Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Fearless predictions for 2015

December 29, 2014

Here are my fearless predictions for 2015. First, though, a quick refresher on the rules. Some of these predictions are made so that something I am afraid might happen will not happen because I predicted it would happen and thereby put the double whammy on it. Don’t you see?

In other cases, I predict that something will happen because I want to see it happen so I predict it will happen to make it happen. Finally, there are some things I predict will happen because I really think that they will happen. It is up to you, dear reader, to figure out which is which. Here goes:

I predict that outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick will secretly agree to repeated entreaties from Hillary Clinton to be her vice presidential running mate. Patrick genuinely doesn’t want to do it. He wants back in the private sector but he is committed to a progressive government and does not want to see the Republicans gain the last branch of government that they don’t already control. Patrick adds balance to his ticket. His presence will offer encouragement to people of color to get out and vote. He will prove crucial to the ticket.

I predict that Gov. Charlie Baker will follow the script of his Republican predecessors and become best friends with the incoming Senate President, Stan Rosenberg. He’ll understand that he can’t do anything without a friend in high places. He will have some major resistance from the lower house. Maybe coincidentally, maybe not, two state reps will be indicted.

Educational politics in Great Barrington will heat up big time. Emboldened by their anti-tax initiative, the pushers of that group will demand to be included in a power-sharing arrangement with the School Committee and the Selectmen. They will be rebuffed and the leader of the rebel group will be unceremoniously thrown off the town Finance Committee with two of her colleagues.

There will be yet another major attempt to combine the Berkshire Hills and Southern Berkshire districts. This time the move may actually pass.

The Berkshire County District Attorney will announce that he will be seeking an indictment in the up to now unsolved Dugway Road murder in Stockbridge.

Williams College will announce that its professors will only teach one course every other semester and that they will get a full year’s sabbatical every other year. One alumnus will gripe, “Enough is enough.” The MCLA faculty and the Berkshire Community College faculty will suggest that Williams is giving all hard-working faculty a bad name.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, will announce a major grant for the Berkshires. Even people on Great Barrington’s Hill who voted for a left wing alternative will say, “Boy, were we wrong!”

The Wassaic stop on the railroad will have a spanking new restroom! One wag will be heard to say, “What in the world took them so long? Now maybe we’ll have a chance to get a hamburger and a cup of coffee. Maybe they’ll give the Four Brothers a chance for a franchise. Hey, if you can get food in Grand Central, why not here?”

A bad person will try to buy the Berkshire Eagle. If he succeeds, I’m gone.

The federal government will investigate a well-known speed trap in Egremont.

The Berkshire baby boom will continue unabated.

Housatonic will continue on a roll along with Hudson, N.Y. They’ll both compete for the title, “The New Brooklyn.”

Cafe Adam will host a past U.S. president.

You, dear readers, will have a happy and healthy New Year.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 12/27/14

Iredale an asset, role model to the town

December 22, 2014

Jane Iredale is just something else again. She has done more for Great Barrington than anyone else around. While everyone is talking about jobs, she has become a one-woman anti-recession agency.

When people talk environment, she walks the walk and leads the way. Her love of animals puts shame on any who would abuse them. Her sense of taste and design is unparalleled. She and her partner, Bob Montgomery, have not only provided employment for so many of our friends and neighbors but they have done so in a thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing way. She is concerned about the environment, the animals, and the rest of her neighbors.

It took several years to convert the former Searles school into the international headquarters for Jane Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, but upon its completion, it became an immediate monument to the school attended by so many of Great Barrington’s residents.

Now, they’re open for business and many of these same former students are part of the Iredale team. Jane has designed a line of cosmetics that has led the way, despite so many would-be competitors. She has made a real success of her business and we have a good deal of real estate and business in Great Barrington to prove it.

I can only say that her generosity with so many of our crucial nonprofits is off the charts. Her work with the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center has been exemplary and she has rightfully been honored for it. She and Bob are like the Energizer Bunnies — they just keep on giving.

I’ve known Jane for a long, long time. She had more than one career before her present one. She was a well-known casting director in New York. Many of the actors who became “somebodys” later on appeared in the commercials she casted. She and a partner, Bill Perry, wrote successful musicals and television productions. She was an early proponent of public television and left an indelible print on the maturation of that product.

But it was her conviction that women were actually hurting themselves with the makeup they wore that convinced her to create products that would actually help. They contain the basic minerals that the skin needs. In doing so, she pioneered a new industry and many others have unashamedly imitated her products.

She has traveled the world and set up sales teams on just about every continent. She was a recipient of an award from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and one who actually made that program look good by her phenomenal success.

When you get a chance to tour the new headquarters your mouth will fall open. Everything in the building, of course, is up to code. Employees have a beautiful place to prepare and eat their food. They have a comfortable place to relax outside. A spacious elevator has been installed outside the building making it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The exterior of the building is breathtaking.

Jane is the kind of person who has always been there for the people upon whom she relied as she was developing her business. Her treatment of her former partner, Bill Perry, is exemplary but her respect and love for her own mother, now 101 years old is really something to behold.

Her mother wants to be part of the operation and every day she comes to work and helps assemble Iredale products. It’s a great lesson for any of us who want to be valued as we grow older. Jane and Bob live in a beautiful home, not in one of the rural communities but right in downtown Great Barrington where all of her work is done. Plus, Jane’s mother’s home is right there, too, and Jane and Bob can keep an eye out.

All I can say is that we are very lucky to have Jane Iredale looking out for us, too.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 12/20/14

In the closing days of session, something might give

December 17, 2014
Look, legislators want a pay raise. They haven’t had one in a long time. If everything were on the up and up, they might even deserve one. We all deserve a pay raise. We professors get them, the employees of the public radio stations I run get them. But people hate the idea that our legislators can vote themselves a raise so we put certain protections in place. We have established a legal/constitutional fiction that legislators cannot raise their own pay in the current session. Therefore, in the waning days of every session there is a huge push — not to raise their own pay but that of the next legislature. It’s utter nonsense since gerrymander-inspired incumbency is largely complete.

Many of these folks really do live on what they earn as legislators but many do not. Their legislative offices allow them to make oodles of money on the outside. Why not bring your legal or insurance or consultant business to a legislator who has that extra clout? Like chicken soup, it couldn’t hurt. Yes, there are some limitations but they leak like a sieve.

Enter the governor into this mix. Since he has to sign the bill that would authorize the pay raise, it’s a perfect opportunity for him to trade legislators for something political that he really wants. In the case of former governor and now presidential candidate George Pataki, the trade was easy. Pataki wanted charter schools and the legislators wanted a raise. The teachers unions did not want charters and the Assembly Democrats are usually aligned with them. Ordinarily, that would be enough to stop something cold, but the legislators were so anxious to get the pay raise that their politics fell aside and they took the deal.

This time, Governor Cuomo is really out for blood. It’s pretty simple to understand. Cuomo probably won’t run for a third term. If he is to run for president, he must meet his pledge to bring real ethical reform to Albany. So, he offers to cut a deal. They agree to real limits on outside income with absolute disclosure, he gives the green light on the pay raise. This is where things get interesting. Many of these legislators and legislative leaders make so much money on the outside that they will certainly not agree to curb their own incomes. This is particularly true for some of the top legislative leaders like Speaker Sheldon Silver and his counterpart in the Republican Senate, Dean Skelos. This, of course, will cause some in the Assembly who don’t cash in the same way, to resent the leaders’ failure to cut a deal.

For his part, Cuomo risks losing some cooperation in his legislative efforts but his voters will support him in these negotiations. Because Cuomo’s past efforts on legislative reform, including his disastrous Moreland Act Commission and his second-rate efforts at redistricting reform, have failed so miserably, he has to go for the real thing this time and the legislative leaders simply won’t have it.

If you were raking in millions of dollars, would you give it up? Nope, we do business in New York the old fashioned way and every time we get close to really cleaning things up, key legislators, often representing the wishes of their troops, get their backs up. Cuomo is a very shrewd man. He has nothing to lose. He holds the keys to the kingdom. Unlike some of his previous efforts at reform, this strikes at the heart of the matter. If he got his way he would have made a real difference in Albany the way governors Franklin Roosevelt and his cousin Teddy did. In the end, however, the deal was just too expensive for the legislature and they weren’t all that happy about it. But you know, in the closing days of this session, something might give.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 12/15/14

Warren appealing to Dems, but Clinton a better bet

December 17, 2014

I get it. Liberals are afraid of a Hillary Clinton presidency. The Clintons are very smart. They know what it takes to win elections in this country. It is important to remember why Bill Clinton won — not once but twice — and retired as one of the most popular presidents in history. This, after being impeached (Yes, he was. The House impeaches and the Senate tries) and after the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Bill was incredibly popular because he read the electorate correctly. This is a fairly conservative country for all the reasons I have laid out in the past. To paraphrase Kenny Rogers, “You got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.” Clinton knew that people like fiscal conservatives while at the same time he, for the most part, adhered to a populist social philosophy. It worked like a charm.

So who would I rather see in the presidency, Elizabeth Warren or Hillary Clinton? I’ll bet you can figure that out. I have immense admiration for Warren but I completely understand why she keeps telling everyone in no uncertain terms that she is not running. My operating assumption is that she knows she could give Hillary a run for her money. Primaries are won by activist Democrats and for the same reasons as Hillary lost to Obama, Warren might be able to pull off a win. My guess, however, is that Warren knows that she can’t win. Because Hillary takes positions like her pro-fracking stance (ugh) and she is tough on foreign policy, she cuts into the independent and Republican vote. To put it differently, Warren could win a primary but she couldn’t win the presidency.

This leaves us asking whether voters would rather have a right wing Republican in the White House or a moderate Hilary Clinton. Clinton would certainly have a good chance of winning so big that she could conceivably bring Democratic majorities to both houses of Congress. Of course, it is possible that the MoveOn.org folks who are pushing the Warren candidacy are doing so in order to fire a warning shot over Hillary’s head.

Finally, it would be great to have a woman president. She’s tough, for sure, but that’s what this country seems to want.

The newly released Senate report makes it clear that this country does use torture. It also makes a compelling case that torture does not work. My take is that the Bushes wanted the world to know that if anyone messed with this country, they would be punished, albeit without trial. Many of us are appalled by these findings. We’ve done it before. We put Japanese citizens in camps. We slaughtered the Native Americans. We have suspended Habeas Corpus. Apparently, the FBI wouldn’t go along. We hear that then Secretary of State Colin Powell was not even told because he would have “blown his top.” Of course, Dick Cheney called the people who did this awful stuff “patriots.”

The Senate Democrats released the report before the Republicans took over. I think that they were very courageous to do so. This country is really at a crossroads. Are we going to operate under the rule of law or are have we come to a place where we ignore the rights of foreign nationals and, inevitably, of our own citizens?

Senator John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, is on the correct side of this one. He knows that if we employ torture, there will be a sign on the American door that our enemies can do the same thing. Before you write back that they’ll do it anyway, I would caution that we want the world on our side, not theirs.

It’s just wrong to torture.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle 12/14/14

What does Pataki have to lose?

December 9, 2014
When George Pataki ran for governor in New York and won, we were all astounded. His win was largely due to kingmaker Alfonse D’Amato, who planned and executed the victory. Also, it was 1994, a Republican year much like the one we have just experienced, and New Yorkers were in a bad mood. So Pataki beat Mario Cuomo and because the Democrats didn’t know what to do to win back the governor’s mansion, he was re-elected twice. Like so many other governors of New York, Pataki harbored thoughts of the presidency. I remember the whole thing as if it were yesterday. The arrogance of his administration was astounding. But then, it’s a heady position and it has eaten up some very good men who suffered from the same arrogance that consumed Pataki then. It appears things haven’t changed and, incredibly, he is still reaching for the nation’s top job. Yes, you heard me right; the guy wants to be president.

Sticks and stones won’t hurt him. He won’t stop. Some will say he’s nuts but it’s not easy to tell a man who was elected governor three times against overwhelming odds that he couldn’t be president. It just isn’t going to happen. But all of a sudden, Pataki is out on the political hustings trying to recreate his miracle win in 1994.

How can a moderate Republican who is on the progressive side of social issues like women’s reproductive rights win in a mean-spirited Republican primary? Answer: he can’t. But there he is, making the required visits to the early political battleground states. His toe is in the water and in a state like New York, which is short on comic relief these days, the Pataki for President Initiative is providing more than a few yucks. So why is he doing it?

There is a thing called the fickle finger of fame. Some people get “Peter Principled” to their level of natural incompetence. Once that fickle finger touches you, there is that eternal nagging question, “Could I have been a contender?” Maybe lightning will strike twice. Maybe I can recreate the magic that brought me to the top once before. Maybe the unseemly group of Republican contenders will cancel each other out. Maybe I’ll be the last man standing. No one gives him any chance, but no expert, including me, thought he had a shot when he ran for governor. Some called him a nebbish, some called him a “nobody,” and the most insulting of all, a classic “who-he?”

Because it is so unlikely that he can win the presidency, maybe he is looking for something else. Some think that he might like to be vice president, one heartbeat away from the presidency. In that scenario, a radical right candidate picks a moderate George Pataki as his running mate to reassure the Republican bankers and all the voters who think that the radical right is just too nutsy. New Yorker George Pataki just might bring some political balance to the ticket. But George hasn’t been a person of significance for a long time. He’s been basically forgotten. When the world changed on September 11, the present governor, Andrew Cuomo, in his most famous utterance to date, said that Pataki was just there to hold Rudolph Giuliani’s coat. People snickered.

Maybe Pataki wants more public recognition. People have suggested that he wants a permanent spot on Fox as a commentator. Perhaps the man just wants back in the game and is simply rolling the dice. I’m sure that his former team is encouraging him and helping. What do they have to lose? George Pataki is not going to be president but he must be having fun and he is assuring that we will, too.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 12/8/14

Feckless Democrats must learn to stand up to bullies

December 8, 2014

Deval Patrick made news this weekend when he said on television that the Democratic Party would win elections if they only had more backbone. He is spot on.

The last time around, the flaccid Democrats allowed the Republicans to grab the narrative. They said “Obamacare” so many times and with such scorn that people began to believe that this program, which has done so much for so many Americans, was the bogeyman. It’s simple Propaganda 101. You say it often enough and people begin to believe it, whether it’s true or not.

Look, we have a relatively healthy economy, we are paying down the national debt and we are out of the banking crisis that the Republicans got us into. People are back to work. But the feckless Democrats who were running for office didn’t want Obama anywhere near their elections. As a result, they lost, with the exception of the governor of Connecticut who invited the President in and won. The losers had no counter-message and they were afraid to yell at the top of their lungs, “Look at all the good things this President has done.” Instead, they were literally bullied. It was disgusting.

Of course, there were other factors. It was an off-year election and the Democrats who come out in a presidential election didn’t vote. In the end, people don’t want to elect political cowards. The Democrats should have learned a lesson. They don’t seem to get it and the Republicans who won this round are displaying a political arrogance seldom seen. They are, in a few words, bad winners. But bad winners often get what they deserve. Obama won in two elections and now they are acting like that never happened.

They are defying the president on a reasonable immigration plan. We all have friends and neighbors who are living in fear of their lives and those of their children. We have created a segregated society that is divided between those who are legal and those who are not. The people in the second category can be exploited and that is the new American slavery.

But these folks in Congress who don’t want to find a solution to the immigration problem are alienating all the voting citizens of Hispanic descent in this country. Sooner or later, they will have to pay the political piper. All the gerrymandering in the world won’t save them from this purposeful shaming of an entire community.

Look, this is a very conservative country. I understand it. The middle class has a choice. They can make common cause with those who have less than they do or they can join electoral forces with the One Percenters who own most of the country and who seem unwilling to share. We call these people “aspirationals.” They think that if they play their cards right, they too will make it to the One Percent. They also think they’ll win the lottery. They resent the people below them on the economic ladder receiving anything, including food stamps and some limited welfare benefits.

So how do the Democrats grab the narrative back from the Republicans who have been so successful in grabbing the middle class voters, particularly the middle class voters who are the most dependent on government to provide housing and schools and universities? In effect, The Democrats have allowed the Republicans to divide and conquer. They have been scared to point out that in reality, the interests of the middle class — particularly the lower middle class — are better served by a political alignment with those who have less than they do rather than with the few who have it all and won’t give it up. They have been voting against their own best interests.

In two years, everyone will turn out to vote and that’s when the bullies will be beaten back. Or, as Pete sang, “When will they ever learn?”

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 12/8/14

People need to know their governor is looking out for them

December 2, 2014

When politicians take money for their campaign coffers, they owe something back. That’s because there is honor among, well, politicians and lobbyists. If you see tons of money going to politicians from the real estate industry, you’d be foolish not to think that the people who own hotels and other big buildings want something back for their bucks. As Festus Haggen used to say on Gunsmoke, “Don’t you see?”

Now everyone is waiting to see whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will allow hydrofracking in New York state. Cuomo is brilliant at both political strategy and fund raising (about $45 million for the last campaign) but he is caught up in a huge pincer movement between those who hate the idea of potentially polluting our water and further despoiling our air and those who want to make a buck from fracking. My hero, legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, put it to Cuomo this way: “Your father was perhaps the best governor New York state ever had and if you take the money that they want to give you for going along with fracking and injuring people for generations to come, you will go down as perhaps the worst.” Those were pretty powerful words and I suspect they left Cuomo reeling.

Hydrofracking puts Cuomo between a rock and a hard place. He doesn’t know what to do. As a result of this predicament, the governor’s top people were almost certainly told to stall. So first, the commissioner in charge of environmental conservation studied the problem to death and then transferred the ball to the health commissioner who eventually resigned and went elsewhere. It’s tough to be a medical professional of first rank and have to carry a governor’s political water.

Many people speculated that once Cuomo got through the election he would call for a modified fracking plan for New York whereby localities that voted to allow fracking would be allowed to “Drill baby drill” under strict supervision. They suspected that the Solomon-like Cuomo would attempt to cut the baby in half. Once the door was open, however, the genie would be out of the bottle and fracking would become a reality in the Empire State. But not so fast — there are some intervening political realities.

Cuomo has lost many voters on the left wing of the Democratic Party. Having styled himself as a social progressive and a pro-business fiscal conservative, the governor is getting beaten up by the more progressive members of his party. Fracking is no exception. A recent Pew poll showed that fracking is getting more and more unpopular among Democrats. So now the rock and the hard place are even closer together. After all, Cuomo got a million fewer votes in the last election than he got the time before. Many of those lost votes were those of angry Democrats who just stayed home. Since Cuomo is much smarter than I am, he’s got to understand that by accepting the money and not taking Pete Seeger’s advice against advancing fracking, he will lose even more of his natural voters.

The truth is that while there seems to be a good deal of evidence that fracking is dangerous, it is even more significant that we simply don’t know exactly what the process will do to our water supply. Why in the world would we take a chance on risking our water, the most important thing on earth when it comes to human survival? People simply have to know that their governor is looking out for them and not for money to run for political office. While he clearly doesn’t want or need my advice, Governor Cuomo really should close the door on fracking. That’s when the people will know that he cares about them. Sometimes doing the right thing is more important than playing the political game.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 12/2/14


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