Author Archives: John Carey


Column: Hopes for 2016

New Year’s resolutions are fine for matters within our own power to control such as what we do to others and to ourselves. But for what is beyond our reach we can only hope and pray for, according to our beliefs. Here are some yearnings that fall now into the category of mere hopes.

I hope that in 2016, we Americans will gain a president-elect with the brains and stamina for this hugely demanding responsibility. Considering the broad range of our present and foreseeable problems, the person we need may not seem to be able to beat the present in our sight. But candidates can sometimes rise above their prospects.

I hope that our organs of government will function successfully in 2016, bringing about lawful and practical solutions that have been thoroughly discussed among the interested parties.

I hope that age-old religious schisms and hatred of other humans, regardless of race, color, creed or beliefs may be defeated by love and kindness and, if that fails, by either a national or international criminal court where the eyes of world might be “the jury of their peers.”

I hope to see a new Rye City Council that swears off the sloppy habit of holding private meetings to discuss the public’s business. Even in the infrequent situations where allowed by state law, private meetings are a blot on our civic reputation.

And I also hope to see a City Council where differences of opinion are welcomed and aired in a spirit of respectful debate, rather than being shunned as some sort of juvenile behavior. Let friendly smiles and good will prevail in City Hall.

And I hope to see continued support for architectural and environmental preservation in our city of Rye and that the only rock-splitting sounds that we hear this year will come from the traditional suburban “garage band” of a guitar, bass and drums and not from any destructive earth-shattering chipping machine.

And I hope to see all members of our community, Republicans and Democrats, white collar and blue collar professionals, women and men, young and old, continue to volunteer their time and expertise on our many boards and committees, our firefighting companies, nonprofit organizations and houses of worship in order to preserve the unique character of this place that we call home.



Column: Cooperation in Congress and at the U.N.

The first page of The New York Times on Dec. 19 was like a sandwich. In the middle was a horrible photo of bloodshed and suffering at a field hospital in Damascus. In stark contrast, both the first and last columns on the page proclaimed the ability of rival factions to compromise.

The first column was headlined “Security Council Approves a Plan for Syria Talks,” while the sixth column read “Avoiding Rancor, Congress Passes a Fiscal Package.” The contrast between these hopeful announcements and the dreadful scene between them is jarring.

The essence of the two “bookend” stories is that nations and politicians alike are capable of adjusting their demands in favor of achieving broader objectives. At the U.N., all 15 members of the Security Council voted in favor of a resolution which could have been blocked by a negative vote from anyone of Russia, China, France, the U.K. or the U.S., the council’s permanent members.

In Washington, D.C., “a chastened, even beaten down Congress on Friday [Dec. 18] passed a $1.8 trillion package of spending and tax cuts with remarkably little rancor,” said the Times. Without having been there to judge the degree of rancor for myself, I suspect that “rancor” is probably a poor word choice.

When members of an official deliberative body have different approaches to a particular issue and express their views with assurance, they are not necessarily venting rancor. It may be that they simply feel strongly and hope their opinions prevail. To belittle them by claiming to perceive rancor is to cast shame on them unfairly. They should not be scorned for simply doing their job.

As 2016 is now here, we should think about what we want from our elected representatives. How do we want them to behave, particularly toward each other? Do we want them to run down and belittle their fellow officials, or would we prefer that they be mutually respectful? Those of us who have served in elective offices can readily answer that question.

For myself, I would rather deal with an opponent who is trustworthy than a member of my own party whose word cannot be counted on. For example, I would cite the respectful relationship that grew between President George H.W. Bush and the candidate who had defeated him for re-election, William J. Clinton.

Except in a heavily one-party state, the legislative process requires the making of deals across party lines. That is made difficult, if not impossible, if members insult each other to the point of feuding. After all, look at what befell Alexander Hamilton at the hands of his foe Aaron Burr.

While dueling with pistols is no longer allowed, dueling with hateful words is also destructive, not only of personal relationships but also of an effective legislative process.



Column: Terrorism versus genocide

One problem with using use the word “terrorism” is that not everyone has the same understanding of that word. People discuss whether acts of mass murder should be called acts of terrorism. But during his Oval Office address on Dec. 6, President Obama clearly did label the San Bernardino, Calif., murders as “terrorism.”

Earlier, the president had been slammed for declining to label certain murders as “Islamist terrorism.” But I feel it would have been a mistake to dignify atrocities by linking them to a major, worldwide faith.

There seems to be no generally-accepted definition of terrorism. There are U.S. statutes and U.N. instruments that use the term in various ways. Until recently, I understood terrorism as a term that refers to mass atrocities designed to influence governmental actions. But we may need a broader, stronger term.

When large numbers of Americans are murdered just because of their nationality, we should look at the definition of genocide. The most authoritative definition of “genocide” is in the related U.N. Convention, which specifies that:

“Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

We Americans are a national group. Killing members of our American national group sounds like genocide if it is being done to destroy part of the group, which is certainly the case.

Murdering Americans just because they are Americans must be at least attempted genocide, a most serious crime.



Column: Climate change court: would we need or want it?

More than 150 heads of state are said to be gathered in Paris this week and next for the U.N. Climate Change Conference, with the aim of stopping climate change in its tracks. Stopping change will be hard enough, let alone any chance of reversing any of the global warming that has already taken place.

The presumed goal of the Paris climate talks is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That means not only stopping any further warming beyond what has already taken place, but also rolling back warming that has already occurred.

What this requires is not only binding commitments for limits on the emission of greenhouse gases, but also pledges of large sums of money to reform present practices and to finance measures to mitigate damage already done by past and present emissions.

Pledges have been made in advance of the Paris climate talks by a number of countries including big polluters like China, India, the European Union, the U.S. and Russia. This has been tried before, notably in an instrument called the Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year.

The hope is that in the next couple of weeks, this huge gathering of envoys, each one answerable to critics at home, will be able to agree on not only emission reductions for each of them but also on how much money each will contribute, to help finance the complex steps proposed. If this seems unlikely, it surely is.

If all essential provisions are in fact negotiated and agreed upon, what then? How can commitments from so many and so diverse a group of parties be enforced? Will compliance with commitments be optional, and therefore unlikely? What means can be devised so that a global climate change agreement can have real meaning? There is one possibly viable answer to this question.

Some climate envoys have proposed the creation of a global “climate court” that would be responsible for enforcing rules requiring developed countries to cut emissions while compensating poorer countries for damage already suffered and helping them adjust to methods that spare the environment.

Some such proposals are contained in a draft prepared in South Africa. The question is whether a compromise can be found that negotiators from 194 nations can agree on. This draft calls for creation of “an international climate court of justice.”

The proposal is meant to “guarantee the compliance of Annex I Parties.” Annex I countries are mostly developed countries: United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and much of Europe, including countries that are struggling financially such as Greece and Portugal.

The rules the court would presumably enforce are based on the view that these developed countries owe developing countries a “debt” over climate change, and must provide financial aid in addition to taking major steps toward cutting damaging emissions.

In one section, the document calls for developed countries to help poorer countries with “finance, technology and capacity building” so they can “adapt to and mitigate climate change” while helping eliminate poverty. Another section provides that developing countries should receive an amount of money equal to the amount “developed countries spend on defense, security and warfare.”

The document also calls for a guaranteed end to warfare, for the sake of curbing climate change. One section, noting that “conflict-related activities emit significant greenhouse gas emissions,” calls on all parties to “cease destructive activities” like warfare—and then channel the money that would have been spent on war and other defense projects toward “a common enemy: climate change.”

The document also asserts the “rights of mother earth,” a concept that environmental activists have been pushing for. Another intriguing slogan is that there is no Plan(et) B to fall back on.



Column: Calmer days at Yale

The president of Yale College recently issued a call for calm and mutual respect in the face of hard feelings based largely on issues of race.

When I arrived at Yale College in 1942, I was told the color line had already been broken. But I had no personal contact with a non-white undergraduate until after World War II when, after my Navy service was over, I was back in New Haven to finish college. I went out for spring football in 1946 and enjoyed playing fullback in the T-formation. I thought my prospects as a starter looked pretty good.

In the summer of 1946, I worked out regularly, which I badly needed after getting very little exercise while at sea in the Navy. Holding onto a ship that is leaping and plunging beneath you is exercise of a sort, but not the kind that equips you for the rigors of football. As my condition improved with the coming of autumn, I felt ever more confident about making the varsity squad.

There was only one factor I was overlooking: the approach, with summer’s end, of a legendary African-American member of the freshman class. His reputation preceded him; there were those who spoke of him only in awed tones. He had made such a name for himself as a high school ball carrier in New Haven that it was not surprising that his arrival for fall football practice at Yale was eagerly awaited. In those early post-war days, freshmen could play on varsity teams.

The name of this football star was Levi Jackson, and I soon learned that his favorite position in the T-formation was fullback, the one I had set my sights on. From there, you could run around either end, or through the line, or throw passes. As I watched Levi in practice, I began to realize what I was up against. He seemed to be uncatchable once in the open field. He could dodge, twist, turn, break tackles and outrun most any pursuer. Compared to Levi, I seemed to move in slow motion.

One stifling late-summer afternoon, our coach, Howie Odell, decided to put on a half-scrimmage. The offense would have all 11 players but the defense no secondary, only linemen. The drill was simply to open up holes in the defensive line so the ball carrier could get through. Levi and I alternated on offense and ran various plays. We both cleared the defense twice and made it to the goal line. Levi did the same three times, while I, thanks perhaps to a missed block, was tripped up on my third try. Coach Howie shouted out, “What’s the matter with you, Carey? Are you tired or something?” And I was demoted from second string fullback.

After practice, Levi approached me with a kind word of sympathy. He did wonders for my spirits, and I watched with pleasure as his touchdowns mounted during the 1946 and later football seasons. At the end of the 1948 season, the time came for the entire squad to vote on who should lead them as captain in 1949.

The word quickly passed among the players that the vote should be unanimous for Levi. But to the astonished surprise of all, it was not so. One player did not vote with all the rest. Amazement and even anger spread through the locker room. Who could have voted against Levi? It turned out that his own vote was the sole dissent. He would not vote for himself.

I am proud to have known and competed with Levi.


Column: Tom, Dick and Harry on combatting ISIS

Tom, Dick and Harry are imaginary Westchester residents. Tom and Dick are combat veterans of at least one of our 20th century wars. The three of them have differing views on how we should deal with ISIS.

Tom, who served in the Marines at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, recalls the huge sign he saw at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1944 saying “Kill Them, Kill more of Them, Kill All of Them.” Instead of “Them,” the sign specified a certain nationality. Tom now feels we should kill all members of ISIS or of any related organization that we can target before they kill us. He did not feel this way until the attacks in Paris on Friday, Nov. 13.

Dick says he personally killed a number of North Koreans in the early 1950s, but does not want any more nightmares of victims on their knees pleading for their lives. Dick also says he has found religion and now believes we should forgive our enemies and bless those that curse or revile us.

Harry was too young to have fought in any of our 20th century wars, but has studied their legal aspects. He believes we should capture as many ISIS-types as possible and prosecute them as war criminals, charging them with crimes against humanity as at Nuremberg. There, three types of offenses were charged: crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On the question of admitting into the U.S. persons from Syria or deporting those already here, Tom, Dick and Harry all believe we have done enough for the Syrians and that we should carefully screen those who are already here, deporting any about whom there is serious suspicion. “This is a matter of life or death, and we can’t be too careful,” Tom, Dick and Harry all agree.

How do you feel? Drop a line to the editor, who would like to know your views.



Column: Bush 41 up close

History must have just been made in the field of American biography. Jon Meacham’s “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush” is an 800-plus page-long, lavishly-illustrated volume on the life of an ex-president that has appeared while he is still able to comment on its contents. Not that he has done so yet, but he may.

The career of George Herbert Walker Bush, Bush 41, has always fascinated me because we were born only one day apart. Our lives were quite similar until we turned 18 in 1942. He then signed up for active duty in Navy aviation. Like many of our classmates at Yale, I chose the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, and was not sent to sea until early 1944. I hunted enemy subs in the Atlantic, European and Pacific theaters of operations.

According to a college friend who had known Bush 41 at Andover, Mass., the two of them tried to enlist the day after Pearl Harbor but were told to come back six months after graduating from school. I look forward to finding out from the book why Bush 41 was in such a hurry. My own stepfather, who had fought for four years as a British soldier right out of high school, told my brothers and me that it would be a long war and we would be called upon when the time was right.

I look forward to learning from the book what it was like flying a TBF torpedo bomber, getting off a flight deck with that heavy bomb hanging under the plane. I had watched a TBF slip beneath the surface of the Atlantic while trying to approach the flight deck of a carrier. No one survived. Nothing was left on the surface except one wheel broken off from the plane.

I can hardly wait to read about Bush’s feelings on hearing enemy bullets rip into his plane and how he was able to struggle out of it in time to get his parachute up before it was too late. What was it like to know that his crew could not escape? And what was it like to sit on a tiny rubber raft until, miraculously, a friendly sub broke the surface nearby?

I want to read about how Bush 41 made the decision to go from Yale to Texas instead of, for example, following his father to Wall Street and the U.S. Senate. I want to know how he was able to launch an oil business with sufficient success to branch out from there into a political career. I want to know how he viewed the U.N.—where he was the chief U.S. representative and was highly respected—according to personnel I talked to at the U.S. Mission across First Avenue from U.N. headquarters.

Why did Bush 41 choose to celebrate his 90th birthday by jumping out of an airplane, while I was happy to enjoy a luncheon with family and friends? The answer to that question may hold clues to other questions this splendid book raises about a splendid American.



Column: Debates in name only

As a teenager, I joined my school’s debate team. We had both intramural and interscholastic debates. The format was simple: each side, composed of one to three students, would argue for or against an announced proposition. You had to be prepared to argue either side of the issue.

A favorite proposition when I was about 16 years old was: “Resolved: that the United States must at all costs avoid involvement in the war between Britain and Germany.” Families with members who had actually fought in the “1914–1918 war,” as some called it, felt particularly strongly, either for or against U.S. involvement. But your own feelings were not to control your position in debate, where the object was simply to be as persuasive as possible.

Later, in college, I participated in the Yale Political Union, where I was chosen to head the Conservative Party. The format imitated the British House of Commons, but the startling backbench catcalls heard in Westminster were not permitted in New Haven, I’m happy to say. We had an issue to argue, and we were expected to stick to it.

How different are the rowdy rough-houses we witness these days among candidates in both parties. In particular, the vicious Benghazi attacks against Hillary Clinton were disgraceful. Fortunately for her, she was able to smile while keeping her would-be tormenters at bay. Her self-discipline revealed some of the toughness required to cope with the endless irritations of the highest office.

I do not believe the present wrangling, both among candidates and also on the part of self-appointed inquisitors, is worthy of our country. If people want to yell at each other, they should visit some bar where anything goes. Apparently, it is decent manners that has propelled Dr. Ben Carson to the top of the Republican candidate heap. His rivals should take heed. What we have seen so far does not deserve to be called by the honorific title of “debates.”



Column: What it can be like to be Rye’s mayor

Mayor Joe Sack, whom I like and supported for election, published a column called “What it’s like to be Rye’s mayor” in the Oct. 16 issue of this newspaper. I would like to add to what he said, based on my own eight years as mayor, plus six years before that as a member of the city council.

A significant problem in City Hall today is the one-party government. Yes, there is one registered Democrat on the dais out of seven people in total, which is not a situation conducive to competition. Local government needs competition, in order for new ideas to be put forward, analyzed and voted on. No single council member can get a vote on any issue without the help of a seconder. A single minority member is powerless.

In the 1960s, there was one four-year term with a two-party council. That was after Tom Butler and I were the first people to be elected on a Democratic ticket. But it didn’t last, and it was not until 1971 that Rye again chose a two-party council, with the election of Dan Spaeth and myself. Two years later, I was elected mayor, and served for eight years, until 1982.

In the past 30-plus years, Rye has often had the benefit of a two-party city council, in which new ideas were welcome and given serious consideration. But in very recent times, with our one-party council, I have been deeply disappointed by the out-of-hand rejection of two proposals that I have put forward. No studies made; no interest shown.

I am referring to the council ignoring, without even an explicit brush-off, my proposals for a city ombudsperson and for a community emergency response team, CERT, as outlined by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The concept of ombudsperson goes back hundreds of years in Sweden. A single official, then called Ombudsman, was designated to hear citizen complaints against government action. The ombudsman would talk with the government officials involved and then would mediate. The aim was to reach an agreed outcome without public debate.

I thought of this approach particularly in connection with the problem our late neighbor Bob Schubert had with the city. He repeatedly attended public city council meetings to plead his case and always left frustrated. It was pathetic to see this aging veteran of the 1944-45 Okinawa Battle being refused not only what he was asking for but even the courtesy of a fair and open-minded  hearing.

How much better for all concerned would it have been for the problem to be privately mediated on by a Rye ombudsperson? That is not to say the city council need not listen to complaints. They most certainly should. But private mediation through an official ombudsperson should be an option open to all.

Where the ombudsperson was unable to bring the parties together, they could render a report to the council on the situation, subject to the public records law. This is a proposition that a two-party council would be likely to study seriously; not just ignore.

The other proposal that I have been disappointed in the city council about is for the creation of a cert. I outlined an explanation published in this newspaper on Oct. 16 of how CERTs work across the country, specifically in the nearby community of New Canaan, Conn.

Several weeks ago, I turned my entire CERT file over to a member of the city council who expressed interest in the idea. So far, I have heard nothing back and have to assume that the council is not interested. That is deeply disappointing, after hearing about 150 mph winds hitting Mexico because of Hurricane Patricia.

I am convinced, based on my own experience with one-party and two-party city councils, that Rye will be much better off if our Nov. 3 election produces a two-party Rye City Council. The election of Democratic candidates would provide us all with healthy competition in our local legislative body.



Column: Ed Grainger, a David who fell a Goliath

Current Rye Mayor Joe Sack, center, with former Rye mayors Edmund Grainger, left, and Judge John Carey. Grainger passed away on Oct. 18. Photo/Lester Millman

Current Rye Mayor Joe Sack, center, with former Rye mayors Edmund Grainger, left, and Judge John Carey. Grainger passed away on Oct. 18. Photo/Lester Millman

My immediate predecessor as mayor of Rye was Ed Grainger. His term was nearing its end in 1973. The question was, who would take him on in the 1973 mayoral contest? I wondered if I would have a chance of getting the better of him.

Ed was extremely popular in Rye, as the David who had gone forth to battle with the Goliath, Gov. Rockefeller. The governor wanted to bridge Long Island Sound from Rye to Oyster Bay. The approach would have slashed right through us just east of Playland.

Ed mobilized expert assistance and took the issues to court. Eventually, the governor backed off, turning his eyes toward Washington. The bridge plan was dropped, and all Rye heaved a sigh of relief. These events were recalled by Ed in his remarks at the recent City Hall anniversary celebration.

As the time approached in 1973 for mayoral candidates to declare themselves, I did not know what to do. I knew that if I took on Ed, I would get my head handed to me. On the other hand, as President Truman used to say, “If you can’t stand the heat, then don’t go in the kitchen.”

Suddenly, the picture changed, with Ed’s surprise announcement that he would not seek re-election as mayor in 1973. Being an elected member of the City Council with six years of experience as such, I had a big advantage over anyone else, so I threw my hat in the ring for mayor.

The result in November 1973 was favorable, as it was again four years later. Not until 1981 did the voters bid me farewell. By then, I had 14 years on the council, so I was content to bide my time until an opportunity to serve as a judge came along a few years later. Being a judge is the ultimate professional joy and satisfaction for a lawyer, in my opinion.