The story behind the Christmas Card

Every year, I send out a Christmas card. But I try and send something a little less like the traditional, boring here’s-my-baby/dog/family-for-your-enjoyment. Last year, I sent out a picture greeting card featuring an ex-marine waterboarding me. A few years before that, I sent out a photo and story about my night inside an inflatable newspaper costume. The year before that, well, let’s just say I have a lifetime ban from that coffeeshop. So, in keeping with my Gonzo tradition, here is the story behind the Christmas card:

So there I was – standing in front of a dozen Pennsylvania police officers in full riot gear, clubs and tear gas ready, with only a press pass to protect me. And even if that press pass was real, reporter credentials didn’t mean anything on the fortified streets of Pittsburgh.

Just minutes earlier, another phalanx of riot cops charged a group of protesters and bystanders a few blocks over. And that was just minutes after police rolled out L-RAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) — a crowd-control device strapped to a military truck that emits a piercing, debilitating tone. This was the first time such a device had been used in the United States.

Yep, the G20 Conference was underway and for the last six weeks, Pittsburgh city officials and the media had scared residents into allowing a small version of a police state right on the banks of the Allegheny River.

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Florida’s extended (extended) unemployment benefits: The good, the bad, the ugly

First, the good news for my unemployed brothers and sisters:

Due to stagnant (and in some cases, rising) unemployment throughout the country, the Obama Administration approved another round of extended benefits for laid-off Americans earlier this month. Although there is confusion surrounding who will actually get these benefits, under the best case scenerio, unemployed Floridians will receive 20 more weeks of benefits to help you get through another four months of job searching.

Well, some of us will receive those benefits (about 250,000 according to the St. Petersburg Times). Which brings me to the bad news.

If you already exhausted your benefits before the bill was passed on Nov. 6, you probably aren’t eligible (although the state says you can apply).  Also, only those Floridians who will run out of all benefits between Nov. 6 and Dec. 27 qualify for the extra weeks.

There is a lot of confusion on who qualifies for the new extension and since the state unemployment office doesn’t make much sense explaining it, they’ve set up a webpage for you to check if you qualify (click on the button that says “Check your eligibility).

That fine print has some advocacy groups upset. The National Employment Law Center just released a study that found over a million American workers will be ineligible for benefits in January 2010. Federal workers have it worse; they estimate over three million of those workers will remain unemployed.

But things get uglier.

The state has already run out of the money to pay for benefits, partly due to the Florida Legislature’s inane idea to not accept federal stimulus money for unemployment insurance. So, as unemployment rises to record levels, there is another cloud on the horizon. Due to a clause in state law, businesses will be taxed extra for unemployment benefits next year. And by “extra,” I’m mean a tax hike approaching 120 percent, which I’m sure can’t be good for companies barely keeping afloat.

Talk about a vicious circle.

Florida unemployment news: The good, the bad and the ugly

First, the good news: Florida’s unemployment rate has not risen for the second month in a row. Now the bad: The state’s unemployment rate hangs at nearly 11 percent, the worst it has been since 1975. The ugly news? Florida’s unemployment trust fund ran out of money this week.

Don’t worry — yet. The federal government is advancing money to the state government to help pay for benefits, but considering the mounting debt up in Washington — and state Republicans too proud to take any federal money — who knows how long that will last.

Unemployment? Naw, FUNemployment

unemployedposter

Last week, I linked to an article about “funemployment” on my news reel to the left of this post (SIGNS of the times … unemployed panhandler … Get it!?!), but I wanted to blow it out a bit more in case you missed it.

From the L.A. Times:

Michael Van Gorkom was laid off by Yahoo in late April. He didn’t panic. He didn’t rush off to a therapist. Instead, the 33-year-old Santa Monica resident discovered that being jobless “kind of settled nicely.”

Week one: “I thought, ‘OK . . . I need to send out resumes, send some e-mails, need to do networking.”

Week two: “A little less.”

Every week since: “I’m going to go to the beach and enjoy some margaritas.”

What most people would call unemployment, Van Gorkom embraced as “funemployment.”

While millions of Americans struggle to find work as they face foreclosures and bankruptcy, others have found a silver lining in the economic meltdown. These happily jobless tend to be single and in their 20s and 30s. Some were laid off. Some quit voluntarily, lured by generous buyouts.

Buoyed by severance, savings, unemployment checks or their parents, the funemployed do not spend their days poring over job listings. They travel on the cheap for weeks. They head back to school or volunteer at the neighborhood soup kitchen. And at least till the bank account dries up, they’re content living for today.

“I feel like I’ve been given a gift of time and clarity,” said Aubrey Howell, 29, of Franklin, Tenn., who was laid off from her job as a tea shop manager in April. After sleeping in late and visiting family in Florida, she recently mused on Twitter: “Unemployment or funemployment?”

Never heard of funemployment? Here’s Urban Dictionary’s definition: “The condition of a person who takes advantage of being out of a job to have the time of their life. I spent all day Tuesday at the pool; funemployment rocks!”

The article goes on for several more graphs with the predictable “my parents don’t like it” quotes and outlines some of the crazy adventures of the laid-off, including embarking on a “spiritual quest” in Asia. Something tells me he’s not just living off of unemployment benefits.

But I’ve told many of my friends and family that, in some ways, my layoff is the best thing to have happened to me in years. As some of those interviewed in the L.A. Times article say, I feel healthier, happier and more like myself. And I’m using this chance to do more things for me, like learning how to ride a bike, updating my Internet skills and taking a few vacations. All on the cheap and while looking for jobs online, of course.

I especially think this is a cardinal rule for unemployed journalists: Use this time wisely. We’re undergoing tough changes to our industry. After years of working 50-60 hours a week for news, we need this “lay-cation” to recharge and prepare for what happens next. I think many of us will be better reporters because of it.

I’d love to hear from other unemployed folk on how they are spending their days off. Just leave a comment below …

(Big thanks to Saint Petersblog 2.0 for the link)

Layoffs, Furloughs impact Gannett and Sun-Sentinel

The ranks of unemployed journalists swell again this week as The Ann Arbor News announced plans to close shop and South Florida’s Sun Sentinel gives pink slips to two well-respected columnists. Get those cardboard signs ready, folks.

In addition, the huge Gannett newspaper chain told employees they will be forced to take another week-long furlough. Better than losing your job, right?

As far as furloughs go, reporters should look into his or her state’s unemployment laws. In Florida, you can claim those weeks of forced vacation. You don’t get anything for the first week, but — if you meet certain conditions — any subsequent weeks can be claimed. Unfortunately, it looks like Gannett is spreading out those weeks, which could impact your eligibility.

More on that subject here.