They use to refer to John Kerry as a flip flopper when he was running against George W. Bush for the presidency. Now both Bush and Ben Bernanke, in a matter of a week, change their stance on the state of the American economy. Only last Friday did the two come to terms with a reality the rest of the United States was living.

President Bush on Friday acknowledged more starkly than ever that the economy has slipped into trouble, dogged by falling home prices and turmoil in financial markets.

“Our economy obviously is going through a tough time,” the president told the Economic Club of New York in a morning speech at a Midtown Manhattan hotel.

Shortly after Mr. Bush spoke, Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, issued fresh warnings about the gathering wave of home foreclosures while pledging new regulations to limit the impact and crack down on predatory mortgage lending.

“Foreclosure rates have increased substantially,” Mr. Bernanke said during a speech in Washington before a meeting of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

“Behind these disturbing statistics are families facing personal and financial hardship and neighborhoods that may be destabilized by clusters of foreclosures,” Mr. Bernanke said. (NYT)

I’ve never expected anything from our president. As Maureen Dawd points out, “Boy George crashed the family station wagon into the globe and now the global economy. Yet the more terrified Americans get, the more bizarrely carefree he seems.”

But Bernanke is someone I respected. He doesn’t come from a family that made most money by owning oil companies, like the man who appointed him. And he is an intelligent individual that understands, and has always been fascinated with, economic depression and the Fed”s role during these times. He wrote “Essays on the Great Depression“.

One would think Bernanke would be more in tune with the struggles of middle and lower class American families. But we’ve yet to see him take any real action to slow down their affliction. Instead, he bails out rich douche bags breaking his own conservative rule about the Fed interfering too much in the financial markets.

The Federal Reserve seemed to toss out the rule book altogether when it assumed the role of white knight, temporarily bailing out Bear Stearn.

Mr. Bernanke has become Wall Street’s most important and most powerful friend. Many executives are praising him for his creativity and willingness to act boldly. (NYT)

Back in 1998, when the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund required a Fed-arranged bailout, Bear Stearns refused to join the rescue effort. Jimmy Cayne, then chief executive at the firm, told the Fed to take a hike. (NYT)

Don’t believe any comment is necessary from my part. What do you think?

“The Federal Reserve is not currently forecasting a recession,” Bernanke said. “We are forecasting slow growth.” (MSNBC)

On one issue particularly worrisome to American consumers, there are indications that paying $4 for a gallon of gasoline is not out of the question once the summer driving season arrives. Asked about that, Bush said “That’s interesting. I hadn’t heard that. … I know it’s high now.” (AP)

“I would say, by any commonsense definition, we are in a recession,” Buffett said.(AP)

Home foreclosures hit new highs and the amount of equity in homes reached new lows as the housing crisis escalated across the country in 2007, new figures showed Thursday.

The number of foreclosures was at the highest level since the Mortgage Bankers Association began keeping records in the 1970s. (LAT)

A jobs report yesterday showed that employers nationwide slashed 85,000 jobs since the beginning of the year, in the clearest sign yet that the economy has entered or is verging on recession. (WashingtonTimes)

The dollar sank to a new low Friday against the euro, which extended its first-ever rise above $1.54 after data showed U.S. job cuts hitting the biggest monthly number in five years.(SOS)

With prices continuing to march higher for commodities ranging from corn to wheat, food companies are cutting costs, raising prices and otherwise adjusting to tighter margins for the long haul.

For consumers, it means higher grocery bills and restaurant tabs. Consumer food prices are expected to increase 3% to 4% this year, on top of the 4% increase in 2007, according to the Agriculture Department. (WSJ)

I believe that the only folks that are still arguing if we are in a recession or not are those that are not affected by it. For the rest of us in the lower/middle class, recession is already a reality. Many of us feel the effects by realizing the cost of living going up; barely making car, college and mortgage bills every month; working extra hard to not lose our jobs (if we haven’t already); and simply put: struggling to get by.

I’ve never been more aware of how much things cost than lately. No matter how much I cut back on leisure — mostly going out and shopping — I am not able to save money. So any chance I get to cut corners, I do.

I’ll use any coupons I can get my hands on when buying groceries. I don’t drive to friends’ house as often if they live too far away. I also pack my own lunch in the morning as opposed to buying it at work. But the bills pile up too much for these tactics to make any difference.

Because I simply couldn’t afford it, today I was again forced to break the appointment with my mechanic to get the fluids changed in my car. I don’t have $170 just laying around. But I definitely knew I shouldn’t put off the matter another day. I drive under constant fear during my hour-long commute to work. You would to if you heard of the firework noises coming from under my hood.

So I decided to consult the car’s manual to see if I could perform the necessary fluid maintenance myself. Turned out that besides the appropriate liquids you must purchase from you local auto body shop, all you need additionally is a rag and a funnel. This alone allowed me to address all my 98 Honda Accord’s fluid needs for fraction of the cost to have someone else do it.

Despite the fact that it is absurdly simple, I am not going to pretend to be an expert and teach you how to do it in a step by step process. Today being my first time and all. But I will link to sites that do so.

I can’t urge you enough to give it a shot yourself. It both saves you a lot of money and you car will run a lot smoother. Also, the high that you get from the sense of accomplishment is unparalleled.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Best of luck!

Before there was postsecret.com, there was notproud.com. You could confess into one of 8 categories — seven for the deadly sins, and an additional “miscellaneous.” I used to check that Web site often because it was updated daily with fresh confessions. You know, for the same reason you visit postsecret.

I had stopped visiting and forgotten the site for well over two years after the administrators decided they did not want to bother updating. (That’s not a proper way of putting it. Perhaps they were occupied with other matter in their lives.) But only recently did I realize that all old confessions have been forever deleted!

Lucky for us, all confessions are still preserved thanks to google cache. Yes, now all you have to do in order to look up why someone was ever a bum by simply typing, “site:notproud.com sloth”. And then click on the “Cached” link at the bottom of each result.

I looked up the “anger” confessions ( “site:notproud.com anger” ), and landed on one of the most depressing personal story told on the Internet that I’ve come across in a long time.


Pride | Envy | Sloth | Gluttony | Greed | Lust | Anger | Misc
03/05/2005 at 22:31:18

I turned 15 in september of 1977. My dad had just retired from the united states air force after 29 years. In november of that same year, he got sick. In march of 1978 he was diagnosed as having pancreatic cancer. The doctor gave him two months to live. I remember standing the second floor solarium of our local hospital, shaking my fist at god, telling him I hated him, and that he really didn’t care about me or my dad. A month later, I went with my cousin up to Baltimore for her to get an abortion. She didn’t know until then that she was carrying twins. She had to pay extra because of it. I cried. She became very depressed afterwards. Then, the same week that my dad died, she tried to kill herself. Cut both her wrists. She lived. I remember standing at her bedside, just across the hall from where my dad laid dying thinking, ‘what kind of god allows people to live, that want to die, while killing someone who wants to live?”. Who did he think he was after all? She murdered two innocent babies, then tried to kill herself, while my dad laid across the hall, fighting for every breath… I remember one day when my dad was in the hospital, when he still wouldn’t use the bedpan, but couldn’t go to the bathroom alone, that I was there alone with him. He had to poop. He asked me to help him to the bathroom. I wanted to wait for mom to get there. (he was my dad after all) but he had to go, and finally told me, he couldn’t wait any longer. I stalled so long; I made my dad poop all over himself. I just stood there. I was so embarrassed for him; for me. He kept telling me, it wasn’t my fault, but I know it was. I should have just taken him. I wanted to stay with him over night one night. My mom said no, his brother, who had never even visited him in two months, came and mom said he could stay that night, and I could stay the next night. Well the next night never came. My dad died that night, at 2:45 am, may 14, 1978, mother’s day. He had lived two months and fourteen days. I never even cried when I heard that it was over. Dad was gone, never coming home again; meanwhile, my cousin came home the following day. Got married and moved away. Her life went on. So did mine. Life never slows down anyway. I didn’t cry again for four years. My job became a way to prove that god wasn’t god after all. He was a big bully. Going around choosing who would live and who would die. On a whim. Whatever. I started hooking school. Hanging out at all hours. My mom was the kind of mother that always said ‘wait until your dad gets home’. When the school called about me hooking, I asked her if I should just wait for dad to get home. I made her cry, I felt awful. I told her I wished she had died and not dad. I wanted everyone to feel as bad as I did. Some stuff you can never take back. Those words will haunt me until the day I die. I got married in dec of ’82. Got pregnant by january ’83. In march, I miscarried; it was a tubule pregnancy. I was in the hospital for 5 days. I got an infection. Anyway, I wanted that baby so much. And I was devastated. Why god? Why? What did I do wrong this time? It was 1984 before I got pregnant again. Not for not trying though. Pumpink was the result. I tried for 6 years, but was never able to get pregnant again. I wanted 6 kids, my husband wanted four. We got one. My mother became an alcoholic after dad died. When our daughter was 11 months old, mom missed a curve going too fast while drunk, and rolled her car 3 times, landing against a telephone pole. She wasn’t wearing a seat belt and was thrown forward through the windshield and then tossed back again into the front seat. The glass cut her scalp clear down to the skull bone, from one ear to the other. And rolled the skin backwards. She still has glass in there to this day that the doctors couldn’t get to. She was flown to prmc; after about 5 hours she was flown to johns hopkins. They told us her neck was broken, she had brain damage, and internal bleeding. Said she wouldn’t live through the night. She was home in two weeks. She was in a hospital bed in my living room for six months after that.

New_Year

I stopped making tangible new year resolutions only a few years ago. Because I often never fully accomplished these goals I set for myself (or in some cases, I couldn’t even remember them at year’s end).

I didn’t learn to speak Italian in 2005, I didn’t become a nature photographer in 2004, and despite what I used to tell you in tenth grade, I’ve never done ollies past 2 feet.

It was until (truthfully, May of) 2006 when I had a resolution I actually felt strongly about adhering to consciously throughout the year. Probably because it was simple — “put most focus on my career.” Now that wasn’t a slogan I chanted everyday the second I woke up, and every night right before I went to sleep. It was a mindset with which I delegated my everyday life.

And a sense so simple proved to be an extremely powerful force that helped me accomplish titanic achievements I never imagined I would. It’s not my nature to brag, so I won’t reveal them in an explicit manner on this post. But, you know, it’s on my resume.

Then in (this time, in February of) 2007 I had made yet another seemingly vanilla resolution — “take control of my life.”

At this point you’re thinking “no sweat,” right? But believe me, this was a difficult task. Because if you think about it frankly, many outside factors determine aspects of your life. These include obligations (to family, to friends, 9-5 work, television shows), vices (drugs, alcohol, gambling), bad habits (laziness, ignorance, submissive personality), or good habits (jog in the morning, blogging, reading). And if you let these factors go out of hand then you’re essentially a string puppet to them.

Just realizing so changed me as a person. But acting on it to the best of my ability — because we all have obligations and habits — made me most comfortable I’ve ever felt in my skin. I won’t mention personal specifics again, but I must say I’ve never felt freedom like today before.

So what is my simple resolution for 08? I am not sure just yet. I think I’ll figure out for certain in a few weeks. But tentatively, I have two. One is to “be time conscious.” The second is to be like the first subject in this study by psychologist Laura A. King, who I believe has an outlook I’d like to reflect.

Here is how a woman from Dallas described the impact of an early and devastating divorce, in one of Dr. King’s studies:

“I feel fortunate in a backhanded way to have experienced misfortune as a young woman. I feel it taught me humility … and the ability to regroup. … Life is good but not lavish. It’s hard work and we have to give each other a hand once in a while.”

Another woman in the same study, who had scored lower on a measure of complexity, described her life after divorce: “What good is anything without someone to share it with? My current goal is only to make enough money to make my monthly bills without withdrawing money from my savings account.” (NYT)

I live in one of the more diverse state in the United States — New Jersey. And the creed of many my acquaintances reflect the same. I won’t lie to you. The conversation on the topic of religion more often than not actually ends on an uncomfortable note. We can’t agree on origin of life, we argue if certain actions are moral or immoral, and, of course, we believe our God(s) is more powerful than the others’.

The funny thing about these disagreements during our talks is that none of us are truly that religious to begin with. We just argue for argument sake — you know, to fill the time gap between downing “Coors Light.”

Regardless, though, of whatever religion we identify ourselves with, we usually don’t squabble about Karma — what goes around comes around. E.g.: do good for others, good things will happen to you, and vice versa.

But such a basic similarity of all beliefs creates doubt in my mind of existence of God (or necessity of religion) when I hear news of model citizens facing acts of violence from complete strangers. According to the rules of Karma, these unselfish individuals’ actions deserves the very opposite of such horrendous outcomes.

Take for example the case of psychologist Susan Barron, who was stabbed multiple times by a deranged man when she was walking her dog.

Screaming at her, the man chopped, hacked and stabbed her head and arms, straddling her after she fell to the street, picking up a new knife when he lost one from the force of his blows.

To those who witnessed it, the violence seemed to be a crime of toxic passion; they could not fathom the truth, that one total stranger had simply and suddenly set upon killing another. (NYT)

Of course, no one deserves this treatment. I wouldn’t want that to be a punishment for the terrible of crimes. But you will agree Barron, of all people, should be regarded as a saint on earth.

She was a fixer — the friend who hunted down a kidney for someone in need of a transplant, mentor to a man starting his own therapy practice, regular volunteer on winter coat drives and at holiday soup kitchens. “That Jimmy Stewart character in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ had nothing on her,” said one friend, a self-described cynic.

A case in the same sense takes place in Fort Qu’Appelle, Canada. Where 61-year-old Christina Cook gets shot at by young men when she attempted to dial 911. Only to witness her husband of 17 years catch the bullet on the face and chest when shielding his wife.

With a calmness that belies the calamity of the night and the enormity of her loss, a woman who would often open her home to troubled young people recalled Thursday how her companion of 17 years took a bullet she figures was destined for her and died while shielding her on the floor.

“I don’t know where my hubby came from, but he took me and he threw me on the floor and put his whole body over me. Next thing I know, he was gone,” Cook said. (CP)

The funny thing is that neither Cook nor Barron become bitter after the incidents.

“I just hope that they can find a solution to stop this gang violence or whatever the violence is that’s causing this because the children are lost,” Cook said.

“They need love and understanding and that’s what I’ve always tried to do with my life – make room for the kids.”(CP)

“Yes, I feel what happened to me is pretty terrible. People can complain about the smallest things, but that is their pain. Hopefully, they will never have something terrible happen to give them context,” Barron said. (NYT)

Lately I’ve watching quite a lot of this special series running on the BBC World Channel called “Happiness Formula.” Coincidentally, The show began around a time I was making a few major modifications in my own personal life, right after realizing what I value most — happiness and close ones.

First I started with getting in touch with all those that have had an impact in my life, throughout my lifetime. I spontaneously e-mailed and phoned a lot of folks from middle school and high school, old family friends, old professors, and family members from the motherland. Almost all of them responded with the same enthusiasm I reached out to them with. We agreed it was unfortunate that we’ve lost touch — which was mostly due to laziness and life getting in the way — but to have spoken to each other again was a genuine delight.

Secondly, I quit my job. And replaced it for a one that pays less, makes me work harder for longer hours, and is a further commute. But all of my new colleagues are so incredibly cooperative and fun to be around, that to be in their presence, it’s truly a pleasure.

Mind you, I don’t have any negative feeling towards my previous coworkers. Rather, some of them have become, what I believe, long term friends. I’m really referring to the complete work environment that existed there. Sure, it paid more. And I was recognized by thousands. But to not have a peace of mind was proving to be detrimental to my well being.

Going back to the BBC special mentioned above. I learned that Bhutan measures its progress based on the country’s gross national happiness, contrary to the traditional measurement — gross domestic product.

While conventional development models stress economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of GNH claims to be based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. (Wiki)

And the BBC series also mentioned that

Britain is less happy than in the 1950s – despite the fact that we are three times richer. (BBC)

Strange, isn’t it? But it makes sense though. I just wished I realized this perspective a few years earlier. I would’ve not had any gray hair at such a young age.

Regardless, I’m glad I know now to make decisions weighing in what I treasure most: sanity, happiness and the company of good people.