The Watchdog realizes that you may not read all my stories each year. So to make sure you graduate in 2020 with your degree in watchdogology and become a bona fide member of my Watchdog Nation, see if you can pass this test based on my reports.
Answers at the end. No Googling, please. Good luck.
1. I coined two new words this year. The one I did not make up is: a) stimudelay, which is what happens when your government stimulus check hasn’t arrived; b) maskification, when an entire society suddenly is urged to wear face masks; c) Corona-pork, money for congressional pet projects that are placed inside a government stimulus package.
2. The following personal information about you was not stolen in the Great Texas Driver’s License Hack of 2020 (while the rest of these choices are for sale on the dark web): a) your DL number and date of birth; b) your email address and phone number, c) the year, make, model and color of your vehicle, d) the lender to whom you pay your car loan.
3. True or false? The next Confederate Heroes Day is scheduled for Jan. 19, 2021. It’s a state-sanctioned holiday. The reason a bill to end it failed in the last session of the Texas Legislature is because State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, crushed it with a 3 a.m. public hearing and then made sure it never reached the House floor for a vote. Phelan is expected to be elected the new House Speaker.
4. A series of USAA Insurance customers complained to The Watchdog in 2020 that: a) USAA’s customer service phone number no longer worked; b) USAA Insurance was not yet available to members of the new U.S. Space Force; c) they couldn’t get the USAA jingle from TV commercials out of their heads; d) the company wasn’t covering home damages from storms as promised.
5. When protests about George Floyd’s death began, I looked at a study of various police departments and how some officers posted racist and other phobic comments on Facebook. In Dallas, 169 current and former officers were tagged as potential violators of DPD’s social media policy. After an internal investigation: a) 13 current officers were ordered to counseling and suspended for several days without pay; b) all 169 officers were forced to do volunteer work as penance; c) not a single officer was punished; d) a federal judge ruled that the officers were entitled to First Amendment protections and could post anything they wanted.
6. In 2020, the Public Utility Commission of Texas: a) oversaw a massive crackdown on deceptive marketing practices of electricity companies; b) eliminated its 13-year-old enforcement division which chases violators; c) announced that its data was hacked, and China knows what everyone pays on their electric bills; d) warned Reliant Energy to stop using Matthew McConaughey in ads because it gave the company an unfair advantage.
7. When I shared with readers the embarrassing news that a plumber had overcharged me to replace a leaking outdoor faucet at home, my point was to: a) write about the experience that anyone — even The Watchdog — can make mistakes; b) show the importance of shopping for a better price; c) remind that asking neighbors for a recommendation is usually helpful; d) all of the above.
8. A new state law requiring governmental bodies to allow citizens to speak at the start of a public meeting and before a vote on an agenda item caused: a) confusion as cities, counties and school boards across Texas tried to implement the policy without lengthening already-long public meetings; b) so much consternation that several Texas counties threatened to secede from the state; c) a federal lawsuit by a coalition of Rio Grande progressive groups who claimed governments weren’t following the rule; d) almost all government meetings to last six hours or more.
9. I celebrated the 100th anniversary of a legendary Texas scam which was: a) Charles Ponzi, creator of the Ponzi scheme, who launched the scam out of his Oak Cliff office; b) former Texas governors Ma and Pa Ferguson gaining power; c) the swindle involving the so-called World’s Littlest Skyscraper in Wichita Falls; d) Lyndon B. Johnson’s election to the U.S. Senate when a mysterious ballot box stuffed with votes for LBJ showed up at the last moment.
10. The recycling market was described as being in a depression in 2020 because: a) China, in a cleanup campaign, made good on its promise to ban most recyclables from entering its borders; b) Americans ordered so many items from Amazon that the company almost ran out of cardboard boxes; c) surveillance videos show some trash companies secretly depositing recycled materials at landfills instead of recycling centers; d) companies that collected recycled materials lost workers who got sick because of the coronavirus.
11. After Peggy Nelson, widow of golf legend Byron Nelson, saw that a luxury apartment complex that opened near her Roanoke ranch was named The Byron, she demanded that the name be changed (and it was, to The Bevan) because: a) Byron was no fan of apartments; b) the developer’s promise of a miniature golf course on the property fell through; c) nobody asked her for permission; d) Google Maps kept sending people who wanted to go to Byron Nelson High School to the apartment complex instead.
12. The Watchdog of the Year Award for 2020 was given recently by me to: a) Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose secret audio recording of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen led to Bonnen’s downfall; b) outgoing state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, for the way he blocked votes on bills using parliamentary procedures, c) Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw for fixing the Texas driver’s license centers under his purview so there are no more problems; d) Kennedale High School senior Madison Fail, 17, for fighting for openness at her school board meetings.
13. Texas auto insurance companies are taking advantage of consumers by: a) offering piddling rebates to make up for how much less we are driving due to the pandemic; b) using our social media influence scores to help determine how much we pay for premiums; c) requiring as a new rule that we install their company’s app on our smartphones so they can track us; d) hosting secret holiday parties for regulators who work at the Texas Department of Insurance.
14. Millions, if not billions, of dollars in coronavirus stimulus checks were stolen. Warning signs for victims whose names were used by thieves are: a) someone checked your credit rating for a reason that makes no sense to you; b) you get a spam phone call from a robot voice notifying you that because you didn’t pay back the federal loan, you’re going to prison — unless you send a stack of iTunes gift cards to a foreign address; c) you get a form letter from your member of Congress congratulating you on boosting America’s economy for a loan you never took; d) all of the above.
15. Yes, it’s true. Thieves can steal the title of your home by filing forged land documents at the county clerk’s office. The easiest way to prevent it is: a) go to the courthouse once a month and check the deed on your home; b) call your county clerk’s office and ask if they offer a free monitoring service and how to access it; c) buy a shotgun so if someone comes to your door to steal your title, you can scare them off; d) put a copyright license on your home address so no one other than you can take possession of the title.
ANSWERS: I grade on a curve. Get 9 of 15 correct and you pass. For those who pass, congrats and thanks for partnering with The Watchdog in 2020. For those who didn’t make the grade, stick with me. There’s always next year.
1. a); 2. b); 3. True; 4. d); 5. a); 6. b); 7. d); 8. a); 9. c); 10. a); 11. c); 12. d); 13. a); 14. a); 15. b).
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The Dallas Morning News Watchdog column is the 2019 winner of the top prize for column writing from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. The contest judge called his winning entries “models of suspenseful storytelling and public service.”
Read his winning columns:
* Helping the widow of Officer J.D. Tippit, the Dallas police officer killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, get buried beside her late husband
* Helping a waitress who was harmed by an unscrupulous used car dealer