Dread the Fed

In light of recent events, I want to remind myself of an extremely important fact that I have read a number of times, and yet somehow always seem to forget or, more likely, ignore.

From the opening of Murray N. Rothbard’s The Case Against the Fed:

By far the most secret and least accountable operation of the federal government is not, as one might expect, the CIA, the DIA, or some other super-secret intelligence agency. The CIA and other intelligence operations are under control of Congress. They are accountable: A Congressional committee supervises these operations, controls their budgets, and is informed of their covert activities.

The Federal Reserve, however, is accountable to no one; is has now budget; it is subject to no audit; and no Congressional committee knows of, or can truly supervise, its operations. The Federal Reserve, virtually in total control of the nation’s monetary system, is accountable to nobody.

America’s Founding Fathers held a deep distrust of centralized banking. Before long, we may find out why, first-hand, for ourselves.

Sell your stuff. Save the planet.

Back about a year my wife and I moved back to the US in something of a hurry. Rather than move all of the stuff we had accumulated in Tokyo, we decided to take only essentials: Stuff to get us going again in the US, and items of sentimental value. This of course left a lot of things to get rid of, and eight years in a place is plenty of time to accumulate a lot of stuff.

We talked about disposing of much of it as soudai gomi, which roughly translates to “big trash”, but this bothered me. Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a problem with throwing things away. My mother referred to it as “pack-rat-ism”, but really I’m just intrinsically averse to the idea of taking stuff that once had value, labeling it useless, and forgetting about it. Rather than trash our stuff, my wife and I spent a couple of weeks scrambling around first selling and then giving away everything we had accumulated.

And we did a pretty good job. On our last night in the apartment I lugged a single old bookcase out to the curb — resplendent with official soudai gomi seals purchased from the city — to be picked up as big trash. The money we made selling other items paid for the shipping of our essentials back to the US. And I felt good knowing that the stuff that had served us well would go on providing value to others.

I also felt oddly relieved; lighter. Less stuff. It was as though old cobwebs had been dusted out from the corners of my mind. On the flight back to Boston I decided to see how much stuff I could eliminate from my life. Perhaps two items passed on for every new item in. There was certainly a lot of really old stuff in storage back in Boston that would have to go.

And so for the last year or so I have been selling and/or giving away items online. At first I used Ebay, but with it’s clumsy interface and emphasis on generating a profit or some such, I became frustrated fairly quickly. (Hey, I just want to pass on my stuff. ) Amazon’s Seller Account turned out to be far more simple and effective: I’ve sold everything from old cameras to tourists in New York City to classic computer books to geeks in Spain. I prefer to actually sell items that I, personally, still find valuable. (Or that were particularly expensive.)

Craigslist is awesome for giving stuff away, with the added advantage that folks will usually come over to pick said stuff up.  We’ve had desks, beds, and lawn mowers hauled away thanks to Craigslist.

Anyway, I decided to write this post after coming across Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, an excellent, straightforward outline of the whole stuff problem, where it comes from, and where it will go if we continue to allow rabid consumerism to continue unchecked.  At the end of the twenty minute video she links to 10 Little and Big Things we can do to take action against the whole stuff problem.  Many of the actions we’ve seen before.  It’s the “big thing” in number 10, however, that I think is the most interesting and yet may seem to be the least most difficult.  Conversely, it is certainly the most simple.  And, really, it gets at the heart of the problem.

The solution?  Buy less.  In other words, stop “consuming”.  Step out of the linear materials economy.  Acquire.  Preserve.  Repair.  Pass on.  Share.

Note that this does not mean “go without”.  It means, where possible, stop feeding from the corporate-sponsored linear material economic machine.  Don’t consume, but acquire.

And share.  This is what I now realize we have been doing by passing along our belongings.  Selling one’s stuff online, or even offering it for free, adds to an ever-growing alternative material goods supply.

So simplify your life.  Sell your stuff.  Help out the planet just a little bit.  And maybe you’ll discover, as I have, that the less you own, the better you feel.

Ben & Jerry help me figure out where my income tax dollars are going…

Given that I recently learned how I am voluntarily stuffing Uncle Sam’s pocket with income tax dollars each year, I decided to look around and see where exactly that money was going. Believe it or not, I got the answer from Ben & Jerry, the ice cream guys.

It looks like this:

true-majority-pie-chart.png

Aha. Over half of the discretionary budget, $463 billion per year, goes to the Pentagon. This so that they can shoot missiles at it and play Wag the Dog and start illegal wars and curtail civil rights and so on. Sweet.

Anyway, looks like Ben Cohen has been working with USAction on TrueMajority.org, an attempt to impose sanity on the US federal budget with a Common Sense Budget Act. It’s amazing what could be done by redirecting just a fraction of the discretionary budget. Going to keep close tabs on this I think.

Still, it makes me sick to my stomach to think about where the rest of the money is going.

I need some Chunky Monkey.

Keeping the Change

Bank of America is one of a few Bank Borgs (resistance is futile; your wealth will be assimilated) that continues to swallow up local banks across the US. I opened up my current account twenty plus years ago when the local branch was a BayBank. Since the nineties it has merged with Bank of Boston into BankBoston, which was then acquired by Fleet which has since been absorbed by Bank of America. Whew.

I’d always liked the Fleet incarnation best because the logo vaguely resembles an austere-ish-looking eagle spot-checking for underarm odor. So you get an idea of the weighty consideration I apply when electing institutions to steward my financial house. Or my financial motorhome, such as it were.

About a year or so back, BofA announced a new program called “Keep the Change”. Subscribers to Keep the Change automatically have sub-dollar remainders transfered to their savings account every time they use a BofA checking account debit card for purchases. So, for example, if someone buys a sandwich for $4.50, the remaining $0.50 gets transferred into a linked savings account.

I remember asking a bank representative one day why BofA was doing this. “Because we think it’s nice”, he said. Yeah, okay. I’m sure that’s how the board meeting in New York went. Suited executives sitting around talking in low voices about how nice this will be for account holders. “It will make them smile.. and think happy thoughts about unicorns and butterflies and rainbows.” Yes, BofA wants us to be happy.

Anyway, I chalked this up as a clever marketing ploy to get people using their BofA debit cards instead of cash. Makes sense.

Out of curiosity, however, I recently stopped to check the interest rate on the saving account into which I was having money trickled. I figured it would be about two percent or so. Sure enough, there was a two. 0.2%! I did a triple-take. Less than a quarter of a percent!

Hmmm. It would seem to me then that Keep the Change, in addition to encouraging use of digital cash, is potentially even more effective at obscuring how the Bank Borg are paying all of diddly-squat to use my money. I keep the change, they keep the interest. Clever indeed.

I’ve since asked around the net for banking recommendations. Both ING Direct and HSBC Direct (with no extra-bank transfer fees) come highly recommended. Savings interest rates bordering five percent plus. That’s more like it.

Now if one of them would just get a good logo.