Commentary & Opinion

Bill Owens: A Weakening U.S. Dollar

Feb 15, 2018

President Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin both recently indicated that they believe the US dollar should weaken against other currencies.  It is important to note that the US Government like all western countries does not control the currency exchange rate as opposed to countries in southeast Asia where the government dictates/manipulates its currency exchange rates.  China is famous for this, and President Trump rightfully has attacked them for this manipulation. 

Herb London: Trump’s Foreign Policy

Feb 14, 2018

Writing on the pages of The Weekly Standard Michael Warren contends President Trump does not have a foreign policy. According to him, “Trump’s foreign policy has been incoherent and usually reflected the views of whoever was most influential with the president at any given moment. Advisers have had to race to keep up with the wavering lines.”

Stephen Gottlieb: Why Law?

Feb 13, 2018

Governments, including democracies, make laws and rules. Lots of folk spend lots of time telling us we don’t need regulation, or at least we need lots less. Laws and rules are restraints on our freedom to do what we want. And most people are honest. So why do we need law?

Judith Enck: Make America Dirty Again

Feb 13, 2018

Barely a day goes by without learning about yet another anti- environmental policy belching out of the Trump Administration.

The governor has done a lot to promote the state’s program to boost breast cancer screening rates.  He spent considerable time advocating for the expanded program and made it a centerpiece of his 2016 State of the State address and earlier this month issued a news release about his Administration spending nearly $38 million on breast screening services.  But cancer is not only a women’s issue, it affects all of us.

David Nightingale: A Walk

Feb 11, 2018

I left home and parked at the side of a little-used off-road. Where my tires had been in 5” of snow a week ago, there was now only muddy water. Maybe a walk would clear the mind of a degree of hopelessness, concerning world news, rampant flu, and/or the hopelessness of the current administration.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Our Good Neighbors

Feb 10, 2018

If you’re lucky enough to live in the country there are probably a bunch of factors that contribute to your sense of well-being. These include, in no particular order – open skies, sunsets, trees, gardens, streams and wildlife. At least wildlife that keeps a safe distance from your vegetables, shrubs, attic, etc.

Artwork from a radio-related World War II propaganda poster for the United States
Public Domain / WikiMedia Commons

Here are this week's highlights from the WAMC Listener Comment Line.

Bill Owens: So, The State Of The Union

Feb 8, 2018

Reading the right and left’s reaction to President Trump’s State of the Union speech was nothing short of boring.  Go back eight years to President Obama’s first State of the Union speech and re-read the comments, largely the exact opposite from each side.  Go back eight years from then to President Bush’s first State of the Union speech and the comments reverse again, go back eight years to President Clinton’s first State of the Union, and the comments reverse, yet again.  Predictability is boring.  Recently, President Trump said Democrats who didn’t clap for him might be treasonous, so what does he think a Member of Congress who yelled “liar” at President Obama is?

Garett Argianas' Evening Forecast

Feb 7, 2018

Meteorologist Garett Argianas delivers the evening weather forecast for Wednesday, February 7, 2018.

Herbert London: Reliving The Lessons Of A Free Market

Feb 7, 2018

It is axiomatic to suggest that presidents get more credit than they deserve when the economy does well, and more blame than they deserve when the economy goes south. However, in the case of President Trump he is given almost no credit for the soaring economic market, despite the fact his tax reduction bill and executive orders cutting excessive regulation are in some manner catalysts for the market upswing.

Stephen Gottlieb: The Nunes Memo And Trump’s Disloyalty

Feb 6, 2018

I prepared something else to talk about today but find myself furious about the misuse of the Constitution to prevent getting at the truth. Trump, and his supporters, are attacking the Mueller investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The Nunes memo, written by congressional Republicans, is part of that attack. It says that, though well after the investigation began, a former member of British intelligence who had ties to the Clinton campaign, transmitted information which was included in a request for a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, the FISA court. Based on the Nunes memo, Trump and his supporters claim that the investigation is tainted.[i]

Bill Owens: The Death Of Estate Planning

Feb 6, 2018

Excuse the pun, but with the federal exemption going to $11.2 million per person, one may initially conclude that there is little or any need left for estate planning.  Obviously, for the vast majority of us (around 99%) there would be very little to do in terms of federal estate tax planning.  New York State, however, retains its exemption at $5.2 million, which means there is a spread of almost $6 million, thus, the need for estate planning still exists for those with assets in excess of $5.2 million utilizing, if you will, the standard techniques of the marital deduction, life insurance (presumably using an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust), gifting,  and portability of exemptions.

Blair Horner: NY's Political Culture Again On Trial

Feb 5, 2018

For the past two weeks, a former top aide to governor Cuomo has been on trial for corruption.  According to federal prosecutors, he was a key figure in a widespread bribery scheme that included shaking down those seeking government contracts for special treatment in exchange for campaign contributions and money for him and his associates.  The trial continues and the individual is presumed innocent.  But this trial – combined with others in recent years – offers unique insights into what ails Albany.  There are four overarching problems that emerge when reviewing the totality of the corruption cases brought in New York.

Well, the fund drive raised two million dollars. That’s incredible. Two million dollars! We had to buy that tower on top of Mount Greylock once we knew it would be available. If someone else had gotten the tower and we were required to move OUR ANTENNA– even just a few feet – it could have been disastrous. We would have been obligated to reapply to the Federal Communications Commission for our license and we might well have lost our grandfather status on the tower which permits us to reach so many of our listeners.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Skating On Thin Ice

Feb 3, 2018
Skating at Ooms Pond, Chatham, NY
Ralph Gardner Jr

I had a small epiphany while ice skating last week at Ooms Pond, a conservation area in Chatham, New York. My epiphany was that I should switch to yoga.

On Tuesday, January 23, Trump imposed tariffs on solar components.   As usual, most of the news media was distracted by the latest bright shiny object – this time, the end to the government shutdown and the question of who won or lost.  Fortunately, the New York Times decided on January 24 to explore the impact of the solar component tariff on the US solar industry.  The headline says it all, “Steep tariffs threaten growth of solar industry.”  (The New York Times, January 24. 2018, P. A1)

Herbert London: God And Football

Jan 31, 2018

There were five seconds left in the playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. The Saints had a two point lead and a virtual lock on the victory. But in one of the strangest events in National Football, Case Keenum, the Vikings’ quarterback, threw a pass to Stefon Diggs in the flat. He jumped up and dashed to the end zone. What was a virtually assured Saints’ victory became a Vikings visit to the NFL championship game.

Stephen Gottlieb: Democracy And Public Investment

Jan 30, 2018

What democracy can do is obscured by today’s free market, anti-regulatory, anti-government rhetoric. That rhetoric creates real winners and losers, but taking it at its word, it’s based on an everyone-for-him-or-herself form of individualism. It asserts that our successes and failures are almost solely the result of our personal abilities and denies that what we accomplish always rests in part on what society gives us.

Blair Horner: Climate News Just Keeps Getting Worse

Jan 29, 2018

Earlier this month, the European Union’s climate change center (the Copernicus Climate Change Service) named 2017 as the second hottest worldwide temperature on record, just behind 2016.  The EU said that the Earth’s surface temperature averaged nearly 58.5 degrees Fahrenheit, which is over 2 degrees warmer than the average in pre-industrial times.

Rob Edelman: Yesterday And Today

Jan 29, 2018

Several weeks ago, on a dark rainy morning, I watched a pair of vintage Hollywood films on Turner Classic Movies. The first was titled TOGETHER AGAIN, and it dates from 1944. TOGETHER AGAIN is a romance about a small-town Vermont mayor who is, horror of horrors, a woman. She is played by Irene Dunne, and I have to wonder: How many of you remember Irene Dunne? Anyway, in no way would this character ever enter politics on her own. It so happens that she is the widow of the now-former mayor, and she inherited the position upon his demise. But of course, now that she is no longer married, her one goal in life should be to find a new man quick, and remarry. And once she crosses paths with charming Charles Boyer, you know that, by the finale, she will relinquish her position all in the name of love, marriage, and a woman’s predetermined lot in life. 

Ralph Gardner Jr: Warhol Comes To The Hudson Valley

Jan 27, 2018
Andy Warhol, Self Portrait in Fright Wig, 1985, Polaroid Polacolor print,
Collection of James Curtis / ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

A great, encyclopedic museum isn’t altogether dissimilar from a world-class ski resort with blue skies and a coat of fresh powder. Climbing its front steps, at the Metropolitan Museum, or descending its glass pyramid in the case of the Louvre, resembles the adrenalin rush of reaching the top of the mountain and pointing your skis downward.

The recently passed tax legislation known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 contains some significant negatives for New York taxpayers, and potentially for New York State.  Among the most notable are the limitations placed on the deductibility of state income taxes and real property taxes. This may be somewhat offset by the increase in the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers and to $24,000 for a married couple filing jointly.  For many the increase in the standard deduction will eliminate the loss of the deductions for income taxes and real property taxes, but for others the answer is, it’s not even close.

The coming fiscal year is shaping up as a challenging one.

Let’s be clear: New Yorkers are under attack. The federal tax bill is going to hurt New Yorkers at the same time our State is facing a substantial budget deficit that threatens key services, including education and health care. This is a double whammy that will make negotiating a final state education budget more difficult.

January is National Mentoring Month, which is fitting for the beginning of the year. It is a season of new starts and resolutions, and a great time for both mentors and potential mentees to begin a mentoring relationship. Many times, people want to work with kids, but don’t know where to start. Mentoring is a rewarding way to volunteer. There are many programs across our region that offer people opportunities to mentor children of all ages. Often, young people want and need help, but they don’t know who or how to ask for it.

Herbert London: From Innocence To Cynicism

Jan 24, 2018

In 1959 I made a record, a song that reflected the virtues of bourgeois culture: “We’re Not Going Steady.” The lyrics were pure “bubblegum,” silly yet nostalgic. “We’re not going steady because we’re never alone, I can’t even love you, love you on the telephone.” I was reminded of my foray into the rock world as I watched Kendrick Lamar and the half time entertainment at the College Football Championship. All I could think is how culture has been debased in six decades.

Many of us have written about the threat to American democracy. Actually that list is extensive and goes back a number of years. When I wrote my own book about the Roberts Court, I drew on that literature and applied it to the behavior of the Supreme Court. My hope was that if enough of us wrote about the problem, it would begin to sink in that something has to be done.

Bill Owens: So Where Is NAFTA Now?

Jan 23, 2018

More and more commentators on both sides of the border are indicating that they believe Mr. Trump will withdraw from NAFTA. The Canadian government has undertaken a full court marketing blitz including government ministers to reach out to state governors, state legislators, members of Congress and economic developers in the many states with whom Canada does significant trade.

And so it begins: Call it the kick off to New York’s “corruption palooza; the first of the now seven corruption cases go to trial. It is expected that there will be seven high-profile corruption cases going to trial in each of the first seven months of the year.

David Nightingale: Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) Part 2

Jan 21, 2018

Three weeks ago I described some of Fred Hoyle's rebellious childhood, which included truancy from school and wandering in the fields as a little boy, making toxic phosphene in his mother's kitchen -- but I didn't describe how, after failing twice, he won a full scholarship to Cambridge. There, partly because his heroes, James Jeans and Arthur Eddington had trained in mathematics, he also decided for the grueling 3 year math tripos. He was awarded the Mayhew Prize, and a year into graduate work the Smith Prize. Paul Dirac took him on as a research student, on the understanding that Hoyle would work on whatever he wanted and that they would never bother each other. His 'official' advisor was German-educated Rudolph Peierls, who had studied under Heisenberg.

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