December 23, 2009

Christmas Cards – The Legislative Version

In addition to the wonderful cards we’ve received from friends and family near and far, we’ve also received 'holiday greetings' from our elected representatives in Albany and Washington. While they're not really Christmas cards per se, we get them at this time of year, and I like to pretend they're sent in the true holiday spirit.

There’s a similarity between the cards we sent, and the ones we received from Senator David Valesky, Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, and Congressman Dan Maffei: I paid for all of them! That’s right – they are prepared, printed, and mailed at taxpayer expense. Rep. Maffei’s message is the most transparent of them all - it included a fairly large text box indicating it was my taxes that paid for it.

The mailer from Rep. Maffei was a four-fold, full color glossy brochure full of pictures, copies of headlines from the local papers, and the usual “I’m wonderful; let me count the ways” nonsense. Senator Valesky’s mailer, again in color, is a simpler one-page front and back, with only three pictures of the Senator, plus the formal headshot with the American flag in the background. While he has yet to answer my email, he’s happy to tell me all he’s doing for Syracuse. Other than encouraging me to complete my census form when I receive it in March, the rest of the brochure is all about Dave.

The simplest of all is the one from Bill Magnarelli. It’s not glossy, it’s not four-color, and it’s really intended to educate me on services available to me as a constituent, rather than a press release telling me how wonderful he is. It also has a survey, nine questions for me to tell the Assemblyman what’s important. All of the questions are straightforward, and eight of the nine have very simple, non-opinionated choices to select from in response; but one, it’s a doozy. Check it out:

Q: To what extent should New York pursue the collection of sales tax on cigarettes and gasoline sold on Indian reservations?
A. Pursue collection, with the possibility of violent protests and the need to activate the National Guard.
B. Negotiate a settlement with Indian leaders.

Wow – talk about trying to direct a response! Of course, I’m not sure who’s going to be protesting violently – the gas stations owners? Those who purchase the gas and cigarettes? Elected officials in Albany? – but it sort of makes me want to pick option A just to find out.

I took the liberty of rewriting the choices for some of the other questions, so that the response would be more indicative of the sentiment; these were originally yes/no questions.

Q. Should New York legalize same-sex marriage?
A. Yes, all loving couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits of marriage, and we should no longer treat homosexuals as second-class citizens.
B. No, the primary purpose of marriage is for procreation, and therefore homosexuals need not apply. Marriages between non-procreating heterosexuals should be declared null and void, and all marital benefits rescinded.
C. No, New York should remain in the dark ages and continue to discriminate against same-sex partnerships simply on principle.

Q. Should New York State require chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus?
A. No, people who order three hamburgers layered with processed cheese and ten strips of bacon shoved into a bun and served with a 48-ounce drink and a pound of French fries couldn’t care less about the calories.
B. No, we should not put the calories on the menu, but we should require them on the TV commercials, since more people watch those than read menus anyway.
C. Yes, we should require the calories for chain restaurants where middle class and poor people tend to eat but not for fancy restaurants where rich people eat, because if you can afford the meal, you can afford the calories.
D. Yes, but only for the items on the dollar menus, because in this economy that’s all anyone can afford.
E. Chain restaurants have menus? Who knew?

Q. Do you support allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores?
A. Yes, this is a great opportunity to help grow the wine industry in New York, which currently contributes between $3 -$6 billion to the economy.
B. No

What do you think? How would you answer these questions?

December 21, 2009

Christmas Cards

We're well into the swing of the holiday season here in The Valley. While I still have to wrap, make candy, and make stuff for three holiday gatherings, at least my cards are done. The ones that get mailed went out last Monday, a full week sooner than last year when I just couldn’t get motivated to get them done. This year, we put on some Christmas music and My Sweet Baboo and I sat together and got them done. I think I actually mailed more cards this year than in the past, adding my contribution to the over 2 billion cards mailed each year. I also finished my work cards, sending some via interoffice (shame on me) to our regional offices, and delivering others personally to folks who work in the same building as me.

MSB does the ‘Baboo and Sue’ cards, I do the ‘Sue and Baboo’ cards and that way we cover all the bases. I have several addresses in my PDA but not all of them, the rest are scribbled on a piece of paper that I’ve been using for years just to do cards. Fortunately we didn’t throw away the phone book, as we both used it to get some of the local addresses – the ones we can drive to, but don’t know how to mail to; I suspect most people have a few of those. One of these days I’ll get all of the addresses updated in the PDA.. but I say that every year, and it’s not a high priority yet.

We don’t send pictures or a letter with our cards, it’s just the card with a scribbled holiday greeting and our names. Both of us are non-photogenic - we don’t like having our picture taken. For me, it’s a long-standing dislike going back to when I was a kid, fell off my bike, and scarred my face. Without going into detail, suffice it to say that kids can be mean, and some scars last longer than the visible ones. MSB, on the other hand, has always simply been more comfortable behind the lens than in front of it.

But we love getting other people’s pictures, seeing kids and pets grow up, and we also enjoy the holiday letters. Some are very straight-forward, simply recapping the major events of the year; others manage to fit a year’s worth of living into a reworked Christmas carol, and then there are the ‘long and winding road’ ones, which go on and on and on… and we enjoy them all!

Personally I think the real message of the card is in the sending of it - with or without pictures, with or without a letter, whether mailed or hand-delivered or emailed. Not the printed message contained in the card, but the message that the card itself delivers. Someone’s thinking about you, someone’s wishing you health and happiness, someone cares.

That’s the message everyone needs to hear, don't you think?

December 3, 2009

I Did Not Have Sex with That Man

Just to set the record straight, I was not the brunette that allegedly had a dalliance with Tiger Woods earlier this year when he played at a charity tournament in our neighborhood. Not that I couldn’t have been – after all, it seems like Tiger was pretty available and indiscriminate about some aspects of his personal life.

Watching this whole saga unfold is really just so much déjà vu all over again. Tiger has joined a long list of folks who are apparently blinded by their own celebrity, addicted to what that celebrity brings, and now in the ranks of those tarnished by their ‘celebrity behavior’:

  • Politicians including JFK, Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, and Wilbur Mills (remember Fanne Fox?)
  • Newt Gingrich famously taking divorce papers to his wife in the hospital, so he could marry his mistress.
  • More recent flameouts like Eliot Spitzer and Mark Sanford.
  • Wilt Chamberlain, who boasted that he had slept with 20,000 women.
  • Kobe Bryant who bought his wife that huge apology diamond.
  • Magic Johnson – enough said.
  • David Letterman, who admitted sleeping with people who worked on his show.
  • Any business leader with a trophy wife…any rock start with a groupie…any actor with a ‘sex addiction’…

So, what do all of these have in common? Well, other than men behaving badly, they all have women behaving badly too. For the most part --  maybe not in all cases but for the most part --  it seems the women were willing accomplices, not forced into what they did, as far as we know. And absent accomplices, whether amateurs or professionals (in Spitzer’s case, at least), these guys would have likely found something else to do. 

Instead of going to Vegas for the VIP clubs and the ‘hostesses’ that work at them, or the cocktail waitresses (Michael Phelps), they could have been gambling and helping the economy, for example. They could have been home with their families, or working at soup kitchens, or teaching kids to read or play basketball or golf or to tell funny jokes or sitting around watching the news or reading the tabloids, rather than being the news or tabloid fodder.

The more recent cases also have the public apology component in common. Press conferences, ‘mea culpa’ interviews (Hugh Grant’s on the Tonight Show was a great one), or in Tiger’s case, a statement on his web site, begging for forgiveness and privacy while the family works it out. 

After the apologies come the speculations: will they stay together? Will his career be ruined? Will the sponsors drop them (in the case of athletes, actors and musicians)?

They also have in common a public forgiveness component. For all their foibles, the majority of us are collectively eager to welcome them back after they come clean. We’ll continue to watch them, read them, listen to them, support them. We’ll continue to pay to see them do their jobs, whether it’s giving a speech or playing a game or writing a column or selling books or running for office, even as we study them and remember them for their failures.

The biggest problem for them is of their own making. The biggest problem for us is, why do we put these folks on a pedestal in the first place?

November 22, 2009

Can We Talk (Part 2)

I sent the letter below, via email, to my State Senator David Valesky. He's a member of the Democratic leadership in the Senate, holding the position of Vice President Pro Tem. I'll keep you posted on what I hear.

Dear Senator Valesky,

While the Governor and the Legislature are in Albany, ostensibly to work out conflicts and come to resolution on ways to close the $3.2 billion budget deficit, the only concrete action I’ve seen mentioned coming out of the session are two bills which pile on sentences for (1) convicted felons and (2) drunk drivers.

While I suppose the update to Jenna’s Law, and the passing of Leandra’s Law, are worthy issues to have tackled while waiting for the real work of the special session to take place, I’m much more concerned about our economic problems than I am about these two laws. I’m also concerned that we’ve spent upwards of $500,000 since you’ve all been back in session and we have so little to show for it.

Frankly, I’m not convinced that our elected officials will be able to make the hard decisions that are needed to close our deficit and begin putting New York back on the right track. Especially considering the recent change of heart on the new license plates, which could have added some $129 million to the state’s coffers but is now likely off the table, I’m not sure that anyone in Albany understands how to do the right thing for our state.

Here are some specific questions for you, which are similar to the questions I’ve asked Senator DeFrancisco:

  • What specific changes do you fee are needed in the current budget?
  • What specific cuts are you willing to propose or support that will actually reduce spending, not just decrease the increases? For example, education spending? Health care spending? Member items?
  • What specific services are you willing to reduce so we can avoid another budget deficit in the coming fiscal year, which is just around the corner?
  • Will you commit to actually making cuts, rather than just shifting costs (and responsibilities) to local jurisdictions?
  • When will we see the benefit of having a Democratic majority in Albany? Seems like we continue to have gridlock and lack of progress, which is what we had before…
  • Why should I, as a registered Democrat and one of your constituents, continue to support you, rather than either shifting my vote to one of those who will challenge you, either from within the Democratic ranks, or a Republican challenger?

I’m concerned about the direction we’re headed and I’m looking forward to your response.


November 19, 2009

Can We Talk (Part 1)

I sent the letter below today, via email, to the State Senator who represents much of Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse. He's not my Senator, but he's very interested in what happens in my district, which adjoins his. I'll keep you posted on whether this correspondence generates a response.

November 19, 2009

Senator John DeFrancisco

Room 802 Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247

Dear Senator DeFrancisco,

I recently read in the Syracuse Post Standard that you are supporting the candidacy of classical pianist Andrew Russo, the first of possibly several Republicans to declare as challengers to my Senator, David Valesky.

While I understand that you would support a Republican in a race against one of your Democrat counterparts, I’m curious as to why you think Mr. Russo is the best candidate to represent my district. I’m not that familiar with his positions, as his candidacy was only announced very recently; since there are others in your party who may also run, I suspect you have more familiarity since you’re considered a supporter even before any other candidates declared.

Can you explain your thinking on this? I realize I’m not one of your constituents, but as we are both residents of the city of Syracuse, I’m interested in your thoughts on what our city, our county, and the state need to do going forward in these difficult economic times, and why you think Mr. Russo can best help us move in the right direction.

Thanks for your insight, and for your response.

November 6, 2009

Election Post-mortem

I was pleased to read the final election results on Wednesday and discover that all but two of the candidates I voted for were elected. Now, as I’m in the process of trying to determine how engaged I’m going to stay with these folks after they get sworn in, and how closely I’m going to monitor my expectations of them, here are some random thoughts on the election.

Syracuse elected its first-ever female mayor, on the heels of our just electing our first-ever female county executive. Here’s hoping that the twin daughters of different mothers (Stephanie’s a Dem, Joanie’s a Republican) will be able to accomplish what the old boys have not – putting Syracuse and Onondaga County back on the right foot and making the kind of decisions regarding economic development, consolidation, and fiscal responsibility that we need to attract businesses, and more importantly, people. People who would want to live here, start families here, start businesses here, and stick around for a while.

Turnout was generally low in most areas, not only here in Onondaga County but generally in most areas. Naturally, the pundits have been analyzing and pontificating on this since even before the polls were closed, with most trying to make a connection to this year’s election and last year’s for President Obama. In my eyes, the reason why so many folks voted last year is because Obama, an incredible speaker with an idealistic message, was on the ticket, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to elect an African American to the highest office in the land. Regardless of whether you agree with his politics, it was a singular moment in our nation’s history. This year paled in comparison, and turnout dropped accordingly.

I think young people, who stayed home in big numbers this year, are as fickle about voting as they are about everything else – which makes them just like the rest of us.

The race in the 23rd district was won by Bill Owens, the Democrat, and the first from his party since the late 1800’s to be elected in that district. Note that the district then looked anything like it does today, but it was a ground-breaking victory for the Dems and there’s dancing in the streets. Oh wait, the dancing in the streets is because we are no longer subjected to the horrid campaign ads. According to one news report, there were 9,030 political ads in that race. I think I saw every single one of them.

Also regarding the 23rd district, which doesn’t include Onondaga County: voters in at least one town were confused as to why Bill Owens, Dede Scozzafava, and Doug Hoffman were not on the ballot here. Seems they too had seen all of the ads and assumed that they would be voting for that race. I suspect that confusion was more prevalent than we’ll hear.

Some folks got to vote on our new, old-fangled voting machines, which require filling out a paper ballot, then feeding the ballot into a scanner. There have been many reports of privacy concerns both during the completion of the paper ballot, and then having to transport the ballot to the scanner, and in some cases apparently having the ballot reviewed by the election inspectors to make sure that folks had colored inside the lines. The system is new and some kinks are to be expected, but the secrecy of our ballots is sacrosanct and must remain so. That much has to be figured out before we vote again next year.

According to published reports, my lame-duck mayor will be getting a job in the administration of our Accidental Governor. Not sure doing what, but not surprised that the opportunity is coming his way, as it’s been rumored for a while now. I wish him well.

November 2, 2009

Do It Until You're Satisfied...

Vote, that is.

On the eve of Election Day 2009, I wanted to take this opportunity to encourage everyone to do their civic duty and vote. I will be voting tomorrow at my new polling place, using old-fashioned equipment, making informed choices between candidates who may be strong or weak, good or bad, the lesser of or the greater of, idealistic or jaded, lifers or newbies, like me or not like me. I’m voting for the people I think can best help move my city and county in the right direction; hopefully the ones I vote for will win, and will live up to my expectations.

I know that this is not a ‘big’ election year, as things go. There is only one national Congressional election, in NY’s 23rd district,
and a few other high profile races, but mostly this year’s about local politics. I thought it would be fun to have some friends of mine help out by offering their take on elections and the importance of voting. Here goes:

After some thought, “I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.” (1) Actually “The idea of an election is much more interesting to me than the election itself…the act of voting is in itself the defining moment.” (2) And why is it that “When the political columnists say ‘every thinking man’ they mean themselves, and when candidates appeal to ‘every intelligent voter’ they mean everyone who is going to vote for them”? (3)

We know it’s true that “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who didn’t vote” (4), and that “A citizen of American will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.” (5) Do we still not realize, after all these years, that “lower voter participation is a silent threat to our democracy… it under-represents young people, the poor, the disabled, those with little education, minorities and you and me”? (6)

After all, “the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men” (7) and “to make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not just observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.” (8) And complain we do, after every election, when the wrong guy wins. If only the actual voters complained, it’d likely be a lot less noisy.

Some folks may not vote because they don’t know how to pick the right person. There are a couple different schools of thought on that. On the one hand, some might think that “politics is the art of the possible” (9) while others may subscribe to the thinking that “politics is not the art of the possible, it consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. And it is true that, the great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter the chance to do something stupid.” (10) Said another way, a “Vote (is) the instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.” (11) But that’s OK – “personally, I believe that our American system works as long as you participate in it. You must vote and make your voice heard; otherwise you will be left out.” (12)

It’s generally true that if you “ask a man which way he’s going to vote and he’ll probably tell you. Ask him, however, why – and vagueness is all.” (13) But voting’s really easy; and “all voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong.” (14) And just about everyone likes to play a game every now and then, right?

The bottom line is, “voting is simply a way of determining which side is the stronger without putting it to the test of fighting;” (15) “voting is a civic sacrament;” (16) and “the future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.” (17) If all of that seems like too much pressure, you have an out: “Vote for the man who promises least. He’ll be the least disappointing.” (18)

Hopefully my friends and I have inspired you to go to the polls tomorrow; if you’re in the Central New York area, check out the Voter Guide
for more information on where to vote, who the candidates are, and where they stand on the issues. If you’re not in the CNY area, check your local media outlets for similar information.

(Thanks to these folks for their words of wisdom: 1 - Charles DeGaulle; 2 – Jeff Melvoin; 3 – Franklin P Adams; 4 and 13 – Andrew Lack; 5 - Bill Vaughan; 6 - Nancy Neuman; 7 - Lyndon B Johnson; 8 - Louis L’Amour; 9 – Otto Von Bismarck; 10 – Art Spander; 11 – Ambrose Bierce; 12 - Mari-Luci Jaramillo; 14 – Henry David Thoreau; 15 – H.L. Mencken; 16—Theodore Hesburgh; 16 – Dwight D. Eisenhower; 18 – Bernard Baruch)

November 1, 2009

How I Spent My Fall Staycation

I've been on staycation this past week; you all know about staycations, right? A staycation is when you don't go anywhere on vacation, but instead stay home either to save money, to avoid the stress that's inevitably present when you're trying to plan and enjoy a relaxing trip out of town, or in my case to kill a hard-earned 40 hours of vacation. Here are some definitions; my personal favorite is #5, what's yours?

For my staycation, My Sweet Baboo went off to work every day, and I stayed home with the kids. Two of them (the brother and sister pair) were a bit under the weather -- Galway due to dental surgery, and My Angel the Fen because she had a horrible cold. Rightfully so, the two of them got quite a bit of attention, and of course the love must be shared with the other two as can't talk to one cat without talking to all of them. And while I had lofty goals of getting some work done outside, and reading a couple of books, and getting summer and fall/winter clothes organized, and cleaning the porch, and doing something with the plastic storage containers that fall on our heads whenever we open that one cupboard door in the kitchen, and trying to sterilize some dust bunnies, and and and...I fell quite a bit short:
  • the lawn is mowed (front and back)
  • the garage is cleaned out (OK, that was a MAJOR accomplishment!)
  • the brownies got made, as did a cake for someone in MSB's office
  • several dust bunnies are now RIP
  • I started one book, put it in the "why did I buy this?" pile, and started another
  • the new printer is hooked up
  • and I spent a great day with my Mom, which was the high point of the week (well, maybe second to getting the garage done...)

I also spent some time organizing the pictures I took on our September trip to the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain. This was one of our classic weekend trips, where we take eight hours to go three hours away, take tons of pictures, stop the car at the drop of a hat to pick up rocks for the garden, and eat someone else's cooking. MSB did the math for me and advised me that had I been using my Minolta instead of the Canon digital, I would have used 28 rolls of film... in four days. Clearly, I have issues.

And I also have only today to finish up the things on my list...and get the last of the bulbs planted, and make some roasted pumpkin soup, and finish the laundry, and...and...

Here's the first set of pictures, which include Ausable Chasm, the Westport area (where we stayed), one of the Lake Champlain lighthouses, and some 'end of season' shots that are typical of the towns on the Lake. Enjoy!

October 31, 2009

One Down...

Yesterday I posted my latest Pet Peeve of the Day (PPOD), which related to the constant bombardment of ads in support of (or denigrating the opponents of) candidates for New York's 23rd congressional district, which is open due to the appointment of Rep. John McHugh to Secretary of the Army.

Today I'm able to report that one of the three candidates, Dede Scozzafava, has left the race. While I'd love to pretend that I had something to do with her leaving (maybe a guilty conscience about all of the money she's been receiving from folks outside the district?), the reality is that my post had nothing to do with her leaving; in fact, it was lousy support and a weak third place finish in recent polling that caused her change of heart.

Sadly, one leaving leaves two left to slam each other for the next few days, which I'm sure will continue with abandon. But at least one third of the screaming is gone.

October 30, 2009

PPOD 10/30/09: I'm veritablepastiche, and I Approve This Message

Back in September when Rep. John McHugh resigned his seat in New York’s 23rd congressional district to become Secretary of the Army in the Obama administration, I didn’t really pay a lot of attention. I didn’t know much about McHugh, other than he was the representative from the North Country, and I knew less about his district. Here's what I've learned since then:
  • NY’s 23rd district encompasses not only the North Country, but also much of the neighboring counties immediately to the north and east of Onondaga County, where I live. It also spans two major television regions, the Capital area and the Central New York area.

  • The median income is about $35,000, and the district has upwards of 600,000 residents.

  • It also has the attention of Sarah Palin, New Gingrich, Nancy Pelosi, President Obama, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Fred Thompson, and a whole other mess of characters that don’t live in the district, or even New York.

The race to fill McHugh’s seat is the only congressional race this year, and so it’s been designated The Test – the test of the Obama administration, the test of the Pelosi House, the test of all of the Us and Thems that anyone can manufacture. It’s also attracted at least $3 million in outside-the-district contributions. It features a Democrat, a Republican, and a Conservative. A lawyer, a rich Reaganite, and an Assemblywoman. Two liberals and a true conservative. A liar, a liar, and a liar. Oh wait, I must have been listening to their ads again. And the ads – that’s my Pet Peeve of the Day.

During the last fifteen minutes of the evening news, every night, we see usually four or five consecutive ads for Bill Owens
, Dede Scozzafava, and Doug Hoffman. The other night, nine out of ten ads were for one of the three of them, interrupted only by a Fucillo ad. This week, while I’ve been on staycation, I’ve seen literally tens of dozens of ads for this race. As I type this post, there have been three ads in the past two minutes. The three million dollars that has poured into the race is being used to flood the airways locally, and I imagine in the Capital region as well.

I appreciate that this is the only game in town for the national Congressional committees, and for other support organizations who are interested in changing the legislative landscape. However, for those who live in the district, the best information doesn’t come from slick ad agencies or folks with wads of cash – it’ll come from the three running for office.
For folks like me who live in the neighborhood, all this nonsense makes me long for a simpler time, when the Used Car King was the most annoying advertiser on local television.

And yes, three more ads have appeared while I typed these last two sentences.

October 19, 2009

PPOD 10/19/09: Cash for Reefers

Oh, please – when will this end! Now the government is offering a ‘cash for clunkers’ program for refrigerators, ovens, and dishwashers, and it's my Pet Peeve, or PPOD, of the day.

While the program was originally announced a while back, I’ll be honest, I likely put it out of my mind because I thought it was dopey then…and I think it’s dopey now. Particularly here in the Empire State, where we’re pretty adept at taking a dumb thing and making it worse.

Unlike some states that are offering the rebates now, we’re not going to – we’re holding off on doing anything other than announce that the rebates will be available in February.

Sure stinks to be a salesman who’s trying to make a living between now and then, since there’s no real impetus to buy before the modest rebates kick in. Stores are offering their own discounts, or offering rebates equivalent to the anticipated 2010 amount, so folks will come in, look around and maybe – just maybe – make a purchase.

But here’s the thing: stores do that all the time. Every day. Sometimes twice a day, it seems; you can’t get out of the way of the ads on TV, the Internet intrusions, and flyers in the daily newspaper, not to mention direct mail campaigns begging us to shop. And while I appreciate that retail markets are sputtering, I don’t appreciate that our tax dollars are being used to prop up cherry-picked industries that have the loudest lobbyist or bureaucrat in their corner. Unlike Cash for Clunkers for cars, with Cash for Reefers you can get the rebate without turning in your old energy-guzzling model, so the old 'this is good for the environment’ argument can’t even be made.

What I really don’t appreciate is that we’re discouraging people from making purchases as responsible consumers, with free will and financial power over whether or not they spend their money. We’re becoming a nation that can’t act without a sweetener from the Totally Addicting Rebate Program, or TARP. Oh wait, that was the 2008 Stimulus package, now we’re into the 2009 stimulus program. How about America’s Recurring Rebate Addiction, for ARRA?

Like we used to ask folks on prank calls when we were kids, “Is your refrigerator running?” If the adult who answered the phone said yes, we’d say “well, you better go and catch it!” Today I’d add, “If it’s not, for heaven’s sake go buy a new one – just don’t wait for me to help you pay for it.”

October 9, 2009

Special Edition Trifecta 10/9/09: What a Day it Was!

In what can universally be described (at least by us non-scientists) as anti-climactic, fizzling and boring, NASA shot the moon, literally, with millions of dollars worth of equipment. The goal of the mission was to determine if there’s water on the moon; NASA thinks there may be, based on some data gathered several years ago. The thinking was that we’d crash the two pieces of equipment into a polar crater, and the moon would reward us with a giant plume of stuff (a highly technical term) that we could then study to learn if water was really present.

The six mile plume that we were led to believe we could see using a telescope, or barring that, on live TV, either didn’t materialize at all, or it was monstrously dwarfed by that which followed the announcement that Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

I can tell you, I thought I was reading The Onion
this morning, when I saw the breaking news banner about the Peace Prize. It was pretty early, I don't even think it was 6AM, when I saw the news and there wasn’t much out there that I had time to look at before getting an early start on the workday.

Remarkably, he’s being honored “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”
but not for any actual accomplishments. The announcement from the Committee goes on to state that “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future.”
What makes this interesting is that the award is being given to someone not even nine full months into his presidency, and to a person who has not actually accomplished much of anything.

  • Guantanamo Bay is still a prison and not likely to be closed any time soon, as promised, because politicians and Americans can’t be convinced that we can keep these folks safely confined even in our SuperMax prisons, and also because we can’t convince any of our international partners to take these prisoners either.

  • The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue, as does conflict in Pakistan, and we’re on the verge of sending in more troops not bringing them home as promised.

  • Iran continues to move ahead with their nuclear programs, and even though they say it’s for energy not weapons, there’s not a whole lot of trust in this conversation.

At home, we’re more polarized that ever; a small but vocal portion of the population thinks that Obama is not even eligible to be president. What counts for debate on health care, the economy, or the war comes off more like a bunch of harridans shrieking from the sidelines. Many folks look at dissent and see racism instead. We don't have much lately that resembles any concerted effort at consensus, and no one's leading the charge to get us there, including the President.

Is Obama deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize? Not in my book; at best it's premature - and frankly he may never be worthy of it. I think he was nominated on the basis of the speech he made in Berlin as a presidential candidate, more than anything else. The challenge now becomes the difficult task of living up to the world’s expectations, in addition to those of us here at home. It’ll be interesting to see how things play out.

And last, the other noteworthy news of the day? Hummer is now a Chinese brand.
For some reason, that just doesn’t seem right.

October 4, 2009

The Weekend Trifecta 10/04/09

A trifecta is generally described as a type of bet where, in order to win, the bettor must pick the top three finishers in the correct order. Here are the weekend’s top three:

  • Pumpkins, cornstalks, and apple fritters (yes, we had them again). I was talking with a friend of mine in our Rochester office the other day. He and his family used to live a few minutes south of here, but sold their house and moved closer to the Mother Ship. One thing he misses since he moved is getting pumpkins at Hourigan’s Farm. They have the best selection, all different sizes and shapes and yes, colors – and all pumpkins are $2 or less. They also have gourds, and pie pumpkins, and corn stalks, and Indian corn, and seasonal squash for sale, and even hayrides. It looks right, it smells right, and it’s always on our list as well. Today we got several pumpkins and some corn stalks with great tassels for the porch and for the fences in the front garden,as well as gourds for inside. I got everything decorated, and we look pretty good. And, happily, the orchard with the great fritters I mentioned a couple of weeks ago is between the pumpkins and home, so we made a stop there as well.
  • Fall in the garden. The black walnuts were all picked up, the lawn is mowed front and back, and we’re still getting quite a bit of blooming for this late. Roses, including the ones in My Sweet Baboo’s garden, a couple we have in pots, and my minis and Happy Chappys are all blooming, as are a few of my remaining Simplicity hedge roses. The mums are all coming along now, as are the asters, and we both still have blanket flowers blooming along side the several different varieties of sedum that are very pretty this time of year. And dandelions – sadly, I saw one of the bright yellow demons today when I was mowing - it just doesn’t seem fair! I got the first 50 bulbs in today – daffodils and most of the green tulips I ordered. We started getting the more tender of the houseplants back inside, and I’ve put some time into trying to figure out how they all came out of the house, since I can’t figure out where to put them all now…
  • ...Which brings me to number three on the list – rearranging furniture. It’s not so much the rearranging that puts it on the top three, it’s the being done with rearranging that helps this one make the list. A couple times a year, I rearrange the plant room. Saturday I decided that this was the time to do it, since we were bringing some of the plants back in. In my family, rearranging furniture is always done by the women, and usually when it’s dark. My Mom and I never used to even start until dark, and typically didn’t finish until well past our bedtime. Today, I got an uncharacteristically early start – around 5 – and had most of the heavy lifting done before dinner. After that it was a piece of cake to at least get everything back in the room. I’ll do the final stuff tomorrow but at least I don’t have a coffee table in the dining room anymore.

Hope you were able to take advantage of this fantastic weekend!

September 29, 2009

The Update Desk

My Sweet Baboo and I returned Sunday night from a quick trip to the Lake Champlain area of New York, with side trips to Ausable Chasm, the connecting islands between New York and Vermont, and a long ride on Route 100, a beautiful trip on a perfect fall day. On both the way up and back, we avoided major highways and meandered through the Adirondacks instead. It takes longer, but it's worth it. We came home relaxed, refreshed and ready to head into the last quarter of the year.

I'm now hoping to find time to download and organize all of my pictures; this trip I went solely digital, while MSB brought along his regular camera and several lenses. I get the sense that, as usual, his pictures will be better than mine, but I had a few that I think are OK, and will be posting some up in the coming days. And, because of the trip, I’m a little out of touch with what's been going on in the world and behind on my reading, but I thought I’d provide some updates on some previous posts.

Regarding President Obama’s intervention into New York politics, most everyone in the state agreed with me that it’s our responsibility to vote folks out, not Washington’s responsibility to 'encourage' them out. In this poll, taken a few days after the news broke, 62% of New Yorkers indicated that Obama should stay out of the race.

After the shenanigans in Albany earlier this year, where Republicans adopted a couple of ethically challenged Democrats and ‘stole’ the Majority, only to have the Dems ultimately regain power through some very shady dealings of their own, I wrote to my State Senator asking for responses to some simple questions. I never did hear back from him; I’ll keep trying, though.

I did hear just a few days ago from NY’s Junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, after I sent in a postcard to her asking that she not support the kind of health care reform that could theoretically put my regional, not for profit health insurance company out of business and me out of a job. She basically thanked me for writing, then proceeded to completely ignore my opinion but tell me hers, which was in support of a public option.

Today, the Senate Finance Committee failed to get approval for a couple different versions of public option. I hope they’ll keep trying to get real reform, in a thoughtful and fiscally sound way, just as my company will continue to support other significant health care reforms. Let the debate continue, sanely, until a solid solution can be realized.

Last, in this post from March, I talked about the trees that MSB and I started to care for after they were planted on an empty lot several blocks down the road. We had hoped to be able to tend to them throughout the spring and summer, but they were in the middle of a construction zone from April through last week. Now, it's too late for us to prune them. We’ll check back in with them in the spring, and hope for better luck next year.

September 20, 2009

PPOD 9/20/09: Let us do the dirty work

According to published reports, President Obama has sent a message to New York's Accidental Governor that he not run for election next year. As of today, Governor Paterson is vowing to stay in the race, but only time will tell if he's got the fortitude to stick around under this kind of pressure.

Apparently the President is not happy with Paterson, who became our governor because Eliot Spitzer is an idiot. Paterson's poll numbers are down, he's apparently "committed a series of missteps that raised questions about his ability to govern" according the the NY Times article, and there's the whole thing with Kirsten Gillibrand, the woman chosen to replace Hillary Clinton as our junior senator, which angered the White House as they apparently thought there was a better decision to be made on that, some promises not kept, or some kind of offense committed by the Gov.

Regardless of what the White House and President Obama think, determining who gets to sit in the Governor's chair in Albany is a decision that belongs to us here in New York - not people in Washington DC. That they're even thinking of manipulating the race for Governor makes this my PPOD of the day.

Frankly, I want the chance to vote him out of office myself - and I'll be very disappointed if Team Obama deprives me of that opportunity.

September 15, 2009

PPOD 9/15/09: A Two-fer

Ever wonder why it is that we Dems can’t keep from shooting ourselves in the foot? Two recent examples, one national and one local, make up today’s Pet Peeve of the Day.

Here in my hometown, our local DPW spent about $1500 in labor and supplies, trying to remove a couple hundred posters
that an unknown person hung around town. The posters were critical of our lame-duck mayor, who got a retroactive raise this year, his last in office due to term limits.

In addition to the time the city workers spent, another set of folks from a downtown-centric group have also been out trying to remove the posters from the city center, which apparently were so well-glued that they defied scrapers, wallpaper paste remover and the strong arms of the DPW. Some that couldn’t be peeled off the poles were painted over to keep us from reading them and perhaps drawing the wrong conclusions about the mayor.

In most opinions (mine included) the former bar owner has not lived up to his promise to help turn our city around. While he’s been a big proponent of Syracuse as a center of ‘green’ at the regional and national level, and bringing green business conferences here, that’s about all he’s done lately. I think his legacy will be more about promises unkept and opportunities missed than about accomplishments, and I'm not surprised that someone resorted to a public display of dismay in protest.

The problem with removing the posters, of course, is that someone – whether the mayor or a member of his administration – has a thinner skin than the glue used to hold the posters on the poles. There’s nothing wrong with hanging critical posters - they're really no worse than the bazillion garage sale and CD sale posters that litter telephone and streetlight poles all over the city. Or, if there is something wrong, all of the posters should get this kind of attention, not just the ones critical of the mayor.

On the national level, again it’s too much of too little, and too distracting when there’s too much to do. Is that too confusing?

The House of Representatives today officially chastised South Carolina’s Joe Wilson, the idiot who yelled ‘You Lie!’ during the President’s address last week to the joint session of Congress.
Seven Republicans joined with the majority, while twelve Dems crossed the aisle and voted against the resolution. Kudos to them.

Within the first few hours of the spectacle last Wednesday, Wilson and his opponent in the 2010 election collectively raised a few hundred thousand dollars; the opponent raised more, which I guess is a good thing, but the real problem is the more the Dems keep this in the national headlines, the less time they’re spending paying attention to the things that matter… like the health care reform debate itself, which was the precursor to Wilson's outburst. It also keeps the crazy right-wingers in the news, allowing them to profit (with very little expenditure of effort) from our inability to get out of our own way.

Obama’s acceptance of Wilson’s apology should have been the signal for the House leadership to move on; barring that, the official reprimand should have come immediately, not almost a week later. Hopefully now, we'll be able to get back to the business at hand.

September 13, 2009

The Weekend Trifecta 9/13/09

A trifecta is generally described as a type of bet where, in order to win, the bettor must pick the top three finishers in the correct order. Here are the weekend’s top three:

Alegria . We attended this Cirque du Soleil extravaganza which was in town for several shows over the past few days, featured tumblers, fire jugglers, clowns, contortionists, aerialists, a hand balancer, a guy who spun around in a ring so many times I got dizzy just watching him, and a few other characters which defy description, as well as a great band, a moving stage, and some really good-spirited audience members who ended up being in the show by virtue of having seats on the floor. One man was dragged away by the band, another was pulled up on stage to dance with one of the characters, and the last did a great set with the clowns. Cirque du Soleil has been on my list of things to see since I first became aware of it (them?) a few years back. I missed opportunities twice to see their shows in Las Vegas, but My Sweet Baboo and I had great seats on Saturday and really enjoyed the show.

Antiques and apple fritters on a Sunday afternoon. I received an unexpected email Saturday, from the proprietor of my favorite local antiques place, offering a one-day unadvertised sale. Frank is one of a kind, with a knack for making us smile whenever we visit. I’ve been going to his place for a good 10 years or more, with the ex and of course with MSB, and each time is a treat. We don’t always buy anything, but we always have a good time and a good conversation. After all, how can you not have fun with someone who places ads
that include stuff like this:

“…Only here might you find Queen Anne's Lace ... the ceremonial shawl, woven by skilled pygmies, that she wore when assuming the English throne. Only here will you find Milton Berle's pajamas -- the top half, anyway. (You can still smell traces of lilac-in-winter talc.) ONLY the Granary brings you such wonders and many more. The antiques we've mentioned may well be gone when you arrive…”

We did manage to find a couple of things today, nothing major, but good purchases. On the way home, we stopped at one of the local orchards for apple fritters – hot, perfectly sweet, and delicious.

Bulbs, bulbs, and more bulbs. I’ve talked before about the process we follow leading into the spring flower planting season. In the fall, I typically go through a few catalogs, pick out a few bulbs, and get my order in usually by mid-August. I had been resisting getting any more bulbs this year, in part because I got so many last year (a couple hundred daffodils alone) and had decided that maybe I wouldn’t do any fall garden shopping this year. Then I started getting emails letting me know to watch for the fall catalogs…then the fall catalogs themselves…then emails letting me know about specials beyond the great deals in the catalogs. Today, however, I finally succumbed to the siren’s song and purchased more lilies, allium, and yes, daffodils, as well as some striking green tulips. So, now I have more work to do in the yard. I’ve got just the spot to put these new bulbs… Of course I do – I just have to dig out some rocks, pull some vines, move a few things around… you get the picture. Can’t wait to get started!

Speaking of pictures, here are some shots of the fall garden. Enjoy, and have a great week!

September 10, 2009

Returning September 11th

As most folks do, I remember where I was when I heard the news back in September 2001. I was in our Utica office, to do some training and observations. I had some down time and was trying to locate a phone number for someone in our Rochester office, but couldn’t get logged into my computer, so I reached out to a coworker in the CNY office for help. The friend I called has an irreverent streak a mile wide, and a great sense of humor, so when she told me we were under attack, I assumed she was talking about at work, by her boss, or by someone in her training class having a bad day. It didn’t occur to me that we had been attacked by terrorists.

With disbelief, I headed off to the cafeteria to check the news, and had only been watching for a couple of minutes when the first tower collapsed. Shocked, stunned, amazed, and horrified are but a few of the emotions I felt in that instant. I remember one of the Utica employees had a family member who worked at the WTC, and her friends were distraught with the not knowing, something that was repeated hundres of times over that day. For all of us, even those who didn’t lose someone, something was lost that day.

And now, tomorrow as we have every year since 2001, we’ll be reminded of a horrible day in our country’s history, through the moments of silence, prayer vigils, candlelight ceremonies, and other methods of remembrance for the anniversary. Interviews with survivors, photos of those lost, or pictures of the now emptier New York skyline, the burning Pentagon, or the field where the last plane went down are likely to fill the papers and TV news.

Sadly, September 11th will always be known as a dark day, with only a glimmer of our American spirit showing through, in the rushing of the hijackers of flight 93. But here’s the thing – while we certainly should not forget what happened in 2001, that’s not the ONLY thing that happened on that day, and it’s not all bad. Here’s just a brief list of things that can be celebrated, treasured, remembered, discussed, or in some way recognized on September 11th. There’s no real rhyme or reason for what made the list, it’s just things I found interesting after noodling around on the Web, with some added commentary.

  • 1297 Scots, led by William Wallace defeat the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, proving that real men do wear kilts.
  • 1773 Benjamin Franklin writes "There never was a good war or bad peace."
  • 1792 The Hope Diamond is stolen along with other crown jewels when six men broke into the house used to store the jewels. Apparently Ted Nugent was not home that day – he woulda shot the bastards!
  • 1814 The Americans defeated the British at the Battle of Lake Champlain; remarkably, this is the quadricentennial year for Lake Champlain and the Hudson River.
  • 1847 Stephen Foster's Oh! Susanna, is first performed at a saloon in Pittsburgh. It’s been performed at a saloon somewhere every day since then.
  • 1918 My Boston Red Sox won the World Series, beginning a drought that would sadly last until 2004.
  • 1940 Buckingham Palace was damaged during a German air raid.
  • 1941 Ground was broken for the construction of The Pentagon.
  • 1944 The first allied troops of the U.S. Army cross the western border of Nazi Germany.
  • 1946 The first mobile long-distance car-to-car telephone conversation was held. My guess is some guy got lost and refused to ask for directions, so his wife picked up the phone and called someone.
  • 1950 The Dick Tracy TV show sparks uproar concerning violence. Imagine that…
  • 1954 The first Miss America TV broadcast. The winner was all natural.
  • 1962 The Beatles cut "Love Me Do" and "PS I Love You" and I still love them.
  • 1965 The 1st Cavalry Division of the United States Army arrives in Vietnam; not our proudest moment.
  • 1970 The Ford Pinto is introduced. I actually learned to drive in our red Pinto hatchback. That may be why I never got my license...
  • 1972 The Closing Ceremony of the Munich Olympics takes place. It was the Summer Olympics when the terrorist attack known as the Munich Massacre happened.
  • 1985 Cincinnati’s Pete Rose got his 4,192nd career base hit, breaking Ty Cobb's record which stood for over 60 years. He had bet he’d get the hit the day before, so he didn’t make any money.
  • 1987 Dan Rather walked off the set of the CBS Evening News in a petulant snit over being interrupted and postponed by a sports program, leaving six minutes of dead air. This set the stage for today’s fair and balanced television news.
  • 1989 The iron curtain opened between the communist Hungary and Austria. From Hungary thousands of East Germans throng to Austria and West Germany.
  • 1997 NASA's Mars Global Surveyor reaches Mars. This was only possible because someone made sure they had directions before they left the house.
  • 1998 Independent counsel Kenneth Starr sent a report to the U.S. Congress accusing President Bill Clinton of 11 possible impeachable offenses. In most countries, having sex is not an impeachable offense.
  • 1999 Tennis: Serena Williams won the U.S. Open, becoming the first African American woman since Althea Gibson to win a Grand Slam tournament since Althea Gibson in 1958.
  • 2002 The Pentagon is rededicated after repairs are completed, exactly one year after the attack on the building.
September 11th is more than just the 9/11 attacks and all of the things I’ve listed above. It’s someone’s anniversary, it’s the day someone lost their first tooth or had their first kiss. Tom Landry, the legendary coach of ‘America’s Team’, the Dallas Cowboys; Brian DePalma, who directed classic films such as Carrie, Body Double, Scarface and countless others; DH Lawrence, of Lady Chatterly’s Lover fame; and my friend Jason Greenley share this birthday with tens of thousands of others, and most of them, like Jay, would like to be able to celebrate their birthdays again, without feeling guilty or being accused of being disrespectful.

Let’s return September 11th to them, and to everyone else who should be allowed to remember this day for something other than a tragedy.

September 9, 2009

Obama's Address on Health Care Reform

Much will be said in the coming hours and days about the speech the President gave to a joint session of Congress tonight. For those of you interested in the full text, it's available here. Without going into the rhetoric (that is, the fun stuff), here are the highlights of the Obama Plan, generally in his own words:

For people with coverage now:
  • nothing in our plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or doctor you have
  • it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a preexsiting condition
  • it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick, or water it down when you need it most
  • they (insurance companies0 will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can received in a given year or lifetime
  • we will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses
  • insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care like mammograms and colonoscopies.

If you currently don't have health insurance:

  • health insurance exchange - marketplace - where individuals or small businesses can shop for health insurance at competitive prices.

If you still can't afford the lower-priced coverage in the exchange:

  • tax credits, based on need
  • insurance companies that participate in the exchange have to meet the above requirements
  • exchange takes effect in four years
  • for those who can't get insurance today due to preexisting conditions, we will immediately offer low-cost coverage that will protect against financial ruin if you become seriously ill

No one goes without coverage - everyone particularly the young and healthy will be required to have insurance. Hardship waivers will be available for those who still can't afford insurance and 95% of small businesses will be exempt from having to offer health care of chipping in to help pay for it.

What's not included:

  • death panels to kill off seniors
  • coverage for illegal immigrants
  • federal funding for abortions

Paying for the plan, which is $900 billion over ten years:

  • will not sign a bill that adds one penny to the deficit
  • additional spending cuts if the savings in the bill are not realized
  • savings within the existing health care system, including Medicare & Medicaid
  • an offering to take up tort reform (medical malpractice insurance)

Republican rebuttal indicated generally that the plan is too expensive and not bipartisan enough, creates too much bureaucracy, and that the public option is a bad idea. No real surprises there.

We'll talk more later.

September 8, 2009

Presidents Speaking to Kids

Some children may have heard the President speak today, live; some may be seeing his speech delayed on tape, and some may never hear or read his words, which would be a shame. They may not be allowed to see them, because some people think that our President is not an American citizen, or that he’s a radical Muslim bent on destroying our country, or that he’s a racist trying to make life hell for whitey, or he’s a socialist or a fascist or a communist or a Nazi or some other ungodly creature put here on earth to drive our country into ruins.

What our President really is, is the person that a majority of eligible voters elected following a lengthy campaign and in accordance with the law of the land. What he also is, is a dad who has two girls in school. What he’s not, is the first president to address the nation’s schoolchildren. He’s also not a wizard or some kind of mystical being trying to brainwash American children. That was Ronald Reagan:

“But America's world leadership goes well beyond the tide toward democracy. We also find that more countries than ever before are following America's revolutionary economic message of free enterprise, low taxes, and open world trade.”

And then there’s this one: “The basic values of faith and family will be just as true when people are living on distant planets as they are today. So, for America to gain greatest benefit from all the exciting new technologies that lie ahead, we will also need to reaffirm our traditional moral values, because these values are the foundation on which everything we do is built. So, yes, I would encourage you to study the math and science that are at the basis of the new technologies. But in a world of change you also need to pay attention to the moral and spiritual values that will stay with you, unchanged, throughout a long lifetime.”

Last, there’s this: “And, again, I would say that the most important thing you can do is to ground yourself in the ideas and values of the American Revolution. And that is a vision that goes beyond economics and politics. It's also a moral vision, grounded in the reverence and faith of those who believed that with God's help they could create a free and democratic nation. They designed a system of limited government that, in John Adams' words, was suited only to a religious people such as ours. Our Founding Fathers were the descendents of the Pilgrims -- men and women who came to America seeking freedom of worship -- who prospered here and offered a prayer of thanksgiving, something we've continued to do each year, and so that we'll do it again on Thursday of next week.”

So much for indoctrination. Here's a quiz. The statements below came from either President George Herbert Walker Bush or President Barack Obama. Can you tell which comments belong to which President?

(1) I'm not here to teach a lesson. You already have a very good teacher. I'm not here to tell you what to do or what to think. Maybe you're accustomed to adults talking about you and at you; well, today, I'm here to talk to you and challenge you. Education matters, and what you do today, and what you don't do can change your future.

(2) But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

(3) This report (national school report card) tells us a lot about what you know and what you don't know. It gives us something to build on. It shows us our strengths and the weaknesses that we've got to correct. It sets forth a challenge to all of us: Work harder, learn more, revolutionize American education.

(4) I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

(5) So, let's just put it on the line. You've got the brains. Now, put them to work -- certainly, not for me, but for you.

(6) Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

(7) I'm asking you to put two and two together: Make the connection between the homework you do tonight, the test you take tomorrow, and where you'll be 5, 15, even 50 years from now. You see, the real world doesn't begin somewhere else, some time way down there in the distant future. The real world starts right here. What you do here will have consequences for your whole lives.

(8) And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

(9) Let me tell you something, many of you may find very hard to believe this. You're in control.

(10) Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

So, how’d you do? The odd statements are Bush’s and the evens are Obama’s. Here’s one final question. Did we really need to spend a lot of time and effort worrying and arguing about whether Obama should do this speech to kids, or was it just a bunch of nonsense all along?

Bet you can guess my answer.

September 7, 2009

The Weekend Trifecta 9/7/09

A trifecta is generally described as a type of bet where, in order to win, the bettor must pick the top three finishers in the correct order. Here are the weekend’s top three:

Serendipity. There’s a giant black walnut in our neighbor’s yard, with several good-sized limbs that hang over our patio. The trees are so flush with nuts that we have more than our usual complement of squirrels this year, and when we go outside all we hear is the sound of them chewing green walnut hulls. Sadly, one of the consequences of too many squirrels and too many walnuts is (pardon the visual) mountains of partially chewed nuts coated in squirrel spit. Saturday My Sweet Baboo and I were discussing how we were going to have to hire a tree company to come in and get some of the branches down so that it’d be a little cleaner and a little harder for the squirrels. So where does serendipity come in? Well, today when I was in the midst of a garden weeding marathon out front, a guy stopped to give me his card and let me know he did tree work, general yard cleanup, and stuff like that. We talked a bit, got permission from the neighbors to work on the tree, and about two and a half hours later, they were done. Not an easy job, because it was not reachable by bucket truck but instead was all rope and ladder work, but it looks great!

Getting up early. On Saturday mornings, I usually sleep in a little after My Sweet Baboo gets up. He does his morning chores, including making the coffee, getting the paper, feeding the cats, and feeding the birds. We have a pretty large contingent of birds in the neighborhood, including chickadees, sparrows, hummingbirds, several kinds of woodpeckers, grosbeaks, nuthatches, cardinals and blue jays. The blue jays are extremely vocal, particularly when they're hungry. The only thing they’re interested in is peanuts - lots of peanuts - and they put on quite a show. MSB puts two or three handfuls on the platform feeder, and then the fun begins. It’s a little like O’Hare airport – one jay comes in, lands on the feeder, grabs a peanut, and takes off; a second one is right behind, hitting the feeder just as the first one gets airborne, the third one in the tree above waiting for his clearance to land. It goes on like this for several minutes, one right after the other, a landing coming immediately on the heels of each takeoff. Saturday, I had the chance to witness the action, because I dragged myself out of bed early.

The New York State Fair. The Fair ends its twelve-day run today, likely shy of a new attendance record, but a good run nonetheless. We had a great time there yesterday – saw the pigs, sheep, goats, and llamas; spent some time at the International Horse Show; got our ice-cold chocolate milk (still a fantastic bargain at 25 cents a ticket) and saw the butter sculpture; and took in the Horticulture Building (too much non-horticulture stuff if you ask us) and the Center of Progress building. It’s sort of comforting to know that the same guy has been demonstrating the amazing chopper thing for the past five years or more. It's comforting to know he’s still out there, making salsa right before our eyes. The New York State Senate had a display, but no Senators were there so I didn’t get a chance to ask how they really feel about Pedro Espada and the whole coup thing. I thought about asking the folks from the Attorney General’s office if they were going to investigate the Senate for bribery and other acts, but figured I’d save that one for later. One other item of note – in the youth, amateur, and professional art and photography competitions, frogs were big winners – two blue ribbons in photography and at least two ribbons on the art side. Not sure why, got any ideas?

A long weekend’s always nice; we made the most of this one, and we both have tomorrow off as well. I’ll spend part of the day trying to sort out where the mayoral candidates stand on the issues that are important to Syracuse, so I can make an informed decision next week for the primary. I'll let you know what I learn.

August 30, 2009

Whither Health Care Reform without Teddy?

I love this picture of Ted and Victoria Kennedy, taken by Matthew J. Lee of the Boston Globe. The picture was taken in May of 2008, after Ted Kennedy had been diagnosed with brain cancer; he had been released from Massachusetts General Hospital earlier that day. It shows his love of life, and love of living.

With the passing of Senator Kennedy last week, folks across the country were looking back, some even benevolently, on the Kennedy family and legacy. It’s a rich tapestry, filled with both the very obvious highs and lows, but also tinged with great nuance. Teddy the painter, Teddy the sailor, Teddy the history buff, Teddy the practical joker…and on and on.

Some of the more touching moments over the past several days of mourning were the younger Kennedys talking about what Uncle Teddy meant to them, as a father, uncle, grandfather, stepfather, and friend; the intercessions at his funeral by the
younger generations, offered up in EMK’s own words as prayers with great poise; and of course the tales told by Senators John McCain and Orrin Hatch, and by Vice President Joe Biden at the memorial service at the JFK library, which added layers and colors to the picture as well.

Among the questions being raised now that Teddy’s gone is what will happen to health care legislation. There’s no question that getting national health care implemented was a life-long goal, and one that we are teetering on the brink of accomplishing. While he had not been present in the Senate for a very long time, he was working behind the scenes, the consummate politician, helping others try and keep the legislation moving along. Recall that, at different times in the debate over the past several months, what’s been discussed as vital to our country are covering the uninsured (which includes not only those who apparently can’t get insurance, but also those who choose not to), saving money (by reducing unnecessary services, but certainly not by ‘rationing care’), and by improving quality (through incentives to those who practice medicine well and drive positive outcomes, but definitely not about improving the quality of end of life care;, heaven forbid that even get discussed). And of course, through all of this, we must bring the evil insurance companies to their knees and get them to change their ways.

Sadly, however, we can’t cover more people, and reduce costs, and not ration care, and pay more for the care that’s provided, and bring an industry to its knees all at the same time. Even Teddy realized long ago that you can’t get everything in one fell swoop – you have to take incremental victories along the way. Incrementally, we’ve achieved S-CHIP,
health insurance for children. Incrementally, we’ve achieved HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which requires that certain prior insurance coverage count against waiting periods under new insurance, and defines how those waiting periods are determined. Incrementally, we’ve gotten COBRA laws , which allow a person to continue their health insurance when they're between jobs, and helps make the HIPAA protections more secure. And under new legislation passed earlier this year, COBRA coverage can be subsidized by the government, reducing the burden on folks during these difficult economic times.

In this article in Newsweek, Senator
Kennedy talked about the incredible health care he was able to get for himself as he underwent his treatment for brain cancer, and also when he was injured in a plane crash back in 1964; and how he’s been able to obtain the best possible care for all three of his children at various times when they were in the midst of health crises of their own. He was able to get this level of care for two reasons – one, he’s a Kennedy, and both the name and the money behind it open doors. The second reason he’s been able to get this care is because he has the best insurance in the country – the Federal Employee Program (FEP), which offers great benefits, tons of choice, and pretty much carte blanche in terms of coverage. And again, like being a Kennedy, these are benefits that the vast majority of Americans cannot access – even those with health insurance - because most plans are not as rich as those offered under FEP.

Knowing that the vast majority of Americans are neither Kennedys or beneficiaries of the FEP health insurance plan, what do we do now? Do we give up on health care reform, now that its greatest champion is gone? Or do we renew our emphasis on getting some consensus on what we need to have as critical health care reform, get that part done this fall, and then continue working on it until we have all of it figured out? I would choose the latter option, plain and simple.

If we agree that all Americans need to have health insurance as our first priority, then we mandate insurance coverage, plain and simple, and we come up with ways to enforce that mandate. This includes making young, healthy people who get coverage, whether they want to or not.

If our highest priority is that we eliminate waiting periods on health insurance benefits, as that’s preventing people from being covered, or causing people to lose their savings, homes, etc., then that’s what we focus on, that’s what we figure out how to pay for, and we get it done.

If instead our highest priority is cost savings, then we adjust the Medicare reimbursement methodologies (which are the basis for many private insurer reimbursement calculations) AND we get reductions from Big Pharma on drug costs. These actions should not only reduce outlay in payment for benefits, but also should reduce or hold the line on premiums paid.

Whatever we do, we must do quickly enough that the states have time to respond, adjust their regulations to align with the new federal statutes, and make appropriate changes in their programs as needed. This is critical, because whatever comes down the pike at the federal level will certainly have consequences at the state level, 50 times over. Taxes, safety net programs, benefit mandates, subsidies, costs for businesses (including insurance companies) and individuals are all in play in this debate once the feds decide what we're going to look like.

I’m not so naive to think there wasn’t a political motivation or undercurrent to some of the tributes to Teddy; after all, while you can take the Kennedys out of politics, you can’t take the politics of out the Kennedys. I also don’t agree with everything he ever said or did, but instead recognize him as a human being, flawed as are we all. But I think we can learn from his undeniable drive, determination, and ability to achieve consensus as we try and solve this animal that is health care reform.

August 24, 2009

Cash for Clunkers Redux

First and foremost, let me say that I have already apologized to my Mom for the title of this post. I don’t want that hanging over my head as you read this. But I’m thinking Cash for Clunkers – the name of the program that rewarded people who foolishly drove inefficient, costly vehicles for the past several years and then ‘found religion’ and got a newer, more efficient car using our tax dollars – would be a great name for a bailout program designed to give seniors a payment in lieu of COLA. Read on.

Back on May 2, 2009, the New York Times published
this article which projected that there would not be a cost of living allowance in 2010 or 2011 for the 50 million of our friends, family and the total strangers who receive Social Security.

For some reason or another, I don’t recall hearing much about this back then; it wasn’t until yesterday’s news that I heard the
AP story that sounds pretty much like what the NYT had a few months ago. There’s some added commentary in this version of the story, including a proposal that a one-time bonus of $150 be given to beneficiaries. This will only cost about $8 billion, according to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM); the costs, they figure, could be covered by an increase in the income eligible for social security taxes.

Back in July, the NCPSSM sent a
letter to US Senators asking them to do something about the COLAs in light of retirement income losses and likely increases in the amount Medicare beneficiaries would have to pay for health care services or health insurance premiums. And chances are, the senators will listen, and the COLAs will be restored.

My favorite Social Security recipient is my Mom. And trust me, she’s no clunker. She’s busier at 79 than many people half her age can imagine. In many respects, she’s fortunate – she’s got a pension, and she has a health insurance plan that picks up the bulk of what Medicare doesn’t and also includes a strong pharmacy benefit program that pays all but a small co-pay on her prescriptions. All things being equal, she should be able to hold on to these going forward. So, when it comes to being concerned about Mom not getting a raise for the next couple of years, it’s not the health insurance costs that I’m really worried about.

It’s the school taxes, town taxes, county taxes, and all the other taxes that are being raised; her house was recently revalued, and that’s going to have an impact for a few years. And it’s not just the taxes, it’s the fees that are being rolled out or increased (to protect politicians who swore off tax increases). It’s all of those things that apparently don’t go into the calculation for inflation, but which do come out of her wallet, that are going to make it harder for her to enjoy the next two years with no raise.

Now, don’t worry… if she needs anything, we’ll find a way to help her out. And I appreciate that everyone has to do some belt-tightening, and she’s no different. But it is hard now to watch us sort of ignore our seniors, while at the same time we’re giving well over 150 million dollars (in New York alone) to
public assistance recipients, free and clear; and when we’re (as mentioned above) spending $3 billion to reward people who were too foolish to give up their gas-guzzlers years ago like My Sweet Baboo did; and when we’re doling out $750 billion Bush dollars and $787 billion Obama dollars to help the banks, auto companies, and bad mortgage lenders and recipients.

At a time when we’re watching governmental jurisdictions of all levels – from the state of
California to the County of Onondaga to all the cities, towns, and villages in between - try to cover massive deficits, it’s pretty easy to see that the folks who have paid their dues and are now on fixed incomes might be in need of some assistance. I’d rather see something go their way – within reason, and with a means test, of course – than to some of the places we’ve been throwing money lately.