Practical Money-Saving Advice As Recession Grows It's become a sad refrain, but the national unemployment rate continues to climb. Plus, the House is expected to vote this week on a version of the $825 billion stimulus plan, but who will benefit? Dr. Julianne Malveaux guides Tony Cox through a laundry list of dismal economic indicators and offers advice about how best to trim expenses.

Practical Money-Saving Advice As Recession Grows

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TONY COX, host:

A study shows blacks scored higher on standardized tests after President Obama won the November election. What effect is Mr. Obama's political success having in the classroom? And the American workforce is hit, as we've been saying, with another wave of massive layoffs. What's the blogosphere saying about these strapped economic times? Joining us today on today's Bloggers' Roundtable is Ron Scott, a blogger for the Detroit News, Kimberly Coleman, who blogs at SistaGirlSpeaksUp.blogspot.com, and Chris Rabb from the blog Afro-Netizen. Hello, everybody.

Ms. KIMBERLY COLEMAN (Blogger, SistaGirlSpeaksUp.blogspot.com): Hello.

Mr. RON SCOTT (Blogger, The Detroit News): Hello. How are you doing?

Mr. CHRIS RABB (Blogger, Afro-Netizen): Hi.

COX: I'm doing fine. I'm working, you know, for now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RABB: Hey, I hear you, brother.

COX: Let me ask you, Chris. You know, we just heard some tips from Dr. Julianne Malveaux on saving some money during these tough times. She suggested calling your credit card company for one thing to get a lower rate, and even renegotiating your contract with your cell phone or cable TV provider, if you are able to. Share with us what you're hearing on the blog and seeing, and maybe some stories of your own about, how are you cutting costs?

Mr. RABB: Well, I think the most obvious way for certainly most of black America is to cut down on our purchasing of victory plates.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RABB: I really think that that can go a long way. Because you don't want to have too much victory in your household. It could appear arrogant. So I definitely think that's job number one. We all can help.

COX: Ron, what do you say, man? How many victory plates do you have?

Mr. SCOTT: I may look - but the only victory plate I have are the ones that I've just bought from Sam's Club.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCOTT: You know. No, seriously, I agree that at this particular time, we really have to be concerned about how we spend our money. I can give you some personal examples of what I've done. In fact, I agree with Dr. Malveaux, because I recently renegotiated a contract with my cell phone company, and they were very, very happy to have me do that, because I've been a customer there for the last 8, 9 years. Same thing with the cable company. They actually reduced the rate to some degree. So I think that we can do those kinds of things, and a lot of times we just don't think that we can. We think that we're stuck with these kinds of utility and luxury bills that we don't have. And I can just follow up and conclude with this, is that what she said about a number of women going into their closets and going to consignment shops, this would be a great time for like, all of those Baptist churches and so forth that have the rummage sales to actually go into business, because a lot of people are going to consignment shops and other places, resale shops ,to actually sell clothing.

COX: Interesting thought. Kimberly, I'm going to come to you in just a second, but I want to go back to Ron. I want to find out if you wouldn't mind sharing with the audience, Ron, what did you say to the cable company or to the cell phone company that got them to lower your bill?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, the company I had - I've been with - the CEO of that company has been doing television recently. I said, well, you know, your CEO was on television recently. He was talking about the loyalty that they have to customers, and I'm saying, I've had loyalty to you. And I said, if you go back and look at what I've spent over the last eight to nine years, you're talking about the multiple thousands of dollars. Now I said, I'm loyal. I'm committed. I said, what can you do for me? And I said, well, Mr. Scott, let's get back to you. You're absolutely right. And they consistently say every time they talked to me, you're a loyal customer. On the cable company, very similar, many people are dropping cable as an option. So, for me to then come back and say, hey, look I want to negotiate this, they've actually dropped some of the rates. So, I think the question of loyalty, the question of consistency of payment over those years and how much money, and they look at the bottom line in terms of what's you've paid and said, hey, we know that this guy is going to pay at some point. So, it's better to have him paying something than nothing.

COX: Well, Kimberly, have you found that you have become a smarter person with regard to how did you spend your money?

KIMBERLY: I think that I didn't have a choice but to be. I think that we all have to bring our lunch, decide, you know, trim down on entertainment. I love going to movies but I've been renting from Netflix since, so I'm not going out to the movies as much as I like. But I like also - some of us have the opportunity to do more giving, to help people who are less fortunate than ourselves. There is a church here that has a bazaar every year. And the women who have not worn clothes that they have or clothes, as Dr. Malveaux was talking that are barely used, have donated. And so, people who are less fortunate have had the opportunity to come in to the church and these clothes they can just get for free. So, I think that if you, you know, you're doing well even though you're still cutting back, it is an opportunity to give to those who have lost their jobs or who are in dire straights at this particular point.

COX: So, everybody is being affected by this one way or the other, and all three of you individually as well as on your blogs, you're hearing and writing and seeing about these all over, right?

KIMBERLY: Yes, definitely.

Mr. SCOTT: Absolutely.

COX: All right, let's talk about something else that's been happening. Barack Obama, as we all knows is, this is in the news all the time, all the time, all the time, and the family and everybody is in the news. And so, let's take it from this first Barack Obama effect with regard to education. A group of researchers have documented what they are calling an Obama effect on black test takers. The performance gap between blacks and whites shrunk significantly on a 20 question-test that was taken before he became president, actually before he was even nominated, and then, it was taken again after he won the election and the gap seems to have closed. What do you make of this, Chris?

Mr. RABB: Oh, I think it is an augur of things to come, I think it's wonderful. I previously had promoted learning and books and like veteran teachers to teach our children. But now, I think if they see a black president, we don't need to invest in education anymore. They can just have a poster of a black person in the classroom and that probably will, you know, resolve the whole educational disparities in our country. It's fascinating.

(Soundbite of laughter)

You know, this book thing is so 20th century. And I think we've passed that. What black people need is - the blacks, what they need is they need esteem. You know, the whole learning and education, I'd put that aside. Listen, I went to school with Arne, with Arne Duncan, the incoming secretary of education and his siblings. A very fascinating thing about his family who I thought were Amish till recently because they didn't have TVs at home.

COX: Really?

Mr. RABB: They didn't have TVs. Yeah, and their parents, I think whooped on them if they didn't study for like 19 hours straight. Well, I know the reason that he became the secretary of education and has excelled. I think, you know, some things never change.

Mr. SCOTT: Even though Chris has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Kimberly, there seems to be some feeling that having a black president does have some sort of trickle-down effect educationally. Are you buying it or no?

Ms. COLEMAN: I'm buying it, and I'd even say, it's having a trickle down effect, not just doing the children but on many Americans wanting to work harder, do better, volunteer more. I think that it's having an effect long-term. I see, you know, a slight difference, you know, in my nephews even, who are eight and four, who are, you know, exited about this president and you know, was telling me about the election. So, I do buy it. I think that it's having a positive effect on young people and also old people as well.

COX: Go ahead.

Mr. RABB: I just have to weigh in. I don't know if that's what's having an effect. I think a lot of time when we see imagery we presume that in effect. Even though, that particular research has been done. I don't know how randomized that is whatever. And it's - I think it's still need for more testing. I think what has had an effect is the fact of the presentation of the image of the president, and that image has said a lot about it. Now, in effect for people knowing that there's a black president. I mean, I come from the period where a lot of people were doing a lot of work in the movement, Civil Rights Movement and so forth and self-esteem does have a benefit. But also, literacy does have a great deal to do with that. So, I don't know if I'm fully buying that or not.

Mr. SCOTT: That's crazy talk Ron, literacy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCOTT: Now, radical sir.

Mr. RABB: Well, you know, it probably is true that.

Mr. SCOTT: I know I'm a radical literate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCOTT: It's probably true that young people or people in general but young people in particular are paying closer attention.

Ms COLEMAN: Uh huh.

Mr. SCOTT: That they are watching and, you know, hopefully reading more than they did because of Obama and because of Sasha and because of Malia and because of Michelle. And if for whatever reason you read, if you read, you are going to get knowledge and wouldn't you say - wouldn't you agree with that, Kimberly?

Ms. COLEMAN: I agree. And I think that if nothing else, they're reading all the magazine publications that are coming out about Barack Obama. But I think that, you know, as someone else was saying education is in now. It is the thing, and things can be attainable. Success can be attainable through education. It seemed like it was - for some people, it seemed like it was out of reach. Maybe not for many of us but for some people it did. But now, people say, you know, with hard work and education, maybe I too can be somebody.

COX: You know, Ron was talking about (unintelligible).

Mr. SCOTT: And it's highly problematic.

COX: And it's very important that you mentioned that and we're going to delve into that a little bit deeper in just a moment around the issue of these dolls made or not made in the image of Malia and Sasha Obama. So, let me ask all three of you to just sit tight for a second. We're going to take a short break. We're going to continue this conversation on the other side.

I'm Tony Cox and this is News and Notes. Welcome back. We're with our bloggers' roundtable. Today, we've got Ron Scott, a blogger for the Detroit News, Kimberly Coleman who blogs at sistagirlspeaksup.blogspot.com, and Chris Rabb from the blog Afro-Netizen. So, we're talking about images, folks. And the fascination with the Obama family is not about to die down anytime soon. The company that made those popular Beanie Baby Dolls has released a set of new dolls named Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia. The first lady, of course, is not happy about that. What do you say, Ron?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, I think - I'm certainly going to give Chris an opportunity to do some joke about it because I know it's coming up, (laughing) but at any rate - (laughing) at any rate, you know, I think it's a thing that comes out of capitalism and a free market system. The thing over this is that she's going to get this. And Obama's image and the first family's image is like plastered everywhere throughout the world. So, undoubtedly, I wouldn't have expected it not to have been the case. I think that Michelle Obama in terms of raising that, she raises a point as to whether or not the private lives of the children should be respected. But I think in other times, the children when not as - how can I put it - as reflected in the image as they do now. But you know, certainly, Amy Carter and other folks, they were out there. So, I think that maybe she would do better by suggesting, look, if you're going to do this, maybe what you can do is get some money to charity or whatever. But I think you're not going to be able to stop the image exploitation. That's just the nature of the market.

COX: Should she try to stop it, Kimberly? That's the question I have.

Ms. COLEMAN: I think she had to at least come out and make a statement. These young ladies are private citizens, as much as we are enamored with them because they are so cute. But I think that she had to make a statement by saying these are private citizens and they shouldn't - a likeness should not be made of them. But as what's mentioned before, it's going to be very hard to stop in this free market system.

COX: Well, are they really private citizens? I mean, you think about were - you know, now, they weren't a big part of the campaign but they certainly have shown up for some photo opportunities that have been to the benefit of the new president. Wouldn't you say, Chris?

Mr. RABB: Absolutely.

COX: No, you disagree.

Mr. RABB: No, I agree. I think the most important thing is that they're children, they're children. And, you know, all attempts to merchandise at the - not necessarily at the expense of - well, I guess you could say at the expense of the children is - as a father, that really bothers me. I understand that it's going to happen. I understand that there are people with good intentions and others with not so good intentions. And I believe the bigger issue is, you know, what does it mean to monetize the image of black folk? Children in particular has a genealogist, someone who has seen documents of their ancestors listed as things, as property, next to candle sticks and horses and brindle beds. It's very disturbing. It brings - it harkens back memories in my genealogical research that were very painful. But I'm not suggesting that this is what the company intends but it doesn't really the matter what the intent is, it's the impact and how that is felt by the mother and by the children themselves. That's got to be very, very difficult.

COX: Do you not lose some portion of image control when you become the president of the United States and you are either married to the president of the United States or the president of the United States is you father or brother?

Mr. RABB: They're a package deal. They are really a package deal.

COX: That's my point precisely. Does - so what control can you still wield in that situation, do you think?

Ms. COLEMAN: Well, I think that because they are children, as mentioned before, that should be respected, that they did not choose this lifestyle, their parents did, and so, they should be off limits. They are not people that we voted in. They are not people whose salaries we pay or anything like that as the president. They are children. And I think that we should respect them as children and not market them, not capitalize on where they're going to school or what they're doing from day to day.

COX: Now, former president…

Mr. RABB: No, Tony. c COX: Go ahead. Go ahead.

Mr. RABB: Tony, once again, I want to say that, look, unless we change the nature of the system, people expected paparazzi and everybody else. They, you know, they're going through a great thing with this whole John Travolta thing. That's probably one of the worst examples of this. You know, you're taking advantage of a person's son who died tragically. So I think that it's even more so with the president. Certainly, I understand Mrs. Obama's response to it but the nature of the system is such until we change it. I think that's why it would be reasonable that she could to talk to Thai Industries and say, look, if you're going to do this, let's limit the amount of distribution. Let's talk about ways that you can give back to the community. Let's try to do it in a manner so that it's not exploitative. I agree to that. But it's going to be very difficult because the minute that they stop doing, some country - some company in China is going to find another way to produce it.

COX: Well, let's follow that up with this. Because former...

Mr. RABB: Can I just say something really quickly?

COX: Sure Chris, go ahead.

Mr. RABB: And it's the price of domesticity. In other words, one of the ways that he got to the hearts and minds of, there I say, middle America, whatever that means to listeners, is by saying, you know, I'm a family man, I'm a father, I'm a husband. And they created an image, no doubt an authentic image of family life in the Obama household. And he created and his people created this domestic image that incorporated necessarily his adorable children who are smart and telegenic and all of those things. So one of the things that we have to do in analyzing this situation in a highly capitalistic society is how do we deal with the consequences of involving the entire family, because if there was Obama the bachelor or Obama the aloof intellectual, we're looking at an entirely different scenario here.

COX: You're absolutely right. Our time has run out. And it's been a good conversation. I was going to ask you, we didn't have time to get an answer, whether or not you thought that the Obama girls would have a tougher time with the media than the Bush girls did because they are younger, and I don't even know if race is even an issue there. But unfortunately, I don't have time for you to answer that now. But when we bring you back, I'm sure they'll still in the media and we'll talk about it then. Thank you all.

Mr. SCOTT: Can't wait, can't wait.

COX: That was Ron Scott, a blogger for the Detroit News joining us from WICD in Detroit, Kimberly Coleman who blogs at sistagirlspeaksup.blogspot.com, she joined us from NPR Headquarters in Washington D.C., and Chris Rabb from the blog Afro-Netizen. He joined us from Audio Post studios in Philadelphia. Good conversation everybody. Thanks.

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