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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

EDITORIAL: Why I Am Not Voting For Barack Obama

I am a rare and endangered species in America - I am Black, and I am not voting for Obama.

The racial undertones of this 2008 Presidential Election cannot be ignored…well, not by persons like myself. Although most Americans have done everything they can to stay away from the racial issues, the fact of the matter is that most Black people in America are voting for Obama simply because he is Black. As long as he doesn’t admit to worshipping the devil or being a serial killer, they will support his candidacy as the fulfillment of the dream that fostered the Civil Rights Movement and every struggle for justice that Black Americans have endured in this country. I get it; really, I do. I would hope that non-Black Americans are at least able to sympathize with that position, considering the circumstances. Such a unilateral and uncontested, even blind support of a candidate is charged almost purely by emotion, but in this case it is at least emotionally justifiable.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t vote for Barack Obama if you paid me to, which ironically enough, is exactly what he is doing.

Barack Obama’s economic policies often offend me. He has re-branded all out socialism as “Change” and “Hope”, or as MadTV so eloquently put it, “Chope”.



Among Obama's flawed economic policies are a “Windfall Profits Tax”, a “tax on excessive oil company profits to give American families an immediate $1,000 emergency energy rebate”, an indexed minimum wage increase that automatically rises with inflation, and a federal ban on the permanent replacement of striking workers. If you have a one-sided view of the economy, this sounds great; more money in your inelastic pocket. However, these kinds of anti-capitalist policies would actually contribute to the destruction of the balance that makes our economy strong in the best of times because it unfairly assures the underdog that he will never experience the worst of times. America cannot be the “Land of Opportunity” if those who take advantage of the opportunities are penalized as a result. Minimum-wage jobs are not designed to support families of 3 or more; that‘s what professional degrees, skilled trades, and even second jobs are for. Strikes are risky, and an employer has every right to fire employees who don’t show up for work, whether it makes him a cold-hearted miser or not. Unfair redistribution of wealth is socialism, pure and simple.

If you want to be a socialist, move to China.

On the other hand, while McCain is not as conservative as I would like, his economic policies are far more fair and balanced. For example, McCain's remedy for victims of the sub-prime mortgage lending bubble is to adjust their loans to reflect the current value of their homes as opposed to the former, inflated value. They still have to pay the debt they signed up for, but there is a compassionate act of good will on behalf of the government that demanded the banks begin lending to the sub-prime market in the first place. Instead of penalizing Americans who make over $250,000 a year (which is not rich, by the way), he wants to reduce prices on gas and food, which is fair to everyone. McCain also lists a number of economists who approve his economic plan on his website, which lends to it’s greater realistic soundness compared to Obama’s plan.

I enjoy my freedom too much to have my vote bought by someone who would rather see me live as a poor, minimum-wage earning worker for the rest of my life than help empower me to become a business owner who can afford to hire employees and make profits without being unfairly taxed. I can’t sell out to someone like that.

I don’t care if he’s Black or not.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Value of a Teacher? Not Enough to Collect Unemployment Benefits

unemployment2007 was a rough year for me. I was living off student loans, trying desperately to finish my degree in time to look for a teaching job at the start of the school year. I managed to find a job within a month of graduating, which was a lucky break, only to find out my school district would be paying me monthly, on the last day of the following month. My only consolation was that I managed to avoid the scourge of post-graduation unemployment, but before the school year was over, I was back on a collision course with the Florida unemployment system, thanks in part to the voters of my state.

In November of last year, the principal of my high school announced that his nightmares had come true, that Florida voters had passed a ballot initiative that increased the Homestead Exemption. I'd been teaching for only a few months, but I'd been made to understand by the other teachers that whenever the voters passed anything that would cut their taxes by a few hundred dollars, it cut the state budget by that same hundred dollars multiplied by millions of Florida tax-payers. That meant budget shortfalls for the every department of state government, including the Polk County School Board, which employed me as an English teacher. Within a few months, the principal told me what I'd already come to suspect. A first year teacher hired a month into the school year was at the bottom of the seniority totem pole, and I was one of the unlucky teachers whose units had been excised to cover the budget shortfall.

When the school year ended, I cleaned out my classroom, a portable trailer that was going to be condemned because of bad wiring only days after I left it, and I started looking for work. After a month or two without leads, I turned to the unemployment system.

I'd been dreading applying for unemployment benefits for a while because I figured it would be a long, horrifying process under hot lights, in the back room of some government office with Soviet-style bread lines out front. As it turned out, I didn't even need to wear pants to apply for benefits. In Florida, you can enter all your information into a government website and apply online. You can even enter your banking information and have the unemployment checks deposited directly into your account. I took note of when I was supposed to come back to the site and claim my weeks, entered my direct deposit information, and felt generally embarrassed that I'd worried about filing for unemployment in the first place.

You can't collect anything for at least two weeks, and there's a one week waiting period after that. This probably varies by state, but most people agree that you won't see any actual money for a month after applying.

While I was waiting, the state mailed me the first of several helpful updates about my unemployment claim, a sheet reminding me to claim my weeks on the appointed day, 8/19/08, through either www.fluidnow.com or by calling the toll-free number. It also explained in bold print that failing to claim my weeks would delay my benefits.

The next piece of correspondence I received was something labeled, “Wage Transcript and Determination,” which I correctly deduced had to do with how much I would be receiving from unemployment. At the bottom of the sheet, it listed my wage credits, and somewhere in the middle of a very misleading chart, it showed my eligibility, which they had rather curiously noted by putting an X under a box that said, “Insufficient Wage Credits.” That was the only hint that I would be receiving no benefits, as I received another letter a few days later which again reminded me to claim my weeks. The Wage Determination report itself was generic and poorly laid out, with its Ineligible and Eligible boxes side by side in such a way that I couldn't tell at first glance which one applied to me.

When I claimed my weeks on the appointed day and received nothing that week or the week that followed, I went back to that form and started to wonder if I'd misread it, which I clearly had. Maybe I'd seen the X under “Insufficient Wage Credits” and my subconscious had dismissed it as a mistake. I mean, it was ridiculous to think that my sister, who'd spent a few months working for an ice cream shop in Daytona, could collect unemployment benefits but teaching high school for a year wasn't worth sufficient wage credits.

Granted, her former employer had challenged her claim on the grounds that she'd been fired. My sister further clarified that she'd been fired because she left work to fly to New Jersey for our aunt's funeral and the manager had refused to give her the time off. She was awarded the benefits.

I called the number furnished by the Agency for Workforce Innovation, who was apparently responsible for administrating the unemployment program, but kept getting busy signals. I checked the documentation provided on the state's website to see if I could find out exactly why I didn't qualify for benefits.

From the Agency for Workforce Innovation:

Some of the reasons a person may be denied benefits are as follows:

  • Quitting either part-time or full-time work for personal reasons. Benefit payments can only be paid if you quit for good cause attributable to your employer, or for a personal illness or disability that made it necessary for you to leave the job.

  • Being discharged for misconduct connected with work. Misconduct is an intentional or controllable act or failure to take action, which shows a deliberate disregard of the employer’s interests. Misconduct may include breaking a known company policy.

  • Not being able to work or available for work. You must be able, ready and willing to accept a suitable job immediately. You must also be able to get to work and have adequate child care in order to be able to work.

  • Refusing an offer of suitable work.

  • Being on a leave of absence you requested.

  • Knowingly making false statements to obtain benefit payments.

I wasn't fired, and I'd worked almost a full school year earning around $15/hour. The unemployment system was being run by the state. I'd been employed by the state. Everything I said about my employment history was easily verified, right down to the budget cut that put me out of work.

• If your claim is not payable, the determination will explain the reason for denial and your appeal rights.


“Explain” here having the rather liberal definition of, “A box will be checked somewhere on a nondescript form, which you will then be left to interpret.” If this was because I hadn't accumulated enough wage credits, it would have been nice to know exactly how many I needed and how I was supposed to go about getting them. I turned to that bastion of knowledge, the Frequently Asked Questions link:

To qualify monetarily, a person must:

Have been paid wages in two or more calendar quarters in the base period;
Have total base period wages of at least 1-1/2 times the wages in the quarter having the highest earnings; Have at least $3,400 total wages in the base period.


Looking at my Determination, I had clearly earned more than $3,400 in the base period. It also showed that I had earned wages in two of the four listed quarters, though something was definitely off there. The four quarters were listed on my chart as 2/07, 3/07, 4/07, and 1/08, which seemed to suggest several quarters were only thirty days long and the last of them lasted from April all the way to the end of the year. I was an English teacher, but even I know how to divide a year into quarters.

The middle requirement, in which I needed to earn 1-1/2 times the wages of my highest quarter might be what they were counting against me, but based on how they were measuring their quarters, I couldn't be sure. In fact, what they listed for my earnings in the last quarter was only a fraction of what I actually earned, almost as though they'd carved off an entire portion of my 2008 earnings when they divvied the year into one-month or eight-month slices. It's very hard to make 1-1/2 times the total when one quarter doesn't even reflect half of what you actually earned.

I tried getting to the bottom of this again today, first checking the website for any information on my claim, and then calling the toll-free number. The website wasn't helpful, but it did tell me that there was an ongoing problem with the Internet Claims System and that I should call the Agency directly at the listed number. As before, the line was busy, but after an hour or so I managed to get through. An automated voice warned me that the call volume was higher than normal and that it might be an hour before someone could speak to me. It helpfully suggested using the Internet Claims System, then asked me to choose from a list of options. I chose the one that would connect me with an agent, fully prepared to wait however long it took to get some answers.

The automated voice warned again that the Agency was experiencing higher than normal call volume, then said, “There are no representatives available. Please call back later if you would like to speak to a representative.” The automated voice repeated this strange pronouncement a second, and then a third time, “There are no representatives available,” and then it terminated my call.

Apparently, the budget shortfall hit some departments harder than others.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What A Little Effort Can Do For Debt Reduction

There are many, many things I love about my life here in the beautiful mesas of the Chihuahuan Desert. Among those are the contrasts, the juxtapositioning of old and new ways of living.

While I make use of the remarkable technologies of today as I write this now, I spent some time this morning as the indigenous women of this region did for thousands of years -- making tortillas. And, while I was working, I was thinking about a couple things related to cooking at home -- far less expensive and far more healthy overall.

I could buy tortillas. They run about a dollar a
dozen. In the photos (always clickable for a larger view), I am mixing up a batch of about 40 for less than a dollar... and, if I do say so myself, my home-made, fresh tortillas are far better than those mass produced in the factory and bagged up. Everyone here has said so, too.

In the big pot next to my wanna-be comal -- I have no proper comal for tortilla making, so I make do with a well-seasoned iron skillet -- are about 5 pounds of pinto beans. I'm feeding 9
people with hearty appetites. I'll be smashing and
frying a good portion of those beans with some
spices for tacos tonight, which is why I made
tortillas this morning. The rest of the beans will be used tomorrow by my sister to make her awesome chili.

The dried beans are pretty inexpensive, about 2 dollars for 4 pounds. Canned beans are easily double and often triple the price. It seems kind of silly to pay that when cooking dry beans is so easy. If I wanted to, I could buy canned refried beans for my tacos, though that would also be much more expensive, and I'd still have to add spices to make them palatable. Furthermore, they'd be less nutritious from the can, and probably have MSG and be high in sodium.

My point, over all, is that many people spend a lot of money on prepared foods, convenience foods, and drive-through foods, when by investing a little effort they could save a considerable amount on their food bill by cooking at home. Furthermore, most of those quick foods are price heavy and nutrition light. The benefits of eating fresh, whole foods are innumerable, but if we stick to the financial aspect for a moment, improved health leads to less money spent on costly health care.

There are many things in day-to-day life that are similar. For those looking to reduce debt and decrease spending (leaving more money for saving or more time for something other than working to pay the bills), learning to do basic repair tasks around the home and on the auto really isn't all that difficult. Being less dependent on others to meet your needs is a very good thing, particularly in today's economic climate.

I've been following the recent news about food shortages, skyrocketing prices, and the rationing of some food items throughout the world with a blend of fascination and horror. This is exactly the scenario that inspired me to remove my family from the city. I, geek that I am, have strange hobbies. Global economics is one of those hobbies and I've been watching trends for a few years now. To me, as well as to many financial experts, it looks like times are sure to be fiscally challenging in the near future and for a significant period of time thereafter. The financial markets are going to have to go through their spasms of correction and we're all going to have to go along for the ride.

During the Great Depression, while those in rural areas did experience severe poverty, they did have a significant advantage over those living in urban areas -- the ability to grow and hunt for their food. During World War II, the Victory Garden was an important supplement to households throughout the nation, including urban neighborhoods, as common, daily-use foods were rationed by the government. Looking at our situation today, it seems that learning to develop a bit of food self-sufficiency -- whether by cooking more, creating urban patio or fire escape gardens in containers, or larger suburban or rural gardens --is not just good economics in terms of a debt reduction plan or strategy for reducing overall expenses, but also simply good old-fashioned common sense.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Out Of The Blue...


We've had the equipment for weeks. What we didn't have was an installer. The company couldn't seem to locate one willing to come to our remote high desert location. Naturally, they made no mention of that potential difficulty when they took the order.

So, we held the equipment through installation cancellation after installation cancellation. We just had our appointment for April 30th recently canceled, as the closest installer had to drive 800 miles and had yet to schedule other installs in the area.

And, then, out of the blue, this past Saturday, installers arrived with no notice. After, of course, I'd contacted another satellite company because this one couldn't seem to get the job done. Naturally, their website is just as good as their customer service and I cannot get into my account and will have to go somewhere to call them, as there is no way to e-mail their support system. That doesn't surprise me, ha ha ha.

All that, though, seems fairly small in comparison to this great leap forward for us here in the desert. I can now work from home again. The past few weeks of me having to go out to work have been very stressful for the children. I've always been at home with them. With everybody -- my sister and my brother -- having daily access to the Internet, everybody can get back to work and we can start moving forward with a variety of essential projects, like solar panels to run the modem so we don't have to use the gas powered generator as much.

With all that is in the news today -- food shortages and rapidly increasing prices, oil prices skyrocketing, the dollar continuing its fall, an epidemic of struggling mortgagees, a tidal wave of foreclosures, and the potentials that lie underneath the staggering burden of consumer debt -- our efforts towards sustainability and self-sufficiency seem quite timely and more important than ever.

The path for some of our nation's banking and lending institutions seems inevitably to lead to failure. Already sustaining significant losses from the sub-prime mortgage and lending debacle, many of these institutions are now having to deal with consumer debt gone bad. Economically stressed consumers have been missing payments as they struggle to make their salaries extend to cover the most basic of needs as the costs of those needs move steadily upwards.

That oft repeated Chinese curse -- not the one referring to flooding the market with cheap consumer goods, but the one that says may you live in interesting times -- appears to be an apt description of our current situation. Very interesting times, indeed. To me, everything going on today indicates an imperative need for preparation -- reduce debt, increase savings, and stock the shelves.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

What Will I Do With My Tax Refund Check?

So Bush is giving something back...

Approximately 1% of the Gross National Product will be distributed to middle America as an economic "shot in the arm." Refund checks for everyone; yipee! Although I know that this 'free money' won't actually make it to my doorstep until much later this year, I am already thinking about what my husband and I are going to do with it.

The responsible thing to do would be to pay down our debt with the money; we wouldn't miss it because it would not be coming out of our regular income. How simple is that? I know that most people will probably hit the malls and the car lots, which is what the government is hoping for - a jolt in consumer spending. Many will even convince themselves that they do so well paying their bills all year long that they deserve to splurge.

Maybe that's true; but is it wise?

I hope that my husband and I maintain the discipline we need to go ahead and invest that money in our freedom. It might make me feel free to go to the mall and spend $1600 on various wants and needs, but once I get home and see that unwaivering mountain of bills, the feeling will fade. Paying down or paying off a debt that we owe will be a step toward a freedom that lasts.

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