Colored Sand

My wife Darlene is creative.  I don’t pretend to always understand her creativity, and as a card-carrying member of latter day homo sapiens, male division, am probably not meant to understand it.  She can seemingly make anything from dresses, shirts, costumes, cookies, pies, you name it.  About the only thing I can make is a mess – but I’ve found my strength and have pretty much perfected it.

Darlene made the bridesmaid’s dresses for our number two daughter’s wedding (that’s a long, painful story).  She’s always concocting something, and while I may not get it, eventually will come to appreciate it.  I’m in awe of her.

Prior to our wedding, she came up with the idea of having each of us and our four children represented by differently colored sand.  The concept was to have each of us pour a bit of our pre-selected sand into a larger heart-shaped bottle, while retaining another portion in our own bottles to represent ourselves as whole people.  In this way, each of us became part of each other, and it would be nearly impossible to separate us again.

And that’s the point.

We chose to come together as a family.  That has a special significance that isn’t necessarily true of the family you’re born into.

I was fortunate to have been adopted by my Dad on my sixth birthday.  He and my Mom married almost 57 years ago, when I was a bit more than two years old.  Long ago, Mom started telling me that Dad chose me.  He knew what he was getting and decided to go for it, anyway.  I’m sure it was really because he thought Mom was hot and I was like the toy in the Crackerjack box, but it was one of those things that she made sound believable.  It gives a kid a real sense of being special to think that he didn’t just end up with what he got, but that he was wanted for himself.  So for as long as I can remember, adoption has had a special place in my heart.

That was one reason I was simpatico with Darlene’s son, Joe.  Although he was a young adult when we met, we both seemed to appreciate the other for the closeness of our relationship with his mother.  Once it was obvious that she and I were going to be more than just casual dates, and we saw the type of person each was, it was good.  He knew his Mom was safe and happy, and that was really all he was concerned with.  Once I knew he was a man of character, that was all I was concerned with.  In essence, we adopted each other.

Once Dar introduced Joe and Kylee and me, I knew there was going to be a test.  Kylee’s test was, um, unique – but then, so is she.  At the time, she had a couple of iguanas, a bearded dragon, a snake and a couple of tree frogs.  I’m sure there were other members of the menagerie, but this covers the more important ones.  At Dar’s apartment one night, Kylee was showing off the tree frogs when one leapt from her hand onto my face.  I started laughing, which probably put her at ease knowing it didn’t freak me out.

My original kids, Amanda and Michael, were a bit more of a challenge.  They had endured a rather bitter separation and divorce a few years previous, and were naturally suspicious of any new entanglements.  It took a while, but all of us have reached a point where we’re all comfortable with each other.  That’s not to say there haven’t been a few bumps along the way, but with time and maturity rearing its ugly head all of the kids seem to have grown together and truly become a family.  And I can truthfully say that if it weren’t just a tad weird (and really expensive), I would have adopted both Joe and Kylee.

That bottle becomes more beautiful each day.

It’s been some 15 months since posting. That seems like an eternity. Let me explain.

There are so many conflicting thoughts; just random strains and glimpses of things to discuss. It’s like being in the tornado scene in ‘Wizard of Oz’ where unrelated things sweep by with no discernible pattern.

Oh, I’d tried writing one, maybe a year ago, when questioning whether I had what it took to actually complete a project. Even turned it over to a professional writer (my brother, Eric) to edit. Irony of ironies, I never completed that assignment, either.

And then, the unthinkable happened. On June 14, 2013, my son Joe was found hanging in his home.

I cry just thinking about that. To think that my wife’s firstborn would take his own life was incomprehensible. To this day, and likely as long as we are here on earth, Darlene and I puzzle over this. There was no sign that anyone noticed that Joe was struggling with anything so profoundly troubling that would cause this. He’d been in the process of divorcing, although seemed to be dragging his feet. He’d become involved with three kids, one of which he’d known since her birth, and was relishing being part of their lives. He’d started a small tree-cutting business with his friend, Chris. In some ways, he’d seemed to be turning the corner and regaining his footing. No one, not his family or his friends, was aware that Joe was hurting this badly. Sure, there were day-to-day issues that we all have. To everyone but Joe, none of them seemed to be more than normal annoyances. But Joe always took things to heart, sometimes to his detriment.

Seven months later, his mother, my beautiful wife, and his sisters and brother have more or less resumed their lives. All of us have our duties and challenges, but we now share the additional specter of Joe’s passing. This has, unsurprisingly, changed our views. Our plans. Our hopes. Our very lives.

Darlene started writing, and continues to this day. It has been so raw, so wrenching, that I have not been able to read any of it. As I remember, her first post included something to the effect that if she could, she would join him. Writing has been therapeutic for her, and she’s worked through her very darkest days. But it frightened me so much, I could not bring myself to read it at all. Maybe someday.

But this post is not a rehash of tragic events, nor is it intended to be a downer. In fact, I hope to convey the positive, sometimes miraculous results and the continuing hope we’ve gained from this.

At the very beginning, Darlene and I were overwhelmed with the support and love of Joe’s friends. They carried us through our shared grief from the day we were notified through the funeral and beyond. We are incredibly grateful for their continued presence and have plans involving them. In some ways, they’ve become surrogate step-children (although they might be embarrassed to admit to that).

Joe’s own sisters and brother have all been a source of encouragement, whether they realize it or not. We are so proud of each of them as they’ve managed to balance their own busy lives with the right amount of support for us. Joe chose his family well.

Darlene and I completed a program called GriefShare. This is a Christian-based program, 13 weeks in length, which takes you through a series of videos and discussions on how the loss of a loved one impacts a person, and how to come out the other end intact. Its motto is ‘From Mourning to Joy’, and if you are willing to work at it, GriefShare lives up to its goals. One of the things that I found fascinating, almost from a clinical standpoint, was that so many people suffer for so long. Most of us have had a loss (not just suicide) but have not had a support group format to help us through the pain. For some, it had been years since their loss, and they were finally given something that would help in their healing. As mentioned, it is Christian-based, so it leans heavily on Scripture. That might be off-putting to someone not of faith, but I imagine anyone would gain something from participating in the program, regardless of beliefs. At times, it is a struggle to go through the classes, as there are lots of tears. But I heartily endorse GriefShare.

Darlene found a group called American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). This is an advocacy organization, designed to educate the public and lawmakers about causes for, prevention of, and surviving suicide. Our intent is to be much more involved in this program.

But the most life-changing event resulting from this has been our intentional return to our faith. Dar and I were both committed backsliders. It’s not that we were turning away, we just had other priorities. But having your child die has a way of capturing your attention in a way that nothing else can. Fortunately, our Father has been mercifully patient with us while we regain our footing. It could very easily have gone the other way. We all know people that have had tragedies who end up blaming God for them. We recognized the very day Joe died that there were two things to watch for: that we would sometime be angry with Joe, and that our marriage could suffer. We resolved immediately to be on guard against these. In fact, only for about 10 minutes was I mad at Joe, and it’s only because his mother was suffering so grievously. And our marriage continues to be strong, and hopefully an example to others.

The third thing we might have anticipated was that we would consciously turn our backs on God. In fact, we were given the grace to recognize we needed His strength to come through this process intact. He has continually given us healing. That is not to suggest that we understand why this happened, or are ‘over’ it. But our perspective has changed from the here and now to the eternal. We know that healing is a process, not an event.

And for now, that’s good enough for us.

Joe, we love you, and will always miss you. Thank you for being in our lives. We’ll see you soon.

So what is it about the American ideal?  What separates us from other enlightened people?  What is special about living in this country?

Let’s let that sink in a minute.  While they’re  off-the-cuff questions, how they’re answered may say more about us than we would like to realize.  Consider this:

We have a long-established rights in this country, although these have been eroding for years.  Check your copy of the Constitution, starting with the Bill of Rights.  Depending on your political persuasion, you may favor the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, and the press), or the Second (the right to bear arms).  Oddly, there is no amendment guaranteeing the right to privacy, although the courts over the years have construed one based on language already in the Constitution.  At best, there may be a presumption of a right to privacy.  But that and $4 gets you a Starbucks coffee.

But while you’re considering rights of citizens, think about whether they apply to non-citizens.  Oh, now there’s a can of worms.  Think immigration policy, welfare benefits, voting rights, and so forth.  Wherever you come down on these you’ll certainly find equally logical reasons to oppose your thought.

Now here’s a new consideration.  What about people who, although citizens, aren’t like you?  Do they enjoy the same rights and obligations?  The same Constitutional protections?

Let’s set the scenario.  Your country, because of bad intelligence or bad intent, places economic sanctions on a country.  Clearly, the intent is to work our will as a rich and powerful country without resorting to invasion.  For example, we and most of the world, have placed sanctions on Iran because of their perceived intransigence on their nuclear program.  And as of this writing, it seems to finally be working.  The Iranian currency is in free fall, and it may have the result in a “better” Iran.  But don’t count on it.  It may result in a more destabilized Iran, or one that lashes out with bombs they don’t have.  Instead, count on it as punishment.  Will the leadership be punished?  Maybe – but certainly the population at large will be.

Not so many years ago, before the invasion of Iraq (you know, ‘Nation Building’) and after the absolute, without-a-doubt weapons of mass destruction charade, we had placed economic sanctions on them.  Did they work?  Did Saddam flee in terror?  Um, no.  What was the net result?  Poverty.  Abject, unadulterated poverty, visited upon those who can least afford it.  People couldn’t afford medical care, shelter or food.

So let’s talk just a minute about charity.  Lots of people the world over support various causes that cross international boundaries.  Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, missionary work done by your church, Red Cross, Save The Children, the list goes on and on.  All are worthy causes, and they allow the donors to contribute to something they believe in, something they personally support.  And we, as Americans, applaud this.

So let’s put all of this together: Take an American citizen with a starving family in Iraq, suffering in large part because of sanctions we placed upon the country.  Not only are his dollars supporting a cause he believes in, they’re supporting members of his own family who were destitute.  Pretty much any of us would do it if we had the means and the situation.  But because of the sanctions, it was illegal to send money to Iraq – even though the government admits none of the money made it to Saddam or his regime.  So what did our government do?

Dr. Shakir Hamoodi was sentenced to three years in Leavenworth Federal penitentiary and began his sentence August 28.  Once that sentence is complete, he will be on probation three additional years.

The conspirators on Wall Street who stole millions?  No prosecutions of merit yet.

Kinda makes you proud to be an American, right?

Here’s the link to the story, written by a British journalist.  It’s good to see he’s not subject to our journalistic conventions.

Last year we witnessed an astounding collection of uprisings against dictatorships in the Middle East.  Starting with Tunisia, then Egypt, then Libya, dictators have been replaced by…what?  And for how long?  At this point in time, it appears to be a mixed bag.  Egypt, currently run by the military, is enjoying the first reasonably open election ever.  Whether it will result in the military relinquishing power is yet to be known.  Libya, and to a lesser extent Tunisia, appear to be more stable, although they will have an interesting future.  Syria?  Who knows how that will evolve?  Will Al-Assad’s regime collapse under the weight of its own repression?  If recent history is a guide – and it probably isn’t – the ruling family will take refuge in another country, leavingSyriato the wolves.  One thing that is uncomfortable for many of us Western types is that while the popular uprisings have a faint whiff of democracy in the air, it isn’t exactly your mother’s (or your Uncle Sam’s) brand of democracy.  

The reasons for the uprisings are manifold, but primarily centered on repression and corruption.  The two generally go hand-in-hand, and for good reason.  Exhibit A of greed being one of the seven deadly sins is apparent when dissecting governmental doings. 

What’s interesting to note is how the US has supported, at least publicly, the revolutions.  Even though we have tolerated or actively worked with the repressive regimes, we’ve positioned ourselves on the right side of history by claiming that we are ‘with the people’.  At least until someone takes power that promotes our ‘national self-interest’, at which time we’ll drop the facade of being with the people.  Such is the cynical way the world operates.

But this whole process over the past couple of years begs the question: Could it happen here?

American history is rife with malcontents, revolutionaries, and thugs of varying stripes.  Ever since before the Revolutionary War, when there were as many against independence as for it.  After the war, there was Shay’s Rebellion.  Since then, there have been strikes, riots, rebellious groups, cults and movements.  Yet for better or worse, we have more or less escaped from having another revolution.

But could that change?  As written previously, we’ve seen our civil liberties circumvented or done away with entirely, usually in the name of National Security.  As of now, it would be difficult to name one liberty that was suspended and subsequently returned to us.  At some time, there may be a tipping point reached where we as a nation rise up and say ‘Enough’.

Will that actually occur?  Evidence is sketchy at best, but between the Occupy movement, militia groups, Tea Party adherents and a general sense that government is not working for us all point to the possibility that we will, in fact, reach that tipping point.  What will be interesting is the collection of people supporting a take-back of our government.  Really, can you imagine a Tea Partier and an Occupier working together for a common goal?  If so, it would be a marriage of convenience.  Keep in mind the adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.  But that’s only until the next battle.

It’ll be interesting to see if this ever gels into the public taking back their government or whether we continue to cower, content with the knowledge that Big Brother is truly knows what’s best for you.  Just like sheep.

It’s been said that with the advent of the Internet that you will eventually find something you’ve posted that will come back to haunt you. Maybe you’ll make a comment about an old girlfriend that your wife might stumble across. Even worse, you might post or tweet something that a potential employer might not find palatable.

This could very well be one that blows up in my face.

It would be best if this one never had to be remembered, let alone written or spoken about. But since the therapeutic value of time has been less than rewarding, perhaps writing about it will prove to be helpful. Maybe this time it will be OK to let things go, to not let the bitterness of the past years continue to fester within. Even, maybe, to forgive. Every person who has tried to write is told to put something of themselves into the story. As painful as that is, here goes.

In 1999, my ex-wife moved out with her then boyfriend. In 2000, he was arrested for “Rape 3rd: Victim less than 17 years old, Perpetrator more than 21 years old”. Of course, this does not tell the story. It was not a one-time occurrence. It was continual.

He was a 37 year old raping the 15 year old daughter of his girlfriend. My daughter.

He was convicted, served six months in county jail and is as of this writing still on probation for this offense. His sentence will end in May, 2013. Her sentence will continue for life. Our sentence will never end.

My daughter has not had the best of hands dealt to her. She is the unfortunate recipient of her grandmother’s and uncle’s manic depression – what in common terms is now referred to as bi-polar. With no other outside interference, this disease/syndrome is foul enough. Some learn to live with it. Some have or had to have psychological treatment, as my mother did. Others need medication to ‘round out’ the symptoms so they can lead normal, productive lives. But for most, to one degree or another, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Add into this the trauma of sexual abuse by someone who professes to love your mother. One whom you looked toward as something close to a father-figure, one with whom you should be safe. Secure. Innocent. Instead, you are the victim of evil visited by a narcissistic predator, one with his own girls to raise. Now he has raised the ante to six victims.

The tragedies are manifest. Not the least of which are those aided and abetted by our judicial system. There is an interesting concept in our way of life: you must repay your debt to society. Your actual victim? Nothing.

Oh, his was among the most stringent punishments handed down in New York. He is branded as a Level 2 Sex Offender. It will follow him around. As the assistant DA told us, having a six month incarceration and ten year probation was heavyweight, because the alternative was an indeterminate sentence of from two to four years in State prison. But then his sentence would be complete. His debt to society would have been fulfilled. He was also required to reimburse our out-of-pocket expense for my daughter’s psychological treatment. After a few sessions, she determined that treatment was not helpful.

And then she attempted suicide. Not once, but twice. She was involuntarily committed to a treatment facility. Not once, but twice. She was released upon her insistence on her 18th birthday, because we could no longer require she be treated.

She is now 26 years old. The fact that my daughter has survived this has been a blessing from God. It has not turned out perfectly, but sometimes you need to accept what is as good enough. I’m grateful that I can still talk to her.

You can learn a lot about yourself in how you react to tribulation. I am disturbed to admit that I’ve failed the part of forgiveness miserably. And in some small measure, that’s why this is being written.

When I was a teenager, when we were proving ourselves to each other, there was a joke/debate about what we’d do if we walked in and found our girlfriends in bed with someone else. Of course, with teen bravado, we all claimed we’d maim or kill one or both. As a matter of fact, when that did happen in my first marriage, I merely turned around and left, after retrieving my suit from the closet.

That was an instance that I’m proud of. I didn’t maim or kill. Heck, I didn’t even raise my voice. It would have been pointless.

But I’ve spent a fair portion of time over the last eleven years plotting evil. No matter that his debt has been paid, more or less. It isn’t enough. His sentence should not end until hers has ended. My righteous indignation as a father, my perverted sense of justice, my absolute desire of retribution has not been satisfied. I’ve contemplated various types of torture, from the sublime (interrupting his marriage to ask if the bride knew about his pedophilia) to the ridiculous (injecting bleach intravenously while skinning him alive with a battery-acid soaked filet knife). I’ve learned much from watching Schwarzenegger and Willis films in methods of stopping just short of death while inflicting maximum pain. While thinking about writing this over the last few days, I was going to include his Sex Predator and his Facebook web pages. While grim, there is a part of me that would gladly serve time for having extracted not just a pound of flesh, but enough to level the scale in my warped attempt to make him pay for the damage he has done to my daughter.

Over the years, some have commented on my restraint in not taking revenge. Some have laughed nervously when I mentioned some diabolical way to make him suffer. Actually, it’s my ultimate belief in God that has hamstrung me to the point where he is still walking and able to take food. He did undergo a jailhouse conversion to Buddhism, and I hope Karma is a bitch. But short of that, it’ll be waiting on God’s judgment for me.

It’s too bad there hasn’t been a happy ending to this, yet. Time will tell if I continue to plot pain or not. At least for now, writing this really has been therapeutic to the point that at this moment I am not seething. Sometimes you need to accept what is as good enough.

If you’ve never been to Syracuse, you’re not missing much.  Oh, don’t misunderstand – it’s very pretty, unless you have a dislike of snow for 5 months a year.  You’ve got hills, valleys, apple orchards, lots of open farmland, beaucoup trees with a beautiful fall, and enough year-round recreational activities to keep most of us happy.

No, we’re talking the city proper.  You know, the urban landscape.
Syracuse, along with several other Upstate New York cities (Buffalo, Rochester, Watertown, Binghamton, Utica, Schenectady, Albany) is a ghost from cities past.  They’re like many legacy cities from the industrial northeast, the Rust Belt.  And like Marley’s ghost foretold, pay attention if you don’t want it happening to you.
After years of false starts and broken dreams, it’s déjà vu all over again.  We’re starting another renaissance attempt.  Maybe this time it will happen.  But at what cost, and who’s picking up the tab?

Over the past couple of years I visited my old hometown of Riverside, California a handful of times.  Prior to the most recent financial meltdown, Riverside had bonded almost a billion dollars for their renewal projects.  Things such as road realignment, park renewal, railroad underpasses and general beautification were to be done to bring the city back to life.  Of course even then you knew it wouldn’t be enough.  Heck, to dig a roadway under a railroad must cost close to $500 million, right?  Even if it’s ‘only’ half that amount, you can’t do too many of those before you’re resorting to picking up pennies from the street to pay the bills.
And Riverside was nowhere near the shape that Syracuse is in.

Back in the day, Syracuse was blessed.  It had the good fortune to be built on the Erie Canal, which at one time was like the autobahn.  There were all sorts of manufacturing companies: General Motors, Carrier, Syracuse China, Smith-Corona, Franklin automobiles and my personal favorite, Marsellus Casket.  Unfortunately, as went manufacturing, so went the local economy.  None of the above is still here.  About the only thing we manufacture here is excuses.

For all intents and purposes, at this time we’re banking on Syracuse University to be the driving engine behind our renewal.  And for the most part, that seems to be finally working.  It’s somewhat troubling to be putting your hopes into one source, but others seem to be finally catching on.  But we’re still limited in some ways by our location.  Syracuse happens to be in the middle of New York.  And unless you count The City, no one wants to be here any more.  The economy inhaled gas years ago and Albany seems intent on extracting every dime left behind by the Federal government.  Catch-22.

But believe it or not, there is spring after the deepest winter.  The good news is that SU kept us going, attracting other development, new buildings, companies coming back into the city.

We’ve got an on again-off again mega mall being built.  The story behind that could fill several pages, but let’s put it this way – I refer to it as the Big Empty.  After several dormant months, there is a construction guy on site and the expansion may be complete before the world ends, but just barely.

We’ve got a 50 year old freeway (they don’t call them that here, it’s my contribution to the local lexicon) called Interstate 81.  For 49 years it has been crumbling.  I’m no engineer, so I don’t understand the chemical reactions in play, but salt causes steel to rust and concrete to break apart.  And the elevated sections of I-81 are, surprisingly, concrete and steel.  And you probably know we get snow.  So what do they use on the roads to melt the snow?  Yep – salt.  We didn’t get the nickname ‘Salt City’ for no reason.  We’ve got billions of tons of the stuff.  Gotta do something with it!  Anyway, they’ve been trying to figure out for the 20+ years I’ve been here what to do with I-81 when it reaches the end of its useful life.  Some would argue that’s already been, but they’re just carping.  They’re just bitter that the same section has to be rebuilt every year or two, taking up to a year to do it.  Some of the potential solutions have been interesting: burying it, like Boston did.  Making it street level.  Making it into a boulevard.  Blowing up the city entirely and relocating it to Arizona.  OK, I made that last one up, but it’s got potential.

We’ve got Armory Square, which is a poor man’s attempt at turning part of the city into Bohemia or at least Greenwich Village.  It’s what makes a university city something special – funky shops, non-chain restaurants, etc.  It’s small but may finally be growing.  It’s anchored on one end by the Museum of Science and Technology, which has an IMAX theater and many cool displays.

There are currently a few different projects going on in downtown proper.  Don’t laugh, but one of the more significant ones is moving the bus terminal.
Yeah, the bus terminal.  And terminal is an appropriate word for it.  Currently, the main transfer location is on the main north-south drag through town (not counting I-81).  It’s crowded, with dozens of buses daily, and seems to have taken on an underlife of its own.  Syracuse suffers from many of the issues found in other urban settings, although probably not as bad.  The fact of the matter is that when you have many people in a crowded area, sometimes people become frightened and sometimes predators lurk.  It’s certainly not Baltimore, nor even Rochester, but the area has become, well, blighted.  So one of the solutions is thought to be to move the transfer point a few blocks away while concurrently rebuilding some of the century-old buildings in the vicinity.  There is a three block stretch being transformed, including a beautiful old theater.  That theater is being expanded and remodeled to what could be a showcase.  The stage expansion will be able to handle bigger Broadway-style shows.

A few years ago, the stadium where the AAA minor league Syracuse Chiefs played was no longer viable.  The debate then was to build a new stadium downtown.  Sadly, that didn’t happen, because it would have probably sparked the rebuilding of downtown much sooner.  It was instead located next to the old ballpark on the north end of the city.  But that story begs the question: who pays for all this rebuilding?

Because the ballpark was owned by the county, it was paid for by a combination of county and state funds.  As I recall, virtually no private money went into it.  And that’s where the problems begin.

Public funding of building projects is a hot-button topic for many.  Eminent Domain factors into the equation as well.  But let’s look at funding.

Part of the issue is that building a stadium of any size is outrageously expensive.  And to build something like a Yankee Stadium or anything at that level costs billions.  Team owners, those who ultimately benefit from them, are loath to have to pay, especially when they can hold the city or the state hostage.  And don’t think they won’t play that card.  Witness the New York Jets and the New York Giants professional football teams – do you think by their names that they’d play in New York?  Nope.  Partly because the cities where they used to be located didn’t pony up enough money to keep them.  And that’s the argument.  Let’s say you’re living in, oh, Billings, Montana.  Let’s say a major league team wants to move there but only if you’re willing to bond (i.e. pay for) a stadium.  Now, being from Montana you have enough sense to say no.  What would you get for your tax dollars?  Traffic, for one.  That doesn’t sound like a fair deal.

But some cities thrive on the prestige of having a team.  And that’s OK, as long as they’re happy with paying out for someone (or several someones) benefit.
But juxtapose that with revitalizing a city.  Does public financing make sense?  Sure it does.  Believe it or not, blight costs.  More crime, more police presence, no revenue from businesses generating sales tax.  Think Gotham City before Batman.
Now you dump billions, mortgaging the future, guaranteeing every citizen a higher tax burden for eternity.  Does that make sense?  At the very least you have the intangible called civic pride.  At most you have new places, new businesses and a broader tax base which generates more to the city for more improvements, more services or (gasp) tax reductions.

Is everybody happy with it?  Nope. You’ve got NIMBYs everywhere (Not In My Back Yard).  These folks want to preserve the status quo regardless of how bad it is.  They don’t like change, they don’t want to take a chance on improving anything because you’re taking them out of what they’ve grown complacent with.  They’d wear the same socks everyday because they’ve just got them broken in.

Fortunately, in Syracuse anyway, the NIMBYs are out of luck for the time being.  Good for them.  Maybe it will keep businesses and people around for awhile.

An open letter to New York State citizens:

 

There currently are a pair of contracts proposed for the State workforce. The two unions, CSEA and PEF, have or will be presenting the contract proposals to their memberships for ratification. To give you the down-and-dirty, here are the highlights of the proposals:

Term of the contract is 5 years.

0% raise for the first three years, 2% for each of the fourth and fifth year.

$775 lump sum payment in April 2013 and $225 lump sum payment in April 2014.

5 days off with no pay the first year, never to be recovered.

4 days off with no pay the second year, with repayment at the end of the 5 year contract. The state has 18 months to amortize the repayment.

Guaranteed no layoffs in the first two years unless “material or unanticipated changes in the State’s fiscal circumstances, financial plan or or revenue will result in potential layoffs” or “as authorized by legislation or Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission determinations are excluded from these limitations.”

Cost shift in health insurance. Currently, using the Empire Family plan (the most common plan) the state pays 90% of the cost, employees pay 10% of the cost. State proposes the new ratio becomes 84%/16%. This represents a 24% increase.

Increases in co-pays for doctor visits, lab tests and medicines.

 

What’s wrong with these proposals? Plenty. And the sad thing is that the public at large has been sold a bill of goods about public employees.

 

Everyone has heard or told stories or jokes about state, Federal or city employees. How many employees does it take to fill a pothole? To change a light bulb? To process a worker’s compensation claim? We’ve all heard them, and for the most part, we state employees don’t disagree. After all, we’re taxpayers too. We see and use City, State and Federal services, just like you. We see the waste, and sometimes fraud, more than you do. We get it.

 

But here’s the problem, regardless of where you come down on the contract issues. There are many issues involved, and frankly some of the participants will dispute what is said here.

 

A couple of phrases come to mind. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and “politics make strange bedfellows”. Each apply here, in differing amounts.

 

The first is that the discussion amongst CSEA and PEF members that draws people of differing political persuasions together to fight what they perceive to be the right course of action.

 

The second is that Governor Cuomo, a Democrat, is acting like a conservative: Cut government, cut waste, live within your means. From where I sit, that makes sense. And it’s nothing new among Democrats. Witness Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Jerry Brown in California. All three are doing things that would make Tea Partiers proud. This flies in the face of what liberalism is supposed to be about.

 

Frankly, there is much discussion and disagreement between union members. There are those who are determined to vote yes because they’re convinced that turning down the State’s contract offer will condemn 9,800 employees to the unemployment line. Conversely, there are those who will vote no just because of greed (I got mine, too bad about yours.)

 

I will vote no because it’s a lousy deal. The biggest thing, for me, is that voting yes in order to save jobs will result in not saving jobs. The governor seems determined to lay off people, regardless of how the unions vote. Read the exceptions to the ‘no layoff’ clause.

 

Yes, we should feel the pain that everyone else does. And you know what? We do. We pay for fuel. We pay our taxes. We pay for food. Our costs have gone up the same as every one else’s.

 

Here’s the scary part: the governor and the folks supporting him have taken the same approach that Scott Walker has – namely, they are demonizing the state workforce. And we’re an easy target. And in some cases, yes, we deserve it. It’s our fault the state is in financial crisis. We have it so much better than non-public servants do. Our benefits are better, and that’s not fair. Staties can screw up and still have a job. Well, I’ll give you that one. The unions have been pretty good at protecting incompetent/lazy/goof-off employees.

 

But that’s the thing. In order to be accepted, every lie must have elements of truth. Yes, there clearly have been state employees who should have been fired. Whether for incompetency, laziness or just generally being a screw-up, they should have been gone. And in the private sector, maybe they would have. After all, nobody wants to support that kind of behavior with their tax money.

 

And we get the fact that people have a right to expect that their tax dollars are supporting the services they need and the people who provide them. That’s reasonable.

 

What’s not reasonable is the seed the Governor and his staff is planting amongst the citizens – that ALL public employees are lazy, that ALL public employees are taking advantage of the system, and that ALL public employees are responsible for the fact that the politicians have spent more money than they’ve taken in. They are creating in your mind the illusion that we are the enemy, that we should be punished because we are greedy and have more than you. That is frightening. Just as any dictator, they can implant the idea that there is a common enemy – even if it’s not true.

 

Do we have it better than you? Clearly, I cannot answer that. Statistically, our wages are less than the private sector but that’s compensated for by the benefits we enjoy. Whether that’s true or not, I cannot say. My particular job does not transfer cleanly to the private sector. I spent most of my working life in the private sector, and did take a pay cut to come to public service. But the wages and benefits were predictable, so it was a reasonable tradeoff. No regrets on my part. If you’re unemployed, clearly the matrix changes. No wonder you might condemn public employees. Just remember that it will not help your position to have someone in the hole with you. It just makes it more crowded.

 

The purpose of this letter is to show that there are negotiations going on that can and will affect you as members of the community. Maybe you agree with the State’s position, maybe not. But there doesn’t seem to be anyone telling you what’s really going on. Maybe this has helped explain what’s going on. I’m not looking for your sympathy. I’m not asking for you to write your assembly person or state senator demanding fair treatment for your public employees. But you have a right to know what’s happening with your tax dollars.

 

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