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PANAJACHEL, GUATEMALA: THE OPTIMAL TOWN
Big enough to meet your needs, but not so big as to be overwhelming. Plus, it has one of the most breathtakingly beautiful lakes in all of the Americas.
Caribbean Property Magazine’s Carter Clews is back with another idea for where you might want to live abroad. This round he revisits Guatemala. The town of Panajachel meets his criteria for what consititutes being “optimal.”
For historical background and travel information on Guatemala check this issue of the Offshore Digest. In particular the writer of the budget travel in Guatemala article says Panajachel “is nothing more than a tucker and trinket emporium.” Now that is one traveler’s perspective, as distinct from a resident’s. Still, you never really know until you check things out yourself.
When I was a youngster growing up in the rolling hills of Western Maryland, my parents would load us three kids into the Olds every Saturday and take us all “to town” to do the family shopping. “Town,” in this case was Hagerstown, Maryland. The “Hub.” The “Big City.”
Filled with towering skyscrapers that pierced the yawning sky; crammed to the hilt with every imaginable toy, candy, and confection a kid could ever hope to have; Hagerstown, Maryland, was Oz, Fantasy Land, and the Celestial City all rolled into one. Or so it seemed to this six-year-old.
Invariably at some point in the sojourn, Dad would turn to us all and say, “One hundred thousand people – the perfect size for a city. Hagerstown is optimal: just big enough to have everything you need, but not so big as to be overwhelming.”
Dad always talked to “we three” as if we were adults. I was probably the only six-year-old in Washington County, Maryland entirely conversant in Kant’s Categorical Imperative. And as far as I know, my brother, sister, and I were the only kids in town who considered Mr. Bluster “egregious.”
I was reminded of all this while perusing the literature to find what might be considered the perfect size town in Latin America. As far as cities go, I still think 100,000 may be right on target – a thought bolstered every time I journey to nearby La Ceiba, Honduras, from my home in the tiny barrio of El Pino.
But, what about “towns”? What size should a Latin American town be in order to meet all of your basic needs and provide for your entertainment wants, as well?
Clearly, the town has to be big enough to house a sufficient number of larger stores, small boutiques and “green grocer” kiosks to provide you with clothes, foodstuffs, and various sundries. It should certainly have a wide enough variety of restaurants to sate a fairly diverse palate. And while you do not need professional football, futbol, the Hippodrome, or a World’s Fair, some sort of viable entertainment would seem in order.
Add to that a primary attraction of a significant magnitude. Something, let’s say, to satisfy the “Wow! Factor.” As in, “Wow, that is one massive ski slope!” Or, “Wow, how did they ever pack that many neon lights, lounge acts, and slot machines into one desert town?!” Primary attractions of that magnitude not only guarantee you exciting (or, at least, intriguing) ways to while away your hours. They also assure steady stream of friends, relatives, and erstwhile acquaintances who “just wanted to stop by to say hello.”
And that brings us to Panajachel, Guatemala. With 14,000 inhabitants, Panajachel is the perfect size Latin American town – “optimal: just big enough to meet your needs, but not so big as to be overwhelming.” Plus, it has Lago de Atitlán, with its lilting waves and vast expanse, certainly one of the most breathtakingly beautiful lakes in all of the Americas.
Panajachel (aka: Pana) is located in the Guatemalan Highlands encompassing the majestic chain of volcanoes stretching from the Antigua region to the Mexican border and the Cordillera de los Cuchumatanes north of the bustling city of Huehuetanango. If you think of Guatemala as a fat “J,” Pana is located in the lower third of the bottom loop.
Actually, Pana is not far from Chichicastenango (Chichi) about which I wrote some months back. So, if you want to learn more about the general area, that column may be a good place to start.
Those who remember the Sixties (and as George Carlin used to say, “If you remember them too well, you probably weren’t there”) may recall that Pana became a popular way station on the Hippie Generation’s “Magical Mystery Tour.” Most of them left when the Marxists staged a bloody, brutal revolt in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. (Hippies had a personal disdain for Marxism, but they didn’t mind abandoning the rest of the world to it.)
By then, however, some of the finer elements of American Culture were well ensconced in Panajachel. And those who remained have inculcated it well.
In Pana, you can find just about everything you need, or want, on Calle Santander, one of the two main streets running through the town down to the beach (the other is Calle Rancho Grande). Calle Santander is lined with bookstores, restaurants, tiendas, boutiques, cybercafés (always a must if you know anyone else living anywhere else in the world), and more than adequate accommodations.
Stroll up to Calle Principal, turn towards the town center, and you can get the full, festive flavor of a typical Latin American colonial village. The market place dominates, with its cacophony of colorful kiosks and gaily dressed locals. Here, you can purchase everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to handwoven shawls and handmade crafts to the indigenous knickknacks you’ll want to send the folks back home to prove you are really here (which you can do from the post office at Santander and 15 de Febrero).
But, do not stay too long downtown, because Lake Atitlan – described by Lonely Planet as “one of the world’s most beautiful and fascinating bodies of water” – is only a few short blocks away.
Here is how I described Lake Atitlan in my February, 2009, column on Chichicastenango, and every word still rings true:
“Atitlan is a 130 square kilometer lake of such stunning beauty that Aldous Huxley described it as “touching the limit of permissibly picturesque.” The lake, whose name translates “the place where the rainbow gets its color,” lies at the base of towering volcanic mountains and floats in the sky a mile above sea level. And, oh yes, if you bring along your “Roland Martin’s Helicopter Lures” (about which I wrote an award-winning infomercial), the bass angling is great, particularly after the spring spawn.”
I will not change a word, but I will briefly expand upon what I wrote, for better, or worse. First, the worst: Tempting though they may be, I do not want you to rush off along the isolated paths leading away from the lake’s shoreline. Simply put: they are not safe. Foreigners walking those wooded paths too often fall victim to bands of marauding hoodlums. The government, of course, should stop these hooligans dead in their tracks. But, sadly, the government of Guatemala, like most governments, considers collecting taxes and rolling out red tape its top priorities. Hence, the outrage.
Now, back to the better. Sounded at a remarkable 340 meters deep (though that is only an estimate; the actual depth has not yet been plumbed), Atitlan is by far the deepest lake in Central America. The combination of its being about 15 degrees above the equator and 5000 feet above sea level contributes to its ideal climate. The weather is never unseemly hot or cold. Though the rainy season lasts from May to October, nary a day goes by that the sun does not shine.
Fishing, boating, swimming, diving – they are all enticing elements of the Atitlan experience. And especially in the morning hours (before the afternoon winds can whip up the waves), the placid lake is an ideal venue for whiling away the hours diving in, or living your day dreams. As Huxley wrote, “It really is too much of a good thing.”
So, pack up your troubles in your old backpack, dive bag, suitcase, or – my advice – shipping crate – and head for Panajachel. For a Latin American town, it is “just big enough to have everything you want, but not so big as to be overwhelming.” In short, it is optimal. With not an egregious Mr. Bluster in sight.
Read the source article.
MEDICAL TOURISM, HONDURAN STYLE
How about paying pennies on the dollar for top-quality care – and convalescing in a beachfront condo?
In last month’s Caribbean Property and Lifestyles Magazine it was announced that a whole new “Caribbean Retirement Pages” section would be included in each issue going forward. Each section would feature articles on personal finance, health and fitness, and safety and security, as well as a more touchy-feely “up close and personal” piece. This month is the first to include the full deal. Here is the health and fitness article.
In Honduras, a doctor’s visit at your home costs between $5 and $15, a day in the hospital about $30 to $40, and a complex surgical procedures less than $2,000. Need we say more? Becoming a “medical tourist” is destined to become the best redress against the treatment one can expect from the high-cost, paperwork-burdened, quality-compromised U.S. heathcare (“sickness-care,” actually) system. People are rapidly figuring out that foreign healthcare practitioners offer comparable or better quality to those in the U.S., at a cost that is often an order of magnitude lower. Honduras is just one of the many options.
When most North Americans fantasize about a Caribbean cruise, they conjure up images of scuba diving on coral reefs, sipping marguerites beneath a thatched-roof palapa, or a romantic stroll on a moonlit beach.
But, how about a quick and easy knee replacement? Or a low-cost haemorrhoidectomy? Remember that rhinoplasty you thought you could never afford? Well, now you can. And open-heart surgery? How about paying pennies on the dollar for top-quality care – and convalescing in a beachfront condo?
It is all part and parcel of a new phenomenon sweeping the health care community. It is called “medical tourism.” And, it is quickly changing the way Americans look at surgical procedures abroad, from a bunionectomy to an organ transplant.
According to a recent study by the prestigious Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, six million Americans are expected to go offshore for medical treatment by the end of 2010. And the numbers are expected to increase exponentially in the years ahead as the Obama health care plan drives up costs and drives out doctors fearful of rising red tape and plummeting incomes.
While only a handful of today’s “medical tourists” are currently coming to Honduras for major surgical procedures, a rapidly expanding influx is all but inevitable. The country’s six national hospitals offer state-of-the-art treatment at bargain prices. And its plethora of world class physicians is the product of some of America’s finest medical schools.
Honduran physicians invariably speak impeccable English, and they studiously keep abreast of the latest medical procedures. And they “treat you as a person and not a number.”
Honduran physicians invariably speak impeccable English, and they studiously keep abreast of the latest medical procedures. But, that is just the beginning. As one American expat living on Roatan Island observed, “They treat you as a person and not a number. They take time to explain what they are doing, and why. And you get the feeling that they really care.”
That care comes with a remarkably low price tag. In Honduras, a doctor’s visit cost between $5 and $15. And, they still make house calls. A day in the hospital costs about $30 to $40. And even the most complex surgical procedures are invariably performed for under $2,000.
Significantly, most prescription drugs in Honduras can be purchased over the counter at a local pharmacy. And the resident pharmacist can write out the prescription.
Recently, this writer needed a prescription nasal spray to quell the allergies he had brought with him from the U.S. Had prescription been filled in the U.S., it would have required a doctor’s visit (price: $100) in addition to the inflated price of the drug itself (rarely less than $60). The entire price at the local Honduran pharmacy: $37. The low-cost pharmacies can be found throughout Honduras. Major hospitals cannot. But, residents and visitors are rarely more than an hour’s drive, at most, from a fully equipped facility.
The nation’s three top hospitals are located in the three major cities: Tegucigalpa (the capital), San Pedro Sula (the industrial center), and La Ceiba (the tourist center).
But, that is just the beginning. Altogether, Honduras boasts six national hospitals, six regional hospitals, and 16 area hospitals, each equipped for advanced treatment. In addition, there are some 250 CESAMOs (area hospitals with a medical doctor) and just over 1,000 CESARs (small, rural hospitals with a resident nurse).
So, for North American expats and tourists, in particular, Honduran health care is considered by most to be not only adequate, but, in most cases, exemplary. And, even for the poorest Honduran citizens, the health care is increasingly a source of national pride. It is more than 2.000 doctors, 1,000 nurses, and 5,000 auxiliary nurses have increased the average life span to 71 years and the mortality rate to just five per 1,000.
The fact is: the greatest health threats in Honduras today are highly unlikely to touch most expats and tourists. They come not from inadequate health care, but from hygiene problems and insufficient disease prevention at the local level.
When large portions of the population insist upon eating little else but fried foods, drinking massive quantities of flavored sugar waters (Coke and Pepsi), and eschewing exercise, morbid obesity is all but inevitable. Add to this a rural propensity for storing water in sitting tanks and eschewing free medical care; and the results can be abysmal.
And then, of course, there is the inevitable problem of politics as usual. In Honduras, as in the U.S., career politicians build medical clients where they are least needed in order to get the votes they most want. In the U.S., such practices cost billions of dollars. Unfortunately, in Honduras, they can cost hundreds, or even thousands, of lives.
Still and all, for those who avail themselves of it – natives, expats, and tourists alike – health care in Honduras is a model of modern-day efficiency. The doctors are first-rate. The procedures are state of the art. The prices (including travel and lodging), according to the Deloitte Medical Tourism study, can save patients up to 90% of US costs. And the levels of competence and compassion are a growing to testament as to why medical tourism is sweeping the Western Hemisphere.
Little wonder that, according to Dr. Paul Keckley, Deloitte Executive Director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, “Significant numbers of people are willing to vote with their feet to try something different, whether it is retail clinics or medical tourism.”
And nearby Honduras, with its scuba diving, sweet marguerites, moonlit beaches – and low-cost, high-quality health care – is only a short “walk” away.
Read the source article.
HONDURAS – THE FACTS OF THE MATTER
The vast majority of crime in Honduras is committed in the country’s two largest cities, and even there is largely relegated to areas most tourists would likely avoid anyway.
Carter Clews defends, once more, his adopted homeland of Honduras from U.S. State Department innuendo. The State Department refers to the lawful impeachment of Obama/Chaven buddy Manuel Zelaya as a “coup d’état”; we will let readers draw their own conclusions from that.
The actual state of affairs in Honduras? Clews: “[B]y and large, Americans visiting, and living in, Honduras have found it no less safe, or more dangerous, than any other developed society, emerging nation, or Third World country anywhere else on the planet. Crime is not ‘endemic.’ Peace and tranquility are. And the best way to find out the facts of the matter is to come and see it for yourself.”
On a happier note, this month Clews also writes of an interview he conducted with an artisan who manages his own furniture-making business in El Pino, Honduras – a short drive from Clews’s new home base.
To read the official warnings from U.S. State Department, one would think that visiting the Republic of Honduras is something akin to making a call on Dr. Kevorkian. Only more dangerous. Here is the actual alert from the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs:
“Crime is endemic in Honduras and requires a high degree of caution by U.S. visitors and residents alike. U.S. citizens have been the victims of a wide range of crimes, including murder, kidnapping, rape, assault, and property crimes.”
And, indeed, that is horrifying. One would almost think you were in Detroit. Only not as dangerous.
The truth, of course, is that the State Department has never forgiven the Honduran people for defying a direct order from President Barack Obama to reinstate its impeached president, Manuel Zelaya. In fact, the Obama State Department still refers to the by-the-book impeachment as a “coup d’état.” And it continues to try to force the Republic to abandon its laws and dismiss all charges against the would-be dictator.
So, it is no surprise that Foggy Bottom (as State affectionately calls itself) would paint as horrifying a picture as possible of the little country that would not comply. And one is left to wonder: Exactly what is the truth about safety and security in the tiny Republic.
To a certain extent, the truth is that Honduras is a very poor country with a very high crime rate. With nearly 70 murders per 100,000 citizens, it dwarfs countries like the U.S. (with 5.4) and even nearby Nicaragua (with just 12). And that means the State Department is correct – to a degree. “The situation “requires a high degree of caution.”
But to say that crime is “endemic” in Honduras carries a connotation that is unfair at best and deliberately pejorative at worst. “Endemic,” of course, (as the learned scribes at State well know) implies that crime is characteristic of Hondurans, or native to their culture. And that is no truer of Honduras than it is of, let’s say, Detroit.
The fact is, the vast majority of crime in Honduras is committed in the country’s two largest cities: Tegucigalpa (the capital) and San Pedro Sula (the industrial center). And even in those cities, the crime is largely relegated to areas most tourists would likely avoid even without a State Department warning.
In the third largest city, La Ceiba, violent crime is negligible.
In the third largest city, La Ceiba, violent crime is negligible. And in the countryside – which makes up the vast expanse of Honduras – crime is hardly “endemic.” In fact, there are few reports of crimes against foreign travelers throughout Honduras. And the natives are sufficiently well-armed to protect themselves.
Then why the fear among many Americans, in particular, to visit this relatively peaceful country. Perhaps because of hysterical warnings like this, again from the State Department:
“Travelers should always drive with their doors locked and windows rolled up to avoid potential robberies at traffic lights and other places, such as congested downtown streets ... Do not hitchhike or go home with strangers, particularly from nightspots.”
The same commonsense warnings could, of course, be issued for travelers visiting any U.S. city, including Washington, DC. In fact, in certain parts of Washington – like the Southeast fringe, or the Northeast corridor – travelers would be well advised not to go home even with people they know.
But, by putting the warning in writing on its website, the State Department knowingly casts aspersions on an entire country. And the stigma sticks. In fact, even the Bay Islands of Roatan, Utila, and minuscule Guanaja do not escape Foggy Bottom’s devastating indictment. Warns the State Department’s constabularies:
“Copan, Roatan/Bay Islands, and other tourist destinations have a lower crime rate than other parts of the country, but thefts, break-ins, assaults, and murders do occur.”
Again, no facts, no figures, no statistics to back up the accusations. Just the broad brush of innuendo with the cryptic assertion that such crimes “do occur.” As quite likely, they “do occur” in seaside resorts and small towns all across America. And, they most certainly “do occur” on a nightly (even hourly) basis in America’s inner cities.
The truth is, on the Bay Islands, a purse-snatching is cause for alarm. And pick-pocketing is almost none existent. Break-ins “do occur” – on rare occasion. And assaults are an exception to the rule. As to major crime, as one Roatan police officer told this reporter, “We are on an island. Even the stupidest criminal knows that there are only two ways out – the airport and the ferry dock – and we guard both.”
The realistic rules of travel apply here as anywhere else.
So, what should the wise visitor do when visiting Honduras? The realistic rules of travel apply here as anywhere else – apply “a high degree of caution” – including:
Hyperkinetic State Department warnings aside, by and large, Americans visiting, and living in, Honduras have found it no less safe, or more dangerous, than any other developed society, emerging nation, or Third World country anywhere else on the planet. Crime is not “endemic.” Peace and tranquility are. And the best way to find out the facts of the matter is to come and see it for yourself.
- When you visit the inner city, stay in the nicer areas
- When you park your car, lock the doors
- When you stay in a hotel, throw the deadbolt
- When you go hiking, stick to the well-worn trails and go with friends
- When you drive into the countryside, take along a friend and do not go down dark, deserted roads in the middle of the night
- Don’t carry large sums of money
- Don’t flash your jewelry in high-crime areas
- Don’t put your faith in absolute strangers
- Don’t hide your valuables in the toe of your shoe when you go to the beach
Read the source article.
CARIBBEAN DISCOVERY : DISCOVERING DOMINICA
References to the tiny Caribbean nation of Dominica in these pages almost always cite its affordable second passport program. Descriptions of the country acclaim its incredible natural beauty.
Ella Rychlewski was a Peace Corps volunteer who lived and worked in Dominica, which she describes as “quite different and less developed than its neighbors.” She shared her experiences in a series of articles in Caribbean Property and Lifestyles Magazine. It is an interesting firsthand set of reminiscences that anyone considering a similar move would do well to read. In this article she offers pertinent advice for anyone visiting the island, temporarily or not.
When Ms. Rychlewski applied to join the Peace Corps “the Eastern Caribbean was probably near the bottom of my wish list.” While “I really fell in love with Dominica” ... ultimately she decided not to stay there, explaining that “island living is not for everyone.”
Most people have never heard of Dominica ... or they confuse it with the Dominican Republic. Fewer still would know where to look for it on a map. The vast majority of visitors who do go to the country are day-trippers, let off from the cruise ships that berth in the capital, Roseau. Otherwise, they come as students and remain steadfastly attached to the Ross University enclave just outside Portsmouth.
This means that for those people who, like me, get to spend some time on the island, it remains largely unspoilt, untouched, unchartered territory. My Caribbean Lonely Planet guidebook had only a few pages dedicated to Dominica so I arrived not knowing what to expect. I know of at least two Dominica-dedicated guidebooks in the works and I applaud them for attempting to fill the gap.
Dominica requires that you engage with its people but, luckily, I have yet to find any friendlier.
Dominica is one of those places that you need to have some idea what you are doing to be able to really get a feel for the place. Signposts are scarce, you cannot visit all the essentials in a day and few people seem to venture beyond the Roseau area sites, which is a shame as they are missing out on what makes Dominica truly unique. Crucially, it is a county that can only be visited with some means of locomotion and most people would find public transport a little baffling. Above all, however, Dominica is a duality of breathtaking landscapes and strong culture. For the latter there are no real shortcuts and it precludes taking the ethnographer’s approach to traveling most are more comfortable with. Dominica requires that you engage with its people but, luckily, I have yet to find any friendlier.
Getting to the county is a trip unto itself as there are few, if any, direct flights, meaning at least one stop on the way. You can fly into the main airport at Melville Hall, diagonally at the opposite end of the island to Roseau, or into Canefield Airport, just outside the capital. There is also the option of taking the ferry from the neighboring islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Saint Lucia. There is a range of decent accommodation and restaurants on the island, guesthouses often being the best option.
Dominica offers a variety of holiday themes: hiking, diving, beach, and sightseeing. There are also the festival periods to take into account: Independence and World Creole Music Festival (early October to early November) and Carnival (usually sometime in February) being the biggest. Those would be the best times to go if you want to see Dominicans out in force. The country, by necessity, is in sync with the cruise ships which come to the island, sometimes up to four or five at a time. While not the best time to visit, this means some attractions only open when they are there so I would definitely recommend planning and booking some parts of your stay in advance.
However, Dominica is not really a holiday destination I would suggest if you tend to prefer the comfort and security of a resort and just want to spend a week or two not doing much. To me that would be a waste of a trip because the county has so much more to offer. Similarly, the nightlife options are somewhat limited though you will usually find an open bar and a cold beer, somewhere. Probably some interesting company as well (they all have their regulars, who get increasingly entertaining as the evening wears on). It is not a shopper paradise either as most stores, including the tourist-oriented markets, are unfortunately all too often stocked with the “best” of Made in China.
So what do you do in Dominica? Top favorites are the Trafalgar Fall, the Emerald pool and Champagne Beach that are probably the island’s most visited sites. Another must to see and experience, located in the Roseau areas, is Wotten Waven and the hot sulfur springs that are simply heaven on earth. For the more adventurous, I would suggest hiking to Boiling Lake, the Jacko steps and exploring the volcanic peaks at the heart of the island.
Meanwhile, the model Kalinago village in the Carib Territory is a good introduction to the native Indian culture, still strong, on the island. Keep in mind that while these may be the most commonly mentioned Dominican sites there are a multitude of lesser known waterfalls, trails and landscape landmarks. I would recommend finding a guide, preferably area specific. There are quite a few great ones, who will be happy to share their passion for their country.
For the action oriented, besides extensive hiking, the island offers great snorkeling and diving, mainly based in the Roseau area, and various whale and dolphin-watching cruises. Contrary to popular belief, Dominica has some stunning sandy beaches; often so secluded you will have them to yourself. However, Champagne, Mero and Purple Turtle are probably the most frequented, they will get quite crowded on weekends and public holidays, which are dedicated “beach days” for the locals. The Layou and White rivers offer a range of water sports like tubing and canoeing and there are several jungle discovery courses, like the Aerial Tram.
Dominica is one of the few islands where there is still a strong native population and they actually have their own territory.
To me, however, the best of Dominica was always its people. I really enjoyed getting to know the communities and culture. There are two main influences, the Native Indian Kalinago or Carib culture, which comes from the original inhabitants of the Caribbean, and the Creole culture that is a mix of African and Colonial. Dominica is one of the few islands where there is still a strong native population and they actually have their own territory, the Carib Territory, as well as several strong cultural groups that still perform the traditional dance and music. The main source of art and crafts is also the Territory and the model village is well worth going to.
Creole culture is found throughout the Caribbean, especially in the French neighboring islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. Dominica’s Creole language is a mix of African and French and, despite the British system, there is a strong French colonial cultural flavor. Beyond the language, Creole further expressed through dress and dance. During the Independence Season, a lot of Dominican will proudly sport the Creole Wear, in a dazzling array of shades and styles. The islands has a strong focus on keeping the traditions alive and the annual dancing and music competitions among the nation’s cultural groups are well worth seeking out.
During the rest of the year, I would suggest finding out if the Arawak House of Culture or the Old Mill Cultural Center, both in Roseau, are putting on any shows or activities during your stay. There are some vibrant groups, the Waitukubuli National Dance Theater and the Sisserou Singers among them, who put on performances year round. So keep an ear or an eye open for news and advertising for events.
There is a museum in Roseau and the Old Mill has recently opened another one – and also worth a visit is the Cabrits National Park, just North of Roseau. Being lovingly restored, Fort Shirley, an old colonial garrison, has a small museum giving a good overview of the history of the area but it also offers breathtaking views of Portsmouth Bay as well as some pleasant walks. Also worth a visit in the Portsmouth area is the Indian River where guides will take you on a boat tour of the mangrove-filled river.
Portsmouth, Jewel of the North
Most people will tell you that Portsmouth’s claim to fame is being the island of Dominica’s second largest city. So start most of the travel descriptions ... only to end a few lines later. However, this brevity does this social melting pot and natural jewel an injustice. Having been based in the North during my time in Dominica I got to know Portsmouth quite well and it is well worth spending time here.
The town was briefly the capital of Dominica before the capital was relocated to Roseau. The topography of the area, marshes and volcanic elevations, did not allow for expansion. Now the bustling center of the Northern District, Portsmouth town is located on the shore of a natural harbor, Prince Rupert Bay, which was a port of call for Columbus in 1504 and today attracts yachts, ferries and cruise ships.
Most tourists and some cruisers head straight for Roseau and overlook the north – rich in history, culture, food and natural beauty. Portsmouth is an ideal base to discover a different part of Dominica.
Planned on a grid system, the town of Portsmouth is centered on Bay Street and Burrough Square. Its charm lies in the fact that it is not touristy; it is a working town where Dominicans from the area come to do to business and shop. The area’s only hospital and fire station are also in Portsmouth. Locals come to town to run their errands and walk down the street hailing each other, exchanging greetings. Exuberant laughing, expansive gestures, animated arguments – the people make this place come alive.
In town, you can find most necessities in Joe’s and Best Buy supermarkets as well as in a few smaller food shops. On market days (Fridays and Saturdays), the market provides a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as meat and fish. Along the main street you will also find a few clothing stores, a couple of internet cafés and most of the snackettes. These are small shacks where you can purchase snack food throughout the day: fried chicken, bakes and sandwiches, as well as Creole plates at lunchtime.
The Creole plate is the staple diet of Dominica and includes meat or fish, vegetables, beans and at least two types of carbs (e.g., rice, spaghetti, “fig” pie, macaroni-and-cheese or potato salad). These are ideal places to rest, have lunch and to watch and listen to Dominicans, many of whom will stop in for lunch. Don’t forget your local juice; there is nothing better, after all, than fresh juice (orange, grapefruit, tamarind, guava and the list goes on) made with fruit picked from a tree that same morning.
Portsmouth has the advantage of offering a wide variety of activities within close range. To the north, the beautiful Purple Turtle Beach is just outside Portsmouth, as are several other beaches. Most yachts anchor off this beach or pick up a mooring there. The cruise ship berth is located in nearby Cabrits National Park, which has many short trails to explore as well as Fort Shirley, an 18th century British garrison that is being reconstructed.
Further up that side of the island, still heading north, are Toucarie Bay, which has little-known reefs for diving, and Capuchin, another historical site and the start of the picturesque Capuchin- Penville hiking trail. The road back to Portsmouth from Penville, an agricultural Caribbean village with sweeping views towards Marie-Galante, takes you through an active volcano crater with bubbling sulphur springs. The French islands are never far from view in this part of the island.
Portsmouth’s southern border is the Indian River. Locals offer boat rides up the beautiful mangrove-framed river to the jungle bar at the end serving Kubuli, the local beer, and its version of rum punch. A little further south is Picard, home to Ross University medical school. For those hankering after some Western fare, you can find everything from bagels and smoothies to pizza, several fast-food chains, as well as a wider selection of food in the several supermarkets. The area’s hotels are also mostly located in this area, along the beach.
If, after those several packed days, you get bored, you can always rent a car and venture farther afield. To the south is the Syndicate Trail where you can see the Syndicate waterfall and hope to catch a glimpse of the indigenous and rare Sisserrou (Amazona imperalis) and Jacquot (Amazona arausiaca) parrots. Heading east you can cross the Kalinago territory, owned by the “Carib Indians,” the Kalinago people. They have a model village showcasing their history and lifestyle.
Portsmouth, often unjustly overlooked, offers a mix of an authentic Caribbean experience along with all the pleasure and comforts one wants to find on vacation. There are several clubs offering nightlife mid-week and on weekends as well as some authentic dining experiences. And did I mention the best “cookies and cream” ice cream I have ever had, to be found at Burrough Square?
These are the top tourist sites in Dominica. The ones you will find on the map. Any self-respecting guide to the country will include these and they are most certainly worth going to. Yet, to me, the charm lies in the communities themselves, in getting lost and driving around and seeing where the road goes.
Which can be daunting when the roads are winding and in more or less bad condition. But do take the time to walk around, stop in the local snackette for a drink or a snack. Go and explore, take the road less taken. I have spent quite a few happy afternoons wandering the backstreets of Portsmouth, making new acquaintances along the way.
I realize that it is different actually living in a country as opposed to just being a visitor but also that what I have said here about Dominica can be said about most places around the globe. They all have their particularities and attractions, things that draw, enchant and really make a place memorable. However, let me put it this way: when I applied to go into the Peace Corps, the Eastern Caribbean was probably near the bottom of my wish list.
I grew up with the delights from Europe in the reasonably sized city of Bordeaux. Therefore, ending up on the unknown island of Dominica could have been quite the chore. Yes, it is an island in the Caribbean but it is quite different and less developed than its neighbors and besides ... island living is not for everyone.
Yet, despite the many factors that seemed to preclude me from really appreciating the island, I really fell in love with Dominica. Whether its watching a cultural competition, three all-nighters at Creole Fest, just hanging out in my village and swimming in the sea with the local children, trying to catch the multitude of colorful marine life within reach or walking new trails, time just slows down and it all makes sense there.
Discovering Dominica includes its gorgeous sunsets, breathtaking scenery, good food (from gourmet to homemade) and above all open and friendly people ... what more can you ask for?
Read the source article.
10 PITFALLS AND PERILS OF RETIRING TO PANAMA
Panama is a developing country.
Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, recommends Panama as one of the top destinations for expats. But when asked by a reader to “address some of the possible pitfalls to watch for when attempting retirement to Panama,” she did not pull her punches. The 10 “pitfalls and perils” given undoubtedly apply elsewhere in Latin America.
Lind Adams of the United States writes this week to ask:
“Kathleen, could you please address some of the possible pitfalls to watch for when attempting retirement to Panama? With all the vast experience and knowledge you and your staff have, I am sure you could offer some good information on things to be cautious about when making such a move ...”
- The people in Panama speak Spanish. Some, especially in Panama City, also speak English, but you cannot count on this. To make your transition less frustrating and your experience in the country more fulfilling, you are going to need to learn to speak at least a little Spanish.
- Panama City is hot and humid, all year long. Sometimes, miserably so. The good news is that, today, most everywhere you will want to go (the shopping malls, the grocery stores, the movie theaters, banks, restaurants, etc.) is air-conditioned. The other good news is that you can escape the heat of Panama City with a trip to the highlands, where the climate is cooler, even chilly.
- Downtown Panama City has received an impressive facelift over the past couple of years, and the new Cinta Costera pedestrian park area that runs through the center of the city and along the Bay of Panama is well-conceived, nicely landscaped, and carefully maintained.
Elsewhere, though, in the capital, the neighborhoods are much more Third World. Remember, Panama is a developing country. Its infrastructure is without peer in the region, and this country is working aggressively to improve itself in every possible way. Still, again, this is not the First World. Expect poverty, garbage, and broken sidewalks.
- Latinos, including Panamanians, are loud. They like loud music, late-night parties, and any excuse to set off a round of firecrackers.
- Panama has no national, to-your-door mail delivery service. You will have to arrange to have your mail forwarded to you from a mail-forwarding service.
- It is nearly impossible to find a good road map of Panama City or a reliable map of any part of this country. I don’t know why, but there you are.
- Most streets are not sign-posted, and many do not have names at all (as far as we have been able to figure out). This may help to explain point #6 ...
- In this part of the world, time is a very fluid concept. Mañana, for example, does not mean tomorrow. It means sometime in the future ... maybe. The plumber who promises to return “Mañana” to finish the repairs to your leaking faucet may, in fact, be back tomorrow, but you will find life much less frustrating if you do not take this kind of promise too literally. I have learned to believe no one when it comes to scheduling (of repairs, of meetings, of deliveries). This way, if someone or something shows up at the discussed time, I am pleasantly surprised.
- Panama, like most of the world, has no Multiple Listing Service. This requires an important adjustment in your approach to any property search.
- Panama does, on the other hand, have bugs, snakes, spiders, and dengue fever. You will be bitten by mosquitoes and other insects in this country. If you spend any time in the jungle, you will likely see a snake. I was bitten last year by a poisonous spider and had to spend a half-day in the Emergency Room on an IV. Our housekeeper Olga was stricken with dengue last month. She was seriously ill for two weeks but is now fully recovered.
Read the source article.
COSTA RICA TOPS NEW INDEX AS THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH
Costa Ricans live longer than Americans yet have an ecological footprint that is less than a quarter the size.
The Happy Planet Index tries to measure the efficiency with which human well-being is delivered, country by country: “The index combines environmental impact with human well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which, country by country, people live long and happy lives.”
How is well-being measured? It took some digging for what should have been something simple to find, but eventually we found out that their HLY, or “happy life years,” index is derived by multiplying a life satisfaction rating by mean life expectancy at birth. The idea makes sense for trying to get one’s arms around the issue, although it clearly is a simplification of vast order. (As they explain, it assumes childhood is as happy, or unhappy, as adulthood.)
Version 2.0 of the index is now out, and Costa Rica tops the list. “Costa Ricans report the highest life satisfaction in the world, have the second-highest average life expectancy of the Americas (second only to Canada) and have an ecological footprint that means that the country only narrowly fails to achieve the goal of ‘one-planet living’: consuming its fair share of the Earth’s natural resources.”
Moveover, nine of the 10 top-scoring nations on the Index are in Latin America. (Vietnam is #5.) The United States is #114, weighed down by its huge resource consumption. Ranking purely by HLY, i.e., ignoring resource consumption entirely, Costa Rica is #1 and the U.S. #14. The second highest Latin American country is Panama at #20. Every country between Costa Rica and Panama is a developed country. What about ranking just by life satisfaction, forget about life expectancy too? Costa Rica is #1 by a fair margin over #2; the U.S. is #9; famously happy Iceland ranks #10.
You can download a spreadsheet containing all the data here.
Ever wonder where the happiest place on earth might be?
According to the Happy Planet Index (HPI) compiled by the New Economics Foundation, Costa Rica earns the distinction of being the happiest place on earth.
The HPI measures how much of the Earth’s resources a nation uses and how happy and fulfilled its citizens feel themselves to be.
Costa Ricans top the list because they report having the highest life satisfaction in the world. At the same time, they live longer than Americans yet have an ecological footprint that is less than a quarter the size.
The difference, says the report, shows that it is possible to live long, happy lives without the tremendous burden on the world’s resources found in the world’s highest-consuming nations.
The new HPI also provides analysis of trends over time for the world’s most developed nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Combined life satisfaction and longevity increased 15% over the 45-year period for those living in the rich nations, but according to the New Economics Foundation it has come at the cost of a 72% rise in their ecological footprint.
And the three largest countries in the world – China, India and the U.S., all with aggressive growth-based development models – have all seen their HPI scores drop in that time.
International Living has been covering Costa Rica as a great retirement haven for many years, thanks to its eco-conscious policies, lack of standing army, relatively low cost of living and world-class health care system. The country is a favorite with retirees and second-home buyers from the U.S. and Canada, and is also a hotspot for medical tourism. Last month, International Living named Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula as one of the healthiest places on earth to live in its Health Index.
But as revealed in the HPI Index, it is the lifestyle that people who move to Costa Rica are seeking. IL reader Janet Grosshandler has just returned from living part-time in Playa Grande, on the Pacific Northwest coast ... and she cannot wait to go back. “Tiny cafés line the street, for a quick snack or hearty meal. ‘Hola’ is on everyone’s lips as they pass you strolling to catch some waves. Friendly ‘coconut men’ slice open the ice-cold pods, stick a straw in, and offer this tasty, nutritious coconut milk to drink and its firm flesh to eat – for a dollar! I am sucked wholeheartedly into its spell,” Janet says.
Read the source article.
9 MILLIONAIRE ASSET PROTECTION TIPS
Those who fail to plan are planning to fail.
If we were forced to take our publication Introduction to International Asset Protection and summarize its main action recommendations, it might look something like this article. The writer, Bobby Casey, contributes frequent articles on asset protection to Escape From America Magazine, and runs his own asset protection business. Necessarily lacking in details or background – at one point it gets a little too simple, as we point out below – it nevertheless gives a reasonable feel for what an asset protection roadmap can look like.
Asset Protection is not just for the super rich!
Many people view asset protection as the playground for the super rich. Some hear the words and cringe with fear. In reality, we should try to emulate the tools the super rich use to not only create wealth, but keep it as well. I mean honestly, do you want to continue to copy what your broke brother-in-law does, or would you rather learn the tips and tricks of the super wealthy? Thought so.
Asset Protection Tip #1
Start your own business. I know this seems easier said than done, but I am not talking about starting the next Microsoft. Employees are at a disadvantage when it comes to wealth creation and accumulation. They do not enjoy the tax advantages that entrepreneurs have. The number of deductions available to small business owners is rather large. Things like home office deduction, health insurance, office supplies, cell phone, vehicle expense, etc. I am not here to tell you what kind of business to start, but the opportunities are tremendous right now. Make your path.
Asset Protection Tip #2
For U.S. citizens and residents, structure your business as a U.S. LLC. By saying this, I really mean you need to make sure it is properly structured in the right state with a good operating agreement. I have discussed these things in the past so I will not rehash them here, but a properly structured LLC is critical. If not done right, you are wasting your time. A U.S. LLC gives you protection from both inside and outside creditors unlike a corporation. This means you are protected from the activity of the business as well as the business being protected from your personal activity.
Asset Protection Tip #3
I will reiterate here the importance of properly structuring your LLC. If you have significant assets to hold within the LLC, this should not be a do-it-yourself project. You are putting your wealth at risk here. A properly structured LLC registered in the right state will give you charging order protection. For example, if a judgment is issued against you for $1 million and the court finds your assets are held within an LLC, the only remedy for the creditors is a charging order. The charging order states that as your LLC pays distributions to the member attached in the judgment, it must pay the creditor to satisfy the judgment. The charging order cannot force the LLC manager to pay a distribution, liquidate assets, or take a membership interest to satisfy the judgment. It is essentially a lien. If the operating agreement is written well, the manager can withhold a distribution thus leaving the creditor with an uncollectable accounts receivable that he will have to pay taxes on.
Asset Protection Tip #4
Separate your business operations from your investments. For example, if you own several income producing rental properties, you should separate each piece of real estate into its own LLC and form another LLC as the commercial operation for property management. If you own a portfolio of liquid investments like stocks, bonds, options, commodities, etc. you should hold this asset in a completely separate LLC. By segregating your assets, you limit the risk to only that one LLC. If you have a tenant in one of your rental properties that is injured and you are liable for a $1 million judgment, the assets held in that one LLC are the only thing at risk.
Asset Protection Tip #5
Do not forget to properly insure yourself against loss. For example, if you have a net worth of $2 million but carry the bare minimum coverage on your auto policy, you are putting yourself at risk. The U.S. is the most litigious society in the world with nearly 1.2 million practicing attorneys, many of them are the ambulance chaser variety. A $1-2 million umbrella policy is cheap insurance and can cover you the next time you rear-end someone at a stop light. The same goes for your homeowner’s policy. This is cheap insurance in the event that someone leaves your home after the Superbowl party a little inebriated and causes an accident. The ambulance chaser will find out the alcohol was served at your house and you will be attached to the lawsuit.
Asset Protection Tip #6
Diversify, diversify, diversify. Any competent investment advisor will tell you not to hold your entire portfolio in one or two stocks, no matter how good they are. This goes for your asset protection plan as well. We call it “geo-arbitrage,’ but basically this means to diversify your asset holdings by using offshore entities and offshore banking. If you do not have an offshore bank account that allows you to hold multiple currencies, you are putting yourself at risk. The first thing I advise to nearly every client is to form an offshore entity like an LLC or IBC, then open a bank account in the LLC/IBC name. This gives you a place to hold cash and investments in multiple currencies should you need to move around funds. If you are ever involved in frivolous litigation in the U.S. it would be nice to have a place outside of U.S. court jurisdiction to place a portion of your assets in the event that you need it. But in addition to this benefit, there are many investment options not available in the U.S. due to regulations that exist here. For example, one Scandinavian bank I am aware of allows you to invest in a fund (similar to a mutual fund) that guarantees your principle but still allows for unlimited upside potential. You won’t find that at Bank of America.
Here we interject to warn that what exactly “forming” an offshore LLC or IBC means is not defined, but one had best be careful. As we point out in our report To IBC or not to IBC?, “using an IBC as a vehicle to own passive income generating assets confers no substantive tax benefits” to U.S. citizens/residents. Due to reporting requirements it confers no privacy benefits either, at least vis-à-vis the U.S. government. Using an IBC as “a place to hold cash and investments in multiple currencies,” i.e., passive investments, would thus be a dubious strategy at the level implied (which is perhaps not what gets recommended in practice).
Asset Protection Tip #7
As John D. Rockefeller so famously stated, “Own nothing, but control everything.” This is the mantra of the super rich. They do this through domestic and offshore entities like LLC’s and IBC’s and through trusts. A trust is the ultimate asset protection tool if done properly. A trust can completely block any creditors from attaching your assets as well as allow your wealth to continue for generations and pass tax free to your heirs. There is a reason one of the largest foundations in the world today is the Rockefeller Foundation. They did not grow and maintain their wealth by paying estate tax each year.
Asset Protection Tip #8
Hire qualified advisors. No one achieves great wealth on their own. While you may be incredibly intelligent, chances are you have some knowledge deficiencies and you will not be able to effectively do everything. All the smart ones know what they don’t know and outsource their weaknesses. Accountants, asset protection advisors, attorneys, and investment advisors are a few that we recommend.
Asset Protection Tip #9
Act now! Don’t wait until you are already at risk before you begin the planning process. If you have been served with a lawsuit, it is likely already too late. I do not imagine the Trumps and the Rockefellers of the world sat at home at night watching TV saying, “I will get to this later, tonight I am going to watch American Idol.” As the cliché goes, “Those who fail to plan are planning to fail.” Act now.
Read the source article.
NINE CHARGED IN TRUST FRAUD SCHEME
Officials claim company set up fake trusts among other ruses to hide customer income from the IRS.
We are too jaded to be surprised anymore when we hear – usually in the context of arrests and indictments – of the discovery of yet another “pure trust” scheme that purports to shield the customer’s income from the U.S. tax system. The scheme detailed here, with the very staid and proper sounding name of “Mid-Atlantic Trustees & Administrators,” started in 2005. Perhaps more surprising to us is that the (alleged) masterminds thought they could get away with a scheme relying on secrecy and money laundering given the massive financial surveillance system in place in the U.S. They threw in a little Montana Freemen-style debt extinguishment for good measure, which was totally guaranteed to bring unwanted attention to the operation.
A few comments are intersperse below.
A Bensalem couple and a Doylestown man were key players in an illegitimate New Jersey company’s fraud schemes, which centered on hiding customers’ income and assets from the Internal Revenue Service and making bogus claims that clients’ debt could be eliminated, federal officials announced [on July 22].
Richard MacFarlane, 62, of Doylestown, and Bensalem husband and wife Paula Mariani, 50, and Patrick Potopowicz, 61, were arrested [July 22] along with six co-defendants during a multi-state roundup involving 90 IRS agents, postal inspectors and officials from the Office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
The scheme’s alleged masterminds, Ronald Ottaviano, 64, of Lewes, Delaware, and Michael Balice, 60, of Metuchen, New Jersey, were arrested at their homes, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.
MacFarlane, Mariani and Potopowicz worked as sales representatives for Mid-Atlantic Trustees & Administrators, a company run by Ottaviano and Balice that “at no time conducted legitimate business,” an indictment says.
From the time it was established in 2005 until this year, MATA attracted hundreds of customers and netted more than $4.5 million in illicit gross receipts, according to court papers.
The company developed, marketed and sold a product called “Pure Trust Organization,” PTO, which was designed to help customers conceal income and other assets from the IRS, said records.
MATA’s PTO removed customers’ income and assets from the customers’ names and put them in the name of Ottaviano and Balice, said records.
Judging by the records from the investigation, Ottaviano and Balice pursued the proper form in setting up the trust arrangements (whether it was de facto or with supporting paperwork actually in place) insofar as they were the trustees and the customers were (we assume) beneficiaries. We advocate protecting one’s assets by getting them out of one’s own name. That is the theory, and this was done. Of course in practice you want to be careful about who or what is the receiving party.
The customers still had access to the funds and assets, but these were inaccessible to the customers’ creditors and the IRS could not tax them, the indictment said.
The customers’ ongoing access to trust assets is an immediate tip-off that functionally the trust arrangement is your classic alter-ego/sham arrangement. As we always emphasize, function trumps form. The indictment’s claim that the trust assets were inaccessible to creditors and the IRS is puzzling, if not intriguing, but details are lacking. Is the claim that a creditor would be unable to garnish trust funds in the event of a judgement against the trust beneficiary? If the beneficiary has easy access to the trust assets why could a court just not force him/her to withdraw them and hand them over to a creditor? The statement that IRS could not tax the trusts is hard to accept at face value. Any income generated has to show up somewhere, and it is taxable at that point. Perhaps the statements are designed to pump up the case, for consumption by future juries.
“MATA promoted PTOs as legally valid trusts even though MATA, its principals and its employees knew that PTOs were sham trusts and illegal,” investigators wrote in an indictment.
MATA also developed, marketed and sold at a cost of thousands of dollars per customer a product called “Beneficiaries in Common” – BIC – that claimed to eliminate debt.
But the program was a sham and the customers’ debt was never eliminated as MATA promised, authorities said.
MATA’s scheme with the BIC program involved creating fake bonds for customers. The bonds, often with the face amounts of tens of millions of dollars, were then sent to the U.S. Treasury Department.
MATA told customers that once the department accepted the customer’s bond, then the customer, with MATA’s help, could draw down the bond to pay off “public” debts, such as mortgage debt, credit card debt and tax obligations, said records.
The company then made and sent bogus promissory notes, the paper purportedly used to discharge a public debt, to mortgage companies, credit card companies and the treasury department as part of supposedly eliminating the individual’s debt, said records.
“In total, MATA flooded the U.S. Treasury, IRS and other government agencies with hundreds of billions of dollars in worthless paper,” according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey.
Naturally one cannot help but notice the farcical nature of this statement, as by any objective assessment the U.S. money and debt system involves nothing but the flooding of the system with intrinsically worthless paper. You expect these kind of statements from government employees. That said, they have the guns and they can make you play the part of customer for their paper whether you want to or not. Those indicted lacked this capability.
MacFarlane, Mariani and Potopowicz recruited customers, conducted seminars touting MATA’s products and helped prepare fraudulent federal tax returns for the company’s customers, the indictment said.
Between 2007 and 2008, Mariani and Potopowicz made $50,033 through their alleged illicit work for MATA, authorities said. They put the money in a PTO called Clearwater Trust, which they controlled, the indictment said.
MacFarlane made $23,250 between 2007 and 2008, and deposited it in a PTO he controlled called Courage Trust.
Formed in Toms River, New Jersey, MATA was later centered in Bayville, New Jersey, with a satellite office in Keasbey, New Jersey. Most recently the company was headquartered in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Also arrested in connection with the scheme during [the] sweep were: Harriet Foster, 66, a MATA office manager who is married to Ottaviano, and two MATA salesmen: Wilson Calle, 53, and Angel Done, 52, both of Queens, New York.
All eight defendants are charged with conspiring to defraud the United States. If convicted, they each face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, authorities said.
Ottaviano and Foster are additionally charged with money laundering. The charge is connected to the couple allegedly using about $500,000 they gained illegally through the MATA schemes to buy their Delaware home.
Unclear whether the alleged illegal gains came from income or stolen customer funds.
Ottaviano and Foster could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on the money laundering count and ordered to pay a fine of up to twice the purchase price of the home, which the government wants forfeited.
J. Russell George, treasury inspector general for tax administration, said in a statement that [the] arrests send a strong message to would-be fraudsters.
“Individuals who participate in illegal schemes to violate the integrity of the federal system of tax administration will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” George said.
Read the source article.
WEBSITES FEED PERSONAL DETAILS TO NEW TRACKING INDUSTRY
These aren’t your father’s cookies.
Anyone who upon discovering just how intrusive the personal detail tracking from websites can get is not then spooked must not understand the situation. The Wall Street Journal conducted an investigation into how prevalent the latest state-of-the-art tracking measures had become, and found them to be ubiquitous among the largest, most frequently viewed, U.S. websites.
The most intrusive monitoring works like this: The first time a site is visited, it installs a tracking file, which assigns the computer a unique ID number. Later, when the user visits another site affiliated with the same tracking company, it can take note of where that user was before, and where he is now. Over time the company can build a robust profile.
We are told our anonymity is preserved because our names are not associated with all the data (yet). But some of the tracking files identified by the Journal were so detailed that we can write this off as self-justifying cant. The building of personal profiles could include age, gender, race, zip code, income, marital status and health concerns, along with recent purchases and favorite TV shows and movies. Gee, good thing they don’t have a name (yet)!
And why are we being tracked? Mostly to sell us stuff, although one might well imagine the technology being put to more nefarious uses. Of course, you see, it is really for our own good. Selling us all this stuff we were not otherwise going to buy is better customer service. (Note: This site plants no tracking files on your computer.)
Congress is considering laws to limit tracking. We are not holding our breath. How many lobbyists do Google, Microsoft, Comcast, et al have? Responsibility for your privacy is in your hands alone.
Everyone who cared about cookies probably did something about them a long time ago. And perhaps some readers have heard about Flash “bugs,” which are like cookies but harder to root out. There is a Firefox extension called BetterPrivacy which helps protect against these “super-cookies.” An accompanying Journal article, here, suggests remedies to ward off the intruders.
The largest U.S. websites are installing new and intrusive consumer-tracking technologies on the computers of people visiting their sites – in some cases, more than 100 tracking tools at a time – a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.
The tracking files represent the leading edge of a lightly regulated, emerging industry of data-gatherers who are in effect establishing a new business model for the Internet: one based on intensive surveillance of people to sell data about, and predictions of, their interests and activities, in real time.
The Journal’s study shows the extent to which Web users are in effect exchanging personal data for the broad access to information and services that is a defining feature of the Internet.
In an effort to quantify the reach and sophistication of the tracking industry, the Journal examined the 50 most popular websites in the U.S. to measure the quantity and capabilities of the “cookies,” “beacons” and other trackers installed on a visitor’s computer by each site. Together, the 50 sites account for roughly 40% of U.S. page-views.
The 50 sites installed a total of 3,180 tracking files on a test computer used to conduct the study. Only one site, the encyclopedia Wikipedia.org, installed none. Twelve sites, including IAC/InterActive Corp.’s Dictionary.com, Comcast Corp.’s Comcast.net and Microsoft Corp.’s MSN.com, installed more than 100 tracking tools apiece in the course of the Journal’s test.
The Journal also surveyed its own site, WSJ.com, which does not rank among the top 50 by visitors. WSJ.com installed 60 tracking files, slightly below the 64 average for the top 50 sites.
Some 2/3 of the tracking tools installed – 2,224 – came from 131 companies that, for the most part, are in the business of following Internet users to create rich databases of consumer profiles that can be sold. The companies that placed the most such tools were Google, Microsoft and Quantcast, all of which are in the business of targeting ads at people online.
Google, Microsoft and Quantcast all said they do not track individuals by name and offer Internet users a way to remove themselves from their tracking networks. Comcast, MSN and Dictionary.com said they disclose tracking practices in their privacy policies, and said their visitors are not identified by name.
The state of the art is growing increasingly intrusive, the Journal found. Some tracking files can record a person’s keystrokes online and then transmit the text to a data-gathering company that analyzes it for content, tone and clues to a person’s social connections. Other tracking files can re-spawn trackers that a person may have deleted.
To measure the sensitivity of the data gathered by tracking companies, the Journal created an “exposure index” for the top 50 sites. Dictionary.com ranked highest in exposing users to potentially aggressive surveillance: It installed 168 tracking tools that did not let users decline to be tracked, and 121 tools that, according to their privacy statements, do not rule out collecting financial or health data. Dictionary.com attributed the number of tools to its use of many different ad networks, each of which puts tools on its site.
Some of the tracking files identified by the Journal were so detailed that they verged on being anonymous in name only. They enabled data-gathering companies to build personal profiles that could include age, gender, race, zip code, income, marital status and health concerns, along with recent purchases and favorite TV shows and movies.
The ad industry says tracking does not violate anyone’s privacy because the data sold does not identify people by name, and the tracking activity is disclosed in privacy policies. And while many companies are involved in collecting, analyzing and selling the data, they provide a useful service by raising the chance Internet users see ads and information relevant to them personally.
“We are delivering free content to consumers,” says Mike Zaneis, vice president of public policy for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group of advertisers and publishers. “Sometimes it means that we get involved in a very complex ecosystem with lots of third parties.”
The growing use and power of tracking technology have begun to raise regulatory concerns. Congress is considering laws to limit tracking. The Federal Trade Commission is developing privacy guidelines for the industry.
If “you were in the Gap, and the sales associate said to you, ‘OK, from now on, since you shopped here today, we are going to follow you around the mall and view your consumer transactions,’ no person would ever agree to that,” Sen. George LeMieux, Republican-Florida, said this week in a Senate hearing on Internet privacy.
The article has quite a few other articles linked off this one:
Read the source article.
MAKING MONEY OVERSEAS
A lot of folks are philosophically ready to expatriate, but they do not yet know what they want to do, or how they will earn money overseas.
Unless your assets support living for the rest of your life off your investment income and capital, you need to figure out a way to generate income from your labor when you expatriate. “Sovereign Man” Simon Black ran across a book purporting to instruct the reader on how to do exactly that, and found himself marveling at the creativity of some of the ideas he read. The book’s title is Portable Trades & Occupations 20-20 – a “‘reference guide’ to financial freedom for expats.” You can find the sales pitch and order instructions here.
Krakow, Poland: I took a short tour to the Auschwitz museum a few days ago. It was my second time there, and I still lack the words to adequately describe the experience.
If you have ever been to the Grand Canyon and seen that vast expansiveness first hand, you probably thought the same thing I did the first time I went there and stared ostensibly at the edge of the earth – “Wow. All the photos I’ve ever seen simply do not do this justice.”
Auschwitz is something like that. You can read all the books in the world about it, but they do not prepare you for seeing the gas chambers, the firing squad walls, and the tons of human hair and personal effects first hand.
Over 1 million people ended up there, and the majority of them were executed or succumbed to disease or starvation. They were the unlucky ones ... or perhaps the ones who ignored the warning signs.
Almost 71 years ago to the day, Hitler’s forces were massed at the Polish border waiting for the order to invade. In retrospect, the warning signs may seem fairly obvious to us ... but I am sure that in 1939, the majority of people had complete confidence that their government would protect them.
As it turned out, those who relied on their governments and institutions to protect them endured some of the harshest experiences imaginable – war, occupation, and genocide. Those who were prepared and took the necessary steps to safeguard themselves, their families, and their assets survived and prospered overseas.
We can recount numerous examples throughout history when individuals thrived in times of turmoil because they were self-reliant. They went against the grain, often to the bewilderment of friends and colleagues ... but they and their families were better off for following their instincts.
Today, we are once again living in a time of turmoil. The conditions are vastly different, but equally pressing. Worldwide extremism, resource shortages, booming populations, ongoing wars, and economic depression are all essential ingredients in stoking chaos and police states.
Eventually, most people will reach their breaking points ... though most likely when it is too late. At this point, they will begin the search for solutions.
The good news is that, for those who take action early, tremendous opportunity awaits. This is one of the biggest questions that I frequently receive, and what people ask me about when they engage me in personal discussion – what are the best opportunities overseas? What are the best ways to find them?
I recognize that economic interests really impact people’s decision-making process. A lot of folks are philosophically ready to expatriate, but they do not yet know what they want to do, or how they will earn money overseas.
In some places, like Chile, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, and many more, it is fairly easy for a skilled expat to find a well-paying job. For other people, their capability to generate income is not based on geography, but on the availability of the Internet or air transportation.
Still, others are looking for that killer opportunity overseas ... they want to be the guy/gal who opens up the shovel shop in San Francisco in the mid 1840s, ready to cash in on the coming boom.
I like this style myself ... and in that case, my ultimate suggestion is quite simple: Get ahead of the herd, find a large problem, and provide a solution.
This, ultimately, is what entrepreneurship is all about – creating value by solving problems. The greater the problem, or the more people who are affected by it, the greater the value provided (and greater the financial reward for the entrepreneur).
I have previously discussed some examples that require minimum startup capital – property management, assisted living services, English language schools, organic food shops, alternative health care, construction management, property inspection, business concierge services, etc.
Each of these types of businesses has the capability to thrive in any location where there is a net inflow of foreigners. So where are these places? The same places that we talk about all the time in this letter.
I have also been reading a rather interesting report lately written by a bunch of permanent travelers and entrepreneurs; the report describes in great details some of their best ideas – careers and businesses that are completely portable and can prosper anywhere on the globe.
I knew the report would be a great read when I saw sections like:
Frankly, I marveled at the authors’ creativity, sometimes wondering aloud as I read this report, “Wow. That’s so obvious, why didn’t I think of that?”
- getting paid to be an ambassador to an island nation,
- how an illiterate made a fortune as an author
- how to make money as a tracer of missing heirs,
- opportunities for the artist with no talent, and my personal favorite,
- start a residential address service
Anyhow, I have not finished reading it yet, but if you are interested in some seriously out-of-the-box ideas for making money overseas, I would definitely encourage you to check out this book.
UP AGAINST THE WALL
Bill Kauffman takes note of the newly formed organization “Come Home, America,” which is “based on the now decidedly radical premise that young men and women belong home, with their families and in their communities, rather than fighting needless wars on the other side of the globe.”
In the fall of 1995, as my 105-year-old friend Henry W. Clune lay dying, America’s oldest living novelist asked me to run my fingertip along the spines of his dozen or so books, which occupied a shelf in his bedroom. (Henry was the usual Upstate authorial mix of vanity and self-deprecation.)
“Not bad,” he grinned as my finger tickled his oeuvre. (I don’t usually tickle oeuvres, but in this case I made an exception.)
Henry was born in the mild morn before the storm clouds of empire rolled in. He admitted to wearing a “Remember the Maine” button in 1898, but hey, he was just a kid. When I was 8, I cried when Hubert “[Vietnam] is our great adventure – and a wonderful one it is!” Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon.
Henry passed a few mercifully quiet hours on the front during World War I, from which he emerged an admirer of the Socialist Eugene V. Debs. The noble Debs, a patriot of Terre Haute, Indiana, spent almost three years in a federal prison for a Hall of Fame-worthy 1918 speech in which he told an audience in Canton, Ohio, “you are fit for something better than slavery and cannon fodder.” (Priggish despot Woodrow Wilson refused to release Debs after the war; that act of justice was left to a far better man, the peaceful Warren G. Harding, whose paperboy in Marion, Ohio, Norman Thomas, would succeed Debs as America’s leading Socialist.)
Things got bad, and things got worse – I guess you know the tune.
The War Party called the Peace Party Nazis in 1941, Communists in 1951, Soviet dupes in 1961, dirty hippies in 1971 ... must I go on? In 2011, those who heed George Washington’s counsel to seek “peace and harmony with all” will be called mullah-headed appeasers of Irano-fascism.
We live in an age in which one is free to view pornography that would make de Sade wince and gore that would make Leatherface retch, yet we have less “free speech,” as the Founders would have conceived it, than ever before. The range of permissible political opinions has narrowed to encompass the rat-hair’s breadth separating Mitt Romney from Joe Lieberman, and woe betide the straggler who wanders away from the cage.
Blame war. Blame TV. Blame the nationalization of political discourse, as regional variations and individual peculiarities are washed away by the generic slime of poli-talk shows. Radicals – even naïve Tea Partiers or idealistic left-wing kids – are dehumanized in ways unthinkable when America was a free country. No one was barred from the conversation back when there was a conversation. No dispatch ever read, “Wingnut Henry David Thoreau today issued a manifesto from his compound near Walden Pond ...”
Which reminds me: I have a book due out in July – Bye Bye, Miss American Empire, my typical melange of Little American history, tendentious journalism, and bad puns, this time about breaking up our national and state leviathans into more manageable pieces. In the 1970s – ah, golden youth – a book wondering if we need both more states (Upper New York, Southern California, Jefferson) and fewer states (aloha, Hawaii and Alaska – maybe Vermont, too) would have been greeted with “Wow, man, that’s kinda interesting,” but my opuscule will, I expect, be treated as though I am advocating the colonization of Neptune.
The squeezing out even of establishment dissent – especially since 9/11 – has left us with an antiwar movement so feeble it makes the Esperanto lobby look like the AARP. Enter the new organization Come Home, America, its name taken from the magnificent 1972 acceptance speech delivered by George McGovern in the last unscripted Democratic convention.
Discussed in recent issues of this magazine, Come Home, America is based on the now decidedly radical premise that young men and women belong home, with their families and in their communities, rather than fighting needless wars on the other side of the globe. I am a small part of what I hope will become a chorus of patriotic dissent ringing from Main Street and Copperhead Road and Martin Luther King Boulevard, from farm and church and coffeehouse.
“We should be together,” as Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane sang. Henry W. Clune agreed. As rock-ribbed a Republican as ever dressed for dinner at the club, Henry published in the Rochester newspaper a blistering attack on the Vietnam War as immoral. He read Marquand and Cozzens, not Marcuse and Hoffman, but even as a proud bourgeois elder he took his stand with the shaggy kids in the streets.
As Grace Slick also sang, “Tear down the walls.”
Read the source article.
How the Lincoln Myth Was Hatched
Modern-day “Copperhead” (Northern Peace Democrats who opposed the American War Between the States) Thomas DiLorenzo levels another broadside at Abraham Lincoln’s reputation (perhaps DiLorenzo’s favorite hobby). No American president was more reviled by his contemporaries, at home and abroad, during his own lifetime than Lincoln was. But upon his assassination he was moulded into a “sudden saint.”
The Republican Party, with the aid of the Northern Yankee or neo-Puritan clergy – respectively the federal government for the next several generations and a postmillenial utopian movement somewhat similar to today’s Christain right – created out of thin air the myth of the “sainted” and “beloved” Abraham Lincoln, obviously to suit their own propagandistic purposes. There were “sudden proclamations of Lincoln’s nobility” all throughout the South as well as the North, and the requisite government and mob support to back it up. Thus were born the myths and superstitions about America’s most reviled president.
Fasinating reading, made more so by parallels to some things happening today (which DiLorenzo does not draw in this article).
Read the source article.
Why Oligarchs Like Estate Taxes
One thing that needs to be understood about oligarchs is that they are accumulators of assets and businesses. If it throws off huge cash flow, they want it. It is not for entertainment value that Warren Buffett in each issue of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report announces that he is looking to buy businesses.
What does this have to do with estate taxes? Many of the great family businesses of all time have been put on the market for oligarchs to swoop up because of estate taxes.
A case in point, that turned out okay, is the recent death of majority New York Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner. Because he died this year, when there is a fluke no active estate tax, the family will be able to hold on to his stake in the Yankees and keep it a family business. If he had died, the year before, or even worse, next year, the estate tax bill would be horrendous, over $500 million. The family would have been forced to sell. Most likely into the hands of an oligarch, maybe even Buffett.
Maya Prophecy Year 2012 – Naysay or Doomsday?
The Maya Calendar actually Leaves Time to Enjoy Expat Life in Belize!
Reverend Macarena Rose returns with another article on her beloved Belize ... kind of. Mayan sites feature heavily in the western part of Belize where she lives, and the purported Mayan doomsyear of 2012 is fast approaching. Is there a basis for any of that Mayan mythology?
Not according to Rev. Rose: “[T]hose authors and film makers and doomsday groups who purport to know what is coming (and it is all bad) – are in for a surprise. The reality is that we don’t really know what the Maya may have thought about the future of the world beyond 2012! That’s right – we simply don’t know. Anthropologists have translated absolutely nothing from Maya artifacts that would give us a clue ...”
So there. Rather: “The Maya calendar gives you lots and lots of time. You can use some of it to pack up and become an expat! Ongoing time is not a worry for you – but the economic times of the United States and the world certainly are. Now may be the best time ever for you to relocate and explore the expat life here!”
Are you a believer? You may have read about the “Maya prophecy” for the Year 2012 – a year that is quickly approaching. That date in history supposedly represents when the world as we know it ends “according to the Maya calendar.”
Or so we have been told.
It is hard to miss the world-wide attention given to the so-called Doomsday Calendar of the ancient Maya. The media loves to speculate on what awful things are going to happen to planet earth in 2012. (Never mind what we are going through right now!)
There are also many books and movies out there capitalizing on our fear of cataclysmic events. And raking in plenty of dollars at the same time – LOL. This stuff scares the heck out of all of us, doesn’t it? Even as I write, groups all over the world are counting down and expecting the worst in 2012. They are serious.
But do dire predictions for the world in 2012 have anything to do with the Maya calendar? Where is this dread coming from? The predictions are not pretty. Disease, famine, apocalypse, death. Nasty stuff. Meaning – the end. ...
Read the rest of the article.
Cover Your Surfing Tracks with This Free Utility
Wiping out all traces of your Web surfing from a PC is a tough task. In fact, totally wiping out everything is probably impossible. If you are browsing anyplace that could get you in trouble, do not do it from any place traceable to you. Effecting a practical cover-up job of stuff you would rather just keep private is another matter. Recent versions of all the widely used browsers have many privacy features. Here is a tool which takes futher measures to see that the job gets done.
PrivacyRoot claims that after using their Wipe program, “Nobody will be able to track sites you have visited or view any details of your PC activity.” The site has three other security-oriented products which look interesting as well.
It is always a good idea to ensure that you do not leave traces of your Web browsing sessions scattered across your PC. Especially if you happen to share that machine with fellow colleagues, students, family members, and so on. Modern browsers have such privacy features built in, but there is always more than you can do.
Wipe, from PrivacyRoot, is a free, easy to use security tool that allows you to protect your privacy by clearing your browser history and cache, cleaning index.dat files, securely removing cookies, safely deleting the autocomplete history and temporary internet files, as well as erasing any other tracks that you leave behind after having used your PC.
When you start to use the program, you will see that it invites you to register, for a fee. However, we are assured by PrivacyRoot’s customer services people that registration is optional, and all of the most important features remain available whether or not you choose to register.
“Wipe” runs on Windows XP and above, and the download is a lean 5 MB. You can get it [here].
Read the source article.
Home, Sweet Home. This Design Software is Free, Open Source, and Easy to Learn
SweetHome 3D is an interior design application which helps you place your furniture on a house 2D plan, with a 3D preview. It can be downloaded or used online within your browser (Java required). According to this short review, SweetHome 3D is easy to learn. Those of you planning to build your own home, in a new country or not, take note.
Also check out this short review on an online room layout program, PlanningWiz.
If you are thinking about redesigning a room in your home, or you are about to move to a new home, then you have probably wondered whether it is worth buying some room design software. Trouble is, such packages tend to be expensive, or very difficult to learn. There is Google Sketchup, of course, which is free, but it is not exactly the most intuitive product around.
So I was mightily impressed to learn about SweetHome 3D, which is a room design package that takes just a minute or 2 to learn. Fire it up, pick an item, drag it across the screen, and your room plan starts to take shape. It really is that easy.
And here is the best bit. SweetHome 3D is free, open source software. Plus, it is written in Java, so should run on Windows, Mac or Linux. To make things as easy as possible, there is a combined installer which includes all the necessary Java code, so if you do not already have Java (or you are not sure), everything is still easy.
The full download is around 30 MB, and can be obtained [here].
Read the source article.
Connect to Any PC Remotely with Team Viewer
Trying to talk a non-tech person through a PC configuration change can be awfully frustrating. “Cut and paste” ... “Desktop” ... “My Computer” ... What are those? A great way around the dilemma is to arrange a remote session. This can be arranged by having a program which allows this installed on the two PCs. Team Viewer is one such program – easy to use, and recommended by many. A portable version of the program is available here.
One of the most irritating features of Home Premium, probably the most widely used version of Windows 7 and Vista, is that you cannot connect to it via Windows Remote Desktop. So if you are a technical wiz and you need to sort out a problem on grandma’s PC via a remote internet connection, you can’t. Well, not unless you can persuade grandma that she is actually a professional user and needs a Pro version of Windows.
But rather than paying Microsoft for a Windows upgrade if you need to connect remotely to a home version, there is a much cheaper alternative. Free, in fact. Team Viewer is an excellent remote control product that allows you to connect to any PC over the internet and drive it as if you were sitting in front of it. Assuming you have the permission of its owner, of course. The software, available from teamviewer.com, is said to have been downloaded more than 60 million times so far, and is widely praised by a number of users of Tech Support Alert. It is totally free for non-commercial use. Another handy feature is that your grandma will not need admin privileges to run the client application, so making the connection to her PC is going to be pretty easy.
Give Team Viewer a try. It runs on Windows XP and above, and the download of the full version (to connect to or from a PC) is only 3 MB. There is even an inbuilt demo. Run the software, enter an id of 12345 for the computer to connect to, and you will find yourself connected to one of TeamViewer’s test PCs where you can run basic apps like Notepad, Wordpad and Paint.
Read the source article.
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