***All Blog entries are © 2001-2016, J. Alec West.
March 19, 2016 - "It Ain't Necessarily So"
The fact that classic horror-film actors Vincent Price and Peter Lorre were good friends can't be denied. But I'm about to tell you a "tale" that may or may not be true. Expert historians will tell you that these two actors didn't attend the funeral of fellow actor and friend, Bela Lugosi. And this is primarily based on the fact that neither actor signed the funeral's guestbook. Of course, not all funeral attendees sign guestbooks. And since all 3 actors were friends, I'd be inclined to believe they did attend the funeral.
So, truth or lore, this is how the story goes.
Bela Lugosi is best known for his title role in the vampire movie, "Dracula." And when he died, his wife insisted that he be buried in the costume he wore in that film. Peter Lorre was over at Price's house, both preparing to attend the funeral. All the while, Lorre was telling vampire jokes and Price was laughing at them. Finally, Price could stand no more. He told Lorre that they were both about to attend a very serious event for a good friend - and that they shouldn't be laughing at a time like that. So, Lorre agreed and stopped telling the jokes.
They both arrived at the funeral. The minister, friends, and family members all made their remembrances. Then, they all said their final goodbyes as they walked by his open casket, where he wore his Dracula costume. But, as Price stood in front of the casket, Lorre nudged him from behind, whispering, "Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart to make sure?"
Price couldn't hold back his loud laughter. Afterward, he spun around in Lorre's direction and said, "You son of a bitch!" But, hehe, Lorre was no longer there. He'd slipped out of the chapel while Price was laughing. And people were glaring at Price as he, too, slinked out of the chapel.
So ... is it truth or lore? It's up to you to decide.
August 2, 2015 - "Win10? Not So Fast"
Apparently, there's a "fake" Windows upgrade scheme out there that actually installs "ransomware" on a computer. Well, I won't get suckered into a fake Windows 10 upgrade ploy ... primarily because I won't get suckered into a genuine Windows 10 upgrade ploy, either.
For the longest time, it's been said that mountain climbers climb a mountain "because it's there." And it seems like a large number of sheeple treat Windows OS upgrades similarly (and I use the term "upgrade" loosely). When I consider any kind of "upgrade," I don't do it because "everybody else" is doing it. I do it because the upgrade gives me the opportunity to do something I COULD NOT DO before ... something I really WANTED to do. I did not see anything new in either Win8 or 8.1 that I WANTED to do. And frankly, the same is true for Win10.
Recently, I went to a local pro-builder (Puget Systems) and contracted with them to build me a new Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) laptop - with all the bells and whistles you can imagine (apx. $2,100). What follows are the three reasons I chose not to upgrade my OS:
1) Win7 does everything I want a computer to do. And if it ain't broke, why fix it?My intention is to run Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) on two computers, each with their own license. I've been using an Acer laptop lately. When my new laptop is ready and firing on all thrusters, my Acer will become my "backup" laptop. I'll do daily backups of my Firefox (browser) and Thunderbird (email) profile directories to a flash-drive. That way, if I lose any bookmarks, cookies, or email, it will be a minimal loss. And monthly (or after any major software installation), I'll do clone-style backups of both machines using an external iDsonix hard drive docking station. That way, getting back to normal is only a hard-drive swap away if I suffer a hard drive crash. Or, if my primary laptop dies due to motherboard death, I can use my backup laptop until the primary laptop's motherboard is replaced. And, should I ever get one of those "not a genuine version" error messages on either computer, I know how to fix them - permanently (grin).
May 26, 2015 - "Just Wait a Minute"
It's often been said in the Pacific Northwest that if you don't like the weather, just wait a minute. The weather can change rather rapidly, especially during the transition periods between spring and summer and summer and autumn. But now, the same can be said of technology.
Currently, I have DSL Internet through CenturyLink. And in Vader, Washington (population 610), it's the only Internet provider in town - unless you want to suffer the incredibly slow speeds of satellite Internet providers. This is not to say that CenturyLink is much better. Max speeds are 10mbps download and 3mbps upload (and it rarely even approaches those speeds). And unless you sign a contract to "bundle" with other CenturyLink services, this standalone service costs just under $70 monthly. But, there are "changes" in the wind.
Recently, after the failed attempt to merge with Comcast, Charter Cable is in the process of finalizing a merger with Time-Warner Cable ... a merger that has a far better chance of passing regulatory agency scrutiny. But many people are wondering "why" all this merger mania among the cable giants. The simple explanation is that merged companies can more successfully compete against the remaining companies. But if the Charter and Time-Warner deal goes through, the merged result would STILL be smaller than Comcast all by itself. Consider this different reason.
Regardless of what industry "insiders" may say, cable companies have never feared Netflix or Hulu as real competitors. Streaming media sites all have one drawback - that they are dependent upon the good graces of cable companies and/or DSL providers to allow the bandwidth. And more often than not, DSL/cable companies seem increasingly willing to impose bandwidth caps on customers. Stream too many movies and "wham" - your Internet service is shut off or its speeds are throttled back (slowed down). And Internet wise, cable companies have never feared satellite competition because their speeds are so slow.
The real fear, and the reason cable giants seem to be circling their wagons in merger mania, is future-based. Google (among others) plans on launching 1,800 or more LEO satellites over the next few years (LEO stands for "low-Earth-orbit"). The current satellite TV/Internet scenarios are all MEO ("medium-Earth-orbit"). The difference? MEO satellites have latency issues (delays) that make true high speed Internet impossible and the use of VOIP technology equally problematic. LEO satellites negate these issues ... allowing television traffic to pass without as many atmospheric issues ... and allowing FIOS (fiber-optic) level Internet speeds with no latency issues at all. And, the technology - on the provider end and the consumer end - is now cheaper than MEO scenarios.
The beauty of LEO is that the technology removes the barrier between metropolitan and rural markets. A person (like me) living in Vader, Washington (population 610) would have access to the same television channels and the same FIOS-level Internet speeds as a customer in New York City ... at the same (lower) price.
The dangers? The cable giants might try to use their corporate muscle to acquire LEO providers - perhaps in hostile takeover bids. And though this may sound far-fetched, I wouldn't put it past the cable giants to launch a satellite to "laser" the LEOs out of their orbits - a corporate version of "Star Wars."
April 18, 2014 - "Credit Lessons Learned the Hard Way"
When I divorced my ex, the decree specified that my debts were mine and my ex's debts were hers. This was odd for a court order issued in a community property state - especially odd when you consider that I brought home two-thirds of the household income. But trust me, the judge had his reasons for siding with me. Suffice it to say that my ex and her attorney made some serious legal blunders during the hearing process - two of which landed my ex's attorney with two separate contempt-of-court citations.
Anyway, after the divorce, I had no problem paying my own bills. But then, my ex filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. And that's when I learned a painful truth ... that community property law supercedes anything a judge might order in a divorce decree. My ex's creditors came after me like white on rice. And while I could handle my own debts in a responsible manner, there was no way I could handle both my debts and her debts together at the same time - especially since her debts constituted two-thirds of the household debt.
So, I did what most people would recommend - seek the help of a consumer credit counseling service to consolidate all the debts and possibly reduce (or forgive) some debts. The service I chose managed to set up such a repayment plan for me at a level I could afford. But, I guess I didn't read the fine-print closely enough.
Such debt repayment plans are just that - plans, not iron-clad assurances. Creditors may accept such plans. But by accepting a plan, they do not guarantee that they'll adhere to it. Lawyers for creditors may have other plans.
After making 10 on-time monthly plan payments, two different attorneys representing two of my ex's creditors contacted me. They were unhappy with the amount of money they were receiving under the plan. So, they gave me a choice ... either pay them separate from the plan and at much higher monthly amounts or they'd sue. These "higher" and "separate" payments would have upset my plan's applecart making it impossible to pay all creditors on time. One of the attorneys just made a threat. The other one issued me a summons to appear in court. So, to protect my own financial well-being, I was left with only one option - bankruptcy.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy would immediately forgive all consumer debt. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy would allow me to repay the debts over a 5-year period. I chose the latter. It also reduces debt responsibility and eliminates accrual of interest on the debt. But the important difference between a Chapter 13 and a consumer credit debt repayment plan is that a Chapter 13 is an "absolute" solution as opposed to a "maybe" (depending on creditor whims) solution. The Chapter 13 was filed in June 2006 - and was properly paid and discharged 5 years later in June 2011 - 2 months before I retired.
One other thing worth mentioning. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy stays in your credit file for 10 years from the filing date. A Chapter 13 only stays in your credit file for 7 years from the filing date.
In early March 2013, I decided it was time to rebuild my credit. I started by acquiring a "secured" (with deposit) VISA card through my credit union with a $1,000 credit limit. The credit union said that after 12 on-time monthly payments on the VISA, they'd convert the card to "unsecured" and return my security deposit. And on April 1st this year, they did both.
Now, time-travel back to December 2013. Knowing my Chapter 13 was no longer mentioned in my credit file, I decided to apply for other credit cards ... knowing I only had 9 months of credit history on only one VISA card.
First, a little education. If you apply for a credit-card directly from the card-issuing bank, you're only dealing with the rules of the bank. But if you apply for a credit-card through a "co-branded partner" (ie., a Walmart Discover card, a Sears MasterCard, etc.), you're dealing with the rules of two entities - the bank and the co-branded partner. Example.
I applied for a Sears MasterCard (issued through CitiBank). It was denied - though the Sears store where I applied did offer me an in-store line-of-credit ($900). I said "no" to that offer. Afterward, I went directly to CitiBank's website and applied for a Diamond Preferred MasterCard. It was approved with a $3,500 credit limit. So, what specifically did Sears have against me? I suppose I'll never know. But, it's obvious that CitiBank, itself, had no similar issues.
There are other oddities that defy explanation when it comes to co-branded credit cards. I applied for three co-branded credit cards, all issued through GE Credit Retail Bank - a PayPal Extras MasterCard, a Walmart Discover card, and a Texaco/Chevron credit card. The PayPal MasterCard was denied for a most unusual reason, quote, "Unfortunately, we could not confirm your identity with enough confidence to issue the card." Yet the other two cards were approved immediately without the same "identity" issues.
Separately, I applied directly to Chase Bank for two of their VISA cards - a Slate VISA card and a Chase Freedom (also a VISA) card. They were approved immediately with $3,000 and $2,200 credit limits respectively.
Again, during the same timeframe, a Capital One MasterCard was denied due to "too many recent credit inquiries" (totally understandable). And one application remains pending - for a co-branded Chrysler MasterCard (issued by 1st BankCard of Omaha). But, because the Chrysler card is co-branded, I honestly expect either another denial or a MasterCard with a very low credit limit - like the two co-branded cards approved by GE Capital Retail Bank with an $800 credit limit (Walmart Discover) and a $300 credit limit (Texaco/Chevron).
Suggestion? Before applying for a co-branded credit card, first try applying for a credit card "directly" from the bank. I suspect that credit card issuing banks have "issues" with their co-branded partners and that applications for co-branded cards either get denied more often or issue credit limits lesser than if you applied directly to the bank.
OK ... back to basics. In early March 2013, I was a man with no credit whatsoever. And while I didn't know what my credit score was, I was certain it was exceptionally low. Now, a little over one year later, I have available credit (cumulative of all cards) of $11,550 ... with one application for another card still pending. And my Experian credit score after the most recently received card is 730. Not bad for a retiree whose total gross annual income (pension & Social Security) is only $31,524. But ultimately, it's up to readers to decide whether I handled my credit rebuilding properly or not. Consider this.
I believe that there are two types of people who apply for credit cards:
(1) a person who applies for credit cards to use credit as a personal financial tool - a tool to be used ONLY for emergency expenditures (ie., auto repairs or home repairs that require immediate attention, etc.).
(2) a person who might "say" they're of the former type ... but really wants (and uses) cards to increase their lifestyle level. In short, they use credit cards for things they really don't need immediately - using excuses like, "But they were on sale!"
I'm in category #1. And I believe that all category #1 people should acquire as much credit as they possibly can ... but THEN, through proper utilization, use cards to enhance credit scores. By "proper utilization," this is what I mean.
Once monthly, I'll make one charge to each of my cards ... but only for things I'd normally have used a debit card or cash to purchase. This forces card issuers to bill once monthly. When billed, I'll pay the charges in full before the due date. And this forces card issuers to make glowing monthly reports to the three credit bureaus, showing consistently low utilization rates and consistent on-time payments.
Doing this not only preserves your "emergency" cash pool. It also guarantees that your credit score has nowhere to go but "up." This rising score could be of extreme importance in the future. Auto insurance companies take credit scores into consideration in deciding what premiums you should pay. Apartment managers use credit scores to decide whether to approve an application for tenancy. And home mortgage banks use credit scores to decide whether to approve a home loan - and approve it at a good (or bad) interest rate.
People in category #2 should avoid credit like the plague. Buying a few things on sale once emboldens them to do the same thing over and over until their remaining credit is so low that just keeping up with payments becomes a chore - possibly leading to a financial disaster in case of a financial emergency (like a job loss).
Final advice? By becoming a category #1 type of person, you put yourself in charge of your finances at the expense of credit card issuers (who don't get any substantial interest income from you). By being a category #2 type of person, you become a willing slave of credit card issuers. And in some cases, you end up giving these slave-masters more money in interest income than you spent on the products you bought.
Don't do it! Instead, become a category #1 person. And just remember that if emergency expenses become so overwhelming that even your credit cards can't handle them, choose "bankruptcy" over "credit counseling debt repayment" ... every time. One dirty little secret counseling services won't tell you is that using their services puts the same derogatory mark on your credit file that a bankruptcy would cause. Credit bureaus publish reports that reflect financial fact ... not financial good intentions.
A brief P.S. on debt to the I.R.S. In all dealings with the I.R.S., I've found them to be friendly, helpful, and willing to bend WAY over backward to help with tax payment difficulties. To my knowledge, there is only one way to piss off the I.R.S. - "failure to communicate." Ignore the I.R.S. at your own peril. But, if you owe them money and keep them in the loop of your personal financial issues, you might be pleasantly surprised in how they treat you.
One note on deceptive advertising. A lot of attorneys "prey" on people in debt to the I.R.S. They'll publish ads on TV and elsewhere telling you there's a NEW PROGRAM instituted by the I.R.S. to help people cut their debt obligations. And of course, these attorney's are touted as the only people who can help you - but only if you owe the I.R.S. more than $10,000.
The truth? There is no "new" program. For years, the I.R.S. has allowed taxpayers to file an "OIC" (Offer In Compromise) to reduce their obligation. The current filing fee is $186 but you might qualify for a $0 fee if you're considered a "low income" person. The only catch I'm aware of is that you can only have one successful OIC filing - period. It's a once in a lifetime benefit. Click on the link below to see the brochure:
You do "not" have to owe the I.R.S. at least $10,000 to qualify, either. That's a lawyer trick. Remember, these lawyers don't do this for you for free. I suspect that lawyers think that handling OICs for people who owe less than $10,000 doesn't make the case worth their while. If they can negotiate a cut in debt from $10,000 to $3,000, the attorney fee will probably be $2,000.
So, how do you file an OIC without a lawyer? Simple. Take the form and all your questions to your local I.R.S. office and ask them. I.R.S. employees won't try to make you pay more than you have to. They don't get a "cut" or "reward" for zapping you. In fact, they might know more ways to cut your obligations than a lawyer. Their only requirement is that the obligation is addressed in a manner acceptible to the I.R.S. - no matter how deep your obligations are cut back.
Bottom line? Before seeing a lawyer ($$$$), give the I.R.S. a chance to help you directly. I suspect you'll be pleasantly surprised. As long as you keep the lines of communication open with the I.R.S., you'll be treated with dignity and respect - despite what any attorney might say.
P.S. - A true story. Years ago, after a job loss, I found myself unable to pay my Federal taxes on time. Just before filing, I got a new job. So, I filed as required but included a note telling the I.R.S. that I was broke due to a job loss. And, I asked them if I could just raise my withheld taxes in my new job to a level that would cover the debt - allowing me to pay it off at tax time the next year.
In about 60 days (June),I got a response from the I.R.S. saying that waiting until tax-time next year was not acceptible. Instead, they proposed a repayment plan. But, the payments were pretty high. So, I called the I.R.S. The rep I spoke with gave me a "don't tell anyone I told you this" response (grin). He told me to look at the bottom of the I.R.S. letter. There was a note at the bottom, saying I had 60 days to respond to the letter. He told me to wait until that deadline was near and send a letter offering a lower payment (August). The rep said that the I.R.S. responds to such letters in about 60 days (October). Anyway, he told me that the I.R.S. would make a counteroffer to my counteroffer ... and instructed me to wait until my next 60-day response deadline approached and then send the I.R.S. my own counteroffer for a little bit more money (December).
Bottom line? I raised my withheld tax level to build up enough money to pay the debt at tax-time the next year. Since each offer and counteroffer consumed 120 days (60 days for me, 60 days for the I.R.S.), I only had to do this two times. When next year's tax-time came around, I'd withheld enough money to pay both year's taxes and get a refund to boot (grin) - which is exactly what I wanted to do.
So, by negotiating back and forth with the I.R.S., there were no late payment fees. The rep had instructed me on how to "beat the system" by using the system itself. And, it worked (grin).
January 29, 2013 - "The High Price of Living Single"
I recently saw an article in The Atlantic magazine on the topic. There were a plethora of pro-marriage and anti-marriage comments made. Personally, I've been in both categories but have become firmly anti-marriage. And with a few additions here, this is essentially the comment I posted on their website:
I'm 62. If age 18 is adulthood, that means I've been an adult for 44 years. 20 years of that time was spent married, 24 years single (before and after my divorce). Having spent relatively the same amount of time in both categories, I think I'm entitled to an opinion based on that experience.
Sexual attraction and friendship are "natural." But marriage is a man-made institution promoted for religious and legal reasons. Society likes it when people are "trapped" in an obligation. They're easier to control that way. In recent years, however, men and women have "gotten wise" to that. Still, some younger men/women have been so indoctrinated in the crazy idea that marriage is natural that they begin to equate marriage with "love" - and let their glands do their thinking instead of their brains. Unfortunately for them (or fortunately), their brains eventually kick in - leaving them asking themselves, "What was I thinking when I said 'I DO'?"
50% of all marriages end in divorce. But this does not mean that the remaining 50% of marriages are "happy" marriages. Trapped in an obligation, many people just rationalize themselves into finding a comfort zone in which their marriages can be "tolerated." And to some people, tolerating an unhappy marriage is preferable to the high cost of divorce (and a single lifestyle).
Based on my experience, the reason for these divorces and unhappy marriages is clear. No one can predict the type of person they'll be 5 years from now. And if you can't predict that, what makes you think you can predict the type of person a partner would be 5 years from now? "Change" is the only constant in the universe. Sometimes, these changes are abrupt - based on some kind of epiphany we experience. But often, our personas experience gradual changes that end up having a cumulative effect on us. Because of this, making a long-term commitment to a relationship is illogical since it doesn't take the reality of these changes into consideration. The person you love "today" might not be so lovable a year from now, 5 years from now, or 10 years from now. In short, marriage is a "crap-shoot" with no guarantees of success.
Insofar as the high price of living single is concerned, I look at it this way. One of the "true" things that some politicians tell us is that freedom has a price. We might not like the price. But in exchange for freedom, we're willing to pay the price.
P.S. Years ago when I worked for a medical insurance company, our medical director (a physician going through a particularly nasty divorce) told me this joke:
Q --- What's the difference between herpes and "true love?"
September 3, 2012 - "The Libertarian Luncheon"
Originally written in 1994, I dredge this out of my archives every election year. This blog post is a bit simplistic. And yet, I see it as being pretty much close to the truth. While the post title is "The Libertarian Luncheon," the subtitle is "...or why there'll never be a Libertarian President." Here goes:
Once upon an election year, patrons crowded a posh Washington, DC restaurant for lunch. And as they were eating, a man entered the restaurant and called for their attention.
"Fellow citizens," the man started. "I'm the Democrat candidate for President of the United States. And if you vote for me, I'll pay for your lunches."
Patrons liked the idea and gave him a round of applause. But unknown to the patrons, the Democrat planned to pay for the lunches by instituting a post-election tax. The tax would not only pay for the cost of the lunches but would also pay the salaries of bureaucrats he'd hire to collect the tax. But then, another man entered the restaurant and called for their attention.
"Fellow citizens," the man started. "I'm the Republican candidate for President of the United States. And if you vote for me, I'll not only pay for your lunches. I'll also promise that you'll never EVER have to pay me back."
Patrons liked that idea much better and gave him a standing ovation. But unknown to the patrons, the Republican planned to pay for the lunches by charging them on the VISAs and MasterCards of the patrons' children and grandchildren. But then, another man entered the restaurant and called for their attention.
"Fellow citizens," the man started. "I'm the Libertarian candidate for President of the United States. And if you vote for me, I'll pay for my lunch and you can pay for yours."
Patrons booed and hissed. And therein lies the reason why there'll never be a Libertarian President. Libertarians consistently tell the American electorate the one truth they hate to hear and refuse to accept - that there's no such thing as a free lunch.
There's another important reason why there'll never be a Libertarian President. Many ideas originating from the Libertarian Party are actually quite astute. But many of those ideas are considered "fringe" ideas. However, if any one of those ideas is deemed to be popular among the electorate, the idea will be glommed onto by the Democrats and/or Republicans as if it was their idea in the first place.
This makes the Libertarian Party a great source for innovative and forward-thinking ideas while, at the same time, guaranteeing them the role of "victim" in a neverending cycle of idea theft.
August 25, 2012 - "Drugs and the Six-Million-Dollar Man
***PREFACE NOTE***I'm not an expert on any type of sport. But I smell an awful lot of unrefrigerated fish when it comes to the trials and tribulations being heaped upon the shoulders of champion cyclist, Lance Armstrong - a smell that started a long time ago, before Lance or I were even born. Consider this word definition from the dictionary.reference.com site:
CYBORG - a person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.The Olympic Games opened up a Pandora's Box in St. Louis, 1904. For the first time in human history, a "cyborg" was allowed to compete against 100% human athletes as an equal. The cyborg was U.S. gymnast George Eyser (photo left) and he walked away with 3 gold medals, 2 silver medals, and a bronze medal ... perhaps acquired with the help of his enhanced artificial leg.
Fast-forward to the 2012 Olympic Games. Another cyborg - Oscar Pistorius of South Africa (photo right) was allowed to compete as an equal against 100% human athletes with the help of two enhanced artificial legs. No medals, though.
Between Eyser and Pistorius, other cyborgs have been allowed to compete as equals in the Olympic Games. This doesn't mean I have a grudge against persons using appliances to become athletic. But I think it's fair to say that it would be very difficult to define a "borderline" between when an appliance "enables" an athlete and when an appliance "enhances" the athlete. And until that borderline is defined, it's my opinion that all sporting events (including the Olympics) should be 100% human events - no cyborgs allowed.
The reason I mentioned the cyborg angle is to make a point. International sporting authorities have shown themselves to be hypocrites. One one hand, they decry the use of performance enhancing substances by athletes. But on the other hand, and at the same time, they give a wink, a nod, and a politically correct smiley-face to athletes who use performance enhancing appliances.
OK - now to the Lance Armstrong matter. Besides the hypocrisy of the international sporting community, Lance has found himself victimized by unelected bureaucrats with thumbs-up thumbs-down power not unlike that of a Roman Caesar. And I just wanted to drive that point home. If the doping Lance Armstrong is accused of was a felony in the United States, a trial prosecutor would be required to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And in his case, there are plenty of reasonable doubts. Consider these three:
(1) Lance Armstrong was tested after each event he won. All the drug tests came back negative. There wasn't even ONE false positive.There are those who say that Lance Armstrong's decision to give up his defensive posture is an admission of guilt. Hogwash. In my opinion, Lance has merely come to grips with the fact that the sporting authorities over him are biased and hypocritical ... and that he simply wants to exit himself from the whole mess - while giving these authorities a metaphorical unfriendly hand gesture as he closes the door in their faces.
OK, OK, I realize that some of you may be too young to remember "The Six-Million-Dollar Man" TV series. It was a science fiction involving an astronaut horribly injured during a botched landing attempt - prompting scientists to "rebuild" him as a cyborg. Here's a video of the show's opening:
Hey, if we have the techology to turn horribly injured human beings into cyborgs - making them better, stronger, and faster - fine, I'm all for it. Just keep them out of competitive human sporting events where they're treated like "equals" - when everyone knows they're not.
August 5, 2012 - "Raising Hell For A Valid Reason"
For 8 years of my life, I was a claims analyst for two Blue Shield insurance carriers just prior to their merger with Blue Cross in Oregon. During that time, I learned one immutable truth. And this applies to ALL insurance companies, not just medical insurance companies.
If an insurance company adjudicates a claim in a way you don't like - or if they are taking a long time to adjudicate a claim - the quickest way to get their attention (and action) is by complaining to your state insurance commissioner or, at least, threatening to complain.Starting in May, I began a move from Portland, Oregon to rural unincorporated Lewis County, Washington. In Portland, my auto insurance premium through State Farm was $259 for 6 months. My move was finally complete in early June. So, I contacted my new local-area agent ... asking that he change my info on their website (for some reason, I couldn't) and recompute my premium as a Lewis County resident. My next premium was due on 7/1/12 - but by the time I paid it, State Farm still hadn't made the change.
Finally, the change was made and the new premium made my jaw drop to the floor. I moved from a high-traffic high-crime metropolitan area to a low-traffic low-crime rural area ... and my premium jumped from $259 to $329 ($70 increase). I called State Farm to see if I could get an explanation ... and the one they gave me (Washington insurance costs more than Oregon insurance) seemed like an overdone crock of shit. So rather than argue with them, I took the next logical step.
I contacted 12 competing companies by phone, asking them for a quote. Of the 12, 10 quoted me premiums less than State Farm's new premium. And of those 10, I chose the lowest premium - $230 from Kemper. Note that this is lower than what I was paying in Portland which is as it should be.
After making a payment to Kemper in mid-July and committing to their new policy effective at 12:01am, 8/5 (today), I sent emails to my local agent and State Farm HQ requesting that they cancel my policy at that time. No response by July 24th. So, this time, I sent them both certified letters asking them to do the same thing - but this time, threatening to complain to the insurance commissioner if I didn't get a response.
In a matter of days, I not only got that acknowledgement of cancellation by snailmail, I also got a refund check. And a day later, I got an email from their financial office saying an additional check is headed my way because they made a "mistake" on their first refund computation.
FWIW, they also told me that the $329 premium was a mistake. After corporate HQ recomputed things, the premium should have been $207. Point is, I seriously doubt any of this would have happened ... and happened quickly ... had I not dropped the insurance commissioner complaint threat.
I've used insurance commissioner intervention successfully twice before. Once, my auto insurance company at the time (Liberty Mutual) canceled my policy for "non-payment of premium." They told me my credit card was declined. The problem? I never paid them by credit card ... ever. I always drove to the local office and paid my premiums "in person" by check. Not only that, but Liberty Mutual "demanded" I make up the premium payment. I refused. Note that I switched to GEICO the same day Liberty Mutual canceled me.
How did all this happen? Well, it turns out my local Liberty Mutual office had another insured person who shared the same first and last name as me (his middle initial was different, though). And twice before, they had misapplied my payments to the other guy's account and attempted to missaply his payments to mine. Based on my refusal to pay ("repay," actually) their premium, Liberty Mutual turned over the bill to a collection agency. So, when I got the first "dun" letter from the collection agency, I sent copies of my canceled checks and a two page letter to the insurance company with a "cc" to both the state insurance commissioner and the collection agency. All of a sudden, things became so quiet you could hear a pin drop (grin). No more dun letters, Liberty Mutual wrote off the charge for the new period and sent me a refund check, and the state insurance commissioner told me that they considered the matter settled. And no, the collection agency thing never made it to my credit report.
The other time I used intervention was when my ex-wife was rear-ended by some jerk who was trying to pass her in a parking lane. The guy who hit her was insured by Metropolitan Life. And the accident was witnessed by two people (grin) who gave their names to a cop who happened to come by. It was an open-and-shut matter. And yet, Metropolitan Life continued to pepper my ex with "questions" about the accident. And when she answered them, they came back and re-asked the same questions or asked her to be more specific. This question/answer game of tag went on for about three months - and my ex needed her car repaired. So, I wrote a letter to the state insurance commissioner. I told her my ex was being "stonewalled" by MetLife, that this was an open-and-shut matter with two witnesses documented by a police officer, and that I was writing her as a "last resort" prior to turning the matter over to my attorney. Two days later, I got a call from MetLife. They said a check was on its way to pay the claim - and that they sent her an extra $500 for "emotional distress" (snicker). And then, they asked me to call the insurance commissioner to tell her the matter was settled. I told them, "No. The matter isn't settled until we see and cash the check." The check came the very next day (grin). And being in a yancy mood, hehe, I never called the insurance commissioner.
Insurance commissioner audits are the worst fear of any insurance company. And if a company gets enough complaints filed, that's just what happens. While I was with OPS Blue Shield in Oregon, I experienced one first-hand. Claims processing comes to a grinding halt while auditors review a certain percentage of adjudicated claims. And if they find too many processing errors, they review more claims. And with every error they find, the insurance commissioner assesses a fine. The more errors they find, the bigger the fine. All the while, insurance companies have to continue to pay the salaries of claims people while they sit around doing "busy work." And after the audit is over and the fines are levied, the company usually has to authorize massive overtime to clear the processing backlog. If they don't, they risk even more complaints on the "timeliness" of processing a claim.
Beyond that, there's one other fear. These audits are a matter of public record. Being audited negatively affects the company's credit rating and makes it harder for a company to market itself. And, since they are a matter of public record, company execs are left to explain audit-related costs to their stockholders - especially if the size of dividends is negatively affected by these costs.
At another Blue Shield carrier (CHS Blue Shield in SW Washington), the company manager once told me she'd rather pay a meritless claim than risk an audit. So, my final advice to insured persons is to USE this audit fear to your advantage if you feel an insurance company is treating you badly. Even if your claim against the company is totally without merit, they may pay it anyway just to keep you quiet.
Keep in mind that a state insurance commissioner not only has the power to order an audit. If the errors are egregious enough, they also have the power to pull the insurer's license to do business in the state. And yes, that DOES HAPPEN. Have you ever seen an insurance company ad on TV where the fine print at the bottom says something like, "Offer not valid in Wyoming, Washington, Colorado or Ohio" (or any other group of states)? It's probably because the company's license to do business in those states was "yanked" by the states' Insurance Commissioners (and, for a reason).
P.S. Just a brief explanation of Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance, as it was when I was a claims analyst. In the Portland metro area, there were 3 distinct companies - Blue Cross of Oregon, OPS Blue Shield, and CHS Blue Shield. CHS was actually across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington, but still considered a metro-area company. After I left CHS, Blue Cross of Oregon merged with OPS - becoming Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon. Shortly after that, CHS merged in with them under the unified name, Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield. That name prevails even today and will continue to do so (until the next merger, hehehe).
May 22, 2012 - "Lenovo.com and The Order From Hell"
I only upgrade my computer OS when the new OS does something I want to do that an older OS cannot do well. Windows 7 can run Connectify software easily - but my XP system could only run it in "ad-hoc" mode (slower, kludgier). So, I decided to be like most other computer users and buy a new laptop system that ran 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium. Friends said that Lenovo made the best laptop systems. And, a local computer store that sold and repaired multiple brands said that Lenovo laptops had the fewest post-sales repair issues. That local store had a high markup. So, on May 1st, I visited Lenovo.com to order their G770 10375RU model. Online sale price - $629.
But when I clicked the "order" button, I got a red note at the top of their screen saying my debit MasterCard authorization had failed. Since I knew I had plenty of money in my checking account to cover the purchase, I assumed that perhaps I'd entered my card info incorrectly. So, I re-entered the info and clicked the order button again. But, I got the same red note. Worried that my bank account had been compromised, I rushed to my bank's site to check out my available balance. I only had $180 left - but only because Lenovo.com's $629 charge was authorized ... TWICE!
I immediately contacted Lenovo to explain the situation and get the charges reversed. To do so, I had to go through 3 people before I found someone in their credit card department who could do the job. Problem is, she only reversed one of the charges. And since my order didn't complete (the red note), I had no order number to complain about. So, I called the credit card rep back twice to get the problem resolved. And finally, on May 2nd, it was.
The sale price of $629 expired on May 2nd. But, I was able to get the order put through online - this time by using their PayPal option. An order number was assigned and the estimated delivery date was May 7th.
On May 8th, still without the computer, I called Lenovo again to find out my order status. They explained that, by May 7th, they meant "the week of" May 7th - that it might not arrive until Friday the 11th. On the 12th (Saturday), I called Lenovo again to check on my order status. However, I got a recording telling me to call the sales department during their normal office hours Monday through Friday. But if you visit their page here (see the middle column):
you'll notice that they're supposed to have Saturday and Sunday hours at the same number I called. So, I went to the website's online "order status" page and noticed that my estimated delivery date had been changed to the 17th. So, on Friday the 18th, still without a computer, I called sales again. This time, the sales rep said, "I'm sorry, but there's been a delay on your order and I now show the estimated delivery date to be June 30th." I told the sales rep to cancel my order. He said he'd "try." I told him, "Don't TRY anything, just do it." And this is where the plot thickens.
On a visit to the website on May 19th, I noticed that the G770-10375RU model was nowhere to be found. In short, they likely discontinued the item - which would surely explain a delay. But yesterday, I visited my online order-status page again and noticed that the estimated delivery date had been changed - not to June 30th, but to (ahem) January 4th, 2013:
So, on the 21st, I sent an email to every rep I'd previously spoken to - asking them to "assure" me that the order was canceled. But, earlier on the 18th, I noticed a potential fly in the ointment.
In theory, when a charge is pre-approved via PayPal, the order has to be fulfilled within 72 hours or the pre-approval is canceled. However, PayPal still showed the old May 2nd pre-approval in my account history. So, I called up PayPal asking them to take the pre-approval down since I'd canceled my order. They said they'd do it within 24 to 72 hours. But 72 hours later on the 21st, it was still there. So, I called PayPal again. They apologized and parroted the same thing as before - that they'd do it within 24 to 72 hours. Not being able to trust anyone at this point (sheesh), I closed the bank account upon which PayPal could draw funds - and closed the debit MasterCard account that was associated with the PayPal account as well. That part worked (phew). But as of this morning, that pre-approval still exists on my PayPal account.
Yesterday at roughly 9:00am, having secured my capital from any possible attempt of Lenovo.com (via PayPal) glomming onto it, I went to a local store and bought a comparable HP laptop. Little did I know that 4 minutes later, Lenovo would send me an email giving me a UPS link. In short, they'd shipped a package to me. And 14 minutes after that, while I was still in the same store where I got the HP laptop, a second "personal" email from a sales rep showed up in my inbox, telling me that "if" the package shipped, to have UPS revert the shipment back to the Lenovo warehouse.
I called UPS to see if I could refuse the shipment while it's still in transit. They said that "I" couldn't - but "Lenovo" could easily reverse the process with a simple phone call to UPS. Hmm. If you ordered an item on May 2nd with a May 7th delivery date, had that date bumped ahead to the 11th, then had that date bumped ahead to the 17th, then had that date bumped ahead to June 30th, and finally had that date bumped ahead to January 4th of the next year, would you trust the product supplier? I thought not.
All I knew was that a package with "something" in it was headed my way. What was in that package? A teddy bear? A different model I hadn't ordered? The same model - but a refurbished laptop? UPS was very clear about one thing. If I opened the box, I would "lose" my right to refuse the package. So, Lenovo.com, who could have easily reversed the package while in transit (even before it was shipped), was doing nothing to stop its delivery. Likely, they hoped I'd open the box and screw myself. Wrongamundo (grin). The delivery date "I see" online is the day after tomorrow.
But, since I'd be out of state on that date, I visited my local UPS dock to see if I could "reason" with someone face to face. The lady there said the best she could do was put a "flag" on the tracking number to alert the driver that I planned to refuse the shipment. But, the possibility remained that a busy driver might not notice the flag. If the driver didn't notice the flag and delivered the package, I'd have 5 days to return the unopened box to the dock and formally refuse it. However, I alerted my former landlord of the situation. And if he could stop the delivery, he would. And if he couldn't, he'd personally take the package back to the UPS dock the next day, tell them I'd moved, and that it was my intention to refuse delivery anyway. So, with luck, this is all covered (phew).
FWIW, Lenovo's laptop was priced at $629.00. The HP was $629.99. But, there was a $50.00 rebate I applied for online as soon as I got home - making the after-rebate price $579.99. Also, one good piece of news from PayPal. They removed mention of my bank account and MasterCard from my profile. They're handling my Lenovo problem as a dispute, giving Lenovo until May 30th to refute it. If they don't hear back from Lenovo.com, they'll remove the pre-approval from my history - allowing me to close the PayPal account at leisure. But even if Lenovo.com refuted this dispute, it wouldn't matter (grin) since PayPal no longer has a funding source associated with my account.
Important proverb for everyone to remember. In any kind of dispute with a merchant (online or otherwise), the person with the cash still in their hands is always in a position of strength. And, to paraphrase an old saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get pissed," hehe.
FWIW, on the "top-five" lists of worldwide and domestic computer suppliers compiled by Gartner Research (4th Quarter, 2011), HP was #1 on both lists. Lenovo was #2 on the worldwide list but didn't even make the top-five cut on the domestic list. I think I can understand why.
P.S. The reason I ordered it on May 1st was to give Lenovo plenty of time to deliver it. Reason? I'd planned to move from Oregon to Washington state (70 miles away). But Washington state has a sales tax. So if I merely had it forwarded to a Washington address, Lenovo would have to zap me with that sales tax - turning my $629 computer into a $700 computer. And that's why I asked Lenovo to cancel the order on May 18th - when they told me delivery wouldn't take place until June 30th.
On May 25th, I was 70 miles away from my old apartment and moving into my new one - and UPS attempted delivery. Fortunately, my landlord caught the driver before he could even remove the package from the truck - telling him I'd moved and that my intention was to refuse delivery. The very next day, UPS began the return process to Lenovo. And today, Lenovo signed for and accepted the return. Nightmare over (I hope). BTW, PayPal finally removed the "pending" status of the Lenovo order. At that point, I closed my PayPal account. So, if Lenovo.com has second thoughts and attempts to zap me with a "restocking fee," PayPal will tell them the account no longer exists (grin). Also, I created a different PayPal account at a different email address, different physical address, with a different bank account and debit VISA associated. So, I'm "back in business," PayPal-wise.
April 26, 2012 - "To Pot, or Not To Pot - That is the Question"
To be honest, I wasn't planning any blog entries in the foreseeable future. It wasn't because I lacked opinions on things. I just had too many other irons in the fire to spend much time opinionizing. Then, just the other day, I noticed an article about medical marijuana on my local paper's online site. I'm not a marijuana smoker but neither do I think such people walk around with horns on their heads. In any case, I decided to leave an opinion in their comment area from my own moderate viewpoint - thinking it would be a one-time post. Instead, I started what ended up becoming a round-robin debate with another person that spanned 3 days (phew).
My forum username is "alecwest." And my debate adversary calls himself "Nosing Around." What follows is the complete content of that debate from the first post to the last. Some things I say and some things he says might offend certain people. This should come as no surprise since the issue of medical marijuana can generate strong feelings and opinions. But ready or not, here it comes.
alecwest April 22, 2012 at 7:12PM
I used to smoke marijuana daily ... and a lot of it ... many years ago. Now, I no longer smoke it and don't plan to do so in the future. But, I didn't quit because I woke up one morning and said, "Oh, God, what am I doing to myself?" I quit because I simply found better things to do with my money and my time. FWIW, when my son got to "that age" when you're supposed to talk to kids about drugs, I did. But I was completely honest with him about my pot use and why I quit. He did try pot. But now he doesn't smoke it anymore for the same reason I quit. He spends his time and money pursuing a drug that, to him, is far more expensive than pot ... namely, "women" (snicker).
He's currently working and attending college simultaneously and I'm very proud of him. And despite my pot smoking years, I am now a relatively normal and relatively articulate 61-year-old whose mind is as sharp as a tack.
Bottom line? I honestly believe that marijuana does have medicinal properties. I know medical marijuana users personally who have benefited from those medicinal properties. But, there needs to be an established system to regulate quality of the product and prevent profiteering. So far, I've not seen such a system ... even in California.
So, I remain "on the fence" on this issue. And while wholesale legalization is not something I'm totally against, I'd want to see that established system in place first ... not to mention a means to tax the product and earmark that revenue to deal with the potential problems its sale might cause.
Nosing Around April 22, 2012 at 7:20PM
If marijuana is legalized like alcohol, meaning that people could legally grow their own just as they can legally brew their own beer or ferment their own wine, it would quickly become virtually impossible to tax marijuana to any significant degree. The reason is that only marijuana's illegality makes it anything other than dirt cheap.
The cost to grow and process an ounce of marijuana is no more than $20, and a whole lot less if you do it in your backyard. Currently, an ounce sells for upwards of $250. That's almost entirely a function of its illegal status. Make it truly legal, and marijuana prices would fall straight through the floorboards.
If you want it legal, fine. But do not expect that true legalization would yield meaningful tax revenue. The "medical marijuana" fiction keeps most growing and all sales illegal, which props up prices and serves the cartels. Most "legalization" schemes keep self-cultivation illegal, which is simply an attempt by state governments to get in on the action.
alecwest April 22, 2012 at 7:45PM
Nosing Around -- I would not expect ANY meaningful revenue from people who grew their own. But, be honest - how many people would? People could grow their own fruits and vegetables and hunt their own meat ... but they don't. We live in a grocery store culture where people like to "buy" those kind of things rather than attempt producing the products themselves - because doing so involves (shudder) work.
Nosing Around April 22, 2012 at 9:47PM
I would not expect ANY meaningful revenue from people who grew their own. But, be honest - how many people would? People could grow their own fruits and vegetables and hunt their own meat ... but they don't. We live in a grocery store culture where people like to "buy" those kind of things rather than attempt producing the products themselves - because doing so involves (shudder) work.I don't expect a stoner to have been diligent enough to understand basic economics. Cannabis tends to make you people unable to grasp details, or follow more than a step or two of logic. So I will go nice and slow for the impaired.
If there are no legal barriers to entry, such as with tomatoes or beef, prices will tend to fall towards the cost of production plus a premium for the risk of the business. The cost of growing and processing an ounce of marijuana, if legal, is roughly $13 in the United States, and would likely decline as an efficient industry got organized.
Now, the retail price of the same marijuana, today, is $250 an ounce and up, depending mostly on the quantity purchased. If cultivation were truly legal -- not just commercially, but personally -- how long do you think it would take to close the gap between the $13 production cost (and declining), and the $250-plus price at retail?
If the state organized a cartel, by banning personal cultivation, then it's not legalization. It's just the substitution of one cartel for another. Most stoners, not being mentally sharp, seem to want to allow that. But still, it's not legalization, and I'm talking about legalization on the same basis as alcohol, which allows individuals to brew their own. Do you still follow, or have I lost you in your haze?
If not, then let us continue. If your favorite drug were to be truly legal, and people could grow their own, or could simply enter the business on their own, the canyon between $250+ and $13 per ounce would be closed. If the state tried to keep it open with taxes, at some point the army of amateur gardeners would force it closed.
How would this happen? Well, even a mentally challenged stoner (now think really hard and imagine who I am talking about) would look up from his bong one day and say, "Hey, man, why am I paying $250 an ounce for "legal" marijuana when I can grow my own for almost nothing?
Bottom line: If really legal, there is no way that the state could support a price even remotely close to what's being charged today. And once that happens -- within a couple years of true legalization -- tax revenues would collapse. Have you followed any of this, or are you too drug addled to think?
alecwest April 23, 2012 at 12:23AM
Nosing Around -- Before responding to your long missive, I have a question for you. Have you personally ever smoked marijuana?
Nosing Around April 23, 2012 at 3:40AM
@alecwest, have you ever killed a man?
alecwest April 23, 2012 at 4:53PM
Nosing Around -- Have I ever killed a man? Probably. I'm a Vietnam vet who was in the combat zone for 1 tour. But I never actually saw any of the bodies.
Now, back to my question to you. Have you ever smoked marijuana? Additionally, if you have, how often did you smoke it and for how long?
Nosing Around April 23, 2012 at 5:39PM
Why does it matter?
Nosing Around April 23, 2012 at 6:14PM
Whether or not I did, or do, smoke dope, and how much or why, has nothing to do with the arguments I've been making here. I haven't even said whether or not I think marijuana should be legalized. What I've been doing is pointing out the practical realities and implications of various policy alternatives.
The problem with the stoner lobby is that you're deathly afraid of a truly candid and logical discussion of the various realities. Everything the stoners put out is slanted and manipulative. It's funny and a little bit sad, quite frankly. And then, in the end, you want to know if I smoke dope. As if that actually matters.
alecwest April 23, 2012 at 10:32PM
I asked because I was curious whether I was debating with someone who shared common experiences to mine. But ultimately, you're correct ... it doesn't matter. Now, to respond to your earlier long missive.
"If there are no legal barriers to entry, such as with tomatoes or beef, prices will tend to fall towards the cost of production plus a premium for the risk of the business. The cost of growing and processing an ounce of marijuana, if legal, is roughly $13 in the United States, and would likely decline as an efficient industry got organized."I'm not certain where you got the $13 figure from but I won't question it. Instead, let's talk about a comparable product that currently has no legal barriers to entry - namely, tobacco. The figures I'm going to quote come from "Health Canada" which did a breakdown on the costs to create a carton of Marlboro kings (before taxes). Since the difference between currency values is so slight ($1 Canadian = $1.008892 US as of today), I'll dispense with currency conversion and just use their figures. Each cigarette contains less than 1 gram of tobacco according to the National Cancer Institute. Some sources say .7 grams, some .9 grams. So, I'll average it to .8 grams of tobacco. Multiply that by 200 cigarettes in a carton and you've got a weight of 160 grams (roughly 5.6 oz.). The total cost to produce this carton, before taxes, is $10.12 ... and that's for 5.6 oz. which makes the per-ounce cost $1.81 for professionally produced Marlboros. Unless marijuana cultivation is incredibly more difficult than tobacco culvation, it makes the $13 figure seem quite high. Perhaps as the marijuana cultivation industry got more organized and efficient, it would drop to $1.81. No matter.
Here's two figures - $51.99 and $1.15. The first figure is the cost of a carton of Marlboro kings at my local mom/pop store. $1.15 is the cost of cultivating enough tobacco to fill a carton of king-size Marlboros. Even at the pre-tax cost of $10.12 a carton, there's quite a disparity between that figure and $1.15 (assuming one "grew their own"). The mom/pop store says their markup on cigarettes is small - that their profit comes from the volume of sales more than the markup. So, the lion's share of the cost of that carton is Federal and state tax.
Now ... the article said that an ounce of pot (average Portland street price $250 per WeBeHigh.com) lasts the average user up to 4 weeks. With cigarettes, assuming the smoker is a modest smoker, a carton of cigarettes lasts about a week. So, 4 cartons for 4 weeks costs $207.96 ... and the cost of cultivating 4 cartons-worth of tobacco on your own is only $4.60. With such a disparity between the cost of buying processed tobacco in a store and growing it yourself, why don't most people grow their own ... especially when it's legal? The answer is obvious - the grocery store culture. People would rather spend $207.96 a month on cigarettes than growing their own for only $4.60 because cultivation equals work. So, if pot became legal (and subject to taxation), why would people spend $250 for store-bought marijuana when it only costs $13 to grow your own? Same answer - the grocery store culture (convenience uber alles).
"If your favorite drug were to be truly legal, and people could grow their own, or could simply enter the business on their own, the canyon between $250+ and $13 per ounce would be closed. If the state tried to keep it open with taxes, at some point the army of amateur gardeners would force it closed."If that's true, and since tobacco is legal, why hasn't an army of amateur gardeners closed the gap between $207.96 a month and $4.60 a month?
"If really legal, there is no way that the state could support a price even remotely close to what's being charged today. And once that happens -- within a couple years of true legalization -- tax revenues would collapse."Then why haven't cigarette taxes collapsed?
In any case, my opinions remain unaltered. It's been MANY years since I smoked marijuana and I have no intention of going back to it. Money-wise and time-wise, smoking marijuana makes no sense to me. And on the issues of conditional legalization (medical marijuana) and full legalization, I'll remain on the fence until someone shows me a workable plan to ensure quality, prevent profiteering, and tax marijuana appropriately.
Nosing Around April 24, 2012 at 1:06PM
I'm glad you mentioned cigarettes, because you've given me the opportunity to show just how wrong you are.
No one can grow his own cigarette. In fact, a cigarette is a very highly engineered product. Tobacco is only the beginning. Unlike marijuana, tobacco is tricky to grow. It's a multi-stage process that requires a particular outdoor climate. The average stoner wouldn't have a chance. The processing ("curing," or drying, and then fermentation) of tobacco is very time consuming, taking a minimum of two years. A stoner would never have the patience or the focus.
At that point, all you have is raw tobacco leaf, which then must be turned into a cigarette. Cigarette makers use more than one variety of leaves, and the loose tobacco is then mixed with various additives that impart flavor and keep the cigs moist enough to last but dry enough to light, and not rot. All of those additives are proprietary, which means that no amateur could hope to duplicate, say, a Marlboro.
Finally, there are the filters, which are manufactured, and the rolling into a precise shape. The rolling is the easiest part, but everything else is actually quite difficult, and in fact impossible in the real world, for an individual to accomplish. Bottom line: While an individual cigarette might be quite cheap to make, that's only because it's the sophisticated product of a highly mechanized and efficient industrial chain.
Marijuana, by contrast, is a weed that can be cultivated just about anywhere by any interested gardener. If the outdoor climate is insufficient, it can be grown indoors very easily. There are some minor twists and turns, but not many. If it were fully legal, most issues (such as the sexing of plants, and distinctions among varieties) would be readily addressed by nurseries. Once grown, it takes no more than a couple of months to cure, and in fact can be quick-dried in an oven.
At that point, you have the end product. There's no blending, no additives, no further processing. You stick it in a pipe or a vaporizer, or roll a joint, or bake it into food, and there you are. So there's really no comparison.
In a legalized environment, would some people choose to buy it? Of course they would. I have never once argued otherwise here. The issue is how much they would pay. Sure, given the a laziness and stupidity of many stoners, I suppose there'd still be the occasional stoner idiot who'd pay $150 an ounce. But not very many. Not when the growing cost in California's central valley is $2.80 an ounce, and harvesting, curing, and distribution maybe another $10 an ounce.
At wholesale, $13 marijuana would become $25 at retail. It would compete with home grown at $5 an ounce, maximum. This would keep a very tight leash on the store bought product, and in fact would exert heavy downward pressure. One of the first things you'd see would be major cost-cutting efforts by commercial producers.
Enter the tax man. If, say, a state thought it could charge $10 or $20 or $50 an ounce in tax, they'd get a quick Economics 101 lesson. If marijuana were legal, meaning legal for me to grow in my back yard, even a $25 store-bought ounce would be in danger. You'd have individuals growing it and just giving it away to friends and neighbors. ("Hey, Dave, I've got more than I can use. Want a couple extra plants?")
At $35 or $45 or $75 an ounce, including the state's attempted markup, that informal sharing would become something else entirely. You'd have new cartels spring up. They'd be focused mainly on distribution, because, after all, growing one's own would now be fully legal, and we're talking about growing a weed that's very easy to cultivate.
In business school-speak, the barriers to entry would be non-existent; with a heavy state tax, the rivalry between competitors would be sky-high; the power of suppliers would be low; bargaining power of buyers would be high. This is a recipe for price collapse. For more, see Michael Porter's Competitive Strategy, the business classic.
Back to tobacco. The only reason the states can enforce high cigarette taxes is because the barrier to entry is gigantic. Individuals really cannot grow their own cigarettes. If they could, there's no way you'd see the prices now charged.
Let's take a different example, beer. I have brewed my own. It costs about 20 cents per beer to make your own, vs. a dollar to buy it. Why not just make your own, then? The reason is that, while you can do it, making your own beer is a hassle. The equipment is bulky, the sterilization is a pain, and the end product is about five gallons worth, which is more than most people want to keep sitting around. Yes, you can make less, but the practicalities argue against it.
And your beer making equipment stands alone. There is nothing else you can do with it. By contrast, with marijuana, it's just another plant to grow in the garden, or in the house. If it were legal, there'd be little or no special, separate effort involved. There are millions of gardeners who spend lots of time at it. I'm confident that, if legal, you'd have a bare minimum of several hundred thousand marijuana growers within a year.
All would be making their own at $5 an ounce, maximum. Over time, many would be making it at a cost that rounded down to zero. Yes, the occasional dumb stoner would pay $150 an ounce. After all, in the words of P.T. Barnum, there's a sucker born every minute. But they'd be the exception and not the rule. The states? The minute they tried to get cute with taxation, they'd learn their lesson.
alecwest April 24, 2012 at 2:04PM
"In fact, a cigarette is a very highly engineered product."Cigarettes, as we know them today, might be highly engineered. But growing tobacco to smoke does not involve a sophisticated process. Tobacco was first introduced to European settlers in North America by the indigenous tribes who had been smoking it for God knows how long. They grew it and stored it under primitive stone-age-like conditions. And like marijuana, tobacco can be smoked in a cigarette or in a pipe. The choice is up to the user.
Just a brief aside on storage from personal experience. Back when I used pot, I didn't leave a baggie around in a drawer. I wrapped the baggie in aluminum foil and tossed it in the freezer. Doing this can keep cannabis fresh and potent for a considerably long time - no additives required.
"Finally, there are the filters, which are manufactured, and the rolling into a precise shape."Why use filters?
"At that point, you have the end product. There's no blending, no additives, no further processing. You stick it in a pipe or a vaporizer, or roll a joint, or bake it into food, and there you are. So there's really no comparison."Why blend and introduce additives? The indigenous tribes didn't. And on blending, visit a tobacco shop. There are bags or tins of tobacco that can be bought as a "blend" and others that can be bought "unblended." Some people prefer a specific strain and stick with that unblended strain. And some of these bags and tins are additive-free. Blending a Turkish and Colombian strain of tobacco is no more difficult than blending a Sativa strain and an Indica strain of cannabis. So, tobacco and cannabis really can be compared.
Sorry, I'm just not buying your arguments.
Nosing Around April 24, 2012 at 2:16PM
It doesn't matter that the Indians smoked tobacco, nor does it matter whether they blended their tobacco or used additives. All of that is beside the point. You used the example of cigarettes, a highly engineered product that is impossible to replicate at home, as a comparison to marijuana. I showed you that the comparison is wrong, and now you want to quibble about what the Indians did or didn't smoke. We can say this much: They didn't smoke whatever the stores in Canada are selling.
You aren't buying my argument because, like the rest of the stoner lobby, you will not consider any facts or logic not pre-chewed and pre-digested by your allies. If, for some reason, the shape of the planet was relevant to the discussion, you wouldn't want anyone to say that the Earth is round unless it somehow supported your desire for "medical" marijuana, or for whatever the stoner lobby wants at the moment.
It's a sad, and amusing, to see your crowd put what's left of its brains in a blind trust to be administered by someone else. Oh well.
Nosing Around April 24, 2012 at 1:15PM
p.s.: What I find fascinating is the heavy reluctance by stoners to have this discussion. Part of it is the simple laziness and stupidity of your average doper. Look at the comments in this thread from the stoners. Most of them have a problem even writing a coherent sentence, let alone tracking a multi-step logic chain.
But there's an even bigger issue with the stoners. They will not allow themselves to evaluate any fact involving marijuana on its own merits. They insist on putting every bit of information through a propaganda filter, to make sure it helps their case. They reject any data and any argument that hasn't been pre-chewed and pre-digested by the stoner lobby.
It's frustrating, but it's also amusing. First you have the dope itself, which doesn't make the users any smarter. Then, as if that's not enough, you have these people expending additional effort to further stupefy themselves. Oh well!
alecwest April 24, 2012 at 3:17PM
"You used the example of cigarettes, a highly engineered product that is impossible to replicate at home, as a comparison to marijuana."No, I didn't. I "compared" the costs of a highly engineered product to the costs of "growing tobacco" at home.
"...you will not consider any facts or logic not pre-chewed and pre-digested by your allies."Funny. I was about to say the same thing about you. The truth? Prior to 1942, no privately funded testing was done on the long-term effects of marijuana use. And following 1942, no privately funded testing was ALLOWED by the Federal government. The only "truth" we've been allowed to see is what the government claims to be the truth. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) claimed in a 2006 statement that privately funded research was needed to discover the truth. And on November 10, 2009, the American Medical Association (AMA) asked the government to remove marijuana from Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act. They didn't do this so that people around the country could "light up" if their state gave them the go-ahead. They did it because it was the only way the AMA could commission a privately funded study on the long-term effects. The Fed's answer? NO! In essence, the Federal government is saying, "Hey, if you don't believe me, just ask me."
BTW, I'm not saying that the pro-pot lobby isn't putting out a certain amount of B.S. to suit their agenda. I'm merely saying that the anti-pot lobby is doing the same thing ... relying on the government's say-so instead of a privately funded study whose researchers don't have a dog in the fight.
"What I find fascinating is the heavy reluctance by stoners to have this discussion."Perhaps they're tired of being in discussions with people who think name-calling and slurring are logical debate tools. During this thread, you've said things like:
"The average stoner can't think his way out of a plastic baggie..."etc., etc., etc.
And yet, you've said that once pot became truly legal, this underachieving, incoherent mess would soon become a motivated army of amateur growers to close the gap in pricing ... when tobacco users, legally capable of doing the same thing, remain largely unmotivated to do so.
Nosing Around April 24, 2012 at 3:43PM
Alas, I thought I might have been having a discussion with an honest opponent. But no. Or maybe all the dope you smoked way back when simply fried too much of your brain. Either way, I've told you what I can tell you, and you've done everything you can to evade and misrepresent not just what I've written, but what you yourself wrote.
Sad and funny how the dope lobby is so deathly afraid of obvious realities.
alecwest April 24, 2012 at 3:56PM
"Sad and funny how the dope lobby is so deathly afraid of obvious realities."I'm not a member of either the pro-dope or anti-dope lobbies. I'd seriously like to see a privately funded study commissioned by the AMA on the long-term effects of marijuana - including their "official" opinion (as a medical entity) on the medicinal properties of marijuana (or lack thereof). Unfortunately, we won't see such a study until the Federal government allows it ... and I don't see this happening at any time in the foreseeable future (unless Ron Paul became President, hehe).
Nosing Around April 24, 2012 at 4:00PM
By the way, any comment thread is full of insults between stoners and non-stoners. If you were really upset about insults, rather than grasping at an excuse to be outraged, you'd have decried them in both directions.
And you've implicitly assumed policy positions that I don't have. I haven't decided where I stand on legalization or regulation. For the time being, I've been focused on the inability of virtually everyone to have a truthful discussion. Which, unfortunately, includes you.
Oh, and Ron Paul? You just gave yourself away. He wants to legalize dope. You've obviously made up your mind. Which is fine, but it'd be good if you could have an honest discussion about the various issues without engaging in the cheap tricks you have in this part of the thread.
alecwest April 24, 2012 at 4:34PM
"By the way, any comment thread is full of insults between stoners and non-stoners."When I was in speech class in college, my instructor said that people who refrain from insults maintain the moral high-ground in any debate. In my discussions with you, I hope I was successful. BTW, I really wasn't upset at your insults and slurs. But I did notice them. They were impossible to miss.
You first wrote:
"And you've implicitly assumed policy positions that I don't have. I haven't decided where I stand on legalization or regulation."Maybe I implicitly assumed your policy position on pot based on the name-calling and slurs you used toward certain people.
And then wrote:
"Oh, and Ron Paul? You just gave yourself away. He wants to legalize dope. You've obviously made up your mind."You just explicitly assumed my policy position on Presidential candidates, even when I concluded that comment with "hehe" to indicate jest. I will not be voting for Ron Paul. In fact, I don't know who I will vote for. The last dynamic President I ever voted for was Ronald Reagan. But if you're curious to know what I think of the current front-runner candidates, see this graphic:
FWIW, I got that photo from the slideshow that appears at the beginning of this article - and slightly altered it.
Nosing Around April 24, 2012 at 4:49PM
You weren't successful in this discussion. You drove it off the rails with a series of cheap tricks, making it impossible to have a truthful or logical debate. It's pretty sad, actually. I think the whole structure of the law regarding marijuana is deeply flawed, but if the stoner lobby is going to rely on a series of lies, then I frankly see little incentive to change anything, except maybe to repeal the phony "medical marijuana" system.
But I'm not dumb enough to think it will actually be repealed. The stoners have enough influence to keep it alive, and enough stupidity to want to keep paying a couple hundred bucks and up for something they could grow themselves for next to nothing. Maybe just as well. A poor stoner can't get in as much trouble, maybe?
alecwest April 24, 2012 at 5:03PM
Have a nice day. ;)
... and then, our keyboards silenced - and the only sound left was the sound of crickets (grin).