It's a Bird... It's a Plane...


Nope, it's just Sanjay.

(Thought this would make for a good distraction from all the swine flu hysteria)


1 + 1 = 4

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 26:  Microfinance pioneer...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Through friends I recently became aware of a newly created non-profit based here in Dallas called Videre Microfinance that is focused exclusively on the Sudan. What sets this organization apart, for me at least, is that it was started by someone in their mid-twenties (Iris Liang) who on faith left a high paying job on Wall-Street (7 months ago) to lead a visionary endeavor to provide loans to individuals in one of the world's poorest countries.

You might have heard of this concept thanks in part to the work of Grameen Bank the guy on the right.

April is also the perfect time to donate because the first $10,000 will be matched dollar for dollar thanks to a matching commitment (i.e. $2 = $4). Iris is currently in Sudan overseeing the administration of the first round of loans, so any donations made now will quickly be extended to the local Sudanese.

You can donate here.

Or keep reading below for more information about Videre:


Videre’s mission is to alleviate:

1) Physical poverty by providing small loans and other financial services to the working poor

2) Spiritual poverty by loving people in the example of Christ


Videre Microfinance Institution (”Videre”) is a 501c3* nonprofit microfinance institution (”MFI”), based in Dallas, Texas, that was founded with the intention to serve the world’s working poor by issuing small loans for micro businesses in developing countries. In addition, as a faith-based MFI, Videre intends to use its microfinance program as a platform for sharing the Christian faith. Videre’s goal is to empower the poor to see physical transformation through higher profits to lift them out of poverty and spiritual transformation through opportunities to show them a relationship with Christ.

The microfinance concept rests on the clear observation that the majority of the working poor do not lack the skills to move up the socio-economic ladder, but rather the capital to utilize these skills practically in the form of operating small businesses. With the lack of banking systems in developing countries, microfinance has become a substitute means for capital infusion for the poor. Microfinance has rapidly gained recognition in the past seven years for being an effective tool in alleviating poverty and a catalyst for economic development in destitute areas.

The market for microfinance is tremendous: There are 3 billion people around the world living on less than $2 per day. Although thousands of MFIs have formed to address this problem, only 4% of worldwide demand for microfinance loans is being met. Videre plans to take advantage of this market opportunity by addressing two large gaps in the microfinance industry: 1) 90% of MFIs are not operationally self-sustainable, and 2) Christian MFIs are serving only 1.5% of all active borrowers and 0.02% of all potential borrowers.

Videre addresses these gaps using a unique funding and implementation model. Whereas some other microfinance institutions return capital to the investor after a loan recipient repays a loan, Videre feels that as a Christian organization, “investors” in the lives of the poor should not expect a monetary repayment. Therefore, Videre’s model allows Limited Partners to invest in the lives of local Entrepreneurs by giving donations, which are tax deductible. The funds are given out as loans to Entreprenuers, and once a loan is repaid with interest, the repayment is then recycled into a new loan. This continuous chain of self-perpetuating funding addresses one of the biggest reasons MFIs fail - insufficient access to funding.

Videre strategically partners with other nonprofit organizations, churches and missionaries with existing mission-minded operations in developing countries to scout out origination opportunities for Videre Microfinance (”VMF”) Sites.

Videre is accountable to each relationship it builds with Limited Partners, Strategic Partners and Entrepreneurs. Videre is dedicated to ensuring that Limited Partners’ return on donor capital positively impacts all parties, especially the working poor. Videre adheres to generating profits for its Entrepreneurs that show a Double Bottom Line in the form of both physical and spiritual transformation in the lives of the world’s poorest, which will also create a positive ripple effect across future generations.

Check out the company's first donees.

Or become one of the company's first donors.

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You Make the Cut

To go along with this post from last week, I thought I'd try to inspire a little thought amongst any fiscal conservatives who stumble across this page over the weekend by posting a detailed breakout of where our tax revenue is spent:

(click for ginormous version)

Fiscal responsibility will be one of my primary concerns during the next Presidential election (insert you voted for Obama joke here), and though I am inclined to view the current budget deficit as necessary fiscal stimulus, I completely disagree with some of the steps taken over the past 9 months and hope that the long-term projected budget deficits fail to take into account future cuts in spending. Conor Friedersdorf over at the American Scene strikes the right chord by stating where we could start:

spend trillions less on foreign wars of choice*; take WFB’s advice — end a drug policy that includes military intervention in sundry foreign countries, billions in wasted military aid to dictators, and the costly imprisonment of countless non-violent offenders as part of a strategy that doesn’t even work; means test Social Security and Medicare; repeal prevailing wage mandates for government contracts... allow federal bureaucrats to anonymously submit egregious and otherwise unknown examples of government waste, and give them a sizable monetary reward should an act of Congress end the wasteful practice due to information they provided.

* here's a chart to help explain why I think a spending cut for the defense department might be necessary in the long run


This is the budget forecast I was referring to.
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A Tribute


Dikembe Mutombo, an 18 year NBA veteran, played his last game last night due to a knee injury. Mutombo became famous for his vicious blocks followed by a taunting finger wag to the face of the man he just humiliated, as if to say "Naaaaat eeeeen maaayyy hoooooussssse." A few years back, the NBA determined that a finger wag to the face was worth a technical foul. Did that stop Deke from doing it? Not a chance. He has spent the last few years blocking shots, and then pausing for a few seconds before going on offense to wag his finger to the adoring or jeering crowd.

Mr. Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo, we thank you for the memories.


Let's Talk About Tax, Baby


It's April 15th and, like many of you, I sent in my check to Goldman Sachs AIG the Treasury Department this morning. As a CPA, I find that everyone I know on or around this time of year suddenly wants to talk about taxation, socialism/redistribution, the IRS' blood-lust, or something along those lines, so I decided that today I would use my blogging powers for good and channel all of that energy into creating a "Top 5 Ways to Cope with Paying Taxes." My only hope is that this counts as charitable giving and I can deduct my time on my 2009 tax return that you the reader might benefit from my efforts. Plus with every major news outlet talking about "tea-bagging" breaking out in every major city, this post practically wrote itself. So here we go:

1. Remember Things Could Be Worse

Nate Silver runs the numbers and reveals that not only has the top marginal tax rate come down dramatically since its peak in the 1960’s (a virtual socialist paradise at 90%), but the top marginal tax threshold has come down dramatically as well. He reveals that the “median top income tax threshold since 1913 -- adjusted for today's dollars -- is a little over $1.3 million, almost four times higher than it is now.” It appears that we have drasticaly redefined what it means to be "rich" in this country over the past 100 years.

2. Taxation with Disproportionally High Representation Drinking Game

This game is great whether you participated in the "tea-bag" protests held all over the country today or not. There is one simple rule, every time David Schuster says any variation of "tea-bag" (either the verb or the noun), take a drink.

3. $10,000,000 < $100,000

The popular line of reasoning from flat-taxers is that higher tax rates hurt innovation and actually reduce hard work due to the higher penalty on increasing one's earnings. Mother Jones counters that argument somewhat by revealing that the effective tax rate for those making between $100k - $200k is actually higher than for those making > $10 million. So in other words, you're just not working hard ENOUGH.

4. Everything's Bigger in Texas... Except the State Income Tax
Ezra Klein politely reminds the aforementioned group from question #3 that there are additional taxes to consider before you arrive at the conclusion that taxes soak the rich. Oddly enough, when you include the effects of state and local taxes each quintile's share of the tax burden roughly matches their share of total income:

5. Be Glad That I'm Not President
I say this because one of the first things I would do would be to eliminate the home mortgage tax deduction. Why? Because the US is the only Western country who still allows this and it is a ~$100 billion subsidy provided by all non-homeowners and China. It also incents people to buy bigger houses than they otherwise would (which consume much larger amounts of energy), and building equity should be the purpose of owning a home, not tax deductions.

I would also implement a carbon tax (or cap & trade), but I would use the revenue from this to reduce or eliminate the payroll tax, which I think makes both sides happy. Call me ideologically schizophrenic.

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Goldman Sachs: Ready the Pitchforks!

Point: Goldman Sachs just beat its earnings forecast, the recession is almost over! Three cheers for government intervention!

Goldman Sachs has beat Wall Street's earnings expectations, reporting profit of $1.66 billion during the first three months of this year. It's another sign that banks may be turning themselves around.

Counterpoint: WTF!

“The fact that they (like so many others) are being paid by the taxpayer through AIG’s “conduit” for losses that didn’t (yet) happen at 100 cents on the dollar might be the basic math.

And further (and potentially much worse) there is the repeated statement by Goldman executives that they were “fully hedged” against a potential counterparty default by AIG. One wonders - was that “hedge” to be short the equity on AIG itself, perhaps?

Why is this important?

Because if that’s how Goldman hedged they got paid twice and the taxpayer literally got robbed. Someone in Congress needs to look into this now; there are already rumblings of investigation. Those rumblings need to get a lot louder and turn into subpoenas, not “polite inquiries.”

If in fact Goldman (or anyone else) was “hedged” against a possible credit loss from their CDS with AIG and they were able to collect on that hedge (no matter what it was) those payments through AIG need to be clawed back immediately as nobody is entitled to be paid twice for the same risk and reap what amounts to a windfall profit by quite literally engineering a multi-billion dollar transfer of funds from the Taxpayer to the firm!”

Barry Ritholtz goes there:

"Makes you wonder if having a Treasury Secretary who was a former CEO of Goldman Sachs had anything to do with this.

Indeed, not only was Hank Paulson Goldie’s boy, but he was the same gentleman who so vociferously lobbied the SEC to allow the 5 largest iBanks to drop the net capital rule and leverage up 40 to 1."
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Focus on the Transition

To make up for my lack of creativity in the wake of my Lenten decisions, I've decided to update my "truths revealed during wedding planning" series (see other examples here and here). But before I get into my main point , let me give a bit of background into where I’m coming from…

The Engagement

The date was April 2008. I am sitting alongside the Grande Canal at Versailles just outside of Paris France. Andrea is sitting on my left, and sitting in my right pocket was an engagement ring practically screaming to get out. What was the holdup you might be wondering? Well throughout the months of planning and weeks of anticipation, all my attention had been on having the best speech prepared detailing everything from why I had brought her not just all the way to Paris, but also to that exact spot (foot of a giant cross). Not to mention how she meant the world to me blah blah blah, you get the point.

What I had failed to take into consideration however, was exactly how I going to segue into my prepared remarks. Huge mistake. For anyone not married or engaged out there who happens to be reading this, take note. The transition from non-proposal to proposal is perhaps one of the most unnatural transitions you’ll ever make. And the reason is simple; you want it to be perfect.

The reality is that timing is everything, and in our case we were traveling with her parents and hadn’t had any alone time for a couple days. So naturally when they left to go find a bathroom (aka hide in the bushes as we’d previously arranged) Andrea had lots of things to suddenly talk about. My mind went blank. After what felt like an hour (but was in fact probably a couple minutes), things started to get a little quiet until I finally blurted out the first thing that came to my mind, “So I’ve been lying to you.” Great start I know.

Needless to say she was taken aback, so I quickly started into an explanation about why I wanted to come to that exact spot and the previously well thought out speech. Once I got about halfway through it however (it was going great up to that point thank you very much), she realized what was happening and started getting all misty-eyed which of course caused me to stumble through the second half.

With words no longer coming easily, I was forced to cut my speech short, get down on one knee, and pop the question (which I don’t think she heard as she was too busy grabbing the ring). Our engagement was off to the races!

The Moral of the Story

Despite my best intentions, things did not turn out the way I envisioned. I rehearsed what I was going to say, meticulously planned the entire day, and thought nothing could go wrong. What I failed to take into account however, was the transition. End goal, check. How to get there? D’oh!

If I were to take a poll of all my twenty-something year old friends, more than half of them would say that they hope to be doing something else by the time they retire. Most even hope that they will be doing something entirely different from where they currently find themselves (though few have any idea what "that" is). This is the reason why I have a great deal of respect for doctors, PhD’s, clergy, etc… They know what they want (out of a career anyways), and are putting everything they have into that end goal.

While all of us have dreams of grandeur, very few actively work to angle their lives in that direction. We dream, yet do not set meaningful goals to track progress. Or worse, we stop dreaming altogether.

This problem I believe is something that Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” fails to capture. In the book he paints a bit of a 1 dimensional look at those among us who’ve reached the highest levels of success, and states almost unequivocally that each was the result of a series of “lucky breaks”. Bill Gates, for example, was destined for greatness because he had access that almost no one else had to a computer terminal, and amassed 10,000 of experience (the gold standard for achievement in the book) before almost anyone else of his generation. The Beatles big break came by honing their stage presence and overall cohesiveness through 8 hours a night gigs during month long stints in various nightclubs around Hamburg, Germany.

I think the key to this message however is something best expressed visually:

In order to be truly great at something you must be willing take some licks along the way. In the previous paragraph, it wasn't that Bill Gates was lucky because he was given an opportunity to succeed, a lot of us are. Bill Gates was lucky in the sense that he found his calling at the age of 13 (and he happened to be extremely bright). Not man of us can say the same thing.

The truth is we all hope to achieve greatness (whatever that means), but the question we all have to ask ourselves is whether or not we want to spend 10,000 hours to become great at what we're currently doing? If the answer is no, what are you (or I) waiting for?

(Photo is courtesy of David Armano's Logic + Emotion Blog)

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