Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

The Edifice Complex

August 4, 2015

The late Governor Nelson Rockefeller used to be accused of having an “Edifice Complex.” He rebuilt Albany as well as the State University system. He loved to build things at great cost to the taxpayers and he wasn’t alone. President Eisenhower built the federal highway system on which we all depend. The master builder, Robert Moses, did the same thing in New York state and constructed parks and playgrounds and the like. FDR rebuilt the country as a way out of the Great Depression. Politicians who build get the construction unions as big fans and major contributors. As a political strategy it really can be a help to the political actor. Clearly, the whole question of financing the projects can be vexing but when you really consider it, there is not much of a problem. Just think about how we buy our homes. Most people don’t put down cash on the barrel head. They get a mortgage. You pay so much down and then so much a month, often for the next 30 years. In the case of politicians who hold office, they know that down the road, paying the bill will eventually be someone else’s problem. The politician gets the credit but his successors will have to find the money to pay the bankers for the bonds that have been floated.

Take Governor Andrew Cuomo. Two of his major construction initiatives have grabbed the headlines. First, there is the Tappan Zee Bridge project. While there is always conflict over construction projects, there can be little doubt that the Tappan Zee needed to be replaced. So Cuomo made it happen. He announced the replacement but he really never told us how he was going to pay for it. In at least one case, he asked the federal government to help pay with funds that had been earmarked for environmental remediation. Apparently the feds didn’t agree that money should be forthcoming and Andrew was not happy. Since Andrew has built his reputation on a policy of no tax increases, this could prove risky. After all, if the taxpayers have to pay off the bonds, the state will either have to do with less money for other services, or raise taxes, something that Andrew is loath to do.

Of course, there is always the federal route. Andrew has a big admirer in Vice President Joe Biden who recently said at another unveiling that Cuomo was the best governor in the United States. While there are New Yorkers who might argue with the VP’s assessment of Cuomo, Biden has immense sway in things federal and may be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat for the Tappan Zee project. So far, Cuomo is staying fairly mum on financing. There are many who believe that one way or another, the Cuomo name will be attached to the new bridge.

The occasion for Biden’s laudatory remarks on Cuomo was the announcement that the feds would help come up with the billions of dollars required for the reconstruction of LaGuardia Airport. This is going to be another huge project. The crowded and worn out terminal buildings will be torn down and the replacements will be moved closer to the Grand Central Parkway. This will make for improved landing strips and more efficiency in handling the large amount of air traffic coming into LaGuardia.

Since LaGuardia handles a good deal of the internal traffic in the United States, and since it is a major New York City airport, the project will bring praise to Cuomo. All of us who use the airport will see this as an important move. Of course, JFK and Newark are also difficult airports. Maybe they’ll be next.

In any case, these are both projects that Nelson Rockefeller would have been proud of. Cuomo has certainly enhanced his reputation with the Edifice Strategy.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/3/15

State resistance to Olympics bid was right move

August 3, 2015

Let there be no mistake about it, Massachusetts’ putting the kibosh on the Olympics was the right thing to do for the state.

It’s ridiculous. You build a bunch of stuff and then, after promising that the operation will be financially self-sufficient, you almost always get hit with a bill for cost overruns and the like. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh got it right when he said he wouldn’t put the city on the hook to pay the bill if the private group that was running things messed up in the economics department.

Also to be praised are the pollsters who showed that there were many people, myself among them, who just didn’t like the whole idea. It simply doesn’t pass the smell test.

Apparently Los Angeles and a few other American cities are preparing bids. Good. Let them pay for it and for those who like this stuff, they will have big wall-mounted televisions where you can see the athletes’ pores.

Congressman Richie Neal told me weeks ago that he was opposed to funding the Olympics if nothing would be left for the rest of the state after the bands, bells and whistles stopped. He cited the Big Dig as the kind of project that soaked up so much state funding that little was left for the rest of the state, including Western Massachusetts.

He spoke specifically of better high speed rail across the state. Frankly, the whole concept of a present day Olympics just doesn’t make sense. The days of the Romans and Greeks putting on huge spectacles to divert the people from concentrating on their real miseries are long past. Every once in a while I am really proud to be a citizen of this state.

The very pollsters who are showing people against the Olympics in Massachusetts are also showing that Donald Trump is still leading the pack of Republicans who want the presidential nomination.

Hillary Clinton may have substantial “negatives” in the polls but I am reasonably sure that if she is a religious woman, she and Bill kneel down next to their bed every night and pray that Trump will get the nomination. Of course, people call him a clown but then again, people called Hitler a clown, not that I’m making comparisons.

We have a lot of very angry people in this country, many of whom know nothing. Trump knows what he is doing. It’s all about the acquisition of power and he is eating all of his competitors’ lunch.

In so doing, he is creating a style of politics in which he is angry and forcing his competitors to react likewise. It keeps getting worse and worse and more and more strident. But while this is good for a presidential primary strategy, it won’t help the man for the big show.

Yes, it is true that this country has a lot of people who couldn’t tell you who the name of the vice president of the United States. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see the outrage and revulsion when people see something like the killing of a lion by a dentist who spends a fortune to kill the animal with a bow and arrow.

Who could possibly condone this kind of an action when the much-admired animal was lured out of the protection of the park where he lived so that a man who makes this much money putting crowns in people’s mouths could kill him for kicks. There are surely a lot of people who will take some time to let this jerk know what they think of him. It really is a new portrait of the ugly American.

Finally, Jonathan Pollard will be paroled. Turns out that the guy was a spy who sold secrets to Israel. I’m sure that the United States has never done that to an ally. Tell that to Angela Merkel.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 8/1/15

Perils of poop are simply unavoidable

July 27, 2015

So should we increase our laws governing dog poop?

Let’s start with some facts. We don’t let people publicly urinate or defecate on our streets although we could do a better job of policing the miscreants who regularly do both.

I have caught people relieving themselves in the parking lot of the public radio station where I work. Once I yelled at a guy who answered, “Oh, I didn’t realize I wasn’t allowed to do that.” Another time, a jerk looked at me and said, “Well, I’ve got to go somewhere.”

There are reasons why we don’t allow people to do their thing at will. When people publicly urinate or defecate, we know they spread germs and disease.

Public health professionals will give you all the particulars but we know the risks associated with coming into contact with feces and urine. As a society, we have come up with laws that should be enforced but often are not. That means that citizens have to take up the slack where police aren’t available to do so.

That brings us from people to dogs. We Americans love our animals and of course, dog feces are also quite dangerous. But if you were to tell people that their dogs can’t poop or pee on public thoroughfares, you would have a virtual revolution on your hands.

I have Murray, the world’s cutest dog, and if my town were to pass an ordinance saying that I couldn’t walk him, I’d be the first person on the protest line even though I understand the issues.

Sometimes we see someone walking a big dog and notice that the potential offender is not carrying a receptacle to scoop up the dog’s leavings. Back when I was a kid on Fire Island, everyone walked barefoot on the sidewalks.

There was one woman who would let a dog-poop offender have it if she caught the dog in the act. Doing this is largely situational. Let’s say that you see a big galoot walking along with a giant dog or two. You witness the act. Are you really going to tempt the fates? Are you really going to yell at someone twice your size and tell them to clean up after their dog?

What are the alternatives? I guess we could have designated areas known as dog parks where our animals could go to do their business. But you would still have to get them there and that might prove very difficult in exigent situations and depend on geography. So there is little that can be done.

It would be a good idea for legislatures to pass bills reinforcing the idea that if you don’t pick up after your dog, you’d face a thousand dollar fine. With the advent of cellphones to catch people and their pets in the act, fewer people would fail to pick up.

Then, too, there are those people who let their animals roam free, often untagged, so that the offenders can’t be held responsible. On the other hand, does anyone really think that legislators are going to alienate the animal owners? My bet is that they would not.

To make that work there would have to be a huge public educational campaign. Scientists and public health people would have to tell all about just how we might become infected. We would have to learn about the flies and other insects that we see buzzing around the deposits.

So as it stands, we’ll have to do our best to keep the grand compromise going. Animals will continue to walk and people will have to pick up.

If at some point in the future the science provides knowledge about what risks we are courting, we may have to come up with other solutions. Until then, let’s keep those little plastic bags handy and remember that even there, we are creating an environmental problem.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 7/25/15

Figuring Andrew out

July 21, 2015

I think I’ll invent a new board game and call it, “What Could Andrew Be Thinking?” He sure does get me to scratching my head every once in a while. I raved about his gun control effort, the SAFE Act. It was his best work yet. I suspect that after the tragic Sandy Hook shootings, he wanted to be the first one to lead the nation in gun control and he pulled out all the stops to get the SAFE Act passed. Since the governor’s political reputation holds that he “gets things done,” this single thing — a great mark in his “positive” column — commands considerable respect from so many of us. But his ethics stuff is dead on the bar room floor. His promise to end the disgraceful gerrymander is long forgotten, likewise his pledge to elect more Democrats to the state Senate and his education efforts. So we were all a little confused when the governor recently signed a memorandum of agreement with the Senate Republicans to seriously weaken his own gun bill. While the governor maintains that this is less than earth shattering, many of us know better. He chickened out, pure and simple.

So why did he do it? Since when does a Democratic governor sign a memorandum of agreement with one party in one house? This is especially true when we are talking about legislation that has been passed by two houses of the Legislature and signed by the governor. Well, as I have been telling you for some time now, like his father before him, the governor wants the Republicans in power so they can be the bogeymen and act as foils against the progressive Democrats who he sees as spenders. I think most people finally agree with me that this is the case. He says he’s a Democrat but as the old saying goes, “Maybe not so much.” He allowed the Senate Republicans to save themselves by letting them draw districts that gave them a huge advantage and that came after Cuomo’s campaign promises that he would insist the districts be drawn by outside, non-partisan experts.

Some things cost big when they catch on political fire. Cuomo never expected that fracking was going to bite him in the rear but the unexpected happened — the anti-fracking movement took off and Cuomo had to back all the way down the road.

For the Republicans, the hot issue is gun control. A lot of New Yorkers follow the national trend and own guns. In order to get his gun package passed, Cuomo herded the legislators into their two chambers and gave them a “Message of Necessity” so they didn’t have time to back out of the deal. The consequences were serious for the few unfortunate Republicans who had their arms twisted in order to pass the legislation. Several have already lost their seats and more are in serious danger of losing theirs. One of these is the new Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. Andrew wants to keep Flanagan where he is. I suspect he had to do something to protect his Republican partner so he entered into a deal with Flanagan. It means nothing but it gives Long Island’s Flanagan a piece of paper which he can show around to his gun-toting constituents while saying, “Look what I did for you.” As for Andrew, the man who can make things happen, he says that he tried but he just couldn’t get his gun computer registry working properly. What a bunch of baloney. The people who work for Andrew are scared to death of him. If he says, “Make it work,” it’ll work. So to get back to the first sentence of this column, Andrew is thinking, at least short-term, about what he has to do to keep the gun people a bit happier. He never expected to get bit in the you-know-what.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/20/15

Even in our backyard, our vigilance ensures our safety

July 20, 2015

The recent case of a local Islamic State sympathizer, the son of a Boston police captain, gives us all pause. Of course, terrorism is intended to scare us. That’s the way that ISIS and some of the other jihadist groups operate. It’s really a simple idea — take impressionable twentysomethings, give them a cause and encourage them to kill and maim. Sociopaths have no great concern about what they are doing. Potential victims can be found anywhere: airports, schools, kindergartens.

I find it fascinating that the Boston police captain had the backbone to turn in his son, Alexander Ciccolo, of Adams. I am sure that there are others with beloved children, who would not have had either the courage or the wisdom to do the same thing, no matter how heinous the child’s crime. Our media correctly reports every catastrophic event that is brought about by these mad men, yet when one of these potentially deadly actions fails, they are not covered with the same fervor or depth.

The reason this story is so critical is that important lessons are learned and the more people who learn these lessons, the better off our security. A parent who leads the way by alerting authorities is just one of these lesson-givers. Then there is the way that the miscreant was going to do it, using the same apparatus that was used in the Boston Marathon. He went to the Walmart and brought a pressure cooker.

I suppose that it would be naïve to think that everyone who bought a pressure is a potential terrorist. Nevertheless, a young man buying a pressure cooker who had other “tells,” his social media posts were sympathetic to ISIS, might be worth looking at or even reporting. Let us just remember the New York Police Department’s “If you see something, say something” campaign.

During World War II, President Roosevelt ordered Japanese citizens into internment camps. As we know, that was a disgraceful part of American history and in retrospect it has been roundly considered a major mistake. But now, the country is under attack and some of these people have the capacity to cause great harm to others. One dead person may leave behind children or grandchildren and future generations will be affected by these fools. Some people from the Boston Marathon attack will be walking around on one leg for the rest of their lives because of the massacre.

Since groups like ISIS and al-Qaida are not nation states and export terror through individual mental cases, it is hard to declare war on them. So we have to mobilize ourselves and that means paying attention, not only to our neighbors but to the Web sites used by these whack jobs. It is really unfortunate that it comes down to this. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t and shouldn’t be necessary. But when one considers the potential consequences, it is necessary and we need to be vigilant. The next victim could be you or someone you love.

On another subject, I wrote a piece a few weeks back in this space calling on the Great Barrington police to do a better job of stopping speeders in our neighborhood. All they have to do is sit on a side street and it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. But, alas, they haven’t done that.

I leave the house very, very early in the pitch dark. Because Great Barrington is still in a state of disrepair, I take the back way through Alford. Often, there is nobody on that road except for a policeman sitting there many mornings as I drive by at 20 mph. Now I wonder why our police are deployed on a road that no one ever takes at that hour, with the possible exception of you know who. Hm.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 7/18/15

Drawing lines in the sand

July 14, 2015

Okay, I admit it. I’ve been writing columns, teaching students and opining on radio and television for years about the evils of gerrymandering. It is infuriating to me that congressional and legislative districts are drawn by self-serving, despotic, professional politicians who do not allow a fair fight in elections. You cannot dispute the fact that when the controlling party draws the district lines, they can essentially dictate who wins and who loses. When Texas Republicans took control of the legislature in that state, they practically wiped out the Democrats in Congress. As Casey Stengel used to say, “You could look it up.”

You don’t have to go any further than New York to understand how it works. New York has a lot more Democrats than Republicans. Theoretically, they should hold the majority in both houses of the legislature. The problem for the Democrats is that the Republicans are in a very, very slight majority in the Senate. As a result, they kneel before the Great Computer and say, “Oh, Great Computer, draw me districts in which we will win and the Democrats will lose.” Then comes the reply from the computer, “Yes, master, we moved all the bodies around digitally until we figured out how to make you the winners and the Democrats the losers.”

The problem for the Republicans is that recently the Great Computer has been talking back and making strange noises. It has been heard to say to the Republican leaders, “Sorry, boss, we just don’t have enough bodies to move around.” As a result, even though they have loaded the game, the Democrats have actually taken control a few times, only to make fools of themselves by electing some thieves and despots of their own. When there is a presidential election and the Democrats turn out, the Republicans can no longer win. When a Democrat runs for president, so many Democrats will turn out that the Senate will turn Democratic and the Republicans will be in the minority.

This probably doesn’t sit all that well with Democratic Governor Cuomo who has demonstrated any number of times that he wants the Republicans in control for his own self-serving political reasons. It should probably be pointed out that there are many Democrats in the Assembly where they are the majority who won’t be all that comfortable when and if this whole thing is done legitimately. That’s because some of them would lose the lines that keep them in power.

This brings us to the Supreme Court which has just ruled that the people of a state have the right to change the rules to allow an OUTSIDE group to draw the lines. The people of Arizona voted to allow a group of outsiders to draw up the district lines and the legislature sued, saying that only they had the right to draw the lines. In the old days, the Supreme Court would have seen this as a matter of states’ rights and stayed out of what they called “The political thicket.” But now, perhaps understanding that this monkey business perverts and undermines the government, the Court has taken a new position. That’s absolutely the way it should be done.

Having campaigned on that very issue, Cuomo knows his position is indefensible. Despite that, he has permitted the anti-democratic procedure to go on. He did that by agreeing to a procedure that would allow an outside group, appointed by the legislature, to draw the lines with the caveat that if the legislature didn’t like the results they could change them. That is the way it stands. It’s disgusting, it’s anti-democratic and it’s morally, intellectually and ethically indefensible. It’s important for us to remember that we send our kids to foreign countries to “…fight for democracy” but here at home, we allow politicians to draw lines so that they can’t lose. Unbelievable.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/13/15

Fight night!

July 13, 2015
It’s fight night in Albany. First up, there is the main contest, Cuomo v. de Blasio. This histrionic duel which will certainly leave both men incapacitated comes from the department of “Oh, when will they ever learn?” De Blasio has the main disadvantage because he is a puny mayor in a strong governor state. Since, in political science parlance, “The city is a creature of the state,” de Blasio can’t turn around without asking Albany’s permission.

There are days when it looks like Cuomo looks for opportunities to taunt de Blasio. It’s almost as if de Blasio asks for “black” and Cuomo says “white.” This applies to things like de Blasio’ s housing initiatives, control of the schools Including his fight with Cuomo over charter schools which he clearly is not a fan of and Cuomo loves, and much, much more. As for Cuomo, every time he beats up the hapless de Blasio, he looks more and more like a bully. As the governor’s numbers continue on their downward death spiral, his tactics aren’t well received by many people who have unpleasant bullying experiences in their lives. For his part de Blasio is looking pretty ineffective as he tries to fight the perception that he can keep New York’s crime problem under control. In the historic fight between former Governor Nelson Rockefeller and then Mayor John V. Lindsey, both men all but destroyed each other as they fought their way to the presidency which neither achieved. It certainly doesn’t look like there will be any let up in this contest.

Then there is the interesting fight between the new speaker of the Assembly, Democrat Carl Heastie, and the new majority leader of the Republican Senate, John Flanagan. To understand this one you have to get the role of the referee and he is none other than Andrew Cuomo who is a Democrat, and who should be on the side of the Democratic speaker, but who really seems to treasure his ally John Flanagan. The Cuomos, both papa and son, have always loved having the Republicans control the state Senate. That way the Republicans can put the brakes on the spenders known as the Democrats. It means that Cuomo doesn’t have to take responsibility for blocking so called “progressive (expensive) legislation.” In fact, when Cuomo was attorney general he spent a lot of time putting some of these Democratic characters in jail. One of the worst and most problematic features of the morally corrupt New York state government is the well known gathering of “three men in a room.” In this case, that means Cuomo, Flanagan and Heastie. It has been reported that Cuomo has been siding with the Republican, Flannigan, and against Heastie. I am not surprised. Heastie, of course, has to report back to his Democratic conference, but the way Albany works, he pretty well sets the agenda for the Democratic Assembly, and while Cuomo and Flanagan may beat him up in that three-man room, he could hold out longer before the deals are made.

No one really knows what the incentives for Heastie to go along are. We recently learned that he was double charging for the state to fix his car, both through the so-called mileage system and from his campaign money. Who knows if any of that came up as Cuomo was twisting his arm. Apparently that’s not against the laws since the Legislature makes the laws and typically they don’t make laws that will make things either difficult or downright illegal for them. Of course, we like to think that Republicans and Democrats are too different breeds of cat and that’s true, much of the time. But what really motivates people like Cuomo and his friends are political advancement. So that while they may talk about programs and changes in the law, it is almost always a matter of what’s good for their electoral prospects. That’s disgusting.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/6/15


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