Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Ugly Truth about Afghanistan...

To get objective news and viewpoints about what is REALLY going on and what the issues REALLY are in Afghanistan, you have to get outside the USA news media. I share just a few of many reports you can find on Youtube that give you the "Ugly Truth" of what America can look forward to accomplishing for all the lives and billions of dollars we are wasting there while not reaching any real objectives. I will let the videos speak for themselves and welcome you to find the additional chapters of these newscasts online to help you shape your own view or opinion about the American government's role and accomplishments in that region. I guess your other option is to just stay in the dark and "trust your government"...

(Finally, a video trailer from "CSNY, Deja Vu" released in 2008. I saw this on HBO this week. If you can rent it or download it, I think it is very thought provoking, if only to analyze how similar these conflicts are to our country's "Viet Nam" era...and the grass roots response/revolt to government war-mongering.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Democracy and Religion...on the same path

Lately I have been thinking quite a bit how many similarities there are to the processes of democracy and religion in the past 200 years. Arguably, most democracies and religions start on a fresh, positive premise to offer mankind a new start in life, whether it be one of personal freedoms or just a fresh start for one's conscience. But very soon the "human factor" and rationalizations impact the original premise until nothing really remains true to the original cause.

We have seen this the longest in religions where an originator presents a case for profound new beginnings and then the followers start adding their embellishments to what he/she said or stood for until the founder of a faith would be hard pressed to recognize what they began. If Jesus or Mohammad were physically walking around our world today, I doubt either one of them would recognize the religions carried on in their names. Bibles and Qurans are written by various men under the influence of their religious leader(s), then some hierarchical group or "Diocese" hundreds of years later declare WHICH writings are mystically inspired by "God" and which aren't. Then we have a couple thousand years of "holy wars" to see who is right and wrong on the God question. Quite barbaric if you look back honestly on the history of war and religion. I'm not sure that we are any more enlightened on this today than we were 200 or 2000 years ago. We have put God in a box, and branded him to look and act a lot like..."us". Scary business.

Lately many people have started predicting the death of democracy as we once knew it. What originally started as pursuit of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" has turned into a frothing free for all of the governed looking to vote in whoever will promise to lead them and take care of their every need. The original Greek meaning of the word Democracy. "power of the people", had turned into "power of the government". Elections are bought and paid for the world over and the populace continues to vote based on popularity contests and the best media manipulation money can buy. When the people start disbelieving their vote or opinion counts in a democracy, that is the beginning of a quick end to that system's existence.

As I read and understand the USA's constitution and "Bill of Rights", the foundation of America's democracy was to protect the rights of the individual from the "tyranny of the majority". We have to give credit to this original concept even though it took over 150 years to grant equal rights to minority races and women...that only after one of the world's most costly civil wars to force the concept of "liberty and justice for all". Yet, many critiques of democracy are now pointing out the unfortunate evolution of this imperfect system of government. It has now morphed into a huge majority of DEpendent, unprincipled masses run by weak leaders arguably controlled by the financial elite...bankers and international money funds. Money in the end truly rules the world. Money buys vote, influences weak minds through media and even spreads it's rationalizations through many organized religions. After all, many religions claim to stand for peace and justice while laying claim to being the driving force of democracy's forefathers. While religious principles were obviously part of America's forefathers morality model, it was hardly their sole motivation. Meanwhile it is primarily religious fascism that is fighting for control in many of the world's countries, supported by the need of humans to BELONG to a cause. There seems to be some innate part of many humans who respond to mystical calls of dying for your belief and/or country. It is somehow selfish to think for yourself, have your own opinion or beliefs in many countries. Humanity strives to label each of us based on our race, creed, religion or borders. The individuality and self reliance that was foremost in the minds and experience of America's forefathers is in my opinion a dying breed in this day and age.

I think most thinking people would admit that there is no true, perfect government or religion in today's world. Yet, we continue to do battle between religions and governments for dominance and power...if simply over control of the minds of the masses. Many Christians believe the USA is a "Christian" nation even though the faith's founder never suggested such a connection between faith and government was desirable. The world's largest religion, Islam, has become as multi-faceted as Christianity with its many sects and fiefdoms...with only the most radical/fundamental getting any press or attention. Perhaps they are the world's fastest growing religion based on their claim to accept Christianity's Jesus as one of their prophets while fundamental Christianity ONLY accepts Jesus as leader/Messiah. And of course the strong ties between Christianity and old testament Judaism only add to the millennial inbred conflicts between these oldest of religions.

One would like to think that a couple thousand years later mankind is a little more "enlightened" to what is real and what is not. You would think that the cause and effect of Western Civilization the past 400 years would find us having more participants in the "age of enlightenment". Yet it seems the masses of the world continue to find itself enslaved to physical cravings and impulses more than mental stimulation and reasoning. Instead of doing the heavy lifting of thinking for ourselves, we deed over our reasoning to the "authoritarians" in all our institutions...from families to churches to governments. I know this probably sounds like a never ending theme to those of you who read most of my blogs or carry on dialogue with me. Yet, I feel I can't over emphasize the folly we are committing to not think and take action for ourselves based on the direction our religions and democracies are going. Real religion and democracy is "going away" as far as I am concerned and being replaced with the continued rituals and blind adherence to disproved fables and follies. Original premises of faith and democratic government are being over run by the manipulation of reason and even the manipulation of markets and finances...which are used to "sell us" the latest concoction of unprincipled thinking and continued manipulation of "mob rule".

We have too much "noise" in our lives to be able to think clearly. There is no unity in the human experience. Our daily lives are filled with conflict, disagreements, consumer pitches for the good life...various calls for escape from reality and reason. "Eat drink and make merry, for tomorrow we might die" rules much of the universe. Very few religions or governments believe in empowering individuals to think and act responsibly and independently. If something bad happens, people think they must have some evil lurking within their souls deserving such bad fortune or they think the government should be there to bail them out of their dilemmas. Person to person responsibility and good will have been replaced by government and religious programs and "fund-raising". Escape into drugs and alcohol continues to increase especially in Western Civilization while only fundamentalist religious experience seems to insulate many in the masses from that same fate. The prisons are fuller every day with those who would buck this system and refuse to capitulate to "the majorities" instituted lifestyle or acceptable behaviors.

In my opinion, our only future hope is to return to the "power of one" I have periodically talked about on this blog. It would be prudent to be careful what we accept as fact in modern day media and even philosophical/faith oriented readings. The amount of deviation on core facts and historical perspectives is mind-boggling, and the reality is a vast majority of humanity have no time or education to analyze what truth really is. For those of us who do have that time or background...it is very troubling to sort through all the distortion and mis information to arrive at reasonably justified positions on most any subject...and on top of that this is a very lonely path to take in life.

The major irony of this whole subject is that the institutions of religion and government have gotten so far from their origin of purpose, they actually work as an antithesis of what their original purposes were. Religion was supposed to unify man around core beliefs and principles of morality that would unify, protect and explain the meaning of life and community. Instead religion has turned into the great divider of mankind...turning ourselves on each other towards some Darwinianesqe nightmare process of survival of the most committed...instead of focusing our attention on the truly divine or awe of that which cannot be explained. Instead, we count on religion to explain everything to us so we don't have to pursue truth for ourselves or on our own terms.

When it comes to contemporary democracy...we once again have allowed the institution of government to overrun the actual "will of the people". The will of the people seems now bent on being protected and "taken care of" versus having to face the world individually and make the most of it that we can as individuals. The labels of self are now focused on what you "do", believe, whether you are right, left, moderate or independent. It has nothing to do with your qualities or most inner self anymore. Self has been sacrificed on the altar of "the common good". The pressure is to conform, or be ruled as inconsequential.

Finally, I leave you with a few favorite quotes on religion and democracy...

"I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." Galileo (1632)

"Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is." Ghandi

"My country is the world, and my religion is to do good." Thomas Paine

"We have put God in a box, and branded him to look and act a lot like..."us" ...me

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." CS Lewis

"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."...Hermann Goering (Nazi leader)

"The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within." Ghandi

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Socialization of the Mind...

I have some new friends in my life...young entrepreneurs in their 20s from the USA who are in Panama examining global business opportunities in Latin America. I have to say I have been stimulated and encouraged by them to be more hopeful that change is possible and there is still hope for the human race even in light of the dark clouds of current world affairs.

One of these new friends, Stephen (not actual name), is a good looking young man of 19 years...who graduated college at age 17, has been in business with his father since age 15, and already wise and better read than most people of any age. To find a person like this in this day and age is like a refreshing drink of cold water after spending years in a scorched desert. I am going to start referring to Stephen as "John Galt", the hero and mastermind character in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" who in the story caused the "...withdrawing (of) the "minds" that drive society's growth and productivity; with their strike these creative minds hope to demonstrate that the economy and society would collapse without the profit motive and the efforts of the rational and productive." If you haven't read "Atlas Shrugged", you can get a short synopsis of it at this wikipedia link...though I highly recommend reading the whole book.

Anyways, from my conversation with Stephen, I was reminded of a few previous thoughts I have had about the socialization of the mind and how modern media and culture is so effectively keeping the collective consciousness in a retarded state of being. This collective morass continues to grovel in subservience to the existing global powers and medias...most of which emanate rumors and innuendos into such a frothy state that we consume lies and misdirection like we would our favorite dessert...we like ours "a la mode". We consume this drivel until we actually believe many of the lies ourselves...or fall victim to focusing our attention on trivialities or the blood and gore of "others" so we don't have to look at the devastation of our own realities.

When I asked Stephen what was the backdrop for his advanced state of education, understanding and individuality at such an early age, his answer was astoundingly simple. (I paraphrase) "I grew up in a town of 20 people in the USA, home schooled until I went to college, and basically didn't have anybody telling me what "grade level" I should be reading or doing math at. My natural mind and curiosity never repressed had me doing college algebra at 8 years of age and instead of watching TV or other common wastes of time, I was a voracious reader".

The key for this young man as I perceived him was that he had no "controls" on his mind, time or capacities. Even though he has lived most of his life in a very remote part of America, through books and objective observation of the media he developed a very wide grasp of society, various civilizations, governments and religions. While he was raised in a mainstream protestant religious tradition...he also seems quite objective and ambivalent about religion as he has put his background in perspective with other religious and philosophical studies. This is a young man who has keen observations and reasons for his positions...and he is quite sure of what he thinks...and at least as far as I'm concerned...he is spot on in so many regards. To sum this up...he has learned "TO THINK".

He told me that his first real "socialization" took place at a major state university at age 15. It was there that he realized...and continues to portend...that mass or public "education" is very limited and futile. It is more about "programming" than educating. Grades and other rewards go to those who "conform", please the teacher/professor, and go with the flow. Those who question too much...or even "know more than the teacher"...are reprimanded, sometimes taunted, but usually just ignored. He also said "Most students don't take responsibility for their own educations. With good teachers students just perform up to the standards laid out for them to "get the grade", and if its a bad teacher and they get a bad grade, they just blame and accept the limitations of the teacher/professor." The macro for me on this is most humans simply accept the limitations placed on them...their status in life, the authorities in their lives, and never question what they are taught. This is what makes the growing tide of humanity good little "robots" instead of free thinking, free living individuals without limits.

I am reminded of the effective ad I saw over the years in the USA of "the mind is a terrible thing to waste"...which basically is used to support the idea of bettering public education. Unfortunately I think it has come down to the fact that if someone really wants to enhance their or their child's educations, they are better off to school them at home or not at all. Encourage/teach a child to read and write and then let them go. If they don't have fast foods, fast video games and 2000 TV channels to fill up their time and minds...they just might reach their potential intellectually and otherwise. They might have to use their imaginations. Unfortunately, our society from parents, to teachers, to institutional leaders are more interested in uniform behavior and thinking..."behavior modification" if you want to put it in psychological terms. Creativity is out the window. Even those foreign students in the world who are arguably surpassing the accomplishments of USA students overall are only learning to copy ideas and functionality versus learning creativity or originality. Individuals in very controlled environments generally will NOT learn to think creatively. There is a huge difference between tasks performed by "rote" versus originality of thought and action.

Just like economics where the world is seeing things going in polar directions...the rich are richer and the poor are poorer...you are seeing the same in the battle for the mind in my estimation. There are fewer really excelling or ALLOWED to excel in the world, while the general global mindset falls further behind the curve. Just this reality could be the key factor why our world leaders cannot sort out the simplest of conflicts and must uncomprehendingly resort to brute force and mortal solutions to "control" the world. Reason and thought are out the window at most levels of global leadership. The focus is on maintaining power and equilibrium of the status quo or requiring acceptance of religious factions and dogma as the underpinnings for major peace agreements or from which to establish borders and sovereignty. The failed leaders do not want to give up their power and influence...and those that have the knowledge and/or wisdom are afraid to exercise it because they realize they will soon be overpowered and out-voiced...in many cases thrown into prisons...because of their words, ideas or "contrariness" to popular opinion or religious dogma.

Another interesting illustration of these changes in the world came out in our conversations yesterday. In one short lifetime, my friends and I have seen actual DNA changes based on human meddling in the animal kingdom. Mankind is caught up in "trophy hunting"...which primarily is about hunting for the strongest and fittest example of a species, and then killing it and placing it on our wall as an example of our prowess and strength as "hunters". In the animal kingdoms of North America, and now Africa and other continents, you are seeing the complete obliteration of certain species and the "taming" of what were once independent and wild species into domesticated, more subservient lineages serving the needs of the masses for either menial labor or food supply. The brunt of the matter is that when you breed formerly savage or wild animals...whether it be bison, horses, deer, or even bear or lions...in captivity and a sedated state of being...that species of animal will weaken and they will continue to morph or evolve into some form of domesticated, broken spirited animal...no different than a dog or a cat. They will evolve into being BORN in that condition.

I believe we are seeing this phenomenon within the human race. Most humans live and operate in an oppressive, subservient state of existence. Their purpose is to serve the greater good. They are rewarded for being "role model citizens" who obey all the rules. They are rewarded for being a "team player". It is rude and punishable behavior to disagree or have a strong opinion contrary to the majority. To be self sacrificing for "God", country or your fellow man is held up as the highest honor and purpose in life. And while bravery, sacrifice for freedom, or coming to the aid of your fellow man can be noble and good...even these greatest of qualities are manipulated and misused by man's institutions who perpetuate the circumstances which demand or legislate those human sacrifices. True life and freedom is NOT sacred to those governments or religions who perpetuate war and conflict...yet they purport to positions over our lives as "protectors" and "advocates" of our individual rights and freedoms. What a preposterous lie and cover up of the reality!

I don't know where the reader of this stands related to how socialized your thinking has become. I would only call into question an honest evaluation of what your potential was, is or will be...and challenge each of us to reprogram our minds from any influence or activity that keeps us from reaching our individual potential. The key is not who or what will HELP US achieve...but ridding ourselves of any influences that would KEEP US from achieving or have us compromise who we are or what we think..."for the greater good". When every individual is free like my young friend to grow at their own pace, free and unfettered by the "social effect", only then will we truly see all of humanity rise to its potential and control of its future level of existence.

Freedom of the mind is more important than freedom of the body.

Friday, October 16, 2009

American VAT tax coming...

"This Center for Freedom and Prosperity Foundation video explains why a value-added tax would be a dangerous money machine for big government. The evidence from Europe also shows that VATs actually lead to higher income taxes." www.freedomandprosperity.org

I spotted this on Sam's "Prima Panama" blog today and I have periodically shared videos from this same group before on this blog. It just strikes me as absurd that with the current loss of jobs and continually stressed economy that the USA government can add on top of everything else a VAT. When are the voters/citizens going to say ENOUGH! and demand downsizing and balancing of budgets? How many companies and high income citizens need to leave their own country leaving a productive vacuum in their wake before America wakes up to the reality of its dilemma and potential demise.

The DOW is up and America is rejoicing as far as I can tell from watching CNN and FOX this past week. DOW gets past 10,000...whoopee! The dollar continues to fall to all new lows against many currencies and gold and precious metals are at now highs. What does that tell even the most casual economic bystander? What indicators are driving the market?

I'll place my bets on Nouriel Roubini's perspective over the USA media's spin meisters...as he states in today's blog and article at BBC News...

By Michelle Fleury

Business reporter, BBC News, New York

The US economist widely credited with having predicted the financial crisis has warned we are already "planting the seeds of the next crisis".

Nouriel Roubini told the BBC that he is concerned about the growing gap between the "bubbly and frothy" stock markets and the real economy.

Over the last six months, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen about 45%.

But Mr Roubini says he sees an economy where consumers are "shopped out" and "debt burdened".

'Crisis not over'

Based on the run up in share prices in recent months, investors appear to be betting that good times are around the corner. A view not shared by Mr Roubini.

"The crisis is not yet over," the New York University professor said.

"I see an economy where the consumers are shopped out, debt burdened, they have to cut back consumption and save more.

"The financial system is damaged... and for the corporate sector I don't see a lot of capital spending because there is a glut of capacity."

Mr Roubini believes US house prices have further to fall, straining America's fragile recovery.

'Frothy markets'

Property prices have already declined sharply. According to the National Association of Realtors, the national median has dropped almost 13% from a year ago to $177,700 (£110,100).

Many believe the crises in the residential market could spread to the commercial real estate market causing more headaches for the banks.

So where does the "froth" in the markets come from?

Mr Roubini - like many other economists - believes it is engineered by the Federal Reserve and the government which has been pumping cash into the economy to dampen the pain of the recession.

"There is a wall of liquidity chasing assets," he said. "But I think that there is a growing gap between what is the asset prices and the real economy."

Although he thinks there will be a correction, he believes some of the mistakes of the past can be avoided if reforms are implemented .

I continue to be totally baffled and amazed at the ludicrous controls and spins the Federal Reserve and government are placing on the markets. We are quickly getting to the point of no return on runaway inflation, runaway taxation and big government, and for sure only a revolution in American's thinking and actions will be able to restore it to its former greatness.

What used to be "God bless the USA" is quickly turning into the prayer "God HELP the USA"...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Banking and other service atrocities in Panama...

Last week I saw a very entertaining movie called "The Ugly Truth", an adult comedy on the differences between men and women and how it is oft times hard to be honest about the differences between the sexes. I feel it is now time, if only for my sanity sake and for the sake of full disclosure on "living in Panama" that I express the "ugly truth" about banking and general service culture in Panama.

There are many charms and advantages to living in Panama and Latin America in general from a cultural and surely financial standpoint. The cost and stress of living on a daily basis is significantly reduced from "first world" living and if you can adapt and understand the Latin way of living, your life can be overall changed and improved as far as quality is concerned...IF you are willing to back way from your first world service expectations.

The biggest reason over 70% of foreigners who try and move offshore to Latin America return to their homelands within 2 years is simply the disillusion with basic services in their new-found country of residence. Sure, there are other main reasons like the isolation from family and friends back home and the often difficult challenge of making new friends and establishing camaraderie with locals ...especially if you don't know the local language and customs. But 90% of the people I talk to who are "heading out" from these pristine shores, their decision is based on their disillusionment with basic services, dishonesty and downright being robbed blind for being a "handicapped foreigner". What I mean by "handicapped foreigner" is the lack of equal rights and even pricing when it comes to basic goods and services tied to the inability of many "expats" to communicate and reason in the local language. If you are not able to communicate clearly or have many layers of people "handling" your basic service needs in Panama and elsewhere...you are definitely a walking target for inequity and even abuse.

Let me start the "Ugly" list of stories and experiences to back my premise. If you move or even just try to set up business in these Latin countries, you need to understand that you are...and will always be...the outsider. Some of us are used to that within the makeup of our personalities, way of thinking and general individualism as we decipher our life experiences. But a majority of people I think go through life quite dependent on "others", whether it be government, family or work friends. You cannot depend on much or any of that in these emerging Latin markets. You have to be self-sufficient and made of "Teflon"...letting difference and contrariness roll off you without affecting your state of being either emotionally, physically or financially.

The first and biggest area of disappointment I have found in living and doing business in Panama and elsewhere in Latin America is the totally dysfunctional and bureaucratic banking institutions. While Panama boasts the purported second largest financial center in the WORLD, the accessibility and functionality within that sector of Panama's economy is alarming and appalling. I could write a mini-book here of personal and friend's stories related to dealing with banks in Panama and Costa Rica. To take up the challenge of an abridged version of the story, let me give a few brief descriptions of some of these experiences...and while it probably would not make much difference if a Panamanian banker, government official or bank regulator read this, it is at least self serving therapy to put this in writing...and wishing they WOULD read and be affected by these experiences.

Banking and establishing new accounts in Panama is all about WHO you know...not WHAT you know. You can know ALL the processes, and if you are lucky enough to find a bank that actually writes down all the qualifying measures of establishing a banking relationship with them...you can complete every item of the checklist and they will still come back to you with 5, 8 or a dozen additional items they "forgot" or need in order to establish you as a client. Now this reality is mostly just for us "little guys" or small business. If you are a large "money launderer" or multi-national company with millions to put in their bank...you can forget about any requirement list and basically get your account open on a handshake between "friends" in a few hours.

Obviously in the last few years there have been a mountain of new regulations and international pressure on banks everywhere including Panama to "know their customer" and gather more data on account holders. It has become quite evident that even Panama's purported "bank privacy laws" are meaningless within large international or USA based banks in Panama. The international banking laws and primarily the USA's anti-terrorism and money laundering regulations run rough shod over Panama's own bank sovereignty and regulations. Banks worldwide are now basically the first line of protection and information gathering/sharing...for governments...not for their clients. Banks in Panama that are international will share all info on foreign clients through data exchange with the domicile banking or government requests, no matter what the local regulations may say. So one must recognize right out of the gate that entering into a banking relationship with most international banks equals giving up your privacy and control on YOUR money and you are basically giving license to the banks and governments everywhere to share information on everything they can find out about you. They will know and will reveal to each other every transaction you make if requested: where you buy your groceries, what bar you drink at, who you do business with and even what sexual services or products you chose to purchase or participate in. Now many "moralists" would argue "what is wrong with that...you shouldn't be doing anything that would embarrass you in public or that you wouldn't want the government to know about". Unfortunately, that mentality feeds right into the global mentality that collective need and greed is more important than individual rights and sovereignty. I have enough blogs on those issues, so won't regurgitate that theme here...but that mentality does impact all the way to the relationship between you and your banker. Basically...outside of small private banks, YOU don't have a banker...the government does.

There are many stories both in Panama and internationally that prove in action that the money in most bank accounts can be frozen or absconded by a government or banking entity just based on an unproven accusation or "suspicion" of wrong doing. Due process and legal notification which used to be a staple of first world financial systems are out the window in recent years...and it seems the majority agree with this mentality...until they become victim to false charges or lawsuits that tie up THEIR bank accounts. So out of the gate I am saying here that banking anywhere including Panama starts with the premise that any assets you have in those institutions are "public" knowledge and the banks primary interest always seems to fall on the side of "reporting" your financial life to any institution that requests that knowledge.

If you cross swords or publicize your displeasure with your bank/banker, they often times can simply tie up or cancel your account without cause or notice. There was a high profile case here in Panama a couple years ago with Bank of America where a North American millionaire owned a Panama company and had those corporate funds lodged with Bank of America. When the client experienced bad service continually and had money even disappearing mysteriously from that corporate account, he filed a law suit and went public with his displeasure after getting no satisfaction for his grievances with the bank. The response of the bank was to freeze his company's millions on account and counter sue him for "defamation". This was done according to the press without notification to the client and within a 24 hour period with no due process. As far as I know that case is still pending a couple years later...because the other reality is that in Panama the due process of law is very slow and backlogged (I'll get to lawyers and the legal profession in a minute)...and in essence you are guilty until proven innocent...UNLESS you are a government official or part of the wealthy elite.

My final point for now in regards to banks is regarding the process for getting a mortgage, or what they call "hipoteca", down here. The banks advertise some very competitive rates compared to the international markets for mortgages and for interest on deposits in these banks, but the reality is for foreigners that only those who don't really need a mortgage can get one. If you're willing to lock up money in a savings account in Panama, then the banks will loan you up to 80% of the value of YOUR money. They won't even care that much about the value of the real estate that they ALSO have first position on if you default on payment. That's a pretty secure position for the bank and a main reason why the local banks in Panama are overall healthier than USA banks.

When people come here and ask me how long it will take to get a mortgage or bank account open, I have to honestly tell them "anywhere from one to six months". When I first moved to Panama, I was fortunate to have developed a relationship with a law firm who introduced me to one of the major Panamanian banks who helped me open an account in about 10 days. I am sorry to report that is VERY rare today. The Panama bank system has succumbed and surrendered to so much additional regulation and paperwork that even with an attorney representing you, it will usually take minimally 2-4 weeks to get an account opened. One law firm I used to recommend for this service are no longer offering the service of opening bank accounts, because they have lost many big customers through the client's reactions to not getting accounts qualified and opened within a reasonable time...and most times the attorney is not to blame...but is blamed anyways. These banks almost daily lose files, lose significant documents within a file, or just get so backlogged that they won't tell you a time-line for getting your account. And if you are doing all the footwork/paperwork yourself...it can become a full time job for a number of weeks to run through all the hoops or collect all the information they want on you or your company before they will take your money.

I just had a good friend go through the ringer with a major local bank in getting a mortgage on his condo. He wanted to do some improvements on his place, had paid cash for the condo which market value is currently around $160,000. He has excellent credit in the USA and no issues in Panama with an existing bank account at another local bank for the past 4 years. He only applied for a $10,000 mortgage...over 3 months ago. The bank has told him 3 different times in these 3 months that "everything is done". He was told 2 months ago that legal had approved his paperwork and the money would be in his account in 2 days...so he went back to the USA thinking everything was done. When the money never showed up in his account he had to call for over a week from the USA to find out the reason for no deposit having been made. He was told TWO MONTHS LATER that he had to have fire insurance on the condo...and a $40,000 life insurance policy with them as first insured...in order to grant the mortgage. He has now spent the last 10 days in Panama pursuing these insurance policies...had them delivered to the bank one week ago...and still no release of funds. He figures it has now cost him an additional $1500 in time and travel costs to secure this $10,000 loan on a $160,000 bay-front condo in Panama and of course repents ever starting this process. In fact, he is so annoyed with Panama's lack of service and basic ethics in business that I know where you can buy a nice furnished bay-front condo for $160,000.

Now a short word about the "Legal" profession in Panama. I have a list of 20+ lawyers and/or firms that I have had direct experience with in Panama...and there are only 2 that I would still speak to or recommend. Even then, my recommendation would be based on WHAT services one would need legally, because the best lawyers specialize in something, whether it be immigration, corporations, taxation, criminal law, etc. Any one that tells you they can handle ALL your legal needs is misrepresenting themselves and just out to fleece you for every dollar they can get. The other rule is "pay as you go". Do not pay retainers or more than a token deposit towards a legal pursuit...because in most cases they will take your money and go on vacation or put you at the bottom of some pile that a "clerk" is supposed to get to sometime this year. If you are lucky enough to find an attorney who executes quickly, pay them on time and keep them close by as your best friend...because that is the only way you will get legal recourse in a reasonable period of time. Oh...and the attorney needs to be well connected politically at all levels to adequately service you...at the executive, judicial and legislative government levels. Again I say, in Panama and throughout Latin America, it's not WHAT you know, but WHO you know that counts in getting things done in banking or "lawyering". I also have to add that the USA system really works on the same basis if you think about it for a minute. Connections or having money means everything for getting things done quickly and efficiently...

And finally, a summary on services in Panama. Both Panama and Costa Rica overstate their capabilities and cultures related to tourism and service. There are some beautiful places to go and amazing things to see and do in these countries, but don't assume just any agency or tour guide is going to assure you a good and safe time. Very low percentages of these populations speak anything but Spanish...and their desire or initiative to learn or expand their horizons are overall non existent. There are reasons why repeat tourism to these countries is very low. Most people here don't know how to say "please" or "thank-you" in the discourse of service. Many will tell you they are "trying" or "wanting" to learn English or learn a trade or skill to improve their life potential, but a very small percentage actually take ACTION on their dream or goal. This is primarily because a majority in this culture WORK to LIVE...not LIVE to WORK. I see very little pride taken in service or professions at least at the lower income levels in Panama and elsewhere in the region. Sure, you can find excellent and inexpensive health-care, first world shopping malls, and many fine bars and restaurants. But only a small percentage will have what I would term "world class service mentality". Its unfortunately just not part of their culture or educational systems...yet.

To end on a positive note, I would say that while being a bit backward and lazy, the general Panamanian culture is moving SLOWLY towards raising the standard of living and service mentality for all. There are many new real estate projects and homes for the middle and lower classes in addition to a myriad of high priced luxury homes for the global elite. There is movement by the new administration to level the playing field of opportunity to all classes of people and to get some checks and balances put on the ever present corruption and misappropriation of funds in government. But, I have to be honest and suggest not to expect change very quickly. It is going to take 2-3 more generations to majorly impact the service mentality in Panama...and they are going to have to focus on educating the very young...because in Panama you just can't "teach an old dog new tricks"...