Understanding Stock Market Corrections

When markets correct, individuals with Margin loans are forced to liquidate their positions to pay back the house. This exasperates the losses in a down day. To pay back Margin Calls, more selling has to be done. The market shows a loss because for every dollar owed investors must sell three dollars worth of assets. I’ll try to illustrate clearly the situation.

Investor Mrs. A has $50 to invest. She wants to buy 1 share of XZY ETF at $50. When she does, she receives notice from her broker that the house can lend her another $50 to buy a second share. She thinks why not, if XYZ ETF is a good buy at $50, it’s better to buy two instead of just one. She borrows $50 to buy another share of XZY ETF stock. Now Mrs. A owns 2 shares of the XYZ ETF. She owes the house for her margin loan, $50.

At some point, the market begins to sell off. The shares of XYZ ETF stock Mrs. A owns, has gone from $50 each to $30. Mrs. A gets a House Call to repay the $50 she owes the broker-dealer, her lender.

She doesn’t have the cash, so to meet it, she must sell into the market. She enters a Limit Order to sell XYZ ETF at $30, but there are no buyers at that price. In order to comply with the lender, she must change her order. She changes the order to a Market Order, since the lender insists that she must sell and pay back her loan. The Market Order she places to sell her XYZ ETF shares gets executed at $20. After both shares she owned are sold at $20 each, she receives nothing for her sale after the house gets paid $40 and since her debt was $50, she’s left owing her broker-dealer $10, which she still must pay. Mrs. A now has an account in what is called negative equity.

If she held IBM stock, selling IBM would hardly trigger any across the market sale. Everyone would see IBM having a down day. However, selling ETFs triggers across the market selling, as ETFs hold the stocks of tens of companies, which translates into large dumping of company shares across the Dow Jones, the Nasdaq and the S&P indices. These are large companies, middle sized companies and small companies. Observers see a sea of red across the boards. This is a pivotal occurrence. It’s what took place today, Monday, February 5, 2018 and what took place Friday, February 2, 2018.

The pattern of buying on credit, called Margin, is multiplied thousands of times by thousands of investors. It’s why their selling into the market becomes a nightmare for all investors. The lack of buying when house calls are triggered aggravates market losses.

Coupled with House Call selling, we know the market is severely moved by very large institutional traders: banks, insurance companies, government agencies, municipalities, counties, states, large corporations nationally and internationally around the world, all with technology controlled by algorithms that are programmed to sell at certain points automatically, their selling in turn triggers other algorithmic programs to sell because other algorithmic parameters get triggered and so on down the line.

As these thousands of orders hit the market at the same time, there are fewer and fewer buyers, which trigger sales at lower and lower points.

In other words, what could have been an orderly market selling becomes crazy panic selling. This is what happened today, Monday, February 5th at 3:11 PM. The market which at 3 o’clock was -650 points, unexpectedly eleven minutes later dropped to -1,590 when enough buyers for those massive sell orders were not present. It leveled off a few minutes later when certain algorithmic buys entered the market, as algorithms work on the down side as much as on the upside, but the panic was triggered. People who never wanted to sell at lower prices were executed at those levels because the House Calls had to be met.

Tomorrow should be another day where more Margin Calls are met. Margin Calls tend to end after a couple of down days, after loan repayment is complete and investors are stripped. Investing on Margin is not advisable for individuals without financial assets to back their market losses.

As House Calls are met, the Margin repayments are finished. Often, algorithmic buying begins to mend the wounded market. Nonetheless, the recovery should be less dramatic, but history proves recovery follows market corrections, albeit historic returns are unrelated to future performance.

To recap, tonight every single factor that seemed promising about the companies and their prospects for continued growth remains. Nothing changed since Thursday last week. It’s scary to watch the sell-off. I know. I’ve been here many times before and the shock is unpleasant. It affects everyone, but it affects everyone differently.

If you decide to bear the pain, there are a couple of things that can be done to take advantage of any market weakness. Stocks that were not at these price levels Thursday last week are available at bargain basement prices. With fundamentals of the market intact, the companies with lower pricing after a sell-off still will earn money. They will still pay dividends. Their products will still be sold around the world.

With US workers keeping more of their money on account of the lower taxes levied, there will be more economic activity, more products will be sold, and more sales made will trigger new gains, and so on. Investors could buy some of these companies directly or they could buy ETFs where these companies are part of the portfolio when the market settles before they return to higher prices.

There are also Options to figure in the scheme. You could buy Calls on large company stocks that went severely down over the last two days. However, to go into Options as a hedge, inexperienced investors must sit down with their financial adviser. Responsible advisers must know that their clients understand how Options work, their risks and their possible rewards; without ample evidence of a full grasp of options trading, it’s not wise to engage in this type of hedging.

Always remember that everything invested in the market has a potential to lose some money or all of the money equally as much as the potential to make some money or tons of money.

This too shall pass.

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Cryptocurrency Trading Beyond Coinbase

If you’re going to diversify beyond Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum and Litecoin as traded on Coinbase, Binance is one of the many exchanges around the world where investors are able to trade multiple cryptocurrencies. The issue with Binance is that investors cannot deposit cash or fiat, in the cryptocurrency lingo. At Binance, trading is exclusively after depositing other cryptocurrencies to trade.

In essence, having mastered Coinbase, to explore other cryptocurrencies you will need to open an account at another exchange. I use Binance. If you decide to use Binance also, please click here. It will benefit me with points to earn lower commissions on my trades and its use does not cost you anything. After your account is opened, you too can get your own link to provide to others.

If you don’t want to use your own link, you can always forward my link to your friends and I will be very grateful for your generosity.

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Cryptocurrencies Setting Trends

Nothing I write here should be considered financial advice. Financial advice is an individual pursuit. It’s best to consult your own financial adviser to better understand how you should invest your money.

When in the film The Graduate Dustin Hoffman crossed one of his father’s friends in a hallway at his college graduation party, the man whispered in his ear the word plastics. It was a portrayal of the 1960’s. In today’s parties, many older adults will hear from their younger relatives all about cryptocurrencies.

Exactly as plastics broke into the scene in the 50’s and 60’s to disrupt the established patterns of manufacturing around the world and billion-dollar fortunes were created seemingly overnight, today cryptocurrencies revolutionize the way future generations will transact business and the manner in which industries will settle for payment. The remarkable difference is the reversal of the flow of information, which instead of filtering down from experienced adults to the young neophyte, today it’s the young person who offers enlightenment with advances in technology, filtering up to their adult parents, grandparents and other family members all about the revolutionary concept.

Exactly what is a cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency is computer-generated money, with Bitcoin as its most widely recognized version. Bitcoin was started with a White Paper, a short, nine-page publication, attributed to an individual by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008. To read it, click here.

For non-technical readers, in the exact words of Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin is “a peer to peer electronic cash payment to be sent from one party to another without going through a financial institution.”

Bitcoin is, according to Andreas Antonopoulos, one the most eloquent and better recognized spokespersons of the technology, “a system of money that is not controlled by any entity, that is completely decentralized.” The concept of Bitcoin is revolutionary. It catapults our society “from institution-based money to network-based money; [it’s] the first completely global, completely borderless, completely decentralized, and completely open form of money, one where you can build applications because this money is programmable, and you don’t need anyone’s permission to launch an application any more than you need to ask permission to launch an application on the internet, and the only requirement to have a successful application on the internet of money is two interested participants–the market segment–and you have an application, and a million applications will flourish.” He continues, “Bitcoin and block-chain technology unifies the systems of money. What the internet of money does is it creates a single network, which can do a micro-transaction or a giga-transaction in seconds, anywhere in the world for any participants without permission.” “Banks are competing with a technology that enables exponential growth, exponential innovation without permission by anyone in the world.”

How do we learn more and more about this? We do it with extensive reading from sources on the internet. Personally, I find YouTube a valuable asset. It provides hours of information from some very knowledgeable individuals and some not so well-informed. Sifting through the data is essential.

If you have money lying around that you want to speculate with, funds that will never threaten your financial stability, think of the future and of cryptocurrencies.

So where do we go to start experimenting by placing money at risk? 

I went to an exchange called Coinbase. It allows the transfer of US Dollars, or fiat, to the exchange. It’s a time-consuming process, often taking multiple days for the currency to make its way to your account, but it allows for credit card purchases and bank ACH transfers, making it more practical than the more expensive wire transfers from your bank account to your account at the exchange.

Your best option is to learn while slowly making decisions on what to buy and how to send holdings to different wallets, away from the centralized exchange. Exchanges are often hacked. With the hacking people lose all their holdings. There’s no way to recover them.  Wallets is the topic of another blog.

Questions and comments are always addressed. Feel free to share your thoughts. Until my next blog, thanks for your interest.

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Jump In or Wait?

We’ve been waiting for a serious investment markets correction that has not materialized. Despite the absence of any reason for the experienced exuberance over the last 12 months, the promise of a tax modification and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act were feeding the atypical new index highs. If none of these two pivotal campaign promises take place, there may very well be an actual running for the exits and the market could potentially correct as severely as expected.

However, if the tax bill becomes law and the country begins to repatriate the $5 trillion sitting in foreign countries, the US economy will be primed for new growth. It may not shoot to the stars as most anticipate after a life-changing tax legislation of this magnitude would trigger because the market has already traveled half-way there, so the growth may be less than half as much from here, which will permit a re-entry of the cash on the sidelines with more confidence.

It’s fair to state that any additional allocations of capital to securities doesn’t mean investors would be protected from the inherent risks of the market.  Any unsettling event could still trigger a typical correction, as expected cyclically in healthy markets. Not all corrections become a dire loss of capital with little hope of returning to the highs. Quite the contrary, corrections are efficient. We need them in the market. They re-align investors with the reality on the ground of operations and actual revenues, realigning expectations.

The Fed’s unloading of its current book after all the versions of Quantitative Easing for years will undoubtedly run into bumps on the road. Nevertheless, we have a new Fed Chairman who appears to be of the same stripes as the last three. I don’t expect any surprises there, thankfully.

In closing, as always it’s important to remember that only money that would not result in a drastic change of lifestyle or hardship should be allocated to investments in securities of any type, as losses could be partial or total when money is placed at risk.

As always, your concerns are worthy of sharing.

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Feliz Día de los Padres

Siempre pensé que los que se habían quedado en Cuba tenían un dominio del idioma superior al mío por haberse formado sin la influencia de otra lengua en constante roce por los medios de comunicación o por haber cursado estudios formales en otro idioma. Me doy cuenta que la antiguamente prestigiosa Escuela de Ingeniería de la Universidad de La Habana, hoy degradada por el desmedido afán castrista de borrar el pasado y re-escribir la Historia de Cuba a lo que se denomina Centro Universitario José Antonio Echevarría, otorga diplomas a los que pasan por ella sin preocuparse si ella pasó por los que reciben títulos universitarios. Veo que me equivocaba.

Hoy utilizo este medio para responder al que me envió esa nota que pudiera representar a muchos de los que de tontos útiles mantienen al castrismo en el poder.

A pesar que uno es esclavo de lo que dice y dueño de lo que calla, tu carta me obliga a contestarte. Por respeto a las posibles represalias que los perros del gobierno que demuestras apoyar pudieran tomar contra ti al espiar lo que escribo, no te respondo directamente a tu correo electrónico. Así, en el anonimato de la red, no pueden dar contigo para castigarte por mis correcciones a las falsedades que como papagayo repites dentro de ese mundo sumido en la miseria que te rodea.

Te aporto otra perspectiva, la del mundo libre, siendo la libertad un tesoro que convenientemente te han hecho olvidar. Es duro llegar a la vejez asimilando que los errores de los padres llegan a tronchar el resto de la vida de lo que más quieren. Lamentablemente, tu mamá escogió quedarse allá sin vislumbrar lo que ese pantano produciría tanto en forma como en espíritu.

Comienzo por aseverar que todo lo que dices es falso. Nada de lo que escribes cuadra. De cuadrar, no hubieras venido a pasarte meses trabajando en la bodega de tu padre para llevarte dinero ahorrado y con él remozar tu casa allá ni tu hijo hoy viviera fuera del país ni tú estuvieras gestionando una ciudadanía española después de haberte pasado la vida productiva bajo el totalitarismo sanguinario del castrismo, esa revolución que tanto te quitó y que por lo que leo en tu misiva, ni cuenta te has dado.

El embargo del que hablas—si funcionara—solamente cubriría productos que saldrían de los EE.UU. directamente hacia Cuba y aparte de ese único origen, todavía queda un mundo gigante de donde los productos siguen entrando ininterrumpidamente en Cuba; y entran porque en la Zona Cero no falta nada y mientras el pueblo vive en la pocilga los altos mandos y sus cipayos viven como Carmelina–Mariela viajando el mundo y los hijos de Fidel paseándose y fotografiándose en yate de lujo por el Mediterráneo–siempre practicando la ley del embudo que si no comprendes mi referencia es “lo ancho para mí y lo estrecho para ti.”

Reflexiona. La miseria a tu alrededor no es producto de un embargo burlado. Primero porque los productos de todas partes entran en Cuba y específicamente los americanos se importan desde Canadá, las Bahamas, México, Nicaragua, Panamá, Colombia y Venezuela por no incluir entre muchos otros a los españoles y los franceses quienes han hecho de la miseria cubana una forma de vida, enriqueciéndose con el suplicio de los cubanos, a quienes explotan en cada uno de sus viajes y en cada uno de sus negocios en colaboración con el régimen nefasto. Segundo porque la escasez es producto de la falta de producción. Cuba era un país exportador; se exportaba todo lo que la industria cubana producía y en esa actividad económica el pueblo se beneficiaba con un estándar de vida tan alto que estaba a la cabeza de la América latina y era superior en el año 1958 al de España, Francia, Italia y muchos otros países europeos. Hoy se importa hasta el azúcar porque los imbéciles en el poder no supieron conservar esas fuentes de trabajo ni fundar ninguna nueva, dedicándose mejor a fomentar el odio, el rencor y la envidia, creando falsos enemigos para unir al pueblo en una lucha imaginaria que ya data seis décadas a fin de consolidar en el poder al totalitarismo despótico que hoy goza mientras el pueblo muere en la indigencia. Analiza. Cuba hoy es un pueblo que prefiere arriesgarse a escapar que permanecer ahogado en esa miseria social, sicológica y económica.

Aunque ese despotismo que beneficia exclusivamente la atorrante cúpula despreciable del poder en Cuba y sus cipayos que condena a la miseria al resto de los cubanos debió haberse acabado hace muchas décadas, para la maquinaria represiva castrista todo el tiempo del mundo es poco para seguir lucrando a expensas de la libertad del pueblo. Hoy se quejan porque habiendo pensado que los norteamericanos les iban a abrir nuevas formas de sustentar su represión les salió un presidente nuevo que por haberse formado en el capitalismo comprende muy claramente que el respeto a la propiedad privada y a los derechos humanos vienen de la mano para poner fin a la miseria en que hoy viven los cubanos. El presidente Trump recalca que mientras no se reconozcan los derechos humanos y la propiedad privada en esa Cuba destruida por el castrismo no habrá concesiones.

Para los malparidos castristas, el presidente Trump es un enemigo porque los obliga a apreciar el fin de su dinastía decadente; para beneficiar la calidad de vida y la economía del país, tienen que restarse ellos del infinito control que ejercen sobre sus víctimas. Trump los obliga a un proceso de elecciones libres con múltiples partidos políticos y diferentes candidatos en la boleta electoral para que tras un sufragio secreto el país decida su nuevo curso, basado en las normas democráticas prevalentes que incluyen tres ramas gubernamentales independientes y sobre todo un poder judicial autónomo que no se doblegue más que ante la justicia y el respeto a los derechos humanos. En Cuba no hay justicia desde que tomaron el poder esos cuatreros; todo se supedita a lo que quieran los perros castristas.

El cambio que propone Trump se basa en la realidad del siglo veintiuno y refleja todo lo que los déspotas en Cuba quieren negar–la historia que allá han tratado vehementemente de re-escribir para no dejar ver al resto del mundo su gran fracaso. Los hechos demuestran que los castristas y sus cipayos no eran más que unos resentidos envidiosos cuando tomaron el mando, ladrones y gente incapacitada para dirigir el destino de un país libre.

Muy a pesar de lo que pronosticó Fidel, la historia no absolvió a ese hijo de Lina. Al contrario, lo condena. Y lo condena por mentiroso, envidioso, inepto, corrupto, y fracasado.

Hoy la envidia por lo que se fundó en Miami a manos de los exiliados sumada a la estupidez de no mantener funcionando ni siquiera escasamente lo que dejaron atrás los exiliados cuando los ladrones del castrismo tomaron todas esas fuentes de ingreso y las desbarataron por cafres los consume. Incrementando su envidiosa existencia es la proximidad a esa metrópolis erecta precisamente por todos los que prefirieron abandonar sus negocios, sus propiedades, sus carreras universitarias y su cultura a cambio de tener libertad, librándose de ese lastre envidioso, inepto y miserable para cansarse de triunfar en el extranjero. La única arma que tienen es la negación de la realidad, prevenir que en Cuba se sepa lo que ocurre fuera de su Gulag caribeño.

De no reprimir la información, se conociera dentro de la isla que los Castro, enriqueciéndose personalmente y salpicándoles a sus cipayos migajas de prebendas a cambio de su deshumanizante lealtad, desperdiciaron los $5 millones de dólares diarios que les facilitó la Unión Soviética por más de veinte años y posteriormente, las riquezas del petróleo venezolano que desbancó a Venezuela para apabullarse más la familia Castro y los cipayos que los mantienen en el poder por proteger las escasas migajas que les caen de la mesa de sus amos castristas.

Llevaban más de un año pensando que la mano abierta de Obama les iba a mantener el mismo despilfarro y apenas dieciocho meses más tarde se encuentran con que Trump les rompió el paso doble. Están desquiciados; no saben cómo atacar y deciden continuar la campaña que durante cincuenta y ocho años y seis meses les ha parecido que daba resultado: calumniar, mentir, tratar de re-escribir la historia y apabullar la disidencia. Muy a su pesar, el punto es que lo único que les queda es el pataleo.

Reclamen. Griten. Insulten. Mientan. Pero después de la perreta, si no cambian el esquema quedan sumidos en la miseria castrista. Sin la Unión Soviética y ahora sin Venezuela, a los de arriba que mantienen el yugo sobre el resto, les guste o no, se les acabó la papa.

En lo que a mí personalmente respecta, para que no vuelvas a equivocarte en pensar que de alguna forma comparta tu repugnante cacofonía, llevo cincuentiséis años exiliado por culpa de esos malparidos. Por el castrismo indigno y por una revolución traicionada no pude crecer al lado de mis familiares más queridos ni permanecer a su lado hasta cerrarles los ojos cristianamente en agradecimiento del amor que me dieron y por la niñez tan fabulosa que por sus esfuerzos pude disfrutar hasta el advenimiento de esos cuatreros indefendibles. Me es inadmisible que por la ceguera deliberada de tantos tontos útiles unos cuantos sinvergüenzas sigan controlando el presente y el futuro de todos los cubanos que padecen irremisiblemente bajo el totalitarismo mediocre forjador de miserias indescriptibles.

De Fidel para abajo, como no podían crear nada por su propio esfuerzo ni por su escaso intelecto, se robaron todo lo que había de otros en la isla y lo convirtieron uno a uno en excremento. Por eso la destrucción y el abandono miserable a tu alrededor solo muestra la gloria pasada. No hay nada nuevo, todo lo que fue lo convirtieron en estiércol en una demostración a la inversa de la magia del rey Midas.

Es bochornoso que haya gente como tú que defienda esa lacre haciendo eco a lemas invalidados por la realidad, por la depravación social, por el derrumbe cultural de lo que fue Cuba. Increíble que haya quien defienda esa miseria social producto del castrismo y sus cincuenta y ocho años y medio en el poder. No te quede duda alguna, únicamente los ladrones, los envidiosos y los fracasados intelectualmente son castristas.

¡Abajo el castrismo!

¡Viva Cuba libre!

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Musings

It’s been a while since my last blog. There were too many disruptions that took me away from reflections of a higher order; a plumbing leak, repairs, maintenance, professional work, in essence, the menial realities of life.

We had an election, the result of which underscores how the nation is beyond being divided and on to new territory, one where the years of educational mismanagement and political misbehavior have caught up with our daily struggles to reach a new day. Sadly, an objective observer would be pressed to miss the many forms in which we have become a nation with ignorance, vehemence, and even hatred in our heart.

No longer do we entertain a reasonable exchange of ideas to formulate a coherent set of values. One camp disparages and disdains the other. We’re fractured and apparently deaf to the other side. Each side assumes their point of view as absolute truth. They don’t pause to reflect that our sources of information are biased; they’re swayed by the money that pays for their editorializing to ensure the retention of the status quo, where the present group of powerful individuals control our access to the root of their power, to inhibit a fair access to the opportunities of a free-market.

On the other hand, we saw a splendorous transfer of power. Unlike other nations, we witnessed it without military might rolling through our streets. We didn’t experience violence or fear. Our republic lives.

Despite this positive, when people gather, they bring up a multitude of ills that remain unresolved. Among them, we have a failing health care system, one I blogged about when Obamacare was rammed through the Congress and I perceived its failure from an insurance perspective.

One cannot get insurance for a loss that already occurred. Insurance companies must reserve funds to pay losses. Coming to insure an automobile after a crash is not reasonable. However, Obamacare forces insurance companies to accept people for coverage who for years were uninsured and now with costly diseases come to have their medical expenses paid by the insurance carriers. Further, the healthy remain uninsured until they’re sick.

As I explained then and now repeat, this is a formula for insurance company bankruptcy. Wisely, companies are withdrawing from the market and those still remaining, raise premiums on their risk to sums so high that make everyone insurance-poor. The only group benefiting from this ostensibly flawed legislation is the poor whose premiums are paid by the people and their deductibles reduced for direct access to healthcare. The people who are employed, earning a living to sustain themselves and their family, must jump over the hurdles of high premiums and outlandish deductibles for any access at all at an average cost per family in Miami of $22,000 a year.

Obamacare as our present system fails everyone because it suppresses free-market solutions. As is clear to Libertarians, government meddling inhibits competition. Its disruptive interference skews the market.

Last night at a dinner party, I talked with two supporters of the present intrusive government structure. One works for a company administering over the phone diagnoses for the treatment of disease. This company provides an alternative of care even if remotely and without physical contact with callers who bring their issue to their well-qualified staff. Clearly, their bread is buttered by the current flaws of the system. If these failures were resolved, their business would be severely affected. Not hard to guess that their vehement support for the current inefficient condition was vigorously on display.

The second person I met is a male sports figure, one of those revered athletes whose life is spent exercising, eating healthy, retaining a wholesome profile and earning millions of dollars to keep us entertained on the field and over transmitted broadcasts. He’s one of those lucky individuals getting paid to play and his game is taking a game-ball and move it a few yards down the field, on average under fifteen minutes per game sixteen times in one season. Our culture worships this class of individuals and they’re well-aware of their role in the Coliseum, where their valor and their might retain the attention of the people while the government continues its power-grab, taking more from the people without their notion under the guise of security. Yet in all fairness, this particular individual is generous. He expressed his desire to pay his taxes without flinching. He stated plainly how he does not mind “helping those who need handouts.” He’s a kind-hearted fellow, like Warren Buffett.

I listened carefully, internally horrified with mental images of totalitarian despots handing out scraps and the eager recipients grateful for their generosity. What became of the America where I grew up? What happened to the general desire to be self-reliant, avoiding the need for government assistance at all cost? When did the values that shaped me as an adolescent attending public school evaporate altogether?

In my youth, those who struggled to develop a business away from government handouts were the backbone of American society. The mom and pop stores, the skilled workers, the inventors and the risk-takers who envisioned the mythical better mouse-trap were the source of our national pride and our nation’s wealth. Today, they fight bureaucratic red-tape, and fortunately they coexist with what permeates all around us. We know they’re still there: They turned out to vote in great numbers in November. They joined all the forgotten people who grew tired of empty promises and growing inequality as the by-product of politicians’ greed, their lust for power and their unquenchable thirst for money at the expense of “We, The People.”

There’s hope in sensing that despite pockets of liberalism and unfettered disdain for private enterprise in large clusters of city-dwellers, there remain large numbers of  self-motivated people who continue to toil hard to feed their families, educate their children, and house them after the government grabs part of the fruit of their venturous ingenuity. It’s those people who build the better future for generations to come. It’s those people grinding away everyday to end the government’s encroachment in the private lives of free citizens. They are the ones fully aware that a government that gives is powerful to take it all away.

Today, the recipients of the handouts fight hard to retain their easily-begotten spoils. Unwittingly, many of them as fellow-travelers, collude to deceive. It takes determination and a strong will to unmask their mendacity. However, as I like to echo, it’s up to each of us, for liberty is priceless and it must be zealously defended. Without a doubt, everyone’s liberty is under siege.

Posted in Education, Family, General, Insurance, Politics | 3 Comments

On the Death of El Caballo

WP_20150523_14_52_58_Pro 2After my initial euphoria in solidarity with many of my fellow Cuban compatriots rejoicing over the death of this ignominious man, I feel compelled to share what has subsequently turned into an ambivalence over the passing of this vengeful and destructive man who upended the life of an entire nation and who for 35 days short of 58 years remained tantalizing everyone inside his Gulag and the rest of us, luckier to have found refuge physically outside his failed inferno.

It has become apparent to me that this man’s death really doesn’t mark anything beyond the faint consolation of recognizing that mercifully, evil men aren’t immortal. After my grandparents’ generation passed and all my parents’ siblings and my father died as well, conscious of being next in line, I was beginning to wonder about this monster’s longevity vis-à-vis my own mortality. At the very least, I wanted to outlive him.

However, it’s also sorrowful that his death ends his physical struggles with gastro-intestinal malignancies. He’s now free of stoma bags for the collection of his waste that reduced him to an undignified existence among those at his deathbed who were forced to withstand his repulsive stench, hopefully watching him cringe in pain around the clock. His last breath released him. He’s no longer reduced to the denigrated wretchedness of his decaying body, which makes many like me regret the end of his life. As pejoratively as these images that consoled me over the last eight years communicate many of my very large character flaws, sensing the quality of his slowly expiring, baleful life provided me mean-spirited comfort, the antidote of the life-long agony his existence caused so many millions of us who suffered by the systematic destruction of our beloved country under his command.

Nonetheless, there’s plenty of evidence to assert that his end won’t bring anyone closure over having fled into exile, many as me, young and innocent children. Regrettably, his death will not assuage the hurt of not being raised at home with loving, supportive grandparents and every other close relative we loved dearly, whose death through the years saddened us and made our isolation from our family left behind that more difficult to bear when the news reached us. Surely, it won’t revive any of our deceased family members and childhood friends who died along the way, all equally dreaming of a return to a vibrant, energized cultural existence in the Cuba Castro’s totalitarianism destroyed one institution at a time with bitterness and disdain in retribution for the sins of his mother who conceived him out of wedlock with the man who paid her housekeeping wages. No, his death will not quiet the anguish of six decades, for  good people died and we, the few, were away to witness at a safe distance as our original culture and social structures imploded back home.

A careful observation of the situation and the facts today in Cuba raise my dissatisfaction with this man’s death ostensibly being a non-event. After almost six decades in power, his ideological system of theft, abuse, corruption, repression and annihilation is ensconced and woven into the fiber of the decaying society engulfing my beloved homeland. Alas, change is only possible with a new constitution, a copy of ours in the US, with specific tenets of justice and equality guaranteeing individual, inalienable rights, a respect for private property and an independent judiciary within a system of law and order.

In today’s Cuba, despite the death of this perverse tyrant, power remains concentrated at the top, and at the top sits a ruthless brother-survivor who continues to carry out the same Castro abuse perpetrated against all who raise their voice in dissent. This Castro, as his brother did, perceives change as weakness. As I’ve observed, la yegua Castro is equally as vile and vicious as el Caballo Castro. He understands how any perceived undermining of his authoritarian rule places in peril his life and the life of his descendants, who unlike the rest of their eleven million compatriots enjoy a lifestyle of excesses sipping champagne and munching on Beluga caviar as they cruise in luxury around the world while the rest try to survive in utter despair and misery.

In essence, given the present state of life in Cuba, it would take a twenty-first century miracle to foster change. I’m lucky for living in a country I love, but I confess that despite the mountain of years in exile, there remains a small, secret compartment in my heart filled with very stirring emotions stowed away, longing for a return to my real home someday, even while consciously understanding the depth of Thomas Wolfe’s assertion, especially knowing that my real home was bulldozed six decades ago. Some would label my emotions nostalgic, yet I attribute them to a desire to safeguard at least a small part of the innocence I lost as a consequence of the despair the extrication from my way of life caused me at a very young age.

In closing, though, I leave you with a clear refrain: “May Fidel Castro’s immortal soul wander through hell for infinity and may worse suffering than humans can conceive beset his ever-lasting soul forever and ever.”

Posted in Family, General, Politics, Something Else | 7 Comments

Recalling Mr. Reagan, Are We Better Off Today Than in 2008?

FGSEight years ago, Barack Obama promised change. His political slogan was the inspiring “Yes We Can.” A vast majority of Americans dreamed of an expanded popular participation in the social fiber of our great nation. Voters lined up on election day to cast their ballot for the first African-American man to reach the highest political office in the land with residence in the White House.

With strong emotions, large segments of the country envisioned the realization of the President’s campaign promises.  It was exhilarating to think that the United States would disengage from the war in the Middle East after the horrors of torture and escalations of war lagging from the Bush/Cheney administration. The extended incarceration of our enemies in Gitmo would soon become one more inexcusable event in our national History. Instead, exhaustive diplomacy would become our prized tool to prevent other wars. We would achieve the peace long-desired by everyone at last. Mr. Obama’s election would signal the dawn of a new society; one Martin Luther King envisioned, the judgment of individuals by the content of their heart replacing the abhorrent notion of hatred over the color of their skin.

There would be equality in economic opportunities. It was the end of the status quo keeping the middle class at bay, unable to achieve greater financial success by personal initiative and hard work. The success of Mr. Obama would end the hegemony of the powerful and the well-connected over everyone else. All hard workers would have equal access to the realization of their goals and aspirations. In one sentence, we hoped to achieve at last equality of  justice, signaling  a more auspicious tomorrow for our children to grow up in a more perfect Union.

Alas, eight years later we deal with a different reality. We suffer from an array of senseless violence in cities across our nation. We read statistics pointing to increased criminal atrocities in our cities, surpassing levels attained eight years ago.

We count today larger numbers of incarcerated individuals. Daily on television we watch communities mourning the death of innocent children at the hands of mentally unstable individuals in dire need of access to mental health facilities and professionals. All around hot points in our cities there are individuals gunned down in turf wars and gang violence. Many of our inner city neighborhoods have become battle zones where sorrow and anxiety prevent our youth from studying, working, playing and enjoying themselves over fear and insecurity. We saw Chicago, Baltimore, Ferguson, Dallas and Baton Rouge in the news for the wrong reasons. In dismay, we learn of individuals in desperation targeting the police, seeking with inexcusable violence to raise awareness for the excesses of a handful of thugs dishonoring their badge by failing to serve and protect the citizens in their communities.

Government statistics demonstrate that more people live in poverty today than before. Fewer individuals are working full-time. To attempt to make ends meet, our breadwinners work two and three jobs, mostly without benefits beyond their hourly wage. The labor participation rate is at its lowest historical level while our population is at a peak. The median income per capita is lower now than it was eight years ago. Extreme poverty in the US–that is households living with less than $2 per day before government assistance–more than doubled, from 636,000 to 1, 460,000 households, including 2,800,000 children, between 1996 and 2011, with most of this increase occurring between late 2008 and early 2011, according to H. Luke Shaefer & Kathryn Edin’s 2012 published work, Extreme Poverty in the United States*.

Woefully, the last eight years have brought an escalation of the wars across the Middle East. We’ve learned of an Arab Spring insurgency across northern Africa to overturn authoritarian despotism that turned against us and our desire to instill our democratic values in their region. Our State Department working stealthily with CIA operatives and with other US government agencies tried to foster a more American-centered outlook for prosperity  in a region of the world where conflict has existed for two thousand years; a region primarily guided by religious beliefs in conflict with our Jude0-Christian traditions. However, despite our best intentions and those of our Secretaries of State beginning with Hillary Clinton and followed by John Kerry, the product of our unsolicited although well-intentioned meddling brought more chaos, more death and more destruction to the region, turning our effort into the reason for more hate directed at us as a country, with ordinary Americans bearing the brunt of their misplaced anger. Tens of thousands of families were displaced from the region and continue to seek refuge in Europe, the Americas, Australia and the rest of the democratic countries around the world. There are possibly hundreds of thousands dead by the wars of American involvement. We face strong opposition to democracy because the people of the region haven’t learned to separate their political and economic life from the strict mandates of their religious beliefs.

Our soldiers remain stationed around the world. They’re charged with maintaining the peace and with upholding democratic principles where we truly should not remain securing lines of communication that seem to benefit exclusively large conglomerates of multi-national corporations. In the absence of a Central Bank, our economy is held up by the Federal Reserve System, commonly referred to as The Fed. It’s an entity owned by private banking concerns that fixes our rate of interest and the nation’s money supply.  Without a doubt, The Fed rules our nation’s financial life and its power extends beyond our borders to influence the central banks of other nations by its immense financial power. The Fed has the power to override the free market by fixing an arbitrary rate of interest for financial transactions. Its day to day operations remain shrouded by a veil of secrecy granted by the Congress without even the basic accounting notion of auditing the books.

Retired Americans see the fruit of their lifetime of frugality to ensure a dignified lifestyle in retirement reduced to negligible rates of interest in savings accounts.  To obtain better returns, old folks are forced to assume more risk than prudent individuals unable to replace their capital if lost should undertake. At the other end of the age and labor spectrum, we find that as a rule Millennials remain living at home with their parents because their large college debt prevents their financial independence. Our youth is vastly unemployed and the lucky few who successfully found work are mostly engaged in part-time job assignments.

In recent weeks we saw Mr. James B. Comey, the current head of the FBI, recommending no legal action after an exhaustive investigation of Hillary Clinton’s subterfuge with a private server in her basement. Most adversaries consider her actions the product of elitism together with the desire to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act. Mr. Comey acknowledged Mrs. Clinton had not been truthful and forthcoming with accurate information. In fact there were thousands of emails missing, many covered secret information, restricted information, sensitive information, classified as national secrets that she mishandled. Publicly she denied any knowledge of computers and an innocence belying her position as a former First Lady, a former US Senator and as Mr. Obama’s first Secretary of State. In fact she had lied multiple times when directly asked about her emails. Mr. Comey’s recommendation was based on a prosecutor’s inability to prove intentional misconduct if an indictment followed their investigation. It was more suitable to all involved to refer to the thousands of missing emails and the public denials related to the incident as incompetence. Despite Mr. Comey’s public assertions on national television days earlier, days later we witnessed Mrs. Clinton reiterating that she had not lied and that it was clear she had not committed any crimes. There are several conflicting accounts of less powerful figures who faced criminal charges for similar actions as those of Mrs. Clinton and none was hoarding information in their private servers or used special software to remove all trace of deleted documents. For more information read this document.

Now I ask, is this the United States of America envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution? Is this the legacy we want to leave our children? Is it the profile of a successful eight years in office? Finally, do we want to grant Hillary Clinton the opportunity to continue and expand the work of President Obama as she vehemently proposes to the American people?

Certainly, there are questionable qualities in Donald Trump. As a candidate some think he’s not conservative enough. Some believe his large experience with bankruptcies and failed businesses underscore a skillful fast-talker who will sell us out to the highest bidder. Many believe he’s insincere when he advocates himself as the spokesman for the neglected middle-class because his past dealings and self-disclosed vast wealth make him a member of the elite. All these negative assertions narrow down this piece to one final question and a personal regret.

What would be better for America at this juncture, a proven liar, a corrupt elitist whose actions have demonstrated failure after failure during her tenure as Secretary of State with years of increased racial tension as minorities of color enjoy less and less opportunity under politicians partisan to the Democratic Party in Congress, someone at present proposing an expansion of the status quo that keeps everyone poorer or the alternative, someone whose reputed bigotry by the commentaries he has personally made contradict his success as a businessman and his personal interaction with thousands of employees, most of whom attest to his tolerance for people of all races and origins, whom they identify as being more focused on results than pedigree, an entrepreneurial billionaire without any financial need to sell the power of his office to the highest bidder?

While Americans are able to select from a larger list of candidates by resorting to multiple other political parties whose candidates appear on the ballot, the reality is that only one or two exceptional elections saw a third-party candidate win the White House in the last one hundred years. It’s only the donkey or the elephant controlling the outcome of our elections. No other party has the deep pockets required to nominate and match the expense of promoting a candidate for president. Regretfully, former Texas US Congressman Ron Paul with the libertarian philosophy he advances never made it to the debates. It’s clear to me that given the present state of our national interests, only ignorance of party principles would detract the overwhelming majority of voters from choosing in November a libertarian candidate for President of the United States.

Posted in Education, Family, Finances, General, Politics | 1 Comment

My Lady Gertrude

WP_20140124_001 (1)My Gertie died Monday. It was the Ides of March. She was thirteen years, eight months and seventeen days old. We thought she was a cocker spaniel but the veterinarian said she was an English spaniel. She was blonde and her tail was a short stump that she wagged all day long, especially when I came home from work or when my children visited.

She was friendly and sweet. She seldom barked and when she did, it was because she heard a loud noise, otherwise, she would be the quietest dog I’ve ever had. As a puppy we had a cat named Scruffy when she arrived. With Scruffy she learned to do her toilette daily in the morning. As he, she would lick her front paws and pass them over her eyes and her face. She would lick her paws to keep them neat, as the cat used to do. He taught her to respect him and she learned to play with Scruffy without hurting him and stopped before he swatted her if she continued playing when he had enough and wanted to rest. He also taught her to look out the window sitting on the narrow back of our sofa. She would sit and stare out for long periods of time without falling off.

She liked to be held in a sitting position, as if she were a baby sitting up. She wasn’t a licker, but at times felt the urge to kiss me in the ear. I loved it.

She ate dry food almost her entire life, but when she turned nine, her teeth began to hurt, so I started her on softer dry food for seniors. The last two months all she could bite into was soft, canned dog food. She didn’t like lamb at all. Her favorite was chicken, although moist filet mignon in morsels followed close behind.

Every morning, she would wait for me to open her doggy door to run outside before coming back in for breakfast. She loved to be at my feet while I prepared breakfast, eager to grab anything that fell from the kitchen counter. It was comforting to know she was there.

She would follow me to the laundry room and watched me wash her water dish to refill it with fresh water every day. She was also at  my side when I opened the cupboard to grab a can of her food to feed her. Her tail wagged as fast as she was able to manage.

She never yelped or barked or made careless noises even if she was hungry when I was preparing meals. She just sat there, watching intently and with her eyes letting me know she was ready for anything that splashed or fell to the ground. Needless to say, she was quick to lick or pick up anything that came her way.

I loved coming home because she was always happy to see me. She never held a grudge. She was always loyal and good-natured. Except once, when my granddaughter as a three-year old pushed on her stomach to get up and she snapped at her. Her teeth scratched Andrea’s face although it was visible that she immediately realized it wasn’t the right reaction, for after the initial scratch, she tried to lick her face, as if to undo the harm. Licking is how she showed her regrets over untoward behavior. But she never again even tried to bite anyone else.

She was a jovial little dog. She loved to jet out any carelessly left open gate or door and play catch me if you can when the gardener came to mow the lawn. It was her favorite mischief and she knew it was mischievous because when she was finally caught, she had that look little children have when they know they’ve done something that’s not allowed.

She began to show signs of hypoglycemia a few months ago. When the vet saw her, he couldn’t believe how low her glucose level was. It’s when he ventured a diagnosis of a pancreatic malignancy. She was already thirteen years old and undergoing expensive testing to be told she had a few months to live seemed like a waste of resources.

She began to show signs of her illness slowly, but as is apparently normal with the disease, her glucose would fluctuate from high to low several times during the day. Finally, last Thursday she couldn’t get her hind legs to hold her weight. She began to drag herself and I began to help her go for water, to try to eat. I carried her twice to our backyard where she liked to void.

My daughter Ana came with me to the vet. She cradled her gently while I drove. Ana was Gertie’s original mommy. When she moved from home she wanted her puppy with her, but my mother raised such a crying scene that she gave in and left Gertie with us.

While at the vet, she bought Gertie doggie pampers and colorful little pants to put over them. Although the vet dispensed some meds, they weren’t able to stall the inevitable. Life is precious and when it’s time, it’s time. However, the Toradol eased any pain she may have had at the end. The next day, Friday, her legs gave out completely and she couldn’t get up at all. She stopped eating and wouldn’t drink more than a lick or two of water when I begged her. The end was near.

Moments before I carried her to the vet on Monday, she must have slipped into a coma, for she began to move her legs as if she were running and roared with pleasure, as she used to roar when she played with my son who liked to play rough with her and she loved it. Her expression changed for an instant and it took a happy appearance one last time, but it was short-lived. She remained motionless when I carried her almost lifeless body to the car, when I wheeled her into the vet’s office, and when I placed her on the examination table.

When the vet came in, as he tried to find a vein in her left paw to draw blood, trying to decipher what exactly he could do to bring her back, she stopped breathing. Her heart stopped a couple of minutes later and she was gone. I was overwhelmed with grief, the sorrow of parting with a loved one, a painful and inconsolable loss. It’s a member of my immediate family who passed away.

Now when I wake up in the morning I catch myself walking to the doggie door and searching for her on the armchair outside my bedroom door, where she used to wait for me in the morning. Her absence is ubiquitous. It’s an anguish that weighs me down and manifests itself everywhere I look. Gertie’s absence is an emptiness that can’t find sating.

Rest in peace my dear friend. Sweet dreams. You were the best little doggie I could ever hope for. You’re intensely missed. I love you.

Posted in Family, General, Something Else | 1 Comment

The Double-Edge of Self-Branding Products

FGSEveryone likes to save a buck and in less than ideal economic times, it’s a must. Practicing sensible marketing skills, stores offer sale merchandise to lure their customers into buying their own brands of products, where profit margins are greater. These private labels are generally priced below those of the better-known brands. The price differentiation is attractive to financially-conscious customers; after all, a penny saved…

Yesterday, I bought a Publix brand pizza. Publix is my nearest grocery store. I found it in their freezer, next to another brand in a colorful box, and from reading the package and judging by their outward appearance, their content seemed identical. I wrongly assumed their quality and taste would be too.

The outside display of the Publix pizza box was more plain-looking–a pie less colorfully topped with four different types of cheese on a self-rising crust. But it was offered for $2 less than the box next to it. To the inexperienced, the only difference was the cost of each and the allure of their imaging. Of course, the higher priced package was more enticing, but the lower cost of the Publix brand outweighed the imaging on the box.

I took it home and later that night, I took the box out of the freezer to bake. The first marked difference was the degree of difficulty to open the package. It wasn’t as easy as pulling a cardboard lead. I struggled with the heavily glued cardboard. Nothing like brain surgery, but definitely more labor intensive than the mere pull on a tab I was used to.

Once opened, the pizza was enclosed in a heavy gauged plastic wrapping. I struggled to get the pie out of the wrapping. My kitchen scissors were not sharp enough and the plastic was too thick to tear with my hands. The pie wasn’t placed on a cardboard tray, as has been my experience with other brands; it was by itself inside the sealed plastic wrapping. This made a difference to me, probably because it’s easier to cut once the pie is baked.

I carefully followed the baking instructions on the box. The timer went off and I waited the specified five minutes to cut and serve the slices. Sadly, they were lacking in taste. Even the cheese was flat, tasteless, like plain cardboard. The manufacturer used a negligible amounts of seasoning, particularly low in salt–something healthy, but unfortunate for the dish because what I mostly tasted was the crust, no punch to it; it was just like eating plain and simple thick, white bread.

Obviously, I expected more. I felt robbed. The $5 spent wasn’t worth the $2 I saved. I would’ve been better off spending the extra money to buy the brand I already knew. Satisfaction is worth more than 28% saved. Consequentially, in the future I’ll steer clear of Publix brand frozen pizza because this gamble was unquestionably negative.

Here’s my outlook: If large company CEOs don’t take the time to ensure the quality of the products that go out to the market displaying their private label, their earmarked larger profit-margins will eventually evaporate. Worse, all inferior products leave negative impressions on their customers, prompting them to question the company’s motivation, their attention to customer needs and their emphasis on profits over quality. Bad private label experiences bear the potential to sabotage future sales and erode customer loyalty.

Lax supervision of quality standards is generally perceived negatively by consumers. It translates as careless arrogance from a CEO. Customers tend to generalize and extrapolate their experiences, assessing and reassessing how they feel when they leave a place of business. Negative customer satisfaction is clearly not the impression any successful CEO wishes for a customer if the future of his company is the main concern. Customers expect the most powerful individual at the company to promote good business practices. The most salient of these is to ensure customer satisfaction. The safety and good quality of all goods and services must outweigh the cheap profits derived from promoting inferior products to a consumer.

Posted in Education, Finances, General | 1 Comment