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It seems that everybody has a blog or is writing an article, or keeping track of life and developments.  Well, on this page called Alan's Notebook, I will be making some comments on this 'n that -- stuff that doesn't exactly fit in our other pages.  If you have any comments, please email me at Alan@AlanBestBuys.com and thanks for stopping by.

Alex Barrett
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offers consumer commentary.

CONSUMER ADVISOR ALEX BARRETT OFFERS COMMENTARY

Update April 11, 2014   I am pleased to tell you that consumer advisor Alex Barrett will be offering consumer commentary on our Best Buys TV Shows.  Alex, has many years of expert experience in the style and retailing industries, and she has experience in movies, TV, modeling and fashion.  In the fashion and retailing world she is ahead of the curve when it comes to style and design and trends and will help our TV show viewers and website readers get more for their money.  She will also be keeping tabs on what's hot making sure that our TV show viewers are also ahead of the curve when it comes to style, fashion and information.

 

VALENTINES DAY 2014

Update January 6, 2014  I couldn't help but notice the big display of Valentine's Day cards in my local Target store.  Only five weeks before the big day.  Actually, having the card display up five weeks before the holiday is not a dramatic head start.  Perhaps there was no dramatic head start because Valentine's Day is not a major holiday the way Christmas is.  Christmas shopping is the "make it or break it time" for many retailers -- but Valentine's Day while a big money holiday won't make or break anybody's business unless they're exclusively in the Valentine's Day card business -- or something similarly related.

Valentine's Day Card Display 2014
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Target in Woodland Hills, California

This year Valentine's Day (February 14 in case you've forgotten) falls on a Friday which might be called the "golden day" for Valentine's Day merchants.  On Friday, Valentines will be working so that means the delivery of flowers will be appropriate.  Heaven forbid your gal is the only one in the office who doesn't get flowers delivered on Valentine's Day -- and say your prayers if your flowers are the smallest and cheapest delivered on Valentine's Day.  When Valentine's Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday the delivery business falls off dramatically -- but that won't be the case this year.  Friday is also appropriate for going out to dinner so this year the restaurant business might have a busier than normal Friday night with all of the cupids taking their honeys out for dinner and ordering wine and champagne.  And the Valentines that can't make it do dinner on Friday night could mutually agree on a Valentines' dinner Saturday night -- and that could mean extra business at the restaurants too.  Restaurants hate when Valentine's Day falls on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday since going out for dinner is not common on "school nights."  But when Valentine's Day falls on a Friday or Saturday it's bonanza time.  Sundays are kind of neutral for the restaurants.

For retailers of chocolate and jewelry and other traditional Valentine's Day gifts, this Valentine's Day also falls on a "good day" because you have several shopping days to pick up something special for Friday.

I wonder, of course, how many Valentines will be asking for or hinting about something practical this year.  Perhaps she would like a new handbag instead of flowers and chocolates?  And if our Valentines are married, might she want a new bedroom set instead of chocolate, roses, dinner and a handbag?  The economy is still rough for many families and practical gifts tend to become fashionable when money is still a bit tight.

But whatever you do, plan early.  Order your flowers early, buy your box of chocolate early, make your dinner reservations before the best tables are taken.  If you decide to splurge on a big ticket item -- whether it is a Louis Vuitton handbag, or a Rolex, or diamond earrings -- don't wait till February 14.  You want to shop early, consider the options, and carefully buy exactly what she (or he) will want.  Many prices are negotiable and when you shop early and give yourself time to comparison shop you can get a better value.  If there is one holiday you don't want to screw up-- this is it.  And that also means shop for the best Valentine's Day cards early too.  That neatly arranged display at that Target store won't look like that on Valentine's Day Friday.

BUST ME DOWN TO THE FELT TO HELP THE RENAL SUPPORT NETWORK

Update October 13, 2013  Here's your chance to bust me down to the felt.  That's poker lingo for taking all of my chips and knocking me out of a poker game.  I invite you to do that at the Renal Support Network charity poker tournament on Saturday, November 2nd.  Details about the celebrity poker tournament -- and the public is invited to play -- are here: http://www.rsnhope.org/celebrity-poker-tourney/   Proceeds from the tournament will be used to help the Renal Support Network carry out its mission of helping people who have kidney disease through education, advocacy and support.  To play it's $150 and for non-players to enjoy the event and the food and entertainment it's $50.  There are cash prizes.

Glendale YWCA
735 E. Lexington Dr.
Glendale, CA 91206

4:30 pm Doors Open
5:00 pm Dinner
6:00 pm Tourney Begins!

 

BULLDOG LIQUIDATORS HAS REOPENED

Update September 12, 2013  In November of last year I told you about how Bulldog Liquidators, a popular liquidator and outlet store in the San Fernando Valley, was shutting down.  You can see the original article below.  I also noted in that article that the owners might reopen their store.  Well, they did and it is near their original location.  When I get new information about it, I will post it here.

STOP RAISING SALES TAXES, CALIFORNIA

Update February 18, 2013  California and California voters seem to like raising the state sales tax -- and local sales taxes, too.  Here in Los Angeles we have some of the highest sales tax rates in the country, and in two weeks Los Angeles voters in the March election will vote on raising the city sales tax again.  This time, the supporters of the sales tax include business groups as well as government leaders.  I just don't understand why and how they could possibly support another rise in the sales tax.  And I don't understand how voters in this city and in this state can keep voting to raise taxes.  They just voted to raise the sales tax this past November to help balance the budget.

Sure it's important to balance the budget and to raise money to keep vital government services -- but raising the sales tax rate is perhaps one of the worst ways to do it.  And why?  Because the sales tax hits poor people and hard working families the hardest.  Lower income and middle income families spend more of their income on items that are subject to the sales tax.  It is a regressive tax, too.  It doesn't matter if you earn $20,000 a year or $100,000 a year -- if you buy a pack of cheese for $2 you're going to pay the same sales tax.

While higher income earners pay a higher income tax rate than a low income earner, there is no break for low-income consumers when it comes to the sales tax.  If you buy a Hyundai or if you buy a Bentley you are going to pay the same sales tax rate.

If the state and the city need more money let them grow the economy, create more jobs and grow the tax base with more consumers having more money to spend.  That will generate more tax revenue without hurting people by charging them more.  Help people to earn more and government will get more tax revenue that way.  That's what should be going on now -- and not raising sales tax rates.

If government needs to raise taxes, instead of taxing low income families and hard working middle class families, tax those who can afford to be taxed.  By this I do not mean taxing the wealthy.  What I mean is a tax on the frivolous.  Tax luxury.  Tax high end clothing, tax high end jewelry, tax high end entertainment, tax gambling, tax the sins -- but don't tax the basics that hard working families need to buy.

I suggest doing away with sales taxes on clothing under a certain price point, but keeping the sales tax on higher cost luxury clothing.  Someone buying a pair of denim slacks for ten dollars should not be taxed nearly 10% on the purchase.  But someone buying a designer outfit costing five-thousand dollars in a chic boutique should pay that 10% sales tax rate.

New cars costing $15,000 or less should not be taxed, but luxury cars costing $60,000 or more certainly should be taxed.

There is another taxing issue that we should address again and that is revenue from casino gambling.  A few days ago the Rincon Tribe in San Diego won a Federal Court decision that the State of California unlawfully over-taxed its casino operations and the compact for the Harrah's Rincon Casino in San Diego County.  (Caesars Entertainment manages and operates the casino for the Rincon Indian Tribe under the Harrah's brand.)  The court decision opens the door for other Indian Tribes in the state to change their compacts with the State and to pay less tax to the State for its gambling revenue.  One way for the State to make up that gap in revenue will be to expand casino gambling to card clubs and poker rooms around California that are already in operation.

In 2004 there was a proposition on the ballot -- Prop 68 -- that would have amended the State Constitution to allow slot machines and other Vegas-style gaming at certain card clubs and poker rooms, breaking the monopoly hold of the Indian Casinos.  That proposition was voted down, but perhaps it's time to reconsider it.  We could use the revenue.  And I would rather see more revenue come from expanded casino gambling at already-established card clubs and casinos than see it come from higher sales tax rates.

UNCLE SAM IS CONSIDERING ANOTHER PUSH FOR $1 COINS, ELIMINATION OF THE $1 BILL

Update December 4, 2012  The US Government is again talking about eliminating $1 bills and replacing them with $1 coins.  $1 coins have been minted since the late 1990s but the small size that confuses them with quarters made them unpopular.   Even a change in the color from silver to brass really didn't help them to circulate.  Many people say they just don't want to carry around a pocket full of dollar coins when some "quiet money" (bills) will do just fine.

The government's motivation for replacing paper money with coins is simple: to save money.  The average life expectancy of a one-dollar bill is about five years.  It used to be about nine-months, but it seems we are taking care of our money better.  Really.  I remember twenty, thirty years ago, reading that a dollar bill lasts about nine months before it needs to be replaced.  But the latest comments are that a dollar bill lasts about five years.  Perhaps this is because we are using more credit cards and debit cards now, and fewer dollar bills.

I know shoppers who will buy drive-thru meals or cups of coffee by swiping their debit cards.  I see grocery store shoppers buying groceries for a week swiping debit cards.  So it makes sense that our dollar bills are lasting longer.  But, dollar coins would last 30-years, according to estimates.  And over that thirty-year lifetime, Uncle Sam would save more money if we all used dollar coins instead of dollar bills.

In Canada they not only replaced dollar bills with dollar coins, but they also came out with a two-dollar coin for daily commerce and both are popular.  Canada even wants to develop some sort of government program that will let you electronically pay for things down to a single penny so that might mean Canada will eliminate it's one-cent coin in the future.  Many Americans seem to want to do away with the penny because they don't use them -- and they put their pennies in jars or leave them to accumulate in the ash tray of their cars. 

And if the government does decide to mint one dollar coins to replace dollar bills, I hope that Uncle Sam will do the smart thing and sell advertising on the coins.   I am sure many big companies would love to have its ads  appear on the reverse of the one dollar coins and I am sure those companies would put in a large order of the coins for use in its stores.  If the government really wants to get a lot of the one dollar coins in circulation fast, ask McDonalds if they would like the Golden Arches to appear in an ad on the reverse of the coins.   I am sure McDonalds will order up millions to make change. So would Jack In The Box and so would Burger King and I am sure that Carl's Jr would have someone like Miss Turkey in their ad promoting a turkey burger.

Oh, do you think those designs are a bit too much for our circulating currency? Well, did you ever take a look at some of the hokey designs they put on our quarters during the State quarter program?

Since it's going to cost money to mint the coins to replace the dollars, even if there will be long term savings, Uncle Sam might as well get Madison Avenue ad agencies to underwrite the cost of the minting with advertisements.  And then Uncle Sam will get a head start on saving money for printing money which is why they want to replace dollar bills with dollar coins in the first place. 

BULLDOG LIQUIDATORS IN CHATSWORTH HAS CLOSED. OUT OF BUSINESS -- THE CHANGING FACE OF DISCOUNT SHOPPING. 

Update November 29, 2012  Bulldog Liquidators, the popular liquidator with an outlet store at 8933 Winnetka Avenue in Chatsworth, is now closed.  Owners of the company said they might re-open later in another location.  The store was very popular for years, but in the last year or two the company lacked the inventory of TVs and appliances that made it very popular among shoppers in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles County.  The owners also faced high lease payments, and at the same time there was more competition from other liquidation stores and outlets.  An auction of the remaining inventory was held during the week, and Bulldog Liquidators just went through its own store-closing liquidation.

Other discounters and outlets have also fallen on hard times.  For years, Crazy Gideon's Electronics in downtown Los Angeles led the market in selling big screen TVs, appliances, computers, cameras and electronics, but it also was forced to close when other big name retailers decided to open their own discount outlets or decided to carry their own liquidated merchandise in their regular stores.  Online discounters also hurt the outlet business.

There are still several major outlet and liquidation companies in the Los Angeles region including the Santa Fe Outlet and Sante Fe Seconds stores, ReMart in Anaheim, Mary and Rafa's in Montebello, and several clothing and furniture liquidators, but Bulldog's closing leaves a gap for bargain shoppers in the Valley as it was the last of the "general merchandise" discount outlets in the Valley area.

When I last spoke to the owners a few months ago, they told me they were not bringing in new merchandise and they knew months ago that the business would close during this holiday shopping season.  The lease expires on the last day of November, and Bulldog pretty much went down to the wire.

In a tough retailing economy, discount shopping is almost an endangered species.  Outlets and liquidation stores tend to get more deals and more merchandise when the economy is strong and optimistic factories produce more because optimistic wholesalers and retailers order more merchandise.  The over-enthusiastic ordering process often leads to excess merchandise which goes to the liquidators.  But when the economy is tough, retailers and wholesalers order less and factors cut back on their production runs -- and that means less overproduction or perhaps no over-production and the outlets could be shut out of the merchandise stream.

The used car business actually operates the same way as outlets and liquidation stores.  Used car dealers depend on business being good for new car dealers because when new car dealers are selling new cars, there are more trade-ins that can go to the used car marketplace.  But when business is tough for the new car dealers, there are fewer quality used cars going to the used car lots.

The bottom line is that discounters do best when main stream, big ticket item shopping does well.  It's almost like a trickle-down stream for outlets and liquidators.  But when money is tight at the top, merchandise and sales can't flow down the pipeline.

SHOULD HALLOWEEN BE POSTPONED?  OR CHANGED PERMANENTLY?

Update October 30, 2012  Here we are one day before Halloween and it doesn't look like it's going to be a good event or holiday.  Here in the Southern California area the weather has been too warm for consumers to think about Halloween, and the recent spurt in gasoline prices has strained family budgets.  And in the east the Superstorm Sandy has ruined plans for the holiday, and there is even talk about postponing Halloween and Trick or Treating this year.

But perhaps Halloween's date should be changed permanently?  Perhaps Halloween should be rescheduled for November when the weather is generally cooler -- and it will be out of hurricane season and we wouldn't have to worry about another "superstorm" ruining the holiday.

But the slow sales of this year could impact your selection of Halloween goodies next year.  When it comes to Halloween 2013, retailers who got buried alive for Halloween 2012 might feel cursed or bewitched and might feel the chill of a ghostly past when it comes to place new orders.  So you just might see lots of the costumes that didn't sell this year back on store shelves next year.

HIGH GAS PRICES HURT EVERYONE

Update October 7, 2012  No one is being helped by the current high gasoline pump prices that we have here in Southern California.  Even the oil companies and the gasoline retailers aren't being helped.  In fact, because the current price spurt was caused by production cuts at a California refinery, some gasoline retailers were forced to shut down because they couldn't get gasoline to sell.  When gas prices jump up, motorists cut back on other "gas station expenses" including car washes, buying items in the convenience store, and they drive less which can mean fewer gallons sold and lower profits for the gas retailers.

The rest of the community is also hurt.  Families find their budgets stretched a little more.  Retailers could see fewer window shoppers and some retailers will find their sales going down because just a little bit more of the family budget is now going to gas instead of movie tickets, or buying a new shirt or a pair of shoes.  A price increase in gasoline can just mess up discretionary spending in so many ways.

I didn't get a car wash when I stopped at a gas station the other day.  In fact, I didn't fill the tank.  I bought only $40 worth of gas -- about eight gallons -- hoping that the refinery problems will be fixed and gas prices will drop back to where they were just two weeks ago which was fifty-cents a gallon cheaper.  I also decided not to take a drive on Saturday night to an entertainment venue I frequently go to.  I also kept my car parked today, Sunday -- no Sunday drive for me. 

Please see our new "Gas Prices / Southern California" page for charts of low gas prices from gasbuddy.com and these prices are supposed to be updated regularly.  I present the gas price charts for your convenience, but remember that the information comes directly from the gasbuddy.com website.

THINGS I'D LIKE TO SEE

Update August 7, 2012  There are some things I would like to see because they would just make more sense.  For example, I would like to see an industry standard for ice cube trays.  I'm not talking about the exotic ice cube trays for parties that make star cubes or bunny rabbit cubes or cowboy cubes.  I'm talking about a standard for ice cube trays that make standard ice cubes.

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Now take a look at the four ice cube trays in the photo.  Two of the trays have one design and two have another design -- and since the designs don't match the trays don't stack just right.  You know what happens when the trays don't stack just right?  They spill and the bottom of one tray gets stuck on the ice cubes in the tray below.  If all manufacturers used the same standard design, buying additional ice cube trays wouldn't be a problem.  One of our national political parties could probably win a couple of votes with a platform that includes a national standard for ice cube trays, don't you think?

I would also like to see local ordinances that require that restaurants have a drive up trash container.  Now some drive-thrus do have a convenient trash container and good for them!  But many drive-thrus don't.  Let's face it, if you use a drive-thru once, you'll probably use a drive-thru again and you probably have the trash from the last drive-thru still in your car.  So the drive-thru industry should share the burden of disposing of drive-thru bags and drive-thru trash by providing convenient drive-up trash containers.

Trash container at drive-thru restaurant.
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Jack In The Box, Santa Monica, Calif.

On the left is a photo of the drive-thru at the Jack In The Box on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, California.  The trash container has a chute attached which almost eliminates "misses" and this trash container is located just before motorists reach the cashier/pick-up window.  It only makes sense that restaurants that offer drive-thru service should be required to make it easy to dispose of the bags and packaging that they dispense.

One more thing I'd like to see -- a rule against using a cell phone while in a cross walk.  Most people can't text and quickly cross the street at the same time.  The result is that they hold up traffic.  And when traffic is held up, some drivers are forced to use their cell phones to say they will be delayed, and that causes more delays and even accidents.  So don't text and drive and don't use cross walks and text.  And the problem with pedestrians who text is further complicated when they are crossing a street in a cross walk without a traffic signal.  That means slow walkers who are texting can bring traffic to a sudden halt and the traffic delay can be extended when the pedestrians are concentrating on their texts and not on walking.

GOVERNMENT CAN SAVE MONEY WITH THE INTERNET

Update June 25, 2012  Once again, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the LADWP, is sending out its annual water quality reports to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.  This is important information.  And it costs money to distribute.  The LADWP estimates that the cost of preparing and printing and mailing each report is 38-cents even though it is printed on recycled paper.  If there are ten houses on your block that's $3.80.  Los Angeles has more than 4-million residents and that means a lot of these reports were mailed out.

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What I don't understand is why this report isn't put online? Sure there would still be preparation costs, but the City would save on printing and mailing expenses, and the City of Los Angeles would be saving some recycled paper for other uses. And let's not forget the cost of having all of those printed reports landing in trash cans and landfills. I doubt many of the reports end up in libraries or on cocktail tables next to family photo albums or next to a hardcover edition of "Norman Rockwell: Artist and Illustrator."

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The LADWP makes it clear that the cost of preparing, printing and mailing each report is 38-cents.  Ironically, in the report consumers are asked to go online to take a survey about water quality.  So, they can do the survey online but not publish the report?  Wouldn't it be easier to send out a Tweet, or post on an official City website when an online version of the report becomes available each year?  And if they have to make a notification by mail, why not put the notification in the monthly bills?  Or just a postcard reminder would cost a lot less.

IT'S TIME TO CHANGE THE LAWS ABOUT PEDESTRIAN WALKWAYS AND CROSSWALKS ON BUSY STREETS

Update June 3, 2012  If you ever drove along busy Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, California you would know that traffic can suddenly be stopped because a pedestrian stepped into a marked crosswalk.  Santa Monica has many pedestrian walkways without traffic signals and according to the law, cars must stop and allow the pedestrians to cross Wilshire Boulevard.  Wilshire Boulevard is a major traffic route with cars zipping along and frequently above the posted speed limit.  Having a pedestrian step into a walkway without a traffic control signal -- a red light at an intersection -- not only puts the pedestrian in danger but can cause a chain-reaction accident among the vehicles.

Ironically, these pedestrian walkways are sometimes just a half block from an intersection with a traffic signal.  A traffic signal not only would allow pedestrians to cross streets in safety but also would help prevent vehicle crashes when one or more drivers isn't aware of a pedestrian.

Maybe years ago when traffic wasn't so heavy pedestrian walkways without traffic signals worked -- but today they're a hazard to pedestrians and motorists.  And traffic is so heavy in the area, that unscheduled stops in the traffic pattern can only increase traffic problems, frustrations and the danger of an accident.

Get rid of the pedestrian walkways in locations where there isn't a traffic control device.  Keep everyone safe.

WHY DOES A "FLYAWAY" BUS OPERATED BY LOS ANGELES WORLD AIRPORTS HAVE A WYOMING LICENSE PLATE?

Update May 17, 2012  Sometimes you notice the strangest things like -- why is there a license plate from the State of Wyoming on a shuttle bus operated by Los Angeles World Airports for travelers at LAX?  I took this photo near LAX this past Sunday.  I guess there are a lot of possible reasons, but here are the questions that came to my mind.

Did they lease the bus from a company in Wyoming because there wasn't a company in California that could provide the bus or make a deal on the price?

Is California losing any revenue because the bus has a Wyoming registration and not a California registration?

Do passengers on the bus have the same protections they would have if the bus had a California registration?

Are smog requirements for a bus with Wyoming License Plates the same as a bus with California plates?

Isn't there a law about getting a California registration and California tags or license plate after a certain number of days?

Below is a photo of the Flyaway bus, and the response I got from Los Angeles World Airports.

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Late tonight, I was emailed this from Los Angeles World Airports:

"Flyaway Bus transportation is provided for LAX through Coach America which is headquartered in Dallas, Texas and operates the Coach America Los Angeles office.  Coach America provides bus service in 26 states.

"While most of the Flyaway Buses have California license plates, all Coach America buses also have a Wyoming registration and are covered under the International Registration Plan (IRP) to qualify for Apportioned Registration. Apportioned registration is for commercial vehicles which may operate interstate.

"Coach America follows all the rules and regulations set by the State of California with regards to smog, safety and fees. Coach America pays California registration and fees and there is no loss in revenue to the state of California. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has more information on this federal program at  www.dmv.ca.gov/vehindustry/irp/irpinfo.htm

"I hope that answers your questions."

Yes, that answers some questions, but not all.  We know the buses meet our air quality standards, and we know that the State is getting a fair share of registration and road use fees.  But what troubles me is that some California company can't compete with a company in Texas?  Don't get sidetracked by the fact that the Texas company has an office in Los Angeles because a Texas company is a Texas company and I doubt that bus -- and perhaps the others operated by the Texas company -- were bought in California from California dealers.

When I was growing up my father taught me that shopping "local" was a good thing to do.  It was good to support our friends and neighbors.  Perhaps when our state and city have huge budget deficits and our unemployment rate is as high as it is, our "city fathers" would be practicing what my father taught me a half-century ago.

I am sure that LAWA was looking out for its customers and the City of Los Angeles by finding the lowest bidder to provide quality service.  If they couldn't find a California company to win the bid I think that's a shame, too.

BEWARE THIS CELL PHONE SCAM  -- UPDATE

Update May 8, 2012  This is an update of an article here that I first wrote on March 18, 2012.  In the original article, I told you to beware a cell phone scam in which you are sent some kind of text messages that might contain "interesting facts" or "joke of the day" or "daily trivia."  And while you never requested these, your cell phone bill is getting charged ten dollars or twenty dollars per month for the "services."  What happened is that these scammers got your cell phone number and then told your phone company that you subscribed to their service, and the bills are put on your monthly phone bill.

The scammers are hoping you don't notice.  But if you do notice, they hope you won't jump through the hoops they set up to have the service stopped and the charges stopped and reversed.

In my case, my cell phone company told me I had to contact the company sending me the spam.  That wasn't easy to do.  I was actually being charged by two different companies for two different texting services that I did not sign up for. 

One of the company's phone numbers went to an answering service which could only provide me with another phone number to call.  I called that other number and had to place a request to have the service terminated and to ask for a refund.  I did, and after nearly two months, I have not received a refund even though I was told a refund would be sent.

It wasn't easy contacting the second company.  The phone number that my own cell phone company told me to call was a non-working number.  My cell phone company also gave me a website for that texting company -- and the website didn't exist.  Then my cell phone company gave me an email address.  I sent an email demanding that the "service" be terminated and that I get a full and complete refund.  In March, I got an email back saying they will send me a refund.  And I still haven't received that refund, either.

What are these scammers doing?  Well, for the most part they are hoping consumers won't notice, won't bother, and won't pursue action.  They must reason that someone might be paying a hundred bucks or more for cell and text and Internet service so what's another $9.99 on their bill?  Well scammers -- I notice the extra $9.99 on my bill.

What really surprises me is that my cell phone company accepts "business" from these scammers.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who has complained.  A complaint was filed with the California Public Utilities Commission.  And the CPUC came through: they contacted my cell phone company, and the cell phone company credited my bill for the full amount.  Thank you CPUC.  I should note that my cell phone company -- T Mobile -- told the CPUC that it was not at fault and that I was, but they made the refund for good will purposes.  Funny, they wouldn't give me a refund for good will.

If the texting companies are investigated I'm sure their defense will be something like this:  As soon as the customer told us of our error in charging them, we immediately gave them a full refund.  Wow.  I am hoping the California Public Utilities Commission will find these scammers and ask them about how many others didn't ask for a refund?  And I hope the CPUC is going to further investigate how many other consumers have been caught in these scams and why the phone companies won't stop the scammers from using their companies to scam consumers.

Have you had a similar experience or another type of fraud or scam with your cell phone?  Talk about it here on our Forum.  Thanks.

BECAUSE OF A GUILTY CONSCIENCE, THEY PAID ANYBODY WHO CALLED

Update April 12, 2012  The Federal Trade Commission just broke up a scam that targeted consumers who were in debt.  Here's what happened: crooks from India called about 600,000 random phone numbers in the United States posing as debt collectors.  When the random phone number happened to reach a consumer who owed money, the scammers were able to convince the debtors to pay and the scammers collected more than $5-million.  Of course, the consumers didn't pay down their debts at all because the money went to the crooks in India and not to the companies they were in debt to.  What happened here?  Well, it appears that when consumers are in debt they failed to check to make sure that the phone caller was a legitimate representative of the company they owed money to.  Perhaps the debtors had a guilty conscience or were too afraid to ask for confirmation.  Too bad.  Together those consumers lost more than $5-million and their debts are still on the books.  The lesson here is to confrim who is calling you, and make sure you are sending the payments to the proper company and address.

MORE TRUTH IN PACKAGING, MORE TRUTH IN LABELING

Update March 22, 2012  We need more truth in labeling and more truth in packaging.  It's good to know how much is in the packages of food we buy.  That way we can figure our cost per serving, and our costs for a meal and such.  But we need more truth in packaging and more truth in labeling -- and the "more truth" would tell us how much we can really get out of those packages. For example-- peanut butter.  Can you really get all of the peanut butter out of a jar of peanut butter?  Watch my comments in the video below.  And then please tell me your thoughts in our FORUM by clicking here.

DOES ANYONE WANT TO CUT AND CAP CREDIT CARD INTEREST RATES?

Update January 16, 2012  I just can't understand why our legislators -- state and federal -- are not talking about cutting and capping interest rates on credit cards?  I also can't understand why the general public isn't demanding it?  Is everyone just accepting credit card interest rates of 30% or more as normal?  Does anyone remember when it was a violation of law to charge interest rates that were higher than 25-percent?  Does anyone even know what usury laws were?

When interest rates on certificates of deposit are at one-percent or less, and when money market funds have interest rates of a fraction of one-percent, how can these legislators allow banks and credit card companies to charge 15% to 30% or even more on plastic?  And how can the general public tolerate high rates on plastic?

If the legislators are serious about boosting consumer spending how do they allow these high rates -- which in decades past would be enforced by the mob with crowbars, tire irons and concrete-filled boots -- to be legally charged?

For months now, the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee, the policy making group of the Fed, has kept interest rates near zero for banks to borrow money from the Fed.  And banks borrow from the Fed all the time.  But there has been no action about cutting credit card rates that banks charge -- not by the Fed, not by Congress, and not by the state legislatures.

If the Federal Reserve is going to keep interest rates low to help prevent a recession and to help grow the economy, then it needs to take one more step to fix the economy: the Fed has to make sure there are low rates for consumers and for businesses to keep the economy growing.  I find it hard to believe that banks can't make a decent profit with credit card rates at 18% or even at 12% when they're only paying less than one-half of one percent on deposits.

If Congress and the Fed want low rates to help the economy they should slap the banks and credit card companies with limits on credit card interest rates.  Allowing banks to still charge 30% or even 15% is sick.

If the banks have a problem with consumers who are deep in debt, the solution is not to charge them higher interest -- rather the banks should cut off additional credit, and at the same time lower rates so that the debts can be repaid.  We all know that consumers deep in debt will never repay credit card loans with 30% interest rates.

And while low mortgage rates are being quoted, the low rates are meaningless if banks won't lend at those rates.  Maybe the banks should be forced to lend out at the low rates every dollar they borrow from the Fed's "discount window."  
And if the Fed is not going to do it, then our legislators should reinstate the usury laws that they repealed years ago.

IT'S TIME FOR NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS, LIKE SAVING MONEY

Update December 30, 2011  Yep, it's that time of year again -- the time for New Year's Resolutions.  We all make them... and we all break them.  Sometimes we break every single one of them.  I don't think I've ever kept a resolution the whole year... or even for one quarter of a year.  And at my age, the only resolutions that are really important are the ones related to health, so for 2012 I resolve to lose ten pounds.  My doctor suggests I lose 15 or 20, so ten pounds is a good compromise.

You might resolve to save money this year, and to have a savings account, an IRA or add to your 401(k) at work.  Here's a simple idea for savings.  I call it the penny a date plan.  Here's how it works: on the first day of the year you save one penny, and on the second day of the year you save two cents, and on the third day of the year you save three cents.  Then, on the last day of the year you will be saving just $3.66 -- and that's because this is a leap year with 29 days in February.  Now, that's an affordable savings plan, don't you think?  After all, the biggest contribution day will be December 31, 2012 when you'll have to contribute $3.66 which is about what you pay for a fancy cup of coffee... or less than a fancy cup of coffee.

Now, if you stick with my penny a date plan how much money will you have at the end of the 366 calendar days of 2012?  There are two ways to figure it out: you can simply go to a calendar and add it up, date by date: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4... or you can use some algebra from high school.  I took the easy way out... I found the website www.algebra.com where some volunteers will answer your questions.  This site is aimed at helping students, and at my age I'm like a student of life, so I submitted my question and got a response.  Here is the response I got from Edwin McCravy.

First of all, my thanks to Edwin and my thanks to www.Algebra.com and if you or your kids need help with a math question, here's a resource for you.  When I went to school I had to go over to Stephen Krawitz's house for help with math... but that was more than 40 years ago.  Today, you and I just have to go on the interwebs.

So getting back to our penny a date savings plan: saving almost $672 isn't bad when you consider that the most expensive date of savings is only $3.66 and that day is a year away.  And if you made this a dime a date savings plan you'd have almost $6,720 saved by the end of 2012.  Too much?  Then make it a nickel a date savings plan and you'll have almost $3,360 saved at the end of 2012 and your biggest contribution will be $18.30 on December 31, 2012.

You know the phrase getting rich slowly?  Well, this penny a date or nickel a date or dime a date plan can help you to get rich slowly.  And getting rich slowly is a perfectly good way to do it.

DOES HOLIDAY SHOPPING AND THE ECONOMY EVER CHANGE?

Update November 3, 2011  Below is an old TV report that I did about holiday shopping on Black Friday in 1984 when I was at WTVJ in Miami.  Ralph Renick was the anchorman and I am the young reporter with black hair and a mustache talking to shoppers.  The economy was good then and people were buying glitzy things to wear, and grandmas were fighting over Cabbage Patch dolls.  But when you think about it, nothing has changed since 1984.  Consumers are shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, real estate is an issue, and there is always some electronic gadget or toy that is in demand.  Take a look.

WHEN A COMPANY MAKES YOUR PERSONAL CELL PHONE NUMBER PUBLIC

Update October 25, 2011  This is a real headache for me.  It seems that Hoovers, the company that is in the business of compiling information about businesses, has listed my personal cell phone number as the contact number for Agensys Inc. of Santa Monica.

I never heard of Agensys but I did find out it is some kind of pharmaceutical company.  The phone calls started about a month ago, with various companies calling asking me about copiers and printers and computers... and then calls came for doctors... and then the calls came in asking for particular people by name.  When I had enough of these calls I finally started to ask the callers what company they were asking for and how they got the information about the company.  That's when I found out about Hoovers which is owned by Dun & Bradstreet.  Yeah -- that D&B -- the giant business information company that is one of the giant coporations listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

It wasn't easy getting through to the people at Hoovers either to tell them about all the phone calls on my personal cell phone and how some of those calls come very early and some come in the evening, and every call is a call that I don't need.

It took more than a dozen phone calls today to reach someone at Hoovers who said my phone number would be taken off the listing for Agensys.  Really?  In the meantime, if you're with Agensys those guys over at Hoovers seem to be messing up your business as much as they've been messing up mine.

One of my mystery callers told me Agensys is involved with cancer research and it's a pharmaceutical outfit.  Wow, when they call me did they get the wrong number.  Well, maybe they'll want a TV infomercial produced about their breakthroughs?  Or perhaps they'll needed some marketing videos?  Or maybe they need a part time telephone answering service?  Excuse me, maybe they need a full time answering service?

ONLINE POKER: IT'S A MATTER OF CALIFORNIA TAXES AND CALIFORNIA JOBS

Update October 20, 2011  Next week in Washington, a committee in the House of Representatives will again consider federal legislation to legalize online play for money poker in the United States.  You might think that all of the "poker interests" are behind this kind of legislation, but the reality is that many are not.  There are 60 casino companies here in California who are definitely against the idea of a federal online poker system. 

It might surprise you why these California casino companies are opposed to the federal legislation.

You see, these 60 casino companies which include Indian gaming interests as well as privately owned card rooms and card casinos do not fear that online poker will take away their business-- these casino companies fear that online poker on a national level will take tax dollars out of California.  They say this because it is likely that one or more of the giant Nevada gaming companies (it might be Caesars or MGM or Wynn) will get to operate the federal system and that would mean profits would leave California.

Instead of a federal system, these 60 California casino companies have created their own California Online Poker Alliance -- or COPA -- to push for legislation in Sacramento to create a California-only intrastate online poker system.  You can read more about this in several articles and see an interview with the Executive Director of COPA on our "California Casinos News" page.  You should become fully acquainted with this issue, because our State Legislature as early as this January will begin to consider a California-only online poker plan.

At stake could well be California jobs and where our tax dollars and disposable income dollars go.  If a federal system is establshed before a California sysem, will the jobs be created in Nevada and will our dollars go to Nevada companies and to the State of Nevada?

AN AGENDA FOR THE OCCUPY WALL STREET MOVEMENT

Update October 16, 2011  Despite all of the thousands of people involved in Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots including Occupy Los Angeles and Occupy San Diego, there is still no stated agenda for the movement.  Yes, the Occupy Wall Street is making a statement for the other 99% of Americans and consumers who don't control the big banks and the big corporations, but they don't have stated goals.  Rather they have a mish-mosh of objectives.

So, if the Occupiers are looking for some goals and for an agenda for their movement, let me suggest a few ideas.

1.  Cutting and capping credit card interest rates.  It's about time we did away with credit card rates of 30% or higher when other rates in the economy are around 1-percent.

2.  Cutting and capping executive salaries and bonuses.  Paying any executive millions of dollars a year, and giving severance pay -- golden and platinum parachutes -- of millions of dollars is obscene and nothing that consumers or stockholders should be stuck paying for.

3.  Passing along the government bailout money that went to the banks, to the consumers who were overcharged high credit card and other banking fees.

4.  Forcing the banks, once and for all, to refinance mortgages that are at higher than current market rates.  I'm not going to advocate bailing out consumers who lied to get their mortgages and I don't think Occupy Wall Street supporters would want to either.

5.  Change the tax system so that higher income workers, investors and corporations pay their fair share.

6.  Change the tax system to eliminate sales taxes which hurt lower income persons.  And immediately remove essentials such as basic clothing, and basic household and living expenses from the grips of the sales tax.

7.  Change the property tax system so that homeowners and property owners are not forced out of their properties when their incomes do not keep up with tax rates or assessed values.  Ideally, replace property taxes with income taxes.

8.  Start to grow the economy because only a stronger economy with more jobs will create the tax base needed to pay our government's bills and to pay down our debt.

9.  End the needless wars that waste lives and dollars.

10.  Turn foreclosed homes into rental units with a rent-to-own program giving those who lost those homes the first opportunity to get their homes back.

Those are my ideas, and what I would like to see come out of Occupy Wall Street.  A copy of this also appears on our Forum where I invite your comments.  Please click here for that discussion.

OUTLET STORES, CHARITY STORES, GARAGE SALES AND THE ECONOMY

Update October 15, 2011  Earlier this week, I was talking to the owner of a liquidation store who was telling me that it was getting harder to find good, quality merchandise to sell because the manufacturers had cut back on production because of the slow economy.  He told me he was lucky to find the good deals that he had for sale.  And we discussed how he was not alone because when the economy is slow, factories do produce less so that there is less merchandise that has to be liquidated later.  Factories would rather produce the correct amount of shoes or shirts or chairs to fill orders rather than overproduce and have to dump the extras at lower prices.

This is why today, some of your favorite outlet stores might not have the big inventories they used to have.

For charity stores, or fundraising stores, there is a similar situation.  Less overproduction can mean less merchandise that's donated to charity stores.  And that's a problem for the charities and their fundraising efforts, and it's also a problem for shoppers who like to find deals in charity stores.  Some charity stores are known fo getting racks of new cltohing that factories and mass merchandisers are stuck with at the end of a season -- and if there was less of the new merchandise at the start of each season, there could be a lot less to ship off to the charity stores at the end of a season.

And now we come to garage sales.  I think garage sales are just the opposite of what happens with outlets and charity stores in a rough economy.  I think when times are tough, more families are likely to have garage sales and more merchandise and better merchandise might be offered for sale.  I think when times are good, fashionistas are less likely to go through their closets to decide which shoes or dresses they want to keep.  But when times are tough, they might decide to sell some older shoes or less used handbags perhaps to get some extra money for the next shopping adventure.

In a rough economy you might see more garage sales in upper-income neighborhoods.  And you might find better deals and more inventory in designer resale shops and high-end consignment stores. 

When the going gets tough, the buyers and sellers go to designer resale shops.  The sellers can get some cash for the Louis Vuitton and Gucci they don't use, and the buyers can find those "gently used" bargains at a discount.

All of these types of stores can be considered to be economic indicators of one sort or another.  We know that outlet stores have more merchandise to sell when times are good and factories are optimistic and overproducing, and perhaps garage sales and designer resale stores have more inventory when even upper-income families need ways to get a few extra bucks.  What are your thoughts?  Share them on our Garage Sales forum, and thanks.

OCCUPY WALL STREET AND THE VIETNAM WAR

Update October 3, 2011  Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, middle class Americans engaged in widespread civil disobedience and even became violent -- occupying government buildings, shutting down college campuses, rioted, burned and looted -- all in the name of protesting a war in Vietnam.  It was a people's revolution and it was fought by middle class Americans.

Today, middle class Americans are again fighting a revolution and they are engaged in widespread civil disobedience and are becoming violent -- attempting to shut down government and business buildings, trying to shut down mass transit routes including bridges, and trying to shut down commerce.  And our government leaders are warning of riots because of the impact that high unemployment, frustration over a troubled economy, and a struggling middle class. 

It is another people's revolution now, but instead of protesting a war, it is a protest of what they perceive as the upper class' war on the middle class.

Too many middle class people have reached the breaking point and many are broken, and with whatever resources they have left they have turned to protests because they have given up on searching for jobs or creating work and businesses.  It is a very sad state.  And I am afraid it is going to get worse.

The middle class needs jobs, benefits, health care, lower taxes, debt relief and the upper class doesn't want to recognize that they are in a position to help end what is quickly going to become a new split and the upper class doesn't want to accept that they contributed to the losses of middle class jobs that were exported overseas.

The war in Vietnam polarized this country 40 years ago, and the war over profits and and the lack jobs and who should be paying taxes is polarizing the country again.

WATCH OUT FOR FLOOD DAMAGED CARS FROM HURRICANE IRENE

Update September 18, 2011  Now that the Hurricane Irene and the flooding from the tropical storms that hit the South and the East are behind us, the clean up is underway.  Some things can be repaired and some things will be scrapped including cars that were flooded.  But some cars that were flood damaged will not be scrapped by their owners because they did not have "comprehensive" insurance.

This means the owners are faced with holding on to cars that will deteriorate from the flood damage (if repairs could get the cars running again), or the owners will make some kind of repairs to at least make the cars sellable.  But don't be fooled-- once a car is in a flood it takes extensive repairs to make the car driveable again.  So you should watch out for deals on cars that are really rip-offs because the cars have flood damage and got only superficial repairs.

Now that the storms are several weeks behind us, this is when those flood damaged cars will be coming to market.

Water does terrible things to a car.  It's more than a smell of mold that flood waters bring to a car.  There is also dirt and a lot of damage to the car's mechanics.  Water can destroy the electronics and electrical equipment and what isn't destroyed immediately can fail in a few weeks or a few months.

So if you see a great used car deal ask yourself if that car was in a flood?  What do you look for?  Look for newly installed seats or carpeting which might be an attempt to hide other flood damage.  Smell the car for the tell-tale odor left by a flood.  Look carefully in hidden places for dirt or moisture which are left from flood waters.  Be wary of any electrical components that don't work such as lights on the dash board, or a malfunctioning radio, or signal lights that need more than a bulb to fix.  And be very wary of sellers who will not let you have the car inspected by your own mechanic. 

Frankly, I don't think this is the time to be buying cars from online auction sites, and this certainly isn't the time to be buying cars that are being sold onine from sellers in the areas hit by the storms.  Very simply when you bid for or buy a car online you don't have a chance to feel the carpet for dampness or to look for rust or to look for water lines.

In most cases, when a car owner has "comprehensive" auto insurance, the auto insurance will pay for the car to be scrapped.  But in this tough economy, some car owners stopped paying for the "comprehensive part" of their auto policies and they might be tempted to sell their flooded vehicles on the open market-- with or without repairs or attempts to hide the damage.

HOW THE DATE SEPTEMBER 11 WILL NEVER BE THE SAME

Update September 10, 2011  Tomorrow marks ten years since terrorists hijacked four airliners and struck America killing 3,000 innocent people, many from other countries, and changed the way we live.  The event also changed how we look at the date of September 11 or 9/11 in our lives.  No longer is 9/11 or September 11 just a day in the middle of the month.  Now it's a day of sorrow and of fear and of terror -- and it is also a day of patriotism.  But it will never be a day for scheduling a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah or for having a clearance sale.  It's hard now to have a birthday party on September 11th even if it is your actual birth-date.  The same is true for wedding anniversaries.  9/11 seems like the wrong day to celebrate anything.  But it is a day to remember.

I was in sixth grade when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.  It was the birthday of Joanne, one of my classmates.  After the assembly when our school principal made the announcement that JFK was dead, Joanne said with a wince "it's my birthday."  You could tell that the date November 22nd would not always mean happy birthday to her.  JFK was loved that much.

But that was almost fifty years ago and today loving couples do schedule weddings on November 22nd, and parents do schedule birthday parties on November 22nd, and business conferences and clearance sales at stores are scheduled on November 22nd.  Time has healed our memory and pain of that date.

Now, ten years after September 11, the memories are fresh.  The images are burned into our minds.  We still know people who lost family members and loved ones and friends.  And we all still clearly remember where we were and what we were doing when we first heard about the terror and stayed glued to our TV sets.

Just last month a client asked me about scheduling a special sale that would be held on September 11.  As soon as the words came off his lips he knew -- and I knew -- that it was not right.  We decided not to have our regular Best Buys Show on September 11 -- because it is not a day to look for best buys or deals or bargains.  It is a day to remember and honor.

And I think September 11th will be different for a long, long time.  I think for an entire generation and perhaps for as long as a hundred years, September 11th will not be a day for celebrating anything... and it will only be a day to remember and stand vigilant with pride.

We already have a Memorial Day.  Perhaps September 11 should become our Honor America Day.

BUY POP-TARTS AND NOT MILK FOR HURRICANE SUPPLIES, EARTHQUAKE SUPPLIES TOO

Update August 25, 2011  I couldn't believe what I was seeing on the news today: shoppers in New York City in the local supermarkets buying milk for their hurricane supplies as Irene approaches.  Milk?  Nope, that's the wrong thing for your hurricane or other emergency supplies kits including earthquake supplies, because milk needs refrigeration and in an emergency such as a hurricane or tornado or earthquake you should anticipate being without power.

And don't buy those dry granola bars either.  Instead buy something that doesn't need refrigeration, is pre-packaged in handy foil so buys can't get at it, is easy to put into a pocket, won't spoil for a long period of time, and has moisture in it so you don't need to chase it down with water.  And what might that perfect food be for hurricanes and earthquakes too?  Of course -- Pop-Tarts.

Pop-Tarts can be eaten without popping them in the microwave or toaster.  They really are ideal-- and they are tasty and they are a convenient sources of calories and carbohydrates to keep you going when you need energy.  And they won't melt in the heat like chocolate bars will.

Pop-Tarts are really an essential miracle food.  I know because I went through several earthquakes here in the Los Angeles area and several hurricanes in Florida and Texas supplied with Pop-Tarts.  In hot and humid areas the plain Pop Tarts without icing will probably be easier to eat, but I do favor the strawberry and cinammon icings.

THE CIA WANTS YOU... OR YOUR KIDS

Update August 25, 2011  I was surprised to see what is on the CIA's website.  Yes, the CIA.  Well, maybe I shouldn't be surprised.  There is the usual information that government agencies have such as news and information about the CIA and the war on terrorism -- and that's good.  And if you're interested in a career with the CIA there is career information including clandestine service positions including "Operations Officers (OOs) are focused full time on clandestinely spotting, assessing, developing, recruiting, and handling individuals with access to vital foreign intelligence on the full range of national security issues."

The CIA is also looking for accountants and engineers and various health care providers and technicians.  You'll aso find information for students seeking careers.  All of this is normal.

And then, on the CIA's website, is the section for kids, and there's a kids page for those in school grades K-5 and older.  That page has information about how the CIA uses dogs to help in its investigations -- you know, sniff for things.  But what I liked was the section called "games" where you can play at what CIA people do-- look at aerial shots of cities or at photos and determine what you are looking at.

I liked the game where you look at an aerial view of a city to determine the time of day, the type of industry, what day of the week, what will happen in that city the following day.  All the clues are there, if you know what to look for and can do it in the time permitted before the game clock runs out.  Gosh, it's enough fun to have any kid dreaming that they too can enter the world of intelligence gathering.  There is even a page where you can practice breaking codes.  Check it out and have fun, and maybe learn about a new career for you or your kids at www.cia.gov.

OUTLETS AND OUTLET SHOPPERS GET HURT IN A RECESSION

Update August 11, 2011  Some of us are outlet shoppers meaning we look to the outlets to get us not only some deals and exceptional buys, but also as our major shopping source.  Some of us are regulars at Nordstrom Rack, for example -- it's the outlet for the regular Nordstrom stores.  Some of us never set foot in a regular Nordstroms.

Unfortunately, when a recession sets in, outlets suffer and there are several reasons why.

The first reason is that the parent stores cut back on their orders from manufacturers, and with less merchandise ordered from the factories, there are less leftovers to be sent to the outlet at the end of the season.

The second reason is that some outlets are used to carry lines of merchandise that were deemed "not ready for prime time" or not good enough for the parent stores.  But in a recession there is less experimenting with new styles, alternatives, and different price points -- so again, fewer merchandise is available for the outlets.

And the third reason is that some outlets are simply closed down, so that the outlets can no longer compete with the parent stores.

And everything is just the opposite when the economy is strong.

When the economy is strong the parent stores over-order and have leftovers that are sent to outlets, different lines of merchandise are ordered for testing which means more merchandise for the outlets, and outlet stores are opened so parent stores can market lower priced items to an audience that might want to "move up" to the parent stores.

DOES YOUR BUSINESS HAVE A HAND-WASHING POLICY?

Update August 4, 2011  When we eat in restaurants, or buy food from a deli or market, we hope that the food handlers wash their hands after using the rest room.  Well, I also hope that others we do business with also wash their hands but I'm afraid that some don't.  And I know that some customers and consumers don't wash their hands either.  It't time for everyone to change bad habits because there are too many reports about bacteria and food poisoning and diseases being spread.

Last night I was visiting a local casino here in Southern California for a report about "the best restrooms in the high limit gaming areas."  While checking out the facility I couldn't help but notice three casino employees -- two in uniform, one a manager wearing a suit and a name tag -- who used the urinals and then zipped it up and zipped out without washing their hands.  These workers will later mingle with casino patrons, handle chips and money, touch machines and stations, even shake hands with casino patrons.  It's not right.  This proved that the casino business can be a dirty business.

Unfortunately I also saw casino patrons who also didn't wash their hands.  What is the problem, people??

Restaurant restrooms here in California have notices posted reminding their employees to wash their hands.  Diners in those restaurants should also take notice.  And I think other businesses should also post notices reminding customers and employees to wash their hands after using the restroom.

And while I'm on the subject I appreciate businesses who have automatic sinks so you don't have to touch a handle to turn the water on and off.  And I appreciate businesses who keep their paper towel dispensers (the kind that automatically dispense without having to turn a crank) stocked.  And I appreciate businesses who have a trash can by the door so you can use the paper towel to open the door handle and then dispose of the paper towel properly.  Of course the best idea for a restroom design is to have either an automatic door -- or when room allows -- to have a walkway around a turn or corner that eliminates the need for a door.

And please -- if your business operates a public restroom -- please do not have an attendant who puts paper towels down on the counter for patrons to use.  I don't want to wash my hands and then use a paper towel left on the sink counter-- I want a clean paper towel, not one that might  have picked up bacteria from a sink counter.  Thanks.

MORE ABOUT PEDESTRIANS AND CELL PHONES

Update August 2, 2011  Below on this page you will find my article from April 30th titled "DRIVERS SHOULD NOT USE CELL PHONES, AND NEITHER SHOULD PEDESTRIANS" and now I would like to write more about this subject.  I'm writing more about it, because I feel strongly about it even though it appears our California State Legislators don't.

On Monday night's KABC-TV 11PM news there was a story about prohibiting pedestrians from texting -- including pedestrians on sidewalks and in shopping malls.  KABC showed that famous YouTube video about a shopper in a mall who was texting fall into a fountain.  And the state legislator who crafted the law to bar driving while talking and texting on cell phones was interviewed and he said legislation to block consumers from walking and texting isn't going to be considered.

Well, I'm afraid they're all missing the point.  It really isn't an issue when a pedestrian texts or uses a cell phone while walking on a sidewalk or even in a shopping mall.  If they bump into another pedestrian on a sidewalk or if they fall into a fountain there probably isn't much harm done.

The issue that I am concerned about is pedestrians crossing streets while on a phone -- because that can delay traffic and put drivers and passengers and pedestrians in danger.  Prohibiting consumers from being on a cell phone while crossing the street is the issue and that does need to be addressed.

ENDING SATURDAY MAIL DELIVERY

Update July 26, 2011  Today, the United States Postal Service announced plans to close many small post offices around the country to save money and once again there was discussion about ending Saturday mail delivery.  I am in favor of ending Saturday mail delivery if that will help to keep postage rates low.  And I have several reasons why ending Saturday mail delivery isn't a big problem for me.

I'm not that dependent on the U. S. mail service anymore.  Many of the checks I get come via direct deposit.  Many of my bills come via email.  And I pay most of my bills online.  The few things that do come in the mail on Saturday can usually wait till Monday.  If it's a bill that comes on a Saturday it certainly can wait till Monday.  If it's an invitation to a wedding or a party I probably know about the event anyway so getting that piece of mail on Monday wouldn't make much of a difference.

I think it's still a good idea for the Postal Service to have some post offices open on Saturday to accept mail and to sell stamps and handle problems and process passport applications, but that's different from delivering mail on Saturdays.

SALES TAX CONFUSION CONTINUES IN CALIFORNIA

Update July 10, 2011  Here we are more than a week after the California Sales Tax rate went down by 1-percent and there are still businesses that don't know that the rate went down and they are still charging the old, higher sales tax rate.  I talked to a business owner yesterday who admitted to me he didn't know that the tax rate went down until his sister told him -- and that was the morning of July 9th.  I asked him if he had seen any news coverage or announcement about the lower rate and he said he didn't.  I asked him if he received an email from the Board of Equalization (they told me they sent out something like 680-thousand emails to businesses about the rate change) and he told me he didn't.

Last night I went out for dinner with my wife and I asked the waitress what the sales tax was?  She didn't know.  And when I got the check, printed out with a cash register (not handwritten) it only said "tax" with an amount but did not indicate what the sales tax rate was.  I think that's a mistake and is not fair to consumers.  We should know what the sales tax rate is when we shop -- because the sales tax rate will vary based on what city or area you are in.  This is because there can be local sales taxes on top of the State sales tax rate.

Here are some examples:  In Diamond Bar the sales tax rate is 8.75% while in El Monte it is 9.25%.  In Anaheim the rate is 7.75% while in La Habra it is 8.25%.  In Cabazon it is 7.75% while in Cathedral City it is 8.75%. 

You can find out the sales tax in the cities and regions of California by going to this page of the Board of Equalization's website:  http://boe.ca.gov/cgi-bin/rates.cgi

Below you will find my original reports about how the sales tax rate in California was reduced on July 1, 2011 and how some businesses did not know or just continued to charge the old, higher rate.  And there is information on what to do if you are not charged the correct sales tax rate.

RIP OFF ALERT: THE CALIFORNIA SALES TAX RATE WENT DOWN BUT SOME BUSINESSES STILL CHARGE THE OLD, HIGHER RATE.

Update July 1, 2011  The sales tax rate in California went down today to 7.25% though in some cities, a special local tax might increase the tax paid.  Here in Los Angeles, the tax rate is 8.75% because of the special add-ons, but that is down from the old rate of 9.75%.  Still, some businesses today are still charging 9.75%.  See my receipt from a fast food restaurant below.  The website for the California State Board of Equalization (the sales tax department) says that the Sales Tax Rate for the State went down today.  I haven't heard anything about it on the news.  Here's what is on the BOE's website in a post made on June 29th:

The statewide sales and use tax rate will decrease from 8.25 percent to 7.25 percent on July 1, 2011, Board of Equalization Chairman Jerome E. Horton announced today.

The 1 percent decrease applies, generally, to all taxable transactions in California. In areas where voters have approved additional sales taxes, the total tax rate applied to purchases will be the statewide base tax rate of 7.25 percent, plus any applicable local sales tax. Retailers should check the BOE website, www.boe.ca.gov, for updates.

Part of a 2008-09 budget agreement, Assembly Bill x3 3 temporarily increased the General Fund portion of the sales and use tax rate by 1 percent in April of 2009, and will sunset on June 30, 2011.

The sales and use tax rate in California currently ranges from 8.25 percent to 10.75 percent, depending on whether additional regional voter-approved sales taxes apply. Beginning July 1, 2011, the range will be 7.25 percent to 9.75 percent.

After making the purchase at the Jack In The Box restaurant, I called the manager who told me that they had a malfunction when they programmed the change earlier in the day, and the correct sales tax rate is now in their system.

So what should you do if you are charged the wrong sales tax rate?  The State Board of Equalization says you should first contact the retailer and tell them and you are entitled to a refund.  It is not legal for the retailer to retain the overcharge as additional profit, and if the refund is not made to the consumer then the overcharge must be sent to the State.

By the way, I stopped at several gas stations today and asked the cashiers on duty if they knew about the sales tax rate going down and I was met with blank stares.  Is it really a secret in California that the state sales tax rate has been reduced?

35-CENTS PER REPORT AND SOME OF YOUR MONEY COULD BE SAVED

Update June 11, 2011  I just got in the mail the 2010 Drinking Water Quality Report from the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.  It is a useful report if you were to take the time to read it.  I doubt many of the city's 4.1-million residents do read it.  And because there are so few who read it, I suggest that putting the report on a city website instead of printing it and mailing it would be better.  The LADWP says the report costs 35-cents each to prepare, print and mail.  If it were put on the Internet, a lot of that money could be saved, and a lot of paper could be saved as well.  The research is already done, and the graphics and photos are already done -- so instead of putting them on paper and mailing them, put them on a website.

I HAD AN IMPERSONATOR ON TWITTER

Update June 8, 2011  A couple of days ago, I told you that I had an impersonator on Twitter.  Someone was using the name "Alan Mendelson" and the ID of "Alanbestbuys" while my REAL Twitter ID is "AlanBestBuysTV" and I reported this to Twitter.  And I am happy to report that earlier today Twitter removed that impersonator account and Twitter notified me that it was doing this as part of its rules blocking impersonators.  I am grateful that Twitter took quick action because there were other Twitter users following this account.

My true Twitter account has my photo.  The other account did not have my photo.

This was a very important lesson for me and it should be a very important lesson for everyone who uses these social websites because someone could try to impersonate you also.  And impersonators can cause you great harm.  Imagine for a moment if an impersonator sent damaging messages to your boss or to your client or to your boyfriend or girlfriend.  You must be aware of the risks of using social media even if you do nothing wrong yourself.  If you do have an account on a social media website, be sure that your contacts know your true site and true identity so you can block impersonators from doing damage.

And because I have a business, I have other problems to deal with.  I am also dealing with other impersonators on the web.  For example, there are several different companies that have registered websites using my name or variations of AlanBestBuys in their website addresses.  Some of these websites have links to businesses that I do not endorse.  And there are websites that use my name in their "search terms" or "search tags" that might also try to fool you by making you go to their websites by mistake.

THE COLOR OF MONEY AND WHAT MONEY IS LUCKY AND UNLUCKY?

Update April 10, 2011  I've often heard that $50 bills were unlucky, especially among gamblers.  Of course this superstition makes no practical sense and few superstitions do make any sense-- but they survive.  Some superstitions are based on facts -- like breaking a mirror means seven years of bad luck.  That superstition originated centuries ago when it took someone seven years of income to save up enough money to buy a mirror.  But those days of high prices for mirrors and low wages for peasants are over -- yet the superstition continues.

For generations our U. S. paper money has been called "greenbacks" and in fact for generations the back of our money was printed with green ink while the front of our money was printed with black ink.  But those days are changing rapidly because now there are color inks being used on our new currency to stop counterfeiters.  The more colors, the harder it is to copy our currency.  There is now red and purple and blue and green used on the fronts of our $5, $10 and $20 bills.

But the biggest use of color is coming with the new $100 bills.  Click here for another page about the new $100 bill that includes photos of the new $100 bill and there is aso a government video about other anti-counterfeiting security measures that are incorporated into the new $100 bill.  It's all very interesting and high tech.

However, I wonder if some people might consider the new $100 bill to be unlucky because of its use of a big, bold blue ribbon on the front of the bill?  Here in the United States blue ribbons are good.  You win a prize or a race and you get the blue ribbon, right?  But I just learned from reading on the Internet that dark blue in certain cultures -- mainly Chinese -- is a symbol or color of death and mourning and just might not be a good color for money.

In the past, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has been very aware of superstitions and beliefs of the Chinese.  For example, you can buy special bills from the BEP that are designated as "lucky money" because they come from the 8th Federal Reserve District and have serial numbers with lots of 8s and this is because in the Chinese culture the number 8 is considered to be a number for luck and for wealth.

In fact years ago, when the BEP came up with this idea and started to market these Lucky Money bills at the Long Beach Coin Show, I suggested to the BEP and on a news report on KCAL that the BEP should do the same with the number 7 and call it "Lucky Money" for gamblers.  And yes, the BEP did come up with a product bearing bills with lots of 7s.  You can buy specially packaged currency from the BEP by going to their website www.moneyfactory.com and clicking on the BEP Store.

There might even be another problem with the new $100 bill because the "security thread" glows pink when under a UV light.  I remember the 1950s when "pinko" meant Communist, and even today the color pink can be used in a negative and discriminatory way to describe certain demographic groups.

So I wonder if the BEP might have been better off choosing different colors for the $100 bill especially since the $100 bill is so widely circulated outside the United States?  Perhaps a gold ribbon should have been chosen instead of a blue ribbon because Chinese culture considers the color gold to be one of prosperity, and perhaps the security thread should have been made to glow gold as well.  There is a big gold 100 on the back of the new $100 bills, and using more gold features might have been more appropriate too.

You can give your opinions about the "new money" including currency and coins on our Forum using this link.

THE TOP TEN REASONS WHY THE WORLD CANNOT COME TO AN END

Update May 24, 2011  As everyone knows, there was a particular prediction that the world was going to come to an end this past Saturday.  By the grace of God and other natural forces, our world did not come to an end.  Here are some of the reasons why the world cannot come to end:

10. There are still families that have not slugged it out on the Jerry Springer Show. 

9. There are too many Chia Pets still on the drawing board. 

8. Time Life Music still has too many ways to repackage the music of the last thirty years with titles and collections you won't believe. 

7. The banks still have lots of money to get with high credit card interest rates. 

6. Chicago hasn't won enough World Series titles yet. 

5. Lawyers have too many Estates that they don't want to close. 

4. Dentists are discovering new cosmetic procedures to offer. 

3. Doctors have more tests to order. 

2. The U.S. Government still needs to collect taxes to balance the budget and to pay down the national debt. 

And the number one reason why the world cannot come to an end:

1. When the Chinese were told to start their "going out of business sale" someone ordered signs that said "going out for business."

DRIVERS SHOULD NOT USE CELL PHONES, AND NEITHER SHOULD PEDESTRIANS

Update April 30, 2011  I am very much in favor of ticketing drivers who talk using their hand held cell phones.  It's not safe -- we all know that.  And drivers on cell phones can't give their full attention to their driving or the road or other cars -- and we all know that too.

And you know what?  Pedestrians should not walk and talk on their cell phones at the same time either.  Pedestrians who are yacking away on their cell phones cross streets more slowly, are oblivious to cars in intersections, and generally could just as easily cause a traffic accident as a driver yacking away on their cell phone.  Yesterday a young lady was talking on her cell phone while in a cross walk -- and I am sure because she was so engrossed in the conversation that she didn't realize how slowly she was walking which meant that my car and several others were in jeopardy of missing the light at the intersection and delaying traffic.  If you're crossig the street, please concentrate on crossing the street -- the same way drivers should concentrate on driving.

I think it should be a law -- you can't talk on your cell phone while you are crossing a street.

HELP FOR THOSE WHO ARE VISUALLY IMPAIRED TO USE OUR MONEY

Update April 26, 2011  The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has developed an app for iPhones that will help the blind and the visually impaired know which U. S. bills they have and are using in circulation.  The app can be downloaded through the Apple iTunes App Store and it recognizes a note's denomination through the device's camera.  Any bill issued since 1996 will work using the app and as new currency is issued, the apps will be updated.  In the future, the government might add raised lettering or printing or even Braille symbols to bills to help the blind and visually impaired use our currency safely.  Go to www.eyenote.gov for more information from the BEP.  I personally am very interested in the development of tactile devices or features in three dimensions that could be added to our currency to help the blind and visually impaired.  While I think it's a very good idea I wonder how it might impact all sorts of mechanical devices including change machines, bill acceptors and ATMs that depend on "flat" money and reject currency that is not "even" or flat.

MORE PHISHING TRIPS

Update April 3, 2011   Every day I get some urgent email that says my bank account is going to be closed if I don't immediately confirm my account numbers and log-in information for their website.  Of course these are crooks trying to steal my information so I don't respond.  What is really amusing is when I get an email about a bank account at banks where I am not a customer, like Chase Manhattan.  I'm not a Chase customer -- never had a bank account there -- but every few weeks someone sends me an urgent email saying I must verify my log-in info or my Chase bank account will be closed.  I usually report these fraud attempts, and when I reported today's phishing attempt (phishing -- trying to get you to provide info) a bank sent me this reminder which is good information for everyone to remember:

  • Unlike phishing emails, we will never ask you to verify personal information in response to an email
  • Most fake communications convey a sense of urgency by threatening discontinued service
  • Many fraudulent emails contain misspellings, incorrect grammar, and poor punctuation
  • Links within the fake email may appear valid, but deliver you to a fraudulent site
  • Phishing emails often use generic salutations like “Dear Customer,” or “Dear account holder” instead of your name
  • The address from which the email was sent is often not one from the company it claims to be

OATMEAL SOUP AT MCDONALDS?

Update March 28, 2011   I love the oatmeal that McDonalds is serving at its fast-food restaurants here in Southern California.  That is, I love it when the oatmeal is prepared properly.  Unfortunately, too often the oatmeal that I get doesn't look like the oatmeal in the display pictures at the McDonalds restaurants.  Instead of a hearty, thick, bowl of textured oatmeal -- what I get looks more like oatmeal soup in a cup that contains more water than oatmeal.  I'm starting to think that a lot of McDonalds employees never had oatmeal and just don't know how to make it.  Part of the problem might be is that the oatmeal has to be mixed individually and while the oatmeal packet is pre-made, the hot water is not pre-measured so it is too easy, it seems, for a McDonalds worker to add too much hot water.  I'm surprised that the folks at the Golden Arches didn't come up with a device that dispenses the right amount of hot water so that the oatmeal would mix to the same consistency as the oatmeal in their pictures?  If they want to keep customers like me from returning the "oatmeal soup" they should come up with a measurement system for the hot water.

TAKE PRECAUTIONS AFTER JAPAN

Update March 15, 2011  The tragedy in Japan with the earthquake, the Tsunami and now the meltdown at the nuclear power plants, is a gruesome reminder that we also need to be prepared here in Southern California.  Some preparations for an emergency make sense -- but others are a bit extreme. 

There is talk about iodine pills in case of a meltdown at local nuclear reactors.  Should you run to your local pharmacy to stock up on iodine capsules?  I would ask my doctor first if I could take iodine and then I would wonder if I am living close enough to a nuclear reactor to have to worry about it.  You could have an allergic reaction to the compounds, and there might be other medical reasons for you not to take them.

But there are iodine compounds which are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and they are available to the public.  According to the FDA here is how you can buy them:

Anbex, Inc., has made Iosat Tablets (130 mg) available to the general public via the Internet. For further information on KI products, you can contact these companies as noted below:

Of course having an emergency supply kit at home and in your car makes more sense.  Even if you don't have a formal supply kit, even extra bottles of water and boxes of energy or granola bars would help in a short term emergency.  Definitely be sure you have a proper supply of needed medicines on hand for chronic conditions.  If you want to buy a ready to go emergency supply kit check out our "Earthquake Preparedness / Earthquake Kits" page.

The sudden tragedy in Japan is also a reminder that when there is an emergency such as a wild fire or quake that you might not have time to organize your files or escape with vital records.  So check our "Insurance" page for "The Life Link Safe" which gives you a guide to organize all of your family records and photos and documents and lets you take them with you securely on a key ring that can also hold your car and house keys.  Right now The Life Link Safe price has been discounted to $19.95 with free shipping.  Go to www.LifeLinkSafe.com for information or see my video report on the "Insurance" page.

NAOMI, I CANCELLED YOUR CREDIT CARD

Update March 11, 2011  Earlier today, while walking in a shopping area along Santa Monica Boulevard, I noticed a credit card on the ground.  I picked it up and called the customer service number on the card, and reported in lost and it was cancelled.  The card was issued in the name of Naomi... I won't mention her full name here.

I think I did the right thing and what Naomi would want me to do.  You see, I don't know if Naomi had just used the card at a nearby store or if it had been lost or stolen.  While I could have given the card to the clerk at the closest store, I didn't want to risk that -- because who do you know who to trust these days?

Naomi seemed to me to be a careful person, because in the place where she is supposed to sign her credit card, she wrote on the signature strip "Check ID" in bold letters.  Naomi is probably very aware of credit card fraud.

So Naomi, if you simply lost your card I want you to know that I picked it up and called your issuing company and canceled your USAA Platinum MasterCard.  When you notice your card is missing, you'll probably call yourself to report its loss and you will be told that the card was reported lost and was already canceled.  I hope that pleases you.

I hope that if I ever lose a credit card that someone would immediately call and cancel my cards too.  Most credit card companies can get you a replacement card in one or two days, and some can get you an immediate cash advance immediately.  I think that waiting a couple of days for a replacement credit card is not as bad as worrying aout what is going on with your lost card-- a card you probably don't even realize slipped out of your wallet or purse.

DID POLITICS OR THE MEDIA CAUSE THE TRAGEDY IN TUCSON?

Update January 15, 2011  We might never know what caused a gunman to shoot and kill so many in Tucson, but some have blamed political rhetoric while some have blamed media commentators and news coverage of the rhetoric, while still others are blaming a breakdown in our mental health system, and gun control laws that were not followed.

What is certain is that the media is getting more scrutiny now that traditional news stations and news networks have become "opinion stations" and "opinion networks."  It has gotten to the point that when you watch certain networks or stations or listen to certain radio stations or networks you don't know which is news and which is opinion that is being broadcast.  That's a problem.

So the public needs to know what is going on inside the media and there is a new website that can help the general public as well as professionals find out more about what is going on.

This new website is devoted to local TV news.  The site is www.the247newsroom.com and I am proud to say that I know its founder Tom Petner very well, going back to when I was an Assignment Editor and Reporter at CBS News back in the 1970s.  Tom runs a tight ship with responsible reporting and analysis of what is going on in the business.  Tom is a longtime TV journalist, newsroom manager and former editor of TVSpy.  Unfortunately, when Tom left TVSpy that site quickly deteriorated.  Losing Tom was TVSpy's biggest mistake. 

Tom's new site has continuous daily media updates, a job center, columns by media experts, directories for media information, a student section and more.  Give it a look.

WHO ARE OUR COMMUNITY LEADERS?

Update January 3, 2011  I moved to Los Angeles in December of 1987.  That was more than 23 years ago.  And ever since I arrived here I wanted to know who our community leaders are?  Most of the years that I lived here in Los Angeles I was a news reporter for KTTV and KCAL and KFWB and I have hosted a radio show on KABC.  And while I was exposed to the leaders of various communities here in Southern California, I never really knew anyone who was a community leader -- someone the entire community could look up to for help and guidance.

Yes, the leaders of various communities are important, but we lack a community leader or a group of community leaders looking out for all.

I moved to Los Angeles from Miami, Florida where we did have community leaders.  Our community leaders in Miami and South Florida came from the same institutions and organizations we have here in Los Angeles and Southern California.  Miami's community leaders included bank presidents and corporation presidents and people who were in the news every day such as Eastern Airlines Chairman Frank Borman and Dolphins Head Coach Don Shula, and quarterback Dan Marino, and TV news anchorman Ralph Renick.  You could count on them to get involved in programs to help the community whether it was tourism, or jobs for teenagers, or fundraising programs for the poor or fighting crime.  And I don't understand why Los Angeles can't have its own community leaders as well coming together forthe benefit of all?

We don't have a football team, but we do have corporations and banks and other sports.  We have large religious and cultural organizations too.  And we have the biggest media companies and stars here too.  And we certainly have our share of problems that community leadership could help fix including crime and hunger and jobs and health problems.

We need our community leaders to come forward and lead.  And I think we are ready to give them the support.

WHAT TO DO WITH THOSE VACANT HOTELS, CONDOS, OFFICE BUILDINGS BECAUSE OF THE RECESSION?

Update December 28, 2010   All across the country there are vacant buildings -- buildings that could not be completed or buildings that are unoccupied because of the recession.  What should we do with them?  In some cases, the owners of those buildings are "sitting on them" wating for times to get better.  In other cases the buildings are owned by banks and are in foreclosure -- or perhaps the government now owns some of these buildings because they were lost to taxes?  I'm sure every empty building has a different reason.

Well, let me dream for a minute-- dream about using these empty building to help the homeless, to help create schoolrooms, and a place to start health clinics, even training centers for the unemployed, and even work places when appropriate.  What I am suggesting is that the buildings should not sit idle.

In Las Vegas people live in storm drains.  In other cities they live under bridges, or huddle beneath the overhangs of buildings, or sleep in abandoned cars, or break into foreclosed homes for a dry place to sleep.  Would it not be better to turn over vacant buildings to house the homeless, to give them a place that is safe, and at the same time a central location for them to find food and health care, and job training, and child care and perhaps a company can use space inside those buildings to add a work location?

Sure, I'm dreaming.  I doubt the casino companies in Vegas would give up their empty buildings for housing for the poor, or locations for certain work, health care, child care, schools and job training  -- even if there were lucrative tax breaks given to them.

But, I can dream about getting people off the street, giving them a safe place to sleep, and perhaps giving some business an incentive to have a remote workplace where there is a labor pool that just might want another chance.

YOUR THOUGHTS ARE NOW WORTH THREE CENTS AS COPPER PRICES RISE, AND YOU CAN'T FIND A GOOD 5-CENT NICKEL ANYMORE EITHER.

Update December 29, 2010   The prices of the metals that are used in our coins are shooting up because of inflation.  Some common pennies are worth a lot more than one cent.  And nickels -- those five-cent coins now have a "melt value" of almost 7-cents.  So if you were to invest in a two-dollar roll of nickels at your bank, that roll with a $2 face value would now have a "melt value" of about $2.62.   Hey, that's an immediate return on your investment of about 30%.  Not bad for walking into your local bank branch and exchanging two paper dollars for a roll of coins.  Now, what about pennies?  Well, here the return could be even greater. 

The price of copper has reached a record high price and that means that a copper United States Penny -- a one cent piece -- is now worth more than one cent if it was minted before 1982.  Some 1982 cents are also worth more than a cent -- and these include ugly, beat-up coins that numismatists or coin collectors don't want.

What you should know is that with the price of copper now above $4 a pound, a traditional copper cent now has about 3-cents worth of copper in it.  But before you starting taking all of your pennies out of your pockets and out of circulation understand that starting in 1982, the government started making zinc pennies that are only coated with copper and these copper-coated cents are still worth a penny.

So far, I haven't heard of any metals dealers offering to buy up your 1982 and earlier Lincoln Cents.  Even though ads are not appearing to "cash in your pennies" the lowly copper penny isn't so lowly any longer.  And that penny that someone might give you for your thought -- it it's the right penny -- could be worth three cents.

BROKEN PARKING METER:  I WANT MY REFUND

Update December 5, 2010  I really hate broken parking meters.  You put in your quarter, or two quarters, or four quarters -- and then the "Fail" message appears.  Did you waste your money?  Did you feel like you had to move to another parking meter and deposit more money?  Well, yesterday I parked at a meter on Butler near Santa Monica so I could do some shopping at the local stores and inserted two quarters in the meter.  After the second quarter, the "Fail" message appeared.  Darn!  So, I called the phone number on the meter to report the problem.

The cordial lady at the parking meter agency told me that she would note that the meter was broken.  "Okay, so what do I do now?"  She told me that I could park there "at your own risk" and if I get a ticket I could contest it in court.  Wow.  Imagine that -- going through the time and trouble to contest a parking ticket for a broken meter.  Instead, I elected to move to another meter, insert another fifty-cents, and avoid parking meter hell.

But I did ask for my money back!  And the cordial parking meter agency lady told me she would send me a claim form and I was told I could mail it back postage-free.  How much is that going to cost the City of Los Angeles?  And then I suppose the City is going to cut a check to me for 50-cents and mail it back.  How much more is that going to cost?

Actually, this is really what's going to happen -- because I've gone through this before.  I report broken parking meters.  And I get my money back.  Why?  Because the City doesn't hesitate to collect money from me when my meter time expires, that's why.  I'll let you know what happens.

Update April 5, 2011  The City sent me the appropriate forms to file for a refund and to get the postage reimbursed.  It took the city about four months to send to me the paperwork.  I can't imagine how long it will take to get my meter refund money -- plus the postage reimbursement for maling in the claim form, so I'm just going to skip it.  With the price of gas, it isn't worth dropping off the claim forms at the post office.

DOES SOCIAL MEDIA REALLY HELP BUSINESS, OR JUST FACEBOOK?

Update December 5, 2010   I hear so much about how important it is for businesses and organizations to use social media for their marketing.  Facebook, for example, has recently added Facebook pages for business.  Marketing gurus are telling their clients to have Facebook pages and there are "social media experts" who are charging big fees to maintain Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for businesses.  And businesses are hiring their own "social media marketers."  I know two people who have been hired just to send out Tweets and to post things on Facebook and message boards.  What a job!

Well, does it work?  Does it make money for the businesses doing all this, or is it just another way for Twitter and Facebook and the owners of the Internet forums and message boards to make money?  Are businesses really helping themselves or these other Internet companies make money by driving web users to these social media websites?  Does social media marketing work?

I decided to run my own test.  I put the question on my Facebook page (caution: there are others named Alan Mendelson also) and asked those who see it to check "like" and even to pass it on.  Let's see what happens in a few days, in a few weeks.  How many will see it?  How many will bother to check "like" or pass it on?

DANCING WITH THE FOURTH GRADERS

Update November 28, 2010   Ballroom dancing has been made popular by the TV Show Dancing With The Stars, and now there is dancing with the fourth graders in elementary schools in the San Fernando Valley thanks to a privately funded dance program called Best Foot Forward.  The Best Foot Forward ballroom dancing program is active at ten different elementary schools.  And the program needs help.  It needs money to continue and to expand to other schools in the Los Angeles area.  Ballroom dancing?  Well, why not.  It teaches manners, provides exercise, and I'm told by the teachers that it also helps to improve math skills.  Watch our video report below.  You can go to their website www.bffdance.org for information about how to contribute.  But the website has just been set up so it might not be ready for a few more days, so please check back.

TURKEY LEFTOVERS

Updated November 26, 2010   You'll eat turkey leftovers for a few days.  You'll eat crow for the rest of your life.

DO YOU PLAY VIDEO POKER?

Update November 21, 2010  Do you play video poker?  Well, millions of Americans do play video poker in casinos and online.  I don't want to encourage anyone to gamble, and that's what video poker is-- gambling.  And while there is some skill involved in video poker, it is primarily a game of luck.  But, we -- as Americans -- like to try our hand at luck in casinos and with lotteries and even bingo at Churches.  So we have expanded our pages here on the subject of video poker.  You will find on our site pages about the overall game and using correct strategy -- strategy that is determined by "the math" of the game.  Unlike many other gambling games, odds and chances can be determined and improved by which cards you hold and which cards you discard from your dealt hand on a video poker machine.  Besides the "conventional strategy" that can be found in books and in magazines and on various websites, there are also unconventional strategies which quite frankly depend more on just plain old fashioned luck -- but with a little skill too.  One of those strategists is Rob Singer and recently I interviewed Rob about his play and his strategy and for the first time, his strategy in some detailed examples is being made public here.  Rob is a well known gaming author and gaming news writer.  But only we have his key examples of his strategy here and I'm proud to say this has never been published before.  By the way, in about 24 hours, there were more than one-thousand views of the videos that we have here from Rob Singer.  You can click on this link to see the first of four pages of these videos and his strategy explained.  Than at the end of the first page, you will find the links to the other pages.  I don't necessarily endorse his style of play, in fact I would never make some of the plays he suggests, but I think it is worth looking at them-- if for no other reason it's entertaining and it's free.  Thanks and best of luck to you. 

WE SUFFERED A DOS ATTACK, A DENIAL OF SERVICE ATTACK 

Update November 13, 2010  You might have had trouble coming to this website recently because on Friday, November 12th, our website hosting company Register.com suffered a malicious "denial of service attack."  What is that?  Well, it's like hacking but a bit different.  When an Internet criminal hacks into your online account or into your website server, the hacker is looking for information such as account numbers and social security numbers.  But when an Internet criminal launches a denial of service attack (DOS attack) the object is to disrupt your business by stopping your Internet and website activity and business including ecommerce. 

Sometimes these Internet criminals will bombard a website with lots of traffic to clog its server and by flooding the server with so many false messages that real requests can't get through and legitimate customers and website viewers are denied service.  In other words, the "Internet superhighway" suffers a traffic jam and everything comes to a stop.  It is Internet gridlock caused by maliciousness. 

Think of this DOS Internet gridlock this way: suppose a gang of fifty people decides to drive their cars to the middle of a bridge over a river and simultaneously the gang members stop their cars at the center of the bridge -- blocking all lanes in both directions.  Then, the gang decides to turn off the ignitions and they throw their car keys into the river below the bridge.  In effect that is what the Internet criminals do in a denial of service attack, or DOS attack.

It can take a while to restore service.  Imagine fifty autos stopped on a bridge with the car keys thrown into the river.  It would take quite a bit of time to tow away the cars.  With a DOS service, the Internet company would have to find the source of the malicious traffic and cut off that source from reaching its website servers.

Why is it important for you to know this?  Well, it's important to know because these DOS attacks are becoming more frequent, and there is a danger that DOS attacks could be used by International terrorists as well as industrial terrorists to stop government and business conducted over the Internet.  A DOS attack can have many forms: it could be used to stop all ecommerce, or it could be used to clog email accounts with thousands of emails sent to a single account in a minute for a period of hours, or it could be used to stop website access.  Hopefully these Internet criminals can be traced and stopped and put in jail where they belong.

IF I HAD BEEN ELECTED TO THE STATE SENATE

Updated 3 November 2010   I asked those who live in the 28th Senate District of California to vote for me for State Senator in the November 2010 election by writing in my name on the ballot.  I did this because the State Senator in my district, Jenny Oropeza died about two weeks before the election, and her name was still on the ballot.  It appears now that Jenny Oropeza "won" the election, and now there will have to be a special election.  As I write this early Wednesday morning, the name of Jenny Oropeza is leading in the votes -- despite her death. 

There was a Libertarian and a Republican candidate also on the ballot in the 28th District, along with the name of the late Jenny Oropeza.  You had the option of voting for any of the three names on the ballot or writing in another.  I'm qualified.  So, I asked you to write in my name. 

And if elected, I wrote here that I would do my best to cut taxes especially the sales tax and the excise tax on gasoline, and do what is possible to bring jobs to California and to keep movie industry jobs in the state.  I also want to give online poker a chance to succeed here because it can be controlled and taxed and bring jobs to the state and keep California money from going overseas.  And, if I ever do get the chance to serve in the State Legislature, I would do something to regulate interest rates again on credit cards and to stop banks and credit companies from charging interest rates that used to be enforced with tire irons and cement boots.  We used to have usury laws that limited credit card interest rates and it is time to bring them back.

Well there is going to be a special election now to fill the seat of the 28th Senate District in California.  I'm available. 

QR CODES, SMART PHONES, AND OUR BEST BUYS TV SHOW

Update  October 26, 2010  The QR invasion is coming.  Soon, we will have QR Codes throughout our Best Buys TV Show.  And soon QR Codes will be all over and probably on everything you buy and every sign or page your read.

So, you might be asking "what are QR Codes?"  Well, they are something like bar codes, but QR Codes appear as squiggly lines inside a square.  And these QR Codes are "read" or "scanned" by smart phones and can link a smart phone user to a particular website or web page.

We will be adding QR Codes to our reports on various businesses and services and best buys and deals.  At the end of each report where we give you names, addresses, phone numbers and websites, we will also have a QR Code.  While watching our TV show you will be able to point your smart phone at the TV screen and then link to the web page with more information -- without going near a computer.

Smart phones that are linked to the Internet is the next big technology for marketing -- and in the next year or two just about everything will have a QR Code to allow smart phone users to immediately check out a website for more information about a product or service.  There will be QR Codes in magazine articles, and on TV commercials, and on For Sale signs in front of houses, and in newspaper advertisements, and you will probably start seeing QR Codes on business cards too.

If you haven't seen a QR Code and would like to see what they look like, go to our "Ski and Snowboard Equipment and Clothes" page (see the index on the left) and watch the latest video for the Ski and Snowboard Outlet.  At the end of this report there is a graphic with the store's addresses and phone numbers and website and there is also a QR Code.

By the way, "QR" means quick response.  Simply, it's like a barcode that links a smart phone user from a sign or a page or a picture to a website.  Give it a year, and QR Codes will be everywhere.

TRYING TO FIX THE SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM

Update October 18, 2010   Everyone knows that something has to be done to fix the Social Security System because the system could go broke because there will soon be too many retirees for worker contributions to pay for.  Years ago there were many more workers than retirees and so plenty of money was coming in and less money was going out.  Soon, it will be the other way around -- more money will be going out.  And a lot more, because we are living longer.

Well, an email that I got this morning has in it an idea which just might prompt Congress to really do something to fix the Social Security System.  The email is pushing for support of what is being called on the Internet "The Congressional Reform Act of 2010."  This Internet campaign wants Congress to take up this "Congressional Reform Act" which has several key points including term limits for Representatives and Senators and changing the retirement system for members of Congress.

Congressmen as well as certain other government workers have their own pension system that is funded by taxpayers.  "The Congressional Reform Act of 2010" says that the Congressional retirement system would be scrapped and Senators and Representatives would be covered by Social Security.  And "The Congressional Reform Act of 2010" also puts a cap on pay raises for Senators and Representatives that is no more than 3% or the change in the Consumer Price Index which is the official measure of inflation.

Actually, these are pretty good ideas, though I do have a problem with setting "term limits" as this can force out good Senators and good Represenatives who do a good job for their constituents.  If you want to read more about the so-called Congressional Reform Act of 2010 there is plenty of reading material on the Internet.  I think the key point about The Congressional Reform Act of 2010 and Congressional benefits came in that email I got which said: "The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen.  Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves."

DOES THIS MEAN THE RECESSION IS OVER?

Updated September 10, 2010   About a year ago, I wrote here in "Alan's Notebook" that I thought we really had a recession because the place where I get my haircuts dropped its price from $18 to $15.  I reasoned that when a haircut price gets trimmed by three bucks it had to mean we were in a recession.  And yes, my stylist confirmed that the price was cut because of slow business.  Well, a few weeks ago, the price was back up to $18.  Does this mean the recession is over?  Perhaps.  And if an end to the recession means an extra three bucks every three or four weeks, I'm happy to pay it.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE LOS ANGELES DEPARTMENT OF WATER & POWER

I just got in the mail today (September 3, 2010) my copy of the 2009 Annual Water Quality Report.  Nice job.  Nicely printed.  Nice photos.  Nice layout.  Interesting data.  And then on page 15 I noticed that you said it cost 35-cents to prepare, print and mail to me my copy.  I guess you also mailed a copy to each of your other 640-thousand water customers in the City.  Well, 640-thousand times 35-cents each  equals $224,000 spent on preparing and sending out this report.  Could you have put it on the Internet, maybe, and saved some money?   Oh, I did note that the report is printed on recycled paper.  But I wonder how many of your 640,000 customers will recycle their copy of the report, and how many of them will put it in the trash destined for a landfill?

SUPPORT OUR TROOPS, AND BRING THEM HOME

As I write this on Saturday night, July 31, 2010, I am looking at the headlines which tell me that July was a record month for American military deaths in Afghanistan.  I am tired of this war.  I am tired of the deaths.  But, I support our troops and this is why I want to bring them home.  I thought when American troops went to Iraq and Afghanistan they went with the purpose of getting Osama bin Laden. 

I understand that we are going after his terror network, and that is why we have so many troops facing death in Afghanistan and Iraq.  But why can't we find bin Laden?  Does it take so many to find one man?  Perhaps it does.  But does the search justify the death count we suffer?  I don't know.

I am tired of this war.  I support our troops.  Bring them home.

WHERE IS THE RONALD REAGAN MONEY, COINS AND CURRENCY?  MY IDEA FOR A RONALD REAGAN $100 BILL.

It's been about seven years since the first proposal was made in Congress to honor Ronald Reagan, our 40th President, by placing his portrait on a coin or bill.  There was a proposal for a Ronald Reagan dime to replace Franklin Roosevelt who has been on our dimes since 1946.  There was also a proposal to issue a special $1 coin and a $5 gold piece with the portrait of Ronald Reagan.  Most recently there was a proposal in Congress to put Ronald Reagan's portrait on the $50 bill, replacing the portrait of U. S. General and President Ulysses Simpson Grant.  So far, none of these proposals has made it through the legislative maze, and probably for good reason.  FDR was also a popular president so it would be hard to remove Roosevelt from the dime.  We frankly don't need a dollar coin because dollar coins just don't circulate much, do they?  And a special or commemorative coin wouldn't really get into the hands of the public that much and wouldn't give President Reagan the recognition he deserves, in my opinion.  The $50 bill idea would mean displacing another president and that can be viewed as disrespectful in some circles.

This is why I think there should be a Ronald Reagan $100 bill.  Look, Ben Franklin who is currently on our $100 bills and has been for a long, long time, was one heck of a famous guy and statesman and did wonderful things.  But he wasn't a president.  When I go to the bank to cash a check and the teller hands me my cash and says "here are your Presidents, Mr. Mendelson" I really want it to be a handful of presidents.  The way things are now, I get a lot of presidents and a statesman.  Give me a $100 Ronald Reagan bill and all of my money will be presidents.

There are other reasons why a Ronald Reagan $100 bill would be very appropriate to honor Ronald Reagan.  Ronald Reagan gave our country some of its best economic years, he gave us growth, a grand reputation around the world, and boosted our influence and standing in the world community.  The truth is, the U. S. $100 bill is used throughout the world, so it only makes sense that the President behind the growth of the influence of the United States should be on the currency that is used around the world.

We need a Ronald Reagan $100 bill.  That would be a true honor.  If you agree, send me an email at AlanMendelsonTV@aol.com and if there is a good response from you I will take this to the next step and talk about it on my TV and radio shows.

100,000 MILES ON MY 7-YEAR OLD CAR

I'm not the kind of consumer who buys a new car every year, or every two years... or even every four years.  To be honest, as long as my car looks good and runs well, I'm going to keep it.  And so, with great pleasure (and financial relief) I am happy to announce that my seven year old car has reached 100-thousand miles.  My son Jason had his camera phone on my odometer as the odometer turned 100,000 along the 210 Freeway in Duarte.  Here's the video below of this milestone (well sort of like a milestone) event.

2,469 YEARS TO PAY OFF YOUR CREDIT CARD?

One thing I love about the recent law about credit cards is that credit card companies now must tell you how long it takes to pay off your credit card balance if you make only the minimum monthly payment -- and how much you would have to pay each month to pay off your balance in three years.  Well, a consumer sent me their statement for a credit card with a balance of about $7,500 and take a look at how long it will take to pay off the balance if the consumer only makes the minimum payment each month.  Yeah, it says 2,469 years.  Your figures might vary depending on your balance, interest rates, minimum payments and life expectancy.  One thing is certain -- this credit card company is very optimistic about medical science keeping this customer alive.  Oh, and don't forget to look at how much interest it will cost this consumer over the next 24 centuries of making minimum payments.

A NEW WAY TO CHANGE A FLAT TIRE

One of the things I hate about changing a flat tire (and oh yes, I get flats) is that you have to get on your knee (often in the dirt or mud while wearing nice clothes) to rig the tire iron to remove the lug nuts.  Another thing I hate is that it's awfully hard to unscrew those lug nuts with a short tire iron that gives you no leverage.  Well, leave it to some students at NTMA, the machinists school, to invent a new kind of wrench that can help you easily remove the lug nuts and change the tire.  You can see the video about this and about other student inventions on the "Schools - Education" page.

By the way, whenever I think about changing a tire, I have to remember the story that my high school football coach Chuck Holland told at the fall sports dinner at Nanuet High School.  The story went like this:

A traveler got a flat tire outside the front gate of a hospital for the criminally insane.  The traveler stopped his car and started to change the tire, when one of the inmates walked up to the gate and started watching the traveler change the tire.  The traveler did everything correctly -- he even put the lug nuts inside the wheel cover (they were called hubcaps in those days) so the nuts would not get lost.  But as the traveler was putting the spare tire on the wheel, he knocked over the hub cap and the nuts rolled out and into a storm drain.

"Darn," the traveler said throwing up his arms and yelling to the heavens, "what do I do now?"

That's when the inmate said "hey buddy, take one nut off of each of the other wheels, and use those nuts to attach your spare tire."

The traveler looked at the inmate, scratched his head, and then started to do what the inmate suggested.  After a few minutes the spare tire was on the car.

"Thank you," said the traveler to the inmate.  "I'm surprised you knew that," the traveler said.

"Surprised at me?" asked the inmate.  "Why are you surprised that I knew that?  Hey, I'm in here because I'm crazy -- not because I'm stupid.".

IT'S TIME TO DO AWAY WITH PROPERTY TAXES

Yes, it's time to do away with property taxes and government should replace property taxes with another system to raise money.  Actually, this is not a new idea.  In fact, in the early 1970s I was appointed chairman of a Citizens Advisory Committee to the Rockland County legislature in New York to study the idea.  I got the job because I prepared an editorial on the problems and unfairness of the property tax and broadcast that editorial on WRKL Radio in New City, New York.  My editorial got the attention of the Rockland County legislature.

Property taxes have no bearing on one's ability to pay and for that reason someone earning little money but lives in a home that has appreciated in value can be forced to pay a larger percentage of their income as tax than a wealthy person who lives in a less pricey home or rents.  Property taxes, for this reason, can be regressive.  In a recession, when incomes are down and families have a hard time making their mortgage payments, they still face property taxes with no relief despite their drop in income.

Renters generally pay no property tax, except for the portion of their rent that might go to pay the landlord's property tax bill.  But again, the tax has no bearing on the tenant's ability to pay, and some wealthy people who choose to rent can pay a very, very tiny percentage of their income as a property tax.

My idea back in 1972 was to replace the county's property tax with an income tax.  The income tax could be a surcharge on the state income tax or the federal income tax.  I think that would be the fairest way to tax all citizens -- and not just property owners.  My idea was for the county to determine how much money it needed to operate (its budget) and then determine how much in income tax was paid by county residents and businesses, and then add a surcharge onto the income tax bill to cover the county budget.

Would it work, or a better question, would it be popular?  Well, that's pretty easy to determine.  All the county treasurer had to do was determine what the average property tax bill was, and then determine what the average income tax surcharge would be under a new income tax system for the county.  Then we could see if the average property tax bill was larger or smaller than the average income tax bill.  The next test would be to determine the number of residents who would see their tax outlay go up with an income tax surcharge as opposed to the traditional property tax.  My guess was with more people paying an income tax surcharge (because not everyone owns property) the bill for property owners would go down and the county's tax burden would be shared more equally.

To be honest, the best part of the income tax idea is that rich people who live in modest homes or who rent would finally pay their fair share for county government, and property owners with low income or were struggling to keep their homes would be relieved of a tax burden that their lower income could not afford to pay.

The income tax system might even allow landlords to pay less in tax and that might even help lower rents for tenants.

Property taxes came into being in Europe when the main source of revenue and commerce was farming, and kings would tax their subjects based on their crops and harvests.  But we are not a farming economy anymore, and our homes do not produce income -- they are a shelter.  Taxing homes belongs in the days of knights and kings and castles.  In our economy and in our society, taxing should be based solely on the ability to pay.

If I were running for office, replacing the property tax with an income tax would be tops on my list.  It's only fair.

That's my opinion.  What do you think?  Send me an email with your thoughts.  Use our "contact" page in the index. 

EL POLLO LOCO MADE ME CRAZY.  IN 'N OUT SHOULD WATCH OUT, TOO.

I like El Pollo Loco.  I think the food is good, the service is good, the prices are right.  But at my local El Pollo restaurant, one of the counter workers who packs up to-go orders does something that irritates me-- and frankly I haven't had this happen to me before.  What this counter worker does is open up the styrofoam containers for the customers to look over their order.  He says he does it to make sure the orders are correctly filled.  I told him not to open my styrofoam containers because I trust that the order is correct and I don't want the heat to escape. 

I'm going to give you another reason why I don't want my containers opened to expose the food.  The "inspection" is performed at the public counter, with others standing around, sometimes sneezing and coughting, and I don't need my food container opened up in that environment.

I'd be much happier if my to-go order was packed into a closed container by the "grillmaster" and his assistants by the grill and not having the closed container opened amid public sneezes and coughs.

Come to think of it, In 'N Out my favorite hamburger chain, does the same thing with eat-in orders.  The burgers and fries and loaded onto a tray and kept on a counter with public access where those burgers and fries can be eaten up by all kinds of bacteria and viruses that come from nearby coughs and sneezes.  At the In 'N Outs I go to, there is usually a crowd waiting for their food at this very same counter so the chances of germ exposure are very high.  Honestly, I feel healthier having my food delivered to me through the drive-thru window at In 'N Out.

Of course I could just rave about how delicious In 'N Out burgers are-- but I think their fries are not as good as those that come from the Golden Arches.  What I want to say-- and I think this is more important-- is that In 'N Out does a very smart thing in its bathrooms (at least the men's rooms I've been in).  In 'N Out has a trash can right next to the bathroom door, so that when you open the door with a towel after washing your hands you can simply drop the paper towel into the conveniently located trash can.  I hate restaurant bathrooms, in fact I hate any public bathroom, that makes it impossible to wash your hands and then use a paper towel to open the door and then dispose of the towel properly. 

Below, on this page, I wrote about my complaints with restroom attendants.  So if you agree with what I wrote abover there is a "stuff" below.

THE NEW "LESS PLASTIC" WATER BOTTLES

I'm having trouble with the new water bottles that are made with "less plastic."  All of the water bottles seem to have less plastic these days in an attempt to boost sales among eco-minded consumers.  But the problem I am having is that I am spilling water each time I open a bottle.  It seems that there is less plastic and less space so when I hold the bottle to remove the screw cap, water comes out.  It also might be that the new "less plastic" water bottles are made to be more flexible for crushing and recycling.  The flexible bottles might be good for crushing and recycling but they do create a mess when I'm trying to open one for drinking.

THE CITY OF AZUSA GETS A NEW TARGET

I was pleased to be the master of ceremonies in early December, 2009 as Azusa City Officials and officials of Target broke ground for a new Target department store in the main commercial district of Azusa.  This new department store will mean several hundred new jobs once the Target is opened, and there will be hundreds of construction jobs while the store is built over the next year or so.  Next, there will be a new supermarket and train station and new offices and shopping in what will be the new central business district of Azusa.  It was a great afternoon as City and Target officials spoke to the Azusa residents about the new project and the new growth.  I congratulated Target for taking an initiative to help end the recession because the new store and spending and employment will have a big impact.  it takes spending to end this recession.  Watch the video of the event below.

DID YOU FILE YOUR INCOME TAXES LATE?

I filed my 2008 state and federal income taxes late, and legally.  I filed for the IRS extension before April 15, 2009 and I took advantage of California's automatic 6 month extension.  I did it right -- and mailed in both my federal and state tax returns on October 4, 2009 well before the October 15th deadline.  I used certified mail, and I'm glad I did.

I got a chuckle out of this, so please read on.

First, my federal return.  As I said, it was mailed on October 4, 2009, and I sent it with a "return receipt."  When I got the return receipt postcard in the mail, the IRS stamped it as "Received Sep 08 2009" -- yep, it was marked received in September, even though I mailed it in October.  

Now, my state return.  Here, the state did nothing wrong-- but you have to wonder about the U.S. Postal Service.  Remember, I mailed my state return along with my federal return on October 4 -- also certified mail, so I have the receipt from the post office.  For a couple of weeks there was no "return receipt" from the state in my mailbox which made me wonder-- was my tax return delivered or was the return receipt "lost" in the mail?

Well, this morning (October 31st) I got my answer.  I went to the Postal Service website at usps.com and entered my certified mail tracking number and discovered that my tax return that was mailed on October 4th wasn't delivered until October 29th.  Amazing.

Fortunately for me it was mailed well before October 15th, and I have the proof, and there is a dated postmark from the Postal Service on my envelope sent to the state -- so I won't get hit with a late filing penalty from the state.  

But there is a lesson here-- if you are going to mail in your return, make sure you get the appropriate receipts and return receipts.  Better yet, use electronic filing if you can.  Unfortunately, my tax returns were a bit complicated and electronic filing was not available for me.  In the past I used electronic filing and then you'll know in a day or two that your return is complete and accepted.

I'll let you know if my tax friends in Sacramento have anything to say about my tax return arriving well after October 15th.

I SURVIVED MY SMOG CHECK

There are two things I hate about owning a car and driving. One is that every few years I have to go to the DMV to have my vision checked.  I survived my last vision check this past April because I underwent cataract surgery and I have crystal clear vision again-- and my new license does not have that stigmatic notation about "corrective lenses."

The other thing I hate is the smog check.  This morning (October 26) I took my 2003 model car for its first smog check.  I feared the worst, and when I drove up to the smog check station the first thing the attendant said to me was "if you don't pass today you have 30 days to come back for a free re-test."  Gulp.

The smog check wasn't cheap either -- $70 at the smog check place I went to on Santa Monica Boulevard.  But I was really afraid of failing the smog check and facing a mechanic and perhaps hundreds of dollars in repair bills.

Lots of fear, lots of worry, and all for nothing it turned out.  The smog check took all of three minutes, I passed, and a few blocks away from the smog check facility was an Auto Club office where members could renew their auto registration with virtually no waiting and no line.  In less than five minutes I had my paperwork done and a new sticker on the back license plate of my car.  Now, I just have to worry that no one rips off my 2010 sticker.

HOW DO THOSE DUST MITES GET INTO MY MATTRESS?

There have been a lot of commercials on radio and TV lately talking about how mattresses are loaded with pounds and pounds of dust mites after only a few years.  I did some research on the Internet and found all sorts of icky facts about dust mites, including that a typical used mattress can have from 100,000 to 10 million mites inside.  I also learned on the web that a mite is not visible to the naked eye and you need at least a magnification of ten (10X) to see one.  And for most people, dust mites pose no health risk at all.

There is so much information about dust mites in those web articles and in those radio and TV commercials but not one of those messages has told me how dust mites get into my mattress.  That's my question -- just how do those ugly dust mites get into the mattress?  I took a good look at my mattress the other day when I was changing the sheets and sure enough there are no doors or windows on my mattress.  And the stitching around the mattress was secure and tight so there were no open flaps for the mighty mites to take over the mattress.

So, how do those millions of mites get in?  Well, it must be their tiny size.  They are so small, they must wiggle their way through the strands of fabric to join up with the others millions of mites at the dust mites party and then join up, and make baby mites and live generations with generations.  (That reminds me of a story my Dad told me when I was growing up about how his father came to the United States around 1900, landed at Ellis Island, and then went to live in an apartment with lots of relatives from the old country.) 

The tiny size of mites makes the most sense for how they get into mattresses and pillows.  This is perhaps why there are anti-dust mite mattress covers and pillow that are plastic sheets or made out of specially woven fabrics.

But remember what I said earlier -- for most people mites are not a problem.  And, with all those mites, you never have to worry about being alone.

WHEN YOU HAVE YOUR OWN BLOG OR WEBSITE...

Many thousands of us, perhaps millions of us, know that when you have your own blog or website or Facebook account or other "social media website" you can write just about whatever you want for the world to see.  On this website I've taken the time to write about my kidney and pancreas transplant surgery and I hope you'll read that article.  You'll find it listed in the index on the left.

I was very encouraged to watch the news report about Steve Jobs returning to work at Apple and Jobs telling the assembled workers at Apple that he was so very grateful to be there, to be alive, and that the organs of a young man were made available through donation.  I also wrote about that, and I hope many of you will consider being a donor not only if you die, but a donor of certain organs such as a kidney which can be transplanted while you are still alive.

So having a blog or a website or a Facebook page allows someone like me to express thoughts for the greater good.  Steve Jobs doesn't need a blog for that -- because when he says something the media is immediately there to hear it, record it, and spread the word.

Then, when you have your own blog or website, you can say some things that are incidental to life that perhaps have been on your mind for a few days, or a few weeks, or a few years.

Now I'd like to share a thought with you that has been on my mind for a long, long time -- and I don't mean years, I mean decades:  What  happened to Jill Lillian Owen?

You must be asking: "Who is Jill Lillian Owen?"  Well, Jill Lillian Owen was the penpal I was given by the computer at the Parker Pen exhibit at the New York World's Fair in 1964.  Yep, that Jill Lillian Owen.

Let me tell you about Jill Lillian Owen and perhaps she might read this herself through the wonders and far reach of the Internet, or you might be able to tell me where she is today.  Jill Lillian Owen was selected as my penpal after I filled out a form at the Parker Pen exhibit.  The form asked for my interests and at the time they included collecting coins and stamps.  It turns out that Jill also collected coins and stamps.  At the time I was a nerd living in the suburbs of New York City, and she was a rocker living in London.  As she explained it to me, there were two major social groups among youngsters in London at the time -- there were Mods and there were Rockers and she was a Rocker.  But being a coin collector at the age of 12 in Rockland County, New York, I was a nerd.

Jill Lillian Owen lived at 25 Dyers Hall Road in a section of London called Leytonstone.  Yep I remember the address after all these years -- that's 45 years since the 1964 New York World's Fair.  We exchanged many letters over the next couple of years, and we even traded coins and stamps through the mail.  I remember sending her some John F. Kennedy half dollars from 1964 -- the first year of issue -- which were immediately hoarded and were very hard to come by.  And in turn she sent me some Churchill Crowns from England which honored Sir Winston who died about the same time as JFK.  We exchanged some stamps too.

And then, Jill Lillian Owen and I lost touch.  I don't remember when but it had to be sometime during junior high school or perhaps maybe as late as senior high school.  But I never forgot her name and that Jill Lillian Owen lived at 25 Dyers Hall Road, Leytonstone, London, England.

I even remembered that in 1978 when I had some free time on the Assignment Desk at CBS News in New York.  That's when I picked up the phone at the assignment desk and called information in London to see if there was a listing for the Owens at 25 Dyers Hall Road, Leytonstone.  There wasn't.  And there was no listing for a Jill Lillian Owen either, but by that time she might have been married and had a different last name.

So that's why I wrote this article -- to find out where Jill Lillian Owen is today?  And perhaps one day Jill Lillian Owen or a descendant of her or a relative of her will do a Google Search of her and might find this article.  They say the Internet is bringing the world together.  I wonder if it can help me track down Jill Lillian Owen.  Yes, I even looked at Google Maps and found out exactly were 25 Dyers Hall Road is, and I even got to see a picture of the neighborhood.   But my web search could not help me find Jill Lillian Owen.   I wonder if she still has those Kennedy Half Dollars from 1964 and if she remembered me all these years?

MY "PROBLEM" WITH RESTROOM ATTENDANTS

Sometimes I use a public restroom where there is an enthusiastic attendant.  He is so enthusiastic that as I am washing my hands he will place several paper towels on the counter next to me for me to use to dry my hands.  But, after washing my hands with soap and water (and using a hands-free or touch-free sink) why would I want to pick up paper towels from the dirty counter to dry my hands?

To be frank about this, after washing my hands with soap and water, I want to take paper towels from a hands-free or touch-free dispenser, like those dispensers with an "electric eye."  I definitely don't want to pick up towels that the attendant has touched and placed on the bathroom sink counter.

And since hygiene is so important these days, and handwashing is so vital to prevent the spread of diseases, I think all public restrooms should be required to have touch-free or hands-free urinals, toilets, sinks and towel dispensers.  Some of the casinos in Las Vegas and here in California have these and I thank them for that.  And I think all public restrooms should be equipped that way.

Now it may be hardship for existing restrooms to have their facilities and equipment changed, but I think all future construction should require hands-free devices.

And I have one more gripe: after washing my hands, I'm supposed to grab hold of a door handle to open the restroom door?  You gotta be kidding me!  So what I do, and maybe you do this too, is take a clean paper towel and use that to open the door.  So please have a trash can near the door so that I can throw my paper towel into the trash can after using it to open the door.  Thank you.

Am I a little nuts about this?  Send me an email and let me know your thoughts.  (Go to our "Contact Us" page for the email address.)

I PUSHED THE EMERGENCY STOP BUTTON ON AN ESCALATOR

It happened Sunday afternoon (August 9, 2009) at the shopping mall in Century City.  The young lady in front of me on a down escalator was wearing a long, blue dress and -- you guessed it -- the bottom on her dress got caught between the steps of the moving escalator at the bottom landing.  She was stuck -- the escalator would not "let go" and she couldn't pull her dress out of the mechanism.  

I saw she was "stuck" and I stepped around her so I wouldn't hit her, and while standing on the bottom landing I tried to help pull her dress out of the moving escalator -- but I couldn't.  That's when my wife said "watch out," and I looked up to see the escalator was now crowded with passengers and we were about to have the first wave of passengers hit us as we stood on the bottom landing, tugging at the caught dress.  That's when I stood up, found the "emergency stop button," lifted the shield over the button and pushed it.

The escalator stopped just in time -- and none of the riders hit the young lady who was trapped at the bottom, though some of the passengers on the escalator lost their balance but did not fall.

Security was called, and the young lady and her friend were safe and waited patiently for the dress to be cut or the mechanism to be opened to get the dress "unstuck."

On the ride home from the Century City mall, Shelley and I talked about the incident.  First, Shelley says she is always careful to lift a long dress several inches when riding on escalators and she said other gals wearing long dresses should remember to do the same.  Secondly, she said there should be a warning sign to watch loose clothing on escalators.  What came to mind for me is that riders on escalators should definitely hold onto the handrail in case there is an emergency stop -- and I know a lot of us don't like to touch the handrail because we are generally "germ phobic" and those handrails are not the cleanest.

In fact, about a year ago I was in a Las Vegas casino on a crowded escalator when the emergency stop button was pushed.  I don't know why it was pushed but when it was pushed a half dozen or so escalator riders lost their balance and fell.

Also, when you have completed your trip down an escalator, quickly walk away from the landing so that you make room for others getting off the escalator and you don't cause a pileup at the landing.

And one more safety point and this might be the most important, and it applied to this incident at the Century City shopping mall:  That emergency shut off button should be easier to see, and more clearly marked.  While the button was right where it was supposed to be -- at the bottom of the escalator and within easy reach of the bottom landing-- the shield over the button had faded so that the words indicating it was an emergency stop button were not easy to read.

From time to time we hear of horrible accidents that happen on escalators because clothing can get stuck.  Thankfully, no one was hurt this time.

IT'S TIME TO OPT OUT OF PHONE BOOKS

I'm writing this in the middle of June, and do you know what that means?  It means it's time for new phone books.  Today a Yellow Pages directory was dropped off.  The next phone book could be the white pages of company X, and then might come the white pages of company Y, and then the yellow pages of company B, and....  Well, you get the idea.  And you know exactly what I'm talking about.  Ever since the break-up of Ma Bell into the Baby Bells back in the early 1980's we've been swamped with competing telephone books and directories from all sorts of companies.  The publishing of phone books has become an American excess.

How many phone books does a family need?  And these days, with everyone going on line for movie times, and banking services and to make appointments at the Department of Motor Vehicles, who really uses a phone book anymore?  Gosh, I'm going to say it's been years since I looked at a phone book.  I use the Internet to get phone numbers or I call one of the free telephone information services.  By the way, the free information service I use is (800) 373-3411.

Now, let's get back to the phone books that I don't use and others don't use.  How do I know others don't use them?  Well, right now there is a pile of untouched phone books -- white and yellow -- on the front steps of several condo buildings and apartment buildings on my street.  I am sure many of these are going to end up in the trash, though some will be recycled.

Some folks are lazy, and they won't recycle their unused phone books -- or their old phone books either -- and they'll end up in landfills.  What a waste.

So maybe it's time that we impose a bit of regulation in this era of deregulation on the phone book business.  How about requiring that the phone book companies make a phone call or send a postcard to every business and home in their "coverage area" asking if the business or family wants the phone book that will be delivered in the next few weeks?  This would give families and businesses the chance to opt out of receiving a new phone book.  By giving businesses and families the chance to opt out there may be fewer wasted phone books, less waste in landfills, and a tree or two or two thousand might be saved.  And you know what?  The phone book companies might be able to save on printing and distribution costs, and when the phone book companies talk to advertisers about the circulation their books get, for once they'll be able to report their true circulation and true numbers of users.

Next, I'd like to have a way that we can opt out of junk mail, the same way we can now opt out of certain marketing mail and phone calls.

COUNTERFEIT $50 BILLS HITTING SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

They're here and you don't want one -- counterfeit $50 bills.  We heard about the first counterfeit $50 bills showing up at some of the card casinos in the Gardena area in early May.  Then, just after Memorial Day weekend, a bank teller at a Bank of America branch in West Los Angeles spotted a counterfeit $50 bill that a customer was trying to deposit into a business account.  It seems that the business was a victim of someone passing the phony fifty.  I was in the bank branch at the time, and I asked the teller to take a look at the bogus $50 bill.  It looked flat, the artwork had no depth, and the ink printing was also flat.  If you touch an authentic bill, the printing appears to be "raised" and this is from the special presses the government uses to print our currency.

Why are the crooks counterfeiting $50 bills?  Perhaps because they are not common, and many consumers and business employees, might not know how a real $50 bill should look and feel.  Another reason might be is that so much scrutiny is given to $100 bills, and the thinking might be that a counterfeit $50 bill might pass under the radar.

But the bank teller found that counterfeit $50 with no difficulty, and the casino in Gardena, California, also was able to spot the counterfeit $50.  In fact, I was told that the gambler who was passing the $50 bills at table games was detained and arrested.  Several players at that casino told me that most of the "regulars" who play at the casino have now heard the story of the bogus $50 bills -- and when the cage cashiers try to give customers $50 bills when they cash in their chips, the players decline the fifties.

Frankly, I'm surprised that someone would even try to pass counterfeit $50 bills in a casino on the West Coast, because at West Coast casinos, including Vegas casinos, many players consider $50 bills to be unlucky.  On the East Coast $50 bills are more commonly accepted.  But now that the story of the counterfeit $50 bills is making the rounds, even non-superestitious gamblers might want to avoid those portraits of U.S. Grant.

IS THIS ANY WAY TO SAVE MONEY?

The other day I needed two postage stamps.  I had two letters to mail, and didn't want to take the letters back home where I had my stash of stamps... so I walked into my neighborhood Post Office on Santa Monica Boulevard near the 405.

It was lunch time, and there was a long line of patrons waiting for the two postal clerks who had their windows open.  Three other windows were not "manned" and were closed.

"No problem," I said to myself, "I have change, I'll use the vending machine to buy my two stamps."  Yes, that vending machine that I passed by time after time whenever I was in that post office.

But not this time.  The vending machine was missing-- it was gone.  So I stepped into line, and waited, and waited.

After about ten minutes, it was my turn.  "Two first class stamps, please," I said to the clerk.  And while she put two postage meter "stamps" on my two envelopes, I said "I'm sorry to trouble you but the vending machine in the lobby is gone."

"Yes," she said.  "They had to take the vending machine out because the repairman's job was eliminated as part of a budget cut.  No repairman, so no vending machine."  And then, pointing to the clerk position next to her, she said "and that position has been eliminated also because it has equipment and there is no one to repair it."

No repairman means no vending machine, and one less window position.  Ya gotta love the postal service.

RUSH HOUR MADNESS IN WEST LOS ANGELES

It was 3:30 in the afternoon and already busy Wilshire Boulevard in West L.A. was busier than normal.  I was going eastbound on Wilshire approaching the intersection with Barrington -- one of the busiest intersections in the city.  That's when I saw the Metro bus stopped at a bus stop, with a long line of cars waiting behind it.

And the cars waited and waited and waited for the bus to finish loading and unloading passengers.  And the cars kept waiting-- because there were no passengers getting on or off the bus.

So here was a Metro bus parked at one of the busiest intersections in the city and taking up a lane that other cars could have used to relieve the building rush hour traffic.  What was going on?

To find out what was going on, I drove my car to a side street, parked, and walked back to the intersection of Wilshire and Barrington -- where the bus was still stopped.  I knocked on the bus doors and the driver opened the doors.  "Why are you stopped here?"  I asked the driver.

The driver told me that she was taking her "layover" there.  It was a bus stop, she told me, and she was assigned to take her "layover" there before picking up school kids.

"But you are taking up a lane of traffic at a busy intersection,"  I said to her.  "Couldn't you take your 'layover' somewhere else?"  No, she said, this was her assigned spot.

Well, that just didn't make sense to me.  If a bus driver has to take a layover, or a coffee break, couldn't the bus be parked somewhere else -- somewhere besides a very busy city intersection and somewhere out of a lane of traffic on one of the busiest streets in the city?

I called Metro's complaint line and they said they would investigate.  But I was told that it might just be Metro's policy to have the bus driver take the coffee break, I mean "layover" at that exact spot.  In which case, I would call that a bad policy.

What do you think?  Email your thoughts to me.

A DISABLED PERSON LICENSE PLATE ON.... A MOTORCYLE.

Look, I don't want to discriminate against anyone-- especially someone who needs special parking and a disabled person's license plate.  But the other day on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles, the vehicle in front of my car was a motorcycle with a disabled person license plate.  Yep, what you might call a handicapped license plate.  Honestly, I found that a little surprising and puzzling.  Can a person who requires a handicapped or disabled person license plate handle a motorcycle?  Someone will have to explain this to me.  I am open to your comments.  My address and email link is near the top of this page.  I would like to write about some of your comments here.

Who is this?

Yes, it's me.  The photo comes from the 2005 Movie "Cocaine Cowboys" which documented the cocaine wars and the cocaine economy of Miami and South Florida during the late 1970's and early 1980's.  This was the real Miami Vice.  During the 1980's I was the business reporter for WTVJ the CBS affiliate and excerpts of my news reports are used throughout "Cocaine Cowboys" along with excerpts of some of my colleagues' reports. 

It was a well made documentary of what went on in South Florida when it was not out of ordinary to have bodies of cocaine murder victims dumped on street corners.  Yes, driving to Sunday morning brunch one day, we passed a crime scene just a few doors down from our house where Deputies were standing over two body bags.  I lived in Kendall at the time, and a lot was happening in my neighborhood.  One of my neighbors bought a house that belonged to a drug dealer who went to prison.  And one day, when the husband was at work, a gang of cocaine cowboys raided the house, took the wife hostage and ripped the walls of the house apart looking for hidden cocaine.  They didn't find any.  They didn't kill the woman for only one reason-- she told them she was pregnant, and for that reason alone they let her live.

If you get a chance, rent or buy the movie.  We found it for $15 on DVD.  In this particular clip I am reporting about a major bank in South Florida and I just interviewed a top executive at the bank and asked him if the bank was a "cocaine bank."

THE BANK CASHIER CHECK SCAM IS BACK

In this scam, someone sends you what looks like a bank cashier's check in your name.  The sender tells you the bank check is a prize, or a payment, and asks you to deposit it in your account.  Then you are asked to send to them your check or a money order for less than the amount of the cashier's check.  You supposedly keep the difference as a fee "for them finding you the money."  The scam is the bank check is bogus, and before you find out the bank check bounced your check or money order is cashed.

Protect yourself.  Immediately call the bank the check supposedly comes from.  Don't call the phone number on the check -- the check could be forged with the crook's phone number.  Look up the bank and call the bank directly.

These forged checks might be sent with a delivery company so the crooks avoid  the U.S. Mail and federal prosecution.

ZERO PERCENT CREDIT CARD OFFERS ARE BACK

They're back-- or maybe they never went away-- those offers from credit card companies to let you transfer balances or get a direct deposit into your checking account with a zero percent interest rate.

Yes, there are "catches" to this deal including the commonly known 3% fee tha the credit card companies charge for making the transfer or deposit that has 0%.  But there are differences among the offers.

For example, some card companies have a cap on the fee amount while some companies will charge the fee on the entire amount of the transaction.  Let's say you are getting a balance transfer of $15,000.  With credit card company "A" their 3% fee has a cap of $150.  But with credit card company "B" there is no cap on the 3% fee and on a $15,000 balance transfer the total transfer fee is $450.

How long is the 0% interest rate good for?  This will also vary.  Some credit cards might offer six months at 0% interest, while some might offer 9 months or a year at 0% interest.  What will also vary is how much you will have to pay each month while that 0% interest rate is in effect.  Yes, even with a 0% interest rate, the credit card companies will still want some kind of monthly payment and if you are late with that payment or miss it for two months your 0% interest rate deal could be snatched away from you and immediately replaced with a 28% interest rate, or a rate that is even higher.

Other questions to ask include, what happens to my payments after the 0% interest period ends?  Is there a pre-payment penalty?  What if I pay off most of the transfer balance but there is a small balance left at the end of the 0% interest period -- what happens then to any of the deferred or 0% interest payments?

And what will you do with the money?  If you spend it you are not using it wisely.  If you use it to pay down other credit cards with much higher interest rates you are making the correct move. 

Is it a good move if you take the 0% interest money and deposit it into a short term certificate of deposit?  Well, that will depend on the interest rate paid on the CD or money market fund, and if it covers the original balance transfer fee (remember, that 3% fee) and the monthly fees while the money is outstanding.

I heard of one credit card customer who took his 0% interest money -- some $80,000 worth -- and used it to buy stock, because the 0% rate was lower than the margin (loan) rate charged by his stockbroker.  Well, buying stocks with borrowed money is another set of problems, isn't it?

BE CAREFUL SELLING YOUR GOLD

We are constantly bombarded with advertisements from companies wanting to buy our "scrap gold" and old gold jewelry.  There are ads on TV and radio and the Internet -- and we even have ads like that here on this web site (check our "Gold Dealer" page).  But before you sell, be sure you have a good idea about what you are selling.

If you are selling U.S. gold coins minted before 1934 there is a good chance your gold coins are worth more than their gold content and that they have numismatic value over and above their bullion value.  If you are selling gold jewelry, make sure your gold jewelry is worth only its bullion or metallic value -- you don;t want to sell a valuable antique just for its gold content.

So, how do you check?  In the case of gold coins, go online to web sites such as www.pcgs.com or buy a handbook or price guide sold in coin stores or at magazine racks.  Don't forget the public library.  Then shop your coin around several dealers.

With jewelry, go to several jewelers, or even go to an auction house that has public appraisal days where you can get a free appraisal.

The worst thing you could do is to show up at some hotel where a company has set up shop for a couple of days buying gold coins and gold jewelry without first knowing what your items are worth.  And don't get caught up in the hoopla or excitement of a friend who is having a gold selling party which might resemble a Tupperware party.  If you don't know what your items are worth, you will never know if you got a fair price.

And in the case of jewelry be sure you know if you have 14 karat gold or 18 karat gold.  Fourteen karat gold is 58.5% gold while eighteen karat gold is 75% gold.  And your jewelry should be priced accordingly.

BUYING A CAR AT AN AUCTION

I got an interesting question that was emailed to me at AlanMendelsonTV@aol.com and the question concerned buying a car at an auction.  Here is the question:

"I understand that because the state of the economy, many people are getting their cars repossessed. My question is, are there any Car Auctions open to the public in Southern California where I may be able to purchase one of these cars? I live in the Inland Empire."

Here is how I responded:

"Good question.  Yes, there are car auctions... but let me ask you this:  Do you really want to buy a repossessed car that may not have had proper maintenance, may have undetected engine damage or extreme wear?  My experience has been the good cars get snapped up the by dealers... all the rest go to auction.  Heck, I doubt a repo'd car was well cared for and had its oil changes and tune-ups.  It's tough enough buying a used car... and to think about the added problems of getting one at an auction?  Yikes."

When buying a used car, you should always have it checked out first by a qualified mechanic.  Can you do that at a car auction?  I've covered car auctions for the TV news, and rarely to they let consumers even start up the engine.  You might also find that there are no keys for the car.  Look, if you can have the car checked out, then maybe buying a repo'd car at an auction might give you good deal.

PARKING PLACES FOR THE DISABLED... AND FOR THE REST OF US

I think there should be special parking places for disabled people.  And, I agree that those of us who are not disabled should be fined or have our cars towed if we park in a parking place reserved for a disabled person.  I wouldn't object to special parking for pregnant women either -- but that's not the point I'm going to discuss here.

The point I want to discuss is that disabled persons do have reserved parking places, and they should use them.  That's what they are there for-- for the disabled to use.  We who are not disabled stay out of them, and risk a fine or a tow if we park in them.

So it irks me that a person with a disabled license plate would park in a non-disabled parking spot in a very crowded parking lot when there are disabled parking spots that are open.  Yes, that's exactly what happened at a Trader Joe's parking lot in West Los Angeles.

A dozen drivers, including myself, were cruising around the crowded parking lot at Trader Joe's looking for an "open space."  Yes, there were open spaces with signs marking them for disabled persons.  But there were no open spots for folks that were not disabled.  So, we drove around and around and around, hoping for a non-disabled spot to open up.

And then -- one non-disabled parking spot did open up.  And a driver swooped right in and grabbed it.  But the irony of it, is that this driver was in a car with a disabled license plate.  And this driver just as easily could have taken one of the spots reserved for the disabled.  But no, the driver took the only spot to open up for non-disabled drivers.

The way I think about it-- if I can't use a disabled parking space, a disabled person shouldn't use a non-disabled parking space... especially when a space reserved for the disabled is in the next parking lot row.

IF YOU ARE PICKING UP A PASSENGER AT LAX, THIS CAN SAVE YOU TIME, MONEY AND FRUSTRATION
 
The folks at LAX have come up with a good idea, even if other airports thought about it first.  That good idea is a free parking area where you can wait for a cell phone call from an arriving passenger.  This keeps drivers from circling around the airport waiting for the arriving passenger, and this cuts down on congestion in the airport.  It also cuts down on air pollution and saves gas, not to mention the frustration of driving around and avoiding the police who would love to ticket you for parking in a white zone.  The "cell phone call waiting lot" is on Airport which is off Century and right next to the Airport branch of the Post Office.  The waiting lot also has trash barrels conveniently located around the lot, and while waiting for an arriving passenger I emptied trash from my car including fast-food bags and napkins, and old receipts from oil changes.  Yes, I tore up the receipts in case there were any dumpster-divers looking to rip off my identity.

Here on our new media website "Moneyman" Alan Mendelson who is the original Best Deals TV Show reporter on KCAL9 and consumer advocate, shows you the best deals on TV, and the best buys, bargains and where savvy shoppers go to save, and how to get the most for "your money" with the best of Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside County and San Bernardino County.  Our Best Buys TV Show has the best TV deals and is the only regularly scheduled weekly best deals TV show in Southern California.  We show you the best buys and best deals on TV and more deals and bargains on www.alanbestbuys.com and watch for our Las Vegas TV show Vegas Best Buys.  Some of the content can come from paid advertising and from our advertiser paid TV infomercial programs.  The Best Buys TV Show is a paid infomercial program which may also include news and information which is not sponsored or paid for by advertisers.  AlanBestBuys.com has the highest ranking among competitive sites in Southern California according to the independent website ranking companies Alexa.com and Quantcast.com and our Best Buys TV Show is the most watched shopping and consumer information show in Southern California.

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