Monthly Archives: May 2012

It’s a Mad, Mad, Sad Day After Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day, when speech writers, columnists and even bloggers dig deep to write fervently and reverently in an inevitably futile effort to honor those who have fought and died for our country. It’s an incredibly daunting task and the words always seem to come up short.

That task is made all the tougher against the backdrop of wrongheaded foreign policies, the sad inexorable passing of our World War II veterans and the “me first” attitudes that have all contributed to this being a mad, mad, sad Memorial Day. But as Memorial Day is strictly and appropriately the province of honoring those who have served America this post waits till today – the day after.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Sad Day After Memorial Day.

It’s truly maddening that we live in a country where the few – mostly poor, protect the many – mostly middle-class and the many don’t understand or appreciate their sacrifice.

Sad that America has been at war for over a decade and the youngest fighting these wars have only a vague recollection of the horrendous events that precipitated our fight, their sacrifice.

Maddening that our leaders ignored the modern history of Afghanistan and wasted blood and treasure occupying a remote land devoid of any real national interests.

In the same breath, it’s maddening that our so-called ally Pakistan harbored the sick, twisted, coward, murderer Bin Laden lengthening a pursuit and in turn a war policy that could have, should have and likely would have been curtailed so much sooner.

Maddening that our politicians lack the courage to ask Americans for more but in turn demand too much of our loyal troops.  The over deployment of our young service men and women has ruined countless marriages, relationships, self-perception and left too many broken lives.

It’s maddening that our Generals do not speak out more about the harm that political expediency has wrought on America’s fighting forces because of over deployment.

With that in mind,  it’s terribly sad that the suicide rate among our young veterans is soaring.

For those veterans that make it back, it’s sad that they are coming home to a sluggish economy weighed down by the debt and bloat of a country unwilling to make a fraction of the sacrifice they made.

Mad as hell at a President for not having the guts to reach for real ‘hope and change’ and end the so-called “just war” in Afghanistan much sooner.

Maddening that the President treated the heroic exploits of Seal Team Six like some plot line in a Tom Clancy novel in which he starred as the dashing Chief Executive rather than a sober, clandestine military operation.

And mostly mad at Exiledinelbany for not saying these things before.

The American military and the young men and women who fight to protect this country deserve our unwavering respect and unflinching support. Their response to every command, to every mission is a simple,  yes sir or yes ma’am. They deserve a government and a people with the courage to look out for their well-being and not to casually rely on their heroics as a panacea for difficult political decisions.

Happy Day After Memorial Day.

Bet the House on I’ll Have Another

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo wisely wrested control of horse racing from NYRA creating a truly historic, yes historic, opportunity to remake and rejuvenate a sport that has been in decline for the past thirty years.  NYRA has been flaunting its bad behavior for years at the expense of taxpayers, the greater industry and just plain common sense.  To borrow a phrase, “they were asking for it.” The state takeover, avoids nasty drawn-out litigation over the ownership of the tracks and paves the way for comprehensive policy, regulatory and management reform to rescue the troubled sport.

But it’s not an easy task and with that in mind Exiledinelbany offers the following words of advice:

1. “You break it, you own it.”  As Colin Powell said, courtesy of Tom Friedman, the Pottery Barn Rule is now in effect. As such, Governor Cuomo should jump in with both feet – either way he owns NYRA and its outcomes for the next three years and beyond.

2. Immediately seize control of the NYRA marketing department – While legislation is pending, the NYRA marketing department will be working desperately to monetize value from the Belmont Stakes and improve their bottom line.  Scared and desperate is no way to run anything — let alone a marketing department for a marquee event that comes around maybe every 34 years.

3. Put Mike Del Guidice in charge – he has the Governor’s confidence, he knows the industry and can command the internal and external respect necessary to make the tough changes NYRA needs.

4. Death Penalty for CheatersWhat should Saints head coach Sean Payton and trainer Richard Dutrow have in common? Take a page from Commissioner Goodell and bring back integrity to the sport by creating and passing  stiff penalties for cheaters.  We aren’t likely to see a bounty program any time again soon in the NFL…and we shouldn’t see doping in horse racing.

5. New York is the media capital of the world, take advantage of it- immediately ask Donny Deutsch or another blue chip New York PR agency to manage branding for the Belmont pro-bono.  A marquis client, a short-term assignment – big reward.

6. Promote the whole state – the whole state has been paying the tab to bail out NYRA time and time again over the years. Give excess advertising inventory at the track to the I Love NY campaign, the Olympic Regional Development Authority and the State Parks Department to promote their properties.

8. Open Up the Infield for the Belmont Stakes – ask anyone who has been to the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Stakes, the infield is a special place for everyone from the most casual fans to the most elite corporate sponsors.

9. The Great White WayTimes Square is one of the most iconic destinations in the world, synonymous with the Empire State and is less than 20 miles from the finish line at Belmont. Conduct the drawing for post position with ABC Sports in Times Square instead of the nondescript backstretch at Belmont.

10. The Triple Crown of SportsWork with the Yankees/Mets and Bethpage Black to create the premier New York sporting experience package. US Open quality golf, Triple Crown Racing and the Subway Series – auction them off.

11. Friend NYRA – there isn’t a sport on the planet that could benefit more from the instant nature of social media.  Integrate social media into the technical, cultural and celebrity aspects of the sport to both teach the game and attract a whole new generation of horse racing fans.

Most importantly, horse racing fans are notoriously superstitious, playing hunches, names, even colors and special dates.  With that in mind, while most bettors are aware that there hasn’t been a Triple Crown Winner since 1978, 34 years ago, what they probably don’t know is that November 1978 was the first time a Cuomo was elected to statewide office, Lt Governor Mario Cuomo.

So for my best advice – Bet the House on I’ll Have Another.

To Friend or Defriend America?

Yesterday, Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng officially defriended China and friended America. His decision to relocate to Greenwich Village is a reaffirmation that America remains one of the most desired destinations in the world for those yearning for freedom.

And for the blind lawyer from China – New York is clearly the best place to live and remain the inspiring human-rights campaigner he has emerged as in China. It’s traditionally difficult for Chinese dissidents, once they leave the country, to remain effective in reaching followers and sympathizers in such a closed society as China. But as we have seen with the Arab Spring the emergence of social media has changed the game, breaking down many traditional barriers and giving Chen a chance.

Yet, it also makes sense for to Chen to come to New York from an economic point of view.  New York remains the media and intellectual capital of the free world and will provide the most opportunities to monetize his celebrity, values, ideas and cause.

This is not to in any way denigrate Chen’s motives – in fact the opposite.  The amplification of Chen’s message, his experience and his story will further the cause of freedom for the Chinese. And in America, aside from our President, we typically applaud the economic advancements that come with intellectual accomplishment.

Ironically, Chen’s decision to friend New York, comes at the same time as a scuffle has ensued over Facebook’s Eduardo Saverin essentially defriending America and renouncing his citizenship, purportedly in an effort to escape our increasingly onerous tax system.

Senator Chuck Schumer’s response to Saverin’s defriending was predictable: run to a microphone, put out a press release and introduce legislation that will never go any where – the catchy Ex-Patriot Act.  Schumer said, “This is a great American success story gone horribly wrong.”  First, only a cheerleader for the trial lawyers would define a great American success story as a lawsuit settlement no matter how big and second what’s “horribly wrong” is a tax system so perverted that it chases people out of America and keeps our corporations from coming back.

Our country’s tax system is broken.  From ridiculous loopholes to confiscatory rates the tax code is a drag on our economy – that’s what has gone “horribly wrong.”

The reality is our nation is on the brink of, if not already experiencing a version of New York’s Snowbird effect.

In New York, people of means and minds escape our onerous tax burden by actually managing the number of days (183 – a part of a day is a whole day)  they spend in state. Technically, Snowbirds is a term that refers primarily to retirees but many of the people I know now moving to Florida and other lower tax states aren’t retiring they are simply escaping – much like Eduardo Saverin.

To friend or defriend America — only in a country as free as ours can you live that question.

No Child Should Go Hungry…

It could be the preamble to any policy prescription, making it sound both reasonable and compassionate.

No child should go hungry…let’s tax the wealthy.

No child should go hungry…let’s up the minimum wage.

No child should go hungry…let’s stop bullying because its hard to fight on an empty stomach.

No child should go hungry…let’s outlaw neuticles.

The point is not to demean or diminish the issue of child hunger – the thought of any child going hungry is sad and disturbing.

The point is — we are totally missing the point when we discuss fingerprinting for food stamp recipients.

The two real underlying issues that contribute to child hunger are the economic and moral conditions of our times. We could debate the economic issues ad nauseam and the policies that should be enacted to fight unemployment and poverty, but part and parcel of this problem is the moral component.

My Mom raised four children — I won’t say on her own, she had the support of my Dad and her extended family – but it was no picnic.  We weren’t poor by any stretch of the imagination — and my point is not comparative, but there were times that I remember well — when Mom might be between jobs, or not getting enough hours and things would be tight.  And at those times I remember the “funny colored money” that you could only buy food with.

I remember my Mom hated it, she never said anything but I could tell and in turn I felt awkward about it. I didn’t understand  then and don’t even today which things you can buy and which things you can’t and why.  I hoped that the other kids in my class wouldn’t see us checking out and if  I did see one I would do my best to avert my eyes or fade into the checkout line. Inevitably it felt like the clerk was ringing things up in slow motion, I could swear intentionally slow so I could get caught and there was always, without failure (or so it seemed), a price check. Ultimately, I would find myself wandering away from the register seemingly distracted in the hope if we did run into someone – they wouldn’t make the connection.

I, even as a 10 year old,was embarrassed that we were using food stamps.  So in that sense I understand what the Governor and other well-intentioned people are talking about when they discuss the stigma people feel accessing food stamps.

Notwithstanding that I believe that banning the use of fingerprinting as fraud prevention tool is way off base and here is why.

My Mom, even though she hated it, even though it embarrassed her – took food stamps when it was absolutely necessary — so that her children would never, ever go hungry and we didn’t. It was never for more than a few weeks at a time and as we got older it happened less and less.

That’s called being an adult, being responsible and doing what u have to do to feed your family.

Her pride and her work ethic ensured that it wouldn’t become a way of life.  And that pride and that work ethic was passed down to all of her kids who took very different paths in life.

Times change and yes, back in those days recipients weren’t finger printed but we also didn’t have benefit cards that look like every other ATM, credit or debit cards. The stigma then was counting out the “funny money” in the bright light of the checkout — not the privacy of the local assIstance office where everyone there is similarly situated.

So please excuse me if I don’t think that the stigma is too much, that public assistance should feel temporary, be temporary and not encourage a level of comfort that encourages complacency. Most importantly,  I absolutely reject the notion that a little discomfort, inconvenience or even embarrassment is ever a reason to ever let your child go hungry.

To my Mom for the guts to take help when she needed it and the perseverance to be done with it as soon as possible.  Lesson learned.

Jousting for Credit

On the occasion of President Obama’s trip to Albany to visit CNSE there was a great deal of dissonance about who deserved credit.

Jimmy Vielkind of the Times Union tweeted the day before that he was looking forward to some good old fashioned “credit jousting”. But really, anyone, with the capacity for a clear-eyed honest assessment knows where the credit belongs; it belongs with a whole lot of people.

Cuomo senior, hired the center director, an ambitious junior researcher at the time and its rumored he may have even taught him micro-electronics.

We know that Speaker Silver provided funding to support the Focus Center at a critical juncture in the development of capacity at Albany. Although what you probably don’t know is that the Focus Center was actually once a joint effort with RPI and for a period of time it was totally unclear who would emerge as the lead. (Most bets were on RPI)

We know for certain that Governor Pataki, put in the lions share of funds, energy and prestige – that’s not a question it is a simple fact…backed up by six State of the State addresses, countless releases, a simple Google search and a Noyce SIA Man of the Year Award.

And what you may know is that Senator Bruno largely supported the effort until he had a clash of personalities with the self-ordained “geek” that runs the center.

Finally, we know that our current Governor wisely invested his own truckload of cash into the cutting edge 450mm project that is underway, keeping the momentum moving forward.

But you may not know all the other people who actually made the Center a presidential destination.

There were so many that were essential to this program along the way; from John Kelly at IBM without whom there is no Center, to Jeff Lovell who cajoled, pestered and ground down his opponents to deliver deals for a Governor to Dean Fuelihan who did much the same with great success for the Speaker.

But today we remember the late Lou Tomson.

Lou was the consummate inside player; simply put he knew how to get things done. From the halls of the Capitol to the wreckage of Lower Manhattan, from the Thruway Authority to Plug Power, Lou was sought out and drafted into service whenever there was a tough problem. Lou was renowned for his intellect, his drive, his disarming manner and his unparalleled knowledge of how to manage the levers of government.

Lou sort of had a Where’s Waldo quality to his career, always showing up in big spots, at key times to quietly and effectively manage crisis and opportunity.

So it was no surprise to learn that Lou was founding Chairman of the Albany Nanotech Board.  In that role he acted as councilor, advocate, mediator and nursemaid to the Center of Excellence as it emerged from its infancy. At a time when the future of the Center was still in question, Lou was critical in marshaling the resources and the political will to move the Center forward to the transformational level it has achieved. 

Every bit the equal of Lou’s intellect and drive was a dry, wicked-ironic sense of humor that always cut to the heart of the absurdity of moment. For anyone who has worked in government you will know that a sense of humor is essential to bear the self important, chest beating geniuses that so often find their way up the ladder – let alone get things done.

With that in mind, I’m sure Lou would find it genuinely absurd that on May 8th as the President of the Unites States stood at the podium at CNSE, and said “This school and this community represent the future of our economy. I want what’s happening in Albany to happen all across the country”… as Speaker Silver dropped a last minute release battling for credit, as the Geek lost track of the gubernatorial line of succession that built the edifice to him and as politicians of all stripes and backgrounds jousted for credit…Lou Tomson passed quietly into a Swedish afterlife finally losing his courageous battle with cancer.

I think Bob Bellafiore said it best, “Lou spent a life in and around government and somehow managed to remain well adjusted. No matter how much time you’d get to spend with him, it would never be enough. A true giant.”

Rest in Peace Lou Tomson.

National Train Day 2012

Today, May 12, 2012 is National Train Day and I have decided that thanks to AMTRAK, I really have something to celebrate this year and want to mark this special day, but how?

My first thought was to head to a homeless shelter so I can experience all the aromas, colorful people watching and third-world sanitary conditions you experience waiting in Pennsylvania Station – but the airfare to Calcutta was just too much.  Thank you again to Sheldon Silver, Elliot Spitzer and the greedy real estate developers who wouldn’t sign on to redeveloping this hell hole years ago.  We all got – what you deserve.

And of course a special thanks to Cablevision and boy genius Jimmy Dolan for screwing up the Foley Post Office Redevelopment project and everything else you touch. Isaiah Thomas, really?  All we can hope is you keep your meat hooks off jazz flute and that the Rangers exceed the grasp of your incompetence in Game 7. But again, we all got – what you deserve.

Alternatively, I can honor National Train Day by starving myself for three-hours in keeping with the mandatory AMTRAK fasting policy thrust upon us because “the café car is closed.” You know you are an institution that is behind the times when the Catholic Church passes you by – even they allow eating meat on Friday. Someone’s conscience should object to the truly B.C., Industrial Revolution era conditions that riders must endure, Cardinal Dolan please.

In fairness, maybe it’s not a Catholic thing – maybe it’s a Jewish thing. Perhaps it’s part of a clever promotional campaign I missed, “Ride AMTRAK  – We treat everyday just like Passover” or “On AMTRAK we observe the Sabbath and shut down our engines at sunset on Fridays and most other days too.”

Or perhaps I should celebrate National Train Day by honoring the workers who ferry us to and fro every trip.  With that in mind, I can go to the local Taco Bell just to experience the same level of I don’t give a hoot, sorry there is just nothing I can do, miserable service that I regularly get on board AMTRAK.  Of course, at Taco Bell, increasingly pierced and tattooed high schoolers make minimum wage, have no benefits and no job security. And even worse, over the past few years they have been forced to live with triumvirate member Colonel Sanders and his “wee beady eyes and that smug look on his face” – peering down on them all day.

It’s true, some AMTRAK employees have faced similar tough working conditions, only recently escaping Joe Biden’s wee beady eyes, chronic suntan and constant references to Osama Bin Laden.

But in fairness all the kudos don’t belong to the workers, perhaps I should celebrate AMTRAK’s excellent management. From what I understand, AMTRAK senior managers are up for the annual “Charlie Hayward NYRA Excellence in Bankrupting Quasi-Public Institutions Award.” I for one would like to see AMTRAK win this year but they are going up against some stiff competition with the folks at TSA.

Finally, I decided if I really want to celebrate National Train Day 2012 it only makes sense to do so by honoring AMTRAK’s signature achievement of 2011. So on May 12th I will go home, dig out my old Commodore 64, fire up that first AOL account and experience all the magic of dial up – yes that same “high speed internet” you get when accessing AMTRAK’s so called wireless network.  It just doesn’t get any better.

Thank you AMTRAK and Happy National Train Day 2012.

Brooks, Napoleon and Exiledinelbany

When I was in high school, I remember learning about Napoleon and his Exile to Elba.  The part of the story that always most fascinated me was that Napoleon wasn’t actually imprisoned on Elba, in fact, during his exile he ruled Elba…as an Emperor.  He could leave whenever he wanted he would just have to face the consequences of his actions and after a time he did.

I have been Exiledinelbany practically my entire life, with countless chances to leave and I have for short periods – but I always come back. Having spent too many years in  government, like Brooks in the Shawshank Redemption, I will admit to not yet being completely adjusted to “life on the outside.”  The ability to direct and effect change is real, albeit limited on the inside, but on the outside it’s more persuasion than direction, grin and bear it and a wing and a prayer. In essence that is the reason for this blog – to answer my own need to try and affect small change through persuasion, reflection, humor or sometimes just by stamping my feet loudly.

Brooks hung himself, Napoleon deluded himself – there has to be a better end to exile – maybe a nice island off the coast of Tuscany.