99 Saturn Hesitates Between 30 and 40 MPH

Thought I would write a quick blog article about this.

Just until yesterday, we had a 1999 Saturn SL1 vehicle.  We’ve had it for just over 11 years and it has been an exceptional car.

About a month ago, we had all of the brakes replaced in the car.  When we got it back from the mechanic, we noticed that the car would hesitate between 30 and 40 mph.  We also did notice that the car would hesitate in other situations as well – where we were really pushing on the pedal to get it to move.  But for the most part, it was almost always stuttering between 30 and 40 mph.

I searched other message boards and forums from other car owners to try and find the problem.

It seemed that a lot of individuals noted that it was because the EGR valve needed cleaned.  So a few weekends ago, I got the car out and took the EGR valve off.  Yes, it was quite dirty with carbon build-up.

The EGR valve was cleaned and put back in.  Took the car out for a test drive and the car still had some hesitation between there.

Well, I further searched on how to test to see if it really was the EGR valve.  A few recommendations said to remove the electrical connector from the EGR valve – and that would bypass the EGR valve.  The notes indicated that if the EGR valve was causing the problem, then the hesitation symptoms would go away.

Did that – went for a test drive – still had the problem.  So I hooked the EGR valve back up and cleared the check engine light.

Well, next thing was to take the Electronic Control Module (ECM) and coil packs out.  Took them out and went up to AutoZone to have them tested.  Well, I get there and they said they can’t test anything because their ohm meter was stolen.  They called the other two stores in town – same thing.  Kind of strange that all of them had their ohm meter stolen!

Went over to O’Reilly Auto Parts to see if they could test it.  Nope.  They didn’t have the equipment to test.  But I was discussing the issue with the front desk clerk.  He asked if I had checked the spark plugs as that would be a cheap fix.

So I bought four NGK plugs for $8 total and took them home.  Changed out the spark plugs, went out for a test drive and boom!  The car hesitation between 30 and 40 mph was completely solved!

After spending at least four to five hours on it, the issue simply was caused by some spark plugs that needed changed out.

So if your vehicle has a stuttering problem, you might check the spark plugs first and replace them.

Online Merchant Accounts – Review of Merchant Inc

This review is long due of a company called Merchant Inc.

Let me start by explaining what my circumstances were.

As an owner of an online company, we live and breathe by the ability to accept credit card payments for customers.  For the 14+ years we have been in business, we have used PayPal for all of our transaction needs.  It is relatively easy for our customers to get their invoice by e-mail – then go to the PayPal page to either login to their account – or put in their card details.

As of this writing, PayPal’s fees are approximately 30 cents plus 2.9% per transaction.  Not bad considering there are NO OTHER FEES – no monthly fees, no batch fees, nothing.  Merchant accounts have all kinds of other fees – as described below.

Well, I had a customer put in a charge back against me.  This customer was a fraudulent scammer to say the least – as they paid us to create two websites for them.  We created the websites, they approved of both of them, and then decided to call their credit card company and say that our charges were not authorized.  This was the first time I ever had to deal with this in my business and was shocked.

So PayPal had no other choice than to take the funds from our account.  Any merchant account would do this as well.  So I got online – like anyone else would – and started seeing how it was to deal with PayPal and working to provide my side of the story.  PayPal does have a nice system where you can go in and upload and provide all of the documentation regarding the claim.  However, based on a lot of reviews I was reading, everyone was indicating that PayPal would do absolutely nothing regarding these charge backs and wouldn’t fight on their customer’s behalf (completely false after I won the case).  Long story short – after a couple of months, PayPal did go to bat for me – and I got 100% of the chargeback funds back in my account after the decision was overturned.

In the meantime, I went to a website – PayPalSucks.com – and started reading all kinds of people’s reviews on there as well.  I felt like I was going to just lose the funds and all the time that I put into the customer’s websites.

Well, the PayPalSucks.com website really touts a company called Merchant Inc as a payment alternative to PayPal.  They were the only provider that PayPalSucks.com would recommend for US customers.

One of the first things I did was to post a topic on the PayPalSucks.com website asking others about their experiences and reading Merchant Inc reviews.  I also posted a huge review of Merchant Inc on there as well.  Well – my post was NEVER approved and never posted to the site.  Imagine that.  So what I thought is probably true – the same company/person that created the PayPalSucks.com website most likely runs Merchant Inc as well.  That is why they have banners and advertisements all over the site for Merchant Inc – and is why that is the only provider they recommend for US customers.

So – now for the review of Merchant Inc.

Customer Service

Very responsive chat-based customer service that I was very happy with.  Do note that there are three different customer service departments that you will deal with though – which is noted below.  The one time using iPayment’s customer service seemed OK – and the one time using Authorize.net’s customer service also seemed OK – although it took their department 4-5 days to get my logo uploaded to my payment form.

In about 24 hours, I got the approval.  This whole thing with a merchant account can be very perplexing.

How Many Hands in the Pot?

#1 – You have Merchant Inc themselves.  They basically are a reseller for Authorize.net.

#2 – You have Authorize.net.  They are the front-end that the customers and visitors see when making payments.  They are the payment gateway that ties Internet payments with an actual credit card processor.

#3 – You have iPayment.  I’ve read some VERY nasty things about iPayment that definitely scared me.  iPayment is the actual processor that talks with the card networks and does the deposits into your account when someone pays.

That is how the whole system works.  This makes matters that much more confusing with so many different hands in the pot.


Well, this is the part where you need to read the fine print.  On the Merchant Inc website, everything looks very nice and the prices reasonable.

$7.95 a month
1.9% plus 25 cents per transaction

Looks good doesn’t it?  I absolutely thought so when comparing them to the cost of the prices listed on Authorize.net ($20 per month, $99 setup fee, 10 cent transaction fee).  I thought hey – all I have to do is about $800 a month in sales and I’ll break even with what I was paying with PayPal (since their fee is about 1% less – 1% of $800 is $8.00).

So, got all signed up and was happy after I programmed my site to interface with the Authorize.net sandbox/developer stuff and it worked perfect.

I then started doing some research because I wasn’t sure what iPayment was all about.  Well, turns out, there are some very unhappy iPayment customers – where they noted that iPayment was taking high fees from their checking accounts, blocking funds, and other stuff – you know, stuff that PayPal does (supposedly).  Several others also noted that iPayment requires a “reserve” account in case of charge backs or other issues.  Some people noted that their “reserve” account was $10,000+ that they had no access to.

The Fine Print

Very concerned, I started a chat with the Merchant Inc folks.  They told me that the only fees there were are what is shown on the application.  Sure enough, I noticed a $2.50 per month reserve account fee.  The person I spoke with said that I do not have a reserve account, and therefore that charge was not applicable.  In the end, I wasn’t charged that and didn’t have a reserve account so that was positive.

Next was a “batch” fee.  What is this?  This fee is incurred any time that you have a payment submitted to you.  As I was told, this is only incurred when payments are accepted – not declined and this fee is daily when there are transactions.  So, if you get a payment every day of the month, you are looking at an EXTRA $7.00 to $7.75 A MONTH.

Next – and this was only uncovered in the fine print.

iPayment apparently has to verify your “business entity”.  So, there is a one-time $25 charge for that which is done in the first 30 days.  This certainly wasn’t clearly stated – and didn’t expect that.  What are they going to verify?  Nothing if you ask me – I bet it is just a fee for them to pocket.

And lastly – there is an IRS fee EVERY MONTH.  Again, noted only in the fine print.  Cost is another $4.95 a month.  For what?  I guess so they can report to the IRS monthly what is brought into the merchant account?  Who knows – but that works out to another $59.40 every year.  Sure, I guess sending information to the IRS so you pay your fair share of taxes is needed – but another $60 a year is ridiculous.  You would think a processor would be able to mass print reports at the end of the year and mail them out.  Heck, everything is probably sent electronically so there isn’t any manpower needed or postage.  I’m sure they do – but they are then charging another $60 to do it.

Lastly, don’t forget about the PCI Compliance fee which is yearly.  That is $160 a year.  If you do not certify as PCI Compliant, you are whipped with another $30 A MONTH charge until you get compliant.  I used the CIM – hosted-form solution at Authorize.net so I didn’t take any credit card data on my site.  In those cases, there shouldn’t even be a fee (PayPal doesn’t charge for that).

So, when it is all said and done, Merchant Inc. is much more expensive than one may think.

Let’s put this down into real terms for comparison here

Costs for Merchant Inc.

– No Setup or Application Fee
– BUT there is a $25 charge to verify your ‘business entity’ and charged within 30 days
– 1.9% per transaction plus 25 cents plus 2 cents for an acquirer fee
– 25 cents DAILY for days with successful payments
– $7.95 per month – $6.95 a month goes to Authorize.net and the $1.00 goes to Merchant Inc (I guess? – they call it a $1 a month billing charge)
– $4.95 per month – for regulation charges
– $160 per YEAR for PCI Compliance
– $30 per month if not PCI Compliant

There might be others that I didn’t uncover – but this is what was in the application itself.

Let’s say you have 20 days of payments each month.

Approximate Total MONTHLY Cost:  $17.90 before PCI Compliance, $31.23 with PCI Compliance (doesn’t include the per-transaction fees).

Qualified Versus Unqualified Rates

Another “got ya!” moment is the rate that Merchant Inc quotes on their site.  They quote 1.9% per transaction. No asterisk or star next to that number with a disclosure – so that means you should be charged 1.9%.  But be prepared.  That is NOT the case the majority of the time.  If your customers are using business cards, reward cards, or American Express, be prepared!  That 1.9% can quickly turn into 3.5% or higher.  That alone is higher than PayPal’s fees.  During my time with Merchant Inc, about 75% of my transactions were not getting the qualified rate.  Why?  Because most of our customers are businesses.  So immediately, this rate is higher than PayPal and the cost can be higher.

Costs for PayPal:

– 2.9% plus 30 cents
– Inability to directly fight claims – must use their department to act as a liasons (but this worked out well and I won my case)
– PayPal calls the shots and can block/suspend your account whenever

So if shopping around, PayPal absolutely looks like the better alternative than a merchant account if you don’t do more than $3,000 or so per month in transactions AND you manage to get the qualified rate of 1.9% per transaction.

Hopefully this review of Merchant Inc will be helpful to those doing a search for it.  Be aware that the PayPalSucks.com website is definitely loaded with false information and their forum appears to be run by the website owner – and they appear to only post negative topics about PayPal with nothing positive to say.  They do this so you are in the mindset of leaving PayPal and going to Merchant Inc.

We had our Merchant Inc account for about four months before cancelling.  Once our PayPal claim was overturned, shortly afterwards is when we discontinued the account at Merchant Inc.  We didn’t have any reason to continue paying for it.  We also ensured to cancel before we got hit with the PCI Security Compliance fee – which is done around May of each year.

In the end, there was one month out of four where we actually saved money using Merchant Inc – but it was less than a $5 savings.  All of the other months – because of the high non-qualified rates, batch fees, and all of the other fees involved – ended up costing us quite a bit higher than PayPal.

GoNext Solutions Review – More Like “GoLast”

Ever get a spam message from a company called GoNext Solutions trying to offer you Search Engine Optmization (SEO) services?  Well, beware.  There are many posts online that give golden reviews to this GoNext Solutions company.  But I have to warn you – they are all absolutely false.  GoNext Solutions has spent a lot of time spamming the Internet and making fake names to post reviews about their company.  If you are looking for a review of GoNext Solutions and the services they provide, look no further than my review below.

Over six months ago (August of 2012), I got a message from an SEO company that was trying to pitch some sales to me for search engine optimization services.  The company was GoNext Solutions out of New Delhi, India.

I worked with a person by the name of “Nikswillson”.  No last name or anything – that is what all of his e-mails showed.  It looked pretty promising.  At the bottom of all of his e-mails, his signature looked like the following:

Sr. Manager – Business Development
GoNext Solutions
+91-9818000264 | Direct: +91-120-4124597

Wow, a Senior Manager of Business Development?  I couldn’t believe that I was talking to someone that seemed so high up in the chain – especially for a person that I figured would be doing more management work – instead of blasting the Internet with their business information.  If you do a Google search for GoNext Solutions, you will find a lot of places turn up – even locations in the United States.  But be forwarned that this company does not have any presence in the United States.  There were a couple of pages that they put up showing they were in California.  Not the case at all.

So Nikswillson from GoNext Solutions and I started a dialog.  He wanted to try and gather my business so I would use them as a freelancer/outsourcing provider for my customers SEO work.  Well number one, I am an absolute firm believer that any business I do will stay in the United States.  I will not outsource any of our work overseas – at all.  But, they made me an offer – that I thought – I couldn’t refuse.  I should have – of course – looking back six months ago.

Nikswillson sent me a PowerPoint presentation as a sales pitch.  I looked through it and was pretty impressed.  They were showing that many large companies relied on them for SEO services.  One of them was VistaPrint.  After my GoNext Solutions review, I highly doubt they had any of those large-named companies and were infringing on their copyrights/trademarks by using their logos in their sales materials.  I still have this PowerPoint presentation as well – in the event any of the companies would – on the off chance – ask me for it for proof of any legal action against GoNext Solutions.

The agreement was – that I would pay them $500 up front for them to start doing some SEO work on my website.  I gave them about 12 phrases that I wanted to be listed for.  Out of all of them, I told them that I was already on the first page of Google for three of them.  I provided Nikswillson the top three phrases that I must have on the front page of Google and he understood.  GoNext Solutions then promised me that the work would be completed and needed six months.

If GoNext Solutions and Nikswillson’s team was successful, then I would have to pay them the other five months ($500 a month – or $2,500 total) for the work that they did on getting my site to the first page of Google.

Things started out good.  Nikswillson responded to my e-mails in a timely fashion.

Now, I knew that I was already good at doing search engine optimization – since I offer this service for my customers.  But, this e-mail from GoNext Solutions confirmed it.  They had very few changes that they wanted me to make on my website – but below is a picture from my e-mail program showing their praise for my SEO work:

Did you notice the above note where they are ASSURING me that they will rank my site on the 1st page of Google for the keywords within six months?  OK, good, I’m glad I am not the only one.

Well, let’s continue on.  Here is some more proof from Nikswillson and his “team” at GoNext Solutions indicating that they would get these on the first page of Google – otherwise they would refund me the amount I paid up front.

Mr. Nikswillson clearly said “… is not achieved in SIX month’s we will reeturn you the amount you are paying now to start the project in full“.  OK, well, if one e-mail isn’t proof enough, how about another e-mail:

Did you see Nikswillson say “As promised we will bring the keywords on the 1st page in the stipulated time of SIX months, if not you won’t have to dispute anything on the PayPal we will simply refund the amount that was paid to us in the beginning.”  Good, so I’m not imagining things.

What was the rest of the e-mail about?  Well, Nikswillson also promised me to send updated SEO reports every month so I could see how they were progressing.  Well, not so much.  GoNext Solutions only gave me three reports over the six month period they were trying to do SEO work for my website.  That clearly failed as well with only a 50% follow-through rate.

OK – so if two e-mails promising a refund were not enough, how about one more:

I’m not sure what “every single pie as promised” is – as I didn’t pay in pies – I paid in US Dollars.  But there again shows their logo, all of his contact informatoin, and the full e-mail promsing a refund.

Well, February 2013 came around (as shown in the e-mail above) and I was no where listed in the top 200+ results for the keywords I told them to market me for.  At this point, Nikswillson stopped replying to any and all messages that I had sent him.  He knew that him and “his team” had absolutely and utterly failed at the task of doing any kind of SEO work on my site.  Heck, over the six months, they actually made me lose some of my spots on the first page of Google for some keywords.

So this review of GoNext Solutions is very harsh, but it should be known that Nikswillson and his team are not honest people.  Nor is GoNext Solutions.  How do I know the company isn’t?  Well, let’s go to my next e-mail.

I sent an e-mail to their info@gonextsolutions.com e-mail address.  Oh my!  I got a response from their CEO.  Really?  A CEO responded to my e-mail?  Can’t believe that!  This guy’s name is Nitin Kumar Singh at GoNext Solutions:

As you can see, Nitin has just as nice of a signature as Nikswillson does.  One thing I wanted to point out – their phone number that everyone has listed in their signatures.  I tried calling this several times and was greeted by a recording saying that the number was invalid.  Hmm – that is interesting – let’s advertise a phone number in our signatures that is invalid!  Sounds just how GoNext Solutions operates!

So Nitin Kumar Singh replied and said they would get back to me.  Again, his response came in pretty quick – he replied the same day that the inquiry was sent in.

I continued to pursue them by e-mails.  I never did get any other reply back and they never did get back to me.  So I called up PayPal and tried to file a dispute to get the $500 back that I sent to GoNext Solutions in good faith that the SEO work would have been completed satisfactorily.

Unfortunately PayPal has a policy that dictates they are unable to place any disputes for anything over 45 days old.  Well of course, since I paid them over six months ago, it was well outside of that period.  PayPal did tell me that they would monitor their account for anyone else that called and complained about them or asking for refunds – and if there is any calls, they would potentially put a hold on their account and refund anyone that filed claims with them.

So I struck out with PayPal.  PayPal did, however, send a note to GoNext Solutions informing them that I had opened a dispute against them and the e-mail asked that they file the claim and resolve ethe dispute.  Did I hear anything back from GoNext Solutions?  Absolutely not.

Therefore, I continued to e-mail to them over and over again.  That is when I got another e-mail from Nitin Kumar Singh:

OK – now I was even more curious.  Really?  They have to consult their board of directors at GoNext Solutions to issue me a refund for $500?  Holy crap – if GoNext Solution is as large of a company as they led me to believe, there should be abosolutely no reason to go to the board of directors to get approval to get my $500 back.

My matter is “under consideration with the Board of Directors”.  So funny to read.

But when is even better – is – the CEO of GoNext Solutions – Nitin Kumar Singh – specifically said “and I personally will revert you back and under all circumstances your amount will be refunded if that was promised by one of our semior employee.“.  Well, I absolutely provided enough proof above with all of those e-mails.  Three e-mails promising me a refund if they failed.

So Nitin went out on his own word that he would provide me the refund.  Have I received my refund?  Absolutely not.  I’ve continued to e-mail them over and over again – and they are no longer replying to my messages.  I’ve tried other e-mail services – such as Yahoo and Hotmail – thinking they blocked my e-mail account.  But no reply to those either.

If you are considering GoNext Solutions for any kind of services or work, I would highly discourage you from doing so.  The service they provided was absolutely unsatisfactory.  They didn’t provide reports in a timely manner and they horrendously failed at their task.  On top of that, both a senior manager of the company – and the CEO – promised to provide me a refund.  Both of them are not honest people – and simply will say anything to try and take your money and nor provide what they promised to do.

So, take note of my GoNext Solutions review.  There are many other GoNext Solutions reviews online and all of them are manufactured by Nikswillson or other members of the company – to try and sucker you in.

Biting The Hand That Feeds

As everyone in our great nation has been witness of, things do not seem to be getting any better for families or for businesses.  These have been extroadinarily tough times for everyone.

One thing that stands out – is the fact that government regulations and taxes are overwhelming for businesses.  In the past few months, there have been CEOs of large companies – such as Westin Resorts – that sent messages to all of their employees indicating the tough nature that their businesses face.  Why?  Because the government wants to continue to increase taxes on businesses so they can somehow continue to spend all of the taxes – and still run a $1+ trillion deficit each year.

Illinois is no exception to this as well.  Illinois raised their state income tax from 3% for individuals and families to 5%.  To me, it is amazing how some states – such as Florida – do not even have a state income tax.  While anyone can bicker back and forth about the democrat or republican stance on things, it absolutely does seem that democratic states and democratic governments tend to put more tax burdens on their citizens, run extroadinary deficits, and have budget problems.

Illinois is a democratic state – and so is California.  Both have extremely high debt loads.  Therefore, Illinois increased the tax rate on individuals along with businesses – almost doubling the amount of taxes – and they still are spending more money than they bring in!

Some candidates and politicians have it right.  Some do not.  Unfortunately, the American population see millionaires and those that live in excess as the enemy.  Why?  Because they are better off than 99% of the rest of the population.  However, us Americans need to also understand that these millionaires and their families took extreme risk to get to the point where they are in their lives.  While I personally do not agree with CEOs that have big parachute packages that give them millions more when they leave the company or are forced out – the true risk takers that start up businesses deserve the benefits and profits involved with their business.  In many cases, we – as Americans – simply see that they are very well off – and therefore think that they should be taxed more to pay their “fair shre”.

I personally do not agree with this.  Their tax rates are already high enough – and because they have such large incomes, they end up paying the majority of the taxes that the government receives.  1% of $1,000 is $10.  1% of $10 million is $100,000.  Basic math.  I’ve been on both sides – a business owner and full-time employee.  That is what I am right now.  BsnTech is a family-run business and we cannot afford to hire employees – so we work with contractors and freelancers.  BsnTech is not a very large business anyways – so this is the route that we have to take until we can build our client base.

Those that run businesses can lose everything.  They can also gain everything.  But the American population needs to understand that biting the hand that feeds you is not the way to grow the economy and bring in more jobs.

I’m a firm believer that the people that run this country should be businessmen – not politicians.  Business owners know how to balance budgets.  Business owners know that they must live within their income or face going out of business.  That can’t be said for politicians and lawyers that have ideals and just expect that the money will come from somewhere.

When the CEO of Westin Resorts sent out a message to all of his employees, he wasn’t telling them who to vote for – but certainly strongly encouraged them to make a sound decision.  Why?  Because the current administration proposes to raise taxes on corporations and businesses.  For Westin Resorts, he made a very telling claim in his message to his employees.  If these additional taxes pass, then the company may shut down.  The company may lay off all of their employees.  What is the point of running a business – and dealing with all of the stress, regulation, taxes, employee benefits, and everything else – if you aren’t enjoying any benefits?  There is no reason.  As the owner of Westin Resorts said, he will simply close down the company and move to an island where he can retire peacefully on the beach.  The sad reality is – taxes kill jobs.  They do not create jobs.  If these additional taxes pass, this is a perfect example of how another 10,000+ jobs will be lost.  It doesn’t stop there – as I’m sure thousands of other companies would do the same thing.

Illinois did not help matters when they increased the individual tax rate – and the corporate tax rate.  That cuts more into businesses and their ability to hire.  Now, businesses in Illinois have a larger tax burden – and therefore businesses let go of employees.  Think about it this way.  The state could say “we’re going to tax you 90% of your earnings”.  So a business will then turn around and shut down.  What is 90% of a shut down business – and employees that otherwise would have received a paycheck to pay taxes?  ZERO.  But yet the costs to the government go up – to pay for all of those unemployed citizen’s welfare benefits.  There is a proper balance between taxes and income.  Once that balance becomes overweight, you can continue to increase the tax rate as much as you want – but it will begin bringing in less and less tax revenue as more businesses bulk at the costs of running a business.

This – in essence – is where Greece is right now.  Greece has 25% unemployment.  So that means the government now has to support 25% of it’s population through unemployment and welfare benefits.  Businesses have shut down – so they are not making tax revenue from them.  Greece continues to have problems bringing in more tax revenue – which is constantly declining because of failed businesses and higher unemployment.  That means the government then has to support even more with unemployment and welfare benefits – costing the government more.  The cycle continues.  The fact is – governments must work on a budget and live within their means – much like the rest of civilization.  Deficits, debt, and higher taxes just speed up the process of destruction.

As a business owner, our tax rate is approximately 40%.  Yes, 40%.  Combine the 5% Illinois income tax with self-employment taxes and federal income taxes.  And the business generates less than $40,000 a year at this point.  That is twice as much as the tax rate for individuals and families.  All because I decided to own a business.  Our rates are already incredibly low for website design and website services – but it is horrendous that 40% of the income then goes to the government.  Some people might think “Wow, I could easily live off of $40,000 per year!”.  Not at all.  Businesses have expenses – and taxes.  For the year of 2012, there has been about $35,000 in revenue.  Approximately $15,000 in expenses.  That leaves $20,000 left.  Now, take 40% from that.  That is $8,000 that goes to the government.  Did the government help start this business?  Absolutely not.  Do they provide any kind of business to us?  Absolutely not.  Does the government have any assistance with this business?  No.  But, they get to come in and say “We get 40% of everything you make after expenses”.  So, that $35,000 in revenue drops sharply down to only $12,000 in retained income that the business can keep.  Can you live off of $12,000 a year?

Most Americans do not realize this – nor do they care.  They only care about getting a paycheck each pay period to keep their families going.  Well, what happens when those paychecks stop?  Everyone immediately starts to blame the rich and those that took exceptional risks to start a business.  The blame is not on them – the blame is on the government and the extroadinary spending that goes on with lack of conscious about what it is doing to the country.  There are still extreme struggles for families out there in America – and there is no doubt about it.  But, instead of blaming the rich, they should be blaming the government for the regulations and taxes that are pushed upon businesses.

If corporations and businesses were able to retain more of their earnings – instead of sending it to Uncle Sam or to their state, jobs would be created.  I personally know that we may hire a person to help with some day-to-day activities if we didn’t have to pay 40% of the business income in taxes.  Sure, some may say “well, if you hire employees, it adds to the expense of running your business and reduces your tax burden”.  That is true.  However, there still would be taxes.  As an example – let’s say that we paid an employee $8,000 a year – including the business-paid portion of medicare and social security.  That makes the expenses go from $15,000 to $23,000.  Subtract that from the $35,000 in revenue – and that is $12,000 in retained earnings.  Now remove the 40% tax from that – and instead of getting to retain all $12,000 of it, taxes are $4,800 so the retained earnings drops further down to $7,200.  That means the employee would then be making more than the business owner!

What it comes down to is a very simplistic approach.  Do corporations and businesses employ more people – or do they pay more in taxes?  You can’t have it both ways.  Realize that if you are employed by a business or corporation, you may not agree with all of their policies or procedures.  You may see many executives at the top making huge compensation packages.  Those executives are what runs the business – and ensures good business prospects to provide stable employment.  So, I encourage everyone to really think about how this cycle works and to not bite the hand that feeds you.

Replicating Poverty

There has been something that has disturbed me about this nation since I’ve grown up and began supporting myself and my family.  Many will read this article in disgust or disbelief, but realize that we all have our own opinions, ethics, and morals.

I tend to believe that I am a very good upstanding citizen, just like many other millions of Americans.  We live within our means – only affording what we can ascertain by working and contributing to society.  We all have to work in order to support a living – paying our mortgages/rent on time, taking care of our transportation, only purchasing food that we can afford, and having clothing that meets our lifestyles.

I completely understand that times are extroadinarily tough for many members of society – finding that they are not able to obtain employment in order to pay for the basic necessities in life.  Many individuals and families have been without a job for over a year now.  Things in America are definitely tough – and my question is – what is next for these families?  The government already extended unemployment benefits for many families that couldn’t find work in a timely manner.  But, the majority of these individuals that are currently unemployed actually do want to work – they want to feel like they are contributing to society – making a difference if you will.  However, there is a darker side of society that boils my water – and a lot of other individuals as well.

The government – both federal and state – spend billions of dollars every year to help out families in need.  But, when is it time to ween people off this kind of assistance?  When times are tough, no one can find work, and the unemployment rate climbs, the government has done a good job with stepping in and helping during those times.  However, what about some members of society that simply don’t think the rules apply to them – and continue to live on the welfare system their whole lives?

Our retirement – Social Security – and other “entitlements” that us working-class citizens pay into – are depleting rapidly – because the funding that is supposed to fund Social Security is going elsewhere – such as feeding and providing for the “needs” of those living on the welfare system.

I live in a town where it seems that at least 25% or more of the population live off of the welfare system.  And I’m not talking a short period of time – but on a very long-term basis.  One of our state representatives overseeing our county once proposed that those receiving any kind of state assistance must be able to pass random drug tests – and that they could frivolously spend food stamps on candy, soda pop, and other “luxuries” that are not really food at all – but are contributing to the obesity of our population.  I still don’t understand it, but his bill never even made it for a vote.  Ridiculous.  If we – as working American citizens – have to be able to pass drug tests in order to even get a job, then these leaches should be required to go through the same process.  Of course, what are the repercussions of someone on the welfare system not being able to pass a drug test?  Is it the kids’ fault, and what will happen?  Should the state fully cut them off?  If that is the case, where are these able-bodied individuals going to turn to for help?  This is a key ingredient that I don’t have answer for.

Personally, I’m sick and tired of our taxes continuing to go up.  Our state raised the tax rate in 2011 from 3% up to 5% of our income.  Why?  Because we are a democratic state that believes everyone asking for a handout should receive one – but only if you fall within a certain bracket – for an indefinite period of time.  The state is over $11+ billion in debt.

The fact of the matter is this – the government replicates poverty.  What do I mean by this?  Almost all children born into a family that live off the welfare system – will continue to live by this means.  We have government-assisted housing, food stamps, free health care, free cell phones, subsidies for lower cost memberships to places like the YMCA, amongst many other “benefits” for being on the welfare system.  It is out of hand.  The government is basically saying “we understand that you can’t support yourself, but have all of these great amenities to help you along.”  Enough is enough.  People on the welfare system know how to work the system.  They have just the right number of children in order to get the maximum benefits.

Even worse, many women that live in the welfare system will have children with different fathers.  Why?  Because they can then collect all of the welfare benefits – in addition to a maximized amount of child support from each father.  The women believe that they can raise kids – AS A JOB – and get away with it.  Some of them actually make more than us hard-working citizens through welfare programs and other outlets – such as child support.

Millions of us working-class Americans feel the same way about this.  I just drive down the road in my town and it disgusts me to see a family – a full car load (or SUV load) full of children – knowing that my hard-earned money is being turned over to them to buy their vehicle, pay their gas, and basically support them.  Many proponents creep up and say “well, they are not as blessed as you with your standard of living”.  To that, there certainly is some agreement, but on the other hand – it is those living on the welfare system that is continually responsible for this occurring over and over again in a continous, exponential way.

Another thing that also disgusts me is the health care system.  Working-class Americans have to pay for health insurance.  Heck, we are now going to be required to have health insurance now or pay a “tax” if we don’t comply.  I personally pay over $7,000 a year in nothing but health insurance premiums.  No matter if I need to go to the doctor or not, this comes out of my paycheck.  Talk about another “tax” if you will.  So then when we get sick or have to seek medical attention, we then have to pay yet another “deductible” and then a percentage of all final remaining bills.  How much do people on welfare pay?  Not a dime.  Not a cent.  Nothing.  no co-pays, no nothing.  They get free medical insurance through dozens of states.  So when we working-class Americans need to go to the emergency room or get medical attention, the waiting rooms are lined with many others waiting.  See – if I got 100% free health care like those on welfare, I certainly would also be going to the emergency room to get checked out for things like kidney stones, shortness of breath, chest compressions, or other issues.  But, I don’t – because I know if I go in, I’ll have a co-pay – and maybe even another deductible and a percentage to pay if I’m admitted.  Those living on welfare – don’t pay a cent for healthcare.  Why?  Because their costs are already rolled into our health insurance premiums and higher-priced medical care.  Now tell me how that is fair.

My proposal for the health care issue is easy – reduce the amount they receive in welfare.  Yep, that is right.  If they get $1,000 a month on welfare (just a number, I really don’t know how much they get), then reduce that down to $800 – and put that towards some kind of general health care fund.  When they have to go to a doctor or emergency room, make them pay some kind of co-pay.  Then, we will see some of our doctor’s offices and emergency rooms open up more.  It still is a far cry from what we have to pay in premiums each year – but the fact is, they should be responsible for paying something.  Heck, with having something like this, it may actually help to reduce our health care costs.  Who would have thought?

Well, then what happens if they don’t pay their medical bills?  Simple.  Garnish their welfare wages.  Afterall, that is what would happen if we don’t pay our medical bills, right?

Many individuals probably won’t read my blog entry down to this point, but I’m absolutely tired of how this system works.  I can’t think of another single place on earth where we have such a liberal welfare system.  If you live in Austrailia, you don’t get a handout.  They will require you to at least work and do some kind of community service in order to earn your keep.  Sure, it might be a brain-numbing job of counting how many cars go by an intersection every day, but what does this do?  It motivates people to find a real, paying job.  Wouldn’t that be nice – seeing those on welfare out in the cold of the winter – or hot of the summer – counting the number of cars going by an intersection?  But if they don’t do it, then they wouldn’t get their welfare check.

Another proposition I have for overhauling the welfare system is reducing the number of kids allowed on welfare.  This is very controversial opinion – and many won’t agree with me – but if you have a child that is delivered and paid for by the government, you are done – no more.  You get one child if the child is brought into the world on the welfare system.  No more.  Right now this number is more like four or five – over TWICE the “replication” number of a mother and father.  This will also reduce health care costs.  Think about it – instead of having four or five kids delivered and brought into the world on welfare, there is now only one.  Instead of having four or five kids that may have medical problems in the course of 18+ years, now there is only one.  Big reduction, see?

So, once a child is delivered through the means of welfare or paid for by our government, that mother would then have their “tubes tied” to prevent any other pregnancies – wanted or unwanted.  Yes, again, I realize this is very controversial – but the buck must stop somewhere.  By reducing the amount of children that are brought into the world through public money, it will slowly reverse the affects of povery – thus making a more stable nation and actually decreasing costs for all of us.  The fact of the matter is – if you can’t afford to have kids, then you shouldn’t make society pay for them on your behalf.

Many reading this will think “the world is not fair”.  I agree.  It is not.  There are a very small amount of individuals that have more money than they could ever use.  There is a larger majority that barely have enough to live.  There are others that legitimately struggle to survive doing everything they possibly can to survive.  But, the ever-increasing rate of poverty in this country – and potentially other countries – I believe are fully brought upon by the government and the public aid programs in place that actually encourage this behavior.  Therefore, replicating poverty.

Eventually – and this time may be coming much sooner than later with the current hyperbolic nature of those living in poverty – the government will no longer be able to tax us enough to continue paying for the public aid programs.  This probably has already began occurring – so instead states are cutting the budgets for services that us working-class Americans use and enjoy – in favor of ensuring welfare checks and services are still timely to those living on the system.  Doesn’t that leave a bad taste in your mouth?

StarTek – Will It Survive?

Full disclosure before the article – I was once a StarTek employee for eight years.  I definitely enjoyed my time working for the company – until the seams began falling apart.  This is simply my opinion of the company and where I see it trending.

StarTek is a dying company.  Over the past couple of years, the company has continued to close several call centers in both the United States and Canada.  While they are opening locations overseas, they are continuing to see a loss in market share towards other competitors.  I believe the company has less than ten years left to survive at the current rate of decline – and maybe less.

The company has always had an issue with hiring well-talented management officials.  Look at the flop of the previous Sales Vice President that didn’t bring in an abundance of new business.  At a time when they need talented, tenured individuals that understand the business, they are laying them off and eliminating their positions so they can take jobs overseas.

The company has already saved considerable cost by shipping most of the support positions to the offshore locations – including resource planning and management, accounts payable, training, benefits, project management, and many other departments.  However, the company is also paying the price.  Although the cost for the worker overseas is less, production and efficiency is highly reduced as well.  There have been several instances where invoices are not paid on time and management has been required to put the fire to the Filipinos to get things done.  Employees working offshore do not pay as close attention to detail nor follow company policies and procedures.  It has also been rumored that the loss of business StarTek just suffered – that saw the closure of two additional US sites – stemmed from employee relation issues and unethical behavior from one of the Philippine locations.

Much like the American consumer, StarTek fails to realize that Americans despise talking in foreign countries.  Could you imagine how a potential customer would react if they were called back by a sales person that has an accent and is noticably from another country?  StarTek doesn’t care – they think they are saving money by doing so – when the fact is they are potentially losing leads, good potential employees, and customers because of it.  With all this being said, is the continuous offshoring helping – or hurting the company?

Another round of cost cutting is currently taking place along with downsizing.  The CTO has left although – is being maintained for the month of June.  A few other high-level IT management have left within the past six months.  It also has been reported that the IT security team is also cut down to nothing.  This alone is going to result in the loss of additional business because attempting to maintain or obtain their current security certifications will be more difficult.  Some of these are requirements for clients and so if the company cannot maintain the level they possess, they stand to lose additional clients.

The backbone of StarTek is Information Technology. The company relies on technology to operate.  However, the technology budget has been shrunk to almost nothing and all their staff is overworked.  With the additional cuts, this means additional duties and tasks have to be assigned to the already smaller department.  They cannot even get an approval to purchase needed server upgrades or materials.  They have also cancelled many maintenance contracts they once had with vendors providing support.  The infrastructure of the company is about ready to bust at the seams.

All in all, the company continues to cut jobs and move more overseas.  The current CEO is a southern idealist that micro-manages all aspects of the company.  However, many also have theorized that the CEO himself is attempting to dismantle the company so a competitor can purchase it on the cheap – or completely shut down the company overall.  Realize that the CEO originally came from Sitel – and many of the individuals he has hired on have also come from Sitel.  So, is Sitel pulling the strings of StarTek with the source of power they now have over the company?  Maybe the CEO himself should take a pay cut since he isn’t turning the company around.  Or, maybe the board of directors should outsource the CEO job – along with finance and other overpaid positions overseas.  That will reduce cost considerably.

The Board of Directors need to be awakened and get an idea as to what Chad and other executive management have done to this company.

Compressor Rapidly Cycling On and Off in Car Air Conditioner

This week I’ve done some work on my 2001 Honda Civic EX.

Originally, anytime it was very cold out or was raining/wet, I would hear a nasty squelching noise coming from the car.  Then, I attempted to turn on the air conditioner on in the car last week and again – very bad squelching noise coming from the car when the AC was on.

So I took it down to a guy I know that works on cars for a very affordable price.  I took the car to him a few years back to have him replace the timing belt and serpentine belt.

Turns out there is a second belt – an accessory belt – that controls the A/C compressor.  He got that replaced and also replaced the serpentine belt while he was at it.  Problem fixed – no more squeek!  But, he did tell me that my AC was cycling on and off and it needed to be charged.

So, down to the local automotive store.  I bought one of those low-pressure gauages for about $15 and a can of R-134a refrigerant with stop-leak in it.  I know folks online say not to use this – so I won’t be using that going forward.

Got home and began to slowly put the R-134a into the car air conditioner system with the AC turned on and the temperature set fully to cold and the blower fully on.  The compressor was fully on and the car just was barely cooling before I began adding the freon into the car – but it certainly was not keeping up and was not cool enough.

As I was adding the freon into the A/C system, I heard a popping-like noise and noticed that the compressor kicked off.  Then, it happened again, and again!  The air conditioner compressor was rapidly cycling on and off.

I turned the A/C off and stopped putting R-134a into it becuase the compressor cycling was almost causing the car to die from the load it was putting on the engine.

Onto Google I went.  Everywhere I turned, people said that if the compressor was cycling on and off quickly, that meant the compressor was low on freon.

OK – so explain this to me – why was the compressor not cycling at all before I put the refrigerant into the car – and only started happening when I got about 3/4 a 12-ounce can into the car?  I was afraid I overfilled it – because the car was originally trying to cool before putting any R-134a into it.  All the forums and posts I saw indicated that people that had this problem had no cooling coming out of the car.

Called up my mechanic and he basically told me the same thing – he said that if the compressor was rapidly turning on and off, it was because it was undercharged.  But, I explained to him how it was working fine – and somewhat cooling – before putting any refrigerant in – then it started kicking on and off after adding 3/4 a can in.  I said – “Is it because I overfilled it?”  He agreed and thought that I may have overfilled it – but said he hasn’t ever noticed a car doing that before.

The Honda Civics can hold up to 22 ounces of R-134a in them.  A 12-ounce can would be just more than half of it’s capacity.

Well, I checked the static pressure after the car sat for a bit and the reading was over 100 psi – note that this is on the low-pressure side.  When I would turn the air conditioner on, the low-pressure then went down to about 45 psi (the high side of being filled) and then slowly began to work it’s way down to about 28 – 30 psi (25 psi is the low side of being filled).  Then the compressor would pop and kick off again.  Then it would pop and kick on again.  Over and over maybe five seconds apart.

I then called a co-worker that had a full set of hoses that can be used to check both high and low pressure.  At this point, I was pretty sure that it was overfilled and I wanted to see if the car was being kicked off because of high pressure – not low pressure.

So we hooked the hoses up and the high pressure climbed very rapidly when turing the A/C on.  it hit 350 – then 375 – then 400 – then just shortly after, the compressor popped and shut off.  Then high pressure then started going down – then the compressor kicked on again.  So, the compressor was rapidly turning on and off still.  As expected – the high pressure was too high.

Some of the freon was taken out of the vehicle and the guy said there most likely was some air in the line that wasn’t helping things.  After taking some out, the compressor stopped kicking on and off – and the high pressure then stayed fairly stable between 325 and 350 psi.

Test drive time!

Didn’t even make it very far and the compressor started kicking on and off again!  So, back to the hoses.  This time, I revved the car up to about 1,500 to 2,000 RPM (since the Civic seems to idle at around 500 rpm).  Sure enough, he said that the low pressure was being sucked down to about 20 PSI and the high-pressure was kicking way up again past 400 PSI.

So more was taken out until the high pressure would only be about 325 PSI at 1,500 RPM.

Alright – test drive again!  It worked!  That was the problem – it was simply over-filled.  The car no longer cycled the compressor rapidly after taking some R-134a out of the system and it cools very well.

So, the car only needed a bit more than 1/2 a container of 12-ounce freon and it was working like a champ!  With recirculating the air and the outside temperature around 80 degrees, the car was putting out about 44 degree air from the A/C vents.

So next time that your air conditioner compressor rapidly turns on and off in your car, it may not be due to low freon levels – but because it is over-charged!  Those cheap low-pressure testers that come with the charge kits only tell you part of the story.  When I was charging mine, I was well within the acceptable range – but the high pressure (which is what I couldn’t see) was telling an absolute different story!

Gobo Alignment Problem with DJ Lights

Recently I purchased four Chauvet Intimidator 1.0 lights.  Three of them I purchased from someone on eBay and the other one I purchased through the company that we ordered most of all our DJ equpment through – Entertainment Systems Corporation (ESC).  I’m still awaiting the one from ESC – which is due Tuesday, but that doesn’t stop me from playing with them!

Chauvet Intimidator 1.0 Lights

I managed to pick up the three Intimidator 1.0 lights on eBay from someone for $225 – including shipping – and including the Chauvet CH-X blackout controller.

I then had to order some DMX cables to link them together in master/slave mode and also ordered some extra bulbs.

Well, the three lights came in and I got them mounted.  First off, I noticed a problem with one of the lights – which the guy on eBay told me about already.  One of the lights had a problem with the up/down movement of the scanning mirror.  It seemed that the mirror would be almost horizontal to the lens on the light – and therefore the light would shine right back into itself.

I first thought this was a problem with the motor – because it would go “one click” above that horizontal location, but wouldn’t go any higher.  After further investigation, the mirror assembly was put on WRONG!  There is a metal bracket that holds the mirror to the up/down mirror.

Chauvet Intimidator 1.0 Mirror

So above shows the bracket held onto the motor with two screws.  You will see a circular-looking thing in the bottom left corner of the motor.  This is a screw with some rubber on it that prevents the mirror bracket from going into a horizontal position.  Well, the above photo shows the mirror assembly in the correct fashion.  What happened was either a manufacturer defect – or someone that took the mirror assembly off – put it on backwards.  There is a little notch up at the top of the mirror assembly and it was down at the bottom in the wrong location!  Because of this, that notch was allowing the mirror to go in a horizontal position in comparison to the light’s lens.  Well, this apparently confused the light because it wouldn’t move up normally.  But after turning the mirror bracket around, all is fixed!

So I’m playing along with the lights… and I notice another problem!  It seemed that one of the lights was putting out a combination of two gobos at the same time.

Gobo Alignment Problem

Yeah, that is ugly!  It seemed that it was showing about 3/4 of one gobo and 1/4 of another gobo.  It was annoying to say the least and really made a dent in the “light show”.

Now of course, this will indeed void your warranty – so only do this if your warranty is over.  I didn’t have a warranty since I bought them used, so I opened up the thing.

Here is another look with the lens of the light off – looking down into the light.  You can see that two gobos appear.

Gobo Alignment Problem

I’m not going to go through everything I tried to fix this, but I played with it for at least three or four hours before I finally figured out how to fix it.

The gobo wheel is attached to a motor inside your unit.  On the bottom of the gobo is a round disk with a shaft pointing through.

Gobo Alignment Problem

Up above you see the black lens on the very right side.  Then the round cylinder in front of that is the gobo wheel motor.  Then to the left of that is the gobo wheel – very thin so it is hard to see.  Near the back, you will then see a small shaft – looks kind of like a needle.  Below is a closer picture of that piece – although blurry.  The camera didn’t do very well in that tight spot.

Gobo Alignment Problem

Update – June 13th

So the gobo began slipping again after a little bit of use.  I suspect that it is because when the fixtures start up, they bang the gobo wheel against a screw to reset the location of the wheel and so the fixture “knows” what gobo is showing up (blackout by default).  Since I was able to just hold onto that shaft/needle with some pliers and move the gobo wheel, it makes sense that this occurred because the wheel is loose.

So, I had to actually super glue the bottom of that shaft/needle where it goes into the cylinder that screws onto the gobo wheel.

I would advise you that you had better get it set correctly the first time around – otherwise you cannot move it and make changes!

Here is how I did it.  Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of this procedure.  Take the full gobo wheel out along with the metal bracket it sits on.  Do not disconnect any of the wires though.  If you have to disconnect the two red wires connected to the metal bracket (for grounding), ensure you hook them back up after you get the gobo wheel removed.

Now reapply power to your wheel.  You will see what I mean with the gobo wheel having a tab that bangs up against a screw with some rubber around it.

After the fixture has set itself, ensure that the tab on the gobo wheel is right up against the rubberized screw.  After you are absolutely positive that it is set correctly and in that spot, pull the power plug.

Now take a little bit of super glue and drip down the shaft.  There is a depression around the cylinder that the shaft comes out of (the cylinder that is screwed to the gobo wheel.  This provides a good seal for the super glue to hold to.  After about 30 minutes of curing, add another couple drops of super glue around that area to ensure a good fit.

Let it sit for a few hours and then put everything back together.  If you’ve done everything right, the gobos will be perfectly aligned and will stay that way permanently.

Now, run your lights until it gives you the double-gobo look and pull the power plug.  You will probably then need to take the lens of your light off so you can see down into the top of the gobo wheel to ensure you get the wheel aligned correctly.

Now, take a pair of pliers or something that has a good grip on it and put down into the light – and clamp down on that little shaft/needle under your gobo wheel.  After you have a good grip on it, move the actual gobo wheel with your fingers until the gobo is perfectly aligned through the hole above the gobo wheel (again, you’ll have to look through the lens area to see this).

Once you have it aligned, unclamp the shaft/needle and then plug your light back in.  It will go through the reset mode.  Play some music or just tap on the top of the light fixture and see if that fixes the problem.  It took me a few attempts to get it just right, but it is as good as new!

So, not bad.  Three Intimidator 1.0 lights for $225 including shipping.  Two of them had problems – one was easy to fix with the mirror, and the other required a little more detective work.

At this rate, I should just go in the business of repairing lights!

Wal-Mart Class Action Lawsuit

Judges announced today that they are going to allow the lawsuit for wage discrimination for female employees to be put forth to trial.

I’m happy to see this.  While I don’t believe this is going to solve anything, it is time that Wal-Mart be hit hard and be advised that they can’t get away with what they want.

I have a different name for Wal-Mart – I call it Slave-Mart myself.  Why?  Because Wal-Mart alone is our biggest retailer now – and instead of setting a positive example for our country, they are setting it on a negative tone.

Sam Walton would not be happy in today’s era of his company.  The main thing he prided himself in was “Made in the USA”.  Heck, even as a kid, we would walk into their stores and see the banners overhead where they touted their pride with stocking their shelves with goods made in the USA.

Now, you would be very hard-pressed to find much of anything made in the USA.  Oh, I guess cat litter and some shampoos are still made in the USA – which is about the only thing I personally buy at their store.

Sure, maybe some folks would call it protectionism, but I for one like to vote with my wallet.  I put a vote of confidence in the American worker and our own industries.  I check the packages of items I buy and see if I can find something made in the USA.  If not, I’ll spend just a bit of extra time to find one that is – even if it costs a little more.  I would rather employ an American worker than a Chinese or Mexican worker.

In my mind, our employment system is based on a multi-level marketing-like system.  You have the people that make the products or provide the services.  You then have the supervisors/managers that feed off of the work of the workers.  It continues up the chain.  If we all do not support each other, the first to get cut is usually the folks that actually provide the goods and services to us.  We then have the toppling-effect that takes hold of everyone.

Wal-Mart is nothing but a big corporate beast that exercises their muscle and marketing power of goods.  Because they are the largest retailer, they can and do play hardball with anyone that wants to sell goods in their stores.  They have the salesman come to their offices in Bentonville and sit them in a small office (more like a jail cell I think).  They then allow them to sit there and wait a while until a Wal-Mart employee comes in and jews them down on their prices.  “Hi there, so I’ve been told about what you want to sell in our stores.  If you want to sell in our stores, we will buy X quantity from you for X price.  While we realize the information you gave us says that it costs you more to currently produce this product, maybe you should look at your options to get it down to our price.”

And so it goes.  Another American company providing American jobs is then forced – by the play of hand of Wal-Mart – to move their manufacturing overseas to meet their demands.  How about TV maker RCA that moved their manufacturing overseas just for this reason.

How about the trade deficit now?  Oh yes.  Our annual trade deficit in 2009 – even at a year with a sour economy – $380.7 billion – which is half of what it was in 2008.   At this point, we know that Wal-Mart is the largest importer of foreign goods.   Now,  how much does Wal-Mart import each year?  I wasn’t able to find data on 2009, but in 2006, Wal-Mart imported approximately $27 billion of goods (when the trade deficit was at $235 billion).  So they account for over 10% of our trade deficit.

To me, it is obvious.  We as Americans wonder “oh my gosh, I can’t find a job and unemployment is so high”.  It is time to take a look and figure out why folks cannot find a job and why unemployment is so high.  Sure, you may want to blame it on the banks.  While the banks may have helped our financial crisis get worse, I still firmly point the finger at places like Wal-Mart and other retailers that force their hand on companies and the cost of their products.

Trade deficits cost American jobs.  Companies move overseas to make things cheaper – because we as Americans want things cheaper.  More people lose their jobs.  It is time to be more responsible as American citizens and to help out our fellow citizens – not the communist Chinese economy.  Buy everything you can that has the “Made in USA” label and not another foreign country.  This is the same idea of buying locally insstead of somewhere else as you are supporting your local economy.  Same thing goes for the USA as a whole – buy American goods and support the American economy.

In my opnion, Wal-Mart as a company is nothing but organized terrorism against our country.  They send more and more of our cash overseas and give it to dictators that could – at some point – wage a war against us.  Wouldn’t that be a smack in the face – the Chinese come in with ships, planes, and troops all with a label saying “Paid for by the American citizens”.

Does the Gov’t have a role in the Cost of Oil?

Normally I do not write on such topics, but with all of the news lately about how the cost of a barrel of oil is largely inflated by 1/3 or more, I thought this might be a good time to express my belief and thoughts on this matter.

For the past few days now, I have been taking my bike to work. I only live about 2.5 miles away so it is a good 15 minute ride. It gives me my daily exercise as well since this comes out to 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. So, this keeps my car in the garage and from driving to work and back which wears down on vehicles worse than driving them out on the open road. I have a Honda Civic that gets about 35 – 36 miles per gallon with my driving style, so even if I were to drive to work each day, I may have one fill up a month.

Now, lets get down to the beef of the matter. I was watching a PBS news episode last night and they were interviewing different people from research firms on their show. Many of them all indicated that the cost of oil – as you and I know – jumped up dramatically from around $70 a barrel to $135 per barrel at the current rate in six months. That means the cost of oil has jumped almost 100% in that amount of time.

Saudia Arabia has agreed to increase production, but they failed to indicate by how much they would increase such production because they do not believe it is a production problem – but a problem with the American markets. I tend to agree.

The U.S. met with Chinese leaders last week to try to get the Chinese government to quit subsidizing oil and energy and allow the prices to rise in order to be more in line with what the current market is asking. While they still are not at market value, they did agree to increase the cost of energy by 18%. Will that help the cost of oil over here by reducing demand in China? I think not.

Unfortunately, the facts are that we import more than half of our oil from other nations. We could produce our own by offshore drilling and setting up shop in Alaska, but is this really a solution to a problem that we all know is eventually going to cause great problems in the future? Because oil costs have gone up, this is definitely pushing inflation up in this country – oil prices are double what they used to be, food costs are surging higher, and regular day-to-day purchases are much higher – all because the producers must pay for transportation to our storefronts – which have doubled. Therefore, the costs then are passed along to us.

According to the PBS show that I watched, the individuals they interviewed all blamed the high oil prices on a group of people – speculators. What are speculators? Speculators are people who trade “futures markets” on what they believe commodities (such as corn and oil) will sell for – say six months from what is happening currently. If you look at the news articles about oil prices going up, they always say things such as “sweet crude oil for July delivery”. This is a future market for the month of July. When these speculators trade in these markets, they are actually – in a sense – buying oil by the barrel. They then own the barrel of oil. When the price goes up, they can either sell their oil or buy more – same when the price goes down. The reporters say that these speculators have driven the cost of oil up to $135 and that this is a huge bubble. These reporters estimated that if the speculators were taken out of the picture, oil may be around $75 – $80 per barrel from where it is now. They called it the “.COM bubble for oil” and said that it will indeed burst at some point and come down.

The government is attempting to pass legislation now to get to the bottom of all these problems and begin making laws against speculators for these exact instances – their ability to artificially inflate the cost of commodities that the consumer then must pay an additional price for such items.

OK, so that is what we have been told. While I do not have any kind of proof to back up the theory I will present, it sure does make sense considering the government gave each of us a handout of $600 this past May for the economic stimulus plan – and the continuing wars that are going on and the potential circumstances surrounding Iran right now.

America consumes approximately 22 million barrels of oil per day (http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/analysis_publications/oil_market_basics/dem_image_us_cons_sector.htm). If 1/3 of the cost of oil is inflated, what if the government is actually the group that is skimming the top of the oil cost? All of these speculators are “hedge funds” and are run by companies such as Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, and others. Does the government do any business with these companies? Does the government themselves invest in these hedge funds against oil?

Let’s just assume for a moment that the government is the only key player in these hedge funds and making the cost of oil more based on speculation. Heck, they sure do hold a lot of meetings about oil, the lawmakers are always talking about ways to reduce our oil consumption and bring in other forms of energy. President Bush has been quoted in a speech saying very bluntly “America is addicted to oil”. He wants us to look for alternative energy sources. President hopeful McCain also has created an award by which if someone comes up with a battery for hybrid vehicles that will work better, he will pay them $300 million. So, at 22 million barrels of oil per day usage and $60 per barrel that is inflated ($135 at current price minus the $75 per barrel that is estimated the real cost is), the government would be making $1.32 billion a DAY in artificially inflating the cost of oil. Now, I know that even if the government has a role in these speculations and hedge funds, they do not account for 100% of all of it. But – think about it – $1.32 billion a day in nothing but pure profit (import it for $75, resell to oil refineries for $135)!

Is this the government’s way of getting rid of its huge debt that supposedly each of us owe for our government’s overspending? According to a website (http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/), the per capita debt of the U.S. is $30,816.41 (as of June 25, 2008). Now – I want you to notice something else on the page. The page says “The National Debt has continued to increase an average of $1.36 billion per day since September 28, 2007!” $1.36 billion per day? Wow! Look how close that is to the $1.32 billion in profit made on each day in the oil markets. Interesting eh?

I guess when it comes down to it, the governments ends up spending the bulk of that money overseas anyways – so why not just increase the cost of oil so that us Americans are directly paying for the wars we are fighting in near real-time? We spend more than $2.5 billion a day in Iraq (http://usliberals.about.com/od/homelandsecurit1/a/IraqNumbers.htm). That doesn’t include the cost of our soldiers in Afghanistan either.

So that is my speculative theory for what is going on the U.S. currently. These oil markets are being bubbled up in price by speculators – but who indeed are these speculators? Some average American citizens and corporations are involved in such speculation – but is it possible that our own government is driving the cost of oil up to finance our economic stimulus checks or finance the current wars that we are fighting? I guess maybe it is the government’s way of taxing those who pollute the environment more than others – as those who drive more often and require more gasoline for their daily tasks are required to purchase $4+ per gallon gasoline. Because of the way I drive and the lack of driving for that matter, I am taxed at a very low rate since I do not have to purchase gasoline as often as those that drive an hour to work each day in their 17 mpg vehicles. However, I also am indirectly paying for the public transportation buses in our community that use gasoline although I don’t use this service.

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