Friday, October 30, 2009

Get Motivated!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to a Get Motivated! seminar. These seminars have been going on for over two decades and they bring together some of the best motivational speakers. This seminar was no exception.

The seminar opened with Leon Patillo (former singer with Santana) singing the National Anthem. I've never heard the Star Spangled Banner in that low of a key. Even I was able to hit the high notes.

The first speaker was Terry Bradshaw. He was hilarious. He frequently pushed the limits of acceptability, especially when talking about his former wives and his two daughters. But it was funny. He also talked about his faith (without specific messages about Christianity). One of his funniest lines was when he said he had a bad day, "My dog ran off and my wife stayed home."

The second speaker was "America's Mayor" Rudy Giuliani. He quoted Vince Lomardi when he was talking about his winning record. A reporter pointed to one of Lombardi's losses and he replied "I didn't lose that game, I just ran out of time." Keep trying, always with the solution in mind, Be the optimist, what play can we run next? If you run the right play and it doesn't work, it may work next time.

Giuliani said you need 6 things to succeed: 1) a strong belief system, 2) optimism (Lombardi reference), 3) courage, 4) relentless preparation - 4 hours of prep for 1 hour of plan, 5) teamwork and 6) communication. (For the record, I'm not a Rudy G. fan. See my comments here).

The next speaker was a collegiate memory expert. He had us memorize a string of unrelated items. Trouble is, I can't remember his name. It was Bob Katel or something like that.

Next was Phil Town. Phil is a Vietnam Vet, a Green Beret and teaches investment. He was hawking his 2-day seminar. I was impressed, but won't go through the details here.

Next up was Laura Bush. She gave a review of her 8 years in the White House. Her speech was touching in many ways. She talked about her focus in literacy and the brutal treatment of women and children by the Taliban. She also talked (positively) about the transition to President Obama. Her speech did not focus on Republican/Democratic politics at all.

Tamara Lowe, co-founder of the series, spoke next. She talked about DNA - Drives, Needs and Awards. The speech was good, but I didn't take many notes.

After lunch, Christian Rapper KJ-52 took the stage. I couldn't understand most of what he said/sang/rapped, but he did have us up going "whoop-whoop". I didn't even know he was a Christian Rapper until I looked at his Wikipedia page.

The first after lunch speaker was Gen. Colin Powell. I've heard Powell speak before and all I remember was I wasn't impressed. I think this was when he was considering a run for president. However, this speech was not about politics and he was good. He talked about the role of the leader, he used examples from his service and he talked about Reagan and Gorbachev. He does not believe we will have an enemy in China, they need our money too much. He pointed out that there are NO major wars going on between countries at this time. He also talked about economic growth being the key to "world peace" (my words).

Zig Ziglar is probably the epitome of a motivational speaker. His health is not what it used to be, he had a fall two years ago and has a head injury. But the 82 year old man got on stage with his daughter who led him through some Q&A to give some of his typical motivational lines. "Motivation won't last, but neither will eating or bathing. If you do both every day, you'll live longer and smell better." After about 10 minutes, he sat down and we saw a video interview done with his son & daughter complete with some vintage Ziglar clips. I'm glad I got to see him, as I can't believe he'll be doing this much longer.

Somewhere in the afternoon, Leon Patillo got back up to sing Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA." I was impressed. I'm going to have to find a CD of Patillo's. (Christmas hint to family).

Next up was James Smith. Smith gives a Real Estate seminar and you could sign up for $49. His presentation was good and he gave lots of business advice. I won't publish all the notes here, but some was good. He was colorful and had a few catch phrases like "watch this" that he repeated to get attention.He quoted the Bible and talked about ethics, but some of the things he suggested seemed to imply a contradiction. I could be wrong, but I didn't sign up for his seminar.

The last speaker was Steve Forbes. He grabbed my interest when he talked about mainframe computers. Who made the most money on mainframe computers? It wasn't Univac who invented it, or IBM who is essentially the only vendor in that market today. It was Sam Walton. Who made money off of sweat? It's Under Armour. He also talked about Ray Kroc of McDonald's fame. He said that Princeton University gets a royalty from every McDonald's burger sold (I need to research that).

Forbes said that the GROWTH in the US economy between 2003 and 2007 exceeded the entire economy of China. Then in 2004, we printed too much money. Everything went up, oil, copper and housing. Mark to market destroyed bank capital.

Forbes said we need a strong/stable dollar. He talked about his flat tax of 17% with no tax on savings and no estate tax. He said there would be an exemption for families of 4 so that the first $46,000 would be non-taxable.

All in all, this was a good seminar. Most of the speakers spoke about their faith. I woke up at 4am to take a 2+ hour drive (with a few stops). Then I parked and walked 3 blocks to wait for the start of the seminar. At the end of a long day, I had to drive back. But I'd do it again.

I'm convinced that if I believed in reincarnation (I don't), I'd want to come back as a motivational speaker. Maybe I can use these blog posts as material for my book that I would sell at my speeches. You can say you read it here first. Autographed copies will be available for $39.95 (family can get it for $49.95).

* Update* One of my co-workers who went with me to the seminar sent me this link. Apparently, George Bush is speaking at some of these seminars (I think we lucked out with getting the prettier one of the two). The article also points out that these are high priced speakers with Mayor Giuliani getting "$100,000 for an hour-long pep talk".

I really DO want to be one of these speakers.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Yesterday, we purchased a new coffee maker as our old one was getting to be temperamental. With all new buttons and lights, I sat down to read the instruction manual. Little did I know that my new found knowledge would soon be sent to the test.

During Jeopardy, just a couple of hours later, an answer came up and I shouted out the question "How do you clean a coffee pot?" Alex Trebek could have been reading the answer out of the same instruction manual I had recently finished. I'm sure I would have won the match if I'd been there in person.

What interested me the most in the manual was the troubleshooting section. Here are just a few of the actual problems and possible causes listed in the book:
  • Coffeemaker does not turn on - Coffeemaker is not plugged in. Check to be sure appliance is plugged in to a working outlet and the ON/OFF button is powered ON.
  • Coffee is not brewing - Water reservoir might be empty. Make sure water reservoir has sufficient water to brew desired number of cups of coffee.
  • Coffeemaker brews clear water - There may be no grounds in removable filter basket. Add sufficient amount of coffee grounds to paper or nylon mesh filter in removable filter basket.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Very interesting

No doubt, credit card rates are on the rise. We've heard it would happen and it's happening. But it seems that First Premier Bank, based in South Dakota, may be stretching the limits (if there are any).

Gordon Hageman lives in the San Diego, California area and was sent an invitation for a pre-approved credit card with an interest rate of 79.9%. Yep, just shy of 80%. Since it's probably compounded monthly, the actual yearly rate will come out closer to 103%.

Now Gordon admits his credit isn't perfect, but he thinks it's about average. Gordon called the bank to make sure he wasn't misreading it and he wasn't. First Premier claims to be the country's 10th largest issuer of Visa and MasterCards and "focuses on individuals who have less than perfect credit, but are actually still creditworthy."

I'm 103% certain that First Premier probably loses a lot of money on some people who get the card and never pay their bills. I'm certain they also make a profit. I was unable to determine who owns First Premier or to find any information about their profits & losses.

Now Mr. Hageman thinks that possibly First Premier may be trying to take advantage of him. He noted that the interest rate was not declared on the cover letter, but was on the included "fine print disclosure" (the picture accompanying the article seemed to indicate the interest rate was in large print and the rest of the disclosure was fine print).

I actually see nothing wrong with First Premier's actions. The interest rate was disclosed, on the disclosure statement. Mr. Hageman has a choice to sign up for the card, or frame the offer for continued humor (I'd laugh at it every day). Nowhere in our constitution are citizens guaranteed the right to life, liberty and low interest credit cards.

(Source for post is here).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Of curfews and protests - Part 2

My previous post on this topic tried to state the facts without injecting my own opinion. This post is just the opposite, all opinion. I should point out that last night was the final reading of the bill in city council. The bill passed 4-3. The curfew is now permanent, restricting unaccompanied teens from 10pm to 6am on Friday and Saturday nights.

I do not live in the city of Greenville. I don't directly pay taxes in the city, however, when I eat in downtown, a part of my meal costs (and the taxes on the meal) and my parking fees pay for city protection including police. On two of the nights recently, that protection failed and skirmishes resulted. As a patron of the restaurants, I can choose to eat on Main Street or out in the suburbs. Had city council not enacted this law, I would simply go somewhere else to eat. There are some nice restaurants outside downtown. I also recommend downtown to people visiting our city, if teens had been allowed to roam in packs, I would have stopped this recommendation. I don't do this out of protest, I simply take my money elsewhere and won't suggest a friend go to a dangerous place.

As a parent, I'm not directly affected by the curfew. My youngest is 19, so he can still "go with the flow" on Main Street without fear of arrest. When my kids were under 19, I would not have allowed them to go just to hang out. In fact, they rarely went anywhere just to hang out (except to a friend's house). I asked one of my children and they said that they did, on one occasion, go to one of the coffee houses before she was 18 and stayed after 10pm. This is allowed under the new law as she was visiting a particular downtown business.

In my opinion, teens have no reason to go downtown or anywhere else just to hang out. When they do, problems result. In a perfect world, parents would realize this and be aware where their teens were going. However, we live in a fallen world and a lot of parents either don't know or don't care. The law gives the police a method to get these teens off of Main St. It's likely they will go somewhere else, but hopefully in smaller numbers where they can be better managed.

One of the protests against the curfew was that it restricted freedom of speech and freedom of assembly - two parts of the Bill of Rights. My kids may remember that when they were teenagers, I told them they had no rights. Teens don't have the mental maturity to deal with situations that will come up.

I can easily envision my son, when he was 16, going down to the Falls Park to hang out (if he had been allowed - or under the guise of being at a friend's house). If this had happened and a 31 year old man had been passing out flyers for a sit-in, I can see him joining the protest. Had this happened and he had been arrested, I would have been very angry at someone organizing the protest. I think the case for contributing to the delinquency (arrest) of a minor would be strong.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Of curfews and protests - Part 1

I live outside the city of Greenville, but visit the downtown area regularly. The city has done an excellent job of renovating the area and has a park that is outstanding (see here for details). It's nice for a romantic stroll with your significant other, a playdate with the kids, or just a place to meet and talk. We occasionally have street performers and even Shakespeare plays in the park (which is more culture than I can stand). Dinners downtown are a little pricey and you have to work at finding a parking place (or just break down and pay for it), but it's worth the price once in a while.

Recently, however, there have been some problems. Back in August, there were "between 500 and 800 young people at the park" and there were reports of them blocking streets and impacting business (source). As a result, the city implemented a temporary curfew affecting children under 18. The curfew starts at 10pm.

More recently, we had our Fall for Greenville festival - A "three-day event highlighting local restaurants and musical entertainment on five music stages" (see here) - it's just a weekend to walk the streets, enjoy some food and some music with the family. Unfortunately, after the event on Saturday this year there were fights, again mostly teenagers involved.

Now, the city council is considering making the curfew permanent and has scheduled a second reading of the new ordinance. Basically, kids under 18 without an adult would not be allowed on downtown business district streets after 10pm without an adult.

However, not everyone likes the idea of a curfew. I've been watching one outspoken individual, Dan Edge, who has been fighting it. Dan has started a blog and even staged a protest against the curfew early last month. During the protest, he passed out flyers encouraging others to join his "sit-in". At least three teens did join and stayed past curfew. When they were asked to leave, two left and a third stopped to talk to Mr. Edge. The third teen was arrested, prompting one of the other two to return and he was arrested. Mr. Edge was then arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Two counts, one for each of the teens that were arrested. (The long sordid details of this battle are on Mr. Edge's blog, I invite you to read it all there).

Dan Edge has some serious squabble about the new law, starting with the fact that there is no freedom of speech allowance. Yesterday was his first court appearance and I managed to go watch. Mr. Edge acted as his own attorney and he was advised several times of his rights to an attorney. As this was just a probable cause hearing, he felt it wasn't necessary. At the end of the hearing, the judge felt there was indeed probably cause to proceed and the matter is now being sent to the city attorney. The city attorney can hand this to a grand jury, who would decide whether or not to indict and then the case would go to trial.

During the hearing, the judge warned Mr. Edge that the hearing was NOT about the constitutionality of the ordinance nor even about the ordinance itself, but was strictly about his actions and was there evidence to pursue a trial on the grounds of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He advised that he did not want to turn this into a political forum. The judge decided that since two teens were arrested (he had heard one of those cases himself) and since Edge had been conversing with the teens and passing out flyers for the protest, the case should proceed.

In addition to the above, Mr. Edge feels like his civil rights were violated when he was arrested. He has announced that he is suing the city of Greenville. He's been interviewed by the local television station and as mentioned, he's started a blog to document the issue.

I've tried to stay objective in what I've written above, I'll come back in part 2 and offer my opinion. As always, I'm interested in your opinion and ask that you be respectful in anything you say here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What were you thinking? - Follow up

Back in March, I posted an entry about a local man, a deacon in his church, who robbed a bank. My post is here, but in summary, the man was hailed by many as a "good" man who just snapped. He was seen walking into the bank wearing a mask and police were called. He ended up holding two bank employees hostage during the attempt, before he eventually gave himself up.

Last week, Bruce Lee Windsor plead guilty in Federal court to the bank robbery. Windsor, father of 4, stepped up to the task and admitted his actions. He still faces two counts of kidnapping in state court. Whether he will plead guilty in this case or attempt a defense is not yet clear.

Windsor faces up to 25 years on the Federal case (sentencing date not set). According to this news article he did not have a criminal past, however he was facing a $30,000 lawsuit. The article also says the "federal system doesn’t allow parole." With that information and the upcoming state trial, Mr. Windsor will be away from his children for a long, long, long time.

Some comments I've seen on the newspaper articles question Windsor's status as a "good man." Some people had question about his real estate dealings (the lawsuit is one result). He did have financial problems and apparently was looking for a way out.

There are a lot of victims in this story. Some are quick to point out his wife and children, who still face the same problems he faced before the robbery and now face new problems. They are correct in pointing out these problems. Others are correct to point out the two people held hostage, who feared for their life as well as all of the ones in the bank. From a strictly dollars and cents viewpoint, there's lost business at the bank, cost of the police force to come out and other business aspects. I mentioned back in March that I knew a family impacted by the event (much less than those immediately involved).

I go back to my original question - What were you thinking? Obviously, Windsor wasn't thinking. The Greenville News reports that FBI has a 60% clearance rate in solving bank robberies. You have only a 2 in 5 chance of getting anything and then it's only likely to be "couple of thousand dollars." As Miller Shealy, a former federal prosecutor and now Charleston School of Law professor says, "the bank robber is a more desperate form of criminal and not a very smart one these days." (see here)

I hold no special animosity towards Mr. Windsor, but I also hold no special compassion. Maybe he was a "good man", but his actions deserve punishment. The length of that punishment will soon become obvious.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Now why didn't I think of that?

As a parent, I always tried to get creative with punishment when the kids did something wrong. Slamming the door? Take the door off the hinges. Slam the lid on the toilet? Must need practice - raise and lower it 50 times - if it slams, start over. Forge a parent's signature on a paper? Lecture on forgery and the prison sentence followed by letter of apology to the teacher with signatures and counter-signatures (pretty tough on a 3rd grader).

Tonight, the television was on ABC when a comedy with Patricia Heaton "The Middle" came on. Being too lazy to find the remote, I let it stay there, after all, I think she's a good actress. Turns out the teenage boy was in trouble for saying he had gone to church, but instead going to the mall with a girl. Oooo. Big trouble, bad enough to lie, but to lie about church. Big trouble.

Dad came up with a punishment, the teenage boy had to stay within 5 feet of a parent at all times. Dad gets up to go to the fridge, teenage boy goes with him. Interesting part was when dad needed a shower, he suggested mom (who was at work) stay on the line with son (I guess 5 feet electronically was good enough). Mom said it was dad's punishment, make teenage son put on a bathing suit and go with dad.

Of course this would have been a problem for me with my girls, but I probably could have figured something out. "Excuse me daughter, can you hand me a pair of my underwear?"

I bet that would have prompted some obedience...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Tax Delinquency Sale

I have some vacation days that I need to burn (either use them or lose them), so yesterday I took a day to go watch a tax delinquency sale. This is for people who haven't paid their taxes on their property and they are about to lose them. I didn't plan to buy anything, I just wanted to watch.

Having no prior information except a list of properties for sale, I was ill-equipped for the process. I want to go back next year now that I know more. At this rate, I may be prepared to participate in 5 or 6 years. The people that were present looked like some "professional" buyers and some people trying to save their home.

First, there is a lot of protection on the person loosing their property. After all, we don't want to kick grandma out of the house. Taxes were due in January (almost 9 months ago) and notices were sent out last August/September. If taxes aren't paid on time, penalties accrue, then in March a delinquent notice is sent. If nothing is done in 30 days, a Notice of Seizure is sent. If for some reason this can't be delivered, a physical sign has to be posted. Then the notice is placed in the paper (what happens if newspapers go away?).

So after about 9 months, the property finally comes up for auction. But the buyer doesn't get a deed. According to our county website "The defaulting taxpayer, ... or any mortgage ... creditor may redeem each item of real estate within twelve months from the date of the delinquent tax sale." That means if the previous owner or his mortgage company want to, they can come back to the bidder and take the property (by paying all taxes plus interest).

The auction started shortly after 9am (which was good for me as I was late). One thing I had noticed was that there were several property owners who had multiple delinquent properties. In particular, one home builder had 189 properties listed. We didn't go through all of the properties, but went through many. The delinquent taxes were from $498 to $7512. Many properties went for $2000, some went for as high as $5000. I think a single bidder, #136, won all of the ones that were bid. (see below for why some weren't bid).

Some properties received no bids. These will go to the Forfeited Land Commission and be sold via sealed bid later. Some of the properties (not the ones mentioned above) sold for very high dollar amounts, over $100,000.

As mentioned, not all of the homes for a single delinquent taxpayer were sent out for bids. The website mentions that "as soon as sufficient funds have been accrued to cover all of the defaulting taxpayer’s delinquent taxes, no further items may be sold." Here's what I think that means. If you have 10 properties and owe taxes of $498 each, if the first property sells for $5000, bidding on the other nine is suspended. I'm assuming the delinquent taxpayer gets to keep them.

After about an hour or so, I decided I couldn't learn any more and was bored. I decided that the process seems to work, with the county getting taxes, but not necessarily more. The buyers are promised a deed eventually (takes over a year to complete), and are offered some restitution if they lose the property. I definitely want to see more of this, but I'm convinced I won't be buying any property this way for quite some time (after all, the next auction is a year away).

Friday, October 02, 2009

The secret to longer life - ever decreasing estate taxes

I've been reading a lot of financial websites and blogs lately, including Consumerism Commentary. The blog post for yesterday posed an interesting idea, that changes in estate tax law affect when people die.

The idea is this, when estate taxes are set to increase, people die just before the increase, thereby saving their heirs on their taxes. On the contrary, when estate taxes are set to decrease, they hang on until the decrease comes about, again saving their heirs some real dollars.

So, here's a simple way to increase the life span -- set estate taxes to decrease each year. Eventually, they will go to zero, so then we will need an ever increasing estate tax credit. That means if your relative dies and leaves you money, the government will kick in some more for in a tax credit. I can see the ads now, if Uncle Joe dies, we'll pay you $100. But wait, if he hangs on until next year, you will get $200.

Of course, the estate tax only applies to people who have an estate of over $3.5MILLION, so I'm out of luck. Guess I'll just have to pick another way to schedule my exit...

P.S. I wanted to put something in here about death panels, but couldn't quite figure out how to fit it in... I'm sure one of my commenters will find a way