Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Digging for Pennies

Because I am low on funds I try to carefully gather the most basic necessities when I go to the store. I keep a running total in my head, and it usually works out fine. I also try very hard to go through the registers with live cashiers. The lanes where you can scan your own items and put the money in the machine are always quicker. But I'm trying to help support the jobs of the few people left employed.

I gave up on that the other day. After waiting in a long line for ten minutes without it moving, I decided to check out my own groceries. I only had about ten items anyway. I rang things through. I pulled out my purse and started feeding cash into the machine. Suddenly I realized that I had a balance of $1.45. I don't have a credit card any more. I didn't have my checkbook with me, I think it has a $5. balance. I looked around to see if there was a familiar face to borrow from. No luck. Just people waiting in line, waiting for me to move on.

I began digging through the bottom of my purse. I kept coming up with pennies. I would plug them in as fast as I found them. The balance slowly moved to $1.05. Then I found a quarter and two nickels! It really doesn't matter, there is still a balance.

I would have been glad to put something back, have it taken off my bill. But there were no store workers in sight. So I kept digging through my purse. I didn't look up at the people behind me. I was too embarrassed. After more pennies, a few dimes another nickel my balance was down to thirty cents. I remembered that there was change in a tray in my car. I tried to imagine how I could go out and get it--still no store workers in site. I started taking everything out of my purse and shaking it. I could feel the impatience of the people in line behind me. The weight shifting, the sighs. My predicament had to be obvious. No one came to my rescue.

Finally, a miracle! Two quarters tumbled out of my Kleenex packet. I quickly fed them in. Now I even had change coming back. I quickly gathered my things and dashed out the door without looking behind me.

I have seen people in similar predicaments, and I've always stepped forward to help. Just placing a quarter down and walking away so as not to embarrass them. From this day forward, I will watch more carefully to seek out anyone in such a situation. Because the little things like that can make such a difference in the long run.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Rusty and Me

I've had this blog for almost a month now, I'm amazed I haven't made a post about my animal companion. My dog Rusty.

Although I grew up in a household that always had dogs, I kept my distance. I was attacked by a neighbor's dog when I was a toddler, and just couldn't get comfortable around them after that.

I was married for twenty years (now divorced). Although my ex knew that I didn't want a dog when we married, every year at Christmas time he would ask for a 'puppy' for Christmas. I knew he loved dogs, and I still don't know what came over me one Christmas. I stopped at the nearby Humane Society and looked at the dogs they had rescued. One particular dog just caught my eye. She was a beagle/terrier mix (we had a Beagle when I was growing up) and was just so sweet and friendly. I was told she was about a year old, and had been found abandoned on the side of the road.

To make a long story short, she came home for Christmas. We named her "Lady Luck", because I (of all people) had rescued her. And my ex was also a gambler. She lived for sixteen years and was a delight in our childless lives. When we split up, we even agreed to a joint custody.

After moving up north I became acquainted with a gentleman who had sled dogs. Huskies that pulled sleds, just like in the Iditarod. They were such beautiful creatures with sweet natures. Incredibly intelligent, with strong personalities. I loved his dogs. One year he offered me a puppy. I couldn't resist. I had never had a dog of my own. We spent a lot of time talking about how time-consuming the care can be, and how these dogs are more independent than most. In other words, they are smart but they don't always listen and obey.

Somehow I just couldn't say no. So ten years ago I adopted a red and white husky, with one blue eye and one green eye. He has a longer name, but because of his coloring from day one he has just been 'Rusty'.
I think he was about a year old when this picture was taken:

Here he is today, he turned ten on Valentine's Day (February 14th)

Are We Becoming A Police State?

Over the past few weeks the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry L. Gates has been all over the news. Many are outraged that it occurred in his own home. It is one of the foundations of this country that in your own home you have a right to say whatever you like. In most States, the "Castle Doctrine" law that you have a right to even kill someone if they enter your home and you fear for your life is allowed. So the arrest of an elderly professor for 'shouting' at a police officer seems especially harsh.

If you are reading this post months from now, or have been hiding on a desert island somewhere, this is what happened.

Professor Gates returned home after a trip to China. His front door was stuck, he and his driver tried opening it by pushing with their shoulders. A woman witnessed this and called the police thinking it might be an attempted robbery. Sgt. Crowley of the Cambridge police department arrived first. Professor Gates was already on the phone with Harvard Security. Crowley was there for six minutes. What exactly happened in that period is still somewhat disputed. Basically, from the moment he arrived at the door Professor Gates told him that it was his home. Crowley asked to see I.D.. Apparently the tone of the exchange or the demeanor of the parties to each other was less than friendly. Whatever the case, this elderly professor who had just been traveling for nineteen hours did not speak to the police officer in a tone that the officer liked. It would certainly seem that Gates had a right to shout at the police officer when he was standing in his own home. That is hardly a threat to anyone. Crowley called for backup. Gates was asking for Crowley's name and badge number. Crowley told him to step outside. The minute Gates stepped out of his home, Crowley arrested him for 'disorderly conduct'. If you want to know more, including how President Obama became involved---just Google it.

Others believe that it was racial. Gates is black, the arresting officer (Sgt. Crowley) is white. Many believe that had Gates been white, no arrest would have occurred.

In addition, there is the charge itself. "Disorderly conduct" has become a catch-all charge for police officers to use when nothing else applies. The definition of disorderly conduct varies, but in essence most communities expect it to be an issue of someone truly causing a public disturbance and perhaps inciting others to do the same. Gates was yelling at the police officer in his house. When the officer asked him to step outside, then slapped the handcuffs on him, naturally Gates yelled even louder. It seems a real stretch to call that disorderly conduct.

The entire incident opened a public debate about police being over-zealous. Story after story appears in the news of officers tazing people at the drop of a hat. Countless news reports document SWAT teams bursting into the wrong homes in the middle of the night--and terrorizing the residents.

All these instances should be taken to court. When cities, counties and states have to pay out big bucks for these kinds of actions over and over again, perhaps changes will take place. Yet it is not fair that these citizens have to hire lawyers and go to court in the first place.

I understand the cops are bursting with adrenaline, and that they are concerned for their own safety. But there is no justification for this kind of behavior. It is starting to seem like there is a certain type of cop that needs to be screened before they are given a badge.

Since the advent of the 'Taser' cops seem to be way too quick to use it. The heart is an electrical pump, and any time you zap in low levels of electricity you risk damage. Maybe there should be a 'new rule'. Every time a cop USES a taser, if they can't prove (with witnesses) that it was justified; they have to have one used on them within 48 hours. That might make them think a little before using one.

These behaviors reflect a much larger problem. I come from a long line of Police Officers. I have worked with the police and count many officers as personal friends. I have also seen and met far too many men and women who never should have been given a badge or a gun. I do believe the selection and the training of our future police forces needs to be changed. Otherwise, I do fear for the future of our citizens, and for the good cops who are lumped in with the bad.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Heartless in the Heartland

Last week I continued my quest for discovering why my unemployment suddenly stopped. Once again I attempted to go to the local State office for assistance, to be told for the SIXTH time in two months that they were 'too busy to help me'. Since they only seem capable of directing people to use their computers or to read some of their outdated 'job hunting' books, I really don't know why they have jobs at all.

Although the State website says to go to them for help, clearly that's a dream. I should file a complaint---but with whom? Everything is on websites, no one answers e-mails or returns phone calls. So after countless phone calls, e-mails and web browsing I finally have a response!!! I received a 'do not reply' e-mail, this is the response:
A determination letter was mailed out to you on 07/24/09. The letter will state why you were denied your benefits and will have information for you to appeal on the back if you feel that you were wrongly denied.

I am not kidding. After ten days of trying, this is what I get. So, the letter finally arrived on 7/29---did it really take five days to get here? I think they printed the letter and then waited three days to mail it. Because it is 'time-sensitive'. They have denied my benefits and I have until Monday, August 3rd to appeal. If I lost my appeal, I must repay whatever they have given me.

Why were my benefits denied? According to the letter I received benefits because of a 'data entry error'. So I waited three weeks to be approved, no one caught a 'data entry error'?
Since I am actually trying to find a job I wasn't able to immediately put together an appeal. I plan to mail it the last day, "Monday, August 3rd". I want to take some time to research my case. Of course the letter also tells me to go to my local unemployment office for assistance in filing me appeal. Since they have never assisted me in anything yet, I can't see why I should waste my time. In fact, I don't trust any 'assistance' they might give me.

Meanwhile, I have no income. I can't find a job. The next day, in the mail I receive a letter 'demanding' that I repay the money the State gave me in error. Really.
In tiny print on the bottom it says that although I have the right to appeal, I should begin repayment now in case I lose my appeal.

Now, if I don't have a job--what am I supposed to use to repay the money? The whole point of Unemployment INSURANCE is to give you money out of the fund that YOU/I pay into when you have no other income. So how would I be able to pay them?
It makes me want to bang my head against a wall. It makes my blood pressure explode. Clearly, the system sucks.