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Month: December 2009

Break-down of our National Debt – in real time.

Break-down of our National Debt – in real time.

Sweet – and horrifying.
Current tally: $39,000 per citizen (every man/woman/child), or currently $111,500/taxpayer – meanwhile savings are at $1300/citizen.  This means that if we accrued absolutely NO more debt, bought nothing else, and just put our total earning towards paying for the debt, most people would have to work 2-5 years towards paying off just their part.

You tell me if we’re in trouble…

California as the bell-weather

California as the bell-weather

Many people look to California as the guide to how the course of government/politics in our country go.  Well, I think we should also look to them again in this latest new ‘achievement’:

Top 10 Most Likely to Default World Economies:

  1. Venezuela: CPD 56.26%, credit rating BB- negative outlook
  2. Ukraine: CPD 52.91%, credit rating CCC+ stable outlook
  3. Argentina: CPD 46,06%, credit rating B- stable outlook
  4. Pakistan: CPD 38.11%, credit rating B- stable outlook
  5. Republic of Latvia: CPD 30.47%, credit rating BB negative outlook
  6. Dubai UAE: CPD 25.71%, credit rating BB+ negative outlook
  7. Iceland: CPD 24.66%, credit rating BBB- negative outlook
  8. Lithuania: CPD 19.11%, credit rating BBB negative outlook
  9. California, USA: CPD 18.97%, credit rating BAAA1, stable outlook
  10. Greece: CPD 18.67%, credit rating BBB+

That’s right folks – guess what all those years and years of overspending has left California.  Not only perpetually in financial trouble – but now on the top 10 list of “most likely to default” on their debt in the WHOLE WORLD.  This is likely to see them having much more trouble borrowing money, as well as raising the interest rates they get when borrowing money.  It’s the first real sign that American debt is no longer a safe haven.  And when that ball rolls, you can and will likely see trillions of dollars leaving US debt.  The change could be catastrophic.

I know I harp on this all the time – but I honestly see this coming for our whole country – a country of debters that slowly slips into the ‘poor’ credit rating.  What does this mean?  The only way the government can pay bills is by raising taxes and/or devaluing its currency like many other countries on this list.  I’m personally getting ready for astronomical taxes and high inflation in my old age – and am planning my retirement accordingly.  Mostly by moving a larger portion of my retirement out of the US to places that are seeing growth, and switching from traditional IRA’s to max out my Roth’s much more.  Roth IRA’s already have their taxes taken out; and will be tax-free for me when I retire.

So, if you want to see where our country will be in about 10 years – look to California.

Russia – Day 6

Russia – Day 6

Day 6 marks the return flight.  We get up at 2:00am and catch a cab to the airport.  Zoom – the cab driver loves to drive fast at 2:30 in the morning, and he has a love for the blues  so he plays it very loud.  After passing a crashed bus on the way out of the city, we get to the airport, and it’s reverse visa fun.  We get in line and have a few tense minutes as papers are filled out, computers cross-referenced, stared-downs happen, and the usual questions designed to figure out if we’re hiding anything.  After a few minutes each, we get through security (sigh of relief) and hit the lounge.  The airport is, still, quite small – only one real gate that you walk out onto a bus across the tarmac then board our plane.  Three hours to Frankfurt and we camp out in the VIP lounge.  We then pull 10 hours nearly over the pole to Seattle and another 30 minutes down to Portland and I’m home again.  Nice to be home again – and see how well one adjusts back 12 hours. 🙂

Russia – Day 5

Russia – Day 5

Last full day in Russia – and it’s drizzly.  I have only a few short meetings in the late morning, so I walk into work and pass a great variety of people and buildings.


It’s an interesting mix of wooden buildings and modern buildings.  It’s clear that much of the city was built in the 50’s/60’s (or much earlier!), then not much for 20 years, then a new round of building has begun in the last 10-15 years.  You can often see this side by side. The old buildings are beautiful pieces of woodworking – but have in many cases aged very, very badly – listing and warped with age and elements.  Yet are clearly still inhabited.  One of the buildings was half-torn down and the interiors of the walls were visible.  Amazingly, the frame is an honest log cabins pile of interlocking logs inside, with a layer of slat wood panels and fine scroll work on the outside face and plaster lining the inside.


There’s such a variety of buildings, I have a good time  looking at them. Nihzny is also a university town, and there are all kinds of secondary school: economics, police, and so forth.  The street they are on is colorful too with interesting and very artistic graffiti on the odd wall or two.

After my meetings, we take a little tour around town and head to a Russian military store for the ubiquitous Russian fuzzy hats.  The color of the hats tells you what branch of the military their a part of – blue is police, black is navy, and gray is army.  However, when we get there – the shop is completely out of any size but small.  We head across town to another store and are told the Russian military came in last week and bought the entire supply from their three stores.  So sadly no hats are to be had on this trip.

As we get back to work, we hear that people are coming down with some kind of illness that has now sent 3 guys to the hospital.  The three of us visitors feel fine, but apparently the onset and symptoms are pretty fast and terrible.  We become worried that something nasty will kick in when we’re on the plane. Fingers are crossed.

I head out for another walk back to the hotel for more sight-seeing.  I head to the kremlin of the city – an ancient fortress that was lots of government buildings inside and memorials from WW I.  Including a small orthodox chapel and an eternal flame to the fallen of WWI.  You also get a great view of the Vulga river – the largest and longest river with a historied and storied past.

I take a long walk on the pedestrian mall/street.  There are lots of clothes shops and a fair number that would be recognized by any westerner.  Its a fantastic place for sight-seeing and people watching.  It’s certainly the center for people to hang out.

After stopping at a few shops for souvenirs, I rejoin my coworkers at the hotel.  For dinner, we head downstairs to the hotel dinner and I have a fantastic beef dish.  We don’t head out because we need to be up at 2:00am to get to our flight.  It’s at this point that we hear they’ve closed the Nizhny Intel site for 3 days.  Wow.  Anyway – off to bed for a few quick hours of sleep before our early morning rise.

Russia – Day 4

Russia – Day 4

Normal day of work – but no meetings till 1pm, so my morning is finally a little relaxing.  My manager is desperate for some pizza/burgers – so we actually get dragged over to the local mall.  Talk about exactly like American malls.  This place is exactly like any mall you’d see in the states sans the Cyrillic lettering.  They have a Sborro, Subway, Baskin-Robbins and a McDonalds knockoff that has the exact same menu.  I reluctantly get a burger – but would have rather had a good Russian dish.

Overall, Russian food is very easy for the American palette to adjust to.  Lots of chicken/rice and potatoes – with Nizhny having lots of lake and river fish from the Vulga.   The food is usually less spicy in general – but still very tasty.  The beer is good but nothing beyond the standard, normal tasting beer.  The Vodka is very, very smooth.  They aren’t big on cold drinks or ice in your drinks.  Pop and other beverages are stored in fridges – but I’ve never seen refrigerators that cool so poorly.  Most of them seem to be no more than just fans blowing air. My guess is their cooling elements aren’t even plugged in.  Still – no big deal – just a difference.  The food is good and I haven’t had a single issue yet.  Finger’s crossed for a safe rest of the trip.


At night we head out to a really nice restaurant with the Russian manager.  The place was very nice, and the food even better.  We had caviar and beef roll appetizers with vodka; then I had a roasted chicken/pheasant on a bed of potatoes and some sort of spicy shoots.  Fantastic.

After that, we headed just down the block to the Rock Bar.  It’s filled with younger folks and tons of western ‘rock memorabilia’ such as 80’s posters/concert bandannas from Van Halen and other such aged giants.  The stools have jeans stapled to them with dark black boots for the ‘feet’.  When we get there, the live band had finished, but they put up a projector on the stage with lots of German dark metal like Ramstein playing.  We enjoy some drinks then head home.  Another successful day.

Russia – Day 3

Russia – Day 3

Another completely full day of meetings and technical talks – actually even more so.  We stick around for a mandatory all-hands meeting at 7pm that our second-level manager is giving from Oregon (8am their time) – so my day runs from 8:30am till 8pm.  We then head out to an Uzbekistan food joint.

It’s very much like the Marrakesh in Portland and great food.  I get a wonderful Uzbeki pilaf dish of chicken, raisins, something like Spanish/spicy rice and the most gigantic beer glasses I’ve ever seen (they were 1/2 litre glasses).

We head out with two Russian coworkers and have fantastic time.  The two guys are lots of fun, but by 11pm, I’m completely exhausted.  I catch a cab and head home.  Kind of bummed that today was so much work and not much outside fun.  However, I’m clearing Friday off so that I can see some of the sights before we leave.

Russia – Day 2

Russia – Day 2

I awaken at 8:00am to daylight of my first day in Russia.  The sleep was very good – albeit short.  I got to bed around 1am and the 7 hours of sleep were well deserved after the 12+ hours of travel half-way around the world.  I learned a lesson early in my traveling career.  As soon as you get on the plane, set your watch for your destination, and start living exactly as you would if you were already there.  So if you get on the plane and local time says 11pm – you go to sleep best you can.


My hotel room is a fairly simple affair. Which is somewhat disconcerting considering this particular hotel (Nikola House) is considered one of the best two in the city.  Yet most European/American folks would liken it to a nicer Holiday inn.  Still, everything is in order and feels safe – the bed soft and the shower is hot – so it’s gold in my book. We awake and I head down to grab some breakfast – ham and cheese, sliced tomatoes, some fresh bread and a lot of orange juice.  A LOT of juice.  Man I’m dehydrated something fierce.  In all that day, I drink no less than 5 bottles of water and several glasses of juice before I feel back to normal.
We catch the cab to work when I realize we’re actually only 1 block from the city’s kremlin.  I make a mental note that I must return for the tour.  We drive to work and I spend the next 8 hours in meetings and prepping slides/etc.  The folks here are very bright and accommodating.  I found them to be easy to work with them and fun to hang out with.  Their English is good overall – and communcation isn’t too difficult.

After a long day of work, we head out for dinner.  We walk down the main walk-way of shops in town to a place called ABS brewpub.  It’s a pretty fun place that has one side done up like a big truck and you sit on the back/flatbed.  When you sit down, there is a big tap on the wall hooked to piping.  The spigot has a digital meter on it that they read when you sit down.  then you just pour whatever you want from the spigot.  When you get up, they read the meter and charge you for what your table drank.  Slick.

I went a little out on a limb and ordered the ‘sea cat’ dish.  Which from what I could tell later turned out to be a whitefish that the guys at work reported comes from a lake or river.  They didn’t have the name handy – but I bet it was a catfish.  It was a great dish of fish and Spanish rice-like base – tasty and filling.

After dinner we head back to the hotel around 10pm.  That night I take a mild sleeping pill that my doc gave me and was suggested by my coworkers.  They tell me that first night being 12 hours apart you’ll likely wake up at 2 or 3am and not be able to sleep – then be a disaster the next day.  I sleep a solid 9 hours that night. 🙂

Couple of niceties about Russia in general:
1. Just about every restaurant has a complementary (mandatory) coat check.  You don’t go into any restaurant without checking your coat – which is a nice touch of class to everywhere you go.
2. People tend to stay dressed up when they go out.  While not the height of expensive fashion, people might wear a simple suit coat or a nice shirt with a collar, women would dress in dresses and heels.  I think I have seen only 2 women in anything other than healed boots/shoes.  Even our little brewpub looked a bit classier because of this. I think we as Americans might learn a bit from this habit to bring some class back to dining.

Day 1 – Frankfurt to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

Day 1 – Frankfurt to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

I don’t usually travel much for work, but lately I have been.  Lots of trips relating to a project I’m working on to California.  But this one was a bit longer.  I’m now going to Russia for a week.  So, onwards with the day-to-day reporting.

Day 0-1.5 = Travel

So,I’m flying to Nizhny Novgorod – about 100 miles east of Moscow – which is almost exactly 12 hours ahead of Oregon.  In other words, my midnight will now be noon – giving me some apprehension about the jet lag.  The travel time is looking like about 15 hours of flying all said and done and shaping up to be one of the longest trips I’ve ever taken.

Anyway, Visas are applied for, hoops are jumped through, and things get approved.  I’m fortunately not traveling alone – I’ll be with my boss and a project lead – whom both have traveled to this site numerous times.  Our first leg is Portland to Chicago, then Chicago to Frankfurt Germany.  We take a (planned) 8 hour layover in Frankfurt to rent a hotel room right across the breezeway from the airport to shower, change, and relax from the first 12 hours of flying.  This turns out to be a huge refresher and a very wise move.  After a short recovery, we get a cab to downtown Frankfurt to walk around.  Quite unexpectedly, there is a huge street fair of Christmas booths out.  Everything from Christmas ornaments to candy to food are to be had.  I grab a bratwurst dog, fries, and a coke.  For dessert, we get a humongous chocolate dipped pretzel. Fantastic.  We tour around as time allows and then head back to the hotel for a power-nap and then to the airport for our last leg to Nizhny Novgorod.


The flight is nice, but by now I’m very done with flying.  3 more hours and then we land in foggy, wet weather in the dark at 11pm local time.  We hop off the bus that takes you across the tarmac and strategically place ourselves by the doors to get through customs first.  I takes at least 2-5 minutes per person to get through immigration, so if you don’t get right up front, you’ll easily be standing there for an hour.  All 3 of us get in line within the first 5 people – lucky us.  You go up, drop your passport, and get a classic Russian staredown.  They continue to look at you, the passport, the visa paperwork, back down to terminals, things get stamped again and again, hand written into notes, things typed into computers and asked a few questions.  I pass the test – whatever those things might have been while the countless checks were made – then, over to pick up bags.   I feel very good about this because folks in the past that have run into trouble at this point have had to (in two cases) stay in this tiny airport for 4 days until another international out-of-Russia flight comes in.  One must make absolutely certain before they go that everything from passport to visa has EXACTLY the same and right spelling and dates – or you’re doomed to hours of sitting and being questioned.  Especially these smaller entry points not so used to outside travelers.

Anyway, the airport is smaller than most greyhound bus stations – one entrance gate, and one baggage carousel.  The airport itself is classic 50’s era architecture – big slabs of concrete and minimalist art.  Bags fall off the tiny conveyor or block it up.  Every 5 minutes, and young guy comes out of the back and fixes the bags on the conveyor.   But the bags come and I get through customs without issue.  One interesting point is that one must declare all their electronics – laptops, cel phones, cameras, etc – or you’ll be forced to pay taxes on the items when you attempt to leave.

Another thing is that when you register for your visa, you must indicate where you are staying – and in the case of our visas – have a written invitation from a citizen of Russia.  The first night at your hotel you give them your passport in order for them to register you with the government police.  The hotel must vouch that you stayed there the whole time, or you’ll be getting a very nasty interrogation when you try to leave and can’t vouch for your whereabouts.  Just some of the interesting gotcha’s that if you didn’t read up on first, will bite you later.

Unfortunately the town is dead quite by the midnight arrival at our hotel and dark.  The lack of light and the drizzle make it nearly impossible to see much the first night’s drive via hotel cab.  It’s foggy, drizzly and a cool 35 degrees.  No snow yet.  We take a cab from the airport across the Vulga river to the main part of the city.

We hop into the hotel bar for a drink where we meet an English traveler who does investment banking. Nice enough guy who actually studied at Columbia school of business in the states and now specializes in Russian finance.  We have a ‘Welcome to Russia’ shot (or two or three) of vodka and head to bed.