Sunday, February 17, 2013

Consumer Confidence in Available Products

For years I searched for a body wash (or soap in general) that did not irritate my skin. Not too long ago, I came across Dove Men Sensitive Clean Body and Face Wash. It was great…and by “was,” I mean Dove recently discontinued it based on, so they say, consumer demand. Frankly, I do not understand how this could be as I often had trouble finding it in stock. Either consumer demand was not the problem, or they had issues with their marketing, product placement and/or distribution.

Concerning the prospect of its discontinuance, this was Dove’s congenial response to my inquiry:

Thank you for contacting us regarding Dove Men Sensitive Clean Body and Face Wash.
The product you have contacted us about has been discontinued. Our company's goal is to provide consumers with a variety of products to meet their needs and preferences. As you may know, marketing is a complex function, and many business factors are taken into consideration before discontinuing a product. It truly saddens us when we must discontinue a product. However, consumer demand is a major factor. When the level of demand is insufficient to ensure that consumers receive high quality products at an affordable price, the product will likely be discontinued. We apologize that this product is no longer available and we are sending you a complimentary coupon which we hope you will use to enjoy one of the other fine products we offer. We will forward your comments to the appropriate staff.

Due to this situation, I, like Elaine in the Seinfeld episode, “The Sponge,” must attempt to stockpile and hoard body wash before it can no longer be found. In my case, showering will be deemed body wash worthy on a day-to-day basis.

Of course, there is a bigger issue here. Product lines have become so diversified that they have saturated and overstrained the market in pursuit of the bottom line. Take a sampling of the soap, shampoo and lotion aisle, and good luck finding good-ol’ “soap,” “shampoo” and “lotion.” The need for “sensitive skin” formulas (most of which are just the essential basics) for many of these products highlights the downside of this modern trend:  a once simple daily necessity, buried in damaging ingredients forced upon consumers. The fact that entire aisles are dedicated to them is another; is there little wonder in the need for warehouse grocery chains? Though a few still survive, the “mom-and-pop” stores of yesteryear could no longer exist for the mere lack of shelf space.

If anyone needs a complimentary coupon, I will have no need for it.

©2013 Steve Sagarra

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Obamacare's Individual Mandate & You

Passed in 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) established the level of health care coverage an individual needs to have in order to meet the “minimum essential coverage.” This is the so-called, and controversial, individual mandate, with Health Insurance Exchanges making certain that people have the proper coverage as set by the law. Perhaps an oversimplification, but the HIE are designed basically as the government's insurance brokers. The legislation left it up to individual states to establish them, which several states, like Missouri, rejected because it would cost millions to the states (i.e., taxpayers) and preferring to leave it to the free-market and private insurance. As pointed out numerous times, there is no funding for the HIE in the legislation at the federal level and, given current economic conditions, the federal government does not have the financing to establish them.

As some have argued, legislative rejection by certain states, including Missouri, is simply token because if the federal government did have the money federal law trumps state law. This, of course, in and of itself – federal vs. states’ rights – is another argument; 152 years ago, the United States erupted into a Civil War over the issue. The fact that one meets the minimum coverage requirement exempts them from the euphemistically-named “shared responsibility payment” (i.e., the individual mandate tax/penalty…but we're not calling it that, even though both terms have been applied and interchanged by politicians and the Supreme Court). The fact that states like Missouri passed legislation rejecting establishing HIE theoretically exempts all residents of those states – no matter if they have coverage or not, or whether it's token or not – because there's no enforcement of the mandate at the federal level both legally and monetarily.

Yes, the Internal Revenue Service – tasked with collecting the “shared responsibility payment” – will seek payment by way of your federal tax return, but you can refuse to pay without penalty. And there’s the rub. Though “assessed and collected in the same manner as an assessable penalty,” the IRS’ Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Public Hearing addressing the individual mandate expressly states, “taxpayer may not be subject to criminal prosecution or penalty failing to pay.” (p. 16) As the Supreme Court even stated in its majority ruling upholding Obamacare, citizens cannot be taxed or penalized for non-participation in commerce. For many, there is no doubt a sentiment that the government can collect it the same time they pry the Second Amendment and guns from their cold, dead hands. Of course, there are numerous exemptions to the mandate, including:  “individual is neither a citizen or national of the United States nor an alien lawfully present in the United States”; “individual is incarcerated”; “individual is exempt for a month that...has in effect a religious conscience exemption certification”; and “a taxpayer may claim any of these exemptions on the taxpayer's Federal income tax return for the taxable year.”

Addressing requirements for meeting the minimum essential coverage, one in particular should raise the ire of subjected citizens:  “an individual who resides abroad for an entire calendar year is treated as having minimum essential coverage for each month of that calendar year regardless of whether the individual has health coverage of any type.” (p. 15) Much like drone strikes, the same principles that apply to the average American citizen apparently do not for those living overseas; how many will start looking elsewhere to live? Conceivably, we even could see an increase in children put up for adoption, as “a taxpayer who is entitled to claim a child as a dependent…places the child for adoption during the year, the taxpayer is not liable for a shared responsibility payment attributable to the child for the months after the adoption.” (p. 17)  How many dire and negligent parents do you think would willingly divest themselves of a child in order to avoid paying? If you’re questioning that statement and shaking your head no, congratulations to you on having a very positive, albeit na├»ve, opinion of humanity.

For all the nonsense, there is one minor silver lining:  “These regulations are proposed to apply for months beginning after December 31, 2013.” (p. 37) Huzzah!

Read the full IRS notice -

©2013 Steve Sagarra