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Wednesday, 5 June 2013


Interview with Stephen Douglass, author of The Bridge to Caracas

The Bridge to Caracas Stephen Douglass
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Tell us about The Bridge to Caracas.

THE BRIDGE TO CARACAS is the thrilling story of an endless and conflicted love affair and the audacious theft of $325,000,000 from the U.S. and Canadian Feds. If readers have half as much fun reading the book as I did writing it, they will be enriched.
Enriched?
I would like readers of the last word of THE BRIDGE TO CARACAS to feal happy, satisfied, and anxious to read, THE TAINTED TRUST, the sequel to THE BRIDGE TO CARACAS, and the story of what happened to $325,000,000, the stolen money that was hidden at the end of THE BRIDGE TO CARACAS.
What genre is it?
Romance/crime/fiction
What kind of readers will it appeal to?
THE BRIDGE TO CARACAS should be read by anyone who has ever been in love.
Complete this sentence for us: if you like _________________, you’ll love The Bridge to Caracas.
If you like THE FIRM, by John Grisham, you’ll love my book.
You mentioned sequel; is this a series then?
THE TAINTED TRUST, the sequel to THE BRIDGE TO CARACAS, is written and ready for release. It is the second volume of THE KING TRILOGY. The third volume, KERRI’S WAR, is written and should be ready for release in two months.
How would you describe the trilogy?
A thrilling epic, spanning four tumuluous decades, and following the lives and loves of a family caught in a tidal wave of corruption.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I spent the first half of my career working for the two largest oil companies in the
world: Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell. The second half was spent working for one of the world’s smallest oil companies: my own. I sold my company in 1989, and have been living in obscurity ever since. I spend my summers at my Canadian home near Niagara Falls, Ontario, and my winters at my U.S. home in Port St. Lucie, Florida. I love to read,
write and travel. A hole in one is still on my bucket list.
Do you have a website where we can keep up with your work?
www.thebridgetocaracas.com
And social media?
@douglasssteve on Twitter.
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Monday, 6 February 2012

INDIE RETIREMENT


                           
Recently, I had the pleasure of reading a brilliantly composed blog by Michael R. Hicks, (@KreelanWarrior), His blog, entitled: Adjusting to Being a Full-time Author, and posted in four parts on his website, http://authormichaelhicks.com/, is about how and why he left his secure full-time government job to become a full-time author. Impressed by his story, I subscribed to his blog and posted a comment, congratulating him on what he had done, and for the courage of his conviction.
Simultaneously I was brutally reminded of the time I made a similar decision. Mine was not to become a full-time author, but to leave a secure career with “Big Oil”, and become an owner and player in “Small Oil.” Most of the fears and concerns expressed by Michael Hicks were similar to my own. Am I really capable of going it alone? Will I be able to support a wife, three boys and a dog? What if I fail? In spite of all of the mental and financial obstacles, I took the plunge. Armed with the fear of failure and the desire to succeed, not necessarily in that order, I managed to stay over the line, all the while running like hell.
Rather than bore the reader with an exhaustive description of what happened next, I’ll simply state that after eighteen years of operating as an owner in “Small Oil”, I sold my company and disappeared into obscurity. Our three boys are now adults and succeeding on their own. Our dog, Sandler, unfortunately passed away ten years ago. My wife, Ann, and I remain in obscurity to this day, spending our summers in Niagara Falls, Canada, and our winters in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
For a more detailed account of how I did what I did, I refer you to my ebook: THE BRIDGE TO CARACAS, (http://thebridgetocaracas.com). It’s the factional story of my life. If you have half as much fun reading it as I did living it, you’ll be enriched. 
The purpose in writing this piece is to describe what happened after retirement, and how my wife and I continued to live in obscurity for 23 years, without a pension. Retirement is, quite literally, another plunge, a leap of faith loaded with emotional baggage. For me, most of the fears and trepidations accompanying the first plunge were present in this one: Do we have enough money? Will it last? How do we manage it? Will I be bored in retirement? How long will it take for my ego to rear its ugly head? Am I buying my own con by preparing my own budget? Will I regret selling my company?
Tormented by all of the above concerns, (and numerous others), I took the plunge into retirement, unchartered waters. Happily, before the end of the first year it had become obvious that most of my fears were unwarranted. Best of all, I discovered that retirement is fun, so much so that I began to wonder how I ever got anything done when I worked. I began to look at the clock, desperate for more time, and plead with it to slow down. To this day, I don’t know how I managed to find enough time to write.
With respect to money, it took much longer to purge my mind of concerns. Cleverly, I elected to hire money managers to look after our nest-egg. Bad decision. After more than seven years, these managers, (A.K.A. financial engineers), had succeeded in losing more than 20% of our initial capital, while paying themselves well for their efforts. Enough!” I said, then summarily terminated their services. In addition to transforming myself into an Indie Investor, that move turned out to be one of the best I have ever made.
In the time that has elapsed since that termination, my wife and I have not only lived happily in retirement, we have managed to more that double our initial capital. The happy ending stems from a decision to invest in what I knew best: the oil business, more specifically, crude oil and natural gas production in western Canada. While living on the dividends, we have been delighted to watch the capital grow. My only lament is not to have become an Indie Investor sooner.
My next blog, should anyone be interested, will be to describe the investments I made.                                 

Friday, 9 December 2011

CHRISTMAS CHEER


         Visconti arrived at the office of Iacardi & Sons, just in time for the company’s annual Christmas party. His excuse for being there was to deliver the check for the margin call on his crude oil short. His real reason was to see Kerri Pyper again. He had been unable to forget her. Her youthful beauty intoxicated him, touched him like no other female had. The fact that she was married to a famous athlete made her even more alluring, the challenge of possessing her more exciting.            
         Miles Dennis approached immediately. “Merry Christmas, Louis. Have a drink with us,” he offered.
        “Humbug,” Visconti muttered, then handed a check to Dennis.
        “What’s this?” Dennis asked with a puzzled expression.
        “Eight and a half big ones,” Visconti replied.
         Dennis grinned. “Thanks. What can I pour for you?”
        “Scotch. Rocks.”
         While Dennis poured, Visconti scanned the office until his eyes fixed on Kerri, nursing a clear plastic glass filled with white wine.
         Dennis returned with Visconti’s drink. “Drown your sorrows, Louis. It’s the least I can give you for eight and a half million.”
         Visconti took a sip, then quickly shifted his focus to Kerri. “Miles, is it my imagination or is the love of my life unhappy?”
         Dennis glanced at Kerri, then at Visconti. “You’re as perceptive as ever, Louis. It’s not your imagination. There’s trouble in paradise. She’s been miserable ever since her husband injured his knee in that game in Buffalo.
        Visconti flashed a contented smile. “You sure? I mean have you asked her about it?”
         Dennis nodded. “Kerri’s an open book. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She told me her husband really took the injury hard. He gets pissed on the couch every day, watching television and wallowing in self-pity.”
        “Would you mind if I talked to her?”
         Dennis lifted Visconti's drink from the desk. “Take this. You’ll need it to wash down the rejection.”
         “You might be surprised,” Visconti said with a confident wink, then turned and headed straight for Kerri. “Merry Christmas,” he said, touching her glass with his.
        “Same to you,” Kerri replied in a bored monotone, then quickly looked away.
        “Why do I get the feeling you don’t really care if I have a Merry Christmas?”
        Kerry conceded a wry grin. “What brings you here?” she asked.
        “I just dropped in to deliver a check to your boss...When I saw you looking very depressed, I decided to try to cheer you up. How am I doing?”
        Kerri showed a hint of a smile, but refused to answer.
        “How’s your job? You still enjoying the commodities business?”
        She nodded. “Thanks for asking.”
        “Miles still treating you well?”
        “Yes. He’s been wonderful.”
        “Sorry to hear that. I was hoping you were going to tell me he beats you and works you like a slave. I was hoping you would tell me you wanted to quit your job and come to work for me. Have you forgotten that I offered to double your salary? I was serious you know.”
        “No, I haven’t forgotten,” Kerri replied, the corners of her mouth suggesting a smile.
        “Well?”
        “Well, what?”
        “Are you interested?”
        Kerri called Visconti’s bluff. “Did Miles tell you he’s paying me two hundred and fifty thousand a year?”
        Visconti accepted the call. “Is that all? Then I’ll triple it.”
        Kerri smiled, then laughed. “You really are serious.”
        “Very serious about cheering you up...I did a pretty good job, didn’t I?”
        Kerri was compelled to concede. Visconti had made her laugh when it was the last thing she wanted to do. “Yes, you did. Thank you.”

Sunday, 16 October 2011

MESSAGE TO OCCUPY WALL STREET PROTESTERS


           
Don’t give up. You may not know it, but you’re being heard, appreciated and you might be the only lobby the silent majority ever had. There are millions who are cheering for you, and silently wish they could help you. You have struck a very sensitive nerve in the bodies of rich, poor and those somewhere in between. Depending on where they are in the economic spectrum, they are embarrassed, frustrated, confused, or damned mad and not prepared to take it any more.
You know who you are, and whom you represent, and so do millions of others. You represent the heretofore silent majority, the fabric of democracy, that enormous group with absolutely no lobby. Sure, it could be argued that the vote is, and always has been their lobby, but forced to choose from among a group of profligate, deficit-spending and professionally lobbied candidates, they really have no choice or lobby at all. In other words, the silent majority has been doomed to a special status: the piggy-bank of the politicians and the lender of last resort to the world’s financial engineers.
These financial engineers, all players in the world’s financial playground, have masterminded and created an extremely elegant business plan, a virtually risk free program that could best be described as, “Heads we win, tails we win.” Phase I of the business plan was to ensure that the regulatory framework of the jurisdiction in which they operate is, and continues to be friendly and permissive. To achieve that benign regulatory framework, the financial engineers needed to ensure that the government of the relevant jurisdiction was bought and paid for. The U.S. was a primary example of such a jurisdiction. Over 40% of campaign contributions originate on Wall Street. “Why not buy ourselves a government?” they asked themselves. Simple. They control the regulators.
Having established ideal playing conditions, the financial engineers were free to launch phase II of their elegant business plan. To do this, they had to identify market targets for their enterprises. Targets, in the case of the recent U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis, were troubled mortgages. In the case of the European Union, those targets were the troubled debts of the PIIGS, (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain). Once the targets were identified, it was time for the elegant business plan to get busy. It was time to bet against those troubled debts. To put lipstick on their bets, the financial engineers hired quants who invented a very nasty piece of paper: the credit default swap, or C.D.S. The C.D.S. is ostensibly an insurance policy. Cleverly calling it a swap, instead of a policy, eliminated the requirement that the counter-party collateralize its position in the bet. In other words, the party insuring the debt against loss did not have to prove it had sufficient capital to pay the ‘insured’ in the event of default.
The C.D.S. was a terrific deal for both parties. For a relatively small “premium’ cost the party betting against the troubled debt stood to collect the entire principal of that debt if the debtor defaulted. The party insuring the the troubled debt enjoyed the constant income stream of annual fees, (premiums), while posting no collateral. If the debtor kept up with payments, the fees, (premiums), kept rolling in. If the debtor defaulted, however, the ‘insured‘ got paid, and the party insuring the troubled debt stood secure in the knowledge that it could collect from the lender of last resort: the taxpayer. All that party had to do was go to the taxpayers and plead, “Too Big to Fail.”
Hence, Phase III of the elegant business plan was launched. Its goal was to ensure that both parties to their nasty pieces of paper were indeed, Too Big to Fail. To achieve this they set out to execute a lot of those nasty pieces of paper, so many that if it actually became necessary to pay for the loss(es), they could tap the lender of last resort. They could go to the taxpayers and warn them if they don’t pay, (bail us out), the fallout, (contagion), will lead to the destruction of the world’s financial system, (depression).
The financial engineers never planned to appear in person, hat in hand, tails between their legs, to the taxpayers. No. Their elegant plan was to do it in style: send the government, their paid representatives. The government, so directed by their masters, the financial engineers, also elected not to appear, hats in hand, tails between their legs, before the taxpayers. They elected instead to do it in style, masking the event with pomp and circumstance. There are numerous examples of such appearances, but one of the best is happening as I write. The finance ministers of the G-20 countries have chosen to do it in Paris, France, one of the most expensive cities on the planet. Arriving in expensive jets, riding in expensive limousines, staying, eating and drinking in expensive hotels, they are preparing their presentations. Then, stone-faced and sinister, with the capable assistance of the media, they will ask the taxpayers to bail out, (re-capitalize), their masters, the financial engineers.
This, and other dog and pony shows like it, remind one of that day in November of 2008, when Rick Wagoner, CEO of General Motors flew to Washington in its $36 million corporate jet. The purpose of the visit: a bailout to avoid bankruptcy of one of the world’s largest employers. His pitch, “Too Big to Fail.” 
So keep going. Keep protesting. Do not give up. Concentrate on the Big Casino and don’t waste your time with corporations. They’re guilty as charged, particularly in the area of excessive executive compensation, golden parachutes and rewarding failure. Compared to the Big Casino, however, this activity is chump change, minor collateral damage. The real atrocity is the C.D.S., the derivative, Warren Buffet’s weapon of mass financial destruction. If you want beneficial and permanent change, you must identify and deal with three things: the motive; obscene wealth, the weapon; the C.D.S., the perp; the financial engineers. Be warned. They are armed and dangerous and they have a big head start. Do not expect the government, the perp’s paid representatives, to help you. They’re too busy drinking champagne in Paris.   

Saturday, 20 August 2011

I'M LOSING FAITH IN MY FAVORITE COUNTRY


                           I’M LOSING FAITH IN MY FAVORITE COUNTRY
Throughout my life, the United States has been my favorite country, save and except for Canada, where I was born, raised, educated, and still live for six months each year. As a child growing up in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, I aggressively bought and saved baseball cards of American and National League players, spent hours watching snowy images of American baseball and football games on black and white television and longed for the day when I could travel to that great country. Every Saturday afternoon, me and the boys would pay twelve cents to go the show and watch U.S. made movies, and particularly, the Superman serial. Then I got my chance. My father, who worked for B.F. Goodrich, took my brother and me to watch the Cleveland Indians play baseball in the Mistake on the Lake in Cleveland. At last I had made it to the big time. I thought it was an amazing stadium and it was certainly not a mistake. Amazingly, the Americans thought we were Americans.
I loved the United States, and everything about the country: its people, its movies, its comic books, its sports, and a great deal more. The country was alive and growing. No, exploding. It was the golden age of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The American dream was alive and well, but demanded hard work, honesty, and frugality. Everyone understood that. Even the politicians.
Then everything changed.
Partly because of its proximity to the United States and a shared heritage, Canadians also aspired to what was commonly referred to as the American dream. I fall neatly into that category. For as long as I can remember I wanted a better life, but because I was born with a cardboard spoon in my mouth, and wasn’t a member of the golden gene club, I knew I would have to make it the old fashioned way: work hard and save. After university graduation I spent the first half of my career working for the two largest oil companies in the world: Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell. The second half was spent with one of the smallest oil companies in the world: my own.
Then I sold my company and retired into obscurity. In my case obscurity was spending summers in our cottage on Lake Rosseau in Muskoka, Ontario, and winters in our home in Port St. Lucie, Florida. My wife, Ann, and I, (and our three sons when they can find the time), have been enjoying that “obscurity” for a long time. During that long time we have been fortunate to meet and befriend a large number of Americans, many from Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.” One was a military policeman in Tokyo in 1945. After a very successful business carer in the U.S. he’s retired and living the dream. Another American friend, also a member of the “Greatest Generation”, survived The Battle of the Bulge and lived to drink Hitler’s booze at Berchtesgaden in 1945. He too is happily retired and living the dream. Both of these individuals got to where they are by working hard, saving, and living within their means. Both also remember when their Federal Government did the same thing.
One of my younger American friends recently sent me a You Tube video, featuring an impassioned speech by Marco Rubio, Republican senator from Florida. In the speech, Rubio blasts the spending habits of his Federal Government and deeply laments his country’s future. He is outraged that the U.S. Government spends three hundred billion dollars, each and every month. He is even more outraged that one hundred and twenty billion of that three hundred billion dollars is borrowed. In other words, Rubio states that for every dollar the U.S. Government spends, forty cents is borrowed. I don’t blame him for being upset. If I had run my business using that arithmetic, I would be in the soup kitchens. If individual American families had applied that arithmetic to their finances, none of them would be in a position to pay a thin dime of taxes.
In this connection I witnessed what I consider to be the ultimate contrast this year. While watching the arrival of the U.S. delegation to the G-8 Summit in Toronto in June, 2010, I was reminded of a movie I watched not too long ago: “The Gathering Storm.” In that movie, Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Britain, facing the specter of German world domination, flew to Washington to plead with U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to help him to save the free world. Churchill made that flight in a dilapidated DC-3. To keep warm during the flight, he wore flight boots, a parka, heavy gloves, and a scarf. It was obvious that travel cost was, as a minimum, a consideration.
In sharp contrast to Churchill’s flight to Washington, I fast forward to U.S. President Barack Obama’s flight from Washington to the June, 2010 G-8 Summit in Toronto. Many of us Canadians, including me, were struck with shock and awe as we witnessed the seemingly endless parade of the American delegation’s large and expensive jets arriving at Pearson International prior to the Summit. To me, the star of the parade and the ultimate display of conspicuous wealth was the arrival of three gigantic military airplanes carrying Mr. Obama’s caravan of vehicles, including his bullet-proof, bomb-proof Cadillac limousine. Clearly, Mr. Obama’s visit was not to save the free world, and travel cost was not a consideration.
Then came another blow to my favorite country. In August of this year Standard and Poor’s rating agency downgraded the U.S. credit rating to AA+ from AAA. What’s worse is that the downgrade may be just the beginning. My favorite country has likely started its inexorable march down the road to ruin. In other words, unless the U.S. finds a way to recover the frugality of The Greatest Generation and to live within its means, it’s likely the beginning of a long and traumatic slide into the abyss of financial chaos.
The whole thing has been painful to watch. I’m deeply disappointed and I’m losing faith in my favorite country. 

Steve Douglass