Mark Brandon is the Managing Partner of First Sustainable (, a registered investment advisory catering to socially responsible investors. In addition to Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), he may opine on social venturing, microfinance, community investing, clean technology commercialization, sustainability public policy, green products, and, on occasion, University of Texas Longhorn sports.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Arthur Laverne Brandon, 1929-2006

YouTube Tribute

My blog and newsletter updates have been scant in the last couple of weeks because I was attending to family business. My father, Art Brandon, succumbed last week to cancer. He put up a brave, 12-year struggle with the disease, enduring eight rounds of chemotherapy. Most people are done in by three rounds.

I put together this slide show tribute to him for his memorial service, which was held on Friday, March 24. My mother, his four children, two surviving siblings, extended family, and countless people for whom he touched will miss him tremendously.

Push the play button on the embedded picture below, or click on the link at the top of this post.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Apple (AAPL) Benefits While Microsoft (MSFT) Tanks

The news that Microsoft's (NASAQ:MSFT) long awaited operating system, Vista, will be delayed is likely to benefit Apple Computer (NASDAQ:AAPL) the most. Last year, when Apple released it's OS X Tiger Operating System, it incorporated many of the best features that are in the upcoming release of Vista. Scooping Microsoft by about what was then expected to be a year and a half was a coup for Apple.

Then, Apple made what appeared to me to be a strategic mis-step. In its haste to get out the Intel-based (NASDAQ:INTC) Macs, combined with its notorious penchant for secrecy, Apple got the new product out before the key software developers had ported their applications to the new chip architecture. Some, such as Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) have now said that it won't be until the end of the year before they get all of their applications compliant. That appeared to be a lifeline for Microsoft. Now, with the delay, consumers especially will be eager to go ahead and make the switch to the Intel-based Macs.

Retailers are running out of the G5-based (made by a consortium which included IBM) Macs, and Apple has always been unsympathetic to its customers who refuse to go along with the upgrade bandwagon.

Heads should be rolling in Redmond for this one.

Friday, March 17, 2006

University of California Divests from Sudan

The excerpt below was reprinted from the Sudan Tribune

Mar 16, 2006 (LOS ANGELES) — University of California regents voted Thursday to drop the system’s association with nine companies doing business in genocide-ravaged Sudan, its first socially based divestment since 1986.

Bridget Smith, 24, right, a UCLA alumnus, sheds tears of joy as University of California students celebrate the UC regents vote to divest from Sudan on Thursday, March 16, 2006 (AP).
At their meeting on the UCLA campus, UC regents voted unanimously to remove Sudan-related stocks from their portfolio, bringing rousing cheers from the audience.

The action requires the university to divest within 18 months, giving state legislators time to agree to defend UC against related lawsuits.

The decision was a victory for activists who built a grassroots campaign that started with a handful of UCLA students and grew to hundreds of students, faculty members and lawmakers from around the state.

In divesting, the University of California joined a number of other US institutions of higher learning that have divested in various forms, including: Harvard University, Yale University, Stanford University, Brown University, Amherst College, Dartmouth College.

"That’s a bold statement," said Regent Adam Rosenthal, a UC Davis law student who helped lead the effort. "This is a great day for the university."

The university last divested itself of stocks for political reasons in 1986, when regents dropped South African investments to protest that country’s apartheid policies. UC also decided in 2001 to choose a portfolio free of tobacco-related stocks.

Before Thursday’s vote, students, professors and genocide survivors urged regents to take a vote of conscience. UCLA sophomore Cham Nan Chao tearfully told the board about relatives who were killed by the Cambodian government. "I couldn’t do anything about that then, but I can do something about this now," she said. "It only takes one person to change the world, and I’m asking you to be those people."

In order to address concerns that the divestment could harm civilians unintentionally, regents agreed to keep UC’s investments in several other companies that have projects in Sudan, but also said they would encourage those companies to ensure they don’t enrich the oppressive Sudanese rebels.

Some of the divested companies sell military equipment to the oppressors, UC leaders said.

Specifically, the nine companies named by the University of California are: Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. (500103.BY), an India-based power generation company; PetroChina Co. (PTR) and Sinopec Corp, two Chinese oil companies; Nam Fatt Corp. (4901.KU), a Malaysian construction firm; Videocon Industries Ltd. (511389.BY), an Indian consumer electronics firm; PECD Berhard, a Malaysian construction company; Tatneft (TNT), a Russian energy company; Oil and Natural Gas Co., an Indian firm, and Sudan Telecom Co. Ltd. (SDTL.BH).

"The University of California has taken a principled stand against the tragedy in Sudan by severing its financial connections from those nine companies who aid the genocide," said Gerald L. Parsky, chairman of the board of regents in a statement.

A great many other colleges and universities are actively considering divestment, and a number of decisions are expected this spring.

Further, a number of state legislatures have passed binding divestment legislation, obliging divestment from all companies doing "business as usual" with the genocidaires in Khartoum: these include Illinois, New Jersey, and Oregon. State legislation is pending in a dozen other states (the Maine Senate, for example, passed divestment legislation today, March 16, 2006).

The university also said it will send "letters of concern" about the role of business revenue in contributing to the violence to four additional companies: Finmeccanica SPA (FNC.MI), Harbin Power Equipment Co. Ltd. (1133.HK), Lundin Petroleum AB (LUPE.SK), and Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB).

The exact dollar amount involved will not be known until the divestment occurs. It will include all UC shares, including those combined in index funds. Divestment would be completed within an 18-month period, beginning after legislation to protect the university from legal concerns has been enacted.

Officials declined to say how much money is invested in the nine companies, but said they did not expect the university to be harmed financially by the divestment. In contrast, officials have said the tobacco decision has cost the university $109 million.

Recent divestment announcements, most of which have limited divestment to a handful of companies, may be just the tip of the iceberg, according to statistics and divestment advocates who say many more pension funds are considering exiting from a much broader list of names.

U.S. companies are prohibited from doing business in Sudan by a trade rule that bars business in six countries deemed state sponsors of terrorism. But some U.S. companies still do business there legally through subsidiaries, and many U.S. pension or institutional funds invest in a broader number of foreign-based companies that do business in Sudan.

According to Boston-based KLD Research, which compiles and sells lists of companies involved in other activities of interest to socially responsible investors, 130 publicly traded companies, nine of which are U.S.-based, do business in Sudan.

Marathon Oil Corp. (MRO) is one of the U.S. firms on the list. According to KLD, the company has continued to renew its oil interests in Sudan, though it hasn’t operated or conducted business activities in the country since 1985.

Marathon spokesman Paul Weeditz said an agreement, signed in December 2004, only allowed the company to protect its long-held interests in the country, and said there were no plans to relinquish those.

Randy O’Neil, managing director of global sales for KLD Research, declined to name the companies on the list, which he said the firm has sold to more than 125 clients. O’Neil said Sudan has been one of the most popular issues his group has researched, adding that the list has grown by about 10 companies since its first edition in November 2005 and is updated twice monthly.

Funds agreeing to divest have approached the issue differently so far, depending on the findings of their research and the size of their holdings. For example, Yale University said Feb. 16 it would sell stock in an unnamed oil company that was one of seven oil companies it determined were providing "the lion’s share of the revenue to the Sudanese government." The seven companies were Bentini SpA, an Italian construction company that builds pumping stations; Higleig Petroleum Services and Investment Co. Ltd., a Sudanese company; Hi-Tech Petroleum, a Sudanese company; Nam Fatt Corp.; Oil and Natural Gas Corp., PetroChina Co; and Sinopec. The university doesn’t publish a complete list of its investments.

Amherst College passed a resolution Jan. 14 to ban investment in 19 companies, stating it didn’t have an investment in them at the time. The 19 companies included some European firms such as Alcatel SA (ALA), Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA), Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB), Siemens AG (SI), and LM Ericsson (ERICY) and Weir Group PLC (WEIR.LN)

An estimated 180,000 Africans have been killed in Sudan’s Darfur region since 2003, by Arab militia groups known as Janjaweed. Human rights groups, the U.S. Congress and U.N. officials have accused Sudan’s government of backing the Janjaweed, but the government has denied involvement. The killings have been recognized as a genocide by the U.S. and other nations. The theory behind the divestment campaign is that in the face of fleeing U.S. shareholders, companies will pull out of business in the region, as they did in the university-spearheaded campaign to divest from companies complicit in South African apartheid in the 1980s.

The United States and international humanitarian groups have accused the Sudanese government of using its oil wealth to wage genocide against the people in the western Darfur region.

Monday, March 13, 2006

U.N. Impotence in Darfur

The United Nations and the African Union are loudly trumpeting their success in hashing out a new agreement between warring factions in the Darfur region of Sudan. The so-called Enhanced Humanitarian Cease Fire Agreement calls for both sides to retreat to clearly defined borders in order to clear the way for relief supplies.

The UN might as well say, "pretty please with sugar on top". Similar agreements put in place over two years ago were ignored. What would be different this time? The U.N. has shown no propensity for backing up their resolutions with military force.

To bring you up to speed, armed groups in the mostly black Darfur region rebelled a few years ago. The government in Khartoum responded by (depending on whom you believe) either encouraging or turning a blind eye to marauding Arab militias who were after the land. The militias, called Janjawid, have been slaughtering and displacing millions.

The U.N. seems to be intent on talking this problem literally to death. It is time for the U.N. to show some leadership and rally support for armed intervention. The Janjawid are clearly utilizing the U.N.'s posturing to their advantage. They have had no compunction about flouting their end of the bargain.

The refugee problem is causing a humanitarian catastrophe for Sudan's neighbors. Chad, itself barely able to feed its people, is having a hard time coping with the refugees, not to mention the spill-over of armed conflict.

Both ends of the political spectrum, as well as the traditional media, should be ashamed of the handling of this crisis. For the right, it should not be okay to justify the Iraq war on humanitarian grounds and turn a blind eye to hundreds of thousands slaughtered. For the left, especially those opposed to the Iraq war, this is the time to assemble a coalition of the willing. Is anybody listening?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Add Your Feed to the "Headlines from the Progressive Blogosphere" Tool

Fill Out the Request Form

The tool currently has the following feeds

direct link to feed Sustainable Log
direct link to feed Booman Tribune
direct link to feed The Prissy Patriot
direct link to feed Captain Quahog
direct link to feed The New Verse News
direct link to feed liberal catnip
direct link to feed Reports from Poisonville
direct link to feed The BARSTOOL CHRONICLES
direct link to feed The Existentialist Cowboy
direct link to feed LE REVUE GAUCHE - Left Analysis And Com...
direct link to feed The Democratic Daily Blog
direct link to feed A Liberal Dose
direct link to feed BuzzWorm
direct link to feed Brazenly Liberal
direct link to feed The Good Human
direct link to feed Worldwide Sawdust
direct link to feed Democrats at War
direct link to feed The Liberal Journal
direct link to feed Peace, Social Justice, and Truth For All....
direct link to feed Quaker Agitator
direct link to feed The Paragraph
OPML file of feeds

We are always looking for high quality content. Please request inclusion by clicking here. Allow 2-3 weeks for review. Preference will be given to those sites that display the tool.

Introducing the "Headlines from the Progressive Blogosphere" Tool

Click Here to Retrieve the Code for Displaying the Tool On Your Site

Since unveiling the "Headlines from the Green Blogosphere" Tool one week ago, we've had an amazing response. Now we are adding an identical tool for the Progressive Blogosphere. In it are contained the following feeds, which represent my personal opinion of the best that the Progressive Blogosphere has to offer:

direct link to feedSustainable Log
direct link to feedBooman Tribune
direct link to feedThe Prissy Patriot
direct link to feedCaptain Quahog
direct link to feedThe New Verse News
direct link to feedliberal catnip
direct link to feedReports from Poisonville
direct link to feedThe BARSTOOL CHRONICLES
direct link to feedThe Existentialist Cowboy
direct link to feedLE REVUE GAUCHE - Left Analysis And Com...
direct link to feedThe Democratic Daily Blog
direct link to feedA Liberal Dose
direct link to feedBuzzWorm
direct link to feedBrazenly Liberal
direct link to feedThe Good Human
direct link to feedWorldwide Sawdust
direct link to feedDemocrats at War
direct link to feedThe Liberal Journal
direct link to feedPeace, Social Justice, and Truth For All....
direct link to feedQuaker Agitator
OPML file of feeds

We are always looking for good feeds and quality content. If you are a progressive blogger, please request inclusion into the feed by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Lowest Risk Entry Into Socially Responsible Investing

Imagine, if you will, retaining a contractor for your house. After you handing you an invoice, he says, "if you don't like what we did for you, don't bother paying." Your head would spin, right? What about a doctor who said: "If we don't cure your illness, it's on the house"?

That is the method by which we operate at First Sustainable. We recognize that people are always skeptical of financial recommendations, and financial plans. Well, on top of refusing any compensation from financial product sponsors, we have a guarantee just like the above scenarios. Let us work up a plan for you, and if you don't see the value in our service, don't pay us. The world does not need another person who is jaded about financial advisers.

Of course, I can tell you that in all the years I have worked on that principle, fewer than five have actually decided not to pay, and one was an old high school buddy. Yes, we're still friends.

Implementing a financial plan never gets easier as time goes by. Much like diet and exercise, it gets much harder and more important. Someone who starts at age 40 needs to contribute more than five times as much as the one who starts at age 22 just to have the same balance at 65.

I hope that this guarantee encourages one procrastinator to pick up the phone, and call us.

The Importance of Starting Early

Making the resolution to start invest responsibly is difficult. Starting to invest period seems to be even more difficult. It is so easy to put off, yet the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes, thanks to the miracle of compounding. For example, if one were to start contributing $4,000 to an IRA at age 22 until age 30 for a total of eight years, letting the balance compound until retirement, they would have as much money as someone who starts at age 30 and contributes the full 35 years until retirement. If you wait until age 40, you will have half as much as the other two scenarios at the standard retirement age of 65. This assumes historical rates of return of 8 percent.

Ah... but you say, "I'm going to get 12 percent returns". Well, in that case, the one who started early would have twice the money than the one who started at thirty, and an amazing six times the one who started at age 40. That's assuming that one can maintain 12 percent returns over many decades, which very few (even the highly paid mutual fund managers) get that.

The only way to make up the gap is to sock away much more than the maximum. Using the above scenarios, the 40-year-old would need to sock away $9,000 per year just to have the same amount as the 22-year-old.

Faced with these unpleasant choices, procrastinators are prone to making two wrong choices. The first mistake is assuming they will -- ney, must -- make substantially better than average returns. However, this almost always entails taking on more risk. Many lose more than they can afford, and end up worse off than before, with less money and less time. The second mistake is burying one's head in the sand, and hoping the problem goes away. For today's 40-year-olds, this action can have tragic consequences. The chances that Medicare and social security will exist in their current form decrease with every year that our politicians play ostrich.

As painful as the decision may be, and as much as you might hate dealing with it, starting early and starting now is the easiest choice. The problem does not get better with age.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Is Your Pension Invested in Sudan?

Thanks to legislation enacted in 1997 by the Clinton Administration, U.S. companies are expressly prohibited from doing business in Sudan. However, U.S. public pensions are not prohibited from investing in companies that have ties to Sudan. These could be foreign-registered publicly traded securities or foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies (which despite the legislation are not exempt). According to the activist web site, $91 Billion dollars of U.S. public pension dollars are still invested in these companies. Click here to see if yours is included.

Activists are using the South African model to target the Sudanese regime. It is widely acknowledged that divestment succeeded where sanctions and diplomacy failed in South Africa. The reasoning was that unless the white power structure felt the economic pain, Apartheid would continue to be the law. Specifically targeting large institutional investors got the attention of the multi-nationals who ignored the public opinion. Company after company withdrew from South Africa, and eventually, the system collapsed.

Obviously, it is unclear if this method will work, since the situation is markedly different. Whereas the South African problem was about keeping a certain race subjugated, the Sudan problem is about a bunch of ruthless thugs out to get the nation's oil wealth. Russian and Chinese oil companies are the biggest supporters.

Nevertheless, public pensions are run by those that are concerned with politics. If enough citizens raise a stink, they can be persuaded to divest. Notable institutional investors that have pledged to divest include the State of Illinois, the Harvard Endowment, Yale Endowment, Dartmouth Endowment, and the Stanford Endowment.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Add Your Feed to the "Headlines from the Green Blogosphere" Tool

Click Here To Go Directly To Request Form

If you're reading this, you probably saw the "Headlines from the Green Blogosphere" tool on another site. If you would like to have your feed added to the Green Bloggers Meta-digest for syndication, please visit our request form. The current feeds in the digest are:

Natural Newswire News and Press Distrib...
Environment News Service
Sustainable Log
Enviropundit: Green Building Blog
Kathryn Cramer
The EcoStreet Blog
City Hippy
Triple Pundit
Alternative Energy Stocks
the greener side
Musings of an Eco-Entrepreneur
Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capital...
Dirty Greek
Goto Reviews
After Gutenberg
A Suburban Treehugger
Alternative Energy in the 21st Century
Sustainable Middle Class Blog
Mission Measurement
Alotta Errata
The Green Geek
Greener Magazine
The Conscious Earth
Jetson Green
The Virtual Factory
The Energy Blog
Alternative Energy News
Organic Passion
The Temas Blog

The Good Human

Please let us know the url of your web site, and the url of your feed. Only green and sustainable living sites will be considered, and you have a much higher likelihood if your site is also displaying the tool. Click here to get the code for displaying the tool.

There is no charge for incorporating your feed, and there is no advertising inserted into the headlines. The container has an ad for my firm, First Sustainable, which caters to socially responsible investors.

Introducing the "Headlines from the Green Blogosphere" Tool

Click Here to Retrieve Code

In an effort to raise the profile of Green Blogging, First Sustainable has created the Green Blogosphere tool. In it are contained the best feeds from the blogosphere that I personally read and approve. The tool is completely free of charge, as long as no alterations are made. We do not insert ads (except for the First Sustainable text link), and we do not charge for feed insertion. It is just my representation of the best that the Green web has to offer.

For bloggers, the tool can help enhance your link popularity and keep your content fresh, both of which help you climb the listings in the search engines. Plus, if you qualify, you can be eligible for paid insertion with First Sustainable's advertising program. For authors, requesting a feed insertion can help you gain a wider distribution of your headlines.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions (mbrandon [at] firstsustainable [dot] com). Below is the HTML code. Copy and paste into your template wherever you would like it to appear.

Blogger wants to execute the code by pasting it here, so click here to retrieve the HTML code to display the tool on your site.