Founder’s Note

Paul E. Kerson, Founder, The Observer

Last week, members of The Observer staff received a special email from one of our papers’ founders, Paul E. Kerson, J.D.  Kerson was the last Sports Editor of the Reserve Tribune in 1968-1969, and helped merge with the student publication at Case Tech to form The Observer as the two universities became one. Kerson served as the first News Editor of The Observer in 1969-1970, covering some of the most important events of the time including Woodstock, the Great March on Washington in November 1969, and the Kent State shootings. He has gone on to become a lawyer in New York City and is the Editor of the Queens Bar Bulletin, the monthly journal of the Queens County Bar Association. In recognition and respect for our founder and all other alumni for their past, present, and future contributions to our university, we are publishing Kerson’s latest Editor’s Note.

A Better Life for Everyone

By Paul E. Kerson

This past summer, I went on a ten day tour of Turkey with the Friends of Queens College. It was a tour of Turkey’s present and deep into its past. We toured the world of the Hittites, Asia Minor, Anatolia, Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul, the Ottoman dynasty, Rome, Alexander the Great, the early Christians and the sites of many of the stories of both the Old and New Testaments. Ironically, these names-out-of-time are all on the same piece of land, a country approximately the size of Texas sitting in both Europe and Asia. The Europe and Asia sides are linked by (you guessed it, shades of Robert Moses) near duplicates of the Verrazano and Throgs Neck Bridges, one for cars only, and the other for trucks and buses.

I was eligible for this tour because I have taken a Queens College pre-law student in my office every term for the past 20 years. They get four college credits for running around finding records at the Courthouses, City Register, and County Clerk. They also photograph crime and accident scenes and track down and interview witnesses. Their written reports are often the most valuable items in my case file.

I designed this internship to be similar to the one I had at the U.S. Attorney’s Office back in 1974-75. In retrospect, the internship I had back then was the most useful course I took in both college and law school. (If you would like to be part of this program, give me a call at 718-793-8822).

But more to the point, my wife, Prof. Marleen Kassel (Kerson), was one of the organizers of the tour. She is Director of Asian Initiatives, and she teaches History of Asia at Queens College. During the tour, Marleen and three of her colleagues gave us college-level lectures.

Prof. Joel Allen, Chair of the History Department, spoke about “Constantinople and the New Rome and All That Entails”. Joel took the position that Constantine used Christianity to consolidate his power, not for religion at all. He told how Constantine built basilicas such that the Emperor and the Altar were one.

Prof. Gloria Fisk of the Department of English and Comparative Literature gave a talk about the Works of Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Prize winning Turkish novelist. Gloria explained that Pamuk was a bridge between East and West and has written his country into being for Western readers. His Turkey is perceived as a model for reform in the Middle East.

But more interesting for our QCBA membership, Gloria described how the current Turkish Government has prosecuted Pamuk for violating the Turkish Laws Article 301, the crime of insulting Turkishness. This statute was enacted in 2006 in direct response to Pamuk’s 2005 novel, “Snow.” (What an illustration of the importance of our American Constitutional ban on ex post facto laws).

Fortunately, Pamuk was acquitted by a Turkish Court, and his many books enjoy wide popularity both within Turkey and all over the world. With his Noble Prize money, Pamuk erected a “Museum of Innocence” in today’s Istanbul based on his novel of the same name. We visited it. The man is a Salesmanship Genius. The Museum Shop sells only his books.

Unfortunately, certain elements of Turkish society have marked him for assassination. There have been conspiracy theories and arrests. What to do in such a situation? You guessed it, like so many eccentric dissidents before and after him, he lives among us here in New York, lecturing at Columbia University. He has also spoken at Queens College. Turkey’s loss is our gain.

Prof. George Hendry spoke to us twice about Climate Change. George is Distinguished Professor of Environmental Science at Queens College’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He tried to impress upon us the fact that we all, collectively, emit too much carbon dioxide. This fact is causing the Earth to warm at a dangerous rate, melting polar icepacks and causing the Earth’s Oceans to rise in height. This will soon imperil Staten Island, Coney Island, Far Rockaway, the Five Towns, the entire South Shore of Long Island, the entire East and West Coasts of the United States, and coastal cities everywhere. Because we are a wealthy country, we will probably cope. But Bangladesh will most likely be wiped out.

I gave George’s talks a lot of thought. Should we legislate away the internal combustion engine and require only electric cars? George thought this would only help a small amount. What about requiring windmills and solar energy? Again, only a small amount of help. It is the rising industrialization of China and India that is causing the greatest change. George told us that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is working on this.

This gave me much food for thought. Who created the United Nations anyway? Was that Harry Truman and George Marshall and Dean Acheson of the American Federal Government back in 1945? In hindsight, having just inspected the ruins of the Hittites, the Romans, Byzantium, the Greeks, and the Ottomans, the United States is looking rather like a shining star in the battered field of World History.

Although George’s talk was cause for concern, I kept thinking back to Prof. Norman Borlaug (1914-2009), Father of the “Green Revolution,” and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honor.

Borlaug prevented massive world starvation by figuring out how to maximize the yield of an acre of wheat by a factor of up to seven. He did this in 1964 to 1979 as Director of the International Wheat Program, a joint project of the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mexican Government. From 1984 until his death in 2009, Borlaug was the Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University, a publicly funded institution of higher education, where he continued his work increasing crop yields. It is estimated that one billion people alive today did not starve to death because of Prof. Borlaug.

We grew Norman Borlaug. We grew the Ford Foundation. We grew the Rockefeller Foundation. We grew Texas A&M. We will grow the solution to the problem of Global Warming. In contrast to the ruins of the world of the Hittites, Byzantium, Rome, Constantinople, Alexander the Great, and the Ottoman Dynasty, we Americans have thrived on growth and constant change and challenge. That is the lesson one learns upon inspecting ancient ruins and considering current problems at the same time.

Marleen gave a talk about The Silk Road, the ancient overland trading route between Italy and China. In the beginning, no one traveled its whole length, although goods did, having been bought and sold along the way. In this way, silk (sericulture) came to Turkey from China, such that both countries are still today the leading producers of silk rugs.

Our Turkish national guide, the very knowledgeable Aydin Eroglu, made himself an expert on Turkish carpets and took us to a Turkish carpet factory, where we watched the hand weavers manufacturing silk carpets. Aydin told us he had visited Tuba City, Arizona, and had discovered that Navajo Indians use the very same designs. This led him to believe that the Navajos were descended from people who once lived along the Silk Road in Turkey.

Marleen also told us that blue and white Dutch porcelain came from China to Europe on the Silk Road. Peanuts, rhubarb and tulips also made this trip back and forth because of this Road. Along the way were Caravanserai, fortress like buildings that were combination hotels, trading posts, restaurants and barns for camels. We went to one Caravanserai in Kusadasi, Turkey, built in 1618, that had been modernized but maintained all of the exact same functions, except as a barn for camels. Fiats, Toyotas and the new Ford Transit Connect Van are the new “camels” of choice. Despite the so-called “anemic” American auto industry, Ford seems to have hit the nail on the head in Turkey with this new model.

Aydin told us that he was very thankful that the current Turkish Government had tripled the number of “divided” highways, thus greatly increasing commerce and trade within Turkey in recent years, not the least of which was Bus Tourism, his particular field. I could not help but think of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), “father of the interstate (divided) highway” who led the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the United States. This led to the development of the now-familiar “interstate standard:” very large green road signs with white lettering and a median strip with grass and fences designed to end, once and for all, head-on car, bus and truck accidents.

As I sat on that tour bus on those new “divided” Turkish highways with their large green signs and white letters, barreling around the Ancient World of marble ruins, ancient Roman baths, early Christian churches, Mosques and 1900 year old Synagogues from Diaspora #1, I could not help but think that someday, the Interstate Standard will be the International Standard and that one system of “interstate” will link the whole world.

In understanding the advancement of human civilization in world history, that would put Dwight Eisenhower up there with Norman Borlaug. Is it an historical “accident” that Dwight Eisenhower and Norman Borlaug came from the same very young country at nearly the very same time?

Is there such a thing, then, as American Exceptionalism, or is this just a jingoistic, ultra-nationalistic concept designed to make us feel good amidst our continuing economic, scientific and political problems?

After this trip, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that we are far beyond American Exceptionalism. Our country has built A Better Life for Everyone because of certain specific American laws:

1. New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) Article 78 (and similar state and federal laws). “Any body or officer” is forbidden to act in a manner that is “arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion.” The statutory words “any body” includes every corporation, government agency, aggregation of persons or individuals, in other words, everybody and every group of everybodies.

This law is older than the United States itself. It comes from the Magna Carta of 1215, when English noblemen won the right to sue their King for his misdeeds. It is a statute from New York’s British colonial days that survived the American Revolution and is still with us.

If Turkey had New York CPLR Article 78, they could not prosecute a novelist for writing a novel. He could bring an Article 78 Petition against the Prosecutor.

2. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – We guarantee freedom of speech, press, religion and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Prosecuting a novelist for writing a novel is impossible under this section.

3. The New York State Human Rights Law (NY Executive Law Section 296) and the Federal and State Civil Rights Laws that copied it. We do not tolerate discrimination in employment, public accommodations or real estate transactions due to age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, marital status, or domestic violence victim status.

4. The Americans with Disabilities Act – Public spaces must be made accessible for the physically disabled. We require wheelchair ramps, handrails, and elevators in our public spaces. We require handicapped parking spaces nearest the train station and store front door.

5. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare – We provide a “safety net” of income and health insurance for the elderly once their productive years are gone. We provide medical care for the poor under the Medicaid program. In 2010, health insurance was greatly expanded under a patchwork new law nicknamed Obamacare after our current President, Barack Obama, who persuaded Congress to pass it.

6. The 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution – We try to make sure that every criminal prosecution is as fair-minded as possible. Search warrants are required except under limited exceptions. One cannot be forced to testify against oneself. Jury trials are required. The Right to Defense Counsel is guaranteed and paid for, in the case of poor people. The Government must produce the witnesses against the defendant, and the Defense Counsel has the right to subpoena witnesses for the defense.

7. Patents, Copyrights and Bankruptcies – Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to create “uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States.” This Section 8 goes on to give Congress the Power “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

8. The Morrill Act of 1862 – Led by Senator Justin Morrill, in this historic measure Congress declared that higher education was no longer for the wealthy. There were to be major public universities in every state subsidized by a federal grant of land in each state. These Universities were to be open to everyone who could qualify.

We have lots and lots of laws in the United States, its fifty states and its thousands of cities, towns and counties. But it is these eight groups of laws, acting together, which have provided the most remarkable society in World History.

Following the American Revolution of 1776-1783, the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1789. From the year 1 to the year 1789, the following useful items were invented in Europe: the printing press, the microscope and the telescope. Guiding philosophies included the Crusades for 200 years and the Inquisition for 400. A person in 1789 had the same problems dodging horse droppings as a person in year 1. Free thought was restricted.

With the establishment in America of a Constitution featuring the Bill of Rights and laws protecting patents, copyrights and bankruptcies, the following were invented or improved in 223 short years: the steamboat, the steam railroad, the sewing machine, the cotton gin, the electric stove, the refrigerator, the photoelectric cell, plastic, synthetic fibers, the assembly line, electric power, the light bulb, the phonograph, the storage battery, the Dictaphone, the motion picture, the airplane, the helicopter, the spaceship, rockets, the telegraph, the telephone, the trans-Atlantic cable, antibiotics, the Salk vaccine, the power loom, the credit card, the tractor, gasoline, the Interstate Highway, the photocopying machine, the fax machine, the supermarket, radio, recorded music, automobiles, television, cable television, computers, the personal computer, the cell phone, the I-phone, the Internet, the World Wide Web, Microsoft Word, AOL, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and the Cloud.

During this time, with the aid of this dizzying array of inventions, the life span of the average American doubled.

The first ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are collectively known as the Bill of Rights. Read together, they protect free thought. Copyright and patent laws protect success from that most precious of natural resources: the human mind. Bankruptcy laws protect against failure: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Our country’s special contribution is this: The rest of the world now realizes that so long as Wilbur and Orville Wright can tinker in their bicycle shop leading to the airplane, and Steve Jobs can fool around in his garage leading to the I-phone, anything is possible. Today, we have finally reached the Starting Point: where every Wright, Jobs and Galileo in the whole world can start to ponder the inner recesses of his or her own mind without fear of offending those in power, and with the promise of great wealth if he or she succeeds.

Always to be remembered about our country is the following: The above listed eight groups of laws constitute a coherent American Philosophy of A Better Life for Everyone. This Philosophy goes beyond “Honor Thy Father and Mother” that is at the root of Judaism and Christianity. These eight groups of laws require that we honor Everybody’s Father and Mother and Everybody’s Children. That is Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, the Human Rights Laws, and the Morrill Act taken and read together.

Once every mind is free, a country can grow a Dwight Eisenhower and an Interstate Highway System, and a Norman Borlaug and a solution to world hunger.

Another thing always to be remembered about our Country is this: There was a competing Philosophy of Death that almost took over the world in 1934-1945. That Philosophy required that Jews, political dissidents, the physically and mentally handicapped, gay people and Gypsies be executed for the good of the State.

Our country raised a mighty army, invented new weapons, and stopped them after four bloody years of hand-to-hand combat. Of all the Nazis did, it is the execution of the physically handicapped that must give us the most pause. For nearly each and every one of us is destined to become physically handicapped as the end of life nears. The Nazis believed that the physically handicapped are a burden on the State.

We believe that the physically handicapped get the best parking spaces. That is our Law. For you never know if the next Norman Borlaug or the next Dwight Eisenhower may walk with great difficulty with a cane. But inside his mind may be a plan to greatly improve our world. The summary of the eight groups of laws above is this: We believe that every human life is of infinite value, and we will not let anyone fall off the Wagon Train as it heads west.

And that is the job of every Bar Association Member in every State, County and City Bar Association in America: If, as and when our government and corporate officials forget their duty under these eight groups of laws (as they often do), it is our duty to write the petitions and complaints that bring them to Court so they can be brought back into line. It is America’s Highest Calling. And that too, is something the rest of the world is slowly learning.

I am hopeful that this article will be read by every Bar Association member, every law school student and every pre-law college student in the world in every generation. I thought it up on the tour bus riding around Turkey looking at the remains of seemingly great civilizations that fell, and trying to understand why. I wrote the first draft the day I came back, using Google and my personal library.

In Turkey, at the end of the day I would often cry. I would cry for all the Europeans and Asians who died in the World History of relentless military conquest and Philosophy of Selfishness. I would cry for my murdered ancestors, the Jews of Europe. I would cry for the incredible good fortune of my parents, who were admitted to Hunter College and City College, respectively, in New York, in the very years their aunts, uncles and cousins were being slaughtered in Europe.

I would cry because I knew that their New York City public university education meant I was raised with much of this knowledge, and I could understand it all as One Unit. I call it the American Philosophy of A Better Life for Everyone. I am hopeful that this essay will be passed around the World Wide Web quickly, and that every Country will adopt this Philosophy, and the Laws that go with it, as soon as possible. Once every human mind is free, humanity’s only limitation will be our collective imagination.