The New Year is nearly here, and so much has happened. Wait, what's that? Nothing major at all has happened, you say? Oh right, we've been stuck in neutral since dumping the toxic trash of the Republican Bush administration and embracing Democratic promises of hope and change, neither of which have blossomed.
A year of our collective life has flown by and our global culture is still rife with schemers, screw jobs and sorry excuses for solutions. And we just sit back and take it, year after year. But no more. When you make that hefty list of New Year's resolutions, drop some of these bombs. Then duck. You'll get your change faster than you can say, "Teabag this!"
1. Mortgage underwater? Just walk away from it. Even academia says it's OK. Move to the city and rent.
"Homeowners should be walking away in droves," University of Arizona law school professor Brent T. White told the Los Angeles Times. "But they aren't. And it's not because the financial costs of foreclosure outweigh the benefits. One can have a good credit rating again -- meaning above 660 -- within two years after a foreclosure."
In a scholarly paper called "Underwater and Not Walking Away: Shame, Fear and the Social Management of the Housing Crisis," White tells cash-jacked homeowners that they can return the screw.
We've been championing that course for years, with reports on walkaways and trashouts, as well as violent homeowner blowback. Hell, we called the Great Recession before most did, and we're still calling it another Great Depression in the making. So trust us. And if not us, then take it from the professor, who will soon be joined by a chorus of similarly credentialed whistleblowers as the financial crap truly hits the fan in the years to come. Go ahead, move back to the city and rent. You'll end up there anyway when your suburb runs out of water and malls.
2. Unplug your cable. The easiest way to kill the so-called news networks is to cut them off at their enablers. Don't like the hate spewed by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp nutjobs? Pull your cable bill's plug, or shut down your satellite. Tired of the way that Reality TV, in entertainment and otherwise, has replaced reality itself? Withdraw life support.
First, there's no holy reason you shouldn't be able to subscribe to a channel package of your own choosing. Listen to the voice of wisdom: "It is regrettable that the cable companies continue to balk at offering channels on an a la carte basis and instead continue to raise the price of their bundled offering[s]." You know who delivered that dose of media sense? John McCain. Yeah, it's that bad.
Plus, you don't need old-school TV anymore. In our digital age, you can go online for your news and entertainment, even if you can no longer tell the difference between the two. How? Streaming video sites like YouTube and more, or better yet torrents, which are the future now. Looking to watch your favorite episode of The Colbert Report right now? You can already do that online. Can you do it through your cable network? Exactly. Looking to watch something you can't screen anywhere online? There's a torrent for that. Like Napster's file-sharing platform before it, the BitTorrent protocol houses the people's media library, dedicated not just to pimping out the same crap seen on network and cable, but work you have never seen before, often stunning artistry left for dead by the side of the mainstream. Not anymore. Trust us, you do not need your cable. Murdoch and other old-media asshats will hate you for unsubscribing. Most importantly, you won't miss 80 percent of the shit you watched when it's gone.
3. Kill your landline. Chances are, your carrier is a privacy sellout you're already paying double. What's that you say, you're on a package deal that gives you a landline, a cell account and a cable subscription? Why? If you have a cell account, you don't need a landline, so they're just jacking you for money. And didn't we already discuss how you should unplug your cable? Nowadays, there are easier ways to chat up your pals, from Twitter and Facebook to Apple's iChat, with lets users talk face-to-face for free, riding the internet, which is probably already controlled by your copper, wireless or fiber-optic carrier. Plus, there's always email and other online options. Bottom line? Landlines are just ways to chain your wallet to the wall.
4. Reacquire your wealth. The easiest way for the Federal Reserve, led by Time Magazine's ludicrous Person of the Year Ben Bernanke, to pick your pocket is through your accounts and investments, which can be liquidated in the blink of a discount window's eye. Withdraw any extra cash you have, close whatever extra accounts you have, and take it somewhere besides Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase or another bailout addict. Better yet, keep it on the sidelines. The Fed hates that and so do the markets, which have nothing to do with you anyway. That game is above your head, and rigged outright. You either play with the house, or you play your conscience. Right now, your conscience should be worrying about another economic clusterfuck. Plus, the banks left standing after the financial crashes of the last few years are fatter than ever, and are still hoarding cash instead of lending it.
“It’s insanity that the too-big-to-fail institutions are even bigger today than they were,” Vermont's independent Senator Bernie Sanders told Bloomberg. “God forbid we have another financial crisis.”
God forbid? These banks have gotten bigger specifically to survive the next crisis they have already priced into the market. Thanks to Congress, the Fed and the last two administrations, they've got your cash sitting in their vaults, whistling while they wait. Take it out.
5. Pacify your portfolio. Whether through your job or your own efforts, chances are you probably own a retirement or investment portfolio. And if you haven't checked it out recently, chances are it's probably still poisoned by hyperleveraged funds or other financial stratagems, invested in oil, housing, malls, SUVs or some other shady Ponzi scheme. Get out now, unless you want to be a dick about it. Sure, commodities like oil and food are hot, but they're infested by speculators, to whom they are just playthings designed for maximum profit. Remember when oil was at $145 per barrel in 2008? The last year of the Bush administration's rule? Captain obvious.
If you want to take part in that hosing, fine; just try not to cry aloud about Bush, Obama, the Fed or climate change on the way to the bank. The easiest way to make change in capitalism gone awry is by manipulating your money. Think the fossil-fuel industry is bullshit? Make sure your retirement isn't invested in a mutual fund featuring Exxon or worse. Put your money in solar stocks, or other forward-looking investments, if you must fund anything. In capitalism, you are what you pay for, not what you say about what you pay for. No matter how nice it may be.
6. Take credit. If you have more than two credit cards, you're simply asking for trouble. And not just because credit tempts people into buying crap they don't need at prices they shouldn't pay. Do banks responsible for privatizing your profits to pay off their considerable losses really deserve more of your money? Even in a recession they're cleaning house; from scoring over $38 billion in corrupt overdraft fees in 2009 to dragging their well-heeled feet on foreclosure modifications, banks aren't done squeezing an already compromised public out of its last pennies. You can stop them by cutting off the money, and you'll be doing yourself a disciplined favor. No extra credit? Great, no extra crap.
For the cards you must keep, pay them off by any means necessary, and then pay them off monthly. That pisses the credit card companies off to no end.
7. Avoid CDs and DVDs: At least, stuff that isn't in collectible form. There is still a place for material goods in our mounting environmental chaos, but it is shrinking fast. Kind of like our natural resources. As we discussed in the cable section, you can get anything you want these days online, and if you can't, whoever is stopping you from being able to do so deserves their fate. Plus, discs are wasteful. And obsolete. And they know it.
From the plastic, and therefore oil, it takes to make their cases to the reams of paper, and therefore trees and water, it takes to make their press and product packaging, CDs and DVDs are the easiest fat to axe. Which is why in the last decade CD sales have dropped precipitously, as online sales have caught up. Might as well seal the deal by never buying another disc again. Here's how the media arrangement for the future works: Some entity sends whatever you want to watch wirelessly to your phone, computer and TV. Everything else is just wasted resources, money and time, no matter what the industry says. You can speed up that evolution by forcing the industry's hand. If you don't, it will squeeze cash from a disc's stone until you make it stop. While we're on this subject....
8. Stop buying bottled water, factory-farmed beef and new cars, especially hybrids. The first offense is a bailout for the oil industry, the second is a climate-change massacre, and the third is a waste of your time and money. The electric cars will be here soon. If you can walk or use public transportation until then, please do so. That is, if you really need a car at all. Most of us don't. Have to drive miles to work? Consider how much money it costs you every month to get paid, and add that to the probably less impressive paycheck you could get from a gig closer to home, perhaps within walking distance. Our climate crisis demands that we kill as many emissions as we possibly can to keep the planet from overheating. Who knows? A few more degrees and we could be looking at everything from sea-rise catastrophe to the outright extinction of the human race, thanks to a species-killing dose of hydrogen sulfide. Don't go blank on me, now. Extinction events have happened before, and can easily happen again.
One helpful way to stop them from happening is to decrease the amount of methane farted out by hordes of bovine prisoners herded into Cow-schwitzes across America and beyond. If you think carbon dioxide is a killer, it's nothing compared to methane, which is increasing annually as the ice melts away and the sea coughs its stored poison into the sky. Throw in the heresy of using oil to make plastic bottles to store the same water that's no more pristine than what's already in your tap, and you have the hat trick from hell. If you can do only one thing on this admittedly ambitious list, do this one....or, uh, these three things. Instant impact.
9. Do not watch whiny bitches. Especially so you can tell us how whiny they are; trust us, we already know. Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and other compromised gossips ranting about everything from Tiger Woods to Barack Hussein Obama are a waste of everyone's time, except of course the people who pay them to spout their nonsense. And those who watch it to confirm their already mindless prejudices and political objectives.
Those unhinged jackasses are exactly what the hardy souls at Media Matters are for. If you ignore them, they really will go away, at least for you. Which is what matters, in the end. Is there really room in your busy mind for their doltish nattering? When you read a story about how Bill O'Reilly cut some poor sap's mike, you're learning too much about something you already know too much about. Much better to occupy your time with solutions to the proliferating problems that are coming your way, from probable economic misery to promised environmental devastation. Don't worry, if something legally actionable happens, you'll hear about it. Until then, spend your time reading and ranting about more important matters. Like your sex life.
10. Start or join a third party. "You want the puppet on the right or the puppet on the left?" the self-destructive man in Richard Linklater's animated mind-wiper Waking Life asked. Sure, he doused himself in gasoline and set himself afire, after dryly joking "Let my own lack of a voice be heard." But still. Beyond the propaganda of fear promoted by the Bush administration or the hope promised by the Obama administration, what has become exquisitely clear is that our country is actually run by a single party comprised of political animals assembling on the fence. And they will do whatever they can to stay in power, regardless of whether or not it is madness.
"As someone who voted to repeal Glass-Steagall, maybe that was a mistake," Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer said of the law that kept investment and lending banks separate, a dissolution that has led directly to our current econopocalypse. The Glass-Steagall Act's repeal happened under the watch of President Bill Clinton, whose administration worked together with Republicans and Wall Street criminals to torpedo financial regulation. Sure, the guy who wanted to succeed him, Al Gore, is a climate-change visionary. But his running mate? Right, the same fence-hopping Joe Lieberman who just eviscerated health care reform's public option. With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?
The two-party system you have today is already a three-party system. It houses a well-meaning minority, middle-way sellouts and batshit loonies. Someone needs to babysit all those kids. Why not you? Let the fence-squatters have their pity parties. Eventually, they will be whittled down to their core essence, which is nothing more than compromise stained by self-possession. Worried about leaving your party? Don't be.
Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.