Tag Archives: walmart

Put the oxygen mask on yourself, first

An open letter to people who will show about $150,000 gross or less on their tax form this year.

tombstone: He was a priority for a whileThe present poverty line for a family of four is $21,834, but that doesn’t tell the story anymore. You make a lot more than that. You also have credit card debt and/or equity lines or ARM’s or contracts for services that can’t be canceled. One of you is not making the same as last year. A sane accountant looking at your situation would tell you that you that you no longer have “disposable income.”

Sure, you have a job. Sure, your house is worth more than you can sell it for. Sure, you have assets. You’re vested in your career. But once you pay the what-you-got-to’s, there’s nothing left. You have become the middle class poor. You are the responsible, tax-paying, hardworking, never quit household that is the backbone of our country. You are better off than the unemployed of your same caste, but you are one crisis from being equal to all those other people.

You are going to achieve. Whatever it takes. You pay your bills. You’ve cut back. No more e-bay. Wine at dinner is a memory or an infrequent special occasion. The boutique shopping for the kids has been replaced by trading clothes with friends and family, charity store visits or Walmart. You haven’t been to the dentist in a while and won’t go anytime soon. That 401-k won’t be matched this year. Your hair is longer and a color you haven’t seen since high school. If they say change your oil every 5,000 miles, it’ll probably be okay for 15,000 or so. You are one straw away from total meltdown. You, the admired among the admired, are one late fee and rate change — or, god-forbid, a medical crisis — from the poverty line. Those triple credit score dot com commercials are singing to you in every television break.

This healthcare debate is about you. Forget the poor. Save you.

This debate is framed by spin from all sides, none, not a one, is talking about you. You have healthcare insurance, but please, I beg you God, don’t let me get sick. Don’t make me spend the deductible. I can do a copay today, but a hospital stay? No, save it for the kids. I can’t. There’s a little room on that VISA; what the hey, I can afford to be against healthcare reform. After all, it will bust the budget. Won’t inflation take everything I’ve worked for away?

No. Not like one pain in the abdomen. Or lump in the breast. Or a little blood in your urine. “It won’t happen to me,” you say. “I’m young.” Don’t dance with that devil. He’ll win. It won’t be long before you or yours will hear it. The age of 65 is longer away in medical insurance terms than your mortgage payoff.

Healthcare reform is about you. About that moment, perhaps it is today, when your copay at CVS will mean you don’t have lunch money for the kids. About that moment when you have that follow up appointment you’ve been waiting three months for and your child needs medicine.

Healthcare reform is about what happens to priorities. Your priority list a year ago could go twenty deep. Now it is a list of two. All it takes is a little chest pain to make your priority list a list of one.

You may want to be a bleeding heart: Charity first, save the person on the phone, screw your health, whatever for the other, I’ll make time, I can match that, run for the other and walk for everything important. This is your moment to do something really important for yourself. For your family. For your friends. Because one of you, maybe not today, but certainly a day very soon, will be, for all practical purposes, poor. The working, hard-working, desperate, no place to turn, poor. The I can over achieve because I believe in capitalism and the American way gone wrong, poor. The I haven’t failed, just ran out of money at the wrong time, poor.

This debate, is about you. Your priority needs to be, call your congressperson and senators and light a fire up their asses. Read the bills that are being debated. Decide what makes sense to you for you and tell them. Don’t listen to Fox, CNN, MSNBC or anyone else. They don’t take the crisis calls from your family. Only you can decide. This is your moment.

The Imaginary Fix

Emperor's Clothes

Since computer bits replaced paper which replaced precious metals which replaced labor, our monetary system has been imaginary. Value has always been faith-based. Wealth is the large scale accumulation of imagined value. While the commodity markets trade on imaginary quantities of real things, the stock market makes real trades of real things that have imaginary value. Hedge funds make leveraged deals in imaginary risks of imaginary things. It all worked really great for those who trade on greed and fear until some kid in the crowd yelled out that emperor is naked.

In reality, there were quite a few in the parade who were only dressed in our imagination. The Bush weak imaginary dollar allowed consumers to buy inexpensive Chinese goods at Walmart, pay for them with credit (aka: imaginary dollars) that was secured by imaginary home values and faith that income and home values would continue to increase. The credit was offered by banks who used tiny amounts of imaginary capital, as allowed by imaginary regulators, by selling the loans to Freddie and Fannie and others who pretended they were backed by the good faith of our government. These secondary sources used tiny amounts of their capital by packaging giant chunks of loans and selling them to hedge funds who got AIG to guarantee everyone was wearing clothes ($32 trillion in guarantees makes Palin’s wardrobe seem a bargain).

The fashion issue became really important when the Chinese and Saudi’s (who bought large chunks of imaginary value in exchange for cheap goods that weren’t really cheap when one includes unimaginable costs of our government’s imagined guarantee) pointed out that the Wall Street pin-stripe no longer was hiding all their flaccid privates. So the Bushies had to step in to save AIG and others so the parade could go on. Damn that little kid in the crowd.

The 32 trillion dollar question: Can we fix an epic-scale imaginary problem with real solutions funded by more imaginary dollars?

All the king’s men are working on it. The fairy god mother is flailing her wand. The genie’s rubbing like crazy. We’ve thrown a few trillion imaginary dollars to stabilize an economy that has lost 10 or 20 times that. But loans are still not being made on the imagined scale. Real people by the million have lost their jobs, their incomes, their homes, their health insurance, their credit cards and their ability to buy real things they need, or anything of imagined need.

This week, our maligned Treasury Secretary will announce his imagined solution to this real crisis – a program, I kid you not, to guarantee the risk of new hedge funds so they will buy troubled assets (a moniker for the loans on homes whose values are not now imagined to be much) from our banks who have been imagined to be too big fail. I really didn’t make this up. We are going to the very source of most of the expensive missing clothes and are planning to offer them a huge chunk (at least another trillion) of imaginary dollars to be paid back with our imaginary future so that they can start buying and trading in last year’s fashions and we can all live happily ever after.

I have now lost track of how crazy this has become. Layer upon layer of utter insanity. Somebody needs to be embarrassed that they are butt-naked and go get dressed. Hedge funds and the lack of government oversight caused this and bribing hedge funds to hedge our way out of this is worse than asking Jim Jones for something to drink. Hedge funds should be heavily regulated or outlawed except in casinos. At best, they’ll cause it again in a few years and, at worst, is beyond our imagination.

We have a program for fixing this already: bankruptcy (let a Federal judge decide who or if AIG should give bonuses or get them back). For those too big to fail, for god’s sake, make them smaller. We do not need to clean up the banks to make credit flow (it is not flowing because there are too few good loans to make), we need to nationalize them. Fix the regulations and help consumers get to where their real needs are met and they have jobs. Then comes confidence. Then faith. Then consumption. Then values will rise. Until then, there is no imagination, just a lot of ugly naked people.

By the way, this ain’t over. Watch your head. Pretty soon, and to continue the clothing metaphor, more (sic: other) shoes will drop.