Commentary & Opinion | WAMC

Commentary & Opinion

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: The Bachelor

Mar 20, 2020

Dear listener, the truly important news these last several weeks has not been about the Corona virus or the democratic primaries.  It has been about that stickiest, trickiest of love triangles between Peter, Madison and Hannah Ann, who recently wrapped up their time on The Bachelor.  Leaving behind an unresolved story about the future of Peter and Madison’s relationship, as well as Peter’s angry family who can’t stand Madison, the Bachelor has thrilled and frustrated an estimated 8.1 million viewers, roughly the population of New Jersey.

Today, I am focusing on the ‘‘Families First Coronavirus Response Act,’’ passed by the House early Saturday morning, March 14 and by the Senate Wednesday afternoon, March 18.  [For the full text see]   With this focus, I am moving away from the theme of my March 6 commentary in which I lamented the failure of the federal government to engage in sufficient preparedness spending.   That failure is based on a simple cliché that has been attributed to former President Ronald Reagan – “Government is not the solution.  Government is the problem.”   This is actually an incorrect version of Reagan’s economic philosophy because in fact he supported significant increases in federal government spending on the military.   But saying that “government spending to help people is the problem” doesn’t have the same political cache that the more universal statement has.   (There are a few sincere libertarians --- I have met a few --- who are more consistent than Reagan --- wanting to cut the defense budget as well as the rest of the budget.)   Ever since the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, there has been a consistent effort to cut back on the civilian side of the federal government.   My focus back on March 6 was on how easy it is to cut spending on aspects of the federal government that satisfy what public finance economists call “option demands.”  

Bryan Griffin: Having A Choice

Mar 18, 2020

Democrats vying to unseat Trump are promising a lot of “universal” things.

Stephen Gottlieb: The Pandemic

Mar 17, 2020

We’ve all been affected by this pandemic. People are telecomputing, taking bicycles to work instead of busses, and avoiding meetings to see and greet each other and work together. Things have been canceled that I was very much looking forward to. Virtually every step we take invites a calculation of how to do it safely. I found myself in Boston recently at a funeral for a nephew with people I really care about, everybody calculating whom to hug and whom to elbow bump. Many of us have been making frantic trips to the grocery and the drug store for needed supplies we think may go out of stock or just trying to buy things before the virus spreads any more widely.

There is no doubt in my mind that few living Americans have ever experienced anything like the Coronavirus.

The Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli once wrote, “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.”  As we all grapple with the pandemic known as coronavirus, it is important to know that many will heed Machiavelli’s advice and see an opportunity.

COVID-19 is creating significant issues in supply chain activity throughout the world.  Most large industrial economies have created supply chains based upon China’s cheap manufacturing and although there has been some movement in recent years to step away from that supply chain, it has not occurred in any material way.  We in the United States, face it in almost every aspect of our economy even if the basic manufacturing plant has relocated to another country or even back to the United States.  The need for parts which are sourced in China is overwhelming.  Will this event cause a refocus on the issue or just a short-term reflection and increased prices?  My guess, the latter.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Stockpiling In Style

Mar 14, 2020

I’m not sure what it says about my priorities – but I hope something pleasant – that two of my first purchases, addressing the current crisis, were birdseed and alcohol; while I suppose the alcohol could double as a disinfectant that’s not its intended purpose.

Presidents are obligated to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” They are supposed to manage, administer and appoint people to carry out the tasks of government. Trump interprets that as his right to fire experts and replace them with yes-men devoted only to him. He’s reinstated the long disgraced spoils system in an era when everything is much more difficult and complex.

Engraved on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. are the words: “Equal Justice Under Law.”

Blair Horner: The Census Count Begins

Mar 9, 2020

It’s hard to keep track of the important news when living through what increasingly appears to be a pandemic.  Justifiably, public officials are focusing attention on the emerging coronavirus public threat.  That threat is certainly real, but the focus obscures public attention on other important issues.

The Fed reduced interest rates on March the 4th by half of a percentage point, in the hopes of avoiding any adverse economic impact from the Corona virus outbreak, putting rates between 1% and 1.25%.  Reports are coming in from literally all over the country about the negative economic impact of the Corona virus, and with CDC predicting a peak sometime in mid to late March, it is likely we have only begun to see the negative economic outcome.  By the way, the market ignored the rate cut. 

Stephen Gottlieb: A House Divided Cannot Stand

Mar 9, 2020

President Trump’s base thinks they can make America great by kicking out people they don’t like, people with different heritage, faith or color. Yet the evidence is that there are more and better jobs available in communities with more recent immigrants. A larger economy creates jobs and opportunities. It needs more goods and services. By contrast the effort to get rid of people is what economists call a deadweight loss. Deadweight because it is costly but produces nothing. We accomplish more working together than working against each other.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Missing Maria Sharapova

Mar 9, 2020
Maria Sharapova, during the semi final game with Alisa Klaybanova, Toronto, Canada, 2009
WIkimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

My sadness, though modest, came as a surprise when I learned last week that Maria Sharapova was retiring from tennis. My reaction surprised me because I never much liked Sharapova as a player or a personality.

I am old enough to remember that shortly after the 1968 election of Richard Nixon to the presidency, his campaign manager (and future US Attorney General) John Mitchell said, “Watch what we do not what we say.”  He was asking the public to in effect disregard some campaign rhetoric as a guide to actual government policy.  I think this advice is particularly useful for the general public in the era of Trump.    He is at the same time a thoroughly ignorant individual and a pathological liar.   Thus, it is impossible to learn anything of value by just listening to him.

Andrew Pallotta: A Worthy Investment

Mar 5, 2020

We’ve seen the numbers, and numbers don’t lie. By a mind boggling 92 percent, New York State voters favor raising taxes on ultra-millionaires and billionaires to boost state coffers. The change could raise more than $12 billion in revenue as the state grapples with a $6.1 billion dollar budget deficit.

Bryan Griffin: Life And Death

Mar 4, 2020

Don’t be fooled by the promises from Democratic socialist candidates to erase your personal debt. There will be enormous cost to you.

Blair Horner: New York's "Green New Deal" Begins

Mar 2, 2020

Last year, Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers agreed on ambitious goals to show the nation how to attack the climate crisis here in our own backyard.  It is well-established that the burning of oil, coal and gas has triggered global warming that threatens our habitat.

Acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney announced during a European visit that the US was anxious for legal immigrants in order to keep the economy moving.  This is an admission I was surprised to hear from a Trump administration official, yet they are not moving forward with any substantial immigration reform bills or other policies to implement same.  The Democrats should definitely pick-up this baton and present the administration with an immigration bill that will appeal to the needs of business and resolve other outstanding issues that currently plague our immigration system.

David Nightingale: Civil Wars

Mar 1, 2020
General George Sykes and staff, U.S. Civil War
Mathew Brady / PD Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection

Politically the U.S. is now in a state of polarization, a state showing few signs of going away.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Bring Your Own Bag

Feb 29, 2020
Plastic shopping bags caught in trees along Central Avenue in Albany, New York.
Dave Lucas / WAMC

Dealing with guilt can be a long drawn out affair, occasionally requiring professional assistance. So when government steps in to help address the issue you’ve got to give them credit. The guilt I’m referring to is using flimsy single-use plastic bags, the kind that end up in trees and whale bellies and are used over 23 billion, yes billion, times a year in New York State alone.

Keith Strudler: Cancelling The Games

Feb 26, 2020

There a lot of perceived existential threats to the Olympic Games. Like costs, or performance enhancing drugs, security concerns, or globalism, or any of the number of shifting values that might make the world’s most visible sporting festival either unsustainable or simply obsolete.

Stephen Gottlieb: The “Nanny” State

Feb 25, 2020

Republicans complain endlessly about “The ‘Nanny’ State”. Do anything good for the people – that’s “The ‘Nanny’ State.” Can’t we do anything for ourselves? What happened to self-reliance?

John Faso: New York's Bail Reform Mess

Feb 25, 2020

Last Friday, Albany County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a 23-year old Schenectady man for driving without a license.  According to the Albany Times Union, the man’s license had been suspended 26—yes 26— times.  Such aggravated unlicensed operation is a felony under New York law.  The license suspensions had been issued because the driver repeatedly failed to pay fines and appear in court over the past three years. 

State lawmakers return from their Presidents’ Week “mini-break” and begin to seriously debate the next state budget.  New York’s fiscal year starts on April first, thus giving Albany 5 weeks to negotiate the proposed $178 billion state budget.

Roger Stone was sentenced Thursday after much consternation arising out of the Justice Department’s action in response to a tweet from Mr. Trump (maybe?) and Mr. Barr coming under intense pressure after making comments in the news about his desire that Mr. Trump cease criticizing the DOJ and that those actions were making his job impossible.  It’s very difficult to know what the game really is with Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr.  The results of Mr. Stone’s sentencing hearing indicated to me that the Court has ignored the noise from the President and from Mr. Barr.  The Judge issued an independent sentence.  Where the Justice Department goes from here is truly concerning.  Mr. Barr seems to have bent over backwards to help Mr. Trump on an ongoing basis, yet he seemed to take umbrage at recent comments by Mr. Trump.  We will see where all this takes us, but maybe it’s to a new Attorney General.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Take A Tree To Lunch

Feb 22, 2020
Tree on Central Avenue in Albany, NY
Jackie Orchard / WAMC

Maybe it’s because of the book I’m reading at the moment – The Overstory by Richard Powers – as well as the current transgressions against life in general and nature in particular but when I saw a bunch of mature trees slayed to make way for new, bigger power lines near our home in Columbia County it hit me hard.

In January, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum commemorated the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp from its horrific Nazi founders. The director of the museum, Piotr Cywinski, made the following remark:

Stephen Gottlieb: Political Dream Team

Feb 18, 2020

I keep hearing people who should know better, chattering about Democrats not having good candidates for the White House. Just the reverse, there are too many. In fact, each and every one is terrific. Except for primary rules that make them competitors, this would be the political Dream Team ready to wipe away all opposition as if it were the ‘92 Olympics.

Last week, Governor Cuomo made a push for environmental initiatives contained in his budget plan.  The governor advanced what he described as an “historic $33 billion, five-year commitment to fight climate change.”