Friday, November 28, 2008

Financial Sense for Chareidim: Mesila Gives The Tools

Being in the midst of a global economic crisis has brought home the point that individuals must take a more responsible approach to their finances. Unfortunately many households are already on the brink of financial collapse and lack the necessary tools to get their financial situation in order. I'm not only talking about economic collapse, but in many cases the strain this causes on their marriage is unbearable. Broken finances=broken families. What makes matters worse is A- the need for people to 'keep up with the Joneses' and B- the unbelievable ease with with anyone can access money. Both of these factors, as well as many others, have contributed to economic hardship and a culture of debt among many in today's society. While organizations like Debtors Anonymous have done a great job, many feel that due to special circumstances, Orthodox Jews need their own organizations to work with their own constituents. Mother In Israel had a great post, that appeared on Orthonomics, about Paamonim. I'd like to mention another group that does a lot of work in the Chareidi population.

Mesila works with families to provide them with the tools necessary to live within their means. It's not just another Gemach(Kindness organization.) Mesila tries to convey responsible, Torah-based attitudes towards finances. It's obvious that Chareidi society has different needs than other groups, ( feeding large families, Bar Mitzva's, marrying off lots of children..) and many people end up loaded down with staggering amounts of debt and spend their entire day running from Gemach to Gemach, rolling their debt.

As a volunteer for the organization,I have worked with tens of cases and can attest to the fact that their methods work. I'd like to share an example:

About two years ago I started to work with a young couple with 3 children under the age of 5. The husband was learning and the wife was a teacher earning a teachers salary. Wanting the same type of lifestyle that their parents currently enjoy, they bought a car, an apartment, and of course they could only furnish the apartment with the very best furnishings. Needless to say that their total income was about $1,000 a month, had expenses of $2,500 a month and had run up debt of $50,000. They were late on mortgage payments, municipal taxes etc.. You name it and they hadn't paid it. They were constantly under threat of being cut off from all utilities. ( Believe it or not this is actually one of the easier cases I have worked on!)

Well, we got to work. The first thing they needed to do was understand their expenses, both monthly and annually. Mesila believes that you need to separate your monthly and annual expenses from your debt. If everything s mixed up then you can't get a good understanding of the problem. Once the couple actually saw their income and expense line, they actually realized that they had a big problem. The husband immediately got a job as a security guard, and the wife started to supplement her income by tutoring. Then we worked on a budget. They would have to live within their means, and have money left over to start paying down debt.

A big issue for these couples is that they have no room to breathe. What do I mean? That even though they are making more and saving more they are constantly being chased down from people wanting to be paid back. So the couple made a list of all the individuals, and companies that they owed money to, and we starting calling them to re-work the payment plans. We also arranged for about $5,000 from a Gemach to pay back the most urgent loans; those of the local grocer, butcher and fruit store. The firms we called to re-work payments were so accommodating to the couple. I see it over and over again when it comes to charity. If people think that they are giving and they feel like the money is going into a black hole, they are less inclined to give. But if a family actually has a budget and they are doing their best to live within that framework, people are much more willing to donate. The same thing holds true for these firms. Once they heard that the couple is working with Mesila, they delayed repayment for a few months, and then made terms that the couple could handle.

I don't want to go on and on with this story but needless to say, the family is doing well. They have managed to cut their debt down to about $20,000, and are living within a monthly budget. The husband still works nights as a security guard but is in school studying to be a social worker.

Many of you will say that Chareidim should get out of the Yeshiva and get a job. First of all, Mesila believes in not judging anyone. You can do whatever you want to do with your life, just make sure that your expenses are no more than your income. Also, what you need to know is that in many families the husband works and may even work multiple jobs. The wife also brings in some extra money. They are very resourceful. It's just that if you have 10 kids, even if you net $5,000 a month you are going to be in trouble.

The need is great and they are inundated with requests to help. There aren't a lot of English speaking volunteers. There are hundreds of Israeli volunteers and they have branches all over Israel and are even trying to start a branch in Lakewood.

We could use more organizations like Mesila and Paamonim to enable people to get back on their feet economically. Any of you who think you could use your experience to help others are urged to call and volunteer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why Should Israeli Taxpayers Bailout Billionaires?

So all the analysts are in great moods as Israel joined the rest of the world in bailing out troubled companies.

According to the "A further NIS 5b. will be used to set up a number of investment funds in partnership with the pension institutions (provident funds, pension funds and managers' insurance providers) for the provision of non-bank credit and to deal with the refinancing of bonds. The establishment of the private investment funds will be on the basis of tenders. Out of the NIS 5b., NIS 3b. will be allocated with immediate effect and NIS 2b. in five months time.
"The move is designed to support holders of corporate bonds when the bonds mature and to help assure companies' ability to meet their commitments," said Goshen.
"The investment funds will either
refinance corporate bonds and spread the payments out, or inject capital directly into troubled companies operating in Israel to help them through the crisis."

Great. So the taxpayers are getting left bailing out lousy portfolio managers who bought corporate bonds that had little in the way of assets to back up the bond issue. Why do these managers keep their jobs? After all, if they did such a poor job in managing pension money to the extant that they need a safety net to protect soon to be pensioners, why do they keep on working? Also, we have to bail out billionaire 'Tycoons' like Lev Leviev and Yitzchak Teshuva who made highly leveraged real estate investments all over the world at the height of the bubble. Why bail them out? How much do you want to bet that they will continue to make hi risk investments knowing that if the investment crashes, the Israeli government will bail them out.

So you may ask, " why is this any different than bailing out the US auto industry?" Not that I like that either but at least I understand the case about the huge job loss that would follow if the Big 3 automakers went under. What job loss would be created in Israel if one of the tycoons went bankrupt? How many local Israeli's is Teshuva employing in his Las Vegas hotel/casino? They lost hundreds of millions of dollars investing out of Israel, employing no Israeli's and we still have to bail them out?

This is a scandal and it's a shame no one is talking about it.

4 Sites to Learn About Investing

As a financial investor I am often asked about informative websites on investing. While the Internet is loaded with information for investors, here are 4 sites that will give you the information that you need. keep in mind that these cater to different knowledge level, so I am sure you will find one that suits your profile.

New Rules of Investing - this site is a really interesting view on investing 2.0. Talks about all kinds of new methods of investing, as opposed the old school way of investing. This is a site that is geared to professional investors. It is a site that aggregates financial blog content, and gives investment ideas to those in need.

CBS Marketwatch- This is a must for those who want up-to-date information on what's happening in financial markets. For those of you interested on what's going on in the Israeli economy and Israeli stocks that trade in the US, this is a very informative site.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

3 Tips to Learn How to Delegate

For many of us, whether in business, parenting or other facets of life, realizing that we can't do everything and that we need to delegate certain tasks is a big epiphany. In order to maximize the time in the day and do things in an efficient manner, we can't do it all. For those who have 'issues' letting go, here are 3 tips that may help make it easier for you:

1- Specialize. Define what it is that you do best, and if the task at had doesn't fit into your specialization, give it to someone else to do.

2-Take a holiday. Take a week or two off and see how everything will continue. let's face it, we aren't as important as we think and life continues, even when we are away on vacation. See who filled in for you and what tasks they did in your place, and then once you return, give each person those tasks permanently.

3- Mistakes won't kill you. Many times people who are unable to delegate are perfectionists. The reason that they can't relinquish control of certain tasks is because they are afraid that it won't be done 100%. Well in my experience, things don't really need to be finished in a perfect manner. Often times 80-90% success is more than necessary to get things done well. Delegate those tasks that really don't need to be done perfectly, this will free up a whole bunch of time.

Feel free to post you own tips on delegating.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Update: Bank of Israel Cuts rates by 0.5%

The Bank of Israel(BOI) has surprised market players by lowering rates by 0.5% down to 2.5%. This is the lowest interest rate level ever in Israeli history. This means that you will pay less on overdrafts, and conceptually, get better loan terms at your bank. Whether the banks start granting loans is anyone's guess. On the other hand interest that you will receive on your bank deposits or on Israeli government bonds will drop.

The BOI must feel that with limited inflation risk, and the economy showing signs of zero growth, they need to do whatever it takes in order to jump start the economy. Now if the governement would only cut taxes!

Great Day For Israeli Biotech as Johnson and Johnson Buys Omrix

With all the bad news being reported about the state of the Israeli economy, it was great to hear the US giant Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) has purchased the Israeli Biological sealant maker Omrix Biopharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:OMRI) for $438 million. It just goes to show that Israeli ingenuity is alive and well.

Johnson & Johnson company group chairman Alex Gorsky said, "Our partnership with Omrix has already expanded our capacity to provide innovative, next generation products that raise the standard of surgical care. We believe this transaction will further enhance our efforts to bring new, science-based products to patients and the healthcare professionals who treat them."

It just goes to show that large multi-national companies will continue to look to Israel fro their R&D, instead of doing it in house where it is much cheaper. With global markets reeling, there has been very little in the way of M&A( mergers and acquisitions). The fact that an Israeli firm was acquired is truly something to be proud of.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

3 Money Saving Tips

With everyone worried about a global economic slowdown, and consumers facing lower disposable income, saving money will be key to helping people get through these tough times. Here are 3 tips that you can save money. Feel free to comment and share with others your tips on saving money.

1- Stick to the shopping list. Before you go to the supermarket, make a thorough list of everything you need. Then when you are shopping, only buy what's on the list. The items on sale that are calling out to you to buy them need to be avoided if you don't need them now. Even if you think you will have a use for the item in a couple of months, forget about it. It's a question of current cash flow. You can't spend what you don't have.

2- Leave the car at home. Even though gas prices have dropped dramatically over the last 4 months, if you are able to cut out one tank refill a month you will have a big savings. Instead of taking the car to the neighborhood grocery or even to work, try walking. Not only will you be physically fit but you will be fiscally fit as well.

3- At restaurant drink water. If you treat your family to a dinner out at a restaurant, order water and forgo the pop or soda. A family of five can save about $10 on drinks just by ordering water.

Drop in Israeli Poverty: Experts Say It's Bad

Surprise, Surprise. A strong economy and low unemployment did more to lower poverty in Israel than years and years of welfare payments. Critics have continued to hammer at PM wannabe Bibi Netanyahu's economic policies, but once again we have hard evidence that they work. While Netanyahu was slammed for cutting welfare and other transfer payments to the poor, and said that the best way to get them moving upward economically was to cut taxes and produce a strong economy. Strong job growth would go much further in alleviating poverty than continued transfer payments.

Well the so-called 'protectors of the poor' cried and cried saying that we need more social justice and we need to increase child allowance payments, and increase unemployment benefits, otherwise we will have even larger poverty.

Wrong! It always amazes me that these elitists are always wrong. In today's eagerly awaited report on poverty, we see the number of poor declining. How could that be? Here's a thought: lower unemployment, meaning that some of the poor actually got jobs.

According to the Jpost: "According to the report, the economic quality of life for families across Israel improved from 2006 to 2007 meaning that in 2007, economic growth managed to reach the lower-income sector of society. "

Now the experts are warning about a return to higher poverty rates in '09 due to the economic slowdown. That may very well happen, but the solution is not to expand unemployment benefits. The solution is to cut taxes and encourage private sector economic expansion, as they are the ones who will create real jobs.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Can You Afford Your Child’s Wedding?

Over the past few months, I have received countless phone calls and held innumerable meetings with parents trying to pay for their children’s weddings. Instead of enjoying the fact that their children are about to start building homes and families of their own, many parents spend a lot of time worrying about how they will be able to pay for the wedding. In many cases, the only way that the parents can afford to make a wedding is to spend far more money than they actually have, leading them into serious debt, or in a few cases, near-bankruptcy. This does not only apply to parents that barely scrape by on a monthly basis. Plenty of individuals who have saved over the years, or have received an inheritance or some type of gift worth anywhere from $50,000 to $140,000 are often in the same position. For example, one person with whom I met recently had $90,000 set aside for making a wedding. However, she is now worried that this would not be enough to pay for a good shidduch for her daughter. Another client told me that his daughter has been dreaming of her wedding ever since she was a little girl, and she doesn’t want to skimp on anything. She wants to buy her own dress, have the most beautiful flowers and the biggest band … etc. The only problem is that the family is still financially reeling from the last wedding that they made, six months ago.

I will not use this column to state my personal opinion of the current system. What I think about it is irrelevant. It goes without saying that these important issues should be handled by the Gedolei Yisrael. However, I would like to provide a few tips to potentially ease the financial burden on anyone who is about to make a wedding. Keep in mind that this isn’t some magic formula which will make you suddenly able to afford the wedding and everything else that goes along with it. However, it may help you to get better organized and save some money.

Make a List
When planning a wedding, the first thing that parents need to do is make a list. In one column, write down how much you are able to realistically give to the new couple. In another, make a list of all the possible expenses that can arise from the actual wedding, such as photographers, flowers, chassan and kallah gifts, hall rental, etc…. If it’s the first wedding that you have made, it may be a good idea to speak to friends who have already gone through this process. Next to the type of expense, write down the estimated cost. Then, in a third column, list the expenses for the couple’s new home, including buying/renting an apartment, linens, appliances, and other necessities. It’s important to differentiate between these two types of expenses because it allows you to prioritize where your limited funds can go.

Instead of simply coming up with a certain budget for the wedding and using it without much thought, creating this list will give you more control of each spending decision. It can also eliminate certain less vital expenses, distributing that money toward the most important needs. In the long run, this type of organization should help you save money.

Buy Second Hand
With the current shidduch system, the phrase, “can’t afford it, don’t buy it,” doesn’t seem to apply. However, one thing that can be done is to buy second hand. The new couple doesn’t need a brand new Shabbos table or bookshelves. Used furniture that is in good condition should be sufficient. A few years down the road, when the couple has the means to upgrade, let them pay for their new furniture themselves. Thousands of shekels can be saved if practical decisions are made with regard to what is purchased for the couple.

Since we can’t necessarily change the current system, it is worthwhile planning accordingly and trying to keep all expenses within the initial budget. Then you can sit back and enjoy your simcha and the nachas that the newly married couple will give you.

May they build a Bayis Neeman B’Yisrael.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Obama Advisors Temper Expectations

According to a CBS2Chicago report, advisers to Pres. elect Barack Obama are worried that expectations are too high and are working to try and lower them. "President-elect Barack Obama and his inner circle fear that some voters expect him to turn around the economy, wind down the war in Iraq and, perhaps, cure cancer -- all by the Fourth of July."

Well I may be mistaken, but wasn't Obama the one who raised these expectations? He has been going around for 2 years, promising to 'fix what's broken',' make history' and ' change the world.' Heck he even has a plan how to crown a college football national champion.With rhetoric like this who needs expectations?

He got elected because he convinced enough people that he can fix everything. He is like a real life Schneider- from One day at a Time. Now his handlers are saying he can't actually do this, and the country better be prepared for this fact.

A bit disingenuous, don't you think?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

3 Uses For Duct Tape

Kudos to my sister DS for sending me a great article about a rowdy airline passenger who was finally subdued with duct tape.

You see in our house growing up my father was a huge believer in duct tape. It was like aspirin. Any problem you may have had or have, somehow or someway could be taken care of with duct tape.

As a public service to those who didn't have such an upbringing, here are 3 uses for duct tape that you may not be aware of.

1- Wart removal. If you have a wart, place a piece of duct tape on top and in a few days the wart will disappear.

2- Hand bags and wallets. DS tells me that at the Pike Place market in Seattle artists make handbags and wallets out of colored duct tape.

3-Use it as a musical instrument.

Feel free to add some ideas as well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

21.7 Billion Shekel: Are You Kidding Me?

How do you like that. After being reassured by every economic leader in the country that the Israeli economy is a sea of tranquility and in no danger of recession, today we are treated to an economic recovery plan that comes with the price tag of 21.7 billion Shekel. I didn't think we had to 'recover' from anything.

Does anyone have an idea of where the treasury is going to come up with 21.7 billion? I have an idea, can you say higher taxes? Part of the plan calls for re-educating fired hi-tech workers and training them to be teachers. Huh? Why not give incentivize them to start new companies? Teachers? Does the treasury want to close the Israeli hi-tech industry? It makes no sense.

Funny that there is no mention of cutting our taxes, or trying to get the private sector to open new businesses. The government is planning on investing billions in order to 'create' jobs. As we are all aware the government has a hard time managing anything efficiently. How are they going to be able to manage public works projects? Just to name a few failed projects of recent memory we have, the Bridge of Strings in Jerusalem, the light-rail in Jerusalem, The bridge to nowhere in Modiin..feel free to add your favorite to the list.

Why do politicians think that they know how to spend our hard earned money better than we know how to? And why do some of us look to the government to solve our problems? Whatever happened to individual responsibility?

This economic recovery plan is a recipe for disaster, and with an election looming, the treasury will open up their purse strings in order to buy some votes. The only hope that we have is that they may have gotten a bit greedy in the plan. The plan also calls for enlistment of Hareidi boys into the IDF. This clause in itself may help shelf the plan.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Livni Cries Foul Over Partisanship

Current FM and PM hopeful Tzipi" I need to get the hair out of my eyes" Livni has blasted both the Shas and Labor parties for trying to use the economic recovery plan for political gain.

According to an article in Globes, Livni said, "It is infuriating to see political parties trying to make partisan gain at the public's expense. The opposition of the Labor Party and Shas to the emergency plan demonstrates why people should not vote for sector-based parties.The opposition of the Labor Party and Shas to the emergency plan demonstrates why people should not vote for sector-based parties."

Though i hate to admit it, i agree with her that they shouldn't try to make political hay out of an economic crisis. More so spending money on welfare payments and infrastructure projects is no answer. The clear answer to help extricate Israel from an economic slowdown is by cutting taxes, and making easier for small and mid-sized businesses to actually conduct business in Israel. Along with income tax cuts, we need corporate taxes to be trimmed and we need to give small businesses large scale relief in paying Arnona (municipal tax.)

As for Livni, she complained that, "It is infuriating to see political parties trying to make partisan gain at the public's expense." I have one quick question for her. Ever hear of the Kadima party?

Jerry Yang: Better Late Than Never

News that Yahoo CEO, Jerry Yang is leaving the company is welcome news for investors, albeit a decision that was too late in coming. Yang was responsible in rejecting a buyout offer from Microsoft value at over $31 per share. Yang insisted that the offer was too low and that he was going to turn Yahoo around and grow the company. Unfortunately he didn't deliver the goods and the stock is trading down at around $10. That would mean that in order to provide shareholders with the financial value that Microsoft was offering, the stock now needs to triple in value. Good luck.

The one compliment that I can give Mr. Yang is that at least now he understands that he needs to step down, and he understands that he has failed in his duty. I have seen many a CEO, be so arrogant that they can't admit their own failures and they end up bankrupting the company. Just see recent examples of Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual bank.

Many think that his departure will open up negotiations once again with Microsoft. If so I wouldn't ecpect an offer anywhere close to the $31 offer. And who can investors thank for that? Jerry Yang!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Looking For Yummy Cookies?

I try not to turn the blog into an advertisement, but someone I know pretty well (okay for full disclosure it may just be my sister-in-law) has started a business which is long overdue. She is a great baker and after lots of prodding, decided to share her delicacies with others. Her cookie platters are perfect for a simcha, Shabbos kiddush or just to nibble on with a cup of coffee- or in my case about 10 cups of coffee.

If you are sick of baking but looking for some good desserts, feel free to email Dvoras Cookie Creations. I am not just writing this to earn some family brownie (no pun intended) points, but I actually really like her cakes and cookies.

Again for full disclosure: Unfortunately, I have not received payment of ANY KIND for this post! I think I'll have another cup of coffee (hint hint.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

3 Signs That You Are Getting Old

As I am busy sitting at work trying to figure out how to protect my clients money, someone made a comment about being a YUPPIE, and the youngest member of our team asked, "What's a YUPPIE?"

I guess that means that I am starting to get older. As a public service to my readers here are 3 signs that you are moving on in years:

1-You have enough kids that you need to buy a minivan
2-You can't seem to move the dial from the 80's station
3- Can you say...Colonoscopy?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Will Bad Economy + Obama= Aliyah Surge?

An interesting result of the recent victory by Barack Obama and the global economic slowdown maybe a potential surge in North American Aliyah. Let's face it, if you are Jewish and you have little job security, or no longer even have a job, why stay in the US? Why not make Aliyah with Nefesh B'Nefesh?

Even though Israeli is likely to experience an economic slowdown as well, we are still talking about 1-2% growth, compared to negative growth in the US. I have many friends who were always fence sitters re: Aliyah, but they have told me that over the last month or two they have really starting thinking about taking the big step.

I have helped counsel, financially, many olim and the fact is that with some proper planning, you can actually be ahead of the game financially living in the holy land. Keep in mind that while salaries maybe lower, the cost of education is a joke compared with sending your kids to Jewish schools in the US.

Maybe now is the time for you to make Aliyah?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Seattle Seeks to Ban Public Nudity: 20 Years to Late

The Seattle Times is reporting that the city of Seattle is considering making public nudity a criminal trespass offense. " Here is a message from Seattle Parks and Recreation to all you nature lovers: Cover up those rear ends or face a possible criminal-trespass prosecution.
The proposed rule will have a public hearing Jan. 8, and parks commissioners will make a recommendation to Parks Superintendent Tim Gallagher two weeks later."

That means for those who enjoy participating in naked bicycle rides, volleyball games in the park, or skinny dipping at one of the city beaches, better bring along a pair of shorts and a shirt, or the term 'buck-naked' will have a more costly meaning.

For me this proposed rule comes 22 years too late. You see on a beautiful spring day back when I was in high school we went up to Volunteer park to play baseball for our gym class. I took my regular position in left field, and the batter smacked a ball well over my head and it rolled into some bushes. When I climbed through the bushes to retrieve the ball, I was met by a man, naked, playing the flute for another man, also naked.

Needless to say, that's a vision that I could have done without, and has lingered in the back of my mind for more than 2 decades.

While this proposed law comes too late for me, I guess this is a case of better late than never.

Tzipi Livni: Maybe You Should Take Some Blame

So current FM and PM hopeful Tzipi" I need to get the hair out of my eyes" Livni is out complaining about arms smuggling into Lebanon. According to the "The continued weapons smuggling from Syria into Lebanon is a flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and the countries involved must be held responsible, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Wednesday. According to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry, Livni told the UN chief that the arms smuggling endangers the entire region, and its continuation contradicts Syrian commitments made to the UN regarding a cessation of such activity. "

Now correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't Livni continue to say that her push to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1701, was her crowning diplomatic achievement. That fact that none of Israel's enemies have upheld this resolution and continue fortifying southern Lebanon in anticipation of the next war, only bothers Livni because it's a 'flagrant violation of the resolution." Maybe she should be bothered by the fact that she made a terrible mistake, and this resolution is disaster for Israel.

Livni keeps taking pride in the resolution. Maybe it's time she stop blaming our enemies and accept some blame for her failed diplomatic 'achievement.' Maybe Livni should be held responsible.

Municipal Election: Classic Story

Rewind 72 hours, the day before Israel's municipal election day. The campaign was in full gear. Candidates were spending every last second courting each and every vote. Everywhere you turned in Jerusalem was full of people handing out fliers about this candidate and why you shouldn't vote for the other candidate. I am sure that the same scenario played out in countless cities all over the country. Even former PM and current PM candidate Benjamin Netanyahu became my personal friend calling me 4 times on both my cell and house phone. Bibi has my cell number. Cool! Oh you mean he called everyone asking them to vote Likud, and it was only a tape of him? Bummer, I thought we were bonding.

Then there was Shachar Rubin. Who? No, not Shachar Pe'er the Israeli tennis star, Shachar Rubin. My dear wife starting getting phone calls from supporters of Shachar Rubin. The first call went something like this." Hello Mrs. Katsman, we just want to know that we can count on you to vote for Shachar. How many others in your household can we count on to vote for Shachar." To which my wife answered, " Who is Shachar?"

The she got another call on her cellphone a few hours later, reminding her to vote for Shachar.
On Tuesday morning as we were literally walking into our polling station to vote, she got a text message reminding her to vote for Shachar Rubin. the message said, " Shachar Rubin requests from you to vote today for the "RAK" party(Hebrew letters). The day is important for all of us and every vote counts." Then yesterday she got a thank you text message, thanking her for voting for Shachar and his 'Lev' party.

After speaking to a bunch of friends, including election maven Steve, and checking the election results, no one had ever heard of or new anything about our Shachar. Well last night my wife decided on doing a Google search on our friend. It turns out that he is the deputy mayor of............. Ness Tziona. We live in Jerusalem, and my wife has never set foot in Ness Tziona.

And the good news.............. Shachar is again deputry mayor!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Question to Religious Zionists

Now that the Jerusalem elections are over and Nir Barkat has been elected as mayor with the help and support of an overwhelming majority of religious Zionists, my question to these religious Zionists(RZ) is why did you vote for him?

Almost all my RZ friends ( I am also a crotched kippa wearer) voted for Barkat because he was secular and they shuddered at the thought of voting for a Chareidi candidate. Why? What is behind this fear of the Chareidim? As someone who 1- has a lot of Chareidi family and 2-does a lot of volunteer work in the Chareidi sector, there is nothing to be afraid of. They are just like us. They face the same issues of raising their families, education issues, etc. that we do. So many will respond 'yeh, but they don't work and don't serve in the army.' Well the fact is that many of them do work, and last time I was in North Tel-Aviv there were a ton of army aged teenagers loitering around doing nothing but sipping lattes. After all it's become fashionable for secular Israeli kids not to serve in the IDF. Additionally, it has become widespread for RZ kids to stay in Yeshiva and keep on learning after Hesder is over being supported by their parents.

Correct me if I'm wrong but for religious Jews of all stripes the army isn't the end all. I always thought that the keeping Torah and Mitzvos and not wanting to give away the Land of Israel were the most important aspects of our religion. The fact is that because we share a common Torah, we have much more in common with Chariedim than we do with the secular.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a big fan of 'can't we all just get along,' but in this case it just kills me that we can't. We have a common base (i.e. the Torah) that should automatically bring us together. Take a minute and speak with a Chareidi, and I'll bet you will find that he won't bite, and that you have a lot in common. Much more in common that you have with someone from Ramat Aviv Gimmel.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

US Dollar Surges on Bank of Israel Rate Cut

In a surprise move, Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer cut interest rates to 3%. Citing increasing challenges to the local economy and even a potential recession (maybe he read some of my posts!), Fischer made the unexpected move in order to help stem the economic slide.

With analysts lowering their '09 growth forecasts, Fischer who has until last week remained unrealistically optimistic, appears to have thrown in the towel an admitted that things aren't all that rosy, and is trying to add liquidity to the Israeli banking system to try and prevent the same type of credit crisis gripping the global banking system .

As a result of the cut, the US Dollar soared almost 2% against the Shekel. For consumers the rate cut is helpful. It will mean lower rates that you need to pay on overdraft, lower rates for loans and other types of credit. On the other hand, investors in Israeli bonds will receive less interest on their investment.

GM: Forget The Bailout and File for Chapter 11

Much has been made of the serious financial problems facing the big 3 US automakers. With many calling for a quick and expensive government bailout of the industry as the only way to save the jobs of millions and keep the industry alive in the US, why doesn't anyone propose chapter 11 as a solution? The whole point of chapter 11 bankruptcy is to allow a company to reorganize without creditors banging down the door demanding loan repayment. If you read press accounts of this story you would think that bankruptcy would automatically lead to closing of the companies. Nothing could be further from the truth. Companies continue producing and selling products during this process. While there may be some job loss during this period of reorganization, it's going to happen anyway regardless of a bailout or not. The only way these companies will survive is through serious cost cutting and renegotiating union deals ( it's the unions which are one of the major causes of this problem.)

What I think is really funny is that there are many who think that the government can come up with a plan to make the automakers viable again. According to an article in the IHT: "On Friday, Obama said he would instruct his economic team, once he chooses it, to devise a long-range plan for helping the auto industry recover in a way that is part of an energy and environmental policy to reduce reliance on foreign oil and address climate change."

If anyone thinks that the government can run a large business efficiently and profitably, I have a bridge to sell you.

If you want to save the big 3 US automakers, let them file Chapter 11, otherwise it's going to be a black hole of more and more bailout money going to keep them alive.

Monday, November 10, 2008

3 Investment Banker Jokes

As Wall Street crashed, many investment bankers became the butt of jokes. Most of you have probably received most of these jokes via email over the last few weeks, but for those who haven't, it'll probably produce a small chuckle. Here are 3 of the better ones:

1- What's the difference between an investment banker and a pigeon? A pigeon can still leave a deposit on a Ferrari.

2- What's the difference between an investment banker and a large pizza? The pizza can still feed a family of 4.

3- What does a hedge fund manager with no hedge fund to manage say? Would you like fries with that sir?

Okay, so they aren't so funny I'll admit. Do you have anything better? If so feel free to post it as a comment and we can all be the judge if it's funny or not.

Obama and Unity: Why?

Much was made during the recent US presidential campaign about the need for unity and to 'reach across the aisle.' My question is why is this type of unity needed? Isn't it anti democratic? Isn't disagreement in the political system essential?

I always felt that in a democratic system of government, both sides need to argue their respective ideas and policies and try and convince the other side that their opinion is right. Then they vote and the majority wins. Not that thy can run roughshod over the minority( De Tocqueville's concept of tyranny of the majority.)

These constant calls for unity sound to me like a call for one side to give up their beliefs. Isn't it obvious that the calls for unity are meant to unify around one set of ideals, in this case, those of Pres. elect Obamas

Unity may sound good, but I am not sure how good it is for democracy.

Fake An Opponents Death to Become Mayor?

No one has ever accused Israeli politicians of being a classy lot. The do anything, say anything approach to be elected is a big reason that politicians are not held in such high esteem. According to a report in the, we may have reached a new low. Apparently a candidate for Mayor in BeerSheeba decided to fake his opponents death. " Fake death notices announcing the passing of BeerSheeba's Mayor Yaakov Turner were put up in several spots around the city a day before the municipal elections. City inspectors have removed the offensive posters.
Turner's campaign pointed a finger at one of the other candidates running against the mayor, who himself reacted somewhat sarcastically, saying the rumors of his death were "premature

All I can say is that this is just sick and classless. If you can't win on issues then accept defeat with class, ala John McCain. Faking a death to get a few more votes seems beyond the pale. All I hope is that those who posted the signs don't bring an Ayin Hara upon themselves.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Making Aliyah and Parenting

There is a great article over at written by Tara Eliwatt, about parenting and Aliyah. She describes the ups and downs of making Aliyah with small children who have to try an integrate into the Israeli school system. Her Hebrew is non-existent and her kids are not much more fluent.

In an emotional moment for any parent she says, "I don't want to leave him. I want to sit with him and talk to him and tell all the boys at the bus stop, "Hey -- you've got to get to know this kid. He's so bright and creative, and lots of fun to be with! He's sensitive and thoughtful. He would be a great friend to have." But they don't speak English, and my Hebrew is poor at best. Instead, I drive the car slowly away, peering into the rear view window to see if he follows my advice.
I can't blame him for not being assertive at the bus stop. I'm afraid to call Israeli mothers on the phone to arrange play dates for my kids. What if they don't understand me? What if they don't want their child playing with an American?"

Organizations that promote Aliyah, like Nefesh B'Nefesh, have done such a great job in helping olim get acclimated in Israel, whether it be helping finding a job, a suitable community, and/or easing bureaucratic red tape. Because of NBN's success, we may forget that a major issue that is beyond the scope of any organization is helping children make new friends, and get comfortable in their new surroundings.

Eliwatt says that a well placed ice-cream cone, or a trip to the park can help ease the transition as it helps bring the family closer and remind all that they are in this together.

She concludes, "But at least a few times a week, (before I've lost my patience, raised my voice or done some other parenting faux pas), my daughter has looked at me with a sweet smile on her face, asking, "Why are you such a good mommy?"
I don't recall ever hearing that question in America.
There is a sense in the family that "we're all in this together." And perhaps, in witnessing our children slowly acclimate to their new life, we are inspired to work harder to adapt and to accept the changes in our own lives."

A must read article for veteran olim, or those contemplating calling NBN and starting the journey to their own Aliyah.

And Now Fischer is Worried?

I give up. Last week as I wrote Bank of Israel Head Stanley Fischer said everything was great with the Israeli economy as well as the Israeli banking system. Keep in mind that I pulled news reports that showed how, factually, it's just not true. Well, after heeding my call to come clean with the Israeli public Fischer now says that he is 'worried' about the health of the Israeli economy.

According to a report in Globes, "We expect 2.7% growth in 2009, and we're accused of over optimism. In such times, if you want to be serious, you should be worried, and I am really worried. Wise men won't tell you that there is nothing to be worried about." I guess that means I am a wise man!!!! I have never been accused of that before.

Did something actually happen in the last 72 hours to change his mind? This is getting crazy. If we can't trust Fischer to tell us the truth about the Israeli economy who can we trust?

The Globes article continued that Fischer warned of rising unemployment as well as worsening credit conditions and raised the prospect of companies having a hard time getting financing. In English we call that potential bankruptcy!

Gov. Fischer, if the banking system is so sound, why should companies have trouble accessing local credit markets?

My feeling is that the banking system is not all that healthy and as customers, you had better watch out.

Israeli Election Update: Netanyahu Unifies Party

With the focus now off the US presidential elections, the Israeli elections for prime minister now take center stage. With about 3 months left until the vote, Likud head and former PM Benjamin Netanyahu has managed confound analysts by actually unifying his center-right Likud party. The big knock against Netanyahu in the past is that he isn't exactly a 'people-person' and alienates those close to him.

Well news over the last few days that former highly regraded Likud members such as Benny Begin( son of former PM Menachem Begin) as well as Dan Meridor have rejoined the Likud party has given Netanyahu a big boost.

If Netanyahu can succeed in convincing the electorate that he can actually get along and not 'tick-off' everyone, than his chances of a large victory will be greatly enhanced.

Top 5 Annoying Phrases

The New York Post has an article today about the 10 top 'Trite Fright' phrases that people use, which happen to be really annoying. The article sights examples like: "with all due respect," "absolutely," "it's a nightmare"

As a public service I will give my top 5 most annoying phrases:
5- Change we can believe in
4-Take your game to the next level
3-To tell you the truth
2- You need to have a long-term perspective when it comes to investing
1- Yes, we can!

Feel free to post you own favorites

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Blogging As a Business Just Got Tougher

I have many friends who tell me that blogging is a great way to earn some extra money.All you need to do is set up a blog, throw up some ads and you will make a few thousand dollars a month.

If it was only that easy. Not only do you need to provide content that is of interest to a reader but the whole online ad business is slowing down.

I came across a great post over at New Rules of, the writer speaks about how the monetization of ads is becoming tougher. The article says, " monetization of ads getting tougher as ad model struggle: This issue is facing every firm reliant on ads for revenues.’s CFO Eric Ashman said, “it is safe to say that we have very little visibility into online ad spend for the rest of the year or for 2009.” While online has held up better than offline, I think this is an important issue. I’ve said before that firms like SeekingAlpha have created new content models but not revenue models. Constrained by pageview growth and CPMs, these firms are no different from the predecessors in terms of generating advertising revenues."

The fact is that for a very small blog or online content business, on line ads can still be a nice little source of income. the real problem becomes how to scale. The aforementioned article mentions Seeking Alpha. Here you have a great example of the problem. Once the decision to become a large firm is taken, and large amount of expenses need to be taken in order to scale, the question becomes how to scale revenues?

I don't have an answer but maybe it pays to stay small in size, and avoid the problems of trying to scale the business. just a thought.

2 Tips On Hosting Large Meals

We just finished serving lunch to 17 people, 12 of those were guests. While the conversation never got stale, and all the guests seemed to have a good time, nonetheless for the hosts, it's always a bit stressful to host a ton of people. Here are 2 tips to help all you hosts, deal with large meals.
1- Don't go crazy with food- guests will eat what's served, not more and not less. Don't feel that you need to add extra side dishes or extra main courses, just because you have a few more people at your table than normal. So many times we have hosted large meals and cooked and cooked only to have tons of leftovers.

2-Relax and let the conversation flow. With such a large amount of people with various backgrounds, it isn't too hard for the conversation to flow. There is no need to force the issue. Just relax and be happy knowing that your guests are having a good time.

Bon Apetit!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Worried About Gun Control: Buy Your Guns Now

Much has been made about President-elect Barack Obama's views on gun control. During the campaign he mentioned more than once that he respects the 2nd amendment and the right to bear arms. Apparently many would be gun owners aren't convinced. Gun sales have been surging recently as customers decide that they better buy their guns before Obama takes office and tries to impose all kinds of limits on the 2nd amendment.

According to a story in the New York Times: " Sales of handguns, rifles and ammunition have surged in the last week, according to gun store owners around the nation who describe a wave of buyers concerned that an Obama administration will curtail their right to bear arms.
“He’s a gun-snatcher,” said Jim Pruett, owner of Jim Pruett’s Guns and Ammo in northwest Houston, which was packed with shoppers on Thursday."

The NY Times report continues: " In Colorado, would-be gun buyers set a one-day record last Saturday with the highest number of background check requests in a 24-hour period, according to figures from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
“We’re not really sure who is promoting the concept that a change in federal administrations might affect firearms possession rights,” said an agency spokesman, Lance Clem, “but we do know that it’s increased business considerably.”

Clearly gun store owners are stoking the flames of fear in order to increase sales. The question is Obama will keep his campaign pledge or whether he will move to the far left and justify the fears of those running to buy guns now.

Spitzer Gets Lucky....Again

I guess it pays to be a politician. Apparently any type of crime that regular people would be prosecuted for, just isn't serious enough for a politician. Former New York Governor Spitzer, was let off the hook(er) yesterday. According to the NY Post: " I acknowledge and accept responsibility for the conduct it disclosed," he said of the federal investigation. "I resigned my position as governor because I recognized that conduct was unworthy of an elected official."
US Attorney Michael Garcia said Spitzer "has acknowledged to this office that he was a client of, and made payments to, the Emperors Club VIP," an international prostitution ring busted in March.

Just a reminder, Spitzer was busted after the news story broke that he paid $1,000 an hour for sexcapades with call girl Ashley Dupre at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

Funny that other people involved in the prostitution ring are doing jail time. The Post says: "Aside from the Emperors Club, Spitzer has also been linked to an escort service called Wicked Models. Its former ringleader, Kristin Davis, said last month that Spitzer was a client, but said she never personally serviced him. Davis has pleaded guilty in Manhattan Supreme Court to promoting prostitution. "

I guess there is a difference between the promoter and the promoted.

Anyway you look at it, Spitzer seems to have gotten lucky once again!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ahmadinejad Congratulates Obama: Here We Go

VP elect Joe Biden warned us a month ago that someone would try and test President Obama within 6 months of his taking power. Well how right he was. According to the Jerusalem Post "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday congratulated Barack Obama on his election win - the first time an Iranian leader has offered such wishes to a US president-elect since the 1979 Islamic Revolution." Who would have thought that Ahmadinejad is such a polite and gracious leader.

The article continues, " In his message to Obama Thursday, Ahmadinejad went on to say that "nations of the world" expect changes from Obama - mostly that he will change current US foreign policy.
That policy, the note claimed, was "based on warmongering, occupation, bullying, deception and humiliation, as well as discrimination and unfair relations" and has led to "hatred of all nations and majority of governments toward the US leaders."
Ahmadinejad also said that Obama is expected to replace such a policy with "an approach based on justice and respect, as well as lack of intervention in the affairs of others."

Clearly the Iranian leader is setting up Obama to engage in diplomacy, his greatest stalling tactic. Let's see if Obama will succumb to the Iranian leaders charm or whether he will show some backbone and stand strong.

Credit Crunch and Israeli Banks

Stanley Fischer, Governor of the Bank of Israel, spoke yesterday on the stability of the Israeli banking system. Fischer, along with many other public figures has gone out of his way to keep telling the public that the local banking system is sound. While scaring the public about bank failures is irresponsible, don’t Israelis deserve to be told the truth about what is going on? How about a little honesty from our leaders.

If everything is so rosy, then why does the BOI have a plan to stream money to the local banks in the event of a credit freeze? Is this prudent planning, or cause for worry?

As reported in Globes, Fischer spoke about how disciplined the local Israeli banks have been. “In addition, Israel’s banks had no sub-prime exposure. “Israel’s banks said ‘No’ to this paper,” said Fischer.”

Really? That’s not how I remember it. Bank in March Bank Hapoalim wrote off hundreds of millions of dollars. According to Reuters, “Hapoalim, whose shares have slid some 30 percent so far in 2008, said it posted impairments of 1.18 billion shekels, or $334 million, for its U.S. asset-backed securities portfolio. It had previously said it would write off around $300 million in the fourth quarter due to a decline in the value of its U.S. structured investment vehicle (SIV) holdings.” Other local banks also wrote off smaller amounts.

In the aforementioned Globes article Fischer also said, “Also the banks applied responsible credit policies.” Really? Is loaning money to the wealthiest ten families so that they can spend billions of dollars on international real estate, at the height of the real estate bubble, called responsible lending?

Shouldn’t the central bank head come clean with the Israeli public?

Off We Go!

Welcome to my Blog. At I'm Right...You're Wrong you will hear straight talking, rational thinking on a variety of issues. From politics to matchmaking, sports to cooking, this is the place to come to find out the real truth. Hang with me as I am new to the world of blogging. At one point in my life I had a midnight radio show which was quite popular with insomniacs( Don't tell anyone that it was pirate radio! Can you say Christian Slater in Pump up the Volume). They used to tell me that I had the perfect face for radio!

Stay tuned for some clear and concise analysis and thought provoking content, and with a little luck you may even crack a smile.

Wish me luck.