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Lawyers—As Superstitious as the Rest of Us Print E-mail
by John Browning    Mon, Oct 8, 2012, 09:24 AM

“Superstition ain’t the way.”

- Stevie Wonder

 

Show me a particular occupation, and I’ll find you a superstition or two unique to that group.  Whether it’s sailors and their many nautical beliefs, architects designing buildings without a thirteenth floor, or theatrical performers insisting on hearing “break a leg” instead of “good luck,” everybody has their own lore.  Athletes are perhaps the most notorious for their superstitions, from wearing lucky colors or equipment to sticking to ritualistic meals during a streak or taking specific steps (however nonsensical) to break a slump.  But what about lawyers; those rational beings who dwell in the realm of logic and reason?  Surely, they are the exception to the superstition rule.

 

Nope.  It seems that lawyers can be just as superstitious as the next person, and trial lawyers are perhaps the most superstitious of the bunch.  I’ll admit it—I always wear a lucky tie on the first day of trial, and I frequently will stick with the same lunchtime spot close to the courthouse.  Once, I even managed to park in the same parking space every day (no mean feat at a busy urban courthouse), convincing myself that this little ritual had something to do with how well the trial went.

 

Often, the superstition is associated with a talisman or lucky object.  For most lawyers, that’s a lucky tie or suit (one prosecutor used to wear her “hanging suit” during every capital murder trial).  Ira Lee Sorkin, who represented Bernie Madoff during his big Ponzi scheme legal wranglings, always wears a particular type of Hebrew University tie during his opening statement.  Celebrity lawyer Benjamin Brafman wore a “bendel” (a slender bracelet of red thread from Israel that is supposed to ward off evil) every day while defending P Diddy (aka Sean Combs) during a 2001 weapons possession trial.  Combs was acquitted, and Brafman has been wearing the bendel at trial ever since.  Brafman insists he’s not superstitious, but says “I just wear it because since I’ve put it on, I’ve enjoyed good luck, both personally and professionally.  Do I think about just breaking it off and throwing it away?  Yes, the thought has occurred to me, But I haven’t.”  In California, Van Nuys Deputy District Attorney Terese Hutchison would never try a case without her trademark Batman watch, saying “My Batman watch is sacred to me.”  For Houston criminal defense attorney Jack Zimmerman, it’s his lucky boots that he feels make the difference.  Another Houston defense attorney, Joe Bailey, swears by his lucky shoes.  He says “The last success, or catastrophe, dictates which pair I wear.  They must be newly polished.  The left one goes on first and cannot be tied before the right one is on.  Even though they may develop a hole, I refuse to deviate from a ‘successful pair.’  They can be resoled.”

 

For other lawyers, it’s not the lucky talisman or article of clothing that brings out their superstitious side, it’s what they put in their stomachs.  New York defense attorney Murray Richman repeatedly eats the same meal—a Mayan sun salad with a sautéed filet of salmon—at the same restaurant every day during trials that can last for weeks at a time.  For Peter Quijano, his ritual meal during trial was a cheddar burger and bloody Mary from the same restaurant (the Whiskey Tavern), served by the same waitress and eaten at the same booth.  Quijano also has another quirk to ward off jinxes; he tries to insert the name of his Scottish terrier, Watson, into every closing argument.  “The trial gods are very powerful,” he says.  “You respect them.  You make little offerings.”

 

And for many attorneys, the superstition has nothing to do with items of food or clothing.  David Ruhnke, who specializes in defending capital murder cases, avoids the color black at all costs.  “I believe that black is a color particularly associated with death and mourning, so I will not write in black ink.”  He sends emails with blue letters, and uses blue, green, or white binders.  Maybe he’s on to something—he’s won 14 out of 16 capital trials, and hasn’t had a client executed.  Other lawyers ritualistically take the same route to the courthouse or always go in a particular entrance during trial, like Deirdre van Dornum of the federal public defender’s office in New York.  Meanwhile, still other attorneys refrain from getting their hair cut, while some listen to particular songs as part of a pre-trial ritual.  For Houston appellate specialist Brian Wice, it’s always Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” (a favorite of mine as well).  Bill Rosch, another Houston lawyer, is particularly fond of a classic, Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

 

Whether it’s a rabbit’s foot in your pocket, a lucky tie around your neck, or a ritualistic meal, why do otherwise rational professionals allow themselves to be governed by superstition?  Frances Cattermole-Tally of the UCLA Center for the Study of Comparative Folklore and Mythology has a theory.  “They’re in a profession where they’re sort of under the gun all the time,” she notes.  “When people are under a lot of stress—and lawyers are—they do things they might later recognize as irrational but which don’t hurt anyone.  And they might help.”  Arthur Miller, a law professor at NYU, says it really amounts to lawyers behaving much like, say, a baseball player tapping his cleats or a stage actor not whistling backstage—they’re only human.  “It’s part of the human condition that no matter how many years of education you’ve had, you still have faith in certain totems,” Miller observes.

 

Ultimately, trial lawyers are people, too.  And, hey, if wearing lucky socks makes your heart surgeon, airline pilot on your flight, or even the lawyer handling your case, feel better about his or her performance, should you really care?

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Unions: The Cancer of Labor and Business Print E-mail
by James Reza    Tue, Oct 2, 2012, 09:20 AM

When I read my local newspaper (Fort Worth Star Telegram) I seldom find any balanced views of current event news. Like most newspapers, the Star Telegram in my opinion is a liberal rag. Most of their editorial writers are left wing nuts, so I don’t even waste my time in reading their pieces because I can almost predict the outcome of their one-sided liberal dribble. Folks, I don’t have any objections in liberals blasting conservatives in the news media, but, I’d like to see a fair and balance debate of whatever, as does Fox News in presenting their news to viewers and let viewers decide who’s arguments are more palatable to them. Fox News by the way cleans the clock of all TV news outlets.

Some days ago however, I read something in the Star Telegram that cheered me up considerably. The headline read: “Workers vote against joining union at Coca-Cola plant in Fort Worth”. According to a statement by Teamsters organizer, Chris Rosell, this was the union’s second failed attempt in less than two years to unionize the Coke facility. Coca-Cola employees, by a vote of 215 to 191, rejected a bid to make their company the first corporate-owned unit in the South with a union.

“Why were you happy about the union being ousted of the Coke plant James?” some might ask. My friends, we baby-sit for my daughter a lot (works the graveyard shift in the ER in JPS) and man the kids go through Cokes, Big Red, Dr. Pepper, and Caprisun big time. Thus, I foresaw that if Coke went union, the price of Cokes would skyrocket like almost all products made or represented by unionized companies or businesses. Thus, I would have to shell out more for Coke products, which are high already, but not due to unions, but rather, the high cost of fuel to transport them to market.

I’ve never been a fan of unions. Nor have I ever had a need for them. As a youngster, I remember Swift and Armour’s, two huge packinghouses in my former turf in North Fort Worth being unionized. I remember dad telling me how he hoped I’d get hired there to earn a good wage after I graduated. Little did dad know that I had zero interest in working at a packinghouse. My sights were already set in being a typesetter. A trade I learned at Tech High. Sadly, after I graduated and had won several statewide titles in typesetting competition, the Typographical Union in Fort Worth wouldn’t hire me without going through a two-year apprenticeship training at a low wage. Dejected I resume working at a mobile home company I worked during my high school days making cabinets and as an electrician at a salary much higher than as an apprentice typesetter.

At my mobile home job I worked with Rudy Martinez, a school and neighborhood chum who was a senior when I entered the 10th grade and when I graduated Rudy was still a senior. Poor Rudy was never able to grasp the curriculum at Tech High. Most of his credits he earned in PE and Auto Shop. After I graduated Rudy quit school.

Within time I got a job as a typesetter at a non union shop and later became a specialized computer typesetter. Rudy, on the other hand got hired at General Motors in Arlington, Texas, making darn good money I might add, as a union autoworker. Rudy’s brother, Victor Jr., on the other hand was a bright student. Their dad, Victor Sr., was a chef at TCU, a highly acclaimed college and thus Victor through his dad’s job at TCU got a low cost tuition and earned a degree in business. Later, Victor, Jr. married and moved to California where he earned mega bucks in an international company.

Sometimes as I drove to work, I’d see Rudy, who lived less than a block from my dad’s house for days on end. One day I asked Rudy if he was laid off from GM. He told me that GM was on strike and he loved it because he got 80% of his pay for the duration of the strike. I’d ask Rudy if he thought he’d work again. He’d tell me, “James, I’m sure the union will get us more money and benefits.” I’d asked him, “How Rudy?” He’d tell me laughing, “GM will just increase the cost of their autos and you, the purchasers, will have to shell up more at the dealerships!”

As they years passed, Swift’s and Armour’s shut down their doors at the Stockyards in North Fort Worth and thousands of workers were let go. After all the money the workers paid in union dues they were left out in the cold with no job, no benefits, no retirement, and many were plain broke. That also occurred in many union typesetting and print shops in Fort Worth, where many printers I knew worked. As the printing methods got more into computers and highly specialized printing methods, most typesetting companies and print shops couldn’t compete with the new technology and closed their doors. This left many printers who for years had paid the unions to protect their jobs out in the cold.

Today, one reads where unions around the country are demanding more in wages and benefits while the economy is in the tank and tons of workers are laid off. The teachers union in Chicago is a classic example of the greedy unions. The city of Chicago is in debt up to their neck and the teachers there went on strike demanding more money and benefits. And from where was the teachers union going to get the money? From the poor Chicago taxpayers whose unemployment rate is 9.10% that’s who.

Prior to writing this piece I searched the Internet for pros and cons of unions. In most evaluations unions got six plus reasons for their existence and 16 against their usefulness to business, workers and we the consumers. In fairness, here are two reasons from the pro and con comments: Pro No. 1. Unions protect workers from various company abuses such as unsafe/uncomfortable working conditions, long hours and arbitrary hiring & firing. Pro. No. 2. They give workers a chance to speak at the same negotiating & power levels of the managers and owners. Con No. 1. Unions lead to higher prices for consumers since companies must pay more for wages & benefits, which are passed on to customers. Con No. 2. Society and companies are often held hostage to the essential services of certain unions (e.g. teachers, police, construction workers, pilots, etc.); thus, negotiation becomes less about fairness to workers than about companies meeting the demands of union extortion.

I rest my case!

 

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Policy for a Decaying Economy Print E-mail
by Martin Hutchinson    Tue, Sep 11, 2012, 08:30 AM

I discussed last week how Ben Bernanke’s easy-money policies could be reversed, should Mitt Romney win the Presidency and wish to reverse them. It is only fair, therefore, to discuss the other possibility: should Barack Obama be re-elected and (ignoring his fiscal and regulatory policies, which in any case would be modified by Congress) allow Bernanke to run free with U.S. monetary policy for another four years. In modern history, since Bernanke’s policies are unprecedented, we have no easy benchmark by which we can measure this outcome. As in many cases however, Adam Smith, writing before economic growth was taken to be universal and inevitable, has an admirable template for our future in a Bernanke-driven United States, in his analysis of the declining fortunes of 18th century Bengal.

In “Chapter VIII – The Wages of Labor,” having discussed the flourishing economies of Western Europe, the American colonies and the static but wealthy China, Smith turns his attention to the problem of decay: ”But it would be otherwise in a country where the funds destined for the maintenance of labor were sensibly decaying,” he begins.

That is of course precisely the situation in which the United States finds itself after nearly seven years of Bernankeist monetary policy, which followed 11 years of monetary over-expansion under Alan Greenspan. A decade or more of balance of payments deficits in excess of $500 billion annually, accompanied by interest rates that have depressed the U.S. savings rate far below the capital needs of the economy and four years of $1 trillion plus budget deficits, have hollowed out the U.S. capital base. Historically the U.S. economy has been noted for its gigantic readily available stock of capital, giving every U.S. worker the knowledge that he had the world’s largest pool of capital behind him. This is no longer the case; a recent Congressional Research Services study shows that the U.S. has the lowest manufacturing fixed capital formation of any major OECD economy.

This is having the same effect in today’s United States as it had in Smith’s Bengal. Median U.S. real household income has declined by $4,000 in the last decade, and the decline is accelerating. As Smith put it of Bengal “Every year the demand for servants and laborers would, in all the different classes of employments, be less than it had been the year before. Many who had been in the superior classes, not being able to find employment in their own business, would be glad to seek it in the lowest. The lowest class being not only overstocked with its own workmen, but with the overflowings of all the other classes, the competition for employment would be so great in it, as to reduce the wages of labor to the most miserable and scanty subsistence of the laborer.”

If that’s not a description of many people’s experience in the U.S. economy of 2009-12, I don’t know what is. So far the social safety net, food stamps etc. have prevented utter destitution, while minimum wage legislation has substituted unemployment (or more usually, withdrawal from the workforce) for plunging wage levels.

However the qualitative description is sound, and four more years of severely negative real interest rates, hollowing out the U.S. capital base still further, will make it ever more accurate. While nominal benefit levels may be maintained, at enormous cost to the declining number of solvent taxpayers, rising inflation will doubtless reduce real wage and benefit levels, producing an ever more realistic alignment with the Bengal of 250 years ago.

Reading Smith makes it quite clear that, however much the Obama administration may wish to shift the burden of economic difficulties to the rich, the adverse effects of the Obama/Bernanke policies will fall mainly on the working poor. “The liberal reward of labor, therefore, as it is the necessary effect, so it is the natural symptom of increasing national wealth. The scanty maintenance of the laboring poor, on the other hand, is the natural symptom that things are at a stand, and their starving condition, that they are going fast backwards.”

If we regard Bernanke’s loose monetary policy as immovable before 2017 (or January 2018, when Bernanke’s 2014 term will end) then the economic management problem becomes clear. Economic managers, whether in a possibly Republican Congress or those appointed by Obama in his second term, will need to stem the loss of capital from the U.S. economy. Ultra-low interest rates, by depressing U.S. savings rates and encouraging excessive leverage and speculation, will make this very difficult, but there are nevertheless some steps that can be taken.

First, the $500 billion annual U.S. balance of payments deficit must be lowered. The best way to do this is to lower the dollar against the currencies of U.S. trading partners. “King Dollar” policies will only hasten the outflow of capital and inflow of imports. Protectionism, which would slow the latter, runs the risk in the current global recession that it would lead to retaliation from U.S. trading partners. It would also wreck the World Trade Organization, which has played a valuable if modest role in discouraging the world from lapsing into Smoot-Hawleyism in the global downturn. World trade in 2011 recovered to a level above that of 2007; given the depth of the recession that is a remarkable achievement, incomparably better than the 65% collapse of world trade in the 1930s.

Bernankeism, by printing far more dollars than can be absorbed by world demand, tends to weaken the dollar in any case; this tendency should be encouraged, and exports should be encouraged by any means possible.

Secondly, in a situation in which Bernankeism is tending to de-capitalize the U.S. economy, reduction of the Federal deficit becomes a top priority. The Republicans in Congress will be seen as more or less powerless; they should take advantage of this to cave to the Obama administration on taxation, allowing a large tax increase, as far as possible achieved by closing loopholes rather than raising rates. A Value Added Tax, while a dangerous instrument to leave in the hands of greedy legislators, would have the virtue of shifting taxation from income to consumption, thereby encouraging saving and reducing imports and the payments deficit. 

Conversely, Congressional Republicans should adopt the “root-canal” approach on spending, forcing massive reductions in discretionary spending, entitlements and even defense in return for their flexibility on taxes. A long-term solution of the medical financing problem along the lines of the Ryan Plan, in return for a modest VAT, would be worth it on balance, provided overall spending was kept on a sufficiently tight leash.

Politically, Congressional Republicans should be able to shift most of the blame for both tax increases and spending cuts onto the Obama administration, while any loss of the United States’ international position as a result of the defense cuts could also be blamed on Obama’s foreign policy. The objective should be the smallest possible government, financed as far as possible from current revenues; this will reduce the cash outflow from the depleted U.S. savings base. Any unpopularity from root-canalism will on balance redound to the GOP’s benefit in 2016, but, more important, the long term budget problem will be solved, and the drain of capital from the U.S. economy will be minimized. U.S. middle class living standards will continue to decline, but not as quickly as they would have without the “root-canal” policy, and the seed-corn of growth will be preserved for future generations.

There is of course the possibility that Bernankeism will collapse of its own accord before 2017. The most likely form such a collapse would take is a sudden upsurge in inflation. Given Bernanke’s “quantitative easing” policy and the extreme nature of his interest rate policies it’s likely that an inflation burst, if it occurred, would come suddenly, rather than gradually as in the 1970s. Alternatively, an uncontrollable surge in commodity and energy prices could cause an economic downturn, as was partly the case in 2008. 

In either of these cases, policies of a weak dollar combined with extreme austerity in budget policy would make the danger of a Weimar or Great Depression scenario less severe. In the event of a collapse, policymakers should concentrate on using it to ensure the removal of Bernanke, reducing the damaging period during which his monetary policies are in effect. In this respect a weak dollar policy would be helpful; it could cause a foreign exchange crisis similar to that of 1978-79, forcing Bernanke’s removal as that crisis forced the removal of G. William Miller and his replacement with the estimable Paul Volcker.

In summary, even the prospect of another four years of Bernankeism is not grounds for excessive pessimism. While his policies, if allowed to combine with massive budget and payments deficits, could turn the United States into a 21st Century version of Adam Smith’s Bengal, there are tools of budget austerity and currency depreciation that can be used to counteract them. That these tools are likely to result in a reversal of Bernankeism and its replacement with sound policies is another very good reason for adopting them. Passivity in this case would not be a virtue.

 (Originally appeared in The Bear’s Lair)

Martin Hutchinson is the author of “Great Conservatives” (Academica Press, 2005)—details can be found on the Web site www.greatconservatives.com and co-author with Professor Kevin Dowd of “Alchemists of Loss” (Wiley—2010). Both now available on Amazon.com, Great Conservatives only in a Kindle edition, Alchemists of Loss in both Kindle and print editions.

 

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When a Picture is Worth More Than a Thousand Words Print E-mail
by John Browning    Tue, Sep 11, 2012, 08:25 AM

It’s often said that actions speak louder than words.  Pictures, however, sometimes speak loudest of all.  This is especially true in the legal system, where a poignant “day in the life” video of an accident victim who’s been paralyzed by someone else’s negligence can convey more in a few minutes than days worth of clinical expert testimony.  Sometimes the pictures themselves can land someone in trouble—even the judge.  The Ohio Supreme Court recently sanctioned Jeannette Moll, a candidate for the Ohio Court of Appeals, for wearing judicial robes in her campaign flyers.  You guessed it—Moll, a sole practitioner, is not a judge and has never served as a judge (she did serve as a state court magistrate from 1997 to 2007).  The Court held that she violated the state’s code of judicial conduct because of the misleading ads.  And in Brooklyn, New York, Supreme Court Justice Arthur Schack recently recused himself from presiding over a retrial of a personal injury case that had been tried by attorney John McDonough.  McDonough’s firm had alleged that the judge couldn’t be fair and impartial to him.  Its evidence?  It seems Justice Schack had allegedly posted copies of a photo of McDonough in his courtroom with the word “Wanted” printed on them.  He also allegedly drew a bullseye on another photo of McDonough.  Despite this, the judge maintains that he is fair, and has “no bias, animus or hostility against Mr. McDonough or his firm.”  I think the pictures said a thousand words, and then some.

 

Sometimes, pictures may simply be the best way for an advocate to express his client’s position concisely and clearly.  In Hillwood Investment Properties III, Ltd. V. Radical Mavericks Management, Mark Cuban was accused by a minority owner of the Dallas Mavericks of mismanagement of the NBA team.  In his 3-page summary judgment brief, Cuban’s lawyer Tom Melsheimer featured a photo that demonstrated loudly and clearly just how “mismanaged” the team was: it showed the victorious Mavericks hoisting the NBA Championship trophy on June 12, 2011.  Enough said.

 

Recently, a lawyer who opposed the proposed settlement of the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against 3 publishers of e-books (the publishers were accused of a price-fixing conspiracy) resorted to unconventional means in his quest to persuade the court.  Bob Kohn, a former music executive and chief executive of Royalty Share, was very critical of the proposed settlement and wanted to share the reasons why in an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief.  However, New York federal judge Denise Cole rejected his 25-page brief, and limited him to only 5 pages.  Embracing “the idea of using pictures which, as we know, paint a thousand words,” Kohn filed 5 pages all right—but it was in cartoon form (Kohn calls it a “graphic novelette”).  In the comic strip panels (illustrated by a friend of Kohn’s daughter), Kohn is depicted discussing the case with his daughter Katie and presenting the reasons why the settlement before the court harms the public.  At the end, Katie tells her father “I’m not a lawyer, but that sounds like a major screw-up.”  When the animated Kohn tells his daughter she should’ve been a lawyer, she demurs, saying “not for me.  I’m a novelist, and it’s impossible to tell a complex story in only five pages.”  Kohn’s “comic brief” made national news, with Publishers Weekly even saying “his rendering is brilliant—not only is it a not so subtle jab at the court for limiting such a complicated case to five page briefs, as a comic strip, the brief will be widely digestible for the general public who may not have the gumption to plow through a typical legal brief.”  Alas, it did not work; the judge approved the price-fixing settlement anyway.

 

Judges, too, have been known to throw in a few pictures with their written judicial opinions, in order to illustrate a particularly salient point or to make the opinion more accessible.  One of the judges best known for employing photos in his opinions is Seventh Circuit Justice Richard Posner.  In a 2007 case dealing with the slaughter of horses for human consumption, Posner underscored the use of horsemeat by zoos by including a photo of Kwanzaa, a lion at a Waco zoo enjoying a birthday cake made from 10 pounds of horsemeat topped with whipped cream and a carrot.  In a January 2012 opinion regarding federal prisoners suing for the right to express their Rastafarian religious beliefs by wearing dreadlocks, Justice Posner incorporated a photo of reggae icon Bob Marley to show how “dreadlocks can attain a formidable length and density.”  And in another case, this time involving whether the Fair Labor Standards Act required steel workers to be compensated for time spent changing into protective clothing, Posner underscored what the “donning and dotting” entailed by including a photo of a man in full gear.  The judge described the clothing in detail, and then featured the photo for good measure because “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

 

Of course, sometimes Justice Posner has used photos to express his displeasure with the lawyers.  Chastising a plaintiff’s lawyer whom he felt had blatantly ignored unfavorable case precedents in his brief, Justice Posner took him to task both verbally and by including a photo of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.  Ouch!

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We Pay so that Food-Stamp Users Can Dine in Style Print E-mail
by James Reza    Mon, Sep 10, 2012, 07:22 AM

I wrote this piece in 1993, still applies today.

When I was a little kid, I always went grocery shopping with my mom. Dad never owned a car, so when mom went to the store, I had to go along to help her carry the groceries home.
As a teen-ager in the Fifties, I remember that mom would buy groceries for our family of four with about $6-$7. She wouldn’t buy a lot of the choice meat cuts, but we always managed to eat well. Except for milk and bread, the $6-$7 worth of groceries would last us an entire week.

During the summer months when I was going to high school, I worked as an apprentice cabinetmaker at a mobile-home company. I remember that I was flabbergasted when my good friend and coworker Isaac “Chenco” Herrera told me that it took $20 worth of groceries to feed his family of sever for a week.

“Gosh, Chencho, that’s almost half of your paycheck,” I remember telling him. At that time, I earned $1.15 an hour and Chencho was making $1.35. That came out to $54 a week, less Social Security and income taxes.

Though Chencho had a hard time raising and feeding his five kids, they all seemed well nourished.
I used to ride with Chencho to work, and on the Fridays when we got paid, we’d stop at a local grocery store where we’d cash our checks. After cashing his check, he would buy some groceries for his family. I don’t know if they were available at the time, but I can’t recall him ever buying groceries with food stamps.

After I got married, I let my wife do the grocery shopping for a while. It didn’t take me long to realize that she wasn’t good at it. Thus, I continued my grocery-shopping venture into my married life, which I didn’t mind.

Some of my male friends would make fun of me when I told them that I enjoyed grocery shopping for my family. My friends would tell me I was lying to cover up my henpecked ways. Their laughter was soon subdued when I’d tell them that most of the grocery shoppers were women, and that I found great pleasure in girl watching while I shopped. Of course, I never did tell my wife that. She has always thought — and still does — that I am a wonderful husband for doing it. (I never have shown my wife this article.)

After I got married in 1960, the weekly grocery bill for my wife and me averaged around $9. However, as the years passed and our family grew to three kids and my mother-in-law, whom I had asked to come live with us, my grocery bill grew considerably. It was then that I became more frugal in my grocery shopping.

How? Well, I began to buy more chicken than beef. Bologna became my family’s favorite lunchmeat. Frijoles (beans) thank God, still reign over canned corn and green beans. Instead of buying brand-name canned goods with the Del Monte or Dole label, I’d buy the chain-store brand. I would substitute mellorine or ice milk for real ice cream for my kids. On Thursdays I would scan the newspaper in the food section for grocery coupons.

One day Cecilia, my youngest daughter, got on my case. She said, “Gosh, Dad, why don’t you buy Blue Bell ice cream once in a while? It tastes a whole lot better than the mellorine and ice milk that you buy us. Little Mary’s mom (next door neighbor) always gives me Blue Bell when I go play at her house and her mom doesn’t even work!”

After some thought, and after that tongue-lashing Cecilia gave me, I eased up on my grocery frugality and started buying why my family wanted and indeed deserved. Of course my food bill soared.

I then began to notice the spending habits of those who bought groceries with food stamps. You see, I knew most of my friends’ wives who shopped at the grocery store. Little Mary’s father for example, had a bad drinking habit. Though his wife didn’t work and they had several other kids, Little Mary’s dad spent a lot of his money on beer and liquor. His poor wife — and I saw her many times — shopped solely with food stamps.

I’ve seen it so many times, but I still wonder: Why is it that individuals with food stamps will buy better grocery items that those of us who don’t use food stamps? Why is it that they will buy top-brand-name canned goods, ham, steak, expensive pastry products and will seldom, if ever, buy any off-brand product — while hardworking Americans are penny-pinching with their grocery bills? When have any of you seen someone with food stamps use cost saving coupons? I’m telling you that those who do are as scarce as hens’ teeth.

But there is a bright side for me in this government fiasco. I tip my hat to those of you who penny-pinch with your grocery bill to help supply Little Mary’s mom with food stamps so she can buy Blue Bell ice cream and give some of it once in a while to my daughter, Cecilia!

 

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