Poorest most easily hurt by casinos

Posted June 23, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Sometimes when you buy something, you find out later that you made a mistake.

Unfortunately for you, you still own it. The rush to open casinos, both in the commonwealth and across the border in New York, is one good example. It is not surprising that both states’ governors, anxious to provide needed revenue support and not raise taxes, are encouraging developers to open multimillion-dollar gambling casinos. The thinking is that people are going to gamble anyway and it’s better to keep the valuable tax revenue here rather than watching it go to nearby states like Connecticut. Not only that, even if they don’t cross the state lines, people will find other, often illegal, ways to gamble. There have always been organized crime folks who are willing to take bets. When illegal gambling takes place, the ability to tax is gone.

However, there does seem to be some buyer’s remorse on the part of the voters. The people of Massachusetts said that they wanted casinos. Later, though, many people began to think about what they had voted for and had second thoughts. A major campaign was launched to have a second vote, otherwise known as a “do-over.” In order to get such a proposition on the ballot, the state’s attorney general, Martha Coakley, would have had to sign off that the proposition met the necessary constitutional provisions. After examining the petition, which as of this writing has more than enough signatures to get it on the ballot, Coakley said no for a number of obscure reasons. The organizing group did not take no for an answer and has taken their case to court.

There are a lot of reasons why people don’t like casinos. They argue that it is not coincidental that the easiest places to put these emporiums are where the most economically challenged of us live. Localities like Springfield really need the tax money.

As a result, political leaders are more easily brought on board. Ironically, the people who are most likely to be hurt by gambling are our poorest citizens. Slot machines are, for some folks, the new crack cocaine. Vulnerable people will try anything to get out of their circumstances.

I know of one store in the WAMC neighborhood where people who can least afford to line up to spend hundreds of dollars on lottery tickets. To me, playing to this type of weakness makes no sense.

There is also some doubt as to whether the gambling casinos will actually bring with them the economic prosperity they promise. The casinos in Atlantic City and so many other places have not led to widespread community development. To the contrary, the people who run these places want to keep the business behind the casino barricades. People are unlikely to move outside the portals to go to the neighborhood pizza joint or any of the other businesses.

We are also hearing that a lot of casinos are being developed. The more of these places that are created, the more likely it is that there will not be enough customers to go around. There are already examples of casinos that are asking for public handouts to support them. That is the last thing that we need to happen.

Finally, there is the NIMBY syndrome. It is one thing to conceptually support the concept of gambling. It is another when there is a proposal to bring it to your town, city or village.

Years ago, when someone suggested bringing a correctional facility to our area, the line formed at the rear for all those opposing the idea. They argued that a prison would harm our tourist industry, our quality of life, and our cultural institutions. I never like to split with my governor who I so admire but in this case, I just don’t see it. Once casinos are here, it is unlikely that they will go away any time soon.

 

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 6/21/14

Lawmakers need to address the glut of tax-exempt properties

Posted June 17, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

The state Legislature is a mess. We may talk democracy but in truth, the Senate and the Assembly are really oligarchies. This means that despite the appearance of decision-making by the many, in actuality it is one powerful man at the top of each organization who calls the shots. In the Senate, it’s Republican Dean Skelos and in the Assembly, it’s Speaker Sheldon Silver who has one more vote than anyone else. If you ask either of them whether it is true that we have competing dictatorships, they will tell you that they are directed by party conferences who debate and discuss everything and only after that does the word come forth from the powerful leaders. This simply isn’t true. We all know about the now famous “three men in a room” (Governor, Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader). These three meet and discuss and when they come out, the word is carried back to the followers in the various conferences. Our eyes do not deceive us. We see what we see. Once we open our eyes, we cannot be fooled.

Dictators rise and fall all over the world and this country, we insist on what we call democracy. Here in the state of New York, there are more elected Democrats than Republicans in the state Senate and yet, somehow, some way, the Republicans remain in power. There are those who think that Governor Andrew Cuomo, who came to office to “clean up Albany,” has been in some part responsible for this state of affairs. Cuomo, we all know, has been committed to fixing the reputation of New York as a tax heavy state. He knows that if there is a single thing that will cost him votes, it is the fact that the taxes are too high. He also knows that if the Democrats take over the management of the state Senate, they will practice what we can only call “redistributive politics.” He is afraid that the newly empowered Democrats will spend him out of house and home. One has only to look at the people who give the governor immense amounts of money to understand that the wealthy and powerful in the state agree with the governor. If it is taxes or progressive programs, the latter will have to wait.

But the people are restless. In the recent fight for the Working Families Party nomination, Cuomo had to make one major concession: he would help the Democrats in the Senate take back their leadership. While some people believe that Cuomo could call the members of the Independent Democratic Conference who side with the Republicans back home and get them into line with the real Democrats, so far he has not. Now, under immense pressure, he says that he’ll do just that “next year.” Many people are shaking their heads and wondering why he doesn’t do it right now. The skeptics believe that Cuomo helped set the whole scenario up in the first place and the last thing he wants to do is to empower the progressive Democrats. Even if both houses pass progressive legislation, the governor still holds a power veto weapon but the last thing Cuomo wants to do is to be the bad guy. Why should he? As long as the Republicans are in power, they will play the role of the heavies. He can point to them and say, “They did it.” His father did the same thing.

Cuomo seems set for a dramatic reelection. New York’s progressive Democrats are certainly not going to vote for conservative Rob Astorino. After he is elected for a second term, he may actually help his fellow Democrats and do what he promised, call the Independent Democrats to heel. If he wants to run for national office, he can’t take the rap for being a Republican enabler so he’ll have to do something.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/16/14

Theories on how Cantor lost race

Posted June 16, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Eric Cantor, to everyone’s surprise, lost big in his race for yet another term. He was slated to be the first Jewish Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives when John Boehner retired.

He had raised millions of dollars from the usual sources and many, if not all of them, wanted something back from him. His hired pollsters had assured him that he was light years ahead of Dave Brat, his tea party opponent who had almost no money to run with. Brat did, however, have the support of a right wing nut fringe commentator of the usual stripe.

Additionally, the other conservative but not tea party folks have continued to win their primaries. Yet when the smoke cleared, Eric Cantor went down in flames by more than 10 points. No one really knows what happened but there are theories. Here are some of them.

All over the European Union and the United States, there is a terrible anti-immigrant sentiment. Nothing is older than the “us versus them” paradigm. Ever since the first cave men walked out of the bog, we’ve seen the “they’re not us — get them” mentality. Dave Brat, who upended Cantor, understood that.

Without our immigrant population this country would be weaker, less productive and would have lots of jobs that, frankly, no one else would be willing to do. But both in the recent European parliamentary elections and in the Brat election, the immigration thing has developed real political legs.

We all know that President Barack Obama and the majority of the Democratic Party have been trying to develop a path to citizenship. The problem now with the Cantor loss is that the so-called “path” will now hit a roadblock and be stopped in its tracks. Every moderate and conservative Republican will be worrying about losing a primary to a conservative whack job if they do what they damned well know in their hearts is the right thing.

So, when those conservative Virginia voters went into the voting booth, they confounded the pollsters who told Cantor that he was 30 points ahead. They elected someone who was even more likely to take the most basic of benefits away from the poorest among us so that the richest could have even more.

Then there is what David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report (supposedly non- partisan) said was the invisible elephant in the room — the fact that Cantor is Jewish. Astoundingly, Cantor is the ONLY Jewish Republican member of Congress.

We Americans have been trained not to appear prejudiced but all bets may be off in the sanctity of the voting booth. That’s why pollsters have to be very careful when they do their work on issues like gay rights or on ethnic divisions.

Of course, Cantor won many elections in the past — eight to be exact, so it is hard to figure out why anti-Semitism would rear its ugly head now. Nevertheless, there are other know-nothing attitudes that frequently go along with ugliness toward immigrants. No doubt the sociologists will be scrutinizing this election very carefully once all the smoke clears.

WAMC’s Joe Donahue told us all a story the other day. He was recently in Washington and somehow managed to get in Cantor’s way. He was astounded when Cantor shouted, “Get out of my way, I’m important.” Joe assured us that this was not kidding around stuff. I believe that a bully in one place will be a bully in others.

There are those who think that some Democrats “crossed over” to vote for the electorally vulnerable tea party candidate. That’s yet another possibility. Maybe it was a combination — a perfect storm if you will — but whatever it was, it happened. I don’t feel sorry for Eric Cantor. Unfortunately, like a bad penny, he’ll turn up again.

 

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 6/14/14

 

 

Dems would be smart to hold their convention in Brooklyn

Posted June 10, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Mayor Bill de Blasio wants the Democratic convention to take place in Brooklyn. That makes a lot of sense. Everybody in the world knows about Brooklyn. There wasn’t a D-Day film made without a character who spoke the “dese, doze and dem” vernacular. Jackie Robinson, one of the all-time greats in baseball played for “doze bums.” In the Battle of the Bulge, American GIs could always unmask a German dressed up in an American uniform by asking where the Dodgers played. Now, of course, Brooklyn is hot. It seems as though everyone wants to live there. A flood of college graduates are setting up housekeeping in some of the most previously shunned areas of the borough. There is also a spirit of multiculturalism, the kind of thing that Barack Obama might have described as “post racial.” Unlike the older folks who are so tribal in nature, the new Brooklyn crowd doesn’t understand the old prejudices. Of course, there are still people in the borough who practice the old destructive politics but even they are being challenged by new approaches that are driving some of them to leave the city for more isolated upstate areas where they think that can rule the roost.

Of course, de Blasio, the progressive, populist mayor of New York, has always lived in Brooklyn. De Blasio doesn’t have a lot of personal money. He is married to a brilliant African American woman. The couple has two children who are clearly bright and who have had real growing pains just like everyone else in the city. Put another way, it’s a long way from Mike Bloomberg’s town house in Manhattan to the new Brooklyn.

Don’t get me wrong — Bloomberg did a great deal for the city. He continued to build on the Big Apple’s reputation as the number one city in the world. If he is open to criticism, it is that his building philosophy doesn’t do much for those emerging New Yorkers. Housing, for example, is a mess. Nevertheless, there are many New Yorkers who can’t forget the disastrous New York City housing projects where crime still flourishes. De Blasio not only talks about the need for decent public housing but he adds additional restrictions on the New York Police forbidding them, in large part, to “stop and frisk.” Obviously, if crime goes up in New York, de Blasio runs the risk of being a one-term mayor.

In addition, de Blasio has an Andrew Cuomo problem. The talk around Albany is that Cuomo kicked the mayor’s behind and the mayor is now gun shy to take on Cuomo on his honor’s progressive agenda. Cuomo has demonstrated that he has some kind of real hold on the mayor, who, like a small dog, is now showing his neck as a sign of respect. One might even surmise that de Blasio may be fronting for a governor who would love to host the convention in his state for all the usual political reasons.

On the down side, there aren’t really enough hotels for all the Democratic delegates. There are still significant crime problems. There will also be problems getting enough cabs in a city where the drivers don’t particularly like to go to Brooklyn. But the new Brooklyn is vibrant and symbolic of a new youth culture made up all kinds of racial and ethnic minorities. During the last presidential election, the Republicans could not find new voters to save their lives. The traditional thinking is to hold a convention in a competitive state like North Carolina but who knows anything about North Carolina? Everyone knows Brooklyn. It’s where everything is happening. If you talk to a lot of regular Brooklyn citizens who have lots of problems with the subways and the buses and the overcrowding, many of them will tell you that the Democrats should stay away. But there’s no question that de Blasio will get lots of credit for trying, whether he lands the big prize or not.

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

Courage, sacrifice, freedom

Posted June 8, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

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

Posted June 3, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

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

Posted June 3, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

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

 


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