Friday, April 29, 2011


Well . . . I said I wouldn’t include any political diatribes . . .

Still, a recent experience with Medicare prompts me to write about how the government can, at times, shock my small town sensibility.

A little background is in order:

 My octogenarian mother-in-law, Rose, is a French Canadian immigrant. She took her test and swore her oath years ago – she is a U.S citizen. Other than her accent, she’s as American as apple pie and fast food drive-thru windows. She’s a die hard Cubs fan who possesses the will to live until the Cubbies are in the World Series (she may live forever).

Although she moves a little slow, and suffers pain from breaking her arm in a fall several months ago, Rose is very much alive and well.  She lives in a quiet suburb of Des Moines. For the most part, everywhere she needs to go is located a few minutes from her house. That’s the way it ought to be – don’t you think?

Like most citizens her age, Rose is on Medicare. I figure she’s entitled to it. Her husband and son served in the Navy in World War II and Vietnam, respectively. Rose’s granddaughter serves her Country now.  Rose and her husband faithfully paid taxes every year. At the age of 83, Rose has a few prescriptions that have to be filled – and they aren’t cheap.

A week or so ago Rose received a letter from the Social Security Administration – it was addressed to her estate. According to the Government, Rose is dead; her Medicare coverage was terminated.

After she checked her vitals (because she’s a good citizen, Rose initially believed the Government had to be right) Rose phoned the SSA. She pushed buttons in response to automated commands for a good twenty minutes, and then got in touch with a real person.

Apparently, the Government’s information regarding Rose’s death is pretty solid; a simple phone call wasn’t enough to clear up the confusion (although that’s all it takes for the SSA to decide somebody is dead). To prove that she is alive, Rose has to present herself at an SSA office with her driver’s license, social security card, and birth certificate. The office is in congested downtown Des Moines - a good dozen miles from Rose’s house. That's quite a road trip for an octogenarian.

Call me crazy, and maybe it’s because I grew up someplace where people knew who was dead (and who wasn’t), but I have to question this.  The SSA’s position seems to be, in the words of an Army sergeant I know, “my mistake - your fault.”

Here’s how it is: Per the SSA, if it wrongfully determines a senior citizen is dead, the senior may have to drive on a freeway, negotiate unfamiliar downtown traffic, find parking, jump through hoops and stand on her head to demonstrate to the government that she is alive.

This morning, I tried to contact the SSA folks who run Medicare to ask if all this was really necessary. I thought if I put something in writing maybe I could get an answer. The Medicare website has a link to a “Medicare Complaint Form.”  I figured because it didn’t have a “Suggestion Box” link I wasn’t the first person to see a problem.

I clicked on the link and got this message: "Server Error in '/MedicareComplaintForm' Application." Arrrrgggghhhhh!

If I was a conspiracy theorist I might figure the government is hoping that people who try to deal with Medicare will die of frustration so they’ll be off the books.

Please, help me. Am I just too much of a small town guy to get the big picture? Does anybody else think this is absurd?

I’m not looking for arguments. I believe in Social Security and Medicare. I think they are noble. I just wish they were administered by someone with some small town sensibility.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Iroquois County, The New North Pole?

Watsekans - - remember Phil Wenz, class of 1981? He was a nice guy. Strong as an ox, Phil got pulled up to play varsity football when he was in the third grade.

 He was so big and strong - Phil ended up as Watseka's Santa at a young age.

When Phil was in high school, a guidance counselor suggested Phil become a lawyer. Phil opted to follow another path.

Now, in Chicago at Christmastime, Phil's a bigger deal than Ernie Banks.

Phil's had an interesting three decades.  His story will be featured in a film soon:
Here’s Phil’s website:

When Phil’s mother told him he could grow up to be anything he wanted, she wasn’t exaggerating.

Cheers to Phil for taking the road not taken and making people happy along the way.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Local Law Enforcement

Being a sheriff’s deputy in a rural county or a police officer in a small town has to be tough.  Law enforcement pay can’t be very good and budgets are being slashed more every year. The absence of manufacturing jobs and the availability of methamphetamine, among other social and economic changes, have changed the nature of police work in farm country. Law enforcement officials really do serve the public.

The other day I was checking out the Times Republic police section. I didn’t find anything that looked out of the ordinary so I looked at the Newton County Enterprise, which covers Kentland, Indiana (just East of Watseka).

I always thought Kentland was a perfect little town. I remember it had about 1700 people and a grocery store. So, I was surprised at this Enterprise entry for March 23, 2011:

“Matthew Lee McClain, 20, Kentland, was arrested on March 12 for Battery for Body Waste to a Law Enforcement Officer and Resisting Law Enforcement with a Motorized Vehicle”

The Enterprise didn’t provide more information. Body waste?!? I kind of wondered if there’d been a typo or misprint, like when the Times Republic called a “semi” truck a “semen” truck (email me for my not-so-family-friendly commentary on that).

Being curious, I looked up Indiana law. In Indiana, a person who purposefully “in a rude, insolent, or angry manner places blood or another body fluid or waste on a law enforcement officer . . . commits battery by body waste, a Class D felony.”

Now, I know some people mature faster than others. I am not proud of everything I did when I was 20. I believe in redemption. However, when someone deliberately puts his “blood or other body fluid or waste” on a small town cop or rural deputy, that someone ought to be charged with a felony. That’s so gross and stupid it just begs for punishment.

Unfortunately, there must be an abundance of gross and stupid people who do what Matthew did. The Indiana legislature felt it had to pass a law to deal with them.

Can you imagine what small town cops and deputies see everyday? It sorta requires the rest of us to be thankful for those who protect and serve, doesn’t it?