Wednesday, June 17, 2009

As children, most of us became familiar with this fable; the tireless squirrel working through the summer to store nuts and fortify his home while the grasshopper laughs and relaxes in the tall grass. Eventually, winter comes and finds the grasshopper, literally, out in the cold.

Fables always carry an undeniable grain of truth, but rarely do we see them come to life before our very eyes as this one is now doing. Our current recession is having far reaching effects, not the least of which is the seperation of the squirrels from the grasshoppers.

We had a long summer. American businesses thrived, the stock market hit ever increasing highs and the housing market boomed, resulting in many good years for everyone involved in real estate and the construction business. During that time, the grasshoppers among us lived for the day, spending their gains as soon as the checks cleared. Big screen tvs, luxury cars and fancy boats were the order of the day for many. Those with more moderate means were still lured by the siren song of affluence. They eagerly stepped up to the loan officer's desk and signed paperwork for homes on nothing but a wing and a prayer. Get it now, pay for it later became the tune on everyone's lips. Well, I'm afraid that the tab has come due.

People that lived for the day, never giving a thought to tomorrow. People who were too eager to spend each and every dime that passed through their hands. Those grasshoppers are now paying the price. Only they are not, we all are.

Although I support Barack Obama and recognize the huge effort that he has put forth during his short time in office, I think that beating the drum for more consumerism is a miscalculation. Without some kind of a savings philosophy, we will all be out in the cold once winter comes. The concept of saving is something that we should be instilling in our youth, but we cannot do that until we start practicing it ourselves. Is it really going to take another Great Depression to remind us that a little bit of money in the bank is not a bad thing?

What will it take to make us realize that living the good life on credit alone comes at a high price, too high a price for our limited coffers? The thought that we can spend and spend, as long as our plastic holds out, is a fallacy of epic proportions. It is basic Economics 101 - a house of cards (credit cards) that is destined to come crashing down on us. When that happens, it will be the squirrels who survive the devastation, as they smugly reap the rewards of their planning and foresight. Hopefully, the grasshoppers will not take us all down with them.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

I purchased items from two different companies last week. They were delivered two days apart. They were similar items and were shipped by the same carrier. They came packaged in roughly the same way, with one MAJOR difference. The first box was filled with those vile styrofoam peanuts that no one knows what to do with. They are a bane on the environment but, hey, we need our packages to arrive in good condition - damn the environment. The second box was also loaded with peanuts (not the edible kind) although, wait a minute, I guess you could eat them if you had a hankering for cornstarch. Well, I'll be, these little suckers are not made out of styrofoam at all.

I only suspected the difference (kudos to the responsible manufacturer, by the way) because, in appearance, these peanuts are virtually identical to their more toxic brothers. Only a slight color variation, and the fact that I had seen these once before, prompted me to bring one to the kitchen sink. In seconds, this thing was gone and on its way into my septic system.

Simply put, I hope the person who developed these little, bio-degradeable miracles is a millionaire, and then some. This person has found a cure for one of the most troubling drains on our environment. No longer will our landfills have to be packed with acres of non-decomposing styrofoam. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest advancements in recent history and may benefit our future welfare almost as much as the discovery of penicillin.

But, one has to wonder, what has been done to encourage the use of this better, safer, far more environmentally sound solution to the use of styrofoam? Not much, from what I can see. Are styrofoam manufacturers converting their plants to start making this new, non-toxic product? Are other manufacturers clamoring for more of this environmentally sound packing material? Has the government put a ban on new styrofoam production? These are all things that should be done, IMMEDIATELY.

Often, when you find an alternative to something that is harmful, it comes at some expense. That decadent seven-layer chocolate cake is not good for you. Your choice is to eat what is harmful or choose an alternate, less appealing substitute. Gasoline omissions pollute our air. Our choice is to accept the inevitable pollution or get our biking shorts out of the closet. Here is one of the very rare instances where we can have our cake and eat it too. So, why are we not doing it?

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sorry folks. It’s that time again, time for one of my infamous rants. You had to know it was coming.

First, my disclaimer; I am not the most politically aware individual you will ever meet, quite the contrary. I don’t read the newspaper if I can help it or watch the tv news. I don’t really subscribe to the theory of ‘what you don’t know can’t hurt you’, it is more a version of ‘The Serenity Prayer’ – give me the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to live in blissful ignorance about the rest.

Unfortunately, blissful ignorance is not an option here. Seven Hundred Billion Dollars; am I the only one who is having a hard time comprehending that number? Seven Hundred Billion Dollars – I can barely get my head around the idea of a million dollars. That’s way too many zeros for me. Seven Hundred Billion Dollars – that is not just poor money management - that is incompetence of biblical proportions.

How could things have gotten so bad that, not one but, half-a-dozen major business entities would all go belly up within the same two week period? Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Washington Mutual, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Am I the only one who smells something fishy here?

But let’s focus on Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac and this proposed bailout. First, I will go on record as being adamantly opposed to the bailout. I’ll explain why later. For now, I would like to examine how we got here. Let me reiterate, I am not a financial genius or a student of political science but I have been forced to become somewhat educated as to this problem. Now, if my information is correct, Fannie Mae’s purpose was to provide funds that would allow people, who would normally not be able to qualify for a home loan, to get one. What a great concept. I am all for making the option of homeownership available to anyone who deserves it. Notice I said deserves rather than wants.

Not everyone who wants a mortgage should have one. I am a single woman who purchased her first home when she was in her early twenties. No, I am not a trust fund baby. I had no silver spoon in my mouth when I was born. I have seven siblings and I watched my parents work their fingers to the bone to support us and provide us all with a college education. It was a monumental task. I was fortunate enough to adopt that work ethic and by my second year of high school, I had three part-time jobs. I continued to work multiple jobs, after I graduated from college, until I accumulated the $12K down payment for my first condo. I know what is involved in home ownership. It is not for the weak of heart. As a homeowner, you must always expect the unexpected. Just as you think you have passed the hump, appliances break, taxes go up or carpets get stained – there is always something. So, the fact that you can make an $800 rent payment is not an accurate gauge of whether you can make a similar mortgage payment work. And, might I say, SHAME on the mortgage lenders who convinced uninformed buyers that they could, just so that they could collect the commission on a new loan.

So, yes, unscrupulous lending practices are certainly part of the problem in this, not so little, financial drama. It is not, however, the sole cause or even the major contributor to this disaster. The information that I have gleaned about the workings of the Fannie Mae program are this – traditional lenders would write loans, as is their custom. They would then sell those loans to Fannie Mae. The purpose of this little exercise was to free up money to allow the traditional lenders to write even more loans. Can we all say, DUHHHH? Maybe it’s just me, but this seems to be the equivalent of writing a check and then spending that money on a truckload of snow cones. Is the concept of not being able to spend your money in two places a foreign one to the powers that be?

Accounting 101 – when you write a check, you subtract that amount from your balance and, for all intents and purposes, that money is gone. YOU CANNOT SPEND IT AGAIN! If I am misinformed as to the facts here, please let me know, PLEASE tell me that the greatest financial minds in this country did not think this was a good idea.

So, even if Fannie Mae had funds, other than the Federal Reserve, to back up these loans, they obviously overextended that budget or we would not be having this discussion. This was truly a convoluted and faulty way of achieving what was originally a very worthwhile goal. It seems to me, as an unlearned non-expert, that the more rational approach would have been for Fannie Mae to use whatever funds it had at its disposal to offer low interest loans directly to those who could not qualify for traditional loans. Ahhh, but that is water under the bridge now, which leads me to my thoughts on the bailout.

Bailing out this entity, to the tune of $700 Billion, is just a hugely magnified version of the mistake that was made by Fannie Mae. We use new dollars to cover old mistakes, freeing traditional lenders to continue on their merry way, writing bad, under qualified loans. A much better solution would be to portion out the blame to those who deserve it. I suggest that you take all of the Fannie Mae assets along with their bad loans and put them in a pool, similar to the insurance industry’s high risk pool. This should then be split proportionately among all of the lenders in the country. Each lender would get a manageable portion of debt and assets that they could then put their energy into managing.

Sadly, before I even got to post this rant, I heard that the bailout measure was passed. I think this is a HUGE error in judgment. I don’t care what bills they tacked onto this to make it pass more smoothly, it is not worth it. I believe that our legislature is setting us up for a big failure. I would like to be optimistic about this measure but, let’s face it - the government can barely run itself. Now we are going to entrust it with managing $700 Billion of debt and assets. All I can say is, buckle up your seat belt, I think we are in for a bumpy ride.

Let me just leave you with one last thought. If we had $700 Billion lying around, collecting dust, why are people starving in this country? Why are there people who cannot get the medical attention or prescriptions that they need and why is our public school system failing so miserably? If we don’t have this money just lying around, where do we propose to get it? I am not a great mathematician but, if you divide $700 Billion dollars by 250 Million people, what do you get? I think the figure might exceed our $1000 economic incentive refund, but again, I am no math whiz.


Friday, July 18, 2008

They are doing it again, talking about exterminating countless animals, because they are getting in our way. Apparently the wild horse population has once again become a nuisance to our cattle farmers. So, what will we do? Well, we'll kill them. What else would a rational community do? Please stand up for these animals. As we continue to run roughshod over are environment, it amazes me that we are surprised when Mother Earth decides to fight back.

I just hope we smarten up, before it's too late. If we don't, maybe this big footprint that we are leaving in our wake will come back and step all over us.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It appears that most of the schools in Connecticut will have an early dismissal today, due to the opppressive weather.

I agree that it would be barbaric to make, students and teachers alike, sit it out in a sweatbox of a classroom where there is no A/C. I can also see why New England classrooms, for the most part, do not have the luxury of air conditioning. With the school year being what it is, the assumption is that there would only be a limited number of 'problem' days. Alas, then there was global warming. Climate changes mean that all bets are off. Unfortunately, our bureaucrats/administrators just don't get it.

I guess what bothers me the most is this; these decision-makers are being reactive and not having an foresight at all.

Think about it. It was only 8:15 am, and the banner was already flashing that there would be an early dismissal. Let's look at this in real terms. The kids have not even been at their desks for an hour at this point. By the time the buses get mobilized and the bureaucrats do whatever they do, you are probably looking at a release time of about noon. Now, if you could choose, would you rather be in a sweatbox of a classroom or a tin can on wheels at the absolute most oppressive time of the day? The other thing is this - did this heat wave sneak up on the powers that be? I don't know about you, but I had almost a week's notice. So, knowing what we did, administrators still decided to pack all of the kids onto buses, sending thousands of pounds of emissions into the air, to bring these kids to their destinations, only to make the return trip a couple of hours later. It is obvious that the decision-makers are not brain surgeons, but they are really showing their ignorance here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Let me say, first, that I am not an atheist. I do however have certain issues with the traditional concept of God. Of course, there is the usual; how can he let good people be in pain, how could he let children suffer? Obviously, or maybe not so, there must be something greater than ourselves. It is pompous and highly unlikely that we are the best creation has come up with. I guess I just find the whole concept of an omnipotent being, sitting on high, orchestrating and worrying about our little lives, a bit hard to swallow. But, beyond that, I guess the thing that bothers me the most is this; how could any perfect, all-powerful being have created us, only to sit back and call it a good day? I don't mean to sound flip. I am not referring to our basic human flaws or weaknesses, or even to our rapidly declining sense of morality. I am talking about something much more basic than that. What kind of a perfect being would look at the human design and call it a job well done? For one thing, there is our mortality. Wouldn't you think that an omnipotent being could create something that wouldn't break or die? Okay, so lets say that this planned obsolescence is part of the plan. What about the rest of our design. We have bones that break, skin that is insufficient protection in almost any climate, eyes that grow weak with age, and don't get me started on what's under the surface. I mean, look at our intestines. Is a mile long tract of slimy, sausage like membrane the quickest way from point A to point B? Wouldn't a straight shot from the mouth to the butt be much more efficient? And while we're talking about it - why do we need to eat anyways? Do you think God enjoys a nice slice of pizza while watching Survivor? Why would he create something that depended on the death of something else to survive? Wouldn't you want all of your toys to play nicely together? I certainly wouldn't want my Barbie sauteeing my Gumby. If a perfect being sat down to create something wonderful, don't you think he/she could do it without the need for food or excrement? Let's face it, we have too many ports of entry and egress, we are literally leaking stuff all over the place. Is that really the definition of intelligent design? I don't know. Maybe I've gotten it wrong, it wouldn't be the first time, but I would like to think that the almighty could do better. Or, maybe he was just having a bad day.Check out my website;


Friday, April 11, 2008

I admit it, I am not a very good blogger. I have been spending so much time working on my novels and the publication of my first Young Adult novel; The Secret of Bigelow Hollow, that there is not much time left for blogging. My apologies.
I am trying to do better though.
I recently got an invitation to a fundraiser for an animal shelter. I love the idea of supporting groups like these. They do such great work. Without them, who knows how many other animals would lose their lives. I, personally, have never gotten an animal from a pet store or a breeder. I have had a multitude of cats and dogs, each one of them have been orphaned in some way and found their way to me, or I have found them at a shelter or pet rescue facility.
What struck me as ironic about this invitation was that it is for a dinner function. The main course is chicken. Now first I should say, that, as much as I agree with the philosophy - I am not a vegetarian. I guess, right off the bat, that makes me a hypocrite. I have, in the last couple of years, tried to cut back on my consumption of meat, particularly red meat, but I am far from perfect.
I guess I just thought it was odd that we would be supporting the lives of numerous domestic animals while feasting over the bodies of dozens of feathered creatures.
I understand that the world is not going to revert to a vegan diet any time soon. Heck, I can't even manage to do it in my own little corner of the world. I guess I just find it a little disturbing, how we can so easily block out the anquish and torment that our food animals suffer every day.
If I ever had to hunt for my food or visit a slaughterhouse to choose my desired cut of meat, I would surely be unable to maintain my flesh eating ways. But it is so easy to walk into the bright surroundings of any local grocery store and choose just the right neatly wrapped cut of meat. A neat package that is so removed from the steer riding up the conveyor belt, awaiting a nail through the brain.
I don't know what the answer is. Maybe it should not be so easy for us to take these lives for granted.
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