Cuomo’s Dept. of Health gets even sleazier

When the New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council was formed in the 1990s when the late Mario Cuomo was governor who could have imagined that less than 20 years later, his son and current governor, Andrew Cuomo, would do everything in his power to undermine and pulverize, not just the council’s ability to function, but the sense of safety and right-to-privacy citizens have when attending the TBISCC’s public meetings.

During a remarkably productive TBISCC meeting this Friday, this writer learned and attorney for the state’s DOH, Nicholas Cartagena (  issued an email to a private citizen saying  if she wanted copies of the council’s minutes she would need to file a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request. For the past two decades council minutes were made available to members of the public once approved by the council. They’d be available at the meetings or sent via email or regular mail.

There’s an even more ominous sign in Cartagena’s email. He says the TBISCC is part of the DOH and therefore it documents are subject to FOIL. This is the first time to this writer’s knowledge that a state official has blatantly claimed the council is part of the DOH and therefore the DOH runs the show. While this certainly appears to violate the legislation that formed the council; it unequivocally violates the purpose of the council, which, under this governor more than any other, seems to be the goal.

This is just one more example of Cuomo’s DOH doing all it can to be obstructionist, when it comes to the public’s right to know what it’s government and  advisory councils to state agencies are doing.

Not only does a FOIL requirement violate the construct of the relationship the advisory council has with the public, it puts an unnecessary and punitive burden on people with brain injury disabilities.

  • First: Submitting a FOIL request to the DOH is a laborious and time consuming process, largely because of the DOH’s at times blatant resistance and disingenuous posturing in response to the request. I recently submitted a FOIL request (after an email request to Deputy DOH Commissioner Mark Kissinger was ignored) asking who in the DOH was drafting the manual for the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver).  After a month I was informed the DOH needed an additional month to gather the names. When the names identifying those creating the manual finally arrived, months after the FOIL was submitted, they were: Mark Kissinger, Lydia Kosinski, Maribeth (Knuckles) Gnozzio and Dawn Weiss, the latter three all directly under Kissinger. In other words, Kissinger and the DOH knew and had the requested information the moment it was asked for.
  • Second: The DOH can legally charge 25 cents a page for documents provided as a result of a FOIL request, making it a financial burden for those on fixed incomes like, say, many New Yorkers with brain injuries.

Unless one’s been living under a rock, or, is severely delusional, it seems quite clear that Andrew Cuomo is New York’s version of New Jersey’s Chris Christie. He’s a bully. Something his father was not. He also doesn’t give a damn about New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities, a group of people his father genuinely cared about.

Perhaps when no one was looking, Cuomo took a pledge not to follow in his father’s footsteps. If so, he’s living up to it. I’ll give him that.

Posted in Andrew Cuomo, brain, brain damage, brain injuries, brain injury, TBI, TBI Waiver, tbiscc | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Going back on stage

I recently auditioned for the part of Will in a play called, A Bright New Boise by Samuel D. Hunter.  The play is being produced in May by Mill City Productions  and directed by Kari Daly in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. 

I got the part.

The very thought of auditioning, at first experienced as terrifying, turned out to be joyful – once I was underway. I’ll explain in a moment.

Mr. Hunter’s play won the 2011 Obie Award for playwriting.  The play is about a man (Will) who takes a job in a Hobby Lobby in part to distance himself from a tragedy linked to an evangelical church he’d attended as well as reconnect with a teenaged son who’d been placed for adoption years earlier. I’d say he’s got himself a full plate.

Over the past few years I’ve been doing the best I can to break down, or, better explained, break through what I call fear walls. Fear walls being the anxiety and panic producers resulting from the brain injury and PTSD I live with. I was held up and shot in the head in 1984.

The very idea of auditioning for a part late in the day frightened. While I believe I would’ve broken through the fear and auditioned without help, there is no doubt the words of my friend of 40 years, Michael Sulsona, helped immeasurably. In an email addressing my fears he said: “I think it’s important that you do it.  Not only for you but for others to see you up there on the stage.” 

As usual, his words helped immensely. Not only that, he’s seen me on stage and, it is well worth noting, he is an extraordinary playwright and screenwriter with something in the neighborhood of 23 plays – many produced on off-Broadway – and 15 screenplays under his belt. There are more reasons than friendship to trust his judgment.

When I got in the car to drive to the audition I was astonished to find myself feeling overjoyed, celebratory, in fact. It occurred to me that returning to the theater was, in its way, returning home. I was on stage as a dancer at age seven and dancing a lead role with the Joffrey Ballet when I was 13. Later I was involved with the Quena Acting Company, an offshoot of Joe Chaikin’s, The Open Theater. Years earlier I’d performed a one-man play I wrote called, The Bum and, over the years, I’ve done quite a few poetry readings and God knows how many speeches and seminars. Once a performer, always a performer, I suppose. 

By the time I reached the site of the audition I was utterly relaxed and at peace. The audition was a wonderful experience. I went home wanting more of the experience. The next day I called Michael and jokingly told him I’d been cast in the role of Cleopatra.

Now, the reason for writing about this:

Over the years it has helped me when others, through act or word, have reminded me that what feels impossible may not be impossible at all. In other words, the feeling doesn’t define any fact other than accurately reflecting the emotional experience you’re in at the moment.

As for navigating your way through the fear, here is a phrase that helps me. It’s okay to be afraid, don’t let it scare you.

Posted in A Bright New Boise, Acting, Mill City Productions, Samuel Hunter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Billings Montana Editor: Dead children sell

In a glaringly insensitive and self-absorbed column today, Montana’s Billings Gazette Editor Darrell Ehrlick made it clear the Gazette will continue to publish the names of children killed in accidents – without asking the family’s permission.  Ehrlick’s column also made it clear the Gazette has no intention of informing families ahead of time when the paper plans to publish the dead child’s name. Let them read it in the paper.

Proof of Mr. Ehrlick’s insensitivity and self-absorption will be provided at the end of this piece.  Mr. Ehrlick’s quotes provide ample evidence

Early last month a 21-month-old child was killed by a vehicle driven by a driver with five DUIs, two of them felonies. For reasons perplexing to all, no charges have been filed. To the family’s horror, the Gazette published the child’s name – without asking them, of course.

Family members and friends of the family, including this writer, reached out to Mr. Ehrlick pleading with him to remove the child’s name from the website and asking him to pledge not to publish the names of minors killed in accidents in the future, unless, of course, the family gives permission. Mr. Ehrlick won’t budge.

Mr. Ehrlick says the paper publishes the names of dead children because “we have an obligation to provide the news.”  Rubbish. Names of  victims of rape are not published. Names of children charged with crimes are not published, unless they are being tried as adults.

There are real reasons most of society applies a gentler code-of-conduct when addressing the lives of children. Juvenile records are kept sealed unless a court order directs they be opened. Most of us place children in a sacred placed. If you go to prison for harming a child, you’ll be placed in protective custody, if you’re lucky.

Journalists are like everyone else. Some are good, some are great, some have integrity. Then there are the bottom feeders like  Mr. Ehrlick and Rupert Murdoch. Bottom feeders who will stop at nothing as long as it is sensational and, most importantly, sells.

Now, to the proof, some evidence of Mr. Ehrlick’s insensitivity and self-absorption.

Keep in mind, the piece he published today was a response to those who called into question the Gazette’s publishing the names children without the family’s permission when they are killed in an accident.  I suspect you and I would agree that the most important issues here are the loss of the child’s life, the family and loved ones whose hearts are pulverized by the loss, and the paper’s current policy of publishing the child’s name without the family’s permission.

Evidence Part 1

If we take Mr. Ehrlick’s piece as honest, I have no reason not to, the loss of the child, the family’s suffering, and the policy are not the most important things as far as he’s concerned. As far as Mr. Ehrlick is concerned, he is.

The beginning of his piece reads:  “Sometimes, when I get asked, “How was your day,” I hardly know where to begin. On Feb. 6, just a few weeks ago, my day was like many — unexpected, bordering on surreal… I walked from The Gazette exhausted from the day and the week…”

Never mind that a child died and a family is suffering, Mr. Ehrlick’s had a hard day –  he’s tired.

Evidence Part 2

Mr. Ehrlick asks readers to believe he has compassion for the family.  Just after talking with  family and community members upset with the paper for publishing the child’s name,  he says he “walked from the office knowing that in Billings one family was experiencing unimaginable grief.”

Let’s think about this. He says he knows a family is experiencing unimaginable grief. He’s just been told by several people, including members of the family suffering said unimaginable grief, that the paper has added to that grief. Yet not once did he apologize to the family for adding to the grief.

Evidence Part 3

Family members and readers pointed out the Gazette did not name the driver who killed the one-year-old child. Mr. Ehrlick’s response to this boggles the mind. “If we don’t have a criminal case, even a misdemeanor, obtaining and verifying the name is not possible.”  Let me tell you something, if you’re a professional journalist with even a modicum of skill, you can obtain and verify the name of the driver. Mr. Ehrlick is either lying or Gazette’s publishers have hired an incompetent. By the way, if he wants the name, he can ask me.

Evidence Part 4

Not surprisingly,  the end of his piece is all about (wait for it), Mr. Ehrlick.  He ends the piece with: ” Journalists at the heart of these very cruel stories don’t just leave the facts at the office.  This one keeps coming back to me — weeks later.”  Mr. Ehrlick wants readers to know about his suffering.

Evidence Part 5

No doubt Mr. Ehrlick thought he was writing a column responding the concerns about the paper’s publishing the name of a one-year-old child killed by a vehicle. Given he is the editor, he clearly has final say in what photo runs with his column. His choice was not a surprise.  It’s a picture of Mr. Ehrlick with a big smile on his face.

Memo to Mr. Ehrlick

In your column you said: “It would not even worry me if someone wanted to have a debate about how we cover these stories and the reason we write about them.”

I’d be happy to debate this with you in a public forum, Mr. Ehrlick. Your paper can  foot the bill, fly me out there, and we’ll have at it. A public forum, Mr. Ehrlick.  Just think, with any luck, the experience of being in a debate with me will keep coming back to you – weeks later.

Posted in Billings Gazette, Darrell Ehrlick, Ehrlick | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A word on oppressors & advocacy

Any company, agency,  government, school, healthcare provider, individual, who seeks to minimize the voice of those they claim to serve is an oppressor. To be fair, some get caught up in group-think and find themselves supporting decisions, methods, laws, protocols, directives that oppress a group or groups of individuals. Others know bloody well what they are doing. Some oppress out of a palpable dislike for those they claim to serve, while others do so because those they serve, people with disabilities (PWD) for example, are little more than revenue streams in their eyes. Moreover, PWD have been used as fodder for those who revel in the sewage of arrogant self-aggrandizement.

The question is, a willful oppressor or an oppressor out of ignorance, or, equally relevant, out of fear? Fear of reprisal if he, she, or they hold the oppressors accountable. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was absolutely right when he said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Back in 2008 I lost all income and all employment because I would not remain silent when a particular New York State health care provider, a Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver provider to be exact, was denying the rights of those participating in the program in part by community-based warehousing. In other words, put as many difference services on the shoulders of the program participant so you can bill (make money) as much as possible. It was made very clear to me that I needed to go along to get along or lose everything (meaning, in this instance, all my income and healthcare coverage). I chose that latter.

I knew then, just as I do now, that real human rights advocacy (as opposed to lip-service advocacy) can be a bloody business. If you are the real deal on the advocacy front you’re in good company: Mandela, King, Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Malcom X, Medgar Evers, Harvey Milk, Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Frederick Douglass, Malala Yousafzai, just to name a few.  All of the aforementioned paid dearly for their advocacy. Loss of freedom, loss of life. So, when it comes down to it, any price I may have paid pales in comparison.

It seems to me the job, if you will, of any real human rights advocate, is to, by any non-violent means necessary, drag the oppression and the oppressors into the open, and hold them accountable.

Recently I was pondering a column about accountability. I found myself wearing a rather large smile when several thesauruses listed accountable and responsible as synonyms. I know  a few oppressors who, on the one hand, would, with misplaced pride and predictable defiance, say they do their jobs responsibly. Yet the moment you hold them accountable,  these folks would slither under a rocks with remarkable speed and spit out venomous accusations of unfairness at those holding them accountable.

Oh well.

Posted in advocacy, disability rights advocates, disabilty rights, human rights, LGBT | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s all about love

I like and am grateful for the part of me that cries while watching movies like the one I watched this morning, for the third or four time, “Love Actually.” I needed a break from a patch of particularly grueling and somewhat consuming writing. A beautiful break it was too! I still have the tear streaked cheeks to prove it.

This 2003 British movie directed by Richard Curtis and too many delightful (and really good) actors to name is, some would say, sentimental, certainly romantic, maybe even corny….but you know what? I love sentimental and I love romantic and I love corny.  And, I love watching people’s dreams come true. It makes me, in a word, happy. Love is always part of happy.

Love answers to its own timing. It is not beholden to any age group or economic class or culture and it cannot be fabricated. Like sunlight and moonlight, love really is everywhere.

To the skeptics and naysayers who poo-poo this kind of thing, who think it or label  as somehow being less worthy, of less artistic value, say, than a movie of gut-wrenching content and proportions, I say, Phooey!

Love and dreams coming true are as much a part of life as anything else. And, like love, I don’t  for a moment think creativity is beholden to any age group, economic class, or culture. It cannot be fabricated. Creativity answers to its own timing – just like love.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment