More Opinion by The Springboard

THE UPRISING OF THE AMERICAN PARTY "Clearly the voters are engaged right now, at least for sure on the republican side, and what they have concluded is that the republican party has not done their job. Thus, Donald Trump gets their vote."

Thursday, December 31, 2009

ENTERPRISE IS NOT JUST A STARSHIP

Between 1992 and 1996 I served in the United States Navy aboard the real USS Enterprise. The aircraft carrier Enterprise. It was an interesting time for me, to say the least. Especially considering that when I arrived for duty at the ship it wasn't even in the water. Instead it was sitting in dry dock at Newport News Shipbuilding And Drydock Company in Newport News, VA, undergoing a complex refueling and overhaul. Everything onboard was getting a facelift.

Reflecting back, I took the time to write about my experience and provide a little history on what I would say is probably the most recognized ship to ever set sail in U.S. naval history. I think, especially if you are into military stuff, you may enjoy having a read.

You can find the article at http://www.hubpages.com/hub/ussenterprise.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

YOU'RE AN IDIOT RECAP

On October 19, 2008 I wrote in a blog, "stocks are on a blowout clearance the likes of which we have not seen for at least a couple of decades." I went on to say, "this, the great economic crisis of 2008, will have historically proven to have made the riches of those who dared to proceed contrary to the current sentiment." I was referring to the natural tendency of people to panic in a crisis and throw in the towel. I was saying that it was time to buy stocks. Not to sell them. And then I wrote another blog on November 14, 2008 entitled, "In Judge Judy's Words, You're An Idiot." And of course followed that title up with "if you are selling stocks right now." I didn't want to get anyone's panties into a bunch before they even got into my first paragraph.

I think, if you look back, the stock market has rocketed since. If you bought shares in nearly any company you'd have made money. And in my "You're An Idiot" blog I mentioned 7 stocks in particular that I liked, and that I thought would do rather nicely. And so I thought I'd revisit those to see how things went. For each of them I've assumed the value at the close of trading November 13, 2009 had you invested $1,000 on the day I recommended them. And in the interest of full disclosure, I have since sold all of my shares in these stocks with the exception of WSBF.

  • WSBF $431.19
  • JPM $1,244.56
  • MCD $1,132.73
  • MCS $1,038.56
  • WWE $1,247.18
  • MRO $1,298.33
  • FMX $1,549.69

Considering the year we've had, and that during the period of time in which these stocks are being evaluated, we had higher levels of unemployment, the banks still haven't gotten their act quite together, the credit crunch is still on to some degree and consumers haven't loosened their wallets, these stocks performed rather well. WSBF is, of course, another issue.

What stocks do I like now? Ford Motor Company (F), Sony Corp. (SNE), Brinker International (EAT), Nuveen Equity Premium Opportunity Fund (JSN), Amazon.com (AMZN), Apple Inc. (AAPL), and I still like Marathon Oil (MRO). I do not currently own shares in AAPL, AMZN or MRO.

And for a speculative play, I like a bulletin board stock that presently trades for around 90 cents a share. China Tel Group Inc. (CHTL). Definitely one to watch. For full disclosure, I own shares.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

THE DEMS ARE BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE WITH H.R. 4314

There's a bill before Congress that will be voted on soon to allow for the government to increase the debt ceiling to nearly $12.5 trillion, and while I fully understand the gist of the bill, which is to allow for the Federal Government to continue to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, to continue to fund veterans hospitals operations, and to continue to afford payments to be made to social security and medicare recipients—among other things, of course—the fact of the matter is that we do not have any more money to spend.

Granted, Congress asking for more money is nothing new. We've been here too many other times in the past to even begin counting, republican and democrat alike. The government spends money, introduces programs, entitlements, and all sorts of other things. And then the bills come in. The bills have to paid. In short that's how the current democratic leadership are framing their argument—and oh yeah, old ladies will starve, troops will die...here we go again. We asked for all this stuff and now that the bill has come in, somehow we have to be able to pay for it. And the sad truth is that without passing H.R. 4314, we can't do it.

Let us keep in mind that the bill will pass. Poor little old ladies will still get their medicare and their social security checks will still arrive each month in the mail. American troops won't be left to defend themselves with guns but no bullets.

That aside, we have got to come to a very logical conclusion now, don't we? It's because of that fact that I brought up just a couple of paragraphs ago. We do not have any more money to spend.

I side with the republicans on this issue that H.R. 4314 is not the right direction. I also side with the democrats that we have to pay our bills, and so long as the charges have been made and the programs are in need of funding, we're simply going to have to do it. But now is the time for everyone in our Congress to finally sit down and get to the heart of the matter. We cannot continue to simply spend, spend, spend, and then keep on coming back asking for more and more debt to be allowed. We have to form a committee to take a look at government spending, period. Because unless we address the issues of the spending, raising the debt ceiling time and time again will do nothing to help us. It will serve to put more debt onto the backs of each and every American, and it will serve to stunt our continued growth as a nation. This is nothing more than maxing out your credit card bill and then asking the bank to raise your limit so you can keep spending foolishly.

I say the democrats are barking up the wrong tree because they have not included in the bill, a comprehensive examination into current spending, and how we can begin the process of reducing it. There's plenty of room to include the language in the bill. The recent health care bill proves there's no shortage of paper available in Washington. Republicans have several bills that can't even make it to the House floor that at least offer up alternatives to spending. I'm not saying they are the solution or that they are not contributors to the problem, but until someone has a better idea, H.R. 4314 is just more of the same old crap however necessary it may well be in the near term.

Monday, December 7, 2009

AS A MATTER OF FACT COMPANIES IN AMERICA SHOULD BE PATRIOTS

I am an American company. I am the invention of capitalism. When my country needed me, I built bombs for it. I modified production lines, conserved metals, and even altered my manufacturing processes. I made no arguments against it. I made no cries of hurting my profits. I made no excuses. I sacrificed and made a contribution for a greater good. I did what I had to do for the safety of the country, its people, and its very sovereignty. Because I know I am an American company. I am the invention of capitalism. Therefore, without America I cannot exist. Without a strong America I will not survive. Its protection is as important, if not more, as are my profits.

I write this little ditty as a message to the elites. I write it as a message to America's CEOs. I write it because I'm starting to get the distinct impression that a lot of people who sit at the top have sadly forgotten how it is that they ever had the opportunity to arrive where they are now. Yeah, through hard work. Yeah, through risk taking. I'm not discounting the efforts of anyone, here. I'm a capitalist too. I work hard, I invest my money, I take on some level of risk. Capitalism offers a reward for that. I know well and good that if my life is not the way that I want it to be, that if I am not making the amount of money that I want to make, that if I am not accomplishing to the degree that I want to accomplish, that it is not for lack of opportunity. It's for lack of effort. There is no one who owes me anything.

That is, with the exception of respect and appreciation.

To me those two things represent a fair wage. A clean, safe, and just working environment. It means that if I work hard for you, you'll work hard for me. I'm not saying at all that I want things handed to me on a silver platter. I'm not saying that I want something for nothing. You don't have to kiss my ass. Hey, look. I'm a big boy. I can take it upon myself to put to the very best use everything that I earn. And if not, well, that's my fault. I get that all too well.

I should, of course, respect and appreciate you as well. I should respect and appreciate that I have a job with which to feed my family, put a roof over their head, put clothes on their back, and to even put something aside for a rainy day, a better opportunity, or a shot at being just like you. And I should have no anger, either, that you are where you are. You represent the possibility I have to look forward to if I give my all.

But I'm having a hard time doing that these days because the respect and appreciation part is lacking for me. I'm being reduced. My life is getting harder. My opportunity is increasingly becoming less of a reality.

And hey, I'm making sacrifices too. I'm paying my taxes. Yeah, I'm not paying the bulk. You're right. But I'm not making the bulk either. A 15% snatching of my take siphons a much bigger chunk of real living money than 50% of say, a million. I'm doing what I have to and I understand it's a tough economy. Everyone's feeling the pinch. Yeah, maybe even the elites are in a bit of a pinch...but come on, let's not kid ourselves. You're not really going to tell me that it's the same kind of a pinch are you?

The thing here is that I love my country too. Just like that company in my little ditty above. I am a patriot. I am an American. I want to do my part. That whole American dream thing is important to me.

What American companies are doing today, what the elites are doing today, is unpatriotic. They are taking down Americans one person at a time. They are sending our good jobs away and replacing them with lower paying ones, if they replace them at all. The middle class is all but gone. The dividing line between the rich and the poor is a neon one.

I keep hearing about that risk. All the hard work at the top that's worth the millions in salaries and bonuses. You know, there's a ton of hard work at the bottom too. And if you don't think so, I encourage you to do what the average American does for a year. Live in their shoes. You'll get it, then, that they're not asking for anything that they don't deserve. They earn everything they get and lately they're not getting their due.

The current direction may boost profits. It may make the elite eliter. Eventually, though, it's going to hurt the country. And since we are capitalism, so too will it be hurt. Progress cannot be at the expense of the very people it is supposed to help.

So yes. Companies in America damn well should be patriots. Only this time it's not about a war. It's about it's very people's livelihoods. Patriotism equals success. Success equals profits. For me it really is that simple.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

IT'S JUST ABOUT TIME TO RUN FROM GOLD

It's been a couple of times now that I've read somewhere, or overheard someone shouting that gold is heading for as much as $5,000 an ounce, and I can't help but think to myself that I've heard all this before. Say, back when oil was playing with $160-$175 per barrel. I remember hearing then that oil could reach as much as $500. The reality is that long before gold can ever reach such heights the bubble (and that's exactly what it is) will burst. As with anything money, there's a resistance.

Right now the dollar is in a world of hurt. The economy has still not fully recovered. Jobs are still not stable. Credit is still unavailable to a lot of people. Those facts fuel the surge of people (and nations) heading into gold as a way to hedge against a tough market and hoard cash. Just like I spoke during all the hype about oil falling like a brick, it did, and so will the price of gold. Realistically I think we can see $1,500-$2,000 an ounce, but much higher than that just seems unreasonable to me. And by the time it would reach that, I think an improved economy will already have worked to fade some of the interest in gold investing.

For me, when it gets a little far fetched, that's when it's time to get out.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

PART FOUR: "HOW TO BRING HOME THE BACON" BLOG SERIES


FREEZE YOUR ACCESS

We generally may think otherwise, but credit cards are the enemy. They are horrible destroyers of personal wealth and financial freedom. Each and every night that we lay, snuggled comfortably beneath our covers, they are robbing us blind. They aren't after our jewels. They're raiding our coin jars. They're taking a penny here and a penny there. We'll notice the diamond ring in the jewelry case has gone missing. But we'll not so easily recognize when a couple of pennies go missing from the jar. They (the credit card companies) are masters at nickel and dimeing.

When it comes to credit cards, the worst part of all is that we tend to cherish them. We tend to rely on them. In some cases, we may even love them. After all, credit cards give us the feeling that we have an unlimited supply of money in our pockets whenever we want it. We can have whatever our heart's desire. We can conquer any emergency that comes along to haunt us. I remember one guy I used to work with, who with great pride showed me his array of cards which were stuffed into the photo compartment of his wallet. "A couple of these are platinum," he told me through a grin. "I've got nearly $100,000 worth of credit in here."

Good for you, I thought to myself. $100,000 worth of used credit is $100,000 you owe somebody else.

Still, even I'm willing to concede that credit cards can be helpful at times. And they are not all bad. Like all things, moderation and responsibility are key. It's about leveraging, for example, and knowing the difference between borrowing and leveraging. You can, for example, pay for a central air-conditioning repair and use a credit card effectively to do so, if you can pay less in interest for the expense than you are earning on the money you are investing or saving that would have otherwise paid for it.

The little tip I'm offering this week is for those who need to keep a credit card around for a sense of security if something major comes along, who perhaps don't have much in the way of savings to cover major expenses, but who also feel the temptation to use their credit card for non-emergency purposes is simply too great.

Behold. You can have your credit card and use it too.

This is a great idea, and one I won't take credit for, though I can't recall the source. I just recall many years ago seeing this tip in an article somewhere and thought it was not only novel, but genius. It is simply to fill a small bowl with water and submerge your credit card in it. Put it into the freezer and let it freeze. You can, of course, thaw the ice and retrieve your card. But it won't happen as quickly as the impulse to use it will. And by the time the ice melts, so may your desire to go on a costly shopping spree.

Years ago when I was in the Navy, I actually did something similar to this, only in my case I was using a savings account. I opened an account in a bank 30 miles from the ship and made it so that the only way I could get to the money to withdraw it was to physically drive to the bank. No ATM access here, folks. The thought of driving 30 miles made me think twice about spending the money. And even if I hopped into the car in a fleeting moment of weakness, I had 30 miles to think about what I was about to do.

The "How to bring home the bacon without slaughtering the pig" blog series will take a short hiatus, but will return on December 1, 2009 with "Part Five: Keep Your Eyes On Your Money." Also, if you are enjoying The Springboard and would like to receive updates via email when a new blog is posted, send an email to porwest@yahoo.com and type "SUBSCRIBE" in the subject line.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I THINK FORD MAY BE WARMING UP AGAIN SOON

I was recently at a birthday party for my wife's cousin's son. It's a pretty large group (30+), and so usually a line is formed to the food at serving time. On my way to pick up my plate, I happened to notice on one of the shelves a box with that unmistakable blue-oval Ford logo on it. Then, written in black magic marker the words, "Toilet tank parts." Pointing to the box I shouted out to the host, who also happens to be a Chevy man, "Are you trying to say something there?" To which he simply responded, "Yep."

Everyone's got their favorite Ford jokes, don't they?

Of course you'll note that I said back in March that I thought, not only was it time to buy a Ford car, it was time to buy the stock as well. And if you've been keeping track of the company's stock, it has done everything to prove my point so far. Just last November the stock was trading at a dismal $1.01 per share and seemed doomed for sure to fail miserably with the rest of the whole lot of American auto companies. The mere thought of it made me nauseous, considering I had been a shareholder for several years. I'd lost a sizeable portion of my investment, and more than once I considered just cutting my losses and being done with it. I did exactly that when my Krispy Kreme stock tanked. I did it again when my stake in Blockbuster Video went south.

Still, I saw upside. Ford Motor Company in my view would be able to weather the storm. They were making decisions to consolidate long before anyone else was, shedding Land Rover and Jaguar. They were ramping down production and making cuts, and they still owned the market with the best-selling truck in America. And so instead of selling, I decided to simply average down.

By August of this year, bolstered by a $700 payment protection plan as unemployment steadily rose, and then by the CARS deal, or Cash for Clunkers, and most importantly as a result of the company's stellar management performance and remarkable negotiations with the UAW, all of which were factors which allowed the company to say "Thanks, but no thanks," to President Obama's bailout offerings, the stock had gained as much as 780%. I took my profits back in September, mainly because I felt that the stock was becoming a little overbought.

My thinking is that, while I am not at all dissatisfied with my decision to take profits, my decision may well have been a bit premature. Ford is still the most attractive of all the US automakers. They have a great line of cars and those cars are getting good performance marks. And I think the Fiesta will provide a significant boost to Ford's compact car sales, especially considering oil prices are seemingly back on the way up again. The company and its line of cars are solid.

So, I'm presently considering reentering my position in Ford stock. I'm not exactly a buyer yet, but if the stock breaks $9 a share, that's definitely when I think it's time to get back in.

And what about that box of toilet tank parts? I think Ford will definitely outlast the toilet.

Jim Bauer does not currently own any shares in Ford Motor Company. Also, you can get email updates to this blog by sending an email to porwest@yahoo.com and putting "SUBSCRIBE" in the subject line.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

PUT VERY SIMPLY, MICHAEL MOORE IS AN IDIOT

Michael Moore's newest movie, "Capitalism: A Love Story," will soon be out in theaters en masse, and honestly I have yet to decide whether or not I'll be watching it. Perhaps, being that I'm typically one who likes to take in all sides of an issue and draw my own conclusions as to who's right and who's wrong, I'll give the movie an opportunity to at least make its case to me. But based on what I've read and what I've seen so far, and especially based on the rantings of Michael Moore himself on the film's substance and context, I feel fairly reasoned in my thinking before seeing the film that, like its infamous director, the film is full of crap and so is Moore's harebrained ideology surrounding capitalism.

Let's face it, Moore likes shock value. No mystery there. He thrives on the disenfranchised and the I'm-a-victim-of-society crowd, which also happens to be the uninformed and (sorry) most intellectually inept portion of the American population. It's this same crowd that cheers whenever someone shouts out "We're going to stick it to the man." That's really what this movie is about isn't it? Sticking it to the man. This crowd thinks they are going to get something. Oh what little do they know. Yeah, we're gonna get something alright.

The man is the bank that gives us the loan for our house, that issues the credit card for us to buy that big screen TV, the government that we pay our taxes to and who determines how much we pay, and its also the person who gives us a job. If we stick it to the man, ultimately we stick it to ourselves. The more it costs a company to run their business, the more I'll be charged at the register. The more the government taxes the man, the less people he will hire and the less he'll pay in benefits and wages to each employee.

Granted, I'm not saying the man doesn't have its share of shysters. I'm not saying that the system is without flaws. But let's not kid ourselves. There are shysters at every level of the population. Everything is flawed to an extent. There will always be someone who will game the system, whatever it is, if they see an opportunity to do so. We won't count the millions who, at this very moment, are busy gaming the welfare system and that little thing we call disability.

One of Moore's biggest complaints is of course that the top 1% of the population owns 99% of the wealth in the country. Okay fine. And yeah, I'll agree that being in the bottom 99% stinks a little bit. It certainly doesn't have near the perks the top 1% enjoys. But it's possible that the majority of that 1% earned that wealth through risk-taking and hard work. It's possible that I too can have an opportunity to propel myself to these elite ranks through hard work and risk-taking, if I so choose to do so.

Which leaves me to wonder, but through capitalism, how else would Mr. Moore himself have risen into this elite top 1%? Yep. He's right up there with them. His films are shown in publicly traded theaters. They are distributed through DVD retailers, cable companies, and (wait for it) Netflix. Last I checked, all of these businesses are owned, run, and were started through capitalism. A vast majority of them are traded in the stock market, including the company that owns his own company Overture Films. But for capitalism, he would not have been able to find investors to capitalize his ventures.

Nasty, dirty, low-down rotten capitalism. Ptuey!

Which brings me to another thought. Why not just give away this wonderful little flick? I mean, after all, Moore is already a millionaire many times over. He doesn't need any more money. Why be greedy about it? It's only his hard work and his labor of love. Shouldn't that be given away?

I can say no more. My rant has run it's course. Simply put Mr. Moore, you are as dumb as a box of rocks. You are literally biting the hand that feeds you, and I hope that that hand bites you right square back on your ass.

Monday, October 12, 2009

PART THREE: HOW TO BRING HOME THE BACON WITHOUT SLAUGHTERING THE PIG

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX ON THE ROAD TO RICHES

Let's face it. Life is hectic. It's a challenge each and every day to get the kids off to school, prep yourself for work, and meet all of the other obligations life has in store for us. Even with all of the efficiency inventions and innovations have brought to our lives, it seems we have less time than we have ever had before to get things done. For that reason something as simple as a box of macaroni and cheese seems very economical. A 7 minutes from pot to plate box of mashed potatoes seems almost too good to be true. Crock-pot favorites in a bag must make some people weak in the knees.

I'm sure you've heard it said a thousand times before; time is money. Many people don't realize how true that statement really is. In this example, not taking the time is what's costly.

Speaking of those darned jobs, don't forget that how to bring home the bacon without slaughtering the pig is all about eliminating the necessity to work to gain access to all the things we want or that we need. We've got tons of money right under our noses if we take some of that precious time to look. When we're working the daily grind for money we don't truly need, that takes a lot of time out of our lives as well, doesn't it? Bringing home the bacon with less as opposed to more work is about spending efficiently, and putting the money we save to work for us so that we can ultimately have more time for living. Let's make sure that point is perfectly clear. And of course, this also ties directly into the Law of Averages and one of the larger ways we can lower our daily consumption rate.

Hectic as life is, we have to think outside the box if we want to save money. Keep this little tidbit in mind; if someone can put it in a box, it can be made in the kitchen. If the majority of the food you eat is coming from a box, you are in every way spending a fortune's worth of wasted money without even realizing it. Never mind the numerous negative health issues associated with eating pre-prepared foods, like high sodium, loads of fillers and preservatives...the list goes on. Moreover, the time you are trying to save in the kitchen might just be due to the fact that you have to work more because your dollars aren't going far enough to keep in step with what you're spending.

If you've ever wanted to know what the vicious cycle looks like, folks, well there it is.

As I've stated before, most of the principles behind the Law of Averages and the daily consumption rate are about small, fractional savings we can achieve on a day to day basis just by tweaking a few of the things we do in our daily lives. Thinking outside the box and cooking meals from scratch is about hundreds, if not thousands of dollars saved on your grocery bill each year. And that's no joke. That's an extra house payment or extra dollars for a better car. It's more money to put into a savings or investment account. It could even be a long-awaited-for vacation you thought you didn't have the money for.

Whenever I go into the grocery store I make it a point to see what the prices are for all of these so-called convenience foods. I marvel at what people are paying for this stuff and wonder to myself, if people really knew what they were paying for the food they were buying, if they actually took the time to break it down, would they still buy the pre-prepared food item?

Here are just a couple of examples in order to illustrate my point. A bag of Pasta Sides® is 4.5 oz. and sells for around $1.20 each. That's around $4.27 per lb. for noodles. And you say you can't afford to eat a steak every day? Betty Crocker® specialty potatoes are sold in an average size of 6 oz. per box, depending on the variety, for around $1.89 each. That's $5.04 per lb. for potatoes. How much does a 10 1b bag of potatoes cost?

I think most people have the impression that the most expensive food item on their plate is the meat. When you look at it in real terms, it would appear to me the meat's the least of your worries. If you're not willing to pay the price for filet mignon, why in the world are you then willing to pay $5 per pound for potatoes?

READ PART FOUR

Next installment scheduled for Thursday, October 22, 2009, "Part Four: Freeze Your Access."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

PART TWO: BRINGING HOME THE BACON


WHEN IT COMES TO MONEY, DON'T LOSE INTEREST

In the saving lifestyle, every penny is important no matter how small it may seem to be, and you're going to hear me say this over and over again. Still, it's true that not everyone thinks so. I can't count on my hands how many times I've walked up to a change machine and found a pile of pennies sitting there because someone thought they were worthless. I'll grant you that by themselves and in the short term a handful of pennies won't buy much, if they can buy anything at all. But they are far from worthless.

Interest earned on a bank account is to me the equivalent of hanging onto my pennies and putting them into a jar, with the exception of the added benefit of compound interest, of course. Conversely, any money that you have in a bank account that is not earning interest is the equivalent of leaving your pennies on top of a change machine. You're leaving your pennies behind for someone else to scoop into their own pocket.

When you deposit money into a checking or savings account, you are essentially extending a short term loan to the bank. They can use that money for a multitude of purposes, including making money. If you ask the bank for a loan, they'll charge you a fee in the way of interest for that. So why would you want to offer your bank a short term loan for free? That said, there are three things that you should be doing here.

First, if you are paying any fees whatsoever to use your checking account I suggest you shop around for a free checking account. In fact, these are so common nowadays I'm not sure why anyone would choose otherwise.

Second, make sure that that free checking account also pays you interest. If you are loaning your money to someone they ought to be paying you something for the privilege. These are commonly referred to as "rewards" accounts or "plus" accounts. Banks have all sorts of names for these so you'll have to do a little research. Of course, you can also look for a money market checking account. Typically these offer slightly higher rates of interest. Still, I don't particularly care for them because often times money markets have all sorts of rules and stipulations, such as maintaining a minimum balance. That money I have to maintain in the money market account could potentially be making better interest somewhere else, so it's actually costing me money to keep it there.

There are myriad checking rewards or checking plus accounts offered in the marketplace that offer you unlimited access to your money and pay you interest regardless of your balance. So shop around. Keep in mind it's your money, not theirs. You should be able to do what you want with it.

And third, if you are earning interest on the money in your checking account, why not get just a wee bit more interest out of it by using a bill payment service? Most banks now offer this for free as well, mainly because it saves them a ton of money not having to process cumbersome paper checks. The way I see it, the beauty of bill payment is multi-fold. First, you can schedule a payment to be disbursed on the exact due date. It may seem minuscule on the surface, but even one extra day of interest earned on that $100 you need to pay a bill is valuable money in your pocket. This is sort of like the equivalent of getting just two more brushings out of that tube of toothpaste we were talking about last week. Second, you save money on a stamp, as well as the cost of the paper check itself.

That's it for me this week. But before I go, for those who still wish to leave their pennies behind, may I extend to you a thank you in advance of your next leaving? I'm quite delighted to relieve you of their burden.

READ PART THREE

Next installment scheduled for Monday, October 12, 2009, "Part Three: Think Outside the Box on the Road To Riches."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

DOCTORS AND NURSES WILL NOT WALK OFF THE JOB

There's been so much talk in this supposed health care debate about doctors walking off the job and nurse's leaving the profession in droves if the Obamacare Bill passes, it's almost painful to listen to. It's also a bit far fetched if you ask me. Besides, isn't it also a bit irrelevant what the medical professionals decide to do based on whatever bill eventually makes its way into law? Anymore than it was relevant what people thought the effects would be if we would have allowed the auto-industry to fail? Or the banks? For most of the American people that seemed as irrelevant as what would happen to the CEOs of these companies, or what would happen to the workers themselves.

The truth is, this argument detracts from the real issues surrounding health care reform and only, in my view, seems to serve as either a scare tactic or a threat. Or it could simply be just one more mask for a lack of real debatable ideas; in this case on the republican side.

For me the facts are clear. Doctors, and the medical professions in general, are among the highest paid in the country. Even if you start whittling away at that pay, it would still represent an attractive wage. It would still be a line of professions that people would aspire to. And at the end of the day, just like the smoker who threatens to quit if they raise the tax on his smokes just one more time; he never does, and the medical professionals won't walk off the job either. Besides, to do what? Retire? They'll likely have to retire at about 60% of what they earned on the job. To leave for another profession? Again, to do what? To make better money? They are in the highest paid profession.

To me it just doesn't make any sense. We've got real issues here with this bill that need hashing out, and that is where we need to place our focus. And I ask again, why aren't we talking about those loopholes and frauds?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

NEXT VOTE UP BEFORE CONGRESS: KLEENEX OR PUFFS?

First we had the democrats crying over Rep. Wilson's "You lie!" shout-out during President Obama's speech before Congress, and now we have republicans crying over a comment made by Rep. Alan Grayson when he stated, "If you get sick, America, the republican health care plan is this: die quickly. That's right. The republican's want you to die quickly if you get sick."

Inarguably a deplorable statement, and of course the statement is untrue. I even think that, considering everything without bias, neither was Rep. Wilson's statement entirely true. But this really isn't my issue at all. My issue is why we're talking about comments? Where's the real health care debate?

And consider this; why aren't we talking about all of these frauds and loopholes we're supposedly going to uncover and tighten up that the dems and the president keep telling us is how they intend to pay for the bill? Wouldn't that be something to talk about?

The fact is that both sides have valid arguments for their cause. Both sides also have problems that need to be worked through. It would make absolutely no sense whatsoever to take the entire democrat plan and make it into law. But neither would it make any sense to take the entire republican plan and make it into law. We have two representative sides in our government who have been elected by the people to debate the issues concerning the American people honestly, openly, and respectfully. Somewhere down the middle is where the bill should end up. A compromise that takes the best points from both sides and combines them into a bill we can at least live with and maybe even pay for realistically is where we should end up.

The sad truth is that instead our elected officials in Congress are simply wasting time and a ton of the taxpayer's money bickering back and forth and drafting disapproval's for this comment and that comment that they don't like. Which means, maybe none of them have an idea truly worth considering. Which brings me to another thought and perhaps a brilliant idea.

Since you all in Congress have all of this free time on your hands to call each other names and draft bills to vote for disapproval of comments made by other members, how about reading the f-ing health care bill to start with!

Friday, September 25, 2009

PART ONE: BRINGING HOME THE BACON

THE LAW OF AVERAGES

Each and every second of our lives we are consumers. As the clock ticks away the seconds, minutes, and hours of the day an invisible average is being calculated and recalculated and recalculated again. A long time ago I started to call this my daily consumption rate. It's a number I know is there, even though I'd never, in a gazillion years, be able to have the know-how to actually calculate it. And quite frankly, I don't know why I would want to. That would make me a bit of an obsessive, compulsive, would it not? But just the knowing that it's there makes me more aware of the everyday consumption decisions I make that I know influence it. In many ways, the daily consumption rate is in fact a key element in all of my theories about saving money, and I will refer back to it often.

Basically, every time I flip on a light switch I'm consuming electricity. Every time I flush a toilet or turn on a faucet I'm consuming water. Every time I eat a sandwich I'm consuming bread, meat, and condiments. There's a cost attached to each and every one of these actions. It adds up to a dollar amount over the course of each day. Fractions of pennies over each and every second.

Of course, you're asking, so what exactly does that have to do with saving? Isn't daily consumption about spending?

Quite simply put; how you spend your money, but more importantly how you consume the items you buy with your spent money is directly related to how you will ultimately save your money.

As a rule, we are a terribly wasteful society. We throw away more useable stuff as a country than the rest of the world combined. I won't even begin to touch on how much food we throw away. But it says a lot about our way of thinking, and also serves to illustrate the cost of our prosperity as a nation. We've taken the opportunity of plentitude for granted, and we're quite literally tossing our money out with the garbage.

As an example, our nation's landfills are full of weeks worth of extra shampoo, toothpaste, and hand soap. We simply don't want to take the time to eke out just one more spat, or one more palmful. We simply squeeze the bottle or the tube and when nothing else comes out we decide that it must be empty. And it's not necessarily so. Turn the shampoo bottle upside down and the next day you'll get another palmful of the stuff to wash your hair. Take a scissors out and cut the toothpaste tube open and you'll get one or two more brushings out of it. Doing these kinds of things may seem petty, even ridiculous, but over time it really does add up to savings. Overall, it reduces the cost of the item you bought and that's money in the bank.

Just for fun let's break it down one step further for the purpose of illustrating my point; if I buy a 6 oz. tube of toothpaste for $2 and I get 24 brushings out of it (I have no idea how many brushings I get by the way, I'm not that anal retentive) assuming a quarter oz. per brushing, my daily cost is about .083 cents. If I cut open the tube and get just two more brushings out of it my daily cost is .076 cents.

I know, I know. It's a fraction of a cent that's been saved. And you're right, it's not going to make the difference between your driving a Cadillac vs. an Aveo. But think about it. You'll have to buy 15 tubes of toothpaste to my 14 for the year. That fraction has now become $2. Imagine if you applied this principle to every thing you consume in your daily life. In reality the savings do add up to quite a lot more than you think. And again, this is about a lifestyle. You have to be thinking about saving at every turn, and you have to be thinking about it in fractional terms if you really want to get the most out of it.

Little things count! And yes, getting every drop out of everything you buy and use counts. It's admittedly hilarious when you think to yourself, all this to save a friggin' penny? Believe me, I'm laughing too. It is funny. I laugh at myself all the time about it. But the reality is that there's more money in the law of averages than you think, and those pennies add up. All of these things are contributing to that average. To the daily consumption rate. What you do, or what you choose not to do makes things cost more or cost less.

Keep in mind that saving money is also about finding wasted money. Maybe you don't want to take your life to the extreme of cutting open toothpaste tubes, and that's fine. But just take the concept in mind, and see where you can best apply it to your own consumption habits. You will definitely save money.

READ PART TWO

Saturday, September 19, 2009

HOW TO BRING HOME THE BACON WITHOUT SLAUGHTERING THE PIG

INTRODUCTION

A few years ago I tossed around the idea of writing a book about saving money. I wanted to call it, "How to bring home the bacon without slaughtering the pig." What that title basically meant to me when I came up with it, was that the art of saving money is more than simply picking an amount out of your paycheck each week and deducting it. It's more than setting aside money for a 401k, or sinking money into a piece of real estate. It's more than opening up an investment account at a brokerage house. All good things, mind you, and they are essential to saving. But really, it's a lifestyle. Saving is something you have to do 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You need to be constantly aware of the process of saving.

Quite literally, you have to live to save, and saving, done properly, will allow you to work less and live better. You really can have your bacon, and more of it, without all the mess and hassle of the slaughter.

In this series of blogs I will outline what is my concept of saving money. I will pass on the tools of the trade, if you will, so that you can begin the process of having a more comfortable and secure lifestyle, better afford your toys, and quite frankly enjoy life more. What I hope to accomplish is to dispose of certain myths about saving. I want to change your way of thinking about what saving money really is. Most importantly I want to leave you with an understanding that saving money is enormously easier than most people think it is. Saving is far less daunting, and far less constricting than most people make it out to be. Saving is not about total sacrifice. It's not about living like a pauper. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. The less you save the more likely you'll end up sacrificing. Saving money is all about liberation and freedom.

Keep in mind that since this is not a book, these pieces may be a bit hodge-podge. It'll be part tips, part commentary, part discussion. It will be whatever it needs to be. My aim is to add to it each week, and I'll do the best I can to keep the train on a straight path. Perhaps in the end I can compile something more neatly. Along the way, feel free to ask questions, share concerns, disagree with any points, or offer interesting ways that you have found to get more out of your money and live an easier lifestyle. As this is my path, I'm all ears.

READ PART ONE

Monday, September 14, 2009

CRYBABY CONGRESS NEEDS TO GET BACK TO WORK

In my view, the situation that has arisen out of the Rep. Wilson shout-out, "You lie!" during President Obama's speech on health care before Congress last week is being blown way out of proportion. This is not to say that I think Rep. Wilson's comment was inaccurate. But it was certainly inappropriate, and I think he did the right thing to apologize to the president, even though he did seem to imply in his statement to the press that he had done it on the urging of the GOP leadership. Even still, he could have taken the urgings into consideration, politely said no, and went on with his business. The political consequences, whatever they may have been, would have been his to deal with in the aftermath. But now, democratic leaders want him to apologize before the House as well, something Rep. Wilson has firmly stated he will not do.

Naturally this is nothing more than an attempt by the dems to divert attention away from the real debate before the House and the Senate, and that's the whole health care issue. As far as anyone should be concerned, the issue should be done and over with. It's water over the dam. Rep. Wilson said he was sorry. He's taken his lumps. 'Nuff said.

But the dems wish to portray another "bad guy" republican. They want the American people to focus on this of all things. I also think it's a little bit shocking that they're actually spending time taking time to consider taking actions in the House against Wilson. All these important issues to work through, all this money being blown out the window that we don't have, wars and tensions between North Korea, Iran and other places that wish to kill us. Bombs being bought by Hugo Chavez thanks to loans from Russia. And here our politicians are, well...playing politics instead of getting the work of the people done. And somewhere in all this I'm certain the black caucus is considering labeling him a racist simply because his views differ from the president's views. We'll have to wait and see on that one. Perhaps Rev. Wright would like to weigh in?

What irks me more than the House's response, frankly, is the outcry among some Americans as to the terribleness (is that even a word?) of the whole thing. How could a sitting president be heckled by a congressman in the House of Representatives? Yet, and while I'll concede the circumstances were not exactly the same, the whole shoe throwing incident when it happened to former President Bush was met with applause. Americans seemed happy rather than mortified that a sitting American president on foreign soil had been so disrespected. Late night TV made jokes galore. Not so with the Rep. Wilson incident. But that's for another day.

All in all this is a dead issue, and I think Americans need to drop a note to Pelosi, Reid and the entire Congress frankly, "Enough playing games on our dime. It's time to get to work!"

Friday, September 4, 2009

SAVING FOR CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

It seems to me that we are too intently focused on credit as the great restorer of wealth and economic prowess in the world, and for that reason we're putting all this effort into jump starting the credit markets. Consumer confidence is quite literally measured by the ability of people to access money and use it to buy things, and of course, consumerism drives the American economy. But what good is it, I wonder, if the money that can be accessed isn't really there? That's what credit is, after all. The perception of money. And I wonder as well, how much would our economy have had to suffer in today's recession had people had real money in the bank with which to meet their obligations when the bottom fell out of the whole thing? How much real confidence would have been supported by real money. And furthermore, would we have even had a recession to speak of?

Borrowing isn't an entirely bad idea. But then, neither is saving. Obviously we can take both ideas to the extreme, citing the US American consumers' high debt numbers and Japan's excessive savings numbers. In both cases, economies have been harmed by too much of one thing. One word should apply here; balance. You have to have a balance between real wages, real money in the bank, and access to credit to leverage those wages and savings. And yes, somewhere in that scheme you need to be able to cover that leverage, and I'm not talking about covering that leverage with even more leverage.

If you've followed my blogs at all, you've of course noted that I strongly believe that credit has stifled wages for quite some time. The price of cars have gone up. The price of homes has gone up. Entertainment costs like movies and sporting events have gone up. There are probably more restaurants in this country than grocery stores and it certainly costs considerably more to eat out than it does to eat in. And most of this run up in prices has been driven by plastic. Plastic has made it possible to drag prices to the sky while having wages all but stand still. Plastic has also taken the idea of saving and tossed it right out the window. With mailboxes overflowing with offers of money, Americans felt pretty darn rich. Even the guy serving up the fries at the local McDonald's drove a Lexus.

In order to restore consumer confidence in America we have to restore the concept that saving for a rainy day is good, sound thinking. When you can wake up in the morning and see real money on a balance sheet in a bank account you can rest assured that if something bad happens tomorrow and the bottom drops out from under you, you can at the very least, get yourself up out of the hole. Especially in a case like now when the plastic money fairy is hiding behind a rock.

Of course, somewhere in all of this the money has to flow back to the consumer in the way of jobs. Good, solid wage paying jobs. And so the cycle goes.

Friday, August 28, 2009

ON THE JOB PROBATIONARY PERIODS SHOULD BE FLEXIBLE

Most companies have a probationary period of one sort or another whereas the new employee entering the organization must be on his or her best behavior. Often times this period lasts 60 or 90 days from the date of hire. It, in effect, allows the company to see attributes or qualities demonstrated in real that were discussed during the hiring process. I'm fine with this kind of a policy. Anyone can say anything they want to get through an interview. Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding, and this is the employee's time to shine.

The difficulty occurs when certain companies take this policy to the extreme. Everyone knows its crunch time. Everyone knows you can't miss a beat. But how much does a company's management have to hang this period over the new hire's head? How much fear does a company need to impart on the new hire? What considerations should be made when the probationary period has ended to truly determine whether or not the employee is a suitable candidate for permanent employment?

Ultimately, I think the entire period should be based on character and merit, and on the new hire's demonstrated ability to perform the job that he's been hired for. That's what the policy's function should be. I think that's really the intention of most probationary policies.

Yes, the new employee should be timely in his work, be on time, and be professional in every way. Yes, the new employee is on probation and should be keenly aware that he's not yet a permanent fixture on the company's payroll. But companies should be equally aware of the nature of life and its certain unpredictability. It's not necessarily what happens, but what you do when it happens.

What if a close family member dies? What if the new hire has an auto accident? Should the employee be forced to decide whether his job is more important than a family member's memorial? Should a company decide that an accident is grounds for dismissal because the employee ultimately couldn't show up to work because he or she is lying in a hospital recovering? What if the new hire's car breaks down unexpectedly (of course, when do we expect it, right?), but he or she follows a professional path to inform the right people of the situation and makes every effort to still report to work—albeit late?

What I believe should be most important in all probationary policy, and frankly any policy in the workplace, is flexibility. The reality is that most managers tell an interviewee during the interview process that, "We are looking for someone able to be flexible, to be able to adapt to varying situations, and to be able to offer creative solutions to problems and situations that may arise throughout the workday."

I highlight words like flexible and adapt and creative because all of them lack one thing in common. Rigidity. A policy, like an expectation held to the employee it ultimately affects, should not be so rigid that it cannot address real situations that people may encounter in everyday life—even when that person is on their 90 days! Things happen. Situations arise. We deal with them. We adapt to them. We have to. That's the nature of life.

To anyone hiring someone today or currently administering a probationary policy, keep this message in mind. People seek jobs to work. They seek jobs to provide a living for themselves and maintain a good qualify of life for their families. Fear is never a good way to motivate a new hire to do good for the company. And when you are a company who strictly enforces a policy like a probationary one, heedless of uncontrollable circumstances that a new hire may sometimes have to deal with, even when he or she deals with them in a courteous, honest, and professional manner, you can't also honestly believe our employees are our most important asset is a statement that holds any water. Most important, don't forget you were once a new employee as well.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

IT'S SCISSOR TIME AGAIN

It comes around every so often for all of us. You break out the scissors having concluded that it's time, once again, to cut up those credit cards weighing down your wallet. And each and every time we do it, it's always a wise decision. If that's not where you're at right now, maybe you should be.

Despite all of the rhetoric spouted off in fancy TV, magazine and Internet ads about all the financial freedom credit can provide to buy what you want, and do what you want, the truth is that credit cards are the enemy. In reality, they are really destroyers of financial gain and freedom. They'll cripple you long before they'll help you along to any happy goal.

Another problem with them is that credit cards also send out false economic indicators that consumers have real money to spend. That consumers have real money to cover the debts they rack up with them. The recession we're in now is proof enough that that was far from the case. During the boom people were using new debt to pay off old debt, and so went the vicious cycle. Our time was as borrowed as the money we were using to buy a bunch of crap we really didn't need anyway (most of it made in China, mind you).

At the end of the day credit cards are akin to horrible, taloned monsters that lurk deep in the shadows, lying in wait sneering just at the brink of eye shot, with their deviant little bag of tricks ever at the ready. Like all monsters, they thrive best when you can't see them. When you just barely know that they are there. Jumping out and yelling "boo!" is not only easy stuff. It's a dead ringer. Monsters rather relish in taking little bits of you until finally, one day, they've got you but good.

My wife and I are again credit card free. We've done the scissor deed. The little plastic bits have been banished to the local landfill, maybe even this time for good. Granted, that's not to say that we're debt free. We still have the balances to pay back. But the ability to access the credit we were able to before has heretofore been removed from the equation. The option to use the credit is no longer in the cards, if you'll pardon my pun.

Part of what made the decision for us, is that the credit card companies have suddenly decided to punish everyone for the credit crunch. They've decided it's now up to us, the consumer, to pay for mistakes that they (the banks—and oh yeah, that bozo Barney Frank too) have made by arbitrarily increasing interest rates, adding on fees, and changing the overall terms as to how they'll apply your payments. First the government was supposed to cover their failures. Now they want the customer to do it too. And as taxpayers as well as customers, that's a double kick right square in the face as far as I am concerned, and it'll be a cold day in hell before I allow them to do it. It should be a cold day in hell for every American who has one of these little plastic monsters nibbling holes in the fabric of their financial security and dreams as well.

The secret is in creating real wealth and real money. It's in saving and using money we actually have. Cash, not credit, is freedom. It's power. If you don't have it, the monsters have got you.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

DON'T MAKE A MONKEY OUT OF ME

You know, it strikes me as funny today as I underwent my physical for a new job, the things that they make you do. You know that I do factory work, right? It's over there on the right in my "about me" column. Well anyway, I do. Of course there are things in factory work that can be strenuous at times. You have to be at least reasonably agile and able to perform certain functions. You may have to lift things at times of varying weights and you may have to be able to get up onto platforms for example. Factory work is not necessarily wheelchair accessible if you know what I mean. I can understand a company's desire to make sure you can walk, stand, bend, and lift before they actually send you off onto their factory floor. This is at least minimally important to be ascertained.

But sometimes I think these so-called tests are something more akin to those what-would-you-do-for-a-Klondike-bar commercials. You know the ones I'm talking about. Like the one where the guy stands on a table and barks like a seal.

Don't get me wrong here. A job is important. It pays the bills. Generally speaking I still happen to need one. But they (the companies) seem to be begging the question how bad do you want it? with a bit of snicker and a grin.

In a word, and I'm being more than fair here, the tests are ridiculous. They are humiliating and ridiculous. Incredulously you stand there as they tell you, with every bit of seriousness, what ridiculous task you must perform and you suddenly have an urge to ask, "are you people serious? Lemme see that paperwork you have there. Are you sure this is for the factory job?"

Get on your hands and knees and crawl. Pick up this bolt and crawl backwards with it in your hand. Then crawl forward again and put the bolt back where you took it from. Reach up and play with this nut and bolt with your hand above your head for two minutes. Now play with the nut and bolt with your other hand for another two minutes. Walk up and down this staircase six times...

The ridiculous list of course goes on.

Look, I'm happy to have a job. The company I will be working for is a good one. But I'm not a show seal in a zoo waiting for you to throw me a fish when I perform well. Or a dog anxiously waiting for you to request my next trick so I can get a bone. Really, what it boils down to is I'm not an idiot. I'm simply a guy who wants to make an honest living so I can support myself, my wife, and my way of life.

We all know that the folks who come up with these ridiculous tests are of the type that would never be required to do any such thing, so I say to them knock it off. It isn't funny and nobody deserves to be made into a monkey for anything, especially for a job.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

TAKING SIRIUS, SERIOUSLY

They say that necessity is the mother of all invention, but in the case of Sirius XM Radio, it's hard times that is the mother of its reinvention.

It's no secret that satellite radio heavily relied on auto sales to reel in new customers. That source has recently become drier than the Mojave Desert. But its not just the lack of auto sales that's gotten their bottom line all in a bunch. It's the shredded economy which is forcing cash-strapped consumers to keep their money firmly in their pockets. Shelling out dough for a shiny new car is difficult enough. Adding in discretionary items like subscription radio is equally difficult for a consumer to consider when his job is on the line and the kids need to be fed. But no one is tossing their iPod or their iPhone out with the bathwater, and those are absolutely just as discretionary as anything can be (though there are many who may politely argue that point), and that's gotten Sirius CEO Karmazin thinking. It's the access stupid.

Part of iPod's success, in my opinion, has been its user accessibility. If people were going to pay money to download music to enjoy, they were going to want to enjoy it at their leisure, and at the place of their choosing, just like they would be able to do with a regular CD. So iPods now can be played almost anywhere, thanks to compatible playing devices that you can plug the thing into. It's also given an enormous boost to record company sales, and its made it less popular to bootleg downloads via file share programs. To be sure, it's been a win, win situation.

And by the way, while we're on the topic, let me point out that Apple's stock is still a fantastic buy right now, and part of that is due to the ongoing reach and usability of the iPod and the expanding popularity of the iPhone.

And that makes Sirius XM attractive as well, as it looks to integrate and bundle its services with popular devices like the iPod and the iPhone. They may also provide its services through it's relationship with Direct TV, of whom Liberty Media has a controlling stake. Hooking up is just plain smart business thinking, in my opinion. I also think that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I said a long time ago that I thought that satellite radio, in general, would eventually have to consider some form of advertising in order to generate revenue sufficient to carry them to profitability. Nowadays, I think that all Sirius XM needs to do is to present value to the consumer. Broadening the delivery system for their service is certainly going to offer much more in the way of value to the consumer than is currently the case. The more one can do with the service, the easier it is to access and enjoy the service, the more valuable that service becomes to the user. If Sirius XM can pull that off successfully, then I think the company can see its way to becoming profitable sooner rather than later.

Conversely, that profit is a long way ahead, and the company still may face some difficulty meeting debt obligations down the line. Liberty Media also needs to continue to be attracted to the company in order to stay on board. Certainly there is a considerable amount of risk in owning this company. That aside, I think Sirius may be well on their way to something, and for that reason, I think the company is a buy.

Full disclosure: Jim Bauer currently owns shares in both Apple, Inc., and Sirius XM Radio Holdings.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN IS SUFFERING FROM A LACK OF APPRECIATION

Vice president Joe Biden told CNN today that he guaranteed that we are safer today than at any time during the eight years of the Bush Administration, rebuking a statement made by former vice president Dick Cheney in an interview with CNN's John King last month, whereas he told CNN that he felt that some of the choices being made by the Obama administration were putting Americans at greater risk of another terrorist attack.

The statement made by Biden is, of course, incredulous at best, if not a little bit unfair to the obvious successful accomplishment of the Bush administration to avoid future attacks. Bush never could be denied at least that one fact. We were not attacked following that terrible day in September 2001, and that was due largely to the policies of the Bush administration. To deny that is just plain ridiculous. And to Cheney's point, there's also no denying that much of Obama's plan with regard to Iraq, his failure to call terrorists for what they are, his interest in closing down Gitmo and releasing terrorists—potentially onto American soil—are all meant to appease the world. President Obama is pandering. In a way, pandering does indeed put us at a higher risk in that it tells all the bad people in the world we'd rather be touchy, feely than get down to the business of doing what we need to in order to protect our interests.

I'll admit that the United States has a bit of a reputation problem in many parts of the world, and that you can lay a lot of that blame on the Bush administration if you'd like to. That said, since when has it ever been about what the rest of the world thinks? The rest of the world didn't have planes flown into its buildings. The rest of the world wasn't attacked. The president had a choice to make and he made it. And even if you argue that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, certainly there was no denying the combatant stance that was being taken by the Iraqi government, the refusal to allow inspectors in to ensure compliance with U.N. resolutions, and ultimately prove the lack of weapons of mass destruction. There was no denying that Sadam Hussein was an evil dictator bent of killing his own citizens and bringing turmoil, chaos, and fear to his own citizens as well as Iraq's surrounding countries.

If we are safer as a nation today it has absolutely nothing at all to do with the policies of the Obama administration and everything to do with the policies of the former. It has everything to do with the bringing together of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to better communicate and share information and manpower. It has everything to do with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and with tightened security efforts at airports across the nation.

Biden should be thankful.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

HAVE YOU OWNED FORD STOCK, LATELY?

With unemployment in the U.S. hovering right around 8%, and with economists and other watchers seeing yet more job losses to come, not to mention the still tight credit markets, no one is taking the risk to buy a new car for fear that somewhere in the near future they may find themselves ultimately unable to pay for it. And, of course, that's smart thinking.

But Ford Motor Company is having none of that, and naturally, they want you to go out and get a car—a Ford, Lincoln, or Mercury no less. Their sales have been in the dumps for a long time now, thanks to all this economic gloom and doom and sky-falling speak, and it's absolutely vital to their survival that they do something to add to car sales.

Until June 1st, Ford is offering car buyers a payment protection plan good for one year's worth of payments of up to $700 a month if the buyer should suddenly find him or herself in the unemployment line. If you think about it, coupled with dealer incentives galore and zero percent interest financing available to qualified buyers, now may be just the time to buy that shiny new Ford.

It may also be the best time to buy the company itself.

Okay, okay. Ford is in bad shape if you compare it to its history. But then, the entire U.S. auto industry is in bad shape. Auto workers are being laid off. Plants are being shuttered. It's crickets in Detroit. And that ominous word "bankruptcy" is being tossed around an awful lot lately. So why on Earth would anyone want to invest in what seems like a sinking ship? I must be out of my tree.

The good news is that Ford is, for the most part, sound. It's getting its act together, thanks in large part to the brilliance of its current leader Mulally. It hasn't taken a single dime from the government. It's freed itself from Jaguar and Land Rover, which were costly and unprofitable enterprises. And it's landed concessions—and good ones—with the UAW. If anyone is going to come out on top when the proverbial manure settles after being hit by the fan, it is going to be Ford without a doubt. Besides, they still make the #1 best-selling truck in America, and their new line of cars are, in my opinion, looking pretty darn sharp. The new Lincolns are spot-on as well, and I think can easily give Cadillac, Lexus, and Infinity a strong run for their money. To borrow a phrase, these aren't your grandpa's Lincolns.

Granted, the company still has quite a bit of ground to cover before it returns to profitability, and who knows exactly when this economy is going to finally go off its life support. But this is a long-term play. If you have the time, are willing to be patient, and gradually build your position over the next 3-5 years, I think you'll be very pleased looking back.

Full disclosure: Jim Bauer currently owns stock in Ford Motor Company.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

FRENCH-FRIED AMERICAN FAT CATS WOULD SIT WELL ON THE MENU

It's not too often that you'll hear me speak well about anything relating to France. They continue to be on my "list" for a variety of reasons. But the recent development at a French 3M factory where the workers there have held their manager hostage in a labor dispute is something I'm finding myself applauding. Apparently this is a fast rising trend among French laborers unsatisfied with work conditions, or pay.

Of course, there are going to be throngs of those reading this who will surely disagree with me. And others, who have read my many rants, would know that I don't stand on the side of labor unions—that is to say, most of the time. And this French tactic is, with all due respect, a bit of a Gestapo tactic, if not a "union-style" one taken to the extreme. The tactic is, however, perhaps not without its due. Americans might do well to pay close attention.

I, and I'm certain I'm not alone here, am frankly getting sick and tired of the average American worker getting the raw end of the deal at every single turn. I'm fed up with fat cat CEOs and execs getting all the loot, all the perks, all the incentives and rewards, while wages just don't go up. I'm tired of it being okay to say that performance should be rewarded—but only when it applies to the CEO. I'm tired of the argument that "in order to attract and retain good talent we need to pay big bucks—again, only when it applies to the CEO. I'm tired of being told that I should just shut up, suck it up, and be happy to have a job at all. Perhaps if American workers grew more of a backbone as French workers have recently decided to do, we could go to the boss and say, "No, my friend, you should consider yourself the lucky one."

At the end of the day everyone should be entitled—yes, entitled—to be rewarded if they perform well. They should be paid a fair and decent wage, and they should have their basic needs taken care of, provided they work hard and produce profitable results for the company they work for—just like we do for the CEO and his family. After all, anyone with half a mind knows that a good, solid economy revolves around productivity. People have to be productive and produce the goods and services people will ultimately buy. So then, who really is at the heart of that productivity? Of course it's the back-breaking, ball-busting American on the production line, or on the sales team, or on the retail sales floor. It's the gal serving you your sandwich at lunch time. So why aren't they getting their due? Why aren't they getting their respect or their reward? No one complains when a CEO gets millions of dollars in bonuses and salary, but try to push through a law—such as we have here in Milwaukee—that you must pay a worker sick pay and everyone is right away up in arms.

Hey Mr. CEO, have you ever heard the old saying that you should never bite the hand that feeds you? Don't forget why you are in your chair in the first place? Don't forget who makes the crap you get so well paid to be at the helm of.

I'm not really suggesting we start locking our own managers in their offices until we get our fair share of the loot. But I think it's high time we get really mad. And I mean fit-to-be-tied. It is the American mantra, "united we stand, divided we fall." If we stand up and say, together, that we're not going to stand for it anymore, the top echelon will have no choice but to listen. We need to leverage ourselves, not to become millionaires, but simply to get our fair share of the prize. Simply to be included in the successes achieved by the companies we break our backs for. And then, and only then, if the CEOs and managers choose to play deaf, I'll gladly hold the door while you throw away the key.

Monday, March 16, 2009

AIG IS OUTRAGEOUS, AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT, THE ENTIRE TOP ECHELON IN CORPORATE AMERICA ARE FULL OF CRAP

It is irritating, if not a little bit disturbing, to once again hear the arguments of already highly paid executives talk about "what they are entitled to" as part of a contract they negotiated, or for the sheer value of the work they do. That's exactly the case at AIG, and the goings on there should infuriate every single taxpayer in America. Maybe the government felt it necessary because of AIG's size to bail it out and save it from ruins—I too, wrote that AIG needed to be saved—but now the American people and other companies using AIG's services should consider casting a different vote and putting the company out of our misery after all. It is effectively walking all over us at this point. But it's not the only guilty party out there.

How many times do we have to sit and listen to millionaire executives justify exorbitant paychecks and bonuses while their companies crumble before our very eyes? How many times must we hear the argument that in order to retain good leaders that we must highly compensate them. I ask, with millions of dollars that you apparently don't have? And why is good talent only defined as people making over a million dollars a year? What about the guy at the bottom struggling to make a living? He is as important, if not more important than the guy sitting behind the mahogany desk in a marble-floored penthouse office. He makes the goods or provides the actual services that the company sells.

How often do we hear CEO's stand before their employees and speak to them about having to make sacrifices for the good of the company? You must understand that in times like these, we may have to downsize. That's right, your job is not important. Your future is not important. Your pay is not important. Yours. But they'll still kindly take their $20 million dollar paychecks and bonuses, and thank you very much, while you sit at home after losing your $50,000 a year job for the good of the company.

They say that they can't afford the high cost of health care. They can't afford to offer you a pension plan. They can't afford to match as much on your 401k plan. Yet they can pay out those bonuses worth millions. They can fly corporate jets. All the while they ask every employee to please turn out the lights before they leave the restroom because of course, electricity costs too much. Even the company I currently work for stopped putting my pay stub in an envelope in an effort to save money—even as the top executives were cashing their over $5 million in bonuses that were paid just weeks before filing for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11.

I have long held that CEO compensation is egregious, and totally out of control. While the average worker gets the raw end of the deal time and time again, the top employees of the company lavish themselves with gifts and offerings fit for a king. They win the lottery every single day that they step into the office. And they use terms like you have to do what it takes, and you have to be willing to make sacrifices. You, you, you. Their fingers are always pointing at you. The guy who has to bust his tail for meager earnings, who receives no bonuses for his talents, who gets no perks for his performance, and who, when you fail at your job will be sent packing without so much as a handshake instead of one of those golden parachutes your CEO most certainly will get on his way out.

If nothing else this economic time has highlighted the case that CEO compensation is completely out of whack, and that the executive world is effectively out of touch with the reality that the average American is facing every single day. The fact is that if I can make do with the $85 or so thousand dollars a year that my wife and I bring home together, so can you Mr. CEO.

Back to AIG; I think it should burn to the ground and I'll be looking forward to electronically thumbing through the pages of Craigslist for the ads from it's former executives seeking work. As for the other companies out there? Don't forget who put you in that fancy leather chair to begin with. Each and every one of us average Americans who shell out our hard-earned money to buy your stuff, and who sweat to put it on the shelf!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

LIBERTY SAVES SIRIUS, BUT MORE IS NEEDED

With two other of the stocks in my portfolio currently under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, I was glad to learn that Liberty Media would come to the rescue for Sirius XM Radio, Inc. Liberty CEO John Malone will infuse $530 million into the company, getting a 40% stake, as well as a couple of seats on the company's board. Not only does Sirius XM need the cash to pay it's debts, but I think it also needs some fresh ideas as to just exactly how Sirius will be profitable going forward.

The merger of XM and Sirius was a good idea, though we haven't been able to see the fruits of that yet. Nor have we been able to determine just how good an idea it actually was, because right about the time that the two satellite companies were pleading their case before anti-trust regulators, and throngs of others against the merger, an economic crisis unlike any we have seen for at least 30 years in our history was lurking. Ultimately that very crisis killed the market that was the primary source for both XM and Sirius' new subscribers—the auto industry.

Long before the merger I wrote on a Sirius stock message board that I felt that Sirius would have to turn to some form of advertising in order to keep itself afloat. I still hold this thought today. Though it's a bit of a tricky deal. Everything will need to be in the details. Part of satellite's draw, aside from it's focused content offerings, was that it would be commercial free. So, simply thrusting regular radio commercial spots onto their paying listeners would be a betrayal, and I think also would be the death of satellite radio—at least as we know it.

Sirius XM needs to be as innovative in creating new revenue streams as were the pioneers of internet search, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google, Inc., who successfully made advertising less intrusive, more informative, and because the advertising was directly related to search inquiries, it also made it an invaluable source of new customers for all sorts of business' product offerings.

Perhaps Sirius XM can somehow infuse that idea of content related advertising into their programming, or perhaps they'll come up with something entirely new.

When it comes to satellite radio, the truth is that we're in the baby stages of the industry. It's a learning process. Other players most likely will come onto the field to fill the gaps that Sirius XM cannot. Much like happened to AOL, Webcrawler, and even Yahoo to some extent. For that reason I'll be watching very closely in the next year or two to see where this company is going. I haven't given up yet. But they must turn a profit. If they don't, the next Google will be right around the corner waiting for their "in," and I will be out.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

BAD ECONOMIC TIMES WILL LEAD TO A RENEWED SENSE OF AMERICAN VALUES

It's hell on wheels in this current economy, and all indications are that we will see things worsen yet more before we see any beginning of a turnaround. One economist was even reported as saying he sees up to 3 million additional job losses in 2009, despite all good intentions of the nearly $900 billion stimulus plan that goes before the Senate next week.

But perhaps there we will be hidden benefits to come out of this downward spiraling economy. For one, I think we'll see a bit of a contraction in the explosion of recent years of illegal immigrants entering the country seeking a better life, especially from Mexico. As jobs here become more scarce, less and less people will be excited about coming across the border.

In my view, this is a good thing. Look, where I live currently, there are areas of town I go to where I firmly believe English is a second language. How many times have my wife and I walked through the stores and shops and asked the question, "Does anyone speak English anymore?" And these are not economically prospering areas. These are depressed areas. High crime areas.

Don't get me wrong. Immigration isn't all bad. But from where I'm standing, I'm seeing the community pulled down as opposed to being lifted up. This is mainly as a result of the types of jobs available to most immigrants, and the low wages that are commonly associated with them.

...and the fact that many of these immigrants do not speak the English language creates a barrier to realizing their true potential.

But it's not all about illegal immigration. As a whole, I think this economic crisis is also a golden opportunity for Americans to get things back into some order, and to rethink how we live and work. We have a strong need to pull ourselves back down to reality here. It's a painful thing to say, but the fact is that I think we've simply had it a little too good in the recent past and as a result, we've become terribly complacent and a lot naive about how safe we are. How many of you have 16 year old's entering the workforce today who won't step foot in a restaurant to wash dishes or bus tables? How many think that working for McDonald's is beneath them? This is a mindset. This is a trend. And it's not a good one.

How much of this "I don't have to get my hands dirty" mentality, has contributed to us throwing away millions upon millions of solid, good paying, strong benefited industrial jobs we thought we didn't need?

Did you know that the average salary of a factory worker in the state of Wisconsin, as reported last year in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was $54,000? When you add in the benefits most of these workers tend to receive, that amount goes up extensively. Few service jobs pay those wages, and few college graduates entering the workforce start out there either. So, those so-called "dirty" jobs aren't really so bad after all, and their death has caused a severe erosion of America's middle class.

The good that will come out of this is that rethinking. That reassessment of what's important. And I think we'll look a little closer for those stars and stripes on a box of goods we buy as well. We'll seek out the "Made in the U.S.A." labeling because we'll have a renewed sense of just how important any American job is.

It's not a matter of protectionism. In my view, it's a matter of common sense. Globalization is not good for us if it does not contribute to us getting to do more right here at home. Globalization is counter-productive if it only contributes to providing us with something cheap to buy, but does not provide us with a source for a solid, good paying American job as well. Credit is not a good thing if it contributes to a false sense of prosperity. Credit is not a good thing if it holds down wages by filling the void between what you earn and what you can "afford" to buy. Illegal immigration is not a good thing if it makes us think we're too good to do certain types of jobs.

In summary it's bad, but it isn't all bad. We have quite the long road ahead of us yet to go. But it does, I think, lead to a better place. And it's one I think we're going to like when we get there.