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Courage, sacrifice, freedom

June 8, 2014

Friday — D-Day — during the WAMC fund drive, I thought a great deal about all the sacrifices that have been made by so many Americans of every stripe.

Hitler, with all his hatred and vituperation and wholesale slaughter, had declared war on the world and incredibly, he almost won. The fact that this paranoid, pathological monster could have captured all of Europe with no one doing anything about his aggression is almost too difficult to comprehend. Nevertheless, he did it and was nearly successful in his efforts at world domination.

People will always argue about whether Germany and her allies could have won the war and I have always believed they might have. If the Germans had won the Battle of the Bulge, if the development of the jet plane by the Germans had come just a few years earlier and if the German efforts to develop an atomic weapon had succeeded, it could have gone south for the Allies.

It took everything that Franklin Roosevelt had to position the United States in a place where civilization could be defended. He got there with Fireside Chats, and with Lend-Lease, and with his masterful timing that enabled him to change the minds of both the politicians and a population that had no desire to replicate the carnage of the first World War. Nevertheless, and thank God, he did it.

 

When we got into the war, there was massive economic and military mobilization. Americans gave everything they could. The bought war bonds to support the war and they worked in defense plants.

Millions of Americans were conscripted into the Army and the Navy. They fought around the world, first as underdogs and then slowly but surely, they began to get the upper hand. And then, 70 years ago Friday, the most massive naval invasion ever before undertaken took place on the beaches of Normandy.

We are told by the historians that we fooled the Germans by having Gen. George Patton set up a false army to convince the Germans that we were going ashore in Calais. I’ve always wondered how fooled they actually were, since so many of our invaders lost their lives to a fierce “underprepared” German army. We know that Erwin Rommel had set up an Atlantic Wall that he considered to be impenetrable. We also know that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and President Roosevelt had their own doubts as to whether the invasion would work.

But work it did, at tremendous cost. There were dead soldiers who would never have children. There were wives who remained widows for the rest of their lives. There were children born who would never see their fathers. But the sacrifice was made and the world was saved. This was truly the greatest generation. All of us who live on in our world owe everything to the men and women who served the common interest so that democracy could be preserved.

And that brings me to the final point, which is how much we owe those who gave their all. They fought for democracy and we owe them that. They gave their lives and their limbs so that everyone would have a chance to vote and decide how we would run this country.

As it turns out, all of that is slipping away from us as we realize that government is for sale to the highest bidder. A cabal of greedy politicians of both parties has sold out the democracy. People give money to politicians because they want something and believe me, they get it. So, because our people gave their all, we owe it to them to be courageous and stand up to the bullies and the cheap tin-horn politicians. We certainly owe our pledge to keep the American dream alive to the men who went ashore that June 6th and sacrificed everything.

We have to show some courage, too.

 

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 6/8/2014

 

Things are getting interesting

June 3, 2014

When all was said and done, it looked like a clear victory for Governor Andrew Cuomo. The bottom line is that he won the endorsement of the Working Families Party, the group that purports to represent the more progressive side of the Democratic Party. There was a lot at stake — nothing less than an eventual shot at the presidency was on the table for the relatively young governor. Polls show that had he not won the Working Families endorsement, his margin of victory in the coming gubernatorial election against Republican Rob Astorino would have been seriously and negatively affected.

First looks, however, can be deceiving. At their convention, the party’s left, populist side actually started to boo the governor, whose taxation policy has made many of them very unhappy. In the end, it was the populist mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio who saved his hash. The single issue whose resolution gave Cuomo the endorsement was the control of the State Senate by the Republicans, which many members of the Working Families Party believe was aided and abetted by Cuomo. To get the party’s nod, Cuomo had to promise that he would help the Democrats take back the Senate, which actually has more Democratic members than Republicans. The Republicans have stayed in power with the help of five wandering Democrats, known as the Independent Democratic Conference.

I have always believed that the newly minted conservative Cuomo wanted the Republicans to control the Senate. That way, he could make them into the heavies when it came to progressive legislation involving things like a higher minimum wage, a progressive state Dream Act to help undocumented immigrants and the granddaddy of them all, a statewide campaign finance law to reduce the influence of money in politics.

Cuomo has the power to make things right for the Democrats. All he has to do is to call the wandering Democrats under the leadership of Bronx Democrat Jeff Klein into a room and tell them to get back where they belong or else he would support primaries against them. As a result of the Working Families Party uprising, he has now promised to win the Senate for the Democrats. Of course, he could make that change tomorrow by telling the errant Democrats to come back. They would have to listen to him. Cuomo is known to be very forceful when it comes to getting his way.

Now Cuomo has to worry that his hard won popularity with anti-tax middle class New Yorkers will be exploited by Republican Astorino, whose popularity in heavily Democratic Westchester County was won just because the taxes were too damn high. For his part, Astorino jumped on the Working Families endorsement of Cuomo. His team was quick to put out a press release that said, “The real Andrew Cuomo just handed the keys to New York to a bunch of radicals hell-bent on increasing taxes and spending, which will force out more middle class families and jobs to other states. I will put an end to this tax madness and bring New York back into the winning column again.”

Unfortunately for Astorino, his social policies on guns and women’s reproductive rights are at odds with those of many New Yorkers. There is no way he can embrace statewide campaign finance reform in which New Yorkers pay for people to run for office. Cuomo says he is for campaign finance reform but he will run with fifty million dollars in his campaign coffers.

Cuomo had to promise to put the Democrats back in control of the State Senate. He could do it tomorrow or drag his feet on the issue. If he goes back on his word, he risks further alienating the left in his own party.

Things are getting interesting.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/2/14

A public persona tells whole story

June 3, 2014

You have to love Arlo Guthrie. Like all great performers, he has a stage side and a human side. On stage, he’s everyone’s intimate friend — off, he’s a man of stature.

His pal Pete Seeger once confided to me that it was frustrating to be “Pete Seeger, the human being” contrasted with “that Pete Seeger thing.” I understand Pete perfectly. People can think they know you when they know your public persona. On the other hand, who you truly are can come through your public persona.

Someone once asked Times Union editor and Media Project combatant Rex Smith, “What’s Alan Chartock really like?” Rex’s response, “You have to ask?” Well, maybe. Recently I wrote a column about crying when our daughter Sarah gave birth. The word came back to me from a new in-law, “Hmm, I guess Alan is more like me than I thought.”

 

Anyway, Roselle and I went to see Arlo at his Bring Your Own God church in the Van Deusenville section of Great Barrington. Of course, the man who can sell out Carnegie Hall every Thanksgiving and who wrote “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” the Thanksgiving anthem, sold out the church for three nights.

Under the direction of George Laye, the church has found a real place in the community. It provides weekly lunches for those who can’t afford them and its wonderful Troubadour series features some of the best folk artists in the country.

Every once in a while, these artists will stay with us. That’s always fun. One time, folk legend Tom Paxton stayed with us in our tiny guest cottage. We had a wonderful visiting friend from Florida who was also staying over. When she heard that Paxton was there she insisted that we invite him in for a post-concert drink. I told her that I would never intrude that way but just as I said it there was a knock on the door and there was Tom with a bottle of scotch in his hand. What a wonderful man.

His song “Rambling Boy” is one of the best of the genre ever written Also staying with us several times was the incredible folk artist, Christine Lavin, who wrote a song, “What Was I Thinking?” YouTube it — it’s hysterical.

So the Guthrie Church has always served good-for-you foods like hummus and vegetables and chili, but this year, George Laye struck gold with a new hire, Heather Anello. She is a fabulous chef and the night we were there to hear Arlo, the place was jammed and she fed everyone.

On the menu were things like filet mignon, salmon, shrimp mango and a vegetarian feta and sun dried tomato (stuffed zucchini). She used to chef at Bucksteep Manor in Washington, where she developed quite a reputation for excellence.

She has been a caterer since 2001 specializing in Berkshire weddings and she owns the Becket General Store, which is the nucleus of the towns of Washington and Becket. Trust me; the food is as good as anything you will get in the Berkshires. It’s best to get to the church for an 8 o’clock performance at around 6 although we got there an hour later and got fed. Says George, “This is my dream come true. I have not been in the kitchen for the first time in 11 years.” Good for George, he deserves only the best.

 

On a subject close to my heart, the WAMC fund drive starts at 6 a.m. Monday. Our community has created this fabulous institution. So many people listen to it. I know because as I walk down the street so many of you tell me what they heard and what they’ve learned and how their organizations have been on the radio and what all of that has meant. I ask that everyone make this the fastest fund drive in history. It will be an affirmation that what we have all worked for will continue on. I’m asking and depending on you.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 5/31/14

 

Ain’t Albany grand?

May 27, 2014

It is a generally accepted proposition that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has no use for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman or for Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. There are a thousand explanations that are out there on the rumor mills for why this is. There are some wags who think that Andrew, who was once attorney general, which was his launching pad for governor, is looking over his shoulder at Schneiderman who might want to follow in his footsteps. Or, it might be that Schneiderman is one Democrat too many and Andrew believes that he’d actually be better off if a Republican who was beholden to him was in the AG office. That’s exactly the way it’s worked with the State Senate controlled by the Republicans because Cuomo clearly wants it that way.

We saw Cuomo and Schneiderman contest over who got what after the state won a major award from JP Morgan Chase. Both men wanted to have the money under their control. The Cuomo name is still huge in New York and no matter what the insiders think about Cuomo, the people have a different view. That gives Cuomo a huge advantage as he pushes his considerable political weight around. A recent published report suggests that a Cuomo fundraiser has been hired to find contributions for Schneiderman’s announced Republican opponent, John Cahill. For his part Cuomo has formally endorsed Schneiderman.

Along the same lines, Cuomo has had his problems with Mayor Bill de Blasio. They fought epic battles over charter schools and pre-K funding and taxation of the rich. In each case Cuomo won. So it was interesting to see de Blasio placing Cuomo’s name in nomination at the Democratic political convention last week. It may well be that de Blasio has recognized that Cuomo doesn’t take any prisoners and is now, in dog language, showing his neck as a sign of Cuomo superiority. In any case it looks like the New York City mayor recognizes that “Andrew tough-guy” is no one to mess with.

Then there is Cuomo’s animosity, certainly demonstrable, towards the excellent state Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli. The comptroller is getting extremely high marks from a lot of people. As a result of the stock market resurgence there’s lots of money coming into the state’s pension funds and it looks like some of the economic load will be taken off the backs of the localities to the point that their contributions to the fund will be reduced.

DiNapoli has proven that he is running the cleanest Comptroller’s Office in history. Cuomo, in an attempt to prove to people that he really was for campaign finance reform (he will run with about $50 million dollars in his account) set DiNapoli up as a one-year experiment while the governor and his other statewide compatriots would not be forced to take the same deal.

At the urging of the good government (goo-goo) groups DiNapoli said that he would not opt into the scheme and the general consensus is that he was right to do that. DiNapoli, by showing some real backbone against Cuomo has never been more popular. The last time DiNapoli ran, Cuomo did not even endorse his fellow Democrat. This time he will, perhaps having learned an important lesson. In fact, the governor’s critics have been upset with him for keeping the Republicans in power in the state Senate, and his failure to play well with DiNapoli and Schneiderman has not helped him with the Democrats in state government.

Cuomo’s top financial man, Ben Lawsky has been seen as trying to undermine DiNapoli by trying to figure out a way to get the billions of dollars in pension fund money away from DiNapoli’s control and into the hands of the governor. The DiNapoli people have resisted like crazy and it will be very hard for the Cuomo-Lawsky team to make this happen because they will have to go through the powerful Democratic Speaker, Sheldon Silver, a long-time friend of DiNapoli.

Ain’t Albany grand?

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 5/27/2014

Garrison Keillor has changed radio for good

May 27, 2014

I recently had the real pleasure of spending some time at the WAMC studios with Garrison Keillor who, of course, is a public radio rock star. He’s very tall and shows a little wear and tear around the edges. He has tremendous intellect and is sardonically funny.

As you know, he hosts the Writer’s Almanac every day and I love the show. It’s always so interesting; a little bit of history, a little bit of poetry and always thought-provoking. Every once in a while, he likes to push the envelope and if it involves something naughty, it can present radio problems for us but so far, we’re still breathing. You know those poets, always crossing boundaries.

He sat down in my office and asked me a series of questions. He’s written lots of books so it wasn’t surprising that he asked me how many I had written. Straight faced, I told him that I had written two. He asked what they were and I responded, “Strengthening the Wisconsin State Legislature” and “Me and Mario.” He was fascinated with the Wisconsin book, and I thought I detected a satisfied smile on his lips when I said it.

He said that he does his work at 4 in the morning. I told him that I got up at 3 a.m. but that when I have to write I do it the first thing. That’s when I wrote my doctoral dissertation. He wanted to know the subject and I told him, Mental Health Policy Making in Three American States. He said that wouldn’t do at all and he suggested something hysterically funny and wildly politically incorrect as an alternative title. I’ll just let you fill in the blanks.

Everyone wanted their picture taken with him and he made it clear that he would put his arm around the women supplicants but not the men. I was so disappointed. I had one picture taken with Garrison and Joe Donahue. They are both way, way over 6 feet tall and I’m 5-foot-5, so it’s pretty funny stuff.

I told Garrison that I had a question he must get asked all the time. Why, I asked, did he pronounce the word “almanac” as “AL-manac” rather than “ALL-manac”? He made it clear that this was the first time he had heard that question. I said he had to be putting me on. Nope, he said that in the Midwest, the word is pronounced AL-manac and that there is an Albany in Minnesota and that it is pronounced AL-bany, not ALL-bany. We Berkshirites know the drill when someone pronounces Alford (ALL-ford) as AL-ford. When he left, he said, “Good-by ALL-an.” Ah well, I guess you had to be there.

 

He really won my heart when he said that he loved the way that WAMC looked and compared us to some of the emporiums of public radio that are humungous show places but can’t compare with the WAMC output.

He was also very interested in the limitations on opinion and freedom of speech that have been placed on radio broadcasters that, he said, would certainly have to change.

Make no mistake about it — Keillor has changed radio for the good. He offers us a comforting and good place to be on Saturday night. Sometimes we hear him in the car going somewhere, sometimes coming back and sometimes we turn the radio on and have a good time. He is blindingly bright.

He talked about his one movie about A Prairie Home Companion and what it was like to work with the likes of our Meryl Streep and the more complicated Lindsay Lohan. While it was no blockbuster, the movie was fun. Efforts to make PHC a TV product have not really worked out but maybe the movie and the TV experiment demonstrate that some of us have faces made for radio.

 

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 5/27/2014

Politics is always an iffy business

May 20, 2014

I had a call from a friend of mine in government who has been reading my column in the paper. Because I have been critical of Andrew Cuomo over things like his dismantling of the Moreland Act Commission that he created to end governmental corruption, he was under the impression that I favored the election of Westchester Executive Rob Astorino for governor.

I have interviewed Astorino at some length and I like the guy. He is bright, funny and self-confident. He is really motivated. He ran twice as an underdog in Westchester County where the Democrats outnumber the Republicans two-to-one and he won twice. When a Republican can pull that off in blue Westchester County, you really can’t tell him he can’t do the same thing statewide for governor. But from where I sit, it’s a very long shot. It looks like a political suicide mission.

By the time Cuomo runs, he’ll have fifty million dollars and you won’t be able to turn on a television or commercial radio station without hearing laudatory Cuomo advertisements. Cuomo’s conservative views on things like taxes have taken the potential wind out of Republican Astorino’s sails. From the moment that Cuomo took office, he knew and acted on the premise that the one thing people cared about more than anything else was taxes. People pay immense amounts of real estate taxes on their homes to the point that they think the rates are confiscatory.

These voters are scared and desperate. Cuomo knew that from minute one. He put a cap on taxes in New York and in so doing, he alienated some of the more progressive members of his party. He became the darling of certain business and right-leaning groups and even certain unions who are political realists in the sense that they know that New York is Democratic territory and what Cuomo is doing is as good as they are going to get. From the very beginning, their money came pouring into the Cuomo campaign coffers. As long as Cuomo can keep the Democratic left at bay with his signature issues of gay marriage, gun control and anti-corruption, he’ll win.

Cuomo won’t let up on Astorino. He’ll do his homework, including “negative research,” as it is called in the business. He is painting Astorino as right wing, bad on social issues, and the guy who hypocritically presides over a county with the highest tax rates in the state. It’s a pretty powerful combination, a one-two punch. Besides, the way it works is that popular governors always win their first reelection efforts. If this was Cuomo’s third time out he might be in some danger, but it isn’t. For Cuomo, it is really all about how big his victory will be. There is still some buzz out there that Hillary Clinton might not run for president. Andrew’s father, Mario, never got to the presidency. Anyone I know in politics thinks that Andrew is going for the golden ring so not only does the young governor have to win, he has to win big.

For his part, Astorino keeps harping on gun control and Cuomo’s “SAFE Act” as a potent issue. I don’t think so. Polling shows that the people want protection against guns. The votes that Astorino will get on the issue are conservative voters who, for the most part, will vote for anyone but Cuomo. On the social issues like abortion, Cuomo wins big. The more Astorino paints himself as a social conservative, the worse his chances. He will stick to his signature “taxes are too high” issue and hope that he will trump the canny Cuomo, but that’s where Cuomo’s brilliance shows. He is already way out in front on taxes. It looks like Cuomo has this one in the bag already but politics is always an iffy business

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 5-19-14

Democrats’ candidates lack luster

May 19, 2014

If you just consider the raw numbers of haves and have-nots in America, you might come to the misguided conclusion that a Republican can never get elected here. If you accept the commonly held view that Republicans are entrepreneurial and represent the business interests while Democrats favor more equitable distribution of America’s resources, you might shake your head and wonder how so many Republicans get elected. If all those folks who want government services for things like libraries and schools and health care were to vote in their own interest (Democratic), don’t you think a Republican’s chances would be that of the proverbial snowball in hell? It turns out that it really doesn’t work that way. That’s because even if people want things, they may not want to pay for them. That is the great tension in American politics and in local politics.

A recent selectmen’s election in Great Barrington offered a clear choice between two candidates. One was a young man who was running to appeal to those who were fed up with the high taxes that we pay. He got quite a few votes but was basically trounced by his opposition. Even though the Berkshires have a tradition of supporting schools and hospitals and other government institutions, things could always change. There may come a point at which voters will say, “Enough already.”

Blue State Massachusetts has had several Republican governors who got elected because the Democratic Party offered the voters unsatisfactory choices. Scott Brown beat our state attorney general, Martha Coakley, in a senatorial election and yet the party seems to have every intention of offering her up again. If the Republicans are smart enough to offer Massachusetts voters sensible, middle-of-the-road candidates, they win. So why do the Democrats fail to understand the concept of offering quality candidates?

One reason is that we have a system of primaries in which the candidate with the greatest name recognition wins. In the case of Martha Coakley, that’s her. But when you get out on the campaign trail, you have to make the case by at least sounding authoritative and standing for something. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is extraordinarily popular in Massachusetts because she stands for giving those in need (including the middle class voter) a decent chance. It really has nothing to do with sexism but it does have everything to do with passion.

Californians could elect a passionate Jerry Brown because he said, “I can do it right,” and then turn around and elect a Ronald Reagan across the political divide because he said that he had the answers. The voters will always choose a passionate candidate who stands for something over a wishy-washy middle of the roader.

The middle class voter is hurting. Jobs, the economy, the cost of a college education and a degraded environment all go right to the soul of the voter who can hardly make ends meet. That is where Republicans have their greatest opportunities. Many people believe that the two parties have become no more than two stinking piles of you-know-what and there are no real choices. It comes down to the belief that the Democrats are spenders and the Republicans are interested in feathering the nests of those with the most. So, every once in a while, to keep the Democrats on their toes, the voters say that if we elect a Republican or two we can just have a little tax relief.

Deval Patrick has been an excellent governor. He is sensible. He is not rhetorical. He is balanced and he is a man who people instinctively believe. When he goes on a trade mission to the Middle East to drum up business, he is signaling that he can think things through in a way that will help middle-class voters.

The Democrats had better remember what I am telling them or they are doomed to another loss.

 

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 5/17/14


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