Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Home Gold trial

Yesterday, I took a day off and went to watch the Home Gold trial. It's been going on for 3 weeks and looks like it will last 3 more. Where do the jurors get the time to do this? My hat is off to those people.

Here's the net of the story. Carolina Investor's started about 40 years ago and worked well up until sometime around 1998. Then it got bought out by HomeGold, but remained a separate company. Carolina Investors (CI) took investments, loaned money to HomeGold (HG), who loaned it out. HG made some very bad moves and went bankrupt. Of course, CI had all their money in HG, so they went bankrupt too. A total of 8,000 people lost about $227m. Most of the people were retired and they lost their life savings.

The question now is, who is guilty of what? The money is gone, no way it will come back. The current trial is the former head of HG (the parent company). From the one day I saw, I could see the method the prosecution was headed and the same for the defense. I wish I could have seen more of the trial, but I'll have to settle for reading the paper's comments.

Very cool day.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Exploratory committee for possible run for the presidency

Today, January 27, 2007, I am formally announcing that I am creating an exploratory committee to examine the possibility that I should run for the presidency. Oh, yeah, and I'm in it to win too. Me and about 20 other people.

So far, I haven't been enthralled with any of the candidates. Barak Obama is probably the best speaker. He seems intent at claiming that's he's a christian and wants to steal some of that vote from the right wingers. Hillary Clinton appears to me to be the best politician, she actually comes across as being almost centrist (not left, not right). I don't trust her in that role. I don't trust John Edwards, as a trial lawyer he reminds me of an ambulance chaser.

On the republican side, I think Newt Gringrich is the smartest candidate of the 20 (or so). But he always seems angry. The American people have shown they don't care if a man is a womanizer, but he has to be happy about it. Rudy Julie-anaa is a sheep in wolf's clothing, everyone thinks he's conservative, but he's not. I heard him say on TV that he thinks Americans want someone who will stand up for something, even if they don't believe in what they stand up for. Huh? He would stand up for something he doesn't even believe in? Then there's this guy from California who seems to be afraid of Chinese submarines. While I admit that's important, it seems less important to those of us in the east than to those on the left coast. And there are a few other things that need to be watched also. John McCain is another one of those angry people and seems willing to sack anyone in any position. He'd make a good vice presidential candidate.

So, maybe I should throw my hat into the ring? Nah, I'm not even sure I'd vote for me, much less anyone else...

Time to search for the "Nobody for President" speeches again...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Life in general

Life has been busy. First I had the opportunity to travel last week on business. It was a good trip, not too much work and the work that I did went very smoothly. The rest of the time was spent studying and entertaining the customer (most folks don't think I'm that entertaining).

Then I've been playing catch-up in my classes. A lot of catch-up. And now I'm procrastinating. I should be doing more catch-up.

I didn't watch Bush's speech. I think the general American (or at least the press in general) has given up. I hope they're wrong, we can't afford to spend the next two years just wandering around like Gomer Pyle on Valium (stolen simile). And I don't think we can afford for Iraq to fail. The cost in terms of mid-east stability is too high. The cost in terms of the pride of America and it's troops is too high (note the years after the fall of Vietnam). I don't know that the current plan will work. And I'm afraid that before we find out, another plan will be in its place. I think that not only has the American public/press given up, I think that (secretly) Bush has given up. Maybe not on Iraq, but he seems to be too willing to cave on other areas. I'd be more impressed if he ignored the mid-term elections and just went ahead with his plans full-bore. Use his veto power liberally (bad metaphor for him to do anything "liberal-ly")

But regardless how busy life in general is (bad grammar), I know there's a tomorrow and I know Who determines all of this. And when you keep that perspective, nothing else really matters.

As a side note, yesterday was the birthday of a strong young journalist. Hopefully, he'll catch all the little comments scattered through this blog aimed at him. He makes his job look easy and people just don't appreciate his efforts. As one who written a lot (for a decidedly different audience), I recognize the difficulty of his job. I'm glad it's him and not me. Happy Birthday Adam!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Oil!! I've struck Oil!!

Well, not really. Even if I had, I probably wouldn't know what to do with it or how to manage it.

But I have learned a few facts over the last several weeks that are beginning to congeal inside my brain (old age does that to a person - makes their brain congeal). And it leads me to a prediction:

There will be an oil crisis of some unknown magnitude and the result will be higher gas prices!

Now, I know, you're thinking I've probably outdone Nostradamus. Or you're thinking that a 3 year old could make that prediction. Regardless, let me state some of the reasons based on unrelated obscure facts that I believe this to be true.

First, in my reading about Saudi Arabia last week (for absolutely no reason except to procrastinate and avoid reading a book I was supposed to read), I learned that oil reserves are stated by each OPEC country without any validation. There are a lot of people who believe that Saudi Arabia has been overstating their reserves for a long time. The amount of oil they can pump under OPEC guidelines is controled by the amount of reserves. By overating their reserves, they get to pump more than other countries.

Second obscure fact is that Iran and Venezeula are beginng to work together. These two countries share a common hatred for the US. I'm not sure what percentage of oil revenues these two countries have, but I'm sure it's a lot. Maybe next time I procrastinate, I will do some research.

Third obscure fact is that China and India are growing the number of automobiles (and demand for gasoline) tremendously.

Fourth obscure fact is that the oil companies have no incentive to search for new oil. This fact is a little hard to derive, so let me explain the basis of it. Last year, when gas prices shot up, oil companies made huge profits. The american people in general and congress was furious. Ignore the validity of the furiousness for now, just pay attention to the discussion at hand. Oil executives were hauled in front of congress and asked to testify. I am convinced that any oil company that makes profits over a certain threshold will be treated this way. That serves as a strong disincentive to make profits that large.

Also contributing to this fact is some information I learned in my Fincance class. Basically, the stock price of any company is the public's opinion of how much that company will make in the future. Right now, oil stocks are still high so the public in general believes that these companies will continue to make more profits. Doing additional research, looking for new oil reserves, all of this increases expenses and doesn't provide (in the short term) and additional profits.

This leads me to believe that there will be no new oil.

If the demand for oil is increasing and the supply is questionable, what is the result?? Yes, as the student on the back row said, prices increase. But what's a body to do? How can we stop it?

I'm convinced that the way to manage this issue is NOT through politics. Call me skeptical, but I don't believe there is a polician alive who will touch this issue. It's much to vague and the results are too far off. We have taught our politicians well, they look to the next election (consider social security for example - but that's another blog).

This does not mean that we are doomed and I personally don't believe that we will run out of oil. It just means that times will get harder as oil gets more expensive.

But, while we can't get politicians to change, we can change things. We can decide to work for our own good and let the politicians (or anyone) deal with everyone else. This sounds very self-centered and it is. If you think you can help others, you should. And I will help others as much as I can, but I am solely responsible for helping myself. No one else will do it for me.

I can decide to move towards more fuel efficiency. No, I won't go buy a Prius tomorrow, but the next time I look for a car, gas mileage will be an important factor (it was last time). Gas is the #2 cost associated with car ownership based on my figures. #1 is the purchase price of the vehicle itself (gas cost is very close to #1).

I can also decide to invest in companies that make energy. Some of these are like the dotcom's of days gone by. Maybe one of these companies will take off. Other are like the big oil companies, they are bound to keep growing.

So, what do you think? Do you agree with my Nostradamus act, that gas prices will go up? Do you think we should all march on Washington (for heaven's sake don't drive!) and demand congress do something? Where do we go from here?

Friday, January 12, 2007

What's going on in Saudi Arabia?

This morning I had a thought, what's going on in Saudi Arabia? Now I'm not always that random, there was some basis to the question. When Gulf War II started, the press covered the fact that a lot of the education in Saudi Arabia was distinctly anti-American. As a result of our requests, that education was being changed. No new reports about it.

I also remember that there were some terrorist attacks there. Apparently, some people didn't like the fact that the Saudi's were supporting the US.

So I decided to do some research to see what was going on there. Very recently, they approved the first female airline pilot. The new pilot isn't allowed to drive a car (no Saudi women is allowed to drive), but she can fly a plane.

I also read that, without oil, Saudi Arabia has a HUGE trade deficit. It started me thining. If we ever get off our dependence on oil, what will that do to the mid-east? Surely it will cause a lot of folks to go hungry. There aren't a lot of jobs over there. And I'm sure the US will get the blame.

So how does one go about creating real wealth? Basically it comes from producing more than you need. If I was a farmer, I'd have to grow enough crops for me and my family and then have some to sell to the guy down the street. He could make shoes and clothes for me in exchange for food. If I grew enough crops, I could meet all of my needs this way. Then I could grow more and trade some for some "extras" in the next city.

So how does this happen in Saudi Arabia? If there were no oil, or if oil weren't a necessity, how rich would Saudi be? I think not very.

So, what does that say for the next 40-50 years? As the Muslim population grows, what will they do? What kinds of jobs? The Shah of Iran tried to "Westernize" the country and it was his goal to irrigate the desert. He wanted Iran to be less dependent on the rest of the world. Where is that voice today?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Let's go to war - again

I don't blog about politics very often. But it seems that if there ever was a time, now is the time to make comments about the current politics especially as related to the war in Iraq.

Some would argue we shouldn't have ever started in Iraq. I would disagree. I probably would not agree with all of the reasons we went to war, but I think we definitely should have gone in and deposed Saddam. After the first gulf war, Papa Bush and the countries that went into Iraq established sanctions. We established no-fly zones. We established a lot of rules and over the years, Saddam thumbed his nose at all of those rules. He continued to use weapons of mass destruction (to kill the Kurds) and rejected observers who would keep the country within the boundaries that were established.

Like a bully who draws a line in the sand, then backs up and draws another line, Saddam taunted us. After 8 years of crossing the line and doing nothing, it was time to put up or shut up. The sanctions were a joke, the UN simply ignored them. Other countries profited. And the US was a laughing stock.

So we went in. I approve. (as if that matters).

Should we still be there? Well, I think no and yes. No we shouldn't, it should be over by now. But yes, we should, we can't just leave. To leave in the middle of this would condemn Iraq to chaos. It would also send a message that we don't follow through with our actions. We've done that too many times. We failed to protect the Kurds after Gulf War I. We failed to protect the Mujahdeen after they fought the Soviets in pre-Afghanistan. Looking back, we failed to protect the Cubans who helped us at the Bay of Pigs. America MUST stand for something and then continue to stand for it.

That last sentence bears repeating. America MUST stand for something and then continue to stand for it.

So, do we send more troops in? I didn't listen to the speech last night, but I read the speech afterwards. I was very impressed. Now the president has to sell his plan. I believe he will send out his trips (Rice, Snow, et. al). He mentioned a new "committe" that will review plans and make new suggestions. He has to make this "bi-partisan" committe appear to be un-biased and they have to sell this to congress and to the people.

Should we send more troops in? I don't know. I hope that the right decision has been made. I hope that the US will stand behind the decision. I don't know what other choices we have.

I invite opinion here. Tell your friends about my post and ask them to comment. For the first time ever, I'm going to send a specific email to some friends and get them to comment.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Management Strategy

Who ever knew there was a strategy to management? I have an entire class on it. 16 weeks, 2.75 hours per week in class. We have a simulation. We pretend we're running our on company (building and selling PC's no less) and we get to decide where to spend money, what type of advertising, how many to hire, how much to pay them and probably 100 other things. We do this for 12 iterations. Professor told us to expect 3-4 hours per iteration.

So almost once a week on the simulator. Also read 1-2 chapters of the text. And 1 or 2 papers from magazines like the Harvard Business Review (average 13 pages each). Two case studies we have to read and comment on (8-10 pages written on each) and two exams.

Looks like it's going to be tough...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Burglary or Robbery?

My new course is on white collar crime. Last night we covered a lot of ground, some of it basic definitions. Burglary involves breaking into a building, but without bodily harm or the threat of bodily harm. Robbery involves stealing something through the use of bodily harm or thread of bodily harm.

So the professor tells a story. Seems when he was in college, he received a call from a female friend of his. Her apartment had been broken into while she was away. "I've been robbed" she said. The professor then said if we ever got a call like that, he advise us not to explain the difference between burglary and robbery.

Very, very dry.

Another thing. We described larceny. This is theft of an item with the intent to permanently depriving the rightful ownder of his or her property. So if someone "borrows" your car and takes it on a joy ride, it's not larceny if they don't intend to keep it forever.

Next time someone takes a car for a joy ride, I'll look at them in a different light.