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And in further nun news…

3:51 pm in Economy, Financial Crisis by TobyWollin

The “Nuns On The Bus” tour from the Midwest to DC took off from Des Moines, Iowa today with a scheduled stops to educate and inform people on Paul Ryan’s disaster of a budget, and also give voice to their work through visits to homeless shelters, hospitals and food pantries.

“The tour’s first stop was at the office of Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a supporter of the Ryan budget. The nuns had planned to present the congressman with a copy of the Faithful Budget, an economic approach drafted by a group of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other religious organizations as a rebuttal to the House budget. The Faithful Budget calls for increased aid to the poor and cuts in military spending.

Though the nuns say they had an appointment, the congressman’s office was shuttered and dark.”
Are we surprised that Rep. Steve King’s people were conveniently not there for the appointment? Absolutely not – these guys are more than happy to hide behind ‘balanced budget’ rhetoric while they basically send a goodly proportion of Americans down the toilet, but when it comes to facing a bunch of women (and even women who are dressed in ‘civvies’ these days; it is not as if they are facing Sister Joseph Mary from 1957, with a long black habit, a rope belt and an 8″ cross) with some actual moral credibility — nope.

No guts. Weenies, the lot of them. This is leadership?

Read More: Nuns Roll

New York’s Camel’s Nose on Fracking

12:29 pm in Economy, Energy by TobyWollin

Under the tent (photo: Adam Foster | Codefor/flickr)

Well, it’s finally happened – NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the DEC are basically caving to two bodies of people: rural landowners who are in trouble because the dairy industry is in trouble and energy interests.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, and to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology…Even within that southwest New York region — primarily Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga Counties — drilling would be permitted only in towns that agree to it, and would be banned in Catskill Park, aquifers and nationally designated historic districts…It would be contingent on hydraulic fracturing’s receiving final approval from state regulators, a step that is not a foregone conclusion but is widely expected later this summer. Department of Environmental Conservation regulators last year signaled their initial support for the drilling process around the state, with exceptions for environmentally sensitive areas like New York City’s upstate watershed. – Cuomo Plan Would Allow Fracking in Limited Area – for now

I live in Broome County and I can tell you that counties that border northern PA are already feeling the negative effects of the fracking/natural gas drilling that is going on just over the border in PA:
– Road damage from drilling trucks
– Increased crime
– People coming in and buying up all the housing to use to rent to out of state drilling workers
– Contaminated water (because rivers and creeks do flow north)

Yes, I realize that there are a lot of people in the area who are asset rich and income poor and the offers from energy companies look really good. But the corporations that end up doing the drilling are NOT the companies that signed the leases – they are packaging those up and reselling them to other drilling companies. And the drillers are not hiring local people for jobs – that is an outright delusion. The workers are being brought in from other states such as Texas and Oklahoma to do the work. We have no regulations on the books to protect townships and municipalities from damage from drilling companies and their equipment; we have no regulations on the books to protect landowners whose water supplies get contaminated because their neighbors leased their gas rights. As a matter of fact, in New York, if your neighbor has a gas lease and the drilling company decides to start drilling at the edge of your neighbor’s property, because fracking is a vertical and then horizontal process, the drillers can be drilling into your property, you wouldn’t know it and you have no legal recourse against them or your neighbors. When your water supply becomes contaminated, you have no legal recourse against the drilling company or against your neighbor.

And why do I call this ‘the camel’s nose”? Well because of this: The Marcellus Shale is attached to an even deeper and actually more ‘attractive’ geologic formation called the Utica Shale, which extends even farther north, east and west. Once the DEC gets away with this, the Utica Shale is next.

This is horrific. The Working Families Party has a petition going to Gov. Cuomo and the DEC here Petition Please sign.

Nuns to the Vatican (and Paul Ryan): We’re rollin’

4:17 am in Economy, Government by TobyWollin

In our last episode, the Vatican had told US nuns that they’re just spending too much time on the poor. Actually, that is not correct, what the Vatican told them is that because they don’t spend enough time speaking out against abortion, they are not toeing the line of the home office. And Bennie and the Jets have assigned a rather nasty Bishop from Seattle to take over the largest organization of nuns in the US to make sure that they clean up their act.

The nuns, understandably have politely disagreed. On the other hand, one of the groups, Network, also has a rather large bone to pick with Paul Ryan, who has referenced his faith in the budget that he is proposing. Because, as we all know, Jesus was all about ‘show me the money’. The nuns are not happy about THAT, either (ok, to be ‘fair and balanced, there has been some noise from “red shoes central” that Ryan is not exactly being true to the faith on this either, but I digress). So, the nuns have decided that what America needs, right now, is a Road Trip.

[Sister SIMONE] CAMPBELL: All over our nation, Catholic sisters are working at the margins of our society to serve people who are struggling in this economy, people who are hungry, people who are left out of the economy, people who have lost their jobs or people working at low wage jobs.

We thought the best way to bring an education to our nation about what’s happening here in Washington is if we went on the road and lifted up their work and the consequences they would face if this Republican House budget goes through.

For more info on the tour (I want a tee shirt, please), go here: Nuns on the Bus. And yes, you can give them money and strangely enough, it is tax deductible.

What Wal-Mart Really Uses Their Money For

11:21 am in Business by TobyWollin

Hi-Ho, my friends. Once upon a time, a LONG time ago, long before Aunt Toby set up her cook-tent here at the lake side, I read an article in 2003 (9 years ago) from “Fast Company” about Wal-Mart which was one of those ‘lightbulb moments’ for me. “Indeed, as Vlasic [as in the pickles] discovered, the real story of Wal-Mart, the story that never gets told, is the story of the pressure the biggest retailer relentlessly applies to its suppliers in the name of bringing us “every day low prices.” It’s the story of what that pressure does to the companies Wal-Mart does business with, to U.S. manufacturing, and to the economy as a whole. That story can be found floating in a gallon jar of pickles at Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart is not just the world’s largest retailer. It’s the world’s largest company–bigger than ExxonMobil, General Motors, and General Electric. The scale can be hard to absorb. Wal-Mart sold $244.5 billion worth of goods last year. It sells in three months what number-two retailer Home Depot sells in a year. And in its own category of general merchandise and groceries, Wal-Mart no longer has any real rivals. It does more business than Target, Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Safeway, and Kroger combined. “Clearly,” says Edward Fox, head of Southern Methodist University’s J.C. Penney Center for Retailing Excellence, “Wal-Mart is more powerful than any retailer has ever been.” It is, in fact, so big and so furtively powerful as to have become an entirely different order of corporate being.”The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know

And in this article, the writers detail what happened to companies that thought that doing business through Wal-Mart was going to be good for them. Like all the clothing and toy and bike manufacturers that were basically price pressured into the position of moving all their manufacturing to China so that they could give Wal-Mart the pricing they demanded. I encourage you to read that article because it really does give you the feel for what a ‘blood sucking vampire squid’ (oh, sorry, that’s someone else…) Wal-Mart is.

Over the years, I have tried to explain to people what a bad deal Wal-Mart is for America and for American workers and what happens to towns and their locally-owned businesses when Wal-Mart comes to town. And many times, people say, “Toby, you are exaggerating; Wal-Mart doesn’t destroy businesses and jobs like that.”

Well, now we have proof. Proof positive (and the commercials used to say) that this is exactly what Wal-Mart does and that it actually is a foundation of their business and is their business model. I give you, Exhibit A: “In September 2005, a senior Wal-Mart lawyer received an alarming e-mail from a former executive at the company’s largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico. In the e-mail and follow-up conversations, the former executive described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country. ..In the interviews, Mr. Cicero recounted how he had helped organize years of payoffs. He described personally dispatching two trusted outside lawyers to deliver envelopes of cash to government officials. They targeted mayors and city council members, obscure urban planners, low-level bureaucrats who issued permits — anyone with the power to thwart Wal-Mart’s growth. The bribes, he said, bought zoning approvals, reductions in environmental impact fees and the allegiance of neighborhood leaders. ..In an interview with The Times, Mr. Cicero said Mr. Castro-Wright[Eduardo Castro-Wright, Wal-Mart's CEO of Wal-Mart Mexico] had encouraged the payments for a specific strategic purpose. The idea, he said, was to build hundreds of new stores so fast that competitors would not have time to react. Bribes, he explained, accelerated growth. They got zoning maps changed. They made environmental objections vanish. Permits that typically took months to process magically materialized in days. “What we were buying was time,” he said.

Wal-Mart Bribes in Mexico

In other words, Wal-Mart’s business model IS anti-competitive and is meant to actually destroy the ability of other companies and chains to compete with them. And if that means that they must pay bribes (call it what you will and the system what you will), then that is what they do.

And by the way, obviously Castro-Wright’s gamble paid off handsomely for him – he became the President of Wal-Mart Stores and is now the current Vice Chairman of Wal-Mart, Inc.

Except for the whole thing about breaking the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Is a college degree worthwhile…for anyone who isn’t rich?

12:03 pm in Economy, Education by TobyWollin

“Instead of serving as a springboard to social mobility as it did for the first decades after World War II, college education today is reinforcing class stratification, with a huge majority of the 24 percent of Americans aged 25 to 29 currently holding a bachelor’s degree coming from families with earnings above the median income.”
The rich and college

Part of this is sheer unadulterated cost – versus the shrinking aid dollar, both in terms of sheer dollars and the amount that the dollars can buy.

Part of this is that there is an increasing lack of jobs for people straight out of college, and youngsters graduating from second and third tier colleges are competing with graduates of first tier colleges who have family and connections to get them them advantage in being considered for those jobs.

Part of this is the system which has developed of unpaid internships, where only the children of the rich can afford to get the experience on their resume.

Part of this is that the best testing scores seem to come with higher incomes, which in many cases comes with private schooling. In many parts of the country, private elementary, middle and high schools are increasingly being populated by the children not only of the rich, but of the next several tiers of income demographic. These parents recognize that in order to make their children competitive, they must increase the distance between them and families below who go to public schools, no matter how good. Many of these adults also go after school taxes and school budgets, consciously or unconsciously increasing the quality gap between their children’s educational experience and those of families who go to public schools.

The numbers of graduates over the past 10 years who have been able to capitalize on their college degree in terms of obtaining a job that actually pays a relatively good wage, is not good. Saddled with an average debt approaching $25,000 (and that is for public colleges) and lacking job opportunities that would give them discretionary incomes of a size that would allow them to pay off this debt and live independently, they increasingly postpone adulthood and live at home with parents. For students who have gone to private college and have taken graduate degrees, it is even worse. The mythology of ‘college as the great income investment’ is rapidly going the way of ‘I’ve got a bridge to sell’.

So, who benefits from a college degree? Certainly the children of the rich do, as they always have. Going to ‘the right school’ with ‘the right people’ and using their connections puts them in position to take advantage of the cost. Colleges like children from rich families because not only can they pay their way, their families are resources for large charitable gifts. Colleges are, as we know, in the business of fundraising; education is a side business. If a child from a poor family could get a big enough package of grants and non-debt-based aid, AND took a degree which would enable that child to get a good job, there could be a benefit to the child and their family. But the typical ‘first child in college/makes the leap” degrees and jobs (engineering, computer programming and so on) is not necessarily the program which is attractive to kids from poor families (every engineer I ever spoke to told me that they became an engineer because there was another one in the family and it didn’t seem like such a big deal to them). Students from middle class families who go to second and third tier colleges therefore cannot compete with students from first tier colleges for good paying jobs and many times end up in jobs which twenty and thirty years ago would have required a community college certification or even no certification at all, thereby putting them into competition with students with no college degree at all.

So, let’s see now – who should go to college? Why? Who benefits? Is the whole industry a racket?

Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster Report: Justice?

2:24 pm in Business, Economy by TobyWollin

Upper Big Branch Mine (photo: TV19 - DD Meighen/flickr)

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration released a report on the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.  Via the Huffington Post, here’s a summary:

Mine Safety Administration Fine: $10.8 Million; Payment to DOJ to avoid prosecution: $210 million

Safety Citations: 361
Flagrant Violations of Safety: 21
Size of report: 80,000 pages
Number of miner victims: 29

“The report comes right on the heels of an announcement earlier today that the Department of Justice had reached an agreement with Massey’s corporate parent, Alpha Natural Resources. The company has agreed to pay $210 million to avoid prosecution, including $1.5 million to each of the victim’s families.

Alpha purchased Massey earlier this year for $7.1 billion, taking on any outstanding liabilities stemming from the disaster. The settlement bars Massey as a company from any criminal prosecutions but leaves open the possibility of indictments against individuals. A Massey security official was indicted for obstructing justice earlier this year.”

And just as importantly:

“Despite the condemnations from lawmakers, congressional leaders still have not managed to move any legislation to improve mine safety in the 18 months since the disaster. Members of both the House and Senate have introduced mine safety bills that would make it easier for the government to shut down mines that show a pattern of safety violations, but such legislation is unlikely to pass a Republican-led House determined to limit regulations on businesses.”

Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster MSA Report

So, will MSA collect? Will any of the miners’ families collect? Will anyone in upper management of Massey EVER see the inside of a court room (much less a jail cell?)? Will anyone who was a member of the Board of Directors ever see the inside of a court room? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Buying Local: Detective Work

7:50 am in Business, Economy by TobyWollin

There is a lot of discussion these days about ‘buying local’. There is even a national organization with chapters which promotes it (along with a lot of other local initiatives) Local Economies . American Express just sponsored, for the second year, a national event called “Small Business Saturday” to encourage people to buy with small businesses (not only local; and as an incentive, they offered a credit off the customer’s bill for buying at a small business).

But, when it comes time for us, as consumers, to actually find local businesses, it might not be so easy. Up through the 1970s, most cities of any size had a ‘downtown’, which was usually filled with small, locally-owned businesses. If you wanted something else, or bigger names, or certain products, you traveled elsewhere. When I was growing up, anyone who wanted something other than what was on offer in our little stores and the locally-owned department store (which, looking back, was actually quite wonderful and carried everything from china and glassware in the basement to ladies hats, fabrics and patterns, clothing from infant sizes on up, and they even had a formidable lady in a black dress with a measuring tape around her neck who would take you discretely into the dressing room and measure you up to fit you for brassieres) drove to the next biggest city, about 30 miles away, that had at least 3 much larger, locally owned department stores plus hundreds of other smaller shops in THEIR downtown.

And then came malls. And national chains. And everyone thought that going out to the mall to shop was a big deal and the prices were ‘so much better’. And downtowns in most places just crashed, though some places managed to maintain a kernal of a downtown (especially if there were commercial businesses with employees who needed a drugstore, dry cleaners, banks, restaurants and so on for the lunch hour) and in some places, those small hubs have acted as the ‘tent poles’ for other small businesses which have sheltered next to them. And sometimes those small businesses form organizations and do events and programming to get people to come downtown on a regular basis in the hope that once people re-discover what is actually downtown, they just might find that shopping in those small places is actually more interesting than going to the mall.

(Public admission here: Aunt Toby HATES to shop at malls; with the consolidation in the retail industry, every department store seems to carry exactly the same brands and lines within the brands. The merchandise seems, to my eye, to be universally tatty and no one bothers to have enough help in the stores or to train the help in the stores. No one working the floor knows what they have or don’t have; I’ve always felt that the question posed at the cashier’s desk, “Has anyone helped you today?” is an attempt at irony)

But, when you want to ‘go local’, how do you find local shops, stores and businesses? I realize this sounds like what my kids used to refer to as ‘a no duh’ but think about it. With the fracturing of retail and the evisceration of downtowns, how do we find local stores and shops?

Easy methods:
Always start with what you know. If you have one of the ‘shop local’ organizations, check their website. They will have a listing of their members and use that as your foundation. Unfortunately, not everyone will be a member. How do you find the rest?

If you do have shopping districts in your area, drive there and walk around. Take friends and family with you to break up the job. If you really want to perform a public service, take a big pad of paper and write the businesses’ names, what you see in the windows and the address down. If you feel like a creative type, make a diagram like the one below and fill it in. And, don’t forget to look above the first floor – who knows what little atelier or office is upstairs.

More Work
But that’s not all. You know and I know that there are a lot of people who have businesses that they operate out of their homes and farms. To find those folks, you will need to do more digging. If you have a farmers market (and many are now year round or do special holiday ‘winter markets’), visit the market or find the market contact info and ask the market manager. If you are able to visit the market, ask the people AT the market; explain that you are collecting information and anyone you can find who has a little business, makes things for sale and so on. I can tell you from my experience at our local farmers market that for every vendor who is actually there, there are at least 3 more who viewed themselves as too small to take a booth. If you can find those people, your list will get larger and larger.

Another source of small local businesses is to ask co-workers and friends. “Do you know anyone who is doing a little business at home? Do you know anyone who makes children’s wooden toys? Do you know anyone who is making dolls? Do you know anyone who does ceramics and sells? Do you know anyone who does custom clothing or underwear? Anyone who does specialty clothing for people with special needs? Is there anyone you know with an interesting hobby?” The list of items grows and grows. We have a museum locally which has a lovely shop. That’s a local business. That museum also has a ceramics studio and the people who take classes there and use the facility also hold a big sale several times a year; THAT’s a small local business too.

One of the sad reasons why people shop at malls is that they know that shopping is there. One of the really sad reasons why people do NOT shop locally is that they don’t know what is out there or where it is. If you go through this process, you will have a terrific idea of what is happening in your community and who is doing what. So, what do you do with THIS info? First thing I’d do is contact the local ‘buy local’ organization and ask if they want to publish your list. They might – or they might just want to use it to try to get the businesses to join their organization. All well and good. But one thing you CAN do with it, to be frank, is to make a Facebook page with it and call the page something truly obvious, like “(Your town or county name) local businesses” so that if someone searches on the internet for just that thing, they will be alerted to it.

Yes, this is work; I have to admit that. Getting out and driving and walking around, writing down names, asking people for information is a big job. I’m sure there are some readers who are saying to themselves, “This is the job of the local economic development people (or, the downtown business development association, or whatever group you’ve got if you’ve got one); why should we, as community people volunteer our time to perform what is basically a marketing and advertising function?” Let’s put it this way: We will never be able to break the cycle of ‘autopilot shopping at the mall or ‘big box store’/never go downtown or to a small business’ if we don’t get information out there to let people know that there really are alternatives. It’s a really good deed that you can do for your community. There are literally thousands of small towns and cities in this country which, through the ‘Wal-martization’ of America have lost their entire business district. In some places, the loss of just one core store, such as a department store or the town grocery store has led to the death of the entire downtown, which led to people doing all of their shopping far away, which led to the spiritual death of the entire community. Having a core of small, locally-owned businesses if important to our communities and we need to nurture them.

But we can’t help if we don’t know what’s out there.
(photo of downtown Madison, Wisconsin by Jeffmarks.net)

Could Shale Gas Reignite the US Economy?

12:05 pm in Economy, Energy, Financial Crisis by TobyWollin

You can't drink money (image: SS&SS)

Aunt Toby’s short answer: No.

Aunt Toby’s longer answer: Hell no.

“On the economic potential of the nascent shale revolution, even some career environmentalists sound impressed, if cautious. “This thing is a potential game-changer,” says Fred Krupp, president of the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Shale production in the U.S. has increased from practically nothing in 2000 to more than 13 billion cubic feet per day, or about 30 percent of the country’s natural gas supply. That proportion is heading toward 50 percent in coming years.

The U.S. passed Russia in 2009 to become the world’s largest producer of natural gas. An Energy Dept. advisory panel on which Krupp sits estimated in August that more than 200,000 jobs, both direct and indirect, “have been created over the last several years by the development of domestic production of shale gas.” At a moment of 9.1 percent unemployment nationally, additional decently paid work is just one potential benefit. “Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, emits less in the way of greenhouse gases, and avoids mercury and other pollutants from coal,” Krupp points out. “So this could be win-win, if—and this is a big ‘if’—we do it the right way.

Since we have this going right at our doorsteps here, just over the PA border, I can tell you what shale gas production does do:

1) It makes jobs for gas workers who are brought into the area from outside (in PA, most of the people working are from Oklahoma and Texas). These folks buy food and gas so there is a bit of sales tax revenue there. However, a lot of that money is going back home to THEIR families.

2) It makes work for people in construction because the gas workers absorb any and all available rental housing. When the new housing is created, then local people needing it can find housing – but the new housing is much much more expensive to rent since local people have been priced out of the market.

3) It makes work for road crews who have to constantly repair all the damage that the drilling rigs and trucks do to local roads. Local governments have to then go after the drilling companies and try to get them to pay.

4) It makes work for the people who install ‘buffalos’ which are large fresh water tanks which are required when drilling activities (and negligent crews) cause ground water contamination.

5) It makes work for firefighters when negligent drilling crews cause explosions and fires at drilling sites.

6) It makes work for local law enforcement when drilling crew members clash with local residents in places like bars (there have been at least 2 murders in counties close to me under these circumstances).

What shale gas production does not do:

1) it does not make jobs for local residents. They are not hired on drilling rigs because – this is not an industry that we have had before; so our people frankly do not have the skills (whether or not the crews brought in from OK and TX to do the work DO is another issue entirely. They have shown already that they know how to dump fracking brine in National forests, cause explosions, poison farmers’ water and cattle).

2) It does not make energy any cheaper for local residents. It is not was if drilling and production companies have agreements with local communities that they will set up a pipeline to some sort of storage facility and allow local residents to get cheap gas. In the area just south of us, pipeline companies are scrambling to get the Millenium and other pipelines done so that the Marcellus can be made accessible so that energy companies can buy and sell this stuff by itself or sell it to electric generators.

3) It does not make the real estate any more valuable; as a matter of fact, because of rules giving drillers the right to horizontally access the land of people who have not signed lease agreements (yes, this IS true here in Upstate NY), land is actually less valuable. Why would anyone buy a piece of property where they do not have rights to keep it and the water supply on it safe?

4) It does not conserve the natural beauty of property. When a holding pond leaks or spills (which actually has happened quite often in PA), it not only ruins the water supply and can kill livestock – it also kills anything growing on the land as well.

So, who will benefit?

The energy companies (and by the way, natural gas prices right now are highly depressed because of the oversupply of Marcellus gas from PA, OH, and WV coming into the market. No one is storing this stuff and waiting for higher prices later) are able to buy very cheap gas now for either natural gas supply or to use to produce electricity. Too bad the industrial economy is so depressed that no one needs it. What they will probably do is liquify it and put it on tankers bound for China.

The drilling companies will do well.

Some individuals will do well.

The communities will not.

And in the case of Pennsylvania, I can tell you that the commonwealth has already in a bunch of cases allowed drilling companies to vacate agreements to provide safe drinking water, to repair roads and bridges and so on, leaving the damage to local and state taxpayers. Oh, and Pennsylvania STILL has not figured out a system of fees and fines on this.

Guys – the horse is out of the barn already. Krup’s comment about ‘if we can do it the right way’ is totally moot. Companies like Cabot Energy and Chesapeake have been doing shale gas production through fracking for years (oh and there were four 4+ on the Richter scale earthquakes in Oklahoma recently; don’t tell me this is NOT from the fracking that is going on down there). You’d think they’d know how ‘to do it the right way’ already.

They don’t and they don’t have any control over the negligence of the crews.

But they sure don’t want to have to pay for it once it’s happened; and once the brine hits the water table, it’s pretty hard to stuff it ‘back in the barn.’

I’m going to take my money and…

7:28 am in Economy, Financial Crisis by TobyWollin

There’s a lot of interest and discussion in the US for individuals making their feelings known to ‘the big banks’ about what they’ve done to the economy (not only here but also abroad). And one of the most popular appears to be people closing their accounts with the ‘too big to fail/we gave them bailout money’ banks and moving their money to either a locally owned bank or a credit union. And if you want to know who the so-called big banks are, the list is here: Solari Tapeworm 20

But, how do you know if a bank is ‘locally owned’? And can you join any credit union you want to?

Well, ‘locally owned’ banks, in general are referred to as ‘community banks’ and if you want to find out which banks in your community are community banks, you can use a very nifty search engine sponsored by the Community Bank Association to do just that. Go here: community bank search engine You just plop your zipcode into the last box, click off the radius in miles and the engine will generate a list. After that, it’s up to you to do the investigating in terms of finding out which bank will be right for you (because after all, just because it’s locally owned doesn’t mean that it has all the services you might need, nor does it mean that the customer service is really great). There are all sorts of guidelines out there on evaluating banks: Solai How to Find A Local Bank

But, here’s my method (and actually I use this for finding doctors, dentists, plumbers and other people I need services from): Ask everyone you know: “Do you know anyone who works at xxx bank? What have they said about working there? Can you give me their phone number – I’d like to ask them some questions.”

The Solari article has reams of technical questions but I like to ask questions like: How is it to work there? What is your relationship with customers? Are you held to strict guidelines in terms of what you can do? How does the organization treat YOU as a person?

I figure an organization that treats its employees well as people, gives them responsibility and authority to take care of customers in the best way they know how is the sort of organization that wants its customers treated well too.

Here’s another idea – community based credit unions. Now, there are a lot of employment-based credit unions – that’s really how the credit union got started. And in most cases, if you have a close (like, sibling, parent, etc.) relative that already belongs to their employment credit union, they can sponsor you to get into that credit union also. All credit unions are not the same size and may not have all the same services so it’s good to know all your options. Another option in credit unions (and these have only really grown in the past 15 years or so) are the ‘community chartered’ federal credit unions. These are based on the affinity of an area or municipality. For example, in my area, there are two community chartered credit unions. One of them used to be a giant employment based credit union, but when the industrial giant closed their operation here, the credit union faced losing all of their customer base so they got their charter changed to a community based one, where anyone living, working, going to school in our area could become a member. And since they were a huge credit union with lots and lots of advanced services in insurance, investments, trusts and estates and so on, this made them a very popular option for people who could not be members before. The other credit union actually started as a teachers’ credit union and went to community cased. Another credit union nearby started as a community credit union. But again, you can find credit unions in YOUR area by using the credit union search engine here: Find a credit union Again, you plop your zipcode and the radius of distance around you that you’d be willing to travel into the boxes, click off search and off you go. You will see a list with details on membership requirements. And also again, I’d find people you know who are members of those credit unions or who work there. We’ve been members of two credit unions over the years (and the larger one actually absorbed the smaller one when it ran into trouble) and I can tell you that the service and attention to us as customers has been absolutely amazing.

It’s worth taking the time to do the little job. Once you have chosen your new bank or credit union, go in and speak to a staff member and ask for ‘a switch kit’ – this contains the check list and all the paperwork you will need to get your accounts switched AND take care of all the automatic payments you have for car, insurance, utilities and so on. The whole process becomes very streamlined with a switch kit so ask for that and also ask for whatever help the new bank or credit union can provide to smooth the process with your old bank.
(this is a cross-post from my blog truth in advertising and all that)

Why Isn’t NYPD’s Union Screaming Bloody Murder?

10:51 am in Financial Crisis by TobyWollin

Earlier today, a policeman on a (and I’m not sure technically if this is a scooter or a motorcycle, so I don’t know how heavy this baby is – I do know that NYPD rides Harley Davisons, which run, without anything extra on it, about 850 pounds) two-wheeled gas-powered vehicle drove over the leg of one of the OWS folks in the street. And then parked the thing on top of his leg.

Police Officer runs over

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