Saturday, August 6, 2011

USA Credit Downgrade: Wrong Numbers, Correct Decision

U.S. credit rating = AA+ .

So here we are, four months after Standard & Poor's (henceforth S&P) changed the outlook on the U.S. debt trajectory to "negative."

So here we are, less than a week after an overly dramatized month of haggling, pseudo compromises, and broken backs in what has been labeled as the U.S. debt agreement, errr, imbroglio.

True, S&P may have used wrong numbers, as the U.S. Treasury claims, but that still doesn't change the bigger picture: a tenuous status quo of unsustainable debt that the U.S. has amassed over the course of many years.

The U.S. Treasury's rebuke to S&P is faulty, too. It's kind of like a hooker firing back at someone who has the audacity to say "whore" to her face. She knows it's true, but is in denial about it, hoping the problem will go away on its own.

Alas, it will not. And neither will S&P's outlook change unless the U.S. shows tangible results--less words, more action--to get its profligacy rectified.

As a U.S. citizen, it's unfortunate to see the cost of mortgages, car loans, and other types of credit increase in such anemic times as these. Though other core rating agencies--Moody's, Fitch--have noted they will not follow suit at the moment, the added caveat was that this could change in the future.

Nonetheless, I, and the vast majority of the U.S. population, deep down feel that what S&P did is correct: indeed, who really believes the U.S. deserves a AAA credit rating in 2011?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ukraine's Political Syndrome

It is hard to believe that today's Ukraine is the same country that had experienced the Orange Revolution just five years ago, a putative democratic transformation gone just a bit awry, to put it lightly. Surely, if one takes a look at the political elite, it is hard not to be disgusted or, at the least, disappointed, though many of us who keep up with recent developments in the "Breadbasket of Europe" would like to deny those not-too-subtle truths.

Indeed, in the past few weeks, the country has been hit by the H1N1 influenza epidemic, which only adds to the country's economic ills. Schools have been closed for several weeks as a result; hospitals are overflowing; and a moratorium has been put on political rallies, or most other types of mass gatherings for that matter.
But while the politicians continue to blame each other for any and all mishandlings, notably Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko blaming President Viktor Yushchenko and vice-versa, Ukrainians have had a glimpse of something more inane: the "demarlizatsiya" campaign.
The aforementioned word is a self-made pun on the local lingo demoralizatsiya (demoralization) and marlya (gauze). It is an attempt by a bevy of skimpily-clad women to be funny, as they are attacking the politicians' uproar over the swine flu and blame them for panicking the masses. Thus, as the Prime Minister has urged all to wear gauze to protect themselves, the "demarlizatsiya" girls took this advice to the extreme (see picture). They claim their gathering is to distract the masses from the panic and pandemonium that they are experiencing both in real life and on TV. In other words, it's an attempt to be funny.
And, to some degree, it is. Not in good taste, per se, but a quaint way to gain the media's--and this blogger's--attention.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I am back :)

Sorry for the unexpected pause in my blogging.

For the past 4 months, I was away in Central America, Eastern and Western Europe, and across the U.S. Now that I am back, I will resume my blogging duties regularly.

Alas, I did not alert any readers of the extended absence, for which I sincerely apologize.

In any case, expect new posts from yours truly within the upcoming days.

Now that the autumn has arrived, there should be many new and interesting topics to blog about in any case.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Trip to Central America, Days 4-5: Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

The reggae-filled and stoned smiles of Puerto Viejo tell it all.

This is a rastafarian-like paradise, or at least for many travellers visiting this small town on Costa Rica's Carribean coast just an hour's drive north of the Panamanian border at Sixaola.

The hedonistic mood is hard to describe. It is similar to the one in Bocas del Toro, yet whereas Bocas offers a flashier nightlife and more diverse options thanks to it being an archipeligo, Puerto Viejo offers a more relaxed vacation it seems: just kicking back and enjoying it all, in any style, is the name of the game here.

The one thing that is hard to fathom--and what I have mentioned before--is that no matter what people say, Costa Rica seems to be overpriced. It offers the same attractions, generally speaking, as Panama, minus the canal plus a more hilly geography and a tad bit more tropical climate. Yet the country is poorer, resulting in a lower quality of life and level of development. However, what surprises me are the prices, which, for many things, are double those of Panama and almost on par with prices for comparative goods and services in the U.S.

Thus, I cannot say that Costa Rica is overrated. Not by a longshot. However, most likely due to the fact that its government was the first in the region to open up the country to mass tourism, its seems overpriced. Again, for about 50% less money, one can get a very similar vacation in Panama.

Well, almost the same. The women in Panama are definitely not as attractive as in Costa Rica. That's for sure.

Trip to Central America, Days 2-4: Bocas del Toro, Panama

The islands of Bocas del Toro are a must for anyone visiting Panama. Located about an hour's drive and a short ferry ride (in the reverse order, of course) from the border with Costa Rica in the country's north, Bocas defines the future of Panama.

Tourists--mainly backpackers--are to be seen everywhere, yet in lower numbers than in neighboring Costa Rica. Likewise, hostels have been sprouting up on every street corner and in between. Restaurants, gift shops, and surfboard-cum-bicycle rental shops are everywhere, too.

However, what makes Bocas so interesting is its small, compact size yet relative wealth of options. One can take a water taxi to a different island, such as Bastimentos. The sub-tropical climate is great, although Panama's rainy reason is a very long one, lasting nearly 9 months. That, though, need not put off potential travelers, for the rain usually comes down in quick downpours, with most of the rainfall occurring during the night and not lasting more than several hours at the most.

Another plus is that Bocas is replete with water taxis, offering to transport tourists to a different island for just a few dollars. Whether it is surfing, snorkelling, tanning on the beach, or just laying back like a sloth and letting the days roll by, Bocas is the place to be.

It's basically a Costa Rica hedonistic experience are half price.

Trip to Central America, Days 1-2: Panama City, Panama

It may be one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Central America, yet it feels like many different cities in one.

Simply put, the contrasts are striking.

The slums of the Old Town (literally Old Compound), Casco Viejo, contrast to the skyscraper replete skyline (a la Dubai). Beggars roam the streets that are dangerous to visit, according to the locals at least, yet Casco Viejo's architectural beauty is hard to overstate. Its multi-colored buildings have a wiff of Cuba's Havana in them.

The city feels busy any day of the week, as Panama's transport hub. Even on a humid Monday, commerce and globalization are in full blast. And the Panama Canal, located on the outskirts of the capital, is an interesting site. Perhaps not as amazing or particularly interesting as it sounds, but it is definitely worth a visit, not least because it's just one of those sites you have to visit, such as the L'ouvre in Paris or the CN Tower in Toronto.

Prices are refreshingly low for a country of relative wealth. Again, the keyword is relative, since, by global standards, Panama is a poor country. Yet its wealth compares favorably to that of its neighbors, Costa Rica to the north and Columbia to the south.

A conglomeration of many different cities into one, Panama City is definitely worth a visit. True, it may not be the world's most interesting place, but this city better than any other in Central America defines the economic future of the region better than any other. That is, if corruption were stifled and more funds began flowing to the right places, but that is a whole different story.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Reforming Healthcare in the U.S.

The recent news that healthcare reform is coming eventually to the U.S. may have a modicum of veracity to it, yet that is as far as it goes.

Quite simply, unless the government truly takes this as its main prerogative, few things, if any, will be accomplished.

For one, the healthcare industry is very wily at lobbying politicians and aldermen to support their insurance policies and other egregious schemes. This is perhaps best exemplified by Hillary Clinton's failure to revamp healthcare back in 1993 when she was the First Lady. Alas, things in this respect have hardly changed since.

In addition, many people are going to U.S.-certified clinics abroad to get first-class treatment at a fraction of the cost in the U.S. Places such as Thailand and China have a plethora of clinics that depend on medical tourism, primarily from the U.S.

Thus, at times of global crises, such as the Great Recession and multiple worldwide crises (from North Korea's bomb and missile tests to Iran's disputed presidential election), it is unlikely that healthcare will be a priority for the U.S. leadership, despite what is being relayed to the public.

If anything nascent does occur in this sector, it will be in at least several years, not months.

Rest assured.