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Archive for September, 2011

this is my house, plus goals

October 1st, 2011 at 03:38 am

The Queen of Hearts
She made some tarts,
All on a summer's day;
The Knave of Hearts
He stole those tarts,
And took them clean away.
The King of Hearts
Called for the tarts,
And beat the knave full sore;
The Knave of Hearts
Brought back the tarts,
And vowed he'd steal no more.

I witnessed, Guide's Honour, the following exchange in my house.

"There are three fewer butter tarts! WHO TOOK THEM? WAS IT YOU?" Knave points to King.
King, smiling, looks down at Knave. "Oh I didn't have three butter tarts... I had SIX!"

Knave throws himself at King, pummeling him with flying fists. "You SON of a PICKLE!"
Then he pushes King out of the kitchen toward the living room. "OUT! YOU DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE!! GET YOUR THINGS AND GO!"

Seriously, that was the most worked up I'd ever seen the knave since the King told him he'd not drive us to Peoria, Illinois to hear John Daker sing in the First United Methodist Church Sunday service. (Search YouTube for John Daker if you dare. Safe for work, unless you're a church musical director.)

Possible butter tart fixation at my house.

Thinking, if I do run a business, of calling it "Buttercup Palace." Now for a design...
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Goals:
* floss teeth at least three times a week
* coconut or unrefined sesame oil three times a week -- oil-pulling
* medication taken morning and night
* affirmations and energy routines and yoga three times a week

The people yipping about Citibank and Bank of America finding a new revenue source now that small businesses have lower debit card merchant transaction fees remind me of The Kinks. Nobody's making them bank at those places, nobody's forcing them to use debit cards, and what were they doing when some of us were fleeing the banks because we couldn't have fee-free accounts anymore, or they shortened our grace periods, brought in arbitration... waiting for stuff to happen to THEM.

end of month musings

September 30th, 2011 at 08:51 pm

Paid $137 to VISA account.
Charged $35 for co-pay for doctor's visit today.
We have $400 for the week to tide us over. Weekly vegetables, grocery replenishments and a $10-$20 food bank donation are covered.

Cinerama big screen 70mm film festival starts tonight.
Hubby very keen to go.

Mortgage down to $118677 or something.
HELOC down to $15785 or something.
A stickler for budgeting figures I am. The important thing is that the balances are going down.

Achieved $16200 in liquid cash, have lipstick and two eyeliners, one sweater, one pair wool trousers, one pair cashmere socks.

Goals for next month: purchase of two replacement items.


Hunger

September 29th, 2011 at 06:03 pm

As payback for not immediately giving a dollar to the beggar who paced the doors of a lecture hall to block departing people in a rush to get home (it was a free event, no beverages or snacks, so it wasn't a fine-frocked concert affair), I had a fitful sleep with hunger pangs, dreaming of the psychologically worst time of our uneducated-single-parent poverty-stricken childhood. I had two bowls of Indian-spiced lentils and rice before heading to the lecture hall and thought that might tide me overnight but no.

Fascinating to remember how ashamed I was of our Studebaker which was more recent than our current beater. I am ashamed of the beater, but I am determined to run it into the ground before getting a newer car, as I hope a midsize sedan with equivalent fuel efficiency will be in our price range at that time.

If I have $10 or $20 remaining at the end of the payperiod, it's going to the local food bank. People can't function properly with empty stomachs. I don't apologize for giving to a food bank or to organizations: they give me a receipt and tell me beforehand what they will do with the money.

Several are asking me for money (school, political, charity donations) but nobody is asking me to work for money. No more political donations unless the candidate or incumbent can find paying work for me.
No more school donations outside of book purchases.

Austerity can be tiring -- this is how I feel. My self-control is stretched. I buy makeup every two-three years instead of every 6 months to a year, many of my clothes are secondhand or 7 years old and too small for me. I am reducing my vitamin and supplement intake to Vitamin C, D and Udo's Choice 3-6-9 oil with multi-vitamins for a few weeks.

My second mortgage payment has been received: only 142 payments and 98.6% principal left to go! The interest portion is 25% less than it would have been if we didn't refinance, so I blink a few times when I see it on our online statement. I don't feel any richer with the smaller mortgage payment -- probably because I am acutely aware of how my city plans to raise our utility charges, introduce a $60 vehicle license tab ($60 is about what we pay all year for gas in the scooter!), and most damningly, increased coffee bean prices at Costco.

Made butter tarts as promised for my child as reward for getting over ten people to donate to his walk-a-thon: they went very fast -- his friend fought him (!!) for dibs, and my poor overworked and frustrated spouse pouted when there were none left for him, so I made two more while the boys were distracted by outside play. I thought three tarts each would satisfy the boys but no. My mom made butter tarts that my brother loved but I didn't -- maybe they are a guy thing. I exhausted my awesomeness points with the butter tarts and turned into a pumpkin the moment I left the house for the evening.

Wondering if I could try some "Mildred Pierce" style Depression-buster entrepreneurialism and make "butter tarts" the foodie trend that poutine seems to be here. Certainly there's a market for sugar...
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if anyone has made it this far, I express my gratitude to the SavingAdvice admins for the swift and routine extermination of the spam blogs.

good day for boy, so-so for me

September 28th, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Boy is fundraising for his school's walk-a-thon. He is adept at bringing in dough: $70 yesterday by threatening people that his mother would come back the club to play them if they didn't come up with money; then today I dropped him at a cafe to do some soliciting, which I wouldn't do unless I were well-known at that cafe, while I went to the post office. When I came back, he had one signature more with one dollar. I am happy that he had success. The donor looks at me and says "are you the motorcycle woman?" and when I answer yes he pulls out an extra five dollars to donate!

I have to take the scooter out tonight so am thinking of photocopying his donation form and finding everyone under 5'6" at tonight's event to ask for donations. He is going to ask the chess club tonight -- I gave one man there a lift to a bus stop a few weeks ago, and another man there knows his teacher, so it should be a good haul.

Expenditure: $12.68 for paperback gift for mother-in-law; $6.30 to mail it before her birthday.

My English Castle: no exercise except pushing the motorcycle (432 lbs) up a gentle incline.

What I spent money on today

September 27th, 2011 at 06:42 pm

Breve $4.31 (latte made with half'n'half) while waiting for
Oil change $44.32 (oil disposal fee 15% of that from "discount oil change places", with no feeble upselling questions from workers who ask by rote before checking service records)
Costco - $90.02 for meat, coffee, juice and cereal. Meat = whole chicken @ $0.99/lb; round roasts for $3.79/lb; organic ground beef @ $4.66/lb. Coffee at $5.19/pound: might be time to switch to yerba mate or green tea for second cups.
Gas - $3.70/gallon at Costco. Cheapest deal around -- filled tank for under $40. MPG: 25.64.

Guilt weighing heavily on me: I know there are no lottery tickets, pop, cigarettes or beer in the above list, but "meat, coffee, juice and cereal" seem so nonessential right now.

Today's News Flash

September 25th, 2011 at 10:57 pm

For My English Castle:
I got some REAL exercise: panting, heart-pounding exercise, hiking two trails in a state park. Oh my heart is in a woeful state. 1.0 miles, but last the 0.4 miles is on a steep and narrow trail. I had to stop twice to catch my breath.

$10 for day pass for the park, but four of us went, two of us high-energy tweens.

Money spent on espresso & pastries, above-mentioned state park fee and lamb chops for dinner. I saw BooBerry, FrankenBerry and Count Chocula cereals at Safeway, which we didn't have on our shelves back in the old country but boy! did we see the ads on US TV (grumble grumble). So my mind shot back to watching Christopher Glenn on "Take 30" (CBS? ABC?) and PSAs about our neighbours being "fuelish" and crying Indians, and I wanted to take a box each and nibble in front of the TV set watching a rented DVD box set of "Columbo". (I will not choose again to watch those Prescott-Scheimer cartoons, except "Fat Albert" or "Gilligan's Planet" if I had some really good mind-altering substances) My American husband said to me "Have you ever HAD those cereals?"
"Uh no, I just said..."
"But later in life, did you..."
"If I had, would I be yearning to take those home with me?"

If I didn't have a tween boy...
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This is what you guys get for showing us your furshlugginer General Mills marshmallow cereal ads but not letting us have the cereal brands, thus delaying our eventual slide into obesity and Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Nyah!

Why I am a misanthrope

September 24th, 2011 at 02:21 am

This week in Notices of Trustee Sale:

$706155.72 owing on a house that was bought for $774K in 2004 and is now worth $733000.

A house purchased in 1986 with a $65000 mortgage that is now facing foreclosure with a $300000 loan. If I foreclose with a half-million-dollar mortgage I never paid, one year after I was supposed to pay it off, I am either institutionalized with mental illness or I have a nasty drug habit.

I cannot be the only fossil who remembers when a house was a "money pit" and not a "piggy bank/credit card".

Is it only people who grew up in other countries with shorter boom-bust cycles who know real estate can go down when they're not actually in a down cycle? Or people with at least a passing knowledge of economics?

Someone at the Blonde & Balanced Blog (I used to be both, am now neither) stated that homeownership peace of mind was most likely when the 20/25 rule was followed: 20% downpayment on a property, and no more than 25% of your gross income as a monthly payment.

Put some more toward the HELOC and look! I have one of my goals completed! It is my hope to have at least one goal crossed off every two weeks: at my least ambitious I am sure I can afford Maybelline or one gallon distilled water.

I spent money on myself guilt-free today

September 23rd, 2011 at 12:38 am

I took a Chinook Book coupon down to Take 2 Consignment and bought: one Benetton sweater, one pair wool pants, one silver-plated heart-motif cuff, one pair cashmere socks and one angora short-sleeved top, the latter of which will probably serve as a "party doll" for my cat if I do not take care of it.

With tax, $103 and change.

Despite the supposed obesity epidemic in the U.S., I found the pickings for size 12+ sparse in this quality consignment shop.

Not yet purchased boots: I found some cute ones at the consignment shop but they were ankle boots. OTOH they had a nice heel and scaring people in sexy boots will be key as a campaign coordinator and supporter for he challenger, as the incumbent is a 5'5" male.

In the boots I would be over six feet.

Special message for Chinese spammers: 笨天生的一堆肉 and 我肏死你老妈的臊屄,你那个王八蛋

the bills are alive with the sound of music

September 17th, 2011 at 07:19 pm

Within an hour after I shifted $480 to the HELOC--my new goal is to pay $3650 between July 2011 and June 2012--my child came home with a Music Instruction Enrolment Form.

He wants to take music: his options are flute, violin, cello, clarinet, trombone and trumpet. I'd like something we can fit in the car, preferably rentable. He prefers brass, I prefer strings.

I think "yeah it's pricy but Chaplin was an impoverished actor when he started playing violin. Louis Armstrong was in a home for boys and he learned the trumpet. Fats Waller played piano."

So we'll discuss it this weekend. I'd like for him to visit a music store to try each of the instruments...



See? Men can look adorable playing strings.

Why US military families must not bank with Chase

September 16th, 2011 at 03:53 pm

People, businesses, organizations and nations who make it their business to murder United States citizens have had a lot of help from Chase Bank, despite sanctions imposed by the US Government making it illegal.
- http://www.chase-sucks.com/?p=98

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has been investigating a number of willful violations committed by Chase Bank going back to 2005. The list of laws violated by Chase Bank include:

Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators Sanctions Regulations
Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations
Iranian Transactions Regulations
Cuban Assets Control Regulations
Sudanese Sanctions Regulations
Former Liberian Regime of Charles Taylor Sanctions Regulations

Read the U.S. Department of the Treasury's documentation of Chase's sanctions violations.

Plus!
Here are some of the things that Chase Bank has already admitted to:

Violating the Federal Service Members Civil Relief Act. That law was enacted in 1942 to shield deployed military personnel from financial stress.
Overcharging roughly 6,000 active-duty military personnel on their mortgages.
Foreclosing on military personnel illegally and forcing them out on to the streets.
Chase has already had to return some of the homes they took illegally.
Chase has had to agree to pay back millions of dollars that they stole from US Military families.

Chase's activities do not sound patriotic to me.

Ides of September Update

September 15th, 2011 at 06:31 pm

"Don't mention the Waugh" update: I suggested A Handful of Dust for book club. I checked Wikipedia and found my son's teacher pronounces Waugh correctly. I didn't, I guess, because I first heard his name in North America. In London I had plaice for fish and chips and pronounced it "plice" because the English did it that way, and I speak English, then in Canada I told my mom and English stepfather about plaice and my mom said "it's pronounced 'place.'" So I had been pronouncing "Waugh" as "waw" in "law" "thaw" and "straw." It's "wor." Boy I had a good "lor" about that.

I saw my Resolutions 2011 post on OneNote: I thought I'd actually get my HELOC balance down below $12K by December. I still could. The HELOC auto withdrawal showed $43 interest applied. Before I borrowed for the roof, I'd managed to bring the interest down to $34 applied per month.

We're going to Vancouver this weekend for hockey training camp. This is roughly equivalent to going to Arizona for baseball training camp in spring, except driving is faster and cheaper.

From The Consumerist:

Last year, several of the country's largest mortgage servicers — Bank of America, GMAC/Ally, JPMorgan Chase, among others — were forced to hit the pause button on foreclosure procedures after it was revealed that many foreclosure documents were being rubber stamped by untrained, ill-informed "robo-signers."

-- I bet I know where my incumbent School Board Director is going to apply his talents after my candidate unseats him in the fall election. He is tireless in his volunteer elected position because rubber-stamping the School District Superintendent (whom he is to supervise with six other school board directors) doesn't take much effort.

But seriously, this update negates my earlier supposition that things were getting better. "According to the folks at RealtyTrac, "Notices of Default," the first stage of the foreclosure process, rose 33 percent month-to-month in August. So, barring an encore of the robo-signing scandal, these properties will hit the market during the first few months of next year."

July 2011 Notice of Trustee Sales: 731 records
August 2011 Notice of Trustee Sales: 776 records
--- not quite 33%.

While this may be good news for potential home-buyers looking for a bargain, it seems likely that the glut of foreclosed properties will not be welcomed by homeowners looking to sell their houses.


Snap into Savings Reality

September 14th, 2011 at 05:15 pm

This HELOC balance chokes my head and heart. I'm considering liquidating some certificates of deposit to rapidly reduce the balance.

Right now the HELOC usurps 17.173% of our available credit. It is our debt with the highest APR and the shortest payoff period.

If I wanted a car I could borrow up to 12% of our available credit. Weird that twelve years ago we were making less together than what the spouse makes now, paid 10% more for our mortgage. and had a car payment, and didn't see ourselves as suffering. See what fiscal responsibility conditioning can do to one?

The difficulty is working with my family. The boy and man seem to think that there's always money for afterschool activities, Pokemon booster decks and fantasy wargaming weekend tournaments. Meanwhile I have to wait eight weeks to replace my walking shoes and eleven weeks for a haircut. I desperately need some fall/winter skirts, tops, and boots. I buy at consignment stores and Value Village, except for the boots -- I always buy footwear new.

I saved some money yesterday: several years ago I bought some shabby chic style used bedside lamps. The paper lining in one of them disintegrated. I live close to a lampshade store that boasted 320 lampshades. I come in with my shade and am told that the style of my shade, specifically how the lightbulb is secured within the shade, is not one that is carried, and I'd be looking at $25 labour + $5 parts in addition to the purchase price of an equivalent lampshade. I look at the lamps available and they are priced from $95+. I go home, retrieve my SunUp daylight lamp, and secure it to the ceiling. Now I can program myself to wake up in the dark and have more space on my bedside table.

It saddens me that it is just one week away from the equinox and I have the daylight lamp operating. It also reminds me to take 2000 IU Vitamin D for every incremental hour of darkness. So in December I'd be taking 8000 IU of Vitamin D daily.

Don't lead me into temptation, I already know the way

September 13th, 2011 at 08:42 pm

Several families I know are looking for a "new" used car. My credit union is having an auto loan dealer event this week, offering 2.49% on new cars, 2.99% used. I visited some participating dealers' websites and found one offering 0.9% on a 60-month auto loan for highly desirable (but currently out of our reach) cars. 2.49% APR for 3 years vs 0.9 for 5... even I know what the better deal is.

Yesterday was a bad day for me and electronics: crashed another person's machine (but I restored it within 90 minutes), my phone battery lost a lot of power. I'm a social media coordinator for this person and have been promoting her online but I wouldn't be surprised if she never let me touch her computer again. All I did was insert a thumb drive containing three small document files, no autorun.exe, no scripts, no viruses, no executables in the USB port on the left and the MACHINE SHUT ITSELF DOWN. That is NOT EXPECTED BEHAVIOUR.

We observed Meatless Monday last night. I get a special thrill of seeing my son eat zucchini and eggplant without complaint.

I have learned our city's water rates are among the highest in the nation -- why? we don't live in Palm Springs or Albuquerque or Bullhead City. We live on a coast. This explains why my water use is 54% of what it was last year, yet I am paying 95% of what I did last year. Naturally the city water utility rates for residential users will rise AGAIN. Utilities (except for natural gas), insurance companies, and child care businesses will always fix it so no matter how much less of a burden you or your child may be to their operating costs, you pay more than you did the year before. Oh yeah our assessment went down this next year but our property taxes went up.

Bellingham, Point Roberts or Coquitlam next year, I swear.

Although 87% of Jean Chatzky's Pay it Down is obvious and simple for anyone who's read a get-out-of-debt book, I'm forever hopeful for fresh innovative ideas and as I don't have a lot of options: no cable to cut, no gym memberships, no weekly massages, no second car (scooter doesn't count! that is for commuting to and from work!), I may do something daring and act on the obvious suggestions: record expenditures, exercise to lose weight, because calorie reduction, digestive enzymes and eating well (low carb, organic, lots of water) aren't helping me burn fat and lose weight.

Please support me as I attempt to rejoin the human race and make the effort to do what everybody else seems to do without effort.

a decade of notice of trustee sales

September 12th, 2011 at 01:27 am

Period: September 1 - September 10

Notice of Trustee Sales for King County, Washington State

in 2001: 47
Representative Notice of Trustee Sales shows five months' delinquency in payments, from 2/1/2007 to 6/1/2007. Obligation is $317,182 for property purchased @ $347K, now zillows for $225K.

in 2006: 77
in 2007: 97
in 2008: 217
in 2009: 339
in 2010: 451

in 2011: 188
Representative Notice of Trustee Sale shows total arrearage of $82221.18. Obligation is $308934.36 for property purchased in 1995 @ $27500. No, there really are two zeros -- that's a five-digit amount. Zillows for $253000.

I guess things are getting better, or getting slower.

Payday update: 9/9 (yes yes)

September 9th, 2011 at 03:15 pm

Paid off our VISA account. It's now at a zero balance.
On track with HELOC payoff and savings, three weeks ahead with precious metals.
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I am happy for my son this school year: he has an excellent teacher, he shares a class with his best friend. During the acquainting/orientation week, my son has had interesting assignments:

1. bring a bag of four things that have special meaning for you, that help define who you are. One item was my country's flag, the desecration of which he told the class would lead to "the Deputy of England's order of beheading."* Another item shared with the class is The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey, an illustrated little alphabet poem about 26 children who die in horrific, vulgar and painful ways. The boy memorized the book when he was three and would recite it for our Goth friends.

* It is not the flag of England. The teacher is from England.

2. decorate your composition book with pictures and photographs. We had too much fun with this and nearly turned it into "Their Satanic Majesties Request," "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," or "We're Only In It For The Money," crammed with people. My treasured moment was when we affixed Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) next to a text strip of "Don't Mention The", and then Evelyn Waugh.

Scroll to 5:45 for the 'Who Wrote "Brideshead Revisited"?'

Waiting for that parent-teacher conference call...
I am determined to become the parent who supervises her child's homework and makes sure it is done well, and unlike last school year my child WILL exceed standards on the Measurement of Student Progress Tests. Not one of seventeen boys in his grade at his school exceeded standards, despite six of those boys taking accelerated math, and despite my child's competency in reading ranking close to two grades higher. It makes me wonder if "Glee", "High School Musical" and Justin Bieber monopolized the content components of the tests.

Otherwise we have no excuse to play in the fields of the staff's minds...

back to school blues/home equity...

September 8th, 2011 at 02:19 am

...for me. My kid had an okay day except for the buses taking extra time dropping off children on the home trip, owing to security roster check-off procedure. He was worried we'd be upset about his tardiness that he ran, tripped, fell and skinned both his knees. I don't know what happened between then and his arrival other than he lay on the ground until a neighbor "Juan" helped him walk home.(If it were any other kid but mine I'd have been concerned, but mine equates a nosebleed with a near-death experience.) Bandages, there-theres and vanilla custard made for a rapid recovery. His haste was in vain: I already got a phone call from the district transportation. I wonder if he's seen too much "Sons of the Desert" (1933 film, Laurel and Hardy star in it -- at the end they await punishment). I've not EVER laid a hand on him south of the neck--I don't believe in corporal punishment--but let me whip a belt in front of him and he's a tearful Stan Laurel.

CoreLogic's 2011 first quarter report on home equity is a downer, although its headline claims a slight decrease in negative equity. My Schadenfreude spreadsheet shows the largest negative equity amount as -$32679, half of the national average. We have been in an equity downturn for so long I am beginning to feel like a chump for paying the mortgage. Ohio's average negative equity amount among underwater homeowners is -$31000, the lowest average in the nation. In my state, Washington, 16.9% of mortgages are underwater. That's a disturbingly high number: I would say 70% of the states have lower percentages of negative equity mortgages.
Average property value in our state is $303874. Average equity in our state is $97289.

Once in a while I will read newspaper columns and online petitions about people who want loan modifications from their mortgage processors, and frequently I read notice of trustee sales where the mortgagee owes dozens of thousands more than what the property would sell for. Some lawyers advise their clients to live in their houses for up to a year without paying, and then walk away. As the Sex Pistols say, "when there's no future, how can there be sin?"

I received an e-mail from "ReadyForZero.com" -- I must have signed up for this at some point but everything is a haze as my brain atrophies. I don't believe I'd put my debt accounts info on a third-party website. I have one page of my debts on my credit union page. And several freebie debt repayment calculators. ReadyForZero.com boasts that its registered users pay debt twice as fast as those who don't use the site. Maybe that claim is true. I'd like to pay off my HELOC, but not to sacrifice the pleassure of paying for the car in cash, or my precious metals. I'm uncomfortable enough with my debt to post about it here, but for now I'll content myself with tooling about with my spreadsheets.

Listening to "Old Codger", an occasional WFMU podcast where someone pretending to be a contemporary of Mamie Smith and Sophie Tucker "plays 78rpm records like they're going out of style!" Paying off mortgages seems to be going out of style, too.

Signed, My Kvetchy Mama


Aren't women grand?

Feeling brain-damaged, sleep-deprived and unsuitable to be out with humans.


If I were to buy a used car in the next eight months...

September 4th, 2011 at 11:39 pm

I would give serious consideration to the Costco Auto Buying Program. This isn't a paid ad. I didn't know until today that Costco recently amended its Buying Program to include used vehicles. The My Money Blog has dozens of comments, good and bad, about the Costco purchase experience. See you can tell this isn't a paid ad because I am not linking to Costco.

I looked at Yelp! and saw so many of the car dealerships within walking distance of my house with one-star reviews. But several of the people giving those one-star reviews did not get the cars checked out by independent auto mechanics within the first three days.

I found Car Buying Tips informative too, for used and new vehicles, especially the parts about extended warranties and what to look for at auto auctions.

I have a spreadsheet of vehicles I might want to buy, with their specifications, features, safety-performance-reliability ratings, suggested buy prices, fuel economy, and importantly for us who are all extremities, headroom and legroom measurements. Yesterday a neighbor told me she was shopping for a car similar to what I want: sedan, $14000-$17000, decent mileage; so I gave her print copies of my research. I guess there are many nerdy underemployed research types in my area, because those cars are hard to find at that price range. More like $16K-$18K, before taxes, license fees, documentation fees.

what's weak this week

September 3rd, 2011 at 02:35 am

I had to look three times to make sure that the Feds really meant United States Federal Government Authorities when I saw the headline Feds Sue Big Banks Over Sales of Risky Investments.

What was the point of spending Trillions of Dollars bailing out the Banks if you are going to turn around and sue them for $30Bn and drop their stock price another Trillion, causing them to need another bailout?

Will someone please explain this to me? What I find confusing is some unnamed "saviour of Bank of America" billionaire investor bought some preferred bonds, the day after he had a chinwag with the U.S. President, and then this.

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I completed a series of online cognitive processing tasks with the carrot-dangle of a chance for a $25 Amazon.com gift certificate. I was identified as "an expert Scrabble player" despite not having played a tournament game for seven years. I did okay against an expert who plays several times a week, and I helped my little tot score 500+ points against an adult two weeks ago, so not all the brain cells have died.

I am also helping a local school board candidate (Challenger) with her campaign. She wants a world-class school district but having been educated in another part of the world I will realistically settle for a school district that doesn't make me itchy to send my kid to Catholic school or to the next school district 35 blocks north, or even the next nation north.

The year looks promising for boy: his tormentor has moved back to his home country; his best friend and another playmate from his old school have joined them at his school, and his teacher who was available at back-to-school night is English. My boy watches UK panel shows and old comedy shows on YT so this will be fun for him. His teacher can tell him about The Old Smoke's Fine Music Culture Contributions (YouTube, no foul language and no nudity)

Today I did some desktop publishing and later I will do a reconnaissance mission on her website and look for ways to make it better, and create a Word document for people to mail their donation forms if they don't want to use PayPal. I actually think she has a great shot of winning, as long as voters in my city learn how the incumbents have been wasting money.