My Take

By Jack Bernard

Special to The Seattle Times

Jim Johnson reads a newspaper with his morning cup of coffee at a Starbucks in downtownPortland. As of September, you can still get… (Don Ryan / The Associated Press) 

The Seattle Times recently reported that Starbucks planned to stop selling newspapers at its stores beginning in September [“Starbucks stores to stop selling newspapers in the fall, pointing to ‘changing customer behavior,’ ” July 12, Business]. I want to amplify the voices of those concerned with that decision.

Starbucks has branded itself as a “third place,” a term for a place other than home or work where community life takes place, people connect and interact. It would appear that Starbucks borrowed the branding idea from another Seattle favorite, Third Place Books, our local independent bookstore chain, but that’s beside the point.

I admire the Starbucks brand and the worldwide empire former CEO Howard Schultz built. It’s brought jobs and recognition to Seattle and in general has been a good corporate citizen. Like any large corporation, it’s made mistakes, but it has usually been quick to respond and rectify problems, whether it’s exploitation on coffee plantations or “partner” wage or scheduling problems.

It’s always tempting to conflate a corporate founder’s views with company policy, but it’s difficult to separate them in the case of Starbucks. Schultz has always been the “voice” of Starbucks, and though he stepped down from his CEO and chairman roles in 2018, he is still the chairman emeritus and its single largest shareholder.  

Given that he recently tested the presidential campaign waters and has never been reluctant to share his opinion or weigh in on issues outside of Starbucks, I find it astonishing that the company is planning to stop selling newspapers in America’s “third place.” If supporting an informed electorate and promoting good citizenship is important to him, as he has said so many times, then why is Starbucks pulling the plug on the endangered newspaper industry and the investigative journalism that is its foundation?

Today, the stores sell The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Seattle Times and USA Today in its Seattle locations. In September, you won’t be able to buy them there. All of these papers offer vetted, fact-checked journalism. We need them now more than ever. Millennials may choose to get their news online, but there is no substitute for print journalism, for scanning the pages of a local or national publication for articles that would rarely pop up while browsing on the internet.

This is not just a business decision. The Times’ article mentioned that newspapers have not been a profitable item at Starbucks, but this should be more than just business. America needs an informed and educated electorate more than ever. In its small way, Starbucks has created space where people gather, read and discuss the issues of the day.

This is a plea to Schultz and the leadership at Starbucks to reconsider its decision. Please help us do our part to support newspapers and investigative journalism. It’s part of our obligation as citizens and your decision to provide a third place for us to exercise that obligation.

Editor’s note: Starbucks and the Schultz Family Foundation contribute to local journalism through their investment in The Seattle Times Project Homeless initiative, which explores the region’s complex, troubling problem of homelessness.

Jack Bernard is a Seattle-based freelance writer and former Marine Corps pilot and lawyer.

Scatology vs. Eschatology in Today’s Politics…

Detail from Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights

I’ve been thinking a lot about death and Ricky Gervais lately, because I’m losing friends at such an alarming rate. Their obituaries often say, “Died of natural causes,” but Stuart Nuland in his book How We Die says the death certificate should probably read “Died of old age,” although he acknowledges that we’re not quite there officially. At my age, it’s natural to be thinking of death, but I’m trying to be cool about it. As Ricky Gervais says, “Death is like being stupid; it’s only painful for others.”

On the other hand, thinking of my own death is embarrassingly self-absorbing. There are so many other deaths to think about, like the death of democracy or the planet as we know it? Just when you think it can’t get any worse… it does. 

It seems incomprehensible to those of us who, after living through the end of the Great Depression, the beginning and end of WWII, lunch counter sit-ins, voting rights demonstrations, the Detroit and Watts riots, the Summer of Love and the Vietnam War, the brief Pax-Clintonia, 9/11 and the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are, in two years of the Trump regency, reliving the turmoil of the 1950’s and ‘60s – congressional investigations, character assassination, charges of treason, talk of impeachment, homophobia, factionalism, isolationism, socialism, racism, fascism, Christian bigots, Muslim suicide bombers, and unbridled greed – all exacerbated by global warming, rising sea levels, great disparities in income and wealth, homelessness, mass shootings, immigration crises, children in cages, open conflict with international allies, open affection for murderous dictators, and an ignorant thin-skinned president. What could possibly go wrong?

    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
      Not with a bang but a whimper.

That’s the last verse of T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Hollow Men. How appropriate is that title at a time like this? America is currently under management by a would-be dictator served by a posse of “acting” bureaucrats. The adults have all left – or been dismissed – and the kids from Lord of the Flies are grown up and in-charge. They are the Hollow Men.

I doubt the end of times will come before I’m gone, but there are those who see these times eschatologically (as in “the end of the world”). Those evangelical Christian sects are looking forward to the “rapture,” when they will be rewarded with a trip to heaven and the rest of us will be forsaken.

I doubt I’ll be on the upward trip. Right now, I’m more concerned about America wallowing in a scatological nightmare rather than an eschatological one. When the president of the United States busies himself talking about “shithole” countries and the “bullshit” of congressional oversight, it looks to me like he’s more concerned with the study of human excrement (scatology) than his ascent into heaven (eschatology). As a self-professed germaphobe, let’s hope he doesn’t get smeared on his way up or things could get smellier and uglier than they already are.

Blurred Lines…

The recent indictment of Jeffrey Epstein on child sex-trafficking charges raises an attorney-client question for me. How does a lawyer navigate the relationship with his client once the case is resolved? Jeffery Epstein is a rich bottom-feeder and convicted sexual predator. In 2008, he was convicted on two counts of soliciting an underage girl for prostitution. Nevertheless, following his conviction, he was able to maintain his connections to important financial, political, and social elites in New York and Palm Beach? How did this convicted sexual predator avoid being ostracized socially?

His current indictment, in New York, is the product of rigorous investigative journalism by Julie K. Brown of the Miami Herald. Ms. Brown, outraged by the light sentence Epstein received in the 2008 plea deal, decided to dig deeper into the Epstein story. Her investigation and resulting series in the Herald is widely viewed as the reason Epstein is behind bars now. She helped build the current case in an effort to reverse the travesty of the 2008 plea deal engineered by former US Attorney and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.

Hardly anybody who’s hung around with Epstein has “clean hands,” but I’m especially fascinated by his relationship with Alan Dershowitz, the former Harvard Law professor and judicial attack dog who represented him in the Florida case.

As a major donor to Harvard (a school he never attended), Epstein met and befriended Dershowitz. When state and federal prosecutors brought child sex trafficking charges against him in 2006, he asked Dershowitz to “help put together a legal team” for his defense.” In that proceeding Dershowitz had a hand in crafting the deal that denied Epstein’s child victims their day in court and allowed him to spend 12 hours a day in his office on “work release” before returning to jail at night. Sweetheart deal.

American jurisprudence presumes a criminal defendant innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and criminal lawyers owe their clients the best and most vigorous defense possible. Their responsibility is to advocate for their clients, protect their interests and make sure the law is administered as fairly. Dershowitz certainly did that for Epstein.

Is the rule different when the lawyer knows his client is guilty? No; regardless of what a defendant has done, he is not legally guilty until a prosecutor offers enough evidence to persuade a judge or jury to convict. That’s the law’s foundational principle. The lawyer may use any and all defenses available so long as he does not lie to the judge or jury by proclaiming an accused’s innocence when he knows the opposite to be true.

Representing an accused criminal doesn’t mean the lawyer agrees with or approves of the client’s behavior or beliefs. It’s a professional relationship. During the trial the lawyer is an advocate, but what about later, outside the courtroom? Is there a moral/ethical standard governing that relationship? Should the lawyer socialize with his convicted client? There is no clear rule, but the lawyer may be putting his reputation at risk by getting too close.

Jeffrey Epstein is extremely wealthy. He has homes in New York, Palm Beach, and Paris, a ranch in New Mexico, even an island in the Caribbean. He can easily offer a “friends with benefits” kind of friendship. That list has included Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Prince Andrew and Alan Dershowitz among others.

Alan Dershowitz was a fixture in Epstein’s orb, even after his work as Epstein’s attorney was completed. He flew on Epstein’s private jet, stayed at his Palm Beach home, received massages from his “staff,” and supported his somewhat dubious self-serving relationship with Harvard. 

Dershowitz has always been controversial. Notoriously peevish, irascible, and argumentative, he took cases and advised a series of unsympathetic defendants including Claus Von Bulow, OJ Simpson, Michael Milken, and Leona Helmsley before his defense of Epstein.

Nevertheless, despite the “friends with benefits” relationship he enjoyed with Epstein, it would be difficult to say Dershowitz had crossed an ethical line until earlier this year when he wrote the Pulitzer Prize committee urging them to deny Julie K. Brown the prize for her series on the Epstein scandal. What possible explanation could there be for this intervention?

In Ms. Brown’s sex-trafficking expose, one of Epstein’s teenage victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, implicated Dershowitz. He denies it, and it’s only natural to deny the allegation if false, but a prominent legal commentator, like Mr. Dershowitz, has various ways – public, private and legal – to deny such an accusation. Instead, he chose to attack Ms. Brown, a journalist, in an effort to deny her recognition for her investigative work product.

Was the Dershowitz letter written to avenge a personal wrong, impugn Julie Brown’s credibility, or protect Epstein? Was Dershowitz concerned, as some others are, that Epstein may have compromising evidence on him? Would his friendship with Epstein be a logical basis for personal intervention with the Pulitzer committee? With other avenues available to protect his own reputation, it seems unusual and, at the very least, unseemly to go behind the scenes to personally attack the integrity and work product of an investigative journalist.

Where should we draw the ethical line for lawyer and client? Innocent until proven guilty, yes – easy. The best defense, yes – easy. Legal ethics observed, yes – easy. Extra-judicial intervention and acceptance of social and/or sexual favors? No. Convicted sex traffickers are criminals.

I understand a client’s gratitude and willingness to share following a successful plea or acquittal, but there is a difference between professional engagement and active social involvement. I would feel dirty if I elected to socialize, after the verdict, when I knew my client to be a criminal. Clearly there are blurred lines here, but it should not be a difficult moral decision to separate yourself from a known criminal?

Pavarotti is Back…

It would be difficult to imagine a celebrity in the last 100 years, larger in every way, than Luciano Pavarotti.

He ranks with Enrico Caruso as one of the two greatest tenors in opera history, famous for his brilliant and unmistakable voice but also for his voracious appetites, good works, and joie de vivre. Now, you can see, hear, and experience more of him, positive and negative, in a new documentary by Ron Howard. M and I saw it this weekend and have been all over YouTube, our CD collection, and PBS’ Great Performances listening to Nessun Dorma at the opening ceremony of the Torino Winter Olympics, watching an early film production of La Boheme and enjoying the relentlessly entertaining early Three Tenors concerts in Rome and Los Angeles.

With his over-the-top celebrity and blow-you-over pipes it is notable that Luciano Pavarotti was a genius, a flawed human being with a God-given gift, and one of the great philanthropists of the last 50 years. He willingly, joyfully, and generously shared himself and his gift with the world. 

He married his wife, Adua, in Modena, when they were young, had three children in four years and then left to develop his gift. Over the years there were infidelities but they stayed married for 39 years. In 2003, three years after their divorce, he married his assistant, Nicoletta, 34 years his junior, with whom he already had a daughter. He died 4 years later, and after a contentious battle between Adua, the daughters, and Nicoletta, the estate was settled and the women have worked together since to protect the Pavarotti legacy.

In 1984 two American friends, living in London, asked me if I would be their guest to see and hear Pavarotti singing in Aida at Covent Garden. It was an amazing offer that included dinner at Annabel’s, the posh private club on Berkeley Square, and I remember it all in detail – the spectacle of the Egyptian court, hundreds of extras, elephants crossing the stage, and Luciano in the role of Rademes , followed by champagne and oysters at Annabel’s. Opera doesn’t get any bigger or better. I’m not very knowledgeable about opera but to have seen and heard Pavarotti in such a spectacular production is one of the artistic highlights of my life.

Superlatives don’t really do justice to the voice, the life and the generosity of Luciano Pavarotti. Even after his voice could no longer reach its famous high C, his reputation continued to grow. He was a dominating figure on the stage. He drew stadium-sized audiences, worked with Bono to assist the survivors of the Bosnian genocide, joined forces with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras to celebrate Carreras return to the stage with the Three Tenors concerts following a bone marrow transplant at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The Three Tenors performed 34 funny, collaborative, and sensational benefit concerts as this clip of La Donna e Mobile from the 1994 Los Angeles concert shows:  

Marilynn has a hazy recollection that on one of his visits to Seattle, either when Carreras was in treatment or when he was in town for a Key Arena performance in 1997, Pavarotti made a stop at Shorecrest High School where my three step-sons went to school. Ken Noreen, the school’s former music director, was well connected but no one seems to know how or who it was that was able to entice the great tenor to visit the school, if indeed he did visit, but that is Marilynn’s recollection. True or not, it’s just who Pavarotti was – always generous with his time and energy.

The other linking thread in the Pavarotti story is mortality. He was only 71 when pancreatic cancer took him from us, and though not fatal his second wife, Nicoletta, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and daughter Giuliana was beset with symptoms of myasthenia gravis, the same disease that forced me to quit flying. We are all mortal, but some live larger and leave a more indelible impression. I loved the Ron Howard film and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to revisit the extraordinary life, voice, and personality of Luciano Pavarotti, the greatest tenor of our time.

I took this photo of the Frecce Tricolori (Italian Air Force aerial demonstration team) in 2016 from the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. This is the same exact fly-over and tri-color streaming that took place at the funeral of Luciano Pavarotti. 

Buon Viaggio, Luciano!

My Gardener…

I don’t like to think of myself as insensitive, but often in my desire to change the world, write the Great American Novel, or see Donald Trump behind bars I forget to thank and acknowledge the one person who brightens my life every day. This week I want to put those other things aside and celebrate my wife and her magnificent gardens. I can’t really do them or her justice, but I can share the joy and beauty they both bring into my life.

Eighteen years ago, we moved into our condo and started our new life together. It was a great move in all respects (no pun intended). We discovered the condo on a bike ride. It was perfect – with the Burke-Gilman Trail on one side, Lake Washington and a marina on the other, Log Boom Park to the West, and a different upscale condo complex to the East. We’ve loved every minute of our time here.

The one missing piece for Marilynn, when we moved in, was the absence of a garden, but as a lifelong gardener, she went right to work making one (two actually). I’m not a gardener and I’m not interested in becoming one, but it’s always been an important way for her to express herself. Her two previous houses had plenty of open space, but the condo was different. She was starting from scratch with a bare, relatively small, concrete enclosure on one side and a dirt strip that had the character and consistency of kitty litter on the other. Daunting to say the least.

I regret not taking pictures when we moved in, but that was before the iPhone made it easy. All I can say is the space was bare bones – like an oversized uninspired dog kennel – but she was excited to have a space to work with. Never mind that there was no dirt, no pots, and no view. There was a hose bib and that’s all she needed to get started. 

Today, 50 ceramic pots line the lattice fenced walls of the enclosure, a large Japanese fish sculpture hangs over the gate and some hanging art adds variety. I’m still pretty clueless about plants, and at least once a week when I walk in the front door, she asks me if I saw such and such blooming. I usually haven’t and like an errant child she takes me by the hand and shows me what I missed on my way in.

In defense, I argue that it’s hard to see anything now, because of the jungle she’s created. It feels more and more as if the vegetation is going to take over and start eating visitors. I’m going to need a machete to get from the gate to the front door any day now.

All joking aside, M has made a garden paradise out of our bare bones concrete enclosure, and planted in such a way that plants and flowers bloom from early spring until late fall (along with pansies and ice plant over the winter). There is always color and fragrance, all timed and sequenced to provide color and pleasure to the nose and eye. The garden court is 18 years old now, and mature trees, camellias, azaleas, bamboo, and jasmine surround us with annuals filling in for seasonal color.

And, did I mention the back? That’s the area that includes our deck, a narrow flower bed and some grass between the building and the ivy wall marking the property boundary. Here, she brought in potting soil, peat moss, manure and elbow grease to create a bed for cut flowers – dahlias, iris, peonies, Hostas, day lilies, dusty miller and various herbs in boxes and pots.

So, on this day, when she’s in bed with a summer cold, I’m celebrating her and her gardens. I’m so aware that hers is a project of love and hard work. The gardens have grown like Topsy and she’s had to hire a helper. It’s too much for one person, but it’s the design vision of a passionate woman who loves her gardens. Here’s to my very industrious, creative, and beautiful wife.