Saturday, February 28, 2009

It's a new year... 2008 is over, only the atershocks remain

Last week I dropped Lance Armstrong and his website on you. I said I'd do updates. I said I would become healthier and svelte (great word). I know Millions hang on my every word, that would be Fred Millions, an old friend, who doesn't so much hang as spit... But, never mind the technicalities.

So, it has been about a week... I went to the Doctor's office today and got prodded and poked... The scale showed 219: 5 lbs less than last week! I adjusted my el cheapo bathroom scale to show the same weight as the balance beam scale at the doctor's office so I can check it everyday to keep myself motivated.

Of course, the primary reason for this is to allow my medication to get my cholesterol back under control by eliminating most fat and nearly all animal fat from my diet - but I decided that if I had to, ugh, diet anyway I might as well try to get rid of the 50 or so extra pounds I've been lugging with me everywhere.

Friday, February 27, 2009

about the current foreclosure crisis...

There is a lot of rant about borrowers who did something fraudulent and got a mortgage on a half million dollar house while having near zero income.

There might, indeed, be such cases, but those people would be "investors" looking to flip the house quickly in an UP market and not people buying a house in which to live...

We have seen the govt give away nearly a trillion dollars to banks, etc. which bought all those fraudulent notes (supposedly) in a effort (supposedly) to help the people of the US by stabilizing the economy and getting banks to again write mortgage loans.

We have not seen any value received for those dollars nor have we seen any help for real homeowners who are really caught in the double squeeze: lost income with which to pay the mortgage coupled with loss of value of the property making it impossible to refinance at a lower rate of interest, or to sell.

The outright gifts of hundreds of billions of our dollars to the banks and to Wall St undoubtedly were a great help to the bankers and financiers who received the largesse of the government, using our future tax dollars as a source, but there is not a hint of benefit to the millions of working class homeowners caught in this bursting bubble while attempting to live on fraction of their former income with rapid inflation of costs of living and tumbling value of their largest investment and 401ks that are worth a fraction of last years values.

The real beauty (?) of the situation is that it's not even possible to sell the house and cut the family's living expenses by moving into a lesser accommodation until conditions improve.

Instead we millions are caught in a situation where only bankruptcy will allow us out of the contracts we're in. This process will make many people a lot of money at the expense of millions of families made destitute and lacking even the credit score needed to rent a home.

I have read, with interest, for the past several months the crap put out by holier-than-thou people who are not in that situation - perhaps they haven't yet bought a home, perhaps they were lucky enough to have already paid it off or perhaps they have not yet lost one of the jobs they depend on to pay expenses or perhaps they are simply wealthy enough that losing 50% of their net worth or 75% or more still allows them to meet all obligations, whatever their situation - the one thing I've seen little expressed is common humanity.

The thing I have seen is a predatory glee, a sense of unbridled opportunism held in check only until they feel the property can be snatched up (stolen - is my thought) from the distraught people who are poised on the brink or who have already fallen into the chasm of foreclosure and bankruptcy and thus have made or will make these great bargain properties available to be exploited.

I'm happy for the good people who have, thus far, dodged the bullet - I really am - most of them are hard working people who provide jobs for many others and are entitled to the fruits of their labor. That being said, let me add that they are no more entitled to the fruits of their labor than are their employees.
The thing is that if this economy continues to slow, as it appears that it will, more and more of the comfortable middle class business owners will find themselves closing the doors of their businesses after having exhausted all that they had in trying to keep it going. At that point most of them will be in the same rough spot that so many now occupy, debt without means to pay. The thing that is different about small business owners (and large business owners) is that most consider themselves to be far above the common herd of mankind: "There are chiefs and there are indians." Nearly none will accept the idea that "the luck of the draw" had anything to do with their success, rather it was their innate business acumen which brought success. That's so true, until they, too, fail.

I may not lose my house, but like many, I have lost nearly half of my former household income - and what used to be a normal living expense has become a monthly struggle to meet which is added to the knowledge that it is worth less than the mortgaged value and might not recover for a long time. It cannot be sold except through a "short sale" and even that is difficult to secure.

For whatever reason, it seems that the lenders would rather foreclose than accept a short sale of the property - making it pretty much impossible to escape the court at some point for many families. I don't understand the reasons for the situation with the short sales but I'm confident that it has to do with the bottom-line of the lenders as that is all that matters to them.

This is a difficult and dangerous situation for the country as a whole, we are in the process of creating a new class in modern America - "the dispossessed" - which will number in the tens of millions before this sorry exercise is finished (if something of substance is not done quickly) and they - possibly we - will be cynical of government promises and hostile to big banking and other financial interests and aware that we have been sold out by the country as a whole for the profit of the few who were able to plunder the public treasury at will while our neighbors and former friends stood by and did nothing except call a real estate agent to check out foreclosures..

In the aftermath of the bankruptcy for many of the families involved will be the fact that with a sullied credit record employment will be much more difficult to obtain than it was before and even when the job market begins its rebound those people will be "damaged goods" relegated to less desirable positions as a result of having been driven to bankruptcy in this recession.

Not only that, but to add injury to insult, they will pay higher car insurance (people with lower credit scores have more claims?) and be required to post cash deposits for utilities and will be denied many opportunities which might otherwise have been theirs simply because they have damaged credit. As might happen to some, finding a job while having no permanent address, say camping in your RV at a convenient roadside rest area, is even harder.

Had the government really intended to solve this situation, they - all of them - would not have been stampeded like mindless cattle into hocking our grandchildren - more than they were before the fact - by handing out the money to the financiers without conditions or oversight, rather they would have deliberated and decided the benefits versus the cost of actions that might be taken and might have done nothing, or might have actually tried to use the money to help the people who actually needed help (not really likely)...

Had that happened, there would be a lot of bankers and Wall Street types in the soup lines with us commoners and the treasury would be a trillion dollars or so less in debt. The foreclosure crisis would be what it is and everything would still be as stated before, only they wouldn't need to raise taxes as much.

There is some hope that the new administration will figure out a way to keep us, in our millions, from being forced to default on our mortgage loans
but I'm afraid it's a slender hope, at best, as I don't see any understanding of what's at stake shining through the rhetoric coming from Washington, DC.

You can always buy gold, if you have any cash left after paying the 30% interest on your formerly 5% interest credit card balances. The gold merchants are looking for you, right now, trying to unload the stuff they've been stuck with since 1982. I always think it's amusing that they, who have the gold, want to exchange it for your soon-to-be-worthless, according to them, federal reserve notes... I'm missing something on that one.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Trying to shape up

2008 was the worst year of my life, in almost every respect.

There have been quite a few years included in that life and a few of them have been pretty bad. 2008, though definitely thus far, has appropriated the black laurels as worst to date. On the positive side of the balance, it has ended. Therefore one must optimistically move onward with what is left and attempt to make this year better and maybe even outstanding as a good period.

For myself, I have decided to make it (2009) a new beginning and to reach for excellence, as the years go, by having it be the start of something positive. I know all about the downturns in almost everything, economy, personal finance and home values leap to mind and then there are the diminished employment prospects due to the aforementioned downturns. Those items, although certainly significant and daunting, are background to life itself and should be considered as such.

So - I have decided to become thinner and healthier in 2009 and to thereby reverse a long trend of becoming less healthy and less svelte ( a cool word not often applied to old men) by eating foods which are lower in fat and other potentially harmful substances. Lest you think that I have become geriatrically narcissistic in my advanced and hypertrophied age, I assure you that it is all due to a phone call from my physician's assistant informing me that in spite of the ongoing medication, etc. - my cholesterol level has started to increase again.

I was treated (in every sense of the word) ten years ago, to a quadruple coronary artery bypass which was offered as the only way to long delay my certain, but uncomfortably (then) imminent demise. I accepted with an unaccustomed alacrity, I'm not afraid to die - I'm just in no hurry - and had the surgery. It was not really a treat, in the sense of receiving something pleasant - unless one counts survival as pleasant, because it was scary and uncomfortable - particularly the removal of the abdominal drainage tubes.

The short-term Frankenstein aspect, provided by the metal staples in my right arm and right leg as well as my chest, was fun ( especially when watching a summer lightning storm from the patio - scared my poor wife, who insisted that I get inside before I added "electrocuted" to my other accomplishments) even though I couldn't get out much to show it off. The scars are still pretty impressive, though, even after ten years.

So anyway, here I am - fat, dumb and working on happy, when the doc's office calls and tells me my cholesterol is again becoming elevated. We discussed diet, we discussed medication (of which I already take too much) and decided to try diet modification. I have become lax, in the last few years, about the foods I eat, pretending to be, simply, a gray-bearded teenager. Not that I had become the triple cheeseburger at the fast-food stand twice a day variety but I was not a lot better. Today that has changed. Call it dietary epiphany if you like obscure words as much as I do. Otherwise just call it a revelation of the obvious.

The Doc sent me a letter showing the healthy foods which I should be eating and listing the unhealthy foods which I should avoid, I have 14 earlier letters showing essentially the same thing. I know that stuff, I even paid attention for a few years. But then I drifted into culinary non-compliance (once again - or maybe thrice again) and started eating too much fat, too much meat, too much sugar and all those other good tasting no - nos, did I mention cheesecake or chocolate.

Someone in the medical profession once told me that he thought that our problem is evolutionary in origin. We are omnivorous hunter-gatherers by heredity and we select for energy foods to allow us to live for days without eating and still retain the energy to run down and club a struggling moose to be the guest-of-honor at dinner.

The problem today is that we eat the stuff we like but don't go for days without eating and then we just drive to the closest supermarket to buy a chunk of pre-caught moose: no running down. Just sauntering cooly down and emerging with a week supply of moose to eat at one sitting, and more for the next day - and the next. It's not so much what we're eating as it is how often we eat it and what we do between those feedings that loads up the arteries.

I could, of couse, choose to run to the market every third day and buy my half pound steak to eat that day and then run there again every day but only buy and eat on the third day. That probably would help. Still: our hunter-gatherer forebears usually only lived long enough to procreate and to raise the offspring to about 8 or 9 years old before succumbing to some fatal incident. For that reason, if for no other, longevity of a mature individual human far past breeding age was really not a factor of importance in our genetic heritage. We, of course, have the leisure time to ponder the meaning of life rather than simply trying to preserve it until the next moose falls.

I, for one, have pondered long and hard the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Thus far I have arrived at no final conclusion and, therefore, desire more pondering time which, oddly enough, leads back to the reason for this whole blog entry. I'm too fat and my cholesterol is too high. Today I found a website, which you might already know but of which I was unaware.

Lance Armstrong sponsors it and might even write some of it if he has the time. It's about living longer and living better by, well, living better. Just follow the link above and you will see what he has there. There are tables of nutrition data and recipes along with other information on exercise as well as tools to help you - and me, too - get to the weight you want, whether you need to lose or to gain, in a safe and proven manner. I'm back to calorie counting and even more essential, for my body, watching my fat intake and I have used Lance's tools to compute what my daily calorie intake needs to be in order to achieve my publicly stated goals.

I need to lose fifty pounds. More would probably not hurt. That not withstanding fifty pounds is my current goal and I have selected 2.5 pounds per week as a reasonably number by which to gauge my progress. That simply means that I need to consume 912 calories, per week, less than what is required to maintain my current weight.

It sounds simple and it really is, but not so easy, first: the site provides a calculator to tell you what it takes, in calories, to maintain your current weight and then based upon your input it tells you how large a reduction is required to attune your to body to your goal. From there it becomes a process of food selection and learning how to maximize nutrition while at the same time providing yourself with food you will want to eat. If you are relatively young the benefit of doing it now will last a lifetime. If, like me, your only connection to "young" is your grandchildren doing it now it will still last a lifetime, just not as many years as it might have had you started earlier.

And it does not have to be unappetizing "cardboard" food, the site provides you the tools to make recipes for the foods you like, while understanding the calories and other things involved and also provides suggestions of how you might modify a recipe to lower the calories (if needed) or to provide more nutrition if that is your goal. It is a great resource and can be an aid in accomplishing your goals, whether dietary help or strength building information is your interest.

Tune in next week for more.