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Monday, September 05, 2022

You Can Stop Apologizing Now

At the time of this writing, it's Labor Day in the United States.  To the uneducated, the day marks the end of summer vacations and backyard barbecues; yet another day off as guaranteed by the Federal government. To the more respectful, the day celebrates the hard, often anguishing efforts of the men and women who, with their bare hands, keen minds and powerful machinery, built this country into the most powerful and prosperous nation this planet has ever known.

No doubt you've heard the litanies of praise lavished on labor. I won't bore you with sophomoric glorifications.  Just take a look at everything from Hoover Dam to the moon landing to highways, bridges and nuclear medicine therapies.  In fact, look anywhere and everywhere and you'll find that American labor has touched and improved every single aspect of your life.

But that's not what I'm focused on today.  Here's what fascinates me:

Take a nice, long look at that map of the world. That's a lot of people living on the entire land mass of the planet:  roughly 200 million square miles. Of that, western civilization -- the stuff and culture that's made your life so wonderful -- covers a minor fraction of that. And on that minor fraction, a minor fraction of the planet's population, specifically Western Europe and the continental United States (marked in red, above), are responsible for virtually all of the philosophical, practical and scientific advancements that have driven world prosperity up and world poverty levels down.

Now look at the other 90% of the planet.  The parts that aren't in red. Larger continents.  Greater populations. Varying climates.  Immense stores of natural resources. From the 100,000 foot level, you have to ask yourself why would the vast majority of human advances -- what we refer to as western civilization -- emerge from such a small fraction of the planet?

You can analyze this question from almost any angle, but chances are that fear is going to prevent you from accepting the only actual, rationally based answer:  Western culture is simply structured differently and not everyone gets it

Let me be blunt: The key to the success of western civilization has nothing to with race, although there are lots of ignorant people who would like to think so. No, the key to the success of western civilization is its core cultural values: productivity, efficiency, betterment and industry.  The culture, being as successful as it is, may have been founded in a region populated by white people, but those people never excluded anyone from participating in its success. In fact, their systems of capitalism actually welcomed them, because the watchwords for western civilization are "the more, the merrier."  Western civilization just gets better for everyone in direct proportion to the number of people who embrace it.  Capitalists call this "growth," and for the most part, growth delivers more benefits at lower prices, making it more accessible to those regions who couldn't come up with this stuff themselves.

And yet, there are morons who seem to think that prosperity is a function of racism.  Nope.

Holding hands, singing Cumbaya and handing out participation trophies may be popular in universities and children's soccer leagues, but it has no place in western societies. Don't believe me? Fine.  Do your own research.  See who's invented what and how they changed the entire world, not just their own.  

Are the majority of them white? Oh well, that just how it goes and has been going for centuries with virtually no barrier to entry for anyone choosing to get in the game. And if you doubt that, learn some history.  Find out about the non-white successes who embraced the system instead of sitting on the side of the road with their hands out.

Those are the facts. It's just not politically correct to say so.

So if you're a product of western civilization, for God's sake, stop apologizing for being a part of a system that's made the world a better place for everyone, for hundreds of years.  It's a proud, industrious and accomplished heritage; one whose detractors consist of little more than jealous, lazy whiners.

Happy Labor Day.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

The Pony in the Room

There's an old joke about a man who offers two kids a free pony, the only condition being that they have to get the pony out of a room where it's behind a closed door.  The kids open the door to find the room is filled with horse shit six feet high.  The first kid frowns and says, "I knew it was a trick," while the second kid plunges forth, burrowing through the manure. The first watches his friend and asks,, "Are you crazy? What are you doing?" to which the second kid answers, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"

Believe me, my crystal ball is probably no more accurate than yours, but back in November, 2020, I wrote a lot about how things in the United States were going to slide from good to bad to horrible in a short amount of time. A lot of people made that call, because judging from the people who took office, it wasn't a particularly tough call to make.  Citizens moaned and people cried.  But that's where most them stopped.

I didn't.

Being an eternal optimist, I immediately started looking for the pony. Yes, the economy was going to get wrecked, so to avoid getting dragged down into the abyss, the first thing I did was sell off non-performing assets, while keeping the dividend-paying equities. The second thing I did was to start hoarding cash. Not just to mitigate the effects of any upcoming crash (which actually occurred in June 2022), but also to prepare for the moment when anything and everything would be selling at fire sale prices.

It's called a "buying opportunity," and my wait wasn't very long.

If you've been living under a rock since 2008, you may not know that the American economy has been kept afloat by the Federal Reserve keeping money cheap and easy to get. They did that by keeping interest rates low. As a result, buying stuff became super affordable, so people kept buying stuff and the economy boomed. And then November, 2020, happened.  All of a sudden, every wrong decision that could deliberately be made about the American economy was indeed made, and the downward spiral began. The party was over. There wasn't enough product to buy, so prices on product that was out there -- fuel, housing, and food shortages -- starting going up.

Traditionally, the antidote to inflation is for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, which would have slowed the economy and lowered prices.  Unfortunately, the folks in charge didn't realize that tactic only works in a free economy, not in a system where arbitrary policies counter every market behavior known to man. Apparently, over 65% of the current administration has never run a business or held a job outside government, so there's no mystery there.

Which brings us to the moment I've been waiting for.

As interest rates rise, employment drops and money tightens, one of the biggest fire sales you've ever seen is going to open for business.  Just watch as people who thought they could afford that house or that car face up to the reality that there's no way they can afford either.  They'll be forced to sell, and not at any kind of profit, because there will be lots of houses and cars and big ticket items on the market, all being sold by owners who no longer have the means to pay for them -- because they're no longer employed. In fact, there will be tons of stuff marked way, way down, only to be scooped up by those who have the cash for a sweet, quick, below-market deal.

Remember all those people whining about housing not being affordable? All those complainers moaning about stock prices being too high? All those miscreants who figured they were one diversity program away from prosperity?  Well, you can tell them their time is coming, too.  Everything is about to go on sale. America is going on sale.  The inclusive buying opportunity is almost upon us, where everyone gets to scoop up the bargains.

Get ready.  It's time to pony up.

Friday, June 03, 2022

My Trip to the Voting Booth

At the time of this writing, it's election time in California. So on the advice from one of my friends, I decided to junk the mail-in ballot and vote in person at the local polling station. It was the first time in decades that I didn't vote by absentee ballot. 

After locating my local polling place, I walked into the cafeteria at Valley College to do my part for American democracy. I was greeted by at least 20 signs in 30 different languages, each one attempting to direct voters of every race, color and creed on how and what to do next.  It was early in the voting period, and while there must have been close to 50 voting machines, there were just a few people actually voting. 

I took a long look around. "Boy, a lot has changed since I last voted in a booth," I thought to myself. And from what I could tell, these were not changes for the better. 

Not that I'm by any means an expert, but I spent a lot of my career nurturing information technology clients in Silicon Valley, so I have just enough knowledge about this stuff to be dangerous. Nevertheless, I can tell you without reservation that everything I observed pretty much confirmed the viability of every theory of voting fraud I've ever heard. 

Stick with me, because this is not what you think.

To begin with, it's clear the voting machines were designed to foster the notion that we're still using "printed ballots." We're not. Oh, you're handed a paper ballot, but that hardly matters, because all your voting is done by touch screen.  By touching the screen, you're sending a digital signal that can be stored, transmitted, read, altered or eliminated by anyone, anywhere along the way from vote cast to vote count. The "printed ballot" is nothing but a prop. The real data is encoded when you select your choices and hit the "Submit your ballot" button on the screen. 

The digital stuff not only manages and records your votes' values, but also draws your votes really beautifully on the paper. The fact that it looks as good as it does confirms that your choices were digitally translated and designed according to the voting machine's layout program.  So no matter what the polling people tell you, your votes were digitally encoded the second you cast them.

After you vote, the machine lets you inspect the printed piece of paper to confirm your choices, but then it insists that you feed it back into the machine, ostensibly so it can be tallied. I say ostensibly, because the digital information has already been trapped by the machine and could be anywhere on the internet.  Which led me to the following question:

Why even bother with a printed ballot, unless you want people to believe they're really voting with a paper ballot?  

There's no way anyone other than a highly-trained techno-professional could tell what's being transmitted where, but I can tell you this much: Throughout the entire experience, people's phones were going off all over the place, which means the facility was not RF protected, and that any digital device from cell phones to bluetooth modems could have been sending anything, anywhere, at any given time. 

Not exactly high security. Especially when you consider that most courthouses block RF frequencies in order to keep their proceedings secure. That's why you can't use your phone in a lot of trials. Heck, even music concerts have wireless blocking technology to keep audiences from streaming the shows to their friends in real time on Facebook or Instagram. 

But your local polling place has nothing. It's wide open for anyone to intercept anything

Overall, my visit didn't do much to instill much trust in the system. In fact, it only increased my concerns about the integrity of our election systems.  I don't know if the game is rigged, but I do know that Josef Stalin was on to something when he mused how getting votes isn't nearly as important as counting them. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Myth of Growth Stocks

Let me start this off by saying that I am not a financial advisor.  I hold no certificates. No degrees in finance. No authorizations from the SEC or anyone else. I'm just a man who looks at stuff and wonders why nobody else questions anything, including investments.  And here's what I've found:

Everyone is getting head faked.

At the time of this writing, it seems that everything in the world is going to hell in a hand basket. If you listen to the media, you're getting some pretty heavy blood-letting in your portfolio. So the first thing you have to do is what every healthy, red-blooded American should be doing every day: ignore the media. Financial reporters have no idea of how, why or where to invest.  They simply repeat what the last guy reported on another channel, then go home to the wife and kids.

The second thing you need to do is look at the calendar:  If you're over 50, you have no business being in any kind of growth stocks.  Sound unreasonable? Not really. Because growth stocks are a huge head fake.  They're nothing but air until you sell them.  Most people strut around with their financial statements, bragging about how they bought low and now -- would you just look at how high this thing went?  What they don't realize is that there's nothing there.  That's why the IRS classifies that as unrealized gains. Until you sell them, those gains are nothing.

Talk to people whose growth stocks crashed in 2008, 2020 and again in 2022. Sure they bought low.  Then they watched them go high.  A few years later, they all cratered and all that was left was a few years of nothing. At the time of this writing, Amazon, Tesla, Twitter, Target, WalMart and a slew of other media sweethearts have lost about 30% of their value, dragging down all those "well-managed mutual funds" with them.

If you're going to invest in equities, understand the basics:  When the American stock market was invented in the late 18th century, it had one purpose:  profit sharing.  That's it. A company needed capital, you gave them some and they paid you dividends. Simple.  The only reason why share prices rose was that shares in any company were limited in number -- just like today. If you coveted shares in a company but couldn't find them, you'd have to offer a shareholder a premium over what he paid and voilå: you owned those shares. Hence the notion of "growth stocks." But equity shares were never meant to be traded as a means of investment, because trading shares isn't investment -- it's speculation with odds even less reliable than those in Las Vegas.  You're essentially praying for a growth stock's share value to go up.  In the meantime, the growth stock pays you nothing while you're a-wishing and a-hoping.

The beauty of dividends is that they're real value, not promises; they're cold, hard cash. Once you receive your dividends, nobody can take them from you.  They can't go down in value. They're the only tangible, solid profit you can honestly say you own.  Which is why if you're over fifty years of age, those are the only kinds of issues you want. Leave all the fly-by-night, media-hyped growth stocks to people either too young or too stupid to understand they're investing in air with no safety net or tangible benefit.

Too harsh? Consider this: ever since Jimmy Carter's disastrous Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, financial institutions claimed to be "spreading the risk" by packaging super risky mortgage loans with legitimately A+ mortgages ("Collateralized Mortgage Obligations" or "CMO").  Then the highest caliber rating services assured investors that the CMOs were A+.  Except that in 2007, so many of those notes failed that they ignited a financial holocaust that destroyed Bear Sterns and a number of so-called "professional" financial houses.

So much for the experts.

Everything else you've ever heard or seen in the investment world is total banana oil, designed to make the system look more complicated so that you don't bother your broker with pesky questions.  Besides, they have no idea what they're doing, since most stockbrokers are actually salesmen whose only task is to bring in money which they hand off to "money managers" who know even less. Derivatives, futures, options, shorts, covered calls: you name it, it's all speculation, inventions with no real purpose other than attracting unsuspecting investors' money.

The truth is that none of those brokers will tell you how to generate real income because most are too lazy to figure it out.  But you're not, especially with today's online brokerage search tools (i.e., Ameritrade and other online platforms), that allow you to make really smart decisions and really decent returns.  If you can use a search engine to find porn, you can use an online brokerage's search engine to find great equities -- and you don't have to erase your browser's history!

Personally, I have a few guidelines that have treated me well: I stay away from growth stocks, funds, glamor stocks, international issues, tech, pharma, transportation and most but not all financials. I don't do bonds. I don't do metals. I avoid brokers, media and rating services.  I stick with American dividend-paying stocks that stay off the radar, where life is good and earnings can exceed 12% a year.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

John F. Kennedy Invades Ukraine

Those of you who know me also know I spent the better part of my career manipulating hearts of minds for the highest bidder.  I make no apologies for that. I set my own ethical boundaries under the rationale that nobody really gets hurt by switching toothpaste or driving a different kind of car.  Of course, after that many decades, it's become easy for me to spot when a messaging game is rigged.  The truth is that there never has been and never will be an occasion where (to paraphrase Lincoln) "all of the people were fooled all of the time."  So whenever I see a tidal wave of "unanimous popular opinion," I can smell something a lot different.

And there's definitely something in the air floating around Ukraine and Russia.

Let me start by saying I have no skin in this game. I care less about what you think than why you think it.  You and I could spend hours playing Who's More Horrible without either one declaring victory.  But if you really want to gain insight about what's happening over there, you need to know about two things:

1.  Russian history

2.  John F. Kennedy  

If you know anything about Russia and its history, this is all playing out very predictably, and the first thing you need to know is that Russia is not simply a Communist version of the United States. Far from it: Even transitioning from its monarchy to Communism to its present form hasn't changed the basic Russian persona, just as centuries haven't changed the American personality.  

Keep reading.  This makes sense:

While not as xenophobic as China, Russia has always been suspicious of the west.  That's because unlike America, Russia has never had one, central cultural ideology that could unify its regions spanning eleven different time zones. As a result, Russian "unification" has always been impressed upon the country through authoritarianism -- sometimes very harshly. This "top down" nationalism is not organic in the way "from the ground up" nationalism is in the west, where nations like the USA established themselves through common cause. In Russia, cultural infighting is practically a national pastime, which means Russian unity has always been fragile at best, as we saw most recently when the Soviet Union collapsed.

This fragility heightens Russian concerns of foreign intrusion -- and justifiably so. Most people know nothing of Russia's history, but if you read up on it, you'll find two common threads throughout Russian history: 

1. Authoritarian leadership suppresses cultural differences across those 11 time zones, and despite the west's disapproval, has proven the only effective means to that end.  Note that I never said it was successful, but if that's the best they can do, Russia keeps doing it.

2. The Russian agenda can and does turn on a dime, driven by self-interest.

This time around, Putin sees the European Union and NATO as alliances of explicit military and economic threat. He doesn't want missiles on his borders and has repeatedly let the west know that. So when Ukraine, Russia's immediate neighbor to the west, begins kissing up to NATO, the west and the World Economic Forum, it's very much a matter for Russian concern.

If any of this sounds familiar, it should:  John F. Kennedy tried and failed to secure American borders with his Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba (even Teddy Roosevelt wanted to "secure" Cuba as a matter of national security.  That failed, too).  And Kennedy's Cuban Missile crisis was practically a blueprint for Putin's recent actions: Back then, Russian Prime Minister Nikita Krushchev planted nuclear missiles just 95 miles away from Florida, and Kennedy was having none of it.  The saber rattling never got to the point of actual military conflict, but it came close enough to send everyone north of Tampa scurrying for their bomb shelters.

The media is also not reporting a piece of history that would seem critical to know: Putin is not claiming the two eastern-most provinces as part of Russia, but instead "recognizes their claims of independence they asserted in 2017." Didn't know that?  Well, it happened.  It was official  It just wasn't reported.  Neither was the widespread conflict in both of those provinces which are culturally and geographically closer to Russia.

Taking the Russian-speaking provinces to his west was the only remedy Putin felt he had left to retain a "neutral buffer zone" that was *supposed* to be Ukraine.  That buffer zone was fine until Zelensky started drifting over to the west, WEF, the NWO -- and NATO.  That's when Ukraine became a threat and that's when and why the Russian tanks started rolling in.

Didn't know any of that? Maybe that's because everyone prefers protecting their special interests rather than comprehensively discussing anything that doesn't fit their agenda.  Think about that before you the next time your friends start waving their Ukrainian flags while sipping their lattés -- or sending America's sons and daughters off to war.

Monday, January 24, 2022

In Spock We Trust

If you really want to know why the world is as messed up as it is, there are five people you can blame:  John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John F. Kennedy.  Not that any of them ever claimed to be nefarious villains plotting world domination. The truth is that none of them actually knew they were setting humanity on a course of destruction as they were actually doing it.

Before you go searching for hidden messages in their speeches and lyrics, let me assure you that you won't find any, because the real crimes they committed was actually one crime they all committed: they successfully achieved goals previously only attainable by men three times their ages.

If you know your history, you know that prior to 1960, nobody in the western world expected to be a millionaire before turning 50. In those days, the legends dictated that hard work and persistence would eventually be rewarded with good fortune.  If you wanted to achieve greatness any other way, you'd probably have to marry the boss's daughter.  Other than that, millionaires took the form of the Monopoly man, balding, graying, with a little paunch and maybe a mustache.

The Beatles and JFK changed all that.

In 1960,at the age of 43, John Kennedy became the youngest candidate elected to the presidency in American history.  In 1964, the Beatles were, in John's own words, "bigger than Jesus Christ," and millionaires in their own right, ranging in age from 20 to 23. Which means that in the span of three years, one of the world's greatest wishes was granted and one of its major tenets was destroyed: 

You really could be young and have it all (I go into detail about this in my book).

By 1960, the boomer youth culture that began in the late 1950s increased by an order of magnitude, as well-monied, big spending boomers cultivated a tsunami of hedonism that eventually raised the divorce rate, broke up the family, inspired feminism and produced the Me Decade that spawned super selfish fortunes and corporate greed.  But there was a far more insidious force in play: the replacement of sound, critical thinking with feelings and non-accountability. Somewhere along the line, steady, rational processes gave way to short cuts and self-indulgence.

On this, I speak from personal experience.  I was raised during this time as most traditional notions of family, sex, honor, thought and justice were summarily thrown on the scrap heap in favor of feeling good and "just getting it done without really understanding why." I was a sophomore in college, hopelessly confused about growing up.  I mean, I could pose along with the best of them, but I had no idea why I was doing whatever it was I was doing. The thing is, neither did anyone else. We all sprinkled our conversations with familiar hack phrases that made it seem we knew what we were talking about, but we really didn't.  And yet we all graduated college, some with honors.

To me, nothing made sense and everything ran counter to traditional development of confidence and character.  It became increasingly difficult to figure out not only what to do with my life, but how to go about even thinking about it.

And then one day, I found myself in front of my old, seven inch black and white portable Sony television, watching an old episode of the original Star Trek, where Mr. Spock was calmly explaining to the rest of the Enterprise crew that their seemingly desperate situation wasn't hopeless, and that with a simple application of logic, a solution was at hand.

I was thunder-stuck. In one moment, I realized that all of my own conflicts were due to an upbringing in which feelings and ego had replaced construct and character.  This was the reason why nothing in my youthful life made sense: Up to that point, nothing in my head had been required to make sense, so nothing ever worked. 

That was the instant that my life changed forever.

From that very second, I committed to never making even the most trivial decision without logical, accountable analysis. And when I say trivial, I'm talking about things as minor as how to leave a room so that I'd never have to retrace my steps after closing the front door. I'd literally sit on the edge of my bed, planning the most efficient means of leaving my roach-ridden apartment in the most time-efficient manner possible.

It worked.

Within a few months, everything in my life, from my grades to my (first) girlfriend sprang up like roses around me. I reveled in the rewards brought to me by simple reason.  I never looked back and have enjoyed those rewards ever since. I was lucky. Spock spoke and I listened. Others, however, have not fared so well.

To this day, many of my peers and their offspring, still haven't realized that the world revolves on logic, analysis and critical thinking.  They applaud statues being felled, dictionaries being redefined, history and curricula being rewritten to accommodate and soothe their juvenile frustrations, even though most of them are now senior citizens. Of course, they're easy marks for clearer thinkers, but the fact there are so many of them, makes it seem as if they're insurmountable.  They're not. A lifetime of screaming and kicking and holding their breaths until they turn blue is now coming to fruition -- and the fruit is plenty rotten.

It's almost over. Logic and reason always wins out.  As the man says, "Live long and prosper."

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Mourning Holistic Accountability

History is replete with misinformation.  For example, a lot of people are under the impression that Henry Ford invented the automobile. He did not.  By the time Ford got into the business, horseless carriages had been rolling along for sometime.  Some vehicles were electric. Some were powered by steam.  The gas-driven internal combustion engine was somewhat late to the game.  In fact, long before the invention of the internal combustion engine, gasoline was considered to be a waste product of the oil industry, whose main product was not fuel, but lighting oil for lamps.  Midway through the 19th century, rivers in Pennsylvania churned with John D. Rockefeller's gasoline as it rushed along the countryside,

But that's not what concerns me here.  What really concerns me is Henry Ford's true contribution to the decomposition of the American -- if not the world's -- human condition.

To be precise, Henry Ford's real contribution to modern society was his revolutionizing the labor process.  Ford was the one who hired efficiency experts who pronounced his means of assembling products as costly and inefficient.  Their recommended remedy was the assembly line, in which each man on the line performed only one task.  The theory was that by specializing at that one task, each man could perform his task faster and at a higher level of output.

The theory proved true, and from that day forward, anyone producing any kind of mass-produced product adapted Ford's assembly line to their own production facilities.

History will tell you that Ford's innovation not only made his cars more affordable, but also raised the wages of his laborers to the highest in the industry (Ford was famous for rejecting unionization by paying his workers more than the unions demanded, a situation that eventually deteriorated under latter day management). 

What history doesn't mention, however, is the real cost of Ford's innovation, and it goes something like this:

Prior to his assembly line, any and all labor possessed a quality I call holistic accountability.  Simply put, it means that craftsmen owned their projects from inception through completion.  They conceived, planned, engineered, constructed and finished their products, taking care along each step to assure its integration into the overall design.  If a step didn't fit perfectly, the craftsman went back and made adjustments until it did.  It was only after verifying its integrity that he'd move on to the next phase of the project. Back then, products were "built to last a lifetime" and craftsmanship was often the basis of personal pride.

Ford's assembly line essentially obliterated all that.  By displacing labor efficiency with economic efficiency, each worker on the assembly line became task-oriented, doing only his job without much regard for its overall integration into the product as a whole.  The result, as you experience to this very day, was devastating to our society: In the wink of an eye, "a job well done" devolved into "it's not my job."

The atomization of the workforce is a direct descendant of Ford's assembly line. It's the reason why the guy in the produce section can't tell you where to find canned tuna fish, or why the woman at Window #2 sends you to Window #3.  Perhaps the most cinematic illustration is the moment in the 1993 movie Falling Down, when the fast food joint won't serve breakfast at 11:35 because "we stop serving breakfast at 11:30."

Need more?  Try getting a medical diagnosis without traipsing to a minimum of three doctors, each of whom specializes in something so narrow and focused that he won't commit to anything outside his own specialty. Hop on a customer service call, and if you can get past the automated menu, see how many people are required to "get you to the right department for that."

This is what happens to a society that ethically, morally, economically and politically disengages from holistic accountability.  Everyone stares at his own navel with no regard for the big picture.  Meanwhile, thousands of companies hire human resource directors who hire coaches and motivational speakers to unite the company -- because it isn't their job.

There's a reason why we attach value to descriptors like "hand-made" while we eschew terms like "mass-produced."  It's become the hallmark of genuine quality and holistic accountability.  It's true of every product you buy -- and even truer for every child you produce.