Don’t let Black Friday take you into the red and other savings ideas

In the US, the day after Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday” which is the official launch of holiday shopping. Some even start on Thanksgiving, which is usurping the best family holiday in America, for people to spend money. If you are an American or know one, you know that Americans like to do two things more than anything else – be entertained and buy stuff.

I have written before about ways to save money, as we have too many folks who want yours. Let me use this Black Friday to rehash a few of them and speak to the holiday season where buying gifts is done in excess. If you follow a few of these, you will end up with more money to live better, have less stress, retire earlier, and be more in control of your life. In no particular order:

- you don’t need to participate in Black Friday. Trust me, the retailers will get desperate closer to Christmas and layer in discounts. You will also be less tempted to buy if you take your time.

- speak with your family and friends about gift giving. Maybe you could limit the giving to the kids or have a charity donation for adults donating a small sum to a favorite charity of the recipient.

- for year-round, do not play the lottery. I have written several posts on this, but my favorite line is from John Oliver who stated your chances of winning the lottery are the same as being struck by lightning while being bitten by a shark. Save the $10 a week and at year-end you will have $520 plus interest.

- for borrowing, tear up all credit cards but one or two. You do not need more than that. My wife and I get 3 to 5 offers a week for new cards. You get very popular when you manage your debt and save a lot of money.

- do not borrow from pay-day lenders. The are one step above leg-breakers and you will quickly spiral into a rabbit hole of debt with over a 1000% interest rate. I am not making this up. This is about the worst thing you could do if in trouble.

- be wary of credit consolidators. They are not all created equal, so do your homework. Also, there are a number of non-profit advisors who can help you consolidate or manage your debt.

- be wary of for-profit colleges which are 5 to 6 times the cost of community colleges. A rule of thumb, the bigger the celebrity advertising the college, the worse its record for graduating. These colleges prey on veterans, spend more on marketing than education and graduate less than 15% of their students.

- if you have no health coverage, sign up for the Affordable Care Act at http://www.healthcare.gov. Subsidies to pay for premiums are available up to $95,000 in income for a family of four, higher if a larger family and lower if smaller. Healthcare coverage will get you doing preventive medicine rather than reactive medicine and keep you from going bankrupt.

- if you work, save in your 401(k) plan or something similar. Using payroll deduction, it is like paying yourself first, especially when the employer will match your savings.

Finally, be wary of scammers. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Many scammers prey on church and association leaders to get at others, prey on the elderly with confusion, and prey on everyone with fear (IRS scams, power shut off scams, computer repair scams, etc.). If someone offers you a potential high rate of return with no risk of loss, it is a scam.

If you do all of these things, great. If you know someone who would benefit from the advice of an old fart, please send them this link. Always remember, you do not have to buy anything except food, water, minimal clothing, transportation and shelter. The rest becomes wants and can be managed. Happy holidays.

Travel safely and happy Thanksgiving

It looks like my youngest son will be traveling through some rain and snow as he ventures home from college. We have been watching the weather and it looks like he may get through early enough, but we will keep our fingers crossed. Unfortunately earlier options are not possible given the flights of students going home.

I wish for everyone who is traveling or has loved ones or friends who are traveling to do so safely and without too much disruption. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday as it means fellowship with friends and families. To me, it is offensive that end of year holiday sales will ramp up on that day for some. I will take my usual pass on Black Friday and wish shoppers happy hunting.

I would encourage all to take the time Thursday to remember the ones who are no longer at the table. Tell stories about your fathers, mothers, uncles, grandparents, etc. who have passed away. Think of a few conversation starters to get the stories flowing. “Do you remember the time….” will work just fine in this regard. We will have several siblings of my wife at the table, so we will have many perspectives on family history. It is interesting how much is learned each year by all.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of my grandmother, whom we called Big Mama. Although she had the same name as the matriarch in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” my mother’s mother was not a mouse like the character in the play and movie. She was a character and had a lot of character. She would have stood up to Burl Ives’ Big Daddy in the movie version. She was the second youngest of a family of eleven kids, so she had to fend for herself with older brother and sisters.

Tomorrow, I will begin cutting up celery and onions as my wife makes Big Mama’s “egg bread” before we make her dressing on Thanksgiving day. Egg bread is cornbread with a few more eggs in it than normal. And, as any southern cook knows, you make your corn bread and only your corn bread in a certain iron skillet. Now, my wife tells me we will be using vegetable stock (rather than chicken stock) with the dressing this year for my traveling son and other vegetarians. Even my grandmother would go out of her way to welcome people, so she would be OK with this digression. To her, family is what it is all about.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. If you do not celebrate such in your country, please think good thoughts about your lost loved ones and fellowship with others. Take care.

The future of solar energy is here

It is not uncommon in this age of truthiness, where news sources either under report or bias their reports of the news, for real news stories to get lost. In fact, with the heavy funding and control of the fossil fuel industry of politics, advertising and news, some purposeful misinformation and disinformation gets in the way of good news renewable energy stories. The following is a small news story as reported by Time Warner Cable News, but a real one, which shows how the solar energy industry is truly an existing and growing confederation of small, medium and large-scale projects.

“ROWAN COUNTY — A new solar farm in Rowan County (North Carolina) is bringing new jobs with it. With each piece workers are adding thousands of solar panels to a farm in Rowan County. o2 energies has hired more than 100 local workers. The project will generate $20,000 a year in property tax revenue. Sheep will also be on the land to eat the grass which will help with solar energy levels.

‘You don’t hear it, you don’t smell it. You really don’t see it. There’s no trucks bringing fuel in and out and there’s no waste to get rid of when it’s done,’ said Joel Olsen, president of o2 Energies. The solar farm should be completed by Dec. 18. The power generated will be sold to Duke Energy and should be enough to power approximately 540 homes. The price tag is $10 million.”

The larger truth is North Carolina is the 4th most prolific solar energy state in new development in the country. North Carolina is also attracting a series of east coast data centers to add to the likes of Apple, AT&T, Bed Bath and Beyond, Facebook, Google, Walt Disney and others. Apple is showing the path forward with its solar powered center, which has surplus power it sells back to Duke Energy. These data centers are power-hungry to operate, so controlling your own destiny with solar energy is key. It is not off subject, but Google has bought a wind energy farm in the Netherlands to power its European center, so it is not just solar energy that is used. And, it should be noted that over 90% of IKEA stores in the US are solar-powered.

Right now in the United States, there are more solar energy jobs than there are coal energy jobs. This trend should not be a surprise and I fault leaders in coal industry regions for not seeing the future and planning ahead. By clinging to the past, they have actually done a disservice to their constituents, as the needed decrease of coal use is not news. It is not too late, though. We should move even more quickly from some of these dirty energy sources to more renewable energy sources. It is not a stretch, as the jobs will be there. And, that is without talking about the huge success of wind energy in places like Texas and 36 other states.

Yet, it may be worthwhile to re-read the quote in bold above from the President of o2 Energies. That should be ample evidence to show what the future should look like, especially since it is already here.

Voting rights have greatly evolved from when we started, yet are under attack

When our Constitution and Bill of Rights were drafted and approved about 225 years ago, only 5% of our people could vote. Women were not permitted to vote. Slaves were not permitted to vote, but were considered 3/5 a person to give more weight to predominant slave-owning states in Congressional representation. So, pretty much you had to be a property owner to vote.

Our history of voting rights has been an effort to increase the 5%. Slaves were given the right to vote when the Civil War ended, but when they had too much clout, Jim Crow slapped them down. Women were given the right to vote less than 100 years ago, which is still amazing it took that long when you look backwards from today. The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act passed fifty years ago remedied Jim Crow’s suppression of African-American votes. And, it has taking an ongoing effort to make sure maltreatment of minority voters is not occurring.

Yet, we seem to have a hard time remembering what we are all about. I have written several times about the cookie cutter Voter ID Laws which have other features designed to suppress the vote of young college students, African-Americans and the elderly. Several of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional and are in various stages of appeal. In my own state of North Carolina, the most restrictive Voter ID Law will be on trial next year and should be overturned for unconstitutionally. The question is will it.

Also, in the last two years, our Supreme Court struck down some of the policing and auditing under the Voting Rights Act, saying it was no longer needed. To this day, I am wondering what country our Supreme Court justices reside in, as the country I live in still has some suppressive tendencies, as noted above. When people want less turnout to win an election, then something is wrong.

When you couple the above items with gerrymandering districts, we no longer have competitive elections in many places. The competition is in the primaries for each party and what we end up with, more often than not, are lesser candidates and officials. With so much strident extremism in our major political parties, a moderate candidate does not stand a chance. So, we citizens are malserved as we need more moderate candidates who can govern and understand their party does not have all of the answers. Some are not even permitted to understand the questions and problems per below and are not allowed to think for themselves.

I will be writing in the future about the recent rulings in the Supreme Court which made an age-old problem worse, by making it easier for a wealthy few to control elections. Money is now equated with free speech. Corporations are now people. Together, these rulings allow those with the most money to more easily write the rules. And, our country’s leaders are not listening as much to its citizens, paying more attention to its donors who helped them get elected.

This has got to change, as our problems are too apparent and opportunity is not equal in our country. And, those with the most money want to keep it that way. There is a movement to amend the constitution to restore order by overturning these Supreme Court decisions. In Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Florida, citizens voted overwhelmingly for their legislators to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling and declare that only human beings – not corporations – are entitled to constitutional rights and that money is not speech and campaign spending can be regulated.

Please look into the movement called Move to Amend and learn more about what it entails. But, also get more informed over the issues of the day and pay less attention to the spin-doctored misinformation offered by pseudo-news sources. We have to hold our leaders accountable, as it is a huge uphill climb.

A few difficult movies to watch, but you must

My wife and I watched “Twelve Years a Slave” a few days ago. We had put it off, but finally decided we needed to embark down the path, purposefully choosing an afternoon showing, rather than viewing it just before bed. It was a very tough movie to watch, but it is probably one of the most impactful movies I have seen recently. It makes you watch hard truths and learn that this is how not to act or treat people.

It made me think of some other movies that were equally hard to watch. I will avoid the plots where possible, as some readers may have not seen the movies and I do not want to spoil the endings. But, do watch these movies, as they are needing to be seen more than ever, with some extremists ramping up their dialogue to treat people differently.

“Sophie’s Choice” is probably the hardest movie I have ever had to watch. It also is an exemplar of one of the finest acting performances you will ever see with Meryl Streep playing the title character Sophie at various times in her life. The movie focuses on the atrocities of the Nazis and I will leave it at that.

Along these same lines are three movies – “Schindler’s List,” “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and “Life is Beautiful.” All three focus on the maltreatment of Jews during the Nazi regime, but the latter is around the imprisonment of an Italian Jewish family. “Schindler’s List” is the more infamous movie, but the others are indeed worth watching.

Three more movies regarding the stomping on US civil rights of African-Americans which are difficult to watch include “42,” “The Help” and “The Butler.” Even though each are entertaining, the violation of civil rights shows through and serves as a backdrop that leaves you uneasy. And, it should. The fact they are entertaining will get more people to see them and experience the unease.

A movie that may not get as much notoriety, but is worth the watch is “Missing” with Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon. The movie is about two at odds people, in a wife and her father-in-law, looking for their missing husband and son in Central America after it becomes apparent, the US aided a military coup. This movie is so well acted and laid out, you are taken along on their quest.

I recognize fully I have left off a number of movies. I also recognize I have left off movies that I have not seen, which are equally atrocious. So, I would love to hear your thoughts on some needed, but difficult movies to watch. And, we do need to watch.

Moving forward on dealing with climate change

Many around the world have reacted favorably to the deal announced between the United States and China on addressing climate change. The details have created some discussion, but the overarching announcement is huge and could be a game changer if others follow suit. We are the biggest economies and polluters on the planet, so by making this demonstrative statement together, it is major step in the direction we need to go.

Attached is a link to an excellent summary on the “10 things you need to know from the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” report from the United Nations. This report clearly identifies the need to act more aggressively and we are well beyond the time move forward.

http://grist.org/climate-energy/the-10-things-you-need-to-know-from-the-new-ipcc-climate-report/

The naysayers have already begun their updated drone of a response. It will mean higher energy prices and cost jobs are the mantra. Two quick comments. First, the cost of renewable energy has dramatically declined and will continue to decline. So, the cost alarmists are overstating the impact. And, when the cost of doing nothing to address the issue is factored in, it will be cheaper to be proactive than reactive.

Second, this is not an either/ or jobs issue. There are jobs being created in renewable energy. In fact, there are more solar energy jobs in the United States than coal industry jobs as confirmed by Politifacts. Per Dawn Wallace of The Triangle Business Journal, in the third quarter of 2014:

“Across the nation, more than 18,000 clean-energy and clean-transportation jobs were announced in more than 20 states during the quarter, up from 12,000 announced in the second quarter. During last year’s third quarter, 15,000 jobs were announced, as calculated by national nonpartisan environmental policy group Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2.”

Here are the top 5 states, with jobs created in the third quarter:

1. Nevada: 6,556

2. New York: 3,822

3. California: 2,070

4. Colorado: 1,333

5. North Carolina: 876

Rather than complain about the jobs that may be lost in the coal industry, the states where the industry is significant should have been reading the tea leaves starting ten years ago and planned ahead with a phase in to new clean energy jobs. This would have eased the transition. There is a lot of wind in the mountains where coal is mined, so wind energy as well as solar energy are there for the taking and it is not too late for coal energy states to move forward.

Of course, I am not a scientist, as the popular retort notes, but I am excited by this development of the US and China making a joint announcement to move forward.

What would Atticus Finch be thankful for?

One of my favorite and most admirable characters in a fiction novel is Atticus Finch, the father and attorney in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” As we approach my favorite holiday of Thanksgiving, I was wondering what the reserved Atticus would be thankful for? Here is a man who was rolling a boulder uphill against the downhill racism that would eventually convict and kill an African-American client, Tom Robinson, during the Jim Crow era of the south.

- Atticus would be thankful for Boo Radley who saved his children’s lives from a hateful racist Bob Ewell whose actions led to the conviction of Robinson. Ewell, in a drunken stupor, attacked Scout and Jem in the woods, to pay back Finch for defending a black man against the Ewell version of the truth.

- He would be thankful for Calpurnia who was the housekeeper, cook and surrogate mother to his children. Like many in the south, Calpurnia represents the many African-American women who greatly helped southern households. Atticus would have been lost without her.

- He would be thankful for Scout’s passion. She would likely be getting into mischief the rest of her youth, but she would make errors of commission not omission. It would never be dull with Scout around.

- He would be thankful for Jem’s determination. Jem would not let his father go by himself to see the Robinson’s, nor would he and Scout let Atticus stand down the lynch mob at the jail by himself, knowing they were his protection.

- He would be thankful to his outspoken friend and kindred soul, Maude Atkinson who explained so well that Atticus was one of the people put on this world to do our unpleasant tasks. She was the spoken conscience to Atticus’ unspoken one.

- He would be thankful for Sheriff Heck Tate, who saw injustice at the hands of racism, but went quietly about doing his best to find what little justice he could for the disenfranchised.

- He would be thankful for the integrity of Tom Robinson, who in the face of lies and deceit, stood as tall as he could, until he could no longer. Robinson is the tragic figure in the story and represents a long line of African-American men who have been maltreated.

- He would be thankful for Reverend Sykes and others who found value in what Atticus did for those in need and who were stepped on because they were black. The line that makes me tear up more than any other line in a novel is when Atticus leaves the court room after fighting so hard for Robinson and Reverend Sykes tells Miss Jean Louise (Scout) to stand up with them as “your father is passing.”

True heroes do not have to carry weapons. In fact, the greater heroes are those who do not. They fight for what’s right, usually against difficult odds. I am thankful to have read and watched the movie version of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I have seen how a real hero acts.