Wall Street’s House of Cards

I’ve always disliked gambling. I tell myself I have enough vices already, but the truth is that I’m just conservative with money. Informed investment is one thing; shooting craps is another. It seems silly to risk one’s wealth that way – especially once you know the true odds.

I also don’t care much for the modern financial system. I don’t dislike the principle of profit-seeking financiers. It’s just that today’s crop has gone well beyond market returns and now basically writes their own rules, the rest of us be damned.

One of the objectives of Wall Street’s control of the rules is to conceal the true odds of their bets. In the Great Crash of 2008, what looked like a solid counterparty system tuned out to be a house of cards cleverly designed to look like a skyscraper.

The rules are a tiny bit tighter now, so Wall Street has decided to build its house of cards elsewhere… but it could still collapse, taking you down with it.

A Rose By Any Other Name

Derivatives have been around as long as finance itself. They are basically second-tier contracts that derive their value from the performance of an underlying asset, index, currency or interest rate. Insurance is a form of derivative, as are futures, options and swaps.

Starting in 1994, Wall Street began to shift derivatives away from hedging – such as when a lender takes out a credit default swap against a loan made to another party – and toward speculation.

For example, a modern derivative can be “naked” – i.e., taken out by a party who has no insurable interest in a transaction at all. If you borrow money from someone, I can enter into a derivative contract with someone else to receive payments if you default on your loan.

The critical feature of the modern derivative is that it allows separation of ownership of an asset and benefit from its market value. The most dangerous forms of derivatives allow people to profit from economic processes and events in which they have no role or interest at all. In other words, gambling.

And it’s a big casino. According to the Bank for International Settlements, the total estimated value of derivative contracts around the world is an astounding $710 trillion ($710,000,000,000,000). Other estimates put the total at over a quadrillion dollars. The top 25 banks in the United States alone have more than $236 trillion of exposure to derivatives.

To make matters worse, the majority of derivatives are traded over the counter, where details about pricing, risk measurement and collateral, if any, are secret.

A Private Casino in the Caribbean

Most of us can recall movie scenes in which James Bond struts up to a baccarat table in a Caribbean casino for a game of chemin de fer.

Those sorts of retail-level casinos are small change compared to the mega-casinos on some of the Caribbean islands. For example, Wells Fargo now has almost $2 trillion worth of derivatives stored in an off-balance sheet subsidiary registered in the Cayman Islands – basically, just a P.O. box. Bank of America has almost a billion, and other big Wall Street banks have large amounts as well.

The funny thing is that the official value of derivatives held by U.S. institutions has fallen dramatically since the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2013. Trillions of dollars of trades seemingly vanished.

But there was no magic trick. U.S. megabanks simply moved a big chunk of their derivatives off their own balance sheets and onto those of offshore subsidiaries. They accomplished this thanks to a loophole won by a former Enron lobbyist.

When Dodd-Frank was under debate, a Republican congressman, Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, proposed that banks’ overseas operations be outside the new rules. To avoid that, Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Gary Gensler drafted language that said the CFTC would only intervene if U.S. banks’ overseas operations “have a direct and significant connection with activities in, or effect on, commerce of the United States.”

So the banks and their lawyer friends mobilized the troops. When the CFTC wrote the Dodd-Frank implementation rules in 2013, the banks sweet-talked CFTC Commissioner Mark Wetjen, a longtime aide to Democratic Senator Harry Reid. He used his influence to insert language that says that U.S. banks do not “guarantee” the derivatives held by their offshore subsidiaries.

So offshore they went.

If You Believe This, I’ve Got a Bridge to Sell You

Thanks to the bipartisan efforts of Wall Street’s buddies in Washington, the trillions of dollars’ worth of derivatives held by offshore subsidiaries officially don’t have any “connection with activities in, or effect on” the U.S. banking system.

Riiiight. And the Pope ain’t Catholic.

Here’s the real deal. 1.) The U.S. financial system is secretly leveraged to the hilt, and just as likely to collapse as it was in 2008 – probably more so. 2.) Very few people are aware of this because lobbyists have succeeded in hiding it. 3.) When it goes down, some offshore jurisdictions are going to go down with it.

If you prefer investment to gambling, by all means go offshore… but do it my way, not the Wall Street way.

Executive Condominiums, The New Way Of Housing

The executive condominiums are a type of housing that is becoming very popular in some parts of the world. The first one was constructed in the year 1994. This housing is somewhere in between private housing and public housing and they really look like private condos. They are usually enclosed and come with security and a gated compound. One other thing that can be noted about the executive condominiums is the fact that they come with all sorts of amenities that the residents can use. These include things such as playgrounds, clubhouses, and swimming pools. The executive condominiums are also usually sold and built by various private developers who are well known in the construction circles.

The construction is encouraged by the government and their construction is actually done at a much lower price. This is because the land prices come with subsidies from government. The CPF, Central Provident Fund grants can be taken by the buyers so as to assist them in paying for the executive condominiums as sold by the developers.

The executive condominiums are subject to regulations such as those that are applied to the different HBD flats. There are several limits and restrictions that have been put forward with respect to the ownership. The minimum period of occupancy for such condominiums is at least five years. During this first period, the executive condominium can be up for sale and it cannot be rented out wholly. After the first period, the citizens and the permanent residents can buy the property. After ten years have elapsed, foreigners can gain access to it.

There are executive condominiums located in different parts and the developers are usually well known in their circles. Usually, they include different blocks and come bearing hundreds of housing, residential units and most of the time they are luxurious. The establishments usually cover some sizable lands, creating space for all sorts of family related activities.

Usually, they are created in such a way that they have facilities that make life even easier. They include things such as:

· Lush landscaping

· Sky BBQ

· Tennis court

· Clubhouse

· A lap pool

The location of such projects is also thought out carefully. They are established near public transportation as well as expressways which allow commuters to connect to all other parts of the areas with great ease.

You also find that there are different amenities near such establishments. They include eating houses, minimart and shops for those with banking needs, retail and full dining needs. Apart from the amenities, education center, childcare, food court and supermarket are usually created so as to supply the resident with all the things that they may be in need of.

The units are designed in all shapes and sizes and the most essential aspect is the space that the residents are able to enjoy. Different family sizes can find a suitable unit with great ease. Grants are also given to assist citizens’ access to the property. If anyone is in doubt, financial calculations can be done so as to help you know whether you are actually eligible to purchase an executive condominium unit.

I Will Take The Blame Or The Credit

Recently, I was reading a book that I read as a little boy titled “The Magic of Thinking Big” by David Joseph Schwartz and I thought to myself: I am taking all the blame or all the credit, however hard or easy it is, because I am the first one to give myself a pat on the back or come to my own rescue. Life is a game that requires that kind of confidence in yourself to really “get it done” so to speak. Big thinking and big action gets things done. Overly cautious and fearful thinking without much risk really is a bad thing. Even Abraham Lincoln acknowledged this fact by saying “we are all as happy as we make up our minds to be” supposedly after a “big” Senate loss. It really does not matter how we bloody ourselves in the eyes of others in the beginning, it is how we finish our goals personally for us that matters. Ultimately, unmitigated faith in yourself whatever the temporary failure is the chemical that makes everything work in the mix of life. So, when I use the title, “I will take the blame or the credit”: I mean, take the blame for temporary losses first when they happen and when the permanent success happens rightfully take the credit for the permanent success after the temporary losses.

You may or may not agree totally with the above. But, you do have to admit that for those who genuinely want success, all failure is temporary. Also, you do have to admit that real credit for ultimate success comes after much trial, error and temporary failure.

So, I am also saying that the only real failure there is or could be is to consider a problem genuinely unsolvable, or quit early in a lazy way. To be a winner from the start, and end great, you must not quit. To leave behind loss, you must fully understand failure and do the opposite thing from failure which avoids failure. Success is inspiration to be sure, but also it comes fully after every wrong path has been tried and understood really. After all, luck cannot be repeated easily, but experience and understanding can very well be repeated easily. After all what happens when you do understand all that does not work and do the opposite of it consistently? Well, this is what I was building up to: Success happens. I ended there with two earned words, but that is the best way to end this article with a full understanding of where I am coming from: Success happens.

Professional Headshots – How to Bring Out the Best in You?

Just imagine you are the casting director and not the actor. Will you cast someone in your show if his or her face is not clear in the headshots? Leave aside casting, you won’t even stay on his/her page for more than a few seconds if the image does not attract your eyes. You have plenty of other options to choose from. And this is exactly what you should keep in mind while posing for your professional actor headshot sessions. But, that does not solely depend on you or your attitude. Your photographer should be an experienced one with proper knowledge and expertise to bring out the best in you in that 8X10 inches snap.

Well, how are you going to know all that? The following guidelines may help you to pick an efficient and equally experienced corporate photographer who knows what is what:

– You have the internet and you have your friends. Ask your trusted allies regarding the best professional photographer in town and verify their suggestions with the help of the internet. If the shutterbug is that much popular, he or she will surely have a website to showcase all this work. He doesn’t? Well, then, go for the next name on your list.

– If you have the website, check the portfolio section. Go through the various categories of photos and see if you like them. As you are about to click headshots, make sure you like the headshots taken by that particular photographer. You don’t like them? Then it is not a risk worthy to be taken. Headshots are expensive and you have several options to choose from.

– Now, if you do take a liking for his work, you may go to the next step, that is to contact the person directly and have a chat over the phone. Again, the contact information should be provided on the website itself. If it isn’t, then yes, you know what to do. Go ahead and look for another.

– Suppose you called the photographer, what next? What are you going to talk to him about? Of course you will get directly to the point. Talk about his work. Tell him what you think about it and get straight to the point. Ask him about his charges for first rate quality headshots. Here you should keep one thing in mind. Never bargain with an experienced and reputed photographer because quality matters here. Remember that it is an investment you are making at the start of your career. If it works out well, you will get your money back with interest. But if you bargain or settle for a cheap photographer, you may not get the quality you desire. And casting directors won’t think twice before shifting their focus away from your headshots. So decide accordingly.

On the day of shooting-

Once you have decided on the photographer, arrange a day for shooting the pictures. It should be a mutual decision, according to both of your convenience. Keep yourself ready for the photo shoot. Sleep well, drink lots of water and take care of your skin. Maintain a proper diet before the photo shoot and avoid tanning. On the big day, make sure you look your best in those headshots. After all, you are paying a great deal of money for them. Relax and listen to the what the shutterbug has to say. You will look best if you do not let stress and anxiety cloud your mind.

Hiring a corporate photographer for professional headshots is an absolute must. Why? This is because the requirements mentioned above cannot be fulfilled without the help of someone who has been behind the lens for quite some time. Only such a person will know how you are going to look from which angle and what will be the best background for your headshot. Getting your headshots right can give a kick start to your acting career. You will be called only if they like you. So, make sure they do.

Converting Your Business to Solar Power

Before converting your business to solar power, you want to make sure that you are making a sound fiscal investment. Going solar makes a great statement to your customers about your environmental consciousness, but you justifiably want to make sure that you are also receiving a tangible return on investment.

In the past five years, commercial use of solar power has increased by 487% as businesses are seeing that installation costs are manageable, while their reliance on the power grid – and their electric bills – plummets. Major companies such as IKEA have embraced the concept; in their Draper, Utah store, 4228 panels power their store and produces enough surplus to power 120 area homes each year.

Installing Solar Power Equipment for Most Businesses

Installing solar power for business requires the installation of panels that are typically installed on the roof, but they can also be set up on the ground. Whether your roof is flat, standing seam, or sloped, there are workable solar solutions available. Installers mount wind resistant racks at the best angle to gather the greatest amount of sun and properly tilt them to increase output.

In the northern hemisphere, panels are usually mounted to face south and positioned to be free of obstructions so that they can receive at least four hours of sunlight during the winter solstice. While the panels are light, they can add to the roof load, especially when they are covered with snow. If the roof cannot support this weight, or if it is small or not configured for optimal panel installation, ground installation is the preferred alternative.

Lease and Purchase Options Make Installation Attractive

Installation of solar panels can be costly, but local, state, and federal incentives can bring the price down. Many utilities companies offer grants, loans, and loan guarantees to offset the cost, while some states offer a 10% corporate tax credit up to $50,000 and sales tax exemptions on certain purchases. On a federal level, businesses can claim a 30% investment tax credit that has no cap and use a modified accelerated cost recovery system (MACRS) for equipment depreciation. In addition, most solar power providers offer leasing options that require little or no down payment.

For most companies, the monthly or yearly energy savings is what makes installing solar power systems attractive. A contractor who specializes in commercial installations can help you calculate how much energy your system might generate and can help you determine how this matches up with your energy needs. You can then determine how much of your electric utility costs you want to replace with solar – some businesses are able to go 100% or even more (as is the case with IKEA), and some businesses simply choose to supplement their needs with 50% or more solar. Even if you decide to install panels to handle part of your consumption, you can continuously add on. If you produce more power than you consume, you can sell it back to the power company to offset your own utility costs.

To determine how solar power offset the energy costs of your business, contact a solar energy expert for information and a free estimate.