Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

A look behind the book

October 21, 2014
Governor Andrew Cuomo has a new autobiography out and it is getting a fair amount of newspaper ink. One of the best stories in the book is about how Daily News columnist Ken Lovett called one of Cuomo’s guys on the phone. Cuomo aide Josh Vlasto took the call and thought he was forwarding it to voice mail. He wasn’t. This, of course, was a reporter’s dream. There sat Cuomo and his crew discussing intimate political matters and there was Lovett, listening in and taking notes. Then the columnist did the right thing — he called the Cuomo people to confirm the juicy stuff that he had heard, only to be met with a denial that there had even been such a meeting. Lovett was subjected to a series of what could only be called threatening phone calls from the “second floor,” telling him that he had broken the law by illegally eavesdropping. That was nonsense and since a good part of the autobiography maintains that Cuomo was reformed and is no longer the old arrogant Andrew (what the New York Times referred to as “the Prince of Darkness”), it wasn’t comforting to see the Cuomo guys going after Lovett.

The book does not deal with the Moreland Act scandal that has the Cuomo office under federal investigation for disbanding the corruption-fighting group he had appointed with instructions to ferret out corruption in the Capitol. He included himself among those who could be reviewed by the “independent” commission, but reporters began to find out that the investigating group was getting to0 close to some of Cuomo’s major donors. Cuomo announced that it was his own commission and he could disband it whenever he wanted to. Needless to say, this was not comforting to those of us who were looking for the proof that this was the new non-arrogant Andrew. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been investigating the Cuomo move. Obviously, this was not something the governor was going to talk about in his book. I am sure that the Cuomo camp felt the less said about the scandal, the better.

Perhaps the most interesting story behind the book involves a reporter/columnist for the New York Post (whose name I never utter). This guy was one of the reasons why Mario Cuomo lost his election against George Pataki, so virulent was his invective. But when Andrew was elected, he made a convenient alliance with the Post guy. He appeared with great frequency on the man’s radio show. Reporters had to listen, in case the Governor made news. It was great for both the governor and the reporter until the absolutely inevitable falling out came. That happened when Cuomo did the single most courageous thing of his governorship — his sponsorship of the New York SAFE Act that offered some semblance of sanity when it came to regulation of guns in the state. Apparently, the reporter didn’t like that at all and things became quite acrimonious. The reporter had an arrangement with a Murdoch owned publishing company for a book about the governor and the governor was cooperating. But now things had changed. Cuomo approached the same company and offered his own book to them. From that moment on, the reporter’s book was off the boards. It was one of the most Machiavellian, brilliant things I have ever seen a politician do. The poor reporter must not have known what hit him.

Look, every person who is considering a run for the presidency has to have a book. Thousands attended when Hillary Clinton gave her Barnes and Noble book signing speech. There were far, far fewer people there when Cuomo gave his. He has ticked off reporters who want to talk to him, saying that he won’t talk to them about anything BUT the book. Cuomo, who says he wants transparency, has a long way to go before he achieves that goal.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 10/20/14

High school project foes are selfish

October 20, 2014

Wow! I guess I must be much more important than I thought I was.

My ego has been more than bruised this week. The usual suspects are on the attack. Last week I wrote a simple article pointing out that we Americans have always supported our schools and suggesting that it was un-American not to do so. It was a broad philosophical statement. I didn’t call out any individual although, as the saying goes, if the shoe fits, wear it.

A whole lot of people are not in favor of using the offered state funds to keep our high school up to date. They keep trying to find intellectual rationalizations to kill the project. They would rather ignore the schools and possibly keep a few dollars off their tax bills. Yet somehow they came up with the money for the Taj Mahal of firehouses and for the library. Hmmm, I wonder if that’s because they may need the fire or police department some day or they may want to borrow a book from the library.

Included among the “no” people are folks whose children have already been educated and who want nothing to do with “passing it on” for their neighbors’ children. I call that selfish. Then, too, there are the whole crowds of anti-taxers who just make up lame arguments that don’t hold up to scrutiny under the light of day.

Some people send their kids to private or parochial schools and think that since they pay tuition, the public school kids should get an inferior, second-class education in schools without up-to-date science labs or computer systems.

This is just the kind of thinking that creates what I call “the new segregation.” Provide a first-rate education for those that can pay and a second-rate education for the middle and lower classes that can’t afford the extra money.

If a child is given a chance to get a first-rate vocational or academic education, that child is less likely to have run-ins with the law and to end up dependent on the state for support. Maybe the anti-tax crowd doesn’t care about that. Maybe they figure that if we lose the state money and their tax bills go up a couple of bucks, it will be someone else’s problem after they pass on to the great beyond.

Don’t make any mistake about it: This is an attack on the middle class whose children need to be educated, whether it is in the academic subjects or the increasingly complex fields of plumbing, auto mechanics, HVAC and the like.

Take a look at a greedy weekly journalist who orders up hits on local officials who deserve better for their service. And what about the few Long Island transplants who claim that they are all for education, but not for our kids or grandchildren or nieces or nephews.

They may insist that they are looking out for our middle class but just take a look at who they are. Every time you hear a word coming out of their mouths you had better believe that they aren’t thinking about our blue collar folks but about themselves. Ask yourselves who they are, where they live and whether their taxes will go up much more than yours and you will have your answer.

When I wrote my column last week I wasn’t that angry but I sure am now. I will fight for our blue collar and middle class kids and I don’t give a damn about whether my taxes go up if our kids and neighbors will have a high school that can do for their kids what it did for mine.

We can go to the light on this or we can let the selfish suck us into their mire. I’m counting on all of you to join me in this American enterprise.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/18/14

I can’t imagine anything I’d rather not do more

October 15, 2014

Sometimes people win or lose elections because of the things that are going on in the state, the nation or the world. Sometimes candidates win or lose based entirely on the fact that “nature abhors a vacuum.” In other words, the ideas or character of the candidates have less to do with winning or losing than what is happening in the larger world that has nothing to do with the specific local candidates.

Mario Cuomo lost in 1994 to George Pataki because the country took a right turn big time. If it hadn’t been a Republican year, Cuomo would have won an incredible fourth term, and things might have been quite different in the state of New York. Instead George Pataki went on to serve three terms of his own. Since that time, he has been positing that if things would only go right, he might end up as president or vice president of the United States. You will never convince people who win the governorship of New York — the most important state in the union — that they don’t have the stuff to win.

Take the case of the always ambitious Andrew Cuomo. He has been impressive in New York, the media capital of the world, and he might have a shot at the presidency except that if Hillary Clinton runs, he has no chance at all. He certainly isn’t going to primary Hillary, and if Hillary wins, she’ll run for a second term, and if she loses, the Republican who beats her (although I can’t imagine who that might be) will run for two terms. By that time, Cuomo will suffer the fate of his father and start to run out of gas in the governorship. Now if Hillary decides not to run you had better believe that Andrew will be back in the race, big time.

In New York state there are several Democrats who won seats in the state Senate. They won despite the fact that their districts were drawn by the Republican majority in the state Senate so that their candidates could not lose. But, it turns out that it was an Obama election year and all kinds of people turned out who might not have, since presidential elections are usually the time that some Democrats who could not otherwise be bothered turn out to vote. But, as the old axiom goes, those who live by the sword often die the same way. So this year, the Democrats who turned out for the last presidential election, will not turn out, and not surprisingly, the polls are predicting a bad outcome for some Democratic candidates. Yet another thing that happens is that some third-party interloper runs for the same office and depending on whether they are a conservative who will spell trouble for the Republicans, or a Greenie who will take votes away from the Democrat, the outcome could change. One never knows what motivates people to run on third-party lines and destroy the chances of either party, but they do. Sometimes it’s the fact that an incumbent has lost and is angry and wants to get even. However, in the next election the third-party candidate is not there and that changes the dynamics of the election.

Of course, the political party people know all of this. They plan it as best they can and unless someone throws some kind of a political bomb into the mix, these things are often predictable. Sometimes when a Republican congresswoman loses an election in an Obama year, she is forced to run again to avenge herself, but by that time, the Democrat has the advantage of being an incumbent. As we all know, incumbents have tremendous advantages in elections.

As for me, I don’t like the way the game is played. I think it’s all pretty disgusting what with the money and the ads and the lies. But, hey, I’m not running for political office and I can’t imagine anything that I’d rather not do more.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 10/15/14

High school upgrade our obligation

October 13, 2014

The folks who are charged with watching out for the children of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District are scheduling a Nov. 4 redo on the earlier failed vote to rejuvenate Monument Mountain Regional High School.

From the outside, the school looks pretty good, but according to the folks who serve on the School Committee and the first-rate administrators who we have hired to educate our kids, we have fallen way behind. They say that we need to update the technology and create new labs and vocational spaces to bring us into the 21st century.

The opposition, and it seems mighty, is spreading the word around that this is a bad plan. They suggest that the taxes are already too high in Great Barrington; that we have already voted on and defeated the matter; that we are overbuilding; that we are tuitioning kids in from outlying districts that aren’t paying their fair shares; that the school superintendent is going to China to get students to pay tuition to support the school; that poor people will be overburdened. To put it mildly, this has become quite a hot-button issue.

Look, I don’t like seeing taxes go up any more than anyone else does. For as long as I have written this column, I’ve been yelling that we should combine the Southern Berkshire and Berkshire Hills school districts. There are fewer people in both schools than there were when we arrived in the Berkshires in 1971.

The problem is that people in both districts feel a sort of local nationalism and want the status quo or “cosa nostra” otherwise known as “our thing.” School Committee Chairman Steve Bannon says that he has personally approached the Southern Berkshire system on several occasions but there was no interest from that quarter. So there is truly a part of me that thinks that until the two districts sit down together and try to make sense out of too much high school for too few kids, we should not spend this huge amount of money. Yet, I also have other thoughts.

We elect a school board that has gained considerable expertise on the subject of how to best educate our kids. Steve Bannon is as solid a man as I have seen in local politics, ever. If he says we need a better school, I believe him.

The Chartocks are immensely grateful for what the school district has done for our kids. We could not be more proud of them and what they have accomplished. We are not likely to turn around, as some others might, and say, “My kids are done — why should I pay for your kids?” Public education has always been a community responsibility like the library we built or the Taj Mahal of firehouses. Nothing is more important than ensuring our kids’ future so that they can start out having the best chance in life.

In the end, we are a community. We need to provide our kids with the very best that they can have. Not everyone is going to go to college and if that means making better training and vocational facilities for them, that’s what we have to do. Sometimes these debates are framed as “us versus them” or “elitist versus blue collar.” Not this time. We are fighting for every child. The anti-tax folks will use every conceivable argument to get their way but frankly, it is un-American to vote no on this matter, even though we might feel it in our pocketbooks. That’s the history of this country. We do what we can for all our kids and their future.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/13/2014

Will murder conviction be upheld?

October 7, 2014

The way I see it, murderers are almost always nuts. You have to be crazy to kill another human being.

Now there’s psychiatric “by the book” crazy and “mafia type” crazy but it’s all insanity, right? The recent series of sensational murder trials we saw here ended up in three convictions. The killers will all have to spend the rest of their lives behind bars being treated as the dangerous animals they are.

Would you allow a man-eating tiger to walk around in town? Of course, instead of jail, you might want to administer a death sentence, but that is replete with danger.

I know all the arguments against capital punishment, and while I harbor thoughts that some people should pay the ultimate price, I am always stopped cold in my tracks by the absolute knowledge that we have seen people executed only to find out later on that they were innocent.

You really can’t explain that as collateral damage for having instituted a death penalty. Those of us with families that we love more than anything else find it incomprehensible that a loved one’s life could be snubbed out by some heinous, villainous, crazy creep and that same creep would continue to breathe.

The sister of Robert Chadwell, one of the victims in the recent murder trial, was quoted in The Berkshire Eagle after the life sentences were meted out to the convicted killer Caius Veiovis.

Her quote said that it was upsetting that the killers were “still breathing, eating and sleeping.” In fact, not only are the families of the murdered subjected to a lifetime of grief, the families of the killers are often subjected to similar pain for the rest of their lives. I had a letter from just such a family a while back and it certainly sensitized me to their pain.

The case of the triple murders offered some interesting insights into the way in which the criminal justice system works. Quite frequently, the prosecutors will offer deals to those accused of a crime to “roll” on the others accused of participating in the same crime.

In this case, the district attorney says that there were conversations about deals with the accused. Defendant Caius Veiovis says that he was offered a deal of seven years in return for his testimony. That’s a long way from three life sentences with no possibility of parole.

The DA, David Capeless, ultimately got to a Veiovis conviction but it was by no means easy. The accused hardly helped his case by cursing at the jury and by his very appearance. The jury was polled to ask if his outrageous appearance had anything to do with their guilty verdict and they said it hadn’t.

But on his way out of court, Veovis’ lawyer said that there had been insufficient evidence to convict. I wasn’t in court. I only read newspaper accounts but we live in Massachusetts where our high court has an annoying way of reversing guilty verdicts where the evidence was more circumstantial than direct.

Finally this week, I am waiting for the WAMC fund drive to begin on Monday morning at 6 a.m. We are all witnessing the dumbing down of America. People, particularly young people, don’t read. They don’t even watch the substandard news on television. They don’t read newspapers the way they used to.

WAMC devotes every penny that it gets to make the station better and better. We have a huge Massachusetts presence and it’s about to get even bigger. But we do it differently than the so-called “fee for service” way. Anyone can turn the radio on and listen and you don’t have to do anything to help the station survive. But, if you do that, you miss the point of this cooperative radio station. If everyone puts something in, we’ll live. If not …

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/4/14

Cuomo has always had the tax thing figured out

October 7, 2014

For Andrew Cuomo, the issue has always been taxes. There really is no getting around it — New York is an incredibly highly taxed state. We all know it and Cuomo, who most of us think has his eye on the presidency, knows it too. He comes by it honestly; he worked for the Clinton White House as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It was Clinton, on his own way to the presidency, who figured out a neat political configuration. In being a social progressive and a fiscal conservative, he set the model for Andrew.

The other great figure in Andrew’s life is, of course, his father Mario. We could call the old man “Mario the Bull.” When Mario Cuomo took a position, he stuck with it. Consider his stance on the death penalty or his position on abortion that he laboriously laid out in an important speech at Notre Dame, the prestigious Catholic University. Now I admit I’m prejudiced. I wrote a biography of the elder Cuomo and I think he really had heroic qualities. Andrew not only learned what to do from the old man but he clearly learned what NOT to do as well.

First on his list were taxes. From the first minute Cuomo the Younger ran on his own foray into state politics, he was as careful on the matter of taxes as one would be walking close to the third rail on the subway tracks. Andrew was not going to allow anyone to sucker punch him on taxes. He knew that nothing, but nothing, gets people angrier or more frightened than the thought of paying $25,000 in taxes on a small shack on Long Island or in Westchester.

From the first minute he got into office, he worked assiduously to give people the impression that he was doing something about their taxes — the one thing topping the list of their salient political issues. He used every bit of his capital with the Legislature, particularly the Democrats in the Assembly who are very good at spending the people’s money on things that would help their constituents. As a result, he got his way. His tax cap was so thoroughly hated by the state’s civil service unions that they simply refused to endorse him. And when an obscure Zephyr Teachout ran against Cuomo in the primaries, she got a lot of votes — a third of them.

In this case, the Clinton formula just didn’t work. Cuomo’s progressive agenda on guns and women’s rights was largely overlooked by progressive Democrats. They tended to paint him as a reactionary because of his fiscal posture. Among the youngish governor’s top priorities is a program that will give incentives to the myriad levels of local government to combine and to save money. Mario Cuomo wanted to do that as well and got nowhere because of what we can only call “local nationalism.” People want their own thing.

Now the Cuomo posture on taxes is paying off. Rob Astorino, his Republican opponent, twice won his office as the County Executive in Westchester on the tax issue. But now he is trailing Cuomo because Cuomo has been running ads talking about his efforts to cut taxes and Astorino’s profligate spending in Westchester. You know what? It’s working. There aren’t enough union voters or progressives who want more spending to vote against Cuomo, and even if they wanted to vote for someone other than Cuomo, who would they vote for? Of course there is the Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins, who is polling rather well for a Greenie. But there is no way Hawkins is going to win because he won’t be getting many Republican votes.

In the end, crafty Machiavellian Cuomo had the tax thing all figured out. I guarantee that if he runs for president, he’ll use the same playbook.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 10/6/14

Barrington bear poses real threat

September 29, 2014

On the subject of the bear: Everyone knows that we have a bear on the hill in Great Barrington. In fact, everyone in town seems to be talking about it. It has knocked over garbage cans, twisted bird feeders into pretzels and scared family members half to death when they saw it — and that’s just at my house.

We have heard a lot of first-hand testimony about the bear. We’ve been instructed not to panic. We’ve been told not to make sudden moves. We know we’re not supposed to feed him. We are keeping our bird feeders in and not putting our trash out on the curb the night before the early collection.

I recognize that many of you believe it is arrogant for us to deny bears, raccoons, wolves, coyotes, bobcats and the rest of the local fauna the right to share our space. After all, they certainly were here first. We were the ones who invaded their space.

Unfortunately, the news that a hiker was recently killed by just such a bear gives me pause. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have had second thoughts, too. Our neighborhood is filled with children who play out in their yards and streets. The bear is becoming more and more emboldened and it would just take just a few seconds for it to attack a toddler or a mother with a baby carriage. I would hate to have to write a second column on this subject starting with the words, “I told you so.”

Apparently, the police have been contacted about the bear and don’t seem concerned enough to follow up and apprehend or (gasp) shoot it.

It has long seemed to me that there are ways to deal with the situation. Perhaps the bear could be darted, sedated and moved to another area. We all know that the Berkshires are replete with brilliant laws stipulating that we can catch critters like skunks and groundhogs but we can’t move them from our property, perhaps on the assumption that I would move a creature from my yard and put it somewhere else and that would just start a chain reaction. Now we all know people who have caught and moved these bad boys but they don’t write columns critiquing the police from time to time, if you get my drift.

Presumably, I can off the creature but not move it. I am sure that there are very good reasons for this but it seems kind of loony to me. I am going to stick my neck out and suggest that the town does something about the bear.

After all, the police have a monopoly on firepower. We taxpayers shell out for all those guns and now the federal government is handing out excess equipment like tanks and all kinds of weapons that might help with the task. Let’s just understand that it is our obligation to keep funding the defense industry to make all these things that we really don’t need. I suspect that all those armaments aren’t meant to be used for picking up middle class drivers who go a few miles over the speed limit.

Of course, and I can’t help this (I’m sorry), the Constitution gives us the right to bear arms. That means that either we have to go around with short sleeves or the bears deserve the arms so that they can shoot back. So come on, people, let’s get with the program. Let’s acknowledge the fact that we need to corral this critter.

While we’re at it, let’s tackle some of the other conservation issues, like the overrun of skunks we have all over the Berkshires. There is still the problem of rabies to be considered, as well as the issues surrounding our cats and dogs. We can kid around but this bear presents a serious threat.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/29/14


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