May 31, 2016

Tuesday's Number: $280,559

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. 

There were 16 new judgments this week, totaling $280,559. No satisfied judgments or bankruptcies were listed. Here’s the breakdown by hospital:

  • St Joe’s had one, for 32,384
  • SUNY Upstate had the other 15, totaling $248,175

Crouse and Community, SUNY’s other campus, did not have any filings reported.

A few days ago, SUNY Upstate announced a profit of $120M for 2015, well above the $17M earned in 2014. Better than half of the profit resulted from selling its share of a local lab service and what’s described as a “one-time increased government payment for serving large numbers of Medicaid and uninsured patients.”  For for 2014, 2015 and year to date in 2016, total reported judgments and bankruptcies (net of repayments that have been tracked) for SUNY is $26,535,736. 

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

May 29, 2016

Backward Man Walking

A while back, I talked about the 'Trexit' - the thing that will help Donald Trump get out of being President, under the thinking that he's just been messing with us this whole time and that, as one of his former key advisers mentioned, he just wanted to shake things up a little.

And we've also talked the concept of having a businessman in the White House, and how someone with a solid business and managerial background could be beneficial to the country.

 miamiherald.com photo
Well, it might be too late for the Trexit, and we might end up with a businessman in the White House.

Last week, the Associated Press advised us that, by their count, Donald Trump has reached the magic number, giving him the nomination on the first ballot and making it impossible for any of the former candidates, or any 'white knight' candidates yet undeclared, to wrest the nomination from Trump's very manly and very large hands.

Trump's rabid supporters, the angry whomevers who have gotten us to this point, have long mentioned his outsider status, his politically incorrect musings, his no pussy-footing approach to everything as his strong points.  He's stopped just short of committing the worst offenses, such as using the N-word, but I get the sense that if he did that at a rally, the cheers would be heard around the world.

He may have fooled his supporters, but don't let him fool you. He is absolutely a politician through and through. He's already become a master at the art of walking backwards, that thing they all do when they say something outrageous, or even something reasonable, but when it doesn't fit the mold, they do the 'walk back' thing.  You know, like when Rep. Kevin McCarthy had to walk back his comments about the Benghazi hearings, or when Crying John Boehner mocked his own party then had to walk that back. Joe Biden had to walk back his comments on lame duck presidents and Supreme Court nominees. Even Hillary Clinton (can you imagine?) has had to walk back comments (and I'm not talking about her email scandal).

Trump is walking backwards on several fronts.

First there was the one about paying creditors less than they are owed, which I had already touched on in the businessman post.  Then there was his tax plan, which he rolled out as one that would give 'major relief' to the middle class. When folks got looking at it, seems many benefits - 40% even - would go to top earners and not the middle class. Well, that's no big deal, right? Because
When you put out a tax plan, you are going to stat negotiating. You're not going to say "OK this is our tax plan, lots of love, folks." There's going to be a negotiation back and forth. I can see that (the middle class part) going up, to be honest with you. I could see that going up and I think that probably will happen. 
Or this one: back in November during a debate, Trump said this about the minimum wage when asked if he was 'sympathetic' to protesters looking for $15 an hour:
I can't be...and the reason I can't be is that we are a country that is being beaten on every front economically, militarily. There is nothing that we do now to win. We don't win anymore...But taxes too high, wages too high, we're not going to be able to complete against the world. I hate to say it but we have to leave it the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratosphere We can not do this if we are going to compete. We just can't do it. I would not do it. 
A few weeks ago, he told CNN that he was "looking at" raising the minimum wage, that he was "open to doing it" and that he was "actually very different from most Republicans" in that regard.

Supreme Court nominees? Trump released a list of eleven people as 'potential' nominees, in an effort to show his conservative cred, and it was jumped on as the group from which his replacement for Antonin Scalia would be drawn.  Well, maybe not exactly from that list.
I thought what I would do is put this forward and this would be list that I would either choose from or pick people very close in terms of the spirit and the meaning of what they represent. We're either going to choose from this list or people very close to it. At a minimum we will keep people from this general realm.
Punishing women who have abortions?  Walked back.   Talking with North Korea's leader? Walked back. Blaming George W. Bush for the 9/11 attacks?  Walked back. Banning Muslims?  You remember this, right?
Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on. (emphasis added)
Yeah, walked back.  He didn't mean a total and complete shutdown, silly.
We have a serious problem, it's a temporary ban, it hasn't been called for yet, nobody's done it, this is just a suggestion until we find out what's going on.  
North Carolina's bathroom bill? Walked back.  The states should handle it and hopefully do the right thing, he said. Except he also said he doesn't know that the right thing is. But the party you know, they believe a person is born with a bathroom identity, Caitlyn Jenner's staunch Republican support notwithstanding.)

Military personnel and leaders obeying a Trump order to torture prisoners, or to murder their families, as was discussed back when he had opponents? Walked back.

After initially saying that they wouldn't refuse his order, Trump offered a remarkable clarification, noting
I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advise on such matters. I will not order a military officer to disobey the law.  
It is clear that, as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities. 
I swear, it's almost as if he just remembered that last part.

I read a quote the other day, one I found when researching a whitepaper I was writing for work. It was about us always getting exactly what we deserve, in that we have the ability to influence outcomes. If we fail to use our influence, well, you get the drift.

I believe Trump supporters are getting exactly the candidate they deserve: a man who doesn't have a clue how to govern, doesn't have a clue what being president is all about, a man who has lied from day one in a sham campaign. A man who had to issue a statement that "it's clear" he will have to obey the law if elected. The GOP, too, is getting exactly the candidate they deserve, as they line up in support of their own continued employment as senators and representatives, and jump on the Trump bandwagon.

The rest of us will get the candidate we deserve as well, if we fail to exert appropriate influence on the outcome.

May 24, 2016

Tuesday's Number: $639,040

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. 

There were 28 new judgments this week, totaling $639,040. No satisfied judgments or bankruptcies were listed.

Here’s the breakdown by hospital:

  • Crouse had three again this week, for $23,854
  • SUNY Upstate had the other 25, totaling $615,186

 St Joe’s and Community, SUNY’s other campus, did not have any filings reported.

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

May 23, 2016

Addressing Income Inequality (v3): Coporate Profits

My #FeeltheBern friends, my #ImWithHer friends, and my less overtly political friends and I have had conversations about the hot topics today. In this edition of my Addressing Income Inequality series, we'll look at corporate profits; the first post was on 'living wages' and the second was on CEO salaries.

Like most of you, I've heard and read that corporate profits are out of control, and they make CEO pay out of control, and the giant profits being shared with people other than the workers who make the profits possible are killing the middle class.

And like some of you, I sort of sit up and take notice when I see articles like this:
According to this article (from October of 2015), the ten most profitable companies in the world include the three above; Apple and Exxon Mobil were numbers one and two, respectively; Berkshire Hathaway came in at number four. Who are the rest of the top ten?

#3 Samsung Electronics (South Korea)
#5 Chevron (US)
#6 Toyota Motor Corp.(Japan)
#7 PetroChina (China)
#8 China Mobile (China)
#9 Walmart (US) and
#10 Johnson and Johnson (US).

That's six American companies, two Chinese, one Japanese, and one South Korean firm in the top ten.

So I have to ask, what was your first reaction seeing the list?

Are you on the "those bastages, look at all that money and why don't employees see any of it?" side of the fence?  Maybe you're on the "Alright, look at our American companies go!" Or, possibly, you just go "Hmm... how on earth do they do that?"

I'll be honest,  frequently find myself in the group that says "I sure hope my 401(k) is invested in companies like these!"

All of those reactions are possible, and none of them are really wrong; it's all about perspective, and all about perception.

Now, regular readers know I'm not an economist, a statistician, an accountant or an auditor. I mention this because, while I'm capable of finding lots of information on lots of topics, I'm not qualified to say whether the information I find is 'more right' or 'more wrong.'

But, after all we've heard from the politicians about evil corporations and huge profits, would you be surprised that (according to this info) corporate profits fell to their lowest level in four years in the last quarter of 2015?

Or that, for all of 2015, profits were down over 5%?




And for one of the most left-reviled industry sectors - petroleum and coal - profits were down $124.3 billion in the fourth quarter alone, and down $40.6 for the full year?

What does all of this mean?  As with our other Income Inequality measures - minimum wage and CEO salaries, the proof may be in the pudding, but the beauty is in the beholding.

Where some might seem happy that profits are down, because everything is so unequal, others lament the fact that the numbers are down, because that can negatively impact so many other things, including investment accounts, pensions and 401(k)s.  Some would say that not everyone has the chance to have a pension, or investments, or a retirement fund -- so too bad, so sad for those people who are rich enough to have them... And so it goes.

Should the government have the right to tell a company that they can't make as big a profit as they're able? Should we be complaining that our American companies are making great profits?  Isn't that what we want them to be doing? I mean, I can't imagine anyone --  an Apple, an ExxonMobil or a mom and pop corner store - going into business to lose money, any more than we all go to work every day to do a crappy job.

Why would anyone bother?

May 21, 2016

Addressing Income Inequality (v2): CEO Pay

The other day I posted the first in a series on income inequality, since it's probably the biggest issue this election season.

For Bernie Sanders, it sometimes seems to be the only issue, although I thought there was one debate where he said the single biggest issue facing our country was climate change; I could be wrong.  For Hillary Clinton, income inequality has become a larger issue than she might have hoped, particularly when the Sanders camp is hitting her speaking engagement income. 

One of the things we hear an awful lot about is the fact that millionaires and billionaires, the 1%, are getting almost all of the new income and getting more and more obscenely rich; the rest of us, the 99% are struggling and barely keeping our heads above water - actually, or in comparison, or at least in perception. 

My first post was about the minimum wage, with a little extra thrown in about the new Obama administration overtime rules that will go into effect on December 1st.  Tonight, let's take a look at what people earn.

First, some general understanding, things we think we know to be true, or believe to be true:

  • CEOs make a lot of money;
  • the ratio of CEO salary to worker salary is skewed;
  • the top 1% make a lot of money

But what do those generally understood concepts mean? What happens if we put some numbers around the concepts?
  • In 2014, for example, average CEO pay (including stock options and all the rest) at the largest 350 companies  was $16.3M
  • That ratio of CEO to worker salary?  That was about 300 to 1.
  • To be in the top 10% (according to IRS data from 2013), you only needed adjusted gross income of $128K
  • To be in the top 1%, the figure was $429K
  • To be in the top .1%, it's $1.9M
  • To be in the top .01%, it's a mere $9.5M

Is it shocking to you that the minimum adjusted gross income requirements to be in these upper echelons are so low? It was to me.  Things get even more interesting when you look at CEO pay versus pay other people's pay.

First, here are the top 5 CEOs based on total compensation, as of 2014 (details on how the numbers were derived and what companies were included is in the small print in the article):
  1. David Zaslaw, CEO of Discovery Communications (the Discovery Channel and others): $11M salary, $145 other compensation (stock options, bonuses, etc.)
  2. Michael Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, which provides cable service in 14 countries: $16.M salary, $95.9 other compensation
  3. Mario Gabelli, CEO GAMCO Investors, a company founded by Gabelli back in the 1970s, which manages close to $40B in assets: $88.5M
  4. Satya Nardella, CEO of Microsoft, a company with over $90B revenue: $4.5M salary, $79.8M other compensation
  5. Nick Woodman, CEO and founder of Go Pro, the cool cameras; $2.7M salary, $74.7M other compensation
No question about it -- that's a lot of money. Not so much the salaries, which don't bother me all that much - but the 'other compensation' adds a ton of money and it does seem hard to justify. 

Let's look at some other 'lots of money' buckets, which seem a lot harder to justify, in my mind. Take college basketball coaches:
  1. Coach K, Duke University: $7,299,666
  2. John Calipari, Kentucky: $6,875,376
  3. Sean Miller, Arizona: $4,945,664
  4. Bill Seif, Kansas: $4,943,776
  5. Tom Izzo, Michigan State: $4,150,359
Syracuse's Jim Boeheim was only No. 20 on the list, with a paltry $2,144,284.

NFL players for 2015?
  1. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers: $22M, $110M over five years
  2. Seattle's Russel Wilson: $21.9M, $87.6M over four years
  3. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger: $21.85M, $87.4M over four year
  4. The Giants' Eli Manning: $21.8M, $84M over four years
  5. Carolina's Cam Newton: $20.8M, part of a five year, $103M deal
How about Major League Baseball? Here's your top five in 2015:
  1. Clayton Kershaw, with the Dodgers: $32.8M, part of a $215M deal
  2. David Price, Red Sox: $30.5M, part of a $217M deal
  3. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers: $30M, part of a $248M deal
  4. Justin Verlander, Tigers: $28.6M
  5. Yoenis Cespedes, NY Mets: $28.1M
TV personalities?  In the year spanning June 2014 - June 2015, Howard Stern made $95M; Ellen DeGeneres $75M; Dr Phil $70M, Gordon Ramsay, the cursing chef, and Ryan Seacrest both made $60M.

Actors? Good lord, it's nuts: Robert Downey Jr's $80M? Jackie Chan, $50M? Bradley Cooper, $41.5M?  

There are examples all over the place. News anchors?  ABC made a nine-figure deal with George Stephanopoulos. NBC pays Matt Lauer $20M.

Kim Kardashian made $52.5M in 2015.

So  in the overall scheme of things, do we really pay CEOs too much? Or do we pay lots of people too much?  

May 18, 2016

Addressing Income Inequality (v1): Living Wages

Let's admit into evidence that there is an income inequality problem in America.  The really rich are getting really richer, and the minimum wage is not a living wage.

And let us accept those facts as just that - facts. Meaning, let's not argue whether the minimum wage should be a living wage, for example -- let's just pretend we're adults, not Republicans, is what I'm getting at. You know what I'm talking about.

So - we have income inequality RIGHT NOW, today, the worst it's been since maybe even going as far back as when man and dinosaur strolled across Texas together and what do we do about it?

Example #1. 
We run for President and promise to raise the federal minimum wage to an arbitrary $15 per hour ($31,200 annually) - by 2020.  Or, promise to raise the minimum wage to $12 and have the states and localities do more.

These are proposals from Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, respectively. These are the Democrats, who see the issue as a huge deal in the campaign, as opposed to Donald Trump  who might believe we shouldn't have a minimum wage at all, I'm not sure - and I don't think he is either. But these are the Democrats, who might take almost their full first term to address wages for the lowest paid people, who are suffering the most right now. 

Example #2. 
In New York, again Dems taking the lead, we implement different minimum wages - one for fast food workers, one for tipped workers in the hospitality industry, a different one for other tipped workers, and now, new with this year's budget, two for down-staters, and a different one for the rest of the state, regardless of their line of work.

Seriously -- it takes an economics major to figure out how we get there and when.  Take a look:
The timing and scope of the minimum wage increase varies depending on which county in New York State an employee works, and the size of the business. For instance, for employees in New York City who are employed by a company that has 11 or more employees, the minimum wage will increase to $11 per hour at the end of 2016, $13 at the end of 2017, and $15 at the end of 2018. However, for employees in NYC who are employed at a company with 10 or fewer employee, the minimum wages are smaller and implemented over a longer time period with the minimum wage rising to $10.50 at the end of 2016, $12 at the end of 2017, $13.50 at the end of 2018, and $15 at the end of 2019.
Sounds easy enough, right?
For employees who work in the NYC commuter counties of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester, the minimum wage will increase to $10 at the end of 2016, then will increase in $1 increments at the end of each year until the minimum wage reaches $15 at the end of 2021.
Take a breath, there's more:
For workers in the rest of New York State, the minimum wage will increase to $9.70 at the end of 2016, and then increase in $0.70 increments at the end of each year, until the minimum wage reaches $12.50 at the end of 2020.  After 2020, the minimum wage will increase to $15 in increments determined by the state Director of the Division of Budget in consultation with the state Department of Labor.
Except for:
the law also contains a "safety valve" provision which provides that, beginning in 2019, the state Director of the Division of Budget will conduct an annual analysis of the economy in each region in the state, and the effect of the minimum wage increases, to determine whether a temporary suspension of the scheduled increases is necessary.
Got that?  One state, trying to raise the minimum wage that is currently not a living wage, and taking some three, four, five years (or maybe never) to get it done.

Example #3.
People are working longer hours than ever before and still not making ends meet. So we'll address that too. Except that will happen right now, or at least by the end of this year, the end of Obama's presidency.  In case you missed it, there's a new rule on overtime.
Under a new rule announced by the White House Tuesday, anybody making a salary of less than $47,476 ($913 a week) (which is $22.825 per hour) will automatically qualify for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week. That's roughly double the $23,660 ($455 per week) (which is $11.375 per hour).
Why are we doing this, you ask?

Because there are folks who have some management responsibilities who have been exempt from OT, until this change.  I was not aware, but since 1975, according to the article, the percentage of salaried workers who are eligible for overtime has fallen from 62% to 7%.. That will increase to 35% when the new rule goes into effect.

Bet you're wondering how that threshold was determined, aren't you?  Well, we're told,
The new threshold will be updated every three years to make sure it stays at the 40th percentile of full-time salaries in the lowest income region of the country. Based on wage growth projections, that means it could rise to $51,000 by 2020.
So, here we have three examples of helping solve the wage problem, three different solutions:

  • a one-size fits all (Sanders)
  • a one size fits some, if they're not full-figured (Clinton)
  • a many sizes might fit most eventually, unless the sizes stop being made (Cuomo), or
  • a size from some unknown part of the country that fits everyone (Obama)

Do any of the solutions solve the problem? There's certainly no guarantee.  

Fast food companies, for example, are increasing their self-serve kiosks, in part because we all so hate standing in line to be served by a human (anyone remember bank tellers?) and certainly in part because employers will automate to avoid having to pay arbitrary wages. (Ironically, some of the people making the automated kiosks will likely be earning less than the people in the fast food restaurants the kiosks are designed to replace.)

Some employers will find a way to get rid of one person, I'm sure, to qualify for the lower minimum wage afforded to smaller businesses here in New York.  And, of course, the new overtime rule will likely see some salaried people become hourly people, reducing their flexibility and perhaps their other 'managerial' benefits; others will simply not be offered the extra hours, so they won't benefit from the change at all. In fact, they may lose money, given that straight time for hours over 40 is better than nothing. 

Throw in other regulations that determine benefit levels, or define 'small business' in a totally different way, making it even more costly for small businesses to navigate our state and federal regulatory landscape, and throw in the countless legal experts who will find the loopholes in these regulations (as there always are, and as they always do) to satisfy shareholders and pension funds and 401k funds, and to keep the costs of their products down, and what will the real outcome be?

Finally, what do any of these minimum wage solutions in particular do for the vast majority of workers who are struggling on their current, non-living wage of $15 an hour today, and will likely not receive a 50%, 60%, or 70% increase by the end of 2020?  Their struggle will continue, right, even though their minimum wage-earning teenagers will be thriving?

I know people say we have to start somewhere, but do we know where that 'somewhere' really is?

May 17, 2016

Tuesday's Number: $487,869

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’s total pushed this quarter above the first quarter – and we still have six weeks to go. Not a good sign, at all.  

There were 23 new judgments, totaling $515,818. On the plus side, we had four satisfied judgments, for $27,949. No bankruptcies were filed.

Here’s the breakdown by hospital:

  • Crouse had three, including one of the repayments, for a total of$11,266
  • SUNY Upstate had 23, which includes the other three repayments, for a net of $476,603
The other two area hospitals, St. Joe's and Community, SUNY's other campus, did not have any filings. 

The paper only includes filings of $5,000 or higher.

May 16, 2016

My Middle-aged White Lady Perspective: Signs, Signs

Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP
Everywhere are signs.

And thankfully, we have them, so we can tell whether it's a Trump hate-fest or a Sanders hate-fest.

It's been reported that many potential Sanders delegates in Nevada were disqualified for, among other things, failing to register as Democrats in time, or failing to respond to requests to verify information or to provide missing information that would have allowed them to become delegates.  Those who did register in time, or who answered the follow up requests for things like a current address, were accepted.

The "failing to be Democrats" in order to participate in Democratic Party activities (and similarly on the Republican side, the failure of the Trump kids to get registered in time to vote in New York) is something that I have complained about since the onslaught of 'independents wanting their voice to be heard' became the focal point of this presidential race - so I won't belabor that point.

I've been equally disgusted by the amount of actual or threatened violence at events, primarily the kind of thing we've seen at Trump rallies where the candidate has encouraged his fervent supporters to get protesters out of the room, or has offered to pay for their defense, and so on.

And of course there's been a ton of online nonsense, from BernieBros to Hillbots and worse names that I won't repeat, people who at least appear to spend their time looking for negative mentions of their favorite candidate (or sometimes even not positive enough mentions) and then they go to town. Reporters have been targeted, as have official campaign people and just normal people expressing an opinion.

So now we have last Saturday night, where without the signs I would have guessed this was as Trump thing.
It's been vile. It's been threatening messages, threatening my family, threatening my life, threatening my grandchild... I'm scared for my family. Scared for my kids.
Who deserves this treatment? Roberta Lange, chair of the Nevada Democratic Party. From the NY Times article,
Although Hillary Clinton won the Nevada caucuses in February, the Sanders campaign worked hard to win delegates at county conventions and was hopeful that it could emerge from the state with an equal number of delegates or more.  But the state convention, held at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel, deteriorated into chaos after nearly 60 of Mr. Sanders's potential delegates were deemed ineligible amid a dispute over rules.  The convention concluded abruptly after security staff no longer felt it could ensure the safety of the participants, many of whom were yelling and throwing things.
Here's another longer, more nuanced report, one which also notes that Sanders (and Clinton) both lost delegates who did not register timely and that the Sanders folks got out of hand. The article also notes that, by  a slim margin, Clinton had more delegates at the convention than Sanders did.

Mrs. Lange, again according to the Times article, received more than a thousand phone calls, including ones suggesting she needed to be in jail, or "hung in public execution" and other death threats.

Is it because I'm old that this stuff annoys the hell out of me? Is it just my middle-aged white lady perspective, or are other people disgusted by this? Is the Sanders campaign disgusted by this?

Um, no. A campaign spokesman noted that the campaign was "still determining" whether to challenge the Nevada results. And of course, they don't "condone violence of any kind" but at the same time, you know,
The senator believes that the Democratic Party all over the country would serve its own interests better if it were to figure out a way to welcome people who have been energized and excited by his campaign into the party. It would behoove the party to be more welcoming and engage those people.
I've got an idea: let's welcome into the party people who aren't going to trash the living room, or pee in the pool, or kill the hostess if they don't like what was served for dinner.

May 15, 2016

Time for a Trexit Strategy?

First, there was the 'Grexit', or Greek Exit which had the global economic world on edge last year, as Greece went through their bailouts and tried to figure out whether they should (or would have to) leave the European Union.

Then, there was the 'Brexit', or British Exit which is currently under consideration, with a vote coming in June on whether the UK should remain in the EU or if they should take control of their own fate by leaving.

With the GOP convention in Cleveland coming just under a month after the referendum in Great Britain, where we can presume that His Hairness will become the actual nominee and will battle either Crooked Hillary or Crazy Bernie on the Dem side, it's probably not too soon to start thinking about a 'Trexit', or Trump Exit, from the race.

Lots of folks who have surmised all along that Trump doesn't really want to be President, that he entered the race on a lark last June via his 'low energy' escalator ride into the media spotlight.

Among them?  This former staffer, who said they were really looking for respectable finishes, not victories, in the primaries and that he was running as a 'protest' candidate. In fact, she said
You can give Trump the biggest gift possible if you are a Trump supporter: stop supporting him.  He doesn't want the White House. He just wants to be able to say that he could have run the White House. He's achieved that already, and then some. If there is any question, take it from someone who was recruited to help the candidate succeed, and initially very much wanted him to do so.
 And this late-night host, who noted last month
Let's remember, here's a guy who ran for president probably to promote his reality show, or his mattress brand, or his line of premium ex-wives.  And now it looks like he might actually win. And no matter what he says or does - criticizing women, attacking Mexicans, banning Muslims, saying John McCain is a loser for being a prisoner of war - none of it affects his popularity.
Or this Republican strategist, once a possible communications director for the Trump campaign, who shared this:
I believe Trump senses he is in over his head and doesn't really want the nomination. He wanted to help his brand and have fun, but not to be savaged by the Clintons if he's the candidate.  He wouldn't mind falling short of a delegate majority, losing the nomination, and then playing angry celebrity victim in the coming years.
So - if you are leading and everyone else has dropped out of the race and you're going to have the most delegates whether you want them or not, how the heck do you get out of the darn thing?

This is a guy who is worth Saganesque billions - billions, he tells us! A guy who runs a global company (even if some complain he runs parts of it into the ground), a guy who lives in a gold-plated New York penthouse palace and other gold-plated palaces around the world.  A guy to whom the $400K presidential salary is, what, a night on the town? A bad bar bill?

Yeah, time for a Trexit strategy, a sure-fire, 'can't win' strategy.

Maybe beating Crooked Hillary to the punch and announcing that Barack Obama will be the next Supreme Court justice -- yeah, that'll probably work.

I'm not sure what else will.

May 13, 2016

Quick Takes (v10): America's De-transitioning

Quick Takes
Have you seen this one yet, about Caitlyn Jenner?
She's thrilled she has raised awareness about how transgender people have long been discriminated against but I think there's a chance she'll de-transition in the next couple years. I don't think it would surprise anybody in her inner circle. It has been much harder than she anticipated. My heart goes out to her and I know her true friends will be there to support her on whatever path she chooses.
Now, right off the bat I want to say that this post really isn't about Caitlyn.

She has a right to live her life how she chooses, and if that in fact entails de-transitioning back into Bruce, so be it.  I can't begin to imagine the journey she's been on, particularly playing it out on the world's stage. I get that doing it that way was her choice, but I don't know if, at the end of the day, curling up in a fancy house on a bed of dollars is going to provide any real comfort. Or maybe it does, I don't know.

And speaking of real comfort, here's the real reason for this post:  the quote above comes from a new book titled Kardashian Dynasty: The Controversial Rise of America's First Family.

I kid you not.

The book, a biography of the K-Klan, was written by Canadian investigative journalist Ian Halperin, who apparently had a best seller with a book about Michael Jackson, and a movie as well; he's also written about supermodels, the death Kurt Cobain, Brangelina, and the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  But this post isn't about Halperin, either.

It's about us.

It's about the possibility, regardless of how remote, that anyone other than Halperin's editor or publisher or whoever dreamed up the book title,  could possibly consider the Kardashians to be America's First Family.

Seriously? America's First Family is the Kardashians?  Dear lord.

This post is about us.

It's not about reality TV shows such as the Real Housewives of Anywhere, an oxymoron if there ever was one, and of kourse, it's not about Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Kocktails with Khloe and Kiss Me I'm Kylie and Kickball with Kendall and Kavorting at KMart with Kourtney and K'Mon, Be My $23K-a-month Boyfriend starring Kris, and all the rest.

It's not about the millions and millions and millions and millions of Instagram followers hanging on every word these reality stars don't speak. It's not even about people the billions we spend on plastic surgery trying to look like the people we see on these TV shows.

It's about an altered state of reality, where we lose sight of 'real' people and 'real' issues and 'real' problems and 'real' successes.

It's about celebrity, and Celebrity Apprentice, which brought us a celebrity candidate for Leader of the Free World.

It's about us.

May 11, 2016

Grains of Salt (v9): More Fitzing Around

As I noted the other day, the local prosecutor is a busy man.

He's investigating City Hall because, well, because he's a known "not a fan" of the mayor and police chief, er, I mean, for trying to sway public opinion on an economic development deal, and now we learn that his office has been the subject of an arbitration investigation regarding an employee harassment case.

DA-for-Life William Fitzpatrick's office fired a victims' assistance coordinator who had been working with a woman who had been involved with an abusive man. The DA's employee wasn't fired for being a bad employee, it seems. She was fired because the abusive man was the son of the chief investigator in the DA's office, and the chief investigator retaliated against the woman, leading to her wrongful termination.

This, according to the arbitrator, means that the woman, Gigi Potocki, should get her job back -- and get $70K in back pay. Four months later, she's still unemployed and hasn't gotten any money; Onondaga County is appealing the arbitrator's decision.

The details are laid out in this article, including how Potocki allegedly was harassed by the investigator over an extended period of time  - two and a half years - after his son was involved in the domestic violence case; the harassment including filing eight administrative charges against her. (There's a video interview with Potocki here.)

Another person in the DA's office corroborated Potocki's allegations, which apparently helped sway the arbitrator.

The article also notes that Onondaga County had tried to get Potocki to take a settlement (health benefits and a year's salary) and sign a non-disclosure statement, something she's refused to do because she wants her job back.

Fitz, in a classicly abusive manner, apparently questioned "why she'd want to return to a place she says is so terrible."

He also noted, in reference to the retirement of the corroborating witness:
Former Investigator McCarthy, after 40 years of public service, has decided to collect his pension and retire. Who can blame him when he has to deal with crap like this.
Hmm.

Why do we keep re-electing Fitz, when we have to deal with crap like this?

May 10, 2016

Tuesday's Number: $1,073,295

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, the worst in terms of dollar impact since week 48 last year, there were 51 new judgments, totaling $1,078,937, and one satisfied judgment, for a comparatively teensy weensy $5,642. No bankruptcies were filed.

Here’s the breakdown by hospital:

  • Crouse had ten, including the repayment, for a net of $91,070
  • St Joe’s had one, $6,032
  • SUNY Upstate had 36, totaling $724,512

Community, SUNY’s other campus, did not have any filings reported. Three local rehab centers and an adult care facility contributed another five filings for the remaining $251,678.

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

May 8, 2016

A Businessman in the White House?

For a long time, I've heard conversations about putting a businessman in the White House.  Heck - I've even participated in them.

You know the drill -- we need someone who's actually run a business, met a payroll, fought through countless ridiculous regulations, someone who knows how to balance a budget, someone who understands the real world ramifications of what policy changes mean, someone who is accountable to auditors...  And maybe most importantly, someone who is accountable to customers and shareholders.

I say the last two - customers and shareholders - are possibly the most important, because if nothing else,  those of us who bother to register and actually vote  year in and year out are the customers and shareholders of all politicians, even though they don't seem to act like as if that's the case.

A person who could do all of those things a businessman does, whether it's in a small seasonal marina and fishing camp owned by my sister-in-law and her partner, or at a mid-size business like the upstate New York health insurance/health care provider I've worked at for some 26 years, or something much larger, like a GE or TimeWarner, a successful businessman has a special skillset that boy, would sure look good at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, right?

Yeah, well, maybe not so much, or maybe not this particular businessman, the one who, barring something really crazy like a friend of mine has suggested, will become the Republican Party's official nominee this summer in Cleveland.

Perhaps the businessman we need isn't one who's filed bankruptcy multiple times, and who suggests that perhaps the way to handle the national debt is to pay pennies on the dollar to our creditors.

You read that right. Donald Trump told us, in an interview on CNBC,that
I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed you could make a deal. And if the economy was good, then it (the borrowing) was good. So, therefore, you can't lose.
Let that sink in for a minute:  We'll borrow a boatload of money to finance lord only knows what, and if it doesn't work out, we'll just "make a deal" and move on.

In his piece on Vox, Matthew Yglesias pointed out that
With his statement, Trump not only revealed a dangerous ignorance about the operation of a national monetary system and the global economic order, but also offered a brilliant case study on the profound risks of attempting to apply the logic of a private business enterprise to the task of running the United States of America.
Apparently the term for working out deals to repay less than you owe on business deals that don't work out is called a 'haircut', and per Yglesias it makes sense in Trump's real estate development world but not in the global economic world:
Every assessment of risk in the financial system is based on the idea that the list risky thing is lending money to the federal government. If that turns out to be much riskier than previously thought, then everything else becomes much riskier too. Business investment will collapse, state and local finances will be crusher, and shockwaves will emanate to a whole range of foreign countries that borrow dollars.
And you can hear these phone calls, right? I mean, you can hear the words as he would speak them, can't you?
Hey, China? You know that $1.25 trillion we owe you?  Well, see, we're going to cut that by 40% even though we love that General Tso, great chicken! We love the General!
Russia? Your $82 billion? Cut that by 30%. We love the beautiful women over there, in all of the Russian countries, with those fur hats. We love the Russian women! They're almost as pretty as Slovenian women!
Japan? Your $1.15T we're cutting by only 25% because we love the Japanese, we love sushi.
Close allies, like Canada ($66.8B), Germany ($81.6B)? 15% off the top, because we love hockey, and we love the Mercedes.
The UK ($210.6B), we'll cut yours 20%. It would have been less but you elected a Muslim mayor in London, and that's just crazy. And those people in Scotland, gave me a fight about my golf course. 
Trump also suggested in another interview, referenced in the same Vox article, that Puerto Rico file bankruptcy, even though legally it's not possible, and even though Republicans don't want there to be a change in the law to allow that to happen.

Here's how Trump boast about his business tactics:
As a very successful person, I would buy companies, thrown them in a chapter, bankrupt it, negotiate - I would do great deals, I didn't use them for myself, I used them as a businessperson. Many of the top people in my category use the laws. I know more about debt than practically anybody, I love debt. I also love reducing debt, and I know how to do it better than anybody.
So - is this the businessman we need in the White House, one who's unaware of the laws, unclear on the situation, and who in response to just about every question anyone asks can only say how much he "loves" some bucket of people, or how much some bucket of people love him, and who can only point to what he did as a businessman? One who would even suggest putting the full faith and credit of the United States Government on the negotiating table?

No. This is not the businessman we need in the White House.

And even though I never contemplated this particular businessman as leader of the free world,  I'll go back and revisit the reasons why I thought that, conceptually,  it might make sense in the first place.

May 3, 2016

Tuesday's Number: $405,815

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 30 new judgments, totaling $496,762 and four satisfied judgments, totaling $45,947. No bankruptcies were listed.

Here’s the breakdown by hospital:
  • Crouse had five, including a $5,050 repayment, for a total of $105,560
  • St Joe’s had two repayments, for a net credit of $27,501
  • SUNY Upstate had 25, including a $13,376 repayment, with a total of $338,923
Community, SUNY’s other campus, did not have any filings reported; a local rehab facility and a regional hospital south of Syracuse together added another $33,833.

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

May 2, 2016

Grains of Salt (v8): Fitzing Around

Onondaga County's DA-for-Life, William Fitzpatrick, is investigating Syracuse's City Hall and Stephanie Miner, our term-limited mayor, for allegedly attempting to influence people's opinions against a tax deal for a developer who has been given exclusive rights to make the Syracuse Inner Harbor pretty.

Miner prefers that developer candy baskets include specific hiring requirements for city residents, among other things, and defends (too fiercely, many think) city territory on these deals. The mayor challenged this one because COR Development, the company in question, went straight to  the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency  instead of to the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency, because they anticipated a friendlier reception - and they got one.

Miner sued, saying that COR promised not to seek a PILOT on the Inner Harbor project; the judge didn't buy it, and tossed her lawsuit. Fitzpatrick is investigating to see if there was undue influence by City Hall on legislators or other witnesses, or on public opinion generally. (Note that there was apparently some attempt to influence, as noted by the discovery of a letter to the editor that was 'signed' by five religious leaders, some of whom were surprised to see their names in the paper. Comically, or sadly, all of the local judges recused themselves from the case.)

COR Development once had close ties with Miner, and has a connection with the mayor's husband and his family; the company still has close ties with OnJoanie Mahoney, only the third county executive in Onondaga's history, and perhaps the last, depending on what happens with the Consensus Commission's recommendations to merge government functions between the city and the county.

It was this same developer who was in on the plans to build a half-a-billion-dollar stadium for Syracuse University - in the city - and we know that the plan was not discussed with the mayor in advance of it being announced, and eventually was not given the green light. The property where the stadium was to have been built remains basically undeveloped by COR at this time; all of the grand plans for the Loguen's Crossing development pre-stadium debacle have not yet been realized, nor has any real intent to act on them, as far as anyone knows.

The developer is also huge supporter of our Sonofa Governor Andrew Cuomo, giving a couple hundred thou to his 2014 campaign, and benefiting by having millions of dollars in contracts associated with the Sonofa Guv's gimmicky economic development programs around the state come their way. That includes right here in our own back yard where they have - you guessed it - exclusive rights to develop things like the 'nano-center' where we have a movie production studio generating some jobs, and a new LED lighting manufacturer which will bring in a few hundred more.

Those deals came about through COR's relationship with the Gov, er I mean through their interactions with the SUNY Polytechnic Institute. SUNY Poly is heavily involved in the "Buffalo Billion" project, a shining star in Cuomo's portfolio of economic successes.  Parts of the Buffalo Billion, including SUNY Poly, and people associated with it, including a very close former aide to Cuomo, are currently being looked at as part of the ongoing investigation of US Attorney Preet Bharara into politics and ethics in New York.

Bharara, who has already gotten convictions of both former NY Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and former State Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, has made it clear he's not stopping his investigations even if the Governor's ill-fated and "totally independent" Moreland Commission to investigate corruption in NY's government was nipped in the bud when it apparently got too close to Cuomo, his donors, media partners, and so on.

I say 'apparently' that's why it was nipped in the bud, because pretty much everyone thinks that -- reporters, Bharara, and most New Yorkers, except maybe the members of the State Legislature; they're glad the Commission is out of their hair, and I don't think they care why.

One person who doesn't think that, though, is Fitzpatrick, who was one of the three co-chairs of the Commission (OnJoanie was also a member) and who suggested in emails that were uncovered that "the Second Floor" (the Sonofa Guv's home base in Albany) needed to understand what "independent" meant. Many people took that as suggesting at least some level of meddling, but apparently that was not the case.

Because the Commission asserted in court papers that it was fully independent, only a couple of months before it was unceremoniously shut down by the Governor, who pretended that his objectives on ethics reform were met through the budget negotiation process. Bharara noted that the shutdown didn't really pass the smell test. He ordered the Commission to preserve all papers and then, a few months later, let people know he would not take kindly to attempts by the Second Floor to influence any of the now former Commission members into painting a rosy picture of things when that was likely not the case.

And who was one of the Commission members who made glowing statements about the independence of the Commission, noting that no one can push him around and make him drop something he was interested in looking at, oh no siree?  None other than our very own DA,  Bill Fitzpatrick.

Heads spinning as we try and sort out this plate of spaghetti, we're Fitzing around here in Syracuse, fingers pointing, accusations and denials flowing like wine, he saids and she saids and who remembers and who signed and who didn't and who told on who and, frankly, for what?

Absent a smoking gun in Syracuse's City Hall, I would be confused as to how the Mayor's attempts to influence public opinion about a tax deal are really any different than Fitzpatrick's attempt to influence public opinion about an independent ethics commission?

They're both elected officials, speaking to constituents (many of whom don't like them) about things that any number of their constituents don't like or don't believe, and about which many people couldn't care less.

Do we want honest politicians? Of course we do. Do we want to uncover corruption? Sure we do. Would it be better if the person doing the investigating was not someone who has long-standing issues with the folks he's investigating? Of course it would.  Is that likely to happen here?

Nope.