DELRAY BEACH, FLA. - It was like in "The Graduate," where aimless Benjamin Braddock was given life advice by Mrs. Robinson's tight-jawed husband.
"Plastics," the man said confidently and confidentially.
The audience laughed, but screenwriter Buck Henry's advice was actually sound.
Around the time the movie came out in 1967 my father was given one-word investment advice by Hy Federman, a vice president of the Amalgamated Bank:
"Municipals," said Hy, confidently but not confidentially. The Munis smaller return is offset by federal tax-free status and their security, said Hy. If the government entity issuing them defaulted, it would mean the U.S. economy had collapsed like a souffle.
The Amalgamated Bank was created by the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union so its members wouldn't be prey for mercenary commercial banks. Dad says "Amalgamated" the way patriots say "America," and they mean the same - equality, opportunity, justice. When anyone habitually compounds "union" and "thug" (hel-lo, Dom Giordano), that's pitiful and ignorant. As a union member, I resent it because it's untrue.
Dad's strategy was to sink money into tax-free Municipals and let the money sit. When paid back with interest, he would reinvest. Certainly his long life - I'm in Florida to help him celebrate his 96th birthday - allowed him to reinvest many times.
He did not strike it rich by riding glamorous high-tech companies to the stratosphere, but he did not lose his investment when the greed bubble burst. His money went into the Plain Jane world of water-and-sewer bonds, highways and bridges. As a socialist, Dad disdained investing in stocks, in Wall Street, because those were the capitalist bastards he had fought all his life.
So Dad slowly and carefully built his nest egg, which is less than half a million, but more than he ever dreamed. He learned that Munis are a great deal, especially if you start young. In 2011, Munis were the best performing investment class.
It was Dad's investment strategy that opened the door to one of the battles that characterize the annual Bykofsky Florida Fiesta. The "debate" was loud enough to startle diners at the IHOP (which, after a hostile takeover by Apple, will be known as the iHop).
Mitt Romney won't be getting the vote of the old socialist, who has donated money to Barack Obama and likes getting greeting cards from the Obama family. ("Dear Syd: We love you. Send more cash.")
Dad thinks it's unfair Romney paid only 15 percent federal tax on his investment income - even though Dad paid zero on his. Dad says he didn't earn his money by kicking people out of jobs, like Romney. As a union leader, Dad helped save jobs, drive up income, guarantee dignity for workers and create a safer workplace. That's what good unions do.
Romney killed thousands of jobs (OK, created tens of thousands of others), but from a safe distance, not on the cutting-room floor where Dad could be found. Romney worked for profit. No crime in that. Dad labored for the people of the Amalgamated.
Dad is enjoying a sweeter retirement - thanks to Munis and America - than he could have imagined. Romney is running for president - again - driven by what I imagine to be filial feelings for his dad, George, a failed Republican presidential candidate.
Like father, like son?
Dad will be voting for Obama again, I know that. I know one other thing.
When the right-wing crazies scream that Obama is a socialist, Dad just smiles. "I don't think so," he says, "but I hope so."
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