Category Archives: Economics

My theory on the most important factor in the price of crypto currencies, and how that applies to STEEM

If you haven’t heard of Steemit.com, it’s a blogging platform that pays you to post blogs with the site’s proprietary crypto currency called STEEM. One of my first posts on Steemit was “An Introduction to Crypto Currency and Steemit for Minnows.” This explains what crypto currencies are and what gives them value, but after reading a post today by the user, aaagent, titled, “My journey through the Matrix and how I found the red pill (gold, crypto, politics, economics, & geo politics),” it made me realize I didn’t stress enough the most important factor in why/how crypto currencies gain value, which is:

HOW MANY PEOPLE ACCEPT IT AS PAYMENT FOR GOODS AND SERVICES

There are hundreds of different types of crypto currencies, and they each have a gimmick. Some are centralized. Others are decentralized. Some have more transparent histories. Others are more secure and untraceable. Doge Coin is just a generic coin that isn’t backed by anything and has a joke for name. STEEM is backed by the popularity of its social media platform, which is a cool gimmick, but ultimately won’t determine whether or not STEEM succeeds or fails.

Even if Steemit becomes a great site, people will stop investing in STEEM eventually if they can only spend it on one or two websites. Even if the Steemit admins never make another improvement in the social media platform, if they focus all their energy on getting businesses around the world to accept STEEM as payment, the price will go up and never come down.

Compare STEEM to Bitcoin and Gold. Most of the people who buy Bitcoin probably don’t understand how it works. All they know is that a lot of people accept it as real money. Therefore, it must be real. It’s like gold. Gold is useful in the real world, but most people won’t use gold for anything other than buying things with it. Very few people know why gold is so universally accepted, and they don’t need to. All they need to know is, they can buy anything with it, anywhere in the world.

This leads me to the number one reason I haven’t invested money in buying STEEM yet. (Emphasis on the word “yet.”) Steemit practically forces you to keep your STEEM tokens locked up in Steem power, and it takes months to turn your power into tokens and sell them. I’m convinced the only reason Steem power exists is because the admins want to keep timid investors from crashing the price in a panicky sell-off.

This makes the price of STEEM look stable on paper, which impresses speculative investors, but if everyone’s STEEM is locked away, then nobody is buying anything with it. The fewer people who spend STEEM, the fewer people will accept it as payment, because they’ll have nowhere to spend it, because nobody else uses it. When intelligent investors realize they can’t use STEEM for hardly anything except selling it to speculators, they’ll probably stop buying it, which will make its price go down until it dies a slow penny stock death.

When it took two years to power down your account, I had zero faith in Steemit, but I knew the program was in its beta phase. So I used it hoping the problems would get fixed. When they lowered the time to three months, it restored some of my faith. However, it’s all for naught if more businesses don’t start accepting STEEM as payment for real world goods and services. If anyone can share some links to articles of STEEM catching on with merchants, it will make me more of a believer.

You can use this concept to predict the future of other crypto currencies too. Dogecoin is doomed to fail, because it’s not based on anything, and nobody is seriously trying to convince businesses to accept it.

There will always be a real world need for hard-to-trace currencies like Dash and Monero on the darknet, but the value of privacy-centric currencies are likely to stay pegged to the size of the black market. It is possible another Bitcoin could break out of the black market though. So investors should keep an eye on which currencies are growing in popularity there.

The crypto currencies with the most potential are ones like Etherium, Zcash and Ripple, because they’re designed with business in mind, and they’re focused like a laser on getting their currency into circulation, unlike Steemit, which is more focused on manipulating the appearance of its value.

That’s harsh, but I’ll be fair, Steemit did take a step in the right direction by lowering the time it takes to power down your account. If they just do a little bit more to improve the circulation of STEEM, I’ll put my money where my faith is.


Introduction to crypto currency and Steemit.com

INTRODUCTION TO CRYPTO CURRENCY

Crypto currency is like stocks. Neither have any inherent value. The only reason they’re worth money is because people believe they are enough to trade real money for them, which isn’t so crazy, because money has no real inherent value either. Money, stocks and crypto currency are all just tokens that we assign value to on faith.

The value of these tokens are based on two things: scarcity and the reputation of the person issuing them. For example, the U.S. government says, “We’re putting 10 trillion dollars into circulation. You can trade 1,000 of them for a cow. The more stable our economy is, the more our dollars will be worth. Trust us.” IBM says, “We’re putting one billion stocks in circulation. You can trade ten of them for a cow. The more profitable our business is, the more our stock will be worth. Trust us.”

These promises are worthless until someone actually accepts these tokens as payment for real world goods. Bitcoin was just an empty promise until people started accepting it as payment. Once other people saw that happening, they said, “Holy cow! This is worth real money!? Let’s buy and sell it too.” The more demand there was for it, the more money people would pay to get it, and the more it became worth, just like stocks. So you can think of Bitcoins like stocks in Bitcoin Incorporated. It’s even sold on cryptocurrency exchanges that work like the stock market.

The difference between crypto currencies and stocks is that there is no Bitcoin Incorporated. There’s no head office, CEO or profit margin, because there’s no product being sold. Bitcoin is like a stock in a company that doesn’t exist. There are just a bunch of servers all over the world owned by volunteers, which run programs that were originally invented as a way to back up digital files in multiple locations simultaneously and securely.

Hospitals and big businesses used this technology so they could guarantee they’d never lose important records, and those records could never be tampered with. So employees couldn’t go back in and cook the books to cover up their mistakes or hide fraud. The system works sort of like Utorrent. There are a bunch of people all over the world running a program that allows their computers to collaborate with each other to write chains of data. Unlike torrent programs though, the data isn’t copied. Each server just shares the responsibility of creating and hosting a set amount of data.

The value of a Bitcoin isn’t backed by this data. The data is the money. So a Bitcoin mining machine is like a money printing press, but no matter how many mining machines are online, they collectively only create a set amount of data every day, which is distributed between all the printing presses. Ultimately, the Bitcoin printing presses will produce 21 million bitcoins, and then they will stop producing new ones. I’ve heard the number 21 million is supposed to reflect the amount of gold in the world, which is in theory should make Bitcoin the gold standard of cryptocurrency. The last bitcoin will be generated sometime around the year 2040. This system makes inflation impossible, but while Bitcoins are still being created, the more miners there are, the less each person gets to keep.

If this sounds rediculous, think of Bitcoins like digital diamonds. Diamonds have no inherent value either. They’re just common rocks. The only reason they seem scarce is because DeBeers has a monopoly on the diamond supply and only lets out a few at a time. Plus, they’ve hyped up the value of diamonds so much that people believe they’re worth money.

If DeBeers flooded the market with all the diamonds they’ve horded, the price of diamonds would plummet, and your warehouse would become full of stupid, worthless rocks. Bitcoin miners can’t flood the market with Bitcoins and crash their value like DeBeers could with diamonds. They can’t split or reverse split the amount of Bitcoins it has issued like IBM can. They can’t print 10 trillion more Bitcoins tonight and crash its value like third world countries sometimes do with their money supply. A foreign country can’t overthrow Bitcoin and crash its economy like America did to Iraq. In a crazy, turbulent world, Bitcoin will always be stable as long as the internet exists. That’s more than most currencies can boast.

INTRODUCTION TO STEEMIT

After people started paying hundreds of dollars for Bitcoins, other volunteers started running similar programs on their servers, creating their own crypto currencies and selling/trading them on exchanges. The founders of one of these exchanges, Bitshare, got thinking, if people will pay money for data records, why not make those records tied to actually human activity? Reddit and Facebook have huge servers that are filling up with bits of data. If we make a social media site that records its activity logs using blockchain databases like Bitcoin does, instead of just dumping them on regular servers, then we could monetize people’s activity on the site and then pay people to use it with the “money” their activity creates. Thus, Steemit.com was born. Steemit is a blogging platform that pays you in a crypto currency called STEEM to post, upvote and comment on its content.

I explained all this to my brother a few days ago, and he replied, “So where’s the scam? How are the guys running this thing making money? There’s got to be a pyramid scheme in there somewhere.”

The answer to that question isn’t black and white, but before I explain it, I have to begin by saying, Steemit doesn’t cost anything. You don’t have to pay-to-play or buy anything. You just use the site, and they give you free cryptocurrency. If that’s a scam, then it’s one I want to be a part of.

The owners can make money by selling STEEM on the site. If you buy it, it might go up in value like Bitcoin, but it could crash if it never catches on. This makes buying STEEM tantamount to investing in penny stocks. The difference between STEEM and penny stocks is that penny stocks crash when the company doesn’t make enough money. STEEM will crash if Steemit doesn’t give away enough money. If your business model is based on giving away free money, it probably won’t fail.

Granted, STEEM isn’t technically free. You have to trade your labor for it in the form of blogging, voting and commenting. By blogging on Steemit, you’re technically working for free in the sense that the owners don’t pay you out of their pocket; they pay you in “stocks” that don’t cost them anything.

If there’s a catch to Steemit, it’s this. Like any business that issues stocks, it doesn’t put all its stocks on the market. The creators of Steemit keep most of the STEEM, just like Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer own most of the stock in Microsoft. So, while you might get sort-of rich investing in Microsoft stocks, you’re making Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer filthy rich without them having to invest any money.

The big question is, will cryptocurrency and Steemit continue to grow, or are they a passing fad? I believe cryptocurrency is here to stay for two reasons. First, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s a stable currency that transcends national boundaries. Second, it’s a useful way to buy products from online black markets without having to swipe your debit card. As long as there’s an internet black market, there will be a real world need for cryptocurrency.

However, the future of cryptocurrency doesn’t depend on the black market. You can already use it to buy regular goods and services. You can even walk into many brick and mortar stores and spend it. Since cryptocurrency is already an established medium of exchange, I see no reason why people would all of a sudden stop using it… unless the entire internet crashed, which means the apocalypse has happened and every currency will probably be worthless at that point anyway.

The future of Steemit and thus the value of the STEEM cryptocurrency depends on people using the site. In order for STEEM to skyrocket in value, the site needs to attract millions of more users. Steemit is currently in its beta stage, which means it still has a lot of bugs to fix and features to add. Below is a list of things Steemit needs to do in order to go viral:

Make formatting posts easier.
In order to center pictures, add bold letters, italics or links, you currently have to use markup language, which isn’t hard to master, but it’s very tedious. In a world where everything is becoming simpler, Steemit isn’t going to go mainstream if its users have to learn a new formatting language to use the site. Most people will just stick to one-click sites like Reddit and Facebook. You can use this site to type your posts in and add formatting easily, but this feature really needs to be built right into Steemit.

Put all the features on one page
For a moment in time I thought Google + would replace Facebook as the premier social media site because Facebook has so few features. Google + took all the best new technology and put it together in one site… but not really. Instead of giving its users one home page where they could use all these great tools, they created a dozen different sites that you have to jump back and forth to. The user experience is fragmented and frustrating. Steemit is currently going down the same path. It has a lot of innovate tools, but you have to make 15 different accounts with 15 different services to get the most out of Steemit. If Steemit can’t consolidate their features, it won’t get off the ground, and it will eventually be killed by the next social media site that succeeds at creating the next-generation streamlined, user-friendly experience we’ve all been waiting for.

Allow users to subscribe to tags or tribes.
Currently, you can subscribe to other people’s accounts. So the content they post shows up in your feed, but you can’t subscribe to tags, categories like subscribing to subreddits on Reddit. This is a major bummer that everyone on Steemit complains about, and someone is probably already working on fixing it.

Give users a customizable home page
One of the reasons Myspace became the first major social media site is because it appealed to people’s vanity by giving everyone a customizable home page to express themselves. Facebook screwed up by not giving people this ability, but at least you have a photo page and some basic bio information in the side bar. Reddit completely dropped the ball by not even having that much. Steemit is somewhere in between Facebook and Reddit. You have a home page, but you can only customize the header, and it doesn’t allow you to put much information in it. Fixing this flaw would go a long way to enticing new users.

Make sharing other people’s content easier
Myspace had a great blogging platform that allowed users to see their friends’ blog feeds right on their home page. However, most of the activity on Myspace consisted of sharing other people’s posts. Steemit has a feature called “resteem,” which allows you to share other people’s posts, but the site’s main focus is on creating and viewing original content. I personally enjoy not seeing every cat video that every one of my friends found amusing, but most people want to share cat videos. If Steemit won’t cater to this “need,” the majority of people will use a site that does.

Put higher rewards on sharing and commenting
On every social media site, the majority of the users aren’t content creators. They’re lurkers and sharers. Currently, Steemit users receive tiny amounts of STEEM for reading, commenting and upvoting, but the only way to make any real money is by posting your own content. If this remains the case, Steemit will only retain content creators, and they’ll lose the rest of their audience. This means they’ll lose the users who make content go viral, which means Steemit will be unlikely to go viral.

Reward people for attracting new dolphins.
Users in Steemit are divided into three categories: minnows, dolphins and whales. Minnows are new users with very little voting power. Dolphins are established users who have earned a significant amount of STEEM, and whales are the biggest accounts with the most STEEM.

Steemit needs new users to grow. So it needs to incentivize its users to draw in new users. If it offered a finder’s fee, people would just create thousands of fake accounts and rake in the rewards. This could be prevented by offering a more substantial reward for attracting new users, but you only get the payout after the new user reaches certain benchmarks for posting, commenting and upvoting.

Eliminate dependency on whales
How much money a post earns on Steemit is determined by how many people upvote it. An upvote from a minnow is worth a penny. An upvote from a dolphin could be worth ten cents. A handful of upvotes from whales can be worth hundreds to thousands of dollars.

So right now, the correct way to use Steemit is to pander to whales. This means you need to write posts about things the whales are interested in. The whales are the founders and executive team members of Steemit. What they want to talk about most, is Steemit. For example, the guy in the video below made $15k in one post, which makes it sound like anyone can get rich on Steemit. The reason he made so much money is because he’s a semi-famous person promoting Steemit, which the executives wanted desperately to promote.

If Steemit remains nothing but a whale hunt, regular users will get fed up and leave. As long as most of the whales are members of the Steemit team, the site will never become much more than a Steemit circle jerk.

Give away more money.
The key to getting someone to do what you want is to give them something they want in return. The thing people want most in the world is free money. The best part about Steemit is that it gives its users free money. The more money it gives away, the more people will use it.

On the surface, Steemit’s business model is based on a “power to the people” mentality, but the actual income distribution looks more like late-stage capitalism income inequality than an egalitarian utopia. As long as Steemit’s whales keep hording the lion’s share of the money, the more likely its economy will collapse. The more money they give away, the more people will flock to Steemit and use it. Thus, the more demand there will be for STEEM. In the long run I believe the whales will make more money by keeping less for themselves and investing it in their users.

Read the following post before investing money in STEEM tokens:

My theory on the most important factor in the price of crypto currencies and how that applies to STEEM


How to Survive the Trumpocalypse

how to survive the trumpocalypse

I compiled a collection of blogs I’ve written into an E-book entitled “How to Survive the Trumpocalypse,” which is available on Amazon. Below is the introduction and links to all of the blogs:

INTRODUCTION

This book is a collection of essays I posted my blog, TheWiseSloth.com, between 2010 and 2016. The tagline of the website is, “Enlightenment for the masses,” and its mission statement is, “to provide editorial, philosophical, instructional, inspirational and satirical posts in the form of essays, lists, comics, and fiction, which tend to be irreverent, humorous and controversial.”

I choose the topics I write about by asking myself, “What are the most important questions people need answers to?” So I’ve spent years writing about the root causes of people’s biggest problems, which often boil down to politics and economics.

When major events happen in the world, readers will E-mail me to ask for my perspective, and during the 2016 presidential primaries, I received several requests to explain the candidates and the election in general. In response I wrote three essays and three comics analyzing the candidates and the political process. In them I predicted Hillary Clinton would be America’s next president, and I only planned on writing one blog about her victory, because I didn’t have anything to say about her that I hadn’t already said about Barack Obama.

I’d never considered writing a blog about Trump’s presidency, because he was just a bad joke that got taken too far. Then, all of a sudden the joke turned real and wasn’t funny anymore. The internet buzzed for days after the election with people asking what it means that Trump won. How did it happen? What will he do next? What do we do next? Nobody had any idea, myself included. I needed answers to these questions for my own closure.

Initially, I assumed I’d be able to cover the topic in two or three posts, but the end of the rabbit hole turned out to be ten blogs deep. The first four attempted to explain what it means that Trump is president. The last six answered the question, “What should we do about Trump?”

By the time I finished, I realized I had enough content on an important enough topic to make a short book, but after compiling the blogs, I felt the finished product raised more questions than it answered, such as, “How did this happen? What are the stakes? What would happen if we did nothing? Why was I wrong about Hillary Clinton? How far can we question the government? What else can we do?” Since I had already written dozens of posts over the years addressing those questions, I went back and added them to complete the narrative.

The blogs aren’t listed in the chronological order they were written, but each chapter heading includes the date it was originally posted on The Wise Sloth and how many days that was before or after November 9th, 2016, the day of the Trumpocalypse.

Since the essays were originally written to stand alone, some of the information in them is repeated, but it’s presented from different angles in different contexts, which shows how it fits in the bigger picture.

“How to Survive the Trumpocalypse” is divided into seven sections: “Obama’s legacy,” “The root of America’s problem, “What poverty looks and feels like,” “Problems in American culture,” “The Trumpocalypse,” “The moral imperative of civil disobedience” and “What do we do now?”

The book begins with three essays written about/during, Obama’s presidency, because I want to establish immediately that Trump is just a symptom of a bigger problem, which is that America has taken capitalism to its most predatory extreme. All of the essays in the next three sections illustrate how, for the poorest of the poor, life in America has been apocalyptic since 1776.

The “Trumpocalypse” section, which includes all the essays I wrote about/during the 2016 presidential election, leads to the conclusion the reason November 9th, 2016 is such a significant date, is because it was the day America’s economic/political system reached its inevitable conclusion by crowning a corrupt, unqualified, mentally unstable billionaire as its supreme leader. In other words, the system officially endorsed the root of the problem to be the solution.

The government crossed a line allowing Trump to become president. Worst case scenario, the Trumpocalypse was an official declaration of war on the poor. Best case scenario, it was a confession of failure. Either way, now more than ever, every American needs to reassess their perception of reality and start thinking and acting differently, which is why I included the section about civil disobedience.

The solutions I propose in the final section are far-fetched, but I didn’t set the bar so high because I’m naïve. I did it because America has a drastic problem that requires drastic solutions, and lowering the bar isn’t one of them.

My goal isn’t to convince you to believe everything I say. I just want to educate and inspire you. I use a conversational tone and try to inject humor and wit while discussing big topics so you’ll be more likely to read the entire book, think about America’s problems differently and look for solutions nobody has thought of yet.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 Obama’s Legacy 

1. Americans, You’re Not Represented In The 2012 Presidential Election
2. What Four More Years Of Obama Means
3. Why Obamacare Made Me Facepalm

The root of America’s problem

4. The Fundamental Problem With The Economy
5. The Cost/Benefit Analysis of Economic Oppression
6. The Downside of Economic Growth
7. Poverty Is The Root Of The World’s Biggest Problems, And Predatory Capitalism Is the Root Of Poverty
8. What’s Wrong With America’s Tax System
9. The Legacy Of A Billionaire
10. Seven Steps To Becoming A Billionaire

What poverty looks and feels like

11. Why Are Americans So Violent And Unhappy?
12. Life Is Hard Because The System Is Inhumane, Not Because We’re Weak
13. You Might Be Depressed Because The System Sucks, Not Because You Suck
14. What It’s Like To Be Poor
15. The Lottery Is A Microcosm of America
16. Advice For Young Workers
17. How To Escape Poverty
18. Is It Lazy To Not Want To Work?
19. How Predatory Capitalism Warps The Way We Define Maturity
20. This Is How We Live Now: Part 1
21. This Is How We Live Now: Part 2
22. This Is How We Live Now: Part 3

Problems in American culture

23. It’s Time To Stop Guilt Tripping Poor People Into Saving The Environment
24. How Pop Culture Warps Our Perception of Reality
25. You’re Delusional If You Still Believe America Is The Land Of The Free
26. Americans Need To Learn The Difference Between Socialism, Communism And Capitalism
27. The Issue of Race In The Occupy Wall Street Movement
28. A White Man Explains The Context Of The Black Lives Matter Movement
29. It’s Time To Stop Guilt Tripping White People
30. American Cops Are Delusional If They Can’t Understand Why Civilians Hate Them
31. An Intervention With The Police
32. We Need To Talk About Ordering Cops To Beat Up Protesters
33. My Experience With The TSA
34. Is It Moral For Police To Enforce Laws They Believe Are Unjust?

The Trumpocalypse

35. Right Wing Entertainment News Is Making America Worse
36. What I Think Of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton And Bernie Sanders
37. Why It’s Delusional To Vote In America’s 2016 Presidential Primaries
38. Why The 2016 Presidential Primaries Should Make Us All Sad And Scared
39. Why Did Americans Vote For Trump?
40. What Will Trump Do Now That He’s President?
41. Why I’m Glad Trump Won
42. Why Americans Shouldn’t Accept Trump As President
43. How Donald Trump changed my understanding of American politics

The moral imperative of civil disobedience

44. Patriotism Is Not A Virtue
45. Why You Should Not Have Faith In Your Government
46. Why And When You Should Have A Problem With Authority
47. Self-Subjugation Is Not A Virtue

What do we do now?

48. What Should Foreigners Do About Trump?
49. What Should Republicans And Democrats Do About Trump?
50. What Should Racists Do About Trump?
51. What Should Cultural Isolationists Do About Trump?
52. What Should Minorities Do About Trump?
53. What Should Rich People Do About Trump?
54. The Cost/Benefit Analysis of Terrorism
55. Three Things That Won’t Change America, And Six That Will
56. Ten Solutions To Most Of America’s Problems
57. Collapse Is The Product of Unsustainability. Sustainability Is The Product Of Sustainability
58. Why I’m Not Sure We Need Another Occupy Wall Street Style Protest
59. Our Political Model Won’t Change Until Our Economic Model Changes
60. The Quality Of Our Leaders Reflects The Quality Of Our Higher Education System
61. It’s Time To Stop Oppressing The Academically Disinclined
62. A Novel Approach To Taxing The Rich
63. If You Want Everyone To Vote, Then Make Voting Work For Everyone
64. The World Won’t Get Better Until You Stop Being A Consumer Whore
65. The World Won’t Get Better Until You Stop Being A Vidiot
66. Why The World Sucks And How To Save It
67. We Need To Talk About Utopia
68. Conservative Americans, You Don’t Need To Overthrow Your Government To Make The World A Better Place
69. An Open Letter To Generation X
70. My One Point Solution To The World’s Problems


This is how we live now: Part 3

Note: The events of this story are real, but the names have been changed.

This is the third installment of a three-part series, in which I illustrate why half of all Americans live near the poverty line by using my life as a case study.

Case in point, medical bills are the most common cause of bankruptcy in America. In 2016 I became part of that statistic, and having gone through the process, I shudder to think how normal it is. Nobody should have to go through what I did, because getting health care in America is as frustrating and overpriced as buying real estate.

I started learning this four months ago. One morning, as I was brushing my teeth, I looked in the mirror and noticed a white pustule on my gums. At first I thought I had cancer. After suffering an existential crisis, I collected myself and recalled that I’d had two root canals done on one of my bottom, front teeth by a military dentist eight years ago. The most reasonable explanation was the root canal had failed, and the tooth got infected.

Since I no longer had access to the military’s socialized medical system, I’d have to pay a civilian dentist. Knowing they charge an arm and a leg, I looked up cheap insurance on the internet and spent several evenings slogging through mind bogglingly complicated insurance websites. Unable to make sense of all the terms and restrictions, I decided to take another approach.

I searched for a dentist office with good reviews in my area and found out which insurance they accepted. Then I paid $125 for the insurance and waited for it to activate… hoping the pustule didn’t become life threatening in the meantime. In case you’re wondering, the reason there’s a waiting period for insurance to activate, is so you can’t wait until an emergency happens to sign up.

When I finally got my insurance card, I took it to the dentist’s office, which we’ll call Negan Family Dentistry. The secretary at the front desk told me they accept my insurance company, but not my plan. FML.

Afraid to leave the pustule untreated any longer, I paid $50 for a checkup, which lasted about 15 minutes.

A dental technician led me down a long hallway lined with booths like a hair salon. Walking down the assembly line I started to worry I’d be treated less like a family member and more like a fast food order. My suspicions were confirmed when the technician X-rayed the one tooth with the pustule under it. Then a dentist came in and told me it needed to be replaced and left.I don’t even know what the dentist looked like, because he or she stood over my shoulder wearing a mask for the entire forty five seconds they spoke before dashing back to the salt mines.

After the dental apparition vanished, the tech sent me to the front desk, where the secretary gave me a bill for $250 and the phone number for Negan Family Periodontics, two towns away. Everything happened so fast it made my head spin.

In a daze, I asked what the bill was for, and she said, “It’s for a temporary tooth we put in after the real one is taken out.” I asked why I was paying her when she was sending me somewhere else. She said, “We put that part in.”

I told her I’d think about it and threw the bill away. A few hours later I called Negan Family Periodontics and told them I needed a tooth replaced before I died of blood poisoning. The secretary told me their next available appointment was two weeks away, but she promised to call me if they had any cancellations. She never called.

After fourteen days of worrying I was about to die, I drove to the place “my” dentist referred me to. The secretary who greeted me was an older woman with white skin but Hispanic facial features. She spoke warmly, until I told her I didn’t have insurance. Then she snapped into full aggression mode, basically accusing me of not intending to pay my bill. I gave her my credit card and driver’s license, which she copied angrily and pushed back at me.

Afterwards, a nicer lady handed me a bill for $3.5k. By the time I saw my periodontist, Dr. Simon, my head was spinning again. Dr. Simon’s cheerful personality put me a little at ease. He laughed and joked like he didn’t have a care in the world. I wanted to like him, and I tried to act happy but couldn’t stop thinking about how I just paid him six more months of all my disposable income for what would amount to less than half a day’s work on his part.

Pictured from left to right: Dr. Simon's eternally happy smile, and my life circumstances being the opposite of his, thanks to him

Pictured from left to right: Dr. Simon’s eternally happy smile, and my life circumstances being the opposite of his, thanks to him

I offered to barter my professional services in exchange for reducing my fees, which is legal, but he responded with a long speech about how he always follows the rules to a fault. As the overpriced laughing gas kicked in, I wanted to say, “It’s too bad there isn’t a rule about not extorting your customers out of their future life savings every time they have a minor medical emergency.”

An hour later, he’d pulled out my decayed tooth, cut it in half, screwed in a metal foundation for a fake tooth, and glued the top of the old one back in place so I wouldn’t look like a jack-O’-lantern for the next few months while my jaw bone healed around the prosthetic.

The next time I walked into Negan Family Periodontics, was for a cleaning I didn’t ask for and wasn’t necessary for the tooth replacement. As soon as I sat down in the waiting room, The Dragon at the front desk told me I needed to pay another $1k to the dentist from Negan Family Dentistry, who would be putting my fake tooth in. Stunned, I asked why I was paying someone else more money to finish the job I thought I was paying them to do. In response, she ripped some papers out of a folder and waved them in my face, telling me I already signed something agreeing to everything, and I better pay up now, with a tone of voice that clearly said she didn’t believe I would.

I reminded her she already had my credit card number. So any time she needed another $1k from me, she could just keep charging my card, and I’d just keep being bankrupt. Snidely, she replied, “Great.”

When I asked Dr. Simon about the charges, he explained he would only mount a screw in my jaw, and the original dentist who referred him, would take a mold of the mounting plate, send it to a lab to make a fake tooth from, and then screw it in. I asked why he couldn’t do it, and he lectured me about how he specializes in his field, and other dentists specialize in theirs. So it’s best that someone else screws the prosthetic tooth in. The process sounded illogical to me, but he assured me it was normal. So I let the issue go.

On my way out of the building, The Dragon gave me an appointment date a few weeks later to remove the half-tooth and install a screw into the plate. She also said she would schedule an appointment with Negan Family Dentistry for the same day so Dr. Negan could take a mold of the screw to make the final fake tooth from. However, after calling three times and getting a busy signal, she said she’d try again later and relay my appointment time to me. I never heard back from her.

Two weeks later, the secretary at Negan Family Dentistry called and informed me they double booked my appointment and needed to change it, which turned out to be convenient, not only because I didn’t know what my appointment date was, but because The Dragon scheduled my appointment at Negan Family Periodontics one hour before the appointment at Negan Family Dentistry, two towns away, which would have been impossible to reach in time. So I rescheduled the second appointment for the next morning.

The reason the appointments were supposed to be for the same day is because, after Dr. Negan made a mold of the screw, he normally would have installed the temporary tooth I never paid $250 for. However, I didn’t pay for it because I couldn’t afford to waste money on a cosmetic enhancement I’d wear for two weeks. My only option was to leave the screw exposed while the third-party dental lab Dr. Negan subcontracts his work to, made my fake tooth and shipped it back to Negan Family Dentistry.

So, the morning after Dr. Simon installed the screw, I showed up at Negan Family Dentistry looking like a James Bond villain. After checking in, I sat down and happily thumbed through an uninteresting magazine. After months of racking up debt, driving all over the Houston area and being treated like an asshole for being poor, the ordeal was almost over. My life was finally looking up.

Then the kind, attractive, secretary politely called me to her desk and asked for another $916. I explained I’d already paid that bill through Negan Family Periodontics. Confused, she said they don’t do that. At my urging, she called The Dragon, who told her they didn’t do that. I thought I already paid this bill, but I knew it would be pointless to argue with The Dragon, and I was already mad enough to say things to her I’d regret.

I don’t know where the miscommunication came from. Maybe The Dragon and Dr. Simon did a terrible job of explaining my fees. Maybe I didn’t understand what they were saying because my head was spinning from getting hit with a baseball bat named, “Debt.” Maybe I’m just stupid, but there is one thing I’m absolutely sure of. Nobody ever said anything about me having to pay another $916 for the appointment in question.

If I had known I’d have to pay more after the initial $3.5k, I might not have agreed to it. If Negan Family Dentistry had given me an itemized breakdown of every step and fee involved in their tooth-replacement process the first day I walked in their office, I probably wouldn’t have ever called Negan Family Periodontics. Now I have to wonder if they consciously chose not to be transparent so they could surprise me with outrageous bills after I’d already committed.

Their surprise worked. I didn’t see the debt bat coming until it hit me between the eyes, sending me into that familiar punch drunk feeling again. Clumsily, I used my cell phone to check my account balances to see if I even had $916. I didn’t, but was able to cover the bill by maxing out my credit card and draining all my checking and savings accounts, including money I’d set aside to renew my vehicle registration.

By the time the technician sat me in the exam chair, my net worth equaled $23 in cash and $6k in debt. Financially, it was the lowest point in my life. My body’s fight or flight response flooded my veins with adrenaline causing me to shake as the technician put the bib around my neck. She may as well have injected me with 10 milligrams of fear and charged me $100 for it.

I had a few minutes to close my eyes and try to breathe the nausea away before Dr. Negan casually sauntered in.

Pictured above: a metaphor for my dentist

Pictured above: a metaphor for my dentist

Without looking in my direction, he asked the wall in a rote, disinterested tone of voice, how my Thanksgiving had been. I said, “Pretty good,” which was a lie. The truth is, I had broken up with my girlfriend that week and moved into a cheap trailer next to a railroad track with my brother, who spent Thanksgiving with his ex-girlfriend while I sat alone at our new “home” writing and wearing ear plugs to block the sound of the train horns. Part of me was happy for the solitude, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that the only reason I had to live in a shitty trailer by a railroad track was because my dental bills had erased all my other options in life.

I’d completely run out of fakeness when Dr. Negan asked how I was doing. Exasperated, I replied, “Not good, since you bankrupted me.”

Without missing a beat, he launched into a bitter, condescending tirade, saying, “Oh!? So, you don’t think dentists deserve to get paid? You don’t think ten years of school is worth any compensation? We rack up a lot of debt in medical school, and it’s not cheap to run a dentist office, but hey, if you think our prices are unfair, you can just go to Mexico.”

Dr. Negan gives me a pep talk

Dr. Negan gives me a pep talk

He actually said that. I couldn’t believe it. After taking everything from me, he was bitching me out for not saying thank you.

Ironically, he was right about one thing. I had a friend who’d recently returned from a medical tourism resort in Mexico where he spent $4k to fix everything wrong with all his teeth. Plus, he got a two week vacation at an all-inclusive resort. He wasn’t treated by the dirty, filthy Mexican dentists Dr. Negan was so prejudiced against. He saw American doctors who had moved to Mexico so they could help people without having to charge an arm and a leg and a dream to replace one tooth.

My life would be profoundly better on multiple levels if I had the foresight to go to Mexico. For the same price I could have even flown to a medical resort in Thailand, where the doctors and staff would have treated me like a god instead of a cockroach.

My appointment with Dr. Negan lasted 30 minutes, most of which he spent bitching me out. The rest of the time he made a mold of my tooth space using the same process Dr. Simon used when he took his mold, which makes me wonder if both of these guys were referring me back and forth to each other to rack up referral charges.

If my final appointment took the same amount of time, I would be paying both my dentists an average of $1k per hour. I’ll have to work 40 hours to pay off one of theirs. If I made minimum wage, then one easy hour of their life would be worth 140 grueling hours of mine. That’s a narcissistic, psychopathic assessment of the value of life, based on a lie.

No human being is so much better than another, that an hour of their life is worth 40-140 times anyone else’s. Plus, if they’re charging $1k per hour and work 8 hours per day, that’s $40k per week. Even if half the money goes to expenses, it doesn’t cost $20k per week to run a dentist office. Even if Dr. Negan only pocketed $200 per hour, that doesn’t make it any less painful for me to pay $1k per hour.

In the end, the truest measure of Dr. Negan and Dr. Simon’s morality is the size of their retirement accounts. They might have taken on a lot of debt in school, but they’re not going to lower their prices after paying it off. They’re going to charge as much as they can get away with for as long as their career lasts. In the end, they’re going to retire in mansions surrounded by space-age luxury that would make a medieval king jealous, and the only reason they’ll get to do that is because their vaults will be full of peasant’s gold.

I’ll spend the rest of my life living in a trailer next to a train track, wearing ear plugs in bed and getting stomach ulcers from lying awake, worrying about how long I can put off getting extorted by family friendly medical professionals.

The last thing the Dr. Negan said to me before he ejected me from the dental assembly line was, “Hey, man. Everything’s going to be fine. Everything is going to work out.” If he truly believes that, then living in a gated community must have disconnected him from reality. In the America where I live, I’ll never be free. Perpetual debt will always force me to work for a boss who underpays me, just to pay off the businesses who overcharge me and add on extra fees for not having any money.

Pictured left to right: Dr. Negan deciding what he'll do with my life savings, and the look on my face as I watch him horde my hopes and dreams

Pictured left to right: Dr. Negan deciding what he’ll do with my life savings, and the look on my face as I watch him horde my hopes and dreams

If medical school, rent and medical equipment are so extortionately priced that dentists are struggling to keep their practices open, there must be better solutions than passing on the extortion to customers. If medical professionals truly cared about their clients, which Dr. Negan assured me he did, then they would be doing something to fix the problem.

As it stands, they’re just shrugging their shoulders and saying, “If I can pass this problem onto the customer, then it’s not my problem. Fuck em…” just like I metaphorically said to the single mother who rented my duplex unit in Austin.

The simplest solution is, stop fucking your customers in the ass with a friendly smile, but if you can’t afford to do that, then try to imagine how angry and dejected bankruptcy must make all your customers feel. Then take that anger and shout it in the face of the people who are overcharging you. Unionize and boycott those people. Write blogs and give speeches about how you have to double the cost of your products to pay rent or a mortgage that’s twice as expensive as the property is worth.

The least you could do is not be silent, but if you’re smart enough to earn a PhD, then you should be able to think of at least one solution to high operating costs other than raping your customers and bitching them out when they say, “Ouch. You’re killing me,” instead of, “Thank you, sir. May I have another?”

If you’ve read this far, you may be thinking, “Hey, Travis. Wake up. The common denominator in all your problems is you. If you were better at adulting, and less angry about life, then you wouldn’t have dug yourself into a pit of debt and made enemies with people who just wanted to help you.”

If you’re underwhelmed with my plight enough to leave a comment telling me what an irresponsible, whiner I am, then you need to take to the streets and shout the exact same speech in the face of the other 6 billion people in the world who live below the poverty line. Maybe I am whiney, but if everybody stopped complaining about normalized extortion, the only thing it would change is how much longer the majority of humanity stays in poverty.

If you believe I can’t blame anyone except myself for my bankruptcy because I didn’t have insurance, then you’ve either never used insurance, or you’ve accepted insanity as normal.

The reason I needed insurance in the first place is the exact same reason why medical tourism resorts exist: because the cost of medical care in America is inflated beyond reason by insurance companies.

If you’ll recall, I did buy the insurance Negan Family Dentistry advertised they accepted. If they’d been more transparent, I would have known the right policy to buy. If they didn’t pick and choose which policies they accepted, I could have just used any insurance.

It wouldn’t have mattered much if I did, because all policies are designed to be as useless and difficult to use as possible. The company I work for offers medical insurance for $124 per month, but it has a $6k deductible, which wouldn’t have covered the cost anyway.

If I had paid $124 for medical insurance every month since I separated from the military in 2007, I would have paid $13k by 2016. Even if insurance would have covered the entire cost of my tooth replacement, I still would have saved $8k in the long run by not having insurance since 2007.

Doctors don’t even like insurance even though it pays so well, because they have to hire an otherwise unnecessary employee just to file all the paperwork. Since doctors don’t want the extra cost to impact their salary, they pass the cost onto the customers by raising prices accordingly, which I’m sure they feel terrible about.

To make matters worse, doctors have to wait months for insurance claims to be processed and pay out. As much of a nightmare as insurance companies are to work with, doctors should know better than anyone, bitching customers out for not having insurance is blaming the victim.

The problem is that the insurance companies have rigged the system to require everyone to buy extortion protection in the first place, and doctors have chosen to go along with it. I wouldn’t have lost the game if it wasn’t rigged.

I can’t afford anything, because everyone gives me the “fuck you” price instead of “the friend discount,” and you don’t have more nice things, because you get treated the same way. So if you’re mad at me for getting extorted, then be mad at yourself too, and be mad that someone convinced you to accept this sadistic system as normal.

My story ends with me going back to Negan Family Dentistry to get my fake tooth put in. Before leaving the house I checked my bank account to see how much money wasn’t in it, just in case I got surprised me with another bill. There was no need to check how much wiggle room was left on my credit card, because it was already maxed out. Luckily, the secretary surprised me by informing me they wouldn’t be hitting me in the head with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire again.

The whole appointment took about fifteen minutes, and most of that was done by a tech who makes as little as supply and demand will allow Dr. Negan to get away with underpaying her. The tech put some kind of clip on the screw sticking out of my gums. Then Dr. Negan came in and snapped the crown on. The procedure didn’t even require any cementing or heating, which proves everything Dr. Simon told me about me needing to see Dr. Negan for the final procedure because he was a specialist, was a complete lie. I could have done the final step myself.

At the end of the appointment I gave Dr. Negan a slip of paper with the address to this blog on it. I told him I didn’t use his real name. I just needed to tell my customer service story, and that it wasn’t glowing, but he could use it to fix the holes in his process.

He didn’t understand what a blog is. So I had to explain it to him. His eyes told me he  still didn’t understand. So I wasn’t surprised when he pressed me to just tell him what the essay said.

I told him, the biggest issue, and the reason I was so upset the last time we met, was because his prices were deceptive, and I wasn’t given the total cost at the beginning. When I said that, his eyes bulged out, and he blurted, “You’re a liar!”

Experience has taught me that trying to give someone advice who doesn’t want to admit when they’re wrong, will only result in them attacking you until they’ve said something ugly enough to convince them-self you’re the problem. So I just turned on my heel and walked out the door. Dr. Negan chased me down in the lobby and tried to bitch me out some more. I’d already said everything I had to say in the blog, and I didn’t want him to ruin my day any more than he already had. So I continued walking, right out the front door.

As I exited the building, he shouted, “Have a merry Christmas!” His attempt to take the high road didn’t impress me after calling me a liar for trying to point out the metaphorical broccoli stuck in his teeth. It just reinforced my perception that he’s a delusional ass hole.

I don’t even believe in Christmas, and he obviously doesn’t believe in Christian values.

The worst part of the story is that, even though I’ll never go back to Negan Family Dentistry or Negan Family Periodontics, I won’t get a better price anywhere else in America. I’ll just keep getting my head bashed in and my savings looted, just like you… unless something drastic changes.

Before the world can change, people like Dr. Negan and Dr. Simon need to change the way they justify their predatory business practices to themselves.

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This is how we live now: Part 2

I moved to Houston at the beginning of 2016 feeling optimistic about life, because I had a loving girlfriend and a new professional credential that would allow me to earn more than minimum wage. Little did I know, my year was going to be destroyed by ordinary people under ordinary circumstances. If you live near the poverty line, the same routine catastrophes are going to devastate your life over and over again until society makes some serious changes.

I won’t say what I do for a living, but I will say it it’s intellectually and physically demanding. I eat healthy, drink lots of water, take supplements and stretch daily, but my body always hurts somewhere. I endure it though, because I make $25 per hour, which is almost five times the minimum wage in Texas. Unfortunately, I can’t work full time, because I would live in constant pain until I suffered a career-ending injury. But I make enough money to survive and can spend a decent amount of time pursuing my passion of writing, which shouldn’t be too much to ask in life.

My employer makes about $1700 off the work I do every two weeks. Of that, I get to keep about $600, which covers my rent, utilities and cell phone. So I spend two weeks out of every month breaking my body just to survive until the next month. If I don’t have any fun, I can save about $500 per month, and since I spend most of my free time writing, that’s easy to do.

Rather, it should be, except every single month of 2016 I kept getting hit with major unexpected bills. The contract my girlfriend signed with her landlord before I moved in required us to pay half the cost of repairs to his dilapidated house. I had to replace my glasses, shoes, vacuum, and lawn mower. Now that I had a girlfriend, gifts became a mandatory expense at each major holiday. Every time I managed to save more than a thousand dollars, some disaster of the month would knock me back to the start.

My biggest recurring bill was truck repairs. I’d already spent $700 repairing my sort-of-new truck in Colorado. Even though the engine didn’t have many miles, it had spent almost 20 years baking in hot Texas summers. The tires and half the engine had deteriorated to the point of failure. After spending $1200 on repairs in the first half of 2016, the engine overheated and warped a head gasket.

Having been ripped off by enough mechanics to distrust them, I researched internet reviews until I found a place that presented itself as a good Christian business and had positive reviews.

I was able to have my truck towed there for “free,” because I get my auto insurance through USAA and pay an extra $2 per month for roadside assistance. $2 sounds like a good deal, until you realize, over the years I’ve been using them, I’ve given USAA $10k and never got anything in return other than a piece of paper that says I’m not breaking the law.

The staff at the mechanic shop were wonderfully friendly and made me feel like family at first. After the mechanic diagnosed the warped head gasket, the supervisor told me it would cost $2k to fix. Then he tried upselling me on replacing every other part under the hood. It would have cost $5k to fix everything he wanted, but the truck wasn’t even worth that much. In the end I agreed to spend an extra $1.5k on replacements, and I told him the only reason I couldn’t spend more was because I was flat broke and had to get a credit card through USAA to be able to cover the whole bill. So I could only get the most important parts fixed. He told me I should replace the radiator, but if I only had $1.5k to spend, I should fix other things first. In retrospect, he should have had more foresight.

As soon as I drove off the lot, the radiator broke. So I drove back, and told the nice supervisor what happened. He reminded me that he had recommended I replace the radiator. I reminded him I couldn’t afford to, and since I came in with a warped head gasket, he probably should have prioritized fixing the radiator. More importantly, if they’d diagnosed my problem correctly, they would have found out the radiator was busted before I drove it off the lot. So it would be harsh to make me pay the $500 they automatically charge any time they have to pull an engine out of a vehicle, which would need to be done to replace the radiator.

The supervisor told me there was no way to know the radiator would blow after driving it 1000 feet, and the fault is mine because, “I should have had more foresight to replace that radiator.”

After the fourth time he told me I should have had more foresight, I wanted to tell him, “You’re right. I didn’t have enough foresight to see you extorting me into six months of debt. If I’d known you were going to do that, I’d have broken my body working harder to prepare for the Christian ass raping you just gave me.”

He didn’t offer me any kind of loyalty discount. He just charged me $700 and acted surprised when I wasn’t smiling and laughing with him like family anymore.

I paid for everything on a USAA credit card, because a friend said it would lower my auto insurance, which I had noticed was higher than it used to be. When I checked my account, I discovered I’d never cancelled the renter’s insurance on my old house, and had paid $2k over the past two years insuring a property I didn’t own. Normally, that would be a bad thing, but USAA was gracious enough to refund me the money. In another lifetime I could have put that towards my retirement or used it to enjoy life, but it all went straight to back to USAA to pay down my credit card.

USAA didn’t have to refund me all that money. Most American businesses wouldn’t, but it didn’t surprise me when they did. In 2015 USAA distributed $1.6 billion of profits back to their customers. Every year I get a check from them for about $50 with a note that basically says, “We have too much money. Here’s some back.” In addition, their customer representatives are the nicest in the world. I’ve literally told people, “If you’re ever having a bad day, call USAA. I always feel better after doing any kind of business with them.”

I stopped feeling that way after a few months of putting all my disposable income towards my debt. Each month, my friends at USAA charged me about $50 in interest, which means I paid $50 per month to not have $4000. If I had less money, they’d charge me even more.

The leaders of USAA, and every other lending institution, are millionaires, who don’t need any more money. They could all stop working today and still live like gods for the rest of their lives. They know 50% of Americans live at the poverty line, all of whom need credit cards and loans to cover the cost of living in a country where every business charges as much as possible and forces those with the least money to pay the highest prices.

Economics is complicated, but it’s easy to calculate why half the country lives in poverty. Businesses charge their customers as much as possible and pay their employees as little as possible. That’s a simple recipe for bankruptcy. Charging people more money, the poorer they are, is a recipe for debt slavery. The problem isn’t that poor people are being targeted. It’s that everyone is being overcharged, and the only way to stay ahead of the game is for you to overcharge or underpay someone else. So everyone has to become part of the problem. The main reason we don’t stop is because we don’t even notice we’re doing it. Economic cannibalism is the only way of life we’ve ever experienced. So we assume it’s the way.

USAA and my mechanic may provide customers with vital services, but their business model is ultimately based on gouging desperate people. Jesus wouldn’t do that to veterans. Only someone who needs to seriously rethink their life would do that. Since everyone is guilty of the same sin, we all need to do some soul searching.

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This is how we live now: Part 1

Financially, 2016 was the worst year of my life. It hurt so bad I had to write three blogs to vent some of the emotional trauma. The disasters I experienced aren’t unusual, but that’s what makes this story poignant. My life is so normal, it’s a metaphor for every American who lives near the poverty line, who, no matter how long and hard they work, are perpetually having their life savings drained back to zero by predatory business practices.

The story of why 2016 sucked for me begins in 2008, with me being a hypocrite. Newly married and separated from the Air Force, I moved from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii to Austin, TX, where my wife and I bought a duplex for $250k.

I didn’t want to pay a realtor. So I researched how to buy a house without one and immediately learned why realtors exist. There are so many laws around buying and selling houses it’s impossible to do it without having an associate’s degree worth of knowledge. After a few days of mind-numbing reading, I laid my head on my keyboard and muttered, “Why does this have to be harder than buying a car?”

The next day my wife and I met a realtor who came highly recommended from a distant relative. Our agent looked like a model and talked like an auctioneer. She picked us up in a brand new BMW equipped with space age technology. After our first conversation, I felt like I was hiring a scout to take me on a treasure hunting expedition.

Over the next week she showed us two trashy properties below our price range, two giant, expensive houses, and one solid option just above what we wanted to spend. So we picked that one, which in retrospect, I don’t think was an accident.

The only type of houses we looked at were duplexes, because we thought the tenant’s rent would cover our payments, and it would have if the cost of a mortgage equaled the listing price of the property, but after taxes, interest and fees, the final price of a 30 year mortgage is double whatever the property is worth. So, after we picked the house, we learned we’d need to take out a $500k loan for a $250k property. Plus, most of the first fifteen years of payments would go to whittling down the interest, not buying equity in the house. Why do lenders have to structure loans that way? Because fuck you. That’s why.

Normally, home buyers have to put down a 20% down payment to quality for a loan, and we didn’t have $50k. However, the Department of Veteran Affairs offers a special service to veterans. In exchange for $5k, it will vouch to pay the 20% down payment if the vet fails to pay their mortgage and the house gets foreclosed on. At that point, the VA will give the lender the 20% down payment, which in my case was $50k. So if my house got foreclosed on, I’d have to pay the VA, $50k.

This is a great deal, in the sense that it removes one of the glass ceilings stopping renters from becoming home owners, but it’s a scammy solution to a problem created by the government. Think of it this way. The government enforces laws which make buying a home impossible to do without hiring legal representation to walk you through all the laws that inflate the cost of a property so high you can’t afford it. The government’s solution to the problem it created, is for home owners to buy the lender a insurance policy to cover their losses if/when the veteran can’t afford to pay twice the advertised listing price of a property plus another $5k.

My real estate agent and the lender she referred us to explained all this to me and acted like it was completely normal, because it is. So I signed the paperwork and went on with my life, which consisted mostly of spending 10+ hours per week sitting in Austin’s notorious traffic and working 40+ hours per week at a computer helpdesk job getting yelled at for problems other people created.

I told myself it would all be worth it when I finally beat the game and could live life on my own terms. Seven years later my wife and I divorced and sold the house. Luckily, the divorce was “no contest.” So we didn’t have to spend $5k each for lawyers. Since we filed the paperwork ourselves, it only cost a few hundred dollars in government fees and having to stand in front of a judge who didn’t know us to beg him to let us get on with our lives.

We had already moved away from Austin half way through our marriage and rented out both duplex units through a property manager who sent us “repair” bills for $300-$1000 almost monthly. We finally terminated our contract after he charged us $90 to replace a smoke detector battery and another $90 to look in the chimney and tell us there weren’t any birds in it. Wanting to avoid confrontation, my wife told them we were moving to Samoa and had to sell the house.

The next property management company we hired never sent us any absurd charges in the two years we used them. Since they rarely did anything to the house, effectively, we paid them $240 per month to deposit our rent checks.

Our contract also stipulated that if we sold the house, they would act as our real estate agent and take a higher-than-normal percentage of the sale. I didn’t care at the time, because I wasn’t planning on getting divorced and selling the house.

When we decided to sell in 2013, Austin was experiencing a housing bubble, which means houses are overpriced. So sellers make can make a lot of money, but buyers get screwed paying inflated prices that could drop by the time they get divorced and have to sell their house.

There was so much demand for duplexes, our property manager/realtor was able to sell the house in two days for $60k more than the original listing price, which sounds great, except we’d spent at least that much on the mortgage, upgrades, fraudulent repairs and property management dues.

In the end, my wife and I received $15k each, and my realtor took $30k for doing less than ten hours of work. Just to be clear, I didn’t make $15k profit. I got a $15k return on a $60k investment. In the grand scheme of things, I lost $45k.

After signing all the paperwork, the realtor handed me my check and said, “See? It wasn’t that painful, was it?”

I wanted to tell him, “The only painful part was when you pocketed $30k I spent seven years working my ass off for in exchange for ten hours of your labor. But that’s okay, because it’s normal, right? Enjoy your normal life, sending your kids to college and buying them sports cars. I’ll enjoy my normal routine of not having a retirement.”

At least I had $15k to start my new life with when I moved to Houston, TX to live with my identical twin brother. I didn’t make it out of my marriage with a vehicle, but was able to pay cash for a used truck, which I bought from a small car dealership, owned and operated by a sweet, old Southern country farmer type who prided himself in his old fashioned honesty. He won my trust and sold me a 1997 truck with 50k miles on it for $7k. It had been owned by an old lady who only drove it to church on Sundays. So even though the truck was almost twenty years old, it was practically new.

Now that I had a vehicle to drive to work, I turned my attention to job hunting. Most of my adult life, I’d worked in IT, but halfway through my marriage, after my wife and I left Austin, I couldn’t find work in the IT sector. So I worked a series of odd jobs until my IT experience became obsolete and unusable. I’ve never complained about or regretted letting that door close, because I absolutely hated IT work. What good is making money if you spend your entire life doing things that make you miserable to earn it? That’s wasting the present, not investing in the future.

Theoretically, that’s true, but in America’s economy, chasing your dream is shooting yourself in the foot. Without a college degree, training certificate or relevant experience, my job options were staggeringly limited. I didn’t sit around crying about this. I drove straight to a staffing agency I knew could hook me up with “an exciting job opportunity.”

For the next few summer months, I spent 9 hours per day in a warehouse digging through vats of marble-sized ceramic balls, picking out any that were tarnished, broken or disfigured. The only break I got was an hour for lunch, and my bosses monitored me closely via the security cameras. At first I was happy, because I felt lucky to be getting paid slightly higher than minimum wage, but it didn’t take long to realize my assessment of life was wrong. In reality, my life was actually quite shit.

I had 9 hours per day to think. So I used the opportunity to weigh my options and decide how to save my life. About the time I got laid off, I convinced my twin to move to Colorado with me, where he could work, and I could attend a year-long trade school for free using the M.G.I.Bill, which would also pay me a $1,200 per month living stipend.

He agreed immediately, because Houston sucks. So we settled our affairs in the local area, loaded everything we owned into our two trucks and drove to the cheapest hotel in Denver. The first night we celebrated our new beginning with overpriced legal weed and a box of Franzia. It seemed appropriate since the hotel was so low class, the Denver Police Department had a permanently reserved parking spot directly in front of the lobby.

Before leaving Texas we’d searched for apartments in Denver and made a list of places that have vacancies within our price range. There were enough options that I wasn’t worried about finding a place. My only fear was settling on the second or third best option because it’s closer to my school. After spending thousands of hours in Austin traffic, not commuting had become a priority of mine.

My brother and I spent the next week touring Denver’s ghetto-est apartments and getting turned away by every slum lord. Come to find out, Denver has a local law, which says in order to qualify to rent a property, you must either have three months of pay checks from a local business or a cosigner who makes three times the amount of rent, neither of which we had.

The apartment managers were unswayable. No matter how much we begged, nobody would bend the rules for us. At our last apartment viewing, I put $7k cash on the table and offered to pay an entire six month lease up front. The apartment manager scowled at me like I was a hillbilly offering to pay with a bag of dead possums. He looked me in straight in the eye and said with dead seriousness, “That’s not good enough.”

Since when is having enough money to buy something, not good enough to buy it? When did the American Dream turn into The Twilight Zone? My money was good. The problem is Colorado lawmakers want to prevent poor people from immigrating to their state. So they invented a disingenuous rule that all the local apartment owners agreed to go along with. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it was written by wealthy apartment moguls who made campaign contribution to the politicians, who signed it into law.

Unable to legally rent an apartment, we looked on Craigslist for people offering to rent out spare rooms in their private homes, which is actually illegal under Colorado’s anti-boardinghouse laws. Luckily, this rule isn’t enforced, because Denver police have better things to do thank kick poor people out of their houses. And by “better things,” I mean, “legally robbing motorists to meet their ticket quotas.”

My brother and I spent the next two weeks viewing rooms and begging people to let us pay $900 per month to live in the cupboard under their stairs. It wouldn’t have taken so long, but most landlords required a $50 non-refundable, non-binding fee just to fill out an application, in addition to paying another $30-$50 to run a criminal background and credit history check on you, which requires you to give out your social security number, date of birth and bank account number.

We refused to apply for any of those rooms, which drastically limited our choices, but it was worth not risking paying $50 to have our identities stolen. After a long, discouraging search, we finally moved into a large, trashy two-story house containing five other tenants.

Our landlady was a semi-obese, bedridden hoarder whose husband had recently died of cirrhosis of the liver, and she was dying of cancer. Since she couldn’t work, the only way she could afford rent and groceries by subleasing her extra rooms. Her situation wouldn’t have been so dire, except she lived with two of her children, who were both in their early twenties, didn’t pay any bills and refused to get jobs.

All three were drug addicts who took whatever narcotics they could get their hands on. The son would steal his mother’s morphine, forcing her to send the daughter to buy more off the black market when the pain of dying became unbearable. When the mother confronted him about it, he bitched her out in front of the whole house for playing the cancer card too much. She died four months after we moved out.

One of her tenants was a 20-something year old black, gentle giant who moved to Denver to escape the apocalyptic ghetto in Chicago where he grew up. The other housemate was a white 20-something year old Texan who moved to Colorado for the weed. He’d been in Denver for several years and had moved into our “boarding house” after getting kicked out of his last apartment for overdosing on a psychedelic designer drug and diving out the second-story window naked and then fighting three police officers in the parking lot until they tazed him unconscious.

My brother and I shared a room and a bed for three months until we talked our landlady into letting us convert the basement into bedrooms. She only charged us $800 per month for two rooms, which is made it the cheapest price we’d ever find Denver.

We had some good times in that house, but most of them were bad. We moved out the day the landlord’s son blasted his stereo at 7am for the hundredth time and then threatened to “fuck me up” with a golf club if I tried to turn his music down. At that point my brother returned to Texas, and I rented a camping spot outside of town and lived there until I found another room on Craigslist.

I finished out the school year living in an elderly couple’s house, paying $700 per month. At first I lived in a tiny room on the ground floor, but was able to move downstairs into the much larger basement after the landlady found her other tenant’s crack pipe in the drier. They’d already been planning on asking him to leave anyway, because he was literally insane and thought government agents were following him at all times. Other than being a moocher, he never bothered me, but I was glad to see him go, because after he learned I’d worked for the NSA during my military service, he assumed I was a government agent sent to spy on him.

After graduating from school, I decided to move back to Houston as well to be with a girl I’d met after my divorce and stayed in touch with. I moved in with her at the beginning of 2016, flat broke again.

The whole trip had been an asteroid shower of unexpected expenses. I expected Colorado to be Candy Land, but it turned out to be more like Chutes and Ladders. Every time you think you’re getting somewhere, you slide back down into where you started.

The problem isn’t that Colorado is worse than the rest of America, it’s a metaphor for the rest of the country. One of my friends from the military recently moved to San Antonio and was unable to rent an apartment for the same reasons I couldn’t. In the end, he bought a house using the same VA home loan program I did, because it was easier for him to qualify to buy a house than to rent one. My friend and I didn’t do anything wrong to deserve the moving nightmare we experienced. This is just how everyone lives now.

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Issues in the Workplace


What will Trump do now that he’s president?

On November 9th, 2016, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States of America. Now the rest of the world is wondering how it happened, what it means for the future and what the public should do now.

Predicting the behavior of American presidents is historically impossible, because they never keep their promises. Regardless of their political affiliation, they tend to just maintain the status quo. Even Obama, who epitomized hope and change, acted like a lame duck president for 8 years. Democrats might explain his behavior by pointing out that Congress made it their number one priority to make sure he accomplished nothing, but Obama barely tried. His biggest accomplishment, Obamacare, exemplifies how the American government works, because it was mostly written by insurance companies, signed off by politicians and forced on the public, who didn’t want it.

If Hillary Clinton became president, we could have expected her to slowly give more rights to corporations while whittling away consumer and worker protections. She’d pass a few minor laws protecting minorities based on whatever social justice issue is trending at the time, but she’d also pass a few major laws that turn America into more of a police state. She would have kept America at war at the behest of the military industrial complex. The size of the middle class would have gotten little smaller. The lower class would have gotten a little bigger, and the 1% would have gotten a lot richer. Historically, that’s exactly what you can expect from any American president.

Everybody knew Hillary Clinton worked for big businesses before she entered the presidential race, but Barack Obama’s 180 degree turn leads me to suspect someone used leverage over him to force him to change his priorities and ethics. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know if history repeats itself, Trump will be a mildly pro-corporate, lame duck politician. During Obama’s presidency I often mused that if someone of his poise couldn’t change America, nobody could, but I never expected someone like Donald Trump to become president. There are several key differences between Trump and every other president in recent history that may affect how he conducts himself:

  1. He’s not a career politician.

Trump can’t be corrupted by money and fame, because he’s already been corrupted by them. He doesn’t need to compromise with lobbyists to keep his job or secure a god-like retirement, because he already lives like a Roman emperor. He can’t be strong-armed by politicians who have sold out to the 1%, because he’s been donating to congressional campaigns for years. So he’ll be working with a Congress full of puppets who have already sold out to him. Plus, he still has enough money to buy off everyone he ever meets.

Chances are, Trump knows he’s going to be a one-term president. So he has even less motivation to play ball according to the old rules. The only reason he ran for president was to make a name for himself. He doesn’t have anything more pressing to do than shake things up. So it will be profoundly interesting to see how he takes advantage of his freedom and leverage.

  1. He’s certifiably insane.

You don’t need a degree in psychology to figure out Donald Trump isn’t normal. He exhibits all the symptoms of a narcissistic psychopath, pathological liar and philanderer who suffers from a severe thought disorder and affluenza. Sane people can be reasoned with, and they respond to fear predictably, which makes them possible to control. Donald Trump isn’t bound by the conventional rules of motivation. So he could do anything.

  1. He’s entering office with the lowest approval rating of any American president.

Even if Trump weren’t a narcissist, we could expect him to do something drastic solely for the purpose of boosting his popularity. When George Bush Jr.’s approval rating dropped below 50%, he started a war with Iraq, and his popularity surged… for a while. War didn’t help Obama out of his slump, and if Trump starts another war, it will only vindicate his critics. Trump’s only hope for attaining the glory he so desperately seeks is to do something that actually matters within his first 100 days of office.  Beyond that, America is his sand box for at least four years, and he’s not the type to sit idly. The question isn’t, will he change anything, but how sane will his changes be?

  1. Many of his campaign promises violated the Declaration of Human Rights, common sense and basic human decency.

Some of the policies Trump laid out in his Contract with the American Voter are great. Americans desperately need someone to put term limits on Congress, limit the power of lobbyists and monitor the ethics of politicians. I support Trump doing those things, and I will applaud him if he does. However, they would be empty victories if he implements his worst promises.

If Trump keeps the promises he made in campaign speeches, we can expect him to build a $30 billion wall between Mexico and America, and force the Mexican government to pay for it, bomb the families of known terrorist, waterboard enemies of the state, deport every illegal immigrant, and ban all Muslims from immigrating to the USA. President Trump will have to pay lip service to his voters by using illegal immigrants as a scapegoat, but he can’t deport all of them or build the wall between Mexico he promised. Both of those activities are impossible, and they would cause food, construction and landscaping prices to skyrocket, which will make Americans hate him. So, it should come as no surprise that he’s already back-pedaling on some of these promises.

In order to look tough and appeal to patriots, Trump will undoubtedly keep his promises to increase military and law enforcement funding, which will make life a little harder for the average American by diverting funding from agencies that help people, to ones that hunt people. This won’t turn rural America into a full-on police state, but it may turn the ghetto into one, which would inflame racial tensions worse than they already are. That would lead to more riots but probably wouldn’t incite a race war. However, if anyone could start a civil war, Trump’s the man to do it.

I don’t know if Trump is evil enough to do that, but I do know there are millions of minorities who are already scared enough of him to want him dead. So he’s going to have to try very hard not to get assassinated. No matter how bad of a president he is, I firmly believe his assassination would cause America more problems than it would solve. So I hope Trump loves himself enough not to poke the bear with a stick too hard.

  1. He has an entourage of known extremists and criminals.

Even if Trump never passes any deplorable laws, he’s promised to staff his administration with homophobes, xenophobes, religious extremists and climate-change deniers. If these men get their way, America will become more of a Christian police state with a slave-based economy than it already is.

Trump is way over his head, and the only asset he stands to lose from being the worst president in history is the value of his brand, which is what his entire life revolves around. He may have won the presidency by appealing to bigots, but his brand won’t survive if he continues acting like Hitler. His cabinet might devote their careers to taking America back to the dark ages, but I predict the main theme of Trump’s presidency won’t be scapegoating minorities.

You can’t predict what a pathological liar will do, but you can make educated predictions about someone’s behavior if you know their prime prerogative, and Trump’s highest priority in life is making money. He was born into the 1%, and raised to believe their philosophy, which is that the world exists to make the rich richer by any means.

Trump has never, and will never, spend a day living among the poor. After leaving office, he’ll wind down the rest of his years rubbing shoulders with the financial elite, and if he doesn’t want to be ostracized at the Kentucky Derby, he needs to give the rich what they want, which is the same thing he wants: money. This is why I don’t believe his promises to get out of NAFTA or the TPP, anger China, prevent outsourcing jobs or increase tariffs on imports. All of these actions would cut into American billionaires’ profit margins.

Every billionaire earned their fortune the exact same way. In order to make money, you have to either own or work for a business that sells a product. If you work for someone else, you’ll only have one stream of income, which isn’t enough to become a billionaire. To get filthy rich, you have to own a business, because when you do that, every employee either becomes, or facilitates, an additional revenue stream for the owner.

The goal of business is to make as much profit as possible. The formula for maximizing profit is to sell your product at the lowest cost to you and the highest cost to as many customers as possible, as frequently as possible. The perfect product would be something that doesn’t cost you anything to produce, and that customers have to pay a huge percentage of their salary for, every month. This product doesn’t exist, because there’s always a cost to do business, but the goal is to get as close to the mark as possible. The three most perfect products are stocks, insurance and real estate.

Stocks don’t cost anything to produce, and they don’t represent ownership of anything. They’re just collector’s items. Think of them as virtual baseball cards. This is free money for companies that issue them. Investment firms that sell stocks, are just middlemen, passing on one party’s empty promises to another in exchange for a significant fee. Nobody has to buy stocks, but there will always be a high demand for get rich quick schemes.

Insurance is a service you have to pay for monthly, which is designed to give customers the lowest return on investment legally possible. Plus, the government forces almost everyone to have car and health insurance. So customers can’t stop buying the product even if they wanted to. They could go to a competitor, but there are enough victims to go around.

Real estate is expensive, but if you inherited $20 million and a business worth $200 million, then spending $5 million on a piece of property you’ll never live in would impact your quality of life less than a minimum wage earner spending $50 on groceries. Once a property is paid off, you have to pay upkeep, but the cost is negligible, because you’re selling empty space to desperate customers for at least one third of their monthly income. Then you just sit back and watch the nation’s wealth pour upward into your bank account. The more property you buy, the scarcer it becomes, and the higher rent you can charge.

This is Donald Trump’s formula for success. It’s the premise of his entire life. Knowing that, we should be able to accurately predict that President Trump will make it drastically easier for businesses to lower the cost of making/selling products and increase businesses’ ability to extort their customers.

This explains why Trump is a climate change denier and why the global warming-denial movement started in the first place. Anyone smart enough to run a billion dollar company, is smart enough to trust the 99% of scientists who say global warming is real. Exxon’s own scientists proved it before their board of directors started spending millions denying climate change and bribing politicians to endorse their agenda.

Climate change denial is a lie on par with claiming smoking doesn’t cause cancer. It was invented by business owners, because environmental protection raises the cost of producing consumer products, which lowers profit margins, which, according to the 1%’s ethical code, is the most evil thing you can do.

People are already trying to convince Donald Trump to accept climate change is real, but he already knows and doesn’t care. All he cares about are profits. So he’s going to do as much as he can to lower environmental protection laws wherever possible. I wouldn’t be surprised if he passes a law making it a criminal offence to protest in any manner that halts the construction of oil pipe lines.

We should expect Trump to loosen restrictions on businesses anywhere he can. His Contract with the American Voter already states his unsurprising intention to lower business’s tax rate from 35% to 15%, but he doesn’t mention how he’s going to “fix” the biggest expense of running a business: paying your employees a living wage.

At the very least, it’s safe to say Trump will never increase the minimum wage, vacation time, sick time, mandatory rest breaks, or guarantee maternity leave. He won’t support free education or lower interest rates on student loans, credit cards or mortgages. Instead of fighting for meaningful bank reform, he’ll loosen banking regulations and consumer protection laws. Trump has already stated his intention of removing safety regulations that prevent drug companies from selling poison to customers, and that will become a metaphor for his presidency.

We can expect Trump to demonize and neuter unions by writing policies with the same spirit as “right to work laws.” I don’t know how much further he’ll slave-ify workers, but I would be shocked if, four years from now, standard employee contracts aren’t a page longer and twice as harsh as they are now.

The bitter sweet irony of Trump’s addiction to profit is that making businesses more profitable will improve the economy. As companies make more money, they’ll hire more workers, which will make the unemployment rate go down. Businesses will have more money to pay employees with, and some will, but the golden rule of business is to keep as much money for yourself as you can. So, even though some workers’ lives will be improved, most won’t. Statistically, if you work at McDonalds right now, life is as good as it’s going to get for you.

The stock market dipped the moment Trump was elected as investors panicked, but “The Oracle of Omaha,” Warren Buffet, a man who once criticized Trump’s racism, is now gleefully endorsing him, because he knows eliminating regulations will cause the profits of publicly traded companies to surge, which will raise the worth of his existing portfolio. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out he’s already planning on making new investments in whatever industries Trump cuts the most red tape for, like drugs and energy.

Conservatives will point to the impending stock market boom as proof Trump’s policies are working. However, even though investors at every income level will get richer, the bigger the bull market, the bigger the bubble it leads to. If Trump can manage to create a new golden era, it will be immediately followed by a financial crisis. Donald Trump isn’t responsible for individuals making speculative investments, but after the bottom falls out, and millions lose their life savings, they’ll have to re-enter the work force, which was already tantamount to slavery before Trump got elected, and will likely get worse during his tenure.

For the next four years, the poorest of the poor may get more job opportunities, but those will be dead end jobs. Even if Trump raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour, it won’t be enough to keep up with the cost of living, because the cost of products are based on supply and demand. Theoretically, this means competition drives prices down to the lowest price possible. However, customers are always willing to pay a price equal to how badly they need a product. Everybody needs a home, groceries, electricity, water, gas, education, furniture, vehicles, medical care, clothing, computers, phones, stationary, appliances, tools and entertainment. When every business sets their price as high as their customer’s desperation level, then the average cost of the products you buy most, represents the average amount business owners can get away with extorting you.

As long as everything is as expensive as possible, it doesn’t matter how many individuals Trump’s policies make rich. Most Americans will still be trapped in the same state of perpetual debt slavery they were born into. One day they’ll come home exhausted from work, carrying $50 of generic, poisonous groceries. They’ll collapse onto their couch, turn on their television and see reporters panicking because the stock market bubble just popped, but they won’t bat an eye, because to them, it was just another regular day in Hell, same as yesterday and tomorrow.

Lowering the poverty and unemployment rates isn’t an accomplishment presidents should even brag about, because if governments did what they’re supposed to, there would be no poverty or unemployment. Reducing them is tantamount to securing their continued existence. Worse than that, when a capitalist economy has an economic boom, it means more products are being sold, which means humans are consuming more of the Earth’s resources, faster. The faster we consume, the faster we turn the planet into an uninhabitable garbage dump. If Trump puts his foot down on the gas pedal of the economy, he’ll drive humanity straight towards extinction, and that’s the worst thing a human being can be successful at.

Click image to view source

Click image to view source

100 years from now, nobody will praise Trump for momentarily boosting investor returns. If his policies don’t turn the Earth into a toxic, scorching landfill, he’ll be remembered as a greedy fool who strengthened the fundamental flaws in the economy that create and sustain poverty. That will be Trump’s legacy.

This brings us to the question, what do we do now? I’ll explore that topic in my next blog post.

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