July 31, 2016

Words of Wisdom

Conventions are over, and we're back to our regular programming.  There were many memorable messages, some good some bad, out of the past two weeks.  I'll have updates on that this week. After all, I was underwhelmed heading in to the Dems in Philly. 

In the meantime, there's this.



July 28, 2016

Caring About Trump's Taxes

An old friend posed a question on one of my Facebook posts this morning after I had posted a link I found last night noting that Donald Trump's campaign confirmed they would not be releasing his taxes.  Here's the opening paragraph of the brief article accompanying the tweet:
Republican nominee Donald J. Trump has just announced that he will not be releasing his tax returns at all during the election. Breaking with a tradition observed by every single president since Harry Truman, Donald "Show Me The Birth Certificate" has decided to conceal his own records from a very curious public and media.
 Here's a portion of her question:
OK, I'm going to stick my nose out (I know Sue will cut it off) and say "Who cares if a candidate releases their tax returns? I don't care how much money, or charitable contributions they have made or what his tax rate is. I really don't care about Hillary's either. As long as the person can do the job and get it done, I don't care... (OK Sue, run with it and change my mind. Make me care).
I'm going to try - not to cut off her nose, of course -  but to explain why I care, and why I wish she and others did, too.

I get that Donald Trump is the master of garnering publicity and I think he truly doesn't care what the newspapers say about him as long as they spell his name right. But we should care, my friend and I, about Trump's taxes.

I don't care about how much money he makes either. I know it's more than me, and that doesn't bother me. But it's not really about the money.

I do care, though, that the guy who won't release his taxes is the one who pushes and threatens and pokes and prods everyone else to release their information. He goes after them like a dog after a bone, and then walks away to tackle the next person, whether it's the president, or a fellow candidate's wife, or a senator, or any other person he sets his sights on.

I do care that the guy who won't release his taxes bases his own identity on his wealth, his vast holdings, his gold plated everything, his 'blue collar billionaire' persona, and counts on people who don't have anything to trust that he is what he says he is, and has what he has,  Is it all a lie?

I do care that the guy who won't release his taxes pretends to be a charitable man, and then tries to get away with a $6M scam against veterans -- veterans! - by not paying them money he promised them until he was exposed by the media, and he lied about the reason for it in the process.

I do care that the guy who won't release his taxes may very well be beholden to Russia in ways that would scare the crap out of everyday Americans like me and my friend. The possibility that Trump might have debts called in by the leader of Russia is stuff out of a Tom Clancy novel. Except of course, this is not a novel, this is the election for President of the United States.

The most important reason I care is that the guy who is not releasing his taxes is sticking his grubby little finger in the eye of every American who tries to take this whole election process seriously.

So yes, I want to see his taxes. Because he thinks he is above us all, and I can't disagree strongly enough.


July 27, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v60)

thumpertalk.com image
Anyone know where Paul Ryan is?

His party's standard-bearer today invited Russia to hack America, and Ryan had no statement on his nominee's comments, although he did, through a spokesman, suggest that Vladimir Putin should stay our of our election.

But he did talk about the Zika virus on his official website.

Anyone know where Mitch McConnell is?

When Trump decided we should 'means test' our NATO allies, McConnell said that Trump doesn't know a lot about the issues, but you know, that's OK. Today, Trump invited Russia to hack America, and McConnell has no comment. His official website does have a couple of press releases today about tax dollars going to his home state.

Anyone know where John McCain is?

He endorsed Donald Trump even though Trump called him a loser, because he was captured and oh, by the way, endured years of torture at the hands of our enemy.  Today Trump invited Russia to hack America, and McCain has no comment on that, although he did admit that he has 'strong differences' with Trump. But he does have a message of sympathy on his official website for the victims of the terrorist attack in Nice.

Anyone know where Al Baldosaro is?

You remember him, right? The Trump adviser and New Hampshire state representative who said this during the Republican hate fest in Cleveland:
Anyone who commits treason should be shot. I believe Hillary Clinton committed treason. She put people in danger. When people take confidential material off a server, you're sharing information with the enemy. That's treason. 
I haven't been able to locate his comments calling for Trump to be shot, have you?

Or West Virginia's Michael Folk, who tweeted earlier this month
Hillary Clinton, you should be tried for treason, murder and crimes against the US Constitution...then hung on the Mall in Washington DC.
Nothing on his Twitter feed about hanging Trump on the Mall; maybe I didn't scroll far enough.

Anyone else wondering where the heck the Republicans are? Anyone wondering what their reaction would have been had Hillary Clinton made this comment?

Yeah, that's the ONLY thing I don't need to wonder about tonight.

July 25, 2016

I'm Underwhelmed (part 2)

Why underwhelmed, you might ask?  Here goes.

I did not really want Hillary Clinton to run for President.  I knew it was inevitable that she would, and that if she did, she would become the nominee. NOT because of a rigged system, mind you, but because with her background and service to the country she is a formidable candidate and one I think that many Dems were not willing to take on, or one who, under the circumstances, many thought was a good choice to take on whoever was the last man standing in the Republican circular firing squad.

Hillary's experience, her body of work, if you will, is clearly impressive going back to her college days. If that body of work and service and experience belonged to anyone else, male or female, I don't think there would have been the slightest hesitation on the part of people like me to throw our support behind her.

The flip side of the Clinton coin, of course, is the baggage. The negatives, the conspiracy theories, the horrible answers to questions that she's tired of answering, that she's answered 10, 100, 1000 times before and more, the questions she can't control and worse, the answers she can't control.
  • Where she needs to be honest and forthright and collected (Bill and the gals, Vince Foster) she and her advisers concoct a circle-the-wagons thing that does Clinton huge harm.  
  • Where her husband gets in the way and says or does something stupid that harms her, (Loretta Lynch at the airport) instead of taking a page out of Ronald Reagan's book and doing a "there he goes again!" they draw upon the circle-the-wagons things and try to not answer, or answer without addressing anything, instead of just blasting the stupid husband for being a idiot.  
  • When faced with an actual problem (emails) or a perceived problem (Libya)? They do the circle-the-wagons thing, and we have seen the outcomes on these two issues.
What does it say about Clinton that she surrounds herself with people who give her bad advice, or that she doesn't listen to her advisers who give her good advice that she ignores? And how, over time, do you let your reputation become what hers has become? It's frustrating, it's infuriating, and it's a damn shame. 

I want to be able to support her, strongly support her as the candidate of the party I've belonged to since my teens, and yet... I'm feeling underwhelmed.

Now, here's my take on the 'rigged system' thing: the system is rigged by Democrats for Democrats, who know what the rules are, including all about super delegates and all about getting on ballots and all about having a ground game and, oh yeah, making sure your voters are actually registered as Democrats where that's a requirement to vote, and stuff like that. Those rules, no matter how distasteful the Sanders camp found them, were the rules that Clinton also had to play by.  The problem wasn't the system. the problem that Bernie had is that he is not a Democrat.

He's been a democratic Socialist his entire political career, with an I after his name, not a D. His Senate webpage still refers to him as "the longest-serving independent member of Congress in US history" -- even after he proclaimed himself to be "a Democrat now" last November and his campaign said he was "a Democrat for life" this past April.  He can call himself a progressive; that, he certainly is, without denial or disagreement from any quarter. But he's not a Democrat, and the Democratic Party was crazy to let him in the race.  For that reason alone, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz should have lost her job a long time. (That she is finally losing it now is a bonus, certainly).

And that's another reason for my underwhelmedness: the mess the Democratic National Committee has made of this whole thing. Again, bad wagon-circling on the whole Bernie thing, on the debate schedule, on the complaints about the rigging of the game, the whole nine yards.

I mean, you shouldn't find yourself in the position of having the other party's nominee mentioning your second place finisher in his acceptance speech. If you've gotten that far, you shouldn't have passed Go, you shouldn't have collected your $200, and you should have made different choices along the way.

So where do I go from here?  Tim Kaine on the ticket helps her; Elizabeth Warren off the ticket helps both Clinton and Warren. Hearing what's gone on today, seeing the replays on the news of Bernie fans booing Bernie directly, booing just about every mention of Clinton's name, at least it's energetic.

I'm hopeful as I wait for tonight's lineup: Warren and Sanders and Michelle Obama. Maybe, by the end of the week, my temperature will at least be up to 'whelmed'.

July 24, 2016

I'm Underwhelmed (part 1)

On the eve of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, I'm underwhelmed.

Historically, I've looked at the conventions as moments of optimism, even the convention of the party of which I'm not a member. Blame my late history teacher father, who taught me and his other students that knowing what was going on was the only way to form a reasonable opinion.

In his world, it was at least as important, if not more so, to know what people who think differently than you are thinking. After all, you already know what your team stands for, so understanding what the opposing vision was would either make you more secure in your own, more open to finding common ground where you could, or may even change what you thought you believed.

Huffington Post photo
I watched the Republicans in Cleveland, Dad, I did.

I watched the Trump children talk about how fabulous their father is as a dad, grandpa, businessman, paycheck-signer, and how he is not the misogynistic, race-baiting, elitist, bullying guy he's made himself out to be on the campaign trail.

That he's a wonderful businessman who gives money to his children's charitable funds even if he doesn't necessarily stick to his own charitable commitments until pressed to do so, and that he'll end bad trade deals even as he and his family promote products that are made in China instead of being made in America (his daughter even used her speech at the convention to push her foreign-made dress line), and how good he is to his employees, even though he's been accused of not paying people who work on his projects, extracting deals to force them to take pennies on the dollar for work performed (a trait that apparently is not uniquely Trumpian, if the largest development project in my neck of the woods is any indication).  And more.

I watched as the Republican party paraded with great fanfare families of victims of crime committed by 'others', by people who don't look like us, and blamed the Obama administration for it, to strike fear into the hearts of Americans like a dagger, even though the risk of being victims of those crimes is vastly lower than the risk of being a victim of crimes committed by people who look exactly like us, even though crime rates overall are down and have been down for years.

And I saw party members all throw up in their mouths a little as they stood on the stage and pledged their support to a man with a single vision: building a wall. Around everything: our southern border, around people of color, around immigrants, around those would who would fight for the civil rights of Americans in the justice system, Around bona fide heroes; around public schools; around uppity women who are not 10s; around our NATO allies.. around and around and around the wall goes.

I watched the candidate himself say, without hesitation, without humility, without sarcasm, without any qualification:
Nobody knows the system better than me. Which is why I alone can fix it.  
Yes, I watched the other guys, Dad, like you taught me. I watched this man, who so frequently looks like he's f-bombing our country, and I held my nose and shook my head and threw my hands in the air and muttered more than a few "what-the-hells" and similar comments under my breath (OK, out loud) as you would have, too. I did not see optimism, or very much room to come together, and I certainly did not change my mind on the fact that I don't stand with them.

And yet, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, I'm underwhelmed.

July 20, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v59)

Lord knows I'm not a Trump fan, but I have been doing my utmost best to watch the #RNCinCLE, as the Republican National Convention has been hashtagged, in an effort to figure out what the heck the Republicans stand for generally, or what Trump stands for specifically.

Similarly, I'll be watching the DNC next week for the same reason.

Why, I wonder, did the campaign go through all the effort to have each day of the campaign be 'themed' if there was apparently never any intention to pay attention to the theme? They may as well have had a skywriter flying over Cleveland than publishing a schedule and setting expectations for Making America Safe Again, and Making America Work Again, which is how the first two days were tagged.

Monday night was one of the most somber nights of television I can remember, as bruised person after bruised person stepped up to the podium and told tales of losing loved ones in war, in Benghazi, or at the hands of illegal immigrants, or it seemed, generally suffering from endless, crippling malaise.

Thankfully, we had Rudy Giuliani, who at least pumped up the room and brought some energy.  And there was Melania Trump, who didn't talk about anything having to do with safety but at least she defended her man, the plagiarism issue notwithstanding. Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato Jr.? They were on stage auditioning for the next round of Celebrity Apprentice; I almost expected Gary Busey and Omarosa to appear on stage with them, or with the Junior Duck Dude. Ted Nugent can't be all that far behind, right? Oh - and yes, again, the Trump campaign used music which they were not authorized to -- We Are the Champions, causing Freddie Mercury to roll in his grave, for sure.

Tuesday night, no one talked about jobs except Donald Trump Jr. who talked about working with blue collar mentors as he and his brother worked their way up in the ranks at the company. I wonder, because I don't recall him mentioning it, whether Ivanka also worked with the cement guys and the sheetrock guys? Chris Christie auditioned for Attorney General; Ben Carson talked about God and Lucifer. I'm not sure what else happened, those were the highlights of what I remembered and I missed Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Kevin McCarthy - nothing to learn from them.

Tonight is Make America First Again, and so far it's been a quiet night; Laura Ingraham, and some other blond woman, and Eileen Collins spoke. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is up now, and for the first time the most prominent chant is not Lock Her Up, it's America Deserves Better, which is kind of thematic, I guess. He at least put together the two words that the various speakers the rest of the week haven't been able to: Trump Pence. You remember them, right?

I wonder how the Republicans in Washington, particularly the House Majority and the Senate Majority, feel about Walker's attack on do-nothings in Washington that are only making things worse and stifling conservative leadership which is, for better or worse, taking hold in statehouses across the country?  Did Walker really imply that we'd all be better off with those two majorities not being in place? Or was that wishful inference on my part?

As I'm writing this, the news just cut away to Donald Trump arriving at the Q center, something that nominees don't do until they accept their party's nomination. That he timed his arrival to ensure a cutaway from Ted Cruz is almost certain.

And what about Ted? He's running for President in 2020, of course. Nothing to wonder about there. He got a rousing cheer when he mentioned the Brexit, and the Constitution, and when he mentioned love. And other than congratulating Trump, he never mentioned the nominee's name. He encouraged his voters to not stay home come November, that too was clear. This was the most fun it's been all week.

If you're Mike Pence, and you're doing your big speech tonight, I wonder how the heck you're going to take the audience back?

July 19, 2016

The Final Tuesday's Number: $78,422,278

No, that's not a typo in the title of this post. 

In last week's Tuesday's Number post, I noted that
I have a sneaky feeling this series will be winding down soon, based on what was in the paper today - or maybe, based on what wasn't in the paper.  I'll have to wait until next week to see if there's a trend or if this week is just an outlier -- so stay tuned.
Sadly, I was right - the series has come to an end.  Not because I'm tired of reporting on the weekly judgments, satisfied judgments and bankruptcies associated with health care.  Not because I grew frustrated with the incredibly high numbers for my neck of the woods.

Rather, the way filings have been reported for the past couple of weeks make it impossible for me to confidently identify and report the full picture of medical debt.  The issue is that I cannot tell whether filings in any of the three categories are associated with the SUNY Upstate Medical University. What used to be very clear is now easy to assume but hard to validate.

Why?

Because there are no longer any listings for 'SUNY Upstate Medical University' - there are now lots of listings for 'State of New York' with 'Syracuse' as the address, and based on historical reports most of them are apt to be the ones I want. But I can't tell for sure.

That being the case, it's not worth it for me to report what I can for the other three hospitals and the occasional nursing home, medical practice or other regional hospital and pretend that those filings will give us a true picture of what's going on.

For the past 183 weeks, I've logged $78,149,872 in judgments, $4,737,215 in bankruptcies, and $4,454,809 in satisfied judgments, for a net of$78,422,278, or an average of just over $428,500 per week.

No matter how you slice and dice the numbers, that's a whole lot of money. It's indicative of the fact that we still have a long way to go in figuring out how to manage health care, or manage health insurance, or both. 

I've always tagged the weekly Tuesday's Numbers not only as a health insurance or healthcare post, but as a political post - because ultimately it will be politicians who make the decisions that could cut this down to nothing, or could cause it to explode. For that reason, I'm disappointed that I won't be able to continue tracking the numbers and finding out where this all ends up, or how long it takes us to get there. 

July 17, 2016

The Update Desk: Newt's Sniff Test

Friday's post on the religious sniff test that Newt Gingrich believes is the way to solve the American problem of terrorist attacks in Europe needs a couple of updates.

First: Oops. Newt has apparently remembered that deporting American citizens is a no-no.
With an American citizen, deportation is impossible. It's not appropriate under the Constitution and there, historically we've always said, if you fought against the United States, that the correct answer were basically jail as opposed to deportation. I think we have to talk through what should be the right way of handling people who are here, but are not citizens. 
Second,  officials in France are holding several 'suspects' for questioning in the horrific Bastille Day attack. According to this article in the Washington Post, the ex-wife of the killer was held and then released, and there are a handful of others currently being questioned.  It seems the killer's cell phone has provided at least some insight, including a text right before the attack asking someone to 'bring more weapons' and it's believed the recipient of that text is one of the folks in custody.

The article also opens the door for Gingrich and others of similar beliefs to expand their attacks on Americans beyond merely religious grounds. Referencing public statements from ISIS that the killer was "a soldier of the Islamic State" but offering no proof of any kind,
The link underscores the difficulty of preventing the spread of extremist ideology in a world where even people like (the killer)  - whose family and neighbors portray him as a troubled loner - can be spurred to attack without training, resources or connections.
I can picture the SWAT teams now, cruising around town with Troubled Loner Cans (TLC),  like the ones they use to check license plates for parking tickets, slamming on the breaks whenever they spot someone with a pierced nose, or Goth tattoos.

That girl with the nerdy glasses with her face buried in a book. The millennial sitting on a park bench, face up turned to the sun.

Anyone walking around town without a fitness tracker. Men wearing black socks with sandals.

A person eating alone at a sidewalk cafe. A woman in the grocery store who has more cat food than people food in her grocery basket.

Someone who actually goes to the teller window instead of an ATM.

The guy in the kayak taking bird pictures.

And bonsai gardeners -- I mean, come on -- someone who spends their days torturing trees into crazy shapes, twisting them up with wires and then cutting them up with tiny scissors?

Clearly. Troubled Loners.

July 15, 2016

Newt Gingrich's Religious Sniff Test

Politico.com photo
Newt Gingrich, fresh off his stinging defeat in the VPPrentice, as CNN called it, fought for relevance by offering these comments on Fox News after the attack in Nice:
Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported. Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization. Modern Muslims who have given up Sharia, glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door. But we need to be fairly relentless about defining who our enemies are. Anybody who goes on a website favoring ISIS or Al Qaeda, or other terrorist groups, that should be a felony, and they should go to jail. Any organization which hosts such a website should be engaged in a felony. It should be closed down immediately. 
Our forces should be used to systematically destroy every internet-based source. And frankly if we can't destroy them through the internet, we should destroy them with kinetic power, using various weapons starting with Predators, and frankly just killing them.
The ever-helpful fair and balanced Sean Hannity, noting his "whole-hearted" agreement with Gingrich's "powerful statement" asked a followup:
How do we ascertain - how do you possibly ascertain whether or not that person really wants assimilation, really wants a new life, or whether or not they want to expand that caliphate, which is what we're at war against?
Here's the response:
Look, the first step is you have to ask them the questions. The second step is you have to monitor what they're doing on the internet. The third step is - let me be very clear. You have to monitor the mosques. I mean if you're not prepared to monitor the mosque, this whole thing is a joke. Where do you think the primary source of recruitment is? where o you think the primary course of indoctrination is? You've got to look at the madrasas. If you're a school which is teaching Sharia, you want to expel it from the country. We have to understand - we are behaving as though we are insane. We're like sheep wondering why the wolves keep killing us.
After you're done monitoring the mosques, Newt, and the internet, and doing your religious sniff tests and looking under the burqas and hijabs and niqabs, can we take a look at the people that I want to investigate and deport or send to jail?

No -- wait -- these folks are all over the place, they've been here forever, they're easy to find on the internet so people- even politicians - can emulate them-- let's start with these folks and when we're done purging the scum that incite honest-to-goodness homegrown terrorism, and talk about rape and sexual assault as if they're jokes, and approve or turn the other way when it comes to attacks on gays, or children, you can go ahead and take on the Muslims:
  • Good Christians who think it is impossible for a man to rape his wife, and OK for him to sexually abuse her? Or good Republicans who justify rape in any number of ways?
  • Good Christian pastors who believe that gays should face a firing squad or that the 9/11 attacks were punishment from God? And if they have schools, well, we surely need to shut them down so these ridiculous, hateful and dangerous beliefs cannot be spread.
  • And of course, there's the Westboro Baptist Church - shouldn't they go to jail for terrorizing funerals of fallen heroes, spitting on our soldiers, mocking their sacrifice?
  • Catholic priests? I mean, this one's easy, right? Thousands of victims, millions of dollars in payments, let's shut 'em down. 
  • White supremacist groups such as the ones that radicalized the Charleston terrorist on the internet? And presidential candidates who can barely bring themselves to disavow these groups and their leaders, as well as everyone who supports such a candidate? We cannot possibly have room for this type of terrorist thinking in America, can we? 
Let me know if you need any more examples of groups or people who terrorize us right here at home, every single day, and likely don't have a Muslim belief among them. 

Oh - and let us not forget that if it's the rhetoric that causes the problem, we'll need to go after the irresponsible media who fan the flames of hatred every day, on television and the related websites, radicalizing impressionable Americans, young and old -- starting with the talking heads at Fox News and their guests.

July 13, 2016

Wondering on Wednesday (v58)

The New Testament says in Romans 13:4 that law enforcement officers are ministers of God sent to punish evil doers. When you think about it, police officers are just as called by God to do what they do as pastors and priests are called by God. And I think we need to remind our members of that. 
The word, brought to you by Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church, a 12,000 member strong congregation with a $136,000,000 campus. 

So, call me crazy, but I'm thinking this type of 'religion' may be one of the contributing problems, if the comments of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others are contributing problems. I'm not sure where Reverend Jeffress comes from, but law enforcement officers are NOT sent by God or anyone else to punish people in America. That task is left up to prosecutors determining whether to file charges, and a judge or jury making a decision that punishment in fact is necessary after any and all Constitutionally allowed legal maneuvering (on both sides) has occurred.

Jeffress quoted this passage as one thing we "can and should be doing" in the aftermath of the murder of the officers in Dallas.

He also noted that other religious leaders, well, they're not living up to his standards, for sure:
And frankly I'm getting very sick and tired of so-called ministers who do nothing but sow seeds of distrust and disrespect for the police. Those kinds of bogus ministers need to be exposed and called out for what they're doing. We ought to be supporting police not creating distrust for police.
So-called ministers. Bogus ministers. People who don't interpret the Bible the same way as Pastor Jeffress must be exposed and called out

And then what happens,I wonder? Do Jeffress and Fox talking head Tucker Carlson drag them away for stoning or something? 

July 12, 2016

Tuesday's Number: ($38,888)

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. 

I have a sneaky feeling this series will be winding down soon, based on what was in the paper today - or maybe, based on what wasn't in the paper.  I'll have to wait until next week to see if there's a trend or if this week is just an outlier -- so stay tuned.

There was one new judgment this week, for $10,815; there were four satisfied judgments, totaling $132,965, and there was one bankruptcy, for $83,262. 

Here’s the breakdown by hospital:

  • Crouse had three filings, including a repayment, for a net of $87,609
  • St. Joe’s added a repayment, for a net credit of $23,199
  • SUNY Upstate had one - a repayment  - for a net credit of $6,807

The largest filing - a repayment of $96,491 - was credited to a local nursing facility.

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

July 9, 2016

Are You Implicitly Biased?

If you've been reading veritable pastiche for a while, you know that I've talked about bias, and racism, even the 'accidental' kind of racism that I have.
  • I've talked about race in the shadow of the Trayvon Martin case, and President Obama's heartfelt comments on the 'not guilty' verdict in favor of George Zimmerman, who has gone on to make absolutely nothing of his life - most recently auctioning off the gun he used to kill Martin. 
  • I've talked about it in the context of Ferguson, and the social media hashtags that come from situations like the Michael Brown case, and the Eric Garner case, and the rest of them. 
  • I've talked about it in the context of Donald Trump forcing Barack Obama to produce his long-form birth certificate, a low point not just for Obama but for the Office of the President itself. 
  • I've talked about it in the context of  Paula Deen and other 'celebrities'.
  • I've talked about it in the context of Donald Trump just being Donald Trump; I see him not as the potential Commander in Chief but as the actual inflamer in chief, and I truly believe he relishes the latter role more than the former. 
And now, in a matter of hours, we have two black men - Alton Sterling and Philando Castile - killed by Louisiana and Minnesota policemen in what can only be described as mind-boggling and horrific circumstances.  And we have the death of five police officers in Dallas, and attacks on officers in other states, in what can also only be described as mind-boggling and horrific.

We mourn the loss of them all - or we should - because neither being a police officer nor being a black man should be a capital crime in our country.

Law enforcement representatives are describing what it's like to be them, and almost without exception, you can replace the word 'officer' with 'black man' and the sentiment is exactly the same: they are not all bad; they just want to come home at night; they want to be safe on the streets; don't paint everyone with the same brush, and so on.

We have people - politicians, friends, family, strangers - trying to find a brush narrow enough to paint the picture that we have in our country, because either 'side' (a poor way to describe it, but I don't really have a better one) using any broad brush will further incite and inflame the other.

And so, it was in that context that I took a ten-minute test this morning to see if  I am biased based not on whether or I think I am, but based on a series of exercises that are designed to identify implicit reactions to black and white, good and bad.

The test showed that I have "little to no automatic preference between European Americans and African Americans" which surprised me a little, based on the self-exploration I've shared with you. To be clear, the 'debrief' that comes with the results notes that
How implicit associations affect our judgment is not well understood and may be influenced by a number of variables. As such, the score should serve as an opportunity for self-reflection, not as a definitive assessment of your implicit thoughts. 
I encourage you to take this test and reflect on your own results. Share it with friends and family and encourage them to do the same.

Share your results on social media, just as you would share your results of your viking name, or the flower or animal that most represents your spirit, or a bacon recipe.

Share it with your church congregation, your scout troop, your volunteer board, your elected representatives, and so on.

Why? Because if we all start with a little self-reflection, just maybe we can progress towards communal reflection, and from there maybe we can at least agree that something needs to change, and start working on solutions.

July 7, 2016

Two Takes on Comey

FBI Director James Comey's public chastisement of Hillary Clinton has struck a nerve with any number of people: House Republicans, who can't seem to get out of their own way; Donald Trump, when anyone can actually get him to focus on something that doesn't have anything to do with his own name; Clinton supporters, who are relieved privately and showing a confident face publicly, and regular folk like me and some of you, who are just scratching our heads about this whole thing, mouths full of bile, even without picking sides. 

It's also exposed a whole nother aspect of  'Servergate' or 'EmailGate' or 'LyingSackofGate' or whatever the heck 'gate' you want to call it.  Take a look at these two opinions, which couldn't be farther apart:
(1) When FBI Director James B. Comey stepped to the lectern to deliver his remarks about Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, he violated time-honored Justice Department practises for how such matters are to be handled, set a dangerous precedent for future investigations and committed a gross abuse of his own power
(2) Law enforcement officials tend to inhabit a universe that is both binary and terse: prosecute or don't prosecute. Let the facts in the indictment speak for themselves. No further comment. 
So the  remarks by FBI Director James B. Comey accompanying his announcement that he would not recommend bringing charges against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton were, as he acknowledged, "unusual."  Indeed, that word scarcely captures what happened. Comey's comments were extraordinary, important and, on balance, justifiable departure from normal practise. Clinton may not be better off for them, but the country is. 
What do you think? The first one from MSNBC, the second from Fox News? 

Actually, both of those are excerpts from columns in the Washington Post. The first was written by Matthew Miller, who was director of the Justice Department's Office of Public Affairs from 2009 to 2011.  The second was written by Ruth Marcus, who has been with the WaPo since the 1980s. 

Clearly, they have different opinions of what Comey did, even as they focus on the same actions or comments to make their point.

Here's Miller:
... his willingness to reprimand publicly a figure against whom he believes there is no basis for criminal charges should trouble anyone who believes in the rule of law and fundamental principles of fairness. Justice Department rules set clear guidelines for when it is appropriate for the government to comment about individuals involved in an ongoing investigation, which this matter was until prosecutors closed it Wednesday.
He also notes that Comey ignored the rules on when to talk
to editorialize about what he called carelessness by Clinton and her aides in handling classified information, a statement not grounded in any position in law.  He recklessly speculated that Clinton's email system could have been hacked, even while admitting he had no evidence that it was.
In several instances, Comey made assertions that are outside the authority of the FBI. He inserted himself into a long-standing bureaucratic battle between the State Department and the FBI and intelligence agencies, making claims about classification systems at the State Department that do not fall under his jurisdiction. He raised the possibility of administrative sanctions that could be taken, another decision that is not his to make...
He also substituted his judgment for that of prosecutors. Career prosecutors at Justice have been working hand in hand with FBI agents on the case, even joining the interview with Clinton. While it is hard to imagine they would have reached a different conclusion about the appropriateness of charges, they deserved the ability to make that decision privately, in consultation with the FBI, rather than to hear the agency's recommendation at the same time the public did.
And Marcus, on the "extraordinary" nature of Comey's comments:
That he made the statement at all, given that charging decisions are left to the prosecutors, without an interim assessment by investigators - even the FBI director himself - preemptively asserting that "no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case."
That he provided a synopsis of both the facts of the case and the legal analysis underlying his no-go conclusion... 
And that he engaged in extensive editorializing: Clinton and her colleagues "were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information."... He said that "any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton's position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation."
There's more. Comey took a barely disguised slap at President Obama, noting that "there were many opinions expressed by people who were not part of the investigation - including people in government - but none of that mattered to us." 
The conclusions reached by the writers also vary; Miller was not fond of the press conference:
While Clinton shouldn't have received special treatment, she does not deserve worse treatment from her government than anyone else, either. Yet by inserting himself into the middle of a political campaign and making unprecedented public assertions, that is exactly what Comey provided.
The entire exercise seemed designed to protect Comey's reputation for integrity, while not actually demonstrating integrity.  Real integrity is making a decision, conveying it in the ordinary channels, and then taking whatever heat comes. Generations of prosecutors have learned to make the right call without holding a self-congratulatory news conference to talk about it. Comey just taught them a different lesson.
Marcus, on the other hand, seems a fan:
Comey proved his independence during the George W. Bush administration when, as deputy attorney general, he headed off White House officials' efforts to persuade John Ashcroft to reauthorize a domestic surveillance program while the then-attorney general was recovering from surgery in a hospital intensive-care unit. On Tuesday morning, Comey proved the point again. He is no team player, which in this setting is no criticism - it is a high compliment. 
My sense?  At the very least, we should consider thinking about these two perspectives.

We may end up in familiar territory - just as divided as we seem to be on what the appropriate outcome should have been - but hopefully we can at least think about what the justice system should look like, and on the acceptable roles for investigators and prosecutors.

July 6, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v57)

It's Wednesday and in keeping with how things have gone historically here at veritable pastiche, I'll do some wondering. Maybe even some historical wondering.

First: did anyone really think Hillary Clinton was going to be indicted? I mean, seriously, did anyone really think that was going to happen?

Here are the relevant paragraphs from FBI Director James Comey's statement on not charging Clinton (emphasis added):
Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statuses regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a person's actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past. 
In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts.  All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information: or vast quantities of information exposed in such as way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here. 
Of course she wasn't going to be indicted, based on the threshold of precedent. Hillary Clinton is paranoid, and knows that she's the most hated woman in America and has been for years - but she's not disloyal to the country nor did she intentionally mishandle information - she did, in true over the top paranoid Clinton style, what several of her predecessors also did. Stupid? Yes. Criminal? No.

If there was any chance of an indictment, she never would have run for President.  No one - not Bill, not close advisers Huma Abedin and Sidney Blumenthal, not Chelsea, not the hated Debbie Wasserman Schultz or even Barack Obama - no one would have let her run if there was even the remotest chance there would be an indictment.

Ask me, and I'd say the reason why she took so long to announce her candidacy was because they were sticking wet fingers into the air to see which way the legal wind was blowing. Well, that, and to keep other Democrats out of the race, which they managed to do.

Furthermore:

  • It's not like she gave multiple high classified briefing books containing military strategy and other top secret stuff to her lover so it could be published, and then give false statements to the FBI, but still got to keep her 200K pension and collect who know how much money working in the private sector and for think tanks and universities east coast and west.  She didn't do that: General David Petraeus did. 
  • It's not like she disclosed the name of an undercover operative in apparent retaliation for someone writing an article that showed there was no smoking yellow cake uranium, gave false statements to the FBI, lied to a grand jury and likely fell on his sword to protect his boss, the Vice President. That was Scooter Libby.
  • It's not like the State Department under her watch was using a private email server housed at her political party's National Committee and deleted 22 million emails.That was Dubya's White House, the Republican National Committee and Karl Rove, who initially reported deleting maybe five million emails.

But really, why no indictment, you wonder?

Because in America, whether we like it or not, we don't generally indict people who are careless - even those who are extremely careless, and particularly not politicians who are particularly or extremely careless.

We don't indict politicians generally, even ones who lie about weapons of mass destruction that don't exist, or ones who attack the wrong country after we're attacked, or ones who sell guns to terrorists, money launder for foreign governments, turn the other eye when our military does bad things, justify torture, and on and on and on. Those politicians haven't been indicted. Why would Clinton be?

Because, in America, whether we like it or not, we don't hold politicians to a higher standard. And, of course, when someone tries to, the case gets tossed on appeal, or if it sticks, it gets decried as a witch hunt and politicians use it for fundraising, proving the point yet again why it is that we do not hold them to a higher standard.

We accept at face value Moral Majoritarians with multiple affairs, multiple divorces, gay lovers and wide stances. We accept scandal-ridden preachers (who are not all that much different than politicians in the end -- with the money and the fame and the glitz and the lies) and then we put them together with the politicians and pay good money to see them call other people sinners.

We watch our political class hold 'audiences' and go ring-kissing with money men, with other politicians, with movie stars. We watch the money come in and go out, we watch the politicians stay for life, pretending to themselves that was what was intended by the Founding Fathers.

I watched the UK's David Cameron announce his resignation practically within hours of his country voting to leave the EU, and thought, gee, wouldn't that be a breath of fresh air for America? But no, here we treat politicians like guns - we have to pry them out of office, as if their desks were cold dead hands.

We investigate the people who are in the Executive Branch if they're a different party than we are, but we allow the government to be shut down because a politician has a bee in her bonnet or a bug up his ass?  Yeah, that's OK. Because love her or hate him, they're one of us in the end, right? And we'll get re-elected.

We don't investigate politicians for voting 50some odd times to kill a law they don't like, or making countless other bad votes and self-serving, bad decisions, at a cost of probably billions of taxpayer dollars over time because, well, because we don't indict politicians for lying to Americans.

Even if they are careless liars. Even extremely careless liars, even if a "reasonable person" should have know better than to do what Hillary did with the email, and with topics that a two bit monkey should have known better than to share outside proper government channels.

Some people may be wondering if Speaker Paul Ryan and the House Republicans would have any response to the report from the FBI. Well, of course they do - they're going to investigate the FBI! Let's schedule hearings to get our questions answered!

There's no way they could not further investigate this, after a Republican FBI director with a sterling reputation for ethics and honesty announced his conclusion that, after the investigation by professional people (not politicians), there would be no indictment of Clinton for bad judgment and carelessness.

From Comey's statement again, speaking to the Paul Ryans in Washington and elsewhere:
I know there will be intense public debate in the wake of this recommendation, as there was throughout this investigation. What I can assure the American people is that this investigation was done competently, honestly, and independently. No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear.
I know there were many opinions expressed by people who were not part of the investigation - including people in government - but none of that mattered to us. Opinions are irrelevant, and they were all uninformed by insight into our investigation, because we did the investigation the right way. Only acts matter, and the FBI found them here in an entirely apolitical and professional way. I couldn't be prouder to be par of this organization. 
Ah, but the Republicans in the House are biologically incapable of leaving this one alone - it's in their DNA and they like it, like it, yes they do.

They hate Hillary more than they hated John Boehner. They were able to get rid of him, but they haven't yet figured out a way to get rid of her. And nothing will keep them from trying, I think that's part of the special oath a Republican swears: if it's a Clinton, it's got to go. Chelsea should take note now.

They definitely hate Hillary more than they like their own party's nominee for President, and anything they can do to talk about something other than uim is better, even if it's talking about HER.

And, not for nothing, I think they'd rather talk about anything other than 'A Better Way' the agenda they worked so hard on, and about which their nominee couldn't possibly care less and has expressed zero interest in promoting.  He'd rather talk about Saddam Hussein.

Wondering? Nope. I'm not really wondering at all. I think it's pretty obvious we're screwed.

July 5, 2016

Tuesday's Number: $240,616

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. 

While the judgments weren't bad - only four, totaling $200,962 - it seems we're starting out the quarter on the wrong foot in our other two categories: no satisfied judgments and two bankruptcies, totaling $39,654.

Here’s the breakdown by hospital:

  • Crouse had three of the four judgments, for $33,619
  • SUNY Upstate picked up the two bankruptcies, for the $39,654 noted above.

The remaining judgment for $167,343 was for a rehab facility in Oswego.

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

July 3, 2016

Declaring My Independence

I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've sat down and started to blog in the past week or ten days.

Right now, I have eight draft posts, ranging from a bulleted list to post that's 95% complete, and I haven't been able to bring myself to finish them. I've done the research, I've got bookmarks and downloads and, for a few posts, newspaper articles here on the table next to my 'writing chair', everything at the ready, just waiting for me.

And yet, they sit.

They sit, waiting for me to ditch the bad vibe that underlies all of these messages. For they are all about politics, and they are all frustrating topics, and they're all ones where I'll be preaching to the choir, I suspect, and not influencing anyone's impressions or changing the world or anything like that. Which is frustrating.

What do the drafts cover?

Albany: the end of session, failing to do anything meaningful on ethics. The ridiculous economic development packages and programs and gimmicks, and how 'successful' they've been (yes, that's sarcasm). And the local tie-in to the Preet Bharara investigations, with one of our most favored development companies caught up in the mess.

Washington: some good news coming out of the end of term SCOTUS decisions, but so much else is lacking in so many ways. And that doesn't even count the Presidential candidates, from Trump to Clinton to Sanders, the Forrest Gump of the race, the man who simply won't stop running.

Worse, the 'promised' posts. You know - the ones where someone asks for something, and I know I can give them what they want, easy peasy. Or suggestions from people on  something that would be an interesting topic, and again, the commitment: sure, thanks, I agree, I'll get something out soon... Or, the ones where, in the course of one post, I promise more info in a future one. Ugh.

So much going on, so much material, and I'm stymied. If I had a nickel for every time I started and stopped, started and stopped, started and stopped, I'd have enough for an ice cream at the place down the street, I swear.

I'm hoping that officially taking a break and declaring my independence will help me clear my head and find a helpful, hopeful path forward.

Talk to you in a day or two.