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February 17, 2009

You Want My Advice...?

 Want My Advice...?

By Sarah

Well, I don't know how it happened. I was in my office all last week doing post-book stuff, promotions, thinking about the next novel and the like and while I was pretty sure my phone bill was paid, I did NOT receive a call from members of Congress asking my advice on how to fix the economy.Batphone

Can you believe that? Because, honestly, I really do have all the answers. In fact, I'm pretty sure anyone outside the Washington, D.C. 50-mile radius can figure out what we need to do to jump start this economy. But do they call? Do they write? No. They just take our money and have their secretaries get back to us later.

(The one exception would be the mayor of Philadelphia who actually invited citizens to offer their suggestions since he was out of ideas. Though, to be fair, I'm pretty sure Philly's about 50 miles away from that cesspool in D.C.)

ANYWAY, here are my easy fixes to the economy and how to spend that frickin' $732 billion or whatever. (After a while, doesn't it just seem like fairy money?) Feel free to chime in on your own and then we'll send the whole thing to the White House.

# 1 Sit down, Wall Street. And shut up.

I don't give a fig about the enormously wealthy who bought insurance against losing money in the stock market. Guess what, you lose, as did the rest of us. If you have enough money to do that, you can pay for the roof over your head. And, if not, get a smaller roof. Also, since we gave you guys on Wall Street almost as much we're giving the entire country - and you've spent like half of it - tell your friends in the Republican Party (Rush Limbaugh) to quit complaining about this latest stimulus package. We, too, like to eat. Not just Oxycontin addicts holed up in sound-proof chambers down in Miami.

#2 Defaulted mortgages. Rip 'em up.

That's right. I don't care who owes what. I'm tired of balloons and over extensions. Blah, blah, blah. Just like credit default swaps are moot, so are foreclosed mortgages. Look, it makes no sense to have families on the street while, in the same neighborhood, homes sit vacant. Exhibit A: Cleveland, Ohio, as illustrated in this excellent photo by Anthony Suau of a Cuyahoga County sheriff searching a foreclosed home looking Cleveland foreclosurefor guns. What happened to the family who lived here? Am I the only one who sees how stupid this is? (FYI, this Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Suau, is himself currently out of work.)

If taxpayers can subsidize Bank of America's takeover of Merrill Lynch (goodbye Anna's college savings, BTW) and still Merrill Lynch can pay out over a billion dollars in bonuses, and still the ex CEO can buy $35,000 antique toilets, then you damn well better believe that we can stop children from living in homeless shelters because their parents owe three grand on a $150,000 house.

My faith is with small community banks who know their customers and will sit down with them to rewrite the mortgages and work out arrangements. Use the stimulus money to cover part of the mortgages for a certain number of months. After all, the $732 billion works out, roughly, to $10,000 per man, woman and child in this country. I think we can scrape it together.

#3 Credit cards. We just lost interest.

I don't know if Obama's aware of this, but most people aren't going to spend a dime if they've got a credit card balance. And most people with credit card balances know that the way the laws are written, the terms of agreement can change at any point. Did you know credit card debt cannot be erased in bankruptcy? It can't. So while the hospital that saved your ill mother might go without payment, Visa will surely get theirs. Hello, Snidely Whiplash.

Therefore, credit card companies should be forced to lower their interest rates to that of mortgages, Acredit card roughly 5-7 percent. What? You think this is outrageous? Banks are lending to banks for FREE! Visa will still make money, especially since credit card companies charge the consumer, the retailer and everyone else. That they have the nerve to jack up that interest rate to 18 percent and still demand full payback when a family can't eat, to me smacks of Mafioso tactics. And I mean that with all due respect to the Mafia.

#4 Jobs. Let's actually make stuff.

Enough with paying dorks billions of dollars to shuffle money from one box to another. Time to pay people who make things and who provide crucial services - managing your investment portfolio not among them. We've stopped making stuff in this country and we need to do that again. Better, we need to invent things for people to make. Old stuff needs to be improved. Trains, roads, cars, bridges, computers, books, buildings, furniture. Let's make it here, not overseas.

I say, provide a tax credit to every company that "makes stuff" if they increase their workforce by ten percent over the next year. Along with making stuff, we should offer similar incentives to research and development facilities and medical centers.

#5 Take advantage of this crisis to cure health care once and for all.

In my small, tired state of Vermont, the average annual income is $48,000 and slipping. We used to make milk, cheese, maple syrup, but now it's catch as catch can. The result? Vermont might be a nice place to ski, but you wouldn't want to break a leg here. A self-employed couple I know with one child has to pay $20,000 a year for their health insurance and they're actually leaning on their elderly parents to help foot the bill. No one wants to go without insurance, and yet...$20,000 a year! I think I might be tempted to wing it.

Considering so many families are drowning under the burden of health insurance, not to mention health care costs, revamping - socializing? - the health care system needs to be a cornerstone of our recovery.

It reminds me of a car game we used to play as kids called How Bad Can It Get? It started with, wouldn't you hate to be poor. Then the next person would add something else and have to remember what had been said previously. Wouldn't you hate to be poor and terminally ill. Wouldn't you hate to be poor and terminally ill and homeless. Wouldn't you hate to be....You get it, right?

An awful game, granted, but one that doesn't have to be played. Now, to rephrase the Saturday Night Live's Oscar Rogers...Fix It!

Sarah - who's never gonna stop working if she can help it.

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Comments

I have nothing to add, Sarah. This blog should be printed on the op-ed page of every newspaper in the country.

Your point on community banks is right on target. My take all along has been that the banks in trouble are not too big to fail, but too big to succeed.

And given that most of the personal bankruptcies in this country are caused by a catastrophic health event, the fact that we need to fix health care shouldn't even be a matter of debate. It should be a matter of urgency.

Thanks for some clear thinking this morning. I only wish such thinking were evident in our members of congress.

I've always wondered who exactly manufacturers expect to buy their products when they send jobs out of the country. If your job were sent to Mexico, would you have any brand loyalty to the company who sent it there? I'd buy from any other manufacturer, even if I didn't like their product quite as well. It seems that the only resource one has is to vote with their wallets.

What makes me really mad is to see all these Wall Street honchos wandering around free. Makes you wonder why Martha Stewart served time, doesn't it?

I also think it's irresponsible to urge people to spend money right now. What we need to do is build up (and manage our own) emergency funds. I'm certainly not inclined to turn over a hunk of money to anyone else, especially since so many money managers consider the nest eggs normal people have acquired over a lifetime of saving to be merely chump change that wouldn't remodel their bathrooms.

Amen. Sarah for Senator!

Have you watched the Daily Show with John Stewart? He also understands the insanity of it all. It's just heart warming to hear someone say this stuff out loud where others will hear it. Plus he has interesting BOOK authors on the show........

Great blog Sarah!
There is little to add to your own comments. I didn't know that in bankruptcy, credit card debt didn't get wiped out. Infrastructure, reconstruction, whatever--fix the roads, bridges etc.--take a page out of Roosevelt's New Deal. Rush Limbaugh--SHUT UP!! and that goes for all the Bush political cronies! Health Care--socialize it--do something to make the country better again, instead of subsidizing banks, do hospitals. Obama--people can't afford to spend any stimulus they receive, unless it's just enough to pay for the grocery bill that week, besides you have to pay it back out of any tax refund received and guess what--it's add to the tax bill you have to pay if there isn't a refund. We always save our's because we know that something--an illness, broken bones, etc. is going to happen and with the insurance we can afford, the deductible is going to eat the savings account, what little we have managed to save that is. College tuition is killing us right now, because that $50,000 or so per year my husband makes taking care of criminals makes us (and our three kids) ineligible for financial aid--fix this. Honestly, if we (my husband and I) went on welfare, my kids could have grocery (link card from the government), health care (public aid health services), help with mortgage payment (housing aid), and a monthly salary (unemployment or welfare checks), and my kids college would be paid for. Tell me, when did it become a liability to have a job in this country. If you loose your job, you have to wait months for any of these services to kick in, by the time it does, you've lost your house and car, health care, no money for groceries, and of course, there's no need to worry about college--there's no money. All those big banks that got the big federal bucks-the CEO's should be fired and all bonuses should be paid back (sorry to tell you the antique toilets will have to be returned, as well as the new corporate jets, minus the 15% restocking fee of course). Let's find or create jobs for the millions of Americans that are jobless. Manufacturers who have moved jobs to Mexico, India, or Asia--tariff time. Aren't items manufactured outside this country and sold here supposed to pay some kind of tax? (and I'm all for giving a tax credit to keep jobs here.) Outsourcing was going to save this country as Bush and his cronies told us a few short years ago--has it? It has actually gotten worse, who would have thought taking jobs out of the economy would have that effect? Sorry for the ranting and raving and the soapboxing--you hit a raw nerve that has been screaming for years. (I guess I did have a few comments to make after all).

Brava, Sarah. I'm with Smr33--this needs to be on every op-ed page. But it's way too sensible to ever actually happen.

And Rush Limbaugh? Easy for him to say, with his guaranteed $400 million salary. So he gets paid like an athlete to cause obstruction. There's something terribly wrong with that.

Did you all know that the Bankruptcy laws that were passed in the middle of the Bush term of office is why credit card debt is not erased in bankruptcy? It was a scandal to me that the Republicans rammed that one into that bill, and was the last nail in the coffin of me voting that way for a long, long time. We have two friends who had to declare bankruptcy last year, and all because of unpaid and overwhelming medical bills, incurred in a health insurance gap, while they were in a waiting period between jobs. However, their two kids in college were able to get financial assistance. Hard to believe you have to lose your house to get your kids educated these days.

As a former insider of sorts (I was once, in the distant past, an investment banker--and a financial consultant to the City of Philadelphia), it really comes down to some simple truths: don't spend more money than you have, and do the math.

Once there were reasonable guidelines for mortgage lending. When I went to business school, and bought my first house, it was 28% of income, max. And that meant real income, which somebody actually checked. In recent years, if you were breathing you could get a mortgage. Balloon payment? Interest rate adjustment? Bah--that's years away.

Has anyone noticed that most bankers are male? The Big Guys at the New York and international banks got into a big pissing contest: my portfolio is bigger than your portfolio. Oh yeah? Yeah! So everybody went out and wrote more crappy mortgages and bundled them and sliced them and foisted them off on unwitting investors.

So here we are. Anyone who thinks there's a quick fix for a systemic problem like this is an ostrich.

Oh, Sheila, testosterone poisoning is responsible for so many of the world's woes.

I nominate Sarah for commerce secretary. Can I get a second?

These ideas are in no way original, but both are near and dear to my heart.

First, let's devote some serious attention to providing reasonable, realistic affordable housing and smacking folks upside the head with a big reality check. No family of 4 (or 3, or 2) needs 3,000 square feet on 3 acres complete with home theatre and enough bathrooms for the entire extended family. And it's all very well and good to "revitalize" urban downtowns, but not if no one who actually works there can afford to buy the fancy condos. We've build up these crazy expectations of what we "deserve" to live in and so drastically limited the supply of what real people can afford that it's no wonder folks are in trouble with their mortgages.

Second, let's spend some time talking to real people on the local level and finding out what they need. One size isn't going to fit all, and surely we have the smarts to figure that out. We need to look at local solutions as well as global ones. While finding ways to support family farming might be a solution in Vermont, maybe improving living conditions and reducing long-term health risks are needed in urban areas.

Anyway, it's clear that Sarah needs to be on the call list. Someone should fix that, pronto!

Seconded.

Right on, Sarah. And write on, too. We have to make lots of money to help our poor, struggling banker and broker cousins reaquire their lives of self-indulgent ease.
In Vermont, we have (or had, I'm not sure it survived the last banking "reform") a licensed lender act and strong usury laws. Under these laws, a usurious mortgage could be voided under certain condtions. It seems to me the same legal predicate could be applied to these junk mortgages. Would that harm the recovery? I wouldn't think so. To the contrary, it would infuse the mortgagors with equity against which they could reborrow. Provided they are required to carry sensible debt to equity ratios moving forward, the voiding of the mortgages will stimulate borrowing activity and help fuel recovery. As for the financial institutions that bought the mortgage backed securities. Well, from an accountig perspective, they may still claim some assets. But let's be real. These so-called assets are worthless anyway. And no amount of government bailout can make it otherwise. So why burden the taxpayer with buying assets that will never recover their buy-out worth? Better to write them off.

Kerry, I had a very interesting conversation last week with a neighbor at our farm. She was skeptical that the stimulus was going to work because she had not heard a thing about what would happen to the food supply in the US. You cannot ignore the family farmer, it's too vital a segment of our economy, and hello, if we let that segment fall down we not only have to rely on foreign oil, but we also have to rely on foreign food (which we already do, to a large extent, unfortunately). That's just crazy, not to grow our own food.

Yeah, I was going to mentions farms, too. Eating locally, of course, just makes sense.

And Sheila, I get what you're saying about the testosterone thing. Let's review: this hormone is responsible for wars and recessions. Can we get some sensible estrogen in here, please?

For example, I was going to say that we need to modify our notions of wealth. It's always seemed absurd to me that one normal human can make $27,000 a year (my salary at the Valley News as a college educated, almost masters degree professional with 20 years of newspaper experience) while another (Thain, boo, hiss) was paid $50 million to "restore" Merrill Lynch...and they STILL wanted to pay him a bonus when he didn't.

No matter what, there's just not that much difference between John and me. Had his wealth been more equally distributed (and ditto for the thousands of his type), this country might be okay.

I'm not saying people should try to earn more. Money is a powerful incentive. (See Charlie and me lounging around? See that college stuff everyone's talking about? Yup.)But, come one, people, there's a decent salary and then there's an obscene one.

Thanks for the votes of confidence, but I think I'm just expressing what all you guys know anyway. If you had your own blog, you'd say it, too.

P.S. Re: my husband Charlie's comments above. Please, do NOT ask him to explain equity. Typepad could crash.

Karen and Sheila--the old boy's network has got to end in this country, Obama may be the new life to breathe clean air into the economy-I don't know. I do know that most people are one paycheck away from not making it in today's economy. Friends of ours claimed bankruptcy last year and lost everything except their debt--they're now on a 5 year repayment plan that is barely leaving them with money for groceries. Something needs to change.

Sarah, you are not only smart, you explain things so that I feel smart. Maybe your ideas aren't new, but I've never seen them set forth so clearly. I want to take to the streets and walk all the way to Washington. Amen, sister.

Janis said: "Makes you wonder why Martha Stewart served time, doesn't it?"

It's ironic; we cannot locate a seven foot tall Muslim fanatic on dialysis, but the Department of Justice sure put the screws to Martha Stewart. I'm sleeping better at night for it....

The comments about health care/insurance hit home to me, especially hard. Until this month our annual health insurance bill was just under $24,000 for the two of us and one college daughter (who has now graduated, and is on a separate plan, hallelujah). That policy did not cover dental, vision or prescription drugs, and it had a high deductible. Furthermore, the company capriciously decided to stop covering certain things, while raising the premium 30% last year. I have split off from the plan, but hubby can't switch because of a pre-existing condition, never mind it has not caused him one single minute of problems in his entire life.

$24,000 a year--think about that. Minimum wage in the US provides an average income, total, of somewhere in the neighborhood of $16,000-18,000 annually. Most of the wage earners in that bracket don't have access to health insurance because they work in retail or at fast food joints, or they clean the restrooms in hospitals, schools and office buildings. It's appalling that we, the so-called richest country in the world, do not--and seemingly cannot--make affordable and accessible health care available to every citizen.

I can't for the life of me figure out what is so difficult about the health care situation. We already have Medicaid and Medicare established. Can't we just expand these programs to...everyone?
Say what you will about our former Governor Howard Dean, but, as a doctor, he made it a priority for every child in Vermont to have health care, especially preventative health care.
The Doctor Dynasaur Program provides state coverage of all children under 18 in families whose income is within 300% of the federal poverty level. Last I checked - and this was some years ago - that equalled about $50,000 for a family of four.

Isn't any wonder our state was ranked the healthiest in the nation last year?

Gads...my small-town bank was just taken over by a big-time wannabee. And my David company is being hunted by mean-ole Goliath...who likes to lay-off the majority of the overtaken companies staff.

This should definitely be in all of the majors!

Sarah, the problem is that we have propagandists like Limbaugh, who pound in the idea that state-managed health care is "socialism", un-American, and in general not a good thing. It's only not a good thing to health insurance companies, who make a lot of money on premiums that they don't intend to use for the benefit of policyholders.

Another lie we are told is that Medicare is poorly run. It's not; it's one of the major success stories in our history, although better management could always make it better. We are also told that other countries, like Canada, have long waiting lists for lifesaving procedures. Also not true, especially when compared to the long waiting lists for procedures we have in this country, in regular old private care.

On the other hand, it's okay to subsidize corporations and wealthy individuals, just so you know. Sigh.

Good point Sarah and I'm with Harley, maybe if everyone got out and all marched to Washington, health and economic issues would receive the attention they need. With the rising cost of health care and insurance premiums that only a CEO can afford, that's going to leave a lot of Americans uninsured. It's going to become the norm for insurance premiums to cost $20000 per year, half of someones gross pay per year, then what will the average American do?

What bothers me is that those of us who have done it right, (saved, don't have a 5000sq ft house for two/three people, don't buy huge cars/trucks/SUVs, don't have credit card debt that is out of control, invested some of our retirement money in private accounts to maximize what the previous administration said we would get), got screwed. Not only did we lose 40% of Dear Hubby's 401k value, we now have to worry about his job. Mismanagement and the credit crunch have hit his company and they cut the workforce by 1/2. They are trying to salvage what they can to stay in business.

Anybody got a job for an almost 54 year old industrial maintenance mechanic?

And, even though I want to cut out my tongue saying this, but unfortunately I have to say it. Bush isn't responsible for all of the outsourcing. NAFTA was started in Bush Senior's time and was passed during Clinton's admin. There is a great episode of West Wing that shows what happened when the President signed a NAFTA type bill and a computer company sent 17000 jobs immediately to India.

Mr. TypePad won't let me post my rant!

I don't have the answers, but let me take a slightly different angle. Some of these people who lost their homes KNEW they were buying houses they could not afford. Some of them took out a loan FOR THE DOWNPAYMENT, then took out a loan for the house and then never made a payment. They lied on the application on how much money they earned. Mortgage companies quit checking the facts on applications and took people's word on what they earned. I saw one woman who bought a house she knew couldn't afford but had plans to live there a year or so and sell it for a profit. Many people never believed that house prices could go down, so they bought huge houses, planning to flip them. They gambled and lost.

In my opinion, that's what many people did (including Wall Street). They gambled and lost, not so much different from Vegas tables, except the government doesn't bail me out when I lose at the tables.

This situation is much more complicated than I can solve. I'm just not that smart. What I do know is that a $67,000,000 as a bonus is ridiculous. I do know that some people are too greedy. What I believe is that greed is the basis for this problem.

Certainly an interesting topic.

Karen-exactly what is socialized medicine-it is the same thing as socialized banking, buy up poorly run banks who've wasted their capital on junk mortgages? Socialized pay for CEO's that make more in a year than I'll see in my lifetime? As Me, Margie would say what the F*** is up with that? - then she would of course threaten to kick our collective butts for buying into anything Limbaugh is saying, I hope.

I am impressed -- again -- by the wisdom of this group. (and have added "Really! ... OMG are you serious!" to my coping vocabulary for the insanity we are facing -- couldn't make this stuff up if we tried.
A friend and I were just talking about her grandfather's common sense, buy-what-you-can-afford philosophy, and how it helped her resist the efforts of realtors to put them into a house they could not afford. Jerks!
St. Charles Habitat recently reported that they have not had to foreclose any of their homeowners (not that they wouldn't) because they 1) qualify them properly beforehand, 2) make sure they have vested sweat equity in the home, and 3) support them with classes on financial and maintenance issues after they move in. Perhaps Habitat for Humanity and health insurance for all should top the list of financial bailout payments.
I am glad they've included arts funding also -- we need bread AND roses.

Hey, I'm a good Democrat and I agree -- nobody can help but agree -- that the tens of millions the bankers took home over the past decade was a travesty. But let's slow down here, folks, and be careful what we wish for. Has anybody actually lived in a country with a government-run health care system? A friend of mine's mother-in-law just died totally unnecessarily of undiagnosed stomach cancer because the government-run health care system in Barbados is so bad.

I also agree a more progressive income tax structure is long overdue, and that the safety net has all but disappeared and needs to be reinstituted. But major wealth redistribution decided by a government bureaucracy? No thanks. Redistributing wealth doesn't just mean we take it away from John Thain. If you live in a nice middle-class home and can afford to send your kids to college and go on a family vacation, then some would say you have too much money, too, when others are hungry. Are you ready to be told to give your home up so it can become public housing? Who decides where to draw the line?

Give me a Sharpie, Michele. I'll draw it!

The problem is you won't be the one holding the Sharpie, Sarah.

Someone find Sarah a sharpie pronto! Someone definitely needs to draw that line!

I keep asking my husband the small town banker to blog for us on the subject of what is a bank (which is heavily regulated with strict rules about what they must do--like lend mortgage money to people who really can't pay it--and what they're absolutely not allowed to do, which is a lot) and a financial company, which--largely thanks to polititians of various stripes---are totally unregulated and can make money any way they damn well please to pay investors their dividends. But he gets ranty on the subject and eventually I start worrying about his blood pressure.

I thought about Jeff as I was writing this.
Our first mortgage on this house was with Key Bank (oh, wherest thou go?). It was sold over and over and finally landed with a "financial institution" in Texas that went bankrupt.
When we refinanced, we went with our little Northfield Savings Bank and did the same when we put on the addition. Yes, we followed the 20% rule, etc...and the good people down there wouldn't have let us do otherwise.
The other day when I was in the bank to pay my mortgage, I made a mistake on the math. "Here's your problem," one of the tellers said, pointing to a $3.25 expense account check of my husband's. "Tell Jerry to just give Charlie the cash next time."
Jerry's the senior partner in Charlie's firm. I thought that pretty much said it all about doing business with a local bank, that she not only knew him, but felt she could crack a joke about him, too.

My bank is a regional bank, Commerce Bank. When contacted about the bailout money, they said, "Thanks, but no thanks. We don't need it" and took out a full page ad in the paper to tell their customers this. They vetted their mortgage applicants correctly. Twenty years ago they would not give us a second mortgage to build a garage on our house because they said they didn't feel comfortable since we hadn't been in 'that long', lol. Now they would love to give us some money, but we can't afford to do it with his job (pharmaceutical company that should be almost recession proof, no?) as wobbly as it is.

The only fair ways for everyone to pay their fair share of the taxes is either a flat tax (10% no deductions above $25k/year) or a national sales tax (pay when you use; if you are on welfare, then no tax). I don't understand how much more complicated they think it should be.

A friend of mine lives in Canada and he isn't thrilled with their system either. Yes, you are covered for almost everything. If you have an easily diagnosed problem (cold, flu, broken bone), you are taken care of immediately. But if you need test to see just what is wrong, it can take forever. They have a doctor shortage and it takes time.

I will put on my Econ hat and say that when a market allegedly based on capitalism is corrupted by the political/lobbyist virus, it cannot survive.

I just shake my head when I hear "conservatives" moan about too much regulation - as if they didn't get huge government-blessed free for alls.

At one time - oh yeah - after the Great Depression - there were rules about the difference between BANKS and INVESTMENT Cos. There was a reason for that. But over the decades, those bright lines blurred and then disappeared. And now these financial experts seem surprised? Please.

LOVE the SNL "Fix It!" bits.

Speaking of financiers, "Sir" (Robert) Allen Stanford - I just love the sir, don't you - has apparently mislaid $8 billion of his clients' money. Ooops! So the SEC today charged him with fraud. (Better Late Than Never should be the SEC's motto.)

I wonder how his buddy George Bush feels about this...
http://www.allenstanford.com/inter-american-economic-council-honors-r-allen-stanford/

I'm with Kathy. Well-regulated capitalism is the way to go. Like everybody with a heart, I went through a socialist phase. In theory it's the most humane alternative -- from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. In practice what you get is lots of corruption and octo mom living off the state. That's just human nature. Everybody draws the line around him/herself and says the people above me don't deserve all that money and the people below me shouldn't get to take mine because I worked hard for it.

But even with well-regulated capitalism, the difficulty is, finding honest people with the knowledge and ability to police these complex transactions and institutions. It's just so much harder than we acknowledge. Did anybody watch the Madoff hearings where the whistleblower testified about trying to warn the SEC and getting brushed off? Yes, some of the brush-off can be put down to Bush-era "capitalism can do no wrong." But at some level, the folks at the SEC plain didn't understand the transactions because they're so complicated. I honestly believe that. I could easily have gone to the SEC instead of a US Attorney's Office, but it was less prestigious and not my top choice. I probably would have taken it if I'd gotten shut out of a US Attorney's Office job. Would I have been qualified to police complex financial transactions? Hell no.

Kathy, I know, I mean doesn't it just blow your mind. I think the only time the 'conservatives' really get up in arms is when democrats want to spend money--didn't seem to mind when their man Bush was spending it like it grew on trees. If households were run like the government, we'd all be bankrupt. And eek, spend money on a social issue, such as education and health care...gasp...the 'conservative' backlash can be heard around the globe. Does this make me unAmerican?

Well, when ethics go out the window, greed goes up. Capitolism isn't designed to last forever. In its purest form, it works fine; just as socialism does. But you put in that pesky human nature element and all bets are off. You can't keep greed out of the mix. Especially when so much money is involved.

My friend just lost his job because the state of Illinois is 6 months behind paying their Medicare, Medicaid bills. The business has laid off half their employees. Where does a 60 yr old mechanic find work?
One point of the stimulus package that won't help - withholding less taxes from your check! Hard to do if you don't have a job or check anymore!
This was just on the news. A hospital hired actors to present health problems to interns to help them learn how to diagnose illness. DUH?!!! Like there aren't enough uninsured REAL sick people! WTF!!!!

Three of the most vocally anti-"liberal" people I know are either now working in government or are collecting pension from working in government. All three of them whine constantly about paying "more taxes" than liberals, despite a large portion of their income coming from said government, ie, taxpayers. Frankly, I don't know how they justify such a position in their own minds.

We live in a country that used to reward hard work with financial carrots; now it seems that the hard work doesn't get you as far as it used to, and it's an exercise in frustration to be the only one striving. We feel as though we've been running in place instead of getting ahead. As soon as we feel we have our head above water, more rain falls. After a lifetime of saving and sacrificing we ought to be able to retire, but that's been put off for an indefinite amount of time now.

I feel for you, Karen. This is what fiction (and libraries) is for - to whisk you away to another world for cheap, if not free.

Let's stop the insanity. Can I get an AMEN?!

I'm with you 100%. I just want to get through this year. I hope everything turns around by then.

I meant to add this, too. A dearly loved Canadian friend had ovarian cancer and died from it within seven months of her diagnosis (she had apparently had it for years, but had not had a gyno exam in all that time; she wasn't married, and saw no reason to go). My sister-in-law was going through the same thing at the same time, and the difference in how their medical treatment was administered was stark. SIL was forced to drive back and forth to the chemo center; DF was admitted to a palliative care center where she was made comfortable, her family could stay with her, and even her dog was able to come and hang out. DF was able to die with dignity, while SIL had to be hooked up to useless lifesaving equipment til the very end. The bills from my SIL's care were astronomical, and considerably depleted her daughters' inheritance, while my friend's care was completely free to her family.

I don't know which is better, but I do know that we have a serious, serious problem here, and something needs to be done.

Violet...I think we'll begin to see some hopeful signs this summer....Right before a terrorist attack!

My favorite banker reports that the TARP money isn't a gift, it's a loan. And it is loaned to banks at a much higher percentage rate than they can get in the regular markets. Which means they can't lend that money to anybody unless they charge interest rates considerably higher than anyone's willing to pay. (And what industry, really, is expanding right now and wants to go into debt to do it?? Maybe those banks buying expensive jets had the right idea to stimulate the economy--buy jets and put the aircraft manufacturers back to work!) Bottom line is that we're going to see a lot of banks giving the money back.--An example of what happens to a stimulus package that's put together by people who understand few of the complexities of the industry they're trying to save. I want that guy who testfied against the SEC.--He sounded as if he understood what the hell he's doing.

What???? So THAT explains why lending hasn't increased. Those morons. Where's that Sharpie, I need to get my ass down to D.C. and make some corrections.

. . . and how do we "little people" feel about paying our income taxes when it is apparently so difficult to find cabinet candidates who have actually paid theirs? I'm with those suggesting a short, simple and ENFORCED tax code. (recently written about in the P-D by Bill McClellan and David Nicklaus).

Mary, you hit the nail on the head. The Tax Code is so dense and impenetrable, even CPAs with years of experience can't parse it enough to stay out of trouble.

If I were Queen of the World, that would be one of the first things I changed. A Sharpie would work, too; slash out all the special interest loopholes.

A simple tax code is definitely needed. It should be easy enough for the average citizen to understand and pay.

I am friends with an elderly Canadian who spends a good deal of time in the US. She uses the health system there, and loves it...

Pam/Sister Zip... I think I know how you feel re: your husbands job. Based on my location in the same industry....

How about this...my dad and I have banked in the same bank for years. His loan for the house was there. They got bought in December. He went to make his standard double mortgage payment (I pay all the utilities), and they wouldn't let him!! He had the money, but they gave him such a hard time that he asked for the pay-off. They argued with him! He liquidated one cd and payed the sucker off...

Does anyone want to hear what my heating/electric bill was last month?

I just know there's a bumper sticker in Sarah and Sharpies and drawing the line and marching to D.C., but I'm too stoned on cold meds to think of it :)

Debby, yeah for your dad! I paid off the mortgage on the condo when error upon error and fee upon fee used up all my patience. It felt good! The bank rep. said it was almost unheard of for anyone to actually pay off a mortgage anymore -- and therein lies the problem. . .

I seriously don't know what's going on in this country. I'm Obama can bring stability, but like Mary said, he can't find cabinet members to fill the bill (especially ones that have paid their taxes). I think everyone in DC is heading for the hills, hoping to abandon the 'insider' stigma. What our country needs in a swift kick in the behind.

Rita--can understand your friend in Illinois predicament. My husband's job is depended on state funds, he was informed last week that the state is behind on their payments, and it will only get worse as 2009 progresses...I think everyone can guess what will happen when it reaches critical mass.

Just yesterday the state of Kansas announced that due to budget problems they would not be paying any state tax refunds. WTF??? I mean, hey, I've got some budget problems too, but I can't just up and say, well, I'm not paying this or that bill . . . and get away with it.

It was liking listening to my wise husband while I was reading your blog. He's been saying the same thing lo these last few months or more.
I forwarded your blog to him. (he likes Lipstick Chronicles almost as much as I do)He agrees that you are a very smart person and do I read your books...yes, I do and I agree with him.
Thank you for the clarity of thought as well as the rest of the comments it provoked.

Well, I think that is about the nicest thing anyone's said about me in a long time. Thank you. I love the I-do-read-your books line.

So, if we're all thinking the same way, how come it's not happening?

Oh WOW!!
According to tonights news, being on SS I'll get a whole $250!!!
I never thought I'd be saying this, but W
stimulated me more (I got $300 from him LOL)

Part of the reason we're in debt now is because W gave away the surplus. Which was dumb because there wasn't actually extra money, it was just that they didn't spend all they had budgeted for during the Clinton years because he insisted that they balance the darn thing. I wonder when the next time our budget balances will be, if ever again.

I'm with another person..those of us who were responsible are kinda screwed here. Husband and I have a house loan..and that's it. We have money saved to pay for the next car, we pay off the credit card every month, we don't spend more than we make. We put a nice wad of cash in savings every month. So we did things right, and nobody cares. Instead, we get to watch our savings drop and be fearful that one of us will be out of a job because a bunch of people got in over their heads.

One thing I think Obama needs to fix is companies sending jobs overseas. Let's bring back all the IT jobs to the US. We have tons of IT people out of work right now, let's help them get some jobs. Let's bring back all the customer service jobs and every job that was sent to India and other places. Was it Bush who passed a plan to give companies discounts to do that? Instead of giving a discount, how about we tax those companies harder?

Why Sarah Stohmeyer, I did not know you had this in you! I am so proud!!!!! Clearly you are not running for office because you have ideas, smart ones that actually make sense. You sound like so many people I know. I live in Michigan which has been especially hard hit by the economic mess. I worked in the mortgage related industry for the past 15 years and in 2008 I lost not one but TWO jobs. College educated, experienced, excellent worker, etc. etc. I could not agree with you more. BTW, the MAXIMUM unemployment benefit in Michigan is $362.00 weekly. I would love to see the big CEO's try to live on that for a while......me, I am moving in with family until I can get back on my feet. Or until I become a CEO and get a big, fat bonus!

OMG typo in Sarah's last name. Apologies!

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