Monday, February 28, 2011

A POOR SOLUTION

I would call attention to the  extremely thoughtful commentaries  relating to my past 2 blogs. Many, if you have not read them, are worth going back and reviewing.


That said, I had intended to opine on the role of unions, in both the private and government sectors, in today's economic world. Suffice to say, there should be a place and that must be addressed later. For the present my attention has been focused on the Medicaid issue especially in New Jersey, as one of the two main causes of our state monetary crisis. Health care and pension funding along with wages  represent the biggest expenditures in municipality's budgets.


This quote is from the CNJGM posting to which Bernice provided a link  Saturday:.
 '"At the state level, the largest cost drivers in the budget are school aid, public employee pensions  and health benefits, and Medicaid. For the past two years, the Medicaid program has benefited from 
the availability of federal stimulus funds to support New Jersey‟s obligations. Continuation of federal stimulus funds for Medicaid is not an option as they have been eliminated. The state‟s widely documented unfunded liabilities – underfunding of the public
employee pension and health benefits systems – represents perhaps the most significant fiscalchallenge to our future". CNJGM

The  proposed Medicaid reforms impact on an issue that deeply concerns me; "The Affordable Health Care Act". The well intentioned pen pushers "do-gooders" have substituted quantity  for quality. There is no way  this nation or any nation can afford what is promised in the act without strictly limiting accessibility to certain treatments, medications, or facilities. No where is that in greater evidence than in the Medicaid program.

The fact is that Medicaid is a program that is not solely funded at the federal level. States provide up to half of the funding for the Medicaid program. In some states, counties also contribute funds. The States decide the benefit programs other than Federally mandated. Up to now States do not have to participate. 


From what I can gather the State wishes to farm its program out to a "Managed Care Provider". Money is expected to be saved by giving "Medicaid" more direct control over spending:.  From the CN article (Bold Face mine);"Seek federal approval to create programs with wellness and prevention incentives and give people in Medicaid more direct control over health spending" That in  essence is allowing the payer not the professional to decide what type care or diagnostic studies are to be done.

Equivalency does not denote equality. Thus an older therapy or outdated diagnostic study may be allowed rather than "the state of the art".  Use of generic drugs means that they are older and the term "equivalent therapeutic value) does not mean that are as effective as newer proprietary medications. By the time it is found that there is a poor response irreparable damage may have occurred.


Some of the suggested reforms as quoted from the CN article: (Bold Face mine)
  "Move roughly 121,000 aged, blind and disabled Medicare recipients into managed care for both medical visits and prescription coverage, saving $41 million by requiring the use of less expensive drugs and treatments." That in is stating that these individuals have less value than the rest of society and should be treated accordingly. A slow version of the Nazi's solution


"Cut state reimbursements to nursing homes by 3 percent, saving $25 million."
and "Eliminate $7.5 million in payments to nursing homes for holding patients' beds open for 10 days when they leave a facility, as required, in case they return."  Consider the effect of these two reforms; The "nursing homes" already have trouble surviving when dependent on Medicaid with out cutting corners on services. With less funding they will reduce staff to a  bare minimum and all other services including dietary will suffer. The second measure means that if a patient is admitted to a hospital the nursing home will use the b ed for a new patient to prevent  a ten day loss of revenue. The patient may then  go to another less desirable facility. 

"Increase anti-fraud enforcement efforts by the Comptroller's Office, including buying new equipment and hiring more auditors, saving $35 million." This is essential and part of the problem lies in the fact that unless fraud is gross little attention is paid to the small dollar siphoning of funds. To many dollars  have been lost to Medicaid and Medicare from actions  of unscrupulous vendors. This includes as noted in recent articles charges by units of the University of New Jersey Medical units, other hospitals,  nursing homes , pharmacists, physicians etc. If one is without conscience any thing goes.

The Medicaid program is truly "Between a rock and a hard place, a dilemma; a situation offering at least two possibilities, none of which are acceptable"(Wikipedia). It would be nice to include every even the undocumented who fall below a certain income level into a universal heath care plan. However it is economically untenable without sever rationing of services. There is going to have to be some unfortunate compromises made. Inferior quality for quantity's sake is not acceptable.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

FRACTURED SOCIETY 2

In the first "installment"  I tried to focus on today's economic society's two easiest  classes  to codify. Today , I hope to briefly and coherently cover  my remaining three groupings.

(3)The third and perhaps the largest group springs from those who are wage earners gained from self-employment and/or private enterprises. Most seldom have the luxury of accumulating a large retirement nest egg. The majority, where there was an employment pension plan may have had to co-contribute in the past or resort to savings and IRAs.In the 80s the 401K plan became more common and shifted  the funding over to the employee.  Others that were part of a full funded pension plan have seen their “money” disappear due to employer bankruptcy or management fiat. The few that were members of Unions where the employer absorbed all the Health Care Insurance costs have suffered from owner relocation, or changes forced by the threat of job loss. Very few have had compensatory income raises based on the increased cost of living.

This large majority of the population feels that they are bearing an excessive proportion of the Nation’s expenses as a percentage of their income when compared to the Obscene Rich. And they are right. They are ambivalent on the heath care issues as long as the availability and quantity is there. Most are less concerned about the quality then they are about the impact upon their wallet. This generation has become used to a regimented system where their options on doctors, facilities, treatments, medications, etc. will become even more limited then today.

This grouping is additionally divided between those that would sacrifice today to prepare for tomorrow, and those who live only for the moment financially and can not be prepared for retirement years.

(4) And then there is the jealous envy of the above masses.  Those workers in Government employment who have “civil service jobs”   almost never can be “fired”. The Teachers have “Tenure” as their “Civil Service Protection). They have the best Health Protection available, and Pension Plans that can be inflated by a final year’s shenanigans. Often they are eligible for full benefits after 20/25 years employment irrespective of their age.  Their contracts provide for annual increases not tied into increases in living costs.  Other perks such as fully paid health care and pension plan funding that those outside the envelope of Government worker cannot enjoy.  It is to be noted that 59% of the workers in the N.J. Public Sector are Union Members

If the "Letter to the Editors" is a guide, the adamant refusal by the majority of the “locals” with “state union” support to give any givebacks that might prevent some job losses has alienated much of the public.    Certainly the insistence of including in new contracts mandatory yearly raises not subject to merit or economic conditions causes hostility among over 60% of the population if the media polls are to be believed.

(5) The last of the present groupings are the elderly as a group they are in ways a mirror reflection of the first four.  Obviously, those that belong to the “Millionaires” classification should, barring a catastrophe, have no worries about becoming bagmen/ladies. Those who were former Government Employees have one or more pension plans and continued health care as provided in their union’s contracts. They can go to bed in the Islands or Florida laughing at us every night.

It is the large majority of the over  70s who are hurt most by the present economic climate. Those that were already receiving assistance as unemployed or below the poverty level, if funds stay available should continue to be wards of the State. They will not be impacted by increase Government debt until uncontrolled inflation happens.

The mass majority who are living on Social Security Payments ,  plus income from a pension plan whose numbers seemed astronomical at first, and some saved assets are in danger,  As the cost of living has risen  their pension income numbers have remained static. Social Security’s COLA has not risen proportionally,  so the elderly have to deplete their assets to meet every day needs. To compound the insult, those that have health insurance find that not only does the premium increase every year for basic policy but the costs of medication also increase.

As one grows older there is an increased need for medication so the health care cost demands on income. The money squeeze is extreme on the elderly and many are no longer able to retain their homes. Even those that can are hit by exponential annual tax increases. This is a bleak and dreadful picture why the elderly resent the annual salary and benefit increases granted to government workers.


This would lead us into the next subject; the conflict between State Governors and the large powerful public workers unions.  We are seeing in states like Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, New York a very public confrontation that may continue to                      grow.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
 We will continue the  state/union  issue                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  


Saturday, February 26, 2011

FRACTURERD SOCIETY


It is with a great deal of restraint that I have resisted commenting on Friday's "Union" rally in Trenton. That along with a commentary on the Legislator's walkout in Wisconsin and Indiana will be subject matter as time permits this coming week.


First I would present some background on today's economic stratified society. This is pertinent to  not only the above,but our future.

Politics and passions run high regarding the relationships of governmental employees with their contracts. Today's poor economics with a still 9% unemployment rate has fueled the conflict. 

We now have a five level society; the so called "Millionaires", Government Employees, The non civil wage earners, the Elderly and the Unemployed. Each grouping naturally can be further broken down into sub groups.  Each and every sub group should require different taxation, fiscal security and health benefits from the other members in the grouping.

(1)The Politicians’ object of rhetoric abuse; “the Millionaires” requires further sub-division separating obscenely rich Multi-Millionaires/Billionaires from the "Accidental Millionaires” as well as the Run of the Mill Millionaires”

The first group earned their wealth mainly through repugnantly inflated job compensation" from salaries, bonuses and/or securities grants especially options.  This is the group that should be the focal point for legislation eliminating the large loopholes which creates income free of taxation. This is the group that should be responsible for at least 2/3rd of the revenues needed.

Health care and “retirement planning” are not issues for this group. They will not be participants in any health care program.
There is a significantly smaller group whose income has reached the 6 figures as executive or self employment. This group includes moat professionals .Their taxations must be adjusted in order to prevent abuses that may still live in the System. They have over the years accumulated enough resources to be labeled “millionaires”.  This is the bunch I call the “Run of the Mill” millionaires.

All will have some type of heath care insurance, where provided by their employer they will also have a maximum retirement plan including 410K and maximized IRAs. Any income tax should have step increments but the percentage must be capped
  
The group that I refer to as "The Accidental Millionaires" have become so through fiscal conservatism and savings. Most of their inclusion in this group has occurred due to combating inflation by investing in securities that’s increased in  value as the market have risen.  Values have mirrored the inflationary rate. A decade or two ago they would have been considered the well off upper middle class and their total wealth would not place them in the Millionaire group. Their dollar buying power then and now would reflect the true value of their economic status.

Those that have reached retirement age are now living off Social Security, and dividends or interests returns from investments. The ones over 70 have to liquidate based on life expectancy programs, mandated dollars from their various retirement programs. These dollars plus the capital gains from sales of securities places many in a higher income tax level. Thus they are penalized for saving and preparing for their old age.
 
(2)The "Unemployed" has changed only in their presently increased numbers. This classification includes those who for physical, or educational, and unfortunately ethnically and/or religious reasons find themselves unemployable. 

It also includes the employable that have lost jobs due to various factors and are now rejected when work is available because of age or wage expectancy. Plant layoffs where there are existing unions contracts protect longevity therefore the 20-30 year olds, many with young families to raise, are hit the hardest when layoffs under union or civil service rules are in force.

This is the group that needs active society help financially and in health care as well as retraining. There is a small minority that will accept a dole rather than try to earn their sustenance. 

During the Great Depression the CCC, PWA, and WPA programs were paramount in helping the unemployed regain a sense  of self pride while at the same time improving the nation’s infrastructure. This Administration’s policy of Grants has less successful, increased the debt and unfortunately been open to abuse of funds.

The provision of health care to the unemployed or those whose income is below the poverty level is a must but it should be in a manner that will not lower or otherwise compromise the health care delivered to the rest of the population.
  
(To be continued)

Friday, February 25, 2011

POTPOURRI FOR NOW

Locally the hot issue is once again the "Monarch". The Developer has violated most of the Contract he signed tn his obtaining title to the property. The City should take all legal action  now, there is no room  for negotiation. A request to temporarily turn some units into rentals would have been approved by Council because of today's economy. But to flaunt such action in the  citizens  face requires immediate and drastic action.

I raised the  COO question yesterday.  How can an apartment in a building that does not have a COO or pay property taxes qualify to receive a unit COO? The  head of the Building Division must answer. The action must be illegal and the city must seek an injunction against occupancy, until  it can be  legalized. I would deem any city official who sanctioned  occupancy in these units to have  broken the law and may be so treated.

Still working on my "essay"  broadly discussing  today's society's social-economic diversity; the various needs and attitudes toward employment, retirement, and heatlth care, etc. This will include an opine on the Civil Workers rights as being manifested in Wisconsin,Indiana, and here in New Jersey. I may hold off posting till  Monday.

Red Face Corner: Too often in  m y typing "the" becomes "tghe". That is due to the fact that a combination of my clumsy fingers and the QWERTY keyboard the "G" is included in hiting  "T" or "H. Also I noted in a comment that I sent to Councilor Storch's blog I had a vanishing "t" hus  "too" and "to"  appeared a "oo" and "o".  The T was there when I sent it (10:20 and it was on the (t)hus)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

FOR NOW MONARCH

There is so much going on in today's world. locally, nationally, and of course in the Mid-East Islamic nations that kindles one's interest and a desire to opine. Naturally, most of it arouses passions that sometimes exceed decency. C'est-la-vie. And, of course there is our almost daily report of a natural catastrophe somewheres on this globe.

Although I had started to write a "brief" essay-that is of course an oxymoron- about the Wisconsin/Indiana/New Jersey civil service's brouhahas it rapidly became too convoluted and verbose to even consider finishing or posting. However any cuts seemed to obscure any "argument" and thus rewriting, rewording and perhaps refocusing will be essential. Because of the multifaceted subject matter to shorten it to fill a space would make it in my opinion meaningless.

S0, please bear with me and and in a day or so I will start posting a two or more segment blog.

Of course we have our side tracks, and a late one came from Plaintalker's Wednesday evening post on the "Monarch". Two others appeared in Mark Spivey's blog which I did not see until late Wednesday; one about Senator Lautenberg's appearance at a Wednesday Morning Press Conference on Gun Control at City Hall, and the other a belated police report about a "severe beating" prob ably gang related that occurred Sunday.

Unfortunately, just a few days ago in a periodic cleaning of old non personally essential documents I destroyed my copy of the City's Agreement with Dornoch through UCIA that led to the Planning Board approval and City permission to construct a luxury condo building on East Front Street with the provision the developer providing for a dollar a permanent Senior Citizen's Center space that the City would own as a condo.

Nowheres in the agreement was a mentioned that the units could be used as rentals. To the best of my knowledge there has been no resolution offered by the Council to permit such usage. For the Developer to now "Rent them with the provision to purchase" is illegal.

The Developer has not lived up to many of the terms of the building contract, and now he is committing a fraud upon those that purchased units in good face.

But there are many unanswered questions. A few are; was a Certificate of Occupancy issued for the entire building or just for the occupied condo units? I believe that this was so stated by Corporation Counsel late in 2009 or early 2010 when the question of the "new" Dornoch charge for the SCC was raised and if the SCC or any part of the building had received a Certificate of Occoupancy. The Senior Citizen's Center is one of the condos. The sold condos appeared on the tax roles once certified. The Monarch itself was exempt from taxes as an occupied commercial enterprise. Since it is now an rental enterprise should it not be liable for taxation once a certificate of occupancy was granted to any portion.? What happens to the Veterans' Center which was to be turned over to the city once all units were sold? That provision now seems not to be worth the paper it was written on. Since the city sold the property to UCIA for $1.00 and they facilitated the contract between Dornoch and the City does UCIA have a responsibility? Who is responsible for maintenance, Dornoch,the Condo Owners including the City, or all? If all how will responsibility be allocated? These are only an immediate few.

The City has an obligation to its taxpayers to take all legal methods to enforce the developer to live up to his agreement. It also should in effect at the least to consider becoming a partner with those that purchased units from this apparent con artist in their pursuit of redress.

An Anoni writing to PalintalkerII wrote "So it would be better for the units to sit vacant?". That is not the question. There is no questuion that it would be better for the City if it is 100% occupied. Even more serious;the problem is at least two fold. The first is the City's approval for construction as "condos' not "rentals". This could be a zoning board violation, it certainly is a violation of the Planning Boards approval. The other and as important relates those that purchased units either at the original inflated price or the few later at a market price. Are they victims of a con game?

The terms for the building may be read in this old blog . click  here

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

ACA COURT DECISION #5

Until the validity of the mandatory insurance is settled in the Supreme Court, there will be lower court decisions handed down. There is no question that te Supreme Court will hear at least one appeal or combine several. The issue is important because of the cost impact uponn the economy. (The bold face portions are mine)

February 23, 2011 — A third federal judge has declared that the requirement to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty under the nation's embattled healthcare reform law is constitutional, contrary to 2 other federal judges, who ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional.

US District Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington, DC, yesterday dismissed a suit brought by 5 individuals who argued that Congress has no right under the Constitution's Commerce clause to force them to obtain health insurance coverage, which they desired to do without. Similar to plaintiffs in other cases challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they contended that by improperly regulating "inactivity" regarding health insurance, the ACA opened the door for Congress to require individuals to buy "countless other goods and services."

Also similar to the 2 other judges who have upheld the ACA, Kessler agreed with the Obama administration's position that individuals who decline health insurance are not passive actors because they will eventually need healthcare, and many will gain it free of charge from hospitals and physicians. Such "free riders" disrupt the healthcare marketplace because the cost of this care gets shifted to healthcare providers and, ultimately, insured individuals and taxpayers. In addition, the uninsured shrink the insurance risk pool, driving up premiums for those with coverage.

In a twist on the legal wrangling over the ACA, which appears destined to reach the US Supreme Court, Kessler also rejected the claim by 3 of the defendants that the individual mandate violates a federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the government from substantially burdening someone's exercise of religion. The 3 plaintiffs stated that having to buy health insurance — "a backup plan," in their words — "conflicted with their faith because it suggested doubt in God's ability to provide for their needs." They also said that ACA did not qualify for a loophole in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by demonstrating "that imposing the burden upon the person is the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling public interest."

Kessler said in yesterday's ruling that the faith conflict alleged by the plaintiffs does not rise to the level of a substantial burden. She also characterized the goal of improving access to healthcare as a compelling public interest and held that the individual mandate is the least restrictive approach toward achieving it. The plaintiffs, she noted, could not come up with a less restrictive approach "when pressed" at oral arguments in the case.

The plaintiffs were represented by attorneys from a Christian legal advocacy group called the American Center for Law & Justice.

Budget Info on a most noteworthy day

Thanks to Renata's comments to Maria's yesterday's blog on the budget perhaps we now have an answer to the 2011-12 Phase One Proposed Budget in the "PPS's "Budget Preparation Final Presentation". It is neither "Final" or a "Budget". It is only a preliminary wish list and can have no validity until after this weeks release of State school funds allocations. Once the PSS has those revenue figures the PSS/BOE can proceed with the process of compiling a true budget. It may even be ready for presentation at the next BOE meeting.

Ms. Hernandez wrote in response to an anonymous readers comments posted on that blog
"If you knew what you even thought you knew then you would know that the budget is not released until AFTER Christie does what he needs to do. Then the BOE can discuss the budget "ACTUALS" but for right now we are discussing a projected financial picture which we are OBLIGATED to release to the public."

The State has to release the amount of money available to the district this week. Likewise the County contribution also must be known. The City's contribution can be interpolated through a 2.5% increase into the local tax. Mentioned has been made that there is the possibility for the granting of an exemption to limits of the tax increase. But, by then the Council will be presented with a real budget which by past experience seems immune from any Council action.

I thought that I now understood the PSD/BOA's budget process. They have to prepare a document of anticipated expenditures which will be modified to become part of a balanced budget when the all three of the major sources of available anticipated revenues become known. The major portion from the State should be released this week.

But then I again became confused, Maria Pellum in the comments in her blog asked: "Does this means that the district doesn't actually plan a budget in advance and then adjust to the realities handed out by the Governor's office? Please, it will be appreciated it if you can enlighten us how the district plans the budget. Thanks. "

I thought that was my own interpretation since any "Budget" has to balance expenditures against income. Without both elements it can not be a budget. However, words can have a different meaning to various people. The BOE may consider the posted document a "budget draft" based on known facts.

For this was part of the next comment "RASRAHMATAZ said. "No Maria that isn't even close to what I said. "

I make no promises, but if the weather is good, and my old bones aren't aching, and if my Wahoos are not playing their losing style of Basketball that night and I feel that I am able to tolerate another Plainfield policy meeting, I will try to make the next BOE meeting when the matter will be explained and all questions we are promised will be cleared up. That includes what twisted bureaucracy obligates (mandates) a BOE to release a projected expenditure document before a true budget can be presented.


Monday, February 21, 2011

BUDGET CONFUSION "HELP"

Today I shall still be focusing on the PSD/BOE. The PAAAS will be only a peripheral element of my comments. It is a unique experiment and must be regarded as such. Its $900,000.00 proposed budget increase represents only 0.6% of the proposed budget and the school's budget is about 1.3% . Thus it is only a drop in the ocean.

However PAAAS offers to a small selected group of students, 82 out of an on Oct 15, 2010 estimated 7306 students about 1%.. The number of total students is open to question in as much as on 10/15/09 there were 6467 actual students reported. These figures are from the BOE's posted "User Friendly Budget. These 82 students which should be increased by the addition of a new 7th grade of about 50 students are being afforded an opportunity unavailable to the general student body; special attention in one of four "art disciplines" in addition to their general curriculum requirements.

A comparison of their general educational proficiency results reveal that their 7th graders which I imagine is the entry grade as at total group are not exceptionally different from their peers in one of the two intermediate public schools. Hubbard is a disgrace as a representative of our system. Maxon has a 2/3rd failing(partial) percentage compared to PAAAS's evenly divided partial and proficient level. What is striking is the 33% more "Advanced" students in Maxon over PAAAS
School ..................7th Graders............ Partial......... Proficient........ Advanced
Hubbard.................... 151 ......................81.5%............ 17.2% ............1.3%
Maxson .......................189....................... 61.9%........... 33.3%............ 4.8%
PAAAS........................ 52...................... .48.1%........... 48.1%............. 3.8%

There is however a significant difference in the cost to the system in educating students in the various schools if my data source is correct with Maxon despite being the subject of a restructuring forum this fall expending a noticeable lower amount than the others.

School............ # Students .......... Budget........... Cost/Student
Hubbard................ 350............. 4,865,254 ......... 13900.73
Maxson ...................442 ..............5,139,051........... 11626.81
PAAAS ....................82................ 1,413,320........... 17235.61

I am not a CPA but I think that I can have an elementary understanding of a budget. The PSD/BOE has posted two budget items on its site. The first is the previously mentioned "User Friendly Budget" which compares*in a consolidated manner, which is fine, the 2008-09 actual. 2009-10 Revised (although actual figures should have been available) and 2010-11 anticipated.. The significant figures are the 11million dollars less anticipate revenues for 10-11 than listed in the 09-10 revised budget without explanation. Also what is the 63,353.100 negative transfers in the actual 2008-09 accounting?

On the other hand there is a 45 page document titled "Budget Preparation Final Presentation"
This is a detail list of expenditures. There are 3 columns:

2009-2010............................ 2010-2011...................... 2011-2012 Phase1
Expenditures....................... Adjusted Budget................... Proposed Budget
$144,095,912.32 ...............$144,602,375.00.................... $152,341,719.00

That is 7.7 million more than 2010-2011 and actual expenditures in 09-10! Yet the anticipated revenues for 2010-11 in the Friendly Budget is only $145,002,375.00. Since the 45 page Final Presentation lists no revenues I must presume that the BOE is going to produce a rabbit to meet 152 million.

If you are confused so obviously am I. What is the actual anticipated revenues? and how can there be considered any budget much less a negative budget without anticipated revenues or an increase in the local taxes to meet the 7.7 million budget increase. That may be by guesstimate a 15% increase in the total local tax.

A CONTINUATION

Friday's/Saturday's blog apparently did not raise as much questions from those that I thought would disagree with me. However, I would attempt to clarify some of the points that I was trying to make. One of course was that I was not fixating on the School District. but happened to use the Teacher's Contract settlement and to a lesser extent the specialized schools as an example. But more of that later.

We have to take into account the total costs of running governments and especially the local one. Although the PSD budget is 3 times as large as the city's; 79% of its revenue is from the State and 6% from the Feds and 16% from local taxes., that 16% makes up nearly 48% of our budget. so it does have a significant impact.,

Historically societies and even civilizations fall due to economic unrest. Today we are seeing popular people uprisings in the  Arab world. It is not because the people  want Democracy but the masses have finally reached a critical point where their poverty is forcing the revolution against the rich Oligarchy that rules with an iron hand. It was economic collapse of the Soviet Union precipitated by the Afghanistan War and the Cold War that enabled the Eastern European Nations and the Muslim Soviets to break free of the Communist rule.
 The same forces precipitated the French Revolution. The peasants had neither bread or cake. 

We could follow a similar trail to a complete change in social structure if we continue to spend  more than we have or eliminate one by one our essential services in an effort to prevent bankruptcy. The Wisconsin turmoil is symptomatic.

 This is why I have decried the raises in the Teacher's new contract (more in another blog) and have written that we must prioritize what we can afford to maintain a functioning community that will be a welcome home for its population. It may be as a cost saving measure that relying on an increased number part time workers with the savings from perks instead of full time employees may be one route. Another is  foregoing contracted raises. Another is increasing worker's contributions to health care and pension plans. Think about it.

I was going to clarify my remarks about the school system and the Barack Obama Academy as well as PAAAS. but this blog is already too long. However BOE member Hernandez in her personal blog which you should all read took exception to my comment that Barack Obama Academy was for problem children.
I would refer you to the following document form  the US Department of Education although it is 8 years old  http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/2002004.pdf  and this is the first paragraph from its Executive Summary: "Concern among the public, educators, and policymakers about violence, weapons, and drugs on elementary and secondary school campuses, balanced with concern about sending disruptive and potentially dangerous students “out on the streets,” has spawned an increased interest in alternative schools and programs (U.S.Department of Education 1996). Many students who, for one reason or another, are not succeeding in regular public schools are being sent to alternative placements.  In general, 
students are referred to alternative schools and programs if they are at risk of education failure, as indicated by poor grades, truancy, disruptive behavior,suspension, pregnancy, or similar factors associated with early withdrawal from school"
(Bold face mine.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Teaser

My intention was to amplify on some of the statements in yesterday's blog which others have felt a need to defend although none were intended to be an attack on an individual or any specific program.  They were just used as examples where we must look to judicious spending of funds. I do take umbrage at the few terms that I have seen posted on The BOE/Teachers contracts which calls for raises when I as a Senior am receiving no COLA in my social security, my savings dollar has less purchasing value, and my basic costs are rising.

I am trying to find some specific  data which with my limited computer ability I have difficult separating the gold nuggets from the fools gold.

Before I forget, the Public Works Department should be congratulate for their prompt attention to the artillery target range that was a specific section of Cushing Road. What was a hazard and a serious accident waiting t o happen is now as safe area.

DELAYED

Sorry, if you expected a rebuttal there will be one forthcoming  but much later today or for Monday.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

THOUGHTS ON BUDGETS

Why haven't we listened to our wise ancestors. For instance Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Samuel Kercheval on 7/12/1816 wrote "We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. ". But that was before we had entitlements and mandatory benefits.

However today's federal , state, and local money problems concerned  wise men many years ago. Cicero the great Roman Senator and Author in 55BC declared "The national budget must be balanced. The public debt must be reduced; the arrogance of the authorities must be moderated and controlled. Payments to foreign governments must be reduced, if the nation doesn't want to go bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance. How familiar and will continue to be ignored. This is what will give rise to an increase impact of the "Tea Party' movement which in the long run may well be dangerous to our way of life.

It is a simple fact, if you don't have the money you can't spend it.   Nations get around it by borrowing from the future which will not have the capability to pay off. So Governments devalue the currency by printing paper. Or the value of the purchasing power decrease so that it cost more, in our case dollars, for products. That is why in 1946 a $ 5,000.00  income was enough to trigger a low level routine audit.A $3.00office visit (that is right) will now cost under Medicare $75.00 or 25 times as much and your 17 cents a gallon gas is now almost $4.00. That is why the $65.00 a month my wife received as a head nurse would not pay one day's work today. Mandatory annual raises causes  increases in product prices which reduce the true value or purchasing value of the work dollar.


All this is why our increasing tax dollars are buying less service per dollar. And who suffers the most. Those, of course, on fixed incomes such as Social Security which has had no or substandard COLA increase over the years, or the elderly on fixed pension plans and  certainly the elderly living off their savings for their old age. Most do not have the sophistication to gamble on the stock marked  and if in fixed securities the dollar amount value may stay but the income dollar buys less so that other means of existing  has to be employed.


Here is what will be contentious, but one of the greatest problems with our economy  lies in the Federal, State, and local civil services employees with their contracts that provide mandatory raises each year without even a consideration of productivity or merit. The Civil Service Unions and the teacher's associations have demonstrated what good citizens they are. Not only have most not made concessions since they know that their services are critical that the government unit could not tolerate a strike without  a complete break down of  authority control or complete civil anarchy.

Instead  governmental entities adapt by not controlling expenses, but by reducing services and firing needed employees who are not as well protected by contracts.  



One tragic comparison is that in  industry, despite contracts in times of fiscal distress if the Union doesn't  make some adjustments the industry can and will pack up and leave for other parts of the country or even to other nations. Transportation today make that a feasible alternative.

To my dismay I have learned that the local Teachers union has signed an agreement with the BOE that will give them a 4.25% raise retroactive for last year, a 2.5% raise this school year, and a 3% raise for next year. And we Social Security recipients were told that there was no cost of living raise this year and that our net will be less  due to increase medicare insurance costs. 


Another question lies with the teacher's contract is their responsibility towards their health care plans ands pension funds. has their been any change that might balance out the raises. 

There are other items including the Charter Schools and  special schools such as the  Bracha Obama Academy  and PAAAS that should be be reviewed with a fine comb to see if the taxpayer is getting sufficient value for their increased operational costs at the expense of all the other students in the system. There certainly is a place for an Alternative  Program that may rehabilitate problem children, but perhaps their is a shared services that could be more efficient. The re should be program separation that will benefit the gift child but  the nature of a special school completely funded by the District must syphon off funds needed for the other schools.  I am not knowledgeable enough to make a decision on this but the BOE owes it to the public in defense of their fiduciary responsibility to publish an explanation.

With that we have come a full circle back to 55BC and Cicero. We must control our costs by focusing on essential core services and not compromising on  them . It is the Administration and Council's job to determine these services with the help of public input. No personal agenda should be allowed to cause a deviation from that goal.


The other "given" is strict control of "labor" costs. Out of a set amount of available funds the bottom line of effective service must be determined along with the number fo individuals needed.  If that means that there will be cuts in individual reimbursements or perks, so be it. WE must all learn to live with reality.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

MORE ABOUIT ASPHALT

 An additional note on asphalt repavement.. In the past few years I have oblected to the starting of a road repavement job after Nov.1 due to temperature problems. I had mentioned  not lower than the mid40s average temp should be the croteria. One Councikman informed me that his consultants  had stated that until their was permafrost in the ground was OK.

Who am I, to question one of our distinguished city fathers? However Thursday's Courier quotes a Rutgers professor as saying the 45% is the bottom level. I think we were lucky to finish the Watchung Ave  section this year in the first week of December. I still am concerned  about the bonding between the different  strips of pavement, and in places the surface gives an impression of roughness which would suggest integrity of surface.

For the readers convenience, here is the link to the documents  from the State of Wisconsin on asphalt pavements:  http://epdfiles.engr.wisc.edu/pdf_web_files/tic/manuals/Asphalt-PASER_02.pdf  Read it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

MALEWARE AND POT HOLES

Eureka! a great freeware program Malwarebytes after several passes one of which could not find the Trojan Horse that had invaded my computer rid the computer of all traces. Part of the secret was to boot in "Safe mode" with Internet connection if the program had not been downloaded. '

With daughter and son-in-law here for a few days my time on computer will be limited. However. I would continue the "Pot Hole" debate by referring to two old blogs of mine which I referred to the repairs and preventive care of streets (http://dpotpourri.blogspot.com/2009/01/state-of-city.html)  and a 2008 comment in August about Leland Ave and Watchung.(http://dpotpourri.blogspot.com/2008/06/streets.html) That was three years ago and the roads are worse.

This winter Cushing Rd has deteriorated through lack of maintenance so that in the short stretch between Knol;lwood Court and Kevin Rd there are three tire busters. The rest of the pavement from Leland to Terrill  lookd like a batallion of armored vehicles had been using it. The problem here may be that the line between Scotch Plains and Plainfield runs down the middle of the street and there may be a conflict about responsibility. Perhaps if there is a fatal accident due to a pothole on the "northern" half of the road Plainfield would be sued and if on the other side it would be Scotch Plains or maybe both municipalities. Oh the lawyers will have fun. 







COMPUTER WOES CONTINUE

We have made some progress in removing the virus. At least it has made itself invisible to two antiviral/malware programs. One of which supposedly removed several "rouge files". that it had identified and now claims the computer to be e nayers.. but I know better when the popups keep interrupting my work. We will try another program and will soon have a workable computer.

Several very brief comments about Monday night's Council meeting:The resolution appointing the Purchasing Agent as the Compliance Officer passed 5:2, Mapp and Williams being the nayers.It was never clarified what the duties of the Compliance Officer was except to make sure that there was no irregularities in the bidding and contracting. Since the Purchasing Agent frequently drew up the specifications and awarded the contracts I still have a problem with one person doing both jobs. Additionally, the Purchasing office is slated for elimination in the FY11 budget, however the Compliance Officer is for the calender year 2011. Also there is no budget item funds for that position.

A citizen complained rightly so about the potholes and overall condition of roads in the West End, once again suggesting that the East End get preferential treatment. Not true although most of those on Leland Ave. have been filled with cold patch, there are a few new tire breakers between Cook School and Watchung Ave. The later street is still a thrill ride to Woodland from Leland althought the worst have been filled.

We know that the PW work force has been reduced drastically, but there may be better ways of allocating man power. Plainfield like everyone else from State level down has eliminated preventive maintenance. It would be cheaper in the long run than having to replace roads before their life expectancy has come close. An example is Woodland Ave which I believe was resurfaced in the McWilliams years so at most it is 12 years old. It is a mess with potholes, long linear cracks, poorly patched openings. This road should still be in top shape.

Councillor Mapp again requested that there should be drawn up an Ordinance relating to street parking in snow storm times. As I had mentioned last month at the meeting there had to already be Ordinances on the books, the Acting Corporation Counselor found several that were not being enforced or even publicised.An attempt will be made to review them and come up with a workable model for next month. Of course we do need enough police to enforce any Ordinance.

Monday, February 14, 2011

VERY BRIEF.

Sorry but my PC somehow has become infected with a virus "Advir VirA" which is blocking access to all programs. This will make posting a problem from small inadequate portable.

AJ was sworn in as City Clerk. During the public commentary session there was a heated interchange between the Mayor and Council President McWilliams relating to the process of interviewing nominees for Commissions etc.

If I open my antivirus software and get it to run I shall be back with a longer post about the Council meeting which was over near 11pm.

Muhlenberg

Tomorrow the serious stuff about the Council meeting. Yesterday there were comments posted by bloggers about the agenda. Today is a memory day.

Sunday the Plainfiedl Historical Society opened an exhibit in the Drake House about the history of Muhlenberg Hospital. Credit goes to Nancy Piwowar for the work to create such an exhibit including pictures of the original hospital. Of interest to me was a 1939 picture of the Medical Staff standing on the steps of the then Administration, Admission building. My father who was a Senior Attending in Medicine is clearly recognizable.

In those days and after the war ended almost all doctors were general practitioners first and specialist secondarily. Surgeons saw patients for all sorts of medical problems The different services had Senior Attendings usually four and Assistant Attendings and as the staff grew Associate Attendings , plus Clinical Assistants whose function was to staff the clinics. All gave pro bono service time usually up to three months a year to treat the "ward" patients.

The rank of Senior Attending in the Medical, Surgical,Pediatrics, and Obstetric Services was a desired privilege. Not only did they form the governing medical body but it was mandatory that the Seniors get the consultations. Thus the position also had a monetary reward. In 1946 no Surgeon had had specific specialty training as residents. Board Certification was just beginning.

The only Board Certified Surgeon on the Staff was Mert Griswold and the powers that be had continued to restrict his privileges so that he gravitated to Plastic Surgery which was in its infancy but boosted by the Spanish War and WWII. It was not until two Board Certified Surgeons, Earl O'Neil and Bob Null , almost simultaneously joined the staff that the pendulum of change began. They were getting referrals from community practitioners who valued their skills compared to that of most of the Seniors. They at first, having been denied major surgical privileges were taking their patients to Cornell Medical Center (O'Neil) or in Nulls case Beth Israel where they had unrestricted privileges. In was only a year or two where popular civic pressure forced the Hospital to give them full privileges and with that they began to receive consultation request in the hospital.

Shortly there after Board Certified physicians in Medicine, Pediatrics, and Obstetrics followed by Orthopedics and Urology and other sub specialties joined the staff. The barrier preventing younger doctors from being Consultants was destroyed. Merit not rank determined who received consultation requests or referrals.

Muhlenberg was one of the first hospitals in the area to make it desirable to have Board Certification as a requirement for staff appointments and by the time I became Staff President in the ate 7os it was the only area hospital to make it mandatory.

In the 70's and 80's Muhlenberg had a Medical Staff that was on the par in all specialities with any hospital in the country with the exception of heart surgery. There were world recognized leaders in Radiology, Pathology, Colon-Rectal Surgery among others on the staff.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

PRE COUNCIL MEETING.

CONGRATULATIONS AJ
Upon scanning the agenda there is a possibility that Monday night's Council meeting will be over by 11PM were it not for the potential of prolong discussion on the SID Budget,and the Special Committee reports that received little discussion at the Agenda Setting meeting.

It may be that congratulations to AJ is premature but there is a resolution appointing him as the City Clerk for a 3 year term. I would expect it to be passed unanimously, although there is a residency exemption.

On the Agenda are several resolutions of interest. R069-11 amends the FY11 budget to incorporate $1,190366.00 total additional Grant funds and their balancing allocations. Since many of these grants are of an annual nature although the amounts may vary they should be included on an unofficial work budget for FY12. That may give a better idea where savings can be anticipated.

However among the Grant monies is one that would expire later this month for $50,000.00 of UEZ funds for rent of space at320 Park Ave. for a NJ Small Business Satellite Office. There are two issues here; one is the actual usage and size of the "office" and the other goes back to the meeting schedule. Once again the Council is faced with a deadline with no wiggle room and a 16 line item with no information or ability to do a line by line approval.

A Resolution R070-11 Appointing David Spaulding the Purchasing Agent as "Compliance Officer" is incredible in this age of fiscal responsibility. This is putting the Fox inside to protect the Hen House. The Purchasing Agent not only writes the IFBs, RFPs and RFQs. His office awards the "contracts". To have him also as Compliance Officer make sure that there have been no irregularities in the process make s no sense at all.

The Two Special Committee Reports that were submitted in writing;
The Administration and Finance Committee report notes that there has been no Copy of the BOE?City Intra Local Agreement contract and monies paid and/or still due.

The report also notes that although the Fire Division agreed not to fill two Captain Vacancies as an economic measure there are two "Acting Captains" who are paid accordingly. Also there has been no update as to the Senior Center bill from Dornach.

The Public Safety Committee notes that although are Police Division TO calls for 151 policemen there are only 132 at present of which 16 are on temporarily disability leaving a force of 116 less 4 officers who are retiring and may be on terminal leave.

There will be a discussion on SID's FY2011 Budget which may be time consuming.

The Ordinance creating The Recreation Commission is up for 2nd reading and passage. Although it provides for the position of Recreation Coordinator, it does not spell out full or part time or salary range.

Added 8 AM; of course as Bernice points out there is the resolution from Public Works for the truck repairs. How an engine could be so damaged during storm removal that it must be replaced needs explanation, The conversion of the tank truck to a dump truck is another example of lack of planing in the Dept of PW by its director that lead to the purchase of improper equipment. There is the fiasco of the asphalt road repair machine that was unused for years because no one was capable of operating it, Last year when Brown was here it did have limited use in some road repairs.

'

Friday, February 11, 2011

OLD EGYPT

Welcome to Egypt
The so far relatively bloodless revolution in Egypt led me to try to dig up pictures taken almost 40 years ago shortly after the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, That will be in a future post.

The quality of the pictures is poor and they have only been superficially processed. Several years ago I had saved all my slides on a hard drive as well as on some CDs. When I tries to access that external hard drive Windows would not recognize it and crashed. Ultimately Windows decided to scan the drive and correct errors . That as fine but it wiped out many pictures including all related to Cairo. The first CD disc also caused the computer to crash but I found two that Windows and one of my photo programs accepted. So here are five.The Central Bus Station at the site of the demonstrations

This slide had so deteriorated that it could only be salvaged in Black and white
This is part of the square where this week's demonstrations were taking place.

Tourist transport near the great pyramid



A barber shop Port Said

By the way Camels have bad halitosis and also like to bite.

HEALTH CARE

Perhaps this would be a partial solution to the costs of health insurance in our  budget.
  This is free advice. On that subject perhaps Solaris would provide a daily shuttle to reduced their medicaid and no pay load.


If you can't afford a doctor, go to an airport - you'll get a free x-ray and a breast exam, and;
if you mention Al Qaeda, you'll get a free colonoscopy.
dba01f.jpg

CLERGY AND POLITICS

Probably one of the most misunderstood sections of the United States Constitution is this boldfaced portion of the 1st Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This amendment which is the basis for the separation of state and "church" does not prohibit prayer in schools or and government functions. In fact Congress itself has a paid chaplain who opens sessions. Nor does it prohibit the mention of God in an oath as required by Article VI of the Constitution. The fact that it should be secular is in order to respect the sensitivities of those present of different faiths.

Nor does being a Priest or minister, or Rabbi, or Iman* disqualify one from seeking an elected office or participating in government. In Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 494 (1961) . The Supreme court ruled that being a clergyman did not disqualify one from public office. Justice Brennan, joined by Justice Marshall, found Torcaso controlling because imposing a restriction upon one’s status as a religious person did penalize his religious belief, his freedom to profess or practice that belief.


The above is basic and I post it because despite the above I shall be arguing that there is little place for dedicated religious leaders in decision making politics. Nor should one be appointed to a position based solely on his/hers position as a congregation leader.

These individuals are "human" like the rest of us and are subject the usual human foliles. One can not expect them to be unbiased in their decisions on certain issues, but they are also not known to recluse themselves when religious beliefs impact on secular actions. For example; what vote would you expect from a Catholic Priest or an Orthodox Rabbi on an issue involving an abortion clinic, or birth control?

There is always the tendency for influential religious leaders to use the pulpit to influence their flocks votes or position on controversial matters. Sometimes they will actually try to become the power behind the throne. An extreme example is the action of Liberty University in Lynchburg Va, where the school had all its students who were of age register as voters  and  controlled the local political elections.. Liberty University was founded as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971 by the late  evangelist Jerry Falwell took its present name in 1984. Falwell's son Jonathan has succeeded him in his ministry which preaches an extreme fundamental religion including  YEC (see link below**) The University has 20,000 residential students plus about 44,000 0n line students and thus had a big impact on the local politics. This is an extreme example but demonstrates the potential of an organized religious sect upon local politics.

What does this have to do with Plainfield? We have many congregations ranging from store front churches to large affluent edifices. All have congregants devoted to their pastor. Politicians tend to curry favor with leaders that can deliver votes. Additionally all are members of some congregation. Therefore it stands to reason that some clergy can have an undue impact on the local political scene.

I concur that our religious leaders should be actively involved in the community as a whole. Yes, some have taken a very positive secular role from their church in trying to solve community problems. The question is, does their position entitle them to be in a policy making position? Only a few have a business expertise, There are only a few that can make an financial enterprise out of their religious pulpit. There are also questions  about their sociological acumen. 

Therefore, I consider that an elected position as Mayor or Councilman/woman is an inappropriate position since by nature they can not help by being biased. Likewise there are certain Commissions and Boards that they should not serve on either because of potential conflict of interests or lack of qualifications. There are others where their unique training  makes them ideal members. The Council is right in giving as serious a review of ministerial candidates as with other candidates in the Council's "Advice and Consent" role.

This however opens the issues raised  in  the recent Council vote on the three  names submitted by the Mayor for PMUA Commissioners. The only one approved was Rev. Tracey Brown. However good her qualities are and despite her reported  personal relationships with the Mayor there was an unasked question about her ability to function in view of reported remarks at a recent rate setting PMUA meeting where she was alleged to have blasted the public for questioning the actions of the Commissioners and the PMUA leadership.



* It is my understanding that in the Islamic religious sects there are not "ordained religious service leaders' but the leaders in prayers and sermon deliveres are those accepted by the community for there piety and knowledge. "The Sunni branch of Islam, whereto approximately 90% of Muslims adhere, does not have a clergy and therefore an Imam is not a cleric like that of a Christian priest. In the Shi'a branch of Islam, the concept of an Imam occupies a much more central religious position." (Wikipedia)
** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Earth_Creationism

AN ELUCIDATION

One of my medical school classmates after WWII became an "Old Time Country Doctor" I believe in Ohio. He loved to hunt and fish and to be "one of the boys". One of his advocations was to write a column for the local weekly paper.

I was envious of him for one of my secret desires was to write, even pro bono, a weekly column for the Courier. But the thought of meeting a deadline was a killer. Therefore I compromised by writing frequent and long letters to the editor during the 60s-80s and all were published.

I may not have been able to spell, but from early days I had the ability to throw the bull. During my college years I achieved a highlight in an exam for a course in 17th Century European History.

The exam consisted of five essay questions. During the usual immediate post exam student confab I was told by all that each of my answers was completely different even contrary from the course instructor's presentations. When the grades were posted instead of failing I received a grade of 100%. I have never been sure if it was because that professor liked original thought, or he was just impressed with my flight of fancy.

Is it possible that this explains my rational for this blog. There is also my desire to share my experiences with those less fortunate to have the ability to travel. Egypt, Iran, India, Afghanistan, were unknown worlds to most Americans in the 60s and 70s. Jet travel was just making the world a common entity. When I first started posting I devoted many blogs to photographs from our extensive travels abroad.

One of these days when local, national , and world affairs do not demand, for what it is worth, my need to opine, I shall go back to the old discs and resurrect some of those old pictures,

Meantime, I expect to write and post something that most likely will be controversal later today, but I consider to be important in our political, social, civic life. But don't hold your breath for it may have to wait while I try to not make it sound offensive. It will be a genralized philosphical subject not intended to be personal although names will be mentioned.

As a token; two JAMA covers in its never ending art course

The Birch Grove (Ludwig Gill 1900)
and
Nude in a Woods (Matise 1906)