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Margaret Starner

Margaret’s Musings

Here’s where you’ll find Margaret Starner’s thoughts and insights on developments that shape your community, your world – and your portfolio.

Margaret Starner

In the Chinese art of Feng Shui, the red door brings luck and positive energy to those who live behind it. Throughout our website, the red door is your portal to Margaret's Musings. “Red Door with Tassel” photograph appears courtesy of Julie Masterson Photography.


| December 31, 2012 – Happy New Year |

Happy New Year

| December 20, 2012 – Holiday Gift |

Holiday Gift

| December 7, 2012 – Preparing for New 2013 Taxes and the Dreaded F… C… |

As 2012 comes to a close, the country is faced with much financial uncertainty.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you have heard about the looming "Fiscal Cliff" – the pop culture term for describing the conundrum that the U.S. government will face at the end of 2012.  Specifically, starting in 2013, many of our laws will change or expire and some new laws will come into place, including:

  • The first new taxes related to "ObamaCare" (officially named the Affordable Care Act)
  • The expiration of the 2% payroll tax cut that was implemented last year
  • An increase in the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
  • The expiration of the “Bush Tax Cuts”

Though theses taxes are certainly worrisome to many, others are even more concerned about the mandatory spending cuts that were part of the 2011 debt ceiling agreement.  According to Barron’s, over 1,000 government programs – including the defense budget and Medicare are in line for "deep, automatic cuts."

I won’t muse on every aspect of the fiscal cliff, especially because I am hopeful that our elected officials will negotiate a deal to avert it within the next month. Additionally, certain aspects of the cliff are already settled law, specifically ObamaCare. I did want to take the opportunity to briefly discuss the new taxes associated with the ObamaCare.

In order to pay for ObamaCare, the government has instituted a new tax on investment income. This 3.8% tax applies to most joint filers with adjusted gross income of $250,000 or more ($200,000 for singles). Tax will apply to:

  • dividends,
  • interest (except from municipal bonds),
  • net capital gains,
  • rents, royalties and
  • investment annuities

Example: A couple has adjusted gross income of $240,000, not counting their investment income. If they have $2,000 of interest, $4,000 of dividends and $1,000 of net capital gains, the 3.8% tax won’t apply. But if they have the same interest and dividends plus a $10,000 net capital gain, then they’ll owe a new tax of $228 on $6,000, the amount of their investment income above $250,000.

In conjunction with this investment tax, there will also be an additional tax on high income earners of .9% on all wages that exceed the $250,000 limit.

Hence, if you earn over $250,000, you will be paying more taxes.  One piece of good news: defined-benefit pension payments and individual retirement account payouts aren’t subject to the 3.8% or .9% taxes.  HOWEVER, they can raise adjusted gross income:

Example: A widow has $210,000 of adjusted gross income from pensions and IRA withdrawals, so she doesn’t owe the new tax even though that income is above $200,000.

If instead she has $120,000 from pensions and IRA payouts, plus a $100,000 net taxable gain from the sale of her home—after subtracting her cost basis and the $250,000 exclusion—then she will owe $760 of new tax on $20,000.

I won’t continue ad nauseum about the effects of ObamaCare, but please feel free to call Bruce, Scott, or me if you would like to discuss in more detail.

Before I end this Musing, I wanted to share the below commentary on the election and fiscal cliff from Bill Gross, the legendary manager of the Pimco Total Return Fund.  I have a great amount of respect for Mr. Gross…and though I don’t always agree with his analysis; I always find it thought-provoking.

The link is: http://www.pimco.com/EN/Insights/Pages/Strawberry-Fields-Forever.aspx

I’ll be musing one more time before year-end…until then, I hope your holiday preparations are going smoothly!

As federal and state tax rules are subject to frequent changes, you should consult with a qualified tax advisor prior to making any investment decision. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed web sites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any web site or the collection or use of information regarding any web site's users and/or members. Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Member New York Stock Exchange/SIPC

| November 20, 2012 – Happy Thanksgiving! |


| October 25, 2012 – What if it weren’t for Bobby Jean? |

Last week I attended the 18th annual Raymond James Women’s Symposium…a program designed for the firm’s network of women advisors that I helped organize nearly two decades ago. Given my long career at Raymond James, I was interviewed for a video and by the press. Among the questions I answered was "why do you still attend after so many years, and why is the conference still important?" I answered, "I always have a good time…I love seeing my fellow female colleagues…many have become good friends and my support system over the years. I continue to learn and I am still energized by the experience every year. Plus, I love seeing and meeting all the new, up and coming women."  Though my answer was true, I found myself lying awake in bed that night, wishing I had instead spoken about "Bobby Jean"…and the other women who were always there for me.

As most of you know, I grew up as a Chinese minority in the 50’s in the segregated Deep South.  As such, I was rarely invited to parties or private affairs in town, other than weddings and funerals at church, which seemed to include everyone.  Of course, as a teenager, I was far more interested in going to the drive-in where everyone hung out or a ball game with the other high school kids – activities that most wanted to exclude me from because I was different and not one of them. 

Fortunately, I had a friend, Bobby Jean, who was a few years older, very popular, and a pretty cheerleader. Everyone wanted to be with Bobby Jean. And thankfully, the first time the other kids tried to exclude me from joining them one night to go to the drive-in, Bobby Jean put her hand on her hips and stated firmly "if Margaret can’t go, I won’t go either." So, I smiled and got in the car, and after that night, she never had to repeat herself, I was "in".

Bobby Jean still lives in Mississippi, and though we are not close, I will always be thankful to her.  She was the first of many "Bobby Jeans" in my life. 

After high school, I found myself at Stanford, and again the minority…the men way outnumbered the women.  Maybe 6:1. And it was common knowledge on campus that dating a brainy gal was not as popular as dating the pretty ones…so it was normal for the guys to drive all the way to San Jose State for a date.  All the women fit into two dorms.  In those two dorms we were all the same and made friends for life. At every Stanford class reunion, we begin the weekend with a ladies luncheon…to reconnect, share our successes and challenges, and reminisce about the good times in college. I never miss attending the luncheon.  Similarly, I would never miss the RJ Women’s Symposium. 

So, how does this relate to the Raymond James Women’s Symposium?  18 years ago, Tom James approached a few female advisors about starting a program to make Raymond James a company where women could thrive and grow. Today, women make up only 15% of all financial advisors, back then, the number was far lower, less than 10% and the firm was much smaller. Tom James wanted our help to get more women to come and stay with Raymond James. We said we could only do that if the "driving was left to us"…no interference from management.  This would be an event for women that was created and run by women.  Tom agreed. Well, progress took a while, but each year was better than the year before. We had about 12-15 attend the first event. Today, over 160 women attend and the event is among the most intellectually challenging and useful financial advisor conferences in the country.  True to his word, Tom James and top management have left the driving to us – this unique program continues to be run by women for women. I have always considered Tom to be an honorary "Bobby Jean." With the help of his leadership, Raymond James has become a great place to be a female advisor… with many women who are willing to "open the car door" for others.

Though formal segregation is a thing of the past, many people in this great country still find themselves excluded from the proverbial "drive-in" due to unwritten rules or biases. Over the years, I have tried my best to keep my eyes and ears open to this fact and open doors to the car where I can. I like to think that’s the best way for me to repay the original Bobby Jean, and all of the other "Bobby Jeans" who helped me get where I am today.

| September 17, 2012 – Happy New Year! |

We extend our very best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to those celebrating Rosh-Hashanah!

| August 31, 2012 – Happy Labor Day! |

Happy Labor Day! Relax and Enjoy. I am taking the day off from writing!

| August 7, 2012 – Where Did Our Summer Go… |

The Starner Group is tip toeing into Social Media. The regulators are finally allowing financial advisors to join the crowd to use social media as a communication tool.  To do anything right is a learning process!  So "tip toe" is an appropriate word.

We are proud to announce that you can now find Bruce, Scott, and Margaret on LinkedIn.  Also, the Starner Group now has a Twitter account that you can follow. In fact, we sent out our first tweet last week. Yes, we are more techno-savvy than ever, and for that, we will be forever grateful to Ross Weimer. Who is Ross?

Every summer we hire interns who are mid-way through college. And most always, we also learn and make talented new friends for life. This summer our intern was from a more unique background…he had experience and a job…but not for the summer.

Ross Weimer is a teacher with Teach for America in Miami and we were able to hire him as an intern for 7 weeks this summer.  While he scanned, filed, worked on reports, and learned about working in an office environment, his major project was to develop our social media strategy. The following is a bit about his experiences both as a teacher and being an intern…and where he plans to go.

Ross’s Story

As a native of Pittsburgh, the transition to Miami last August proved to be a huge adjustment. On top of that, I was in the midst of beginning my first year of teaching with Teach For America. Assigned to teach 3rd grade math and science at Jesse J. McCrary in Little Haiti, I can summarize my first year of teaching in three words: humbling, gritty, and rewarding. 99% of the students at my school receive free or reduced lunch.  40% of the student body is English-language learners (with Creole speakers making up that percentage almost entirely). Reflecting back on the development of my students during that year makes me proud–they left my classroom better citizens with a broader perspective about the world. More importantly, they developed a thirst for education extending far beyond their time with me in the 3rd grade. I learned that motivating students to actually WANT to come to school is the first step to being a successful educator.

In order to build a deeper understanding of Miami, I pursued an internship with the Starner Group. I wanted to broaden my skills and experiences beyond the classroom. The Starner Group turned out to be a great fit for me–their commitment to Teach For America is significant and the professional environment is both collaborative and focused.

Margaret charged me to craft a social media plan; the Starner Group is truly being a pioneer in the financial planning sector. Now you will be able to easily connect with Margaret, Scott, and Bruce on LinkedIn. In addition, you will be able to follow the Starner Group on Twitter. The icons are embedded on the Starner Group web site with the links to the respective sites. We will be posting financial articles and the latest market developments. Also, you will have access to articles which members of the group find relevant to your lives.









I know many of you may not have Twitter or LinkedIn accounts, but I strongly encourage you to create them: they’re free and simple! You can also download free apps onto your smart phones or iPads. We are very excited to launch these resources and I sincerely hope you find them both interesting and informative.

As the summer draws to a close, I feel recharged to enter my second year of teaching having gained this valuable professional experience. Learning the dichotomy between the public and private sector was enlightening and I enjoyed venturing into a different professional environment.  Although this will likely be my final year of teaching, my experiences have left me indebted to my students with an urgency to mitigate the formidable challenges they face as a result of circumstances they were born into. I am currently in the process of applying to law school with the intention of beginning in the fall of 2013. My experiences motivate me to succeed in bringing to light the harsh realities facing 16 million children every day.  I want to develop myself into a leader that can change the system that effectively stifles both our educators and youth.

Ross, with his partner teacher, Ms. Guillaume, after the 3rd grade Awards Ceremony. The kids are very excited!

As Ross completes his internship with us this week, we want to thank him again for his outstanding work this summer. 

| July 4, 2012 – Happy July 4th 2012 |

July 4th has arrived. As I celebrate America’s birth, I will also celebrate my good fortune to live in this great and free nation. Given the recent financial crisis and fear of a Euro contagion, it's easy to focus on all of our problems – from debts to taxes to health care. However, the United States is still the center of innovation in the world. We are the birthplace of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Ben Franklin… and of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. We are the world’s largest energy consumer… yet improvements in alternatives, drilling technologies, and natural gas extraction are on the verge of making us energy independent…a thought considered improbable just a few years ago. Our credit rating was downgraded… yet America is still the undisputed safe haven when the world is in crisis. And though I love to travel, I am always happy to return to the land of the free.

Speaking of travel, I just returned from our annual corporate trip with the Chairman of the Board (Tom James) and the CEO (Paul Reilly) of Raymond James Financial. We cruised the Baltic Sea from Germany thru a number of Baltic countries, finishing in Stockholm. The cities are all picturesque and charming…and not so large like London, Paris or Shanghai. We also were in St. Petersburg, Russia for 3 days. This part of Europe has not been so impacted by the Euro Zone crisis.

Each morning we met at 7 a.m. to discuss the activities of the firm, the state of the investment/financial world, and the world in general. Raymond James, after the acquisition of Morgan Keegan, is significantly larger and continues to be the best alternative to Wall St. However, Tom James reminded us of our roots and the importance of knowing the difference between managing risk and avoiding risk. This reminder was particularly instructive when you think about how many firms are no longer standing just in this decade. The firm has much to celebrate.

I am now in LA to celebrate the Fourth of July with our traditional family barbeque and the special family sauce I rave about every year. We will be celebrating at Bruce and Lise's newly renovated home where we can witness the fireworks from their hilltop and beautiful garden. Exciting news – for the first time ever, Scott Weingarden will join us in LA with Melissa and Jesse. After years of reading my blog, I guess he wanted to taste the sauce for himself. Scott and his family will help us celebrate our nation’s 236th birthday, the 14th wedding anniversary of our daughter, Dana, and the 12th birthday of our oldest grandchild, Micaela.

Speaking of Micaela, she heads to 7th grade next year. A typical "tween," Micaela is America’s melting pot personified. She is 25% Chinese, 25% Cuban, 25% German, and 25% Eastern European Jew. Of course, she looks more Germanic than anything else, having inherited Bruce’s height and Roger’s fair skin and hair. Though Micaela doesn’t look Chinese, she definitely has a fair amount of me in her as well, between her "forceful" personality and constant energy/curiosity. For her parents (and grandparents!), these qualities can be exhausting, as Micaela always seems to have another "project" she is working on…however, as I watch her grow into a young lady, I also know they will take her far. As we celebrate her birthday, I thought I would share one of her most recent projects with you.

Earlier this year, Micaela decided that the food in her school’s cafeteria needed to be "healthier and tastier." She came to this conclusion after watching her classmates eating every bit of their McDonald’s and Domino’s pizza (available as special lunches a few times per month), but often throwing away their regular school-made lunches and skipping their fruit and vegetables entirely. So, she decided to write a note to the head nutritionist for the school district (serving ~27,000 students) and ask for a meeting to discuss how lunches can be improved. Remarkably, the nutritionist not only responded to the note, but also agreed to a meeting between Micaela, school district staff and Micaela’s principal. In preparation for the meeting, Micaela created a PowerPoint discussion document highlighting her key thoughts and also suggestions for how foods could be made healthier (example: replace the current hot dogs with turkey dogs with whole wheat buns). Anyway, the meeting was a success and led to a presentation to the entire 6th grade (led by Micaela) about nutrition, culminating with a Jeopardy-style game show about the nutritional value of various foods. And to top it off – the hot dogs will be replaced by turkey dogs next year!

Of course, the ribs at our Fourth of July barbecue won’t be as healthy…but we will also offer chicken breast and fruit salad for dessert! Sadly, this will be the first Fourth of July barbecue without my mom…who NEVER missed a party, but I know that she would be proud that we are continuing family traditions.

I hope this Fourth of July finds you all well and that you are able to enjoy fireworks and food with your loved ones. And if any of you have some grandkid stories to share, I’d love to hear them!

| May 29, 2012 – Graduation Time in America |

My nephew, Brent, just graduated from college, as did many of the interns who worked with the Starner Group in past years. Last week, graduation began for the high schools in Miami and our friends’ children will soon be going to college in Michigan, Los Angeles, Boston, New York and various other states/cities across the country. In terms of the Starner Group, Danielle’s daughter, Kim, graduates next week, and will be going to Florida State. On a smaller scale, Micaela, my oldest granddaughter (and Bruce’s daughter), will be graduating from 6th grade.

Of course, we think each of these young people is special and amazing. And yet, they are special in a different way. I wanted to share the following commencement speech that I thought defined this graduating generation.

To the Class of 2012

Neil Howe (world-class demographer and co-author of the 1997 book, The Fourth Turning) delivered the following commencement address at the University of Mary Washington on May 12, 2012.

At a commencement address, speakers often go on too long. This I won’t do. I may not succeed as well as Salvador Dali, who famously delivered the world’s shortest speech, only four seconds long. He announced at the podium: "I will be so brief I have already finished," and then sat down.

Commencement speakers also like to intone about "today’s youth generation." And this is fine. Except that they then go on to talk at length about their own experiences in their own youth and tell you: Because this worked for me in my generation, it will work for you in yours. This should alert you that these speakers have no idea what a generation is.

Let me clarify. A generation is a group of people who share a basic outlook on life shaped by their common age location in history, their common "generational setting." The renowned sociologist Karl Mannheim called this "eine Generationslagerung," which I promise you is both the longest word—and the only German word—that you will hear from me.

"Youth," on the other hand, is just an age bracket. It’s like an empty hotel room that different generations move into with their own baggage, and then soon leave. Sometimes that room swells with sweet music, sometimes it throbs with death metal, and sometimes it’s utterly silent. But it’s never the same.

Bottom line: All of you Boomer and Generation X parents are essentially unlike your children—and were not the same even when you were kids. And you Millennial Generation graduates are essentially unlike your parents—and will not become like them as you grow older.

So how, exactly, are you different? Well, start with the obvious: pop culture. Believe it or not, parents, your kids have never known that America, Chicago, and Kansas are the names of rock bands, not just places. Or what about technology? Ever notice the blank stares when you tell them roll up the window, turn the channel, or dial a number? Or what about current events? For as long as Millennials can remember, NATO has been looking for a mission, China has been peacefully rising, Brazil has been building shopping malls, and Boomers Bill O’Reilly and David Letterman have been hating on each other in plain view of millions.

Now these markers are interesting, but if there’s one big idea I want you to take away from my remarks, it’s that generational differences go much deeper.

Consider.

You Millennials grew up in an era of rising parental protection, never knowing a time without bicycle helmets, electric plug covers, Amber Alerts, and fifteen different ways to be buckled into your minivan seat. We, the parents, grew up in an era of declining parental protection: Our moms and dads told us, "We don’t care where you go so long as you’re home for dinner." As for seatbelts, we were told if there’s an accident to just throw up our hands to protect our heads. As kids, we never saw a "Baby on Board" sticker. "Baby Overboard" would have been more appropriate.

You Millennials were raised to be special—very special—and to trust your counselors, support groups, and smart drugs to keep you feeling pretty good about the world, like a Sims character having just the right digital balance. We, the parents, knew we weren’t very special, didn’t trust anyone to advise us, and thought staying away from counselors was a sign of toughness. When you came to college, there were long orientations and immersions, and many of your parents clutched teddy bears and wept. When we came to college, we jumped out of the car and tried to grab our suitcases before our parents sped off.

You Millennials were raised to be team players—and you are, with community service, group projects in the classroom, and clubs for everything. And, above all, you are team players with digital technology that connects you all to each other on Facebook, and smartphones that you take to bed with you. We, the parents, were a lot more into competition, rebellion, and defying the mainstream. We did not "friend" each other. Our generation invented the "personal" computer. Personal, as in "mine and not yours," and certainly not part of the corporate mainframe our own parents bequeathed to us. Growing up, our biggest fear was that Big Brother might someday install cameras in our rooms. Our biggest joy was hearing Steve Jobs announce that "1984 won’t be like 1984." And now, our biggest surprise has been to see our kids connect with each other by installing their own cameras in their own rooms!

As a generation, you Millennials have a surprisingly conventional outlook on life. Surveys show that as you grow older you wish to become good citizens, good neighbors, and well-rounded people who start families. Violent youth crime, teen pregnancy, and teen smoking have recently experienced dramatic declines, and for that we congratulate you.

Most startling of all, the values gap separating youth from their parents has virtually disappeared. You watch the same movies as your parents, buy the same brand-name clothing, talk over personal problems with them—and, yes, feel just fine about moving back in with them. When I travel around the country, I often ask people now in their 40s or 50s how many songs on their iPod overlap with what’s on their kids’ iPods. The typical answer is 30 to 40 percent. Let me tell you, back in my days on campus (later known as "the days of rage"), we did not have iPods, but if we had, the overlap would have been absolutely zero. Everything about our youth culture was intentionally hostile and disrespectful of our parents. That was the whole idea.

People sometimes ask me, "What does it mean that one generation is different from another—that Millennials, for example, are different from the Boomers or Gen Xers who raised them? Does it mean that some generations are better than others?" And I say: No. There is no such thing as a good or bad generation. Every generation is what it has to be, given the environment it encounters when it enters the world. History shows that whatever collective personality a new generation brings with it is usually what society needs at the time. As such, youth generations tend to correct for the excesses of the midlife generation in power, and they tend to refill the social role being vacated by the older generation who is disappearing.

To avoid speaking in code, let me rephrase this as follows. The Millennial Generation is correcting for the excesses of Boomers and Gen Xers who today run America. I need not remind you what those excesses are: leadership gridlock, refusal to compromise, rampant individualism, the tearing down of traditions, scorched-earth culture wars, and a pathological distrust of all institutions.

The Millennial Generation is also reprising many of the hallmarks of the original G.I. Generation, the so-called "Greatest Generation," who are now passing away. Like the Millennials, the G.I.s grew up as protected children and quickly turned into optimistic, consensus-minded team players who, in the dark days of the 1930s and ‘40s, saved our nation from turning in the wrong direction at the wrong time.

Igor Stravinsky once wrote that every generation declares war on its parents and makes friends with its grandparents. Yet again, that has happened.

So all of you parents out there: Be proud of this new generation. They aren’t like you, but they are what America now needs. They don’t complain about the storm clouds looming over their fiscal, economic, and geopolitical future; they try to stay positive. They don’t want to bring the system down; they’re doing what they can to make it work again. They worry about you a lot. And they want to come together and build something big and lasting, something that will win your praise. Beneath their tolerant, optimistic, networked, and risk-averse exterior lie attitudes and habits that may prove vital for our country’s healing and for our country’s future.

No one knows what challenges this Millennial Generation may eventually be asked to bear. Hardly anyone expects them to become America’s next "Greatest Generation." But someday you can say you heard it from me: That is their destiny, to rescue this country from the mess to which we, the older generations, have contributed, perhaps a bit more than we ever intended—and, in so doing, to become a great generation indeed.

Thank you.

| April 9, 2012 – Happy Easter and Happy Passover |

Raymond James offices will be closed on Good Friday, April 6th. Roger and I will be going to Dallas to spend the holiday with my daughter Dana’s family...and to celebrate my granddaughter Kendall’s 8th birthday.

Some Headline News to share:

  • For the second year in a row, Fortune magazine has ranked Raymond James Financial the fourth most admired securities company in the world.
  • For the third year in a row (and since inception) I have been ranked on Barron’s "America’s Top 1000 Financial Advisors".
  • Raymond James purchased Morgan Keegan, effective April 2nd, to become one of the largest wealth management and investment banking firms in the country. As our CEO Paul Reilly likes to say...we are now truly the premier alternative to Wall Street firms.
  • Raymond James is celebrating the firm’s 50th anniversary...believe it or not, we were founded right around the time when the Beatles released their first single, "Love Me Do". It’s been a great first half-century, during which we have built many wonderful relationships with our clients...a tradition we plan to continue...or, as the Beatles would say hopefully, you will still need us "when we’re 64!"

Also, April 17th is Tax Day this year. This is because April 15th is on a Sunday and April 16th is a holiday in Washington, DC. Hence, we all have two more days to prepare. That also means that April 17th is the deadline for making 2011 IRA contributions...so, if you haven’t spoken to us about a contribution and you think you are eligible, please call.

Starting April 18th, we begin to think about tax strategies for 2012 and beyond. As you all know, 2012 is an election year…and some important tax policies are set to expire ($5,000,000 estate tax exemption, Bush Tax Cuts, etc.). We will be watching tax code developments very carefully and we will be sure to share our thoughts with you as we learn more.

| March 26, 2012 – INTERVIEW WITH THE ROAD WARRIOR |

Bruce Cacho-Negrete, our celebrity and partner

As many of you recall, Bruce was a finalist in the American Airlines Road Warrior competition.  I am proud to say THANKS to all of you who voted, he placed third, and for the next two weeks, will be gracing the cover of American Way magazine…great picture.  We were certainly hoping for first place.  However, when Bruce learned of the extreme measures that the top two finishers went through to get votes, third place is just fine (feel free to give us a call if you’d like the whole story!). I asked Bruce a few questions about his photo shoot:

Margaret: Bruce, remind me how you got to be on the front cover of American Way magazine?

Bruce: American has an annual writing contest for frequent travelers. This year, I decided to enter on a whim - I had a flight delay when sitting in the airport and I thought "what the heck!"  I was quite surprised when I learned that I was one of the five finalists.

Margaret: I love the picture of you on the cover of American Way magazine …looked like scenes from “Mad Men!"  Are those your clothes? And your hair style – wow!

Bruce: Definitely not.  All of the clothes were supplied by American, right down to the sunglasses on my face. The theme was art deco, and we shot the photos in and around Miami Beach. In fact, the other winners and I spent the whole week in Miami.  American Airlines treated us like celebrities.  We dined at great restaurants, watched a Miami Heat game from the skybox at American Airlines arena, and stayed at a fancy hotel on the beach.  We were even allowed to bring guests, so Lise was able to join me the whole time.

Oh...back to the clothes, I just remembered, the shoes were mine.  American couldn’t find any size 14’s to fit me, so I provided my own footwear.

Margaret: Your interview was hilarious…very much like your Road Warrior entry.  

Bruce: Yes, the only downside of having my wife on the trip was that she spilled all my embarrassing secrets to the American Way staff.  Hence, much of the interview is about my irrational love of fruitcake.

Margaret: What about your other picture in the middle of the magazine?  You don’t own a dog.

Bruce: No, I don’t.  My "solo shot" was difficult.  I am horrible at posing for pictures.  So, there I was, dressed in a bow tie and bowler in front of the American Airlines arena, surrounded by a camera crew, with a group of bystanders staring at me and trying to figure out if I was a celebrity.  The photographer had the hardest time getting the shot - he kept telling me to "smile with my eyes"...whatever that means.  Finally, he paid one of the bystanders 10 bucks to borrow her dog and we got the shot.  I think the dog knew how to smile with his eyes.

Margaret: What was the best part of the trip?

Bruce: Definitely meeting the other winners.  All of them are super-frequent fliers just like I am.  Two are in the traditional business world, but the other two had very unique jobs.  One (Neal) owns a San Francisco-based ice cream company named "Three Twins."  He brought about a dozen pints to Miami so we were able to sample his wares. Amazing.  He just signed a nationwide deal with Whole Foods, so I encourage everyone to try a pint or two.  My favorite was Lemon Cookie.  Brian was the other winner with a unique job - he is a world-renowned "mixologist" -- essentially an uber-bartender.  He is the brand spokesman for a high-end tequila named Don Julio.  He actually treated everyone to a tequila-testing session, where we tasted the entire gamut of tequila’s, from the very inexpensive to the very expensive.  His one tip was to only drink tequila made from 100% Agave.


For those of you, who won’t be flying this month, please go to Americanwaymag.com to see Bruce’s pictures and interview.  Also, look for the “video” link at the top of the website – click it to watch a video featuring all five of the Road Warriors.  And we have many copies of the magazine in our office – it’s worth stopping by to see the great cover picture. 

CONGRATULATIONS BRUCE!

| March 23, 2012 – Family Journey to my Chinese Roots |

I just returned from a unique 8 day journey to China with my daughters (Lise and Dana) and their families. Though our trip took us to Shanghai, Guangzhou, Zhongsam, Hong Kong, and Macau, the focus of this musing will be on our lesser-known destinations - seeing my parent’s villages in southern china and witnessing our ancestral area first-hand.


The impetus for the trip was my aunt/uncle in LA planning their trip to SE Asia and to visit my parents’ villages in southern China. The opportunity to visit our ancestral home with my aunt and uncle was too good to pass up. They had both lived in the villages as children, continued to travel there as adults, and spoke Cantonese. Hence, we decided to pull my 4 grandchildren, Micaela (11), Cole (7), Kailee (10) and Kendall (7) out of school for a week.

For the village portion of the trip, we were joined by my sister, brother, brother-in-laws and cousins for a total of 23 family members. I was surprised that after a day or so, my Cantonese, though for sure rusty, began to come back to me. My kids and I arrived at our rendezvous point of Guangzhou (AKA Canton) before the other relatives arrived and just in time for lunch. We were spending one night at the Holiday Inn before going to the villages the next day. Guangzhou is a large city and teaming with people – the area surrounding our hotel was bustling with all kinds of shops and food vendors...all smelled and looked delicious to me...though a bit strange to my grandkids. I loved the hustle and bustle. We were not brave enough to buy food off the street, though I had been told it would be a delicious experience. Fortunately, one of the best dim sum restaurants was a block away. However, no one spoke English and I didn’t understand this dialect of Cantonese. The waiters were great. One motioned Bruce into the kitchen and told him to point to what he wanted. Funny that they picked the only person at the table with no Chinese blood whatsoever. Regardless, out came the most delicious meal. Every dish was a surprise but the tastes were familiar. So that was our first adventure toward getting to our village.

In the afternoon after all had arrived, we toured Guangzhou, a major commercial and trading city in southern China and not too far from Hong Kong. I first went to Guangzhou in 1981. Needless to say, the growth and development have been spectacular and impressive as evidence from everything you have read about China. The new civic center is awesome in size with extraordinary large space for park like walking. The architecture/design is equally impressive, very modern and cutting edge.

Early the next morning we began our drive to the villages, about 2-3 hours drive from Guangzhou and near areas called Toisan and Kaiping, all part of the Pearl River Delta. As we drove, I reminisced about my first visit to the villages with my parents in 1985. At that time no one had electricity. I think my dad's home had one light bulb, powered by a battery operated generator. Every home has an altar for burning incense and praying to the ancestors. The kitchen was quite primitive - still using grass and sticks to create the fire for stir frying and cooking. My memory was that my relatives made a delicious soup from water cress they had grown...most beautiful watercress I had ever seen. The villages had no plumbing and just one central latrine for every villager’s use. Most of the homes were still occupied.

We visited my father's village first. At first glance the village homes still retain the charm of old China. The houses are clustered close together and separated only by small alley ways. This area was always subject to bandits, so the houses may have been clustered together for safety. Thus every village has a watch tower.


These villages have not participated in the boom and growth in China. It is like time stood still. Most of the early Chinese migrants to the US came from similar villages in this area. My mother’s and Dad’s village were near each other and similar in size. I suspect the population in my parents’ youth did not exceed 500. I now realize that moving to Shelby, MS was not such a shock, except for the culture differences. The villages for the most part have been maintained and survived through the generosity of relatives who had migrated and lived in the US. Today my Dad’s village population is down to about 50 people...the young have migrated to the cities for better opportunities.

Over the years, my father sent money back to remodel the home. The house now has tile floors instead of concrete, the kitchen has been tiled with a cooking burner, and a bath room with toilet (the only one in the village) and running water was added ....though the lack of central plumbing meant that both drained to the backyard. The house is unoccupied today. My dad's cousins left about a year or so ago to find jobs in Hong Kong.

My grandchildren were somewhat shocked by the overall condition of the village - dirty and run-down, especially by American standards. Most impactful to them was the village school, which had been generously supported by successful former residents of the village, including my parents. With the dwindling population the village school has been closed and converted into a garment factory. Schools have been consolidated in to bigger regional schools. The former classrooms were filled with dozens of Chinese women sewing and cutting denim to create jeans. My parent's photo, along with others who had funded the school, still hung on the walls. Micaela, our oldest granddaughter, did find a basketball to play on the school ground basketball court. She will cherish that memory and experience.

After our first village, we ate a traditional Chinese meal at a small country restaurant. As the water is unsafe, a large bowl of hot tea was placed in the middle of the table, which we used to wash our chopsticks and plates. The meal was delicious, though the authentic menu was somewhat disconcerting to the children, who averted their eyes from the chicken head that arrived with the roast chicken.

Next, we visited my mother's (and uncle's) village, where we were met, to our surprise, by my mother's first cousin (Uncle Lup Ming), a spry ninety year old with perhaps the most beautiful skin I'd ever seen on someone his age - fair skinned, always smiling, and not a wrinkle. Uncle Lup Ming lives in Vancouver in the summer and goes back to the village for the winter. Maybe a good recipe for longevity and good looks. Though my mother's village was mostly in similar condition to my father's, Uncle Lup Ming’s home was large, clean and modern by China's standards. The women in our group took advantage of his "western" toilet, happy to have a break from the holes in the floor found in older Chinese bathrooms.

My mother's childhood home, long unoccupied, has really deteriorated, and the stairs unsafe to climb. Yet, I remember how my mother often bragged that her family had the best and biggest house in the village. My grandchildren explored, every inch, marveling at the small rooms and hard wooden beds where their great grandmother and her siblings had spent much of their youth. After touring the home, we visited the village school, a beautiful gym (with a modern bathroom) that had been built within the past decade with funds from family members in the US, including my Mother and me. Unfortunately, this school was also closed due to dwindling population. My grandchildren stood on tippy-toes to look through the windows into the empty gymnasium.

After seeing the villages, we spent two nights at the Sheraton in a nearby city, Zhongshan (population: ~3 mill) and a ferry ride from Hong Kong. During our stay we visited a so called fishing village on the river. This was truly the most eye-opening part of our trip. The boat ride originated from an empty riverside boardwalk that looked at one time to have been a teeming tourist site. Now, the attractions were shuttered and the various food stands seemed long-closed. The river itself was worse – dirty nearly beyond comprehension, with trash floating everywhere. We literally begged the boat driver to go slowly so the putrid water would not splash on us. After a seemingly endless 15 minutes, we arrived at the river town, which was little more than a few dozen shacks, with the occupants selling fly-covered fish from a few huts. The pollution from factories and human waste into the river had long destroyed the fishing industry ...and there was not even one house boat left on the river and what we saw was a wretched part of China...and a vivid picture of the price of progress.

I would be remiss not to mention the rest of our trip. Prior to the villages, we spent a day in Shanghai. After the villages, we spent three days in Hong Kong. Both of these cities are glamorous and a wonderful mix of the old, the new, and the exotic. They represent what’s possible and the future for the Chinese. Of course Hong Kong is modern and westernized by the British.

No matter how many times I have been to Shanghai, I am struck by the beauty and impressiveness of the city. The architecture is sophisticated and daring. We stayed 2 nights at the Waldorf Astoria which is the epitome of elegance and high tech with exquisite and friendly service. And the food also was fabulous. In one day, we did a whirlwind of the sights and even got to a lovely and charming fishing village which the grandkids loved. Lise had been tutored by a friend on how to bargain in Shanghai...and she was resolute in knowing her price. In fact, she even walked away after a merchant wouldn't meet her final price (75% off) for some "Prada and Vuitton" bags. True to lore, when we were half way down the alley, the salesman came running after us with his final price...a mere dollar or two above Lise’s. The sale was completed and I hope the purses she got were the purses she saw!

Now on to Hong Kong and the conclusion of our trip. We spent our first day touring historic Hong Kong sights, including a centuries-old temple where the kids were introduced to "fortune sticks" - an ancient tool used by Chinese to channel the spirits and derive answers to life's questions. My youngest grandchildren each purchased a set and felt equipped to discuss anyone's fortunes....like a true Chinese. Our next day, we took a ferry trip to Macau, the gambling territory less than two hours from Hong Kong. Macau is frequently compared to an eastern Las Vegas...it is true that both have opulent casino/hotels. Bruce quickly tried one hand of black jack...and won! He shared his winnings with the kids – they loved the results. The mainlanders can drive to Macau and they do in droves.

Our final day was spent touring more sights in Hong Kong, most notably the famed Po Lin Monastery, the site of the largest Buddha statue in the world. Unlike most Buddha statues, which face India, this one faces Beijing, and can only be reached via an exhausting walk up 260 steep steps. Quite a hike for my grandkids, but even more so for me....I am proud to say that I reached the top. At the end of our final day, Lise and Bruce's family spent a few hours at Hong Kong Disneyland, while Dana and Kenji's explored the local "night market" - essentially a flea market where the children had an opportunity to barter for souvenirs. Both families loved their respective experiences.

What is remarkable about HK and Macau is how many mainlanders flock to the two cities to shop and have fun. I was surprised to see the long customer lines to get into the high end stores like Prada, Chanel, and Burberry. In addition to the considerable selections in HK, the mainlanders trust the products to be authentic. Our tour guide spoke openly about his concern of the integration with Mainland China...his resentment for the Chinese government was palpable. He expressed his hope that the people of Hong Kong would gain the right to vote by the election of 2017...currently, the leader of Hong Kong is chosen by a select group of less than 2000 people, all chosen by the central Chinese government. He credits HK's prosperity to the open capitalistic system with low taxes and light regulation. His hope was that in the future the young will remember the openness/freedom of the old Hong Kong, as many are required in school to study propaganda dictated by China. This hope is kindled by the fact, that unlike the Mainland, they still have access to television, Google, and the internet in general.

I continue to admire and am impressed with the Chinese level of personal service, whether in HK, Macau or the Mainland. I have never been to any place in the world where service and a smile is treated as a given....of course, I didn't have to deal with any government officials! My first trip to HK was in 1963 and my first trip to the Mainland was in 1981. The attitude toward service, whether in hotel, restaurant, or local stores, has remained intact...they obviously see a benefit to pleasing and smiling.

China is a land of dichotomies, where both tremendous opulence and tremendous poverty can often be seen side-by-side. It is easy to see why so many believe so strongly in the future of China - for all the technological wonder of cities like Shanghai and Beijing, there is so much opportunity for improvement in the villages....continued growth seems almost inevitable. Their challenges are many...what to do with the poverty in the rural areas and the growing gap between the haves and have not's...the gap between those who are benefiting from the change and those who are left behind....similar to what's happening here in the US. The pollution is worse than ever...and everyone we encountered knows and worries that the environment is not healthy. The fallout from the pollution will take a toll for many years to come. Still the service and energy of the people in China are unparalleled. I will be happy to discuss more about our trip with any of you...please feel free to call or write.

The grandchildren dealt with the long flights, the many hotel moves, and all the strange sights with awe and fascination. I was concerned as to how they would deal with the primitive villages, the strange foods and language. I forget how many times they have been with my relatives in MS and in Chinatown. When I asked Kendall, my 7 year old granddaughter what impressed her the most...she responded "the tall buildings, the home in the village, and learning how to bargain". I couldn’t have been a happier Granny.

Now that vacation is over, we are in the midst of tax season. As many of you know from past musings, recent legislative changes have made the production of tax documents more labor-intensive for brokerage firms than in past years. If you, or your accountants, have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact Scott, Bruce, or myself.

| January 23, 2012 – Gung Hay Fat Choy |

Wishing you Good Luck in the Year of the Dragon Chinese Year 4710
Jan 23 – Feb 4th, 2012

Gung Hay Fat Choy! For those of you needing a translation, that means "Happy New Year" in Cantonese Chinese. Yes, Chinese New Years has arrived again, marking the beginning of the year of the dragon. As many of you know, the Chinese zodiac calendars include 12 different animals. Of these, the Dragon is the only fictional creature.

The Dragon is the symbol of the emperor in China and as such, associated with both power and mystery. According to the folk tales, the dragon is an amalgam of animals such as the tiger, fish, snake and eagle. Coated in mysterious colors, the dragon is unpredictable, untouchable, and partially unseeable – observers cannot see its head and tail at the same time.

Each year at Chinese New Year's time, the Feng Shui predictions begin to fly. Feng Shui is the Chinese practice of arranging objects and choosing dates to improve luck. While predictions are light-hearted, many Chinese carefully follow Feng Shui principles in the belief they will seriously boost their wealth. After all, why not?

So, what does Feng Shui say about the dragon? Since the dragon is the only mythical zodiac creature, they are rumored to only appear before important events such as a transition of power. A Hong Kong investment firm that follows Fung Shui predictions writes 'when the dragon does actually show up is when overall desperation in the markets is at an extreme...' Interestingly, the same brokerage predicted that the markets would move in a zigzag fashion in 2011 (the year of the rabbit). That forecast came true.

However, most of us just want to know what is in store for me. And as we do each year, we are prepared to give you a glimpse at your personal predictions for this Dragon year direct from a Chinese Feng Shui. Results are not guaranteed.

If interested, you are welcome to call/email for your Year of the Dragon prediction. We will need your month, day, and year of birth.

On the subject of China, next month I will be taking my two daughters and their families to visit my parents' villages in southern China. My Uncle Paul (mom's youngest brother) and his wife, Helen, will be our guide. Uncle Paul was born and raised in mom's village until he came to the US when he was six or so. He attended an all Chinese school in Cleveland, MS (another interesting tale), Portland and then Stanford. My Aunt Helen, also a cousin, was born and raised in my father's village. She has written a fascinating book about her life experiences in Nationalist China, escaping the Japanese invasion and getting to the US before the communist revolution. I last visited the villages in 1985...and my aunt tells me most of the people have left for opportunities in the cities. However, my parents kept their homes and I wanted our grandchildren to visit and learn about their heritage through Uncle Paul and Aunt Helen. This is not the part of China most tourists see.

Again, gung hay fat choy. We look forward to speaking with all of you in the New Year.


The dragon is a symbol of power.