Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Road to heroin addiction has numerous on-ramps

March 16, 2015

So what is it that makes people get into heroin? Is it just desperation? Is it just another bad decision coming from a life of terror or boredom? Is it possible that there is a gene that predisposes certain individuals to various addictions?

Certainly, most of us understand that people who get hooked are facing very difficult lives. Some can kick the habit but many others can’t so they steal, lie and cheat to keep the endless cycle of addiction going.

Some people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on therapy. Many others, however, have fallen for the lure of this killer drug and it is hard to explain why we are facing such an epidemic. We can of course, follow a standard therapeutic model otherwise known as a “one off.”

It is tempting to think of this as an individual choice and it certainly is that. On the other hand, it is an epidemic, a sociological and political phenomenon that has eaten away at the fabric of our society, killing children and grandchildren.

It is a theoretical possibility that as the distance between the haves and the have-nots grows greater, people will give up on their own potential and fall down the addiction hole from which there is no emerging. Of course, there are some very well-heeled individuals with good jobs, good possibilities and everything to look forward to who have the monkey on their backs.

Things got bad in my hometown. It took a very courageous district attorney, David Capeless, to do the right thing and close down the drug trade in what the Smithsonian called the “best small town in America.”

You have to be eternally vigilant, otherwise the scourge will just reappear. In some towns and villages the money that is to be made from heroin involves prosecutors and police who see easy pickings. That’s why confiscated drugs need to be monitored and accounted for lest they be sold, leading to the age-old question, “Why would we pay law enforcement personnel to be crooks?”

The real question will continue to be why people get into heroin in the first place. There are a thousand excuses that one can use to blame their descent into drug hell.

I just read a book by a guy who had back problems and he said that he took the drug in order to alleviate the pain.

I’ve had to live with a lot of back pain and the thought of putting any of that stuff into me is so horrible and off putting that I would never go there.

But indeed, the path to addiction often begins with an injury, for which a doctor prescribes opioids, such as oxycodone or percoset, to control pain. The problem is, the patient often becomes dependent on the high produced by those powerful meds, and turns to the streets once the prescription runs out.

And on the streets, where opioids have become expensive and hard to come by, heroin becomes an attractive alternative.

We have spent enormous amounts of time and resources to treat users and slow the scourge of drug addiction. Some of the potential answers include the dispensing of Methadone and other substitute drugs.

What goes around comes around. We’ve seen all of this before. But that does not get to the root problem or answer the question as to why people would risk destroying their lives with drug addiction.

We need to keep closing down drug operations but that hardly gets to the base of the problem, either. Ironically, the criminal justice problem is served by drug dealers who drop the dime on their competitors.

I could offer the solution that we spent more time and money on preventative programs and therapists like the great people at the Brien Center with particular thanks to Dr. Jennifer Michaels who is one hell of an amazing doctor. No matter what, we’d better get busy.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 3/14/15

Whose girlfriend?

March 10, 2015

Sometimes when you watch Albany politics, things get so nutty that you just have to laugh. This is exactly the case as the Legislature and the governor duke it out over ethical behavior. The legislators seem to be saying that if the governor is going to hold them accountable regarding ethics, they will hold him equally accountable. It goes something like this: “If you want to know how much money we legislators are making on the outside, we want to know how much you are making.” While the governor’s people may argue that this is a case of apples and oranges, it most certainly is not. Fair is fair.

Any student of state government surely knows that the governmental powers of New York’s chief executive are high on the list in this country. So assuming that people who want something from government may try to legally — or even illegally — bribe the people who hold the power, it stands to reason that the governor’s clout is greater than that of any single legislator. Am I right? Of course I’m right. If the governor gets a huge payout from a publishing company owned by a rich and powerful man and almost no one buys the book, shouldn’t that raise eyebrows? Remember when Joe Bruno got into trouble for selling a near worthless nag to a guy who admitted he paid too much for the horse in order to gain favor with Bruno?

The governor rightfully insists that that legislators should disclose exactly how much money they are making on the outside. Of course we are entitled to that information. I’ve been yelling about this for years. None of this silliness of “between a hundred and several hundred thousand dollars.” Tell us to the penny and tell us what you did for the money. But the governor is a smart man and he knows that there are several ways to bribe a legislator. Hey, some of them are even legal. You can, for example, hire the legislator as a lawyer or a consultant or buy insurance from him or — and this is where the funnies begin — you can do the same thing with his significant other. So the governor wants them to disclose money earned by their girlfriends, husbands, wives, or partners. Of course, there are sons and daughters and sisters-in-law who you can funnel the money to. Obviously, when the governor starts talking about their girlfriends, he makes them very, very nervous. I actually don’t blame them for being nervous. This is entirely new territory.

But wait a minute. Doesn’t the governor have a girlfriend? As Casey Stengel once instructed us, “You can look it up!” I personally believe that Andrew Cuomo deserves a medal for living with a woman who is not his wife, but the married legislators are worried about mentions of girlfriends and such. That’s what’s got everyone so nervous. Legislators are now insisting that Andrew’s girlfriend, Sandra Lee, should have to disclose her income to the penny, too. After all, someone may be trying to get to Cuomo through her. Of course, no legislator wants to be the one out-front on this lest they be accused of sin. Nevertheless, they are certainly correct that if they have to disclose what their girlfriends are making, the governor should, too. Am I right? Of course I’m right.

My bet is that this is not going to go anywhere. When the inevitable deal gets made, all the talk about wives and girlfriends will disappear from top level negotiations. Everyone has too much to lose if these skeletons come out of the closet. But you have got to admit, it is funny!
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/9/15

Netanyahu must do more than deliver a good speech

March 9, 2015

I was raised in a household that was profoundly affected by the Holocaust. The establishment of the state of Israel was a matter of enormous pride and hope to my family.

The scourge of anti-Semitism around the world, both back then in 1948 and today is not arguable except by a few fools and scoundrels who are what we call deniers. That is why we are so grateful to Steven Spielberg and his Shoah Foundation project, which documents the evil that is still among the very worst ever committed.

Just a few days ago, Benjamin Netanyahu offered a stirring speech to the U.S. Congress. The Israeli Prime Minister invoked every known skill in speech making. Among the most memorable moments of the speech was the introduction of author and survivor Eli Wiesel, who has done so much to remind the world of the terror of the Nazi regime.

He was met by tumultuous applause from the assembled Members of Congress. One doesn’t have to look farther than to the various Middle Eastern regimes that will settle for nothing less than the total obliteration of Israel. That, of course, is why Wiesel was there — to give reinforcement to Netanyahu’s words, “Never again!”

It just remains to look behind the speech at the politics of the situation. Clearly, Speaker of the House John Boehner had politics on his mind. I personally think he violated the United States Constitution, which gives the president the role as chief foreign policy official in this country.

In what could only be declared a disgusting and purposeful offense, Boehner didn’t even inform the president that he had issued the invitation. Democrats were put into an intolerable situation. The president ignored the speech. The vice president couldn’t make it. House Minority Leader Pelosi was unhappy with her members’ affirmative behavior during the speech.

It was at least a short-term victory for the Republican leader, but the speech by Netanyahu raises some disturbing questions. His central premise was that you couldn’t trust the Iranians; they wouldn’t keep their word and no assurances would change that.

Of course, we would remind everyone of the fact that the last thing the United States wanted was a true democracy in Iran. We literally installed the Shah when the Iranians had a democratically elected leader. The rise of the present system of Ayatollahs can be attributed to the rage that came directly from the Shah’s regime.

The impositions of worldwide sanctions have taken their toll. It is clear to me, at least, that the people of Iran have had enough. They elected a president who offered the people hope of getting out of the present intolerable situation.

The Iranian people have minds. They’re smart. Netanyahu maintains that once the deal that is being negotiated expires, the Iranians will build all the bombs they want.

It is clear to me that once the sanctions are lifted, a lesson will have been learned. The Iranians will not want to return to a time of severe deprivation. If anything, this speech has strengthened President Obama’s hand in the current negotiations. They know that he has a hostile political situation and if they want to lift the sanctions, they will have to make a politically acceptable deal.

Netanyahu, for his part, has clearly alienated this president. He says that he wants peace with the Palestinians yet he keeps building settlements. He has done little to make this critical peace possible.

Of course, we all know that there are militants who don’t want to see Israel survive but it is possible to make a peace in which Arab countries will be held responsible for keeping the peace. What other choice do we have?

It was a good speech but Netanyahu needs to move forward or the Israeli voters will have to make the change that is clearly needed now.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 3//7/15

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


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