Time Warner and Comcast: Let’s Play Monopoly

By a show of hands, how many think the proposed merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast would be really cool? No no, put down those pitchforks!

Last week the Senate held hearings on the deal, with concerns raised that it could make things even worse for consumers. Do you know anyone in New York with Time Warner Cable that doesn’t have a horror story or three to tell? Do you want the company to have even more clout if it merges with the most dominant cable and broadband provider in the land?

Although Senators worried that the merger might raise already astronomical prices for consumers of cable tv and high-speed Internet, creating an even more powerful national cable behemoth, only one single Senator came out firmly against the deal: Minnesota Senator Al Franken.

How is this possible?

When Comcast acquired NBCUniversal, one of the FCC regulators approving the merger was Meredith Attwell Baker__who is now a lobbyist for Comcast. The new head of the FCC is Tom Wheeler__who previously was a cable industry lobbyist.  Get the picture? Meanwhile, the company bundles large sums of money to both political parties.

Over at Time Warner Cable, CEO Robert Marcus, on the job for only a few months, will receive nearly $80 million in “severance pay” if the deal goes through. You read that right.

One of the pillars of American capitalism is competition__that’s why the restaurants in New York are so outstanding. Can you imagine if two mediocre megachains controlled all of them? What it would mean in terms of quality? Price? Service?

Both Time Warner Cable and Comcast have reputations for abysmal customer service. With little or no competition, does any rational person really expect that to improve, or our exorbitant monthly bills to drop?

The sad truth is too many of those we elected to represent us in Washington represent only themselves, with their greedy hands out for the next corrupting donation.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts testified that the proposed merger was “pro-consumer, pro-competitive and strongly in the public interest.”

You’ve got to give it to him__the guy has a sense of humor. Perhaps he should even host his own cable show. I mean, who’s going to stop him?

Our system is broken. And I don’t just mean Time Warner Cable.

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Dave’s Departure Triggers Jarring Flashback

Since David Letterman announced his retirement last Thursday, the warm tributes and fond memories have been pouring in. My Letterman memory, however, is anything but fond.

Right after Dave said he would be leaving his show next year, he brought out a young intern. “How long have you been interning with us?” Letterman asked. “Since 2009,” the guy replied, to loud laughter.

Wait a minute…Intern…2009…

Back then I had a neighbor in my Upper West Side apartment. We’d nod to each other when we met at the incinerator, tossing out magazines or empty pizza boxes. She was in her early 30s and seemed nice enough, I guess: plain features, quite nondescript.

Late one night I heard rumbling outside my door. When I stepped into the hallway, I saw my neighbor dragging a huge bag to the elevator. I nodded, but she was in a hurry and didn’t seem to notice me.

Early next morning, I wearily stepped outside and was greeted  by about 40 screaming reporters blocking my building’s front door. Once aggressive young woman cornered me. “Do you live here?” she demanded. “Do you know her?” What do you know about her?” About who?

“About Stephanie! David Letterman’s mistress?”

I blinked, uncomprehending. At that moment my neighbor Marty stepped from the building and sternly pulled me aside.”They want to know about Stephanie,” Marty warned. “Don’t tell them anything.”

Who?

Stephanie. Our next door neighbor.”

Her? Really?

The young reporter impatiently yanked on my arm again. “Did you ever see her with Letterman? What is she like? Is she in there now?”

I flashed back to the previous night. The commotion. The look on Stephanie’s face. Oh…

The reporters hounded us for days, phoned us, even tried to sneak in. One woman told our building superintendent Jose that she was Stephanie’s pal, sent to pick up her mail. But our savvy super had spotted this woman on our closed circuit security cameras in the pack of reporters outside.

“Stealing mail is a federal offense,” Jose calmly informed her. “Wait here–I’m calling the cops.” The woman sprinted off, while Jose just grinned. You’re on tape, lady!

So best of luck to you, Dave, wherever your new ventures take you. Just stay away from my building.

(updated from earlier blog post)

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The Late Bill de Blasio

I was reminded recently of a college friend who was never on time. Let’s call him Kevin. One afternoon he left me waiting on a freezing street corner for almost 30 minutes (this was BC: before cells). When Kevin showed up, he barely made an excuse, saying “Sorry, but I always run late. My real friends accept this.”

“Guess I’m not your real friend,” I said, and that was the last time we spoke. But what brought Kevin to mind after all these years?

“I am not a morning person,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told a group he had kept waiting right before he took office. “I think we should reorient our society to staying up late.”

By all means, Bill, all of us should shift our internal clocks and time schedules for your convenience.

The mayor has a reputation for tardiness. In January he arrived almost an hour late to a Department of Corrections graduation ceremony, leaving new officers and their families waiting. And last month he left officials cooling their heels for about 30 minutes before delivering his first State of the City speech.

Lasts week de Blasio was 45 minutes late to his first bill signing, which he chose to hold at an ice cream store not far from his Brooklyn home. Once again, the mayor didn’t offer an excuse to the three dozen or so people he had kept waiting.

The bill mandates that employees with more than 20 workers (which will drop to five in six months) provide full pay when their workers are out sick. Some employers are less than happy with the new bill, saying it will hurt their bottom lines. But hey, people do get sick, and I’m glad our mayor gets this. And the truth is that people are also sometimes late, and de Blasio obviously gets this as well.

In fact, our mayor sounds like a great guy to work for. Because even if you’re late sometimes and keep him waiting, all you have to do is say, “Sorry, Mr. Mayor__ I’m just not a morning person.”

I’m sure he’ll understand.

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Timid Democrats Headed Toward Fall Disaster

And now a word about the world outside of New York City…

All my liberal, oops, progressive friends out there know that demographics are stacked against the Republicans. People of color will soon be a majority in the U.S, women are sick of being told what to do with their bodies by aging conservative males, and young people are overwhelmingly for gay marriage. So it all adds up to a resounding Democratic victory in November, right?

Wrong! That laughter you hear is from my conservative friends.  Barring an earthshaking event, Republicans will gain Senate seats this fall, possibly enough for a majority. And if you think there’s political gridlock now…

“I think we’re in for a tsunami-type election in 2014, with big wins for us,” RNC chairman Reince Priebus crowed recently.

How could that be? The Republicans continue to barrage the President with gratuitous insults. Obama acts weak! No, Obama acts too strong, issuing executive orders instead of dealing with us! Meanwhile, the GOP continues to merrily demonize the unemployed and the poor.

Foreign policy? Send arms to Ukraine!, screams John McCain. And arm the opposition in Syria while you’re at it!  Obama must stop “leading from behind” and go after the unhinged Vladimir Putin, McCain and his cronies insist.

Meanwhile, the inconvenient truth is that Putin’s militarism, scorn of the west and yes, war on gays makes him increasingly popular in Russia, while Ukraine has a frightening number of fascists in or close to power. That while Syria’s Assad is a monster, many of those opposing him can give him a run for his money in barbarity. Obama knows this, thus doesn’t make hasty, impulsive moves. Sorry, John. Thanks Barack.

But why aren’t the Democrats calling out Republicans (aside from Rand Paul) on this simplistic shoot first, ask questions later mentality, reminding Americans how our headlong rush into Iraq led to disaster?

With GOP leaders denying evolution and laughing at climate change, it’s a wonder anyone votes for these flat earth nuts at all, right my progressive readers?

And the conservatives laugh louder. They know November’s elections are virtually in the bag for them.

How can this be possible? Are Republicans who refuse to vote for immigration reform or simple background checks to purchase firearms while they vote for the 50th time to repeal “Obamacare” worthy of anything but scorn?

Did anyone really buy their cry of “death panels!” when Obamacare was first introduced?

Uhm, yes. Because the Democrats did absolutely nothing to counteract this nonsense. And it took hold. As are this year’s distortions and lies about the millions of Americans supposedly losing their health care and jobs due to the now thoroughly demonized ACA/Obamacare. Where are the Democrats countering this and educating the American people?

In 2004, John Kerry stood on a debate stage while George W Bush distorted and mocked his war record. If Kerry had replied “I fought in Vietnam, was wounded and received a purple heart while you were a male cheerleader. So please shut your mouth”, he would almost certainly have clinched the election and spared us a series of foreign policy and economic disasters.

Instead, Kerry said nothing.

Yes, the GOP has become not only “the party of stupid,” as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal lamented, but increasingly the party of outright bigotry. Yet they are most likely headed for a decisive victory in November.

And again, the Democrats will wonder how it happened.

 

 

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Twelve Angry Districts

Can you name your state senator or assemblyman? Sadly, many of us can’t. But a growing number of New Yorkers have a very good reason.

They don’t have one.

After last week’s conviction of Brooklyn Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. on charges of soliciting bribes and extortion, there are 12 districts statewide without a representative in Albany__half in New York City. As a result, almost 1.8 million New Yorkers don’t have an elected official personally advocating for them in the state capital.

Seven of the Assembly seats are vacant because members were elected to other offices. Besides Boyland,  Bronx Assemblyman Eric Stevenson was tossed out in January after being found guilty of taking bribes. And upstate Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak quit the same month after being accused of sexual harrassment by female staffers.

Two other Assembly seats were vacated because of (guess what?) corruption scandals. New Jersey thinks it rules the nation when it comes to government corruption and sleaze? Ha!

NYC Public Advocate Letitia James is among those asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to hold a special election to fill the seats, but he is holding out.

“There is nothing more central to our democracy than the right to choose our representatives,” James recently said on the steps of City Hall. “For the sake of good government and fair representation for all, we must have special elections…and we must do it now.”

Makes sense, right?
Not so fast.

First of all, special elections are costly. They are usually run under the radar, with low voter participation__allowing party bosses to handpick candidates.

“These special elections aren’t really elections,” fumed Dick Dadey, executive director of good government group Citizens Union. “They’re coronations by party leaders. This Tammany Hall-style selection process undermines our democratic practice here in New York.”

So there you have it. Damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. Guess we’ll have to wait until the September primaries and Election Day in November. That assumes other corrupt assemblymen aren’t thrown out before then.

Maybe someday we can get the corruption out of state politics, make certain we all get fair representation in Albany and make good government a priority.

But that day sure isn’t March 12, 2014.

 

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Extremist Views Hurt NYC Schoolchildren

When I was a teenager, my dad exposed me to Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer,” which warns of the dangers of rigid ideology. We have seen it in the far right’s disdain of virtually all government programs and hatred for unions__and the hard left’s diametrically opposite outlook.

We are witnessing this rigidity in the latest NYC charter school battle. A steadily increasing number of such schools have been co-existing in public schools settings__until now.

Mayor de Blasio just reversed the approval of three such local schools, and has made it clear he’s no fan of the charter school concept.

“Right now, our kids are being evicted,” says Eva Moskowitz, who runs the Success Academy in the three schools that were axed. “You’re going to have to ask Mayor de Blasio what his motivations are for a decision that will hurt so many children.”

But de Blasio, the target of protests by over 10,000 charter schoolchildren and their parents Tuesday,  was unbending. “We were handed a series of last minute moves by the Bloomberg administration approving a number of co-locations that we feel were ill-advised,” he said.

The teachers’ union was pleased with de Blasio’s response. “I’m glad the D.O.E. has taken an important first step in vetoing some particularly troublesome pending co-locations,” said UFT president Michael Mulgrew. The union is strongly against charter schools, not because they are unsuccessful but because they hire non-union teachers and don’t strictly adhere to union rules.

Charter schools that outperform the local public school alternatives offer a path to student success to inner city parents who can’t afford private schools. The fact that de Blasio didn’t target failing schools is telling.

For example, one of the programs losing its space is Success Academy’s Harlem 4, with student test scores that significantly exceeded both city and state averages.

But it’s no accident that de Blasio targeted Moskowitz’ three schools. Ex-city council member Moskowitz had the temerity not to vote for de Blasio as City Council speaker in 2002, and now de Blasio seems to be playing petty politics with her. Hasn’t he learned anything from how NJ Governor Chris Christie’s petty vendettas have moved him from a landslide victory just four months ago to fighting for his political life now?

De Blasio’s hard line puts him at odds with both Governor Cuomo and President Obama, who both support the growth of charter schools.

Are all charter schools successful? No. But it seems to me anything that works to help NYC schoolchildren, whether instituted in charter or conventional schools, is worth emulating.  Unfortunately, sometimes those in charge refuse to listen.

Why is that? Hoffer nailed it, saying how the true believer always sees things in black and white according to a rigid ideology, and is “never baffled by contradictions__because he denies their existence.”

Can’t we take the good from both charter and traditional schools without demonizing either? How about it, Mayor de Blasio?

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Stop It, You’re Killing Me!

So far, so good for Jimmy Fallon, who has brought “The Tonight Show” back to New York City, where it belongs.

The ratings have been strong, with Fallon saying “My goal is to make you laugh, so you can live a better life.”

Really Jimmy?

A recent study in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) reports that too much laughter might not only harm, but kill you.

Yep, a hearty laugh or three can dislocate your jaw, prompt asthma attacks, make hernias protrude and cause incontinence (a/k/a the “he made me pee in my pants” syndrome). The Laughter and MIRTH (Methodical Investigation of Risibility, Therapeutic and Harmful) report says it can also lead to cardiac arrhythmia and death.

Does this mean comics who say “I killed ‘em!” after leaving an audience convulsed with laughter are really a bunch of homicidal maniacs? Fallon seems like a nice guy, but he and his fellow comics may be causing more harm than good, if this study is to be believed.

For years, laughter was thought of as “the best medicine” for whatever ails you. Norman Cousins’ “Anatomy of an Illness” described his attempt to cure a potentially fatal disease by renting Marx Brothers and other comedies, and he believed laughter was instrumental in his recovery. Even the authors of this report grudgingly concede that “the benefit-harm balance is probably favorable.”

“We don’t know how much laughter is safe,” says study co-author Dr. Robin Ferner. “There’s probably a U-shaped curve. Laughter is good for you, but enormous amounts of laughter are bad. It’s not a problem in England.”

I’ll bet it’s not. But over here, Fallon and his fellow late night hosts continue to crank out the jokes, oblivious to the dangers. Tonight (Wednesday) Fallon has actor Adam Sandler on to help him in his dangerous mission.

Although I like Fallon, I’m lucky that his jokes rarely make me laugh aloud. But there are others in the public eye saying things truly dangerous to our welfare and liable to make us bust a gut or worse.

Last week, for example, Rep. Michelle Bachmann warned that many Americans still “aren’t ready” for a female president.

Now that’s funny!

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Comparing Apples and Oranges

Any day now, New York will officially lose its standing as the nation’s 3rd largest state to Florida, according to the Census Bureau.

Ten percent of those permanently flying, driving or hitching south are from New York. How do most people decide to abandon our great city for the land of George Zimmerman and Rick Scott? After extensive interviews, I’ve discovered it’s usually a three-step process: 1) step outside; 2) fall on ice; 3) head to airport.

Nope, this brutal winter has not helped our standing. Our latest winter storm makes seven in seven weeks.

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of those making the move are not seniors__40% of those migrating south are under the age of 25.

Ever been to Florida? Besides the heat and micro-bikinis on South Beach, the next thing you notice are the store names: New York Pizza, New York Bagels. Of course, the bagels and pizza in Florida would make a real New Yorker retch. But I guess over time nostalgia overtakes memory.

If you are pondering the move, here are a few things to keep in mind. As a walking city with 24/7 public transportation, New York is one of the only places in the U.S. where a car is unnecessary. In Florida, not only will you need wheels, but you’ll have to deal with lunatics speeding down I-95 while yakking on their cell phones. Drivers can also text while driving, if they’re willing to pay a laughable $30 fine if stopped.

As opposed to our strict gun laws, you can stroll into your Florida Walmart and pick up an assault rifle along with your sunscreen and 32-ounce soda.

Then again, you can swim in the ocean year-round! Just keep in mind that like the New York “snowbirds” that fly down for the winter, sharks are often spotted in Florida waters until about mid-April as well.

Yes, more people will smile and say good morning to you in sunny Florida. Then again, if you don’t respond properly, they may pull a gun on you, especially if they feel threatened by your New York accent.

Still thinking of leaving? Proceed at your own risk.

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Woody, Mia and Us

“Woody Allen is a creepy, child-molesting monster who should be locked up!” “No, Mia Farrow is a lying, vengeful psychotic who brainwashed her kids!”

Thousands of such venomous comments have flooded the Internet since the 22-year-old Woody Allen abuse story came back to life. It happened after NY Times columnist Nick Kristof, a friend of Mia’s, used his blog and a column to run a letter by Dylan Farrow alleging anew that Woody, Dylan’s adoptive father with Mia, abused her when she was seven. This was followed by a counter volley of nasty accusations against Mia.

“Don’t confuse us with the facts, our minds are made up!” seems to be the prevailing sentiment on both sides. But when raw emotion replaces reason, we are all in deep trouble.

This case hit a sore spot with anyone who has been the victim of child abuse. It also raised the ire of anyone who has been falsely accused.

Those who experienced such childhood abuse had an understandable primal reaction when they read Dylan’s allegations. Too often victim’s statements of abuse are ignored, and this Allen-Farrow case has reopened a painful wound for many.

When Woody Allen dated and married Soon-Yi Previn__Farrow’s adopted daughter__people were outraged. When that was followed by Mia’s charges that he sexually molested their 7-year-old adopted daughter, that was it for me. Although a fan of Allen’s movies, I boycotted them for 10 years.

But the more I read about it recently, the more I realized it isn’t that cut-and-dried. Allen’s point-by-point response in Sunday’s Times is compelling. Meanwhile, Allen and Farrow’s adopted son Moses has come out with allegations of his own, saying his dad is innocent and his mother emotionally and physically abused him and his siblings.

Many are furious that anyone would cast doubt on Dylan’s memories of abuse. But isn’t Moses’ painful recollection of abuse at Farrow’s hands equally valid?

So what really happened here? I don’t know, and neither do you. What I do know that child custody cases can get ugly, with children often used as pawns.

The truth is that it’s hard enough to know what’s going on in our own families, let alone others. But the mob mentality on the Internet has replaced the Old West lynching party. And that’s the one ugly fact that has become all too clear.

 

 

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Cutting Gifted Programs Hurts Us All

One of my best memories of teaching is when I had the gifted class. No, these weren’t a bunch of elitist kids__far from it. I taught in East New York and my class was 95% children of color, from poor to working class backgrounds.

I thought back on that class when I read last week about a Brooklyn school cutting its gifted program. The  principal of P139 in Ditmas Park informed parents that it’s Students of Academic Rigor (SOAR) program would stop accepting applications for kindergarten classes, which would now be “heterogeneously grouped to reflect the diversity of our students.” In other words, the gifted program was being phased out.

What made my students shine? The most common themes were smaller families and parents that read to them and showed up on Open School Night__in short, parents who valued education.

Programs for the gifted help bright kids maximize their potential. The city’s gifted programs and schools have turned out scores of scientists, including Bronx-born astrophysicist Neal deGrasse Tyson, and national leaders such as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was selected for a gifted program not dissimilar from SOAR when he was a 4th grade public school student in Queens. Shouldn’t today’s gifted students be similarly nurtured?

Mayor de Blasio’s son attends Brooklyn Tech, one of the city’s elite public schools. If it were to close, the de Blasios could afford to send him to a good private school or hire tutors for him. Low income parents can do neither.

I’ve seen too many gifted children become inattentive or develop behavior problems out of sheer boredom, when their intellects aren’t challenged. There aren’t nearly enough gifted programs in the city for all the children that deserve to be in one, and that’s not only their loss, but ours.

Everyone should be given equal opportunity, and extending Pre-K programs enhances that noble battle. But the key word is opportunity. The notion that “we are all equal” and “everyone is gifted” serves neither our children nor the community at large.

As John F. Kennedy put it, “All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.”

Let’s not take that away from anyone__including our gifted.

(Film Review: 20 Feet From Stardom–click Arts above)

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