Saturday, March 24, 2012

A few words from Richard Russell

(From THIS Richard Russell...who has been writing and correctly predicting market swings for over 50 years. One might also glean understanding from his website articles HERE...)

After reading some recent quotes and descriptions about Mr Russell, I have decided to forward some of his contemporary thoughts on where our markets are at...and the mistakes the USA government is making in leading our people down the WRONG path of correction.

There are not many opinions with the depth of experience and knowledge behind them as those of Richard Russell.

He’s been studying “the language of the markets” for more than half a century.

“The primary trend is down,” Russell told a select group of friends and investment professionals recently.

In the end, Russell believes that no matter what Obama and Bernanke do, the primary trend will have its way. The bear market will continue until it “has fully expressed itself.”

“What would you do if you were suddenly in a position of power in the United States?” asked one of the guests at the recent gathering.

“Nothing,” replied Russell.

“I’d do nothing. I’d let it happen. I’d let the bear market do its work.”

But that’s not what President Obama – who’s just over half Russell’s age – is doing.

Obama wants the government to act. And this means tax, print, spend and legislate.

Prop up failed automakers. Stuff money into zombie banks. ‘Stimulate’ with pork-laden spending bills.

This year’s first ‘stimulus’ plan has conspicuously failed to create the millions of jobs the president promised. Reports indicate that the White House is now working on yet another stimulus’ to spend even more money out of an empty pocket.

Of course, Obama plans to print trillions of fresh new dollar bills to pay for it all.

Obama doesn’t remember the Great Depression. Richard Russell does.

We should start listening more to people like Richard Russell versus CNN, Bloomberg, FOX and other networks who exist almost solely to support the status quo New World Order of business and economics.

The "new" Liberal thinking is that governments can control the carnage that are sometimes caused by pure market conditions. The USA has been trying to do this since before Franklin Roosevelt's "new deal"...which was supposed to be a "temporary" emergency measure to protect the USA from the devastation and effects of the "Great Depression". While many of its measures have "worked" for over 70 years...we are just now starting to wake up to the realization of the cost and what kind of society and financial system this has brought into effect.

There are now very few fundamental FACTS that drive the world markets. Markets are now totally manipulated by emotion...centralized control of money systems...government bailouts and manipulations out of the public dole...and basically a "few" bankers and politicians in the world controlling and manipulating most of the world markets.

There are many examples of hording taking place...whether it be food or oil...and there are many examples of redistribution based on the failings of these manipulated markets to naturally perform and generate competition. Competition has now become a "bad" thing...and corporations and governments now conspire together to capture and control markets for their own self interests. THIS is what is killing capitalism...and yet some of these same players in the game are DOWNING capitalism as an old or unfair theory for economic development. Let us realize that capitalism truly is dangerous...for those who control markets and DON'T want competition.

I have come to the realization that the rest of my life will be spent fighting an uphill battle against the tyrants and controllers of the economic New World Order...which seeks to manipulate everybody using the basic theory of "for the common good". These people are TRULY evil.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Class is not about wealth

I have been thinking recently about who are the "classiest" people I have known in my life. I have been fortunate to have traveled extensively and experienced a wide wide range of people from all walks of life. I have known poor people with tons of class...and some very rich people with none at all.

Lets define "class" for a minute. The "informal adjective" definition is "of high quality, integrity, status, or style". Obviously you don`t have to have lots of money to have integrity, status, or even style. Sure, money can help one have the "appearance" of success and "style"...but to me pure class comes from WITHIN. It is about character and values more than appearances or heredity.

I am constantly challenged to live up to some of those values that came from my family and roots. I did not come from wealth...but my Scandinavian grandparents who partially raised me came from generations of agricultural backgrounds. They had very little formal education...but had taught themselves English and excelled in reading and keeping up on current events. I was continually encouraged to read and take music lessons even though the cost of books and lessons were a hardship many times. The class my single mother showed as probably the first divorced mother in our neighborhood during the early 60s was also an example of "keeping your head up when fate is throwing you a curve"...and even now as a busy productive widow...she serves as a continual lesson to me on "class". Even in her poorest years in my childhood, she always dressed to the "nines" and took care of herself. She never took drugs, drank or "ran around" in her divorced years. By maintaining her "class" even during very difficult times, she earned a much better marriage the next time around with my stepfather...who also taught me many lessons on how to live with "class". Nothing flashy. Nothing extravagant. Just quality living full of quality investments, vacations and the simple pleasures of fishing, raising Christmas trees and great outdoors experiences.

Having class to me now is how one has defined themselves based on the circumstances they came from. I have met rich people who look down on anyone else that does not have their luck or success. Many of these people inherited riches which apparently gives them license to be arrogant, boastful or egotistical. I have never understood that reaction to "inherited" wealth. Sure, one should/could be grateful...but not suddenly arrogant and egocentric.

Most of the people in my family have made their own way financially in this life. Our family values were based on hard work, independence and correct thinking. Not meaning one is right all of the time, but thinking in perspective about yourself in balance to the big picture. Taking pride in what you do and the progress you make...and yet willing to stop and help someone else who needs a hand or a gift. My classy grandparents never made much in this world, but their door was always open to extended friends and family who almost daily stopped by for "coffee"...which more times than not turned into lunch and/or dinner. Their picture should be in the dictionary to represent the meaning of the word "hospitality". They didn't have much, but they always found a way to buy quality food...or do quality things with what they had for others. I don`t find many in today's world who practice or remember the true art of "hospitality".

Our family is not necessarily affectionate physically or even verbally. Yet, at the core of our traditions is an openess to all of humanity...not threatened by race or creeds of others. There is a strong tradition of "knowing who you are"...and not feeling competitive with others about getting attention or having "things". It was more about who you are and what you do. Not some emotional trip based on materialistic gains. Every once in a while I have to remind myself of these traditions I came as not to get caught up in the social pressures of comparing myself to the masses or base my life on materialism.

Yesterday we saw the movie "Iron Lady" where Meryl Streep does a great job playing the historic role of Margaret Thatcher. One of the best quotes of the movie that struck me was when Thatcher went to the Doctor while struggling with Alzheimers and the recent loss of her husband. When the Doctor asks for the third time "how are you FEELING?"...Ms Thatcher says...

“What? What am I ‘bound to be feeling?’ People don’t think anymore. They feel. ‘How are you feeling? No, I don’t feel comfortable. I’m sorry, we as a group we’re feeling….’ One of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas. Thoughts and ideas. That interests me. Ask me what I’m thinking.”

For me, class is about "thinking"...and thinking quality thoughts. Real class is being positive while surrounded by negativity. Real class is about humility even in the midst of success and winning. Real class is not about how much you have, but what you do with what you have. Real class is how you relate to someone less fortunate than yourself and measuring people not for what they have accomplished, but for what they have survived. Real class sometimes demands going against the grain of common consent. A classy person holds their head high and stays focused on their objectives even in the midst of extreme chaos or being attacked from all sides.

Most basically, real class is about who you are, not what you own.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Jesus is a Verb...not a Noun

This interesting song by Guatemalan artist Ricardo Arjona states a number of points (in Spanish) that I have been trying to make on this blog over the years about religion.

The fundamental point is that, no matter what your fundamental beliefs are based on, it is not a bad ideal to emulate or live the recorded teachings of Jesus. The idea of true faith to me is how that faith impacts real life and action. To just believe in a religion so "you won`t go to Hell" or to give one a mystical insurance plan for a future life if you screw up in this one...that approach to belief comes up very empty to me.

To think of Jesus as a verb...(i.e. "any of a large class of words in a language that serve to indicate the occurrence or performance of an action, the existence of a state or condition") versus a noun ( a word or group of words that refers to a person, place, or thing ) is quite revolutionary and fundamental when you really consider it.

Most religions worship an image, historic books, concepts and dogmas. True faith as Jesus tried to present it 2000 years ago was more about action and BEING. If we are to fundamentally accept this difference, then what you SAY or THINK is not nearly as important as what you DO. Without action, there is no reality. Without right thinking, there is no reason or rationality to what you believe. To just STATE something is so does not MAKE it so. The essence of "spirit" is in BEING.

When you think of faith in this way...who are you really?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pros and Cons of Living in Panama

(This might be looked at as a continuation of a related blog from last year, "Is Panama Safe". Also, part 3 and 4 of this series are "Is Panama an Illusion?"  and "Further Notes on Panama Living")

OK...this blog has been 7 years in the making. Having devoted this much time primarily living in Panama, I think I now have a few qualified views to contribute to those wondering about living, working or retiring to Panama.

I see a lot of hype everyday in my mailbox or in the "news" about what its like to live in Panama. Of course, at the beginning of the conversation we must admit that it depends on "which side of the tracks" you are living on. Panama is a small country of less than 4 Million residents...yet its wealth reaches a very small proportion of that population. If you understand that basic fact, you begin to understand the framework around which I will paint this picture and tell my observations.

Trying to be as positive as possible this year, let me start with the "pros" of Panama living...

Panama is small and manageable. Even though it is very bureaucratic for its size, one can know and understand Panama more quickly than most other LatAm countries.

The "pensionado" (retirement) program for foreigners relocating to Panama is still the most aggressive and cost effective of any other Latin country. "Pensionado" is any foreigner who can afford to "retire" to Panama, regardless of their age, and they qualify for 25-35% discounts on most everything...from food to airline tickets. For this you need a VALIDATED income stream of $1000 per month, or $1500 per married couple.

Health-care is very inexpensive in Panama. An office visit for a dentist, with a cleaning and exam is anywhere from $25 to $45.

Panama City is more modern than most other cities in Central America. It has upscale malls, and great movie theaters.

Panamanians are overall peaceful and laid back. They are not as aggressive or in your face "patriotic" as many other Latin countries. Their 100+ year history of having Americans in their country building and running their canal (until that changed in 1999) helps them understand and at least accept some of the idiosyncrasies of "Americans" in their midst.

The dollar is tied to the local currency called the "Balboa". That, at least for the time being, creates more stability of currency for this region. Of course, that could all change in the future if the dollar takes an expected devaluation.

There is no Central Bank to manipulate or control the money supply in Panama. That means the banks are run more conservatively and maintain values better than much of the rest of the world. Panama is the largest international financial center after New York in the hemisphere.

Based on the huge money reserves in Panama, the past 8 years have seen a building boom unheard of in Latin America for such a small country. There are plenty of new skycrapers for condos and offices available. Of course, some of this topic will fall under "cons" as well.

Lots of late model cars and trucks on the road, and prices are about the same or even less in some cases for a new vehicle than in the USA.

If you know the right people, you can get most anything done here if you have enough money and patience to endure the process. It is easier to be a "big fish in a small pond" than vice versa.

If you like warm, the climate year around is tropical at sealevel...and there are enough higher elevation mountains such as near the northern border with Costa Rica that feature a more "springlike" climate year around.

Panama features more species of flora and fauna than most any other country...and because of its relatively small size, it is easier to find or observe those wonders of nature.

Islands, islands and more islands. If you like islands, Panama has the most of any country its size. The best beaches in Panama are at the islands...the two largest groups being "Las Perlas" islands on the Pacific side, and "San Blas Islands" on the Caribbean side.

Food and drink are much cheaper overall than the USA and elsewhere...unless you get into specialty imported items which will offset the potential savings in this department.

Cons...unfortunately I differ from many people and publications on many issues. Some of the pros I see heralded are either not true, used to be true, or just mis understood.

Doing business in Panama is not for the "amateur" or faint of heart. While there are many opportunities of small and medium scale in Panama, the bureaucracy and cultural barriers end up costing time and money that even some of the bigger international companies have turned away from and gone a different direction recently. The biggest problem in this department are the protectionist labor laws and constantly changing regulations that make any long term business planning a misnomer in Panama.

Immigration bureaucracy...and constantly changing regulations...make Panama a mess to try and reside officially and legally. There are also many contradictions between their promotion of inexpensive housing projects for foreigners...but then having immigration regulations where many of the potential buyers would not qualify for residency. If you do not have an OFFICIAL pension to qualify for "pensionado" status, then you need to invest over $300,000 in a house or in a bank account in Panama to have "investor" residency. So, theoretically you can own a nice place here for under $100,000, but if you don`t have an extra $200,000 to put on reserve IN Panama, you will not qualify for residency here or be able to live in your house year around.

Changing tax scenario...the current government has significantly increased taxes on almost all fronts. A pretty good summary of Panama taxes for 2012 has been published by Deloitte, but I find the increased sales taxes and income taxes have caused a significant increase in Cost of Living in Panama as businesses have typically passed on their increased taxes to the general public. While it is understandable that for the government to take on so many projects they have to increase revenues...unfortunately many of these increases come off the backs of those least able to afford it, and many foreigners are taking this into account when deciding where to retire. The annual corporate tax of $300 per year PLUS required registered agent fees make owning a corporation in Panama a much more expensive proposition than it used to be. They also have just increased the "minimum wage" which makes locating business in Panama a bit more expensive than it was.

I also must point out a fallacy purported by many Panama promos. Some "professionals" still tout 20 year "tax free" incentives on Panama real estate. The fact is this is only on "improvements" on a piece of land...such as a house or condo. The land tax is still there...and is one of the highest in Latin America. That law was also changed so that the tax moratorium on a typical structure over $200,000 is now only 5 years. As I have said, these laws get changed almost yearly, and sometimes quarterly. Most lawyers and professionals don't or cant keep up. In addition, the advertised prices for real estate are not the real price. They expect significantly low counter offers on properties here. I also would never buy property "pre-construction" in Panama. I have never known a happy customer nor a project delivered "on time" in Panama. Typically the contracts are heavy on the side of the developer or builder, and you have little legal recourse of significance to fall back on in Panama.

Justice overall is based on what you can afford. The court system are almost all political appointments...and your level of justice will depend on what party or connections you have. While this is true throughout most of the world, it is much more obvious in Panama. Don`t bring your American approach of being "sue-happy" to get your way in Panama. There is no quicker way to losing money on a losing cause...even if you are in the right.

The roads and traffic systems are not designed for the volume of traffic Panama is now experiencing. In addition, there is total disregard for laws and regulations for parking or driving in Panama City. It is "dog eat dog" when it comes to getting around the city, and those who come from organized, highly regulated countries like the USA, Canada or European Union will not be comfortable driving in this craziness. Red does not always mean stop to everyone here...and a stop sign is more a "suggestion" than a rule. practically a foreign word in Panama. As in most Caribbean destinations, it seems locals in tropical climates have a hard time getting motivated to go out of their way to provide service or show ambition in this regard. Timeliness and professionalism are an exception versus the rule in Panama...and no one seems to expect improvements in that accept the foreigners here. So, if first world service and excellence is important to you where you live, Panama will consistently disappoint you.

Infrastructure problems are plaguing the development story of Panama. While Panama has historically had more clean, fresh water than most any LatAm destination for drinking and other uses...water is becoming a problem in this country. There is not enough to run their reliance on Hydroelectric dams for electricity...and electricity rates are higher than many neighboring countries per KW. The past two years have seen significant problems with IDAAN, the government bureaucracy that oversees the water supply system, and there have been long service disruptions and a decrease of quality in the drinking water. Not only that, but many of the new high-rise projects do not have adequate drainage and sewage treatment systems in the most expensive of areas. There have been many documented payoffs in engineering and construction contracts that have decreased the costs by cheapening the infrastructure around some of these projects. "Buyer beware".

Cultural barriers...while it is reported that Panama is an "English friendly" place to live or do business, I find that most people who do not speak Spanish are at a tremendous disadvantage in Panama when it comes to business or social concerns. Most taxi drivers and service people do NOT speak or understand English. They also will not respond to criticism or nagging foreigners about their not understanding you or not responding to your demands. In fact, if you get aggressive, it will slow even further your desired results. These people do not respond to "foreign" pressures, and “mañana” does not necessarily mean “tomorrow.”.

The most fundamental problem I see in Panama is the lack of effective education. The public education system is terribly underfunded, and this shows up when looking for qualified, trained workers. While there are some tremendous private (and expensive) schools in Panama City, 98% of the children cannot afford to go there. For Panama`s long term planning, they need more quality schools and teachers than more buildings or office complexes.

As you notice, I have probably gone into more detail about the cons. The reason for that is trying to counterbalance all the "superlatives" you can read at other sources about the joys and benefits of living in Panama. I think peaceful, easy going foreigners with low expectations of their host country will get along fine in Panama. If you have a "live and let live" attitude in life, you will have to adjust, but you will get on fine in Panama. But, if you are out to change or revolutionize this country...well, lets just say you could choose a more reasonable goal.

There is no "Utopia" anywhere in the world. Each person, or company, needs to carefully determine its requirements against its "wish list", and then determine if Panama meets your needs for peaceful and/or profitable living.

I have a Stategic Consulting business in Panama designed to help with these decisions. Let me know if I can be of service.

Live by the sword...

...die by the sword. This core message of Christianity seems to be missing in our "Christian" nation`s body politic. How Christianity ever went from turning the other cheek to "Onward Christian Soldiers" and the "Holy Crusades"...I will never know. Yet our country and world today continues to be plagued by "wars and rumors of wars" perpetuated primarily by differing religious and ethnic views.

Militarism continues to be the only answer considered by many of our leaders in conflicts between nations and various ethnicities. Somehow the USA has put itself in the middle of MOST of these conflicts as our government continues to destroy our country`s economy, soul and moral fiber. This past weekends murdering of Afghan citizens by a USA Army Sargent plainly underlines the insanity of why we are there and what we are doing. Four years after our President promised, if elected, he would get us out of Afghanistan within 6 months...well, we now see who DOESN`T have the power or devotion to keep his word. We continue to waste lives and countless trillions of dollars we don't have...and for what? To save face? To make some kind of point that is lost in the sands of time? Sadly, even the Taliban are now claiming the moral high-ground over our USA forces over there. Oh my God!

Fundamentally, we Americans must examine ourselves in light of the past 50 years of military conflicts. Contrary to what some "leaders" claim, we have had no clear victory in any conflict since WW2. Korea, Viet Nam, Nicaragua, Panama, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan...among others. Can we truly point out any long term positive results for the USA in any of these conflicts? Do these people love or respect us any better than before? I don`t think so. OK...I almost forgot Reagan's 7 week invasion of Grenada in 1983...a "smashing success" for liberty. I guess we handled those 2200 Grenadian and Cuban soldiers with ease. But now we have some leaders in the USA who want to take on Syria and Iran in addition? Can anyone define "insanity" any better?

I am not necessarily a "Dove" or a "pacifist". I believe in defending one`s rights and liberty to the core of my being...and I WOULD take up arms in defending my family, my rights or my possessions. Yet, our Federal government, with all its ties to the military complex, arms dealers and espionage activity throughout the world continues to ask my fellow countrymen to fight the battles THEY are starting. Especially since 9/11, we have taken on "the aggressor" role in all the battles we are currently fighting. And we wonder why most foreigners do NOT like us or our politics? Yes, 9/11 was a travesty...yet our government has used that event maliciously to grow its agenda and usurp its authority around the world. The Patriot Act and other legislation since has continued to trample on our freedoms and individual sovereignties. We Americans have willingly given up our liberties in return for "security"...which really doesn't make us secure at all, does it?

My main problem is with governments or institutions worldwide who instigate wars that they expect OTHERS to fight for them. I don`t believe the USA constitution allows for anyone to order our country into battle without a "Declaration of War" by the US Congress. Ron Paul is the only person running for President in our country who remembers and speaks out on this key regulation of our Constitution. He understands that we ARE "living and dying by the sword". The extremists and terrorists LOVE this reaction of ours. They see better than we citizens do how this is undermining our economy and our democracy.

Anger and angry reactions are ruling the day in American politics and society over all. We have lost our heads over desire for revenge and retribution for 9/11...and we (our government) have turned on many former friends in our quest for blood and revenge. There is no doubt that getting my gun and going after my enemy is a typical first reaction when threatened or affected by an enemy. Yet, it might be higher minded to first think and ask the question "why are these people or certain countries my enemy?". Have I/we done anything to justify their anger and aggression? Is there anything I can do to make peace first? If they are hungry, can I feed them? If they lack education, can I educate them? In most cases I don`t think we believe in those long term remedies. It is just easier to wipe them out with our military and/or economic isolation. This just continues to breed hate and animosity. Did any "Christian" leader ever read the "Beatitudes" in the sayings of Jesus? You know...blessed are the poor in spirit...blessed are the peacemakers...

I think there is plenty of evidence in modern day history to understand that we Americans are NOT angels...not even very good "Christians". We are quick to anger. We are obnoxious as hell. Our power in the world militarily and economically has completely gone to our heads as a nation...and we are now paying the price, having let our leaders squander so much of our resources and good will throughout the globe. We have been lulled into battles that aren`t ours to fight, and we continue to rebuild that which we tear down with our own resources and because of "guilty consciences". While we were forced to fight tyranny in the great World Wars of this century, our battles since then have been mostly underhanded and clandestine. Our governments have hidden their actions and their motivations from "the people" for decades now. This must stop if we are to survive as a nation.

I know that many of my American family and friends do not agree with me on this theme. I am sorry about that...but it is time we faced the truth of our short history as a nation. If we don`t get real about this subject soon, it will be too late to restore the ideals of liberty and economic growth that fueled our nation from the beginning. We need to go back to the beginning to understand where we went wrong. What we did to the American Indian. The millions of slaves and foreigners who built our railroads and developed our agriculture without much of a choice... or paycheck. The racism and cultural wars that continue to plague the unity of our country. The rest of the world sees this...why can`t we? The USA is on verge of collapse...unless we take some drastic actions SOON. We are NOT the "teflon nation".

So, what can we do? Here are a few basic suggestions I have for my fellow Americans...

*A good defense is cheaper and easier to provide than a global offense. We need to pull out our resources from the over 1000 foreign military bases we own. According to the 2010 Department of Defense Base Structure Report, the U.S. military owns 172,015 buildings inside the United States with a total size of 1.5 billion square feet. It owns another 202,178 in other countries, covering 1.7 billion square feet. These sites are in nations as far-flung as Djibouti, Bahrain, Colombia, Egypt, Singapore, Greenland, Aruba and Luxembourg. This while we continue to run the national deficit trillions more in the red. Fateful mistake.

*Instead of Military Bases, the USA should have "Economic Bases" of trade and job training...throughout the enable our global companies and economy to gain in the global market place. Protectionism will no longer work because of Globalization... which is here to stay. We cannot go back to the "dark ages" of government sponsored, institutionalized controls of currencies, economies and industries. Everyone, rich and poor, need to be enabled to study, work and compete in the global economy...not just our own. Hopefully eventually we can downsize the military instead of Research and Development centers. Hopefully we will soon have more qualified young people ready for productive, safe jobs instead of only knowing how to carry guns and say "yes sir".

*The fastest way to win the "Drug War" and save Billions is...get off the drugs, alcohol, food and all the other addictions that are dragging our populace into the gutter, both literally and figuratively. Destroy the demand and the supplies will go away. Then we can devote these resources, military and otherwise, to more productive use. This is done by education and rebuilding moral fiber...not threats of imprisonment or becoming an unwanted member of society.

*With a better "Defense", America can better control its borders and policing of immigration. We need to change our laws that automatically give rights and aid to foreigners in our country. No other nations have such a policy...why do we? I get no access to such support in Panama without paying for it. The European Union holds no hope of benefits for non citizens. We are better off contributing aid where these foreigners live...AFTER taking care of our own first.

*Most importantly, the average American has to stop counting on obscene promises of government bailouts and entitlements that are out of control. Way too many Americans are counting on too few other Americans to provide the funds and taxes that float social security, unemployment and so many "public" job entitlements that even our rich, out of touch Congressmen enjoy. When Democracy turns into the majority voting for whoever will GIVE them the most from the public dole, well, that Democracy is doomed.

Some would argue that wars are good for the economy. It certainly was in WW2 when that huge conflict spurred so much productivity and a victor`s impetus towards rebuilding the world once the oppressor was conquered. Some call that generation "the Greatest Generation" for what they accomplished out of the rubble and destruction of WW2. Yet, we now see very little of those values for overcoming hardship or unity based on pride of accomplishment. The world and unfortunately too many Americans are about "Gimme gimme gimme"...and the only purpose for the sword now should be protecting what little is left in our "storehouse".

Finally, one last big caution. Much of today`s "saber rattling" is over Nuclear armaments. This is another level of armament that started in the USA and quickly escalated throughout the Cold War. While cooler minds have prevailed in the superpowers since those days, unfortunately the world is still full of enough nuclear arsenals to destroy all of mankind. If we don`t start reversing our tendency towards "reliance on the sword", we will once again see a demonstration of what we have wrought...and it will make Nagasaki and Hiroshima look like firecrackers going off.

It is way past due to turn "swords into plowshares". We need productivity, not destruction. We need to send food and clothing...not bullets, bombs and grenades. Someone needs to start the dialogue of peace and reason...without holding a gun at someones head in the background. The powerful Christian message that started to change the world 2000 years ago was of peace, forgiveness, community and SHARING. Not just with your fellow citizens or Christians, but with your enemies as well. Most Christians have fallen far from the founder`s message. America needs to lead in this versus being the largest perpetrator of armed conflict. We need to defend our country, but we need to stop our aggression, oppression and occupation. Bring our soldiers home to their families where they belong.

Think about all this when you next have the opportunity to exercise your vote or talk to your representative government...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The case for a bigger Congress...

Brian Flynn in this article writes a few things that I have been thinking also for a long time about our government. While it may sound contradictory for me to go along with his thinking since I have long been a proponent along with Ron Paul for smaller, more effective and focused government...I think there is considerable merit in Mr Flynn`s writ. When only 10% of Americans approve of their government, it is time for an overhaul.

Here are a few summaries that I agree with from the article...

"Congress no longer represents the will of the people, and it hasn't for a very long time."
It is quite obvious that corporations and big money interests have bought the votes in Congress for decades now. The actions of Congress and even the Presidency are now bought and paid for in back room deals all over Washington DC and beyond. There are multitudes of well documented examples of this I won`t even take time to detail here. If you doubt this statement, I will advise in another separate writ.

" Self-interest and power. It is in the interest of individual members of Congress and the two political parties to maintain this status quo."

You are seeing more often congressmen coming to office moderately wealthy, and leaving office much wealthier, and the already wealthy having much more power and influence. How does this happen? Well, number 1, Congress continues to vote themselves the best pension, health and retirement plans of any job in the world...not available to anyone else in the country. If you serve only 2 weeks, you are in for life! If we simply forced Congress to live under the same plans they set up for the rest of us...or fund their own private programs from their own funds LIKE THE REST OF US...this would change the kind of people we see ATTEMPTING to represent us in Congress. Beyond that, these positions should not be full time jobs or "careers". They should be "service related" or looked at more like a "Board of Directors" for the country. Only truly successful people should be leading our country...not "wannabes".

" Although roughly 40% of Americans describe themselves as "independent", Washington continues to be driven by the right- and left-wing believers who form the base of each of the parties, resulting in acrimony and stalemate."
It always baffles me when I mention the need for a multiple party system in the USA and a majority of my fellow Americans reject out of hand the idea or say "it will never happen". Obviously we have grown up to believe that only a Republican or Democrat is qualified to be in government or be President of the USA. People get the government they deserve by supporting these antiquated and ineffective methods of government. Our country and world has outgrown these limited ideals of Democrat or Republican ideas. Within each party there is tremendous conflict and lack of focus because one party cannot contain all the disparate ideas and ethnicity now making up our huge country. With 40% independents...we have outgrown the two party system...and it is time for we the citizens to demand changes to the system that will more fairly allow independent and less wealthy citizens to run for their representative government. We need more voices, not fewer, in the democratic process.

" It is ridiculous that a member must be "present" to cast a vote in Congress in 2012."
To make governing more fair and balanced, we need a larger representative body to represent everyone's interests. We don`t need hordes...but perhaps 3000 representatives would make government much more democratic and put less power in the hands of any individual congressman. With today`s technical capabilities for online voting, online conferencing and access to data anywhere you are in the truly is "ridiculous" that a member must be physically present to vote in Congress. It would be much more effective...and representative...if the congressperson spent more time WITH their constituency hearing and responding to the needs and views of their electorate instead of the PACs and moneys special interests who run in and out of their offices in DC with campaign contributions. While we are at it, every candidate should have the same budget and rules under which to run for office. We need to get the money...and the congressman...out of DC...and put both back in their localized state where they belong.

"It's time for: "House 3000: The Congressional Reformation Act of 2012". Who's in?"
I basically am long as the rules and inside "racketeering" within our government are changed as well. We need more people, with better ideas, who don`t serve for the be determining and governing the world`s largest economy and military. We the people pay for all this...we the people should be determining all of this. We cannot wait for this to be Congress` idea...they will never propose or vote for it. It is time for a national referendum on electoral and government changes of this nature..and if need be, some amendments to the US Constitution.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Believing in people...

In the history of this blog I have spent a lot of time discussing and analyzing issues of faith and beliefs. Obviously, in my minds eye the institutions that promote faith and beliefs have come up wanting when it comes to reason and truly good works. These institutions prop up many myths in order to control people`s behaviors and establish cultural "mores" that aren't always in the best interests of "the people". Instead, they propagate easy answers to the hard questions so that people don`t have to THINK for themselves or take responsibility for their own actions. If God or the Devil is there to blame for everything we do, it takes quite a bit of heat off our own screw-ups or lack of understanding.

If I have to believe in something "blindly" or with a "leap of faith", I think I will prefer and be further ahead to believe in "people". Yea...I know...people always let you down or never measure up to your expectations...but then again one must question where those expectations come from. Since the "powers that be" have continually let us down as well, I might as well believe in "people".

I know some people will label this "humanist" or putting "man" at the center of all things...but at the center of most religions I find that the holy books have put "man" at the center of all cause and effect in human history. Man was given "dominion" over this earth and all other living beings according to Genesis. And while man has continually screwed up by killing his fellow man or brother over pitiful jealousy and emotional rage...there are also many cases of selfless, courageous acts of leadership that changed the world throughout the stories and writings that make up history and religious writs. Apparently man and his own thinking were what caused us to lose the "Garden of Eden" in the first place...and it now seems that man is on the block for making restitution for all that and "finding his way back home" like a prodigal son.

For all our faults and disappointments in each other, I still BELIEVE in the core good of most men and women. While the masses have drunk the "Koolaid" of negative self esteem and helplessness purported by most of our institutions...I continue to hold out hope and belief that people CAN change. People can change their minds. People can change their attitudes. People can LEARN if they want to. Our biggest problem is lack of faith in ourselves and our potentials...both individually and together.

Even now during the world`s upheavals with the masses in so many suppressed regions uniting and acting out their rejection of tyranny and dictatorships throughout the world...we are seeing a rare phenomenon in this century of "the people" becoming revolutionary again. Arabs, Jews, Indians...Americans, Europeans and Asians alike...everywhere you turn you see examples of "enlightenment" and progress in the masses taking back their own sovereignty and self fulfillment. Sure, many of them are falling back on fundamental religious calling to fuel their devotion and action...and thousands are dying every week right now in greater Arabia and Africa as they fight against regimes and tyrants who have imprisoned them for so long and raped and pillage their countries economically and literally. I think "the people" are awakening in alarming numbers to the oppressors who oversee them...and the state controlled medias are working overtime to question the "rightness" or divide the world in their views of these many revolts.

Quite often you will hear or read in the media a statement such as "we don`t know who will take over in the cases of these overthrown regimes". "We don't know who their true leaders are" behind this movement or what direction they will take their country. Most of the people or powers that have that concern are those powers who are arming or otherwise manipulating or seeking to manipulate the outcome of these revolutions. The assumption you tend to hear is that the results will be a chaotic mess with a lack of centralized power and government within certain small countries. I say it is about time that the chaotic people had a chance to sort these things out for themselves. Sure, there are going to be more injustices and new depots rising to the occasion of trying to manipulate countries for their own gains. Yet, I still believe in most cases if "the people" truly have the freedom to replace their institutions without outside interference...they will typically do so to their own ways and cultures...and this is not a bad thing.

The other reality that most of us don´t like to recognize is the old theory of "Survival of the fittest". Yes, the spoils of war and upheaval typically go to the strongest and most prepared people within a population. It has been my opinion for a long time that leadership throughout the world is at an all time low. When this happens, it is no wonder that the people arise and overthrow their leaderships. There is much more of this to come, even in the good ole US of A. The info age and technology has allowed "the people" to quickly catch up to the powers that be in knowing what has and is going on. With new light shed on so many things...revolution and change are going to be the mode of the day...probably for the rest of my lifetime.

Many questions remain on what will come from all this conflict and turmoil. I for one believe these are tremendous times of opportunity to make change and difference for our futures. Yes, there is a likelihood of major wars and destruction in many parts of the world. We have built all these weapons of mass destruction that seem to have a destiny of being used by the few who think they have the right to make the call to use them. Yet, out of whatever ashes remain from such conflicts, I continue to believe in the reason and power of individuals to rebuild and recreate a better world in the long term. Maybe when all the bad people have killed each other off...the GOOD people will have a better chance to take the reins and build a more kind and gentle world.

I pray to God that the people will step up to the challenge. I don`t think God has lost faith in US...we have simply lost faith in ourselves.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cowboys and Indians...

While the world has changed drastically in many ways due to technology and seems the human condition has not. We continue to see the injustices of racism and fascism raise its ugly head on an almost daily basis throughout the world, and right here in Panama where I live.

There is a conflict heating up in Panama between the indigenous people, who have lived in Panama since before it was called that, and the modern day inhabitants most of whom became Panamanians during and since the building of the Panama Canal. This is just one more example in the world of where "representative democracy" has not included the original inhabitants of a country primarily because they are poor and of another race.

Over the past two years, the Ngäbe Indians have resorted to blocking the only major highway in Panama connecting the east and west halves of the country. Private companies backed by the government have been executing huge copper and some gold mining projects on their land without their consent. These mining interests are apparently not taking many if any precautions about the environmental damage caused...especially by copper mining which leaves one of the worst environmental imprints of all mining types. This activity is poluting the Ngäbe drinking water, ruining some of their fishing grounds and obviously reducing the amount of land they call their own in the "outback" of Panama. These people have practically NOTHING! Many live in huts with dirt floors and live off the land, producing crops some of which they sell to get by.

They were given their land hundreds of years ago by the conquering Spaniards and others since in order to keep them content and away from the "developing" side of Panama. As is often the case, once some of these "desolate" lands proved to be rich in minerals...the powers that be come in trying to usurp authority and demanding a return of those lands for the "benefit of all". Of course, the claim of national sovereignty and social benefit usually means a majority of the money goes into a FEW pockets...and the Indian natives usually get little or none of the economic benefit.

As a ardent student of History, I as an educated white man have always felt bad and guilty about the treatment of my own USA, and pretty much everywhere in the Western Hemisphere. They have been killed, subjugated into slavery, and beaten down for hundreds of years primarily for "white man" causes. It would be nice to think that we modernized, rich, educated Caucasians would wake up to the extreme injustices perpetuated on these Indian races for so long...but most of us are actually quite apathetic, if not supportive of, the continued subjugation of these Indian peoples whose only riches are in their traditions and unique sense of identity apart from the modern world.

I don`t like the inconvenience of blocked highways or the threat of violence in my adopted country anymore than other average Panamanians. Yet, as I honestly consider the issue and wonder what I would do if in their shoes...I really cannot blame them for taking these actions of peaceful demonstrations in taking their case to the whole country. I sat at the front of a highway blockade for almost 7 hours last year and actually talked to some of these people blocking my way. They were not threatening to me. They were not educated or sophisticated in their statements about the cause. But, they were passionate and united in defending their lands and their way of life. To me, that had to be respected.

From a rational standpoint, it is hard to understand why the current government and "powers that be" cannot maintain dialogue and fairly deal with these people. I´m sure it is probably frustrating and exasperating to try and deal with these populations about mining and mineral resources. They don`t care much about money or greed. They don`t really care about how the richer people of their country aspire to their minerals to run their cellphones, computers and other modern technologies. Yet, I have to think that if they were fairly offered real percentages of the wealth from these operations...and were patiently educated by someone with REAL promises of hospitals, schools and infrastructure for THEM...a deal might be able to be made. But, instead you primarily observe the traditional heavy handedness of police and government people with guns and brute force...overrunning the weaker political foe.

All you have to do is study the history of the American Indian to see where this is all going. False promises, empty gestures and eventual subjugation is probably in the cards for all indigenous peoples. Somehow we white people have never been comfortable with people who CHOSE to live in jungles running around half naked. We never understand why these people with hundreds or thousands of years of traditions and beliefs don`t rush to embrace our "Jesus". Yet I am quite sure it is confusing to have foreigners coming at you with Bibles out front and guns held behind. At the core, we just don`t know how to embrace difference in our we crush it out through wars or civil and economic isolation. The ways of violence are much more immediate in perceived results than reason and communication over long periods of relationship building.

Some people reading this may call me a bleeding heart "liberal" or question my commitment to "capitalism" and "progress". I have no disillusions that I am looked at by these people as a "Cowboy" from western civilization. Yet, I have spent considerable time with the Embera Indians of Panama. I have experienced first hand their "clash" with modern society and the gap between traditions in such a small country like Panama of less than 4 Million people. If we can`t get it handled is unlikely anywhere else. Its time for Cowboys to come to their senses and plan in the long term to share space...and rights...with our Indian friends. You can`t kill them ALL.