Friday, January 1, 2010

What did you learn this past year (or 10?)

Well as I bid a FOND kick in the ass farewell to 2009 and a generally pretty crappy decade I was thinking, "What did I learn in 2009?" Or better yet "What did I learn in the past decade?"

The main thing I've learned is that we need to complain more.

I've been thinking a lot about it. And it's no surprise, especially to a lot of my high school friends who read my blog (I'm pretty sure you're the only ones but who knows) that this was a bad year for me. But surprisingly, as I read many of my facebook friend's year end comments, it seems I'm not the only one who had a crappy 2009.

I really applaud anyone who has a positive attitude right now. And part of me does have reason to be hopeful for 2010 - at least we have to *try* to be hopeful that 2010 will be better than 2009 - after all, it would be hard for it to be worse.

The bigger question is though - what have we learned? And what would we do over?

All I know is that we need to have bigger voices and complain more, not less.

And not just complain on a blog but take action - whether it's calling or emailing or writing our "reps" in government, taking to the streets to march or more!

I know that's bucking a HUGE cultural trend here in LA to "not complain" or "never let them see you down". We like to act like things are ok here.

LA could be going through a great depression, yet still most people would fail to acknowledge that they had a bad year financially for fear of being looked down up by their neighbors.

And what else would you expect from a city that loves its fancy homes and cars - meanwhile, many of those fancy cars Angelinos drive around are leases that people can't afford. I know first hand as friends who have fancy cars yet can't afford to pay their rent or buy food - makes no sense but in a city where "image is everything" you do what your neighbor does, right?

Well the days of people living off credit cards are long gone.

And that's probably a good thing...although it also explains why so many stores and restaurants in LA have gone bye-bye and are now just empty storefronts with large white signs with big blue "FOR LEASE" letters printed on them.

You really have to be extremely wealthy not to be affected by the downturn in the economy.


Because no matter how much you "cut back" on shopping or eating out - the fact is likely that 2009 was a crappy year for millions of Americans.


Because basic NECESSITIES have gone through the roof. Need gas to get to work? Good luck as gas is still hovering around $3 something a gallon (if not more) - gee when Clinton was in office gas was $1.50-1.75. Hmmm.

Need water to shower with or wash your clothes or dishes with? You're likely paying through the nose for that. Gas and electric bills for your house have gone up and if you're unlucky enough to live in a cold climate, you likely need oil to heat your house - which was probably thousands of dollars last winter.

But even if you live in a warm climate, don't use much water and take public transportation, your health coverage likely covers less and costs 30-40% more than it did even a few years ago. So great, even if a health care reform bill gets passed, we still have 2 major issues to contend with. The unemployment rate and housing.

Let me start with housing.

We are all pretty much screwed still because of the housing bubble. Because even if gas, electric, health and food prices all came down, we're still paying 25-50% more in rent or mortgages than we were even 5-10 years ago, while wages are flat or have gone down with furlows and cut backs.

Let me give this as an example.

Just 15 years ago, you could buy a nice townhouse in Connecticut for roughly $100K. Even at a 10% interest rate, the mortgage on that would be less than $1000 a month and at a 7% interest rate it would be only $700 in mortgage payments, plus a few hundred dollars for association dues and property taxes.

Now, in 2009, that same townhouse is going for at least $300K if not more. Sure, interest rates are lower but when a couple before could have split a $700/month mortgage, etc. now that same place would cost $1500+/month in a mortgage + triple the amount in property taxes.

Yet many towns, cities and states are going broke right now. I don't get it. They are taking in triple the property taxes!!! I guess everything really costs more for the government too - from police to roads to schools, etc.

Are wages double or triple what they were 15 years ago? Maybe for some. But for the vast majority of Americans now, their wages likely aren't much more than they were 10-15 years ago.

Then factor in that at least 10-20% of the country is either completely out of work - or is making less and less money each year. And everything in life from food to rent costs 30-40% more.

Yes this is a long rant and if you're still reading I applaud you.

And if you have a "stable" job (if there is such a thing in this economy) I really applaud you. Because even attorneys I know are being affected by this recession - at least in California. Just realize that while things may be ok fo you, they may be hell right now for others in your family, or for your friends or neighbors who have either lost their jobs or seen their income be hit hard by the recession.

Anyhow, I write this all for a number of reasons:

1) I'm pissed. Because so many of my neighbors were greedy and bought into housing they couldn't afford - foreclosures are at an all-time high. And the ripple effect of that hurts not just the person who bought property they couldn't afford and the bank -- but it also affects millions of the rest of us who didn't speculate on real estate. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I got B's in my college statistics and finance classes when most of my classmates were barely passing. We are now paying SEVERLY for our neighbor's lack of common sense and basic math skills. Great!!!

2) We don't complain enough. When the French are upset, they go on strike. They storm their government, they shut down the trains and protest a bit violently. But what do Americans do? Nothing! We let our government get us into a lot of this financial mess (hello crazy low interest rates that allowed people to borrow money that they had NO way of repaying). It's really OUR FAULT the economy was so crappy in 2009 and that we have the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. We literally take it up the ass, I'm sorry but there's no polite other way to say it. We're generally too lazy or stupid to protest when our leader and government leads us into a death chamber...but what can I expect? Americans are thought of worldwide as being generally fat and lazy slobs so why shouldn't our government reflect that?

3) The writing was CLEARLY on the wall 2-3 years ago that we were headed for a major economic disaster. Why? Because even 3 years ago people were doing the job of 2 maybe 3 people and being "thankful" for having a job. Then a co-worker would quit (or get laid off - or maybe not come back from maternity leave) and that job would not be replaced....oooh but you, that hard working citizen, just took it up the butt and kept working insane hours (and didn't complain or walk out) with likely no overtime or anything more than a "pat on the back" because generally, Americans aren't thinking - they just do their job and keep their head down, not complaining, without stepping back for a minute to see the bigger picture and the implications and effect this behavior happens on the economy as a whole.

Anyhow, I hope this email gives you something to think about this new year.

I know many of you reading this are smart and know many of these things but it's important that, going forward, we:

2) Complain and protest more, not less
3) Educate ourselves
4) Learn that greed and our own overspending is a lot of the reason we're in this mess to start with.

If you like what you've read, please "share" this rant with your friends on facebook - or feel free to write your own!!!

I do hope 2010 is a better year - and decade.

Given how horrible 2009 was, I'm quite sure it will be!