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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Friday, June 15, 2007

GET OUT OF CREDIT CARD DEBT

Do you use credit cards? Are you a recent college graduate? Are you between the ages of 18 to 35? If so, chances are you've got a healthy amount of debt. Don't feel bad; The national average is around $8,000 per person, although truth is most people probably have a lot more, in fact I don't think I know one person with less than ten grand to pay off, not friends, family, no one. Except myself that is; It took me five years of living like a pauper but I finally paid it all off and now I get to live free. Read on if you want to live free too.

First step is Get rid of your credit cards: Cancel them, cut them in half, never use them again. Credit cards are the number one reason why so many people are in such ridiculous debt. Thing is they're designed to get you to max them out so you end up spending way more than you could ever actually pay off. They present them in such a way that people think they're getting free money, when in fact what is going on is when you use them you're spending your money that you have not earned yet in the present. Thus, the more you use them, the greater your debt becomes, the less of your money you get to spend in the future. They do this on purpose. They lure people in with low interest rates under some false illusion that it'll always be that way, then after a certain amount of time the rate shoots up to to 29% or whatever ridiculous level it's at now. Add to this all the other bullshit charges they throw on there when you're not looking, late fees, annual fees, your-momma-says-you-ugly-fees, etc. American Express actually tried to charge me $20 "Processing Fee" during a month when I didn't spend anything on the card, almost like a "Privilege of owning the card" fee. Then you notice that the minimum monthly payment is actually less than the interest rate - so in fact you end up owing them for the rest of your life, and if you follow their rules you'll never ever pay it off.

As far as I'm concerned it's all part of a highly sophisticated confidence scam. They prey on college kids and young adults who don't have much experience with this sort of thing, get them to spend away their future, then own them their entire lives so for years and years they end up paying thousands of dollars in interest on shit they don't even remember anymore. I got my first Credit card when I was 19 while in college, because the guy that was running the table was giving away free Slinkys to anyone who signs up. I didn't even want the card, I wanted the free toy (because Slinkys are cool.) Nowadays they even give them to children as young as 16 who don't even have jobs, as long as they have a bank account. Nice way of making financial slaves out of America's young people.

Well fuck that! Don't use them! I know it's hard to do, it's almost like we as a population have been conditioned into thinking paying 29% a year on a bag of potato chips is an acceptable thing. It's one thing to buy a new computer or some other expensive, big ticket item that you otherwise could not afford and then pay it off religiously, but most people don't use credit cards that way. Some people have gotten into such a hole that they depend on their credit cards to buy essentials: Gasoline, groceries, medicine, etc, and it may not be so easy for them to stop.

Well, how bad do you want to get rid of your debt? Do you want half your paycheck to go to paying stupid credit card bills for the rest of your damn life, or do you want to take control and do what you want with your money? If you're carrying a large amount of debt the only way you'll ever pay it off is to go without for the time being. Sorry, but that's how it is. There's no easy way to get out of it, it's going to take a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice, and a long, long time, but in the end it will be worth it.

First off you're never going to get rid of that debt if it keeps growing by 29% every month. So cancel all of the cards, ALL of them, so that way you stop incurring interest. Some companies however don't allow this and will keep charging you interest anyway (some of them like Sumitomo, American Express, or God Forbid, Cross Country Bank are real assholes about it) in that case then transfer the balance to a different card with a lower interest rate. You can also call the companies and politely ask for a lower interest rate, especially if it's a card you're had for a long time and don't have any late payments on. Pull the "Dissatisfied Customer" routine, and start quoting rates from other companies, they'll cave in (It's also a good idea to call and dispute any weird fee you see on there, half the time you can get them to take those off also.) The goal is to keep your interest rate to a low level so you're able to pay off the card faster than the interest incurs. Once this is accomplished sit down and figure out budget, a real budget that allows for emergencies and such, and find out exactly how much you can pay every month.

Now this is the hard part: Actually pay them off. Stick to it, choose the card with the smallest balance and pay it off completely, then work your way up the line until you've only got the card with the largest balance left. Thing is as you pay off each card then that much more of your monthly income is freed up, whereupon you can either save this extra cash or throw it in with your payments to get it down that much quicker. Also as the cards get paid off you may find that suddenly your credit score will increase by leaps and bounds, and you start getting credit card offers in the mail nearly daily. These companies are like wolves, they can smell your extra disposable income. Do not give it to them. Resist the temptation and throw those offers away.

Now let's fast forward a few years and assume you've managed to get it down to the one or two cards with the largest balance. Go to your bank and take out a personal loan, then pay off the largest cards in one fell swoop. If you've been sticking to your plan your credit should be good enough now to do this. This way you'll be paying a livable 5% to the bank instead of 29% to the stupid thieving credit card company. And you'll notice that a bank loan actually goes down every month when you pay it and is actually something that you can pay off within the foreseeable future.

That is essentially what I did to get out of debt. In my own case I was nearly $10,000 in the hole, I paid it down to the last card with a $3,000 balance, took out a loan for that, and had the loan paid off within two years. Yes it took five years of my life being totally broke and not having any fun with my money, but today I actually get to spend my paycheck in the way I see fit. Yeah, I'm not rich, in fact I'm at the lower end of a middle class income, but I'm not living like a pauper. Since I'm not shelling out half my paycheck to these thieves suddenly I've found myself with all kinds of purchasing power that I just didn't have before. I've bought a new car, kept a decent computer going with new stuff now and then, bought a nice 40 inch plasma flat screen TV, and I'm able to keep a month's pay with expenses in the bank. Last year I applied for an apartment and got accepted ahead of four other people because since I paid off all the cards my credit is fantastic. All of this without credit cards.

You can do it too, all it takes is some determination. Take control of your life, throw out the credit cards. Do you want them to own you forever?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Why won't white people shut up about illegal aliens?

Since when did the most important issue in the entire country suddenly become stopping illegal aliens? Did I fall asleep for a few decades and miss something? Last time I checked these people had been coming here for years, and contrary to what you hear on Clearchannel owned radio stations for the most part all they do is work (a lot harder than white people who have the same jobs do I might add, and I know that from personal experience.) Fact is all of this anti-illegal alien hubbub comes out of hate mongering racists groups, of which the right wing takes advantage of for their own ends. It's been that way for years, and this current debate over the latest immigration bill is no different.

Some people out there would take issue with that last statement, but I beg to differ. If you listen to the ring wing pundits or visit websites like Save our State you'll see the same arguments that come right out of the Klu Klux Klan, with less offensive language of course. Let's take a look at some of the arguments the Minutemen crowd uses to promote wacky ideas like building a 700 mile fence or putting land mines on the border:

1) Illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans
2) Illegals end up costing us money through using our social programs (health care, education, etc.)
3) Illegals spread crime and gang violence
4) Open borders allow "Other Than Mexicans" in enter, which could include terrorists
5) The current wave of illegals is part of a "Reconquista" conspiracy to take back lands lost in the Mexican-American war (not making this up.)

1) Illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans: Bullshit. First off any economist will tell you that the job market for an area will expand as the population for an area increases. More people means more demand for goods and services, thus more jobs. That's how capitalism works. You lose jobs when the corporation that owns the local factory packs up and decides to move to South America or China, i.e. when a lot of jobs are lost at once. Situations like that lead to entire areas folding up shop and turning into ghost towns. But no community in the country has ever been "decimated" by an influx of immigrants, if anything the local economy only benefits.
Let's also be realistic about what kind of jobs we're talking about here - We aren't talking about an illegal alien sneaking over the border and taking an $80,000 a year vice president position away from you. The jobs these people do are crap jobs. Picking strawberries. Doing laundry. Washing dishes. Cleaning toilets. Washing cars. Day labor. Jobs that are done for minimum wage, lower in some instances. Jobs that Americans do not want, and if you don't think so just look at Colorado.

What these racist bastards forget to tell you is that our economy needs this pool of cheap labor to function. You can't pay someone who picks vegetables $17 bucks an hour with benefits, else your cabbages are gonna cost $50 a head. Why do you think they're even bothering to write an immigration bill in the first place? Because the thieves in Washington know we need these people. Do you really think the senate or the president gives a shit about illegal aliens? Hell no. But they know we need the cheap labor, and they know Americans won't do these jobs.

2) Illegals end up costing us money through using our social programs (health care, education, etc.): Bullshit. We have no social programs anymore. Thanks to that dumbass president you assholes elected and his cadre of oligarchs there is no "safety net" in this country worth a fuck. Good job shitheads.

Or maybe you're talking about "public schools" as a social program, (since when did that happen?) True, we will have to pay more for the extra population. However, since these people will be legal, then that means we will legally have added tax revenue, thus any increased public expenditures will be offset. According to the John and Ken show (who are two L.A. radio personalities who won't shut the hell up about illegal aliens, day in and day out. Talk about staying on message,) even those two assholes had to admit on the air that we'll see a net gain of $8 billion dollars to our economy over the next decade. So there.

3) Illegals spread crime and gang violence: You're kidding, right? I find that people who say baloney like this usually tend to live in areas where there is not a significant Latino minority population, Orange County for instance. Truth is crime levels are on the decline in most parts of the country, have been for years. Search FBI.gov if you don't believe me. The public perception of such crimes however has increased. Thanks to the damn media you'd think our country was being overrun by drug dealers, kidnappings, and car jackings, but it's just not true.

Even here in Los Angeles, which is on the front line of the immigration "problem," violent crime has remained at about the same level as it's always been. True there are parts of the city I wouldn't walk around in at night, but it's always been that way. I can tell you that it's a lot better than it was fifteen years ago - you don't see the same kind of gang activity in the inner city that you did in the early 90s. Oh the gangs are still there, but they're not wasting their time mugging people and knocking over liquor stores (for the most part.) They're doing stuff that makes them real money, like selling drugs. And when they do kill people it tends to be each other, which is fine by me.

Which brings me to the "cross border gangs" angle. Hmmm... well this is a problem. There are gangs sheltered in border towns that regularly smuggle drugs and people back and forth. However, I submit that such gangs really could give a shit about whether or not they have a green card. In fact I would say that this particular problem has nothing to do with an immigration bill. If you want to stop the drug smuggling, then get the cops to go after the drug smugglers. Infiltrate the gangs. Shoot down those cocaine smuggling planes on sight. Find those cross border tunnels and seal that shit up. But don't waste time raiding your local Mexican restaurant looking for drug mules, because you won't find them.

4) Open borders allow "Other Than Mexicans" in enter, which could include terrorists: First off, who said anything about opening the borders? The border is patrolled by an army of cops and immigration officers, too many people want them there, and since this is a democracy then fine, we have to allow it. I won't even complain about that ridiculous 700 mile fence idea (even though I know it won't work.) If you right wingers want to delude yourselves into thinking that'll stop these people and make the country safer then who am I to interfere. But I submit to you that all of the hijackers responsible for the 9-11 attacks were all here on legal visas, none of them snuck over the border disguised as a day laborer.

Is that kind of thing happening now? Is there really an army of Al Queda operatives swimming over the Rio Grande? I don't know. The only sources I can find for such "terrorist activity" come from ultra-right wing websites which I tend to hold as unreliable. Usually when a site like Save our State or the minutemen claims something like this it turns out to be bullshit. But one would think that this would be a reason to support immigration legislation even more, precisely for the reason that it allows us to screen those coming over legally. Then if we actually catch someone crawling through the sewers, we can process them way more efficiently. Just seems to make sense to me.

5) The current wave of illegals is part of a "Reconquista" conspiracy to take back lands lost in the Mexican-American war: This is a joke, right? Why do fucking people believe shit like this? I just cannot take this shit seriously. I know you've heard some racist fuck utter this inane bullshit before: The "conspiracy" is that all of the Latinos are coming over here in order to one day "breed us out," so that eventually they'll have a majority in our country and will vote the western half of the United States back into Mexico. They call it the "Aztlan" theory, based off of the writings of one insignificant Mexican revolutionary group in the 60's. Sorry, but that's the biggest steaming load of horsehit I've ever heard. It's like saying all black people want to overthrow the government because of the Black Panthers or something. Total fucking crap, and anyone who believes it is a moron.

Thing is you hear this same kind of "out-breed them" crap all over the place, about nearly every minority group. Christian preachers are saying this about Muslims, that they're going to overtake us in America by their high birth rates and turn America into a Islamic Fascist country. Five years ago they were saying the same thing was going on in Europe. A hundred years ago they were saying this about the Chinese - that they'll breed like flies and take over the country, that they live off an egg and a bowl of rice a day and there's no way an honest white man can compete with them. It's all racist bullshit that came straight out of the Klan, and it's only there to divide people. It's what happens when white people get scared.

There is an immigration problem, and some of the questions these people raise may be valid. Illegals in the country right now are exploited on a daily basis and should have the same protections everyone else has. Drug smugglers and organized crime perforate though our border with their little packages like it was swiss cheese. I'll even give them that there is a possibility that very bad people may be sneaking over the southern border, planning to do dastardly things involving large explosions and loss of life. But don't try to tell me Paco the busboy is responsible for this. All he wants to do is better his life, you know, that thing that people come to America for. Or did you forget that?