September 30, 2014

Albany Pols Buying Votes? Say it Ain't So!

There have been times, I admit, when I've disagreed with Steve Kimatian, one of the frequent guest columnists for the Syracuse Post-Standard and syracuse.com. Not this week, though.

Kimatian beautifully and thoroughly chastised our Albany politicians for their blatant vote-buying effort via the two rounds of tax rebate checks that are being across the state in the weeks leading up to November's general election.  Vote-buying, you ask?  Take a look at Kimatian's argument and decide for yourself:
That these payments are being made to encourage voters to re-elect those in office is virtually irrefutable. One, the checks just happen to be sent out right before the Nov.4 elections, when they could have been sent most anytime during the year, and two, delivering checks through the Post Office and not by direct deposit is costing taxpayers over $1.6 million in postage just so the legislators can have you manually open an envelope and remove a check hoping you imagine their photo on the face -- much more effective than campaign literature.
He's so right on that, folks -- but he could have gone even further. Sure, the checks could have been sent out most anytime during 2014. But they could have been sent most anytime last year. Why?

Because these checks were approved last year, during the 2013 budget process, by our Sonofa Governor and his pals in the Legislature. So why on earth did they wait so long to send us back our money, if not to demonstrate the power of incumbency, and ensure that they all remain incumbents and benefit from the very power they are abusing?

Seriously -- politicians are so excited to give us back our own money that they had to wait about a year and a half to give it to us, right before an election?  And -- wait for it -- you'll have to report this on your taxes come spring -- several months after the election the rebates purchased.  Clearly they must think we're stupid.

One of the most interesting points that Kimatian made in his commentary on Sunday was to question the constitutionality of these rebates:
Further compounding the wrong making payments to influence voters is prohibited by the New York State Constitution.  Article III, Section 3, states: "No person...shall... offer... or pay... any money or other valuable thing as a compensation ...for the giving or withholding a vote at an election..." As the supreme law of the state, short of an amendment, no act of the Legislature can supersede the obligations of the Constitution.  That our New York state Legislature can so cavalierly enact a law where payments are made to voters just before Election Day is a thumb in the eye to the Constitution and the voters. 
Truly: a thumb in the eye. A kick in the the teeth. A punch to the gut. Pick your body part, and pick the blow that it takes.

If you have the opportunity - no, make the opportunity - to question your elected representatives on this. Ask them if they really think we're so dumb we don't see through this blatant abuse of power. Ask them, too, if they really want people as dumb as they think we are voting for them come November.

And one more thing -- tell them Steve Kimatian sent you.

Tuesday's Number: $549,417

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes 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.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were 21 new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $527,751.

·         There were two satisfied judgments, totaling $11,628.

·         And there was one healthcare related bankruptcy, for $10,038.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had one, for $18,528
·         St Joe’s had three, for $29,727
·         SUNY Upstate had eighteen, totaling $292,034
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

September 28, 2014

Where Should a Teacher Live?

There's a beautiful house out near Memphis on Bennetts Corners Road; you may have noticed it if you've ever gone on one of those old-school Sunday drives, the kind we used to take with our parents back in the day.

The old white house has stood the test of time with grace. It's got a nice front stoop and a big back deck that always looked to me as if there might have been more house there at one point. There are big old trees, a nice yard, and a beautiful barn, always kept in good condition. I think the closest neighbor is a cemetery, itself nestled on a rolling hill, abutting a farmer's home field.

Over the years, I've often wondered what it would have been like to have grown up there, in that gorgeous setting. I wonder, because my parents had the chance to buy that house, but opted not to. Not because they were mean and didn't want my brothers and I to grow up there, but because the house was outside the Jordan-Elbridge (JE) school district, and  in their eyes, that was a deal-breaker.

Fifty years ago, when my dad first started teaching after a long career with Goodyear, there was no formal requirement that teachers live in the district, but my parents and many other teachers held a very strong belief living in the district where they taught, mattered. That having their children attend the same schools where their parents taught, mattered. That teachers being present and visible in the district, not just during school and for school events, mattered.

As a result, I grew up in the village of Jordan, in an old house that had hitching posts and a carriage step out front that made it look more important and significantly fancier than it was, instead of in the white house on Bennetts Corners Road.

There were consequences from that decision. Our house got egged a couple of times at Halloween; if memory serves, there was one year where no costumes were involved, so Dad knew who did it.  The kids knew he knew, and the eggs got washed off the house pretty quickly. My brothers and I took a little heat from other kids sometimes, people telling us Dad was a jerk and mean; and frequently we were asked for help on tests and stuff like that, as were the children of the French teacher, and the business teacher, and the science teacher, and the math teacher, and the English teacher. We all survived.

The larger consequence of course, was the lesson; sometimes it meant it took longer to get out of the grocery store if a parent wanted to talk. Sometimes it meant a knock on the door during dinner, or after dinner, when a student or parent needed help, and knew they'd get find a compassionate, non-judgmental ear at our house. This was repeated at other houses, too; my parents were not unique in that regard.

Fast forward to today, and I wonder how many of the teachers at JE district, or in the Syracuse City School District where we are, actually live there?  And if they don't, why not?  And what can we do to encourage them to?

Rightly or wrongly, people tend to question another's level of engagement if they can't see the person with their own two eyes. They'll project negatives, filling in the blanks where positives aren't obvious. Sad as it is, it's a fact. I see it in my company, where the majority of senior executives work out of the company headquarters down the Thruway and make infrequent visits to us here in the hinterlands. It's gotten better over the past few years, with a little more visibility, but there's still a lot of talk about how they're never seen in our neck of the woods, or how they don't understand what's going on, or how they're not committed. And these are just executives, people in the overall scheme of things who are not anywhere near as important as a teacher.

Believe me, I understand that being a great teacher is not directly correlated to any specific zip code; I get that. But communities are made up of zip codes; great communities are collections of zip codes full of great bus drivers, doctors, nurses, janitors, insurance company employees and executives, policemen, DPW workers, union leaders, retirees, engineers, planners, politicians, counselors, writers, artists, chefs, musicians, community organizers, lawyers, small business owners, religious leaders, barbers and beauticians, veterinarians, administrators, parents.... and, perhaps most critically, great teachers.

If education is the foundation of success, teachers are the contractors, the ones who put the blocks in the right place, who shore up the foundation when cracks appear, who make sure it's strong enough to support the students for whom that foundation is so critical.  They can't do it alone, obviously, but they are the ones we rely on for the heavy lifting.

I don't believe in ordering people to live in a particular place; I think, like my parents did, that when you earn a salary from the public, you should live where your salary-payers live. And when it comes to hiring teachers, I do believe that, all things being equal, preference should be given to a candidate who does live in the district over one who does not. I also believe, as I've mentioned before, that incentives (bonuses or in this case, even limited property tax breaks) should be given to teachers who live in the district where they teach.

Why?  Because if teachers are seen and heard, doing the heavy lifting right alongside the people who pay their salaries, it just might make a difference in how solid that foundation becomes. It might make a difference in how seriously the community takes education, in how much the community engages in the process, in how the community thrives and grows and succeeds. And it might just make a difference in the teachers' lives as well.

I would love to hear from teachers on this, who are willing to talk about their choice on where to live, and from others who have opinions on this subject. Is my thinking old-fashioned? Are there valid reasons why teachers don't live in their districts? Is it different if the teacher has kids?  Let me know what you think.

September 24, 2014

Wondering, on Wednesday (v5)

I was going to stay away from this one, I really was.

I was going to just step away from the conversation, but sometimes I just can't help myself. Yep - that darn Styrofoam salute. Tonight, I'm wondering, on Wednesday, what it is exactly that defines disrespect.

I'm sure you saw the video, stupidly posted on the White House Instagram page, of the President leaving his helicopter with a Styrofoam cup in his right hand, tossing out a quick salute with that same hand, as he was just about past the Marines at the bottom of the stairs.

sodahead.com photo
This can only be a sign of the apocalypse, right?

President Obama is not good at protocol, sometimes. George W. Bush, who saluted his Marines with a dog in his arms, wasn't always good at protocol either.  I mean really, does this look respectful? Or does it look like he got caught almost forgetting to salute, and did the best he could under the circumstances?

And for both Obama and Bush, isn't there someone who can make sure they don't have anything in their hands when they're in a saluting situation?  And really, you'd post that if you worked at the White House?

Really?

Here are some other questions that come to mind when I think about this:

Did Sarah Palin and all the rest of them apologize to all of our soldiers current and former, living and dead, for the countless thousands of lost opportunities for saluting that occurred before 1981 when Ronald Reagan decided to salute everyone he saw? Of course not.

Is everyone who is so up in arms about the Styrofoam Salute equally up in arms about the disrespect shown our country because a shockingly significant portion of Americans don't bother to vote in local, state or national elections?

Is anyone who is so up in arms about the Styrofoam Salute clamoring for an end to the disrespect that is the violence committed against Americans by Americans, such as the sexual harassment and abuse of our soldiers by other soldiers on military bases, or of citizens by law enforcement officers?

Are the politicians who are so up in arms about the Styrofoam Salute appreciating the disrespect shown to Americans through the gross amount of money and the influence of special interests that has been encouraged to infest our political system?

Are the people who are so up in arms about the Styrofoam Salute blind to the disrespect shown daily to gay Americans? Muslim Americans? Female Americans? Non-white Americans? Native Americans? Poor Americans? Older Americans? Veterans?

Do the people who are so up in arms about the Styrofoam Salute really think that this was even in the top ten most disrespectful things that happened in our country at the exact moment the half-hearted salute occurred?

Please  -- we have so many more important things to worry about to restore respect within our country and for our country.  If you're not as worried about those as you are about this, you're not worried about the right things 

September 23, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $693,009

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes 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.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were 33 new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $659,659.

·         There were no satisfied judgments.

·         And there was one healthcare related bankruptcy, for $33,350.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had eleven, totaling $152,936
·         St Joe’s had five, for $166,056
·         SUNY Upstate had fifteen, totaling $315,045
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

National Voter Registration Day 09.23.14

Are you registered to vote?

If yes, good for you -- you're on your way to becoming a participant in a democracy! Your next step is to educate yourself on candidates in races you're eligible to vote in.  Don't rely on what you see on television ads, or in the junk mail you'll receive in the upcoming days and weeks.  Educate yourself  by researching the issues, and the candidates, and then you're ready for the last part: actually voting.

If you are not registered to vote, please take the opportunity today -- National Voter Registration Day -- to get yourself signed up.

If you need some inspiration, look no further than Scotland where well over 80% of all registered voters turned out to cast a ballot on independence.

Share this message on Facebook and Twitter, on all of your social media sites, and via email. Don't let anyone miss the opportunity simply because they failed to register.

Thank you!

September 21, 2014

Good Teachers: Leaving a Lasting Impression

A little over a year ago, President Obama came to Syracuse, visiting one of our high schools to promote his plan to make college more affordable, and talking about the power of education.  As I noted in a post that day, I was a bit surprised that he barely mentioned teachers in his speech; I can't imagine anyone talking about the value and power of education without mentioning the folks who make it possible for someone to realize that value and power -- the dedicated teachers who give it their all to open the hearts and minds of kids to the world of possibility that awaits them.

I thought of Obama's visit Friday night, when I saw again the power of a teacher, the impact a teacher can have on a student.

My mother, who's been retired for 28 years, still lives in Jordan, a small community west of Syracuse, where she spent the bulk of her career teaching elementary school.  Friday night, we were strolling the grounds at the Jordan Fall Festival when all of the sudden we heard someone yell "Mrs. Drummond!" and then a young woman ran over to my mom and wrapped her in a bear hug.  Before long they both were smiling through tears, having a very animated conversation, while the woman's husband stood by, smiling along with them.

My Sweet Baboo and I walked away for a bit, bought our grand prize tickets, and sort of stood back and watched the conversation. Turns out, the woman was in Mom's next-to-last class, back in 1985. Her husband (also a child of a teacher), said that the only teacher his wife ever mentions, the one she remembers, is my mom.

When I see the teacher-bashing which seems so prevalent here, where the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) is undergoing more than its share of struggles,

  • I wish that students and parents would stand up - boldly, loudly, proudly - and support the great teachers that have impacted their families
  • I wish that administrators, and yes, the President, would stand up in support of the power of a good teacher, not just in the power of education.
  • I wish that people understood that a long teaching career is not necessarily a bad thing, any more than it is in most other professions

I wish these things because in the last year or so, I've seen the impact my mom had on students from her first class, and a generation or so later, from a class at the end of her career. And because I know she's not alone.

There are thousands of great teachers out there, who have made a similar lasting impression on their students. They're here in the SCSD, they are in your district, they're everywhere.

They deserve our support, not our disdain.

September 17, 2014

Wondering, on Wednesday (v4)

I attended a candidate meet-and-greet at a friend's house last night; the evening was fun, the conversation interesting, and the candidate is one I'm happy to support. A couple of things from last night's discussion have got me wondering, on Wednesday:

What would political campaigns look like if local television and radio stations donated advertising time to the candidates, instead of charging them?  I don't mean a bazillion hours of it, but a reasonable block of minutes that the campaigns could use during a specific time period, say in the two weeks before a primary and the three weeks before a general election, during reasonably active time slots.

Candidates and their campaigns would not have to spend money buying face time, but instead could spend actual time face-to-face with voters, such as at events like the one I attended. And to make it that much more fun, what if the stations relegated the attack ads, paid for by political committees, PACs, unions, corporations and 'interest groups' to the overnight or early morning infomercial time slots?

Wouldn't moves like this help level the playing field for candidates, particularly those running against entrenched incumbents, or those from the minor-but-legitimate parties? And, given the requirements for having an FCC broadcast license, wouldn't it make sense if we viewers were treated as if we mattered, as if we were deserving of respect?
This license is issued on the licensee's representation that the statements contained in licensee's application are true and that the undertakings therein contained so far as they are consistent herewith, will be carried out in good faith. The licensee shall, during the term of this license, render such broadcasting service as will serve the public interest, convenience, or necessity to the full extent of the privileges herein conferred. 
We would encourage campaigns to conform to high standards in their communications (meaning no lies, half lies, or falsehoods allowed). They'd not be allowed to even mention their opponent except in the context of their platform. So, for instance, a candidate would be able to say "I believe that all moms should wear Army boots for comfort and protection, and if elected I promise that my office will provide Army boots for all moms..." but would NOT be able to say "my opponent's mother wears Army boots."

What do you think, does that make sense?

And I'm also wondering if there shouldn't be some kind of moratorium on incumbents handing out money during the election season?  We've had a couple of classics this season: the tax rebates, which were approved by the illustrious New York State Legislature and our Sonofa Gov Andrew Cuomo as part of the 2013 budget, are being mailed now (not one, but two separate checks for many New Yorkers), when all members of the Leg and the Gov himself are up for re-election. No reason to be cynical about that, right?

Well, how about this: Cuomo was in Syracuse Tuesday announcing some $55 million in grants, including $20M for the SUNY Water Research and Education Center, to be built in the Inner Harbor. Would it be cynical of me to think that this grant could have been announced after November 4th?  Would it be too much to ask that incumbents keep the moneybags in the vault from, say August to the day after the election?  After all, if the money is going to a valid project, it's just as valid one day as the next, right?

Take these ideas, put them together with other similar ones, such as having politicians stop bombarding us with mail during election season, and maybe - just maybe, we'll get people interested in candidates, and get them voting again.

Don't you wonder what that would be like?

September 16, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $826,850

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes 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.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were 26 new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $819,350.

·         There were no satisfied judgments.

·         And there was one healthcare related bankruptcy, for $7,500.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had eleven, totaling $24,260
·         St Joe’s had one, for $7,500
·         SUNY Upstate had 21, totaling $499,501
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

September 12, 2014

All the News that Fits

Pop Quiz:

(1) The NBC Nightly News is on from 6:30 - 7:00 PM in my neck of the woods. How long is the actual news portion of the broadcast (rounded up to the next full minute)?
a. 22 minutes
b. 16 minutes
c. 24 minutes
d. 19 minutes

(2) Which of these stories led the broadcast Friday night?
a. President Obama's plan to deal with ISIL
b. Roger Goodell, the NFL, and domestic violence
c. Immigration
d. George Zimmerman is in trouble again

(3) Which of these stories was not on the broadcast?
a. Israel investigates its own army for Gaza misfires
b. The US Economy
c. Endoscopy clinic medical director removed
d. Protests in Ferguson, MO


In case you missed it, here's the full list of all the news that fit on Friday:

  • Roger Goodell
  • ISIS
  • Oscar Pistorius verdict
  • School killer escapes prison in Ohio
  • Crews fighting wildfires in California
  • Endoscopy clinic medical director removed
  • Ian Paisley died
  • New Jersey songwriter died
  • Toronto mayor drops out of race
  • Solar flares and colorful skies

Anyone else wish for a less dumbed-down broadcast?

September 11, 2014

Primary Post-mortem: #AskCuomo

In the end, the result was expected, even if the numbers were better than expected.

Andrew Cuomo, New York's Sonofa Gov, handily won the primary battle with Zephyr Teachout, with about 327,000 votes to her 185,000. Those who thought that Teachout, the law school professor, would barely make a dent were wrong, it turned out. She outright won 24 counties; who knows what would have happened if more people had voted.

Cuomo was barely visible during the primary season, other than going to the State Fair here in Syracuse and the Labor Day Parade in New York City. A thoroughly entrenched incumbent with dozens of millions of dollars at the ready, I'd be surprised if he spent as much of his own campaign funds during the entire primary season as I spend in one week feeding My Sweet Baboo and our cats.

All of the ads, all of the mail, everything I saw was paid for by the state Democratic Party -- a state party which apparently believes we here in Syracuse should be as enamored of the Buffalo Billion as are folks in Erie County, and should be thrilled with Cuomo for everything he's done for Western New York; I guess we can only wait to see whether the campaign mail is more reflective of us here in CNY between now and November, and to see what comes our direction once his second term gets into full swing, especially since he and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner have made amends.

Zephyr Teachout had almost no money yet still managed to reinvigorate the left wing of the party, and actually made them feel like they belonged again. I think that was really the point of her campaign: the Democratic Party is big enough to welcome traditional Dems along side the 'new Cuomo' Dems, if you will, even the ones who sometimes come across looking more like Republicans to the libs.

Beyond fracking and wage equality and what not, Teachout and I had the same bone to pick with the governor. We want honest politicians who do not take advantage of every available trick of the trade to get elected or to stay in office. We want people who walk the talk of the reforms they pretend to support. We do not want politicians who publicly lament money in politics and then take it in hand over fist, as fast as they possibly can.  My views on election reform and campaign finance reform are out there for anyone who wants to pay attention. Andrew Cuomo doesn't.

His handling of the Moreland Commission was atrocious. His heavy handed approach to getting people to go along with the limited campaign reforms passed this past April is reminiscent of the actions that got Texas Governor Rick Perry arrested. They are not the actions of an ethical politician, one who sleeps easy at night because he's doing the right thing. But he doesn't pay attention to anyone on those subjects, either.

Cuomo's failure to debate Teachout - in sharp contrast to dad Mario's primary race against Ed Koch -- showed his disdain for the primary process very clearly. In response to a reporter's question on whether not debating was a disservice to democracy, he gave us this gem:
I've been in many debates that I think were a disservice to democracy, so anybody who says debates are always a service to democracy hasn't watched all the debates that I've been in.
I think most of us would have taken the risk on that; we would have liked to see the two square off on the issues, to truly see where they differed and where the heart of the party really lies. Instead, we're left with the #AskCuomo hashtag, which was used with both insight and humor during the last couple weeks of her campaign. And with this thank you message from Zephyr Teachout.

And Cuomo? Well, he can now waltz towards a November victory against Rob Astorino, the Westchester County Republican and sacrificial lamb the state Republicans chose when His Hairness, the blowhard Donald Trump bailed on them. That, too, went the way just about everyone expected, save a few county Republican chairmen who actually fell for his bluster.

Hopefully we'll see #AskCuomo throughout the inevitable second term. It's the least we can do, I think, to keep the pressure on, to help nudge the Governor in the direction he so wants us to believe he wants to go.

September 9, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $98,320

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes 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.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were twelve new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $81,204.

·         There were no satisfied judgments.

·         And there were two healthcare related bankruptcies, for $17,116.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had eleven, totaling $75,760
·         St Joe’s had one, for $8,916
·         SUNY Upstate had one, totaling $6,157
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

September 7, 2014

Thoughts on Burger Flipping

So we're a dozen or so days post the announcement that Miami-based Burger King is buying Canada's Tim Hortons, for about $11 billion, and the merged company's headquarters will be in Canada.  How many times have you heard "you want fries with that, eh?"

When the deal was leaked, and then finally confirmed, there was a lot of traditional media chest-thumping about how this was another in a string of corporate mergers for 'inversion', a process where American firms become foreign firms in order to reduce their US tax burden, er, I mean to foster growth and expand their global footprint and improve shareholder value.

On Facebook, Burger King had this message of inversion denial front and center on August 26th, the date the deal was announced; by that time, there was a groundswell of complaints on social media, which began after the news leaked that a deal was in the works:


In some respects, we probably should have been mad at Burger King for a long time. According to this report, Reuters did some digging around in corporate filings and found out that BK's tax rate is "among the lowest in the industry," some five percent less than McDonald's, Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts. But there's also this:
Burger King generated almost 60 percent of its revenues in the United States between 2011 and 2014, regulatory filings show, but the chain reported just 20 percent of its profits in the country over the period. 
Hmm. And:
Turns out Burger King has created tax structures that allow it to operate nearly tax-free in German and British markets... (and) has also channeled income through Switzerland, which has enabled it to pay an effective tax rate of fifteen percent on foreign income over the past three years. 
Almost comically - I kid you not - as I'm typing this, there's an ad on the radio from a firm specializing in tax law noting that Albert Einstein once said "the hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax" and yet, it seems like Burger King and lots of other companies have managed to get a grip on this difficult topic, doesn't it?

Now, I confess when this news broke, like lots of people my initial reaction was to say that I would no longer spend any money at Burger King, which would save me all of about $20, since we almost never go to fast food places of coffee chains. I freely admit I get frustrated when companies don't pay taxes, or use loopholes they purchased from entrenched politicians (from both major parties) to avoid what we currently define as their fare share.

So we're threatening not to patronize them, and what is Burger King doing? They're back to posting photo-shopped food and people on their websites, as if to say "move along, nothing to see here." The negative comments continue, and probably will for some time, because people have seen and felt the power of social media campaigns in affecting change. 

Some of the comments have called for total boycotts, some for passing legislation to get Burger King off US military bases, and even a few calling for sanity.

Why sanity?  Well, there are actually a number of reasons. 

A significant number of Burger King restaurants are not corporate-owned, they're franchisee-owned, maybe by people you know, employing people you know, supporting and paying taxes in your community. For example, Syracuse is the headquarters of the Carroll's Corporation, which operates 570 Burger King outlets and employs over 17,000 people in thirteen states. I wouldn't really want to boycott them - they do a lot of good in our community, and they have all of those employees... Perhaps, instead of blindly boycotting all Burger Kings, we should ask if they're a corporate outlet or franchisee-owned before we take a stand?

Boycotting, too, if it's successful, would hurt the corporate bottom line, which of course is the intended outcome.  The unintended outcome, however, is that they'll pay even less taxes under those circumstances,  making the situation even worse. 

On removing the restaurants from US military bases, the thinking is that if you're not interested in paying taxes here in America, we're not interested in having you feed our soldiers on our property; those soldiers are the ones who, by their very (tax-supported) existence, protect you and your right to pack up and move your headquarters out of dodge.  Seems reasonable, I guess - however, doing that may in fact take jobs away from military spouses and children, income they may desperately need to stay above water.

Others have pointed out that damaging the company's bottom line only hurts us in the end, because our pensions and 401(k) plans probably have stock in these places, and we wouldn't want to shoot ourselves in the foot, would we? 

So what are we to do, beyond social media bashing and boycotting corporate restaurants? 

An inversion, by definition, is a change in the position, order, or relationship of things so that they are the opposite of what they had been.  We need an inversion of our own, starting at the ballot box.  We need to elect people who will, among other things:
  • support and abide by term limits
  • support and work for real campaign finance reform and election reform, starting with refusing to accept corporate, union, lobbyist and PAC money and contributions from outside the district they represent
  • support and work towards real tax reform for people and corporations, allowing people to keep more of what they earn and making it less necessary and/or attractive for corporations to make moves like this
  • support (and work towards) the elimination of the countless redundant and overlapping services (and agencies) that exist within all levels of government, and to adequately support and fund efforts to combat the fraud that occurs within government programs, including Medicare
  • refuse to vote for or submit a bill that has an unrelated rider, amendment, or language not directly tied to the purpose of the bill; for example, if you're trying to fund the military, leave the SNAP program for another piece of legislation

These are the kind of things that will restore reason, bring fairness across the entire playing field, and might actually make a difference. The rest of it? Our knee-jerk reactions make us feel good, and there's nothing like blasting off a Facebook post or a tweet, but in the end, if we don't change the players, we can't change the rules. And we can't change the rules if we don't vote.

If we don't vote, well, we might as well be flipping burgers.

September 3, 2014

My Middle-Aged White Lady Perspective: Victim Blaming

I'm going to step into another fray, I'm sure, but that's OK.  Tonight, instead of politics, let's talk about political correctness. Specifically the kind that relates to bad things that most often happen to young women, and what we are or are not allowed to say about those bad things to young women.

Date rape and sexual assault, with or without intentional ingestion of alcohol or drugs. Sexting. Revenge porn.  Nude photos shared without permission. There are probably more but these are the most frequent situations that I see where what was once known as sage advice has now become victim blaming.

  • Example: suggesting to young women that the biggest thing they can do to protect themselves is to not get drunk at a party, or certainly that they not get so drunk as to not know what's going on.
  • Example: suggesting to young women - even tweens -- that they should not take sexually explicit pictures of themselves. And they should not send any such pictures, should they fail to listen to the first part. To anyone. Even friends. Even the cute kid in study hall. Never to the cute kid in study hall. 
  • Example: suggesting that, if you're old enough to make your own decisions (or if you have no advisers helping you make good decisions, or if you have bad advisers helping you), you shouldn't put nude or semi-nude or explicit pictures into photo-storing websites, even ones run by reputable companies.
  • Example: suggesting that you don't walk home alone at night, or take shortcuts down dark alleys, or do any of the other things we know are stupid when we see them on scary movies. 
I'm not sure how we got to the point where this kind of advice, the kind that caring parents readily gave their daughters, from an early age, is now considered to be victim-blaming.  From my middle-aged white lady perspective, it would be neglectful at the very least if parents - mom and dad, two moms, two dads, doesn't matter - didn't have these heartfelt conversations with their daughters, regularly.

I heard my generation's version of this, in elementary school and high school, the message increasing in specificity as I got older. I heard it at college, where we were all given rape whistles as part of our welcome kits. I heard it at work, about not walking to the parking lot alone. I heard it from friends when we were out, about not ditching the group and leaving with someone. I heard it from my older brothers, about not being stupid. And when I didn't listen and was stupid, my friends got on my case, as I got on theirs when they were stupid. Because we knew that we were our own best defense, and we weren't afraid to remind each other of that.  

In the modern world, when date rape, sexual assault, sexting gone wrong, revenge porn, or hacking of personal photos happen, and perpetrators are identified, they go through the system and are punished if found guilty. The victims, they are punished no matter what. 

In an ideal world, though, these things wouldn't happen at all, because personal privacy and boundaries would be respected, and no one would think it was reasonable to forcibly take things that did not belong to them, or things that were not offered freely and clearly without chemical interference, and so on. And there wouldn't be a need to remind young women to protect themselves, to be their own best defense. 

But we don't live in an ideal world. We live in a world where these kinds of acts are all too common, and where real victim-blaming occurs in the name of finding justice. Where paparazzi are ever more boldy going where no man has gone before to snap the 'gotcha' shot of a lifetime. Where careers are built on leaked sex tapes. 

Where men, feeling guilty about looking at stolen pictures of breasts, buttocks and vaginas, assuage their guilt by trying to donate money to a prostate cancer charity (always being true to their school, if you will), and where we learned today, stars and wannabe stars under the age of 18 have had nude photos stolen, potentially subjecting countless voyeurs to child pornography charges.  (The charity rejected the money, by the way; and there are lots of scared boys and men out there trying to delete the pictures they downloaded before they get in real trouble).

Protect yourself. The best thing you can do is control your own destiny as much as possible, because no one else is going to do that for you. 

That's not blaming. That's good advice. 

September 2, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $314,856

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, publishes 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.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a debt owed to a hospital, nursing home, physician or physician group, medical supplier, and so on; I do not include filings by insurance companies, many of which are so diversified it would not be a fair assumption that the filing is related to medical care or health insurance.

·         This week, there were 20 new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $232,419.

·         There were three satisfied judgments, for $28,969.

·         And there were three healthcare related bankruptcies, for $53,468.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had twelve, totaling $113,715
·         St Joe’s had ten, for $147,648
·         SUNY Upstate had four, totaling $53,493
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none

The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.