August 31, 2015

My Middle-Aged White Lady Perspective: Words Matter

Pigs in a blanket, fry em like bacon.

Pigs in a blanket, fry em like bacon.

Pigs in a blanket, fry em like bacon.

So chanted the #BlackLivesMatter demonstrators as they marched - behind a contingent of police officers - towards the gates of the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday.

Just words; 30 seconds out of a peaceful protest of some four hours, according to organizers. Police had a different opinion; ask St. Paul Police Federation president Officer Dave Titus, who noted that the chant was heard just hours after a deputy in Texas was ambushed at a gas station and shot 15 times, apparently for the crime of being a policeman.
Statements and chants like that are just ignorant - I find it absolutely disgusting. I don't think chanting or singing what's basically promoting killing police officers is peaceful. 
March organizer Rashad Turner? Here's his take on things.
It definitely wasn't a threat. I don't know if they would have received it differently if we would have said 'on a stick' or something like that, I don't know....To pick out one chant or a couple of words out of a whole four hour march or protest, you know, I don't really have any more comments for them.
According to this report, Turner said the chant was meant to call for similar treatment between black people and police, and that focus shouldn't be on the chant but on recent police killings such as those in Ferguson, Missouri, Cincinnati and Baltimore.
We're not going to be distracted by their attempt to minimize our movement and focus on a chant that lasted 30 seconds.  
I don't know what other chants were used during the protest; one comment on the BLM Minneapolis Facebook page noted that there were multiple chants going on at the same time so you could have been there and not even heard this incredibly offensive and unhelpful one.

From my middle-aged white lady perspective, I see zero connection between "frying cops like bacon" and "similar treatment between black people and police."  And I see no benefit to movement from this type of publicity, unless the only thing that matters is 30 seconds of air time.

Mission accomplished?

August 30, 2015

What Kind of Problem Do We Have? Pick One.

I've had lots of gun conversations in this blog, and with friends around the lunch table, with family at the dinner table, and with total strangers on comment boards and the like.

Generally, my positions and beliefs are as follows:
  • I believe that having as many guns as people in America is a problem; I don't know who has 'my gun' but I've never met them, I have no idea what their intentions are, and I wish they had asked me first. 
  • I believe in reasonable gun control, including background checks for all gun sales at gun shows, stores, and online.
  • I believe you should have more magazines on your coffee table than bullets in your magazine. 
  • I believe that, if  you have a family member with a mental illness, you should know better than to keep guns in your house. 
  • I would not for a single moment feel more comfortable if every Tom, Dick and Harry was wandering around wearing a sidearm in plain sight, much less carrying it in their shorts or their socks or their shoes or wherever one conceals a weapon.

I don't like that people kill police officers. Ever.  I also believe that probably 99% of police officers would like to go through their entire career and never shoot, much less kill anyone - black or white, Christian or Muslim, child, teenager or adult, armed or unarmed, on drugs or stone cold sober.

I truly believe that some people are too foolish or stupid to be allowed anywhere near a firearm of any kind, and that we should have a way to weed them out and prevent them from owing guns.


So, if we don't have a 'gun problem' in America, what kind of problem do we have, that other civilized countries don't seem to have?

(1) I think the publicity we give people who commit heinous crimes like the Roanoke murders, the Houston police officer execution, the Sandy Hook shootings, the movie theater killing, and on and on, does more harm than good. If you're a wanna be famous nutjob, this is a surefire way to get what you're looking for.

I would prefer we never show the name or face of the person who committed the crime on television, in magazines, or anywhere else; instead, we should flood the airways and pages and the cloud with pictures and stories of the victims, whether police officers or television reporters or folks on dates or innocent children in school.

(2) Further, the lengths to which we go to 'define' these shootings, or the bastards who commit them, makes the situation worse.  Paraphrasing Hillary Clinton here,
Was it racially motivated, or was it because the person was mad at his mother and father, or was it because of violent video games or television shows, or was it because the guy liked to play with guns, or had a mental illness, or thought the gun wasn't loaded, or had a grudge against his employer, or had a hatred for Muslims or Christians, or didn't like the military, or had a run-in before with one of the victims, or thought the best defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, or because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they'd go kill someone?
What difference - at this point, what difference does it make?
We struggle to determine whether we should call something terrorism, or a hate crime, or workplace violence, or domestic violence, or some other identifier. Who benefits from that? Not the victims, not their families and loved ones, and frankly not the rest of us. In reality, all it does is make excuses for people who have committed very bad acts.

(3) Even if we know, or think we know, or believe we have ascertained the 'reason' for the crime, we respond in ways guaranteed to inflame.

Case in point? The Charleston shootings.  The killer has racist tendencies, so the obvious answer, of course, is to remove the Confederate Flag from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse. Because no one will ever shoot up a black church again, now that the offending flag is down.

Case in point?  New York's SAFE Act, after Sandy Hook. Some good ideas, some not so good - but crammed down everyone's throat, because Governor Andrew Cuomo knew there was no other way to get something passed. In the aftermath, we have calls for full repeal, even from people who agree with much of what's in the law, because of how it was done.

Case in point? The NRA declaring that the reason why people get killed in these horrific shootings is not because someone pulled a trigger, but because we have 'gun-free zones.' (Except, of course, when they thought it was OK that we had gun free zones.)

(4) We treat guns differently than anything else that threatens us. One person tries a shoe bomb, so everyone takes off their shoes before getting on a plane.  Heaven forbid we talk about closing loopholes in gun laws - because while we have no problem stripping in front of strangers at every airport, don't dare make us prove we're OK to purchase or own a gun.

(5) The Colorado movie theater killer was just sentenced, after what's been described as a parade of pain, to a term of life in prison for each of the 12 people he murdered, plus 3318 years in prison for wounding another 70 people.

The crime occurred three years ago; there was no doubt about his guilt, and whether he was sane or suffering from mental illness, there is no excuse for what he did, and he does not deserve rehabilitation. Should it take three years (sometimes longer) for the outcome to be known? Should we have an option for juries and defense attorneys, one that allows for a verdict or plea of 'guilty, but insane' which will guarantee the person never sees the light of day?  And does anyone really benefit from a sentence, and a sentencing production, like this, or does it just add to the murderer's fame?

(6) We have a huge 'us vs. them' mentality in America: rich vs poor, citizen vs. immigrant, Christian vs. everyone, state vs. federal government, black vs. white, this 'life' vs. that 'life', government vs. teacher, suburb vs urban, gun owner vs. non gun owner, pro-birth vs. pro-choice, reporter vs. interviewee, and so on. We seem to thrive on our differences, and forget our similarities.

Combine that mentality with our time where anyone, (like me, and this blog), can say anything we want, any time we want, and find an audience for whatever we say. This gives equal voice to ideas from the fringes as to those from the mainstream, and I think ultimately contributes to the general lack of respect and increased vitriol that we see these days.


What does all of this do? Individually we might be able to counter the effects of these issues, but when taken together, they paralyze us from actually doing anything about gun violence, or preventing the wrong people from getting guns, or doing anything about mental health, or about our frequently slow and prodding system of justice. In the end, is that what we really want? I honestly don't know.

Do we have a gun problem in America? We can, and will, continue to disagree on that, I'm sure. But one thing I do know is, no one has ever committed a similar mass murder with a bathtub.

August 26, 2015

Wondering, on Wednesday (v40)

What with getting dinner, and picking up the house, and helping get the trash and recycling out, I haven't been paying attention to the news for a bit. I'm wondering, has the NRA come out yet with a statement that, if only TV reporters and cameramen were armed, they wouldn't get killed on live TV?

I'm also wondering why it is that Howard Dean was drummed out of the presidential race for exhibiting a little exuberance and enthusiasm, er, I mean for acting un-presidential in a speech to supporters, picked up on a bad microphone, and yet, Donald Trump? Has there been a less presidential front-runner,ever?

Do you think Mike Huckabee is wondering what the heck he was thinking, or if he was even thinking, when he made that comment supporting Josh Duggar back in May, when the righteous reality TV start was exposed as a keep-it-mostly-in-the-family molester? And do you wonder how fast Huckabee might run now that said Duggar has been exposed as a cheater, having not one but two accounts on the Ashley Madison website, and has declared an addition to internet porn?

Last, I offer this, a story on Melania Trump in Bloomberg Politics. Here we learn that she likes to tweet selfies, and wear skimpy bikinis, and sell her own cosmetics and jewelry brands, and look pretty when arm candy is the order of the day, and support her husband (who got her engagement ring on the cheap) and have great sex (sometimes more than once a day!) and dote on her child.  I wonder, would anyone have expected anything less from Trump's third wife?

August 25, 2015

Tuesday's Number: $343,632

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 21 judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $369,895.
  • There was one satisfied judgment, totaling $53,011
  • And there were no bankruptcies. 

By hospital, here’s the breakdown: 

  • Crouse had five, with a net credit of $26,748
  • SUNY Upstate had seventeen, totaling $343,632
  • St Joe’s and Community had none 

When there are any, 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. Crouse picked up the $53K credit this week. 

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

August 23, 2015

My New Retirement Plan

So, everyone catch their breath from last week's stock market adventure?  And have you started thinking about alternative ways to fund your retirement?  I came up with an idea, and I'm seriously thinking of putting it into place.

I've done some very general calculations, and it seems I could have saved about $750 in the past week just by setting aside $1 every time someone - a news reporter, game show host, talk show host, radio show caller, or entertainment reporter used the word Trump.  As in His Hairness, The Donald, the (I can't believe I'm typing this out loud) GOP front-runner. If I add in tweets and Facebook posts, the amount I could save is limited only by my income.

One dollar for every time someone called him a bloviating fill-in-the-blank. One dollar each time someone mentioned his flyover in Alabama (the real reason they moved that rally to an outdoor stadium, we all know). One dollar everyone talked about his baseball caps. A crisp single each time his hair came up in conversation. A silver dollar each time his lack of presidential quality was referenced. One hundred pennies for each mention of his ten billion dollar (and growing!) net worth. Of his giving helicopter rides to the future voters of Iowa. For each mention of nobody-builds-a-wall-better-than-me. Each insult he throws, duly reported, means another dollar in the kitty.

And because I'm paying myself here, I could save $5 each time someone actually treated him like a presidential candidate. You know, someone looking critically at his immigration proposal and how much it would cost to implement and how much money the country would lose if it came to fruition. Or pressed him on foreign policy. Or on education. Or on safety net programs. Job creation (he's going to be the greatest jobs president on gods green earth, he told us. But not how). Terrorism. Military spending. Infrastructure. Environmental issues.  Cha-ching!

I can even up the ante a little bit more.  Each time one of the other Republican candidates is mentioned, without including Trump's name in the same story, I'll put $10 in the kitty.

Lord, this is becoming addicting.  I can do the same on the Democrats side.  A mention of Hillary Clinton that doesn't include anything related to the emails? One dollar. An actual story about Bernie Sanders, not just about how he's training Hillary in the polls or drawing big crowds? $5. Talk about Bernie's positions, and Hillary's? That ought to be worth $10 right?  Mention Martin O'Malley and I'll throw in $20! And $50 for Lincoln Chafee!

Woo hoo! Look at me! Good lord, I'm saving money, Left and Right!  Yowser! Screw the stock market! What a country! I'll be rich, rich like Richie Rich! Even richer, I'll be rich like Trump! (There's another dollar right there!)

Oh, wait. I sound a little like Howard Dean don't I?

Sorry. Got carried away there for a minute.

August 18, 2015

Tuesday's Number: $128,045

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 fourteen judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $136,363. 
  • There was one satisfied judgment, totaling $8,318
  • And there were no bankruptcies. 

By hospital, here’s the breakdown: 

  • Crouse had nine, totaling $71,962
  • St Joe’s had four, totaling $31,842
  • And SUNY Upstate had none

When there are any, 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. St Joe’s picked up the credit this week.

There were two other judgments, one for a rehab center and one for a health support agency which account for the $24,241 difference between the overall totals and the hospital totals.  

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

August 14, 2015

Hodgepodge: Fun with Headlines

Scrolling through one of my news apps today, and found a couple of fun headlines, take a look:


I have a suspicion that George Foreman would be very pleased with that headline - even though Jenna and her husband Henry named their first daughter Mila.

The second headline that caught my eye ?



Never in a million years would I have guessed that the answer was "in Utah." I would have gone with the old standby "in a hospital?" or maybe, if I was feeling crazy, I might have suggested "at home?"

Apparently, this all started with a tweet from Bloomberg Business yesterday; a review of census data showed that three Utah cities made the top five of places where the highest number of births per thousand were recorded as of a year ago. 


Any guesses on how many of these kids are named Poppy Louise? 

August 12, 2015

Wondering, on Wednesday (v39)

Two Clintons (not related) are among the things I'm wondering about this Wednesday.

First, now that Hillary Clinton has turned over her personal server to the FBI, will the Republican-controlled Congress worry more about Benghazi, the email investigation, or something much less important such as, oh, funding the government?

This is going to be a massive cluster, I think. Instead of being out on the hustings, I expect HRC will be hustling her way from one lawyer to the next, or from one hearing to the next just with the Benghazi issue. Assuming Congress wants to look into the email issue in detail (and it's hard to imagine they won't want to), they might let it sit on the back burner for a while, and let her stew in it a bit. Not to worry about that, though, because we can rest assured the press will have lots to say about this. Or at least, lots to ask. "Mrs Clinton, have you heard anything about the investigation? Do you know when you will hear about the investigation? Can you tell us anything about the investigation? FBI sources told us today that there's no news, did you hear the same thing?"

What I find interesting about this investigation is that there are concerns with the security of the Clinton server. We have the concern about security, you see, because a now-classified email was released, for all to see:
One of the emails containing since-classified information was released to the public, prompting the intelligence community to ask the FBI to investigate the possible compromise of classified material. The State Department now has a team of analysts from the intelligence community to review Clinton's emails before any more are released to the public.
Of course, the people who are concerned about the Clinton server are the same ones who cannot even secure the State Department's own communication system, or the federal personnel records, or other high-level communications. You don't need to be a rocket scientist (or a hacker) to discover the irony in that.

And, by the way, the State Department is investigating use of  "personal communication hardware and software by five secretaries of state and their immediate staffs." I'm wondering if anyone can name the other four?

Here's another question for you.  Pretend you were a prisoner in an 'honor block' of a maximum security prison, and you just minded your own business the whole time you were there, and then two other folks in the same block escaped, but you had nothing to do with it. Would you think it was fair if you were subsequently shipped to solitary confinement in a different prison, or stripped of your personal belongings and all of the rewards you earned for years of good behavior? Or maybe interrogated with a bag over your head, or threatened or beaten by guards?

These are the kind of things that are being alleged by dozens of prisoners at the Clinton Correctional Facility, according to an investigation by the New York Times. Fortunately, the allegations are being taken seriously; some prisoners indicate they've already had discussions with folks from the Corrections Department's Office of Special Investigations.

I admit to having a healthy bit of skepticism back when the escape happened, and wondered how other prisoners wouldn't have heard the noise or noticed debris - Richard Matt and David Sweat cut through cement walls and metal, for heaven's sake - so it's hard to imagine that someone didn't know something was going on.  However, given what's come out in the Times and other outlets about the lack of attention on the part of some of the guards, it seems possible now that maybe no one did know, other than Joyce Mitchell, the love-struck prison employee who recently pleaded guilty to assisting in the escape.

And finally tonight, I'm wondering what be the next to join selling loose cigarettes and now, vandalizing a car dealership, in the list of capital crimes?

August 11, 2015

Tuesday's Number $183,741

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 judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $167,608.
  • There were two satisfied judgments, totaling $11,988
  • And there was one bankruptcy, for $28,119.

By hospital, here’s the breakdown: 

  • Crouse had seven, totaling $56,770
  • St Joe’s had two, totaling $21,340
  • And SUNY Upstate had six, for $96,818

When there are any, 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. Crouse and SUNY Upstate benefited this week, by $6,848 and $5,138 respectively.

There was a judgment totaling $8,813 for a regional medical center, which accounts for the balance of this week’s total.  

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

August 7, 2015

Who Won the First Debate?

I confess I didn't watch the Fox News Republican presidential candidates debate, either the afternoon version with the bottom seven, or the evening version with Donald Trump and a bunch of other people. We don't get Fox News at home, and frankly I was afraid if I had gone to a bar to watch, I would have ended up with alcohol poisoning or something.

Today, on talk radio and on the evening news, and other TV news shows, as well as on various online news sites, the talk was all about who 'won' the debates. 

The Kids Table debate, which for some odd reason Fox News apparently only allowed family and friends to attend, was won by Carly Fiorina. 

I'm not sure why she won, other than (paraphrasing here) she's a woman and she can say bad things about Hillary Clinton, and it's OK because it's not 'woman bashing' when she does it but it is 'woman bashing' when men do it. She might have answered a couple of questions, too, I'm not sure. But I was clearly told she's a woman you know, and women will vote for a woman. Fiorina's a woman. 

For the main event, all anyone could talk about before the show was how Donald Trump was going to do; the remaining nine were barely mentioned. After the debate, what did we hear? Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Donald Trump. He was mean to Megyn Kelly. Megyn Kelly asked Donald Trump tough questions. Donald Trump. Donald Trump. 

After all of the talking heads stopped saying the same things about Donald Trump, they all said the same things about Jeb Bush. The most frequently heard comment about Jeb? Wallpaper. He was wallpaper. He blended into the wallpaper. He might as well have been wallpaper.  

Marco Rubio was a winner, he seemed like a leader, he's the future of the party, he was a winner he seemed like a leader hewasawinnerheseemedlikealeader. John Kasich was a winner too but part of that was his home field advantage. He might have been a winner because he said if one of his daughters was gay he would still love her, or something like that. 

The lack of diversity in the opinions of the political commentators was absolutely stunning. And what's worse, their comments, which they will repeat over and over, and which will be repeated over and over by others on their networks, will impact the poll results which will determine who gets to make the big table at the next debate.   

I won't know who won the first debate until I do some more research, catch the video and read the transcripts.  But I think I know who the losers are. 

August 6, 2015

Throwback Thursday (v2)

Friends and family have been having a thoughtful if occasionally biting discussion on Facebook about New York's move to a $15 hourly wage for fast food workers ($15FF) by 2018 for New York City and by 2021 for folks here in "Upstate" NY.

Among the reasons (we've expressed several reasons, truth be told) some of us are opposed to this specific plan, which impacts only one industry and comes about solely because of manipulation by our Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, is that it strips the incentive to work harder, or to produce a higher quality product, because the increase makes it almost impossible for someone to be rewarded with a higher wage.

The whole incentive thing - rewarding people who perform well -- has been something I've striven for throughout my career, dating back to my very first 'real job', which I started 37 years ago this month (maybe even this week), in August of 1978.

I've told this story before, about my return from college after only two years, tail between my legs, back living at home with my teacher parents, and hating every minute of everything, including my Dad's way of 'inspiring me' to look for a job.  That process, as annoying as it was for a short period of time, led me to actually find a job, working in the headquarters of a multi-state industrial laundry. As a microfilmer. You know: pulling staples, straightening corners, and running documents through a camera thingy to save them for posterity. I also volunteered to learn how to use the Pitney Bowes mailing equipment. Big doings, right?  My starting salary was $140/week, for I think a 37.5 hour schedule.

Clearly it was not my dream job, but it was a paycheck. I was able to pay rent to my parents (another part of the 'learning from your failures' lesson), and I could save money with a goal of getting together the security deposit and first month's rent for my own apartment someday.

I found out shortly after I started working there that August was the time that annual salary increases were handed out.  Shoot, I thought -- looks like it's going to take longer to get that apartment.  When I was called to the office of the Finance VP, it was with more than a little trepidation that I headed off to the executive suite.

The VP, Randy, was a nice guy, but someone I had very little interaction with.  When he told me that, while I had only been there a couple of weeks, he had heard good things about me and that I was going to get a raise, I was surprised. When he told me that he couldn't remember a similar situation of someone being there such a short period of time and getting a raise, I was stunned. I got bumped up to $145 per week, the thanks of the VP, and his encouragement to keep up the good work.  Within a few months, I was handling more responsibility, and had saved enough to move into my own apartment, which had been my goal all along. Mission accomplished, as they say.

A few days ago, I read that the company had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; although I only worked there for about three and a half years, I have fond memories of  many folks I worked with, some of the crazy things that happened there, and of everything I learned, much of which still serves me today. And, of course, one lesson I've never forgotten is that it's possible to work hard, learn more, do more, and get rewarded for it.

At least, it's possible to do that, if wages aren't artificially manipulated by elected officials.

August 5, 2015

Wondering, on Wednesday (v38)

So it's the eve of the Fox News meet-n-greet with a bunch of former Fox News employees and another bunch of current and former Fox News frequent flyers, which some people are still referring to as a Republican Presidential Candidate Debate.

Initially, I was wondering on Wednesday what I'd ask the Rs if I had the chance. You know, things like

  • Mr. Trump, about that wall you're going to build along our southern border (and nobody builds a wall like you do), and have Mexico pay for, are you going to collect the money up front in a 'build as they pay' type of thing, or would your administration pay for the wall and then sue the snot out of Mexico to recoup the costs?
  • Mr. Christie, you noted that you would punch the national teachers union in the face because they are the single most destructive force in public education today. Looking around at your fellow candidates, which of them do you think is the most destructive force in the Republican Party today? Please answer via punching the face of your choice.
  • Mr. Walker, pretend for a moment that you have $250M to spend on anything you wanted to that would help move Wisconsin forward. How the heck did you decide that a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, who finished the past three seasons with a 94-152 record, was the right idea?
  • Mr. Bush, be honest: don't you think your brother went to war with the wrong country after 9/11 because they tried to take out your Daddy?
  • Mr. Cruz, why?

But then, I got wondering, what would happen if we took the candidates off the fake debate stage, and put them all in the Big Brother house and let them cull their own herd through alliances, HoH contests, and stuff like that? 

Or maybe if we put them together with the Real Housewives, we could vote for the last man or woman standing?  Or, could we maybe put them through the American Ninja Warriors Houston finals course?

I'm also wondering what it's going to take to get the media to start giving equal time to all of the candidates, instead of spending so much energy justifying the candidacy of His Hairness and trying to prove once and for all that Christie is a bully?

And, I'm wondering how the people who live in Texas (Cruz) and Florida (Rubio) and South Carolina  (Lindsey Graham) and Kentucky (Rand Paul) and Wisconsin (Walker) and Louisiana (Bobby Jindal) and Jersey (Christie)  and Ohio (John Kasich) really feel about their officials running all over the place trying to convince people to select them as the party's Presidential candidate, instead of them being focused on the people who have already elected them?

If you ask me, folks who are already elected as Senator, Governor, or some other position should step down if they want to run for a different one. 

Hey - I wonder - is that why no one ever asks me anything?

    August 4, 2015

    Tuesday's Number: $480,582

    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 ten judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $384,043.
    • There were no satisfied judgments
    • And there was one bankruptcy, for $96,539.

     By hospital, here’s the breakdown:

    •  Crouse had two, totaling $18,602
    • And SUNY Upstate had nine, for $461,980

    When there are any, 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.

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

    August 3, 2015

    The Update Desk: Medical Progress

    The United States Senate plans to vote later today to defund Planned Parenthood. The reason for the vote, as I noted yesterday, is a series of distasteful, distastefully edited videos taken by a group calling themselves the Center for Medical Progress, which solely defines 'medical progress' as 'defunding Planned Parenthood.'

    In addition to the needless and misguided vote to cut funding to an organization that provided non-abortion contraceptive services to almost 3.6 million people in the past two years, performs over four million tests and treatments for STDs annually (also not abortions), and provides hundreds of thousands of cancer screenings (again, none of which are abortions), there will likely be more than enough committee investigations to keep anti-abortion and pro-birth supporters giddy with delight as we work towards a federal budget battle, as well as long into the 2016 Presidential campaign.

    Take the House Energy and Commerce Committee. They announced their investigation on July 15th. More than a little ironically, this is the same committee that brought us the the 21st Century Cures Act (HR 6), which is designed to
    • remove barriers to increased research collaboration
    • incorporate patient perspectives in the drug development and regulatory approval process
    • measure success and identify diseases earlier through personalized medicine
    • modernize clinical trials
    • remove regulatory uncertainty (the R's favorite buzzword) for the development of new medical apps
    • provide new incentives for the development of drugs for rare diseases
    • help the 'entire biomedical ecosystem' coordinate more efficiently
    • invest in 21st century science and next generation investigators
    • keep and create jobs, and
    • obey the Girl Scout laws (er, I mean, reduce the deficit)

    What's the relevance of this bill? There's no mention of fetal tissue in the language, and no reference to Planned Parenthood. But front and center for Section 2 in the bill's section by section summary we find this:
    An example of these long-term savings can be observed through the creation of the polio vaccine through American innovation in the 1950s. When the menace of polio peaked in the early 1950s more than 20,000 American contracted the disease and some 3,000 died from it in one year. However, in the early 1950s a vaccine for polio was discovered. Polio has been eliminated in the United States though the widespread adoption of a safe and effective vaccine. Some estimate that this vaccine has saved the United States $800 billion since 1955. 
    A couple of days after HR 6 was passed with bipartisan support, CNN helped explain how fetal tissue is used in research, and noted
    One of the earliest advances with fetal tissue was to use fetal kidney cells to create the first poliovirus vaccines, which are now estimated to save 550,000 lives worldwide each year. In the early days of making the vaccine, researchers infected fetal kidney cells in Petri dishes to produce a large amount of virus they could then harvest, purify, and use to vaccinate people. 
    Another section of the bill requires creation of a national pediatric research network, to "pool resources and coordinate activities related to pediatric rare diseases or birth defects." Hmm. Fetal tissue is used in researching gestational development and congenital anomalies (birth defects)?

    The 21st Century Cures also includes funding for the National Institutes of Health for fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018. But wait --
    The National Institutes of Health spent $76 million on research using fetal tissue in 2014 with grants to more than 50 universities, including Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale, and the University of California at Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.  It expects to spend the same amount in 2015 and 2016. 

    What a wicked web they weave, our elected officials.

    On the one hand they're all for this great science that allows us to save lives and dollars, to reward capitalists and drug companies, to lessen the impact of regulators and cut red tape, to create jobs, to reduce the deficit and to make America great again, with certainty.

    And on the other hand, they're so against the act of collecting life-saving fetal tissue that they're going to investigate and/or vote to defund an organization that, in addition to providing critical primary care services for countless women, is also sometimes a source for the tissue used in the critical research that helps save lives, dollars and the American way?

    I can't help thinking they'd really just be happier believing that fetal tissue, like babies, was collected and delivered by storks.

    August 2, 2015

    Medical Progress? It's in the Eye of the Beholder

    We have seen the degradation of protections for legal abortion services over the years; states have used a number of methods to make it harder for women to get an abortion or or for an abortion clinic to operate, including regulations on the temperature of rooms at clinics, requiring providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals to 'protect' the women, requiring other, usually unnecessary medical procedures, long waiting periods, multiple visits to clinics, and so on. And, anti-abortion protesters who pester women entering the clinics have been given wide latitude to 'educate' clinic patients on the error of their ways, regardless of what services they're aiming to receive.

    As a century-old organization providing health care services, including  gynecological exams and mammographies, testing and counseling for STDs and yes, the country's largest provider of abortion services, Planned Parenthood is among the favorite targets of the benevolent lobbyists and legislators who aim to protect us women.  Things are about to get a whole lot worse, if the pro-birth extremists in Congress have their way, after a series of carefully edited videos (at least three so far) were released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), a 501(c)3 organization which self-describes as
    ...a group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances. We are concerned about contemporary bioethical issues that impact human dignity, and we oppose interventions, procedures, and experiments that exploit the unequal legal status of human beings. We envision a world in which medical practice and biotechnology ally with and serve the goods of human nature and do not destroy, disfigure or work against them. 
    The organization calls for defunding Planned Parenthood as the solution to these ethical issues. Under current law, it is illegal to use federal funds for abortion services, and Planned Parenthood does not receive any federal funding for those services.

    The videos admittedly paint an unflattering picture of certain Planned Parenthood officials, for which the head of the organization has apologized, and will continue to apologize. They also paint a cold picture of the whole process by which organs and tissue are harvested, something that even supporters of fetal tissue donation, including me, don't necessarily want to think about or discuss.

    If you check the CMP website, you'll find links to the undercover videos, as well as links to a lot of information related to 'selling baby parts' which is a carefully chosen, inflammatory and very ugly way of talking about the very legal practice of procuring fetal tissue for use in research. (Under federal law, fetal tissue can be donated, and the costs of procuring the tissue, preserving it, and getting the samples into the hands of researchers can be recovered. There are restrictions, of course -- selling the tissue, harvesting it from fetuses which were conceived expressly for the purpose of harvesting the tissue, or for a donation to a family member or other specified person. Planned Parenthood does none of these things.)

    What you won't find on their website are undercover videos of citizen journalists speaking with medical professionals about things like this:
    • coldly and matter-of-factly harvesting organs, such as hearts and eyes and lungs and livers and kidneys and skin and bones for transplantation or research by drug companies or universities, even when the deceased patient has never discussed organ donation with anyone
    • callously hooking patients up to machines, artificially keeping them alive for days, weeks, months, or years, including people who show no brain activity, because their family (or the government) thinks this is in the patient's best interest (again, when the patient is incapable of consenting)
    • brutally freezing egg and embryos for some off-in-the-future implantation, custody case, or destruction or donation if the embryos are not used
    • withholding game-changing medical treatment, such as medical marijuana, from innocent children suffering from seizures, or other patients who would benefit from treatment

    I don't think I have to go too far out on a limb here to guess that the "unequal legal status of human beings" the CMP talks about points to a belief that a fetus, at any stage, has the same 'rights' as we do. "Contemporary bioethical issues" apparently refers to using fetal tissue in research, and a "world in which medical practice and biotechnology ally with and serve the goods of human nature" means, quite simply, a world without abortion.

    It does not mean a world where the ethics of practices such as those I describe above are covertly examined over cocktails and dinner via hidden camera videos, because that would be unnecessary. There's nothing ethically challenging about any of those things, right?

    It does not mean a world where the government stays out of frequently painful and heartbreaking medical decisions, where the wishes of the patient, their representatives and their doctors take precedence over some bureaucrat or legislator sitting in an office somewhere. We all know, of course, that those pesky bureaucrats (and legislators who voted for the Affordable Care Act) are the bane of existence for the ACA's many detractors.

    And it certainly does not mean a world where all women, regardless of income, ethnicity, or place of residence, have equal access to potentially life-saving health care services, including those offered by Planned Parenthood.

    You can call it 'medical progress' if you like, but to me it would only be true progress if the same rules were applied across the board. Accordingly, I ask you to join me in calling on our elected representatives to demand for the immediate defunding of all medical facilities that offer any of the same health care services as are offered by Planned Parenthood.

    Maybe then we'll see who really thinks this is 'medical progress.'