Saturday, February 28, 2009

Top Ten Porkiest Projects in the Omnibus Spending bill

Feb. 25 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House voted to boost spending on domestic programs by 8 percent, ease restrictions on travel to Cuba and kill a school voucher program in Washington, D.C., as part of a $410 billion spending bill.

The “omnibus” bill, approved 245-178, combines nine appropriations measures to fund the federal government through September, the end of its fiscal year. Democrats said the spending increase, on top of a $787 billion economic stimulus package signed last week, was needed to make up for tighter budgets during the Bush administration.

“We need to turn the page once and for all on the last eight years,” said Representative James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat. “I’m glad that we have reversed the Bush cuts on domestic priorities.”
So this is besides the Stimulus bill. Besides.

This is probably a top ten list you will not see on David Letterman. Please think about whether the Federal government of the United States of America should be paying for these projects. Ladies and gentleman, I bring you John McCain's.....

Top Ten Porkiest Projects in the Omnibus Spending bill

10. $1.7 million "for a honey bee factory" in Weslaco, TX

9. $475,000 to build a parking garage in Provo City, Utah

8. $200,000 for a tattoo removal violence outreach program that could help gang members or others shed visible signs of their past

7. $300,000 for the Montana World Trade Center

6. $1 million for mormon cricket control in Utah

5. $650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi

4. $2.1 million for the Center for Grape Genetics in New York

3. $332,000 for the design and construction of a school sidewalk in Franklin, Texas

2. $2 million “for the promotion of astronomy” in Hawaii

1. $1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa

Friday, February 27, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Backup Bluetooth

For nine bucks and free shipping, I'm going to keep my old one in the car and this one in my purse. I'm always misplacing my bluetooth.

Don't forget to go to Ebates first before you buy for that extra cash back.

Free Victoria's Secret lotion

You've got to print this and bring it into a VS store.

Free nail polish

Here.

Great deal on buy.com

Excellent deal on Buy.com: this Cables-to-go set for $14 (after rebate) with free shipping. This set includes an optical mouse and an LED light, each of which could cost $14 on their own. These sets go on sale very briefly and then the price shoots back up immediately. It's currently on sale at Amazon for $42. In November, I bought this kit for $14.50 and the next day the price shot back up.

And of course, if you do buy anything on Buy.com, don't forget to click through Ebates first. It's only 1% back, but that's better than a stick in the eye. :)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

When is stealing okay?

As I've said in an earlier post, I sometimes find requests for tzedakah on listservers and try to send them a little something. One of the rules I have is that I will only send money for a cause through a shul or non-profit organization. A) It counts toward my tax deduction that way and b) it tells me that if an organization is behind the cause, chances are, it's legitimate. Non-profit organizations have rules. Individuals don't. Lots of fakers and charlatans out there.

Recently, I saw a posting for a request for tzedakah on a list and I emailed the person collecting and asked her for the name of a shul discretionary fund that was behind the cause. She responded with the name of a shul, let's call it, Congregation Bais Genaivah. I wasn't familiar with the name. She told me that it used to be a real shul in Queens which closed down, and the shul treasurer kept the shul bank account open "just for causes like this." She said "when we collect tzedakah, people like to write out checks to a shul name so that they can deduct it from their taxes."

So basically, she is laundering money through a bank account for a non-existent religious non-profit so that she can spend it for a genuinely charitable cause. At least I hope it's a charitable cause. And why doesn't she go through a legitimate synagogue? I guess she would have to be more accountable to them. And who is to say that this person isn't laundering other, less philanthropically-oriented money as well?

Does she or the former treasurer realize or care that what they are doing is highly illegal, if not unethical? I have a feeling that she doesn't, since she shared it quite openly with me, a total stranger. Of course I'm not making any calls to the IRS, but my head is spinning with the blase attitude behind this.

Next.

I subscribe to something called "Freecycle." To be very clear, it's not a Jewish listserver at all. I've described what Freecycle does here. I recently put out a post that I was looking for a particular object. A woman responded that while she didn't have the object, she called the company that made them, told them that she was on disability and couldn't afford a new one, and said that they sent her one, gratis. She recommended that I do the same. She said she did this with several companies and most all of them sent her stuff once they heard her story. I responded that I wasn't on disability and could in fact afford the object that I was seeking, but just wanted to know if anyone was getting rid of one. She responded by reassuring me that the companies never checked whether her story was true; they just sent her stuff.

I am horrified by this for two reasons. First is that this woman feels so blatantly justified in begging for free things, that she brags about her acquisitions. "Hey, guess what I scored at the soup kitchen today!" Second is that she sees no problem with me defrauding these companies and claiming that I am disabled when I'm not. After all, they don't check.

Next.

I shared some freebie links with a friend of mine recently. Ok, I was bragging. I love getting freebies, legitimate freebies that I acquire by playing by the rules. She countered by saying that she gets free stuff from companies all the time by complaining about their food or products. I asked her if there was really all that much wrong with the stuff she buys that she can complain that much. She said if she doesn't find anything wrong, she'll makes something up. "You should see how much free candy I get for my kids by calling up the company and saying I found a rock in the box!" she bragged. "It's a huge company; they don't care!"

Again, I was horrified. Does she realize how wrong this is?

There's stealing and then there is stealing. People who would never ever think about walking into a store and putting something in their pocket and walking out, will gleefully cheat the hell out of "big" entities, be it Procter & Gamble or the IRS. They will feel entitled and justified in what they are doing because, well, I don't know why. What is this all about? When did this kind of stealing become not wrong?

Macy's coupon

$20 off of $100 denim purchase at Macy's, until 3/1/9.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Watching the President now

Will he please stop running for office? Does he know he won already and can stop the drivelly empty rhetoric already?

Stamps.com

Is Stamps.com a ripoff?

Well, if you use the regular service, without putting in a little time to get some offers and freebies from them, I'm going to have to say, yes, it is.

If you sign up on their website, the cheapest plan is $17.99/month and they send you the software and a starter kit, which basically includes a few sheets on which you can print postage. They also start you off with $5 worth of free postage. There is no charge for the first month.

Along with this, if you stay with them past the first month and let them charge your card once for $17.99, you can get a $25 Amazon gift card, a 5 lb. digital scale and an additional $10 worth of postage. Stay another month and you get an additional $10 worth of postage. Here's the page with the deals.

Ok. I'll play. I figured that even with the $18 monthly fee (which for me is tax deductible), I'd be ahead by $22 with just the Amazon g.c. and additional $5 + $10 in postage. $25+5+$10-$18=$22. So I went for it. Got the $5 in postage right away. As soon as I received the starter kit I printed out the free postage (very easily done, btw). I set a reminder in Outlook to alert me to when my credit card would be charged and as soon as that happened, I sent away the forms for the free scale, gift card and $10 in postage.

Now, Stamps.com claims that you can print the postage right on your envelopes, but since my printer basically eats envelopes, I really needed extra blank sticker sheets (called NetStamps) to print the stamps on. Stamps.com charges $3.99 for each set of five sheets! Another way to rip you off, imho. So I called Stamps.com and told them I wanted to cancel.

They are apparently ready and trained to counter cancellations. The customer service rep, who parenthetically, was so friendly and chatty I wanted to kill her, immediately offered to send me a free pack of NetStamps, waive next month's fee and reduce my monthly charge to $9.99.

"Really now?" I said. "And why wasn't I offered this $9.99 plan when I signed up?"

"Oh, we encourage everyone to use our $17.99 plan because it's the best one. You lose many features when you go to the $9.99 plan."

This is the purest form of b.s. in business. The CSR listed off the features that you lose, and they were stupid and unnecessary.

So I said, sure, I'd take my free month, go to $9.99, and happily accept the five free sheets of NetStamps.

I set my Outlook reminder up to let me know when my credit card would be charged so that I could call and cancel again before the charge goes through. Let's see what they will offer me next time.

Net haul:

  • $25 Amazon g.c.
  • $25 in postage
  • digital scale

Net cost:
  • $18 (tax deductible so really it's about $12)
  • About 10 minutes of my time on the phone

I can live with that. I've been Googling around and apparently this is sort of the way to go with Stamps.com.

If you'd like to try it out for yourself and make some free stuff, email me at theroadtaken613@gmail.com and I'll send you a reference code. If you sign up with the reference code, you get a slightly better sign up package with $45 worth of postage instead of $25, and I will get $20 worth of free postage if you stay through the trial period. Signing up this way also reduces your monthly damage fee from $18 to $16. Go figure.

Only do this if you are willing to make at least one phone call to them and will mark your calendar (Outlook works for me) with the date of the future cc charge. If not, I think you will get ripped off in a big way. This freebie is a bit of trouble, but you'll do well if you stay on it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

No Freakin Way.

I think that he made this up. Sorta hoping.

Bailout Generation (not what you think)

Though I don't live there, I subscribe to the Five Towns Shuls listserver, which is one of the best email lists around. People post things they are selling, things they need, services both wanted and available, real estate notices, job postings, community stuff, etc. You'd be surprised what people in Lawrence are throwing out these days.

Every so often, I'll read a posting about a charity opportunity, and I'll send them a couple of bucks. Today I saw this on the Five Towns Shuls list (slightly modified for anonymity):

Dear Friends,
Could please find it in your heart to help some parents marry off their daughter? They do not want the girl to know that they don't have the money to make the wedding and are so embarrassed to be put in this situation but unfortunately have no choice. Please could you help them out?

I am looking for contacts in the following areas, so that we might get discounts in the various items we need for this bride.

Clothing stores
Jewelry (to get cuff links for the groom)
Judaica
Linen
Kitchen sets
Beds
Furniture
Now, I know that it is a huge mitzvah to help a bride. I do. But where does the line between charity and excess get drawn?

For example, these parents don't want their daughter to know that they can't afford to buy some of these things. But what were they planning on doing? Maybe they've lost their jobs recently, and believe me, I feel for them. But can't they tell their daughter and son-in-law, "you know what, how about we buy the gold cuff links next year?" What if the young newlyweds put some folding chairs and a card table in their kitchen for a year or two instead of having a kitchen set?

And what sort of message are these parents sending their daughter if she gets everything she wants even though they have to turn to charity (which is really what this is) to do it? In my mind it is a message of entitlement. "Times may be tough, but you are still going to get everything you are entitled to, because you are a bride and because in our community, getting married comes with a set of expectations, that we, as good parents, will fulfill no matter what."

I had a beautiful wedding. Because my groom and I were both in our thirties, we paid for about half of it. But we cut corners where we had to. I spent less than $1,000 on flowers, which I viewed as a huge waste. While I received a lovely engagement ring and a pearl necklace, we skipped buying watches, a "kallah bracelet," or cufflinks. We simply felt that we didn't need to follow the frummie rules of getting engaged. I got a simple, mid-priced sheitel. I got my gown from a gemach. Other than beds, we didn't buy any new furniture, just used what we had and what relatives gave us. We both knew the value of a buck and also knew that we'd be just as married if we didn't have a new dining room set. We knew that as we earned money and built our lives, we could always upgrade later, which, bee"Aitch, we did. I never felt that anything was coming to me. There were things that I really, really wanted, but if I got them, I appreciated that and if I didn't, there was always next year. It didn't take one thing away from my wedding that we didn't serve any liquor or wine (other than champagne, which The Ex acquired very reasonably on his own). My ring was white gold, and while I would have loved platinum (as most of my other friends had), it was just too expensive. It was still a lovely ring. The stone could have been half the size or twice the size and it would still have been a lovely ring. My groom paid for it himself. Out of money that he earned. Himself.

Mind you, I'm going to send a check to these people, because I do feel for them, and I do want to provide for a bride. I'm clearly judging them, and not knowing anything beyond what their posting says, it would be mean-spirited not to send them something. So I'm sending a small check. It probably would have been a slightly larger one had they not included the cuff links on the list. It annoys me that we are raising a generation of young adults who feel entitled to the good things in life. It's happening everywhere on a national level (bailouts, stimulus packages, bailouts, bailouts, bailouts) and it's been happening in the Jewish community for quite some time now. We are depriving that generation of the opportunity to make their own way in this world through work, earning, saving, postponing gratification, and the incredible satisfaction that comes with being responsible rather than entitled. We are raising the Bailout Generation.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Economists on the Package

Becker & Murphy on the Stimulus Package, here.

We Are All Socialists Now



Well, at least it's out in the open.

Lordy lordy lordy.

Hobson's choice

What can I say about the "stimulus package" that hasn't already been said?

President Obama has given the American people a Hobson's choice. Choose the stimulus package or face certain economic devastation, the likes of which has never been seen before. Do you want to be poor? Do you want America to dissolve into a puddle of financial ruin? (So much for the President who told us that we have chosen hope over fear two weeks ago, but I digress. Read Krauthammer's brilliant exposition on that here.)

Of course not! Of course we don't want to be poor! Of course we want to recover! I heart money in the bank!

But President Obama, no one with an average level of sanity thinks that this package is the answer. If you'd like to actually see what is in this 1,560 page package instead of just reading the reporting on it, click here. Included in the spending that is going to stimulate the economy:

$7.5 billion to construct and repair Federal buildings
$8.1 billion to states for water infrastructure projects
$2.8 billion to expand broadband to rural areas
$20 billion to public school renovations and construction

And by the way, while the package includes $182 billion in "tax cuts," $100 billion of that will go to people who don't pay taxes. Yes.

This should not be a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. There are many ways to re-draft this horrorshow of a package that will actually grow the economy. President Obama, we have more choices than this. Stop the propoganda, stop pushing your agenda and start talking to economists who don't worship you.

Unless he likes the whole savior thing....

President Obama has got to stop kissing homeless women begging for help at his feet, if he is going to shake off the whole messianic image.

He just does.

Webcam for $12

I thought this was such a great deal on Buy.com: Gooseneck webcam for $12, free shipping. Make sure you go to Ebates first to get a little money back before you click over to buy it. Every little bit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Two Hours

I am participating in a "machsom le'fi." A machsom le'fi is when a group of 12 friends take a two-hour period each day (for forty days) and agree not to speak or listen to lashon harah (gossip, evil speech) or engage in any sort of nivul peh (cursing, talking dirty, mocking, etc.) during this time period, as a merit for someone who is ill. I am very into self-improvement, especially when it comes in manageable chunks like this. Two-hours! Hah. Bring it on. I can do two hours, baby. Two lashon harah-free hours is NOTHING.

My two hour daily time slot is from 4-6 p.m.. My first day was yesterday. Holy moly. What did I sign up for?

You cannot watch tv, listen to the radio, read newspapers, magazines, or most secular books during this time. Pretty much impossible to avoid nivul peh from any of these mediums, and if there is anything remotely news related, you run into the danger of lashon harah. Talking on the phone was absolutely out. Blogging was out. Reading blogs was out. Checking email was DEFINITELY out. Actually, 99% of my daily communication-related activities were out.

I decided to run on the treadmill for 45 minutes. Usually, I listen to a playlist of my favorite rock music or catch up on podcasts when I run. That was surely out. I listened to a downloaded shiur instead. The shiur was a little dry and didn't give me the rhythm I needed to really pound out a full interval running session, so I stopped after a half hour. Showering and dressing took another 20 minutes. I walked my dog (without my Ipod or phone, which I usually take with me) for another half hour and met someone I knew, whom I quickly greeted and walked away from, muttering "in a rush" with a goofy smile. I got home. I had another 40 minutes to kill. I learned two halachot of lashon harah, which was a recommended part of the program. That took about 5 minutes. I cleaned my bathroom and started an early dinner, which took up the remaining time.

So here's what I learned from Day 1 of machsom le'fi:

1. My life is filled, FILLED with ongoing lashon harah and nivul peh. Everywhere I turn, I engage in activities that inevitably lead down these roads.
2. On the flip side of this, it is very, very difficult to lead a modern life that is lashon harah-free. You have to isolate yourself from everything. It feels detached and unrealistic
3. When I looked for activities to fill my two-hours, I actually became productive. I exercised, learned, walked, cleaned and took the time to cook a healthy meal. I've become aware of how much time I waste doing unproductive things. A lot.

It got me thinking. Am I just leading such a wasteful life, so steeped in lashon harah and nivul peh that I'm not even aware of it anymore? Or is a life free of these things simply beyond the reach of ordinary people like me? Can you lead a normal, lashon harah-free existence and still be in touch with the world?

The Machla

I got an email from one of my frummer-than-frum friends with a Tehillim request:

The husband of one of our friends was just diagnosed with the Machla.
"The Machla."

Why are we afraid to say the word "cancer?" What power do we give this word in its utterance?

When my father ah"s was diagnosed with colorectal cancer a few years ago, some of my siblings and siblings-in-law refused to tell people what he had. They just said he was very ill. You know. With a knowing glance. It's understood.

Me, I told anyone who would listen, to get advice, doctor and treatment recommendations, support, medical news etc. I would have shouted it from my proverbial rooftop if I could. Someone I love has CANCER! Help! I'm scared. I need information.

I don't get it. Is it a big secret? Is saying the word going somehow make the disease worse? Do we live in the world of Harry Potter, where He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named can somehow be invoked if we say the word Valdemort?

In Judaism, do we believe in magic?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Post Obama Propogandathon, Live-blogging 24

Live blogging tonight's 24:

3:04 The First Dude is having a really bad day.
3:06 President Woman lost some weight?
3:07 Bill Buchanan is looking more like Luke on General Hospital all the time.
3:08 Ah, and now Jack is going to win over President Woman.
3:09 Notice Agent Renee is standing at Jack's side. Like they are a couple.
3:10 At this point the President should step down, yes? Like when they kidnapped the President's daughter in a different season? Wait, was that even 24?
3:11 Oh gross. There's a mutilation every season.
3:12 Is President Woman CRYING?
3:13 "With all due respect, Madame President, ask around." Oh they give Jack the bestest lines.
3:14: Jack and Renee alone in a room? There's gonna be stuff happening.
3:16 Larry really wants to ask Renee: are you sleeping with Jack?
3:20 Who's the stringy-haired blonde?
3:21 I hate that Janine Garofolo is trying to be Chloe.
3:22 Agent Renee realizes with one look that Jack is ten times the man Larry is.
3:23 The writers are totally obsessed with the torture issue.
3:24 Jack is steelier than Clint Eastwood.
3:25 Larry: "the rules are what makes us better." Jack: "not today." Geez Louise.
3:27 The Chief of Staff reminds me of the guy on a game show who announces the prizes.
3:29 Agent Larry has been completely emasculated.
3:30 Agent Renee is so not scary.
3:35 Like negotiating a one-way street the wrong way is an issue for Jack (who is driving the SUV with one hand, btw).
3:36 Agent Renee is getting into her role way too easily.
3:37 Jack vs corrupt Secret Service dude. Owee.
3:45 Agent Renee is SO not okay.
3:46 I miss CTU. Fewer cubicles, better lighting.
3:49 Rosa is going to be a problem. Until she is killed, that is.
3:52 Wondering how often Jack changes his cell number since everyone seems to have it on speed dial.
3:54 Did President Woman just COVER HER FACE WITH HER HANDS?
3:57 First Dude having a really, really bad day.
3:59 No need to shout at Renee, Jack. Your relationship is already fragile.

And that's a wrap.

Reverse-shopping

Wikipedia, take note. I've invented a new term: reverse-shopping. Reverse-shopping is when unemployed people go out to stores and come back with more than they've spent (legally).

Last week, I went to the mall with a similarly unemployed girlfriend and we hit Sephora like a gaggle of teenagers. They were (and still are) giving out free 10-day supplies of Bare Minerals makeup, no purchase required. We both walked out with our little kits. Then we hit Baskin Robbins with my buy-one-get-one-free coupon and got half-priced ice sundaes which we couldn't finish. Then we went to CVS armed with an assortment of free ExtraCare coupons and picked up about $50 worth of toiletries for about $20 as well as a pair of free diet cokes, courtesy of our Cokerewards coupons. We stopped by Pet Supplies Plus so I could pick up a free bag of dog food for little Bonnie.

It was a fun, cheap afternoon. I spent about $25 total and came home with about $150 worth of stuff. I took out a dvd from the library (more free) and we spent the rest of the afternoon watching a mindless chickflick. Ah, the pleasures of the unemployed freebie freak.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Free Rice Cakes

Here. Doublecheck the kashrut. The cheese flavored one is definitely not kosher...unsure about the chocolate one.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Avoiding Horrible Bosses

Please excuse the crude language (I'm not a prude, but it's not my style), but I thought this was a great article for job hunters like myself.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cheap Coke.

Almost all of the NYC area major supermarket chains are having this Coke promotion: get four 12-pk. cans of any Coke product for $10 and two 2-liter bottles of Coke Zero for free. I know Waldbaums, Pathmark, and Stop & Shop are doing this. Waldbaums and Pathmark require an additional $25 purchase; Stop & Shop doesn't. This is a pretty sweet deal if you are a big soda consumer. And if you do Coke-Rewards, as I do, each of these purchases will probably yield another free 20 oz. bottle of Coke. And if you don't do Coke Reward, send me your codes, pretty please. Good until 2/2/9 at Waldbaums, 2/1/9 at S&S, 2/1/9 at Pathmark.