January 31, 2016

Sunday School 1/31/16

Time for today's edition of Sunday School, an overview of who some of the talking heads were talking to, and what they were talking about.

Chuck Todd and the gang at Meet the Press talked with, among others, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Cruz, who has tried to keep hold of the 'real conservative' mantle, summed everything up like this:
You know, the most common sentiment you hear from people is they're frustrated with Washington. They're frustrated with politicians. They say one thing and do another. We can't get burned again. And that frustration, the reason I see conservatives uniting behind our campaign, is they're looking for a consistent conservative. Someone they can trust to be a fiscal conservative, a social conservative, and a national security conservative. 
Rubio, for his part, tried hard to explain that it's OK to work with people to get things done.
I think voters understand that to solve problems, it's going to take the ability to work with people that you don't agree with on a bunch of other issues. But we're not going to compromise on principles... So I think if there's a chance to work together, and you don't have to betray your principles, you work together. And that's why we have elections and debate and all those sort of things in America. 
On Face the Nation, you can hear more from Rubio and Trump, who was also interviewed and actually said something policyish on Fox News Sunday.
Wallace: ...sir, are you saying that if you become president, you might try to appoint justices to overrule the decision on same-sex marriage?
Trump: I would strongly consider that, yes.  
On ABC's This Week, former Clinton confidant George Stephanopoulos had Hillary (with her NY Times endorsement) and Bernie Sanders talking about electability. First, Clinton:
Well, look, I'm a progressive who think it's important to actually make progress. That's what I've done my entire life. That's what I'll do as president. 
Obviously, I have big goals (and proceeds to list them). I have big goals. And I tell you how I'm going to get there and how I'm going to pay for them. And I think that is what the Americans want. I'm not going to sit here and over-promise and under-deliver. I'm going to tell you what I know we can achieve, and that's going to take the political system we have right now, and then I intend to bring in more people, as I always have, George...
So I understand politics. I understand a campaign. I am focused on my mission to make sure this country work for everybody, including hardworking middle-class families who rightly feel they've been left behind. I think I know how to do that, and I think the voters know that I know how to do that.
Sanders, asked by Stephanopoulos how he would respond to Clinton's comments, answered:
I respond to it by saying that every proposal that I am bringing forth is, in fact, supported by the vat majority of the American people. The problem is, is that Congress is so dominated by big money interests, they are much more concerned about campaign contributions than they are about the needs of working families. 
And what I am saying is that, yes, the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world, guarantee health care to all people, have paid family and medical leave, make public colleges and universities tuition-free, create millions of decent paying jobs by rebuilding our infrastructure.  
These are not radical ideas, George. And demanding that the wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country start paying their fair share of taxes, that we break up these large Wall Street conglomerates - these are not radical ideas.
This is what the American people want. 
The last word today goes to Tom Brokaw who, talking about the Republicans, managed to sum things up quite well.
I really think a big piece of what Donald Trump has going for him is the celebrity culture that we live in in America. And he is everywhere, he comes in with that big airplane, and people say "I'd like to have a little piece of that."
Here's a guy running strongly among evangelicals, been married three times, he had affairs around the world with other people, he went broke a couple of times. They blow right through that. So we're playing in a different ballpark this year.  
Indeed, we are.  And Iowans will tell us all about that tomorrow night.

January 30, 2016

Quick Takes (v4): Cuomo's ED

Quick Takes
This past Sunday, Post Standard guest columnist David M. Rubin slammed our Sonofa Governor Andrew Cuomo's economic development programs - and the best part was, he used Cuomo's own words.  Take a look:
At least Gov. Andrew Cuomo was correct about one issue in his recent State of the State address: "The cold truth is that this state government shortchanged Upstate New York for many years. And that was short-sighted." 
Indeed, it has been short-sighted - and will continue to be exactly that going forward with the Sonofa Gov.  Why?

Well as Rubin points out, Cuomo proposes specific money for specific projects in NYC. Here are the examples Rubin mentioned:
  • billions for the NYC subway system
  • billions for a new LaGuardia Airport
  • billions for the LIRR and Metro North
  • billions for a new rail-tunnel link to NJ
  • billions to rebuild Penn Station
  • billions to modernize the Javits Convention Center

If I didn't know better, I'd think Cuomo was channeling Carl Sagan

For those of us here in the hinterlands, that vast expanse of New York referred to by politicians and reporter as 'Upstate',  though, it's a different story. We don't get a lot of specific handouts from the Gov - instead, we get to have competitions for economic development, competitions that pit region against region, company against company, and that stifle particular industries if they're not in the chosen region as dictated by the Governor's team. 

At the same time as he has held steady (since 2008) the amount of state aid given to municipalities, Cuomo has capped property tax increases and presses for consolidation across the state, as if, Rubin notes, we are to blame for our high taxes. In that, Cuomo ignored unfunded mandates, about which every impacted governmental jurisdiction has been complaining for decades.

But we did get a convoluted, patchwork Thruway toll give-back, to go along with all of the other patchwork plans Cuomo and his predecessors have rolled out over the years.

Like this, my favorite.

Rubin has stirred the pot on this subject before -- my Hell Hath No Fury series recaps his opinions and the reactions to them. You don't have to agree with everything he says, but if you think about the opinions and the responses to them, you might not watch the pretty commercials on the Empire State's glowing economic development programs (one of those which is running in the background as I type this) - the same way again.

And, I think, you'll see that not a whole lot has really changed, no matter how slick the commercials, how glorious the speeches, or how well-packaged the competition plans.

I'll have more on economic development, the SOTS, and the Consensus report in upcoming posts.

January 27, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v46)

Out, out, damned spot.

I mean, "out, out damned citizen-threatening, car-stealing-and-crashing, go-to-town-and-get-drunk-on-the-donations, snack-eating government-property-destroying, gun-toting terrorists". Get the heck out of Oregon, and don't let the door hit you in the behind on the way out.

That's pretty much where things ended up today out there in Burns where the Bundy Gang has been holed up on our property, keeping our employees (the ones who work at the Refuge) from going to work for three weeks or so, begging for snacks (and getting dildos instead), and so on. Our other employees - the FBI and the rest of them - had taken a hands-off approach, until yesterday, that is, when they stopped a convoy -a convoy! - of Bundys and Bundys-lite on their way to a meeting in a nearby town.

I had been wondering why, when these terrorists left the 'compound' to go drop in on meetings, they weren't picked up. Seems the FBI had plans to get them in a quiet spot, to reduce the risk of harm, and that appears to have been a good plan. I'm glad they arrested the ones they did, but I don't believe those who are left at the Refuge should get off Scot-free. I wonder again what it would look like if they weren't white ranchers, and if folks would be so quick to label a martyr a member of a different group.

Speaking of "out, out damned fill-in-the-blank" I'm also wondering, this Wednesday, how I'm going to change up the GOP Debate bingo board now that the Artist of the Deal has painted himself into a corner and will be out of the mix?. Unless, of course, he capitulates, which would of course lend a whole new meaning to Sarah Palin's Capitulator in Chief line.

Do you think I might win with this card and my lucky dauber?



I sure hope so!

January 26, 2016

Running Off the Rails...

Oh, the humanity!

That mean spirited Fox News, they're going to have that unfair, unprofessional, untalented, incompetent Megyn Kelly moderate the last debate and we just know that she won't treat Donald fairly!

TRUMP CAMPAIGN STATEMENT ON 

FOX NEWS DEBATE

(New York, NY) January 26th, 2016 - As someone who wrote one of the best-selling business books of all time, The Art of the Deal, who has built an incredible company, including some of the most valuable and iconic assets in the world, and as someone who has a personal net worth of many billions of dollars, Mr. Trump knows a bad deal when he sees one. FOX News is making tens of millions of dollars on debates, and setting ratings records (the highest in history), where as in previous years they were low-rated afterthoughts. 

Unlike the very stupid, highly incompetent people running our country into the ground, Mr. Trump knows when to walk away. Roger Ailes and FOX News think they can toy with him, but Mr. Trump doesn’t play games. There have already been six debates, and according to all online debate polls including Drudge, Slate, Time Magazine, and many others, Mr. Trump has won all of them, in particular the last one. Whereas he has always been a job creator and not a debater, he nevertheless truly enjoys the debating process - and it has been very good for him, both in polls and popularity. 

He will not be participating in the FOX News debate and will instead host an event in Iowa to raise money for the Veterans and Wounded Warriors, who have been treated so horribly by our all talk, no action politicians. Like running for office as an extremely successful person, this takes guts and it is the kind mentality our country needs in order to Make America Great Again.

Consensus? We'll Find Out

Consensus Report
With little surprise, a preliminary report was issued today recommending consolidation of governmental services across the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County.

The report, from Consensus, the Committee on Local Government Modernization, was long awaited and frequently hinted at by politicians including our Sonofa Governor, Andrew Cuomo, and his pal, County Executive OnJoanie Mahoney.

Today's releases include the full report  as well as a summary version. I have yet to plow through all of the documents, but wanted to share some of what's in the report, including this from the summary:
Our public servants have an opportunity to lead us in the direction of a bold new vision for the Syracuse-Onondaga community. One that will make our community even better and more reflective of what we desire and deserve. We can do better. The next step in that journey is here. 
Noting that the preliminary recommendations "have not yet been formally accepted by the full commission", they recommend the following in the Governance bucket:

  • Establish a process toward creating a new city-county government and service delivery structure that leverages function and scale similarities of the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County.
  •  Create a formal mechanism and process whereby towns and villages can join the new city-county framework over time. 
  • Vest the new city-county government with responsibility for specific regional matters, including the regional land use plan, overseeing infrastructure planning and economic development using a county-wide model.
  • Local government leaders must work together to see local relief from statutes and mandates that drive up cost and limit government efficiency.

Other buckets of recommendations include infrastructure, municipal operations, public safety, and economic development and include cost-saving ideas ranging from combining economic development agencies, parks, courts and more, as well as expanding 'shared services' across the county, modernizing processes and technology, and more. 

Who else has done this successfully, you might ask?  Indianapolis, Nashville and Jacksonville, and the Twin Cities area in Minnesota are referenced in the reports.  

What comes next? Public comment - lots of options, from emails to Facebook to public meetings - heck, you can even host a meeting --are included in the report.  

I encourage those of you in the Syracuse area to read either the summary or the full report, and make your voice heard. You have until mid-March to get your word in edgewise. 

Tuesday's Number: $241,717

Tuesday is the day my local paper, The 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.

This is the fourth full year I’ve been tracking these numbers – I captured part of the year in 2012 – and the third year that I’ve captured filings by hospital.  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.

In the first three years, the overall total was $67,965,862 – a staggering amount of money for a relatively small metropolitan area that includes the city of Syracuse and her suburbs, the towns and villages of Onondaga County, and to a lesser extent, some of the even smaller neighboring towns and villages.  As I reported in the 2015 recap, we turned sharply down last year – some $7M – and the hope is that we will continue to see progress in the overall total.  Of course, a better sign of health would be an increase in the number of satisfied judgments; people’s ability to pay off their debt (or their willingness, as the case may be) is something else I’m hoping to see this year.  

This week, there were:
  • thirteen new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers, totaling $254,997
  • one satisfied judgment for $13,280 and 
  • no bankruptcies 

Here’s the breakdown by hospital: 
  • Crouse had one, totaling $14,238 
  • St. Joe's had two, for a net credit of $3,057 (they got the repayment) 
  • SUNY Upstate had 11, totaling $230,536
The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

January 20, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v45)

I've been looking for my father lately, as I do particularly around this time of year. Today marks nine years that he's been gone, and his birthday is next month.

Actually, what I was trying to find were copies of some articles he wrote when he was at Hamilton College. We had gotten them from a kind gentleman in the Alumni Office who was gave us the generous gift of Dad's alumni magazine obituary. Odd as that sounds - an obituary being a generous gift? - that's what it was, and I re-read the post every 'today' or as the mood strikes.

Hard as I've looked, I haven't been able to find the copies, which frustrates me, and in fact brings out the Dad in me. Patience with himself not being one of his virtues, he had a litany of mostly under-his-breath mutterings that I find myself repeating when I'm kicking myself for some minor failing or another - losing something being a prime example - about which, in reality, only I have any concern.

While I wasn't able to locate the particular collection of writing I was looking for, I did another set of family papers that has me wondering, this Wednesday.

Here's a sample of what was in the packet:
Dear Miss Oldring:
You suggested in your last letter that I send you my next story before I labored over it too much.  Well - here it is.
Notwithstanding your kindness, I feel that I have taken a terrible liberty. This is only the first typing and even a casual reading reveals so many glaring inadequacies that my conscience bothers me.
To plunge simultaneously into the light touch and more plot is quite an undertaking for a dour person whose temperament and training is so exclusively for clear exposition as against baloney.
So, I realize that I have got to do a lot of work on this. The dialog needs sharpening up and a cross-check with young folks. There's too much dialog. What plot there is needs more punch. Damn it all, the whole thing's lousy. Maybe it will show that I'm teachable
I hope business brings me to New York soon. You've been so kind to me; I want to buy you a lunch.  
Oh boy. Talk about muttering!

Miss Oldring worked for a New York literary agent, then called Harold Ober, Inc. still in existence today, and at one point, home to many famous authors. The letter was written not by my Dad, but by his father --  R. W. Drummond, the grandfather I never met.

A man who had a day job with Oneida Ltd., but who wanted to be more, wanted to tell stories and share them with the world. The man who, as president of the Board of Education, offered up words of wisdom to graduating seniors, encouraging them to be all they could be, even as he lived his 'double life' of executive by day, frustrated, self-conscious, highly self-critical writer by night and weekend.

My Dad had so much of his father in him, it seems.

He wrote, too: daily, on the countless essays and tests he marked in his career as a teacher, constantly offering feedback and encouragement, and of course, sometimes just the dreaded note that a student had completely missed the mark.

Stoking his passion - he had always wanted to be a reporter - he wrote articles for the community newspaper that served the little village of Jordan and the other western reaches of Onondaga County, while he had his day job and his volunteer jobs within the community. After he retired from teaching, he wrote for the school district newsletter, tracking down alumni in various professions years after graduation, getting them to talk about the value of the education they received at Jordan-Elbridge, and encouraging others through the stories. There was also his foray into poetry; given the observance of Martin Luther King Day this week, it seems appropriate to share his effort.

So - my grandfather. My dad. And now, there's me: a third generation 'keep-the-day-job, try-to-be-a-writer' person, full of self-doubt, a mutterer and sputterer, apparently from way back. I'm wondering, this Wednesday, what Dad would tell me about his father, and his father's writing, and his own writing, and mine.

And I'm wondering, is this nature or nurture? Writer begat writer begat writer? Or, frustrated writer nurtured a frustrated writer nurtured a frustrated writer? Maybe a person can be born with a nibbled-on pen or pencil in their hand, just as easily as with a silver spoon (or, famously, with a silver foot ) in their mouth? Or do they pick up the pen, with awe or reverence, or at some point simply coming to the realization that a pen is not just for jabbing a sibling?

I'm not sure. Intrigued, but not sure.

There is one thing that regular readers may pick up on, and that's the obvious divergence of my branch of the family writing tree from by grandfather's.  It's my obvious appreciation for 'baloney' -- which I attribute to my father, with great love. In that regard, and others, this apple surely did not fall far.

I'll find the articles I was looking for, or I'll go to Hamilton College and read them myself, one of these days. We have an open invitation to do that, with some advance notice.

In the meantime?  I have some short stories to read.

January 19, 2016

Tuesday's Number: $725,372

Tuesday is the day my local paper, The 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.

This is the fourth full year I’ve been tracking these numbers – I captured part of the year in 2012 – and the third year that I’ve captured filings by hospital.  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.

In the first three years, the overall total was $67,965,862 – a staggering amount of money for a relatively small metropolitan area that includes the city of Syracuse and her suburbs, the towns and villages of Onondaga County, and to a lesser extent, some of the even smaller neighboring counties, towns and villages. 

As I reported in the 2015 recap, we turned sharply down last year – some $7M – and the hope is that we will continue to see progress in the overall total.  Of course, a better sign of health would be an increase in the number of satisfied judgments; people’s ability to pay off their debt (or their willingness, as the case may be) is something else I’m hoping to see this year.  

This week was not so good, by any of the measures I hope for. There were 
  • 30 new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers, totaling $725,372
  • no satisfied judgments and
  • no bankruptcies, which I guess is our silver lining this week.
Here’s the breakdown by hospital:

  • Crouse had nine, totaling $266,889
  • St. Joes had one, for $74,197
  • SUNY Upstate had 17, totaling $362,572
Two local medical practices affiliated with SUNY Upstate ($8,228 and $7,609) and a New Jersey hospital ($5,877) account for the rest.

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

January 17, 2016

Quick Takes (v3): Enough Already

Quick Takes
Can we please just round up the seditionists who invaded Oregon and put them in jail where they belong? 

Much as we managed to find some humor in the whole thing, at least in the early days, it's time to bring this to an end. 

I'm not concerned about there being another Waco or Ruby Ridge or whatever else it is that is holding up efforts to get these folks out of the wildlife sanctuary and into jail. It may be cold or callous to say this, but bad things happen to people every day in this country when they stand against law enforcement. That's always a potential consequence of picking a battle with the authorities. 

I mean, let's treat them like we'd treat anyone else. You know: if they were black, their protest would have been over almost before it had begun. If they were drum-beating citizens in a Republican-controlled statehouse, they'd be out of there for sure. If they were any other garden variety welfare or disability cheats, or people who refused to pay their taxes, this would be different for sure. Heck -  we round up homeless people and panhandlers on street corners. 

Let's start acting like we're a country of laws that apply to everyone - not a country of laws that apply to everyone but right-wing anti-government extremists, or as we would otherwise call them, terrorists or thugs.

And let me be clear: when I say "bad things happen" I'm NOT talking about unarmed people being killed by police, and I'm not talking about other apparently out of control police situations, a seemingly endless number of which are coming to light these days; here's one example you may have missed. 

I'm talking about people like the Bundys and the other snackaholics holed up in Oregon, or Nevada or anywhere else they hold up and engage in armed standoffs with the government.

I think we all know that, if they were anti-war protesters, or anti-drone protesters, they'd be in jail already. If they were militant pro-choice protesters or anti-death penalty priests and nuns, we'd have no problem locking them up. If they were indigenous people, they'd be in jail. If they were Occupiers or Black Lives Matter people, or environmental extremists or anything else, I doubt we'd be having this conversation more than two weeks after the break-in occurred. 

The conversation would already be over.

January 14, 2016

Wondering Anew

I know, it's Thursday, and I usually do my best wondering on Wednesdays.

But I've got to tell you, catching up on the reactions to President Obama's last SOTU has made me full of wonderment.   Here's just one example.

POTUS said last night that we ought not to target each other, or others because of race or religion.  In that section of his speech, he referenced comments from Pope Francis, who was invited by former Speaker Crying John Boehner to speak to Congress a few months back. The Pope spoke, and Boehner, who cried through the whole thing, and cried even more when Pope Francis went on out Boehner's balcony and acknowledged the massive crowd below.  And then, seemingly immediately, Boehner retired.

And we now face a House led by the young family man Paul Ryan. And where I saw nothing wrong with Obama reminding everyone of the Pope's simple message, Ryan thought very differently.

Here's what Obama said:
We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn't a matter of political correctness. It's a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.
His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that, 'to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.'  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn't make us safer. 
That's not telling it like it is. It's just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.  
And here's what Ryan thought about it, in an interview with USA Today.
I think it sort of degrades the presidency to talk about primary politics in the other party, during primaries. That's not what presidents ought to be talking about in State of the Union addresses. Speaking up for our values and speaking up for our beliefs is one thing. But kind of wading into the primary politics of the other party is just not really what Presidents ought to do.
You know, if  Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus and other 'leaders' of the Republican Party had any cojones, they would have stood up to Donald Trump already - in fact, they would have stood up to him weeks, no months ago, and told him that he's hurting the party and embarrassing America.

They would have told him that they would not support him if he were the party's nominee, and they would have told him that they would not support him if he were elected.  They would have told him to go away, and they would have accepted the consequences of their actions, should there be any.

Instead, Ryan says we can't have a religious test for immigrants, we need to have a security test. Which, by the way, is already in place for folks, causing 15, 18, 24 months or more to pass before we allow most folks in from suspect areas. Unfortunately, trying to define a difference between a religious test and a security test doesn't address what Obama was talking about: the diminishing of America in the eyes of the world, and the betrayal of us as a country.

If the Republicans won't address it themselves, whether from Trump or from any other Republicans in state or federal office, why not the President?

And what's not Presidential about defending our country, I wonder?


January 13, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v44)

I watched with interest President Obama's State of the Union (SOTU) address last night; I was curious about what he was going to say in his lame duck address, especially since there had been news in the days leading up to last night's speech that he was going to be 'unconventional' or 'nontraditional' this time around. And to an extent, that was true.

Gone were the call outs to Americans sitting in the guest boxes, veterans or teachers or plumbers or the like, folks who lived a story that touched on an issue close to the President's heart (or that of his speechwriters). The people were still there, of course. Even less-than-special guests, like Kim Davis, the government employee who refuses to do her job down in Kentucky. Seems she was 'invited' by a representative from Ohio who, until he was tracked down by someone today, was not even aware he had invited her. I wonder, this Wednesday, if he would have asked her to come along on purpose, instead of donating a ticket to a foundation that ended up in her hands?

Gone, too, from this SOTU, was any pretense of trying to get any major work done this year; Obama opened the speech noting that
Tonight marks the eighth year I've come here to report on the State of the Union. And for this final one, I'm going to try and make it shorter. I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  I know -- I've been there.
I also understand that, because it's an election season, expectations for what we'll achieve this year are low...I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead. 
Generally, he kept to his legislative-light approach, and focused more on our country and our American ideals.  He made many references tor our past and how we need to somehow regain what we used to be, if we are to be successful in the future.
America has been through big changes before - wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights. Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future, who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears. We did not in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the "dogmas of the quiet past." Instead we thought anew, and acted anew. We made change work for us... and because we did - because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril - we emerged stronger and better than before.
 A bit later, as a preface to four questions he wanted to get us thinking about, he posed this question:
Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?
Here's the gist of his four questions:
  1. How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security?
  2. How do we make technology work for us and not against us?
  3. How do we keep America safe, without becoming the world's policeman?
  4. How can we make our politics reflect what's best in us, and not what's worst?
The last question is by far the one I'm most interested in. The first three can be filtered down into ideological issues - small government vs. big government, trickle down vs. bubble up, and so on, but the last one? That one can cross, even obliterate, party lines.

Regular readers know I often find myself wondering how the heck we got into such a pickle with our political process, with more money than all of the Supreme Beings from all the world's religions have between them corrupting the process, with corporations being equal to living, breathing people with individual rights, with efforts to restrict voting, and sham political districts, and politicians openly supporting those who bald-face disregard our laws, such as the aforementioned Kim Davis, and the Bundys, and people who refuse service to people who are not like them... I could go on and on.

President Obama hit on those topics last night. And then, he challenged us, people from both major parties and all of the other official parties, the almost parties, the special caucuses and even the loosely affiliated. He challenged us one and all.
The future we want - opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids - all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.
It will only happen if we fix our politics.
I wondered, as he wove his way through this part of his speech, looking out an an audience unburdened by term limits, many of them beneficiaries of the very practices he was describing, if he really thought the people in the room would go home thinking even a tiny bit differently about how they personally are perceived, or how what they do is perceived?
Changes in our political process - in not just who gets elected but how they get elected - that will only happen when the American people demand it. It will depend on you. That's what's meant by a government of, by, and for the people.
What I'm asking for is hard. It's easier to be cynical; to accept that change isn't possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe our voices and actions don't matter. But if we give up now, we forsake a better future.  
I wondered, would people believe him when he said it basically didn't matter whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, the only thing that matters is that you participate?
And so, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism that I see in the American people every single day. 
Because, ultimately, it doesn't matter what your beliefs are. What matters is that your participate.

Will we answer the call, I wonder?

January 12, 2016

Tuesday's Number: $28,072

Tuesday is the day my local paper, The 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.

This is the fourth full year I’ve been tracking these numbers – I captured part of the year in 2012 – and the third year that I’ve captured filings by hospital.  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.

In the first three years, the overall total was $67,965,862 – a staggering amount of money for a relatively small metropolitan area that includes the city of Syracuse and her suburbs, the towns and villages of Onondaga County, and to a lesser extent, some of the even smaller neighboring cities, towns and villages. As I reported in the 2015 recap, we turned sharply down last year – more than $7M – and the hope is that we will continue to see progress in the overall total.  Of course, a better sign of health would be an increase in the number of satisfied judgments; people’s ability to pay off their debt (or their willingness, as the case may be) is something else I’m hoping to see this year.  

This week, there were
  • Six new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers, totaling $41,436
  • one satisfied judgment for $13,364 and
  • no bankruptcies
Here’s the breakdown by hospital: 
  • Crouse had four, including the satisfied judgment, for a net of $10,524
  • St. Joe's had three, totaling $17,548
  • SUNY Upstate had no filings listed
The paper publishes only those accounts of at least $5,000.

January 10, 2016

Quick Takes (v2): Implosions

Quick Takes 
Yesterday, the Grandstand at the New York State Fairgrounds here in Syracuse was imploded, to make way for a new RV park, part of our Sonofa Governor Andrew Cuomo's move to revitalize the Central New York economy.

Cuomo's $50M plan to turn the site into a year-round venue and an economic development draw for the area, was of course supplemented by the building of our new seasonal OnPhitheater (formally known as the Lakeview Amphitheater), another $50 million project that, by design, will cause people to either skip the Fair entirely, or leave it for a period of time, to attend Grandstand-level concerts off-campus during the Fair's run in late summer.

And, with the destruction of the Grandstand and the one-mile dirt track, so ends the car and horse racing at the Fair; constituents of those activities are left with only their memories, as are attendees of concerts at the Grandstand. The racing events that used to be held at the Grandstand may both eventually be held at the CNY Raceway Park, a multi-use 'need for speed' venture underway in Hastings, up in Oswego County. (Note: I'm not including any links to the Raceway Park, as more than a few take you to obviously fake sites that immediately ask you to download software of one sort or another; I encourage you to be cautious.)

Here's how the implosion activity was described in a local media report:
The push of a ceremonial plunger ignited 268 explosives at 260 different locations on the Grandstand, sending more than 5 million pounds of steel and concrete crashing to the ground.
The Gov himself was here for the demolition, further cementing his relationship with our County Executive, OnJoanie Mahoney.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and County Executive Joanie Mahoney attended the event and pushed the plunger together, along with a small group of friends. 
Ah, love.

Mayor Stephanie Miner was not in attendance at the implosion; rather, she was holding a press conference with US Representative Paul Tonko (D-Amsterdam), in which renewed calls for federal investment in local infrastructure were made. Some might say she was furthering the implosion of her relationship with both Joanie and Andy. This comes, of course, because of her well-known disagreement with Cuomo on state funding for these projects and her involvement with Building America's Future, a group that lobbies for infrastructure assistance for localities.

To put the Cuomo/Miner rift into simple terms, the Governor believes you can lead a horse to water.

He (and OnJoanie as well) are all about the kind of government assistance that makes people want to participate in something; a nice RV park will draw more visitors to the State Fair, for example, or a makeover will cause users of Penn Station (which he has declared bleak, dark and ugly) to feel better about their experience there, and about New York at the same time.

Miner, clearly, thinks there should be potable water there when the horse arrives.

This could be another long year.

January 6, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v43)

Our Sonofa Governor Andrew Cuomo is at it again.

The other day he came out with a proposal to raise the wages of some 28,000 SUNY employees (but not CUNY employees) to $15/hour; this, on the heels of his making the same move for fast food workers.  Not at all surprisingly, this announcement was made at a union rally - no pandering there.

Cuomo press office graphic
Today's sugar plums come in the form of "major toll relief" for New Yorkers, via a plan to freeze tolls on the New York State Thruway (I-90) for the next four years, and that "businesses and drivers who use it most" would be eligible for a tax credit to cover the cost of some of their tolls.

Yes, a tax credit.

For Thruway tolls.

The plan?  According to Cuomo's announcement:
  • 911,743 passenger vehicles with EZPass that pay $50 or more annually in tolls would get a tax credit worth 50% of their toll costs; the average annual savings is $97.
  • 26,139 businesses and 976 commercial vehicles with EZPass that pay between $100 and $9,999 would get a 50% tax credit; average credit for the businesses is $686, and $1,872 for the commercial truck owners
  • Farmers taking products to markets would get a 100% tax credit, regardless of how much they spend on tolls.
Between the toll freeze and the credits, today's announcement is over $113 in welfare benefits, er I mean economic assistance, primarily for Upstate residents and business owners, by the Gov's own estimate shown in the graphic above.

As usual, Cuomo has singled out a specific group of people - farmers - for special treatment, ignoring other businesses entirely. With no limit on the farm vehicles, we could be providing tax credits to huge businesses, not just small businesses for whom the tolls might be a considerable burden.  I have to wonder, this Wednesday, what about the small building contractors, painting companies, landscaping companies and the rest who rely on the Thruway to get to their jobs? We'll limit their tax credits to $5,000 because - why? Because they aren't the chosen ones this time around? Because they didn't donate enough to Cuomo's campaign?

And I wonder, does your employer reimburse you for tolls and mileage when you use your personal vehicle? Many do. I'm not certain how (or if) that is addressed in Cuomo's plan, but I'm sure lots of people would be happy to get 150% reimbursement for their tolls.  Especially since the threshold is so low -- a mere $4.17 per month in tolls makes a person eligible for the credit. I can't think off the top of my head how that equates to a burden for upstate residents, or how as little as one trip to the casino per month makes a person deserving of a tax credit.

Corporate welfare, personal tax gimmicks, artificial wages for selected industries only -- that's no way to run a railroad, folks.

January 5, 2016

Tuesday's Number: $297,435

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the 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.

This is the fourth full year I’ve been tracking these numbers – I captured part of the year in 2012 – and the third year that I’ve captured filings by hospital.  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.

In the first three years, the overall total (judgments+bankruptcies, minus satisfied judgments) is $67,965,862 – a staggering amount of money for a relatively small metropolitan area that includes the city of Syracuse and her suburbs, the towns and villages of Onondaga County, and to a lesser extent, some of the even smaller cities, towns and villages in neighboring counties.  

This week, the first Tuesday’s Number of 2016, there were 
  • 21 new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers, totaling $290,672
  • no satisfied judgments, and
  • one bankruptcies, for $6,763
Here’s the breakdown by hospital: 
  • Crouse had two, for $12,131
  • St. Joe's had two, including the bankruptcy, for a total of $13,737
  • SUNY Upstate had sixteen, totaling $246,398
A local physician’s group and another regional hospital south of Syracuse accounted for the remaining $25,169.

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

January 3, 2016

Sunday School 1/3/16

Sunday School posts provide an overview of what some of the talking heads were talking about on the Sunday news shows.

On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace had Jersey Boy Chris Christie and Former Florida Governor Jeb! Bush. Christie was pressed on his criticism of Jeb!'s protege Marco Rubio never making it to Washington, even to vote against things he thinks are important, particularly calling out the spending bill that was just passed. Christie himself seems to have misplaced his GPS, as he's never in Jersey anymore, having basically moved to New Hampshire.  The difference between what he does and what Rubio does? Christie never stops working for the people of New Jersey.  Honest, he said so.

Bush, for his part, was asked (again) to explain why he's doing so poorly in the polls. Unlike Mike Huckabee, who was asked this question last year, Bush babbled about connecting with voter in the early states and being on the ballot in all 50 states.  When pressed  by Wallace, he noted that he made adjustments in his campaign, because that's how leaders lead.

Dana Bash was sitting in for Jake Tapper on CNN's State of the Union, where the guests were Republican Carly Fiorina and Democrat Bernie Sanders. Fiorina said a lot of stuff but not much of it was substantive or responsive to the questions. For example, when specifically asked what she would do about the escalating situation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, first she said our main goal was to help calm things down, and then said that as president she would provide leadership, strength and resolve. Not sure how the either of those statements impact the situation; Bash didn't press the issue. On a more important issue, her 'cursing' of the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Rose Bowl with her tweet that she was rooting against Stanford, her alma mater: tongue in cheek, it was, she said. Pandering, the rest of the universe said.

Sanders was asked about guns and whether President Obama's apparent plan for some kind of executive order, most likely on universal background checks, is the right thing to do. It almost has to be, Sanders noted, because Republicans in Congress won't do anything in a bipartisan manner on something that the vast majority of Americans support. On taxes, he was pressed for a 'tax plan' and noted that he's already offered a number of plans on taxes, including insanely rich people and corporations paying their fare share, increasing the salary limit for Social Security contributions, and others, and that more would be coming out before the Iowa vote. On calls from other candidates that Bill Clinton's sex life should be fair game, he noted that we have more important things to worry about. Interestingly, he also pointed out that in his last race in Vermont, he garnered 25% of Republican votes, so his move to attract Trump supporters makes perfect sense.

Finally, over on NBC's Meet the Press, Chuck Todd had former Ohio Governor John Kasich and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Kasich spent most of his time trying to convince Todd that he's actually ahead of Chris Christie, although Todd wasn't really having much of that  More interesting, by far was Rand Paul and his 'New Year's resolutions' which included spending less time voting in the Senate, so that Rubio and Cruz wouldn't look quite so bad, and giving Cruz more time to steal Paul's policy positions.

Todd also asked Paul if he was 'frustrated' with the campaign and maybe with the attention given to his party's front-runner (the one I try very hard not to mention), or whether it was something else. Paul schooled Todd on polls, how they're frequently wrong, and how the media is covering the guy at the top based on polls, or is perhaps not quite as even coverage of all candidates, "just saying."

Good for him.

January 2, 2016

Religion and Political Correctness

I thought I'd circle back on a post I did this past November, about a small business owner who chose to discourage customers who did not think the way he thought.

The business is a bakery; the discouragement comes from a sign, shown here, that the owner thought was politically incorrect, but which I think is simply rude.

It's one thing to bemoan political correctness; sometimes, I confess, it's too much for me (being a middle-aged white lady and all). It's something entirely different, though, to think that all of the things on the sign the owner posted on his door are mutually inclusive. As I suggested in the original post, one doesn't need to say "Merry Christmas" to be thankful for our troops and first responders, any more than one needs to believe in God to fly an American flag.

I got thinking about this political incorrectness, and what's really driving the sentiments. Is it all just a bunch of nonsense, fueled by Fox News? Is it angry Duck Dude and Duggar fans, lamenting the cancellation of shows that made gave them their heroes? Does it come from the 'denier' populace, those who think that Sandy Hook and other real, honest to goodness tragedies are 'false flags' manufactured by our government?

I think it's all of those, and then some. But it might also stem from something else -- the changing face of religion in our country.

Religious demographics in the US have been changing over time, with the greatest impact being a decrease in the number of Christians and an increase in the number of unaffiliated, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center last May.

The current study, done in 2014, and a prior one from 2007, each surveyed over 35,000 people, making the error margin less than 1%, much lower than we typically see with surveys and polls. Among the key findings:
  • The percentage of people identifying as Christian dropped from 78.4%  in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014; Protestants and Catholics lost the most. 
  • The percentage of 'unaffiliated' (which includes agnostics, atheists, and nothing-in-particulars ) grew from 16.1% to 22.8% during the same time period. The largest growth was in the last bucket, up 3.7%.
  • People who married since 2010 chose a partner outside their faith 39% of the time; people who were married before 1960 married outside their faith only 5% of the time. 
  • The percentage of non-whites grew in just about every Christian faith; overall the rate went from 29% to 34%.
These changes are significant, especially in a relatively short period of time. The new demographics may make people uncomfortable, but they aren't in and of themselves indicative of religious persecution, a war on Christmas or, even, a war on Christianity. 

In fact, in the face of the changing American religious landscape, the political power of the 'Religious Right' seems almost out of whack. And it seems to be these folks - the politicians and their stand-ins from the right-leaning media outlets - that are acting out, lashing out at anyone who doesn't share their beliefs, more than the Muslims and Buddhists and the nothing-in-particulars are lashing out at the Christians. 

Sometimes it's overt -- as with the battles over marriage equality, and over contraception. Sometimes it's a bit more subtle, as with the Ohio bakery and their 'love America like we do' message.

Whether it's a business exerting their personhood through a profession of its personal beliefs, or the politicians trying to legislate away anything that's not quite Christian or not quite American enough, I'm inspired to paraphrase Shakespeare's classic line from Hamlet: the right wing doth protest too much, methinks. 

January 1, 2016

Quick Takes (v1) : Housekeeping

Quick Takes
I figured since I've resolved to not start my personal New Year's resolutions until Sunday, I'd take the opportunity to do a little housekeeping on the blog today. I've made a few changes that I hope will help with readability and engagement.

The most obvious changes are the template and font. The page is a lot brighter and, I hope, easier to read. Somewhere, my Dad is smiling, I'm sure. As I was making the changes,  I recalled how he once told me he hated reading white print on a dark background.  Better late than never, eh, Pops? The bookshelf background is also a nod in his direction; as I noted in one of my early posts, I inherited Dad's books, which provide a colorful and comforting reminder of him each day. 

Several changes were made in the sidebar, and include:
  • a new feature called Top Five, Past Thirty, where you'll be able to check out the five most popular posts of the past thirty days; 
  • a tag cloud replaces the tag list;
  • there's a new widget allowing you to easily subscribe to posts via email; and
  • I've replaced my Twitter feed with a Newsreel feature, where you can see updates on Politics and Editorial content from Google's searches.  
Finally, I added an Election Day Countdown ticker, so we can all keep our eyes on the prize.

Hopefully you'll find the changes helpful, or at least not distracting. Your comments are always welcomed.