Sunday, June 22, 2008

Look Behind You

Driving down the road at night. Traffic is not too heavy. My eyes move from the front, to the side mirrors ... then up ... they catch the rear view mirror ... oh my G-d ... blinding light ... can't see ... have to move eyes away ... its rude ... its unsafe ... who is that person? Where did they learn to drive? Its unbelievable. They must be crazy? How can someone put themselves smack dab right behind you with their bright lights shining in your face?

Doesn't that driver understand that you do not pull right up on the tail of the car. You can just go around or blink your lights if there is no way to go around so that safe action can be taken to allow the individual in a hurry to go around. Obviously not.

If you want to pass, merely move to the lane either on the right or left and fly by. It is the logical thoughtful thing. Oh, yes the right thing but not the natural thing for the driver behind me. No, that b___tard obviously thinks he/she is better than me ... must think I should just shrink away and run away from him.

Okee dokey, I give in. I take the high road. I move to the right ... the slower lane. As that rude auto passes, I can tell what it is ... a Lexus SUV.

Yes, now it is obvious. The pompous person who needs to drive a Lexus and also has the need to drive a SUV. Now, why does a person living in Florida a flat almost bump less state need a vehicle intended for winter hilly driving? Why is that person driving by themselves in a vehicle that seats seven? Ego, I have to imagine.

So, here is an idea that one of the candidates could embrace. If the U.S. wants to reduce our dependence on foreign oil ... create an EGO tax. Yes, if your personal self worth needs to be reinforced by an oversized vehicle. If deep down you think that you are worthless meaningless entity, you should probably run right out and lease a big SUV preferably a Lexus, unless your a buy American sort , in which case, buy a Chevy Suburban or a Ford Explorer. The bigger your car just translates into "I have to prove I am a wonderful powerful important person". Add to this calculation, the amount of time the driver spends driving alone. I say lease because it is also obvious that if you need a big hunk of metal to make you feel good about yourself then of course you need to have the reinforced every thirty-six months or 45,000 miles whichever comes first. Combine these equations and you have a pompous individual who is embarrassed to be themselves.

So, tax these poor suckers with low self esteem and you can add to their attempt at self worth by giving them something to important to complain about while reducing the national debt. A win-win solution.

Stay tuned the "Ego Tax" is only one of many ways to reduce the deficit.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Its Not Fair

The following was written by the New York Times:

"He has won four Masters titles, the first one by 12 strokes. He has won three United States Opens, the first by 15 strokes. He has won three British Opens, the first by eight strokes. He has won four P.G.A. Championships, one of them by five strokes.

Yet on Monday, in a playoff for the 108th United States Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course, Tiger Woods matched Rocco Mediate with a par-71 before parring the first sudden-death playoff hole to win a 19-hole struggle. Woods called it “probably the greatest tournament I’ve ever had.”"

Yes, Tiger is amazing ... He won the Open on a broken leg. He came from behind. He is so good that if he keeps it up till 2020 and finishes in the top ten of every tournament he just might tie Jack Nicholas' record. He just might be as good as Jack Nicholas. Face it right now he is not even #2 ... just today's #1.

But consider this, Rocco was ranked 158 in the professional golf world before last week. He is 45 years old. He has never one a major tournament. He has only won four times on the PGA Tour (which is 4 more than I have won just for the record), he has had a career notable for various injuries, specifically back ailments. He was in contention on the final day at the Masters two years ago, but his balky back helped produced a disastrous finish. Two years before that, he was again in the Masters hunt, but back pain derailed his hopes. His last tour victory was in 2002.

So, Rocco was playing not only his best golf ever but unbelievable golf. In fact, a friend informed me that over the days of the Open, he missed 5 puts of 7 feet or less. Make 1 of those and Tiger is an sad story of a fellow with a broken leg. If Rocco gets this kind of shots he has made for the past four days on the 91st hole, Tiger has to play #92 and more. Rocco you deserve more than 3 minutes of lime light.

Please explain to me why this is not the story. Guy ranked 158 pushes Tiger to 91 holes and only messing up on that 91st hole does he allow Tiger to claim victory. Why is it ... Tiger ... Tiger ... Tiger? Why not the amazing story of Rocco?

We live in a world where only #1 counts and yet the vast majority of us will never be #1 except in the hearts of a loved one. So, why this craziness?

Except of course when you think your #1 and someone else comes and shows you your not so hot. Your not necessarily the all time greatest ever to play your sport ... so stick that in your beer Mr. Kobe because the Celtics 3 won #17. Yes, Kobe you made it in the record book. Your team was beaten by the largest margin in a close out final game. It was a record formerly held by the Lakers loosing to the Celtics, how fitting for you to keep up the tradition.

So, maybe Kobe can take Rocco out to lunch and they can cry in each other's beer about coming in second.

Rocco your number one in my heart and mind as long as I can remember your name.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Volunter Frustration

Sometimes facts and circumstances get the better of you. Sometimes it brings you to say something stupid. Sometimes after the fact you realize what the right response was. Well, because of facts, the other night I could not sleep. Now, it was not my normal I can not sleep but rather I could not sleep because of smart people doing stupid stuff. This is not uncommon. Happens all the time. This time it really bothered me. So, since I am a passive aggressive non direct confrontational kind-a-guy, I decided to document my frustrations. Below is the actual e-mail sent out to twelve people. I have gotten one response which said "good job ... good working agenda ... lets go". The response was not from the president or Rabbis who I have not heard from yet. Sometimes you just have to get it off your chest.

Dear Rabbis, Former, Current and Future Executive Board Members,

I want to be clear from the outset, I am writing from a point of frustration. The frustration is not with you but rather with us, the Executive Board, the leadership of the Synagogue. For the future Exec Members, now that you have accepted membership to this illustrious group you should at least know the immediate history from one perspective. Again, any of the issues and lack of progress are as much my fault as an Officer as any ones.

We have spent this last year dealing with trivia, ignoring the big issues, being reactive instead of proactive, and looking down at our feet instead of looking forward.

We started the year without setting up any standing committees and I am not sure if we ever established those committees.

We talked about long range planning and that was what it was talk for a very short period of time.

Knowing how a successful High Holiday fund raising process should be done from the prior year’s experience, we waited until the last minute to haphazardly try to implement a plan. As a result of the lack of advance work, we missed our budget by over $20,000. The independent analysis of our High Holiday fund raising indicated that even in our best year, for various reasons, we raise substantially less than other South Florida synagogues in this fund raising category.

We eliminated an unknown fundraiser from the calendar and by unknown I mean a fund raiser put in the budget without a plan to just balance said budget. Therefore, we were behind another $40,000.

So, in October, we knew that our income was at least $60,000 below budget; we collectively chose to ignore the upcoming consequences until April when we cried “crisis”.

A bright spot in the year was the Annual Dinner / Ad Book. With the kind of hard work that produces results, we did have an Annual Dinner / Ad Book that achieved its budget objectives, if we collect the last of the outstanding money.

There was much talk about transparency as if it should be a goal by itself. To achieve this goal, we told the Congregation that we were in a “financial crisis” and needed critical help covering our shortfall. We successfully convinced a significant portion of our membership that BRS is a sinking ship without leadership or concern for the member’s money. Why should I send money to a sinking ship? We expressed panic like a bunch of … I can not say it nicely. Our cash flow problem began back in October and we did nothing about it like it would go away. We waited until the 11th hour and then cried wolf … “crisis” … and opened the conversation to why do we keep it so cold, how come certain staff make so much, why do we need all of these paper hand-outs, and other wasteful spending habits by an administration that obviously does not care about how the money is spent but only wants more. Whether any of that is true is immaterial when our customers, the members, think it. The reality means nothing against their perceptions. We are not in front of the issue.

Even more so after we cried “financial crisis”, knowing we only had one more fund raiser up our sleeves, the Golf Outing … knowing that we were in a budget deficit mode, we ignored this event as well until, as normal, a couple of weeks before the event. As its tradition has become, it had to be postponed. We ask people for sponsorship and yet make the window that they benefit from that advertising of their sponsorship to basically no time. So, the result will be maybe a $15,000 - $20,000 net instead of the $50,000 it should achieve. Again, we will probably have fewer golfers than most other golf outings, certainly than my small synagogue in Milwaukee with a membership of 90 families as opposed to our 631 membership units.

As a number of people who came up to me after the Annual Meeting saying that they felt the Executive Board members were insensitive to their concerns about rising costs. Again, perception is what matters. In response to tightening family budgets, they heard … it’s only a few thousand dollars here or a few thousand dollars there. These were people to whom a few thousand dollars any where is a significant amount and do not care that it was a slight percentage out of a $1.2 million dollar budget. All they heard was don’t worry, be happy, it’s only a small percentage.

Our leadership, by their own statement, spent an enormous amount of time on the “Shul by the Grove” issue. This group is extremely small and even though its members have more money than they know what to do with act like children, and they certainly by their actions do not understand the word “community”. Now for the vast majority of the membership, SBTG is a non entity, not something on their radar. We escalated the issue by sending out an email with “the conflict at Shul by the Grove that has escalated”. Now whether the Executive Board agreed to send out a mass email or not is not the issue. We could have said nothing. Sometimes if you keep your mouth shut, people do not know if you are silly or not but once you open it up … there is no doubt. We could have walked away weeks ago, taking the high ground instead of trying to get the children to play nicely with each other. We could have called them into one meeting and done who knows what. The bottom line is that in hindsight it is evident that one side was in fact planning for the future. We on the other hand were reactive. We did provide plenty of Shabbat talk for people who never spoke about SBTG before.

We have not spent any real time talking about the fact that the Capital Funds amount to $125,000 and we have impending cost of replacing air conditioners and roofs with cost unknown but certainly beyond our present funds. In fact at the budget presentation either before the Executive Board, Board of Directors and the General Membership the Capital Budget was basically not discussed. This marked the sixth year in a row for it non discussion.

We continue to brag about being cutting edge, premier Synagogue, one of the best if not the best the country with our Superstar staff. Yet we act like small time players. We spend excess time hearing meaningless reports discussing trivia while missing the boat on the important issues.

The following represent an incomplete to-do list – in no particular order:

Have 2008-09 Dues Statements gone out?
There has been discussion about a Pillars Dues Group ... when will the proposal be presented to the Executive Board and the Board of Directors for approval?
The upcoming Adult Education brochure should be printed in black and white. Even if we do not save any real money, it will send a message that we are trying to be cost conscious. We also do not need to send it out around the world. This is ego spending which we can not afford.

The thermostats should be set no lower than at least 76 degrees, and maybe higher, during the operational day. If the men are too warm on Shabbat, they can take their suit coats off.

We should consider having one Shabbat a month without hand-outs, note sheets for the Rabbi’s class. Make the notes available online, and if someone wants them let them print out the 5-10 pages.

We need to convene a small committee, with some new eyes, immediately to review how and what we charge for Kiddushes and other services. Our process should include finding out what other halls charge caterers and function holders. Should we charge for the use of our chairs, tables and dishware? Should we charge extra when our labor is involved in set-up or clean-up? How much a caterer should be charged … per body, a fixed fee or something else? I do not have the answers but we need to deal with this issue because I fear we are leaving money on the table as opposed to in our bank account.

We had a Rabbi come talk about the rules for moving the Mechitza. This is an issue that weekly makes our women angry, and rightfully so, when they can not hear the speaker or the Bar / Bat Mitzvah speech. There was supposed to be a halachically acceptable alternative. Yet, there has been no discussion at the Executive Board level. I propose that this modification be made as soon as possible … hopefully over the summer. It would be a nice way to demonstrate that we care.

The High Holiday Fund Raising committee should be formed immediately so that we actually achieve or exceed the budget goal.

In accordance with the new By-Laws, the portfolios of the Vice Presidents should be determined soon, so they can get moving. The standing committee chairs new to be found.

A year ago, there was an analysis about an additional air conditioner unit over the Library, I believe. As I understand, it would pay for itself within one year and yet no action has taken place. This project should be completed ASAP.

A Building Facilities committee should be established and it should deal with the day-to-day issues. These should not be 15-30 minute item on the Executive Board’s agenda unless there is something that requires a meaningful decision.

We are on the edge of a Capital Fund predicament. A building committee should be convened to review what needs to be done, entertain bids for the appropriate projects with a time table. We can then determine if a special assessment will be necessary (I believe it will) and the actually plan how to present this to the general membership.

Special requests for projects should not be undertaken until donated money is in hand. For instance we should not enter into an arrangement where a cantor is hired, we start paying and there is some promise of a future donation. Nor, should accept the statement that the money I gave you for no apparent reason a month or two ago should now be allocated to a future cost which was unbudgeted.

We budgeted for an additional administrative staff person so we can be more effective. Has a help wanted ad been placed? What are we waiting for?

We should never ever use the word … “crisis” … unless the building is currently burning. If want transparency in our actions, we should make sure the emperor is actually wearing clothes.

I find myself very frustrated. Please do not think that I think I am so much smarter and would have done it different. I am not smarter, nor do I have any special insight or third eye. The point is that together we should be smarter and actually be leaders, that is what I signed up for and I personally want to do a better job, better that I did last year.

In conclusion, these issues are not “oh, I was right and those people were so wrong”. I clearly and completely accept that as a member of the Executive Board I did not do my job completely. With this last year’s experience behind me I want to do a better job. We need to do a better job. If we can’t do a better job, we should step aside and let someone else try their hand it.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Morning After

They, you remember they the ubiquitous they who always have something negative to say on every issue, were wrong again. It seems that whenever they poke their heads up from the naysayer land where they maintain their negativism they get it wrong. Now, it is not always although mostly because they are on the wrong side of this issue but more often than not they do not know how to accomplish their goal.

So, last night was the big meeting. For those of you not following my life in detail, I mean the synagogue annual meeting. As background, for one long year, I have been working towards this meeting with one mantra "revised constitution or bust". There were uncountable meetings, nights and weekends writing and rewriting, arguing points, researching points, arguing issues and chances to try to be funny. The many arguments with spouse about how I was spending my time and how billable hours would be so much more welcome than that dang-it constitution. At the beginning of the process, I made a declaration ... the process would be completed by the June 2008 annual meeting or I would step aside and let someone else take their turn at the monster. Keep it mind that it has been over 10 years since anyone has completed the climb to the top of Mount Constitution and that last climb only achieved amendments. This effort was for a total rewrite. Now, the potential of my resignation was not a significant reason for the tasks completion, because ... well because you understand.

We got to last nights meeting and what made the constitution issues drop in angst was trying to pass the annual budget. Now a historical footnote, I have participated in the annual meetings for the last six years ... three of those asking questions about the budget, I was generally the only questioner which is why I was asked to move to the preparer side of the table and now three preparing and presenting the budget. In those previous five years, the total time spent on discussing and approving the budget has reached around 30 minutes in total. People either do not understand, can't read the small print which next year I will make smaller to avoid this year's problems, they just want to accept what the Board has approved or they want the budget to pass so they can spend the next twelve months complaining about the fact that those who are in charge making all the decisions never listen to the masses. The later would explain why an institution with 631 membership units struggles and only comes up with 85 families represented by either one or both spouses and singles to actually come out to listen and question. Being apathetic makes it so much easier to criticize. Oops, I should in all fairness of full disclosure, we were competing, unplanned, with an evening kindergarten graduation (who lets their 6 year old stay up till 10 o'clock drinking and partying celebrating the move to 1st grade?). We also had to compete with the WYHS faculty end of year dinner even though school is not over for another day. Last final is not till today, guess the concept of school's over means early dismissal for the faculty. I mean we did schedule our meeting when it was an off night for the NBA Finals.

The budget discussion took more than sixty minutes. Good questions and silly questions. Why are you adding a staff position in these uncertain times? How can you increase pay for the staff by 4.9% (the increase of CPI for south Florida)when social security is only going up 2.3%? Oh, you are only talking about three secretaries and one executive director ... and you have given a 3% increase each of the last five years ... sorry for asking. Don't you think in these trying times that a significant increase in fund raising income might be overly optimistic? Yes, but then it wouldn't be a normal budget if we didn't push the contribution envelope. Couldn't you eliminate the need for an additional staff person if you accepted the numerous waiting volunteers? Yes, if you could guarantee that the volunteers would actually show up and work in a meaningful way and there mass of volunteers would not need the supervision of an additional staff person.

If you ever find you self in a situation where you disagree with the budget, don't talk as much as make an amendment to eliminate the major bone of your contention. If your against adding a proposed staff position, instead of or in addition to speaking out against it philosophically ... make an amendment to not allow for the hiring of such a position instead of voting against the budget in total. Better chance of success.

It was a tough hour when your friends are speaking out against your budget and you have a tough time not saying "your right".

The constitution / by-laws on the other hand was much easier. There was of course the question how "how can you lower the quorum requirement?" Of course the person did not have an answer for "how do you deal with the fact that over the last five years we rarely get a normal quorum and regularly have to wait for the reduced quorum option and then still not always get a quorum.

The new by-laws did change a procedure in the approving the Rabbi's contract. Formerly, the proposal from the Board could be amended by the general membership, as was done for the sitting Senior Rabbi. The individual pushing against the proposed change to reduce the general membership option to an open or down vote on the proposal without amendment was the same individual who when the Rabbi's contract was proposed for 2 years promoted a 5 year contract instead. This was pass almost unanimously by mob rule. When asked if this wasn't an emotional decision without the normal discussion and input, the individual said of course not. The congregation is very thoughtful and reads all of the documents sent to them and views each issue weighing it carefully, pros and cons and looks at the long term consequences of its decision. Right, who is he trying to fool. This is the same congregation that stampedes to the Kiddush table and devours the scraps of food as if it were the last supper. The same congregation who allows their children to leave their plates full of food on the carpet waiting for someone else to clean up. Even the Rabbi said in confidence that although the change from 2 to 5 seemed like a good idea at the time, it probably cost him money because he might have gotten a better contract if were renewed after 2 years than he got negotiating for a 5 year term.

So, three hours later everything passed. What will I do with my new found time? More blog writing and trying to be funnier as opposed to so documentary.

Life moves forward and I ramble on ... I will try to focus but maybe not.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hot Seat

Tonight belongs to one of those rare evenings. Most evenings, its home, eat dinner, work and/or watch some TV, read a newspaper or maybe attend a meeting. The meetings might be on any particular subject or for anyone of a number of organizations. Very normal unexciting and not worth even mentioning. You might even go so far as to frame them as boring, mundane or less than worthy of bothering anyone with much less below the radar on taking time to document in writing. Welcome to my life.

Well tonight, is different. How you may ask? Well, about a year ago, in moment of weakness I said "yes. I have not been a sucker for a while ... so yes, I will accept the position of Treasurer". Seems simple enough. How hard good that be? I mean I am an accountant, I have done the job before and there is a full time excellent bookkeeper. So how hard could this job be anyway? Did you realize that bookkeeper is one of the very few words with three double letters in a row? Well, that would have been a simple answer with a relatively uneventful year. But no, I am a glutton for punishment. So, Doug could you help us with this old constitution ... it needs a clean-up, wax and shine ... could you find a little bit of time ... shouldn't take too long.

Well, how could I say no. I mean simple straight forward. Just take the old constitution and spruce it up ... update it. How hard could that be?

Well, I do not want to bother you with the gory details. We did go through 35 version changes and probably 40 meetings plus numerous nights typing changes and additions so updated copies could be emailed out, which also required witty email messages. I mean if you there is a groundswell for the details I might consent but we will leave it aside.

Which brings us to tonight ... this evening is the annual synagogue meeting. At this meeting there are four agenda items. I will be presenting two portions of this meeting. As the Treasurer I will be presenting the annual budget and as the chairman of the Constitution Committee, I get to present the revised constitution and new by-laws. Vote yes twice, please.

Now up until yesterday, I was confident about the budget and praying for the sympathy vote on the constitution. Then yesterday, the president stood up and did his Shavuot holiday appeal ... he begged for money to help with the financial crisis. Now when confronted later in the day, he did not even remember using the word "crisis". He did remember telling the congregation that he could see dues going from their current $1,500 to $2,200 in the next couple of years to help pay for our superstar staff in our nationally top ranked synagogue. Even my few friends came up to me and asked me how in good consciousness put forth a budget that expands funding for a new position and higher. Well, well, well ...

I mean there were some good constitution questions that had not been resolved. Could parve cholent really be called cholent? What should the minimum age of the scotch being served in the building be? Could the senior rabbi be a female ... just kidding. Should the youth department also provide programming for the teenager in all of us or the young at heart? Serious stuff.

So, this could be my last post and I say its been nice. My final words of warning ... never volunteer, never go to a meeting, never ask a question at that meeting you forget and actually attend, never say "yes", never even say "okay, I will see if I can make it", in fact just never join.

So long farewell.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Life Should Be Like

There is a sci-fi show called "7 Days". Besides being like a normal sci-fi show with stilted acting and seventh grade dialog, it does have an interesting story line. When there is a major disaster such as the death of a major figure, an attack by bad guys or some other event which with hindsight might be averted, a secret agent using a special machine goes back in time but limited to seven days before the jump to try to avert the disaster. Funny, they always seem to be able to make things better except for some social issues like secret agent trying to hit on science lady and never seeming to get it right. Now, I am not here to debate the ethics of changing history and of course I am not going to explore the dilemma of running into yourself when you go back in time. What I am thinking about today is the do-over. What if you could go back a short period of time and have a do-over ... redo some actions that you might have wanted to do differently with hindsight?

Or maybe life should be like a shoe? When your shoe gets worn down, or wears out on the inside ... you take it the shoemaker and he fixes it and throws in a high grade polish. Look your shoes are better than new. They have a brand new level heal, interior wear fixed and they are still broken in. You felt bad, out of sorts and now with a visit to the shoemaker you are better than new. You have fixed all your weak spots.

Life could be like golf. In golf, for the amateurs, if you have a bad shot you can take a "mulligan", a do-over, re-do that shot and the bad shot never happened, does not count against you. You screw up, you said the wrong think, you wore jeans when it was suit and tie ... oops, mulligan.

How come in life you only get one shot? Doesn't that seem unfair? Why don't other people give you a chance to fix a mistake without holding it against you? How come when that person says ..."its okay, we'll just forget it, like it never happened" and then some time later, sitting at a party that same ... oh let's forget it person proceeds to tell everyone the dumb thing you did ... everyone giggling at your stupidity.

So, are you one who allows mulligans or are you the one just waiting to bring up that dumb thing just to embarrass that person who shared with you?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Fantasy Part 2

Fantasizing is an interesting past time. In fact, now that I actually think about it, is the perfect couch potato activity and by activity I mean something that can be done with the body at rest with a drink in your hand. It does not require sweating or taking a shower afterwards, except for certain fantasies. You can do it alone or with a friend and if you do it alone it does not have the same stigma that some of those activities you, and you know who you are, do when your alone in the dark.

So, what is your fantasy?

I have a number of them that I have been working on over the years. Before you start opening the Yellow Pages for crazy doctors, also know as shrinks or psychiatrists, I know these are fantasies and if you will bear with my ramblings, you will see that you might have thought of these yourself had you been so inclined with excess time on your hand or while driving long distance.

1. Money. Now who does not fantasize about money? Raise your hands out there if you never ever thought about what it would it be like to have all the money for all your ideas and then multiply that by some factor of 10 or 100 and that is the kind of money we are talking about. Real money. Well, years ago when I began, the sum of money was in the neighborhood of $10 million. It seemed like enough without being piggish. Take care of immediate family, money for extended family, charitable money and comfortable, not excessive lifestyle. Not crazy. Well, time moves forward. Yes, I know it does not move in any other direction except in SciFi books or movies ... I am not crazy. Inflation, larger extended family, kids growing up, charitable vision expands ... money fantasy needs to keep pace. Now, I am looking at $1 - 5 billion.

Now, your response ... you are out there aren't you? I am not here alone ... talking to myself? Oh yeah, I do that.

So, any good fantasy has rules, structure. Particularly a fantasy that has had years to develop. In my fantasy land you can not just say ... give me all the money in the world. There are practical considerations. Income tax considerations. Lifestyle considerations. Safety considerations, yes people with lots of money are targets even in fantasy land.

So, I am approached by an individual telling me ... Mr. C. your dreams and nightmares are being answered. Here is a check(s) totaling $1 Billion ... some days $5 Billion. The money as you can see from the legal notebook here for you is tax free. You can have your attorneys check it over before you cash the check(s)but there is only one string attached. See, even fantasies come with conditions. The man says ... you can never revel where you got the money from. So, its my fantasy so I say ... okee dokee.

Now I have $1-5 Billion. What do you do?

Well, I first have the documents reviewed by a competent tax attorney who is preferably not Jewish and discreet. Its okay of course.

So, here is my plan. It is a two part plan, part one (1) personal and (2) charitable. Let's start with (2) charitable.

Jewish education is critical. My family has spent countless hours and dollars supporting it. We, for those of you that can not remember and by you I mean my three readers who already know this but all four sons attended J School from K-4 through 12 and 3 through college and number 4 is on the same path so far. Without belaboring families volunteering time to this worthy cause, lets just say we are believers.

Two problems for Jewish education, (a) tuition is too high and (b) teacher compensation is too low. So, how does my fantasy work? Well, I would commit as much as 50% to this cause. I am not looking for recognition since it is not really my money, so I engage a representative to represent an anonymous donor. He/she would go to designated schools and ask to see financial budgets. Knowing what specific school's budget is currently, we ask if they would like to participate in our program. The program is this, we provide a significant endowment ... say $50 - $100 million. What does the school have to do? Provide a 3-5 year plan. Part two, agree to charge little or no tuition, give staff a significant raise and accept all Jewish kids who want to apply. The school would receive an endowment that would allow it to do just that ... be free and open to any Jewish child and provide a real living wage to its staff.

Now, I know your going to say ... well isn't that the Chicago / George Hanus plan? I had it first. Second, he has raised $26 million for the entire city of Chicago. Nice but nowhere near enough money for even that one city. My uneducated guess is that Chicago would need nearer $260 million.

So, depending upon needs, I would fund schools in Milwaukee, Florida and California. These schools would be role models for other schools and communities.

So, that is part one of my fantasy. The other part ... pay off student loans, provide adequate housing for all family members, funding for college education of all nieces, nephews, children, and grandchildren, allow for regular family vacations, time to actually take up a hobby or two and maybe get decent at one of them. More normal stuff.

So, there is my money fantasy. Since, I have been told that I ramble too long at times and this is certainly one of those times ... I will leave my other fantasies to another post ... but the key is that if you are what you fantasize about ... are you proud enough to tell someone some day?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How Did They Ever Get To Be #1

Yes, for those of you too young to remember General Motors used to be #1 in auto/truck sales commanding a whopping 50plus percent of the US market. Now they are around 20% and falling. Well, GM just woke up to discover that gasoline is expensive and pick-up trucks, SUVs and Hummers may not be the most prudent vehicle to produce.

Result, poor people in Janesville, WI and three other cities will be out of a job. Now it will take GM two or three years to pack up and actually close those plants but still ... jobs will be lost.

Let's consider this for a moment. The guys running GM will still get their salaries today and in three years. The guys at the top may even get a bonus for realizing that $4 a gallon for gas may cause people to think about the MPG. Those same guys will take a plane to D.C. to tell Congress they need many years to react and produce a vehicle that gets really good gas mileage.

Why, will the people in Janesville loose their jobs? Because thirty years ago when there was the first gasoline shortage, those bright folks at GM thought is was just a short term thing. Gasoline would be plentiful and cheap forever. Why, there was no potential for shortage. And we are the United States of America and it is the world's obligation to provide us with all of its resources so that we can maintain whatever lifestyle we choose. Its our God given right. If I go by myself in my Supersized Chevy Suburban that seats 7 and drive it 90 mph and get 5 miles per gallon ... well its my right. Now, since it is my God given right, I should get gas at maybe $2.50 per gallon so it won't hurt so much at the pump.

Well, it seems that while we have been guzzling gas and not worrying about how many miles per gallon our SUV got and didn't worry that our second car was an even bigger SUV for those times when you might want to take a friend or the kids in the car ... along comes the rest of the world and decides that some of that gasoline should be theirs. Imagine our surprise.

Now add to that, our dollar becoming like toilet paper so it takes more to actually buy that gasoline and you get $4 per gallon on its way to $5 or higher.

So, this freight train that has been coming since the early 70's ... why GM didn't see it coming. GM execs said they never in a million years thought gas would go to $4 per gallons so fast. Thirty years just went by in a snap.

So, if you were hoping to buy American, help those people in Detroit out, take a positive step so the people in Janesville would not suffer ... sorry GM didn't see it coming.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

When Is Enough Enough

The age old question ... "when is enough enough" goes back to the dawn of time.

The Lord offered Moses a choice either seven (7) commandments just like all the other nations or six hundred thirteen (613) so the Jews could be special. You guessed it we got the 613. Way to go Moses. Not to be outdone, the Rabbis said ..."only 613, why we can do better. So, they went and had a contest. The contest to see who could create more rules to enhance and expand and make life harder and of course to keep lighting from striking me ... a better closer to the Lord life. Yeah, I know that Oral Law thing but it was only a 40 day conversation or so some say and he did not take any notes. So, admit it ... making up laws is fun.

The only thing I might have asked given the opportunity is to have only one day instead of two day holidays. It would reduce the embarrassment in not being invited out for meals to a simple two instead of four. It is an enormous emotional burden ... not being wanted at someone else's table. I know there was the time one son heaved his guts onto a Shabbat table but you would think people would forget and not put that out on wide blast emails right before holidays.

But the point, yes get to the point ... please get there.

Well, the Florida lottery has created a new enhancement. When you buy a magic number, instead of paying $1 for that ticket and getting the amount posted on the billboard brought back to the present value less income taxes and processing fees, you can pay $2 or $3 dollars for that chance and your winnings will be doubled or tripled. So, instead of the current gross number of $25 million you could get $75 million by tripling your purchase price from $1 to $3. Wonderful.

Now this does not increase your chances of winning, those are still 1 in 14 trillion. What it does is increase your fantasy until Saturday or Wednesday night when your precious piece of paper becomes scrap.

And by fantasy, I mean the financial planning for those millions. It is a past time of mine, I admit. Those long drives to clients, the walk to Shul, pretending to listen to in-law conversations, how was your day questions ... there is so much time to fantasize. Pay off school loans, pay off mortgages, put money away for current and maybe future grandchildren's college or day school education, buy a car that does not have something wrong with it, take a vacation, fund a day school scholarship fund, put money away for nieces and nephews college education, pay for weddings, put some money away for retirement, take a golf lesson, buy a proper hat. So many things to consider.

Well, I thought this was a great idea. Increase my fantasy world.

But there is always a bubble burster out there in bubble burster land. An unknown bubble burster person wrote into the local newspaper and railed against the bonus purchase. This party pooper said "when did $3 million become not enough that you had to pay three times more to increase the potential to $9 million". Now their premise being that the minimum winning is $3 million and that should be enough. Well, leave my fantasy alone. Three million adjusted for the present value of the 30 year pay-out reduced by taxes and those huge processing fees brings it to approximately $1 million. Well, that is nice and I would take it don't get me wrong but not enough (see list above). It would make life a little easier but not enough. It would still leave gaps.

Now "party pooper" says you should only waste the $1 and not increase your bet to $3 because the odds of winning are 1 in 14 trillion, your more likely to get hit by lighting, and in Florida the lighting state even more so than winning the lottery. So, they believe the extra $2 would be wasted. Well, I am a financial person so I beg to differ. If it is going to be 1 in 14 trillion, I want to maximize my winnings not minimize them to so I am tripling my bet. But for the pooper I hope they win the $3 million receive the $1 million and then kick themselves for not tripling their bet. For me, the money I don't win should be more because then the money I still don't have will need to be higher because there is never enough.

Fantasizing is a hard job and requires a larger and larger pool to fantasize about. There is never enough.