Posts Tagged ‘finances’

Move on? Resist? What’s the Plan? 2017

February 24, 2017
Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, in 1992,  the country was  undergoing a big shift. There had been a president, who had named himself  life president, and had served, at that time, 26 years:  Hastings ‘Kamuzu’ Banda.  He was s dictator:   he terrorized the country.  He was supported by the Europeans & the USA because he was NOT a communist, and  he  supported apartheid in South Africa. About the only good thing he did for the Malawians was build a  decent road infrastructure.  The school and health care systems were virtually nonexistent.  It was a country run by elites. who went for medical care out of the country.  Malawi was socially stratified:  if you had a decent job and were literate, most likely you employed an illiterate servant to clean your house & probably cook for you. There was no way to improve your lot unless you were (or are) particularly ingenious.

Of course, I worked with elites.  They  two I worked with were honest, and had integrity.  Things were the way they were.  Pick your battles. but I explained to them that  democracy did not bring good government, but representational government.

And here we are, over 30 years later, and our  representational electorate has elected  a guy who lied, who had no plan, who  disrespects women, minorities, the handicapped…. people who are not white Europeans.  It will be interesting to see how  his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law works with the white supremacist  Bannon, who is a close advisor.  Really interesting….but I think they are sell-outs. I have some friends who I really lost respect for.  It’s one thing to think your friends are  uninformed—but to see they voted for the white guy because they believed ‘fake news’ (what we used to call lies….as ‘toxic assets’ were liabilities) and just didn’t like  or trust Hillary.   Was it because she was a woman?  Doesn’t matter—she actually got the popular vote. She won!  But due to the political mumbo jumbo of the electoral college, these former friends who voted for Trump think—really, that HE won!  It’s like saying 5-3=10!  So this is the new reality.

I fear for the environment.  Even the Clean Air & Clean Water acts were signed by Nixon—a Republican.  It is proven that when you offer free birth control and family planning information—the unplanned birth rate goers down, and the community prospers….but our rulers  really have a mindset that women should be punished for having sex—the punishment being raising  children, and this will lead to a surplus in labor.  Our economy can no longer absorb uneducated people—as it can’t absorb the educated ones! What other explanation can you  come up with for  defunding  Planned Parenthood or making abortion illegal?  It’s not like the people who make these laws are fostering or adopting orphans or kids in the child care system.

I also think  the Democratic Congress made the banking industry more accountable. Trump thinks it is too much regulation.  Education would  fix this, as kids would understand more, but with DeVos, they have demonstrated that  making sure kids learn math & science is not a priority.  it’s up to us…in the states…to work this out.

So, as a result of all this, I am much more in touch with my elected officials.  I let them know how I feel about everything.

But  are there  citizen movements emerging to develop strategies to  change it all back….or…?

While   I have big issues with the Affordable Care Act, the problem is with insurance companies, and it is time for Single Payer.  If Trump wasn’t flitting off to Florida every week, there’d be plenty  of money  for  people of all ages to buy into Medicare. You wouldn’t have to—you could still pay for private insurance if you really believe you’d get a better deal….but, having had to  deal with  health insurance a lot recently (Bursitis, and I was bitten by a dog), I can tell you, the government couldn’t make a bigger mess out of what things should cost & how hospitals get paid than the insurance companies have!

If we are going to ‘resist’ and make things better, we must educate ourselves, so we have talking points.  I want everyone who wants to make a difference get  4 books and read them.

  1.  The First is, “Lies My Teacher Told me, ” by James Loewen  You really have to understand American History, first, or you will be ‘condemned to repeat it.  It’s outrageous, what we learned in school and  what we think is real;

2. “Charlie Wilson’s War,”  by  George Crile.  Aaron Sorkin made a pretty funny movie by manipulating facts.  All of what Charlie did, and why,  is sort of ‘funny’ in an ironic way.  It’s important to understands what he did and who influenced him, as he changed history.  You will learn  that he actually armed what became the Taliban, ISIS, and all the others who hate  freedom;

3.  You ought to read a book on economic history.  “The Big Short,” by Michael Lewis, again, was a funny movie.  Not so funny  is that is our history, and he documents it and writes about it in a way you can understand.  Bottom line:  because we are  an innumerate nation, and so few of our schools teach  people real math and budgeting, our neighbors trusted the banks—even thought the numbers were right in front of them. We all lost, big time.

If this seems too convoluted, get a copy of Robert Reich’s book, “Aftershock.”  We could have saved ourselves, but Hillary didn’t make it engaging enough (that, and the Russians and FBI director Comey put the final nails in her coffin);

4.  Finally, how do we actually  get the hearts & minds?  You have to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point.”  We’re not going anywhere in a hurry unless we know the dynamics of social change.  In simple language,  this book tells us how it’s done.

Businesses Make ‘Make Work’ Jobs

December 4, 2015

When I was  a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi over 20 years ago, I  ‘inherited’ a staff of  about  20 to 30 employees. I tried to get a handle on  who they all were and what they did. Frankly, bureaucracies  are the same where ever you go…especially  when politicians are involved.  In any case, I had several people assigned to my department  whom I could not  see as doing anything that added value to making the city run smoothly.    However, the British had set up a system where  we  didn’t just file the files, but assigned the files an additional filing number, and in order to get a plot file…rather than going into the filing  room and getting the file, we had to go to a clerk who would look up  the file number for the plot records and then fetch the file for us…or not.  Files would go ‘missing’.  Even though you were supposed to  sign for a file, I  learned that  another department head was not signing, and just taking  files.  After all, there was really no way for an employee to make the  guy sign for the file…especially if the employee in charge was paid something extra.  After a few months of this, I, of course, insisted we  do away with this ‘system’ and refile by plot number—and perhaps we’d find some missing files (we did) or get a handle on what was missing.

But what to do with the superfluous  employees?  I went to the Human Resources guy, and he told me  I had to  go to the town clerk, as he could not move  people around. The Town Clerk agreed with me, but told me that if I had people I needed to get rid of, I had to find another department head and make a trade. The only way I could get rid of someone not working is if they died or left voluntarily.  The Town Clerk warned me that if I made a trade, I might get someone even worse than what I had.

In the USA a few weeks ago, I got a call from my bank (Ally Bank, for the record), as well as an email. They had an urgent matter to discuss with me.  I was told to ask for a specific employee.  Having had a not great experience  emailing (although I did email the person), I called.  Hilarity and frustration ensued.  I was asked my mother’s maiden name, my address (including the 4 digit suffix to my zip code), my favorite color, and my favorite singer—by three different people…but nobody could tell me why I was contacted. So now several people know  my confidential information. They asked me how many accounts I had at the bank. one.  Just one. Finally, after all this and being put on hold—about 20 minutes of my life…I was told that I used the wrong deposit ticket to make a deposit.  How did this happen?

I was running low on deposit tickets, so I emailed the bank to order more. I got an automatic response stating they would contact me. They did not.  After  three weeks, I CALLED THE BANK.  The customer service person told me to use the  sample ticket I got in my welcome packet (three years ago) and she would put in an order for more deposit tickets.  So I did that, since I had several hundred dollars in checks.  I thought I had the right routing number, but apparently, it was for an account style I had opened…and then changed.

So, my deposit was just sitting there on somebody’s desk—not deposited—until I told them I had only one account.  This could have been taken care of in less than five minutes if —when I was initially contacted, I was told I used the wrong deposit ticket.  It wasn’t like I was taking money out—I WAS PUTTING MONEY IN!

Think I am being picky?  I work with my hands.  If I have to hold a phone, I can’t work.  I don’t play games on either my phone or my computer. I am not putting outfits on my dog, polishing my nails, or watching YouTube videos learning to put make-up on. My time is precious.  By making  something complicated, it doesn’t make it more serious or important.

Here’s another good one:  the valve stem broke off one of my tires.  I got a flat tire.  My roommate, who  hasn’t noticed if I painted a wall a different color or  moved art around, noticed that I had a flat tire, and this was the reason.  He put  the spare on the car, but told me to have it fixed ASAP.  He told me it would cost about $30. So, I went to the  tire dealer, and, indeed, that was the cost…except the law since 2006 is that the computer in the car has to be reset, as it would indicate low tire pressure…and that cost over $140!  Why is this?  Up until about  20 years ago, car engines didn’t last that long.  In many cases, you’d get to 75,000 miles (sometimes less)m and you’d need a ring job, or a new timing belt, or another major repair. Well,  due to  Asian competition, everyone now makes pretty sturdy car engines. That’s not what’s going to go on your car. It’s going to be something smaller. Maybe the battery, or the tire.  The car repair  businesses can’t really make any money on small repairs, so, by having the  computer  and access to proprietary codes, and charging us for it, they can stay in business.

Where I currently work, a dog grooming business, we have  two  guys who bathe dogs. That’s all they do. Yes, they clean cages at the end of the day, but neither does anything they are not told to do. Hence, we are always running out of something, and the place is a mess. In theory, they are supposed to make our work easier and help us complete grooms more quickly.  The reality is, they slow us down.  Partly because  when I started grooming, I had to bathe a lot of dogs before I could get to clipping and scissoring, and partly because, traditionally, we’ve been paid commission,  my average dog bath takes about five minutes, and I get  the dog clean and the soap rinsed out, and I get the dog dried quickly.  Not these guys. We are constantly sending dogs back to be rebathed.  It takes them four times as long as it does me.  Not only  that, but they clock in, then stop for breakfast! Why  does my boss allow this?  He’s not a groomer and he justifies this because he pays them $11 an hour, and I am too ‘valuable’ to be doing this task.  It’s a false economy.

All this is make work.  None of this is adding value.  I don’t know that there is a solution as long as  people in charge  rise to their highest level of incompetency, and think the goal is job creation.

Book Reviews: Over My Head, by Claudia L. Osborn

October 2, 2015

Long story short:  in the late 1980’s, physician Claudia Osborn was taking a bike ride with a friend through her neighborhood, when she was hit by a car and sustained massive head trauma.

On the outside, she looked healed and perfectly normal, but it was obvious to people close to her that she was not healed, and could no longer work as a physician.  her  biggest problem was short-term memory.  She could drive a car, but could never remember where she was going, Indeed, she could not follow through on a lot of activities unless she made a list.

She was lucky to find a program that treated people with head trauma. Although she lived in Michigan with a friend,  she was able to  attend a specialized program that attempted to retrain  people how to think and manage their thought processes, based in New York City.

Her long-term memory was still ok, and she still knew  medicine, and she wanted to practice medicine, but she also realized that  she needed a lot more recovery time and  practice  thinking and managing her life. This is what this book is about.

The idea that she  could even write this book, and explain  her healing process as well as she did, is a miracle.  What is more astonishing to me is that she  could not only pay for this specialized treatment (I guess, as a physician, she had excellent insurance), she could also  afford to fly back & forth between Michigan and  New York City for months.

I am sure strides have been made in treating head trauma in the past 30 years, but  recovery is, I am sure, still a slow process.  Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head, can tell us about that.

This book is very well written, and i would suggest it to anyone  who cares about a person who  has had a stroke or any traumatic brain injury.

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.

Didn’t I Already pay This Bill?

May 22, 2015

We’ve got a problem here in Illinois.  It’s unfunded pension funds.  In a nutshell, what happened was that tax money collected that was supposed to be earmarked for the pension funds was diverted to  the minutiae  that politicians often finagle for:  plug budget holes left by corporate tax breaks, funding of special pork projects, ‘expenses’ for legislators for whatever…and this has been going on about 20 years.  In addition to diverting funds collected,  the powers that be–apparently innumerate,  made  deals with hedge funds &  bond sales men, being promised a level of  return that not only didn’t stay flat, got to be negative due to fees…and now, we—again—have to pay.

Why do we have to pay again?  Because  public employees were promised pensions.  I don’t have a pension.  I’ve been self-employed most of my life, and I knew I’d have to take care of ME (again—why I  never had children), so I saved and invested.
But  these public employees were promised a pension…and…because they never paid into Social Security— they have no back-up.

Don’t get me wrong;  I do not feel ‘sorry’ for them that they made life choices to indulge themselves and not save  for the future. We don’t really know that.  They were told that if they worked at least a certain #  of years (is it 20?) they’d get a pension from the state.

I pity the employees who  just couldn’t take it anymore, or were otherwise dicked around, and  left those jobs.  Hopefully, they found other jobs  where the employers took out  Social Security.  But whatever. Our beef shouldn’t be with these employees (even if we do feel they are  over paid, underworked, and don’t deliver real service).  Our beef is with the politicians…but also the newspapers which endorsed them for election and re-election.

That’s right. The Chicago Tribune ran an editorial in the Sunday paper telling us citizens to look in the mirror if  we wanted someone to blame. Moi?  Why?  Did YOU—Chicago  Tribune—- and just about every other media outlet  not only  tell us we were irresponsible if we didn’t vote—and then ENDORSE these very politicians who voted to give themselves pay raises and divert the  tax money  from the pension funds?  We expected a free press  to be honest and give us information—not take the wrong side!

So  now our taxes—both income and property—will have to go up to make up for the shortfall…yet you all (politicians, the media…) still support  sports teams and artists (movie producers, festivals) with tax breaks, citing an amorphous economic multiplier!  chutzpah!

My only choice is to sell my home and move to a state that is better managed. but then, there is the issue of potable water.  We’ve known this was coming for over 50 years—yet our legislators have voted to allow fracking rather than give more tax incentives to renewable energy sources!

We citizens are a bunch of chumps.

1/2 Million Ain’t What it Used to be

July 10, 2014
Balloons over Cappadocia

Balloons over Cappadocia

 

 

My parents set a really good example for me…but that was the culture they came from.  They  decided to NOT have kids until they were financially secure…meaning they    owned a house & weren’t subject  to a landlord’s whims, and if something happened to my father—the bread winner,  he had life insurance to take care of us kids.  It was middle class values.

I am afraid that, due to the news media and journalists looking for a sob story, the conventional wisdom is now that the rest of the community has to make up for  a  parent’s bad decisions.

I understand the average American citizen carries a balance on their credit card.  I also understand that the average American who  graduated college has college debt—but that only about 25% of adults have  college degrees.  I also understand that  since 2008, when the economy imploded, a lot of people were living to close to the edge of financial calamity and have not recovered.

I am clearly not rich.  I still  shop for clothes at thrift stores, and do all sorts of stuff to economize.  I didn’t think of myself as having assets, but  as I’ve been planning for retirement, I have been proved wrong.

If I retire at 65, will I have enough money to last me if I live to be 100?  Most people don’t  live to be 100, but I’ve had relatives live into their 90’s.  My father turns 88 in a few weeks and is still going strong.

In trying to protect capital from market losses, I started thinking about what *I would do to manage this.  Also,  as I was drafting this, a friend sent me a Zillow link that  showed the estimated valuation of my house.

It wasn’t luck that allowed me to accumulate:  it was pragmatic choices, and learning from my parents.  Sure, I made some choices I really regret (buying a business based on optimism, when I was set to retire at a very young age), but mostly I did ok:

1.  I did not incur college debt.  None. Zero.   I paid cash. In fact, I got an assistantship to grad school:  they PAID me to go.  I have written about this before, but my niece  got her associate’s degree from a community college, and finished her B.A. at a state school.  Her debt was for law school, but she crafted a career and is doing phenomenally well—BECAUSE SHE PLANNED.  Unless you  go to an Ivy League School, or a school kn0wn for a particular program (Johns Hopkins for public health, or Georgetown for International Development), your network or alumni association will be marginal in helping you get a job.  It’s stupid to incur over $20,000 in debt if you aren’t absolutely sure there is a shortage of employees in your field. Majoring in education, or business, or  liberal arts is plain stupid these days.

2. I didn’t have kids.  When you don’t take birth control as seriously as I did, you are gambling with being poor—and the odds are not in your favor.  You are expecting your community to  help you out, and the  politicians generally pay themselves too much money to be bothered with the likes of you—& why should they—or anyone—have to support YOUR PERSONAL CHOICE?  If you do some research about how people live, you will find a few enclaves in the world (Singapore, and even Kuala Lumpur come to mind) where even the poor live  more of a middle class lifestyle.  That is because of cultural sensibilities and the  people in power.  But most of the world’s poor live without running water.   Yet YOU want to have cable TV, a smart phone, and designer clothes?&  cigarettes and beer …& kids?

3.  That’s another thing.  When you CHOOSE to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol…you are  saying you have more than enough money to  waste.  You do not look mature or sophisticated. You look stupid. that’s a fact.  This is not the 1950’s.  We  know these addictions cause health problems, It’s not loke the information is a secret.

4.  I bought my first house in what would be considered a slum area.  Funny thing, there was no ‘minority’ population, but the housing stock was old.  It cost me $24,000, with $2000 down.  I started building equity.  There was a lot wrong with that house—but the rent did not go up.  I ultimately sold that house, and my current home is worth considerably more.

With the market correction of  2008, this can be done again. Would you forego fast food, cable TV,  cigarettes, going out drinking— to  be stable and start building wealth? You can watch HGTV and learn a lot about looking at a neighborhood, and  ‘feeling out’ a property.  You are not  going to make an old, broken  down house livable on $20,000, but you might  with $50,000–especially if the plumbing and electrical infrastructure are ok.

4.  I chose to live with roommates. Yes, finding people you are compatible with is a serious issues.  I have lived with drunks and other who could not get their lives together.  I  contracted with a school that catered to foreigners  wishing to learn English in the USA.  I took several people from that school, and ultimately  got my current  roommate (12 years and counting) this way—to save money.

5.  I made a point to budget and save money. …and invest money.  Of course, I learned this from my mother.  She didn’t know investing however.  I was lucky one of my friends wanted to start an investment club.  They can be found.  You will learn together.  These days, you can get Money  or Kiplinger’s magazine, do really good research on Google finance, and open a Scottrade account (there are lots of discount brokers).  I also ’round up’ when I  deduct a check (or debit) from my checking account. I always have a cushion  of money I don’t even count on as there.

6.  In times of no employment or slow business, I find other ways to earn money.  I did over night pet sitting for years for a very reputable company.  I collect cans  on the street when I am out walking the dogs, I  find books, furniture, and clothing to resell. Some of my friends do baby sitting, tutoring, proof reading.

7.  I delay gratification. I have a list of ‘wants’, but  I only buy when I find something that’s a good value, and if I’ve met my savings goals.

I think these are all common sense ideas.  But if all your friends are idiots with no goals, who ridicule your  ideas, plans, and way of life, you will be  brought down.  Think about it.  Nobody is going to save your ass but you.  & what is $500,000?  Over  35 years….or 420 months…that’s $1190 per month (or roughly $297 per week).  Can YOU live on that?

 

Is Social Security a Ponzi Scheme?

January 24, 2014

Well,  I  guess, if you consider the way the system works is that we take resources from  one group of people to  enrich another group of people, it is. Since most employees pay in, and not all who pay in live long enough to collect, it could be.    Should this be an issue?  It’s not like it’s a secret that it works on actuarial tables.

We are an urban society.  People no longer live on farms where they grow their own food, or with extended families.  We age and get to a point where we can not work.  In an ideal world, we would have all learned to budget and save money for a  future when we could not work.    We all would have made enough money  working at jobs top do so. We would not have had more children than we could support. We would have made enough to save for retirement.    We could have relied on our living expenses not rising—especuially land rents. Most of us have  learned that we should have  at least  six months of living expenses saved up  for an emergency.  Currently, many of our federally elected officials, not necessarily numerate themselves, who also get  pensions (http://www.factcheck.org/2007/12/congressional-pensions/)  have decided that it is more important to give military foreign aid  to foreign dictators, as well has support a bloated military budget (I do not begrudge soldiers, but  their paraphernalia  and ‘research’), than it is  to fund social security and medicare. Also, while they are complaining about the costs of all this–particularly medicare and medicaid, they do nothing to stop waste and fraud.

When  the Social Security system was initiated during the depression of the 1930’s,  urbanization  had started, and  many old people were losing their farms and  familial support networks.  Most people would NOT  save for retirement if not forced, nor could they make informed investment decisions.  We still are reluctant to even inform ourselves about budgeting, planning, and investing, and more reluctant to delay gratification.  I  continue to be shocked by people under  40 smoking cigarettes, and  people who carry a balance on their credit cards and can’t tell you what they bought.

Now, we hear from the media that the system is unsustainable.   A media controlled by old white men!  The issues are  that our population is not growing—we are not a population pyramid in this country, with many young people.  We are a population column.  At least that’s what they try to have us believe!  It’s too expensive to raise  more than  two kids for most couples.  In fact, most of the urban  world, better educated than  rural people, are choosing to  have smaller families.   The idea that the population is not growing to freed into Social Security is not  the problem, however—just an interesting and  goofy way of framing it.

The problem is that not all wages are subject to Social Security taxes.  The system is  never updated with the cost of living and inflation rxcept for pay-outs.   Were all income taxed, including capital gains, we’d be in fantastic shape.  In fact, if we didn’t allow the politicians to spend out tax dollars on military foreign aid, subsidies to  corporations, including farms, and wars—then claim we have a deficit—we’d be in phenomenal shape.  Also, since we are funding the system with inflated dollars, and salaries are more inflated than they were  when the system started,  were the system equitable,  there would be a huge surplus.  The irony is that the blowhards in Congress—who  do not pay into the system  once they are elected—but  get DEFINED PENSIONS, are telling us what to believe.  Chutzpah!

There is  one more issue: the many  dimwits with no skills, no entrepreneurial mindset, who’ve reached  almost old age, or  have spawned dimwit kids, who go on SSI.  Nobody counted on so many people gaming the system.  The fact of the matter is that if we didn’t pay these people to watch TV, drink,  smoke, and live on junk food, they’d be criminals—robbing us, or we wouldn’t be able to walk dow  a city sidewalk for the beggars.  It’s almost that way in my neighborhood now.    That’s why we have a welfare system–to prevent more of them from being  drains and endangering our lives. Some are good at gaming the system, and get physicians to cooperate. The rest become thugs.

Don’t let them get away with calling Social Security an entitlement.  If Congress can manage to  tax the interest your ‘earnings’ on a  savings account that is now  paying interest of .01%, they can manage to  make all wages/income subject to Social Security.

They Fell for the Hype and are now Disappointed

October 25, 2012

Earlier in the month  the Chicago Tribune ran a feature story on the Caterpillar workers. Caterpiller is an old Illinois manufacturing company.  They  used to manufacture farm implements and now it’s mostly road building equipment.

The thing about manufacturing—traditionally—is that you were  creating value added products.  Durable goods. Tangibles.  Those used to be good, middle class jobs for  men who had high school diplomas. The jobs currently pay between $11 and $25 per hour.  Sounds good, right? These  workers live in a rural area.  How can you NOT afford to live on $440—$1000 per week?

This is how: those jobs no longer  come with health insurance. So, that will bankrupt you right there.  Car payments.  Kids….but the  worst part of the problem is….these workers really  believed the  American Dream—that if you graduated from high school, got a job with a good company, and worked hard, you’d be able to retire at age 65 and travel.  They also never wanted to say to their kids, “we can’t afford it!”

My parents were not wealthy by any means, but they   thought saving and planning for the future was very important. I can’t tell you how many times I heard my mother  reply to a request, “We can’t afford it.”  & these were the days before  computers, everyone having a cell phone, or, dare I say it—-were living on credit.  The only monthly payments my folks had (1950s—1970s) were car  and mortgage.  Yet, I knew they were saving.  My father wanted to open his own company, and they borrowed from relatives and leveraged that against a bank loan. But it wasn’t for luxury goods.

One of the workers, the article reported, said he pays $95 a month for cable TV so his kids can watch a 24 hour cartoon channel.  I wanted to tell him, “Honey:  by a computer, pay for a DSL line. Get rid of your landline, and the kids can find anything on the computer they can find on TV. You Tube .  As for all your cell phones:  get a pay-as-you-go plan.”  But hey, wait a minute!  Did this guy ever think to say to his kids, “Nothing on TV? READ A BOOK!”

Clothing?  Try The Salvation Army, Good Will,  AmVets/Value Village, etc. & make a couple of trips into Chicago & try Plato’s Closet or any of the other resale stores if you absolutely have to pay more than $10 for a pair of pants.  You can get  discount underwear at Marshall’s.  They are cheaper than Target or Wallmart.

You must have land behind your home, Plant a vegetable garden.  Shop at Aldi’s, Their dairy products are 30% cheaper than just about everyone else, even Walmart.

I could go on and on.  It affects me:  I groom dogs for a living. Believe me:  that is the first to go!    many of the beauty schools give free haircuts in Chicago. my tenants furnished their entire house off of Craigslist & what they found in the alleys.    Their taste is incredible.  You can find a lot of nice stuff in the cast-offs.
However, if you have more than 2 kids, and  the surplus are not foster kids (the state gives foster families money and resources), you are right. You have beyond ‘replacement’ for you and your spouse.  Too bad you made a poorly informed choice.  You will not be able to game the system for these  three reasons:

1.  land rents 2. energy costs 3. health care

Land rents are  generally property taxes, and  because  our  legislators have been generous with pensions, we will never get out of this particular hole—having to pay way more than  it its worth.  This is not going to change in our lifetime, or our childrens’ lifetime, so  were I YOU, I’d look for a  state—or even a country—-where  the politicians haven’t been so  greedy;

Energy costs?  In a way, energy costs are tied to land rents and pension funds, as we are still seriously tied to  fossil fuels.  You either buy a Prius, build 18 inch thick walls around your house & triple pane your windows (&  don’t forget the roof), or you are  S O L;

Health Care? Same deal.  It’s not just physicians  & nurses that  deserve a living wage—its’ the health care administrators, and the many insurance companies—& they have a monopoly.  I have friends who’ve moved to France,  Panama, and Thailand—all countries that have superb health care systems.  They couldn’t afford to stay in the US.  I also know of people who’ve moved to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and a few other countries.

Face it, this country was not made for regular folks.  The mortgage interest tax deduction was really the  growth spurt that created the middle class in the USA, and  while the politicians were all patting themselves on the back & reminding us how great a country this is, and that the Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars preserved our freedoms, they robbed us blind.

Notice that nobody asked any of the presidential candidates about cutting or reigning in government pensions.

Now, we can all whine about how unfair this is, or we can determine to develop strategies to remove ourselves from the system.

The Politicians Keep Doing it to us in Illinois

October 11, 2012

I always liked Gov. Pat Quinn.  He’s a progressive, like me. Unfortunately, he’s reached his highest level of incompetence.  He keeps making dumb decisions.  The most recent you have to wonder about, is his wanting to hire a woman who declared bankruptcy in 2009 to  be head of the Illinois Sports Facility Authority.

Let’s break this down. First of all—the Illinois Sports Facility Authority.  So, we issue bonds to upgrade Soldiers Field (home of the Chicago Bears),  U.S, Cellular (formerly known as Comisky Park, home of the White Sox), United Center (home of the Chicago Bulls & Blackhawks), and, I don’t know…do we have stadiums or sports facilities in Kankakee, Aurora, Joliet, or Champaign?  Does it matter? The teams that play in the facilities are for profit ventures!

The  ISFA has been criticized for lack of transparency for sweetheart deals with all the team owners.    We  citizens pay,  and the  politically connected owners profit.  So, that’s an issue.

Then, the issue is…he wants  a woman who clearly has a problem managing money to be in charge of it.  She did not declare bankruptcy over medical issues, but for spending money on stuff to  maintain a lifestyle to which she wanted to become accustomed  and couldn’t afford.  Is there really nobody in the entire state who has  a verifiable track record in managing public funds, or a government agency, who would do this for what she  would be paid:  over $100,000?   (she has been making $111,000 as Gov. Quinn’s spokeswoman. No joke…& the last ISFA head made $175,950.  Nice round number).

I am flabbergasted.  Quinn is currently blaming Rahm Emmanuel, the mayor of Chicago, claiming  Emmanuel is criticizing  Quinn because Emmanual wants his own choice to be head of the ISFA.  Maybe so, but  I can’t believe  Rahm would choose someone who had declared bankruptcy within the past  seven years.

Quinn is handing the governorship to the Republicans, and they are laughing. Soon, it will be their turn, again, to screw us all. Look at our history.  Neither party has any respect for the voters of Illinois.

Demoralizing, really.  Just demoralizing. But I am not letting this  rest with mere bitching. I will bitch to my state senator & state representative. Both Democrats. They really have to say something.

Is there a solution to this cronyism (I hesitate to  say  anything else)?  Yes. We have to  beg the Norwegians to run our government for a few years.

I am an anarchist. Let’s start with that.

August 31, 2012

Those  who know me would say, “Of course!”  Let’s get serious.  What does being an anarchist mean?  Are we the same as libertarians?  We share so many of the same values, it’s really hard to tell, but  the difference  is how we get to the end result of the government falling away. Karl Marx developed the theory that labor would organize itself, and labor unions would run the government.  That’s it in a nutshell.  As we Jews say, the rest is commentary.  This was at a time when labor was not really organized, and the thought was that labor would organize as industrial unions, not business unions, like what we actually have.

Anarchists  don’t believe in no government. They believe in small government—like the libertarians do.  We aren’t generally violent people, although the  writers of American history would have us believe Sacco & Vanzetti were  bomb throwers (it couldn’t possibly have been the police starting a riot…)

I came to anarchism through industrial unionism… syndicalism…and the Industrial Workers of the World. For those who don’t know anything about the Wobblies, you might get Patrick Renshaw’s book, or rent Warren Beatty’s movie, Reds (which is part documentary & interviews with old Wobs, as we were called).

We believe workers should run the economy…the government, and that the boss is useless.  I would general digress now about how difficult it is for dog groomers to work for non-dog groomers who are business owners, and who want to exploit our labor, but this is not why I am blogging about anarchism.

The problem is…that our needs in modern, urban, society are complicated and require full time oversight.  This would leave little time for economic activity to support our community’s needs:  planning, developing, and caring for infrastructure, energy resources, schools and education, health care, security, and information  communication  and distribution.

So—we have an overlay of bureaucracy to take care of  stuff’. They have to get paid, so we tax ourselves.

But then..the dynamic changes, and the politicians we elect seem to think that they really provide an added value, as do the employees they oversee that are working for us. They get much better benefits than the rest of us, including their pension plans…and the result is, of course, that so many government entities are now declaring bankruptcy.

I am an old lady now. The billions we could have spent on  teaching teachers to teach science, to provide health car  cradle to grave, to develop and renewable energy resources… we spend on the wars in Viet Nam, Nicaragua, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Bosnia, Somalia (but not Rwanda)…so people could be free?  We allowed the people we elected to underfund out schools,  pander to teachers’ unions (how ironic is this?)deny us health care as a human right (unless we live to be very old), bail out banks & AIG—the insurance company too big to fail—in place of environmental and economic security…what is this about?

We parrot that the USA is the greatest country in the world, and  we are, essentially, as bad as the Russians: buffoons to the rest of the world.

I am not sure what the solution is, but  now that we have the internet, I would think it would be easier for people to get more information and be a little skeptical about what we all think is the conventional wisdom.