Monday, October 31, 2011

Music Monday-Bobby "Boris" Pickett "The Monster Mash"

Happy Halloween and Happy Music Monday

Come join Music Monday and share your songs with us. Rules are simple. Leave ONLY the ACTUAL LINK POST here and grab the code below and place it at your blog entry. You can grab this code at LadyJava's Lounge Please note these links are STRICTLY for Music Monday participants only. All others will be deleted without prejudice.

PS: Because of spamming purposes, the linky will be closed on Thursday of each week at midnight, Malaysian Time. Thank you!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Benedictine School Toolbar

Image representing GoodSearch as depicted in C...Image via CrunchBaseI have talked numerous times here about my son and the travails of getting him into his current school situation.  For the past year, he has been a student at the Benedictine School for Exceptional Children.  The school's mission statement is as follows:
The mission of The Benedictine School is to assist individuals with disabilities in becoming as independent or semi-independent as possible; to make wise use of leisure time; and to live and work in a community setting.
I am going to use this space here to do a shameless little plug to benefit the Benedictine Foundation who works on the fundraising to insure that the school and other programs have the money to function in the future.  My wife has recently volunteered to be the regional chair for Anne Arundel and Prince George's Counties in Maryland.  She will be doing work to help plan the annual Spring Benefit next April.

The Foundation recently sent us a newsletter with some ways in which people can do little things to raise money for the school.  One of the easiest ways is for people to download the Benedictine School Toolbar and using it for your internet searches.

GoodSearch is a Yahoo powered search engine that works like any other internet search engine.  The major difference is that with every internet search, GoodSearch shares half of its advertising revenue with the charity of your choice, mine being the Benedictine School for Exceptional Children.  On average, each search raises about a penny for your charity.

I know a penny per search does not sound like much, but there is strength in numbers.  The more people using the toolbar the more the money can add up, and every little bit helps.  I have made GoodSearch my default search engine, and I hope you will consider doing the same.  Let me know if you do.  Thanks for considering it.
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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Once Lost, Now Found

Autism AwarenessImage via WikipediaA lot of times, when I watch the news, there is no real connection to a story being coverage.  I might sympathize briefly or have a thought about a story, but soon I don't give it another thought.  Then there are stories that I connect with on a more emotional level, even though I may have a personal relationship with the subject matter.

I tend to really connect with stories about kids.  Stories about special needs kids, especially kids with autism tend to get the most emotional responses from me.  It brings a tear to my eye when I hear stories about the girl with Downs Syndrome who gets named homecoming queen or the autistic boy who finally gets to play a few minutes in a high school basketball game and lights up the scoreboard.

I get a different kind of tear in my eyes when I hear stories about bad things happen to kids, especially to kids with special needs.  I grieve for the parents and loved ones of that child.   Whenever anybody harms any child, I have a visceral, angry reaction.  There is no such thing as cruel and unusual punishment for anyone that hurts a child.

For most of the past week, my local news has been following a story that has ultimately triggered both sets of emotions.  Robbie Wood, a young boy with autism, wandered away from his father while on a hike at North Anna Battlefield Park.  As the father of an autistic boy, I know how panicked we have gotten when our son wandered away from us in a shopping mall and been out of our sight for even a few moments.

Over the next six days, the news reported on the number of volunteers who would meet each day at Kings Dominion to search for the missing boy.  Over 6000 volunteers participated in the search.  As every day passed and Robbie was not found, I was slowly starting to fear the worst.  Finally, yesterday, they found him lying near a creek, cold, wet, and shivering but in good shape.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending.  Robbie was taken to the hospital and given fluids, warmed up, and reunited with his family.  Worry and fear have passed and given over to relief and happiness.  Would that all such stories could turn out this way.
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Muslims Sue Catholic University

Interior view of the Basilica of the National ...Image via WikipediaWhat would you expect to see if you were to enter a building associated with a particular religion?  As for me, I would expect to see symbols and signs of that religion.  If I were to enter a synagogue, I would expect to see the Star of David.  If I were entering a Christian institution, I would expect to see the cross and images of Jesus.  I would expect those images to be even more prominent in a Catholic institution.

Here in the DC area, a group of Muslim students are suing Catholic University.  They feel that their human rights have been violated because Catholic University has, horror of horrors, Catholic  symbols like the cross and pictures of Jesus through out the campus.  They complain that they have no place on campus in which to pray without being subjected to symbols of Catholicism that they feel is inappropriate.

WHAT THE FUCK!!??  What the hell did these people expect to see when attending a private, Catholic institution?  The school, after all, is called CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY!  I could understand if the school was a secular public university.  Then I could see the need for the school to accommodate all view points.  Do you think that a Muslim institution would accommodate a Christian or Jew with a separate place to put up their symbols and pray?  Oh wait, they wouldn't even get in the door.

The 1st Amendment guarantees that we have freedom of religion.  It does not guarantee that we have freedom from religion. We live in such politically correct times that some people feel that every accommodation should be made in every circumstance so as not to offend anybody.   I certainly do not deny these Muslims the right to practice their religion, but they chose to attend a Catholic institution.  There are times when accommodation is appropriate, however, a Catholic University should still be allowed to be Catholic.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hitting the Lottery

Losing Lottery TicketImage by donowhit via FlickrI think just about everybody dreams of hitting it big in some way, shape, or form.  Most people work hard in their chosen field in the hope of earning enough money to live a comfortable life, acquire a few toys, and to eventually retire.  Obviously, some people are much more proficient at this than others.

Probably the easiest way to hit it big, and also the least likely, is to win the lottery.  I have to confess, that I do daydream about hitting a big lottery jackpot.  I do not buy lottery tickets very often, and when I do, it usually is only $5 at a time.  I would never bet more than I could afford to lose.  It always amazes me when I am waiting to get my ticket to see somebody spending several times more than the $5 I wager on the various lottery games available.

Whenever I buy that ticket, I think about what I could do with that money if I was fortunate enough to win.  I always dream about buying a nicer home for our family.  Our little two bedroom townhouse is OK, but we could use a little more room.  I would probably splurge a little on new cars and some new technology.  The other thing that I would want to do is to talk with a financial adviser to use that money to generate a stream of income to live on.  I would also want to do some charitable work, particularly in the field of autism.

Still, winning the lottery, no matter how large a jackpot is no guarantee of success or happiness.  You hear news stories of people who won the big jackpot and a few short years later they had frittered it all away and were on the verge of bankruptcy.  I honestly believe that if you aren't already happy with yourself or are well grounded, then winning the lottery isn't going to change any of that. 

There was a woman in my office several years ago who won the lottery.  I think it was probably around $1 million dollars spread over 20 years.  It wasn't enough for her to retire on, but she was close enough to retirement that it would help immensely, at least enough to retire comfortably. She had a rather sour disposition prior to winning the lottery, and it didn't change after she won.

Here in Maryland, we only had the Megamillions game for the longest time.  About a year or so ago, Maryland added the Powerball game as well giving us four days to try to strike it rich.  Every now and then, I will pick up a ticket for one of the games, like tonight's Powerball game which has an estimated jackpot of $173 million.  If I win something great, but I am not counting on it for my retirement plans.  If you play the lottery, please do so within your means.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rick Perry's 20-20-20 Plan

Perry Event 2/1/2010Image via WikipediaToday, Rick Perry finally unveiled his plan to help spur the economy.  Perry's plan is called the "Cut, Balance, and Grow" plan but could also be dubbed the 20-20-20 plan, which like Cain's 999 plan would be easy enough to remember.  Perry calls for a 20% flat tax, a 20% corporate tax rate, and a balanced budget by 2020.

Most opponents of flat tax plans are quick to attack them on the basis of the liberal view of "fairness."  However, the Perry plan addresses this potential argument by allowing taxpayers to have a deduction of $12500 per person per household.  A family of four earning $60000 per year, would have a deduction of $50000 and would pay a 20% income tax on $10000, or a total of $2000 which works out to a tax rate of just over 3%.

In addition to the generous standard deduction, taxpayers who make less than $500,000 per year would also get to keep some favorite deductions.  They would still be able to deduct mortgage interest, state and local taxes, and charitable deductions.  This lowers the total taxable income even further, allowing middle and lower income earners to pay a much lower rate than the 20% rate.

Like Cain's 999 plan, I would be concerned about how such a tax plan would impact me personally.  The unknown on the Cain plan would be how much of my total income would be taxed on the 9% sales tax.  I had no such issue with the Perry plan.  Looking at my tax return from this year, I would actually fare significantly better under the Perry plan vs. the current tax structure. 

I should also add that I make well under $100,000 per year, so I am hardly one of the dirty rich that opponents of the flat tax say would benefit from the flat tax at the expense of lower and middle income folks.  My own example should be enough to help dispel that faulty argument, but those on the left will continue to claim that only the wealthy will benefit from Perry's plan.

Another aspect of the Perry plan is to lower the corporate income tax rate from the current 35% to 20%.  This would help to make the United States more friendly towards corporate investment.  It would be expected that would increase investment here leading to economic growth.  With growth, would increase the tax base in the country.

The third 20 in Perry's plan is to balance the budget by 2020.  He calls for spending to be capped at 18% of GDP.  This would put spending at levels that were maintained during the Clinton era.  It also calls for a balance budget amendment.

I heard a couple of commentators being interviewed about the proposal earlier today.  Both thought that the plan had merit, and would definitely lead to economic growth.  One of the commentators, though, pointed out that Perry's plan lacked a lot of specifics.  One had interviewed Perry and said that Perry had admitted that they had not necessarily costed out the proposal, nor did he have details on the spending cuts needed to balance the budget.

For the most part, Perry has been floundering since entering the race for the Republican nomination.  His performances in the debates has been, to put it mildly, less than stellar.  Consequently, his poll numbers have been dropping steadily.  It is good to see him come out with a plan that we can look at and analyze.  It will be interesting to see if he can get any kind of bump from his latest proposal and get back in the game as it were. 
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Monday, October 24, 2011

Music Monday-Jason Aldean "Tattoos on this Town"

There hasn't been a song put out yet by Jason Aldean that I haven't liked. Happy Music Monday!

Come join Music Monday and share your songs with us. Rules are simple. Leave ONLY the ACTUAL LINK POST here and grab the code below and place it at your blog entry. You can grab this code at LadyJava's Lounge Please note these links are STRICTLY for Music Monday participants only. All others will be deleted without prejudice.

PS: Because of spamming purposes, the linky will be closed on Thursday of each week at midnight, Malaysian Time. Thank you!
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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Maryland Transportation Trust Fund (Or Why I Hate Politicians)

crossing the ChesapeakeImage via WikipediaHave I mentioned lately how much I hate politicians?  I have a particularly strong hatred for Democrats, but to be perfectly honest, I find most of them to be loathsome individuals.  It is just that I consider Republicans to be the lesser of two evils.  After all, one of the biggest lies is, "I am from the government, and I am here to help."

My disdain for politicians goes back to my high school days.  In my senior year of high school, my girlfriend's sister arranged for some local county politician to be in our homecoming parade.  Somehow, I was shanghaied into driving this guy up to the VFW so he could give a speech there after the parade.  I was ashamed that my 68 Mustang was now sullied by this guy.

With my particular distaste of Democrats, it is tough living in a state like Maryland.  The Democrats pretty much have a stranglehold on state politics.  Sure, I suppose that I could move to a more conservative leaning state, but it really isn't that practical.  My job and our families are here, and with my son's school, we pretty much have to stay here for at least a few more years.

You know how the Democrats are always harping about wanting to help out the little guy?  So why is it that just about everything they do actually ends up hurting the little guy.  Here is an example of what is happening here in Maryland.  Maryland is currently facing a big shortfall in the transportation trust fund.  The primary reason is that the Democrats have consistently raided the trust fund to pay for other obligations.

Here are some of the proposals that the state has come up with in order to replenish the fund.  First was a proposal to increase the cost of tolls through the state.  The toll to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge has been $2.50.  Originally they proposed doubling the toll to $5 this year, and $8 in 2013.  They finally settled for increasing it to $4 this year, and $6 in 2013.  While not as bad as originally proposed, it is still a significant increase for those of us who use the bridge and are middle or lower incomes.

But it doesn't end there.  They have more proposals in the works.  First off is an increase in the gasoline tax the state collect.  Currently, that stands at 23.5 cents per gallon which makes Maryland right in the middle of all states.  That isn't good enough for Maryland, who wants to enter the top 10 by raising the gasoline tax by 15 cents per gallon over the next three years.  Another regressive tax that hurts the little guy more than anybody else.

It is interesting, if not ironic, to listen to Barack Obama and other Democrats demonize the oil companies.  Much like with tobacco, the federal and state governments make more money off the sale of gasoline than the oil companies do.  Exxon has stated they make about 3 cents on a gallon of gas.  The local service station makes about a dime.  The federal government makes 18.4 cents per gallon, not to mention the royalties the government receives from drilling leases.

And like the pitchman in just about every infomercial out there, "But wait, there's more!"  In addition to raising the gas tax, they are looking at raising other fees.  One proposal is to raise vehicle registration fees by 50%.  Another is to DOUBLE the fee to have your car's emissions tested.  Other miscellaneous fees could be doubled as well.  Again, all of these hurt the very people the Democrats claim to want to help.

I liken the raiding of Maryland's transportation trust fund to the federal government's raiding of the social security trust fund.  I place most of the blame on the Democrats in both cases.  In Maryland, it is clearly on the Democrats since they constantly control the state, and in Congress, the Democrats are usually the ones in charge in Congress, though to be honest there is plenty of blame on both sides.  Let's be honest, when it comes to politicians and trust funds, there is no trust.
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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pagan Christianity

"Revolution" and "Pagan Christi...Image by Andrew B47 via FlickrKnowledge is power.  From the time that I was a child to this day, I have always had a great desire to learn new things.  Aside from doing a lot of reading, one of the ways that I have spurred on my desire to learn was by questioning authority or status quo, not in an obnoxious or arrogant way, but to learn the wherefores and the why's of how things work.  I believe that it helped me in my critical thinking capabilities.

When I found "Pagan Christianity?:  Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices" by Frank Viola and George Barna takes that approach in exploring the practices of the Christian Church today.  The product description reads as follows:
Have you ever wondered why we Christians do what we do for church every Sunday morning? Why do we “dress up” for church? Why does the pastor preach a sermon each week? Why do we have pews, steeples, choirs, and seminaries? This volume reveals the startling truth: most of what Christians do in present-day churches is not rooted in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. Coauthors Frank Viola and George Barna support their thesis with compelling historical evidence in the first-ever book to document the full story of modern Christian church practices.
Needless to say, I was intrigued.  It is important to note that when Viola and Barna refer to "pagan" they are referring to it in the classical non-Christian sense and not in the modern understanding of being evil or satanic.  It is an important distinction.  The authors do not attack or condemn any of the practices that they explore, but rather explain their historical development.  They caution against taking the information to incite rebellion within the church.

I would like to take an aside here for a minute to relate a story from my past that relates to the chapter on wearing one's Sunday best to church.  A friend of mine, who is a graduate of Washington Bible College and a knowledgeable Christian, visited a church I was attending.  I can't remember if he wore jeans or shorts, but one of the deacons took him aside and offered to give him some money to buy an "appropriate" pair of slacks to wear to church. 

From that moment on, I have always felt that Jesus would be more concerned with somebody being there and not what clothes they wear.  In fact, the book of James admonishes against showing favor to those who wear fine clothes to the assembling of the saints.  "Pagan Christianity" shows us that the concept of wearing one's Sunday best is a relatively new phenomena thanks to the mass production of clothing that allowed the middle class to dress more like the rich.  Hardly a Christian concept.

Viola and Barna raise questions regarding the concept of having a dedicated church building, concluding that it came from Greek and Roman temple buildings, not the Jewish temple.  The idea of the sermon and professional clergy came from the Greek orators.  They argue that these things go against the concept of the priesthood of all believers and make us passive participants in the worship process rather than active.

Viola is very active in the organic church movement where folks meet in homes and all members of the church participate in the worship service, sharing what Jesus has done in their lives and what they have learned during the week.  Sharing can be in the form of spontaneous song or prayer.  The authors provide information and encourage readers to decide which format of worship works for themselves.  They do not imply that current Christian worship is necessarily a bad thing, but rather that it is not rooted in biblical Christianity, but more through tradition.

If you are interested in the historical aspects of the church and church practices, I would encourage you to pick up the book.  It is written in a loving and informative manner.  The authors are more concerned with the growth and development of the true Christian church and are not out to destroy institutions of faith. 

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Random Japaneseness-Mud Diving

It has been a long time since I have done a post in honor of my old friend David Mills.  There are three themes that he used post that I like to occasionally post in honor of his memory.  Those themes were Why YouTube is Better than Television, Random Hotness, and Random Japaneseness. 

The idea behind this particular game show is that cute, bikini models have to answer a question on a game show by running and jumping through the correct answer.  Unknown to them is that no matter what answer they choose, they will land in a pit of mud.  It is good for a chuckle or two.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

CNN Western Republican Debate

Caricatures: GOP Presidential Debate ParticipantsImage by DonkeyHotey via FlickrLast night, like 5.5 million other Americans, I watched the CNN Western Republican Debate.  In my posting from yesterday, I stated that I was fully expecting to see Herman Cain's 999 plan come under a lot of debate.  Boy did it ever.

The first question asked was from an audience member regarding where each candidate stood on replacing the income tax with a national sales tax.  It allowed moderator Anderson Cooper to direct the question to each candidate to give them the opportunity to attack Cain's plan.  With the exception of Newt Gingrich, each took their turns attacking the 999 plan

For the most part, I think Cain did a decent job in trying to defend the plan given the intricacies of his proposal and the fact that he was only given 30 seconds to give a rebuttal every time one of the other candidates brought it up.  Gingrich was the only one who acknowledged that fact.  Quite frankly, I do not think most of the other candidates have a clue as to the entirety of the Cain plan nor do they understand it.

That opening salvo of attacks on Cain set the stage for the balance of the evening.  Most of the remaining attacks the balance of the evening were directed at Mitt Romney.  In fact, there was so much bickering on stage, particularly between Romney and Rick Perry, that it was rather distasteful.  At one point during a heated exchange, Anderson Cooper looked absolutely giddy about the heated discussion, as if that was his goal the entire night.

Perry looked like somebody who finally realized that any chance he had to get the nomination was slipping away fast.  While you could say it was his best performance in a debate thus far, the constant sniping with Romney was a major turnoff, at least for me.  At one point I tweeted, "The next debate should be a steel cage match.  The last man or woman standing gets the nominations."

Romney was pretty much Romney, able to talk around most of the questions without really answering.  After the initial rounds of attacks on the 999 plan, Romney took much of the attacks the rest of the night, primarily from Perry and Rick Santorum.  It was the first time that he took a lot of attacks, and there were a couple of instances where he seemed to get a bit flustered.

I have never been a big Ron Paul fan because of his stance of defense.  There were a few times when I though he sounded like a doddering old fool.  Santorum had a couple of decent answers during the debate, but for the most part came across as just an angry guy.  Neither one of them did much to help themselves.

Michele Bachmann had, I think, one of her better performances in a while.  Other than erroneously referring to the 999 plan as a VAT tax, she stayed above the fray and focused on defeating Obama in 2012. She also was able to talk about something other than repealing Obamacare.  While I do think it was one of her better performances, I have to disagree with what she (or her campaign) to her Facebook feed, "After tonight's debate, it is even more abundantly clear that I am best equipped to defeat Barack Obama and put Americans back to work."

Ultimately, I thought Newt Gingrich performed the best of all the candidates on stage.  He stayed away from the sniping and bickering, put forth ideas, acted as a peacemaker, and appeared to be the most presidential.  I also felt that Cain held his own, though I would like to see him bone up a bit on foreign policy and do a better job defending his ideas. I still have about six months until the Maryland primary in April, so I will continue watching to see how things shake out.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Herman Cain's 999 Plan Revisited

Herman CainImage by Gage Skidmore via FlickrI just got home from work, and am waiting for dinner to be ready and then to watch the GOP Presidential debate tonight on CNN.  I have mentioned here before how much I like Herman Cain and want to know more about him.  I still have not made up my mind which of the current Republican candidates I will vote for in the primaries, though I am currently leaning towards Cain but that could change.

About a month ago, Herman Cain first brought up his 999 tax plan.  My initial thoughts were that I found it intriguing, but was concerned about how the 9% national sales tax aspect would impact me.  Under Cain's plan there would no longer be a payroll tax, so my combined FICA and income tax would be lower.  I expect tonight that during the debate Cain will be questioned heavily on the plan, especially the sales tax portion.

As Cain has risen in the ranks, his 999 plan has been getting a lot of attention.  So naturally, I have been thinking about the 999 plan a lot more in the past few days.  If you look at Cain's website, Cain states that the goal of the 999 plan is a transitional plan to implementing the FairTax.  The FairTax is strictly a consumption tax and eliminates payroll and income taxes and repeals the 16th amendment, abolishing the IRS.

One of the things that Cain has talked about during the debates is the 15.3% payroll tax that everybody faces that would be eliminated under the 999 plan.  The problem with that is that individuals only pay half of that (assuming the normal payroll tax rate when the current 2% tax break ends at the end of the year) while the employer pays the other half. One of the assumptions made under the FairTax is that the portion paid by the employer would end up in the paycheck of the employees. 

I can only assume that Cain is using some of the FairTax assumptions on the payroll tax going towards salaries in his 999 plan.  If those assumptions were to be true, then I can see it being of benefit to most folks, with the exception of the lower income groups.  Unfortunately, you know the old saying about when you assume you make an ass out of you and me.

If those assumptions do not hold true, then you can pretty much be assured that a lot of folks would be paying more in taxes.  I have used info from the Tax Policy Center in the past when I have made posts regarding tax issues.  They have done one of the first extensive examinations of the 999 plan.  Their analysis says that 84% of the country would end up paying more in taxes. About the only group that would benefit would be the higher income brackets.  To quote Cain from one of the debates, "That dog won't hunt."

I fully expect to hear a lot about the 999 plan during tonight's debate.  There are a lot of questions that need to be answered about the details of the plan.  Now, I am not one of those who believe that the rich are not paying their fair share of taxes.  However, a plan that would impact lower income citizens negatively, while benefiting higher income citizens just won't fly.  In that respect, Rick Santorum was correct in the last debate when he said the 999 plan had no chance of passing.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Music Monday-Darius Rucker "I Got Nothin"

This weekend was one of my son's scheduled weekends home.  This school year, his weekends home are a little shorter than last year.  He went back to school today, though my wife had an extremely difficult time getting him in the car to head back.  She finally got him in the car about a half hour before I got home from work.  He was the last kid to arrive back at school.

While he was home, he watched a lot of his favorite videos on YouTube and television.  We managed to get out to Dave & Buster's on Saturday for a little fun and games, skee ball and "Deal or No Deal."  He also listened to a lot of music while he was home, including one of his favorites, Darius Rucker.  Rucker also happens to be one of my favorites, so it is my pick for Music Monday.

Come join Music Monday and share your songs with us. Rules are simple. Leave ONLY the ACTUAL LINK POST here and grab the code below and place it at your blog entry. You can grab this code at LadyJava's Lounge Please note these links are STRICTLY for Music Monday participants only. All others will be deleted without prejudice.

PS: Because of spamming purposes, the linky will be closed on Thursday of each week at midnight, Malaysian Time. Thank you!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Things the Pizza Guy Would Like to Say

I know what you are thinking.  The life of a pizza guy, how glamorous that must be.  However, contrary to popular belief it is quite the opposite, no matter how many sexy pizza delivery prank videos there are on YouTube or porn sites that suggest otherwise.

About the closest I ever came to one of those sexy pranks was when I showed up at one house and nobody answered.  I had delivered their pizza about 15 minutes after they ordered it.  Finally, two kids showed up and one said his parents were kind of busy and didn't want to be interrupted.  The mother came down about that time with a bath robe on cinched tight around her neck.  Folks, 30 minutes is just an estimate.  It could be longer or shorter.

I normally deliver pizzas on Friday and Saturday night.  Even though these are the two busiest nights for pizza delivery, I often have a little bit of downtime between deliveries, especially after 8pm.  It is at that time that I find myself turning to Twitter.  Usually, during those times, I am looking for news articles that I can post to my Twitter feed.  Lately, though, I have posted some tweets of my thoughts while delivering, including things I would like to say to certain customers.

When I first conceived of the idea of this post a week ago after making a delivery to a customer who gave me what I considered a frustrating tip.  My intention was for it to be a humorous look at how clueless some people are.  However, last night was a particularly frustrating night, so you will forgive me if some of my thoughts to follow are a little more bitter than I originally intended.

First, let me tell you a bit about how my particular pizza place works.  If I am in the store, I get paid minimum wage.  If I am on a delivery, I get half of minimum wage.  The store charges a $2 delivery fee, but the driver does not get that fee.  You can see that stated on the receipt above which is from one of my deliveries last night.  Yes, you also can see the big $1 tip the customer gave me.  So clearly, we are relying on tips to get to at least minimum wage.

The website goes into great detail about the pizza delivery business and the proper amount to tip.  Typically, for a delivery, you should tip 15-20% as you would in a restaurant with a suggested minimum tip of $3.  Consideration should also be given for inclement weather and distance traveled.

Now on to the main topic of this post.

There was one delivery last week where I had to drive more than 5 miles to make the delivery to the customer.  She gave me a $2 tip.  The pizza guy wanted to say, "I will have to drive over 10 miles round trip to make your delivery.  With the price of gas, your big tip of $2 barely covers the expense of driving my car to get you your pizza."

My favorite thing that I would like to say to customers is, "If you can not afford the cost of a pizza with a proper tip, next time get Digiorno, not delivery."

This weekend, I had a customer with a $30 deliver prepay her $2 tip online.  When I made the delivery, she said, "Did you see that the tip was already on there?"  My desired reply, "Yes, I did.  Thanks for pointing out again how cheap you are."

The receipt you see above is from one of my deliveries last night.  As you an see, it is a whopping $1.06 tip on an $18.94 order.  Here is what I tweeted along with a picture of the receipt, "Are you kidding me? I should've shaken their sodas so they sprayed all over them."

I have had people pay for their order with a credit card and had their kids answer the door.  I have seen cash in the kids hands for the tip, which somehow never manages to get into my pocket.  I have always wanted to call the phone number on the ticket and say, "You know the cash you gave your kids to give to the pizza guy? Well they put it in their own pocket."

That is not to say that everybody is a complete and total dolt when it comes to tipping the pizza guy. Most people typically do get it right, and some even are extra generous.  During Hurricane Irene, I had a guy give me $40 for a $24 delivery.  As I was fishing in my pocket for change, he said, "On a night like this, just keep it."

One day last week, I was delivering to a house, and a high school cheerleader answered the door.  Typically, younger customers don't tip well, but this one did.  I tweeted, "A high school cheerleader just took good care of this pizza guy. Get your minds out of the gutter. She gave me a $12 tip on a $15 order."  Now if only I could get one of those sexy prank deliveries.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

And the Winner Is...

A couple weeks ago, I did a review and giveaway for My Memories Suite digital scrapbooking software. As announced in that post, today is the day that I announce the winner of a free copy of the software.  And the winner is Sharkbytes of My Quality Day. Shark takes a lot of outdoor nature photos while out hiking, so she should get plenty of use out of the software.

You can learn more about My Memories Suite at their website. You can use my special promotional code that will allow you to take $10 off the cost of the My Memories Suite 2.0 software. In addition to the $10 off the software, the code will also give you $10 coupon off the price of anything in the store. That's a $20 value! Just enter the promo code STMMMS68967 at checkout.

Shark, I have sent you an email to the address that I found on one of your blog profile pages.  Once you verify that is the correct email address then I will forward the info to get your free copy of the software.
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Friday, October 14, 2011

Bright Shiny Things

My wife is crazy about jewelry, perhaps too much so.  Whenever she heads out to the mall, she invariably has to stop in at all the jewelry stores to see the latest product offerings.  Unfortunately, she often has very expensive taste.  With the price of gold and diamonds today, it has become even more cost prohibitive to shop for jewelry.

It disappoints me that I am unable to get her those types of things that she likes.  I am sure it disappoints her as well.  Often, I wonder why she puts herself through going visiting those jewelery stores when she knows that we cannot afford to buy those types of luxuries.  I know it would drive me crazy which is one reason I do not frequent expensive electronics stores any more.

That is not to say that you can't find affordable and fashionable jewelry out there.  I remember one years my wife wanted to get a solid black tungsten wedding band.  I was able to get her a nice one for under $100.  In addition to alternatives like tungsten, you can find affordable titanium ring designs and titanium bracelets.,

Coming up very shortly is my wife's birthday and our anniversary (they happen to be on the same day) followed up quickly by Christmas.  My wife has already started dropping hings for gift ideas, most of which are out of my budget.  One day, I found a magazine clipping of a ring she wanted tucked into my wallet.  So I have started my quest for affordable options.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paul Ryan and Herman Cain's 999 Plan

Paul Ryan (politician)Image via WikipediaThis morning, I was heading to work listening to WMAL talk radio as is my custom during my commute to work.  When I first started listening to the program, former Congressman Fred "Gopher" Grandy was the main host of the show.  After he left due to a dispute with the station, they kept Bryan Nehman who then cohosted the program with a series of guest hosts.

After a couple of months, I was ready to give up on the show because Nehman just wasn't strong enough to carry the show on his own, and the never ending parade of guest hosts gave no real consistency to the program.  Finally, they hired Brian Wilson, who used to work on the local Fox affiliate and then Fox News Channel and Mary Katherine Ham to be permanent cohosts on the "Morning Majority."  The show has been much better ever since.  On a side note, am I the only one that thinks Mary Katherine Ham is the total package?  The woman is smart, funny, and attractive to boot.

Anyway, back to the show.  This morning, one of their guests was Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.  Ryan is also Chairman of the House Budget Committee.  I love listening to Paul Ryan talk about the budget and the number crunching.  You would think that all the numbers talk would be boring, but Ryan makes it interesting.  The man really knows his stuff.

One of the questions that the hosts asked the Congressman was his thoughts about Herman Cain's 999 Plan.  Cain's plan eliminates the payroll tax and has a 9% tax on income, corporations, and a 9% sales tax.  Cain also claims that his plan would be revenue neutral. Ryan said that he has looked at the numbers, and he believes that the plan would bring in the same amount of revenue as the current tax structure, or at least be very close.

Ryan gave Cain credit for putting forth a bold and credible plan.  For his own part, Ryan said during the show, that he prefers a straight flat tax.  Ryan stated that he believes that Cain's 999 plan will shift the focus of the debate for all of the candidates towards ideas and solutions.  It is that sort of focus that Ryan believes the campaigns need to be focused on rather than attacks at past actions.  I for one would also like to see that shift as well.  It is one of the reasons that I believe Cain is gaining traction as a candidate.
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tough Times

It is no surprise to anybody that things are pretty tough out there these days.  Unemployment is over 9% and has been for over two years.  There is talk that we are on the verge, if we aren't already, of a double dip recession.  Energy prices, while down in recent weeks, are still at pretty high levels.  In general, things don't look like they will be improving any time soon. Food prices are rising rapidly.  Just this week it was reported that the price of peanut butter was expected rise 30-40% in the coming weeks.

I count myself as fortunate that I have a pretty good job right now.  At one point, I had a job that I held for over 21 years when the company I worked for eliminated my position.  At that time, it took me nearly a year to find another full time job, and that was during better economic times.  In the years since then, I had three other full time jobs between that one and my current position.  I held each of those positions for about a year or less.  I have been in my current position now for a little more than three years.

These days, businesses are looking for just about any edge that they can come up with to give them a competitive advantage.  There are a lot of different strategies that a business can utilize to differentiate themselves from the competition.  Some differentiate themselves by emphasizing price, while others emphasize service.  Then there are businesses like Apple who make their product offerings the focus of the business.

Of course, that type of differentiation is fine for things like brick and mortar retail outlets or internet retailers, but what about other types of businesses?  What is it that can help to get you in the door?  To me, a lot of it has to do with their business signs.  Entering a business with a nice, custom made sign with brass letters gives you a positive feeling about the quality and stability of the business.  However you can make your business stand out during these tough economic times can mean the difference between success and failure.
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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Romney, Mormons, and Cults

Mitt Romney at one of his presidential campaig...Image via WikipediaThey say that there are two things that you should never bring up in polite company if you want to keep things civil, religion and politics.  Today I am going to go where angles fear to tread and talk about both.  The two subjects became intertwined once again at the Value Voters Summit held in DC over the past weekend.

Pastor Robert Jeffress, a Baptist minister and supporter of Texas Governor Rick Perry, brought up the subject of Mitt Romney's Mormon Faith.  Jeffress said that Mormonism was a non-Christian cult and that Christians would be better off supporting an evangelical Christian for president than Romney.  In his view, Romney, as a Mormon would be unfit to be president.

Before I get to far into the comments of Jeffress, it would probably be best to actually define the term cult.  For this, I turn to Hank Hanegraaff, also know as The Bible Answer Man of the Christian Research Institute.  I used to listen to his radio program several years ago when I was very active in the Baptist Church.

When most people think of a cult, they think of the following definition:
a cult is a religious or semi-religious sect whose members are controlled almost entirely by a single individual or by an organization.
However, there is another way to define a cult, and this is the method that a lot of evangelicals use when describing a cult:
a cult is any group that deviates from the orthodox teachings of the historic Christian faith being derived from the Bible and confirmed through the ancient ecumenical creeds.
It is from this perspective that Jeffress made his assertion that Romney belongs to a cult.  During my days when I was active within evangelical circles, it was a common assertion that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints were members of a cult.  I also heard some claim that the Roman Catholic Church was the biggest cult in existence.  It is one of the reasons that I no longer travel in those circles.

Personally, I do not agree with a lot of the Mormon Church.  I would never belong to it.  Here is not the time, nor the place to go into all of the reasons why.  Over the years I have had several friends who were members of the LDS.  I would say that they are a fine group of people who have high moral standards.  A few years ago, when my wife was looking for an alternative to Catholicism, she decided on the LDS.

I will also say, that as of this moment, I do not support Mitt Romney as the potential Republican nominee for President.  Right now, I have not fully made up my mind, but I am leaning towards Herman Cain.  As Romney said himself in one of the debates, there are a lot of reasons not to vote for him, as there are for the other potential candidates.  However, the fact that he is a Mormon should not even be part of the discussion.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Music Monday-Craig Campbell "Fish"

I thought song lyrics were supposed to rhyme?  Fish does not rhyme with either "truck" or "luck," but I do know another word that does.

Come join Music Monday and share your songs with us. Rules are simple. Leave ONLY the ACTUAL LINK POST here and grab the code below and place it at your blog entry. You can grab this code at LadyJava's Lounge Please note these links are STRICTLY for Music Monday participants only. All others will be deleted without prejudice.

PS: Because of spamming purposes, the linky will be closed on Thursday of each week at midnight, Malaysian Time. Thank you!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Comcast and a Moral Dilemma

Logo of ComcastImage via WikipediaLet me start this post off by saying that I have no great love for Comcast.  In fact, I am not a fan of them at all.  We used to be a Comcast customer when they were the only game in town here in Bowie, however, due to their poor customer service, cost, and service in general.

During a particular period of poor service, I told customer service that I was going to switch to DirecTV.  They said, "That's your choice, sir."  So I did.  They were calling back that evening with all these special offers to get me to stay.  Now, I am a Verizon FiOS customer, and will never be a Comcast customer again if I have a choice.

Having said all this, it brings me to my bit of a dilemma as suggested in the title of this post.  By and large, I live by two overriding philosophies.  I try to be a law abiding citizen and do what is right. The other overriding philosophy is more libertarian in that I prefer to live and let live, leaving people primarily to their own devices or in some cases vices. Sometimes those two philosophies can come into conflict with each other.

This morning I was out working in the yard when I saw something a little bit out of the usual.  I noticed that the cable box where the Comcast technicians usually work to repair or activate the neighborhood service was sitting wide open.  A cable was running from the box, over the fence of my next door neighbor, and up to their house.

When I had service from Comcast, the box was never wide open.  Plus, the cable that connected my house to the box was buried underground.  Since this was such an unusual sight to see, I suspected that something foul was afoot.  Could it be that my next door neighbor is stealing cable?

So you can see my dilemma.  I really do not know my neighbor so I do not have a particular ax to grind with them.  They are fairly quiet and do not bother me, which is the way I like it.  However, the law and order side of me wants to report what I saw.  Then again, I have no great love for Comcast either.  OK, I actually have disdain for Comcast.

The law and order side of me usually wins out in these situations, and I am leaning towards reporting what I saw to Comcast.  Stealing cable is a federal crime punishable by fines and jail time which can be considerable depending on the severity of theft.  I actually tried to contact their security department but was on hold so long I gave up.  Should I try again tomorrow?

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Know the Score

Factors contributing to someone's credit score...Image via WikipediaWith everything being online these days, it becomes more and more important to be vigilant in protecting your personal information.  It seems like a everyday that goes by there is some sort of news story about an identity theft ring or some major retailer or financial institution having their databases hacked and personal information getting compromised.

Having your identity stolen or personal information compromised can wreak havoc on your ability to get credit you need.  In these tough economic times when it is hard enough to get credit extended, having nefarious individuals hurting your credit worthiness is something you can ill afford.  One way to protect yourself against these types of assaults is to keep track of your credit score.

Several years ago, I got myself into a little bit of financial difficulties.  There were a series of bad decisions, combined with losing a job that I had for 21 years due to the company I worked for eliminating positions here in the DC area and consolidating to their corporate headquarters on the left coast.

I turned to a friend of mine who is a financial services provider for some advice.  One of the first things he had me do was to sign up for one of the free credit score services to check into everything that appeared on the report.  We were able to identify accounts that were incorrectly applied to my name since I am a junior.  Thankfully, there were no fraudulent account listed. 

There are other things that you can do to help protect your identity and your credit worthiness.  Advocates encourage people to shred any documents that have personal identifiable information before disposing of them.  Many neighborhoods sponsor community shredding events towards that means.  Keeping on top of protecting your identity is vital in this day and age.
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Kindle Fire

Last week, Amazon announced that it will be entering the tablet computer market with their new Kindle Fire.   Currently, the tablet computer market is dominated by Apple with their iPad.  The Kindle Fire is going to go on sale on November 15th with a retail of $199, less than half the price of the lowest priced iPad.

I will not be purchasing Kindle Fire when it comes out in November.  The primary reason is that I already bought a Samsung Galaxy tablet back in May.  Since I bought my Kindle eReader earlier this year, I have become a big fan of Amazon and their products.  If anybody can cut into the market share of the iPad, it would be Amazon.

Just going off of the news releases of the Kindle Fire, I am going to talk about some of the advantages and disadvantages of the Fire, at least from my viewpoint.  First and foremost, one of the biggest advantages is price.  It has been reported that Amazon is actually selling the Fire for less than it costs to make.  Their hope is to make up the difference by selling content and apps from Amazon.

The other advantage of the Fire, and this is strictly from my point of view, is the size of the Fire.  The Fire will have a 7 inch screen versus the 10 inch screen of the iPad.  One of the reasons that I decided to get the Samsung Galaxy tablet was because it had a 7 inch screen.  It can easily be carried in a pocket which gives it a bit of an edge in portability.

The biggest drawback that I see in the Fire is that it will come with only WiFi capabilities and will not have 3G.  One of the things about my Galaxy tablet that I like is that it has 3G through my Verizon Wireless account.  I can connect just about anywhere and not have to rely on the availability of WiFi.  So the iPad gets the edge on connectivity.

The other big announcement from Amazon is the introduction of two new Kindle reading devices, one of which will sell for only $79.  That is almost half of what I paid for my Kindle earlier in the year.  Damn.  That is one of the reasons I hesitated so long in buying my Kindle. Still, I don't regret buying mine when I did.  I have gotten to read a lot of good books since I got it.
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Thursday, October 6, 2011

National Noodle Day

I have mentioned here before that in one of my previous career positions, I was in charge of the frozen food category for a grocery chain headquartered in my area.  Ever since then, I have always been on the lookout for good frozen entrees.

Since my son is away at school, my wife and I are always looking for dinners for two.  To be honest, even if he were home, we always look for dinners for two because he eats different foods than the rest of us. These days they make a lot of nice entrees for two that you can pick up at a good price in the frozen food aisle.

About a week or so ago, I received an email from PF Changs Home Menu asking me if I would be interested in receiving a VIP tasting kit featuring their new noodle entrees in honor of today being National Noodle Day.  I had tried some of the other PF Changs frozen kits from my local grocer, so the opportunity to try something new at no risk to me was something that I eagerly wanted to do.  As always, all opinions are 100% my own.

Late last week, I had delivered to my door my VIP tasting kit with two of the new P.F. Changs noodle entrees and two noodle bowls with a pair of chopsticks.  This past Sunday evening was my turn to cook dinner, so I poured prepared my sample of P.F. Changs Pepper Steak with Chow Fun Noodles.  My experience with a lot of these entrees for two is that it usually isn't enough for two, so I also prepared a couple of store brand shrimp spring rolls.

In the past, I have found the preparation of the other P.F. Changs entrees to be fairly simple.  The Pepper Steak with Chow Fun Noodles was no exception.  Just heat and stir for about 12 minutes in a skillet.  The Pepper Steak, as our the other entrees that I have tried, have great flavor with just the right amount of spice and seasoning.  They also sent a sample of their Garlic Chicken with Dan Dan Noodles which we will sample tonight in honor of National Noodle Day.  I think I will be on the lookout for their Firecracker Shrimp with Yakisoba Noodles. 

To celebrate National Noodle Day, I would encourage you to follow them on Twitter and visit their Facebook page where you can enter their National Noodle Day Sweepstakes.  You could win your own VIP tasting kit, quality skillets to prepare your PF Changs entrees, or coupons for $3 off a purchase of PF Changs entrees for two, and if you are really lucky, you could win a trip to Vegas. 
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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bocephus and Politics

Photo of musician Hank Williams, Jr. in concer...Image via WikipediaI have to say up front that I am a Hank Williams, Jr. fan.  I have been for a long time and will continue to be one.  So, as such, I feel the need to make a comment or two about his inartful comments the other day on Fox & Friends when he compared President Obama and Speaker John Boehner playing golf together to be the equivalent of Hitler playing with Netanyahu.  The comments got his Monday Night Football anthem "Are You Ready for Some Football" pulled from being aired on this week's game.

Williams has come out and apologized for using a poor analogy.  He was trying to emphasize that Boehner and Obama are polar opposites on the political spectrum, much like Hitler and Netanyahu would be. Granted, he could have used a better analogy.  You can never really win when you bring Hitler into the conversation.  Of course, those on the left were quick to compare George W. Bush to Hitler, but I digress.

The big thing is, why should we even care what Bocephus thinks politically?  He is, after all, primarily an entertainer, and a damn fine one at that.  I will say that Hank Jr and I definitely sit on the same side of the political aisle, but I learned a long time ago that I do not care what my favorite entertainers have to say politically.  If I did, I would have ceased to be a Jimmy Buffett fan a long time ago since he is decidedly more liberal than I am.

The other thing about entertainers and politics is this; why would you even want to get out there with your political views and possibly alienate a portion of your audience?  Years ago, I was at a Jackson Browne concert, and he kept spouting off on his left wing ideology.  It was a major turnoff.  All I wanted was to hear him sing Running on Empty and his other songs.  I didn't care what he thought the CIA had been up to.

In fact, the Jackson Browne concert is where I learned my lesson in regards to entertainers and politics.  For several years after that concert, I basically gave up listening to Jackson Browne.  It was only after I got my iPod and was going through all my old CDs to load onto it that I started listening to all those old Jackson Browne tunes.  There was a lot of good shit on those CDs.  Who cares if he is a left wing nutjob.

My point in all this is, yes, Hank probably used a poor choice of words on Fox & Friends.  Yes, ESPN is probably within its rights to have pulled Hank's anthem on Monday night, just as I was within my rights to not watch MNF in protest of their decision (though to be honest, I didn't plan to watch anyway).  The bigger point is, who cares what a singer has to say about politics?  These shows should be talking to them about their music, not politics.
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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Save Us Chuck Woolery

I have been a fan of game shows for as long as I can remember.  One can not be a game show aficionado without being aware of Chuck Woolery, game show legend.  Woolery has hosted popular game shows like Love Connection, Scrabble, Greed, and was the original host of Wheel of Fortune before some guy named Pat Sajak took over.

I have always liked Chuck Woolery.  As a game show host, he always had a rather affable personality.  This morning, as I was driving to work listening to WMAL Radio, I found out something else about Chuck Woolery.  He is a conservative and has a new website called Save Us Chuck Woolery.

Woolery takes a rather humorous approach to helping to solve some of the problems of this nation, as he puts it, $1 trillion at a time.  Below are two of his videos from his website on Taxing the Rich, and a proposal to Tax the Amish.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Music Monday-Eric Clapton & Wynton Marsalis "Layla"

About a month or so ago, my younger brother alerted me to a CD and DVD release by two of my favorite artists, Eric Clapton and Wynton Marsalis.  While on the surface, it may sound like an odd combination of a British Rock and Blues legend, and a traditional American Jazz icon, the two share the Majesty of the Blues.  It is a CD and DVD I will have to pick up.  Here they are playing my all time favorite Clapton song, Layla. The first couple minutes are Clapton talking to the crowd, but once the music starts, OMG.

Come join Music Monday and share your songs with us. Rules are simple. Leave ONLY the ACTUAL LINK POST here and grab the code below and place it at your blog entry. You can grab this code at LadyJava's Lounge Please note these links are STRICTLY for Music Monday participants only. All others will be deleted without prejudice.

PS: Because of spamming purposes, the linky will be closed on Thursday of each week at midnight, Malaysian Time. Thank you!
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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bank of America and Debit Card Fees

Photo of Bank of America ATM Machine by Brian ...Image via WikipediaFrequently, the folks in Washington will pass legislation that usually ends up suffering from the law of unintended consequences.  Legislation that on the surface looks to be a good thing for the American public ends up costing those who it was supposed to be helping. This week, we started to see the effects of that with Bank of America announcing that they would start charging customers $5 a month to use their debit cards. 

Needless to say, this has caused quite an uproar, and a lot of bad publicity for BOA.  So how did we get here?  In 2010, under the Democrat controlled House and Senate, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed and signed into law by President Obama.  Inserted into that bill was the Durbin Amendment to reform swipe card fees, the charges banks charge retailers when customers pay with their debit cards.

In the past, the banks would charge retailers 1-3% of the cost of a transaction as a fee for processing those transactions even though the actual cost of processing the transaction was much smaller.  With more and more consumers using their debit cards instead of carrying cash, those fees were adding up for the retailers. Ultimately, these costs are passed on to the consumer by the retailer in the form of higher retail costs.

The Durbin Amendment sought to reform these fees by implementing a cap on the amount the banks could charge retailers for processing debit card transactions.  The idea being that by lowering the costs to retailers this would lead to lower costs for consumers.  Prior to the passage of the bill, the average swipe card fee was $0.44 per transaction.  Now, the fees are capped at $0.21 per transactions.

Here is where the law of unintended consequences comes into play.  BOA and other banks are a business.  As such, their primary goal is to make money.  Whenever a business is faced with a reduction in their revenue streams, they have to find ways to make up those revenues.  This is why banks like BOA and others are looking at charging customers these fees.  They are also charging retailers the full $0.21 on even the smallest transactions so that a $2 debit care purchases costs the retailer more than 10% rather than the 1-3% fee.

Of course, not all BOA customers would be charged the fee.  Those that have more money in the bank would be exempt from the charge. Those that live paycheck to paycheck without meeting the minimum balance would face the fees.  I find it ironic that the bill primarily written, passed, and voted on my the Democrats who reportedly are looking out for the little guy ultimately pass a bill that ends up hurting them the most.  But then again, that is usually the case.  
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