Nov 15, 1963, was a bright , sunny, beautiful day in New York City. The weather was much like another bright sunny day in New York several decades later ( September 11th, 2001), Back then, I was a high school senior attending a National CYO Convention in NYC at the Hilton Hotel. At about 12:15, a bunch of us were returning from
The NBC studios in Rockefeller Center where we watched 'The Price is Right" and as we neared the Hilton on Sixth Avenue there was a hubbub of police activity, and someone shouted that the President was here to make a surprise visit to the CYO Convention. He was speaking earlier that day at the Americana Hotel ( now the NY Sheraton) a few blocks away, at the AFL-CIO Convention.
We hurried up onto the crowded escalator to get up to the Hilton ballroom which was wall to wall teenagers, and we pushed our way into the ballroom. Nancy Sereno actually got up on my shoulders so she could see what was happening as I forged ahead through the packed crowd, when we heard an announcer say "Boys and Girls, the President of the United States...! " You can imagine the roar of the crowd, and then, out stepped John F. Kennedy who said " My uh, my uh, fellow CYO ers!" Absolute pandemonium and cheers erupted at that moment of solidarity. The president was one of us!. I don't remember anything else he said after that, and actually , we hustled out of the ballroom and hustled back down the escalators to catch a glimpse of Kennedy's motorcade, which , I had read in the news, was stopping for stop lights ( a controversial move at the time).
We moved out onto the curb at the corner of 54th St. and Sixth avenue, and in a few minutes, I looked about ten feet away, and there was a black Cadillac vehicle heading east on 54th St., stopped, waiting for the light to change, and there in the backseat passenger side, with the window down, sat John F. Kennedy. I froze at first, then called out, "Mr. President!" He looked at me and smiled, and extended his hand out the window to shake hands, as I ran over toward the limo. At that moment, the light changed, and the limo pulled away, and I was inches away from touching his hand. But it was not to be. Nevertheless, that moment is forever etched in my memory,, in a kind of slow motion, freeze frame way.
It was a moment in time I shall never forget. It was sealed even more firmly into my memory banks by what happened, exactly one week later, to the hour, in Dallas Texas, on a bright sunny day, November 22nd, 1963.
Fast forward one week....I will never forget that first of the
season pep rally at Oswego Catholic High, 50 years ago, when Father
Yennock asked us all to stand and sing the Star-Spangled Banner together
in the middle of the pep rally, which we all knew was weird, and his
announcement after that, that the President had been shot in Dallas, and
had died. Our collective grief was unbearable as we wandered out of St.
Francis Hall in a daze. Our lives were never again the same. Nothing has ever been the same since, and nothing ever will.
Sent from my iPhone
Friday, October 4, 2013
I learned long ago that in politics, while it is tempting to vanquish your enemies, sometimes a little twig from an olive branch can work wonders, and provide a face saving way for your foes to retreat, so you can both then move forward.
Obama could agree to postpone the penalty on individuals for non enrollment for one year, to work out some of the kinks that may be coming apparent in implementation of the law. He already granted corporations a one year hiatus for the same reason. He should do this not because republicans have shut down the government, but because it is the right thing to do, and couple that with a vote on the debt ceiling limit, and call it a day. Hold Boehner to his pledge to avoid default, and kill two birds with one stone, and then move on to solving other problems, like immigration and infrastructure development.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Standing up to the wrong bully
For several years, I have argued with my college age students about the real causes of our prolonged involvement in Iraq. We have discussed the term “hubris” ad naseum. Weapons of mass destruction, deception, oil, mission accomplished, and salesmanship have also entered into the dialogue. One example that I have used to make my point to them is citing the film “Steel Magnolias”, and Sally Fields reaction on the death of her daughter, played by Julia Roberts.
In a famous scene shot at the cemetery where her daughter had just been interred, Sally Fields, sobbing, keeps repeating “Why..Why..Why. I am so angry, I am just so angry, I just want to punch someone”, says Sally Fields. At that point, Olympia Dukakis grabs Shirley MacLaine, the character who portrays Ouisa Boudreaux , a curmudgeonly older lady for whom everyone has contempt at one point or another, and says “Here, hit Ouisa!” At that point Sally Fields says, “Hit Quisa?” and her sobbing changes to gales of laughter, and she is surrounded by her beauty parlor friends who laugh with her at the sheer ridiculousness of the suggestion.
My point is that in 2003, George Bush made the choice to hit Quisa. He couldn’t find Osama Bin Laden, and he wanted to punch someone, so he made the case against the usual suspect, nasty mustachioed dictator Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with 9/11, but was nonetheless made responsible in the eyes of the American public by an incessant sales job that he possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that he was somehow behind 9/11, neither of which assertion was true. Ten years later, after billions of our tax dollars were spent to make the middle east safer for democracy, it is deja vu all over again, and we are no further ahead of the ethnic and religious and tribal conflicts that plague the area than we were ten years ago. But we sure hit Ouisa, and we did so with shock and awe. And it was all for naught.
Now, our peace loving President is making the case for war again, and blaming a new Bogeyman, Syrian President Bashir Assad. He is finally choosing to stand up and fight the bully. The problem is, number one, its the wrong bully. Assad is Ouisa in wolf’s clothing. The real bully is the Soviet Union whose intransigence and support of this Syrian sheep
has brought the world to the edge of a much broader conflict, and the charge is being led by the President who is so fed up with all the people who have been bullying him, including the right wingers in the Republican Congress, that he has chosen to stand and fight, and says he won’t back down. Problem two, Congress is a bully, but if you think by browbeating its members into submission, and shaming them for inaction is going to change their vote in the face of enormous public opposition to another war, you must have been born at night, and last night at that.
Choosing when to act, and who to blame, and who to stand up to is a critical test of any leader. Drawing red lines in the sand, politically and diplomatically is a risky business. Red lines drawn in the sand tend to shift, and lines drawn on political battlements have ways of morphing and moving as well. President Obama, by choosing the current path, is risking his entire Presidency in a reckless way that doesn’t have to happen. There are diplomatic alternatives that have yet to be tried.
We understand your frustration Mr. President. We understand you are tired of the constant “sniping” by Congress. We understand and share your revulsion at the sight of children gasping for breath and foaming at the mouth. It was worse than Sandy Hook elementary, and although you have tried, you haven’t been able to change the laws that would prevent another Sandy Hook either. We understand why you want to “Hit Ouisa”. But, to choose Syria as your Rubicon River. ..to throw down the gauntlet and say, the “Die is cast” on this issue, is the wrong choice, at the wrong time, and for the wrong reasons. And it will not end well, Mr. President. Finding an alternative is yet preferable to taking the action you have proposed. Eating crow at the White House is a better choice than escalating a conflict that will go much father than the Rubicon river, once you cross that barrier.
Fortunately, Mr. Obama seems to be the recipient of a last minute Hail Mary pass from
the Russians. He should take the ball, run into the end zone and spike it. Period.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Isaac Newton revisited
Does anyone in Washington remember Isaac Newton? If not, they should. He was not a famous politician or president or prime minister. He was someone who studied the elemental forces of nature ( and mankind is part of nature) and developed conclusions , calling them
" laws" to predict the consequences of any motion or action which disturbs the natural order of things. He said things like "a body at rest tends to stay at rest" ( think of that all you couch potatoes out there). And, “ bodies in motion tend to stay in motion”, and , perhaps most significant of all " For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction". That's his third law of physics, and it applies equally to military actions as well as any other actions undertaken by human beings.
For some reason we lost sight of that law when we attacked Saddam Hussein's Iraq. We were so impressed with the "shock and awe" of our military prowess, and the pulling down of Saddam's statue that we declared “mission accomplished” too soon. Only later did we realize that Newton's third law was still operative, and the response to our colossal use of force was more diffuse, and delayed, but nevertheless equally as powerful. It took us ten years of blood, toil, and treasure to cope with it, and the results of our effort and the benefits derived therefrom are still elusive.
Fast forward to 2013, and we are again faced with atrocities perpetrated by another middle eastern madman in the torturous murder of his own civilians , innocent men women and children , with Sarin gas. Such an act is beyond reprehensible. But the key question remains , are we in the United States the sole arbiter and the sole enforcer of international law? Are we the only drawers of the lines in the sands of international engagement? Is there still no room for the United Nations to act, and if the international community does not act because of Russian or Chinese obstructionism, is there no room to hold the leaders of those countries accountable in the court of world opinion?
Former UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, who President Obama most resembles stylistically, had perhaps his finest moment when, during the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962, he faced down the Russian Ambassador Zorin and said, “Do you deny the existence of Soviet Missiles in Cuba? Yes or no, Mr. Ambassador.! Answer the question. Don’t wait for the translation. Yes, or no?..and I am prepared to wait until hell freezes over for your response!"
President Ronald Reagan's finest moment was when he said in Berlin, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! " Perhaps John Kerry and/or Barack Obama's finest moment could yet be, "Mr. Putin, the evidence of your client, Mr. Assad's culpability in the use of chemical agents against his own people. is incontrovertible. Are you going to allow him to continue mass murdering his fellow Syrians by lethal nerve gas? Mr. Putin, the world demands to know what you are going to do about it?"
After all the rhetorical exchanges, one key issue remains. That is whether a military strike against the Assad government by the US would make things better or worse. What are the probable consequences of such an action? We have heard a lot of rhetoric about the consequences of American inaction, but we should not forget the applicability of Isaac Newton's principles to the situation at hand.
That Third Law of physics is a tough one. Perhaps when there are no good options, the choice should simply be to not exercise any of them. If the choice lies between don't just stand there, do something, and don't just do something, stand there, maybe inaction is the better choice. If action means that we unleash forces that we do not yet know the full consequences of , then inaction makes eminently more sense. Sir Isaac Newton was no dummy.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Thinking Outside the Box
Upstate NY is sputtering and staggering, economically speaking, and many of its cities are teetering on insolvency. It is clear that something needs to be done to reverse these perverse circumstances. The real question is, what?
Governor Cuomo has embraced a hastily put together tax incentive program, which would reward start up businesses with tax free zones in and around SUNY campuses. It is an idea which, if properly administered, could hold great promise. It could also be nothing more than St. Elmo's fire, a flash in the pan program that sounds better in press release than it translates to in reality. Nevertheless, it is a concept worth exploring. But there are other ideas worth exploring too that our Governor might consider to help give Upstate NY the power to pull itself back up by its own bootstraps.
Maybe what we really need to do is seriously think outside the box. Tax incentives can help spur growth and development, but the larger picture of tax structure, regulatory refinement, and business friendly governance must be looked at too. It would be foolhardy to put all of our development eggs in one basket.
So, I'd like to advance another incentive proposition that might just work to unshackle Upstate NY from it's economic doldrums. I call it the "Energy Generation Zone" concept ( EGZ) .
The mill towns of upstate New York sprang up along the waterways where there was abundant water power to drive the engines of economic opportunity. At the turn of the century, electricity was mostly locally produced, and locally distributed. Hydro plants gave way to coal fired plants, and coal fired plants gave way to nuclear plants, and nuclear plants gave way to cleaner fossil fueled plants that burned natural gas. Energy came to be transmitted over long distances to satisfy the craven appetites of a growing megalopolis .
One silly thing happened on the way to market, though... someone forgot to charge more for electricity that traveled longer distances. No differential was allowed for pricing electricity according to distance from the generating source.
As a result, there was little profit incentive to build bigger and better transmission lines. Our system grew like suburban sprawl. So many lines, so few transmission corridors! And now, we find ourselves imprisoned by a huge Rube Goldberg powerline contraption strung together like so many tin cans, with a lot of twine. Could we fix it, and spur economic growth at the same time?
Yes, we can, and we should. We can price electricity and natural gas , in part, on how far you have to send it from the source to the destination. We can give communities willing to host electrical generation plants, like Nuclear Plants, or natural gas production and drilling plants, incentives for hosting them by allowing some of the product generated to be consumed locally at reduced rates. What’s wrong with taking, say, 20% of the power generated and selling it locally at reduced rates? It would attract industry, and give business and residential customers who live in the
shadow of these facilities a break on their rates as a bonus for hosting the plants. If we incentivize power and gas production, there will be less contention about hydro-fracking, and more competition to host energy production. It could accomplish the reversal of fortunes our Governor is seeking.
Perhaps it is time to step outside the tax incentive box, and think just: incentive. After all, that is what makes our capitalistic system hum, and we could certainly use a little more hum and a little less ho-hum in Upstate New York. What say you Governor?
Monday, April 8, 2013
It’s time for Congress to stop saying “no” and start saying “go.”
Go forth and build bridges, tunnels, roads, schools and high-speed rail systems. It’s time to stop being stupid and start building up this country again. Political rhetoric aside, the longer we wait to fix our roads and bridges, the further behind we get in the race to maintain our competitive advantage in a more competitive world. So, enough already with the obstructions, congressional Republicans. Let’s get on with the program of rebuilding America.
Yes, we have debt. Yes, we need to reform and modify our entitlement programs. Yes, we need to fix the size of our military and what it costs to maintain it. But that doesn’t mean that we stop investing in the infrastructure of the country while we deal with our debtor status.
And I’d like to remind my Republican friends that it was not entirely our current president who put us in our current fiscal pickle. I seem to remember an unfunded war that was launched on false premises putting $3 trillion dollars on the national credit card. Then there were the Bush-era tax cuts for the well-to-do and the Medicare prescription drug program, neither of which were funded. All of this helped put us in the deep hole we are trying to crawl out of now. There was nary a whimper of concern about spending when a Republican occupied the White House.
Where were all the deficit hawks then? They are coming out of the woodwork now, crying that the sky is falling, and it might be if we can’t get our collective house in order and do two things. We need to raise enough revenue to run the government and the programs that are necessary for national well-being; and reduce wasteful, inefficient governmental programs (many of which are duplicates) and right-size the government. The military should not be exempt from that process, either.
If we can build roads, bridges and schools in Afghanistan while we are trying to right-size the federal budget, can we not do the same thing in our own country? Why must we wait as our roads and bridges crumble? Do the congressional Republicans really want to wait four more years to build bridges, roads and schools? Did we not have an election last fall that should have settled something?
In response to the president’s comments on the subject in Florida recently, House Speaker John Boehner was quoted as saying that Republicans “also wanted to upgrade American roads, bridges and other infrastructure, but only if it could be paid for.” Boehner’s office distributed comments he made last month after President Obama’s State of the Union address.
“It’s easy to go out there and be Santa Claus and talk about all the things you want to give away,” Boehner said. “But at some point, somebody has to pay the bill.”
OK, we know that. And, by the way, Mr. Speaker, once the expenses are decided upon, the bill should be paid — all of the bills. That is part of the process of being a grown-up, not flinching on our debt limit and using it as a political pawn to extract concessions.
The latest report card for America’s infrastructure had an unexpected bit of qualified good news: The collective infrastructure grade has inched up to a D-plus. It’s the first time in the 15 years that the engineering organization has conducted its study that the grade has improved. The full report can be downloaded, along with interactive analysis of all 50 states, at www.infrastructure reportcard.org.
But here’s the question: Is moving from a D to a D-plus good enough for the leading country of the free world? I think not. It’s time to set aside the megaphones and pick up the shovels. We have lots of digging to do to get ourselves out of the hole we have put ourselves in. We have no time to waste.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
If at first you don't succeed, stall, stall, again. For the 7th time since electing a house majority in 2010, the Republican House majority members are again threatening to shut down the government . The American people are tired of it. Beyond tired. But these continued threats are part of a strategy to wear down the winning coalition of the election of 2012, by convincing the electorate that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and that, as a result, all this hope and change stuff is sheer nonsense. We must get on with the agenda of government dismantlement!
Obamaquester...Boehnerquester? Whose idea was this sequester? Does it really matter? To run a government by blind cuts is a dumb idea. It was conceived in part so that smart people in Congress would get together and make smart choices. Instead, smart people are giving in to dumb choices, and because they cannot agree, the American people may be stuck with the dumbest of government cuts ever.
The point is, if you don't believe in government, then you shouldn't be in it . If the way you are going to govern is to continually threaten to shut down the government you are helping to govern, there is more than a hint of irony here. There is an enigma that gets only more and more enigmatic as each successive crisis of political hostage holding unfolds in Washington. And these same guys refuse to negotiate with foreign hostage takers?
A hostage is a hostage is a hostage, the same as crying wolf is crying wolf is crying wolf . Where is Dirty Harry when we really need him? Make my day? Bring it on...we are done with this sequential self imposed hostage taking. This plot twist is getting old, fast. The American people are undergoing brinksmanship fatigue.
We can't have two competing Presidencies at the same time, and you can't run the country from only one house of Congress. We had an election last fall. The American people spoke. The Republican majority in the House has refused to listen. So the political Hari- Kari process continues.
If your goal is to end government as we know it by shutting it down, then in the immortal words of Nike...just do it...and accept the consequences, and the resultant blame. Or , as Lee Iacocca once famously put it, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way!"