Review of ‘Around the Corner: Reflections on American Wars, Violence, Terrorism, and Hope

Around the Corner offers thought provoking true stories from the Cold War, its bloody aftermath, and our own America today. John W. Davis suggests rain-swept streets and dark corners serve not only as background to these events of his life, but also as metaphor. Around dark corners on a rainy street, what seems at first glance clear or self- evident, might not be so. We see only indistinct outlines, as through a glass darkly. What may be true, could as well be only partly so, or even tragically false. So too with our beliefs about who we are as a nation .Nevertheless, we must make decisions in such a world, a world we’ve neither created nor would have, had we the chance to do otherwise. He observes events, people, laws, chance, and history from the perspective of a soldier, historian, liaison officer, husband and father. 

      Mr. Davis gives us a film noir atmosphere with his collection of intriguing, heart breaking, and insightful essays from the secret world of Cold War counterintelligence to our conflicted America today. Real people and actual events emerge from this collection in ways you won’t forget. He begins with those who influenced him along his life choices. He shows how language study, family military experiences, and a liberal education led him to his problematic career. Each tale draws us deeper into the questions we raise when we demand others serve in the secret world for their country. We discover that many of the dilemmas facing us in international settings impact us in our domestic traumas as well.   

      Davis reminds us that actions in the secret world, especially against spies and terrorists, when conducted by a liberal democracy, give no one a free pass from basic right and wrong, from observance of the law. Our conflicted nation only reflects in highlight what has existed for years in the secret realms of clandestine struggles abroad. You’ll find a strange new world tantalizingly revealed here. You’ll even find reason for hope.

You can purchase this book in various forms from Amazon.

SoHo’s Grand Hotels

There was a girl knocking on my hotel room door all night. Finally I let her out.”

— Henny Youngman

    

Apparently, the lack of tourists and grounded flights from Europe are finally starting to have an effect. SoHo hotels are feeling the pinch. The Trump SoHo project which was initially envisioned as a condo, a condo-hotel, and then, after foreclosure and bankruptcy it morphed into The Dominick. However, the 47 story hotel has been vacant since last spring. The door is boarded up and the only sign of life is a small enclosed area outside built to accept diners for a restaurant trying to survive. No appearances have occurred there either.

The James Hotel, built upon the old Moondance Diner site has been vacant almost as long, although it has recently changed ownership. Graffiti covers most of it and there’s no sign of life. SoHo 54, another hotel on Watts Street, is apparently yet another magnet for graffiti — but certainly not tourists or any clientele.

But, the more established property is The SoHo Grand, a hotel on West Broadway near Canal, owned by Leonard Stern’s Hartz Mountain Industries. It’s also the owner of the old Tribeca Grand, now called The Roxy. According to The Real Deal, Stern basically wants to hand over the keys and walk away from money-losing properties which have been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. My own, less-than scientific assessment of their money woes, has been confirmed by doormen who have told me that the SoHo Grand has been running at about thirty percent occupancy.

In addition to the hotel situation, the condos and rentals situation have become dicey. The building recently completed at 111 Varick had profusely advertised affordable housing but those units seem to be phantoms that disappeared once the building permit was issued. i’ve called their rental office and was referred to HPD, who also knows nothing. Neither Community Board #2 nor HPD (where the info purportedly lies), seem to have any information on any affordable housing apartments. And, the Renzo Piano building at Broome and Varick is also cipher. That location, originally approved for an eight story rental, which then became a hotel site, then morphed into TWO 30 story towers. How’s that for working the Community Board and using the right lobbyist to get around height and use limitations? So, I stopped in, after having watched it be completed after two years and was told that the condos were seventy percent sold. That was a few months ago. So, I stopped in again — and was told that almost fifty percent are sold almost two months later. So, what does that tell you? Shades of Ivanka and Don Jr. with Trump SoHo? I suspect sales are not going so well.

I’ve got my own problems, of course, I can’t even get heat in a building from 1920 where the landlord has spent the last 20 years evicting all of the rent-stabilized tenants — utilizing the courts and high-priced lawyers to drive the statutory tenants from their homes. The landlord operates like a criminal enterprise run by dentists — but good luck getting anyone to investigate. Law enforcement in this town is beholden to the real estate industry and the courts and judges themselves have deep pockets. Judges are supposedly community oriented but, my landlord’s lawyers never met a judge they couldn’t convince. Judge Braun of Manhattan Supreme Court let my own landlord drive a holdover case for seven years until the legal fees were $500,000. All to remain in a rent-stabilized apartment and not be ejected? Sounds like a book to me. Bizarre. Abuse and harassment laws should require that legal fees be assumed by landlords — if tenants continue to be obligated to pay rent while they’re being sued. That’s the trick, you see. Use the courts to require rent AND legal fees to be paid at the same time. It always results in the tenant taking a small settlement to walk away. It’s eviction in another form.

Maybe the answer is that SoHo is the ideal location for the homeless. The re-zoning that’s being planned certainly isn’t to help the middle-class tenants or homeless or those who need affordable housing. If that were the case politicians would do something about now! Landlords and developers have been shitting on us for decades and it looks like it took a pandemic for rents to start dropping and at least delay pushing people out of their homes for more condos and and more high-priced apartments. Current claims about affordable housing being provided by landlords or developers is just bullshit.. All of the City agencies are either conned or crooked and fall for the same old tired promises that never pan out. So, maybe we should just give some space in the empty hotels to homeless people — before WE are going to need those spaces once the evictions and moratorium on foreclosures end and the courts reopen. We could all be next.

The vacant SoHo 54 Hotel – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson

SoHo 54 Hotel – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
The vacant James Hotel – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
The James Hotel – D. Clark MacPherson
The SoHo Grand Hotel – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
The SoHo Grand Hotel – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
The Dominick – former Trump SoHo – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Manhattan Mini-storage — where Felix Sater stored his guns during the Trump SoHo approvals at CB2.
Photo by D. Clark MacPherson

The Snow Job

I guess the only time most people think about injustice is when it happens to them.

— Henry Bukowski

I think it was at the beginning of my third year in prison that I’d decided I had a problem with Truth. Having written copiously about political corruption in SoHo and in the Hamptons, I knew that whatever I wrote was bound to create some controversy. We all know about “fake news” and how a lot of political, financial, and social commentary is basically horseshit. The media does lie extensively. For example, the old version of the downtown publication, The Villager, supported Shelly Silver and did an assassination piece on me without checking out truth of any of its so-called source material. The “truth” in this case came directly from the faxed press releases of a corrupt politician in the Hamptons. The Villager’s publisher John Sutter had an agenda. Meanwhile the Village Voice was a great publication (which will soon publish again) that became a telephone book of ads. Let’s see what they do this time around. Then, of course, there was the SoHo Journal. And, it published a little too much about reality and Truth, that dangerous combination. And, it pissed off a lot of people. Especially those with power.

Mistakenly, as writer and publisher I believed that telling the truth was a good place to be. Unfortunately, keeping your skirts squeaky clean is more important when shooting from the hip if you piss anyone off. Getting caught during the Great Recession with mortgages that the banks were giving away like candy bars (Liar Loans), with applications that mortgage brokers manipulated even for the likes of Donald Trump — created an opportunity for retaliation. The banks, of course, had created a CDO (Collateralized Debt Obligation) Ponzi scheme worth hundreds of billions that they were protecting. Michael Lewis in “The Big Short” describes that perfectly. They were not going to get hurt — especially, after having learned their lesson during the Savings and Loan crisis when a thousand bankers went to jail. The bankers were now part of government and Goldman Sachs was in control of who now got prosecuted for what.

Meanwhile, Hamptons District Attorney Thomas Spota and his prosecutors saw an opportunity and pounced. Here was the chance to retaliate against the exposure of their criminal enterprise. Anyone who’d like to know what a “plea deal” is really like should pay attention. In one book, “The SoHo Journalist,” that wild ride is described, which resembles “The Wolf of Wall Street.” And then there is, “Up & Away,” an absurdist view of the prison system — and is a view of criminal justice that is elucidating and disturbing. And, the five volume “Gulag,” describes what mass incarceration and racism really looks and feels like from the inside looking out. These, as yet unpublished books, bring a new level of Truth to Justice.

Former D.A. Spota awaits sentencing in March for his conviction. Among those who were prosecuted include former Police Commissioner James Burke and his Anti-Terrorism Chief Christopher McPartland. His former cabal from the Town of Southampton were also involved and investigated.

So, what’s next?

Two of the most important races coming up in Manhattan are Borough President and District Attorney. The Queens D.A. race is over and despite the fact that I knew Melinda Katz, I’ve had no contact with her in a decade. There’s nothing to add about her success — she’ll do a great job. And, my first and last lunch at Barolo with Cy Vance during his first run for D.A. was my only contact with him as well. Since I’ve been unable to get anywhere near Hogan Place since I’d interviewed Bob Morgenthau, I do not believe Vance is running again. He’s put together a team to prosecute Trump — so what more needs to be said? It’s my understanding that he’s supporting Lucy Lang.

Among the other candidates, so I’ve been told, are Tali Farhadian Weinstein, Alan Bragg, Liz Crotty, and Tahani Aboushi — followed by prosecutor Diana Florence. I’ll fill in any blanks or relevant information about these candidates as time goes on.

Meanwhile, we’ll bring you more information about the Borough President race as well. Brad Hoylman will be first, among equals, of course. He’s the State Senator behind the renter’s protection during the pandemic. He deserves the attention.

Meanwhile, here are some recent photos from SoHo. But, keep your eye on 111 Varick Street. While Community Board 2 promised a number of affordable units in that approved development — so far, that’s all bullshit, which seems to have been promised in order to get a building permit.

Article and Photos by D. Clark MacPherson

This is who is running in the D.A.’s race

Stay Tuned.

The State of SoHo

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out…”

— Hunter Thompson

Masked men and women proliferate as the stores have lines outside as people wait to get in to shop. Not long lines, of course, short lines. Some of the restaurants seem to be doing okay if you don’t mind eating on the sidewalk while wearing your snowsuit. A few places have apparently invested heavily in heating devices that seem to be sufficient for those who like heading to the Arctic for lunch.

Broadway has a decent amount of foot traffic, West Broadway is doing okay, and surprisingly, Wooster, Greene and Mercer are busy. However, there are many empty storefronts. It’s always been a question. With the Stock Market doing fairly well, where does the fact that so many businesses have failed and closed up appear in the figures from Washington and Wall Street? At Starbucks there are no tables to sit at and the workers chase you off if you sit on a sill by the window — even though you may be the only customer with three workers behind the counter. How does that work out for Customer Appreciation?

You’d think, in this environment, that they’d be so happy to see you come in to the store that they’d play the sax or bring in a Mariachi band. But, that’s Old School, isn’t it?

Next issue: District Attorney and Borough President candidates

Eating in glass houses on West Broadway. Photo by D. Clark MacPherson

The new heating system. Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Cipriani On Ice. Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Cipriani expanded. Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
The Villager. Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Art Trumps business. Photo by D. Clark MacPherson

Stay Tuned.

Covid Redux

New York is not the place that it was. Everyone’s leaving.”

— Donald Trump

As the helicopters flew overhead, no doubt searching for wayward protestors, West Broadway was like a walk down memory lane. Several of the restaurants were closed and gone while others were holding on, no doubt in anticipation of the second round of indoor closings due to Covid-19. A few places were showing signs of life and have constructed elaborate outdoor dining sheds. Several had heaters and dubious structures. The concept of free air flow to avoid contamination seems to have been lost in the translation. But, at least some of the businesses have managed to stay one step ahead of complete devastation.

So, like it or not, SoHo is managing to stay alive as we all wait to see whether the vaccines will work and whether the New York economy will weather this particular storm.

Meanwhile, in the Hamptons, restaurants continue to allow indoor dining at fifty percent of occupancy. The economy is doing fairly well and the real estate market is alive and functioning. Recent sales have been healthy and properties have been selling quickly. In fact, one broker reported that an oceanfront home was listed for $16 million dollars and sold in five days.

On a political front in the Hamptons, former District Attorney Thomas Spota, who was convicted last year of obstruction of justice and was described as having operated a criminal enterprise out of his office, is slated to be sentenced on March 24th. His forte was in prosecuting opponents, political rivals and journalists — using the machinery of his office as well as corrupt A.D.A’s to force pleas from people who were innocent.

So, what else is new.

Here are some current West Broadway scenes in SoHo.

Vote Early and Often

— Al Capone

One thing that has been learned in SoHo from the BLM movement, regardless of social movements and world-changing cultural upheavals, is that you have to board up your storefronts if things get testy. Apparently, whether Republican or Democrat, glass windows are a constant. This is what democracy now looks like. From Broadway’s Wells Fargo Bank to West Broadway’s Coach store, the plywood is out and on again. In a slow rain it’s back to the drawing boards, literally.

As we all prepare, during a pandemic no less, for the “orderly transition” of power whether that be via a new administration or a good old fashioned purge, strap yourself in. A few SoHo hotels are still boarded up from the last round of mayhem, The James and The Dominick (former Trump SoHo) are all prepared for what may come.

Wells Farge Bank – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
The James Hotel – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
The James Hotel – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Coach – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
West Broadway – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
SoHo street art – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson

Real Estate in SoHo

“Landlords grow rich in their sleep.”

— John Stuart Mill

With several new condo projects stalled, like the Renzo Piano towers at 565 Broome and hotels like The James and The Dominick closed since March, you would think that rentals were doing well.

Not so.

Of course, landlords cling to the belief that this pandemic has only a short way to go and that waves of renters will shortly start rushing in to grab what’s left like a scene from the season finale of Fear the Walking Dead.

Naturally, this leads to the continuing intransigence about dropping prices. It’s a naturally objectionable concept for landlords. Except, that it’s where we are right now.

Take the “Affordable Housing” project that has been advertised for nearly a year at 111 Varick Street — the site of an old parking garage where the owner passed down the real estate to his son. The 27 story building offers 100 apartments at prices ranging from $4,000/mo. for a studio and $6,000/mo. for a one bedroom. Stanford, the rental agent who answered the phone, knew nothing about the “affordable” apartments and referred us to HPD. According to the offices of CB1, CB2, the Borough President and State Senator Brad Hoylman’s office, no one knew how to access the list of apartments that no doubt were part of the approval to build in the first place.

The Renzo Piano building began as an eight story rental building, morphed into a hotel with no height limits (an as-of-right zoning in a commercial area), and was then bought along with the surrounding parcels after the zoning had favorably changed — with the help of the Planning Board. The result, of course, are two huge condo towers which are mostly vacant.

After having followed up on the 111 Varick project for over a year, does anyone actually wonder why residents refuse to believe anything politicians tell us?

So, rental prices are dropping. Many local buildings are dropping their asking prices. However, several older buildings are not budging on their asks. No doubt, in contemplation of that mad rush of bodies returning to SoHo and other areas in Manhattan.

Which may never come. Companies have realized that people working from home helps their bottom line. SoHo is now in danger of a huge number of vacancies in storefronts, vacancies in commercial space — and empty apartments.

With the plethora of homeless and the increasing likelihood of resistance from landlords to filling their properties with this transient group — what is the possibility of the vacant hotels in SoHo being used to fill this void?

Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Photo by D. Clark MacPherson

Perserverance

“When you’re going through Hell, keep going.”

— Winston Churchill

Businesses in SoHo face a daunting future. For the moment, many fewer people have ventured onto the streets and sidewalks. Most of the vehicular traffic consists of autos streaming into the Holland Tunnel along Broome Street. There isn’t much foot traffic despite the fact that the plywood and spontaneous artwork has been removed.

Several of the restaurants have closed permanently. Those that are still with us have managed to carve out spaces on the street and sidewalks and have begun serving outdoor fare. No one knows what the fall and winter will bring but for now its a much needed lifeline for the businesses that have made it this far. If you are adventurous, it’s easy to get a seat at a restaurnt and the parking is pretty good. Stay tuned. And, bring your mask.

Sadelle’s on West Broadway – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Felix — Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Dos Caminos — Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Broome Street Bar – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Narcissim on display in SoHo – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson
Gitano’s Garden of Love – Photo by D. Clark MacPherson

The Rich White Guy Criminal Justice Ploy

After writing about the corruption in the Hamptons for nearly a decade, Freedom of Speech finally has come full circle. It took a decade of writing articles and blogs, numerous discussions and arguments and four years in prison for a simple point of view: that corruption in the Hamptons was both pervasive and endemic and that the former District Attorney was running a criminal enterprise which was supported by all of the money coming in from New Yorkers. 

The December 17th Federal website read:

“Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota and Christopher McPartland, the former Chief of Investigations and Chief of the Government Corruption Bureau  of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office (SCDAO), were convicted today by a federal jury in Central Islip, New York, of all four counts of the indictment charging them with conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding, witness tampering, obstruction of justice…”

Although there has been a delayed sentencing hearing, since all characters are out on bail, regardless of your attitude about whether either of these  individuals will ever set foot in a jail cell, rest assured it may never happen. Criminal Justice in America is not a universal reality.  There is justice for whites, justice for blacks and browns, and justice for money.  Here’s how it works:

If you either have enough cash or your cronies pony-up the money, from either politicians, gangsters, extorted associates, friends you’ve done favors for, unions, the multiple offshore or buried locations with cash that’s been stolen or “liberated” legally or illegally — you can buy the best legal minds in the business.

The first step is waiting until sentencing before requesting continuation of  bail while the appeal is played out. There is always an appeal and the Feds almost always grant this. The State almost never grants remaining out on bail pending appeal. It then takes about 3 years for an appeal to be decided — and convicted individuals are mostly out on bail while this happens. A really good lawyer usually can find an issue worthy of  appeal. Friends in high places, of course, are helpful.

Then comes the second bite of the apple, the second trial. Three or four years after losing the first trial.  Let’s say there are no mistakes and the trial and verdict are the same. And, in this case, from 2016 when the shit hit the fan, it’s already four years, right? So, let’s say there’s an appeal which is granted and a new trial is set. At least a year is needed to prepare. Now, it’s what, five years in?

Of course, even if the second case is lost — by the time we’re at six years, bail must be granted, or, rather, continued. The Feds are always accommodative. Not so, the State. So, it’s much better to be tried and convicted by the Feds in this regard. And, the appeal of the second conviction will take another three years. Now, where are we, at 9 years?

In Shelly Silver’s case, this has happened three times. Although he’s recently been sentenced to 6 ½ years he’s still out on bail and he hasn’t even played the final card yet. Appealing the sentence, his age, illness, dementia…

And, then there’s always some new wrinkle on the Covid-19 defense. You can’t send an old white guy who’s sick to prison with a pandemic going on, can you? Just because we have thousands of guys in their 70’s and 80’s in New York State prison alone, is it fair to jail an old politician? Or, a D.A.?

Wouldn’t it be better to apply this level of special treatment universally rather than send any of these characters to jail? How does society benefit from sending crafty old politicians to jail? Let them use their intelligence and connections to make the criminal justice system better — more fair — more equal.

Even if you’ve been damaged by their actions, as I have, sending them to jail won’t correct that. Make them work to change the system for all of us.

— D. Clark MacPherson

The Big Short Redux — Part One

For those of you who enjoyed The Big Short, both the film and the book by Michael Lewis, the story behind it is both elucidating and entertaining. The film was entertaining but the book was descriptive of the period on Wall Street that directly contributed to the collapse of the economy in 2008-9.

The basic premise of the book was that a few investors and individuals became aware of the fact that the entire housing market and the financing behind the bubble that caused its collapse was due to the creation of a cute little financial instrument called a CDO, or Collateralized Debt Obligation. Originally, it was a CMO, or Collateralized Mortgage Obligation. It was the brain- child of a Wall Street trader named Lou Ranieri who originally worked for Salomon Brothers. The concept was simple if the small print wasn’t. Mortgages were used as the fodder, or, rather, the main asset which stuffed CDO’s and were then traded as securities. They also included airplane leases and other flotsam and jetsam but it was the mortgages that made them infamous.

Lew Ranieri

Meet the father of mortgage-backed bonds. In the late 1970s, the college dropout and Salomon trader coined the term securitization to name a tidy bit of financial alchemy in which home loans were packaged together by Wall Street firms and sold to institutional investors. In 1984 Ranieri boasted that his mortgage-trading desk “made more money than all the rest of Wall Street combined.” The good times rolled: as homeownership exploded in the early ’00s, the mortgage-bond business inflated Wall Street’s bottom line. So the firms placed even bigger bets on these securities. But when subprime borrowers started missing payments, the mortgage market stalled and bond prices collapsed. Investment banks, overexposed to the toxic assets, closed their doors. Investors lost fortunes.

http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1877351_1877350_1877342,00.html

Beginning some time after the Long-Term Capital Management implosion, the default of the Russian Ruble in 1998 and the Dot-Com bust in 2000, CDO’s became THE game on Wall Street and were pushed by the banks. Bond Traders saw an opportunity and banks enjoyed the great margins and appetite for mind blowing income. Once the banks, mortgage brokers and real estate agents realized what was coming everyone jumped on the bandwagon.

Borrowers and small investors had no idea what was behind the seemingly endless amounts of cash that was being funnelled into the real estate marketplace. Thus, was born the Liar Loan. Essentially, computer programs created an interface between mortgage brokers and bank reps who colluded with each other to input just the right information so that the bank website would spit out an approved loan document. The banks only cared about volume. How many mortgage loans could be obtained in the shortest amount of time so that the thousands of loans could be stuffed into CDO’s which the banks could then sell off as securities. They’d bought the rating agencies so that the Triple-A rating would guarantee pension funds and investors would be interested in buying these securities.

Mortgage brokers like WCS Lending used brokers to push through loans using dubious information from employees like Neil Stein who would brow-beat borrowers into submitting fictional information that WCS submitted for loan approvals; Countrywide Financial used “The Hustle” to manipulate information that got loan approvals; and Deutsche Bank negotiated the purchase of MortgageIt, a fraudulent, fly-by-night mortgage bank that never saw a borrower it didn’t like, dead or alive.

JPMorgan Chase joined the game, Wells Fargo never saw a fraud it didn’t like, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers collapsed and were absorbed, Goldman Sachs got a pat on the back from Treasury Secretary Paulson who had been a Goldman CEO as well as a Christian Scientist, and Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley took part in the festivities. But, Deutsche Bank was a stand-out, not only in its penchant for fraud but for its sheer stupidity in the investment realm.

When the shit hit the fan beginning in 2006 and 2007, after the real estate market started to resemble a bubble, home values collapsed and mortgages defaulted, everyone scurried to save themselves. Of course, the banks had TARP, the troubled asset relief program, the bond traders that had been making a few million a year left town, along with the mortgage brokers, and the bankers just told the Board of Directors to write them another check. Jamies Dimon got a $16 million dollar bonus in 2009 for “steering the bank” through the turmoil that Chase had helped create and then received $25 Billion just ‘cause, well, they helped out didn’t they?

Despite the rampant fraud, no banker went to jail.

— D. Clark MacPherson