October 31, 2017

Butter shortage in France?! Say it isn't so!

Forget all of the Donald Trump/Russia hubbub.  (Yawn!)  This is real news ...

Yikes!  A butter shortage in France?!  Click on the Facebook link below to read about this dreadful dairy debacle on today's front page New York Times.

And yes ... it's always butter at my home, for baking, cooking, and table use.  Well, butter and olive oil.  Just say no to dreadful margarine!   

Mary Rae Fouts

October 30, 2017

Matthew Litton: If the F.B.I. Legal Department is up here prosecuting Mr. Litton and his wife Katia, who's running Hell?

Imagine the frustration of being sterile and unable to conceive a child you and your spouse so desperately want.

You obtain medical care and medication to treat your fertility disorder.  Spouse does same for a thyroid condition.

And what happens?   Their employer - in this case, the F.B.I. - fires both individuals (who are F.B.I. agents).  Reason?  Failure to disclose the medication taken for the disorders.

Yep.  Fired.   Both individuals.  For failure to disclose medication to treat fertility and thyroid disorders.

Matthew Litton with one of his daughters.
Photo credit:  nytimes.com

That's just what happened to Matthew and Katia Litton.  And that's flat out WRONG.  And if the witch hunt the Littons have been subject to from the F.B.I. isn't enough to create a life of living in Hell, the Justice Department's Inspector General undertook a separate investigation.  Both Matthew and Katia Litton were eventually arrested, criminally charged with making false statements, and fired from their jobs as F.B.I. agents.

The criminal case fell apart; charges were eventually dropped.  But the Littons have endured a 7-year odyssey in Hell, which includes attempting to get their jobs back.  Last month, an administrative judge agreed that Matthew had been wrongly fired for failing to disclose the drugs he had taken to treat his disorder. The judge ordered that the F.B.I. both reinstate Matthew and pay him part of his back pay, which now totals over $700,000.

And what does the good ol' F.B.I. Legal Team do?  Well, they appeal the decision.  Guess the F.B.I. thinks the Littons haven't been through enough Hell.  Gotta put them through more.  Perhaps for years during the appeals process.

"Hi.  My name is Satan.
I head up the Legal Department at the F.B.I."

And to throw in a bit of irony, during this 7 years of Hell, the Littons successfully had 2 children.  Which flat out proves the fertility medication was both necessary and worked.

Read about the Littons orderal in this New York Tiimes article F.B.I. Agents Faced Arrest and Ruin After Trying to Conceive a Child.  I was left with both an overwhelming sense of rage toward the F.B.I., and a boat load of sympathy for Matthew and Katia Litton.

Oh, and one more thought:  Just who at the F.B.I. has - or had - an axe to grind with Matthew Litton?  Not his boss, as the month Matthew was fired he received an exemplary performance review.  But the Littons' ordeal simply reeks of personal revenge.

If there was ever a reason for our federally-elected politicians to get involved and investigate a matter, the Littons' ordeal is it.  No couple should ever ... ever ... be treated as Matthew and Katia Litton have been treated.

Mary Rae Fouts

October 28, 2017

Obamacare: What happened to the "affordable" part of the Affordable Care Act?


Definition:  af·ford·a·ble (əˈfôrdəb(ə)l)
adjective:  inexpensive; reasonably priced.

2018 open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as "Obamacare") begins on November 1.  If you have health insurance through Obamacare, have you priced your premium cost for 2018?

Get ready for some major sticker shock.  Nationally, Obamacare Gold Plan premiums for 2018 are rising by 16% on average, compared to 2017 premiums.  Lower cost/higher deductible Bronze Plans are increasing by an average of 18%. 

In some states, the premium increase is much higher. Georgia tops the list, with a jaw dropping rate increase of 57% for some plans.   Florida is not far behind at 45%.  In California, the average Obamacare  premium increase is about 12.5%.
Which begs the question:  Is health insurance coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) truly affordable?
I live in California and have a grandfathered high deductible Blue Shield PPO Family Plan that covers both me and my husband.   I recently learned there will be no premium increase in 2018.  My Blue Shield plan has maximum out of pocket costs of $5,200 per person/$10,400 per family.  My monthly premium is $797 ($9564 annually).

A similar Obamacare Plan has total annual costs 43% higher than my grandfathered Blue Shield plan.

That's hardly "affordable".

For comparison purposes, I checked the most similar Blue Shield plan (Bronze 60 PPO) offered for 2018 through Covered California, California’s Obamacare exchange.   The Obamacare plan has 26% higher maximum out of pocket costs than my grandfathered plan:  $6,550 per person/$13,100 per family.  The Obamacare plan also has a 61% higher premium of $1281 per month ($15,372 annually).

Worst case scenario, if we meet our family deductible in 2018, the  total health care cost of our grandfather plan ($9564 annual premium + $10,400 out of pocket) is $19,964.  However, the same worst case scenario total health care cost for the Obamacare plan is $28,472 ($15,372 annual premium + $13,100 out of pocket).  The Obamacare plan’s total cost is $8508 more  – 43% higher - than my grandfathered plan.  That cost difference is simply head shaking.  I do not qualify for a tax subsidy.

I remember when politicians disparaged the grandfathered health insurance plans as being "crappy".  Well, I can tell you one thing:  a lot of people out there would like to have my "crappy" Blue Shield grandfathered health insurnace plan today!

This comparison begs the question:  Is Obamacare truly "affordable" as the name "Affordable Care Act" promises ?  I certainly think not.

Mary Rae Fouts

October 27, 2017

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls: Who says breakfast has to be boring?

Breakfast is never boring at my home. 

Always on the menu:  Thanksgiving Coffee Company coffee.  Freshly brewed with freshly-ground beans and a bit of ground stick cinnamon.  This morning's Joe was organic light roast Canto de Bolivar beans from Bolivia.

And how about a scrumptious homemade Sourdough Cinnamon Roll to go with that mug of coffee?  Fresh from my kitchen.  All sourdough, no active or dried yeast.

Want one?

Happy Friday, everyone.  And when you bake bread ... or cinnamon rolls, for that matter ... just remember to make it sourdough!

Mary Rae Fouts

October 24, 2017

Sears Stops Selling Whirlpool Appliances: Sears' painful march towards bankruptcy continues.

 I certainly would not call Sears "well".
Would you?
This just in from Sears.

So shutting down its entire Sears Canada operations and stores last month - 12,000 people lost their jobs - just wasn't enough for this beleaguered, nearly dead shell of a company.

Nor was the sale of their entire Craftsman tool line to Stanley Black & Decker in January of this year.

The latest?  It's bye-bye to Whirlpool appliances, and Whirlpool subsidiary appliances including KitchenAid, Jenn-Aire, and Maytag.  And perhaps many Kenmore washer and dryer models, as many are made by ... you guessed it!  None other than good ol' Whirlpool.

Anyone want to wager when Sears' bankruptcy filing will be announced?  I mean, gee, what's left of the company anymore?  Sears:  A sad slogging demise for a once great company.

Mary Rae Fouts

Iditarod Sled Dog Doping: Is any sport clean today?

Nowadays I essentially consider that doping is present throughout most sporting events.

Bicycling and Lance Armstrong.  Check.

Baseball and Steroids.  Check.

Track and Field, Marion Jones, and BALCO.  Check.

But sled dogs and the Iditirod??!!

Yes, apparently so.

And that's beyond sad.

Photo credit:  nytimes.com

Yesterday, Iditarod officials announced that four dogs belonging to four-time champion Dallas Seavey tested postive for the banned narcotic Tramadol, an opiod pain reliever, in this year's race.   And of course, Seavey has taken to social media in an effort to portray himself as the victim, calling the Iditarod drug testing and investigation proceedings "a cancer" on the sport.

So I guess mandating a clean sporting event, and taking steps to enforce such mandate, is now considered an act of vile cancer.

That's downright pathetic.

Fortunately for the event and fans like me, the influential Iditarod Official Finisher Club isn't buying Seavey's narcissistic self-soothing dribble.  According to this article in the New York Times, the Club issued a statement saying:
“It is unacceptable that multiple dogs tested positive for a drug in a single musher’s team and that that information was only recently made public when it was known since shortly after the team finished."
Read more about this downright dirty dog drugging debacle in this Alaska Dispatch News article.

Mary Rae Fouts

October 23, 2017

Wag! Dog Walking: Would you trust your dog to a company that threatens its customers?

Wag!  Dog Walking, coined by Bloomberg as the 'Uber for Dog-Walking', has a pretty head shaking way of treating its human customers.

If you are an unhappy customer, Wag! doesn't just reach out and attempt to resolve the underlying issue.  Oh, no, that's clearly not enough action for Wag! to take.  You see, Wag! has its amped up attorney Mark Warren Moody send an email to the unhappy customer.

A very nasty email.

You see, the email is not simply a cease and desist message, it's a thinly veiled personal threat.

Take a look at the email Wag! attorney Mark Warren Moody sent to Wag! disgruntled customer MaryEllen Humphrey.  Oh, and why was Ms. Humphrey disgruntled?  Well, her beloved dog Buddy was lost ... yes, lost ... while out on a walk with a Wag! dog walker.   Read it out loud for its full effect:
" 'If your retraction and apology to Wag! are not publicly posted to each and every social media platform that you have used to libel Wag! within 24 hours of the time of this email, this office has been authorized to use all available means to bring as swift as possible an end to your lies,'  company attorney Mark Warren Moody wrote."
 -- Source:  "Wag, the ‘Uber for Dog-Walking,’ Is Drawing Uber-Like Scrutiny", BloombergTechnology, Oct. 16, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yaplhkhy .
So, attorney Moody, what "all available means" are you going to use to silence Ms. Humphrey?  Are you going to send Micky the Wrench Hit Man and maybe have him him put a cap in Ms. Humphrey's head?  After all, that would bring "as swift as possible" end to the predicament, wouldn't it now?

And as this BloombergTechnology article points out, the whole mess around the lost dog Buddy caused another loss for Wag!, in the form of big bucks from big investors who bailed when learning about the lost dog Buddy mess.

And rightly so.  As a proud Mom to two beloved Faithful Canine Companions (Husky-mix Sid and Chow-mix Lexi), I would never, ever consider using Wag! for dog walking.  And if I ever received an email with the wording of attorney Moody's email, I'd have a complaint filed against the attorney with the appropriate State Bar faster than ice cream melts on a hot July afternoon.

Of maybe I should say faster than Sid eats a McDonald's soft serve ice cream cone.

Memo to Wag!:  Perhaps a couple of changes are in order.  Show attorney Mark Warren Moody the door, and get yourself a new Public Relations Firm while you're at it.

Mary Rae Fouts

October 13, 2017

Out of the Office

Please note the Fouts Financial Group office will be closed from Monday, October 16 through Wednesday, November 1. 

Mary Rae Fouts

October 11, 2017

Northern California Wildfires: Helpful Tax Information for Affected Business Owners

Are you are a business owner affected by recent disasters, including the inferno-like wildfires raging in Northern California?  You might find this latest Tax Tip from the IRS - Tips for Business Owners Who Need to Reconstruct Records After a Disaster - helpful.

Tax Concerns? 

Mary Rae Fouts, EA  provides tax planning, preparation, and representation services to  nationwide clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information, visit www.FoutsFinancialGroup.com .

Mary Rae Fouts

October 10, 2017

Dianne Feinstein: Re-election Fundraisers More Important Than Assisting Victims of Northern California's Wildfire Infernos

And open letter to California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Hey there Di,

This is Mary Rae Fouts, one of your constituents from Pleasant Hill, California.  And by the way, someone who votes in every election.

So you just gotta tweet about your decision to run for election again.  On a day with untold suffering from thousands and thousands of people impacted by fire storm infernos in Northern California.

Untold suffering from your constituents, and your campaign consultant states that your re-election events "will be fun".  Really?  Northern California residents by the thousands are losing homes, businesses, and lives.  Fleeing for their lives with flames on either side of the road, embers blowing across the road.  And you're out having "fun"?

You do know about the horrific wildfires burning right now in Northern California, right? 14 or more of them.  Whole neighborhoods lost in Santa Rosa.  The town of Redwood Valley in Mendocino County has been essentially incinerated, with perhaps many people dead from being trapped in their homes.   Unknown death and destruction.

And with these horrific events, you plan to come to California next week for 2 tony fundraisers with mega wealthy donors? How disrespectful to your constituents can you possibly be?

Dear Senator Feinstein:
If you had an ounce of human decency, you would cancel your tony fundraisers and ask your donors to re-direct the contributions they intended for your re-election campaign to disaster relief for the victims of these wildfires.
Not too much to ask now, is it?

Click the Facebook link below for more information about Di's recent announcement.

October 9, 2017

Wildfires Raging in Northern California Wine Country

Utter devastation.  Numerous wildfires are raging in or near Northern California's Wine County, several starting around 10 PM last night.  The wildfires cover Napa, Sonoma, and Yuba counties, which lie north of Contra Costa County where I live. There are currently 14 different wildfires burning; all started since last night.  No cause has been determined, but three fires are clearly suspicious, having started at the same time (around 10 PM) in different location in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.

Sobering Facts

In only 12 hours, at least 1500 structures have burned, approximately 50,000 acres have burned, 22,000 or so people are under mandatory evacuation orders, and there is zero containment. 

In only 12 hours, these new wildfires - dubbed fire storms - are already considered some of worst in California's history.  And that classification with zero containment.

The fires spread rapidly in the area's rugged terrain covered with trees and heavy vegetation.   Another devastating factor was the presence of strong seasonal Diablo Winds, blowing with gusts of 50 mph or more.  It was very winding at my Pleasant Hill, California home last night; much less so today.  The greater San Francisco Bay area, including Pleasant Hill, is covered in a blanket of smoke from the wildfires to the north.

Currently, firefighters are concentration on saving lives rather than fighting the fire.  Many people are reported missing, one confirmed death.  More reinforcements from throughout the state are expecting to arrive shortly.  Area residents have helped fight the fire, including helping firefighters with hoses, using buckets of water to put out hot spots, and using private water tankers to fight fires and hot spots.

Pretty amazing what good people do in times of emergency.  Working together.

Photo credit:  sfgate.com

Photo credit:  eastbaytimes.com

Get updates on these fires at the Cal Fire Incident Information page. Here are a few of my past posts about fire safety and insurance-related issues:

Stay safe, Everyone.

Mary Rae Fouts

October 6, 2017

Equifax awarded $7.2 contract by IRS. That's flat out wrong.

Equifax.  Ya know, the company who recently allowed hackers to obtain a trove of sensitive identify information from some 145 million people.

But guess what?  Equifax just got a nice reward and pat on the back.  A $7.2 million pat on the back from a new contract with the Internal Revenue Service.

What's good ol' Equifax going to do via this contract?  Glad you asked.  Equifax is going to authenticate taxpayer identify information for the IRS.  Ya know,


Awarding this contract is wrong.  Flat out wrong.

October 5, 2017

Walmart's Grocery Shopping and Pickup Service: Free for a $30 purchase, but will that last?

As someone who loves to cook and bake, I am following with great interest developments in the grocery and pre-packaged meal industries.  Plus, Amazon's purchase of Whole Paycheck  Whole Foods may well be a game changer among large regional and national grocery chains.

Remember Webvan, the fall-on-its-face complete failure in the online grocery order and delivery service?   Well, some grocers and independent shopping and delivery companies are attempting to bring that grocery service back to the masses.  The typical platform for this online order, shopping, and delivery service is either a delivery charge fee  (such as Safeway uses), or a subscription-based fee (such as  Instacart and Amazon's new Amazon Fresh use).

Here Comes Walmart

But now we've got big old Walmart attempting to place catch-up, and in a big way.  Walmart put its own twist on grocery shopping services two years ago, when it started offering online grocery shopping, picked in-store by a Walmart Personal Shopper.  Your groceries are then made available by pickup at the Walmart store, with the groceries delivered to your vehicle which has a reserved pickup parking space.  This service is currently available in about 1,000 of Walmart’s 4,699 United States stores.

But here's where Walmart's twist comes in.  You know the delivery or subscription fees charged by the other companies for shopped and delivered groceries?  Well, not at Walmart.  Walmart charges nothing for the service, although they do require a $30 minimum order.  Granted, there are differences.  Walmart's gig is not a deliver-to-your-home service, rather a deliver-to-your-car-in-the-parking lot service.  Read more about this service in this New York Times article.

Grocery orders ready for pickup at Walmart.
Photo credit:  newyorktimes.com
Just how sustainable is Walmart's new grocery business model?  Not very, in my opinion.  Walmart's shopping and take-to-your-vehicle grocery service requires (1) employees to shop for the customer, (2) employees to deliver the groceries to the car, (3) an online platform for customer shopping, (4) more employees to maintain and update the online shopping site, and (5) dedicated grocery pickup parking spots, and those take away parking from the rest of the in-store shoppers.

And (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) are, well, not free.  I can't see Walmart permanently bleeding money on this service, nor do I envision either Walmart management or shareholders allowing this to happen forever.  Something's going to eventually give, either via increased prices in Walmart's grocery products to pay for this service, a shopping/take-to-your-vehicle fee, or a subscription-based fee.

And what happens when Walmart eventually charges a fee, or increases grocery prices to cover this grocery-related service?  Will customers ... who were accustomed to free!  free!  free! ...  continue to use the grocery shopping and deliver-to-your-vehicle service when they now have to shell out money to do so, either via a fee or higher prices?

Some customers will fork over the extra dough for the convenience. But if history is any indication of price- and fee-sensitive people, a large percentage of customers will likely say sayonara. Adios. Goodbye.

And when it gets right down to it, how many people truly want someone to grocery shop for them? Don't people generally want to squeeze the toilet paper, choose their own oranges, check store sales, stare at the ice cream selection for just the right flavor, buy a few impulse items, and pick out their own meat and cheese?  I think yes.  And don't forget the in-store ability to read labels before purchase.  And I think we'll continue to have fallout from grocery stores and other companies that place high wagers on the success of questionable grocery shopping and delivery business models.

Mary Rae Fouts