Happy New Year?

I received a notification informing us that donations to Michigan food banks will no longer be tax-deductible after December 31, 2011, which coincides with the expiration of federal extended unemployment insurance programs.  The expiration of federal extensions will immediately drop 2 million unemployed from the rolls and millions more will follow as state benefits expire in 2012.  Also heralding in the New Year, Michigan will reduce unemployment compensation to a maximum of 20 weeks from 26, the standard of all states for more than 50 years.  Because unemployment compensation is designed only to cover living expenses, it is commonly accepted that all of these monies are promptly dumped back into our lagging economy.  A doom and gloom outlook for the unemployed and needy has been the forecast for a few years now, but the perfect storm of 2012 will add to poverty statistics at a head-spinning rate.  My inclination to seek out positive and humorous perspectives about any given situation has become more challenging, but I think I can do it for the remainder of 2011.

With the holiday season approaching my thoughts predictably turn to what I am thankful for and what Jesus gifted me with on the day he was born.  If there were ever a time to relish the present, it is now.  I plan to savor Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts with my family members who are currently healthy, fed, housed, and humorous.  My focus is on blessings that money cannot buy nor replace, such as loving and supportive friendships and a stable marriage.  We will give what we can, not for the benefit of a tax deduction, but because we appreciate the need to share our bounty now more than ever.  People are pulling together, one of the few upsides to our economic climate, and I believe we will experience more brotherhood in the coming year.  While Christmas commercials and electronic ads are inundating a broke America in a futile effort to pry money from near empty wallets, we will buy gifts from local crafters, small businesses, wineries, and breweries.  2012 promises to be a challenging year, but I plan to have a rocking good time during what remains of 2011 and adopt a Scarlett O’Hara attitude of not thinking about it today.  Helping me to delay thoughts of next year is The Michigan Beer Cellar, the only micro-brewery in Michigan that is also a winery and artisan distillery,  conveniently located only a few blocks away.

The case of the disappearing 401k

Either I am a cynic or the only one not drinking the Kool-Aid.  The bit I saved for retirement is invested in a 401k with a perfect risk ratio, according to the financial wizards, for someone who wishes to retire in 2035.  I followed the expert’s advice to not fret during the past year, which for me meant not even logging in to review the monthly online statements.  Stay the course is what they say.  The market has always had highs and lows and long-term investors always win.  Really?   I share both a blood type and a Myer-Briggs personality type with 1% of the population and my body temperature is 97 degrees, so 99 degrees IS a fever, damn it.  Based on these statistics and other life events I have learned to not depend on the word “always”.

But, I digress…likely because I just looked at my 401k balance and all I can see is 2035 turning into 2050, at which time I’ll be 82.  Judging from the European news, I could easily blame it all on Greece.  My inquisitive nature demanded that I take a closer look at what is happening there, and from what I found Greeks are not much different from us.  They work about 41 hours per week and the average age of retirement is 65.  But wait, there are differences in that they cannot count on being paid and average pay is between 600 and 800 Euros per month ($960-$1,280 per month).  What I found most interesting is that Greek citizens claim that their country’s financial crisis is due to tax evasion by the wealthy and corruption within the banking and political systems.  And then there is some nonsense about their banks being too big to fail.

While my brain tries to wrap around this global screwing of working people, it also races to figure out how I can stop the siphoning of my bitty retirement fund.  I may not be thinking clearly as I picture the richest men in the world sitting around a table planning to annually steal 5% of every retirement account in the world as if they actually need it.  I wonder if they think I am stupid, if we are all stupid.  The only course of action I can think of right now is to spend it all before they can get their greedy little hands on it.  Fortunately I have learned that when I am in a highly emotional state good decisions do not follow.  For now, we are stopping all 401k contributions.  The coffee can buried in the back yard savings plan is an option, but then there is China devaluing the dollar which has me imagining what it must have been like to have a bunch of Confederate cash in 1865.  I wish I would have continued my ignorance is bliss approach.  Where the hell is that Kool-Aid?


My afternoon with Occupy Grand Rapids

No bail money was needed at the Occupy Grand Rapids rally this past Saturday, coincidentally located at the tiny Monument Park across a busy street from the Grand Rapids Police Department.  A diverse group of about 30 fed-up people gathered to protest the state of our union and listen to scheduled speakers on topics such as consensus, the legal boundaries of local ordinances in regard to public assembly, and managing various media outlets.  There was an abundance of heart and rebellious attitude in the small group which grew in number as the afternoon wore on.  Several
folks held up signs along the sidewalk, others knelt on the grass listening to speakers, and spontaneous group discussions popped up as people introduced themselves to one another.  Vehicles driving by honked their passive support and a few passers-by yelled out, “Get a job!”  This is a fledgling movement that is in the early organizational stage, which is my way of saying that the Occupy Grand Rapids movement is in need of structure.
Although an organized structure is practical and I think essential, the Occupy movement was born out of frustration and anger, so it may take some time to create long-burning coals from the initial blaze.  Occupy Grand Rapids has a core group that have the potential of long-burning coals, but personal time constraints of even the most devoted highlight a need for a larger group of participants to assist with the organizational aspects.  Children must be cared for, work and college require participation, and personal relationships need attention.

This is all my opinion, on my blog, which is not a voice for the Occupy movement, but rather the voice of a woman in her 40’s musing on life’s changes in the 5th decade.  It
seems that the biggest challenge for this movement will be engaging people like me who want to fight for concrete changes, like campaign and financial institution reform, concepts that some Occupy demonstrators deem as working within The Broken System.  While the majority of Americans are not happy with the direction of our country, we know that a few steps in the right direction can affect our 401k balances, our children’s future, and our employment opportunities.  The 99% consists primarily of working middle and lower-class families who want the America we were raised on, that idealistic democratic model in which our interests are represented.   Perhaps that is a pipe dream, in which case our indoctrination was a huge mistake.