August 27, 2014

Wondering, on Wednesday (v3)

For all sorts of reasons which I won't go into, of the most memorable comments in my yearbook way back in the day was one from a close friend that began "I'm starving and thinking of food..."  That's sort of where I am tonight, wondering on Wednesday:

Where will Syracuse's creative Chef Kevin Gentile end up, since he's closed his west-side restaurant?

Will you continue eating at Burger King now that their deal to acquire Tim Horton's (and become a Canadian citizen) is a reality?

Bacon yogurt: discuss.

Say you're a Democrat, and your favorite fast food joint just decided to pay everyone $10/hour, and their  low-cost menu items tripled in price as a result; would you still eat there?  What if you're a Republican?

Are the people eating at Toby Keith's, the Cheesecake Factory or the other chain restaurants at Destiny USA really the same people who aren't eating at local restaurants?

Anyone remember why eating a sausage sandwich at the NY State Fair became a political right of passage? And why didn't anyone tell Zephyr Teachout? Heard she had the ribs instead...

And speaking of the Fair: blooming onion, or deep-fried mashed potatoes on a stick?

August 26, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $1,456,126

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 59 new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $1,312,064.

·         There was one satisfied judgment, for $5,649.

·         And there were two healthcare related bankruptcies, for $138,413.

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

·         Crouse had 16, totaling $279,233
·         St Joe’s had five, for $74,501
·         SUNY Upstate had 41, totaling $1,102,392
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none

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

August 24, 2014

Hotel Syracuse: Another Step Forward

Hotel developer Ed Riley got more good news this week, and so did the City of Syracuse, when the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency (SIDA) approved a PILOT agreement for Riley's project to redevelop the empty and aging Hotel Syracuse, a cornerstone of 'south downtown' and Warren Street.

The deal approved by SIDA gives Riley's project a tax break of roughly $4.7 million over 14 years, and according to reports, requires him to create at least 100 jobs within three years, use all local labor on the project, and make a significant financial contribution. He still needs to secure additional financing on top of the state grants that he's already received to get the project going. The projected reopening is about two years out, but Riley has promised to make some incremental repairs to prevent further degradation of the structure this winter.

This is just one more stop along the way in the move to rehabilitate and reopen the hotel, which has been closed for a decade. Riley's company, the aptly-named Syracuse Community Hotel Restoration Co., was named the preferred developer back in February, and eminent domain proceedings  in July finally freed the hotel from our years-long waiting for or fighting with the foreign investors who owned her. Another step yet to be completed includes an agreement with the county for a guaranteed number of rooms to be available for conventions.

Regular readers may wonder why I'm not complaining about yet another corporate welfare handout; they know that I'm not a fan of many economic development practices, nor of overly-generous tax deals like the 30-year package offered to a developer to build Syracuse University a new bookstore.

And I'll admit to a hint of confliction on this one -- but just a hint.

As I've noted before, I would love one of the old gargoyles for my garden, but I would much rather we had the Hotel Syracuse restored and reopened, not only for sentimental value, or for the bump this will give our convention business, but also because it's another move towards extending 'downtown' outside the boundaries of Armory Square.

Projects like this one and the new City Center project planned for the old Sibley's building, the Merchants Commons building and others that flex and stretch our center-city neighborhood just a little bit each time, and which offer more than just apartments and condos, are good for the city and the greater metro Syracuse area.

Why?  Because, through projects like these, Syracuse has more to offer, which leads to attracting more visitors, which could lead to new companies wanting to come here, which means more people working downtown who are exposed to what we have to offer, which maybe means more people wanting to live in the city, which gives us a chance to extend our vibrant boundaries even further...

Now, if could just get someone to jump on my Parade of Homes in the City project...

August 22, 2014

The Other is an African-American Woman

So today on the radio a few fairly well known commentators were discussing the situation in Ferguson;  one of today's topics was the District Attorney Bob McCullough.

The DA is a real law-and-order guy, according to reports. His dad was a police officer who was killed in the line of duty, and other family members have worked for the police department. Not surprisingly, given his background, some folks in Ferguson and some from outside who are offering assistance and support have called for the DA to voluntarily recuse himself from the Michael Brown case. To be honest, even if his background had been different, I would have expected calls for recusal, given the lack of trust that we've seen and heard expressed since the teenager was killed almost two weeks ago.

So, in discussing this on the show today, the commentator noted that the DA has not yet recused himself, and may very well not. It was also noted that he is not personally presenting the case to the grand jury, but that two others from his office were handling the case.  Here's how they were described:
One is a 27-year veteran prosecutor, and the other is an African-American, woman, I believe. 
Really?  Is it just me, or is there something askew with those descriptions?

And what exactly are we supposed to infer from them?
  • The African American woman has so little experience it's not worthy of mention?
  • She's only on the case because she's African-American, to appease Ferguson residents?
  • The experience and long tenure of the one DA, who I'm thinking is a white male, suggest that this person will be doing the heavy lifting, and that obviously the gravitas gained from experience matters more than gender and skin color.  Unless you're an African-American woman.
Perhaps the 74 year old white woman who made those statements didn't really mean to describe the two district attorneys so very differently.  Perhaps, like Paula Dean, she is what she is and can't help herself.  

But for someone who has such a public stage -- a published author, frequent contributions to print and online media, and who has a fairly regular TV gig -- particularly one who speaks from the left -- she certainly should have known better. 

Or, again, maybe it's just me. 

August 20, 2014

Wondering, on Wednesday (v2)

In his current campaign ad, which lets us know that he supported a bill to withhold Congressional paychecks if a budget is not passed, why at the end does incumbent Dan Maffei say he supports the message because "we've gotta hold them accountable?"

Please say it's guaranteed that Matt Park will be The Voice of the Orange, now that Syracuse University has agreed to "maximize (their) interests" by renewing their agreement with IMG for broadcasting and multimedia rights?

Do you wonder how our Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, is sleeping these days now that he's lost yet another attempt to keep Zephyr Teachout off the primary ballot, and union support for his candidacy is wavering?

How did all of the thirty-something, passionate, extremely articulate blacks who are commenting on Ferguson manage to become so successful in the face of hopelessness and hate, and why isn't anyone asking them how they did it?

How can they legitimately call it Sav-On Gas when the price was as much as 40 cents per gallon higher than lots of other stations last Saturday?

Will this be the year that New York State Fair finally tops the 1,000,000 attendance threshold again?

August 19, 2014

Tuesday's Number: $998,777

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 29 new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $981,777.

·         There were no satisfied judgments.

·         And there was one healthcare related bankruptcy, for $17,000.

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

·         Crouse had two, totaling $22,985
·         St Joe’s had three, for $171,995
·         SUNY Upstate had 24, totaling $786,797
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none

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

August 17, 2014

Questions for Zephyr Teachout

Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout seems to be having the time of her life in her primary campaign against our Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo. There's been a lot of attention, much of which is pro-Zephyr, not just anti-Andy. I find that encouraging; it's easy to support someone new simply out of dislike of the other guy.

AP photo/Hans Pennink
I would love a debate between Cuomo and Teachout.

It's important that incumbents don't sit on their high horses (or, in Cuomo's case, in another country) during the primary season, ignoring their challengers, and the voters.

We deserve better.

The only sure thing is that I will be voting in the primary on September 9th - right now my vote's up for grabs.  And on the likely chance that we won't get a debate, here are some questions for Zephyr Teachout.

(1) Economic Development:
Your position on economic development touches four points: economic fairness, having a 21st century Internet, stopping consolidation, and infrastructure.

You note that you would push to increase the minimum wage, pointing out that Cuomo's increase (implemented incrementally over three years) did not go far enough. I admit to some discomfort with, say, doubling the minimum wage without making changes to all wages.  But let's agree that the minimum wage should be higher, and should get there faster than 2016.
Would you leave in place the minimum wage reimbursement credit that is paid to businesses to cover a sizable portion of the hourly increase, or should businesses pay the fair wage on their own?
As part of economic fairness, you reference Cuomo's focus on big business, specifically changes in the corporate income tax, the estate tax, and certain taxes paid by banks.  However, you did not mention one of Cuomo's economic development achievements, the Start-UP NY, or Tax Free NY program, which allows new companies to come to New York, plop down near a SUNY Campus or a designated private college or university and get a pass on sales, property or business taxes. And their employees don't have to pay state income taxes for 10 years.

Clearly, this program is not fair to existing companies and their employees, including those companies who can expand into these tax-free zones, as long as they maintain their existing workforce.  And of course we've been promised that the shirt-changing, game-playing of similar programs from the past will not happen this time.
Given your stated preference for economic fairness, would you continue this program as-is, continue it with changes that make the playing field more level and fair for existing companies, the ones that do pay sales, property and business taxes, and their employees who are required to pay income tax, or would you scrap this program all together and do something else to promote development, increase employment, and encourage growth? If the answer is scrap it, describe what you would do to engage businesses to come to - or stay in - New York? 
You also reference infrastructure and expanding competition, rather than consolidating it, as other key components of your economic development platform. I agree with you both on the critical need for all New Yorkers to have affordable, reliable access to high speed Internet and on disapproving of the Comcast - TimeWarner merger.

Here in my neck of the woods, the infrastructure issues that are of greatest concern are the deteriorating condition of roads, bridges, and our water delivery system. We have streets in desperate need of repair in our central business districts and our neighborhoods, and not enough time or money to fix all of them. Syracuse had the dubious distinction of making NY Times this past February, with our 100+ water main breaks just in the first six weeks of the year. Our water delivery infrastructure is decades-old  and acts it, in an ornery and cantankerous fashion. Whenever a main breaks, there are not only issues with a lack of water for the impacted area, but the ripple effect, pardon the pun, is extensive AND expensive for local businesses, employees, and customers.
In addition to having New York companies work on New York infrastructure, and restoring infrastructure funds 're-purposed' for the state's general fund, what assistance can local municipalities expect from the state to help correct these critical infrastructure issues?
Another 'up here' issue is the effort to get some sort of high speed passenger rail service along the Empire Corridor, a route that generally follows the path of the existing Interstate network from Buffalo and Niagara Falls to NYC.  How much use this high speed rail system might get depends on how fast the trains go, where they stop, how often they run, and of course how (and how much) work will be done to separate existing passenger and freight lines, which everyone seems to blame for Amtrak trains travelling more slowly than cars on the Thruway. 

Regular infrastructure problems -- roads and bridges, water delivery, broadband access - these are all people problems, they're fiscal problems, and they're future growth and development problems. And as you note they're public health and safety issues as well, in light of the problems experienced after Hurricane Sandy (and I'd add Super Storm Irene as well). Those storms opened our eyes to a whole other set of infrastructure and service delivery issues which have not effectively been addressed. 
How do you prioritize these issues?  Is attention going to be paid first to NYC, the MTA and the Sandy fallout, and let the upstate chips fall where they may?  Or can you fund critical priorities in both areas without breaking the bank or our collective financial back?
(2) Energy:
You support a full and fast ban on fracking, and an end to the dance around the issue, which I cynically believe is designed to prevent a decision from occurring during a Cuomo administration. Many residents in the Southern Tier, who see the economic boom happening across the border in Pennsylvania, not only want a decision now, but they want a 'full steam ahead' decision, now.
What industry or industries do you feel could provide similar economic impact as fracking, but without the risk to the environment? 
You also note that we need large-scale public works programs to help us retrofit existing structures, from public buildings to gas stations, to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs.
Do you envision a modern-day Works Progress Administration (WPA) for the unemployed and able-bodied people in the safety net?
(3) Clean, fair and open elections:
I agree with most of your positions on campaign finance reform, including limiting the amount that can be contributed, closing the LLC loophole, and the unfettered use of housekeeping accounts. I would go farther on this issue, however.
Do you support term limits for those who serve at the state level, including members of the Legislature, the Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, and so on, with a maximum combined 12 years in state elected office?
Would you support campaign finance laws that require donations only from residents of the legislative district where applicable, meaning no out-of-state funds, and no out-of-district funds for legislative seats as well as seats at the county, town and village level?
Would you apply the same limits to unions (public employee groups as well as others) as you would on corporations? 
I also agree that we need to reboot the Moreland Commission, but I have a concern with the make-up of the committee, particularly the fact that eleven of the commissioners are elected District Attorney, including two of the three commission chairs. I'm not convinced that these folks are any more pure than the others, who as you point out, may not be doing anything "technically illegal" but are "epitomizing legal corruption."
Would you consider reinstating and fully funding a Moreland Commission that did not include any elected officials as members?
(4) Guns and gun control:
Governor Cuomo, with the help of liberal Dems and moderate Republicans, passed the NY SAFE Act, which includes a host of changes to New York's gun laws, including ammunition limitations, more background checks, increased penalties for gun crimes (including those impacting first responders), and tries to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental illnesses. It also touches on Internet sales, the permitting process and school safety.

The SAFE Act has been widely derided by legal experts, police departments, fraternal police organizations, gun clubs, politicians in office an out, just about all of the 62 county legislatures in the state, and many ordinary New Yorkers. At the same time, even strongly pro-gun folks can find agreement with much of what's included in the law, as we all can disagree with the heavy-handed method in which the law was passed.

In addition, many counties have a significant backlog in the processing of handgun permits, which some feel is one more violation of their 2nd Amendment rights (on top of the SAFE Act itself).
Explain your position on gun control, and what if anything would your administration would do with the SAFE Act -- leave it alone, scrap it and start over, or modify it?  Please provide details if you would make changes to or scrap the current program. 
I keep thinking of other questions, but I have to save some for whoever ends up facing Rob Astorino.

Overall, I see many areas where Teachout and I share positions, and some where we don't. I like that we have a choice, and I'm a firm believer in the primary process.  I just wish our current governor was more of a believer.

I'll keep you posted on any responses I receive.

August 15, 2014

My Middle-Aged White Lady Perspective: Ferguson

From my middle-aged white lady perspective, here's what the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting looks like:
  • I cringe when I see police firing on peaceful protests and even on less-than-peaceful protests.  I cringe when I see tanks on the streets, with police aiming their weapons at American citizens in broad daylight.
  • I am appalled when I see reporters arrested or fired upon with rubber bullets and tear gas.
  • I support non-violent protests, against things including bad behavior by the police, and for things, such as justice, accountability, and transparency. I'm all for marching in the streets, or standing with hands raised or arms linked chanting slogans, gathering at police stations or other areas of focus. I support what many consider to be the annoying 'protest drumming' to make a point.
  • I wish I had seen more white faces in the protest videos and photos.
  • I have a harder time supporting protesters who throw rocks, bottles, and the like at police, as those actions can only have an escalating effect, regardless of the reason for the protest. Doesn't mean I don't understand how it escalates on the protester's side, it just means I understand that police are human -- not superhuman even though we sometimes think they should be -- and that escalation follows escalation.
  • I do not support looting, setting businesses on fire, or otherwise ruining the property and livelihoods of innocent people; I believe these are opportunistic actions by people taken under the cover of legitimate protest; these are selfish actions that detract from the mission. Stealing a television from someone not involved in the shooting of an unarmed teen are not related. I'm disgusted by the excuse presented by some that 'the businesses have insurance, after all' - that's a load of crap. 
  • I wish reporters would stop asking President Obama his opinion on situations like the one that led up to what we're seeing in Ferguson. I wonder if I'm missing all the times he's being asked to comment on crime somewhere in the country where the victim is unarmed and white and abused or killed by the police. Or, conversely, why it seems he's not asked about all of the alleged crimes and injustices committed against -- and by -- black teens and young adults. Missing children. Beaten prostitutes. Blacks killed by blacks. Black truancy and drop-out rates. That kind of thing. 
  • I wish, this week, that Ferguson Missouri looked more like America and less like Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, or Gaza. 
  • I wish, this week and most weeks, that people cared enough to act -- together -- before it got to this. And I wish, more than anything, we knew the way forward.

August 13, 2014

Wondering, on Wednesday

If you're the loved ones of Lauren Bacall (or, similarly, Farrah Fawcett), do you welcome the opportunity to grieve out of the limelight, while everyone else is focused on the death of someone more fascinating?

What the heck is going in in Ferguson MO?

What do you think Andrew Cuomo, Sheldon Silver, Jeff Klein and  Dean Skelos talked about on their trip to Israel?  The next phase of Albany-style ethics reform, maybe?

Will we ever get to the point where the assumption is that there will be debates between candidates in primaries, rather than that there won't be? Or will incumbents continue to get away with not engaging their opponents?

After Sandy Hook, we were going to "do something" about mental illness. After Robin Williams, will we?

Did you get your Board of Elections mailing this week, telling you where to vote in the primary and general election?  And did your polling place change this year?

How does Rush Limbaugh stay on the air?

Legal marijuana or lottery games: which is the better (least objectionable?) way to fund education?

When was the last time you were required to show ID, for anything?

August 10, 2014

20 Questions, 20 Answers

Today's Post Standard editorial, It's Time to Play 20 Questions, is an open invitation for all of us to have a little fun.  It doesn't matter whether you're happy and optimistic, or a miserable, cynical skeptic; as a city resident, county resident or even an out-of-towner, you can chime in. Full disclaimer: in general I resemble at least few of those categories above: I'll admit to being an optimistic if skeptical city resident, at the very least. Answering the questions might put me in some different buckets, we'll see.

Here goes:
1. Is $17,000 to keep the bathrooms clean at the New York State Fair really an excessive expenditure when you figure in the number of bathrooms (about 40), the length of the Fair (12 days) and the loudness of the complaints when the bathrooms are disgusting and run out of toilet paper?
If you've ever been in one of the Fair bathrooms, you'll know that this is money well spent. Those 40 bathrooms have a potential customer base of between 50,000 and 100,000 users per day, and it's worth it to have someone supervise the people hired to clean them. And no, I'm not interested, at any price. 
2. Is Onondaga County government just being super-efficient -- kind of like the private sector -- in its super-speedy review of plans to build an amphitheater on the west shore of Onondaga Lake?
I have to admit, it was hard not to chuckle at the comments from Legislature Chair Ryan McMahon who noted that "This is the first time in my nine years in government, people have been criticized for moving too fast in government."  Apparently he's forgotten about the stadium project, which Onondaga County tried to get shoehorned into the Governor's budget without including Stephanie Miner?  
I would love to see the square wooden wheels of government turn more quickly, on several things -- most notably reform, consolidation and spending -- but when you're talking about $30 million taxpayer dollars to build a seasonal amphitheater on top of decades-old waste beds, in the backyard of the snowiest major city in the Northeast, is time really of the essence?
3. Or is Onondaga County Government trying to ram the project through while nobody's looking?
Yes. And not for nothing, I'm as interested in the comments from concert promoters as I am in the environmental impact statement.  "If you build it, they will come" might have worked in an Iowa cornfield, but I'm not convinced that it will work here, given all of the other entertainment venues that are available within an easy drive.
4.  Why hasn't Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said anything about the implosion of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, whose members he deputized as special prosecutors?
Um, because he's as culpable in the failure of the Moreland Commission as our Sonuva Governor? Do you think he realizes that he dropped the ball, by not "talking to people" on the Commission, by not making suggestions to and meeting with the commissioners, including our own DA-for-Life William Fitzpatrick?  Or is it because he'll do just about anything to stay away from Cuomo at this point, since the two have long had a fractious relationship?
5.  What will the Syracuse University student -- the one who helped design an app to warn Israelis when rockets are about to fall on their heads -- come up with next?
Maybe he can warn us when the drones referenced in #13 are about to fly over our heads? 
6.  Why hasn't anyone built a glass-enclosed party palace in downtown Syracuse before now?
Lack of vision and lack of downtown momentum. Glad we've overcome both!
7.  Where are the Syracuse Chiefs fans -- considering the team is in the thick of a playoff picture, there's a ton of fun off the field and they're giving away a funeral this coming Wednesday, August 13th?
I'm still not convinced on that whole funeral give-away. That said, I haven't been to a Chiefs game since Josh Beckett did a rehab start for the Pawtucket Red Sox. I found my pictures from that night and guess what? There were about as many empty seats as filled seats, even for Beckett.
Now, had you asked me when that game was, I would have guessed a generic 'couple of years ago' --  but in fact, it was in July of 2010.  I had no idea it was that long ago.
I'm not a Chiefs fan, but what the heck's wrong with me that I haven't been to a game in more than four years?  That's a question most of us should ask ourselves.
8. Why is it taking so long to reconstruct West Fayette Street downtown?
The answer is 42
9.  Will Syracuse University get more applicants, now that it's been anointed the No. 1 party school in the nation?
Perhaps the better question is, how many folks will leave after the first semester when they realize that the ranking is unwarranted? And will they transfer to LeMoyne "we may be Jesuit but..." College, where at least they have Dolphy Day?
10.  Did President Barack Obama really think he could avoid being dragged back into Iraq?
Maybe he thought he'd be impeached first and wouldn't have to deal with it? On a more serious note, do we always have to go where others fear (or fail) to tread? Must we always be the world's police? Is our manifest destiny to continually try and secure the destiny of others? And how do we sit back and watch our ally Israel cause similar damage against Hamas in Gaza killing hundreds of innocent men, women and children in the process, at the same time we bomb others who cause the same carnage, albeit for different reasons?  Maybe 42 is the answer here as well. 
11. When is a political endorsement from a union not a political endorsement from a union? (Ask Dan Maffei and John Katko).
His uncle and my aunt were hanging up clothes. My union folded, it joined one of those. They support the other guy, so I had nowhere to go, but to throw my support to Cousin Katko. Or something like that, if Timothy Hogan spoke in verse.  
12. What is it with professional athletes and domestic violence?
From the time they're in junior high school, or even earlier, when they get discovered in Pop Warner or AAU leagues, promising athletes become a prized commodity; they're told they're special, and many are given special treatment, as soon as it's possible for someone to do so. Whether having female 'escorts' (wink wink) to them when they're college recruits, or not having to go to class, take tests or write papers, or being excused for sexual assault as high schoolers, or free clothes and all the rest, we show and tell athletes that they're special and all the rest of us are throw-aways, just like an old pair of free sneakers. Sadly, many of them learn that lesson more readily than all of the other critical life lessons that are right in front of them. 
And no, I'm not excusing the athletes' behavior, I'm complaining about the enablers, the ones who sweep bad behavior under the rug to make sure that (enter athlete's name) gets to play on (enter day of the week) in the big game against (enter key rival's name).  
And about league commissioners who put a higher price on smoking pot than on hitting a woman and then dragging her from an elevator.  
13.  With drones poised to start flying over Central New York, how soon before the fist invasion of privacy lawsuit is filed?
As soon as soybeans, corn, and wheat achieve personhood, or corporation-hood, and obtain free speech rights.
14.  Why can't Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand fly coach like the rest of us?
Good lord, is Chuck 'Touchdown' Schumer wearing those crazy astronaut diapers on his trips around the state?  He pays almost $300,000 to fly around on a plane that doesn't even have a bathroom? 
15.  Would it really be unethical to give experimental drugs to people dying of Ebola?
Ethical questions are supposed to be tough, and to me this one is. Would it be right to experiment on third-world people with the experimental drug, which might not even work? If it's wrong for us to have done that over the years with prisoners,blacks, mentally ill and the poor,how can it be right to do it now? And is it even necessary to do that, since traditional methods, if employed effectively, work effectively?  I think I'm on the 'yes' side of this one. I think.
16.  Can you believe it's football season already?
No. I sure hope my 49er's are ready. And I can't wait for us to get rolling with Scott Shafer press conferences after SU games.
17.  Who will be the next USA Basketball player to quit, after that gruesome injury to Paul George?
Can't say who will be next, don't know enough about it. But if the pros are afraid to play for fear they'll get hurt, perhaps with a career-ending injury, that leaves college kids. If they get afraid of maybe getting hurt before their NBA careers even start, will the USA be left fielding teams of walk-ons and high-school kids against the pros who compete with us (on our favorite teams) during the season and against us in international play? That would stink. 
18. Would today's hyper-partisan Congress have impeached Richard Nixon?
I can't imagine that they would have. Nor, if he was President now, that Nixon would resign. Back then, doing something for the good of the country meant something. Now, not so much. 
19.  Will we ever come to a consensus on Interstate 81?
I'm afraid our conversation will reach the end of its useful life about the same time the highway does.  At the same time, though, I'm glad that voices are being heard and that DOT is listening.  (Ryan McMahon, pay attention...)
20.  The State Fair is almost here.  Where did summer go?
A good portion of it went (as always) to work, weeding, and writing.  This year, we have to add in widing our bikes and dodging waindwops.
How would you have answered the questions? Share your responses in the comments.

August 5, 2014

I'm About Moreland'd Out

Our supremely quotable District Attorney-for-Life William Fitzpatrick, the guy who brought us the classic she's drooling normally line from a murder trial a few years back, gets the credit for the title of today's post. He made that comment recently in an interview with Teri Weaver who writes for and the Post-Standard.  Her interview with Fitz came after a lengthy NY Times investigation into the independence, or lack thereof, of the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, more commonly known as the Moreland Commission.

The Moreland Commission was a group of 25 elected officials and otherwise willing public servants, and it included not only Fitz, who was one of the three co-chairs, but also Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and local businessman J. Patrick Barrett. Their work, according to the press release announcing the Commission, was to investigate actual or perceived corruption, investigate existing laws so they could be improved, generate transparency and accountability, strengthen our democracy, root out bad guys, and obey the Girl Scout Laws.  (OK, sorry, I added that last part).

Notably, according to Milton L. Williams Jr. (one of Fitz's co-chairs),
The work of this historic commission will not be done until we have restored the public trust.
Rather than restoring the public trust, the Commission proved that we are as incapable of getting ethics reform as we are of establishing sane election districts, eliminating unfunded mandates, achieving real tax reform, finding a fair way to fund education, reasonably managing the safety net or handling any of the other myriad roles of state government. Had that ever been in question, it should be no longer.

Maybe Preet Bharara, the US Attorney who's had some success in rooting out bad guys, will have more luck since he's less invested in the process than any of the Commission members or their masters, Cuomo and Schneiderman. Bharara's office is currently collecting everyone's files and has put the whole mess of them on warning that he's suspicious of all the 'no interference' comments that are all the rage since the Times stories came out.

While our reform efforts are lacking, the quote machine are is in fine fettle. For example, there's a timeline of Cuomo's comments on the commission in this past Sunday's paper. Among them are these quotes on the independence (or lack thereof) of the commission:
It's an independent commission that is free to investigate whatever they believe needs to be investigated on the merits. (July 1, 2013, on the Moreland Commission)
First, your fundamental assertion is that the Moreland Commission was independent. It wasn't. No Moreland Commission can be independent from the governor's office. (July 23, 2014, in response to the NY Times articles)
It was 100 percent independent...(July 28, 2014 in a press conference in Buffalo)  
And then there's this, one of Fitzpatrick's gems:
I am not wasting 15 months of my quickly shortening life to write some silly report that Lewis and Clark couldn't find in five years! ~ in an email to one of his co-chairs reiterating the independence of the Moreland Commission in the face of interference from Cuomo's aides, according to the New York Times. 
Of course, in an his 'no interference' comment, he offered this:
The governor in forming the commission announced it would be an independent body. It was. The notion that 10 elected DAs along with a County Executive, a law school Dean, a renowned judge, professors, a businessman and private attorneys devoted to good government would NOT be independent is ridiculous.
So which Cuomo do we believe?  Which Fitzpatrick do we believe?

As we watch to see where this all ends up,  Cuomo has hired a prominent attorney, who will be paid out of campaign funds, naturally - either to keep taxpayers from having to pay the costs of his legal bills, or to hide information, including the amount of the retainer.

I suppose that's a more legitimate use of campaign contributions than paying for tanning salon services, which was one of the things uncovered by the Moreland Commission.  Or steak dinners and golf, two of Fitzpatrick's preferred campaign fund expenditures.

We probably still need ethics reform in Albany, or, like folks say regarding gun control, we can simply enforce the laws on the books and catch the creeps we can.

What we need more, though, is an end to the kind of nonsense that happened here:

  • a governor threatening the legislature with an investigative commission if they don't pass some the reforms the governor wants;
  • appointment of an independently non-independent commission to investigate everything except for the part of 'everything' that includes the governor;
  • the legislature passing watered down reforms so the governor would shut down the investigation;
  • and finally the shut-down commission crowing about their independence and the reforms that came about because of their work. 

I, too, am about Moreland'd out.  

Tuesday's Number: $176,065

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 twelve new judgments to hospitals, doctors, or other medical providers totaling $170,065.

·         There were no satisfied judgments.

·         And there were no healthcare related bankruptcies listed.

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

·         Crouse had seven, totaling $69,392
·         St Joe’s had none
·         SUNY Upstate had three, totaling $79,464
·         Community General, a part of Upstate, had none

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

August 1, 2014

Flatter is Better

As I noted the other day, I'm a proponent of a flat tax, because it's the only sure-fire way to treat all of us equally when it comes to income taxes. I also believe that the flat tax should apply to the breathless people too -- corporations -- that are the darling of politicians across the land

Assuming we can figure out the percentage that we would need to collect from people and corporations (and there's likely an app for that), it seems there would be some obvious benefits, including:
  • Increased "certainty," something we've been told countless times over the past few years we're lacking. Without it, businesses and people can't invest, can't save, and can't spend money on goods and services. Businesses can't grow. The flat tax is nothing if not certain.
  • No more scrambling in the spring to see if you can get a deduction or credit. No more trying to determine if you should file singly, jointly, or some combination of that. No more marriage penalty. No more having to pay a tax service. Just a tax on the income you earn.
  • If your bracket says your tax rate is 25%, but you pay 15% because of all the gimmicks, are you paying your fair share? Most companies (and people) pay a rate less than what their bracket says they should pay. If we had a legitimate flat tax rate, one that was fair across the board, we wouldn't need all this other tinkering around. And we wouldn't have it. And we'd all be paying our fair share.
  • Having our money in our hands all year long gives us freedom to do what we want with it. More money for more purchasing means more goods and services to purchase, which means more jobs, which means more income, which means more taxes. Not higher taxes, but more people contributing to the tax base, because they would have jobs. In theory, that could allow the tax rate to actually go down.
Perhaps equally important, though are the other benefits we could gain by completely reforming the tax code (closing tax loopholes, eliminating the social engineering components, etc.) and implementing a flat tax

What drives our political system? Money. Where does that money come from? Lobbyists, PACs, 501(c) organizations, unions, political parties, trade associations, corporations, and even some people. Why do those organizations donate money? Because they want something - they want lower taxes, or they want special tax credits, or they want fewer regulations (many of which call for fees, which are just like taxes, or the call for changes, which cost money), or they want special treatment (which usually means they want to pay less money one way or another).

So, if you're a politician from either party and you are getting boatloads of financial help from the organizations above, or you want to get boatloads of financial help, what do you do? You work with them or on their behalf to craft regulations or legislation that work to their advantage. You dream up bills that help reduce the tax burden on businesses, by setting up tax free zones, for example, or create other 'zones' which benefit specific sets of accountants and lawyers who get their clients into the programs, often leaving other businesses (and their employees) behind. You sign tax pledges or otherwise sell your soul for the money.

The problem with all of this, which is a purposefully cynical outlook on politic, is that because of money and its influence, people who think they are paying their fair share actually end up paying more than that. Why? Because the taxes that don't get paid by the people with influence end up getting paid by everyone else.  And not only that, all of these special programs, special rules, special tax deductions and credits and gimmicks serve to create separation and division between us.

We all know someone who complains about welfare programs, lobster-buying SNAP users and all of those baby-popping-out women that are embedded in the safety net. Well, those same complaints can also be made against companies and people who benefit from the special stuff, whether it's flexible spending plans covering day care, parking and public transportation, or tax credits for charter schools or higher education, or deductions for charitable contributions, or chosen types of interest, or even deductions for additional children that people choose to have, which we find so distasteful under other circumstances.

The list could go on and on, but at the end of it, like a rainbow, there's always the promise of a pot of gold - in this case, filled with our tax dollars. Crony capitalism, special tax breaks, are just as 'bad' as any other type of handout.

And if the money was not in the picture, would the ethical landscape improve? Would it be less appetizing to a politician to consider a bribe, to do a favor, to craft and pass a bill, if they knew that there was no wiggle room in the income tax laws? I would have to think yes.

Two years ago when he was Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan repeatedly said we needed to close tax loopholes, put an end to corporate welfare, and stop treating wealthy people differently. Here's one version of that sentiment:
And what we're saying about taxes is take the tax shelters and the loopholes away from, from the well connected and the well off so we can lower tax rates for everybody.
I'm not a huge Ryan fan, but on this, he was right. Close the corporate and personal loopholes, even the ones near and dear to us; stop the social engineering; stop the cronyism; reform entitlements for the 'haves' with equal gusto as for the 'have nots' and in the process, let's get some of the money out of politics.