Jon Breen letter to MVHS 4-19-04

The Jon Breen Memorial Fund

 Mount Vernon High School

100 California Road

Mount Vernon, NY 10552


April 19, 2004


Dear Friends and Classmates,


Hello from warming New York. I hope that you are all filled with great anticipation over the specter of an early spring. Thankfully here in the northeast the past four or so weeks have been a welcome departure from the ravages of mid December and January. But, alas, like the fickle lady she is, Mother Nature can still spring surprises like a few weeks ago. Unlike last March when we were all contemplating the coming of our fortieth reunion, the death of JFK, and the passing of our innocence, this year we are focusing on the long hard political campaign ahead. Unlike last year at this time when we were beginning to engage in an unknown adventure in Iraq, we are mostly fed up with the expense in blood and treasure and the futility of trying to bring some kind of normality to that divided and cursed region. This year, not unlike others in our long history we are experiencing our newest chapter in our quadrennial election cycle. In that vein one only has to look back at the old newspapers of those bygone high school years and see similar headlines barking familiar themes, of age old concerns regarding deficits, civil and human rights, foreign conflict, unemployment, interest rates, and of course taxes. In other words, what else is new under the sun? So in the year since last March much has happened, as it has always happened, and other then the change of names, history has a tendency to repeats itself.


From my own parochial perspective, I am still giving lectures on FDR, 20th Century conflicts and political analysis. I am trying to put together a radio show, called the “Advocates,” if all goes well, on a local station WVOX to air this April. You’ll hear more from me if I need some sponsors, to justify my verbal existence. Besides all that speculative silliness, I have continued to be occupied in the workings of local government in the Town of Greenburgh, as both a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and a Deputy Town Supervisor who assists the Supervisor on political and public policy matters. I am also still in the insurance business, specializing in long term care and benefits for businesses and their owners.


Again, the time for the Jon Breen Memorial Fund Essay has come upon us, and the students of Mount Vernon H.S. This year, because of a countywide interest in the 50th anniversary of the landmark ruling, Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, we have chosen the topic “Has the spirit of the landmark US Supreme Court decision been realized?” With regards to this topic, I have delivered a lecture to AP history and government students at MVHS regarding my impressions of how this ruling affected our class of 1963 and the years after. The title of my paper is MVHS Change and Legacy 1963-2003. If you want an electronic copy, you can e-mail me at my new address, Meanwhile in looking through our old yearbook, I was able to discern these facts; the class had 633 students; 297 males, 46.9%, 336 females, 53.1%. Among the 633 students were 537 white and 96 non-white individuals. With regards to ethnic breakdowns, there were 173 Italian surnames, 27.3%, 177 assumed Jewish affiliation, 28%, 187 white non-ethnics, 29.54%, 92 American African-Americans, 14.5%, and 3 Hispanics and one Asian. Of course this “eye ball” social inventory was and is not perfect. But I would think that the “relative error” is quite small.


Meanwhile my sense is that Mount Vernon High School was probably not much different in 1963 then it was in 1953 or 1943. I was working, for a short time at Mount Vernon High School in 1967 and 1968 and by that time, dramatic national events overshadowed the impact of the Brown decision. The ongoing draft, the unpopular war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights struggles around the nation, the fractious political campaign, the withdrawal of Lyndon Johnson from the race for the Presidency, the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Paris peace talks, and the stock market undulations all started to shake the “Old Order.” I can vividly recall the protests in the schools, the takeovers of buildings, the daily bomb scares, the change in dress standards and the attitudinal shift of the students regarding authority. In other words “the times were a-changing.”  Of course all that today is ancient history to most of us and we were long out of high school when most of the social change hit our society. As for today’s news, Mount Vernon’s school system suffers like many of its lower Westchester neighbors. Education, in general, has been under pressure all over the country. Westchester County has a mixture of rich and poor school districts, and Mount Vernon, Yonkers, New Rochelle, and even White Plains all suffer from the problems of bilingualism, multi-culturalism, and family instability. It is not something that will ever be easily resolved. But, all in all there are many good and dedicated educators, and students are students the same all over. But, on a good note, Mount Vernon basketball remains supreme. Not only did the MVHS Knights, under the astute leadership of Bob Cimmino, a nephew of our classmate Paul Cimmino, win the Section I title for the 5th straight year, but also they won the NY State and Federation titles. Besides all of that, former MV great Ben Gordon led UCONN to the NCAA basketball title.


Again, as all of you know, many of us got together in August for our last reunion, and I personally was able to meet anew many old friends that had not attended any of our events or any of the recent ones. I had the distinct and unique advantage of living across the road from the Westchester Marriot and therefore I was able to practically take residence at the reunion. Of course, time has a way of flying by, and eight months have already passed into history.

The reunion was great, all who attended seem to have a great time, and hopefully we’ll all be available for the next one.


In the ten years since Jon Breen’s untimely passing the Fund has raised over $20,000 primarily from his friends in the Class of 1963. This money has been used to sponsor the Jon Breen Memorial Essay Contest and, of recent date, the Henry M. Littlefield History prize. Over the last two years our awards procedure has changed. In the past I always read all the essays and selected the top three. In the last two years I have been selecting the four finalists. These finalists read their essays in front of an assembly comprised of fellow student essayists. We have a panel composed of educators, administrators and elected officials, who participate with the audience and the essayists and in turn contribute their perspectives on the subject under consideration. The panel chooses the order of finish, and the program is videotaped and shown on local access cable. If you wish to make a donation to the Fund, please make it out to the John Breen Fund and send it to me at the below address or to Mount Vernon HS c/o Ms. Kim Omologu.





Richard J. Garfunkel







Politics and Corporate Compensation 4-16-04

Politics and Corporate Compensation


Richard J. Garfunkel

April 16, 2004



It is great when you have smart friends and relatives. I applaud both of you for your thoughtful remarks.  Both of you are much more neutral than I am, and therefore you have the luxury of looking for solutions that are more apolitical. From my perspective, for better or worse, the political centrist leadership (of the post WW II era) of the past has disappeared. We had patriotic presidents who knew how to work with Congress and for better or worse could keep the extremes in their parties marginalized. In a sense even Nixon was a pragmatist of the center right. I didn't like him, and he exploited issues, but personality and psychosis aside, he wound up being a practical leader who understood domestic needs. He also understood the power of the Democratic majorities in the Congress. Even to a degree with Ford and Carter, there was a sense of the centrist perspective to satiate the common weal. They were not great leaders. They inspired no one. Ford was a caretaker that should have never run on his own. Even though he only lost by a whisker to Carter he should have been beaten by a mile. His remarks “Drop dead NY” and his incredible debate faux pas over Poland haunted him. But he was an uninspiring dolt who contributed the WIP button to his forgotten political legacy. Carter was the ultimate outsider, who was elected because of the Ford pardon of Nixon if nothing else. He was over his head, but still could have beaten Reagan if it wasn't for the hostage crisis in Iran. So what if he could have won. The real political change came with Reagan! Reagan and his cohorts really opened the door for the right. Of course he was too “spaced out” to pay any attention to what was really happening. Certainly even Barry Goldwater was frightened by what Reagan loosed on the body politic. In a sense our free society has, by the nature of being so free, drifted towards libertarianism of the left and the right. On the left everybody wants something and wants the freedom to do it, or try it. If it feels good and no one is harmed, so what's the problem! We have all felt that way for a time. (In the words of Winston Churchill, “Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.”) So through it all, with conservative or liberal government there are no standards, period. But on the right we are seeing the new social Luddites, who want economic freedom, with as little regulation as possible and taxes as low as they can be made. No regulation, laissez-faire, and every man for his/her self. In other words whatever he/she can take, so be it. Just look at the salaries posted in the Wall Street Journal's Executive Pay in the Journal Report of April 12, 2004. Fitting, in an ironic way, that this should come out on the anniversary of FDR's death. 


Salary and Bonus- some selections: Freeport-McMoRan-CEO- $5,540 million in 2003 with $10M in stock options and $50M more in potential options, Merrill-Lynch-CEO- $28M in 2003 with $37M more in unrealized stock options, Time-Warner-CEO, $9.5M and $11.6M in stock options with another $18.9M in unrealized options.  Also the front page of the NY Times' Business Day section, bonuses top $41.4 million at troubled Interpublic for its executives. With Federal taxes at 35% for anyone over $300,000 per year they should cry? This compensation is way out of control. Where did they get all of their stock? They didn't buy it!


Some critics of pay ratios, say formulas that exclude options are useless. “Usually it's a charade,” says Mr. Alan Johnson of Johnson & Associates, managing director of pay consultants in NY. He says, “employees see through it. They know the CEOs are making millions on stock, so limiting them on salary means nothing. It is a PR gimmick.” (Wall Street Journal). It is a known fact that in and around 1970, CEO's of Fortune 500 companies made in real dollars a ratio of 43 to 1 over the average salary of their employees. In real dollars, wages, taking in account inflation over the past 34 years or so, have gone up slightly. In other words, the $17,000 of 1970 is not worth much more than the $35-40,000 of today. Of course times have changed, and our economy has shifted greatly over the last 30 or so years. Our manufacturing has shifted to overseas, and we are much more of a service economy today. No question “freer” trade has brought more total prosperity to America. But where is that prosperity concentrated and what will be the affects. In that light, executive compensation is now 1000 to one! So we have seen what has happened. The GOP/Right has encouraged the lowering of taxes, the conglomeration of industry, the exporting of jobs overseas, the deregulation of industry, and the accumulation of greater money in fewer hands. Now as in 1929, less people own more of America!


Of course, one immediate result is that the “entitlements;” Social Security and Medicare are under attack. Certainly they are threatened by the demographics facing us. We have a large “baby-boom” population (64-74 millions) that is aging. This population emerged from parents that had 2.6 children per family. It is now being replaced by a generation that is composed of 2.1 children per family. Generally speaking this smaller population is not as wealthy and earns less in the service sector than its parents, the baby-boomers, earned in the manufacturing sector! Is the answer less taxes for this wealthiest of classes? It was said that to tax these people at previous levels would only bring in 4% more! Well 4%, if that is correct, will bring in $40 billion at least. (Also why is $75 billion being used from the Social Security trust fund for the general fund?) I am sure that figure of $40 billion is probably incredibly low. I have also noticed that a recent report has stated that the IRS has been lax regarding the issue of corporate taxation. In fact, US Corporations are not paying their fair share, and many have been running to offshore tax shelters for years, while they drape themselves in patriotism! The case of Stanley Tool recently comes to mind! So with corporate taxes at all-time lows (post WWII) and the capital gains tax at 15%, and the highest marginal rate at 35%, one can readily see why we have a $500+ billion deficit that is growing. Should we continue down this path until we are broke?


In conclusion, to have a vibrant and just society, we all have to contribute. I cannot and will not equate Hollywood silliness, gay marriage, social promotion, foul language, indecent activities, Michael Jackson, Howard Stern, Don Imus, the NBA, college athletic abuses, and other ridiculum with the hypocrisies of Rush Limbaugh, and his rightwing shock jock colleagues.  The abuses of Enron, World Com, Global Crossing, Tyco, and the rape of children by Catholic priests is not the product of liberal, or libertine largess. In other words, where are we going? To tell the truth, I have no clue!  But for sure I hope that we throw Bush II out, and get new reasonable middle of the road leadership.