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Ready, Aim, Fired

Damn, I wasn't expecting this bit of news: I work as a contractor for a hospital in the Boston area and a rather unexpected round of budget cuts equaling job cuts was just announced. Guess who got laid off? Yep, you guessed it.

To add insult to injury, they're pushing for immediate terminations of support staff throughout the hospital. My last day will be tomorrow. Now, remember, no one had any idea this was going to happen – including the department head and my supervisor – this morning. One day to go from having a job to not having a job.

Well, fuck. I wonder if any of the people making these budget decisions stop to think about their impact on those affected. Can't they even stretch it out to the end of the week? One day?

Who are these people? Do they have families to feed, mortgages to pay? Will the world come to an end if an employer extends to people who are hired and who work in good faith a few days to make preparations?

What the hell is this world coming to? Or, more to the point, what the hell HAS this world come to?

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Stressed out: Women more likely to feel economic pangs

An interesting article I saw while browsing the Reuters news website:

By Terri Coles

TORONTO (Reuters) – Stocks are tumbling, the U.S. economy may be in recession, and don't even look at your 401K. It's little wonder some people are stressed out, but women may be bearing the brunt of it.

In a recent survey, women expressed more fear about the economic situation than men and reported more physical and psychological effects because of related stress.

"Women are sometimes more aware of the stress they are feeling," said Stephanie Smith, a psychologist and public education coordinator for the American Psychological Association (APA).

"They are often more willing to talk about it and admit to the struggles they are having," she said in a statement.

The survey, conducted by the APA, showed that 84 percent of women expressed fear about where the economy is going, compared with 75 percent of men.

One reason could be the primary caretaker role many women hold in their families, Smith suggested. A financial crisis can become even more worrying if you are responsible for caring for children and older relatives than if you are just taking care of yourself. As well, although surveys have shown a shift toward a splitting of chores between genders, women still carry a heavier burden in maintaining the home.

"As much as things have changed over the years, women still tend to do more of the household work," Smith said. "Taken together, these things often lead to more stress in women because they just have more things to be stressed about."

Stress is considered a risk factor for many diseases, including heart disease, bowel illnesses like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and mental illness. It causes biochemical changes in the body that can compromise the immune system, and makes it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar.

A recent study found that some types of stress, such as that caused by financial debt, can increase the risk of preterm delivery, and another showed that people who are chronically stressed are three to four times more likely to suffer heart problems. They also have a 53 percent increased risk of high blood pressure or stroke. A long-term study out of Finland discovered that uncertainty about your role in your workplace can up the risk of a heart attack over time.

The first key to reducing stress is recognizing its symptoms, which include irritability, sadness, changes in sleep patterns, weight gain or loss, difficulty concentrating and restlessness.

Most people likely already have the tools to cope with stress, said Smith. "One of things we often do is abandon our good coping strategies," she said. "The first and easiest coping mechanism is to keep up your good habits." That means trying to stick to your existing schedule for social activities and taking some time during the day to focus on yourself.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also suggests making an effort to get adequate sleep. A lack of sleep could make stress worse and lead to other health problems like weight gain and reduced immune function. Exercise and a good diet will help you stay healthy, and talking to friends and loved ones about your worries can also help you work through your anxiety.

If stress is affecting your quality of life, the American Heart Association recommends speaking to your doctor to find ways to cope and reduce your risk of stress-related health problems down the road.

Are you feeling extra stressed because of the economic crisis? Tell us about it: HealthMatters@reuters.com

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Cutting Up The Credit Card

I've decided to take my credit card and cut it into little pieces. There are some items we need to keep on it on a regular basis: ISP services, for example, but the rest I can pay out-of-pocket.

I've seen my interest rate soar almost 10% without my knowledge or consent. The credit card companies can do that, so they do. There are incredible abuses.

So, I'm about to yank monthly expenses right off of there and start paying down the balance. Like a lot of folks, my wages haven't kept up with the cost of living. I'm hoping that's changed. In any event, the remaining little recurring expenses are going off, off, off. I'm not contributing to this madness one more minute.

By the way, here's an interesting article about some of these credit card abuses. You might want to consider doing the same after you've read this:

http://www.reuters.com/article/email/idUSTRE48N9JS20080924

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Now Here’s How To Tell Who’s Really Important To Our Government

(i.e., not us)

And here's another example of Republican "love" (not of us, unless your name starts with Morgan Stanley). The White House opposes a House credit card bill, to curb deceptive credit card practices. Heavens, mustn't impede the credit markets!

Guess we're just not rich enough to warrant anything more.

From Reuters:

White House says opposes House credit card bill

2 hours, 1 minute ago

The White House said on Monday it opposes legislation called "the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights" that would curb unfair and deceptive credit card practices, saying it would constrain banks' ability to price risk.

The White House said in a statement the bill would lead to less access to credit and higher interest rates for consumers.

"For the credit market to operate efficiently, creditors must have the flexibility to react to changes in customer risk and market conditions," the White House said.

The provision "would restrict when lenders may change terms of the credit agreement, significantly constraining the ability of financial institutions to adapt to changing credit risks and market conditions," the White House said.

The legislation is in the House of Representatives. The full House is expected to pass the bill, but similar legislation is not expected to progress in the Senate due to preoccupation with the financial crisis and U.S. presidential election.

The bill, chiefly sponsored by New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney, is similar to proposed regulations the Federal Reserve is reviewing and expected to finalize later this year.

Banks, reeling from the collapse of the U.S. housing and subprime mortgage markets and subsequent credit crisis, oppose the bill, which could limit their credit card revenue.

The bill would end double-cycle billing, in which card companies reach back to prior billing cycles to help calculate the interest charged in the current cycle.

It also seeks to give cardholders more time to pay by forcing card companies to mail bills 25 days before the due date instead of the current 14 days.

Among the biggest issuers of Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc credit cards are Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Capital One Financial Corp and Discover Financial Services.

The White House said it was concerned about unfair and deceptive practices and supports efforts to protect consumers, but added that regulations are better suited to address the issues instead of legislation.

(Reporting by John Poirier and Nancy Waitz; Editing by Gary Hill)

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Why I Like the Huffington Post

This is a recent article. Doesn't that make you feel good all over???

You can see the Huffington Post at: www.huffingtonpost.com. Simple enough.

John McCain wants the health care industry to be more like the banking industry.

This from a McCain article in Contingencies, the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries:

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.

(Hat tip to TPM and Krugman)

We've had some interesting discussions over at USNews.com's opinion section about McCain's jarring transformations, most recently from deregulator to economic populist.

But this quote — in an article no doubt submitted to the magazine months ago — makes stark how absurd is the latest iteration of John McCain.

As Josh Marshall puts it:

…let's admit that you could only be surprised by this statement if you were willfully ignorant to what McCain and his key advisors believe. Remember, his top economics advisor is former Sen. Phil Gramm, the legislative architect of the banking and financial services deregulation that led to the current crisis. … The only thing jarring about the statement is the degree to which it has been overtaken by events as McCain now tries — a la Palin the Earmark-Killer — to rebrand himself as a Mr. Wall Street oversight and transparency when he's been pushing deregulation for 25 years.

So the question now is: What breathtaking whopper does the McCain campaign deploy to get out of this one?

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Yes, I Can Spell: R-E-C-E-S-S-I-O-N

Today's been one of those over-and-over days, like September 11. I keep reading this, hearing about this, realizing this is a huge mess, with the pundits finally calling it what it is: recession. According to the article below, Lehman Brothers pre-dates the US civil war (1861-1865) and survived the Great Depression of the 1930s. Now it's history, along with Merrill Lynch.

What do I think is going on? 30 years of Reagan-omics (i.e., massive deregulation and the notion that government oversight is evil), with the latest sitting moron adding the final icing to the cake before the rotten behemoth finally started to topple over. Hey, does anybody remember that this "free market" lunacy (or, more accurately and system of "Socialism for the rich, Capitalism for the poor" – and middle class, too, I guess) is what also brought on the Great Depression? I don't think we'll have one of them, fortunately, at least I don't think so. But, who knows?

I'm not a "wild eyed, left-wing commie," as some in my country would say. I'm a business owner and middle-class American who's been seeing crap like this happening for years. I'm not worried about "big government," or paying too much in taxes. I'm worried about the lack of affordable health care and the decline in real wages. When people are strained, they aren't going shopping. I don't care what anyone says – we can't spend our way out of debt and you can't make money out of nothing.

Cripes.

Meltdown in US finance system pummels stock market

By PATRICK RIZZO and JOE BEL BRUNO, AP Business Writers1 hour, 7 minutes ago

The upheaval in the American financial system sent shock waves through the stock market Monday, producing the worst day on Wall Street in seven years as investors digested the failure of one of its most venerable banks and wondered which domino would be next to fall.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 500 points, more than 4 percent, its steepest point drop since the day the stock market reopened after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. About $700 billion evaporated from retirement plans, government pension funds and other investment portfolios.

The carnage capped a tumultuous 24 hours that redrew U.S. finance. Lehman Brothers, an investment bank that predates the Civil War and weathered the Great Depression, filed the largest bankruptcy in American history. A second storied bank, Merrill Lynch, fled into the arms of Bank of America.

It was by far the most stomach-churning single day since a financial crisis began to bubble up from billions of dollars in rotten mortgage loans that have crippled the balance sheets of one bank after another and landed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under the control of the federal government.

"We are in the middle of a deep, dark recession, and it won't end soon. Here it is, and it is pretty nasty," said Barry Ritholtz, who writes the popular financial blog The Big Picture and is CEO of research firm FusionIQ.

And the fallout was far from over. American International Group, the world's largest insurer, was fighting for its very survival: New York Gov. David Paterson moved to allow the company to tap one of its subsidiaries for an emergency loan to stay above water.

"AIG still remains financially sound," Paterson said, even as the company's stock tumbled almost 60 percent. Almost $20 billion was wiped off AIG's balance sheet on Monday.

In Washington, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who refused to toss a financial lifeline to Lehman, was unapologetic as the Bush administration signaled strongly that Wall Street shouldn't expect more rescues from Washington.

The American people should remain confident in the "soundness and resilience in the American financial system," Paulson told reporters at the White House.

Six months ago, Paulson moved to prevent the collapse of Bear Stearns, brokering a deal for JP Morgan Chase & Co. to buy the firm at a fire-sale price with Federal Reserve backing. Earlier this month, he stepped in to help the government seize Fannie and Freddie in hopes of reversing the housing and credit crises.

But Monday, Paulson said he "never once" considered it appropriate to put taxpayer money at risk to resolve the problems at Lehman Brothers, which was saddled with $60 billion worth of soured real estate holdings.

The result was one of the most momentous days in Wall Street history since legendary banker J. Pierpont Morgan helped broker the rescue of financial markets during the Panic of 1907.

The Dow industrials dropped 504.48 points to close at 10,917.51, the first time since July they have finished under 11,000. It was the sixth-largest point drop ever and the worst since Sept. 17, 2001, when the average fell 684.81 points on the first day of trading after the terror attacks.

In percentage terms, the fall for the Dow on Monday was its worst since the summer of 2002. The index has shed nearly a quarter of its value since its record high last October.

Broader stock indicators also fell. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost more than 4 1/2 percent, and the Nasdaq composite index lost more than 3 1/2 percent.

Financial stocks fell as investors worried about the strength of banks' balance sheets. Washington Mutual Inc. 27 percent to $2 a share, while Wachovia Corp. fell 25 percent to $10.71.

While Lehman Brothers was filing for Chapter 11 and AIG was scurrying to find financing to stay afloat, Merrill Lynch was avoiding a similar fate with a $50 billion transaction to become part of Bank of America Corp.

The deal would create a financial giant rivaling Citigroup Inc., the biggest U.S. bank in terms of assets. Bank of America has the most deposits of any U.S. bank, while Merrill Lynch is the world's largest and most widely recognized brokerage.

"It was an opportunity of a lifetime," said Ken Lewis, Bank of America's chairman and CEO.

Lewis made the announcement at a news conference where he was flanked by a smiling John Thain, Merrill's chief executive. The two put the deal together in 48 hours, while they were taking part in marathon discussions at the New York Federal Reserve over the weekend to save Lehman Brothers. Merrill stock rose a penny Monday.

One huge concern is that the Lehman bankruptcy will probably trigger even tighter credit — making it more difficult for everyone from large companies to small businesses to American homebuyers to borrow money.

It was a dark day for Lehman workers, too. Many of them brought gym bags, shopping totes and Lehman travel bags to cart home personal files and pictures from their desks at the company's midtown Manhattan headquarters. Gawkers lined up behind metal barricades, and bystanders took pictures with their cell phones.

The failure of Lehman and probable job losses at Merrill are also a blow to the New York City economy, which is still trying to absorb a blow from shrunken tax revenues after the collapse of Bear Stearns in March. The city and its outlying suburbs rely heavily on taxes paid by workers in the financial services industry.

In marathon sessions Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, government officials and the chief executives of major U.S. and foreign banks huddled at the New York Fed's fortress-like building in downtown Manhattan, trying to work out a way to save Lehman.

They failed at that. But a group of 10 banks that includes JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup formed a $70 billion pool that banks or brokerages can tap to cover short-term funding needs.

There were also worries that Lehman's problems would infect other financial companies and spread to global stock markets, further harming the U.S. and global economies.

The Fed meets Tuesday to decide interest rate policy. It's widely expected to keep rates at 2 percent, but some economists believe it could lower them to soothe Wall Street's frazzled nerves.

The financial turbulence could also further derail consumer confidence in the economy just as stores prepare for the critical holiday shopping season. The upheaval in the financial system also means that those consumers with marginal credit history will have an even harder time getting loans, cutting into consumer spending.

"The backdrop even without this was tough. This certainly adds to the worry level," said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at The International Council of Shopping Centers.

Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain assailed "greed and corruption" on Wall Street and promised to clean it up, while his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, blamed White House policies and said his opponent would only deliver more of the same.

Obama called it "the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression." McCain declared in a new TV ad that "our economy is in crisis" and that only he and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, could fix it. McCain also told voters in Jacksonville, Fla., "The fundamentals of our economy are strong."

___

Associated Press writers Jeannine Aversa in Washington, Ieva M. Augstums in Charlotte, N.C., and Rachel Beck, Tim Paradis, Ellen Simon, Vinnee Tong and Stephen Bernard in New York contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS to American International Group, not American Insurance Group. .)

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