Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

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

Bracing for that most terrifying experience — vacation

July 13, 2015

y the time you read this, the entire Chartock group will be back from vacation in Italy.

That is, we hope we’re back. I am the kind of person who concentrates on all the things that could possibly go wrong. You know exactly what I mean. Airplanes always make me nervous despite the fact that it is far more dangerous to drive a car.

There is that moment of recognition when the middle seat is occupied by someone of great girth who insists that both armrests belong to him. How about the mother whose kid screams and screams? Will she get up and walk around with the child? Noooo. Then there is the talker who exceeds good taste by nonstop chatter. Of course, that’s just the beginning.

What about the anxiety of getting to the airport on time or making connections or getting through security? How about the religious zealot who causes bedlam because his or her religion doesn’t permit sitting near someone of the opposite sex and who won’t let the plane go until someone gives up their seat to make the guy happy?

Obviously you can’t take the dog with you so you worry about the dog. Fortunately, we have a very formidable house/dog sitter to take care of things, but if you’re neurotic, that doesn’t really help you relax.

There’s the garden that you have slaved over day and night. I am at war with the weeds and have been called out by the lovely Roselle for insisting that not one weed should be allowed to live. The anxious traveler will imagine that by the time he returns, the evil ferns and other vegetation will have taken over the place where the beautiful garden once stood.

And if the weeds don’t do it, the day that you leave for vacation there is guaranteed to be a once in a thousand years drought that will kill all the plants that have broken your bank account at (the) Wards.

I haven’t even mentioned the ISIS crazies and their penchant for going to tourist frequented areas. I spend a lot of time imagining what I might do if I saw a guy with a submachine gun or an assault rifle coming at my family. I’d have to figure out a way to kill them.

Then there is the weight thing. I must stay thin otherwise my hiatal hernia will act up and force acid into my esophagus. That could result in death. Italy is one big carbohydrate heaven. The rest of the family will be eating spaghetti and meat sauces. For me that’s akin to committing suicide. It’s bad enough having to eat salad alone but it is really unfair to have to do it while the others are stuffing their faces with the good stuff. I have a very good friend who does not have a hiatal hernia. He claims that he has to eat a lot before he goes so that his stomach will be expanded enough to hold more food otherwise he claims that he night get sick from a distended stomach.

Did I leave the stove on? Did I bring everything I could possibly need? How about the meds? What about a bathing suit that you will never need? What if your wife says that she has to get just one more thing around the corner and leaves you sitting there for THREE hours? Obviously that would never happen. What about work? Will it continue without me? If it does is that a good thing?

I haven’t even left yet and as always, I am scared to death. Past experiences prove that once I get there and unwind, I have a wonderful time and resolve to do it more often. How soon we forget. Vacations can be terrifying.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 7/11/15

The rent is too damned high

June 30, 2015

Let there be no mistake — even if it’s not against the law, a lot of what the New York State Legislature does is morally corrupt. Almost every case we see can be examined through the lens of “who gave what to get what.” To some degree, the Legislature has always been a house of ill repute. You pay, you get, and if you don’t pay, you are far less likely to get.

Let’s examine the matter of rent stabilization and rent control in New York City and a few other smaller places. This is a huge issue for a lot of New Yorkers. I have two college professor friends who chose to retire rather than face losing their rent stabilized apartment because they were making too much money. Both were great at their jobs but their apartment came first.

Landlords make a lot of money — in some cases, they make out like bandits.

For years, the landlords have been giving big to political campaigns. They have given a great deal to Governor Cuomo’s political efforts. They have also given to members of both houses of the Legislature, with a tremendous extra effort to the Senate Republicans. It’s no secret that the Republicans in the New York State Senate are much closer to those well-heeled interests than to the Democrats in the Assembly who, trust me, have their own flaws. Thus, it was not unexpected to see the Senate Republicans pitching in to help the landlords “decontrol” many of the apartments that are rented in New York. Year after year, they have been making it tougher and tougher to help those whose apartments fall under the rent regulations. This time around, when the rent stabilization/control law was up for renewal, a battle royal ensued. The Senate Republicans wanted new provisions to help the landlords decontrol some of the rent-controlled apartments, while the Assembly Democrats, many from the New York City region, wanted more protections for renters put into the law.

Enter Governor Cuomo who has been the beneficiary of the landlord/real estate dollars. Here was Cuomo at his strategic best. He let it be known to those in favor of enhanced protection for the renters that he was trying to help. But as the old saying goes, “It’s not what they say but what they do.” No matter what he said that he did to help tenants, in the end what they got was a four-year extension of the rent law. The Assembly Democrats simply refused to go along with any more help for the landlords, no matter how much they or their surrogates suggested that the people who rented apartments were just greedy and didn’t want to pay market value. The law exists because there are practically no vacant apartments in New York and the sky is the limit on what property owners can charge. Because of the secrecy of what goes on among the famous “three men in the room,” we’ll never really know what happened. As that guy on the old TV ad used to say, “You get what you pay for.”

This issue is at the top of most New York renters’ list of why they might choose to vote for or against a politician. It is no surprise that the Democrats in the Assembly were so insistent that what protections there were in the law would continue. As many of the upstate legislators learned when Cuomo got them to vote for enhanced gun measures in his heroic SAFE Act, you just can’t vote for something that will come back and bite you in the posterior.

In four years, the Republicans will have lost their control of the Senate. That’s because there will be a presidential election and many of the Republican senators will be swept from office. Once the Democrats have control of both houses, it is assured that the renters in New York will get enhanced protections. Mark my words.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/29/15

Responding to the latest hot headlines

June 29, 2015

Charlie Baker is one smart dude. He is a Republican in the tradition of Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, Mitt Romney and all those other Republicans who win in Blue State Massachusetts. They win because they are reasonable and act in a rational and non-combative manner. I also suspect that part of the reason they win is because their Democratic opponents are not to the liking of the electorate. Take the governor’s newest initiative to deal with the number of drug overdoses in the state. He held a press conference with the Democratic attorney general — see what I mean about smart? — and spoke about the scourge of opiate addiction.

I really don’t see how anyone in their right mind could not recognize how many people in the state are dying from the use of opiates, including the increased use heroin and prescription pain killers. The governor wants to move the conversation about drug addiction; rather than treating it as a criminal issue, he wants us to recognize that this is a public health issue and should be treated as such.

My “go-to” personal heroine on the issue is addiction specialist Dr. Jennifer Michaels of the Brien Center. She believes that one of the biggest problems in the rehabilitation process is our insistence on attaching criminal responsibility to those who are suffering from addiction issues. What we need instead, she says, is to treat those who have become addicted as people in need of medical treatment like any other ill person.

We have gone back and forth between the various modalities in this country. In neighboring New York, then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller tried to medically treat everyone and was so frustrated by the lack of results that he instituted the punitive Rockefeller Drug Laws, with disastrous results. For his part, Baker is to be commended for going the medical route. We all know someone whose parents have paid great amounts of money to fund rehab and treatment for a child or relative who has become addicted. Why shouldn’t everyone be able to get such treatment? Addiction is a terrible disease. No, there really are no easy answers but some solutions do seem more humane than others.

Look, make no mistake about it — the Confederate flag, which has been flying over the South Carolina capitol, is a symbol of racism. While she once defended its presence, after the killing of all those wonderful people in a Charleston church, Gov. Haley came to her senses. She wasn’t alone in modifying her former irrational and cowardly position. Some of the most notorious legislators in the white political establishment finally did the same thing as the South Carolina governor, who came late to the party.

There is a lot more than a flag at play here. There is the whole idea of allowing mentally ill people to have access to guns that is equally vexing. It really isn’t one or the other, flag or guns. We may have made some limited progress on the flag-symbol issue but this country is truly gun addicted. Until we do something about that, these unconscionable and tragic shootings will continue to happen.

So this veterinarian allegedly implants the dope in the dogs and smuggles it into other countries. If true, life imprisonment would be too short a sentence.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 6/29/15