El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana

El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana
The Conquistador who put the Amazaon baisn "on the map"....Francisco Orellana

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A look at the traders behind the China-Ecuador-U.S. oil triangle

  (Reuters) - Ecuador's Socialist President Rafael Correa has often railed against allowing private trading firms to control the country's oil shipments, a top source of export revenue. Soon after his election in 2006, Correa pledged to cut out middlemen.

But on his watch, the opposite has happened. As the OPEC country committed to selling the bulk of its export crude to Chinese state-owned firms, a little-known Swiss trading house and its business partners have secured a role as intermediaries in the South American country's oil trade.

Internal shipping schedules from state-owned oil firm PetroEcuador show that PetroChina Co Ltd. - the main buyer of Ecuador's crude - engaged a small Hong Kong-based firm named Ursa Shipping Ltd to help ship the oil. Together, they handled around two-thirds of the 33 million barrels of oil Ecuador exported during the second quarter, the schedules indicate. Around 70 percent of their shipments were sent to the United States directly or to PanPac, an area offshore Panama where oil cargoes are often loaded onto U.S.-bound vessels.

Market sources say Ursa acts as a shipper for Geneva-based oil trading firm Taurus Petroleum, whose mainstay business a decade ago was selling Iraqi crude under U.N.'s oil-for-food program. For the past four years, Taurus has played a key role selling Ecuador's oil along the U.S. West Coast. According to a Reuters analysis of U.S. oil import data gathered by port intelligence group PIERS, Taurus's shipments accounted for nearly 10 percent of California's oil imports in the first nine months of 2013.

Much of the Ecuadorean oil Taurus sold in California arrived via Panama, where ships laden with crude allocated to PetroChina and Ursa have sometimes transferred their loads into other tankers, according to Reuters tanker-tracking data.

In total, Ecuadorean oil - largely handled by PetroChina's private trading partners - makes up 17 percent of the U.S. West Coast region's 1 million bpd crude imports this year. Only Saudi Arabia and Canada supply more.

It is perfectly legal for PetroChina, the world's No. 2 publicly-traded oil firm, to enlist traders to market Ecuador's crude, little of which is shipped to China. PetroChina buys Ecuador's crude under long-term contracts that provide up-front Chinese funding for cash-strapped Ecuador.

But the role of private entities is a potential political issue in Ecuador. Under Correa, well-known trading firms such as Glencore Xstrata, which had previously bought large volumes of Ecuador's crude, haven't been allowed to purchase PetroEcuador's oil. Instead, Correa has touted Ecuadorean oil sales to China as a triumph of trade between friendly governments.

A U.S.-based spokesman for PetroChina said all of its business with PetroEcuador is "within the boundaries of applicable laws and corporate policies." The firm declined to comment on any relationships with trading firms. A spokeswoman for PetroEcuador declined comment. President Correa's office didn't respond to questions from reporters.

Taurus, incorporated in 1993, declined to discuss its business or to make its founder, Benjamin Pollner, available for an interview. "We are a private company," said Tancrede Baron, Taurus's finance director, by phone from Geneva in late August. "Our business is confidential." Calls to Ursa weren't returned.

Valued at around $6 million per day, Taurus's shipments of oil to California earlier this year were sold to customers including Chevron, which Correa has declared "an enemy" of Ecuador. Chevron declined comment on the purchases.

The California oil giant is locked in a massive lawsuit with Ecuadorean plaintiffs over previous decades of alleged pollution by Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2001.

This month, Ecuador's supreme court upheld a lower court verdict against Chevron, ordering it to pay $9.5 billion.

Correa has in the past decried private oil traders as "corrupt" middlemen who profit at PetroEcuador's expense.

"We are done with intermediaries for our crude," he said in a speech after his 2006 election. Later, in 2008, he touted a direct contract for fuel supplies between PetroEcuador and PDVSA, Venezuela's state oil firm, as cutting out middlemen. Nevertheless, PDVSA later enlisted traders including Glencore to procure the fuel supplies.

Some Ecuadorean opposition figures, including a leftist congressman, Clever Jimenez, have criticized the government and PetroEcuador for allowing PetroChina to farm out business to traders. Detractors say traders are able to sell Ecuador's crude at a big mark-up abroad, which could imply lost revenue for PetroEcuador.

Correa has said Ecuador receives a fair price from PetroChina.

What Chinese firms do with the oil after they take ownership of it in Ecuador isn't PetroEcuador's concern, the company's international trading manager, Nilsen Arias, told Reuters by phone. "The destination is at their liberty," Arias said. He declined to comment on PetroChina's trading.

Taurus has been in the spotlight before. A 2005 report by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker identified Taurus and other Pollner-affiliated firms as having bankrolled $18.9 million in illicit payments to win Iraqi oil cargoes during Iraq's U.N.-controlled oil-for-food program. No charges were brought against Taurus or the other Pollner firms. Taurus denied any wrongdoing.

During most of 2006, Taurus imported around 105,000 barrels per day into the United States, including 54,500 bpd from Ecuador. Its shipments then stopped, the PIERS data shows, resuming in mid-2010 as PetroChina's role in Ecuador grew.

Ecuador's decision to let PetroChina trade its crude freely contrasts with the policies of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and several other OPEC countries that rarely allow buyers to resell their oil.

In recent months, another company appears to have supplanted Taurus as a key supplier of Ecuadorean crude to California, for reasons unknown. The PIERS data, based on individual bills of lading, shows Taurus's last shipment to California arrived at a Chevron refinery on September 26.

Three days later, New Jersey-based oil trading and logistics firm Core Petroleum began selling Ecuadorean crude into California. Several traders who deal in Latin American oil told Reuters that Taurus and Ursa work with Core Petroleum, established in 2009.

Core Petroleum's website lists Tancrede Baron - the Taurus finance director - as its chief financial officer. A Core employee in New Jersey said Baron was in Geneva and unavailable to talk. Baron didn't respond queries about his role at Core.

Both Taurus founder Pollner and Core's CEO, William Sudhaus, were executives of a former Taurus affiliate, Castor Petroleum, corporate documents show. Castor was acquired in 2009 by a larger Swiss trading firm. Sudhaus didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

(Reporting By Joshua Schneyer and Nicolas Medina Mora Perez in New York. Edited by Jonathan Leff and Michael Williams)

Friday, November 15, 2013

In Photos: Something for Everyone in Ecuador

By Suzan Haskins
In Ecuador, there’s something for everyone...from the die-hard adventurer who wants to follow the path of British mountaineer Edward Whymper up the slopes of 20,702-foot Mount Chimborazo to those who want to learn firsthand why Charles Darwin’s 1835 voyage to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands is called "the most famous few weeks in the history of science."
And then, of course, there’s Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, home to one of the planet’s most bio-diverse eco-systems and thousands of indigenous people who have lived there for thousands of years—some of whom rarely come into contact with others from the outside world.
You’ll find some great cities in Ecuador, too, including Quito.
Its Old Town is the largest historic center in the Americas and, along with one more city, the first-ever locale to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Covering more than 800 acres, you can wander for days amongst ancient thick-walled, tile-roofed colonial buildings, churches, museums, and more...and never be on the same street twice.
Cuenca, a smaller and more manageable city (population about 350,000), is another colonial gem and also a World Heritage site.
It’s home to as many as 4,000 expat retirees who’ve flocked here to enjoy the many cultural activities, temperate weather, and affordability of this city in Ecuador’s southern Andes Mountains.
In Cuenca’s historic center, just two blocks from Parque Calderon, you can buy a two-bedroom/two-bathroom apartment for just $80,000. And that comes with gorgeous views of the city’s iconic red tile roofs and the blue domes of the famous "new cathedral." (Construction on the "new cathedral" began in 1880.)
Rentals are easy to find, too. A comfortable two-bedroom apartment may rent for $350 to $500...and that may very well come furnished. Most expat couples living in Cuenca report they live quite comfortably on $1,500 to $2,000 a month, including rent. And most don’t have cars since public transportation is reliable and affordable. (It also doesn’t hurt that Ecuadorians are some of the nicest, sweetest people on the planet. Expats with similar countenances are more than welcome here.)
All this is not to mention the hundreds of miles of sparsely populated coastline and long stretches of practically deserted beaches of Ecuador...
Or the small tidy mountain villages...
Or the vegetable, fruit, coffee and chocolate farms... Did you know Ecuador may very well be home to the "world’s best chocolate"? That’s according to the BBC which was recently in the country to report about the "black gold" industry and the award-winning chocolate confections coming out of Ecuador.
It’s true. In Ecuador you’ll find just about everything you need to make life worth living. A welcoming community. An affordable lifestyle. Gorgeous, diverse scenery. Great weather. Delicious, healthy food. World-class coffee and chocolate. If only vineyards and wineries were added to the mix, Ecuador would be heaven on earth indeed.

 Editor’s note: Whatever you’re looking for in your retirement...whether you long for quiet mountain living...cultured city life...or relaxation in a laid-back beach town...you’ll find it in Ecuador. You don’t have to be rich to have your choice of lifestyle here either. For $2,000 a month—or less—you can have the kind of retirement you might only be able to dream about back home.


You Can’t Pray That Here!

November 15, 2013 by  

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You Can’t Pray That Here!
Another Federal court has taken a whack at another 200-year-old tradition in this country. This time, it’s opening public meetings with a prayer. An appeals court has ruled that the practice somehow violates the U.S. Constitution.

Now the issue is in front of the Supreme Court. Let’s pray that a majority of the justices get it right. Here is what is going on.

Like many communities in America, the town of Greece, N.Y., opens its monthly board meetings with a prayer. Although a variety of local religious leaders have delivered the prayers, most of them were given by Christians. This shouldn’t be surprising, since most of the religious institutions in this Rochester suburb — as in most of the country — are Christian.

But this was too much for two women in the town. Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens protested that the prayers constituted a government endorsement of religion. They sued the town to have them stopped.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that such “legislative prayer” is perfectly OK, as long as the prayer does not promote (or disparage) a particular religion. But the plaintiffs found a court to support them. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that the practice was “too sectarian” and had to be stopped. The town appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which held a hearing on the case last week.

Hopefully, a majority of justices there will agree with earlier Supreme Court decisions, such as Marsh v. Chambers in 1983, which ruled that such legislative prayers weren’t an “establishment of religion,” but rather a “tolerable acknowledgement of beliefs widely held among the people of this country.”
By the way, in that 1983 decision, the Court wrote that the very same group of lawmakers who drafted the 1st Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights also “adopted the policy of selecting a chaplain to open each session with prayer.”

That is a tradition that every Congress has followed since then. To this day, every session of Congress begins with a prayer. The Supreme Court begins its sessions with the appeal, “God save the United States of America and this honorable Court.” Our coins carry the motto “In God We Trust.” And even the Pledge of Allegiance contains the phrase “under God.”

As I said, acknowledging our dependence on God and asking His blessings upon us is a tradition that goes back to the very formation of this country.

While our Founding Fathers declared their “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,” they had a healthy mistrust of government. They recognized the wisdom of Lord Acton’s famous dictum: “All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The best way to prevent this from happening, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, was to bind men down “by the chains of a constitution.”

But even the original Constitution didn’t go far enough to protect the rights of the States and the people. So before the Constitution could be ratified, 10 amendments were added, to specify even further what the central government could and could not do.

The 1st Amendment in what became known as the Bill of Rights covered the rights that the Founding Fathers considered most essential: freedom of speech, of the press, to assemble and to petition the government “for a redress of grievances.”

But of all these basic freedoms, the most important was the one they listed first: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Note the first five words: “Congress shall make no law.” It says nothing about what a State or a community might or might not do. In fact, the Founding Fathers were so intent on protecting the rights of the people to do pretty much do whatever they wanted that they wrote not one, but two amendments on the subject.
The 9th Amendment states: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

And in case that wasn’t clear enough, the framers of the Constitution repeated the same idea in the 10th Amendment. Could anything be more straightforward than this? “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The Founders never wanted or expected every state or community to draft the same laws, follow the same rules or practice the same traditions as every other community. They would have been appalled at the idea of some proscribed uniformity.

Unfortunately, if you’re looking for people to understand and support the Constitution, the Federal courts in this country are one of the last places you should look. And if President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) get their way, that situation is about to get a lot worse.

At a recent fundraiser, Obama boasted: “We’re remaking the courts.” And certainly the ultra-liberal appointments he’s made to various Federal courts confirm what he said.

Now, a key battle is brewing over three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has said there is no need for more additional judges there. “In terms of raw numbers,” he said, “the D.C. Circuit has the lowest number of total appeals filed annually among all the circuit courts of appeal.” He claims that members of the court agree with him. One even told him, “If any more judges were added now, there wouldn’t be enough work to go around.”

Grassley has introduced the Court Efficiency Act of 2013, which would eliminate three seats on the court, which he says are totally unnecessary. That’s one way to keep more liberals from being appointed.
However, there is no way Reid will allow Grassley’s proposal to come to a vote. Reid has said the Democrats need to get at least one more member on the D.C. Circuit Court to “switch the majority.”

Why is this court so important? Here’s how Janice Crouse and Mario Diaz, both of whom are associated with Concerned Women for America, explained it in the Washington Times: “His credibility shattered, the only hope the president has of advancing his agenda is through executive action. Because administrative actions are reviewed by the judges on the D.C. Circuit, the president seeks to pack the court with left-wing ideologues who will uphold his agenda.”

So that’s what’s at stake in this battle. On the issue of legislative prayer, there are some reasons to be optimistic that this Supreme Court will overturn the decision of the Appeals Court.

During the hearing, Justice Elena Kagan said, “Part of what we are trying to do here is to maintain a multi-religious society in a peaceful and harmonious way.” Then she added, “And every time the Court gets involved in things like this, it seems to make the problem worse rather than better.”

Of course, the same thing could be said about almost every time the Federal government tries to “make things better.”

We’ll let you know how this battle plays out, as well as how the Supreme Court handles this latest assault our right to pray in public whenever our leaders gather. God knows we need His blessings — and protection.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

US warns of fallout if Ecuador scraps bilateral treaty

Ecuador President Rafael Correa poses during an interview in an hotel on November 7, 2013 in Paris
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Quito (AFP) - Ecuador's possible scrapping of a bilateral investment treaty with the United States could lead to loss of American investment in the country, Washington's envoy warned Monday.

"If the bilateral investment treaty is canceled that would obviously have a negative effect because US companies would be afraid to invest," Ambassador Adam Namm said in an interview published in the local economic weekly Lideres.

Namm comments referred to the government's recent decision to carry out a review of its 26 international accords in response to concerns they undermine Ecuador's economic sovereignty.

A commission conducting the review is due to report its findings in mid 2014.

The government had already indicated it considers certain similar agreements with France, Germany, Britain, Ireland and Sweden to be over.

The US ambassador underscored the "great value" of such accords for foreign companies, saying they allow for any disputes to be handled by international arbitration courts.

This, Namm added, "generates protection and confidence."

Correa, however, sees such US or European-based tribunals as biased in favor of multinational companies and has proposed the creation of arbitration centers in South America.

In September, an arbitration panel in the Hague gave US oil giant Chevron an important procedural victory in its battle against a $19 billion fine by Ecuador for polluting the Amazon basin region.

Correa has called for a global boycott of the California-based company and warned of the risk of a state bankruptcy if the panel decides in favor of it.

Washington, often criticized by Correa, is Ecuador's main trading partner with exchanges in 2013 that could reach $17 billion, according to Namm.

According to the State Department, the two countries have had a bilateral investment treaty in force since 1997.
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Monday, November 4, 2013

Is Ecuador the Right Place for You?

By Dan Prescher
Ecuador has been at the top of so many international retirement indexes and lists in the past few years that folks are beginning to wonder if there isn’t some kind of conspiracy at work.
After all, how can a single country meet every one of the requirements that retirees are looking for overseas?
Simple answer—it can’t. No place can.
I’ve lived in Ecuador very happily for about five years all together, and I speak from experience. Just one example off the top of my head... As I write this, there is a dog barking in the neighbor’s back yard. It’s been barking since last Thursday. I’m not kidding. It stops occasionally to drink water and take a five- or 10-minute nap, but otherwise it’s been barking 24/7 for the past several days.
This is something that in the U.S. would be handled with a single phone call to the local animal shelter. Here, it’s nobody’s business unless they choose to make it their business...
And if that’s a deal breaker for you—and I know a lot of people for whom it is—Ecuador, or at least the part of Ecuador I’m living in right now, will not meet every one of your requirements as a place to retire.
It will also not meet your requirements if you are looking forward to living exactly like you do in the U.S. and having every service, convenience, and brand of consumer item you’re used to in the States.
Ecuador is not "U.S. Light." It’s Ecuador, and it is what it is. And one thing it’s not is the U.S. Many of the things that happen here will not be familiar to you, and some will completely mystify you. Some of the things you’re used to in the States do not exist here. Some do exist here, but at much higher prices than in the U.S. because they have to be imported.
So why come here at all?
I said at the beginning that I’ve been living happily here for about five years all told, and I mean it. Because, for me, there is no more beautiful, comfortable, and affordable place on the planet.
Note that those are all subjective values. Beauty and comfort and affordability mean completely different things to different people.
But for me, beautiful is that incredible extinct volcanic peak that I can see through the mountain pine and eucalyptus right outside my kitchen window and the immense, green, fertile valleys that surround the little town where I live.
Comfortable for me is the weather up here at 8,000 feet in the Andean mountains. You’d think it would be bitterly cold, but I’m also on the equator, which means that even at this altitude the temps rarely exceed 75F during the day and 50F at night all year around, so two wool blankets and the windows are my entire heating and air conditioning system. And the seasons up here amount to Dry and Less Dry, with a few weeks of Rainy thrown in each year.
For me, that defines perfect weather. Not that Ecuador doesn’t have miles of tropical Pacific coast beaches and hectares of steamy, fertile Amazon jungle for people who like those things. I just prefer life up here in the mountains.
And affordable for me is me and my wife living in a modern condo, eating very well from both the local farmers’ market and a grocery store (both within walking distance), having dependable hot water, electricity, satellite TV, high-speed Internet, and a limited but adequate selection of wine, beer, and liquor close at hand, all for about $1,500 a month.
That doesn’t include personal travel or rent, since we own our condo, or any extraordinary expenses like new furniture if we want it or remodeling the place if we feel like it. And it doesn’t include all the associated costs for a car, which we don’t have, don’t need, and don’t want. Both public and private transportation are readily available and affordable. ($1 gets us anywhere in town via private taxi and 25 cents gets us a 20-minute bus ride to a nearby town).
But it does include everything else that make my life worth living...especially when you add in the beauty and the comfort.
And if I get an itch for something extraordinary that I can only get in a huge metropolis...Quito, a city of several million people, is just a two-hour drive away via the PanAmerican Highway.
So while Ecuador can’t meet every one of the requirements that every single retiree is looking for overseas—no single country can—it sure is beautiful and comfortable and affordable enough to qualify for me.
Even with the neighbor’s dog.
And there are a lot of expats I know here right now who’d agree with me. 

Ecuador Grows at Fastest Pace in One Year as Oil Output Rises

Ecuador’s economy in the second quarter grew at the fastest pace in a year as increased consumer spending and crude output offset slowdowns in construction and retail.

Gross domestic product rose 1.2 percent from the previous quarter, its fastest pace since the second quarter of 2012, the central bank said today in a report on its website. The economy expanded 3.5 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, unchanged from the prior three months.

Ecuador, an OPEC nation that relies on oil exports for about a third of its budgeted revenue, boosted crude output as investments in new technology at so-called mature oil wells came online, the bank said. The increase helped the government finance public spending and drive economic growth, said Francisco Briones, an analyst at the Guayaquil-based economic and political research company Inteligencia Estrategica.

Oil revenues “directly affect growth by affecting government revenue and hence government spending,” Briones, who forecast an expansion of 3.5 percent in the second quarter from the prior year, said in an e-mailed response to questions before the data was released. “A large part of public spending is channeled to road construction, infrastructure and mortgage lending.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nathan Gill in Quito at ngill4@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net

Living in Cuenca, Ecuador, Has a Downside...

By Edd Staton
A lot of folks look forward to and truly enjoy the change of seasons. Spring blossoms...the warmth of summer...fall foliage...bundling up in winter.
I would not be included in that group.
I've never been a fan of cold weather. Whenever it snowed I enjoyed walking around and throwing snowballs for about an hour. Then I was ready for it to go away so I could put on a bathing suit.
Four years living in Las Vegas before relocating to Ecuador soured me and my wife Cynthia on extreme heat forever. Something about having to walk slowly so the friction of the scorching air didn't hurt my face never sat well with me.
In fact, one of the key considerations in our decision to move to the colonial city of Cuenca was its moderate climate.
We're like Goldilocks—we want our weather not too hot. Not too cold. Just right!
But while visiting family in North Carolina recently my son mentioned something I hadn't thought about. He told me how he was looking forward to putting away his winter clothes and breaking out the shorts and T-shirts.
And I thought, "Huh. I don't do that." In fact after three years living in Cuenca I had kind of forgotten that's the routine in places that experience seasonal changes.
Therein lies a (very minor) downside to living in the "Land of Eternal Spring"—you're eternally looking at the same darned wardrobe every time you open the closet door.
There are solutions, of course. Every visit to the States we buy a few new garments and give away the ones we're most tired of when we return home.
What about expats who don't travel back and forth like we do? Cuenca has several malls and many boutiques scattered throughout the city.
Be aware, though, that Latin Americans are generally smaller than North Americans and clothing sizes reflect this difference. Selection for large people is quite limited, but excellent tailors can make custom clothing at quite reasonable prices. I showed a photo to a proprietor here of a gorgeous leather jacket that retailed for over $1,000 in the States. He made a duplicate just for me for only $125. (Those same leather craftsmen are happy to create high-quality shoes for your feet, too, by the way.)
What would I do if I didn't travel and couldn't afford a custom wardrobe? Well, at 6'3", I guess I'd be trying to convince my friends that three-quarter length sleeves and capri pants were the latest fashion statement for guys!
As I said, wearing the same wardrobe all year round is a downside to living in Cuenca—but it's one of the only ones. We didn't move here to be fashionistas; we came here to enjoy the plethora of positive attributes Cuenca has to offer. Fresh, healthy, non-GMO food...free symphony performances...current movies in English (and sometimes in 3D!)...low cost and high quality health care...the list goes on and on.
We enjoy a very high quality of life in Cuenca at about 25% of the budget we spent back home. Our luxurious two-story penthouse apartment (with weekly maid service) has commanding views of the city and surrounding mountains. We dine out regularly, attend many of those free symphony performances, and enjoy going to the gym, yoga and Tai Chi classes.
Later today, we're meeting friends for lunch at one of the many fixed menu lunch spots around town. I can already tell you what our total bill will be for fresh juice, homemade soup, and a healthy entrée—$5. For both of us!
So while, at a recent International Living event in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, it was a joy to try on the beach attire we never get to wear here, after the suitcases were unpacked, we found ourselves decked out in our "eternal Cuenca" clothing...ready to once again enjoy all that this city has to offer.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Want To Catch The Attention Of The Government? Use These Words On Social Media

Blog Note: Based on this Post.......... our Blog is being watched by big brother.......

By · June 6, 2013

 This morning has certainly been fun – we now know that the NSA has been, and will continue, collecting personal metadata of Verizon subscribers until July 19. If that wasn’t enough surveillance for you, the Department of Homeland Security would like to kick it up a notch. Did you know that they regularly scan social media sites looking for certain words? Well, you do now.

Thanks to a freedom of information request, the DHS has released the manual its analysts use when scanning social networks and other online sources for news on potential terrorist attacks or crimes. In other words, the DHS employs a number of people who browse Facebook, Twitter and other social networks all day looking for specific words.

So, without further ado, here are the words you need to use if you want to grab the attention of the DHS:
Use These Words On Social Media
Use These Words On Social Media
Use These Words On Social Media
It’s a little strange that very common words like “ice” and help” are on the watch list. Those who analyze these words probably use context in these situations though to determine the difference between somebody lamenting the latest ice storm, and a person threatening to “ice” somebody.

If you were wondering, the DHS released the 2011 edition of the manual. The latest editions probably have more words in them, but the above list gives us a good indication of what the government is looking for on social media.

In short, be mindful of what you’re saying before you string “interstate,” “China,” and “snow” into a sentence.

As an aside, it seems that the DHS doesn’t know how to spell “lightning.” Under the Weather/Disaster/Emergency section, our favorite electric bolts from the sky are listed as “lightening.” Simple typo or does the government hire people with the grammar of an 8-year-old? The world may never know.

Friday, November 1, 2013

We're Thriving on Ecuador's Coast‏

By Donald Murray
On Tuesday, I will open my Ecuadorian bank account. No big deal; just a savings account with an ATM card. So, why am I so excited?

When we arrived in San Vicente, Ecuador nearly 18 months ago, my wife Diane and I were as prepared as we were able to be, which is to say: we had a lot to learn! We had done our best to get ready for our transition, while attending to the myriad tasks necessary when making an international move. 

Yet, there was no way to learn the ropes of daily living until we got here on the ground for ourselves.
Stepping from the modern, efficient infrastructure and technology-rich culture of the U.S. into a small town on Ecuador's coast was just the sort of grand, life-changing experience we wanted. 

Our life immediately slowed to a very healthy, almost sleepy pace compared to our old one. Life is simpler here. In the small, coastal community of San Vicente where we live across the bay from Bahia de Caraquez, farming is mostly done by hand with donkeys to assist and fishing is most frequently done from small, crude hand-made boats with fisherman tossing hand-tied throw nets. 

In Ecuador, our stress and financial worries have melted away, too.

Our initial Ecuador budget was established at $1,500 per month, an amount pretty tough to survive on in the States, at least with any sort of comfort. Here on the coast, we were able to move into a beautiful, furnished, two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in a low-rise, gated complex. The complex boasts two pools, gorgeous landscaping and I can throw a rock and hit the Pacific surf. The monthly rent for this lovely place? $450.
We've slashed our other costs living in Ecuador, too. We buy most of our food locally at the large open market. Fresh fruits and veggies are plentiful and inexpensive, as is the local seafood. A week's worth of farm-fresh produce runs us around $6. Our electric bill is $25-$30 per month. Gasoline for our very-used 4WD goes for $1.48 per gallon and our car insurance is $65 per year...yes, that's per year

Our Spanish continues to improve. Learning the names of fruits and vegetables, meat and various types of fish happens daily as we shop. With continued practice, our pronunciation gets better and we rely less on our charades-skills than we used to. 

I am excited about opening a bank account because it is one more indication that we have made a life here. My Ecuadorian driver's license is tucked into my wallet next to my official national I.D. card, or Cedula. Our social circle includes both Ecuadorians and expats. I know where to find the things we need and what to ask for...in most cases. We are settled into our home and our relaxed, comfortable life. 

Our early days as expats were so extraordinary that I collected the stories and wrote an e-book called, "Our Ecuador Retirement...The First 8 Months." I sometimes reread segments to measure how far we've come since then.

We are no longer just surviving; we are thriving here on Ecuador's coast and that silly, simple bank account is just another marker that San Vicente is truly home now.