Friday, November 20, 2015

Aldi vs. Walmart

Perhaps I am not stating anything new, or I am rehashing old "sentiments," since I have written about my liking of the way Aldi Stores does things, and areas where I think Walmart seriously misses the mark many times before in the past. The fact is that when it comes to anything shopping related, and saving money in general, I am pretty good at what I do, and in no way I am trying to be vain about that.

The more I compare the two stores, Aldi and Walmart, the more convinced I become that there are more advantages to Aldi than there are to Walmart. These days I actually have to say that the best value a shopper can take advantage of comes from Aldi. Not so long ago you would have heard me continue to cite that Walmart mostly beats out the competition on price.

That is no more.

There are myriad items I find are much cheaper at Aldi than at Walmart, and let's be clear I am talking about unit cost here. Not overall price. Size matters when it comes to shopping for the best deal, as does knowing your prices when you shop. But moreover, knowing what you pay per pound, per square inch, and per ounce. That really is the art of comparing apples to apples, folks.

For example, let's take canned vegetables (even though I have recently shifted to frozen vegetables). The average price for the Aldi preferred brand is around 40 cents while Walmart's cheapest alternative is around 65 cents. Canned mushrooms are cheaper. So are Dakota's Best baked beans at Aldi, which by the way stack up rather nicely to even Bush's Best or the Great Value brand at Walmart. Tomato paste and tomato sauce are also significantly cheaper than anything offered at Walmart. And when it comes to some of those items, these are household staples.

Other items people like to buy that are cheaper at Aldi stores?

  • Prepared noodles, be they the Reganno boxed variety or Aldi's mac and cheese
  • Jarred spaghetti sauce
  • Potato chips
  • Snack crackers
  • Take 'N Bake pizza
For the past three or so months I have also been buying my russet potatoes from Aldi. Why? Because a 10 pound bag of these at Aldi averages about $1.98 while Walmart's best price is about $3 more. A potato is a potato, right? Apples to apples.

But there is something else about Aldi that definitely wins very high marks. That is that despite a high volume of customer activity, and often times a higher volume of goods per cartload, Aldi gets you through their checkout line fast. The only complaint I have sometimes is that they do not take as much care with my canned goods, tossing them too roughly into the cart, causing denting which I detest. But even that is not an oft experienced thing.

Today I went to Walmart for a few essentials such as eggs, sliced cheese, beer (yes, beer is considered an essential in my household), jarred minced garlic, flavored waters, and so on and so forth. I of course got the best price since I bought these items there for that very reason. But the checkout time? Abysmal. I was in a line 3 deep and it took me fifteen minutes with relatively lowly filled carts just to advance to my own checkout. Even when I got there I swore the cashier was dead since she was barely moving. When you count in your head between beeps, you should never be able to get to "five, one thousand." But I was able to.

Walmart still holds the line on many items for me, and certainly when we are comparing stores ultimately, Walmart of course offers many more items and varieties of items. That all aside, my end result in my comparisons between the two stores is this; lower per item cost at Aldi, better overall experience at Aldi, more value for the money at Aldi, and certainly better customer service at Aldi.

If there is any store out there giving Walmart a real run for their money and taking up quite a lot of valuable market share, it has to be Aldi. I will certainly continue to shop there so long as their prices are good, and so long as the quality of their products are good (which both are). There are so many reasons why shopping at Aldi is simply overall a better experience. If Aldi offered the same level of goods as Walmart did I am certain the value would be there, and I would have no reason to shop Walmart at all.

Both Aldi and Walmart would be wise to pay attention to that.

Imagine for a moment the opening of the first Aldi Super Store. I bet it would go over like gangbusters. And if anyone could figure out the best and most efficient way to manage an operation  like that, it might just be a company like Aldi. Sadly it is a German company. But in the world of business what matters most is service, value, and quality, and if Aldi can find a way to do better than American owned Walmart...

That is exactly where my money will go.

The Dynamics in 2016 May Be Why Trump Wins

The other day I spoke a little bit about history having a tendency to follow the future when it comes to elections and politics in general, and how I felt that due to some historical and current data it strongly suggests that Hillary Clinton cannot win the upcoming presidential election. I stand by the arguments I made for my case on that. But there is something else that we know about history when it comes to primaries and who ultimately winds up winning nominations; The front runners rarely become the nominee.

I also talked a bit about some changing demographics and dynamics in this election cycle which could have at least some influence on things. For much the same reasons I believe those changing demographics and dynamics hurt Hillary's chances, I think they bolster Trump's.

For all intents and purposes you could say that Hillary Clinton has been the front runner for her party's nomination for at least the past four years and running. Despite her obvious troubles I don't see anyone emerging in the democratic party who stands a chance of unseating her strong lead within her party.

Hillary Clinton will be the democratic nominee for president without a doubt.

I am beginning to think that when it comes to who the republican nominee will be, it will be Donald Trump. He is going to manage to buck the trend that suggests that someone would ultimately otherwise knock him out of first place. And again, it is that changing demographic and dynamic that will help him maintain his lead. One of the brilliant things Trump has managed to do throughout his campaign, and continues to do to this day, is run against even his own party. He's running as much as an independent as he is running as a republican, and this just happens to be resonating with the electorate—and handily. I think Donald Trump, in many ways, is also managing to do something that any other republican candidate would be hard pressed to do and that is to capture at least a portion of the liberal voting public's interest. I actually believe that Trump can win the majority of the swing vote and take up enough of the democratic vote and ultimately win the White House.

Whether or not you totally agree with the movement of the 99%, and certainly everyone can agree that Donald Trump is certainly not in that majority, the movement did strongly suggest at least the idea that the citizens were becoming more and more dissatisfied with the way of the world. Granted, this anger was directed toward the fat cats. The rich and the powerful. But I think it was also a protest against an establishment that they (the 99% people) felt gave license to the rise of the rich and paved the way for a growing gap between the rich and the poor. Or in this case, the 1% and the rest of us. Trump may well be a part of that 1% the 99%ers hate so much, but he is not a part of the establishment.

Trump may not be for a $15 an hour minimum wage, but he is for restoring the kinds of jobs in the country that will provide a better chance for better wages, and moreover, more opportunities for the average citizen to get a good job that pays well and provides for their families and their basic needs. Even the 99%ers argued that the evildoers of the corporations raped and pilfered not only by becoming rich off the people (their claim, not mine), but they also did it by sending good paying jobs away to places like Mexico and China.

Donald Trump has said he wants to fix that.

Whether it is by design or by default, it seems that Trump is speaking to the masses. He's bucking all of the trends. He takes no prisoners. He draws a hard line in the sand. He has also managed to draw a good many people into the realm of politics who would not otherwise be so inclined. Perhaps it is still too early to draw such conclusions, but with the times being what they are and mindsets in places we haven't seen in our past, there is enough here to strongly suggest politics are out (leaving Hillary out), and anti-establishment in, meaning Trump may enjoy a rather surprise victory. Trump's success may well come partly from a combination of rules, history, and timing. If the dynamics were not what they are, Hillary could certainly have bucked history. Those dynamics are key to understanding exactly why the historical trend may perpetuate even with very different aspects as to why they will, and why perhaps they would not have.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Free Porn Killed Playboy?

Well, of course the short answer to that is yes and no. Free Internet porn may not have killed Playboy Magazine, but it did kill full-on nudity between their covers. That all aside, was Playboy ever really porn? I mean, in the finer sense of the word if I can even go there. Finer and porn. Now there's a conjoining of words you never thought you would see together. I always viewed Playboy as soft-core if anything, and actually that is what Playboy always wanted to suggest of itself to sort of separate itself from anything seedier that may have been out there. If Playboy Magazine accomplished one thing in its long tenure, it was to somehow make the idea of porn on any level classy, and I think if one looks back on Playboy's long history of nudity in their magazines, the nudity was never portrayed in a fashion that would be considered (by most level-headed people) to be overtly lude or lascivious. Unlike other magazines like Penthouse or Hustler, which indeed came after Playboy, the depictions of women were artful and done with what can only be classified as a respect for the beauty of the naked female body. As porn got raunchier and more risqué over the years, Playboy maintained its classier, more respectable format, and I think it enjoyed many years of success as being an every man's magazine. You'd rarely get a raised eyebrow from anyone if you told them you subscribed to Playboy. After all, they had some fantastic articles, and during Stephen King's up and coming days, he made many a tantalizing horrific contribution between the boobies and butts. But tell someone you picked up a copy of Penthouse or Hustler and you'd be the stuff of innuendo and jokes of a more sinister sexual nature among the guys.

Because they were definitely not the stuff of Playboy.

For all intents and purposes I agree with the stance of Playboy's founder and creator, Hugh Hefner, that if you want to see sex acts, nude women, or anything else for that matter, one is no more than a simple click away from anything imaginable—or desired, depending on your perspective. Porn is as easily accessible, in all of its forms, as a hamburger at McDonald's. But I still go back to my perspective of Playboy as a whole. To my mind it was not porn in the truest sense of the word. Playboy kept itself "classy" through the generations, even though Playboy Enterprises did delve into some of the seedier world of pornography as a whole. The magazine maintained its format with nude women portrayed in an artful manner, and I don't think ever revealed too much. If one can even say this about porn in any capacity, I think Playboy managed to keep it clean.

But, part of the decision did come about as subscription rates and overall sales of the magazine have dramatically fallen. So, in that sense, what can be found on the Internet has hurt sales. Interestingly enough, another thought by Playboy to change its format and take out the nudity are sales of other men's magazines on the racks that show beautiful women scantily clad, but still clothed. Sales and subscriptions of those magazines, for whatever reason, have taken the lead. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue still flies off the racks, and with the women depicted there one must still use their imagination to know what's under the string bikinis, and it has maintained a fairly steady following year after year even though it has never shown any real nudity.

What I am suggesting here is that while the numbers do not lie, and being a bit of a business savvy person myself I fully appreciate bottom lines and cause for change to improve them through identifying what is scratching away at them, I still think Playboy has and had a niche in the entire marketplace of porn. I think Playboy easily separated itself from the pack simply because it was more of a pin-up mag with an edge, and did not play by the same rules the rest of the porn industry has obviously taken. Even in the most risqué of poses in Playboy they pale in comparison to any poses you might find elsewhere. The photo layouts in Playboy have always let you see more than you might otherwise see, especially when it comes to celebrity spreads, but still leaves enough to the imagination that it is clearly not what you would find on the rest of the Internet.

I actually think that the decision by Hugh Hefner will prove to be a good one. He's right. If you want full-on nudity you don't have to go very far to find it. But here's something I think that Playboy could use to help capitalize on its new concept. Take a page from the story book of Sports Illustrated and have a once a year issue that separates itself from the content of the whole year combined, and that compels readers to take a closer look.

That is, take a reader poll each year and let them vote for the hottest girls who appeared in any of the non-nude issues of the magazine. AND THEN, pick the top three or four to pose in expanded nude spreads.

If Black Friday is the day for retail that brings those operations in the black, I think one issue a year of Playboy depicting nude photos of what its readers deem to be the most interesting and sexy women on the planet may well be an issue that the publication could not print fast enough to keep up with demand. And if the readers see the entire year before the annual nude issue as a lead-in to finally see that beautiful woman in all her glory, it could be one of the most anticipated issues of Playboy every
single year and rake in hundreds of millions of dollars to boot.

It is keeping Playboy honorable and classy. But also in keeping with the tradition that made Playboy a household name.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Why Hillary Will Not Win The Election

In the stock market we typically follow the philosophy that past history is not necessarily indicative of future results. But a lot of the time when it comes to presidential elections and politics in general, history can be very telling. Even while there are some changing demographics and of course, different dynamics at play with this upcoming election, there is still enough data among the electorate right now that tend to suggest that history may well be very telling as to whether or not Hillary Clinton can seat herself in the Oval Office.

I am taking the position that Hillary Clinton cannot win, although I am also openly saying that it is too early to firmly stake that claim.

Set aside some of the issues of her political tenure that I think should be enough to preclude her from ever holding an elected office or cabinet position of any kind such as Benghazi, or the email scandal. The question becomes whether or not Americans are satisfied with the current state of the Union, and how they feel about the direction the country is headed.

In a recent Monmouth University poll likely voters were asked whether or not they would vote for Obama for a third term if he was able to run, and only 27% of those polled said yes. 43% said they wanted someone else. With Hillary Clinton not having clearly defined how her presidency would be different than Obama's, and how her candidacy is not necessarily a continuation of the same policies of the Obama administration, this puts her almost in lock-step with Obama. If 43% would be unlikely to vote for Obama, how would they then circle back to Clinton, essentially equating to a third Obama term?

I do not believe that voters will.

Let's not forget that many Americans, even those who typically have supported Obama, are also becoming more aware that perhaps the policies of the Obama administration, for all of the hope and change promised, have simply fallen short. The economic numbers have not improved much. The jobs situation has perhaps seen lower unemployment numbers, but there are still many quality of life issues when it comes to what types of jobs are being filled. Even having more people working means nothing if those jobs aren't helping to dramatically improve anyone's bottom lines. And it would appear that foreign policy has been a disaster at best—and the recent events in France won't help Clinton either—and according to other polls Americans are not exactly convinced that the country is safer today, and many are also considering that the next attack on American soil may just be a matter of time.

History shows that it is extremely rare in any event for one party to maintain the White House for 12 years straight. I do not believe that, despite all of the hype surrounding Obama's two-terms, and any excitement for another historical moment in the making if Hillary makes it to the White House, that there is enough there to provide her an opportunity to buck the trend.

And Hillary is also trailing every single one of the republican candidates, and I think that is quite telling considering who she is ultimately up against. The usual players are not the front runners. Who is leading in nearly every single poll?

The non-establishment. Non-politicians. Non-government.

The numbers alone seem to signal if not for a history repeating shift to the republican party as would otherwise be the case, but a strong and growing dissent and resentment toward the status-quo when it comes to the entire landscape of politics. Hillary is clearly completely immersed in this world that a growing number of Americans are simply tired of. As well, it seems to me that even if you take a look at the small list of democratic candidates, and any enthusiasm that may exist in the democratic side going to just one primary candidate, it begs the question; If the democrats, or any democrat in the party, felt strongly that the Obama presidency was a huge success, would there not be more candidates coming front and center to eagerly make an attempt at continuing the legacy? Enthusiasm can sometimes be defined by who shows up to take a shot, and on the democratic side that number is quite small. This becomes even more glaring when you consider the controversies which have surfaced during Clinton's run. Anyone eager to take up any slack in what would be considered a strong and in-the-bag victory would readily step forward and say, "What about me?"

I think the truth is that Hillary Clinton is not the automatic president everyone seemed to want to suggest she was going to be. That becomes even more clear to me now.

It is still too early to tell as I stated before. But what does seem clear to me is that the republicans have the best shot they have had in a long time to secure a victory, and I would not be at all surprised if that victory doesn't even necessarily go to the republican party even if the future president bears an "R" after their name, but to the non-establishment which just happens to be strongest running on the republican tickets.

I simply feel that history will prevail despite the changing demographics and dynamics of this election, and democrats will not enjoy another four years in the White House. That leaves Hillary out almost indefinitely since Bernie Sanders, her strongest opponent, comes nowhere near the numbers of any of the republican candidates. If Donald Trump is a "long shot," Bernie Sanders is a shot in the dark in comparison.

Whoever wins the White House, rest assured it will not be Hillary Clinton.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

On The Border, We're Missing The Point

There is a very good reason we erect barbed wire fences around our nation's prisons. If we did not, then very dangerous people would be free to roam into the land of law abiding citizens where they would rape, pilfer, and kill innocent people. Every time we talk about our porous borders we seem to be focused on Mexicans, and simply people in a corrupt land seeking better lives for themselves and for their families. I, and countless others who get it, have been talking about the real dangers of porous borders for years. But the truth is that still, most people are missing the point.

It's not just about immigration. It's not just about illegal aliens. There are real and present dangers when anyone can enter our country.

Since that fateful day on September 11, 2001 I would say that we have been safe in part due to the efforts of the FBI and the CIA and other agencies within our government charged with gathering intelligence regarding the aims of terrorists. But I think it is also safe to say that perhaps, so far, we have simply been lucky. The attacks on 9/11 came swiftly, and in some ways you could say it was like the first leg of a hurricane. The damage was done, and then there was a calm. But every hurricane has an eye where the winds die down and the sun shines through, and all seems well. Until the other leg of the storm comes back through to finish what it started.

The fact is that so long as our borders are not secure, the terrorists have a very easy pathway into our country. And the fact that they could well have been spending the last 14 years making their way in, building cells, gathering funding, and planning an offensive should scare the hell out of us. We have had our eyes closed. We have been naïve and out of focus. The terrorists, more than anyone, is all too well aware of this. And they will use it against us.

President Obama has spent his entire presidency defending the rights of illegal aliens, arguing for amnesty, and has attacked anyone or any state that has called for active policing and the securing of the American/Mexican border. The democrats currently running to take his place are not changing their stance at all on the border, and so it is clear that if any democrat takes the White House after Obama's term is over, an attack may be just around the corner. For the terrorists it will confirm what they already suspected.

Americans are asleep at the wheel. They can attack at will. No one will see them coming. No one knows they are already here.

It is true that while the GOP contenders are all mostly calling for some form of securing our borders, and that if that one of them wins the White House, with a republican controlled House and Senate, we may actually finally be able to get something done here. There is no guarantee that an attack still may not be imminent since it will take years to fully secure the border, ramp up border patrol, and figure out who has entered our country. If the terrorists are already here, there is a still a real and present danger we face. And one that we have allowed through political correctness, a dangerous form of empathy, and simply not paying attention—and so easily forgetting how easy it was for the 9/11 attackers to plan their attack and complete it while all were none the wiser.

Still, it must be done. And I think that if anyone is going to be focused on this real threat it will be the republicans. Not the democrats. If anyone is going to take the steps to acknowledge the threat of terrorism to our nation it is going to be the republicans. If anyone is going to be actively looking into who is here already it will be the republicans. If anyone is going to ramp up the offensive against ISIS and ISIL, it will be the republicans.

We are in a very dangerous time, and the recent events in France should be just one other reminder that we have to be diligent in our pursuit against terrorism, and we need to be vigilant about knowing who enters our country, and making it harder to get in in the first place.

The sad truth is that Americans often become too involved in their personal pursuits that reality only hits them square in the face when bodies fall, buildings collapse, bullets fly, and bombs drop. As a society we need to be aware that in the dark corners there could be danger lurking. We can go about our lives, but we have to always keep it in the back of our minds that bad people exist, and that the fact that we are good people is not enough to keep us safe. France should serve as a final reminder that we can no longer ignore the border issue, that we can no longer ignore the real threat of terrorism, and that we need to be on our toes and ready to put up a strong fight to kill terrorists before they kill us.