Column on UMass rapist off base regarding parents

Posted May 4, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

A few weeks back, I wrote a column about Emmanuel Bile, Jr., who was convicted of rape. I wondered aloud how such a rape could have happened.

In case you missed it, Bile and three other young men were accused of raping a young woman. He was convicted by a jury of his peers and sentenced by a judge.

In the column I asked, “Who in the world would rape a college student?” Then I asked, “Who taught values to these kids?” I said, “I’m not talking about anything but the difference between right and wrong.”

So far so good — still on solid ground. “The guy was found guilty but the victim will still be scarred for life.” I ended, “The accused will be spending a large part of his life in prison. Good. She (the victim) could have been your daughter.” I asked a question in the column that, in retrospect, I am not so sure about. I asked, “Who were the perpetrator’s parents?”

This all came up when I got a critical letter from an employee of the Pittsfield Schools who says that she knows the Bile family. She was very angry with me but I was confused by her letter. She criticized me for passing judgment and heaping humiliation on the family. On the other hand, she conceded, “Starting in the home, educational institutions need to provide guidelines for good manners, courtesy and positive competition for boys and girls, women and men.”

I have always believed that we have to be responsible for our actions, as difficult as that may sometimes be. Our writer said “Emmanuel Bile, Jr. is a metaphor for a systemic problem in our society, notably in public and private colleges and universities across the country.”

I’m assuming that meant the problem of rape on campuses. If what she meant was that the problem of campus rape is so widespread that Bile should not have been held responsible either in print or by the courts, I think she is wrong. She is correct that college rape is reportedly at epic proportions and that something must be done about it. One thing we can do is hold the perpetrators accountable.

Our letter writer wrote, “Just like Bile is responsible for his actions, I Publius needs to be responsible for his words. It is important to look at how the media and freedom of expression glamorizes substance abuse and lust and smudges the boundaries of human behavior.”

I have real trouble understanding how I was glorifying this terrible crime. This was a front page case and it’s obviously something that our community wants to read about. We are not going to censor coverage of this kind of crime.

On the other hand, I have to admit that I do think she had a point about parenthood. While I did not mean to imply that Bile’s parents as individuals had failed, I can see how it sounded that way. I began to think about whether parents should be held responsible for the way their kids turned out.

We all know good people who have had kids who went down the wrong path. That certainly isn’t always the parents’ fault. Sometimes it is. If a parent is a drug addict or an alcoholic, for example, those conditions can be passed on to the kids.

But I have no such feelings about Bile’s parents who, I am sure, are decent good people who only want what’s best for their child.

Finally, this week I heard from Karen Christensen who is running for the Selectboard in Great Barrington. She corrects the record by saying that she was not defeated for re-election on the Great Barrington School Board where she previously served. She won a four-year term in November 2000. I apologize for the error.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 5/4/15

Andrew Goes to Cuba

Posted April 28, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

In a stroke of political genius, Andrew Cuomo took a trip to Cuba. He orchestrated the visit perfectly, both in terms of what he did and didn’t do. For once, he brought along some of his co-governmental Democratic politician workers. In doing so, he showed that he can play well with others, something for which he has been severely critiqued in the past. Good move. Joining him on the plane were New York business leaders, a group important not only for their potential ability to fund campaigns but also because they are positioned to take advantage of future business opportunities on the island. In one fell swoop, Cuomo gets to build a business/money base that makes him an economic conservative and, at the same time, he wins the appreciation of the left of his party. No one ever said the guy wasn’t strategic.

Andrew loves to be first. You have a lot more impact at the front of the line than you do if you pile on later and just become one of the crowd. He was first in the nation on gun control with his SAFE Act after the Sandy Hook tragedy, gaining a lot of respect from those who think that guns are one of the great scourges of the country. While some of his former conservative backers were infuriated, he gained the admiration of some of the progressives. He did much the same thing with marriage equality.

Now he shows up in Cuba for all of a day. It turns out that he was not the first sitting governor to make the trip because several years ago, Gov. George Ryan of Illinois led the parade. It didn’t help Ryan since he ended up in jail.

Interestingly, you don’t see Cuomo shaking hands with either of the Castro brothers. He sure didn’t want that picture showing up in some future campaign, particularly in the strategically important state of Florida where at least one presidential election was won/lost/stolen. One can be pretty sure that everything, including who he would meet, was set up in advance.

A revision in our Cuba policy has been a long time coming. For years, Americans have been figuring out how to get there and making their way over by hook or, sometimes, by crook. Look, let’s face it — the place is a dictatorship. On the other hand, the Cuban leaders seem to enjoy great popularity despite the lack of true elections. The Cuban health care system seems to treat all well. The education system offers equality of opportunity that we don’t always see in this country. While the Castro brothers have never been exemplary when it comes to freedom of speech and political discourse and while there are signs of real racism in Cuba, the skirts of this country are not entirely clean either. We seem to get along fine with countries with far worse human rights records, like our friends in Saudi Arabia. Cuomo has the foresight to recognize that there are few political risks to what he is doing to open things up. He knows, and so do most people in this country, that if we don’t get our businesses to Cuba, ninety miles off our shores, others are already lining up to do so. This has been one of his better undertakings.

For a man who most people expect will run for President sooner or later, this will be chalked up as a foreign policy win. I expect we will see him make this type of trip to other places. Perhaps he and his group will travel to China and Japan. Some folks think that Andrew wants to be Secretary of State in a Clinton administration since he can’t take a demotion to the Department of Housing and Urban Development where he once reigned. He’ll certainly have to do a lot of traveling to position himself for that job.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/27/15

Well-heeled haters ought not lament paying higher taxes

Posted April 27, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Town elections are very important if you want insight into how our governments work. Let me be clear — when people are given choices and they spend some time considering the policy differences between the candidates, they can have a huge impact on the way in which things are done. I’ve seen selectmen come and go. Some have been terrible, others exemplary.

Let’s take my town of Great Barrington. We are very lucky this year because we have some great choices for the Selectboard. What’s more, the candidates really have different opinions about the way things should be done.

Taxes are relatively high in Great Barrington, especially when compared to towns like Alford next door where taxes are incredibly low. That may be because Great Barrington has a pretty big police force, a library, a substantial fire department, and a public works department, all of which cost big money. And incidentally, these services are all used by our neighbors in Alford, Egremont and Sheffield. I have no problem with that but we Great Barrington taxpayers are the ones who have to pay the freight.

In a town like ours, there will inevitably be people who think, “The taxes are too damned high.” Some of them really can’t afford an extra hundred dollars in taxes. Others have accumulated a good deal of wealth and don’t want to pay their share. We call that greedy and some town officials like Michael Wise have advanced tax-the-rich schemes to address that greed.

Some of the well-heeled folks have what Marx may have called “false consciousness.” They would never acknowledge their own inability to share so they come up with all kinds of complicated tax plans that they must know will never be adopted. They stand up at meetings and even load them with friends and neighbors who they convince of their righteousness. As a result, we find the haters often pitted against the long-suffering, long-serving taxpayers who do what they must to keep the town going.

There are two good candidates to be found among the three who are running for selectman in this election. Bill Cooke is the new face. His wife, Deborah Phillips, has been doing yeoman service for the town for years but is committed to running her successful nutrition counseling practice. Cooke is a bright and decent fellow who will be able to bring a spirit of pulling together to the Selectboard. Sean Stanton is running again and he has proven himself over and over. I’ll be voting for both of them. The third candidate, Karen Christenson, once served, by appointment on the school board. When she ran again she was defeated.

On a sad note, my old Alford neighbor, John James Dunn Sr., has passed. He was 91 years old and a beloved figure in my old neighborhood. I really loved the guy. When my car would break down, he would drive me to work and back in Albany.

He worked for the Department of Social Services, where he was very upset about politicians whose member item programs had to be certified by his department and more specifically by him. He was a great listener and a great talker and when we moved to Great Barrington I really missed our conversations.

During our early days in Alford we had a party line and it turned out that we shared it with the Dunn family. One day John’s young son cut into a conversation to say that there was an emergency at his house so I got right off the phone. It turned out to have been a terrible tractor accident and John’s wife was killed. That memory has been stuck in my mind ever since. He was married three times to three wonderful women. It’s easy to understand what a good husband he must have been. He’ll be missed.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/25/15

Can Hillary really win?

Posted April 21, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

So there I was on WAMC Public Radio’s Roundtable panel where I am every weekday morning at 9 a.m. It was the day after Hillary Clinton had declared her intention to run for president and people had a lot to say.

Hillary is a bit of a centrist — that is why she has a good, but not absolute, chance of winning the presidency. The whole idea is to capture the middle class. I love Senator Elizabeth Warren but she knows and I know that she is too far to the left to win a national election, at least now. Let’s try to remember that unlike the great New Yorker cartoon, there is a lot of country between Manhattan and San Francisco.

To understand what’s at play here, one has to understand voting patterns in the country. There are more Democrats and independents leaning Democratic in the United States than there are Republicans. If everyone of the Democratic persuasion were to vote, you’d have a Democratic president and Congress.

The problem is that not all natural Democrats vote. Listeners write in about whatever subject we are discussing on the Roundtable, so that morning we were, of course, talking about Hillary entering the race. The notes from the left started coming in. “I could never vote for her. She’s a tool of the corporate world” and on and on.

In each case, we asked the writer whether they would feel better with a Republican victory, allowing the Republican president to appoint more people to the Supreme Court. The bottom line is, if you are sitting in a house in the Berkshires or Hudson Valley pontificating about punishing a centrist candidate, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fact that those who have the most to gain at the bottom rungs of society do not vote in the numbers that they have to in order to assure a Democratic victory. With that said, Barack Obama won twice despite the continuing and unremitting racist invective that has been heaped upon him. For Hillary’s part, she knows that if she is to win she will need the voting coalition that swept Obama into office. Rule number one for Hillary is to be supportive of Obama.

I knew a Democratic assemblyman in New York who had bad things to say about Bill Clinton in the post-Monica Lewinsky days. He said he wouldn’t vote for Clinton and he was swept from office. Democrats really resented his perfidy. Hillary cannot risk that, no matter how many people try to drive a wedge between her and Obama. Now it is Obama who is playing it safe, having his underling come out and say that the President is not endorsing at this time on the basis that there may be other people in the race.

That’s a bit of an enigma for me. It may be that Hillary doesn’t want his endorsement right now because his polls are low. That would be a huge mistake on her part. Perhaps he is still smarting about their original primary race and he thinks that Joe Biden or former Governor O’Malley may be coming in. In any case, I think this has been mishandled especially since a lot of Democrats still love the president.

It is clearly Hillary’s to lose. The Republicans are making fools of themselves, stepping all over one another. Hillary is the centrist candidate and in order to get through the primaries where members of the extreme right show up, the contenders are moving to the right as fast as they can. They will predictably move back to the center in the general election. Assuming that Bill Clinton keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t embarrass her, Hillary should prevail. She must have powerful memories, however, of Barack Obama, an obscure one-term senator, eating her lunch in her last great presidential primary. Like I said, it’s hers to lose.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/20/15

Posted April 20, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

So there I was on WAMC Public Radio’s Roundtable panel where I am every weekday morning at 9 a.m. It was the day after Hillary Clinton had declared her intention to run for president and people had a lot to say.

Hillary is a bit of a centrist — that is why she has a good, but not absolute, chance of winning the presidency. The whole idea is to capture the middle class. I love Sen. Elizabeth Warren but she knows and I know that she is too far to the left to win a national election, at least now. Let’s try to remember that unlike the great New Yorker cartoon, there is a lot of country between Manhattan and San Francisco.

To understand what’s at play here, one has to understand voting patterns in the country. There are more Democrats and independents leaning Democratic in the United States than there are Republicans. If everyone of the Democratic persuasion were to vote, you’d have a Democratic president and Congress.

The problem is that not all natural Democrats vote. Listeners write in about whatever subject we are discussing on the Roundtable, so that morning we were, of course, talking about Hillary entering the race. The notes from the left started coming in. “I could never vote for her. She’s a tool of the corporate world” and on and on.

In each case, we asked the writer whether they would feel better with a Republican victory, allowing the Republican president to appoint more people to the Supreme Court. The bottom line is, if you are sitting in a house in the Berkshires or Hudson Valley pontificating about punishing a centrist candidate, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fact that those who have the most to gain at the bottom rungs of society do not vote in the numbers that they have to in order to assure a Democratic victory.

With that said, Barack Obama won twice despite the continuing and unremitting racist invective that has been heaped upon him. For Hillary’s part, she knows that if she is to win she will need the voting coalition that swept Obama into office. Rule No. 1 for Hillary is to be supportive of Obama.

I knew a Democratic assemblyman in New York who had bad things to say about Bill Clinton in the post-Monica Lewinsky days. He said he wouldn’t vote for Clinton and he was swept from office. Democrats really resented his perfidy.

Hillary cannot risk that, no matter how many people try to drive a wedge between her and Obama. Now it is Obama who is playing it safe, having his underling come out and say that the president is not endorsing at this time on the basis that there may be other people in the race.

That’s a bit of an enigma for me. It may be that Hillary doesn’t want his endorsement right now because his polls are low. That would be a huge mistake on her part. Perhaps he is still smarting about their original primary race and he thinks that Joe Biden or former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley may be coming in. In any case, I think this has been mishandled, especially since a lot of Democrats still love the president.

It is clearly Hillary’s to lose. The Republicans are making fools of themselves, stepping all over one another. Hillary is the centrist candidate and in order to get through the primaries where members of the extreme right show up, the contenders are moving to the right as fast as they can. They will predictably move back to the center in the general election.

Assuming that Bill Clinton keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t embarrass her, Hillary should prevail. She must have powerful memories, however, of Barack Obama, an obscure one-term senator, eating her lunch in her last great presidential primary. Like I said, it’s hers to lose.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/18/15

Wanna read a good book?

Posted April 14, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Michael Shnayerson has written a superb and frankly frightening book, “The Contender: Andrew Cuomo, a Biography.” This book is balanced, showing Andrew at his best and at his absolute darkest. His darkest, according to the book, is just plain scary. Indeed, it might cause you nightmares. It’s clear that the Cuomo people hate the book.

Shnayerson has spoken to hundreds of people who know Andrew either well or too well. He takes you from Andrew’s childhood in Queens to the present day, with stops along the way at various political postings including his time in the Clinton cabinet where Andrew seemed universally distrusted and, in fact, hated.

The book portrays Andrew as someone who takes no prisoners and has a memory for perceived wrongs that never quits. Shnayerson documents the fact that even his so-called friends are never safe. People who were once friends no longer are due to some imagined slight in Andrew’s memory. The governor bullies those around him and he thinks strategically. Alliances change as need be and nothing is as it seems. In fact, it’s all about politics. The book is called “The Contender” because Shnayerson seems to think that most of Andrew’s decisions are constructed so that he can achieve the one major goal denied to his father, becoming President of the United States. Like Lyndon Johnson, Cuomo knows how to manipulate the levers of power and a good deal of that involves instilling abject fear in his trading partners. In fact, he seems to despise them. Shnayerson shows us how Cuomo picks on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, perhaps because Schneiderman was once married to Jennifer Cunningham who helped run Cuomo’s campaigns. His obvious distaste for and bullying of the very competent State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, follow the same path. Everyone is a rival.

Because I spoke on the radio with Andrew’s father, Mario, every week for years, I was fascinated to read about the father-son relationship. Sometimes it seems like Andrew adored Mario. Other times, it appears that Andrew competed with his father, not only because he wants to better him but also so that he can finally get the love that was denied him because Mario was seemingly always out of the house.

If I have any quarrel with the book, it is Shnayerson’s tough approach to Mario, the father. I’m here to tell you that Mario Cuomo was one of the deepest and funniest men I ever met. Week after week, he would both outfox and out-debate me. He believed in press conferences and transparency and there was no reporter with whom he’d refuse to debate. He did not pass that love of transparency on to his son.

The further you get into the book, the scarier it gets. It isn’t that Shnayerson doesn’t give Cuomo his due. He faithfully reports how Cuomo was able to pass marriage equality and the SAFE (gun) Act. As Attorney General, Cuomo went after some greedy bad guys and got settlements from them. On the other hand, Shnayerson paints a picture of a guy who compulsively shines his shoes to a polished sheen every morning and who causes the kind of caution among staff that Joe Stalin must have had among his.

When I spoke with him, Shnayerson told me how Team Cuomo tried to get him not to write this book but instead, to write one with Andrew about the general topic of governance. Thank heavens Shnayerson didn’t fall for it. Just his passages about how the governor has lacked kindness toward his ex-wife Kerry Kennedy Cuomo boggle the mind. I listened to the book on audio as I drove back and forth to work every day, but inevitably, I found myself sitting in the car wanting to hear more. If you want to know how it really works, get the book.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/14/15

Book paints dark portrait of NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Posted April 13, 2015 by alanchartock
Categories: Uncategorized

Michael Shnayerson has written a superb and frankly frightening book, “The Contender: Andrew Cuomo, a Biography.” This book is balanced, showing Andrew at his best and at his absolute darkest.

His darkest, according to the book, is just plain scary. Indeed, it might cause you nightmares. It’s clear that the Cuomo people hate the book.

Shnayerson has spoken to hundreds of people who know Andrew either well or too well. He takes you from Andrew’s childhood in Queens to the present day, with stops along the way at various political postings including his time in the Clinton cabinet where Andrew seemed universally distrusted and, in fact, hated.

The book portrays Andrew as someone who takes no prisoners and has a memory for perceived wrongs that never quits. Shnayerson documents the fact that even his so-called friends are never safe. People who were once friends no longer are due to some imagined slight in Andrew’s memory.

The governor bullies those around him and he thinks strategically. Alliances change as need be and nothing is as it seems. In fact, it’s all about politics. The book is called “The Contender” because Shnayerson seems to think that most of Andrew’s decisions are constructed so that he can achieve the one major goal denied to his father, becoming President of the United States.

Like Lyndon Johnson, Cuomo knows how to manipulate the levers of power and a good deal of that involves instilling abject fear in his trading partners. In fact, he seems to despise them. Shnayerson shows us how Cuomo picks on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, perhaps because Schneiderman was once married to Jennifer Cunningham who helped run Cuomo’s campaigns.

His obvious distaste for and bullying of the very competent state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, follow the same path. Everyone is a rival.

Because I spoke on the radio with Andrew’s father, Mario, every week for years, I was fascinated to read about the father-son relationship. Sometimes it seems like Andrew adored Mario. Other times, it appears that Andrew competed with his father, not only because he wants to better him but also so that he can finally get the love that was denied him because Mario was seemingly always out of the house.

If I have any quarrel with the book, it is Shnayerson’s tough approach to Mario, the father. I’m here to tell you that Mario Cuomo was one of the deepest and funniest men I ever met. Week after week, he would both outfox and out-debate me. He believed in press conferences and transparency and there was no reporter with whom he’d refuse to debate. He did not pass that love of transparency on to his son.

The further you get into the book, the scarier it gets. It isn’t that Shnayerson doesn’t give Cuomo his due. He faithfully reports how Cuomo was able to pass marriage equality and the SAFE (gun) Act. As Attorney General, Cuomo went after some greedy bad guys and got settlements from them.

On the other hand, Shnayerson paints a picture of a guy who compulsively shines his shoes to a polished sheen every morning and who causes the kind of caution among staff that Joe Stalin must have had among his.

When I spoke with him, Shnayerson told me how Team Cuomo tried to get him not to write this book but instead, to write one with Andrew about the general topic of governance. Thank heavens Shnayerson didn’t fall for it.

Just his passages about how the governor has lacked kindness toward his ex-wife Kerry Kennedy Cuomo boggle the mind. I listened to the book on audio as I drove back and forth to work every day but inevitably, I found myself sitting in the car wanting to hear more. If you want to know how it really works, get the book.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 4/11/15


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