Stop Wasting My Tax Dolllars

dollar-sign  If you agree with the following letter, I suggest you copy it into MS Word, or some other word processor, and send it to your US Senators and members of the US House of Representatives.

To find out who they are, direct your browser to: http://act.commoncause.org/site/PageServer?pagename=sunlight_advocacy_list_page

Here is the Letter

January 25, 2017
The Hon. Kamala Harris
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510

Dear Senator Harris:

Re: Cost Savings On Social Security

I have a suggestion that I believe could save millions of dollars in Social Security costs, and which I think should be acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans. At the end of each year, each Social Security recipient receives a document in the mail telling them how much their monthly Social Security check will be in the following year. Usually that amount will be no more than one to three dollars more than in the year just ending.

According to the Social Security Administration, at the end of 2016, their were 60,907,307 people receiving Social Security payments each month. That’s just slightly under 70 million recipients. Let’s assume it cost the government $1 for each annual benefit announcement sent to Social Security recipients. That would mean the government would save roughly $70 million a year by no longer mailing the document.

However the cost per document is probably higher than $1 for each document mailed. Sending them incurs expenses for computer time, and printing, staff and mailing costs. Those likely add up to at least $2 or $3 per document sent. So the annual savings, from not sending the annual document, could be $140 million, $210 million, or more.

Since the usual benefit increase is no more than a few dollars, there is nothing useful anyone can do with the information about the increase. It amounts to just pocket change and can have no effect on anyone’s financial planning.

These annual mailed documents serve no useful purpose. Spending my tax dollars on such a useless activity is wasteful. Please introduce, or support legislation to end this wasteful activity.

Sincerely,

Boyce R. Hinman

cc: The Hon. Dianne Feinstein
The Hon. Ami Bera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

;

 

 

What’s Wrong With Our Military Strategy?

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Boyce JPEGThe latest ISIS attacks in Paris, the downing of a Russian airliner and the seeming lack of progress against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is really raising the heat of debates about the best way to defeat of ISIS.

In this blog post I will go where angels fear to tread and explain my views on that question. I invite you to add your take on the issue by clicking on “Comment” just below the title of this post.

First, since I will be discussing military strategy, I should tell you a bit about my history. I became eligible for the draft in the early 1960s. Initially I registered as a conscientious objector.

Later, however, I volunteered for the draft and spent two years in the army. I didn’t do anything heroic. I spent my entire tour of duty in Colorado. And, to this day, I am not sure I could bring myself to kill another person whatever the situation.

And now to the heart of the issue.

People on one side of the debate say we should bomb the hell out of ISIS and we should send in massive amounts of troops on the ground to overwhelm and destroy them for good. The other side says we should not have to send in large numbers of ground troops. Basically, the mid-eastern nations should fight the good fight with their own troops and with air support from us.

I think both sides are right, and both sides are wrong. A combination of both strategies is the best way to fight ISIS.

We have tried hard, and failed to train mid-eastern armies to do the ground fighting, to fight their own battles. The response of the Iraq army has been a joke. At the first serious attack from ISIS, the have run away in a panic leaving valuable military equipment behind. We in essence were arming the ISIS army with that abandoned equipment. We have tried training local “friendly” militias only to see them just fight each other or go and fight for ISIS.

I think, if we really want to destroy ISIS, we and our European allies will need to deploy large armies to Syria and Iraq to defeat them. Air support for our troops, and any Arab armies willing to join the fight, will also be needed.

But defeating their army is just the beginning. The first modern extremist Muslim group to attack us was al Queda. (Note: Please note the inclusion of the word “extremist”. Most Muslims are ordinary peace loving people like you and me.) We’ve heard very little about al Queda for a long time. I think it’s ability to make trouble is largely destroyed.

But now we have ISIS. So, why is that? The answer is that we and the Europeans have a long history abuse of the people of the mid- east, both long ago and now. And that continuing abuse has created a lot of anger towards us. It makes it easier for extremists to radicalize others. I believe that until, and unless, we seriously address the awful things we and Europeans have done to Muslims, there will be never ending list of terrorist groups attacking us.

What bad things have we done?

In 1099 AD, in the first Crusade, Christian Europeans conquered Jerusalem and its surrounding land. They took it from the Muslims who had owned that territory since 637 AD. Thus it was theirs for 462 years. Our nation is just 239 years old. And we emphatically declare that this is OUR land and no one can take it from us. How do think Muslims felt when Jerusalem was taken from them after 462 years.

There were actually three crusades as control of Jerusalem and its environs went back and forth between Christians and Muslims.

And it gets worse. In all three crusades the European Christians slaughtered Muslim men, women and children. They enslaved many Muslims as well. They did pretty much what ISIS is doing now.

Fast forward to World War One. The Famous British soldier, Lawrence of Arabia successfully organized a very effective Arab military army that played a major part in defeating Germany and Italy in the mid-east. The British and French governments promised that, in return for their efforts, the Arabs would be allowed to form their own independent nations after the war. That, of course, did not happen. England and France divided up the middle-east and built colonies there.

Lawrence deeply respected the Arabs and their culture. He hoped that England and France would keep their promise. After the war he was offered an award by the English government for his war accomplishments. He turned it down because he was so bitter about the English duplicity.

In 1956, after Egypt had become independent, Britain and France invaded Egypt to, among other things, take back the Suez Canal. The UN, the US and many other nations were outraged and Britain and France were forced to withdraw their forces.

In 1967 several Arab nations attacked Israel. They were clearly in the wrong and Israel defeated them. However, Israel has had an army of occupation in the Palestinian territories ever since. All that has done is to solidify the hatred of Israel among its neighbors. By contrast, after World War Two, the US established the Marshall Plan which poured billions of dollars into the countries in Europe, including Germany, to help them recover from the devastation of the war. Now Germany is a strong democracy and one our greatest friends and allies.

Israel’s policy has created problems for our nation because we have guaranteed its existence no matter what it does. That gets the many Muslims angry. A far better policy would be for us to guarantee the existence of Israel on the condition that it remove its army of occupation from Palestine.

And finally, the US invaded Iraq under the false claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Iraq was run by a dictator and he had carried out atrocities against some groups. However, as long as Iraq’s citizens stayed out of politics, they had a reasonably good life. Our invasion of Iraq has destabilized Iraq long term and by some estimates that has lead to between 146,000 and 166,000 civilian deaths. Those deaths are still happening.

So, in conclusion, I think we and European countries will need to send a large military force to Syria and Iraq to defeat ISIS. But to defuse the continuing hatred of us among SOME FEW Muslims, we, the European countries and Israel should probably create a Marshall Plan for the mid-east. If they see we are helping them have a good and prosperous life we will eliminate the cause of some Muslims being radicalized.

I invite you to share your views on this subject by clicking on “Comment” just below the title of this post.

Boyce Hinman

Can You Fix This Problem?

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Boyce JPEGToday I’m discussing a problem that we have in our country these days. And, I don’t have a clue on how to solve it. I hope you might have some suggestions on how to do that.

Many economists believe that helping everyone get jobs can be dangerous. They think, if too many Americans get lobs, it could cause severe inflation. The price of everything would go up, perhaps to dangerously high levels.

Historically, raising interest rates has been an effective way to reduce or stop inflation. But the problem is that doing this also, inevitably, prevents the unemployment rate from going lower. And if interest rates are pushed too high, the unemployment rate can even go up.

As a result, some people are condemned to more or less permanent unemployment. And, as usual, it is People of Color get hit the hardest.

Here is how it works.

The Governors of the US Federal Reserve Bank have the power to raise or lower interest rates in the US. And, for a long time, they have suggested that if the unemployment rate got down to five percent or lower, they would raise interest rates to prevent undue inflation. And guess what. The national unemployment rate sits right at five percent. Raising interest rates could keep the unemployment rate from going lower. If they raise the interest too high, it could put more people out of work.

How are interest rates connected to inflation?

The more people who are employed, the more people there are who can afford to buy things. If more people have money to spend then they will be trying to buy a limited number of products (cell phones for example). That lets sellers feel free to raise their prices. With all those buyers, some people will be willing to pay the higher price. And if there really are more people willing to buy a product than there are products to sell, the upward pressure on prices can get intense.

If interest rates go higher, businesses find it harder to borrow the money they need to grow their businesses and hire more workers. If the interest rates go too high, employers may even have to lay off workers. Fewer people working means fewer people able to buy things. And that, in turn, means sellers must not raise there prices for fear of not being able to sell all their products to the few people willing and able to buy them.

Shopping in the holiday season provides a perfect example of this. Retailers seriously scrutinize how many people bought their products on the day after Thanksgiving. If there were too few people shopping and buying products that day, retailers have sales (meaning lower prices) to increase their sales.

So higher interest rates make it harder for unemployed people to get jobs or even increases the number of unemployed people. And the unemployment rate is always higher among People of Color than among White People. For example, the US Department of Labor reports that as of September 30, the unemployment rate for White adults was 4.1%. For Black adults it was 8.6% and for Hispanic adults it was 5.9%.

Things were even worse for 16 to 19 year olds. White youth had an unemployment rate of 14%, Black youth had an unemployment rate of 31.7% and Hispanic youth had an unemployment rate of 20.2%.

So what can be done (instead of raising interest rates) to help the remaining unemployed people find work?

In the 1930s the federal government hired massive numbers of workers and put them to work building bridges and reservoirs. But that would be very expensive now, and if it resulted in more people working and able to spend, the upward pressure on inflation would be a problem.

In the 1970s the state of California gave tax credits to employers for hiring and training unskilled workers. The hope was that employers would keep these workers once they were trained. I know about this program because I worked for the state then, and my job was to sell the program to employers.

But if the state or federal governments tried this again, it would be expensive, and probably some skilled workers would be displaced by the trainees. The would not be happy about that.

I’m out of fresh ideas.

Do you have any suggestions? Is there a way we could get more people working without igniting inflation? If you have an idea, let me know by clicking on the word “Comment” just below the title of this post.

Boyce Hinman

Should Illicit Drugs Be Legalized? – Part 2

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In this second post on America’s war on drugs, I will provide more evidence of the failure of that policy and then describes an essential element of a better plan, including how to pay for it.

(Note: you can read the first post on this issue by scrolling down to the post immediately below this one.)

Boyce JPEGIn spite of our nation’s fierce war on drugs, deaths from heroin in the US are growing rapidly. According to data from the US Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, in general, drug overdose deaths have been on the rise for the past two decades, but the number of deaths from heroin use is up by 39%.

And what about deaths from overdoses of other drugs? According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse there were a little more than 9,000 deaths from overdoses of addictive drugs in 2001 and around 23,000 such deaths in 2013. In particular, the deaths from overdoses of prescription pain killers went from about 6,000 to almost 18,000 deaths in that same period. These facts cry out for a better plan than our current war on drugs..

By contrast both Portugal and Switzerland tried policies that differ radically from the punitive approach used in our country. They de-criminalized the use of addictive drugs. Under their new approaches, both of them had major reductions in the number of injection drug users and of deaths from drug use. (Note: to read more about these nation’s approaches illicit drug use, scroll down to the previous post entitled Should Illicit drugs Be Legalized?)

In the US, the face of heroin addiction has been changing. For years it had seemed that most heroin addicts were poor Blacks living in low income inner city districts. But, according to a report published in the journal JAM Psychiatry, there’s been a dramatic shift in the demographics of heroin use. New heroin users in America are more likely to be White suburban men and women in their 20s who get hooked on prescription opiates and then turn to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to get.

Under the war on drugs, many drug laws impose mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Judges do not have the option of lighter sentences when that seems appropriate. So the time drug offenders stay in prison has increased dramatically. In 1986, the average time was 22 months. By 2004, drug offenders were sentenced to serve nearly triple that time — 62 months, on average, according to The Sentencing Project.

As a result, the number of convicted drug offenders in our state and federal prisons have risen dramatically. That, in turn has driven up what federal and state government must spend on housing their prisoners.

According to the US Department of Justice, in 2013, the US spent $10.3 BILLION housing drug offenders in federal prisons per year or $103 billion every 10 years. And the National Association of State Budget Officers estimates that total spending by states on inmates in their prisons is $52.4 billion per year or $524 billion every 10 years.

It appears that the federal government is beginning to take steps in the right direction. According to the Washington Post it began the release of 6,000 federal inmates, sentenced for drug ofenses, early this month. About two-thirds of them will go to halfway houses and home confinement before being put on supervised release. About one-third are foreign citizens who will be quickly deported, officials said.

So, what do we do? Do we just release all prison inmates who are in prison only because of drug offenses? Do we simply ignore all misuse of addictive drugs? Do we ignore the problem of drugs in our neighborhoods? Doing that, and nothing more, would be a disaster.

Many of these prison inmates have very limited income and few job skills. The mere fact that they have a criminal record will add to the difficulty in finding a job. That will force many of them to return to selling drugs to pay for food and housing.

Many of the released prisoners have mental illnesses which would result in committing a variety of crimes. Crazy people do crazy things. According to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, American prisons and jails housed an estimated 356,268 inmates with several mental illness in 2012. That figure is more than 10 times the number of mentally ill patients in state psychiatric hospitals in the same year—about 35,000 people.

The offenders released from prison would need help to improve their education, to build salable job skills and to actually obtain work, not to mention help in finding an affordable place to live. And finally many would need mental health care. Many drug abusers on the street also need all of the same services. It would be expensive, but the cost savings in the budgets of state and federal prisons would be a very good start in paying the costs of these programs.

So it all boils down to this. Are you happy with the current situation? If not, we should support a better way.

Boyce Hinman

Should Illicit Drugs Be Legalized?

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Boyce JPEGIt is my belief that illicit drug use in the USA should be decriminalized, if not outright legalized. I will explain the difference later in this post.

I believe this, in part, because the US policy on this issue has been such a dismal failure, while decriminalization policies in other countries seem to have been much more successful.

Let’s look first at the American Experience.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), in 2013 an estimated 24.6 million Americans, aged 12 or older, (9.4% of the US population) had used an illicit drug at the time of the study. That was up from 8.3% in 2002.

Much of that increase was due to marijuana. However, the use of Methamphetamine was higher in 2013, with 595,000 users in that year, compared to 353,000 users in 2010.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration the number of people aged 12 or older who received treatment for heroin use in 2013 was higher (526,000 patients) than it was a decade ago.

According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse there were a little more than 9,000 deaths from overdoses of addictive drugs in 2001 and around 23,000 such deaths in 2013. In particular, the deaths from overdoses of prescription pain killers went from about 6,000 to almost 18,000 deaths in that same period.

How would you rate the success of America’s war on drugs? If I was in charge, I would fire the Generals and come up with a better plan.

Portugal has a better plan.

In 2001, the Portuguese government, after many years of waging a fierce war on drugs, flipped its strategy almost entirely: It decriminalized them all.

Under the drug program started by Portugal in 2001, if someone is found in the possession of less than a 10-day supply of anything from marijuana to heroin, he or she is sent to a three-person Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, typically made up of a lawyer, a doctor and a social worker.

The commission recommends treatment or a minor fine; otherwise, the person is sent off without any penalty. In fact, in a vast majority of times, there is no penalty. Portugese leaders are careful to note that they did make use of addictive drugs legal. They decriminalized their use and offered an assertive treatment program to users.

Fourteen years after decriminalization, Portugal has not been run into the ground by a nation of drug addicts. In fact a study done by the Cato Foundation found the following:

“Judging by every metric, drug decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success. It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country.”

Back in 2001, Portugal had the highest rate of HIV among injecting drug users in the European Union—an incredible 2,000 new cases a year, in a country with a population of just 10 million.

The Cato Institute found that, by freeing its citizens from the fear of prosecution and imprisonment for drug usage, Portugal has dramatically improved its ability to encourage drug addicts to avail themselves of treatment. The resources that were previously devoted to prosecuting and imprisoning drug addicts are now available to provide treatment programs to addicts.

Drug use of all kinds has declined in Portugal. Lifetime use among seventh to ninth graders fell from 14.01% to 10.6%. Lifetime heroin use among 16-18 year olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8%. HIV infection rates among drug users fell by an incredible 17%, while drug related deaths were reduced by more than half.

Switzerland has a similarly innovative program. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Switzerland’s HIV positive rate was soaring and was the highest in Western Europe. 1,000 drug users gathered daily in Zurich’s infamous Platzspitz park, dubbed “needle park.”

Then Switzerland tried a new approach. They focused on harm reduction. They started providing drug addicts with free methadone and clean needles. They offered safe injection rooms, showers, beds and hygienic conditions under medical supervision.

The number of drug injectors with HIV has been reduced by over 50 percent in 10 years. Overdose mortality among injectors has been reduced by over 50 percent in the decade.

Our war on drugs is pretty much a total failure. Other nations have had considerably more success with programs that focus on treatment and harm reduction.

We should fire the Generals running our war on drugs and try better programs.

Boyce Hinman

Do Welfare Queens Really Exist?

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Boyce JPEG

So, first, let’s define welfare queen. I found this colorful definition in the “Urban Dictionary”.

A welfare queen is a woman, regardless of race who is living off the welfare system purely because of laziness and not due to any real need. She could have a job but she is a welfare queen”.

You might well ask, Why should I care about this subject? As I will illustrate later in this post, welfare is a very important program. Many people, who would rather not be on welfare, must sign up for it because they have no other way to put food on the table or a roof over their heads.

Large numbers of Republicans hate this program and would love to terminate it. And they may well be getting close to the opportunity to do just that. Consider the following:

The presidency is extremely important, of course. But there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority — 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state — are in Republican hands.

And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress. Indeed, even the House infighting reflects, in some ways, the health of the GOP coalition. Republicans are confident they won’t lose power in the House and so they are willing to take the risk of having vigorous arguments about how best to use the power they have.

If a Republican wins the presidency, welfare may be dead, or at least seriously wounded.

So, do welfare queens really exist? Of course they do. Whenever you create a system or program to help people, someone will figure out how to game the system. But the next important question to ask is, are there enough to them to justify shutting down or severely limiting the program?

Actually, large numbers of people on welfare also work. They just can’t find jobs that pay enough to allow them to live without the need of assistance from welfare or public assistance.

The fast food industry is a clear example of this fact. According to Bloomberg Business News, Overall, 52 percent of families of fast-food workers are enrolled in one or more public assistance programs, compared with 25 percent of the workforce as a whole. Why is this so? Fast food workers have close to the lowest wages in the nation. So maybe we shouldn’t be discussing “Welfare Queens: Perhaps we should call them “Dairy Queens”.

According to a national study done by PayScale the national median wage paid to fast food workers is $7.87 per hour. When you add in tips and overtime it comes to about $17,000 per year or $1,400 per month. Could you cover food, clothing, housing, transportation and medical care with just $1,400 per month?

Let’s go back to that report from Bloomberg Business Week. It says that 25 percent of the workforce as a whole is on welfare. The US The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in September of 2015, there were148,980,000 people working in this country. That’s almost 149 million people working. Twenty five percent of that would be a little over 37 million people who are working but who don’t earn enough to support themselves and their families. That’s a lot of working dairy queens in this country.

Another claim that opponents of welfare make is that welfare becomes a way of life for most people on the program. Once people get on welfare they never get off.

Is it that really True? No, according to a US Census Bureau report, 62.9% of people receiving cash assistance from the government leave the program in one to 12 months. Most of the rest leave the program in 3 to 4 years.

Do welfare recipients waste the money they get from the Government? According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, food, housing, and transportation accounted for the greatest proportion of the budget of all families. These three categories made up 65.5 percent of the total budget of families not receiving assistance, compared with 79.7 percent for one-parent and 75 percent for two-parent families receiving assistance. So, people on public assistance are spending significantly less on what some would call frivolities than people not getting assistance. Would you want those on assistance to spend nothing on things that bring enjoyment to life? Come on!!!

Does welfare encourage people receiving public assistance to have more babies?

It would seem that it does not. According to report from the Children’s Defense Fund the typical welfare family consists of 2.9 people and the average is 3.16 for all families. Some 42 percent of welfare mothers have just one child, and 30 percent have two kids. Just 10 percent of these families include four or more youngsters.

If welfare was expected to encourage the birth of more children, it is doing a lousy job. Our welfare programs must be supported.

Boyce Hinman

Stealth Gay Rights Law Enacted In California

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Boyce JPEGAB 139 snuck under the radar. It wasn’t endorsed by any LGBT rights organization. As far as I can tell, no LGBT group lobbied in support of it or testified in support of the bill in committee.

Earlier versions of the bill, in previous years, were routinely approved by the California Assembly but, just as routinely, defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee. This year that committee had a new Chair. And, this year, the committee approved the bill unanimously. In fact, no one voted against the bill in either house of the California Legislature. And the Governor signed the bill into law. It becomes effective January 1, 2016.

So what does the bill do, why is it important, and how does it help LGBT people?

What It Does – AB 139 creates a simple form which a homeowner can use to name someone who will get ownership of the home on the death of the home owner. The form is called a Revocable Transfer On Death Deed (RTOD). The beneficiary named on the form will become owner of the home immediately after the death f the original owner. The home being transferred does not need to go through Probate before the beneficiary gains ownership of it.

Why It Is Important – The author of the bill was primarily trying to help unmarried seniors (usually a man and woman) who each have limited income. Often they live together (without marrying) because two can live cheaper than one. Often the homeowner wants his or her companion to get the home if the owner dies first.

He or she could write a will giving the home to the companion on the death of the owner. However, paying a lawyer to write the will can be expensive. Also, any property passed on with a will must go through the court probate process. That is usually very costly. If the two friends are on limited income they might not be able to afford it. Also, probate often takes several years to complete. An elderly beneficiary might be dead before probate is finished..

They could marry, but if the home owner failed to go to the bother and expense of writing a will, and the original home owner had children, living parents, or other relatives, those relatives have a legal right to part of the estate. The surviving spouse, as the result of California’s law of intestate succession, could be entitled to as little as one third of the estate left by the spouse who died. If the deceased home owner had few to no assets, other than the home, it might be necessary to sell the home so that the other relatives their share of the inheritance.

A home owner could simply make his or her friend co-owner of the home. But, if they split up, there is no way to force the companion to give up part ownership of the home. This could result in a nasty and expensive court battle.

There is also the problem of gift taxes. The original owner would be making a gift, equal to half the value of the house, to the companion. Under current US law people can make gifts of up to $14,000 to any individual, tax free. However, the home owner making the gift would have to pay gift taxes on any value over $14,00 given to the companion. That could be expensive.

So, how does AB 139 help same sex couples? – The latest data from the US Census Bureau (from the 2010 census) suggests there are about 594,000 same sex couples in the US. And about $440,000 of them say they are not married.

Many same sex couples, especially older couples, are still reluctant to marry. Can you imagine same sex couples, in small rural town, going to the county clerk’s office and asking for a marriage license. The whole town would know. And that could have frightening consequences.

To be honest, the RTOD would still have to be registered at the county clerk’s office. But saying I want to register this document is probably much less intimidating for a same sex couple than saying we want to apply for a marriage license. And, in fact, only the person signing the RTOD would have to go to the county clerk’s office to register. Only one person showing up at the office is less likely to arouse the curiosity of staff at that office.

AB 139 creates a very useful tool for same sex couples.

I attach a sample of the RTOD form. You should be able to download and print it. Remember, the form will not be usable until January 1, 2016. It should be available on the state’s web site sometime after that date. As of this date, I am not sure just where on the site it will be placed. I will let you know as soon as I know.

To see a sample of the RTOD form click the following link:

Sample RTOD Form

More later.

Boyce Hinman