December 26, 2012

548 lives, $11,659,349

The fact that yesterday was Christmas didn't inspire the Syracuse Post-Standard to take a break from publishing  judgments, satisfied judgments, and bankruptcies in bizX, the weekly business supplement.

Not only was yesterday Christmas, but it was also the last Tuesday of the year, so we won't have any more of these listings in 2012. That being the case,  I thought it a good time to reflect on what became a weekly series on the financial filings that stem from people receiving medical care, either from a physician, group practice, hospital or other facility.

My first post on this topic just sort of happened. I was skimming the judgments and noticed that there were quite a few listings for folks who owed money to medical providers.  The first week, it was 12 people totaling $260,918. 

The first post was in mid-July, only a short time after the US Supreme Court had affirmed the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the ACA, health care reform, PPACA, Obamacare, and my favorite, the Job Killing Health Care Law, so named by the Republicans in the House.  I decided to keep an eye on it for a while and see what happened. One month turned into two, then three, and now, after 24 weeks, we've reached the end of the year. 

The highest week, in terms of the number of people? Week 11, with 40.  In terms of dollars, it was week 6, with just short of $1.2 million.  On the low end, week 21 had the fewest people (six) and lowest total (slightly over $50,000).

Add up all of the weekly numbers, and the accounting stands at 548 lives and $11,659,349, or an average of $21,276 for each judgment, satisfied judgment, and bankruptcy. Just here in Syracuse and the Central New York area.  In just twenty four weeks.

I admit the accounting is not statistically valid. For example, it's possible a judgment could have been filed early on during the time I was tracking the weekly stats, and then satisfied at some point down the road; it's also possible that someone could have moved straight from judgment filed to bankruptcy filed, or been the recipient of multiple judgments - which means that it's not necessarily 548 unique people or $11,000,000 unique dollars. To do that type of accounting would have required that I pay attention to the names of the people, which is something I really didn't want to do.

I don't know the circumstances that landed these folks in this section of the paper. I don't have the faintest idea whether they had jobs, if they had health insurance through their employers,if their insurance company denied the claims,  if they were hanging by a thread in any of the safety net programs that are available to folks in New York, or if they made a conscientious choice not to pay their bills, in which case their landing in this particular section of the paper could have been avoided.

I do know that the vast majority of the filings were from our three local hospitals, and that according to their websites, all of the facilities - St Joseph's Hospital Health Center, Crouse Hospital, and SUNY Upstate Medical University - offer some kind of financial assistance, ranging from helping get patients into insurance programs to reduced payments or payment plans.

In  addition to efforts by the facilities themselves, those of us who have insurance, and our insurance companies, and many of our health care providers, contribute to indigent care programs through surcharges tacked on to certain medical bills; and all of us support safety net programs through the taxes we pay.  So basically, everyone's trying, here - whether by choice or by default - to help get medical bills paid.  The hope is that between private health insurance, government safety net programs, and other funding arrangements, we'll continue to have access to quality care when we need it.

But if we have over $11,650,000 in unpaid medical bills that have gotten to the point where papers have been filed, just here in the Syracuse area, in just under half a year, can you even imagine what the total must be statewide, or nationwide?

It can only be a staggering number.

December 25, 2012

Twenty-four lives, $379,195

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes bizX, the weekly business section.

In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

This week, twenty-three people were listed with new judgments totaling $321,066 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

This week, one person was listed as having satisfied a judgment totaling $58,129 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

December 18, 2012

Fourteen lives, $390,492

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes bizX, the weekly business section.

In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

This week, eleven people were listed with new judgments totaling $333,798 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

This week, two people were listed as having satisfied judgments totaling $47,650 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

This week, one person was listed in the bankruptcy section with a hospital, doctor, or other medical provider as the major uninsured creditor, totaling $9,044.

December 16, 2012

Will We Even Have the Chance?

Famous people from all corners of the political spectrum will be talking on the Sunday news shows today about Shady Hook Elementary and what happened there, and they'll almost certainly bat around all of the options we have to deal with this 'situation', I guess you call it, of guns being used by the wrong people to do really bad things.

Among them, I'm sure, will be these, all of which have been batted around in various ways on social media since the horrific events unfolded on Friday morning:
  • tighter gun control, of varying degrees, including doing something about multi-round clips;
  • greater availability of mental health services, so that people who could do this would be identified and get the help they need;
  • more guns (not fewer), because people could stop this kind of thing if only they were armed;
  • tighter security at schools, so people who would do harm can't get in;
  • more God in schools and in society in general.
Let me say that I've never fired a gun of any kind, and don't really have the desire to.  I have friends who hunt, who own guns, who are completely responsible with them. An old flame of mine took me to Las Vegas once to go to a Jimmy Buffett concert, but I think the real reason was because there's a place there where you can pay to shoot a machine gun, which he and his buddy did and loved even more than the concert. Go figure.

I believe that reliable people should be able to own guns, but I do not want them sitting in my living room, nor do I want them in the grocery store or church or at a basketball game 'packing iron', or whatever you call it, because it makes me feel less safe, not more safe. I have to trust that in their own homes, they store their guns in such a way that when I'm there, I'm not at risk from say, their children putting two and two together, if you know what I mean.

I'm not a fan of being able to shoot lots of bullets really fast, the way you can with a camera that has continuous shooting mode. Just as I don't want that many pictures of me floating around, I don't want that many bullets floating around. If I had continuous shooting mode on my camera, I'm sure I'd get lucky with at least some of the shots. But if you have to take the time to compose your picture, adjust your focus, think about the picture before you take it (which I do), to me it makes sense to have to do that with a gun. 

Like I said, I don't know the answer. I only know it's not going to be easy having this discussion, in part because of what we Americans believe about things. When you compare our thoughts and actions on guns with thoughts and actions on other things, do we even make sense?
  • We want to have each state's concealed carry gun law honored in every other state. But we don't want to allow a marriage performed in one state to be honored in every other state?
  • We are pretty sure the issue isn't guns, it's a mental health problem. But we don't support tax dollars being used for health insurance programs (mental health or otherwise)?
  • We don't want the government's hands all over our guns with burdensome regulations, but we don't have a problem with government hands all over a woman's uterus?
I don't get it.

And one more thing: We want our legislators to be accountable to us, to work for us, to do what we want, but we cede that accountability to businesses and interest groups and unions to basically write the legislation for the people that work for us. And yes, this means the NRA but it also certainly means big agriculture and big business and big banks and big pharma and big oil and big unions and big media conglomerates and big everything else.

Assuming we can ever figure out what we want, will we even have the chance to get it?

December 14, 2012

Sidebar: Feeding the Hungry

Just a few thoughts to add, relative to my post earlier this week on the situation at the Assumption Food Pantry on Syracuse's North Side.

First, a note about the car dealer:  Billy Fucillo Sr, a larger than life local guy known for using the word 'huge' as his mantra -- huge financing, huge sales, huge leases, huge contests, huge inflatable gorillas, huge everything -- has dealerships not only across New York but also in Florida. It seems this is not his first time with this type of donation; according to reports, he matched Salvation Army Red Kettle donations in Cape Coral, and he also made a $50,000 donation to a food bank there.  I get that it fits in with the whole 'huge' thing - make some noise, make a splash - but it also makes a huge difference in people's lives in a way that winning a car in a contest doesn't.  Kudos to Fucillo and his son Billy Jr. for their generosity.

I mentioned Food Bank of CNY, the critical gatekeeper for food donation and hunger relief programs throughout an 11-county area.  Local individuals, businesses and organizations regularly help FBCNY; here are some examples.
  • They partnered with the new Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant  at Destiny USA; the restaurant donated about 95 cents of every dollar taken in during their grand opening events.
  • The Perishable Partnership Program, where businesses such as Walmart and Sam's Clubs donate thousands of pounds of fresh food that would otherwise have been discarded. 
  • Rome's Wagner Farms recently donated almost 28,000 pounds of fresh winter produce, which can be scarce for families served by local pantries.  We reach for cans and jars, but fresh foods are at least as important.
An article in yesterday's Post-Standard mentioned the consolidation of some of the North Side food pantries.  Back in October, three pantries (St John's, Holy Trinity, and Wesminster Presbyterian) merged into one, becoming the All Faiths food pantry. The folks involved point out that consolidation is not for everyone -- and we see that all the time when agencies from neighboring towns or villages attempt to consolidate services.  Sometimes the deals are appoved, by many times they're not.  In this case, the combined pantry seems to be working for the organizations, the volunteers, and the clients they serve.

Finally, yesterday I received the winter edition of Hunger & Hope, FBCNY's newsletter, which you can view on their website. Executive Director Thomas Slater's message regarding whether goals were met is both sobering and uplifting.
This year, with the help of our new facility and the distribution of 12,273,003 pounds of food, the answer is a resounding YES!  The average of one million pounds of nutritious foods distributed monthy ensures families are fed.  The fact is, despite new families coming into the emergency food network for the first time, we saw a significant number of familes leaving the network and finding jobs and indepdendence.
Food for thought for all of us.

December 12, 2012

Feeding the Hungry

Those of you reading in the Syracuse area are probably aware of the current challenging situation being faced by one of the food pantries in our area.  The Assumption Food Pantry, which regularly serves around 400 families on the north side of the city, is facing a very difficult financial situation, and without $108,000, might have to close at the end of the year.

In a remarkable display of charity, a 'huge' car dealer has offered a $50,000 matching pledge, to encourage others to jump in and help out. One of the local media companies is flooding the airways with publicity, and dozens of other local businesses are helping out.  Just today, a local grocer delivered $12,000 worth of food, paid for with money raised from his customers and family.

I'm constantly impressed by the generosity of folks here.  Benefits for people facing overwhelming medical conditions regularly pull in thousands of dollars; golf events can raise in the six figures; and major local charities are incredibly fortunate to have signature events that bring in a half million dollars or more.  Rarely does a request for help fall on deaf ears.

But did you know that there are at least 70 food pantries in Onondaga County? That's how many pantries the Inter-religious Food Consortium (IFC) works with.  The IFC was formed in the early 1980's and serves as a network for the local pantries, as well as offering other services. 

In addition to the IFC, Food Bank of CNY is a critical player in the local fight against hunger. With a service area stretching from the St Lawrence to Chenango County, FBCNY supplies local food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, partnering with over 270 emergency food programs.  I encourage you to read more about their services, and the issue of hunger in Central New York.

It looks like the chances are very good that the Assumption pantry will stay open.  And I hope that, in the process of saving Assumption's pantry, we don't end up putting extra financial strain on the other programs who are fighting every day donations. 

Would the $50K matching grant serve everyone better if it had been spread out over 5 or 10 or 20 pantries, instead of  being dedicated to just one? Will we be able to sustain this level of support throughout the year, not just during the holidays?  After all, the need will still be there after the cameras have been turned off, after our hearts have been tugged in a different direction.  And more importantly, will we ever turn the corner on hunger in CNY? 

Only time will tell.  For now, though, let's be grateful for what we have, and for what we can do to help others.

December 11, 2012

Twenty-eight lives, $595,290

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes bizX, the weekly business section.

In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

This week, twenty-six people were listed with new judgments totaling $554,417 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

This week, two people were listed in the bankruptcy section with a hospital, doctor, or other medical provider as the major uninsured creditor, totaling $40,873.

December 9, 2012

Homeless man not wearing his new boots

Now, about a month after one of New York's Finest gave a homeless man a pair of boots and socks, there is more to the story.

To recap:  Larry DePrimo, a NYPD officer, saw a homeless man on a frigid November night, and went into a nearby shoe store and spent his own money buying insulated boots and warm socks which he then helped put on the homeless man.  A tourist from Arizona captured a picture of the officer's kindness and the rest, as they say, is history.

I wrote about this heartwarming story, not from the point of view of the officer who helped, or the tourist who got the picture, but more from a 'what would I have done' perspective (and admit that I might not have been as charitable as Officer DePrimo.).  I also found a number of other stories of police officers doing good deed, because I really think this happens more often than we realize.

Today, scrolling through one of my news services, I saw this headline:
Man given boots by NYPD officer: Street life ‘my choice’
Seems that, according to the one of the Yahoo blogs, the 'homeless' man who got the assist from DePrimo is not homeless after all. Jeffrey Hillman, 54 and a veteran, actually has an apartment where he sleeps sometimes, and he's not wearing the $75 boots but instead has them hidden so they won't get stolen.

The Yahoo story linked to one in the New York Times, which told of the again-barefoot Hillman, his military service (five years and an honorable discharge), and that a woman had previously bought him a pair of shoes.

Another story, in the NY Daily News, tells of the Bronx apartment, which is paid for by a combination of safety net programs and Hillman's veteran's benefits. It also includes more background information, including comments from an old high-school friend who has set up a fund to help get Hillman off the street.

As this saga continues to unfold, it's clear that there are no easy solutions to solving the homeless problem that cities large and small face.  For many of us, it's hard to imagine wandering the streets barefoot in the northeast in November, when you have a pair of insulated boots you could be wearing. And we don't understand why folks 'choose' the homeless life when there are options, including loving families and friends, and a variety of shelters, places for a hot meal and a warm bed, and yes, even the kindness and generosity of strangers. Why would anyone pass up these opportunities these options, and instead stay on the street? 

Sometimes none of these alternatives are viable for the homeless. For whatever reason, people make the same choice as Hillman every day, and sometimes, it ends badly.

Back in September, here in Syracuse, a homeless woman named Michelle Noce was found unconscious under a bridge, and later died; she likely had been involved in a fight over territory, a prime panhandling location. A memorial service was held; friends who knew her back in high school in a small town east of here remembered her as a completely different person than the one she had become, as did Jeffrey Hillman's high school friend.

In Syracuse, according to reports, there are an average of 423 homeless people receiving services from local organizations each night.  In New York City, the numbers are mind-boggling: over 46,000 each night in the municipal shelter system, another 5,000 in private shelters.  And there are countless others who can't or won't get into shelters.

Those that try and make a difference, whether officially (social service agencies or NGOs) or unofficially (like Larry DePrimo) have to face the possibility that their efforts will be rebuffed by the likes of Hillman and Noce.  But it doesn't mean that we should stop trying.

December 4, 2012

Six Lives, $50,312

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes bizX, the weekly business section.

In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

This week, five people were listed with new judgments totaling $32,897 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers. 

This week, one person was listed as having satisfied judgments to hospitals, doctors or other medical providers, totaling $17,415.

These are the lowest totals, both in number of lives and dollar impact, in the 20 weeks I've been tracking the health care-related judgments and bankruptcies. 

December 2, 2012

Sidebar: Police Doing Good Deeds

The story of Larry DePrimo, the NYPD officer who purchased socks and insulated boots for a homeless person in Manhattan touched a lot of hearts.  But there are countless stories of police officers making a difference, particularly at this time of the year.  Here are just a few:
In Cicero NY, kids were asked to submit an essay telling what Christmas means to them.  Five of the kids were selected to 'Shop with a Cop' at a local Target; each child was given $100 to spend.
In Winnipeg, kids and cops head out to the mall for the sixth annual Cop Shop; the kids who participate were chosen based on academics and volunteer efforts.
Another Target, another group of cops and kids, this time in Las Vegas. 
And it not only during the late-year holiday season that police officers lend a hand. 
This past September, a bicycle thief in Phoenix AZ got caught red-handed with one bike, but not the second one that was missing.  Local police officers opened their wallets and purchased a replacement for the second bike.   
And here's a story from Turlock, CA, where apparently it's a fairly common occurrence for local officers to help homeless or transient folks using their own money.  This article has a couple examples (and also some interesting comments at the end from the Deputy Chief).
How about this one, a police officer in Norwood OH who responded to a call at a school where the class field trip money had been stolen.  The officer went to the ATM, took out enough to cover the trip, and had it delivered anonymously to the school.  
The point? Officer DePrimo is but one of many men and women in uniform who have made a difference, who have done the unexpected and dug deep into their own pockets to make things better for people they've encountered on the job.

Kudos to them, and to all of the folks out of uniform who do the same. 

November 30, 2012

What Would Sue Do?

Jennifer Foster/AP
Most folks by now have heard the story of the police officer who purchased a pair of socks and boots for a homeless man in Manhattan.  To illustrate how far the story's spread, here's the article in the Seattle Times.

According to reports, NYPD officer Larry DePrimo, was on patrol in Times Square earlier this month, wearing two pairs of socks himself, when he came upon a homeless man with bare feet.  DePrimo went to a nearby shoe store, got a pair of insulated boots and some socks, and helped the homeless man put them on.  The moment was captured by Jennifer Foster, a tourist from Arizona; it ended up on Facebook (I got it from one of my friends here in Syracuse yesterday), and the rest is history.  DePrimo has received gold cuff links from the NYPD, made the national news last night, and is making the morning show rounds.

So, what do you think is the most noteworthy part of this story? The dollar value of the kindness?  The fact that it happened in New York City?  The fact that it was a police officer who was the giver of the kindness? That it went viral?

I mean, I doubt that, had a tourist from New York City been visiting Jennifer Foster's town in Arizona and seen the same thing happen, a photo would have been taken, that the officer would be visiting the Today Show this morning, or that this would be a news story thousands of miles away.

The fact that it went viral is a no-brainer -- heck, a pretty picture of a snowflake can 'go viral' on the right day.  And I am impressed by the officer's level of kindness - $75 is a lot of money to many folks, especially at the holidays. And the fact that it was one of New York's finest makes it more interesting than if it had been just a regular Joe, but I'm sure there are others who have done a similar good deed, and not been caught on camera.

See, the thing that really got me about this story, the thing that's noteworthy to me, is not how it made me think about DePrimo, but how it made me feel about me.  Not in a 'thank my lucky stars that I'm not homeless' kind of way, but in a WWSD (that's What Would Sue Do?) kind of way.

Years ago, one cold winter day, I was waiting for the bus, which I could see a couple blocks away, and there was what I assumed to be a homeless woman nearby, bare hands, several coats, and as my bus approached I took off my warm gloves and held them out to the woman, offering them to her.  She refused, mumbling something under her breath, then turned away and stomped off down the street. I tried, I thought to myself, and at the time it seemed like enough.

And sure, I've given change to panhandlers, hundreds of times, and when I smoked I'd sometimes give cigarettes to 'street people', as we called them back in the day. But as many times as I've said yes, I've probably said no a thousand-fold. And truth be told, when I see the people standing with their signs at the off-ramps or busy intersections, I look away, rather than help.

WWSD?  I would like to think that, faced with the same circumstances as Officer DePrimo, I would have done something, something more than take a picture of someone else doing what I could have done, what I should have done.

I have some work to do, apparently. I'd like to think that, in the future, faced with a similar situation, I will do something.

I think I'll keep Foster's photo around for a while, to remind me of how much work I have to do.

November 27, 2012

Fifteen lives, $334,402

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes bizX, the weekly business section.

In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

This week, nine people were listed with new judgments totaling $232,731 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

This week, four people were listed as having satisfied judgments to hospitals, doctors or other medical providers, totaling $81,610.

This week, two people were listed in the bankruptcy section with a hospital, doctor, or other medical provider as the major uninsured creditor, totaling $20.061.

November 25, 2012

Sunday School 11/25/12: Cliff Notes

Much of the talk on the Sunday news shows was about Washington getting back to work after the Thanksgiving break.  Most of us are hoping that our elected officials are not suffering a tryptophan hangover tomorrow, but rather that they're ready, willing, and able to tackle the 'fiscal cliff' issues before the end of the year. 
 
On Meet the Press (NBC), David Gregory had a conversation with Carl Levin (D-MI), and asked him 'how worried' should a person with a job in the defense industry be, given the automatic cuts to the military that come with sequestration in January if no deal is reached.  Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, responded
Well, I think you should be worried if you have a defense job, but we all ought to be worried whether we are dependent upon other aspects of the federal budget. Whether we’re worried about the regulation of our food safety, whether we’re worried about our borders being secure, whether we’re worried about FBI being supported? It’s all affected by sequestration.
Levin went on to talk about Grover Norquist, he of the 'pledge'.
The key here is whether or not the Republicans will move away from the ideologically rigid position, which has been the Grover Norquist pledge, which most of them signed, that they will not go for additional revenues. When they move away from that pledge, and they must, as by the way all the presidents that I have ever served with, including Reagan, Clinton, and the first George Bush, moved away from a position, no additional taxes. They’ve all added revenues to a deficit reduction, a significant amount of revenues.
Peter King, (R-NY) chimed in similarly, when asked whether he agreed with Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) that the country matters more than his 20-year old pledge not to raise taxes:
First of all, I agree entirely with Saxby Chambliss. A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress. For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a declaration of war against Japan. I’m not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed. And the economic situation is different. Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill realized that in the 1980s. I think everything should be on the table. I myself am opposed to tax increases. The fact is that speaker and the majority in leader and the president are going to be in a room, trying to find the best package. I’m not going to prejudge it. And I’m just saying we should not be taking ironclad positions.
On This Week with George Stephanopoulos (ABC), the Grover question came up again, this time with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).  Graham indicated his willingness to find additional revenue, through capping deductions, for example.  Stephanopoulos pressed, saying that Norquist has been tough on Graham.
In the end, he says, you're not going to go through with this promise to raise revenues, because you "like being a Senator." Your response?
Graham didn't flinch, responding  
I love being a senator, and I want to be a senator that matters for the state of South Carolina and the country. When you're $16 trillion in debt, the only pledge we should be making to each other is to avoid becoming Greece, and Republicans -- Republicans should put revenue on the table...but I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.
Is it possible that we can have a real conversation now, with both sides coming to the table willing to compromise, willing to give some ground and go against their base, for the good of the country?

After all, that's what Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) cited as one of his reasons for being willing to set aside the Pledge.
I care more about my country than I do about a 20 year old pledge....Grover Norquist has no plan to pay this debt down...But I don't worry about that (referring to the likelihood of facing a primary) because I care too much about my country. I care a lot more about it than I do Grover Norquist. I'm willing to do the right thing and let the political consequences take care of themselves.
Politicians from both parties would do well to listen to him.

November 21, 2012

A Baker's Dozen

In no particular order, thirteen things I'm thankful for:

Endless reasons for laughing. I find when I take two chuckles and giggle in the morning, I have a much better day than I might otherwise.
 A job I find very satisfying, even when it boggles my mind. Most days come with challenges, which is a good thing; so far they've not been insurmountable, which is a better thing.
Readers of veritable pastiche, the people who willingly put their time into my effort.  
Rejuvenation, in all its forms: friends, family, vacations, our garden, my camera...There are few things that help me move forward more than taking a few steps back, or sideways, and coming back with a fresh perspective.
Patrick, My Sweet Baboo. After ten years, he continues to have an immeasurable impact on my life.
Knowing that people who knew my Dad well hear his voice in my writing.
Having the wherewithal to support organizations that help make a difference in other people’s lives.
The next generation. They have their own challenges, but I enjoy watching them work to figure things out.
Good health, and good health insurance.
My Mom, an amazing woman who inspires others to be amazing. No matter what gets thrown in her path, she gracefully finds a way to stay on track.
Living in Central New York. There are many worse places to be, and likely some better, but none that I’ve found compelling enough to inspire me to move.
Having a say, and having choices, things I sometimes take for granted. Whether by fate or by design, for many folks these would be considered luxuries. 
Connections. Regardless of how they’re made - in person, on the phone, via social media - or their frequency, I'm grateful to have them.
 
Happy Thanksgiving.

November 20, 2012

Twenty lives, $584,960

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes bizX, the weekly business section.

In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

This week, sixteen people were listed with new judgments totaling $554,730 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

This week, three people were listed as having satisfied judgments to hospitals, doctors or other medical providers, totaling $25,219.

This week, one person was listed in the bankruptcy section with a hospital, doctor, or other medical provider as the major uninsured creditor, totaling $5,011.

November 16, 2012

Move On: The Poetry of Barbara Bush

Former First Lady Barbara Bush, her daughter-in-law former First Lady Laura Bush, and members of other First Families spoke at a conference on the Enduring Legacies of America's First Ladies in Austin, Texas recently.  Regarding the results of the election, the Romney supporter was anything but wistful.

I'm tired now of the elections.
People spoke.
Move on,
get on with it.
I want to do other things
and
not to be ugly.

November 14, 2012

For the GOP, 'Winning' Isn't Everything

Yesterday in The Hill's pundits blog, Armstrong Williams offered what was headlined as 'forward-thinking advice for the GOP'. He suggested that, for the Republicans to be relevant,
They need to carefully build a coalition between themselves, independents, blacks and single and suburban women, and make inroads regarding the Latinos. This can happen by the Republican leadership abandoning trying to legislate religion and instead creating an immigration policy that makes sense.
Williams' point is similar to that expressed by the rest of the pundit class: that failing to expand the GOP beyond the core angry white male demographic will doom the Rs to losing to the tax-and-spend Democrats forever, and the only way to expand the base is to come up with some kind of immigration plan that gives Latinos - the fastest growing demographic - a warm fuzzy feeling so they'll start voting Red.

bleachernation.com
Compare that attitude and goal  - winning, a la Charlie Sheen - with this approach taken by some folks in my neck of the woods, conservative Rs who put forth a very different path to victory.  Instead of looking for ways to help the R's take back the White House, Kevin and Kristin Curtis from Central New York have a much better approach. I had intended to include excerpts from their letter, published Tuesday in The Post-Standard here in Syracuse, but instead am including the entire thing, with a little added.

Dear President Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. John Boehner:
My wife and I are moderate Republicans. Our hope is that Republicans and Democrats will now do their best to find common ground. As moderate Republicans, we have crossed party lines to support Democrats when some Republicans are too extreme.
We could be defined as socially liberal and fiscally conservative. We believe that gay marriage is a civil rights issue and support those rights. We support strong families as foundational to the health of the country. Single parenthood is the driving force of most poverty in the United States. We share a deep faith, but we believe in the separation of church and state. We believe that the private sector should grow at a higher annual percentage rate than the government sector.
We believe in a strong, efficient military. We are spending too much and have too many bases, globally. Jobs in health care are just as important as jobs in the military and defense industries. Work to get our allies on board to address potential regional conflicts. Lead others to liberty.
We have supported Planned Parenthood for three decades. Every global problem, from reducing pollution to feeding the hungry, would be more manageable with effective family planning. By telling over 54 million American women who have terminated pregnancies since 1973 their doctors, and anyone who helped them, that they are criminals, extreme Republicans drive them away from the party. Can we all agree that better availability of effective contraception will decrease the need for abortion and work together on accomplishing that?
Strengthen Social Security. Neither of us have pensions. We are counting on this program. Broaden health care access while finding ways to lower costs. We pay for our own health care. It is expensive. Identify and address government program abuses wherever they are found. Stop the cheating. Reform overly generous public pension programs. We support education, but it needs to be more efficient at all levels. Subsidizing tuition and student loans has helped more students attend college, but also generated salary, staff and benefits bloat in academia. Simplify the tax code and make sure that folks at the top are paying the same percentage tax rates as folks in the middle.
We are counting on you to work together to move America ahead.
We are counting on you to work together. Not, we are counting on you to cobble together some weird coalition of voting blocs that can be pandered to, that the world can be promised and then not delivered to, so that we can win the next election.

We should be listening to Mr. & Mrs. Curtis, not to Armstrong Williams.

November 13, 2012

Twenty-two lives, $391,591

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes bizX, the weekly business section.

In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

This week, twenty-two people were listed with new judgments totaling $391,591 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

November 11, 2012

Sunday School 11/11/12

The Sunday talk shows had the fiscal cliff, the Petraeus scandal, and more. 

First, this was the best from Face the Nation (CBS). Host Bob Scheiffer, commenting on the election and money, talked first about Linda McMahon, who lost for the second time in the race for senate in Connecticut, after spending $100 million. Schieffer, again, was right on the money (pun intended): 
And what about that Las Vegas casino owner, Sheldon Adelson? How do you think he feels? He poured sixty million dollars into eight super PACs. That's a record for political contributions. But not one of his eight candidates won. But he's from Vegas. He knows it's all a roll of the dice anyway. I have never been one to tell people how to spend their money. It is their money. They can spend it as they choose and the Supreme Court says they can spend all of it on politics now, if they like. But I can remember the days when rich people gave their extra cash to charity. They actually sometimes saw some great results.
Over on NBC's Meet the Press, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) chatted about the fiscal cliff.  Schumer talked about how the Senate got the message in 2010 on cutting revenue, bot offered this in relation to the House and revenue:
We never really get real revenues because people believe in some things like dynamic scoring, sort of a counterintuitive view that if you cut taxes you will get deficit reduction and increased government revenues. It doesn’t make sense. I call it Rumpelstiltskin, after the gnome who turned straw into gold. It’s a fairy tale. So we need the Republicans to do in 2012 what we did in 2010. We hear the mandate, continue to cut spending, but they have to hear the mandate, real revenues, not this kind of stuff like dynamic scoring that Speaker Boehner did mention.
Rumpelstiltskin?  Didn't he stomp his foot so hard he fell into an abyss? And wasn't it his right foot?  Is Schumer on to something here?

This Week (ABC) saved the best conversation for the round table discussion. During a discussion on why Mitt Romney didn't win,  George Stephanopolous asked Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) about young voters, the under -30 demographic which went for Obama.  In response, Schock offered this:
We have got to do a better job with young people, we've got to a better job with women, but the group that we really have to zero on I believe is the Latino community, a group that really should be voting for Republicans to the degree we take a leadership role on the issue of immigration. And I think it makes sense for Republicans to get out in front on immigration, because it's a broke government program. And who better to fix a broken government program than the Republican party. 
Right... Who better?  

November 10, 2012

It's All Over - and it's Just Beginning

The results from Florida are in, and we now 'officially' have a winner, if there was any doubt outside Fox News headquarters that President Obama has won the election.

The final tally, shows Obama winning the popular vote, 61 million and change to Romney's 58 million and change. The electoral vote count, with Florida's 29 in the Blue column, stands at 332 - 206.

In his concession speech on Tuesday, Mitt Romney offered the following:

The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people's work, and we citizens also have to rise to occasion.
Pundits and historians are trying to figure out why, when as Romney indicates we need leaders to reach across the aisle, we chose to maintain the status quo in Washington -- Republicans entrenched in the House, Democrats in the Senate, and Obama in the White House.  I think it's really pretty easy to understand -- just ask Tip O'Neill:  All politics is local.

When we vote for our representatives and senators, we're voting to have them do good things for us back home, to bring money back in return for the taxes we pay. For the most part, we have a very narrow focus on our own backyards first, then the larger issues of state government and finally Washington, in ever-expanding circles around us. 

And when we're asked if we have a positive or negative view of those we have elected, we like to think that 'our' representative is doing a good job, but it's the rest of them - particularly the leadership -that are horrible.  To me this is obvious; we saw it in the ads in the race for the NY-24.  Ads run in support of Ann Marie Buerkle mentioned Nancy Pelosi, as if any one in this district gives a hoot about her.  Ads in support of Dan Maffei, who won, sometimes showed John Boehner and others in the House leadership.  Regardless of which side it was, when mentioning any of these names, it was obligatory to sneer.

Rather than worrying about why we did what we did, why people voted the way they did, we would be better serviced if we focused on something else Mitt Romney said in his farewell:
We look to job-creators of all kinds. We're counting on you to invest, to hire, to step forward, and we look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics.
Hear, hear.   We need people to get with the program, as Americans defined it on Tuesday, and put people before politics. I have never agreed with Mitt Romney more.

November 8, 2012

Dear Red States

I received the message below first thing Wednesday morning, with the results of Tuesday's election still being digested. While this version highlights New York as the center of the new universe, there are other versions on line, most with California as the leader of the revolution. I'd credit the author, but so far it seems to be an immaculate conception.  Enjoy.

Dear Red States:

We're ticked off at your Neanderthal attitudes and politics and we've decided we're leaving.


We in New York intend to form our own country and we're taking the other Blue States with us.

In case you aren't aware that includes California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and the rest of the Northeast.

We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation and especially to the people of the new country of The Enlightened States of America (E.S.A).

To sum up briefly:
You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave states.


We get stem cell research and the best beaches.

We get Andrew Cuomo and Elizabeth Warren. You get Bobby Jindal and Todd Akin.

We get the Statue of Liberty. You get Opryland.

We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom.

We get Harvard. You get Ol' Miss.

We get 85 percent of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs.

You get Alabama.

We get two-thirds of the tax revenue. You get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22 percent lower than the Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of single moms.

With the Blue States in hand we will have firm control of 80% of the country's fresh water, more than 90% of the pineapple and lettuce, 92% of the nation's fresh fruit, 95% of America's quality wines (you can serve French wines at state dinners) 90% of all cheese, 90 percent of the high tech industry, most of the US low sulfur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools plus Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cal Tech and MIT.

With the Red States you will have to cope with 88% of all obese Americans and their projected health care costs, 92% of all US mosquitoes, nearly 100% of the tornadoes, 90% of the hurricanes, 99% of all Southern Baptists, virtually 100% of all televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones University, Clemson and the University of Georgia.

We get Hollywood and Yosemite, thank you.

38% of those in the Red states believe Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale, 62% believe life is sacred unless we're discussing the death penalty or gun laws, 44% say that evolution is only a theory, 53% that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and 61% of you crazy bastards believe you are people with higher morals then we lefties.

We're taking the good weed too. You can have that crap they grow in Mexico.

Sincerely,

Citizen of the Enlightened States of America

November 6, 2012

Are You Better Off?

UPDATED:  The election was called for President Obama tonight, before 11:15 PM Eastern time, which is surprising in and of itself. 


The President won the expected states, including New York, California,  and Pennsylvania, a state that the Romney campaign spent a lot of time and money on at the end. 

He also won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts, the home states of the Romney/Ryans. He won New Hampshire. And he won Ohio, in large part because of Romney's missteps on the auto bailout.

In the end, regardless of why voters did what they did, we have a lot of work to do.

My original post:
I know my vote for President has already been counted, so to speak, as New York is solidly a blue state, based on the overwhelming number of Dems in our major cities. Because of them, we don’t have the distinction of being a ‘key state’ like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, or tiny New Hampshire, with its critical four electoral college votes. 
New York is so safe that I’ve only seen a handful of ads for the top contest, and I think if there hadn’t have been for Hurricane Sandy, or whatever you want to call her, we might not be seeing any Romney or Obama ads at all here in Syracuse.
All of the pundits have spoken; the polls have been taken; the editorial endorsements have come out; and now, finally, I get my say as to whether we're better off now than we were four years ago.  Here's some thinking on that:
  • When Barack Obama took the oath of office in January 2009, the Dow Jones was at 8279.63.  It closed yesterday (11/5/12) at 13,112.44. 
  • The first unemployment figure reported during the Obama administration was 8.3% in February 2009.  It got as high as 10%, when we were in the worst of things, and it’s now 7.9%.
  • The Consumer Confidence Index was at 38. It’s now at 72.2.
When Barack Obama took office, Osama bin Laden was alive, and we had no idea when we would be bringing our troops home from two wars. 

Before March 2010, when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed, we had no idea - not a clue - about how we were going to tackle the problem of the uninsured in America, which is an embarrassment for the world's greatest democracy.

We had "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"- formalized discrimination - in the military. And we had the banking crisis, and the housing crisis, and the auto industry crisis.

And now? Listen, I don't pretend for a second that we're in a perfect world, that we got everything what we hoped for when Obama was elected.  Certainly I wish he could have done more (Simpson Bowles financial reforms, elimination of waste and redundancy in federal programs, and so on), and in some cases I wish he had done less (Solyndra). 

The unemployment rate is not great, clearly, but it's improved even without Congress taking action on the President's jobs bill, and even in the face of the loss of several hundred thousand government jobs (a cornerstone of the R's smaller government plans at the national and state level).  

I certainly wish he could have done more with Congress, even though as we all know, the Republican mantra, (spoken publicly by Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell but shared by the rest of them) was  "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

Well, I disagree. I don't trust Mitt Romney, because I don't think he really believes in anything, other than his own success. I think he's a successful businessman - he's obviously got a lot of money  - who plays by the business rules that are geared to help ensure businesses succeed, regardless of the impact on people.  I don't believe he has any real intention of changing the rules on businesses, other than making them weaker, when in some cases - not all - they should be stronger.  I also don't want a president who has signed any pledge for any organization, including Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge. 

I don't know what his convictions are, because they change all the time, and so I doubt he has courage regarding them.

I don't believe we should completely throw caution to the wind when it comes to the environment, climate change (regardless of how it's caused), and how we use federal lands, which belong to you and me. I get the feeling that Mitt Romney would be perfectly happy having a picnic next to an oil rig in Yellowstone Park -- but that's not my vision of America.

I do not believe half of Americans perceive themselves as victims; I don't believe in redistribution of wealth from people to corporations, and I don't believe in extreme corporate welfare any more than I believe in extreme people welfare. I do not believe that corporations are people too. I am not better off with that thinking, that I can see so far.

Rather, I happen to think that America is better than kids being entitled to 'the best education their parents can afford'; that we are better than marriage discrimination; that we are more than our employment figures. I believe that we are more than the wars we fight. I believe we're better than people having to work until they're in their 70's to collect their retirement benefits.

I happen to think that we are part of a larger global community, not only militarily but in every other way, and we need to continue to be part of that larger picture if we are to be successful, if we're to remain the beacon of hope for the rest of the world. I also think we're better than a Mitt Romney administration.

Are we better off than we were four years ago? Yes, I believe we are,  and I believe that if President Obama gets reelected, we will be better off in four years than we are today.

Twenty-three lives, $461,654

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes bizX, the weekly business section.

In addition to special features, tips from stock experts, budgeting advice and the like, we get the judgment and bankruptcy listings.

This week, eighteen people were listed with new judgments totaling $363,291to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

This week, four people were listed having satisfied judgments totaling $77,596 to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers.

This week, one person was listed in the bankruptcy section with a hospital, doctor, or other medical provider as the major unsecured creditor, totalling $20,767.

November 5, 2012

The Election Eve Post

I am a firm believer in exercising my right to vote; I can't remember missing an opportunity, even in the primaries, even in the non-presidential years. I'm sure it's a Dad thing, something I learned from him early on -- register, enroll in a party, and vote. It's just what you do. And running an Election Eve message is what I do on veritable pastiche.

On the eve of Election Day 2012, I wanted to take this opportunity to encourage everyone to do their civic duty and vote. I will be voting tomorrow at yet another new polling place; we've been consolidated with other jurisdictions and so instead of just strolling three doors down the street, we're going to head off down the block, around the corner, hang a left, and cast our votes at the American Legion. 

We have very important choices this year, at the local, state, and national level. Syracuse is running out of money; New York, even without the ramifications of Hurricane Sandy, has many issues (among them figuring out what to do about her major cities running out of money); my congressional district is replaying a very contentious battle we just went through in 2010; we didn't like it then, and we don't like it now. And of course, we have the big decision on what our future should look like on a national and world scale, the choice between President Obama and businessman Mitt Romney.

At least in some races, anyway, my choice is easy. But even if they're not easy, I plan on making informed choices. I'm voting for the people I think can best help move my city, county, state, and country in the right direction. Hopefully the ones I vote for will win, and will live up to my expectations.  And I'm trying to prepare for the alternative, in case they don't win.
Below is the heart of the message I post each year. Don't vote because I say it's important, vote because it IS important. Here's some motivation, if you need it: 
After some thought, “I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.” (1) Actually “The idea of an election is much more interesting to me than the election itself…the act of voting is in itself the defining moment.” (2) And why is it that “When the political columnists say ‘every thinking man’ they mean themselves, and when candidates appeal to ‘every intelligent voter’ they mean everyone who is going to vote for them”? (3) 
We know it’s true that “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who didn’t vote” (4), and that “A citizen of American will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.” (5) Do we still not realize, after all these years, that “lower voter participation is a silent threat to our democracy… it under-represents young people, the poor, the disabled, those with little education, minorities and you and me”? (6) 
After all, “the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men” (7) and “to make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not just observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.” (8) And complain we do, after every election, when the wrong guy wins. If only people who actually voted complained, it’d likely be a lot less noisy. 
Some folks may not vote because they don’t know how to pick the right person. There are a couple different schools of thought on that. On the one hand, some might think that “politics is the art of the possible” (9) while others may subscribe to the thinking that “politics is not the art of the possible, it consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. And it is true that, the great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter the chance to do something stupid.” (10) Said another way, a “Vote (is) the instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.” (11) But that’s OK – “personally, I believe that our American system works as long as you participate in it. You must vote and make your voice heard; otherwise you will be left out.” (12) 
It’s generally true that if you “ask a man which way he’s going to vote and he’ll probably tell you. Ask him, however, why – and vagueness is all.” (13) But voting’s really easy; and “all voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong.” (14) And just about everyone likes to play a game every now and then, right? 
The bottom line is, “voting is simply a way of determining which side is the stronger without putting it to the test of fighting;” (15) “voting is a civic sacrament;” (16) and “the future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.” (17) If all of that seems like too much pressure, you have an out: “Vote for the man who promises least. He’ll be the least disappointing.” (18) 
 Please, vote. It really does matter, perhaps this year more than ever. If you need information on where to vote, or other assistance, visit Vote411.org.

 
(Thanks to these folks for their words of wisdom: 1 - Charles DeGaulle; 2 – Jeff Melvoin; 3 – Franklin P Adams; 4 and 13 – Andrew Lack; 5 - Bill Vaughan; 6 - Nancy Neuman; 7 - Lyndon B Johnson; 8 - Louis L’Amour; 9 – Otto Von Bismarck; 10 – Art Spander; 11 – Ambrose Bierce; 12 - Mari-Luci Jaramillo; 14 – Henry David Thoreau; 15 – H.L. Mencken; 16—Theodore Hesburgh; 17 – Dwight D. Eisenhower; 18 – Bernard Baruch)

November 3, 2012

Sidebar: What can you do with $8,000,000?

We now know that the race for NY's 24th congressional district is at or beyond the $8,000,000 mark.  I did a little research to see what you can do with that kind of cash. 

Here are a few examples:
  • Provide an entire year's fundraising for the United Way of Central New York, which in each of the past three years has raised less than that.
  • Pay for 81% of the Onondaga Creekwalk, the wonderful paved walking trail that runs from downtown Syracuse to Onondaga Lake.
  • Build just under half of the new Centro Transportation Hub, which recently opened south of downtown. The Hub was built to open up the city center, which during key times would have as many as 22 buses idling at one intersection while picking up passengers.
  • Keep the music alive, by providing one year's budget for the now defunct Syracuse Symphony Orchestra.  When they shut down the SSO and filed bankruptcy, the Board of Trustees issued a statement saying, in part, "we cannot support a $7 million orchestra on a $5 million budget."
  • Pay one year's starting salary (about $42,000) for 190 Syracuse City School District teachers
  • Cover a full year's worth of expenses (room, board, tuition, fees, etc.) at Syracuse University - for about 144 undergrads.
  • Repair a mile or so of beach wiped out by Hurricane Sandy.
Or, you could have purchased this, an $8 million iPad 2.

Seems like any of these would have been money better spent.