March 31, 2016

Leave Your Guns at Home, Please

RECOGNIZE OUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO OPEN CARRY FIREARMS AT THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION AT THE QUICKEN LOANS ARENA IN JULY 2016
Im case you had missed this, it seems someone started a petition at change.org asking the RNC to reconsider their decision to hold their convention at a gun-free arena. Because, you know, 
This is a direct affront to the Second Amendment and puts all attendees at risk. As the National Rifle Association has made clear, "gun-free zones" such as the Quicken Loans Arena are "the worst and most dangerous of all lies." The NRA, our leading defender of gun rights has also correctly pointed out that "gun free zones...tell every insane killer in America... (the) safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk." (March 4, 2016 and Dec. 21, 2012)
Because Cleveland is a top ten most dangerous city, the petition states, the actions of the RCN and The Q, as the arena is known, "are putting tens of thousands of people at risk both inside and outside the convention site." And – 
This doesn't even begin to factor in the possibility of an ISIS terrorist attack on the arena during the convention. Without the right to protect themselves, those at the Quicken Loans Arena will be sitting ducks, utterly helpless against evil-doers, criminals or others who wish to threaten the American way of life.
Once you count ISIS, evil-doers and criminals, could there even be anyone left who would threaten our way of life? Let's see:
All three remaining Republican candidates have spoken out on the issue and are unified in their opposition to Barack HUSSEIN Obama's "gun-free zones."

So, THAT'S who's left to threaten our American way of life, right?  That president with the funny middle name? Of course, we have nothing to fear from the candidate with the funny FIRST name; you know, the one who actually wasn’t born in America? Because, well, you know, because Benghazi or something.

Having outlined the above concerns, and having included some other stuff I didn't (not wanting to spoil the whole thing), the petition asks that appropriate steps be taken to ensure a righteous and open convention come July:
The folks at the Quicken Loans Arena are asked to suspend their no weapons policy (which is consistent with Ohio's open-carry law, by the way) and allow open carry during the convention. (emphasis added)

Not, mind you, all the time - just during the convention. This is not about a principle or closely-held personal belief or anything. 
The NRA should issue an "immediate condemnation of the egregious affront to the Second Amendment..." stemming from the gun-free loophole in Ohio's law. 
The 'loophole' refers to a provision of the Ohio statute that gives private entities the right to ban handguns on their property, so "firearms and other weapons of any kind are strictly forbidden on the premises..."
Governor Kasich, himself one of the last candidates standing, should use his executive powers to override the above-referenced loophole being "exploited" by the arena. 
Reince Priebus, that bastage, needs to provide "an explanation of how a venue so unfriendly to Second Amendment rights was chosen" for the GOP's summer picnic, and he needs to come up with a "contingency plan to relocate the convention" if the open carry restriction is not lifted. 
The other two candidates, Donald Trump and Rafael Cruz, "must call upon the RNC to rectify this affront", yada yada yada, because "Every American is endowed with a God-given Constitutional right to carry a gun wherever and whenever they please."
Meaning,wherever and whenever they please, as long as it's during the RNC Convention, at the Quicken Loans Arena, in Cleveland, OH from July 18 - 21, 2016.  

Alas, all of the honest to goodness reasonable Republicans, along with white supremacists, he-man woman haters, free speech and media haters, schoolyard bullies, and all the rest of the folks who will be under the tent who were hoping for an old-fashioned shoot-em-up convention had their hopes dashed by that gosh darn Secret Service.  

According to an article in the Washington Post (and widely reported elsewhere), it seems the US Code gives the Secret Service the authority to "preclude firearms from entering sites visited by our protectees, including those (sites) located in open-carry states."

Poor things. Part of me was kinda hoping there'd be a real battle for the nomination. 

March 30, 2016

Wondering on Wednesday (v52)

Oh boy, he sure put his foot in it today, didn't The Donald?

Nothing will antagonize people on the Left and the Right more than making the wrong statement about abortion. Well, maybe making the wrong statement about guns. Or the wrong statement about the Dream Act. Or, maybe, the wrong statement about veterans. Or Christians. Or marriage licenses. Or, well, any number of other hot button issues, which I guess is just about every issue our country faces today.

So what did His Hairness say today that almost got him schlonged? Oh wait, I meant nuked, sorry.

Well, in a conversation with Chris Matthews on MSNBC (recapped here on the NBC Nightly News), Trump stated that if abortion was banned and made illegal, there "would have to be some kind of punishment" if a woman got one anyway. Matthews, to his credit, did not have a heart attack, or even jump up and down doing a happy dance that he had finally asked the question that might take Trump down.

Instead, he pressed, and pressed, and pressed, trying to get Trump to commit. to a specific punishment.  10 cents? Ten years? Trump answered probably a dozen times that the punishment would have to be determined. And so it went, until the actual exchange was pushed off the air by the comments from everyone else.

Trump, like the rest of the Republican Presidential candidates, many sitting governors, and a boatload of others running for office in various jurisdictions, wants abortion to be banned, "with exceptions" but no one of any prominence has come out and said that the woman should be punished.

Now, everyone knows that I think the last way in the world to Make America Great Again is to vote for Trump - you can read all about that here. And most folks also know that the last place I want a Republican or Democrat politician, regardless of whether it's a state or federal official, is anywhere near my lady parts even if the politician has lady parts herself. You can read about that starting here.

I get the outrage from the Let on this one, but I have to wonder about all of the chest-clutching from the Right, don't you?

Is 'punishing' someone who has an abortion too much for them, all of the sudden? I mean, we read about people who kill pregnant women being charged with two murders, the mother and the fetus, and that's not only OK, it's encouraged, it's sought after.  So if someone else kills a fetus, it's murder, but if the mother does it, what do we call it?

We call it murder, that's what we call it.

Abortion is murder, the protesters tell women at clinics. They tell patients that, sometimes aggressively, with the approval of the courts, because being able to shout "abortion is murder" and "rot in hell" and all of that within a couple of feet of a woman going to a doctor's office is just speech, and that's protected and good, if you're screaming from the Right side.

So, if abortion is murder, and murder is a crime, and crimes deserve to be punished, why the queasiness about punishing a woman who would breaks the law to have an abortion?

And why is the woman who has an abortion a 'victim' if the abortion is illegal, but she's not a 'victim' when abortion is legal?

And if she's deserving of compassion because of the horrible situation she's in, a situation so bad that she seeks out a way to have the procedure done illegally, where is the compassion when she tries to do the same legally, I wonder? The situation itself is exactly the same, it's only treated differently.

And where is the compassion when the Right requires forced and unnecessary medical procedures, and ridiculous requirements on the temperature of a clinic, or on the width of the hallways such that two pieces of hospital equipment not even found in abortion clinics need to be able to fit side by side or the clinic will lose its license?

And where is the compassion in making a woman, of any age, travel hundreds of miles, to go to a 'safe clinic', multiple times perhaps, before receiving a procedure? Or, to take that further, if the point of these ridiculous laws is to protect the safety of the woman seeking the care, why force her to go to a state that doesn't have the same protections, Texas?

And why gut funding for contraceptive health care, which as even most elementary kids know is designed to prevent the need for abortions, Ohio and the rest of you?

If the Right wants to be tough on crime, and tough on legal abortion, then they should be standing up in support of Trump's comment, instead of running from it. They should be shouting it from the rooftops, rather than shouting at Trump for saying what he did.  They should be castigating him for walking it back, as he did, instead of castigating him for saying it in the first place.

If not, their convictions are without courage, and conversely.

March 29, 2016

Tuesday's Number :Q1 2016 Recap

This morning's $600K Tuesday's Number was the last of the quarter, which brings us to the recap. 

Have you been paying attention as we ran up the totals over the past thirteen weeks?  How do you think we did? 

Well, let's take a look at the numbers: There were 241 judgments, for $4,208,313; eleven satisfied judgments, for a credit of $155,242, and another eleven bankruptcies for $236,317. The grand total? 263 filings, for a net total of $4,289,388. 

Here's how the numbers compare to prior first quarters:

  • This is the lowest opening quarter we've had for total dollars; the previous low was in 2014, at $5,163,376. The highest was in 2013, with $6,992,112. 
  • The number of filings is up one over Q1 2015, up 10 over Q1 2014, and down 48 from Q1 2013. 
  • Only one of the four local hospitals - Crouse - had an increase in net filings, but the increase was only $2,705 over last year's Q1 number.  
  • The net of all filings for St Joe's was the lowest ever, not just the lowest first quarter number.  
  • The amount of satisfied judgments continues to lag behind the amount of bankruptcies, but the ratio was better than it has been in a couple of years. Repayments were 59% of the 'never payments', compared to only 35% last year and 39% in 2014. 
  • The total for this quarter is up a mere $20,571 over Q4 2015.

While I continue to be disappointed in the low repayments and relatively high bankruptcies, in the overall scheme of things, we didn't fare too badly. Let's hope for continued improvement going forward. 

Tuesday's Number: $631,504

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 44 new judgments, totaling $637,816, one satisfied judgment, for $6,312, and no bankruptcies.

Here’s the breakdown by hospital:

  • Crouse had eight, for $66,272
  • St Joe’s had two, including the repayment, for a net of $1,228
  • SUNY Upstate had 33, their largest number of filings for the year, totaling $528,202.

Single filings each for a major local cancer treatment practice and a rehab center accounted for the remaining $35,802. 

The paper only publishes filings of $5,000 or more.

March 28, 2016

The Place We Call Home (Part Two)

In Sunday's post, I referenced the idea that I've floated a couple of times, that we should have a 'Parade of Homes' in Syracuse, to generate interest for people moving to city neighborhoods like the one we live in, or that our friends and family who still live in the city enjoy.

One thing Syracuse is doing, through the Greater Syracuse Land Bank, is getting tax delinquent houses out of the hands of people who cannot or will not pay the taxes or maintain the properties, and get them into the hands of people who will. Houses that are too far gone are demolished, which leaves a hole in the neighborhood, to be sure - but the hole in the neighborhood is better than a crack house, or an arson target, or a long-term blight that pulls down all of the other houses.

We live next door to a Land Bank success story. A few years back, a couple bought the empty house next door to us with the intention of fixing it up; you can read how that quickly went south and then picked up, and got better. And finally, last fall, the Land Bank and Home Headquarters, and my new friend Ray you met in those blog posts, gave us a gift: the house, completely refurbished - no, transformed is the better word - was sold for $95,000 to a wonderful family.

We got lucky with the house next door, I know, and I'm very aware that everyone doesn't have the same outcome. There's simply not enough money to go around to give every neighborhood, the help it deserves.

Enter Tim Rudd, the newest guest columnist for the Post Standard. He's local; according to his bio, he graduated from Henninger and the Maxwell School at SU, and currently works in the social research field.

In a thoughtful commentary a couple of weeks ago, he noted that the Land Bank cannot on its own handle the problem of Syracuse's tax delinquent properties, because the problem is bigger than that:
As properties become tax delinquent, they often become rundown and less valuable. Thus there is often a gap between the actual and assessed value of properties taken by a land bank. To date, the land bank has not taken possession of all the delinquent properties that the city will eventually seize. This means, to the extent that assessments overstate actual value, downward assessments will continue and less property value will remain to support existing services, at least in the short term. A substantial long-term decrease in total assessed value could hurt the city's credit rating, making its debt larger compared to total property value. In order to protect the city's ability to make investments in our future, it is critical that government leaders expand and strengthen their efforts to stabilize and grow the property tax base. 
The other danger of a continued downward trend in total assessed value is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Think about it: would you want to be the person to save the last house on the block? Or the next to last house on the block? Wouldn't it be better to get in when, say, the street has at least a 50/50 chance of survival?

How do we do that?
Specifically, government should create financial incentives for individuals, similar to those provided to large developers, to attract and retain residents who will pay taxes for many years. These incentives should economically develop city residents (emphasis added).
Economically develop residents?  Huh?

Treating our neighborhood problem as an economic development problem rather than as a property tax or property management problem, is a really interesting approach. And, it's broader than my Parade plan; where I looked for a neighborhood solution, Rudd looks at an individual homeowner solution. I really like his idea. He suggests we provide the same type of assistance to residents as we do to companies:
Individuals who will live in a house should get preferential purchase prices, instant access to financing, and a structured tax agreement (essentially a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT) where some fraction of their taxes pay for the initial investment in their property. These incentives should be promoted beyond Syracuse in hope that they will attract new residents. 
And why not?  The city needs residents, desperately, and it needs owner-occupied houses.  It needs to return to being more than just hipster downtown. We need to expand the energy and growth (and occupancy rates) of downtown out into our neighborhoods, and by Jove, if we have to incent people to come and play with us, why not?

If they'ree willing to continue subsidizing profitable companies in their move from one part of the county to another, or offering huge tax breaks to private developers who may or may not keep their commitments for development and job creation, our elected officials should certainly consider Rudd's suggestion.

Because in the end, we can spend all the money in the world on fancy projects and pretty buildings, but without people, what's the point?

March 27, 2016

The Place We Call Home (Part One)

Last weekend my husband and I attended the Home and Garden Show sponsored by the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of CNY (HBRCNY).

The HBRCNY does a really good job with the show, making sure that there are at least a couple of options for folks in each of the common remodeling categories. They also have pretty good representation from their members who build new homes, and some of those booths seemed to be getting quite a bit of interest, as they do every year, from people who dream of having their perfect house, with all of the modern technology, and the kitchen/great room, or the man cave, or the patio and fire pit, or maybe a pool or even waterfront, if they find the right development.

We go to the show almost every year. Sometimes we're on a mission - last year, it was finding someone to paint the house, which was a hugely successful adventure. Our painter was there again this year, featuring 'before and after' pictures of our house that almost took my breath away.  This year it's getting someone to take a look at a maple tree in the back garden that has definitely seen better days; we've already booked the first consultation. Other times, though, we go just to look at what's new and trending in landscaping, patios, fencing, driveways, and renovating old homes like ours.

Our house is a city home, built over 100 years ago.  And that poses some challenges, for sure. The list of  "gee it would be fun to fix..." can get quite long, when we think about it; the reality is we would need a lottery jackpot to take care of everything we could fix. So, we chip away at things that have to be fixed, a bit at a time, watching as the mega-jackpots go to folks in other states, with other dreams.

Pat's lived in Syracuse his entire life; I grew up in the boons but have lived in the city since '79. This is our home. This house, with our gardens and our high ceilings and our porches and our front and back staircases and our pocket doors and all of its other little quirks and perks, and Pat's over 20 years of blood, sweat and tears, is where we want to be.

I wish more people wanted to be here, in the city. I wish more people were here.

I wish more people wanted to live in city neighborhoods like ours: good neighborhoods, generally safe neighborhoods, generally well-taken care of neighborhoods. Neighborhoods with homes having a mix of styles, and ages. On one side of us, the original house dates to 1860; on the other side, the house is just a couple of years older than ours - and two doors up, another oldie, from 1840. Across the street, most of the houses are newer, built between 1920 - 1950 or so.

The neighborhood is racially mixed; we have some houses occupied by families with kids, a couple of homes that are multi-generational, and there's even a shelter for homeless teens a few doors up.

Yes, I wish more people were here, and wanted to be here.

As I've noted in the past, I also wish the HBRCNY would undertake a Parade of Homes in the city of Syracuse, instead of staying in 'burbs.  I think of it every year when we go to the Home and Garden Show, and again each year when the Parade of Homes opens.  This year's Parade, which is really the one we should have had last year but was postponed because of the cold winter, is being held in Manlius, one of the wealthiest suburbs, once again. And once again, no city neighborhood is being swarmed with skilled contractors, with modern technology, with a blitz of construction activity. And that's a shame, because there are lots of neighborhoods in the city that could use Parade-like attention.

Here's my post on this from a while back, which I shared with a prominent city politician; she's not abandoned the idea yet, but she also hasn't made any progress on it, either. I've tried not to bother her too much, but I do touch base with her on occasion to see if there's anything I can do, anyone I can meet with, anyone I can talk with, to help make this happen.

While I've been trying to come up with a way to have a Parade of Homes in Syracuse, someone else has come up with another idea that would move us in a similar direction.  I'll talk about that in my next post.

March 22, 2016

Wondering on Wednesday (v51)

I'm saddened by the bombings in Brussels, as are all peace-loving people of the world. I'm upset, I'm angry, I'm disgusted, but I'm not scared. I'm not particularly tough  or brave or anything like that. I just don't want them to win.

I wonder about comments made by those who would be President, including Rafael Cruz who talks about empowering law enforcement to patrol and secure  Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.

And that's what got me wondering what it is, exactly, that an American president should do when on a state visit to a country and a foreign city is attacked by suicide bombers?

Should he bolt back to Washington, to talk on the phone with foreign leaders, or with senior staff members, when he's been in contact with them all day long anyway? Is he unable to direct the considerable forces of America in all their forms, whether intelligence, national security, foreign affairs, military or otherwise, when he's not sitting at his desk?  Because if the American President is completely out of touch when not sitting in the Oval, we're in deep doo doo.

Should he and all of the rest of us pack it in, go home, sit in the dark, and wait for something bad to happen here, wait for the war on terror to be over, because another European city was attacked? Do we hide, and let the terrorists win?  Do we go on television and let the world know our every thought, plan, idea, and next step? Or, do we defiantly keep to our schedule, after addressing the issue publicly and privately? I wonder.

And I wonder what, exactly, it is that an American president should do when dealing with a communist country?

A Republican American president broke barriers and went to China. A Republican American president broke barriers and went to the Soviet Union. A Democratic American president broke barriers and went to Cuba, and you would think the world had come to an end. But it doesn't come to an end, when Republican presidents visit 'red' nations, does it?  And so why would anyone think that the world should come to an end, or will come to an end, when a Democrat visits a communist country a mere 90 miles away from our shores? I wonder. Should a Democratic president never visit a communist country? Is that just the purview of Republicans?

I also wonder what, exactly, it is that an American president should do when he has three quarters of year left in his term?

He's not allowed to work. He's not allowed to play. He's not allowed to travel. He's not allowed to act normally.

He gets chastised for making decisions: either they're "not his to make" or they're wrong, or bad, or ill-advised. He'd also be chastised, we all know, if he were to sit on his hands and do nothing for the rest of his presidency. He gets chastised for adding money for 'former president maintenance' in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The year in which he becomes an additional former president. Had he not added money to the budget, he would have been chastised for that too, because the money would have had to come from somewhere - the budgets for former Presidents Bush, perhaps?

You don't have to love the man, or his policies, or his race, or his wife, or his daughters, or his background, or his name, or anything about him. Many people don't, and that's their right. He has alternately inspired and infuriated me, more the latter, and it's my right to think that of him as well.

But I wonder what, exactly, President Barack Obama could to to quiet his critics, other than perhaps throw himself off the edge of the earth?

Tuesday's Number: $501,927

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 24 new judgments, totaling $483,377, and one bankruptcy, for $18,850. There were no satisfied judgments listed.

Here’s the breakdown by hospital:
Crouse had eleven, for $144,343
St Joe’s had one, for $7,603
SUNY Upstate had thirteen, adding $349,981

The paper only publishes filings of $5,000 or more.

March 20, 2016

Grains of Salt (v7) Let's Go, Orange!

History was made today for Syracuse University Athletics.

For the first time in the program's history, the Syracuse University women's basketball team won both games in the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, putting them in the Sweet Sixteen.  The team won their 27th game, also a record.

SU's head coach Quentin Hillsman, who in years past was known more for his sartorial splendor than for his team's play, has slowly and methodically built a successful program on the hill, noted
It's just an amazing feeling for our players. They work so hard and they really deserve this moment. I am happy for them. We are really excited to be moving on to the next round.
The women played at the Carrier Dome, and beat Army on Friday afternoon and Albany this afternoon. They won both games handily.

Meanwhile, out in St. Louis, the men's team beat Dayton in a grudge match on Friday, the Flyers having knocked SU out of the tourney the last time out, in 2014 (SU sat out last year under a self-imposed penalty). And they won handily just moments ago against Cinderella team Middle Tennessee State, who knocked off second seed Michigan State in the first round.

The Orange had muddled their way through Coach Jim Boeheim's nine-game suspension, and lost five of their last six games to close out the season, including a first round loss in the ACC tourney. Many, including me, had doubts about whether they'd even get an invitation to the Big Dance. Now, in the vernacular, the team is "peaking at the right time" and have picked up wins 20 and 21, something that usually happens before the end of February.

Otto (Pinterest)
The women will be heading off to Sioux Falls to play on Friday against either top seed South Carolina or ninth seed Kansas State. The men will head to Chicago to take on 11th seed Gonzaga, also on Friday.

Two SU teams in the Sweet Sixteen is sweet, indeed.

Good luck to both teams, and let's go Orange!

March 16, 2016

Wondering on Wednesday (v50)

Ever thought about why the Democrats have so many delegates compared to the Republicans? I've been meaning to do some research on that and was going to do that tonight, but I got sidelined watching the news when I saw the graphic of how many delegates His Hairness has gotten so far. Did you see the number? 666. That's right. 666.  I'll leave you to your own wondering on that one.

House.gov graphic
Today the House released their annual propaganda budget. The document comes with this notice: 
House Republicans have a plan to tackle our nation's challenges with positive solutions that will balance the budget, grow the economy, save and strengthen vital programs, and ensure our national security.
How are they going to do that, you might ask? Well, they're going to balance the budget "in less than ten years" by "bringing spending in line with revenues so that Washington starts living within its means." I don't have a problem with that, in principle - after all, it's our money they're spending. 

But I have to wonder this: why do they bother projecting spending and revenue and the benefits of, say, killing the Affordable Care Act without any plan to replace it, against a 10-year schedule? I mean, if they think what they're doing in this year's budget isn't going to get us where we need to be for 10 years, should they try harder?

And if this budget is going to give us all these benefits in 10 years, why bother doing another one next year, and the year after, and the year after? Wouldn't it be more honest to tell us what the one year benefit is, since that's all it's likely to last?

I saw something on a friend's social media page today that got me wondering about things. Sometimes she posts things that are designed to prompt conversation, from both sides, and a lot of the time it does. Today's post was about the 'diaper gap'  - something I had no idea existed. Here's a bit of background:
Roughly 1 in 3 families find it hard to afford to buy diapers for their babies, according to a White House blog post. And they aren't covered by federal assistance programs such as WIC, SNAP, or Medicaid. The post put it simply: "When you have a baby, diapers are a necessity. They are not optional." Many low-income families are at a disadvantage because they aren't able to buy diapers in bulk, which is cheaper, since they can't get to big-box stores or have Internet access. 
Through the program, coordinated by diaper company Jet.com, which makes Cuties diapers, will 
help non-profits buy and get diapers quickly with free two-day shipping. Jet.com won't make a profit off the diapers.  The (company) have designed simpler packaging, which will cut the costs of making the diapers - a savings that gets passed on to non-profits.
As presented in the article on my friend's page, this was shown as a hand-out to welfare recipients, and made to look like an us-against-them kind of thing. Not surprisingly, there were comments that fell in line with that thinking. One person noted that perhaps people who couldn't afford disposable diapers switch to cloth diapers, and wash them the way folks used to do in the old days. Cheaper, and also greener.

While that certainly could be an option for folks who are meant to benefit from the new program, I wonder why that wouldn't be the case for folks who can afford disposable diapers?  Isn't 'green' for the less fortunate just as 'green' for the folks who have more 'green' to spend?

Seems that all of the things that would benefit the poor, such as dictating they eat more economically, or eat more fruits and vegetables, or don't eat nice cuts of red meat, or even that they should use cloth diapers, would also benefit people who can afford to do otherwise.  It's the same environment, and it's the same heart disease and obesity, and it's the same diaper rash.

And yet, I wonder why when things like that are suggested or regulated for everyone, it's a nanny state and an intrusion, and when they're suggested for the poor (many of whom are working poor) it's a great idea.

What are you wondering about?

March 15, 2016

Tuesday's Number: $412,006

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 25 new judgments, totaling $424,836, two satisfied judgments for $32,830, and one bankruptcy, for $20,000.

Here’s the breakdown by hospital:
>Crouse had five, for $71,633
>St Joe’s had three, including the two repayments, for credit of $22,781
>SUNY Upstate added another twenty, for $363,154

The paper only publishes filings of $5,000 or more.

March 13, 2016

Religious Education

Good morning, congregants and welcome to the church of veritable pastiche, a non-denominational gathering place where all are invited to respectfully speak what's on their mind. Sarcasm is allowed, as are conflicting opinions and, incredible as it may seem, facts are warmly invited.

Today, respecting that the sermon at the open door/non-denominational church down the road is God's Role in Politics, we'll have a little religious education. Regular readers know I'm not a religious person, but I try to learn, so I'm doing this as a service to myself as much as anything else.

Do you remember that time when Franklin Graham, the son of America's Pastor Billy Graham, let us know what he was thinking about the 2016 Election? Back in December, he said
I'm not endorsing any specific candidates in next year's election, but I am strongly endorsing prayer - and I'm strongly urging Christians to get out and vote.  We need to elect candidates at all levels that most closely support biblical values and principles. This may be the most important election in our nation's history. America is headed in the wrong direction and only God can turn it around. 
In an interview with CNN, also from December, he said that he had renounced his Republican faith and doesn't like them or Democrats - both sides are broken, a common refrain regardless of one's religion or lack thereof.  He's an Independent now, but I suspect not a Bernie Sanders type of independent. Bernie focuses on raising up the poor, leveling the playing field, taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves. Graham, still very engaged even though he has disavowed organized political activities, focuses on bad Girl Scouts, insulted Christian bakers, and transgender bathrooms.

He also has an opinion on immigration. In fact, he notes in the interview, we should stop all immigration, but particularly immigration from the Middle East, and had previously noted that we need to do that until "we can vet them properly" (the current process takes 18-24 months) or until the "war against Islam is over." That last part confuses me. With my limited religious education, I think the war will only be over, as are all religious battles, when everyone of one faith is either killed, enslaved or otherwise vanquished by the other faith. I suspect that's going to be a long time where we don't let anyone - anyone at all - in to our great country.

Graham also is OK with building walls; he made that clear in the CNN interview, where his example of confessing sins and being rewarded was of Nehemiah's rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem and rehanging the gates, in a mere 52 days! All "because he had received God's favor" for his confession,

He also made that very clear in response to the time when Pope Francis made comments about walls and Christianity, and how someone who focuses only on building walls, and who says horrible things in the process, is not Christian. Graham noted on his Facebook page in February that
The Pope has suggested that Donald J. Trump is not Christian because he wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico. I agree that as Christians we should try to build bridges with everyone we possibly can, but that doesn't mean we should compromise our national security.
Pointing out that other candidates also favor building a wall, including Marco Rubio, Rafael Cruz, Dr. Ben Caron, and Governor John Kasich, Graham noted
Are they not Christian either? My advice to the Pontiff - reach out and build a bridge to Donald Trump. Who knows where he may be this time next year! 
What you probably don't remember are the comments by Jerry Falwell Jr, Liberty University president and himself the son of another former America's Pastor, Jerry Falwell Sr. The Junior Jerry said
I think the Pope is mistaken. I think John F. Kennedy would be rolling over in his grave right now if he could hear what the Pope is saying.That's a man who fought against lots of prejudice because many Protestants in this country did not want to elect a Catholic president. He broke down those barriers, and here is the Pope trying to say...we have to choose leaders that share his faith, the Christian faith. 
In the middle of an election, to question someone's Christianity, the Pope is bringing up Christianity as a criteria for being president, in my view that is what he said. I think it was wrong for many Christians to refuse to vote for Mitt Romney because he was a Mormon. I don't think that's our job.'
It's not our job to choose the best Sunday School teacher like Jimmy Carter was. Our job is to choose who can best defend and protect our nation, who would be the best president and who would lead us away from $20 trillion in debt and restore  our country's economic viability.
Help me understand. One official faith leader suggests that wall-building is not Christian, in particular when it's accompanied by hateful language. Another faith leader (by inheritance) says we need to get more religion into our politics and our politicians, and yet a third faith leader, also the inherited kind, says we need to get religion out of politics.

Who am I, a mere mortal, to believe?

I think I'll follow the lead of another guy who inherited his opportunities. As I noted in this post from last June, Jeb! Bush (remember him? The Protestant turned Catholic former presidential candidate?) said
I hope I'm not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope. I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.
Can I get an Amen on that?

March 11, 2016

Quick Takes (v7): Paladino Threatens NY Republicans

Quick Takes
Failed NY gubernatorial candidate and Western New York businessman Carl Paladino has gone off the rails, and on the record, with his plans to harass New York's Congressional Republicans unless and until they throw their support behind Donald Trump.

According to an article on Syracuse.com,
The Buffalo businessman said in an interview that he will use email to rally his supporters against New York's Republican members of Congress who have remained neutral in the presidential race. Paladino, who ran an insurgent campaign to capture the GOP nomination for NY governor in 2010, said the emails will become increasingly personal in the coming weeks, targeting individual members of Congress.
Paladino, advised the GOP representatives in part that
None of you is a profile in courage... You cannot stay neutral any longer; it conflicts with your job description. You're supposed to make decisions in the best interests of your constituents. They're angry. It's a festering anger, built up over the years by a smoke and mirrors government working to keep the political class comfortably feeding at the public trough. 
I guess Paladino believes our Representatives are supposed to make decisions in the best interest of Carl Paladino, who has some festering something-or-other built up over the years by a desire to stay relevant. However, nothing in the job description of the people we send to Washington says they have to listen to their party bosses, or to marginal party members sitting on the sidelines.

Heck, if that were the case you might as well require them to listen to armchair pundits like me.

Paladino's threat to ramp up the personal attacks was supported by one of his WNY minions, Chris Collins, who texted other members of the NY delegation to help bring them to heel.
I know Carl Paladino has been aggressively pushing all of you to endorse Trump. And I know he has indicated he will start 'attacking' NYers who don't endorse Trump. You may or may not care, but he does have a formidable email list. 
Collins noted that he was only relaying a conversation he had with Paladino, and that he asked that the attacks not start until after primary petitions had been passed.  How generous of him.

One person who did not fall for the bluster is my representative, John Katko of Camillus. Katko has been a solid representative for the district, in my opinion. I'm a Democrat, but I voted for him, and I'm glad I did. I don't always agree with him,but neither do Republicans -  which in my book means he's doing his job pretty well.

And, I can confidently say, none of the explanations he's given for his votes have included anything close to "because Carl Paladino told me to do it."

In an interview, Katko noted that he would back whoever the party's nominee is, but noted
whoever it is, I will point out my differences. I've acted independent in Congress. I'm going to continue to be an independent voice in Congress. And if I agree or disagree with my party leaders, I'm going to let that be known.

To me, that's what he should be doing, not running around strong-arming his fellow representatives, and not kowtowing to the whims of unelected party members who live outside the district.

March 9, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v49)

We've got trials, and we've got crazy politicians, and of course we have your crazy primary results. Let the wondering begin!

Erin Andrews, sports and entertainment commentator, was awarded $55 million by a jury, after suing a hotel chain and a stalking, peephole-modifying scumbag for $75 million.  The dirtball who filmed her naked after calling around and finding out which hotel Andrews would be staying at on a trip to Nashville, then requesting and being placed in the room next door to her, making it convenient for him to rig the peephole tube to allow him to film inside her room, was sent to jail for 30 months. Notably, the guy did this not only in Nashville, but also in Columbus.

Andrews has to live a whole lot more than 30 months knowing that the video is out there in the cloud somewhere, for anyone to watch, whenever they want.

Including, we're told, by a witness in her trial. As in, when a hotel executive allegedly said something along the lines of "I might as well get my money's worth" and, mere hours after testifying, watched the video with dinner companions in a restaurant. His story differs - he asked his friends to stop watching it, and they did - but still. This is why she sued, and why the jury awarded her tens of millions of dollars. An IT guy said the video was viewed at least 16 million times, although he admitted that was a conservative estimate. Based on that, the jury's award is less than $3.50 per view.

Is that fair? I really have no idea. I wonder if there's any amount of money that would adequately compensate a person for something like this, but at the same time wonder how the penalty against the hotel chain could be used to have them actually make changes to protect others in the future. For example, how easy is it really to remove the peephole parts and modify them? Without being caught on a security camera? I just wonder.

Movin on, I'm also wondering why it is that poor Bibi Netanyahu (R-Israel) is so worried about causing a stir in our presidential politics, such that he doesn't think it's right to visit with President Obama this month, and why, if it was so important that he not be perceived as interfering in our primary elections, he couldn't tell the White House directly, instead leaving them to find out from media reports? It's funny how he wasn't worried about having the US perceived as meddling in the Israeli election, which Netanyahu was on the verge of losing just before he came and exhorted Congress to reject the Iran nuclear deal but I guess that's different?  And I wonder, who is he going to endorse, when the time comes? I mean, we'll be looking for endorsement from all of our senators, foreign and domestic alike.

And finally, I'm wondering, if size matters, how did Small Hands crush Big Ears in the Republican primaries yesterday?

March 8, 2016

Tuesday's Number: $113,668

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 three new judgments, totaling $22,668, and two bankruptcies, for $91,000. No satisfied judgments were reported.

Here’s the breakdown by hospital:

  • Crouse had two, for $14,731
  • St Joe’s had two, for $92,937
  • SUNY Upstate added one more, for $6,000
The paper only publishes filings of $5,000 or more.

March 6, 2016

Position Paper: Free Health Care, Trump Style

Created with https://Tagul.com
Somewhat quietly, or more quietly than I thought he would have, His Hairness released his healthcare plan a few days ago.

Of course, it came with the usual bluster -- not unique to Trump, but an affliction they all seem to have, as if the sound bite about the plan is more important than the plan itself.
Since March of 2010, the American people have had to suffer under the incredible economic burden of the Affordable Care Act... passed by totally partisan votes in the House and Senate and signed into law by the most divisive and partisan President in American history, has tragically but predictably resulted in runaway costs, websites that don't work, greater rationing of care, higher premiums, less competition and fewer choices...the damage done by the Democrats and President Obama, and abetted by the Supreme Court, will be difficult to repair unless the next President and a Republican congress lead the effort to bring much-needed free market reforms to the healthcare industry.
So, what's the approach?  Well, "on day one" he'll ask Congress for a full repeal; the assumption is that what failed 50-some-odd times will pass this time. And it will pass, we assume, because
We will work with Congress to make sure we have a series of reforms ready for implementation that follow free market principles and that will restore economic freedom and certainty to everyone in this country. By following free market principles and working together to create sound public policy that will broaden healthcare access, make healthcare more affordable and improve the quality of the care available to all Americans. (emphasis Trump's)
Full repeal, of course, would put preexisting conditions back into play; would put older dependent children back into safety net programs; and preventative services, which now must be rendered without cost share, would go back into the mix of deductible and copays. Rules regarding admin costs as a percentage of total premium collected would also be out the window, allowing insurers to profit freely as they saw fit.

And mental health benefits might also suffer a hit, except that Trump notes (as do all politicians) that
Finally, we need to reform our mental health programs and institutions in this country. Families, without the ability to get the information needed to help those who are ailing, are too often not given the tools to help their loved ones. 
He points to some "promising reforms being developed in Congress" that deserve bipartisan report, but doesn't get into specifics.

Notably, his plan doesn't mention how he's going to increase access to healthcare as he emphasized above; his plan primarily addresses access to health insurance, which is a very different thing.

 Here are the other highlights:
  • Elimination of the individual mandate - because "no person should be required to buy insurance" unless they want to, proving once and for all that in America it's more important that we have auto insurance that might never be used than it is that we have health insurance that is the gift that keeps on giving. 
  • Sale of insurance across state lines, as long as the plans comply with the applicable state laws and regulations. This will drive costs down and satisfaction up, we're told. Here in New York, where we just experienced the free market free fall of Health Republic, I'm not sure lower premiums are all they're cracked up to be when it comes to insurance.
  • Review Medicaid options so that people don't slip through the cracks, and make sure that folks who want insurance can get it. This is for the people who cannot benefit from the free market bonanza that will save the world.  He also proposes Medicaid block grants so that states can do what they know best, and to incentivize the identification and elimination of fraud, waste and abuse. 
  • Allow tax-free contributions to health savings accounts (HSAs) which then become part of the person's estate with no 'death penalty.' The HSA funds could be used by anyone in the family, without penalty, and "should be particularly attractive to young people who are healthy and can afford high deductible health insurance plans."  (The young and healthy are the ones who are taking the penalty of the individual mandate instead of signing up for insurance because the penalty is less than the premiums.)
  • Transparency in pricing from providers, "especially doctors and healthcare organizations like clinics and hospitals" so people can price-shop.  
  • Cheaper drugs, via removing "barriers into entry in free markets for drug providers that offer safe, reliable and cheaper products." This includes access to "imported, safe and dependable drugs from overseas."  The free market, in pharma, gave us Martin Shkreli. And, who will make sure that the imported drugs are "safe and dependable" -- do we take the word of the regulators in the socialist, free-insurance-for-all countries that benefit from these prices now?
One more piece of the plan is this:
  • Allow individuals to fully deduct health insurance premium payments from their tax returns under the current tax system.
Translated: government-sponsored health care. Free health care. Say it either way, doesn't much matter. I mean, say your income tax responsibility is $5,000, and say you pay $6,000 in health insurance premiums. That means that the $5,000 Uncle Sam is counting on getting from you is now $1,000 that Uncle Sam owes you. Which means that someone else is going to be picking up the costs, right? And if someone else is paying for your insurance, it kind of makes your health insurance free, doesn't it?

Multiply that by the millions and millions of Americans who have insurance, and it seems we're headed down a very bad path, don't you think, especially this is all to be done under our current tax system.

I'm not naive about the Affordable Care Act -- clearly it can be improved, starting with offering basic basic plans as an alternative to high deductible health plans, which are NOT for everyone even though they're less expensive -- but I stand firmly against full repeal. 

I support transparency, and I support requiring insurers, including the one I've worked at for almost 26 years, to spend less on admin and more on benefits. I support having more nurse-practitioners and physician assistants, particularly in lightly populated rural areas and very densely populated urban areas, so that people can access health care when they need it.  I support exhaustive efforts against fraud, waste and abuse in all government programs, including healthcare. I support challenging states to look critically at their safety net programs to reduce costs (and benefits, where they are overly rich) and to not shift the burden to local governments. There's more, but I'm not the one running for office. 

As Trump does, I support building a better economy, where more people are working and able to afford insurance. 

But one thing I don't get is how free health care offered by a Republican is going to Make America Great Again, when it's a sign of the apocalypse when it's offered by a Democrat. 

March 5, 2016

My Middle-aged White Lady Perspective: Every Tom, Ricardo and Hasid

A friend posted a letter on Facebook, ostensibly from an 'everyday American' to the Republican National Committee (RNC), explaining why people are rallying behind His Hairness as the leading candidate for President, and why the RNC is basically looking for love (or money) in all the wrong places.

The author of the letter is allegedly an 80-year-old lifelong Republican; I doubt that's the case, given that he never mentions serving his country, but proudly calls out that he has "a great deal of respect and influence with hundreds of senior ball players who network with thousands of others around the country" but then fails to explain why his influence with old ballplayers should be noteworthy.


While he agrees with the positions of the GOP, he's tired of them not listening to the people that elected them, and he shares an analogy to make the point of why people like him are supporting Trump. 
You've been on vacation for two weeks, you come home, and your basement is infested with raccoons. Hundreds of rabid, messy, mean raccoons have overtaken your basement. You want them gone immediately...You call the city and four different exterminators but nobody could handle the job. There is this one guy however, who guarantees you he will get rid of them, so you hire him. You don't care if they guy smells, you don't care if the guy swears, you don't care how many times he's been married, you don't care if he was friends with liberals, you don't care if he has plumber's crack...you simply want those raccoons gone! You want your problem fixed! He's the guy. He's the best. Period.
Trump, you see, is the raccoon-catcher: the smelly dude you call when no one else can or will do the job. The writer continues, describing the raccoons - or the outcome of having them in the basement:
This country is weak, bankrupt, our enemies are making fun of us, we're being invaded by illegal aliens and bringing tens of thousands of Muslim refugees to America while leaving Christians behind to be persecuted. We are becoming a nation of victims where every Tom, Ricardo and Hasid is part of a special group with special rights, to the point where we don't even recognize the country we were born and raised in. "AND WE JUST WANT IT FIXED" and Trump is the only guy who seems to understand what the people want.
So, can I say that I'd love to hear from any Christian who's been left behind here in America to be persecuted? Or even from someone who personally knows a person who's been persecuted as a Christian here in America? President Obama might be one, since he's been forced to defend his faith against accusations of being a Muslim since before he took the oath of office. Hell, even his American birth was questioned. 

For the purposes of this post though, POTUS would not count, unless he reached out to me directly to discuss his persecution.  Which would be cool, for sure, but is about as likely as it is that anyone else will contact me. 

Maybe the persecuted left-behind Christians are the ones who weren't voted into office? 

The folks most recently sent to Washington, and to statehouses around the country, are probably the single largest group of self-proclaimed religious politicians ever elected. They're happy to tell us over and over again how Christian they are, as they cut safety net programs, abolish women's health care, try to get us into another war or three, pretend that they really think man and dinosaur strolled the earth together just a few short years ago, denigrate Americans who don't look like them, cheat on their spouses, their constituents, or both, and create an ever-widening gap between the haves and the have nots. But they're darn good Christians, they say.  

Another question: the author says that our enemies are making fun of us. I don't know about you, but I wonder when we started worrying about that?  

And isn't it much worse that our friends are embarrassed by the activities of this election cycle, and of our elected officials over the past several years (anyone remember freedom fries?) and are afraid of the outcome of our election and what it means to our standing as leader of the free world, and to them as our allies?  If I had to pick one, I'd sure rather our friends were ready, able and willing to stand with us against our laughing enemies than I am about the laughing enemies themselves. 

And finally, since you're having such a hard time recognizing the country you were born in, would it help if we re-segregated schools, buses and water fountains? Maybe instead of having an all-volunteer military, you'd prefer we went back to the draft where we might offer deferrals for rich white folks, and send everyone else off, allow us to sacrifice 58,000 American lives fighting someone else's civil war? And go back to a set of special rights for white men, and a lesser set of rights for women and people of color? Or send all the black athletes back to their own leagues, and maybe not let them play senior ball with you?

I'm not suggesting that Trump will take us back there, to those times. I'm questioning if, as the supposed 80 year old writer of this letter says, we really want to go back and recognize the country in which he was born and raised.

From my middle-aged white lady's perspective, my answer is no, thank you, but thank you very much for asking.  

Oh - and tell the plumber to pull up his pants, will you?

March 4, 2016

I Solemnly Swear

I (Marco Rubio. John Kasich. Raphael Cruz.), do solemnly swear, to support Donald J. Trump should he become the nominee of the Republican Party in the race for the Presidency of the United States.

I pledge my honor, my money, and my delegates to a man I believe is a bully.

A racist. 

A liar.

A fraud.

A fake Christian.

A liberal.

A phony.

An under-endowed, thrice-married cheating husband.

A man who makes ties in China.

And a man who doesn't represent me or my values.

I Do So Solemnly Swear.

God Bless Donald Trump, and God Bless the United States of America.

Amen.

March 2, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v48)

I  am, truly.

Wondering, I mean.

Where do we go from Super Tuesday? Are the paths forward any more obvious, or did yesterday make it worse? How do the parties respond? And what happens over the next two or three weeks, particularly on the Republican side, when we hit the winner-take-all states?

(And, I'm wondering, why are there twice as many delegates at stake on the Democratic side than on the Republican side?)

So far, it looks like mainstream/traditional Republicans seem to be falling into three camps:

  • I don't like Trump, or what he says, but I'll live with him if that's what it will take to win the Presidency. 
  • I don't like Trump and I want him to stop being a (fill in the blank) for the good of the party, or we'll find a way to stop him,even if it means supporting Cruz or Rubio (shudder).
  • I don't like Trump, and if he's the nominee I'll vote for Hillary. (Yes, there are Republicans  saying this every day, and not just on NPR)

'Modern' Republicans, the ones who are turning out in record numbers in the primaries fall into one big camp, under the big top:
  • I like Trump, and I don't care how he says what he says, or that he lies, or that he mocks me at every turn (even if I don't get that he's mocking me), because he's not a politician and we're sick of politicians, and oh by the way, we like that he swears and is a bully because, well, because that's what we need in America because that's what it feels like I want to do to everyone I run into, especially if they don't look like me, because white people are going to be in the minority and I'll be damned if I'm going to take that lying down, and I need a blowhard like Trump to make me feel good about myself and about my country goddam!

Mainstream/traditional Democrats seem to be falling into several camps:
  • I like Hillary, and it's her turn, and/or she's the best chance we have and/or because she's a woman and it's time we had a woman president
  • I don't like Hillary, because she has so much baggage, but she's the only one who's electable so I'll live with her.
  • I don't like Hillary, so we have to keep pushing for Bernie to win.
  • I don't like Hillary and if she's the nominee I'm going to vote for Trump (again, every day, people say this).
  • I like Bernie, and he's the only one who can beat whoever the Republican nominee is, and so I'm all in for him.
  • I don't like Bernie, and if he's the nominee I'm going to vote for Trump.

Really liberal Democrats, and new ones, are pro-Bernie, are donating small amounts of money in large numbers, but he's not turning that into votes (or maybe I should say, he's not turning that into delegates). He was too liberal for Massachusetts, for heaven's sake - or not well organized enough there to beat Clinton.  And I don't understand why he didn't even put up a fight in half of the Super Tuesday states? 

Where do we go from here? Sill wondering. 

The one thing I do know is, the Dems better figure out a path forward, and quickly, to start focusing a whole lot of effort on getting out the vote, even while they try and figure out who's going to be the nominee. Republicans are showing up in droves, and that's not giving me a warm fuzzy about November. 

March 1, 2016

Grains of Salt (v6): Dues Not Deals

Regular readers know that I'm not a huge fan of giving away tax dollars to corporations or organizations that don't need them. Or maybe, I should say, to those who shouldn't need them.

And so, naturally, I'm intrigued by an article I saw in Sunday's paper about MACNY, the Manufacturer's Association of Central N, and a couple of state senators, David Valesky and Jeffrey Klein, both members of the Independent Democratic Conference. The pols have proposed that MACNY "administer a centralized apprenticeship program for local factories."

You see, our manufacturing employees are getting old - average age is 56, according to MACNY's President, Randy Wolken. They're probably tired, too, I'd guess - most manufacturing jobs are not as easy as say, my desk job - and it makes sense that we need to have replacements at the ready as these folks start to age out of the workforce.

Wolken also noted that
With the $500,000, if it's added to the state budget, MACNY could run a central apprenticeship program that would reduce costs and administrative red tape for all local manufacturers. Much of the state money would pay for administrative costs involved in running the program. 
MACNY's website shows they have more than 330 member firms. Not all of them are manufacturers, but there are a lot of notable regional companies, many with global reputations, such as Welch Allyn, SRC, Lockheed Martin, Corning Inc, Tessy Plastics, and Par Technology among them. And, certainly, there are lots of smaller companies and likely some start ups who have signed on for the benefits of membership, which include networking, governmental affairs, shared purchasing services, and yes, training opportunities and consulting services.

MACNY's reach extends far outside the Central New York Area. This is important, I think, when we talk about coughing up $500,000 to help train employees. They are not a little trade group for Syracuse and Onondaga County - they're a trade group for everyone, from Rochester to Albany, from Watertown to Binghamton and Elmira. Do they really need half a million in taxpayer dollars to organize a training program, particularly when much of the money, by their own admission, is for administrative costs??

Our economy is such that, in many places, we don't build things anymore: we pour things. That's right: instead of opening companies that make things, we open coffee shops, places which tend to pay less than a good manufacturing job would pay. I mean, there are over 40 Dunkin' Donuts alone within 10 miles of me. We have a fairly new one, completely drive through, built in the shadows of the I-81 interchange with 690 East.

This one may very well come down whenever we decide what we're going to do with the interstate, which makes me question whether the group that built the tiny little DD has designs on a government payout of their own down the road. But I digress.

Folks say that part of the reason we have high unemployment and that we don't build things anymore is that factories cannot find skilled people to hire, and so jobs - good paying jobs, ones that might pay as much as tomorrow's minimum wage - go unfilled. If the jobs could be filled, we're told, we could grow our economy, and we could stabilize our population base, and we could support all of those coffee chains that dot the landscape, and make it possible for small businesses and start ups to grow, and, well, you get the picture.

But again -- does an organization with MACNY's membership and reach really need half a million in taxpayer dollars, no matter how pure their motives and how valuable the services that would be offered if the money was there?

Throw in one more point mentioned in the press coverage of this initiative, and my thinking becomes more clear:
The two (senators) were surrounded by officials from local labor unions and the MACNY who support the concept...
Use your dues, folks- not taxpayer dollars - to support your members and their training needs.

Tuesday's Number: $143,881

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 eleven new judgments, totaling $119,886, and one bankruptcy, for $23,995. No satisfied judgments were reported.

Here’s the breakdown by hospital:
Crouse had four, for $28,925
SUNY Upstate had six, totaling $84,441

The remaining $30,515 was split between a regional hospital to the east of Syracuse, and the NYU Hospitals Center, which picked up this week’s the bankruptcy. 

The paper only publishes filings of $5,000 or more.