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Typically, I’m not much of an activist. My support for causes that I believe in tends to be quiet and personal – I’ve never been one to shout from the rooftops and tell others how they should think, feel or act. This time around though, I’m stepping out of my box.

We’ve all read countless stories about how the insatiable greed of Wall Street financial institutions has led them to take ridiculous risks with OUR money, and deserve a large share of the blame for the global economic meltdown that continues to impact just about everyone I know. With our economic system on the verge of collapse, in an unprecedented move, the US taxpayers gave hundreds of billions of dollars to these “too-big-to-fail” banks (namely Citibank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase) in order to prop them up and keep our economy from imploding. These institutions survived only because the US taxpayers stepped in to save them.

One would think they’d be grateful, perhaps a little humble in the aftermath. But no. How do these mega-banks  show their appreciation? By screwing us, in every imaginable way, to restore their profits and feed the Wall Street beast. OUR money is not being used for loans to small business to get the economy rolling again, as intended. OUR money is not being reinvested in communities. OUR money is being hoarded to offset corporate losses and shore up their own balance sheets. OUR money is being used to pay lobbyists in Washington to go to battle against reforms that would protect us from another catastrophe.

These banks have also been very aggressive – more so than ever – in screwing consumers out of billions of dollars through predatory fees and deceptive banking practices. When Congress stepped in to try to put an end to such tactics, the banks used the time period leading up to the new rules’ effective date to pre-emptively raise interest rates and enact even more penal terms on their customers. The greed and arrogance is reprehensible. The biggest banks are now profitable once again, and, blind to the devastation that remains in the wake of their irresponsibility, have decided to reward themselves with billions of dollars in bonus pay.

Pissed yet? You should be. There is a very easy and effective solution. Move your money out of the “too-big-to-fail” banks, and into community-based banks and credit unions. The idea was spawned over the holidays by Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson of the Huffington Post, which just happens to be the most widely-read blog on the planet (see the link in my blogroll to the left). This post explains the “how and why” and points out how it’s a better deal for consumers as well. Please, if you never click on another link in my blog again, click this one and read it. And, do us all a favor and forward this to everyone you know!

By putting our deposits in local banks and credit unions instead of the big four Wall Street banks, we give control of that money back to the people that live and work in our communities, where that money is most likely to be reinvested. It’s so simple, one has to wonder why we haven’t been doing this all along. I applaud the idea, and I am thrilled to see that it’s gaining a lot of traction, not only around the blogosphere, but in the real world as well. Even local and state governments are starting to transfer some of their cash into smaller, local banks, and that can make a real difference, real fast.

Wall Street does what it does because, so far, we’ve let them get away with it. We happily play victim to their perverse loyalties. Not me – not any more. We’re looking at refinancing our house in California, and we’ll be using a credit union this time around. By the way, did you know that credit unions are non-profit institutions? We’ve been customers for some time now, and we love it. With better interest rates on loans and savings deposits, and friendly service, I actually feel more like a valued client rather than a revenue target. And, every extra dollar they bring in is returned to their members (account holders) as dividends. Is that cool or what?

How about you? Are you angry enough to do something about it, or are you going to let Wall Street continue to have its way with you and your money?

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I got this idea from a friend of mine who posted the challenge on Facebook last night. I liked the idea, and wanted to try it out here. She’s a fan of this blog, so I’m hoping she won’t mind.

What is your favorite first line from a song? The concept is simple enough. It can be any kind of song – rock, country, blues, even showtunes – but to qualify for this challenge, it has to be a song lyric. No books, no movies, no poetry. We’ll hit those categories another time. Leave your favorite as a comment to this post, and do all of us a favor by telling us the source of your selection (song title, artist), and if so inclined, tells us what you like about it.

Is picking a single favorite too much pressure? Fine. Then just tell us about one you particularly like. I’ll even start the ball rolling with a favorite of my own from the Counting Crows:

“She steps out the front door like a ghost into the fog, where no-one notices the contrast of white on white.”

I love this lyric for the creative imagery, and the mood it casts. With that one line, we can immediately understand that this person either feels or wants to feel invisible, which in turn allows us to speculate on what must be a whole host of underlying thoughts and feelings.

So many of you have introduced me to much of the music that I listen to most often, and I’d really like to hear back from you. You don’t have to articulate about it, just share. Have some fun with it. That’s what we’re here for!

Today feels much like the day that George W. Bush was re-elected to a second term in office.

I sit in shock and utter disbelief at the choices we make as a nation. I would have expected this from rural ranchers and Bible-thumping southerners drinking the conservative kool-aid, but these were folks from the most-educated and liberal state in the Union. I saw this post today from Mitchell Bard, and he’s done a fantastic job of capturing my sentiments. It’s worth a read.

I’m not angry, I’m disheartened. There may well be continued efforts to make some meaningful progress on health care reform, but with the Republicans in control we can be certain that any potential reforms will neither be meaningful nor progressive. Such concepts cut against the fabric that cloaks their greed and power. Looking forward, we can expect that every new initiative the Administration puts forth will be promptly and earnestly blocked by the Republicans, not on the merits of the legislation, but simply because they can.

One year ago today, Barack Obama took office as President of the United States. He brought a message of hope, and for me, the hope was that our new leader would have the courage to propose big ideas to make meaningful changes, even if the proposals were politically risky and could jeopardize his prospects for re-election.

That hope is gone now, because our Republican friends have zero interest in doing anything that could upset their ultra-conservative, wealthy and religious base. They’ll simply stall until the November elections, because if you do nothing, you can always blame the other guys. And looking at yesterday’s election results, we’re clearly dumb enough to fall for it.

Hell just froze over. In an epic upset, the Republicans have gained a Senate seat in Massachusetts, giving them a crucial 41st vote and the ability to kill health care reform, and every other attempt at progress the Obama administration makes.

It’s a sure bet that absolutely nothing will get accomplished in Congress between now and 2012. And in the meantime, healthcare costs will continue to skyrocket, with record profits lining the pockets of the insurance companies as more and more Americans fall victim to the greed that bleeds us dry.

The reform bill was never going to be perfect. In its current, anemic form, I’m not convinced it would have even helped as much as we’d hope. But now, I know without a doubt that nothing will get better anytime soon, and Joe Leiberman will continue to have folks from both sides of the aisle lining up to kiss his ass.

I’ve got lots of friends in the medical world, and some of them even take the time now and again to read this blog. I love you all, and hope we can still be chums, but . . .

Why the hell does basic medical care have to cost so much?

Back in November, my son was goofing off with friends at the park and took a fall. He managed to find the one piece of metal in about two acres of grass, and split the back of his head open. He was bleeding everywhere, so we made a call to one of our “friends on the inside,” and the local emergency room staff was waiting for us when we walked in the door. Step aside, swine-flu people, we’ve got real blood here. The service was outstanding, and we are very appreciative of being allowed to get in and out with relative ease.

A few weeks later, we got the bill from the hospital. And then we got a separate bill from the doctors. Needless to say, I was stunned. Hospital charges totaled over $1600, and a separate bill from the doctor was nearly $900.

Wah? That’s $2500 for 2 bottles of saline solution to clean the wound, a novacaine shot, and 5 staples. Really! No ambulance, no fancy scans, no lab work, nada. Just a textbook case of stitch-em up and send-em home. The whole procedure probably took 30 minutes.

Yes, we’ve got insurance, so we won’t end up paying that much, but c’mon . . . $2500? No wonder we’ve got a health care crisis in this country.