Toyota Trouble- MoneyTV with Donald Baillargeon

March 15, 2010

Well, that flash of metal that blew by you on the freeway yesterday was likely yet another runaway Toyota Prius…more reports are coming out about the famed hybrid and darling of the left becoming increasingly unreliable…deciding all by itself to suddenly zoom up to speeds of 94 miles per hour…

Why is it then, when a Prius is in front of me in the carpool lane, it never goes over 50?

Anyway, Toyota is taking a serious public relations hit and if this keeps up, who knows if they could recover from it?

American car manufacturers and companies selling cars over here tout safety in their ads again and again…because, well, the streets are a dangerous place as we hurtle along at high speeds, in projectiles that weigh 4000 pounds or more, while some of our fellow drivers, text, tweet, chat and surf the web on their cell phones.

Toyota’s problems are even beginning to eclipse those that befell General Motors. GM, which admittedly built some very bad cars in the 1980s, suffered mainly from a reputation of poor quality rather than their cars suddenly becoming an out of control instrument of death.

The destruction of GM as the world’s largest corporation with the most significant market share took a couple of decades to happen…but 30 years ago we didn’t have 24-7 instant news and camera phones, tweets and recordings of 911 distress calls.

The destruction of a reputation today can take just a few hours…just ask some Hollywood celebrities and pro athletes.

Toyota is omnipresent in the US economy.

Toyota employs nearly 35,000 Americans in 10 manufacturing plants and when you include Toyota dealers, almost 175,000 people in the US get their paycheck each week as a result of Toyota.

The company spent $5.2 million in Washington lobbying efforts in 2009 alone, so they even act like a US corporation.

The question is…would you feel safe in a Toyota right now…would you buy one?

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Governments Flat Broke But Spending Freely

March 4, 2010

Your money is at risk of becoming an endangered species. While the economic woes of the last couple of years have certainly affected everyone, city and state governments have been beaten to a pulp, comparatively.

Consider the city of Los Angeles, …all is not well in La La land…in the city of angels, movie stars and fashionistas, Los Angeles is facing a budget deficit of $600 million over the next 18 months…with fears that it could easily balloon to over $1 billion by the end of 2011…$1 billion for a single US city!

Saddled by a liberal mayor with an even more liberal city council, closely tied to labor unions, the government of Los Angeles has been unable…or perhaps unwilling, to make the necessary and many times unpopular cuts to help bring the budget deficit in line. They cannot seem to balance the checkbook…if less money is coming in…then it is logical that less has to go out.

Simply raising taxes and fees, always a simple solution, doesn’t work any longer…people who live in Los Angeles pay sales taxes of nine and three quarters percent…..nine and three quarters percent!!

It just seems apropos that L.A. is in California, which is also basically flat broke and getting worse by the day…California is facing a $20 billion budget shortfall…and while this goes on, the legislature spends its time debating a “no cussing week” resolution….trust me, that really happened, you can’t make this stuff up.

And it isn’t just L.A. and California…Illinois, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon, Louisiana, Washington, even the paradise of Hawaii are all facing unprecedented budget shortfalls.

So no matter where you live, you will hear warnings that education, fire protection and police cuts are going to be made, because, well, those are the cuts that get our attention…

But why is it that the really silly things governments spend money on never seem to get cut?

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Field research
is being proposed to include three annual two-month expeditions to Egypt,
with the objective being the discovery and analysis of new fossil
whale material that fill gaps in early whale evolution. We’re going to spend millions to study old whale bones in Egypt….

Like I said, you can’t make this stuff up!

Lessons on Health Care From 50 Years Ago

February 25, 2010

Ronald Reagan once said,

Governments don’t tax for the money they need, they find need for the money they get!

Never were truer words spoken and Mr. Reagan reiterated that quote in a speech he recorded about 50 years ago that is right now becoming a sensation on You Tube.

50 years ago, the subject of socialized medicine was a hot topic, just like today, only today they call it health care reform.

50 years ago, certain elected officials in Congress were preying upon the guilt of Americans, saying that socialized medicine was absolutely necessary to prevent people from being denied the health care they need, just like today, only today, they call it health care reform.

50 years ago, the idea of socialized medicine was floated again after being soundly beaten down by Americans during the Truman Administration a few years earlier, just like today, only today they call it health care reform, which was beaten down by Americans a few years ago during the Clinton administration.

50 years ago people were concerned that socialized medicine would take away their freedom to choose their own doctor, just like today, only today, they call it health care reform.

50 years ago, doctors were concerned that socialized medicine might infringe upon their ability to practice in the city or region of their choice, or perhaps interrupt their income, just like today, only today, they call it health care reform.

50 years ago, the memory of the great depression and the pain of war were very much on the minds of Americans when socialized medicine was proposed, just like today, only today they call it an economic downturn and health care reform.

Governments don’t tax for the money they need, they find need for the money they get!

Just a few weeks after being told by the voters of Massachusetts, the bluest of all the blue states, that spending a trillion dollars for health care reform is not what the people want, President Obama, nonetheless, trotted out his nearly $1 trillion version of health care reform……

Hello? Earth to Washington….

Please acknowledge that you can hear us……

When To Wean and How Much, How Fast?

February 10, 2010

Like weaning a baby off the bottle or weaning a brand new puppy, there comes a time in life when total dependence on someone or something has to end.

That was the sound we were hearing from the Federal Reserve this week as Ben Bernanke
announced plans to dismantle the central bank’s
supports for the US economy.

Bernanke said the Fed will likely start
tightening credit by boosting the interest rate it pays banks on
deposits with the central bank.

But the Fed has a very tough balancing act if they move too quickly to raise rates. The entire economic implosion can be directly traced to the housing boom, bubble and bust and the housing market is just…beginning to slowly creep back…and only in some parts of the country…in many places, the bust is still …..a big bust.

Home prices, being somewhat held up by low rates, could suffer when rates go higher. Buyers who can now afford a $1,400 monthly payment on a
$250,000 mortgage when rates are 5.5 percent….. may not be willing to pay that much for a house if rates go to 7 percent, in which case the monthly
payment would be $1,660.

What about people with adjustable rate mortgages who may be upside down in their homes, owing more than they are worth, but continue to persevere, because the payment is still relatively affordable…?

What happens if rates start climbing and more people start walking away from those homes and their obligations?

Can you say, right back to square one?

It is, at best, a dicey period of transition and the government will no doubt try to back off of their involvement in the economy in one area, while trying to increase their involvement in another.

In Europe, serious debt issues have piled on to
a plethora of economic problems …add to that concerns about China’s plans to
curtail economic growth to avoid speculative bubbles….. and then President Obama’s
calls to restrict trading at large financial institutions and you can easily see why Wall Street has been behaving like a scared rabbit the last couple of weeks.

To wean or not to wean…that isn’t the question…the real question is when…and how fast and by how much?

POTUS Gives SOTU

January 28, 2010

In what had to rank as one of the most anticipated US presidential state of the union addresses in recent times, coming after a string of delays, stumbles and defeats, President Obama took the podium this week to address the joint session of Congress, the American people and the world.

Just two months ago, one would have expected health care reform to lead the way, but the subject was buried deep into the back end of the speech….and while the President tried to appear to remain firm on that part of his agenda, one cannot help but interpret some degree of conciliatory acknowledgment on his part, that the sweeping changes and massive expenditures originally envisioned are on life support at the moment.

State of the Union addresses have always amused me because of the typical Washington audacity they portray, no matter who the President is. You have pauses written into the speeches so that the chamber can break into raucous or polite applause, depending upon the last statement, you have the vice-president and the speaker of the house grinning and fidgeting directly behind the president, knowing full well they are on camera to the world, but always seeming very uncomfortable about that…and you know that immediately after the speech, you’re going to get supporting and dissenting commentary from a whole cast of characters.

I received an email from a news media agency offering me 23 different potential show guests with expert opinions about the speech…2 days before the speech was delivered!

Democrats like Tom Harkin and Jay Rockefeller predictably applauded the President, saying he spoke directly to the American people and supported his call for an investment in education.

It was a state of the union address…of course he was speaking to the American people and name me one President in history that didn’t support investment in education.

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch accused the president of being stone deaf to the message sent by angry voters and accused the President of giving full throated defense to policies the American people oppose.

I personally was disappointed when the President pulled his overly used and now seemingly tired rabbit out of a hat trick, in blaming the previous administration for his troubles and our economic and social woes…Mr. President, you have the job, you don’t have to campaign for it any longer, we get it, you think Bush did a very bad job as President and 14 months ago most of America agreed with you….and that is why you were giving the state of the union speech this week.

You have appointed car czars, banks czars, wall street czars, all kinds of czars…we no longer need a blame czar…Americans don’t need a place to put the blame, they need a place to go to work.

Lesson from Massachusetts

January 21, 2010

All the political eyes of a nation were on the state of Massachusetts this week as the special election was held to fill the Senate seat was vacated when Ted Kennedy passed away last August. This was a Senate seat held by the Democrats and the Kennedys for Decades…..

It was a lock, the Democrat candidate Martha Coakley held a 30 point lead in the polls over Scott Brown as late as Christmas…and then something happened…

The House and Senate had dragged out the health care reform bill past August, past two deadlines set by the President and still nothing had made it to his desk to sign.

We began to hear rumblings that compromises were being made, to get SOMETHING passed, ANYTHING passed…public option was in, public option was out….all of this was going on while the Democrats pushing this legislation held the Super majority in the Senate and could pass anything they wanted to…but yet, the haggling went on…..and all of a sudden, Martha Coakley’s 30 point lead was only 10.

Then the backroom negotiations came up with a plan to exempt unions and government employees from the Cadillac Tax, where a 40% tax would be levied on people whose employers provided them with excellent health care coverage. 40%!!!

The health care reform act was supposed to be paid for only by the rich…remember that promise? But just because you have a good health care policy at work…it does not make you rich…likely you’re middle class!

And then the lead was five….

Then the President unveiled a plan to levy upon banks who had received TARP money and had already paid it back, PLUS interest…a special tax of $90 billion!

$90 billion! And who do you think would end up paying that in higher fees and interest rates…that’s right…people who borrow money…and the rich don’t have to borrow a lot of money…but the middle class sure does.

And then, all of a sudden, the race in Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states, where a Republican hadn’t won a Senate Seat in over 30 years…all of a sudden the race was a dead heat.

The Democrats lost Massachusetts, lost their super majority in the Senate and likely lost any chance of getting health care legislation passed before the mid term elections this fall.

They’re pointing fingers all around on the TV talk shows, but they have no one to blame but themselves…and if they are not careful, this could be just the beginning!

Health Care Debate Keys in on Massachusetts

January 13, 2010
This was certainly an eventful week in politics and the way politics can and will affect your money.

Let’s start with health care reform. Remember health care reform? This was supposed to be a done deal by Thanksgiving, then it was supposed to be on the President’s Desk before Christmas, now the Super Bowl is going to likely come and go and we still won’t have a deal.

Now, there is talk of the Senate special election race in Massachusetts…the seat once held by Ted Kennedy. There is no more of a blue state in the country than Massachusetts and this race was supposed to be a walk for Democrat Martha Coakley, the state’s attorney general, but all of a sudden, Republican challenger and state senator Scott Brown has made this race a dead heat in the final days before the vote.

To be sure, the Democrats are bringing in the heavy artillery, Bill Clinton will campaign, John Kerry is actively involved, the news talk shows are being overrun with warnings that if Scott Brown wins, health care reform in the US would be set back 15 years.

This is better reality TV than anything Hollywood can come up with!

But what I am seeing here is a sneak preview of what we are going to get all over the country this fall as the mid term elections will shape the balance of the Obama Administration and create a dramatic statement as to how things will move forward. Obama’s job approval ratings have been falling consistently and are now in negative territory, especially among the all-important independent voters.

Many political analysts see a loss in Massachusetts as disastrous for the Democrats.

But as important as what is going on in US politics right now, it is insignificant to what is happening in Haiti, following that devastating earthquake.

You’ve seen the pictures and the video, you know what those people are going through. Help when and where you can, through your church, your service club, the Red Cross…anywhere….anything…but please….. do help.

2009 Hangover or 2010 Optimism?

January 6, 2010

A friend of mine used a term in a Facebook post this week that I had not heard before and I think it really summed up, at least for me, the two kinds of people we will be encountering as we welcome the new year 2010.

The term was …2009 Hangover….. and he was wondering who would be grabbing twenty ten optimism by the horns vs. those who would succumb to allowing the difficult year of 2009 …..to…hang…over…like a cheap champagne headache on New Year’s Day.

The federal government had their chance last year to fix the mess and I think it is consensus across the board…with the exception of the most ardent drinkers of the kool-aid……. that the government failed.

What we received instead was rampant, uncontrolled spending, a now $12 trillion national debt, 10% unemployment, our creditors beginning to show their nervousness and a stubborn insistence to try to craft and pass tremendously unpopular and horrifically expensive health care legislation….with no idea how to pay for it.

The 2010 election season has just begun and already, Democrats watched a string of their House members announce retirements, one congressman defected to the GOP, Senators Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Colorado Governor Bill Ritter all announcing they will not run for reelection…. in what is already proving to be an unfriendly atmosphere for incumbents, particularly for the party in charge.

These are not 2010 optimists, these are people running away from the 2009 hangover. The going got tough and they….well, they quit.

It is up to us, we the people. It’s up to us to embrace a new year, a new decade, with a steadfast determination. We will create new opportunities for ourselves and for our neighbors, we will risk everything and start new companies and new ventures, create new jobs and new opportunities. We’ve done it before, our parents and grandparents did it before.

As MoneyTV begins its 14th year on television, now seen in more than 60 countries all over the world, we will continue to bring you stories about exciting, emerging companies that represent the great entrepreneur spirit, the future and the optimism that goes with it.

A new year, a new decade, are you ready for the rebuild?

Costco Fine Dining

November 18, 2009

A Free Lunch, After All

by Donald Baillargeon

In the hallowed days of the old West, settlers would travel for a couple
of days to make their thrice yearly trip to the general store, stocking
up on supplies to get them through the next three or four months.

Nothing much has changed since then except the trip now takes about 20 minutes, happens just about every week and the modern general store is not an outpost on the remote frontier, it is Costco.

Costco is an amazing phenomenon of 21st century consumerism; you can almost feel the glaring eyes of Lenin and Mao as they realize from the afterworld, that this kind of abundance of choices is what doomed the ideology of communism. Had Costco been around during the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, they would no doubt have seen selling souvenir stones within a week.

The amazing selection of food at Costco is also a sight to behold and I
am not only referring to 40 ounce cans of tuna or a four-pack of quart
jars of chunky peanut butter. Visit Costco on a weekend afternoon and
you discover that Robert A. Heinlein was correct in his 1965 novel, The
Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
, a free lunch can and does exist.

On my most recent visit to the Costco Buffet, as I like to call it, I
was presented with myriad opportunities to sample the finest in frozen
and vacuum-packed bulk cuisine.

The Chicken Chow Mein had been thawed at warehouse temperature and sauteed with great care in a portable electric skillet, directly across
from the display of tube socks for men, six pair for $10. The noodles,
chicken bits and finely chopped vegetables were served in a paper cup,
accompanied by a plastic spork. The blending of flavors was sublime, yet
satisfying. I did not see the package, but I am sure five pounds of the
stuff would set you back no more than $16.99.

We passed on the Egg Rolls, which has been heated in a toaster oven
contraption that appeared to be a veteran of many Costco Buffet
weekends. They must have been indescribably delicious, because as they
came out and were cut into thirds, they disappeared faster than Bobby the attendant could restock his trusty Black & Decker.

I was delighted by the Spinach-Basil Ravioli in a Parmesan Cream Sauce.
I actually went back for seconds. No spork needed here, the paper
cupcake holder allows you to simply scoop these up in a single mouthful,
not even a napkin is necessary. These were so good, you would have no
trouble fooling a few people with them at a dinner party or pot luck.
Uncork a nice Sangiovese and you are good to go.

With so many more choices ahead of us, it was time to cleanse our
palates a bit and the strawberry yogurt seemed like the perfect choice.
The 1 ounce cup samples were the perfect size and I was also able to
load an 18 pack of paper towels into the underside of our shopping cart
at the same time.

It was about that time we met Jake. Jake is a delightfully seasoned
citizen and while I would not venture to guess his actual age, it was
obvious he had kissed some lucky gal in the streets on V-E day. Jake was
putting out the sample cups of Vita Drink, which provided the energy and stamina to continue our trek. Jake admitted to loving his job, but told me he hoped they wouldn’t ask him to work Sundays during the second half of the NFL season or he may have to quit.

We maneuvered around the short line waiting for the Pad Thai to come off the skillet and made our way to the deli section, where you can purchase five pound blocks of virtually any cheese known to the world.

We resumed our feast with a little salad sprinkled with Pecorino and
were then stopped cold in our tracks by something called Salsa-Coated
Salami. Now I am unaware of any history of war between the countries of Italy and Mexico, but this potentially combustible combination of
flavors could certainly be suspected of being a WMD. It was also being
presented too far enough away from the Tums display for most anyone’s
comfort. No line to circumvent here, I strode forward and offered myself
as a guinea pig. The bite of the salami is followed by a swift right
cross to the jaw from the salsa. If you enjoy spicy food, you will love
this. Just keep some bottled water nearby.

Madalena was busy frying up some Tequila Lime Turkey and several people were pretending to have a conversation close by, in order be first in line when she served it up. As for me, it was time for dessert and the
Macadamia Roca was perfect. Some ice cream to sooth the latent burn from the Salsa Salami would have been nice, but there is a Tastee Freeze out in the parking lot.

We did manage to drop about $300 at Costco that day, but came home with a new fax machine, 64-ounce bottles of shampoo and conditioner and a 4 pound block of Parmagiano Reggiano.

But the lunch was free and no one in the family was even hungry for
dinner that evening.

Coffee Bilingualism

November 17, 2009

Coffee Bilingualism

by Donald Baillargeon

It is said that coffee dates back more than one thousand years, the
first plants apparently having come from the Horn of Africa on the
shores of the Red Sea. Interestingly, it was considered a food, not a beverage back then, the coffee cherries ground and mixed together with animal fat.
Rolled into little balls, the mixture was an energy boost for warriors in battle.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Coffee is enjoying
a renaissance in the 21st century as a stop by the coffee shop on the
way
to work prepares the warrior in us for the upcoming day’s battles.

The comedian Jackie Mason is appearing in a one-man show in New York’s
Broadway District, during which he pontificates on coffee’s surging
popularity. “You can go to a coffee shop, get a good cup of coffee for
fifty cents”, he muses. “But then you can go to Starbucks and get a cup
of
burnt coffee for 3 bucks. That’s a good deal?”

On the first day a new coffee establishment opens, there are instantly
25 people sitting on its patio, sipping coffee and reading. I always
wonder
where these people were drinking their coffee yesterday; were they just
aimlessly wandering the sidewalks, seeking their java jolt?

Buying a cup of coffee has become increasingly more complicated as the
availability of choices abound. I know it is just a matter of time
before I
meet someone who introduces themselves as a coffee sommelier at the
local java joint. I received some Spam email last week offering me the
opportunity to acquire a distinctive Sumatra coffee from Indonesia which
had been aged for five years. Aged? Five years? I am sure I have some
Gevalia vacuum packed hazelnut in the pantry at least that old, but it
did come with a free coffeemaker.

I endured one of my most embarrassing moments in a Starbucks a few weeks
ago. Out and about on a Sunday morning, I called my wife and asked
if she wanted me to pick her up a coffee as I was stopping off to get
one myself. “Yes, please get me a Tall, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato”, she

replied, to which I simply said, “A what?” She repeated her order into
the phone and I spent the five minute drive repeating it to myself, over
and
over. Tall Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato, Tall Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato,
Tall Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato. I was ready.

You walk into a Starbucks on a Sunday morning and you instantly realize
that no matter what career path you have chosen, it was the wrong one,
because you are standing in line with 20 other people offering to pay
two to four dollars for coffees with exotic names like what my wife
asked for,
a Tall Non-Fat Caramel Macadamia. As your internal abacus slides back
and forth, calculating revenues versus costs equals earnings, the
thought
process is compounded by the fact that the line behind you has become
longer as you approach the counter.

It is then I became nervous, because I was now hearing people order
exotic coffee drinks like Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino or a Vente Non-Fat
Mint
Mocha Chip. Nonetheless, I was confident, self-assured and able to
deliver on my promise to bring home a Tall Non-Fat Caramel Michelin.

Starbucks employees are the most cheerful and effervescent people on the
planet, fringe benefits must include free sampling of the product. “Hi,
how are you today, what can I get for you this morning?’, cheerfully
said through a huge smile with amazingly white teeth with no evident
stains of
coffee. No matter. I was having a black coffee for myself and a Tall Non
Fat Caramel Mozzarella for my wife.

My order was easy. “One large black coffee and a…”. I could almost
hear the sounds of screeching tires as I was cut off in mid sentence.
“Tall,
Vente or Grande….Verona, Gazebo or LightNote?’, asked The Smile. My
lip quivered, I stammered. “Ummm, your largest size….black…please?”
I
thought sure the “please” would be the universal diplomatic approach,
but The Smile’s smile soon disappeared as I was given a hasty education
in
small was Tall, and large was Grande, Verona was bold and LightNote was
Decaf. I wanted to be at McDonald’s where coffee was coffee. The line
behind me was getting uneasy.

“Anything else?”, asked the former smile. I threw back my shoulders and
said in a large voice, “Yes, a Tall Non Fat Caramel Machiavelli!”

There was a stunned silence in the room, followed by muffled laughter in
the line. The Smile was smiling again, but this time from amusement
rather than customer service. “Do you perhaps mean a Tall Non-Fat
Caramel Macchiato?”

I had held the power walking into the shop and was losing my grasp as I
stood there dumfounded. Machiavelli had said the only skill that counts
is
getting and maintaining power and knowing exactly what to say for every
situation.

“I am so sorry”, I said to the smile and the growing line behind me.
“But I am not yet Coffee Bilingual!” Everyone laughed. Someone in the
line
repeated what I had just said and everyone laughed again. They were all
having a wonderful time.

The smiles and the smirks continued as I collected my coffees and made
my way out of the door. About halfway home in the car, it dawned upon
me that I was never charged for my coffees, I had made it out of there
without paying. Maybe it was the confusion, perhaps The Smile took pity
on
me.

I like to think it was my subconcious Machiavellian recapturing of
power.