Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

There will never be another Pete

February 3, 2014

Pete Seeger is gone. I first met him at Buck’s Rock Work Camp when I was 14. He was standing on the big cement porch, surrounded by kids. After hearing him, nothing was the same. He was my lifelong hero. I had few others. I wasn’t alone — many of you first heard Pete at camp or school. That’s how he made his living during the time he was blacklisted.

I’d borrow The Weavers at Carnegie Hall and The Weavers on Tour from the Donnell Library and listen until I knew every song by heart. I learned how to play the banjo from Pete’s “How to Play the Five String Banjo” book. I literally dreamed about meeting my hero one day. Once as a college student, a famous critic wrote a lousy review of a Pete concert in the Times and I wrote a letter of complaint to the editor. I received a note from the writer but I blew my gut because they had not printed my letter.

As a teenager, I would write Pete letters and either he or his wonderful wife Toshi would always respond. When I worked as a music counselor at the Bronx House Camps in nearby Copake, I would sing Pete’s songs. I remember taking a day off to return to the Ocean Beach Fire Island Youth Group where I would play banjo with some friends for the kids there. One of them, Bobo Peck, told me of taking Pete out for a sail and telling him the story of how I had changed Pete’s song “Abiyoyo” and made up a whole different story. When I picked up my copy of Sing Out! Magazine I was astounded to find that Pete had written a whole column about how I had changed the song around. It truly didn’t get any better than that. He called it the “folk process” and while he didn’t know or use my name, it was me all right. Years later when I first met Pete I told him that he once wrote an article about me in Sing Out! and without hesitation he said, “You’re the guy.” I couldn’t believe it.

Naturally, I went to every Pete concert I could. They would put a little notice in the paper and a few days later every seat was gone.

WAMC’s “very fund drive” featured one Pete song after another. When things got slow we would play, “We Shall Overcome,” or “Bring Them Home.” And then we got really lucky. In 2002, we called Pete and he agreed to sit down to talk about his life. We offered that recording as a premium and the rest is history. By the time we were through, we had a series of six tapes that have brought tens of thousands of dollars into the station. He was so modest. When I told him, how much money had come into the station he couldn’t believe it. “All that money,” he said.

Maybe a year ago I had a call from Pete’s collaborator, Lorre Wyatt, who said, “Pete wants to do something for WAMC” and that led to one of his last concerts. It was the first time Pete had been back musically to Peekskill, N.Y., where he and Paul Robeson had been attacked as police looked on and did nothing.

Well into his 90s, Pete could be seen out on his land, chopping wood. One day Lorre Wyatt came into the station and handed me a log. “Pete told me to give you this,” said Lorre. I looked at the wood which is standing on a table in the middle of my office. On it is written, “To Alan and our extended WAMC family. Together we will keep the flame alive.” Pete signed it with his name and the little banjo he always signed with. I am grieving. There will never be another Pete.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 2/1/14

Will ‘purple’ voters buy into the two-cities philosophy?

January 28, 2014

You’d have to be lacking the usual senses not to see the fight unfolding between the Andrew Cuomo forces in New York and the followers of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Cuomo is a centrist who believes that New Yorkers pay too much in taxes and de Blasio is what we have come to call a “progressive” who appeals to the left of the party. Cuomo’s remarkable pollster, Andrew (Drew) Zambelli, says that people are unhappy about paying too much tax and thus are not going to be happy voters. As a result, Cuomo has become a passionate tax cutter. It’s good politics and it puts the governor in the center part of his party.

Despite denials, it’s obvious that Cuomo wants to follow his old boss, Bill Clinton, into the presidency. If he can demonstrate that he lowered people’s taxes and brought rejuvenation and relief to New York, he will appeal to all those citizens who believe that they are being strangled.

However, there is another group of Democrats. These are the Democratic leftists or progressives. The divide became clear during the recent mayoral election in New York. The “public advocate,” Bill de Blasio, emerged from the crowded Democratic field based on his philosophy that there was great inequity in America. He resorted to the old Mario Cuomo line that the senior Cuomo used so well, speaking eloquently of the “Two Cities on the Hill,” a reference to the inequity between the rich and the poor in New York. He called for universal pre-Kindergarten and made the point that if we want to give everyone a chance, pre-K is the way to go. Of course, Andrew Cuomo says he has always been for pre-K and the Speaker of the Assembly, Shelly Silver, has always made clear his commitment to the idea. But de Blasio pushed the concept and it resonated with the people to the point that he won the mayoral primary. It was his signature proposal. He made it his.

This is where it gets interesting. Centrist Cuomo was moving relatively slowly on the idea of pre-K. He now found himself looking over his shoulder at the progressive faction of his party and announced that while he was for universal pre-K, he opposed Bill de Blasio’s plan to raise taxes on New York City residents who earn more than five hundred thousand dollars a year in order to pay for it. This was dangerous to Andrew the tax cutter who is the ultimate chess player. He tried to head de Blasio off at the pass, saying in his State of the State message that the state will pay for pre-K and that it won’t be necessary to raise taxes on the rich. It would seem that de Blasio had won his pre-K but then de Blasio signaled “nope,” insisting that he wanted the pre-K program paid for by taxing the rich more. And here we have it, the centrist Cuomo versus the progressive de Blasio. Pre-de Blasio, New York City was run by Bloomberg and the centrists and the rich prevailed. Along comes Mayor Bill and the paradigm shifts. New Yorkers, mostly Democrats, say, “Enough is enough.” Suddenly everybody’s talking about de Blasio and progressives like Elizabeth Warren. This cannot be good news for Governor Andrew who risks getting outflanked on the left. It raises the question as to whether middle range voters (“purples”) will buy into the “two-cities” philosophy.

The New York Times chimed in, recommending that de Blasio take the deal. The teachers union says that the Cuomo offering is somewhat disingenuous because the governor would have to rob other parts of education to pay for the pre-K. De Blasio says that by raising taxes on the rich, there would be a dedicated revenue stream for funding pre-K in the future. De Blasio turns out to be one tough hombre and may be looking for something bigger in politics. That might just put him in direct competition with Andrew Cuomo as they fight for the soul of the Democratic Party.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/28/14

Getting past the impasse of politics

January 27, 2014

Laurie Norton Moffatt is the head of the Norman Rockwell Museum. Rockwell has long been a symbol of the American spirit and Moffatt herself has been honored at the White House under several different presidents. Visiting the museum, you will see pictures that will make you weep, from an American worker up on a telephone pole repairing the line to a little African American child being led into a newly integrated school by four behemoth U.S. Marshalls.

As part of her plan to honor Norman Rockwell and his vision, Laurie has developed a series of Thursday evening events based on Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms.” The program is designed to bring people together in honest civil discourse. Laurie is no slouch when it comes to moderating these events. If someone has taken too long to make a point, she stands up and they know it’s time to wrap it up

I was delighted to participate in last Thursday’s program, called “A Nation Divided: Getting Past the Impasse.” We discussed ” Š how to find common ground despite our differences.” It was a freezing night but a nice crowd came out to participate. The speakers were quite good. Jim Bronson, the head of the Berkshire County Republican Association, spoke passionately about the problems with big government. He spoke of people accepting personal responsibility and he talked about his problems with those who might categorize Republicans as uncaring. His responsibility, he said, was to family, church and neighbors. He recently brought Charlie Baker, the Republican candidate for governor, to Berkshire County for an hour long television show.

While I got my five minutes, I tried to keep it political science focused. I wanted people to know that there were a number of reasons why we had come to loggerheads on contemporary issues. I pointed out that by allowing political parties to draw gerrymandered districts, we were rewarding the misbehavior of people like the Texas Republicans who reconfigured districts so that only they could win. I spoke of the primaries in which the super-convinced in each party turned out in small enough numbers so that it was no surprise that the Tea Party had been victorious in some races. Okay, okay, so I somehow used the word “wackos” in my remarks and that got a few people upset, which was the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen in the evening.

Sheila Murray is the head of the Berkshire Brigades in the county. It’s funny, the whole evening was dedicated to bringing people of varying political persuasions together but when the Democratic Party uses the name “Brigades,” I get the image of people marching off to war under flags. That might unite the true believers but it is hardly the kind of thing that will make the “purple people” in the middle excited about voting for you. I tend to vote Democratic but I think it’s a mistake for a party to name itself a “brigade.” Anyway, Ms. Murray is a good, disarming speaker who laid out the objectives of an egalitarian society quite nicely. She seems quite sensible to me and tomorrow she’s bringing all the Democratic candidates for governor together at the ITAM Lodge. Sounds like a good show to see them duking it out.

Also on the panel was a distinguished professor type, James Arpante, from Berkshire Community College, who talked about the Constitution and made the point that if our students knew more about government and civics, we would be a whole lot better off. He was articulate and his words were echoed many times by members of the audience who believed that civic education was the way to go. The audience appeared to be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans and I don’t think anyone’s mind was changed, but in the end, everyone behaved. It was great to see Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech” at work.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/26/14

It’s always the cover up that gets these guys

January 21, 2014

The single sin that can knock a politician right out of the game is arrogance. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had it made in the shade. He had a very good chance of becoming the president of the United States. His voters loved him. He showed humility. Like so many of the rest of us, he was battling obesity. Against the backdrop of Hurricane Sandy, he gave the American people what they wanted — a politician who put the people first and politics way behind. He was sharply criticized by fellow Republicans for daring to hug Barack Obama, an act of political perfidy. But if the Republicans were to win the presidency, they would have to find a candidate who could appeal to the center and Christie was the man who could do it. The middle range (purple) voters loved the big man and Democrats deserted their party in huge numbers to vote for him. Yes, he would have had to run against Hillary Clinton, but the polls seemed to have them neck and neck in the race. The same polls showed that the other Republican right wing candidates couldn’t win.

Now arrogance has reared its ugly head and Team Christie got stupid, very stupid. They decided to punish Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, and his constituents by tying up traffic for up to four hours at a time, supposedly to get even with the mayor for his lack of political compliance. Apparently his sin was that the Democratic mayor wouldn’t endorse Christie. Even that seems nuts in retrospect since it is unclear that the Fort Lee guy was even approached about the endorsements.

Things went further south when two of Christie’s top people quit the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where the New Jersey governor gets to appoint the chairman. For most of us, that was the tipoff that the rumors about the get-even scheme were true. Are you kidding? Two of your top people quit their prestigious jobs and you don’t ask why? When Christie went before the microphones and said that he knew nothing, his words rang hollow. Now he’ll be investigated forever by the New Jersey Assembly as well as the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. If it turns out that he knew about the plan, he’s a fried fish. As we all know, it’s always the cover up that gets these guys.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is going full throttle because the mess that was caused on the Fort Lee side in New Jersey had major consequences on the New York side. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who always sees his opportunities and takes them, will seek changes in the power sharing arrangements in the running of the Port Authority. Cuomo made it clear in his recent State of the State message that New York should be running things at La Guardia Airport and JFK. Trust me on this, when Andrew gets a chance to take on someone like Christie with few consequences and much to gain, he will not let up on his choke hold.

There is a long time between now and the 2016 presidential election. Some people will forget this whole thing and trivialize it. But try to remember that after Dick Nixon lost to Pat Brown in the California gubernatorial election so long ago, he famously intoned the immortal words, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Of course, he went on to become president of the United States before he had to resign in disgrace. If one of his fired or resigned aides doesn’t throw Christie under the bus, he might have a chance at political resurrection. But if that same aide were to make a deal with a prosecutor for no jail time in return for implicating Christie, and if he really did know about the payback scheme, it is all over.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/21/14

Tightrope act: Safety vs. privacy

January 20, 2014

When the events of 9-11 occurred and the miscreants brought down the towers, the age of innocence was certainly over. America had come to a new place. It was then that each president decided that if it happened again, it would be on their watch, and they would get the blame. In fact, you might think the same thing if you were president.

So, all kinds of protections were put in place. Something called the Patriot Act was passed, complete with a secret court with secret judges, reminiscent of the star chambers of old. In fact, if you consult your Constitution there is a line in the Bill of Rights that reads, “The accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.”

To my mind, secret courts with secret judges are a violation of the public part of that sentence. That wasn’t all, apparently. A whole bunch of other things were happening that were meant to protect us. The problem was that we had no idea what they were. Some, it could be argued, did not protect us but potentially hurt us.

Anyway, along came an obscure man named Edward Snowden who said that he was shocked to see what was happening to American civil liberties and he blew the whistle based on information he had access to. Right now there are those in this country who think that the guy is a hero and others who believe he is a traitor.

As for me, I tend to fall into the first group because I have always taught my students that you can’t have a democracy in which citizens vote and opine their views unless those same citizens know what is going on. I know one thing: if Snowden had not blown the whistle we would not be having this debate right now. In fact, upon release of the information, people were shocked.

We all know that based on the Snowden revelations, it turns out our phone data were being collected by the National Security Administration (NSA). Added to the TV surveillance cameras that are everywhere, the idea that our freedoms of association and privacy are being violated has really taken hold among vast numbers of Americans.

However, when asked if security and freedom from the bad people beats out our privacy concerns, people still want to be protected from dirty bombs, poison gas and be assured of the security of their drinking water. When it comes to worrying about Big Brother watching them, a number of people believe that, “Hey, I didn’t do anything wrong so I don’t care.”

Along comes the president and gives a major address and makes it clear that he understands all that Americans are feeling, and he pointed out that the FBI had his hero Martin Luther King under surveillance. That was a very important point because we all know that even if the president is right and the people at the NSA are just like us, how long can it be before another J. Edgar Hoover, or Dick Nixon comes along and decides that he’d like to know what Alan Chartock is up to because I wrote something that he didn’t like?

In fact, it’s high time that I finally get off my duff and ask the FBI for my file. Yes, I will guarantee that while the people who are in possession of this information may be Boy Scouts, inevitably someone will come along who will act more like Vladimir Putin or the present Chinese leadership than said Boy Scouts.

This puts President Obama in a really bad place. If something bad happens, he’ll get blamed for it. I refer you to the killing of the ambassador in Benghazi. On the other hand he has to understand that alot of us are afraid of the potential misuse of Big Brother’s information trove. So he cuts the baby in half, moves some people around and it looks like he’s creating yet another agency to take possession of our information. Do you really think that will protect us? I’d hate to be president.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/20/14

It’s always the cover up that gets these guys

January 14, 2014

The single sin that can knock a politician right out of the game is arrogance. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had it made in the shade. He had a very good chance of becoming the president of the United States. His voters loved him. He showed humility. Like so many of the rest of us, he was battling obesity. Against the backdrop of Hurricane Sandy, he gave the American people what they wanted — a politician who put the people first and politics way behind. He was sharply criticized by fellow Republicans for daring to hug Barack Obama, an act of political perfidy. But if the Republicans were to win the presidency, they would have to find a candidate who could appeal to the center and Christie was the man who could do it. The middle range (purple) voters loved the big man and Democrats deserted their party in huge numbers to vote for him. Yes, he would have had to run against Hillary Clinton, but the polls seemed to have them neck and neck in the race. The same polls showed that the other Republican right wing candidates couldn’t win.

Now arrogance has reared its ugly head and Team Christie got stupid, very stupid. They decided to punish Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, and his constituents by tying up traffic for up to four hours at a time, supposedly to get even with the mayor for his lack of political compliance. Apparently his sin was that the Democratic mayor wouldn’t endorse Christie. Even that seems nuts in retrospect since it is unclear that the Fort Lee guy was even approached about the endorsements.

Things went further south when two of Christie’s top people quit the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where the New Jersey governor gets to appoint the chairman. For most of us, that was the tipoff that the rumors about the get-even scheme were true. Are you kidding? Two of your top people quit their prestigious jobs and you don’t ask why? When Christie went before the microphones and said that he knew nothing, his words rang hollow. Now he’ll be investigated forever by the New Jersey Assembly as well as the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. If it turns out that he knew about the plan, he’s a fried fish. As we all know, it’s always the cover up that gets these guys.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is going full throttle because the mess that was caused on the Fort Lee side in New Jersey had major consequences on the New York side. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who always sees his opportunities and takes them, will seek changes in the power sharing arrangements in the running of the Port Authority. Cuomo made it clear in his recent State of the State message that New York should be running things at La Guardia Airport and JFK. Trust me on this, when Andrew gets a chance to take on someone like Christie with few consequences and much to gain, he will not let up on his choke hold.

There is a long time between now and the 2016 presidential election. Some people will forget this whole thing and trivialize it. But try to remember that after Dick Nixon lost to Pat Brown in the California gubernatorial election so long ago, he famously intoned the immortal words, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Of course, he went on to become president of the United States before he had to resign in disgrace. If one of his fired or resigned aides doesn’t throw Christie under the bus, he might have a chance at political resurrection. But if that same aide were to make a deal with a prosecutor for no jail time in return for implicating Christie, and if he really did know about the payback scheme, it is all over.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/14/14

Cuomo will find the money for de Blasio’s pre-K plan

January 7, 2014

Don’t let anyone tell you that New York City and New York state are not absolutely interdependent. Half the population and most of the money are located in the Big Apple. That puts upstaters at a clear political disadvantage. Andrew Cuomo knows that he needs those upstate votes, and as a canny political tactician, he spends a lot of time upstate. It also explains in part why upstate used to vote Republican but is becoming increasingly bluer (Democratic).

(more…)

My list of political things that just ain’t right

January 6, 2014

It ain’t right. I know that our English teachers do not approve of the word “ain’t” but I love it. It adds emphasis to whatever we are trying to say. It makes people sit up and take notice. How long can it be before the word is an accepted part of the language? The dictionary is filled with words that were once verboten but are now accepted. To that end, I give you a few examples of things that “just ain’t right” in our politics.

(more…)

Plastic bag ban is sacrifice worth making

December 30, 2013

For years, the Chartocks have collected plastic grocery store bags and kept them in a bag on the knob of our dishwasher. We can use one of those bags to take kitchen waste to the garbage bin outside rather than putting garbage in the trash compactor or keeping it inside and risking a smelly kitchen. We also use our plastic bags to pick up dog poop, including the huge pile that was left in our driveway by some miscreant animal and its owner. I’ll occasionally use one of the plastic bags to carry papers I need to bring to work. The bags have a thousand uses.

The town of Great Barrington in its infinite wisdom has now decided, by vote of the annual town meeting, to ban plastic bags. The theory is that plastic bags are not easily biodegradable and we are running out of places to put our garbage. Get rid of the plastic bags and you can help the environment. You really can’t argue with the logic. Even if we are just talking about symbolism, that’s OK. Many of our residents are now second-homers from New York, where they have been dealing with trash issues for years.

Great Barrington is a land of people who treasure the environment. I suspect, but can’t prove, that we have more Prius owners than anywhere else, even if the second car in the garage is a Mercedes. When you ask people to do the right thing concerning the environment there will be sacrifices. It sometimes takes extra money and extra effort but when you think about the increasingly terrible condition in which we have left Mother Earth, it’s worth it. Every time we do the right thing we help the total effort, even if it seems like we’re fighting a losing battle.

No such symbolic effort is easy. When Michael Bloomberg tried to put people on bikes instead of in cars, a lot of people objected. When Massachusetts tried to build wind farms in an effort to use less fossil fuel and help with our energy consumption, some saw it as a moral affront to the birds and to their own mental health. When Great Barrington asks its residents to give up their plastic bags, some people will complain.

I stop at the West Stockbridge Market every day and have my purchases packed in a plastic bag. I will just have to do better. I’ll have to bring one of my reusable bags into the store, which means remembering to occasionally wash the bags so they are clean.

It hasn’t been easy to get the merchants and residents of Great Barrington to give up their plastic bags. The cut-off date on plastic bags has already been postponed twice in order to give store owners a chance to get ready. Not everyone will remember to bring their reusable bags so the stores will have to keep paper bags on hand. They, too, will be costly to the environment and entail cutting down more trees.

Town meetings are funny things. Even if people don’t want to give up their plastic bags, they will still find it very hard to vote no on the issue so sometimes the outcomes of votes are more of a social function than a reflection of what the people really want.

States in the midwest burn a lot of coal that then comes straight our way in the form of acid rain. Eastern states are suing to get them to stop. India, China and other emerging economies say that we polluted for years and now it’s their turn. Some merchants in Great Barrington will inevitably lose some business because people may want their plastic bags. That would be too bad. Finally, the next time the United States has a chance to vote for something like the Kyoto environmental treaty, they might want to vote yes instead of no.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 12/28/13

Dr. Chartock’s fearless predictions for 2014

December 17, 2013

Here come my fearless predictions for the year 2014. Some of these are things I do not want to see happen so I predict them to put the secret whammy on the idea. Some of these are things I do want to see happen, so I’m going for the “self-fulfilling prophesy.” Finally, some are things I really think will happen. You have to figure out which is which.

At the last moment, Governor Andrew Cuomo will open a door to the presidency. Someone will say, “Is the man nuts? This is just what he did with Carl McCall so many years ago in the gubernatorial race. Doesn’t he ever learn?” Of course he won’t run.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey will have a huge fight with Cuomo over the actions of the Port Authority of NY and NJ. Cuomo and Christie will come close to a fistfight in a rare public display of hubris.

Two biographies of Governor Cuomo will appear. Steve Cohen, the governor’s top unofficial advisor and the ghost writer of his autobiography will slip a line into his book that will have a lot of tongues wagging. Cuomo will say that he hadn’t read entirely his own autobiography. Cohen, you will remember, once uttered the famous dictum, “We operate on two speeds — get along and kill.” My absolute favorite of all time.

A furious New York Post columnist who had a contract to publish a Cuomo book will write a hate tome accusing Cuomo of betraying the people of New York by sponsoring the “NY SAFE Act” which heroically tried to implement gun control. Other than the usual ultra conservative Fox crowd, no one will have a good thing to say about the book.

Speaker Sheldon Silver will be overwhelmingly reelected to another term by his Democratic colleagues. His house will continue to pass progressive legislation like a campaign financing bill, secure in the knowledge that Senate leader Dean Skelos and his collaborator, Democrat Jeff Klein, will oppose it. Cuomo will continue to offer hints that maybe he isn’t really in favor of the idea.

The anti-fracking folks in New York State will give Cuomo an award for holding the line against what they call, “…this potential health scourge.” The Hulk and the widow of a famous singer will use their immense popularity to get Cuomo reelected.

The Legislature will reorganize the New York State Board of Elections. Cuomo will be given the power to appoint one of the commissioners.

Billy Joel will give another concert for the governor. The top seats will go for a hundred grand. The governor will call for campaign finance reform.

Ken Lovett of the Daily News will receive the highest award of the Legislative Correspondents Association for breaking the story that the Cuomo people were trying to call in the plays to the governor’s Moreland Act Commission. He’ll deserve the award.

A radio host will be voted “The most invisible person in Albany.”

Ben Lawsky, an aggressive functionary in the governor’s office, will try to wrest power away from the excellent State Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli. It will be the beginning of an epic battle to diminish DiNapoli’s stewardship over the state’s pension fund. Cuomo’s people will argue that no one should have sole control over the pension fund as DiNapoli does but all the inside hands will see it for the naked power play that it is. One wag will say, “Sure, Cuomo will appoint a board who will do exactly what the governor tells them to.” The state’s top unions will support DiNapoli, as will Speaker Silver in the Assembly. The unions will tell Cuomo, “Keep your hands off our pensions.” The governor’s people will argue that they can do it by regulation. The whole thing will end up in court.

Two assemblymen and two state senators will be arrested and sent to prison.

Senator Liz Krueger will be elected head of the Democrats in the state Senate.

All of you, dear readers, will have a safe, happy and healthy New Year.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 12-16-13


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.