Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hilary Fails To Explain Emails Fully

Sometimes secrets, when it comes to the government, need to be kept. Anyone who really thinks about the consequences of certain kinds of information falling into the wrong hands can understand that some things simply do need to be kept quiet.

Still, it is also important to have a government that is as transparent as is possible without compromising national security. Too often what we wind up with are elected officials, or appointed government officials who forget that their boss ultimately happens to be the American people.

Enter Hilary Clinton.

Regardless of what email she used, or where any server was kept (although I do not like the idea of her server being in her complete control), the fact is that any correspondence that she had in an official capacity, whether or not personal emails were sent using the same email address, no correspondence should ever have been deleted. It is the property of the American people, and it should not be up to the official to decide which emails are relevant, and which ones are not. That can leave quite a bit of room to hide things from the American people, and potentially leaves no recourse for anyone to dig into what could be very important details.

Were the 30,000 emails Hilary Clinton deleted just about yoga and wedding plans? Or was there something else in those emails? Perhaps details about Benghazi? We may never know since according to the most recent report her server may have been wiped clean, meaning we may never be able to recover what she deleted. She's not turning over her servers either for anyone to take a closer look at, which seems to continue to suggest there may be something to hide.

She could have ended this whole affair in one fell swoop, but she chose not to, and there has to be a reason for that unless she truly believes herself to be an elite who is entitled to a level of privacy that no one else is entitled to. How can we simply take her at her word?

Whether or not this entire affair will have any impact on her hopes to win the White House is anyone's guess. In past history her failure in Benghazi, and the lack of transparency regarding that issue alone would have precluded her from ever even being considered. But these days too many people are either not paying attention, or are being spoon fed their information through a cipher.

Either way, I think it is a very serious and important matter and the American people should be concerned. All we want are answers, and unfortunately those are something hard to come by from our government officials. Even when we do get answers, it's only usually a half-truth anyway. Our only hope is that the news networks—even the liberal mainstream media—want to get to the bottom of this as well.

The emails could contain nothing of interest at all. But until we have access to that, all we can do is speculate. And with so many questions unanswered throughout her tenure as Secretary of State, that leaves a lot of wiggle room for speculation.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You Will Like Aldi Stores

Really, there are many things to like about Aldi stores. A couple of things you notice right off the bat are parking lots devoid of shopping carts lying around in cart corrals or worse, rested up against your front quarter panel on your shiny new car. Aldi has the unique system of a "cart deposit." In other words, you have to insert a quarter to get your cart, and return the cart to the corral at the front of the building to get your quarter back.

Everyone goes back for their quarter and I have never seen anyone leave their cart behind. Not once.

Another thing you notice right off the bat are clean and bright stores, albeit small and compact, but loaded up with all of the normal household items you may be buying already on a regular basis. I have always encountered helpful and friendly staff, and have to be honest when I say I have never had a bad experience at an Aldi store and I have been shopping there for years.

Sure. It's a German company. But one thing that is also worth noting about Aldi Stores is that they pay their employees very well, and I think this helps to ensure that customer service is top notch. Employees are happy, willing to hustle, willing to be helpful, and that makes a world of difference in
my opinion. It is also partly why I think I have never encountered a bad experience there. The average starting wage for a cashier is $12.50 per hour, and rather than force their employees to stand on their feet all day, cashiers are situated comfortably in a chair.

And they are fast. Super fast. Very much unlike when you go to Walmart and swear that the cashiers are paid bonuses for checking people out as slowly as possible.

Another interesting observation about Aldi Stores is that the shelves are always full. And I mean always. The people who work at Aldi Stores are constantly moving things through the aisles to make sure that anything in stock is stocked and readily available to the customer. I have never had to track someone down and ask, "Do you have any more of 'these' in the back?" Never.

What strikes me the most are the prices. Granted, if you are buying meats at Aldi Stores on a regular basis, I cannot understand why. Their meat prices are nothing to write home about. In fact, they are horribly high compared to other supermarkets and even Walmart for that matter. By the way, Walmart meat prices are also almost always higher than anyone else. Keep that in mind if you are a loyal Walmart customer.

The average price for a can of vegetables? About 40 cents. You cannot buy canned vegetables anywhere cheaper than Aldi Stores, period. Even their canned tomato sauces and diced tomatoes are the cheapest I have found anywhere, and I have to tell you.

The quality is as good as anyone.

Even when it comes to my creamed soups, I buy these almost exclusively at Aldi Stores. I also almost exclusively buy cans of tuna and canned mushrooms there. They literally have the best prices I have found anywhere on these items. And again, the quality is as good as anyone.

A fan of mac and cheese? They have the best price I have found for that too, averaging out to about 39 cents a box, and it is as good as any mac and cheese you can buy unless you are a die-hard Kraft fan.

As far as their produce goes, this is impressive as well. Not only are the prices of Aldi Stores' produce fantastic, the quality of their produce is as good as anyone as well. On my last trip I bought a 3 pound bag of yellow onions for 99 cents, and even bought two 5 pound bags of red potatoes for $1.99 each. When it comes to red potatoes, that's a steal. Hell, it was a steal compared to even regular russets.

Another thing that readily becomes visible is the amount of food you can stuff in your cart, that when you checkout would probably cost you three times what it costs you at an Aldi Store. A $50 cart of food from Aldi adds up to bags and bags and bags of stuff. You cannot say that about Walmart, or even the lowest priced discount supermarket in your neighborhood.

Aldi Stores is definitely a place to check out if you have never been. I am liking Aldi, and I think you will too.

Think Aldi is only for poor people? Think again. If you aren't shopping at Aldi not only are you probably wildly overpaying for many of the items you generally keep in your pantry. You may well be making yourself poor in the process without even realizing it.

Another last minute observation about Aldi Stores parking lots? You will find few late model cars parked in them. Instead you see BMW's, Jaguar's, Cadillac's, Lincoln's, and newer model regular makes. Aldi Stores are not stores for the poor. They are stores for smart shoppers who enjoy excellent customer service, excellent quality products, and who choose to keep the money they save there for more important things.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

President Obama Has the NCAA Covered, But the Rest of the World Is Screwed

Normally I would have no problem with the President of the United States taking a vacation, going to play golf, or picking the brackets for the NCAA. Let's face it. Being President of the United States is a tough job, and if anyone has followed presidents through the ages, one thing is definite.

These guys always look much older when they leave office than when they take office.

But with President Obama it has always been something done at the wrong time, in the wrong context, and it seems to me that his priorities are simply not in the right place. Ever. The man misses many of his daily intelligence briefings according to most reports, did not show up for a conference after France had one of its publishers attacked by extremist Muslim supporters, and left for a fundraiser in Las Vegas the day after an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi which left four Americans, including the ambassador, dead. He went to play golf the next day after journalist's heads were chopped off by ISIS. And he and his wife have taken extravagant vacations during the worst economic times in our history since the Great Depression. Some of that even on the taxpayers' dime.

Not to mention the fact that while the economy is improving, albeit slowly, and not due to any of his economic policies, it is still in the tank for the most part due to his lack of any sound economic policies, Israel remains under serious threat, Iran is close to obtaining nuclear weapons, and ISIS has grown in strength and numbers with no strategy to speak of from this president on really any of these issues. And quite frankly, no leadership.

The world has always looked to the United States, for better or for worse, for leadership and a firm handle on world issues. Despite a significant reduction in power the world over since Obama took office, we are still the superpower. And so the world looks to the President of the United States as sort of a leader of the free world by proxy. Obama is turning a blind eye to everything that is pertinent and important, and seems to always focus on what is trivial.

Like announcing his brackets for the NCAA.

Who cares? Who cares about the NCAA and who cares what President Obama thinks about that? Who should care? And with all of this turmoil and violence and angst the world over what message does this send again to the rest of the world about where his priorities are? And since he is the man who "leads" this country, what does it tell the rest of the world about where our (the United States') priorities are? Moreover, what does it tell our enemies?

Our president is asleep at the wheel. The people of the United States are also asleep at the wheel. No one is paying attention to the world. The people of the United States are paying attention to trivial stuff like the NCAA and are infatuated with a man who cares little about being president, and cares all too much about being the coolest guy in the room.

It seems to me like what sort of got us into a bit of trouble back during Pearl Harbor when the Japanese thought that we were an easy target, just sitting back and enjoying the American dream with little regard to everything else horrific happening around the world around us. Back then it was quipped that a sleeping giant had been awakened. These days I am not so sure that there is any sleeping giant at all. We are simply a country of people who have no idea where the country is, what the world is doing, and what the issues of the world are.

The fact that we are not calling our president out on these issues is very telling of the mindset of many Americans. Ask someone on the streets about Benghazi, for example, and the response you will get is something like, "Is that a band?" or "Ben who?"

The president can do all of the fun stuff when the times dictate that it is possible to do so. He can be a man with the people when it serves the times. But the fact is that we are not in a peaceful world, and the entire world (at least the free world) is under threat, ISIS is acting like the Nazi regime, we have real and present dangers before us, Netanyahu is left with virtually no U.S. support from serious threats, and more dangers become more and more apparent each and every day. The president should not have the time to focus on the fun stuff with the world in such a state. He should be focused on leading the country, and leading the free world, letting terrorists know that the United States will not stand idle, will support its allies to the full extent it can, and will hunker down and do the work that the president should be doing.

Like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin often said regarding national politics when asked, he said he had to focus on his own state's affairs first and foremost. That was his focus. That was his priority. If the President of the United States is asked about his NCAA bracket picks, his response should be something akin to Jim Mora. "Playoffs?"

There are much bigger issues the world over to deal with, worry about, and focus on. And right now that is where President Obama needs to have his head. Not on basketball. If we want to know how sports will fare we can ask Mike & Mike or Boomer & Carton. The president needs to be focused on how the world will fare and how the United States will fare. And if the NCAA is the top of the news as it applies to the president, we should all be worried. Very worried.

It's great he's told us about his brackets. But we still don't know what his strategy is to defeat ISIS, nor what really happened with the IRS scandal, and most especially what happened in Benghazi...among the short list of course.




Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Plummeting McDonald's Sales May Be An Economic Signal

A couple of years ago I wrote that one thing about downturns in the economy is that it causes people to, of course, scale back their purchases, and that means low-end retailers such as Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Walmart, and even thrift stores like Goodwill will tend to do very well since consumers are more concerned about value than necessarily quality, or customer service. That is not to disparage any of those companies on either quality of product, or quality of service, but simply to suggest that price becomes king in that kind of an environment. In that commentary I suggested that when the economy begins to fire up a bit, retailers to look at to buy shares in are slightly higher end, or steps up from the deep discounters. Places like Target and Kohl's, for example.

During the same period I also wrote about how well McDonald's stock performed throughout the entire recessionary period. To put it literally the stock was on fire, and that was because people were flocking to McDonald's stores, particularly interested in their value menu which offered consumers the best bang for their buck when it came to dining out. Even when it came to coffee, a cheap cup of what is arguably a noteworthy brew was just what the hurting consumer needed to get their coffee fix at a price that went easy on their wheezing wallets.

Interestingly enough, Starbucks did not fare all too poorly during the recession either, but that's another story. There's a different dynamic going on there.

McDonald's sales have taken a turn for the worst, having seen percentage decreases for nine straight months, and even Walmart has been seeing some declining sales.

With gas prices lower and jobs numbers higher, the shortfall in sales at McDonald's may actually be a lagging indicator of better times ahead. What it suggests is that people may be stepping up to slightly
higher end operators like Wendy's, Chipotle, and Panera Bread to name a few. Five Guys burgers are a strong competitor in this sector as well, and have been one of the fastest growing quick serve hamburger chains for some time now.  My gosh, if they went public, I would be one of the first guys in line.

Shake Shack may shake things up a bit as well for McDonald's. And actually Wendy's stock has been seeing new highs, so to my mind these are very clear signs that there is a paradigm shift in where consumers are spending their dollars.

And the begging question? Could it be that with lower gas prices and better job prospects, consumer confidence may be rising, and consumers are now willing to spend a little more elsewhere?

If that's the case, it could well be a signal that the economy may be getting better. I think it is too soon to tell for sure. Certainly I am not going to use hamburger sales alone as any indicator in the macro-economic picture. But in the micro it seems to at least make a suggestion which I think is worth taking a close look at.

People are beginning to make a shift in their spending, and McDonald's horrible sales numbers are making that all too clear. Stocks that I think are ripe for this environment are Wendy's and Chipotle (I'd stay away from Shake Shack), Whole Foods, Target, and I will go ahead and throw Darden Restaurants into the mix as well. These are companies I want to own right now. I think these companies are primed to benefit from any improvement in the economy, and I think stocks to avoid right now are stocks like Dollar Tree, Walmart, and yes. McDonald's. But do watch the company very closely. McDonald's has historically been able to weather many storms and has an uncanny ability to right its ship eventually. I do not recommend writing it off completely in the short term. But these other companies, I think, have a lot more going for them as it currently stands, and that is where I would put my investment dollars.

We're up for a ride, and the ones who will win are those who are treats to the American consumer if it becomes all too clear that we are headed for better times. In this case playing the value play is not as good a bet as playing the upgrade play.




Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What Job Loyalty Means To Me

The short answer? Only a fool will allow himself to be beholden to anyone for his livelihood. I think of a job like I think of a business. It will make decisions that are imperative to keep the business afloat, and growing, regardless of how that affects the people in the business. That's just smart business and really nothing personal.

Don't get me wrong. I will continue to stay with any company that is doing all of the things that are right for maintaining my own business. That is, having the ability to pay my bills, having the ability to enjoy upward mobility, and having enough free reign to pursue my personal interests as it applies to money and ultimately my livelihood, present and future.

My boss is a jerk is not necessarily a reason to leave a company any more than my boss is a really nice guy is a reason to stay with a company.

For me it boils down to one question. Does the company have the meat to allow me the ability to get where I want? If the answer is no, then just like a business will decide that having 500 employees is not beneficial to the bottom line and reduces their workforce to 400 at the expense of 100 people now out of a job, deciding to leave a company behind is simply the right business decision regardless of any other factors, if it is determined that the company that you work for is stifling your ability to meet your own  personal business' needs.

When YOUR business affects the health and stability of MY business, it's not about loyalty. It's about doing what's right for the health of MY business.

No business I have ever heard of longs to have its doors shuttered just because it wants to be loyal to someone or something.

I am not loyal to a company. I am only loyal to my business. And as it should be, just as much as the company I work for is not loyal to me, but to its business, I should be loyal to my business.

You cannot and should not ever consider yourself a simple employee. And moreover, you should never allow yourself to become a simple employee. In  other words, you must make it your primary goal to afford yourself the ability to become an individual business within the framework of any company you work for, and thereby afford yourself the ability to make decisions about how you proceed based on what you can do as opposed to what you must do.

Why do people stay in jobs that don't have the meat? The simplest answer is because they have put themselves into a position to need their employer to support at least the continuity of their own personal business and equate that to the idea that they are being loyal to an employer that is taking care of their needs. At that point it really isn't about loyalty. It's about simple survival. But some people will mistake that as being taken care of by their employer to maintain the status quo, and thereby will take whatever comes to them.

Most of the time, people are just getting by. Your own personal business is being sustained, but it's on a treadmill, your business is running in place, and at any moment the belt can break and you will be sent reeling onto your hindquarters with egg on your face.

In this sense, one is more like a slave to their job and to their company than an individual person able to decide for himself or herself what the best next step is in expanding their own personal business. That is a hugely dangerous and foolish position to be in.

I work for no one except for myself. Plain and simple. In reality? I have no boss other than myself so long as I understand the needs of my own personal business and the ability of the company I work for to have the meat to allow me to do what I need to in order to make my business a winner.

The moment that I decide that is not the case, I walk. Regardless of the inconvenience to the company I work for. Regardless of the consequence of the people I worked with. Regardless of the impact of my decision on the livelihood of others. It is a business decision that is made with regard to the needs of my business, and nothing else.

Nobody else, and no other business matters except my own. And that is exactly the way it SHOULD be.

Loyalty to a job means to me that a person is in need of their job. Not in control of their own future, their own destiny, and not in control of the future expansion and growth of their own personal business.

The old saying that a fool and his money will soon be parted sort of applies here. If you rely on being loyal, you are likely leaving opportunity, and potentially money as well, on the table. No successful or smart business ever worries about who gets hurt in the process, and certainly they don't worry about competitors who get taken out either. They do what is right for their business, and so should you consider your own personal business above all else.

However harsh it may seem, loyalty to anyone but yourself is simply a good way to ensure that others around you will thrive while all you get to do is survive. In essence, you will forever be beholden to someone else for your livelihood.

It may seem selfish. But at the end of the day any smart business is in business to become a powerhouse and grow and make money. If you think of yourself as a business, then it just makes sense to pursue your needs above the needs of all others, including the company you work for.

A boss it a title. A business is an entity. And where I come from? A business trumps a boss. The only time a boss trumps a business is when he is allowed to do so. I choose to be a personal business and trump my boss. And a boss only has power when his business trumps the business of the other personal businesses around him. If the businesses around him are strong and powerful, concession is the right order of business. And then the reality becomes that what is actually taking place is partnerships.

To my mind, loyalty is a fool's game, pure and simple.