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9:00 AM EST, Friday, February 13, 2009. The House votes on the stimulus package. Seems somehow appropriate that the vote happens on Friday the 13th The Stimulus Package provides $1.10 per day in tax relief to America's workers, while saddling every American family with $9,400 in extra debt.

The Stimulus Package won't buy you a decent color TV.

Basically there's nothing in the bill that will benefit any of us significantly. Don't believe me? Here's a piece from today's New York Times. The piece would be funny, if it weren't serious:

What’s in the Bill for You By RON LIEBER

All the talk the last couple of days about the stimulus bill was about compromise and slimming down. What is left, though, is a huge spending bill, with well over $100 billion in tax breaks and handouts for individuals.

And most of us will be able to use at least one of them, though it will be difficult to get much money immediately, unlike the stimulus checks that went out last year.

What follows is a list of some of the biggest provisions in the bill that will hit you directly in the wallet. Keep in mind that the language in the measure isn’t quite final and the Senate and House still have to vote to approve it.

INCOME TAX: In 2009 and 2010, there is a tax credit of up to $400 for individuals and $800 for married couples filing their taxes jointly. You calculate your credit, subtracted from other federal taxes you owe, by taking 6.2 percent of your earned income.

Your eligibility for this credit begins to phase out if you’re an individual with an adjusted gross income over $75,000 or a couple with income higher than $150,000.

Employers may end up adjusting tax withholdings on paychecks so that this credit trickles into your bank account over the course of the year. People who are self-employed can adjust their quarterly tax filings to account for the credit.

This credit is refundable, according to a summary of the stimulus bill that the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees released Thursday. That means that even if you have no federal income tax liability, you will still get the money.

UNEMPLOYMENT: Normally, you pay federal income taxes on federal unemployment benefits. In 2009, however, you won’t have to pay taxes on the first $2,400 in benefits you receive.

HEALTH INSURANCE: If you get fired, your company is required, thanks to a law known as Cobra, to allow you to pay to keep your health insurance, generally for up to 18 months.

The problem is, it can cost you $1,000 a month or more to keep the coverage.

Now, the federal government will subsidize 65 percent of the premium for up to nine months. To be eligible, you need to have been forced out of your job between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009. Also, your income in the year you receive the subsidy cannot be more than $125,000 for individuals or $250,000 for married couples filing their taxes jointly. ...

SOCIAL SECURITY: In 2009 a number of retirees and disabled people, including Social Security recipients, will receive a $250 refundable tax credit. The money would arrive within 120 days of the bill’s signing.

CAR BUYER TAX DEDUCTION: For the rest of 2009, you’ll be able to deduct the state and local sales and excise taxes you pay on the purchase of a new (not used) car, light truck, recreational vehicle or motorcycle. ...

Eligibility for this tax break begins to phase out for single people with adjusted gross income over $125,000 or $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. And the deduction does not apply on spending above $49,500.

PELL GRANT: According to a summary from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the maximum Pell Grant will increase by $500, to $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010. The grants are generally for low-income students.

HIGHER EDUCATION TAX CREDIT: This credit covers up to $2,500 of the cost of college tuition and other related expenses in 2009 and 2010. You’ll need to spend at least $4,000 in a single year to get the full credit. The credit begins to phase out for individual taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes over $80,000 or $160,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Forty percent of the credit is refundable, which benefits low-income students paying their way through school (who may owe no federal income taxes).

529 PLAN EXPANSION: When you withdraw money from a 529 college savings plan, you can use it for tuition, room, board, books and other college expenses. In 2009 and 2010, families can also use the money for computers and computer technology, which could include educational software and Internet service for students living at home.

FIRST-TIME HOME BUYER CREDIT: First-time home buyers are eligible for a refundable tax credit equal to 10 percent of the purchase price of their home, up to $8,000, if they made the purchase after Jan. 1, 2009, but before Dec. 1, 2009.

Unlike a similar credit that Congress provided last year, you don’t have to pay this one back over 15 years. The new credit, however, does phase out for individuals with incomes over $75,000 or married couples with incomes over $150,000 who file their taxes jointly. Also, you forfeit the credit if you sell the house within three years.

TRANSIT ACCOUNTS: If you commute to work via public transportation, your employer may allow you to set aside pretax money from your paycheck to pay for the bus, train or parking. Currently, you can put aside only $120 a month for mass transit while those who drive and park can save $230. This year and next, those who take mass transit will also be able to put aside $230 each month.

A.M.T. PATCH: Each year, Congress creates a temporary fix to keep millions of people from paying the alternative minimum tax. This year, the patch is part of the stimulus bill. “If you didn’t pay the A.M.T. last year, you probably won’t this year,” said Mr. Stretch of Deloitte. “For most people, this is a nonevent. They didn’t even realize they were in danger of being shot in the head by the A.M.T.”

Many bank stocks are going to zero: I've said this so many times I sound like a busted record. Today the New York Times' Steve Lohr writes:

Some of the nation’s large banks, according to economists and other finance experts, are like dead men walking.

A sober assessment of the growing mountain of losses from bad bets, measured in today’s marketplace, would overwhelm the value of the banks’ assets, they say. The banks, in their view, are insolvent.

None of the experts’ research focuses on individual banks, and there are certainly exceptions among the 50 largest banks in the country. Nor do consumers and businesses need to fret about their deposits, which are federally insured. And even banks that might technically be insolvent can continue operating for a long time, and could recover their financial health when the economy improves.

But without a cure for the problem of bad assets, the credit crisis that is dragging down the economy will linger, as banks cannot resume the ample lending needed to restart the wheels of commerce. The answer, say the economists and experts, is a larger, more direct government role than in the Treasury Department’s plan outlined this week. ...

Nouriel Roubini, a professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University, has been both pessimistic and prescient about the gathering credit problems. In a new report, Mr. Roubini estimates that total losses on loans by American financial firms and the fall in the market value of the assets they hold will reach $3.6 trillion, up from his previous estimate of $2 trillion.

Of the total, he calculates that American banks face half that risk, or $1.8 trillion, with the rest borne by other financial institutions in the United States and abroad.

“The United States banking system is effectively insolvent,” Mr. Roubini said.

My friends are saying the only solution is nationalization.

Atlantic monthly's latest cover story is worth reading: Summary: Things are changing. It will be painful. Don't go with old ideas. Blaze new ones. The cities will boom. The suburbs are good. Renting has its charms. We'll make it. We always have.

From the long article:

The historian Scott Reynolds Nelson has noted that in some respects, today’s crisis most closely resembles the “Long Depression,” which stretched, by one definition, from 1873 to 1896. It began as a banking crisis brought on by insolvent mortgages and complex financial instruments, and quickly spread to the real economy, leading to mass unemployment that reached 25 percent in New York.

During that crisis, rising industries like railroads, petroleum, and steel were consolidated, old ones failed, and the way was paved for a period of remarkable innovation and industrial growth. In 1870, New England mill towns like Lowell, Lawrence, Manchester, and Springfield were among the country’s most productive industrial cities, and America’s population overwhelmingly lived in the countryside. By 1900, the economic geography had been transformed from a patchwork of farm plots and small mercantile towns to a landscape increasingly dominated by giant factory cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Buffalo.

This time, Detroit may become a ghost town.

Perhaps no major city in the U.S. today looks more beleaguered than Detroit, where in October the average home price was $18,513, and some 45,000 properties were in some form of foreclosure. A recent listing of tax foreclosures in Wayne County, which encompasses Detroit, ran to 137 pages in the Detroit Free Press. The city’s public school system, facing a budget deficit of $408 million, was taken over by the state in December; dozens of schools have been closed since 2005 because of declining enrollment. Just 10 percent of Detroit’s adult residents are college graduates, and in December the city’s jobless rate was 21 percent.

To say the least, Detroit is not well positioned to absorb fresh blows. The city has of course been declining for a long time. But if the area’s auto headquarters, parts manufacturers, and remaining auto-manufacturing jobs should vanish, it’s hard to imagine anything replacing them.

When work disappears, city populations don’t always decline as fast as you might expect. Detroit, astonishingly, is still the 11th-largest city in the U.S. “If you no longer can sell your property, how can you move elsewhere?” said Robin Boyle, an urban-planning professor at Wayne State University, in a December Associated Press article. But then he answered his own question: “Some people just switch out the lights and leave—property values have gone so low, walking away is no longer such a difficult option.”

Perhaps Detroit has reached a tipping point, and will become a ghost town.

And New York?

In the short run, the most troubling question for New York is not how much of its finance industry will move to other places, but how much will simply vanish altogether. At the height of the recent bubble, Greater New York depended on the financial sector for roughly 22 percent of local wages. But most economists agree that by then the financial economy had become bloated and overdeveloped. Thomas Philippon, a finance professor at New York University, reckons that nationally, the share of GDP coming from finance will probably be reduced from its recent peak of 8.3 percent to perhaps 7 percent—I suspect it may fall farther, to perhaps as little as 5 percent, roughly its contribution a generation ago. In either case, it will be a big reduction, and a sizable portion of it will come out of Manhattan.

Lean times undoubtedly lie ahead for New York. But perhaps not as lean as you’d think—and certainly not as lean as those that many lesser financial outposts are likely to experience. Financial positions account for only about 8 percent of the New York area’s jobs, not too far off the national average of 5.5 percent. By contrast, they make up 28 percent of all jobs in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois; 18 percent in Des Moines; 13 percent in Hartford; 10 percent in both Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Omaha, Nebraska; Macon, Georgia; and Columbus, Ohio, all have a greater percentage of population working in the financial sector than New York does.

New York is much, much more than a financial center. It has been the nation’s largest city for roughly two centuries, and today sits in America’s largest metropolitan area, as the hub of the country’s largest mega-region. It is home to a diverse and innovative economy built around a broad range of creative industries, from media to design to arts and entertainment. It is home to high-tech companies like Bloomberg, and boasts a thriving Google outpost in its Chelsea neighborhood. Elizabeth Currid’s book, The Warhol Economy, provides detailed evidence of New York’s diversity. Currid measured the concentration of different types of jobs in New York relative to their incidence in the U.S. economy as a whole. By this measure, New York is more of a mecca for fashion designers, musicians, film directors, artists, and—yes—psychiatrists than for financial professionals.

The article's conclusion is positive:

The Stanford economist Paul Romer famously said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” The United States, whatever its flaws, has seldom wasted its crises in the past. On the contrary, it has used them, time and again, to reinvent itself, clearing away the old and making way for the new. Throughout U.S. history, adaptability has been perhaps the best and most quintessential of American attributes. Over the course of the 19th century’s Long Depression, the country remade itself from an agricultural power into an industrial one. After the Great Depression, it discovered a new way of living, working, and producing, which contributed to an unprecedented period of mass prosperity. At critical moments, Americans have always looked forward, not back, and surprised the world with our resilience. Can we do it again?

Advice: When your competitors are retrenching, it's a great time to grow your market share.

The whole Atlantic piece is worth reading. How the Crash Will ReShape America.

Upgrading to a new, faster laptop. There are some darling bargains in Lenovo's Outlet Store. My preference is for the ThinkPad X61 or the X200, both of which I own. Make sure you buy the machine with the 2.6 GHz processor. Sometimes you'll get an error message. But go back in. A bargain is worth a little patience.

Bank CDs are paying less and less. I got 2.25% for nine months from TD Bank and 2.60% for 12 months from the Gibraltar Bank. Most other banks are offering less. Is your bank FDIC-insured? Go to the FDIC's web site. You need its real name and its headquarters. Many banks have similar names.

Merrill Lynch paid out handsome bonuses: In 2008, 696 Merrill employees received bonuses of $1 million or more, for a total of $3.6 billion before Bank of America bought it. For the full details, read the letter from Andrew Cuomo, New York Attorney General, to Barney Frank, chairman, House Committee on Financial Services. Click here.

Kids Night On Broadway. Neat idea. On the first Tuesday and Wednesday or each month, kids (6-18) for free when accompanied by a full-paying adult. Lot of great shows -- including Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Mamma Mia! Go here.

How Wall Street Sold Out America. From September 22, 2008 issue of Time Magazine (prescient?):

Coping in this new world will require adjustments by millions of Americans. We all will have to start living within our means — or preferably below them. If you don't overborrow or overspend, you're far less vulnerable to whatever problems the financial system may have. And remember one other thing: the four most dangerous words in the world for your financial health are "This time, it's different." It's never different. It's always the same, but with bigger numbers.

Latest financial truisms.
+ The US has made a new weapon that destroys people but keeps the building standing. Its called the stockmarket.

+ What's the difference between a guy who lost everything in Las Vegas and an investment banker? A tie!

+ The problem with a bank balance sheet these days is that on the left side nothing's right and on the right side nothing's left.

+ I want to warn people from Nigeria that if you get any emails from Washington asking for money, it's a scam. Don't fall for it.

Get rich cleanly
Mother decided to trim her household budget. Instead of having a dress dry-cleaned, she washed it by hand.

Proud of her savings, she boasted, "Just think, Fred, we are five dollars richer because I washed this dress by hand."

"Excellent," Fred replied. "Wash it again."

The recession's toll -- Part 1
Starbucks profits are down so much that in the last few months they’ve had to close over 200 stores. And that’s just on one block. -- Conan O'Brien

The recession's toll -- Part 2
Judge Judy to prostitute : "So when did you realize you were raped?"

Prostitute, wiping away tears: "When his check bounced."

This column is about my personal search for the perfect investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor. I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas, concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address is . You can't click on my email address. You have to re-type it . This protects me from software scanning the Internet for email addresses to spam. I have no role in choosing the Google ads on this site. Thus I cannot endorse, though some look interesting. If you click on a link, Google may send me money. Please note I'm not suggesting you do. That money, if there is any, may help pay Michael's business school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.