Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

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


Do politicians believe their own lies?

July 22, 2014

Of course all politicians aren’t lying all the time. There are plenty of people who are in the world’s second oldest profession who don’t always fail to tell the truth. The problem is that most people have gotten so cynical about politicians that increasing numbers don’t believe them. Take a look at the polls about the respect that people have for Congress and the state legislature. The results are lower than a hound’s belly. So, if politicians lie we have to ask why, how often and whether they believe their own lies. The answer, it turns out, is complicated. I have always asked my students whether if you put a lie detector cuff on a politician’s arm when they are telling a lie whether you will get a straight line on the lie detector indicating truth, or whether you get a wavy line indicating they are lying. Obviously you will get both. Some political liars are brilliant tacticians who will, for example, tell you that they are for women’s rights but create an economic system that will punish women in their quest for equality and fair treatment. Put a lie detector cuff on their arm and you might well get that straight line. They may actually believe their own lies.

Some of our best and most impressive politicians have lied constantly to get their public to a point where they are allowed to follow the politician in a laudable direction. Take the case of Franklin Roosevelt. FDR knew that the country had to protect the world from fascism but the country, still reeling from World War 1, had to be led kicking a screaming into what is now seen as the greatest American effort ever. Was Roosevelt aware that he wasn’t exactly telling the truth when he promised that America wouldn’t get into the war? Did we know that a Japanese attack was coming somewhere, somehow? Most historians now give FDR great credit for his manipulations. I certainly do. What would the lie detector have said if he was asked the lying question?

Now take the question of ethics reform in the New York State Legislature. The folks there are always anxious about job security and their ability to act with as much personal latitude as possible, keep passing weak, watered down ethics reforms. Do they know that these efforts are hardly the thing that will really clean up Albany? Of course they do. Are they lying? Put in a total context, of course they are. A governor who establishes a Moreland Act Commission and then kills that very commission when they get on the scent as a hound chasing a criminal in order to get half-baked reforms says that politics is a matter of tactics and compromise. Was he lying when he set up the Commission? We are told that he’s being investigated by the United States Attorney Preet Bharara and he’s so far ahead of his opponent Rob Astorino in the polls that Astorino is seen as having no chance at all in the coming election.

When asked about Governor Cuomo and why people are voting for him they will tell you that “He gets things done.” So, one might come away from this discussion thinking that people believe that all politicians tell lies but that there are good lies and bad lies. Governor Cuomo passed a courageous “SAFE Act” to try to stop the gun mayhem. If you put the lie detector on his arm and ask him whether he did it to really protect people, or to further his own career or both, you might get a wavy line, but who cares? He did the right thing.

When the Assembly Democrats pass campaign financing for politicians knowing that the Republicans in the Senate would never permit the bill to pass and they say that they want the bill to pass, even though they know they will get opponents who will run against them, are they liars? You tell me. When Andrew Cuomo told you that he would veto a bill that allowed the Republicans in the state Senate to draw their own districts and then didn’t, was he lying? You tell me.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/22/14

Keeping abreast of the issues

July 21, 2014

No matter how far we’ve come some things never change.

My daughter was at a restaurant in Great Barrington the other day breast-feeding her baby. Up comes a woman who hisses to her husband, “And she isn’t even covered up.” And there you have it.

The single most natural process in the world becomes offensive to an older woman covered with pancake makeup and garish lipstick. She has a problem with public breast-feeding and feels the need to cheapen this perfectly natural act by saying that something beautiful is offensive to her, no matter that the laws of Massachusetts make it very clear that breast-feeding is legally protected.

To be specific the law says that “A mother may breast-feed her child in any public place or establishment which is open and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public and where the mother and her child may be lawfully present.” What’s more, the law is quite specific and answers the lady in question. According to the statute, “Any exposure of a breast Š that is solely for the purpose of nursing such child shall not be considered lewd, indecent, immoral, or unlawful conduct.” Take that lady.

Furthermore the people who wrote the law say that “No person or entity, including a governmental entity, shall, with the intent to violate a mother’s right … restrict, harass or penalize a mother who is breast-feeding her child.” As if that isn’t enough the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be breast-fed until they are 2 years old.

So what is really going on here?

This is a country that is obsessed with sex. You can’t open a tabloid newspaper without seeing models and actresses showing cleavage. Apparently this stuff sells papers. Then there is the porno that is on our cable channels. However, you can go to the zoo and see a chimp breast-feeding her baby, and no one calls out the morality police.

We know that breast-feeding is great for babies. It builds up natural immunities. It cements the relationship between babies and their mothers. So, what we have to do in this country is to get over the idea that if a nipple is visible it somehow endangers the society. I have always believed that if men can walk around without a shirt on, it makes sense that women should have that right too. It is the idea that we have made it illegal that adds to the mystique of the breast.

When musical stars have “wardrobe malfunctions,” the nation goes nuts over a nipple. I mean the TV channels have all kinds of rules about breasts. You can show almost everything BUT the nipple. The almost whole breast is acceptable but the nipple is not. What is that? Are we nuts?

Now someone is sure to take offense and ask me whether men or women shouldn’t be allowed to go all the way and show their “junk,” as the kids say. Try going to a nude beach some time and see how sexual the experience is. It turns out that not everyone is a movie star or a model and that nudity leaves a lot of people cold, very cold. I remember once one of our theater festivals showed a woman in a state of undress. You might have thought that someone had dropped anatomic bomb (not a typo).

Right in the middle of Great Barrington we have a shop that is devoted to women’s underwear. Now that stuff is sexy and provocative. I love the people who run the place but I have to admit that our society spends a lot of money on sexy undergarments. Anyone walking down the main street of the best small town in America with a child might be offended. I am not.

So which is more offensive, a mother breast-feeding her baby or the films, the actresses, the “malfunctions,” and the sexualization of America?

Next time, I’m going to tell my daughter to look the made-up lady in the eye and say, “I’m swearing out a warrant for your arrest. You broke the law.”


Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 7/19/14

Team Cuomo isn’t sweating the lt. governor primary

July 15, 2014

Really, why would anyone want to be lieutenant governor of New York? The present LG, Bob Duffy is quitting without being pushed, or so the official word goes. The former Rochester mayor and police chief is a personable, tall guy who never strayed from the Cuomo line. When I interviewed him on the radio there was never a hint of independent thinking. He was a good soldier parroting whatever Andrew Cuomo’s positions were. Unlike former lieutenant governors like Mario Cuomo and Mary Anne Krupsak who were never above carving out their own spots, Duffy played the good soldier never giving a hint that the two men might differ on some subjects. Maybe they didn’t but for whatever reason, Duffy quit.

Some close to the Cuomo camp say that he got out because of constant problems with a bad back and the immense amount of travelling that the man had to do carrying the Cuomo message. It was a hard thankless job offset by only one small factoid. If the governor dies or goes to jail or quits the lieutenant governor becomes governor. It happened recently when David Paterson became the governor after Eliot Spitzer resigned.

So, there are many people who, thinking that this is an elevated and visible way to make your way up the chain in politics. Since it is a fact of life that if you’re a Democrat you probably have to come from New York City or its environs to be governor and that means that the lieutenant governor has to come from what we call, “upstate.” That’s why Cuomo choose Duffy and why he has now turned to a one term Congresswoman turned bank lobbyist, Kathy Hochul.

On some level the Hochul nomination makes sense. She comes from upstate Hamburg and Cuomo has spent immense amounts of time there obviously believing that the area has major strategic importance in his reelection campaign. Also, Hochul is a woman adding female balance to the ticket. On the other hand she comes with some baggage. The first is that the voters rejected her in her bid for reelection to Congress. It’s tough to be a loser in politics and to win higher office although no one really thinks that the ticket is in danger. The second is that in order to please her former congressional constituents she played the role of a conservative on such issues as gun control and immigration and was endorsed by the NRA. On the other hand, if you remember, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had the same problem when she was an upstate Congresswoman. As soon as she became a senator she “evolved” as was predicated by Senator Schumer, and changed her tune on the same issues that now plague Hochul. The Cuomo people will tell you that she supports Cuomo’s signature “Safe Act,” his gun control effort that so infuriates the gun people.

One of the perplexing parts of the state’s election law is that to be elected as a lieutenant governor candidate you have to run in your own primary for the position even though when you actually get on the ballot you run as a pair with gubernatorial candidate. Since Cuomo is perceived as a conservative Democrat he is being contested by Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu a Columbia Law professor will primary Hochul. Since Wu, comes from the left and the City where the Democratic primary voters live, his backers think he has a shot. I suspect that if it gets close, the Cuomo team will expend some of its multi million dollars that they have in their campaign coffers to buttress the Hochul primary. Right now they don’t sound like they’re sweating it.

It has happened in the past that someone has been elected in a primary that was not to the liking of the gubernatorial candidate. That’s what happened to Al DelBello the former Westchester County Executive who was so frustrated in the job that he quit midway through his tenure as lieutenant governor. Ironically, Mario Cuomo was the governor.

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

Dog poop is problem for people

July 14, 2014

This column deals with the matter of dog poop. There are those people who do not understand just how offensive dog leavings are for people, especially those with active young children.

Our next door neighbors just don’t want their kids stepping into the unsanitary mess. They are right, of course. We don’t allow humans to make deposits on the street of any kind but we do expect that dog owners, and there are a lot of us, obey the rules.

Most of us do. You can always tell who the law-abiding folks are because of the telltale bags that we carry with us. If you see someone who is walking a dog and you can’t spot the pick-up equipment, you may well have a bad citizen on your hands.

We all know when we have stepped in the stuff because all too often we get into our houses and smell the odor that can only mean one thing. For those of us with ridges in our shoe soles we then have to risk the unsanitary procedure of taking a sharp object to get the stuff off our walking apparel.

Then we have to decide where to put what we have scraped away. No matter how much we think we have done to eliminate the residue from our shoes there is always the sense that it is still there. It is sort of like the gift that keeps giving.

So who are the folks who don’t pick up after their dogs? Well, some of them are just plain trouble. They certainly know that they are supposed to pick up but they just don’t want to do it. Let’s face it, there are many people in this world who like to test the rules. You will see them speeding along our highways even though they know full well that they risk police ticketing them. I’ve always believed that it is the thrill of the contest that motivates these law-breakers. In the case of dog poop there really are no police to catch the culprits.

Then there is the lazy dog owner who just opens the door and allows the dogs to run out in the street and to come back at their leisure. I suppose that these folks have absolutely no concern where their dogs do their business. These are what we might call compartmentalizers. They just think about what is good for them and don’t stop to think about the consequences of their actions. We have just a few such people in our neighborhood.

Then there are the people who take their dogs for a walk “off leash.” The dog runs behind them and way up in front of them. They certainly are not looking to see what their animals are doing. I have one such culprit in mind and I never see him carrying a bag. I should mention that the bigger the dog the bigger the potential poop deposit.

Of course, there are the anti-social types who get off on having people annoyed with them. Yes, there are such people. It makes them feel important and the angrier people get, the happier they are. They need psychiatric help but are not going to get it.

So what do we do when we catch someone at it? Do we pass them on the street and say, “Thanks for picking up” when we know that they have no such intention? Do we walk up to offenders who have not picked up and say, “Are you going to pick that up?” No one really wants to do that but some people have the guts to do it. I once had a neighbor on Fire Island where people often walked barefoot who always called people on that kind of bad behavior.

Then there is my way, you write a column about it and that absolves you of having to take direct action of the type mentioned above.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 7/12/14

Stay tuned, kids, for next month’s exciting episode

July 14, 2014

Way back in the day, kids would go to the movies and pay a quarter for a double feature and a whole bunch of serials. The serial always ended in a cliffhanger, the intent being to get you to come back next week. The hero was left in dire straits and inevitably was saved the following week, only to be left hanging yet again. New York politics are really not all that different. Not unlike a Superman episode ending with the question, “Will Superman survive the Kryptonite attack?” the New York version has left us hanging in an equally tantalizing fashion.

So here are some of New York’s serial endings that will surely be followed up in next month’s episodes: Will Preet Bharara, the fighting United States Attorney for the Southern District, rip the top off of New York state’s teeming political cesspool? Will it turn out that Cuomo’s Moreland Act Commission that was formed to investigate skullduggery in New York politics was itself under investigation? There are lots of players in Albany who are holding their breath on this one. They see Bharara as the one man who is not afraid of Cuomo. In fact, based on his tenure in office up to now, Bharara has proven himself afraid of nobody. In Albany, like in three card monte, it is what you don’t see that all too often controls things. Bharara came right out of Chuck Schumer’s office. One can only wonder whether Bharara has been getting calls from Schumer.

It was Cuomo’s decision to put an unfortunate and much ruminated end to the Moreland Act Commission. That Commission was supposed to follow the money. Some think that Cuomo traded with the legislative leaders for their cooperation. Was anything wrong with that? Will federal criminal charges emerge? Was the whole thing kosher? Will Andrew Cuomo have his hands full or will Bharara fade? “Stay tuned, kids, for next month’s exciting episode.”

There is another serial in the making. This one involves a related set of actors. In last month’s breathtaking action, Governor Andrew Cuomo made a deal to put the Democrats back in power in New York state in order to get the center left Working Families Party endorsement. We are now being told that’s a done deal. As a result, the so-called “Democratic” Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, the sort of Prince John of this bad movie, is bringing his group back from his unholy alliance with the Republicans to the regular Democrats in the Senate. That will mean that Klein’s partner in politics, Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos, will be in the minority and that will mean that some of the aged folks in the Skelos gang will desert politics and run for the hills. Of course, Klein is holding out for the right deal. He wants to be co-leader with Andrea Stewart Cousins, the head regular Democrat. If he and his people don’t get what they want, they might just re-up their deal with the Republicans. Right now, several members of Klein’s gang are facing primaries because they are betraying the interests of the Democratic Party. Republican Skelos hints that once the threat of primaries is behind them, Klein and his bunch of “traitor” Democrats will be right back with the Republicans. Maybe he knows something that we don’t know. “Okay, kids, stay tuned. Go get some popcorn in the meantime.”

Finally, will Prince Andrew have still another Lochinvar-like rival in New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, the darling of the center left who saved Cuomo’s hash and got him the Working Families endorsement? De Blasio is coming up fast. The party likes him and he has a much more progressive agenda than Prince Andrew. Will he have enough power to embarrass the fiscally conservative Cuomo? “Come back next week to find out.”

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


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