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Thursday, April 19, 2007

There's a section on John Pollack. It has swearing because by God people like John Pollack are why swearing was invented.

I am not a journalist! That's the point of this enterprise. But of late I have been pondering doing some kind of journalism-esque things. So when news came down of the Paralyzed Veterans of America suing the University over the renovations proposed I gave one of the law-talking guys a call. Because of IANAJTTP, this will not be an impartial news article; there would be no point with Official Journalists covering it much better and much quicker than I could. Witness this AP article heavily quoting Richard Bernstein, who happens to be the law-talking guy I spoke to. My conversation with the guy ran along the same lines. Bernstein to Official Journalist:

"It's extremely disappointing that it had to come to this," said Richard Bernstein, the attorney representing the plaintiffs.
Bernstein to me (note that all quotes were hastily transcribed and may not be exact. I've tried to hew as closely to his words as I could):
"When you file a federal lawsuit it's always a last resort."
Official Journalist:
"Notre Dame has 17 wheelchair-accessible seating locations throughout the stadium," Bernstein said, who also is an adjunct political science professor at Michigan. "We have two."
“Notre Dame Stadium is a carbon copy of the Michigan stadium and is ADA compliant. They have 17 locations that are wheelchair compliant.”
(He also mentioned he was a professor twice.)

Official Journalist:
Bernstein, who is blind and has taken the case pro bono, said the lawsuit is more far-reaching than simply providing better wheelchair access during Michigan football games and commencement exercises. He said a federal court ruling in favor of the university could have a "devastating impact on the ADA" because it would open the door for other developers looking to sidestep ADA provisions.

He said the court must draw a distinct line between "repair" and "alteration" projects, since the latter compels developers and property owners to comply with ADA guidelines. Left undefined, he said, disabled individuals will find it more difficult to use public venues, such as movie theaters, shopping malls and public transportation.

"Wheelchair users will lose access across the board, and will find it more difficult to be part of the community," Bernstein said.
“The reason we had to file was because what this entire case comes down to is the concept of alteration versus repair.”

“This isn't a critical issue because it's Michigan football. If Michigan establishes this precedent about doing renovation over a series of years, you'll see shopping centers, airports, any public venue, will follow what Michigan is doing, scattering their renovations over a long period of time.”
Official Journalist:
He said Michigan's ongoing construction project, dubbed a "renovation" on its Web site, is "offensive." ... "We're not asking for really good seats. We're asking for equal access. It's about inclusion. It's about civil rights."
"This is a major civil rights issue; this is infuriating to me.”
I am fairly heartened that it seems the Official Journalist could do no better when it came to getting something that didn't seem relentlessly practiced out of Bernstein than I did; at first I thought I was a hopeless n00b. Turns out we're all n00bs in the face of a lawyer.

The Daily has some of the same quotes but did a better job getting hard numbers than either myself or the AP:
Stadium-wide compliance would include making 1 percent of all seating handicap accessible and offering a variety of seating locations and ticket prices for disabled visitors. For the officially 107,501-seat stadium, that means there must be at least 1,000 handicap accessible seats.
The MPVA wants the renovations to follow the example of those at the University of Notre Dame. After recent renovations, Notre Dame Stadium provides more than 400 wheelchair-accessible seats in 17 different locations.

"If you look at Notre Dame and the University of Michigan, their stadiums were built by the same architect in the same era. All we're asking is U of M do what Notre Dame did," Bernstein said.
Isn't this the most important thing? What compliance is, what the current situation is, what the hard numbers are on the comparable Bernstein uses? How can every other article ignore it? Good job, Daily! Do you still have people who think "This Postmodern World" is a good title for a column? And can we deport them?

There are some things I managed to get in edgewise that didn't get reported in the papers:
  • Our good and dear friend John Pollack's involvement was discussed. Bernstein managed to convince me that Pollack was not the motive force behind the lawsuit; it would be going on without his misguided attempts to "save" Michigan Stadium. However:
    “When he read in the papers that we were moving forward on this, he called me. He's been helpful. He gave us some details on Notre Dame Stadium's accessibility."
    Pollack jumped on board, seeing any avenue to shut down the renovations no matter how irrelevant to his cause.
  • I'm not sure if Bernstein was confused on this point, but I was surprised at this assertion and pressed him to clarify it a couple times: even if the University decided to throw away the renovation plans and do nothing, they would be pressing forward with the lawsuit. They contend the ongoing replacement of Michigan Stadium benches and concrete already constitutes an ADA-triggering alteration.
This is where the opinion starts to come in, so full disclosure: I am in favor of these renovations and think John Pollack is a delusional idiot who believes he knows what's best for all Michigan fans. I'm striving to be fair to Bernstein and his paralyzed veterans and not misrepresent anything they've said or claimed, but I make no attempt to be "objective" in the traditional journalism sense. (IANAJTTP.) That sort of objectivity gets you articles that make no attempt to evaluate the claims laid out by the various sides, which is deeply annoying to me. Here we evaluate.

Anyway. This was my first experience talking to a lawyer trying to do PR and it was... interesting. Idiotically, I hadn't gotten the very relevant and very basic info on the university's renovation site about the ADA:
Q: Will the renovations address ADA accessibility?

Yes, the University will significantly increase the number and location of accessible seating for fans with impaired mobility. The new design adds an additional 72 accessible seats plus companion seats on the west side of the stadium. These seats will be covered and accessible through a new elevator. The east side of the stadium, the new design adds an additional 24 accessible outdoor club seats plus companion seats and 14 accessible inside club seats. In addition, there will be one accessible seat in every one of the suites. The total number of accessible seats will increase and the choice for location of accessible seating will now include both end zones and sideline seating.

Leaving out the accessible seats in the suites, the renovation calls for a total addition of 110 accessible seats to the already existing 100 in the endzones (though I'm not sure that all 100 of those seats can functionally be used by handicapped people; I think there's just a handicap-accessible area that holds a total of 100 people, including companions.) Note that each of the proposed 110 additional seats comes with a companion seat and that the distribution of the seats would be throughout the stadium. Also note that the total seating, even including the luxury box seats, is around 280, way below the mendoza line.

The veterans took an alternate proposal to the regents late last year; Bernstein made a big deal about regents Cathy White and Larry Deitch concurring with the vets and making a motion and a second to reject the renovations based upon it.
"There was a motion and a second, and they voted it down 6-2."
The implication was that because someone had heeded them and another regent agreed that the others were callous for not following a long. I don't get that, especially because what he failed to mention is that White and Deitch were two of the three regents who consistently voted against the renovations for any and all available reasons. How much of their concern was real and how much was pretext?

So how am I supposed to reconcile that information with this quote from Bernstein?
"The university has been totally unresponsive."
I dunno. I kind of think this is an exaggeration, but how am I to know? I don't think Bernstein was being entirely honest with me. Not that he was being dishonest. He was being lawyery. It was kind of creepy.

This was the most bothersome thing, the grand microcosm:
"What is it they're fighting for?"
That was Bernstein's big finish. I really dislike the implications there: plaintiffs Fight For Justice against "totally unresponsive" faceless athletic department. By the time we were done, I had gotten a couple questions in edgewise, heard a lot of things over and over again, and felt vaguely like I had just been witness to a particularly fast-pitched political speech. The University is fighting for... me. They want to do right by the handicapped guys but they also have constraints here. Assuming that they're screwing over handicapped guys just because there aren't any Indonesians around they can force to make licensed apparel is kind of dishonest. This is a really hard process and at the very least Michigan is vastly improving the situation.

The whole thing seems shoddy to me. I don't know if Robert Bernstein is related to Sam Bernstein, but I do know that he works for Sam Bernstein's firm... you know, 1-800-CALL-SAM. The guy who can get results for you after your car accident. And it shows. Not contend with rounding up some wheelchair-bound disability rights advocates, these guys go right for the paralyzed veterans. They're veterans, dammit! Why don't you let them in to your stadium? Do you hate America?

But... they kind of have a point. IA(obviously)NAL, but if Michigan is trying to claim that they don't need to be fully ADA compliant because what they plan to do to the stadium doesn't constitute an alteration, well, that's pretty weaselly. I'm not totally insensitive to this issue. I have a friend who teeters in and out of the stadium on crutches every week. My grandfather (who was an usher at Ferry Field(!) and is the primary reason that I am often suffered to sit at the 40 yard line, since our tickets have been in the family since the 50s) spent his final Michigan games watching from the crappy seats in the endzone. I don't know what's enough seating and don't have anywhere near enough information to pick a winner, but I can say that this is a real lawsuit and a real concern as opposed to that hippie crap going on at Cal and that some of the intemperate comments in the aftermath of the lawsuit's filing were out of line (even if I shared that opinion for a moment or an hour).

One final note: This is the point on Bullshit where Penn drops the jokes and very seriously addresses the camera: John Pollack is a cynical, manipulative asshole who will stop at nothing for his luxury box hissyfit to conclude successfully. I'm dead serious about this. This isn't "Stewart Mandel is retarded" or "CFN is retarded" or "Matt Hayes is a synonym for penis." Though I get angry when media professionals run around saying very stupid things, it's a shallow anger that I mostly mine for humor. If I ran into any of these people I wouldn't regard them with anything other than condescension. I'm not actually angry at them. This is different. John Pollack has no use for what the truth is. In his mind, the ends always justify the means:
"This is being driven by an obsession with luxury boxes," he said. "The University is effectively arguing that it is more important to provide seating for 1,500 people in luxury boxes than it is to provide seating for people with disabilities as required by law."
Ridiculous. Insulting. And a paranoid fantasy caused by his unsupported belief that "the University is trying to subsidize the loss in revenue that would be caused by luxury boxes by increasing regular bleacher seating and overlooking the interests of disabled people." Yes, of course. Bill Martin's putting in luxury boxes just like all those other pro and college teams that just love losing money. Paralyzed veterans are a way for Pollack to get what he wants, and the truth is only something for him to spin into something unrecognizable to stoke outrage. The only outrage in this complicated issue is Pollack and his behavior.

And you know the kicker? Motherfucker went to Stanford. Go screw up your alma mater, asshole. (Motherfucker also spent 30 years building a boat out of wine corks and he has the gall to criticize someone else for ill-advised construction?)

No, wait. This is the kicker. The kicker of kickers. This is what John Pollack thinks of himself and his quest to prevent luxury boxes at Michigan Stadium.
In 1989, the image of one man standing in front. Can one man, willing to take a stand, make a difference? Can one person stop the powers that be dead in their tracks?

Remember Tiananmen Square?

Profiles of that kind of courage seem hard to find these days but, if you are willing to look then you will indeed find, examples of that kind of heroism.
I swear to God I'm not making this up. There is an enormous profile/interview of this prick up at "" -- Dana Roc apparently "creates, develops and produces programs that empower people to be productive, powerful, successful and happy" -- about this "Save The Big House" campaign and it starts off by directly comparing John Pollack to the kid in front of the tank in Tianamen Square. Seriously:
An extraordinarily courageous young man captured the attention of the entire world in June of 1989, when he single handedly stopped the advance of a tank column by standing in its way...

JP reminds us all again of the power of one man willing to take a stand.

One person cheering doesn't make a whole lot of noise but, you get 100,000 people cheering and suddenly you've got a roar! -- John Pollack
This is the face of luxury box opposition. Even if he didn't write this enormously offensive blurb, by God, he's read it and didn't immediately demand its removal. I'm speechless. I mean, what can you say?