Organ Donation

I strongly believe in organ donation. If your brain has ceased to function and you have healthy organs that can give the gift of life and health to others, why not? And, your family and friends can also appreciate that something good came out of a tragic death.

I hadn’t thought much about organ donation in Panama, but it happens here also according to some information I’ve found on line. 

Panama’s first heart transplant in 2016. Transplants haven’t been done as much or for as long as some other countries, but Panaman is coming along.

What got me thinking about this today is an article and video I saw this morning.   When a donor is wheeled from ICU to the operating room, the hospital staff lines the halls in a silent show of respect for the donor and his family. It’s one of the most touching things I’ve seen in a long time. Here’s the video and if you are like me, grab a tissue first.


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Water Woes

I’m very happy here, but there are still the occasional annoying issues. Last March we put in a water tank. March is the end of the dry season and we had many days without water. It would come back on at night, but who wants to wait until midnight to wash dishes, shower, and wash clothes? Life with a water tank is wonderful! We have water all the time and better water pressure than we had before as well.

But, they have been putting in sewer lines in our neighborhood. Lately they have also been putting in manholes for a mile or more south of our neighborhood. Word is this is what disrupted the water for four days! We didn’t know anything until day 3 when our neighbor was washing dishes outside. They have a hose faucet close to the ground and when there is no water in the house, there can be enough water in the pipes to get water from a low faucet. Sure enough, our tank was half empty but we have enough to share so we put the garden hose over the fence.

Later on Sunday, day 3, a water truck came through the neighborhood to fill any containers people put out. They told me the disruption was because of the work in the area, they didn’t know when water would be back on,  but we could call 311, the number for the water company.

Monday, day 4, I was sitting on the terrace when I heard water flowing in to the tank. This was really good to hear since by now the tank was getting really low. I opened the tank to check and saw that mud was flowing into the tank! 😡 oh NO! What a mess! I shut off the valve for the water line that goes to the tank and told our neighbor who has a tank, and was now very sorry that he had forgotten to shut off his valve.

I  suppose the silver lining is we now know how to clean a water tank. Lucho came over and helped after we drained most of the water out of the tank. He disconnected everything, he and Joel turned the tank up on end. I ran water in the house to try and clear the mud (there are two lines, one to fill the tank and another to send water from the street directly to the house) and then they used the hose, a broom, and a bit of bleach to clean the tank. But, Lucho forgot which wires went where to reconnect the pump so he had to call another neighbor, the guy who installed the system, who thankfully was home and came over to rewire the pump.

Lucho and Joel reconnecting everything

Unfortunately we also drained the tank on the pump, so Lucho had to help us again when the pump wouldn’t make any pressure. He used the hose to refill it and then all was well. Except…. the water was still cloudy and dirty. We ended up draining the tank twice more until we finally got clean water.

This is one way to get a much better understanding of your water system! 😁 And, I’m definitely thankful to have it. I no longer take water for granted and I’m thankful to have it all the time.

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The Federal Mall

They are building a HUGE mall not far from where we live, so I bike over there now and then to see how it is progressing.

At first they spent what seemed like months moving dirt around, clearing boulders, and preparing the site. A year and a half ago, I wrote this post, when construction was starting and tons of people were hard at work. The post includes a video of the vision for the completed mall.

About three months later it looked like this. I’ve gone by a number of times since but never got around to posting pictures.  But, a few days ago I took some more photos and actually got them ready to share.

It is really coming along! They guys on site said it will be another year though. When you think of getting 400 stores and whatever else will be there from block walls to finished spaces, that’s understandable. It’s a huge job.

I have heard conflicting stories about the bus terminal. At first it was planned to be there too, and then I heard it was going to remain downtown so I’m not sure what is going on with that. There would be more space and it would be easier for busses to get in and out at the mall, but many like the busses going downtown where they can easily walk to many places.

However that goes, it will be interesting to see how the mall works out. Who is going to shop and support all those stores? How many people in nearby and more expensive Costa Rica will be happy? How will it affect traffic in the area? How will it affect water and power use in a city that already has problems, especially with the water supply in the dry season? Traffic though… the Panamerican Highway is already bogged down with heavy traffic much of the time and could really really use a lot more traffic lights. Now there will be hundreds and hundreds of shoppers and employees trying to get to the mall? It’s a good thing I don’t like to shop 😁 Of course I’ll have to check it out though when it’s open.

I feel like we live in such a happening place! This is only one of many commercial and residential projects underway or recently completed. It’s exciting to watch, especially when we can retreat to our quiet little neighborhood at the end of the day.

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A Year Playing Bass in the Band

It feels like a milestone. September 18 of last year was my very first gig. By June of last year it was obvious that band was losing their bass player. He was spending more and more time in Colombia, and other bass players in the area were busy with their own bands and unavailable. Joel had a bass. I played piano when I was young so I have a basic understanding of music. Could I learn to play that big thing with four strings and keep the band going?

it was a lot of time and work and I didn’t have a life for quite a while. And, as I announced Saturday night, I didn’t do it alone. My husband Joel spent endless hours working with me, helping me learn songs, helping me understand equipment and sound, and practicing with me.  Chris, our drummer, has been super supportive and also practiced with me for hours and hours. The venues where we play and their staffs have been wonderful, welcoming, and supportive. And, most important, the people come out to hear us! Our fans have been wonderful to both the band and to me personally, and without them none of this would be happening. I am very grateful to everyone who has made our success possible.

Now, after a year of gigging it’s quite different. I actually feel like a musician, a bassist, not someone just doing a job and hoping to not screw up anything. The power to actually create the music, and the power of the low end, the bass with that huge sound that lays down the groove, the foundation, it’s pretty cool! After a year of playing together the three of us have become a tight unit and we really sound like we have our act together. We have a larger variety of music and styles now, and enough songs to fill more than two evenings of music. This has allowed us, and especially me to slow down the pace and bring other aspects of my life back like friends, biking, painting, yard work (it looks like work but is mainly enjoyment), and other hobbies.

Maybe this is a fitting time to bring out this song that we haven’t listened to for ages. We are working on it and it should be ready by this coming weekend. When I met Joel in 1990 he was in a band and would sing this song so beautifully it would just melt me. One night we were out with friends and the song came on the juke box, and we danced. It was the beginning…. I never would have believed anyone if they said that 28 years later we would be married, happily retired in Panama, and playing in a rock band together!

This retired life in Panama, it’s a wonderful thing. When the need to make money is taken off the table it changes everything. You do what you choose to do, not what you have to do. Your head is in such a different place, a much less stressful place. Then this beautiful country with these lovely people, that is just icing on the cake. Why me? How have I been so fortunate? I wake up filled with gratitude every day.

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Fat People

What do you think when you see those words? Do you think about someone you know, and wonder how they let themself get that way? Do you think about yourself, your struggles and frustrations, and how you think the rest of the world sees you?

”For decades, the medical community has ignored mountains of evidence to wage a cruel and futile war on fat people, poisoning public perception and ruining millions of lives. It’s time for a new paradigm.” (From the Huffington Post article linked below)

It’s quite obvious that we don’t know how to solve the obesity problem. I know people who have dieted off and on their whole lives. I know many people who have had bypass surgery or lap band surgery but only a couple were successful in keeping their weight off long term. The Greatest Loser TV program –  researches learned that the contestants has markedly decreased metabolisms even years after the contest. (NY Times article HERE)

Today I saw this article HERE in the Huffington Post. It’s a bit long but well worth reading if the subject interests you. “Losing 3% of your body weight results in a 17% slow down of your metabolism until you get back up to your former weight”. Sheesh. It points out that doctors only compound the problem by their attitudes towards fat people. “Chances of a woman classified as obese achieving a ‘normal weight’ .008% “. And – “Keeping weight off means fighting your body’s energy-regulation system and battling hunger all day, every day, for the rest of your life.”  Almost no one can sustain that long term.

The article also points out that fat and unhealthy don’t necessarily go together. It is possible for fat people to be fit, strong, and healthy. Look at Fat Girl Running, who runs ultra marathons, and I think weighs about 235.

I like this photo from the article. She looks like a FORCE!

“There is so much agency taken from marginalized groups to mute their voices and mask their existence. Being depicted as a female CEO—one who is also black and fat—means so much to me. It is a representation of the reclamation of power in the boardroom, classroom and living room of my body. I own all of this.”— JOY COX

I think my first diet was when I was 12. I was maybe 8 or 10 when a doctor asked me if I ever allowed myself to get hungry, or did I just eat all the time. Yes, decades later I remember that, the first of many doctors who blamed and shamed me. I’ve done Atkins, Weight Watchers, lo carb, raw, you name it multiple times over the decades with less and less success. I’ve gone to the gym, walked, played tennis, biked, all with no effect on my weight. HCG finally worked but keeping that weight off, not so much. I’m very careful what I eat and I’ve biked literally thousands of miles, but every year the weight creeps up a bit more no matter what I do. I feel like further dieting will only compound my metabolic slowdown and dieting has been proven to not work. I think all I can do is continue to eat healthy and exercise, and try to learn to accept myself as I am.

At least here in Panama, I don’t feel the same stigma. People don’t seem to care what size you are. My life is really good except for this one frustrating thing that I have failed to control my whole life. As my (tall and slim) daughter points out, I’m healthy and able to do everything I want to, and she is right. I am thankful for that. But still….

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A Very Cool Bird

This Helmeted Hornbill is in Southeast Asia. It’s nothing to do with Panama but I saw it in a National Geographic article and thought it was interesting and gorgeous. There is a great video in the article which I can’t seem to share here, so go there to check it out.

Unfortunately these birds are endangered from overhunting because their casques, that hump part on their heads that are in demand for carving and ornaments.

I know Panama has so many interesting birds too but this one is so cool I wanted to share it. Not many people get to see one so thank you National Geographic!

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AIDS in Panama

I love Panama but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There are problems here too, as there are anywhere. One problem that is getting increasing attention is AIDS. According to USAIDS there were 21,000 people in Panama living with AIDS in 2016 ( Of these a bit over half of them are getting antiretroviral therapy.

According to this article HERE, there is worry that thousands of young people are becoming infected. It’s in Spanish but roughly translated, it says 17 people between the ages of 15 and 19 were found to be infected in 2016, and 1175 between the ages of 10 and 19 have been found since the first case was identified in 1984. Young people aren’t being careful about taking precautions, and if they get infected they don’t want to tell their families because of the stigma. Half of the infected kids are in the Ngabe Bugle Comarca, the area belonging to the indigenous people. In that part of the country, getting people to treatment can be very challenging because much of it is inaccessible much of the time.

This article from NPR (in English) is much more alarming. San Felix is a town close to the edge of the Comarca and many indigenous come for the clinic there. The doctor in the clinic said in 2010 he had 30 people being treated for AIDS. By the end of last year he had 550. This article also talks about the stigma, and the very challenging problems of getting people care in such a remote and inaccessible area. Even getting condoms to the Comarca is difficult.

This article from News Room Panama from three years ago, said it was estimated that 20,000 people were living with AIDS. Efforts were just beginning to take the disease more seriously, find infected people and get them treatment (which is free). But, since many of the infected are LGBT, there is a lot of stigma to overcome for this and for the disease in general, along with the challenges of treating people in remote locations.

AIDS is a horrible disease. Growing up in the music and arts world in New York, I know many people who died from it. If I hadn’t left the city in 1979 just before the disease starting spreading, who knows how it could have affected me too. As a nurse it caught up with me later in the Midwest as I started seeing infected patients. In Florida for a time, one of my jobs was to visit infected people and teach them how to inject a new medication that was having really promising results. Thankfully today, AIDS doesn’t have to be the death sentence it was in the past, but infected people have to be identified and treated, and everyone needs to be taught prevention.

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Miss Panama 2018

For the first time an indigenous woman, Rosa Montezuma, has been chosen to represent Panama in the Miss Universe competition. This is significant because she grew up in the Comarca (indigenous territory) and life there is really tough, especially for girls and women.

A welcome home by her people after winning the crown.

Check out this Wikipedia article especially the second half that talks about daily life in the Comarca. They live by subsistence farming without running water or electricity, or many other things we consider necessities. Poverty and malnutrition are very real problems. Many places aren’t accessible for parts of the year, and transportation is by foot or horse. This makes access to health care and education almost impossible for many. They speak their native languages and many of the men and even more of the women don’t speak Spanish. Rosa, however, against these great odds went to school, then high school, and then to Panama City for a university education.

Read more about her story in her own words HERE.

Rosa Montezuma

When you grow up in a culture, in a way of life and that’s all you have experienced it’s hard to imagine becoming something different, and even harder to actually do it. This young woman deserves a whole lot of credit, as does her family who encouraged her. She wants to be an inspiration to others, especially the women and girls, that you can rise above your circumstances and change your life.

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Fun in the Neighborhood

Tuesday morning, last week, we woke up to this –

That is our front gate

They are putting in sewer lines. Word is, this is part of a 2-3 year project to put sewer in the entire city,  build a treatment plant, and then hook up all the houses. I was also told that many of the power lines will also be put underground to make the city look nicer.

It’s been an interesting and fun week talking with the guys, watching them work, and watching their progress. I feel like we have been treated very well. People have been around twice to talk with residents and hand out information. Another guy came around after work started to answer any questions and give us the phone number to call for any problems or questions. There is a sign put out every night with all the pertinent and emergency phone numbers. At the end of the day the street is leveled out and smoothed so everyone can get in and out with their cars.

So, day 1, they did the section in front of our house.

They were very particular about the work. The bottom of the trench was perfectly flat and smooth, strings were run, things that looked like survey equipment were brought out, and only then did they put the pipe in the hole. They covered the dirt with plastic until they were ready to put it back in, and when they were done the dirt was put back and the road carefully smoothed over. They guy with the big backhoe machine is a real artist! It’s like the machine is an extension of his hands and it’s very cool to watch.

Day 2, Wednesday. They started on the next section of road, and dug side trenches to connect house hookups to the pipe laid yesterday.

The workers called me over to explain the hookup for our house and show me the pipe that was being connected. They left it with the capped off pipe at ground level, easy to find and available for later. I also found out that the cement disk is the bottom of a manhole that will be in front of our house.

They again left the street flat and smooth except for the man hole. That had an orange fence around it, a sign and warning cone, and another sign farther up the street.

Work continued in a similar fashion for the rest of the week, digging for the next section of pipe, and for the connections to the houses. The man hole, however turned out to be quite a thing!

Day 3, Thursday, work continues on the base of the man hole.

Day 4, Friday, work continues on the manhole. But, now there is banging in the hole all morning as they chip away at the cement. By now I’ve had a couple really nice conversations with the head engineer so we know each other. He said they had the wrong size main part. It was meant for the man hole at the end of the street. This one is smaller so they are having to make the base smaller. To further complicate things, this crew hasn’t done this before so they are learning as they go.

Day 5, Saturday. Yes, a 6 day work week is quite normal here. And, this is heavy work in the hot sun or whatever Mother Nature wants to give them.

The saga of the man hole continues, and does the chipping away.

Those poor guys! I don’t know how many times they lifted that thing in and out of the hole. Hopefully it doesn’t go like this again because there are a lot more man hole locations marked on the streets in just our neighborhood alone.

This is probably enough of the story for the moment, and it was the end of the week for them. They again left the orange fence around the man hole and put up the signs and warnings, so it must not be ready to cover yet.

More later….

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Terrible Business Practices

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, not sure if I want to post it. I try to keep complaining and negativity to a minimum but if this helps any of you avoid a bad situation, I’ll be glad I shared it.

There are reasons to avoid shopping at certain places, reasons to avoid supporting certain businesses. Walmart was at the forefront of this article. I have heard their employees aren’t paid well, and neither are their suppliers which allows them to keep prices low enough to squeeze out local businesses, and keeps their employees and suppliers barely surviving. But this?! I read this article a few days ago and I’m still angry.

I am reposting the article from the New York Times in its entirety here. Be very careful where and how you shop, and don’t use those self checkout lines! I don’t know how this is allowed to go on except the victims don’t tend to have the money to hire lawyers and fight back, and they feel powerless against a business that feels big enough to crush them.

They’re Falsely Accused of Shoplifting, but Retailers Demand Penalties

Walmart and other companies are using aggressive legal tactics to get the money back, demanding payments even when people haven’t been convicted of wrongdoing.

by Michael Corkery

MOBILE, Ala. — Crystal Thompson was at home watching the Rose Bowl parade when a county sheriff came to arrest her for shoplifting from the local Walmart.

Ms. Thompson, 43, was baffled and scared. An agoraphobic, she had not shopped at a Walmart in more than a year. She was taken to a Mobile jail, searched, held in a small room and required to remove her false teeth, something she didn’t even do in front of her husband.

Four days after she returned home, the letters from Walmart’s lawyer started to arrive. The lawyer demanded that Ms. Thompson pay the company $200 or face a possible lawsuit. She received three letters over two months in early 2016.

Shoplifting is an intractable problem for retailers, costing stores more than $17 billion a year, according to an industry estimate. To get the money back, many companies employ aggressive legal tactics and take advantage of loosely written state laws, pushing for restitution even when people have not been convicted of wrongdoing.

Many of the laws were established so retailers could pursue shoplifters without clogging up the courts. Retailers, though, often move on both fronts, pressing criminal charges against suspects, while demanding that they pay up before cases are resolved.

In many states, retailers do not have to return the money they collect if the cases are ultimately dismissed or the people are cleared. A Walmart executive, in a court deposition, acknowledged that the company did not follow up to check on whether people it sought money from had been convicted of shoplifting.

A letter sent to Ms. Thompson by the Palmer Reifler law firm demanding payment. She received three letters over two months.

Walmart and other companies have created well-oiled operations, hiring law firms to send tens of thousands of letters a year. Walmart set a collection goal of about $6 million in 2016 for one of its go-to firms, Palmer Reifler & Associates, according to a court paper filed as part of a lawsuit Ms. Thompson brought against the retailer. The firm also pointed out to Walmart that minors tended to pay off more frequently, the filing said.

“It is my word against this company,” said Ms. Thompson, whose criminal case was dismissed after no one from Walmart appeared at a hearing to testify against her. “I’m nobody special. I didn’t feel like I had a prayer.”

Walmart declined to comment on individual cases, citing continuing litigation.

“While there are multiple steps that our associates follow before initiating a civil claim against a customer, people can make mistakes,” the company said in a statement. “We are deeply sorry when that happens. We continually evaluate the effectiveness and benefit of our programs.”

Starting decades ago, the retail industry lobbied state legislatures for legal recourse to pursue shoplifters with fines. Retailers argued that the penalties would go a long way toward deterring future theft, and that rampant shoplifting ate into already thin profit margins, potentially raising prices for consumers.

In some states, companies have been able to collect more than the value of the allegedly stolen items, up to $1,000 in some instances. Despite numerous lawsuits against retailers and news reports about collection tactics, the laws have remained largely intact.

Maryland is one of the few states to revise its shoplifting statutes. In 2016, the state began requiring retailers to report the number of collection letters they send. To date, no retailer has complied with the new requirements, according to state records.

“The most powerful company in the world called me a thief and threatened to sue me,” Yatarra McQueen of Montgomery, Ala., said in a court document. “I was terrified.” The criminal shoplifting case against her was dismissed.
Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

In Illinois, a 2015 proposal to reduce the penalties that retailers can demand from shoplifting suspects died in the legislature. One of the bill’s sponsors said an industry lobbyist had warned him that the issue was a “third rail” among retailers with deep political influence in the state.

“There is no evidence that these laws have decreased shoplifting or decriminalized petty crime at all,” said Ryan Sullivan, an assistant professor at the Nebraska College of Law who studies the impact of shoplifting laws.

Yatarra McQueen got ensnared in the system after she exchanged an inflatable mattress for a grill at a Walmart in Montgomery, Ala.

Store employees suspected that she had stolen the mattress. But they let her make the exchange and leave the store.

A few days later, Ms. McQueen found an arrest warrant in her mailbox. She drove to a detention center, where she was searched and made to wear a blue jump suit.

At the same time, Walmart forwarded her name to Palmer Reifler. The firm sent her two letters demanding that she pay $200 or face a potential lawsuit on top of the criminal charge, according to a suit she later filed against Walmart. Ms. McQueen said she was scared of being sued, but she did not have the money to pay.


A monthly log of suspected shoplifting from the Walmart in Semmes, Ala. 

“The most powerful company in the world called me a thief,” Ms. McQueen said in a court document. “I was terrified.”

No one from Walmart showed up at her criminal trial, and the case was dismissed. While she was awaiting trial, Ms. McQueen said, her temporary nursing license was put on hold for nearly six months.

“This is an unpopular constituency,” said Christian Schreiber, a lawyer who filed a lawsuit in California state court against Home Depot over the practice. The suit resulted in a settlement for about 3,500 people who received demand letters from Palmer Reifler. “These are people accused of theft, so there is not a big interest in their rights.”

In Burlington, N.C., Anna Marie Martin said two police officers “threw” her on a couch, handcuffed her and took her to jail, according to a lawsuit she filed against Walmart. Her alleged crime: stealing a Bryan Adams CD and two others, totaling $25.62, then hitting a car in the Walmart parking lot and driving away.

Palmer Reifler sent her two letters demanding that she pay $150 within 20 days. “You may be held civilly liable” for as much as $1,000, the letters said.

Both letters were sent before the authorities determined that Ms. Martin had been “mistakenly charged” and dropped the criminal case, according to her suit. A Walmart employee had told the police that she was “80 percent sure” that Ms. Martin was the thief.

Lesleigh Nurse with her husband, Ed, in Semmes. She was was accused of stealing groceries from a self-checkout line while she shopped with her husband and two children at a Walmart. Her criminal case was eventually dismissed, but “I can’t erase what people think of me in the back of their mind,” Ms. Nurse said.
Credit  William Widmer for The New York Times

Ms. Martin recently settled her suit with Walmart for an undisclosed sum.

For many, a mere charge of shoplifting can do damage.

Lesleigh Nurse was accused of stealing groceries from a self-checkout line at a Walmart outside Mobile while she shopped with her husband and two children. She said that Walmart refused to show her video surveillance footage of the alleged crime. In the weeks after her arrest, Ms. Nurse said she got at least two letters from Palmer Reifler demanding $200, but she was advised by her lawyer not to pay.

Ms. Nurse appeared in court three times. No witnesses from Walmart ever showed up, she said, and her case was eventually dismissed. The letters stopped coming to Ms. Nurse once her case was dropped.

But Ms. Nurse has still had to repair her reputation. The day after she reported to jail, an internet police blotter posted her mug shot on a popular Facebook feed. Her husband said he had to pay more than $100 to the site’s operator to take down her photo.

“I can’t erase what people think of me in the back of their mind,’’ she said in an interview.

In a deposition this year in Ms. Thompson’s civil case, a senior Walmart manager at the time, said Walmart did not audit whether the people who received the demand letters had committed a crime.

He said such due diligence was the responsibility of Walmart’s outside law firms, which had “expertise” in the area.

Video footage of Ms. Thompson’s daughters at the Walmart in Semmes, showing their attempts to scan groceries in the self-checkout area.

“What investigations do you expect the law firms to conduct to determine whether these allegations are true?” Ms. Thompson’s lawyer David McDonald asked the executive in a deposition.

The executive replied: “We do not get involved in their processes because they are an independent contractor.”

In Alabama, Palmer Reifler hired a lawyer who had not practiced law in 27 years to sign letters sent to shoplifting suspects. The lawyer said he was employed part time at a funeral home while also working for Palmer Reifler. In a deposition, he said he was typically paid a retainer of $200 a month to sign collection letters.

The law firm did not return calls seeking comment.

In Ms. Thompson’s suit, a Walmart employee acknowledged in a deposition that he mistakenly accused her of shoplifting in December 2015.

He said it had appeared that one of Ms. Thompson’s daughters failed to scan about $70 worth of groceries at the self-checkout line.

The employee followed Ms. Thompson’s daughter out to the parking lot and wrote down the license plate of her car, which was registered to her mother. Based in part on the license plate, Walmart sought a criminal complaint against Ms. Thompson.

Mr. McDonald said that if Ms. Thompson’s daughter took the groceries without scanning them properly, it was by mistake. Video surveillance, reviewed by The New York Times, shows her daughter trying to scan and rescan groceries at the checkout machine for about 17 minutes.

Walmart has not filed shoplifting charges against Ms. Thompson’s daughter.

“They are playing games with people’s future,” Ms. Thompson said.

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