Another TBB post featuring the most eclectic links around the web such as our money beliefs, who buys crypto, the best State snacks, tidal wave of pandemic fraud, amazingly creepy interviews with fraudsters, we go over crypto’s good use cases, a completely vicious beat down of crypto, the least visited national parks, behind the scenes in US intelligence before the war started in Ukraine, many dead Russians over there, more on the pandemic, escaping the Taliban, amazingly uplifting segment with Robert Hoge that you should not miss, the latest in the crazy world of travel hacking and lots more, enjoy the weekend!
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This blog publishes every Friday these days…
Best of Web articles are truly exceptional and MUST reads in their entirety, imho.
Welcome to all new blog readers from George, your diligent curator of the BEST web content I find and share with you. No ads, no clickbait, just amazing content I discover along with my sometimes witty and seldom incendiary commentary.
It is amazing how prevailing attitudes toward managing money over the years have changed. Jonathan Clements goes over them in his What They Believed article. And they are:
1. Plenty of active managers beat the market, and it’s easy to identify them ahead of time. – Nope. Indeed, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that a broad swath of the investing public started abandoning actively managed funds in favor of index-mutual funds and especially exchange-traded index funds. I saw the light also at that time and made a 100% turn towards exchange-traded index funds for all my clients and my own portfolio of course. And you would not believe what happened next! 🙂
2. Financial advisors’ role is to help investors buy products. – Nope again, stop dealing with salesmen! There’s a reason commission-charging brokers have become dinosaurs and fee-only financial planners have seen their business boom. In my own practice I am very proud that I never went over to the dark side as I joined the fee-only financial planner side from Day One!
3. Some investments are worth paying up for. – Hell no! How about a mutual fund with an 8.5% load? Or a variable annuity with total annual expenses equal to 3% or more of assets? Or a hedge fund that takes 2% of clients’ assets each year and 20% of all gains? Back in the late 1980s, such costs were considered acceptable by many. In fact, I remember brokers arguing that load funds were inherently superior to no-load funds, that they generated better returns and that the load created an incentive for the fund manager to outperform the market. I kid you not. We have come a long way since then but financial product snake oil salesmen are still out there wreaking havoc with people’s lives!
4. Stocks don’t stay at elevated valuations for long. – There is a reason why you see “Past performance is not indicative of future results” disclosures so often out there. Stocks are inherently volatile and nobody knows what they will do in the short term and this is why so many find it hard to hang on to them. The market always looks forward!
5. The dream is to retire early to a life of endless leisure. – Well, not anymore. Today, many retirees believe that, to have a fulfilling retirement, they need to engage in activities that bring a sense of purpose to their final decades. So, what are you retiring to?
6. Social Security should be claimed as soon as you retire. – I think the key is to stay healthy and most people should aim to claim Social Security at age 70 to ensure the largest lifetime benefit. The free online Open Social Security calculator is recommended.
Incredibly creepy to watch some of these wow! All time best interviews with accused fraudsters. Be careful out there…so many slick salesmen fraudsters! Enjoy and have fun barfing all over!
This is great and so true! You can make any piece of data look bad if you try. And the author takes nine different examples to show us this. And here is the conclusion which I agree with:
When you zoom out, things look pretty bullish
When you’re in the moment and looking at data over very short periods of time, it’s easy to become discouraged. After all, anything and everything could always be better. And to be fair, there’s always a risk that things do get much worse.
But when you zoom out a bit, you’ll see that a lot of things have been improving in the long run. Whether it’s financial health, energy efficiency, lending discipline, or general economic conditions, most have gotten better over time.
For investors, all this helps to explain why earnings have trended higher over time. And since earnings are the most important driver of stock prices, it also helps to explain why the stock market usually goes up.
I really enjoyed this article: Who Buys Cryptocurrencies?. It summarizes findings of a research study titled “Dark Personalities and Bitcoin®: The Influence of the Dark Tetrad on Cryptocurrency Attitude and Buying Intention” and tested the hypothesis that price volatility (i.e., potential gain) and autonomy from government oversight make crypto attractive to that subset of buyers who are prone to gambling and are suspicious of government. That led them to focus their research on examining the effects of the dark tetrad traits (Machiavellianism, subclinical narcissism, subclinical psychopathy and subclinical sadism) on a person’s crypto attitude and buying intention. Anyway, fun reading when you get crypto mixed in with Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy and sadism lol.
“The high risks and high potential returns of crypto trading make it attractive to the kind of people who like gambling. They added that the fact that cryptocurrencies are not issued or backed by governments like traditional or ‘fiat’ currencies makes them attractive to people who distrust government.” The most interesting, and surprising, finding was that while investors were drawn to cryptocurrencies in the hope of lottery-like returns — which I would have guessed was the primary motivator — much of the motivations had little to do with money. Instead, they were related to the personality traits of the Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy and sadism.
I have been accused of being anti crypto. I am guilty. But I keep an open mind and continue to challenge myself to learn more. So, let’s now switch sides and post this: Does Crypto Have Any Good Use Cases? The author is trying hard to find them, he mentions the following: Digital Gold, Digital Currency, Digital Ownership & “Property Rights”, Decentralized Lending & Borrowing, Single Sign-On, Other Decentralized Financial Activities. And then mentions several Future Uses of PDAs (Perpetual Decentralized Applications). I am sorry but…imho, there is not much there ok? I do agree with this though:
Crypto is EARLY. Painfully early…Crypto and “Web3” are really all about blockchain tech. And what a blockchain lets you do is run perpetual decentralized applications.
And then we have this very long article that delivers an EPIC beating of everything about this space, I loved it and can’t wait for Part 2 lol. The Strange Case of Nakamoto’s Bitcoin – Part 1. I said EPIC beating, for example:
Bitcoin is not a form of electronic cash. Bitcoin is not a store of value. Bitcoin is not a hedge against inflation. Nor is it digital gold, the future of finance, or an investment. Bitcoin is a type of Nakamoto scheme, a form of investment fraud which leverages an unsound economic premise to enable transactions where no utility is exchanged. The scheme is characterized by several unique properties:
- The tethering of a speculative digital token to a cost in order to create the illusion of an investment.
- The creation of a mechanism which can distribute stake in the scheme so that there are multiple co-operators instead of a single operator, i.e. a distributed open investment fraud.
- Virtual investment rewards are delivered to co-operators, these returns are not fraudulent to participants operating within the system’s context (to an outside observer they are fraudulent returns).
As the scheme provides no underlying mechanisms to generate revenue, virtual returns can only be converted into real returns if participants become co-operators in subsequent investment frauds which enable the inflow of fiat liquidity. A built in mechanism which allows the transfer of the digital token is used to convert virtual returns into goods and services or fiat currency.
Using cryptographic hashing techniques to create an append only ledger is not in and of itself exploitative. However, creating a mechanism that enables economic transactions where value is exchanged for value can only serve as a vehicle for fraud. Bitcoin and all cryptocurrency systems as they exist in their present form are examples of harmful technology. They are dangerous and should not be allowed to exist. Value must be tied to the utility provided by a resource, and not to deception or an externality. By defining the unique characteristics of the Nakamoto scheme, we are better positioned to identify them so that we may act accordingly when they are encountered.
I have bookmarked and will soon start checking out VisitACity to help me for my upcoming trip to Berlin in late September. Anyone using it, any tips?
Best of Web: In search of the lost “Greek” tribe of Alexander the Great. Growing up in Greece we learned of the amazing accomplishments of Alexander the Great. And we heard that his army left behind many offspring in far away lands. Like in Afghanistan. And if you are interested this story is about the Kalash tribe…there are not that many left. Fascinating!
How about a different angle? As in, The Least Visited US National Parks in the United States. On the list there is the Isle Royale National Park in Michigan…which I always wanted to visit.
The Best Snack in Every State. In Michigan, it is Better Made Potato Chips, seriously? 🙂
UKRAINE RUSSIA WAR
Absolutely fascinating account of how the US handled its intelligence how Putin was about to invade Ukraine! Road to war: U.S. struggled to convince allies, and Zelensky, of risk of invasion. First, let me admit that I was in the camp not taking them seriously because, well, you know, the US intelligence track record was far from stellar! And I always thought the Ukrainians screwed up not taking the warnings seriously and not preparing accordingly. But after reading this. I understand where they were coming from:
“We had to strike a balance between realistically assessing the risks and preparing the country for the worst … and keeping the country running economically and financially,” Kuleba said. “Every comment coming from the United States about the unavoidability of war was immediately reflected in the [Ukrainian] currency exchange rate.”
“Put yourself in our shoes,” Kuleba said. “You have, on the one hand, the U.S. telling you something completely unimaginable, and everyone else blinking an eye to you and saying this is not what we think is going to happen.”
“We took all of the information that our Western partners were giving us seriously,” recalled Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff. “But let’s be honest: Imagine if all of this panic that so many people were pushing had taken place. Creating panic is a method of the Russians. … Imagine if this panic had started three or four months beforehand. What would’ve happened to the economy? Would we have been able to hold on for five months like we have?”
I think the Russians are having manpower problems. And we will likely never ever learn the true number: How many Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine? What we know, how we know it and what it really means. It’s complicated…
“Both sides are suffering attrition rates that from a U.S. perspective are pretty incalculable since the days of maybe the Korean War,” Chris Dougherty, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told Grid. “I don’t think one side or the other has a significant manpower advantage, but if you were to hold a gun to my head, I would say the Ukrainians have a very slight advantage because I would imagine their individual soldiers and individual personnel are probably more motivated than their Russian counterparts. It’s different when you’re fighting for your house, your wife, your kids. On the other hand, the Russians do have a deeper manpower pool. The question is, how deep?”
Best of Web: Illia Ponomarenko: Stop whining about the war in Ukraine. Read it all.
It is the blood of the Ukrainian Armed Forces that has made a difference. Along with the effort of so many other people in Ukraine and beyond who are bringing us closer to ultimate success.
So, in other words — stop whining about this war.
Whining does not help. We have already come very far, and much more is yet to be done. A lot of artillery pieces and tons of munitions are yet to be agreed on and delivered, and a lot of issues within the Ukrainian war effort are yet to be exposed and fixed.
Ukraine now has an increasingly good chance to prevail, unless we decide to dive deep into self-inflicted hopelessness.
Be a part of a solution in any way you can, or get out of the way.
This virus is not going anywhere it appears: Covid has settled into a persistent pattern — and remains damaging. It may not change anytime soon. Then again, who knows? This virus keeps surprising us…
Hopefully, yes? Is the Covid pandemic finally nearing its end?
The pandemic will not end this year, but the behaviour of this virus in highly vaccinated countries across the world may offer a glimpse of what the endpoint may look like: low risk of severe disease from any given infection, a better understanding of the cumulative disease toll of reinfections, an idea of the likelihood of further Omicron-like immune escape events and whether disease severity is further restored, and data available to guide further vaccination strategies.
Well, the CDC has pretty much declared the end of the pandemic with its latest guidelines: The Pandemic’s Soft Closing. Totally egregious imho…which pretty much seals its disastrous record of how NOT to handle a pandemic. Archived Link.
Months on end of weakening guidelines have entrenched “this idea that mitigation can only be dialed in one direction, which is down,” Salomon told me. If and when conditions worsen, the rules may not tighten to accommodate, because the public has not been inured to the idea that they should. “If it’s going to be 600 deaths a day soon,” or perhaps far more, Ganapathi told me, “I won’t be surprised if we find a way to rationalize that too.”
Covid changed everything and we are all slowly trying to get back to normal. Do you know what else it changed? Opportunities for mega fraud by scammers! Prosecutors Struggle to Catch Up to a Tidal Wave of Pandemic Fraud. I blogged here some time ago that justice is coming eventually and we are finally getting some scum locked up! Investigators say there was so much fraud in federal Covid-relief programs that — even after two years of work and hundreds of prosecutions — they’re still just getting started. Archived Link.
There are currently 500 people working on pandemic-fraud cases across the offices of 21 inspectors general, plus investigators from the F.B.I., the Secret Service, the Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service. The federal government has already charged 1,500 people with defrauding pandemic-aid programs, and more than 450 people have been convicted so far. But those figures are dwarfed by the mountain of tips and leads that investigators still have to chase. Agents in the inspector general’s office at the Labor Department have 39,000 investigations going. About 50 agents in a Small Business Administration office are sorting through two million potentially fraudulent loan applications.
In some cases, the programs missed schemes that were comically easy to spot. In one instance, 29 states paid unemployment benefits to the same person. In another, a Postal Service employee got an $82,900 loan for a business called “U.S. Postal Services.” Another individual got 10 loans for 10 nonexistent bathroom-renovation businesses, using the email address of a burrito shop…In some corners of the internet, schemes to defraud were discussed in chat rooms and YouTube videos, where scammers offered to help for a cut of the proceeds. Some used the money on necessities, like mortgage bills or car payments. But many seemed to act out of opportunism and greed, splurging on a yacht, a mansion, a $38,000 Rolex or a $57,000 Pokémon trading card. [LOCK THEM UP!!!]
ODDZ & ENDZ
Best of Web: Amazing account of a woman’s pregnancies: American Motherhood. My pregnancies could have killed me, but at least I chose them. Respect all mothers, it is amazing what they go through! Yes, this is a pro-choice article and I am open to any pro-life articles that are written as well as this. Archived Link.
Harrowing account of escaping from the Taliban: I Smuggled My Laptop Past the Taliban So I Could Write This Story. Can you imagine going through this? Feel grateful for what you have…Archived Link.
This is a database of our national disgrace: Mass Killing Database. Which reveals trends, details and anguish in every US event since 2006.
Amazing photography of lighthouses: USA Stars & Lights.
Best of Web: You need to really check this out! Meet Robert Hoge, the ‘Ugly’ Human Living a Beautiful Life. I really enjoyed the video interview while riding my bike at a local park. Very uplifting and inspiring.
MILES & POINTS
HOT CREDIT CARD OFFERS: 80k CITI Premier, 60k CHASE Sapphire Preferred, 75k Capital One Venture X, 75k CHASE Ink Cash, 75k CHASE Ink Unlimited, 100k CHASE Ink Business Preferred, 60k CHASE World of Hyatt Visa, 60k CHASE Sapphire Reserve, 70k Bank of America Alaska Airlines Business Visa, 20k CHASE Freedom Flex, up to 30k CHASE Freedom Unlimited, 140k IHG Rewards Premier AND 1 Free Night, 20k CITI Custom Cash, and many more, including many AmericanExpress cards, including Delta, Marriott and Hilton cards! Please check out my Affiliate links. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more. If you do not see a credit card with my affiliate links, perhaps I could refer you?
This section is about my
hobby addiction of collecting frequent flyer miles and hotel points since the early 1990’s!
As of today, I have burned 708,351 miles/points year to date and have 4,861,742 miles/points in the bank. Some do drugs, I do miles lol!
BASICS: This travel hacking hobby is mostly about getting the fat Signup Bonus of travel rewards credit cards while of course NEVER EVER carrying a balance. Banks have a marketing budget and are willing to give us many THOUSANDS of miles/points to travel mostly for free hoping to hook us to charge 20%+ interest rates on our balances. The poor souls who fall for their marketing paying these ludicrous interest rates for years end up subsidizing us responsible consumers who enjoy taking advantage of, cough, such bank marketing budgets! Some of us have been doing this for thirty years creating amazing travel memories…Feel free to ask me questions or post them in the comments.
BASICS: Prefer credit cards from the proprietary points programs of banks, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Network, Capital One Rewards Miles, etc because they are a lot more flexible and they are not devalued as frequently. Over pure airline and hotel credit cards. Pure cash back credit cards may work for you best and they are getting more valuable as airline and hotel loyalty programs keep getting devalued. Sometimes, a pure no annual fee 2% cash back card works best for simplicity!
If you wanted nothing to do with these miles and points churning related shenanigans we do and just wanted a no annual fee 2% cash back card, you can not go wrong with the Citi Double Cash Mastercard. And right now it has the highest Signup Bonus ever. Ok, it is only $200 but still it is the highest ever lol. It comes in the form of 20,000 ThankYou Points which you can cash out for $200 if you decide not to transfer them to any of the ThankYou airline and hotel transfer partners. Available here under CardIssuer/Citi.
TOP TRAVEL REWARDS SIGNUP BONUS CARDS
Citibank increased the Signup Bonus for the Citi Premier card from 60,000 to 80,000 Thank You points. Annual fee is $95 and the minimum spend to score the Signup Bonus is $4k in the first three months. The Citi Premier card has a solid earning structure as it earns 3 points per dollar on gas/groceries/dining/travel and 1 point on everything else. Of course, you can transfer your points to mostly foreign airlines and JetBlue. Or you can cash out at one cent per point. Therefore, 80,000 points means $800 less $95 annual fee——-> BOOM, here is $705 in your pocket, you need this $$$ to pay for gas! Read the newbies paragraph above and think…taking advantage of bank marketing budgets! Available HERE, thank you!
The Capital One Venture X card offers a 75,000 point Signup Bonus after a minimum spend of $4k in the first three months. If you like simplicity and are looking for one (premium) card, I highly recommend this card (and yes, I have it myself!). It has an annual fee of $395 but it comes with a VERY easy $300 statement credit for travel booked on its excellent travel portal, essentially turning it into a $95 annual fee card. But wait…at each card anniversary you earn 10,000 points essentially making it FREE! Every dollar of spend earns 2 points and flights booked on the travel portal earn 5 points per dollar. You get access to Capital One and Plaza Premium airport lounges and a Priority Pass Select lounge membership and, this is important, you can add FOUR authorized users FOR FREE who can also have their own Priority Pass Select airline lounge membership. You can transfer your Capital One points to up to 18 Transfer Partners. No foreign transaction fees. Free Hertz President’s Circle rental car elite status. Cell phone protection and PRIMARY rental car coverage. Awesome seats at baseball stadiums for just 5k points. And lots more. Available with my Credit Card Links, thank you for your support!
Alaska Airlines miles can be very valuable. Right now, the Signup Bonus offer for the Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Business card is 70,000 Alaska Airlines miles. The minimum annual spend to earn the 70k miles is $4,000 in the first three months. The annual fee comes to $75 and it is not waived in the first year. The card comes with a Companion Fare starting at $121 which could be extremely valuable in selected itineraries. No foreign transaction fees. The card earns 3x per dollar on Alaska Airlines purchases and 1x on everything else. Free bags for up to six people in the same reservation. Available HERE, thank you!
Remember, you are NOT allowed to ever carry a credit card balance if you ever get a credit card here!
Excellent reference guide of the Hyatt All Inclusive Resorts.
Here is a list of all the Hyatt properties by location. And you can also bring them up on a map by simply clicking “Map” on the top right corner (Tip: Frequent Miler).
Register for the latest Hyatt promotion: Bonus Journeys.
Register for the latest Hilton promotion: Double Your Stay.
I canceled my trip to Rockford, Illinois to run a half marathon due to my latest injury. Which means I canceled my award reservation at the Radisson property in Rockford and my reservation at the Chicago Athletic Association, a Hyatt property using a Free Night certificate. I have been trying for years to use up my Radisson Rewards points and I keep failing lol!
But I still managed to burn some of my stash. I burned 7,500 British Airways Avios points to get my wife back home flying from NYC LA Guardia to Detroit later this month. Availability has steadily expanded in this route again. And I burned 20,000 IHG Rewards points to book one night at the Toledo, Ohio Maumee Holiday Inn the night before the 2023 Toledo Glass City Marathon that my wife has signed up for and I am thinking to do it so I can carry her to the finish line lol.
ADVANCED TRAVEL HACKING
Chase finally gave up on that different Signup Bonus offer for its Air Canada Aeroplan, the one awarding certificates instead of miles. I think of this as a win for us! And the new offer now just awards 70,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles. I think 70,000 Signup Bonus offers are becoming the floor/minimum for me to consider jumping on…
A section where I go on and on about some stuff that happens in my life and anything else that just does not fit in another section above.
We are at this delicate age where our parents are up there in age and it is showing. My wife has been helping her mother back in Malaysia and it now looks like my mother has decided to come to the US to spend some time with us. Plan is for me to go to Greece in late November, spend about three weeks there and then bring her to Michigan until April or May 2023. She is going to miss her grand daughter who will spend a semester studying in Paris. I guess…developing. Meanwhile, son came home with his girlfriend for a few days after a while before departing to Las Vegas for a concert of The Weeknd. Kids these days, meanwhile I am playing Joy Division’s Interzone song which for some reason I have been playing lately over at YouTube…I guess, different generations lol.
I am still not running. My old disc injury has flared up but the numbness and pain is all felt in left foot due to the sciatica nerve, really strange. Chiropractor appointments and massages and exercises. And walking and biking too of course so I do not turn completely rusty. Physical therapy appointment on Tuesday. Forget that personal record in the Berlin Marathon…at this rate I may not make it, boo! Maybe my body is sending me signals?
Did you guys hear? Elon Musk to buy Travel Blogger Buzz too? Ok, I am laughing #awkward
Rick Astley does his “Never gonna give you up” again for, please sit down, AAA Insurance smh!
The dog days of summer, enjoy them while they last everyone!
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