Monday, May 30, 2016

Retail Roundup - Restoration Hardware: 25% Off Forever

Well this is different.  Restoration Hardware has introduced the Grey Card (playing on 50 shades thereof?)... for $100 a year you get 25% off everything 24/7/365.    Obviously, if you are about to buy a couch to $400 or more, join....  here is a story that makes the obvious points...

Is Restoration Hardware groping toward the superior retail model of customer-ownership?  I belong to REI, PCC, and a credit union, companies all customer owned.  They tend to last through the ups and downs and offer zero investment opportunity.  Stability over speculation.

Next I visited the Amazon Brick and Mortar Store down the way, and it too of course has a membership fee, $99 I think.  The big draw is free shipping.  The big expense for Amazon is "free" shipping, hat "last mile" being the most expensive in the entire logistical chain.  Hmmmm... is Amazon experimenting with Brick & Mortar to escape the cost of the last mile delivery?  Will they eventually become pick-up depots for you merchandise?  At that point, what is the point of Amazon?  Is this the beginning of the end for Amazon?  And yet another indication that the small retailer will come back.

Costco has a membership fee too.  I was pulled out of line last visit and told I buy enough to warrant being in their Executive Plan.  here are some benefits:  they were mostly usury related.  Sorry, none of that for me.  But as an aside, the state obliges Costco to collect the tax on the "before rebate" price of merchandise bought.  So if I get what, $20 worth of whatever for $15, the hegemon requires Costco collect tax on the $20, not $15, even though I only paid $15.  I know that any rebate is thus, since if you buy the computer, and send in for the rebate, they do not rebate the tax.  But really, making Costco collect taxes at that level of granularity?  What do they do with that tax money anyway?

Met a couple of buddies for hand dipped haddock fish and chips.  I've come to refuse anything not prepared in house, and these were, quite good.  The bill came, $30 for a beer and fish and chips.seems higher than the menu prices.  Studying the bill, I noted 19% service charge.  Fine with me, but I inquired of the waitress how come?  And is it optional?

The how come of course was because Seattle is moving to $15 minimum wage, and this restaurant is trying out a model where at 19% they will have the revenue to cover the (face it) illegal aliens washing dishes and other entry level tasks that USA kids used to do, but is now effectively outlawed.  I questioned her closely, she gets 10%, and the other 9% goes to the other workers, so in effect she was actually getting less now, although in most restaurants the waitstaff kicks in to the support staff for the night.

Is it optional?  No, if we don't pay, then they call the cops (I guess).  Either the service was terrible and all 19% is taken off, or it is due?  How long has this been going on?  A couple of months?  How have customers reacted?  Most shrug and live with it, some have been outraged and never came back.

The University of Washington owns a famous landmark Seattle Restaurant group called Ivars.  Initially UW claimed to be exempt from Seattle laws because it is state property, not city.  They relented.  In their restaurants they introduced no tipping, but jacked up prices 30%.    Their waitstaff used to 20-40 year pros.  It looks now all gone.  Now kids working for $15 an hour, no one a professional waitstaff.

The $15 an hour is not about living wage nor justice or anything else.  It is all about government union members whose contracts are all "minimum wage plus..."  As the minimum wage goes up, their wages jump exponentially, since their pension, etc contributions jump up to as well as their pay.  Next their supervisors will warrant a pay increase given the lack of respectable premium for their work over the lackeys.  Not the brightest crowd, their increase in wages will largely be taken back in the form of taxes, and their wealth-effect lifestyle will come back to haunt them at pension collection time.

Of course there is no money for this, it is all just tacked onto the next generation, but it does present some principals.  Start a family.  A family business in time can have people who produce but need not be paid the moneys subject to taxation etc.  The business is the lifestyle, so so many costs that are after tax for an employee, are before tax as lifestyle.  When your cost of living is effectively 1/2 of everyone else, you can go farther faster.

Amazon, Restoration Hardware, The Chain Pub and Grub, are all trying new things because they are in trouble.  Most of the problems are too big for any candidate to do anything about.  But noticing the trouble, you can position yourself to float above it, instead of try to swim through it.

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Uline's $25 Fee

I love, and I've said so here quite a few times, but they lost me as a customer this week, and therein is a business opportunity.

I put together my order, and noted I'll pick it up myself at their warehouse, will call.  I noticed a $25 charge appear for pick-up, on orders less than $300.  What?  I emailed my complaint, and the response came back that with a busy parking lot, it was risky having people pick-up, and why not use UPS, etc?

Well, it is much cheaper for me to pick it up than have UPS run it through their system.  And hang on, at $300 orders people all of a sudden become safe drivers?  Surely driving on the freeway to Uline around trucks doing 70 is far riskier than on a lot where trucks to 5 mph.

The fact is, Uline is so big after rolling up all of the small local packaging houses that they lose money processing orders under $300.  See a business opportunity?  It gets better...

Uline sells no recycled boxes.  Those small packaging houses once did good business in that.  But now with recycling, those perfectly good used boxes get sent to the landfill.  Did you know that?

Recycling is a fraud.  Almost everything you laboriously sort recycling goes to a false economy make-work center where it is all carefully sorted and taken to the landfill and dumped anyway.  Call up and ask any recycler, they'll tell you.  Go ahead, get mad you've been scammed.  They do not care, because a. you'll do nothing about it (and can't), and b. if you tried, you'll go up against the vast majority of people who have been socially conditioned to believe otherwise.  When people find out what I say is true, they get mad at me, not the people who scammed them, or even themselves for being so gullible.

So a local small business that collects used boxes, and sells recycled packing materials, along with good tape guns (now ones are awful, buy up all the surplus old ones that you can) and other packaging materials, new and used.  Arbitrage the cost between what you pay for the materials and at what price you can sell them.  Get an old truck to do deliveries ... and work up a customer base of small shippers who need inexpensive packing materials, what we had 40 years ago but got rolled up by whoever was willing to borrow the most malcredit.

And at the same time, be a true recycler.

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ting! I Got A New Phone

I have written here many times about the way things were, and resuming those practice is a path to escaping the terrors upon us.  I was thinking small business, but here comes Ting using precisely what I am arguing to take on "too big to fail" phone companies.

Why I came across Ting, I am not kidding, is because AT&T just made it too hard to pay.  Their websites are tedious junkyards of whiz-bang coding ostensibly designed to get me to upgrade.  Trying to figure out the path to pay a bill was so onerous I took to simply paying in their stores at a payment kiosk (so it seems I am not alone) while I was running errands.  Then they required a password and login to pay, even with a debit card, at the kiosk!  I complained, and a clerk advised me to contact "customer support."  I advised the clerk I had come to make a payment, not chat with customer support.  I was miffed.

So I began to search for the phone company with the easiest payment method.  It was never about the fees, which I assume you get what you pay for, VOIP being cheap but sounding like a car radio at 3am in the High Sierras.  Ting jumped out as the easiest pay method.  Their billing system is old school benecredit, they bill you at end of month for usage, what you used...
Nope. No plans here. Rather than asking you to pre-pay for a portion of your usage, we decided to keep things simple. Just use what you need and we'll settle up at the end of your billing cycle.
Well, I don't use much at all. My bill:
Hi John Spiers,
Thanks for continuing to be a part of Ting!Here are a few details for your Ting bill, which was for Apr 20 through May 19, 2016...
-------------------------------------------------------------------Activation Fee                 2069150337                     $0.00 Plan Data Usage XS->XS plus... 1 MB                           $0.00 Plan SMS Usage S               24 messages                    $3.00 Plan Minutes Usage M           426 minutes                    $9.00 Line Fee                       2069150337                     $6.00 Apr 20 - May 19 -------------------------------------------------------------------
And here were the taxes we collected for Uncle Sam...-------------------------------------------------------------------Utility Users Tax - Wireless                                  $1.54Sales Tax                                                     $1.97E911 (Wireless)                                               $0.95Fed USF Cellular                                              $1.00FCC Regulatory Fee (Wireless)                                 $0.01-------------------------------------------------------------------Total comes to:                                              $23.47

You should see a charge for 23.47 on your card ending in 4XXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX  from Tingin the next day or so (if you don't already). That's us..
For years I have paid around $60, often more, a month for AT&T.

I like Ting's humor: Uncle Sam.  Note that the taxes are more then 30% of the bill, just as with AT&T.  That is wealth transfer from me to the bankers.  There were no telephone taxes before the Vietnam War.  Then Johnson laid them on to help pay for the war, and the war ended, but the taxes never went away, they just went up.

We had a pro-peace/anti-war movement back 1960 & 70s, and most of us just refused to pay that part of the bill.  The phone company never cut anyone off, you were just not paying Uncle Sam.  The amount, a few dimes back them, a couple of bucks in today's world, was too small for Uncle Sam to come after you.   With larger amounts, and computerization, now Uncle Sam can strike an individual quite easily.

Sadly, with the poverty draft and deep-state perpetual wars, the American people have come to accept war as a given, even if the people of Vietnam, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc, themselves have never abandoned their anti-war/pro-peace aspirations.

With all of this in mind, here is what I will do. If you have any of the biggy phone company services, dump them now and move to Ting.  Do yourself a favor.

Sign up with Ting, I get $50 or $25 (at some point, depending on how much you spend). (Apparently, at this time, you get $25 off, too!) What I will do is bundle up any and all remittances to me and donate them to one of the land mine removal charities, with a request they get it to SE Asia.  (Not sure which charity yet, I'll have to check the various ones for legitimacy).  There is a symmetry that telephone revenue would be directed to remove UXO in SEAsia delivered in part with funds from telephone taxes.  I like it!

(If remittances are in the form of deduction from my phone bills, then the money I would have put on the phone will be what is bundled and remitted to the charity.  Whatever, we'll make it work.)

It will be delightful to report say quarterly how much we have directed to war reparations.  To sign up with Ting in which kickbacks are directed to me, click here:

And by the way, I've experienced zero difference in call quality despite the half-off pricing.

So right now, click on the Ting link above, sign up to save money (and ease of payment!) secure your credit and mine, and let's do good while doing well.

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Robot Labor: Why This is Good for Small Business

If everyone loses their jobs to robots, then what can all these unemployed buy?  This is a subtext to Mish's emphasis on robotization.
Yesterday, Apple’s iPhone maker, Foxconn announced an immediate cut of 60,000 workers to be replaced by robots.
Today, Adidas announced the first ever 100% robot-made shoe.
Robots replaced the horses that once provided the drivetrain in transport.  We still use the terms horsepower and drivetrain when speaking of automobiles.  How will we refer to the number of people a robot replaces?  FTEs?  (Full Time Equivalent)

Did the elimination of millions of carthandlers due to locomotives bring poverty?  No, an increase in efficiency brought more leisure time at the same income level.  Did 99% of buggy whip makers going out of business bring on poverty?  No, those people got jobs building railroad cars.  Did containerization end longshoreman work?  No, wages went up and as costs of logistics dropped more could be traded.  Now the median longshore wage is over $100K per year.  Some make a quarter million.

iPhones will get cheaper as will shoes.  As will McD and Starbucks and Uber as they go to robots.  At the same time, human interaction will become premium.

Design will become premium.  Robots do the same thing over and over very well.  Robots cannot improve design, and there seems to be, in life, X amount of design talent.

Those people who once hand sewed shoes can still do it.  Unemployed, some who love making shoes will work with excellent designers and come up with super -premium shoes.  Lifestyle over accumulation.  They will need people who can market, find customers.  Lifestyle over accumulation.  I need only put on a hand tailored jacket with Levis (ok, and a tailored shirt too...) to get treated as though I am some royalty.  When a robot makes a million shoes, they better wear out fast to recover the cost of the robot and have a revenue stream to maintain the machine.  My shoes last thirty years, and look and fit better than anyone else's.   Of course the cost at least four times as much initially, but it is very economical.

I carry a flip-phone and endure derision from children, because people with smartphones miss too much in life.  There are no features on a smartphone that are net-advantageous.  I doubt there ever will be.  Pictures racing by on a screen does not mean you are going places. I am all Apple all the time because Apple's products are the least bad.  Apple charges too much for equipment that does waaaay too much.  If and when defunct Apple production lines start making things I design for myself, then I'll pay a lot more for a lot less tech.

It takes so little to live so much better.  It's mostly attitude, social conditioning.  Are you socially conditioned from the outside to be a consumer?  Or internally self-conditioned to work for lifestyle, not accumulation?

It's inevitable that among the unemployed some creative will start their own businesses.  They need to link up with the others in complementary businesses to thrive: small materials processors, small manufacturers, small designers, sales reps, retailers...  all people who tend toward lifestyle instead of accumulation.  Yes, countless others will elect to join the fight at the trough, screaming their claims of share allocation ...  but that is a choice.

Self-employment is also self-improvement, personal transformation.  I offer classes in business start-up, highly rated and unlike any others.  Check them out.

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Outboarders and Suitcasers

Here is someone I would remonstrate with, for his foolishness:
An outboarder is a company that should be exhibiting who decides to sponsor their own event during the show without the consent of the organizer. A suitcaser can be defined as a non-exhibiting supplier who attends the show and tries to conduct business at the show. Both of these types of parasites are trying to hitchhike on the franchise of the organizer.
For most shows, the bulk of the revenue comes from booth space sales and sponsorships by exhibitors. Outboarders and suitcasers prey on attendees without paying the freight.
"Prey"on attendees?  You mean attendees are forced to deal with these people, attendees cannot simply ignore anyone they do not care to meet?
One thing the IPPE (International Production & Processing Expo) has done over the last several years is to put a clause in all of the hotel contracts mandating that ALL requests for meetings, hospitality suites and functions during the show be approved by the show organizer.
In the contract there is a clause that failure to do so will implement a redress penalty of 10 times the price of a minimum sized booth (10’ X 10’, grossing about $20/square foot). This means that if the organizer finds out about an unauthorized meeting, it will cost the hotel in question $20,000.
If.  Delusional!  People rent hotel rooms and have meetings all the time, unrelated to any show.  I am sure if a show took up every room in the hotel, including all conference rooms, the hotel would comply, but at that point it would be moot.  But the never do. I am also sure hotels will gladly humor this idiot and say, "Yes, we will check with you first on ALL meetings of any kinds."  And then do nothing. Do you think some dairy salesman is going to agree to have his meeting approved by some cracker with something called the IPPE?

The ideal is ultimately to exhibit at a trade show.  Short of the ideal, there are many steps on the way, only two of which are called outboarding and suitcasing.  Shows ought to welcome and embrace and facilitate these people instead of entertaining some delusional ranter.

The inevitable is the ideal.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Faber Atrocious Asset Allocation Advice

Marc Faber is brilliant, a self-made small-business big money guy, advising and getting it right again and again.  He is a bit older than I, and so he knows well the way it was.  It's appalling how degreed adults have no idea of the way the world recently was. I actually endured a remonstration from an adult, a putative PhD,  who complained, without interest, who would ever make a loan, how would anyone ever get an education,  how could anyone ever afford a house?

Without Zyklon B, how would we ever do mass killings?  The things people allow themselves to be socially conditioned to think!

Well, there was a world before lending credit at interest, there was a world before Zyklon B.

Faber knows the old world and the new world, but he has specialized in playing the big money game.  He is not interested in the world of shopkeepers and lifestyle-over-accumulation.  So his best advice right now is:
He believes that all investors should be diversified  along the lines that he personally prefers:Real Estate (25%)Equities (25%)Cash and Bonds (25%)Precious Metals (25%)
Yikes!  Keep your fruits low hanging for the hegemon to conveniently pluck?  Surely his advice is excellent if you have accumulated much and want even see gains, yet be well hedged.  For those who are socially conditioned to believe in accumulation over lifestyle, that is the ticket.  Now most people, especially in USA, even if dirt poor, "believe in" accumulation over lifestyle.  The more the better.  Never mind the range of goods and services called forth by those who are socially conditioned to accumulation are diametrically opposed to those who chose lifestyle over accumulation.  Think "livin la vida loca" vs "livin la vida Buddha."

At the Wannsee Conference some Nazi officials were complaining the Romanians (I forget, but it does not matter to the point) were shaking down the Jews before the Nazis got ahold of them.  Heydrich advised the officials to leave the whoever alone, because they'd do a good job for themselves and later the Nazis could take it all anyway.

Who knows how and when this circus will flame out, and who cares, the hegemon will take it all anyway when necessary.  Manage your accumulation well!  The hegemon is depending on you to do your very best!

Instead of 1/4 of your assets in real estate, etc, how about 1/4 in pizza ovens, 1/4 in delivery trucks, 1/4 in a cows, 1/4 in heirloom tomato seeds (note everything can be moved).

If the hegemon gets to the point he takes that, it's over anyway.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Yes: Exporting to China at the Small Business Level

Of course it can be done, in fact, it is the way...
If these corporate giants can't crack China, then what chance is there for the rest of the business world? Well, somewhat unusually, the Chinese export market seems to be best suited to mid and small-sized businesses. The same Chinese middle class that is shunning Amazon and eBay is going crazy for Tyrells Crisps and Jack Wills.
Tangle Teezer, a medium-sized British company selling bespoke hairbrushes, has achieved unprecedented success, with China becoming its second most profitable market after just three years of exporting. Similarly, Suffolk-based brewer Greene King has seen demand for its beers skyrocket in China, with a 16 fold increase in orders in 2015.
What do you think I've been saying?  But it is not only China, what I teach works anywhere, anytime

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Fighting Over the Scraps: One Battle

So when Washington State was created, US Congress wanted to support education, so
Just before Washington became a state in 1889, Congress passed the Omnibus Enabling Act of 1889, which granted the new state millions of acres of land to support public institutions. Today, these trust lands are an ongoing source of land-based financial support to the various beneficiaries, including public kindergarten through Grade 12 (K-12) schools, state universities, buildings on the capitol campus, and correctional facilities. By far the largest of these federally granted trusts is the Common School trust with approximately 1.8 million acres of forestland, agricultural lands and other properties. Revenue generated on these lands helps fund K-12 school construction projects across the state. - See more at:
 Very good.  Thanks the Indians for your education, but hang on.  If that is meant to make education cost-free for citizens, how come we pay so much in taxes for education?  Well, never mind that for now, there is this...
Most State Forest trust lands were originally privately owned forest lands forfeited to counties in the 1920s and 1930s due to unpaid property taxes. These lands were subsequently turned over to the state and today DNR manages State Forest trust lands for the benefit of the county where the lands are located. - See more at:
See how this works?  The state issues banking charter licenses.  People take loans at interest to buy land. During a boom, prices increases, and taxes as a percent stay constant, but that 6% per year on a $50,000 property, $300, becomes 6% on a $500,000 property, or $3000.  That was fine during the boom, but now you are busted, unemployed, and can't pay the land taxes on the putative value of the land.

So the state then seizes the land.  You just wasted 10-20 years. That is democracy, and capitalism.  Like it?  Well, just keep in mind this is just one act among the countless that are available in the crisis.  Worked las time.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Money In Hong Kong

That title is a little misleading, for I will be talking mostly about currency in Hong Kong, which is not money.

What most people call money, the folding stuff used when "paying cash" is really currency, that is the stuff flowing around from wallet to till and banks and back out again on any given day.

In USA in essence the government controls all that, although even in the USA the legal fiction is all that is in private companies hands.  In some ways a larger fight in USA than slavery, the government involvement in that legal fiction has been with us all along.

In Hong Kong they do it as we used to do it in USA, and that is private companies issue competing currencies circulation in Hong Kong at the same time.  So when you pull a twenty out of your wallet in Hong Kong, it could be from any of several companies. it's all good.

Now it gets even more interesting.  You can pull out any other major currency in Hong Kong, say a US$, C$, JPY, EU, and use that as well.  Just about every place will take them, since just about everyone knows all exchagne rates at any given time.  I've paid US$ in shops, to cabbies, etc.  Yes, there are money exchangers on every corner, but they rip you off, and any local can do much better than the corner rate.

Now in Hong Kong they know the difference between money and currency, gold & silver and folding paper notes.  So one day I went looking for money, looking to buy gold coins.  Now my job is to find out sources, indeed the best sources, and I cut my teeth in Hong Kong.  So I was astonished when I could not find a source in Hong Kong for gold and silver coins.

What a few banks will do is sell Chinese minted gold and silver coins, and usually on some sort of program. So of course you can get them, in Hong Kong you can get anything, but as the most free market place on earth there was little demand for money, gold and silver?  The mind boggles.

Upon reflection, a couple of real world free market realities:

1. As long as people are willing to accept currency to cancel debt, why would you ever pay with money, gold and silver?

2. Vendor financing is rampant in a free market.  The retailer extends credit to the end user.  The wholesaler extends credit to the retailer; the manufacturer to the wholesaler, the materials processor to the manufacturer, and so on. Who needs currency, let alone money?

3. Gold and silver is for end-of-relationship deals, when the seller cannot trust the payment of the buyer.   This is why countries buy and sell using gold, as when the Germans paid in gold in Switzerland across the table form the Americans and British who were selling the nazis war material.  Extreme circumstances.

4. Yes, gold is a store of value, but why store value?  Since the Hong Kong market is so dynamic there are endless opportunities in which to invest and grow any value, why sit on any value?

Yes, we need to be on a gold standard for peace, justice and prosperity, but that does not mean we need  the hegemon to enforce it.  It enforces itself if the hegemon does not legitimize fractional reserve banking or usury, or both.

People imagine a free market means everyone is paying in fold and silver coins.  No.  In fact, the freer the market, the less of either you see.  As Spooner noted, ore is minted into coin, and as the price goes down it is melted to be used as plate, decoration and jewelry.  As the price goes up, the plate, decoration and jewelry is melted into coins.  This assures the amount of money is always exactly right.  At teh same time, since credit is extended by private parties to private parties given their own risk analysis, the amount of credit open is also always exactly right.

We live in war, poverty and injustice because we let a couple dozen people in Capitals decide what the right amount of money, currency is out there, with usury and fractional reserve as the levers.

The answer is anarchy, and the closest you can get to anarchy is self-employment.

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Clinton Foundation Enjoying a Pass

One of the many guys who spent ten years screaming, proving, demonstrating, shouting, bugging government regulators about the Madoff fraud (and of course was ignored until shortsellers, the only real securities regulators, exposed him) is now doing the same with the fraudulent Clinton Foundation.

Again he is utterly ignored by regulators.  Regulators, especially financial regulators, are huge consumers of porn while on duty.  Imagine that, earn a quarter million a year as a "regulator" and spend all day collecting porn. Since no one in government is ever prosecuted for crimes, why would it ever occur to them to enforce laws?  That would be hypocrisy.

(Hastert is no longer in government, and he was not jailed for child-molestation, but for money laundering.  Our government has its priorities.)

Who are you voting for?

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