Category Archives: Diaries & Misc.

New Law Will Protect Low-Wage Earners from Debt Collectors

by Jessica Bartholow

The fight for fifteen is no longer just a slogan, or a hashtag. It is now the law in an increasing number of California cities and will soon be a checkbox on our ballots. And, in January, California will have the highest minimum wage in the nation. As the most prosperous state in the country, with one of the highest rates of income inequality, it is only right that we should.

But, for some minimum wage workers who have been consumed by debt, either because they have lived lifetimes in poverty or because they became newly poor during the recession, the increasing wage offers little relief. This is because existing state law allows a low-income worker to be garnished at the maximum rate of 25% when they earn more than the state minimum wage.  As a result, workers earning $12 an hour because of a local minimum wage (for example) can be subject to a $3 an hour garnishment – making their take-home pay no more than it was before the local initiative raised the wage.

This 100% taking from workers earning higher minimum wages undermines not only workers, but also local decision making.  Low-income workers want to honor and pay back their debts like everyone else, but a 100% taking on these earnings discourages work and contributes to poverty among working families, putting life essentials – food, rent, utilities – out of reach. When low-income workers’ wages are garnished, they often face more severe setbacks, losing their assets and falling into further debt to credit card companies or predatory lenders. A new report by ProPublica shows how this kind of aggressive debt collection not only hurts low-income workers, but also low-income communities, especially black communities.

On July 1, 2016, these workers and their communities will see some relief. That’s the day that SB 501, a new law authored by Senator Bob Wieckowski, goes into effect.

SB 501 makes important changes to California’s wage garnishment law.

  • SB 501 Honors Local Minimum Wage Ordinances: Current law ties the garnishment calculation to the state minimum wage. SB 501 ties the garnishment calculation to the state minimum wage unless there is a local minimum wage ordinance that is higher. As of July 1, 2016, workers cannot be garnished until their paycheck is higher than the amount someone would earn working full-time at the local minimum wage.
  • SB 501 Graduates the Garnishment Rate: As of July 1, 2016, the garnishment rate will be tapered so people who earn less than twice the supplemental poverty rate for a family of three pay less in garnishment, and workers who are the poorest pay the lowest rates of garnishment.
  • Government Debt Not Included in SB 501: SB 501 does not reduce garnishment rates paid on child support or tax debt.

As we continue to build toward more equitable wages and workplace policies, I look forward to also continuing to lightening the burden of debt carried by workers who have been undermined by low-wages for far too long. We will need to do both, improve wages and reduce debt, if we are going to win an economy built on shared prosperity. For more information about this new law and how it will impact your clients or constituents, contact Jessica Bartholow at or click here.

These California Democrats voted for the Republican Syrian Refugee Bill

At sunset, a group of mostly Syrian refugees arrive on Greek island of Lesvos after crossing from Turkey. Image from UNHCR.

The House passed the so-called “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act”, which doesn’t actually protect Americans. Rather, it just makes the process of resettling refugees even more cumbersome than the already lengthy process. Some would say that we [should have learned our lesson 60 years ago], but apparently we have not.

However, just to add insult to injury, these Democrats joined a total of 47 Democrats and their Republican colleagues to create the possibility of a veto override. (H/t to this dKos diary)

Pete Aguilar (CA-31)
Ami Bera (CA-07)
Julia Brownley (CA-26)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
John Garamendi (CA-03)
Janice Hahn (CA-44)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)

By way of explanation, Rep. Garamendi released this statement:

“This bill strengthens the already stringent requirements for international refugees entering America,” said Congressman Garamendi. “But strengthening the refugee program is a minor part of the reassessment we must make in the wake of the Paris attacks. For those wishing to come to America to do harm, the refugee program is the least likely way to get in and the most likely way to get caught. Of the millions of displaced Syrians, only around 2,200 have been admitted to the United States as refugees, and for a good reason: applicants are vetted through biometric and biographic checks for at least 18 months by every major American national security and law enforcement agency before they even set foot on American soil. Anyone whose identity and story cannot be precisely confirmed is not admitted to our country. Once they gain admission to the United States, their status is periodically reviewed by state and federal law enforcement.

So, this doesn’t actually help keep us safe, but we should do it anyway in a time of great humanitarian need. The United States, given the destabilizing effect our involvement in Iraq has been to the entire Middle East, has a special humanitarian obligation. And now we are doing our best to walk away from our obligations.

UPDATE: Rep. Garamendi has since posted this statement. Here’s an excerpt, but you should read it in full:

The bill I voted for, H.R. 4038, by my reading (and I encourage everyone reading this to read the bill too), does the following:

  1. It requires the heads of the agencies responsible for vetting refugees – the Homeland Security Secretary, the FBI Director, and the Director of National Intelligence specifically – after the existing thorough (and unchanged) background checks are conducted, to certify that refugee applicants don’t pose a threat to the United States before being granted refugee status.
  2. It requires a review and periodic reports on our refugee program to the appropriate Congressional committees.

That’s literally the entire bill. There’s no talk of pausing or rejecting refugees, no matter how many headlines say otherwise.


A Few Chats on the Radio About Legislation

I’ll be talking on the airwaves about some of California’s progressive legislation

by Brian Leubitz

Governor Brown has been pretty busy recently signing a slew of legislation (as well as vetoing a few bills). At 10 on Friday Morning on KALW’s Your Call, I’ll be talking about some of that legislation with Rose Aguilar and a couple of other panelists to discuss the week in the media.

I also appeared on KPFK’s Uprising Radio with Sonali Kolhatkar this morning. You can listen to that segment here. I would also suggest that you review the long strange anti-union cost-cutting measures that will see a reduction in the long-term stability of KPFK, Pacifica Radio, and the Uprising show.

Let’s talk legislation!

Governor Vetoes AB 465 Banning Mandatory Employment Arbitration

Bill by Asm. Roger Hernandez would have blocked most mandatory arbitration provisions in employment contracts

by Brian Leubitz

When I was 15, I got my first real job. I was a bagging clerk in a grocery store hired just before the Thanksgiving rush. I thought the tips for carrying bags out to the car were amazing. In my first shift, I made just under $5/hour from my employer, and about the same in tips. I was over the moon.

What I wasn’t thinking about was that contract I just signed. I had gone to the nearest employer that would hire a 15-year-old, the grocery store down the street, and filled out their form. After a brief interview, I signed whatever paperwork they gave me and I was on my way to go put some stuffing in a plastic bag. There are few circumstances where one party has a greater power imbalance than an employment contract. I wanted the job, and I probably would have signed anything. (Sorry Kyle Broflovski).

I bring this up because on Sunday, the governor vetoed AB 465, which would have gone a long way towards addressing this imbalance of power:

Assembly Bill 465 would require that any employer enforcing an arbitration agreement would need to prove that the employee knowingly and voluntarily approved the document, and it was not required to get their job. (SacBizJournal)

Now, the Governor did have some good points about the Federal Arbitration Act and the jurisprudence surrounding it in his veto message. It is complicated and there are some attempts in California at leveling the playing field for arbitration. But the Supreme Court has given it a hallowed place. Why? Well, businesses love it, of course.

But the underlying problem remains, businesses have all the power, and choose to insert these clauses for a reason. They have familiarity with the process and can control outcomes more. Maybe AB 465 needs some seasoning and clarity surrounding the jurisprudence, but this protection would be a big benefit for workers.

Calitics Transitions

by Brian Leubitz

In August 2005, I worked with a number of amazing folks to push forward a community blog about California politics. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but it allowed as many people as cared to get together to talk about progressive politics, goals for organizing, and a few unrelated topics as well. And we had a great team to build the site over the years, just to name a few: Dante Atkins, Robert Cruickshank, David Dayen, Lucas O’Connor, Julia Rosen Chaplin, and Jeremy Woodburn.

Over 15,000 posts, and nearly 50,000 comments, later, it is time for a change. Soapblox, the software provider behind Calitics for the past ten years, is shutting down. The software, originally developed by Paul Preston and then very capably managed by the good folks at Warecorp, was critical to the development of this site and many other progressive community blogs. (Take a peek at the Hillbilly Report’s recap of the recent history of Soapblox)

So, over the weekend, this site will be transitioning to WordPress. (Or if you are reading this, it has already switched over.) All posts, comments, and user data will be preserved, but links may change. Fortunately, wordpress and google will be able to search if you are looking for something back in the archive. User information should remain, but you may need to reset your password if you would like to log in.

And as you have probably noticed, I’ve sort of taken a hiatus from the task of day to day blogging. I’ve been busy with a range of projects, which initially made it hard to keep up my writing. But the greater issue is that once you get out of the daily rhythm of writing and doing all the other tasks of maintaining a site like this, it becomes hard to return to it. I don’t plan on this being the end of Calitics, but it will be a different type of site. Going forward I’ll do a bit of writing on Calitics, but if anybody else wants to help guide Calitics going forward, send me an email (brian AT I’d love to chat with you.

At any rate, keep watching the Calitics Twitter feed and Calitics facebook page for more information. I plan on keeping those updated and posting some thoughts on the state of California politics every now and then.



Stopping the “Death Clock”

Over the course of a career, firefighters are relentlessly exposed to a hellish mix of toxins. These exposures put firefighters at a substantially greater risk of getting cancer — a reality documented in more than 80 peer-reviewed medical studies. Law enforcement officers – regularly exposed to toxins and often without breathing apparatus – pay a similarly heavy price.

Sacrificing your life to slow-motion poisoning from job-related exposure isn’t as dramatic as dying in a fiery instant, but for firefighters and police officers, it is every bit as noble and heroic.

For their families, time is especially important. Every day spent fighting for life is also another day with the family … another day with the hope of a cure. While they fight, stricken officers have the comfort of knowing that, should they die, their survivors will enjoy a modest safeguard in the form of workers’ comp death benefits.

But, believe it or not, those safeguards come with an expiration date.  

Because of a provision created in 1913, a firefighter or police officer stricken with job-related diseases must die within 240 weeks of his or her diagnosis in order for survivors to qualify for the death benefit. If a stricken officer lives one day longer than 240 weeks, their spouses and children lose out.

Closing this cruel loophole is at the heart of Assembly Bill 1373, Assembly Speaker John Perez’s measure that won overwhelming bipartisan approval in the Legislature last week.  AB 1373 narrowly modifies this 100-year-old “death clock”, extending the cutoff to 480 weeks while ensuring that the benefit goes to immediate dependents.

Sadly, a lot of active firefighters and police officers who are diagnosed with job-caused illnesses don’t get to test that limit – they die before it hits. But in the relatively few cases where modern medicine extends life, this outdated limit imposes a heartbreaking penalty on the survivors.

Last year, in the midst of a heated ballot campaign and under intense lobbying by special interests like the League of California Cities, Governor Brown vetoed similar legislation, citing its potential cost. With those concerns addressed, AB 1373 is back on the governor’s desk.

If you have just a minute, please go to this page to watch a short video and, if you’re so inclined, sign a petition urging the governor to sign AB 1373.

The Senate and Assembly votes to approve AB 1373 were overwhelming and bipartisan. Supporters included the full spectrum – from “fiscal wonks” to “big spenders.”  They understood that it’s not about unions, or firefighters, or police officers. It’s about families who shouldn’t be punished because their loved one didn’t die fast enough.

With more than half a decade of public safety downsizing under our belts, California first responders are no strangers to the tight budget times. But with or without the cost figures, basic humanity suggests that spouses and children shouldn’t be forced to pay a penalty for hoping that a loved one stays around a little longer.

Please urge Gov. Brown to sign AB 1373.

175 Chickens in 1 Minute?!

You’d think the USDA would see the flaw of logic in letting the people who make the food inspect the food and decide if it is actually safe to eat.

The USDA has decided in its infinite wisdom, despite pink slime and a few other debacles of the food industry, to test a program allowing chicken companies to check their own livestock and decide whether or not the chickens are safe to eat.

The USDA claims this will save them tens of millions of dollars.

Well, USDA, I can save you even more. If you’re going to let the chicken companies inspect their own chickens, just trash the whole program, because I guarantee you they will decide “ALL of our chickens are safe!”

At some point, you would hope someone at the USDA (and I looked it up, there are over 100,000 employees there) would have raised their hand and pointed out the glaringly obvious: “Uh, since these guys are selling us chicken/beef/fish/whatever, don’t you think they are going to say that everything they’re selling is safe?”

Ideally, another person (we’re up to 2 out of 100,000–a push perhaps, but I woke up optimistic this morning) would have seconded the first person’s statement and then, just maybe, we could have our food actually inspected before we eat it.

Which, I will point out to the USDA and its 100,000 employees, is generally considered to be their core job.

And it gets worse.

Right now, the USDA inspectors (who are independent, don’t work for the chicken companies, and aren’t driven by chicken company profits for holiday bonuses) inspect 35 chickens a minute for lovely things like bile, feces and random spare parts that got through processing.

That’s a chicken every two seconds.

Should you so desire, take two seconds to inspect the next chicken you see at the store. It’s really not a lot of time, but with some practice you could get pretty good at it–which is a nice thought because you are essentially performing the task that stands between me eating a relatively clean chicken or a feces- and bile-covered chicken. (There is a difference, Mr. USDA, trust me on this one.)

Well, under this new program, the chicken companies will rubber stamp–er, I mean inspect 175 chickens a minute. 175! That’s just under three chickens a second.

Are you thinking, “Wait a minute, 175 chickens a minute? That’s impossible!” Well congratulations–you are now ahead of 100,000 USDA employees in the class on food safety.

I have a little test for you and the USDA: if you can even count to 175 in sixty seconds, I might reconsider my opposition.

If you can’t, you need to sign this petition, share it with the world, put it up on Facebook.

Even better, if you know anyone at the USDA, send it to them and ask them to see what they can do for you, for me, and for everyone who prefers their chickens to be properly inspected, let alone inspected at all.

This post originally appeared at HandPicked Nation.

On Being Bumped, Or, Let’s Have Another Roundup

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So I thought I was going to have another Jay Inslee story for y’all today, but it turns out that I’m going to have to do more research before we can “come to press” with that one.

But that’s OK, because the world’s been busy doing a lot of other things – and while many of them get media coverage, some don’t get a lot of notice at all.

And of course, there are also those stories that look one way at first glance…but look a lot different when you dig a bit deeper.

We’ll hit a few of those today, have a bit of fun doing it, and get ready for what promises to be another busy week of strategically not doing things in Washington.

To make things even better, some of the stories will be real, and some won’t.

We’ll see if you can tell the difference.

Wat baten kaars en bril, als den uil niet zienen wil?

(“What use are candle and glasses, if the owl does not want to see?”)

–Traditional Dutch saying quoted in Peter Tate’s book Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend, and Superstition

Let’s begin by closing out some business from our last story: I mentioned that I received a parking ticket from Seattle Parking Enforcement Office J. Hell, on Republican Street, while attending an event hosted by a Democratic candidate for Governor, and I suspect that some of you think I made all that up.

For proof, I was going to copy the ticket and post it for folks to see…but, instead, check this out: Officer Hell actually made the “Seattle Times” back in June, and you can see her hard at work in that story booting a car, which Seattle does after four unpaid parking tickets.

And now, on to the new business:

Have you seen the Viagra commercial where the guy is driving his horse trailer, and it gets stuck in the mud, and he uses the horses to pull himself out?

Well, think about it just a minute: he’s a guy, and he already has a great big pickup truck, a cowboy hat, and horses…which he’s actually using to pull his great big pickup truck…and you’re telling me he doesn’t already have a boner?

If he can’t achieve an erection at that point, what the hell good is Viagra gonna do?

And speaking of erecting new things…

In what I consider to be one of the best things to happen to politics (and the financing of television productions) in years, Stephen Colbert has been given permission to form his own SuperPAC.

Colbert indicates that he intends to use any money donated to the PAC to produce certain campaign commercials, among other things – but according to the FEC advisory opinion, he is not allowed to expend any of his unlimited corporate contributions to run another effort like 2008’s “Hail to the Cheese” Campaign, which was intended to merge corporate money and politics in an obvious and highly visible way.

By the way, that FEC advisory opinion is available for viewing, if you’re so inclined – and in a most fascinating footnote, it unintentionally explains the existence of Fox News as a legitimate press entity:

A news story, commentary, or editorial that lacks objectivity or is satirical can still be considered part of a press entity’s legitimate press function, even if that news story, commentary, or editorial expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for Federal office.

And speaking of unlimited corporate money…

Monaco was the location of a Royal Wedding this weekend, with Monaco’s Prince Albert, resplendent in his military uniform, taking up the role of groom.

Military uniform?



As it turns out, tiny little Monaco actually does have a military, and the Prince represents 1/113th of the entire force – which means if they ever try to invade the Vatican, the Swiss Guard will outnumber ’em by about 19 guys.

(By the way: the Prince is reported to have some DNA testing in his near future to determine the paternity of what could be his third and fourth illegitimate children…which is presumably going to make for a bit of a frosty honeymoon.)

What else is going on?

Well…I was watching CNN and they suggested that people bearing retirement age should try making a budget that would reflect how they’ll be living after retirement and try living on that now.

And I though to myself: “I should try that”.

So I did…and now I’m wanted for bank robbery in four states.

Thanks, CNN.

And finally…

In a story that is exclusive to Your Erstwhile Reporter, I am now able to report that Ohio Governor John Kasich, in an effort to simultaneously reduce unemployment and “send the proper message” to his workforce, will announce on Tuesday that he intends to hire 6,000 new state employees who will have only one duty: to travel around and visit all male State employees, at random, once a month…and kick them in the balls.

In order to help female employees really “get a feel” for the new work environment, former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann has been brought back to reform and “restock” the Dannettes; he’ll then be employed as the “Charlie” overseeing Ohio State Government’s newest “Angels”.

So there we are, with this weekend’s Roundup, and we should be back shortly after Tuesday with either the Jay Inslee story that was supposed to be here today – or a substitute, depending on how our research goes.

Fair Districting?

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May 25th is the 8th Annual Disability Capitol Action Day in Sacramento. Persons with and without disabilities, some with mobility devises or service animals, will march and roll to the Capitol; allowing our message to be heard by the community as we hold our Education Rally, and then have our legislative visits.

This is probably one of the most important days on the political calender of which you have never heard!

Thirty years ago we whenw e had the first wave of disability rights actrivism with such stalwarts as the late Jane Small

If we care about Disability Civil Rights, and if we understand the importance of more than 10 million Californians affected by disability having a real voice in the political discourse of our state, and if we really believe that California is a state where everyone is treated equally and respectfully, then we must be prepared to speak up, educate, and learn all we can to be an authentic part of the most important civil rights issue of this decade.  

fari education, but also explaining and cajouling our sentaros and assemblymemerbs to try and understand teh real needs of Califnirnas approximately 10 million people who have some sort of a a   research money for various diseases and disabilities, advocating for staem cell research, and trying to persuade fonvcen cothese folksr epresent a wide range of organisaions who ae lobbying of disabiliteis and organziaions meet inside iwththeir legislators.10:00AM – 3:00PM – Resource Fair

Dozens of outdoor booths will be set up with information regarding disability rights and accessibility

1:30 – 3:00PM – Legislative Visits

All participants are encouraged to make an appointment with your legislators

May 25th, 2011 is Capitol Action Day in Sacramento. Not only will there be hundreds of people using wheelchairs and other mobility devises or service animals hanging out on the Capitol steps, but there will be folks inside speaking with their representatives.

These  conversations will range from lobbying for the best deal we can get for MediCal and fairer education.  

Royce, Bilbray, and the Immigration “Hall of Shame”

This week, it’s the 104th anniversary of Ellis Island’s one-day peak – the day when more immigrants were welcomed than any other in American history. On April 17, 1907, 11,747 immigrants became Americans – and that was just at Ellis Island.

Today, 104 years later, America is stuck in the mud with a broken immigration system. Americans want reform that unites families, promotes fair employment practices, and restores America’s place as a nation that welcomes those seeking freedom from persecution and a better way of life.

This week, Immigrants’ List — a bipartisan political action committee dedicated to electing pro-immigration lawmakers – unveiled the 2011 inductees into the Immigration Hall of Shame. In the Hall of Shame are California’s own, Reps. Ed Royce (#3) and Brian Bilbray (#6), who have earned places alongside the likes of Michele Bachmann and Steve King.

Hall of Shame – April 2011 Inductees

1. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) – A man who cites the Bible in his opposition to immigration reform, King favors an electrified wire border fence, arguing “we do that with livestock all the time.” King believes that undocumented immigrants can be detected from their clothing and “the type of grooming they might have,” and labeled the DREAM Act “amnesty.” Alarmingly, King vice chairs the House Immigration Subcommittee – the first stop for every immigration bill.

2. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) – According to Lamar Smith, the guaranteed 14th Amendment right to birthright citizenship is a “misinterpretation,” which Smith plans to remedy with a ban on that right that can “get five votes” on the Supreme Court. Such a posture would be troubling enough from any member of Congress, but coming from the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, it’s downright dangerous.

3. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) – After calling for a national version of the Arizona SB 1070, Royce has announced new legislation to give local police Arizona-style powers over immigration. An active leader in the House’s leading anti-reform caucus, Royce supports forcing hospitals to gather information on possible undocumented immigrants, and opposes increasing visas for skilled workers.

4. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) – Always a lightning rod of controversy, Peter King has been in the headlines recently for scapegoating Muslim citizens. But we should remember that King has a long history of scapegoating and marginalizing all immigrants; he fought to ban the use of Spanish by government agencies and authored a bill to ban drivers’ licenses for undocumented workers because they are “potential terrorists.” King chairs the Homeland Security Committee, which has a major role in immigration reform legislation.

5. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) – The potential presidential candidate has a history of inflammatory statements which go along with her outlandish voting record. She’s spread the widely-debunked rumor that Phoenix is “the kidnap[ping] capital of the United States,” using that myth to justify her support for an armed presence on the border. She’s advocates Arizona SB 1070, and told Bill O’Reilly that all local law enforcement should be required to ask for proof of immigration status. Bachmann chairs the House Tea Party Caucus.

6. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) – Having built a career spreading fear about our broken border, Bilbray now helms the House’s anti-immigration reform caucus, where he’s leading the fight for an Arizona SB 1070-style bill. Discontent with mere anti-immigrant legislation, Bilbray has spread rumors that President Obama will issue amnesty by decree, and “the human smuggling, prostitution, murder and virtual enslavement of human beings” is happening because immigrants are “drawn to this nation by… taxpayer-funded jobs.”

7. Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) – While campaigning for Senate last year, Boozman wrote that “our schools, our hospitals and our jobs are being compromised by the influx of illegal immigrants.” His solution? Eliminating the Constitutional right to birthright citizenship, reducing overall legal immigration, and spreading rumors that President Obama “may grant amnesty through an Executive Order.”

8. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) – In word and deed, Shuler is eager to prove that obstructionism is bipartisan. The top Democrat in Congress’s largest anti-reform caucus, he worked with Tom Tancredo to author the SAVE Act, which would deport 12 million undocumented immigrants, was backed by NumbersUSA, and would’ve taken a large step towards militarizing America’s border.

9. Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) – One of the leading proponents of the baseless rumor that the Obama administration is behind a “backdoor amnesty” program, Candice Miller chairs the Homeland Security Border Subcommittee. She co-sponsored the deportation-only SAVE Act, and won the support of Lou Dobbs for her fear-mongering that undocumented workers will gain political power due to the 2010 Census counting “persons,” not “citizens.”

10. Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ) – Heralded as a “true reformer” by the notoriously anti-immigration NumbersUSA, Ben Quayle exemplified the worst political impulses when it comes to immigration, exploiting fear and misinformation to ride into office. Quayle made election promises to reduce the overall number of immigrants allowed in America, erect a Pacific-to-the-Gulf electrified fence, and send the National Guard to patrol the border. These efforts may have won him the support of Chuck Norris, but here’s a fact for Chuck Norris and Ben Quayle: your scare tactics draw out the status quo – preventing meaningful reform, breaking up families, and putting America at risk.

Immigration is a fundamental part of America’s heritage and is essential to the growth and prosperity of our nation. That’s a fact. It’s central to our American character.

And it’s something these ten have forgotten.

View the Hall of Shame, share with friends, and sign-up for more information at our website.