Sunday, January 20, 2013

Further notes on Panama living...

(This is a 4th in my series on "Panama Living" issues.  See previously "Is Panama an Illusion?" , "Pros and Cons of Living in Panama" and "Is Panama Safe?"  )

Here is a link to a recent International Living article of interest. This blog today is based on an email exchange I had with an American couple who are coming to Panama to look at investing and retiring here. 

While there are many positive and truthful points about the International Living is another example for taking caution in believing everything you read about Panama living and retirement. Some of what I take exception with is "living on $800 per month" and electricity costs being $50 per month. Cost here totally depends on lifestyle and location. For my wife and I, we spend around $800 per month just on food!  probably $100 wk at the grocery store and $400-500 month at restaurants. That's our lifestyle affecting costs, plus food costs for most everyone has increased 5-6% per year in the 8 years we have been here.  Does your pension or retirement income take that amount of increased cost of living into consideration?

If you run air-conditioning at all frequently, your monthly electricity bill is going to be anywhere between $140 (for our 1200 sf condo) to $300+ for larger homes or condos. And believe me, if you live in the city or at the beach, you will want to run AC to live in comfort. For allergy sufferers, AC is another major need here as molds and bugs proliferate in humid tropical climates inside your home. AC keeps those bugs and molds more under control. Perhaps this couple lives in the mountains above David where they say they live...but even in David you would be challenged to live as you do in the USA on $800 per month. So, as you can has to read between the lines.

I also need to mention the risks when locating to another country regarding "political instabilities".  While historically Latin America has been a hotbed of leftist and socialist governments or outright dictatorships, USUALLY the domestic affairs do not affect ex-patriots or foreigners in said country unless it comes down to blocked roads for the frequent demonstrations against the latest government in fashion or frequent power and water outages based on inadequate infrastructure or lack of maintenance, and the simple lack of attention to trash pickup in the streets.  These are realities you WILL deal with in Panama like most other Latin countries that are based on poor leadership of the powers that be in these third world countries.  And lets not forget it was a little over 20 years ago (1989) the USA government/military invaded Panama for political reasons which cost well over a thousand lives in this relatively small country...the real number of which has been covered up by those "powers that be"..

While they have had infrastructural advantages in Panama based on 100+ years of USA investment and support via the canal and other foreign payments to Panama that have helped build the bridges and tollways (most of those payments I call "international bribes" for access and controls)...there are usually very limited budgets or plans for maintaining those infrastructures. While electricity in Panama City is much more reliable than when we lived in Costa Rica or Mexico...there still is a lack of steady ampage in many parts of the city and country. If you do not run a voltage regulator in your home or office, over time your computers, TVs etc will probably short circuit or wear out faster based on frequent spikes of electricity to your location. This can have a variety of causes...from the main issues of power sourcing (hydro electric mostly in Panama) to simple lack of code enforcement of electricity in the building structures themselves. 

The past two years living in arguably the newest and most high-end area of Panama City, we have observed many 3rd world problems in this zone as well. The water supply for this area AND for our building has been very inconsistent.  Fourteen months ago Panama had some terrible flooding at the end of the rainy season in November...and it apparently overwhelmed the whole water supply system for IDAAN, the independent company that operates water supply in Panama. For over 2 weeks the main water supply was either shut off intermittently or totally unpotable.  We had to bring in drinking water and for flushing our toilets we even resorted to bringing up pails of water from the swimming pool.  Since the restoration of service, our water pressure has never been the same and the water is more contaminated than before this disaster. Where before you could drink water from the tap...not anymore without special filtering systems at the tap. Also, there has been so much "crud" in the water, it stopped up or destroyed many of our faucets... shower heads etc had to be cleaned or replaced. Oh...and in one instance when water service was restored to our building, "someone" decided to refill the pool before refilling the back up supply tank for the when the supply went off again the next day...well, we had water in the pool "thank God". I have taken many morning showers at the poolside shower which apparently is not connected to the main building water supply. 

I go into more detail than you probably wanted to know only to illustrate situations that most everyone I know living here has had to contend with. You can pay as much or more per square foot for real estate in Panama than Miami or many other USA cities, but your service and finish level will not match up.  Just accept it as fact and you won't be surprised or disappointed.  Of course, taxes and holding costs on real estate are significantly less than the USA, but they are slowly catching up with increased taxes no one in Panama seems to want to talk about. 

And bank accounts for Americans in Panama?  Unless you have very good contacts and connections locally, it is going to be very difficult...and for some impossible. Based on the recent tax treaty with the USA, Panama has for some reason agreed to make the local banks liable for all IRS tax reporting for USA account holders.  That means that we American citizens have become a liability and extra cost to the banks...criminals until proven otherwise...for wanting to live and bank in Panama. Canadians, Europeans and other nationalities have much better treatment these days as their governments do not demand this of Panama to "do business". This is one of the political "unintended consequences" of Panama being so eager to please "Uncle Sam".

Lets go back to the political cause and effect of these "problems".  With the water and electricity issues in Panama...NO ONE steps up and takes responsibility.  For example, on the water issue the government blames IDAAN for not managing the resources properly or doing regular maintenance.  IDAAN fires back and tells the government they don't provide the funding or support for zoning and infrastructure changes to keep up with demand.  I'm not sure whose fault it has been, but it was also reported during this time that over 30% of the water   in the IDAAN system was stolen or simply not metered and paid for...even in some large buildings or projects throughout the country. THAT is probably why they had some fund shortages. Now what you see most often on the local news are poor local Panamanians screaming at the cameras that their water has been shut off,.. in some cases for MONTHS.., until "someone"  pays the past bill...often thousands of dollars they will never afford to pay.

Finally...if you get unhappy about something down here as a foreigner...what are you going to do? Are you going to scream, rant and rave until someone agrees to respond to your need or demand? Are you going to demand or ask why they don't speak or understand English?  I have news for you. The more you are aggressive or rant at a Latino most anywhere...the less likely you are to get your desired response. Everyone is nice and calm here...even when they are saying "F you". Even maids or other employees will find ways to get their revenge if you treat them with "disrespect".  They live for  Not for you or your future happiness.

Oh...and I love it when fellow expats say "I am going to sue _____ ". I'm sorry, but I do not know of one successful lawsuit between a foreigner and a Panamanian where the foreigner won.  The Napoleonic code of law in Panama and other Latin countries makes it very expensive and a long process to "sue someone" into compliance with an agreement. If you stay here long WILL be ripped off in one way or another...and you will NOT have any real recourse in the courts. So...just plug that into your expat mentality if you want to live or do business successfully in Panama.

Basically I think there are three kinds of foreigners that live in Panama.  There are those who have blindly invested their life fortunes and futures here and live everyday justifying and defending their decision through "rose colored glasses". Then there are many who have dealt with themselves honestly and decided they made a wrong move and have either moved back "home"  or on to other destinations that fit them better. Finally, there are those of us who have "made peace" with the culture, change of life and have decided to be happy and content with the imperfections that are Panama. If you are one of the later...I welcome you to Panama. But I still say..."try before you buy".

( Next report...will be focused on questions about the costs of real estate here, sustainability factors and my predictions for the next 5 years.  Hey, my crystal ball is as good as anybody's... :)  )

Monday, January 14, 2013


pacifism  (ˈpæsɪˌfɪzəm) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]
— n
1.the belief that violence of any kind is unjustifiable and that one should not participate in war
2.the belief that international disputes can be settled by arbitration rather than war

Exodus 21: 23-25 states: “You are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

In Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus states: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” … So which one is right?

Many astute observers might suggest Jesus' approach as folly since he only lived to be 33 yrs old at which point he was martyred as a penniless, non married, pacifist living under Roman rule. Not exactly living the American dream. One cannot help but find it contradictory to have a so called "Christian" nation such as many Americans tend to believe in...being at the front and center of producing armaments of war, including nuclear weapons, that can destroy the whole world in a few minutes.

My current thinking lies somewhere between the old and new testament views on Pacifism. It is quite obvious to most of us that the war mongering and constant escalation of the arms race this past century is not leading to very much peace in the world. The cycle of taking a life for a life is never ending and memories of death and suffering last for generations for those who have lived under the duress of war. We need only look now to the Middle East to see the futility of armed conflict in resolving anything for very long. Iraq continues to be a conflictive mess between various religious, political and financial factions  After billions spent there by the USA this past decade, I don't see a very peaceful present or future there.

After Billions more spent in Afghanistan, we are now talking about a defined pullout of American forces by 2014. Meanwhile, Al Quaeda and other sectarian factions continue to bomb and murder  in both Afghanistan and Pakistan almost at will. What is the root of all these conflicts?  Is it too much eye for an eye...or is it too much Pacifism on the part of majority powers?  Would "turning the other cheek" and making "sabers into plowshares" really revolutionize the world and bring about peace?

For me the answer is "yes and no".  Yes, the world needs to be much slower at excepting armed aggression and resolving conflicts by invasions and enforcement of agreements at the end of a gun...or nuclear missle. The major powers of this post WW2 era have been much too quick to demonstrate their wartime powers and invade their enemies...or simply other countries that don't share their values. The main aggressors in this have been the USA and Russia with other powers in the world lining up for or against whoever happens to be saber rattling at  the moment.

I am currently reading McCulloughs latest book on "Truman", and I have completed the story through the end of WW2 and the Potsdam agreements where Truman negotiated on behalf of the USA the post war division of Germany and re-bordering of many other countries. It is amazing to me that so relatively recent, three leaders from three countries could make decisions that carved up all of Western Civilization to boundaries and Statist fiefdoms that turned out to be the fodder for living the next 60+ years in fear during the cold war and nuclear arms race. "To the victors go the spoils of war"...and in this case it was no different.  The problem was, you had 3 very different cultures and differences in priorities coming together over a few weeks to sort out cultural and border problems that were centuries or even millenniums old.  With a stroke of a pen, these three leaders carved up Europe, Africa, Asia and staked out their collective turfs lording over Billions of people who had no voice in these agreements.  These agreements were also cause and effect for the future conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

As I now have lived over 50 years under the effects of these agreements...I see the folly of superpower agreements...and it sheds new light on the "Arab Spring" and other revolutions we are now seeing throughout the globe.  Cause and effect of repression and Statism is now rearing its ugly head in all corners of the globe...and I think we are living on a powder keg of the next world wide revolution...largely caused by the advent of our information age. It is now harder to cover up truth...but it is also easier to disseminate false truths.  We now live in an age where wars are fought via media and perception.  Very little principle or "truth" is involved in today's governing bodies.  It will truly be up to individuals and the masses to demand change if change is indeed to come.  So, what demands do we the masses make of our government when it comes to war?

Many of us have heard the phrase "war is profitable".  The facts are that we super powers expanded our economies and empires on the backs of MILLIONS of dead soldiers and civilians. Many of the worlds largest enterprises were spawned by production of wartime vehicles, machinery and weapons.  Many conflicts of the past few decades have been quietly about control of oil and other energy resources.  The superpowers that be will hardly be held hostage by little countries that control the fuel and energy required to make more weapons or keep the motors of industrialization running.

In the middle of all these arms races and government overspending on "defense", the cause and effect of war is now taking a nasty turn for the worse. The USA is caught up in far away conflicts that are draining what little remains of our economic reserves. These conflicts are arguably not creating ANY benefit for Americans while benefiting greatly a few despot leaders and foreign economies. Our "eye for an eye" governments are now paying the price for their non-calculated risks and lack of basic human understanding.  A few bankers, industrialists and politicos behind the scenes are profiting handsomely from this pilfering of public coffers for personal egos and economic gains. If it takes Pacifism to stop this insanity...then long live Pacifism.

On the other sane person is going to believe that always turning the other cheek or giving away freely to whoever wants a handout is a policy for sustaining humanity either. It is quite obvious that the human "stain" of greed, corruption and power is always in the mix somewhere.  It continues to be rational and wise counsel to maintain a strong DEFENSE against evil doers.  The problem comes when many of those "evil doers" are on YOUR side or within your boundaries.

The greatest defenses of the future will and should be ECONOMIC strength and shared markets. I truly believe only some global order of trade and economic interdependence will solve the problems of Statist aggression and controlling tyranny. Yes...we need some world order.  Not WORLD ORDERS...but world ORDER.  To that end, the best chance for Pacifism to have a chance will be global justice and enforceable contracts of peace and economic sharing.  The world really does have enough to go around...but we must find a model where distribution is not controlled by borders or at the end of a gun barrel.  Until REAL "peace keeping"  forces outsize forces of aggression...there will be no peace or economic equality. Until there is more equality and justice on a global basis...Pacifism will not stand a chance as the model.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Pot Business

I just heard on NPR news today that domestic Marijuana production in the USA is estimated to be at $40 Billion dollars per year.  That is apparently equal or greater than soy bean know...the stuff they make soy milk, tofu and all kinds of healthy products with.  The only problem is...since most of this pot production is "illegal" and off the grid...there is no taxation or quality control on this obviously popular American past time.

As I have written before on this blog, I do not take a position that smoking pot or consuming other recreational drugs is a "good thing"  or a preferable practice.  Yet, as a fundamental Libertarian (not political but on a moral basis), I believe such products should be available and regulated the same as alcohol and pharmaceuticals that are more harmful and yet legally available. It is dishonest, and obviously a failing policy to try and legislate morality or control products so many people use and want... especially a product like Marijuana that has positive medicinal value for so many diseases and conditions. I continue to be amazed at the stupidity and failure of the international drug wars that the USA has sponsored to a huge measure of failure.  At a time when we can least afford wasting money, we continue to throw good taxpayer money after bad at this failing effort. I have known a number of people in my past whose lives have been almost ruined by this silliness. As I stated in a recent blog on this subject, the only people winning and profiting from prohibition are the cartels, mobs, gangs and never ending lines of "agents"  meeting the demands of global consumers of these drugs.

In addition, government agencies are absconding with billions of dollars in "dirty cash", luxury cars and homes, jewelry and art...all kinds of "things"  that the "illegal" producers continue to convert their profits into.  If these "spoils of war"  somehow made it back into the taxpayers coffers supporting positive efforts in our society, I might not be so critical of the effort. seems this money just keeps going back into bigger agencies of big government; more guns, airplanes, helicopters and soldiers that in my view do very little to enhance a positive use of these human and financial resources.

I continue to be more convinced that if the powers that be TRULY wanted to clean up "dirty money" and resolve the drug related violence throughout the inner-cities of the USA and world at large...they would simply legalize and regulate these products just as they do most other consumable goods. European liberal countries who have done this have found it to have positive value in getting druggies off the streets, helping versus PERSECUTING addicts, and gaining tax revenue that was previously unrecoverable.  Controlling substances and liberating people from being deemed "criminals"  for simple consumption of certain products has shown to be much more productive and is in my opinion more moral.

The Netherlands effectively decriminalized marijuana use in 1976, and it is available for purchase in small quantities by adults in licensed coffee shops; in the United States, marijuana use carries stiff criminal penalties, and more than 720,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2001. "Police made 853,838 arrests in 2010 for marijuana-related offenses, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Report. The arrest total is among the highest ever reported by the agency and is nearly identical to the total number of cannabis-related arrests reported in 2009". How do you rate these statistics as a positive result for the billions spent?  As I have always thought, you cannot  control use by prohibition or obliterating the supply.  You have to control or fulfill the demand...which primarily originates from millions of "normal" Americans and other nationalities who like to "toke"...and what moral right does anyone have to prohibit them as long as they are not impinging on others rights NOT to smoke or hurting other third parties? This is like saying people who don't like coffee are more moral than those who do drink it and therefore coffee should be outlawed.  Can you imagine what would happen with such a law?  You would have many more millions risking prison in order to exercise their right...and in some cases such a product. Where does this mentality stop?  Sugar, McDonalds....all foods that cause diseases like diabetes and various cancers? Is our government going to end up controlling every substance a citizen ingests in the name of "morality" or protecting the people from themselves?

This just does not add up and quite honestly I know many more EX pot smokers than current ones. In general I don't believe pot to be any more addictive than ibuprofen or aspirin. Addictive personalities are going to be addicted to SOMETHING. Why should they not have pot as one of their choices? I believe it would be a healthier choice than say...cigarettes...alcohol...or various barbiturates readily available at Walgreens.

I imagine some of my blog followers might be tired of this subject or simply don't care about the millions of people who are criminalized by these archaic and irrational laws...but until I see the prisons emptied of these citizens exercising their right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and the unconstitutional use of my tax dollars to limit citizens of these rights...I will continue to speak up on this silly subject.  Its not silly anymore because the war is now costing billions of dollars annually that we can't afford...and worse than that it is destroying millions of innocent lives around the world for no good reason.

Let the pot business thrive and the drug wars subside. This will definitely create a more peaceful and prosperous world than what we now experience where money only changes hands between the "criminals" and governments. This is big business that needs to be redirected in a more positive and tolerant direction.