Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Too Big To Fail or To Big To Support?

There is a movement afoot to shift money from banks that were "too big to fail" and thus, took tax dollars to save them while paying massive bonuses to executives who did a horrible job of managing their corporations, charge high fees, and abuse customers with higher interest rates, and shift them to smaller regional, community banks or credit unions.

While I admit I pledged to move my money for this, I won't need to because I gave up on major corporate banks more than a decade ago in favor of smaller credit unions and community banks that are smaller. I got tired of dealing with Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and US Banks who all charged large fees, engaged in unsavory practices, and couldn't have told you my name with my membership card in front of them.

Since making the change, it is nice to hear the bank person know my name when I walk in the door (depending on who is working that day); it is nice to know they care about my interests and helping me succeed; it is nice to know they give me good quality low interest rates; and it is good to know they are small enough to need my business enough to care about it.

I recommend that you find one near you and enjoy the benefits of having a smaller bank or credit union take care of you. Oh, and yes, I still can bank online, and have all of the benefits I had at the larger bank except I get better rates on my credit cards and loans at the smaller banks and credit unions. Try it, you may like it.

The one problem: I always miss my last bank if I have to move.

2009 is Most Partisan Year in Congress

NPR reported that Congressional Quarterly's study shows that 2009 was the most partisan year on record in Congress. Leaving it there allows all sides to interpret the headline as they so choose, with Democrats blaming Republicans, and vice versa. However, Norm Ornstein explained the results for us:

Another factor, said Ornstein, is the increasingly conservative Republican party. There is little room for ideological conversation in the GOP. Moderates these days tend to be Democrats.

At this point in history, Democrats tend to be pragmatists and flexible, whereas Republicans tend to be ideologically driving and deviation is simply not tolerated. Some might point to the GOP's use of the war metaphor to demand loyalty to the cause, others may call it Democrat weakness, but either way, it points to the GOP's unwillingness to be bipartisan rather than the DNC's leaving the GOP out of discussions.

Ornstein goes on to talk about changes in election strategy, keys in a 24/7 news cycle with pundit driven "news" as key factors for both sides that are also partially responsible.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Family Values Candidate Running in MA Posed Nude

Yes, it is true. Scott Brown, candidate running for Senator Edward Kennedy's seat posed nude in Cosmo in 1982. I am not normally a big "he did it when he was young" guy, but when the "family values" candidate turns out to be a Cosmo Centerfold, it is hard to ignore the hypocrisy.

Maybe it is something we should ask the current Republicans about on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

Weight Loss Update

This week, I worked to gain a baseline of where I am physically and build a basic diet. This week, I weighed in at 255 lbs, a loss of 2 lbs. Not bad for a week, the goal should be 2-3 lbs a week to make it something sustainable.

My goal to start with 10,000 steps a day has turned out to be too little. Not that the exercise isn't good, but it turns out I am getting 14,000 to 15,000 a day regularly on days I work, and about 9,000 on days I don't.

My diet this week has largely consisted of an omelette in the morning, 2 fruit snacks, and a salad with chicken, pork, or beef on it (about 3 oz meat). Drinks include one soft drink, one juice drink, two coffees, and two to three glasses of water.

Given the opportunity, I checked my pulse and blood pressure to gain a baseline number. Blood pressure came in at 128 over 79, with a pulse of 65 resting.

It is a start.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Choose to Move

Choose to Move. It sounded like the most important short thing I found on the American Heart Association website to help with wellness. It seems so obvious to say that people often don't even think to say it, but that is the important first step to weight lose and a healthier you: choose to move.

I looked to the American Heart Association because earlier in life, I caught their old program of 10,000 steps a day to get healthy and combined that with eliminating fast food (or at least minimizing it) to lose 35 lbs in 4 months. I plan to do something similar, but I want to get even healthier and create something more sustainable.

However, I am going to start with the very basic. I am dusting off my pedometer and counting the steps. The goal every single day is 10,000 steps, no less. With my stride, that is about five miles a day.

Like any starter, I have energy and enthusiasm, thinking of using 10 machines for 100 exercises everyday, but that only leads to failure from soreness on day 2. So 10,000 steps and training on my Wii Fit is where I will start. The hope is to build up to more exercises, harder machines, but still keeping the fun of the Wii Fit.

The goal is exercise everyday, but not everyday's exercise has to feel like it is work. The first step though is to choose to move.

New Saturday Focus: Health, Fitness, Nutrition, and Cooking. Join in.

I forget the exact number, but the majority of Americans are obese. If you spend the majority of your day at a computer, you too may be obese. For me, I have a genetic predisposition towards weight gain. On my father's side, he struggled with weight his whole life. On my mother's side, I am similar to my uncles in stature.

Fortunately, we have relatively few health problems on both sides. However, we do struggle with weight issues and many of my friends have health issues. So I am going to use Saturday on the weekend to address health, nutrition, cooking, and fitness issues primarily. I am geeky enough that some politics may slip in too, but I am going to try to make Saturday more relaxing and less stressful.

In doing so, I am going to bring all of you with me on my quest to lose weight and get fit. I am fairly solid in terms of muscles, but have this tire around my waist, and some extra weight over the muscles. I just weighed myself on the Wii Fit at 257 lbs for 6'0" tall. Given my build, contrary to the books that put me at 165, I am probably best around 190 to 200 lbs. That will be my goal to achieve by the key summer months of July and August.

So join me, add your comments, your thoughts, your ideas, and heck, even add your own tracking and we can lose weight together. Over the next year, I will try to add everything from exercise programs, reviews of things like the Wii Fit, and other exercise materials I use. I will also discuss diets, health care (not in terms of reform but rather in terms of things we can do to be healthier), and cooking including some of my famous recipes.

Keep in mind, I am ABSOLUTELY NOT a nutritionist or doctor or fitness expert. Please double check all my claims, I will try to cite them as I find them. I am just another person, like you, trying to make myself healthier. In this case, because my wife wants to keep me around for a little while longer.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Five Technologies to Change Cities in Five Years?

Microsoft puts out its list of innovations they expect to change cities over the next five years. While they do seem nice, we have to remember the costs of implementing some of them, especially when benefits seem minimal.

For example, the healthier cities by sharing private medical records seems rather simplistic and expects a lot for something as simple as sharing private medical records. I think they overreach on the impact of it. Maybe they should have gone for telemedicine through the internet based on using your current Wii, Playstation 3, or PC technology that will link doctors to patients in their home to prevent the spread of diseases in waiting rooms or through traveling to the office unless necessary. That way H1N1 can keep most cases at home, and only the most serious cases in the ER, saving the spreading of disease and cutting costs significantly in terms of supplies and visit time.

The idea of pushing the innovation envelop is a good one, but it seems like they overstate some impacts and under reach in terms of ideas for the future. Keep pushing the envelop with your ideas and start your own business. Don't wait for Microsoft to make your millions.

Unemployment Numbers Improving

More good news for the New Year as jobless claims unexpectedly dropped to 432,000, down from 454,000 the previous week, and 28,000 below the predicted 460,000. It is the lowest unemployment numbers in 17 months. While it isn't great news, it is an improvement for Americans and the economy.

Don't make some great expectations for 4% unemployment anytime soon. Considering how bad the economy was 12 months ago, 7-8% unemployment by November would be outstanding improvement.

Remember, the last time the economy was this bad, Ronald Reagan was President, his polling numbers hit 35% approval ratings, the GOP lost Congressional seats in the midterms, and it took more than 2 years for the economy to recover. And that was the second dip of a double dip recession.

Economies don't recover overnight. It takes time for stimulus to work, and it takes time for numbers to stop and rebound. But it is a good way to start the new year.

Estate Tax Repealed? Not so fast

As of midnight today, the estate tax has been eliminated for 2010. Over the last decade or so, the Republican Party has done an incredible job marketing the estate tax as the "death tax" due to its link to inheritances from people who die. As part of their GOP dominated Congress under President Bush, they gradually lowered the estate tax and eliminated it for a year.

While I am not sure how safe I would feel this year if I had a large estate knowing that next year it returns to its pre-tax cut levels, the tax itself makes a lot of sense.

Republicans have marketed it as taxing the income of the dead a second time, but the tax does not tax the income of the dead; it taxes the income of those who receive it. After all, if the person was still alive, they wouldn't be taxed on it again. However, by passing on the money, it becomes income for someone, and as a result, it should be subject to taxation just like the income of each of us.

As of 2009, the estate tax allowed a $3.5 million exemption for a single person and $7 million for a couple; and if allowed to revert those numbers will become $1 and $2 million respectively.

Republicans for fiscal responsibility may want to stand up in this case considering a repealing of the estate tax would cost $1.3 trillion dollars over 10 years, while benefiting less than 1% of Americans. Keep in mind, they are loudly protesting about the budget impact of Health Care Reform for you and me that costs under $1 trillion dollars, but support saving the richest among us $1.3 trillion? Maybe they ought to get their priorities straight.

Congress has promised to address this quickly and retroactively effective to January 1, 2010 and will probably end up some where in between the two numbers of the full tax cut and the pre-tax cut number around $4 million for a couple. It sounds like a fair compromise, but it is still more than twice what the average American will make in their lifetimes for doing nothing but being born in the right gene pool.