Archive for August, 2011

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Photographer by Rich Gigli

Praying Mantis

Did you ever wonder whether or not the Praying Mantis is an alien from outer-space like E.T.’s cousin?  Have you noticed their similarities?
The praying mantis and E.T. both have long arms. They both have large eyes situated in the same angle near the top of the head. The shapes of their heads are in a pear-like form with a long neck, however, E.T. can shorten his neck, but praying mantis cannot. Oh well, maybe this is why the Praying Mantis is the official State of Connecticut insect.

Laughing It Up

Monday, August 29th, 2011

By Jeffrey Page
That Michele Bachmann is an ignoramus can no longer be in doubt. But now she has proven herself to be a merciless ignoramus.

Once, we would have laughed at the thought of a presidential candidate asking the press to investigate Congress to see which members were pro-American and which were anti-American. Once, we would have laughed if a candidate declared that not a single study existed to show that carbon dioxide is harmful.

It’s time to stop laughing. It’s also time for some of her Republican colleagues to call her out. More on this later.

Bachmann now is hinting that God himself caused Hurricane Irene and the earthquake the week before in order to catch the attention of free-spending politicians. Here’s her full quote, uttered on a campaign stop in Sarasota, Fla.: “I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake. We’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here? Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.’ ”

How dare she blaspheme by suggesting that God is an American? (“We’ve got to rein in spending?”). How dare she suggest that God is a fiscal conservative thus hinting that if you happen not to be a fiscal conservative, you’re somehow on the wrong side of the Almighty?

But wait. With Bachmann, the story never ends, and this one reveals her dark side. When she was finally challenged, she issued an “explanation” that insults the intelligence of anyone reading it.

“Of course she was saying it in jest,” Bachmann had her campaign press secretary say.

Jest? With 43 people dead in Hurricane Irene?

Jest? With billions in property damage resulting from the storm and the quake? With countless lives ruined? With pictures of people, their hands over their mouths, wondering how to re-start, where to start first, where to get the cash needed to re-make their lives? With millions of people still without electricity days after the winds subsided?


A fair question now, about one year before the Republican nominating convention, is whether any of the other GOP candidates or possible candidates will label Bachmann’s crazy assertions for the trash that they are.

Mitt Romney seems like an obvious choice since Massachusetts took a beating at the hands of Hurricane Irene. Maybe John Huntsman, who sounds pretty smart much of the time. Of course there’s Newt Gingrich who fancies himself the GOP intellectual in residence. How about Giuliani, the self-styled patron saint of New York? Or how about the in-again, out-again George Pataki who doesn’t seem to have much to lose at this point.

I doubt any will.

But until one says what has to be said, Bachmann will continue her one-woman freak show. Think back, it was Michele Bachmann who famously stated that she found it “interesting” that the great swine flu epidemic of the Seventies occurred when the Democrat Jimmy Carter was president. What’s really interesting is that the flu outbreak occurred when the president was the un-Democrat Gerald Ford.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011


By Carrie Jacobson

Peter filled the feeder for the hummingbirds last night, and they are flashing and happy and drinking up this morning. My guess is that it’s the last time he will fill their feeder this year.

The past two days have been finally, blessedly cool enough that we – finally, blessedly – shut off the window air conditioners and opened the windows wide and let the warm days and cool nights breathe into our little house.

A hurricane is blowing up along the coast, sunset is coming more quickly each day, and grass and gardens all seem dry and brittle and spent.

I’ve always loved fall. I loved school, and fall meant school, and books, and classes and learning, and I loved all of that. It meant new clothes, and nights where I could wear shorts and sweaters, and it meant the trees coming alive with color – and I loved all of that.

I luxuriated in this summer’s golden twilights and slow, lengthy dawns. I soaked up the sun and the glorious flowers and all the brilliance and shine of this summer’s steamy, sunny days. And much as I love fall, I’m sad to see these broad, open days pass.

A friend of mine died this week, a friend from high school. We reconnected last year, both of us sober for decades, and blessed to be. We rejoiced in this, and in renewing our friendship, which we’d done by computer.

She showed up at one of my shows this summer, a wisp of what she had been, thin and dry as the August grass. But her smile was beautiful and her joy genuine, and we talked and laughed and hugged, and said we’d get together soon.

We did not. And now, she’s gone.

Autumn comes too soon, stealing summer’s wealth, and death comes too soon, as well.

I must remember this.

Pataki’s Best Bet: Switch Parties

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

George Pataki

By Bob Gaydos

So George Pataki is thinking about running for president. So what’s new?

The former New York governor has flirted with making a presidential run a couple of times in the past, only to bow to the inevitable arguments against him: much of the country doesn’t know who he is, other candidates have raised a lot more money than he could hope to raise and, oh yeah, he is a traditional Republican from the Northeast, with traditional Republican values, in a party that not only doesn’t share those values anymore, it has become downright hostile to anyone who holds them and claims to be a Republican.

They even came up with an acronym for such Republicans: RINOs. That stands for Republicans in Name Only. Pataki ranked 6th among RINOs in a recent listing, not encouraging in an era when RINOs are a threatened species outside of the North. Today, the Republican Party is dominated by dinosaurs, which as any schoolchild knows, were put on this planet by God to provide food for Adam and Eve. Just ask Rick Perry.

Perry is the current governor of Texas, which gives him more current name recognition than Pataki. Texas’ ranking dead last among states in adults with a high school diploma gives Perry further cache with the people calling the shots today in the GOP — the ladies who come to tea.

That would be Michele Bachmann, congresswoman from Minnesota and Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, former Republican vice presidential candidate, current barnstorming media star and, still, potential presidential candidate. The two women have captured the heart and mind of the Republican Party, such as they are. In the process they have made regard for the facts and respect for science and history irrelevant within party ranks by playing shamelessly to the fears and resentments of many of their constituents.

They have frightened grownups out of the party — or at least out of decision-making roles — and, bolstered by shameless media exploitation by Fox News and other outlets, made the Republican Party home to nay-sayers, whiners, quasi-patriots, demagogues and hundreds of elected officials who have sacrificed their principles — their souls — to appease the loud rabble so they won’t come after them. This is today’s version of the late Lee Atwater’s GOP Big Tent: It’s a lot smaller and you need to pass a loyalty test to get in.

In sum, it is not Pataki’s party’s finest hour. Which prompts me to offer a modest proposal: If he really wants to run for president, why not run as a Democrat?

Yes, he spouts the traditional Republican line about no taxes and less government, but he was governor for 12 years and he knows the truth. Executives find ways to raise revenue, whatever they may call it, and they recognize that compromise at some point becomes necessary to, well, govern.

Neither principle is accepted philosophy in today’s GOP. It’s not because the longtime office holders in Congress and elsewhere don’t recognize their validity, but rather because they have been scared off by the tea partiers, some of whom seem to think they are living in Egypt or Libya and need to overthrow a government that has brutalized them.

Pataki, who has been touring the country under the auspices of a non-profit group he formed — No American Debt — says he hasn’t heard any of the many Republican candidates “offer specific solutions” to getting rid of the national debt and the deficit. Quite true. Nay-sayers can only say nay. They do not offer solutions. (A lot of Americans have apparently caught on to this tendency of the tea partiers and blame them and Republicans they hang out with in Congress more for the recent debt fiasco than they do Democrats.)

But Pataki’s problems with Republicans is social, not financial. He is a pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-union, pro-government involvement, pro gay rights, pro-environment kind of guy. In other words, a Democrat, insofar as conservative Republicans — which is redundant, if you ask me — are concerned.

If he’s really serious and not just lonely for attention like Rudy Giuliani seemed to be in the last GOP presidential primary chase, Pataki should consider challenging President Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination and hope to gain the support of more conservative Democratic Party members and the thousands of independents looking for someone with moderate political views and a healthy does of leadership capability.

That may or may not be Pataki, who certainly can‘t match Obama in the charisma or oratorical competitions. But Perry and Bachmann rely a great deal on personal charm for their success as well. Yes, they are vulnerable on the “That’s Just Flat Out Not True” scale, but the only Republican who tried to go there against Bachmann — former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty — dropped out of the race after doing poorly in a hoked-up straw poll in Iowa. He and Pataki are about equal on the charisma scale.

In short, there is no evidence as yet that Republicans are ready and willing to listen to — and support — candidates who do not live in an alternative universe, one where government never taxes anyone but the middle class and RINOs are fair game for anyone with a gun, which, by law, of course, is everyone.

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Photography by Rich Gigli

Lake George, New York

Lake George, New York, nicknamed the Queen of American Lakes.

On May 31, 1791, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to his daughter, “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin… finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves… down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony.”  – From Wikipedia

Preserving the Harvest

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

Reprinted from Orange County Bounty, local foods cookbook, available at the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.

By Shawn Dell Joyce

We’re in peak tomato season, and if you’re a lucky gardener or farmer, you probably have tomatoes coming out of your ears. So what’s a lycopene lover to do with an over abundance?

My favorite preservation method is dehydrating fresh produce. You don’t use up all your freezer space, and there’s little chance of improper processing. Also, nothing beats the intensified flavor of a sundried tomato in mid-winter. I use an inexpensive dehydrator, but you can also dry tomatoes in an oven set on “warm” for several hours, or on your roof in a “solar powered” dehydrator made of clean window screens.

To process, make sure you wash the tomatoes well, and lay them out to dry on a dish towel. In the meantime, set up your dehydrator or screens. I coat each tray with a nonstick cooking spray to keep dehydrated produce from sticking. This is essential if you are using window screens. Quarter the tomatoes, and slide your thumb along the inside to remove the pulp. Lay tomato quarters evenly spaced on the trays so air will circulate around them. When one tray is filled, lightly salt the tomatoes with sea salt. Fill all the trays, and then drape a dish towel over the top tray (or sandwich another screen on top) to keep gnats away.

My dehydrator uses a tiny fan and very little electricity, so I fill it up before bed, and leave it on all night. In the morning, I take out the first few trays and store the crispy dried tomatoes in a jar or waxed paper bag in the pantry. If you like your tomatoes a little softer, take the next few trays out as well. I am leery of soft dried tomatoes spoiling, so I store the softer ones in a small container in the freezer. I have a Greek friend who stores soft dried tomatoes in a jar with garlic cloves and olive oil in the refrigerator.

Toward the end of August, I keep the dehydrator fully loaded and running night and day. It becomes a ritual to gut tomatoes, and trade out the shriveled little morsels for fleshy red wedges. It’s a little work and takes about as much time as a phone call to a friend. You also have the added benefit of a warm tomato smell infusing your home.

Tomatoes are not the only fresh produce that is exceptionally tasty in its dried form. Zucchini is exquisite when crisped in a dehydrator. Peaches make a wonderful dried fruit snack. Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are also good, but I puree them in a blender and spread the pulp on waxed paper in the dehydrator tray. A few things that flopped were green beans, corn, bell peppers and cucumbers. A big hit from the dehydrator was homemade organic, pasture-raised beef jerky. It’s an expensive treat, but much better for you and the environment than its store-bought counterpart.

Preserving the harvest is one way to ensure your family gets the best local produce year round. Canning or freezing are equally good ways to savor the abundance of summer, long into the winter. Whatever your favorite preserving method, do it now, while produce is at its peak in nutrition and flavor. For a little extra time and effort today, you can have a higher quality, better tasting alternative to winter imported produce. Processing the harvest now is also better for the environment. Precious little fossil fuel is burned by home preserving compared to the barrels of fuel needed to haul imported fresh produce from overseas or across the country.

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

My Tomato Harvest

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

By Jeffrey Page
I read Shawn’s piece this week on what to do with my home grown tomato harvest. Let me tell you about my tomato harvest.

A while back, during our weekly breakfast of eight guys from Warwick, my friend Bill said he had brought along several tomato plants. He’s a serious gardener and had too many plants so he was giving some away.

I took one.

Now, you’ve heard of people with green thumbs. I do not have a green thumb. All I have to do to make a rose wilt is inhale its perfume. If I want to kill a pepper, or even a zucchini, I just have to look at it. You get my point.

“Just plant it and give it water,” Bill had said.

I planted it and gave it water. I bought one of those metal things that supports tomato plants. I put an old piece of fencing around it to keep the deer away. You must admit, this was dedication.

Watch for the yellow flowers, Bill had told me. From those flowers would come delicious, juicy tomatoes.

I didn’t get many flowers, and those that appeared just fell off.

Finally, a little green thing emerged from the one remaining flower. I gave it water. I spoke to it in a civil manner.

The tomato got redder and bigger, though not very big. When it showed no sign of getting larger I picked it, took it to the kitchen, washed it, sliced it, and put it on a provolone cheese sandwich. My crop was delicious.

All one of it.

Next year? Zucchini. I’ve heard they’re pretty indestructable.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Tall Trees

At the edge of the field

By Carrie Jacobson
I try to remind myself not to go too fast, not to take the first idea, the first word, the first scene. I try to remind myself to have a little trust, and look a little farther.

I painted the house at the edge of the field first, and I very much like it. I enjoyed painting it, seeing the flowers, smelling the sweet, hot air, and trying to capture all that sun-soaked summer glory.

I finished, and turned to my left, and saw the tall trees, and couldn’t go without painting them.

It’s hard not to take the first thing, isn’t it? You never know what the world will offer up next. With faith, and a little optimism, I am learning. If I can’t keep myself from reaching out, I can at least keep a little energy so that when that second chance comes along, there’s enough of me left to take it.

Local Pols Asleep at the Wheel

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

 By Michael Kaufman 

If the imminent shutdown of the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick is any indication, one would be hard pressed to find a less effective group of local elected officials in the State of New York than those representing the citizens of the Town of Warwick. The list of culprits includes Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt and State Senator David Carlucci, as well as Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton.  

Rabbitt’s first reaction was to assure the 300-plus employees that she had Governor Cuomo’s word that no one at the facility would lose his or her job. Sweeton was quick to suggest that the closing of the prison might be a good thing because it is located in an area that is ideal for development. Carlucci, the lone Democrat in the bunch, is a newcomer to Albany and still lacks the clout to bend the governor’s ear. In contrast, Senator John J. Bonacic, an influential Republican whose district includes parts of Orange County, was successful in keeping the prison in his district open despite his opposition to the historic legislation legalizing gay marriage in the state.  

Employees at the Warwick facility waited too long to try to mobilize the community to fight the shutdown. This was due in part to the fact that the state had recently allocated substantial funds for repair work that was ongoing. Why would they close a place they’re spending big bucks to spruce up? As they waited for the announcement naming the facilities to be closed, they felt relatively secure theirs would be spared. When the news was announced, however, they swung into action, hoping they could light a fire under local officials and gain widespread community support. Most live in the area and many are lifelong residents. They circulated petitions, picketed on Kings Highway and launched a web site. 

But as the movement began to gain traction, the state moved up the date of the closing, originally scheduled for December. Almost all the prisoners have been relocated and many employees have been reassigned to other facilities. Some will be forced to move or give up their jobs because of the distance. Others will lose their jobs despite whatever assurances Rabbitt may have been given earlier. Sweeton and others recently met with state officials, who told them that Warwick would not be receiving any of the funds the state had allocated to help local communities deal with the effects of the closings. This is what happens when you are asleep at the wheel.

Meanwhile, rumor already has it that Jonah Mandelbaum, Warwick’s millionaire developer extraordinaire, has eyes for the property. Mandelbaum, a Republican, was a big donor to Governor Cuomo’s election campaign. Will the prison grounds be the site of another of his affordable housing complexes for seniors?

And whatever happened to the warm affection that Andrew Cuomo expressed for “the unions” as he addressed supporters the night he was elected governor. So far he has been more the wolf in sheep’s clothing. It seems that Mandelbaum was not the only big-money Republican contributor to his election campaign. The virulently anti-union Koch brothers are said to have donated more to Cuomo’s campaign than to that of the infamous Scott Walker in Wisconsin.  

I would be remiss if I failed to mention an aspect of the prison story that has troubled me from the start. It hit home when I read a letter to the editor from a correction officer to one of our Warwick weekly newspapers. The officer, who lives in Warwick and is related to one of my neighbors, pointed out that the closing of the prison would be a great loss to Warwick and other nearby towns. He explained that prisoners often are used to do painting and other needed work for free, thus saving the towns the cost of paying workers. “It’s a win-win,” he wrote. But he was wrong. It is really a lose-lose because local painters and others who work in the building trades are struggling to make ends meet now. They could have used the work. And what of the prisoners?

Beyond Mid-Orange Correctional and New York State there is a whole federal prison system that serves as a cheap, easy labor market for large corporations. As Rania Khalek writes in a recent article for AlterNet, “In the eyes of the corporation, inmate labor is a  brilliant strategy in the eternal quest to maximize profit. By dipping into the prison labor pool, companies have their pick of workers who are not only cheap but easily controlled. 

“Companies are free to avoid providing benefits like health insurance or sick days, while simultaneously paying little to no wages. They don’t need to worry about unions or demands for vacation time or raises. Inmate workers are full-time and never late or absent because of family problems. 

“If they refuse to work, they are moved to disciplinary housing and lose canteen privileges along with ‘good time’ credit that reduces their sentences. To top it off, the federal government subsidizes the use of inmate labor by private companies through lucrative tax write-offs. Under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), private-sector employers earn a tax credit of $2,400 for every work release inmate they employ as a reward for hiring “risky target groups” and they can earn back up to 40 percent of the wages they pay annually to “target group workers.” 

The article is titled “21st-Century Slaves: How Corporations Exploit Prison Labor.” It’s  an eye opener and worth reading in full. Here is the link: 

Michael can be reached at

What Life is Like in Perryland

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

By Bob Gaydos

Some national political pundits are already promoting Texas Gov. Rick Perry to the head of the Republican class of presidential candidates because he is the chief executive of a state so large it can be regarded as a “mini-nation.” If you haven’t been paying attention, Perry is another folksy straight-shooter who once vetoed a bill that would have made it illegal to execute mentally retarded inmates. He has bragged a lot lately about his record insofar as creating jobs is concerned. Since he wants to be the chief executive of the whole dang nation, I thought it would be a good idea to check out exactly what kind of country we’re talking about. What is life like in Perryland, aka Texas?

For a detailed analysis, I went to the Texas Legislative Study Group’s fifth annual report on the state of their state, entitled “Texas on the Brink.” (You’re sensing something, aren’t you?) Full disclosure: The Texas Legislative Study Group does research on issues affecting Texans and prepares reports and policy papers for state legislators to help them decide what to do. It is a liberal-leaning group. However, all I’m presenting here are facts the group has compiled in assessing where Texas stands today in relation to other states. Texans do not quarrel with the study group’s facts; they merely disagree on their relative importance. That’s fine, I guess, if you’re happy living in Texas, but, as I said, Perry, who is as rigid as any other conservative candidate out there, wants to turn the whole USA into Perryland.

So, let’s start with jobs, shall we? Perry’s braggin’ on how Texas has created more jobs than any other state during the recession. True enough. Yet its unemployment rate in June was 8.2 percent, which was higher than New York’s. And last year, nearly 10 percent of the state’s work force, more than half a million people, were paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or less. That ties Texas with Mississippi for having the highest percentage of minimum-wage hourly workers. Not where you want to be number one.

Of course, Texas always has available jobs because of its huge energy industry. It also isn’t big on regulating business, has low taxes and housing prices and a warm climate. Those factors may attract people from other states to go to work in Texas, but as a national policy for creating jobs, it cannot work — unless we ease immigration policies on Canada. Mexico is clearly another story.

And what do people find when they settle in Texas? A snapshot of Perryland compared to the other 49 states:

  • It ranks 38th in average hourly earnings of production workers on manufacturing payrolls.
  • Government employee salaries rank 24th.
  • Percent of workers who belong to unions: 41st.

Of course, Perry has offered the usual argument about creating more jobs leading to greater wealth, better education and more opportunity. Here’s the state of education in Perryland (where teaching creationism is the governor’s answer to so many ills.):

  • The average salary of public school teachers (2009-2010): 31st
  • Current expenditures per student: 38th
  • State and local expenditures per pupil in public schools: 44th

Now, for a lot of our more conservative countrymen, these numbers might seem encouraging, since they feel New York and other states spend far too much on education in relation to the results. Well, the proof is in the pudding. Here’s how going cheap on schools has paid off in Perryland:

  • On SAT scores, Texas ranks 45th in the country.
  • Its high school graduation rate is 43rd.

And for real braggin’ rights:

  • In the percent of the population 25 and older with a high school diploma, Texas ranks 50th, dead last, in the country. (Some cynics might say that explains the election of the state’s last two governors.)

That takes care of opportunity, but that’s not all folks. All those low-income workers coming to Texas where the living is cheap have this to enjoy, courtesy of Gov. Perry:

  • Texas is 1st in percent of the population without health insurance.
  • Percent of non-elderly uninsured: also 1st
  • Percent of low income population covered by Medicaid: 49th
  • Percent with employer-based health insurance: 48th
  • Per capita state spending on mental health: 50th
  • Per capita state spending on Medicaid: 49th
  • Physicians per capita: 42nd
  • Dentists per capita: 39th
  • Registered nurses: 44th

Stay healthy, man.

And as far as being a low-tax state: A 2009 study found that families in the bottom 20 percent of the income scale pay more than three-and-a-half times as great a share of their earnings in taxes as the top one percent of Texans.

It all sounds like a very 21st century Republican approach to governing. Now, I’m all for reassessing budget allocations and belt-tightening all around, but I reckon I’m just not ready to turn the whole goldarn country into Perryland. Not just yet.