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Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do

Rejecting the Consumer Economy

As Wall Street continues to fret and fuss over whether or not Americans will return to spending money we don’t have on cheap crap we don’t need, I would like to offer an idea that’s been nagging at me for a couple of years now:

How about we just knock it off?

Seriously, maybe it is at least possible that a “consumer driven economy” is complete madness and the time has now come to admit it and get real.

I recently accepted a paid project ghostwriting an E-book on 100 Money Saving Recipes for a website that aims to help people through the coming recession by sharing common sense solutions most of our grandparents took for granted. I quickly realized that most of the consumer-madness that has been driving the US economy is a fairly recent form of insanity.

For example, when I was growing up in the late 50s and early 60s, buying convenience foods was considered to be just a step up away from killing puppies and sleeping in your own vomit after a night of debauchery. No woman in my extended family would have been caught dead making Pillsbury canned biscuits. To this day, I can make biscuits, cornbread, pie crust, and muffins without a recipe, in about 3 to 5 minutes, tops.

So what, you say. (Thanks Dick Cheney.) Well, so, a dozen big biscuits made from Continue reading Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do

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The Price Of Oil

The Peak Oil Crash: Eight Ways to Survive the Coming Hard Times

What to Be Doing When No One Seems to Be Doing Anything

While the 2008 political candidates argue about whose ads are dirtier and whose friends are more suspect, while Obama bowls badly and Hillary knocks down Jello shots and McCain forgets who is fighting whom in Iraq, ordinary working Americans are losing interest and are instead quietly freaking out.

Americans have good reasons to be freaking out.

The price of oil breaks a record every other day, literally. Gas is nearly unaffordable and is beginning to spike the cost of food. A worldwide food shortage is well underway and haunts the news nightly. Costco shoppers are already hoarding so much rice (entire pallets in some cases) that Walmart is now rationing large bags of rice to one per customer per visit at its Sam’s Club outlets. They warn that flour and beans could well be next if people don’t knock it off.

How did this happen? Why isn’t it being talked about more directly? It might surprise you Continue reading The Price Of Oil

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Top 10 Most Annoying Office Traditions

Annoying Office Traditions

Annoying Office Traditions
Annoying Office Traditions

Fix Yourself Up Will You?

Today at work we all got one of those e-mails–or more accurately, about six of those e-mails–about an impending visit by a corporate manager, reminding us of the time and date of the visit and insisting that everyone be on their best behavior, have their desks spotless, and be dressed up. In other words, don’t be yourself, be some other anal, overdressed person for a day or two, and then once this guy leaves we’ll let you know.

Don’t you just hate that?

I got to thinking about how many times I’ve received an e-mail like this one over the course of my working life, and I realized that this particular e-mail is only one of a number of office traditions that just really chap my ass. I thought laying them all out would make a good hub.

Hopefully I can think of ten of them. Here goes:

(Feel free to add any of your own favorites.)

#10 Quick, Everyone Act Professional

You know, if you have to alert your staff a day in advance to tell them to dress correctly, clean the yogurt off their keyboards, put away the Office Space posters and defaced photos of the CEO, and remember to wear shoes, then chances are you aren’t really fooling anybody anyway. If, on the other hand, you already have a professional, hard-working staff, why insult their collective intelligence by sending out a notice instructing them all to please keep their fingers out of their butts for a given day so you will look better to Mr. Fancypants?

If you are the sort of manager who sends out this kind of memo, you can be sure that no one cares if you look Continue reading Top 10 Most Annoying Office Traditions

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How China Provoked the Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Bail-Out

Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Bail-Out

China Bail Out Money
Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Bail-Out

China’s Place in Our Economic Ecosystem

Today the thing that we were assured would never actually happen, happened: The U.S. government took mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship–a fancy way of saying that U.S. taxpayers are now on the hook for as much as $500 billion in bad debt.

Wall Street responded with relief and a rally of 2% in one day. How long-lived this rally will be remains to be seen. Wall Street has been nothing if not volatile this year: Up 2% one day, down 3% the next. Whatever happens next, expect to hear the phrase “Fannie and Freddie were just too big to be allowed to fail,” lots of times in the coming weeks from all sorts of public figures as they pat themselves on the back and reassure a jittery public that this is absolutely the right move and it absolutely had to be done.

What you might not hear quite as often, if at all, is an explanation of precisely why it Continue reading How China Provoked the Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Bail-Out

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Lehman Brothers, AIG, Wamu, Merrill Lynch: Get in Line, Folks, Here We Go

Lehman Brothers Expected To File for Bankruptcy

As I write this, it is Sunday night on Wall Street, but most of the major players in that neighborhood are having a less than restful weekend. After calling an emergency meeting of the heads of major Wall Street investment firms in a frantic attempt to get them to pool their resources and thereby broker a sale of the troubled investment firm Lehman Brothers, Federal Reserve Chairman Benjamin Bernanke has so far failed to pull another rabbit out his hat. No more bail-outs, no more rabbits: that hat is so empty you can hear the wind whistling through the graveyard if you put your ear to it.

It looks like Lehman will be going belly up tomorrow.

That’s a problem. It’s a problem because the U.S. government just took over the two largest mortgage firms in history: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; in an effort to reassure jittery foreign investors who were starting to pull out of U.S. mortgage backed securities thus causing a global slowdown. No sooner were foreign investors calmed, than things went sour again.

Fannie and Freddie, it turns out, were cooking the books even more flagrantly than suspected. The amount of bad debt that American taxpayers have to shoulder will almost surely be much bigger than anticipated. In spite of that fact, the Bush administration made the controversial decision today not to include the Fannie/Freddie mess in the national debt, which is already twice Continue reading Lehman Brothers, AIG, Wamu, Merrill Lynch: Get in Line, Folks, Here We Go

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Can You Trust the News?

Can You Trust the News?

Can You Trust the News
Can You Trust the News

Propaganda & the Corporate Agenda

Does the mainstream media use “moral panic”, “truthiness”, and “the wisdom of repugnance” to press an agenda? If so, what agenda? Is this propaganda?

Over the past ten or fifteen years, the U.S. economy has witnessed a feeding frenzy of corporate mergers and acquistions. We’ve seen this trend in the banking and financial services industry with regional banks changing ownership every year or two, and we’ve seen it in the telecommunications industry with all the Baby Bells being eaten up by AT&T after AT&T was first broken up into, well, all the Baby Bells.

Many companies that used to be locally owned no longer exist, bought up or driven out by corporate interests. Bookstores are a good example of this. Ten years ago a few independent bookstores were still holding onto their status by selling products that were not books. Now most of them are long gone, eaten up by Barnes and Noble or just boarded up and out of business.

Book distribution centers also used to be locally owned. Now only a couple of corporate players remain nationwide, and only two main distribution centers exist: one west of the Mississippi and one east of the Mississippi. These huge distribution centers give deep discounts to corporate retailers, thus making competition by small, local players impossible.

Not only have the major distribution centers driven out most of the small bookstores, they have also drastically reduced the power of small presses to distribute lesser known authors and titles. First, almost no small bookstores remain to buy these titles directly from the small presses that would otherwise print them. Second, the two big distribution centers offer the best deals and deepest discounts only on titles that major publishing houses consider to be potential best sellers, effectively cutting out the viability of small presses altogether and reducing variety.

So, while you can sip a latte while browsing books at Barnes & Nobles, what you can’t do is find the variety and unique selection that used to be available at smaller independent bookstores. At B & N, you will find books Continue reading Can You Trust the News?

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Top Ten Least Publicized Financial Bail-Out Ideas

Top Ten Least Publicized Financial Bail-Out Ideas

Please madam, can you spare a few hundred billion?

Brainstorming the Big Rescue

Now that the $700 billion bail-out package proposed by Henry Paulson has been not passed and then passed by Congress, and not supported and then supported and then not supported again by almost everybody else; it has become increasingly clear that that bail-out package no longer even matters anymore.

That bail-out package is so two weeks ago!

Since that first frantic plea by Paulson to, “Give me $700 billion NOW or the economy gets it!” the economy has, well, gotten it.


Two trillion in stock market losses in just two weeks.

So governments around the world are now on to bigger and even crazier bail-out plans, even as I write this. For instance, just a few days ago Ben Bernanke quietly pumped $500 billion directly into the banks and gave another $39 billion to AIG. Congress (while nobody was paying any attention) gave $25 billion to the Detroit auto industry. John McCain promised to give $300 billion to rework individual mortgages by buying them high and taking a loss when moving them low (thanks taxpayers!) but only if he gets elected, and the U.S. government recently announced that maybe it will just take over the banks. It isn’t sure yet; it’s just a thought…

And we’re just gettin’ warmed up!

Not to worry though. The original $700 billion rescue package is still in the works, and eventually Hank Paulson and his team of intrepid Wall Street investment bankers really will get around to buying up some toxic securities at some kind of price, we don’t know what kind or when or how–but we do know for sure that once he starts doing that, something will happen or it won’t.

The thing is, we have to trust him. He’s on it.

Meanwhile, Rome seems to be burning and no one has even fired up a fiddle yet.

So I thought it would be cool, in the spirit of good old Yankee ingenuity, to list some of this week’s most popular and least publicized economic bail-out ideas. I mean it’s clear that whoever is in charge of this show has temporarily lost the remote control, so maybe we can all help get the country (and the world) back on track by pitching in. What are YOUR ideas for a good bail-out?

Here without any more delay, are ten of mine. Feel free to add your own.

Your country needs YOU!

I like long walks on the beach and wads of money!

#10 The Virtual United States of America

People are so judgmental sometimes. “You can’t run an economy on debt alone,” they complain, and “People in the U.S. spend money they don’t have,” and “The war in Iraq has already cost us nearly a trillion dollars and we aren’t one whit safer as a result.” And so on and so forth.

Bitch, bitch, bitch…

You know, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being completely delusional about money and life and consequences, you just have to do it online!

If the United States joined an internet dating site, it would have it made in the shade. Debt could be profit, up could be down, war could be peace. You just have to keep it all virtual.

The U.S. doesn’t have to bail itself out, it just has to create an online profile for itself in which it is slim, prosperous, witty, and well-dressed. The United States will be blonde in this profile, and it will have the goal of, “…helping other nations to achieve world peace and also learning sign language and working with underprivileged children.” The United States will smile a lot and wear lipstick.

The United States will get lots of e-mails from 50-year-old lechers in stained t-shirts who don’t shave and are unemployed. But, it will look totally hot.

#9 The US of MLM $100K a Day Passive Income Bail-Out

I don’t really understand how Wall Street got us into this mess with tricky investments when any fool can just slap up a website and make $100K a day while playing Grand Theft Auto and eating Ding Dongs. I mean, geez, do we have to teach these stockbrokers everything?

The United States should take that $700 billion and buy up 700 million domain names, then slap up 700 million longtail keyword niche articles with good product placement, and before the day is out, they will be delivering Continue reading Top Ten Least Publicized Financial Bail-Out Ideas

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What if Your Bank Fails?

Facts about FDIC Insurance

What if Your Bank Fails

How to Tell if Your Money Is Safe

Chances are you’ve seen the news footage of angry, frightened customers lined up for blocks outside California’s IndyMac Bank to get at their money before, or just after, IndyMac’s recent bankruptcy. The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) seized the bank this past Saturday for being inadequately capitalized, which is a fancy way of saying the bank went belly up. It didn’t have enough assets to cover the money its customers had deposited there.

The FDIC has a list of 90 financial institutions that it expects may fail in the coming year, and it expects to expand that list to 150 institutions very soon.

What happens if your bank fails? Is your money really safe?

The FDIC was founded after the Great Depression to insure deposits in retail banks and in doing so to (hopefully) prevent bank runs. A “run on the bank” occurs when customers lose confidence in a bank and all of them begin to withdraw their money at the same time. This can effectively cause even a healthy financial institution to shut down very quickly. Bank runs are panicky, ugly affairs that, once started, are hard to control.

Basically, a run on the bank is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Short term loss of confidence in a financial institution leads to large scale panic withdrawals which lead to bank failure. IndyMac may well have failed on its own eventually, but what closed IndyMac even faster than its own bad decisions was a classic bank run that took place over the course of last week.

The recent hubbub over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was also basically the result of a bank run (except Fannie and Freddie are investment banks, not retail banks like the kind where you have your checking account). Investors all wanted out of Fannie and Freddie at the same time and panic spread like wildfire in only a few days. Since investment banks are not covered by FDIC insurance, the federal government stepped in instead. Bear Stearns was also an investment bank: No FDIC for Bear Stearns, so Bernanke personally brokered a deal to prevent an upset of the entire US financial system.

The FDIC insures your deposits in your retail bank for up to $100,000. That figure represents a total of all your deposits at a single bank. (So, if you have money at a second retail bank as well, you have another $100,000 in FDIC insurance.) Deposit accounts refer to most ordinary liquid accounts such as checking and savings accounts, and also term accounts like Certificates of Deposit (or CDs).

Say you have $100 in your checking account, a savings account with $700, and a CD worth $52,000, all at Big Wipe Bank Inc, for a total of $60,000 at Big Wipe. Your entire $60,000 is insured by FDIC, and you could safely deposit another $40,000 at Big Wipe and still be insured. This means that if the Big Wipe fails and is shut down, you get all your money back from the federal government through FDIC. You go to the bank after the failure, they give you your money, The end.

If you are married and hold joint accounts at Big Wipe, you are insured for up to $200,000 for the combined amount of your joint holdings, or $100,000 for each of you. If you have an IRA at Big Wipe (an Individual Retirement Account), your IRA is insured by FDIC for $250,000.

What if you have more than $100,000 at Big Wipe? (Or, if you are married, more than $200,000?) What should you do?

Sometimes, simply by titling your account differently, you can obtain another $100,000 in FDIC insurance. Ask someone at Big Wipe who knows what they are doing if you can add a signor and by doing so get all your money covered. For instance, if you have a CD worth $200,000 at Big Wipe in your own name, you may be able to put $100,000 of it into a separate CD with your name and your nephew’s name on it. That would give you two CDs insured for the full $100,000, because they are titled differently.

Maybe you don’t trust your nephew as far as you can throw him, and you’d rather not put him on your CD thank you very much. In that case, should Big Wipe fail, you will get $100,000 of your CD without any problem, but only a percentage of the amount over $100,000. Currently, the FDIC is anticipating paying out 25-50% on deposits over $100,000 at IndyMac. That means you would get as little as $125,000 on your $200,000 CD from FDIC should Big Wipe go down the tubes.

Should you pull your money out of Big Wipe if you have much over $100,000?

That depends. Most CDs come with hefty penalties for early withdrawal, so you have to factor that into your decision. If Big Wipe is in the same league as giants like Citigroup and Bank of America, leave your money alone. Those banks are not going to fail. Don’t stress yourself out by moving your money all over the place out of fear.

However, if your $200,000 is in a troubled regional bank and you feel you have reason to be worried, talk first to your banker about retitling and redistributing your wealth to make certain it is all insured. You can read all the guidelines, and even use a handy calculator at and determine on your own how much insurance have before you even go down there.

In fact, I recommend you do that. You can also request a free brochure at the webiste which lists all the FDIC insurance guidelines and rules. Take it with you when you go down to Big Wipe to talk with them.

If it turns out that you do have to move some of your money to another bank in order to have all your deposits insured, please be sane and calm about it. Don’t run down to Big Wipe and take a cash withdrawal of $50,000 out in front of other customers, then make a big noise and scream and cry when they say they have to plan that in advance, then set off a panic and risk getting your neck broken on the way to your car and all your money stolen.

Instead, first shop around for another CD or high-interest savings product at a stronger bank (ING has great rates and is one of the few international banks that steered clear of the subprime mess, so its solid as a rock), then have your new bank initiate a wire transfer of your funds out of Big Wipe so you don’t have to turn yourself into a mugger’s wet dream.

Never act out of fear. That never, ever goes well in any venue.

What if Your Bank Fails

How Can You Tell If Your Bank Is Secure?

Maybe you are thinking, yes, yes, but what if a bunch of banks fail and I can’t get my money because FDIC is freaking out too?

First of all, calm down will you? Didn’t you read the last sentence of the last section?

Seondly, there are lots of things you can do to make yourself feel (and be) more secure. A good place to start is to begin educating yourself about your chosen financial institution. Did you open your account with your current bank because they have a cool hologram of the Ramones on your debit card, or because they were giving away insulated coolers that week? Fine, don’t beat yourself up, just get some more facts and check them out a bit.

Go to the New York Times website and check out your bank’s performance by entering its stock symbol in the rectangular box on the right under the stock averages. The box says ‘Get Quotes’. (If you don’t know your bank’s stock symbol, you can look it up at MSN Finance by typing your bank’s name in the lookup box on the left.) The ‘Get Quotes’ box will take you to a page that shows your bank’s current stock price, as well as how the current price fares against the price for the past 52 weeks.

Has the price dropped 70 to 90% in a year’s time? That’s one red flag, but don’t go taking all your money out just yet. At the bottom of the page you will see a list of articles about your bank that appeared in the NYT over the course of the past year. Read some of them. Look for subprime debt problems. Does your bank own a lot of debt? Were their problems with their debt-holdings resolved or are they still hanging over the bank’s books?

Then look at the press releases the bank has issued about itself. (They are located under the news articles.) Red flags here include recent CEO turnover, news releases that state that everything is fine, (a bank never issues a release like that unless everything is not fine), and attempts at capital infusions (attempts by your bank to borrow or raise money) with no later releases about how happy the bank is that it got the money.

Once you are done checking out your bank, check out how it fares compared to other banks. The NYT page about your bank will show how banks that are roughly the same size and type are doing by comparison on the top right.

This all may sound boring, but here’s the thing: You still can choose where to keep your money, and you don’t have to wait until the world is crashing around your ears to make those choices. If banks know that depositors don’t care for high risk shenanigans and they know they will lose customers over it, they may or may not change, but if you make informed choices based on your own research, not the latest doo-dad freebie offered to entice you, you will at least know your money is as safe as it can be, given the current climate.

Knowledge is as close to power as you are going to get in this arena.

Finally, keep some cash around. This is just good sense. Most homeowner insurance policies will cover cash in your home up to $200 in the event of a break in, so don’t keep much more than that, but if you can, put $200 in a freezer container and keep it on hand in case of whatever. If a storm knocks out your local power or you have an emergency, it’s right there to get you through a day or two at least. If your bank fails, you can pop open that freezer container and keep yourself in toilet paper until you can get down there and wait in line for the government to give you your money.

What if the government fails? Geez, how should I know? Take that $200 and get your butt across the Canadian border before they shut it down!

In the meantime, relax.

It’s only money.