Worship con Queso

How sensual delights prepare us for the eternal feast.
Carolyn Arends [ 8/29/2013 11:38:00 AM ]

here is a Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston I have visited on three occasions. Each meal has begun with chile con queso. The cheese at this particular restaurant is the most delicious food I have ever tasted.

With every bite, I have been overcome with gratitude to God for creating taste buds, cows, and human ingenuity. And that gratitude has led to praise.

Some folks understand this. Some think I’m kidding. And others are skeptical that such a carnal thing as a Tex-Mex appetizer could provoke genuine worship.

We Christians have a long history of mixed and sometimes openly hostile attitudes toward sensual pleasure. Saint Augustine is the fourth-century poster boy for our dilemma, struggling in Book X of his Confessions to rein in each of his five senses. He attempts, for example, to “take food at mealtimes as though it were medicine” and to “fight against the pleasure in order not to be captivated by it.”

Augustine is ever-vigilant that pleasure in created things never replace our desire for the Creator. His caution is well taken. But lately I’ve been discovering an emphatically propleasure voice in the writings of another Christian guide.

C. S. Lewis is known, of course, as a literary scholar, novelist, and apologist. He is also, consistently, a curator of pleasure. Where there is beauty to be received, music to be heard, laughter to be welcomed, and (especially) food to be eaten, Lewis attends, celebrates, scrutinizes, describes, and partakes.

In Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Lewis argues that the pleasures derived from forest moss and sunlight, bird song, morning air, and the comfort of soft slippers are “shafts of [God’s] glory as it strikes our sensibility.” Our task is not to guard against sensual enjoyment, but to allow our minds to run “back up the sunbeam to the sun”—to see every pleasure as a “channel of adoration.”

Lewis even argues that there is no such thing as a “bad” pleasure—only pleasures “snatched by unlawful acts.” But he is not blind to the “concupiscence” (lustfulness) that so haunts Augustine. When our response to pleasure is greed instead of adoration—when we seek to grasp and possess rather than receive—our healthy cry of “This also is Thou” distorts into “the fatal word: Encore.”

In his introduction to The Four Loves, Lewis distinguishes between “Need-pleasures” and “Pleasures of Appreciation.” The enjoyment we feel upon receiving a Need-pleasure—water to quench thirst, for example, or the scratching of an itch—is intense but short-lived. But with Appreciation-pleasures—nonessential things that awaken us to delight, like delicious smells and tastes and scenes of beauty—the sensation intensifies over time. Greed—the repeated cry of “Encore!” to, say, rich black coffee or extra-creamy queso—may transform a Pleasure of Appreciation into a Pleasure of Need, draining out of it all the lasting enjoyment.

The answer, Lewis contends, is not to avoid pleasure but to “have” and “read” it properly: to receive it, openhanded, as both a gift and a message. “We know we are being touched by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures for evermore. There need be no question of thanks or praise as a separate event, something done afterwards. To experience the tiny theophany”—the small sign of God’s presence—”is itself to adore.”

In many respects, Augustine and Lewis are arguing two sides of the same coin. But there is a major point of divergence at the heart of their opposite orientations to pleasure. Where Augustine sees our sensuality as a liability to be managed until God “consign[s] both food and belly to destruction,” Lewis views every earthly pleasure as an apprenticeship in adoration for the sort of thing that will go on forever in heaven.

Biblical writers seem irresistibly drawn to an image—part metaphor, part promise—of “the sacred meal with God.” From the table prepared for the psalmist (Ps. 23:5), to Jesus’ story of a great banquet (Luke 14:15–24), to the Revelation 19 vision of a wedding supper, the Scriptures are filled with the anticipation of feasting together—in the presence of God—forever. The prophet Isaiah (25:6–8) takes particular pleasure in this vision:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

For Lewis, earthly meals are chances to practice the gratitude and adoration that will accompany our everlasting feast with God. Just as trials train us in patience, pleasure trains us in worship. Every sensual enjoyment (properly received) is a “tiny theophany”—a chance to “taste and see” that God is good, and a reminder that there is a whole lot more where that came from.

I rest my queso.

Affordable Care Act In A Nutshell

You might as yourself; if Sora Global provides health insurance for the international community, why is he talking about the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare, as most people call it)?  And no, this is not a political opinion blog.  I will not be offering my wisdom on whether it’s going to work or not, that’s for another time.  Anyway, regardless of my personal opinion on the subject, on January 1st of 2014 we will all be affected by this law in one way or the other.  Well, maybe not all; if you are the President or a member of congress you will be spared, but since most of us are neither we need to be aware so that we don’t get caught with our… whatever, down.

This blog will be very brief, I will only be offering the bare bones facts about the program, if you want to find out any more on the subject, you can call or email me and I will be glad to give you a more detailed account.

We can start by saying that we will all fit into one of three categories:

An employee of a company of 50 employees or more, where the employer will be required to offer you, not your family health insurance.  In this scenario, in order to qualify for your company’s health program you must be a full time employee (30 hours) or more.  The company may elect not to pay for your insurance in one of two ways: 1) Buy reducing your hours to less than 30 (a company is not obligated to pay for part time employees), or 2) By simply denying you, the employee coverage.  If the company opts for option 2, then the company is penalized by the government for a set amount per employee.  Your are now on your own to find affordable healthcare. Mind you, the company can opt to subsidize some of your healthcare cost by including a certain amount extra on your paycheck.  This possible subsidy, offered by the company, could create a positive tax advantage for the employer which could possibly offset the penalties set by the government.

A company employing  less than 50 employees, the employer is not required to offer you health insurance, and will not be penalized for doing so.  In the event that the employer does offer its employees health insurance, the employer can chose the company, how much of the premium is paid by you and if your dependents can be covered, or not.  If this employer decides to offer his employees coverage and said employees are earning within the poverty level, the employer may be eligible for a tax discount.   The drawback for you, the employee, is that if your health insurance is obtained through your employer you will not be eligible for possible premium discounts.  I’ll explain about these discounts when I talk about the individual or family policies.

So, let’s talk about what is going to be the bulk of us, those who are unemployed, self-employed, or whose employer has decided not to offer coverage; what’s going to happen to us?

We, and I mean we, I fit into one of those categories, are probably the most fortunate, we get to go online and chose to our heart’s desire.  The Federal Government and some States, Florida not being one of them, has set up what is called Marketplaces (In will speak in depth on this subject in my next blog).  A Marketplace has been referred to as Exchanges, and all that it is is a portal in the internet where you and I can go find our insurance coverage.  It’s that simple, huh! No, not quite that simple, that’s why you have and need me, but I’ll talk about that later on.

As of October 1st, 2013 the Federal Marketplace, for individuals as well as for small companies will go online.  At which time any of us can access it to find out our eligibility for discounts and costs.  Those are the discounts I spoke about in the last paragraph.  If you are within a certain income range and your family size is of a certain number, you may be eligible for an immediate discount on your monthly premiums.  How do you know if your eligible for the discount, simple, the Marketplace will take your data, cross-reference it with the IRS and “Bingo” you will be given a yes or no answer, and if the answer is yes, you will also be given a dollar amount.  Given you annual income and the size of your family you may also be eligible for a tax discount.

Who is eligible for the Affordable Care Act?  Well, anyone who is under 65 years of age, a legal US resident, is not in jail, and can afford to pay the premiums.

I know I made it sound simple, but I fear that it will not be as much.  That is why people such as myself, who are licensed insurance agents and have gone through the Marketplace and SHOP certifications are here to help you.

My next blog will speak to the Marketplace and Marketplace SHOP.  I will be offering more information as to eligibility, penalties and such.

In the meantime if you feel the need to ask questions, please feel free to do so at info.soraglobal.com and we will be very glad to answer to the best of our ability.

As of October 1st, when the Marketplace goes online I will be able to offer more specific assistance and even get you started on your way to your new health insurance.

When you may still need a travel agent

Four cases where professional expertise beats DIY travel planning

By Catey Hill

Job site CareerCast recently put them on its “most useless professions” list, many consumers have stopped calling or visiting them, and even some within the industry worry they may soon be out of work. After all, when it’s so easy for consumers to plan and book their own travel online, does anyone need a travel agent anymore?

While “travel agents used to be mostly mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar shops selling trips to Disney World and cruises and things like that,” that’s all changing, says Elias Garcia, a marketing specialist at travel company Global Basecamps. Many agents still provide such services of course, but fewer and fewer are doing so, because those package deals, as well as one-off plane tickets and hotel rooms — once more difficult for regular people to find and compare on their own — are now at most everyone’s fingertips, he says. Despite that, one in four airline tickets is still sold by brick-and-mortar travel agents, according to industry estimates. (70% is for corporate travel and the rest leisure.)

While the professions prospects may be dimming, the ranks of a certain type of travel agent — one who puts together complicated and unique itineraries for wealthier consumers — are growing, experts say. These “travel consultants” distinguish themselves by being experts on the destinations they sell trips to. A sample trip, for instance, might include dinner with a local family, tickets to a VIP event, a boat rental, and a tour around town with a trustworthy guide. According projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of travel agents is projected to increase by 10% from 2010 to 2020, but the agency notes that “job prospects should be best for travel agents who specialize in specific destinations or particular types of travelers, such as groups with a special interest or corporate travelers.”

“Generalists haven’t survived particularly well,” says Tony Gonchar, the vice president of American Express Travel; instead, more travel agents today are specialists, tending to focus on specific destinations or experiences, he says. “They’ll know that you should go to this restaurant at this time of day and sit in this seat for the best sunsets,” he says, adding they may even have an existing relationship with the restaurant’s manager.

The role of a travel agent has changed so much, in fact, that some don’t typically do the types of tasks that used to be standard: “When clients call me for a flight, I tell them ‘you don’t need to call me for that,’” says Denver-based travel consultant Joseph Sobin, noting that it’s often cheaper for clients to book flights directly online. “But if you want to know what to do and how to do it when you get there, call me for that.” And many travel agents now differentiate themselves in a whole new way: Rather than competing on price, “we focus on a service-oriented experience where we meet clients as soon as they step off the aircraft, are on call 24/7 and take responsibility if something goes wrong.” says Richard Bexon, the COO of Costa Rica-based Costa Rica Vacations.

For their part, consumers seem to be responding: Roughly one in five consumers with $100,000 or more in household income used an agent to book a trip in the past year, according to a study by research firm Harrison Group and American Express Publishing. That number is up from one in seven in 2009, and Jim Taylor, vice chairman of research firm Harrison Group, expects it to rise even more in the coming years.

Of course, you’ll pay for their services, though not necessarily out of your own pocket: Traditional agents are often compensated by the vendors they use, getting 7.5% to 15% of the total cost of the travel booked with that vendor, with the average being about 10%, says Sobin. The new breed of agents, Sobin says, often charge a one-time or hourly fee. And many may be paid both ways. Ask your agent how he or she is compensated to make sure you’re getting a fair deal; as with financial advisers, agents who are compensated by vendors may be biased toward a certain type of tour, even if it’s not the best one for you.

Shutterstock.com
Beach near Nosara, Costa Rica.
Bottom line: Many people don’t need a travel agent. This is particularly true for those taking simple trips to well-known destinations — like flying to the Caribbean to stay at a resort — since it’s relatively easy and often cheaper to book the hotels, flights, cruises, cars and travel packages for trips like this online yourself. Internet-savvy individuals willing to do their research — to separate the good hotels, events and attractions from the bad — probably don’t need the help of an agent either.

When should you reach out to a travel agent?

• If you want someone to call when things go wrong: Nearly 70% of affluent consumers who use travel agents say what’s most important is that an agent protect them or help them when things go wrong with a trip, according to a study by Harrison Group and American Express Publishing. “Travel agents are a kind of insurance,” Taylor say. For many agents, this means being on call at all hours.

• If you’re pressed for time or just want to avoid hassles: About one in three travelers feels overwhelmed by the amount of travel information online, according to the American Express Spending & Savings Tracker, a survey that looks at Americans’ spending and saving habits. If you’re in this group, or simply don’t have time to deal with trip planning, travel agents can do it all for you. Tell them where you want to go and the types of things you like to do, and they can put together a list of options for you and book them, saving you time. Agents are particularly useful to travelers who plan to take complicated trips, or go to multiple destinations or with multiple generations, says Gonchar.

• If you want more of a local experience: Good travel consultants have relationships with locals in your destination, experts say, so they can do things like arrange for you to have dinner with a local family, recommend restaurants and pubs that residents like but tourists don’t tend to know about, or find a tiny B&B for you to stay at where you can get to know the owner.

• If you want a highly customized experience: More and more travelers are asking for one-of-a-kind trips specifically tailored to their likes, says Gonchar. A foodie might want something like a private cooking class in Italy, a meet-and-greet with a chef she’s been reading about and a table in the private wine room of a restaurant. While she might not have the connections to get this done herself, a travel agent with deep local knowledge might be able to make this happen for her, Gonchar says.

Sobin says that the best way to find a travel agent is to get referrals from people you know. If you don’t know anyone, call a handful of agents and ask them questions about the destination you want to go to and the kinds of things he or she recommends there, to see if the agent has the insider knowledge and connections to make your trip unique. Experts also recommend that you ask for referrals and then call previous clients to ask about their experiences.

Security Message for U.S. Citizens No. 76: Bomb Blast in Nasr City

September 5, 2013

The U.S. Embassy has received reports of a bomb blast in Nasr City, Cairo, that targeted Egypt’s Minister of Interior. Security Forces are at the scene and the investigation is ongoing. This incident serves as an indicator of the tension and volatility that continues to exist throughout the country. Though the size and ferocity of demonstrations has subsided over the past few weeks, there have been several instances throughout the county of the targeting of police stations. The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid areas where incidents or unrest have recently occurred. Additionally, U.S. citizens should recognize that police stations and security forces may be targeted, and should avoid unsecured areas where police or security forces are congregated.

As a matter of general practice, U.S. citizens should avoid areas where large gatherings may occur. Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. U.S. citizens in Egypt are urged to monitor local news reports and to plan their activities accordingly.

The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens to review their personal security plans and remain alert to their surroundings at all times in Egypt. For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s Internet website where the Worldwide Caution, Country Specific Information for Egypt, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts, can be found. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook, and download our free Smart Traveler App, available through iTunes or Google Play to have travel information at your fingertips.

Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada, or, for callers outside of the United States and Canada, on a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

U.S. citizens are advised to maintain valid travel documents and enroll with the Department of State or the U.S. Embassy Cairo through the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program website. If you enroll we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements and can also help your family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency. U.S. citizens without Internet access may enroll directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

For further information, U.S. citizens may call the Embassy’s American Citizens Services Unit at 2797-2301 during business hours, Sunday to Thursday from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Please refer to the American Citizens Services Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/USEmbassyCairoACS. For emergencies after business hours and on weekends and holidays, U.S. citizens can contact the Embassy Duty Officer via the Embassy switchboard at 2797-3300. The Embassy is located at 5 Tawfik Diab Street (formerly known as Latin America Street), Garden City, Cairo.

Collett Joins Willis to Expand Financial Solutions Division in Hong Kong

As per Insurance Journal

Willis Group Holdings announced the appointment of Les Collett to establish a Financial Solutions office in Hong Kong, effective from October 1, 2013. He joins Willis from Standard Bank in Hong Kong where he is currently Head of Loan Syndications – Global Markets Asia.

Collett is an experienced banker and has held senior positions in London prior to moving to Hong Kong in January 2007. Paul Davidson, CEO of Willis Financial Solutions, explained that he would “continue the successful development of our political and trade credit risk practice in Asia.

Davidson added that Willis already has a strong “position in the region from our existing operations in Singapore. The continued expansion and development of international trade in Asia presents significant opportunities for our clients, as well as regulatory capital management challenges.”

Surgeons Defend ‘Smile Surgery’

By Jeyup S Kwaak

The need to smile all day at work is turning young South Koreans towards a surgical procedure that lifts the corners of their mouths.

Cosmetic surgeons in Seoul say they are seeing a sudden rise in demand for the so-called smile surgery this year among men and women in their 20s and 30s, most of whom are concerned about facing criticism at work because of their expressionless miens.

“Even when you are looking like your normal self, people keep asking you: ‘Why are you frowning?’” said Kwon Taek-keun, a plastic surgeon in practice for 20 years and known in professional circles as the first in the country to popularize the procedure. “That’s a lot of stress.”

The pictures and video clips that Dr. Kwon’s clinic, Aone Plastic & Aesthetic Surgery, posted online have caused a controversy in recent days, attracting derision from some media reports and the blogosphere, and comparisons to the Joker character from the Batman series.

But the cosmetic surgeons who carry out the procedure argue people, young and old, come psychologically scarred by hurtful remarks about their naturally downturned lips, especially if they have customer-facing roles. Services-industry workers such as flight attendants and consultants frequent the clinics, according to the surgeons.

The need to smile all day at work is turning young South Koreans towards a surgical procedure that lifts the corners of their mouths.

Cosmetic surgeons in Seoul say they are seeing a sudden rise in demand for the so-called smile surgery this year among men and women in their 20s and 30s, most of whom are concerned about facing criticism at work because of their expressionless miens.

“Even when you are looking like your normal self, people keep asking you: ‘Why are you frowning?’” said Kwon Taek-keun, a plastic surgeon in practice for 20 years and known in professional circles as the first in the country to popularize the procedure. “That’s a lot of stress.”

Goldenview plastic & aesthetic surgery clinic Before and after “Smile Surgery”
The pictures and video clips that Dr. Kwon’s clinic, Aone Plastic & Aesthetic Surgery, posted online have caused a controversy in recent days, attracting derision from some media reports and the blogosphere, and comparisons to the Joker character from the Batman series.

But the cosmetic surgeons who carry out the procedure argue people, young and old, come psychologically scarred by hurtful remarks about their naturally downturned lips, especially if they have customer-facing roles. Services-industry workers such as flight attendants and consultants frequent the clinics, according to the surgeons.

Goldenview plastic & aesthetic surgery clinic Before and after “Smile Surgery”
Known in the West as “Valentine anguloplasty” after the heart shape of the removed muscle tissues at the lip’s edge, the smile surgery was first developed as a part of an overall anti-aging face lift, Dr. Kwon and other surgeons say. Tightening the drooping face parts didn’t restore the lips to the original upturned position, making an extra procedure necessary, they said.
“It is going against gravity,” said Dr. David Song of Golden View Plastic Surgery. He added that he observes the patient in different poses, such as in a seated position or while lying down, to get the most natural angle for the lips. “We’re restoring the original lip line.”
Though South Koreans are some of the most avid users of plastic surgery in the world – the country has the world’s highest number of cosmetic surgery procedures per capita, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons – the area around the mouth was relatively unexplored, the surgeons say.

The age demographic of clients asking about the smile surgery became substantially younger, the surgeons say, after some celebrities’ smiles began attracting public scrutiny earlier this year. Few have admitted to going under the knife for a perkier expressions.
But some clinics now publicize more than 15 different procedures for the lip and the mouth, including enlargement, reduction and gum exposure reduction. The most common procedure? The smile surgery, according to Dr. Cha Seung-youn at ZIEN Plastic Surgery.
“Your eyes and mouth make up the most of your facial expression,” said Dr. Cha.

With a typical price tag of up to $2,000, the “natural” killer smile doesn’t come cheap, and Dr. Song warns that consistent care will be needed over a three-to-six months of the recovery period.

SWEDEN: How Sweden will deal with EU cross border healthcare

Sweden is decentralizing the operation of cross-border healthcare to the regions.

It often tops the world rankings for the best healthcare. The Swedish healthcare system is universal and free for all. It is government funded and decentralised. The problems are few, but for some operations in some regions there are queues for treatment and the relatively high cost of private Swedish healthcare means that patients can choose many EU countries where they could get quicker treatment at prices that would be lower than the local costs; although they would still have to pay for accommodation and healthcare so numbers taking advantage are not expected to be high.

While Swedish counties normally pick up the tab for health care, the central state has administered and paid for health care purchased in other EU countries. But that system is set to change on October 1st, although the state has promised to earmark funds in the autumn budget for the counties to dip into to ease the transition.

Sweden is divided into 290 municipalities and 20 county councils, which include the regions of Gotland, Halland, Västra Götaland and Skåne.There is no hierarchical relation between municipalities, county councils and regions, since all have their own self-governing local authorities with responsibility for different activities. The only exception is Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea, where the municipality also has the responsibilities and tasks normally associated with a county council.

In theory, patients will get more choice on what treatment to seek abroad, but nobody is sure what the result of transferring the decision-making process to the regional level will be. The regions could be very strict, or if there are local queues, could pay for treatment and other costs too. The decision of who gets what from whom will transfer over to the counties, which will confer in reviewing patient applications with the National Insurance Agency.

Hasse Knutsson of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) says that while patients can apply retroactively to have their treatment or operation paid for by Swedish authorities, there is never a guarantee that the full cost will be reimbursed, “If replacing a hip costs 55,000 kronor in Sweden, but you get it done in Germany where the price is 70,000, you would only get back 55000.”

In 2012, 3,000 Swedes got money back for health care obtained abroad, but 400 people who applied for coverage were rejected. Swedish patients most commonly seek help with skin conditions and eye problems, but there are signs that ailments that Swedish health care has little capacity to treat are pushing patients over the borders.

Hasse Knutsson of SALAR admits, “It is difficult to speculate about what effects this reform will have, both in terms of the number of people leaving for treatment and people coming here.

There may be more patients coming here.” – See more at: http://www.imtj.com/news/?entryid82=426352#sthash.126cBi0f.dpuf

Euro-zone factory rebound spreads to Spain, Italy Recovery seen in countries hit by fiscal crisis

By Alex Brittain

A recovery in the euro-zone manufacturing sector broadened in August, as factory activity picked up in countries such as Spain and Italy that have suffered long downturns sparked by the region’s fiscal crisis.

The latest signs of growth in these countries, as well as bail-out recipient Ireland, helped euro-zone manufacturers overall grow at the fastest rate in over two years, said data provider Markit in its monthly report Monday.

Growth accelerated in Germany, the euro zone’s biggest and strongest economy, and resumed in Spain after more than two years of decline. Factory activity in crisis-hit Greece shrank, but at the slowest rate in more than three years. The French factory sector ebbed, as it did in July.

Matthews Asia manages 25 billion dollars worth of assets around the globe. Portfolio manager Taizo Ishida tells us why the Philippines is becoming the top pick among developing markets in the region.

The release adds to a growing pile of evidence that the euro-zone economy, which emerged from a shallow, 18-month downturn in April, will continue to grow in the third quarter. Growth prospects remain poor, though, as governments continue with austerity policies and consumers and businesses refrain from spending freely. Unemployment is near record highs.

Markit said the euro-zone purchasing managers’ index for manufacturing rose to 51.4 in August from 50.3 in July. The figure is a slight upward revision from the 51.3 previously announced, and pushes the sector further above the 50 index threshold that indicates month-to-month growth.

“Manufacturing in the euro area continued to show signs of recovery in August,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit. “What’s especially encouraging is that the upturn is broad-based,” he added.

Cuba reports more cholera among foreign visitors

BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
JTAMAYO@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM

Cuba-born New York high school teacher Alfredo Gómez says it was bad enough that he contracted cholera during a family visit to Havana this summer. Then he got a bill from the government hospital — $4,700.

Gómez’ complaint came as Havana reported that a total of 12 foreign tourists and 151 Cubans have come down with cholera in recent months – though Gómez says his hospital ward alone had six to 15 foreigners on every one of the six days that he spent there.

The Havana report on cholera, the second in August alone, seemed to hint at a growing transparency by Cuban officials who previously kept quiet about the disease in a bid to avoid damaging the island’s $2.5 billion-a-year tourism industry, experts said.

A bulletin Friday by the Pan American Health Organization said Cuba that same day had reported 163 cases in the provinces of Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. PAHO, the hemispheric branch of the World Health Organization, indicated that those cases took place this year but gave no specific time frame.

Among those cases were 12 persons who had travelled to Cuba from other countries – three from Italy, two each from Germany, Spain, Chile and Venezuela and one from the Netherlands, PAHO noted. Cuba had reported six of those cases to PAHO earlier this month.

Independent journalists and visitors like Gómez have been reporting hundreds more cases never confirmed by Cuba, where the state-run news media virtually never uses the word “cholera” and instead refers to cases of “acute diarrheic diseases.”

Gómez, 49, who left Cuba in 1997 and now teaches math at the William Nottingham High School in Syracuse, N.Y., said he and two relatives were hit by intense diarrheas two days after they ate together at a state-run restaurant in Havana in late July.

Doctors at the Manuel Fajardo Hospital told them they had cholera, Gómez said, and transferred him to the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine, where the fourth floor of the hospital is reserved for foreigners who contract the disease.

Gómez said at least six and up to 15 foreigners were on the floor each of the six days he spent there, Aug. 4-10, receiving antibiotics and intravenous fluids for the disease, which is easily transmitted through water and can kill through dehydration.

That same week more than 60 Cubans were being treated in Kouri hospital wards reserved for island residents with cholera, he said, and a nephew told him that a large number of people had been struck by the disease in the Havana suburb of Mantilla.

The treatment fore foreigners at the hospital was very good and much better than the treatment for island residents, he added, but problems started when the foreign patients received huge bills as they were about the leave the hospital.

He heard two Spaniards on the phone with their insurance companies in Madrid trying to figure out how and what to pay, Gómez said. And he was pressured strongly to pay his own bill with his credit cards or through his U.S. health insurance policy.

“They really want to charge me, and they tried by all means that I should pay,” he said in a phone interview from Syracuse. “It was a rude, abusive attitude. They would not let met leave without paying.”

The bill he was shown was for $4,700 but he left without paying, he added, arguing that the U.S. embargo banned him from paying and that in any case his bill should be paid by the government-run restaurant where he contracted cholera.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/26/3587434/cuba-reports-more-cholera-among.html#storylink=CPU

Andres Oppenheimer: Weaker currencies may hurt Miami, a bit…

Judging from the Miami Herald’s latest headlines, home prices in Miami keep soaring and tourists from Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela keep flooding this city thanks to their countries’ strong currencies. The big question is how much longer the fiesta will last.

If you look at the latest economic figures, you may conclude that it’s about to be over. Latin American currencies have depreciated rapidly in recent weeks, making it more expensive for Latin Americans to travel and buy properties abroad.

Over the past month, Brazil’s currency fell by nearly 10 percent relative to the U.S. dollar. Brazil’s Central Bank announced Friday that it will inject up to $60 billion into the economy over the next four months to keep the Brazilian currency from falling further.

Over the past 12months, Brazil’s currency fell by nearly 22 percent relative to the U.S. dollar, Argentina’s by 21.4 percent, Peru’s by nearly 8 percent, Chile’s by almost 7 percent, Colombia’s by 6 percent, and Mexico’s by 1.4 percent, according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).

In the Caribbean, Jamaica’s currency fell by nearly 14 percent and the Dominican Republic’s by 8.4 percent over the same period, the IADB says.

The depreciation of emerging countries’ currencies has accelerated since Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke suggested June 19 that the U.S. economic recovery may allow the government to scale down its stimulus funds. That has led to the belief that U.S. interest rates will rise, and has moved investors to begin shifting money back from emerging countries to the United States, economists say.

Most international financial institutions tend to think that the decade of super-strong Latin American currencies has come to an end.

“The party is going to be over soon, if it’s not over already,” senior IADB economist Andrew Powell told me. “World interest rates that have been at historically low levels will not remain there; the growth rate of China in recent years is not sustainable, Europe still has its problems, and commodity prices will likely come down.”

The change could help Latin American countries in the long run, among other things because weaker currencies could make their exports more competitive abroad, economists say. But it will make their imports — as well as trips to Miami — more expensive.

“If the trend of depreciation of Latin American currencies of the past few weeks continues, we could see a drop in Latin American tourism and property purchases in the United States,” says Daniel Lederman, a senior World Bank economist specializing in Latin America.

But some private sector economists disagree, saying that they don’t expect a continued drop of Latin American currencies, nor a dramatic decline in tourism or real estate purchases in the United States.

“Miami shouldn’t lose any sleep,” says Alberto Bernal, head of research of Bulltick Capital Markets. “What we have seen in recent weeks is a normal correction within an ongoing boom.”

Bernal’s logic is that the fundamental factor behind Latin America’s strong currencies — the rapid urbanization of India and China, whose new middle-classes are consuming more Latin American commodities — remains unchanged. People in India and China will continue migrating to the cities for the foreseeable future, he says.

“This boom will end when China’s urbanization rate reaches 70 percent of its population, from the current 51 percent, and that process could last another fifteen years,” Bernal told me. “In the meantime, Latin America’s commodities will continue to be much coveted products.”

My opinion: I wouldn’t be surprised to see a further depreciation of Latin American currencies, especially in South America’s commodity exporting countries.

A recovering U.S. economy will draw more capital from emerging economies to the United States. And while China’s middle class will keep growing and consuming Latin American commodities, a trip to China a few months ago makes me wonder whether the country’s social tensions over corruption, pollution and other issues won’t result in political turmoil, and slower growth than currently expected.

Latin America’s commodity exporters should roll up their sleeves, increase productivity, draw investments and diversify their economies promoting non-traditional exports — all of which they should have started doing years ago.

Fortunately, many of them have built healthy foreign currency reserves, and have not incurred massive debts like the ones that led to the 1980’s financial crisis.

The party is over, but if they handle it well, it doesn’t need to be a traumatic awakening, neither for them nor for Miami.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/24/3581784/andres-oppenheimer-weaker-currencies.html#storylink=cpy