Escalating Suicide Rates in the US

FGSThe shock from the statistics in yesterday’s New York Times revealing that in “2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides,” motivates me to write today, posting here a comment I submitted to that newspaper without any control over its acceptance for publication on their site. Particularly egregious is the index among men in their 50s jumping nearly 50% to 30 per 100,000.

These sad tallies underscore our society’s misguided value system. It’s not about lack of opportunities. It’s not about economics. It’s about psychological alienation. We isolate ourselves from our family at an early age under the guise of independence and fail to form meaningful life-long bonds with others.

We show little regard for the sanctity of life. We worship youth and go to extremes to remain youthful, as if having wrinkles or showing our age became unacceptable. We balk at any manifestation of spirituality. We fail to grasp what French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry expressed years ago, “the essential is invisible to the eyes.”

We’ve become a culture of superficiality. We witnessed the sexual liberation of the 60s and under the guise of progress, the break-up of the family, the proliferation of hallucinogens, and the over-consumption of substances to fit in and remain socially accepted among our peers. We pop pills to sleep, to stay awake, to take the edge off, to focus.

We’re generally flippant about life, taking it for granted along with everything else to which we feel entitled. We struggle to keep up with the latest gadgets and feel inadequate if we cannot afford the artificial lifestyle that surrounds us. Peer-pressure shapes us and overrides our own internal values, often a set of which we never fully take the time to develop or reflect upon, finding it easier to follow the herd.

We must learn to deal effectively with the important trials life brings. We must accept the cycles of life as part of it. We need to understand how all of life is change and find happiness in the daily sunrise.

Until we do, we’ll be saddened by these escalating manifestations of hopelessness.

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A Published Opinion Letter Today In The Miami Herald

fgs-in-the-grand-canyonAn opinion letter appeared today in The Miami Herald, the local English language diary. It’s signed by Frank Gonzalez. It’s neither my letter nor my opinion. When I write, I sign my full name: Francisco Gonzalez-Soldevilla.

For those curious to learn my own thoughts on this matter, let me be clear:  As a whole, I hold the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association in the utmost respect and admiration. They’re the generation before mine who were old enough to fight directly with the Castro dictatorship, risking their life over the cause of liberty in Cuba only to find themselves betrayed, left without resources after landing on Cuban beaches when JFK and RFK withdrew the military support and logistics they had promised these valiant patriots at their recruitment and during their training at CIA-sponsored camps in Central America.  

I admire Yoany Sanchez for her sincere and honest attempt to bring down the Castro dictatorship, diligently reporting and blogging in the midst of the horrors that surround her, but I do not share her desire to lift the embargo at this time. While The Embargo has proven an utmost failure for the destabilization of the dictatorship since its onset, first the USSR and next Hugo Chavez circumvented its purpose by providing the regime with the cash to finance the repression in Cuba over the last 54+ years. Now the dictatorship finds itself without the assurance of Hugo Chavez’s petro-dollars and his drug-derived, money-laundered cash to quell its opposition. 

This pressing financial uncertainty forces Castro’s emissaries to appeal from every possible stage across the globe for the lifting of the here-to-now failed embargo. This is not because the higher echelons of power in Cuba would do without their basic necessities as ostensibly some assume, but because without the assurance of a cash-rich external assistance, the government dictatorship would lose control of the rank and file in the military and of the regime’s political infrastructure, the mercenaries responsible for the intolerable repression the people there suffer. The elimination of bribes to buy loyalty would bring a gradual unwinding of the system, eventually causing it to lose control and tumble.

Until now, these apparatchiks bartered their loyalty for more favorable treatment from the dictatorship. They were given rewards supplying them with food, clothing, transportation, access to privileged education for their children, and trips abroad. Without the external massive flow of cash to bribe their allegiance to the dictatorship, these repressive dogs will find themselves equally as miserable as the other 11+ million victims on the island, scavenging to survive day to day, hand to mouth.

On the other hand, the lifting of the Cuban embargo would carry open lines of credit. These new credit lines would ensure a retention of the leverage the government requires to subdue any overt revolt against the Castro regime. Sadly for all who sympathize with the plight of the Cuban people, a lifting of the embargo and open lines of credit would guarantee the status quo in Cuba—not that the politically powerful in the US today would not tacitly rejoice over this stalemate.

Historically, any turmoil in the island has triggered waves of refugees to our coast. Today would not be an exception. However, today an influx of refugees would wreak havoc on our frail economy and already vastly over-burdened social structure.  There are many negative implications to such an outcome when this area in particular and the nation as a whole continue to face economic difficulties. New masses of refugees fleeing hunger and misery, seeking to find milk and honey among us would stir controversy across the full spectrum of our political and social strata.

It’s what tilts the balance in favor of the oppressors and against those who like me oppose the lifting of the embargo. A massive flight from the island is something Washington is unwilling to risk at this juncture, unlike LBJ, who pushed for The Embargo and the Cuban Adjustment Act during his tenure as president to enable freedom-seekers to reach our shores by any means. Those were different times in the US, as we waged the Cold War. 

Our ethical values shifted along the years together with our visceral understanding as a people of the value of liberty. We no longer acknowledge as a nation that if among us even a single individual is not free, by extension none of us is truly free. We see the results of this change every day more in the halls of Congress. We understand clearly when we read the USA PATRIOT ACT and find how its enactment destroyed the Constitution and our rights under the guise of protecting the people, allowing the government to gain dictatorial controls over our lives.  

As always, your comments and contributions are encouraged and appreciated.

Posted in General, Pet peeves, Politics, Something Else | Leave a comment

Bewilderment

fgs-in-the-grand-canyonThe New York Times this morning published a story on immigration. It focuses on a gay couple forced to move from New York because one of the two men was not granted a permanent US resident visa. The article describes how same-sex married couples don’t have the same rights as heterosexual married couples. The same-sex couple mentioned saw no alternative but moving to London to remain together. Allegedly, a US citizen is granted permanent residency with less difficulty in Great Britain.  

Generally, after reading NYT articles, I like to peruse the readers’ comments. It’s always entertaining and surprising. Since personally I find marriage to be archaic and not essential to anyone’s well-being, quite often counter-productive to family health, the arguments over access for all to the institution doesn’t make sense to me. I find the fight waged by advocates of same-sex marriage a two-edged sword. It’s true that we are all equal and the access to pursue happiness must be the same for all, but the other side of the argument is that we fight over the right to be miserable like everyone else.

Today, the readers’ comments deliver a homogeneous message. The current arguments, the current denial of equality, the current malaise across the nation are all the fault of the Republicans. Wherever wrongs exist today, according to them, the Republican Party and its elected political figures are to blame, which brings me to write this blog today.   

It’s bewildering how a small majority of the voters elects and re-elects President Obama, a Democrat, to the White House, yet readers of the illustrious New York Times blame the Republicans–the minority–for the current state of our political morass, failed economic conditions, and now age-old immigration policies. “It’s the extreme right,” they say. “It’s the radical Republicans,” all clamor.

If the political party in the minority is powerful enough to repudiate diversity on account of their ignorance and prejudices, how come they fail to elect someone of their own persuasion to lead this nation? When will it be time to stop blaming others, to reflect on where we’re headed as a society, and on the manner to get where we want to go as a people?

To quote Tip O’Neal and Michael Jackson in the same sentence, all politics is local and change starts with the man in the mirror. We won’t cure the perceived ills until we band together, find common ground, and reach a consensus to progress or perish under the boot of quagmire and inaction. Crying and finger pointing do not resolve our differences.

If we want to move forward addressing the issues of our time, we must step down from confrontation, insolence, and despotism. An open and persuasive dialog is the tool guaranteed by our US Constitution. Let’s use it by engaging in our political arena leaders eager to represent us doing what’s best for the nation.

Throw the obstructionists out of office or stop whining.

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The New Profile of Miami Politics

Alas, as the legacy political exiles of the early years of the Castro Revolution die off, their dreams for a free Cuba and their hopes for a safe return vanishes with them, as do their memories of a prosperous country destroyed by authoritarian socialism and envy; envy that divided the people through methodical class-warfare, promising to take away from the rich to give to the poor, devising safety-nets that included the promise of popular access to a free college education–free education that hinges on manifest support for the government–all measures that bankrupted the nation and reduced everyone to the misery and the dire poverty endemic in Cuba today. Unambiguously, History points to how after all the confiscated wealth was squandered, everyone was left to their very personal and unique form of wretchedness. Under totalitarian, single-party rule, as individuality is systematically crushed under the guise of a collective better tomorrow and progress, a universal production of minions spawned. Minions who, in the process, lost even as much as the desire to create a better life for themselves and their families. Today they’re uniformly reduced to everyone secretly yearning to flee, to escape to foreign shores, where better opportunities drip down from the rich who forge a better life with their wealth, as it trickles down to their communities across the nation with employment opportunities and financial freedom for all who work hard and accept personal responsibility over their future.

Over the last fifty-four years, Miami witnessed unmatched economic growth; initially at the hands of Cuban political exiles with knowledge and expertise who, while hoping someday to return to their native Cuba, identified with the Republican Party over its traditionally conservative political outlook. This group worked hard to create better opportunities for themselves and their families here and in the process, forged a larger community of prosperity and wealth, creating economic activity never seen in this part of the country since George Merrick founded Coral Gables and Henry Flagler laid down his railroad line to Key West. When they arrived in the area, Miami was a sleepy community, mostly boarded up between late April and late October. These able and eager political exiles fostered the diversity and the prosperity that now lures so many new groups into our area.

Today Miami welcomes waves of Cuban immigrants less politically motivated, perhaps more driven by economic reasons, seeking the safety-net they lack in their native country, now destroyed by failed promises and false illusions of hope. This group, naturally not savvy about private enterprise and business matters, tends to show a lesser ability to found private commercial enterprises. They strive less to create jobs and more to be hired by established going concerns. Sadly, some arrive more eyeing the government benefits extended here in the US to the less fortunate than bring with them the vision of commercialism and profit-making that in the past expanded the realm of opportunities for everyone else. Clearly, sweeping generalizations are inaccurate and there are always exceptions.

In essence, today Miami welcomes waves of Cubans less yearning to breathe free and more hoping to receive the government benefits to which they feel entitled as human beings down on their luck. They form part of that personally disliked, politically-correct term modern pundits and profilers use ostensibly in an attempt to bodlerize the now rejected term, wet-back, which slowly morphed into Latino, lumping us all together, as if by a single word anyone could reduce to a neat little package so many cultures, so many languages, so many outlooks, and so many individuals from every country south of the border.  

Regrettably, the experiences in Cuba of some recent arrivals in Miami moves them to seek to blend in and to avoid standing out. They long to fade into the American culture, something their predecessors strongly defied out of love for their homeland and respect for their ancestry. The old exiles fought back with every fiber of their might to preserve their language and their heritage despite concurrently also sincerely loving this great land that allowed them to live free and to raise families honorably; people who fought hard to preserve their individuality, carving out a distinctive niche for their own perspective in the US political arena. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice by losing loved ones in multiple US wars along the years. In contrast, the new group seeks to fade away, allowing the melting pot to devour them, wiping away any trace of the distinctiveness handed down by their predecessors.

This mottled group makes up the endlessly evolving face of a Cuban migratory history dating back to 1868 unhindered through our days. Because of their history in Cuba, living under tyranny and never knowing anything but the government version of issues, they fail to differentiate between stirring speeches and earnest attempts to govern, false promises and failed initiatives. This younger group also tends to align itself with the Democratic Party. 

As the older generations of Cubans in Miami die off, so goes the area’s former support for conservatism and the GOP of Eisenhower and Reagan, Dirksen and Goldwater. It’s in these newer Miami groups now that carpetbaggers like the newly elected Joe Garcia find their base. It’s perhaps the normal course of social evolution once again facing off; it’s thesis, antithesis and synthesis endlessly in strife. It’s the change taking place.

What a treacherous and hostile world must it have seemed to the very last surviving dinosaur!

 

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The Ringmaster Left Us

He was generous. He was loyal. He was intelligent. He was compassionate. He was energetic. He had a firm handshake. He looked everyone in the eye. He was magnetizing. He was discreetly indiscreet at times. He was fun. He was opinionated. He was communicative. He had a strong sense of beauty and good taste. He was clear. He was inquisitive. He was ultra-liberal. He was charming. He was socially agglutinating. He was the quintessential socialite. He was the epitome of a great communicator with an extensive vocabulary and perfect grammar. He played with his voice and nuanced expressions by the modality of his inflection, “Huhh-ney.” He was my friend.

He could be belligerent, wry, domineering, fervent and dramatic. His social life was more like a re-insurance agreement than the plainness of the first impression represented. The initial perception of simplicity with time slipped away as a more complex image of the man evolved. Geoffrey gave everything with one hand and slowly took it back with the other, not with malice, but out of a strong sense of personal privacy. He only chose to reveal glimpses of his private life sporadically, depending on the degree of acquaintance and the degree of trust he established. His true reality was his own and while occasionally he shared glimpses of situations and events, he never truly bared it all to anyone else, actually.

Initially, he was from Tinsel Town and he attended a small school in Connecticut. Later, we learned that while growing up in Brentwood, his neighbor across the street was Cole Porter, whose Packard automobile he found as impressive as his musical talent and his crutches. His brother attended Caltech, but he chose Yale, attempting to illustrate geographically how their individual political outlooks differed. He was the younger of two children raised in a well-to-do upper middle-class family with a charming English businessman for a father and a very loving, idiosyncratic Canadian mother. His parents and their friends were typical for their time routinely hosting dinner parties at their home, a tradition he continued. As he was growing up, there were the occasional sojourns “across the pond,” as he liked to say, to visit his grandmother and her side of the family along the English countryside.

I remember how we met. It was in a local “watering hole,” as he was fond of labeling bars. Ours was an introduction from a casual acquaintance who asked if I wouldn’t like to meet a really interesting guy also working with insurance. We were both in the same industry, but his insurance operations were away from my own focus on individual products and their direct distribution.

“Back in the day,” as he used to say, I had owned a small insurance agency which I had recently sold. He was still a re-insurance intermediary. I had no idea of the scope of his work at the time. I didn’t have any contact with the re-insurance world.

More than over our common business experiences, our friendship grew for more mundane reasons. We were both divorced. Similarly, we were fathers of multiple children; he had three and I have four, but as he liked to underscore, his former wife took care of raising his children while I was raising my own all by myself. It’s probably what he first described about me to his friends.

Over the years—twenty exactly—our friendship took many forms. He introduced me to business contacts, to his social circles, and to his family. I met his children, his former wife, his brother, and his best friends from college. He met mine too. They were all extremely important to him and I felt honored when in his introductions he labeled me an equally important friend as well.

His social circle was extensive. Almost instantaneously, I began to meet people from his different groups and through his acquaintance my own social interactions grew, as almost weekly he hosted and invited more and more friends to share dinners and drinks at restaurants across South Florida. His uniquely personal, “the liquor flows like glue around here” became an expression we often echoed to mimic his humorous outbursts, as was “Oh waiter! Hurry up and bring me the Wine List,” followed by his wine selection that evening and the perennial codicil, “line ‘em up and keep ‘em coming.” He was the party anywhere he went.

There were two issues at restaurants that annoyed him; the first was the waiting time for a table. Woe to the host asserting a twenty minute wait that turned to more. After the twenty minutes elapsed, he would get in front of the host and demand they find him a table post-haste and he would stand there to rant and rave until one was made available, causing such a raucous that often the manager of the place would be compelled to apologize and accept fault for willfully misrepresenting the time required just to get another patron fooled into staying. The second pet peeve was selecting a wine from the list and having the waiter return with the news that they were out of it, but suggesting instead a more expensive bottle. He would demand they give him the suggested new one for the lower price every time, alleging “we came all the way from Des Moines,” to have that wine. He seldom got his way, but it was fun to watch.

We learned to trust each other and to confide more personal matters with time. We shared somewhat sensitive issues of business, finance, and family concerns. He enjoyed giving advice and he set a fine example on how to get along well and affectionately with a former wife. He even hosted parties to celebrate several of my birthdays at the handful of homes he owned at different times through the years.

He also liked to play Cupid at times. When his youngest son was fresh out of school and one of my daughters was unattached he wanted them to meet, so he hosted an evening at his home on Miami Beach where they met. It didn’t spark anything, but everyone had a good time.

In the early years, he would rent motor boats on weekends to go out with his friends. Regularly, he ventured out to Elliott Key with a boatful of friends and enough liquor to withstand the heat, which as a rule encompassed about a bottle of wine per person and for emergencies, when the wine ran out a couple six-packs of cold beer to hydrate us while at full throttle we cruised back to the marina. For these trips, we were each charged to bring different varieties of appetizers. He always ran with the fuel and in addition, he picked up along the way multiple sandwiches of different meats for our main course and all the liquor.

Our regular outings eventually spurred him to buy a larger boat. He christened her “The Lady Chardonnay.” He loved the times spent on Biscayne Bay, where he would stubbornly command his vessel and never relinquished the helm whether “over-served” or with varying degrees of sobriety. As one of the friends expressed at his memorial service, “there was always one of three possibilities when on his boat: either we hit bottom and ran aground, having to disembark and push the boat into deeper water to get home or we had an engine malfunction and had to get towed back into port or he rammed the dock as we reached its berth.” I didn’t find any of these fun, so in the end, I stopped joining them.

We endlessly argued over politics. Our views of the role of the federal government were completely different. He favored a strong central government and I favored a strict adherence to the mandates of the US Constitution. He was an American History major. I’m a political exile, victim of a socialist revolution that left my country in poverty and ruin as its charismatic leader ensconced himself as a totalitarian dictator now close to 54 years ago. Our political views could never be similar because our political origins were very different. While he argued the need for a social safety-net at all cost, I argued for a small federal government that emphasizes personal responsibility and financial solvency.

He had been most everywhere in the western world and could speak with certainty of some of the least important of US cities across the map, places he had been in at different times. He lived in New York, in Connecticut—Bridgeport—and in London for work. He knew Europe and South America. He loved Mexico and Mexican food. He liked jazz and soft Brazilian music. He was a sharp dresser. He collected a large number of impeccably lustrous shoes. He had an amazing sense of humor and a yen for biting commentary.

Along the years, he met friends whose jovial disposition he cherished. Their indulgent lifestyle gradually worsened his own penchant for skullduggery. Slowly, former nights of restraint and propriety at dinner turned to biting sarcasm and a more excessive consumption of spirits. In the end, their influential presence changed the equation and largely contributed to our differences. My sobriety was not fun. My restraint was dull. In the desire to make everyone laugh, I became the butt of all jokes with snarky remarks that were gradually more hurtful every time.

Despite promises to remain in “constant communication,” as he liked to encourage, eventually, the pleasant nights of civil conversation at the dinner table grew less gratifying and more sardonic. Increasingly, our differences over politics, finances, and lifestyle drove a wedge between us. Perhaps wrongfully, I interpreted his behavior adversely and felt he needed to underscore a personal allegiance to his partner. Thus, as my provenance from a “third-world country” became a mantra, the endless barrage of personal attacks taking the opposite side of anything I said eventually proved too unpleasant and adversarial for me.

After one final unhappy experience at a dinner party, I decided to put a healthy distance between us. This deliberate separation turned me into a Pariah. As neither Geoffrey nor anyone else reached out to me after my deliberate absence was felt, the weeks turned to months until it was too late.

My open defiance probably challenged what another friend expressed privately in that, “it was the Geoffrey Show and we were all guests, special guests or featured guests appearing at different times, but it was definitely his show.” He was the ringmaster, a gracious host, the lavish entertainer, but in the end, it was his show, and he never allowed anyone to take center stage and steal his thunder unless by design–his design.

When the phone rang Saturday morning and the caller revealed that Geoffrey had left us the night before, I felt overwhelmed with grief. The months that elapsed since we last saw each other seemed more like a fleeting few hours. The splitting gulf that had loomed so large for so long vanished altogether.

The regrets set in. I wished I had stopped at his door the weekend prior when after dinner I asked a friend in whose car I was riding to swing by Geoffrey’s place. I felt an unfounded premonition that something was not right with Geoffrey. There was an aura of sorrow in the darkened structure where the lights were never off before. In the somber darkness, a single, small light came from a window on the second floor.

The ensuing week only brought me restless nights. There were a number of nightmares about death, which I attributed to other sources of personal anxiety. There were visions of death at my door. I couldn’t fully sleep all that week.

The fatal phone call put everything together in a Nano second. Premonitions are nothing to which I’m accustomed. However, the prior week’s nightmares were too vivid to ignore. Sadly, I had never before experienced predictive dreams.

Amid the grief, I could not help but find irony in Geoffrey’s passing. Turns out Geoffrey died on the eve of the 400th anniversary of the feast of Our Lady of Charity, the Patron Saint of Cuba, “that small island in the Caribbean of so little importance to the United States.” I guess it’s a Catholic thing. He was Episcopalian.

I’m sorry we never bridged past the hurt. Certainly, one of us should’ve reached out and picked up the phone while there was time. I’m sure we would’ve laughed together again and resumed our friendship as if nothing merited greater importance. Pride got in the way.

Our friendship meant a lot to me. Among his multiple contributions to my life, he made me culturally aware of values uniquely attributed to white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, something 51 years in this country never managed to illustrate before. Although he never convinced me politically, I understood his desire to provide a cushion to the less fortunate. Despite all his vocalized assertions to the contrary, I know he genuinely sympathized with the plight of political refugees from “that small island in the Caribbean.”

It’s often said that actions speak louder than words. Through the years Geoffrey’s actions clearly proved, unequivocally, how he valued me and our friendship irrespective of the circumstances at his passing. It’s on this prevailing thought I safely find comfort.

I will miss my friend Geoffrey. May his soul rest in peace.

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The Affordable Care Act

The legislation’s ramifications are many and they hit every investor and everyone self-employed. The law applies to all, but only those who pay taxes will be financially affected by its grasp–the growing numbers of people among us who do not pay income taxes will ostensibly remain financially unaffected. They will continue to receive benefits without a current financial impact on their wallets, but as the rest of us, they too will eventually end up paying a very high cost for this expansion of the socialist state.

The law is supposed to alleviate the burden of communities across the land, which until its passing, saw their budgets raised to cover the greater numbers of people uninsured, the indigents who could not afford health insurance, and everyone else who preferred to take vacations or buy bigger homes they could not afford to pay in flagrant irresponsible financial behavior that would eventually pick the pockets of the rest of the constituents forced to pay higher taxes to cover the budgetary shortfall from unpaid municipal hospital bills. However, there is always a cost in anything that involves government handouts. This legislation calls for higher taxes and the scales of additional taxation are built into the Affordable Care Act.

The measures mirror government mandates that stealthily raise taxes, as we see in higher municipal parking fees, higher court costs, higher highway tolls, higher moving violation rates, a gasoline tax based on percentages added to the cost of fuel instead of a flat figure that does not escalate with the cost of every gallon of fuel, and everything We the People allow to stand sheepishly, without a whimper, tagged on as percentages on costs that continue to escalate with built-in inflation taking from us money we worked hard to earn.

Our taxes–everyone who pays them, not just the rich’s–are going up in every possible manner while we bicker and parse meanings without doing anything meaningful to turn the tide–like voting out of office any elected official who does not put in place legislation to reduce the size of the government after two years. The government and its bureaucrats continue to expand and grab more power, enslaving us all, one bickered and passed measure at a time. We’ll all be poor soon and then, who’s going to pay for the socialist state? Our own slave labor, as it happens today in China, Cuba, and North Korea?

Posted in Education, Family, Finances, General, Insurance, Pet peeves, Politics | Leave a comment

El diálogo con la dictadura castrista

Se reportó recientemente en la prensa que la organización norteamericana Brookings Institution envió hace días un comité a Cuba para estudiar un acercamiento con el régimen. Entre las personas que acompañó al grupo figura uno de los más reconocidos industriales del exilio cubano, el señor Alfy Fanjul y Gómez Mena. Indica el artículo que este augusto caballero apoya el diálogo con la dictadura castrista y nos invita a todos a asumir la misma postura.

Compartiré mi punto de vista sobre este asunto como lo hice anoche en un correo electrónico a un grupo de amigos que exponían el suyo tomándome la libertad de ampliar y editar aquí partes de mi escrito original. En el intercambio de correos algunos se mantenían callados ante la noticia porque afortunadamente no todos somos iguales y muchos prefieren obrar en silencio. Como a mí me gusta escribir, aprovecho la ocasión para publicarme en este Blog que utilizo para que mis nietos, pequeños hoy, en un futuro tengan alguna idea de quien era su abuelo, como pensaba y cuáles temas le interesaban mientras ellos crecían. 

Reconociendo que soy dueño de lo que callo y esclavo de lo que digo, prefiero compartir francamente aquí con los que tengan tiempo. Cierto es que al salir de Cuba no perdí ningún bien material porque si había algo de la familia en ese momento, no era mío y tal vez nunca lo hubiera llegado a ser si en el transcurso de la vida de mis abuelos y de mis padres se hubieran utilizado cualesquiera que fueran dichos bienes para vivir, como ha sido el caso de los bienes míos propios, ganados con el sudor de mi frente y empleados todos en este paso por la vida que viene llegando ya a su inevitable fin con más velocidad de lo anticipado cuando joven. No conozco ni puedo imaginarme siquiera lo que significaría para un Alfy Fanjul y Gómez Mena el recobrar las colonias y los ingenios que su abuelo materno le hubiera pasado de herencia al fallecer. Por no haber conocido al caballero progenitor, asumo que era hombre honrado y por eso pienso que de conocer el viejo Gómez Mena la postura actual de su nieto ante el régimen que esclaviza, tortura, asesina, y viola los derechos de todos los ciudadanos en la isla, es razonable asumir que lo hubiera dejado fuera del testamento.

Asevero que cumplí mis catorce años de edad en el exilio en el año 61 y fui uno de los más de catorce mil jóvenes y niños que salimos de Cuba por los vuelos Peter Pan. Como pocos otros, tuve la suerte de reunirme a mi llegada con un tío materno que había salido de Cuba con su familia a principios del año 60 después que Che Guevara interviniera la fábrica que con un socio en Camagüey había construido y puesto a funcionar. Me acogieron enseguida aquí en Miami y me educaron como uno más de los otros cuatro suyos, con amor, bondad y mucho trabajo.

Tal vez ya por mi edad, con frecuencia revivo estampas de una Cuba que todavía encierro en mis recuerdos. Me invade la morriña del suelo patrio más veces de lo que quisiera aún después de tantos años. Pero lo que me entristece más de estos recuerdos es el haber crecido y haber cursado una vida entera lejos de mi país, del seno familiar entre abuelos, tíos y familiares cuyas vidas dejé atrás y nunca más volví a compartir. Me ahoga la pena de no haber estudiado el idioma de mis abuelos españoles y cubanos con mis compañeros de toda una vida—por breve que parezca desde esta orilla–, con mis maestros, dentro de nuestra tradición familiar y cultural.

Me causa una pena inexplicable no poder manejar mi lengua como lo hicieron tantísimas generaciones antes que yo. No conocí la Universidad de La Habana, ni el bachillerato ni el trabajo logrado en mi propio suelo. Siempre eché de menos conocer la gran mayoría de los monumentos nacionales, las provincias una a una, sus valles y sus playas, los bohíos y los guateques, los bateyes y las zafras, los ingenios y el olor de la manigua, el color de la tierra y el sonido de la lluvia en el suelo cubano.

El amor a Cuba lo absorbí de niño en el patio central de los colegios a los que asistí, con las juras de la bandera, pero ese amor patrio se amplió y se afianzó aún más desde aquí, en el exilio, cuando me parecían pocas las oportunidades para conocer y hacerme de las obras publicadas por escritores cubanos ilustres, Varela, Arango y Parreño, de la Luz y Caballero, Saco, Heredia, Avellaneda, Martí, Mañach, Lezama, Cabrera Infante, hasta las de Mirta Aguirre y Alejo Carpentier; admiré la pluma de Medrano, la de Rivero y la de tantos otros que en su mayoría sufrieron el mismo destino, el mismo destierro, la misma enajenación a la que nos vimos forzados por saciar la sed de libertad que nos lanzó fuera de nuestro entorno y nos depositó aquí o allí o más allá, pero lejos de nuestra patria a millones que conllevamos tantas vivencias sin compartir con los que más contaban en nuestra niñez que no pudieron acompañarnos en nuestra juventud truncada y maltrecha aunque en su mayoría fue llevadera y más o menos feliz y próspera pero siempre libre.  

Todos hemos sobrellevado nuestro duelo interno y sobrevivido los embates del enemigo. Hemos formado y criado familias propias que ya hoy nos hacen abuelos. Hemos triunfado profesionalmente todos, cada uno a su medida pero en tierra libre. Todos formamos parte de la historia común del exilio, en sí fuente de orgullo patrio también, que desde tierras lejanas espera, soporta, y mayormente en silencio se mantiene al tanto de los horrores que abaten nuestra patria. Sin duda, siempre mantuvimos y aún sostenemos como meta inconfundible la libertad de Cuba; el regreso a una Cuba libre; la restauración de la justicia en Cuba y añoramos contribuir al fomento de la economía y de la prosperidad en el suelo cubano.

Sólo que en lo que a mí y otros muchos como yo respecta, nada a expensas del honor. No si hay que perturbar más nuestra existencia sentándonos en una mesa a dialogar con el monstruo que destruyó nuestra cultura, nuestra sociedad, nuestro patrimonio nacional, nuestro suelo, y nos lanzó al exilio. No si a cambio de una promesa falsa de bienestar financiero tenemos que traicionar a todos los demás exiliados, colegas legionarios en una lucha que abarca ya más de cinco décadas.

Posiblemente estuviéramos dispuestos a tratar con figuras que ni vivían cuando salimos de la isla ni se burlaron de nuestras penas cuando fusilaron a nuestros compañeros de la escuela, a nuestros vecinos, a los hijos de los amigos de nuestros padres y a los nietos de los amigos de nuestros abuelos, a cualquiera de los hijos de nuestra patria que dio su vida por la causa de la libertad en Cuba. No hay dinero que compre nuestro silencio ni nuestra tácita aceptación de los años perdidos. No hay capital que retribuya nuestra pena. Nuestro honor no tiene precio. García Lorca explica que “el honor se lava con sangre,” y Martí enseña que “la patria es ara, no pedestal.”

 A la Brookings Institution, cuya mediación envuelve actos y acciones estrictamente para el beneficio de este gran país, le tolero con agravio su visita pero no me convence su acercamiento al déspota porque ninguno de los integrantes del comité visitador hoy sufrió en carne propia lo que venimos sufriendo los cubanos desde hace más de 53 años; los considero “fellow travelers.” Al señor Alfy Fanjul y Gómez Mena no se lo perdono; es más, levanto la mano para que me reconozca y sepa que lo considero desde hoy aliado de la dictadura. Quiero que sepa que prefiero morir paupérrimo que traicionar la memoria de mis abuelos, de mis tíos, y de mi padre que padecieron honrosamente esta devastadora experiencia familiar pero fallecieron con la esperanza de un futuro libre en una Cuba honrada y próspera.

Posted in General, Politics, Something Else | 1 Comment

On Government Intervention in the Capital Markets

Yesterday morning, I wrote about the nefarious consequences the government’s intervention in the capital markets foster. It was in reply to another reader’s comments after reading a news report titled “HSBC puts to heat map form the terms ‘risk on’ and ‘risk off,’ showing the sharp increase in correlation across asset classes since the Lehman collapse.” You can find it on Seeking Alpha, an Internet investment site.

Today, I read in The New York Times that Richard Parsons, former Chairman of Citigroup and for 16 years a director of Citicorp, expresses a similar observation. While Mr. Parsons was in a position to dissuade the Clinton Administration before the power of the White House pushed for legislation and remained silent, it’s clear now that he had a change of heart. The points raised are worth reprinting here if only to bring awareness among present and future investors. 

“Actually, investors would have a better chance of making the right call if the government stopped manipulating the markets and if the hedge funds faced the uptick rule and Glass Steagall were brought back. For sixty years we never saw manipulation as flagrant as we see since the repeal of the Banking Act of 1933. For sixty years, companies succeeded or paid the price by going bust.

No one was “bailed out.” Bubbles did not exist. Disparities were the product of wrongful personal decisions, not created by government intervention and manipulation.

In all candor, anything else explained beyond this point would only seem to trumpet Ron Paul’s platform. It would serve everyone well to read through it. The understanding of the many points raised underscores why liberty is not a negotiable commodity. Personal freedoms and free markets go hand in hand.

It’s dismaying to watch how we’re all capitalists when we make money and want to keep it all to ourselves, but when things go wrong, we immediately welcome socialist bailouts at the people’s expense and accept them as our unconstitutional right to prevent greater social and economic chaos. There are only two letters to explain this phenomenon, BS.

Government intervention in the market is preposterous on all levels, socially, financially, and as an economic philosophy; it detracts from the people as a whole and from each individual in specific terms. We can’t support freedom and liberty while we support government bailouts or handouts. In either case, only the recipients are different. They’re both abusive and defy the principles of law and order.

Tolerance for government intervention and acceptance of too big to fail are abuses of power no matter how they’re rationalized and sold to the public. In all of life, there are consequences to making wrong decisions. Why should commercial enterprises or personal choices be any different?”

Posted in Education, Finances, General, Politics | Leave a comment

Insurance Revisited

If you customarily read my blogs, you’ll remember I already wrote about my dad in another posting, but I have to acknowledge once again his positive influence. I began to learn about insurance as a child. Although his formal education was in accounting, during my childhood my father worked as an insurance agent until he arrived in the US as a political exile.

Dad took great pains to explain to me in age appropriate terms what insurance is about and, while at the time I may have dismissed perhaps too much of what he taught me, life brought me around. It’s clear that his efforts were not wasted. The distribution of insurance has been my life’s work and and as far as I’m concerned, it’s been a fair and noble enterprise.

Even during the years I was formally teaching in an academic setting, I worked with insurance. I make this distinction because when today I sit down with prospects and clients to discuss financial matters, no longer in front of the classroom, I still impart knowledge and skills outside the traditional learning environment.

From my father I learned how insurance products provide a valuable service to society, to the government, to business concerns, and to individuals in general. In our conversations I sensed his faith in the product and he passed on to me the same conviction. Not casually am I stating here that everyone is better off with the products insurance companies make available. I speak with first hand experience of families after a loss staying in their home, of widows receiving monthly checks, of education dreams realized despite the untimely death of a bread-winner, and of old age benefits to supplement Social Security payments, relieving the anxiety of smaller income flows after retirement.

Dad wanted me to understand early the ins and outs of insurance so later, as the needs came up, I’d feel comfortable with the products. If everyone learned about insurance while growing up, our society would function better. We wouldn’t have so many misconceptions about the insurance industry and the myriad products we rely on for financial freedom.

I also wrote specifically about insurance a couple years ago but, as at present the Supreme Court hears arguments on the constitutionality of issues brought up in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act–PPACA–or Obamacare for some, a revisit of the subject at this time is opportune and warranted. This law carries the imposition on all Americans to purchase health insurance beginning in 2014. The commentary from pundits and the public in general makes it clear that a good number of people ignore why insurance companies exist and how they operate; particularly, people short on financial knowledge think insurance companies are out to get them.

As a licensed agent, I find disparaging comments on insurance published in the media alarming. Many postings ignorantly distort products conceived to provide peace of mind and guarantees of financial security if used properly. Insurance contracts and the benefits they provide reduce, if not outright eliminate, the possibility of losing large sums of money–catastrophic losses even the ultra-rich would be loath to sustain. The potential for losses is referred to as a liability in financial terms.

In exchange for removing the potential for a catastrophic financial loss insurance products allow us to sustain a smaller loss, something everyone with a liability should be willing to trade for. This smaller amount of money that we willingly give up in trade, in insurance terms is called a premium. Allow me to emphasize here that an insurance contract is not meant to eliminate all losses. Actually, the subject of insurance is the reduction of losses we would not be able to afford in exchange for surrendering to the insurance company an amount of money we can better afford, the premium.

It may be redundant–and I apologize–but let me restate this in different terms.  If I have the possibility of losing my property to a fire, that fire would be called a peril in insurance terms. In order to eliminate the risk of losing the full value of my property in a fire, logically, I’d rather lose anything less than the full value, right? Once again, in insurance terms, the anything less I’d lose is called the premium.

To eliminate the possibility of a catastrophic loss if my property caught fire–if the peril struck–I would look to pay a premium to an entity obligated under contract to step in and absorb my potential catastrophe if one occurred. The entity is the insurance company. To negotiate the terms of our agreement, the insurance company figuratively would sit down and draw up a contract. This contract explains the terms of coverage and in insurance terms we call this contract an insurance policy.

In essence, the insurance policy explains the terms under which the insurance company will absorb my risk provided I also assume specific responsibilities. However, primarily the specific terms of coverage inform me what is covered under the policy and what is excluded from coverage; it forbids me from creating a bigger loss if one takes place, indicates what I must do after a loss, and excludes perils brought on by my own actions or omissions, including fraud. The terms of coverage also specifically state that the peril is covered as it applies only to accidents, events that come up suddenly and unexpectedly causing losses; it excludes gradual occurrences–things that happens over time–and inherent vice–things that are going to occur no matter what–as well as maintenance that is neglected, and normal wear and tear, which are also not covered by most insurance contracts.

The company would come up with a specific and carefully worded list. It would be a list showing what I must do to pass the risk onto them. In simple terms, the list stipulates that the company would do x if I do y. The list would show clearly the type of risk the company assumes and also the part of the risk that I still retain. Recall I wrote before that insurance companies don’t assume all the risk of loss connected with a peril. They mostly share the risk with me, the insured.

The first few items on that list would deal with protection measures I must implement to prevent a covered peril from striking my property. The next group of items on the list would name things I am obligated to do to prevent more losses after a peril strikes. The next group of listings would indicate additional or supplemental sums of money the insurance company would pay me if I suffer a loss–such as the financial support to rent another place, how the company will reimburse me for actions taken after a peril strikes to prevent additional damages, how the company would pay for the extra expenses that come up when I am obligated to remain outside my home, and other similar accomodations to make my life easier while my property is out of commission after a covered loss.

Further, the company would stipulate at what level of loss it would step in to pay for the covered loss. During the premium determination process, the company gives me options to determine the level of premium I will pay. Maybe I decide to retain a flat amount of money or perhaps 1% of the loss or 2% of the loss or higher percentages partly because by assuming some portion of the potential and actual losses my premiums comes down. Beyond the reduction in premium, the insurance company wants to ensure that I remain vigilant, preventing losses and reducing further losses when a peril strikes; it’s logical, having skin in the game keeps me honest.

This retention of risk on my part is called a deductible. A deductible is the amount of money an insured person is willing to absorb before the insurance company steps in to pay the rest of the covered losses. Before issuing checks to cover losses, insurance companies subtract the deductible from their final payment. To reiterate, the scope of the coverage would place an exact dollar amount for the premium I must pay–my immediate and certain loss. In exchange for the company’s acceptance of the risk, I accept the deductible amount and how it would be applied.

Remember, the premium’s the amount of money I would immediately have to pay. It’s the money I lose without question. In exchange, I also immediately get the peace of mind that comes with the knowledge that the insurance company assumes the rest of my financial liability if a loss were to occur. From that moment on–the moment of inception of the policy, when the contract becomes valid, the date and time when the coverage begins, when coverage is in force–the insurance company would become liable for any actual losses to my insured property. But remember, the losses I would be relieved from sustaining are losses that have not yet occurred and losses that I must prevent from occurring for the policy to be valid.

The subject of insurance contracts is never a loss that already took place. Insurance coverage is never for a loss that is unquestionably going to occur. Insurance policies cover perils that potentially could occur in the future, but they do not cover losses that will definitely occur or that occurred in the past. There is an important element of potentiality of loss, not certainty of loss, in all insurance contracts–except in life insurance contracts where everyone eventually dies, but contracts of different scopes of coverage mitigate this certainty of loss.

This brings us back to the PPACA. Aside from the issues of constitutionality and personal freedom, the law places certain obligations on a private enterprise that in practice would cause it to fail. If you’ve understood my explanation of insurance thus far, you’ve learned that insurance contracts never cover events that are definitely going to take place or events that took place already. The subject of insurance is clearly only for events that potentially could take place in the future–without certainty.

The obligation placed on an insurance company to provide coverage to applicants with health conditions that already exist is a violation of the insurance principle. Individuals who choose to avoid paying premiums for health insurance are individuals who run a calculated risk–by ignorance or conviction. At some point, they may become uninsurable and no one gets prior warning of this tragic event. Consequently, in our system of laws and in our capitalist society, it’s a risk that no one is forced to bear and frankly, no one should assume with a sober mind.

It’s akin to my owning the same property we were discussing before and resolving to run the risk myself that the property will not burn down only to find out the morning after that a fire struck, engulfed my house, and caused me a serious financial loss. If such an accident occurred, I would not expect my neighbors or the community to pay me for my loss nor would any law obligate an insurance company to pay for this personal miscalculation. The extension of this is to question why anyone would expect reimbursement for illnesses or accidents striking them when they made the conscious decision to assume all onto themselves all future consequences of their conscious decision.

For the insurance company, the assumption of a risk that is certain–as it would be if a new client arrives with pre-existing conditions they will be forced to pay–is a mandate to become insolvent. Insurance companies work on the principle of greater numbers. It means that when a large group of insureds pays premiums and the company absorbs liabilities, the law of greater numbers demonstrates that only a reduced number among those insured will actually sustain losses. The overwhelming majority will pay a premium and not suffer a loss during the time the policy is in force.

The company will collect premiums and after paying the outstanding claims, place the rest of the premiums collected in what is called reserve–pools of money to offset potential claims that may be incurred but not reported during the policy period or that may arise the following year or the year after that from written business. The excess premiums always go to the reserve pool. The reserves help offset the adverse experience–meaning the losses that exceed the actuarial predictions.

Actually, actuaries study risks and the incidence of risk or the proportion of premiums received to claims incurred, anticipating a loss ratio. If more payments are made than premiums are received, the company eventually would file for bankruptcy. Logically, when more money goes out than comes in, the disproportionate unbalance causes any enterprise to fail.

The obligation placed on insurance companies by this PPACA legislation discounts the need to have sufficient money in reserves to pay for claims. Such imposition will cause one of two things to occur. Either the insurance company will surcharge everyone to offset the arrival of sick individuals seeking insurance after they learn of conditions that will cause  them to spend their own money for health care or the insurance companies will be forced to fail for not planning to absorb these contingencies.

In either case, We The People–you and me–pay for everyone else’s irresponsible behavior, be it in higher premiums now or by losing benefits later. It will actually seem better for all to wait until serious conditions plague us before paying any insurance premiums for health care. In the end, this law encourages irresponsibile behavior.

The best solution would be an actuarial study that determines the cost of health care for all individuals in the nation, from cradle to grave. Take this figure and divide it by the number of years everyone expects to live–according to actuarial tables and their subsequent revisions–and have each and everyone pay that fixed amount of money as premium for health care insurance year after year. All insurance companies would charge everyone the exact same premium throughout a lifetime. The choice of insurance companies would then depend on the individual and the companies with the best service would see their reserves swell while those providing the worst service would see their reserves diminish, all according to public perception. The idea that the money flows where the people find better service would prevail.

Everyone would be required to provide proof of insurance at every stage of life–pre-schooling, elementary grades, middle school, high school, college, and career employment. No proof of insurance, no acceptance; something similar to what some nations demand before tourists or new immigrants are allowed in the country. All would be easily monitored.

This would remove the burden of communities paying the debt public hospitals incur when they treat patients without resources and without insurance. A flat, single premium structure for all would figure in all personal budgets, a manageable amount for being constant, resulting in no surprises to anyone. It would make everyone responsible for him/herself. Yet, the conception of a single premium structure would not become a heartless measure; the system could be loaded to account for a percentage of individuals who face financial difficulty for a period of time and for many who will never be able to carry their own weight over mental or other painful, extraordinary conditions.

As in all my postings, I welcome everyone’s contribution. If you agree or not, share your thoughts. Healthy discussion is what our Congressional representatives currently lack. It’s the best way to air differences and formulate a consensus that moves us forward.

Posted in Education, Finances, General, Insurance, Politics | Leave a comment

On Nokia

Sacha May wrote about Nokia, the communications company, on Seeking Alpha, an Internet website. It’s a space providing free access to everyone with something to say. It’s an open forum. 

“Kah-ching! kah-ching! kah-ching! The sound of those cash registers sucking up those dollars out of the pockets of a billion plus Chinese buying Nokia phones soon is indeed sweet and alluring, I must admit. Couple that with Europeans and in a couple more weeks AT&T customers in the US buying up every single colorful Lumia 900 in all their splendor, and speculative investors could get a spectacular return on a $5+ investment.
iCultists need not reply. We know how fabulous those iGadgets work in sync and all about the vision that made the fabulous company climb to reach the hyperbolic value of recent days. But all that rises must fall. Nokia is a perfect example. Concurrently, all that falls tends to rise again if clarity of vision and solid determination to create new products and services work in unison.
To prove my point, the AAPL stock sold for $7 and rose to heights above Mt. Everest. Why would this be the only successful story when we already witnessed AMZN rise, fall, and return to former glory, all within a decade? Yep, NOK is definitely poised to prove some right.
Steal a little market-share from here and a little from there, build the best product available and promote it everywhere with a better pricing structure to reach all budgets, including the lowly poor whose needs remain identical to those of the richer groups, and what’ve we got? We have a successful investment, that’s what.
Risks? Myriad risks. Potential for losses? As with all investments too many lurk behind every door. However, for patient investors seeking long-term results, a very viable alternative if the risk tolerance is right, their money could be lost without their lifestyle suffering, and if liquidity in the near-term is not an issue. It’s a speculative move, of course, but one some are willing to take in their pursuit of happiness.”

Posted in Finances, General | Leave a comment