Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama and the Economy

One thing that really sucks is that when the economy turns around, Obama is going to get all the credit even though it is a natural business cycle.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

China's Gymnasts

Well if you have been keeping up with the Olympics, you have probably heard about the Chinese Gymnast Controversy that the gymnasts were under the age allowed to compete (On the link there are also some good age revealing pictures of these little girls). A former Olympian describes the advantages to youth in the sport in a CNN video. Also on that video is a reference to a Chinese gymnast who won the bronze medal in 2004 who now admits she was underage when she competed.

For starters, I couldn't care less who won the gold and clearly the Americans were falling all over the place, so that's not what this about. It's just that the Chinese have a "whatever it takes" attitude when it comes to them. And I mean with respect to every aspect of life. Cheating is something that is considered acceptable if it advances their causes. Now obviously not all of them are like this, but overall it seems they have a different culture when it comes to intellectual property and some other avenues of life. This seems to be well documented in China related books, such as the Wall Street Journal's, One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China. My own personal experiences in grad school also confirmed this.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Racial Tensions

So apparently Obama becoming president will "set back" racial tensions. Some groups will always find reasons to create problems and drama no matter what happens and it really reflects down upon the group as a whole. This happens in many aspects especially in politics where some extremist liberals or conservatives make the whole party that they are apart of look bad.

Also in the article, a columnist for The American Conservative magazine makes an excellent point about white people:

"So many whites want to be able to say, 'I'm not one of them, those bad whites. ... Hey, I voted for a black guy for president' "

Monday, July 21, 2008

Those Racist Black Holes

This politically correct crap has gone over-board with black racists. A black commissioner and a black judge seem to think that black holes are racist. There is a black racism problem in this country that seems to be acceptable (Rev Wright, anybody?). Did these two geniuses really think that this guy invented this scientific term right on the spot to make a racial comment? Could it be called a black hole because light cannot escape them and they look black in space?

Should we rename black widows? Black mumbas? What is a social acceptable term for these creatures? African-American Mumbas? I'm kidding. :P

Media Coverage

It has been obvious to me all along (check previous blog entries) that the media favors Obama to any candidate.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Caution Advised When The Camera Is On

It just goes to show, that you have to be really careful with your words when the camera is rolling. You could have a hot microphone, or things might come back to haunt you years later. This is especially relevant if you are a politician, because the opposition will put together a team that will analyze absolutely every comment you've ever said on video. If you've made diametrical statements, they are going to find it and they will use it against you! This has been especially useful for McCain's team to assemble a video of Obama flip-flopping on his war stance where it appears he has been for and against particular issues within a relatively short period of time.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Warrantless Eavesdropping

Well, it seems more American rights are wiped clean in the name of terrorism as each year passes. The telecom immunity and warrantless wiretap bill passed yesterday (another Obama flipflop) which allows the government to listen into your communications as easily as flipping a switch. It also provides immunity for telecom companies who provided information to the government when it was still illegal. As my previous post discussed, when something is illegal, isn't it still illegal, regardless of what future law is passed?

You and I both know the terrorist label can be thrown around loosely to eavesdrop on anyone they choose. And of course, most spineless Americans are okay with just about anything the government proposes in the name of "security" and "freedom." The sheep just follow the herd.

This bill is, of course, Bush's baby since he was the one who requested telecoms to break the law from the get-go. I'm sure if Bush had his way, we'd all be tagged with GPS chips. Luckily, courts do still have some power and blocked his attempt at keeping white house visitors secret. I think it is pretty important that our political leaders be transparent with matter such as these. I swear our country tries to becomes more like the KGB as each year that passes (especially with Bush running the show).

So, the following is a little off-topic, but my point is to demonstrate negative side-effects of bad laws.

A good example of how a law intended for one thing and snares someone else would be the Spitzer hooker scandal. One of the provisions in The [un]Patriot[otic] Act required banks to report "suspicious" bank transactions. The governor was buying his hookers with quite a few wire transfers. I guess he should have used money orders. Of course, the standard sophomoric American mind, says "good, it caught someone who was breaking the law." Well not so good when you think about how the law was supposed to snare terrorists, not unethical politicians. This is just one highly publicized case that caught someone doing something illegal. What about all the unpublished, insignificant cases that don't lead to headlines?

It doesn't seem completely unreasonable to me the prospect of one person having multiple wire-transfers. Family members who live in a poor country, perhaps? A family member in need of some money but you can't get it all at once. Perhaps a family member's health goes from okay, to poor to really bad in a multi-week period, so you wire money multiple times to take care of a procedure, medicine or other costs. Let's think up some other situations - add a comment to this post!

Would you appreciate having to explain yourself to the government why you are moving your money? Wouldn't having to meet with the FBI make you even a little nervous even though you are 100% sure you did nothing illegal? Would you want them examining your life before even letting you know about it or letting you explain the situation? Welcome to warrantless eavesdropping.

Think about the other provisions that KGB-type Acts allow the government to do that you aren't even aware of? What doesn't get published? You think this is the first time some of these new acts have snared a non-terrorist? Think again.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Return Of The True Parties

Originally, Republicans and Democrats had different roles than they do today. Back in Lincoln's time, Republicans were more like today's Democrats and Democrats were more like today's Republicans. Then their roles switched places at some point in history so that Republicans became known as a the party of smaller government, less taxes and less spending, and Democrats became known as the party with large government, more taxes and more spending.

Stay with me here.

The parties then flipped places again around the late 1970s. This was Reagan's time. Spending skyrocketed and drove the country into a massive budget deficit. Dubya Sr. did the same. Fiscal responsibility went right out the window with these Neo-Republicans, or Neo-Cons, if you must. Then Bill Clinton, a Democrat, had to clean up a big mess. He raised taxes, of course, and created a lot of social programs, but he did manage to leave a budget surplus at the end of his term - the largest in US history. Then Dubya showed up to the scene, and it is obvious this rocket scientist slept through his MBA accounting classes because taxes went down and spending went up. He managed to create the largest budget deficit in US history.

So, as you can see, Republicans became Democrats and Democrats became Republicans in regards to at least fiscal responsibility.

I think the election of 2008 will flip the party roles again. McCain's record definitely shows that he is fiscally responsible and is against wasteful spending such as earmarks. He has made it a campaign priority. Obama has given lip-service to fiscal responsibility, but much is left to be seen. His main budget income source comes from ending the Iraq war, which he has refused to promise any any deadlines for. I don't care what any politician says about ending the war soon; this war will go on until the Iraqis are able to manage their own country and this doesn't appear to be likely for many years to come. This means Obama's plan is going to fall short - way short.

Both proposed budgets seem to fall short of projections, but McCain has at least addressed the fact that spending in America is out of control, and he has also accounted for the inevitability of a long Iraq presence.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Young Women and Old Men

Most people would probably agree that it is disgusting for young women in their 20's to sleep with men in their 60's, and 70's, right? How about a man in his 80's? Before you continue, think about that. What kind of woman comes to mind? This morning I was listening to the radio where a 20 year-old model admits that she sleeps with an 82 year old. At this point, you are probably cringing from disgust.

But then I tell you that the 82 year old is hugh hefner (I deliberately put his name in lowercase so that it wouldn't stand out as you were reading). Suddenly your perception changed slightly, and the 82 year old man doesn't seem as disgusting. Why is that? Nothing has changed except that you've put a name and a face to the 82 year old. I find this to be a weird concept.

I don't buy into the media brainwashing, so I still think it's pretty foul, but obviously the general public doesn't think so. His and his bunnies lifestyle's are glamorized through TV shows, magazines and radio, and there are plenty of people who seem to enjoy the coverage.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Wage Gap

There is a common misconception in the media, politics and the general public. It is the concept of wage discrimination towards women. Unscrupulous politicians, like Obama, pay lip service to fixing "the problem" in order to garner more votes. It's a frequent sound-bite that captures attention because it uses the word "discrimination" and it sounds "unfair."

Yes, it is true that women on average earn approximately 77 percent of what men earn. The key phrase here is "on average." This means that when you take all the men's salaries and and take all the women's salaries and throw them into separate pots and divide by the total number in each pot, the average salary is the result. This is not the same as picking only a specific job function, like teachers, and comparing the averages. This is also not the same as knowing the difference in salary between your aunt Sally and cousin Frank.

As my above explanation demonstrates, much of what determines what one makes is what they do for a living. (Wow! What an insight, eh?). The point is that women on average choose lower paying careers, such as teachers and receptionists whereas men choose higher paying careers such as scientists and engineers. This by itself makes an important point: If there are more men than women in higher paying careers and fewer men than women in lower paying careers, then clearly, men are going to have a higher average salary. Holding other factors constant, the only way you will get the wages to equalize is if you have an equal number of men and women in every career.

But there are other reasons why women earn less than men. But I thought you said.... Yes, the key phrase was "holding other factors constant." Aren't you paying attention?

Some other factors are personal preferences and experience. Men are more willing than women to work long hours, undertake frequent business travel, work in dangerous (hazard pay) or labor intensive (construction) industries, and stay with a particular company for longer periods of time.

Also, on average, men have more work experience. This is narrowing though because women are holding off on starting a family until later in life or are skipping it altogether. And when they do start a family, they are more likely these days to re-enter the workforce and have shorter durations of maternity leave.

But there are potentially lots of unobserved factors that influence wages that cannot be measured. Perhaps men are better salary negotiators, for example. How do you measure that?

There are tons of reports that come out every year by feminist groups, such as the American Association of University Women, that highlight the news catchers (i.e. women earn less!), barely brush over the facts and reasons and then attribute any unknown to whatever point they are trying to make (i.e discrimination). Whenever you run any economic model, you're not going to be able to account for everything. So just lumping any residual effect together and labeling it as "discrimination" is misleading.

Still not convinced? You have to ask yourself one thing: If a company could pay women less for the same quality of work, why would it ever hire a man? To maximize profits, it would make sense to only hire women!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Flying Without ID

Up until June 23, it will be possible to fly without showing ID. I didn't know this and you probably didn't either because it isn't something well publicized and goes against all the signs at the airport informing fliers to show ID.

I would use a fake name if I could. Why? It doesn't mean I'm a terrorist, it just means I want privacy and don't want my name entering some government database that datamines for information. Or being tracked. I don't want anyone not in my circle to know where I am. Why? It's nobody's business, that's why.

And really, what real security is added by checking a name? I'm sure a well-funded terrorist could get some genuine looking falsified documents and book his or her flight under a pseudonym.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Obama on NAFTA

Obama is against NAFTA (paragraph 7).

Obama is for NAFTA.

It has been suggested he might be ::gasp:: "Political positioning."

Four years ago when John Kerry "flip flopped," the media drove his campaign into the ground. But this hasn't happened yet with B. Hussein Obama [sorry ;)]. If we compare the media on Hillary vs Obama, there's no surprise that it hasn't happened, and it's a safe bet to say that it won't happen.

I think Obama just wants to remove as many controversial issues as he can out of the equation involving him against whatever his current opponent happens to be. This way when voters go to the polls, voters will not be able to factor that particular issue into their voting decision. If it is a major issue, the risk of being on the wrong side of the fence is removed. Presto.

When he was competing against Hillary, her position was Anti-NAFTA, so he was as well. Now that she is out of the way and McCain is pro-NAFTA, Obama warms up to it.

Let's take the farm bill (which is another item I need to rant about). Originally before he or anyone else realized he even had a chance in the election (Dec 07) he was against the bloated 2008 Farm bill. But by May 2008 he was for it, naturally because Hillary had been supporting it the whole time. Read the outstanding USA Today article.

Isn't this neat? There are plenty of other Obama flip-flops for your reading pleasure, such as his war funding stance.

When competing against Hillary, he lined up his message with hers. Now competing against McCain, he is lining up his message with his.

By the time Obama is done, the voting decision will have come down to:
1. old guy
2. young guy

Monday, June 2, 2008

Delegate Divide

The final DNC decision is utter crap. It's like they are making the rules up as they go along to favor Obama in any scenario. Okay, not only is it crap that delegates only get half a vote (see my previous blog entry about this), but it is also crap that Obama was awarded ANY delegates from Michigan. Hillary was awarded 69 and Obama was awarded 59 (55 plus an additional 4 which would have been hers based on the percentage of the vote alone).

If you withdrawal your name from the ballot, why should you get any? Think about this scenario: What if Obama had low support in Michigan and people voted 'uncommitted' just because they didn't like any of the other candidates (e.g. Clinton). Then this exact same scenario pops up where Obama can complain that "[his] name wasn't even on the ballot." Suddenly he gets almost half. What a strategy don't you think?

MY name wasn't on any of the ballots, so can I complain and get half of the other candidate's?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Another Obama Priest Association

Does this priest think he is black? Look at the way he speaks and the races of those in the congregation and what he says. Obama has known this priest for 20 years too. Isn't America seeing a pattern yet? Obama can speak out and say he disagrees with what these people say, but actions and associations speak louder than words! It is obvious that the people Obama associates with think today's white people must pay for what their great great great grandfathers did with slaves. That second video is a -must watch-. America must pay? What about those Americans whose grandparents were born outside of the United States (like mine)?

It's really cute that politically correct white people are about to elect an "afro-centric" cult member to the presidency. Oh yeah, and why hasn't it really been brought to attention that 90% of the black community votes for a black candidate just because he has the same skin color as them. Isn't that kind of racist? If 90% of white people were voting for the white candidate, we'd be hearing about it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

100 Years In Iraq

Of course in politics, words are often taken out of context. Back in January, McCain was lampooned by Democrats for saying that America could be in Iraq for 100 years. Watch the video. He is not referring to a continued insurgent conflict, but to a military presence or base. He clearly states, "As long as Americans are not being harmed, it would be fine with me." He references the fact that we have been in places like Korea for 50 years and Japan for 60 years. The point, people, is that war hasn't been waging the entire time in those countries and the Democrats are trying to imply 100 years of waging war is what McCain says is fine with him. Something to think about: has our sustained presence maintained stability in those regions?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

OMG! It's The End Of The World!

My son saw some human flesh!! Ay dios mio, what the hell am I gonna do?!?

Big deal lady, get over it. Maybe America should move beyond its Puritan roots and quit shaming the human form. I'm so sick of the hypocritical behavior in this country where sex is (quasi) taboo, and everyone does it.

And remind me again why children have to be completely shielded from a natural human behavior that resulted in them coming into existence?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What A Sycophant!

Gee, you think Edwards is looking to be #2 on the presidential ticket? A little late pal - your actions are transparent. I bet you would have endorsed Clinton if the delegate count were reversed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Student Loan Debt

Student loans are not as cheap as they used to be. These days Federal Stafford Loans are set at a fixed 6.8% interest rate and if you need more money than the $20,500 a year limit, Graduate PLUS loans are available at 8.5%. Seven and 8.5%... are you kidding me? This is so ridiculous - they used to be 3%! Student loans should be 3% since they cannot be discharged in the event of a bankruptcy and lenders have the option to garnish your wages. Where's their risk? Seven percent is a great return for a lender, almost on par with the stock market!

The government has firmly declared that education is not a priority in this country. In 2006, Dubya signed a bill into law that cut $12.7 billion out of education funding, which caused the federal student loan interest rates to soar. There was chatter that the Democrats were going to fix the student loan problem when they took control, and there have been some House votes, but today the status quo remains. Hillary Clinton has pledged to make some changes as President, but now it looks like she won't win the nomination.

The leaders in our government must want our country to lose its edge in innovation because bright people will either put off going to school (maybe forever) or will go somewhere else. Technical majors have been declining for years, so the government has been trying to boost math, science and engineering majors. We are still importing our scientists and technical minds. The government's plan is to throw money at organizations, like the National Science Foundation. Uhh Duhhh, if college tuition and student loans keep getting more expensive then there are going to be less graduates overall. And those that do bend over and take it for these ridiculous interest rates will have more incentive to pursue higher paying careers, instead of teaching positions like the government wants.

This hits very close to home for me because I need to borrow $75,000 for graduate school (only the cost of tuition - I've decided to deplete savings for housing and food). You know how much and how long it takes to pay off loans set at 7%? I'm actively trying to make a decision on whether or not I should go because I recognize this as the great burden that it is. Could you imagine 18% student loans?

To put things in perspective, a $75,000 loan @ 7% (which might be higher due to annual loan limits), taken over 3 semesters and deferred for 1.5 years means that by graduation the loan balance will be $80,311. A 10 year re-payment schedule comes out to $932.48 a month, or $111,897 total ($36,898 in interest).

Raise that interest rate to 8% for the same loan terms, and the payments become $983.72, or $118,047 total with $43,047 in interest.

Lower the interest rate to 5% with the same loan terms and the balance at graduation is $78,781, and the payments become $835.60, or $100,272 total with $25,272 in interest.

Surely you'd hope someone about to take out a loan of this magnitude would be getting a high paying career, right? But you have to remember that a lot of these high paying careers are concentrated in large metropolitan areas with high costs of living and high taxes, like California and New York.

Lets see what $932 a month would be before taxes accounting for a 25% average federal tax rate, 7.5% payroll tax and California income tax of 9.3%. It comes out to be $1,482 a month or $17,784 a year. So your $80,000 salary just got lopped to $62,216 before taxes. And that's for ten years folks. Or put another way, after taxes in California, an $80,000 yields $4,182 a month (Yeah, I know, it is pathetic) so your effective take home drops to $3,250 a month. Then lop off $2,000 a month for a 1 bedroom apartment, and wallah!, you're back to being a poor student again!

One last comment:
Student Loan Origination fees. What a crock. Just another way to screw the consumer.

Monday, May 12, 2008

DNA and Fingerprints

Another article emerged about DNA collections during arrests. This time on the state level. One comment exemplifies the problem with taking DNA from people who haven't actually been convicted of any crimes.

I find it very naive the comment made "Those who are innocent have nothing to fear."

I had fraudulent criminal charges laid against me which were eventually thrown out. At the time of charging they took fingerprints. Here's what happened even though the charges were thrown out. The fingerprints were kept on file. As a result my name kept popping up during routine employment inquiries as having a police record. Needless to say that destroyed my career. Secondly there was a break in at a home during which my finger prints were found and I was identified as a suspect. The police took there time in making additional inquiries with the person who reported the crime i.e. my best friend. I was with him when the break in occurred and of course my finger prints were in his house. We regularly visited each other. I have no doubt that if a store was broken into near where I live they would have found my finger prints there since I regularly shop there. The danger is that keeping these kinds of records may prevent a proper police investigation being done into all the circumstances and context in which the so called evidence was found. I am totally opposed to the state having a sample of DNA kept on file for people who have been charged but not convicted. I have gone through years of hell trying to have the police record of my being charged including finger prints being destroyed. We used to have this legal principle innocent until proven the onus seems to be that once charged and even if the charges are thrown out, on any subsequent incident you will automatically be deemed guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.

I understand the pain that Ms Neuman wet through. But we start down a slippery slope once we allow governments to keep these kind of records. The danger at the very least is that the police will see such evidence as being a substitute for a proper investigation.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bad Childhoods

People blame their poor choices in life too much on their "bad" childhoods. I think they just use it as an excuse to shift the blame so that they have a green light to make bad choices and then claim that "all the bad stuff in my life was because of my childhood."

Plus if you think about it, bad childhoods are relative. For the average person, being homeless as a child would pretty much top the score, but Paris Hilton would have had a bad childhood if she had been required to do chores and get a monthly allowance of less than $30k.

Sure you can probably be raised without morals or respect for the law, but that doesn't mean you have to always retain the same values. I have met many people who had poor childhoods (chances are, you have as well), but did they harp on that til the end of time? No, they turned themselves into productive members of society and accomplished many things. Why can't the people who constantly use it as a crutch do the same? Plus, there are plenty of people who had great privileged childhoods and they turn into criminals and worthless members of society.

Flora Jessop's childhood in the FLDS cult apparently turned her to cocaine and stripping. You have to think about the possibility that perhaps this was just the kind of person she was anyway, even before she escaped. Did she not have a choice when she escaped the cult? She could have chosen a constructive path with her newfound freedom, but she chose not to. Why didn't she allocate at least a portion of her blow money on an education or something useful? That stuff isn't cheap, people!

You make your own path in life. You might start out at the bottom of the stairs, but where you end up is ultimately up to you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

DNA Arrest Collections

Here's something kind of scary: The government is going to start collecting DNA samples from everybody they arrest. Let me repeat, you do not have to even be convicted of a crime and your DNA will end up in some database. You know how easy it is to get arrested? I think it goes without saying, but clearly I am against this out of privacy concerns.

Remember, small steps lead to big changes. The government will then start requiring DNA to get passports. Then to get drivers licenses. Then when you're born.

Think about the future technology. You shed dead skin and hair follicles all day long. Pretty soon there could be scanners that detect not only where you are, but where you've been! Sure it is probably a long ways away, but before you know it, the future is here and all those little steps that slowly took away your privacy (and/or freedoms) have now culminated into one giant step from the beginning.

Please reference my post about RFID Passports if you think that one with nothing to hide has nothing to fear.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Obama's Pastor

Well for those of you have been living in a cave, Obama's Pastor of 20 years was filmed saying a lot of "controversial" things. In my opinion, I would classify his statements as complete racism towards white people, but apparently racism towards white people is never recognized in America. Obama was on The View yesterday and claimed, "I never heard him say some of the things that have people upset."

You're telling me that you've been listening to this guy's sermon's for 20 years, he wed you to your wife and he baptized 2 of your kids and this is the first time you've heard him say this kind of crap? What did you just happen to miss "God Damn America" Tuesdays?


From Crude to Screwed

Why do gas prices skyrocket immediately when the cost of crude goes up? This shouldn't happen because there is always a 2-3 month supply that is already in the US that must be run through and used up. Right now the supply is at a 15 year high, and demand is in a "free fall." It's like these companies have a trader on the trading floor who phones into corporate when the price of crude increases. "Jack the price up $0.20 per gallon right now, crude just topped $104!"

It occurs to me that some blatant swindling of consumers is going on here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Irony of Medical Malpractice Limits

When the issue of placing limits on medical malpractice comes up, I always cringe. Bush proposed it for the nation in 2005 and some doctors proposed it for Nevada in 2002 under the biased title: Keep Our Doctors in Nevada. I cringe because I have patients interests in mind and not negligent businesses, who Republicans seem to be so eager to support.

Here are the main points of the law that passed in Nevada:
(a) "non-economic damages," aka pain and suffering or punitive damages, are capped at $350,000.
(b) the defendant can make payments over time for the amount awarded.
(c) the patient has to sue within 1 year instead of two.
(d) new limits on lawyer's contingency fees.

Supporters of medical malpractice caps would want you to believe that the costs of medical malpractice insurance are increasing because frivolous lawsuits are skyrocketing and awarding sinister patients millions of dollars.

First of all, if a lawsuit is really that frivolous, don't you think that a judge with 7 years of education and 10 years of legal experience would see right through it? I mean come on, give a judge some credit, any "frivolous" lawsuit would be tossed right out of court. Second, as stated in a New York times article, "The recent jump in premiums shows little correlation to the rise in claims." In fact, the rise in premiums is tied to their declining investments. Insurance companies lost billions of dollars in the Enron company alone. Legal costs account for less than 1% of health care costs. The study conducted by the prestigious RAND corporation also found that baseless lawsuits were "efficiently thrown out."

Their main argument is to reduce malpractice insurance premiums by placing caps on awards, but this doesn't actually work, so there goes that argument.

And what really is the value of medical malpractice? If a doctor chops off the wrong arm or infects you with HIV, is $350,000 really going to compensate you for your troubles? I doubt it. It's something that will still permanently screw your life up, so can you really even place a number on it? There are probably a few numbers with at least 6 zeros that would at least make you feel better about living with your new found misfortune.

Plus the whole point of not having a limit is that it is a deterrent effect for a negligent corporation. If a company can run a cost-benefit analysis of the risk of getting sued and of giving you crappy care, they will put profits over patient health. This is what a huge clinic in Nevada decided to do recently.

Syringes, needles and/or vials were re-used at the Endoscopy center of Nevada. The center is comprised of about 6 or so clinics, each of which has been shut down as of late. The city is estimating that 40,000 people are at risk for Hepatitis C or HIV. This is a lot of people to be at risk! A brand new needle costs about $1, so a place that uses a thousand needles a day can save a few hundred thousand dollars a year. This adds up as years pass by. Of course the cost of needles was already factored into the price that patients and insurance companies were paying for, so "invisible costs" were passed on. It took 4 years for the medical board to catch onto the Endoscopy center murderers/doctors.

Under the old law, one patient's successful lawsuit would have wiped out their entire net profit from doing this kind of practice. Punitive damages would probably be in the millions to prevent this from ever happening again. But "Keeping our doctors in Nevada" allowed cost-benefit analysis for a company to choose between patient care and profits to become a reality. Dr. Dipak Desai, the leader of the Endoscopy center, was one of the main supporters for this law. Gee, why did he support this law change so much?

So then we come to other wonderful aspects of the new law that all end up screwing the patient. If a patient successfully sues, the guilty malpractice doctor and insurance company is allowed to make payments over time. What is this, the freakin' lotto? Another change is that patients now have to sue within 1 year instead of two. The problem with this is that Hepatitis or HIV takes a long time to show symptoms. It could even take up to 6 months for antibodies to register on a HIV test. The proponents of the law want to close the window for people eligible to file a claim against them. And one of the final changes is limiting contingency fees for lawyers. This sounds nice up front, but all it does is prevent patients from having lawyers take their cases. This just limits the pool of patients that will be able to sue. I'm no fan of lawyers, but I understand that if they take on a contingency case, they risk a lot of time and effort that could take years. If a case doesn't even have the opportunity to net a decent return for their time and risk, then they won't even bother with the case.

So what can we do?

Instead of insurance payments, I propose that every doctor should post a $1 million interest paying bond and have his or her license tied to that bond. This way, instead of passing the burden onto insurance companies, the doctor will be responsible for his or her actions. Plus, it will weed out the bad doctors and allow good doctors to keep their money. When a doctor retires from medicine, they get to redeem their bond. For doctors starting out, there could be a payment plan, with a percentage of the payment going to an insurance company in case a claim is made before the full bond value is reached.

The unfortunate fact is that voters are sheep. I've mentioned this point several times on my blog, if you haven't noticed. They will believe the propaganda and lies that gets spewed, that in the end, put their health at risk. It's easy to buy into the bull the way politicians spin law changes and if you don't stop and think for a minute what their real reason for promoting a change is, it could end up affecting you.

Well Nevada, you got what you asked for! Now 40,000 or more of you are at risk for deadly diseases that were spread by ruthless doctors who only cared about saving a few dollars. As of March, 71 or so have turned up positive. Maybe it is time to rethink this law?

In closing, who in their right mind in today's age would re-use a syringe?? Fifth graders even know that this is deadly. Everybody involved, including nurses, doctors or the people who pick up bio-hazard waste that never noticed needles in the sharpy box should be imprisoned for LIFE and have all their assets donated to the families that are affected by this tragedy. If this were China, they would be publicly EXECUTED. I hope one of these poor patients gets their revenge and murders these bastards - I know I would if they infected me.

Monday, March 24, 2008

RFID enabled e-Passports

The future of America scares me. Why? Because technology is allowing "Big Brother" to become more of a reality as each day passes. Governments are power and money hungry conglomerates. What government wouldn't want complete control over its people (or the world for that matter with America)? And even if the collective governmental society "has your best interests in mind," there will still be those who will be willing to abuse power for their own nefarious gain. Enemy of the State could one day be your reality.

Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) chips are leading the revolution for personal spying. They are now really cheap to produce and can be easily hidden anywhere. These chips can be used for tracking people or items, as Wal-Mart does for all of their inventory.

For a government to have complete power, the second-to-last step would be knowing where you are at all times (being able to control you would be the absolute last step). When RFID enabled National Real ID cards come into existence, that step will be complete. Usually changes come in small waves, however. Governments want to make changes slowly so that you barely notice the taking away of your privacy, rights and liberties. This is known as the Foot-in-the-Door Technique. Also, here in America, the people acquiesce when the word "terrorist" is used somewhere in the propaganda literature, so one can expect more of those citations.

So here comes the new e-Passport. The new e-Passport, issued since Jan 2007, includes a RFID chip that essentially broadcasts your personal information up to 200 feet, given the proper equipment. The government claims that it added RFID in order to make it harder for one to make counterfeit passports, but then why not replace the broadcasting RFID chip with a smart-chip that requires a contact plate to physically touch a machine reader? Or they could have used a 2D optical bar code for extra verification.

As an American, you should be concerned about having a RFID chip in your passport. It is just not safe to run around broadcasting information especially in foreign lands. Someone can pinpoint you out of a crowd as an American. This makes you a target for kidnapping or an explosive device. It is not difficult to build a skimmer as some have done it for under $50. The government originally wasn't even going to include "security features," such as encryption, on the original design until some security groups raised concerns. I put that in quotes because those security features aren't even that that secure, as hackers have already cracked them.

Take the radio shield for instance. It must be completely closed for it to be effective, but have you ever even seen a passport that closed all the way? When mine arrived brand new, it would open about an inch. Unless the average American deliberately takes steps to keep it closed all the time, the "shield" is effectively nullified as shown in numerous YouTube videos. Most Americans probably aren't even aware that the microchip is embedded in their passport and will probably just throw it into their backpack or pocket where it will be exposed in its vulnerable state. And anyway, does it really make sense to include a transmitter and then add "protection" against transmitting? This is like adding bricks to the trunk of a corvette. "Earth to [the] State Department: if you're going to manually scan our passports, why bother using RFID?", says the author of I think he raises a good point.

I'm a huge privacy activist. I don't want people knowing who I am, where I am, or even what I am. I could be a giant meat popsicle and I wouldn't want you to know. I don't even like the fact that the government will scan my passport through their system and inquire as to what I was doing there. As far as I'm concerned, what I do and where I go is none of your business! If I don't have a block of C4 in my luggage, f*** off!

Let's face it, governments and private corporations alike are very bad with security of personal information (e.g lots of laptops containing this sensitive material get lost or stolen). And since the government is so concerned about the security of your information, apparently all it takes is a low level contractor to dig up your business. That's cute.

The good news is that if the RFID chip suddenly stops working, the passport is still a valid worldwide travel document.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Voting Sheep Go "Baaaah"

You ever get the feeling that voters don't know what they are talking about or why they are supporting their candidate? Plenty often the reason boils down some emotional concept such as the personal association of race or gender. It is so stupid to vote for a candidate because with the voter they share the same race, gender, religion, hair color, name, alma mater, organization, or whatever, but people do it all the time. It should come down to the issues that one agrees with.

A man armed with a video camera decided to go to a crowded area in LA where Obama, Hillary, and McCain supporters were in excess supply. He approached people carrying political signs and put them on the spot with direct and pointed questions. Some people are able to answer, but others fold, give up and then walk away.

One woman claims to be voting for Hillary because she is a woman. That is about all she is able to give for a reason.

Another Hillary supporter bases his decision to support Hillary because his union does. Translation: "Baaaah."

Obama supporters are in a class all by themselves. Do you ever get the feeling that Obama supporters are reading from the same script? You constantly hear the same vacuous statements, such as:

Obama is going to lead to change in America.
Obama is going to unite the people.
Obama is less partisan than Hillary.

Baaaah Baaaah Baaaah.

Or they constantly make flat out inaccurate statements, such as claiming Obama has more political experience than Hillary or McCain. Uh, yeah right.

In one of these LA videos, some guy starts talking about how Obama will liberate the people and end slavery. When the camera man presses him, he just walks away. Which country is this guy talking about? Darfur?

Obama supporters so attached to the "change" slogan keep repeating the same "arguments" without premises to back them up. I don't think Hillary has the same kind of following with an emotional keyword leading to the same statements, but if you can think of some empty phrases that you keep hearing, please add a comment.

Friday, March 14, 2008

No Checks and No Balances

Bush and Co.: "What, warrants? Why would we want those? Those are just going to slow us down in the War-Against-Terror."
Typical American: "Rights? We don't need rights if it stops the terrorists! Freedom's not free!"

W wants an immunity provision in a bill that will protect telecommunication companies against being sued for freely giving up information to authorities without warrants. This should not be allowed! If you decide to break the current law, then you should reap the consequences of breaking that law. If you change the law later, you still broke the law when it was a law!

Of course everyday it would seem as if America is getting farther and farther away from what the Founding Fathers had intended for this country. The Bill Of Rights and other laws protecting you and me were implemented for good reason. But after the terrorist attack of Sept 11, 2001, Americans will freely give up their rights without question in the name of national security. National spying is okay now. Rendition is okay. Torture is okay, even though the "United States does not commit torture." Searching your house without you even knowing about it is acceptable (Hey, they don't leave a mess, right?).

The government thinks their own laws do not apply to them. This is a very dangerous thing to have happen in a supposedly free country. The FBI has abused and probably still does abuse national security request letters. Sometimes they would try to get a warrant, but other times why bother? If their request was denied by a judge, they thought, "Let's do it anyway." You can't just sideswipe civil liberties whenever you feel like it. But Americans are okay with this if the T-bomb (yes, I did) is thrown around. If you don't see something inherently wrong with governmental abuse of power, then you are a typical dumb American sheep. This kind of abuse of power leads to very bad things. I'll let your imagination run wild.

Now usually when polarized issues like this get discussed, the George Orwellian counter-argument shows up: "Well if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear." Whenever I hear this neo-con crap, it makes me want to puke. Tell you what, give me a key to your house, because I will gladly poke around and invade your privacy. I don't care how clean you are, I will find something you wouldn't want me to see after going through your financial records, phone calls, and computer files. Care to take this challenge?

More arguments against the "nothing to hide or fear" statement can be found here and here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Obama Again

Sorry about all the Obama posts going on, but this is a big issue right now. I checked his website again today and I noticed a stark difference from when I checked it a few months ago. Has anyone else noticed that Obama has trimmed down references to uplifting minorities and "expanding diversity?" I must have counted at least 30 references the last time I checked, but now I can only find about 5.

Obama's Black Success

I strongly agree with those who claim that Barack Obama would not have even gotten this far if he were white. However, it is not politically correct to make a statement like that and the 'racist' label gets thrown around as Ferraro found out. Granted, Obama is a great speaker. I do agree with that. But let's look at the facts:

-Most blacks are voting for Obama, just because he is black. Because of this he can easily secure votes for large percentages of the populous without even having to sell them! You can guess who will win the southern states. Millions of black people, who have never had a care in the world about their political leaders and have never voted ever before in their lives, are signing up in droves to vote for him. If he were white, this would not be happening.

-He is running on this campaign of "change." It sounds like a nice idea, but what is going to change? The skin color of the president and more affirmative action (an objective of his according to his website)? Yeah, I agree, change sounds great. The very word invokes thoughts of newness, curbing of corruption, ending political earmarks that cost taxpayers billions, national healthcare, lower taxes and other fancifully ideas. But has he explicitly even said what is going to be so different from the other candidates? I urge you to analyze his speeches and debates and watch him give vacuous responses to questions. He is using the word to invoke favorable feelings for voters and having a different skin color gives his statement of change 'credibility' because having the first black president is a big change! If a white candidate tried to pull the "change campaign," people would scoff and say, "Yeah right."

-Because he is black and running on a campaign of "change", voters will overlook a lot of important points. He has only been a senator for 3 years. Hillary has been for 7, was the first lady for 8, and was a consumer lobbyist for more than a decade. Hillary has the most political experience! If this guy were white, people would be flag-waving his lack of experience like Kerry did to Edwards in 2004. Republicans, like the President, will be silent about this until he wins the nomination, then they will smash and bash. Wouldn't you want the weaker candidate to win the nomination of your competition?

Obama Mania

I have been noticing over this political season that the media completely slams Hillary, but barely says anything negative about Obama. I thought it was just me, but I have heard the same viewpoint from others. This seems especially evident on CNN. It is like some politically correct way of reporting on the candidates because Obama is "black" and it is racist to say anything bad about a black man, or something. While reading an article by a black commentator about throwing away Florida's and Michigan's votes, I came across an interesting comment by Steve Dumford that raises some points:

Of course CNN would decide to highlight a commentary that is essentially pro-Obama. Obama is not interested in the people of Michigan and Florida being heard because both states were won by Hillary. Obamas name was on the Michigan ballot and he decided to take it off....probably thinking that if this question about seating their delegates came up he could cry foul and say his name wasn't even on the ballot. He did run a campaign ad in Florida but said he didn't campaign there. Media bias in this primary is absolutely astounding. CNN can't run a story about Hillary without putting it in a negative context and can't run a story about Obama without slobbering all over the place. So they decide to highlight a commentary by a black commentator that essentially takes the position that, in the end , would benefit Obama. Two major commentators on MSNBC made outrageous sexist statements about Hillary and one had to apologize and the other was suspended. Why isn't thaere any attention being paid to the fact that in state after state a huge majority of black voters go for Obama just because he is black. If the situation were reversed you wouldn't ever hear the end od the cries of racism. Bill and Hillary Clinton have championed black minority issues all their elected lives. Seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan. Why were really ever discounted in the first place?

The truth of the matter is, that if Obama had won both of those states, the same commentator would have taken a polar opposite position and would be up in arms about how the voters have been silenced!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Who ya Gonna Believe?

Everyone has an opinion. Here's two articles about health care reform that stroke the cat in opposite directions.

Article 1

Article 2

Friday, March 7, 2008

Florida and Michigan

As you may know, Florida and Michigan were stripped of their delegates for holding their primaries earlier than they were supposed to. It seemed that every damn state wanted to be first in line. So what's a voter to do? The state announces that the primary is on day X. First off, considering that delegates and super-delegates are only now beginning to be understood by the general public, the majority of voters probably didn't even know that the primary was too early and violated party rules. And even if a voter did, what is he or she going to say, "No, I'm not going to vote on day X because it violates party rules?" The state said that the primary was on day X, and so voters showed up to vote - it's as simple as that.

So, my question is, why punish the voters? The voters were not the ones who made the decision to hold the primaries early, the state's political leaders were. Why are you going to silence 2 million voters for something that is not even their fault? And for that matter, why punish the candidates (namely Hillary in this case)? Was it Hillary's decision to hold the Florida and Michigan primaries early? No.

You hear all this talk about how Obama is in the lead with total votes and delegates, but they aren't factoring in that additional 600,000 who voted for Hillary in those two states and the majority of the 366 delegates who would have been awarded to her.

Anyway, is anything fundamentally changed if the date of the primary is different than what is 'allowed'? I mean come on. The voters have spoken.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Another USPS Ripoff

Today's rant is about the online change-of-address form. After they spam you with advertisements for magazines and catalogs, they charge you $1. They claim it is to verify that the person making the request is really that person, but then why not put the $1 back onto your card like a refund? Maybe I am wrong here, but it is my understanding that this is a costless process. But even if it is not, why not reduce the fee to just cover the cost of the charge by the credit card company? What are credit card companies charging these day? $0.30 a transaction plus 3%? Make the verification $0.35 then. I know this seems trivial, but if I have to be bombarded with advertisements from a government agency, THEN I SHOULDN'T HAVE TO PAY FOR THE SERVICE!

Doesn't the postal service make enough money? I mean really, $0.43 to mail a piece of paper, which seems to increase on a monthly basis (actually I think it is yearly now). This is outrageous if you really think about it. Luckily I don't mail a lot of things, but when I have to, usually I can only find an outdated stamp that needs to have postage added to it. The new forever stamp solves this problem, except when the postal person sells you on the new Star-Wars commemorative.

What about all the other services they offer? The passport process includes $15 photos and a $30 processing fee. Thankfully you can get your photos elsewhere and spend only $7.50, but if you remember the old days when you could process actual film, it was still $5 to develop an entire roll. The $30 fee is for a guy to look over your passport application and then mail it in. Why don't they just start charging people for standing in line at the post office? Isn't that essentially the same concept?

The delivery confirmation - It's just another way to add $0.75 to your already inflated shipping cost. Is the marginal cost of scanning the package when the post guy delivers it, really $0.75? No, it is probably closer to zero but, hey, I think $0.20 would be fairer and it would still be enough to prevent every person from adding it to every piece of mail they ship.

Stamp collecting - they promote this like it is the best fad to hit America since the 1920's flappers. Why? Because essentially you are just giving them free money! They can print as much postage as they want, and if it is never spent, presto! I used to collect stamps in the 1990's but a collection only yields value if it is a rare commodity. I stopped collecting circa 1999 because they were constantly creating new issues like the New York Times and started heavily promoting stamp collecting as an "exciting hobby for all ages" (translation: if you are dumb enough to give us real currency worth 100 times the exchange for a piece of paper with a picture on it, we'll gladly accept it!). Sure there are probably quite a few ding dongs who collect stamps because "they are pretty" and are spending buckets of money to acquire them, just like beanie-babies, but postage actually provides a service and has a use. I'm not sure how many stamp collectors there are currently, but I'm sure it provides the postal service with a lot of free money that doesn't translate into lower postage costs for the rest of us.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Saddam Hussein Obama

One can discover a lot and uncover hidden thoughts and motivations by observing actions. Take today’s article about the Republican National Convention’s Chairman decrying the use of Barack Obama’s full name. What is the problem? His middle name is “Hussein.” I guess the opposition thinks that there are some American voters who will think Saddam’s corpse is running for president and will vote for it. Then I suppose there are probably a few voters who confuse Osama with Obama and think the terrorist mastermind is drumming up support for universal health insurance. (At Bin Laden's inauguration, in a heavily accented acceptance speech, “Allah Akbar! Death to America”). Are American voters really this stupid? Well... errr... Bush did get voted in twice, so maybe those who oppose the use of "Hussein" have a point. Either way, Obama’s own name can supposedly harm his image and Republicans want to make sure that Democrats play fair.

You might think, “Wow, how charitable that the Republicans will defend their enemy. Maybe they aren’t such a bad bunch after all.”

But what are we really being told here? They want to keep support high for Obama, so he can defeat Hillary and win the nomination. Why do they want this? Because they think it will be easier for McCain to beat Obama than it is to beat Hillary. Hillary is a stronger candidate with the American people and those on the fence who would vote for Hillary will instead vote for McCain if Obama is nominated.

I strongly believe that Hillary would easily win the election against McCain, but it is harder to say if it is a race of Obama vs McCain. McCain is much more moderate than previous Republican nominees, which makes him appealing to a lot of independents who would prefer to go closer to the middle of the political spectrum instead of the far Obama left.

Tennessee got a little excited and jumped the gun a little. Republicans want to hold back on the attacks until after Obama is nominated because that alone will help them out the most and give McCain the best fighting chance. And if Obama beats Hillary what do you think the Republicans are going to do then? They are going to pull out all everything they have to use against him and I wouldn't doubt it if more Hussein and Osama similarities were introduced into the media at that point.

Similar situations occur when Nader runs for presidency, as he recently announced again. Republicans know that Nader draws votes away from the Democratic nominee, so with more Nader support there is less Democratic support. Nader denies this, and actually thinks that he steals Republican votes, but we know that, as a smart man, he can’t really believe it. As my significant other would say, “He’s a closet republican.” Why else would he have so many Republican donors?

In past elections, Democrats have fought to keep Nader off the ballot in some states and Republicans cried foul because “Democracy was being infringed.” Let's cut the crap. You and I know god damn well that if the situation were reversed, with a spoiler on the Republican side, they would be doing the same god damn thing!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

WaMu Update

Cue the $50,000 banner: "Mission Accomplished!"

WaMu refunded my $10.00 excess activity fee after I sent in my letter. It goes to show that if you fight, you can win.

Barack Obama and the National Anthem

Now, I'm sure that everyone heard about the incident where the national anthem was being sung and Barack Obama refused to put his hand over his heart. Obama was quick to fire back that the photo was taken out of context. I figured it probably was as well since that is what politics is all about - misrepresenting your opponent. Well, tonight, poking around YouTube, I came across a video that looks like hardcore evidence against his statement. It looks pretty clear cut to me. Maybe one is not required to put one's hand over his or her heart during the national anthem, but one looks like a jackass when EVERY other candidate is doing just that. What do you think?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Alternative Admissions

My university decided to increase the standards for admission, with a high school GPA entrance requirement set at 3.0. Normally this would increase the overall average quality of the underlying student body and set higher standards for degree attainment, which allows a university to become more recognized nationally. This is a good thing.

Unfortunately there is a caveat. At the same time, the university has decided to implement an "Alternative Admissions" program. What's this, you say? Essentially it is affirmative action, also known as discrimination against white people. So essentially, the standards for admitting white people goes up, but blacks and hispanics get the old standard, even if they aren't as prepared and can't compete academically. You know why I only mentioned blacks and hispanics and omitted asians? Because asians don't have a problem being admitted. As a group, asians are very studious and have high standards for academic achievement. In California, when Prop 209 passed, it eliminated affirmative action and enrollment in UC schools for blacks and hispanics plummeted and Asian enrollment sky-rocketed. Visit the Cal Berkeley campus and take a gander at the student body. Now isn't that an anomaly? The smallest minority group suddenly over represents the student body and benefits when affirmative action is outlawed.

Does anyone else see a problem with affirmative action? If you cannot achieve the minimum standards for enrollment at a university, you should not be admitted, period. If the university looks at everything except race, and if all racial groups have the same intelligence, ability, or whatever, then minorities should naturally be represented at the same percentage level as the general population.

Why are blacks and hispanics not represented in the proper percentages then? Well if someone claims they are less intelligent than whites and asians, like Dr. Watson, who discovered the double helix of DNA and won a Nobel Prize, did, then there would be an outrage and a firing. Personally, I think it is a cultural difference for achievement and attitude, but saying that can also lead to an outrage with Jesse Jackson showing up to protest. If you can't say those two possibilities, then what else is there?

Assuming the university makes their degree attainment "harder" as a result of a more capable student body, minorities will automatically be at a disadvantage if they are admitted under the lower standards because they will be competing against more qualified students. This will increase dropout rates of minorities, and there will be fewer college graduates overall because the more qualified candidates were denied admission.

Plus let's just state the obvious: When you have different requirements for people who differ only by race, then it is blatant racism anyway you look at it.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Making History

Is this a crazy presidential election or what? We're making history on both sides because we've got a woman, a black man, and a 71 year old as the leading contenders!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Excessive Legal Disclosures

When I opened my WaMu account, I think I spent more time than the average consumer does by taking an hour to skim through all the account and legal disclosures. Apparently I didn't spend enough time since I missed the part about getting excess activity fees. But this got me thinking. Why do we have to read 80 pages of text to open a savings/checking account? Why do we have to read through 1000 pages to get a mortgage? Why do businesses require us to sign off on massive amounts of legal jargon all the time?

Advocates will claim that they have to protect themselves from lawsuits so they cover every possible position. They (usually neo-conservatives) are always quick to blame 'frivolous lawsuits' (FLs), but we had huge legal disclosures before the FLs label became commonplace and they still claim that we have FLs now, so obviously that argument is out. The fact of the matter is, most lawsuits aren't 'frivolous.' If they are, don't you think a judge with 7 years of education and many more years of legal training under his or her belt is going to see right through it and toss it right out the window? I mean come on, give judges some credit. Supposedly if all these FLs are still being committed, excessive legal disclosure are then pointless, right? But I digress.

You know what the real reason is? It is a blanket excuse for corporations to screw you. "Read your disclosures!" They know god damn well that the average consumer does not have enough time or the desire to slog through hundreds of pages of arcane legal jargon. And with more text, it becomes easier to stuff in hidden fees and charges, and more opportunity to take away your legal rights as a consumer. Most contracts offered by corporations are completely one-sided in their favor and attach clauses that make it harder for you, the consumer, to take any action against if there is an injustice. Some clauses are more subtle - many people don't know that clauses such as binding arbitration overwhelmingly favor corporations in the proceedings, as found by the group Public Citizen.

I think that legal disclosures should be a maximum of 5 pages in plain English where fees and expenses clearly highlighted and clauses that take away consumer's rights should be illegal. Call your congressmen and senators and tell them to support the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2007. There is a legislative directory for your representatives at People Over Profits

Death To EBay!

Interesting article about alternatives for unhappy EBay flee-ers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Washington Mutual

Last summer I signed up with WaMu for their Checking/Savings account combo. I've been a U.S. Bank member for over a decade, but my problem with them is their lack of locations. My primary motivation for signing up with WaMu was the convenience of having multiple locations where I could have access to my money (however they seem to lack drive-thru ATMs which is very inconvenient). After 4 months of my sign up I incurred $10.00 "Excess Activity Charge," so I called them up to see why it was assessed. I was informed that my account is limited to 6 withdrawals per month and that all withdrawals over that amount are fined. In my experience, banks waive charges like 9-volt batteries, so I asked and they refused. The customer rep told me that that government requires the charge and the fine is sent to them. It sounded like bull corn. So I got off the phone and did a little research.

Regulation D apparently requires these limits on savings accounts, but I can only theorize as to why. Perhaps some cartel of banks banded together to lobby the FDIC to create this requirement so that savings accounts don't become the de-facto checking accounts but with an interest requirement. They love the money you keep in their interest-free accounts! However, if you read the regulation, it says nothing about assessing fees to customers. It simply informs the bank to notify the customers if they do it more than occasionally. Is the first time more than occasionally? No. It further informs that if the customer does not comply, then limits should be placed on the account or the account should be closed. So, armed with some fodder, I decided to call back and finally got a supervisor to admit that the fee is not a government requirement, but that is how they deal with the issue. So if it is not a government requirement to assess fees, it is refundable right? Not since their sub-prime disaster caught up with them! They've lost billions and $10.00 fees add up for shareholders. Hell, I'm sure Killinger himself issued a decree denying refunds of fees. Off with their heads!

I became motivated to get this fee reversed, not particularly because of the amount, but because of the principle of it. So, I called a couple more times and interacted with a lot of mean American supervisors telling me "that's why it is important to read your fee disclosures" (my next blog entry) and arguing with me (well, perhaps it was me arguing with them. I had made a strong case as to why it should be reversed!). But they would rather waste $100 in customer service time instead of just giving me what I wanted. In fact, I figured I might as well get my customer service money's worth if they are going to refuse the refund. I kept going higher in the food chain until I reached a dead end - a senior supervisor's voice mail. He called back a few days later after 12pm on Christmas Eve, but didn't leave a personal phone line where I could reach him at. I could almost hear a hint of glee that he was successful in reaching my voice mail. When I got back to the office after Christmas, I tried to track him down, but was unsuccessful.

I just sent them a letter. The battle continues.

Other "By Mail" Requests

Also annoying is the requirement by some companies for the consumer to send in a letter requesting not to be on their spam list. Washington Mutual is a prime example of this. When I signed up for their checking/savings account combo, I never anticipated that I'd have a whole new barrage of junk mail filling up the little box next to my door. Since they are so generous to provide return letters that don't require postage, I can't help but express my thoughts to them with that mail. Usually my return thoughts amount to two or three words involving a few magic expletives.

Unfortunately, the requirement to get off their spam list is to send a letter and wait 2 months. Great.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Interest Rate Lowering Request

When I requested that Discover Card lower my interest rate on my credit card, they told me I had to request a form by mail and then send it back. When the form arrived, all it required was a signature indicating that I met some requirements. The idiotic part is that they already have this information!! I had to sign that I hadn't missed any payments (what, you don't have computerized records at Discover Card headquarters?), that my address was correct (Duh!) and one other asinine requirement that slips my memory at this point. They also require it to be sent back within 30 days.

Why would they require such a moronic method of lowering your interest rate when every single other credit card company will do it in 5 minutes over the phone? Well, I'll tell you why. Simply because they are trying to screw you. They are betting that you will either never open the mail, lose it, forget to turn it back in or miss the 30-day deadline. And they have another trick up their sleeve:

A few weeks later, I get a call from Discover Card. It went something like this:

"Mr. X, we received your request to reduce your interest rate."
"Oh good, so what are the results?"
"Well, we are sorry to inform you, but there was a problem with your form."
"Ummm... okay.... what was the problem?"
"Well, I am not sure because I don't have your form, but I was informed there was a problem."
:::slight pause:::
"Who informed you? Can't they tell you what the problem is?"
"No they can't, but maybe you forgot to sign it"
"Forget to sign it? Are you kidding me? That was the only requirement for the request and I am 100% sure that I signed it."
"Well, I don't know what the problem is, but we will have to send you out another form."
"I would like to speak with a supervisor."
:::slight pause:::
"Hi you've reached Mr. Corporate Asshole's voice mail, please leave me a complete message and I'll make sure your message is promptly deleted along with every other complaint ever left here."

My voice was elevated, as I was obviously pissed off when I left my message, but I tried to politely indicate my displease for a process that is clearly full of bull corn. I never got a call back.

It is in my to-do list to write them a letter explaining why my $1,500 a month charges suddenly dropped to zero.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Free Delivery?

Remember when pizza delivery used to be "free?" Sure, you had to pay a few bucks to the pizza delivery guy as a tip but that was a transaction between you and him/her. So the other night, my significant other and I decided to order pizza from Pizza Hut for delivery. The delivery charge tacked onto the final bill was about $3. I figured that perhaps drivers were getting stiffed on tips so they started forcing those tips, but I asked about it anyway. It turns out that less than half of the fee they charge goes to the driver! Why is Pizza Hut essentially stealing money from their drivers? I think most people would assume that the charge is given to the drivers, which would imply to the customer that most (maybe all) of the tip has already been paid. It is simple... more money for Pizza Hut and less money for the poor guy spending gas and risking accidents. This pisses me off and it should piss off drivers too. I wouldn't stand for that crap. In the end, I decided to drive the 2 miles and get carry-out instead of spending $5 (25%) on a delivery charge and tip.

Serving Sizes

You know what is really annoying? When you look at the back of a package of food and it says, 10 grams of fat. You think, "oh great, this is not that bad," until you look at the number of servings supposedly in the package. In my experience I have to multiply by 3. Any mammal larger than a a Yorkshire Terrier's left paw is going to have to eat more than two or three servings to be at least halfway satiated.

Did you know that if a "serving" has 0.5 grams of trans-fat or less, they can claim it is trans-fat free? This is also true for the other fats. So if you eat 10 servings of potato chips (something very easy to do while watching TV), you may have ingested up to 5 grams of trans-fat.

Is this just corporations attempting to fool consumers into thinking their food is healthier than it really is? Or is this some predefined size required by the food pyramid? I don't know, but it really annoys me because it is misleading and important information is harder to see. I mean, come on... When you buy a candy bar and it says "servings: 28" you begin to think there is some chicanery going on.

An interesting table has been compiled that lists some other tricks that manufacturers are allowed to do.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Issues

How many people do you know have actually bothered to take the time and go through the political candidate's websites to discover the issues on their political platforms? Not that many, it would seem. If people did, endorsements wouldn't matter.

Being a politically minded individual, I feel excitement towards the current presidential campaign season and I am constantly finding myself in the middle of political discussions. It surprises me, however, how so many adults don't know much about how politics work or what platforms the candidates stand for.

Today for instance, I overheard my boss say to the guy next to me, "I'm excited about the Super Bowl." I countered, "I'm excited about Super Tuesday." He gave me a befuddled glance and said, "Taco Tuesday?" (which is a bar nearby that has a cheap taco special, on you guessed it, Tuesdays) . "No, Super Tuesday." He inquired, "What's that?" And this is from someone who openly discusses politics with me and my neighboring cubicalites.

Another situation:
"I'm going to vote for X," the zombie voter states.
"Why do you like that candidate over the other ones?" is usually my first response.
"Well... umm.. I think s/he will do the best job," the zombie voter fires back.
"Based on what?"

::: cue the crickets :::

This is something that really bothers me because people will blindly vote for a candidate because of their speaking ability, good-looks, religion, a joe-blow endorsement or the two newest characteristics, race and gender. (Clearly W was not voted into office based on the first two). People are also heavily influenced by their friends. Of course, the problem there is that their friends probably aren't more well versed in the candidate's issues than they are or the friend might favor a candidate based on a bias from list I just provided.

So, here I propose a solution: Require a multiple choice exam on the candidate's issues before being allowed to cast a vote. Here's how it would work. Imagine a voter showing up at the polling station:

"Hi, I my name is Walker Bush and I'm here to vote," said in a charmingly redneck accent.
"Wow, any relation to the current president?" asks the polling official.
"Oh god no!", Fred snaps back, and then adds, "But I get that all the time, some say his mother and I have a strong resemblance. My mustache hasn't lost all its color yet though. Ha Ha Ha," followed by a hoarse phlegm encumbered cough.
Wiping her face, as she pretends to scratch her eyebrow, the polling official informs, "Well, as you may now know, all of our automated polling machines have a little pop quiz that will test your knowledge of the candidate's issues. You must score at least 85% correct to be allowed to cast a vote. But don't worry, if you fail, you can go study up on the issues either by visiting the candidate's websites, or you can go to where all the candidates are juxtaposed and then come back. We have a group of internet connected computers right over there."
"Well, I was going to vote (insert political party affiliation here) no matter what."
"I'm sorry sir, the passage of 'Sheepole Slaughter Act of 2008' now requires an informed voting populous," the official politely explains.
Fred acquiesces only to return later to the same polling official, "By golly, I had no idea that candidate Y had made it his primary platform to farm baby chinchillas and then steam roll over them as a new national holiday celebration! After learning about what the candidates actually stand for, I have since changed my mind and now have an informed opinion. Maybe this new rule ain't so bad if it makes people know why they are voting for who they are voting for."

But then again, we can only dream. This is only America after all.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ebay's Veiled Fee 'Reduction'

I have long been outspoken about Ebay's ridiculous selling fees. A seller puts up money to list an item and then has to pay a percentage in final value fees. There are also myriad options to go with the listing, such as if you want to put up multiple pictures, display a gallery, have your listing put in bold lettering, use templates, have a "buy-it-now" price where the buyer can skip the auction waiting period and much more. All these extras come with a price, of course.

If the item doesn't sell, no problem Ebay will gladly charge you another listing fee for the next time (refunded if sold the second time). If the seller uses the preferred payment method of PayPal, which is owned by Ebay, another fixed fee and percentage is subtracted from the amount paid to you. The final percentage that the seller gets leeched out of him or her from the time the item is listed until the time that the money ends up in his or her possession varies with the price of the item. The lower the item price, the more the seller is screwed due to the nature of the fixed fees in relation to the small item price. However, after combining all the fees and percentages together, a 10% EBay-skim is not unrealistic., another one of their subsidiaries, is even worse and leeches about 15%. And to top it off, they take 25% of the shipping charge the buyer pays for. Gee thanks.

The problem has been that prices have constantly gone up. Most of us are familiar with prices going down after a product is introduced.

So, in today's news article EBay announces that the seller fees are being reduced! Yip-eeee! Wow, up to 50% off the listing fee! But wait... there's more! The final value fee goes up 67% for the first $25 of an item!

"A majority of sellers will see their fees go down," said company spokesman Usher Lieberman.

I did some calculations and found that fees will go up for those listed items less than or equal to $68.75. So clearly there are some winners and losers with this new policy. If an item sells below $68.75 such as many of the items you'd find under specific categories like music, books, and clothing, then those sellers will begin bleeding more.

I think this will be a move that will increase revenue for EBay because I think there are many more lower priced items being sold than higher priced items. I haven't checked but for every sold auto, I would guess that there are 1,000 items of clothing sold (autos are usually listed multiple times because a 7-day period is too short and it is not sold).

What EBay needs is a competitor, because currently they are a monopoly. They benefit from a network externality where sellers will sell because that's where the buyers are (buyers incur no fees to buy).

There used to be Yahoo! auctions, but for some reason it never really took off. I didn't even hear about it until its death was announced. and Craigslist are the only real alternatives but they do not have the auction feature and craigslist is largely regional. A nice benefit of is that the item lists for $1 each 30 days and there is no final value ripoff.