Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Everyone hates Gov. Cuomo — or do they?

March 3, 2015

Someone walked up to me the other day and asked, “Why does everyone hate Cuomo?”

I told him in no uncertain terms that I didn’t think that was fair. I pointed out that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had won re-election by a great margin and that he still is getting considerable credit for his courageous victories on gay marriage and gun control. What’s more, the polling data on the guy is still quite healthy for a governor in his second term.

“Well, that may be true,” said my new friend, “but everyone I speak with says they don’t like him. Just look at what happened when Zephyr Teachout, an unknown law professor with no money, ran against him in a Democratic primary. In much of upstate New York, she beat his pants off.”

“Well,” I responded, “it is true that he has made some dumb moves. We all know that decapitating the Moreland Act Commission before it was done with its anti-corruption work stank like old fish. And he really let us down with the whole gerrymandering-reapportionment legislation that would allow the majority parties in the Assembly and the Senate to continue the despicable, anti-democratic nonsense of drawing their own districts. His treatment of Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York City has some folks thinking that he’s a bully. His scheduling of a major cabinet meeting in Albany the day that the mayor was visiting made some people suspect that he was upstaging the mayor. For his part, Mayor de Blasio has been nothing but nice to Cuomo. There are some unkind people who believe that Cuomo has no friends but what the kids call ‘frenemies’ — half friend, half enemy. I have been searching my mind for examples of people in the public sector who we all know are friends to Andrew.”

“So,” I said to my inquisitor, “it may be something else.”

“I’ll tell you what I think,” he said. “I just don’t think he’s very nice. Most people I know think he is just mean and that he’s a political animal who is at war with everyone whether they like him or not. I actually used to like him, but then I ran into a teacher friend of mine, and — boy, oh boy! — do they hate him. My friend is a perfectly nice lady without a mean bone in her body. In fact, she’s not a bit political. She just can’t understand why Cuomo keeps picking fights with teachers. She says that his blaming them for failing schools is incredibly unfair. She says that the teachers who teach in the most difficult districts are heroes and have a much harder job than all those people who teach in upscale districts, although they work hard, too. The point is that she is angry, and that comes from a person who is never really angry.”

I turned to my friend and explained that Sigmund Freud thought that our characters are formed by the time we are 4 years old. I repeated the words used by Andrew himself: “It is what it is.” I told her Andrew’s worst enemy is Andrew. I told her that we are all our own worst enemy.

Andrew Cuomo actually ’fessed up about all of this when he introduced his book. He knows that the old Andrew had a reputation but the new Andrew is not the old Andrew. Obviously, that confession didn’t help him sell books. Sales have been miserable. My bet is that if people don’t feel warm and cuddly about you, they are not likely to buy your book.

But still, I told my new friend that maybe people think his ability to get things done trumps his personal likability factor. In any case, even though I am a Freudian, I think working on our bad sides can be productive. Don’t you?

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/2/15

Great Barrington crossroads an exercise in extremes

March 2, 2015

We all know where the most dangerous traffic intersections in the Berkshires are. We approach them with caution, knowing that one false move and it could be curtains. People have died at these intersections. Sometimes it’s because there is no good way of seeing around a corner or over a hill and now, in the winter, the high snow banks make it even more difficult.

I am reminded of this because just the other day I was coming back from Albany on Route 41 when I approached the potential death trap known as Division Street, just up the block from Arlo’s Church. Obviously, Route 41 has the right of way and the folks on Division Street have to wait until the Route 41 traffic has cleared. Unfortunately, as I used to say to my kids and lovely wife, “You can end up dead right.” That’s because there is always someone who wants to test their driving skills or who is impatient or who is just plain reckless or who really wants to be a cowboy.

Sure enough, there was quite a line on Division Street in both directions so I slowed down and crept through the intersection when one of the aforementioned types decided to forge ahead. Maybe he thought that my slowing down was an invitation. Maybe he was a jerk. In any event, as I started through the intersection I saw him out of the corner of my eye coming right at me. Right then and there I lost at least a year off my life. I instinctively hit my brakes and pulled the wheel to the right, missing my demise by a just a teensy-weensy little bit.

My heart was certainly racing and I admit I raised a clenched fist. The offender took off like a rabbit being pursued by the hounds. Do you think it might have been nice if he or she pulled over to make sure I was all right? I guess I should thank whatever force I believe in that I wasn’t dead because every so often people leave for work in the morning, never expecting to end the day in the mortuary.

Then there is a lot of family grieving, the lawyers come in to make sure that the estate is properly apportioned and grandchildren will miss the grandpa they never knew. It’s just a matter of a few seconds and the intervention of the heavens.

The bad news is that I almost got hit badly. The good news, at least for me, is that I’m alive and the better news is that the experience gave me a column this week. Now, I am sure that the offender may see this and that person will certainly know who he or she is. I hope that you’ll just take a moment to reflect on the year that came off the other end of my life and most of all, that when you come to a stop sign, you may consider the fact that there’s a reason for the law.

On a related matter, when you leave Great Barrington at 3 a.m., you come to that big bridge at the northern end of town. In the middle of the night, there used to be a blinking red light so that one could turn left under the railroad bridge onto the same Route 41.

Now the traffic people, in their wisdom, have replaced that blinking light with a solid red that sometimes turns green after a long, long, long wait. We are talking about several minutes. There you are. It’s dark, there’s no traffic. You can see anyone coming but if you are a law abiding person, you sit and wait. I called the police station to complain and was told that my message of angst would be passed on but nothing has happened, nor do I think anything will happen. But I sure wish that someone somewhere would pay attention.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 2/28/15

Voters are getting wise to the fixed game

February 24, 2015

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is absolutely right in demanding wholesale reform of the way in which the Legislature does business. If you are a legislator or an elected public servant and you are convicted of a crime, he wants to take your pension away. To that end, he is proposing a constitutional amendment that would have to be passed in two successive legislative sessions. Even as we speak, more than a few convicted legislators are sitting in prisons and actually collecting their taxpayer-provided pensions.

I am here to tell you that the members of the Legislature are not happy about this one at all. They cry out, “But what about our spouses and families? Who will take care of them?” Most of New York state’s citizens think that divesting these crooks of their pensions is an excellent idea. People theorize that if they were so worried about their wives and children, then maybe, just maybe, they should have considered the consequences before committing the crime. In fact, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara isn’t even waiting for a constitutional amendment. He figures that it’s just as easy to fine them heavily and grab their pensions that way.

Now the legislators are beginning to get nervous. They claim that not everyone is a crook, there are just a few bad apples. Even the governor says that. Our legislators don’t like some of the other provisions being offered by Cuomo including one insisting that they let us know exactly who is paying them money for any so-called jobs they may have on the outside. That’s one that I’ve been calling for since the beginning of time. People tend to give legislators money to have their way with them and anyone who doesn’t understand that is not playing with a full deck.

But I have a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. What if Andrew Cuomo is calling for these worthy reforms but doesn’t really mean it? We all remember — or should remember — the ill-fated Moreland Act Commission that Cuomo set up to ferret out the legislative crooks. Just as the commission was making headway, he called a halt, saying that it was his commission and he could. We later learn that Cuomo traded it out for a legislative victory. He got publically beaten up for that screw up and he deserved it. People ranging from me to Preet Bharara didn’t like it and he really hasn’t recovered from that faux pas.

Then there were those less-than-effective ethics watchdog commissions that he set up that really haven’t worked out.

Andrew has been vehement that all this horse-trading is just part of the legislative process and it’s how you get things done. But some of us believe that he gives too much up in the trading and gets too little in return. If, as he says, he really means it this time, how can we be so sure? In fact, he has already told us that he often trades away his good ideas for a few legislative crumbs. Has he cried wolf once too often?

This is a moment in time when there really could be wholesale, substantive change in the sometimes corrupt and venal system that has plagued New York for too long. Cuomo holds the cards. If he is willing to trade away strong restrictions on the Legislature, it can only mean that he really doesn’t want what he says he wants. What’s more, the voters just may be getting wise to the fixed game. Remember when Cuomo said that he wouldn’t sign a self-serving reapportionment bill that allowed the majority parties to design their own districts? He caved on that one, too. So it really is possible that the guy is full of baloney and is just playing the same old, same old, game. As Preet Bharara says, “Stay tuned.”

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 2/23/15

Time to start paying people what they’re worth

February 23, 2015

Every once in a while, a newspaper does an investigative report on how much money people make in their jobs. The readers really love that stuff. If I read it correctly, both the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Albany Times Union report that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson was paid more than $7 million last year. Hey, even taking inflation into account, that’s a great deal of money. I have a wonderful public radio colleague in New York who earns more than $500,000 a year and from where I sit, that’s also a lot of money. I think she’s worth it, although in the public radio model one wonders whether contributors who are sending in their hard-earned money might be turned off by that kind of salary for the chief executive.

Hey, sometimes it’s worth it to pay people a lot of money in order to buy their expertise. In the case of RPI, you have a president who has taken a good — but not absolutely top — college and made it into a leader among academic institutions. She has brought in millions and millions of dollars. Doesn’t it make sense to pay her before she goes somewhere else and gets the millions for them? Ball players make millions of dollars because they have good reflexes while our school teachers have to get second jobs in liquor stores to barely make ends meet. To put it mildly, “That ain’t right.”

There are a lot of “intervening variables” to be considered. Stage hands at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center make obscene amount of money for a limited amount of work. Doormen in Manhattan apartment buildings are paid huge amounts of money. Both groups are well represented by unions. I recently met a New York man who is charged with fixing things that have gone wrong in co-op apartments. He was approached with a job offer to become a superintendent in a ritzy building. He told me that he turned it down because it was a nonunion building. Apparently, even though there are signs that Americans have long been eschewing unions, there are still unions like the ones representing the stage hands and the doormen that have produced tangible results for their members. Some unions fight like crazy for their people and impose major sanctions should their workers be called out on strike. I know a woman who told me that every time a contract comes up for New York doormen, she gets a letter saying that she might have to serve as a door person should a strike come about. While these actions have come to pass in the past, for the most part they don’t happen these days and the doormen and porters have their way and get the raises they are asking for.

In any case, it cannot be denied that Alex Rodriguez should not be making more money than a school teacher at Monument Mountain High School. Alex was born with the instincts to hit a ball. He has the height and the muscle power and he’s paid what the open market has determined he’s worth. Our teacher, on the other hand, not only has to be an expert in her subject matter but now has to shiver in the cold because of the misguided action of a few noneducated voters in the school district. There will always be some angry people with too much time on their hands who deny the folks who drive the trucks that remove the snow the ability to make the kind of living they deserve. Every time I read an article about how right-wing screamers oppose an increase in the minimum wage, I shake my head and wonder just how self-delusional these folks are. On the other hand, this is America, with everything it stands for.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 2/21/15

News entertainer proved more credible than journalist

February 17, 2015

This is a story of two newsmen. One is supposed to be an entertainer, the other is supposed to be a down-the-middle newsman. Of course, I am speaking of Jon Stewart of the Daily Show and NBC’s well-paid anchor, Brian Williams.

In my mind, there is nothing more befuddling than what Williams did. He had the world by the tail. He was making incredible amounts of money. He was well liked and admired. So what does he do? He tells a tall tale about being in a helicopter that was fired on.

He was not alone in telling such a lie. It turns out that Hillary Clinton did much the same thing and despite a stream of negative publicity, lived to tell about it. Hillary is a politician so when she either lied or forgot, we shrugged and said, “That’s what politicians always do.”

Ronald Reagan, while president, told his tall tale of being on a plane that was shot out of the sky. The problem of course, is that he was thinking about a movie he had been in and once again, his popularity as a politician got him through. Don’t get me wrong, Reagan’s claim was met with some snickers but it was soon forgotten.

Alan Chartock: News entertainer proved more credible than journalist

The Berkshire Eagle

Posted:   02/13/2015 03:57:32 PM EST27 Comments | Updated:   4 days ago

GREAT BARRINGTON >> This is a story of two newsmen. One is supposed to be an entertainer, the other is supposed to be a down-the-middle newsman. Of course, I am speaking of Jon Stewart of the Daily Show and NBC’s well-paid anchor, Brian Williams.

In my mind, there is nothing more befuddling than what Williams did. He had the world by the tail. He was making incredible amounts of money. He was well liked and admired. So what does he do? He tells a tall tale about being in a helicopter that was fired on.

He was not alone in telling such a lie. It turns out that Hillary Clinton did much the same thing and despite a stream of negative publicity, lived to tell about it. Hillary is a politician so when she either lied or forgot, we shrugged and said, “That’s what politicians always do.”

Ronald Reagan, while president, told his tall tale of being on a plane that was shot out of the sky. The problem of course, is that he was thinking about a movie he had been in and once again, his popularity as a politician got him through. Don’t get me wrong, Reagan’s claim was met with some snickers but it was soon forgotten.

So why is Brian Williams’ claim akin to a nuclear event? Why has it been at the top of the New York Times most important stories day after day? Partly it has to do with the fact that people don’t seem to like or trust journalists. “Credibility” is the word of the month.

Jon Stewart is another whole story. Him, I really like. I don’t dislike Williams, I just don’t really care. Stewart calls himself an entertainer yet a huge swath of the American people, particularly the young, get most — if not all — of their news from the guy. His critical analysis is closer to the truth than the garbage we get from the networks.

We will really miss Stewart. We will not miss poor Brian Williams. Stewart had guts and was a human being and is one of the rarest of all homo sapiens: he knows when it’s time to quit and that is when you are no longer having fun.

Jon Stewart, like Johnny Carson, is one in a million. He did his homework, he thought and he was courageous. We’ll hear more from him in books and movies and maybe even on TV and I don’t think any of us can deny him his rest.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 2/14/15

So much for reform in the New York State Legislature

February 11, 2015

The Boss of the Bronx, Carl Heastie, is the new speaker of the New York State Assembly. All I can say is, “Oh brother, here we go again.” Much to the consternation of a reform caucus among the Democrats, the lightning-quick election turned out to result in the same old, same old brand of politics that has been practiced in that not-so-august body for years. Boss Heastie, who was the head of the Bronx Democratic Party, assumes power in a house beset with corruption problems. His major mentor is serving time in the can and I’m afraid that Heastie’s election signals really bad things. Instead of taking the opportunity to make much needed changes and let the antiseptic sunlight in, we are about to be treated to a number of half-baked so-called reforms which will just be more of the same.

The teeth of many members of the Assembly are already chattering. These denizens of the deep fear that the charges that have been lodged against Sheldon Silver will also be brought against them. Now that the Bronx Boss with a reputation for taking no prisoners is in charge, many of these same people are afraid that the new guy will be giving out chairmanship-sinecures based on who his friends and early supporters were. The so-called reformers called Heastie to a meeting and he obliged them by showing up. They had lots of question for the new guy and were assured by Heastie that he was not being investigated by the federal prosecutors. And he knows that how?

Into all of this rides the man on the white horse on his way to the White House, Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He says he wants to see a series of complete reforms including strict limits on outside income, stripping of the pensions of convicted felons and complete disclosure of all outside income. Cuomo is also saying that he doesn’t want legislators ripping off the so called “per diem” system, money that they get for showing up in Albany. Speaker Heastie, by the way, is the third largest recipient of such money. Cuomo, who raised $45 million in campaign funds, says that he wants absolute limits on what campaign monies can be used for. He wants limitations on the campaign laws which hide behind self-serving gimmicks like LLC’s. Very, very nice, Andrew, but why are we supposed to believe you?

Remember that this is the same Gov. Cuomo who, during his first campaign, promised to veto any anti-democratic apportionment plans that would allow the legislators to draw districts in which they had the best chance of winning. But when Cuomo became governor, he was quick to sign that disgraceful law as part of a so-called trade with the Legislature for doing their job and passing a budget. Then he set up a series of corruption-fighting entities that turned out to be toothless and accomplished very little. One such group, the New York State Commission on Public Ethics, or J-COPE, has been rechristened J-JOKE. Finally, he established a Moreland Act Commission to investigate corruption in New York, but when the Commission hounds picked up the scent (or should I say the stench), Cuomo, to the dismay of all, disbanded the Moreland Commission. So now, when he announces his non-negotiable demands for change — even if it holds up the budget — it’s hard to believe him. His record in this field just isn’t that good. There’s a rumor going around that people want Preet Bharara, the fighting U.S. attorney who has done so much to clean up Albany, to run for governor himself the next time out. Perhaps Cuomo has heard those same rumors. Cuomo’s problem, of course, is that while his newly found ideas are great, that no one really trusts him to make them happen.

The stink continues.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 2/9/15

At the WAMC fund drive, we run on sheer adrenaline

February 9, 2015

Adrenaline is quite a drug. It’s probably all started when our cave-dwelling ancestors were being chased around the woods by saber-toothed tigers. As the Two Thousand Year Old Man might have put it, humans were motivated by fear. After so many years of “fight or flight,” we humans have a lot of adrenaline in our bodies.

For me, there is nothing more exciting — or more draining — than a WAMC fund drive. When I’m in Albany for the drive, there’s a place at the station where I can stay. Now, I go on the air at 6 a.m. and have to work out for an hour before that. Plus, we generally have a little planning session at about 5:30, so even if I stay in Albany during the fund drive, I have to be up at 4 in the morning to keep with the schedule.

But, of course, there’s a rub. There always is. I find that I really hate to stay over because I don’t like being away from Roselle. A couple of fund drives ago I made the decision to go home every night, no matter how early in the morning I would have to get up in Great Barrington.

Under normal circumstances, I go to bed by 8 p.m. and wake up at 3 a.m. On fund drive nights, I set the alarm for 2 a.m. but since I am a compulsive worrier, I usually end up getting out of bed at 1:30. By the time I get to Albany and work out on my Schwinn bike for an hour and eat my breakfast of oatmeal covered by egg whites and wash the dishes and take a shower, I am one tired puppy.

So where does the adrenaline come in? Anchoring a fund drive is tough work. You have to do all kinds of things. You can’t just sit there. You have to try to keep it interesting. There are times when you can kid around and other times that you have to be deadly serious.

That’s hard when you show up at 6 a.m. feeling like death warmed over. My pitching partner, Ray Graf, puts it this way when describing me: “He comes in, sits down, and looks half dead. His eyes are like slits and you think that he’s finally lost it.”

I’ve even said to Ray that I don’t think I have my stuff anymore but then suddenly, magically, the body’s store of that mighty adrenaline kicks in. And we’re off. It’s really like having an out of body experience. The pre-adrenalin 73 year old Alan is standing by the side of the room watching this other guy who is talking. It could be Billy Marvel saying Shazam before he turns into the Captain. This happens every morning until the fund drive is over.

Alan Chartock: At the WAMC fund drive, we run on sheer adrenaline

The Berkshire Eagle

Posted:   02/06/2015 09:03:35 AM EST22 Comments | Updated:   3 days ago

GREAT BARRINGTON >> Adrenaline is quite a drug. It’s probably all started when our cave-dwelling ancestors were being chased around the woods by saber-toothed tigers. As the Two Thousand Year Old Man might have put it, humans were motivated by fear. After so many years of “fight or flight,” we humans have a lot of adrenaline in our bodies.

For me, there is nothing more exciting — or more draining — than a WAMC fund drive. When I’m in Albany for the drive, there’s a place at the station where I can stay. Now, I go on the air at 6 a.m. and have to work out for an hour before that. Plus, we generally have a little planning session at about 5:30, so even if I stay in Albany during the fund drive, I have to be up at 4 in the morning to keep with the schedule.

But, of course, there’s a rub. There always is. I find that I really hate to stay over because I don’t like being away from Roselle. A couple of fund drives ago I made the decision to go home every night, no matter how early in the morning I would have to get up in Great Barrington.

Under normal circumstances, I go to bed by 8 p.m. and wake up at 3 a.m. On fund drive nights, I set the alarm for 2 a.m. but since I am a compulsive worrier, I usually end up getting out of bed at 1:30. By the time I get to Albany and work out on my Schwinn bike for an hour and eat my breakfast of oatmeal covered by egg whites and wash the dishes and take a shower, I am one tired puppy.

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So where does the adrenaline come in? Anchoring a fund drive is tough work. You have to do all kinds of things. You can’t just sit there. You have to try to keep it interesting. There are times when you can kid around and other times that you have to be deadly serious.

That’s hard when you show up at 6 a.m. feeling like death warmed over. My pitching partner, Ray Graf, puts it this way when describing me: “He comes in, sits down, and looks half dead. His eyes are like slits and you think that he’s finally lost it.”

I’ve even said to Ray that I don’t think I have my stuff anymore but then suddenly, magically, the body’s store of that mighty adrenaline kicks in. And we’re off. It’s really like having an out of body experience. The pre-adrenalin 73 year old Alan is standing by the side of the room watching this other guy who is talking. It could be Billy Marvel saying Shazam before he turns into the Captain. This happens every morning until the fund drive is over.

In this last drive, a miracle occurred. Loyal listeners put more than a half million dollars into the Locked Box in advance, with every dime earmarked for the fund drive. A half million dollars! That’s an incredible amount of money.

So we started the fund drive with more than half of our goal in hand. Incredibly, the drive was over in three and half days and that included a Monday snowstorm. On two of those days, listeners kicked in more than $150,000. We’ve never seen anything like it. The fact that we are grateful is an understatement.

Of course, I had been operating on sheer adrenaline for those three and a half days. The minute the drive was over on Thursday and we said our thank-yous to everybody, the adrenaline ceased to pump. I was as limp as the proverbial dishrag. Now, I’m certainly not a medical doctor, but that can’t be good for you, can it?

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 2/7/15


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