Whether a Republican or a Democrat; a conservative, moderate, or liberal; a black or a white; or a descendent of Europe, Asia, or Africa, we can rally around the following aspirations:

We aspire that America be the most prosperous nation on earth, with this prosperity should find its way to every nook and cranny of our society.

We aspire that our education system be second to none, and this excellent education system be available to all Americans regardless of socio-economic circumstance.

We aspire that our government be a strong partner to business, with a political process that continuously strengthens our economic system.

We aspire that America be a land where the middle class is vibrant, and a land where those who have not yet joined the middle class know they can get there.   We aspire that Americans who want jobs are able to find them, and those who are willing to work hard to get ahead will have opportunities to do so.

We aspire America be a land where a smart, honest, and hard working person can become wealthy regardless of the circumstance in which they were born.   We aspire that these success stories are celebrated by their fellow Americans, because the advancements sparked by these entrepreneurs create opportunities and a better life for countless others.   Think Steve Jobs of Apple, Howard Schulz of Starbucks, Phil Knight of Nike, Larry Page of Google,  Stephen Spielberg,  and Oprah Winfrey.   We aspire that the American society is such that these gifted Americans use their wealth to help others, just as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates so admirably demonstrate.

We aspire America be a society that provides a safety net for those who struggle to take care of themselves.   We aspire that America provides food, shelter, healthcare, and a comfortable, respectful life be available to these Americans..  We aspire that our society progresses such that fewer and fewer people need these safety nets, and more and more of our people take care of themselves.

We aspire America to be a land that welcomes immigrants and provides them an opportunity to prosper.  We aspire that America’s immigration policies make us a stronger and better nation, and are a benefit of all that live in our land.

Perhaps most importantly, we aspire that the prosperity of America inspires societies throughout the world to be founded on human rights, equality, and freedom.

These are aspirations that we all, I believe, can rally around.  These are America’s Aspirations.

 


I am committed to the highest level of management ethics. I would rather see the company struggle financially than see it compromise on its ethics. With this in mind, I articulate four management ethics principles that capture the responsibilities management has to its investors.

Warren Buffet is my inspiration for both the content of the principles and for sharing them with whoever cares to pay attention. He shares his wisdom via the Berkshire Hathaway annual reports and, specifically, via his Owner’s Manual.  The Omaha Oracle has been publishing this Owner’s Manual for many years. Read it. Print it out. Book mark it. Read it again.  I have found that reviewing it frequently contributed to the development of my maturing as a manager and an investor.


 

Aesop’s Fable:
The Bear and the Bees

A Bear roaming the woods in search of berries happened on a fallen tree in which a swarm of Bees had stored their honey. The Bear began to nose around the log very carefully to find out if the Bees were at home. Just then one of the swarm came home from the clover field with a load of sweets. Guessing what the Bear was after, the Bee flew at him, stung him sharply and then disappeared into the hollow log.

The Bear lost his temper in an instant, and sprang upon the log tooth and claw, to destroy the nest.  But this only brought out the whole swarm. The poor Bear had to take to his heels, and he was able to save himself only by diving into a pool of water.

It is wiser to bear a single injury in silence than to provoke a thousand by flying into a rage.


No worries.   I am not a Trekkie.   I don’t even have Star Trek on my Facebook list of favorite TV shows.  But immediately after the Godfather Trilogy, Pulp Fiction, and a Bruce Springsteen concert, there is no better bible for life lessons than Star Trek’s 3 seasons of everlasting fame.  One of them is apropos for today’s economic predicament.

Show number 23–”A Taste of Armageddon”–was a first season classic.   It aired on February 23, 1967.  For Chicago readers, this was around the time of the great Chicago snow storm of 1967.  I was four years old.

The U.S.S. Enterprise is transporting an Ambassador to distant star cluster.  Captain Kirk, who is accompanying the Ambassador, beams down and has a convo with the planet’s head honcho.  Kirk learns that his planet has been at war for 500 years with a nearby planet , one that was originally settled by their people but is now their sworn enemy.  They have been at war so long that they can’t even recall why.

Luckily, this inter-planet war is fought by compassionate nations.  Social engineering evidently is one of their specialties.  These kind-hearted people discovered that the deaths that come with war are unnecessarily violent and the destruction is an avoidable by-product.   So they did away with the exploding devices.  Instead, the outcome of the battles was determined using a computer simulation.

A war is still a war even if computer simulations are used as substitutes for things that go pop.    But for war to be a war, deaths are a must.  So, when the computer spits out its results, the people calculated as casualties voluntarily report to dis-integration chambers to die.   The deaths are compassionate–you might say this is the change they came to believe in.

Enter U.S.S. Enterprise.  The computer incorporates the ship into its simulation and, as fate would have it, calculates that the Enterprise is destroyed.   Captain Kirk, bless his heart, refuses to cooperate and instead destroys the war computers.  “Not good”, cries out the planets’ leaders, as they know that this breaks the treaty that set up the simulated war.  Now a real interplanetary war is imminent.

Kirk saved the U.S.S. Enterprise from needing to turn over its crew members over to die–though their deaths would have been humane.  You see, the civilization that the Star Trek gang stumbled upon decided that war was unnecessarily cruel.  Sure, people had to die–that part they understood.  But why did the deaths need to be so painful and gory.  And couldn’t the collateral damage be avoided?

So they put their best social engineering to work.   And they decided that they could turn over the fighting of the war to computer simulations.   At the end of each computer battle, Social Security Numbers would pop out like lottery balls.  Only in this lottery, you got the gas chamber instead of a pile of money.    War was thus more compassionate.   One catch though–this war lasted 500 years.

But then the leader of U.S.S. Enterprise beamed down and came to the rescue.  In a passionate outburst that made Phil Donahue envious, Captain Kirk pointed out the unintended consequence of the simulation.  War causes violent death.  War causes massive destruction.   This is why war is to be avoided.   This is why civilizations must act responsibly so as to prevent war.  Violent death and massive destruction is the necessary deterrent.

Via social engineering, this kind-hearted civilization sought to make war more gentle.   But this social engineering came at a steep price–500 years of continuous war.  The incentive to prevent or end war was reduced with the removal of the violent death and massive destruction.  This lasted until Captain Kirk destroyed the computer and did a Phil-Donahue on them.  Once the simulation stopped running, peace was made and the war whose cause was long forgotten came to an immediate end.

Fast forward to today, as we find ourselves deep into a many-year economic quagmire.  We have enacted many policies to offset the harsh impact of the recession.  We’ve increased government payrolls and used stimulus spending to prop up industries and employment.  We significantly extended unemployment benefits.  We protected companies from bankruptcy.  We made it more expensive for private enterprise to hire employees.

The uncomfortable questions are “are we prolonging the downturn?” and “Are we making it more likely that we will have future troubles?”.   What happens if we don’t let businesses fail?  What happens if we protect salaries and pensions, even as we watch an industry such as auto manufacturing struggle?  What happens if we take too much money from those who achieved success and give it to those who haven’t?  At what point are we hurting society by misplaced compassion?   When do we cross the line where we are doing great harm to those people that we think we are helping?

Market corrections are ugly.   People lose jobs.   Life savings evaporate.   Homes are foreclosed.  Businesses go bankrupt.  It is ugly and painful.  It is, however, a necessary ingredient to a prosperous long-term economy.

A struggling economy forces society to adjust.  Get smarter with investing.  Hold corporations more accountable.   Be more responsible with personal financial management.  Make better choices on education and family structure.   Support politicians who enact policies that promote a thriving economy.

 



So you are sold?  You want to be like Warren Buffett–a contrarian investor.  The expression “easier said than done” is apropos.

First, simply being contrarian isn’t nearly enough.  You also have to be right.  The overwhelming percentage of contrarian ideas are not just wrong, they’re downright horrible.  Said differently, there is a reason why most people believe otherwise.  It is why the style of investing is named based on the word root contrary.

Second, even “right” contrarian views tend to sound wrong.  This isn’t a problem for Warren Buffett, but it probably is for you.  Why?

Do you feel compelled to run your contrarian ideas by others for validation?

Do you need to convince others to back you financially to pursue your contrarian ideas?

If the answer to either of these is a “yes”, your idea being viewed by others as flawed poses a problem.  Most other people won’t validate it for you–hence you will lose confidence and become discouraged.  Most financial backers will dismiss you, hence raising money will be difficult.  Some might even poke fun at you behind your back.

Let’s review.  Your contrarian ideas have to be right, even if they sound wrong.  You have to raise money, even though most money sources think the idea is flawed.  You have to trust your convictions, even as others chip away at your confidence.  You have to be comfortable, if the idea does prove to be wrong, with the smug retort of “I told you so” by your naysayers.

Do you still want to be a contrarian investor?   P.S., don’t get discouraged.  The Art of Contrarian Investing — for those with a knack for it — is quite lucrative.


One of my most memorable Bruce Springsteen songs is one that few have heard.  It is from the fairly recent album “Devils and Dust” and the song it titled The Hitter.

The Hitter takes place with an aging boxer knocking on his mother’s locked door. He hasn’t seen his mother in years–not since he was sent out of town at a young age to escape the law. The Hitter isn’t returning home to ask for money or to move back in. As he explains, he is just tired and needs to rest in a comforting place.

Come to the door, Ma, and unlock the chain
I was just passin’ through and got caught in the rain
There’s nothin’ I want, nothin’ that you need say
Just let me lie down for a while and then I’ll be on my way

To help his mom understand, he reflects on the time he last saw his mom.

I was no more than a kid when you put me on the Southern Queen
With the police on my back I fled to New Orleans
I fought in the dockyards and with the money that I made
And the fight was my home and any blood was my trade

It turned out he was quite the boxer.  Not only did it pay the bills, but he enjoyed beating up on other men.

Baton Rouge, Ponchatoula, and La Fayette town
Well they paid me the moon, Ma, to knock the men down
I did what I did, when it come easily
Restraint and mercy were always strangers to me

Eventually, he made it to the championship fight.   It was a tough fight, but even with a broken jaw he pressed on.  And he prevailed…

I fought champion Jack Thompson in a field full of mud
Rain poured through the tent to the canvas and mixed with our blood
In the twelfth, I slipped my tongue over my broken jaw
And I stood over him, pounded his blooded body into the floor

Well the bell rang and rang, still I kept on
‘Til I felt my glove leather slip ‘tween his skin and bone

And then he enjoyed the spoils of being the champ. But even as he did, he knew he was a play-thing for the rich guys–but he was fine with what he received in return.

And the women and the money came fast, in the days I lost track
The women red, the money green, but the numbers were black
I fought for the men in their silk suits to lay down their bets
Well I took my good share, Ma, and I had no regret

When the rich guys were ready to move, our champ eyed the payoff and went along with the fix.

I took the fixed staid hombre with Big Diamond Don
From high in the rafters I watched myself fall
So he raised his arms, my stomach twisted, and the sky it went black
I stuffed my bag with their good money, and I never looked back

Worried his mom might see it different, the Hitter explained his choice to her:

Understand me, and Ma, every man plays a game
If you know anyone different, then speak out his name

As he talks through the door, he is not sure his mom even recognizes his voice–and if he gets her to open the door, he is not sure she’ll recognize his face either.  He has been through a tough life.   So he tells her to look into his eyes–and in those she will recognize to be the same as her own.

Well Ma, if my voice, now you don’t recognize
And just open the door and look into your dark eyes

He is proud and independent.   He doesn’t want his mom to misunderstand his intentions.  He doesn’t want her to have any regrets nor does he want her to see any of his frailties.  So he reminds her that he is not seeking anything, not even an “I love you”.    He just needs to return to the home he grew up in, lay down in the bed he slept in when he was young and innocent, and then he’d be ready to continue on.

I ask of you nothin’, not a kiss, not a smile
Just open the door and let me lie down for a while

The Hitter’s best days are behind him and he knows it.  But fighting is all he knows.  He is tough and lives with something he still needs to prove, though he is not sure to who.  Perhaps only to those who are like him–who think they are tougher and who too have a checkered past.

Now the grey rain is fallin’ and my ring fighting’s done
So in the work fields and alleys, I take them who’ll come
If you’re a better man than me then just step to the line
And show me your money and speak out your crime

Well tonight in the shipyard, a man draws a circle in the dirt
Like I always do, I move to the centre and I take off my shirt
I study him for the cuts, the scars, the pain man no time can erase
I move hard to the left and I strike to the face

If you are a Springsteen fan and haven’t heard this song, consider yourself lucky–as when you do, you are in for a treat.


Mark Everett has been a close friend of mine since junior year of high school.   Our first encounter was the night of the Turnabout Dance.  We met not at the dance, as neither of us were asked to go.  Instead, we met at Aurelio’s, the local pizza joint.  (Laura Swartout-why was it again you didn’t ask me to turnabout?).  Anyway, Mark was the rebel without a cause.  And I was the high school’er trying to figure out what was cool to say and wear.  I don’t think we actually talked to one another that night.  Perhaps he grunted my direction.  Maybe I head nodded back to him.  The truth is that I didn’t get him and I suspect he didn’t get me.  But there was at least one person that Mark did “get”-and that was Bruce Springsteen.  Actually, there were a few more-they went by the name “The E-Street Band”.  At the time, I was probably still listening to Boston or Journey.  Since then, I’ve been a huge E Street fan.

Mark and I ran with the same gang.  The others included Marty Panega, Tom Gillispie , Brian Strain, Terry Venezia, Michelle Krezek, and Patti Zarolli.  Tomorrow night Bruce Springsteen is coming to Denver.  And tomorrow night, Mark, Marty, Tommy G., B. Strain, Terry, Michelle, Patti Z. and I will be at the Pepsi Center.  It will be a Glory Day for us.

Mark was kind enough to put his excitement about tomorrow night into a blog post:

In 1978, when my misplaced teenage angst was matched by my unfounded teenage jubilance, a man and his band from the mid Jersey shore emerged from a 3 year recording industry legal hiatus and released an LP by the name of ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’. I was already a steady listener of their pervious 3 releases and knowledge of a fourth potential classic LP held an engaging promise for all E Streeters.

The highly anticipated album was released in the summer of ’78 between my freshman and sophomore years in high school. When the tour was announced, Bruce, Steve, Clarence, Danny, Roy and the rest of the band were set to do 5 nights at the now dark Uptown Theatre in Chicago. The Uptown was a regal north side venue near DePaul University with seating around 3500. My father did not understand the concept of camping out for scarce tickets. To my father, the music had died many years ago in Iowa and it was still dead. Needless to say, I did not camp out with the other faithful fans, but I was graciously given a ticket to my first ever Bruce show. I think it was $15.00.

I wish I could remember more from this event. I know we were late because we got lost. I know we were doing things that were supposed to wait for college. I recall he opened the show with Prove It All Night. We were mesmerized from that point on. At the time, his legendary shows were 3 plus hours and this was no exception. The Boss was electric, charismatic, and prowled the stage with the confidence of a Lion king.

20 or so shows later, I am reminded of this first encounter in the fall of ’78 because of Bruce’s stop tomorrow night in Denver. Dan is getting us together to reignite the magic in the night that we have all shared over the last 30 years. To those of us who knew Dan when he was a bit more introverted and prone to bad fashion decisions, he has come a long ways.

Friday night will bring together Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band together with 17,000 faithful listeners and a handful of Midwest, high school friends that have grown older, stayed close, and still turn up whatever station gives us Rosalita, Born To Run, and Badlands. Many thanks to Bruce and Dan; Bruce for the timely lessons in life and Dan for bringing them back at least for one night.

Anybody up for writing a book about this?”

Like Mark, I’ve been to 20 or so Springsteen concerts.   More than half of them have been with Mark.  As strange as it feels to put in writing, I owe a lot of what I have in life to the inspiration of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  And a big part is the glue the Boss squeezed on our group-as this glue helped us stick together over the past 25 years. Let’s give the Boss the final words (with a little of my editing) to this post:

The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody’s out on the run tonight but there’s no place left to hide
Together Gang we’ll live with the sadness. I’ll love you’all with all the madness in my soul.
Someday gang–I don’t know when–we’re gonna get to that place where we really want to go
and we’ll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us baby we were born to run

And one more Bruce quote from Mark:

……..Remember all the movies Danny we’d go see;
Trying to learn to walk like the heroes, we thought we had to be

Okay, I can’t help myself. One more:

I act like I don’t remember. Mark acts like he don’t care. But I remember…


Warren Buffett is known as the Oracle of Omaha.  I’m known as the Bear of Boulder.  I like his nickname better than mine.  Nicknames notwithstanding, I am a beneficiary of the investing advice that Mr. Buffett so generously shares with whomever is paying attention.   If I ever write a book, it might be titled “Applying Warren Buffett’s Principles to Running a Business”.  Now there is a catchy title…Not!

The Motley Fool also believes in the wisdom of Warren.   The published a simple but powerful article Warren Buffett’s Priceless Investment Advice.   In plain speak, the post is enough to appreciate Buffett’s approach.

A section title in the article is “The Devil is in the Details”.   I see these as the most important words in the article, so take heed.   Warren Buffett’s investment style is easy to understand and even the most savvy of investors can appreciate it. However, Buffett’s magic is in the execution.   Warren Buffett has the knack for discerning a great buying opportunity.   The rest of us, with extraordinarily few exceptions, simply don’t.


Martin Luther King is among the greatest of all American heroes.  Perhaps I have known this for some time.  But today is the first day I really have thought of Martin Luther King in these terms.  On this eve of a most historic event, MLK day must be reflected on by all Americans, and by all in the world who love, loath, or depend on our great country.

Without MLK, would America, despite the follies of the past several years, still be able to profess to the world that it is self-evident that all people are created equal?  Had it not been for MLK, would America be able to define itself around its belief that all people are guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?  Would there be a Barack Obama if not for Martin Luther King?

The United States is considered the world’s one remaining superpower.  That our military and economic might defines our superpower status is unfortunate.  This must change.  Instead, our historic legacy should be defined by our conviction to the unalienable rights of all of people to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Just as MLK warned against questing freedom’s thirst by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred, our conviction to spread unalienable rights should not be used to justify war and harsh economic punishment.   Just as MLK demanded that the fight for equality be conducted on the high plane of dignity and discipline, we  must use the power of words and the example of our way of life as the inspiration for others to adopt the unalienable rights.

Any American who doesn’t feel proud on MLK day is unworthy of the advantages they enjoy by living in our great country.  Let’s use this pride to take the American dream to a world level.  Let’s be inspired to enact policies that bring economic prosperity back to the world but in a way that allows hard working people of all geographies and circumstances the fair opportunity to pursue prosperity.  Let’s encourage freedom not because it serves our purposes but because it is right.  Let’s return America to greatness, but not to set ourselves on a self-gratifying pedestal but instead so that the beacon of light we represent to the oppressed is once again pure and bright.    Let’s embrace Obama, not because all his policies are agreeable, but because he can provide the leadership that our world so urgently needs.

Martin Luther King had a dream.  The dream was for freedom to ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, and to all the nation’s children whether black or white men, Jew or Gentile, or Protestant  or Catholic,   Let’s help Obama take the sequel to the world stage and allow freedom to ring to those parts of the world and those ways of life that MLK would be concerned with if he were alive today.  Perhaps one day, MLK day will be celebrated throughout the world.


2,300 years ago, a formidable power from the southern Europe battled its northern African rival.  The fate of all of civilization rested on the outcome of the Punic Wars.

The First Punic War resulted in Rome seizing Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica from Carthage.  Rome emerged with a mighty Navy to control the Mediterranean.

The second Punic War featured Hannibal attacking Rome after a surprise crossing of the Alps.  Elephants in tow, Hannibal wrecked havoc on Rome and its allies for 20 years.  But Rome withstood the assault and eventually drove Hannibal to retreat and defeat.

The third Punic War set the stage for centuries of Roman world domination.  In 146 B.C., the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus reached the wall of Carthage, sacked the city, and burned Carthage to the ground.

The proud North Africans had to wait more than 2,000 years for a chance at revenge.  Thanksgiving Day 2008, a massive army of little blue squares was assembled in Italy under the command of Mighty Marty Panega.  Sitting across the Mediterranean was North Africa’s Carthaginian force, itself also in the shape of squares–but black instead of blue–with Jolly John Wharton ready to defend the homeland.  At stake was control of the world.

From early in the evening, Mighty Marty took control of the South Pacific.  Asia was fast becoming his.

His son Christopher, first time Risk player , was in a weak position in Africa.   He was highly vulnerable when his ruthless father turned in a set of matching cards, giving him dozens of armies to go on the offensive.  Though son Chris would have been easy prey, he had only one card and hence wasn’t quite as attractive a target of Jolly John.  Or perhaps the Mighty Marty has a soft spot for his kid.   With ease, he could have pointed his formidable troops at those of his weakened offspring.  But Chris is his eldest and his only male heir.  The opportunity to co-rule all of humankind with his son at his side was too appealing.  Just as Darth Vadar spared Luke Skywalker, Mighty Marty decided against overtaking his son.  Instead, his attention turned to Jolly John.

John was in firm control of South America.  He had most of his armies sitting in East Africa, protecting the pathway to Brazil.  Protecting his flank was a yellow power house in North America, under the direction of Dandy Dan (me!).  Marty could go through North America to get to John, but the yellow army was strong and could withstand an attack.  And Dandy Dan had five cards–so even if weakened, he’d come back at Marty like a Bat out of Hell.

So Marty elected to attack John, and the victor would decide the game.  If Marty prevailed, he’d pick up John’s two cards, re-fortify with another match, and turn his sights on me. If Marty came up short–even by a little–John would be too weak to hold me off.  Our western hemisphere alliance would be over and John’s cards would belong to Dan.

Marty rolled his three red dice.  John rolled his two white ones.  The fate of the world held in the balance.

A quick count of relative strength of Mighty Marty and Jolly John made the outcome of their brewing battle unclear. Marty certainly had more armies but not by a lot.  Moreover, John’s troops were spread across five countries.  The first one was his best fortified and they came ready to battle.

The story of Hannibal’s incredible counter-offensive in the Battle of Cannae has been re-told for 2,000 years.   Likewise, General John’s toying with Mighty Marty will be remembered for generations.  (I’ll make sure of that.)  John’s black squared army bent but never broke.  They withstood attack after attack.  When nightfall hit, only a few from Jolly John’s once strong army survived–but they held Carthage.

Mighty Marty’s red square army was mighty no more.  Proudly, his attack continued until only a few of his red squares remained.  The attack was called off, but only after every statistical possibility of victory dissipated.

Yes, Marty still had armies spread across all of Asia and the South Pacific.  Yes, Marty lived to fight another battle or two.  Yes, he outlived John.  With survival at stake, Marty even used his last offensive to take out his beloved son Christopher.  But history was already being written.  The world would not be his.  The new army–this one of yellow squares–was ready in Western United States.  Its strength was beyond what the world had seen to date.  Through Alaska and Russia it marched.  Asia and eventually the South Pacific crumbled.  It was only a matter of time before the world was to be filled by yellow squares.

The Dan Dynasty began.  Happy Thanksgiving.