Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Adventures in SSA-Land

Generic American Social Security Card

So today I experience the surreal world of the local Social Security Administration office, in Berkeley.

I know my Social Security card is somewhere in my room. i just don't know where. Since a replacement is free, it would be easier to get a replacement than to try and tear my bedroom apart!

Till now, I'd been used to the going to the office in downtown Richmond. However, when I checked online, it seemed to be sending me towards the Berkeley office as my only option.

I hopped on the AC Transit 25 bus, yet another first time event for me. It picks up across the street from my house, but it was soooooo slow compared to the ACTransit 18 route.

As I walked to the office I wondered exactly where it was. Turns out, I nearly walked past the front door. It reminded me more of the door to a morning deli/sandwich shop, than a SSA office.

Inside there was a self-serve kiosk where a person would select what they were in the office for today, and then it spits out a ticket with a number on it. Mine was D2. Then I saw the indicator on the TV screen…D98!!!

The waiting room is probably 20' x 30' in size, with three wows of chairs tied closely together. As people sat down, they tried to keep one empty seat between themselves, and their neighbor.

I'm sitting there, watching the only entertainment…George Takei on a large TV promoting the benefits of Social Security, and checking Twitter on my smartphone, when the guy that's sitting behind me arbitrarily blurts out, "Equalized Trigger!"

I have no idea what this meant, though it certainly got my attention.

About 10 minutes later my number is called. I'm thinking that wasn't too bad of a wait as I head towards the window.

As I try and hand the woman the form which I'd downloaded off the Internet, she stops me dead in my tracks to tell me she's only checking me in. I'll have my name called later!!

Mind you my form is completely filled out, and all I'm wanting is to get a replacement card!

Returning to my seat Mr. Equalized Trigger exclaims "Jesus is coming back!" I don't know if this was in reference to my overly long hair and beard, or what, so I don't say anything. Someone sitting behind him said, "Man, I want some of whatever they gave you!!" Others chuckle a little. Mr. E.T is oblivious to the humor at his expense.

One by one, they are continued calling numbers. I had an incredible urge to yell, "You sunk my battleship" each time they called a new number. However, I refrain, figuring they wouldn't appreciate the humor. Over 20 minutes passed before I finally heard my name called.

I handed my form to the girl who called me. She informed me that she'd be asking me questions (actually called it an interview) and also mentioned the whole penalty of perjury thing. (But, she did it with a smile!).

After asking me about three basic questions, which were filled out on the form, she printed off a receipt, handing it to me. She then tossed my neatly filled out form into a shred bin!! At no time did she actually look at it.

And with that we were done. I made a hasty retreat from the building towards the bus stop.

* * *

We've all heard the comments about the government being so inefficient, especially the Social Security Administration and Medicare.

Without getting into a nasty political debate on the whole situation, I do have to ask just WHY couldn't the first person that called me to "check me in" ask me the three or four simple questions the second person did, thereby sending me on my way after a  short wait?

After all, both women were in the same position - first calling people to check them in, later calling names to deal with whatever brought them into the office that day.

I also have to wonder why, in this day and age of small desktop printers  and plastic card imprinters, couldn't they have got me a card on the spot, rather than having to wait ten days for a small piece of paper printed in Sacramento?

And on an even more basic level, why couldn't the self-serve kiosk have been my "check-in" point for services? Why didn't it take three points of contact to turn in a simple application for a replacement card?

Just one of the things with the government that makes you go "Hmmmmm."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Community Tragedy













Recently our small community of Albany experienced a string of tragic events which have shaken our town to its core.

  • 9/24 AUSD learns of allegations of inappropriate actions between teacher and student. Places teacher on leave
  • 9/26 morning APD arrests teacher
  • 9/26 AUSD notifies parents about classroom shuffling and announces parent-only meeting
  • 9/26 8:17p Teacher formerly booked into Custody
  • 9/27 morning Teacher released on bail
  • 9/27 5pm  AUSD parent meeting addressing events
  • 9/28  Teacher's 2pm hearing  postponed until 10/24
  • 10/1 10:30a Sheriff receives call about teacher's death; body discovered along road in San Lorenzo
  • 10/1 3:14p AUSD notifies parents of death, indicating would not inform students till next day
  • 10/2 8:30a AUSD holds press conference regarding teacher's death

James Izumizaki, 28, was a teacher and counselor at Albany Middle School. Judging by the many comments left on Albany Patch articles by students and parents he was well liked and admired.

Interspersed with those positive comments were others vilifying the school district, police and Albany Patch - who was the news outlet which initially broke the story.

Many comments suggested AUSD was at fault for not investigating further before reporting to the police. It is NOT the responsibility of the school district to decide if police notification is warranted.

California Penal code places teachers and administrators among professionals REQUIRED to report such allegations to the police. (Penal Code § 11165.7). Furthermore, they could be held liable for not reporting (Penal Code §§ 11166(c); 11166.01).

* * *

Many comments suggested APD hastily arrested Izumizaki and that the plea for others to come forward was nothing more than efforts to fabricate a case.

At this point the public does not know what information police had prior to arresting Izumizaki. What should be assumed is there WAS enough Probable Cause to bring charges. Probable Cause does NOT equate guilt. It only means the police have something needing further investigation.

Izumizaki was obviously not considered a flight risk, or else bail would have been higher than the statutory minimum. Or a judge could have denied bail outright.

In fact, Izumizaki was released by the next morning, with notice to appear Friday. That hearing was then delayed three weeks. Having formal charges brought within seven days would have been unusual without damning evidence so a delay was not surprising.

* * *

Comments have suggested that by Albany Patch providing ANY coverage at all it ruined Izumizaki's life. That this private matter was none of our business.

Arrest records ARE a matter of public record.

For right or wrong, teachers are held to a higher standard because of their contact with children. They are placed in a position of trust.

The mere reporting of a public arrest in no way takes a side, guilty or innocent. Are there news outlets which purposely drive an agenda? Absolutely. Do I believe Albany Patch was guilty of that? No. It ONLY reported what HAD happened, without editorial comment.

To see what reporting with editorial comment looks like, check out footage of Nancy Grace's coverage of the Casey Anthony Trial. For me she clearly biased even before formal charges were filed.

* * *

Might Izumizaki's tragic end been prevented if things had been handled differently by Patch, AUSD or APD? Possibly. It's currently impossible for the public to say what Izumizaki's final act was motivated by. But, that does not make them libel for that act either.

Was the Albany Patch headline referring to "Lewd Acts" really necessary? Patch did not come up with that legal definition. It was merely citing the official wording used by the government. (At no time has Patch written a headline about Izumizaki with the word "molestation" as one commentator stated).

Was that a charged-sounding headline to use? Yes.
Was it deliberately used to imply Guilt? No.
Could the headline have been reworded to not include "lewd?" Perhaps.

However, the fact remains those were publicly available charges which any responsible reporter would have included, at the very least, in the body of the article.

Should commenting have been turned off on articles? Hind sight is 20/20.

I can understand the rationale on why public comments were allowed - To allow people an outlet to express feelings on a very serious situation.

In retrospect, comments seem to have accomplished nothing more than vilifying Patch, APD, AUSD, or the person alleging the improper relationship.

* * *

I've personally known two people who have committed suicide. One was because they were in the final stages of terminal cancer. That reason, though extreme, could be comprehended.

The other had been fighting an ongoing battle with mental illness. From what I understand intimate friends saw no outside appearances treatment wasn't working. Then one morning they simply found them dead. Two weeks before that I'd seen them smiling and happily dancing around.

No matter what drove him, the ultimate responsibility for the decision to take his life lies with Izumizaki.

One commenter would have liked to have heard Izumizaki's side of the allegations. By taking his own life, Izumizaki chose to remain silent, except for any parting comments he put in the note found inside his car.

It now rests with the Alameda County judicial system on whether they will release any contents from that note. Doing so could provide some closure to everyone involved, and it would be coming from Izumizaki.

My heart goes out to Izumizaki's family and co-workers. They will have to live with the knowledge of these events for the rest of their lives.

My heart also goes out the student who brought the allegation to light, as well as the students who are now confused after having nothing but good memories of the man.

I'm afraid this chain of incidents will be with us for weeks to come.