Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Governor comes out a hero in Buffalo snow storm

November 25, 2014

Let me not mince words. I am five feet five inches tall. I used to be taller but at some point, you start to shrink. Instead of going up, you go down. I’ve always believed that some people die and that some people shrink to the point where they are never seen again. But, I digress. Buffalo, New York recently had a snow storm that left over seven feet of snow in some places. This is a good argument for not living in Buffalo or maybe just not living there in the winter. Now, seven feet of snow is a foot and a half over my head. This is not a laughing matter — a lot of people died in that storm and with the extreme meteorological events that we have been experiencing of late, storms of this magnitude will become increasingly common.

Most people know little or nothing about state politics. They simply don’t care, nor do they believe they have the power to make a difference. They do, however, care about the weather. Just ask the news director at any television or radio station. Alas, like in politics, they know that they don’t have any real ability to change the weather, but unlike in politics, they know that they can prepare to some extent for what’s coming. If it’s going to rain, bring your umbrella. If it’s going to snow, get out the snow blower and the shovel. Put on your snow tires and have an emergency kit in the car. Check in with your cardiologist to make sure that you are up to shoveling snow. I used to have a colleague during my many years doing political commentary on television. Every time it snowed he would yell out, “Snow Tips!”

Enter into this Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo seems obsessed about Buffalo and its environs. It seems that every time we see the guy, he is either in Buffalo, on his way to Buffalo or returning from Buffalo. Somewhere in his political calculations, he has decided that Buffalo is central to his political aspirations and the people of Buffalo know and appreciate his attention. I know a banker in Buffalo who says that the governor has promised to invest a billion dollars of the state’s money in Buffalo and he is meeting his pledge.

Nothing, however, has been so inspiring — and I really mean this — as Cuomo during the recent seven foot Buffalo snowstorm. It wasn’t the World Trade Center, but to Cuomo’s credit, he got to Buffalo. The Thruway was closed and no one was getting in or out, but there he was. He made the national news and all the state news. He made the international news. He was doing exactly what a leader should be doing. He was warning people to stay in their homes. He brought in the National Guard. He found every piece of snow removal equipment that was to be had. He got other states to send their equipment. He looked heroic.

Every politician knows that you don’t want to mess up during a snowstorm. Mayor John V. Lindsay messed up the snow removal in Queens, New York and that was the end of his career.

When I write my book, “How to Win and Stay in Office,” there will be a whole section on weather. In addition to chapters about money spent on pollsters and paying back political contributors, one major part of the book will be dedicated to the hiring of meteorologists and emergency preparedness folks who will examine every potential scenario. There on page 346 will be a full page picture of Governor Cuomo, snow shovel in hand, and a tribute to the way he handled the great Buffalo snow storm. Hey, I’ve never been short on criticism of the guy when he screws up, but this time, he comes out a hero.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 11/25/14

Beloved bagel shop enters new era in good hands

November 24, 2014

It really can’t be 19 years since Marvin and Judy Lieberman took the risk of their lives and opened their Great Barrington bagel emporium. Marvin, whose real last name should really be “Bagelman” in the tradition of the Middle Ages, said that people told him he was crazy to try it.

Maybe it was luck and maybe it was simply the changing demographics of the Berkshires but the place that one writer called, “the Russ and Daughters of the Berkshires” soon became a gathering place for the young, the old, and the gentile as well as the Jewish community.

One Catholic priest told Marvin that he had been responsible for building bridges between the Jewish and Catholic communities. Marvin loved that. The compliments kept coming. It was the late Karl Lipsky, though, who said something so meaningful to Marvin that the Liebermans had it engraved and put on the wall. The plaque reads, “The Great Barrington Bagel Company is the culinary, social, and political center of the South Berkshires.”

Somewhere along the way, Marvin and Judy got lucky. They made a friend in Steve Picheny, who bought the complex that housed the bagelry and then sold it at a very fair price to Marvin and Judy. In the meantime, the operation grew and grew and while Marvin and Judy worked their tails off or, as Marvin describes it, “Seven days a week, 48 hours a day,” they hired a general manager in the person of Bob Climo, who is as friendly to all of us and took a personal interest in our doings just as Marvin and Judy always have. Bob Climo had a background as a very good chef but he also worked as hard as Marvin and Judy and when the other day, Marvin called me to tell me that he and Judy were selling, the good news was that Bob Climo was buying. This really means a seamless transition for the place.

Now Bob has the weight of keeping it going for all of us on his hands. It shouldn’t be that hard. The catering part of the business is growing every day. Christmas, it turns out, is the busiest day of the year for the Bagel Company. I had always thought it had to be the break-fast at Yom Kippur but it turns out that in the true ecumenical spirit of the place, the busiest day is reflective of the larger community.

We all know that Marvin loves to fish. Maybe that’s because of all the Nova Scotia salmon he sold over the years. But when I asked him what he had in mind for his retirement, he said, “Anything I want to do.” He also told me that he and Judy look forward to eating out in all the other restaurants that people were always telling them about.

Let’s not forget about Judy and her contribution. The beautiful woman always had a smile on her face. As she calls out names in the speaker system they finally installed, there is always the same kindness in her voice as there is in her face. Then, too, there is one of the hits of the place that I am told will continue, “Judy’s Egg Salad.” Try as I might, I can’t replicate the stuff. It has amazing restorative powers that leave one filled with all kinds of vigor.

The Lovely Roselle reminds me that the thing she loves the most about the Bagel Company are, duh, the bagels themselves. She loves the fact that the bagels are not the humongous New York City bagels, but smaller, chewy, tasty bagels that naturally enhance the various toppings that come on and in them.

So, you have to hand it to Judy and Marvin. They have done quite a service to the South Berkshire community and now they deserve a rest. Good luck to Bob Climo and to Marvin and Judy, in all that they have before them. Well done.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/22/14

Great leaders do what’s right…not what’s political

November 18, 2014

If you think about it, educating its children is the most important thing a society can do. Education has the potential to equalize the vast differences between the rich and the poor. The life story of our current president shows us that, as does the story of the brilliant governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick. Those who serve on school boards and Parent Teacher Associations are among the greatest heroes in this country. Those who stand in the way of educating our kids are among the worst of us.

Billy Easton is one of the good guys. He is committed to the education of our children. His campaign, the Alliance for Quality Education, is leading the war against those politicians who would climb on the backs of our kids in order to make their electoral way to the top. Obviously, people don’t want to pay higher taxes and ambitious politicians seize onto that fact as many of them try to reduce the amount of money we can spend on our schools.

The fight between hero Easton and Governor Cuomo has become a serious match up. Cuomo received a million fewer votes in this election than he did when he first ran four years ago. My bet is that he didn’t get a lot of votes from dedicated teachers in this state. When he starts to pick on public education the way he has, he courts trouble from a lot parents who demand that their schools do what they were intended to do. They can’t do that unless they have money.

I learned to love music from Mr. Steiker, who taught me how to play the trumpet and to play in an orchestra — the single most important thing I did in my educational career. My heart aches for all those kids who never had that opportunity.

Billy Easton says that Cuomo has been selling out to the right wing community and their leaders who oppose public education. He says that the governor has received huge amounts of campaign money from people who stand behind the charter school movement that educates only a small proportion of our kids. I think that there’s a place for charters but not at the expense of regular public schools.

First, Cuomo put a tax cap on how much communities can raise. That has led to strangulation for some of our most needy schools. Then in a cynical move, Cuomo put up a bond issue that has to be paid off to the tune of millions of dollars over thirty years at which time Cuomo will be long gone. Obviously, if you pay as you go you can avoid the huge interest rate on a billion dollar bond.

In yet another red flag, the governor announced that education is the last great monopoly. This infuriated Easton because there are so many modalities of education out there, from private schools to charter schools. That’s anything but a huge monopoly.

The most important thing to emphasize is that our schools are truly the only hope for creating a state and a country with full equality of opportunity. The people who pull up the gangplank after they’ve gotten theirs are always mouthing off about people doing for themselves and lifting themselves up by their bootstraps. The one thing that will allow that to happen is a decent education.

Andrew Cuomo needs to take stock and to do what is right rather than what is political. Great leaders do that, even in the face of unpopularity. The right wingers are fomenting revolution over the common core curriculum, a perfectly good idea about raising standards which can’t be met unless we support our schools. Instead, these folks should think about their children and their grandchildren. Maybe their kids go to private schools but there are any number of kids out there who desperately need the help.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 11/18/14

Don’t back down in wake of school renovation’s failure

November 17, 2014

Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge are very lucky. Up until now we have had one of the finest school systems in the country. It’s incumbent on us to make sure that we continue that tradition. To put it mildly, the system has done right by our children and we will always be grateful. Some of us are happy to do whatever we can to “pass it on” so that all the kids who come next will have the same excellent education our kids had.

In the recent election, Great Barrington voted down the money for the renovation of the high school. Stockbridge and West Stockbridge did not. We do have a world class high school but it simply can’t keep up with modern technical needs in the digital age, to say nothing about leaking roofs and lack of security at a time when school shootings have become all too common.

We have a wonderful faculty and a superb school board, all backed by the other town officials. Unfortunately, for the same reasons that reactionary forces in our country won the U.S. Senate, the recent vote on the high school renovation went down. The idea is to spread fear and misunderstanding and, in both cases, they won.

There seems to be a certain amount of buyer’s remorse among those who did everything they could to bring down the project. They organized, they spread propaganda and they fairly reeked of negativity. Now they are sending each other post-election messages that talk about the “need for new leadership.” I suspect that these words are not-so-subtle code for changing the people who are on the school board as well as the administrators like Peter Dillon who run the system. They talk about being part of the solution but the more I hear, the more worried I get. Some of these folks have been standing up at town meetings arguing against things the town absolutely needs but that cost money. Now it’s probably the most important of these, the place where our kids learn.

The sentiment among this group seems to be, “We won, now let’s go for it.” There is talk of bringing the group to school board meetings to impose their views on the first-rate citizens who serving on the board, doing a stressful job for no compensation.

There is a tradition in this country for the people of small-town America to band together to protect our schools from those who would do them harm. What we need now is an advocacy group that will commit to protecting the achievements of our high school, considered among the top cadre of high schools in our country.

To maintain that standing, we must remember our obligation and commitment. We have to keep going forward. We can’t let that stop. We need an advocacy group that will show up at school board meetings and make sure that candidates for school board seats are supported.

Look, this is hard. There are heroes and heroines here. Some are despondent after the high school loss but look at the support they are receiving from The Berkshire Eagle editorial page and columnists like Michelle Gillette. When you lose elections, you have options: You can either hide or you can follow Joe Hill’s advice and organize. You’ll win because in the end, you happen to be right.

Leigh Davis, a member of the Great Barrington Finance Committee, has distinguished herself in the fight to renovate the high school. It would be great if she could head the new Great Barrington Committee to Support Our Schools. Now is absolutely the time take back control from those would harm our schools. For some reason they have targeted me but I have bad news for them: I’m not going away. I have to pay back our schools for what they did for my kids.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/15/14

Second term fears

November 11, 2014
So what can we expect during Andrew Cuomo’s second term? First of all, there will certainly be a wholesale changing of the guard. Cuomo is a demanding boss and working for him for four years couldn’t be easy. He is a tough guy and is known to “ping” people at all hours of the day or night. He gets ideas and he wants his people to react to them. There is some evidence that, like many powerful rulers, he doesn’t want the reaction to those ideas to be adversarial. It is tough to have a boss who doesn’t really want to hear from those around him when he has what he considers a good idea. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had what I thought was a good idea, only to hear from my colleagues why the idea stinks.

Cuomo’s finest moment came when he instigated and argued for the New York SAFE Act. That came after the terrible tragedy in Sandy Hook, Connecticut when all those beautiful children were massacred. Cuomo had the courage to do what he thought was right, for which he received terrible criticism, particularly among some upstate gun owners. Using his famous no-holds-barred negotiating techniques, Cuomo spent some of his political capital to get several upstate Republican legislators to go along with his gun control bill. They later suffered the consequences for having done so but Cuomo buttressed his reputation for “getting things done.” Perhaps because of his aggressiveness and his penchant for reacting to events, he ended up with an election victory that was way behind his electoral margin in his first election for governor. Almost certainly, there were people around him who knew what the SAFE Act would cost him but when you are dealing with Andrew and his tough-as-nails, take-no-prisoners Chief of Staff, Larry Schwartz, it is best to be circumspect.

As my Aunt Ruth, a respected political scientist used to say, “Everyone should have a tour in government.” What she meant by that was that to really understand the way in which government works, you should spend some time in the trenches. When you are done, you can use the knowledge you gained to either help you in the classroom, teaching, or, as we now say, “monetizing” the connections you made in government to help you later, be it in a law practice or as a lobbyist.

The problem, of course, is that if you are exhausted after, let’s say, four years, and want to get out from under an autocratic and demanding boss, you have to do so with the guy’s blessing. Anyone hiring someone leaving the second floor where the governor sits will surely check the status of that individual. If he or she gets less than a clean bill of health, what’s the advantage to be gained by making the hire?

Knowing this, who among his staff would have the courage to tell the governor what he doesn’t want to hear? Take the ill-fated Moreland Act Commission. It was a millstone around Cuomo’s neck. Is it really possible that nobody on his staff had the foresight to see what was coming? If you set up a crime fighting commission and then put a stop to its work just when it is getting somewhere, you have got to know that there will be terrible consequences. Someone should have seen that locomotive coming down the track and warned him. Or take the clear decision by the governor to help keep the Republicans in control of the Senate when he pledged to do the opposite. Someone on the second floor surely knew that people would not be that stupid and would understand what he was up to. Some reader will probably say, “Well, he won a second term, didn’t he?” The answer, of course, is yes. Richard Nixon won a second term, too.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 11/10/14

The dark side of voting

November 4, 2014
In the end, very few eligible voters actually turn out to participate in our elections. There are many reasons why they don’t. Some people are just too lazy. They have other things to do that day. Then there are those like my late friend, the brilliant political philosopher Sebastian De Grazia, who used to tell me, “I don’t know enough.” Here was one of the most brilliant academics and political scientists of all and he claimed he didn’t know enough to vote. He was right. You’ll never really know enough about the dirty deals to vote intelligently.

Because the game is so loaded and so many things are going on that we don’t know about, the most cynical among us simply say, “I don’t vote, it only encourages them.” Our politics are so dependent on money, so dependent on what Woodrow Wilson would have called, “Secret deals secretly arrived at,” one wonders, “What’s the point?”

We are appalled at the strident, frequent, obviously phony appeals. We scratch our heads and we don’t know who to root for. The manipulators send out the cheerleaders as well as those who try to scare us half to death by appealing to our competitive and fearful natures. They warn us that unless we pay up, the other side is going to win. Everything is strategic. The enemy is advancing. The consequences will be catastrophic. Our e-mail in-boxes are filled with personal appeals for support and money. We are told by the biggest recognizable political names, “I’m begging you for the money,” Or, “Bad news, we’re losing.” It’s as if a foreign army was invading our shores and we are being called to arms. The sides are drawn up. The potential consequences are terrible and unthinkable. The thing is, it all convinces some people. The political camps wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t work.

Meanwhile, all the frenzy simply makes some people believe they are being lied to. They begin to hate all politicians. During the election cycle, we are engaged in team sports but once the elections are over, the parties seem to merge and become what so many people are now calling the “Republicrats.” The real winners are the people with the big bucks — the lobbyists with their fine suits who descend on the politicians and have their way with them. The politicians know that they need the filthy money that the lobbyists spread around, buying votes in much the same way they would buy bananas at the grocery store. Our politicians tell me that they spend hours on the phones, begging people to give them a couple of thousand dollars or much more. There are ways to funnel money into elections. There may be limits on how much you can give to an individual candidate but there are no limits on how much you can give to a political party and its “housekeeping” efforts. The party then will spend the dirty money any way they want to make their side win.

We allow the leaders of each of the political parties to draw their own legislative lines and when the people figure out that this is anything but fair in a democracy, those same leaders come up with a way to fool us into voting for a Constitutional Amendment that will ultimately preserve the status quo. So now the dirty game is exposed for what it is. On the one hand, newspapers do their jobs and explain the seamy side of the process. On the other, they properly encourage us to do our duty and to go out and vote. What else can they do? They are right, of course. The vote is paramount. Once we relinquish it, those with the most money will have even more control. We just have to do better or we all lose. Downer.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 11/3/14

Exercise the right to vote: The issues are too important

November 3, 2014

There are some people in our commonwealth and country who do not vote. They believe that the vote means nothing; that things are preset and the voters are being manipulated by forces greater than themselves. This argument makes me nuts. It just isn’t true.

In Great Barrington, for instance, we are fighting to “pass it on” so that our children and our children’s children can benefit from the best possible schools. On one side is a coalition of the greedy who want to deny that legacy because they have already educated their kids or because they send them to private schools or because they moved here from Long Island because they didn’t want to pay the taxes.

Some of these people identify themselves as great social liberals and leftists, but when it comes to walking the walk, they fall down. It is my hope that there will be some soul searching as they approach the sanctity of the ballot box. So the voters will have to decide. One of the wealthiest families in Great Barrington lives on my corner. They have a sign on their lawn in favor of bringing our high school up to par. I am so proud of these people that I could bust. They truly recognize the greater good.

When it comes to democracy, I love the fact that in this state enough signatures can put any proposition on the ballot. I love the fact that so-called “unenrolled” voters can take ballots in any party primary when they enter the voting booth, thus avoiding the strangulation imposed by the self-serving political parties in states like nearby New York.

Take the fact that we are asked to vote on whether to allow gambling in our commonwealth/state. I’ve been scratching my head on this one. I abhor casinos and all that they represent. They often prey on the poor to whom they offer false hope. Now we are watching what’s going on in Atlantic City where casinos have been closing faster than acorns falling off a giant oak tree. That’s what happens when we overbuild.

These casinos offer very little to the surrounding communities, no matter how many promises are made before they are built. I have no doubt that those of us who live in the Berkshires would soundly reject any casinos proposed for our area. It has always been interesting to me that communities that do want big-time gambling are often the most challenged; the most in trouble among us. And then, for the moralists, there is bingo. Talk about hypocrisy.

On the other hand, there are powerful counter-arguments. If a Springfield, for example, sees a way to lift itself out of poverty by dealing the state in where presently only criminal enterprise exists, why not let them have the hope that they crave? If our people are now crossing the borders to spend their gambling money in nearby states, doesn’t it make sense for us to keep that tax money and those jobs here at home? With all the social ills that we have to confront, it might be a good idea to let these communities have their way. If the casinos fail because of overbuilding, the greater hand of the market will finish the argument.

Thank heavens that we have an easy one on the ballot. We can vote for the sensible, expanded bottle bill that would put deposits on things like plastic water bottles. Needless to say, the big bottling companies are against this one. Once again, greed will win out.

We simply have to save this Earth. Recycling, driving the right cars, wind power and solar power are all part of the solution. Like the people of ancient Nineveh, we can repent for what we’ve done to this Earth or we can continue to despoil it. Use the vote well. Go to the polls. Think about the consequences.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/3/14


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