Can Coakley show that she has right stuff?

Posted September 15, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

The primary is over. Martha Coakley won, despite the fact that almost the entire group of Democratic brass endorsed Steve Grossman. It wasn’t that they didn’t like Coakley. They were just afraid that she’d blow the election as she did when she ran against Scott Brown. The party felt they couldn’t afford that again.

Why, then, did Grossman lose and Coakley win? Coakley has statewide name recognition. She’s done an OK job as attorney general although she has did suffer some big losses in that job. As for Grossman, I suspect his loss comes as a result of his being too institutional. He was head of both the state party and the national party. Massachusetts people are deeply suspicious of the “same old-same old.”

This is a very dangerous situation for the Democratic Party in Massachusetts. Even though the Bay State is bluer than blue, voters have, on more than a few occasions, been known to vote for Republicans to serve as their governor. In the past, Republican Charlie “The Chameleon” Baker fashioned himself as a tea party type but this time around, his narrative is reported to have changed. That’s really bad news for the Democrats. Baker seems to be both personable and well spoken and if there are going to be debates, Coakley had better take some lessons.

Deval Patrick has been a magnificent governor, well loved and respected and a man who many of us think could be president if things were to break right.

Coakley is not Deval Patrick and many people will inevitably compare her to her predecessor.

One of the reasons why Republicans win in Massachusetts is that there is resentment among voters when they perceive that the Democratic Party is trying to shove some old boy or old girl candidate down their throats. It’s as if they were saying, “Just because we’re Democrats you can’t take us for granted.” We’re smart here in the commonwealth and our people tend to think things through.

I recently spoke with U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern. He argues that a vote for a Republican running for Congress is a vote for John Boehner, the Republican speaker. You can’t make that argument for statewide offices like governor. The governor is the head of the state, and is not tied into national office.

McGovern thinks that a man like Deval Patrick has tried his best to make sure that everyone of the social-economic scale gets a break. Usually, but not always, that is not true for Republicans who are often interested in protecting the accumulation of wealth and who make spurious arguments that revolve around the old “trickle down” theory, which just doesn’t work.

Massachusetts is in pretty good shape as you read this. Economically, we are doing quite well. Our kids are learning at better-than-average rates. While we will always have problems, it’s still a really nice place to live. At one end of the state we have the Berkshires; at the other we have Boston and Cape Cod. As Ethel Merman might have sung, “Who could ask for anything more?”

For her part, Coakley says that she’s learned from her mistakes and she’ll do better this time around. We can only hope so. People vote for candidates because of their perceived character assets. People loved FDR because he inspired confidence. During the worst of times, he was someone people thought they could ride the river with. Jimmy Carter was not. Bill Clinton was. Teddy Kennedy was.

Deval Patrick is a man most of us believe we can trust. We don’t think he’s in it for himself. He has some real iron in his political constitution. One can only hope that Martha Coakley has some of that as well and that she can show it to the people.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/13/14

The real culprit is ‘we the people’

Posted September 9, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Democracy is not supposed to be a spectator sport. If people don’t know what their elected officials are doing, those leaders will run away with the store. The less the citizens know, the more that those representing them will do to perpetuate their own power. I’m not talking about bribery or stealing, although that certainly happens too — I’m talking about the urge for those in power to load the game so that they can continue to stay in power. The more they do that, the more the other bad stuff happens. It’s human nature. Can you be sure that if you were in the game you wouldn’t be tempted to do the same thing?

The people of New York state just don’t seem to care that much about what is going on in Albany. While the state’s population is largely in New York City where the major media are, the state capital was placed in Albany, ostensibly to keep the stench of corrupt urban politics from infecting the people. It turns out that by putting the government in Albany, the politicians were hiding their nefarious doings from their constituents. You know, out of sight, out of mind. The upshot is that most people know very little about what their leaders are up to.

We have allowed the people running things to fix the game. To this day, for instance, we allow the leaders of the majority parties to draw their own districts. They create political boundaries where only they can win. Even after that process was supposedly “reformed,” the so-called reform turns out to be a sham. The problem is that everyone is in on the game, even when they say that they are not. In the case of redistricting, for example, the governor says that he is in favor of reform but makes a deal to perpetuate the system and then further fools the people by giving them a so-called constitutional amendment that will keep things going the good old corrupt way.

Redistricting is only the tip of the iceberg. We allow people seeking influence to buy power the same way they would buy bacon at the grocery store. They walk up, pay the cashier and get what they want. Why do you think a governor who says he is for campaign reform would be able to raise thirty five million dollars to run for office? Does anyone think that all that money is given to provide for clean government? If you believe that, it’s time to get back on the turnip truck. Lobbying is big business. When politicians retire they often become lobbyists. They know how to work the levers of power. They help fund campaigns, once again paying the clerk for the tomatoes.

The leaders have so much power that they can create the agenda. It looks like one thing but upon a closer look, the stink of rotten fish is unmistakable. The present governor loves the idea that the Republicans are kept in place despite their minority status in New York so that the Democrats don’t pass legislation that will threaten the entrenched players. Even if the Democrats take the Senate, mark my words, the governor will find a way to keep the status quo.

So why don’t we watch the game of Three-Card Monte as it continues? I suppose a good deal of the blame revolves around the politicians who have painstakingly corrupted the game. But the real culprit is “We the People” who just can’t be bothered. We think the corruption is within tolerable limits until some greedy dope does something that is beyond the pale and ends up in jail. The real problem is with a loaded, corrupt system and with those who just can’t be bothered enough to care.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 9/9/14

Obama right to go slow on Mideast plans

Posted September 8, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

So Islamic State extremists are now cutting people’s heads off. That’s very bad. Clearly, these nutjobs want to outrage and frighten all of us.

Think about it. Osama bin Laden killed all those people and in the end, the long arm of the United States caught up with him. That will certainly happen again. The radical Islamists say that their behavior is justified because we are bombing them.

Of course, they are being bombed because they are killing with impunity. They are rounding up people with conflicting religious views and murdering them wholesale. How can any sane person justify this?

President Obama is taking his time. He is being honest, suggesting that this country has yet to develop a coherent strategy. At the same time, bellicose politicians are demanding action. They recognize that we are all outraged.

I have no doubt that in the end, it is going to take some kind of force to make the madmen stop but the last thing we need is yet another war. The level of abuse that the president has to take over all of this seems intolerable. Who in their right minds would want that job?


On another subject, there are times when corporations actually do the right thing. Sometimes the reasons they do so are self-serving. Sometimes they are strictly monetary. Sometimes the people at the top have personal reasons for their actions. Take CVS’s decision to stop selling tobacco products in their stores. As Teddy Roosevelt might have said, “Bully for them.

I really don’t care why they did it. I just know that they did the right thing and in doing so, they are leading the way. They are shaming their competitors into doing the same thing. I love it.

I mean, people have to look in the mirror some time, don’t they? Cigarettes kill people. The smoker might live 10 years fewer than he or she might otherwise have lived.

For some reason we as a society have been very permissive about letting people continue to kill themselves with tobacco. I can just see my mail. “Who are you, Chartock, the secret police? What right do you have to tell me what I am allowed to do?”

The answer, of course, lies in the societal price that we all have to pay. Let’s take a 48-year-old man with seven kids. Who is going to pick up the pieces after the guy drops dead of a heart attack? Who will pay hospitals that treated him? Will his family receive survivors’ benefits that we all kick in for?

What about all that secondhand smoke that we have to breathe, even outside our work places as we walk by? There is a lady who stands outside my workplace smoking and I have to pass through the gantlet. Once, I asked her if she couldn’t smoke somewhere else and she let me have it. I had no right to tell her to move, she said. I suspect we had some kind of passive aggressive action going. She certainly knows that people don’t want smoke being blown in their faces.

Smoking is an addiction. Most smokers will tell you that they want to stop but for so many of them, it’s just too difficult and they can’t do it. It now costs a fortune to smoke.

Hypocritical governments balance their budgets by charging huge amounts of taxes in an effort to stop people from smoking. So to CVS I send my personal thanks and a hearty well done. Now we hear about at least one case in which a new gas station complex is being held up because they sell cigarettes.

Good. Let me ask you this: would you want someone selling poison on your block? Would you want your kids anywhere near such a store?


Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/6/14

Just when you thought things were getting boring…

Posted September 3, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Who is Tim Wu?” you ask.

Ah ha! Glad you asked. Tim Wu is the brilliant Columbia University law professor who has tackled mission impossible. He has chosen to run against Kathy Hochul, the upstate former congressperson, for lieutenant governor of New York. Hochul is Andrew Cuomo’s handpicked choice to run with him as HIS candidate for the spot.

Wu is the running mate of Zephyr Teachout who is running in a head-to-head primary against Cuomo. Clearly Cuomo is worried about the insurgency since he tried to get Teachout thrown off the ballot. He failed. The problem for Cuomo is that primaries attract very few voters and those who do vote are most likely to be left of center. Both Teachout and Wu are favorites among many of those very same people. It doesn’t stop there. Many of the state’s top labor unions are not supporting Cuomo because their members see him as far too conservative for them. Add to that, a journalistic bomb dropped by the most prestigious newspaper in the world, The New York Times, which has decided to endorse Wu. In New York State politics that Times endorsement is considered at earthquake level.

It doesn’t stop there. Wu has guts and isn’t afraid to say what he thinks. Wu, as a top legal thinker, makes it clear that he thinks that Cuomo may have committed a crime when he put a stop to his Moreland Commission, which was looking into crimes committed by public officials and others. Wu says that if it could be proven that he did that because investigators were coming too close to Cuomo’s contributors, it might be seen as that classic quid pro quo that gets office holders into big time trouble.

It should be remembered that when you have a Democratic primary election, very few people turn out, and as Willie Sutton once put it when asked why he robbed banks, retorted, “Because that’s where the money is.” In fact, there are those who point to Republican Eric Cantor’s loss in his much talked about Republican primary to a small group of dedicated people who wanted him out of there.

In a statewide Democratic primary election the votes are mainly in the five counties of New York City. Hochul is an upstate politician. She reflects the very conservative values of her former congressional constituency including views antithetical to those of her own presumed running mate Andrew Cuomo. Among these problematic areas are gun control and immigration. Clearly the Cuomo people will invest some real money in getting Hochul elected. You can expect them to start showing up on a TV set in your home.

Now pay attention. If Timothy Wu were to wrest the lieutenant governor nomination from Hochul, it could be potentially devastating to Cuomo. Under New York law, you run in the primary as an individual, not as a unit with the gubernatorial candidate. But then you run as a twosome in the general election. If Cuomo wins and has to run with Wu he will not get the votes from the other parties like the Working Families Party where he will be running with Hochul. This could diminish what many people expect to be a landslide victory. That’s important because, as many of us know, Cuomo harbors thoughts of running for the American Presidency. To do that he wants to win at an all-time high including higher than his famous father who won his first reelection.

Just when you think things are boring, you get proven wrong.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 9/2/14

I recently interviewed Wu on public radio for an hour and he said something that really has me thinking. Since his father is Taiwanese and his mother is English, he became fluent in Mandarin. He is now a great favorite among Asians in New York and, as the first statewide Asian candidate will receive something approaching a unified vote from that community. To put it mildly that could be huge if there is a huge turnout from that group.

Great Barrington community values history

Posted September 2, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

You’ve got to admit that there are some citizens in our community who really make a difference. Janet and Bart Elsbach are two such people. They took a great deal of their own money, got a mortgage and bought the expansive Great Barrington Fairgrounds for all of us to use. The fairgrounds, which used to present enigmatic horse races and agricultural exhibits, fell into disrepair and the Elsbachs saw an opportunity.

They pushed their plan through the various town boards in Great Barrington, which was no easy task. I doubt that anyone else could have cleared all those hurdles. We’ve already seen success. The Saturday morning Great Barrington Farmers Market was able to move from its cramped headquarters at the foot of the Hill in Great Barrington to this massive space.

Now comes the hard part. The Elsbachs, quite appropriately, want to share the responsibility for keeping the new entity going. The whole idea is to get everyone involved. In order to do that, they are sponsoring a banquet brunch so that those of us who can will support this wonderful work. On Sunday, Sept. 21, at Gedney Farm in New Marlborough, guests will assemble to hear New York Times Food Editor Sam Sifton, Random House Editorial Director of Nonfiction Andy Ward and Jenny Rosenstrach, a popular food author and blogger. In addition, The Easy Ridin’ Papas will entertain.

The idea is to raise enough money to build a pavilion that will provide cover for markets, concerts and other community gatherings. Think of it as an old-fashioned barn raising. The brunch and food talk will cost $125 a person. That isn’t cheap for any of us but the Chartocks will be kicking in because we really want to show our support for this ambitious, wonderful project. In the spirit of the great Mahaiwe reconstruction, it is just another sign of how our community values its history. The fairgrounds are an important part of what Great Barrington used to be and yet another indicator of why we are considered to be the greatest small town in America.

We are fortunate to have a number of people with some money who have proven themselves willing to spend it to help their neighbors. Great Barrington collects a huge amount of tax money. That’s for things like the sewers and chopping down beautiful pear trees and creating havoc by eliminating parking spaces in downtown Great Barrington. But I digress. The point is that in addition to the physical and everyday needs of the town, we must provide for the soul of the town. That includes the sense of sharing with the community and providing for the arts and the environment. All of that and more will be happening at the Great Barrington Fairgrounds and each of us should do what we can to make this happen.

Speaking of which, tonight at another of our region’s essential soul builders, the Guthrie Center, the Berkshire Ramblers will be playing a rare benefit. The last time we did this, a couple of years back, the place was jammed and we got some terrific reviews. To reserve your ticket now, you can call the Guthrie Center at (413) 528-1955. You can purchase tickets at the door but it’s probably best to reserve a space for your fanny.

Not only do we have the Mahaiwe and the fairgrounds and so many other things but the Guthrie Center has become THE folk Mecca in the United States. People who will only play huge venues show up in Great Barrington to honor the late Woody Guthrie and his brilliant son, Arlo.

So be there or be square — you are sure to have a great time. Every time I think of how wonderful it is to live in the Berkshires, I just give thanks.


Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 8/29/14

The uninformed citizen doesn’t stand a chance

Posted August 26, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

What are we, a bunch of dumb sheep?

The latest piece of positive proof answering that question is that the governor and the Legislature came up with a very dubious plan for “fair” redistricting in New York state. Let’s review the history. Governor Cuomo, when he was just citizen Andrew Cuomo, correctly read the people’s will and campaigned on a promise to reform the way in which New York’s legislative districts were drawn up. When the Legislature, which drew their own districts in order to keep themselves in power (the IPP or Incumbent Protection Plan), offered him their latest travesty, he said he would veto said bill.

The problem was that when he got into office he forgot that pledge. Not only did he let the legislative leaders get away with their own self-serving designs, he signed a reapportionment bill that turned out to be one of the most non-democratic reapportionment processes in the country.

The phony fix was that governor and the Legislature created a procedure that implemented the old system while pretending to invent a new one. They did this by appointing an outside group to draw the legislative districts.

The supposedly “new” process allows the legislative majorities (with some lip service to the minorities) to appoint an outside reapportionment commission. That commission, appointed by the Legislature (wink, wink) will hold “hearings” and then come up with a plan. They would then send that plan to the legislators who would vote on it. If the Legislature didn’t like it and voted it down then, lo and behold, we were back to square one and the legislative majority parties got to draw their own districts just as they always had.

So who are the commissioners? As part of this sham, the new language for the constitutional amendment that New Yorkers will have to vote on stipulates that no member of the Legislature can serve in this important job. But that’s where it stops. They can (and will) appoint anyone other than themselves or their families. They all know people who will do what they are told. The whole thing is an obvious fix. But just in case, by some miracle, said commission does its job and presents fair districts where either side has a chance of winning, and new districts don’t have the shapes of alligators and frying pans, the Legislature has the power to override everything the commission does. The whole thing is a stinker.

The new plan will come before the people of New York state in the form of a constitutional ballot amendment. Naturally, even the language that will appear on the ballot is self-serving and boasts of reform. The uninformed citizen doesn’t stand a chance. For his part, Governor Cuomo has done everything in his power to keep Dean Skelos and the Republican Party in charge of the Senate. Now it would appear that a deal has been cut to return the Senate to the Democrats who actually have a majority in that body. Up to now, the Senate Republicans have been able to draw districts that they can win. A fair fight would be a disaster for them since there are so many Democrats in New York state. In order to win, they must resort to legal chicanery and they do.

There are several good government groups that have checked in on this. The so-called Citizens Union (its board has several Cuomo friends on it) disgracefully endorsed the stinker plan. Shame on them! They were joined by the League of Women Voters, who should have known better. Sometimes you get tired of being ineffective and want to show your membership that you have achieved something. The true good guys, the New York Public Interest Research Group and Common Cause, have called this malarkey for what it is.

Is anyone paying attention? Baaaah.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/25/14

The times they are a-changin’

Posted August 25, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized


A big issue for the Berkshires is the whole concept of aging. Let’s face it: Younger people have different ways of accessing culture, news, music and theater than we did. We know that many of us are getting a little older now. It’s cool, of course, that we are living longer but quite frequently when you go to our beloved Tanglewood or to the many events sponsored by places like the Mahaiwe, you are likely to see a lot gray hair. Sooner or later, the human experience being what it is, people pass on (which is a nice way of saying “die”.) Will a new group of people come in to replace them or will the institutions that are so important to us fade away like General McArthur? (See, if you’re young you have no idea what I mean.)


It is no secret, for example, that newspapers like the one you and I love to hold and fold and drop food on are in real trouble. Studies show that young people do not read newspapers. Every night I check in on my various newspaper apps like The Eagle or the New York Times. By the time I wake up in the morning, some stories have been updated or changed. The Eagle is doing a great job of getting their stories up at night but many journalism experts predict that 10 years from now, there will be very few printed newspapers. If young people don’t read newspapers either in print or online, they will know less. The less they know, the less educated they will be when it comes to making informed decisions.


Then, too, there are the so-called aggregators. These are sites that post what other people are writing. In some cases it’s called “stealing,” but newspapers like it because it inevitably brings other people to the sites that a newspaper owns.



As for Tanglewood, my favorite place in the Berkshires, we see people like James Taylor filling the hall. Events like Film Night are also very popular. The Boston Symphony needs to get younger posteriors into the seats and they have been terrific about figuring out ways to attract a younger demographic. They are not alone when it comes to the classical music dilemma. Yehuda Hanani has a wonderful series called “Close Encounters with Music.” Their home seems to be the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington but once again, some seats are often unfilled. I’ve tried to help Yehuda by doing periodic interviews with him in a segment called “Classical Music According to Yehuda.” It turns out to be a popular part of our programming.


We also play the entire Metropolitan Opera season on WAMC. Relatively few people listen to the opera but it is an important part of the American arts scene. What’s more, if things like the opera and every Tanglewood concert are not accessible on the radio, even fewer people would attend the live performances. I know from personal experience that my kids heard the BSO on WAMC and Tanglewood became important to them.


With all of that said, things do change. We’ve seen it in publishing and we’ve seen it in music. It’s the way of the world. Our children want to do their own thing. If we love the old way, we are forced to make choices and fixes to those institutions that we value. There will always be people who don’t want to recognize what’s at stake here. Some will mutter and carry on about what kids are listening to or reading. It’s important to remember that it was the presence of young people on the political scene that demanded that gays and lesbians be allowed to marry. They just didn’t understand the old way of thinking and when it came, it came fast. You don’t have to like it — you just have to understand it.


Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 8/23/14


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