Thursday, February 28, 2013

Furlough Borders

From the Globe and Mail:
"Ottawa wary of border tie-ups in wake of U.S. budget impasse"

Canada will be watching closely to see whether a massive scheduled budget cut in the United States this week will affect the Beyond the Border pact between the two countries, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Wednesday. Unless polarized U.S. lawmakers can come together, about $85-billion (U.S.) in cuts are set to hit federal programs starting Friday.  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said this week there would be pain for the Canada-U.S. border because her department would have to cut 5,000 border-patrol agents if the cuts go through. Mr. Baird said the deal is key to the prosperity of both countries. “We’re going to continue to be very, very focused on it,” he said Wednesday. “After March 1, we’ll see what challenges arise. Obviously, this is not the way Canada would prefer to make these types of budgetary decisions. But it is what it is.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama signed the vaunted border deal 14 months ago. It is designed to speed trade across the 49th parallel while protecting the North American continent from terrorist threats. Ms. Napolitano said the looming cuts, known as sequestration, will cause pain for Canadians, in particular at the busy Canada-U.S. border. “Sequester will be felt up there because there’s only a few big crossing places for trade on the Canadian-U.S. border and they’re really important crossing places,” Ms. Napolitano said in a speech to a Washington think tank. “In fact, trade-wise, they’re probably the No. 1 or 2 crossing places in the world. As sequester evolves and we have to furlough people who are port officers and not fill vacant positions, and not pay overtime, we’re unfortunately going to see those lines really stretch.” If Congress fails to reach a deal to avert the cuts, Ms. Napolitano said, the jobs will be lost. Cuts to customs and border security staff will increase congestion and hurt Canadian companies, said Fen Hampson, director of the global security program at the Waterloo, Ont., Centre for International Governance Innovation. “More generally, if there is a slowdown in U.S. growth as a result of sequestration’s general adverse impact on the U.S. economy as many predict, it will also hurt trade,” he said. “There is no win with sequestration and the current impending disaster underlines how far we really have to go to secure a meaningful beyond-the-border deal.” In addition to the 5,000 border patrol agents, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is preparing to reduce its work hours by the equivalent of 2,750 inspectors as well, meaning cargo inspections at the border could drag on interminably for Canadian exporters. David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador, has said repeatedly that the best thing his country can do for Canada is to get its fiscal house in order. With this latest round of gridlock gripping Washington, various U.S. federal departments and agencies are laying out how they plan to cut costs. The Pentagon will be forced to impose $55-billion in cuts and will call on 800,000 civilian employees to take unpaid time off. Ms. Napolitano’s remarks raise questions about the future progress on the border deal. In part, its success will be measured on the implementation of a series of pilot projects between the two countries. “Sequestration is also going to make it much harder to get the attention of the White House and those who are friendly to making a deal with Canada in the U.S. Congress,” Mr. Hampson said.
In December, the two countries said in a progress report that they’d made significant progress but realize there’s still much work to do. One outstanding project is the next generation of cross-border law enforcement, which will see police and security officials work even more closely than they do now. It would build on joint border-policing efforts by creating integrated teams in areas such as intelligence and criminal investigations. Two pilot projects were supposed to be up and running by last summer, but the progress report says officials are still evaluating the “operational and legal requirements” involved.

^ I believe the furloughs are going to happen tomorrow because the President nor Congress seem to care about fixing the problem. They are all being stubborn, arrogant fools and the only ones who will suffer are the American people. I can see the furloughs affecting the US-Canadian border, but do little on the US-Mexican border (except for Americans) since most others swim across rather than use the border inspections. In all seriousness, the Federal Government needs to get its act together and make sure this issue doesn't come about tomorrow or in the future. ^

Auf Wiedersehn Pope

From the BBC:
"Benedict XVI resignation: The two-pope problem"

The Pope has resigned because he felt he was no longer up to the demands the office made on him.
That hasn't happened in 600 years.  There are those in the Church who well might exploit such ambiguities were the new pontiff to choose a very different path from that of his predecessor on, for example, the role of women in the Church or - rather less contentious - the promotion of the traditional Latin liturgy.  A (very) short lesson in Catholic theology is necessary : the rank of deacon, priest and bishop is regarded as sacramental, on a par with baptism or marriage. A bishop can resign his job, as can a priest, but theologically, says the Church, they are still bishops or priests. But being pope, however, is an office, it is not a sacramental status.  The pope is pope because he is bishop of Rome. He can stop being bishop of Rome (all other bishops are expected to submit their resignation at 75), and therefore can stop being pope. Many people expected that Papa Ratzinger would revert back to being Cardinal Ratzinger, which is what happened to two rival popes in 1415. Instead of that sensible solution, it has been announced he will be "Pontiff emeritus", dress in white and be called "Your Holiness", hopelessly muddying the waters and making him appear a quasi, alternative pope.
The confusion gets worse. Benedict is keeping his private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein.
The new pope may well find such proximity uncomfortable, feeling obliged to consult him especially on subjects Benedict made his own, the creation of the "Ordinariat" to receive Romeward-bound Anglicans, for example, or the controversial reintroduction of Latin into the Catholic liturgy.

^   So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, good bye - Pope. I hope the new one continues what Pope John Paul 2 did and doesn't set us back many years like the last one did. ^

Monday, February 25, 2013

Russian Disabled

From Moscow Times:
"Blind Lawmaker Praises New Law Requiring Firms to Hire the Disabled

Oleg Smolin, a State Duma deputy with the Communist Party, praised a law that entered into force Monday and requires companies to hire disabled people or face fines of up to 10,000 rubles ($330)."We supported this legislation because it looks like a first step forward," Smolin, who is blind, told The Moscow Times.  The amendments, published on the Kremlin's website Monday, introduce fines for business owners who refuse to employ people with disabilities or fail to create a quota system that earmarks a certain percentage of jobs for them. The legislation concerns companies with 100 or more employees and requires them to provide 2 to 4 percent of their jobs to people with disabilities. The fines for noncompliance range from 5,000 to 10,000 rubles. Asked whether the fines are too small to make a difference, Smolin said the amount reflected a compromise between the government and organizations that work with disabled people.  He acknowledged, however, that nongovernmental organizations had sought stricter measures to encourage employment of the disabled. One of them, which was ultimately rejected, would have required companies to pay into a special fund to create workspaces for the disabled. Federal legislation passed in 2004 requires companies with more than 30 employees to fill a certain percentage of their positions with disabled people, should qualified candidates with disabilities apply. The law was amended in 2005 to increase the worker threshold from 30 to 100. The latest law introduces the fines. The decision to establish fines appears to be aimed at forcing companies to be more socially responsible, in a country where 3.5 million people with disabilities, or 84 percent of all disabled Russians capable of working, are unemployed, according to government figures.

 ^ Like in other countries having laws that protect the disabled are only effective if they are enforced. There are many laws regarding the disabled in the United States and many have been around for decades and yet organizations, companies, etc are allowed to find loop holes and continue to discriminate against the disabled. Hopefully, this new Russian law will be enforced, but having experienced  first-hand how the majority of Russians treat and think about the disabled (most see the disabled as getting what they deserve and many consider everyone with a disability to be mentally unstable) I doubt it will do much to actually help the disabled. ^


Israeli Test

From the BBC:
"Israel successfully tests Arrow 3 missile interceptor"

Israel's defence ministry says it has carried out a successful test of its new missile interceptor system.
Arrow 3 detects an incoming missile, intercepts it and destroys it with a second missile above the earth's atmosphere.  Officials said the cutting-edge system had been designed to defend Israel from the threat of a strike from Iran. Monday's test was conducted alongside US forces and is the first time the system has been tested. Israel already has the Iron Dome missile defence system, which - officials say - intercepted up to 85% of missiles fired from Gaza towards populated areas during the conflict in November 2012.  Defence officials say that because the system will be able to shoot down missiles in space, it could cause nuclear and chemical warheads to disintegrate safely.  An official said it was "the first time the interceptor with all of its equipment took off and flew, achieved the velocities, and did the manoeuvres in space". He said a full interception would be tested in future but would not say when. The official also declined to say when the system would be fully implemented. Arrow 3 will form part of Israel's multi-layered defence shield. During the recent Gaza conflict, the Israeli defence ministry claimed the first layer of that shield - the Iron Dome - knocked down 421 of 1,354 short-range missiles fired from Gaza. Of those that landed, 58 hit urban areas while the rest fell in open fields, causing no damage.

^ Good job Israel. You continue to amaze the world and defend yourself at the same time. Hopefully, this new system will become fully operational soon. ^

Smoking Law

From the BBC:
"Putin signs law banning smoking in public in Russia"

Smoking in public places will be banned in Russia after President Vladimir Putin signed a tough new bill into law. Under the new legislation, smoking in restaurants, long-distance trains and housing block entrance halls will be illegal. The government has made reducing smoking one of the cornerstones of its bid to improve public health. Russia has one of the highest smoking rates in the world, with more than four in 10 Russians considered smokers. Parliament passed the bill earlier in February, with only one deputy in the State Duma voting against the legislation. The law "On protecting the health of citizens from the danger of passive smoking and the consequences of the use of tobacco" will come into force in stages, beginning on 1 June. On that date, smoking will be banned within 15m of entrances to stations, airports, metro stations and ports; in workplaces; in entrances to apartment blocks; and in children's playgrounds and on beaches. Exactly one year later, smoking will be banned on long-distance trains and ships; in hotels; in restaurants, bars, cafes, shops and markets; and on suburban railway platforms. Under the bill, a minimum retail price will be introduced for tobacco and its sale and advertising will be restricted. According to that report, the retail price of a pack of 20 of the cheapest brand of cigarettes in 2010 was 11 roubles (£0.23; $0.36; 0.27 euros) while a popular Western brand sold for 48 roubles (£1; $1.6; 1.2 euros).

^ So this will be law although I still have my doubts that it will be enforced. Russians love to smoke and always seem to find ways to go against authority no matter how small. In the Moscow Metro people walk up the down stairs and vice versa as a sign against authority - it is annoying if you're a foreigner or tourist and don't know that - but in the end it's harmless. ^

Gov't Cuts

From the White House:
"Impact on March 1st Cuts on Middle Class Families, Jobs and Economic Security: New Hampshire"

If sequestration were to take effect, some examples of the impacts on New Hampshire
this year alone are:

- Teachers and Schools: New Hampshire will lose approximately $1,078,000 in funding for

primary and secondary education, putting teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition about 1,000

fewer students would be served and approximately 10 fewer schools would receive funding.

- Education for Children with Disabilities: In addition, New Hampshire will lose approximately

$2.2 million in funds for about 30 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities.

- Work-Study Jobs: Around 120 fewer low income students in New Hampshire would receive aid

to help them finance the costs of college and around 130 fewer students will get work-study jobs

that help them pay for college.

- Head Start: Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for approximately 100

children in New Hampshire, reducing access to critical early education.
- Protections for Clean Air and Clean Water: New Hampshire would lose about $1,500,000 in

environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from

pesticides and hazardous waste. In addition, New Hampshire could lose another $359,000 in grants

for fish and wildlife protection.

- Military Readiness: In New Hampshire, approximately 1,000 civilian Department of Defense

employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $5.4 million in total.

- Army: Base operation funding would be cut by about $1 million in New Hampshire.


- Law Enforcement and Public Safety Funds for Crime Prevention and Prosecution: New

Hampshire will lose about $71,000 in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement,

prosecution and courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections,

drug treatment and enforcement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.

- Job Search Assistance to Help those in New Hampshire find Employment and Training: New

Hampshire will lose about $138,000 in funding for job search assistance, referral, and placement,

meaning around 4,950 fewer people will get the help and skills they need to find employment.

- Child Care: Up to 100 disadvantaged and vulnerable children could lose access to child care,

which is also essential for working parents to hold down a job.

- Vaccines for Children: In New Hampshire around 680 fewer children will receive vaccines for

diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B due

to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $46,000.

- Public Health: New Hampshire will lose approximately $126,000 in funds to help upgrade its

ability to respond to public health threats including infectious diseases, natural disasters, and

biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological events. In addition, New Hampshire will lose about

$330,000 in grants to help prevent and treat substance abuse, resulting in around 300 fewer

admissions to substance abuse programs. And the New Hampshire State Department of Health

Statistics and Data Management will lose about $60,000 resulting in around 1,500 fewer HIV tests.

- STOP Violence Against Women Program: New Hampshire could lose up to $28,000 in funds

that provide services to victims of domestic violence, resulting in up to 100 fewer victims being


- Nutrition Assistance for Seniors: New Hampshire would lose approximately $225,000 in funds

that provide meals for seniors.

- Cuts to education: Our ability to teach our kids the skills they’ll need for the jobs of the future

would be put at risk. 70,000 young children would lose access to Head Start, 10,000 teacher

jobs would be put at risk, and funding for up to 7,200 special education teachers, aides, and

staff could be cut.

- Cuts to small business: Small businesses create two-thirds of all new jobs in America. Instead

of helping small businesses expand and hire, the automatic cuts would reduce loan guarantees

to small businesses by up to approximately $900 million.
- Cuts to food safety: Outbreaks of foodborne illness are a serious threat to families and public

health. If sequestration takes effect, up to 2,100 fewer food inspections could occur, putting

families at risk and costing billions in lost food production.

- Cuts to research and innovation: To compete for the jobs of the future and ensure that the

next breakthroughs to find cures for critical diseases are developed right here in America, we

need to continue to lead the world in research and innovation. Most Americans with chronic

diseases don’t have a day to lose, but under sequestration progress towards cures would be

delayed and several thousand researchers could lose their jobs. Up to 12,000 scientists and

students would also be impacted.
- Cuts to mental health: If sequestration takes effect, up to 373,000 seriously mentally ill adults

and seriously emotionally disturbed children could go untreated. This would likely lead to

increased hospitalizations, involvement in the criminal justice system, and homelessness for

these individuals.

More detailed explanations of these cuts as well as additional areas that will be impacted include:
- FBI and other law enforcement The FBI and other law enforcement entities would see a

reduction in capacity equivalent to more than 1,000 Federal agents. This loss of agents would

significantly impact our ability to combat violent crime, pursue financial crimes, secure our

borders, and protect national security.

- Customs and border patrol – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would not be able to

maintain current staffing levels of border patrol agents and CBP officers as mandated by Congress.

CBP would have to reduce its work hours by the equivalent of over 5,000 border patrol agents and

the equivalent of over 2,750 CBP officers. Funding and staffing reductions would increase wait

times at airports, weaken security between land ports of entry, limit CBP’s ability to collect

revenue owed to the Federal government, and slow screening and entry for those traveling into the

United States. At the major gateway airports, average wait times could increase by 30-50 percent.

At the nation’s busiest airports, like Newark, JFK, LAX, and Chicago O’Hare, peak wait times

could grow to over 4 hours or more. On the southwest land border, our biggest ports of entry in

California and Texas could face wait times of 5 hours or more during peak holiday weekends and

travel periods. And at our seaports, delays in container examinations could increase from 2-3 days

to 4-5 days, resulting in congestion at terminals, increased transaction costs to the trade

community, and reduced availability of consumer goods and raw materials critical to our economy.

- Aviation safety – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would be forced to undergo a

funding cut of more than $600 million. This action would force the FAA to undergo an immediate

retrenchment of core functions by reducing operating costs and eliminating or reducing services to

various segments of the flying community. A vast majority of FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees

would be furloughed for approximately one day per pay period, with a maximum of two days per

pay period. The furlough of a large number of air traffic controllers and technicians would require

a reduction in air traffic to a level that could be safely managed by the remaining staff, resulting in

slower air traffic in major cities, as well as delays and disruptions across the country during the

critical summer travel season.

- Aviation security – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would reduce its frontline

workforce, which would substantially increase passenger wait times at airport security checkpoints.

TSA would need to initiate a hiring freeze for all transportation security officer positions in March,

eliminate overtime, and furlough its 50,000 officers for up to seven days.

- Emergency responders – FEMA would need to reduce funding for State and local grants that

support firefighter positions and State and local emergency management personnel, hampering our

ability to respond to natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and other emergencies.
- NIH research The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would be forced to delay or halt vital

scientific projects and make hundreds of fewer research awards. Since each research award

supports up to seven research positions, several thousand personnel could lose their jobs. Many

projects would be difficult to pursue at reduced levels and would need to be cancelled, putting prior

year investments at risk. These cuts would delay progress on the prevention of debilitating chronic

conditions that are costly to society and delay development of more effective treatments for

common and rare diseases affecting millions of Americans.

- NSF research The National Science Foundation (NSF) would issue nearly 1,000 fewer research

grants and awards, impacting an estimated 12,000 scientists and students and curtailing critical

scientific research.

- New drug approvals The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) would face

delays in translating new science and technology into regulatory policy and decision-making,

resulting in delays in new drug approvals. The FDA would likely also need to reduce operational

support for meeting review performance goals, such as the recently negotiated user fee goals on

new innovative prescription drugs and medical devices.

- Small business assistance – Small Business Administration (SBA) loan guarantees would be cut

by up to approximately $900 million, constraining financing needed by small businesses to

maintain and expand their operations and create jobs.

- Economic development – The Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) ability to leverage

private sector resources to support projects that spur local job creation would be restricted, likely

resulting in more than 1,000 fewer jobs created than expected and leaving approximately $50

million in private sector investment untapped.

- Oil and gas permitting - Development of oil and gas on Federal lands and waters would slow

down, due to cuts in programs at the Department of the Interior (DOI) and other agencies that plan

for new projects, conduct environmental reviews, issue permits and inspect operations. Leasing of

new Federal lands for future development would also be delayed, with fewer resources available

for agencies to prepare for and conduct lease sales.
- Food safety – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could conduct 2,100 fewer inspections at

domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture food products while USDA’s Food Safety and

Inspection Service (FSIS) may have to furlough all employees for approximately two weeks. These

reductions could increase the number and severity of safety incidents, and the public could suffer

more foodborne illness, such as the recent salmonella in peanut butter outbreak and the E. coli

illnesses linked to organic spinach, as well as cost the food and agriculture sector millions of

dollars in lost production volume.

- Veterans services – Although the Department of Veterans Affairs is exempt from sequestration, the

Department of Labor’s Veterans Transition Assistance Program, which serves over 150,000

veterans a year, would have to reduce operations – leaving thousands of transitioning veterans

unserved as they move from active duty to civilian life. The Jobs for Veterans State Grants

Program would also experience cuts, translating into a reduction in the capacity to serve tens of

thousands of veterans in their efforts to find civilian employment.

- National parks – Many of the 398 national parks across the country would be partially or fully

closed, with shortened operating hours, closed facilities, reduced maintenance, and cuts to visitor

services. These closures will hurt the many small businesses and regional economies that depend

on nearby national parks to attract visitors to their region.
 - Title I education funds – Title I education funds would be eliminated for more than 2,700 schools,

cutting support for nearly 1.2 million disadvantaged students. This funding reduction would put the

jobs of approximately 10,000 teachers and aides at risk. Students would lose access to individual

instruction, afterschool programs, and other interventions that help close achievement gaps.

 - Special education (IDEA) – Cuts to special education funding would eliminate Federal support for

more than 7,200 teachers, aides, and other staff who provide essential instruction and support to

preschool and school-aged students with disabilities.

- Head Start – Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for approximately

70,000 children, reducing access to critical early education. Community and faith based

organizations, small businesses, local governments, and school systems would have to lay off over

14,000 teachers, teacher assistants, and other staff.
- Social Security applicant and beneficiary services – The Social Security Administration (SSA)

would be forced to curtail service to the public and reduce program oversight efforts designed to

make sure benefits are paid accurately and to the right people. Potential effects on SSA operations

could include a reduction in service hours to the public, and a substantial growth in the backlog of

Social Security disability claims.
S- enior meals – Federally-assisted programs like Meals on Wheels would be able to serve 4 million

fewer meals to seniors. These meals contribute to the overall health and well-being of participating

seniors, including those with chronic illnesses that are affected by diet, such as diabetes and heart

disease, and frail seniors who are homebound. The meals can account for 50 percent or more of

daily food for the majority of participants.

- Nutrition assistance for women, infants and children – Approximately 600,000 women and

children would be dropped from the Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition

Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) from March through September. At least 1,600

State and local jobs could be lost as a result.

 - Child care– Cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Care and Development

Fund would leave 30,000 low-income children without child care subsidies, denying them access

to child development programs and ending a crucial work support for many families.

 - Rental assistance – The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Housing

Choice Voucher program, which provides rental assistance to very low-income families, would

face a significant reduction in funding, which would place about 125,000 families at immediate

risk of losing their permanent housing.
 - Emergency unemployment compensation – People receiving Emergency Unemployment

Compensation benefits would see their benefits cut by nearly 11 percent. Affected long-term

unemployed individuals would lose an average of more than $450 in benefits that they and their

families count on while they search for another job. Smaller unemployment checks will also have a

negative impact on the economy as a whole. Economists have estimated that every dollar in

unemployment benefits generates $2 in economic activity.

- Homelessness programs – More than 100,000 formerly homeless people, including veterans,

would be removed from their current housing and emergency shelter programs, putting them at risk

of returning to the streets.
 - Mental health and substance abuse services – Cuts to the Mental Health Block Grant program

would result in over 373,000 seriously mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed

children not receiving needed mental health services. This cut would likely lead to increased

hospitalizations, involvement in the criminal justice system, and homelessness for these

individuals. In addition, close to 8,900 homeless persons with serious mental illness would not get

the vital outreach, treatment, housing, and support they need through the Projects for Assistance in

Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program.

 - AIDS and HIV treatment and prevention – Cuts to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program could

result in 7,400 fewer patients having access to life saving HIV medications. And approximately

424,000 fewer HIV tests could be conducted by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) State grantees,

which could result in increased future HIV transmissions, deaths from HIV, and costs in health


 - Tribal services – The Indian Health Service and Tribal hospitals and clinics would be forced to

provide 3,000 fewer inpatient admissions and 804,000 fewer outpatient visits, undermining needed

health care in Tribal communities.

^ Even though this is from the White House and is is biased in favor of Obama I thought the explanation of what cuts would happen on March 1st. I used New Hampshire to show what effects it would have on a smaller state and then left what would happen nation-wide. It seems that whenever we have a Democrat as President they can't get their act together on the budget. Clinton allowed the Federal Government to shut-down in the early 1990s and Obama allows for the threat of furloughs, shut-downs every few months. That should tell the American voters something. It is funny that these automatic cuts are called Sequestration because it sounds like someone should be riding a horse.   ^

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Retire Overseas

From Yahoo:
"8 Great Places to Retire Abroad"

Retiring abroad can offer a host of advantages over buying a condo in Florida. Living expenses can be cheaper, cultural experiences richer and the lifestyle more satisfying. But picking the right place to retire for you can be tricky: Climate, cost of living, ease of traveling to the U.S. and access to adequate health care all need to be weighed. The hypothetical monthly budgets we provide for a retired American couple include the cost of housing in a desirable neighborhood and monthly living expenses such as food, entertainment, utilities and local transportation. Actual costs will vary widely. Buying a sprawling villa vs. renting a small apartment will affect living expenses significantly, for example, as will eating out nightly vs. preparing most meals at home. We hope the hypothetical monthly budgets are useful as a starting point for your planning.

1. Medellin, Colombia:

Population: 2.4 million
Climate: Springlike year-round, the average temperature is a pleasant 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the city is in the mountains, nights can be cool and humidity isn't an issue.
Proximity to major airport: Jose Maria Cordova airport is located 19 miles to the southeast of Medellin's city center, in Rionegro. There are nonstop flights to Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Access to health care: Five of the top hospitals in Latin America are located in Medellin. Affordable, high-quality health care has made the city a popular destination for medical tourism. (Note: Medicare does not cover overseas medical care.)
Cost of living:  A retired American couple could live comfortably on $1,500 a month in Medellin. A small apartment in the center of the city costs about $75,000.

The draw: Much has changed in the 20 years since drug lord Pablo Escobar was killed by Colombian soldiers here. Today, Medellin is known more for its growing tourism industry and architectural renaissance than cartel violence. Parks, libraries and museums abound, thanks to a decade-long urban revitalization effort that's earned international acclaim, and a modern metro and tram system connects far-flung neighborhoods. Hometown artist Fernando Botero's corpulent sculptures adorn many of the European-influenced public spaces. Unlike other popular retirement spots in Latin America, Medellin isn't overrun with foreign expats, so real estate is still relatively affordable. On a final note, while Colombia's second-largest city is vastly safer than it was a decade ago, crime (including violent crime) is much more prevalent than in the U.S. American retirees should heed State Department warnings on travel and safety.
2. Dubrovnik, Croatia:

Population: 42,615
Climate: Seasonal. Temperatures range from the mid 40s in January and February to the low 80s in June and July.
Proximity to major airport: Dubrovnik Airport is about ten miles from the city center in Cilipi. Expect to make one or two connections (possibly in Zagreb and then in a major European city) to reach the U.S.
Access to health care: General Hospital Dubrovnik, a full-service hospital, is located in the center of the city.
Cost of living: An American couple could live comfortably on $2,700 a month. Croatia wasn't ranked in the Global Retirement Index.

The draw: Old World charm. Sandwiched between mountains and sea, Dubrovnik's geography is breathtaking. Those in search of culture, history, and architecture will find it in abundance in this medieval walled old town, which is home to a 14th-century monastery. Not only can retirees soak up all the history and attend cultural events such as the Dubrovnik Film Festival, they can also enjoy beaches and island-hop along the coast. A steady influx of tourists means you'll find at least some English spoken at shops and restaurants. Known as the "Pearl of the Adriatic," Dubrovnik is one of the pricier locales in Croatia, but it's affordable compared with better-known Mediterranean hot spots.

3. Salinas, Ecuador:
Population: 34,719
Climate: Mild and dry. Temperatures average in the 70s during the day and fall into the low 60s at night. The mercury can climb into the 90s, but that happens about as rarely as it rains.
Proximity to major airport: It's about two hours by car or three hours by bus to Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil, Equador’s largest city. From there, you can fly nonstop to the U.S.
Access to health care: Just 20 minutes away by car are several clinics in La Libertad and Santa Elena. There's even a local doctor in Salinas, popular among expats, who makes house calls. The charge: $30 per visit. Retirees will find top-notch hospitals two hours away in Guayaquil.
Cost of living: Ecuador came in fourth — and number one for Latin America — on the Global Retirement Index for lowest cost of living. A retired American couple could live well on $1,500 a month.

The draw: Miami living without Miami prices. Jutting out into the Pacific, Salinas is Ecuador's largest coastal resort town, with great oceanfront condos, open markets and upscale restaurants. A jetty, home to the Salinas Yacht Club, separates trendy San Lorenzo Beach from the quieter Chipipe Beach. Retirees can live a high-end beach lifestyle on the cheap; this is one of the least-expensive beach resorts in Latin America. That explains the growing expat community. The $1,500-a-month budget for an American couple includes dinner out most nights.

4. George Town, Malaysia:

Population: 740,200
Climate: Hot and humid. The average temperature is a muggy 80 degrees year round. Located in northwest Malaysia, George Town gets its fair share of rain, particularly in April and October.
Proximity to major airport: Penang International Airport is 11 miles south of George Town. At least one flight connection is required to reach the U.S.
Access to health care: Foreigners routinely travel to Malaysia for affordable, quality medical and dental services. There are several hospitals and clinics in and around George Town.
Cost of living: Malaysia came in third, behind only Thailand and the Philippines, in the Global Retirement Index in terms of lowest living costs. An American couple can get along extremely well on $1,500 a month.

The draw: British colonialism on the cheap. Over the past decade 19,488 foreigners, including 815 North Americans, have taken advantage of a program called Malaysia My Second Home, which offers retirement incentives such as long-term residency status and breaks on car imports and purchases. Applicants must meet strict financial requirements. But there is a charm and bustle to George Town, the capital of the Malaysian state of Penang. A Unesco World Heritage site, Malaysia's oldest city is known for its rich history but also for its street food and intriguing architecture. It's populated mainly by ethnic Chinese, but English is spoken, thanks to the country's historical tie to Britain.

5. Bilbao, Spain:Population: 353,187
Climate: Mild year-round. Typical temperatures range from the mid 50s in winter to the high 70s in summer. July and August are the warmest months; January, the coolest.
Proximity to major airport: Bilbao Airport is located about seven miles north of the city center, or about 15 minutes by taxi. There are connecting flights to the U.S.
Access to health care: Bilbao has modern hospitals and clinics. There are numerous pharmacies, including some that are open 24 hours a day.
Cost of living: Spain isn't cheap, but it's cheaper since the real-estate market went bust. The nation tied for 12th place, alongside Brazil and Honduras, on the Global Retirement Index for lowest cost of living. An American couple could live comfortably on $3,500 a month.

The draw: Bilbao, located in the Basque region of northern Spain, is surrounded by forests and mountains. France and the Pyrenees lie due east. Bilbao is one of Spain's biggest cities and has undergone an urban rejuvenation. It's home to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which with its titanium panels and striking architecture that draw tourists from around the world. There's an efficient, cheap public transportation system, along with miles of parks. The beach is less than an hour away. Bilbao is a draw for foodies as well as art lovers, thanks to the plethora of restaurants serving everything from traditional Basque dishes to innovative cuisine, such as molecular gastronomy. Whether ordering dinner or asking for directions, a little Spanish goes a long way, though many locals tied to the tourist trade will speak English.

6. Coronado, Panama:
Population: Less than 10,000 (estimate)
Climate: Hot and dry year-round. The average temperature is 86 degrees.
Proximity to major airport: Tocumen International Airport serves Panama City, about an hour away from Coronado. There are nonstop flights to the U.S.
Access to health care: The San Fernando Clinic, which is affiliated with Panama City's San Fernando Hospital, is located in Coronado. Other affordable and well-regarded hospitals in Panama City are all about an hour's drive away.
Cost of living: Panama ranked seventh (in a tie with Portugal) in the Global Retirement Index for lowest cost of living. A retired American couple could live comfortably on $1,200 to $1,300 a month.

The draw: Easy luxurious living for expats. Located on the Pacific coast, not far from Panama's eponymous canal, Coronado, once the playground of wealthy Panamanians, is now home to many foreign retirees. English is widely spoken, and the U.S. dollar is widely accepted. The Coronado Country Club offers beach activities, fine accommodations and dining. U.S. retirees continue to flock to Panama because of its top-notch health care, dollar-based economy and a "pensionado" program that grants residency and other perks to financially qualified retirees.

7. Galway, Ireland:
Population: 250,653
Climate: Rainy and cool. Temperatures range from the mid 40s to the high 60s, with rainfall pretty much year-round.
Proximity to major airport: For nonstop flights to the U.S., the best bet is Dublin, three-and-a-half hours from Galway by bus or three hours by train. A closer alternative is Shannon Airport, which is about two hours from Galway by bus.
Access to health care: Galway University Hospitals runs two local facilities, University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital, in the city.
Cost of living: Ireland came in 19th out of 22 countries ranked on the Global Retirement Index for lowest cost of living. Only France, Italy and New Zealand have higher living costs. An American couple could live comfortably on $2,500 a month.

The draw: Bad luck of the Irish. Like Spain, Ireland has experienced a crushing housing bust. The good luck, for retirees at least, is that the dramatic drop in real estate prices has put Ireland within reach for those who otherwise couldn't afford retirement in Western Europe. Yes, the weather can be dreary, but Galway's pluses outweigh that minus. The city, located on the western coast of Ireland, is safe, welcoming and walkable. English is universal, of course, and many of the foods and traditions will be familiar to Americans. Expats will find beautiful beaches, verdant countryside and the cobblestone streets of a city center filled with restaurants, bars and shops. Galway is also known for its festivals, which celebrate everything from oysters to horse racing.

8. Tlaxcala, Mexico:
Population: 89,795
Climate: Always mild. The high elevation keeps the city's average temperature at around 60 degrees. Summers are rainy, and winters are dry.
Proximity to major airport: Nonstop flights to the U.S. are available from international airports in Puebla (an hour away from Tlaxcala) and Mexico City (about two hours away).
Access to health care: There are multiple medical facilities within the city, and major hospitals can be found in Puebla and Mexico City.
Cost of living: Mexico ranked tenth in the Global Retirement Index for lowest cost of living. An American couple could live modestly on $1,500 a month and very comfortably on $2,500.

The draw: Undiscovered Mexico. Located in the mountains about two hours from Mexico City and an hour from Puebla, Tlaxcala has a much slower pace of life than its bustling neighbors. And unlike some other parts of Mexico, Tlaxcala hasn't been besieged by drug-related violence. The city retains its historical charm thanks to brightly painted colonial-era buildings. An architectural highlight is the large, tree-studded Plaza de la Constitucion, which features fountains, statues, 28 archways and colorful murals narrating the history of the state. Volcanoes dot the horizon, including Malintzin, one of the tallest in Mexico. While Tlaxcala attracts tourists, it hasn't been overrun by expats. That keeps prices in check but also means you'll find far fewer fellow American retirees as you would in, say, San Miguel de Allende.

^ I wouldn't care to live in Mexico, South America, Malaysia or Ireland. I wouldn't mind living in Dubrovnik although in the summer it gets very crowded. It could be ok to live in Spain too. ^

Polish Spelling

From Yahoo:
"Poland campaigns to preserve its complex spelling"

Polish language experts launched a campaign Thursday to preserve the challenging system of its diacritical marks, saying the tails, dots and strokes are becoming obsolete under the pressure of IT and speed. The drive, initiated by the state-run Council of the Polish Language, is part of the UNESCO International Mother Language Day. The campaign's Polish name is complicated for a non-Polish keyboard: "Je,zyk polski jest a,-e,." That's a pun meaning that Polish language needs its tails and is top class. Part of the meaning is lost and the pronunciation sounds wrong if the marks aren't there. Computer and phone keyboards require users to punch additional keys for Polish alphabet. To save time, Poles skip the nuances, and sometimes need to guess the meaning of the message that they have received. This is also true for IT equipment users of other languages with diacritical marks, like Russian or Romanian. As part of the new campaign, some radio and TV stations are playing songs with words stripped of diacritical pronunciation, making them sound odd to the Polish ear. A rap song concludes: "Press the right Alt sometimes" to obtain Polish letters, referring one of the keyboard buttons that Poles need to press to write characters with diacritical marks.  The tails make "a'' and "e'' nasal, strokes over "s," "c'' and "n'' soften them and sometimes make them whistling sound, a stroke across "l'' makes it sound like the English "w," and a dot over "z'' makes it hard like a metal drill. And each change matters. "Los" means "fate," but when you put a slash across the "l'' and add a stroke over the "s'' it becomes "elk." "Paczki" are "parcels," but "pa,czki" are doughnuts. Foreigners who know Polish say the diacritical marks are a visual sign that it's a tough language and that they add to the complexity of the grammar and vocabulary, which does not derive from Latin or from Germanic languages. Russia has its own campaign to protect twin dots over the letter "e'' — pronounced "yo" — and which, experts say, often fall victim to a writer being lazy. Education Minister Dmitry Livanov last year pledged to look into the problem.

^ A language is meant to be used and should change with the times. I know Russian and how difficult it is when people write it in e-mails, texts, etc and use the Latin transliteration rather than the Cyrillic. I'm sure for a native Russian it isn't an issue, but it is for me. I have been to Warsaw a couple of times and know that while it is easier to get the jest when a Pole speaks Polish (since it is related to Russian) it is much harder to understand when it is written. When I worked at the Holocaust Museum people would ask me about Lodz. In English we pronounce the "L" like an "L", but in Polish it has a slash through the "L" so it should be pronounced like a "W" which sounds odd to the English-speaking ear. Although technically people should have asked for Litzmannstadt since that is the name the Nazis gave the city. I know there are many countries, organizations, people, etc that are afraid of loosing the integrity of their language (by either removing the accents or adding foreign words to it) but as I stated a language is only good if people use it and the more people use it the more in flourishes. While I don't like when people don't use correct grammar in English I think it would be fine to encourage foreigners to learn "Simple English" rather than regular English which is very complex. That way it would easier for them to learn and for native speakers to understand them since English has become the sole international language and is used in transportation, finance, business, trade, diplomacy, etc. I wonder if other languages like Polish could use the same "Simple" solution. ^

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Miserable World

From Yahoo:
"The 25 Most Miserable Places in the World"

The misery index, a crude economic measure created by Arthur Orkum, sums a country's unemployment and inflation rates to assess conditions on the ground (the higher the number, the more miserable a country is). The reasoning: most citizens understand the pain of a high jobless rate and the soaring price of goods. Business Insider totaled the figures for 197 countries and territories — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — to compile the 2013 Misery Index.

25. Mali
Misery index score: 36.5
CPI inflation: 6.5%
Unemployment: 30%

One of the poorest countries in the world, Mali depends on gold mining and agricultural exports for revenue, which is why the country's fiscal status depends on gold and food prices. About 10% of the population is nomadic and about 80 percent of the working labor force is engaged in farming and fishing.

24. MauritaniaMisery index score: 37
CPI inflation: 7%
Unemployment: 30%

Half the population is still dependent on agriculture and livestock to earn a living, and poverty is rampant. The local economy depends heavily on commodities exports, mostly of iron ore. These exports are pretty much the only reason why Mauritianian economy grew 5 percent last year.

23. Iran
Misery index score: 39.1
CPI inflation: 23.6%
Unemployment: 15.5%

Price controls, subsidies, and other rigidities under mine private sector growth, and are proving to be a real drag on the economy, as is a rapidly depreciating currency. Which is why corruption is rampant, and illegal business activities abound. The economy is also heavily dependent on oil, and has suffered from international sanctions. Unemployment persists at double digit levels.

22. MaldivesMisery index score: 40.8
CPI inflation: 12.8%
Unemployment: 28%

It's a lovely place to vacation at, and a good thing too—tourism accounts for 30% of Maldives' GDP and more than 60 percent of foreign exchange receipts. But falling tourist arrivals and heavy government spending have taken a toll on the local economy, cause high inflation and an unemployment rate that's nearly double since 2010.

21. Gaza Strip
Misery index score: 43.5
CPI inflation: 3.5%
Unemployment: 40%

Ever since Hamas seized control of Israel in June 2007, Israeli-imposed border closures led to a deterioration of an already weak economy—more unemployment, elevated poverty rates and a sharp contraction of the private sector which relied primarily on exports.

20. Bosnia and HerzegovinaMisery index score: 45.5
CPI inflation: 2.2%
Unemployment: 43.3%

Inter-ethnic warfare between 1992 and 1995 caused unemployment to soar and production to plummet by 80 percent, and the country hasn't quite recovered ever since. The local currency is pegged to the euro, which keeps inflation in check. In 2011, a parliamentary deadlock left Bosnia without a state-level government for over a year, which caused the IMF to stop disbursing aid.

19. Yemen
Misery index score: 46.4
CPI inflation: 11.4%
Unemployment: 35%

Heavily dependent of declining oil resources, 25 percent of the country's GDP comes from petroleum. Yemeni GDP fell by more than 10 percent in 2011, but this decline slowed to 1.9 percent in 2012. The government is trying to diversify the economy, but has to deal with declining water resources, high unemployment, and a high population growth rate.

18. HaitiMisery index score: 46.5
CPI inflation: 5.9%
Unemployment: 40.6%

Even before the earthquake in 2010, 80 percent of the Haitian population lived under the poverty line, and 54 percent in abject poverty, and large section of the population has poor access to education. The country is still recovering from the affects of the earthquake, and has to deal with rampant corruption.

17. SwazilandMisery index score: 48.4
CPI inflation: 8.4%
Unemployment: 40%

Swaziland is heavily dependent on South Africa—that were 60 percent of its exports go, and 90 percent of its imports come from. The global economic crisis hit Swaziland exports hard, and declining revenue has pushed the country into fiscal crisis. The local currency is pegged to the South African rand, so inflation isn't too bad, but the country suffers from high unemployment.

16. AfghanistanMisery index score: 48.8
CPI inflation: 13.8%
Unemployment: 35%

Afghanistan is still recovering from decade of conflict and still has to deal with high levels of corruption, weak government capacity, and poor public infrastructure. Foreign aid, agriculture and a growing service sector industry are helping the country recover, but it still suffers from high inflation and unemployment.

15. Marshall IslandsMisery index score: 48.9
CPI inflation: 12.9%
Unemployment: 36%

The best thing the local economy has going for is assistance from the U.S. government. Tourism is its best hope for economic growth, but currently employs only 10 percent of the labor force. Government downsizing, drought, a drop in construction, the decline in tourism, and less income from the renewal of fishing vessel licenses have been a drag on the economy.

14. SenegalMisery index score: 49.5
CPI inflation: 1.5%
Unemployment: 48%

Despite receiving a lot of foreign aid, Senegal suffers from unreliable power supply, which has led to public protests and is partly the cause of high unemployment.

13. KenyaMisery index score: 50.1
CPI inflation: 10.1%
Unemployment: 40%

Corruption and reliance on a few specific primary goods whose prices have remained low have been holding Kenya's economy back. Unemployment has historically been very high, and remains so. However, oil was discovered in Kenya in March 2012, which might help revive its sagging economy.

12. LesothoMisery index score: 51.1
CPI inflation: 6.1%
Unemployment: 45%

Lesotho has the third highest GINI coefficient in the world, which means that income inequality is particularly high here. Growth is expected to increase due to major infrastructure projects, but weak manufacturing and agriculture sectors are a drag on the economy. Rampant unemployment is also a big problem.

11. Sudan
Misery index score: 51.5
CPI inflation: 31.5%
Unemployment: 20%

The secession of South Sudan in July 2011, the region of the country that had been responsible for about three-fourths of the former-Sudan's oil production, was a huge blow to Sudan's economy. The country is currently trying to find new ways to generate revenue, not very successfully. Sudan introduced a new currency, called the Sudanese pound, but the value of the currency has been falling since its introduction. Rising inflation, which hit 47 percent in November on an annualized basis, is a huge problem.

10. SyriaMisery index score: 51.7
CPI inflation: 33.7%
Unemployment: 18%

Syria's economy is still getting slammed by the conflict that began in 2011. In 2012, Syrian GDP contracted because of international sanctions and reduced domestic consumption and production. In addition to a rising unemployment rate—it rose by more than three percentage points in 2012, the country is also experiencing high inflation as the Syrian pound continues to fall.

9. KosovoMisery index score: 53.6
CPI inflation: 8.3%
Unemployment: 45.3%

The poorest country in Europe, the average annual per capita income is $7,400. Remittances from other European countries, primarily Switzerland, Germany and the Nordic countries account for 18 percent of GDP. Though Kosovo's economy has show significant process in transitioning to a market-based system in the past few year, rampant unemployment remains a problem.

8. NepalMisery index score: 54.3
CPI inflation: 8.3%
Unemployment: 46%

One of the least developed countries in the world, about a quarter of Nepal's population lives below the poverty line. Agriculture drives the Nepalese economy, accounting for more than a third of its GDP. Civil strife, labor unrest, its landlocked geographic location and susceptibility to natural disaster exacerbate its already weak economy.

7. NamibiaMisery index score: 57
CPI inflation: 5.8%
Unemployment: 51.2%

Heavily dependent of the its mineral resources, Namibia exports a lot of diamonds, uranium, and gold. However, the mining sector employs only 3 percent of the country's labor force. Since there isn't much else going on, almost half of Namibia's workers are without jobs. Income inequality is absurd here—even though the country boasts a high GDP per capita, Namibia has the highest GINI coefficients: 70.7%.

6. Djibouti
Misery index score: 63.3
CPI inflation: 4.3%
Unemployment: 59%

Thanks to scanty natural resources and little industry, unemployment in Djibouti is ridiculously high. The only reason inflation is low is because the Djiboutian franc is tied to the dollar. As a result, the Djiboutian franc is artificially high, which make it even more difficult for the country to pay its debts.

5. Turkmenistan
Misery index score: 70.5
CPI inflation: 10.5%
Unemployment: 60%

Agriculture accounts for only 8 percent of Turkmenistan's revenue, but employs half the country's workforce. The country suffers from rampant corruption and mismanagement from its authoritarian government. And it isn't going to get any better. According to the CIA Factbook, "Overall prospects in the near future are discouraging because of endemic corruption, a poor educational system, government misuse of oil and gas revenues, and Ashgabat's reluctance to adopt market-oriented reforms."

4. BelarusMisery index score: 71
CPI inflation: 70%
Unemployment: 1%

In 2011, a financial crisis began in Belarus, triggered by government directed salary hikes unsupported by productivity trends. Despite receiving billions of dollars from the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Community Bail-out Fund, the Russian state-owned bank Sberbank, and selling the Beltranzgas to Russian state-owned Gazprom for $2.5 billion, to try and help stabilize the economy, the Belarusian ruble lost 60 percent of its value in 2012 and is still falling. But at least almost every Belarusian looking for a job has one—with around 50 percent of the labor force employed by the government, the country boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world.

3. Burkina FasoMisery index score: 81.5
CPI inflation: 4.5%
Unemployment: 77%

Burkina Faso has a large population and very limited natural resources. The country's economy depend on agriculture, cotton and gold. The country is still reeling from the after effects of a severe drought in 2011 which decimated grazing land and harvests, and the country suffers from rampant unemployment.

Even so, things are better than they used to be. According to CIA Factbook, "The risk of a mass exodus of the 3 to 4 million Burinabe who live and work in Cote D'Ivoire has dissipated and trade, power, and transport links are being restored."

2. LiberiaMisery index score: 90.5
CPI inflation: 5.5%
Unemployment: 85%

A low income country heavily reliant on foreign aid, Liberia's economy was destroyed by civil war and government mismanagement. In 2010, Liberia was so poor that countries that $5 billion of international debt was permanently eliminated. Thought the local economy has been growing at a fast pace in the past two year, it has been mostly because of rich natural resources and high commodity prices. Which is why 85 percent of the country's labor force cannot find steady employment.

1. ZimbabweMisery index score: 103.3
CPI inflation: 8.3%
Unemployment: 95%

Several human rights organizations have called out the government of Zimbabwe of violating basic rights like freedom of assembly and the protection of the law. Violence and intimidation are common in political tactics, and political leaders have mostly failed to agree any any key outstanding governmental issues in the past few years. Zimbabwe's economic growth is slowing, in part because of poor harvests and low diamond revenues. According to the CIA Factbook, "the government of Zimbabwe still faces a number of difficult economic problems, including infrastructure and regulatory deficiencies, ongoing indigenization pressure, policy uncertainty, a large external debt burden, and insufficient formal employment." The local unemployment rate is estimated to be 95 percent, though the CIA Factbook caveats that the true unemployment is "unknowable" under current economic conditions. Though the inflation rate has stabilized of late, Zimbabwe faced massive hyperinflation between 2003 and 2009.

^ It is not surprising to see 10 African countries in this list and 7 from the Arab/Muslim world. I was surprised to see the Marshall Islands on the list as I knew the US gives lots of aid, etc to them under the Compact of Free Association (we do the same for Micronesia and Palau and they aren't on the list.) It's sad to see Bosnia on here because even though I know they are poor the people were very helpful when I visited there a few years ago and they did so just to be kind and got nothing in return. I wonder what people living or from one of these countries reading this list think about seeing their country here. ^