We once rioted over a tax on tea

Michael Brown didn’t deserve to be shot dead.

Darren Wilson shouldn’t have had a big guy tussle with him while still in his cruiser.

People taking to the streets rioting, looting and attacking cops isn’t the answer.

“Leaders” like Al Sharpton screaming injustice over this small piece of stupidity in the corner of the insane asylum shouldn’t be given a microphone.

The President should have been there to read the Grand Jury release- and continue on to talk about the real problems this country has- and not the ones that the media is turning into a circus.

If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice- it’s time to take a good long look at how Michael Brown and Darren Wilson ended up on Canfield Drive.

These two losers in the lottery of instant fame by accidental stupidity are products of a country that’s lost its moral compass and its right to call itself the land of liberty, home of the free, brave or where all men are created equal.

This country is ready for another revolution, but this won’t be it. Michael Brown isn’t Rosa Parks. Michael Brown, if not by Darren Wilson, would have probably ended up just another statistic at another time. We live in a country that thrives on fear- fear of black men, fear of drug dealers, fear of bringing a knife to a gun fight. And one in six lives in fear of keeping their home, finding their next meal, or keeping their second job, which still doesn’t provide enough for them to safely raise a family.

There is a Mark Twain quote from long ago, that’s as applicable today as when it was written: “Principles have no real force except when one is well-fed.”

And our country is starving. For food, for substance, for leadership – that knows the difference between right and wrong. That understands what true equality means. We’re headed to a throwdown where many think that those with the most ammo think they will win. Yes, a real live shooting war on the streets. The people rioting in Ferguson when the first riots broke out, didn’t take the hint when that they were seriously under-armed and over-confident.

The real crimes in this country are being driven by less than 200 extremely rich people who are buying elections. The real crimes are taking place daily on Wall Street where legalized theft is legitimizing the theft of trillions out of retirement funds, real estate mortgages, and through funny money pyramid schemes where the Federal Reserve keeps printing money- and rich people keep stockpiling it- while the dumb maybe-voters go out for a smack down by the cops in Ferguson.

Our prisons hold more black men, indited for stupid petty theft, that cost us billions to keep away from their families- while Wall Street invests in private prisons, private armies and lives in a world so far removed from Canfield Drive that you need NASA to build a rocket to bridge the gap.

Michael Brown and Darren Wilson aren’t even pawns in the game of chess that’s long been played out in this country. Big money could care less what happens to justice because they already own it. Didn’t you get the hint when OJ got off? The only person who’s managed to give them a scare was Bernie Madoff who made off with a bunch of stupid rich people’s money.

Injustice is happening all over this country, but the people rioting don’t know who their real enemy is.

Remember this is a country that once revolted over a tax on tea.

Ignorance is the enemy, and he won long ago.

note: I’ve been avoiding this and the WalMart shooting of John Crawford in Beavercreek for a while. I’ve been waiting to spend more time to write an analysis of what went wrong here- not in Ferguson. As I sat at dinner with a friend, watching the reading of the Grand Jury findings on a phone, in the Spaghetti Warehouse, the question came up- “what is the trigger for a revolution” and how far off it would be. Only history will know, because while it’s happening, it’s never that obvious.
This may not be my best writing- or the most coherent essay- but it’s what I’m thinking now- and it may evolve over time. I ask that you go easy on me- and stick to the ideas that you are having as this mess unfolds into the pages of the history books- or not. Many better people have died for a cause, the President just awarded the presidential freedom medal to the “Mississippi Burning” heroes, 50 years later.
I look forward to your thoughts.

The nadir of American “politics”?

This election, Nov. 4, 2014, may have been where America hit political rock bottom. At least I hope so. Estimates of $3.6 billion wasted on what amounted to an auction of elected office. Voters, disgusted with the lack of respectable and credible candidates stayed home for the most part. Those who voted often felt dirty.

If you need proof that those running this clown show have lost touch with reality, from this morning’s N.Y. Times:

“Barack Obama has our country in a ditch, and many of his lieutenants running for the Senate were right there with him,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “The punishment is going to be broad, and it’s going to be pretty serious.”

via Election Results: Republicans Win Senate Control With at Least 7 New Seats – NYTimes.com.

“The punishment” for serving our country? The punishment for trying to work in a system that’s been derailed by dirty money and gerrymandered districts? Where our government actually shut down because of the lack of the most basic skills critical to civilized society- compromise?

I was once chided by none other than former Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin for talking about politicians- when she corrected me with her definition of herself as an elected representative. When will our “elected representatives” start acting like representatives again? What happened to the statesman?

In the city of Dayton- less than 24,000 people voted- of the approximately 100,000 registered voters. Granted I believe the total to be inflated as much as 25,000- but that still says more than half stayed home.

As to our country being “in a ditch” and placing blame unilaterally on Democrats- I truly wonder what we were in when Barack Obama took office? The economy had just disintegrated thanks to Wall Street being run like a casino. We’re still at war, with zero end in sight- even though we still are pretending we’re not. And, while numbers of unemployed are low- we’ve taken so many people off the rolls- and accepted the fact that most workers are now woefully underemployed in sub-living wage hell, that our economy is nothing but a house of cards, ready to implode once again.

The stock market is near record highs- just waiting for a “correction” that will wipe trillions off our general net worth- and yet, the chairman of the Republican party is doing a happy dance with his new-found power.

For the first time in 22 years- the idea of running for office, to make a difference, turns my stomach. If this is the way the game will be played from here on out- it’s one that disgusts me.

If anyone who was elected yesterday, truly believes that it’s because of their skill and merit- other than perhaps Fred Strahorn and Jim Butler, who both faced hapless opposition, they should be ashamed of themselves.

We’re all losing when political office is bought- not won, when campaigns are about mud, not ability and when choices are almost always the lesser of two evils.

Why Dayton politics are like a game of hockey with bad referees

Saturday night I went to see the Dayton Demonz play a game of hockey at Hara Arena. Very early in the game an obvious icing call was screwed up and the faceoff was held in neutral ice instead of back in the defensive zone (for those of you who don’t understand hockey- bear with me, but the reason for the icing call is to keep the game moving- stopping the defending team from tossing the puck all the way down the ice every time they feel pressured). My friend and I were bewildered- the fans who know the game were bewildered, how does someone referee a professional hockey game and not know the most basic call in hockey?

But it got worse. A period in hockey is 20 minutes long of stop time. The purpose of referees is to keep the game moving, only blowing the whistle when something happens that gives a team an unfair advantage or tries to slow the action. Typically, without a whole lot of penalties, a period takes, even with time outs, less than 45 minutes. This game- the first period took over 70- and I seem to remember only one penalty being called.

Typically referees only talk, and are officially only allowed to talk to players wearing either a C or an A on their sweater (hockey jersey for the unindoctrinated) – they don’t talk to the bench or the coaches, unless giving the coach a warning or a penalty. These refs seemed to have never learned that part- talking to both benches and each other way more than is customary. As the players became more and more frustrated with bad calls- and missed calls, things got chippy on the ice. Predictions for a brawl or two were being made as the game continued to get out of hand.

Kinsella got a little pissy!!! #demonz #goalieprobs

A major fight in the second period got the fans going- where a Demonz player beat the living crap out of a much bigger opponent. The Federal League was supposed to be making a real effort at cutting down on the brawling this season. Apparently the refs didn’t get the memo- nor did they try to break it up. By the third, they gave the Demonz captain a 10-minute misconduct. The missed calls had the players making bad decisions left and right- not knowing what was going to fly or not fly. With about 10 minutes left to go in regulation, the Demonz goalie got beat on a good goal, and turned around and flipped the net over. This is an automatic penalty for either “unsportsmanlike conduct” or “delay of game.” No call. Nothing.

By the end of the game it was tied- with both teams having guys in the box. Overtime is 4 on 4 and five minutes of sudden death play. It’s well after 11 pm at this point- a full hour, to hour and a half later than the game should have been over. The Demonz captain came back to sit in the box- since as soon as the first whistle after his ten minutes was up- he could re-enter the game. The moment he re-enters another fight starts up- despite the Demonz having a man advantage at the time. A quick goal by the visitor ends the game and as the teams are heading off the ice a brawl breaks out- with one of the refs getting hit and going to his knees. A total failure of controlling the game- and a poor example of what the game of hockey is all about.

WTF does this have to do with politics in Dayton you may rightly ask? Has Esrati lost it?

The beauty of hockey is that the rules are pretty simple, and everyone who plays the game understands them. While there are some nuances that it takes a while to learn, and some penalties are judgment calls- good referees and good players know that things usually have a way of balancing out, and that when the rules are followed- the game works.

In Dayton, our political players have bent the rules, ignored the rules and lied about the rules for so long, the game no longer resembles the game at all. It’s how we end up with a building owned by the people, being the leading tax scofflaw downtown. (The Port Authority is a public slush fund for building buildings for people who don’t like to pay their way- examples being the headquarters for MCSi- which is now the headquarters for Mead School Supplies, the parking garage for the former Relizon/WorkFlow One/Deloitte/CareSource building.

Our politicians are so confused at whon they report to, they run for office because they are told to, even though they have no real interest to continue, and money is thrown their way. Instead of spending our money on public safety and infrastructure- we funnel into pseudo-government organizations like CityWide Development, the Downtown Dayton Partnership and the Dayton Development Coalition where our money gets handed out like candy to congressmen’s wives’ firms on a no-bid contract.

We’ve forgotten what our objectives are, what the rules are and how to keep score properly. It’s a total farce at the game of government, just as was the “hockey game” on Saturday night.

Lucky for hockey fans, there are referees and league officials who will review that game and sort things out.

For dealing with Dayton’s clusterduck of a game, you only have me and my blog-  since the paper’s publisher is in bed with the Dayton Development Coalition and the owners of the media love the money from the auctions we call elections.

Good luck voting tomorrow. Even if you do the right thing, the refs in charge won’t get the score right.

 

Time to change the national anthem and chuck the constitution: Police militarization

Photo by Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

Ferguson MO militarized police photo- Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

It’s this photo that makes my stomach turn. This is not a police force to “Serve and protect”- but a police force to deny free speech, the right to peaceably assemble and to protest.

We are no longer the home of the brave and land of the free.

When gun nuts talk about needing to own an assault rifle, because they are afraid of the government overstepping its bounds, they now have the poster photo to prove the crazies are right.

Let me count the ways that this is wrong. The idiot on the top of the “Urban Assault Vehicle” is actively sighting a target. If he had a legitimate reason to do this, all those “riot police” should be on the deck- with their weapons pointed at an imminent threat. If anyone else held a fully automatic assault rifle like that, they would be shot by the police with the excuse that they were inciting panic. In Beavercreek Ohio, you can get killed for talking on a cell phone with a BB gun in a Walmart- this is an order of magnitude worse.

The mismatched uniforms- with desert boots and woodland camouflage also make these “police officers” look more like extras on a low-budget Hollywood war movie. Why wear BDU’s at all? Are they police- or soldiers? Police officers work for us- have pride in their community, and represent us- soldiers are here to repress us. The moment you don a military uniform, you are no longer serving and protecting me, at least that’s the way this former soldier sees it.

No matter how much police forces train to use this gear, it’s not suited for police work. Good cops know their first and most effective tool, is talking to people, trying to establish rapport and common ground. Note to cops: the moment you don your GI Joe gear you throw all that “one of us rapport” out the window. If we really need an MRAP on the scene, you’d do better to let it be the National Guard in it, because after the shit storm is over, they go home outside the community- and you, well, you’ve permanently distanced yourself by actively taking arms against our citizenry.

SWAT was a bad TV show- that forever changed the idea of what cops should and shouldn’t do. It probably did as much or more damage to the idea of “community based policing” than Jack Bauer on 24 did to interrogation techniques. No, physical torture doesn’t get you good intel or accurate intel- it just makes you guilty of war crimes. Want a lesson in the Geneva Convention- ask Senator John McCain, don’t ask “John McClane”- the cop character in the Die Hard movies which also distorted the reality of what happens when most people shoot other people- even highly trained people shooting other people. The reality is, most cops don’t shoot very often, and this kind of BS isn’t why they got into policing. Any chief who orders his officers to go out with automatic weapons and point them as if to shoot- should be relieved of command.

For those who need a refresher- the United States is probably the only country that glorifies a war battle in its national anthem, and not even the revolutionary war, but the war of 1812. We seem to still be confused as to what a “land of the free and the home of the brave” means. Are we now brave, to walk in protest, facing our fellow countrymen armed to the teeth, to protect our freedoms which have been slipping away from us since September 11, 2001?

The Constitution, starts with this preamble. Read it. Then look at the photo above. Do the two go together?

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Habeas Corpus- the right not to be be unlawfully detained, and to have a judge and jury determine your fate:

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

When police show up with the firepower to go to war, our collective rights are being stripped from us. Those which are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the Constitution).

They read in brief (from this post)

  1. Freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition.
  2. Right to bear arms.
  3. Right not to quarter soldiers.
  4. Freedom from unnecessary search or seizure.
  5. Due process of laws.
  6. The right to a speedy trial.
  7. The right to a trial by jury.
  8. No cruel or unusual punishment.
  9. Constitutional rights do not deny other rights.
  10. States rights

Look again at the photo above. The Third amendment specifically applies to this-

“the Third Amendment subordinates military authority to civilian control and safeguards against abuses that can be perpetrated by standing armies and professional soldiers.” via The legal dictionary/free dictionary.

Do those cops look like cops, or professional soldiers to you? They do to me.

We have a constitutional law expert as our president. Now is not the time for him to be on vacation. What is happening in Ferguson MO is a danger to the state of our union, and demands his attention. It’s time for a come-to-Jesus meeting about police militarization, because if this is how my police serve and protect, I say they are doing neither.

Right after I posted this- Butler Township Trustee Nick Brusky tweeted the following:

The crime scene instant replay hypocrisy

The first thing the rabble rousing reverends call for in the recent police shooting of a young black man in a lily white communities Walmart is to see the store video- all of it.

Yet, the exact same people rail against traffic cams installed to monitor speed and stop lights.

Don’t forget the ones who screamed bloody murder over the high resolution drone surveillance either.

Our society has been spoiled by instant replay from every angle to figure out if a penalty in football was called correctly or if the players foot stepped on the line, that we seem to expect the same from some Chinese DVR taking low rez photos at 10 frames per second in a store.

Some police departments are experimenting with personal video recorders attached to the shirts of their officers, to provide “evidence” of what “really happened” in a police interaction. This is after “dash cams” became the norm- letting the public voyeurs see some things as horrible as when a few local white supremacists decided to do a Bonnie and Clyde move- shooting an unsuspecting State Trooper on a routine traffic stop. Hyped by media that still lives by the adage “if it bleeds it leads” we’ve turned into junkies for “Reality TV” of real life tragedies which often happen when idiots and guns mix. Even pellet guns- as was the case in the Beavercreek Walmart.

One person wrote into the Dayton Daily news wondering what would have happened in the Walmart had a private citizen packing now legal heat at decided to take out the bb gun waving, cell phone talking black man, instead of the police? Or what would have the police done had they seen one of those Concealed Carry people waiting with gun drawn- in case the pellet gun genius came their way? It’s sad that just the hysteria caused by this incident also took the life of a young woman who died as she tried to flea the scene by yet undetermined causes.

What does store security video do to change all of this? We’re yet to find out. Most of it comes without sound- so unless the Feds have lip readers, ways to enhance video like on crime scene shows (I work in video and can tell you that most of that “resolution enhancement” you see on CSI is total BS) we may just end up with more questions than answers. This isn’t an NFL game with 13 cameras following the ball at all times from all angles.

At least ten years ago- I sat in a Greene County Court room where a young black man was about to be sent away for three years in prison. The evidence then? A dash cam recording – which coupled with mandatory sentencing laws, decided the case for the judge. The crime? A drunk black man, in cuffs in the back of the cruiser, says on camera to the officer “you won’t live to see your next birthday.” A mandatory 3 year felony stint for threatening the life of a law enforcement officer. Had the black man just hit the cop- 6 months and a minor misdemeanor.

The judge said in the sentencing- “In all my years on the bench, we usually have two parties telling different stories about the same event, and somewhere in the middle is the truth. Here, all we had to do was press play” and a life was changed for saying something stupid.

Video replay of crimes can’t always be the gold standard for deciding guilt or innocence, at some point common sense has to enter into the equation.

I don’t envy the cops who had to make a split second decision about if a gun is real or not real, and if the person acting irrationally (yes, walking through a store with anything like a firearm un-holstered or pointed anywhere other than the floor or ceiling is irrational) could prevent that officer from going home to his family that night. It’s in those split seconds where photographic evidence isn’t the end all and be all. If it shows a gun being pointed anywhere other than floor or ceiling- what the commands were, if they were followed, timing- don’t really matter anymore in my book. The possibility of a tragedy brought on a real tragedy and second guessing it isn’t solving the problem.

The real questions should be is what other shoppers saw- what they thought? Does one persons account via a 911 call make this a situation calling for SWAT? Should the 911 caller be questioned for inciting panic? These are some of the questions that need to be answered.

As to our constant monitoring by video and its effect on our civil liberties, that cat is so long out of the bag it’s time to stop arguing about it, and consider what our real expectations are for a civil and moral society that doesn’t break down into dysfunction at the drop of a dime.

Why property values and tax revenues are dropping: and how to solve it

Just back from a contentious meeting of Historic South Park Inc. For the last year, the County Prosecutor’s office has been sending high-priced lawyers out to our meeting to answer questions. Of course, since we can’t actually get them to file a case directly, this is a ridiculous waste of resources. Tonight, the two county prosecutors were joined by a city prosecutor, who also, won’t file a case unless it’s brought to them by the police, the city law department, or some other department.

The issue was mostly housing code enforcement, at which the laws have been failing for years to make a real change in our community’s net worth. The problem is that they mostly deal with prosecuting physical issues- peeling paint, overgrown yards, dilapidated and abandoned properties. The secret to South Park’s success has been by focusing on social capital- instead of the bricks and mortar. More homeowners create more stable neighborhoods. Local landlords do better than absentee ones. Law abiding citizens create a sense of security that makes investment possible.

So, why are most of our laws focused on the physical capital? My quality of life isn’t damaged by the peeling paint on my neighbor’s carriage house. Sure, the wood can weather- and eventually rot- and decrease the value or increase the costs of repair- but this is a minor problem compared to the following key issues that are killing our neighborhoods: I call them the four pillars of failing cities.

Bad neighbors are bad for investment

Around 2008/9 a foreclosed home was bought by a drug addict with a brood of criminals for family. On average, we’ve had well over 30 police calls per year to the address. Older sons have been in and out of prison, younger ones are a constant issue for children’s services and truancy officers. Windows are broken, bonfires in the backyard are often used to separate metal from plastic for scrap (including a large number of air conditioners) and since they moved in- a string of 17 years without a single break-in, changed to several a year. Well documented on this site.

While the city has no problem charging law-abiding citizens progressively higher fines for false alarm responses by police, no one is fining the bad neighbors for their draining of city resources for their failure to conform to society’s basic rules. Change this- and shut down homes that require inordinate amounts of public dollars- and not only will the city have more resources, but quality of life will improve in the neighborhood- boosting investor confidence.

Bad bankers are bad for investment

A home once appraised for over $150K gets foreclosed on. It had a woman who was divorced from a disgraced public servant living in it. She owed about $70K on the property- and the bank wouldn’t settle for less than the outstanding debt. They used our county prosecutors and sheriff to bounce her out of the home. Once vacant, they failed to properly winterize the home, forcing the bank to invest about $5k to make the home sellable. They then auctioned the home for $45K. Had they accepted a refinancing deal of $40K (what they netted on the deal) they would have kept her in the home- and not used your tax dollars to process the paper to evict- probably costing the taxpayers another $10K.

The solution: If a bank sells a property for less than what its lowest offer was to the homeowner, they are forced to contribute the difference back to a fund to help assist homeowners keep their properties. If a bank has inventory that is currently not being maintained or properly marketed, they aren’t able to proceed with foreclosures. If a bank takes possession of a property in habitable condition- and sells it in less than habitable condition, due to theft, malfeasance, or incompetence, they are forced to pay the purchaser for all repair costs to return those services.

The foreclosure cycle is only contributing to decreasing property values and it’s insanity for taxpayers to continue to support private enterprise with managing their business. As a small business owner, I can barely count on the courts to help me collect on my court-awarded debts.

Bad property owners are bad for investment

We have properties throughout Dayton that are owned by shell corporations, people in other countries, people who can’t be found. While peeling paint is something the city seems to focus on, the most dangerous physical problems are:

  • Leaky roofs
  • Overflowing gutters, which can cause foundation issues and siding and structural rot
  • Stink trees- weeds that grow at a crazy pace and can break foundations in a few years
  • Critters- raccoons, possums, feral cats, etc., can render a home uninhabitable quickly.
  • Dopers
  • Squatters

The problem is, if you can’t find the owner, how do you address these problems? This is where nuisance property laws and eminent domain could be useful, but both seem to be too much work for our elected public officials. We’d rather wait until the property is to the point where it has to be torn down than create intervention strategies that can avert entropy, which is the real enemy. A vacant home isn’t killing the neighborhood values- unless it begins to have the above problems. Work on systems of notification, fines and seizure in order to prevent non-compliant owners from devaluing others’ properties through their apathy.

Impotent police are bad for investment

No, I’m not talking about cops that can’t become parents, I’m talking about police who don’t have the manpower or the support of the community to enforce community standards. Sure, robberies, murders and vandalism suck- but, quality of life, peace and tranquility are where police can best make their presence felt.

You don’t speed through Oakwood for good reason- they enforce speeding laws- without the assistance of stand in cameras. They come when you call about drunk neighbors, loud music or even not putting your trash cans away. Dayton police would scoff at all of those complaints when in fact, those are the root base of community standards of conduct that make the difference in property values. Investment in community safety may trump all “economic development” dollars ever spent in our community- and pay back many times more, than our current reactive solution of tearing down the detritus of our years of failed priorities.

We, the citizens of Dayton, deserve better. If we had leaders who really understood anything other than how to keep their friends and family on the government dime, we might stand a chance of once again becoming the “Cleanest and safest city in America” worthy of investment.

Choose wisely.

The dirty little secret of the VA: failures in government contracting

While Congress continues to feast on the foibles of the VA, pointing fingers at anything that moves, one little minor problem continues to be overlooked: Federal contracting and its farcical system of awarding contracts and providing the lowest and best cost solutions to the taxpayers. The Feds are the largest purchaser of goods and services in this country.

As a Service Disabled Veteran, who owns his own business, and jumped through all the hoops to become a “Certified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business” I still have not managed to crack the code of getting work from the Federal Government- including the VA, which is committed to spending at least 7% of their purchasing power with SDVOB’s.

While Congress has the VA on full lynch mode- and claims to have Veterans interests at heart, they’ve never gotten upset that the Federal Government has totally failed to follow it’s own law:

The Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-50 Download Adobe Reader to read this link content) established an annual government-wide goal of not less than 3% of the total value of all prime contract and subcontract awards for participation by small business concerns owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans.

via Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concerns (SDVOSBC) | SBA.gov.

The main reason: the government depends on the General Services Administration (GSA) to approve all potential contractors with an arcane system called a GSA Schedule. Called “a license to hunt” by veterans’ advocates, the process of getting a GSA schedule is convoluted and overly burdensome, especially for small businesses. While the GSA demands the lowest and best price offered to the government, we’ve seen how well that works with minor purchases like the the F-35 going over budget and way past on time.

From paper clips to printing to pharmaceuticals, the system is rigged so that only a small number of vendors are actually able to compete or bid all in the name of “fairness.”

The VA, is also forced to use private contractors solicited via this process- and when they fail, there are no repercussions to the  contractors.

Take my eyeglasses for example. Mine were broken on Friday May 9th 2014. I was seen that night at the VA. I’d recently had an eye exam, and went to the eyeglasses shop on Monday to get a new pair made. They told me they were running 4-5 weeks behind, which struck me as odd- since there are any number of places in Dayton that can supply eyeglasses same or next day. Luckily, I’m friends with Kevin Harrington of Downtown Dayton Optical and he made me a few pairs of fixed glasses to replace my no line bifocals that day. By Wednesday I realized switching glasses every time I got a text was going to be unbearable for 4-5 weeks, I asked him to make me a pair of no line bifocals. He got them to me the next Monday.

Sign at Dayton VA explaining delay in glasses delivery

Sign at the Dayton VA Optical Shop

It was still bothering me that a pair of eyeglasses for veterans would take that long and I contacted Director Glenn Costie- explaining that glasses are pretty essential to a veteran and there is no excuse for that long a wait. Turns out I was right.

I was called by one of his assistants who told me the contract stipulated 2 week max. They were in the process of switching contractors, to one promising one week. After a month had gone by and still no glasses, I sent a note to Director Costie asking “Why isn’t your purchasing department penalizing the hell out of this crappy vendor?” saying I would write a blog post about this situation (a blog post I wrote in a post surgery fog also got a lot of attention). The next day, a message was on my home answering machine from a woman who sounded almost incredulous that she was calling- saying my glasses were in.

A sign on the sign-in desk for the optical shop at the VA says:

“Notice to Veterans awaiting Eyeglasses
We apologize that the current wait time for eyeglasses is about 5 weeks.

The Company contracted to manufacture the eyeglasses are not meeting our expected delivery time of 5-10 days.

We are finalizing changes so that our expectations of faster delivery times are met.

We are sorry for the inconvenience.”

I’m pretty sure if I violated a contract with the government, I’d be in prison.

This isn’t the first time a VA contractor has screwed up. Last year, when it was determined that I needed to have my parathyroid gland removed, after months of unnecessary tests including 2 needle biopsies and 2 radioactive scans- despite blood chemistry clearly identifying the issue- I was scheduled for surgery at the Cincinnati VA in July with a specialist. Turns out, he too was a private contractor, and works full time for University of Cincinnati medical center. Contracted for X number of hours with the VA, he sees patients and does surgeries at the Cincy VA only on Thursdays, something like twice a month. When he decided to take a few weeks off in July- they bumped me from my initial consultation, meaning I’d have to go in August- and then wait another month to be operated on. Then, he took a day off- on his VA scheduled day. I wrote both the surgeon and Director Costie again- and here was the summary outcome email back to Costie thanking him after he stepped in on my behalf:

I’m not sure what transpired between you and Cincy.
I’d also sent an email directly to the surgeon through his private practice site.
It said something to the effect of-
“you signed a contract with the VA to operate once a month.
When you take a surgery day off- you don’t just get to bump veterans to the next month- because your private practice comes first.
Veterans didn’t get the choice when they were serving- to say, sorry- I’ll deploy next month, I’m busy.
When you miss a day- you get to do two days the next month. Our veterans deserve your best.”

He came in and apologized to me-
said it was refreshing to see the patient’s perspective. Said he’d been with the VA for 20 years- and this kind of thing still happens- because of a miscommunication- and that maybe I should come work there to help straighten things out. I said I’d pass on the government job- but thanks.

Unfortunately, other veterans don’t have the ability to call bullshit when they see things going wrong, and unfortunately, Congress seems to be so busy pointing fingers that they don’t see the problem either. Accountability means contracts must be enforced at all levels if we truly want to help our veterans- and get our tax dollars’ worth.

I think highly of Director Costie- and I was saddened to hear that he’s going to Phoenix to try to clean up that mess, but the real question is when is the GSA going to be held accountable for securing contracts that are routinely ignored?

Back in 2005, on behalf of my veterans business group, VOB108, now VOBOhio, I wrote a proposal for a GSA EZ schedule to help small businesses have a chance at selling to the federal government. That would be a good start- and possibly allow small businesses a true shot at government contracts- and also, what are the true penalties involved in not performing to contract standards?

Considering new government rules on medicare and medicaid asking for verified outcomes, isn’t it time for the same when hiring contractors for the VA for service delivery to our veterans? And, while we’re at it- how about the same for our Congressmen- when you don’t work and shut down government, you should lose your job and be sent to prison.

 

The real reason Boehner wants to privatize the VA

John Boeher wants to privatize the VA, while Gen. Shinseki makes $200K, and the health-care industry donates $265 million to politicians

Apparently the people at the VA don’t donate enough to politicians.

Gen. Eric Shinseki is in charge of the VA, and is a service-disabled veteran. The operation is immense.

one of the nation’s biggest health care systems, a far-flung operation that treats 6.5 million people a year at 151 hospitals and 820 outpatient clinics, with more than 18,000 doctors and an annual budget of more than $57 billion.

The need for care has increased with a surge in the number of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, coming on top of a population of aging veterans who were already straining the capacity of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Improvements in battlefield medicine mean that many service members survive with severe injuries that need treatment after they leave the armed forces….

Q: How big is the Department of Veterans Affairs?

A: The clinics and hospitals serve more than 230,000 veterans a day and deliver care in 85 million appointments a year. The 6.5 million patients treated each year include more than 757,000 whose military service began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

via History and Context of an Embattled Department of Veterans Affairs – NYTimes.com.

And while heads of local Dayton health networks make upwards of $4 million, to run a much smaller operation- that claims to be a non-profit, and receives well over half of its revenue from the government via Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements- Shinseki makes $200,000 a year- doing his public service job for the taxpayer.

And while mistakes happen in all health care facilities, the latest uproar over delayed care or medical malfeasance has Faux News in an uproar, all medical providers screw up, get sued, lie, cheat and steal, that’s how lawyers make money in this country.

But, when Speaker John Boehner, who served 8 weeks in the Navy before being discharged for a bad back, says he wants to privatize the VA, one has to wonder why?

More than two decades ago, Boehner said he offered an idea that was controversial at the time: Why not privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs?

The idea was soundly rejected by veterans organizations.

Now, in the midst of a sweeping scandal over reports that veterans had died waiting for treatment, Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., said Friday that the idea still has merit.

“I still like the idea and especially now,” he said, but cautioned that “until we understand what’s happening and until we understand whether it can be fixed or how it can be fixed, all veterans seeking care shouldn’t have to wait.”

Boehner, in an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News on Friday, said he believes the problems at the VA are “systemic,” and said he is not convinced that having VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resign will fix the problem.

via Boehner wants to privatize the VA.

As a veteran who receives excellent care for myself- and my 87-year-old father, I can only come to one conclusion: VA officials don’t contribute money to political campaigns anywhere near as much as the people who run our private health-care system.

In the 2012 cycle- the health industry ranked sixth in all giving, donating $265,727,881.

56% of the donations went to Republicans, not that it matters. The reality is, money spent on political campaigns by companies that receive public dollars should be banned. This means if you are a defense contractor, a health provider, any company that sucks on the public teat, you shouldn’t be able to buy your way into office with the taxpayers picking up the tab.

Gen. Shinseki isn’t the problem in the first place – if the idiots in government had listened to him, when he warned Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld that the numbers of troops to occupy Iraq would be in the hundreds of thousands and would suffer casualties, we’d have a lot less dead and wounded soldiers.

It’s time to hold Boehner and the rest of Congress responsible for a war that has bankrupted our country, a political system that is corrupt, and a media conglomerate that feasts like vultures on the only truly successful health care-organization in the country when it comes to providing care efficiently- the VA.

Thank you Gen. Shinseki for your service, as a general and as chief of the VA.

Hits, runs and errors. Society’s failings- not baseball.

I’ve never been afraid in Dayton, Ohio. Maybe because I’m wired wrong. On the way home from the first CIRGV meeting, I saw a young teen walking fast up W. Third with a 22.-caliber rifle, I turned my scooter around- and stopped him to talk- before he scurried off, and I called the police. Yes- I should have called cops first- and headed on my way. I’ve also been all over Dayton- way past dark, hanging basketball nets. Carried the ladder at least a thousand feet to the remote court in Western Hills – close to midnight to put up nets- without a worry.

Urban Nights is supposed to be when we put out our welcome mat. When all feel welcome to go downtown. Well, all, except the people we don’t want to acknowledge live in our community- urban, black youths. And, this isn’t an indictment of them- we’re all to blame. We’ve worked for the last 50 years to separate ourselves and to pretend that everything is hunky-dory. What happened and what I saw Friday night, 9 May, 2014, Urban Nights wasn’t an epic event by any means. As a very young boy- I remember my Dad lifting me to the window in East Cleveland of our 8th floor apartment to look North over the city of Cleveland- with the sky glowing orange from the fires during the Hough and Glenville riots. He took a photo that ended up on the cover of the Plain Dealer Sunday magazine- my grandmother, painted it, the painting hung on our walls for a long time, and faded away from relevance. I don’t know where the painting is now, but- the memory of the sky stuck with me. That was an epic event.

This year’s spring Urban Nights seemed like it was lightly attended compared to others. The rain was holding off, but, the crowds were still light. I had almost stayed home, after a long week, but a friend had texted and I headed over on the scooter and parked it next to Drake’s Gym/Gentile Produce and started at St. Clair between Fourth and Third. As usual, I ran into lots of friendly faces including our former neighborhood cop, former Mayor Gary Leitzell, a BOE worker, Tim Kambitch- head of the Dayton Metro Library- all within the first 40 minutes. I headed over to 2nd Street and saw my friend Haitham at Carmen’s Deli- and waited for the band to start at 9- it was Hal Melia’s Brass Tacks band- with a horn section. I talked to Brian West- a friend and trumpet player- who said the guy on trumpet was probably the best in a 200-mile region. They were tight- the singer had a great voice- but, when they started playing their second song by Chicago after only 6 tunes- I’d reached my limit of pop- and headed round the corner to see what was going on at Courthouse Square- and to check out the AIA at the Business Furniture spot.

The police were congregated at Second and Main. On bikes, cruisers, and a few of the new SUVs. Courthouse Square was dark. The architects had already closed up shop- I continued ambling down S. Main where I passed a white guy with a megaphone standing on the corner- reading scripture. Other than the security guys that I saw at the RTA bus depot, he was the last white person I saw as I made my way through a crowd of black youths. I didn’t feel threatened. I didn’t sense any tension. It was around 9:20 pm. I made it down where I was almost to 4th street, having passed TNT Fashion and was looking over at the Kuntz building- at the corner of 4th and Main- it’s still one of my favorite downtown buildings, with its red clay color and castle-like ornamentation. I glanced back toward Third and saw a swarm of kids out in Main Street- moving like a flock of sparrows, undulating, changing direction together as if they were some sort of magnetic liquid goo being moved by a mysterious unseen magnet.

I took out my phone and started recording, with the thought that the police would be the ones to act badly. I was wrong. Someone says at 0:45 “he’s recording” – as if they are totally oblivious to the city’s new security cameras and the ones RTA has had. At 1:05 my phone gets swatted from my hands, I pick it up, stick it in my pocket and start chasing the punk. At this point, I’m mad, but not thinking about what comes next. Sort of like GWB invading Iraq. Thanks to his baggy pants and me not being totally out of shape at 51, I am gaining on him as he stops, midway down 4th St., across from Dave Hall Plaza- you can hear the complete exchange. He wants to fight, I don’t know what I want. I’m also aware of the huge mob that has run after us and is starting to surround me- someone swings- hits me in the temple- my glasses go off, I turn- and step on them. More hits come- I’m moving to the wall to at least make sure that I don’t end up in the center of a beat down- and can stay up. Fighting a lot of people doesn’t work out like a Bruce Lee movie- they don’t conveniently wait for you to dispatch them one at a time, they all come at you at once. Most of the blows come to my head- at some point- I lost vision in my left eye temporarily. As fast as it starts, it ends- I go over to pick up my glasses- one arm of my glasses is askew- I pick up the lenses and stick them in my pocket. One of them is going to be the only way I can read until morning. A cop on a motorcycle pulls up as I wave him down- and tell him I was assaulted by a kid wearing a white wife beater, baggy jeans. The cop told me to wait here.

I post to Facebook using Siri voice recognition- at 9:45 pm

“Just got assaulted at urban nights, while videotaping of Nealeigh out in front of the RTA glasses are broken so I can’t see what I’m typing”

Apologies to my friend Tommy Nealeigh, who is usually worth videotaping, I said “melee” – but Siri apparently isn’t a riot girl.

Another crowd swarm started at Fourth and Main- by an RTA bus. I filmed again.

No cops had come back- so I called 911, and as I was on the phone, another officer came by- I flagged him down. Told him again what had happened and asked 911 to send a medic. I told them I was moving toward 4th and St. Clair- but was crossing over to the Dave Hall plaza corner- and would wait there for a medic. I didn’t think I was bleeding- which was confirmed by friends, former city planning director Paul Woodie and current city purchasing director Pete Hager, who were walking down Jefferson toward Fifth Street. The fire engine passed us- then the medic passed us- even as we waved- and I called back to 911 to confirm my location. The medic had my neighbor Jen Quinn in it- and she checked me out and suggested I go to a hospital- I said I needed to go to the VA- and they started driving before I agreed to it. I would have had a friend take me, but she said it was too late- just decline transport.

My phone was getting messages like crazy- with friends checking in. I had to hold up the one lens to my right eye to read them. A Dayton cop came and took a statement, gave me a report number. About an hour later- another officer showed up to do the same thing.

In the thread on Facebook, the discussion turned to safety of downtown, whom to blame. A friend pointed out that there had been an event promoted to youth- and then cancelled at the last minute and blamed organizers. I found no evidence of this event happening this year- but they had a teen celebration in the fall of 2013.

The VA called in the guy to give me a CAT scan- and I left with a shot of an anti-inflammatory in my butt. The three hours of ice pack seemed to have averted major bruising. I got a printout of my recent eye exam, so I could get some glasses. My head is still a little sore, and thanks to Kevin Harrington at Downtown Dayton Optical I now have 2 new pairs of glasses- one for reading and one for the computer. When I tried to pay Kevin, he refused payment- almost had me in tears.
He said “most people don’t appreciate what you do for this city- I do. One of the advantages of owning your own business is you can do nice things for people. I really appreciate you, and- I’m sorry what happened last night”

I’m sorry what happened too.

After the video had stopped recording in my pocket- some kids did come over and said they were sorry- I said that I was kind of in shock- after hanging 300 plus basketball nets- I’m the one that gets beaten up. One kid said – “oh, you’re esrati” (mangling my name)- which was the one glimmer of hope for the evening.

But, after the bruising of my ego and when my head heals- what do we as a community do? The Dayton Daily has kept this event to a few column inches in the back of the paper today. Chastising the Downtown Dayton Partnership, or reporting negative things happening at their signature event is something to be minimized. It was on the 11 p.m. news- I saw it from my bed in the VA ER. From 100 to 1,s000 youth have been attributed- my guess is around 500. That someone had a gun is also part of their synopsis.

But, this is more than one event. This is what happens when you stop finding money to put basketball nets on rims, fill in pools, close rec centers, stop having midnight basketball in the summer. This is what happens when you bus kids all over the city- instead of maintaining strong neighborhood connections. This is what happens when kids have kids- and let their kids run the streets. If you are a mother, or a grandmother and see your kid in these videos, you are failing your babies.

screen grab from melee, with kid identified who hit David Esrati

On the right of this frame, from around 0:39 you see the kid in the white wife beater and baggy jeans, pushing someone else aside.

I’m lucky I’m here to write this, with my only problem being the two- to three-week wait for my new no-line bifocals with AR coating to show up. I’ve had friends say I should take up boxing, others say I should have had a CCW. Meeting violence with violence is not the answer. I’m sure that had I been carrying a gun, someone would be dead right now, possibly me. I do know how to fight- but, one man against a mob- the odds aren’t good. I’m not happy in retrospect with my own choices of words and actions in the span of those few minutes- but, then again, a bad decision in a few minutes is what puts many of our young black men in prison. I’m not black. Someone told me on the campaign trail last time, that “if you were black, you’d have been elected long ago.” I still wonder about what would make someone say that- and, if it was true.

I’m sure that this post is too long for an event that spanned just a few minutes. If you are still reading, thank you. If you’ve watched the videos- thank you. If you see your kids in the videos- it’s time to have a talk with them. It’s time for our community to have a real talk about this. Our kids need better options than this. It’s not their fault, it’s ours. We’ve failed them.

Had I been anyone else, I would have seen that crowd and would have run the other way. I’m sure that I may think twice about doing what I did on Friday night. But, hopefully, the young man who decided to hit my phone, and then me- maybe, just maybe, he might read this, and realize that this wasn’t his triumphant moment in life. Maybe when he tells his friends about his beating on this old white dude- one of them says- you hit the green net man, that guy is cool. Maybe not.

I know I could have behaved better as well. We all need a better understanding- a better dialogue in this community. We need better solutions for our youth. For our community.

I got hit, I ran, I committed errors. This isn’t baseball. Let’s all work together to fix this.

Boycott Family Dollar. Makes Walmart look good on employee compensation

The security cameras that were all over the store didn’t catch a thing when a robber stepped behind the counter and pointed a gun at the manager’s head, that’s because they were fake. The manager had just taken over the store after 8 years with the company. She’d lived in the neighborhood most of her life and knew most of the customers. On her second day in charge, the back wall of the store had collapsed, and water had poured in. Three weeks later, they were only coming around to get estimates on repairs.

In the time she’d been promoted to manager, the Chief Operating Officer of Family Dollar had both appeared on “Undercover Boss” and left the company to “pursue other interests.” He probably had a hard time living with his conscience, realizing that the company exploits workers and is part of what’s wrong with America today. Sure, showing up on “Undercover Boss” and playing Santa Claus is great- but, bailing out a few people doesn’t mean the rest of the company’s employees won’t hate you for your stunt.

The robber fired a shot in the store. Luckily, no one got hurt. The new manager wanted to quit, but jobs are hard to find. She has 2 kids and a disabled baby daddy. The robber has continued on a spree, hitting several other dollar stores. The police think they are close to finding him. Family Dollar put a security guard in the store for about a week- and added real video surveillance cameras and panic buttons throughout the store.

But, here is the crazy part. The “manager” wasn’t being paid as a manager yet.  After 8 years with the company, most as an “assistant manager”- she was still getting paid a whopping $9 an hour. The manager’s job, which pays a whopping $800 a week, wasn’t hers yet- she was an “acting manager.” And I always thought actors were paid better than their real-life counterparts.

My advice was to tell them that if she’s not being paid as a manager, she’s not responsible to do the duties of one. Their response was to cut her hours back to 30 a week and that she “no longer had a store.”

A little poking around online finds that Family Dollar has settled lawsuits galore, for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and that their expectations of “managers” amount to being slave labor that must work 60 hours plus to make things work via their allotted budgets. Meaning management is lucky to make around $13-$14 an hour. This is a company that’s traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Who invests in companies that engage in corrupt and illegal labor practices? Where are the investigations by state attorneys general into a company that’s been sued and lost in several states over its crappy practices? For all the people that talk about unions being the demise of American manufacturing- it’s these kinds of management practices that gave unions their moral high ground to organize.

And the store that had the shot fired- used to qualify as one of the “high-risk” stores eligible for higher manager pay, but they took away that status too- just weeks after the robbery.

One other well documented despicable practice of this “business” is that when employees leave the company they aren’t entitled to cash in their earned vacation time. As a condition for hiring, you are forced to sign that right away.

Family Dollar stores don’t deserve to be in business with business practices like this. Boycott Family Dollar.