Posts Tagged ‘Michael Sweeton’

‘There’s a Bunch of Idiots Out There’

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

Before the days of E-ZPass it was not uncommon to see toll booths marked “Exact Change Lane” or “Exact Change Only.” One such booth, at exit 11 of the NJ Turnpike, where the Turnpike intersects with the Garden State Parkway, featured an additional hand-made sign: “NO DIRECTIONS.” The idea was to create a lane at the busy toll plaza where traffic could move quickly for drivers who had the exact amount ready and knew how to get where they were going. The lane was much appreciated by people on their way to work or to the shore, and it usually worked well. But not always.

One morning on my way to work my car was third from the booth when traffic came to a halt. I could see the toll collector, a short, gray-haired man who had been at the job for years, gesturing angrily at the driver of the car at the booth, and pointing to the “Exact Change” sign. But now there was no other place for the driver to go, and the toll collector eventually gave up the argument and made the necessary change.

Then the driver of the next car asked for directions. Again the exasperated toll collector pointed, this time to his hand-made “NO DIRECTIONS” sign. And again he had no choice but to provide directions in order to get traffic moving again.

When it was my turn and I handed him the exact change, he looked around, then at me, and said sadly, “There’s a bunch of idiots out there.” I have been using the line ever since, particularly with regard to family members whenever they get on my nerves. My children have all come to regard “bunch of idiots,” or simply the singular, “idiot,” as terms of endearment. Fortunately, they were able to explain this to their cousins the first time I affectionately referred to them as a bunch of idiots. “That means he really likes you a lot,” I heard  Gahlia tell Olivia. Or maybe it was Sydney. I know it was one of those idiots.

But aside from family members, those words are reserved for people I truly think worthy of the name. I’ve noticed quite a few in recent weeks. Remember the rally in Albany to protest the new gun-control law in New York State? I’m not saying all of the reported 7,000 people who were there are idiots. (I can say that all the people I saw in the newspaper photo are white….but that is a topic for a column itself.) One guy had a sign, “I don’t need an AK-47, but I want one.” Another nitwit thought it would be amusing to use his sign to poke fun at some immigrants: “My guns aren’t illegal, they’re just undocumented.”

I don’t really think that Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton is an idiot. But he is acting like one by going to all the pro-gun rallies and pandering for votes in his bid to become the Republican candidate for Orange County executive. Sweeton has now been quoted in several newspaper articles, saying of the law, “It is unconstitutional.” Since when did he become Oliver Wendell Holmes?

Then there’s the guy who wrote a letter to the editor after the Boston Marathon bombings, echoing the oft-expressed sentiment of his fellow idiots that people in Boston and surrounding areas would have felt a lot safer if they all had guns during the time the suspects were at large. Notice that you never heard of many (if any) people from Boston make such a statement. That includes the police officers and other law enforcement workers, whose jobs would have been made immeasurably more difficult if a bunch of idiots (or even just plain frightened citizens) were running around with guns. Remember when John King told CNN viewers that a reliable source told him the bomber was a “dark-skinned male?” Or when the NY Post put a picture of a backpack-toting high-school kid on the front page? Do these people not remember what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina?

I haven’t even gotten to Ted Cruz or some of the other wackola Republicans in Congress but I think the point has been made well enough: There’s a bunch of idiots out there. Feel free to comment and add your own.

Michael can be reached at



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