Archive for October, 2014

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




Thursday, October 30th, 2014

halloween Bill Hogan

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 10/25/14

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014
October Morning, 10x10

October Morning, 10×10

By Carrie Jacobson

There is some sort of balance, it occurs to me, between the shortening of the days and the brightening of the trees. The vivid colors of the leaves, and the grasses and here in Virginia, the yellow soybean and red sorghum fields, these seem to make up for the lengthening darkness. And while it’s not an even trade, it’s often a good one. Sometimes, I think, the autumn colors give me more than the shorter daylight takes away.

I rise early, always, and these mornings, these dawns, seem long, and dark, and impenetrable. I do know that the sun will come up every day – but sometimes in these long dark mornings, I find myself questioning that certain fact. I will squawk and grumble along with everyone else when we set the clocks back an hour, but the early-rising part of me will rejoice. (Probably in secret).

Until then, I will glory in the colors of autumn, soak them in and think of them as added sunlight.


Do We Deserve This?

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

By Jeffrey Page

Was Tocqueville prescient when he observed that in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve? Or should we drop the $20 words and just acknowledge that he was right and we are stuck with some political adventurers?

Recently there’s been a clump of stories that make me wonder about the safety of this American experiment in democracy because some politicians are getting away with all kinds of mischief while the electorate seems content to stand aside and watch.

In Staten Island and Brooklyn, Rep. Michael Grimm is seeking his third term in the House while he stands charged in a 20-count federal indictment involving his use of undocumented foreign workers at a restaurant he owns.

Clearly, Grimm must think the voters are a bunch of dolts when he assured them that if he is re-elected on Nov. 4, and later convicted on the immigration charges, he would do the right thing and resign from the House.

The problem with Grimm’s sacrifice is he forgot to mention that he wouldn’t have much to say about resigning because the House of Representatives is not in the habit of seating convicted criminals.

Yet despite his legal troubles, indications are that Grimm’s race against a Democratic challenger is very close. If there have been calls in the district for Grimm to step down or take a leave of absence until his case is resolved, I haven’t seen them.

Right, Grimm hasn’t been convicted of anything. But an indictment isn’t exactly an invitation to afternoon tea; it’s the studied conclusions of prosecutors and investigators.

Thus the recurring question: Are the people of the 11th Congressional District getting the government they deserve?

–Mayor Bill de Blasio has been embarrassed by the fact that the woman who serves as his wife’s chief of staff is involved with a man who has dropped the chief’s name several times when stopped for traffic violations.

The mayor says he’s had enough questions about this and will answer no more.

But there’s the question of why Chirlane McCray – she’s the mayor’s wife – has a staff at all. She holds no official position yet her chief of staff, Rachel Noerdlinger, is on the payroll for $170,000.

Have there been any protests over Noerdlinger’s salary or about the mayor’s high-handed dismissal of questions.

See recurring question above.

–Faced with continued criticism about his handling the appearance of Ebola in the United States, President Obama took the bull by the horns and appointed someone to the position that’s been labeled “Ebola czar.”

That czar – an unfortunate word when you think about it – is Ron Klain, who’s now in charge of coordinating the Administration’s efforts to finally get a grip on this insidious outbreak.

Is Klain a physician specializing in infectious diseases? Does he hold advanced degrees in public health? Is he a research scientist who’s been working on Ebola for years?

The answers are No, No, and No.

In fact Klain’s most recent position in government was as chief of staff to Vice President Biden. The Times reported recently that one of Klain’s major tasks with Biden was to prepare him for the Vice Presidential debates of 2008.

What Klain lacks in science, he makes up for in political savvy. Anybody complaining about a pol handling the Ebola response? I don’t think so.

See recurring question above.


Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Congress greedBill Hogan

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



Thursday, October 16th, 2014

vacationBill Hogan

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


The Deaths of Strangers

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

By Jeffrey Page

Lately, I’m again thinking about the wretched deaths of two people I never met.

No one knew the true identity of the homeless woman who keeled over dead on a bench in Grand Central Terminal in 1986. But a group of people decided that she would not be buried as an anonymous number in the potter’s field and they made a funeral for her.

In the other case, in 2004, a baby – almost certainly murdered – had no name until a priest gave him one as his little body was placed in the ground. It was a funeral witnessed only by a photographer, a reporter, a cemetery worker and an undertaker who contributed an inexpensive coffin and some flowers.

In writing about these victims several times over the years, I reject the advice of an old city editor who advised me when I was a cub in Jersey City never to get emotionally involved with the people in my stories. But sometimes you just can’t let it go and so, later in a long career, I understood that the woman and the little boy deserved to be remembered. I would remember them. I told the priest I would kick in some money for the impromptu funeral if it was necessary. It wasn’t; no one charged a fee.

I expect I’ll spend the rest of my days occasionally giving a little ink to these two strangers, and writing about the gentle humanity in the homeless woman’s case – some people called her Mama, some called her Mary – and the outrage inflicted on the baby, whom the priest named John on the day of the funeral. Additionally, maybe at some time to come someone will read about them and realize a relationship to the woman. Maybe the person who tossed John into winter-cold water will read about him and make an appointment to meet with the prosecutor.

I was a reporter for a long time and generally followed that long-ago city editor’s words. I created a shield around myself that allowed me to see but not feel. But there are those moments when I allow the shield to slip such as in the cases of Mama and John.

Mama snoozed on a bench at Grand Central Terminal. The police had told her to move on, but it was cold and soon, she was back. She closed her eyes and fell asleep. Soon, a cop approached. She was dead. It was Christmas.

She was about 55. In addition to Mama and Mary, some of the homeless who took shelter at Grand Central called her Granny. She spoke with a European accent. She didn’t bother anyone, though she was shameless when she needed a cigarette. She’d ask anyone – commuters, the police, other homeless people – to bum a smoke.

She would have gone to the potter’s field on Hart Island had it not been for a woman from the Bronx who put up some money for a funeral. All at once, Mama had some dignity. She got a grave at Maple Grove Cemetery in Queens, a casket, a kaddish service at Temple Emanu-El in case she was Jewish, a priest’s eulogy in case she was Catholic. The priest quoted a Quaker line (“I expect to pass through this world but once…”), and a vigil was held for her at Grand Central in case she was none of the above. The cash was for a gravestone at discount.

There was a small gathering at her burial, and people still return every Christmas season to pay respects to the woman with no name.

John was discovered by a man walking along a stretch of the Raritan Bay shoreline called Ideal Beach. In the far distance you can see the Empire State Building and the Parachute Jump at Coney Island.

The man stopped, leaned down and found himself staring at a naked dead baby. The medical examiner determined that the baby’s fractured skull could have been caused by a blow to the head or, somehow less horrific, by smashing into something in the water. The M.E. also noted that the extent of decomposition probably meant the baby had been in the water for about a week.

He also held out the possibility that the baby had been alive when tossed into the bay.

The advice from a newsroom veteran served me well, but sometimes rules and common sense must be tossed.


Thursday, October 9th, 2014

EbolaBill Hogan