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January 8, 2009

Michael Vick is in prison – why is Bernard Madoff free?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone the abuse of animals in any form and I believe that Vick being involved with a dog fighting ring even at a distance was dumb.

But let’s put this into perspective – former star NFL quarterback Michael Vick has been serving a 23-month prison term in Leavenworth, Kansas after being found guilty of financing a dog fighting ring (he’s scheduled to be transferred to a Virginia halfway house by January 20).

Did Vick steal from anyone?  Did he irrevocably ruin anyone’s life other than his own? Did he shoot anyone? 

We can’t say the same thing about Bernard Madoff who is living in the lap of luxury even though he ruined the lives of approximately 8,000 customers and additional untold thousands who benefit from the charities that his customers support.

Take for example Mr. Spencer, a 62 year old gentleman who lost his entire life savings of $10 million to Madoff’s scam.

This gentleman didn’t invest on a whim or foolishly.  He has been investing with Madoff for 17 years.  He started and sold two businesses and invested the money each time with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities – a company that had a GREAT reputation.  He created his own spreadsheet and checked his monthly portfolio summaries and matched them with his trade confirmations and logged them into his spreadsheet every month.  Every transaction added up each month for almost 2 decades.  He was hands-on, sensible, and responsible – he did everything right but still got scammed big time by Madoff.

Take as a second example Mr. and Mrs. Thomas – they are in their mid-eighties and the money they invested with Madoff is the only money they have in the world.  Mr. Thomas was an accountant all his life, understands numbers and spreadsheets.  He did rigorous research before deciding to invest with Madoff.

He had planned for his retirement in a responsible way. He was beyond confident that he and his wife had no financial worries: he had become a millionaire and wealthy enough to afford $130,000 a year for assisted-living accommodations in a home for the elderly that provided round-the-clock health aides for him and his wife.

The computer-generated financial statements he received every month showed that he had $2.7 million, an impressive increase from the $400,000 he had originally invested with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities 20 years earlier.  He thought he had made smart decisions.  He thought that he and his wife could live their lives and pay their bills for the rest of their days. Not so.  Now this elderly gentleman and his wife are almost penniless and will undoubtedly run out of money and will not be able to afford to pay to live in the assisted-living home they now reside in and they do not have children. They don’t know where they’ll live or who will provide the care they need on a daily basis since Mr. Thomas is 86 and have had three heart attacks and Mrs. Thomas had a stroke 8 months ago.  They are now hoping that Medicaid will cover the 24-hour care they need. They are nervous and they are scared.

 

Before Mr. Thomas decided to invest with Madoff he visited the company’s office and met Mr. Madoff himself.  Madoff impressed Thomas very much, as he did everyone else.  There were tons of computers and people running all over the place and Thomas figured that Madoff’s operation had to be genuine because he couldn’t employ that kind of staff without money – everything looked so legit.

Thousands of people are ruined.  Some young enough and will have to start all over.  Some like the Thomas’s are too old.  This is tragic.

Madoff could not have maintained this scam all by himself – who was helping him?  Who was providing accurate data that was inputted into the Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities computer system that generated accurate monthly statements for decades?

Bernard Madoff should not be walking around free and unfettered and able to mail one million dollars worth of jewelry to family while his investors who trusted him live an agonized and tortured life.

What does Madoff have to do to go to jail, kill a dog?

January 3, 2009

Are You A Good Driver?

I just came home from running errands and I am frustrated like hell.  One thing has remained constant since I moved to Florida: my continued frustration with the way many people drive in Florida.

Honestly, how do you rate yourself as a driver?

Silly me.  I take that question back. Of course you rate yourself as being above average. It’s a well-known fact that all humans consider themselves to be above-average drivers. No amount of physical evidence will convince a bad driver that he or she is a bad driver.

driving-talking-eating You take a driver who, while attempting to pull out of a parking space, mistakes “forward” for “reverse,” then, in an effort to correct this error, mistakes the accelerator for the brake and sends his car lunging across a sidewalk and into a diner whilst attaining a speed of 40 mph by the time it rams into the salad bar and car and driver are saturated by carafes of salad dressing.

Even as the paramedics are tweezing corn and peas from the ears and nose of the driver he will loudly insist that the restaurant was not there before and that there are plenty of people on the road who do not drive as well as he does.

And the scary thing is: he’s right! There are LOTS of worse drivers out there! In fact over 90% of all drivers are below average and most of them are here in Florida — I am not exaggerating – I have seen most of them! I don’t know what the driving experience is like in your state but it’s unusual in Florida.

driver-old-1 Florida seems to attract inferior drivers like a magnet.  In addition to this fatal attraction it seems to automatically issue a driver’s license to anyone who asks for one.  Ask and ye shall receive a Florida drivers license.  The “road” test is a joke – you don’t even go on the road.  Driver’s license road tests are pretty much taken in a supermarket parking lot and licenses are issued to seventeen year olds and seventy year olds as freely as Gatorade at a football game on a really hot day!

As someone who recently moved to Florida it STILL boggles my mind whenever I see a car accident and there was only one car involved with absolutely no traffic on the road – WTH!!!  Is it still an accident if there is only one car involved? Or is it a mishap, a mistake or simply a moronic episode?

But getting back to your driving ability – I can tell from the sympathetic way you’re reading this post that you truly are an above average driver.  So am I, of course.  Anyway, since you and I are such superior drivers, I wanted to share with you an excellent suggestion by Florida motorist Ana Garcia – her name was changed to protect this excellent driver.  Ana begins by noting the annoying behavior of certain motorists, especially the ones who drift aimlessly along in the left, or “passing” lane, mile after clueless mile, never passing anybody and never noticing the 5 mile back-up of cars behind them flashing their lights, honking their horns, making explicit hand gestures while firing marine flares.

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In Debt? It’s Time To Negotiate With Your Credit Card Company, Bank or Lender

It’s a new year.  It’s a new day.  There are some new rules.

Financially, times are about to become hard for many of us but we the consumer still have some negotiating leverage. 

Folks just don’t have the cash flow they had 6, 8 or 12 months ago.  Not too long ago distressed borrowers might have avoided disaster by taking out an equity loan on their home, borrowed from 401ks or may even have borrowed from relatives or friends but in these dire times these are no longer options for many.

Lenders are realizing that many Americans will not be able to pay their bills as the economy gets worse and worst.

Some lenders have given the collection agencies that work for them the authority to get whatever cash money they can – even if it’s a fraction of the total debt – while they can.  

Don’t get it twisted, creditors aren’t being nice – they are simply trying to get cash since cash is golden right now.   In the months to come some people won’t have any extra cash to pay old debts so lenders are willing to negotiate today. As they say, ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’. To paraphrase, it is better for creditors to accept what they can get today than to wait and risk getting nothing.

Some banks like Bank of America, Chase and even American Express are currently waiving late fees, lowering interest rates and are even reducing balances for nearly a million borrowers.  Some lenders are offering to forgive their debtors between 20 and 70 percent of their debt.

As bad debts sky-rocket lenders are caught between a rock and a hard place so they will offer loan adjustments to people who meet certain criteria such as being delinquent for 90 days or longer, the borrower’s income, existing bank relationships and a credit record that suggests that missing a payment is an exception rather than the rule.

So, if you owe some money, now is the time to contact your bank, lender or collection agency and negotiate, negotiate, negotiate some sort of settlement.

Wishing you and yours a healthy, happy,

peace filled and prosperous New Year!

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