1. Lottery Winner Keeps Suckling at Public Teet

    I’d say it’s a shocking story, but sadly, it isn’t. Not to me, anyhow. Rather, it’s just a very stark picture of what we’ve become:

    ClickOnDetroit: $1m Lottery Winner Still Collecting Welfare

    I can think of plenty of descriptive terms for this woman, but as I try to run a mostly-family-friendly blog, I can’t really print them here.

    Local 4 tracked Clayton down to her Lincoln Park home where cameras spotted her and a U-Haul truck, getting ready to move into a new house—that she paid for in cash—now that she has struck it rich. She also bought a new car.

    These purchases are nothing out of the ordinary for someone who just won the lottery, however hidden cameras followed Clayton grocery shopping, where she admitted she uses a Bridge card to pay for her items. She said she gets $200 each month, from taxpayers, to foot her food bill.

    When confronted, Clayton said she didn’t think she was doing anything wrong.

    I hope the state of Michigan feels good knowing that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, their tax dollars were subsidizing this young woman’s lottery habit. (“The more, the better,” right, Michigan politicians?)

    And that Ms. Clayton has no problem whatsoever feeding at the public trough as long as it’s allowed … regardless of her own circumstances. Maybe she was a TBTF banker, or automaker CEO, in her previous life?

    UPDATE 03/08: But wait! It appears that Ms. Clayton just got her Bridge card yanked once news of all this got out …



  2. Higher Debt-ucation

    From from the annals of Bloomberg comes this jewel:

    Bloomberg: Trapped by $50k Degree in Low-Paying Job…

    One of the reasons I’ve not spent a single word voicing my thoughts on the current Occupy Wall Street (OWS) saga is that while I agree with them on several counts (yes, Virginia, laws should apply to everyone equally, regardless of political stature or the size of one’s bank account), there are numerous “grievances” put forth by OWS which are simply ridiculous, and merit not a moment of my time nor consideration. One of these issues centers on student loans and higher-ed debt.

    So Here Comes My Opinion

    No, OWS, higher education is not a right, nor should it be. Student loans should not be forgiven on any sort of universal basis. I care not whether you could or couldn’t find a job suitable to make your loan payments, Ms. Occupy Protester, because I was not the one who decreed it necessary for you to attend said institution and take out big loans to do the same.

    Lament that mid-five-figures debt all you want, but the reason you have it is simply this: Government made it possible for anyone able to fog a mirror to sign their name on a few dotted lines and walk away with thousands of debt bucks, easily, for the glorious purpose of “higher” education. Take away that “easy” loan ability, and the demand for college goes down … as does the ability of college administrative boards to bump tuition and fees 8 to 15 percent per year. And down will come prices. Eventually.

    If anyone could step out and borrow $5k per year (or whatever) for your product, just by slapping their siggy on a form or two, then you’d be lifting your prices by double-digit percentages each year, too. The more money you make available for “something,” the more that “something’s” price goes up. (Pretty neat how well it worked for housing, too, huh?)

    Sold a Bill O’ Goods

    That’s exactly what happens to lots of college students, it appears. They’re being sold a bill of goods.

    Because if you, like Laura Sayer in the linked article above, run out and borrow $50k to get a Masters degree at NYU’s Program for Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities and Social Thought, and then you’re upset to find that that degree doesn’t do jack squat for you in the Real World, well, I don’t know what to say.

    …Sayer was set back $50,000 more after completing the Interdisciplinary Master’s Program in Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. The 27-year-old now makes about $45,000 a year as an administrative assistant for a nonprofit group, a job that didn’t require her advanced degree.

    Hmmm. Seems to me that her advanced degree was much more of a years-long (and quite expensive) whim than any sort of career booster:

    Sayer, the NYU graduate, said while she learned critical-thinking skills, her career prospects won’t allow her to pay off her debt anytime soon. [Emphasis mine]

    “Even if I didn’t know what field it would lead me to, I thought it would be worthwhile for my professional career,” said Sayer, who lives in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn with two roommates.

    No, really. The jokes practically write themselves.

    Many of the students who enroll in the master’s of “Social Thought” program directly from college do so with an eye toward a Ph.D., said John Beckman, an NYU spokesman.

    Of course they do. The masters won’t do a damn thing for them. Thus, they want to put off those student-loan payments as long as is humanly possible. Of course, that will probably require taking out more loans, but as we’ve previously established, student-loan lending isn’t exactly “restricted” to only the best credit risks. No credit? No job prospects? Already $40k in debt? No problem. There’s more where that came from.

    “The numbers have shown, and will continue to show, over time that an investment in an advanced degree will yield better career prospects and income,” Beckman said.

    Some salesman, this guy. You have to wonder if the people who wrote the theses below — previous NYU attendees in the “Social Thought” program — really believed that what they were studying had ANY BEARING WHATSOEVER on whether or not they’d achieve gainful employment at anything above poverty-level Mcwages:

    • The Graven Image: Truth, Self, and Identity in Max Frisch’s Novel I’m Not Stiller
    • The Meaning of Documentary: Narrativity, the Cartesian World View, and a Heideggerian Critique
    • H.D.’s Creation of the New: Redeeming the Maternal Body in Pursuit of Feminine Language
    • Why Are Gay Men So Effeminate? An Essay on Aesthetics, Affect, and White Gay Male Subjectivity
    • Speaking in Tongues: Language and Creolite in the Work of Kamau Brathwaite and Junot Diaz

    Readers, please tell me: Do the authors of these things actually want to WORK and create products or services of value to the rest of us, or do they just want their egos stroked and subsidized (preferably at taxpayer expense) on a regular basis?

    Methinks I know the answer.

    And I didn’t need to borrow $50k to achieve my “critical-thinking” skills.



  3. Fast Food & Food Stamps

    I know this scheme has been in the works in certain areas for a while, but that doesn’t change the fact that every new article I read about it makes me want to throw heavy office equipment through a window:

    WTVM.com: Fast Food Giant Lobbies for Food Stamps

    I love issues like this, because it’s so easy to see exactly where they lead. If you come out against it with the argument of “Folks on public nutritional assistance shouldn’t be using the funds to buy crappy fast food and other items of convenience,” then you’re an out-of-whack, heartless, right-wing conservative nutso. I unflinchingly reside in this camp (as readers have undoubtedly noticed).

    To clarify, my views register something like this:

    Should public food-assistance programs be widely available?

    Yes. Which they are.

    Should public food-assistance programs be “unrestricted;” i.e., they allow access to most all goods/services that private funds could otherwise purchase?


    Should public food-assistance programs be “painless;” i.e., the programs make extra efforts to reduce the stigma and “social obstacles” of being a user of the assistance?

    Hell no. In fact, I’m all thumbs-up for bright orange EBT cards.

    However, I’ll also take a step the other direction — a step at which many pro-business righties gasp — and say that for companies like Yum! Brands to take up such a blatant “Hey look! There’s a pile of taxpayer money over there! Let’s go get some!” lobbying effort is downright pathetic, and worthy of scorn. Most weeks, I’m good for at least one trip to Taco Bell. And I do loves me some Pizza Hut pan pizza from time to time. But that can stop.

    We Say “No” To More Government Programs (That Don’t Benefit Us)

    Such corporate behavior is pretty typical, though, I’ve found. Expanded government programs are anathema to private business interests … until they figure out that they can get their hands in the pot, too. At that point, miraculously, it’s all good.

    “Everyone, regardless of income level or economic station, should have access to our quality offerings,” they’ll exclaim as camera-flashes pop. “We will take special care to ensure that only those who meet the strict qualifications can utilize the program in our many locations.”

    Sure you will. And all the while, you’ll be continually and quietly lobbying for increased access by SNAP participants to your “quality offerings.” Trim a big restriction here; remove a little restriction there. Because, hey, there’s more profits to be had … and isn’t it, you know, unfair to limit this wonderful program to JUST the homeless, elderly, and disabled, when you really think about it?

    One thing is certain: The hole will just get deeper and deeper, because the game is such that EVERYONE who is ANYONE will step up to the trough.



  4. CareerBuilder: 42% Live Paycheck to Paycheck

    This year’s CareerBuilder financial survey is out, and the headline ain’t really a shocker: 42 percent of workers report living paycheck-to-paycheck.

    CareerBuilder: 2011 Financial Survey

    And, of workers who make six figures, CareerBuilder found that 14 percent reported living paycheck to paycheck, and 6 percent reported that they were unable to make ends meet every month.

    CareerBuilder also asked the roughly 5,200 workers surveyed what they would or wouldn’t be willing to give up if push came to shove. Percentages of workers who “absolutely would not do without” certain items were as follows:

    • Internet Connection — 56 Percent
    • Driving — 46 Percent
    • Mobile Phone — 42 Percent
    • Cable TV — 27 Percent
    • Eating Out — 11 Percent

    A full 21 percent of workers reported either dipping into savings or reducing retirement contributions within the last year in order to get by.

    What Happened to Last Year’s Numbers?

    Last year, I noted that CareerBuilder’s survey found 7 in 10 workers living paycheck to paycheck. Curiously, this year’s survey says that last year’s survey found not the oh-my-gosh rate of 7 in 10, but rather 4.3 in 10. And I see that Press Release 784 (my source/link) has disappeared from CareerBuilder’s archives. I don’t know if their methodology has changed, or if they’re now running their numbers through the Federal Agency of Enforced Statistical Correctness before releasing them. Gotta wonder just what went on, though.



  5. Food Stamp Usage: Still, Still Rising

    Courtesy of Yahoo, I’m reading that food stamps are now used by 1 in every 7 of us Americans. That’s up from July of last year, when 1 in 8 Americans were on the program.

    Looks like the effects of Recovery Summer™ have long since worn off. Pity, that.



  6. Unleash the (CFPB) Hounds!

    For the three of you who are still wondering just what the heck the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is all about, well, I direct you to this fancy CNN Money presentation:

    CNN Money: The New Pup Watching Our Money

    I’m sure this new agency will cast just as watchful, keen, and vigilant an eye over our money as all the other government agencies do. I mean, this was Elizabeth Warren’s brainchild, so it has to be good, right?

    (If you think I’m being sarcastic, congrats! You’d win a cookie … if I had one to hand out.)

    And, in what has got to be one of the most pathetic “Reasons We Need This New Government Agency” passages I’ve yet seen, I encourage readers to mouse-over the red “16,109” circle in the “Mortgage Brokers” section of the CNN presentation. Read what Mr. Carlo Panno has to say about the “sack of money” the evil bank all but forced him to take to buy a house.

    Always the studious type, Mr. Panno carefully read his mortgage docs before signing them … noticed that his payments would balloon from $300/biweekly to $1000/biweekly after two years … and then STILL SIGNED THE NOTE because the broker “assured him” he could refinance before the two-year SAVINGS EXTRAVAGANZA expired. (Heard that one before? Yeah, me too. About a million times.)

    You know what I think? I am quite certain that there is not, and never will be, a government agency capable of protecting glasslickers like this from themselves. (Much less those dastardly banks and mortgage brokers — for whom, I should point out, I harbor scarce love.)

    Note to Mr. Panno: Next time you leave the house, don’t forget your helmet.



  7. Thinking of Strategically Defaulting?

    Well, you’ll be happy to know that the guys behind FICO are watching you:

    USA Today: Study: Underwater Homeowners Are Credit Savvy

    I’m not sure why a study was needed to figure any of this out, because it seems fairly obvious that “strategic defaulters” aren’t your typical Joe and Jane Sixpack. The very word “strategic” sort of implies that, yes?

    Ah well. Fair Isaac just wants to cover all the angles, I guess.



  8. Mom Sues McDonalds: Who’s the Child Here?

    I know this story has been everywhere the last day or so, but I just cannot let it go by without a few words:

    KABC-TV: Calif. Mom to Sue McDonalds Over Happy Meal Toys

    Yes, a California mom has filed a lawsuit against McDonalds, hoping to require the fast-food megachain to either (1) churn out healthy meals for kids, or else (2) yank toys out of their Happy Meals. Why? Because she’s tired of being “pestered” by her kids (a six-year-old and a two-year-old) to go to Mickie D’s.

    In a press release, we get to hear Ms. Parham describe her parental angst:

    I am concerned about the health of my children and feel that McDonald’s should be a very limited part of their diet and their childhood experience. But as other busy, working moms and dads know, we have to say ‘no’ to our young children so many times, and McDonald’s makes that so much harder to do. I object to the fact that McDonald’s is getting into my kids’ heads without my permission and actually changing what my kids want to eat.

    Getting into your kids’ heads without your permission? You mean like EVERY OTHER COMPANY that markets to kids in any way / shape / form? Ms. Parham, I’d suggest you sue Mattel, Disney, Scholastic Publishing, and American Girl, while you’re at it. As well as General Mills, Kraft Foods, Procter & Gamble, and Kelloggs. (Actually, whomever boxes up those god-forsaken Corn Pops really should be sued. Those things are disgusting.)

    More from Ms. Parham:

    What kids see as a fun toy, I now realize is a sophisticated, high-tech marketing scheme that’s designed to put McDonald’s between me and my daughters. For the sake of other parents and their children, I want McDonald’s to stop interfering with my family.

    Glad to see you’re paying attention, Mom. Now maybe you’d like to take the next step, and TRY TO BE AN ACTUAL PARENT to your kids. They’re two and six, for goodness’ sake. Who runs the show at your house, anyway? It damn sure isn’t you.

    Hey, Wait! I Have a Kid, Too!

    As the parent of an eight-year-old girl, I would like to state clearly, here and now, that I am truly amazed at the masterful job which McDonalds has done in getting kids to want their food. In the world of advertising, the Happy Meal campaign has to go down as one of the Greatest Ever.

    Do they sell crappy food? Yes.

    Do they blatantly target kids? Yes.

    Have they absolutely mastered these tactics? Holy hell, yes.

    And yet somehow, SOME WAY, my wife and I have managed to say no to our daughter’s frequent requests for McDonalds food. Does our kid whine? Yup. Does she moan? Yup. Does it matter? Not so much.

    Am I going to sue McDonalds for bringing out the “I wants” in my kid? Um, no, because Lisa and I are The Parents. Unlike Ms. Parham, apparently, we aim to be In Control. We prefer to raise our child to understand the difference between good choices and poor choices — and also that Mom and Dad not only make the rules, but can also remove every single belonging from your room while you’re at school, lock it all up in storage, and allow you to earn it back, if we so choose. (Which, at one point this year, we did.)

    Of course Ms. Parham has an agenda working, and I seriously doubt that the “It’s for the kids!” angle covers her motivations entirely.

    But watching people like her try to litigate their way through life (and teach her children to do the same) causes great pain in me. Ms. Parham’s primary responsibility should be to be a good parent to her children; nowhere in there does the word “easy” come into play. Dealing with whiny kids ain’t easy.

    And, as Ms. Parham so clearly shows us, dealing with whiny parents is often far worse.



  9. It’s Not a Bargain…

    … if you have to camp out on the sidewalk for nine consecutive days to get it.

    WTSP.com: “Black Friday” First Family Story #1

    13 News: “Black Friday” First Family Story #2

    Hmmm. So let me get this straight:

    If you’re homeless, and you set up a tent in front of Best Buy nine days before Black Friday, you get slapped with a complaint of trespassing, and thrown in jail.

    But if you’re a Shopper On a Mission, and you set up a tent in front of Best Buy nine days before Black Friday, you get free iPads, an award, and TV coverage.

    Yeah. In a country as off-course (“We have to spend more to keep from going broke”) as this one, that sounds about right.

    You know, I’m all about getting bargains and deals, too, but the stories above just make me want to scream. I’ve never once participated in Black Friday consumerism, and have no plans to do so, if I can help it. And I damn sure wouldn’t use it as an excuse to “spend more time with family” as the folks above try to do.

    Nine days ahead of time? Seriously?

    Everyone needs goals, I guess.



  10. Generational Kick-the-Can

    JLP at All Financial Matters put out a few thoughts yesterday regarding the Fiscal Commission’s proposals for reducing the country’s deficit and debt, regaining a sound financial footing, eliminating the road-tar-like aftertaste of Diet Dr. Pepper, ensuring that Bolivian forest fairies are allowed to vote on Dancing With the Stars, and … yeah. Whatever.

    My opinion? I’ll believe spending cuts — and I’m talking meaningful cuts — when I see them.

    Regarding the proposal, JLP pointed out a snippet from its introduction which I too would like to comment on:

    Throughout our history, Americans have always been willing to sacrifice to make our nation stronger over the long haul. That’s the promise of America: to give our children and grandchildren a better life.

    It’s pathetic that a mere three paragraphs in, I’m forced to stop reading and call the proposal’s authors what they are, which is bald-faced liars. Americans as a whole haven’t been about “sacrificing for the future” since movies were still being made in black and white. Certainly there’s been no “sacrificing for the future” in my lifetime.

    No, all we do is play generational kick-the-can. We in the U.S. use our “full faith and credit,” coupled with our dollar’s advantage of being the world’s reserve currency, and we leverage these puppies to the max at every opportunity. Rare has been the expenditure deemed truly out-of-bounds by our elected officials. I contend that most of us below the age of, say, seventy, wouldn’t know true sacrifice if someone poured it in our Cocoa Puffs.

    Are these guys serious? “Sacrifice to give our children and grandchildren a better life?”

    Bullshit. I can pretty much blow off the rest of that 50-page proposal right there.

    If I Were Supreme Dictator For Life…

    Just off the top of my head, here are a folder-full of changes I’d love to see Washington undertake. Which, of course, they won’t. But it’s fun to think of the chaos that’d ensue.

    • Eliminate the mortgage-interest tax deduction. That’s right; I said it. And yes, I’m a homeowner. Doesn’t matter — I want this stupid incentive gone.
    • Eliminate the child tax credit. Yep, I said that, too. When you’re trillions in debt, just putting the shovel down ain’t enough.
    • Social Security / Medicare / Medicaid / Welfare? Start Cutting. All of Them. Blasphemy, I know. Reread what I said about the shovel. Pay now, or pay later.
    • Education / Military? Start Cutting. And Big. You see where I’m going with this, right? You don’t even want to know what I’d do with the Department of Education.
    • Financial Reform. Run a Wall Street firm or TBTF bank that falls on hard times? Damn the bad luck. The concept of “privatize the profits; socialize the losses” just went bye-bye. And I hope you have a good lawyer, because…
    • Corporate Welfare & Bailouts? HA! How ‘Bout Jail Time? This one ought to be fun: I want to see bankers, regulators, and anyone else knowingly party to financial fraud on a sizeable scale doing the Perp Walk. Get a few hundred of these on the nightly news, and I bet the “profit is all that matters” attitudes change pretty quickly.
    • Create Decent Tax Incentives for Non-Retirement, Non-College Saving. Talk about a pipe dream. Encouraging people to save would crash the economy, don’t you know. One positive side effect: “Helicopter” Ben Bernanke’s head might just explode.
    • Federally-Backed Student Loans? Severely Limited, If Not Gone. Guess what happens to college tuition when Uncle Sam’s unlimited pocketbook snaps closed? Hint: It won’t keep rising like clockwork. Another positive side effect: A lot of mediocre professors and administrators will be forced to visit the Real World for more than an hour or two per day.
    • Sam’s Club Will Be Required to Carry Tiramisu Year-Round. Okay, fine. I’d settle for just this one.

    There you go. I figure signing off on those items would pretty well fill up the first two hours of my Supreme Dictator office-ship. Yes, I might bring the economy to a screeching halt before any of us have had our morning coffee. Yes, I would find myself in the crosshairs of a great many lobbying groups and monied interests. And yes, I would almost certainly have people brandishing rusty farm implements in the streets.

    But hey — at least when I talked about “sacrifice,” I wasn’t blowing smoke up your patootie.

    That is all.