MasterPo says: This blog is about topics and issues that are of importance to me. I am not one of the countless blogging lemmings that are tripping over each other scurrying down the hill and off the cliff of blogging oblivion trying to write the greatest blog on the latest topic de'jour. Your comments are welcome.

January 30, 2010

Recovery? What Recovery? Can't Prove It By Me!

So now we're supposed to have turned the corner and well on our collective way to an economic recovery.

MasterPo must have missed that memo.

This coming weekend (as of writing this article) is the annual Fly Fishing show in Somerset, NJ. Just about every year for the last 20 years MasterPo as gone. Very often the same things but a good chance to see maybe something new and anyway get re-acquainted with fly fishing colleagues from other areas that aren't seen too often. In fact, you can count on one hand the number of times MasterPo hasn't attended this event.

Add another finger 'cause 2010 will be a no-show for MasterPo.

The reason is simple: Cost.

MasterPo estimates it will cost:

- $20 in gas round trip to get to the exhibit center in Somserset.
- $20 in tolls round trip (the toll on the Verrazano Narrows bridge that has to be crossed is nearly $10 itself!)
- $10 for lunch on the road.
- And $20 for MasterPo and Mrs. MasterPo (she doesn't fly fish but likes to go anyway) admission tickets to the expo.

So that's a rough estimate of $50-$60 just to get in the front door before buying anything at the show.

MasterPo acknowledges there are a few places to cut corners. Mrs. MasterPo doesn't have to go (although she likes to). And bringing a sandwich would eliminate a stop at Mickey D's.

Nevertheless, it still expensive to attend.

While MasterPo does have the funds for the events, in this economy MasterPo is more inclined to consider the show an unnecessary expense this year.

And there in lays the problem.

MasterPo is surely not alone in thinking this.

Most of the true die-hards of the sport (of which MasterPo does otherwise consider himself) will attend pretty much no matter what. And similarly those not at all interested in fly fishing won't attend ever. But the vast majority of people are in the middle and more then less will probably come to a similar conclusion as MasterPo for this year.

That will hurt.

Not MasterPo per se but consider:

- No evil gas purchased but someone still makes their living selling that vile stuff.
- No tolls (read as TAX) collected for crossing the bridges and roads.
- Less fees earned by the show organizer/promoter.
- Far less revenue from sales for the vendors at the show.
- NJ is a sales tax state so that translates into less sales tax the state receives.
- Less fees earned by the banks and processors for credit card purchases at the show.
- Less funds raised by clubs and groups selling raffle tickets at the show.

You get the picture.

MasterPo can live without attending this years' show. But the same can't be said for the participants of the event.

Ask them if they feel "recovered".

Any bets?

January 27, 2010

Investing For The Ups and Downs

This isn't going to be another typical 'How To Invest' article you find on thousands of blogs. So if you're looking for easy investing ideas or Garzarelli level predictions, stop reading now.

The stock market will go up.
The stock market will go down.
Which stocks and when is the only question.

It would be an understatement that investing has been a gut-wrenching roller coaster the last 24 months (as of writing this). And MasterPo fears we haven't seen the last of it. Not by a long shot.
But while what direction things will go and when it will happen is foggy at best, the issue of whether or not to invest is clear. It comes down to a very simple question.

Which would bother you more:

Being in the market when it goes down 20%?
Or not being in the market when it goes up 20%?

The great industrialist JP Morgan (we need more people like that to save America! But MasterPo digresses…) is quoted as once saying "If your investments don't let you sleep at night then you're in the wrong investments."

There is always a good reason for not investing. At any time in the last 100 years you could find someone of [supposedly] noteworthiness claiming the end is at hand. Or, someone of [supposedly] great economic insight claiming this it's different because of this or that.

On the whole they have been wrong. Sure the market went down, perhaps took some time to recoup and start back into the black.

But who knows. Call the end of the world often enough and someday you will be right if for no other reason than simply by the laws of probability.

What MasterPo does know is that just keeping your money in a bank saving account at 1% or so, or perhaps locking it up for 5 years at 2.5% or so, just won't do it. You always need cash. That's a fact of life. But as a longer term strategy, taxes and inflation will eat you alive!

Only you can decided when to invest, how much and where for yourself. The "experts" on TV and radio should come with a warning label "For Entertainment Purposes Only!"

Fortune favors the bold!

Just be well informed.

January 24, 2010

Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

The professional work place is an obstacle course, laced with landmines and booby-traps, and like climbing a snow covered mountain has many deep crevasses hidden by a thin layer of what looks like transportable covering. You need skill, experience and BIG barrel of luck to survive every day! (which is one of the reason MasterPo gets so annoyed at people who poo-poo the money made by white collar professionals as "excessive" – who in their right mind who go through crap like this everyday for minimum wage?! But MasterPo digresses…)

During the course of events it is inevitable that some projects fall victim to these (and other) obstacles and perish, pushed to the bottom of the priority list to be smothered by the current avalanche of new higher priority work. Or, put on the shelf, frozen in a block of perpetual ice, never to see the light of day again. All this in spite of the weeks or months and hundreds if not thousands of man-hours of work put into them (and some really good work done too!).

Normally MasterPo would say that's life in the professional world. If you're looking for hands-on satisfaction from seeing the fruits of your labors completed and use go build a bridge instead. MasterPo has long ago come to terms that MasterPo's greatest accomplishments in life will be outside the work place.

But when the inevitable audit of the professional life happens (that is, you need to go on a job interview) and you're asked what have you accomplished – how can you truthfully answer that question?

For example, you've been working on a project pretty much exclusively for 8-9 months. Out of the blue the upper powers-that-be decide instead of doing it in-house they're going to hire a service to do it instead. Maybe the costs are better. Maybe the service has a feature they feel is too valuable to loose. Maybe the service belongs the VP's brother-in-law (don't think that doesn't happen!!). Whatever. Doesn't matter. The fact is 8-9 or more months of work just got shit-canned.

So what did you really accomplish? You kept your job and these days that is an accomplishment unto itself.

But substantively, what?

You generated a lot of paperwork.
Held many meetings. Send thousands of emails.
But all to naught.

So when someone asks "What did you accomplish?" or even just "Is it being used now?" if you are to answer truthfully how can you without looking bad? (i.e. all your work tossed aside)

But that then begs the question: Is it your fault? Should you take any blame for the project being cancelled or indefinitely suspended?

You didn't make the decision to cancel or suspend it.You didn't have any control or input into the decision.

So why should you?

Since the questioner/interviewer can't speak to your senior managers about it that leaves you in the hot seat for the project.

MasterPo thinks the answer is simple: Lie!

Lie like a rug about it.

When they ask you about the project talk as if it went through to completion and is the greatest thing since beer in a can. Then hope they don't have a way to confirm what you're saying (most job references won't speak of work specifics officially so you have a 50-50 chance).

But more over, the main issue MasterPo wants you to ponder is: Should you take the blame in life for a project that didn't complete when you did not have any input or control on the final decision?

Life is tough enough without taking the heat for things you can't control.

Think about it.

January 21, 2010

Health Care – Get Your Priorities Straight!

An observation:

A person will go into Best Buy and drop $2,000 on a new LCD TV with Blu-Ray player, speakers, Monster cables, maybe even an Xbox, and will be proud of their purchase.

But when that same person goes to a doctor or hospital for critical medical care they will cry like a baby when presented with a $2,000 bill for having cured them!

You know MasterPo is right.

Defend that!

January 19, 2010

Discrimination and Profiling Is A Good Thing!

Pre-conceived ideas.
Jumping to conclusions.

Whatever you want to call it.

What is so bad about that?

Yes, MasterPo said it. When you stop, get rid of the emotion, and really truly think about it profiling is not such a horrible thing. Everyone, and MasterPo means everyone, profiles/discriminates/etc every day of our lives. It's natural, proper (yes, MasterPo said that too), and completely stupid not to do it!

Whether based on our own individual experiences or by the collective natural instincts of evolution the profiling we do every day is a protection mechanism.

For example, you're walking down the street and get hungry. You see who sandwich shops ahead. One looks bright, cheerful, clean. The other looks dinghy, cluttered, not well maintained. You're going to make the decision to go to the bright and clean food shop instead of he dark and messy shop. Why? Because you have an image in your mind – a "profile" – that food from a bright and apparently clean shop is better and healthier than from a low lit dinghy shop.

But in this case you might be completely wrong! Maybe the particular food you get from the bight clean shop wasn't prepared properly or stored properly or the preparer didn't wash their hands well before handing your food so you get sick from it. Meanwhile, the dinghy looking shop may not have good eye appeal but the food is well prepared and stored, the preparation areas are well cleaned and maintained, maybe even the shop has received many awards and recognitions for its cuisine.
However, you made a judgment based on you thought was good and bad. There is no right or wrong when you make such a decision.

Consider the opposite:

You go into the dinghy sandwich shop, get food, and later you're sick as a dog!

Would you go back to that shop again?
Would you go into similar looking shops for food again?

MasterPo sure hopes not.

How many times do you have to eat at a particular establishment or similar establishments and get sick to realize there's something wrong and such places should be avoided? Similarly, you are not going to avoid all eateries just because one type has done you harm. That doesn't make sense either.

So when it comes to people who want to hurt you, who have in fact hurt you in the past and continue to try right now, why is it so wrong to recognize where the threat is coming from?

Even a small child quickly learns after being hurt that when they see the same or similar thing again to avoid it!

Maybe we need small children in government.

January 17, 2010

I *Should* Have Better Healthcare Than You!

Forget the moral prose and "human rights" crap.

MasterPo (and Mrs. MasterPo), along with millions of other Americans, have worked long hard careers all their adult lives to afford to pay for good quality health coverage. People like us have made the very hard decisions and take the hard roads that, if it works out (because there are no guarantees in life!) they are able to have the finances to pay for and benefits available to purchase things like advanced levels of health care.

By contrast, there are also millions of Americans who choose not to work as hard, strive as hard, risk as much and therefore have less likelihood of achieving the finances to pay for nor the opportunity to purchase such benefits as advanced levels of health care.

So now, explain in a logical and non-emotional way why people like MasterPo should not have access to better health care than those who haven't worked and strived and achieved as much?

Why should someone who never even bothered to finish high school or get a GED and now works at Starbucks, when not clubbing or playing Xbox into the wee hours of the night, have any sort of expectation to the same level of health service as someone who spent 4-6-8 years in school, countless hours over decades of years drudging away at one job after another to finally pull themselves up the ladder to something much much better in life?

And while you're at it:

Explain why it is the responsibility of the latter to pay for the health care of the former?

Is MasterPo angry? You darn bet!

Pull your ass off the couch and get a better life!

January 13, 2010

Healthcare For All Is A Right Beyond Cost! – So What Else Is Too?

If we accept that total healthcare services – defined as any and all doctors and specialists, hospitals and medical centers, tests and diagnostics, procedures and treatments, medicine and medical equipment – is a basic fundamental "human right" that all people should have equal access to regardless of ability to pay even just something for…

Then what else is too?

If we say that in the name of health and well being medicine is not a product or service to be provided in return for compensation, nor should the level of care be based on what one can pay for…

Then in the same of health and well being what else is too?

Let's explore the application of this philosophy to some other aspects of common daily life.


Suppose you go into a supermarket, takes a shopping cart, and goes about filling it with all sorts of prime foods: Bundles of fruits and veggies, packages of steaks and chops (let's toss in a leg of lamb too), some salmon fillets and cans of tuna fish, gouda cheese, artisan's breads, yogurts, some cookie mixes, bags of pasta, cans of soup, etc etc etc etc.

Then you head for the door.

The "inventory control" alarm (let's call it for what it is, shoplifting alarm!) goes off and you are stopped by store security.

Security says "You have to go on line and pay for these before you can leave."

You reply "I can't. I have no money to afford these."

Security, probably now joined by store management, responds "Then you have to leave your cart here."

And you say "My family has the basic human right to good food! You can't deny use good quality food just because we're poor!"

Do you agree?
Should you just be allowed to walk out the door with all that food?
What about the other customers on line paying for their food?
The ones that carefully budget, clip coupons, cut back here to be able top buy there, etc – what of them and their rights?

(footnote: MasterPo knows food stamps, aid to dependents etc. does cover some basic food stuffs but definitely not everything you want.)

Automobile Safety

You're driving your car down the road, come to a stop sign or traffic light, and when you apply the brakes there's a terrible squealing sound, a rough vibration from the wheels, and the steering wheel pulls hard to one side. Not good. So you drive to the nearest repair shop.

The mechanic inspects the car and tells you the pads and rotors are in very bad shape and not safe to drive. They both need to be replaced immediately. He tells you he can do it today and the price will be $500.

You say "Yea, definitely. I need a safe car."

The mechanic asks "How will you be paying for the repairs?"

You respond "I can't. I don't have any money."

The mechanic says "Then I can't do the repair if you aren't going to pay for it."

And you say "I have the right to a safe car! I have to drive to work, drive my kids to school, my wife uses the car to go to do chores. You can't deny me a safe car just because I'm poor!"

Do you agree?
Should the mechanic just do the work out of shear safety concerns and not for compensation?

Heat in the Winter

You live in a house that uses oil heat.
It's the coldest days of the winter so far.
Temperatures are in the 30's during the day and the teens at night.
The oil tank is nearly empty so you call an oil company for a delivery.

The company asks "What credit card do you want to use to pay for the oil?"

You respond "I don't have a credit card."

The company then says "The driver will need to receive $500 cash deposit before the delivery and will return change for the unneeded amount."

You say "I don't have $500 cash or even $400 or $300."

The company replies "We can't deliver without a payment."

You retort back "My family has the right to heat in the winter! You can't deny us heat on the coldest days of the winter just because we are poor!"

Do you agree?
Should the oil company be required to deliver on a cold day without any expectation of payment for the heating oil?

(footnote: Most cities and states do have some kind of limited assistance program for paying for heating fuel (oil, gas, coal, wood, etc) in the winter but it is only a small, brief tide-you-over program, not an on going service in perpetuity!)

These are just the merest speck of examples MasterPo can think of where people just can't have all they want because they don't have the money to pay for it. But the argument can be made for safety and health the ability to pay (at least something – "skin in the game" as they say) should not factor into the receiving of the product or service. The need for safety and health transcends mere trifles like compensation for materials, skills and labor.

So if healthcare and medicine should be provided in unlimited total without the concern for payment:

1) Where does that philosophy end?
2) How "fair" is it to other who do pay for the same product and service?
3) Why should anyone even try to be able to afford these things if cost and payment don't matter, anyone can get everything they want for the asking?

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

January 10, 2010

Computer Enforced Political Correctness?

It was said by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839: The pen is mightier than the sword. And thus with the stroke of a pen – rather, the stroke of a key on the keyboard – MasterPo had yet another profound observation.

At work today, MasterPo was typing out a document using MS Word (as do millions upon millions of people around the country and the world every day). MasterPo's tough typing skills are very good but once in a while a finger slips or misses the correct key.

In a particular paragraph of this document I meant to type the word "bigger". But, alas, instead of caressing the "B" key" my finger rubbed the dangerous "N" key. Thus, the word "nigger" was placed in the document instead of "bigger".

After type the paragraph MasterPo went back and proof read what I had just written. Immediately the typo was found and corrected.

No one harmed.
No riots.
No teachable moments.

But as MasterPo was typing out the correction, he noticed something.

MS Word did not highlight the word "nigger" as a misspelling (no red underline). And Word did not highlight it as a grammatical error (no green underline). It just accepted it.

Does that mean the word "nigger" is part of MS Word's built-in dictionary?

Obviously so.

This observation immediately lead to another thought in MasterPo's fertile mind:

What if….a company like Microsoft whose installed base of Word and other applications is measured by the millions or even billions, decided to enforce it's own view of speech?

Similarly, what if….the government of the country in which a company like Microsoft with it's installed base of daily used software in the billions forced or coerced the company to implement the government's view of speech?

Think about it.

In this case, the word "nigger" was not recognized as structurally or grammatically wrong.

So should it be?

Should MS Word flag the word "nigger" as being incorrect?

If you say so, then what else should be flagged?

In today's American society words like Capitalism, Free Market, Greed, and Private Property are becoming more and more taboo.

Or perhaps the names of certain people's names like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannety or George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan, should also be flagged as a warning also.

In Stalinist Russia thousands of copies of page replacements for a state issued history book. Citizens were ordered to remove certain pages from the book, destroy those pages, and replace them with these new pages essentially rewriting history. (And millions did just that cheerfully!)

Now in the electronic age not only history but language and thought itself might be possible to be changed by usurping a common daily application.

Tiny bits here and there.

That's how it happens.

Food for thought.

January 7, 2010

The Great Experiment Ends

Back in '08 MasterPo wrote about trying an experiment with my credit card .

In brief, MasterPo had found an article on a financial blog site spoke about a guy who was using his credit card for as many purchases and payments as he could (as oppose to cash or debit). Why? To maximize the rewards/bonus points he gets on his credit card.

The strategy seemed simple and easy enough:

1) Open a high yielding savings account and link it to your checking account.

2) Anything you would have used cash or debit to purchase for now use your credit card.

3) Then transfer the money that you would have used from your checking account to the high yield savings account.

4) Now you are earning interest on the money, earning rewards/bonus/gift etc. points on your credit card, and when the credit card bill comes you have the money to pay it in full.

Easy peasy, right?

Well, it wasn't.

Today MasterPo is calling the experiment officiall OVER and labeling it as a failure.


1) Interest rates had been better for savings accounts 2 years ago. Today, you're lucky to get 1.5% APR (and that's before taxes!). So what little interest you do earn is truly pennies. Not worth it in MasterPo's opinion.

2) The time to administer the daily transfer of funds from checking to high yield savings was a lot. Doesn't seem like it should be but it is. You must do the transfers daily at least. Can't do it weekly or monthly. The loss of interest accruing time defeats the purpose if you wait that long.

3) The time and effort to track how much in the high yield savings is really temporary to be used to pay the credit card bill when it comes.

4) All the charges makes for a much bigger credit card statement each month. And if you are as detail oriented as MasterPo is that's many many more rows of charges to review and confirm as valid/correct. Again, more time and effort.

5) Finally, while the rewards MasterPo's credit card offer are very useful, they are only paid out at the end of the year (early the following year really) so they can't really be used during the year. Perhaps another credit card with different rewards/bonuses would accrue a value that can be tapped during the current year. But the one MasterPo uses (MasterPo purposely has very few credit cards) doesn't. So again, lots of work and long time for the pay off.

For all these reasons MasterPo is going back to using more cash and debit for his purchases in 2010. Perhaps the experiment will be revisited another time with a different credit card and rewards/bonuses. But for now, it's done.

A lesson learned.

January 4, 2010

Is It Time to Panic Yet?

As been often stated here in recent times, MasterPo is not a conspiracy theorist! (MasterPo also doesn't like to repeat himself but this needs to be said to remind readers.) There are plenty of conspiracy dedicated blogs, websites and videos out there you can easily find if that's what floats your boat.

But 1+1 still equals 2 (regardless of what passes for "education" in public schools today).

I don't know if it is the result of an actual plan or simply the ultimate outcome of the sum total of a bunch of stupid decisions and text-book theory applications. But clearly the American economy – indeed, the traditional American way of life itself! – is in deeeeeeeep trouble. In spite of what the great Messiah in Washington and his obedient minions keep spouting, it isn't improving. You don't have to be a Nobel Prize winning economist to see that.

As of writing this:

- The Fed just revised down 3rd quarter 2009 GDP to a mere 1.2% from over 3%.(Footnote: Just imagine if a major company had so grossly overstated its earnings. Imagine the calls from the Wise in Washington for the SEC to be up and down the company books and investigate the company's management!)

- Unemployment is still 10% and likely to increase once the holiday season is over.The American dollar is in the toilet and being flushed deeper down every day.

- Our own Federal Treasury, as stated by the chairman Ben Bernanke himself, actually supports the idea of making an international currency rather than using the U.S. Dollar for major world commodities.

- Ol' Ben himself, in a recent testimony before a Congressional hearing, said the U.S. Treasury gave $500 BILLION to foreign banks and has no idea where the money was spent!

- The Federal discount interest rate is, for all intents and purposes, at zero.

- Healthcare "reform" is about to be passed that guarantees an immediate tax hike as well as higher premiums. Even the Obama administration's own people admit it will be years before the promised savings comes to pass (yea right!).

- Cap&Trade is on the horizon for 2010 and Obama himself has promised (with a smile!) that electric rates will double at least under the plan.

- The VAT tax is being proposed – get this – to help pay for the national debt!

- And the Bush tax cuts are going to expire at the end of 2010, which Obama has promised not to renew. But, as Nancy Pelosi said recently, returning rates back up to where they were before the cuts is not a tax increase!

- And I won't even go into the Iranian nukes, Chinese government buying of American bonds, or the Russians ignoring anything we ask them to help with.

It is true that at any time you can always find someone claiming the sky is falling. Back in the '80s every book store I went into had displays and racks full of books that talked about the "Great Depression of the 1990's" etc etc. Didn't happen. In fact the 90's were pretty good (no thanks to Clinton but that's a separate topic). I skimmed many of these books and the points they made did make sense. Just as many of the points made by "experts" and pundits today about our economic situation and the future of America. But life didn't pan out that way.

But just because it didn't happen doesn't mean the very real potential wasn't there. And while "potential" for risk is always with us, it doesn't mean to ignore it.

"Hope" can be defined as the last act of the desperate. When all else fails, hoping that somehow somewhere something will happen to make it all better is desperation. Not reality.

Is it time to panic? I don't know.

But I do know that for the first time in my life I have an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that isn't going away (and it's not the mushroom pizza I had for dinner last night).

I will leave you with this thought:

Nations come and go.But gold survives.