Since the demise of the U.S. economy in 2008, too many Americans have lost their jobs. In Tennessee 424,000 parents have lost them, and that number doesn’t include the people who are no longer looking for work. (Kids Count Data Center) It’s a sad situation, one that breaks the hearts, hopes, and spirits of those affected. However, something even worse is now occurring to folks who lose jobs in the state. They aren’t able to file for unemployment due to a system that rivals the mess in the Affordable Care Act. An acquaintance recently lost her job, and she began the filing procedure that same day. Later, she received confirmation that her application had been received. The next thing she was to do was to keep a log of jobs for which she applied. Then the state required her to confirm her unemployment status weekly. The woman did as the website instructed, but to her surprise, a message came that the information had not been filed in a timely manner. Confused, she placed a call to the state 800 number provided on the website. To her dismay, she was told that no one was available to take her call. Days and repeated phone calls later, she continued trying to find help, finally contacted a local office, and talked with a sympathetic worker. However, that person offered little help and less hope. It seems that all unemployment filings are done on-line or on the phone. The workers who used to help with claims have been let go. The folks there are not trained to do the job but diligently attempt to help. The result is that individuals in need are unable to file for or to receive unemployment compensation. They are trying to navigate an unemployment mine field. If you look at the situation, it would appear that the Tennessee State government is making the process hard to discourage people from filing. Oh, I suppose it does look good when the pols can brag about the low numbers on the unemployment roles, but for those in need of some short-term help to pay bills, buy groceries, and purchase medicines, the situation isn’t so rosy. If this were the end of the story, it would be a disgrace, but things are even worse. In April, 2013, a report appeared in The Tennessean about mistaken payments. ” People are dying to get unemployment benefits in Tennessee. Since July 2011, for instance, at least seven people who had died were issued unemployment checks by the state of Tennessee, to the tune of about $12,000 in unemployment payments.” That’s evidently just the tip of the unemployment iceberg. “But it's not just the deceased that a state audit found were being paid benefits by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. It also found that 24 state employees were getting paid unemployment benefits - while still working for the state of Tennessee. Those findings were among several alarming entries in a scathing audit detailing the overpayment of about $73 million in jobless benefits and other systemic problems with the state's unemployment system.” Okay, let’s see if I have this correct: dead folks can draw unemployment and working folks can get unemployment. It’s just those who are without a job but with a legitimate claim that don’t seem to be able to break through the tangle in order to get the funds that they need. Not a single Tennessean should listen to another word about the poorly managed health insurance program. Yes, it is all screwed up, but closer to home is a program in just as bad a condition, and the very people who could have helped it run efficiently have been let go. The good governor of the state needs to address this situation and bring some immediate relief to thousands out of the workforce who are fighting a jumbled mess. I laud the state’s efforts to keep the national parks open during the recent assault on the government, but I would give greater praise for an unemployment program that met the needs of those displaced from their jobs.


My grandson Madden Chemsak (5 years old) just published his first book. It's titled The Loneliest Airplane, and he developed the story line and all the illustrations. He's planning on holding book signings in Nashville, Knoxville, and, possibly, in Huntsville, Alabama. 

Here's is the URL for the book if you want to get it now.

With This Ring

I’m fascinated by business pitches on television. Some of them, such as E Trade or Aflac, are funny. Others like Northern toilet paper or Viagra are nothing short of inappropriate. One thing is for sure: none of them paint life as it really exists.
One particular subject confounds me. It’s the commercial about men buying engagement rings and presenting them to the women they love. The familiar line, “He went to Jared,” comes to mind. These men are heroes because they visit the jewelry store, choose a hunk of diamond and mounting, and present those “perfect” rings. Is that how life really works?
Amy and I had dated for about seven months before a discussion about an engagement ring began. We’d both discovered within the first six weeks that our paths were destined to cross. Neither of us definitively stated that the time was right for purchasing a ring. It just happened.
I was still a college student whose income came entirely from a small check for being the head resident of a
dorm. Somehow, Amy knew the jeweler, and on a set day, we hopped in my VW Bug and drove to Carthage, several miles from Cookeville. A balding man in his late fifties or early sixties greeted us and sat us at a counter. He opened up a velvet pouch and poured out several various sized diamonds onto it. Then, one by one, he described them and told us the size, quality, and cost. Some were exorbitant in price, so much so that my heart palpitated as I tried to calculate the monthly payments for them.
After the presentation ended, it was Amy, not I, who made the choice of stone. Bless her, for she chose a diamond that wasn’t perfect; it had one area that contained a small amount of clouding, double speak for “flaw.” The size was good, but the price was much more in line with my wallet. I breathed a sigh of relief and developed even stronger affection for my bride-to-be.
Then the other shoe fell. The discussion turned to the mounting. Huh? I thought the cost quoted included something to put the diamond on. WRONG! Amy and the jeweler began a discussion about the ring part. She wanted something that was made of pink and green gold and that looked antique. Yes, gold can be colored differently by adding alloys, and my brilliant wife knew this. At any rate, she described the ring, and the man produced it.
In April, I gave that ring to Amy. It was the first time that she’d seen it assembled, and it passed her approval. Of course, it pleased her because she created it. One more thing should be made clear: I had no part in choosing this ring! The only role I played in the event was as the person who paid the bill. As things turned out, Amy and I worked to pay off the ring with the small income from my teaching job and her part time job after college classes.
I asked her Poppa for permission to marry Amy, and he consented. We told her mother about our engagement, and for a long period, she refused to speak to me. I didn’t understand that until my own daughter reached the age of nineteen, and then it became abundantly clear how concerned Mary Alice was that Amy would marry and never reach the goals she’d had set for life.

So, I don’t understand this pitch about the surprising a woman with an engagement ring. It’s like someone allowing his friend to pick out a car for him. Too many things can go wrong, and then a friendship is strained as the person is stuck with a car he doesn’t like. When a man says, “With this ring,” at a wedding, it better be one that his bride has chosen and wants to keep for the next fifty years. 


Okay, let’s try to sort things out. The House of Representatives Republicans don’t like Obamacare. They want to defund it, delay it, or do anything else to stop its implementation. So, they refuse to fund the budget with a continuing resolution unless provisions to kill the law are included. Democrats in the Senate refuse to act on any bills sent to them by the House. The president refuses to budge since he declares that the Affordable Care Act is law that has been passed and declared okay by the U.S. Supreme Court.
What’s now left is a “mell of a hess!” Like most Americans, I’m tired of the endless drama that plays in our nation’s governmental halls. Right now, national parks are closed. Folks who’ve traveled to the nation’s capital to soak in some of the great history of the country are turned away at the gates. I think of the impact on children not being allowed to walk up to the Lincoln Monument or on veterans not being allowed to pay tribute to their fallen brethren at the World War II Memorial or the Vietnam Wall.
Millions of folks are seeing the impact of this shutdown on their lives. Furloughs for government workers and layoffs in the private sector hit as the wheels of production come to a screeching halt. Families of fallen
soldiers are left waiting for death benefits that the government won’t pay. People still have house payments or rent due, and they still have to provide food for families. The worry about meeting bills is once again present, just as it was in 2008 when the bottom fell out of the economy. Isn’t it ironic that the very ones who have caused this debacle are receiving their paychecks?
Some representatives are playing a game of chicken about the national debt. Let’s be clear: the issue in question deals with debts that have already been incurred. Our country simply cannot renege on its bills. If we default, the effects won’t ripple through the world economy; they will crash through it. Sure, the budget needs a serious perusal to find waste that should be cut. However, what folks must be willing to do is give up some of the services that our government provides if the cuts are to be made. That’s what makes all of us hedge because we don’t want to lose anything.
I’m thinking that most Americans are just about over partisan politics that paralyze the country. We’ll continue to have two parties because not everyone has the same take on what is best for our country and its citizens. What the overwhelming majority of people are sick and disgusted with are those individuals who are more interested in ideology than country. That comes from both the far right and the far left. The fringe groups should not be dictating the course of our country.
 Democracy is built upon the basis of “majority rule.” At present, a small minority is running the show, and they are doing one poor job of it. Extremism, whether it comes from terrorists from abroad or from citizens of the U.S., never has in mind what is best for the whole. It works at tearing apart the fabric of a great country and reduces it to a malfunctioning machine.
America needs elected officials who are leaders, not destroyers. We are ready for those we choose to work to make this country better, not to cripple it. An old saying might put it best: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!” That’s sound advice for all politicians. The time has come for them to find ways to fix things, and yes, that means compromising and, above all, using God-given common sense.

Pictures of several national building show them encased in scaffolding. The Washington Monument and the Supreme Court Building are under repair. Perhaps we need to rustle up every member of Congress and the executive branch and do a bit of renovation on them. Either these individuals begin to perform the jobs for which they were elected, or they can be replaced with others who hold the country’s interests above their own. 

Another Testing Debacle

Without a doubt, I’m not the only one who uttered a “Huh” and re-read the story of the Stem Academy student who received copies of earlier tests to help her pass a World History exam. Plenty of blame can be spread to all involved with the situation.
The first comment comes about the student. From the newspaper article it seems that she isn’t capable of doing the work or is unwilling to do so. She failed the history course and another one. Is the whole issue something that could have been avoided by a more serious commitment to study in “all courses,” not just the ones in which she might excel?
The STEM Academy education is touted as something above and beyond those at other schools in the system. The description on the website states,
“The essential element of high quality STEM education is not a narrow focus, but an open mind disciplined and empowered by scientific reasoning, technological expertise, engineering design, and mathematical logic.”
Evidently, the approach didn’t work for this girl; she didn’t manage to navigate things in a couple of classes. So, she was placed in front of a computer where she was to learn the material. Having her do so violated another description of the academy:
“Our integrated curriculum delivered through project-based instruction develops students' abilities to make connections, work in teams, ask questions, gather and interpret information, evaluate sources, draw meaningful inferences, and defend their conclusions-useful skills for future graduates pursuing any major or career path.”
It looks as if the academy received another failing grade on this. It’s difficult to achieve those things when a student sits in front of a computer screen all day. The young person is more likely being force-fed the material she didn’t get the first time around, and there’s no team work involved.
At any rate, the school system’s responses made the situation as clear as mud. It was a test, but then, again, it wasn’t. The scores counted, but not really. The test used to be used but not any longer, even though teachers didn’t know. Double talk does little to add clarity to a questionable program. Last, it was a test, but not an End of Course (EOC) one. HUH?
This online program Odyssey has never been a favorite of teachers. Recovery credit programs can be completed in a couple of weeks. If the learning results with Odyssey are that spectacular, why doesn’t the superintendent fire all the teachers and let kids earn credits on computers? As things are now, other students resent having to put in the classroom work for a semester while others get the same thing for a fraction of the time.
Somehow, we’ve lost direction in our school system. Money is spent on all sorts of innovative programs. The focus from the top is more on scores than on education. Someone not long ago opined that the system was run more like a manufacturing plant where students were products. Maybe that’s all right at some level, but education is much more than making “cookie-cutter” students. Kids are humans, not products, and an education that works teaches basic skill in subjects, as well as about life and getting along with others. No end of course exam will accomplish that.
Students must be held accountable for what they master in classes. Failure should require a “re-do,” not a shortcut and reward. Cheating must never be allowed so that a student can pass and the system can change its percentages of passing or graduating students.

Most of all, Knox County Schools need to have the courage to do what is best for students. Secondary concerns should be aimed at EOC scores. If teachers are allowed to teach and students are willing to work, the outcomes will be what we all want. It just might avoid another testing debacle.