Posts Tagged ‘devaluation’

The Blog About Going Back to Africa

January 29, 2016
a colorized version of G.P. Murdock's ethnic map of Africa

a colorized version of G.P. Murdock’s ethnic map of Africa

One of my friends said I had to write about this, as just arranging this trip has been an adventure.  I was  a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi in 1992.  I was a town planner. Peace Corps Volunteers are not supposed to be in politically sensitive positions, and I  actually tried getting another agency (NGO) to pick me up, but the times were  pretty tense, as the European Community was leaning heavily on Hastings Banda (Kamuzu) to allow multi-party elections and a free press.

My job was actually development control…and I was briefly given an assignment  financed by UN Development Programme to organize residents of traditional housing areas (that is, residents of urban communities which allowed  squatter housing, or housing that would not pass building codes) to  have control over their water supply…but that didn’t work out due to the Malawi Congress Party, as well as the Europeans leaning on Banda, and the funding was withdrawn in about four weeks.

In any case, I lived in Blantyre and  at one point, the  Government of Malawi —at least through the office of President and Cabinet, wanted me to take  an illegal action and confiscate some land people had title to.  So, it was stressful.  But now it is  over 20 years later, and I want to not only see how things are, but I want to visit some projects I’ve been supporting (Zambian Children’s Fund in Chishawasha, a bit outside of Lusaka), the Lilongwe SPCA, and the Malawi Children’s Village  outside Mangochi.  I will also visit several other projects, and Victoria Falls in southern Zambia.

 

I paid for the airfare ($1268.36, Emirates Air) back at the end of June, 2015. Yes, the airfare has gone down a bit over $200 since, because the price of fuel has fallen…but that could not be guaranteed, so I really didn’t overpay that much, and I spend the night in Dubai.

Doing research on getting transport had taken up a lot of time, as you can’t get any info  directly from the bus companies, or it contradicts what everyone posts on TripAdvisor and ThornTree/Lonely Planet.  That’s how it is. Unless you  join a formal tour company for a ‘safari’, which is extremely expensive these days, you have to be flexible about how you plan to get around. Thankfully, all the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) now have websites, and their people are very helpful about telling you where to stay and how to get there.  I will get into the itinerary.

I knew I had to get a visa for Zambia ($70 plus the certified letter costs), and I actually was thinking of going to Hong Kong this time  because I didn’t want to have to get another Yellow Fever shot—which was required for some time for visas to either Zambia or Malawi.  A Yellow Fever shot (I’ve had 3) will make you quite sick, and is not cheap—you have to go to a  specific travel medical center to get one, and they not only charge about $150 for the shot, but  $$$ for ‘overhead’.  No thanks.

So I sent my passport off to the Zambian Embassy, and it took them  about  two weeks, or did it?  I sent it USPS certified mail, and I got a notice that it was returned, but since I was not home, I had to go to the post office and stand in line…and then, it turned out the   mail person had ‘forgotten’ to take it out of the bag, so they told me they would deliver it the next day…and did not, so I had to go back on Monday, now having no receipt because I had signed it over, and they found it.  It was very stressful.

So, I’m set, just have to pack, but I am on Facebook (Peace Corps Malawi feed) & someone posts last week : “has anyone tried to get a visa to Malawi now that the rules have changed?” What?  A visa had not been needed for Americans or Europeans  since independence, but now the reciprocal deal is  that if  your country charges their nationals for a visa, they charge you (&  the US charges about $160 to Malawians)…so I tried emailing the embassy in Washington, DC, and none of their email addresses are  good. I downloaded the  application forms, and left a message—and the embassy called me back!  They said I could NOT get a visa at the border, to send my passport Fed-Ex and they would  process it & send it back!  So, that was $100 + the $55 to get it there and back.  HOWEVER, I will point out that the official Malawian Tourism site—run by the government—still has the old, inaccurate information on it.  What are you going to do?   What ended up happening is that I sent it, tried to track it, it got to the embassy, and…sat there because of the huge blizzard.  Most embassy offcies were closed, but I left a message and they told me a few people had gone in and would send it back tomorrow.

I’ve budgeted about  $3000 total for this trip. Some places are set up to take credit cards, which is good, and food and transport are still inexpensive by American standards.This is a 20 day trip including  air transit days. Minus the air fare, that’s $86 a day.  Can I do it?  We’ll see.

Big problem is  I am taking a lot of stuff to leave there. About  five  pounds of fabric to be made into clothes,  about 10 pounds of books  as gifts, and other odds & ends.  I never anticipate bringing that much stuff back, but if i can find  bone or malachite jewelry—or bowls, that would be nice.

So, this will be the last blog for a while.I will be spending all my energy getting around.

 

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Understanding the Greek Economic Crisis…or is it Chicago?

July 24, 2015

Don’t gloat.   Coming to a town hear YOU! You think malfeasance  isn’t happening where YOU live?

https://www.google.com/#q=California+Town+bankrupted+by+corrupt+officials. This is about Vernon California. apparently, their neighbors saw these guys getting away with  this, so: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Bell_scandal.  This is about Bell, California, where the town rulers, elected officials, bankrupted the town before the feds could save it.  You have to remember that lots of  actions are legal if they are not illegal. While we  are supportive of laws chasing drug dealers and addicts around,prosecuting welfare and food stamp fraud…. keeping lawyers employed—we are ignoring the important stuff …because it is boring until WE  get pummeled.

I was listening to an economics professor on the radio talk about what the problem is in Greece.  He said the Greek people aren’t lazy, but their  socio/political system is so inefficient, most Greeks work  2 jobs. He also  claimed that it wasn’t because  Greeks didn’t pay taxes—as the wealthy in all countries get away with not paying taxes.  However, in the USA & much of Europe, there has been a huge middle class that pays property taxes.  This is not the case in Greece, or many countries (it was not the case in Malawi when I was an urban planner in Blantyre in  the early 1990s, nor was it in Egypt—where  people were allowed to occupy unfinished buildings and not apply for  occupancy permits…so not be on the tax rolls).

The economics professor claimed Greece was in trouble because the European (etc) investors continued to  prop up banks making bad loans.  Bingo!

Sound familiar?  Did any bankers go to jail when they did that to  the USA in  2008 at the end of Dubyas years? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inside_Job_(2010_film)  Charles Ferguson’s  2010 documentary reminds us that—no—we Americans footed the bill.  Puerto Rico is going through the same thing (albeit partly because of being overly generous to her citizens)., but I live in Chicago, where our aldermen and state senators ‘borrowed’ from public employees  pension funds ( http://catalyst-chicago.org/2015/07/roots-of-the-chicago-teacher-pension-crisis/) for fripparies:  rodeos,  chandeliers, offices, statues, junkets….and never paid it back— or never put the $$$ in in the first place—taxes we paid!!! & we  stupid citizens not only have to pay AGAIN—but the assholes who did this are now receiving pensions themselves!  Here is the  right  wing take on our situation:http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2015/07/how_democrats_pillaged_chicago_toward_bankruptcy.html  It’s not just the patronage army, it’s our politicians.

In the past…before the internet…when things got so dire…there were revolutions.  This is how the socialists came to power in many places.  This may seem far afield, but Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren  keep calling for reforms.  The only way to  fight the  malfeasance is un-elect the  rascals and get ourselves a new set of rascals…and as citizens…support the government watchdog agencies and cut politicians pensions.

Working for Minimum Wage & the Push for a Living Wage.

April 24, 2015

In my early working career, as a teenager, not only did I work for  minimum wage, many of my jobs were for below minimum wage.   I was being paid for my time.  It was spending or saving money…not  money to live on.

I never really thought about  what I needed to make per hour for years, because I was living with other people when I left my  family, and sharing expenses, and I was paid commission.  The faster I worked, the more I made. That’s dog grooming.  In fact,  many of the groomers I worked with felt the same way:  we were not college graduates and had no school debt.  Most of us were either single or living with a guy who paid most of our living expenses (especially for those who had kids), and this was how it was  for  much of the end of the last century.

I didn’t really think about what a living wage was until I returned from Peace Corps and was looking for a job. I could live on ‘not much’ because I had rental income and no kids.  It wasn’t until I got a consulting job, developing projects and  trying to find  other independent contractors to work for us that I started understanding  that $150 per day was a joke to most, and they expected to be paid around $300 a day. This  was because they had to take care of their own taxes and ‘benefits’ (health insurance, retirement) and their families, and  what we were offering was not, generally, steady work:  it was contracts of  three to six months. This was a precarious existence.  If you weren’t a freelance writer or photographer, or had someone else with a steady, regular job supporting you, you could not afford to take the jobs my company offered.

This was  pure capitalism economics:  you want to get these  people who have the experience to  work for you, you have to pay what they expect to earn.  There was a shortage of they types of technical assistance providers we were looking for.

There is another mindset out there.  On the one hand,  because we all believe that capitalism works, and nobody should restrain how much money you can possibly make—any way you can (even poisoning the environment or lying to people—because this is not illegal), we have CEOS (heads of companies) making 1,000 times more per hour that the people they employ actually doing the work.  How is this possible? Obviously, there are  way too many people with not  enough  skills  competing for too few jobs.  Otherwise, they would not have to work for  low wages. They’d find other jobs.

I was raised  by my parents to believe that I had to learn to take care of myself. I might get lucky and get married and find a guy to  keep me in the style to which I hoped to become accustomed, but to not count on it. They strongly urged me to become an elementary school teacher, but I had no desire. My desire was to work with dogs, so I learned as much as I could about grooming, dog behavior, and training, because I aspired to own a kennel (a boarding and training kennel, which I knew could support me).

I was lucky.  I had 2 parents, both of whom worked and saved, and constantly told me what they could NOT afford to buy me (to save my money), and I  learned that’s what I would have to do.  But what if your  parent (you only have  1, for whatever reason) is disabled, or stupid, or a drug addict, and his or her parent was like that, too? What if you grew up in the foster care system, and nobody ever sat down with you to help you budget, so you’d know what  stuff costs and what you needed to live?   What if you never learned about delayed gratification?  What if…you grew up in public housing, and were taught to get on the waiting list and the way to go was to  game the system, and get others to subsidize your lifestyle?   That all you knew was that kind of life? Heck—if you aren’t going to go to an Ivy League school, or otherwise  get a patron to  smooth the way for you into a job, what are your options?

So, is just being poor and having  kids you can’t support a good reason to be paid more? When you don’t show up for work on time…or at all?  When you show up drunk or stoned, or goof around, and sabotage the  system?

I am a supporter of  labor unions.  If you work for a very large company, you need to cooperate with your  fellow workers, and work systematically to get what’s fair.  The thing is, if there are  scabs who will do your job for  what you are currently being paid—and are happy to have those jobs, you won’t win.  There are just too many  unskilled people who are just as desperate as YOU.  Also, the odds are that among the hoards, some will be  a little more ambitious, and add more value to the company than YOU will.  You can’t beat that.

I’ve been a boss several times.  I always offered  at least 30%  more per hour than  minimum wage, and  never had trouble finding at least temporary help.  However, the job tasks were entry-level physical grunt work.  Nobody was going to be able to support a family on what I was offering. So sorry.  It was not that type of job. Some jobs are like that.

So,  have mixed feeling about the push fast food workers are making for a $15 an hour minimum wage. These jobs were always meant to be entry level jobs. They were meant to be boring, tedious, physical, and an impetus  to you to  learn a skill  or further your education so you would not have to do this for the rest of your life.  If you decide to have kids before you can support yourself,  whose fault is that?

I am thinking it is our educational system.  Possibly parents, but  this has been a problem for some time:  people being innumerate &  not having a clue what it  costs to live.   It doesn’t matter whose fault it is that  we have  masses of  people who  can only do grunt work and can’t figure a way out. It is society’s  job to make sure  primary school  children   are in a learning environment where they  appreciate that they have to know this stuff. They teach it in Africa.  I saw kids learning basic business math  when I volunteered in Kenya.  How do we get a life skills curriculum implemented?

It scares me that  people think that just because they go to work, they deserve more per hour.  It is especially worrisome because  their pay will not go up   to be enough to support a family.

 

Show kids the math for life security.

November 1, 2013

I  read an article about Black Millionaires. It addressed the fact that most were entrepreneurial from a very early age and could  do the math.  That is, they could  do calculations quickly in their heads, and figure out if they were making money selling newspapers, shining shoes, walking dogs, mowing yards.  They taught themselves to be good calculators, and how to understand risk.

These people were ‘outliers’ as they  didn’t come from families  who were entrepreneurial….  but there is another  issue.  They had the math skills to do the calculations, and for some reason,  kids today aren’t getting those skills.

There is no reason that a nine-year old  doesn’t know multiplication tables by rote…except that the adults who influence him won’t spend the time insisting he sit down and  study them.  If you can’t do basic multiplication in your head, you are screwed. The first thing any kid should learn how to do is determine how many  diapers an infant goes through in a week, and  how much disposable diapers cost.  No joke.

I have friends who are elementary  school teachers who shrug at the fact that the kids they ‘teach’ can’t make change  for a dollar, and can’t read an analog clock.

We are in a crisis here.  Many of these kids may get into college, but they will drop  out, or graduate not knowing how to do anything.  This is why so many  people carry more debt than they can  pay off.

I started thinking about this, because I am thinking of retiring, and several  people who are financial professionals have told me I have made uncommonly  smart decisions with very little money.  Nice compliment, but  now the issue is that I can retire, but what about the many people around me who think that  they can live on Social Security?  How ‘secure’ will I be if all my neighbors are beggars—or criminals?  Why would this be so?  They will be desperate.

I see so many people  seeing homelessness as a top issue.  Certainly, capitalism and the idea of land speculation  really doesn’t work for  about 90% of the population—but that is not going to change.  so—why would  anyone just keep having children they can’t afford to house, feed, and educate?

If you have traveled in the ‘developing’ world, you know what i am talking about. They are camping at the gates of the rich, who have their own private security .

So, say your  local primary schools aren’t doing the job, and you are innumerate  and don’t have any math skills,  You live from hand to mouth, and want a better existence for your kids. What to do?  Google Khan Academy. Start there.  Good luck!

Shopping for Health Insurance in America

March 29, 2012

My senator, Mark Kirk, had a stroke about 2 months ago.  He is still in the hospital. Not in a nursing home, or a convalescent center—but the hospital. He has excellent health insurance.    Why wouldn’t he?  He is an elite in America .  I want what he has.

He is one of those people who has health insurance— passing judgement on how the rest of us should  have health insurance. So are all the journalists who write for newspapers & magazines.  Seems the one thing they haven’t thought about  (in the age of  Obamacare—as the insurance portability act is being called), is…if we have to BUY  health insurance (and we can’t all be part of Medicare), who regulates what the insurance companies charge?

Here’s what happened to me when I  got my homeowner’s insurance renewal:  it went up 25%. The company, Farmer’s, claims the replacement cost of my house went up.  Maybe—but what more likely  happened is that so many homes are in foreclosure, that fewer home owners are buying insurance (see—to get a mortgage—you must have replacement insurance—usually called fire & casualty).  The  mortgage holders—the banks, don’t have to insure the  buildings they’ve foreclosed on—-so  the rest of us have to make up the profits the  companies are losing.

Same with health insurance.  You want to know why America s think liabilities are ‘toxic assets’ Assurant Health raises my health insurance premiums every 2 years by about 30%—then, tells me they are giving me a discount of 10% for  answering some questions. No joke!  I even have a letter from them.  They have to keep their profits, of course.  In this reality, shareholders are much much more important than people needing  insurance.

So,  stupid me, I shopped for health insurance on http://www.ehealthinsurance.com where  they tease you by having you answer a bunch of questions, tell you  that you qualify for a plan that costs $150 per month, & then…. you click &  suddenly it’s more complicated.  I answered all the questions, but  they wanted  confidential health records.

Ok, I call my physician, whose practice got taken over by a huge company:  Northshore University Health Systems, and the people in the office tell me I have to  fill out a waiver.  I have to  let my confidential records be tossed around.   I ask them to fax it to me at work (I don’t have a fax @ home—so they fax me where I work), I fill it out, fax it back (Feb.16)…& a few days later, someone from http://www.ehealthinsurance.com     calls me to tell me they haven’t gotten my records yet. I tell them I just made the request to my  doctor’s office, & the representative tells me it might take a few days.  Not to worry.

Then, on March 8, I got an email, telling me they (http://www.ehealthinsurance.com) haven’t gotten my health records yet(but it’s not really http://www.ehealthinsurance.com but Untied Healthcare, so, I  AGAIN called my  doctor’s practice, and  I am told they will go out in the next day or so.  But them, March 19, I got another  email from http://www.ehealthinsurance.com  (still ,    United Healthcare )  telling me they are closing my application.  HOWEVER, I call them, & they tell me I actually have to call their underwriter. It’s not like they won’t sell me insurance.

The next day, March 20,  I was a judge of election (primary—14 hours of nothing, but can’t yammer on the phone),  I could not call, but when I got home, I  had a letter from the http://www.ehealthinusrnace.com UNDERWRITER telling me they could not provide me with insurance.  I call Golden Rule– the underwriter—-&  it turns out they have a company that actually receives this CONFIDENTAIL information:  RSA medical.  So I had to call RSA.

But not only that—-it turns out my  doctor’s practice doesn’t send out the information, either:  they give my (YOUR)  confidential medical records to a company called  HEALTHPORT.

So, RSA tells me that they’ve been calling & calling Healthport, and have not been getting any response. So I call my doctor’s practice manager. She tells me she will look into this.  She calls me back. The reason Healthport is not responding to RSA is that they are waiting to get paid!  Huh?  So—if you want to get paid, how about responding & telling RSA you want to get paid!

& this—apparently—is—beside the profits the insurance companies must make for their stock holders—part of the reason health insurance is expensive:  so many people involved—ALL WITH HEALTH INSURANCE—-who  can’t  manage to communicate with each other…& deciding whether YOU get health insurance.

Damn straight—I don’t think this part of  Obamacare makes any sense. We wanted single payer, & we got this.  There is no logical reason I (or YOU) shouldn’t have the same  great medical insurance that Sen. Mark Kirk has…except the wars, & giving food aid to North Korea (so they can disrespect us & launch rockets instead of feeding their people).

If we must buy insurance—we must pay what the sellers want us to pay.  I’d go without, but I own a home, & have a few assets. My net worth is about $500,00. Any catastrophe, &  I am living in a tent.  They have us by the short hairs…as they say.

What’s interesting to me is that all the billionaires who claim to be progressive have not come up with a NON-PROFIT (Blue Cross? Don’t make me laugh) health insurance company based overseas—like everything else, which wouldn’t cost more than 1/2 a day’s pay.

To my Friends in the Southern Hemisphere….

March 25, 2012

Life had gotten so unusual here in Chicago (in the Northern Hemisphere).

Part of what  motivates me to  address this is that I have been reading a lot of history lately.  I read an autobiography of William O. Douglass, the Supreme Court Justice, who was a hero of mine when I was a teenager in the late 1960’s…. & Sarah Vowell’s  Assassination Vacation, about the assassinations or our presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley—and the dynamics surrounding those killings.

We have (sort of) an odd dynamics going on now:  extremely, unseasonably warm weather, and a primary election which decides our canditates for the Fall elections.

1st, let me address the weather.  We didn’t have much of a winter.  We will usually have at least a week of below freezing temperatures—our cold weather usually lasts from November through March—in Winter.  Usually it’s several weeks at a time, or at least only a few days of above freezing, and then back to freezing (so the ground stays frozen) but this didn’t happen last Winter season. We had very few freezing days.  Almost no snow, so no Spring floods.  Lots of tornado activity (very sudden, dangerous storms)  We would be overjoyed (many people are), except—this is not right.  We didn’t have a proper dormant period for  perennial plants;   no ‘hibernation’ for those animals that generally do.  We have—essentially—a drought. Then BOOM!!! Summer weather…for the past 2 weeks. No gradual warming—& this has affected all the plants, & I am sure  bird migration patterns as well.

Several years ago, we lost a lot of wild birds to West Nile Virus. You’d find dead birds all over.  This might do them all in. No birds means a lot of flying bugs, & bugs on food crops.

Usually, the weather temperature is in the 50s—60s (Farenheit). We went immediately to 70—80s.  No rain for 3 weeks. Is there any doubt there is GLOBAL WARMING?  Yet, we call it Climate Change’ now.  & we still have a huge  segment of adults who believe God causes weather —it has nothing to do with science (& they are voting for Rick Santorum to be the Republican presidentail candidate).

We do a terrible  job making science education important in the USA. Just goes to  show you you can be rich & mighty without being smart. We are the new Russians—-without science literacy.

I wrote my master’s thesis on this in 1992—-& at that time, we had known since the 1950s that  due to political dynamics (politicians claimed the teachers unions prevented  science teachers from being paid more than  liberal arts teachers) we  import our scientists from other countries.  No joke!

So nobody believes that the inefficient use of fossil fuels, which we still depend on—-is causing CLIMATE CHANGE

The general  consensus is that if the Chinese can waste fossil fuel, why should we be more conservative or look for alternatives?  About 15 years ago, we had a horribly hot (90s—100s) summer with a drought, and many old and infirm people died. Thinning the herd.

So, what does this have to do with our election?

Fact of the matter is…some things have changed for the better under Obama’s leadership, but, due to a Republican legislature, so subtly you would not notice unless you were hoping.

The extremely rich have gotten richer, and have not been regulated or prevented from gaming the system or using their influence—& were, in fact, bailed out as  too important to lose.  Didn’t matter whether you were a Republican or Democrat. Rich is Rich–& that is why  nothing changed.  Obamacare (health care reform) changed NOTHING. ZIP—ZERO. Yet the Republicans running for president vow to get rid of it. Go right ahead.  My health insurance premium went up over 10% ( with no inflation otherwise). That should not have happened.

Meanwhile—& I have blogged about this before—so much of our economy was invested in real estate, where the vast middle class had our wealth—and the decline in value is up to 60% in many areas, with foreclosures  25—40% of all  residential homes….property tax revenues are down.  Big time. Foreclosures are no longer on the tax rolls. But the politicians still pay themselves as though the revenue is still coming in—& have funded the pensions of government workers  as though this money is still rolling in.

Michael Lewis, the writer who wrote The Big Short, and Moneyball, wrote about this several months ago in Vanity Fair magazine–how communities are laying off service workers—police, firemen, other maintenance—but the politicians are still on the tax rolls.  Now, they get their income from property taxes…but the Feds—they get  $$$ from income taxes (& fines, or permits…but taxes)—& they  don’t remember the Reagan years, where Trickle down did not work. The rich who did not pay taxes did not employ more people or make more investments in the USA—they expatriated their $$$ & bought baubles & art.

There are many frustrated people who don’t understand why  the economy remains messed up. Bush  put our whole surplus into the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, we are still  in Afghanistan—which never made any sense & still doesn’t.  You have the asshole Taliban—who seem to have a lot of integrity, & the corrupt Karzai people with none, & none of them are going to treat woman any better, so there are no good guys and we are not protecting ourselves from anything expect economic vitality.  How else can you understand that we burned Korans when it was socilly unacceptable, or that our soldiers go berserk & kill civilians—after over 10 years of this?  You can’t…& it doesn’t matter whether the Democrats or Republicans are in power.  Who benefits? Those  who make weapons.

So, we had a primary election.  We know who the Democratic nominee is:  Obama. Let me tell you about the  Republicans running for president:

All claim to be socially conservative…& are to varying degrees.

1. They wall want to ban abortion & are not opposed to making birth control impossible to get—even for married people…at the same time talking about getting government out of our lives…no joke;

2. They all want all environmental laws scrapped.

3. Businesses should not have to pay taxes at all.

4. Neither should citizens…but where the  money to run the government & pay their own salaries will come from—they seem to have no clue….or think their will be enough if there is no social  security (old age pension—which working people pay into).

5. They haven’t mentioned drugs, but all think that everyone should be jailed for using—except alcohol (& except Ron Paul—who leaves all decisions up to the states…he also believes in a smaller military, as a Libertarian…& doesn’t stand a chance;

6. Homosexuals should have no rights at all.

Foreign policy?  Believe me , they could not find your countries on a map even if they were pointed out.  Romney was a missionary in France, so he knows where that is, but Santorum was shocked to learn that Puerto Ricans (our territory) speak  Spanish.  He thinks they want to be a state, & he would make them all speak English. Fact is, they don’t want to be a state—they want to be their own country.

Climate change? They believe it is God punishing us for our godless ways…and has nothing to do with science.

Many of us know we will have to expatriate ourselves…why?

Property taxes to support local government functions are down because so many  properties are foreclosed & off the tax roles.    That means the banks took them back—& they don’t have to pay taxes on them. What a system .No money to even support the pensions of government workers, let alone ourselves, but the politicians haven’t voted themselves a pay cut.

We are beginning to look like  both Egypt and Greece, but won’t admit it.

Had I not been so overly optimistic about the economy 12 years ago—during the Clinton era—my mortgage would have been paid off, but I was encouraged to take a calculated risk.  Whatever. That was then, this is now. There is no longer a middle class in America. It is an illusion you see in the movies or on TV.

Capitalism won? (The Occupy Wall Street movement)

October 19, 2011

This is a bit or a reworking of a post I made about a year ago.  I decided to do this because…just when you think the economy can’t get any worse, it does.  & for those who  thought  Obama was a socialist, the whole Solyndra fiasco (coupled with AIG & bailing out the auto industry—again—-) should prove  he is either clueless about economics, or as greedy as any other capitalist on the Hill.  Add to that  a continuation of  foreign military aid to dictators.  There is no excuse for this, & he put  the  means of getting to energy self sufficiency further back than any of the tea partiers could possibly have.

The problem is that our math & science education in the US is so terrible, but we do a wonderful job of making people patriotic. What does this have to do with anything? Well, most Americans  can’t do more than add & subtract, and they even have trouble with that.   They  don’t understand where all the money we pay in taxes goes. It’s supposed to pay for infrastructure, salarlies for elected officials, pensions,  and the people who  provide services that don’t make money for us directly—but whom we need so the rest of the economy that does make money can function. But  the  politicians/elected officials   make it pay for pork.  In many communities,  any warm body in a classroom will do—even if that warm body doesn’t know math or science.  Part of the problem is that many people who are specialists in math & science can get much better paying jobs in  industries:  computer science, medical, engineering… with a lot less aggravation….

I’ve been told that it’s the teachers unions that prevent math and science teachers from being paid more. But that is not the  only reason. I did my master’s project on implementing  better  math and science teaching for  development, & the reason the qualified math and science teachers do not get paid more, or better working conditions is…there is no political will…& the reason for that is,  the people who could address this:  you, me, our neighbors,  are too lazy to  be organized and meet, and nag—for  a pay differential to  attract better qualified teachers,  In  Chicago,  if  the Chicago Board of Education can’t find teachers, they either  have a literature teacher teach science, or  don’t offer the course.  That’s also how the Chicago Community Colleges deal with the issue:  courses not offered.  Meanwhile, the principals, chancellors, and the  higher ups in the bureaucracy can find plenty of cash to pay themselves…just no money to pay for people offering to teach scarce skills.  Makes all the sense in the world, right?

This is important, because if you don’t know math, or basic science, you can’t understand economics.  Economics is the science that deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of wealth.  But it’s nor really a science—it’s more of a philosophy.

About 10 years ago, looking for a better way to make money without spending years in school, I looked in to brokering cash flows:  payment streams. They are traded among investors.  It works like this:  Say you agree to  payments—like a mortgage.  A 20 year mortgage  is 240 monthly payments.  It was—& still is— legal to by certain payments in that stream. You could buy payments 15 through 125, or  payment numbers 128, 146, 238, etc.  It didn’t matter.

My question was….what if the mortgage got paid off early?  Or was defaulted on?  Would you get the principal and  no interest?  How would you ensure this if the mortgage was sold several times?  Ah…this was the rub.  I realized that I didn’t have the back up capital to be involved in this industry.  I chalked up what I spent on learning this to ….education.

Years passed, and the  mortgage/cash flow industry (as it was known) continued to develop  creative financing, and it was legal because it was not illegal.  The  real estate appraisers were in collusion with this, and the term for this slice and dice was ultimately called the credit default swap.

The only ones who made money on this were the investors who  hedged bets against this—like Michael Burry (who was profiled by Michael Lewis in his recent book. The Big Short).  Because we are innumerate, and can get high school…& then get college degrees without being able to balance a checkbook,  we and our neighbors were tricked into buying houses we and they could not afford because  the mortgage brokering foxes running the henhouses told us and them  they COULD afford those houses when common sense said we and they could not.

Never mind that if they added up what they paid for utilities, groceries, clothing, insurance, CABLE TV, gym membership, eating  out, vacations, GETTING THEIR HAIR & NAILS DONE,  saving for retirement—and my very favorite:  getting the dog’s hair cut—- they’d see  that all this cost more than they brought into their households as income.  They could not afford the house (tho the dog’s haircut was the first casualty of real life in their faces…)

Nobody ever brought up:  what if the prices of gas, insurance, food, PROPERTY TAXES. or a repair to their homes—went up faster than their pay?

Nobody counseled them, or us.   This just could not happen. It’s a free country.   Bit,  this is how capitalism works.

When I started making mortgage payments over 30 years ago, I was not living so close to the edge…and since the  economic crash of 2008, I am living precariously close.  I’ve had to do some fancy footwork.  I can see right now, though, that  I can’t afford to  live in the house I live in now when I retire unless I win the lottery.

My biggest concerns are energy costs and property taxes.  Our governments are too bloated, and our elected officials are really too clueless.  Otherwise, how can you explain that , despite a federal deficit, we have money for wars, foreign aid, and to bail out banks & large industries?  What would have happened it AIG —too big to fail—had failed? How would that have affected me?   Locally, how did the city of Chicago, and the state of Illinois set up pension programs for themselves & state workers, based on a funding dream, not reality?  In fact, in Chicago, how did the union officials who  ‘worked’ maybe a week,  become eligible for both government & union pensions?  How could that possibly become legal when  virtually everyone else has to be on a job at least a year to be eligible for a pension?

Thanks to the internet, we can now see h0w other countries fare in terms of budgets…especially  when they are not fighting wars.

Let’s get a grip.  For decades, due to the concept of credit, we had the largest/strongest economy.  That is no longer true.  As long as people were willing to pay interest on loans, and had the integrity to pay the loans back, capital kept growing.

My grandparents  were first generation Americans, and raised my parents to believe that the USA is the greatest country.  For decades, we has the strongest and most diverse economy. That is no longer true.

There are a lot of people who have a vested interest in keeping you and your children misinformed.

It makes no sense that our prisons are filled with drug addicts, the stupid, and homosexuals (really), but there is no room for the truly dangerous.  It makes no  sense that the politicians can decide what to pay themselves and how many people to have on their payrolls, yet allow major industries (banking, health insurance, law) to influence what laws we have.  It makes no sense that people at the Securities and Exchange Commission  saw that Bernie Madoff had a huge pyramid scheme going, & nobody stopped the guy.

You might wonder how I started thinking about how all this works.  It started by  having to deal with people who impulsively bought pets they weren’t prepared to care for.  They didn’t have enough information, and  the law didn’t require sellers to give them information. It’s just too easy to acquire a pet animal!  But that’s how capitalism wants. It doesn’t meet needs, it creates wants!

Think about this:  if everyone who graduated 8th grade  had to demonstrate numeracy:  understanding a profit and loss sheet, or a budget, or how to balance a check book, and what diapers cost and how many a child under 2 years old goes through…we might have fewer people having kids and losing their homes.   I guess we’d have fewer people graduating  from high school, too…& college—with thousands of dollars in debt & no job.

Now, what does this have to do with  understanding economics .  The concept is actually pretty simple, to start out:  to run a business—any venture, you need inputs:  materials, knowledge, energy, labor, marketing, distribution, and savings for re-investment . All these inputs cost money.  So you have to charge more for the product or service than you spend to create the product or service. Simple.   So…how do you decide what to charge? Every  industry is different.  In some industries, you charge double your inputs…to make sure you have money to re-invest, and profitsWho gets the profits is the rub.

Karl Marx, the layabout philosopher supported by his father-in-law, Fred Engels, said the bosses  take too much  and exploit the workers (in a nutshell), and that soon, the workers would not make enough to support themselves.  &, by golly!  He was a visionary!

So, after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, & the  newspaper editors proclaimed that Capitalism won (because the  corporation that ran  the Soviet Union had to be bailed  out by the World Bank, who paid the same people who got themselves into the mess , to become oligarchs), we 99% had to go along with it.  We  pay everyone as long as they privatize their infrastructure & the elites can benefit.

But it wasn’t capitalism that ‘won’, as  Naomi Klein documented in her amazing book, Shock Doctrine:  The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, because capitalism got an unfair  bail-out from the World Bank that only benefited elites, who, she documented, proceeded to destroy what was left of their economies.   It wasn’t my imagination. It actually happened.   In her book, she also documented what is now called The Third Way—and that is the way of workers cooperatives, that  share the profits left over after re-investment.  The Third Way is also how citizens  keep  elected officials accountable…but  in other countries, they’ve done a lot better job educating themselves than Americans have.

You would think that Warren Buffet and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would now spend their billions helping create that Third Way, but no, alas. it’s not in their interests.

Were I  not  having to make a living, I would be out protesting with the 99% , the occupy Wall Street protesters, who,  as inarticulate as they seem to be—with no ‘leader’— are starting the conversation.They were  born after the civil rights movement, after the Viet Nam War (interesting, that no  Afghanistan & Iraqi veterans against the war have emerged, like the Viet Nam Vets against the War).

We have to make this way of thinking the conventional wisdom.  Now, as for the  people who have lost jobs, who are looking to learn new skills:  if those skills don’t include learning to grow your own food  and do home repairs,  that new learning  will be a waste of time for the foreseeable future.  I really feel for  all the kids getting into debt to pay for college, betting against the future. What a shame.

Even Nixon said, “We are all Keynesians now” and that was back in the 1970’s.  It’s proven..infrastructure does not pay for itself, but there is no return in paying for wars and military aid to dictators, when our  own infrastructure is crumbling…and nobody has asked any of the Republicans how they plan to pay for infrastructure, when you can see, around the world, where infrastructure has been privatized,  everyone’s standard of living has fallen…amazing that the rich think they can buy their way out of a community.

If you think this blog makes sense, please send the link to everyone you know, including your elected officials (who, had they any integrity, should be taking a 50% pay cut, & reset to the 1970s).

The future is here now…and purebred dogs…

August 6, 2011

Global Warming? Are there any doubts?  If you live in Chicago now, you know it is for real.  At least we have the lake…but I am wondering….if sea levels rise  three feet, am I too close to the lake, & will I have lakefront property in my lifetime?  Due to us running air-con & fans, my electric bill has more than tripled  what it usually is.

Since I know my elected officials are not scientists, and that politics is the art of compromise, and mine have compromised us into  pandering to the very selfish, short sighted Republicans & Tea -Partiers, the climate is of low priority interest.

They are also all counting on our educational system not improving any time in the future. They all seem to think that teachers are over paid and under worked, have yet to come up with a system that can tell a good teacher from a bad teacher (I believe test scores are a convoluted way), and  still, 50 years after Sputnik &  ‘we Americans’ realizing the Soviets were way ahead of us in  studying physics & making the knowledge of physics a priority, we still have   many high school students who can’t make change for a dollar.  No joke.

What does this have to do with purebred dogs?  Someone called me a few weeks back, sort of as a last resort, because he was looking for a ‘red factor’ (actually a Sable with no merling)…Shetland Sheepdog.

This is not a rare breed by any means, but he claimed that most of the  hobby breeders he  encountered were breeding merles…because that’s what people wanted.

I understood his concern.  I know there is a desire for merles in  all breeds by an uneducated public that thinks it’s a rumor that merling is linked to congenital blindness & deafness.  It is not a rumor. it is a fact…& it is the reason that the Great Dane Club of America has a breeders’ code of ethics prohibiting merling.  We’d like to believe dappled Dachshunds, & the blue belton English Cockers are NOT merles…but they are…& many are deaf.  Do a BAER test if you doubt it.

Yes, I know  the  black & tan patten (with the kiss marks over the eyes, diamonds on the chest, & tan stockings & tail vents) are linked to deafness, but let’s get back to this guy  not being able to find a Sheltie from a hobby breeder.

I told him that the irony was that …DUE TO THE ECONOMY…very few hobby breeders are breeding without deposits, or  if they don’t think they can keep a litter of 8 or so indefinitely.

The guy complained that the puppy mills & backyard breeders  were filling the void. Ah, yes—thank you AKC.

I told him I was worried about the gene pools in  many of the breeds.  They will be compromised if they are not already, as people who love dogs can’t afford to breed them & keep them.  I also told him to—again—look at Craigslist…& notice all the pit bulls.  The Pit breeders are not concerned about the adult pits that are being euthanized as long as they can sell their puppies.  I told the guy that the problem is that people want to ‘rescue’ a dog, & will take any dog needing rescue. Theres nothing wrong with that—but that doesn’t mean people want Pit Bulls, and I will  not have thugs and uneducated macho hillbillies deciding what kind of dog I should have.

So, using a form of logic, he asked me why didn’t I breed dogs if I was worried about the gene pools.  Seems that breeders of Otterhounds and many other truly rare breeds are worried about this now.

I told him it was because I love dogs, & if there are no homes for the dogs, what does it matter if I  protect a gene pool?

Years ago, I went out with an anthropologist who was trying to  create stress free housing for  laboratory chimpanzees.  He told me the irony was that they are very expensive, but nobody wants them….so what s the point?  & what is the point of saving them if nobody wants them?  Same with Rhinocerus.

What does global warming have to do with this? Energy costs–unless we insist that the GOVERNMENT fund development of  renewable resources such as solar , wind, & batteries, will continue to take a big chunk of our budgets and make our  environment  unlivable.  Thinning the herd?  Maybe.  But the fact is that  in a few years, especially if the  short sighted dimwits who don’t want the rich taxed at the rate they were taxed from the end of World War II right on through the Reagan era continue to have their way, the dogs we will be left with will be all Pit Bulls &  no other breed.

Do the research.  There are is a lot of infrastructure that we need  for economic viability, and it doesn’t make money. It costs money.  It seems that most of the Tea Party is in denial about this, or just plain ignorant.

Our Civilization in Decline….

June 10, 2011

Ever since I sold a 500 gallon aquarium in less than 15 minutes by posting on Craigslist, I’ve been a user.  It’s a wonderful website—something someone should have thought of this before Craig  thought of it.

What’s particularly unique about the site is that there  is a huge  agreement—and warnings—about what is not legal to post.  However, since nobody monitors the site, the skanks  will always post the illegal stuff…ammo, drugs,  and live animals.  And—if they think you think you have maligned them—or—rather—cut into their income,  will post all sorts of  untrue posts, after their posts have been ‘flagged’ off. thinking they will hassle you.  & they are so sure it’s YOU who has flagged them off.

I have to admit….about a month ago—& I was not staying at home at the time….so it sort of backfired on them (except to annoy my roommate who finally shut off the phone) some skank posted my contact info  in the CASUAL ENCOUNTERS section.

You would think that the  average guy of average intelligence might  realize that most of the posts are from ex husbands & disgruntled ex boyfriends,  wanting to offend the woman who rejected them, but unfortunately, the average intelligence of the average guy in America is—-well—look how many are willing to join the military & die for the very rich?  Makes no sense.

My roommate, a really intelligent guy ( Ph.D. & bilingual Japanese & English), wanted to know why any guy would want a CASUAL ENCOUNTER.  Is he not sweet?  I told him  that many guys don’t want a girl friend—-too high maintenance, & they don’t want to masturbate. They’d rather risk getting robbed & shot, & AIDS.  Tough guys—& they vote Republican, join the military…& apparently breed herpetiles (snakes,monitor lizards, Bearded Dragons, etc) & Pit Bulls.

Huh? What?  That’s right. The guy who posted my contact info was someone who I asked  not to sell the animals that he bred on Craigslist.  They don’t  have to pay to advertise, & it’s a buy/sell/trade website that everyone uses. It’s just that the sale of live animals is not allowed.  Even  though the TERMS OF USE state that no animal sales are allowed and  you can’t post anything illegal, you can not only buy  baby animals, but endangered species, drugs of all sorts, ammo & guns, stolen goods…& law enforcement is clueless or too lazy to follow through, respond to the posts, & arrest thee people.  & to me, this is a no-brainer.   Craigslist even posts—in the terms of use—that you can be fined $10.000 per illegal or fraudulent or libelous post—but try finding a lawyer to take your case. You need at least $10,000 minimum to mount a lawsuit.

I  responded to one woman  who posted that she wanted to BUY A PIT BULL WITH A LOW FEE.  I asked her to check out  local shelters that always have Pit Pups—but she didn’t want a shelter dog, she wanted to see at least 1 parent dog—SOMETHING I SUPPORT SO MUCH!!! Just  not on Craigslist.  But something else…. even though there were puppies posted, apparently all the skank breeders were asking too much money for her taste.  How ironic!  So, she decided I was harasing her by responding to her email.  Ok, whatever… what she doesn’t understand is…..local police will not do anything unless they know for sure I am in their  policing area…& she can prove she was harmed.  I know this because I have contacted my local police about harassment.  I’ve talked to detectives.  The government is broke.  Harassment is legal. I don’t mean to harass.  Many people thank me for the info… telling them where to look for a healthy dog… but not the dog brokers.

The there is a family that frequently looks for  a dog on Craigslist.  They post ‘dog wanted’.  Since they post anonymously, I suggest they just respond to the posts. They told me to MYOB.  See. as I said–the people genuinely looking for a dog  email me & thank me—not the brokers.

Well….after weeks of searching, the family finally got the dog they wanted….but no—not really….he’s not working out, the seller won’t take it back, & I am harassing them by telling them to demand the seller take it back. & you know what? They will ultimately dump this dog via a Craigslist post—& post for another dog.  It’s easy enough to do, and totally legal.  &—I know this happens, because the idiot animal sellers—to harass me—often post that I am giving purebred puppies away.  I can’t imagine what these dimwits  are thinking.   I tell every caller that someone put up a scam post, that only bona fide shelters & rescues can post puppies because it is clearly posted in several places that NO ANIMAL SALES OR BREEDING ARE ALLOWED ON CRAIGSLIST—& they will not find a free puppy unless it is sick or stolen—and I can refer them to shelters, rescue, & hobby breeders who will be honest with them….& they thank me….

Why do I bother? I do know honest hobby breeders….& the economy will never recover to what prosperity we had during the Clinton years…& some  breeds of dogs are going to die out.  Not Pit Bulls, though. Pit Bulls are now the #1 breed owned in America. Why?  They are easy to take care of, good with kids, smart—and you can find them all over the place.  Too many are bred for the number of homes there are—& with the  ‘no-kill’ shelter adoption movement  encouraging people to adopt rather than buy—-& people wanting any dog that needs a home—that is what they get—because that is what is available.  A few Beagles, many Huskies (they are bred to run—so why would you get one if you live in an apartment & don’t have a huge fenced yard?).  In the small  toy breed, we are over run with Chihuahuas & Shih Tzus.

What annoys me more than anything is that our law enforcement professionals are not perusing Craigslist for all the illegal activity that really does affect most of us.  Illinois is in the hole for  several billion dollars. Granted, the fines most of the  illegal posters would face are only about $1000 per, but gosh, there are enough of them that it would be more than a break even proposition to  go after these  ‘libertarians’ & it would improve our quality of life:  fewer animals needing homes, fewer  animals in shelters for us to feed before we have to kill them.

I an not a professional profiler, but I have an undergraduate degree in anthropology…& it seems to me that the people who think it’s a good idea to raise pet animals as livestock in an urban environment haven’t thought the implications through. That’s obvious…but more—the rest of us, who let them get away with this, have a false consciousness. ‘We’ seem to think that somebody will deal with all these surplus animals (& the weapons sellers, & people trafficking women) and protect us from these thugs.  Well, guess what— in a bad economy, it is proven that there is more crime.    We already know the solution—tax the rich &  give grants to job creators.  It won’t happen. Why?  The wealthy—& that would be households worth over $500,000—have far more influence over politicians than you or I do. We are not vocal enough. We don’t tell them that  this is a crisis—and we don’t inform ourselves  about how to  fix this.

I’ve cited John Kenneth Galbraith,  Keynes,and Robert Reich in the recent past.  The wealthy have a vested interest in not only keeping  regular folks ignorant, but keeping us busy  taking care of pet animals—particularly the unwanted ones.

Book Review: Aftershock, by Robert Reich

June 2, 2011

Knowing that Dr. Reich was Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, and seeing that the book was ‘only’ 174 pages long (including the index), I decided to give it a go. Read a page or 2, and see if I could get into it.  I mean, really, a book subtitled:  The Next Economy and America’s Future.  Do I really  want to  read economic philosophy?

Published in 2010, it is an amazingly easy read.  Reich really makes our economic history, and what governments are really capable of doing, clear.

Aren’t we all sick and tired of hearing politicians boast about how they will create jobs?  I am doubly sick of  people who were entrepreneurs, and who should know better, boast that they know how to create jobs.

Before I had much of an education, I met a Tanzanian man studying economics here in the USA, and I asked him what he found most interesting about the USA:  “The size of your economy,” he told me.

I had to think about that, but it’s true.  compared to a lot of countries (I was told the whole operating budget for Northwestern University was larger than the government of Tanzania!), we can absorb more shocks.

I have blogged about what a mess we are in several times, and in this book, Reich has the stats and history to bear out what I am saying.  He’s no communist,    but a Keynesian, and a true one, with the facts to back himself up.

The fact of the matter is, I am an anarchist.  I believe in small governments . But infrastructure does not pay for itself.  We can all scoff at Karl Marx, who was a lazy ass  supported by his father in law, but considering that he was the first to point out that, in an industrialized economy, the playing field was not level, we owe him a lot—if only for putting his ideas out there.

Unfortunately, most Americans have what Marx called a false consciousness , identifying with people who do not have their best economic interests at heart.  They’ve convinced a bunch of people to join the military and die for their interests, convincing them that they are really putting their lives on the line for ‘freedom’—and that is not so.

I haven’t read it in 30 years, but I remember being impressed by John Kenneth Galbraith’s  The New Industrial State as well, although it is not as easy a read as Reich’s book.

I hope you will check this out, & then nag out elected officials in Washington to  start taxing the rich more. That’s where the money is, and they won’t miss it…. and as Reich points out, as the middle class can no longer  afford to buy the things we produce (or now—that those overseas produce), we will never climb out of this hole. So much for freedom.