Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Once again, Gov. Cuomo did the right thing

August 19, 2014

There are times when politicians’ motivations really don’t matter. If they do what’s right, that’s about all we can hope for. When Andrew Cuomo passed the almost impossible-to-pass SAFE Act, he did what was right. All over the country, as politicians cowered in front of the NRA and the gun lobby but following one heinous shooting after another, Cuomo did what was needed. I said at the time, and I meant it, that his actions were a profile in courage. The same praise goes to the governor for his leadership on gay human rights. When Cuomo is long out of office, his courage to do what was right will give him an enduring legacy.

On the other hand, his record on some other political things is hardly a profile in courage. Trying to kick Zephyr Teachout, an obscure law professor who has the guts to run against him in a primary, off the Democratic ballot for dubious reasons didn’t help him one bit. We have elections in this country to give us choices. When politicians use their offices and their campaign money to eliminate rivals, we have something that is distinctly un-American. During the Occupy Albany events of a few years back, Cuomo came off as a bully. When he tried pressing David Soares, the compassionate DA of Albany, into prosecuting the mostly young people, it looked mean spirited and arrogant. Soares, to his credit, prevailed. The kids weren’t prosecuted and there is evidence that Cuomo has not forgiven him for standing up to him. His actions with Teachout didn’t help the bully image one bit.

Now Cuomo and several other top state leaders are traveling to Israel to support that country in a time of great need. To set the record straight, I’m Jewish and was raised in a post-Holocaust home that revered Israel. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been critical at times. Hey, I’ve said no more than progressive Israelis when the Israeli government built more and more settlements in places where they didn’t belong. I have never admired the stranglehold that a small portion of the country’s most religious figures had on state politics but there is evidence that the Israeli citizenry has been straightening all of that out. With that said, it seems indisputable to me that the Hamas leaders who are firing rockets indiscriminately at Israelis are both cowardly and criminal. When they use their own civilians to protect the rocket launchers, they are showing themselves for what they are — despicable. If anyone thinks that we in this country wouldn’t go to any length to protect ourselves from similar attacks, those foolish people would be sadly mistaken. So, Cuomo and the top state leaders went to Israel. It isn’t a matter of political party. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg went when U.S. airlines weren’t even flying there. He did what was right.

Of course, some will claim the trip was politically motivated because New York has the second largest concentration of Jewish citizens after Israel. They will say that it was a brilliant, Machiavelli-like political stroke. The truth is that once again, he did what was right. Democracy means that a governor follows the wishes of his electors, and let there be no mistake about it — New Yorkers have little use for Hamas. Cuomo didn’t go alone. Included in his group were all the state leaders including Republican leader Dean Skelos.

Thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed as a result of what a few of the cowardly Hamas leaders did. This is a terrible situation. We all feel the suffering of the parents. But the time has come for Palestinians to say no to the people who have so endangered them. As for Andrew Cuomo, he did the right thing — the thing that most of us wanted him to do.
 
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/18/14

Colombia getting better all the time

August 18, 2014

 

How I spent my summer vacation.

 

I went to Colombia with Roselle and Jonas and Jonas’ brilliant, accomplished and beautiful wife, Andrea Zayas. Andrea is the daughter of Sam and Elena Zayas. Elena is Colombian so we were invited to go to one of the jewels of Colombia, Cartagena. It’s a beautiful, semi-small city — yet another experience in the pantheon of Roselle’s trips.

 

As many of us know, some of the best people living in the Berkshires are originally from Colombia and even though economics have pushed immigration in some cases, loyalty to Colombia is very strong among these folks.

 

Joining us on the trip was Andrea’s lovely 11-year-old daughter, Mila, Andrea’s mom, Elena, and her aunt, nicknamed Titi. They were staying away from the beautiful walled city in a lovely apartment (Miami style) on the ocean with a huge swimming pool but Roselle demanded that we stay in the heart of the walled city, which has some of the oldest fortifications in Latin America. These fortifications warded off pirates and armies that included such notables as Sir Francis Drake. You really have to see these battlements to understand just how formidable a defense these walls and cannons were for the city.

 

It was just a few short years ago that Colombia was a mess. There was something that resembled civil war between the FARC guerrillas and the government. Many people think that FARC no longer exists but it is still there and in the midst of negotiations with the Colombian government in Cuba. However while these negotiations are underway, the FARC continue some of its old ways, including bombings and selective kidnappings in some of the less visited areas of the country. The first thing any visitor notices is the incredible number of police. They travel in cars, two to a moped, in big groups and as singletons.

 

For two full days we visited a small hotel, Casa Verde in Santa Marta, a jewel of a small city that happens to be the very place where the single most important person in Latin American history, Simon Bolivar, died in the house of a friend. This place has a horticultural garden without peer, Colombians believe, in the world.

 

Juan Davila, the owner of the hotel is a repository of information about the history of Colombia. He has spent years in other countries like Canada and France, speaks excellent English and explained the national character of Colombia as I have never heard it explained. When you live in a country where you never knew when the next bomb would detonate or whether a friend or relative might be kidnapped, what you want is peace. Things are better now, but not perfect.

 

As we came into Santa Marta we saw terrible, terrible poverty — people living in shacks, some of which had no roofs or walls. On the other hand, the buildings along the coast are no different than the ones you see in Palm Beach and Miami. Here, however, you literally see the slums under the bulldozers as yet another gated (and I do mean gated) community of wealthy people springs up.

 

So Colombia is a mixed bag. No doubt it’s getting better all the time. The new president, Juan Manuel Santos, is committed to increased education. In the last administration he was the minister of defense, but he is considered a liberal. Many of the major drug czars are locked up in U.S. prisons, the result of complicated negotiations that proved that Colombia is anything but South Africa when it comes to forgive and forget. A lot of people lost their lives in the bad times leading up to now.

 

One last thing: not a whole lot of people in Colombia speak English, so before you go, you might want to brush up on your Spanish. Jonas and Andrea say that Colombians are among the nicest people in the world.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 8/16/14

 

This is very dangerous territory for Cuomo

August 12, 2014

Zephyr Teachout must be much on Andrew Cuomo’s mind. The left-of-center Fordham University law professor collected over 45,000 signatures to get her on the September Democratic primary ballot. On the face of it, Andrew has nothing to worry about. Recent polls show that most New Yorkers have no idea who Teachout is. The same polls show that Cuomo retains most of his massive popularity. If all of that isn’t enough, there is a Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins, who will certainly split the progressive vote. So why is Andrew trying to get Teachout thrown off the Democratic ballot? Theoretically, all he has to do is to stay shut and win but Cuomo is clearly scared and here’s why.

Cuomo had the scare of his political life when he almost lost the designation of the progressive Working Families Party to Teachout. Only the intervention of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio saved his skin. In order to convince the progressive crowd that he was with them, Cuomo had to promise to use his influence to get the outlaw Democrats who sold out to the Republicans — the Independent Democratic Conference — back where they belonged with the real Democrats.

Teachout is beloved among the more progressive folks in New York who think that Cuomo is too far to the right, too much of a budget cutter and too cheap on educational spending, among other gripes. Knowing that in a primary among New York Democrats, the most politically active turn out, Cuomo has hired Martin Connor, the best election lawyer in New York, to try to get Teachout thrown off the ballot. Because so few people vote in primaries, Cuomo knows that the Teachout people will show up. She won’t win but she could hurt his political reputation.

We hear that Cuomo’s excuse for trying to throw Teachout off the ballot is that she isn’t a New York state resident because, among other small things, she contributed to an Obama campaign from her mom’s Vermont address despite her years of teaching at Fordham University.

This is very dangerous territory for Cuomo. He knows how important the women’s vote is, and by seeming to bully Teachout, he risks alienating some female voters. Teachout has been quick to seize on this as an issue to be raised with women. I suspect Cuomo will say something like, “The law is the law and the same for everyone.”

Of course, this will end up in the courts. I suspect that the state’s Board of Elections will think twice about further embarrassing themselves and identifying themselves as part of the political power elite. The Board of Elections has already placed Teachout above Cuomo on the Democratic ballot. That’s got to have Andrew half crazy. Cuomo has a reputation as a guy who likes to have his own way and doesn’t like it when people defy him. Teachout seems absolutely unafraid of Cuomo. She provokes him everywhere she goes. She needles him, calls him names, and suggests again and again that the big corporate players who want something from Andrew are filling his coffers with obscene amounts of campaign cash in order to get things back from government. She’s right about that, of course.

When she came to my public radio studios for her interview, she was followed by a camera and a crew suggesting that sooner or later, win or lose, we are going to see a documentary entitled something like “Zephyr, the Movie.”

Teachout must know that she can’t win. She has limited amounts of campaign cash but she has a brilliant legal mind. Cuomo made a bad move in trying to remove her from the ballot — it suggests some fear on his part. He should have just left her alone.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/11/14

Cuomo’s enemies have become emboldened

August 5, 2014

“Is Andrew Cuomo in trouble because of recent New York Times revelations?” is a frequently asked question. The answer is “maybe.” It’s hard to believe that a man who will probably come into this election period with about fifty millions dollars in his campaign account could lose to a little known Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino. While the polls will show a tightening of the race, the present gap between the two men seems insurmountable. Already it is hard to turn on a television without seeing a Cuomo ad. All the Cuomo accomplishments from the extraordinary gay rights legislation to the SAFE Act which attempts to bring order to the gun violence mayhem really are something to behold. The number one thing that I hear about the guy is that “He gets things done.” People may not love the guy, but they have the impression that he cares and that he is tough enough to do important things. That impression may be endangered.

The Cuomo problem is that he has incurred the wrath of two of the most important institutions in the United States, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney and the New York Times, the newspaper that remains the most important newspaper in the world. It is as if a hurricane had landed on Cuomo’s door. Anyone who thinks that even the popular son of a fabled governor can take on those two institutions better think again. For his part Cuomo has put people in jail as an attorney general for ethical and criminal violations. The sense of rectitude surrounding the guy is what has made him the politically popular man he is. Now the bloom is off the rose. The revelations that Cuomo appointed a crime fighting commission and then killed it for political reasons has undercut the moral high ground from under him. Because he has always been seen as “Andrew Tough Guy,” he has a lot of enemies who have been scared to death of him. Anyone who has ever perceived themselves as the victim of a bully knows that when the bully gets into trouble, people who thought themselves oppressed will suddenly develop guts.

Cuomo’s problem is that the insiders, many of whom have been waiting for this day, have now been emboldened. The reason for their fear of Cuomo has always been that the young governor is immensely popular with the people. So it is with breathless anticipation that the next round of polls is anticipated. If, as expected, the new Cuomo revelations take their toll, you had better believe that all those who have issues with the guy will become more and more emboldened. That’s when inside people leak more. As it stands now it is hard to believe that U.S. Attorney Bharara has enough to indict anyone around Cuomo, but there is the old adage that a DA can indict a ham sandwich. People are wondering just how far Bharara will go. The Times has published its extraordinary revelations about Cuomo and his actions and Cuomo has actually frontally attacked the credibility of the Times. I used to have a colleague in my first academic job at Rutgers who would assess a situation and then yell at the top of his voice, “MISTAKE!”

Now Cuomo says he will adhere to my eighth grade math teacher’s admonition to me to “Keep shut.” I have always said that Cuomo is a strategic genius but he appears not to be averse to the single thing that kills politicians, “arrogance.” Cuomo has indicted and jailed politicians who thought they could do anything because of their sense of self importance. Cuomo, like the rest of us has a character that was formed in the early years of his life. It seems clear to me that his political survival and advancement now depends on his ability to “mature,” take stock and make friends. If he becomes encircled and continues to instill fear in to those who surround him, he could be in trouble.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/4/14

Never a snap dealing with the neighbors

August 4, 2014

 

We are very lucky. We have good neighbors. The problem with living in neighborhoods is that sooner or later the law of averages catches up to you and you are confronted with problem neighbors, and that can be hellish.

 

I know two wonderful and kind people who lived in one of the nearby Great Barrington communities who ran afoul of a neighbor who had 200 acres right next to my friends. Their neighbor was a pretty good guy, but he had his eccentricities. When my friends cut down a very small little tree on the common line between the two properties you would have thought that they had committed a provocation that might have started an international incident.

 

It is important to know that they thought this little tree was theirs and that they are really good folks who would never intentionally hurt anyone. Well, the outraged large landholders conducted themselves as if there was a major military operation going on. Their house was several acres away from the good people who they thought had wrongly cut down the tree. So they ordered up two truckloads of stinking chicken manure, which they put on the common line, grossing out the poor people and their young children who had to live with the stuff for a couple of years.

 

The chicken manure war just wasn’t right, but we see similar wars going on all around us. There are tales of people putting up flood lights that pierce right into your house and drive the occupants crazy. Like all wars, these things can escalate.

 

In some cases the whole thing is started by driveway problems. Sometimes it involves a musical instrument or a very loud radio. Sometimes it involves boundary lines. In the case of my friends in the great chicken manure caper, they did nothing, which was a lot better than what I might have done in the same situation. While the stink from the chicken manure was awful, silence was probably the best course of action.

 

So what are the best ways to keep the peace with your neighbors?

 

The first thing is to remember that your neighbors are usually good people with their own priorities. For example, I get up to go to work around 3:30 in the morning so I go to bed at 8. I can’t help it if people are making noise that would usually be seen as well within the bounds of reasonable behavior.

 

So, if you are friends with the folks, you call them up and speak to them as if they were the friends that they are. Most (but not all) people are accommodating. Of course, one should be sure to approach in the nicest of ways and one should be sure that you would accommodate your neighbors if they called you.

 

One time my very wonderful neighbors may have been upset by the noise my new gas-driven shredding machine was making. Their very young (at the time) son came out on our lawn and said, “Loud.” I got the message and got rid of the machine. For their part, the wonderful lady of the house, Susie Baum, has shared her extensive gardening prowess with me.

 

Politics is also a potential hazard. If someone has an anti-abortion message on the back of their car and you are passionately pro-choice you recognize that it is their right to express their views. Roselle has an Obama sticker on the back of her car and that’s her right. So what you have to do, once again, is to find something else to talk about. Now, if they talk to you, then all you have to do is to say that you don’t think it’s wise to talk about it.

 

I once knew a guy who didn’t like one of his neighbors. They guy had a pond and the aggressor did something that I just didn’t like and told him so. He dropped two huge snapping turtles into his perceived enemy’s pond. He knew that the nice old man who lived there would roll up his pants and walk in the pond. Not a good thing. Do peace, not war.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 8/2/14

 

There is an elephant in the room named Preet Bharara

July 29, 2014

The biggest story of the year in state politics is what happened to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Act Commission which was supposed to look into corruption in state government. When Cuomo established the Commission he said that it would be independent and would follow the leads no matter where they led. He said that the Commission, made up of outstanding members including several district attorneys, would be free to investigate anyone including the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general and the comptroller.

I have written and said many times that Andrew Cuomo is a strategic genius. He’s obviously much smarter than I am. New York has seldom seen such a hard-driving, tough-minded, consumed-by-politics, politician. So, when he established the investigating group which was clearly going to go after some of the most corrupt members of the Legislature, I scratched my unworthy head and wondered what the heck he was doing. If, in fact, he was going after the connection between money and politics he had to know that there would be consequences since he had a well-oiled machine that collected tons of money for the man who most of us believe, has presidential ambitions. Clearly he wanted to win his upcoming gubernatorial election as big as his father Mario had in his second term. To put it mildly, the amount of money that Cuomo has raised for that reelection is obscene. The list of big donors goes on and on. We all know that people give immense amounts of money to politicians because they want something back. It has always been that way. It would be naïve to assume that this isn’t the case with Cuomo who says that he wants to revise the campaign laws to make them fairer.

To make sure that his commission was controllable, Cuomo established it with an executive leader who the Cuomo people trusted. The commissioners truly believed that they would not be hampered in their efforts, but then it turned out that Cuomo’s top aide, Larry Schwartz, a take-no-prisoners kind of tough guy, told the commission that they had been issuing subpoenas to some of the most connected and wrong people. So the subpoenas were called back. Naturally someone called Ken Lovett, one of the best journalists in Albany, of the New York Daily News, who ran with the story. Then the die was cast. The New York Times started an investigation which ended with specifics as only The New York Times can do it. It was a brilliant piece of journalism and it sent shock waves around the state.

When the news broke, Cuomo suggested that since he had established the Moreland Commission, it was his to do with as he wished. His problem, of course, is that is not what he said when he established the Commission.

The big question is whether the whole thing is a fleeting story that made the headlines for a day or two. After all Cuomo is swamping his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, in the polls by an over 35 percent margin. Not only that, it is unclear whether any laws were broken. It may be embarrassing for Cuomo, but most people don’t follow state politics other than cynically believing that “They’re all a bunch of crooks.” Few people know who Astorino is and the bombshell story may turn out to be no more than the couple of days of attention that the story got.

However, and it is a big however, there is an elephant in the room named Preet Bharara, the principled United States Attorney who made no secret of his unhappiness at the way the Moreland Act Commission was disbanded in the middle of its work. He grabbed all the files of the Commission and a lot of people are waiting to see where his investigation leads. If Bharara, who made his political bones working for Chuck Schumer, starts to indict people, or finds wrongdoing, it will make this a whole lot more than a two-day story.

 
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/29/14

Relishing in a rare victory for myself

July 28, 2014

 

Let’s face it, we have very few victories in our lives, so we take them where we can get them. Take my marriage to the very lovely Roselle. She is blazingly smart and even more, nice. Usually when there is a contest of wills, she prevails. That’s why when she turned a very young 70 on July 7, the mailbox and e-mail was filled with congratulatory greetings. That’s why, when there is a contest of wills between us, which is really not that unusual (air conditioning versus no air conditioning, late night walk versus my daily hour in the morning), she wins. So it is with great satisfaction that I can recount a recent to-do which turned out in my favor.

 

We were being visited by two of my dearest and oldest friends, Jeanne Baker and Walter Bradley, up from their plush digs in Miami to visit with us, and then with Phil and Anita Heller, their close cousins. As we sat on our screened-in porch sipping our drinks, deciding where to go to dinner in Great Barrington, I mentioned that our little town, in fact the best small town in America, according to Smithsonian Magazine, boasted 70 restaurants. Roselle, who with some justification thinks that I am sometimes given to exaggeration, took a tone with me. She announced, “No Alan, it’s nothing like that, maybe 30.” Now I will admit that the idea that Great Barrington boasts a lot of restaurants, some better than others, but I just knew that I had read somewhere, perhaps in this very newspaper, that the town had 70 restaurants. So I knew that I had to stick to my guns.

 

Years ago I had learned an important lesson. My friend Eliot, who I first met at Camp Bronx House, was then the swimming counselor. Because I was the head counselor I lived in a house in a small room. The house had few amenities but it did have a bathroom with hot and cold running water. Eliot came to ask if he could use the bathroom because, he said, the shower house, which the staff had to use, had hot water in the shower but not in the sinks. Also living in that house was a man considerably older than I was at the time, named Murray, who was the head of the work camp. He had a family, and clearly he didn’t want anyone else sharing that bathroom. He was outraged that I had said Eliot could shave in the bathroom. He went to my mentor, camp director Aaron Mitrani, and I was dragged in for a session in humiliation in which Murray maintained that it was ridiculous to say there was hot water in the shower house showers but not in the sinks. The always sagacious Aaron, who I dearly loved, asked Murray to leave and let me have it. How could it possibly be, he asked, that there was hot water in the showers but not in the sinks?

 

Upon leaving the camp that summer I saw Murray sitting on the porch. He sardonically smiled at me and said that I really should have gone into the shower house to check with me about the validity of Eliot’s complaint about no hot water in the sink. Red-faced, I realized that I had been right and because I hadn’t checked and because Murray the bum hadn’t told the truth, I had to live with this black mark on my permanent psychiatric record. I decided right then and there never to let that happen again.

 

So here was my chance. I dug out my cellphone and wrote in “How many restaurants in Great Barrington?” It turns out that, according to the answer, there are 63 restaurants in my town. So I triumphantly looked up at Roselle and said, “Well Roselle you are right, there aren’t 70 restaurants in Great Barrington, there are 63!”

 

A great victory if I ever had one.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 7/28/14

 


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