Monday, April 28, 2008

A Brief Commentary on my Previous Tax Post

I know I posted all that without supporting my negative opinion of the taxes. So here's a very, very brief commentary.

1) They are not all bad. I will support any increase in tobacco taxes simply because, come on: quit already, you douche. You're killing yourself. It's a deterrant tax, and that's okay with me. Simimlarly, I support taxes that help balance out environmental impact.

But many of these are excessive, inappropriate taxes for taxes' sake. I agree with Lisa: you want to tax gastric bypass surgery? How about putting an extra tax on trans-fat containing food, instead? (deterrant tax)

2) They just raised our sales tax by 20%. That wasn't enough?

3) The Maryland State Legislature has been debating naming a state dessert.

Maryland State Legislature, don't you dare add more taxes so you and your wankerous companions can charge the state $17,184 a day to debate cake.

Simultaneously, another bill argues that 31 percent of Marylanders get no exercise, that almost a quarter of the state's adults are rated as obese, and that designating walking as the state exercise would help promote a healthy lifestyle. Um, how about not designating a state dessert then??

This is the bullshit they're spending our tax dollars on.

Until they come up with better ways to spend my money, I'm going to continue to begrudge giving it to them.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The MD State Legislature is Screwing Up

Taxes, Taxes, and More Taxes (2008 Edition)

From The Maryland Republican Party Research Department Visit the MDGOP Web site (


During the 2007 Special Session, Democrats pushed through the largest tax hike in Maryland history.

Now, in the 2008 Session, they have found even more ways to take hard-earned money from working families. If the Democrats are successful, the government would start taxing teeth whitening, laser eye surgery, body piercing, and eight other services. Consumers would be required to pay more for heating and cooling systems for their homes, tires for their cars, and premiums for their health insurance due to new taxes. Democrats have even reintroduced legislation to take the balance from gift certificates and gift cards if consumers do not use them.

With gas prices on the rise, another hike in electric rates expected this summer, and the cost of consumer goods at all-time highs, working families need relief – not more taxes


Following is a list of new taxes being contemplated during the 2008 Session. Names in parenthesis represent the sponsors of the respective bills.

Income and Consumption Taxes


State Income Tax Surcharge

– SB 1004 (Jones)

a) Increases the highest state income tax bracket from 5.5% to 6.5%

b) About $231.8 million in new taxes expected in the first year


State Income Tax Surcharge

- HB 737 (Elliott, et al)

a) Imposes a state income tax surcharge of $1,000 per single and $2,000 per couple for not having health care insurance, if the person’s income is at least $50,000 ($100,000 for couples)

b) About $43.2 million in new taxes expected in the first year


Hotel Tax

- HB 178 (Barve, et al)/SB 131 (King, et al)

a) Authorizes municipalities to impose a maximum 2% hotel tax

b) Additional $3.2 million in taxes expected per year


Alcohol Tax Increase

- HB 904 (Gutierrez, et al)

a) More than doubles alcohol tax from $1.50 to $3.50 for distilled spirits, $0.40 to $1.00 for wine, and $0.09 to $0.25 for beer

b) Approximately $43.9 million in new taxes expected in the first year


Alcohol Tax Increase

- HB 1310 (Bronrott, et al)/ SB 562 (Madaleno, et al)

a) Triples alcohol tax from $1.50 to $4.50 for distilled spirits, $.40 to $1.20 for wine, and $.09 to $.27 for beer

b) Approximately $57.5 million in new taxes in the first year

6. Alcohol Tax Increase

- SB 232 (Forehand)

a) Triples alcohol tax from $1.50 to $4.50 for distilled spirits and $0.40 to $1.20 for wine, and raises the beer tax by 600%, from $0.09 to $0.54

b) Approximately $86 million in new taxes expected in the first full year in effect


Tobacco Tax Increase

– HB 1095 (Rosenberg, et al)/ SB 513 (McFadden)

a) Increases the tax for tobacco products other than cigarettes from 15% to 25% of the wholesale price


Tobacco Paraphernalia Tax

– SB 363 (Muse)

a) Imposes a $20 surcharge on the purchase of tobacco paraphernalia


“Little Cigar” Tax Increase

– HB 617 (Tarrant, et al)

a) Redefines cigarettes to include “little cigars” so the higher cigarette tax applies to “little cigars”

b) About $1.9 million in new tax revenue expected in first year


Moist Snuff and “Little Cigar” Tax Increase

– SB 383 (Currie and McFadden)

a) Increases moist snuff tax from 15% of wholesale value to 54-cents per ounce

b) Redefines cigarettes to include “little cigars” so the higher cigarette tax applies to “little cigars”

c) About $3.9 million in new tax revenue expected in first year


Ammunition Tax

- HB 517 (Burns, et al)

a) Requires a new tax of 5-cents per round of encoded ammunition (in addition to the new 6% sales tax)

Gas and Vehicle-Related Taxes


Gas Tax Increase

– SB 567 (Garagiola, et al)

a) Increases the gas tax by 33% (from 23.5-cents per gallon to 31.5-cents per gallon)

b) Repeals the computer services tax and shifts the tax burden to gas consumers


Fuel Efficiency Vehicle Surcharge

– HB 338 (Cardin, et al)

a) Imposes a $250 surcharge on each new automobile if the fuel economy rating of the automobile is less than or equal to 15 miles per gallon


Tire Tax

– HB 338 (Cardin, et al)

a) Imposes a $10 surcharge on each tire sold other than an energy-efficient tire

Property Taxes


Property Tax Increase

– HB 512 (McIntosh)/ SB 302 (Conway)

a) Imposes an additional state property tax of $0.02 per $100 of assessed value for most property and $0.05 per $100 of assessed value for operating real property of a public utility

b) About $130.7 million in new taxes expected in the first year



– HB 338 (Cardin, et al)

a) Imposes a $100 surcharge on the sale of any residential heating or cooling system other than an energy-efficient heating or cooling system or solar energy property


Building Excise Tax

- HB 663 (Barve, et al)

a) Authorizes municipalities to impose building excise taxes – in addition to the building excise taxes already imposed by counties


Fertilizer Application Impact Fee

- HB 466 (Kullen)

a) Requires that homeowners pay a new fee of 10% of the total cost of applying fertilizer to residential land


Recordation Tax Increase

- HB 260 (Kaiser, et al)/ SB 559 (Madaleno, et al)

a) Would subject indemnity mortgages to the recordation tax

b) Montgomery County expects $30 million in taxes, a 30% increase over current collections

c) Harford County expects $750,000 in taxes, a 4% increase over current collections

d) Other counties still calculating their specific increase

Health Care-Related Taxes


Health Insurance Premium Tax

– HB 1093 (Morhaim)

a) 50% increase in the health insurance premium tax from 2% to 3%

b) Additional $20.3 million in taxes in the first year


Mandatory Employer-Provided Health Insurance

– HB 1540 (Benson, et al)

a) Mandates that employers provide health insurance coverage at an expense to the employer of at least 7.5% of wages paid to employees

b) In the alternative, the employer will be required to pay into the state’s Health Trust Fund


Teeth Whitening Tax

– HB 614 (Ali)

a) Applies the 6% sales tax to teeth whitening services


Laser Eye Surgery Tax

– HB 614 (Ali)

a) Applies the 6% sales tax to laser eye surgery


Breast Reduction or Augmentation Tax

– HB 614 (Ali)

a) Applies the 6% sales tax to breast reduction or augmentation services


Rhinoplasty Tax

– HB 614 (Ali)

a) Applies the 6% sales tax to rhinoplasty surgery


Face Lift Tax

– HB 614 (Ali)

a) Applies the 6% sales tax to face lift surgery


Liposuction Tax

– HB 614 (Ali)

a) Applies the 6% sales tax to liposuction surgery


Gastric Bypass Surgery Tax

– HB 614 (Ali)

a) Applies the 6% sales tax to gastric bypass surgery


Laser Hair Removal Tax

– HB 614 (Ali)

a) Applies the 6% sales tax to laser hair removal services


Tanning Services Tax

– HB 250 (Morhaim, et al)

a) Applies the 6% sales tax to tanning services

b) About $545,600 in new tax revenue is expected in the first year


Tattooing Tax

– HB 614 (Ali)

a) Applies the 6% sales tax to tattooing services


Body Piercing Tax

– HB 614 (Ali)

a) Applies the 6% sales tax to body piercing services

Business-Related Taxes


Mixed Martial Arts Tax

– HB 795 (Reznik, et al)/ SB 649 (Conway)

a) Imposes a new mixed martial arts license fee of $10 per participant, $15 per judge, and $25 per manager per year

b) Imposes a new tax on mixed martial arts admission fees of $200 or 10% of gross receipts, whichever is greater

c) Imposes a new tax on mixed martial arts television charges of 10% of gross receipts


Unused Gift Card Assessment

– HB 613 (Pena-Melnyk, et al)/ SB 998 (Pugh and Harrington)

a) Requires companies to pay unused gift certificate and gift card balances to the state government

b) About $5.7 million to be collected by the government in 2009 and $55.7 million anticipated by 2013


Commercial Bank Fee Increases

– HB 752 (Chair, Economic Matters Committee)

a) Substantially increases fees imposed on commercial banks, including a 1000% fee increase on a new commercial bank charter examination from $1,500 to $15,000


Clean Air Permit Fee Increase

– SB 442 (Frosh, et al)

a) Doubles the maximum clean air permit fee from $25 to $50 per ton

b) More than doubles the maximum fee for a single source from $200,000 to $500,000 and in 2010 would remove the maximum fee for a single source altogether


Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fee

– HB 712 (Barve, et al)/ SB 309 (Pinsky, et al)

a) Authorizes a greenhouse gas emissions fee with a maximum fee of four-cents per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted

Thursday, April 17, 2008

To My 26-Year-Old Friends (and those a wee bit older and younger)

You need to read this article. It's about how you can have a million dollars socked away by retirement by saving for only one year. Pretty impressive, if you can make the lifestyle adjustment.

Even at 26, we still feel like we are just starting out in life, but, as the article says, this is absolutely the prime time to start saving money. It will grow SO MUCH over time. Think about this: if you save the money you would have spent on a week-long vacation in Cancun this summer, by the time you retire, that money could BUY A SUMMER HOME in Cancun.

I'm not saying to save ALL your money and live like a hermit, but wouldn't you rather be able to quit working in 40 years entirely and just have FUN for the rest of your life? Those are the kind of things a lot of us 26-yr-olds don't (want to) think about. You don't want to have to have a job when you're 60 do you?? Just saying.

A few easy ways I save (and I know this is a reiteration of a previous post, but it bears repeating):

Every time I sell something on Etsy, I transfer that money directly into my savings account. It's "free" money. I won't miss it.

When I get a bonus at work, it goes right into the savings account. Again, it's extra, so I won't miss it.

If I resist my urge to buy something I really don't need (like an expensive dinner out), I take the money I would have spent and transfer it to my savings account. I normally would have spent it, so I still take it out of my checking account. But now it goes into savings, and I still have it, AND I'm earning interest on it.

Obviously, this is just a savings account. I'm a long way from maxing out my 401(k) contributions or even starting an IRA. But I am thinking about it and starting to put long-term practices into place.

Just sayin.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Admit to and Relish in . . .

...the irony that is posting this link.

Great article, though. I have nothing to add.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Death to Stuffed Animals??

Read the article first: "Death to Stuffed Animals" by Emily Bazelon

Wow. I don't know if I was especially affected by this article because I make stuffed animals, but something about this makes me think Emily Bazelon is the one without the soul. She advocates parents replacing traditional stuffed animals with Webkinz, an online application wherein your stuffed animal actually "lives." If I have this straight, the child has the actual stuffed animal at home with you, but its "soul" lives in your computer. Therefore, if the actual toy is lost or destroyed, it can easily be replaced and still be . . . the same stuffed animal. This will alleviate all the parental headaches that come when a child loses an inanimate object to which s/he was attached.

Are you kidding me? That's so wrong on every level. The first problem is that the online "world" would seem to all but eliminate any imagination on the part of the child to impart life into the stuffed animal. Yes, stuffed animals are inanimate objects. No, they are not alive. No, they do not have actual souls. But the child's love and imagination are what impart those characteristics onto the stuffed animal. Goddammit, I'm in the Velveteen Rabbit camp!

The second problem is that you're taking away from your child valuable lessons about loss. Yes, it's going to be a disaster when they lose their favorite teddy bear. But it's a step towards maturity so it will be less of a disaster when they lose their favorite dog. Then their favorite grandparent.

A child's attachment to and love for a toy is a wholesome, natural, beautiful thing. Trying to co-opt that notion into an online application is utterly soulless.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

On Fashion

(I wish I had more pictures to sprinkle into this blog, but for most of it, you'll have to just use your imagination.)

Let's go back to the beginning first. This is not a fashion picture (obviously - look at that hat!), but it will help take you back to a long time ago . . .

When I was a kid, my mother would not spend a lot of money on clothes for my brother and me. We would shop at places like C-Mart (a discounted department store overstock warehouse), K-Mart, and Goodwill. I also received a lot of handmedowns from a family friend. I was absolutely mortified to have to buy my blue jeans at Goodwill and wear sweaters that had been owned by someone else, so I kept these secrets close to my (thrifted) vest.

We were not a "poor" family by any means. My mother was (and still is) a very thrifty person, and chose to spend our family's money on other, more valuable and lasting things, such as taking a family vacation to a new place every summer. As an adult, I cannot fault her for this at all. As a kid, though, I have to admit that I was pretty bitter. I was the only girl on the basketball team without white umbro shorts (I wore cut-off white sweatpants--handmedown), and my "pump" sneakers were off-brand, from Payless. I didn't get to have a "poet blouse" like the popular girls at North Harford Middle School until I got one for my 12th birthday, and they were already out of style. I wore it to please my mom, but I was secretly embarrassed to be so late.

As a kid from elementary school up through the beginning of high school, my "style" was essentially to cobble together what I had into something that didn't suck. Thank god for the thick skin that artsy, weird kids are forced to grow. One of my favorite things to wear when I was 7 or 8 were extraordinarily loud bermuda shorts with solid color t-shirts. I remember being teased because I dressed like a boy. In fact, one my most vivid early memories is that I was in the bathroom at Hickory Elementary (I was probably 7 years old) and I heard a girl outside the stall gasp and say, "There's a boy in here!" She'd seen my shoes (knock-off Chuck Taylors, black rubber with navy canvas) and thought I was a boy. Another girl corrected her snidely, "Oh no, that's just Elly Zupko." That ended my early tomboy phase really quickly.

By the time I got to high school, I started to try to own my weirdness. I was no longer concerned with looking like the other girls; I realized that the pieces I was finding at Goodwill or got as handmedowns were unique, and could afford me a unique look. Being fairly shy, I realized I could stand out and be noticed (whether in a good or bad way) through my appearance. I was also starting to have a little bit of money, so I could buy strategic new pieces to liven up the other stuff. I think my greatest fashion moment to date was when my mother offered to go halfsies with me on my first pair of Dr. Marten's boots, a pair of 1460s in brown leather. They were $140 (I got ripped off; I know), so the contribution on my mother's part was huge, and I will never forget it. I think the first time I wore those shoes was the first time I ever really felt cool.

My fashion through high school (I still cringe to deign to call it "fashion") largely fell into two camps: one was wearing vintage t-shirts with jeans or cordoroy pants and my Docs. I still hold fast to the notion that I started the vintage t-shirt craze. I got a couple cool foreign t-shirts from my grandfather's trips to Hong Kong, got weird old stuff in my handmedown bags (huge trash bags full of clothes, brought home by my dad after church), and revisited old clothes from childhood that had been packed away. My brother made constant fun of me when I ransacked a box full of striped polo shirts that he'd worn in elementary school. I thought they were awesome, and they made my boobs look great, lol. I grabbed a couple of old oxfords from my grandfather's wardrobe (which were huge, but I thought looked cool with jeans). I also started wearing my middle school gym uniform shirt to class, and I thought that made me the coolest person ever. Take that This picture is from college, but I am wearing one of those Hong Kong tees here (please, please, please ignore the hair):

The second camp was "old lady clothes." This particular term came from Jim, my boyfriend at the end of high school through college. This "fashion" came from me actively trying to be more feminine during my later high school years. I'd finally figured out what to do with my wild terrible hair, and started plucking my eyebrows. My braces were off, and I was kind of exiting my awkward phase. The jeans and boots got replaced with skirts and loafers, and I started wearing a lot of cardigan sweaters. I still wore the vintage shirts. This feminine look proved to be short-lived. I was still a tomboy at heart.

Another of my great fashion moments, when I really felt like I was "sticking it to the man" was Prom. I had (miraculously) been voted onto Prom Court with 9 other girls (I still can't really figure out how that happened, except that maybe the nerds united behind me). I wanted to do something pretty daring to stand out, so I found an amazing dress that had a denim bodice and a huge ball gown skirt. Who wears denim to Prom? Me, baby! I almost didn't buy it, because it was $200, but my big sister offered to go halfsies with me because she thought I HAD to have it. The kicker was that I also bought blue hair color and sprayed the back of my updo blue. Take that, popular girls. I didn't win Prom Queen (duh) but I sure felt like one that night. This is the best pic I have handy of the dress (holy crap was I skinny):

College proved to be a big change for me, fashion-wise. This was in large part due to Jim. Jim was fairly fashionable, and also spent what I considered to be a substantial amount of his money on clothes. He was brought up differently, and spent money on material things like nice clothes and a nice car, etc. This wasn't wrong, just different. He encouraged me to buy new things and to expand my wardrobe into things I actually wanted--not just clothes I happened across. It was because of him that I bought my FIRST pair of NEW blue jeans (which were $50!!!!!) but fit like a dream. Jim was also into the rave scene and got me into it, so my look started to head in that direction: industrial, boxy cuts on the bottom (like UFO pants), with fitted tops, and crazy bright accessories.
In college, I used to wear so many plastic and rubber bracelets that they went halfway up my forearms. I wore these every day. I also put glow-in-the-dark glitter on my black patent leather Docs and laced them with Spongebob Squarepants laces. I started to get piercings and started stretching my ears. I did crazy things to my hair. It was college. I was . . . branching out . . . Morbidly unflattering pictorial examples I happen to have handy:

(yes, that's Joel Madden; notice the candy necklace and horrible dye job on me).
I also started hanging out quite a bit at Club Orpheus in downtown Baltimore, because they played good dance music, so my style skewed a bit goth-industrial, too. Here's an embarrassing outfit for you (I was home from college, about to hit the mall with my brother, who had started to wear my grandfather's oxford shirts that I'd left behind, hahaha) That's a Goucher lanyard sticking out of my pocket. Gopher pride!

After I graduated college, fashion was just about a non-issue for me. I worked at a job in a basement where the only person I ever saw was my boss, so I certainly didn't dress for the office. And I also had the just-out-of-college-and-I'm-poor blues, so clothes were not at the top of my to-buy list. After that, I had the "my boyfriend spends all my money and I've been buying too much stupid shit on eBay like Sheena Queen of the Jungle comic books and I'm poor" blues, so I still did not buy a lot of clothes. When I did shop, I bought double-duty pieces I could wear to the office (I got a "real job") and as casualwear. For a woman, I owned very few pairs of shoes and almost no accessories.

Also, due to things going on in my life, my self-esteem plummeted. I felt it easier to wear things that drew little attention. Lots of black made it easier for me to blend in. I didn't want to be noticed and didn't really care what I looked like. I felt like I was back in elementary school again, getting by with what I had and trying to pretend that fashion didn't matter--it's what's on the INSIDE that counts. Working in an office full of women made it really hard. They never overtly judged my appearance, but it was always the lowest rank on my performance review, and I got teased more than once about wearing all black, all the time (for a while, I only bought black clothes because I knew they would match all the other black clothes I already owned). Here's one of my traditional office outfits--black and gray (though I did rock the pirate skull headband, just for some funkiness):

Despite how happy I look in the picture above, which is out of context (the outfit is just an example), that period of my life was a low-point, both fashion-wise, but on a much deeper level as well. I guess I hadn't realized until now how what was going on inside was really manifesting itself on the outside.

Anyway, now, very very recently, I've finally gotten back into the fashion groove. I can't pinpoint exactly what it was . . . No, wait, I can. My boyfriend Chris (happily pictured above) told me that he liked me best in feminine clothing (skirts and blouses and cute shoes, etc.).

**Okay, I'd like to stop at this moment and address the obvious. Yes, it seems that what I wear has been largely influenced by the men in my life. I am aware that some feminists will jump out of their chairs in rage at this. But you're missing the point. 1) I am never going to wear something I don't like or am uncomfortable in to please a man. 2) I like to look sexy and attractive for my mate, just as I expect him to want to look sexy and attractive for me. 3) I am open to trying all sorts of new things, especially things that I might not have thought of on my own, so if someone (whether it be a boyfriend or someone else) says to me, "Hey you look good in [whatever]" I'll probably try it. If I look good, I might try more stuff like it. This is how style evolves. 4) I still wear stuff that I like and only I like; I just may not wear it out on a date with my boyfriend, just like I wouldn't wear certain things to the office or certain things to a rock concert. 5) I'm not wearing this stuff to please my man. I'm wearing some of it in some cases because he pointed out it looked good, and I happened to agree.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog.**

In light of his comments, I realized that so much of my wardrobe was leftover from a time when I didn't care too much about what I looked like, and that a lot of the pieces were ill-fitting, outdated, drab, or just boring. I was wearing what I had, not what looked good. I also realized that when I wear clothing that fits well, is brightly colored, and is well-taken care of, I feel much more confident. Therefore, I walk taller, look better, smile more, act more comfortably--and people notice that. I feel better, I look better; it's a win-win situation. I've realized that fashion is not shallow, and wanting to look good and dress well is not a sign that I have no substance underneath (as I might have argued when I was 15 and awkward).

The other thing that happened is that I discovered Wardrobe Remix, a group on Flickr. Purely based on appearance, this is one of the most creative, daring, fashionable, and cool groups of women (and some men, too!) I've ever "met." Through their outfits, store listings, and other tips, I've been truly inspired in the way I dress. I'm accessorizing more, little by little, and buying more daring pieces that two years ago I never would have worn. I'm also back to shopping at Goodwill almost exclusively, because now I feel like I truly appreciate it. Not only can I save a ton of money (which is important, now that I'm really an adult), but, as I knew in high school, I can find unique things that set me apart from everyone else. In addition, it's sustainable (good for the earth!), I'm not contributing to the Wal-Martization of the world, and the money I spend goes to a good cause. What could be better??

Flash forward to today: I'm wearing an "old lady outfit." This is something I would have felt completely uncomfortable in two years ago. It's brightly colored and ultra-feminine. (For reference, I know exactly what I was wearing almost exactly two years ago, when I met Chris, the love of my life: a pair of baggy blue jeans, a black tank top, and a black zip sweatshirt--boring, boring, boring. Thank goodness he could see past my fashion-less exterior and fall in love with me anyway. I was dressed like I wanted to blend into the background. I was dressed like I felt inside. As I said before, it was a low-point. Meeting Chris that night changed all that.)
The way I look AND feel today is decidedly non-depressing. As my depressing, all-black outfits of years ago were an outward manifestation of how I felt inside, I think the bright colors and coordination of this outfit are a manifestation of how I feel inside now. I'm happy. I'm spunky. I'm bright. It's an awesome way to feel. :)
(And btw, this entire outfit, from head to toe, cost $28.50.)