Debt Collectors Are Renting DA’s Letterhead

I became an expert in dealing with debt collectors when I decided to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy two years ago. Every time I got a letter from a debt collector, I fired off a letter to assert my legal rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and sent copies to my bankruptcy attorney. Debt collectors hate dealing with people who fight back when they have easier prey to go after. The newest tactic, as reported by The New York Times, is renting the district attorney’s letterhead to scare people into paying under the threat of criminal prosecution.

[The letters] bear the seal and signature of the local district attorney’s office. But there is a catch: the letters are from debt-collection companies, which the prosecutors allow to use their letterhead. In return, the companies try to collect not only the unpaid check, but also high fees from debtors for a class on budgeting and financial responsibility, some of which goes back to the district attorneys’ offices.


Debt collectors have come under fire for illegally menacing people behind on their bills with threats of jail. What makes this approach unusual is that the ultimatum comes with the imprimatur of law enforcement itself — though it is made before any prosecutor has determined a crime has been committed.

Prosecutors say that the partnerships allow them to focus on more serious crimes, and that the letters are sent only to check writers who ignore merchants’ demands for payment. The district attorneys receive a payment from the firms or a small part of the fees collected.

If a civilian impersonates a law enforcement officer, that’s a crime punishable by one year in jail. If a debt collection company impersonates the DA’s office, and money is being exchanged underneath the table as part of a “partnership” that doesn’t benefit the public, that’s business as usual. Or, in the vernacular of the 2012 presidential election, the best government that money can buy. I was shocked—shocked!—to read that the Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley) DA’s office was involved in this questionable scheme to shake down consumers.

What do you do if you get one of these letters?

  • Call the DA’s office at the county office to determine if the letter was from them or a debt collection company. If the letter is from the DA’s office, read it carefully and take whatever steps needed to avoid further legal action.
  • If the letter is from a debt collection company, write a letter asserting your legal rights under the federal FDCPA and request that all communications to be in writing. (Your state may have a similar law that provides additional protections and should also be referenced in all your letters.) This begins the paper trail if you need to file a consumer complaint with your state attorney general’s office.
  • If the debt collector has a legitimate debt, pay off what you owe and not a dime extra.
  • If the debt collector has the wrong info and/or being abusive, make copies of the paper trail and file a consumer complaint. You need to be aggressive in dealing with these people. Like high school bullies, they will back down from a fight.

Send protest letters to the DA’s office, the county board of supervisors and your congressional representatives to end this insidious practice. The DA’s letterhead should represent the legal authority of the people—not the debt collectors.

A Bloody Summer In San Jose

San Jose Mercury News

I’m not sure if San Jose is turning into the Old West or the next Oakland with seven people murdered—some in broad daylight—in the past week. The 31st homicide took place last night with a stabbing inside a Safeway on Story Road. Even when I lived in downtown San Jose during my college years in the 1990’s, where the most violet incident was a blotched robbery that ended with the getaway driver accidentally shot himself in the foot with a shotgun and crashed the car into a telephone pole, this violent trend has been unprecedented.

Most of the homicides took place on the East Side of San Jose, which my late mother called “the wrong side of the railroad tracks” (the North-South lines that runs parallel to Monterey Road) and journalist Geraldo Rivera once called “the ghetto side of town” on national TV. This is where the gang bangers, poor and immigrant families can be found. Ten of the homicides are suspected to be gang-related and the gang prevention task force has been mobilized.

My neighborhood in the San Jose City College area was peaceful with no homicides. (The 2012 homicide map shows an empty space below the 280 and between the 17 and the 87 in the lower left corner.) When I moved into my apartment complex seven years ago, I reported every incident of gang graffiti, suspicious teenagers hanging out in the carports and the theft of my car antenna. Gang bangers have never established a foothold here. A killing under the golden arches last year was literally around the corner and the closest murder to my home.

Why the sudden up tick in shootings? Gang members could be earning their street creds by killing each other (not necessarily a bad thing). The understaffing of police officers due to recent budget cuts have left patrols stretched thin throughout the city. Prisoners being moved from the state prisons to the county jails to relieve overcrowding under court order, which in turn forces the early release of criminals back into the community. Or it could be a statistical fluke where everything happens at once for no particular reason.

Anyway, whatever the reason, the 2011 record for 39 homicides will soon be broken if this violent trend continues unabated.

The Shakedown Behind The DOJ Apple/Publisher eBook Antitrust Lawsuit

The Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and the major publishers for conspiring to force Amazon to sell ebooks at higher price points than $9.99 USD. This is ironic—and moronic—for several reasons.

Until Apple introduced the agency model for letting publishers set their own ebook prices and keeping 70% of each sale, Amazon had a 90% market share as it sold the bestsellers as lost leaders to sell more Kindle devices and the publishers kept 35% of each sale. After those changes went into effect, Amazon’s market share dropped to 60% as Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony and other ebook retailers expanded their market share.

The DOJ may have a better antitrust case against the publishers for maintaining higher ebook prices than it does against Apple. The publishers are still stuck in the traditional brick-and-mortar world of printed books. If the ebook price of a new printed book is substantially less, the consumers will favor the cheaper alternative. Higher ebook prices are necessary to maintain an unsustainable business model.

Why does the ebook version of a 50-year-old science fiction novel, “Starship Troopers” by Robert A. Heinlein, have to be priced at $9.99 USD like a premium paperback?

But the antitrust lawsuit isn’t really about ebook prices. It’s about Apple sitting on $100-billion-dollar in cash reserve and not sharing the wealth with the Washington lobbyists, who in turn wine and dine the political establishment.

The DOJ Shakedown

When Microsoft had a multi-billion-dollar cash reserves, it spent nothing on lobbyists. After the DOJ filed the antitrust lawsuit in 1998, Microsoft spent millions of dollars each year on lobbyists thereafter. The antitrust lawsuit failed to quash Microsoft’s twin monopoly in operating systems and office suites, but it was a significant boon for Washington lobbyists.

As Silicon Valley companies acquire huge market share and cash reserves, they have to spend more money on Washington lobbyists as the DOJ and other regulatory agencies threaten various legal actions, and entertain presidential candidates when they stomp through Silicon Valley for campaign fundraisers. As Willie Sutton once said about banks, it’s where the money is.

If that wasn’t ironic enough, lobbyists are complaining about a new rule that would prevent them from wining and dining the two million federal workers who are not politicians but often wield indirect influence on the government.

Investigate Amazon

Being a writer who publishes ebook, the antitrust lawsuit is a concern but doesn’t impact me as my short story and essay ebooks are priced from $0.99 USD to $2.99 USD. I doubt I will ever put out an ebook priced at $9.99 USD or higher .

Like many things in life, I have the opposite problem. When I released my writing blog compilation ebook, I priced it at $0.99 USD on Amazon and, because it was listed for FREE on Smashwords, there was a “technical glitch” regarding the pricing info that made it unavailable. I subsequently had to unpublished the ebook from Amazon.

If the DOJ wants to get serious about ebook prices, they should investigate Amazon for stifling FREE ebooks.

UPDATED 04/16/2012 — Looked like it was a technical glitch. My writing blog compilation ebook is available at Amazon—for $0.99 USD. I’m pestering them to make it free. Probably won’t happen until the ebook appears on the Smashwords third-party distribution network (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Kobo, Sony, etc.).

Essay eBook Excerpt: The 1970’s Hells Angels

This is an excerpt from my new 3,635-word essay ebook, “Death At A Hell’s Angels’ Funeral: Driving Past The Memories,” now available at Amazon and Smashwords.

One evening, not long after my brother moved out to get married and start his family, my parents and I noticed the sheriff cruisers zipping past the huge picture window of our living room, dome lights flashing and sirens blaring. We wandered outside with the rest of the neighborhood to see what the commotion was about.

The cruisers formed a half-circle in front of the two-story house that the Hell’s Angels were renting down the street, where the front lawn had gone to seed and motorcycles filled the driveway. The deputies took up position behind their cruisers with pistols and shotguns drawn. The deputy-in-charge held a bullhorn in one hand while the other hand rested on his holstered pistol, shouting for the Hell’s Angels to come out or else. The expectation for violence was high, but not from the Hell’s Angels. The deputies were eager to crack some skulls while making lawful arrests under a court warrant.

Five men came out to form a line on the dead grass in front of the house. They were big guys with motorcycle tattoos on their arms, sweat-stained T-shirts covering their big beer bellies, and torn blue jeans tucked into knee-high motorcycle boots. Some looked like Vikings with their long, braided beards. One guy looked like Glen Hughes, the original biker from the Village People disco band, sporting a horseshoe mustache and long sideburns, and ready to break out in the YMCA song. But they didn’t put up their hands as the deputy demanded. With the deliberate cockiness of being outlaws, they unzipped their pants, hauled out their man handles and urinated on the parched dead grass.

The deputies, pissed off by the long-haired motorcycle freaks, holstered their weapons to tackle the Hell’s Angels to the ground and brutally beat them with their night sticks. At that point, my mother brought me back into the house before I could witness the bloody result of law enforcement in action.

I recalled the bright lights of a TV news crew on the opposite end of the street, which may explain why I remembered the incident so vividly even though I was too far away to see it. The violent arrest of Hell’s Angels made the evening newscast. If the Internet and YouTube were available back then, what happened next would have gone “viral” for everyone to see. I don’t recall if anyone screamed police brutality or the news anchor regarded it as business as usual as someone getting a jaywalking citation. The justification for this raid was that the Hell’s Angels were involved with fencing stolen merchandise, which was probably true among the many other things that they were commonly accused of.

Other than that, they were good neighbors and didn’t really bother anyone during their brief stay. Although their drunken fist fights occasionally spilled out on to the front yard, where the dead grass soaked up the blood and the neighborhood got free entertainment. My mother—probably all the mothers in the neighborhood—made sure we walked on the opposite side of the street when heading out to the stores. Just to be on the safe side.

Surviving A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy In The New Great Depression

If I had known that I would be out of work for two years and underemployed (working 20 hours a month) for six months, I would have filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy sooner and save myself some money.

Eight months after I was laid off from my tech job on Friday the 13th in February 2009, the credit card companies jacked up the interest rates on my three credit cards from 15% to 30% before the new credit card rules went into effect to limit such arbitrary increases. I could either pay the new interest rates or lock in the old interest rates of 16% by closing the accounts. Due to a quirk in the new credit card rules to help consumers pay down their debt balance, closing the accounts meant my minimum payments tripled from what they were before. I couldn’t afford to pay either the new interest rates before or the tripled minimum payments after. I went from paying $500 a month to $50 a month to cover my credit card bills. Eight months later I received my first notice from an attorney that one of my credit cards was deliquent.

A few days after my birthday in August 2010, I went to a bankruptcy attorney in downtown San Jose. I had at that time about $30,000 USD in credit card debt, which $10,000 USD came from the accumulated fees of paying less than what I owe. If I hadn’t been laid off and continued to work, all my credit card debt would have been paid off. Unfortunately, I had no choice but to exercise my constitutional right to file for bankruptcy to escape this overwhelming debt I was unable to pay. The attorney told me that I had a straight forward Chapter 7 bankruptcy, where I had no significant assets to pay off my debts and all my debts would be fully discharged so I can be debt free. The next four months I made payments on the attorney and filing fees ($1,299 USD). That was the easy part.

The next four months after that was pure hell as I gathered all the documents required for the bankruptcy petition. The major sticking point with the paperwork was that I had a small business as being a short story writer. If I had simply reported what little writing income I had on the Schedule C under my own name when filing taxes, the paperwork burden would have been significantly less. Since I had a business checking account opened under a fictitious business name, I had to determine the value of my copyrights and provide a profit and loss statement for 2011. These issues I have never considered before. I ended up valuing my copyrights for $375 USD (150,000 words written over five years) at 1/4-cent per word based on a recent short story contract that I signed, and providing a break-even profit and loss statement where I hope to make enough money from writing to cover my fixed expenses. Since everything I owned fell way below the minimum monetary thresholds, it really didn’t matter anyway.

Although I was under the protection of a bankruptcy attorney, the credit card companies sold the debts that I owe them to collection agencies that could care less. The one thing I learned about this side of the financial industry, debt collectors don’t like being treated the same way they treat people and backed off when people fought back. I once called a debt collector five times in a row for 15 minutes until they acknowledged that I had a bankruptcy attorney and to take my phone number off the autodialer. Filed consumer complaints against several collection agencies that were already under investigation to take a hint and leave me alone. One debt was sold to three different collection agencies before the last one found a note in the file that I had a bankruptcy attorney, which meant that the debt was worthless. I was mailing a dozen letters a month to assert my rights under the state and federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Finally, the bankruptcy petitioned was filed with the federal court in downtown San Jose. A month later I got a court date for the trustee hearing. The hardest part of attending the trustee hearing two months later was getting through post-9/11 security screening. The x-ray machines being down didn’t surprise me. I had to unload everything from my pockets into a wooden box, drink from the water bottle that I brought with me to prove that the water was drinkable, and walk through the metal detector. Fortunately my shoes didn’t have any metal in them and I didn’t have to take them off to walk through the metal detector again. The hearing was held in a large conference room with three dozen red chairs in back and a long table in front. I was fascinated by the slice of humanity that I witnessed in the hearing room.

The majority of the cases were split between two law firms with a representative from each one. Only one couple was there who were representing themselves without an attorney. Although you only pay a $299 filing fee with the court if you do it yourself, it’s not recommended. The bankruptcy process is a grueling process. Paying for an attorney to guide you through the process is worth the expense. Most of the Chapter 13 cases were homeowners trying to prevent the bank from foreclosing on their underwater homes (i.e., a million-dollar home was appraised at $800,000 USD) due to being unemployed and/or medical expenses. The only creditor who showed up for the hearing were a retired couple trying to get $10,000 USD in back rent from the DIY couple, where the trustee ordered a hearing before a judge. One older couple who had previously filed for bankruptcy three times before spoke only Spanish and the trustee put a translator on the speakerphone. Chapter 7 cases like mine were done in five minutes flat as the trustee swore the oath, asked a half-dozen questions and asked if any creditors were in attendance.

Two months later and 11 months after I first saw the bankruptcy attorney, I got my bankruptcy discharge notice in the mail a few weeks ago. Except for a $1,600 tax bill to the IRS that I’m making payments on, I’m now out of bad debt. I’ve been working two tech jobs for the last two months to pay my bills and rebuild my savings reserve (half in cash and half in silver). The bankruptcy won’t disappear from my credit record for ten years. However, when cash is king, your credit score doesn’t matter. Like the Great Depression taught my father the value of cash being king, the new Great Depression taught me the same thing.

Protesting Radical Islam With Concealed Weapons

The Christian fundamentalist preacher, Terry Jones, from Gainesville, FL, responsible for burning the Koran that led to 20 deaths in the rioting that broke out in Afghanistan last month (although that might have been politically incited by the Afghanistan government), is planning to hold a protest against radical Islam outside the largest mosque in the United States in Dearborn, MI, this Good Friday. His protesters will be armed with concealed weapons.

“We have made it very clear that we are coming there with very, very peaceful intentions,” Jones told the television station. “We will be armed. We do have concealed weapons permits.”

There will also be a counter protest. No word yet if they will be armed with concealed weapons. The local prosecutor is seeking a court injunction against the protest to prevent a possible riot from breaking out.

When I was a young Christian in the San Jose City College campus ministry, our church established a campus ministry at De Anza College in 1993. The two campus ministries with ten people were given the task to evangelize the campus by sharing our faith with 200 people each in the first month. We shared our faith with as many people as we could from Monday through Friday in the late afternoons to early evenings. We each got 200 rejections. Why? Because the biggest religious group on campus was the Muslim student association. They were far more serious about their religion than many of the Christians I knew then and now. For every conversation I had with a Muslim student, I walked away impressed by their unshakeable faith and disturbed by my own shakeable faith. Although our church hailed the new campus ministry a success (at least, by the numbers), it was a discouraging month for each of us individually.

What is the point of protesting against radical Islam in front of a mosque with people who are least likely to convert to Christianity and generally don’t support radical Islam?

Terry Jones is trouble looking for more trouble. A Christian extremist trying to make Islamic extremists unhappy. A part of me hopes that a gun battle breaks out and everyone dies at the protest. One, it would cleanse the gene pool faster of these idiots who think they are doing God a favor. Two, senseless violence for a cause is still senseless violence. Three, this is what America is becoming in the 21st century, where the threat of violence speaks louder than actual civil discourse.

Forget The Shutdown, Dissolve The U.S.A.!

If you haven’t been paying attention to the recent hissy fits in Washington, the Republicans are threatening to shut down the government unless the Democrats commits hari kari by cutting sacred liberal cows from the federal non-defense discretionary budget, which is only one-percent of the overall federal budget and isn’t driving the deficits in the long-term. What would happen in a government shut down? Probably the same things that happened in the 1995 government shutdown: about 800,000 “non-essential” government workers will be furlough, national parks and museums will shut down, and all levels of government paperwork will stop being process (including tax refunds). If you read the comment boards for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, people are very vehement about shutting the down federal government.

Which begs the obvious question: If the federal government is so bad as so many people believe it to be, why not dissolved the United States Constitution and send everyone home?

Absolutely no one is calling for a complete and total shut down of the federal government. I think because too many powerful people are benefitting from the current status quo of a divided federal government. One of the two political parties will eventually cave in to keep the government running—probably the Democrats—and the other political party will pay the price at the 2012 polls—probably the Republicans. The lobbyists, lawyers and news media will continue to do business as usual. The military will grind on in their two-and-half wars with troops being paid later. Wall Street isn’t worried about the government shutting down since there is still money to be made, although that will change if the debt ceiling isn’t raised later on.

The dissolution of the U.S.A., however, would threaten the interests of all these powerful people because power of the government will go back to the non-federal government entities of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all the assorted territories. If power isn’t concentrated in one location, it’s very difficult for any power broker to exercise influence over multiple jurisdictions without it costing a pretty penny. Even Rome stopped being the world’s most powerful empire after everyone went home and the barbarians crashed the party.

What would happen if the federal government dissolved completely? The Balkanization of continental North America is likely.

  • The South will rise again with the Confederate flag flying over head and slavery re-instutionalized for all the sons and daughters of the Confederacy to reclaim their missing heritage, plantations and slaves.
  • The original 13 colonies—minus the southern states in the New Confederacy—will embrace the original U.S. Constitution to become a Tea Party haven.
  • The Midwest and Northwest will be absorbed by the Canadians to spread that wonderful health care around.
  • The Southwest will be absorbed by the Mexican cartels to expand production of America’s favorite white powder.
  • Alaska will be retaken by the Russians to build a Bridge to Somewhere.
  • Hawaii will become New Tokyo as the Japanese nouveau riche move away from the nuclear fallout and avoid having to take care of their irradiated elders.
  • Washington, D.C., will be maintained as a monument to a great nation that coulda, shoulda and woulda if the politicians elected by the people had the brain, heart and courage to acquire some backbone to do what is right for the people and not the special interest groups.
  • California, already the world’s eight largest economy and with one-sixth of the U.S. population, will continue to party on as if nothing had happen.

Does this all seem familiar? If you read “Damnation Alley” by Roger Zelazny (1967), “Friday” by Robert A. Heinlein (1982) or “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson (1992), the Balkanization of North America is a common science fiction theme. I sometimes wonder if  the power brokers in Washington are deliberately hurling the United States into a bleak future to prove science fiction as reality. If the U.S.A. does split into so many factions, former banana republic dictators and Fortune 500 executives will be in high demand to consolidate power. If you can excuse me now, I got a dystopian novel to write about a once great nation.

Scaring Young People To Save More With The Proteus Effect

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about scaring young people into saving more money for their retirement by showing them a digital image of themselves when they are in their 70s. Researchers at Stanford Labs have determined that if young people see who they will become in 50 years, they will feel more sorry of about themselves and take the most appropriate action. This is known as the Proteus effect, according to the article, where changes made in the virtual world often reflect changes made in the physical world.

How does the Proteus effect make people more willing to save? “Imagine that you just got a horrible haircut or bought a great new suit,” says Jeremy Bailenson, a virtual-reality researcher who runs the Stanford lab. “You already know that your physical appearance affects your attitudes, your emotions and your behavior even if you’re not consciously thinking about it. The same thing happens in virtual reality, when you become this person with a different body or face. Those features of your avatar affect your mind.”

After reading the article a half-dozen times, I think the writer took the latest scientific research in virtual worlds to re-slant a generic article about saving more money for retirement. I seriously doubt that young people would go to a financial adviser to see a virtual image of themselves in their 70s to scare themselves into saving more money. If young people want to see what they look like in the future, one look at their grandparents should be enough to scare them. Most older people haven’t saved enough, were wiped out when the real estate market crashed, or haven’t considered that being retired means spending way less money to live within their means.

If they are going to a financial advisor in the first place, saving more money will already be on their list of priorities. Most credible financial advisers would recommend saving six months of living expenses for a rainy day fund, max out all available retirement funding options, and use any left over money for investments. Of course, there are plenty of financial advisors who would churn the account to generate fees for themselves and use gimmicks like virtual images to beguile gullible suckers.

The Delaware Chancy Court ruled against the private equity buyout of Del Monte Foods because the bank was managing all sides of the transactions to generate excessive fees. Once upon a time in America, the financial industry used to grow wealth by investing in new companies with innovative products. Not anymore. Now the financial industry is all about slicing-and-dicing the same ever smaller pie of wealth at the expense of everyone else.

According to the Wikipedia article, the Proteus effect describes the changes people make when playing an online avatar that doesn’t reflect any changes made in real life. Another article describes how people who played tall avatars were more willing to make outrageous demands and people who played shorter avatars were more unwilling to accept an unfair offer when trading. All this research is quite fascinating.

My second novel project is about two hacker groups to going to war inside a virtual world that uncovers in an international conspiracy. I’m hoping this will be a modern successor to “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson, which introduced avatar and virtual worlds before the technology became even practical. The Proteus effect, and the differences between the real and virtual worlds, will be a central theme.

When I was testing Unreal II and Unreal Tournament 2004 at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises), I selected a female avatar for multiplayer games for a very simple reason: everyone else—including the female testers—were using male avatars. By being the only female avatar with a wicked sniper rifle in the game, everyone in the department knew who was scoring multiple head shots. I grinned every time my name was cursed out loud over the cubicle walls. Management asked me to stop using the sniper rifle. I switched to the rocket launcher, the cursing still didn’t stop.

Using a female avatar wasn’t because I wanted a smaller waist, woman-boobs and more options to fondle myself, or have a latent desire for a sex change operation, in real life. Using a female avatar was about being standing out in the crowd. As the old Japanese saying goes, “The nail that sticks out the most gets hammered the most.” Naturally, my female avatar was an Asian woman of modest portions. It’s all about having fun. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now I don’t play MMORPGs where playing an avatar of the opposite sex requires a distinctive mindset (i.e., you can’t play a female avatar like you would a male avatar). Those players often invest significantly more time and money into maintaining their avatars that the differences between the virtual and the real can blur significantly. (A great book about that would be “Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot” by Julian Dibbell.) But it can also lead to some awkward conversations: “You do know you’re trying to pick on up on a fat white guy in his underwear?”

Tuesday, 29 March 2011 @ 3:00PMThe Wall Street Journal writer posted a followup article defending his logic for scaring young people into saving. Didn’t make sense last week, still doesn’t make sense this week.

A Shooting Underneath The Golden Arches

I was driving out of my apartment complex when I turned right on to Fruitdale Avenue this afternoon when the radio announced that there was a shooting at McDonald’s on the corner of Fruitdale Avenue and Bascom Avenue. Not surprisingly, I was driving towards it as I was heading over to the freeway to go to HP campus in Cupertino for a job interview. Passing by a dozen police cars and forced to drive through hospital (which isn’t as bad being forced to drive through the airport), I started stressing out. Not because the shooting would break out again. The shooting that took place underneath the Golden Arches was several hours old by then, and the police were still documenting the crime scene. I was more concern about being late for the job interview. By the time I got to the HP campus, I was no longer nervous about the interview.

That is the second murder in the general area, and there were two rapes at San Jose City College, in the last six months. I have lived in this area for nearly six years. The worst reported crimes before these recent events was probably gang graffiti, teenagers pulling the fire alarms at my apartment complex, and several Christmas time house fires. Of course, most crimes in the neighborhood probably go unreported by victims for fear of retaliation or underreported by the news media looking for the big story to drive the headlines.

What prompted all these recent murders and rapes?

The two murders are probably gang-related. Someone walking up to someone else to shoot them dead on the street is a somewhat common gang initiation on the east side of San Jose. Anti-gang prevention efforts are probably pushing gang bangers out from that side of town. Every time I see gang bangers hanging out in the back parking lot and gang graffiti on the walls of my apartment complex, I’m quick to report these incidents to the leasing office. The leasing manager will yell at the gang bangers to leave and the graffiti is painted over by the maintenance staff.

The rapes were done by several men under the care of nearby medical clinics for mental illness and drug abuse who wandered on to campus. I don’t think rape will become a reoccurring event like it was at San Jose State University in the 1980s, where school officials later installed the emergency phones with blue lights. I still find the live blogging of the De Anza rape case to be disturbing, especially now that the plaintiff is on the stand.

A more ominous trend in the general neighborhood is people panhandling for change on the street corners and intersections. There used to be only one or two people who were doing it any given time. Lately, as the cratered economy muddles through for ordinary working-class Americans, I’m seeing more and more people panhandling for change. A husband-and-wife tag team at one intersection. A string of military veterans at every freeway entrance. A postal clerk chased away a pregnant woman who stood outside the post office with a sign pleading for help. What do these people do when they’re not panhandling? Are the looking for jobs or committing crimes?

I had the interview at the HP campus and came home the other way to avoid the crime scene at McDonald’s. I’m hoping to get the job there or at another HP location to do desktop support. After two years of unemployment, I’m  working part time as a PC disconnect/reconnect technician for a moving company. That won’t last for long. The interviews are coming at a steadier pace than it has in the last two years. That gives me hope that I won’t need to start my career as a professional bank robber. Although there is good money to be made in panhandling (about $45 to $90 per hour at the right intersection), I don’t like standing around and doing nothing.