All-Consuming Poverty

Terry J. Allen

The upside of the current depression is that Wall Street greed and Washington corruption show as starkly as blood on a white shirt. When we are not being screwed by rigged odds, overpaid executives and unregulated systems, we are being robbed outright – not only of money and jobs, but also of environment and health.

If you want to join a growing movement based on consuming less, you can unlock yourself from some relentless bills.

And our own addiction to consumerism and failure to save tie us to debt and stress.

Whatever the cause, less money can mean less access to such predictors of health as education, transportation, housing, criminal justice, air quality, exercise, nutritious food and healthcare. Toxic stressors such as poverty, racism and discrimination translate directly into sickness and early death.

The effects of class and race are vivid: An African-American person living in the Oakland, Calif., flatlands has a life expectancy of 70.5 years, on average, compared with 77.4 years for an African American in the Oakland hills, according to an April 2008 report by the Alameda County Public Health Department. The life expectancy of a white person in the poorer flats is 76.6, while a white person in the affluent hills averages 82.3 years.

Welcome to a thin glimpse into the plight of the world’s 1.4 billion people in extreme poverty (living on less than $1.25 each day) who lack water, shelter and sanitation – and would kill for our problems.

Still, almost everyone I know is poorer today than a year ago, and more worried. What follows are some ways of cutting tech-related expenses. If you have already hit bottom, they will be useless – even insulting – but if you want to join a growing movement based on consuming less, you can unlock yourself from some relentless bills.

If you have broadband, ditch cable and watch free TV. Most networks now offer shows online. Hulu.com’s provides many TV programs, including drug-of-choice fixes such as The Daily Show” and The Colbert Report.” The website Lives​ta​tion​.com streams such local, national and international news as Al Jazeera and CNN International – way better than the U.S. version – along with Iranian and Pakistani stations. The motherload of international TV is at wwitv​.com/​p​o​r​t​a​l.htm for news and entertainment from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

For current movies, as well as HBO and Showtime, subscribe to graboid​.com for a relatively small fee, based on how much you download. Or go to the library and share an old-fashioned community resource.

You could also watch less media and help your health, community and the environment by spending your time cooking wholesome local food rather than consuming processed chemical-laden crap. Farmers’ markets and Community Sponsored Agriculture co-ops are proliferating. 

Slice your phone bill by dumping your landline and either going all cell or VOIP (internet phoning). No-contract, pre-pay cell phones can save a bundle if you use your cell as an emergency supplement to a home phone. Just be careful to read the fine print and monitor usage. One Verizon deal charges $1 for every day you use your phone, nothing for days you don’t, plus $.10 minute. There is $100/​year minimum.

Now, what to do with the extra thousands of dollars? U.S. personal savings are at a six-year high, but think twice about using yours to buy stocks unless you understand how the market works. (Odds are you don’t – and neither does your cocky broker.) Differentiating between a gilded scam and a golden opportunity is virtually impossible – even for insiders. (Ask Bernard Madoff’s victims.) 

Fixed-rate CDs – backed by the FDIC for banks, or NCUA for credit unions – yield steady income with minimal risk. No, perhaps not as profitable in the long term as the market, but in the long term you’ll be dead, and in the short term you’ll sleep better. Compare national rates at Bankrate​.com/​b​r​m​/​r​a​t​e​/​h​i​g​h​_​h​o​m​e.asp, which also ranks bank soundness. 

Want to be more liquid, like your innards when you see the news? Dol​larsav​ings​di​rect​.com offers online high-interest savings accounts.

Or you could donate the money you save to soup kitchens and shelters, to health, environmental and human rights groups, or to (ahem) the alternative media that work to expose the greed and corruption that created this economic disaster. But if you are among the millions crushed by the current economy, you will need the saved cash just to survive.

Send your tips for saving to tallen@​igc.​org and I’ll post the best ones as an addendum to this column when it runs online.

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Terry J. Allen is a veteran investigative reporter/​editor who has covered local and international politics and health and science issues. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Boston Globe, Times Argus, Harper’s, the Nation​.com, Salon​.com, and New Scientist . She has been an editor at Amnesty International, In These Times , and Cor​p​watch​.com. She is also a photographer. Her portraits of people sitting in some of the 1900 cars lined up outside a Newport, Vt., food drop can be seen on www​.flickr​.com/​p​h​o​t​o​s​/​t​e​r​r​y​a​l​l​e​n​/​a​lbums. Terry can be contacted at tallen@​igc.​org or through www​.ter​ry​jallen​.com.
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