June 30, 2015

Tuesday's Number: $319,269

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.

Since mid-2012, I’ve been tracking health care related filings. I include anything that is likely a patient 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 thirteen new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $329,274.
  • There was one satisfied judgment, for $10,005.
  • And there were no bankruptcies.

Here's the breakdown for the local hospitals: 

  • Crouse had four, totaling $35,193
  • St. Joseph’s had two, for $18,837
  • And SUNY Upstate had seven, for $252,396 

SUNY’s total included a credit of $10,005 for the satisfied judgment; I subtract the repayments from the overall totals and from the individual hospital totals, under the likelihood that they’ve already been incorporated into the numbers at some point now.

There was one judgment this week for a rehab center, which accounts for the $12,843 difference between the overall total and the hospital totals.   

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

June 28, 2015

PPOD 6/28/15: The Great Divide of Upstate NY

It was February 15, 2009.

I've been trying to recall the day that I began correcting media folks, out loud, every time they incorrectly describe the state of New York as being divided into only two parts: New York City, and the entire rest of the Empire State, collectively described as 'upstate.'

Six years ago, it was the horrible winter plane crash outside of Buffalo, which is easily understood to be in western New York, that was described as happening in upstate NY. And for the past three weeks, it's been "The Prison Break" which has confounded television and radio reporters I generally respect, as well as some print journalists about whom I know about as much as they do about the map of New York.

The Clinton Correctional Facility, located in Dannemora, is not in upstate New York.

Richard Matt,
who was killed by police last Friday, and David Sweat, who was captured by police Sunday afternoon, did not escape into the woods of upstate New York.

When he was apprehended, in fact, Sweat was about two miles from the Canadian border.

NBC. ABC. CNN. NPR. Fox.The Guardian. US News & World Report. The Wall Street Journal. Even our own syracuse.com.  All have referred, at one time or another, to the 'upstate New York' prison break.

Listen, if Poughkeepsie (the circle towards the bottom of the map of NY above) is in 'upstate' then Malone (in the circle at the top of the map), where David Sweat was initially treated after being captured, might as well be Greenland.

But it's not. It's in northern New York, some 285 miles or so away from Poughkeepsie.

Richard Matt is dead. David Sweat, at last report, was in stable condition, recovering from the two shots to the torso he took from a New York State Trooper.  Now that the story will die down, we can go back to understanding what's what, and where's where, in New York.

Excelsior, 'still higher', is our motto.  And forever more, northern New York will be 'still higher' than Upstate. 

The One About Marriage

June 26, 2015, is a day all about gratitude, for a majority of the same Supreme Court justices who gave us 'corporations are people' has officially determined that all people are people too.
The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.
Friday's decision means that same-sex marriage is in fact constitutional, and that the participants in them are protected the same as are participants in opposite sex marriages. And in marriages between prisoners and their pen pals. And in inter-racial marriages. And in marriages where the new husband is a deadbeat dad. These are among the cases over the years where the Court has chimed in, allowing marriage, 'protecting' marriage, revering the 'traditions and social benefits' that come from marriage.

No longer will someone like, say, Charles Manson be more valued than a gay doctor, lawyer, politician, soldier, musician, actor, teacher, athlete, pastor, accountant, bus driver, stock broker, entrepreneur, lifeguard, writer, janitor...

People are free to express their displeasure at this decision and at the weddings that result, just as they are free to express their displeasure and distaste at marriages between octogenarian men and twenty-something playthings; between rich businessmen and their second, third, or fourth trophy wives, (or their interviewers); or those between The Real Housewives of Anywhere and their poor bastard husbands.

Now, as Patrick and I prepare to mail our own wedding invitations, I'm delighted that all members of our family will have the same opportunity as we have: to embark on the journey of marriage, to make permanent and public and equal their commitment, their enduring love, and their undying faith in their partners, regardless of where they live when they make the decision to say "I do."

And I'm thrilled for friends who have already gotten married in New York and other 'marriage equality states, to know that their marriages are just as legitimate as ours will be when we tie the knot in September, regardless of where they are today or where they end up tomorrow.

I'm not surprised at some of the reactions coming from 'marriage conservatives' as I call the politicians who are looking to make hay out of this decision. I certainly wish there was less hate and a little more compassion, and I hope that people will become more tolerant and less judgmental over time. We've shown we can do this on other issues of equality, whether driven by a SCOTUS decision or by us individually or collectively coming to the realization that people who are different are not demons, nor are they 'less' simply because they are not exactly like us.

I'm going to leave you with thoughts expressed by Sean Kirst, an outstanding columnist we are fortunate to have here in Syracuse, who provided a thoughtful response to a question posed by Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent Friday.  Roberts asked
The Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the states and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?
Here are excerpts from Kirst's reply:
Who do we think we are, affirming so many times that the greatest contribution of the founders - a group of influential men of celestial courage who didn't always transcend the ugly norms of their time - was to craft an ideal of liberty of such purity, of such inspiring power, that it would shine and ascend and be brought to bear on question seemingly unimaginable more than two centuries ago?
 Who do we think we are, bumping forward, debating, shouting, protesting, legislating, procrastinating, telecasting, sniping, griping, always predicting the doom of the republic when someone we disagree with - be it liberal, be it conservative - wins the day, yet waking up the next morning managing to somehow keep going this raucous, boisterous, never boring, often maddening, sometimes transcendent, still unfinished and in-the-end- we're all-in-this-together-dammit experiment of a union?
Who do we think we are?   
Just who we were yesterday, and will be tomorrow, when we again put one great collective foot before the next:
Americans. 
Equally, gay or straight, Americans.

June 24, 2015

Wondering, on Wednesday (v34)

If you watch the evening news, you've probably seen a few thousand pharmaceutical commercials, everything from painful sex to painful joints to painfully dry eyes to painfully not being able to perform to painful diabetic nerve pain to painful embarrassment due to losing your keys and finding them in the refrigerator. After a rude awakening, I was thinking I might need to "talk to my doctor" about a drug, the one for painful night leg cramps. Boy I had a doozy of one in my calf around 4 this morning. I'm wondering now what drug I need to take to help me remember the name of the drug I wonder if I need to talk to my doctor about taking...

C Neibergall/AP Photo
Speaking of drugs, I think the conservatives who are up in arms about the pictures of Senator Ted Cruz (R-Canada) with posters of guns in the background need to take a chill pill.

Yeah, it's true that the guns are pointing at his head, but is that his fault for standing where that could happen, or is it the fault of the photographer for taking pictures of Cruz?  And is Cruz upset, or are the gun-shy gun fans upset?  After all, it he was the one who, at an Iowa campaign stop just a couple of days after the murders in Charleston, joked about gun control:
You know the great thing about the state of Iowa is, I'm pretty sure you all define gun control the same way we do in Texas - hitting what you aim at.
It might just be me, but I think if you crack that joke on the heels of a mass murder in a church, you shouldn't be too concerned about a bunch of paper guns in frames on the wall.

Charleston's murderer, Dylann Roof, has a clear identity as a racist bastard, but a less clear identity as a person.  Seems the national press pronounce his last name Roof like 'rewf', but the folks down south have generally said it Roof like 'hoof'. Who was it who said "You can say anything about me you want to, as long as you get my name right?" Seems Mr. Rewf or Mr. Roof missed that bit in his research.

I didn't call Roof an 'alleged' murderer, or an 'accused' murderer, as many in the media continue doing.  Why? Because he confessed. I'm also not going to call him crazy or insane or nuts or any of the common mental health terms we use so freely in cases like this.  He planned it, he did it, he admitted it. At this point let's leave it up to his lawyers to try and figure out where the dust settles. I'm comfortable calling him what he called himself: a killer, a murderer, a racist.

Another person who I won't call nuts or crazy or insane is Pope Francis. I'm going to let Catholics handle the name calling, as it seems there are many who are upset with the Pontiff for his encyclical on climate change, the environment and man's disastrous treatment of our home. Francis has continued his messaging, tweeting frequently in the past several days along these lines:
The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.
Economic interests easily end up trumping the common good.
Many things have to change course, but it is we humans above all who need to change.
Among the folks who are irked with the Holy Father is Jeb Bush, who converted to Catholicism many years ago, and who is not afraid of using his faith in his messaging, or defending his faith publicly, as he did back in 2013 when he thought (or pretended he thought) that President Obama was closing the US embassy to the Vatican. On the Pope's encyclical, Bush had this to say:
I hope I'm not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope. I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.
Like abortion. Or marriage equality. Oh wait, those are not political issues, sorry. Those are just tax protected Sunday sermon topics. Ending poverty, finding equal justice, saving Mother Earth, those are political issues.  Silly me.

Finally, speaking of silly, am I the only one wondering if the people who went out and bought guns, all kinds of guns, when President Obama got elected, or here in NY before the SAFE Act went into effect, are the same ones who are now out there buying up anything and everything with the Confederate flag on it?

I just don't get it. I'm wondering, should I talk to my doctor about that?

June 23, 2015

Tuesday's Number: $39,519

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.

Since mid-2012, I’ve been tracking health care related filings. I include anything that is likely a patient 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 five new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $43,603.
  • There was one satisfied judgment, for $11,388.
  • And there were one bankruptcy, for $7,304. 

By hospital, here’s the breakdown: 
  • Crouse had four, totaling $5,894
  • St. Joseph’s had one, for $7,304
  • There were no filings for SUNY Upstate or Community (part of Upstate). 

Crouse’s total included a credit of $11,388 for the satisfied judgment; I subtract the repayments from both the overall totals and the individual hospital totals, under the likelihood that they’ve already been incorporated into the numbers at some point now.

There were two judgments this week that were unrelated to the four local hospitals, one for a nursing home/rehab center, and one for surgical practice, which account for the $26,321 difference between the overall total and the individual hospital totals.  

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

June 21, 2015

Grains of Salt: Toby Shelley's Poor Choice of Words

A little bit of this or that, from the Salt City and around Central NY:

Toby Shelley, former candidate for Sheriff, had been chosen to run against Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney on both the Democrat and Conservative lines, with party members from both sides on board to help him obtain the signatures needed to get on the ballot.

In a Syracuse New Times interview, Shelley was asked about the Conservative Party's platform, which the writer noted includes a plank supporting police profiling. Shelley indicated he wasn't aware of that plank, and then clearly noted that that racial profiling was always wrong, but defended police profiling.

In trying to explain the difference, he gave a very poor illustration. He used the example of one of Onondaga County's smaller towns, and said this:
For example, out in Marcellus, a community that is mostly Caucasian, if you see someone who looks different, you might just stop and talk to them, ask how they're doing. 
The answer was inarticulate at best, and politically incorrect, to be sure.  And, not surprisingly, the Dems backed away and are no longer supporting him; the Conservatives are standing behind him. at least for now, and I expect that support from the party leaders will continue.

I'm not sure there is a politically correct way to answer the question, other than to stop, and not pass go, and not collect $200, immediately after saying that racial profiling is wrong. I'm afraid that any attempts to differentiate between pure racial profiling and police profiling would have fallen on deaf ears or would have landed anyone right where Shelley landed: in hot water.

Had it been me, and I was thinking clearly and not doing something else when the interviewer called ("working on my family farm" is what Shelley indicated he was doing), I would hope I could offer something like this:
I admit there can be fine line between racial profiling, which is wrong, and police profiling, which is a critical tool we have to prevent crime from occurring, instead of waiting to respond to a crime that is in progress or, more often, discovered well after the fact.   
For example, say you have a neighborhood of mostly older folks, very well tended neighborhood, nice cars and whatnot, where you patrol regularly. You're on shift in that neighborhood, and you see a couple of poorly maintained pickup trucks pull up, and young men get out of the trucks and start going from house to house, knocking on doors. Sometimes they get let in, sometimes they don't get past the door, sometimes no one's home and they move on to the next house. 
 If the men getting knocking on some of the doors were white and those knocking on other doors were black, and as a police officer you ignored the white guys but not the black guys, you'd be racially profiling.
If you talked to both groups, who 'looked different' and were 'acting differently' from everyone in the neighborhood (which is very well known to you as you patrol there regularly), even though to your knowledge no crime had been committed, you'd be police profiling
And, more importantly, you'd be doing exactly what everyone in that neighborhood wants you to do, what their tax dollars pay for, whether they're Democrats or Republicans or Conservatives or anything else. 
And, I further hope that I'd have the wherewithal to ask the reporter whether, in his heart of hearts, he had ever racially profiled anyone or whether he could provide 100% assurance that he never would. Because I think it happens more often than people (of any political stripe) admit. Here's an example.

Say you're a white person walking alone in downtown Syracuse, in the early evening. No one else on the block, and all of a sudden, a group of  black teenagers is behind you, whispering and laughing, and they begin to follow you. You go into a store, maybe grab a cup of coffee and a lottery ticket, kill some time, and then go back about your business, heading on to your destination. And there the teens are, half a block up, and they fall in behind you again when you walk by.

Across the street, you see a group of white teens, about the same number of kids as the group that's following you. You don't know any of them; they're dressed the same and acting exactly the same as the group behind you. And your destination is on the side of the street you're on now.

If you cross the street to where the white kids are, are you guilty of racially profiling? Of course you are, right? You made a decision and took action using no factors other than race.

And people, even liberal democrats, do this kind of thing all the time. Like when whites sit with the white person on the bus, when there's an equal choice to sit with a person of color, or when they call the police because a 'suspicious' (black) person  is wandering around their (white) neighborhood.

We ask our neighborhood watch groups to do this, to look out for the person who is not part of the neighborhood, or we'll send one of the neighbor men over to 'check things out' if a stranger happens to pass through. The crux of the issue, the determining factor in whether it's racial profiling or something else, depends on what happens next and whether everyone would be treated the same under the same circumstances.

Toby Shelley responded to the New Times article in social media post. In part, he noted:
Let me be clear: I have never racially profiled. I do not advocate racial profiling, nor would I tolerate racial profiling.  Anyone I have encountered over my decades-long career of public service would attest to this fact. If I supported such policies and were a career politician like Ms Mahoney, I could have refused or attempted to dodge (the reporter's) question. Instead I chose to respond from a police perspective. As police officers we are trained to make observations and respond to suspicious behavior, not make make assumptions based on the color of one's skin. 
I met and talked with Toby Shelley when he was running for Sheriff last year. I believe what he said in his post, and have no reason to doubt his sincerity.  I'm afraid, though, that we will not see him on the Dem line on the ballot - we'll see a blank space. Worse, if the Conservative party members (as opposed to the party leadership) respond they way they did in the race for Sheriff, we may not see him on the Conservative Party line either. (In that race, Shelley lost in a primary to a write-in candidate, eventual winner Republican Gene Conway, because he was not Conservative enough).

If that's the case, it would be a shame.

We all benefit when we have a choice between at least two legitimate candidates for a political office. None of us benefit when elected officials, including the County Executive, the District Attorney and others well entrenched at the highest levels of local government, (and not term limited), run unopposed.

And only a handful of people benefit when a good guy get tossed aside simply for a poor choice of words.

June 20, 2015

Just Say No to Cuomo's Education Plan

Have you seen the commercials urging support for Governor Cuomo's new education plan? You know, the plan to give people tax credits for sending their kids to parochial, private, charter or 'some other' pubic school?

The commercials tout the $500 tax credit for parents, and the $200 tax break for teachers who purchase their own school supplies, and a tax credit for people who donate money to a school, even a public school, to support programs that end up on the chopping block because schools can't afford to pay for them any more. Lt Governor Kathy Hochul explained it this way in an op-ed piece published recently:
The truth is that all schools - pubic, charter, parochial, private - deserve our support. That's why the governor has proposed the Parental Choice in Education Act, to ensure that every student and their family are supported in some way by the state, no matter where they go to school.
This Act will offer tax credits to individuals who donate to programs like after-school programs at public schools, often cut first; to the selfless public school teachers who go above and beyond in purchasing supplies for their classrooms out of their own pockets; and to low-income families who send their children to nonpublic schools so they can get the best education possible.
And to hep ensure that no child is condemned to a failing school, it will provide scholarships to low- and middle-income students who attend nonpublic schools or public schools that are outside of the district in which their family lives.  
That tax credit for people who donate to schools? Well, that's set as 75% of the total donated, with a cap of $1,000,000. And it applies to corporations as well as people, of course. You know, law firms, real estate brokers, and development companies, frequently set up as limited liability companies, or LLCs. (You may recall, of course, that LLCs and other corporations are huge donors to the Sonofa Gov's campaign, and the 'LLC loophole' is one of the big issues that won't get touched under any campaign finance reform package as long as the people in office accept money from them.)

Once again, we have the Governor and his minions working hard to develop a set of gimmicks and special benefits, which then get slickly packaged and 'messaged' in an almost comically ironic way. For example, those "selfless teachers" purchasing supplies with their own money. Aren't they the same teachers this the administration has vilified for the past year or more, and blamed for the failures of the schools in which they teach?  Nice way to try and win back the unions, Gov. Or are we to believe that only those teachers who you consider 'effective' would be seeking this credit?

Similarly, lamenting cuts in school programs while championing a property tax cap that limits how much money schools get to fund these programs? And, ignoring court orders dating back a decade or more, the state refuses to fund public schools appropriately (particularly urban ones) so that students can receive a sound basic education?

This is what the New York State Constitution has to say about the government's role in education:
Article XI. Education
Section 1. The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools wherein all children of this state may be educated. 
 Section 3.  Neither the state nor any subdivision thereof, shall us its property or credit or any public money, or authorize or permit either to be used, directly or indirectly, in aid or maintenance, other than for the examination or inspection of any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine is taught, but the legislature may provide for the transportation of children to and from any school or institution of learning.
(Section 2 established the SUNY system, therefore not included above).

I freely admit to occasional bouts of over-simplification or over-complication; perhaps one of those is happening here. But if the Constitution says that the government must maintain and support free common schools, which means public schools, I'm confused as to why Governor Cuomo is proposing using tax money to support private and religious schools?

And if the Constitution states that no jurisdiction can use any public money directly or indirectly, for any aid or maintenance of a religious school, other than transporting students to and from, how does Governor Cuomo justify doing exactly that, through his scholarships for kids to leave public school and attend private school?

There are lots of issues with education in New York, particularly in urban and rural schools, that need to be addressed, including what gets taught, how to rate teacher (and administrator) effectiveness, how we fund education, and a whole host of other factors.

Paying people to leave the public school system, or funding education via some sort of school-by-school ice bucket challenge, are not viable ways to address these issues.

June 16, 2015

Tuesday's Number: $260,116

It appears the finance folks are back from vacation. After a month of low numbers, things are almost back to what passes for normal in this weekly post. 

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.

Since mid-2012, I’ve been tracking health care related filings. I include anything that is likely a patient 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 $268,604.
  • There was one satisfied judgment, for $8,448.
  • And there were no bankruptcies listed.

By hospital, here’s the breakdown: 

  • Crouse had eleven, totaling $128,963
  • St. Joseph’s had one, for $8,880
  • SUNY added another seven, totaling $102,766.
  • There were no filings for Community (part of Upstate).

SUNY’s total included a credit for the satisfied judgment; I subtract satisfied judgments from the overall and individual hospital totals, on the likelihood that they’ve already been incorporated into the numbers at some point since I began my tracking.

There were three other judgments this week, one each for a doctor, a radiology group, and a cardiovascular group, which accounted for the $19,507 difference between the overall total and the hospital totals. 

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

June 10, 2015

Wondering, on Wednesday (v33)

Like most folks, I'm very aware that Father's Day is looming on the horizon. In case I ever want to know when it is, I simply have to look in my inbox or spam folders; since Sunday, I have received at least 50 emails about Father's Day gifts, ways to celebrate, and my favorite, "Don't Forget Dad!"

I can assure you I'll never forget my father. I've written about him in these pages before, and talk to him frequently. He's with me every day of my life, even though he's been gone now eight years. He was outspoken when he thought it was the right thing to do; he had an unerring sense of right and wrong; and, he had a great sense of humor including the ability to laugh at himself.

He would probably tell me to just ignore the retailers trumpeting Dad Dad Dad from the rooftops in order to make an extra sale or two, but I'm wondering, on this Wednesday, what he'd think if I were to answer all of those 50-odd emails, telling whoever read them exactly how unforgettable he is, and asking them to tell me about their unforgettable dad? What kind of stories would I get in return?

Maybe I'd hear from someone who 'lost' their dad in a transgender transition, someone like the Jenner kids who had Bruce and now have Caitlyn. I can't imaging living through that privately, much less publicly, but I suppose to a family that lives their lives for the cameras, a family that continuously, unabashedly self-promotes to extremes never before seen, maybe it doesn't matter that everyone is staring in their windows at this difficult time.

Or maybe, I'd hear about someone with a dad like Bob Costas, a man with an opinion lots of things, including the 'promotion' of Ms. Jenner.

Seems that ESPN has decided to bestow this year's Arthur Ashe Award on Jenner.  Ashe, you may remember, was a tennis star back in the 60's and 70's, winning both the US Open and Wimbledon, and was at one point ranked number one in the world, all 'firsts' for a black man. Ashe had health problems, including two heart surgeries, brain surgery, and, ultimately, a diagnosis of AIDS stemming from tainted blood he received during one of the surgeries. He was an activist and a role model, and the Award named for him is all about courage, according to ESPN:
The Ashe Award is one of the most prestigious in sports. Recipients reflect the spirit of Arthur Ashe, possessing strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost...
Among the previous winners are Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, the four guys from Flight 93, Tommie Smith and John Carlos (the fists-raised-on-the-medal-stand folks from the '68 Olympics), friendly fire victim Pat Tillman (who has an award named after him), Jim Valvano,and Pat Summit.

Costas, a sportscaster for NBC, is not impressed with ESPN's decision to honor Jenner.
It strikes me that awarding the Arthur Ashe award to Caitlyn Jenner is just a crass exploitation play. It's a tabloid play. In the broad world of sports, I'm pretty sure they could have found - and this is not anything against Caitlyn Jenner - I'm pretty sure they could have found someone who was much closer to actively involved in sports, who would have been deserving of that what award represents. That's not to say that it doesn't take some measure of personal courage to do what Caitlyn Jenner has done, but I think that every year we look across the landscape of sports, and we find prominent people and kids in high school and amateur athletes who I think more closely fit the description of what they're looking for there. 
Honestly, what do you think of Costas's comments? Did ESPN punch their ticket on the Kardashian/Jenner gravy train by selecting Caitlyn as this year's winner?  Is she even still thought of as a 'sports' figure, or simply a Hollywood creation?  Do people even eat Wheaties anymore?  And, I'm wondering how long it'll take before NBC chastises Costas?

One thing I don't have to wonder about, though - I know my Dad would agree with Costas on this one. And so do I.

June 9, 2015

Tuesday's Number: ($14,612)

We've reached a milestone! 

That headline is not a typo: the satisfied judgments are higher than the new judgments, and so for the first time ever, we have a net negative Tuesday's Number.

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.

Since mid-2012, I’ve been tracking 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 was one new judgment for hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $11,555.
  • There were three satisfied judgments, for $26,167.
  • And there were no bankruptcies listed.

By hospital, here’s the breakdown:

  • Crouse gets a credit of $11,822, with one satisfied judgment.
  • SUNY gets a credit of $2,790; they had the single new listing and two judgments repaid. 
  • St. Joseph’s and Community (part of Upstate), had no filings.

Regular readers know that I subtract satisfied judgments from the overall totals and from the individual hospital totals; the likelihood is that they’ve already been incorporated into the numbers at some point now, since I’ve been tracking this for two and a half years. 

For the first six weeks of this quarter, the average weekly Tuesday's Number was $444,750. The total of new filings over the past four weeks has only been $216,838. I'm not so naive to think we have finally, officially turned the corner, but it's been exciting to see the numbers finally going in the right direction.  We'll have to see how the quarter closes out and the summer progresses. 

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

June 8, 2015

Cuomo's Maximum Security Failure

Tonight, there's gonna be a jailbreak, somewhere in the town. Tonight there's gonna be a jailbreak, so don't you be around.  Don't you be around. ~Philip Parris Lynott
So went the lyrics to the Thin Lizzy classic, and so was the case in the northern New York town of Dannemora, home of the Clinton Correctional Facility last Friday.

The prison, the largest and third oldest maximum security prison in NY, hadn't had an escape before -- and this one was a doozie.  Two murderers, heinous criminals, cut through steel and brick walls, made it through a steam pipe and along a rarely used catwalk, then cut through a chain and lock before popping up from a manhole cover outside the prison walls.  And left a note encouraging those who found it to "have a nice day."

One would be hard-pressed to think anything other than these guys had an angel on the inside, someone who at the very least facilitated getting them the power tools they used, if not more than that. It's hard to imagine how they could have had the time to do that much work, without making any noise, and without attracting any attention. Someone -- guards, other prisoners, contractors -- someone had to know something.

The State has offered a $100,000 reward for the apprehension of both men, or $50,000 each, which is almost as extraordinary as the prison break itself.

And the news media has been all over the trip made by Andrew Cuomo, New York's Sonofa Gov, to Dannemora, where he largely traced the path the convicts did in their escape. Cuomo had been keeping a fairly light schedule of late, instead spending time with his long-time partner Sandra Lee, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

One member of the media who was not impressed with Cuomo's trip was a semi-local afternoon radio talk show host here in Syracuse (I say semi local because the same guy does four hours in the morning at a station in Rochester, "here's the deal" insert fake voice here). The talker today placed blame for the prison break (and all related activities including multiple rapes, robberies and homicides of ordinary people or law enforcement officials which the escapees may have already committed or may commit in the future before they get caught) directly on the shoulders of the governor.

That's right. It's the Governor's fault.

  • It doesn't have anything to do with the two guys themselves, who figured out a plan, and apparently found someone to assist them.
  • It doesn't have anything to do with the people who work at the prison, whether Department of Corrections employees or contractors, who likely provided the tools, maybe a map of the prison's underbelly, and whatever type of distractions or 'cover' were needed during the time at which the guys were cutting their way out.  
  • It doesn't have anything to do with people who might currently be hiding the convicts, if that's the case.  

Nope, it's the Sonofa Gov's fault because he's 'in charge' of the Department of Corrections.

If the escapees get apprehended on the NYS Thruway, would Cuomo get credit for that, since he's 'in charge' of the Thruway Authority?  Or if the NY State Police apprehend these guys, that's because of Cuomo, right? He's 'in charge' of the state police, after all.

I'm not Andrew Cuomo's biggest fan, but this one's not on him.  Place the blame where the blame lies.

Oh - and have a nice day.

June 6, 2015

Three Cheers for a Triple Crown?

When I was a kid, my sports hero was Carl Yastrzemski, beloved #8 of the Boston Red Sox.  I think I became a Sox fan because my one-year-older brother was one, and it seemed like the right thing to do.  I'm still one (insert snarky Yankee fan laughter here), and still think that Yaz was one of the best ever, even though he never won a World Series.

He did, however, win baseball's batting Tripe Crown, for having the most home runs, most RBIs, and highest batting average.  He also won the MVP that year, 1967.  Yaz's record stood until 2012, when Miguel Cabrera completed the almost impossible feat.  In all the years that baseball has been around, there have been only seventeen batting Triple Crowns, won by only fifteen people.  Paul Hines, 1878. Tip O'Neill, 1887. Hugh Duffy, 1894. Nap Lajoie, 1901. Ty Cobb, 1909. Rogers Hornsby, 1922 and 1925. Jimmy Fox (AL) 1933. Chuck Klein (NL), 1933. Lou Gehrig, 1934. Joe Medwick, 1937. Teddy Ballgame, 1942 and 1947. Mickey Mantle, 1956. Frank Robinson, 1966. Yaz.  And Cabrera.

I loved that, as the years went by, no one managed to to what my hero did. Forty-five years of Yaz sitting at the top of the heap, watching challengers (and cheaters) fail to match his success across three very different measures: the long ball, the ability to bring in men on base in front of you (which doesn't always require power), and consistency over the entire season.

I was sad when Cabrera won it in 2012, not just because it was Yaz's record that stood for so long, but because I liked that no one won it for so long. I like that it's not something that just anyone wins, that it's not an everyday occurrence.  The only thing that made it remotely OK was that Cabrera didn't play for the Evil Empire.

Similarly, I'm one of those cantankerous folks who has hoped, openly or quietly, that we don't have a horse racing Triple Crown winner.  I think the closest I came to rooting for a horse to win the race was in '03 when Funny Cide, the 'local boy', had a chance.  I cheered for him, our New York horse, I really did -- but with fingers crossed that he would not be successful, that the classic races in 1978 between Affirmed and Alydar would still be sitting at the top of the list when the dust settled.

Today, American Pharaoh will have a chance to break a thirteen-horse losing streak as he takes on seven potential heartbreakers in the Belmont. That's right: Pharaoh is the fourteenth horse to come into New York having won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and he's the odds-on betting favorite, as were his predecessors.

Pharaoh's trainer, Bob Baffert, knows the feeling of this moment better than anyone. He's been here four times -- four! -- with a Derby/Preakness winner staring at history, and coming up short. It's almost agonizing to watch the footage as his great and talented horses, ridden by great and talented jockeys, have fallen short, as many great players have fallen short of the magical batting Triple Crown.

The colt is running against a field of seven, five of whom did not race in the Preakness. Some say that's not right, that if any horse is to take down a potential Triple Crown winner, it should be one who has suffered through the two previous races, not one coming off a long rest. I guess, but they're three separate races; would it be necessary, for example, if a pro golfer won the first three majors of the year, that anyone who plays against him in the fourth must have played in the first three?  I don't buy that.

Sir Barton, 1919. Gallant Fox, 1930. Omaha, 1935. War Admiral, 1937. Whirlaway, 1941. Count Fleet, 1943. Assault, 1946. Citation, 1948. Secretariat, glorious Secretariat,  1973. Seattle Slew, 1977. Affirmed, ridden by 18-year-old Steve Cauthen, 1978.

Is 2015 horse-racing's 2012?  Is it time to let someone else sit on top of the world? I'm not sure. I might actually root for American Pharaoh this afternoon, but if I were to hazard a guess, I'd bet there'll be some at least gently crossed fingers hidden behind my back.

June 5, 2015

Fighting Back Against a Hack Attack

Another day, another announcement that some major US institution of the retail, insurance, entertainment or governmental variety has been hacked.

Usually, by the time we hear about it, the security breach is over and the perpetrators are not resting on their laurels but instead, deep into planning their next foray into everything we hold sacred: our social security numbers, birth dates, naked selfies, financial information, emails, and, at least in my case, the fact that I love Chocolate Silk (that's coffee, not a lingerie preference or anything like that).

The latest one, an attack on the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that apparently happened last December and was only discovered this April, is said to have been initiated by China, and comes on the heels of Russia sticking its official nose into emails at the State Department and the White House. (We haven't heard of any emails on Hillary Clinton's personal server being compromised; I wonder who handles her data security?)

As I've noted in the past, I've been hit in at least two of these things. Somehow I seem to have missed out on the Home Depot breach which is surprising given how often we shopped there, and the rest of my transactions seem to have been fairly well protected. As far as I know, anyway.

While our government and other targets have been quick to identify who the perps are, and confidently point to Russia, China and of course North Korea on the infamous SONY breach, we don't seem to be even half as adept at preventing the darn things from happening in the first place.

And of course, we have no idea how the information that's been compromised will be used, or even if it will ever be used.

Cyber attacks, like any other kind of terrorism, are successful even if the information never sees the light of day, because what's compromised for all who get caught up in this is our feeling of security, of safety, and the fact that, no matter what, some troll in a basement, dormitory, or sweatshop hack factory in a foreign land can nose around in our electronic underwear drawer almost at will and we, sitting in the greatest country in the world, are helpless to prevent it.

But then, are we realty helpless?  Really helpless?  Or, are we merely convinced we're helpless because we are portrayed as such by friend and foe alike?

What if we, as consumers and employees and dammit as Americans just stepped away from our laptops and notebooks, our smart phones and app-laden watches, our microchips and hi-tech glasses, and coerced our driverless cars to take to the shoulder, and we all pulled a 'Network'?

I mean, if we all went Peter Finch on every website we do business with, and we demanded our employers took better care of our data, and we required our insurance companies and financial institutions to prove they cared about us and our personal information as much as they say they do, could it make a difference?




Or, if that won't work, what if we stopped doing business electronically, and decided our financial security, our personal security, the names and birth dates of our pets and children, the make and model of our first car or our elementary school best friend's name, or any special phone number we remember from childhood were actually important to us?

What if we decided that it was worth it to carry cash and actually pay for stuff the old fashioned way, where you all had to know to protect yourself from getting ripped off was how to count change?  

What if we conscientiously made the choice that instead of shopping at big retailers, we would search out and patronize local stores and yes, paid more for the privilege of becoming known to the shop owners? If they know that I'm me because I shop there all the time, there's not much chance that you're going to pull off a switcheroo, even if you're a rat bastard and physically have my credit card in your hand.

Or, finally, here's perhaps an only slightly more ridiculous idea: from now on, I'm only doing business with folks who encrypt their data in a random, ever-changing combination of baby talk, late 70's jive, and Navajo.

Are you with me?

June 3, 2015

Wondering, on Wednesday (v32)

Get your GPS out, I have a feeling one of the things I'll be wondering about, this Wednesday, is how to bring it all back home.

If you've ever spent any time reading comments, tweets or posts on social media, you've probably seen a barrage of  "This (town/city/state/country) sucks, can't wait to get out of here" or "This (politician/writer/athlete/actor) sucks, can't believe anyone (listens/watches/pays attention/votes for) him" or similar comments.  Have you ever wondered what it would be like if they all actually got up and left, or at least stopped pestering everyone with their negativity?

Speaking of negativity, there's been more than enough of that over the years as plans were announced and then dropped, and announced and then dropped, and then announced and then almost started but then stalled... Yep, I'm talking about the renovation of the Hotel Syracuse. Well, Negative Nellies, work has been going on in earnest for several weeks, and thanks to the relationship between hometown developer Ed Riley and the local media, we're getting updates on progress on a fairly regular basis. This week, we saw pics from inside the project, including how the lobby is being returned to its former glory, with windows uncovered and access to a balcony restored.  Say 'Nay' if you must, but please, don't be standing in line next March when she reopens - get out of the way and make room for the Yay sayers.

Speaking of making room, looks like both the Dems and the Reps will have to keep making room for more Presidential candidates. Hillary has company, with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee all mainstream declared candidates. Chafee, has been a mayor and US senator, in addition to being Governor, was once a Republican, became an independent, and a couple of years ago signed on to the Democratic side; he too may need a GPS to find his way home.

On the Republican side, we still don't have Jeb Bush or Scott Walker officially in the race, but we did add Empire Stater George Pataki and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham to the already crowded field.

What do all of these folks have in common? Red, white and blue websites for one, with an easy-to-find 'donate' button. Or, in Sanders' case, a 'contribute' button, which seems somehow more engaging and accessible, as if he wants not only my money but also my opinion. I wonder, does he really? I may have to test that.

Testing. That's what the Rabid Badger, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, is doing to my patience. I told you about his 'lovely' and 'cool' trans-vaginal ultrasounds comment.  This week, he's telling everyone that rape and incest only matter early in a woman's pregnancy.  Walker has announced he'll sign a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks, with no exceptions.  He can do that, if it crosses his desk - but can't his people get him to stop justifying what he's doing by talking about things in ways that show only his cluelessness and insensitivity?

And far be it from me, a middle aged white lady centrist Democrat to call out any of the R's for their lack of sensitivity and their treatment of people.  I'm going to let one of their own do that.  Enter Mary Cheney, daughter of Dubya's puppet master, who took Republicans to task (on their own media network, no less).  In a Fox News editorial, Cheney calls for real support for "individual liberty, personal responsibility, and the belief that strong families are the cornerstone of our society." I wonder if any of them will listen to her? She notes
For years I have listened while Republican candidates talked about the importance of family and the need for our country to support strong families. I wholeheartedly agree. We do need to support families, but that means supporting all families - regardless of which state they live in, how they look or how they are made.
So the next time a Republican presidential candidate wants to talk about the need for our society to support and protect families and children I hope he or she will include all families and all children in that protection - including the hundreds of thousands of children like my son and daughter who are growing up with same-sex parents. 
Oh my. I just happily quoted a Cheney, and I support what she says.  And she said it on Fox News. Where, oh where, I'm wondering, did I put my GPS?

June 2, 2015

Tuesday's Number: $24,379

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.

Since mid-2012, I’ve been tracking 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 four new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $44,662.
  • There was one satisfied judgment, for $20,283.
  • And there were no bankruptcies listed.

By hospital, here’s the breakdown: 

  • Crouse had four, totaling $38,861
  • SUNY got a credit this week of $20,283.
  • St. Joseph’s and Community (part of Upstate), had no filings.

Where’s that SUNY credit come from?  When there are any, I subtract satisfied judgments from the overall totals and from the individual hospital totals; the likelihood is that they’ve already been incorporated into the numbers at some point now, since I’ve been tracking this for two and a half years

A regional healthcare center accounted for the $5,801 difference between the overall total and the local hospital totals. 

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