Posted: December 20, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


Huffington Post reports* that hospitals are now part of the wage theft game. Many would assume that these are for-profit hospitals who only care about the bottom line. Instead, the culprits are not-for-profit hospitals, the kind that like to use words like care in their marketing. They’ve given a new twist to wage theft. Rather than cheat their own workers (which they may or may not do), they are garnishing the wages of low income workers who have no health insurance or insurance that does not cover all of the bills. Wage garnishment laws vary from state to state. Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, and Alabama are most lenient in enabling wages to be garnished.

Some might argue that this isn’t wage theft because the charges are legitimate. Not so fast. Not-for-profit hospitals agree to serve the poor as part of their corporate charter, which provide tax-exempt status. Instead, too many of these “caring” institutions charge higher fees to those without insurance and sue to take a large part of their wages. Again, no one is saying that patients shouldn’t pay all or part of what is owed. The problem is that large hospitals that are supposed to serve the poor seem to be going out of their way to punish that’s wrong. That’s wrong.

*The story was originally covered by NPR and Pro Publica.

Posted: February 16, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

David Sirota of Pando has written a fascinating article outlining some funny business at PBS.  One of PBS’s funders, John Arnold, has backed a series that is critically of public pensions.  Is this reporting or advertorial?  Sirota reports that PBS denies any conflict of interest.  However, they refuse to release any documents that would verify their claim.  Sirota also cites an expert who points out that grant payments could be made over time, which means that PBS needs to play ball with Arnold if they want him to pay the full grant.  So much for PBS being the voice of the “liberal media.”

What really bothers me about this story is that we have in Arnold another “poor” billionaire who wants to strip working people of their retirement security.  Why can’t billionaires be happy with their money and leave the little people alone?  Maybe they’re chess addicts who see the working and middle class as pawns that must be sacrificed.  Thanks to David Sirota and others who have reported on this story, we have the chance to see the game they are playing and understand its consequences.

Think twice before you give to PBS or NPR.  They have billionaire friends and well-endowed foundations who can pay to keep the propaganda coming.

P.S.  Sirota updated his story with one from the New York Times that PBS will return the $3.5 million given by Arnold’s foundation.  Will they keep spreading his message?  That’s the real question.

Posted: October 27, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond jobs, resumes, and interviews in “Sabbath.”]

Let’s Play Two

Ernie Banks loved baseball so much that he’d say, “Let’s play two.”  This week I had the pleasure of enjoying two plays at Edgewater’s Raven Theatre.  Last night I saw Horton Foote’s A Trip to Bountiful and, earlier in the week, I attended Our America, a program that Raven put on with students from Senn High School.

I knew nothing about A Trip to Bountiful before yesterday’s performance.  I knew Horton Foote was a playwright, but had never seen any of his plays.  After yesterday, I will make it a point to learn more about this talented artist and attended productions of his plays.  The play is set in 1950s Texas, and, on the surface, it is a story of family dynamics.  Deeper it is a story about the change in American culture as people moved from the country to the city.  Mrs. Watts is the center of the play.  She lives with her son and combative daughter-in-law in a cramped apartment located in Houston.

Over the course of the play, we learn that Mrs. Watts has suffered greatly throughout her life.  Still, she remains a woman of integrity and values.  Her goal in life is simple: To return to the rural city where she was raised, a swampy patch of dirt called Bountiful.  The only thing better than Foote’s writing is the way Raven’s actors bring the play to life. As always at Raven, the stage and the way it changes throughout the play complement the acting.  This play runs through November 17, and I highly recommend it.

Earlier in the week, I attended Our America: Ghetto Life 101 & Remorse: the 14 Stories of Eric Morse.   This performance was based on two NPR radio documentaries in 1993 and 1994.  In the first act, two young teen age boys, LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman, chronicle what it was like growing up in the Ida B. Wells housing project.  An energetic, diverse group of 12 students from Senn High School interpreted the boys' experience.  While showing the horror and fear of living in a world where people literally get their face shot off, the student actors conveyed the humanity of people who are intelligent and loving despite the challenges of urban poverty.

In the second act, Jones and Newman interviewed neighbors to investigate the death of Eric Morse, a five year old boy who was pushed out a 14th floor window after refusing to steal candy.  He was pushed out of the window by two boys age 10 and 11.  What was even more shocking in this section of the performance was the breadth of sympathy that Jones, Newman, and the Senn student actor bring to life.  I simply remembered this case as a savage murder.  Remorse challenges the audience to consider all aspects of the situation, including the punishment given to the killers.  The stories told by neighbors and relatives show that morality is not simple and punishment can outweigh the crime.  Three cheers to the students of Senn High School and Raven Theater for bringing this story to the stage.  The only downside is that the production was only staged for two days.  Later in the year, before Christmas, Raven will join with local schools to put on Seedfolks, a play about urban gardening and its significance to the local communities.

Raven Theater is a great example of how local theater can bring life to a community.  Since the 1990s, Raven has produced classic and contemporary plays by American playwrights.  It also shares its space with smaller theater companies and community groups.  It offers programs for children and teens.  Community theater helps build a community and keep it strong.  Edgewater is very lucky to have Raven Theater.

Posted: March 2, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that looks beyond jobs and career.]

NPR – One-sided on Detroit?

I was listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition this morning, and what I heard upset me.  The program featured two stories on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s decision to appoint an Emergency Manager [Financial Dictator] for its largest city, Detroit.  Snyder was given ample time to defend his decision, which he did using rhetoric that combined strong leadership and sunny optimism.

The only challenge host Scott Simon put before the governor was the sad, softball question, “Why now?”  Snyder answered with a list of numbers and story about a consent agreement.  The most impressive number was a $14 billion long term debt.  This was a clear point that should have been challenged.  Yes, pension funds, among other things, have caused governments on all levels to have huge long term debts.  These debts are real, but is Snyder’s plan the only way to address them?  Similarly, Synder said that the city did not meet the terms of a consent agreement it signed with the state.  Host Simon did not ask the governor to outline any of those terms, nor did he interview any other guests who might have a different point of view.

Rather than do this Simon asked questions about politics and race, given that Detroit is run by Democrats and its population is mainly African American.  Snyder said his motives have nothing to do with politics or race.  I’ll grant that this is probably true.  Privatization campaigns are all about taking revenue from public sources and transferring them to public hands.  That’s the question Simon should have asked.  A son of Chicago, he should know what our Democratic Mayor Richard M. Daley did in leasing the Skyway and parking meters.  Neither of those deals has helped the city.  The only winners are those investors who now benefit from what was a public good.

After the interview, there was a follow up report on the Detroit’s financial crisis and why it merits the appointment of an Emergency Manager.  Several times the report raised the fear of Detroit going bankrupt.  In fact, one guest was a specialist in municipal bankruptcy.  The question not raised was: So what?  If there are experts in municipal bankruptcies, it must mean that this circumstance happens.  Why is the Emergency Manager needed?  Also any recent change in the level of the city’s debt was not discussed.  Over the last two years, the American auto industry has boomed.  One would imagine that the city’s revenues have improved along with the auto industry.  Does that assumption have any merit?  Is the city worse off today than it was in 2010?  Journalism should ask questions, not rewrite press releases or enable politicians to make unchallenged claims.

My biggest problem with this story and Governor’s Snyder’s action is that they fall into a pattern of rhetoric used by government officials for over a decade.  Naomi Klein calls it the “Shock Doctrine.”  Governments proclaim a crisis and based on that claim assume emergency powers.  Is Detroit any worse off than Cleveland or Gary?  How much worse is it than Chicago or Atlanta?  Every level of large government has debt obligations.  The question is how to meet them while still providing services people need.  Intentionally or not, NPR and Scott Simon have given into shock doctrine thinking.  They did not ask if the crisis in Detroit is based on legitimate financial data, nor did they seek out any possible dissenting voices like Lansing Mayor Virg Benaro or former Governor Jennifer Granholm.  We often hear corporate journalists crying that “both sides” are the same.  Too often, as in this case, they present stories that only give one side.  That’s not journalism.  It’s P.R.

Postscript:  Groups in Detroit are rallying in opposition to the governor’s actions.  What is at stake?  If an emergency manager is put over Detroit, more than half of African Americans in the state will be living in cities run by unelected managers.  How can anyone – including the governor [or Scott Simon] – call that democracy?