What’s this about?

Comes now the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, reporting Top World Military Officials Meet in Lake Placid. All of the joint chiefs of staff were there, flying in on a Boeing 757 with their staff, as well as their counterparts from France, Germany and a “third country”, possibly Great Britain.  The Italians flew in later on another plane.

So what’s this about?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe a new “splendid little war”?  Perhaps concerns about widespread civil unrest as the Kondratieff Winter’s Greater Depression unfolds?

Who knows, but when powerful military leaders meet in secret, We the People do well to take notice.

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11 strategies for coping with the collapse of the American empire

I originally wrote this essay in 2004 and it appeared in the 5th edition of the Better Times Almanac of Useful Information.  For this re-publication, I only found it necessary to only add one sentence. 

+++++++++

It’s not news to anybody with low or moderate income that economic hard times are here. In constant dollars, over the last 30 years the average American worker has LOST 22% of his or her purchasing power, and the less money you have, the bigger the impact this has been on you. For people with low to moderate incomes trying to live a regular American lifestyle, things are going from bad to worse, and then they will get even worse. Your dollars will not buy as much in the future as they do now. We are headed for an economic crisis so terrible it will make the Great Depression of the 1930s look like good times. If you want to protect yourself and your family from these economic hard times, make changes in the way you live.

If people are not worried about this, then they simply aren’t paying attention to what is happening. Our entire economy is a stack of cards that can be knocked over at any time. Instead of looking out for the common good, powerful politicians make decisions that hurt ordinary people but benefit special interests that make big contributions to election campaigns.

The good news is you don’t have to play their game. Even in the midst of these hard times, you can find financial security and develop a high quality of life for you and your family. Here are some basic survival strategies for coping with what is coming at us, and triumphing over it.

People who don’t consider themselves low to moderate income can also benefit by following these strategies, because their ultimate effect is to increase the quality of life, security, and happiness of families.

It just isn’t possible to spend your way to prosperity. The advertisements and political talk that encourage this are the economic equivalent of methamphetamine addiction. Sure, you feel better for a while, but then you have to spend more money to get “high”, and then even more money, and pretty soon you are spending your money but not getting any high at all, so you spend more money, and more money, and then comes the crash as the bills come due and you can no longer escape the consequences of your foolish and extravagant lifestyle.

1. Start by closing your ears to the lies of politicians and corporations. Turn off your televisions and ignore all advertising. Your life will not be better if you buy advertised products. Your kids will not be smarter if they wear expensive designer clothes. In fact, if you buy advertised products, your quality of life will deteriorate. You will have less money, more stress, and your family will be at risk of the many evils that derive from financial stress.

2. The borrower is the slave of the lender. Avoid debt like the plague it is. Never finance frivolous consumption on credit cards. Never take out a pay day loan. Stay out of pawn shops unless you want to buy something cheaply. The only real valid reasons for debt are to buy a house or for education that enables you to earn a better living. Pay off such debts as quickly as you can. As long as you have a mortgage, you are not the owner of your house, the bank is the real owner, and a sudden drop in your income could put you out on the street, homeless. By making extra principle payments with every monthly payment, you pay less interest over the life of the loan.

Never take out a home equity loan for vacations, remodeling, or any kind of consumer spending. Don’t consolidate credit card debt as a home equity loan – this puts your house at risk for your frivolous consumption spending decisions! Low income people must in particular beware of predatory loan schemes. Never take out a loan that has a prepayment penalty. If your property is paid for, do not, under any circumstances, get another mortgage. Debt-free housing is one of the most important survival strategies for the upcoming hard times.

3. Choose co-housing. This is a fancy name for “more than one family living together in one large household.” The day is coming when individuals of low and moderate incomes will not be able to live alone as single person households, unless they own their own housing free of debt or are in some kind of government subsidized housing. This is also true for single mothers with kids. Two or three smaller families living together can do so for less money than each would spend operating a separate household. Co-housing works for house purchases too. Three families could go together and buy a triplex.

4. If possible, go car free. This is perhaps the one choice that can save the most money. Operating a car, including the capital cost of the automobile, insurance, taxes, repairs, interest, etc. can easily top $3,600/year. It is much cheaper to take the bus or the occasional taxi, or even to rent a car a few times a year than to own a car. This may require moving to an area with adequate public transportation and access to shopping, but that effort is well worth it.

5. Stop buying new stuff. Reduce, reuse, recycle, repair, make it over, made do, do without. Shop at flea markets, garage sales, and thrift shops. Never buy new furniture, new appliances, new clothes, new home decoration items. Always look in the “after market” first, only then, if you simply can’t find what you need, should you consider buying something new. If you shop because of emotional needs, get into counseling, never spend money to cheer yourself up or because you are emotionally upset about something.

6. Use energy with extreme frugality. The cost of energy is going up and over time this will get much worse. Follow the many suggestions given in the section on Energy Conservation in this almanac.

7. Develop a part-time business on the side that can perhaps grow in time to become a full-time job that you own. This could be something simple like baking bread or pies from your home, or mowing lawns, or doing laundry and ironing for other people. Buy stuff cheap and then re-sell for a little more at flea markets or swap meets. Clean houses. Grow vegetables to sell to your neighbors. Don’t be taken in by schemes that want you to pay money for people to teach you how to make money, or by multi-level pyramid sales scams. Develop an honest business, providing a service or product that people regularly need. Teach your kids to do the same.

8. Grow as much food as you can. Plant things that you like to eat, and which are easy to grow and have a lot of value. If you own your property, landscape it with fruit and nut trees and berry bushes, and learn to make your own jams, jellies, and pie fillings. Growing food is like growing money in your back yard. Follow other suggestions elsewhere in this almanac and cook your meals from basic ingredients, shop frugally but wisely.

9. Save some money each month. Even if it is only $5 from each paycheck, stash it away. Life is full of surprises, and unexpected expenses that send you to the pawn shop or pay day loan service or run up your credit cards can be real financial problems for you and your family. Work to build your household savings. Keep some of your savings as food, always have at least 2 or 3 months of basic food staples on hand in your house to insulate yourself from the mood swings of supermarket pricing and the risks of sudden emergencies and crises. Keep your money in a credit union.

10. Beware of the two income trap. Many families feel they need two incomes to survive, and in some cases this may be true. However, with both parents working outside the home, the family acquires significant additional expenses, including transportation and child care/babysitting. Do the math on your two incomes. Make sure that both parents working outside the home is a net economic benefit and not a net loss over the long run.

Understand that a parent working at home is a net economic asset to the family. The additional time a parent can devote to in-home activities makes it possible to save money in many areas of life. A “work at home parent” can also participate in part-time businesses the family may start. Home schooling becomes a possibility, at least through the elementary grades, and this is a great blessing for families.

11. Don’t give in to despair and don’t feel sorry for yourself. Sow blessings and kindness and you will reap blessings and kindness. By living more frugally and sustainably, you aren’t going second class, you will have a first class, worry-free lifestyle. The people to feel sorry for are those, of whatever income category, who are locked into the super-consumer lifestyle. Their self-image is bound up in how much stuff they have. They are never satisfied, they always must have more stuff, new stuff, better stuff. If they aren’t spending money, they feel depressed. They may have flashy clothes and lots of new possessions, but they are in reality slaves to banks, corporations, and credit card companies. Such people will have real problems adjusting to the realities of life in coming years. The more you follow our “Better Times” ideas, the more control you will have over your life, and the less vulnerable you will be to crises and emergencies. By organizing your life in favor of Better Times, you will reduce the amount of stress, risk, and emotional trouble in your life.

Posted in Economic Prosperity, Environmental Sustainability, Financial Crisis, Local Food Systems | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The grassroots alternative to the big goobermint bail-out of the parasites on Wall Street.

Over the last few weeks, the financial masters of the Universe have been meeting in grand conferences.  Held in world capitals, the cash glitterati have been conspicuous in their open conspiracy to take from Main Street and give to Wall Street.

They’d like for everyone to believe there is no alternative to their schemes.  But that is part of their shock and awe propaganda campaign.

Although the national media will likely ignore this event, an important meeting to plan grassroots, community, Main Street alternatives as we go forward through the crash of the American Empire, will convene October 24-28.  This won’t happen in a world capital, but rather in Hohenwald, Tennessee, which is about 80 miles from Nashville.

We will apply the design discipline of permaculture to the situation of a small rural town, and consider a sustainable way forward for that area through the coming decline years.  Twenty presenters/instructors include community investment experts, sustainability entrepreneurs, and permaculture designers.

We will learn to map the financial eco-system of a community, to apply permaculture principles to a business plan, and invest in sustainable, grassroots, home-grown enterprises.

We will answer the question — what does a sustainable, working model for a modern American rural community look like?

Read more about the event here. As of this writing, more than 100 people have signed up, plus the 20 presenters.

If you can’t attend, you can follow the events as they unfold on the internet via presenter and design team blogs, podcasts, and video clips.  The gateway for joining us online is http://www.financialpermaculture.org/ .

I will be presenting Sunday afternoon through Tuesday, on my work here in Oklahoma City in developing local food systems via the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.

Please take the time and effort to join us, either in person or on line. 

 

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Time for a poem

The overnight markets in other countries are down considerably.  I will be at the Oklahoma Food Cooperative’s October delivery day today and will be mercifully away from computers and telephones, concentrating on food, which is a nice activity for World Food Day.  If the markets have another down day, that’s going to create “even more” anxiety, for which I prescribe a Wendell Berry poem. . .

The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows for me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests,
in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things,
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief,
I come into the presence of still water,
and I feel above me the dayblind stars,
waiting with their light,
for a time, I rest in the grace of the world,
and am free.

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Bob’s Get Ready for Winter Song

Altogether now, to the tune “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”…

OH! We better not wait, it’s time to make plans,
Compost, mulch, put away the fans,
Winter time is coming to town!

Squash and turnips and carrot plants,
Season extension for the cabbage transplants,
Winter time is coming to town!

Let’s insulate the attic!
Insulate the floors!
Insulate the walls so deep,
and don’t forget the doors!

So!  Make your list, and check it twice,
Solarize, weatherize, don’t roll the dice,
Winter time is coming to town!

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A Chill Wind. . .

A chill wind blew into Oklahoma City yesterday, bringing much-needed rain, fog, and a definite turn to the weather.  Winter is on its way! My list of pre-winter chores is long and I haven’t been making much progress.  There is nothing like a “chill wind” however, to move those projects up on the priority list.

A chill wind also blew through the stock market today.  Two days ago, the market zoomed upward, thanks to the latest, biggest, dose of financial methamphetamine.  But as that dreary record goes, the high just doesn’t last like it did once upon a time, when we all thought that financial meth was the greatest drug since the invention of paper currency.

The government is hoping for some success for its partial nationalization of the nine largest banks. I am a bit dubious. Soviet nationalization of agriculture in Russia didn’t do much for agricultural productivity, and the present crisis should cause us to wonder if the financial commissars at the Treasury and the Fed are more competent than the Soviet central planners of the 20s and 30s.

If I had any money in any of those banks, I would take it out immediately.  The government’s investment in those banks is not based on their soundness and their stability, but rather on their risk of failure.

This is what it looks like at the End of Empire.  That chill wind that roars through Wall Street is telling us that we had all better get busy on those “pre-Kondratieff Winter” checklists. . .

  • Money out of big transcontinental banks and in to a locally owned credit union or bank?
  • House superinsulated?
  • Practicing energy conservation?
  • Food storage?
  • Slash household spending, curb consumption? Credit cards cut-up?
  • Living below your means and saving money?
  • Growing some of your own food?
  • Edible perennial landscaping (fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, asparagus, rhubarb, Good King Henry, sorrel, etc.)?
  • Paying off your debt?
  • Supporting local businesses and farmers?

 

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The market giveth, the market taketh

The market giveth, and the market taketh away.

Yesterday the market zoomed up, after the most major hit of financial methamphetamine in the history of finance.  Today, as is always the case with drugs, financial or otherwise, the market is wilting down again, the Dow headed down towards 9K as I write this about 2 PM central time.

This mornings business news was full of “happy days are here again” reporting.  I was tempted to immediately rush out and buy maybe 6 cell phones and apply for a dozen credit cards, and refinance my house to get lots of cash. . . NOT REALLY, lol, but I think that is what the financial masters of the universe are hoping that I and others of us who live on the sidestreets and back alleys of Main Street would rush out and do.

I ain’t buying their scam.  The more money they shovel in, the more terrible the final doom is going to be.  You can take that to the bank and it will be a more secure deposit than anything Mr. Paulson or Mr. Bernanke will give you.

The “Save Yourself and Your Community” advice in my post of October 3, 2008 remains the best advice.  The Category 5 financial hurricane is not actually here yet, all that we’ve seen thus far is merely the leading winds and rising surf.  I don’t think we are even at “tropical wind” strength compared to what is coming.

Previews of coming attractions. . . more bank failures. . . more business bailouts . . . much higher inflation . . . much higher unemployment . . . increased outflows of foreign capital . . . decreased inflows of foreign capital . . . eventually, the inability of the Treasury to sell new bonds.

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OK, here’s a practical solution.

OK, it’s about time we had some practical solutions that might actually work to the present problem. 

This may be about when I start sounding crazy like the Mogambo Guru but I’m willing to take the risk. 

I think we need some serious stimulus at the grassroots, Main Street, including all the back-streets and back alleys.

Let’s start by abolishing all income taxes, for everybody, rich and poor.  Then let’s move on to wiping out the social security tax, both the employer and employee halves, AND the Medicare tax, and also all the Medicare premiums. 

While we’re at it, let’s get rid of all federal excise taxes, death taxes, and etc. Let’s completely wipe the federal taxation slate clean.

Suddenly, people who were not able to pay mortgages would have extra money, anywhere from 15% to 35% of their income.  More mortgage payments made on time equals less foreclosures equals less toxic mortgage debt. Households have much less financial stress — everybody in effect that pays taxes gets a pretty substantial raise.  Businesses save lots of money on their employment costs. It’s a good deal all around.

OK, my readers may be asking, what does the federal government do for money?

Well, it’s quite simple.  It really is, it is so simple, the answer is staring us all in the face.  But we are so trained by our political handlers to not see reality, but instead to only “see” the manufactured reality they craft for us, we can’t see the proverbial forest for the trees.

We spend all of our tax discussion time yacking about details, like income or sales tax rates. But there is a 900 pound gorilla in that conversation salon. 

Everybody studiously ignores him. 

The gorilla has a name — “The Political Definition of Taxable Items/Incomes”.  The fact of US taxation is that the definition of what is “taxable income” is extremely politicized, and thus far, the ordinary person has had the short end of that stick.

Because of this, our entire federal tax system is seen as fundamentally unfair by most people. Tax evasion is wide-spread, the government never collects all that it is owed, and every year it runs a deficit.

The costs of compliance are high.  Transaction and opportunity costs are everywhere to be found in our tax system.

Therefore, since we are in a box that is increasingly stifling us, perhaps we should consider jumping completely outside of that politically manipulated box and open our eyes to see the beautiful trees that compose the forest before us.

Let’s think about a tax that —

  • is levied at a flat rate, yet is ultimately progressive in its revenue (that is, the rich pay more, the poor pay less),
  • is universal, so that cheating isn’t possible, and the government always collects all of its money,
  • is not a hassle for people, and thus has very low compliance/transaction costs.
  • returns enough money to the government so that the budget can be balanced, social security made solvent, and the national debt paid off in say 10 years or less.

Impossible?  Au contaire, dear reader, it is simplicity personified.

I propose a flat tax on the movement of money and credit of .0025% (one-quarter of one percent).

So if you take $100 from your savings account, and put it in your checking account, ka-ching goes the government’s cash register, and you pay 25 cents to the government.

On the other hand, if in a given day the Federal Reserve extends $30 billion in credit to banks, then those banks pay $75 million to the government, .0025% of that transaction.  When they pay that back to the Federal Reserve, ka-ching goes the government cash register again and the Federal Reserve pays $75 million to the Treasury.

Make it totally universal, and it is always paid by the recipient of the money/credit.  It would be collected automatically by the payment clearing systems, so no annual ritual of filing a tax return.

How much money would this raise?  Well, that’s an interesting question. Each year the Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems of the Bank for International Settlements issues a report, “Statistics on payment and settlement systems in selected countries”, commonly known as the Red Book.  The March 2008 report gives the statistics for the most recent year available, 2006.

I added ’em all up, and come up with $3,168,144,420,000,000. That’s 3.168 Quadrillion Dollars.

“Compare this” with 2006 personal income of about $10.9 trillion and corporate profits of about $1.6 trillion, and we see plainly that our present tax system is based on charging high rates on what amounts to a fairly small slice of the American economic pie (when compared to the total value of transactions/payments in a given year).

Expand the taxable base, and we can lower the rates to almost nothing. . . like say the .0025% (one quarter of one percent) I propose here.

Times .0025% equals $7,920,361,050,000, or 7.920 Trillion Dollars.

In 2006, the federal government spent $2.655 trillion for everything, including social security.

$7.920 trillion minus $2.655 trillion equals $5.265 trillion left over the first year to pay on the national debt.  Or we could take say a trillion dollars and invest it in needed improvements to our energy infrastructures to meet the looming challenges of peak oil.  Add in free universal health care (about $1.5 trillion in health care expenditures in 2006), thereby abolishing another punitive expense — health insurance premiums.

OK, if .0025% is yielding too much money. . . .

. . . we could lower the tax rate to .00125% (1/8th of 1 percent).

That would yield $3,960,180,525,000 — 3.960 trillion, which after paying all federal expenses that year would leave $1.305 left over to pay on the national debt, fund energy infrastructure upgrades, and increase support for health care for people without insurance.

This is a sensible, do-able plan.  Below are the details of the various payment systems that add up to my $3.168 quadrillion figure.  Check my math and my assumptions.

Note that this is only an approximate figure, as the actual total may be higher than this since a given payment may go through more than one payment system.  Demand deposits, for example, which include items like my little credit union account and also the payroll account of General Motors, will churn several times during the year.

http://www.bis.org/publ/cpss82.pdf

 

$18,111,000,000,000

Credit transfers

$13,499,000,000,000

direct debits

$1,023,700,000,000

debit card pymts

$1,944,900,000,000

credit card

$578,000,000,000

ATM cash withdrawals

$627,000,000,000

Value of 2006 demand deposits

$11,018,620,000,000

Annual total of avg daily credit extended by fed reserve

$41,730,000,000,000

checks

$967,213,100,000,000

fedwire/chips

$12,362,900,000,000

Automated clearing houses

$13,976,400,000,000

Fed reserve clearings

$21,789,900,000,000

value of NYSE transactions, 2006

$8,969,900,000,000

NASDAQ 2006

$174,900,000,000,000

Val of contracts/transactions cleared, National Securities Clearing Corp

$940,200,000,000,000

Val of contracts/transactions cleared, Fixed Income Clearing Corp

$864,100,000,000,000

Val of contracts/transactions cleared, Gov Securities Division

$76,100,000,000,000

Mortgage Backed Securities Division

   

$3,168,144,420,000,000

approx value of payments processed in US in 2006

   

$7,920,361,050,000

tax yield at .0025% (1/4 of 1 percent)

$3,960,180,525,000

tax yield at .00125 % (1/8 of 1 percent

   

$2,655,400,000,000

US gov 2006 expenditures include social security

$5,264,961,050,000

available for retiring debt @ .0025% tax

$1,304,780,525,000

available for retiring debt @ .00125% tax

Posted in Good and Frugal Government, Financial Crisis, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Where is this going?

The G-7 leaders are meeting “even as we speak” to come up with a plan to “save us”.  Of course, as in anything else political, the definition of “us” should be of interest to those of us on Main Street and the highways and byways and side streets. 

And one thing’s for sure, when the G-7 talk about “us”, they don’t mean those of us on Main Street and the highways and byways and side streets. 

The problem for our money managers is that as it turns out, they are not as smart as they would have us believe. The lie of the modern world is that money markets and etc are infinitely manageable by wise politicians.  That’s what’s gotten us in the present mess, and not a surprise, that’s what’s being proposed to get us out.  Nationalization of banks.  Guarantees of interbank lending.  Stock purchases by governments. Yadda, yadda, yadda.  Take from the real economy of Main Street and give to the parasites on Wall Street.  That’s the sum of their bright ideas.

Gerald Celente is the founder of Trends Research.  He predicted the “Panic of 2008″ in 2007 and has quite a few other credits for successful forecasting. 

Which is why we should be more than a bit concerned when he says this is the start of the “Greatest Depression“.

Kondratieff Winter.  Greatest Depression. What can this mean?

I think we are seeing the slow-motion-but-accelerating collapse of the American Empire.  I’ve been yadda-yadda-yadda-ing on that theme for years.

The big problem we Americans have is an adolescent sense of invulnerability coupled with our patriotic feelings of American Exceptionalism.  We think we are God’s chosen people, and that because of this, God will never let anything really bad happen to us.  “How soon we forgot” the lessons of the first first Great Depression and World Wars I and II.

We think we have a special American exception to the “what goes around comes around” principle, a/k/a karma, a/k/a “you reap what you sow”.  See also “Sow not in furrows of injustice lest you reap a seven-fold harvest.”

This is as true in the world of finances as it is anywhere else.  We thought we could go on the biggest spending binge in history while running up a giant tab for un-funded government expenditures and fighting an unjust war in Asia.  Trillions upon trillions upon trillions of dollars of debt.

What were we thinking of?

 

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Saving my money-market account

I work for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City as director of music at Epiphany Catholic Church.  Through my employment, I have a retirement plan, a 403-b (like a 401-k, only for non-profit organizations).

The investment choices are stock and bond mutual funds, or a money-market account.  Metropolitan Life runs the show.  My retirement money is in the money-market account, but as I have noted previously, it is not a very sound money-market fund.  It’s funds are invested in:

  • Large (and therefore uninsured) deposits in banks,
  • Commercial paper (like Lehmans)
  • Bank acceptances (effectively, these are post-dated checks)

So in mid-September I wrote the business office, suggesting that employees be allowed to take their money out of this plan and deposit it in CDs at a locally owned bank or credit union.  Three weeks later, no reply.

So I sent another email, and noted that it seemed to me that the financial advice the Archbishop was getting was as toxic and useless as the psychological advice he received a few years ago stating that a certain priest with a predilection for teen-age boys was “cured” and no longer a danger to young people. 

Unfortunately, that psycho-babble wasn’t worth much, and he “re-offended”, thereby gravely harming two young men, and also causing great public scandal and a judgment of about $10 million, which the Archdiocese paid.

I think employees everywhere should demand reforms in the 401-k/403-b system.  Every plan should be required by law to include an account at a locally owned bank or credit union as one of its investment options. 

Alas, that would be a structural support for the Main Street economy, and would take money away from the parasitical Wall Street economy, so it will take strong pressure from voters for Congress to force such changes on the retirement system.

Here’s a final curious note.  I went to the Metropolitan Life retirement system website today, and curiously the documents describing the investment options in the Archdiocese’s plan aren’t available.  How conveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeenient.

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