17 November 2014

Do the right thing

Last week, I was riding the Baltimore Light Rail and I found a wallet. I'll be honest with you--the first thought that went through my head was to leave it. I know this sounds heartless. But knowing the shady types of people that one is likely to encounter on the Light Rail (and I've seen my fair share), my first instinct is to leave it because I don't want to get involved. My brain has been wired to expect that it's entirely possible that someone is running some type of scam. Maybe they're not targeting me directly, but they're looking for a sucker. I didn't want to be that guy.

Against my initial thought, I picked it up and looked through it. It was an ID wallet with several disability ID cards for the Light Rail and DC Metro as well as other stuff you find in a wallet (no, there was no money or credit cards).

I thought about turning the wallet over to the Light Rail driver, but wondered how long it might take to find its owner, if ever. I thought about dropping it off at the MTA headquarters, but again wondered if this wallet would get lost in the system. Against my initial thought, I pocked the wallet with the intent of locating the owner and returning it to him.

When I returned home (with a little bit of advance work by my better half), it took all of five minutes of searching to find the owner. I was able to contact him, confirm it was his, and then meet up with him (in a public place) to turn it over.

I write this not to suggest that I did anything special. I did what I hope someone else would do if I had lost my wallet. He probably went through a hassle to get his disability ID cards and I was able to save him the pain. But more importantly, I went against my initial reaction. Riding the Light Rail every day, walking through Baltimore every day, grates on you. Your guard is up at all times. Your head is on a swivel. You're always looking out for potential threats. This isn't to suggest that Baltimore is a terrible place. But I've learned though experience that being cautious is the best defense. A few murders and assaults in the immediate vicinity of the campus will do that to you. Being on guard 24/7 wears you down emotionally and physically. After a while, it becomes very easy to say "no" to everything.

But sometimes, you should do the right thing.

23 October 2014

If my experience is typical, the VA is failing our veterans in the most basic way

I receive VA disability payments because I was diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea while I was in the Navy. My payment is a fixed amount which is adjusted (slightly) based on dependents. In my case, a dependent adds about $40 a month to the payment I receive.

When our son Michael was born in 2009, I contacted the VA to add him as a dependent because I would be entitled to this additional $40 per month. Knowing that the VA processes are glacially slow, I more or less forgot about it after I filed it. Unfortunately, at some point, this seems to have gotten lost (of course).

About two and a half years ago, I realized that my original claim had disappeared and was nowhere in the system. So I filed another claim. Using the VA's eBenefits website, I could actually track this claim. The VA estimated that my claim would be adjudicated within a few months. Well, those few months came and went.

Yesterday, I received a letter that the VA had made a decision on the claim that I filed over two years ago. I also received a deposit for the difference between the amount I should have been receiving and what I actually received. The claim was retroactive, but only to August 1, 2012 (presumably, the date that the VA originally processed my second claim), not to Michael's original birthday in 2009.

To be sure, this was not a difficult claim to resolve. It's a simple matter of showing that 1) Michael exists; and 2) he is my dependent. It should not take over two years to resolve.

This anecdote wasn't a crisis for me. Although I feel old, I am still (relatively) young and generally in good health. I am fortunate to receive disability payments but do not need to rely on them. I can file another claim and wait two more years. Or I can decide that it's not worth the time and effort. But what about the less well off? Do our aging veterans have 2 years (or more) to wait for the VA to resolve their claims? Can they afford to forgo the entitlements they earned while waiting for a decision?

Whether they were drafted or chose to serve, the men and women who fought for our country deserve better.

10 October 2014

So, this just happened.

The fine, upstanding gentleman driving this red car was not too pleased that I passed him on the right (it doesn't seem to matter to him that he was driving in the passing lane without, you know, actually passing anyone).


He followed me home after I passed him. That's nearly 2 miles from this spot. He pulled up beside my truck and the conversation went something like this:

Him: "You about ran me over when you passed me on (Route) 100!" He also complained that I was driving too fast.

Me: "If I was going too fast, how fast did you drive to catch up to me so that you could follow me all the way home?"

Him: (confused look) "At least 75 miles per hour!"

Me: "Don't you think that was pretty unsafe of you to drive faster than I was to catch up to me?"

Him: (confused look)

Me: "Oh, c'mon man! Are you the police? Is it your job to correct other drivers!"

Him: "You're damn right it is. It's my job to kick the ass of people like you."

Me: "Really? Well what are you going to do about it?"

Him: If I wasn't on probation I'd kick your ass!"

Me: "So now what?"

At this point I reached into my pocket to pull out my phone. At the least, I wanted to get a picture of this guy. But he started driving away. I do have a better screenshot with his license plate.

Me: "Keep going, buddy! Keep going!"

09 October 2014

My Country Music in Ten Songs: Conway Twitty / That's My Job

One in a series of posts presenting ten songs that represent country music for me. Not necessarily my top ten favorite songs. Presented in no particular order. For the rest of the series, see here.

05 October 2014

Law in Plain English: Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogDirect Marketing Association v. Brohl

Argument: Dec 8 2014 (Aud.)

Background: The Direct Marketing Association sought to block enforcement of a Colorado law that imposes notice and reporting requirements on retailers who do not collect taxes on sales to Colorado purchasers ("non-collecting retailers"). The law requires non-collecting retailers to provide transactional notices to Colorado purchasers, send annual purchase summaries to Colorado customers, and annually report Colorado purchaser information to the Department of Revenue. The district court granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the notice and reporting requirements, and later ruled that the requirements facially discriminated against interstate commerce and unconstitutionally interfered with interstate commerce. The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding that the Tax Injunction Act deprived the district court of jurisdiction to block Colorado's notice and reporting requirements.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the Tax Injunction Act, which provides that “[t]he district courts shall not enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the courts of such State,” bars federal court jurisdiction over a suit brought by non-taxpayers to enjoin the informational notice and reporting requirements of a state law that neither imposes a tax, nor requires the collection of a tax, but serves only as a secondary aspect of state tax administration.

Holding: TBD

Law in Plain English: Hana Financial, Inc. v. Hana Bank

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogHana Financial, Inc. v. Hana Bank

Argument: Dec 3 2014 (Aud.)

Background: Hana Bank began operating in May 1994 as the Hana Overseas Korean Club, but did not attempt to register its trademark until. Hana Financial (HFI) began operating on April 1, 1995, and registered its own trademark in 1996. In 2007, HFI filed a trademark infringement claim against Hana Bank, HFI contended that the Bank's use of its "Hana Bank" mark infringed HFI's "Hana Financial" mark because its use of the word "Hana" in connection with financial services would likely cause confusion. The jury found that Hana Bank had used its mark in commerce prior to April 1, 1995, and therefore had trademark priority over HFI. The jury's finding was based upon the doctrine of tacking, where a party
may claim priority in a mark based on the first date of use of a similar but technically distinct mark where the previously used mark is the legal equivalent of the mark in question or indistinguishable such that consumers consider both as the same mark. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, ruling that tacking is a question of fact that must ultimately be decided by the jury.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the jury or the court determines whether use of an older trademark may be tacked to a newer one.

Holding: TBD

My Country Music in Ten Songs: Diamond Rio / Walkin' Away

One in a series of posts presenting ten songs that represent country music for me. Not necessarily my top ten favorite songs. Presented in no particular order. For the rest of the series, see here.

03 October 2014

My Country Music in Ten Songs: Carrie Underwood / See You Again

One in a series of posts presenting ten songs that represent country music for me. Not necessarily my top ten favorite songs. Presented in no particular order. For the rest of the series, see here.

02 October 2014

My Country Music in Ten Songs: Kacey Musgraves / Follow Your Arrow

One in a series of posts presenting ten songs that represent country music for me. Not necessarily my top ten favorite songs. Presented in no particular order. For the rest of the series, see here.