Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tax Evasion

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You know, of all the things I complain about, one of the most bothersome things to me is people who don’t pay their taxes. If you are not able to pay your taxes (as opposed to just not wanting to), then maybe there’s some excuse for you. However, if that’s the case, then maybe you’re living outside your means… If that’s not the case, and you just don’t like to pay them, then I don’t like you. Sorry, but that’s that. However, beyond the individuals who do this, something worse to me is companies who advertise the practice.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me describe one of the commercials these kinds of companies put out. Imagine a person in a pleasant, reasonably wealthy looking home environment. Maybe they’re in their driveway getting out of their Mercedes SUV and in the background, you see their weekend sailboat sitting beside the house. Not too modest, eh? Now imagine they start to talk, and this is what comes out their mouth: “I owed $250,000 to the IRS!” For some reason, they seem to be in a good mood about that. Most people would be quite upset about this, perhaps distraught with worry, and may even be ashamed to talk about it.

Now wait, though. The next utterance explains everything very clearly for us: “Then I called Company X and they settled my IRS debt for me. I only paid $500!” Well, now of course we can see why they’re so excited. They just got out of paying a huge sum of money, and now get to enjoy their sailboat without fear of being indebted to the government. Wouldn’t you just love to be excused from having to pay thousands of dollars as part of your responsibility as a citizen, all the while cheating the rest of us who follow the rules?

So what’s the problem with this? First, for every dollar they don’t pay in taxes, that’s either one dollar more someone else has to pay or that the national deficit increases. Second, whether it is actually the case or not, the company sells their services as if there are no consequences of going through this process. Now, I honestly can’t say that I know how the whole system works, and there may very well be no negative repercussions for the individual enlisting Company X’s help. While that might be the case, I’m inclined to assume that this would involve some sort of bankruptcy filing, which is something I’d rather not have to deal with, personally. Either way, regardless of the potential fallout, these companies encourage people to avoid paying their taxes, with the enticement that they will have the fault cleared for them at a future date.

With all the government spending – for everything that tax money is spent on, whether it benefits you or not – to withhold that money entirely does nothing but damage the system. Whether you support the ideology that government should provide everything to citizens or nothing or anything in between, the fact remains that they’re involved in just about everything. By helping yourself out by avoiding paying your dues, you end up hurting everyone else. Ultimately you hurt yourself as well in the process because you’ll be missing out on the services those taxes will provide. If you do this, shame on you. Double shame on these companies for trying to get you to do it!

Red Light and Speeding Cameras: My Newest Annoyance

Up until today, I’ve mostly been on the fence about whether or not I approve of traffic law enforcement cameras. Throughout Arizona, you’ll find many such image and video capturing devices set up on road, highways, and at some street intersections. There are some pros and cons to the whole idea of using this technology to aid law enforcement in keeping the streets safer for everyone and so far, neither has really outweighed the other. That is -before I got one myself when I wasn’t at fault. Before I go into the specifics of my scenario, here’s the good and bad of the debate…
  • PROS
    1. Reduces number of traffic related injuries/deaths, due to a lower incidence of traffic safety violations.
    2. Increases revenue for government agencies by tracking more violations.
    3. Reduces the need to have enforcement officers patrolling/monitoring streets for violators.
    4. If you aren't breaking the law, then you have no reason to be worried about the system.
  • CONS
    1. People don’t like being watched/held accountable when they break the law (even minor infractions).
    2. Some drivers ‘freak out’ when approaching a camera, thus creating more unsafe conditions than would otherwise have existed.
    3. Some drivers avoid the cameras and take a different route, or only obey the laws when a camera is present. In other words: they just aren’t effective.
    4. There is a cost to undertake such an initiative and to build the system, costing taxpayers more up front.
    5. Enforcement of issued citations is low, with violators frequently skirting the responsibility of paying the fine, rendering the system useless.
There may be more, but that’s all I can come up with at the moment.
TicketThanks to my citation, pro #4 is quickly taken back; I wasn’t breaking the law, yet I was ‘flashed’ by the cameras, and a few weeks later got my complaint in the mail. Apparently, I ran the red, and entered the the intersection when I shouldn't have. But that's ridiculous, and it's easy to see, just by looking at the video. I’ll start by highlighting the moment of the infraction. Along with the citation, access is provided to view the images taken of the incident online, as well as a video of the whole process. This image shows on the left the moment before the light turned red and the moment after on the right (my car is the only red one, on the right-hand portion of the frame).

Ticket3I want to highlight the striping here, for those that may not understand the conventions here in Tucson. In the image above(colored for clarity), the orange line is the ‘stop line’, the green lines are the outer limits of the crosswalk, the pink area is the sensor strip for the camera system, and the red line is a line that was added after the system was set up. I don’t know if this red line has a name, or if it really even serves a purpose (my honest guess is that it highlights where the curb ends), but it’s there.

Reviewing these images, it should be painfully obvious that I was beyond the crosswalk and the stop line and had already entered the intersection (see next section) before the light had fully changed to red. It’s not extremely clear if I was beyond the red line or not, but according to the law, that shouldn’t matter.
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation’s (ADOT) “Driver License Manual” (.pdf), this is how intersections may be indentified:
The intersection at which the photos were taken fall into the category at the bottom-right and as such, drivers must stop at the stop line when presented with a ‘stop’ traffic signal. That signal in the example is a stop sign, but this applies to red lights as well. The documentation also states that certain rules may apply and supersede the general conventions, and this will be indicated at the applicable location. I may have to go to the intersection itself and take a picture showing there are no posted signs indicating this line has any importance, but take my word for it, there are none that alert drivers to a change in this rule. There are signs telling drivers that traffic laws are photo enforced, however.
Although it’s not actually applicable to this case, I want to add that a right-on-red is legal in Arizona. When stopped at a red light, if the way is clear (no other traffic or pedestrians), then one may proceed with a right turn at that stop. This doesn’t matter here, since I was not at a stop (the signal was still yellow) when I began the maneuver. Had I been stopped, this still would have been a legal turn, since there was no other traffic to impede, as made evident by the photo provided above (and by the fact that I wasn’t involved in a collision as a result of that action).
Since I was already completely past the crosswalk, I was officially in the intersection. Based on all this, I can’t seem to understand how I am in violation. If someone wants to explain to me how I’m wrong, please do, otherwise I will not be responding to this complaint (as is the standard practice among many with whom I’ve spoken about this). In addition to this, I will take an official negative position on the whole concept of this camera business. Sorry, the ultimate saving grace that “if you’re legal, then you’re safe” has been thrown out the window.
Except for the hassle that would inevitably be involved, I almost want someone to serve me and bring me to court to plead my case, just so I can stick this back in somebody’s face. If you’re in Tucson, avoid making ‘illegal’ legal right on reds at camera intersections in the meantime to avoid this mockery.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where did I go?

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Hello everyone, and sorry that I’ve left the blog bereft of updates. Since my last update, a few things have changed. More specifically, I now have a son, and he takes up much of my time. On top of that, I have still been bothered by a few random things, mostly television advertising, but nothing quite enough to get me to write it down. Maybe my venting online has eased my stress and remedied my need to vent in the first place, or maybe being a father has cooled me down some (my wife may disagree). Either way, I guess I’ve got writer’s block, which isn’t so bad, considering I don’t write for a living. If anyone out there at least occasionally checks in here, keep doing so. I’ll be back eventually; this is just the first step in the journey to my blogging recovery.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Verizon Part XI: Not Sure What’s Next

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So far, things have been quiet with regard to Verizon and any potential unexpected data plan. Nothing has been charged to my account so far, but the billing month was up right about the time everything got settled, so it may not be until next month that I will see anything. (I’m keeping my fingers crossed.)

As to the BBB claim that was open, if it was not already made clear, I did agree to Verizon’s terms, so they got no negative report. I just added one drop to the bucket of successful resolutions. I did not stick to my guns and refuse their offer. They gave me something that resolved all my issues – at least for me personally. They told me they are strongly reconsidering the plan, and (through the anecdotes of others) it seems they also may be working on a plan to undo or at least partly change the new data plan policy. (I’ll believe it when I actually see it.)

For the FCC case, things are a little more uncertain. I received one letter from the FCC stating that they had received my complaint, then some time later, another that said they had received a response to it from Verizon, and that I should be receiving a copy of that response in a short amount of time. It’s been nearly a week, and I’ve got nothing so far. I may have to try again to get in touch with the FCC about this, but they are much less user-friendly than the BBB was, so that may be a bit more work than it needs to be. Also, in the second letter, they stated that they are satisfied with the VZW explanation and that if I was not, that I would have to file a ‘formal’ complaint with them, which includes a fee. I haven’t gotten there yet, seeing as how I have yet to see the VZW response, but it seems like a bunch of hoops to jump through. Thanks, FCC for being there to help us, the public.

Will keep you posted on how this FCC situation pans out for me…

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Cox Letdown

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I’ve actually been sitting on this one for a few weeks… The picture at left is of one of the duplicate mailings I get from Cox, which prompted all my prior Cox posts.  The image has not been not modified, except to remove my name/address. These came a few weeks after all my correspondence ended Cox2xwith them. It’d had been so long that I even posted that it appeared as though Cox was done sending me anything. Obviously that was wrong, but at least the frequency of their mailings has decreased.
There are more problems with this than just a second ad sent. The text on the front reads: “it’s ur time!” Really? Seriously? WTF is with ‘ur’?? There was other ‘txt’ talk in the ad, with the familiar ‘r’ and ‘u’ as highlights. This would have actually been reasonable if it was advertising mobile phone service, or even simple the benefits of having internet for IM-type conversations. But this ad really didn’t focus on that at all, making the horrible butchering of English a bit out of place.
On the other hand, this image is not the whole story. I thought it funny enough at the time to take the picture with the two envelopes, just because of the duplication, but a few days after tossing these out, a THIRD (i.e. triplication) came in. Since I did not expect any more, I threw the two previous out, so no reason to take a picture of the third by itself, but take my word on it.
To all you Cox subscribers, I remind you that this is how your money is being spent by them (spent first of course by you on overpriced services). Hope you enjoy it.