Tuesday, October 30, 2012


One of the friends of this blog posted this very neat article on Ikaria on her Facebook page. Ikaria is a small idyllic Greek island just off the Turkish coast. This island has a greater concentration of active happy people in their 90s than anywhere on earth. Does the search for Shangri-La have anything to do with the intersection of finance and spirituality? I let you be the judge of that.

The Island Where People Forget to Die
The article begins with the story of a Greek immigrant dyeing of lung cancer. He decided to forego chemo-therapy. Trying to save his money for his family he returned to Ikaria, his birthplace, to die. He decided it was about time to get right with God, so every day he climbed the hill to the village church. He reconnected with some old acquaintances and made some new friends. They drank wine, a lot of wine, every night. He thought if I am going to die, why not die happy. Like his neighbors this dying American decided to plant a garden, even though he never expected to harvest the fruit of his labors. He found he was getting stronger, so he restored the family vineyard to operational status, he added a couple of rooms to his little house so his children could visit. Then one day, he was declared cancer free. Now, at 97, he is still going strong. By the way, all the doctors that pronounced his death sentence are dead. He lived to see every one of them buried.

So what are the secrets of a long and happy life? If we can learn any lessons from Ikaria, it would seem to start with purpose and faith. These people believe in the Orthodox Church. It gives meaning to their lives. In, Okinawa, another island with more than its share of nonagenarians, old men are teaching the next generation karate and the tenants of their Buddhist faith.

People on Ikaria don’t exercise, but they walk just about everywhere. They keep their gardens and their vineyards in good order. They build and repair their own homes. They take naps, lots of naps, really long naps.

The air and water on Ikaria have been considered healthful since Biblical times. The island’s residents eat a lot of vegetables, mostly home grown. They only eat meat about 5 times a month. They do eat a lot of fish. One would expect that on an island. They drink and eat a lot of products made from goat’s milk. They also drink a weird tea concocted from stuff that grows on the island. Scientists have determined that just about everything in it is good for your health.

They share a lot time with their friends, usually drinking wine, sometimes playing dominos. Everybody is deeply involved in everybody’s business, sort of a small Midwestern town on steroids.

Dan Buettner, the author of the article comes away from his study with the following observation, “The big aha for me, having studied populations of the long-lived for nearly a decade, is how the factors that encourage longevity reinforce one another over the long term. For people to adopt a healthful lifestyle, I have become convinced, they need to live in an ecosystem, so to speak, that makes it possible. As soon as you take culture, belonging, purpose or religion out of the picture, the foundation for long healthy lives collapses. The power of such an environment lies in the mutually reinforcing relationships among lots of small nudges and default choices.”

As you read these articles, relax, and enjoy beautiful dreams; beautiful dreams of your own Shangri-La, a place of peace, a place you can share with your friends, a place where you can rest, a place where you can fall into the hearts and arms of those who love you. Fly away now, like an angel, to your very own home, your very own place of peace and rest.

Micah 4:

[1] But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.
[2] And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
[3] And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
[4] But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Your Largest Liability

Every month I calculate my net worth. You should do this too. Just add up all your assets. Then add up all your debts, subtract debts from assets; voila! Your net worth. Watch it go up or down. If you don’t like the direction or the velocity, do something about it.

Ah, but in my monthly calculation I am forgetting my largest liability, retirement. Don’t worry, in the past five years I have done my best to wear out all the retirement calculators on the web.

What happens if I subtract my largest liability from my net worth?

Here are some scary thoughts from an article entitled, 17 Frightening Facts About Retirement Savings in America By John Reeves.

Nearly 75% of retirees have not saved enough and said they would save more if they could do it all over again. (Source: Health and Retirement Study)

Half of current retirees surveyed say they left the work force unexpectedly as a result of health problems, disability, or getting laid off. If you think you'll just "work forever" instead of planning for retirement, you may want to think again. (Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute)

For a low earner retiring at 62 -- Social Security replaces 40% of pre-retirement earnings. This is unlikely to provide for a comfortable retirement. (Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute)

At age 65 and above, Social Security benefits provide more income than any other source for over 60% of households, regardless of marital status. With an average monthly benefit of $1,230 for retired workers, this indicates that a lot of retirees must be struggling. (Source: Health and Retirement Study)

One-third of households end up entirely dependent on Social Security; for low earners that portion is 75%. (Source: Center for Retirement Research)

A 65-year-old couple retiring in 2012 is estimated to need $240,000 to cover medical expenses throughout retirement. (Source: Fidelity Investments)

21% of workers covered by 401(k) plans choose not to participate.(Source: Center for Retirement Research)

I think that is just about enough to make the point, we are not doing a very good job preparing for retirement. Please, don’t wait to be rescued by the savior state. Do something to improve your situation. Please, start today.

Build an emergency fund

Get out of debt

Take advantage of your 401-K, especially if there are matching funds. Never turn down free money.

Save—Your savings are the seeds for tomorrow

Keep learning how to invest your money for the rest of your life. It isn’t rocket science. You can do it!

Do the calculations. If you don’t want to go through the calculation for the 4% rule or use one of many retirement calculators available on the web, here is a rule of thumb that is really simple. Take your current gross salary multiply that number by 20.


$50,000 X 20 = $1,000,000

That number includes your house and your 401-K. It does not include the value of your Social Security annuity. It assumes you have no pension.

Yes that is a very scary number. I think it is overly pessimistic, but it does let you know that saving for retirement is a very serious issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

The biggest problems are ignorance and inertia.

Here is a quote from Are 401(k) Plans a Failed Experiment? By Sara E. Murphy. “The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act required the SEC to study financial literacy among retail investors. The SEC published the results of that study this August. It makes for dire reading. Consider the key finding: "Investors have a weak grasp of elementary financial concepts and lack critical knowledge of ways to avoid investment fraud." To put this more clearly, most investors do not understand such fundamental notions as compound interest and inflation. Notice that we're talking here about investors, not the general public. These folks are already market participants, and they don't have even the most basic comprehension of the abyss into which they're tossing their cash.”

Ignorance can be fixed. I will continue to try and do my part.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Banging the Beehive, Spoofing, and the Boston Zapper

Three years ago things like high frequency trading, flash orders, and dark pools were in the news. People with gigantic sums of money, large amounts of information (mostly legal), and very fast computers were manipulating the market. So what else is new? I wrote a post on the subject quoting the infamous con artist, Canada Bill Williams who said, “Yeah, the game is crooked but it is the only game in town.” Well high frequency trading is back in the news. These practices have exotic new names like, Banging the Beehive, Spoofing, and the Boston Zapper. These names sound a lot like the names of classic cons, the badger game, the fiddle game, and the wire game (made famous in the movie, The Sting).

But It’s the Only Game in Town
Although almost every article on this subject uses the name of all three methods for using high frequency trading algorithms (cons?), only one, Banging the Beehive, is explained in any detail. This sounds like theme and variation on the old (now illegal) pump and dump scheme. In pump and dump, a group of traders will release “insider information” on a thinly traded small company, usually in a tech sector, indicating that something wonderful is about to happen to this company; approval of a new drug, a patent is going to be issued, Amalgamated Monstero, A.G. is about to buy the company. Then the con artists begin to buy up shares. This causes the price to rise. The suckers buy in on the trend in the data, driving the price ever higher. At some point the con artists start selling their shares at a highly elevated price. Then everybody finds out the rumor, often published in newsletters, is false. Then the stock crashes back to its true value.

In Banging the Beehive computer programs will begin to flood the market with orders to buy or driving the price higher or sell driving the price lower. This in turn triggers automatic stop orders. Both institutions and individuals use stop orders to automatically protect them from wild swings in the market, but in this case it will cause them to loose a lot of money. In the flash crash of 2010, caused by high frequency trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 9%! It then recovered in minutes, but the average investors protecting themselves with stop loss orders were massacred. The computers only need a fraction of a second and a price movement of pennies to make millions. Humans simply can’t react fast enough to survive in this kind of trading environment.

If you think you can time the market, I wish you luck.

Algorithmic trading is used for your benefit by your pension fund and your mutual funds. It has a place in the market. The problem is the quasi-legal actions of some schemers to gain a momentary advantage in the market can cause an awful lot of what the military terms, collateral damage. Regulators are always left playing catch-up, designing circuit breakers and changing regulations to stop the last catastrophe from happening again. Of course, the problem isn’t the last catastrophe. It is the next catastrophe.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friendship and Networks

In the original movie Rocky confronts Marie, a 12 year old girl at the local corner store. She is smoking cigarettes, using foul language, and hanging out with the wrong kind of people. As Rocky escorts her home he gives her some advice.

“That's the way guys are. They laugh when ya talk dirty. They think you're cute. But after awhile, you get a reputation and that's it. You get no respect. Ya understand? Ya get no respect. I gotta use a bad word - WHORE...You don't really have to be one, you just act like one and that's it. They don't remember you, they remember the rep...You hang out with nice people, you get nice friends, ya understand? You hang out with smart people, you get smart friends. You hang out with yo-yo's, you get yo-yo friends. You see, simple mathematics.”

Connecting with the right people is critically important, particularly when searching for a job. I am not talking the kind of livelong friendships that after your health and your family are your most valuable possessions. I am talking about network friends. These are the kind of friends that make you a better person; the kind of friends who can help you achieve your goals. Don’t expect them to cover your back in a ghetto knife fight. They won’t.

Chinese proverb:

The friendship of officials is as thin as their papers.

I have been OK at networking. I have been reasonably successful at lateral networking and networking down within my organization, but I have never learned how to network upwards. Yes, I know how to keep my boss happy, but how to network into the next level up from my boss? I never learned how to do that. The people who have learned to connect with what is sometimes called a rabbi, a high level patron within an organization, pretty much have their ticket punched.

Decide what you want then find people who are succeeding in the world you want to inhabit. If I really wanted to loose weight and get in better shape, I would join a gym. This would give me an opportunity to meet people who know about exercise; more importantly people who are excited about exercise. Excitement is a contagious disease.

Decide to get rid of the energy vampires in your life. There are some friends that are just not going to help you achieve your goals. If they are attacking the very idea of you who want to become, they just have to go. Likewise, if your habitat is poisonous consider moving. Some locations or jobs are just not right for you no matter how good they might seem to the conventional mind.

Inventory your own assets as a human being. What value can you bring to a network? After all this is a quid pro quo kind of friendship. If you want someone to be of value to you, you need to be a valuable asset to them, “Ya see, simple mathematics.”

Never miss an opportunity to share something of value, even with a total stranger. As Solomon observed, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.”

Inventory your existing connections and friendships. If this is unnatural for you go ahead, write a list of who you know and what they might be able to do for you. Begin to question them in an unforced natural way, “I have this problem. Do you know anybody who could help?”

Pick people for your network you really want to have as a part of your life. This is going to require an investment in face time. People are pretty sensitive to this kind of thing. If they think you are a phony who just wants to use them, it isn’t going to work.

Finally in 11 Simple Ways to Create Genuine Connections with the People Who Make Failure Impossible, the author Scott Dinsmore, mentions how he has connected with famous people. I once wrote a letter to a famous author. He actually wrote back. It will only cost you $.45. Who knows, maybe Warren Buffet might tell me something worth knowing, hmmmm….

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Not Enough Hours in the Day?

“Americans overestimate how many hours they work in a typical week by about 5 to 10 percent, according to a Labor Department study, with the biggest exaggerators being people who work longer weeks.”
Catherine Rampell

I have met many men who have damaged their lives, their health, and their families through unhealthy values that lead to poor utilization of available time. Most of these men are not workaholics. Workaholics are really a pretty rare breed. You will know one when you meet him. He will work ridiculous hours and he will constantly boast, even to total strangers, as to the extent of his sacrifices and suffering.

In an article entitled “Are You as Busy as You Think,” Laura Vanderkam explores a phenomena that is pandemic in this area. People are overcommitted, just too busy. The author claimed she was one of those people who worked over 60 hours a week on less than 6 hours of sleep a night. Then she began to look deeply into her problems. Examining her own situation she concluded that boasting about her own busyness in this competitive society made her feel important.

The author began to actually track how she used her time. After adding up her totals, she concluded that much of what we do is a mindless waste of time. She observes, “Checking Facebook five times a day at six minutes a pop adds up to two-and-a-half hours in a workweek -- curiously, the exact amount of time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends we exercise.

Now the author works 45 hours a week and sleeps close to eight hours a night. But she is not getting any less done. She recommends three steps to a more balanced life.

1) Be honest about what you are actually doing with your time. Keep a detailed log book for a week. You might discover your one of those people who has a major disconnect between their estimated and actual workweeks.
2) Ask yourself what you want to do with your time. She comments, “Claiming to be busy relieves us of the burden of choice.” Even if you really work 45 hours a week, commute 10 hours a week, and sleep 8 hours a night, that leaves 57 hours a week to play with your children, watch a couple of football games (or Dancing with the Stars), go to church, exercise, or talking with your friends.
3) “Change your language.” She recommends saying, “It’s not a priority,” Instead of, “I don’t have time.” She claims this is a good reality check. If you try this on tasks that don’t matter, the author uses the example of ironing sheets, it will make you feel free and empowered. If you say you don’t have time to visit your cardiologist, hopefully you will question your priorities.

Obviously this has worked for the author. She discovered enough free time to write two books on the subject. 168 Hours is already in print. Her second book, All The Money In The World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting And Spending will soon be in print.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


This is an example of how I make decisions in near real time. In no way am I offering any particular advice. That is not the purpose of this blog. I do try to inform the reader as to proven methods of approaching these kinds of decisions, but I will never tell you what particular course action to follow. I leave that to the highly entertaining talking heads found on cable TV stations.

For quite some time I have been considering investments in the agribusiness sector. It occurs to me there are 7 Billion people living on this planet and all of them need food. It also seems to me that large scale agribusiness and high technology are the best and most likely solution to this problem.

I don’t think there is any debate that small scale organic farming and local distribution chains provide a superior product, but I don’t see those kinds of small businesses feeding the world. Also I don’t know how to invest in small scale farms.

I have been particularly interested in Syngenta, a Swiss firm involved in seeds and pesticides. I thought this would give me another position in a stable foreign country as well as an initial position in a new sector. As the number of individual stocks I own has grown, I have begun to lean more towards Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) or mutual funds. It is easy to pick out companies like Coca Cola or Chevron. It is harder to know what Brazilian tree farm represents the best such investment in the nations of the developing world. So I am currently considering Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF (ticker symbol MOO) rather than any individual position.

Here are their top ten holdings:

1) Monsanto Company
2) Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, Inc.
3) Syngenta AG
4) Deere & Co
5) Mosaic Co
6) Agrium Inc
7) Archer-Daniels Midland Company
8) Wilmar International Ltd
9) Yara International ASA
10) CF Industries Holdings Inc

I asked a friend of this blog with considerable knowledge of the agribusiness sector what he thought of my idea. Here is his answer.

“I see a lot of industry heavyweights on the list. I suspect a number of them have enjoyed nice appreciation in the last six months due to the rise in commodity prices and quantitative easing. It's a good question whether those gains will continue. Quite frankly, I am frightened of the stock market. I think we are going to plunge into another recession early in 2013.

You asked me what I thought... In terms of hot sectors, this is one. I wonder if you are getting to the party a little late though.”

This morning I did my due diligence. My friend was right on target. Looking at the fund’s large positions, research seems to indicate that most of them are rated as a hold or a weak buy. Deere is rated a sell. Most of these companies are pretty near the top of their range.

It turns out MOO is not a dividend play as I suspected from looking at a list of their top ten holdings. They only pay out a little over a half a percent. MOO is a growth fund. This is not a bad thing. Typically, this makes the fund more sensitive to market fluctuations than a more conservative dividend play. However, one of the rules of thumb for investors is, “Don’t fight the FED!” Even if quantitative easing proves to be a bad idea with unintended future consequences, all those new dollars created out of thin air have to go somewhere. Lately, they have been juicing returns in the market. How long can that continue? If I knew the answer to that question, I would probably be living somewhere on the South West coast of Maui rather than in the suburbs of our nation’s capital.

I look at the agribusiness sector a little differently than most consumables. People have to buy food. Therefore, I suspect that this fund will be less subject to downturns than similar funds in other sectors. It might even continue to grow even if the market declines.

How important is entry point to patient long term value investors? In an article entitled, “Does Entry Point Matter to a Dividend Growth Investor?” the author examines a number of particular examples. For the mathematically inclined, this is worth reading.

Does Entry Point Matter to a Dividend Growth Investor

For the moment I will accept the author’s advice, “I believe in buying stocks only when they are below fair value, and this analysis reinforced my conviction. Undervaluation leads to better total returns, less risk, more dividend paying shares, and more income down the road.”

I believe I MUST initiate a position in agribusiness, however not today.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Being There

Being There is a charming, challenging, confusing movie, one of my favorites. Chance the Gardener, a pleasant middle aged imbecile, has lived his entire life tending a rich man’s garden. His only knowledge of the world comes from watching television. This unfortunate soul is cast out into the world upon the death of his patron. He wanders, like the proverbial feather on the wind, through chance encounters that lead the President of the United States, his chief economic advisors, and a pantheon of the rich and powerful to decide his wisdom is the best hope for our country.

While discussing the economy with the president and the master of a great corporation, Chance answers out of his only experience.

Chance the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President "Bobby": Spring and summer.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
President "Bobby": Then fall and winter.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.
Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!

The movie was filmed in 1979. The country was mired in stagflation. Factories were closing. Unemployment was on the rise towards levels not seen since the Great Depression. Inflation had passed the 10% mark and was climbing. The developed world was facing the second energy crisis that followed the Iranian revolution and the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The mood of the country was described as a great malaise.

No, we do not enjoy the fall and the winter, but as Chance observes, “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.”

Thankfully, the roots were not severed. Starting in 1982 our country began a great bull run that did not end until the dotcom crash of 2000. Since then the leaders of the entire developed world have been fighting the onset of another winter. The financial press is now calling the situation a “contained depression.”

The plants in your garden grow in two directions, down into the soil and up into the sky. Likewise, sink your financial roots deep into the soil. Your job nourishes the savings that are gathered into bonds, bank accounts, certificates of deposit, and the like, boring instruments that no one sees. In the seasons of growth, spring and summer, the energy in your savings flows upward into the trunk of your investment portfolio, conservative dividend paying stocks. From there your funds flow into braches and leaves of your more speculative holdings. Finally, in the season of harvest, you gather the fruit, trim the branches and once again add to your savings in preparation for the onset of winter.

As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.

I marvel at the weed trees that grow up in the forsythia hedge along my property line. Even as saplings their roots are too deep for me to pull out. I cut them down to the ground, yet in the spring they return.

Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Benjamin Rand: Hmm!
Chance the Gardener: Hmm!
President "Bobby": Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time.
[Benjamin Rand applauds]
President "Bobby": I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.

Ecclesiastes Chapter 3:

[1] To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
[2] A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
[3] A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
[4] A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
[5] A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
[6] A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
[7] A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
[8] A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
[9] What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?
[10] I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.
[11] He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Computer Ransomware

I would expect most readers of this blog don’t need to hear this, but if it helps even one person it is worth it. If someone or some machine calls you out of the blue, politely hang up. Never give any information to someone you don’t know over the telephone, ever.

The other day my wife heard a new one. She received a phone call from a woman who could barely speak English. Most likely she was calling from India, but who can say. This person told my wife, she represented something that sounded like Microsoft but my wife wasn’t exactly sure what she said. This woman told my wife we had a computer with a Windows based operating system. She told my wife that she was the primary user. The woman then told my wife we had “malicious software” on our machine. She used that term over and over in her pitch. She told my wife she had to turn on our computer and download repair software from a certain site. Well, if we didn’t have malicious software on our computer before that download we certainly would have malicious software after the download.

My wife couldn’t understand the phone pest, either her English or the merits of her technical expertise, so she did the right thing. She hung up the phone.

From time to time there have been problems with fake virus checking software sites that offer to check your computer for free. Of course they find problems that require you to buy their program for the fix. If you are really lucky, these fake programs will leave a Trojan Horse on your machine so criminals can locate information that might lead to identity theft.

There is even a new version of this scam called the FBI Moneypak Virus. From WND article entitled “FBI Computer Virus Sweeping Across Nation.” This little beauty takes control of your computer, flashing a message on your screen that the Government has taken control of your computer because it has been linked to illegal activity such as, “owning of distributing copyrighted material, pornography, or malware.” This program can even use your web camera to make you think your picture is being sent to the FBI.

Ah, but the nasty program tells you there is hope. It then demands that you buy a pre-paid debit card for $200 to pay the fine. You are instructed that after paying the fine your computer will be unlocked. If you don’t pay the fine you are threatened with further legal action.

Don’t buy the card. Don’t pay the fine. You have no way of knowing if the hackers will unlock your machine or just keep your money. If this happens, you do have a real problem. Your computer will be worthless until your hard drive is cleaned up by a competent professional.

You know the rest of the story. Buy or download free virus checking software from a reputable vendor. Keep it up to date. Make sure you have and use your updated copy of Windows Defender, a program that protects against a variety of malware, spyware, and the like. In addition consider further protecting your privacy with something like Ghostery. It is still a jungle out there on the wild and wooly Web. Even Mac owners are now targets.

As for those phone solicitors, listen to Fox Mulder from the X-Files, “Trust No One!”

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Rich are Different

I am not one of those rah-rah kind of motivational writers. In fact, one of my friends reminds me that skepticism is not a gift of the spirit. However, I am coming more and more to believe that rich and poor are more a state of mind than conditions of the pocketbook. I have written in a previous post entitled Timelines about the important correlation between time, planning, and wealth. The rich think year to year. The very rich think decade to decade.


Consider these two stories. Both of them are true. I am sorry that for the sake of confidentiality I can not be more specific.

I was talking about money with a certain individual (now there is a surprise). He told me that when he was in high school (circa 1970) he dated the daughter of a wealthy man who was a power in the city where they both lived. One day he came to visit his girlfriend at her home in the good part of town. On a table in her house was a model of a city, in fact it was their city, but it didn’t look anything like what was actually there. Her father told him that he and his partners were planning to rebuild the city. He told the boy, they needed to determine what parcels of land to acquire in order to gain strategic control of the downtown area. As the decade of the 1970s progressed, the city already in bad shape, grew worse. By 1980 whole areas of downtown were in serious decay.

Then a miracle occurred. The entire center of the city was reborn. Where there were once abandoned factory buildings, there are now expensive offices and condominiums. Where there were old decrepit buildings and bankrupt stores, there are now gleaming new buildings housing insurance companies and regional bank headquarters. Main Street, once a congested eyesore, can now be described as a nicely landscaped upscale food court. There are parks, walks, a civic center, and top rated hotels. This city is considered a model of urban renewal where local government and businessmen coordinated their efforts to rebuild a better city. The individual telling me the story said he thinks about that tabletop model every time he visits that city because the model on that table is the city of today. His girlfriend’s father and his friends built a better city for their children and now these men and their children own that city.

Over 40 years ago the future took root in the present in the minds of a few farsighted men who could see beyond what existed in the material world.

Ah you say, but I have no money. It is easy for the rich to get richer, but I am poor. For me it is impossible. Consider the second story. There was a certain man. He has been dead for many years. He was a poor dust bowl farmer during the Great Depression. He was so poor he literally had trouble keeping shoes on his children’s feet. Because his wife was terrified of debt, they managed to hold on to their farm through the depression. They were one of only two families in that part of their county to accomplish that feat. Even when this man was poor, he was planning for his children’s future. Before he died he bought farms for each of his four children. He believed in land. If you own farmland, he reasoned, you can always feed your family. Three of his four children graduated from college. All of them went on to become successful in their chosen careers. Only one of his children stayed on the land. Over time the son who choose farming as a profession, acquired more and more land until he became the wealthy owner of a small empire. Now that land supports him in his old age. He has already passed control of some of his land to his children, the grandchildren of a desperately poor man. He has also taught them how to acquire and manage land even if they do not choose to be farmers.

If you want to change your life and your family tree, put your mind into your future. Plan on how to get where you want to go; then, one step at a time, move toward your dreams.