January 30, 2014

Updates: Tuesday's Number

Regular readers know that each Tuesday I report on the new judgments, satisfied judgments, and bankruptcies tied to hospitals and physicians that get reported in my local paper, The Post Standard. 

So far this year, the total is about $1.5 million, even though we did have the smallest total in the year and a half that I've been doing this in the second week of the year. 

I thought it would be interesting to point out a couple of things that are at least peripherally related to my Tuesday's Number series.

First, one of the local facilities, St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center, has had its credit rating lowered by two rating agencies, Moody's and Standard and Poor'sIt's a fine hospital; I've received great care there, as have other family members over the years. The reasons cited for the downgrades have to do with what I can only digest as infrastructure debt.  St. Joe's has been on a long-term project of adding services and programs and upgrading their facilities on Syracuse's North Side; the transformation in that neighborhood is truly remarkable. They've also been making some improvements in technology.  

St Joe's notes that they anticipate having all of their debt paid off in the near future - four years or so -- and that they are financially stronger than many hospitals in New York. According to the articles, their share of the inpatient market has increased from 26% in 2009 to 37% in 2013, and they've had about 17% growth in revenue in the past two years. 

From my tracking, they also have many fewer judgments and bankruptcies that Crouse and Upstate; I can say this pretty confidently after so many weeks of reviewing the data last year and the year before; this year, I can prove it, because I'm tracking each local facility separately. To date St Joe's patients account for only 7% of the total number of filings, and 3% of total dollars.  Not sure what they're doing differently, but their numbers look pretty good in comparison. And, I have some other numbers that look pretty good, at least from one perspective.

But first,very important disclaimer: I work for the health insurance company that issued the report I'm going to reference. I have no involvement, direct or indirect, in the preparation of this or any other report my company issues.  And I unequivocally do not speak for my company in any way - not in this or any other post on this blog, in other social media, or in any capacity. All opinions expressed by me are my own. 

OK -- so, my company recently issued a report on health insurance coverage in upstate New York; the report received fairly broad media coverage, which you can find through any search engine.  

Here are some of the facts from the report, which covered 2010 - 2012. There's a lot of different slicing and dicing of the numbers, but these are the starters:

  • In the United States, 15.1% of us do not have health insurance; of those that do, 54.8% get it through their employer.
  • In New York as a whole, 11.4% are uninsured, and 52.4% of those who are insured have employer-based coverage.
  • In the Upstate area,the uninsured rate is only 8.4%, and 62.5% of us get our insurance through our employers. (For this study, 'upstate' includes Western New York, the Southern Tier, the Finger Lakes, Central New York, the Mohawk Valley, the St.Lawrence River area and the North Country, but NOT most of the Catskills, the Hudson River area, or the Capital district, that part of New York that folks who eat salsa from New York City tend to refer to as 'upstate.')
The report notes that in our neck of the woods, in some measures we're already exceeding targeted insured percentages for 2023. It seems that we Upstaters collectively are doing something right, doesn't it? 

So -- I'm left wondering, what would the Tuesday's Number be if we didn't have such a high percentage of insureds?  Remember, last year my non-scholarly tracking totaled almost $29.5 million in filings, and for 2012, I only tracked it for about half the year and we had another $11.6 million in that time.  

That's over $41 million in judgments (owed or satisfied) and bankruptcies that are easily identifiable as being related to medical debt -- just in the Syracuse area. Think about that. 

Over $41 million, 18 months or so, just in my backyard, just the obvious ones. There's no telling how many of the folks who file bankruptcy because of credit card debt are under water because they had to charge medical bills.  And, don't forget, all of the local hospitals offer some kind of financial assistance.  

It seems pretty clear that some things are not yet working as desired, and that we collectively (people, employers, insurance companies, regulators, and yes, those pesky politicians) have some more work to do.

Got any ideas?

January 29, 2014

All My Tax Dollars Are Sacred

Rand Paul is wondering whether we should punish people on public assistance if they have more kids.  

His comments came at a Commerce Lexington luncheon; he got to talking about the benefits of not having children out of wedlock, including the increased likelihood that the mom and family would end up living in poverty, when compared to married couples with children.

I'm OK with that; and besides, particularly when he was talking about high school kids having children, it's good advice. But here's what he said that is causing an uproar.
...there are all kinds of ways to stop having kids.
You know, but we have to teach our kids that. But some of that's sort of some tough love too. Maybe we have to say 'enough's enough, you shouldn't be having kids after a certain amount.' I don't know how you do all that because then it's tough to tell a woman with four kids that she's got a fifth kid that we're not going to give her any more money. But we have to figure out how to get that message through because it's part of the answer. 
He went on to note
Some of that's not coming from government. It needs to come from ministers and people in the community and parents and grandparents to convince our kids to do something different.
Now, I'm not going to argue whether a cap on benefits for people who have more kids is a good thing or a bad thing, or whether it 'works' or doesn't work. In this link to Think Progress, you can read up on that for yourself.

But I have to ask, if we are to stop rewarding people for having children, why isn't Rand Paul suggesting that we stop granting people additional tax benefits for each added dependent?  I mean, with the incentive, what's to stop some married couple from just popping out more kids so they can get the savings on their income taxes?  And what does having kids have to do with income? If you want to dis-incent people from having children, then take away all of the birth incentives for all of the moms.

This is just like drug testing for welfare folks; if you want to test people who receive money from government programs for drugs, test ALL of them, including anyone collecting a pension through the state or federal system, anyone who works directly in a government job, anyone who works for a company that has a government contract, and so on.

Of course, by the time we make all of those connections, we'll have government-mandated urine tests every week for just about everyone in the country.  Sure is a good thing we all have insurance now!

The only way we are going to spend less money is to treat all of our tax dollars as sacred and worthy of protection, not just the ones we spend on the less fortunate.

Pick up the Phone, Make that Call

The other day, in one of my posts about Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner's State of the City address, I mentioned the Greater Syracuse Land Bank.

As I noted, the Land Bank had taken ownership of the house next door to us, but I didn't have a lot of information on what that meant. I knew that the goal was so help increase property tax collection, and to help get abandoned properties back on the tax rolls, but other than that I didn't know much.

But first, a little bit about the neighbors.

When they moved out in December, what I'd call a less than optimal relationship came to an end. We sure didn't see eye to eye on the simple things that go into being good neighbors. There were many times during the years they lived here that the lawn was waist-high before they tried to weed-whack it into submission. And there was the time that their tree fell onto our garden; after discussion, it was agreed that we would hire the contractor and our families would split the bill, provided it was below a certain threshold. Suffice to say, I never got their half; rather, it was 'my fault' that I wanted the tree moved, instead of waiting for them to take care of it. In the winter, the sidewalk was either not shoveled, or shoveled in a path about six inches wide - and yes, there's a school three doors down.

There were days, no, weeks and months that it seemed like everything they owned was in the yard, in the driveway, on the back deck, or on the front porch. Their garbage cans and recycling bins would stay in the yard, or the road, or the middle of the sidewalk, for days on end.

And yes, in case you're wondering, we did mow, and shovel, and bring the trash cans in, pick up junk from the yard, and things like that, in a neighborly, non-confrontational way.

Sadly, if we hadn't seen them move, it would have been hard to tell that they did. From our house, we could still see their front porch cluttered with broken furniture and other debris; the rug that had been haphazardly thrown over the railing of the back deck a few years back was still there, frozen now; and a healthy supply of broken toys, tools, chairs, tables, and quite a bit of just general junk stayed behind.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I called the Land Bank office to find out what was going to happen with the property, and what the protocol was if we saw folks lurking or hanging out. Obviously we would call the police, but were we supposed to call the Land Bank office as well?  And were the former owners supposed to be around?  The answer to those questions were yes and no, respectively.

I also asked if there was any way the property could be cleaned up a bit; after all, it's a house that needs work for sure, but it's pretty unattractive with a swimming pool ladder in the side yard (the whereabouts of the pool remain unknown). Debbie, the woman I spoke with in the Land Bank office assured me she'd check into it and call me back.  Within 90 minutes, I got a return phone call, and Debbie let me know that she had spoken with another woman in the office who had immediately written up a request to have someone check the property.

Today, when we got home from work, everything was gone. Rug, pool ladder, broken toy hanging from the tree way out back, all of the junk from the porches, the driveway, the yard, behind the garage - everything. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be a massive understatement.

The last time I tried something like this,I emailed then Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor and asked if the university might be able to help us combat violence in the city; within a matter of days, the SU Athletic Department made an anti-violence video that played in the Carrier Dome and as a public service announcement on the all the local television stations. This time, I asked someone to help make my neighborhood a little better in the near term, while they worked to find someone who would help make the neighborhood better over the long haul -- and they did.

Neither of these ideas come close to the rocket-science threshold; similarly,acting on them, by sending an email to SU's chancellor or calling the Land Bank office, didn't take a lot of effort on my part.

And that's the message here: we have the power; we just have to use it.

  • If you see trash on the ground, pick it up. 
  • If you have an empty lot or an empty house in your neighborhood, mow the lawn in the summer and shovel the snow in the winter.
  • If there's a chance that a public servant might be able to help you out, ask them.
  • And if you have an idea, share it.

I'm never going to have enough money to influence a politician or get face time with a famous educator or businessperson, but if I care enough to try, I might just get someone to help out.  

I encourage you to care, and to try. 

January 28, 2014

The State of Syracuse (Pt 4)

This is the last in my series on Mayor Stephanie Miner's State of the City (SOTC) address. I've based the series on some questions I had posed to the three mayoral candidates on this blog last September, thinking that if these issues were important to me then, they'd be important to me now. And they are.

In the first post, I addressed expanding downtown outside of Armory Square; in the second, I talked about our neighborhoods and crime, and in part three, I struggled with the issue of education.  Today, I'll look at my  last two questions: collaboration and 'the one thing' that a leader bring to the table.

On collaboration, I asked what the priorities were, and what action we could expect to see on them.  That question, in part, was answered in the mayor's comments on downtown expansion, including the partnership on the latest plans for the Hotel Syracuse, and again in the discussion on education, where she referenced the services offered to city families through the efforts of the city, county, and school district.   And then there's that stadium idea.

Yeah, about that stadium.  Collaboration is the key to any project of that size and scope, and the fact that the players decided to collaborate without the mayor is mind-boggling to me, particularly given the history of collaboration between Stephanie Miner and Joanie Mahoney.  I also appreciate and support Miner's comments last week in the SOTC:
The old-school mentality of chasing smokestacks and massive projects billed as the silver bullet saviors of the city is a failed ideology. True community revitalization comes from organic, diverse, authentic and sustainable development projects. 
Authenticity should be the watchword of how we seek to build up our city....While I am neither for or against  a stadium project necessarily, I believe that outstanding questions should be answered, and that we should be as thoughtful as possible about what could be a once-in-a-generation decision. To quote American inventory and engineer Charles Kettering, "A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved."
It's not too late to forge a strong partnership between the mayor, county executive, SU, the County Legislature, the Common Council, SUNY Upstate, and our state officials, including our mixed-message Sonofa Governor, who touted the Miner/Mahoney collaboration in his State of the State address, then did an end-around Miner on this project. An announcement on a task force is expected in the near future.

Other areas of collaboration?  Critically, the Route-81 project, which (until the stadium idea say the light of day) was to be our 'generational' development effort.  Miner is calling for additional cooperation from the NYS Department of Transportation.
The last year has seen robust community discussion, with the NYS DOT beginning the environmental study process for the project.  While many opinions have been put forth already, the amount and detail of information provided to the community by the State DOT thus far has been underwhelming. 
We need to be just plain old whelmed, not over whelmed or underwhelmed - with information, communication, participation, and all the rest of the 'tions' on Route 81's future.  The mayor should expect to be called upon to use all of her persuasive powers to ensure we have the information needed to help guide a decision, and once the decision is made, to ensure that we come out OK on the other side, regardless of whether that's up in the air, below ground, or barely scratching the surface.

And, we need continued efforts to get service agreements out of owners of our many tax-exempt properties -- some 50% of city properties.  It's not sustainable to expect the people of Syracuse to provide the money for all of the services given to those exempt property owners (primarily educational and religious organizations). And we're not talking inconsequential services here. The Mayor's done a good job and I would love to see more of the same going forward.

Finally, in closing her speech, I think she answered the last of my questions:  What's the one quality you possess that makes you the best candidate to lead Syracuse for the next four years?  Here's what she said, first referencing the Route 81 project, but about public service in general:
Let's make this decision a shining example of our creativity, our progressivism, and the richness of our city. 
Indeed, all that we do in public service today - all that we do as a community - should aspire to that ideal. I, for one, subscribe to the belief that what we do should be exceptional, should be of service to our entire community, and should rise to the creative spirit of the people who live here. 
Not that all of our decisions will get splashy headlines or garner national accolades.  Not that the work of government will always be particularly thrilling or dignified. But responsible leadership, the will to continue challenging the status quo, and the promise to make smart and tough choices, will point us to that brighter future.
You can credit the speechwriter if you want, but I think that's a pretty fair assessment of what we want our public servants to do for us.  

Are you in?

Tuesday's Number: $158,855

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse 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.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a 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.

·         This week, there were eight new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $146,122.

·         There was one satisfied judgment listed, for $12,733.

·         And, there were no health care related bankruptcies.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:

·         Crouse had four, totaling $29,459
·         St Joe’s had none
·         SUNY Upstate had four, totaling $123,079
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none   

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

January 27, 2014

The State of Syracuse (Pt 3)

Last September, I also asked a question about education, wondering how our mayor would keep kids in school through graduation. I noted that graduation rates continued to be horrible even as we were making significant investments in facilities.

This, too, was addressed in Mayor Stephanie Miner's SOTC last week. Here's what she said:
There is perhaps no clearer pathway to opportunity than education, and Syracuse remains at the forefront of cities making unprecedented investments in our young people.  The groundbreaking Say Yes to Education program is in its sixth year, and the impact of Say Yes continues to grow.  It is well known that more than 2,000 graduations of our city high schools now attend college tuition free. There are 5,000 students in Say Yes after-school programs and another 4,000 attend tine Say Yes summer program. 
And she also pointed out that there are other services available to city families through a collaborative effort (city, school district, and county), with "school and family support specialists in all 35 city schools." They work on identifying and resolving issues with attendance and behavior, Miner noted, and they identify resources that can help these families.

Miner also noted that there will also be a phase two of the Joint School Construction Board (JSCB) program, after the first go-around let to significant renovations to several schools, as well as training programs for some 600 people.

Unfortunately, newly renovated schools and Say Yes programs are not enough to turn things around or, maybe we have to resign ourselves to having to wait longer for change to occur.  We have the new Common Core standards, and we have new evaluations in which a significant number of city teachers did not fare well, even though they may very well be fabulous teachers.

We have less than stellar results on the Report Card on file with the NYS education department (2011-2012 is the last available). We have issues with suspensions, which have drawn a lot of attention; over 23,000 hours of instruction were lost due to suspensions, according to reports, and over 55% of African-American students have been suspended at least once. These are horrible numbers, perhaps indicative of some kind of bias, and perhaps indicative of the reality faced in Syracuse city schools -- likely, some combination of both.

Statistics like this didn't happen overnight and the won't be changed overnight. These issues have to be addressed, not just by the Syracuse City School District, and the City itself, but most importantly by parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles, whoever is the primary caregiver for city schoolkids.

The professionals can only do so much -- and I understand they're trying, with programs like the iZone, and Parent University, and the Great Expectations five year plan - but somehow, someone has to reach the parents, and the kids, and convince them that education is their best chance for the future.

And until we see some movement in graduation rates, I think it's going to be hard to say that we have a handle on this one. It may not be fair, but it's the primary metric of comparison between schools and school districts, and we're not faring well.

One more in this series - collaboration, and 'the one thing.'

The State of Syracuse (Pt 2)

The second question I asked the mayoral candidates was about city neighborhoods, and the need we have to expand the tax base by growing our population base.  I wondered what their plans were to improve our neighborhoods and encourage people to move to the city, and whether they'd support requiring city employees to live here.

I also asked what specifically they'd do about crime.  While my immediate neighborhood is in pretty good shape from that perspective, my larger neighborhood -- my zip code -- does not fare as well. I wanted some specifics on what they'd do.

In her SOTC, Mayor Stephanie Miner touched on both of these issues.  On neighborhoods, she pointed to some successes, referring to "neighborhood commercial districts" such as James Street/ Eastwood, Genesee Street, Westcott Street, North Salina, and the Inner Harbor, while at the same time noting that
While some neighborhood business districts have shown positive movement in recent years, we know we still have much work to do. Many of these corridors still suffer from vacancy, deteriorated building stock and quality of life challenges. 
To address this, the City will be tapping into $400,000 in grant money to help grow small businesses, under the auspices of the Syracuse Main Street Program.  The grants require a not-unreasonable 25% matching funds from folks who want to participate -- which to me is a necessary component for any of these programs to be successful.  After all, the person with skin in the game acts differently than a person who just seeks (or has) a hand out. These efforts will be focused on one area on the south side and one on the north side.

She also talked about the Greater Syracuse Land Bank, something I'm going to have to learn more about, since they have recently acquired the property next to ours, one of 139 properties they've taken since October. Through the GSLB, property tax collections are up 69% in the last half of 2013 compared to the same time period in 2012; this can only help us all. Of the 139 properties, they've already sold six to new owners, which is one of the other goals.  Fingers crossed on this one.

Regarding crime, Miner was honest. Last year wasn't great; we had 22 homicides, the third highest number in the past 12 years. However, to combat that, she pointed to the following efforts:

  • An expansion of the crime camera program from the Near West Side to other areas, including many in my zip code.
  • The Syracuse TRUCE program, an initiative designed to help reduce the impact of gangs through education, community support, and interventions, which has helped lead to a 32% reduction in gang-related shootings and homicides; my zip code has historically had a high concentration of the gangs in the city. 
  • Crackdowns on 'corner stores' to ensure they are operating with appropriate approvals from the city, including the codes office; close to 450 violations have been issued, most of which will likely be corrected. In addition, the city is undertaking a review of the ordinances related to these businesses, to ensure they are current and to allow for easier enforcement and accountability.
  • Targeting of stores for selling stolen merchandise, and other quality of life issues.
She also cited statistics showing that may other crimes including burglaries, robberies, shots fired with injuries all decreased last year.

So - neighborhoods and crime. Two more questions asked, and many answers provided. I would give a medium thumbs up on these two issues.  The problems are complex, and the solutions must be as well.  I like the cameras; heck, I'd put them on every corner (even fake ones would probably do some good) just to make people think maybe one more time. I like efforts on the gang issue, and I like the efforts on the nuisance corner markets.

I'd like to see cops walking the beat, something I know the mayor is not fond of.  But I think it's worth a shot, maybe as a pilot program in a couple of  neighborhoods.  I suspect there will be a difference in how the police and neighbors interact, with the trust level, and hopefully, with a reduction in crime. Why not give it a shot?

And, I would have loved to see her come up with some kind of incentive plan for city residency for non-union employees. I would love it for everyone, but my guess is getting it through for the union workers would be next to impossible.  The benefits from a program like this, having people live in the city, next door to and across the street from the people who pay their salaries, having their kids attend city schools --  the benefits would go way beyond what we could do with the additional property tax revenue.  This is another one I wish we would try.

Next up: education.

January 26, 2014

The State of Syracuse (Pt 1)

Last September, during the primary election season, I posed a few questions to the three candidates running for mayor in Syracuse.  None of them answered me back then, even though I tagged their Twitter accounts in my post.  But I know they were busy.

Stephanie Miner won the primary, and went on to win the general election in a landslide, in part some said because there's no way a Republican can win the seat because of the voting demographic.  To those who think that all city voters will blindly color in the ballot circle of anyone with a picture of an ass on their campaign materials, well, let's just say if that was the case we'd have a lot of recount elections. But I digress.

Miner recently gave her State of the City (SOTC) address, outlining her administration's accomplishments and challenges; there are many of both.  You can get information, including links to a video of her speech, on the City's website.

I thought it might be time to revisit my questions and see whether the Mayor addressed them in her vision for Syracuse for the next four years.

My first question was about how the administration could harness the energy that has led to the development in Armory Square, and do two things -- expand the energy outward to the rest of the center city, and to include businesses, not just residential development.  Our enviable  99% residential occupancy rate downtown is great, but we don't come close to that when you look at storefronts and office buildings. According to Downtown Committee reports, for example, occupancy rates in Q2 2013 ranged from 71.36%  to 90.31%, depending on the type of property. Armory Square had the highest percentage, naturally.

In her speech, Miner noted that several projects have been completed, or are nearing completion, including amazing transformations of Pike Block  and Merchants Commons, along with several new restaurants including Gannon's, Jolime Cafe, Otro Cinco, and the looming return of an old friend, Clark's Ale House. And celebrating these projects is important in more ways than one:
While each of these project is heartening, what is perhaps more exciting is the collective impact on the core of our city.  Each investment builds on the last, and it is now clear that downtown revitalization is not confined to Armory Square.  New life is spreading to Salina Street, Warren Street and beyond. 
She's not blind to the challenges that still exist, most notably the Hotel Syracuse at the southern gateway to downtown. Here's what I said about it last September:
The Hotel Syracuse once helped us meet our civic challenge; it now presents a challenge for city and county officials. It's one of our 'gateway' properties; it's in an area -the Warren Street canyon - that needs attention.  Now's the time for Mayor Miner and her team to help us get this property back in local hands, so that willing local developers can proceed with their plans. 
sue drummond photo
Well, we have a new local developer, who wants to give it a go, and the mayor is on board.  Here's what she said about this "Syracuse gem" and Ed Riley (principal of the Syracuse Community Hotel Restoration Company) who asked they city to begin eminent domain proceedings to get the historic property out of the hands of its Israeli owners:

In response, SIDA (the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency) has authorized a Preferred Developer Agreement with Mr. Riley, declared its intent to act as Lead Agency for the project's environmental review, and authorized a public hearing to be held next month on this eminent domain action...We are excited to work with Mr. Riley and County Executive Mahoney and her team to make this project a reality. 
Riley's project? A $57 million plan for a 261-room Hyatt Hotel, retail on the ground floor, and a restored lobby, among other things.

So, all in all, did she answer my first question, about making downtown bigger than Armory Square?  I think she did.  She knows there's more that needs to be done, and that as a community we can't sit idly by, but  I agree with her, that
...this progress is something that we should all be proud of as a community. 
There will be more progress to come, I'm sure.

Coming up: city neighborhoods and crime.

Fortune Favors the Bowl

Er, the bold. Not the bowl, fortune favors the bold, that's what I meant to say.

This'll be my last post in the Fortune Favors the Bold series focusing on Governor Cuomo's recent State of the State address.  I could keep going; I mean, he put a lot of stuff out there. But I've hit on the ones that struck a chord with me, or hit a CNY nerve.  Some of the rest of it -- taxes, for example -- I'm sure I'll get to a few dozen times in the coming weeks and months. Here's what the series covered:
  • Part 1 gave a general overview of the speech;
  • Part 2 talked about collaboration between jurisdictions, and how his most favorite example just hit a rough spot;
  • Part 3 touched on Cuomo's move to 'Raise the Age' for juveniles in the adult justice system
  • Part 4 was all about my favorite subject, money in politics
Today, I want to talk about medical marijuana and drugs.  Not the kind of drugs you typically buy on the street corner, but the kind you get from a licensed medical professional at a licensed hospital.  Because there's a difference, in my opinion between pot you smoke to get a buzz and pot you smoke to treat a medical condition.

In the SOTS, after talking about his administration's accomplishments, Cuomo went on to say
But my friends, even with all of that we still have more to do.  We have to make New York healthier.  Research suggests that medical marijuana can help manage the pain and and treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses.  Twenty states have already started to use it. We'll establish a program allowing up to 20 hospitals to prescribe medical marijuana, and we will monitor the program to evaluate the effectiveness and the feasibility of a medical marijuana system.
And with that, "stupid stoners" sucking our tax dollars on disability all across this great state sort of sat up, said "Wow, man" and tried to lift their bongs into the air, before collapsing into convulsions of laughter, quickly forgetting what they were laughing at.  Or so one doctor at SUNY Upstate would have you believe.

He's Dr. Brian Johnson; he's the director of addition psychiatry, and believes marijuana is a destructive drug. I'm suspect the article didn't have the full story, or at least I hope the doctor would have taken time to talk a little more about this, rather than providing a couple of soundbites. Here's what made it into print:
Hyping it as a medical treatment is ridiculous. You will end up with a bunch of stupid stoners in New York with lung disease who thing that maybe they should go out on disability because they don't want to get off the couch. 
The article notes that Doc sees correlations to the "right to pain treatment" movement back in the day that, in his view, opened the floodgates for the explosion of prescriptions for hydrocodone and other opioid pain killers - which (unlike marijuana) are highly addictive. He notes
People testified back then about the poor mother dying of cancer who could not get oxycodone. Since then opioid prescribing has tripled and accidental overdose deaths are more common than motor vehicle deaths. 
I agree with what he says about prescription painkillers - too many doctors are too willing to prescribe them to too many patients who are addicted to them, a fair number of whom manage to get multiple prescriptions from multiple physicians. Heck, even doctors get addicted to painkillers. We've had a few in our own back yard, including this guy.

Where I don't agree with him is on the overdose part, the addiction part, or the stupid stoner part. Because I don't think that AIDS patients, cancer patients, glaucoma patients, seizure patients, and others who typically might qualify as medical marijuana patients are 'stupid' and they don't become 'stoners' and frankly, even if they did, if it makes them comfortable while they're trying to deal with their illness, who the hell cares?

Some medical professionals (not necessarily this Dr. Johnson) seem to look down their noses at anything that is nontraditional, or not manufactured, or doesn't come with trinkets and junkets courtesy of drug companies; they deny years of theory, study, and practice, including those of native/indigenous peoples. There are thousands of years of records of 'medicine men' in Asian cultures, and hundreds of years of the same in newer countries like ours. Why ignore this, when it might bring relief to your patients?

And I have to wonder why someone would look down their nose at marijuana, whether smoked, vaporized, in pill form (although the pill form is somewhat less effective, I've read), when they are otherwise more than willing to direct a patient to take something that can cause this:
Belching; bruising; difficult or labored breathing; feeling of indigestion; headache; itching skin; large, flat blue or purplish patches in the skin; pain in the chest below the breastbone; shortness of breath; skin eruptions; swelling; tightness in the chest; wheezing, bloating; bloody or black, tarry stools; blurred or loss of vision; burning upper abdominal or stomach pain; cloudy urine' constipation; decrease in urine out put or decrease in urine-concentrating ability; disturbed color perception; double vision; fast, irregular pounding or racing heartbeat or pulse; halos around lights; indigestion; loss of appetite; nausea or vomiting; night blindness; over-bright appearance of lights; pale skin; pinpoint red or purple spots on the skin; severe and continuing nausea; severe stomach burning, cramping or pain; skin rash; swelling or inflammation of the mouth; troubled breathing with exertion; tunnel vision; unusual bleeding or bruising; unusual tiredness or weakness; vomiting of material that looks like coffee grounds; weight loss; anxiety; back or leg pains; bleeding gums; blindness; blistering, peeling or loosening of the skin' blood in the urine or stools' blue lips and fingernails; canker sores; change in the ability to see colors, especially blue or yellow; chest pain or discomfort; clay-colored stools; cold sweats; coma; confusion; cool, pale skin; cough or hoarseness; coughing that sometimes produces a pink frothy sputum; cracks in the skin; darkened urine; decreased vision; depression; diarrhea; difficult, burning or painful urination; difficult, fast, or noisy breathing; difficulty with swallowing; dilated neck veins; dizziness; dry cough; dry mouth; early appearance of redness, or swelling of the skin; excess air or gas in the stomach; extreme fatigue; eye pain; fainting; fever with or without chills; fluid-filled skin blisters; flushed, dry skin; frequent urination; fruit-like breath odor; greatly decreased frequency of urination or amount of urine; hair loss; high fever; hives; increased hunger; increased sensitivity of the skin to sunlight; increased sweating; increased thirst; increased urination; increased volume of pale, dilute urine; irregular breathing; joint or muscle pain; large, hive-like swelling on the face, eyelids, lips, tongue, throat, hands, legs,feet, or sex organs; late appearance of rash without or without weeping blisters that become crusted especially in sun-exposed areas of skin, may extend to unexposed areas; light-colored stools; lightheadedness; loss of heat from the body; lower back or side pain; nervousness; nightmares; no blood pressure; no breathing; no pulse, nosebleeds, numbness or tingling in the hands, feed, or lips; pain in the ankles or knees, pain or burning in the throat; pain or discomfort in the arms, jaw, back or neck; painful red lumps under the skin, mostly on the legs; pains in the stomach, side or abdomen, possibly radiating to the back; pale or blue lips, fingernails or skin; pounding in the ears; puffiness or swelling of the eyelids or around the eyes, face, lips or tongue; rapid shallow breathing; red, irritated eyes; red skin lesions, often with a purple center; red-green color-blindness; redness or other discoloration of the skin; redness, swelling or soreness of the tongue; scaly skin; seizures; severe sunburn; shakiness; skin thinness; slurred speech; sneezing; sore throat; sores, ulcers or white spots on the lips or tongue or inside the mouth; sores, welting or blisters; spots on your skin resembling a blister or pimple; stiff neck or back; stomach cramps or tenderness; stomach upset; swelling in the legs and ankles; swelling of the face, fingers, feet or lower legs; swollen, painful, or tender lymph glands in the neck, armpit or groin; tiny bumps on the inner lining of the eyelid; unexplained weight loss; unpleasant breath odor; watery or bloody diarrhea; weakness or heaviness of the legs; weight gain; yellow eyes or skin; bleeding under the sin; confusion about identity, place, and time; muscle tremors; restlessness, sleepiness; continuing ringing or buzzing or other unexplained noise in the ears; hearing loss; acid or sour stomach; change in hearing; feeling of constant movement of self or surroundings; passing gas; sensation of spinning; stomach soreness or discomfort; appetite changes; burning, crawling, itching, numbness pricking, "pins and needles' or tingling feelings; burning, dry or itching eyes; difficulty with moving; discharge, excessive tearing; general feeling of weakness; not able to concentrate; redness, pain or swelling of the eye, eyelid, or inner lining of the eyelid; seeing, hearing or feeling things that are not there; shakiness in the legs, arms, hands, or feet; sleeplessness; swollen joints; trembling or shaking of the hands or feet; trouble getting pregnant; trouble performing routine tasks; trouble sleeping; unable to sleep; unusual drowsiness, dullness, or feeling of sluggishness.
Folks, those are the side-effects, overdose symptoms, or general crap associated with naproxen, the main ingredient in Aleve, the over-the-counter pain medication I take on occasion.  See, you don't even have to look at prescription pain meds to have the crap scared out of you, and to wonder if we know what we're doing when it comes to medications, and to wonder if we should be looking at other options.

We are a nation of medicators - patients who demand doctors give them a pill or a shot for everything that ails them, and doctors who comply, whether out of sympathy, expediency or as a defensive medicine practice.

We're a society that has managed to convince ourselves that having an erection is a medical necessity that can be handled, pardon the pun, with a little blue pill and a cheap copay.

When we're that far in the weeds with priorities, how can we refuse a sick person a little weed of their own? 

January 24, 2014

Extreme Right to Life Beliefs

Governor Andrew Cuomo famously made some extreme remarks the other day in an interview.

He was trying to point out the well-known, widely publicized and talked about rift in the Republican Party between far right/extreme positions and more moderate positions, primarily on social issues but I think it also extends, to some degree, into financial issues.  As Cuomo noted, this rift is happening at the national level as well as within New York GOP circles.

While his comments were overly extreme (by design, I'm sure), he was making a point between what the majority of New Yorkers believe, according to polls, and what extremist Republicans believe.  Generally, he noted, somewhere around 70% of New Yorkers are pro-marriage equality, pro-intelligent gun control, and pro-choice. And if you were to ask them, the percentage of extreme right wing Republicans who are against those three things are likely about the same.

To a certain degree I resemble the poll numbers Cuomo referred to. That doesn't mean I agree with Cuomo's comment about there being no place in New York for people who disagree with the general New York State of Mind. I don't, unless he was talking about things like the story below. 

I've written about this situation previously, the Munoz case in Texas, where the brain-dead woman has been kept 'alive' mechanically because when she died before Thanksgiving, she was 14 weeks pregnant, and under Texas law, you can't remove 'life support' from a pregnant woman. 

Sadly, but not shockingly, everyone's worst fears are now being realized.  According to Munoz family attorneys, 
Even at this early stage, the lower extremities are deformed to the extent that the gender cannot be determined. The fetus suffers from hydrocephalus. It also appears there are further abnormalities, including a possible heart problem, that cannot be specifically determined due to the immobile nature of Mrs. Munoz's deceased body.
My heart aches for this family, who were denied the right to dignified, humane treatment for their cherished family member two months ago, and now are faced with these horrifying consequences. I cannot begin to imagine...

The attorneys go on to note (and this language is not for the faint of heart)
Quite sadly, this information is not surprising due to the fact that the fetus, after being deprived of oxygen for an indeterminate length of time, is gestating within a dead and deteriorating body as a horrified family looks on in absolute anguish, distress, and sadness.
As I was writing this post this morning, there was a report on NPR which noted that there are 30 states in addition to Texas that have some kind of 'pregnancy exclusion' in their laws. What these laws do is interject the government  into a family's very personal decision, in effect legislating a belief that one life has more value than another, regardless of what the family believes; or in this case, requiring the saving of a life that could have been legally aborted under state law, had the mother been alive and capable of making that very personal decision.

When Cuomo talked about there not being room for extreme right-to-life folks in New York, I like to think he was talking about people who pass laws that make families go through something like this.  And I hope he's right, that there isn't room for those who would eventually amass enough power to pass a law like this in New York.

I wish there wasn't room for them anywhere.

January 22, 2014

Fortune Favors the Bold (Pt 4)

One of the things Governor Cuomo is a big proponent of is ethics reform,  including public financing of elections. He included a reference to this in his State of the State Address -- take a look:
I propose new anti-bribery and corruption laws, public financing of elections, independent enforcement at the board of elections, and disclosure of outside clients with business before the state of New York.
He's been steadfast in his support of these ideas, and his Moreland Commission came out with recommendations similar enough to Cuomo's ideas that one can't help thinking either he had a hand in writing them, or the Commission plagiarized his writing.  And while his support for reform has not waivered,  his own fundraising has been prolific.  Cuomo has $33 million in his war chest for this fall's election, with who knows how many more opportunities he has on his calendar to rake in more.

In his now famous Capitol Pressroom interview with  Susan Arbetter last week, Cuomo talked about politics and money, in a most enlightening and bold manner. Arbetter noted his successful fundraising to date, and wondered if it was to scare off potential opponents. Cuomo noted (and I'm paraphrasing here) that someone with a ton of money could run for office and win, simply because they had a ton of money, not because of any ideals or anything.  He's not necessarily talking about Donald Trump, but Trump has suggested he'd spend a couple bucks of his own money, if he decided to run.

Where the interview got interesting is when Arbetter pressed the Governor on where his money is coming from:
NYPIRG (Note: that's the New York Public Interest Research Group) noted that 81% of your donors gave at least $10,000, and some of your largest donations are from corporations from New York City who are giving in the hundreds of thousands of dollars (emphasis added).  And the question is does that make you more responsive to those interests? 
In classic Cuomo style, our Sonofa Governor answered:
Well...I think a lot of this conversation is baloney, frankly.
Think about that: 81% of his donations are over ten grand, bigger than you and I could or would afford, and he's got corporations giving hundreds of thousands of dollars.  It's NOT baloney, the question she asked -- it's a great question.  And he didn't stop at the deli counter -- he kept going.
What the people want to know, what they say to me is look, we want to know that you're working for us, and you're not working for anyone else. Because there are some politicians out there who can be bought for $10, and some politicians who cannot be bough for $10 billion. It's a question of the person, it's a question of character, and it's a question of values. It's not how much does it cost to buy a politician, it's a politician who can't be bought.
Now you and I can guess where Cuomo thinks he is in this equation. He believes, "in his heart" that we know he can't be bought, that we know he's working for our best interests and for the best interest of the state, and where the money comes from doesn't matter a whole hill of beans in the overall scheme of things. Why?
I'm going to make the decision that I think is right for them because at the end of the night I go home and I put my head on the pillow and I have to be able to fall asleep and I can't fall asleep if I don't believe I'm doing the right thing.
I can't fall asleep at night because our house is noisy and our cats are restless and My Sweet Baboo snores and there's a firehouse down the street and because I lie awake at night sometimes wondering why a politician would take hundreds of thousands, no, millions of dollars from corporations, when it's people that vote.

Cuomo knows that people like me have perceptions like that, so he thinks that we need public financing of elections.  He does note however, that even making a change like that may not be enough. He can vouch for his own character, but not everyone else's -- and regardless of the dollar limit that ultimately gets attached to any public campaign financing legislation,
if we elect people who can be bought, we're electing the wrong people. 
On that, the Gov and I agree.

On the rest, well, I have different ideas on campaign finance reform, many of which I've shared before. And until we make some really big changes - term limits for starters -- many times, those whom fortune favors are not necessarily the bold.  They're probably just incumbents.

January 21, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $624,902

Tuesday is the day my local paper, the Syracuse 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.

Each week, I track health care related filings. I include anything that is clearly a 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.

·         This week, there were 32 judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $616,849.

·         There was one satisfied judgment, for $8,053.

·         And, there were no health care related bankruptcies.

New this year, I’m tracking filings for each of the four Syracuse hospitals. Here’s the breakdown for this week:
·         Crouse had nine, totaling $95,045
·         St Joe’s had three, for $27,884
·         SUNY Upstate had twenty, totaling $493,020
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had one, for $8,053  

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

January 20, 2014

Round em up! Head em out!

Git along, little extreme conservatives! Git along right out of New York! We don't want your kind here!

That's what Andrew Cuomo said about them, on a radio interview last week.  I know it's true because I saw it on Facebook. See, it's right here in this post that was on a friend's page:
January 18th. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo is the latest in a long line of oh so "tolerant" Dems. On Friday the possible 2016 Dem presidential nominee said this about the NY Republicans who are against his gun control SAFE Act: "Who are they Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that's who they are and they're extreme conservatives they have no place in the state of New York because that's not who new Yorkers are."  Wow, is this guy a Dem or a member of the National Socialist Party? So fair warning Empire Staters, if you're pro-life, pro-Second Amendment or pro-traditional marriage, Andrew says pack your bags and get out. Better do it quickly before the Governor puts you on a train and sends you to a "special camp." Time for Cuomo to build his socialist utopia without any more "extreme conservative" tax revenue. Good luck with that, Andy.
I also know it happened, that the extreme conservatives have to get out of New York because a local TV station showed a portion of the transcript with just the inflammatory words shown, and then went on to interview someone who, by his own admission does not meet all three of the qualifications, but the reporter ignored that fact and blithely carried on with the story. The best part was that, in the anchor chat following his story, both the reporter and the anchor talked about the importance of context -- not taking the words as a standalone comment, but that the full context needed to be considered in order to form an opinion. And then they ended the story without any context.

Well, here's transcript of the relevant section of Cuomo's interview with Susan Arbetter, host of the Capitol Pressroom. Note that the transcript was released by Cuomo's office in response to an article in the New York Post, which the Sonofa Governor thought presented his views in a 'distorted' way. I have listened to the tape of the broadcast and the transcript is very accurate; I tried to use some punctuation and to illustrate the emphasis you can hear in the recording.

To set the stage, Cuomo and Arbetter were talking about money, who's donating, and the fact that Cuomo seems to be getting money from many Republicans, not just from Dems.  Arbetter made the point that some might think Cuomo was moving away from his 'progressive roots' and Cuomo gave this long rambling answer:
I don't think that that is right Susan. I think it is a very important point, but I don't think it's that I'm less of a Democrat, I think what you're seeing is, you have a schism within the Republican Party. You have the Republican party searching for identity, they are searching to define their soul. That is what is going on. Is it the Republican party that is a moderate party or is it a conservative party? That is what they are trying to figure out and it is very interesting because it is a mirror of what is going on in Washington, right? The gridlock in Washington is less about Democrats and Republicans. It is more about extreme Republicans versus moderate Republicans. And a moderate Republican in Washington can't figure out how to deal with the extreme Republicans. And the moderate Republicans are afraid of the extreme conservative Republicans in Washington in my opinion.
All good so far -- that same opinion has been expressed by many of the talking heads and yes, Republicans in DC, including in the House, where Speaker Boehner has very little control over his own party.

The answer goes on (as I said, it was long and rambling)
You've seen that play out in New York, their SAFE Act, the Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act.  It was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats, their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives, who are right to life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that is who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives they have no place in the state of New York, because that is not who New Yorkers are. 
Now, to this point the satirical blogger who was quoted on my friend's Facebook page has the transcript right -- the part she chose to pay attention to. But there's more:
Moderate Republicans like in the Senate (he's referring to the NY Senate not DC) right now and control the Senate. Moderate Republicans have a place in this state. George Pataki was governor of this state as a moderate Republican. But not as what you are hearing from them on the far right, not this clash that you are getting from the quote unquote "power brokers" of the party now. "We are right to life, we are pro- assault weapon, or anti-gay"....
Arbetter then asks Cuomo about comments from one of those Republican party "power brokers" who has asked Republicans not to endorse Cuomo.  Lets pick up there:
I think he did that in reaction to the meetings we were having. You know, moderate Republicans I work with; moderate republicans passed my agenda, for the past three years.  They want to criticize my record? My record was passed by the moderate Republicans, so they are criticizing themselves and this really isn't about me, Susan. This is "who are they?" And who is going to win between the conservative Republicans, the extremely conservative Republicans and the moderately conservative Republicans.  And literally, look at the issues they pick...
And here's where the crux of the issue comes in, folks -- not the comment about there's no place for them, which was a great sound bite, but here's why he said that:
 Are we right to life or are we pro-choice? Well, if you are right to life, that is your opinion and that's your religious belief, that's fine - but that is not the opinion of this sate, 70% are pro-choice in this state.
"Well, we are anti-gun control," that is fine. 70% of this state wants intelligent gun control. (Note: including, as I've pointed out before, many folks who are mostly unhappy with how the SAFE Act was passed, and who agree with two-thirds or more of the law itself - I have 'conservative' friends who would go even farther than the SAFE Act did in some areas).
 "We don't agree with gay marriage, we are anti-gay," that is fine, but 70% of this state (about), is now pro-gay marriage.
So figure out who you are and figure out if you are of an extreme conservative philosophy and if you can survive in this state. And the answer is no.  
Well, alrighty then.

There's the context that our news reporters didn't want to talk about, but wanted you to look up yourself. There's no trains to special camps, there's no rounding up conservatives and sending them on their way, no kicking them out of The Empire State.

There's just the numbers, expressed in opinion polls, that show that New York - gasp - is relatively liberal, and to Cuomo's point, it's a bunch of moderate Republicans who are making it possible for us to be such a bastion of liberal ideals.

The issue of extremism vs conservatism, of fiscal conservatism vs extreme social conservatism, is exactly what Cuomo said it was -- an identity crisis in the Republican party and one they have to solve if they want to make any headway.  It is, as noted in the interview, their problem to solve.

January 19, 2014

Knock Knock? Who's there? The Republican Party

The Republican Party who?

The Republican Party who have a whole lot of work to do if they want to obtain any sense of respectability and attract fiscally conservative, socially moderate voters, which in my opinion is what we need in this country. Frankly, I'm not overly concerned which party people come from.

I am concerned, however that in this day and age, people who espouse ideas like these can be elected; and yes, these are all from the same guy, Virginia State Senator Richard Black, who wants to take his Neanderthal mind-set to the US Senate:

  • On sexual assault in the military: Think of yourself at 25; wouldn't you love to have a group of 19 year old girls under your control, day in and day out?
  • On school decorum, when proposing a bill to require students in his state to refer to teachers with their titles (Mr., Mrs., Ms.) or Sir and Ma'am: The counterculture revolution of the '70s took the war into the classroom. Before that time, public schools were a model of decorum and then we began this thing we've seen play out at Columbine.
  • On spousal rape: I don't know how on earth you could validly get a conviction in a husband-wife rape when they're living together, sleeping in the same bed, she's in a nightie and so forth. There's no injury, there's no separation, or anything.
  • On low interest home loans: the current policy promotes adultery and sodomy (because same sex couples are allowed to apply)
Or these, from a variety of cave-dwelling Republican men and women, who apparently don't understand anything about rape. I won't repeat all of the quotes, because -- well, because it's so disheartening. But here's a list of some 'types' of rape gleaned from comments Republican politicians have made, as outlined in the charts you can find here, which were published back in 2012.  Note that some of the titles came from the actual quotes, and some were created to highlight the message in the quote.  You'll have to read them to determine which are which.
  • the 'gift from God' rape
  • 'legitimate' rape
  • 'honest' rape
  • 'emergency' rape
  • 'easy' rape
  • 'doctors note' rape
  • 'buyer's remorse' rape
  • 'enjoyable' rape
  • 'lemonade' rape
  • 'wonderful' rape
  • 'the pre-teen slut was asking for it' rape

I beg you, Republicans: Stop it.
Heterosexuals can and do commit sodomy and adultery, and have sex for non-procreative reasons, do get HIV, but you don't seem to be in a hurry to investigate them to see if they're low-interest-loan worthy, or if they're worthy of adopting children or if they're worthy of being in a hospital room holding the hand of their dying partner or if they're entitled to a break on estate taxes, something I know you hold near and dear.

Men can and do sexually abuse women, but you seem more intently focused on protecting the men and blaming the women who are victims of the abuse, not participants.  It is absolutely not appropriate for anyone in a chain of command, whether in the military or in the business world or the academic world or the political world any other world for that matter, to relish having even a single woman 'in their control'.

Women DO get raped. They do NOT enjoy it. We are NOT our sexual fantasies.  Keep your hands off the laws that protect us, unless your intention is to make them stronger. After all, we are your beloved wives, daughters, sisters, mothers.  

Stop legislating against the gay friends you all profess to have.  (I suspect they're imaginary, given how frequently you invoke their existence at exactly the same time as you marginalize them through your actions.)

Get out of the bedroom. Get out of the emergency room. Get out of the doctor's office and the abortion clinic, step away from the ultrasounds and permission slip templates. 

Get the church out of our legislation, because your church and mine are not the same. I don't have one at all, but that does NOT make me less of an American. 

And while you're at it, castigate those of the Republican ilk and the wealthy ilk who act contrary to your morals, the same as you do Democrats and poor people who commit the same sins. 

If you truly believe in smaller government, DO something about it. Do something about waste and fraud. Do something about leveling the playing field for ALL taxpayers. Seek to end corporate welfare with all the fervor you apply to ending personal welfare. Act with, rather than acting against.

Every action you take, or don't take, including whether you continue to support these idiots who are dragging you down, can jeopardize the America you profess to love so dearly.

Think about that the next time you get together to talk about your plans for the future.

January 18, 2014

Fortune Favors the Bold (Pt 3)

On October 30, 1990, Robert 'Bam Bam' Lawrence shot and killed Syracuse police investigator Wallie Howard Jr, when an undercover drug deal went bad. Lawrence was 16 years old; Howard was 31.

Earlier this week, in federal court in Utica, a judge reduced Lawrence's sentence from life in prison to 31 years, on the basis of a 2012 Supreme Court ruling determining that a mandatory sentence of life in prison for anyone under the age of 18 was unconstitutional, as it met the criteria of cruel and unusual punishment.  In re-sentencing Lawrence, now 40, the judge noted that he had to take into consideration "the traits of youth" including "immaturity, vulnerability to peer pressure, and the likelihood that his character was not as well-formed' as an adult's would be. Four others, all over the age of 18 at the time, are serving life sentences.

Lawrence is also serving a concurrent state sentence of 30 years to life.

So what's the connection to Governor Cuomo's State of the State address, which is what this Fortune Favors the Bold series is all about? Well, the governor wants to do something about how young criminals are treated.  Here's what he said:
Our juvenile justice laws are outdated. Under New York State law 16- and 17-year-olds can be tried and charged as adults. Only one other state in the nation does that; it's the state of North Carolina.  It's not right, it's not fair - we must raise the age. Let's form a commission on youth public safety and justice and let's get it done this year. 
Liberals and progressives would say that we should not throw away a 16- or 17-year-old child, even one who commits bad acts, by putting them into the adult justice system. The child's decisions-making capacity is not fully formed at that age, according to scientific reports.  And, in 37 states and Washington DC, only offenders 18 years of age and older are treated as adults. Another 11 states would consider a 17 year old an adult, and as our Sonofa Governor mentioned in the SOTS, only North Carolina joins us at the 16 year old level.

The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice is leading the charge on changing how juveniles are treated in the American justice system. They and others have made the case that adolescent brains are not fully developed and capable of valid decision-making; that young offenders too prone to peer pressure and act badly as a result; that mental and behavioral influences help contribute to youth crime; that kids incarcerated with adults don't stand much of a chance in turning their lives around; and that recidivism rates are much higher for adult-incarcerated youth than they are for kids in the juvenile justice program, where significantly more attention is paid to reform, rehabilitation and re-entry into productive society.

One of the MacArthur studies compared statistics in New York and New Jersey (focusing on the New York City area) back in the early 1990s, and found that kids prosecuted in NY's adult courts were 85% more likely to be re-arrested for violent crimes and 44% more likely to be re-arrested for property crimes; in fact, for every category of crimes other than drug offenses juveniles in the adult system were more likely to be re-arrested than their juvenile system counterparts in New Jersey.   A subsequent study in 2001 found more developmental issues with adult-incarcerated youth.

These studies are among the ones being shared by the proponents of raising the age; RaisetheAgeNY has some even more compelling statistics, including:
  • 75.3% of the 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds arrested each year, and potentially facing the adult court system, were charged with misdemeanors;
  • 70% of the 16- and 17-year-olds arrested are black or Latino; and
  • 80% of the ones who end up being sentenced are black or Latino
These are sobering statistics, to be sure.  But so (as just one example) was the behavior of Robert Lawrence;  he committed an adult crime (murder of a police officer) while participating in an adult crime (a deal to sell a lot of cocaine) with the intention of committing yet another adult crime (stealing $42,000, the cash intended to purchase the coke).

This type of behavior -- these or any other serious crimes -- should continue to be treated as adult crimes. And whatever we do let's not become Texas, where blaming wealthy parents is now fair game, just as blaming a poor upbringing is fair game just about everywhere.

Now, the other question here is why we need to "form a commission on youth public safety" to tackle this.

Why not let the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children handle it? They're celebrating 25 years of service, according to their web page. Funny - I see that and I'm reminded of Syracuse's old Frank's Pizza, where they used to say in their late-night ads that they "know what they've been doing, they've been doing it for over 25 years" -- that's experience, folks!

Yes -- let's ask this permanent commission to tackle the Raise the Age issue. Or, heaven forbid, why not ask the New York State Legislature? No one's better at holding meetings than that group.

If we're going to do this, let's look at misdemeanors vs. more serious crimes; let's look at harm to the victims (property vs person, for example) and let's look at sentencing options (including any cases of mandatory minimums).  Let's not lose sight of three-strikes type laws, and make sure that they're reasonable. But let's not mess around pulling together another group, let's use the one that's in place and figure out what has to be done.

And in the process, let's make absolutely sure that families like Wallie Howard's are heard from -- for as much as liberals and progressives are in favor of protecting and promoting and supporting the lives and welfare of the young and the less fortunate, when it comes to crime and punishment, the voice of the victims cannot be forgotten. 

January 15, 2014

About That Stadium

Last night I offered my second post on Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address. I noted he called out the collaborative efforts that we've grown used to here between Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, and how they could be an example for other leaders in any of New York's 10,500 jurisdictions.

Another focus of last night's post was the issue that has apparently slowed the collaboration, the Onondaga County - Syracuse University - SUNY Upstate Medical University - private developer - Sonofa Governor plan to plop a $500 million sports stadium in the city of Syracuse.  Notably absent from the collective planning was Mayor Miner, according to several reports. The mayor has some questions; other politicians and community leaders do as well. I do too, a few of which have been answered to some degree in this interview WYSR's Joe Galuski did with Joanie.

I initially wondered about the proximity of the suggested location to the elevated section of Route 81, which folks around here know will reach "the end of its useful life" in 2017. Conversations on what to do with the highway continue, with the public comment portion of the discussion coming to a close this week. The solutions for 81 haven't sounded all that creative -- a 'boulevard' in place of the elevated highway is the leading proposal, I think -- but it would be interesting to picture how the two projects would intersect, what the construction schedules would be, and how we ensure that we get full value out of both.

Our infrastructure issues, which span the width and breadth of the city, would not likely be improved by the development of the stadium and the other 1 million feet of commercial and residential space in the neighborhood, which according to Mahoney's radio interview would include a couple of small parking garages and a hotel. (There are close to 12,000 parking spaces within half a mile of the proposed location). And note, of course, that we still don't have a convention center hotel, and this project won't give us one.

I was confused on what the tax status of the project would be. SU and SUNY Upstate are generally tax-exempt, and it would be a concern if the stadium property also was tax free.  Mahoney indicated it would be privately owned, and taxable.  That's a good thing, as long as we actually collect taxes on it. Typically developments end up with Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) deals, as well as sales tax exemptions on construction, waiver of filing fees, and so on -- so I would hope that the tax-ability of the property was realized very quickly, rather than after some 10, 15, 20 or even 30 years, as has been the case on past development projects.

I wondered, If we build this and SU will come to play there, is it for basketball? Football? Lacrosse? All of these?  Does SU really want to give up the largest on-campus basketball arena and instead rely on a private facility at an off-campus location? That surprises me, unless that's the only way they'll be able to get 35,000 or more in to a game.

Because, we all know, of course, about the 'down-sitting-donor' yoga pose which is regularly exhibited at Carrier Dome events, and maybe this new facility could solve that problem. Of course, then would you have folks get football season tickets at the Dome and other sport season tickets at the new place? And parking passes at both? How's that going to go over with the old guys who pay big bucks for their front row seats or their luxury boxes? I'm trying to picture my company, who has some limited sponsorship at the Dome, having that conversation in the executive suite.

Carrier Dome from Onondaga Lake
Or, does the new facility get used for SU football too? Better for the donors, I guess. But what then becomes of the Dome? Can't imagine that SU would let her sit there unused, occupying critical on-campus real estate. Could we -- would we -- lose our iconic Teflon bubble? Lord, I hope not!

And the Syracuse Crunch?  Mahoney indicated in her newspaper interview that they might be on board. Doesn't that leave a gaping hole in the Oncenter schedule? And, correspondingly, in the wallets of the businesses that rely to some degree on Oncenter events to bring in revenue? Are we just going to sacrifice those businesses for the new ones that will grow up in the new stadium neighborhood?  I know that's Governor Cuomo's style, as he showed us with his Tax-Free NY plan, allowing new businesses and their employees to be tax free, while everyone else pays as required.

Mahoney indicated this would be a 365-days-a-year facility, that would get us the events that currently hop over Syracuse travelling from Rochester to Albany and vice versa. That would be a good thing - it would almost have to be a mandatory thing, so that we could get some money out of the hotel room tax.  And that we'd have concerts, which SU couldn't put on for the general public without having to make a crazy stretch to prove an educational component and protect their tax status. So my question about getting a Springsteen concert, well that could theoretically happen if we built this thing.

All that's well and good, I guess.  My main concern with this is that we have a private university, a private stadium owner, a private developer with his million feet of stuff, and yet, it sounds like something close to half of the project funding-- over $200 million from the state alone, with additional contributions from SU, Onondaga County, and others -- is coming from public dollars.  I griped about that when we taxpayers spent over a billion on the new Yankee Stadium, and another $800 million or so for the new Mets playground. I complain about it every time someone comes with hand outstretched and says "I have a great idea! It's so good I want you to pay me to make it happen!"

I understand bold ideas, and creative thinking, and a bunch of people sitting around talking about fun stuff.  I just hate when those conversations take their inevitable turn to government coffers.

And I wonder where are all the limited-government folks, because they should be screaming about this. And because I'm not sure, but I don't think you'll find mention of a stadium anywhere in those pocket Constitutions people are so proud to carry around.