The University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute has just released it’s 2015 report on the rankings of each county in the US on the basis of several health factors and results. Looking at New York State’s counties, we find Monroe County smack-dab in the middle of the pack, with a “health outcome” ranking of 38 out of 62 counties. Other local counties like Wayne and Genesee followed suit, ranking 39 and 40 respectively.

A heat map of health by county.

A heat map of health by county.

This outcomes ranking is based on a number of quality-of-life factors such as sick days and overall length of lives within the county. According to the report, Monroe County health is dragged down by two major issues: low birth weight babies and the reported overall healthiness of individuals living in the county. The study shows 8.4% of babies born in Monroe are underweight and that 17% of respondents report bad health.

Interestingly, our southern rural neighbors fared much better in this study. Ontario and Livingston Counties ranked in the top 10 healthiest counties with Livingston topping the charts for best quality-of-life. The deciding factor for Livingston County’s high ranking appears to have been a lot less reported sick days and mental health days, though across the board, they appear to beat the NYS average in every rating category.

It’s worth noting that reported numbers are not as accurate as tabulated ones. For a start, people don’t necessarily remember exact numbers and may therefore misreport the number of sick days they’ve taken. Additionally, my experience is that people in rural areas tend not to under-value mental health as a legitimate reason to take a day off work. That may skew the numbers a bit as well.

Dark numbers for Monroe:

Even if Monroe County out performs a lot of other counties – including neighboring Orleans County, which looks like it could use a stern talking too – some of the numbers are just depressing. Monroe absolutely dwarfs other local counties for sexually transmitted disease infections, which is no surprise. Not unrelated, Monroe County also has among the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state, except for some especially hard-bitten downstate counties.

Here’s a cross-tab view of Monroe County health, along with other local counties – you can add other counties to the comparison of you want. Lots of excellent reading, here.

In his State of the State address today, Andrew Cuomo’s prepared remarks show that he views marijuana arrests as too costly. Yes, too costly in terms of the effects on the lives of New Yorkers ensnared in the legal process. But also, keenly in terms of getting Republican support, in pure dollars and cents:

The mounting number of arrests without convictions in this area is not cost-free for law enforcement or the public either. A cost-benefit analysis performed by Dr. Harry Levine of Queens College examined the costs to the police and courts of each arrest—approximately $764 in police and $336 in court costs. Based on the number of arrests, the analysis concluded that it costs approximately $75 million a year to support the current practice.

His solution is not to decriminalize, but rather to simply make possession outside the home of more than about half an ounce (15 grams) of weed. Possession of about an ounce (25 grams) in the home is a non-criminal offense already. And already punishable by a fine.

Two things stand out, here. The first is that most of the above-cited costs of criminal possession of marijuana stay right where they are if you’re going to fine everybody you find with weed on them. And since (last I knew) you got fined for having weed in addition to the criminal charges anyway, I’d call this a financial wash at best: it would be better to just decriminalize in both cases, inside and outside the home.

The second is rather an obvious logistical problem that most anyone who has ever gone grocery shopping understands: how do you get 25 grams of weed home if you’re only allowed to have 15 grams of weed on you in public? Make two trips?

No, no. Acid is still illegal.

School graduation rates, crime statistics and home values. These are the things that people look up when considering purchasing or renting a home. But along with those issues, parents especially might be inclined to check the local sex offender registry, to see if there are people in the neighborhood that parents would prefer not be around their children.

It hasn’t always been this way: it was only back in 1994 when the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act established the requirement that state law enforcement register sexual offenders. It was the more commonly-known amendment to that bill, Meghan’s Law, that established those registries as public.

But a new study by Alissa Ackerman, a professor of social work at the University of Washington, Tacoma suggests that in the intervening 18 years, those registries have become over bloated and inaccurate. Studying five of the largest state registries including New York, Texas, Illinois, Georgia and Florida, she discovered many registered offenders had either died or moved out of the communities they were registered to.

New York State was the second-worst offender in the list, with a staggering 52% variance between registrants and current locations. Out of 32,930 offenders listed, only 15,950 could be verified. A search of that registry shows 1,387 of those offenders registered in Monroe County.

The search page also includes an explicit disclaimer about the accuracy of the data contained therein that would seem to be at odds with the mission of the database.

DCJS attempts to ensure that the information in the Subdirectory is accurate and complete. However, the information on the Subdirectory is reported to DCJS by other sources. As a result, DCJS makes no express or implied guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this data.

Accuracy and completeness

There are a few obvious problems with a registry including inaccurate information. The first is: if Offender A isn’t where they say he is, then where is he? It would be difficult to argue that the registry “tracks sexual offenders” if it’s not accurately tracking them when they move. The registry offers what they call “Sex Offender Relocation Alerts.” How can the public trust that they’re accurate?

For the person selling their house or renting an apartment, the erroneous listing of a sex offender in your neighborhood could be as bad as actually having one there.

Kristen Munson ( @MrsMunson ), brand evangelist for the rental property search and resource website NewDigs.com, says that requests for sexual offender data are occasional. She stressed that while her company does not get regular requests for offender registry data, the subject comes up enough that the company plans to adopt sex offender registry data into their system sometime this year.

“This is the first I’m hearing of inaccuracies, which would definitely be a concern for us,” she states.

While Mrs. Munson does not have any first-hand knowledge of rentals in jeopardy because of registered sex offenders, she does say, ” I have heard people say they wish they had known, or they wish their landlord had told them that a known sex offender lived in their building.”

DFE attempted to contact the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services for this article. At the time of publish, I have not received any response.

I’m just thrilled to pieces about Andrew Cuomo’s new economic agenda. Really. And I mean that. But there’s a part here that seems.. well, you read it:

Cuomo to call for sweeping new economic agenda in State of the State address – NY Daily News.

The governor will announce a plan to build an “energy expresssway” to send electricity and renewable energy from upstate and western New York to the downstate region.

Without providing specifics, Cuomo will say the energy expressway will be financed by more than $1 billion in infrastructure investments by private sector companies.

The energy thruway, he’ll say, will ensure New York’s power needs are met for the next 50 years.

You know: an expressway is used to go past the shit you don’t care about. You know that, right?

So, in 200+ years of history, our state returns once more to its origins: an expensive city-state sucking up resources from everything north of it. And a bunch of useless yokels, just trying to keep up with demand. This is what our economic commissions were setup to facilitate, then? Thanks, Danny Wegman.

UPDATED: read the full text of the speech here. (infuriating bits on page 12)

UPDATED: Ok, I’m getting pissed. Check this line out:

We have an excess of generation capacity and tremendous wind power potential in Upstate and Western New York and north of the border in Quebec. We have tremendous energy needs Downstate.

Got that? Tremendous wind power potential in our barren, windswept no-man’s land, ready for exploitation by New York City, where its needed.

Courtesy of the New York Daily News ( @DNDailyPolitics ), we have yet another Democratic politician posing for dirty pictures with some chick he met on the Internet:

Here We Go Again: Anthony Weiner Redux | New York Daily News.

At least two of the photos showed the Cumberland County freeholder’s crotch, two showed him dressed to the nines in a suit, and a fifth showed him waist up without a shirt.

One wonders: what if NRA officials were as careless with their stock-in-trade as politicians seem to be with theirs? Because when you get right down to it, what else does a politician have to rely on once their face is tarnished in this way?

With Cornell University’s new New York State demographic factbook just recently released, I’m sure that we’ll find lots and lots of discussion on our changing population. Some new, some merely confirming long-held beliefs. But in my first pass at this document, the thing that has struck me the most is Figure 1.2 and its companion Figure 2.5, showing the population density and change of our counties:

Upstate New York in Profile.

It seems that, in addition to a more general egress of population to other states, there also appears to be a very specific egress of people from rural and semi-rural areas of New York. Some of those leaving rural counties are doubtless headed for another state, but at least two counties bordering major metros appear to have gained population.

The result is a sort of population archipelago, with major cities taking in more and more of the residents of the state, while rural areas become seas in between. That strikes me as important for a number of reasons, but one big one is that perhaps a deeper discussion of what charms of rural life are waning might lead to a better understanding of the overall “brain-drain” and how we might best mitigate against it.

Not that I have any ready answers, of course. But I wonder if someone more influential than me is seeing the same thing I am?

Texting while driving is just stupid.

That’s not to say I haven’t done it, mind you. Not at all, I certainly have. But in the course of doing it, I thought to myself, “this is stupid.” And I kept going. I’m not proud.

But now a new bill passed in the New York State Senate and sponsored by our local Sens Alesi and Robach is aimed at putting the weight of hefty fines behind preventing me and every other idiot on the road from continuing to play with fire. Better than that, the new law makes cellphone safety training a part of pre-licensing for new drivers. Even if they ignore the advice of that education, its good that kids be given an introduction:

Senate passes tougher texting bill | Democrat and Chronicle | democratandchronicle.com.

The thing about it is: what is next? What is the new gadgety thing we can do with our phones? With our cars? With our clothing? And are we really going to need to wrangle with an entirely new set of laws just to prevent the same old thing, distracted driving?

I’m sure I’ve discussed this in the past. I’m sure I will again. There needs to be a blanket law that can cover new emerging technologies and make it clear that distracting yourself while driving isn’t ok just because there’s no specific ban on it.

This morning brings us an interesting discussion of government consolidation from Marist, who post the results of their poll:

4/12: “Striking a Balance” | Home of the Marist Poll: Pebbles and Pundits.

What this poll seems to do a good job of is testing for semantic variation: how people react to different phrases that mean the same things:

  • 68% of New Yorkers have a positive impression of the term shared services.  60% have a similar reaction to government consolidation, and 58% say the same about merged services.  52% of New Yorkers have a positive impression of regionalism.  However, dissolving local government is perceived positively by 31%.
  • There is no consensus about the definition of consolidation.  Half of residents describe consolidation asshared services while 44% define it as merged government.
  • Pluralities of New Yorkers expect government consolidation to decrease costs (48%) and increase efficiency (45%).

It seems as though the tightening of belts has New Yorkers thinking about the issue of the huge number of governments in New York State. But the last time a consolidation measure came up for a vote in our area, it was overturned: Macedon Township and the Village of Macedon opted not to combine.

Its hard to give up on local government, too: here in East Rochester, I can meet the mayor at the local carnival and there isn’t even a line. Do I really want to give that kind of access up for cost savings? The answers are less distinct than people who live in larger communities might imagine.

Capitol Tonight posts a new video of a State Senator’s “Widget Theory” of education reform, which basically boils down to: we need teachers that can teach well:

DeFrancisco’s Widget Theory On LIFO.

Ok… so in order to reform that system, we’re supposed to trust politicians? Because of their years of experience in the education profession? Would we trust politicians to hire and fire widget manufacturers, or would that be too intrusive?

For most experienced political watchers, the whole Chris Lee blow-up might be interesting news fodder, but it ultimately doesn’t really change much. We’ll get a new Republican in the 26th District, but it will be a Republican almost certainly.

Consider the numbers: in 140 years of Dem/Repub rule of American politics, there have been exactly four Democrats that have represented the 29th. (source is ::gasp!:: WikiPedia.org) The district – even after we factor in the dissolution of the 29th – is tailor-made for Republicans, being a trifecta rural, white and relatively wealthy. The Census website illustrates these last points perfectly: The 26th district is 92% white with an average income of $55k, about four thousand dollars a year more than the national average.

A few years back, 13WHAM had a bunch of us bloggers on to discuss the primaries which included Chris Lee in his first run at Congress. While on the set, I actually looked up these very numbers. I would have looked pretty smart if I’d said them, too, which I didn’t.

Well, now I have. I still feel smart, damnit.

CapitolTonight.com has an op-ed penned by our new Governor, Andrew Cuomo, where he outlines the budget process as he now understands it:

It is dictated by hundreds of rates and formulas that are marbleized throughout New York State laws that govern different programs – formulas that have been built into the law over decades, without regard to fiscal realities, performance or accountability.

The formulas operate year after year, generating liabilities that when totaled define the state’s budget growth. The one thing the rates do well is increase year after year. These formulas (predominantly in education and Medicaid funding) are often inserted into the law by pressure from well-connected special interests and lobbyists. When a governor takes office, in many ways the die has already been cast.

He compares it, quite understandably if his analysis is correct, to the scams and schemes his job as Attorney General was meant to root out in other venues. He explains that the 10 billion dollar budget deficit that politicians and journalists alike have discussed – himself included – is basically a function of unreasonably high automatic increases in funding, not on actual numbers or any kind of needs assessment. In fact, if the budget were adjusted by inflation rather than the dictums of these arbitrary systems, the deficit would be a much more manageable 1 billion dollars. All of this is based on his analysis and reporting.

The other side of this that he does not discuss is: if the 13 percent increases are to fund education and Medicare, shouldn’t kids be getting chauffeured to school every day? 13 percent. According to one (admittedly randomly-picked) estimate, Rochester City Schools spend about $1600 per student per year. A 13 percent increase in spending would be about a $2000 pick-up in a single year. Somehow, that doesn’t smell quite right.

I have no idea how accurate the Governor’s numbers are. And I have no way of finding out, either. But if he’s even half-right, where the hell is all that money going?

I’m not above voting for a Republican. Not now, not ever. I like to keep my options open. In fact, but for wishing to send a message by voting for Barack Obama in the New York State Democratic Primaries, I might not have registered for any party at all my whole life. And yes, I have voted Republican in the past.

That’s not to say that my vote is an easy thing for a Republican to win: on the checkbox list of hot political issues, my marker is more often to be found on the left side of the scorecard than the right. I approve of government-assisted or government-financed health care; I approve of a higher minimum wage; I’m perfectly ok with gay marriage. On the other hand, I’m not the most enthusiastic supporter of gun control and my opinions on technology – which occasionally border on technological libertarianism – might very well find a home in a Republican Party that genuinely commits itself to those basic tenets of limited government they insist they believe in.

But the willingness I have to listen to alternative viewpoints is entirely squandered in a political hand grenade like Carl Paladino. Even if Paladino’s politics represent legitimately worthy intellectual positions, who the hell could tell with all the bombast and gutter-wallowing? Nor is he alone in the long, long list of Republican candidates whose positions on the issues are nearly impossible to take seriously. There are those, such as Rand Paul, whose opinions we are forced to take seriously only because they’re very close to winning elections to national office. But there seems to be no one on the Republican side of the ticket in this election season who forces us to consider his or her position simply because of the power of the proposition.

Not only do the current lineup of candidates entirely forbid my voting Republican, they also cut off a critical cornerstone of democracy, which is debate. When candidates do not stand up to even mild intellectual rigor – as is the case with Christine O’Donnell in Delaware – or when they have so embarrassed themselves prior to the debate that they remove all sense of propriety – as is the case with Carl Paladino – we are left taking the only other alternative at their word that they mean anything they say or can defend their position against… mild intellectual rigor.

And so, I shall sigh heavily on Election Day in November and pull the lever for Andrew Cuomo. He may end up being the best governor in the history of governance; he may end up the worst. I have no idea and the opportunity to have his mettle tested at least one time for a short period is not passed. Thanks, Republicans. Now we all lose.