Posted by: pgrundy | April 4, 2008

Another Fake Response from the Bush League

Remember when George stood outside a blue-lit government building in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and pledged to rebuild New Orleans and address the problem of race relations in America?

Remember when Dick Cheney assured the country that the war in Iraq would last no longer than a couple of weeks, tops?

Now we have the grand announcement that the “most sweeping change in banking regulation since the Great Depression” has been initiated by the Bush administration.

Sure it has.

If we know anything about our fearless leader at this point it is this: The more noise and hoopla that accompanies an announcement, the less likely it is that anything is actually happening.

Basically, the ‘new’ package of ‘regulations’ consists of giving the Federal Reserve the right to monitor investment banks and hedge funds, but no right to directly intervene unless the financial system appears to be in danger of major and imminent meltdown. You know, kind of like things are already, right now.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but if the Fed was still capable of preventing a financial meltdown of the entire US financial system, wouldn’t it be doing that right now?

So far, the Fed has been reacting to Wall Street volatility like a teenage girl in the midst of a messy breakup with an arrogant boyfriend. You just want to shake her and scream, “Oh for God’s sake dump him! He’s not worth it!” But you can’t, because teenage girls live in a world of their own, and so does the Federal Reserve.

The Federal Reserve was created in 1913 to prevent bank runs on private lending institutions. The Fed itself is a combination private & governmental entity that is not accountable to the American public. Its board of Directors is appointed by the President of the US; its stock is held by a number of private US banks.

A good description of what the Federal Reserve does is found in the book The Federal Reserve in Plain English:

“Just before the founding of the Federal Reserve, the nation was plagued with financial crises. At times, these crises led to “panics,” in which people raced to their banks to withdraw their deposits. A particularly severe panic in 1907 resulted in bank runs that wreaked havoc on the fragile banking system and ultimately led Congress in 1913 to write the Federal Reserve Act. Initially created to address these banking panics, the Federal Reserve is now charged with a number of broader responsibilities, including fostering a sound banking system and a healthy economy.”

The current instability in the economy is being caused once again by bank runs and the threat of bank runs, but this time the banks in question are investment banks and hedge funds, which are not under the control of the Federal Reserve.

It might seem logical then that putting these investment banks under the watch of the Fed will solve the problem, but that is an empty gesture for a number of reasons.

First of all, at this point we have absolutely no indication one way or the other whether the Fed’s current actions are helping to stabilize the economy or making a scary situation even worse. Secondly, and more important, the Fed is not likely to be effective in regulating investment banks over the longterm, even if it can pull us out of the current crisis.

Many economists and market insiders have pointed to the creation of a “shadow banking system” comprised of investment banks, brokerage firms, and various hedge funds, for the purpose of helping large financial institutions skirt banking regulations and make huge profits doing illegal things, or things that ought to be illegal but aren’t quite. That is how the current subprime mortgage crisis came about.

Investment banks took packages of subprime mortgages and chopped them up into new packages to back Structured Investment Vehicles, or SIVs. A structured investment vehicle (SIV) is a fund which borrows money by issuing short-term securities at low interest and then lends that money by buying long-term securities at higher interest, making a profit for investors from the difference (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structured_investment_vehicle).

When commercial banks realized that the assets backing the SIVs were going bad, they wanted their money back pronto. This kicked off the current liquidity crisis and amounted to a run on the investment banks that issued the SIVs. While it is tempting (and easy) to blame the subprime mortgage crisis on poor people who take out bad loans and don’t pay them back, when you look at the big picture what you see is a kind of greed orgy taking place in the stratosphere of high finance. The phrase “pigs at the trough” springs to mind.

Corporate America found a way to get around the Federal Reserve Act once, and they will again, and again. Remember that the Federal Reserve Board is appointed by the President of the United States—You know, the same guy who put Halliburton is charge of supplying the Iraq War and rebuilding New Orleans. Who knows how many billions of taxpayer dollars have disappeared already into the gaping, ever-hungry maw of slobbering Halliburton? We may never know.

One thing is certain: Until these guys are out of office, NOTHING will change in regard to the financial sector. Nothing. Nada. Zip. What we need is regulation, real regulation, and real corporate accountability. Any fool can see that financial institutions are completely out of control. (Have you tried calling your bank or mortgage company lately?) And now a bunch of chickens are hovering over America, looking for someplace to roost. (What a weird visual that makes!) It’s kind of like a chickensh*t crapstorm.

Don’t expect it to look any prettier any time soon. Finally, the President has come to the rescue by putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

Oh goody.

But I better go now, before I drown in corny aphorisms.

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Posted by: pgrundy | March 27, 2008

Dizzy Yet?

Fans of Wall Street drama should be forgiven for reaching for the dramamine this week. A rally over an unexpected increase in sales of existing homes slowly gave way to more nervousness over the rest of the bad news, and honestly, there was lots of other bad news, and it just keeps on coming. Home values dropped over 10% from last year, major financial firms such as Citigroup and Merrill Lynch are bracing for more huge losses, Paulson took some of the joy out of the Bear Stearns bailout by bringing up the ‘R’ word—not ‘recession’, but ‘regulation’—and now the home equity market, which represents over $1 trillion in American homeowner debt, is about to go south.

All in all, it still doesn’t look so good. Citigroup paid out 1.66 billion dollars to settle lawsuits over its part in the Enron scandal, which is the better part of its entire annual budget for legal defense, and it’s only March. Ford sold Land Rover and Jaguar to India’s Tata motors for about one third of what they paid for the two luxury brands. Unemployment in Michigan hit 7.2%, and oil is on the way up again, after “plunging” to $101 a barrel. Seriously, how big a plunge is it when the bottom is $101? Just a year ago, economists were reassuring us we would never see $100 a barrel, and now oil hits $101 and it’s a”plunge.” Sure it is.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Dick Cheney has this to say about the distress of the American people and 4,000 dead American soldiers, “So?”

So…So I wish Cheney and his evil puppet had been impeached back when Dennis Kucinich was calling for it and everyone was looking the other way. Am I the only one who feels like time is slowing to a crawl as we approach the end of this nightmare regime? At this rate, the final week will feel like 50 years. Hell, it already feels like 50 years.

On this note, I’m off to the McBank.

Pray for me.

Posted by: pgrundy | March 17, 2008

The Fed Again… Time to Freak Out?

I’ve been kind of neglecting this blog lately. It’s not that I don’t have plenty of doom and gloom to spread about financial conditions and the end of life as we know it on Planet America. It’s just that ever since I finally made the leap and decided to devote most of my day to writing for a living, I’ve been deluged with writing projects-for-dollars that devour my formerly free time. This is a good thing, really. I never expected it, but I do think it’s a good thing to be offered this much work. On the down side, my volunteer work as freelance Cassandra has been getting short shrift.

But today, the Cassandra duty is impossible to ignore, no matter how much paid work I have on my plate. Last night the Fed announced another emergency quarter-point rate cut, and the establishment of a special temporary financial institution designed to bail out failing investment firms like Bear Stearns. Far from having the reassuring effect intended, Asian markets reacted to the news by dropping nearly 3% overnight. As if that weren’t alarming enough, Alan Greenspan chose last night to announce that, well, basically, we’re all f**ked… at least until we watch a bunch of other banks fail and until major regulatory changes are made.

So I have no idea what will happen on Wall Street after it opens today, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be boring. One of the projects I’m working on is about peak oil and its consequences, and I have to admit, I’m getting a bit freaked out myself. I spent the last week reading government studies that detail all the terrible things that will happen to us if we don’t drastically change our way of life at least 20 years before world oil production peaks, and other studies done by the US government and major oil companies (not Ralph Nader, not a bunch of socialist tree huggers, but rather, OIL COMPANIES AND THE US GOVERNMENT) that show pretty convincingly that oil production already has peaked, or is just peaking now.

If these studies are correct, then we are currently right at the topmost point of a roller coaster that is about to plunge at heart-stopping speed. I’m a little paranoid after researching this all week, but who wouldn’t be, given current events? I know that the sub-prime mess is supposed to be responsible for it all, but it strikes me that we seem to have entered an era in which any national crisis sends oil prices rocketing skyward. It started in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and prices have not calmed down since. The price of a gallon of gas here was $3.28 on Friday. By Sunday it was $3.39.

While unemployment held steady at 4.8% last month (actually dropping a tenth of a point from 4.9% in January), the percentage of people who want to work but have totally given up trying has hit 17%, a percentage not seen, ever, in the history of tracking such percentages. Also not included in the unemployment figures are recent college graduates and downsized middle-management persons working at WallMart and Starbucks for $7 and $8 per hour. And now even Starbucks isn’t doing so hot. Seems that when you are worried about financial survival, $6 cups of coffee are not that appealing.

At the bank where I now work part-time, a memo was sent out by corporate explaining to us underlings how to quash rumors that the bank is looking for a buyer; without actually saying that the bank isn’t looking for a buyer. In other words, yes, we are trying to unload this loser bank, but don’t say so if people call us freaking out about it, and by all means DON’T mention FDIC if you can possibly help it, because that will send them running right to a teller window just like back in the day. Oh, yes, and thanks for your loyalty and hard work blah blah blah have a nice day.

A memo like that, it’s not uplifting, you know?

This particular bank had one of the largest sub-prime mortgage portfolios in the business. They dumped as much of it as they could as the crisis was just beginning, but their stock has not seen upward movement since then. Down at my level, I can’t sell so much as a lolly-pop all of a sudden. To make commission, I have to first sell nearly half a million dollars in new money bank products. Commission pay kicks in after that. Last month I sold $60,000. Today, more than halfway through the month, I’ve sold $15,000.

I think after three months of not making goal I get canned. I can’t remember… there are so many different ways to get canned there. But I think I’m on the verge of redundancy with my crappy sales, and as much as I hate the job, I don’t want to get canned. The job is how I get my crappy health insurance, which gives me access to our crappy health care system, at prices I can’t afford even with the crappy insurance. I’m told we need this though. I’ve never been fired in my life from any job. I always do well. So this will be new for me. It also would not surprise me to show up one day and find the doors locked. That’s what they do when lay-offs happen. They don’t give you warning. They just lock the doors and say, “Ba-bye!” If Citigroup or Chase buys us, or God forbid, BOA, firing would be a mercy. Those guys make our bank look like Mother Theresa Bank. And trust me on this, we are total dicks.

I think the public is on to the fact that the government lies to us about basically everything. I personally think we are not “on the verge” of a recession, we are in a recession, and if all we get is a recession we will be lucky. Most of the people I know think that. You can fool some of the people some of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

That said, (or rather, plagiarized) ,I guess I better get back to work.

Posted by: pgrundy | March 6, 2008

Why America Needs a Vision for the Future

I’ve been thinking lately about all the doom and gloom in the country right now, and the Democratic primaries, and how hungry people are right now for change. The main political focus is on some horrendous problems that are causing significant and continuing hurt for most working people: the subprime mortgage mess, the tight credit market, job loss & unemployment, global warming, the health care crisis, Iraq, and the generally dismal state of the US economy. When conditions get this grim, people want solutions. But I’ve been thinking that even more than we need solutions right now, we need a new sense of who we are as a nation and where we are going. Otherwise, all we are in for is four years of slapping band aids on gaping wounds.

For most of my life, America has been the industrial leader of the free world. We made the most cars, the most steel, the most electronics, the most airplanes. We made the most and we made the best. Making stuff was our forte, and we loved it. Now we make very little. Asia has taken over the production of small electronics and cheap useless crap, India and Pakistan make our clothes, and Japan has cornered the auto market. The American automobile industry, which single-handedly created a prosperous middle class, is dead in the water. During the Bush administration this country has practically hemorrhaged industrial jobs. Thousands of people who used to earn middle class wages with good benefits are now out of work or adjusting to the crappy pay and depressing grind of corporate service sector jobs. NAFTA helped this to happen, but instead of looking backward to assign blame, it’s time to ask ourselves some hard questions about where we go from here.

It seems unlikely to me that the US will be returning as an industrial leader anytime soon. We simply can’t compete globally. What we could do though, if we had the vision and the guts, is to become the leader in green technology, renewable energy, and sustainable living. We have the knowledge and the resources. We have a crisis that makes such innovation wildly popular and desperately necessary. We have a crumbling infrastructure that could be replaced by a new aesthetic based on short-distance vehicles and human bipedal motion (a.k.a. “walking). All of these could create millions of new jobs.

Canada is already marketing an affordable electric car that can be recharged at home. (Check it out at http://www.zenncars.com. Zenn is and acronym for Zero Emission No Noise.) The state of Michigan is aggressively courting green industry to replace the dying gasoline auto industry. Individual households are learning about conservation and self-reliance because their jobs are disappearing, or they just suck. As a nation, we could follow suit, we could have a green agenda, and lead the world to a better future.

Not that I think for a moment that this will happen. Already the press and both major political parties are mocking Ralph Nader again, even though all he is doing is stating the obvious out loud. Right now we have a government that is of the corporation, for the corporation, and by the corporation. Even though the law currently says otherwise, we know that a corporation is not a person. Corporations exist for profit only. They do not make human choices, they do not make decisions that enhance the life of human beings. They make decisions that increase profit and enrich stockholders, no matter what the cost to the rest of us. Over the last eight years, we have watched half of the wealth in the US float up to 1% of the population, while the other 99% of us are still witnessing our standard of living erode minute by minute.

Sometimes I think we will not be able to change until everything falls down. I don’t want to think this. But experience has taught me that people rarely change until they have to. We are rapidly approaching that point, but we aren’t there yet. I just hope that once we get there, it won’t be too late. I hope Obama has a dream. I hope somebody has a dream. Anybody. And soon.

Posted by: pgrundy | March 3, 2008

One Small Step for Pam, One Giant Step for, Um, Pam

Today is the first day of cutting back to part-time at the call center. I’ll be working 9-1, M-F for the bank, and also one day every other weekend there. The rest of the time I’ll be trolling the net looking for writing projects. Right now I’m finishing up two projects writing articles about hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming (a.k.a. NLP), and two projects writing short copy for sales websites.

Writing is still a job, and I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone, it’s demanding. But so far I’m very excited about freelancing. I like having choices about what to write about, I like getting paid for writing, I like researching and learning about new things, and knowing that my shift of taking abuse on the phone at the bank is getting shorter and shorter with each passing minute. I like working alone on my own schedule. I like all the possibilities and all the newness.

So far, out of a dozen projects, I’ve had one slow payer but few other problems, which really surprises me. I know it won’t all be roses, but so far, in general, it hasn’t been the bed of constant rejection and angst I expected. The bank, on the other hand, gets uglier and uglier. I think there is a real chance that it will not survive in its present state. A friend of mine there sold $750,000 last month and was rewarded with $7. Seven bucks. That was her commission. And I was feeling bad about my lousy fifty bucks. I only sold $430,000, but there is this new formula for commission that has to do with the phases of the moon, how much your grandmother weighs, eye color, time of day, ratio of booked accounts to waist circumference, and changes in the magnetic field of the earth.

In other words, no one knows how the hell commission works there.

I am on probation for attendance, which I expected and fully deserve, but what I didn’t realize until my own probation was how many other people are on probation and how many things you can be on probation for. Why don’t they just say straight up, “You can work here for a year or two, but after that, seriously, we’re gonna find a reason to fire you.” This seems to be the corporate strategy in general these days: hire ’em and fire ’em before they get a chance to retire or before they want raises or promotions or some other unreasonable thing like that. It’s planned obsolescence only with people.

A good book on the topic is Bait & Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich. In it she details her journey trying to find a middle-income job after a corporate layoff. It’s a pretend journey–she’s a freelance writer in real life and wants a corporate job about as much as she wants herpes, but she wanted to see what the search process was like. And what she discovered was, the search process is endless and mostly you have to take something like a call center job or a job where you have to wear a hair net.

Not that it’s all that easy to get a hairnet job these days either. The economy is looking worser and worser. It will be interesting today to see whether Wall Street will delude itself into another mini-rally or jump off another little bridge. What I really loved was Ben Bernanke’s recent reassurance to Congress that the economy is basically solid, that he was ready to do whatever was necessary to encourage growth (read: more rate cuts), and that oh yeah, there may be some bank failures.

BANK FAILURES?!?!?!?!?

You know, it takes a truly steady hand to reassure people economically and talk about bank failure all in the same sentence. Most people equate bank failures with bread lines and the song, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime.”  Since dimes are currently worth about a quarter for the silver involved, it’s a safe bet that, come to blows, nobody will be sparing them this time around.

Speaking of time, it’s time to put in mine. But, as the governor of California once said, “I’ll be back.”

Posted by: pgrundy | February 28, 2008

Exxon and Other Oil-Related Musings

The punitive fine being proposed for the Exxon Valdez oil spill is about three days worth of profit for them, or $3.5 billion. Even so, they are protesting that they have suffered enough already over this accident, and should not be held to account indefinitely. Yet, without hefty punitive fines for this kind of ecological disaster, it will almost certainly happen again and again. It’s pretty hard for people to feel very sorry for Exxon in this economic climate.

Speaking of oil, remember the Iraqi oil fields? Whatever became of those anyway? We never hear about them anymore. Are they still there?  Are they producing oil? Where is the oil going? Who gets the profits?  It’s as if, having been in the war for over four years no end in sight, the American imagination has turned Iraq into little more than a really dusty, really ugly desert country with bad plumbing, no infrastructure, and lots of fecal matter and death. But remember when it was famous for oil? Now that we’ve pretty much ruined the country, whatever became of their most valuable resource?

Oil hit $102 a gallon yesterday, yet Bernanke announced yesterday that growth is the biggest problem facing the US economy right now.  It may well be the biggest problem facing the stock market, but I think for the average person prices are the biggest problem. Hitting the market with another jolt of heart-starting rate cuts isn’t going to revive it if it has a terminal illness. I mean, it’s not angina, we’re talking chronic fatal illness here unless the fundamentals of the US economy change and change fast. We can’t be a consumer economy if nobody can buy anything because everything costs too much.

Inflation already spiked in January, and I predict with the cost of oil going up and up, it will get much worse. This is not a temporary crisis brought on by political unrest like it was in the 1970s. We need alternative, renewable energy and we need it, well, yesterday.  Watching this whole drama play out, I can’t help but think that we are still just focusing on the very short term, with mostly the pockets of rich people in mind.

Nearly everything we buy is trucked to market, including and especially food. Milk is already $4 a gallon. Dairy products and meat are skyrocketing. Wheat is next. It’s more than a little alarming.

Two more days for me of full-time work in hell taking verbal abuse from bank customers. Next week I’m half time, and soon, I hope, no time.

God I hate that job.

Posted by: pgrundy | February 25, 2008

Job Opening: Human Punching Bag

This week is my last full-time week at the call center. Starting next week, I go to four hours a day. If I’m very lucky, sometime in the coming year I’ll be out of there altogether. My spouse and I were discussing customer non-service this weekend, and we decided that, along with almost every other customer in the US, we hate it.

He had to call Sprint regarding their bill. After 6 years with them, he switched to my carrier because it saved us about $50 a month. He was way past his initial contract and had been month to month for years. Nevertheless, they charged him a $150 early termination fee and refused to stop his automatic deductions for his monthly bill. It took about half an hour of being passed around to get to the part where he accepted that what they meant in ordinary English was, “Screw you.”

Not that my carrier is any better, customer service wise. To get our phone numbers activated we spent almost an hour on the phone with them. We took turns. Whenever we got transfered, the other would pass the phone and so forth. When I moved last year and canceled my internet service, I was charged an ungodly overage and called and called to correct it. First they added more charges, then they took them off, then they finally refunded me way more than I was due. And I kept it. And I don’t feel a bit guilty.

Customer service phone numbers are just a way to make people go away. They also shield management from the consequences of their bad decisions. I hate being a part of it. One more week. I’m on my way out. Thank God.

Posted by: pgrundy | February 20, 2008

Oil hits $100 a Barrel

Everyone knew it was coming, and now it’s here.  $100 a barrel oil. I clearly recall a financial pundit saying in an interview early last year that there was just no way oil would ever hit $100 a barrel, that he doubted it would even peak as high as $80 before stabilizing. I have given a lot of thought to the questions of 1) Who are these experts anyway, and 2) Why do they say the ridiculous things they say?

Having spent the last six years in a corporate job, I think I know. I have learned to smell corporate doublespeak a mile off. I have the nose of a bloodhound for corporate BS. No one becomes an “expert” in finance without having a corporate hand up the back of their shirt controlling their puppet-like movements. Corporations are autocratic: if you want to succeed, you say what they want to hear, no matter what kind of outright lie it happens to be.

We watch NBC news on TV at home, and we often gage what kind of financial news is about to be announced by whether they bring out the “good news girl” Maria Bartolomo, or the “bad news girl,” a fresh-faced Kansas-type innocent whose name eludes me at the moment. Lately, they have been screwing with our heads, bringing out Bartolomo to comment on bad news instead of the reassuring Dorothy-minus-Toto girl. It’s as if they think that if Maria spins bad news positively, it will magically turn into good news, just that easily. Last night she had this profound comment on $100 oil: It’s about fear.

Gosh. Rilly?

Of course it’s about fear! But the implication is that the fear is unfounded, when actually it is a completely realistic fear. Not enough oil. We’ve known since the 50’s that oil would run out about, well, now.  No preparations have been made for this inevitability. Now the country is in serious economic trouble for all kinds of reasons, and oil hits $100 a gallon. If it does not come down, this will increase the cost  nearly everything at a time when ordinary people are already hurting financially.

Asian markets fell 2% overnight over the price of oil; it will be interesting to see what happens today on Wall Street. Meanwhile, back at my cubicle at the bank, I  am only $492,000 away from what I am supposed to have sold by February 29th. I would feel horrible about myself if it weren’t for the fact that all but two people on my 13 member team are in the same shape or worse, and the two that are doing better are still around $350,000 off. The corporate solution so far has been to send a woman down from either Mount Olympus or corporate headquarters to browbeat the call center manager, who in turn is browbeating the supervisors and the workers.

People have money or they don’t. And right now, they don’t. A squad of poorly paid phone reps cannot atone for the sins of corporate mismanagement. They can try to make us fix their mess, but we can’t.

Interesting times.

Posted by: pgrundy | February 18, 2008

Rebuffing Buffet

Warren Buffet’s offer to back municipal bonds insured by MBIA and Ambac has been rebuffed by at least one of these giants, and will likely be rebuffed by the other as well. Bond insurers don’t want selective help, they want a total rescue that includes the crappy sub-prime mortgage backed securities that are running their ratings into the ground. The topic is so dull and hard to understand that it isn’t getting a lot of attention in the popular press, but the way this plays out will be crucial to what happens next in the continuing saga of the end of America as we know it.

If Ambac and MBIA go bad (or more bad), then banks will start to fold. On the other hand, if the insurers that insure banks are bailed out, then that teaches banks and investment brokers that greed and corruption are good things, and everyone should do more of them, because someone will always swoop in and clean up their mess whenever they create one. Buffet’s offer was meant to help cities by backing the municipal bonds that are keeping cities (barely) afloat, while weeding out the subprime tofurkeys, which are a lost cause.

I’m not an economist, but it seems to me that the obvious and unpalatable-to-everyone solution is to 1) bail out the insurers while simultaneously 2) regulating banking and finance. I mean, come on! Do we need any better proof that laissez-faire Capitalism is not a healthy or viable strategy? With all due respect to Saint Ronald of Reagan we’ve seen quite clearly over the last eight years that the only thing that trickles down when these guys get their own way is crap. The money stays at the top. The genius who ran Countrywide into the ground was getting CEO job offers the same week he sold the whole mess to Bank of America. Countrywide employees, however, were screwed.

Cities are in trouble, and it’s going to get a lot worse unless somebody does something a lot more proactive than empathize and quote supply side doublespeak. The tax base of the American city is eroding faster than a Minneapolis bridge, and if bonds fail, what next? What does it matter who the next President is if the country descends into chaos from the bottom up for lack of basic services while we are waiting?

I work half a day today, just four hours this morning. The bank I work for was recently the target of a scathing article in a major mid-western newspaper about its greed and subsequently huge sub-prime losses. We received a list of “talking points” in case people inquire, explaining why the bank is in great shape and is returning to building personal deposit relationships at the branch level. Both assertions are lies.

I have been struggling with my attitude toward my job lately, really struggling, as it has gotten harder and harder and the opportunities for advancement have evaporated. Our sales goals are so ridiculous that at this point that few people are even coming close to hitting them, which greatly reduces our paychecks, and customers are broke and angry and inclined to be abusive. At least they don’t have to defend the bank. I find it harder and harder to do that, so mostly I don’t. I just listen, do what I can, (which is almost nothing), and collect my meager paycheck. It’s getting really depressing. I’ve been looking for other work, and it isn’t going well there either.

What next? It’s not boring, that’s one positive I guess. But it sure would be great to see something good happen for a change.

Posted by: pgrundy | February 17, 2008

How to Survive Hard Times

I thought for a change of pace I would try to put a positive spin on my fascination with the American Apocalypse by making some constructive suggestions for how to get by while the country falls apart. Here goes:

Cultivate Multiple Sources of Income. 

The cash cow full time job is about to go the way of the dinosaur unless something changes, and so far, it isn’t looking like anything is going to change anytime soon. So it’s important to have a lot of different baskets to keep your eggs in. Take an inventory of your stuff and your skills and figure out which ones you can turn into income or sell for money.  Diversify as if you were your own stock portfolio.

Stash Cash.

Have some cash stashed away, not in bank, which can fail, but somewhere you think it will be safe. A standard place is in your freezer in an empty waffle box or something of that sort. It doesn’t have to be a lot of cash. A few hundred dollars is good if you can swing it. You never know what can happen and when, so it doesn’t hurt to have a back-up plan.

Zip-Loc Your Important Documents.

If you have to leave your home quickly, for any reason, the last thing you will time for is tearing through stacks of papers looking for your birth certificate. So get a zip-loc plastic bag and put copies of your birth certificate, drivers license, passport, bank and credit card numbers, vehicle titles, and any other pertinent identifying info, and then keep that bag somewhere you won’t forget it–next to the box you have your money stashed in for instance.

Stockpile Canned Goods and Drinking Water.

Okay, this one does have a certain ‘ick’ factor to it. Hoarding? Isn’t that going a bit overboard? No, absolutely not. Even FEMA, which can’t do anything right, advises keeping a few weeks worth of food and water on hand to eat in the event of a natural disaster. Plus, buying in bulk is a good way to save money. So when you see a sale on 10 for $10 for anything you can store, go for i.

Grow Your Own Food.

It’s not that difficult and not that expensive. Consider planting a fruit tree and some raspberry bushes. Even hardened plant killers like me can manage to grow green beans and tomatoes. All you really have to do is water them and make sure they get enough sun. Swiss chard and collards are also easy to grow and packed with vitamins A, C, and micronutrients like iron and zinc. Freeze and/or can whatever you can’t eat fresh.

Buy Local in Bulk and Freeze or Can.

When a blueberries come in season, if they grow locally, buy them in bulk, and freeze or can them. The same goes for cherries, strawberries, apples, peaches–just about any fruit. tomatoes are easy to can and are a good base for many meals.

Learn to Use Rice, Beans, and Potatoes.

Rice and beans combined make a complete protein and if stored properly, they keep forever. Find as many good recipes as you can using them and keep plenty on hand. The same goes for staples like flour, sugar, cornmeal, vegetable oil, and oats. These foods are filling, nutritious, and inexpensive.

Assemble an Energy Emergency Kit.

When the power goes out, it is astonishing how quickly life is reduced to the basics. A generator is a good thing to have, but most generators require gas or oil, which may or may not always be available. A couple of kerosene lamps and a kerosene cook stove, some candles,  a self-charging flashlight and radio, and some board games are worth their weight in gold during a power outage.

Weirdly, assembling this list is depressing me so much more than my customary ranting. It seemed like a good idea when I started it but already I am getting myself into a funk. I think I am just going to ditch it and post a recipe instead. This one is for bread pudding, which is a delicious way to use up stale bread. We like to eat it warm.

Bread Pudding.

Tear leftover stale bread or rolls into small pieces and place in a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon, nuts, and raisins. In a separate bowl beat three of four eggs until foamy and add  three cups of milk, a cup of sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla if you have it. Canned fruit is good too instead of the raisins–chopped peaches or apricots for example. Pour the milk & egg mixture over the bread and let it stand 10 minutes or so while the oven heats to 350. Sprinkle the top with sugar and bake for 45 minutes to about one hour, just until top is brown and custard is set. Eat while warm for dessert, breakfast, or any other reason.

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