Thursday, January 22, 2009

Predicition: Cuba Embargo Ends This Year

You've heard it here first: Cuba will open in 2009. Raul seems willing to change. And Obama is the perfect president to begin a new policy.

The embargo of Cuba should end as soon as possible. It is ineffective and is only hurting the people of Cuba is preventing Americans from exercising their constitutional right to travel freely. We are friends with far worse regimes, and an embargo-free Cuba will see changes that can be only brought about by an inundation of free culture.

It is my hope that in April 2009, at the Summit of the Americas, Obama will begin to change US policy towards Cuba.

Cuba's revolution is over. It happened. Live with it. For the most part, the Cuban people cheered and saluted as Castro seized power. The Cuban property that the Miami exile community thinks they'll regain is gone. It surely is not the United States responsibility to reclaim it for them.

Calls for a change to US policy to Cuba are growing louder, especially since the Miami exile community did nothing to help Obama get elected. Finally, the end-the-embargo voice is being heard.

Obama's inauguration address had a line tailored for Cuba: "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. "

Today it was reported that Fidel Castro had positive words for Obama, calling him honest.
This month's Cigar Aficionado magazine has a lead story calling for Obama to end the travel ban. (here is a link to their previously published editorial titled: Editor's Note: Time to Change our Cuba Policy)

More notably, a widely read and highly respected report was released December 2008 titled "The Case For a New Cuba Policy", by Jake Colvin, offering advice to the new president:

In the following months, as the administration approaches the next Summit of the Americas in April 2009, the president should follow up on these initial signals by constructively engaging the Cuban American community, Congress, U.S. allies, and the Cuban government in the following

  1. Change the tone. If the United States wishes to make a serious effort to engage Cuba and
    U.S. allies on issues such as human rights and economic development, it will have to change its rhetorical approach. The United States should raise important issues, including human rights, in a more constructive and direct way than has been tried in the past with Cuba.
  2. Depoliticize the Cuba portfolio. The U.S. approach to Cuba has been too special, which has been reflected in the way policymaking has been politicized within the bureaucracy.
    Depoliticizing the portfolio and returning Cuba to its normal place within the State Department bureaucracy would facilitate diplomacy.
  3. Advance U.S. interests through principled diplomacy. The next president should engage
    Cuba diplomatically and place the burden on the Castro government to act constructively.
    Reestablishing regular, lower-level contacts, which have been curtailed by the Bush administration, would set the stage for higher-level discussions down the road.
  4. Stop harassing U.S. allies. The next administration must stop harassing U.S. allies about their contacts with the Cuban government and attempt to find ways to work cooperatively to support human rights, civil society and economic development in Cuba. The United States should also eliminate the extraterritorial application of U.S. sanctions on Cuba and facilitate license exceptions where necessary.
  5. End the travel ban. Complete repeal of travel restrictions would allow Americans to promote freedom and democracy in Cuba and would remove a burden from the Departments of Treasury and Homeland Security. The next president will have the support of moderate Cuban American groups, business interests, and other nongovernmental organizations to make a strong case for repeal.
  6. Promote cultural exchanges and dialogue with the Cuban people. The next president should actively encourage people-to-people exchanges by streamlining the licensing process for Cuban musician, artist, athlete, and scholar access to the United States and by actively promoting dialogue and regular contact with the Cuban people. The U.S. government should also work with the private sector to encourage the establishment of a regular dialogue between Cuban economic officials and U.S. businesses. Facilitating sector-specific briefings—even in the face of continued trade restrictions—would establish important new channels of communication.
  7. Prioritize sanctions administration and enforcement on the basis of national security
    risk. The next administration should call for a comprehensive reevaluation of the priority given to administering and enforcing all U.S. sanctions programs. This reevaluation, which could be done through a new quadrennial review at Homeland Security, should prioritize administration and enforcement of sanctions programs based on their relative importance to U.S. national security and the risk posed by lax enforcement. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Office of Foreign Assets Control in particular should be given clear guidance to prioritize high- risk threats.
  8. Address broader impediments to normal relations. The Cuba Adjustment Act, Cuba’s
    place on the State Department’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism, property claims, trademark and other trade issues and the status of the Guantanamo Bay naval base will continue to be impediments to long term normalization of relations. These issues must be addressed either unilaterally or as part of a broader negotiation with Cuba.
As for the impact a embargo-free Cuba will have on Key West - that will be explored in future posts.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A More Perfect Union: Thank You Barack Obama & America!

I could not be more proud of America today.

Barack Obama is to be sworn in as our nation's first African-American president.

Just when it seems like no progress is being made as a society, along comes an event so monumental and progressive that it shatters all notion of stagnation.

I look in the face of each African-American person I see and feel a mutual sense of pride - that we truly are moving forward. That despite every setback we encounter, there really is something good happening in our time.

I have always felt that African Americans are owed an unpaid debt, written by the founders of our country - that ALL men are created equal and shall have Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Happiness. (Thank you Martin Luther King for fighting for the benefit of all humanity.)

No man is truly free unless we are all free.

So today, let me just say: Congratulations Barrack, Congratulations America.

For the first time, I feel like we are living in the future.

May we all work together to make this a more perfect union.
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Key West's Fantasy Fest 2009 Theme

The theme for this year's Fantasy Fest is:  Villains, Vixens, and Vampires.  (I haven't noticed it mentioned before).

Once again, the organizers of the weeklong party have shown an appreciation for assonance - no pun intended.  Last year, "P" was the repeating consonant - again, no pun intended.

Fantasy Fest is the biggest party of the year for Key West - drawing tens of thousands of people.

This is mostly an adult party.  To make the most of it, leave the kids with their granny - otherwise you risk exposing them to shirtless grannies.
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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Key West Real Estate Freefall & Opportunity

Prices for Key West residential real estate are falling at an increasing rate. And this may mean we are closer to a bottom than the top of this wild ride. Market price trends often reverse themselves with a sharp spike. When prices are rising, the top is often marked by an even greater run-up of prices. And similarly, when the long-term trend in prices has been falling, look for a sharp spike on the downside to indicate market sentiment is about to improve.

According to the chart (above) from Zillow, prices for Key West houses, condos, and other residential real estate are showing a sharp decline since November 2008. Currently, Zillow shows "market value" for the Key West residential market at $472,000 - a 14% decline since November 2008.

Oversupply, along with a list of other problems, continues to weigh heavily on the Key West market. And much of that oversupply is from distressed sellers. Here is a map from RealtyTrak showing 219 properties that are either pre-foreclosure, bank owned, auction, or govt. owned:

Here is a look at the latest numbers from the MLS:
  • 922 residential (includes single family, mobile home, condo, timeshare, 3-4 units, townhouse, duplex, and other property rights)
  • 417 residential single family
  • 400 residential condo & townhouse
So where is the bottom?
If you take a look at the 10-year Zillow chart for Key West, the long-term uptrend line would be at approximately $350,000. This translates into another 25% decline - if it happened in the short term. It is also possible that prices won't deteriorate to that level if enough time transpires to reach the trend line further to the right.

Here is the 10-year chart with a long-term uptrend line drawn in red.

But there is some good news.

Housing is definitely getting more affordable.

With mortgage rates now at 5% and property starting to sell for "affordable" prices (meaning less than the so-called "affordable housing" that the local developers have put up), it now may make sense to look for a place of your own.

Take a look at these numbers:
  • 165 single family, condo, or townhouse properties priced at $350,000 or less

  • the least expensive is a $128,500 condo at Santa Clara Condominiums (506 square feet). With a 5% mortgage and 10% down, your principle and interest payment would be $618 per month. Add on $300 per month for condo fees, taxes, and insurance and you are buying a condo in Key West for less than $1000 per month.

  • the least expensive single family home is $169,900 at 3210 Eagle Ave (1032 square feet - Bank owned). With a 5% mortgage and 10% down, your principle and interest payment would be $821 per month. Add on $500 per month for taxes and insurance and you are buying a house for the same cost as rent.

Don't have 10% to put down? Call the City of Key West. They are planning to loan up to $20,000 to workers for downpayments (20 people initially).

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Blog Silence Over - Key West Chronicle Blog is Back!

Like the Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos en espanol), the Key West Chronicle Blog is about rejoin the living.

No - I haven't died, left the island, or been forced to refrain from posting. My absence from the blogosphere had its reasons - none of which need to be elaborated here.

Now, though, I look forward to regularly posting again.

And to commemorate this new beginning I have given the blog a new look. New utilities will also be added. Today I have added a "Followers" box (on the right hand side) - allowing you to join Key West Chronicle Blog.

While I have much to write about, please let me know if there is anything you'd like to see written about.

In the meantime, expect entries about island life, politics, play, and the wonderful place known as Key West.

Thank you to my regular readers for your support. I promise: your patience will be rewarded.
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