter would join him in claiming to have the very best Mother-in-Law in the whole world.

Peggy was joyful.

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MORE DUST

I have received some interesting comments on my last blog. Among them a few that excoriated Mr. Trump for his harsh words for Mr. Kahn.

Trump is not a politician. His reactions and comments sound more like what you might hear in the locker room at the golf club than commentary on public radio. Like it or not, it’s sort of the way ordinary guys talk.

Democrats, of course, and the liberal media, are aghast at Trump’s tweet about the Kahn speech. So are a lot of silk stocking Republicans who delight in “tisk-tisking” everything Mr. Outsider has to say.

It seems like nobody is ready to excoriate Mr. Kahn for parading his personal grief for political purposes. Or Hillary for inviting him to do so. By now, of course, the Trump campaign has gotten the word out that Mr. Kahn has some personal economic irons in the fire as a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and all the lesser federal bureaucrats that he has to deal with in his immigration law practice.

Still, there is no public outcry, no elitist “tisk-tisking” about Mr. Kahn’s political grieving.
Six years ago, I wrote a blog entitled Whose War Is It? Here is the link to it: http://oldjudge.blogspot.com/2010/10/whose-war-is-it.html

The gist of my essay was that the soldiers who were fighting and dying in what had then become Mr.Obama’s war in Afghanistan were predominantly young men and women from small towns and from red states.

Now I ask this question: What would the media and the tongue clickers have to say if Mr. Trump hosts a round table TV interview with a couple dozen  grieving gold star parents? 

I can see it now on the pages of the New York Times and USA Today:

“How dare he use the sorrow of the relatives of brave young American soldiers for his crass political purposes!!! For shame! For Shame!”

Politics is nothing but a down and dirty war for the hearts and minds of the American people. Almost 70 % of them have no college degree and the vast majority have only a high school education.

They may be unsophisticated, but they are not stupid. And they know when they are being hustled by emotional pitches. The Democrats use of a gold star parent to lob a dig at Donald Trump was crass and inexcusable. If Donald Trump declines to respond in kind, he should be given kudos for decency and restraint in the political mud puddle.

If he doesn’t: if in fact he “out gold stars” the Hillaryites, and twangs the heart strings of the silent millions on the other side of America’s TV screens, who could blame him?

If, after all, politics is a war for the hearts as well as the minds of the great unwashed, why not pull out all the stops?

More importantly, from my perspective, is why we do not stop and ask ourselves; Who is fighting and dying for America?

And who is best suited, most determined and truly able to put an end to the handcuffed military dawdling in the Middle East that continues to swell the ranks of gold star parents in America?

I submit that it is not the woman who is the proud heir to the man who has presided over the Travesty in Arabia for the past eight years.

Bernie’s folks are fond of chanting “No More War!” There are only two ways to get out of a war: Either win it, or lose it.

We won World War II, we successfully defended South Korea; we lost the War in Viet Nam. We won the first and second wars against Saddam Hussein. We’re not doing any better in Afghanistan than the Russians did.

I have no idea how to go about winning a war against anything as ephemeral as “terror.” But it may just be possible, with the help of the civilized world, to conquer the Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Let’s hear the candidates talk about that issue.

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DNC DUST UP

In an obvious political effort to demonize Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, the Democratic National Convention presented to Philadelphia and the nation a short presentation by an Arabic immigration lawyer named Khizr Kahn.

Mr. Kahn’s credential – the reason he was given the microphone – is the fact that his son, Humayun Kahn, a 27 year old Army Captain, was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Mr. Kahn, who was born in Pakistan, has never met Donald Trump, never spoken to him. He did not quote anything Trump has ever said. He made no claim to any special knowledge of Trump’s position on public issues. Indeed, he offered no basis or explanation for the opinions he expressed.

Still, those opinions were damning; not because Mr. Kahn was an expert on Mr. Trump’s opinions, but because Mr. Kahn’s son was killed, heroically, in battle. And because Mr. Kahn’s son was a Muslim.

Here is what Khizr Kahn had to say:

If it was up to Donald Trump he (Kahn’s son) would never have been in America.

Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims.

He vows to ban us from this country.

Pretty obviously, this was crass political hyperbole.

Mr. Kahn and his wife immigrated to the United States during the Reagan Administration. Their son Humayun was born long before the 9-11 attack on New York and the Pentagon.

Mr. Trump was not the Commander in Chief who sent Humayun Kahn into battle. Indeed Donald Trump, as a private citizen, expressed opposition to the Iraq War.

What then, is the genesis of Mr. Kahn’s attempt at character assassination?

It’s very simple. As a candidate for President, Donald Trump has expressed concern about the growing number of undocumented refugees from countries in which there is a substantial presence of anti-American sentiment by radical Islamic Jihadists.

He has proposed that a moratorium be imposed on immigration from such countries until U. S. Immigration authorities are able to give assurance that such persons have been carefully vetted, and determined to be coming to this country in peace and friendship.

Surely Mr. Kahn does not profess to be a radical Islamic Jihadist, nor does he offer any evidence that he and his wife, or his son, would have been excluded by any system of vetting proposed or endorsed by Donald Trump.

Mr. Kahn is an immigration lawyer who makes his living assisting people from other countries – especially Arab countries – to come to America. Much of his practice is said to revolve around controversial sections of the immigration statutes which give preference to wealthy foreigners.

Whether any of his clients would be affected by a moratorium like Trump has proposed, Mr. Kahn has not said. Certainly, as a loyal American and father of a heroic soldier, he would hardly be expected to represent immigrants who do not come to our shores in peace and friendship.

Why then, does he gratuitously claim that Mr.Trump smears Muslims and wants to ban all of them from coming to America? The answer is rather obvious. Politics.

The Democratic Party, under Barack Obama, in an overzealous effort to avoid the appearance of religious bigotry, has concocted the narrative that Jihadist terrorism has nothing to do with Muslims or the religion of Islam. The plain truth is otherwise.

And the sad thing is that people like Khizr Kahn, who could be a powerful voice in the American Islamic community condemning radical terrorism, speaking against the theology of terror and joining forces with Christians, Jews and others to expose and eliminate radicalism, chose to side with the political panderers who refuse to identify the enemy.

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GOLF

I first played the game of golf in 1939, when my Uncle Emmett Sullivan let me swing a few clubs at the Ridgetown Golf and Curling Club, a few miles inland from our rented cottages at Rondeau Provincial Park on the Canadian shores of Lake Erie.

In those days, it was a scruffy nine hole layout. Holes were referred to by their names, rather than numbers. At each tee there was a bucket of sand and a bucket of water. You took a handful of sand, soaked it, and made a small pyramid on which to tee up your ball.

On the first tee there was a pipe into which players could drop a ball. When their ball came out the other end, it was their turn to tee off. Unfortunately, in those days, the English golf ball was a tad smaller than the American ball, which didn’t fit in the pipe.

As a result the Americans had to wait until all the Canadians had hit their drives.

My fascination with the game blossomed in the preteen years. There was a driving range in our Detroit West side neighborhood. It had no floodlights, and closed at dark. Some of us lads used to play at being commandoes, don our black softball sweaters, darken our faces and crawl on our bellies under the fence to liberate golfballs.

We needed plenty. The municipal course at Rouge park, about four miles away by the Plymouth bus, crossed over the Rouge River about a dozen times.

When I graduated from Law School at the age of 23, my darling wife gave me a two wood. I loved that club, and spent many an hour wailing away with it at the driving range on Meyers Road.

For my sixtieth birthday, my family gave me a set of Ping irons. They had to be fitted, and it took several weeks before they were to be delivered. In great anticipation, I asked our golf Pro, Bill Morey, if I could become a scratch golfer. He said that if I could reach the greens in regulation, the rest of it was a matter of practice.

So I developed what I called my PICK system: Practice, Instruction, Conditioning and Knowledge. Over the next weeks, I practiced every day, took lessons every few days, worked with bar bells and exercises and acquired a small library of golf books and tapes.
One day, as I was about to practice, the Pro told me that my irons had arrived. My son Tom insisted that we immediately go out and play. I shot 37 on the front nine, just one over par. On the back nine I was lying 37 in the green side bunker on the eighteenth hole. I took out my new sand wedge, which I had never swung before, and knocked the ball into the hole.

37 – 38; 75. The best score I ever had in my life. I promptly added two more letters to my PICK system: E for Equipment and L for Luck.

It is now the PICKLE system. Appropriate, since golfing is such a pickling game. I have never been better than a bogie golfer. Still I have experienced the amazement of scoring five holes in one. Go figure.

Earlier today, I posted a blog borrowed completely from my good friend, Brian Cairns, head professional at Fox Hills in Plymouth and 2015 Senior PGA Professional of the Year. To his astute counsel on the need to control your emotions on the links, I add my own version of the 23rdPsalm:

The Lord is my caddie: I shall not yip.

He getteth me down in two on green places

He keepeth me away from the still waters

He restoreth my game: he leadeth me in the paths of birdies for his name sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of divits, I will fear no whiff; for thou art with me; my woods and my irons they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of my opponents; thou annointest my head with sunscreen, my cup runneth over.

Surely birdies and bogies shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will always play better tomorrow.

  

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