Do politicians believe their own lies?

Posted July 22, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

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

Posted July 21, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

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

Posted July 15, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

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

Posted July 14, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

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

Posted July 14, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

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

‘I feel the need to weed’

Posted June 30, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Ahab had the whale. The old man had the sea. I have the garden.

I am an addict. I can’t stop pulling up the weeds. I cover the bare ground with mulch. I go back into the garden and the weeds are back. No matter how many I pull, there are always more. It never ends.

A few weeks back, I spent three days in the garden pulling out the beginnings of little trees and things that look they will grow to sagebrush and all kinds of other green things. I pulled them by the roots as much as possible. I didn’t stop. I was completely driven — it was me against them.

Finally, the garden was as clean as a baby’s bottom, but I ended up with what seemed like carpal tunnel syndrome. Everything hurt from the elbow down in both arms and I mean really hurt.

So I stopped weeding, figuring that the weeds would stay down for a while. But three weeks later they’ve returned and I have to go back in.

I need to come up with some kind of routine. I feel pangs of guilt when I’m not out there working. Like an addict, I feel the need to weed.

I’m sure that the early cavemen and farmers throughout history have had to do this. It becomes part of our genetic code, this weed-pulling thing. It’s sort of like driving down the highway for days at a time and when you close your eyes at night, you can still see the broken white lines before your eyes.

Speaking of addictions, we are beset with heroin. We go through drug phases. For a while, the pharmaceutical drug fix was the addiction du jour. Then when that stuff began to dry up, much cheaper heroin began to flood the market.

Mayors and local officials are crying out for help but there is no easy fix. Law enforcement can try to keep up but even if they find someone hawking the stuff to our children, the odds are that the hawker is an addict, too.

Plus, there just aren’t enough facilities to help people kick the addiction, a nearly impossible thing to do. There are some committed professionals like Jennifer Michaels at the Brien Center who really know what they are doing, but our society has to know that such programs are expensive and are going to cost.

Many of you recognize that we are failing our kids, and that is one of the main reasons why so many of them are turning to drugs and getting addicted.

When you are a kid with no job, no money, and no hope, drugs look like a good option and a way out. Sometimes the kids start by experimenting and despite claims that, “I can quit any time,” that turns out to be harder than they think. Once this devil catches you, there is hell to pay.

It’s the same old story. What starts out as a little “experiment” all too often ends up with the addict committing theft or worse in his or her desperation to get the next fix.

Whole families have been destroyed because of addiction and nothing will make a parent unhappier than that desperate feeling that somehow the parent is failing his or her child. For those of us who are untouched in our own families, one has no further to look than the family of man. Think about crimes that are motivated purely by drugs.

I’ll tell you one thing — before we put more boots on the ground in Iraq and spend another trillion dollars on an unwinnable war — we had better figure out how to do a better job of educating and helping our young people and putting away the really bad people who don’t give a damn about the chaos they are leaving in their wake. We need to think this through.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 6/28/14




Andrew Cuomo is a strategic genius

Posted June 24, 2014 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

I have long written that Andrew Cuomo is a strategic genius. He has great knowledge of New York politics and his instincts were honed at his father’s side. Andrew was his father’s enforcer, the guy who took no prisoners and who you didn’t want to mess around with. Now as governor, he himself is surrounded by tough guys who other politicians and players are loath to play with. The toughest of these people is one Larry Schwartz, the governor’s secretary, or top dog. This is the guy the inside players really don’t like. The governor knows, as his father did before him, that when you are negotiating with other politicians, nothing motivates them more than their own continuance in office and the perquisites therein. When Cuomo wants something, he says the magic words and trades the legislators for things like the ability to make money unencumbered on the outside through their law and consulting firms. They really have no choice but to give him what he wants.

When the most recent legislative session came to an end, the governor’s stated objective of a public campaign system was nowhere to be seen. Many of the state’s good government people had hoped for a system like the one in New York City that would give the outside players a real chance. Needless to say, it never saw the light of day. I never thought that the New York system would be implemented statewide. The governor and the legislative leaders tried a cynical ploy to have a one-term try out, but only for the state comptroller’s race and we all knew that the governor kept picking on the nicest guy in New York politics, Tom DiNapoli. Why he did that is anyone’s guess but DiNapoli said, “No thanks” to the silly law that was proposed only for his race. Why would politicians, who got where they are under the old rules, adopt new rules that would allow “outsiders” a chance to get into the political system? The last thing the big boys wanted was Bernie the bartender getting into the game and destroying their insiders’ advantage in which money got to them via all the lobbyists and players who wanted access to the decisions.

So the smoke cleared at the end of the legislative session and the two things the governor used to get his way were the threat of enhanced ethics laws and campaign finance laws. We all remember that the governor appointed a Moreland Act Commission to investigate the players, including the Legislature. The legislative players howled like stuck pigs (yes, I said pigs) and inexplicably, the governor folded his so-called independent commission and told it to go away. This was too much for the fighting U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara who collected all the work of the now defunct commission.

In the end, the political interests of the players came first. The one thing that grabbed the headlines was medical marijuana. Adopted by other states, it looked like an idea whose time had finally come. The principal player on the Legislative side was Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, the gang of five who keep the Senate Republicans in power even though there are more Democrats than Republicans in the Legislature. Beset with a revolution of Democrats to his left, the governor says that he will bring the Senate back to the Democrats but there are those who suspect that he owes something to the gang of five. So, while the governor has his reasons for not wanting medical marijuana, he gave in, but with the strictest of provisions including his right to close down the program whenever he wants to. Savino got her bill and predictably lavished praise on the governor who had severely gutted it.

Advantage Cuomo. I tell you, the guy is a strategic genius.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/23/2014


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