Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Victoria’s got a Secret, and Mark Sanford does, too.

Just what we need: one more hack commenting on the economy. Never-mind, I’m doing it anyway, because that seems to be what’s on everybody’s mind these days.
I’ve actually written here about the economy a few times before, but mainly to urge folks to protect our LOCAL economy by shopping local. When the first round of stimulus checks started flowing nearly a year ago, I reminded readers that the Big Giant Corporations and their investors would profit handsomely, before sending on a share of our economic stimulus funds to the manufacturers of their products in China and beyond.

Way back last spring, I predicted that Wall Street and foreign companies would benefit nicely from this infusion of our cash… and that was before any of us had heard the term “bailout”.

The way things have actually unfolded in the last year makes me seem smart.

Actually, I’m not very smart at finances at all. Most of what I know about bank failures is what I’ve learned by watching George Bailey and Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year.

But I do occasionally have a dose of common sense, which, to me, seems to be missing these days. So here are a few of the common-sense observations I’ve made about the economy... or at least some questions that have arisen in my mind:

1. Last year, we bailed out the banks because they were taking a beating because people who had borrowed to buy a home couldn’t pay their mortgages. This year, we bailed out the insurance giant AIG, which had insured the banks in case people couldn’t pay their mortgages. So, doesn’t that mean we’re bailing out the same mortgages twice?

2. I keep hearing that this is the worst recession since the early 1980’s. Frankly, I was around in the early 1980’s, and I don’t remember any recession that seemed as bad as the current one. So what’s different? I think it’s because we now have 24-hour news, and far more pervasive news media than at any time in the past. The national media, you know, loves to report bad news… so they’re having a field day with this recession. The actual statistics say this recession is no worse than the recession of ’81-’82… but the media sure is making it seem worse.

3. We don’t produce things anymore. By “we”, I mean the US of A. I noticed it ten year ago, and I heard President Obama mention it on TV last week. Our economy is “artificial”. He said that 40% of our total economic growth had been in the finance sector. That means we’re just trading money back and forth, and adding a little value to it every time we make a deal. But all that money-swapping isn’t producing anything, except artificial wealth. Our manufacturing industries have left our shores, and a lot of agricultural products are now coming from elsewhere. That leaves Americans to trade money and information, and sell services to each other.

4. The new “global economy” is a bad idea for us. There is a reason our jobs have gone overseas. It’s because we don’t compete on a level playing field. We offer our citizens basic human rights. They don’t. As long as other nations are using what amounts to slave labor, we’ll never be able to produce goods as cheaply as they can. We also protect our citizens by insisting on standards for our products. They don’t. That’s why we’re seeing crisis after crisis of products manufactured in China causing problems here.

5. Everybody is dealing with the recession in their own way. The Girl Scouts made their cookies smaller this year.

6. At my house, we’re examining our bills a little closer than usual before just automatically paying them. That’s how my wife happened to notice an unfamiliar charge on her Victoria’s Secret bill: a charge for $109 for an item called “VS Escapes” that she was sure she hadn’t authorized, because she hadn’t shopped there in months. After calling a toll-free number, and spending an hour researching the charges online, we determined that she had fallen victim to something I would categorize as a “scam” of major proportions. Apparently, at some point during the online purchase or credit-card process, Victoria’s Secret customers unknowingly agree to this annual $109 charge to join a program from an unaffiliated travel company. I visited the Consumer Reports website and discovered this practice has been victimizing VS customers for years, many of them never taking the time to check their monthly statements, and forking over $109 a year for a service they didn’t ask for. While I may be a fan of Victoria’s Secret’s products, I’m not a fan of this scam… especially during tough economic times. So… I’m blowing the whistle on them… to help protect others.

7. Here’s an even bigger scam: Our governor is playing politics with our state’s future. You have probably heard that Mark Sanford rejected $700 million of economic stimulus money for our state. Now I’m going to tell you WHY he rejected it. He rejected it just so he would look good to arch-conservative voters across the nation during his upcoming campaign for President. While I admittedly don’t know much about high-finance, I do know a little about political campaigns. Make no mistake: Mark Sanford is selling out our state’s future for his own personal political gain. He’s all politics, all the time… even while pretending to be “above” politics.

So, next time you hear of a friend or neighbor losing a job, see a local business close its doors, or have to tell the kids you can’t really afford a vacation this year…. Thank your Governor!

There you have it: My common-sense observations about the economy. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled, 24-hours a day, national media news cycle already in progress.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Humor Writing….. NOT!

For the last five weeks, I’ve been sorta hungry… mainly, ‘cause me and a handful of buddies have been engaged in a High Stakes Weight Loss Contest, with $1200 American Dollars on the line… and what with the recession and all, the whole bunch of us have been trying pretty hard to win the contest! (Bad grammar alert: I know I should have said “a handful of buddies and I”, but the lack of nutrition from my current diet has made me too weak to go back and fix my error.)

I’ve been doing this roughly annually for the last half-decade or so. Competition is the only sure-fire way I have of losing weight. Of course, its evident that I’m not REALLY losing weight, at least not for the long term. If I was REALLY losing weight, long term, then I wouldn’t need to do it every year, now would I.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I announced that I was once again a Big-Fat-Giant Hippo-Pig-Whale, and, therefore, it was time to kick off our Annual Fifteen Fat Guys Weight Loss Contest.

We kicked it off back on Feburary 9th, and I’ve been hungry ever since. However, instead of 15, we had 12, one of which is not a guy at all, but a gal. Here is how we weighed in at the start:

Reigning Champion Don Gawrys, Manager of Michaels -- 374.2; Okra Strut Chairman and three-time champion Kirk Luther -- 247.0; Bruce Holland, Attorney -- 229.6; Tom Beottger -- 267.8; Terry Campbell of nationwide Insurance -- 235.4; Norman Agnew of Agnew Lake Service-- 285.2; Jim Miles, former Secreatry of State -- 241.0; Doug Adam, The Indesign Firm -- 277.2; Denis Vaucher, International Man of Mystery -- 228.2; Jimmy Carroll, Isle of Palms Man of Mystery -- 228.2; and, yours truly, Rod-Boy Shealy -- a massive, whopping, huge-enormous, earth-orbit-altering 248.6 lbs.

We’ve now completed five weeks of an eight week contest, and the contestants are getting… well, we’re getting a little ornery.

Plus, all the rest of them are real secretive about their current weights. It’s because they’re trying to use strategery in the contest!!! It’s also because they believe I will make Big Jokes about them in this column if they tell me how much weight they’ve lost. And they’re right! So they won’t tell me.

Every time we have one of these contests, I write pretty much whatever I want to about my Blubbery Buddies who have joined me in the competition. I refer to it as “humor”, and sometimes, my readers actually giggle or guffaw… and not just at my picture.

Well, apparently my fellow contestants have had enough. For the last few weeks, they’ve lighted up the Internet with their Blubbery Barbs aimed back at Yours-Truly!!!

They’re taking Porky-Pig Pokes!!! Tank-sized Teasing!!!

So, I thought I’d give you a sample of the Jumbo Jibes -- and feeble attempts at humor -- these Big-Bellied Bubbas been shooting my way.

From Young Mr. Agnew:

“As a member of Rod’s infamous weight loss contest (as a side note it really shouldn’t be called Rod’s as he has never won) I’d like to get a few things off of my chest other than about 60 pounds. With regards to our “Captain of Cream” and by cream I of course mean Ice Cream, not the popular band of the 70’s, it is probable that he once again will not win this contest. I am hopeful that I will walk away (walk, not jog or run) victorious this year, a feat that I haven’t been able to match since the “original” weight loss contest. This little-known contest didn’t get the publicity like the present day one. It probably didn’t get the publicity because it was yet another contest Mr. Shealy failed to win. This year, we have one of the larger contests on our hands, and that sparks even more incentive to win, something I doubt our esteemed publisher will be doing yet again this year. If you have noticed a developing theme in my letter, it is for good reason. Although I would like to win the contest this year, as long as one of my deserving colleagues wins, and they are not the publisher of a paper, I will be happy. I wish the best of luck to all participants… with the exception of Rod!”

From Jimmy Carroll:

“Weight loss, how about we change the game to memory loss. No huh, well as for your beach bum contestant, he is still holding give or take 6lbs lost. Darn, I am still walking every night, I gave up my life blood, sweet tea, I mean, real sweet tea and darn it, only 6 lbs!!!!! O-well, maybe I am becoming all muscle and my body is creating 6 pack abs, but the mirror doesn't agree. So unless there is some miracle here on the good ole Isle of Palms, I may be out another $100 bucks.”

From Kirk Luther:

“I realized that my wait loss has not decreased but has increased substantially since the beginning of this contest. I've calculated what my 'wait deficiency' is currently and want to share it with all of you: Wait for coffee pot to brew each morning: 3.2 x 30 days since start of contest = 96; Wait at the doctors office: 58; Wait at DMV: 43.5; Wait at dentist: 16.4; Wait for stimulus check: 63 days since Obama took office (90,720); Wait for this stupid contest to end as of today: 30 days or 43200; TOTAL WAIT (in minutes): 134,133.9. So there you have it... I have lost 2235..565 hours or 93.148 days trying to win $1200. If I had spent that time actually working for minimum wage at the current SC rate of $6.55 per hour I would have earned $14,642.95. We either have to up the ante for this contest or reconsider our priorities.”

So, as you can see from the three samples above, extreme weight-loss diets apparently not only make you hungry and ornery, but also seem to completely drain one’s humor writing talents. (I wish them luck at winning the money in the weigh-loss competition… cause they’re not gonna make it on the comedy circuit.)

And to my readers…. I’m sorry you had to witness this. I promise to never again include anything submitted from any of the other contestants in our weight-loss contest.

And I promise I’ll be back next week with my own rip-roaring, side-splitting, half-witted brand of fun, frolic, and frivolity. Or else something else.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How to use your extra hour

So, how are you enjoying your extra hour so far? If you’re like me, you’re still sleepy from the hour we missed Saturday night!!!

Last week, I arrived at a conservative valuation for the combined “extra hours” all Americans would have this year, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, of approximately $720 billion. (I now know that figure was a little high, because I have learned that two states – Arizona and Hawaii – do not participate in this hoax. Arizona I can definitely understand. If their legislature tried to sell an extra hour of 115 degree desert afternoon heat every day to those Old Retired Arizona Geezers, they’d be chased out of office faster than you can say, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” So, I’ve adjusted my Economic Impact estimate down to and even $700 billion!)

I also noted that most people, even though they’re hurting financially due to “The Recession”, don’t have the foggiest notion, not even a clue, how to use their extra useable hour to help make ends meet.

So, as promised, I’m pleased to present Rod-Boy’s List of Some Good Old Fashioned Common-Sense Ways to Make A Few Extra Bucks to Survive the Recession. (Incidentally, if this recession isn’t making things a little tight and uncomfortable for you, then you’re one of the fortunate ones, and the rest of this column isn’t for you. But, as someone who has had to scrape together loose change to buy enough gas to get to work more times -- and more recently -- than I care to admit, I’m offering this advice for the rest of us.) So, here it is… my absolutely FREE advice -- and worth two or three times that much:

1. Work more! If are self-employed or in sales, this is easy. If not, then offer to work overtime or assume additional responsibilities, or volunteer to do work at your office that would normally be handed off to temps.

2. Get a second-job utilizing your career skills. If there’s no extra work available where you work, find another company which needs your skills and do a little moonlighting.

3. Get a part-time job in another field. While few businesses hire part-timers for one-hours shifts, many restaurants, retailers, telemarketing firms, etc., are looking for extra help during certain times of the week, like Friday night, Sunday afternoon, or Saturdays. So use your extra hours each day to spend extra quality time with the kids, then take your Friday night for a part-time job.

4. Take on odd jobs, such as yard work, painting, housecleaning, car wash, dog sit, spring cleaning, haul-off, gutter cleaning, etc. Simply put the word out to your friends that you’re available, and keep putting it out until your phone rings.

5. Sit. Baby sit, dog sit, house sit, and so on. Again, put the word out to friends that you’re available to keep kids in your home or theirs. Since there are plenty of moms who are taking on extra part-time jobs themselves, there are plenty of people looking for extra child care services.

6. Be an errand driver one day a week, or one evening. Plenty of seniors or shut-ins who need someone to run errands for them, or to be driven so they can do their own shopping or errands.

7. Offer services. You probably have some skills or talents which you’ve overlooked: tax preparation, computer repair, home/appliance repair, oil change and auto mechanic, cooking/catering, or designing. Again, put the word out to your friends, and ask them to tell their friends. There are people who need the skill you possess.

8. Work at home on-line. In this new world of technology, there are many online opportunities: data-entry, billing, design, writing, computer skills. Of course, there are also plenty of online scams, so make sure the money (and information) is coming TO you, not FROM you.

9. Sell your stuff. Sell items you do not need at the flea market, in the want ads, or online on Ebay or Craigslist. Then, if you seem to have a knack for it, perhaps you can use your receipts to continue to buy and sell items at a profit. Just make sure you’re actually making a profit.

10. Sign up with a temp agency. If you can’t seem to make the items above work for you, then go to a temp agency, and let ‘em know when you’re available. Since the economy is bad, some businesses are relying on temps to do work formerly done by employees.

11. Teach lessons or tutor. Somewhere out there are people who want to learn how to do something you already know how to do. Show them… for a small fee.

12. Become a salesman. This is my personal favorite, because it comes natural to me… but it also comes natural to most people. Take a sales job, and spend your spare time meeting new friends and asking them if they want to buy whatever you’re selling. You can join some sort of sales company, such as a multi-level marketing outfit (because those things actually do work for lots of people), or you can simply approach local businesses and ask them to let you sell for them. Most businesses would like an extra part-time salesman that could be paid based on sales made.

There you have it. A dozen ways you can use your extra hour each day to help you survive during these tough times. Maybe you have some other suggestions you can send for me to pass along. Send me one of those Electronic Emails at RodShealy@aol.com.

That my FREE advice… and prolly worth two or three times that much! While the Economic Experts are telling you how to survive the recession by CUTTING costs – which incidentally HURTS our economy – I decided to go a different direction and suggest ways to MAKE MORE money.

Or, again, you can just sit in front of the TV for an extra hour each day and watch the news about how bad the recession is.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

An extra hour!

This weekend, we will once again embark on the annual hoax we refer to as
Daylight Savings Time.

It’s a harmless hoax, because we’re all in it together. We’re collectively playing a giant practical joke on ourselves: fooling ourselves into believing we’ve created an extra hour!!!

After our bodies get over the shock of losing an hour of sleep on Saturday night – which, in my case, will probably take about a month of daily half-hour naps – we will be rewarded with an extra hour of daylight every afternoon until November. An extra hour!

In reality, it’s not an extra hour, because you cannot create time – not even Congress, which authored the current DST hoax – but it does SEEM to be an extra hour!

What it is, in reality, is an extra USEABLE hour each day… useable because it’s tacked on to the end of the workday.

So, for all practical purposes, we all get an extra hour per day to use as we see fit.

Hold that thought for a moment while we explore a different concept…

Time is money.

We’ve all heard that adage, and we inherently know it’s true. Time is money. If you work an hour, you get paid for an hour. If you work eight hours, you get paid for eight hours.

Now, hold THAT though for a moment while we move on to yet at THIRD concept: We are in a recession. Our economy is suffering. We don’t have enough money. Businesses are collapsing. Everywhere, people are worried about how they’re going to pay their bills… about how they’re going to survive.

Okay… now, let’s take those three concepts and try to connect the dots:

First, we’re in a recession, and everybody needs more money.

Second, time is money.

Third, starting next week, we’re all going to have an extra useable hour of time each week.

Are you seeing where I’m going with this? Doesn’t it seem like the extra hour – which is time, which is money – ought to put a dent in the recession?

Let’s do the math. If each person gets an extra hour per day, that means they have 30 extra hours per month. There are roughly 300 million people in America. That comes to 9 billion extra useable hours per month in America. Eight months of DST… now we have 72 billion extra useable hours this year. Let’s put a conservative average value on an hour of $10… meaning the extra useable hours THIS YEAR alone should be worth $720 billion…. nearly as much as the bailout!!!

So, it turns out, we didn’t really need a bailout at all… we just each need to use our extra hour per day to do something useful for our own economy!!!

That’s the good news. Now here’s the bad news. It will not work that way because – despite the fact that they all KNOW time is money – very few Americans understand how to apply that concept anymore. Once upon a time, we all knew. A century or two ago, when we were still an agricultural society, with an occasional craftsman thrown in, virtually all Americans understood that to make more money, you could simply work more hours. By working more hours, farmers could plant and harvest more acres. By working more hours, craftsmen could produce more goods to sell.

But then came the industrial revolution, and eventually mass-production, the assembly line, and factories, and suddenly most Americans simply worked whatever hours the boss told them to work. Sure, they got paid for their hours, but gradually they lost their entrepreneurial instincts.

And, today, confronted with an uncertain financial future, but a sudden boon of seven extra hours each week to use, most Americans – I would guess 9 out of 10 – have absolutely no idea how to connect those dots to create extra income for themselves.

So, just because I like to help out as I can, I’m going to give you some common-sense suggestions on how to use your extra hours for extra income.

Next week.

In the meantime, why don’t you see if you can figure it out for yourself? If you come up with really good ideas, send them to me and I will share them with the rest of the class. Email to me at RodShealy@aol.com

And next week, I’ll offer at least a dozen ideas on how you can use your extra hour to beat the recession.

Or, if you prefer, you can just watch TV… especially the news, to find out how bad this economy is.