Wealth International, Limited (trustprofessionals.com) : Where There's W.I.L., There's A Way

W.I.L. Offshore News Digest :: February 2010

This Month’s Entries :


The writer’s mother was excited about the prospect of retiring and taking life easy in her adopted city, San Francisco, which she knew well and loved. She had worked hard, saved ... done all the “right” things. But one talk with her accountant disabused her of the notion that she could retire and maintain anything close to her previous lifestyle.

So she decided to pay a little visit to her native city of Granada, Nicaragua. Before you can say “Jack Robinson” she had decided to move back to the place of her birth, and has never regretted the decision. She “discovered in Nicaragua an opportunity like no other in the Americas. ‘The opportunity of financial freedom and a life full of wonder and excitement.’” We are invited to follow her example.

My mother Lucia lived the all American lifestyle until it was time to retire. For years she worked and flourished in San Francisco, California. She excelled both personally and professionally in one of the most beautiful cities in America.

The California way of life and the beautiful San Francisco Streets, surrounded with so much beauty, charm, and style, made for a beautiful movie-like backdrop, in which all of her dreams could come true.

She lived like most of us do in the United States, working hard to live well, and hoping to retire without any financial worries. In her mind retirement was a thing of the future, something people just did at a certain age, but it was never a true concern or reality. She always thought retirement would be a welcome change in her beloved city.

She used to tell me, “Darling, I have worked so hard all of my life, when I retire I will relax, take up a hobby, travel, own my own time, and take long walks in Golden Gate Park, without having to look at the time, that is going to be great.”

I always bought into that idea, but always thought retirement for my mom was so far ahead that I never really paid it any mind. Boy was I wrong. “Time really flies when you are having fun, I guess.” Before you know it you have arrived at your destination.

It is a little bit like marriage, before you know it you are married and having your first child. You are also never really ready for it. You simply deal with it when it comes even if you think you have done all the planning. At least that is the way it was for me. Retirement for my mom was just like that, and when she reached that day she asked herself, “What happened, where did the time go so quickly?”

As a personal shopper for Neiman Marcus she earned a good income which allowed her to live well and with a lot of style. It also allowed her to save through the company’s 401K and other savings programs, so in her mind, the retirement savings account was covered, and thus, sufficient to provide for a nice and comfortable retirement in her city. She also had the Social Security check to look forward to, so things would be OK, or so she thought.

It is important to note that even though she made pretty good money, she would complain from time to time about on how expensive things were getting. For instance, cable TV went up from $35 per month to $58 when the local company was bought out, then coffee, which is what San Franciscans wake up to and go to sleep with was always on the rise.

A regular cappuccino can easily cost you $4.50. The toll at Golden Gate Bridge went up from just a couple of dollars to $5, and then the prices at Safeway and Whole foods, our local supermarkets, seemed to always be on the rise, too. Not to mention the exorbitant amount of money you spend in medical insurance, car insurance and regular day-to-day expenses. But hey, that is how it is right, you work and you spend, there is no other way.

So one day retirement came knocking on the door, it was time to retire. She was going to put in her papers like they say. One of her first steps, after speaking to Human Resources, was to meet with her life-long accountant to go over the books and her future expenses. “A life plan” she called it. I remember clearly how happy she stepped out the door to meet Mr. Schwartz, her accountant. “Today is the beginning of a new day, today I tell Schwartzie (that is what she called him) that I am done, she told me excitedly.” She was also looking like a million bucks when she stepped out, and I remember being so proud.

Later on that afternoon I received a cryptic message on my cell phone answering machine, it said, “Let’s meet for lunch at Kuletto’s, we have to speak right away.” I immediately called her back but there was no answer.

I simply waited, counting the minutes until it was time to meet her for lunch at our regular Italian restaurant on Powell St. When I arrived she was sitting at the bar with drink in hand, which at the time struck me as odd because it was not her regular glass of red wine, today she was having scotch on the rocks. So, when I sat down I asked her, “What’s up mom, what’s with the message and the martini lunch?” She said, “Darling, you have no idea, I am in shock with Schwartz.” No longer Schwartzie – I knew there was something wrong.

She told me that she was not retiring, and that she could not afford it. With panic on my face, I obviously asked her what was going on, to please explain. To be honest I was terrified. I thought she had lost all of her money or that she had been a victim of a crime. She explained that she simply could not afford retirement while at the same time meeting all of her expenses. She said that the sacrifice to cut costs in order to just get by would be too much to handle, and simply not worth it. She explained that in order to retire she would perhaps have to give up her city apartment, a large portion of her recreational expenses and perhaps her regular medical insurance, as it was simply too expensive.

The words Mr. Schwartz used were, “drastically downsize in order to meet your current situation.” “My current situation he says,” as she cupped her face with both hands and broke down in tears. I immediately calmed her down by putting my arms around her and ordering another round, this time for the two of us, of course. I told her that we would figure it out, and that is what we did.

From Nicaragua, my mother always thought of her home country as a nice place to visit, never as a place to retire. after all, she was an American.

Originally from Nicaragua, my mother always thought of her home country as a nice place to visit, never as a place to retire. After all, she was an American. Although she loved the climate, the welcoming people and the natural beauty of its geography, she left Nicaragua at such a young age to attend college in the U.S. that returning to Latin America never really crossed her mind. It never really crossed her mind until she realized that her life as she knew it would never be the same as a retired person. She realized that she simply could not afford to retire in her current situation.

Mr. Schwartz apparently suggested a “senior citizen retirement community” in order to minimize costs. Knowing my mother, she would not have liked that at all. She never really liked the term senior citizen. She used to tell me with a grin on her face, “Give me a break, all I really get a discount on with this new title is cheap movie and bus tickets.” I always got a kick out of that. When she asked herself what would make her truly happy, now that she was considering Nicaragua, she took into account affordability, comfort, safety, accessibility to good health care and the ability to be active in the community.

So after researching Nicaragua and considering the possibilities of actually retiring outside of San Francisco, it quickly became evident that this was not an escape but a true viable plan to secure a decent retirement. Through our research we discovered that the exchange rate was very favorable against the dollar so her money would obviously go further, and thus, makes things more affordable, that it was the safest country in Central America, that it was easy to access via different airlines and just a couple of hours away from Miami, and that good healthcare was available at a fraction of the cost. After further research, it also became evident that a comfortable home would cost a fraction of what it would cost in California. All of a sudden this did not look like such a crazy idea.

Her biggest concern was whether she would be able to enjoy life as she once knew it in a sustainable manner without drastic sacrifices.

I think that her biggest concern was whether she would be able to enjoy life as she once knew it in a sustainable manner without drastic sacrifices. Being a fast mover, my mom took action and she took a reconnaissance trip to Nicaragua just within a few weeks of her dreaded conversation with Mr. Schwartz. She packed a light bag with just the necessary clothes for one week and took the overnight flight to Nicaragua. She decided to visit friends and family in Granada, the Spanish Colonial town where she was born. There she could reunite with friends that could guide her.

Several weeks passed without any calls from my mother, which I found odd because being an only child she keeps close tabs on me. Since another week went by without any contact I decided to call and request an update. When she picked up the phone there was an instant tone of excitement in her voice. She said, “Hello love, long time no speak, did you miss me already?” while cracking a laugh. I said, “What’s up mom, what’s the story?” She laughed and asked me to research international moving company’s interested in shipping her things. I said, what, are you serious? She replied, I am happy and I would like you to come see me right away. Without an elaborate reply from my part, I simply said yes, and took a flight out the following week.

Upon my arrival I was picked up by her friend Juan. Juan was a throwback to old Hollywood or Havana Cuba where the jet set played when they got bored of Palm Beach. He was wearing an all white linen suit, spectator shoes, and a beige Panama hat. A character I thought. The guy was looking cool. I remember thinking that only my mom can find a character like this to come pick me up. Juan was a long time friend that spoke perfect British-style English.

He took me to meet my mom at his family’s hotel right in the middle of town. The whole ride over he had a mysterious grin on his face, as if he knew something I did not, or perhaps he was harboring a deep secret. I asked myself, “What has my mother done now?” To my surprise, he was right. ... I was going to be very surprised.

When we arrived in Granada I noticed the horse carriages, the manicured cobbled stone streets, the old churches, the beautiful scenery, and most of all, the smartly dressed woman wearing a white linen dress, and a straw hat while sipping a glass of wine and smiling at me upon my arrival. She looked just like my mom, but since I knew she did not pack so elegantly for this trip, I wondered where she got the get-up.

All I could do was smile, because only mom can pull this off with so much ease. I leaped out of the car to say hello, and before I knew it my bags were being ushered in while a doorman was greeting me with a huge smile, saying “Welcome Home, Sir.” At the time I did not know it, but now that I look back it felt like home. It was an eerie, yet exhilarating feeling.

When I finally got to speak with my mother I remember making a smart-aleck remark like, “I see you’ve been shopping,” she simply smiled and said, “You know me, Darling.” She went right into the conversation. Mom had decided to move to Nicaragua. There was no hesitation in her voice.

“I can now retire, she said,” as she described the beautiful city, beautiful people and the beautiful home she was thinking of buying. Buying a beautiful home? As you can imagine I was in shock, this was happening so fast, but I remember feeling very happy for her at the same time. Although I was worried at first, I knew that she was savvy enough to make the right decision.

It was a beautiful Spanish Colonial home with 18 foot ceilings and an inner garden which was simply amazing.

Again, I was shocked at the asking price, a mere fraction of what a two-bedroom apartment would cost in San Francisco, so it felt more than feasible. All of a sudden my mom’s outside of the box idea felt as if she had just acquired the “secret knowledge” of a faraway place where life could make sense again. After crunching numbers, hiring the right attorneys and doing the due diligence, she decided.

Mom’s goods were exempt from taxes and she was able to purchase a car free of tax. The government obviously has incentives for those retiring to Nicaragua ...

This transaction was fairly fast, and shortly thereafter she shipped her household goods from California. Everything seemed so fast, but it also felt right. Not to mention that at the end of the purchase she had a nice balance to furnish the home and put into her savings account. To my surprise all of mom’s goods were exempt from taxes, and she was even able to purchase a car free of tax. The government obviously has incentives for those retiring in Nicaragua, which was just a welcomed bonus.

Now when you ask her what makes her truly happy, she responds with a smirk, “Freedom darling, freedom.”

How is my mom’s life in Nicaragua today? Well, it is simply terrific as her quality of life has improved immensely. Since she retired in 2002, she has never looked back. In short, she can now afford her life much better now. As a retiree her regular day-to-day bills are easily managed to the point that they are now an after-thought. Now when you ask her what makes her truly happy, she responds with a smirk, “Freedom darling, freedom.” I guess that is a great way of describing her new life.

The freedom to have a worry-free and active life is a sought after commodity that my mother has found in Nicaragua. It is sometimes hard to describe, I guess that you have to experience it. My mom’s only regret is that she did not do it sooner. But hey, she did it and that is what counts.

My mother presently lives in a beautiful Spanish Colonial home in Granada, is catered to by a personal cook that also cleans, does her laundry and all chores. Can you imagine – no more chores, not ever! She also has a gardener that tends to her gorgeous garden, and even has a personal driver. And the best part is that she pays approximately $220 per month for all of this life-changing service only afforded by the very wealthy in the United States.

In case you were wondering, she gets to shop at modern shopping malls in Managua as well as attend the theater regularly. She is also very active socially with new friends from all over the world. She is an integral part of the community in Granada, and very involved in charity work assisting foreign doctors with translation services. Although she now visits her beloved city in California regularly, she seems to miss her garden back home, and thus, cuts her trips shorter and shorter every time. I don’t blame her.

When it came time to retire, Lucia discovered in Nicaragua an opportunity like no other in the Americas. “The opportunity of financial freedom and a life full of wonder and excitement.” Drawn by its natural beauty, the warmth of its people and the financial advantages of living in a true emerging nation full of promise, she made a decision most of us only dream of…the dream to retire in a tropical paradise while at the same time taking control of her financial future.

As you well know, in the coming years thousands of baby-boomers like yourselves will start to consider retirement. Perhaps you will consider retirement in your own cities or local towns, or perhaps think about a slower and more prosperous part of America in order to maximize your retirement income. Like Lucia, your pioneering way of thinking is exactly why thousands of retirees and investors are taking a closer look at Nicaragua for retirement and investment options.

If you would like to reach my mother to say hello, you can do so at luciabenard@hotmail.com Perhaps you would like to visit her in Granada on your next trip. She would love to meet you.

As for me, well, I now live in Nicaragua as well, with my wife and our beautiful four-year old son. If you would like to reach me and chat about Nicaragua, please feel free to contact me at my email listed below. I work with Gran Pacifica – and we can help you realize your dreams. Check out our website below.

Read the source article.


Sources we respect deem Panama to be close to, if not the very best retirement destination. (Some ranking factors are subjective and others are subject to inexactness in measurement, so there is no truly objective #1 destination.) Here some more grist for that mill as well as some useful details. Practically the only thing left to do is check the country out for yourself in person.

Everyone in North America, and especially the baby boomers of the United States, knows that the least expensive bang for their retirement dollar is represented by the countries of Latin America and the Latin Caribbean, such as the Dominica Republic, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

Prospective retirees – let it be known that Panama wants you! Hop on a plane and within 2½ hours from Florida, the newly poor of America can switch plans for a wretched retirement in the U.S. for one befitting a royal in this lovely tropical Central American nation. What is the pitch? Cash out, plan to emigrate and feel like one of the rich elite in of Panama! Panama ... the low cost, safe, expat and retiree’s paradise!

Spin aside, Panama is increasingly popular among retirement-age types looking to hedge against – or skip out on – the dreaded, never-ending recession. The Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank that studies the movement of people around the world, says the chief factors prodding professional-class Americans to flock to Panama include Panama’s First World health care available at Third World prices and the country’s pensioner program, which offers some of the deepest retiree discounts in Latin America. Seniors get up to half off on nearly everything, including movies, motels, doctors’ visits, plane tickets, professional services, and electric bills. Expats also pay no tax in Panama on foreign income. Nor are they required to pay property tax for the first 20 years.

The fact that an upscale beachfront home can be had for the same price as a dump in Daytona Beach, Florida does not hurt, either. “We would have been looking at $3 million in Miami,” says Jon Nickel of his 3,000-square-foot oceanfront penthouse in Panama City, Panama. Nickel and his wife bought the place in late 2007 for $250,000; right after Nickel retired from his corporate law job in Portland, Oregon, and sold the family’s mortgage-free home for $800,000.

More Bang for the Buck

The narrow isthmus – nearly all coastline, with a mountain range slicing through the middle – boasts some of the best weather and lowest crime rates in Latin America. Other draws include guilt-free conspicuous consumption, with laughably low prices (well, by expat standards) on items such as a day at the beauty salon ($10) and a maid ($15 a day).

A complete blood workup at Panama City’s gleaming new Hospital Punta Pacifica, managed by Johns Hopkins Medicine International, is $36. A checkup with a physician is $50. Boomers who say they would have had to pay roughly $1,200 a month in the U.S. for health care say they are paying about $800 a year for coverage in Panama. Barbara Dove, a 66-year-old who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, worried that she would eventually need in-home care if her condition deteriorates. Researching rates in Seattle, she found that nurses run $25 an hour. In Panama City, where she has lived since 2007, they cost $25 a day. Says Dove: “I didn’t want my kids to have to worry about me.”

According to a 2006 report by the Migration Policy Institute, the number of Panama visas issued to U.S. citizens began to rise dramatically after 2003, and an estimated 25,000 U.S. expatriates live there today. “With Americans aging, the economy in shambles, and, possibly, Medicare benefits on the cutting block, it is reasonable to assume that more Americans will retire abroad, particularly to warm, sunny locations such as Panama, where they can get more value for their dollar,” says the Institute’s president, Demetrios Papademetriou.

That is not to say life there suits everyone. Things in Panama move really slowly. A repairman who says he will be right over might show up days later. Water and electricity service can be spotty. In Panama City, drivers treat stop signs as a mild suggestion. “It takes a little bit of balls to retire here,” says Matt Landau, a New Jersey native who is the founder of Panama City-based online portal The Panama Report. “This is not for type A’s. It’s not your turnkey Florida retirement.”

Still, boomers who have recently relocated to Panama say they feel as if they have figured out a successful geographic arbitrage. When Stephen Johnson, 63, and Linda Murdock, 57, were living in Aromas, California, they used to moan half-jokingly about how they would have to retire to Barstow – the armpit of the Mojave Desert, with summers in excess of 100 degrees and winters that can dip below freezing.

The pair had watched several friends retire on depleted cash cushions. Many were not fully eligible for Medicare and wound up spending 50% of their income on health care. The couple’s retirement agenda was worsened by the fact that they got a late start building equity and knew they would never have their house paid for by retirement.

Brainstorming the situation, they started talking about moving out of country to stretch their money further. They had discovered Panama on a trip there in 2004 and saw it as a bargain-basement paradise. The low cost of living appealed to Steve, whose pension amounted to 40% of his pre-retirement income of $150,000. The surf-perfect weather lured Linda, who took up the sport on her 50th birthday.

The Reality of Living in Paradise

Johnson and Murdock are now known as the gringos who live in the house with the red door. They bought their newly remodeled 1890 hacienda near the beach in San Carlos for $100,000 cash. They moved in last year and rented out their California ranch house. The rent covers the carrying costs on that house.

But Panama is not only about the beach. The Boquete region in the mountains – Panama’s answer to Boulder, Colorado – boasts loads of U.S.-style gated retirement compounds along with tennis and golf. For those who are more interested in urban amenities, Panama City, which is by the sea, is sprouting yoga studios, bohemian boutiques, health-food stores, and artsy coffee houses.

Still, there are tradeoffs in this seemingly easy life. “Paradise is just a place you visit,” says Johnson. “If you live here, you begin to see the cracks.” Those include the three months it took them to get their driver’s licenses – a process that involved blood tests, a hearing exam, and lines that make a U.S. Motor Vehicles Deptartment seem like a fast-food joint.

But Johnson and Murdock have no major complaints, and Panama is certainly better than the Mojave. Murdock surfs – every single day – and says Johnson looks 20 years younger since retiring. They both love the way their dog can run on the beach without a leash and the fact that their doctors, many of them schooled in the U.S., happily give out their cell-phone numbers and actually answer when called.

And their social life is far more active than it was in Aromas. They go out with new friends, a blend of expats and natives, almost daily, often for evenings of fish tacos and endless margaritas – for $20. “We have more time,” says Johnson. “And apparently we have more money.”

Stable Currency Immigration

Panama is still looking to welcome foreigners, such as retirees and investors. Changes to the law include the following:
  1. Elimination of the Small Investor’s Visa – The only investor visa now available is the Large Investor’s Visa which is issued to those investing sums of $200,000 or more.
  2. Pensionado Program – To benefit through this program, you will need to have a pension of $1000 per month for the main applicant, instead of $500, and $100 for each dependent ($1100 for a couple). The amounts can change as program rules change, so always check in advance for that. See below for more details on this program.
  3. Person of Means Visa – The amount has been raised from $200,000 to $350,000 and the CD must be in a local bank, in your own name for a minimum of 4 years. Real estate must be residential, be in your own name and free of liens.
  4. Employment Visas – The minimum salary is now $1000 – watch out, the visa is not permanent.
Pensionado Program

The majority of people relocating to Panama from North America are eligible for the Pensionado Visa. Obtaining the visa is not difficult – no insurmountable pile of red tape to fight your way through. Simply prove to the Panamanian authorities that you have a pension income from a private pension or government agency.

No minimum age is required, just a pension amount of $1000 or over, or $1100 for a couple. To prove your pension, you will need to show the authorities your pension statements and possibly bank statements.

The Pensionado Visa does not have an expiry, but you will need to prove your income on an annual basis. The benefits of the Pensionado Program are what draw many people to Panama:
  1. A one-off exemption from tax and duties on the importation of household goods, such as furniture, up to a value of $10,000.
  2. An exemption from tax on importing a new car every two years.
  3. 50% discount on hotels Monday to Thursday and 30% at weekends.
  4. 50% discount on entertainment such as entry to movies, theaters, cultural events and sporting events.
  5. 25% discount on utility bills.
  6. 25% discount on restaurant bills.
  7. 30% discount on public transport and 25% on airline tickets.
  8. 20% discount on doctor’s bills.
  9. 15% discount on hospital bills.
  10. 15% discount on loans.
  11. 15% discount on eye examinations and dentist’s bills.
  12. 10% discount on prescriptions.

Panama is a 100% Tax Haven. Non-resident Panamanian International Business Corporations (IBCs) and Private Interest Foundations do not pay tax on any of their income (as indicated below), nor do they have any reporting requirements to the Panamanian government. So there are no capital gains tax on your offshore investments, no interest income tax on your offshore bank account interest, no inheritance tax, etc. and: Stable Government

Panama has what is considered by government analysts to be the most stable government in all of Central or South America. It has had a democratic government since 1990. It is one of the safest countries in the world to visit. The government of Panama is headed by the executive branch, which is composed of a president and two vice presidents, democratically elected for a five-year term by direct vote. It has a civil law system.

The Panamanian military was abolished by constitutional amendment in 1994, and the government still has a unique security arrangement with the U.S. due to the Neutrality Treaty of the Panama Canal. As a result, the risks of going back to the earlier military regime are virtually non-existent.

Panama is consistently ranked as one of the top two or three destinations to retire to. With its stability and many attractions, it tops the list for those baby boomers and expats who are seeking a country with a long reputation as the place to comfortably settle in with far less challenges than many of the as newer retirement havens present. Panama is the “it” place for those who have less of a pioneering spirit, preferring a country offering many of the “known elements” that they are comfortable with back home.

Read the source article.

Best Panama Property Prices I Have Ever Seen in a Mountain Location

Cerro Azul used to be reserved for the Panamanian elite. Then they abandoned it for the beaches.

As is their wont, International Living is promoting their own agenda while providing information that will be interesting and useful to some people. The only issue we might have is the degree to which the “cons” of an opportunity they are promoting are being stepped around. The remedy is to do your own independent research.

We have seen promotions for the Panamanian mountain community of Cerro Azul for several years now. Only 30 minutes from sweltering Panama City but up in the cool(er) mountains and, so the claim goes, with still reasonable prices ... what is not to like? Maybe nothing.

My friend Paul lives in a mountain community that used to be reserved for the Panamanian elite. I was surprised to find out that his 20-something son lives there, too. Ever the city girl, I do not understand. “Doesn’t he get bored? Wouldn’t he rather live in Panama City?” Paul shrugs: “We’re only 30 minutes from the city, so we come into town regularly. We don’t feel isolated.” A cool mountain location with easy access to the buzzing capital? The real estate must be sky-high ...

Not so. The town of Cerro Azul, where Paul lives, was one of the trendiest places to have a home until the late 1980s or early 1990s. Then, for no apparent reason, the elite turned its attention to beach locations like Coronado, making Cerro Azul feel like something of a ghost town. From 2004 to 2008, when real estate prices all over Panama were steadily rising, Cerro Azul stayed surprisingly affordable. This was probably because expats flooding the country did not know about it. They were too busy in trendy locations like Boquete and Bocas del Toro.

But little Cerro Azul could not remain a secret forever. Word got out, little by little, and a small expat community began to grow here. Today, Paul says at least 70 expats live in Cerro Azul. The effect has been a revitalization of sorts. Members of the Panamanian elite have rediscovered Cerro Azul as a weekend destination – just 30 minutes by car and you have left the city and its madness behind. And the full-time population continues to grow ...

I went recently to check it out. The drive out of Panama City was easy, thanks to the excellent road. As we ascended, it seemed we were driving up, up, up into the clouds. Passing dairy farms and ranches, we came upon a colorful Chinese arch – an exotic accent amid the greenery and a signal that we were there.

Some people say that Cerro Azul is an “energy center,” and that in certain areas you can watch your compass go haywire. Perhaps this is why local groups come here for yoga and other spiritual retreats. Or perhaps they come simply because the pines and mountain peaks are an uplifting sight, complimented by jewel-toned hummingbirds and ginger flowers as tall as a 10-year-old.

You will find plenty of property for sale here, and if you get here now, you are sure to uncover some real bargains. One lot for sale here is just off an unpaved road and has water and energy service already installed. The lot is in a residential zone and is well over a half acre. Asking price: $17,600. For $40,000 you can get a half-acre lot in a gated community. A creek runs through the lot, which is in a cul-de-sac and has a distant ocean view.

If you prefer to buy a house and move right in, you will find even more options, from inexpensive cottages to big mountain mansions. One home is on offer for $80,000 and comes furnished. The four-bedroom, two-bath home comes with maid’s quarters with separate bath and a covered terrace. Another four-bedroom home is on offer for $90,000. It sits on a lot of nearly half an acre and comes with a pool, storage locker, and two covered terraces.

If your budget is in the $100,000 to $150,000 range, you will have even more options to choose from. One Swiss-style chalet is on offer for $120,000 features four bedrooms and two baths, a balcony, and a patio.

Almost anything grows in abundance, from orchids to bromeliads that pop up wherever you look. It is close to Panama City and to the international airport, but quiet and peaceful. Far from the city’s light pollution, you can actually see the stars ... and there is no noise to keep you from hearing the nightly symphony of frogs and crickets.

Most importantly, Cerro Azul may be right for you if you want breathtaking views but do not want to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for property.

Read the source article.


The Dominican Republic is also ranked fairly highly as a retirement destination. This article outlines some pros and cons of retiring there.



So the article author has to stretch to find much wrong with the country. Most of those cons are really that only when compared to a developed country.

Read the source article.


A woman returned to Belize after a 19-year gap, to Ambergris Caye to be precise. She found a lot had changed – streets now paved, more bustling than it had been before. But the place and people were still beautiful. And if we are to take the article title at face value, she and her husband decided to stay.

It had been more than 19 years since I had been to Belize. Back then it was a two-night stay as I traveled with my husband and four of his buddies. We hired a local to boat us to Ambergris Caye. Arriving late at night, we went directly to a restaurant that had white sandy floors, excellent jerk chicken, and watermelon juice. Instead of doors separating the bar from the restaurant—there were colored beads hanging from the ceiling. I never forgot it and it spoke to me over the years, so much so that we recently decided to go back and investigate if it was as beautiful as we remembered.

We flew by Tropic Air to San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Caye to celebrate our 41st wedding anniversary. It was not just our means of arrival that had improved – we stayed at Victoria House, a 5-star luxury hotel on the outskirts of town. I felt like I was in one of those television ads, looking out at the azure water surrounded by white sand.

The biggest eye opener was when we went into the town of San Pedro to discover the streets were paved with cobblestones. Lots of golf carts and taxi vans. My, how things had changed! Wonderful shops and restaurants.

I could not get over how “busy” Ambergris had become. It may not be as quiet as I remember, but now there are plenty of activities (diving, snorkeling, fishing, cave tubing, Mayan ruins to explore) to keep you occupied.

I noticed that everyone was smiling all the time. Babies smiled, old men smiled, and beautiful women smiled. I found my cheeks hurting because I had started smiling non-stop. It is heaven on earth here – peace and love and good vibrations.

We loved the diversity of people and cultures throughout the island. Our fancy hotel was about an hour’s walk from downtown, and we liked to walk there and back every day to get our exercise. Something happened to us on those walks that sums up Belize for me.

After a few days, people kept stopping to offer us a ride. First a beautiful mocha-skinned Belizian man with his daughter stopped for us. We thanked him for his offer but told him that we were walking for the exercise. He nodded, smiled and drove off. Then, 15 minutes later, a blond expat woman stopped on her golf cart and made the same offer – and happily left with our same reply. A little while later, a strikingly handsome dark-skinned Jamaican man stopped his golf cart and asked us, “Would you like a ride?” What a treat! Three locals within an hour offering two strangers a ride to town. That is Belize – beautiful people and a beautiful place

Read the source article.

Across the Split on Belize’s New Bridge

Boca del Rio Bridge unites north and south parts of Ambergris Caye.

It did not look like much ... just a concrete arch spanning a shallow inlet ... but thanks to this recently built bridge we drove our little golf cart directly over the watery split that divides Ambergris Caye, Belize, into its northern and southern parts.

Behind us to the south was San Pedro, the island’s only town. From the other side of the bridge north stretched the lion’s share of the land that makes up Belize’s most famous caye.

I use the word “land” advisedly ... no place on the island is more than a few feet above sea level. Once you cross the little bridge, the lagoons of the island’s western edge and the sandy beaches of its eastern shoreline are only a few hundred yards apart in spots, and much of the unpaved road that runs between them can be a swampy mess on the north side of the split.

But a road it is, and now that the little Boca del Rio Bridge has replaced the old ferry that used to span the split, power lines are following that road north up the island like vines climbing a trellis. And new hotels, resorts, and residential projects are blooming right along side. ...

Read the source article.


The horrific damage to life and property wrought by the earthquake in Haiti last month was undeniably exacerbated by that nation’s poverty-striken state, as evidenced by the far lower damage from a similar magnitude quake in Chile which occurred at the end of this month. Is the poverty in Haiti organic, or man-made? Of course it is man-made. A sorry litany of kleptocrat leaders spouting a collectivist philosophy created the poverty, and turned a natural distaster into a catastrophe.

Is Haiti doomed to remain in poverty? Carter Clews, taking a month away from his usual subject of finding nice places to live, says no. Ditch the collectivist millstone hanging around the Haitian’s necks and there is no reason the country cannot do perfectly well. The natural resources and people are in place. Allow foreign capital in and develop the area around the beaches. Pay for talent to help build a viable infrastructure. Let freedom reign – for the first time since the country achieved independence from France in 1810. “From the Baltic to the Caribbean, collectivism has failed. ... And it has begotten poverty.”

It is impossible to overstate the tragedy that has unfolded in Haiti since the devastating earthquake in mid-January. Up to 200,000 are dead or missing. The nation’s capital lies in ruins. And a people who have known nothing but suffering since the country’s inception have now been condemned to suffer even more.

Yet, in all of this, a single ray of hope may have emerged; a shining Phoenix rising out of the ashes of a country that, frankly, never was, yet now may be.

“Haiti,” popular misconception to the contrary, is not French Creole for “Hell on earth.” When God created the heavens and the earth, he did not designate Haiti as Dante’s Central Zone. Nor, contrary to a certain televangelist, did he so ordain it subsequently.

To wit: there is nothing – absolutely nothing – intrinsic or inherent in the land of Haiti that has condemned it to eternal damnation. Nor is there any reason – other than a bone-headed, nefarious insistence upon continued malfeasance – that should prevent it from emerging from its current ruins to become a prosperous, enticing, and enchanting state.

To understand this, let us look at the record. Let us take a close, hard look at what Haiti was, what it became, and, most importantly, what it can now become – if the politicians will allow it to escape their ruinous bonds. Thereby, to quote The Bard, hangs a tale ...

Unbeknownst to most, Haiti has as rich a distant history as any country in the Western Hemisphere – yes, the United States included. Discovered by Columbus in 1492 (when he “sailed the ocean blue”), Haiti, on January 1, 1804, became the hemisphere’s second republic (if you do not know the first, here is a hint: subtract eight).

Previous to its independence – and this is significant for those who try to portray the country as forever barren of natural resources – Haiti was France’s second most productive overseas territory. Known then as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” it was rich in sugar, rum, coffee, and cotton. Now, let me hasten to add that France carted off these products like it was running the Sack of Rome. But, the point is that the Haitian land and its people produced them.

So, what happened? Where did it all go wrong? How did Haiti descend into Hades?

Well, to begin with, when the Haitians finally rose up and threw off the colonial yoke, the French took a terrible toll by refusing to trade with the new nation and getting Great Britain and Spain to boycott it as well. Their reasoning: If we can teach these upstarts a lesson, it will prevent other Caribbean countries from following suit.

Still, as easy (and often enjoyable) as it is to blame all around us for our failures, it is usually wiser to stop passing the buck and start building a life. And that, the rank and file Haitians seem perpetually incapable of doing – largely through no fault of their own.

Notwithstanding intermittent military adventurism by the U.S. from 1915 until the mid 1930s, Haiti has pretty much controlled its own destiny – and land – for nearly 200 years. In fact, in 1821, the Haitians were so much in control that they had even went so far as to invade neighboring Santa Domingo (now the Dominican Republic) and take over the entire island.

By 1957, when the crazed Voodoo practitioner Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, assumed power, the stage was set for Haiti to join other Caribbean nations in harvesting their own crops, mining their own minerals (the country was fairly rich in bauxite, copper, calcium carbonate, gold, marble), and establishing a workable democracy.

Duvalier, however, had other ideas ... as in personal enrichment and, of course, total government control. Wikipedia describes his reign thusly: “Duvalier fostered a personality cult around him, and claimed to be the physical embodiment of the island nation. He even nationalized all media companies to help propagate this idea, so much that even TV stations couldn’t produce any original programming unless it was about him.” Can anyone say, “Hugo Chavez?”

With such totalitarian government control, Papa Doc plunged the nation into abysmal poverty. And there it has remained ever since.

Could it have been otherwise? Yes, it could have been. And it still can be. At least some of the environmental infrastructure remains. And the Haitian people, despite horrifying government oppression, still maintain an industrious attitude and a remarkable resiliency gainsaying decade after decade of socialistic governments that promised much – and took all.

Simply put: there is nothing wrong with Haiti that cannot be fixed by what is right with Haiti. Three essential ingredients still remain that – if the politicians will permit – could turn Haiti around economically and culturally within the current decade.

(1) Open up the coastline to extensive resort development. Haiti has more than 1,000 miles of picturesque coastline (including islands). And it is time to put it to use luring in tourists, creating jobs, and building wealth.

Here is how NLG, Inc., the largest provider of cruise vacations in America, describes the Haitian coastline: “Unspoiled and pristine, the coastline of Haiti is the ideal haven for sun-worshippers. From the black-sand beaches near Jacmel to the numerous and lovely palm-lined beaches near the capital, Haiti has a beach for everyone.”

Of course, as we all know, that last observation is a bit of an overstatement. Right now, Haiti does not have “a beach for everyone.” Under current government controls, Haiti rarely has a beach for anyone. You see, the government is so afraid that the robber barons will exploit the beachfront that it all but bars ownership. Far better to have pristine beaches than paying jobs, one supposes.

The Clews’ Views recommendation: Knock off the nonsense and sell off or lease the beaches. Right now, Haiti’s laws restrict foreign ownership to 1.29 hectares in urban areas and 6.45 hectares in rural areas. At present, no foreigner may own more than one residence in the same district, or own property or buildings near the border. To own real estate, authorization from the Ministry of Justice is necessary.

So, here is an idea for Haiti’s politicians (whoever and wherever they are): Deep-six your draconian laws and authorize developers to turn the Haitian coastline into a tourist mecca. Call up Kerzner International Ltd. and tell them to do for Haiti what they have done for the Bahamas, the Maldives, Dubai, and Mauritius. And if they need an incentive, make it tax free for ten years. You guys are not exactly raking in tax dollars as it is.

(2) Invite in paid experts to rebuild – or, in the case of Haiti, build – a viable infrastructure. One of the saddest aspects of the government’s rape of Haiti has been the devastation of the land and the refusal to focus on letting private industry develop a livable infrastructure. It is time for that to change – pronto – before it is too late.

A 2003 article in the Miami Herald painted a picture of such desolation that one wonders how the people of that poor beleaguered country could even awake each day to their impending doom. Here are the two lead paragraphs from the article, entitled “Forest Land in Haiti Fading Fast; Natural Resource Nudged to the Brink”:
“SEGUIN, Haiti – Desperate to survive, Haitians are slowly gnawing away at their last one percent of forest, turning trees in state preserves into lumber, firewood and charcoal and burning the grounds to plant vegetable patches.

“Government official’s meanwhile squabble over the proper policy to protect what little is left, and park rangers complain they are too few to halt the forests’ destruction – even as trucks loaded with charcoal pass their checkpoints.”
It is enough to make decent people weep. Now, we have to see if it, along with the devastating earthquake, is enough to make the politicians allow relief and recovery to begin while there is still time.

My recommendation: Bring in experienced engineers with proven expertise and pay them – yes, pay them – to reforest the land and make it fertile again. Master engineers whose hearts are as expansive as their minds – like my good friend Dan Taylor, the owner of beautiful Keyhole Bay on Roatan Island – would undoubtedly come for next to nothing if they knew the government would not interfere. Dan made the water run clean on Roatan; I am confident he can make the man-made dessert bloom in Haiti.

(3) Let freedom reign. Finally, and most important, the politicians must let freedom reign for the first time ever in that troubled land. Not just electoral freedom, but economic freedom. In short, pull back all of the socialist programs that have made the people vassals, and let hardworking Haitian landowners reap the fruits of their own labor.

How many failed states do we have to endure before the governing elites finally learn that collectivism does not work? How many more nations must be bankrupted? How many more homes must be shattered? How many more lives must be destroyed? From the Baltic to the Caribbean, collectivism has failed. It has rewarded sloth. It has punished industry. It has rationed scarcity. And it has begotten poverty.

And yet, even now, we hear that we must simply pour more foreign aid into Haiti without even the slightest demand that it find its way into the peoples’ pockets by allowing them to independently earn a living – and keep the money they make. Somewhere between the breadline and the gravy train lies a workable system of real recovery – and it begins with clearing the way for honest, profit-making labor, not by distributing more handouts.

As Kenyan economist James Shikwati told Der Spiegel magazine in 2005, “The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape.” He then added plaintively, “For God’s sake, please just stop.”

And let freedom reign, he might have added.

So, that is the Clews’ view of Haiti in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that seems to have finished off what man began. It is an unmitigated tale of human misery. Each of us needs to offer relief – through investment. But only by allowing the courageous Haitian people the freedom to wring bread from the sweat of their own brow can we possibly hope for true and lasting recovery.

If the dead could speak, they would undoubtedly cry out for an end to the anguish of their beloved country. One would hope the living worldwide would listen. If not, then they might as well let Papa Doc’s spiritual progeny bury the quake’s victims with a chicken claw in their mouths. And the sounds of their silence will condemn Haiti to another 200 years of oppressive government hegemony.

Read the source article.


Time to check out your mother’s father’s brother’s history.

Searching out second passport options one will quickly discover that Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis offer “economic citizenship” programs – invest (more like donate) enough money, pay someone to help you through the process, get by the other checks, wait a while and you hopefully get a passport. Useful certainly, but not cheap. And if you plan to renounce your original citizenship then count on applying for a lot of visas if you want to do much traveling – which presumably you would if based on a small Caribbean island.

It turns out that their are other routes to second citizenship, and if your ancestral stars are aligned just right the path may be simple and cheap. There is no harm is checking that out.

Are you resident in a high tax nation?

Are you plagued by the erosion of your income and assets thanks to the taxman?

Are you looking to relocate abroad, with your heart set on living in a country that does not favor your particular passport?

Perhaps you have heard that there are taxation, security, privacy and freedom benefits associated with having dual or even multiple citizenship?

Do you want a second passport?

Whatever your personal reasons are for exploring what has become one of the most popular searches on Escape Artist, “getting a second passport,” there is a chance that your family tree could actually hold the key to you gaining second, or even multiple citizenships and that much desired second passport.

If you begin a search on the Internet into gaining a second passport, you are inundated with adverts for services from companies offering to assist you in purchasing citizenship elsewhere in the world. Certain nations offer economic citizenship programs, or citizenship-by-investment schemes – the best well known and popular are Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis. However, the investment commitment and financial outlay required to effectively purchase a second passport from these nations can be restrictive to all but a determined and wealthy few.

The good news is that even countries such as Great Britain and Ireland may legitimately welcome you as a national, depending on your family’s history and your ancestors and direct relatives’ nationality. Therefore it is up to you to get working on your family tree, and plot your family’s national identity back as far as your grandparents. Even a deceased member of your family could provide you with the key you need to getting a second passport from a desirable country.

How To Get Started on Your Family Tree

Your first requirement is to identify the nationality, place of birth and country of domicile of each member of your immediate family, going back as far as your maternal and paternal grandparents. If you are married, your spouse should do the same. It may be very obvious to you that your father is British for example, if he was born and raised in the UK, but just moved abroad in adult life, he will be British by domicile and nationality. In other cases, it can be more complex to determine.

For example, if your paternal grandfather was born and raised in Ireland but emigrated to America and was naturalized there before your father was born, does that make your father American or Irish? Generally speaking, it makes your father an American by birth and by domicile. However, for every close relative you have who has a less than clear path of nationality and citizenship in the nation in which you or they now reside, there is a chance that they could offer you the key to a second passport!

If you have any siblings or aunts and uncles who have relocated abroad and adopted another nationality, or who have gained residency and citizenship elsewhere overseas, make a note of these people and their status too when plotting your family tree. If it helps, literally draw your family tree to plot out whose background you will need to research.

In terms of what you are looking for, an example will be you looking for the data associated with current and previous nationality, place of birth, country of residence and domicile for your mother, your father, your brothers and sisters, your mother’s mother, your mother’s father, your father’s mother and your father’s father.

Consider counting your mother and father’s siblings if, as mentioned, they have relocated abroad and/or adopted citizenship elsewhere too – it could be that they could potentially act as“qsponsors” to your relocation abroad if you wanted to live in and eventually gain a passport from the country in which they are now living.

You can begin researching your family’s history by asking living relatives about where they were born, which country they grew up in and where they are entitled to hold a passport from. If it is the case that a close family member was born in another country and grew up there, you have a strong potential claim on a second passport from that nation.

Are You Entitled to Second Citizenship?

Having identified a member of yours or your spouse’s close family who has strong national ties with another nation, you need to look at that specific country’s citizenship criteria and see whether you are eligible to apply for residency, citizenship and/or a second passport. The very confusing fact of the matter is, every single country in the world has different criteria and different rules about who is eligible, what they are eligible for, and even whether a citizen of their nation can hold more than one passport and nation of citizenship.

The good news is that countries like the U.S., Ireland and the UK are all comfortable with the idea of individuals potentially having more than one country of citizenship. Other nations almost actively encourage their residents to embrace multiple citizenships where it is possible because it enables international business flow and even inward investment to their country. The main countries against the idea of individuals being citizens of more than one nation are Denmark, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With a clear idea of which nation, (or nations), you may be entitled to apply to for citizenship and a passport, the very first step forward is establishing that country’s criteria for eligibility.

To that end, the fastest route to information is via the internet, so go to the given nation’s government website or, if you find that the website is inaccessible due to a language barrier for example, you can look at that nation’s embassy in your own current country. There will usually be clear instructions about who is and is not potentially eligible for citizenship, and who can therefore apply for a passport. If in any doubt, it is in your best interests to personally contact your chosen country’s embassy or consulate in your nation and request advice, support and direction.

How Does The Process of Application for a Second Passport Work?

Just as different nations have different criteria of eligibility for citizenship, so they have different processes that you have to go through to apply for a second passport. You will however have to prove your identity and your reasons for eligibility, and you will almost always have to pay processing fees with your application. You may have to attend an interview, be in your home nation when you apply for citizenship in the second nation, and there can sometimes be a lengthy delay whilst your application is reviewed, especially as your application is often sent to the local embassy, but then processed overseas in the second country.

Is It Worth the Hassle?

Only you can decide whether it is worth going to the time, effort and expense associated with getting a second passport. You need to think about what second citizenship will offer you – there are potential advantages associated with travel freedom, taxation reduction, personal protection, privacy and security – but whether these advantages apply to you is only something you can work out. When it comes to taxation, it is not clear cut that if you get citizenship in a country with lower taxes than your own that you will benefit from this advantage. It depends on the tax treaties in place between your current country and the second nation at the very least – and if there are no such treaties in place, you could complicate your tax situation even more!

If you are in any doubt about whether to proceed, there are those in a position to advise you. You can speak to staff in the embassy of the nation you are interested in gaining citizenship in for their feedback, and they may suggest third parties who can help you. International taxation and legal consultants may also offer advice, and then there are some companies who advertise their services on the Internet who may also be able to guide you. A word of warning however, it is usually in such companies’ best interests to convince you to go ahead, because they can then charge you a fee for helping you apply.

In Conclusion ...

Your family could hold the key to you gaining a second passport entirely legitimately, and for minimum outlay. The process involved may be relatively complex and time consuming, but there are potentially great benefits available to those who hold citizenship, and therefore a passport, from more than one country. It is an individual decision however, so do take advice before you proceed to ensure that this is the right path for you to follow.

Read the source article.


Much more important than which antivirus program you use (or anti-spyware, or firewall, or any security software), or even if you use one at all, are the practices that make up your online behavior.

A meta-list of the best free PC security software can be found here.

The point of this article is that the riskiness of your behavior on the internet is the primary determinant of your likelihood of getting infected. The strength and quality of your security software comes in a distant second. What constitutes risky behavior? Here are 8 precise and simple starter rules about what not to do.

In a recent post, I recommended Panda’s Cloud Antivirus as a decent free antivirus program. Others have recommended different programs, and that is fine – in the end, I do not think there is much meaningful difference between the various antivirus programs, at least in terms of security.

Much more important than which antivirus program you use (or anti-spyware, or firewall, or any security software), or even if you use one at all, are the practices that make up your online behavior. People who do risky stuff on the Internet will get a virus, sooner or later, regardless of how good their security software is. On the other hand, many security experts do not use any antivirus software and still manage to avoid viruses.

I do not recommend that you follow in the footsteps of the security experts – the nature of their calling demands a kind of paranoia that few of us can maintain. I recommend a solid package of security software (I run Cloud Antivirus and Windows Defender) but only as a safety net – something to pick up the slack when we make mistakes, not a first line of defense.

The thing with security, online or anywhere else, is that it is always a trade-off between protection and convenience. I can tell you how to absolutely avoid any risk of computer virus, spyware, or trojan: Stay offline and never install anything or use any removable storage media. That is 100% perfect protection, but it would severely hinder your computer usage. It is like securing a house: You could build a door-less, window-less titanium-sheathed reinforced-concrete bunker around your house and be absolutely sure burglars could not get in, but you probably would not want to live there.

The tips below are sufficient to account for all but the most determined attacks against your computer. No amount of software or behavioral change can protect you from every possible attack (if the NSA wants to get on your PC, they are probably going to do so) but you can protect yourself from virtually all of the attacks you are likely to face online.

I owe thanks for most of these tips to Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson, hosts of the TWiT netcast Security Now. If you are interested in computer security at a very deep level, this weekly show is your ticket, and I heartily recommend it!

1.) Use a router.

The very nature of the way routers works acts as an effective hardware firewall, preventing access to computers on your home network from outside the network. Put simply, when you request something from the Internet – say, you click a link, check your email, or enter a URL – the router notes which computer on its network the request came from so it can send the reply to the proper recipient. If a would be intruder attempts to enter your network, the router checks its list of outgoing requests and, if none is found correlating to the attackers’ IP address, it ignores it. It basically does not know which computer to send it to, so it throws it out.

If you simply cannot use a hardware router, make sure your operating system’s firewall is turned on. This is almost, but not entirely, as good.

2.) Do not open email attachments.

I know, who does not want to see pictures of Anna Kournikova naked, right? Email attachments are a major vector for infecting computers, because it is so easy to fake the sender so the email looks like it came from someone you know, and everybody loves opening attachments from people they know. It could be a funny picture of penguins, after all. But bottom line, do not open attachments. If your email client automatically opens or previews them, turn that feature off. Even if it is from your mom, and even if your mom says she opened it and it is fine, still don’t open it. (By the way, next time you are at mom’s, reinstall Windows. She has got tons of viruses now.)

Now, I know that sometimes you have to open attachments, so here is a simple test to know when it is most likely safe to open an attachment:
  1. You know that the email is from the person it says it is from. That usually means that either they said they were sending it, or they have written a note that only they could have written.
  2. You are expecting an attachment from that person.
  3. You know the person who created the file.
  4. There is a compelling reason to open the attachment. I am sorry, ma, but a good laugh is not enough to get me to risk my computer’s security.
If you cannot be absolutely, 100% sure on all these counts, trash it.

3.) Do not download bittorrent files.

That sucks, I know, but since you are never absolutely sure where the file comes from, where it has been, or who might have altered it, bittorrent is risky. Downloading a Linux distribution from Ubuntu is probably OK; downloading it from Pirate’s Bay is a bit dodgy. Downloading Oscar screeners of movies that have not been released yet is super-duper dodgy. It is a real shame to have to forego sticking it to The Man because of practical concerns, but you are taking a big risk downloading an unknown file from an unknown person about whom the only thing you know is that they don’t feel any compunctions about breaking the law.

4.) Do not download warez, porn, or other dubious files.

First they came for my bittorrents, then they came for my porn! It just gets worse and worse, doesn’t it. But really, think about it – people who distribute illegal copies of illegally hacked software a) are demonstrated lawbreakers, b) are familiar with programming code, and c) had access to the code you are expecting to install on your computer. As for porn, while I am sure there are plenty of Good Samaritans out there who distribute free pornography simply out of a desire for greater happiness in the world, some small number of them do it for financial gain. If they are giving you free porn, they must be making money off you another way, and one of the easiest is to install a bunch of malware on your computer, run whatever code they want on it, and then sell the use of your computer to spammers, phishers, and other unsavory sorts. You want to know how bad these guys are? They do not even care if they give pornography a bad name!

5.) Do not download *anything* from sites you are unfamiliar with.

Again, if you are intending to install something you have downloaded onto your computer, you have to know that only people you trust have had access to it. Adobe, Microsoft, and other software manufacturers are generally trustworthy, as are sites like CNET’s Download.com. “Bob’s Free Software I Like a Whole Bunch” might not be quite as safe a bet.

6.) Turn off Flash, Javascript, and other browser plugins.

Flash ads have been used to install viruses. So has Javascript code. You do not have to do anything to get infected this way; you just visit a site with the malicious code on it and *bam*, you’re infected. Because of that, hardcore security folks turn off Javascript and either block or never install Flash. Personally, I think it limits the usefulness of the Internet too much; I have decided to risk running Javascript, and use the FlashBlock plugin in Firefox so I can select which Flash objects on a page I want to run (allowing me, for instance, to watch YouTube videos while preventing Flash ads on the same page from loading).

7.) Do not click links in email.

It is very easy to hide the real destination of links sent in email by using HTML where the text reads “www.perfectly-safe-site-you-know-and-trust.com” but the actual URL is “www.really-bad-site-run-by-mean-people-with-no-friends.net”. This is how phishing scams work – you think you are going to PayPal or your bank, but really you are going to a page designed to look just like your bank’s login page but hosted on the mean people’s server. Also, bad guys often put unique tracking IDs into links, so that they know exactly who clicked on a link – which means that they know which email addresses out of the millions they sent spam to are valid, which makes them worth more money to other spammers. Um, yay?

7a.) Do not click shortened URLs.

I don’t like this one, because I like Twitter and you lose a lot of functionality if you do not use a service like bit.ly or is.gd to shorten URLs, but these links are scary. When you hover your mouse over a link, the URL appears in the email or browser’s status bar, meaning you can verify that the link heads to where it says it does. When you do the same with a shortened URL, it just says the shortened URL. There are Firefox extensions like UnTiny that will reveal the true destination of shortened URLs, and some Twitter clients do as well, but until a universal solution is standardized, these URLs remain a bit scary, security-wise.

8.) Install all security updates.

Unless you are a multi-national mega-corporation running oodles of mission-critical custom-designed software, you need to install security updates as quickly as possible upon release. If remembering to do this is not something you think you would be likely to do, set your computer to automatically download and install updates. Increasingly, we are seeing “0-day” exploits – viruses and trojans written to make use of security flaws before those flaws are corrected by – or, in some cases, even known to – manufacturers. Keeping up-to-date is essential to keep even marginally safe.

I know that, the world being what it is, someone will be thinking right about now, “Hey, why don’t you just switch to Mac OS X or Linux?” It is true, those operating systems get far fewer viruses and other problems than Windows PCs, but most experts seem to agree that this is at least in part because there are so many Windows PCs and so few Mac and Linux PCs. (There are plenty of Linux servers, but those are under professional supervision, which goes a long way towards making up for any security weaknesses Linux has.) Bad guys program for the system that allows the greatest spread of their malware, and right now, that is Windows.

But if you are still not convinced, I have got an even better idea for you. Both Mac OS X and Linux have demonstrated security vulnerabilities, and as they become more common are likely to become targets for hackers. So they are not really safe bets. Instead, try BeOS! It may be riddled with security holes and only run on Pentium 4 and earlier PCs, but I can guarantee you, nobody is writing viruses for it!

For everyone else, whether you use Windows, Mac, or Linux, make sure to follow the rules above and, chances are, you will be just fine.

Read the source article.

Confessions of a Spam-Catcher : How to Identify Spam

Interesting and useful piece on one website manager’s evolved filter for catching spam. Some are obvious; others are subtle.

As part of my role as Lifehack’s manager, I am responsible for moderating the comments queue. Lifehack’s back-end has a “Pending” queue for comments that our spam-catching software thinks might be spam, a “Spam” queue for comments labeled “spam” either by the software or by me, and another queue for comments that have been approved, again either by the software or by me. As a general rule, I check that “Pending” queue several times a day, the “Approved” queue every day or so, and the “Spam” queue every week or so.

I have been doing this for two years, and I have gotten pretty proficient at figuring out what is and is not spam – a tough call to make sometimes, since spammers get more and more sophisticated in lock-step with those of us charged with blocking them. I present my “formula” here for two reasons: one, to give less experienced bloggers and webmasters an idea of how to catch spam on their own site, and two, to give commenters an idea of the kind of thing to avoid so their comments do not get accidentally thrown in the “Spam” bin.

I should say, a big part of catching spam is a “feel” – intuiting that some comment just does not feel right. I am not sure I can capture exactly what goes into that feel. Andy Warhol once said that to recognize a great painting, first you have to look at a thousand paintings, and catching spam is a bit like that – the experience of having looked at thousands of spam messages cannot be easily encapsulated. But I will try as well as I can.

What is spam?

What makes a message spam is relative and subjective. In a sense, spam is like a weed – a weed is not any particular kind of plant, but a plant that is not wanted where it’s at. (See, for example, Wikipidia’s definition of Weed as “a plant that is considered by the user of the term to be a nuisance.”) For instance, Corn is delicious, but if it is growing in your soybean field, it’s a weed. A message that, say, pimps a word processor might be perfectly welcome on a post that asks for product recommendations for writers, while on a post that just happens to mention writing, the same message could be considered spam.

Some messages are clearly spam; for example, anything delivered by a spambot programmed to leave its message wherever it can find an open form to submit through. But a message can be left by a living person, custom-written for the particular content it is posted to, and still be spam. This list starts with the most obvious signs and moves to more vague and difficult-to-interpret signs. My guess is that a lot of people run into the ones further down the list because they post without thinking very clearly, so pay attention.

A comment is spam if it:
  1. Contains links to websites that are unrelated to the content.
    For example, a comment might say “I think your baby is really cute!” but the word “baby” links to a site selling baby clothes or even a Forex trading site or other scam.
  2. Is posted on more than one post.
    This is obvious, right? Real people do not post the same comment over and over on different posts, no matter how relevant. Most likely it is a spambot responding to multiple posts on your blog that contain similar keywords.
  3. Contains more than one link.
    While there are a few situations in which a legitimate comment could contain several links, they are fairly rare. As a general rule, the likelihood of a comment being spam increases directly with the number of links; anything over three and it is virtually guaranteed to be spam.
  4. Is not directly related to the post.
    A lot of spambots (or even live spammers) crawl the web looking for posts with certain keywords and then insert a generic message loosely related to the topic on the hopes that it will slip past any human reader who is likely to just skim through their comments. Unless a comment addresses something specific about your post, it is likely to be spam.
  5. Is overly complimentary.
    Most spammers are fairly astute observers of basic human psychology – particularly our desire to believe good things about ourselves. So they butter us up, saying things like “Great post! In fact, I love this whole site – I am definitely going to come back again and again!”
  6. Has keywords or a business name in the “Name” field.
    A basic search engine optimization strategy is to get your website’s address associated with specific keywords, and search engines look closely at the text associated with a link to determine the usefulness of the website linked to. Real people are not trying to game search engines, and frankly, we want to be recognized for our contribution, so we use our actual name, or a username. If you cannot imagine replying to a person by the name in their “Name” field, you are dealing with a spammer. (For example, here is one taken from our spam queue: “Having a good vocabulary not only gives a framework for thought. It also allows you to be concise and precise to make communication better.” This is relevant to the post, and thoughtful, but it was left by an entity named “dining room table”. It’s spam.)
  7. Links to a spammy business.
    This is a tough call – sometimes I will see a thoughtful comment clearly written in direct response to the post it is commenting on, under a real person’s name, and still mark it as spam because they link to a site whose legitimacy is questionable. Could be porn, WOW gold scams, forex scams, get rich quick schemes, blogs with stolen content, or anything else that feels to me like someone left a comment more to get their link out than to add to the discussion.
  8. Quotes the post without responding to the quote.
    This is a relatively sophisticated spam technique: pulling lines out of the post it is responding to in order to make the language of the comment sound like real writing. Real people mark the quotes they are commenting on (usually with quotation marks, but it could be by italicizing or bolding it, putting it in blockquotes, or some other means) and try to clearly separate their response form the post’s words.
  9. Is posted on an old post.
    Old posts tend to attract a lot of spam. Real people generally recognize that if a post is a year or so old, the conversation there is pretty much over. Spambots do not realize that. It still sometimes happens that someone comments on an ancient post, but the age of the post is a big red flag.
  10. Is in a different language from the site.
    If the point of a comment is to engage in discussion with the author of the post and his or her readers, it does not make much sense to comment in a language that you are not sure the author knows.
  11. Is from a Russian .ru domain.
    I hate to stereotype an entire top-level domain like this. I am sure there are Russians out there making thoughtful comments on blogs all the time. And yet I have never had a comment that was not spam from a commentor with a .ru domain or email address.
  12. Tells a long, personal story.
    This is experience talking – a lot of times you will see what appears to be a blog post in its own right in your moderation queue that starts off, at least, relevant, and is clearly written by a real person. This falls under the “Weed” heading – it might have been totally welcome except it is out of place as a comment on your blog.
  13. Asks for specific support.
    This is another “weed” situation: a comment on a post about, say, installing Windows 7 that asks for help with a specific problem. Unless the point of your site is to answer specific questions about computer problems, this comment is out of place. There are better and more likely places to get help than on your blog.
  14. Feels wrong.
    Sometimes a comment just feels wrong – it is a little too smarmy, maybe, or it is a little too formal and stiff. You click through the link and it is a legitimate-enough site, maybe a little sketchy, but you can totally construct a case where this comment was written by a real person with something to say. The question, though, is not what was the intention of the writer, but what is the effect on the conversation on your site. If a comment does not seem to quite fit, you are well within your rights to “spam it.”
Anyone else have advice for would-be spam-catchers? Or for commenters who might be finding their comments relegated to the spam-heaps of history? Leave a thoughtful, non-spammy comment below!

Read the source article.


They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within

~~ Leonard Cohen

A look at the thumbnail CV of this article’s author reveals that he is almost certainly a world-class iconoclast: “Jim Davidson is an author, entrepreneur, and anti-war activist. His 1990 venture to offer a sweepstakes trip into space was destroyed by government action as was his free port and prospective space port in Somalia in 2001. His 2002-2007 venture in free market money and private stock exchange was destroyed by government action in 2007. He’s going to Mars if he has to walk.” His book Being Sovereign begins: “If there is a single exemplar of jaundiced hostility toward mankind’s attempts to coercively govern each other, it is me.”

This puts this diatribe against the so-called Campaign for Liberty and Ron Paul in some context. Nevertheless, his barbs are well placed, and his basic contention is well-taken: The political approach to increasing freedom has not been successful, and it never will be. Place not your faith in the Ron Pauls of the world to change things. They cannot, and as Davidson shows, they often sell out on even trying at critical times.

It looks like the people running Campaign for “Liberty” are no longer committed to non-intervention. They have endorsed through their Colorado branch a virulent war monger named Ken Buck. Their senate candidate in Connecticut, Peter Schiff, says he would bomb Iran given “credible evidence” that they are building a nuclear weapon. Their senate candidate in Kentucky, Rand Paul, was just endorsed by neo-conservative Sarah Palin, and says he wants to continue the war in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Ron Paul pretends his arm has been twisted by the Texas GOP to endorse all the incumbent Republicans in Texas. Including virulent war mongers and neo-conservatives like Lamar Smith who voted yes on war with Iraq, no on withdrawing troops from Iraq, yes on sanctions for Iran, yes on FISA. Ron Paul endorsed him. Kind of a kick in the pants to Stephen Schoppe, a liberty activist working to unseat Smith in the primary. ...

Here is a link with Ron Paul’s endorsement of Smith. Scroll down for the actual endorsement letter – no mention of how wrong Smith is on anything.

Oh, he pretends the Texas GOP twisted his arm, but since when does Ron Paul put his power ahead of his principles? Apparently, from now on. Last month I was ready to make excuses for Ron Paul. Okay, so he will not run as a Libertarian candidate, cannot argue with that. As the squirrel says to the moose, “that trick never works!” So he wants to run as a GOP candidate, he has to do this thing. He says.

He stood alone on a stage of other GOP presidential hopefuls in 2007 and told them the war in Iraq was wrong. Why can’t he endorse Lamar Smith and say the same thing?

Meanwhile he did not have to endorse Ken Buck, nor have the Campaign for “Liberty” support him. Buck is not in Texas and is not an incumbent. ...

If Ken Buck does not seem like a neo-con to you, check out these facts, from his Wikipedia page.

“In 1986, he was hired by then-congressman Dick Cheney to work on the Iran-Contra Investigation. Following that assignment, he worked as a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C. In 1990, Buck joined the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado where he became Chief of the Criminal Division.” [LINK]

What do you want to bet he enforced drug crimes and gun crimes?

How do we know he is pro-war? He wrote, “We definitely need to continue a major effort in Afghanistan. We are told this effort will take at least 10 years. It will require both military and civilian personnel to help build up the country. The generals on the ground tell us we are likely to be in Afghanistan for the long term with a difficult and complicated mission.” [LINK]

With me so far? We have Ron Paul endorsing a violent, neo-conservative, war monger Lamar Smith over a liberty-oriented candidate in Texas. We have the Campaign for “Liberty” in Colorado endorsing and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote the campaign of a violent, neo-conservative war monger, Ken Buck.

Let is look at some of the other candidates prominently identified with Campaign for "Liberty." They have Peter Schiff running for U.S. senate in Connecticut. He wrote to me in December to say, “In the first place no one that takes that position will ever be elected to the U.S. senate. In the second place, just because we may have contributed to the problem does not mean that we should compound the error by not doing anything at all to protect Americans against terrorist attacks, especially those that may involve nuclear weapons.”

No one who took a consistent anti-war stance on Iran could be elected. (Er, I guess, except for Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul and a few dozen others?) So it is all expedience with him. He is just trying to impress people he think will give his campaign money.


So, no, I do not believe John Tate, president of C4L, when he says that the campaign is committed to peace. They are not. They are just as willing to sell peace down the river as any other position. There is no principle here, no ethics, only expedience. And if what I wanted was a group of really expedient people who would sell out everything for money and power, why not be an Obama Democrat? At least that way, nobody would confuse me with the racists, sexists, xenophobes, and homophobes who support war from the GOP side of the street.

No, I cannot ally myself with these people. I cannot close my eyes and send money to Ron Paul ever again. And because I cannot do these things, I cannot ask any of my friends to do these things.

The path of agorism is not easy. There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. Politicians and bureau-rats got us into this mess. They won’t get us out of this mess.

Ron Paul is not a saint. Obama is not a saint. JFK was not a saint, though being dead he is a safer candidate for cult of personality foolishness. Jefferson was exactly right when he said that if you do not believe that each individual can and should govern himself, if the individual is not sufficiently moral, sufficiently enlightened, sufficiently informed to run her own life, then where are we to find angels in the shape of kings to rule us?

There are none. ... Tell me where this crap is getting us. Tell me. The Libertarian Party promised to create a groundswell of support for smaller government through education and party politics. In just 39 years the federal government has grown 18-fold, from $210 billion in budget to $3.8 trillion in budget.

If it were going to be effective by now, would there not have been some success? Couldn’t we point to, say, Alaska, or Orange County, and say, “Look, the Libertarians are successful there, let’s build on that success.” Some LP candidates were elected in Alaska, have they built on that success? Or is it still the land of welfare hand-outs funded by big oil? Oops. There are more libertarians per capita and in raw numbers in Orange County than anywhere else in the world. And is Orange County, California a bastion of free market capitalism and low taxes, a new Hong Kong? It is not.

The political approach has failed. It is not successful. Not there, not here, not anywhere.

And in 2008, everyone was saying, “See, the Campaign for ‘Liberty’ has activated hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts. They have fired up young people. They are going to revitalise the liberty movement.” And I wanted to believe. But I also wanted to wait to see the other shoe drop.

Well, it has dropped. The Campaign for “Liberty” has betrayed the freedom movement. They have abandoned non-interventionism as a policy. They have sold us down the river to get campaign contributions from the military industrial complex death merchant defence contractors. Why?

If it is not for the money they can get from big military and big banking and big pharma and big agri-biz, then what is this betrayal for? ...

I am sick of it. There is no sign that the Campaign for “Liberty” is interested in liberty. They want as much money as possible from big death merchant companies. They want to ignore the pleas of countless Americans for an end to these senseless wars. ...

I admit, I was willing in 2007 to support Ron Paul despite his bad positions on these two things because he was right on non-intervention, because he was anti-war. War is so much bigger, so much more horrid, so much worse than anything else. And he lied to me.

He lied to me about the Campaign for “Liberty” being principled about opposing war and occupation and intervention. He betrayed my trust.

Read the source article.


Costa Rica’s New Southern Highway Should Bring Boom

The connection between San José and Costa Rica’s Pacific coast will soon be much better, with potentially game-changing implications for the Pacific coast real estate market.

New construction on Costa Rica’s southern highway, known as the Costanera, along the Pacific Coast will soon be completed, cutting the time of the once dicey and bone-jarring drive between Quepos and Domical in half. [See, e.g., this map.]

Combined with the expected completion this year of the Caldera toll road from Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, to Caldera and Puntarenas, the new southern highway will help open a once-neglected section of Costa Rica’s magnificent Pacific coast to development.

All the major bridges from Jaco to Dominical are now complete and open. Just two years ago all traffic had to negotiate two sometimes impassable rivers.

The road widening, upgrading and construction project was designed to provide faster, safer and more efficient communications between the city of San José and the Pacific coast, including the city of Puntarenas, the port of Caldera and all the tourist towns along the Costanera Sur highway, while also providing a connection with the central, southern and northern regions.

Ronan McMahon, executive director of international property marketing firm Pathfinder Real Estate, says he has been bullish on Costa Rica’s Southern Zone for some time.

“This is the area that runs south of Quepos to the border with Panama on Costa Rica’s Pacific side,” said McMahon. “The scenery is amazing, but prices have stayed low because it was difficult to get to. Now all that has changed. The will affect property values in this zone in a huge way because anything that improves the accessibility of a piece of real estate increases its desirability. More desirable means more valuable.

“Costa Rica is a name-brand destination for retirees and investors already,” McMahon said, “and soon a huge chunk of it that was nearly inaccessible will suddenly be within easy drive time of the capital and the international airport. The game is going to change along the southern highway.”

Read the source article.

Wubi Brings Ubuntu to Windows

Wubi is an officially supported Ubuntu Linux distribution installer for Windows users. It allows one to install and uninstall Ubuntu as any other Windows application. Wubi virtually eliminates the challenges associated with installing Linux and makes it possible to test Ubuntu in a dual-boot configuration without any risk or major commitment. No partitioning; no installing a bootloader. Curious about Linux and Ubuntu? Wubi is a good way to try it out.

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