Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Hillary needs to step up — for New York’s sake

August 31, 2015

Is Hillary dropping the ball?

New York used to be a state where presidents were born and made. Since FDR made it to the top, the Empire State has been having a dry spell. For years now, it looked like Hillary Clinton would be a sure thing on her ride to the Oval Office.

Assuming that she won, not only would a New Yorker be President, New York would have produced the first woman chief executive. That would have been a dream come true for New York, which would be bathed in special favors.

All the polls had Hillary, one tough bird, clobbering all comers. It turns out, however, that Clinton has several real vulnerabilities. The first is that many potential voters are Clintoned out. They don’t like being taken for granted and they don’t like the usual Clinton coziness with the same old, same old group of power people who have enough money to try to buy elections.

Even more disturbing for Camp Clinton is the fact that many people just don’t like her. I’ve interviewed her and when you speak with her one on one you have to enjoy yourself. I certainly did. She is very smart.

The problem for Hillary is that she has been the frontrunner from the very beginning. But people like underdogs and Hillary has no current underdog in her. That has not always been true. I’ll never forget her fighting for her husband when he was ensnared by the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal.

She described his political enemies as a vast right wing conspiracy. She was right, of course. People liked that. But now what they see is a take-no-prisoners machine. They contrast this tough lady with the poignant story of Joe Biden being told by his dying son, Bo, to fulfill his dream and run for President.

This is just the kind of thing that happened to her in 2008 when an obscure African-American U.S. senator, cheered on by the Kennedy clan, robbed her of the nomination. People projected their hopes and dreams onto Barack Obama and like an aging ball player, Hillary dropped the ball. She just didn’t know how to play it.

Now Bernie Sanders has galvanized the left, filling stadiums and talking truth to power. That is so exciting. Come to think of it, the Brooklyn to Vermont transplant is more of a New Yorker than Hillary Clinton is.

But what about that first woman thing? I mean, Barack was electrifying as the first African-American to come from behind and there certainly are a lot of women who want to see this symbolic breaking through the glass ceiling, but it just hasn’t caught fire.

In order to win, Hillary has to get angry and take some political risks the way she did when she fought for the flawed Bill. People couldn’t get enough of that.

Biden is coming on fast now. Obama seems to be encouraging his loyal vice president to go for it. Do you remember that time when Bill came to the White House and embarrassed the president by stealing the show at a press conference? Could it be that Obama never forgot that?

All of a sudden, we are reading about how Biden and his president love each other. Maybe, like the aging Kennedy going for Obama against Hillary, this is now get even Obama time.

There’s still a long way to go. Hillary has to connect with her people. We have to become invested in her. She hasn’t yet captured our hearts and souls. She’s the ice queen political operator.

You can love Joe Biden. You can love Obama. Hillary is just not loveable. It’s hers to lose and right now, she’s doing that. New Yorkers FDR and TR must be unhappy wherever they are.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 8/29/15


Great Barrington tax shift a short-sighted mistake

August 24, 2015

Michael Wise, who has given so much of his time and energy to Great Barrington, has come up with a disastrous plan that threatens to tear the town asunder.

Chairman of the Finance Committee, Wise wants to soak the rich by raising their real estate taxes while lowering the taxes of people whose houses are worth less than $400,000.

This drastic plan really ought to be voted on by the town at a town meeting or offered as a ballot proposition, but as the situation stands, it can be voted on by the five selectmen. Since one of the selectmen adopted the Wise Plan when he ran for office, there is a good chance that it will pass.

Karen Allen, the actress and weaver who has a business in downtown Great Barrington, offers one of the best reasons for opposing the not-so-Wise plan. She knows a slew of older residents who bought their homes long ago for modest prices and then painstakingly paid them off over the years.

Now their houses have appreciated to the point that they are hardly able to pay Great Barrington’s current onerous taxes. Karen reports that as a result, they are now contemplating selling their homes in anticipation of yet higher taxes.

Hey, that just isn’t right. These are our most cherished citizens and they deserve better.

This also is of great concern to the second-home owners who usually pay a great deal of money for their homes and who, as a rule, do not vote in the town.

It is ridiculous to make these people pay huge taxes. They don’t use many of the town services since they are not here most of the time.

Since a good deal of our economy is based on the good will of these people, it makes no sense to alienate them and turn them into justifiably angry people who could just as easily move to Alford.

Think about what this will do to the town. Let’s remember that second-home owners already pay a “personal property tax” on their possessions which is just another regressive, sneaky tax that Massachusetts imposes on people to grab their money.

I recently spoke with a person with generally progressive views who suggested that we tax second-home owners as highly as possible. His anger was almost palpable. This attitude is about as short-sighted as possible.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! Second-home owners keep our town businesses going. They support our electricians and plumbers and the people who mow the lawn. I am sure that these folks are going to turn out en masse to protest this mistaken move.

My sources on the Board of Selectmen are telling me that this is not going to happen this year. My conversations with some members of the board suggest that they have little appetite for this fight, nor do the members of the Finance Committee.

I would hate to think that this decision will be based on how much a political office holder’s home is worth, but all too often, that’s the way things get done. Needless to say, our town fathers and mothers would like to get this off the agenda and are postponing that time when they will have to face the music.

Michael Wise lost an election for selectman because many of us saw him as elitist. This new plan of his may well be an attempt to square himself with the people who voted against him. I certainly hope that this isn’t the case.

Many people are devoted to Wise because of his unstinting work for the town but even hard working people make mistakes. There are times when we make bad decisions and once they are made, things can go downhill fast. To quote Nancy Reagan, “Just say no.”

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 8/21/15

Chuck bites the bullet

August 18, 2015

So Chuck Schumer has come out against the Iran agreement being pushed by President Obama. Let’s talk about it, but before we do, let me tell you where I stand, at least in shorthand. I am Jewish. I tend to vote Democratic, but not always. I am for the Iran deal despite all its potential downfalls. I also know and respect Chuck Schumer and have interviewed him many times. He is blazingly smart, funny and nice. He is also a very important player in the Senate, the Congress and New York. He is slated to be the next Minority Leader and maybe, just maybe, the next Majority Leader in the Senate. If that goes well he will be one of the most important men in the world. He has to run for the Senate in an upcoming election. There is an old rule in politics: “First you have to get elected.” I can’t tell you how many people have forgotten that rule and faded into oblivion. I was speaking with one of my students from back in the day and he explained Schumer’s decision this way: “He had to do it.”

This is not the first time I have disagreed with one of Schumer’s decisions. The last time was when he decided to vote for the U.S. incursion into Iraq. I was really angry about that. I thought we had been lied to about “weapons of mass destruction” and it turned out I was right. To Schumer’s credit, he told me he had made a decision on Iraq and would love to announce it at an event at The Linda, WAMC’s performance venue in Albany. I know our audience and figured there would be some left of center folks there who would admonish Chuck for his position. And so it was, the day arrived and sure enough there were some people with blood in their eyes. One of them, an aging hippie type with a gray pony tail, was yelling at an intern about the event’s format. When I approached and explained that he could not talk to our student that way, he became very agitated and threw his free cup of scalding coffee on me. When Chuck came into the hall he was heard to say in a very loud voice, “Where’s the peacenik who threw hot coffee on Alan?”

So Chuck has given his reasons for being against the Iran deal. He doesn’t like the Iranian leaders, something I can certainly relate to. He doesn’t trust them and he thinks that in ten years when the deal runs out, they will be even closer to constructing a nuclear bomb than they are now. He also says that once the various economic constraints and sanctions are lifted, they will use their new found monies to do mischief around the world, including funding Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. Finally, he says that the deal posits a 24-day delay on inspections. Hey, either you have inspections or you don’t. Frankly, it would be hard to say that he’s wrong about any of that.

With all that said, I am still for the deal. In ten years, as Mario Cuomo used to say citing a Polish proverb, “a new pope might be born.” We know that the younger Iranians are far less likely to follow the religious fanaticism of the old mullahs. What’s more, the United States has a lot of tricks up their sleeves and a mighty military to dissuade bad behavior. Then too, there are the Israelis and their war-making power. Many people are very angry at Schumer. They say that he is doing it just for the money or because he’s Jewish. While I disagree with him on this one, I do want him to be the Majority Leader and I know him to be a decent guy. I am willing to cut him some slack.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/17/15

‘Likable’ Biden could give Cuomo’s needed leg up

August 10, 2015

The big news is that Vice President Joe Biden is considering a run for the presidency. We are told that his recently passed son, Beau Biden, spoke to him right before he died and pleaded with his father to follow his dream and run for the top job.

Certainly Biden has made no secret of his desire to be president. He has run twice and been forced out both times. He has a reputation for shooting from the hip and saying things that don’t always add up in the logic department.

Nevertheless, he is a sympathetic and decent man who people like. That “likability” factor is in contrast with the increasing numbers of people who the pollsters tell us don’t really like Hillary Clinton.

Right now, Hillary’s only real competition is Bernie Sanders. But while many people worship Bernie, the great middle class — often conservative voters — presents a bit of a problem for the senator from Vermont. So increasingly, Biden looks like someone who could mobilize a lot of people.

Of course, many Democrats already have announced that Hillary is their candidate. People make the point that it is time for this country to elect a woman president. I couldn’t agree more. It is unbelievable that a progressive country like the United States has never had a female chief executive.

Nevertheless, there is this “likability” issue. The Republican machine, believing that Hillary would be the presidential candidate of the Democrats, has been concentrating their propaganda fire on Hillary, in particular her emails and Benghazi.

Along comes Joe Biden who not only lost his son but had an earlier family wiped out in a terrible automobile accident. He’s done a superb job helping the president deal with Congress and is clearly liked by many Americans in a way that Hillary is not.

Biden came to New York and appeared with Andrew Cuomo to announce that the federal government will put a ton of money into the rebuilding of LaGuardia Airport. So far so good. Then Biden, who has a reputation of not thinking through his off the cuff remarks, told the crowd that Andrew Cuomo is the just about best governor in the country. That’s when a lot of eyes opened up.

To understand why, you have to get where Andrew is right now. The governor’s popularity is decreasing. He has a number of career choices coming up. He could run for a third term as governor but if history and the trajectory of his popularity are any indicators, he will not do as well as he has in his past two runs and if ill winds are blowing, he might actually lose to a moderate Republican.

He might go into the Cabinet, but he was previously the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Clinton.

He could aim high at the Secretary of State’s job or the Attorney General job but it is unlikely that he is qualified for either. He certainly has not demonstrated a lot of insight or experience in foreign affairs, nor is he regarded as one of the great legal minds in the country.

So there is one more job that could position him for the presidency, the ultimate job that most Cuomo watchers think he wants

That, of course, is vice president.

Would a President Biden trust Andrew enough to make him his No. 2? Biden is clearly very dedicated to his family and his friends. If Biden thinks that Andrew is a political genius in the way Eisenhower perceived Nixon to be, might he choose him?

Of course, that would hardly be a balanced ticket since both men are Catholic and both are from the East. Biden is a man who thinks with his heart and if he believes in Andrew maybe, just maybe, he might choose Andrew.

That might be just what Andrew needs to get to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

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

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