Friday, June 29, 2007

Rich people behaving badly, or why America may need an “excess personal wealth” tax. Read these tales and retch.

In our last cranky post, New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg was held up as an example of how one individual with too much personal wealth may be using his megabucks to skew an election.

If he either runs as an independent or plays “kingmaker” the will of America's voters is down the toilet. It won’t be whom you want – or what programs you want – that are decided in the Presidential election. It’ll be what Michaeal Bloomberg wants. Worst case scenario? Can you spell s-p-o-i-l-e-r?

Now from reports coming in from suburban Philadelphia and sunny Santa Barbara, some stories that show how a single overly wealthy individual or two can intrude directly, personally and – if some lawsuits hold up in court – damagingly into your own life.


The Philly Main Line case first. It has just begun to play out in the courts. I love it because this is no mere case of the rich picking on the poor. Nope, all this happens at a suburban private school where tuition currently goes to $23,000, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. As described in court papers, it seems like a case of filthy rich bullying that impacts the middle class and the moderately wealthy.

Let’s begin when a group of second grade parents at The Balwin School in Bryn Mawr tried to take out an ad in the school’s annual program honoring their kids’ teacher. It read, "We love you, Mrs. Tollin. Thank you for a wonderful year. Your second-grade class."

The ad was rejected by the school administration. But why?

Turns out, a rich land developer of resort properties, and his divorcing wife had been behaving like boors, the wife charging into school during classroom hours, according to the court complaint – screaming, shouting foul language, interrupting classes, and acting in such a frightening manner that one terrified little kid who had nothing to do with any of this ran and hid in a closet.

But again, why? Well, it all started when the land developer Michael Pouls, and his wife, Sheryl, demanded that the teacher become a diet monitor for their daughter, whom they said had been teased as being fat.

It escalated to the point where, according to the complaint, Mrs. Pouls “allegedly visited Tollin's classroom to ask her to intervene in the Poulses' marital problems and Tollin declined,” as the Philadelphia Inquirer tells it.

Next thing you know, Michael Pouls “complained that Tollin was singling out his daughter by focusing on what she ate at lunch. He told Tollin that he was the child's main caregiver, the suit says, and that she should take orders about her only from him,” according to the Inquirer story. Orders? Do your go to school and order your own kids’ teachers around? And was this teacher damned if she did and damned if she didn’t?

As the newspaper story goes on to tell, the daughter was moved into another class, something the lawsuit says was against the history and policy of the school. But Ms. Tollins could at least say “good riddance,’ right?



Some time later, “Sheryl Pouls allegedly stormed into a homeroom parents' meeting in Tollin's room and berated her for not saying hello to her daughter the day before.
“According to the suit, Tollin feared she was going to be assaulted and tried to move away. Sheryl Pouls followed, screaming epithets and shouting: ‘I want you fired or I'm taking my girls and my money out of this school!’ the complaint says. Other parents, it says, pulled the woman out of the room.”

Ah hah! Now we’re getting somewhere! What kind of money did the Pouls’ have “in the school?”

It appears according to the complaint to be a donation several million dollars, which would buy the school an athletic center with the Pouls’ name on it – one of many allegations the Pouls’ deny.

The Pouls, as you’ll read in the Philly Inquirer article, deny all of this, and claim they have evidence that in fact that Ms. Tollin is a bad teacher. But somehow, every time I read this my built-in bullshit detector begins to redline. If the teacher is the horror show that the Pouls say she is, why did the others parents take out an advertisement in praise of the teacher? And why did the school go to lengths to nix the ad?

If you read the full complaint, which I recommend that you do by cutting and pasting the URL below into your browser, I think you’ll find that it rings remarkably credible.

One might rationally come to the conclusion that the school’s headmistress has been kowtowing to wealthy donors who’ve been behaving like schoolyard bullies – at the expense of the school’s program, other students and reputation of the institution she heads. We don’t know that for a fact, however, because she’s not, uh, available for comment, according to the Philadelphia Bulletin. Why? Because she’s in Europe and unreachable. Yeah, right.

Start searching the caves, boys. She’s got to be there somewhere.


The whole issue raises other questions. For example, were the Pouls’ ¬attempting to draw their child’s teacher into their own divorce dispute? And were they blaming the teacher for their child’s weight problem when there clearly is either a dietary problem at home, or possibly a genetic disposition toward overweight?

I ask because my own research reveals that Michael Pouls has allowed himself to be a poster boy for the Pritikin Diet. You can check that out at this URL: 0511/trimFat.shtm

There you’ll learn how Pritikin helped him “lose 78 pounds,” reduce his waist size by quite a few notches, and confess, "I can recall being on Atkins and craving fruit — I needed fruit, but you can't have any fruit on Atkins."

Oh, the poor baby!

If you read nothing else, read the Philadelphia Inquirer article that seems to provide an executive summary of this tale of bullying, bad behavior, and the outrageous power of gross wealth.


In Santa Barbara, CA, Wendy McCaw, divorced from a celluar communications magnate, decided to use some of her 10-figure settlement money to buy a newspaper. Not a copy of a newspaper. The whole kit and kaboodle, from newsroom to printing press.

Reportedly she had no previous journalism experience but what the hay, what’s a billion bucks for if you can’t buy the stuff you want?

Shortly thereafter, all hell started breaking loose at her new toy, the Santa Barbara News Press.

The story of what publishing newcomer McCaw did with her billion or so bucks – from newspaper management to multiple law suits, to labor warfare, to going after beach lovers – is the best argument I’ve ever seen for higher tax rates on huge incomes and wealth accumulations. These should start with taxes on staggeringly high divorce settlements. Not to mention higher – not lower – inheritance tax rates on really, really big sums. And yes, as I just crankily mentioned, high taxes on huge incomes and private wealth accumulations. Enough so that wealth that encourages outrageous bullying can’t exist in private hands.

For some of the ghastly details, as reported by one of the people Sandra McCaw decided to sue for writing the report, go here:

And for updates on how things are going at the Santa Barbara News Press, check out this blog.

Oh, and did I mention that Dr. Laura Schlesinger dances in and out of this tangled tale, too? Here’s a “just the facts m’am” executive summary:

And, uh, one more thing. Keep your filthy feet off Ms. McCaw’s beach!


zappo said...

I worked for the Pouls, awful, awful people. Ton's of money, no clue. She used to tell me that wanted to "eat brefest wit her children". It drove me crazy that a woman wearing Cartier diamonds couldn't speak the language. He would ask me to buy fruit, always on a diet, and them scold me for buying fruit! Their daughter was nasty, she was 4 and she told me everyday that I was fired! I had a one year signed contract with them, and when they did fire me, them not the daughter, they refused to pay out the remainder of my contract. I am happy that they are getting divorced, and I can say, in all honesty, the teacher is telling the truth! They need to remember Cherry Hill isn't Beverly Hill's!

Anonymous said...

Doesn't this guy run those ponzi scheme gas and grocery rebate cards? Do a google search on "Michael Pouls ripoff" or "Michael Pouls scam" and you will see...he has victimized millions of people