That’s one way to get a vacation

by Dawn Pennington on July 1, 2014

China sends dissidents on free holidays during major government events, complete with police escorts to make sure they don’t come back too soon.

Oh, and did I mention these sojourns are first-class, all-expenses-paid by the Chinese government?

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Not quite the Mobile Supernet, but …

by Dawn Pennington on July 1, 2014

How do you bring the World Wide Web (and electricity) to the Turkish desert? With solar-powered camels, of course!

I’m going to squelch my automatic “animal cruelty!” rallying cry long enough to say I would invest in the publicly traded corporation that buys out this enterprise someday.

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Detroit Unions Letters

by Brad Hoppmann on June 24, 2014

Below is the full, unedited text of the three reader e-mails featured in today’s Dealing in Detroit afternoon edition.

 

From Reader N Joy:

You know Brad, I’m REALLY sick to death of hearing how the Public Worker Unions are so ARROGANT, and SPOILED, and RESPONSIBLE for ALL the ILLS that the State and Local Governments are going through. Although thinly veiled, your obvious disapproval for them and the not-so-thinly veiled glee you exhibit when you point out the fact, even though you use different words, they are getting their come-uppance. Here are some FACTS instead of the hysteria and bitching up on the floor and crying like a baby that’s being directed at these GOOD, HARD WORKING, GOD FEARING, AMERICANS;

FIRST, the Unions, and the Union Workers are NOT responsible for the fiscal mess the State and Local Governments find themselves in. The TOTAL BLAME lies SQUARELY on the shoulders of the POLITICIANS and those in charge of the purse strings. LEGAL, BINDING contracts were negotiated. As soon as they were, the POLITICIANS proceeded to TOTALLY DISREGARD THEIR responsibilities towards those contracts that had been figured into the feasibility of whether or not they could give what the Unions were asking for their members. In plain English they STOLE the money earmarked for the SPECIFIC purpose of making the contract work. They STOLE it from the Union members and they STOLE it from the taxpayers. Then they PISSED it away on ALL the things their kind PISSES away our money on. I would list them but it would be as long as your arm and we ALL know WHAT these things are so it’s pointless to rehash it again here.

SECOND, as an example, you point out proudly that Christie in New Jersey is one of them standing up to the Unions. In New Jersey, the OTHER Christie, Wittman, BORROWED, (STOLE), 500 MILLION DOLLARS from the Police and Fire Pension Fund. This was NOT Taxpayer money, this was money contributed by the BLOOD, SWEAT, and TEARS, and many times the VERY LIVES of the members. STOLE it and NEVER paid it back. STOLE it for some STUPID business deal to BENEFIT her HUSBANDS’ company and HER and HIS POLITICAL CRONIES when they were STUFFING E-Z PASS down the throats of New Jerseyans. Then, to add INSULT to INJURY, ALL of the subsequent administrations that came along ALSO DID NOT PAY IT BACK. NOR did they make the CONTRACTUAL CONTRIBUTIONS that they were LEGALLY OBLIGATED to make to the Pension System of these GOOD, HARD WORKING, LIFE SACRIFICING AMERICANS. So THEY decimated the Pension Savings of these people. Also, they REPEATEDLY BROKE THE LAW. Which, by the way, as much as he likes to claim otherwise by saying it DIDN’T happen on MY watch, is TOTAL BULLSHIT because during THAT time he was the Attorney General of the State, the TOP COP, and did NOTHING about the ILLEGAL proceedings. So HE’S FULL OF SHIT TOO! Anyway, NOW the Pension Fund is on Life Support. Does the STATE pay their back dues? NO, they decide to ILLEGALLY BREAK the Contract and DIVIDE and CONQUER by pitting Civilians against Government Workers and sit back and watch the Fireworks. ALSO, they make the Union Members pay MORE into the system to make up the shortfall. AND, they STILL ARE NOT MAKING their FULL, LEGALLY CONTRACTUAL CONTRIBUTIONS. You wonder WHY the system is BROKEN? REALLY!

THIS is a Microcosm of the rest of the country. THIS is the ONE AND ONLY reason we are in the FISCAL mess we are in. THIS is why we will NEVER get out of it as long as there are corrupt politicians in charge of our lives and money.  The question that the civilian population should be asking is NOT why Union members make what THEY make but why am I not making a comparable salary and benefit package? WHY, while RECORD PROFITS are going into the coffers of business in this country, am I NOT keeping up? Why are salaries and wages ALLOWED to be ARTIFICIALLY HELD DOWN? These SCUM BAGS have succeeded in pushing the blame over on someone else, namely the Union members. It’s WRONG, THEY are WRONG, and people like YOU are WRONG. On ALL counts.Divide and Conquer is alive and well, Sun Tsu would be PROUD.

***

From Tom B:

No, I would not accept the deal that Detroit unions accepted. Why? Because a promise is a promise. That is why.

I can hear the response: Yeah, but the is no money in the Detroit coffers.

Well, whose fault is that?

Answer: The City’s elected officials.

They knew exactly what they were doing. Do you think that this was not predicted by the accounting department? Really?

They knew and the kept spending and bribing the voters with benefits in direct violation of their fiduciary responsibilities.

They did it because they thought that no one could or would prosecute them for malfeasance or for civil damages. That is exactly what I would propose.

Sue those idiots and greedy bastards for what they personally own. Take everything they have in their names and put it into the kitty.All those nice cars and boats and houses and retirement accounts…into the kitty.

Then I would require the City of Detroit to give its employees its public lands and assets to the amount that is owed.

Like what assets? How about its buildings and parks and roads and water resources?

What?! Oh, they can’t do that! Sure they can. If you or I tried to skip out on our debts we would be looking at exactly that kind of thing.

You see, elected officials have always thought that they could get away with their stupid decisions and outright corrupt moves because by the time anyone found out or tried to get their money or land or whatever from the government, well, they would be out of office and gone with their loot.

It would be someone else’s problem to figure out then. In other words, NO ACCOUNTABILITY.

What is needed is an example to all elected officials. What you promise is binding on you personally and also on your government. If you promise, you better have the means available immediately to pay.

Detroit city fathers promised way more than they knew they could ever pay. They will say that the unions forced them to concede because the city would be shut down if they didn’t. Except that is not entirely true.

Is it? They were not extorted to concede. They gave in to the unions because they knew that no one would hold them responsible. They knew they could get away with giving away the farm…until some time in the distant future….when they would not longer be in the system.

And even if they were still in the system, well, they had no choice. After all, the unions would have shut down the city if they didn’t concede. Well, the city is shut down now anyway.

Unions are not stupid, as some would have us believe. They realize that cities have budgets and limited funds to expend. They know that they can not ask for more than is available…like right now, for instance.

Even when Detroit still had some money or bond powers, everyone knew there was a limit to the money. Yeah, even the unions. But especially the city fathers. They knew.

So, would I accept the B.S. that is now being pushed by the city? Nope. I would demand exactly what was promised or something of like value.

And if the city of Detroit goes down because of it, then they go down. Promises are not something that should be given without considering the consequences.

The consequences are that the City of Detroit will not survive. The people who caused that demise should suffer for their dereliction and malfeasance. They made promises that they shall keep.

If the union members end up owning the City of Detroit as a result of bad government promises, then so be it. But that just can’t happen you may say. Sure it can.

It can and has happened before in private business. The employees end up owning the company. Sometimes that is a bad thing and sometimes it is a good thing.

But the point is that if you make promises that you can not keep, then you must forfeit your right to make future promises and you must offer up all your collateral assets to make good on what you owe. Otherwise, those promises mean absolutely nothing.

Which is what the City of Detroit is trying to pull off right now. Or have they pulled it off? Whatever.

I can tell you this: If they pull it off and wiggle out of their promises and walk away free, then every other public union in the country should take notice and demand that there be solid collateral behind any promise given by every city, county, region etc.

There should be proof of ability to pay given for every promise. No more empty promises.

The unions are accepting the reality that Detroit is broke. They are trying to get something, anything for their members. They are desperate. They are desperate because they believed what they were told and promised by the city. They thought they were dealing with honorable men. Wrong.

When dealing with questionable men you always demand proof of means before signing the contract. The City of Detroit is guilt of deliberate fraud. Why? Because they knew they could not and would not be able to pay what they promised. They hoped that their little Ponzi scheme would last forever.

Well. It crashed. Time to take their lumps.

***

From Kevin D:

Bankruptcy, government style, starts with the political dynamics of many politicians agreeing to contracts which are for groups of people that vote them into office.  This inherent conflict of interest can only end up badly and it has in Detroit and will in many more communities and states (read Illinois especially).

I was a member of American Airlines pilot union for 32 years (until retiring in August of 2010) and have the good fortune to have an MBA from Wharton and a CFP.  I told the union leadership over the last couple of decades to drop the Defined Benefit Plan.  The bankruptcies of many of the other major carriers and the devastating outcomes to all those pilots shows the exposure of individuals to the corporate bankruptcy with regard to Defined Benefit Plans.  Government employees shouldn’t expect anything different than what is meted out in private corporate bankruptcies.

Since politicians can’t be trusted to look after their financial house, they shouldn’t be able to make promises they may not be able to keep.  401K plans and any other forms of Defined Contribution plans make the individual the owner of those resources.  They, therefore, can’t be taken away by the corporation’s or municipality’s bankruptcy.  The downside of ownership of the Defined Contribution Account is the individual’s risk exposure to investment  results.  But at least the money is theirs and in their named account.

The different levels of Government and their agencies can’t afford the investment risk of Defined Benefit Plans.  They have a difficult enough time just meeting their annual contribution requirements.

Additionally, private company unions at least have the check and balance of other  competitors within their industry  forcing them to be more reasonable in their demands.  Unfortunately, public sector bargaining is of the nature of monopoly bargaining.  So there is no competitive checks and balances on what demands public unions make and build over time – even to the current point of unsustainable liabilities.  It is also tragic that the public union members will receive a fraction of their “promised” benefit, but this train has been seen coming down the tracks for quite some time by many, knowing that this train wreck was unavoidable.

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Apparently they hate their jobs more than U.S. bankers

by Dawn Pennington on June 18, 2014

The string of U.S. banker suicides seems to be broken for now. *knock on wood*

Yet, the Middle Eastern bankers aren’t quite feeling the love for their field, as 53% are actively seeking a new line of work.

Imagine, a career change instead of leaping off of tall buildings all superhero-like but without the capes and the superpowers to stop themselves in midair.

Of course, they cite “lack of career progression” instead of, oh, whatever nefarious acts that they were directly/indirectly involved in/directly responsible for. So, there’s that.

I would never call the financial field boring. “Non-stop” is a better word for my experience. In any event, I wish all these job-seekers luck … and might even remind them that I have an open editorial position here at Uncommon Wisdom Daily if they’re looking for a new adventure …

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Keep Calm and Don’t Let Trading Make You Fat

by Dawn Pennington on June 16, 2014

Trading when you’re stressed out is only good for making your investment account leaner, NOT your body.

As the WSJ reports in “Are You Ready for the Next Market Crash?,” individuals who are under duress while losing money experience an elevated level of cortisol … and this corrodes their decision-making ability.

From the article:

In these experiments, people are put under stress by immersing their dominant hand in ice water (at about 39 degrees Fahrenheit) or wearing an arm wrap cooled to the same temperature. Shortly thereafter, most people show an impaired short-term memory and an elevated level of the stress hormone cortisol. Stress in the world outside the laboratory, often brought on by social interactions, is almost certainly more intense than this simple simulation in the lab, says Prof. Delgado.

People are then asked to choose between simple gambles with varying odds and different amounts of money at stake. Under stress, participants gravitated toward bets giving them a higher probability of making a smaller amount of money. When gambles paid off, brain scans show, the natural response in the reward areas of the brain was blunted by stress.

“Exposure to stress makes people more loss-averse and diminishes their overall sensitivity to reward,” says Prof. Delgado. “And if a reward is of low magnitude, [people under stress] often don’t care about it very much.”

Remember, high levels of cortisol can promote weight gain. So, take a cue from the British and “Keep Calm” if you (or the markets) are not on a winning streak. I’d rather see you cash out than crash out!

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As if we weren’t addicted enough

by Dawn Pennington on June 12, 2014

Starbucks ($SBUX), in its eternal quest to distract us from the fact that Dunkin Donuts ($DD) really does have better coffee, is encouraging us caffeine fiends to dust off our SBUX Gold Cards (you know you have one, too) and come in not only for the free Wi-Fi, but also for the free phone charging too.

Now all I need is for iPhone 6 (coming this fall!) to arrive with a battery that lasts longer than a nap, and maybe I can go back to drinking coffee that I actually enjoy.

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‘Well, what’s the deal with QE3 anyway?’

by Dawn Pennington on May 20, 2014

The Washington elite are baseball fans, too.

“When you play in Los Angeles, you meet movie stars,” Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth says. “When you’re playing in Washington, you meet people that run the world. That’s pretty cool. But you have to win. These people weren’t around last year when we weren’t winning.”

Werth tried to ask Bernanke questions about QE3, the latest round of economic stimulus, but Bernanke preferred balls and strikes, Werth says: “He wasn’t talking about that economic stuff. So we talked about baseball, and it was a hoot.”

Why Jayson Werth Always Tips His Hat to Ben Bernanke

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Reader Feedback: Selling Them The Rope

by Patrick Watson on May 16, 2014

051514-pm-img-01These are reader replies to Brad Hoppmann’s May 15 afternoon edition, Selling Them the Rope.

Historically, the DoD has endeavored to ensure that there is plenty of competition when it comes to military contracts.   They have been careful not to favor one contractor to heavily over others.  But when the two major contractors form a consortium like ULA, both contractors (Lockheed Martin and Boeing) benefit.  They both get a piece of the pie.  They don’t have to spend as much money trying to outperform or cut prices to the bone to win contracts.  Their cooperation benefits the consortium partners; but not necessarily the Air Force.

So, it is in the Air Force’s own best interest to certify Space-X, not only because it increases competition, but because the smaller, less bureaucratic concern is generally more efficient and effective – translating into greater performance at a lower price.  And I’m sure the Air Force is under some pressure to limit costs.

However, there are forces working against Space-X certification .  The consortium members are no doubt lobbying against Space-X.  (We do it better, you don’t need Space-X, it will only cost you more in the long run and any number of other arguments).  Then too, many Air Force personnel have worked closely with Boeing and Lockheed Martin personnel over the years.  They may feel more comfortable with the manufacturer they know than the manufacturer they don’t.  Not a few are probably hoping to go to work for these contractors when they retire from the Air Force.  Fewer have relationships with Space-X for the obvious reasons (newer, smaller, less existing Air Force business).

So, both the Air Force and Mr. Musk may be correct.  The Air Force in aggregate may be very much committed to certifying Space-X.  But there may be individuals within the Air Force who are knowingly or unknowingly making it as hard as possible for Space-X.  Particularly if the personnel responsible for certifying Space-X have worked closely with ULA personnel in the past.  And it is no doubt the actions of specific individuals or seemingly senseless Air Force requirements that frustrate Mr. Musk.  He may feel that complaining in a public forum is the only way to get Air Force attention at higher levels focused on his problems.

However, the system usually works if Congress keeps out of it.  So if Space-X is capable, they will ultimately be certified.

***

Before your overwhelmingly Republican stalwart readers leap to the barricades to engage in the usual ritual denunciations of France, kindly remind them that our gallant ally, England, was trading with North Vietnam whilst (as the Brits would put it) we were engaged in the Viet Nam war (their ships were in Haiphong harbor, which is one reason we couldn’t mine the port); while our equally beloved “ally,” Israel, was preparing to sell our AWACS technology to the PRC until we stopped them at the last minute (they had put it on their PHALCON aircraft, and were going to sell it to China as a package);  also, Japan, during the Cold War, sold our closely-held nuclear submarine propeller-silencing technology to the Soviet Union (Toshiba, I believe, was the one).

So, don’t get your collective underwear in a twist; none of this is new, but actually goes back decades.

***

Lenin was just loudmouthed. He told such to impress his stupid followers. He himself must have known that selling the rope mustn’t neccessarily express any compliance with getting hanged by it from the buyer’s hand.

Big mouths are never real warriors. They are mean. Best to keep calm and cool, ready to react in the right way at the right time.

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We’re past the height of earnings season, and let me tell you, I hope the door hits it on the way out.

Earnings reports have changed since before the Great Recession. It used to be a lot of chest-thumping about how their brilliant strategies and amazing products and produced a near-ability to print money on command.

Then people stopped buying, stopped believing and, worst of all, stopped caring.

So everyone learned the trick of guiding lower — almost too low.  We saw confidence artificially stirred by companies  “beating” rock-bottom estimates. Cue a renewed round of (albeit weaker) chest-thumping.

This season, Wall Street seems satisfied by earnings only because it was holding its collective breath that we were finally going to pay for years of “inflation” — or maybe a better phrase is “under-promising and over- (as it were) delivering.”

I’ll tell you a phrase I never want to hear again …

“Despite the weather …”

So despite the weather, you managed to stay in business. Despite the cold and snow and frozen tundra your employees had to walk two miles uphill across, somehow you eked out a gain for your shareholders. How quaint.

When I’m reading through post-earnings press releases, the companies that catch my attention are the ones who said, “Here are the challenges we faced, and here is how we faced them.” Extra points for those who aren’t blaming it on the rain at all … or snow … or heat … or drought … or hurricane season that, you know, arrives every year right on schedule.

I say this because there are plenty of things I don’t achieve each quarter. And plenty of reasons for them. But the day I stop showing up and over-delivering on everything else is the day I will pack my things without being asked.

Now the new “weather” excuse is “blaming it on Obama.”  Rather, Obamacare, according to this USA Today piece  …

Companies: Obamacare is Hurting Our Profit!

Let me add, I’ve been voting in favor of Obamacare BUT it doesn’t help my family, here in the end. In fact, I get to pay a penalty for my mom not being insured even though I can’t afford to insure her with their ridiculous premiums.  So, hey, I get it.

But I don’t want to hear about it.

What I hear is, “Our employees don’t mean anything to us” and “By proxy, neither do our shareholders.”

Because, let’s face it, the value of most companies is its people … their ideas … their work-around-the-clock mentalities … their “surprise and delight the customer” attitudes … their heart and soul and teamwork and ability to do it every day on their colleagues’/customers’/stakeholders’ behalf.

So, maybe the weather and Obama have totally messed with your plans. Tell me what you’re doing to overcome it in a meaningful way that doesn’t pack the unemployment offices.

And I’ll be HAPPY to invest my money in you to ensure that you live to fight another day.

 

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Are we ‘witnessing a slow-motion LBO of America’?

by Dawn Pennington on April 24, 2014

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers suggests we’re witnessing a slow-motion leveraged buyout of America.

He makes a good case.

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