Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dr Boyce: Credit Card Companies Secretly Raising Rates

By Dr. Boyce Watkins

In case you weren’t sure, credit card companies are not out to help you. If you are financially illiterate and uninformed, they are going to exploit you. If you are worried about the financial crisis, they are going to prey on your fear to get money out of you. They are also doing exactly what the rest of us are doing: trying to remain protected in a fragile economy.

The stimulus is stymied. The bailout is a failout. The stock market has consistently given a “thumbs down” to every piece of legislation passed in response to this crisis. Our economy is like the sick man who won’t respond to antibiotics. While the results of the latest package are yet to be seen, the truth is that no one is sure what will work. Every company is out to protect their assets and hold on to their cash, which means they no longer have much interest in loaning money to you.

Yes, this is true even if you have a good credit score, which is the ironic part.

Customers are opening their monthly statements to find that credit card companies have started to either ration credit (give less of it) or raise the interest rate being paid on outstanding debt. This doesn’t even count all the dirty tactics used, like using your payments to pay off low interest debt first, quietly getting rid of the grace period or charging interest on your balance from the prior two months vs. the current one. Even when you’ve been making payments on time for years, banks keep raising the bar to maximize shareholder wealth. When liquidity is scarce, those giving out water demand a higher cost per bottle. Additionally, higher default rates have justified the increase in interest rates, but higher interest rates increase the likelihood of default. It’s a nasty cycle, really.

Lawmakers are trying to intervene. Congressional hearings have taken place. Banks are being scolded by senators who keep telling them that this form of business practice is unethical and that they are gouging the American consumer. All this might be true, but what is also true is that you can’t force banks to loan you money. Also, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to legislate a strong economy.

If you have a less than stellar financial history, there is an even greater opportunity for your credit card company to raise your interest rates. If you have defaulted on other loans or are a slow payer in other areas, then they have no problem telling you to pay up or ship out. The days of easy money are long behind us, and companies are dramatically shifting their business practices.

The bottom line is that THEY’VE GOT YOU. They know that you’ve become addicted to the debt they so readily offered in the past, and this debt has become the lifeblood for the lifestyle to which you’ve chosen to become accustomed. They know that they can charge you a higher interest rate because you can’t do anything about it. Like a drug addict who is angry about paying more for his product, you really don’t have any other choice.

Well, maybe you do.

Here is one solution: tighten your economic belt. That means putting together a financial fitness plan today that consists of getting rid of as much debt as possible. I’ve mentioned in prior articles and on our website that paying off debt can be one of the best investments you make with your money. This is especially true if you have a stable job and are paying a high rate of interest to your credit card company.

So, the Dr. Boyce Challenge for this month is simple: Create a budget which includes the steady elimination of credit card debt. That means you should list every single expense you have for the entire month on one piece of paper or a spreadsheet. Don’t leave anything out. Count the money you want to use for getting your hair done, your nails, paying your mortgage, car note, whatever. Count everything. That will be your first step toward obtaining financial fitness.

As you create the budget, allocate at least 10% of your monthly after tax income toward reducing credit card debt. So, if you earn $3,000 per month after taxes,$300 per month should be allocated toward removing credit card debt, not including interest. So, if you owe $5,000 in credit card debt, you can remove this debt in roughly a year and a half. While $300 may seem like a lot of money to find in your budget, it’s there if you look hard enough. In fact, if you spend $10 per day on lunch and/or coffee, you can find the bulk of the money by taking your lunch to work. Make this one of the first bills you pay, not the last. The last bill is the one that only gets paid half the time. It’s easier to negotiate with creditors if you don’t need them so much. Take small steps toward finding your financial freedom.

Next month, we will move to step 2 of the Dr. Boyce Financial Challenge. While I confess that this change won’t be easy, I can promise that it will be worth it in the end. Be strong and remain focused, this is your opportunity to shine.

Dr Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of “Financial Lipo 101: From financial fat to fitness”, to be released in April, 2009. For more information, please visit

Friday, February 13, 2009

Black Sports: Michael Vick in Hot NFL Demand

by Jason Henry –

Let the Michael Vick sweepstakes begin.

In a report on today, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff stated that the team wants to trade away the rights of former quarterback Michael Vick. The team has taken small steps to rid themselves of the troubled player since his subsequent jail sentence in 2007.

The Falcons drafted Matt Ryan third overall in last spring’s NFL draft, and that pick has worked out well for the team so far. They made an impromptu playoff run last season and have not looked back.

Since the Falcons have been able to get past the Vick distraction, they are now ready to move on completely without him. But you may think, “What team in its right mind wants to trade for a former player that has been sitting in prison for the last two years?”

Try a team that is in desperate need of a quarterback or a difference maker on offense.

Let’s not forget that Michael took the Falcons to the NFC Championship game some years back, and they either led the league or were near the top of the league in rushing when he was under center. Your favorite team’s wide receivers may not like him, but your running backs will.

With Vick in the backfield, he opens up so many opportunities for your offense. He may not warrant being the starter for your team, but he can run a version of the wildcat offense and play a little receiver. Vick may be able to return punts and kickoffs if he gains a little more muscle when he comes back into the league.

But what teams would actually think about trading for him?


Click to read.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stimulus Battle May Threaten Obama’s Agenda?

It is a quick, sweet victory for the new president, and potentially a historic one. The question now is whether the $789 billion economic stimulus plan agreed to by Congressional leaders on Wednesday is the opening act for a more ambitious domestic agenda from President Obama or a harbinger of reduced expectations.


Deal Reached in Congress on $789 Billion Stimulus Plan(February 12, 2009)

President Obama and Gov. Tim Kaine on Wednesday at a parkway project in Springfield, Va., that could get stimulus money.Both the substance of his first big legislative accomplishment and the way he achieved it underscored the scale of the challenges facing the nation and how different a political climate this is from the early stages of recent administrations.

While it hammered home the reality of bigger, more activist government, the economic package was not the culmination of a hard-fought ideological drive, like Lyndon B. Johnson’s civil rights and Great Society programs, orRonald Reagan’s tax cuts, but rather a necessary and hastily patched-together response to an immediate and increasingly dire situation. On the domestic issues Mr. Obama ran and won on — health care, education, climate change, rebalancing the distribution of wealth — the legislation does little more than promise there will be more to come.

In cobbling together a plan that could get through both the House and the Senate, Mr. Obama prevailed, but not in the way he had hoped. His inability to win over more than a handful of Republicans amounted to a loss of innocence, a reminder that his high-minded calls for change in the practice of governance had been ground up in a matter of weeks by entrenched forces of partisanship and deep, principled differences between left and right.

In the end, Congress did not come together to address what Mr. Obama has regularly suggested is a crisis that could rival the Great Depression. What consensus has been forged so far is likely to be tested in the months to come as he faces scrutiny over the effectiveness of the stimulus package and the likelihood that he will have to ask Congress for substantially more money to heal the fractures in the financial system.

So this was hardly a moment for cigars.

If this is the 21st-century version of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 100 Days, Mr. Obama seems to be pursuing it more as an urgent but imposed necessity than as a self-selected mission.

While he has deployed his political capital freely to win approval of the package and to begin pushing his version of a financial-system rescue, he has left little doubt that he is eager to move on to the rest of his domestic agenda. At his news conference on Monday night, Mr. Obama said with a hint of exasperation that a costly economic rescue package “wasn’t how I envisioned my presidency beginning.” Regardless of the government’s budgetary straits, Mr. Obama has signaled that he sees his other signature initiatives not just as salvageable but as more urgent than ever.

Click to read more.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Black Love and Black Relationships

Brought to you by The Great Black Speakers Bureau - The #1 Black Speakers Bureau in the world.

To get financial advice from Dr. Boyce, please visit  To see video commentary from Dr. Boyce, please click here.

Dr. Boyce Watkins

FYI: I should be on the NPR show "Tell Me More with Michel Martin", a journalist for whom I have tremendous respect.  We recorded today with Shelby Steele, a conservative scholar out at Stanford and another scholar named Jon Powell, at Ohio State.  The conversation is interesting, and I recommend you give it a listen.  You can learn more about the show at this link:

I also got another call yesterday from "The Big O"...yes, you know who I am talking about.  Apparently, there is some interest in my Financial Lovemaking Book.  I'll keep you posted on that one, since I am not 100% sure if my demographic matches that of the Great Ms. Winfrey.  While I feel that Financial Lovemaking can work well for her audience, my alignment with the hip hop community may make for an awkward fit.  The fact that I engage in critical analysis (meaning that no one is 100% good or 100% bad) means that I sometimes make enemies in this game because of my refusal to kiss anyone's butt too much.  But I do give respect where it is due, and I consider Oprah to be an amazing role model for all of us.  The same goes for President Obama. 

In light of the fact that Valentine’s Day is coming, I was thinking about the whole idea of love.  I must also admit that I thought about love when I noticed the singer Chris Brown might have ruined his career in this mad situation with Rihanna (apparently, there may be some abuse in that relationship, I’m not sure).  Either way, I think that anyone who has been young and in a relationship understands how stupid and crazy things can happen.  I’ve never considered Chris Brown to be a bad person.  But he may have done a bad thing.

Seeing the huge loss that these two young people may have imposed on their lives (Chris and Rihanna), led me to reflect on love and what it means to me.  Here is my personal perspective on love….love it or hate it (haha).

What Love Should and Should Not Be

By Dr. Boyce Watkins

I’ve lived a bit of life and made my share of mistakes.  But as a professor, I am trained to learn from poor choices and grow from them.  Most processes have a purpose and a pattern.  If you think hard enough and honestly confront your failures, triumphs and observations, you can usually walk away with a bit of insight.  The term “No pain, no gain”, can certainly be applied in the game of love, and I intend to gain from my own personal portfolio of blissful heartache.

So, I’ve come up with some “Rules of Love” out of respect for Valentine’s Day.  It’s not scientific and not a fit for everyone.  But it comes from the head, the heart and all the other body parts I can’t mention in this article.  So, at least you know it’s sincere.

Love should be RESPECTED: One of the silliest things I see in some relationships is that people seem to be most interested in chasing the person who loves them the least, while kicking their greatest admirers to the curb.  They choose the best option they can GET instead of the best option they’ve already GOT.  There is something that people love about a challenge.  It can be a natural instinct to equate kindness with weakness and easy access with a lack of value. Many of us are guilty of crying over the person who ignores us and ignoring the person who cries for us.  Someone who gives you their heart can also take it away, so we must respect those who’ve truly earned it.

Love should be EXPECTED:   Part of the reason that some of us spend our time chasing the loser who doesn’t love us is because deep down, we feel that someone who cares for us must be flawed or unworthy of our time.  On the other hand, it is easy to feel sorry for yourself when you see that the one you usually want doesn’t want you back.  The truth of the matter is that if someone disrespects the appreciation you are showing toward them, then they don’t deserve your love anyway.  You should love yourself enough to walk away from those who choose not to treat you as you deserve to be treated.

Love should be given to YOURSELF: Part of demanding the love that you deserve is engaging in the difficult art of SELF LOVE.  Many times, we look in the emotional mirror and see blemishes, flaws, faults, mistakes and the ugliest sides of who we are.   Rather than greeting the world with our heads held high, we keep our heads down and hope no one notices that we are not as good as everyone else.  Loving yourself is similar to learning to love another person:  there is a point where you must simply accept the flaws.   You must realize that you are no more defective and no more perfect than everyone else, and that you too deserve to be happy.  If you can’t love yourself, then it’s damn near impossible to truly love someone else, since you are only offering them what you perceive to be damaged goods.

Love is meant to be CELEBRATED:  I’ve admittedly never been able to fully grasp the concept of homosexuality, but I’ve never had a problem with gay marriage.  One thing I believe is that love was created by GOD: that includes love between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman.  There should not be religious, social or racial boundaries imposed on meaningful love, for we do not get to choose the shape, size or complexion of the package.  When God blesses someone with such a powerful connection, this love should be celebrated by all of us and not judged or held in contempt.   Melting someone’s halo of happiness by dousing it with a flood of hate is a counter-productive use of our time and a wasteful spiritual endeavor. 

Valentine’s Day is meant to be YEAR ROUND:  You should not need a special holiday to show someone you love them.  You should tell them something good, positive, and affirming every time you see them, because this will make that person feel good.  You should not need corporate America’s permission and some hyper-commercialized holiday as your excuse to show affection.   I encourage you to say ten nice things per day to people you care about, which may include complimenting them on their clothes, their hair, their personality, their beauty or their presence.  It will make them feel good and leave a lasting psychological impact.  Our words are “emotional money” and we should be consistently making donations.

Love should be REFLECTIVE:  The hardest way to get what you want is to selfishly pursue it, take it or relentlessly absorb it.  That’s like waiting for your paycheck and never showing up for work.  If you are in a truly loving situation, you get what you want by REFLECTING IT.   If you WANT more success out of life, you GIVE more hard work.  If you WANT better grades, you GIVE more time to the library.  If you WANT more appreciation from your partner, you GIVE more attention and affection.  If you choose to share your love with someone who deserves it, then they will give the love right back to you, with interest.  Like a healthy economy, the cycle will become recursive and productive trade increases the value of each partner’s “Life Portfolio”.   In pleasure, pain and everything in between, to get more, you must give more.  You must also make payments in the currency deemed most valuable to your partner.  There’s no way around that fact.

Love should be PRACTICED:  Love is not just a feeling, an emotion, a whim or something that makes your skin shiver.  Loving someone is a DELIBERATE ACT and a series of habits designed to sustain and maintain the relationship you have with one another.  The work of the greatest writers in history was not always driven by inspiration and a desire to write…..sometimes, it was the act of sitting down each day and forcing themselves to write which eventually inspired them to do their greatest work.  In other words, love is a series of proactive habits, choices and behaviors that correlate with your desire to have a meaningful and stable relationship with another person.  It’s not something you just randomly “fall into” and “out of”… is something you choose to do.

Love should be CONTEMPLATED: When it comes to dating, I tell my daughter and God daughters the following: “If a man is not someone you can see raising your children, then don’t even go out on the first date.”  They look at me like I’m crazy, but the point is simple:  While you cannot easily choose to release yourself from the psychological grips of love, you have some ability to choose who you are going to fall in love with in the beginning.  Most of us don’t meet someone and decide that we are going to be with this person for years.  There is always the first glance, the first date, the first kiss, the first touch, and before you know it, you’re stuck in a situation that doesn’t make any sense to you.  So, if you don’t start with point A, you can never reach point Z.  This makes the most sense when you can see that point Z is not the place you want to visit with this particular person.

Love should be REMEMBERED: A big challenge for many young or single people (and even those who are married) is that we spend our time chasing the love and affection that is most intriguing to our hormones, while ignoring the love that is most tried and true.  A man might spend hours on the phone with a pretty lady who doesn’t even like him, but simultaneously ignore his grandmother who would gladly give her life for him.  Valentine’s Day is not just the day you send “sweets to your sweetie”.  It is also the day you shower love on your mother, brother, sister, father, best friend, homeboy, children, grand parents and all the people who will love you long after your sweetie has become sweet on someone else.   In the city of love, new buildings are shiniest and most appealing.  But the older buildings are the sturdiest and most enduring.  

Love is LIFE:  Not only does the act of love create and sustain life, it is also the greatest part of our journey through life.  We may or may not remember or be inspired by our professional or educational achievements, but we have an immediate and powerful emotional reaction when we reflect on the love we’ve experienced over the years.  Thinking about children, family or ex-lovers can create an emotional response that can’t be matched by a corporate job or advanced degree.  I tell my students that one of the most important decisions they will ever make is who they choose to spend their lives with.  I’ve seen many people drive themselves down the path to hell by choosing to share their love with someone who deserves it the least.  Like the most amazing roller coaster, the journey of love is long, complicated, exciting, scary and fulfilling.  So, while we’re on this journey, we should make sure we turn on the GPS.

Happy Valentine’s Day and I hope this day inspires you to find the love that exists in your life.  It’s all around you if you learn to look for it.  Even in an economy like this one, the love in your life can make you a billionaire. 

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University.  For more information, please visit    

Friday, February 6, 2009

My Respected Colleague, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill


Dr. Marc Lamont Hill is a noted author, columnist, professor and member of the growing body of “Hip-Hop Intellectuals” in the country today. Giving voice to topics ranging from hip hop culture, politics, religion, sexuality and education, Dr Hill has become a much needed voice and representative for the African American community. His series of articles, ‘ Why Hip-Hop Sucks’ have sparked healthy debate within the hip hop community, holding a mirror up to music artists and consumers in attempts to improve our current state. Named as one of America’s top 30 Black Leaders Under 30 years old byEbony Magazine, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill is indeed an intelligent, powerful figure with purpose and reason, the makings of a great leader.

Q: You consider yourself to be a Hip-Hop intellectual, what does that mean?
For me, the term “hip-hop intellectual” means several things. First, it means that my intellectual calling is prompted by the particular and often unique conditions faced by the hip-hop generation. Also, the term reflects my desire to link hip-hop culture, which is often seen as anti-intellectual, to a long and deep tradition of engaged intellectual activity. Finally, the term speaks to the ways in which hip-hop language, aesthetics, and values shape the way I approach my work.

Q: The Hip Hop generation has often been referred to as the “Lost Generation.” Do you believe this is true?
Oh God no! As every generation reaches maturity, there are people who talk about how corrupt, unmotivated, anti-intellectual, and hopeless the next generation is. Nevertheless, in spite of all the moral panic, that next generation manages to thrive and advance our struggle. The hip-hop generation is no different. Do we have our issues? No doubt. Do we have shortcomings? Of course. But those issues and shortcomings don’t mark our inferiority. Instead, they spotlight our humanity and define our agenda.

Q: Has Hip Hop become a scapegoat for many of the social problems that have arisen within the Black community?
No doubt. Every time a social issue gets raised, particularly one that implicates White people, hip-hop gets thrown into the mix. Don Imus disrespects the Rutgers girls and everyone is talking about Snoop. Dog Chapman uses the N-word and media commentators are bringing up 50 Cent. This is not to say that we shouldn’t challenge hip-hop artists to do better. On the contrary, we must demand that the hip-hop community set a better example for ourselves. Nevertheless, it is both naïve and disingenuous to suggest that the evils of the world start and end with hip-hop. For example, it’s safe to say that Don Imus didn’t get the term “nappy headed hoes” from watching BET. That type of hatred comes from a deeply racist worldview that existed before hip-hop was conceived. At the same time, we need to demand that BET stop calling us “nappy headed hoes”

Q: The Hip Hop community often perpetuates the stereotypes that we are continuously fighting against. Where does this stem from? Is it a lack of education, rebellion or claiming ownership over what is negative in an attempt to make it positive? For example, the use of “N” word.
It is important to remember that Black people have always struggled to reclaim, reshape, and rearticulate the things that have been so viciously used to undermine our existence. For example, Black people have always used the N-word in ways that were deliberate, thoughtful, and redemptive. The problem, however, is that our culture has been bought and sold in the open market. As a result, much of the complexity and nuance that used to accompany our use of “nigger” or a conversation about “snitching” have been reduced to sound bites and slogans. Such a space dilutes the conversation into something that is politically impotent or, in the case of the n-word, counter-productive and dangerous. This circumstance isn’t the result of Black ignorance, but an inevitable part of contemporary capitalist culture, which reduces everything and everyone to dollars and cents.

Q: There is a saying that goes “we should not follow the bouncing ball, but look at the one throwing it.” Should Hip Hop take the blame for disparaging remarks made by people such as Don Imus, Michael Richards and Duane “Dog” Chapman?
Yes and No. Whenever Black people have moral authority, we are better equipped to challenge the evils of the world. If we demonstrate self-love and an ethic of responsibility, it is considerably easier to challenge White supremacy and the things that emerge from it. Nevertheless, we are fooling ourselves to believe that racism can be eliminated from society if Black people “just act right.” After all, it wasn’t good behavior that ended slavery, Jim Crow, or Apartheid. Why? Because those things didn’t start because of bad behavior. This is why I get so frustrated when people suggest that hip-hop “confuses” White people into thinking that they can call me a “nigger.” If White people are that confused by hip-hop’s use of the n-word, why don’t they take note that Eminem, the pre-eminent White rapper of the day, never uses the n-word in his music?.” In reality, Imus, Richards, and Chapman knew quite well that Black people would be offended by their remarks. They also know that there’s a tradition of racism in this country that would protect them by allowing them to blame Jay-Z or Souljah Boy for their remarks. Still, I’m not trying to say that black people shouldn’t take responsibility for their own behavior. For me, the answer is for Black people to continuously challenge ourselves to do better at the same time that we acknowledge the pervasiveness of anti-Black racism in America. From this position, we can demand the best from our people without taking the blame for White misdeeds.

Q: When asked about the lyrical content of some of her songs, female rapper, Remy Ma said “I’m not here to raise anybody’s children”. We’ve gone from it takes a village to raise a child to disclaiming all responsibility. Is there such a thing as having free creative expression that is not offensive?
The question for me isn’t “should artists be able to make offensive music?” but “should artists want to make offensive music?” I have no desire to censor artists. After all, they have always told the most important, profound, and unwelcome truths within the public conversation. To me, the goal is to create a world where the degradation and destruction of Black people is no longer entertaining or profitable. This type of project is far different than censoring language or begging artists to be role models. What I’m talking about is the complete reconfiguration of a world that views Black bodies as inferior, worthless, and disposable. That said, Remy Ma and others must acknowledge that their work affects the values, beliefs, and self-esteem and millions of people around the world. To ignore that reality, even if they don’t like it, is to jeopardize the lives of the very people who make them who they are.

Q: Let’s talk about the images of women in Hip Hop. How do we, as a community, go about reinforcing positive images of women?
For me, the key to constructing positive images about women is to acknowledge their complexity. Instead of locking women into the “Bitch/Queen” binary, where every women is either hoe of the year or the Virgin Mary, we must acknowledge that women have legitimate perspectives, interest, and desires that must be taken seriously. On a concrete level, we must stop supporting television, radio, and magazine outlets that project dangerous images of women. Again, we must take the profitability out of degradation.

Q: Some people believe that Hip Hop culture is not Black culture. Rather it’s a street culture. Do you believe this, and if so, do you feel that the Black community has been wrongly targeted?
Hip-hop culture is a quintessentially Black culture: it emerged from the rubble of oppression and marginality and, without any help, fashioned itself into something that changed the face of American society. Now that very thing is being sold back to us and used to justify our suffering. If that isn’t a Black thing, I don’t know what is. Of course, there is more to Black culture than hip-hop. We can also look to a million other places, such as the church and gay ballroom scene, for other representations of Black culture.

Q: Is there a “street” element to hip-hop?
Of course. In many ways, this is what gives hip-hop its distinctive character. It is a culture created by people from the bottom of society. Unfortunately, many Blacks resist this association because they fear that it represents and reinforces the most vicious stereotypes about Black people that have operated against our interests. While I’m sensitive to this concern, I refuse to be prisoner to it, particularly because it is rooted in an unhealthy preoccupation with the perceptions of White people. Instead I accept hip-hop as quintessentially Black. This doesn’t mean that I don’t critique it. By the same token, I don’t allow the sexism, homophobia, and growing consumerism of the Black church to stop me from embracing it as part of our culture.

Q: There has been a shift in values over the last fifty years. The African- American family’s traditional values have been based on working hard, keeping family together and having a strong religious backbone, however in this day and age we have adapted a “get-over” approach in order to get rich quick. Do think this is one of the reasons Hip Hop is in a state of distress?
Again, I think that it is dangerous to link this description to Black people exclusively. In reality, all of America is divorced, in debt, increasingly secular, and obsessed with a “get rich or die trying” ethic. In many ways, hip-hop does reflect this sensibility in the same way that mainstream reality television or Paris Hilton does. At the same time, we cannot allow this to be an excuse for avoiding the hard work of making music that uplifts our condition rather than exacerbates our misery. Black people weren’t in great shape during Jim Crow or slavery, yet our music was much different. It’s not that we didn’t discuss, critique, or reflect our situation back then. But our dominant impulse wasn’t to glamorize the very things that were holding us down. Unfortunately, the combination of White supremacy and market forces are so overwhelming that Black suffering is a billion dollar industry. As a result, much of the quality music that gets made is limited to the underground or completely ignored. It is within this space that hip-hop suffers the most.

Q: Lastly, there have been many debates over the issue of snitching. Is the Hip Hop community valid in honoring the street code of not saying anything?
For me, the key is to make a distinction between snitching and witnessing. In an era of increased police terrorism, mandatory minimums, and judicial corruption, the hip-hop community is absolutely right to warn against snitching. For example, if a prosecutor encourages a convicted felon to trade information for a reduced sentence, that felon is likely to lie in order to better his or her position. This is snitching. This is what the “Stop Snitching” movement was about. At the same time, children are being raped or murdered in the streets, the person who reports good information isn’t a snitch, but a civically responsible witness. Unfortunately, once this system got reduced to a t-shirt and a slogan, it lost its complexity. As a result, we are now reinforcing an agenda that operates against our community in lethal ways.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dr. Boyce Finance: Is there a good side to the recession?

By Dr. Boyce Watkins

I hate being the doctor who has to tell the patient he has cancer, but the truth usually sets you free (or so my mother told me): We are in the midst of an economic bloodbath. It’s tough to argue that an economy which shrinks by an annualized rate of 5% is still healthy. It’s hard to tell someone that 7.2% unemployment, with the most job losses since 1945, is a good thing. A 4,000 point drop in the Dow is nothing to sneeze at, even if you have plenty of tissue. Times are tough, we know that.

But if we focus hard enough, we might be able to find a few bright sides to all this. With hopes that no one chooses to kill the messenger, I am going to give it a shot.

1) It could always be much worse.

The United States has, according to some, the strongest economy in the world. Our economy could shrink like Rush Limbaugh’s body on drugs and still be disgustingly rich compared to the rest of the world. Don’t believe me? Consider the “fast-growing” Chinese economy, the one that everyone thinks is going to outpace the United States in the next few years. Our annual tax revenues are nearly 4 times greater than China’s ($2.5 Trillion vs. $670 Billion) and they have over 4 times more people than we do (300 million vs. 1.3 Billion). In other words, our per capita tax receipts are over 16 times greater than China’s. So, we’re far better off than most of the world, even when we’re broke.

2) If there were ever an argument for getting out of Iraq, this might be it.

It’s hard to declare war on random countries if you don’t have the money to do it. War is big business and attacking other countries is a huge financial investment. If you don’t think war is about money, then you may want to take a couple of Political Science and History classes. Perhaps these troubles at home will keep us from creating trouble abroad, since Americans have lost patience with irresponsible, arrogant war-mongering. The Obama stimulus plan is asking for over $800 Billion dollars to boost our economy. We’ve already spent nearly $600 Billion in Iraq. Rather than declaring War on Terror, President Obama has declared War on the Recession, which seems to be a far better investment.

3) If you want to buy cheap stocks or real estate, this is the time to do it.

When the market rises, everyone wants to buy stocks. People forget that you shouldn’t buy stocks when prices are high, you buy when the prices are low. Companies with plenty of cash are grabbing investment and real estate bargains that were hardly available a year ago. You should be doing the same if you can afford to do it. Investors who purchases stocks after major market declines tend to do much better than those who buy during booms. You hear me Warren Buffet?

4) Struggle makes us FOCUSED.

Although I tend to be a hardcore capitalist, a part of me misses the activism of the 1960s, when people cared about more than making a dollar. OK, I wasn’t around in the 1960s, but I’ve watched enough old movies. Going through tough times not only teaches one to pursue a higher purpose in life, it also leads individuals to more carefully scrutinize the state of affairs in our government. In fact, I dare to argue that the financial crisis was just what Barack Obama needed to secure his election over John McCain. Economic prosperity allows us the luxury of choosing our politicians based on silly issues, like gay marriage (as we did in 2004). When we are worried about putting food on the table, we look beyond the silliness and choose the most qualified and most intelligent person for the job (after ensuring that he knows Africa really is a continent). Finally, tough economic times make you more responsible in your own money management, as the threat of financial insecurity keeps us all on high alert.

Those are my points, so again, please don’t kill the messenger. I certainly do not celebrate a weak economy, but I am a firm believer that focusing too much on the door that shuts keeps us from appreciating the ones that just opened. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel, a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, and….well, you get the point. It’s the toughness of tough times that make the good times good. Keep hanging in there, it’ll be ok.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of “Financial Lovemaking 101: Merging Assets with Your Partner in ways that Feel Good.” For more information, please visit