Friday, May 31, 2024

It's Not Just Them Anymore

How bad is the American economy?

Well, you and I know that you can't trust the government statistics. But anecdotal evidence, like grocery bills, mortgage rates and gas prices tell the story, if more quietly. And here's another little indicator:

One of the first things you see when times get really bad for white collar types is the rise of networking groups. All of a sudden, people who use to guard their businesses the way Russia guards its nuclear codes decide to not be selfish. They open up over early morning bagels and coffee, sharing information, leads and strategies to a big, friendly -- and increasingly poor -- group.

I'll be candid here: I've never been to a networking group where people are handing out real business leads like free samples at Costco. No, if you attend a networking meeting, you're basically paying to meet other people whose businesses have dried up even faster than your own. You just watch your e-mail in box. See how long it takes for the invitations to come flying in.

There are other indicators, too, if you know where to look. My buddy Mark always knows when the economy is going to sink because he's in the warehouse/racking business. Prices go up when times are good and companies need to store their inventory. But when things go south, companies decide not to produce any inventory because they can't sell that inventory and they certainly don't need to carry the costs of storing that inventory. It's been months now, and the warehouses are emptying out faster than coffee urns at Starbucks. Everything is gone, including the racking on which inventory was stored, leaving huge, hulking vacuums in warehouses that would best be converted to indoor tennis courts.

When I was a young buck, I worked in an ad agency in Century City. The office was in one of those big towers, with floor-to-ceiling windows that sported views of the entire city. At the time, the economy was seriously in the tank. I'll never forget the day when Darrell, the agency owner, himself a westside millionaire, wandered into my office while staring aimlessly out the window at the vast urban expanse below and sighing, "It's not affecting just them anymore."

Eventually, things changed and things improved -- but not without a lot of pain.

This time, the pain is not only real, it's pervasive. And everyone from Main Street to Wall Street is ready for a very big, very historic shock to the economy, if not the American way of life.

It's headed straight for you, too. You know why? Because it's not just them anymore.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Sponsoring and Solving the Immigration Problem

I don't care what your politics is. If you're an American citizen, you simply cannot deny that the United States has a serious immigration problem. Understand that I don't mean the United States has a problem with immigrants.  It has a problem with how it manages its immigration. I doubt that anyone would dispute that the situation is out of control, with too many immigrants -- both good and bad -- flooding into the country without any means of documentation.

Of course there are all kinds of political fingers pointing at policies and personalities, but that's not going to solve very much.  Neither is arresting an "illegal" and slapping him with a Notice to Appear in some courtroom literally seven years from the date of arrest. Care to take bets on how many will ever show up?

The truth is that the entire system works backwards: At the moment, if you don't go through the system, you can stay and work in the United States for years -- even decades.  I know, because I live in Los Angeles and every second person I meet here is from somewhere else. On the other hand, if you do go through the system, you're most likely to accomplish only one thing, that being the hastening of your deportation back to your country of origin. 

This just happened to a young Salvadoran woman, who under questionable guidance, hired an attorney to grant her asylum her in the United States.  The only problem was that in order to qualify for asylum, one has to prove racial, political or sexual persecution -- or a variation thereof. And since she only claimed she lived in fear for her life due to criminals, the court denied her application.  They're going to boot her out quickly, despite her years of honest, faithful employment and good standing here in America.

I don't know whether it's unfair or just stupid, but the law is the law, I suppose.  And yet, there's such a simple remedy for good, decent legal immigrants that's already been proven successful:

It's called an Affidavit of Support and it works like this:  The immigrant contacts an American relative who agrees to sponsor the immigrant.  Essentially, the sponsor guarantees that the immigrant will not be a burden to the American taxpayer and will work faithfully on a path to citizenship through a minimum of 40 consecutive quarters (10 years) of gainful employment. The sponsorship is a binding contract between the sponsor and the American government, so this is no plaything.  It's ten years of legally-enforceable dedication.

Sounds, reasonable, right?  A good person is worth your backing, is he not?  And this would aid the immigration services in weeding out "the bad guys," would it not?  Sure it would.  Except for one little hitch:

Re-read that paragraph about the program.  Note that the sponsor must be a relative of the immigrant. He doesn't have to be a blood relative, but he has to be a family relative. I guess that leaves orphans out, along with millions of well-meaning immigrants who simply have no relatives here in the states.

So how do you solve the immigration problem?  Simple:  You drop the requirement of the sponsor to be a relative.  After all, a binding contract with the United States government is just as binding.  And when it comes to supervision and enforcement, who better to keep an immigrant on the straight and narrow than someone who's on the hook to Uncle Sam?

After the Second World War, my father immigrated to the United States through the sponsorship program.  Years later (see photo), he returned the favor for a distant Israeli cousin on my mother's side.  In both cases, the immigrants succeeded and the country was better off with a system that was both time and cost efficient.

Makes you wonder why nobody is suggesting that one word edit, eh?  Well, maybe they're a lot less interested in solving the immigration problem than leveraging it for political gain.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

The Death of Apple

I'm a long haul Apple user. Not just iPhone. I'm talking about desktops and laptops. I've been a Mac guy for decades and for the most part, I've been very pleased. Overall, however, I grieve for a once great company.

One of the reasons I've always liked the Mac is that I seldom have had to rely on what Apple loosely terms "Customer Support." Originally, Apple Customer Service Representatives were highly motivated, knowledgeable, helpful and accessible. They could solve almost any problem by phone, cheerfully and authoritatively. For all I know, they may still be. But I don't know, because Apple does its best to shield customers from reaching them.

And that's where Apple's Great Decline begins, because customer service is where the first tiny corporate cracks appear.

In its revolutionary retail stores, Apple staffed it Genius Bars with kids who were anything but. Due to slave labor in China, most "repairs" became cheap enough to be "solved" by simple replacement. Nobody knew -- or had to know -- what went wrong with your machine, because Apple would have had to train people to know stuff like that. It was much more expedient and fiscally sensible to just grab a new widget off the shelf and be done with it. Any dummy can do that. And they did. Until Apple phased them out. Poof.

For a while, Apple system upgrades were generally worthwhile, too, with each new version offering simpler, improved systems that performed more tasks. For years, Apple and Mac really were brands that made creativity more achievable through technology.

Then Steve Jobs died and it all started sinking fast.

The first noticeable sign was Apple's name change from "Apple Computer" to "Apple, Inc.", signaling its expansion into ancillary endeavors like phones, movie studios and automobiles. As such, the Mac OS sacrificed making things for buying things. It didn't take too long for desktops and laptops to decay into larger, heavier versions of iPhones, whose systems predictably merged into platforms with the same looks and feel, dumbed down for people to whom "thinking different" is difficult, because simply thinking is out of their realm. They just want to buy things with a point and click.

These days, if you want to solve a problem, it's actually more difficult because Apple has buried everything under the hood, preventing users access to solving their issues on their own machines. Apple does its best to prevent you from calling them on the phone, suggesting instead that you "interact with others in "our Apple Support Communities" online. It's a great place, populated with more people with even more problems and almost no solutions. To make matters worse, if you utter anything that the lords of Apple find unfavorable, your comment is removed for "inappropriate content." Phrases as mild as "but nobody at Apple will respond" just burn up in the ethosphere, never to be seen again.

Currently, Apple is anything but its founder's vision of making life simpler, elegant and more powerful. It wasn't tough to see it coming. That's why I keep a machine with ancient system software on it: If I'd upgraded when dictated to do so, I would have lost access to thousands of dollars worth of software with which it was incompatible. Apple's whim would have forced me to buy new hardware and software. Completely unacceptable corporate hubris.

All of which is to say, unpopular as it may seem, that Apple's days are numbered. It's actually following the "three generations of wealth" axiom: The first generation creates it; the second generation spends it; the third generation loses it." If you disagree, just look at the history of General Motors, IBM, RCA and dozens of twentieth century brands that are either defunct or have disappeared. They were once the biggest companies in the world. Huge, hardy and undefeatable. Nobody ever expected their demise, either. That's because while fortunes are always won and lost, human nature remains constant.

In the end, incompetence and greed always destroy great societies and powerful brands from within. Apple has built its mammoth, circular offices in Silicon Valley as a monument to itself, never realizing that Egyptian pharaohs built their own mausoleums, too.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Ego Defeats Communism

 As the globalist hysteria wanes around the world -- and don't kid yourself, at the time of this writing it really is waning -- one can't help wondering as to why the socialist, communist and globalist agenda are falling flat on their faces.  Though history teaches us that the world is an ever-changing vortex, not everything shifts in the wind. Some things never change.

And because they don't, changes are definitely on the way.

Forget about which political party you hate. Ignore any candidate you favor. Because at the end of the day, neither is really important.  I'll tell you what's really important: Getting a glimpse of what a non-capitalistic society really looks like.

Sure, we've all heard stories about the travails and travesties of Soviet communism.  Long lines at grocery stores. Miles of empty shelves. Years of waiting for mediocre goods and services. And the Chinese version isn't much better. The Chinese aren't exactly swimming in luxurious lifestyles, except if you complain about it, you disappear forever.  And let's not write off North Korea.  When it comes to starvation, you just can't beat 'em.

But that's not what's keeping western socieites from embracing communism.  You know what it is keeping them from embracing it? Good old-fashioned, reliable, ego. Think I'm wrong? Take a look at this lovely little illustration.

See that really dark blue? Those are exclusively western civilizations.  Every one of them is capitalist. See all those other countries?  They're not. Now total up the populations of those blue countries and you know what you get? That's right: a small minority of the world's population holding a disproportionate amount of wealth.  And I'm not talking about a little more than average.  I'm talking about a lot more than average.

At the moment, there are eight billion dopey humans inhabiting this planet and less than 12% of them are dark blue.  The other 88% are swimming in their own filth, trudging to and from their huts to scratch out their daily bread in some miserable landscape.

Yeah, that's where the globalists live.  That's how the globalists live.  Which means that if the World Economic Forum ever does achieve global domination, all those dark blue, Tesla-loving, vegan-bragging armchair socialists are going to take a huge hit in their standard of living. When they realize that a global redistribution of wealth would cut their $100,000 annual income down to an internationally equitable $4,000, their opinions start to change -- rapidly.

Not sure I'm right?  Then explain to me why those same armchair socialists have begun reversing their "sanctuary city" status while complaining about all those illegal immigrating "refugees" littering their streets and filling up their hotels. Apparently, those dark blue backyards aren't quite as far off from globalist destruction as those armchair socialists thought.  

Oh, there are lots of other reasons why socialism and communism will never win.  Some are human and some are just common sense. But all of them have one thing in common:  

History may be fluid, but human behavior never changes. 

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Spinning Taiwan

At the time of this writing, the world is in a mess.  More of a mess, I'd say, than at any time since the Korean War, for sure.  It isn't that there are lots of countries engaged in kinetic conflict.  But it's definitely at a point where a lot of places are in a lot of flux.  A whole range of pots of simmering on the stove, all seemingly about to boil over.

If you've been keeping up, you can list conflicts -- political, environmental and economic -- on just about every continent, with the possible exception of Antarctica, where penguins still worry about little more than the occasional orca.  Most of the world's conflicts are pretty generic, driven by stated and actual agenda, along with secret deals and ulterior motives.  

One thing you can count on, however, is that they all come wrapped in the patriotism of each country's national flag. Every faction is sure that God is on its side, justifying whatever it is they plan on doing to the other, so most of these conflicts run by the same playbook.

Well, almost all of them.  To me, the big exception is China and its plans for acquiring Taiwan. I suspect that one is not going to end the way most people think:

The first thing you have to realize is that the clock is running, at least until 2024. That's not a political statement; that's just the way things are. I don't know anyone who thinks the world has been normal since 2020, either here in the United States or anywhere else on the planet.  We've all been through a lot in a relatively short period of time. But realistically, an election in the USA could signal a return to traditional politics just as quickly, which means every country, from Russia to China to France to the United Kingdom has only a limited time to get their agenda completed -- or not.

China is not immune from this. It knows it has to move on the capture of Taiwan before the end of 2024, because that's the last time it can do so without firing a shot.  Here's how:

First, realize that at least four generations have long since forgotten why Taiwan even exists.  They have no recollection of Chiang Kai Shek, Chinese history and the fact that Taiwan is actually a free country that rejected communism outright.  So for most of the world, there is no moral imperative to save Taiwan or its free society. 

Second, those who do know their history can point to the repatriation of Hong Kong, which also occurred without warfare:  The British colony simply handed over the keys to the Chinese and that was that. So what's the big deal about Taiwan?

Third, and likely the most important, Taiwan, like Hong Kong, is really nothing more than a muscular ATM, dispensing cash to whomever owns it.  With the Chinese economy tanking, it needs as much revenue as it can muster, which means it has no intention of destroying Taiwan, but preserving its revenue-generating capacity. It's a gold mine and China wants that gold.

Fourth, the rest of the world that depends on Taiwan's manufacturing doesn't want any interruption of its supply chain.  So they really don't care who owns Taiwan, as long as the chips and semi-conductors keep flowing.  To them, a non-violent takeover is a win/win situation.

And the United States is going to let it happen with barely a yawn.

Of course, there's going to be a heavy spin effort blasted at the American public and the world at large in order to justify the conquest.  My bet is that instead of this being reported as a "hostile takeover," the Biden administration will sell this as "a long overdue reunification of the sovereign Chinese people."  In fact, I'd bet that someone, somewhere will nominate Secretary of State Anthony Blinken for a Nobel Peace Prize citing his part in "the glorious reunification considered unimaginable just a few short years ago."

Then everyone will get back to business.

Think people won't buy it?  Depends who you ask and how many of them are getting their fourth booster shot.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Where's the Beef?

One of the great advantages of being older is that you can draw on years of war stories: lessons you learned from personal experience rather than history books.  Don't get me wrong, history books are where I live most of the time, because I'm a confirmed believer in learning from other people's mistakes. But sometimes, there are mistakes made that simply don't appear in the history books. Sometimes, they occur for the first time ever, and if you're observant enough, you just might catch them as they happen. In fact, we're seeing one right now, in the case of imitation foods and they're inability to profitably sustain an ever-growing, ever-skeptical consumer population. 

Imitation food isn't itself that new.  Neither is the public's suspicion and rejection of it.  We've had everything from the "healthier alternatives" to disgusting facsimiles for almost a century (In fact, long ago, I wrote and recorded a song about it.  But that's another story).

More to the point, media such as Bloomberg, The Washington  Post, Forbes, The New York Times, The Guardian and all the other usual suspects are, as of this writing, reporting another aspect of the imitation food sector that has rarely been reported:

They're complete failures as investments.

As it turns out, legions of financial overlords (including Bill Gates, proponent of reckless vaccines and the doom of humanity in general) are hemorrhaging cash in an industry that's bleeding red ink.  The public, it seems, has no appetite for beef flavored sawdust.

But that's not the real story here. Here's what we're seeing that we've rarely, if ever, seen before:

A lot of companies bet big money on the gloom and doom that they thought would propel the imitation food business. In fact, if you look really, really closely at the entire sector, you'll see that the entire industry is based on whim, speculation and, well, fashion. I've been in conference rooms where new business are launched.  I've watched projections, assumptions and recasts of spreadsheets, and this I guarantee you:

Not one of these companies has ever had a business plan or a financially sound strategy.

On the contrary, all of these companies thought they could ride a wave of social justice propaganda that they themselves would supply, in effect creating a category which they would instantly dominate. These are not your fathers' or grandfathers' businessmen building real products people can use.  These are not your former giants of industry creating useful machines of iron and steel.  These are over-funded, lazy and ignorant adolescent  fashionistas raised on a few decades of overnight fortunes amassed from software, apps and tech.  

More typically, these types of enterprises are created with little or no discipline and absolutely no regard for the end user.  Whether it's technology or meatless patties, the usual attitude is "they'll eat what we feed them." The next step is to create a mirage of success by paying for wide distribution, creating the illusion of public acceptance. The third step is to set up straw man competitors to further the myth of consumer demand.  The fourth step, of course, is to manage consolidation of companies through cash buyouts and dump the stock for a hefty profit.

Does that sound smart to you?  Or really stupid? Well, in this case, it's beginning to look really stupid, Because like so many other undisciplined, failing non-businesses (Peleton comes to mind), these profit-at-any-cost hedge-funds are dying on this hill They're finding out the hard way that whether it's fake eggs, lab grown chicken or estrogen-loaded soy milk, you can't fool all of the people all of the time. 

Which has left Bill Gates and his hedge fund cronies with a very bad taste in their mouths.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Newsom versus Trump, 2024

If you're wondering what the Democrats have up their sleeves for 2024, I'm going to speculate that their nominee is Gavin Newsom from California. Here's why:

1. Newsom is Nancy Pelosi's nephew. Her inter-married families have ruled California for the last 60+ years (Google "Brown-Pelosi-Getty-Newsom California" to learn that history). Now they're going for the brass ring. Nancy will use everything she has to put Newsom in contention for the presidency of the United States.

2. At this writing, the only Democrat in the field other than Joe Biden is Robert Kennedy Jr., who is, by all accounts, a flash in the pan. He entered the race way too early, and my guess is that by the later part of 2023, his one-note sonata will have run out of gas. Yes, the vaccines were bad. Yes, their purveyors are criminals. No, neither he nor anyone else is going to do anything about it. Other than that, RFK has no domestic or international agenda.

3. Joe Biden, by all acounts, is senile. Even the Democrats want him out, but shudder to imagine Kamala Harris in the White House, so they're content to hold that off.

4. Between Senile Joe and RFK, Newsom can and will be positioned as the "reasonable alternative" as the public will forget all the damage he's done to his home state. All of that won't matter, because the Dems will be left with no choice other than Newsom -- Pelosi will see to that. And just in case you were wondering if Newsom can attract less radcial Democrats, I humbly submit that Newsom is a white male, which never hurts.

This may explain why we're currently seeing Newsom taking shots at Ron DeSantis, not Trump. By doing so, Newsom is attempting to elevate himself to presidential levels. If this plays out as I think it will, we'll see Trump run against Newsom, with Newsom leveraging the Never-Trump faction against Trump's twin agenda of domestic/foreign accomplishments and Newsom's mismanagement of California.

There are some who believe the Trump has run out of steam. There are those who believe Newsom could really win. I imagine those are the same people who buy Bud Light at Target.