Sunday, April 19, 2009

Susan Boyle, Whale Hunter by Barbara Weaver Smith

Saturday, April 18, 2009 by Barbara Weaver Smith

This was the week Susan Boyle captivated the world in her first appearance on Britain’s Got Talent. She’s a great illustration of a whale hunter—going after the biggest deal she can imagine, despite being nervous and unsure of how she would be received. She’s a perfectly lovely woman, natural as can be, dressed in her Sunday best and ready to perform. But since she doesn't’t fit the mold of what we’ve come to think of as star quality, no one took her seriously until she sang.

I say Susan Boyle is a perfect whale hunter because when her opportunity finally came, she was ready! She has as beautiful a natural voice as I’ve ever heard. But when she took the stage, it was clear that she has practiced and honed her talent, as she said “since I was twelve.” Her delivery, elocution, timing, crescendo—all facets of her performance were impeccable. During all the years of her “ordinary” life—caring for her mother, doing charity, living with her cat—she was educating her voice and preparing for a day when she could land a whale with it.

We say that whale hunting is 90% process and 10% magic. There is no question that Susan Boyle had some magic—the magic of her voice, the magic of her simplicity, the magic of confounding people's expectations. But what really put her there was process, and what gave her the bravery to sing before an audience of 3000 people in Glasgow was the knowledge that she was prepared. Just before her appearance, she told the host “I’m going to make that audience rock!”

Susan Boyle is not a business woman or a professional speaker or an entrepreneur. She most likely did not think of her performance as a sale or the audience as a Buyers' Table.

She does prove that small fish can hunt whales with perseverance, preparation, and guts. More than 26 million views on YouTube last I checked. Every one waiting for her first recording!

Barbara Weaver Smith is touring cyber space in May and June to promote her book - Whale Hunting Women. Read Barbara's tips to be a successful whale hunter in business and in life.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Avoidable Disaster

The financial meltdown was caused by millions of bad decisions made by millions of people who thought they were riding a wave of endless wealth creation. The temptation of easy, risk-free profits led to contagious, reckless greed.

It started with the government, which tried to promote home ownership by lowering lending standards and pressuring lenders to write mortgages to people who wouldn’t normally qualify for them. The push for lower standards was greased by contributions and favorable mortgage terms from lenders Fannie Mae and Countrywide Financial to key politicians. This was stunningly successful: our elected officials got money and great deals while the lending executives personally pocketed millions from the easy money they made handling subprime loans.

Given their marching orders, the financial industry leaped in and sold mortgages to people who were bad risks. And they loaned them up to 105% of the property value with no money down. The loans were often made affordable by charging low rates up front that would reset to higher rates in the future. The bet was that the value of the property would increase enough to enable refinancing before the reset.

The borrowers were thrilled. Many bought houses without spending a dime of their own money. And they expected the property values to rise and give them windfall profits with no risk on their part.

Most banks and mortgage companies didn’t keep the mortgages on their books: they were sold to security packagers. The lenders were happy: they made easy money writing the loans and avoided risk by passing it on to others.

The investment bankers, who created the securities and sold them to large investors, were happy because they earned large fees for doing the paperwork. They passed the risk on to investors.

The investors were happy, too: the investments were attractive because of the high rates charged to borrowers and, even better, they were “safe” because they were collateralized by real estate.

What a ride! Everybody was happy, from the borrowers to the investors. Until the autumn of 2008, when the gravy train derailed. That’s when AIG, the largest insurance company in the U.S., went broke. You see, AIG insured the big security investors against default. When mortgage rates reset to unaffordable levels, borrowers stopped making payments. Housing prices dropped and properties turned “upside down:” more was owed than the property was worth. Massive defaults occurred, AIG was on the hook for money it didn’t have, and it became insolvent.

Prudent observers warned about the dangers years before the fall, but everybody was having too good a time to break up the party. When it ended American taxpayers, most of whom weren’t even at the party, were left with the hangover.

Man’s tendency is to be selfish, greedy, and sometimes self-delusional. The Bible tells us this. It’s the root reason the government, banks, mortgage companies, investors, insurance companies and borrowers got caught up in the hubris and diligently worked together to ruin a perfectly good economy.

Those who acted with biblical wisdom dodged the catastrophe that visited others. While 401k’s may now be “201k’s” those who didn’t succumb to the temptation of easy money have avoided the stress, foreclosure, bankruptcy and humiliation that’s affecting others.

This isn’t a cheap “I told you so.” But it’s clear that man’s weaknesses can be countered by biblical teaching. The lessons aren’t impractical, ethereal or unrealistic and they make as much sense today as when they were first written. Man is advised to handle money prudently, guard against greed, use sound judgment and discernment, and avoid fraud.

We’ve got a modern world the ancients wouldn’t recognize, but our psyche and their sensibility are the same today as they ever were. But people shrug off timeless truths and fiascos like this are the result.

Finding Faith in a Skeptical World

Chet Galaska was an atheist who became a Christian in his early fifties. It took several years of learning about the faith for him to shed his skepticism and become a believer.

Finding Faith in a Skeptical World covers subjects that once stood between him and faith. As he searched, he found that his skepticism was based on shallow perceptions he’d accepted at face value. One by one, troublesome issues were explained and they became reasons for belief instead of doubt.

It was as though he had a scale, with reasons for skepticism on one side and reasons for belief on the other. When he started, there was far more weight on the “skeptical” side, but it gradually shifted and became counterweight on the “belief” side. Eventually, the evidence for faith far outweighed the arguments for disbelief, and the case for faith became overwhelming.

Some chapters deal with matters of faith such as prayer, redemption, salvation and sin. Others address issues like Christian hypocrisy, why bad things happen, miracles, Satan and the Christian view of war. Some are about the seemingly contradictory relationship between science and religion that are discussed in chapters on scientific perception, creation and evolution. Other subjects like the sometimes violent and cruel history of Christianity, “Born Agains” and the Christian view of the Jewish people don’t fit neatly into any category. The common denominator is that each addresses an issue that can be misunderstood and create a distorted, negative view of the faith.

The book was written with the intent of providing brief shortcuts for curious unbelievers, those seeking faith, those new to it, and for Christians who may not be familiar with some of the ideas covered. The author realized that a book like this would have been valuable in helping him come to faith. Since none was available, he wrote Finding Faith in a Skeptical World to share the things he learned in a reader-friendly, direct and concise way

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Wall Street is a gamble we can no longer afford to make By: Stephen Edds

For millions of Americans, Wall Street is viewed as an odd curiosity, bordering on a cartoon. When we think of Wall Street, our minds conjure up images of “fat cats” with cigars, and movie characters, like Gordon Gekko from Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” uttering the classic line “Greed is good”. Unless you are involved in the financial services industry, your involvement in Wall Street is likely limited to browsing your 401 k statement or checking out the business headlines.

But it’s this perception of Wall Street which is costing us our financial future.

While we weren’t paying attention, Wall Street acted like a teenager with a case of beer and the car keys. Approximately 95 million Americans are trusting over $15 TRILLION to a system that continually betrays that trust, with the help of a complicit Congress, regulatory agencies and select media outlets.

Collapsing banks, bailouts to Wall Street firms; and scandals like those involving former NASDAQ Chairman Bernie Madoff, R. Allen Sanford are just the tip of the news iceberg. This recklessness is having a devastating effect on your 401 k and the economy, as companies downsize, millions are out of work, and our tax money is being spent to bail out firms with bad business practices and no accountability.

It is time we rethink our views of Wall Street.

The problem is that the perception we are being sold about Wall Street is vastly different than the reality. A system that was initially created to support growing businesses and manage risk has evolved into a complex, convoluted gambling scheme that takes as much money as possible from average Americans without producing anything tangible in return. Wall Street promotes the dream of turning a small amount of money into a large amount of money with little effort. But what you are doing is trying to predict an unpredictable, which is the very definition of gambling.

All of the books, seminars, or infomercials promoting ways to “beat the system” are a sham. The authors earn more money from the books and seminars than from following any market prediction system.

The truth is Wall Street is simply the worlds’ largest casino. The belief that you can take a little money and turn it into a lot of money quickly, without effort, is the same concept behind the lottery. But if your neighbor won the lottery, would you be more apt to spend all of your retirement money on lottery tickets?

One of the many striking similarities between casinos and Wall Street is that both need the money of the financial losers to support the winners. There is no money there to back the $15 trillion in stocks, so Wall Street needs new investors to pay those who are cashing out. Without an influx of new investors to pay off the old ones, the market would wither and die. That puts Wall Street’s business model suspiciously close to the definition of a ponzi scheme.

The reality of the market is that for one person to make money, one or more people have to lose money. This may be at the expense of a grandmother, a widow, or retiree trying to recoup their losses.

In most cases, you are simply buying a piece of paper from another person, and gambling on the hope that one day you can sell that paper for more than you paid for it. The paper itself has no actual value, and until you sell it, the value assigned to it is meaningless. At least in a casino, the chips retain their value.

If you are involved in the market, please understand one thing: Wall Street doesn’t care if you make money in the market, or if you lose money in the market, only that you keep your money in motion in the market. That motion creates fees and commissions for the brokers and exchanges. And your broker is not a trained economist, but a trained salesman. Their job is to get you to buy stocks, period.

And the regulatory agencies are largely incompetent. Bernard Madoff committed the greatest fraud in American history, not financial history, but American history.

Madoff was investigated eight times in 16 years by the Securities and Exchange

Commission, with no action taken. And, as Madoff himself said in a 2007 interview, “By and large, in today's regulatory environment, it's virtually impossible to violate rules. And this is something that the public really doesn't understand.” Madoff isn’t the only scam artist, just the largest one.

And yet, Congress has pledged over $700 billion of your tax money to bailout banks and financial firms. So what happened to the trillion dollars that was lost before the bailout? What happened to the $365 billion already spent by Congress? The answer to both questions, according to Congressional hearings, is “no one knows.”

In order to regain control of our financial future, we must re-evaluate our perceptions of Wall Street. Despite their brilliant marketing, Americans must recognize that Wall Street’s business model is a complex gambling operation at the very least, and a legalized ponzi scheme at the worst. We must demand accountability and transparency from those in charge of our money. We must pressure President Obama and Congress into enacting real reforms, instead of empty rhetoric surrounded by sweetheart bailout deals. We must reject the notion that we can create something out of nothing by telling ourselves we’re “investing” instead of gambling, and invest in ourselves and reinvest in our communities. And finally, we must ask ourselves if Wall Street is really worth bailing out? What if those billions per day funneled into Wall Street, which produces nothing in return, was instead spread more effectively in our own communities? I believe it would build a stronger economy in the long run.

Only then can we emerge a stronger country on the other side of this financial crisis.

Stephen Edds, along with T.E. Scott are the authors of “The Losing Game: Why You Can’t Beat Wall Street

T.E. Scott founded and spent twenty-five years as CEO of Scott Pet Products,( building the enterprise into a multimillion-dollar company in Rockville, Indiana. Before starting that business, Scott spent thirty-two years working as a baggage handler for Eastern Airlines. When he lost most of his pension when the company went bankrupt in the 1980s, Scott started on the road to exposing the true nature of Wall Street. Scott is retired and resides in Veedersburg, Indiana.

Stephen Edds is a native of Owensboro, Kentucky and is a graduate of Hanover (Indiana) College. Edds spent fifteen years in corporate marketing communications before striking out on his own as a freelance writer and joining Scott as consumer watchdogs with a focus on exposing Wall Street. Edds moved to Indianapolis in 1996, where he still resides with his wife, Erin, and son Levi.

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