Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lets Evolve in the New Year...

Another New Years day is upon us...and while it will hopefully be full of good friends, good football, and celebration of life...hopefully it will also launch some real New Years resolutions that will improve our outlooks.

I had another theme prepared for this blog...but last minute have decided a more IMPORTANT message is preferable and succinct. I wrote a whole spiel on "being positive and not focusing on the negative all around us" to keep us going in forward motion. Now I think a better message is the following:

The UNhappiness in the world is primarily about people NOT evolving from their primordial roots and being manipulated to imitate previous generation`s UNhappiness or bitterness about the past...which keeps them from moving forward. Most of our inability to function anywhere near full capacity is based on living daily with the recorded "tapes" in our minds of people and institutions telling us who we are or what can or cannot do. Until we can throw off the yokes of mental slavery of our past experiences, we will not excel, evolve or be free to reach our potentials.

Here is to a happier, more evolved New Year :)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Panama Invasion

December 20th is a somber date in Panama`s modern history. Only 22 years ago this month the USA invaded this small country of around 3 Million people in order to take out its dictatorial leader, one Manuel Noriega.

While many may say that Panama of today is totally different and has "boomed" since its "liberation" from dictatorial leadership...I have to question the "totally different" claim. After almost 7 years living here, while I see billions of dollars of new skyscrapers going up everywhere on the skyline...I am not convinced there is much change in the Panamanian people or culture over all. Sure, there are currently more jobs and a higher standard (cost) of living for many people here...but I am not seeing much of the sense of "liberation" in the words and attitudes of my host country.

As is a common theme in my global blogs, I question many of the assumptions and media hyped manipulations of what is and isn't going on here as well as the rest of the world. While many of us who are somewhat educated or come from a more wealthy perspective may find Panama to be a nice calm place to settle in for either retirement or investment, there is a sick underside to what is going on in this country that should be examined in balance to the superficial buildings and gigantic projects such as the Canal expansion and the Metro. The GNP and employment statistics look wonderful for such a small county of still less than 4 Million people. The new "Cinta Costera" boulevard around the bay and the new island being built before our eyes off Punta Pacifica makes this place appear to be the new "Dubai" of the western hemisphere.

Yet, as I read the local papers, listen to the news and talk to Panamanians I am trying to make friends with...I find that among the regular working or poor classes in Panama...they are not in the loop or benefiting much in the long run from these past two decades of "change". If anything, their cost of living is rising significantly compared to their wage base...and with the recently passed TLC trade agreement with the USA and Colombia, many of their agricultural products may end up competing poorly against the higher production and lower prices of the trading partner's goods. If that happens, the locals will be getting less profit on their products, and paying higher prices in the local markets for those same goods. There is no such thing as true "free trade" in today`s markets...and Panama has little or no manufacturing of products outside of agricultural. Most other products (cars, materials, tvs, computers, etc...) are imported and higher priced than they are in the USA or other global markets. This surely does not help the average Panamanian get ahead in this scenario of modern day Panama.

So...what was accomplished on those dark days of December 1989? Pictures and videos speak much louder than words on what took place. The justifications of why are what I think much more complicated...and unfortunately has little to do with the Panamanian people. There are a number of books out there to read perspective by, and I must admit I have been more busy learning and living in Panama in the first person than pursuing many of those third person written accounts or interpretations. I have been reading more from the faces, words, memories and attitudes of typical Panamanians I have met over these years.

While no one I have met admires or wants a return of the likes of Manuel Noriega in leadership, there are many who still prefer his comradeship to that of the oligarchy and political powers of today. Corruption is STILL hugely rampant in this business and in politics. There is no independent judiciary to speak of, so justice is based on who you know and how they like or don`t like you as a local or a foreigner. Supreme Justices are appointed by the President, so that makes justice a very political exercise. Having protection because of WHO you know is comforting for those within those circles, but lets face the fact that a majority of the population are helpless and at the systems mercy if all they know is WHAT their rights SHOULD be. I don`t know what the USA expected to happen post invasion on this front...but from what I have seen...and observed/read about in other places like Iraq, Nicaragua, etc...the results of our invasions and global "policing" are pathetic in comparison to the price in lives and dollars we have paid.

We typical, everyday Americans have no clue what and why our government does these things. We wake up one morning...such as it was in December our leader telling us we have ALREADY invaded a foreign land. No warning, no DECLARATION of war, not invited by any internal leadership group. Immediately we Americans get on our flag waving, Bible toting bandwagons in support of what our government has decided...without our participation or voice. I truly hope after this past decade of demise in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan that we are finally learning our lesson. Our military actions are NOT appreciated. The collateral damage of our actions are NOT acceptable. We the people can no longer afford to blindly agree to the machinations of our flawed leaders, political or military. We truly should become the moral, righteous nation we claim to be...even a Christian nation if that is what you want (see my recent blog on that topic).

Poetry in life continues to rear its sometimes ugly head. I cant claim to know why the various country leaders got together to bring Noriega back to Panama just before the anniversary of that unfortunate invasion this month. What politics are in play for passing this Noriega "hot potato" back and forth in the international justice arena for over 22 years? We (Americans and Panamanians) paid a huge price to "take him into custody", and now nobody wants this ugly bundle of human tragedy and waste.

For me the question always is...why does my country spend the money and lives on taking out some of these tyrants in the "bring them to justice"? What happened with justice for the hundreds and possibly thousands of innocent Panamanians who were killed during that short invasion and assault? Why is the guy we were after still alive almost into his 80s, while so many young, poor and middle class Panamanians are forever lost to their families and hopeful futures? Millions of dollars have been spent in international courts and tribunals and sustaining this one pitiful life in jail...for justice...while no one seems to care about the justice of all those Panamanians seen in the video above. How does this make sense to anyone?

These issues are not very comfortable for typical Americans to discuss or rationalize. We dont want to face the facts of our own barbarianism in world affairs. We don`t want to face the hypocrisy of our hidden agendas and power brokering ways that do not particularly defend the rights of all men and women equally. Yes, we have done many noble things in the two World Wars of this century. Our country has spent considerable money and resources on famine relief and rebuilding countries we have helped tear down through the ravages of war. The question we should ask ourselves is WHY do we continue this cycle of tearing down and building up again...and in most cases getting no respect or appreciation for it? I think we have to face the music that much of the world looks at Americans in a very different light than we see ourselves. We might want to start considering that it IS important how the world views us from a standpoint of trust and stability. Most Americans back home that I talk to have very little concern about how foreign countries view us. As long as WE feel good about ourselves...that seems to be the only thing that matters. Yet, I would argue that in the new globalized world we live in with huge reliance on interconnected economies and ruling international institutions...our reputation and true morality is more required than ever before in protection of our OWN interests and sustaining our future in the US of A.

Most of you will not understand the lyrics to Ruben Blades song above. Most of you will not connect with the images of the charred out buildings and bodies on the ground if you have not been in Panama City and met these people face to face. I will tell you though...that we continue to live with the fallout of this action. We Americans living or working in Panama are the face of those who invaded. The few locals who are "happy" about our invasion are those who profited or took power from the vacuum we produced when we left a short time later. A majority of people here RESENT the fact of our invasion...even if they are also happy that Noriega is gone. Their question justifiably is...why did we have to kill so many innocent people to do so? Why could we not have just paid someone to take him out individually? Why could we not have worked behind the scenes politically and otherwise to replace him or get at him? We may never understand the answers to those questions...but I have never identified with the USA policy of non-assassination of despot leaders in the world or in-clandestine operations...yet we readily defend our carpet bombing, strafing skills and expensive Drone planes firing on indiscriminate targets. Something is hugely askew with our perspectives on morality.

As we Americans enjoy our holidays and contemplate a New Year, I hope we spend some time thinking about the motivations and results of our actions as a country...and hopefully commit to a more peaceful, patient, and yes...Christian...approach to our problems and conflicts throughout the world.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Panama, France and "laissez-faire"

Recent political news in Panama features conflicts between President Martinelli of Panama and France`s leader President Sarkozy. It seems that just after Martinelli`s visit to France to review among other things the terms and conditions for the release of former dictator Noriega for return to Panama custody...Sarkozy chose the following week to claim that Panama is not cooperating with them on collecting taxes from their countrymen or corporations in Panama. I guess the meetings in France did not create good karma for whatever reasons. Now Panama authorities are retaliating by cancelling business and finance deals with French sources on some of the major projects going on in Panama.

Regardless of France`claims, I as a foreigner living in Panama can attest to the fact that Panama and its banks have made it much more difficult to open accounts and do business as foreign entities in this small Latin country. It strikes me as somewhat disingenuous of France to make this claim based on what I have seen first hand of the changes and increased taxation taking place in Panama.

What might be more interesting on this front has been the many comments and reactions I have read internationally to this charge. It is quite obvious that France, the USA, Great Britain, and many other Western countries have found themselves in more desperate hard times than they are willing to admit. There is no doubt that there is significant cash flow LEAVING these high tax countries. Of course, the real issue is that it is not foreign money leaving these former economic powerhouses...but significant domestic funds are leaving for better opportunities and lower taxation as well. While it is no shock that these countries are trying to stop that exodus of is still arguably immoral and illegal for these governments to do so. What they are in fact admitting is that they have allowed their systems to become upside down in debt and social entitlement to the point where their governance is unsustainable. It is much easier to blame a country of less than 4 Million inhabitants for your troubles than to accept blame and take REAL measures to give your constituents real incentives to stay the course behind your leadership economically and otherwise.

While few of us really understand the powers that function behind these superpower trading blocks, there is no doubt that Centralized global funds are running scared. There are huge discrepancies between the economies of many of these main political and governmental partners. They have truly grown "too big to manage" versus "too big to fail". The "Superpowers" of current western persuasion are trying to unite in their efforts to stop the bleeding of funds leaving their losing propositions for more upside elsewhere in the developing world. If people`s votes in these supposed democracies vote against investment and for highly taxing retained profits...the money will find a way to go elsewhere. And yes, you can see a lot of it in the Panama construction boom and rise in domestic and international financing here.

Outside of losing military protections in the canal zone, I find it hard to identify motivators for Panama to work WITH the USA and other superpowers in sustaining their high tax systems. Cant any of these players just admit that "globalization" is here to stay and that tomorrows winners will be those countries who offer the best incentives and lifestyles for living, working and investing within those few countries? Must the world continue to bear the saber rattling and cries of "fowl play" from governments that have been upside down economically for decades now? Must countries like Germany, Switzerland and even Asian countries like China, Taiwan and Singapore continue to bail out the former empirical powers of the West?

Western Civilization has overall lost its edge on managing productivity and profits. They continue to fail in legislating moralities and redistribution of wealth. Technology and globalization has now irrevocably taken away any monopolistic opportunities for superpowers to hog resources or control global money flows. Even the recent unconstitutional taxes that the USA has passed will ultimately fail to rescue their sinking ideology. Only continued market competition between regions and states will keep a real score on who wins the global competition on profits and upward mobility. I would argue that Latin America is getting set to realize significant, sustainable growth primarily because they are now more independent of the superpowers to do so. The USA has lost its insider relationship with these countries...primarily because it has been so preoccupied with fighting terrorism. Unfortunately, they have gotten so caught up in the fighting that they have forgotten it takes money and productivity to create and sustain the machinations of warfare. It is a losing proposition I am afraid. Just look at the lack of fanfare over the USA`s complete pull out of Iraq. Where are all the bands and flag-wavers on this one?

So, this brings us back to little Panama. While all of this global hoopla has been going on over terrorism and EURO meltdowns...Panama and other countries in this region have been growing fast and furious. Banks are full of cash, and unemployment rates are next to nothing....and now the likes of Sarkozy and USA voices come out of the woodwork crying about their loss of revenues and investment to these little Banana Republics.

While all is not perfect in Panama...and I fear they are living and investing in the same track as the USA did historically with big debt against irrational income expectations and is little wonder Panama and other democracies in this region are garnering such huge upticks in economic growth and production. France and other Western powers should simply focus more on encouraging their citizens and domestic companies to become more productive and competitive. Quit making it so easy for the Panamas of the world to pick your pockets of prosperity. After all, "laissez-faire" is a French word and concept...meaning an environment "in which transactions between private parties are free from state intervention, including restrictive regulations, taxes, tariffs and enforced monopolies...and literally means "let do", but it broadly implies "let it be", or "leave it alone."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why the Average American Investor will always get "shafted"....

--These guys...Paulson and Bernake...are the biggest manipulators and culprits in the manipulation of markets that were supposedly regulated and "free"--

This article about how the US Secretary of the Treasury Paulson gave hedge funds advance word of the government bailout of Fannie Mae is just the latest of many instances where government and SEC insiders get a huge advantage in the American markets over the average American investor. The people MAKING the rules are continually BREAKING them...without reproof.

I continue to believe that investors in the American markets will never get a fair shake while the market manipulators or their lackies are running the SEC and Wall Street. The "old boys club" continues to be alive and well as it always has been. A very small fraction of inside traders get caught or convicted. It is only the middle level or small time players who get taken to the cleaners when someone accuses them...while the guys at the top like Paulson always have a finger to point elsewhere or run under the cover of the most expensive lawyers Wall Street can afford...which are the "best".

I was a licensed investment broker in the mid 1980s and have seen this stuff from up close and personal. It sickened me then, and it sickens me now. These machinations are a big part of the reason I got out of the broker racket. Unless you are part of the inside track machine, you might want to reconsider the idea of investing in direct stocks.