by Derrick Chapelle

For many people, today’s economic downturn means the days of taking a family vacation are long gone. Getting time off of work (if you are still lucky enough to have a job), having enough funds to travel and finding someone to take care of your dog while you’re away can be frustrating!

Tired of seeing your bosses’ pictures of all the fabulous vacations they have been on?  Are you sick of seeing high rollers roll out of town on three-day weekends with boats and ATVs in tow?  Are you sick of Facebook friends of friends posting pictures and making comments about their exciting trips to Europe?

Well, worry no more!  At Short Budget Vacation Travel (SBVT) they understand that EVERYBODY deserves a family vacation no matter what their bank balance says! SBVT has a budget vacation for everyone!  With vacation plans starting as low as $5.00 and ranging upwards of $20 per person, taking a vacation just got much more affordable.

With Short Budget Vacation Travel, you don't actually have to go to Paris to impress your friends.

With Short Budget Vacation Travel, you don’t actually have to go to Paris to impress your friends.

How does SBVT keep its rates so low? Downsized Living news correspondent Jill Brittner did some digging. Here is a short transcript of her interview with Jack Johnson, CEO of SBVT:

Jill Brittner: Isn’t it true, Mr. Johnson, that your customers don’t actually physically travel anywhere when they book a vacation through your agency?

Jack Johnson: Yes, our customers don’t physically go anywhere, but they have the time of their lives planning their trip and then sharing their Photoshopped pictures with their friends and family. It’s not hurting anybody!

Jill Brittner: You are admitting that your company is a sham?

Jack Johnson:  If you call making peoples’ vacation dreams come true for a fraction of what a real vacation costs, then call it a sham. But we have a 100 percent customer satisfaction rate; how many travel companies do you know that can produce those kinds of numbers?

Ms. Brittner was going to track down thousands of SBVT customers until she found 39-year-old J.R., who was willing to speak to her anonymously. “Yeah, I’ve booked three or four family vacations through SBVT over the last year.  All of my Facebook friends are totally jealous of my vacations! I even posted a picture of myself and my 5- year-old-son climbing Mt. Fuji last summer. They couldn’t believe it,” he said proudly.

So there you have it. SBVT is sweeping the nation! But the company does more than just Photoshop pictures of you and your family on luxurious vacations. Sales agent Mindy Tyson said, “We have a plan for every family! Our premium vacation plan includes tweets and Instagram photos at no additional charge. You can really make your dream vacation a reality.”

All Downsized Living blog posts are fictitious and satirical. Any resemblance to real persons is coincidental and unintentional.

Image credit: iStock Photo

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by Jason Brick

John Dresden, a master carpenter with the Union Brotherhood of Carpenters Chapter #231, was pleased yesterday to receive a job doing framing, paneling and custom cabinets for a 17-room mansion overlooking Lake Placid, New York. The job came after 11 consecutive months of unemployment.

“I’m so glad to have the work,” Mr. Dresden told reporters in an interview Monday. “After the housing and credit crashes, nobody was building homes. We’d burned through our savings and credit cards. My wife works part-time at Walmart, but that and the odd jobs I could pick up really weren’t cutting it. Thank God for Luther Martingale.”

Mr. Martingale, a retired real estate broker on the boards of several international lending banks, agrees. “I love Lake Placid Lodge. It’s an exclusive resort with the best powder in the region. The rooms there are spectacular, but it can get a little crowded during peak season. My kids and I needed a home away from home for our ski vacations.”

Construction of Nightingale, an 8,000 square foot mansion, will bring at least 100 jobs to the Lake Placid community.

Construction of Nightingale, an 8,000 square foot mansion, will bring at least 100 jobs to the Lake Placid community.

The mansion, called Nightingale, covers 8,000 square feet and includes a 14-car garage and state-of-the-art gaming center. Nightingale’s principal value lies in the more than $3 million its construction is pumping into the local economy. “Of course, I’d like a bigger house,” Martingale remarked. “But times are tough these days, and there’s always that new tax law Congress keeps threatening. Rates on capital gains could increase to almost half the rate of payroll tax. Still, it’s worth it. Sometimes I just have to get away from Manhattan, and my other home in Hawaii is too far away.”

Union leader Troy McNeill is happy about the 100 jobs the project is providing to the community. “The mansion’s construction employs as many as 20 carpenters at a time. Most make the union scale of 19 bucks an hour, but the detail work on Nightingale’s cabinets and staircase is high-end. Those guys get $25 an hour, not including benefits. That’s what teachers make around here.”

John Dresden plans to resume payments on his 1,200 square foot ranch-style home near a water treatment plant and hopes to stop selling his plasma. “I might even be able to stop borrowing money from my parents,” he said, teary-eyed with gratitude at the new opportunity. “Dad’s had to delay retirement for a few years because of the market crash, and even longer from helping me out. I’m just so glad for Martingale.”

Mr. McNeill couldn’t agree more. “It’s just great to see one of those people I used to call fat cats giving back to the community. You don’t get much more of that anymore, you know?”

Check out the Downsized Living website at http://www.downsizedlivingmag.com!

All Downsized Living blog posts are fictitious and satirical. Any resemblance to real persons is coincidental and unintentional.

Image credit: iStock Photo

Downsized Living magazine is now a blog. This essay was written by Blair Adams and published in October 2011.

Introducing Downsized Living

Is the American dream over? It is a question that millions of Americans have been asking themselves over the past several years, but even more so since the recent financial crisis led to the deep recession we find ourselves in with no easy or obvious way out. This is the reason for starting a new “lifestyle” publication that uses dark humor and parody to call attention to what many fear may be becoming the new normal — more and more Americans are barely hanging on financially and have seen their opportunities for improving their lives greatly diminished. It is these Americans who cannot meet their basic expenses or find employment commensurate with their skills and education, much less enjoy the affluent lifestyles portrayed in magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens, Sunset and Martha Stewart Living.

This is the reality that our leaders in business and government, particularly those in the Republican Party, will not face or do anything about. The irresponsibility and widespread ethical misconduct on the part of the financial services industry made a financial crisis inevitable. Millions lost homes to foreclosure and more are continuing to lose equity as home prices fall. Although corporations are raking in billions in profits, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in August the effective unemployment rate was 16.2 percent when the underemployed and those who have stopped looking for work are factored in.

Time magazine online also reported in May that even with the difficulty so many people are having in finding any job at all, many employers are refusing to hire the unemployed, and stated, “At an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hearing this year, Christine Owens, executive director of the National Unemployment Law Project, declared that ‘excluding the unemployed’ is ‘becoming business as usual.’” The article went on to say that “…advocates [for the unemployed] also say that allowing companies to discriminate against the jobless is fundamentally unfair and threatens to condemn millions of Americans to permanent underclass status.” Even people who have found jobs are struggling. The New York Times, citing a study contracted by the nonprofit group Wider Opportunities for Women, reported in April that “Many of the jobs being created [in the recovery] are unlikely to cover fundamentals like housing, utilities and food.”

The idea that we are in a recovery at all is debatable, and it is difficult to make sense of economic news when all visible evidence seems to indicate that the economy is still stuck in neutral. According to the Census Bureau, poverty has increased to its highest level in 52 years. Even in my hometown in one of the more prosperous areas of the country, “For Sale” and “For Lease” signs on buildings have grown as thick as weeds, and there are empty stores and office buildings all over the county.

Adding to the difficulties that many are already having, several states, facing falling tax revenues and huge budget deficits, are making cuts that fall most heavily on the poor and most vulnerable members of society. To the dismay of progressives, the extreme right has dominated the national agenda during the Obama administration, making slashing deficits, not job creation, its number one priority. According to economist Robert Reich, the Tea Party’s recent brinksmanship over raising the debt ceiling and the resulting fiasco of a deficit-reduction agreement have made any significant plan to create jobs and stem the tide of foreclosures “impossible.”

Earlier this year, Representative Paul Ryan proposed cutting $5.8 trillion from the national budget over 10 years by making huge cuts in Medicaid for the poor and privatizing Medicare — which would increase health care costs to seniors — all the while reducing the top income tax rate on the wealthiest Americans to 25 percent. While the Republicans appear to have backed off that proposal for now, it reflects a renewed and disturbing absence of decency in society that has become more and more prevalent in business and public policy over the last 30 years.

Will Downsized Living have a reason to continue beyond the recession? I think so. There is reason to believe our situation is due to fundamental problems that may be politically very difficult to change. We all know that taxes on the wealthiest Americans have gone down dramatically and inequality has risen. It’s the degree of that inequality that is shocking. The PBS NewsHour reported in August that the richest 20 percent of Americans own 84 percent of the nation’s wealth, a similar wealth distribution to China and some African nations. It is the stranglehold that these same wealthy individuals and corporations have on our democracy that keeps the needs of those of more modest means from being addressed. Finally, the trillions spent on defense and the nearly constant military conflict we have been engaged in since the end of World War II, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, take a huge toll not only in lives, but in consuming resources that could be better spent on moving the country forward — such as repairing the nation’s infrastructure and developing renewable energy sources.

It’s not that there isn’t a lot of good out there. I’m sure we have all experienced or observed countless acts of kindness, integrity and commitment to the common good in our own lives, but that spirit just doesn’t seem to scale up to the national level. So with this issue, I wish to add my voice in unison with other humor outlets such as The Daily Show and The Onion — and remind readers that the growing absence of humanity in our society, not poverty, is the butt of the joke in Downsized Living. After all, there’s that old saying that people can put up with anything but being laughed at — let’s hope.