Thursday, January 25, 2007

Caveat Emptor: An Internet Consumer Learns the Hard Way

I am a student. And like milions of other students I traveled home this past Christmas season to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. So in early December I took a few moments during my reading week to purchase my ticket from my internet company of choice, Orbitz. As usual, their service was extraordinary, and despite a weather delay I arrived in Chicago and enjoyed my break.


Flash forward to earlier this week: I am frantically crunching numbers to make sure that I have not overdrawn my checking account, because like so many other graduate students, I was still waiting for my living stipend for the spring semester. That is when I found it, a ten dollar debit by "WLI*RESERVATIONREWARDS 8007327031" a company name that I had never heard of. So I decided to call the number to find out what was going on and was told that I had subscribed to their rewards service which I still do not really understand. When I told the customer service representative that I had signed on accidentally and wanted to unsubscribe she intitially tried to convince me that I should retain their services, but quickly acquiesced and even agreed to refund the ten bucks (which was huge in my impecunious state).

When I asked how I could have been signed up she curtly responded that their company works with many internet vendors.

Since I am not a big internet shopper I soon remembered clicking on what was camouflaged as a ten dollar rebate on the Orbitz site. If I remember correctly, the offer even matched the Orbitz template and to the average consumer would have looked like gift from that company.

So I discovered my mistake, but quickly wondered about the integrity of this company, and whether or not others have been tricked as well. A quick Google search led me to a couple of articles discussing a law suit against the company, which is CT based Inc. I was also able to find the complaint which alleges, among other things, that the "coupon click fraud scheme" is invasive (because they take your credit card information from the retailer that you are actually buying something from) and unfair. It also claims that 99% of the calls to the company are complaints like mine.

A copy of the complaint can be found here:

It is also easy to find lots of other blogs covering this same issue, and other people complaining about the mysterious "WLI*RESERVATIONREWARDS 8007327031" charges on their credit or debit cards. This has been going on for a while, but since I failed to hear about it until I found the charges on my statement I am joining the chorus.

I urge everyone reading this to check out their next credit card/debit statement and look for the "WLI*RESERVATIONREWARDS 8007327031" charge for around ten dollars. The company seems to charge small amounts ranging from seven to nine dollars, which are easy to miss--some accounts described people being charged for months before they realized that something was suspicious.

So be careful next time you order something online, and if anyone has heard anything else about this I would love to hear about it.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Minimum Wage Revisited

I'm never quite sure just where a liberal's desire for government intervention starts and where it ends. On the one hand, under the protection of the invented "right to privacy" discovered in the Constitution, the government should stay out of the woman's right to choose. But then on the other hand, the government should mandate private companies to hike wages. Nancy Pelosi has made the issue one of her Party's top priorities as she takes over as Majority Leader. Raising the minimum wage has been so widely accepted as the moral thing to do, that even to suggest against it smacks of the greed and cold-heartedness so typically associated with Republicans. I will argue, as I have in the past, that the Federal government should not interfere with wage laws; such intervention is counterproductive, dangerously arbitrary, unjust and wrongheaded.

A wage is a commodity. As such, its worth ought be determined by the market and the rules of supply and demand. Demand is elastic, so when the price of a good increases, its demand will drop and vice versa; an increase in demand will bring prices down. Those who argue against raising the minimum wage have long held, and history has proved, that whenever wages are artificially hiked, via wage legislation, unemployment actually increases. This makes sense when seen within the context of the laws of supply and demand. The good in demand is a higher wage. What happens through wage legislation? The price to employers increases, resulting in a decrease in employment. As a result of the artificially inflated wages, employers will be unable to maintain the same level of work force and will thus be forced to lay off employees. Who will the employer let go right off the bat? Certainly, the lower-skilled workers, who after having been laid off, will have a much more difficult time finding employment elsewhere. Low-skilled workers are hit the hardest through wage legislation. A survey of economists, conducted by the American Economic Review in 1992, revealed that 90 percent of economists believe that increasing the minimum wage has a direct, negative effect on unemployment among low-skilled and young workers.

Advocates of minimum wage hikes typically paint a grim picture of an endless sea of desperately poor, single mothers working two jobs trying to make ends meet to support a family. Much of this is myth making at the hands of politicians, inspired by Rousseau Marx and FDR, who believe the sole purpose of government is to create the fair and equal society, from the top down. In their quest to establish equality and fairness, politicians assume the necessary powers to regulate and control. George F. Will wrote an editorial in the Washington Post the other day in which he highlighted salient, yet often ignored, facts in the minimum wage debate.

- "Most of the working poor earn more than the minimum wage, and most of the 0.6 percent of America's wage workers earning the minimum wage are not poor."

- "Only one in five workers earning the federal minimum lives in families with earnings below the poverty line. Sixty percent work part time, and their average household income is well over $40,000."

- "Of the 75.6 million paid by the hour, 1.9 million earn the federal minimum or less, and of these, more than half are under 25 and more than a quarter are between ages 16 and 19. Many are students or other part time workers."

- "Sixty percent of those earning the federal minimum or less work in restaurants and bars and earn tips- often untaxed."

-"Two-thirds of those earning the federal minimum today will, a year from now, have been promoted and be earning 10 percent more."

- "Raising the minimum wage predictably makes work more attractive relative to school for some teenagers and raises the dropout rate."

Wage hikes should occur within the context of increased productivity and subsequently, increased profits. Increasing productivity results from investing in capital and by looking for ways to make a better product more quickly. Increasing sales will increase income and result, for the worker, in better wages.

N.B. - Here is the address to a National Review symposium on the minimum wage debate; it's well worth a read.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Catholic Speaker in the House

-The San Francisco Treat

In the run-up to last November’s mid-term elections, San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi frequently countered the charge that she was the embodiment of radical, West Coast liberalism by reminding the interlocutor that she was a “Catholic grandmother.” With her Party’s victory locked-up, the pro-abortion, pro-gay “rights” and pro-embryonic stem-cell research politico is now Madame Speaker. Pelosi made it clear that as House Speaker, one of her top priorities in the first 100 hours of Democrat Control would be the introduction of a bill that would ease federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. It was not too long ago that President Bush vetoed a bill passed by Congress that would have lifted the restrictions on such research; restrictions that he put in place back in 2001. In vetoing the bill, President Bush declared, “This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others, it crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect. So I vetoed it." Buoyed by the latest election however, Pelosi and the Democrats have placed the issue near the top of their to-do list. So Nancy Pelosi, a practicing Catholic, will be the prime mover and public face of a bill that the Catholic Church clearly opposes. The issue of Catholic politicians placing themselves at odds with the Church’s moral teaching is hardly a new one, but with Pelosi’s high-profile ascent, it may soon be necessary for Church leadership in the United States to speak with greater moral clarity for the sake of the integrity of the Church’s public witness to the defense of the human person.

It would be helpful to review past statements issued by United States bishops and Pope John Paul II regarding Catholics in the public square and their subsequent duty to defend the dignity of human life. The late Holy Father, in Evangelium Vitae, declared “It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are found and from which they develop.” Here, Pope John Paul II lays the foundation for any subsequent discussion of human rights: namely the right of the living to live. It sounds simple enough, but the fog, or “tyranny,” of relativism so prevalent today has clouded the ability of many to perceive this simple truth. Discussion about one’s right to “choose” or one’s right to “privacy” is meaningless and even contradictory if the most fundamental and primary right of the person to simply live and enjoy those secondary rights is denied from the beginning.

The United States Catholic Bishops issued a stern statement to Catholic public leaders in 1998; it merits a full citation.

We urge those Catholic officials who choose to depart from Church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life to consider the consequences for their own spiritual well-being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin. We call on them to reflect on the grave contradiction of assuming public roles and presenting themselves as credible Catholics when their actions on fundamental issues of human life are not in agreement with Church teaching. No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on human life.

In 2004, there was much discussion over Senator Kerry’s professed Catholicism and his fervent, decades-long support for abortion. The question presented was whether or not Catholic politicians who support abortion should present themselves for Communion. Clarity was sought from the Vatican, and the soon-to-be pope, Cardinal Ratzinger, issued a characteristically no-nonsense statement that drew heavily from Evangelium Vitae:

2. …In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to 'take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it’" (no. 73). Christians have a "grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it" (no. 74).

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia. (Emphasis added)

In addition to reiterating the Church’s position on abortion, Cardinal Ratzinger makes an important, and often overlooked, distinction between acts that are intrinsically evil (abortion, euthanasia) and acts which allow for a variance of opinion because they are not evil, per se (war and capital punishment). For it is here that Cardinal Ratzinger rejects the so-called “seamless garment” position, which sought to dispense equal weight, in the moral sense, to various social issues. Catholic politicians can, in good conscience, disagree about the death penalty or war and present themselves for Communion. The same cannot be said of those supporting abortion.

As Nancy Pelosi assumes her new leadership role as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, she has a grave responsibility to defend the most basic rights of the person, defined so eloquently in our own Declaration of Independence; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The late, great pope, John Paul II reminded us of our heritage when he stated that, “At the center of the moral vision of founding documents is the recognition of the rights of the human person.” He went on to say that our greatness as a nation is to be found “especially [in its] respect for the dignity and sanctity of human life in all conditions and at all stages of development.” In a 1995 speech in Newark, Pope John Paul II directly addressed every American. Eleven years later, these very words could now be addressed to Nancy Pelosi; “Your country stands upon the world scene as a model of a democratic society at an advanced stage of development. Your power of example carries with it heavy responsibilities. Use it well, America!” Indeed, use it well, Madame Speaker!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Beautiful Mind

"Sad as it may seem, my experience with radical, upscale feminism only reinforced my growing mistrust of individual pride. The defense of abortion especially troubled me because of my inability to agree that any one of us should decide who has the right to live." Fox-Genovese

Years back, I had the pleasure to meet Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. She gave a lecture at my college and afterward, during a reception, she mingled with students. She was brilliant, witty and on the cutting edge of the cultural and societal issues of the day. As a convert to the Catholic faith, she devoted her mind and her considerable talents and energies to defending the dignity of the person from the nefarious onslaughts of the aging establishment from the 1960's. Fox-Genovese's conversion experience gave her peerless insights into the insurmountable contradictions dogging the Left and for that reason she is still feared by many, most particularly, in the pro-abortion camp. Her voice will be sorely missed, but she inspired many; and therein, her legacy rests secure. Robert P. George composed an eloquent tribute to her in National Review.