Archive for the ‘Michael Kaufman’ Category

The ‘White-on-White’ Crime Problem

Friday, September 9th, 2016

By Michael Kaufman

Colin Kaeperneck ... kneeling to make a point

Colin Kaeperneck … kneeling to make a point

Why is it that no one seems to be addressing the serious national problem of white-on-white crime? Did you know that 85 percent of all homicides of white people in the United States are committed by other white people? Or that most victims of white pedophile clergymen are white children? Speaking of child molesters, weren’t all of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s victims white youths? And when it comes to gun violence, nobody can shoot white schoolchildren, teachers, moviegoers, celebrities, or elected officials better than a white guy.  And let’s not forget the Unabomber, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy (white guys all).

In our region alone reports of white on white crime appear regularly in the media, although never identified as such. Recent headlines include “Two men plead guilty to elder abuse,” “Kayak murder case could begin in October,” and “RABBI CHARGED IN KJ MURDER PLOT.” So far I haven’t heard anyone say that the “white community needs to have a conversation” about the problem.

On the other hand I have heard many white people decry “black-on-black” crime when talking about shootings in black neighborhoods in cities such as Chicago and Detroit. Last week I heard a white talk-radio host in New York say the black community in Chicago needs to have a conversation about the black on black shootings in that city.

“Suddenly everyone is having a ‘conversation,’” wrote the late great journalist Alexander Cockburn in 2008. “The word has come of age. I see it bowing and scraping on the opinion pages and TV talk shows three or four times a day.” In the above example it is obvious the talk-radio host has no personal contact with anyone who actually lives in a low-income, inner city neighborhood beset by a host of problems including street crime and gun violence.

The rhetorical call for a conversation was part of a longer rant that began with a criticism of Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who has chosen to kneel when the National Anthem is played prior to a game. Kaepernick says it is his way of drawing attention to the ongoing mistreatment of people of color in the United States and an expression of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. According to the talk-show host, Kaepernick is being disrespectful to veterans: “My father is a veteran and maybe that’s why I feel so patriotic … I know there are still some problems with regard to race in this country. I get that, but …” And that’s when the call came for the black community to have a conversation.

Do the people who say these things realize how obnoxious and patronizing they are? Do they not know that people talk to one another about conditions in their neighborhoods?  Ironically, the neighborhoods in question are the same low-income areas once inhabited by Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants who faced similar conditions.

The Purple Gang in 1920s Detroit, for example (composed entirely of Jews), has been described as “the most efficiently organized gang of killers in the United States.” According to the Detroit police it killed more people than Al Capone’s mob in Chicago. Most of its victims were other Jews. Members of the Purple Gang grew up in an east side neighborhood described by historian Robert Rockaway as “one of the least desirable areas of Detroit in which to live.” The district was “more crowded, had higher rents, and higher disease and death rates than other parts of the city,” wrote Rockaway.  An article published in the Jewish American, Detroit’s Anglo-Jewish weekly newspaper, deplored the prevalence of “tenement houses that are actually unfit to live in: old, decrepit, polluted and infected hovels, where human beings endeavor to exist and where a young generation is reared.”

“The members of the Purple Gang were bred in this environment,” said R0ckaway. The gang extorted protection money from cleaning and drying businesses, almost all of which were owned by Jews. Those who didn’t pay were subjected to fires, dynamiting, stink bombs, thefts, beatings and kidnappings, and at least two were murdered in cold blood. Would it have been any different if a Gentile on the radio told the Jews in Detroit that they should have a conversation?

Michael can be reached at











Brabenec Survey Is a Karlapalooza

Friday, April 17th, 2015

By Michael Kaufman

If you live in the 98th Assembly District you have no doubt recently received a couple of pieces of “Dear Neighbor” mail from our new representative in the State Legislature, Karl (Karlapalooza) Brabenec. In these pieces, professionally produced and printed in non-union shops, he says he wants to make sure our “needs are being represented” and that he believes “having an open dialogue is critical.” Apparently his idea of an “open dialogue” is a survey with questions that are meant to seem important, but are actually meaningless, irrelevant, or loaded, e.g., written in such a way as to elicit a particular response.

We are asked, for example, to reply Yes or No to “Do you believe the DEC should have selected Orange County as lead agency in Kiryas Joel’s annexation proposal?” Karlapalooza knows that the decision made by the state Department of Environmental Conservation is enormously unpopular outside the borders of KJ itself. The DEC designated the Satmar Hasidic village of KJ to lead an environmental review of its own proposal to annex 507 acres from the Town of Monroe. It just doesn’t seem right. So, you may ask, what about Orange County?

Anyone who has followed the activities of the dysfunctional Republican-led county legislature over the past eight years or so can only shudder at the thought. Think of all the money that would be doled out to cronies, oops, I mean consultants, over an extended period before a decision is reached….and immediately challenged by a lawsuit that will cost taxpayers even more to fight. No, Orange County is not the answer either. The DEC made the right call because KJ will give it its best shot and if its case is factually refuted by scientific evidence the annexation will likely not be permitted.  But that is not the answer Karlapalooza seeks, or the one he will get from most respondents.

Whew, it’s a good thing there are some easy ones. We can say how we “feel” about the governor’s performance on a scale from 1 (Strongly Approve) to 5 (Strongly Disapprove). We can do likewise for the State Legislature. But is there really anyone who strongly approves of either? What is the point of asking us when you already know the answer?

A multiple choice question asks us to choose among various options for state government “to help create jobs.” The choices are meager: tax credits for small family businesses, eliminating tax credits to generate revenue, across-the-board tax cuts, or “stay the course.” (What, no “all of the above” or “none of the above?”)

Well, we do get a “both of the above” in a question worded specifically to elicit that response: “What is the best way to improve our area’s schools?” The choices include “Restore the governor’s 2010 education aid cut;” Eliminate costly unfunded mandates;” the aforementioned “Both of the above;” and “Increase costly competitive grants that schools must apply for.” Is it just me or do you think Karlapalooza wants us to go with “Both of the above?”

Frankly I’m getting a little tired of the buzzwords “unfunded mandates.” They are used to justify cuts in hard-won benefits negotiated in good faith between public employees and government agencies. They are especially used pejoratively to attack teachers whenever a local school budget that requires an increase in property taxes comes up for a vote. Here is the Oxford dictionary definition of mandate: “An official order or commission to do something.” It doesn’t say how to do it. Maybe all it will take is closing a few loopholes that give tax breaks to large corporations. Funding need not come from individual homeowners already overtaxed. But that wasn’t one of the choices.

By the time we reach the end of the survey, Karl has stopped all pretension of impartiality. “Do you think NYS should pass the DREAM Act,” he asks, adding “a law that allows for illegal immigrants to receive state aid for tuition costs?” At least he didn’t say “illegal aliens.” No one put it better than Elie Wiesel, who knows a thing or two about how it feels to be treated otherwise: “No human being is illegal.”

Also near the end is “Do you support REPEALING the NY SAFE Act?” And just in case we may be inclined to answer in the negative, he adds parenthetically, “One of the most restrictive gun laws in the country.” And I haven’t even gotten to the question about Common Core, which is the one that got my nose out of joint in the first place! The choices are silly and presume a depth of knowledge of the subject that few possess. The “open dialogue” ends with four lines left blank for “other specific suggestions.” I have one: Dear Neighbor: Stop wasting money on self-serving mailings designed to create the illusion that you care what I think.

Michael can be reached at

West Bank Activist to Visit Middletown

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

By Michael Kaufman

Iyad Burnat's Twitter photo

Iyad Burnat’s Twitter photo

Residents of the Mid-Hudson Valley will have a rare opportunity this week to meet and speak with Iyad Burnat of the West Bank village of Bil’in, whose story is documented in the award-winning film, “Five Broken Cameras.”  The documentary was shot almost entirely by Burnat’s brother Emad, a Palestinian farmer, who bought his first camera in 2005 to record the birth of his youngest son. At the same time the Israeli government began bulldozing the village’s olive groves to build a barrier to separate Bil’in from the Jewish Settlement Modi’in Illit.

Structured around the destruction of Burnat’s cameras, the film (co-directed by Emad and Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi) follows the Burnat family’s evolution over five years of turmoil and provides a first-hand account of the events leading to the ongoing non-violent weekly protests led by the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall, led by Iyad. The film has won numerous awards, including a 2012 Sundance Film Festival award, and was nominated for an Academy Award that year.

Iyad Burnat will be speaking at a public meeting starting at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 26, at the Mulberry House Senior Center, 62-70 West Main St., Middletown. The program is organized by the recently formed Middle East Realities Forum (MERF). It will also include Sam Sussman, a graduate student at Oxford University, freelance journalist, and co-director of Extend Tours, an initiative to introduce young American Jews who visit Israel on Birthright trips to meet and engage with Palestinians living in the West Bank.

This will be the second in a series of programs arranged by MERF, “designed to promote open and honest dialogue about the issues confronting this tumultuous region of our world,” according to a flyer publicizing the event. “As always, ALL OPINIONS ARE WELCOME.” For more information call 914-213- 9783.

Emotions tend to run high whenever a discussion of Israel/Palestine takes place. Nevertheless, I plan on being there Thursday night and listening respectfully to all opinions whether I agree with them or not (although I will not listen respectfully to hate speech of any kind).  I hope others will do the same.

And speaking of hate speech, why does so much of it seem to emanate from Pine Bush? By now the latest episode of xenophobic idiocy on the part of at least some residents there is so well-documented that I have nothing to add other than one more expression of sympathy for the unfortunate Jordanian-American high school girl who was vilified after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic as part of an International Language Week celebration.

A couple of years ago, in the midst of the furor over the school district’s failure to address repeated ugly incidences of anti-Semitism, many local teens posted hateful notices on Facebook and there was even proud mention of a certain Pine Bush “heritage.” Pine Bush had an active chapter of the Ku Klux Klan well into the 1970s and was home to Earl Schoonmaker, a Grand Dragon no less. I believe most people in Pine Bush aren’t haters but when I think about the place nowadays it reminds me of how I used to feel about Mississippi.

Michael can be reached at 







Neuhaus: ‘Why Start Saving Now?’

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

By Michael Kaufman

I have often wondered how much it has cost the taxpayers of Orange County to pay for the various plans put forward regarding the storm-damaged Government Center in Goshen. The controversial edifice designed by renowned architect Paul Rudolph has been closed “until further notice” since September 8, 2011. A partial answer came Monday when Legislator Roseanne Sullivan asked County Executive Steve (What, Me Worry?) Neuhaus why he had never seriously considered a proposal by architect Gene (not my brother with the same name) Kaufman that would save taxpayers “approximately $26 million.”

The reply by Neuhaus, as reported by Chris McKenna in Wednesday’s Times Herald-Record, was astounding: “Neuhaus responded that the county has spent $2.6 million so far on Clark Patterson Lee’s plans….” So far?  Is he suggesting the county may be paying them even more for plans before a single shovel hits the soil? Until recently Clark Patterson Lee’s plans called for a renovation that would cost an estimated $73 million. Cost-conscious legislators were recently able to pare the figure down to $68 million by removing a proposed façade that was included simply for cosmetic reasons. (Some people hate the Rudolph design so much they were willing to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money just to cover it up.)

Neuhaus seems to be saying that it would be a waste of at least $2.6 million in design costs if the county doesn’t move forward with Clark Patterson Lee’s $68 million renovation plan. But as Sullivan and other level-headed legislators have pointed out, it doesn’t make any sense to waste a lot more money when there is an alternative that can save $26 million dollars. This seems like a no brainer but Neuhaus told reporter McKenna that “nothing has changed in the status of the current project to justify further discussions with Kaufman.” Some may be tempted at this juncture to question the county executive’s math skills or even his intelligence, but Neuhaus knows exactly what he is doing. He is, after all, a cunning and ambitious politician with an uncanny ability to talk out of both sides of his mouth.  (For an excellent illustration of this phenomenon, see the Feb. 26 post at Orange County (NY) Outlook by Auntie Alibi.)

Sullivan, a Democrat who represents residents of Crawford and Wallkill in the 18th Legislative District, says that Clark Patterson Lee’s high-priced plans have “thoroughly convinced” her that their project will be a disaster. “They should have been fired when they offered a job to the legislator who was chairman of the committee that had oversight on the project.” That would be one Leigh Benton, a Republican who has represented the Town of Newburgh in the 16th Legislative District since 2005. It was Benton who pushed the Clark Patterson Lee plan through the committee before revealing that he had accepted a job offer from the firm. A subsequent investigation found that although his behavior was questionable, there was nothing in the code of ethics that specifically forbade it.

In the end Benton regretfully turned down the lucrative job offer. Of course the honorable thing for him to have done was resign. Instead he unapologetically remained in the legislature, was later re-elected by the few who turned out to vote on Election Day, and has continued to cast votes on the Government Center issue with head held high. In his mind he was exonerated. Note that Sheldon Silver says he will be “exonerated” if it is ultimately determined that his acceptance of millions of dollars in “consultant fees” is not evidence of criminal behavior. But this is a misuse of the word. One is exonerated if one is wrongly accused and found innocent of wrongdoing. Someone who does something sleazy and unethical but manages to avoid being convicted of a crime is not innocent of wrongdoing. They are just damn lucky they got away with it.

Michael can be reached at



My Dinner with Muhammad Ali

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

By Michael Kaufman

Ali and Michael.

Ali and Michael.

Active-wear apparel giant Under Armour announced Wednesday it has signed a multi-year deal with Muhammad Ali to launch a “lifestyle apparel” line next month bearing his likeness and motivational phrases. It will also use photos of the 73-year-old former heavyweight boxing champion in marketing campaigns. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“Ali is one of the most recognized and celebrated figures of all time,” Under Armour noted.  There was no mention that he was also once one of the most despised and reviled figures in his home country, the USA.  Ali was stripped of his title in 1967 when he spoke out against the war in Vietnam and refused induction into the Army after he was drafted. His application for conscientious objector status based on his religious beliefs was denied. The chances are none to none that Under Armour will use one of Ali’s most motivational quotes of that period: “No Viet Cong ever called me a (n-word)!”  It would be three years before he was allowed to return to the ring and resume the career that established him as one of the greatest boxers of all time.

I was a young sportswriter in 1969 working for a leftist newspaper in New York City when I read an interview with then middleweight champion Nino Benvenuti, now regarded by many as Italy’s all-time best boxer. During the interview Benvenuti expressed his admiration for Benito Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy and ally of Adolf Hitler during the Second World War. Benvenuti liked Il Duce so much he kept a bust of him on display in his home.

So I wrote a column questioning the double standard on the part of the boxing officials who punished Ali for his beliefs while ignoring those of Benvenuti. Someone showed the column to Ali and he called the newspaper to thank me and offer an opportunity to interview him. But he had to call twice because the city editor, who answered the phone in the news room, thought it was a crank call and hung up on him the first time.

My memory of it is vivid. I saw the editor, a crusty veteran journalist pick up the ringing phone and say “Uh yellow!” in his characteristic raspy voice. That was how he always answered the phone.  Then he looked at me and said politely, “Yes, he’s here. May I tell him who is calling?” I saw his face change as he said, “Oh yeah? And I’m George Washington!” and slammed down the phone. He walked over to my desk and said, “Some guy just called for you and when I asked who was calling he said, ‘Tell him it’s the heavyweight champion of the world.’ So I told him I was George Washington and hung up on him!”

Fortunately, Ali called back and at the end of a pleasant conversation during which he asked me to explain what a fascist is he invited me to interview him at his home in Cherry Hill, NJ. A photographer friend came with me and after the interview Ali and his then wife Belinda invited us to stay for dinner. We enjoyed steak purchased from a kosher butcher and Ali commented on the similarity of the dietary laws between Muslims and Jews.

A few months later he made his return to the ring against the unfortunate Jerry Quarry, the first of several tune-ups leading up to the epic championship battle with Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden. The Quarry fight was held in Atlanta over the objection of Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox, an unreconstructed segregationist who liked to brandish an ax handle as a symbol of defiance. But Sam Massel, Atlanta’s first Jewish mayor, was glad to have his city host the event. I remember thinking he didn’t sound Jewish when he greeted the horde of media people from around the world that descended on Atlanta to cover the event, “Welcome y’all!”

Someone at the opening press conference asked Ali a dumb question. He gave his favorite answer to dumb questions: “Howard Cosell gets paid for being an idiot. What’s your excuse?” That would be another good one to see printed on an Under Armour t-shirt or hoodie. Another that might look dashing on a track suit: “What’s my name, fool?”

Speaking of Under Armour, in doing background research for this piece I learned something I’ve wondered about ever since I first noticed their peculiar crisscross logo. It is composed of the letter “U” on top of the letter “A,” representing the company’s initials – “UA.” Who knew?

Michael can be reached at


Giving the Ax to Annoying Expressions

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

By Michael Kaufman

Have you ever been in a meeting where the person speaking—maybe some big-shot where you work—looks knowingly at someone else and says, “Let’s talk off line about that later?” I don’t like it even if I am the one being addressed: you know, the “insider” privy to whatever it is the big-shot doesn’t want discussed in the presence of the group. It just seems rude. Of course more often than not the person who says “let’s talk off line” isn’t a big-shot at all. It’s some jerk who wants to be a big-shot and talks like that to seem important.

If Alexander Cockburn hadn’t left us for a worse place in 2012 he’d have probably gotten around to putting “let’s talk off line” on his list to be dealt with by Prosecutor Antoine Fouqiuier-Tinville of French Revolution fame. “The keen blade of justice must fall swiftly on the word ‘tsunami’ which has turned into a cliché with astonishing speed,” wrote Cockburn just a few weeks before he died. “Its use is mainly to add verbal spice and drama to usually mundane events by suggesting that what is happening is massive, devastating, and unstoppable.” Thus, a federal prosecutor for the Southern District of Florida said of a case of identity theft tax fraud, “The IRS is doing what they can to prevent this, but this is like a tsunami of fraud.” Sure enough, wrote Cockburn, “‘Tsunami of Fraud’ was in the headline in the International Herald Tribune version.…”

A couple of months earlier it was “the new normal” that received what Cockburn said was “a well-deserved turn in the tumbrel.” According to Cockburn, the term “only refers to degeneration and deterioration—political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, and so on. That our kids are graduating from college with no job prospects and debts approaching a home mortgage is the new normal.”

I thought of Cockburn the other day when I was checking out my groceries at a local supermarket, part of a chain that has kept its employees from being unionized. The employee who scanned the items at the cash register wore a badge with her name on it, under which it described her as “Customer Service Representative.” Walmart and other large companies notorious for low pay and lousy benefits refer to their workers as “associates.” I guess they think that will give the employees a sense of self-worth that will make them less inclined to organize. Come to think of it, when was the last time you heard anyone proclaim, “Associates of the world unite!”

Finally, when did it become okay to start using the word “junk” to describe male genitalia? This is happening with increasing frequency, especially in articles about dopey celebrities who expose themselves for whatever reason, and whose pictures circulate widely on “social media” (another overused term that may be worthy of consideration by Fouquier-Tinville). I don’t know about you but I was still having trouble getting used to “package.”

The quotes from Cockburn in this post are from A Colossal Wreck, a posthumous collection of his writings from 1995 to 2012, and subtitled “A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption and American Culture.” It’s a great read even when you find yourself vehemently disagreeing with him. And he was nothing short of prophetic in some of his predictions, which, for better but mostly for worse, have come to fruition since his passing.

Michael can be reached at






Yet Another Reprieve for Valley View

Friday, November 14th, 2014

By Michael Kaufman

I tried in vain to differentiate between the knaves and fools among the 12 Orange County legislators who cast 12 futile votes Thursday to authorize the sale of the Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation. The vote came after several hours of public comments that again made it abundantly clear to everyone in the packed auditorium (except for the aforementioned 12 knaves or fools) that the overwhelming majority of Orange County residents want to keep Valley View publicly owned.

I wish I were an expert in interpreting body language or had one with me during the session. He or she would have been able to explain why some legislators’ faces turned red as beets and others slunk into their seats and avoided eye contact with audience members. Curlie Dillard, the sole Democrat among the 12, was careful not to attract attention to his self and uttered but one word during the entire session, a quick “yes” during the roll call. Democratic Caucus Chair Jeff Berkman, whose plan to “save Valley View by downsizing it” (and selling some beds to a private for-profit company) was dead in the water before the meeting started, appeared humble as he explained his reasoning. In the end, however, he joined the rest of his caucus (with the exception of the aforementioned Dillard) in voting “no” and denying County Executive Steve Neuhaus the requisite 14-vote supermajority he craves.

Chairman Steve Brescia did an admirable job of running the meeting and keeping a straight face while knowing that nothing said—no matter how factual, eloquent or passionate—would change his mind or those of the other 11 knaves or fools.  Was that stress-induced rosacea on Legislator Michael Amo’s face or was it that red because his bow tie was too tight around his neck? Amo, introduced by Brescia as “party leader Amo” because he is chair (and sole member) of the legislature’s one-man Independence Party caucus, voted “yes” after a peculiar but apparently sincere soliloquy lamenting that more isn’t being done to enable families to care for loved ones at home.

Republican Dennis Simmons got red-faced as he listened to a host of veterans who questioned the legislature’s commitment to the men and women who have served in the military to protect our rights and are now in need of care. He’s a veteran too, he said, and recited his name, rank, and serial number to prove it. He said he knows from experience of his own family members that you can get really good care from low-paid workers at private nursing homes. He objected to those who would “besmirch” those workers’ reputations! (He also complained that former County Executive Ed Diana’s reputation got “besmirched” on a previous occasion.) This was after several speakers cited statistics comparing the large number of complaints filed against Focus, the private operator said to be the favorite to take over Valley View, versus the small number of complaints filed against Valley View. One of the complaints against Focus involved sexual abuse of an elderly woman and Simmons thought it was a cheap shot to mention it.

Majority Leader Melissa Bonacic did not seem at all uncomfortable as she thanked the veterans in attendance for their service and assured them that this legislature (which as presently composed seems incapable of governing its way out of a paper bag) would see to it that all current residents of Valley View would receive the same level of care if Valley View were sold to a private operator. Her reasoning was twofold (and also places her squarely in the fool category): “It’s the trend,” she explained, adding that counties all over the state are getting rid of their nursing homes and that she’s scared. Her second reason? “I don’t believe the county should be in the nursing home business.”

But that is precisely the point. Valley View has thrived lo these past 183 years because it is not a “business.” It has been publicly owned, supported by tax dollars, and provides a vital service to the residents of Orange County. Assurances from Bonacic or any other county legislator that the quality of care will be maintained for current and future residents if the facility is privatized must be taken with at least 12 grains of salt. And speaking of future residents, here are some other things to consider: Orange County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state in terms of population. The so-called middle class is shrinking here as it is throughout the USA with no end in sight to the rise in wealth inequality. People are living longer. Taken together this means more people among the lower 99 percent will be in need of the services provided by Valley View simply because they won’t be able to afford to pay for equivalent quality care at a private facility.

Thanks are in order to the nine legislators who stood fast against the bullying of the county executive and his minions in the legislature. Several deserve special mention, most notably Republican Mike Anagnostakis, who has put in many hours studying the flawed 2015 budget proposed by Neuhaus and has suggested reality-based alternatives to the sale of Valley View, upon which the Neuhaus budget relies. Unflinching support for Valley View also came from Democrats Matt Turnbull, Roseanne Sullivan, Chris Eachus, and Myrna Kemnitz.

Thanks to them and the handful of other Democrats who voted no, Valley View will now be funded for a full year instead of a few months. But this fight is far from over. The private nursing home operators see gold in “them thar hills” of Goshen. And Neuhaus and his knaves and fools will continue to do all they can to hand it over to them.

Michael can be reached at

Lesser Evil Time Again?

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

By Michael Kaufman

Tuesday is Election Day and as usual I am faced with some “lesser evil” choices I’d prefer to do without. Over the years I’ve cast many a quixotic primary vote for my candidate of choice, only to see them finish far behind someone I don’t like very much at all. Then when the general election comes around in November I am often faced with a choice of voting for someone I don’t like very much, someone I like even less, or someone I like but who is running as a minor party candidate and who has no chance of getting elected.

Sometimes I’ve had the luxury of voting for someone I like and who has no chance of winning because the candidate I don’t like very much is a shoo-in to defeat the one I like even less. That is what I did in the 2000 presidential election when I voted for Ralph Nader. Al Gore carried New York State by a big margin as expected but to this day I meet people who sneer when I tell them how I voted and all but blame me personally for George W. Bush’s ascent to the presidency, as if Gore himself bore no responsibility for his uninspiring campaign.

And while I’m at it I’ll tell you the exact moment I knew for sure Gore wasn’t getting my vote: While speaking at a big gathering of the AFL-CIO he told the attendees he has fond memories of his mother singing old labor movement songs to him when he was little. The example he gave was “Look for the Union Label,” a jingle written specifically for a TV commercial aired by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union when Al was already all grown up. Apparently neither he nor his speechwriter(s) had ever heard of “Which Side Are You On?” or “Union Maid” or “Miner’s Life,” or “Solidarity Forever,” or any number of other worthy songs that inspired working people fighting for their rights.  I reasoned then as I do now that a person who can let little lies such as this roll off their tongue is likely to do the same for big lies.

I still haven’t made up my mind about Tuesday’s gubernatorial election. I don’t like Andrew Cuomo very much, I like Rob Astorino even less, and if Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins had even a remote chance of winning I’d vote for him in a heartbeat. But Hawkins has no chance and I don’t believe the polls that show Cuomo with an insurmountable lead over Astorino. He does not have the passionate support of progressive Democrats despite his action on behalf of marriage equality, women’s health issues, and gun control. Yet it is precisely those issues that inspire passionate animosity among the supporters of Astorino. So unless I’m convinced otherwise, I’ll be holding my nose again and voting for Cuomo.

The race for Congress in the 18th District offers a choice among a candidate I don’t like very much (Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney), one I like even less (Nan Hayworth), and one I like even less than the one I like even less than Hayworth (Scott Smith). Maloney has been something of a disappointment on a number of issues but he is head and shoulders above Hayworth. In fact, he even did something very good for the Village of Warwick, as I learned from Mayor Michael Newhard during a recent conversation at the doggie park. I don’t remember exactly what Maloney did but I recall being impressed. I was also pleased by the reception I got the other day when I called Maloney’s district office to see if he could help a local farmer in need. As for Hayworth, I have seen the past and it didn’t work. Smith is a single-issue independent candidate who claims that both Maloney and Hayworth are too soft on immigrants.

Meanwhile, a peculiar race is taking place for the state Assembly seat in the 98th District. Elisa Tutini won the Democratic primary after sending out numerous mailers identifying her with causes dear to the hearts of progressives, and especially women’s equality. I had never heard of her before but she got my vote, although I learned later that Krista Serrano held similar views and that Tutini won with the support of bloc voting from Kiryas Joel. Her Republican opponent is Karl (Karlapalooza) Brabanec, who is part of the ugly cabal of Republicans who rule the roost in Orange County these days. Brabanic won the Republican primary with the help of bloc voting from KJ as well. But his primary opponent Dan Castricone will be on the ballot as the candidate of an entity called the Womens Equality Party. Castricone has been endorsed by United Monroe, which describes itself as “a grassroots citizens’ group devoted to endorsing candidates who will promote accountability, civility and transparency in government.” Castricone has cast himself as the “anti-KJ bloc voting” candidate. He has made KJ’s request to annex some 500 acres of land in the Town of Monroe his “seminal issue.”

“Once KJ has control of the land, there will be an immediate zoning change,” says Castricone. “High-density housing will proliferate, taxing the resources of Orange County taxpayers and straining infrastructure of the surrounding area, including streets, highways, sewage treatment plants, water supplies and school districts.” All of that may or may not happen whoever gets elected to the Assembly. But frankly I’m more worried about the harm this right-wing Republican from Tuxedo might do in the state legislature than I am about additional Satmar Hasidim moving to Orange County. To add to the peculiarity, the Womens Equality Party has candidates on its line in only two of the other races. Cuomo is their candidate for governor….and it is the sole line for the aforementioned anti-immigration candidate Scott Smith!

Another intriguing race is the battle of the Christines for Family Court Judge. Christine Krahulik is the Republican and Conservative Party candidate. That would ordinarily be a deal breaker for me but she has been endorsed by Beth Quinn, for whom I have enormous respect. Unfortunately, Beth did not really explain the reasons for her endorsement other than that she knows Ms. Krahulik to be a wonderful person. Christine Stage is running on the Democratic, Working Families and Independence Party lines. She has also been described as a wonderful person and seems highly qualified by her experience. So unless I hear more from Beth to change my mind between now and Tuesday, I’m voting for Christine Stage.

So to recap, here are my choices (one or more of which require nose holding and may be subject to change): Cuomo for Governor, Maloney for Congress, Tutini for Assembly and Stage for Family Court Judge. Whether you agree or disagree, please be sure to exercise your precious right to vote come Tuesday.

Michael can be reached at



Express Scripts Too Big to Obey Law?

Friday, October 17th, 2014

By Michael Kaufman

A couple of months ago I got a letter from Express Scripts, the company that manages the prescription benefit for our family’s health plan. The purpose of the letter was to inform me that if I continued to use my local pharmacy in Warwick to fill my prescriptions instead of the mail-order service offered by Express Scripts, the price of my medications would go up for the rest of the year. As if to let me know that this was no mere form letter (and that Big Brother really is watching me), it included names of the medications prescribed by my doctor.

I filed the letter where I file all the letters I receive from Express Scripts—the garbage pail—and gave it little thought until recently, when I went to Akin’s Pharmacy to fill my prescriptions. My doctor was on vacation but before he left he gave me a second set of prescriptions so I would not run out of medicine while he was away. Unfortunately, he had written the wrong date on them and the pharmacy was unable to fill the order until it was corrected. I was out of medicine….but with the assistance of pharmacist Robert Newhard the situation was promptly resolved. But I wondered what would have happened if I’d been using Express Scripts? And what if the lack of medicine were to have a serious impact on my health?

I told Newhard about the letter. Aside from my annoyance at the invasion of privacy I wondered how this letter from St. Louis-based Express Scripts squares with New York State law. Almost three years have passed since the state legislature passed a bill that prohibits insurers from requiring patients to get prescriptions through the mail. Insurers get around this by offering mail order pharmacy as an “option” and then sending ominous letters to people who prefer to use a local pharmacy of their own choosing. Also passed was an amendment requiring local pharmacists to accept the same reimbursement rate as mail-order pharmacies. But does Express Scripts have the right to dictate the amount of my co-pay at my local pharmacy?

“They don’t pay any attention to the law,” said Newhard. “They don’t care about the patients. All they care about is their profits.” And they have a lot of profits to care about: Express Scripts is the largest pharmacy benefit management (PBM) organization in the United States, with 2013 revenues of $104.62 billion. Founded in 1986 as a result of a joint venture between a retail chain of more than 79 pharmacies and a managed healthcare care company, Express Scripts was purchased by New York Life Insurance Company in 1989. Since then it has acquired a host of other PBMs, including its purchase in 2012 of Medco Health Solutions for $29.1 billion.

Both Medco, a spinoff of pharmaceutical giant Merck, and Express Scripts have brushed aside accusations of fraud and legal challenges. New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer filed a lawsuit against Express Scripts in 2004 alleging that the company had kept tens of millions of dollars in drug rebates owed to the state. The suit charged that Express Scripts had overstated the cost benefits of switching to certain preferred medications. The company settled the suit in 2008, agreeing to pay $9.3 million to Pennsylvania and 28 other states to resolve claims of deceptive business practices. It also agreed to change its business practices and pay up to $200,000 in reimbursement to patients.

But as of 2011, when the New York State law was passed, little had changed, at least according to one Warwick resident, who wrote at the time, “I HATE Express Scripts but have to use them. ALWAYS, ALWAYS late, and when I call, which is every time, I get….nothing even remotely helpful.” It seems little has changed since then either.

Michael can be reached at


Anagnostakis: Neuhaus Budget ‘Illegal’

Friday, October 10th, 2014

By Michael Kaufman

Orange County legislator Mike Anagnostakis was so troubled after reading through the $703.2 million 2015 budget proposed by County Executive Steve Neuhaus last week that he sent a letter to all his legislative colleagues to share his concerns. A centerpiece of the Neuhaus budget plan is the sale of the county-owned Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation to a private, for-profit nursing home company. Neuhaus, who was elected in November after promising voters he would not seek to sell Valley View, now says he anticipates using $15 million from its sale to help close a projected deficit of $63 million.

Anagnostakis, the lone Republican who has steadfastly opposed privatization of Valley View, told colleagues he is troubled by a number of aspects of the proposed budget. “No matter what side of the issue you are on with Valley View,” he wrote, “I would think these items would be a problem if we are trying to do the PROCESS the right way and get a true budget done” to solve problems facing the county. “Most troubling,” he said, is his feeling that the proposed budget is “illegal on many levels.”

“By charter we must fund fully all departments within the charter,” he continued, noting that when Neuhaus’ predecessor Ed Diana, attempted to stop funding Valley View in 2013, the New York State Supreme Court ruled unequivocally, “what the County Executive seeks to do within the confines of the 2013 budget, i.e., to unilaterally close Valley View.…constitutes an impermissible violation of the doctrine of separation of powers.”

Furthermore, said Anagnostakis, using a “one-shot” infusion of $15 million from the sale of Valley View is “contingent on many things happening” and “New York State law does not allow for this kind of a contingent budget item.” He said one of three things will occur if the proposed budget is passed: There may not be the 14-vote supermajority required to sell Valley View; or if there are 14 votes, the resolution may be challenged in court and found illegal; or, even if a Local Law is passed with 14 votes “it will not be in place until AFTER an election occurs, if enough signatures are obtained, and ONLY if the sell Valley View side wins that election, which would be MANY MANY months after the budget needs to be in place.” In each of those scenarios, Anagnostakis told fellow legislators, “this budget would not be legally balanced and I fear we will find ourselves in another court case.”

Anagnostakis pointed out that Neuhaus had “railed against Diana and previous legislators” for failing to have structural balanced budgets (income equaling expenses) because they used about $40 million per year from general fund surplus, other reserves and “one-shots” to balance the budgets. Yet he does the same thing in his proposed budget “by using $45.8 million in general fund surplus, other reserves and ‘one-shots’….Included in that amount are the $15 million from selling Valley View (to balance the other departments deficits) and $8.4 million of Tobacco reserves (instead of using them for anti-smoking programs). The structural deficit would only be cut by about $10 million, so if we had a budget deficit of $63 million this year, then our deficit will still be $53 million for the start of the following year (and we would not even own Valley View at that point).”

He cited several other examples where “the numbers in this budget do not ring true.” For example, the budget “does not itemize one penny for the legacy costs for Valley View which will still be in the $5-$7 million range.” Noting that the 2015 budget to run Valley View has been estimated to be around $5.5 million, he concluded, “it very well may cost taxpayers more yearly to sell the facility than to keep it.”

Asked if he has received any responses to his letter, Anagnostakis said, “Not a single Legislator has given any response!” But there are four Democrats who he says work with him “because they understand what is going on.” The big problem is ALL the Republicans (and Independence Party legislator Michael Amo, who votes with the Republicans) who never have an open mind and only do what is asked of them.”

Michael can be reached at