Can awareness of bullying reduce gun violence?

blog guns


I know this is not a consumer topic but I felt compelled to write this. Another tragic shooting took place in California with more innocent lives being sacrificed. But can we analyze the murderer and others in the past like him? What do they all have in common? They are all young males who have either been bullied or rejected by women. Unfortunately it drives some to insanity.

I can say having been bullied myself for a short period of time in high school (until I knocked out the tooth of one of the “tough” guys, got suspended three days, paid for the tooth repair, and then became a “friend” of the bullying crowd), it is a terrible and lonely feeling. Parents, who are oftentimes too busy to help their child with these problems, sometimes have their lives turned upside down when their child commits one of these horrible crimes, or lesser ones perhaps. So what to do?

First, there should be very strong penalties in any institute of education against bullies. There should be a mechanism for reporting such acts, and the bully should face a mandatory police session with a stern warning. Bullying, big guys or groups against a smaller person, is absolutely inexcusable. I just feel it is laughed off most of the time by lazy and indifferent overseers.

Next, it is a normal course of events for young females to reject “suitors” who show interest. If this, and the other courting rituals which have existed for thousands of years, were explained and taught to high school students, perhaps they could better cope with rejection, seeing it as a normal part of the boy-girl meeting process. Pursuit of someone worthwhile is something that takes time and patience. Many of these killers do not have, or have not been taught, patience and self-worth.

Lastly, I firmly believe in the right to bear arms guaranteed to us in the constitution. But I cannot see how the gun lobby can object to an application process to obtain firearms. Come on, what’s the big deal? Drivers must apply for a license. You apply, you get interviewed, you wait a short period of time, and get your permit. I am sure the competent police officials that would administer these tests would spot a troubled young person, and hopefully most of these massacres could be prevented. Come on, NRA, do the right thing.

I do not profess to be an expert on human behavior, but we must take steps as a society to ward off insane behavior that deprives other families of their innocent children.

I gathered a lot of insight on the “courtship” process by reading two superb books on the subject, Love Tactics and More Love Tactics. I strongly recommend them, and would have my own children read them as a mandatory assignment.

Should municipal functions be privatized?

blog parkingmeter

When your local government employees view you as The Enemy.

One of the most annoying things in our society is when government employees, who are paid by our tax dollars, and in effect are our employees, treat us like the enemy. Or show their insensitivity and stupidity when we deal with them, as if we are foreign invaders. Here is a good story.

Three days ago we had a snowfall in the town where I live of 8"-9”. I went to my local excellent Italian market to buy food for the next few days. There are 6 parking meters on the sidewalk in front of the supermarket. The store neatly plowed the sidewalk, but with so much snow, what they plowed to the side obstructed access to the parking meters. The town plowed the adjoining street and shoved more snow upon the curb blocking access to both sides of the meter. One could only get on the sidewalk after parking one’s car by walking to the corner, where the crosswalks had been opened.

I saw an elderly lady next to me stare at the meter, with no hope of reaching it. A mountain climber with cleats would have been one of the few who could have fed that meter. I assumed, of course, the town would never have the audacity to ticket anyone that day. I was wrong--they ticketed the poor woman and me, despite my protestations to the robotic ticket agent.

I called the parking authority to protest. The (insensitive) woman to whom I spoke mentioned the elderly woman had called as well when I mentioned her. I was told the ticket agent “had photos showing the meters were accessible." How stupid! I called the court clerk in town, and made a date to appear before a judge to show him the photos I took. I also called a local councilwoman I know and proposed an ordinance to prevent such a situation from happening again. This is the procedure in a democratic system.

Overall, my personal opinion is to do what the great town of Sandy Springs, Georgia, and other enlightened towns have done, and that is to privatize all municipal functions. Take control from lazy bureaucrats, to whom my protest was an annoyance. Make these private contractors accountable, and discard them for a competitor when they do not please the local population. These firms will compete with one another to hold on to their contracts with towns, and will have much more at stake pleasing the public than the current system offers.

Postscript: added a week later: It just occurred to me that this occurred across the street from Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who himself was the victim of some recent government stupidity.

How does the Post Office compare to FedEx and UPS?

blog postoffice

The Post Office is not so bad. It’s a lot better than Federal Express (Fedex)!

I think our postal system is too maligned, and they do not deserve it. Yes, they run a deficit, but most of that is due to an unparalleled pension system formula. They have, I think, a decent guy running it. He can cut the deficit almost to nothing by making some major changes that I do not think will bother anyone much. Most evident is cutting out Saturday delivery. Who needs a delivery on Saturday? Most mail today is advertising and non-important things. I do not know one person who would mind Saturday delivery being abolished, yet our wonderful Congress says no. How really stupid.

I find post office rates better than Fedex or UPS. Overnight to most places is less than $20; not so with the two big boys. And the post office has a great priority mail option, which arrives within 1-2 days almost everywhere, and 1/3 the cost of guaranteed overnight. It’s great for shipping small parcels, as well. A small flat rate box starts at $5.60, larger ones $10 and up. Still a bargain against the big boys’ rates. And included in all Priority Mail pricing is tracking, and delivery confirmation if you look your shipment up on line, and even $50 and up of insurance!

My problem is with Fedex (not UPS-they seem nicer). I used to use Fedex because they had an office near me. It closed one day, and I was referred to a Fedex office location nearby. I toted in two big boxes to mail. A snide woman behind the counter told me very bluntly she could not accept the boxes because of the way they were packed and would have to repack them if I wanted to ship them, at a few dollars, of course. My packages were packed as I had done for years when the other office was open. I angrily took them to a nearby UPS outpost and, no problem, in the same boxes, they were accepted and shipped. I had the exact same situation trying to send something from California to New York. Same snide attitude--I think both of their agents took pride in seeing me walk away angry. Let’s face it--some greedy executive at Fedex says one day “Hey, let’s get our people to reject any boxes that do not look as neat as ours, and get the slobs to pay us to repack them. We will get another $10-20 per shipment many times a day. Wow, our bottom line will look great." Happily there is an alternative:  the post office. And even UPS.

Lastly, twice Fedex lost important packages for me. Both times, after I filed a phone claim, I got a Fedex letter the next day denying my claim. No reason. I assume what they do is reject most or all claims, and assume the customer will just live with their decision and take (their) loss. Both times I sued in Small Claims Court, and both times they called me a few days before to settle and sent me my claim amount. They play the odds hoping that most people will forget the claim and keep using them for convenience reasons. I am no fan of Fedex as you can see.

Are credit card companies reasonable?

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If you think your credit card company cares about you, think again. You are only a statistic.

I was going to rent a car right after the financial crisis hit in 2008. I presented my American Express card, which was up to date, and had only around $2000 in recent charges. I had always been able to charge up to $10,000. The charge was declined. Luckily I had another card to use. I called, irate. I was told that a review was being made of my account (I have excellent credit), and passed that the operator was tongue-tied and seemed to be reading from a script. I gave up. Two months later, I was told I had a $10,000 limit. Then a couple of weeks later, down to $1500. No reason at all. I had been a cardholder for maybe three years. It seems that at that moment, all the banks and credit card companies were terrified, and two of my other cards reduced my limits which remain lower until this day. I gave up the card in anger.

What is my point? There is no personal feeling towards a card holder, ever at any time. We are all just numbers. If it suits the card provider to change the terms, they will do so at their convenience and without warning. Never make the mistake of thinking otherwise. The card companies (which are mostly all big banks) have one thought in mind, not our convenience, but profits. They are mercenary. Mercenaries for centuries have been soldiers for hire. They fight whomever they are paid to fight, caring less about the justice of a cause. The British hired Hessian mercenaries to fight us during the American Revolution. Happily we eventually defeated the Hessians.

Nonetheless, having said that, an extension of credit is a loan, and as honorable people we must repay what we agree to repay. They do deserve that. And we should pay back according to the agreed to schedule for payment; that advances our credit ratings.

Another issue is disputed charges. I once rented a motel room on line. I got there at 4 pm and it was filthy with animal droppings in the bathroom. I went to the front desk, returned the key, and refused to stay there (even the dot on the desk clerk’s forehead was soiled). I called my credit card company (not American Express) and in the end they refused to withdraw the $60 charge, despite the fact that I did not use the room, and neither would anyone else except a rat. They can be very cruel this way. I will say in their defense, American Express is the best when a dispute arises; they almost always give the cardholder the benefit of the doubt.

The worst part of having a card today is the interest you pay when you do not pay in full at the end of the month. It can go as high as 29.9% by state law. Those unfortunate people are stuck in a never-ending cycle of debt. The card companies? Well, they are paying the Federal Reserve 1.5% for the funds they extend to you when you charge, so a lot of whoopies in the board rooms every month when the “interest charged” figures are computed.

I offer my advice, and I know how hard it is for those at the bottom of the ladder, who struggle every week, to comply. Sacrifice, sell things you do not need, do anything to get out of your credit card debt. I know it is easy for me to say. But it is so hurtful to see so many people struggling and paying near usurious rates to these billion dollar giants, who take full advantage of their plight. Nonetheless, we should have a law limiting interest chargeable to 10% over the bank’s borrowing rates. Surely such a change would cause the cancellation of marginal accounts, but maybe that would be good. It would remove those who can least afford it from the credit rolls, and force them to survive without paying (up to) 30% interest rates.

Are Big Banks a Ripoff?

blog bigBanks icons

The big banks will rip you off. Shop for a smaller, kinder, less greedy bank!

Make no mistake about it. The big banks, in my opinion, could care less about you and your account. Ever go to close an account with money in it?  They hardly raise an eyebrow. I once convinced a business friend to change banks. He went and withdrew $500,000 from his old bank, which was in a non-interest bearing checking account, and no one in the bank said a word when he did. They just handed him his check. It is obvious the big boys are raking it in and such “small” things do not even faze them.

But let’s get to the average Joe like you and I. Earlier this year I closed my two accounts at one of the big ones. I’d like to mention who but I won’t for the moment. I got fed up with their charges and rules, which kept changing against the consumer. First there was a $25 monthly charge to maintain my checking account, unless I had $1000 in the account from start to finish of the month. I almost always did, but of course, none of us looks to see the balance every day. Sometimes for one day my balance would fall below $1000 for one day only, and bam, the $25. Sometimes I was simply strapped and never hit the $1000. I wrote maybe 10-12 checks a month from my accounts.

It gets worse. How about the $35 overdraft fee, and the $35 “uncollected” fee. You know what being overdrawn is, I am sure. Uncollected means you deposit a check, even if it is a bank check from someone else, and the bank demands 1-5 days to clear it. Any check you write against those funds that hits within the clearance period, boom, $35 each. This is really despicable. It is simply a nasty act, one that costs the bank nothing, because, all local (meaning US) checks are required by the banking system to clear overnight. Picture these greedy cigar-chomping bankers having a good laugh at their country clubs, raking in the fees (which I understand totaled over $4 billion last year in total) at the expense of hard working, honest people such as ourselves. The greedy rich taking from those less fortunate is not nice. By the way, there has been some movement in Congress to limit such fees but it seems to go nowhere. The cigar-chompers must have their buddies taking our legislators out to fancy steak houses to convince them that the charges are fair and earned, and to abandon their effort.

There is an answer. I left the big guy. I asked my neighbors and realized a small bank had opened down the street from where I live, and they recommended it. That name I will give you, it is the Bank of New Jersey, and I cannot say enough about these wonderful folks. Friendly, helpful, benefit of the doubt to the customer, and no goddamn fees like before! No overdraft fees if you check your account by 11am and cover the overdraft. No incoming or outgoing wire fees (except $50 outgoing international)-since in my business I have occasion to receive and send wires of small amounts. The Big Bank was $15, $25 and $50 every time for wire fees. No $25 a month. No “uncollected” fees. If you have a problem at the Big Bank, they have to call the main office. My new bank makes their own decisions. You can speak to the decision maker. The only difference: the Big Bank is open Sunday, and my new bank is not. Who really needs to bank on Sunday?

Lastly, please, I beg you, apply yourself and learn to balance your checkbook, and always know to the penny how much is in your account. Most friends I know do not do this, and it causes errors, oversights and then, overdrafts. And so many people live week to week that they cannot avoid being overdrawn, or uncollected. This is very sad and I wish I could change that for them. But $35 a hit? Not fair. Our Congress should act to reduce these fees to a maximum of $10; again, it costs the bank nothing. But first, seek out a small local bank, ask their fee structure. Shop as you would shop for a car or a watch; we all shop everything, why not our bank? And if you live in northern NJ, no need to shop. Head right down to Bank of New Jersey (I do not work for them; this is not a promotion).

The Justizz Legislative Agenda will have a provision to alter such unconscienable charges.

How to deal with parking tickets

blog parking

Dealing with public employees who are idiots and could care less about your inconvenience.

I got about a month ago a notice of an unpaid parking ticket in Elizabeth, NJ, which of course was not mine. They had my license plate down correctly, and when I looked up the ticket on line it identified the vehicle as a “Mini” which I assume meant a Mini-Cooper. The plate in question is registered to a classic car that I own, of English origin, over 50 years old, and into the trunk of which a Mini-Cooper could fit.

I immediately sent a certified letter explaining the circumstances, attaching a copy of my registration, which clearly showed it was not a “Mini”. No reply. Today I get a notice that my registration has been suspended, and that I have to pay $100 and then go to the state motor vehicle department and go through some sort of procedure to undo the suspension. So, I am writing today a letter with a more outraged tone than the prior one, and I will once again go to the post office to send it by certified mail. Okay, I am a citizen of this great country, and errors do occur, and I know it is my responsibility as a citizen to report these errors, and the time I waste doing so is being part of a great democracy.

Now that I have finished my flowery pontification, I will go to the black reality. It is this simple. Many civil servants, not all, but especially those in the big cities, are hired I think to give them employment, without any regard to their competence. I know what happened here. My letter went into a pile on the desk of someone who is most likely incompetent, and certainly could care less whether their fellow citizen is inconvenienced or hurt. I believe that person is more concerned with what kind of chicken they will eat for lunch, and how they can devise an excuse to leave early or take the next day off.

So, against my better judgment, I called the number on the summons twice. Both times, after a wait of 5-7 minutes, I got a recording saying my call could not be taken that day. What a joke!

My next step is to file a suit against the municipality, and the motor vehicle department, not only to undo the erroneous suspension, but to compensate me for my trouble and for having to waste time to fix something this municipality could have so easily repaired. But I have no answer for correcting the problem, except to believe so strongly in contracting out all municipal services, so someone, in this case a contracted party, can be held responsible for incompetence.

Addendum: Four days later. I decided to call again, and same recording. Then I called the main number instead of going through the routine, asked for someone, and got someone to whom I explained my problem. Not a clever person, she called back and said I had to come and see the judge. Of course I objected, and she put her supervisor on. This woman was sharp--definitely not a chicken eater. She promised to investigate, called me back the next day, said she found the error, and promised to rescind the suspension. Miracles do happen.