Monday, November 30, 2009

Anti-Social Services

Personally and professionally, I've had occasion to deal with social services agencies in New York County and Clark County (Nevada).

There are similarities in how they handle applications and disburse public monies, which, too often, entail loss of clients' paperwork, rude or apathetic case workers, arbitrary (or incorrect decisions) about eligibility, and too-frequent re-certification (when all documentation is re-submitted).

Some examples:

  • While working as temporary case manager for a private shelter provider in New York City, I received a long list of numbers for welfare agency heads and personnel who, presumably, could provide quick access to information about policies and procedures. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I'd get a mailbox too full to accept messages, no answer, or routed to voice mail. Rarely, if ever, did anyone return my calls.

  • A pregnant mother of two hand-delivered an application, but later is informed that it's lost and she needs to re-file. Meanwhile, she's cut off from services.

  • Another mother with a sick newborn missed an appointment because of a NYC snowstorm. The worker asks if she took her baby to a doctor. She says,"no" because the weather had been too bad. Nonetheless, she's told to provide medical documentation. As case manager, I offered to vouch that she had been at the shelter with her child on the day in question. Not good enough. Without a doctor's note, she was cut off from services.

  • One NYC housing assistance program for homeless families (now defunct) required applicants to be on public assistance. One mother, a college graduate who worked, but who was in shelter because of domestic violence, balked at leaving her job and going on welfare. She was denied housing.

In addition to bureaucratic intransigence, social service offices generally are bereft of any decorative touches of warmth and send the message, "We don't think you're worth better."

Ironically, middle-class Americans, who oftentimes view welfare recipients as unwilling to work, uneducated, or opportunistic, eagerly accept government handouts for mortgage assistance and cash for "clunkers." They don't view themselves as taking advantage of the system but entitled to help.

What a difference a recession makes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Random Ramblings

Should We Be Afraid?

Remember the post-9/11 anthrax attacks of September and October 2001 that killed five Americans?

Well, according to investigative journalists, Bob Coen and Eric Nadler, co-authors of Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail, the issue of an anthrax threat has not gone away, just gone unnoticed by the media and the public.

In the summer, of 2008, Bruce Ivins, a long-time civilian researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRID) at Fort Detrick reportedly took an overdose of Tylenol with codeine. He died in the hospital two days later.

Eight days later, the FBI said that it had been about to arrest Ivins, the object of its seven-year investigation. Controversy ensued, with both Congress and scientists asking to see hard evidence of his guilt.

Therein, lies the basis for this book. It's a real eye-opener (and unnerving to learn how unregulated the sharing of biochemical products is among the world's scientists).

Coen and Nadler also probe the "mysterious deaths of some of the world's leading germ war scientists in the wake of 9/11."

Not a book for the fainthearted.

Hit the Ground Running

Time to cut the BS. Here are my professional goals for 2010:

  • Complete manuscript of my memoir Wind Beneath My Wings.
  • Get an agent or publisher.
  • Promote my new website for families of inmates--Inside/Out.
  • Get some (well-paying) writing gigs--both online and in print.
  • Rev up promotion efforts for various projects.
  • Work on two novels.
  • Create buzz around my blog(s).
  • Publicize myself.

Sarah Palin: Enough Already!

Sarah Palin is making millions--with her book deal--and garnering loads of media attention with no real political platform or ideology. Her M.O.? Take exception to what she views as the media's sexist characterization of her. Welcome to the club.

  • Hilary is too unemotional.
  • Michele shows too much arm.
  • Sonia (Sotomayor) isn't intellectually sharp.
  • Oprah's too fat.

The media made you, Sarah. So, don't bite the hands that are giving you lots of ink and cyberspace.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Orwellian Moment

This is not the blog I had intended to write.

However, an unnerving experience yesterday demonstrated the extent of personal information about me that a company I've never done business with has at its disposal.

I discovered this when I made a payment to Boost Mobile for my granddaughter. After confirming my home address and zip code, the rep says, "To ensure that you are who you say you are, I'd like to ask you two additional questions."

I provided the last four digits of my social security number. After a brief wait (while he retrieved data), he asked, "What is Baychester?"

I was taken aback. I had lived on Baychester Avenue more than 25 years ago! Next, he requested my birth month; I told him and finalized the transaction.

Afterwards, I wondered. Where the hell did he get that old information? I don't even think it's my credit report.

How many other corporations have access to my personal information? How easy might it be for employees of companies to use this information for identity theft or fraud?

This incident reminded me of a similar one several years ago. I was changing my telephone service, but wanted to keep old number. Before I could give the customer rep (for the new service) my phone number, she said, "Oh we have it listed here. We'll contact your old provider about the transfer of service." She knew my former company without me telling her.

Once when talking to an IRS agent on my cell phone, he cautioned me about proceeding because someone could tap into the signal and "capture" my personal data. I switched to a land line.

Another cause for concern: the Patriot Act allows the government to keep track of the books we borrow as well as monitor our e-mails.

Likewise, the federal government is considering a national identity card that would contain our pertinent information--social security number, DOB, address, height, weight etc. on it.

Needless to say, privacy is dead.

Mr. Orwell had it right. Big Brother (read: government and corporations) is watching us. And there's not much we can do about it.

Identity theft isn't the only threat we face; identity sharing is equally as frightening.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Sad Week

Condolences to:
  • Families of 12 military personnel and one civilian killed at Fort Hood in Killeen Texas.
  • Families of the 11 victims of Cleveland mass murderer Anthony Sowell.