More Gang-Bang For Your Buck


From CNNMoney.com

Faced with new credit card restrictions, lenders are touting debit card loyalty programs. But many come with fees that may not be worth it for consumers.

Could debit cards be the next cash cow for banks? If banks have their way, they will.

Americans have conducted more transactions and spent more money using debit cards than credit cards this year — the first time that’s ever happened.

Next year, consumers are expected to spend $1.64 trillion with their debit cards, nearly two-thirds more than in 2006, according to the payments industry trade publication The Nilson Report.

And there is no indication this growth is slowing down anytime soon. Not only are Americans increasingly reluctant to take on more debt, but banks are expected to become more stingy with credit cards once new federal legislation takes effect next year, which could make the debit card the preferred form of payment for many consumers.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by large and small banks, who are currently looking for ways to wring any extra dollars out of their business at a time of severe loan losses.

“Banks, just like airlines and local governments, are looking for fee income to fill the revenue gap,” said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst with Bankrate.com.

What is shaping up to be an area of focus for lenders are loyalty or rewards programs for debit card users.

A concept that has long been associated with credit cards, increasing numbers of banks have looked to such programs as a way to generate more fees from consumers.

5 evil things credit card companies can (still) do

Passing Wind


To live sanely in Los Angeles (or, I suppose, in any other large American city) you have to cultivate the art of staying awake. You must learn to resist (firmly but not tensely) the unceasing hypnotic suggestions of the radio, the billboards, the movies and the newspapers; those demon voices which are forever whispering in your ear what you should desire, what you should fear, what you should wear and eat and drink and enjoy, what you should think and do and be. They have planned a life for you — from the cradle to the grave and beyond — which it would be easy, fatally easy!, to accept. The least wandering of the attention, the least relaxation of your awareness, and already the eyelids begin to droop, the eyes grow vacant, the body starts to move in obedience to the hypnotist’s command. Wake up, wake up — before you sign that seven-year contract, buy that house you don’t really want, marry that girl you secretly despise. Don’t reach for the whiskey, that won’t help you. You’ve got to think, to discriminate, to exercise your own free will and judgment. And you must do this, I repeat, without tension, quite rationally and calmly. For if you give way to fury against the hypnotists, if you smash the radio and tear the newspapers to shreds, you will only rush to the other extreme and fossilize into defiant eccentricity. ~Christopher Isherwood, “Los Angeles,” 1966 via this week’s AVA. Subscribe to the new AVA website with meaningful local news, opinions, and blogs.Locally owned and feisty as hell!
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See also “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Mike Geniella’s on-line AVA column
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How infantile is American society?  Last night’s CBS “Business Update” (in the midst of its “60 Minutes” program) featured three items: 

Rural Matters


From SHEILAH ROGERS
Redwood Valley

From the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (the trade association for domestic microenterprise development): On Wednesday, November 18, 2009 Connie Evans, president and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) participated in President Obama’s Small Business Financing Forum, hosted by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Small Business Administrator Karen Mills held at the Treasury Department. The invitation-only Forum included Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Grady Hedgespeth, SBA Director of Financial Assistance, Gene Sperling, Counselor to the Treasury Secretary, small business owners from around the country including a borrower from a micro lending institution, CDFI leaders, and bankers.

The purpose of the forum was to provide ideas to President Obama on what additional steps the Administration can take to improve access to capital to the small business community. Evans acknowledged the good relationship AEO has with both the SBA and the CDFI, and thanked both Administrator Mills and Secretary Geithner for their inclusion and attention to the smallest of businesses served by the microenterprise development community which includes both CDFIs and SBA Microloan intermediaries. Evans continued with these specific remarks when recognized from the floor:

“Our members are receiving ten times the number of bank referrals for loans per week as compared to before the economic crisis. They are spending more time providing technical assistance in making these loan applications viable. We ask that you allow technical assistance funds

Feeding America: How the hell did we get here?


From TIMROFF
Daily Kos

[With the expansion of Walmart in South Ukiah, I think we need to be asking if we will be seeing a food desert (explained in this excellent post on the Daily Kos) in the Ukiah Valley. For people who are not farmers market shoppers for whatever reason, I think this is a real possibility. I say this because if Walmart becomes a superstore that contains a huge supermarket, will the other supermarkets be able to survive? Will Safeway, Lucky, and Raley’s still be around? Or, will only people with transportation to Walmart be able to buy food from other than fast food establishments and minimarts (where the food is both bad for you and very expensive. -JS]

So why in the name of (insert your deity or hero’s name here) are there people starving in America? According to Feeding America’s latest figures, 49 Million people are in a state of food insercurity:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA) reported (Nov. 19th) that 49 million Americans, including nearly 17 million children, are food insecure. The 2009 report on Household Food Insecurity in the United States paints an alarming picture of the pervasiveness of hunger in our nation.

This is an increase of 36 percent over the numbers released one year by the USDA, which found that 36.2 million American were at risk of hunger.“It is tragic that so many people in this nation of plenty don’t have access to adequate amounts of nutritious food,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America.

Go to complete article here
~~

Animal, Vegetable, Miserable


From GARY STEINER
NYT Op-Ed Contributor

LATELY more people have begun to express an interest in where the meat they eat comes from and how it was raised. Were the animals humanely treated? Did they have a good quality of life before the death that turned them into someone’s dinner?

Some of these questions, which reach a fever pitch in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, pertain to the ways in which animals are treated. (Did your turkey get to live outdoors?) Others focus on the question of how eating the animals in question will affect the consumer’s health and well-being. (Was it given hormones and antibiotics?)

None of these questions, however, make any consideration of whether it is wrong to kill animals for human consumption. And even when people ask this question, they almost always find a variety of resourceful answers that purport to justify the killing and consumption of animals in the name of human welfare. Strict ethical vegans, of which I am one, are customarily excoriated for equating our society’s treatment of animals with mass murder. Can anyone seriously consider animal suffering even remotely comparable to human suffering? Those who answer with a resounding no typically argue in one of two ways.

Some suggest that human beings but not animals are made in God’s image and hence stand in much closer proximity to the divine than any non-human animal; according to this line of thought, animals were made expressly for the sake of humans and may be used without scruple to satisfy their needs and desires.

How Relocalization Worked


From JOHN MICHAEL GREER
Via Energy Bulletin

One of the points that I’ve tried to make repeatedly in these essays is the place of history as a guide to what works. It’s a point that deserves repetition. A good many worldsaving plans now in circulation, however new the rhetoric that surrounds them, simply rehash proposals that were tried in the past and failed repeatedly; trying them yet again may thus not be the best use of our limited resources and time.

Of course there’s another side to history that’s more hopeful: something that worked well in the past can be a useful guide to what might work well in the future. I’d like to spend a little time discussing one example of this, partly because it ties into the theme of the current series of posts – the abject failure of current economic notions, and the options for replacing them with ideas that actually make sense – and partly because it addresses one of the more popular topics in the ongoing peak oil discussion, the need for economic relocalization as the age of cheap abundant energy comes to an end.

That relocalization needs to happen, and will happen, is clear. Among other things, it’s clear from history; when complex societies overshoot their resource bases and decline, one of the things that consistently happens is that centralized economic arrangements fall apart, long distance trade declines sharply, and the vast majority of what we now call consumer goods get made at home, or very close to home. Now of course that violates some of the conventional wisdom that governs economic decisions these days; centralized economic arrangements are thought to yield economies of scale that make them more profitable by definition than decentralized local arrangements.

When history conflicts with theory, though, it’s not history that’s wrong,

Obama, One Year On (Updated)



From KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL
Editor and Publisher
The Nation

Updated below

Barack Obama was elected president at a time defined by hope and fear in equal measure. It was a remarkable moment in our country’s history–a milestone in America’s scarred racial landscape and a victory for the forces of decency, diversity and tolerance. For the first time in decades, electoral politics became a vehicle for raising expectations and spreading hope while it mobilized millions of new voters. Obama’s was a campaign built on the power and promise of change from below. At the same time, he was elected as the nation was rapidly sinking into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The night Obama was elected, relief was felt around the world. There was a widespread feeling that the United States had turned its back on eight years of destructive, swaggering unilateralism and was re-embracing the global community. In many ways, the election was a referendum on an extremist conservatism that has guided (and deformed) American politics and society since the 1980s. The spectacular failures of the Bush administration and the shifts in public opinion on the economy and the Iraq War presented a mandate for bold action and a historic opportunity for a progressive governing agenda.

A year later, it’s clear we are a long way from building a new order and reshaping the prevailing paradigm of American politics. That will take more than one election. It requires continued mobilization, strategic creativity and, yes, audacity on the part of independent thinkers, activists and organizers. The structural obstacles to change are considerable. But at least we now have the political space to push for far-reaching reforms.

Whatever one thinks of Obama’s policy on any specific issue, he is clearly a reform president committed to the improvement of people’s lives and to the renewal and reconstruction of America.

A Local Currency Pilgrimage to Wörgl


From ROB HOPKINS
Co-Founder Transitions Network
See also Mendo Moola

Well not quite, but en route to a gathering of Ashoka Fellows in Austria where I’ll be for the next couple of days, I by chance found myself in the Austrian town of Wörgl, famed for its alternative currency experiment in the 1930s… The Wörgl was introduced to the town in 1932, at the height of the Depression, when a third of the town was without work. It is an amazing story.

The town’s then Mayor, the wonderfully named Michael Unterguggenberger, was taken with the idea that the national currency promoted hoarding and disincentivised spending, and proposed instead what he called “Certified Compensation Bills” (not a name to trip off the tongue I grant you). The notes were issued by the Council, who agreed to accept them as currency. The idea of the Wörgl was that it was money that went off, it lost value over time, a process known as ‘demurrage’. The notes needed to be stamped each month, or else they depreciated by a small amount, which incentivised its rapid turnover (a feature of the Stroud Pound). The back of the notes contained the following explanation;

“To all whom it may concern! Sluggishly circulating money has provoked an unprecedented trade depression and plunged millions into utter misery. Economically considered, the destruction of the world has started. It is time, through determined and intelligent action, to endeavour to arrest the downward plunge of the trade machine and thereby to save mankind from fratricidal wars, chaos, and dissolution. Human beings live by exchanging their services.

In Memory of Wayne Knight



From JAMES HOULE
In Memory of WAYNE KNIGHT

The Heart Sutra

The Heart Sutra is chanted daily in Buddhists Monasteries in China, Japan, Tibet, Korea and right here in Mendocino County. Also known as the Great Prajna Paramita Sutra, the name refers to the intuitive wisdom that can be experienced by the mind that has gone over to the far shore. A sutra is not a prayer to a supreme being, for Buddhists do not experience a supreme being. Rather, a sutra is a discourse, a homage to how things are. This discourse concerns “heart-mind”, the indissoluble linkage between thinking and feeling, between mind and matter. Wayne Knight experienced this linkage and expressed it in his portraits of Cambodians. Please suffer with me for a moment as I try to explain the inexplicable.

The convergence between science and mysticism, between Eastern thought and Western pragmatism became apparent in the Post-Einsteinian revelations of Quantum Physics, which confirmed what the Mahayana Buddhists discovered about 350 CE. Matter was found to be essentially empty of materiality and subatomic particles were found to be packets of light, or of waves, without mass. The solid indestructible blocks of matter upon which our Newtonian/Cartesian science has comfortably rested all these years was badly shaken in the 1920s by Bell’s Theorem and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. When looked at under an electron microscope, instead of particles of matter, physicists found nothing but a continuous dance of energy particles. The elementary particles were not independently existing entities but merely sets of relationships with no inherent separate existence. Nagarjuna, in 200 CE had already explained this: “Things derive their being and nature by mutual dependence and are nothing in themselves”.