Had I stayed away from the news websites, I wouldn’t have even noticed the federal government shutdown. Funny part about that is that I have a family member who works for the federal government, but she didn’t get furloughed since she works in a government agency that actually turns a profit with its services. Naturally, when an organization makes a profit it doesn’t have to furlough people when the rest of the federal government does.

I’m not going to debate whether one side is right or wrong or worse than the other in this blog. I’m just going to post a solution to the one problem that I saw most in the news and on social media: shutting down our national parks. I’m not going to debate if a 1000 square mile range of the ocean in Florida needs our federal government to stay open to fishermen or whether Mt. Rushmore needs federal employees to be open. This solution solves the debate. Here it is…

Have the National Park service issue multiple denomination certificates for the full amount of its annual budget that are a tax credit for those who purchase them and never have to be paid back. In essence, it’s a donation to our National Parks, but rather than just being a tax deduction like a charity, this is a tax credit because our federal government is using tax dollars to pay for the National Parks. It’s a $ for $ in tax money.

Obviously, the National Park service would incur some minor overhead for building and maintaining this system, so it can just add it to its budget. I’m betting that if you put it into an open bidding process you could easily find thousands of companies capable of building this platform.

This would help ensure that our National Parks remain open regardless of federal government wrangling. It would also serve as a model for other government entities for how they can become self sufficient and immune to federal government budgetary gridlock. There are numerous other benefits to this model such as helping to keep spending inline with revenue for the government as a whole and providing citizens with a greater say in how our tax dollars are spent. This idea isn’t just about avoiding shutdown furloughs that are back paid anyway. It’s a solution to an ongoing budget (or lack thereof) with our federal government.

Here are added incentives for our National Parks:

  1. Want that budget increase you could never get? Increase your budget and see if taxpayers are willing to pay for it
  2. If Congress acts now, there will be a flood of taxpayers willing to cover your entire fiscal calendar budget since there are just 2.5 months left in the tax year

Edit: Why not make a petition out of it? https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/taxpayer-direct-funding-national-parks/csP0c6Bh

Hotwire sends me a link asking me to write a review about the hotel they scammed me for more than $200 over what I could have paid if I booked directly. I enjoyed my hotel stay, so I figured I’d write a positive review about the place. One of the things I noticed when writing the review is that Hotwire states not to mention anything specific about the hotel: not the hotel name, nearby landmarks, area, etc. My guess is that this is based upon the fact that Hotwire’s business model is all about scamming you. If you had an idea about what was around the hotel, it would be fairly easy to figure out what the hotel is, check the hotel rates directly and find out that you can book directly with the hotel for cheaper.

Following up on my request for a refund from Hotwire in my last post, they did respond back stating that a credit would be issued for roughly $70. Certainly a far cry from the $237 I would have saved booking directly.

This is the review I wrote about the Milford Plaza Hotel in midtown that Hotwire I’m certain will not post since my original post has already been rejected by them for:

  • Specific points of interest mentioned reveal the hotel

One of the best bangs for the buck in the area. Easy access to the subway. Fairly easy access to getting a cab. Plenty of restaurants right around the corner. Right around the corner from TS. You have to go upstairs to get to the main elevators, and there was a lot of construction during my visit. However, the staff certainly did their best to keep up. When the construction is finished, this is going to be a *great* hotel! Of course, since Hotwire is a complete scam based upon hiding the hotel information from you so that you can’t figure out what the actual hotel is and discover that the hotel can be booked directly for cheaper, this review will never see the light of day on their website.

I added the last sentence after Hotwire sent me that ridiculous email about revealing the hotel. Wow, a hotel in NY that is surrounded by restaurants, has easy access to the subway, cabs, and Times Square. That really nails it down to at least 80 hotels. Throw in the construction, and we’re down to 30-40 hotels. I’ll just keep ranting about Hotwire as long as I can.

Hotwire has lost my business for good. I’m planning a business trip to New York, and I decided to use Hotwire for my hotel search and booking. I had never used Hotwire before, but with that catchy “H-O-T-W-I-R-E Hotwire dot commmmmm” jingle, I figured it was worth a shot. Plus, after having cross checked rates with Orbitz (my favorite travel site for booking flights) and a handful of the usual suspects (TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, Priceline, Booking.com) Hotwire had the lowest “price” for the area I wanted that I could find on the hotel search engines.

The hotel name wasn’t listed, and I started getting the feeling I get when someone is pitching me a MLM idea. Like so many people that get suckered in to things that are too good to be true, I bit. Then I received the name of the hotel. Hmmm…

I went to the hotel’s website and found rates lower than Hotwire. Not only were the rates lower, but naturally the taxes were lower and there was no $49.41 in “fees”. Now, Hotwire does offer a refund for lower rates, but when you look at their “refund” it doesn’t include taxes, nor does it include “fees”. Overall, Hotwire cheated me out of more than $200 between the inflated room rate, higher taxes, and “fees” that are non-refundable.

Hotwire could pay a guy to just make bookings with the hotel at the rate I would have paid if I had purchased directly from them, and they’d walk away with more than $200. Now, I completely understand that a company needs to make money. Perhaps the only way that Hotwire and all the other online booking companies can make money is by inflating the rack rates of hotels and hope that people won’t book directly with the hotel. However, what is really the value I’m getting for their “services”?

The supposed value of the online hotel search engines is that I don’t have to check each hotel one by one. Theoretically, that saves me time. However, between cross referencing all the online hotel search engines: prices, amenities, reviews, rooms, etc. I really started questioning whether the days of using a travel agent shouldn’t make a comeback. What did booking online really save me? Certainly not money and certainly not time.

Update 5/5/13
Received an email from Hotwire about my request for refund stating:

Thank you for submitting your Low Price Guarantee claim.  I was unable to find the lower rate using the information you provided.  I was only able to find the lower price at $239.00, not $237.15.  Please reply to this email and attach an image  (screenshot ) of the lower rate.  It must include the address bar showing what website the rate was located on and the average nightly rate before any taxes and fees.   The rate submitted must include the same currency and booking details  as booked on the Hotwire site including travel dates, hotel property, number of guests and number of rooms.
Please note we can accept the following file formats: .gif. jpg/.jpeg .png .bmp .tif .xhtml / .xht .html / .htm .shtml .mht .webarchive .doc .docx .rtf .pdf .  We must receive the screenshot within 48 hours of this email to consider the claim.
Normally, I’d be so happy that I took the screenshot the day of the theft of my money. But just checking the hotel rate on my cell phone right now, I still find the exact same rate as the day I made the reservation! Hotwire is a complete scam!

I’m sure half the country has heard about Santa Monica’s smart parking meters. The city of Santa Monica touts them as a great technological advancement in the ability to improve their parking… PUHLEASE! If the city of Santa Monica ever uses the data collected from their parking meter sensors to actual *improve* parking conditions, I’ll be the first to congratulate the city.

We all know what’s going to happen. The second Santa Monica figures out that they can squeeze another peso from your wallet, it will. I’m sure that parking rates will adjust (only upward) based upon their historical data that they collect. Anyone remember the Coca-Cola vending machines that were going to charge more when it was hotter outside. Ya, imagine paying $8/hour for parking in SM during the busy season. I’ll bet money (maybe a parking ticket’s worth) that will happen.

I do have a story about how I think this could eventually be fought and won against the city in the courtroom (unless someone already thought of this and lost – I don’t really keep up too much on a city like Santa Monica since I plan on never visiting that BFE beach town very often). The other day I was in downtown Los Angeles. I got myself a meter (for two hours) near a company that I was visiting. Of course it wasn’t close enough to the company to where I could lug the mountains of merchandise I was purchasing from them from their location to my car. I figured I’d get two hours because it was nearing lunch and I was hungry.

Better Parking in DTLA than Santa Monica

Better Parking in DTLA than Santa Monica

I walked over to my bank, took a picture of ridiculous parking signs right around the corner (oh, the irony!!!), visited the company’s office, conducted my business, went back to my car, drove my car to the loading zone in front of the business, loaded up the merchandise, and then drove back to my parking meter. At the time that I left the meter, there was an hour and 45 minutes left. I figured if someone else ended up stumbling upon my meter, it was a nice gift for them.

By the time I made it back to my meter, it was about 10 minutes later. Nobody had taken my meter (although, there was some poor schmuck who parked in the meter before mine that didn’t have enough time on it). I still have an hour and 35 minutes (which I paid for!!!) left on my meter so I could go enjoy a nice mac & cheese lunch at one of my favorite restaurants. The fact that parking in DTLA is better than Santa Monica puts the city of Santa Monica on the top of my list of craptastic cities for parking. Keep in mind, I have received more than a dozen tickets in DTLA for various reasons and even been towed (well, almost towed) after the crooks changed the parking times that hadn’t been changed in more than 10 years.

Had I been in Santa Monica, my hour and 35 minutes of parking that I had already paid for and had every intention of using would have been stolen from me completely! Would that be any different from someone swooping in and stealing my spot? Yes! Because at least that person would have benefited from my generosity. Instead, the city of Santa Monica is just stealing money from me. Would I have put 2 hours worth of parking in a Santa Monica parking meter? Of course not! I’ll never be visiting that thieving town anytime soon, and I’ll certainly be looking for parking structure parking instead! Or maybe a guy sitting in an alley taking parking donations.

Strange experience on the freeway last night. I was heading home from my office and I’m driving along when a car comes up behind me and goes to pass me. The change lanes and then disappear into my blind spot. Then they just decided to sit in my blind spot for a few miles. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was dark so I saw their headlights, I would have never known they were there until I needed to change lanes. But that wasn’t the strange part. If I sped up, they would speed up. If I slowed down, they would slow down.

I pulled a Maverick. Hit the brakes, and they flew right by. I changed lanes so I could make my way towards my exit. Then things got really weird… They kept slowing down and speeding up so that I was in their blind spot! I’m guessing this has something to do with it being dark and they wanted the extra set of headlights, but this driver was pretty weird.

Go home Christmas tree, you’re drunk

image

Just about the most awesome polar bear video I’ve seen!

In my world the American Dream is the ability to pursue whatever personal and financial aspirations I may have with limited interference from governments, protection by our judicial system against those who intend to defraud, harm or infringe on the freedoms we are all born with (including our own governments), and eventually create a better future for my family as well as future generations of Americans.

I wasn’t born into money. I spent the first 5 years of my life in a trailer park and my entire childhood living off Hamburger Helper, clipped coupons, and food stamps. I started working at a very young age. I helped my older brothers with their paper routes for the local paper when I was 8. I aspired to have my own paper route when I turned 13. I knew there was an expanding neighborhood development nearby (within bicycle distance), and I wanted to have that new route! I got that new route! It was honest work every single weekday. Eventually I ended up working with my brother for an L.A. Time distributor. We inserted local advertisements into the Sunday edition of the paper. Again, honest work.

All that work allowed me to buy my own lunches in high school, purchase my first motorcycle, and enjoy a movie here and there. It also inspired to know that if I really put everything into what I was doing, I would succeed. After failing to become a Harley Davidson mechanic, I took training from my older brother on computer programming. I read and studied as much as I could to comprehend enough to get a job with upstart Internet companies. I worked ridiculously long hours, helped businesses succeed, and made a good/honest wage.

I moved on to working for a public company that eventually saw most of it’s top brass arrested for defrauding investors. I changed career paths and got into marketing, taking an entry level job for a product development company. Within a year I was running its catalog and direct marketing division. I started my own marketing company a few years and then was tapped by the owner of the current company I work for to come back and become a managing partner of a brand I had turned into a success. The business had completely fallen apart and was collapsing. I’ve spent the last 3 1/2 years turning it around. Again, not easy work, but I’ve always known that if I put everything into it: I’ll make it work!

So, when Obama dropped his famous line about business owners not being responsible for their company’s success, that somebody else made that happen, I was a bit baffled. Certainly, no job that I’ve had have I been the only contributor to that business (even when I had my own marketing company). My paper route required the printing of the local newspaper for me to have papers to deliver. My LA Times job required the LA Times. The computer programming jobs required computers, the Internet, other businesses, etc. The current job requires employees, customers, manufacturers, shipping companies, and so much more. Along the way, I have had the need for our judicial system to settle disputes and enforce contracts. That’s what the judicial system is there for.

I listened to the full Obama speech and that’s not what he was talking about. He was echoing the speech made by Elizabeth Warren several months earlier. Hers is about “the rest of us”. Obama’s is about “somebody else made that happen”. People claimed Obama was taken out of context, but what was taken out of context? I felt the context actually made it worse because it showed that Obama doesn’t understand the role of local government in our lives vs. federal government.

I was having a conversation with a liberal friend about the topic and explained the problems I saw with the Warren-Obama rhetoric (local/state vs federal government account for all the services they refer to). So, I asked my liberal friend (a devote Democrat) what the logic was. She was very passionate about it!

My liberal friend started talking about the American Dream and how Warren and Obama were talking about the American Dream. She even threw in a comment that “I might be too young to appreciate the American Dream” (she has 9 years on me). I was a bit taken aback. I thought *I was* living the American Dream… I was born in a trailer park. I now own my own house. I was born to an unemployed mother and a father who lost his job when I was about 9 years old. I’m now the managing partner of a small business.

Then something dawned on me… For Warren, Obama, my liberal friends, and millions of Americans who support the Warren-Obama doctrine the American Dream really is embodied in the whole “rest of us speech”. I’m still at a loss for exactly what the American Dream is in that world, but it made one thing clear to me. The Warren-Obama doctrine supporters are just as passionate as I am about the American dream. Rather than it being my ability to pursue whatever personal and financial aspirations I have with limited interference from governments so that I can succeed and make our country better for future generations, it’s something that “the rest of us built” or that “somebody else made that happen”. It’s something outside me.

In their world the American Dream is something outside of ourselves. It’s something that comes from being in a democracy where you are required to pay taxes for programs and wars that you don’t support. It’s something that comes from somewhere outside you. It comes from something that we don’t have to be accountable for as individuals or as a government when we fail (government bailouts, bankrupt social programs, unjustified wars, unemployment, social inequality, etc.) but can thank our government when we succeed.

I wasn’t going to argue with my liberal friend about this topic. This wasn’t a topic that either one of us were going to win. This wasn’t a topic that we were going to find legitimate common ground on at anytime in the near future. There is an abundant divide between these two ideas of the American Dream. The only thing connecting us is a commitment to bettering America for future generations. However, the means to the end differ so dramatically between mine of reliance on self and hard work and Warren-Obama or reliance on government and entitlement. It’s a divide of the American Dream as something that you dream for yourself or one that someone else dreams for you.

The cloud fails when you’re in the clouds. For anyone who travels a lot or takes overseas flights, you quickly learn the value of apps that will work locally on your smartphone or tablet. Sometimes I have brilliant ideas that come to me in the middle of a flight. On a long flight, I have a lot, which kills my laptop battery. This flight was short, but the ability to blog this without access to the internet is awesome… Makes me wanna blog more while I’m traveling. And pickup a Bluetooth keyboard for my android!

I have very little love for Apple and their products. One thing is certain: they will never have my business when it comes to technology I travel with. As I sit here in a hotel room that doesn’t have wifi, I can’t help but think of how writing this blog wouldn’t be possible if I were a Mac guy. Sure, I could use the single USB port on an Air, but then I wouldn’t be able to charge my cellphone and extended battery pack at the same time. And in cases like this trip where I forgot to bring the wall charger with USB port, that’s an important thing.

I’ve been in hotels all around the world. The majority of them don’t have wifi, so I’d be carrying around a brick if I were a Mac guy. Maybe for some, this isn’t a problem but I prefer access to my work, cloud, etc. everywhere I go. That’s just not realistic with Apple. I’m sure they have some extra wifi hotspot I could plug into an Ethernet connector if I want to if I wanted to pay them an additional $100.

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