Tuesday, May 29, 2018

How Do The Rich Become Rich?

"How can I become rich?"

That is a question I often hear from young people.

In my career I have had the good fortune to meet and know many wealthy and successful people. I have observed these people closely and I have also studied the available research on what separates the rich and successful from everyone else.

At the core of anyone that has achieved success is someone who has good habits. They utilize their time wisely. They are disciplined and work hard.

Despite the popular narrative, the wealthiest Americans are not living on trust funds that were handed to them along with a silver spoon when they were born. Most got rich by simply working hard for it. In fact, wealthy households contain on average more than four times as many full-time workers as do poor households---1.97 workers per rich household compared to .42  earners per poor household. The fact is that there are not many "idle rich" folks in this country.  There are, however, a lot of "idle poor".

If you don't believe it takes work to get to the top of the economic ladder just consider the differences in the traits between those that are wealthy and those that are poor in this research that compared the habits and traits of the two groups.  Almost every one of these traits requires some work, effort or discipline on the part of the individual.  It does not necessarily occur naturally in the human condition.

What you see is that those that succeed use their time more productively.

                                                                     Wealthy                    Poor

Maintain a to-do-list                                             81%                        9%
Wake up 3+ hours before work                          44%                        3%
Listen to audio books during commute            63%                        5%
Network 5+ hours or more each month           79%                       16%
Read 30+ minutes or more each day                88%                        2%
Love to read                                                           86%                       26%
Watch 1 hour or less of TV everyday                 63%                       23%
Believe good habits create opportunity            84%                         4%

If you work hard and use your time wisely it is difficult to not find success in life. As you see above, the wealthy believe that good habits create opportunity. They should know better than anyone.

You can be successful but that does not guarantee that you will be wealthy. There are many things in life that are rewarding that do not necessarily translate into increasing your financial net worth.

Becoming wealthy usually requires that you do at least two of these three things.

1. Get people working for you
2. Get your money working for you
3. Stay out of debt

Why is it difficult to become wealthy simply by your own labor and talents?

It is a question of time. We all only have so many hours in the day. We may be very productive but time is a finite resource. It is a limiting factor in utilizing our labor.

The amount that any one person is willing to pay another for their labor is also limited. For these reasons, it is hard to grow rich simply by your own individual labor.

Entertainers and professional athletes are exceptions to this rule. They are able to showcase their talents and labor to a broad audience and are able to get many, many people to pay them for it in the form of ticket prices or a media audience. However, each member of that audience is paying just a small price that gets leveraged with the size of the audience.

Inventors and authors are similarly advantaged. An invention that is used by millions of people or a best selling book creates large royalty payments that allow them to leverage their sole labor effort.

Most of us are not so fortunate. Therefore, if we are to become wealthy we have to leverage our time by getting other people to work for us whereby we gain a portion of their labor for our own benefit. Starting a business is the path that entrepreneurs follow to gain this advantage.

The other path is to simply work, save and invest and begin to get your money working for you through compound returns. As your money begins to work for you the need for you to labor to support yourself is reduced. If you can get enough money saved and invested you eventually do not have to labor at all. Your money does all the work to support your lifestyle.

It is hard to become wealthy carrying debt. Your lender may become wealthy. You will not. Borrowers are on the wrong side of compound returns. Getting compound returns to work for you is a path to riches. Paying interest on compounding debt leads to the poor house.

If you doubt any of this,  consider this chart that compares the percent of assets and liabilities held by the wealthiest 1%, next 9% and the remaining 90% compiled by Edward Wolff of New York University.

The top 1% has 63% of business equity (other people working for them), 55% of financial securities and 50% of stock & mutual funds (money working for them) but only have 5% of the debt (stay out of debt).

The bottom 90% has only 6% of business equity, 6% of financial securities, 9% of stocks & mutual funds but holds 74% of the debt. They also have 59% of the value of all personal residences. That may explain why the 2008-2010 period was so devastating for this group when housing prices collapsed in much of the country. It is also suggests that this risk could also form again---in particular if mortgage rates continue to go up.

This data conforms with a chart I put together last year from IRS statistics (from 2013) comparing the sources of before-tax income based on the distribution by income groups (by quintiles plus the top 1%).

Notice that only 35% of the income of the Top 1% comes from labor income. 61% of their income is derived from business income (other people working for them) or investment income (their money working for them).

On the other hand, in the 3rd and 4th quintiles (the heart of the middle class), labor income makes up 66% of total income. Business and investment income are almost non-existent.

The rich become rich by building a business and/or saving and investing to get their money working for them. They also are careful in their use of debt.

Keep these lessons in mind if you want to become rich.

Use your time wisely.

Develop and maintain good habits.

Have a strong work ethic.

Get other people working for you or get your money working for you.

Be careful about debt.

That is how the rich become rich.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Remembering Vietnam

The Vietnam War defined the lives of many Baby Boomers while they were in their high school and college years.

There is a lot of talk about how divided the country is today. The same was true during the Vietnam era.

One of the great tragedies of that era was that those who did not agree with U.S. policy did not limit their criticism to their elected leaders. They also vented their animus and anger at the young men (there were few women serving in those years) who were wearing the uniform of the United States of America. Those that served did not get recognized and praised. They were often berated and maligned for their service.

Despite the political divisions of today I am thankful that we have moved past that dark period of American history and the men and women who serve in our military are honored irrespective of our political views.

50 years ago---in 1968---was the point at which popular opinion on the Vietnam War began to turn. More and more people questioned what we were achieving for the blood and treasure we were sacrificing in those rice paddies on the other side of the world. 1968 marked the year in which deaths reached their highest levels in the war.

58,220 (58,212 male, 8 female) gave their life in the Vietnam War. 16,899 of those were in 1968.

Here is a listing of deaths by year in the years 1964-1972 of that conflict to provide some perspective of how significant those numbers were in the war and the effect it had on public opinion.

Vietnam War U.S Military Fatal Casualties
Credit: National Archives, Military Records

They came from all branches of the service.

Credit: National Archives, Military Records

And all races. Bullets and bombs do not discriminate.

Credit: National Archives, Military Records

Also consider their ages.

Credit: MilitaryFactory.com

A lot of lives not lived. Parents who lost their child. Children who lost a parent. Spouses who lost their partner. Most never even got the chance to marry. Or have a child. How much potential and promise was left on that battleground?

For context, consider that there have been a total of 6,713 deaths in the combined Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts since 2001.

On this Memorial Day, 50 years removed from 1968, it seems appropriate to specifically remember the sacrifices of these soldiers as well as the others that served in Vietnam but never got the recognition and respect they deserved.

There are many magnificent places to visit in Washington, DC but nothing is more powerful and sobering than the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial (VVM).

Credit: Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Fund

For those of you who are younger, you probably have no idea of the controversy that was created when the design for the VVM was originally announced.  The design for the memorial was chosen from entries in a national contest. Maya Lin, an architecture student at Yale who was only 21 years old, won the competition.  Lin always believed that her design would never have been selected but for the fact that it was a blind competition. However, controversy soon followed. This is how Wikipedia describes the opposition to the design.

The selected design was very controversial, in particular its unconventional design, its black color and its lack of ornamentation. Some public officials voiced their displeasure, calling the wall "a black gash of shame." Two prominent early supporters of the project, H. Ross Perot and James Webb, withdrew their support once they saw the design. Said Webb, “I never in my wildest dreams imagined such a nihilistic slab of stone.” James Watt, Secretary of the Interior under President Ronald Reagan, initially refused to issue a building permit for the memorial due to the public outcry about the design. Since its early years, criticism of the Memorial's design faded. In the words of Scruggs, "It has become something of a shrine."

Lin was an iconoclast.  To that point, memorials were statues.  They were not long stone walls that blended into the earth with 58,220 names etched into the stone.  However, when it was completed, the VVM captured the very essence of what a memorial should really be about.

Read this article from Biography.com. for more background on the remarkable story of Maya Lin and the original controversy about the VVM. A fun fact I did not know is that Lin received a "B" on the design when she submitted it for a seminar on funereal architecture at Yale. Interestingly, the professor who gave her that grade was one of another 1,400 who submitted a design and was bested by Lin in the design competition.

I do not believe anyone has captured the magnificence of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial better than photographer Angela Pan.

Her images are a wonderful way in which to reflect on the sacrifices of those who served in Vietnam on this 2018 Memorial Day.

Credit: Angela Pan

Credit: Angela Pan

Credit: Angela Pan

Credit: Angela Pan

Thank you to all of those who served and sacrificed in Vietnam.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Never Trump No More

There was no one among conservative Republicans that was a bigger Never Trumper than Glenn Beck.

Beck (as I was in the primaries) was a huge supporter of Ted Cruz. Beck constantly bashed Trump through the primaries and continued right up to the general election. For the first year of the Trump presidency he continued to be a Never Trumper.

However, in recent months I noticed that Beck was not saying as much about Trump.

I happened to tune into his show last Friday when I was on my way to an appointment and I hardly could believe what I was hearing. Glenn Beck was fully on the Trump Train.

Glenn Beck
Never Trump No More?

What caused this transformation?

Beck stated that he had laughed at Trump's promises during the campaign thinking they were like any other "political promises" we have come to expect. The candidate says one thing but when it comes to governing we see something altogether different.

Beck explained that has not been the case with Trump. He is actually delivering on what he said he would do. Many candidates (especially so-called conservatives) have stated they were going to do something if elected but then lacked the political courage to actually follow through.

Beck cited the move of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem as a prime example. Others have said they wanted to do this but never followed through. And Trump has done it quickly. It did not involve a 7 year construction plan. The embassy has already moved.

He did it.

Trump said that he was going to get the United States out of the Paris climate accord.

He did it.

Trump said that he was going to decimate ISIS.

He did it.

Trump said that he was going to push for a big tax cut.

He did it.

Trump said he was going to substantially lower the tax on the repatriation of foreign profits.

He did it.

Trump said he was going to renegotiate NAFTA.

He has both Mexico and Canada at the negotiating table.

Trump said he was going to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

He did it.

Trump said he would not sign the TPP trade deal that the Obama administration negotiated.

He did not sign it and threatened tariffs on Chinese goods. This weekend the Chinese indicated they were going to "significantly increase" their purchases of American goods and services in order to reduce its $375 billion trade surplus with the United States.

Trump said he would cut two regulations for every new regulation.

He did better than that in his first year. He cut 22 regulations for every new regulation.

Trump said that he would appoint conservative judges to the federal courts.

He appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and in his term thus far he has had 21 of his federal circuit court judicial appointments confirmed by the Senate. In a little over a year in the job, Trump has now appointed one out of every eight Circuit Court judges that is on the bench. No President in modern times has had so many judges confirmed in such a short period of time.

Trump said that he would get North Korea to the negotiating table to do something about their nuclear arsenal.

He is scheduled to meet with Kim Jung Un in June about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Glenn Beck cited many of these examples and stated that he could not ignore the facts. Donald Trump is not an ordinary politician. He has accomplished things and kept promises that Beck thought were simply impossible. Beck stated that he simply could no longer ignore what the man had done. He also could not stand by and see how unfairly the media had covered these accomplishments.

Do you remember all of the talk during the campaign and leading up to Trump taking office of how Democrats told everyone that we should be in fear of what Trump would do as President?

I wrote at the time that the there was only one real fear the Democrats really had about Trump......
that he would be successful.

This might explain why are seeing the Democrats, the media and the deep state becoming more unhinged by the day.

They see the mounting successes of Trump.

They see the economy improving and unemployment declining.

They see the rising approval ratings.

They see Kanye West saying good things about Trump.

They see Never Trumpers like Beck throwing in the towel.

They see the margin the Democrats had in the Congressional generic ballot getting smaller day by day. In fact, the Reuters poll out today has the GOP up 6 points. In April, the Democrats were up by 10 points!

They see the investigation of Trump beginning to become an investigation of the FBI and the Deep
State rather than Trump.

All of this seems to be having an effect.

The Democrats and Deep State seem to get more desperate by the day. Their entire world is being turned upside down. They told everyone that Trump would be a disaster.  Every day that passes with another Trump success destroys that narrative. Instead of more "Never Trumpers" we are seeing more voters who are seeing what is happening with their own eyes. There are more Glenn Beck's out there and that has to really scare the Democrats and the Deep State.

Since Trump first gained the GOP nomination they have been determined to find something or do something to drive Trump from office. There is not much they have not thrown at him over the last two years. I am still amazed that Trump is not only standing but succeeding. It would not surprise me to see the attacks get even more ferocious in the coming weeks.

Desperate people do desperate things.

Keep all of this in mind as we look for what might be next.

We live in interesting... and dangerous... times.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Trump Never Gives Up

There seems to be no bounds to the animus that many people have for President Trump.

I know it pains many to even utter the words. President.... Donald.... Trump.

They attempt to demean, denigrate and demonize everything about the man.

They say he is stupid. They say he is unhinged. They say he is a fascist. Or a racist. They say a lot of things.

Ian Jackson who writes for something called LiberalAmerica.org said this about Trump recently on Quora which seems to be a common narrative about Trump among liberals.

He doesn’t like doing his homework and has a hard time taking advice from experts or at least he seems to prefer the advice of the last expert he spoke to. He likes bullet points which suggests some kind of attention deficit and cable news which suggests limited imagination.

Doesn't do his homework?

Has a hard time taking advice from experts?

Likes bullet points?

Limited imagination?

I recently finished reading a book by Trump (with Meredith McIver) that was written a decade ago. It was written as a type of self-help book in which Trump chronicles some of his biggest challenges and lowest moments and how he overcame those setbacks. I read it to try to get some further insights on Donald J.Trump.

If there is one thing that is true about Trump is that he has been consistently underestimated by Democrats and Republican politicians alike.

There is also one other truth about Trump. He does not give up. He fights for what he wants. He fights even harder when he is opposed.

I believe that one of the major strategic mistakes the Democrats and their allies have made in dealing with Trump is the confrontational tone they have taken with him. Such actions have only resulted in making Trump more conservative and more confrontational with the Democrats.

At his heart, Trump loves to do deals. He spent a career enjoying the success of putting money and people together to develop and build beautiful properties. He is motivated similarly as President. He wants to get things done. He would love to do deals with the Democrats. It is simply the way he is wired.

Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have cut off their noses to spite their faces in their dealings with Trump. The result is that Trump, who was a Democrat most of his life, has become a conservative that even the most steadfast Reagan supporter could be proud of. I am certain that Trump would not be nearly as conservative as he has been but for the actions of the Democrats.

Let's look at the claims about Trump above and see if they stack up with true facts about Trump.

Trump doesn't do his homework.  This could not be further from the truth if you look at the Trump career. He was able to do most of his big deals because he found some type of loophole or had an insight that no one else was aware of or thought of. The Grand Hyatt and Trump Tower deals only came about because Trump did his homework. Those are both sites than hundreds of other developers would have loved to have. Trump found ways to put the deals together that others failed to do. He was only able to succeed because he did his homework better than anyone else.

Has a hard time taking advice from experts. This also does not hold up to scrutiny in looking at Trump's career. He wrote about his first deal involving an apartment complex in Cincinnati that he bought right when he just got out of college. It was two years old and 3/4 vacant. Trump bought it for 50% of what it cost and was able to mortgage the entire property. He quickly started fixing up the property and hired a good property manager. It was soon fully occupied and throwing off good cash flow. Trump visited often and talked to the residents. One resident told Trump a few years later that he should consider selling despite the profit and substantial cash flow it was generating. Trump asked why and the resident told him that the apartments were great but the surrounding area was turning bad. Trump did further research and concluded the "resident expert" was right. He soon sold doubling his original purchase price. There are many other examples in the book of Trump listening and taking the advice of experts.

Likes bullet points. This is true but I don't see this as a shortcoming in a leader. Trump is a strong believer (as I am) in the power of focus. Any problem can be solved with the proper focus. Trump argues that most people spend all of their time dwelling on problems but little time on solving the problem. He always wants to focus on the solution, rather than the problem, and having an action plan of bulleted items that are needed to get to that end result. Yes, he likes bullet points because it narrows an issue down to its important elements.

Limited imagination? Take a look at some of the properties that Trump has developed and tell me that he has limited imagination. He took a personal residence in Palm Beach (Mar-a-Lago) and turned it into a private club resort. He took an old post office building in Washington and turned it into a luxury hotel. He developed the first hotel condominium in NYC in Soho. Limited imagination?

Trump's detractors also like to argue he has a short attention span. I think they mistake his energy to be involved on a number of issues when they argue this. Most of the big deals Trump has accomplished in his career were property locations that he targeted for years and years before he got his opportunity to try to do something with it. He had a long term vision and objective and he never lost focus of his goal.

Trump is by no means perfect. He has many flaws. He is no different than any human being.

Early in the Republican primary I wrote about many of those flaws. I liked a lot of what Trump stood for but I thought he would be a flawed candidate and squander the GOP's chance to win the Presidency over an ever more flawed Hillary Clinton.

I underestimated Trump then as many others are doing now. I continue to marvel at how one man can take so much criticism and negative media attacks and continue to stand and deliver. It is unrelenting but Trump is also relentless. How else do you explain it?

Consider the Rasmussen Presidential Approval Poll from May 18. Trump is at 50% approval. Barack Obama was at only 46% approval at the same point in this presidency. It is nothing short of remarkable considering the incessant negative media coverage.

You also have to wonder what these numbers would look like if the media were even-handed?

Notice that Trump's approval has generally been improving since last summer. Obama's approval was declining over the same period. Those that strongly approve of Trump has also been increasing while those who strongly disapprove has been declining over the same period. 33% strongly approve while 40% strongly disapprove for a -7 total intensity score.  Obama was at -17 points at the same point.

For additional context consider that Obama was -8 on this measure on the day he was re-elected in 2012.

Those that underestimate Trump do so at their own peril. To those who do so I would suggest they pick up the book I just read and gain some insights about the man you may not be aware of.

Make no mistake. Trump knows what he wants. Trump will work long and hard to get there. He will also never give up.

Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.  It is first on Trump's top 10 list for success.

He also rarely gives in unless he gets something substantial in return.

Accordingly, it would behoove Democrats and Never Trumpers to think twice about how they might want to deal with Trump going forward.

They think he has a short attention span. They should understand that he also has a very long memory.

Age Limits Rather Than Term Limits?

We hear a lot about the need for term limits for our elected representatives.

In fact, President Trump recently reiterated his support for Congressional term limits.

I have mixed feelings about term limits. I like the fact that it forces new blood and new ideas into the our political system  but I also see value in having those with institutional experience in charge to provide the necessary leadership and perspective to the legislative process.

We have had legislative term limits in Ohio since 1992 (limit of no more than four 2-year terms in the House and two 4-year terms in the Senate) but I have seen little evidence that it has had much effect on the political class. It seems to have mainly created a lot of political gamesmanship. A House member is term-limited and then moves to the Senate. A Senator becomes a County Commissioner and then comes back and runs again for the Senate.

As I wrote in "It's All In The Name", the largest asset a politician has is their name identification. The substantial "asset value" that a politician has in his or her name is also the reason why so many politicians have a hard time stepping away. They know they have an "asset" and they want to use it. It really becomes a question of "use it or lose it."

The Toledo Blade did a story in 2015 on why "Term limits do little to oust Ohio lawmakers"  where it reported on the political games being played because of those term limits.

It's been two decades since Ohio voters amended their constitution to cap the number of consecutive years a state lawmaker can hold his office.
But today, five state representatives and a senator who were here in the General Assembly when the term-limits clock first started ticking are still here, their service uninterrupted as they've jumped from one chamber to the other and back again.
Two will have 30 or more years under their belts by the end of the current session.

Term limits were very popular in the 1990's. 14 of the 15 states that now have term limits on the books enacted that provision during that decade. Nebraska was the last to enact term limits in 2000.

After thinking about all of this I believe that it might make more sense to consider age limits or a mandatory retirement age rather than Congressional term limits.

I know that it would spark cries of ageism and all the rest but it would prevent some of the problems with term limits while also providing the opportunity to infuse new blood into Congress from time to time.

It seems that I am not the only one thinking about this. Consider this question that was put to Democrat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the CNN Town Hall this week that was hosted by Chris Cuomo.

CUOMO: "I have something for you along these lines. You gave as you good segue there. I want to bring in Mary Pat, retired, lives in Maryland. Mary Pat, what is your question? A beautiful scarf you have on."MARY PAT: "Leader Pelosi, quorum.us says more than half the senators running for re-election this year are over 65 years old. If they win, their term of service will be six years. Their constituents are about 20 years younger. Isn't it time for some members to return to private service and to encourage younger folks run for office so --"[ applause ]

I am certainly not suggesting that there is a certain age at which someone is not fit to serve. For example, consider this story and video of 83-year old Senator Chuck Grassley pounding out 19 push ups to best a teenage student at an Iowa school meeting. No one should say that Grassley is not fit to serve.

It just seems logical that at some point the decisions affecting the nation and its future should be turned over to the next generation. Does it make sense for an 80-year old to be voting on legislation that will affect the lives of those much younger who will have to live under those laws for a much longer time than that Senator?

It should also be remembered that the U.S. Constitution already has an established minimum age criteria for the U.S. House (25 years), Senate (30 years) and President (35 years). Our Founders saw the wisdom of that minimum age to insure that there would be a basic level of maturity and life experience in our elected leaders. Perhaps there should also be a maximum as well?

It is also not uncommon to see required retirement ages in the corporate world for CEO's and Board members. It seems to be understood that at some point there comes a time when you should step aside for the good of the organization to let a new generations of leaders have their opportunity.

My suggestion would be to cap the maximum age at which a federal elected official could be sworn into office at 40 years from the minimum age to serve that is currently established in the U.S. Constitution. Thus, a House member could not be more than 65 years of age or a Senator older than 70 when beginning a new term of service. I would add an age 75 limit to the President in addition to the term limit already in place. This effectively would mean that there would be no House members older than 67, Senate members older than 76 or a President who was 79 or older based on the required retirement age limit.

What effect would this have if it was in place right now?

President Trump would still be eligible to run for re-election in 2020 as he would  be under the age 75 age limit on Inauguration Day January 20, 2021. (Trump will not be age 75 until June 14, 2021)

Interestingly, not one of the 45 Presidents we have had would have been precluded from serving if this provision had been in place from the beginning of the nation's founding.

However, this provision would prevent Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden from running for President in 2020 if it were in effect. It would also mean that Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren could run in 2020 but each would be precluded from running for re-election in 2024 as they would be beyond the age limit on Inauguration Day 2025. If you are a Democrat can you honestly say that it is a bad idea to have these people step aside and allow for some fresh faces in the party?

The biggest effect would be on the U.S. Senate.

There are currently 7 Senators that are at least 80 years of age. (Shelby-AL, McCain-AZ, Feinstein-CA, Grassley-IA, Roberts-KA, Inhofe-OK, Hatch-UT.

There are an additional 18 Senators that are at least 70 years of age.

The average age of a Senator right now is 61 and the U.S Representative average is 57. These are both about the oldest averages in our nation's history. By comparison, as recently as 1981, the average Senator's age was 53 and the average Representative was 49. On average, both are now 8 years older than they were 35 years ago.

Quorum recently did a study for the 115th Congress and found that in 44 of U.S House districts the age of the Representative was at least double the median age of those they represented. In 38 of the 44 districts the Representative won re-election with at least 60% of the vote. Name ID is everything and the reality is that most of these politicians are not leaving the pay, privileges and perks of Congress voluntarily. It is almost as if they have a lifetime taxpayer-paid annuity.

There are merits to term limits but they also have inherent limitations.

Perhaps it is time to start thinking about retirement age limits instead?

Thursday, May 17, 2018


From time to time I post about photography that makes a statement to me.

Some of the most beautiful images I have seen over the last few years are the work of Murad Osmann. Osmann is a Russian who has been traveling the world with his wife, Nataly Zakharova, capturing truly spectacular photographs.

Osmann started the project in 2012 with his then-girlfriend on a trip to Barcelona. Originally all of the photos were taken with an iPhone but Osmann is now using a DSLR camera for a wider field of vision.

Osmann has 4.1 million followers on Instagram where you can enjoy his work. I have put together a few of the images that I like the best below.

If you have not made any vacation plans for the summer, consider this to be proper motivation to start planning to go somewhere in this beautiful world of ours.


Kyoto, Japan

Abu Dhabi

Taj Mahal

Hong Kong

Igauzu Falls, Brazil

The Dead Sea, Jordan


Las Vegas

The Maldives Islands

San Francisco



East River, New York City


It is easy to underestimate the amount or effort and work that goes into creating these images. Consider the travel to the locale, the time it takes to find just the right location, the consideration of colors and the coordination it takes with the wardrobe for Nataly, styling her hair, getting the shot with just the right lighting and dealing with crowds and bystanders that would ruin the shot.

Murad provides a little background of some of what goes on behind the scenes with his comments on Instagram that accompany the last image above from Singapore..

Thank you Murad and Nataly for this wonderful work.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

No Way Out

One of my favorite movies of the 1980's was the Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman film, "No Way Out" (1987).

A similar title could be given to the plight of Illinois in dealing with its public pension plan crisis.

I have written several times about the challenges facing Illinois regarding its massive underfunded public pension plan liabilities. The sad truth is that the State of Illinois has literally put itself in a situation where there is "no way out".

This is what I wrote in February about the position Illinois finds itself in where it recently passed a $5 billion tax increase but is already on track to run a $1.3 billion deficit for the current fiscal year.

The budget problems in Illinois are most directly tied to those pension benefits for public sector employees. The result is that most everything else that most people want their state to prioritize (K-12 education, higher education, public safety, roads, human services) is getting crowded out.

All of this is resulting in more and more people leaving the state. Just short of 115,000 Illinois residents left the state in the last year. Since 2010, the net population loss in Illinois has been 650,000 according to the Illinois Policy Institute. Illinois is now estimated to have fallen behind Pennsylvania in total population--- dropping from 5th to 6th.
Of course, all of this just will make the budget problems of Illinois worse. With people leaving the state, so goes their money. This means fewer taxpayers are left to pay the bills. Tax increases will inevitably push more people out of the state and the vicious economic cycle continues.

Since the state of Illinois has "no way out" three economists from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago have apparently concluded that the best way to solve the migration issue and pay off the pension debt is to levy an additional tax levy on residential property in the state for the next 30 years.

The economists, Thomas Haasl, Rick Mattoon and Thomas Walstrum, propose that a 1% additional property tax be levied on residential real estate. For example, a $250,000 house would bear $2,500 in additional taxes and a $500,000 house would see their tax bill increase by $5,000 per year.

This would be in addition to the property taxes in Illinois that are already the highest in the nation.

Bear in mind, these are median tax rates. That means that half are higher and half lower than this rate. This article on the proposal indicates that in south Cook County property taxes on homes already average over 5% of value.  Most of these homes are owned by working class African Americans.

From an economist's perspective, this might be an "artful" proposal.  After all, human capital can flee the state easily and move to another locale with lower taxes. The same is not true for real property.

However, the result of such a proposal would be to effectively lower the value of every residential property in Illinois. Due to the additional costs to own the home a new buyer will naturally discount the current price they are willing to pay. Thus, a $500,000 house might only sell for $425,000 after the tax increase as purchasers calculate that they are on the hook for $150,000 in additional taxes on the house over the next 30 years ($5,000 x 30 years).

Every residential real estate owner in the state of Illinois would see their home equity reduced by this provision. Many might find themselves underwater and quickly discover that they also have "no way out" of the state. Their property will become an anchor around their necks.

Those lower house prices are all part of what the economists see as beneficial from their perspective.

“New taxes wouldn’t affect people thinking of moving to Illinois. While they would have to pay higher property taxes, that would be offset by not having to pay as much for their new homes. In addition, current homeowners would not be able to avoid the new tax by selling their homes and moving because home prices should reflect the new tax burden quickly.”

This proposal may be an economist's dream.

It may be the best of a bad array of choices to raise revenue.

However, this proposal makes it clear once again.

For Illinois...

There is "No Way Out".

Monday, May 14, 2018

Altered States

It appears that California voters may have a chance on voting on a proposal this November to divide itself into three states.

The voter initiative is being sponsored and financially supported by Tim Draper, a venture capitalist billionaire who believes that three smaller states would be run more efficiently than California is today.

Draper claims he already has the signatures required to get the measure on the ballot but the signatures need to be verified and certified by June 13 in order to be on the November ballot.

Such a proposal has no real authority. A move to divide the state would have to be approved by the state legislature and by the U.S. Congress. No one gives much chance that either will occur irrespective of the vote of the people of California.

All of this reminded me of a blog post I wrote five years ago on the subject of state breakups and divisions. It is by no means a new topic and it is not unique to California. It has literally been discussed from coast to coast and border to border over the years. 

It seems appropriate to republish "How Many States In Our Future? 57, 54, 49?"

How Many State In Our Future? 57, 54, 49?
(originally published September 11, 2013)

We all know that there is a lot of political division and unrest across the country.  A lot of this seems to stem from a fundamental difference in the outlook and values of those who live in urban settings and cities as opposed to rural areas and towns.

For the last 30 years, those of like minds have increasingly decided to live closer together.  It really is a case of birds of a feather flocking together.

You can readily see the effects of this political polarization by looking at the results of Presidential elections since 1976 as Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing did in their 2008 book, The Big Sort. Consider the differences in voting between 1976 and 2000 as pointed out by Jonathan Last in his book, What To Expect When No One's Expecting.

In 1976, only 26.8% of the counties in America went for either Jimmy Carter of Gerald Ford by a margin of 20 points or more.
In the razor thin race between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000 it was not even remotely close in nearly half of U.S counties (45.3%) as either Bush or Gore won by more than 20 points.  
In 2004 the '"landslide counties" increased to 48.3% of the total. 

Last observes that this "sorting' is not an accident.  People are more mobile today than in years past and they increasingly move to find areas where people have similar lifestyles, attitudes, values and political views.  That is why Arlington County, Virginia has become overwhelmingly Democrat (Obama 69%, Romney 29% in 2012) and Collin County, Texas is overboard for Republicans (Romney 65%, Obama 34%).  Arlington is populated by a bunch of young, single, liberal Yuppies. The northern suburbs of Dallas are filled with married couples with families who go to church and like July 4th fireworks displays.

These demographic changes are a big reason that there is so much polarization in our politics today in Congress.  Districts are likely to be solidly Democrat or Republican because there is not a lot of diversity of thinking in most locales compared to 35 years ago.  Politicians that walk down the middle of the road today get run over by the electorate because of the Big Sort.

This polarization is also showing up in state politics.  For example, twice in the last month I have seen stories about groups that want to form a new state because they are dissatisfied with the representation they are getting in their current state.

The first example is in Northern Colorado.  Voters in several rural Colorado counties will be asked in the November elections whether they want to form a new state tentatively named "Northern Colorado".

The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors in far Northern California have the same idea.  They want their county to join other Northern California and Southern Oregon counties in the establishment of a new state called Jefferson.

Establishing a new state by seceding from an old state is permitted under the U.S. Constitution. Article IV, Section 3 requires that the proposal must first be approved by the existing state(s) legislature.  It then must also be approved by Congress.

A state breakup is not without precedent. Maine used to be part of Massachusetts.  It did not become a state until 1820. West Virginia used to be part of Virginia.  It became a separate state in 1863.

However, the fact that you need the consent of both the state legislature (who would be giving up land and power) and Congress makes any such effort a long shot.

One of the more interesting historical factoids on this subject involves the state of Texas.  It seems to have special privileges not provided to the other 49 states.  When Texas was being wooed to join the union in 1845 (it was then an independent country), Congress wrote into the resolution granting it statehood that Texas could later slice itself up into two, three, four or even five distinct states without the subsequent approval of Congress.  Texas would only need to have its state legislature agree to the split.  This clearly was done due to the sheer size of Texas compared to other states at the time.

I always have wanted to write a political thriller based on this little known historical footnote where Texas used this power to effectively add eight senators to represent its people in Washington to change the balance of power on a major issue (for example, oil and gas) that was critical to the state. Oh, to find all the time I need to do everything I want to!

There are some that have even gone to the trouble to propose borders and names for what The Five States of Texas might look like.  The picture below is from a site called "Fivethirtyeight" which also projected what the county by county face off between Obama and McCain in 2008 would have looked like in the five states of Texas.


Our Founding Fathers also thought that it was possible that two or more states might also be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states at some point in the future.  This has not occurred yet but might it be a possibility if a state found itself in dire financial straits or in bankruptcy?  Could we eventually see state mergers much like corporate takeovers or mergers?  It is allowable in the Constitution.  How about a future in which we have Chicago,Wisconsin or Detroit, Indiana?

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story several years ago on some of the history of "Altered States" that provides more background about past efforts to establish new states.  It also provided this map of some of the proposed states that never quite made it.  The states of Lincoln (Western Washington and Eastern Idaho), Acadia (Northern Maine) and Chesapeake (Eastern Shore of Maryland) are just a few examples.

You can go to an interactive map to get details on the background and history of each of these proposed states.

When President Obama was running for office in 2008 he made one of his famous "off Teleprompter" remarks and referred to the fact that he had visited 57 states during the campaign.

All of this shows that he may actually be proven right one day.  At some point we may very well see success from one or more of these state secession efforts.  Its been done in the past.  There is no reason that it might not occur again. I never ignore history.  It may never repeat, but it does rhyme.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Anchors and Angles

Donald Trump is often criticized for his outrageous statements and the demands he makes when negotiating any issue he is interested in.

What those critics miss is that Donald Trump wrote the "The Art of the Deal" and he understands how powerful "anchors" are in negotiating strategy. After all, he has been involved in thousands of negotiations in his career.

If you are not familiar with the effect of "anchors" on your mind you should be. It is a cognitive bias that resides in all of us. It is the tendency we have to move towards an adversary's position in order to strike a deal.

Once an anchor is established in a negotiation it is difficult to move away from it. All other bids and offers are negotiated relative to that initial position. It becomes a line in the sand that is difficult to move away from as it tends to "frame' the negotiation.

If you want to know more about how anchors can be used in negotiations, this article by Bob Sullivan on "The Art of Negotiating: How to use anchoring to your advantage" provides a good summary on the subject.

I just finished reading Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard's book on the American Revolution, "Killing England" where I learned that Benjamin Franklin also understood the power of anchoring.

Franklin (along with John Jay and John Adams) was tasked with the duties of negotiating the peace treaty with England upon the conclusion of the Revolutionary War in 1782.

Benjamin Franklin went into the negotiations with the mind that the British owed the Americans much more than merely giving the United States its independence. Franklin's opening request was that the British were also obligated to give Canada to the Americans for restitution for the atrocities perpetrated against the Americans during the war for independence. It was considered a pretty outrageous demand.

"We do not consider ourselves as under necessary bargaining for a thing that is our own -which we have bought at the expense of much blood and treasure-and which we are in possession of."

The United States did not gain Canada in the end but this opening anchor resulted in the United States gaining territory for the new country that went much beyond the 13 original colonies. The United States also gained fishing rights in Canadian waters that still exist today.

Benjamin Franklin was a statesman but Donald Trump is stupid?

This map shows you the original 13 colonies (light yellow) and the additional territory gained for the United States from the British as a result of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. As you can see, this generally gave the United States all lands west  to the Mississippi River.

This historical background was helpful when I also ran across this interesting piece of geography trivia last week involving what is referred to as the Northwest Angle.

The Northwest Angle is the area protruding over the 49th parallel that generally establishes the border between the United States and Canada west of that point. Most of the area in the circle on the map below is made up of the Lake of the Woods but there is a small land area which locals refers to as "The Angle".

What is interesting about the land area comprising "The Angle" is that it only accessible by driving through Canada to reach it if by driving by motor vehicle. That may be one the reasons that it is only inhabited by 119 people as of the 2010 Census.

When I saw this geographic anomaly I began some research as to how this all came about.

That research led me the Treaty of Paris of 1783 that Ben Franklin had negotiated with his opening gambit in the negotiation being that he wanted all of Canada.

The final agreement in the Treaty of Paris allowed the British to keep Canada north of the Great Lakes. However, west of Lake Superior it was agreed that the boundary line was to run from the "northwesternmost" point of the Lake of the Woods to a point due west on a line to the Mississippi River.

There were two problems with this. At that time, the best map in use shows the Lake of the Woods to be an egg-shaped lake. It proved to be anything but as you can see in the image above. Because of its shape it was difficult to determine exactly where the "northwesternmost" point was on the lake. They also believed that the Mississippi River would be intersected if a line was drawn due west from that northwest point on the Lake of the Woods. It was discovered later that the beginning of the Mississippi River is actually almost due south of that northwest point on the Lake of the Woods--- a line drawn due west would never intersect the Mississippi River.

Cartographers later discovered the error in the maps that were in use in 1783. Therefore, this meant that what was agreed to in the Treaty of Paris was actually a geographic impossibility. Great Britain and Canada subsequently tried to change the border due to this fact. However, over the ensuing years the United States has stubbornly refused to relinquish what they had gained in the Treaty of Paris.

This is how an "angle" of land became a part of the continental United States even though it is not contiguous with the rest of our borders.

You can read all about the later developments that involved The Northwest Angle over the years including suggestions that Canada purchase the area from the United States in this story on the Angle in The Minn Post.

What is the lesson in all of this?

Learn something from Benjamin Franklin and Donald Trump. Understand how effective "anchors" can be in negotiating. You may be surprised at how effective that negotiating angle can be. That angle may even result in an extra bonue like The Northwest Angle for you.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Stine or Steen?

Rod Rosenstein. Harvey Weinstein. Diane Feinstein.

These names are in the news a lot but what is the correct pronunciation?


I hear both.

Rod RosenSTEEN and Rod RosenSTINE.

Harvey WeinSTEEN and Harvey WeinSTINE.

Diane FeinSTEEN and Diane FeinSTINE.

However, there never seems to be any confusion with these famous names.



They never are mispronounced. We know they end with STINE.

Those of us who lived through the Watergate years also know that Carl Bernstein (STEEN), along with Bob Woodward, broke many of the big stories of that era writing for The Washington Post.

If you really want to get confused, consider legendary New York Philharmonic conductor Leonard Bernstein.

Leonard Bernstein
Credit: MilkenArchive.org

Bernstein grew up as Lennie Bernstein (STEEN) in a small town near Boston.

Lennie was not a good name for a symphony conductor so he became Leonard Bernstein (STEEN).

Later on in his career, Bernstein (STEEN) thought he needed to become  more classically identified, so he changed the pronunciation of his last name to BernSTINE.

I knew him first as BernSTEEN and had to later come to know him as BernSTINE.

Are you as confused as I am?

However, we both have not had to endure the life confusion that Michael Silverstein (STEEN) has had due to all of this STINE and STEEN business.

Silverstein wrote a humorous blog post on "How To Pronounce My Name" a few years ago. He blames any confusion on how to pronounce his name on Leonard Bernstein.

People used to have no trouble pronouncing my last name, Silverstein, with the last syllable pronounced steen. They also had no trouble with Goldstein, Bernstein, Weinstein, and all the other -steins, which were all pronounced with the same steen ending. The only time anyone used to address me or the other -steins with a stine ending was when they wanted to be offensive; such a pronunciation amounted to a backhanded ethnic slur.
And then Leonard Bernstein came along. 

Silverstein then tells the story that I have summarized above.

So, which is it? STINE or STEEN? What is really right? Is there a real rule?

My research indicates that it all depends on an individual's preference.

After all, it is their name and they can choose to be called anything they want to be.

If you want more it seems that the German pronunciation would definitely indicate that -stein would be STINE.

The name Stein by itself also always seems to be pronounced STINE. Never STEEN.

Names ending in -stein in Germany are also always pronounced STINE.

It is in the United States the STEEN has appeared.

Some argue that it was a way to separate themselves from their German heritage.

Some argue that it has something to do with German-Yiddish translation.

Some argue that the STEEN has been used when the name has a hard-sounding first syllable. STEEN is softer sounding than STINE. That may be why WeinSTEEN is preferred over WeinSTINE by Harvey.

Some argue that it is due to confusion at Ellis Island in recording the names of immigrants.

I am not sure what the real reason is.

However, I suggest we raise a stein to anyone that has to deal with the STINE or STEEN question.

Life is hard enough without people mispronouncing your name every other day.

Rod RosenSTINE, Harvey WeinSTEEN and Diane FeinSTINE should all agree.

Credit: LonelyPlanet.com, Thomas Sauzedde


By the way, if you read my last blog post on the reluctance of politicians to retire and leave their name identification behind, there is no better example than Diane Feinstein.

Feinstein is running for re-election to her Senate seat from California. She will be 85 years old next month. She was first elected to political office in 1969. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were not even born when Feinstein held her first elected position!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

It's All In The Name

My father used to tell me that the most important asset you had was your name. It was important to always protect it.

In politics, it is also about the name. A politician's name identification. It is their most important asset. However, instead of protecting their name, most politicians are intent on using and promoting their name. It is the primary currency for any politician.

Name ID is huge for any politician. The reality is that, beyond presidential general elections, a great number of voters do not have a deep understanding of who is running and what the candidates stand for.

Therefore, it is a huge advantage when a voter goes into the voting booth and sees a name that they are familiar with. This is why incumbents are so hard to beat in Congressional races.

Here are the incumbent re-election percentages between 1964-2016 in the U.S. House of Representatives. 98% of incumbents won re-election in the general election in 2016.

The substantial "asset value" that a politician has in his or her name is also the reason why so many politicians have a hard time stepping away. They know they have an "asset" and they want to use it. It really becomes a question of "use it or lose it."

This is very apparent in the Ohio gubernatorial primaries for Governor that will be decided on Tuesday.

Mike DeWine is running for the Republican nomination for Governor. DeWine is 71 years of age and was elected to his first political office (Ohio State Senate) in 1980. He subsequently was a U.S. Congressman, Ohio Lt. Governor and a U.S. Senator for Ohio for 12 years. He was defeated in 2006 by Democrat Sherrod Brown in his bid for a third U.S. Senate term but then ran for Attorney
General of Ohio which he won in 2010. After serving two terms, he now wants to be Governor when most people would be selecting their retirement home.

His name ID seems to be burning a hole in his pocket.

DeWine is running against the current Lt. Governor, Mary Taylor, who is 52 years of age. She also wants to take advantage of her name ID. She was first elected to the Ohio House in 2003 where she served two terms and then on to Ohio State Auditor for one term before her two terms as John Kasich's running mate as Lt. Governor.

Similarly, Dennis Kucinich is running for the Democrat nomination to Governor. That name should be familiar to a lot of you even if you are not from Ohio from his two Presidential runs.

Kucinich will be 72 years of age by election day in November. Kucinich was first elected to the Cleveland City Council at the age of 23 (almost 50 years ago!). He became Mayor of Cleveland at the age of 31 in what turned out to be a tumultuous two year term. He subsequently was elected to the Ohio State Senate and then the U.S. Congress where he served for 16 years. He ran for the Democrat nomination for President in both 2004 and 2008.

His name ID is also burning a hole in his pocket.

Kucinich is running against Richard Cordray (age 59) who was first elected to political office in 1991. He served in the Ohio House and later was Ohio's State Treasurer and Attorney General. He was defeated for re-election in 2010 by DeWine and subsequently was appointed by President Obama to be the first Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

When I first got involved in political consulting in the early 1980's a wise politico told me this is the way the game works. Very few politicians walk away without trying to spend all of their name ID. Most will keep trying to climb the ladder using their name ID currency as far as it will take them. For many of them, they don't have much going for them except for that name ID. It is bigger than any amount of money they have in the bank or any ability they have to govern or lead.

As a result, the deck is largely stacked against younger politicians who want to get in the game. This is particularly true for statewide races. Money and old-fashioned door to door campaigning can overcome name ID in a district, city or county race but it is hard to overcome name ID in a statewide election. Door to door is of limited utility and the money required to overcome a statewide name ID disadvantage is astronomical.

The same is true in Presidential elections.

Who are the names we hear the most right now for the Democrats in 2020?

Hillary Clinton (age 70) seems to be trying very hard to keep her name in circulation.

Bernie Sanders (age 76) built a lot of name ID in 2016. Do you think he wants to leave that on the table in 2020?

The same holds true for Joe Biden ( age 75) and Elizabeth Warren (age 69).

They all know they have name ID and they are not eager to let it go unspent even if they should be more concerned about their retirement house rather than The White House.

It is the way of politics.

It's all in the name.

And not many politicians are willing to forsake the opportunity to spend it all while they can, no matter what their age.