Archive for November, 2010

We Stand (Sort of) Corrected

Monday, November 15th, 2010

By Michael Kaufman

David Cay Johnston sent the following message in response to last week’s post: “Thanks for the kind word s in your blog post, but the income data was revised, the first time the Social Security Administration has ever done that. The very top incomes fell sharply, in fact by so much that the average fell.”

The agency had originally reported Oct. 15 that the 74 highest paid workers in the United States were paid an average of $518.8 million in 2009, compared to 131 making $91.2 million in 2008. Johnston reported it in a post at and the stunning news was picked up by many media outlets and blog sites around the country, including Zest of Orange.

However, as Johnston explained in a follow-up post, “My column, and coverage of it by others, prompted internal questions about the reasons the average pay of the highest paid workers quintupled.” According to Mark Lassiter, a Social Security spokesman, the inquiry established that two individuals filed multiple W-2 forms reporting $32.3 billion of pay for work.

After further examination the agency determined those forms were phony. Lassiter said he doesn’t know if the filings were part of a scam or just a prank, and the matter has been referred to the agency Inspector General.

So as it turns out, removal of the bogus reports shows that the 72 remaining highest-wage earners averaged “only” $84.1 million each, down $7 million or 7.7 percent from the 2008 average. “As a result of the revisions, the data show that the average wage in 2009 dollars declined by $457 (not $243), a 1.2 percent decline from 2008,” explains Johnston. “The revision shows that since 2000 the average wage, in 2009 dollars, barely changed in real terms, increasing only $347 or 0.9 percent after nine years.” The median wage remained unchanged at $26,261, which is $37 lower than in 2000 and $253 lower than in 2008.

“The revised data strengthen my conclusion since the new numbers show that total compensation and average compensation was even lower than originally reported,” notes Johnston. “And the fact remains that every 34th worker in 2008 had no work in 2009.” Moreover, he adds, “That median pay in 2009 was below 2000 and average pay was up less than 1 percent from 2000 both show that our policies since 1980 have failed.”

In his original post, Johnston noted that in 1994, when the top category the government reported on was $20 million or more of compensation, only 25 people were in that rarefied atmosphere, and their average earnings came to just under $45 million in 2009 dollars.

“What does this all mean? It is the latest, and in this case quite dramatic, evidence that our economic policies in Washington are undermining the nation as a whole. We have created a tax system that changes continually as politicians manipulate it to extract campaign donations. We have enabled  ’free trade’ that is nothing of the sort, but rather tax-subsidized mechanisms that encourage American manufacturers to close their domestic factories, fire workers, and then use cheap labor in China for products they send right back to the United States. This has created enormous downward pressure on wages, and not just for factory workers.

“Combined with government policies that have reduced the share of private-sector workers in unions by more than two-thirds — while our competitors in Canada, Europe, and Japan continue to have highly unionized workforces — the net effect has been disastrous for the vast majority of American workers. And of course, less money earned from labor translates into less money to finance the United States of America.” We can add to the mix the infamous “Bush tax cuts” for the rich, which will soon be extended unless public pressure forces the politicians in Washington to act on behalf of the beleaguered majority of the citizenry rather than the privileged few. 

Johnston knows from what he speaks. He is a former tax reporter for The New York Times, where he received a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for exposing tax loopholes and inequities.  He currently teaches the tax, property and regulatory law of the ancient world at Syracuse University College of Law and Whitman School of Management. And he is author of two bestsellers on taxes, Perfectly Legal and the recently published, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With the Bill.  His next book, The Fine Print, will be published in 2011.
I don’t know about you but I am going to be sure to read The Fine Print.

Michael can be reached at

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 11/17/10

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Mist Before the Mountains

It was a few weeks ago, a Sunday morning, that I had sudden free time, and went to paint with the plein air group of the Wallkill River School. On my way to the site, I was detoured by the remarkable morning mist. I checked out the WRS site, and it was lovely – but it did not compare to this view, this quiet silhouette.

There’s something about mist, about fog, about how interesting something becomes when it is obscured. Put a veil on it and all we want to do is see beneath that veil.

I’m reading a book that’s pushing me to be courageous, to acknowledge the fear and go on. I know from these past few years, making a living painting, what joy and exhilaration there is in doing this, in carrying the fear with me and going ahead anyways.

I will say there is also joy and security in a regular paycheck, and affordable benefits – but what we give up to get that joy and security!

Even in a life with those elements, and with far less of the freedom and liberty that an entirely self-directed day gives you, there’s plenty of fear, plenty of courage.

Behind the mist, behind the obscured, we are all creatures of spirit and emotion, passion and terror. It’s great to lift the veil now and again and peer underneath.


This painting, of the mountains outside Warwick, is available for sale. It is 11×14, oil on canvas. Please email me at if you’d like to know more about price and shipping.

Gigli’s Photo of the Week 11/14/2010

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Photography by Rich Gigli

Fourth Dimension

In our three dimensional world, we can look at all space as existing on three dimensions. We are limited to length, width, and height, and we can only travel along three perpendicular paths. In the fourth dimension, these same three axes continue to exist. Added to them, however, is another axis entirely, “Imagination”.  Many fascinating possibilities exist when a spatial fourth dimension is present.

Photo was taken through a window of a room at Ringwood Manor. Both the reflection in the glass and the room give the illusion of a fourth dimension.

Love Us or We’ll Sue

Friday, November 12th, 2010

By Jeffrey Page

According to a breathtaking story in The Times, Philip Morris International is suing the nation of Brazil because the government had the temerity to take measures to protect the health of its people.

Brazil did this by requiring that cigarette manufacturers print stark illustrations of the effects of smoking. Where? Right on the outside of the package where smokers could get a good look at what they inflict on themselves.

PMI contends that this serves to “vilify” – their word, The Times reported – it and other cigarette makers.

Smoking has decreased markedly in the United States and Western Europe, and to make up for their losses in those markets, Philip Morris International and other manufacturers are bringing legal actions against nations whose rules make it difficult to sell tobacco products.

Uruguay, for example, has a regulation that health warnings must cover 80 percent of the exterior of a pack of cigarettes. Other nations have rules governing the advertising and promotion of cigarettes.

I think back several years to when it was revealed that some cigarette makers boosted the nicotine level in their product as a means of hooking people more quickly and effectively, and I congratulate myself on breaking my nicotine addiction.

How insidious Big Tobacco has been. How devious.

 I remember when the maker of Camels used to advertise that a survey – did such a survey really exist? I have no idea – indicated that more doctors smoked Camels than any other brand.

The Old Gold brand used to bill its line as “a treat instead of a treatment,” and I wonder how many Old Gold smokers over the years have had to undergo treatments such as chemo, surgical and radiation. I wonder how many have died before their time.

I remember the line “Luckies taste better. Cleaner, fresher, smoother,” and the invitation “Light up a Lucky. It’s light-up time.”

The ads were happy, colorful portrayals of life in post war America. Everything was clean, everything was sparkly. And just to make it perfect, we were advised to light up, sit back and enjoy life. We were killing ourselves of course, aided every inch of the way by the cigarette makers.

And thus, getting back to Philip Morris International’s weepy complaint that it is being vilified by having to follow certain rules, let it be noted that to vilify is to defame, to revile, to speak contemptuously, to speak ill.

Was there ever an industry more deserving of vilification than one that sells a product it knows to be lethal?

Jeffrey can be reached at

No Freudian slip here

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Sigmund Freud

By Bob Gaydos

The popular TV show “Big Brother” is a virtual hot house of Freudian slips. And that should make it easy for you to figure out the next two members of The List of Most Influential Thinkers of the 20th Century.

Bravo to “the lady in the balcony” as Dr. IQ used to say on the radio. Yes, hats off to two Europeans whose influence on contemporary thought and culture has not waned even as their ideas came under increasing criticism following their deaths: George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) and Sigmund Freud.

Orwell died 60 years ago, at the height of his writing career. He was 46. Do you have a TV show named after a phrase you created, a phrase so familiar around the world that it tells you all you need to know about the show before you watch it? Rhetorical.

Orwell’s most famous works, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Animal Farm,” have sold more than 11 million copies each and are still widely read by students today. No other writer has produced two books that have been as successful.

From “Animal Farm’s” “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others,” to Nineteen Eighty-Four’s “Big Brother is watching you,” Orwell’s memorable critiques of the failure of totalitarianism have become part of our everyday language and shaped how we regard government efforts to control our lives and the tendency of revolutionaries to abandon their core principle of equality once they gain power. Fiercely anti-fascist, then anti-communist, he was a wealthy Englishman with socialist ideals. His strength was the clear, crisp, incisive way he expressed his views.

Think of “Newspeak’’ (deliberately simple but confusing language designed to discourage independent thought) and “Doublespeak” (holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously)” and you have Orwellian ideas. Thanks to Orwell, we recognize them for what they are when we hear them today. (Well, some Tea Partiers may be the exception.)

Orwell was not only a novelist. He also virtually invented the free-wheeling social commentary column (today we call them blogs) and wrote hundreds of essays. Any serious writer would do well to follow his six rules of writing, as presented in an essay, “Politics and the English Language.” To wit:

  • “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.”
  • “Never use a long word when a short word will do.”
  • “If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.”
  • “Use the active rather than passive voice.”
  • “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”
  • “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

And if you dare to disagree with any of this, the “Thought Police” will get you.

And who better to police our thoughts, conscious, unconscious or preconscious, than Sigmund Freud? The so-called father of psychoanalysis was by far the most influential 20th century figure in the study of how the mind works and how it shapes what we become. He believed the unconscious part of our brain, where we store all the stuff that happens to us, including the really nasty stuff, plays a primary role in this.

It’s true that a lot of his ideas have been challenged, but a measure of Freud’s unmatched influence is that even the vigorous debate in the field of psychology has revolved to a large extent over whether he was right or wrong. He dominates the conversation.

Freud introduced new ideas on how we think about memory, identity, sexuality, childhood, the meaning of dreams. He gave us the Oedipus complex and unconscious guilt. He introduced the therapist’s couch and lying-down talk therapy, which has evolved for the most part into sitting-up talk therapy. Dozens if not hundreds of movies, plays and novels have been influenced by Freud’s work.

Other forms of therapy have gained prominence since his death, but anyone asked to free associate when the word “psychologist” is uttered is odds-on to respond “Freud.” Sigmund make The List. His mama would be proud.

* * *

So here’s where we stand with the list of 20 (in no specific order):

1. Albert Einstein

2. Gandhi

3. Henry Ford

4. The Wright Brothers (count as one)

5. Thomas Edison

6. Picasso

7. Nikola Tesla

8. Mark Twain

9. James D. Watson, Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin (DNA trio count as one)

10. Winston Churchill

11. Philo Farnsworth

12. Rachel Carson

13. George Orwell

14. Sigmund Feud

The Tea Party Strikes

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

By Jeffrey Page

The Republican victory was not yet two days old when Michele Bachmann informed the House GOP leadership that she wants a piece of the pie by being named the party’s conference chairwoman when the 112th Congress convenes in January.

In most other countries – with the possible exception of Saturn – Bachmann’s ambition would be considered a joke. Bachmann is the Minnesota backbencher whose brain and mouth have never quite connected as evidenced by her bizarre request to the press a few years ago. “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?” she said. Listen carefully and you can hear Joe McCarthy whispering, “That’s my girl.”

Bachmann, a two-term member of the House, is a favorite of the Tea Party movement and thus has some clout. Many Tea Partiers believe – with good reason – that they helped make the difference on Election Day and that because of them, the Republicans have the House. (Of course, they don’t talk much about their failure – Angle, O’Donnell, possibly Miller in Alaska, et al. – to take over the Senate.)

Maybe the Tea Party people have a legitimate claim to a place in the House GOP leadership. But Michele Bachmann? Michele Bachmann, who informed CNN listeners last week that President Obama’s Asian trip is costing $200 million – a day. That Michele Bachmann?

John Boehner, the next Speaker of the House, has a problem with her that rivals the Democrats’ dilemma of 2000. Ten years ago Democrats watched as many of their members gave up on Al Gore and cast their lots with Ralph Nader. As a result, we got two wars and lost several thousand of our young men and women. We watched New Orleans nearly float off and sink. We got Rumsfeld and Cheney and their idiotic mission to find Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. We got Chief Justice John Roberts.

Good old St. Ralph.

And now, Boehner must deal with his fringe, which, like Ivory soap and the Gore defectors, considers itself 99 and 44/100 percent pure. And he must be careful. Never forget that during the campaign, any number of Tea Party activists were quoted as saying they may despise the Democratic Party, but they’re not at all crazy about the GOP either.

Message to Boehner: Watch your back because here comes Bachmann and her demand for respectability, and here’s Boehner who understands he’s got to do something to calm her down. But he can’t hand the GOP over to her and her Tea Party allies. How about a committee chairmanship? Then again, maybe not. The heads of congressional committees must at least pretend that they’re listening to the minority. But it was Bachmann last year who declared: “I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter. And I’m not blaming this on President Obama; I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.”

How about an interesting lie? Because you know damn well that Bachmann knows damn well that the president at the time of the flu outbreak of 1976 wasn’t Carter the Democrat but Ford the un-Democrat. And of course she blames the more recent flu outbreak on President Obama.

How can House Republicans ever be thought of as anything but the Party of No if Michele Bachmann gets a leadership position? After all, it was Bachmann, speaking on health care, who said, “What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass.”

So far, Boehner is resisting Bachmann’s demands It will be interesting to see how long he can ignore her once the Tea Party activists organize around her.

Jeffrey can be reached at

Gigli’s Photo of the Week 10/07/2010

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Photography by Rich Gigli

The 1985 ING New York City Marathon

BIRDS EYE VIEW – The start of the 26.2 mile, ING 1985 New York City Marathon, photographed from the top of the west tower (693 ft), Verrazamo-Narrows Bridge. I recall how the bridge began to shake and bounce in cadence with 18 thousand runners as they crossed into Brooklyn. The first place male  and female winners were, Orlando Pizzolato, 2:11:34 and Grete Waitz 2:28:34.

What Liberal (or Left-Wing) Media?

Monday, November 8th, 2010

By Michael Kaufman

Where are all the liberal and left-wing media I keep hearing people complain about? I’ve even seen bumper stickers lately that say, “I don’t believe the liberal media.” One of my neighbors has one of those. Sometimes when I walk the dog I can hear Rush Limbaugh’s voice blaring from his radio when I go past his house.

I know they don’t like MSNBC but I have some news for them. MSNBC is owned by GE and there is only so much “liberalness” the corporate heads of GE will tolerate. They fired Phil Donohue a while back and they’d can Keith Olbermann in a heartbeat if he didn’t have the best rated program on their network. Both Donohue and Olbermann were among the very few employed by the entire US corporate media to raise their voices against the war in Iraq from the start. All the rest of the newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations fell into place, lockstep as it were.

There are still folks around here who think the Times Herald-Record falls into the “liberal media” category. Uh, has anybody seen Beth Quinn’s byline in the paper lately? Did you happen to read the lead editorial in today’s (Wednesday, November 10, 2010) paper? It is titled “End the free ride on health insurance” and it raises a familiar theme: Public employees, including those who work for local governments and school districts, have not been hit as hard by the rising cost of healthcare insurance as have people who work in the private sector. Citing data obtained by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the editorial suggests that if these people “contributed in the same way [as private-sector workers], state taxpayers would reap large benefits, now and in the future.”

These “savings,” estimated at $1 billion a year in New York State, would start as soon as the employees “began contributing.” In the future, “the savings would escalate as the cost of healthcare increases.” According to the editorial, the only people opposed to such a change would be “those employees who have enjoyed the benefits of free health coverage while they worked and when they retired. They can be counted on to use their considerable clout to fight this through their friends in Albany.”

What the editorial does not say and what an editorial in a truly liberal or left-wing media outlet might, is the following: “Free health coverage through the life span is now recognized as a right in civilized countries throughout the world. Despite restrictive labor laws that limit their rights, unions representing teachers and public employees have won better healthcare and retirement benefits for their members than those offered by employers in the overwhelmingly non-unionized private sector. Private-sector employees would do well to follow their example.”

Instead, over the last few years, including those before Rupert Murdoch bought the paper the Record has been running exposes of public workers who put in ridiculous overtime hours to pad their salaries and benefits packages at the expense of taxpayers. We might read of a toll taker whose modest salary balloons into six figures or of a teacher or cop who has figured out a way to retire at a young age with oodles of vacation pay and paid sick time coming to them in addition to the healthcare and pension benefits. 

But where were the Record and the rest of the so-called liberal media when this news was announced last month by the Social Security Administration?  Every 34th wage earner in America in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar. Total wages, median wages, and average wages all declined….but at the very top, salaries grew more than fivefold.

“Not a single news organization reported this data when it was released October 15,” said David Cay Johnston, former tax reporter for The New York Times and author of the recently published, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With The Bill, about hidden subsidies, rigged markets, and “corporate socialism.”

“To give this some perspective,” says Johnston, “from 1992 to 2000 the number of people earning any wages grew by 21 million, but nine years later just 2.8 million more people had any work. These wage data….tell us only about the number of people who earned wages and how much. They tell us nothing about whether these individuals were underemployed, had to work more than one job, earned fringe benefits, or were employed at a level commensurate with their abilities.

“But they do give us a stunning picture of what’s happening at the very top of the compensation ladder in America.” According to Johnston, “The average wage in this top category increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009. That’s nearly $10 million in weekly pay!” Further, “These 74 people made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers.”

Johnston says the story the numbers tell is one of a strengthening economic base with income growing fastest at the bottom until, in 1981, “we made an abrupt change in tax and economic policy. Since then the base has fared poorly while huge economic gains piled up at the very top, along with much lower tax burdens.”

I would love to see an editorial in the Record about the savings and benefits that would be derived if these fat cats were made to pay their fair share in taxes.  I’m not holding my breath.

Michael can be reached at

Sustainable Living by Shawn Dell Joyce

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Right now many of us are planning our Thanksgiving Dinner. We have a big decision; to sit in front of a meal of imported ingredients, grown around the world in places the Pilgrims never set foot, or, skip the supermarket and source all the ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner from local farms, mills and growers.

Eating local embodies the spirit of the first Thanksgiving, where Puritans and Wampanoags sat down together to share a meal that consisted mainly of shellfish, eels, wild fowl (including swans and eagles) and other local foods that they could gather or grow. When we source our foods locally, we eat in season, and celebrate what’s grown in our region. Absent from the first Thanksgiving feast were modern traditional dishes like corn on the cob (all corn was dried by that time), pumpkin pie (they had no sugar), cranberry sauce (no sweetener other than Maple syrup), and stuffing (they served pudding).

We have altered the menu over the years to the point where we rehash and serve the exact same dishes over and over. This year, have a real Thanksgiving by celebrating the local harvest and the hardworking hands that grew it. Buy your dinner ingredients from local farms, and prepare what is seasonally available in our area. Your food dollars will stay local, nourishing the farm family, farm hands, and local community. This is an act of gratitude that bolsters your local economy during tight times.

Right now, you can find turkeys that live the way nature intended, chasing bugs, scratching in the grass and frolicking in the fall leaves instead of penned up one-on-top-of another in factory farms. These turkeys will cost a little more than their supermarket counterparts because they are not mass produced, or government subsidized.

As a matter of fact, none of our small local farms are government subsidized, so when you pay a little more for local produce, it is because you are paying the full cost to grow the food at a fair rate. Large farms that wholesale to chain grocers are subsidized by our tax dollars lowering the cost of goods on the supermarket shelf. This makes non-local groceries appear cheaper than locally grown foods, but there are hidden costs that must be paid in the long run by someone else. Like the loss of soil fertility, social costs of cheap labor and environmental devastation of shipping food over thousands of miles.

This year, as you and your family gather around the Thanksgiving feast, offer a prayer of gratitude for our small farmers and farm workers. Give thanks that we still have people in our region willing to grow quality food in a market flooded with cheap imports. Support these hard-working folks by eating locally grown foods at the holiday table, and year round. Let’s reject our national food system that makes “cheap” the highest priority, at a deep cost to the environment, the farmers, and future generations, and spend a little more on quality local food and farms.

To find local Thanksgiving Dinner ingredients:

Turkeys: Norbury Farms in Middletown 342-3788

Cranberries: Blooming Hill Farms in Washingtonville 782-7310

Pies: Soons Orchards in Middletown 374-5471, Walnut Grove Farm Montgomery 313-4855

Side dishes: Hoeffner Farm, 405 Goodwill Rd., Lawrence Farm 562-4268

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery,

Gigli’s Photo of the Week 10/31/2010

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Photography by Rich Gigli

Rocky Mountains, Alberta, Canada

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.

When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.

Ansel Adams