Black Coffee: More Evidence We’re Deep Into the Rabbit Hole

It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a little joe

Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance.

Well, folks, I’ve got the blog running at about 90% compared to before the crash.

Starting this week, I will begin working behind the scenes with a designer on an overhaul of the blog’s theme. I’m excited because it should make the site more user-friendly — not to mention more accessible to folks who prefer to surf the web on smartphones and tablets.

I expect the overhaul will be ready for its grand unveiling by the end of May.

Okay … let’s get to it!

Credits and Debits

Credit: So you don’t think America is on the decline? Then you must have missed the news that the United States’ middle class is no longer the world’s richest. That honor now belongs to Canada. Yes, that Canada.

Credit: America can thank its moribund economy and the Fed’s relentless quantitative easing program for the loss of prestige. (By the way, I know what you’re thinking. I put that news in the “credit” column because I like Canada and I’m a good sport.)

Debit: Did you see this? Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-Massachusetts) is warning that the worst aspects of Obamacare are still to come. Ya think? In fact, he’s on record as saying stuff is “going to hit the fan” when the law’s delayed provisions take effect after the November elections. Forward!

Debit: As far as my parents are concerned, the stuff hit the fan last month. That’s when my Dad received a letter from the company he retired from informing him that he was losing his healthcare plan and access to the hospital he’s been using for the past 50 years. Thanks, Obamacare.

Debit: Unfortunately, many large employers since the launch of Obamacare have decided to discontinue health plan administration for retirees. My folks are the latest victims, but they won’t be the last — roughly 44% of all companies will force their retirees onto private exchanges by the end of next year.

Debit: Of course, that means my mom and dad will eventually be included among the other dubious Obamacare sign-ups — and touted by America’s Ministry of Truth as “proof” that the law is a success. What a joke. How on earth did we ever let America fall into this rabbit hole?

Credit: Meanwhile, Oregon’s state-run Obamacare exchange has gone belly-up. Oregon’s troubled state website — which cost $182 million to build and promote — only signed up 70,000 people. Now that job will be handled by the federal exchange. Wonderful.

Debit: What housing recovery? If you have a relative who is a member of the National Association of Realtors, please don’t show them the following chart (because it will make their head explode):

housing recovery

Debit: Yes, the chart shows that, despite the average national home price creeping upwards towards its pre-housing bust peak, there are still fewer new single-family homes being sold today than there were during most of the 1960s. Talk about things that make yo go “hmm.”

Debit: Then again, it’s hard to buy a home — regardless of whether it’s new or existing — when you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck; and CNN claims that 25 million middle-class Americans are currently doing exactly that. (I’m sure the middle class in Canada find that hard to believe.)

Credit: Despite that news, consumer confidence in the US continues to climb, reaching a 9-month high in April. Perhaps that’s because “only” 28% of respondents said their finances were getting worse — that’s the lowest level in seven years.

Debit: In other news, 28 homeless people squatting on a small plot of land off the San Francisco Bay were each given $3000 by local officials to stop trespassing. I know. I thought we had jails for that too. What’s next? Paying people not to steal?

Debit:  Speaking of stealing … I see Robert Mugabe, the corrupt dictator who transformed Zimbabwe from Africa’s breadbasket to an African basket case, is reconsidering a return of the Zimbabwe dollar.

Credit: After the infamous run of hyperinflation that plagued Zimbabwe from 1999 to 2009 — ending only after the country reluctantly abandoned its dying currency in favor of the US dollar — you’d think Mugabe would learn that unlimited money printing is a really bad idea. He didn’t.

Debit: Mugabe hates living within his means, which is why he wants to resurrect those $100-trillion bills again — and shamelessly rob his own people in the process.

Credit: Then again, maybe he’s genuinely worried about the health of US dollar. Hey … you never know.

By the Numbers

Amaze your friends at dinner tonight with this trivia on Zimbabwe:

8507 Zimbabwe’s highest point, in feet. (Mt. Nyangani)

8 Number of Zimbabwe provinces.

1 Number of rulers Zimbabwe has had since 1987. (Mugabe)

3.6 Average number of children born to every woman in Zimbabwe.

4.4 Zimbabwe’s population growth rate; it’s the second highest in the world.

89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000  Zimbabwe inflation rate in 2008.

Sources:; Wikipedia

Last Week’s Poll Results

Chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry?

  • chocolate (50%)
  • vanilla (33%)
  • strawberry (14%)
  • none of them (3%)

More than 200 people responded to last week’s question and chocolate was clear victor, being the preferred choice of half the respondents. While that was expected, I’d really love to hear from someone among the 3% of voters who said they like none of those flavors.

The Question of the Week

At what point would gasoline prices cause you to begin limiting your driving miles?

View Results

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Other Useless News

Here are the top 5 articles viewed by my 5681 RSS feed and weekly email subscribers over the past 30 days (excluding Black Coffee posts):

  1. The Top 10 Items You Can Part with and Profit From
  2. 11 Retirement Savings Tips for Twentysomethings (and Older Folks Too!)
  3. My Blog Is Back … But I’ve Still Got Some Work to Do
  4. How Do They Calculate Credit Scores and What’s In a Credit Report?
  5. 100 Words On: Why I Don’t Feel Guilty Getting a Tax Refund

Hey, no matter how you got here, please be sure to:

1. Click that Like button in the sidebar to your right and become a fan of Len Penzo dot Com on Facebook!

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And last, but not least…

3. Don’t forget to subscribe via email too. Thank you!

And Here’s Some Other Articles You Might Enjoy…

Student Debt Survivor – We Manage What We Measure

Afford Anything – You Saved $128 Million by Not Buying a Picasso!

Dinks Finance – Our House Money

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff – Are You Not Receiving Opportunities — or Are You Just Ignoring Them?

Mom and Dad Money – The Mentality of More

Letters, I Get Letters

Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not! You can reach out to me at:

Gina wasn’t too happy after reading my article explaining how to know when it’s better to buy or rent:

“We just bought a new house. After running the P/R test you (suggested), it looks like we should have kept renting. I’m so confused!”

Gina … you’re supposed to do the test before you buy!

I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.

Photo Credit: brendan-c


  1. 1


    Thanks for the shout out Len! I can say from personal experience that dealing with the healthcare exchanges is a bit of a nightmare. I hope they start getting their act together soon.

    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      My pleasure, Matt.

      I’m hoping for repeal … but I ain’t holding my breath. Forget the erosion of our liberty; once these government entitlement programs get started, no matter how inefficient, costly, and harmful they are to the nation, they are virtually impossible to roll back.

  2. 3

    Becky says

    Re: gas prices and how they affect driving practices. In my case, the tipping point was 3.50 per gallon. Luckily we live in a walkable neighborhood. Unfortunately my kids don’t agree that it’s walkable. Then again, they don’t pay to fill the gas tank.

  3. 4

    Karen Kinnane says

    “I put that news in the “credit” column because I like Canada and I’m a good sport.)” I bet you put the Canada news, and certainly the Oregon news in green so the column would not be almost all in RED. Your journalistic standards are slipping Len, you risk sounding like the Obama administration’s take on the health care debacle, “7 Million signed up, WOW!” Of course they don’t mention that only 5 million paid, and all of those paid with taxpayer subsidies, and over 8 million (I’m guessing on this figure!) were, like your parents, thrown out of good health care plans they liked and into a morass of high deductibles, small networks with hack doctors, few or bad hospitals not in one’s neighborhood, and high prices. An outfit which spent a billion dollars on a web site which private industry would have gotten up and functioning in two months for $500,000. is not going to provide the best health care in the world which we had previous to Obamacare. Anyone wanting to know how life is when depending upon the Federal Government for support need only look to our Indian reservations to see how it is when the government runs your whole life and supports you: alcoholism, FAS children, domestic violence, poverty, despair, illiteracy, poor health, short life span, misery.

    • 5

      Len Penzo says

      I think your comparison to the Indian reservations is a good one, Karen. Well, at least the ones that don’t have casinos on them!

  4. 6


    I wouldn’t put too much credence into the plotline of new-construction single-family home sales:

    1) There’s net migration into urban areas (city centers) where more homeowners buy condos and townhomes. (More jobs are located in cities, and Gen Y in particular tends to prefer more densely-populated, pedestrian-friendly areas with shorter commutes)

    2) Fewer builders created new-construction homes during the past 5 years, so SFH sales tend to be existing homes (due to supply).

    On a totally different note, thanks for the shout-out to the Picasso post! :-)


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