Category Archives: economy

Worth a Hill of Beans

For about four or five minutes now the teacher spoke of lofty ideals and grand humanitarian goals.

World peace. End to war and hunger. Equality and fairness. Trust one another. Diversity appreciation. Stop prejudice. A fair legal system.

Then he suddenly stopped and looked at the whole class. He said, “Let’s not fool ourselves, in the end all we really care about is our next can of beans.”

It was an abrupt turnabout. Pragmatism wins over platitudes.

My cousin graduated from high school and expected to get a good-paying job at an auto factory, the same way that his father and grandfather did. By the time he was looking for work, those jobs were gone. He meandered around doing odd jobs that never panned out to full-time careers. He ended up getting killed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a drug deal in Detroit.

The economy is global, no longer can autoworkers in Detroit say buy only American-made cars. If your neighbor works for a Nissan plant, why shouldn’t he buy a car from the company that pays him a living wage? A low-skill, high paying manufacturing job is nearly extinct, so grab what you can.

America was on top for too long. Now it is time for her to suffer. Most of the world root for our suffering and demise. Americans must get used to a lower standard of living. The politicians should stop spouting lies. More jobs may never come. The global economy levels off the playing field and those on top will slide ever farther down.

So much for the average worker. Don’t forget to fleece the rich bastards. The Wall Street bankers, CEOs, sports figures, and those in the entertainment industry for starters.

Though I do admire the skills of Alan Mulally and how he managed Ford and other businesses so well that jobs were preserved and the companies prospered. Kim Kardashian makes money off her big butt. I’m sick of people admiring her more than effective leaders in the business world that are only demonized.

But I forget, capitalism is evil.

Now how to take away the money from the very rich around the world? Any ideas? Put a cap on all income? Raid bank accounts? Open up mansions to house the people? Oprah tell us what to do. You can start with throwing your cans of beans into the pile.

 

 

 

 

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Obama: A True Story

Five years ago, my husband’s cousin in Florida and his wife were huge supporters of Obama. My husband feared that Obama was all style and no substance. He was magnetic and electable, and maybe that is all that matters.

Just last month when we visited the cousin, his tune changed dramatically. His son must purchase his own health insurance since his employer does not offer it. He needs insurance for himself and his family and the Affordable Care Act is way too costly for him to purchase. So his wife is keeping her job at a drugstore in order to purchase the store’s insurance for the family. After daycare and insurance costs, she makes very little per week, but it is a far cheaper route than the ACA. The cousin had hoped that a President Obama would make life better for his children. Instead he said he is unhappy with this bleak future he sees for them.

The ACA may be wildly successful as the administration claims, but this is one real instance that it has disappointed.

The cousin has not changed his politics. Now he is interested in Elizabeth (just look at her, you can tell she’s Native American) Warren. His ethnic observation, not mine. Now he is hoping for guaranteed pensions for all employees provided by every business. New disappointments on the horizon?

 

 

 

DIA on the Brink: Does Man Live by Bread Alone?

Detroit is living a real life ethical dilemma these days. If a city is burning, do we pull out the old woman or do we rescue that portrait of Van Gogh?

Detroit went into bankruptcy last week. The emergency manager in Detroit, appointed by the State of Michigan, has been eyeing the vast and valuable art collection held by the Detroit Institute of Arts. The city owns this museum and its assets are potentially up for grabs as creditors and city pensioners alike look for some good money coming out of a bad situation.

Union contracts can be rewritten. Creditors may get pennies on the dollar for their investments. The retirees may find their pensions slashed. Money is needed for turning the streetlights back on that have been dark too long; money is needed for the razing of thousands of blighted buildings; money is needed for police, fire, and EMS services that seldom serve city residents in a timely manner. The city population keeps dropping and the tax base can’t support the over $17 billion debt.

The DIA has one of the best art collections in America, and both tourists and residents would feel the pain if it was dismantled.

But real people may get hurt while the art still hangs on the wall.

A letter writer to the editor of a Detroit newspaper said that if he had to make a choice between gutting retiree benefits or selling city assets, he would be saying,  “What is the opening bid for this beautiful Van Gogh?”

This is hard for me since I find the DIA to be vital and relevant. I need art and bread, and I believe (perhaps naively) that art can uplift everyone in society. Detroit without its great museums, would be even sadder.

So what’s it gonna be? Should the Degas and Matisse survive? Or does the old woman have any need for a stinking painting?

My Dead Mother-in-Law Got Me Hooked on Craigslist

If American business relied on Americans buying things that they truly needed, American business would be out of business.

When my mother-in-law died, she left a house full of fabric. It was in the attic, it was in the basement, it was in each bedroom. My unscientific guess (by weighing a few containers) was that she left about 6,000 pounds of sewing fabric. She didn’t sew that much or create crafts. She bought the pretty, bright colored fabric when it went on sale only because it was on sale and the colored patterns caught her eye.

I’m sure fabric stores rely on people like my mother-in-law to keep them afloat. If people only bought what they needed, that would mean 5,995 pounds less fabric for this one woman alone.

Just a small sample of the fabric

Just a small sample of the fabric

And she was not alone. Two weeks after she died, the wife of my manager’s neighbor died. She left a houseful of fabric . . . and 15 sewing machines.

An ad on Craigslist helped us get rid of our fabric. One woman came by after most of it had been snatched up for free by many people. She complained that the fabric smelled musty. Well, it was stored in plastic containers for, in some cases, decades. What did she want for free? Right after coming to our place, she was heading off to another house filled with fabric left by another deceased elderly lady.

Before she left, she still grabbed a good amount of our musty fabric and told us she had buckets and buckets full at home. Note: big fabric giveaway going on at her house after her death. What goes around, comes around.

Virtually every house hunter reality show on television has that woman that complains about the small closets in a house. She says, “That closet will only fit my clothes, my husband is on his own.” Or, “That closet will only fit my shoes.” The older houses have minuscule storage space and that same women is shocked to think about how few things people must have owned back then. Huge shoe collection? Not a thing in the past.

Maybe buying stuff gives people a high. Maybe they keep so much stuff because it might be useful someday. Unfortunately, by the time they need that item, it is lost in the other old junk they saved or new stuff they bought.

I blame ubiquitous advertisements. Can anyone get through the day without an ad overload? Everything we look at or listen to sends us an ad for some product or service. One reason I don’t own an e-reader is because of the ads that pop up on them. Sure you can pay more and not get ads, but I’m sure that someday the ads will still come, outright or in a subliminal manner. My computer is probably sending subliminal ads to me at this moment. Paranoia is a land I’m well acquainted with.

Government, along with business, encourages us to keep mindlessly buying. Buying stuff is good for the economy (and not saving is bad for the economy – go figure).

Both rich and poor overbuy. The less wealthy buy cheaper stuff (i.e., 6,000 pounds of fabric) and the wealthy can buy enough expensive clothes to fill a 1,000 square foot home or more. If we lived a dozen lifetimes, we couldn’t wear out so many clothes or sew with so much fabric.

I’m ready to cross my cultural references and throw my shoe at the TV next time someone complains about a “small” 2,000 square foot house with kitchen countertops that are “not granite.”  Then I’ll be in the market for a new TV. I’m part of the problem.

The Detroit Institute of Arts: Worth Fighting For?

Last Tuesday, voters in the metro-Detroit, Michigan, area passed a millage to fund the Detroit Institute of Arts for a 10-year period.

The August 7th election included Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. Wayne County voters passed the millage by 68.15%, Oakland County by 63.68%. Macomb County, a tough sell, squeaked it by at 50.5%.

Just before the election I received a robo-call from the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance, an anti-tax group in Macomb County opposing this millage. The recording warned me that the “Detroit Elite” want to spend my money. No definition for this “Detroit Elite” was given.

Possible Detroit Elite:

  • Some wealthy Detroiters that want their art and not pay for it too?
  • A group of starving artistic types that feel entitled to other people’s money to fuel their personal passions?
  • Millionaires caught backing art museums in Switzerland while those in Detroit suffer?
  • Low-income Detroit families scamming the northern suburbs to fund their addiction to art galleries when they only deserve to live by bread alone?

I’m not a fan of big tax increases and I believe that government tends to be highly inefficient. But my mind was already set to vote Yes on this millage.

Everyone has their sacred cows and museum funding is one of mine. I grew up rather poor without many frills and no grand vacations. My father took me to the Detroit Historical Museum on one of his Saturday afternoon custody visits with me. I immediately fell in love and wanted to go there all the time. Then I was taken to the Detroit Institute of Arts and fell in love again.

Great beauty and evil live in museums. We can enjoy the best of what the human spirit offers within those walls. Also, museums keep us from forgetting the potential for evil within all of us. With that knowledge and with some luck, we won’t repeat the worst events in history.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is part of a wonderful museum district that includes: the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History; the Detroit Historical Museum (closed for renovations until November 2012); and the Detroit Science Center (closed due to lack of funding).

I’m glad the millage passed. Maybe I can now count myself among the Detroit Elite?

My Sacred Cow

Government spending could use a buzz cut. The next time I hear about federal funds providing a grant to study shrimp on treadmills, I may run screaming down the street. Federal money gets thrown around just so money can get spent. Is this the way we really want to stimulate the economy? Do something that matters.

Instead, throw that money at the libraries.

I ran across an article in a newspaper about the Geek the Library program. Then I found out more about it online – http://geekthelibrary.org/.

This website brings together people that value the library, encourages them to express why they value it, and asks them to pass on the message.

The world’s in an economic mess. Library funding is often on the cutting board. A nearby county library did close due to budget cuts. Libraries are fighting for their lives.

A large, well-regarded library by me nearly closed down due to cuts in funding. At the last moment before closing, a community movement succeeded to keep it open.

This might be where the Geek the Library program comes in.

This program highlights the incredible benefits libraries offer to society:

  • See how much money a family can save by borrowing material from a library instead of buying the items.
  • Think outside the book (although books are a big enough draw for me to go there). Libraries house DVDs, music CDs, audiobooks, and free computers to write letters or search online. You can even get a pass to go to a museum.
  • Discover the job search resources. Ironically, the worse the economy gets, the more people use the library. People research companies on the Internet, write resumes, and email them out.

Personally, I love to go just to wander about the shelves. I discover books that I have never heard of or books that I forgot about wanting to read.

If I had to choose the lesser of two evils, I would sooner cut funding to public schools than libraries. Schools need an overhaul so that they work for all children before more money gets thrown at them.

The library is a terrific basis for self education. Empower yourself. A library is a true leveler of society; only death can do better.

Maintaining libraries is not a waste; it can only improve society. Let the shrimp buy a health club membership.

I Geek Isabel Allende, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Chinua Achebe, Carson McCullers, Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, D.H. Lawrence, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Pirsig, Muriel Barbery, Thornton Wilder, and others (some undiscovered yet by me).

No Car With Zip Car

I’d like to kick a couple of cars to the curb. Car ownership is a major financial drain. The insurance costs, standard and unexpected maintenance, and the escalating cost of gas make me cringe when I look over the bills. I noticed that some cities offer car rental by the hour. I visited zipcar.com and discovered an alternative way to drive. Europeans already have a history of this kind of car sharing, ZipCar only started in the U.S. about 10 years ago.

Why own two cars or even one when you can rent one cheaper? After adding up the high cost of car ownership, and considering that a car sits on the street or driveway for many hours or days at a time, renting can make sense.

I’d love a better public transit system where I can ride to the downtown museums, restaurants, or sports arenas and not worry about parking fees or parking availability. I’d love to step off efficient public transit and walk right up to the front door of my destination and not walk too far on those cold, snowy winter nights. If there were other options out there, I’d give up my multiple car household and scale back to one.

But as long as I’m married to my husband, this won’t happen. We own four cars. Or I should say I own one car and my husband owns three. He drives an old model sportscar,  a rusty truck from the mid ’90s, and a four-year old sedan.

I drive a 10 year old car which fits my personality. My main car-shopping priorities: buy a car that starts up when I turn the key and gets me to the places I want to go. I don’t care about the newest design or a luxury brand name.

When I brought up the topic of renting a car by the hour, my husband was completely against it. But I said we could rent a truck for those shopping trips to Lowes. We could rent a sportscar if we feel a desire to drive fast and stylish (that would never be my desire, but just saying if it was). We can rent a second sedan if we both have to drive long distances in separate directions.

This won’t happen. My husband loves the ownership factor. His cars, his decision to drive what and when he wants. Rental is not part of his mindset. No surprise there, he is a child of the Motor City after all.

Also no surprise, Detroit doesn’t offer the rent by the hour car service. We live to drive. I’m just the oddball in the mix.