Posts Tagged ‘money’

Paris & NYC

March 19, 2018

Eiffel tower from below

On my ‘bucket list’ of destinations to see and experience,  Paris and the Eiffel Tower were big ones. I am in my 60s, and had only  been to Paris on a stopover from Bosnia.  I just never had the opportunity until Gate One offered this 6 day deal–airfare and hotel for about $700.  Huh?  How do they do it so cheap?  A bunch of  reasons:  One was to  offer  the deal in the OFF SEASON.  Not many people really want to go to Europe during cold weather, so this gives hotels and airlines the opportunity to fill  seats. Keep in mind that hotels and airline seats are what they call ‘perishable commodities’.  You can’t store them.  Also, we had a window of about a week to decide.  The tour operators need to know if there is interest.

I asked my friend, Gloria, to go with me.  We spent  four days in New York City, first.  I had never been to NYC, either.  We stayed at the Wellington, just  across the street from Carnegie Hall, in Midtown.  Perfect location.   A really nice, elegant place, but breakfast did not come with the room. Just  4 blocks from Central Park and  across the street from an L stop.  Because I had never been to NYC, I got  Big Bus ticket.  I think this is a good value because they take you all over, and if you have a guide-book,you get to see  for real what you read about.  The thing about NYC, however, unless you go for a specific purpose—like to see plays or  specific museum exhibits, you can see what you want to see in a day or 2. We did go to the Statue of Liberty and the  really nice Ellis Island museum (which I am sure that if Trump knew what the museum was about…he’d shut down), and we went to an over priced comedy club.  I wanted to go to the top of the Empire State Building, but not for $30!  Indeed…everything is expensive in Manhattan (as it is in Paris),  I guess I’m spoiled living in Chicago (I also don’t buy anything in the Loop). We walked around Greenwich village but all the cute shops are gone.  Real estate is just so expensive.    We took a city bus back from the Village to Midtown & really saw a lot.  The actual highlights of  NYC?  There is a subway food court off  58th ST. & 8th Ave, and we ate at a Japanese place, and the food was cheap and really good.  We also ate at a place called “IndieKitch” on 8th ave off 57th st.,   which offered Indian  fast food, and that was really good, too.

We then left for Paris via Icelandic Air.  Read the online reviews.  Bring snacks.   They charge 6 euros for a cup of oatmeal! A brief stop over at the airport in Reykavik (we got in around 3:00a.m., so missed the northern lights), and on to Paris. We got into Orly at about 9:30a.m.   We got our bags and….no immigration!  Just walk out!  We were a bit dismayed we didn’t get stamps in our passport.  This was, apparently, because we came from Iceland, where we DID get stamps.  Oh well.  A fellow tourist told us to take the Orly bus to the

Gar d’lest, train station across from Holiday inn in the 10th

Denfert-Rochereau metro stop, which  would have taken us all the way to Gare de ‘lest had we been better map readers—but we weren’t, so we changed trains at Gare du Nord  for no reason.  A little disoriented, and because the  sign was so hard to see, we walked around for about 20 minutes before we found the Holiday Inn, which was DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE  GAR DE L’EST!,  In any case, we got settled in.  Made arrangements for the  Hop on/Hop off bus (there are 2 companies, both  ok,tho we saw more red Big Busses), paid for the ‘skip the line’ to the Eiffel Tower for the next afternoon (I wanted to see the sunset over the city, but even at 5p.m. we were still too early ), and went to dinner at a local cafe, where I had a wonderful chicken in mushroom cream sauce for about 15 Euros.

Holiday Inn, 10th, cross from Gar de l’est

The Holiday Inn came with an excellent breakfast buffet, which included cheese, bacon, sausage, yogurt, fresh fruit, and  of course, croissants, so we scarfed some for late as we went around.  Paris is expensive. From taking the bus, we got a feel for where everything was, and most places are easy to get to via the metro.  However, there  are at least 10 metro lines.They are  by color &  number on  the map,but you really have to kinow the difference between pink, rouge, lavender, and magenta.  No joke.  But in any case, we got  to see Notre Dame, which is falling apart, and  lots of interesting sites, then went  in the afternoon to the Eiffel Tower, which had huge long lines. Then, I reread our tickets, and we were to meet our  guide at a souvenir shop 2 blocks east. That was fine, and  she took about a dozen of us back to the tower where we had to pass through  what they call ‘airport style security’—where your bad is checked for metal (guide told us that  no  metal—knives, keys, locks, etc,. were allowed)& they wand you.

View of Seine from Eiffel Tower

So, even with ‘skip the line’, it takes about 1/2 hour to get in. But it’s worth paying an additional $30 or so.  Really.    The guide told us some interesting facts and then set us loose.  I had wanted to eat at the tower, but a friend told me that the Jules Verne Restaurant was really over prices…and indeed…all the little restaurants were. A slice of pizza was 12 Euros (about $15). Gloria had wanted a glass of champagne—20 euros.  Not worth it. So we took photos and walked around.  It was the  one sunny day we had in Paris…the rest were rainy.  Just  what you’d expect of Paris in the Springtime!

Another tourist told us the Louvre was actually free—it’s the galleries that are 15 Euros each.  The Louvre is open

Me at the Eiffel tower—on top!

until 9 on Friday nights. so, there was no line, and we did get it, but it was about  8 by then. Gloria looked into it, I went to the gift shop and got a s little view slide toy with the ‘highlights of the Louvre’.

Gloria wanted to try a walking tour early Saturday, so we met up at Musee D’orsay late in the morning. This was where all the impressionist are.  I could have easily spent a few more hours there.  It was crowded (and I think about 15 euros to get in), but there was no line, and you could move around. We then went to l’Orangerie, where the Monet water lilies are.  I didn’t know that this building was built for Monet, and we’ve all seen  those water lilies. Well, there are six giant murals in  two rooms, and frankly, you can see  that he could not see.  Giant size blurs. His smaller paintings are better.  We saw some  great paintings in the rest of the museum.   I bought water lily socks and an interesting book of  paintings.  Then we went back to the hotel and decided to walk to the canal, which is about 1/2 mile away from the hotel. There are cute shops there, too, but all expensive.  We stopped at a small bistro and had crepes, which were wonderful.  We then got a little lost, but  got back to the hotel and had seen a lot of Paris.

On the first Sunday of the month, the museums are free. I wanted to go to the Rodin museum, which is not far from Musee D’Orsay, in a mansion. Riordan was really not that prolific  You get to see the Thinker & The Kiss, and a few of his other works, but the museum is mostly his studies of what he planned to do, as well as what some of his students/apprentices did. Still, I felt it was worth seeing.

We had dinner at the Strassbourgiouse which was steps from he hotel, splitting a salad, crepe, and dessert.  We left Monday morning, early.

Paris is just like you see in the photos:  all old buildings  seven stories or less, with wrought iron work, cobblestone streets, and rain.

Now, the trip  got stressful. We got to Orly 3 hours early, and Icelandic did not have a check in desk—not until 11, for a flight at 1…and the people in front of us, well, 1 had to  get rid of some of the junk in her luggage, as she was overweight, and another couple was at the wrong airport.  We were lucky  security is more ‘relaxed’ at Orly—we didn’t have to take off our shoes.  We got to Reykjavik, and Gloria was flagged for additional screening. it’s apparently a statistical thing. We then went to the gate for our flight, were there weren’t enough chairs, and the  sign said B0ARDING NOW…but we actually stood in line for about 1/2 hour more until the FIRST CLASS PASSENGERS  were boarded…and then, it was a free for all. it’s as if Icelandic has never boarded a flight.

We returned from Europe to JFK, and, knowing there might be delays, as well has having to take a shuttle from JFK to LaGuardia, we booked the  early March 6 flight –Tuesday morning…. back to Chicago.  However,  we got to LaGuardia about 7:30p.m..  on Monday, March 5. We attempted to fly ‘stand-by’ but were told—twice—that  we would be charged  an additional $99 each to change our booking.  In fact, the  9:00 p.m. flight did not leave until after 10:00 p.m.,  We also attempted to check in our baggage and they would not let us do it.  This does not make any sense. We  were  not only freeing up our seats for you to resell the next morning, your unsold  seats on that Monday evening flight were wasted You can not recover that in any way.  We ended up spending the night in arrivals sleeping on the floor.  We ultimately,  around 2:00 a.m. ,slept in wheel chairs & were chased out of those at 4:00 a.m.   Not that anyone needed the chairs.  Just policy.  LaGuardia was under construction. We could have  walked to another terminal, but   we didn’t want to do that & possibly miss the morning flight, and obviously it didn’t make sense to  go into the city for a room.

But it gets worse.

So…people started arriving to check in for  morning flights about 4:00 a.m.  There wasn’t a line, so we, again, attempted to check in about 4:30.  Your staff would not allow us to do this and made us wait an additional 10 minutes.

What I’ve seen happening more & more…due to ‘policy’—is airline staff making people wait until they are ‘ready’, a long line  happens, things get  bogged down due to  issues over luggage, then there is a crowd at TSA security screening, and everyone is frazzled & flights leave late. Makes no sense.

I’ve traveled internationally and have never had this happen even on an African airline.   “It doesn’t make any sense, it’s just our policy,”  is why Northwest folded.

So, except for the airline travel, it was a great trip.

Book Review: Start Something That Mattes, by Blake Mycoskie

October 12, 2017

Blake Mycoskie, is the founder of TOMS shoes.  The company motto is, “for every pair we sell, we donate a pair.”  This is a very  quick read, very well edited, about how he started TOMS, and  how other people started businesses to make the world a better place.  I thought the book would be  hokey, but it isn’t.  Thing is, starting a business is really not as easy as chronicled.  Mycoskie had been a serial entrepreneur, and he had the capital to experiment when he started TOMS.  He acknowledges that he got lucky very fast, and his family was very supportive.

He doesn’t say how long it took for him to develop a working prototype, but he does say he had capital to live on while he was working on getting his shoes developed and manufactured.

I found this book very uplifting, but  I am not sure what value it would be  for the  entrepreneur who doesn’t have access to capital,or who has never even drafted a business plan.  I am really amazed at how many people  make a good pitch on  social funding sites like Indigogo or GoFundMe.  I have been supporting Prosper for over 10 years, where you can ask for a loan for any reason.

If you have an idea for a business,  you can look up  business plan outlines on the internet, and  find a business in your industry where you can  possibly intern, but be realistic and know the amount of money you will need to keep afloat until you break even.  I  want to open a resale store, but I estimate, with rent and overhead, I would need at least $30,000 and at least a year before breaking even.  Is that doable?  Mot for me…. unless I was given rent for free.

One of my favorite TV shows is “Shark Tank,”  where  entrepreneurs make a pitch  for funding and technical assistance to  ‘venture capitalists’ to grow their businesses. The Capitalists ask tough questions, and won’t fund an idea just because it is  ‘good’.  If you really think yo have a money making idea, write it down and  put down on paper  how much it will cost  to  either  manufacture your product or provide your service.

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.

Why do Pets End up Homeless?

January 31, 2014

I shouldn’t have to say this, but the websites that are forums for buying  and selling, and I will particularly single out Craigslist and Kijiji, if not E-Bay & Amazon, rely on the integrity of sellers….as well as buyers.  Adam Smith, the early economist pointed out how important integrity and trust were to capitalism and a working marketplace. Businesses do collapse when  found to be  shoddy and the word gets out.  Unfortunately, with the internet, you can change your name ans start over.

This is why the person selling—- dumping an item (or a live animal), gaming the system—- sold you something that didn’t work.  Whacha gonna do about is, sucka?  Sue them over $200?  Warn others?  No, you bitch to your friends and eat it.  You might complain or leave a bad review on EBay, Etsy, Amazon, or Yelp!   If you has sense, you’d complain to your State’s Attorney’s division of consumer fraud. If you bought a pet, you either take it to a shelter or try to sell it to the next idiot. Not  Healthy?  Not housebroken?   Not Good with kids?  Not your problem—let  the buyer beware, right?  You will pray to Jesus for forgiveness and you can live with yourself.  Be absolved of your sins, Move on to the next one.

Do you  think I am being harsh? The pet industry is saying that if they breed and supply healthier pets, they should be allowed to sell pets. It is up to buyers to be more informed and discerning—not up to sellers to screen and lose a sale.

I come from a different reality.  I believe that when it comes to a live animal, sellers  should  have to act with more integrity.  Since a pet store employee will  be fired for not making a sale to a  financially qualified buyer, pet shops can  not be counted on to act with integrity when it comes to  selling pets.

I’ve written before about  Fred Alderman, the  owner of Dynasty Afghans, who refused to sell dogs to people who would not spend a day grooming with him.  The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America encourages co-ownership by the breeders0 of all pet puppies until they are  titled or neutered.  The culture of integrity varies from breed to breed.  I was only able to purchase my 2nd Saluki because the breeder knew the breeder of the first one I owned.  The breeder of my first Saluki knew me from my participation in field trials.

The backyard breeders (byb) don’t delve too deeply.  They may have  overpaid another BYB and want to make their money back, and now they have pups and didn’t realize how hard they’d be to sell.  You got  money, you responded to the Craigslist post, you seem nice, Sold.  I don’t  want to know that you live in an apartment with a month-to-month lease with your mother who doesn’t want a dog, or that you  are gone from home 12 hours a day and have no idea how you will housebreak the dog.  Not my problem.  Until you the buyer, realize you are in over your head, and  you can’t trick someone else into overpaying.  That’s what animal shelters are for, right?

My tax dollars at work. Don’t shop—adopt. right?

On the one hand, we have  dog pounds. You pays your money and takes your chances.  You get a dog or cat.  No questions asked. No better than a pet store, just cheaper.

At the other  end, we have the breed specific rescues that ask so many questions and have such onerous applications  it’s amazing they are able to place any dogs at all. And, among them, we have the hobby breeders who will buy puppy mill dogs at auction to ‘save’ them, thus  essentially sabotaging their own efforts—because why should anyone pay for  YOUR over  priced  champion bred puppies when the puppy mill saves cost less than half that?    Since we should not buy puppy mill puppies….I am confused…since YOU bought them to ‘save’—are they healthier?  What’s up with that?

Nobody is dealing with the puppy mill or BYB. My own state  department of Ag doesn’t have enough inspectors to get to dairy farms, let alone puppy mills.

I am amazed at the naivete of  the public, and even my friends and relatives.  They really believe that people selling pets are honest for the most part, because they have no indication that they are NOT.  I partly blame veterinarinans, if not pushing spaying & neutering,k are also not  informing  BYB about  the odds of finding good homes or breeding dogs with genetic defects..

There is some statistical evidence that up to 25% of these dogs bred by BYB (who  won’t acknowledge their contributing to the dog surplus) will wind up in shelters, if not abandoned  somewhere.  If the dogs seem cute or endearing enough they will be adopted.  Most dogs  in shelters are too frightened to put on a good personality display, and may now be dangerous or ‘fear biters.’ Unless a no-kill group saves them they WILL BE KILLED.  Do you think that by taking that 1 pup posted on Craigslist, you will be preventing this?  If you pay  more than $25 not only will you not be, you will be encouraging this BYB to breed more.  If the  person posting  is a broker  for the BYB, and he sells  4 dogs at $100 each, he has made money.  Shots—if given at all, cost about $10, and you can buy a packet of the certificates that say they were given—they often come free with the vaccine.  This is pretty good extra income for that guy who works at Walmart for $12 an hour.

It’s a puppy you want,  not an adult do with ‘problems’, right?  You’ll make your own problem dog, right?  I have not bought a puppy in over 30 years. My last 5 dogs came to me as adults from shelters, rescues, or  networking.  Great dogs, all.  To me,the only reason  to take a puppy is that no adult dogs are available,  Think about it. The whole chewing, lunging on the leash not being housebroken.  Is that  so much more fun than an adult dog from a shelter  who appreciates  your attention?

But here’s the deal, really:  if you don’t have time to  work with a dog—training it, bonding with it—at least 1/2 hour a day, starting now, and  you don’t know how much  shots, other veterinary care, and grooming costs, or  who will take care of your dog when you are away, yo are not prepared for a dog right now.  And if you haven’t done research into  the type of dog who will fit into your lifestyle, and talked to owners of those kinds of dogs, you are not ready.  And if you haven’t at least visited an animal shelter before choosing your companion for the next 12 years or so, you are not ready.

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).

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.

I knew some day I’d laugh about this….

February 10, 2011

I remember driving to work the morning Lehman Brothers collapsed.  We knew that  the  risky mortgages  were messing up the economy.  It had been a subject of the  presidential campaign, and had been going on for years before.  I remember  discussing it in a grad school course in 1990.  The speculation was unsustainable—a giant pyramid scheme.  But when the  government let Lehman Brothers go, and  saved AIG, well, everything was up for grabs. And I was thinking, as I listened to the radio in the car, “How soon will it be before this affects me?”

2 weeks.  It was getting to be the slow season for dog grooming, but it just dropped off immediately.  Boom.  I lucked out  on getting some work, but property taxes were killing me.

I decided to try to refinance.  My mortgage rate was 5.25%.   If I could cut it a point, I would lower the payment from $1516 to about $1209—& it would be that low even if I borrowed $12,000 to fix up my kitchen.  That would make the house worth something…because it had gone from a high value of  $599,900 to $348,000.  Shocking.

2 mortgage brokers  guaranteed that they would be able to get me a deal within 2 weeks, so I wasted about 3 hours with each guy, allowing to  copy over 100 pages of tax returns (being self-employed can be very complicated), and…nothing.  I can’t believe these guys made a living at what they do, because I was honest from the start:  I was not employed—though I did show income.

I called my mortgage company. They  would have been happy to refinance me —-for $7,000.  What a joke.

Ok, I’m stuck,  & then one of my tenants dies.  The other one can not afford the apartment & does not want a new roommate.  He is going to move out, but wants to stay until April 1.

These had been good tenants, or so I thought. They paid the rent on time every month & rarely complained.  However, when I went  down to actually  inventory what I had to do to rerent the  space, I  learned they were more than  sloppy.  They had trashed the kitchen, including the stove, and every wall in the place…and….had wires going everywhere.  It was a fire hazard.

I had to rewire the house.  I won’t go into the sickening details of this. Anyone who has had to do infrastructure repairs  on his home knows that good references  are a dime a dozen. The first guy, Pete Bohlen,  told me he was on dialysis, but he also said that each flat would take no longer than 2 weeks.   After 6 weeks ( He just dragged things on & on) he stopped showing up, but I had the first floor mostly done, & he had put in new boxes.  My  fuse boxes, done just 20 years before, were not up to code.

I called another company, Brilliant Electric, and another $8000, things are pretty much ok.

Because I liked the product lines, I went to Lowe’s (after getting several bids) for the  kitchen flat remodeling.  I should have gone with a small contractor. It would have cost the same, & every little thing would not have been subcontracted.  That took much more time than it should have.

I ran into plumbing problems.   I had to move 2 radiators.  I had tons of replastering, and then, since I had holes in my ceiling, anyways, I decided to insulate the ceiling.  I was bleeding money.

It was difficult to rent out the flat, as it looked so bad while it was being worked on, but I finally did, and they have generally been good (but they are students, so who knows how long they will stay?)

Meanwhile, I see my  escrow account (for taxes and insurance) has over $10,000 in it.  Aren’t they supposed refund  the surplus to me?

At the end of September, I started  pricing homeowners insurance again, and about that time  my company raise the price over $300. Why?  They claimed it would sot that much to rebuild the house if it burned.  I told them that if it burned, I’d take the money & move elsewhere.  Nobody is going to rebuild this house—& the plot is worth more than the house!  Well, I found a company that has LOWERED their rates by $300!  That’s a $600 savings when you come right down to it.

So I called the mortgage company, told them I was switching, and what about that  wad of cash in escrow?

The  big banks are not ‘1 stop shops’. They had to switch me to another department, and yes!  they sere sending me a check for $8,000!  And—wait, there’s more!  They are lowering my monthly payment to $1216!  $300 less per month!

Wow!  Am I dreaming?  No.  They decided to pay the  house insurance early to the old company, so  I had to get the money back.  & this also lowered the amount in escrow, so they did not lower my payment $300.  My escrow was too low because of them!

I got the check back from the old insurance company ($1300) & endorsed it to my escrow account.

It sat on someones desk for about 3 weeks, & then they sent me a letter  telling me they were sending me back the enclosed check because it was not made out to THEN—but there was no check!  So I had to call them & ask where the check was (they said they sent it back to Old insurance company. Old insurance company says they did not get it, & would stop payment & issue me a new check.

2 weeks go by. No check from old insurance, Another phone call. They sent  a new check to—the mortgage company!

Why? Whatever, they call the  mortgage company with me on the line, & mortgage company says they got the check, but they don’t know what they did with it (I am not making this up).  So  old insurance company, again, stops payment on the check, & says they’ll send me a new check.  It arrived yesterday, & my mortgage payment is….$1216.

Are we living happily ever after?  No, we are not.  Due to the mortgage company keeping a bunch of idiots on their payroll, &, due to their  mistakes,  and—-due to their anticipating that my property taxes will go up this year because they  seem unrealistically low (never mind that  I have lived in the house over 10 years and the building is owner occupied, which lowered the taxes about 20%), they have again raised my payment to $1441.  Yes—it’s $75 lower.  Ok, I won’t whine.

Sex ed 101—What every young person should know….

August 11, 2010

There are books and books and all sorts of stuff written about the physiology of sex.  There’s the Kama Sutra.  But there is nothing like good information.

One of my friends (we’ll call her Joan)  used to live with what they used to call, “A Round Heeled Woman.”  Sally was always  bringing a new guy home.  She had long, blond hair…& that was about it. Friendly.

In any case, one day Sally complained to Joan that she was seeing so much of her new boyfriend she didn’t have time to do her laundry.

“He’s got a laundry room in his building, doesn’t he?” Joan asked Sally.

“Sure!  But I don’t know him well enough to ask to use his laundry room!”  Sally responded.

“Look, ”  Joan replied, “If you know him well enough to have sex with him, you know him well enough to ask to use his washing machine.  In fact, ask him if you can drive his care. If  HE doesn’t know you well enough to let you drive his car, YOU don’t know him well enough to have sex with him.”

Sounds logical to me.  Let me tell you about my former client, Barbara.

Barbara wasn’t a great client, but she took such good care of her Maltese, Skippy, that I was always happy to see her.

One day she came in and told me she was getting married.

“How did you meet him? I asked.

“Actually, it was at my high school reunion. We were both now divorced, and the rest is history!”

I didn’t see Barbara for about 4 months, when she brought Skippy back.  When she came to pick him up after the grooming appointment, she told me she was moving to California.

“With your new husband?”  I asked.

“No…I called the wedding off.”

“What happened?  Did you find out he was insolvent?”  I asked, joking.

“How did you know?”  Barbara responded.

“Just a lucky guess. What happened?” I asked.

“Well, I asked him if I could quit working, and he said I could, so I did, and then I asked him how to get on his health insurance and discovered he didn’t have any, and found out he didn’t have a lot of anything else, and it was down hill from there.”

Now do you understand why cultures have ‘bride price’ and ‘Ketuba’ ?  Americans & Europeans   are so frivolous about sex—and will engage in sex  impulsively—but ask about finances, and that is the ultimate taboo!  Yet— more marriages and relationships succumb due to lifestyle choices (drug use, religious practices…& how partners spend or save money) than for infidelity!

How can you tell if it’s love?  Does it matter?   Do you think having sex with a person  before it is love will help you decide how to view the relationship? Will discussing how you budget help you decide if you want to  even go to dinner with this person?

In east Africa,  for at least a while, they were doing a lot of marketing about  sex and relationships to young girls. There is no public aid.  You have a child, and your family can’t support another mouth, the baby dies.  That’s how it is in a lot of places.  In the U.S.,  we are still so reluctant to  tell girls  that Prince Charming is not going to come along.  I am dismayed that the situation has not changed in my lifetime.

The economics of being a self-employed dog groomer

September 21, 2009

I have plenty of time to key in data to a spreadsheet these days, and I am trying to determine what I will owe in taxes  for 2009.  The ‘unearned income’ (what I make from rent, and selling books, the Murdock map, & stuff on consignment) is different from ‘earned’ income—& ‘earned income’ is different from wages.

I’ve earned about $200 in wages so far this year, but about $10,000 from grooming dogs, dog walking, & pet-sitting. This may seem  like real money in a small town, but my property taxes are about $620 a month.  It is not.  I have posted that I have been offered ‘jobs’, but  they are not really ‘jobs’ with ‘wages’.  They are independent contracting positions.

I recently tried yet another one, & I could tell at the interview the shop owner  was being unrealistic.  She had too many cages, but not enough dryers. She was trained by Petsmart, so didn’t see the need for more equipment, & her plan was to take 1 dog every 90 minutes per groomer.  This means if  a client runs late or doesn’t show up, you  are screwed for the day.  Not only that—they don’t check dogs before they bathe them.  No brushing, no cutting out matts, nothing. Right into the tub.

Most shops take 2—3 dogs per groomer per 3 hour period, and will call the owner when the dog is finished. True—some want them all in by 10 & have to have the dog until 4, but there is no need.

In any case, the shop owner told me she was booked 5 business days in advance, so she could give me 2 full days (6–7 dogs) a week.’

The first day I was scheduled, I came in, & I had a ‘bath’ dog (not a grooming), & the grooming dog canceled.

The next day I was scheduled to start at 11, she called me at 10 & told me ‘someone had made an error’ & booked my first dog for  10:30.  Only 2 people have access to the schedule…so  who could have made the error?  But—that was the only dog I had scheduled.  She asked me if I wanted the other groomer to groom the dog.  I told her ‘yes’.  Why should either of us not have a full day?  &  90 minutes in the car for me & $3 gas?

The next  day she had me booked, another client (kennel) asked me if I could groom 4 dogs that day.  I called  the shop owner  & asked her how many dogs I had booked.  She told me I had 1.  So, I asked her if I could leave about 2 to groom those dogs. “Well, actually, your first dog comes in at 12:30,” she told me.

Now, she wouldn’t have called me to tell me that.   She would have had me come in at 11 & hang around.

So, I told her, “NO problem!  I’ll go to the kennel first & then come in.”  She didn’t like that idea. She wanted ME available to HER so she could accommodate clients.  & why couldn’t she? She doesn’t have to pay me for time I hang around!

She wants to leave her husband & is moving stuff out of the house while he’s at work—so isn’t grooming  dogs herself the days she has me booked to…hang around.

Another shop  not far from this one wanted to hire me, but their average fee per dog is $38 (in the metro area it is $45 per dog).   On the one hand, they have bather/ brushers.  Groomers just clip.  On the other hand, at $19 per dog—even if I get 6 dogs a day (and there is no guarantee), I gross $114 a day.  That isn’t even $30,000 a year.  & they can’t raise prices now, but they haven’t kept pace with inflation.  So many groomers do not raise prices even every 2 years!  I can groom at home, average $70 a day, 2 dogs, no hassle.

The real kicker is, however, that I was considering refinancing my house.  My monthly payment—including property taxes, is $1588 per month.  I owe $87,000 , & my interest rate is 5.25%.  Current 15 year fixed rate is 4.33.    Minimum to borrow is $100.000. That would give me $13,000 to  redo the kitchen. &—get this—my  monthly payment would be $200 a month less! Problem—I don’t have a job.  I have  about $80,000 in retirement funds, about  $20,000 in liquid savings, but the world is a different place.  No job, no refinance without a co-signer.

Lots of people are going to be independent contractors now instead of employees, and they won’t be able to get mortgages.  Capitalism as we know it is going to change radically.