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Buenos Aires Taxi Rates To Rise Again

February 27th, 2008 | 05:29 PM

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The cost of taking a taxi in Buenos Aires is about to go up again. In a meeting Wednesday with President Cristina Kirchner and Labor Minister Carlos Tomada, union representatives agreed to increase rates by 10% in June and by another 9.5% in September. They also agreed to raise rates again by another 18.5% in June of 2009. 

Apart from the question of whether the president of a nation should spend her time negotiating the minutiae of city taxi rates (perhaps she should?), the agreement is predicated on the unspoken supposition that annual inflation totals 20%, a notion which the president and members of her cabinet have rejected publically. If the government’s inflation numbers are to be trusted (economists tell us they are not to be), then annual inflation totals less than 10%, an egregious distance from the presumed 20% rate.

Meanwhile, the rate hike is inline with increases given to other unions, such as truck drivers, whose salaries are also set to rise 19.5%. If these agreements are any indication of how much the government believes salaries should rise, perhaps they also give us some indication of what the real inflation rate actually is.

(3)
 

IRS Advice On Filing US Taxes From Argentina

February 21st, 2008 | 01:32 PM

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The U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires sent out the following notice to American citizens living in Argentina:

IRS Taxpayer Assistant to Visit March 12-14

An Internal Revenue Service Taxpayer Assistant will take U.S. taxpayer questions by appointment March 12, 13 and 14 in the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires. To make an appointment, please send an e-mail to buenosaires-acs@state.gov or stop by Window 15 in the Consular Section from 8:30am to noon Monday through Friday. To accommodate taxpayers living outside the Province of Buenos Aires we will also schedule telephone appointments for the afternoon of March 13.

Taxpayers should bring their 2006 tax returns, 2007 tax forms and 2007 financial records to their appointments with the IRS representative.

All 2007 IRS tax forms may be downloaded via the Internet at www.irs.gov . A few basic forms are available at Window 15 in the Consular Section.

Please complete the necessary tax forms prior to your appointment with the IRS representative. The assistant will answer specific questions, but he will not complete your tax forms. Interviews are scheduled for 15 minute intervals.

(0)
 

Cracking An iPhone In Argentina

February 18th, 2008 | 01:37 PM

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A while back I wrote a post comparing the subway systems in Buenos Aires and NY. In the post I mentioned that the subway system here has WiFi. How did I know for sure? I had tested it with my iPhone – and it worked great. After mentioning this, I began getting emails from readers who wanted to know how I had gotten an iPhone to work in Argentina.

How did you do that? Where did you get it hacked? Did you crack it yourself? The answer: Yes, I “hacked” it myself, patiently toying around with the OS and installing new programs designed by others . I actually know very little about how this kind of thing, but I was able to put together the pieces and make it work.

Many people are making money by cracking iPhones for people who don’t know how to “put the pieces together” or who don’t have time to do so. Here is someone in Argentina offering to crack iPhones for 99 pesos. And here’s another who offers the same thing on craigslist, but charges US $149. Ouch! The truth is there have almost always been free ways of cracking the iPhone, but most have been too complicated for the average Joe to figure out.

Alas, all that has changed. Within the past few days a highly competent cracker has published a one-stop, easy-to-use program that will crack, Jailbreak, activate and unlock pretty much any iPhone. The program comes with a user-friendly GUI (graphical user interface) that makes it easy to unlock the phone, allowing you to use it anywhere in Argentina (or almost anywhere else in the world) by pressing just one button and clicking a few options.

The latest version of the program (March 19, 2008) can be downloaded here for both PCs and Macs. It’s absolutely gratis. Here is another link (this is a direct ZIP download link) and another for Mac OSX. Check to make sure it’s for Windows or OSX, depending on your needs.

If you run into trouble, just surf Google or YouTube until you’ve found help. YouTube has plenty of videos on how to unlock the iPhone. Good luck!

Kudos to Zibri for offering up this marvelous tool and making it free to the public.

(7)
 

US Embassy Issues Misiones Yellow Fever Warning

February 15th, 2008 | 04:42 PM

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The U.S. Embassy today issued a Yellow Fever vaccination warning to anyone planning to travel to Misiones Province in northern Argentina. The advisory:

YELLOW FEVER VACCINATION RECOMMENDED
FOR TRAVELERS TO MISIONES PROVINCE

American citizens traveling to or in Argentina are advised that the Argentine Ministry of Health recommends that persons between the ages of nine months and 60 years get a yellow fever vaccination at least 10 days before traveling to certain parts of Misiones Province. These areas include Guarani, Montecarlo, El Pedro, General Manuel Belgrano, and Puerto Iguazu.

The vaccine is effective for 10 years. Yellow fever shots are available in public clinics free of charge to residents and tourists in Argentina upon presentation of a passport, DNI or cedula. For more information, please visit the website for the Argentina Health Ministry at http://www.msal.gov.ar or call the Ministry’s Health Info Line at 0-800-222-1002, Option 7. You may also obtain information on vaccinations and other health precautions from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions Hotline for International Travelers at 1-877-394-8747 (1-877-

FYI-TRIP) or via the CDC’s Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.

Americans living or traveling in Argentina are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires through the Embassy website http://argentina.usembassy.gov. For those without Internet access, the Embassy is located at 4300 Av. Colombia, Palermo, Buenos Aires, telephone 011-54-11-5777-4387, after hours 011-54-11-5777-4873; fax 011-54-11-5777-4293. Public hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to noon and 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday except U.S. and Argentine holidays.

Updated information on travel in Argentina may be obtained from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 within the U.S., or from overseas, 1-202-501-4444. For further information please consult the Country Specific Sheet for Argentina available via the Internet at http://travel.state.gov. Please also see the current Worldwide Caution.

 

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Demographic Trends In Argentina & The U.S.

February 14th, 2008 | 12:44 PM

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With its vast stretches of Pampas grassland and almost 40 million people, Argentina is one of the world’s least densely-populated countries. A 2006 United Nations survey ranks it 202th among 240 nations and dependencies. Meanwhile, a 2005 UN report ranks Argentina’s population growth rate 129th. The report puts the rate at 1% annually, just below the world average of 1.17%.

At 4% a year (Liberia is growing at 4.5%), a country’s population doubles every 18 years. At 1% it doubles every 70. So Argentina, which is the 8th biggest country, isn’t going to feel crowded any time soon. The U.S, meanwhile, which is either the 3rd or 4th biggest country (depending on whether you consider Taiwan part of China), ranks 179th in terms of crowding. Its population growth rate, as of 2005, ranked 131th and was 0.97%.

But Argentina’s rate is only moderately related to immigration while the U.S. rate is driven mainly by immigration and high Hispanic birth rates. Argentina’s demographic makeup will remain largely unchanged in the years to come while the U.S. will change substantially, skewing heavily toward a more diverse population, with a greater share of ethnic minorities and first generation immigrants. By 2050 Caucasians will have become a minority, making up 47% of the population (compared with 85% in 1960). Argentina will continue to be dominated by families of Italian and Spanish origin, with added indigenous immigration from neighboring countries.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. population becomes even more racially diverse, making it look less like Argentina’s European demographic, its lingual makeup will begin to sound much more like that of Argentina’s. The U.S. Hispanic population is expected to triple to 29% by 2050. That means millions more Spanish speakers and a much larger market for Spanish-language TV programs and movies, including those from Argentina.

Argentina’s population will rise to about 64 million by 2050 if current trends hold. The U.S. population will soar to 438 million from 303 million now. Its population is growing by about 3 million people a year, with a new birth every eight seconds and a new immigrant every 30, according to U.S. Census data. Argentina’s population has grown 2,122% since 1869, the year of the first census, when it totaled 1.8 million. The U.S. population at the time was about 38.5 million, roughly the same as Argentina’s now.

If an alien were to land in the U.S. in 2050, it would find a country whose demographics look much different than they do today. If it were to land in Argentina, however, it would likely encounter the same proportion of mustachioed Italian taxi drivers and excessively-tanned elderly women of Spanish descent. Most likely, they will still be complaining about the kind of things that excessively-tanned elderly women complain about. And even though there will be more of these people, each of them slightly more removed from their ancestors’ Old World origins, they will always have the big open spaces and estancias of the Pampas where they can frolic about without concern for invading anyone’s personal space. The Kirchners, now in their 90s, will have rotated through the presidency for the 10th time. And Marcelo Tinelli, also in his 90s but without a hint of gray hair, will still be conducting Show Match, hiring chesty young women to pounce around the stage and “dance for a dream.”

But not everything will be the same. By 2050 the summertime beaches of Mar del Plata likely will have become unbearably overcrowded, insoportable, even for those intrepidly-tactile souls who enjoy the place in its current form.

Link: USA Story on U.S. Population Changes
Link: Wiki Piece on UN Population Density Data/Rankings
Link: Wiki Piece on UN Population Growth Rates/Rankings
Link: Wiki Piece on Country Sizes/Rankings

(0)
 

Demographic Trends In Argentina & The U.S.

February 14th, 2008 | 12:44 PM

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With its vast stretches of Pampas grassland and almost 40 million people, Argentina is one of the world’s least densely-populated countries. A 2006 United Nations survey ranks it 202th among 240 nations and dependencies. Meanwhile, a 2005 UN report ranks Argentina’s population growth rate 129th. The report puts the rate at 1% annually, just below the world average of 1.17%.

At 4% a year (Liberia is growing at 4.5%), a country’s population doubles every 18 years. At 1% it doubles every 70. So Argentina, which is the 8th biggest country, isn’t going to feel crowded any time soon. The U.S, meanwhile, which is either the 3rd or 4th biggest country (depending on whether you consider Taiwan part of China), ranks 179th in terms of crowding. Its population growth rate, as of 2005, ranked 131th and was 0.97%.

But Argentina’s rate is only moderately related to immigration while the U.S. rate is driven mainly by immigration and high Hispanic birth rates. Argentina’s demographic makeup will remain largely unchanged in the years to come while the U.S. will change substantially, skewing heavily toward a more diverse population, with a greater share of ethnic minorities and first generation immigrants. By 2050 Caucasians will have become a minority, making up 47% of the population (compared with 85% in 1960). Argentina will continue to be dominated by families of Italian and Spanish origin, with added indigenous immigration from neighboring countries.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. population becomes even more racially diverse, making it look less like Argentina’s European demographic, its lingual makeup will begin to sound much more like that of Argentina’s. The U.S. Hispanic population is expected to triple to 29% by 2050. That means millions more Spanish speakers and a much larger market for Spanish-language TV programs and movies, including those from Argentina.

Argentina’s population will rise to about 64 million by 2050 if current trends hold. The U.S. population will soar to 438 million from 303 million now. Its population is growing by about 3 million people a year, with a new birth every eight seconds and a new immigrant every 30, according to U.S. Census data. Argentina’s population has grown 2,122% since 1869, the year of the first census, when it totaled 1.8 million. The U.S. population at the time was about 38.5 million, roughly the same as Argentina’s now.

If an alien were to land in the U.S. in 2050, it would find a country whose demographics look much different than they do today. If it were to land in Argentina, however, it would likely encounter the same proportion of mustachioed Italian taxi drivers and excessively-tanned elderly women of Spanish descent. Most likely, they will still be complaining about the kind of things that excessively-tanned elderly women complain about. And even though there will be more of these people, each of them slightly more removed from their ancestors’ Old World origins, they will always have the big open spaces and estancias of the Pampas where they can frolic about without concern for invading anyone’s personal space. The Kirchners, now in their 90s, will have rotated through the presidency for the 10th time. And Marcelo Tinelli, also in his 90s but without a hint of gray hair, will still be conducting Show Match, hiring chesty young women to pounce around the stage and “dance for a dream.”

But not everything will be the same. By 2050 the summertime beaches of Mar del Plata likely will have become unbearably overcrowded, insoportable, even for those intrepidly-tactile souls who enjoy the place in its current form.

Link: USA Story on U.S. Population Changes
Link: Wiki Piece on UN Population Density Data/Rankings
Link: Wiki Piece on UN Population Growth Rates/Rankings
Link: Wiki Piece on Country Sizes/Rankings

(2)
 

Crítica: Jorge Lanata’s New Newspaper

February 11th, 2008 | 09:21 AM

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Jorge Lanata, the passionate, polemical, prolific and often-pompous Argentine journalist, is about to launch a new newspaper. Lanata, whose trademark image is that of a fat, suspender-wearing, cigarette-smoking, truth-to-power speaking, old-school journalist, calls it “the last paper newspaper.” He is no stranger to the media. At the age of 14 he began writing for Radio Nacional. At the same tender age, he also won a prize for an essay on “Social Issues In Argentine Film.” By 26 he had founded Página 12, a small paper whose influence grew to outweigh its circulation. (In recent years Página 12 has been accused of cheer leading for the government while simultaneously taking a disproportionate amount of ad money from it.) He has also written several books and hosted as many TV shows.

The newspaper, to be called Crítica, hits newsstands March 2. Lanata is promoting it with this (Spanish-language) trailer via YouTube and in movie houses. He has broken fascinating and controversial stories in the past. Let’s hope he continues to do so.

Kudos to Alejandro over at 100Volando for giving me a heads up on this.

Link: Crítica Digital
Link: JorgeLanata.com

(0)
 

How Clarin & La Nacion Report Indec Inflation

February 8th, 2008 | 11:14 AM

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The Argentine government lost a great deal of credibility last year when then-President Nestor Kirchner replaced a respected director of the national statistics agency, Indec, with a political appointee who turned the agency upside down and began publishing false inflation data.

Economists, talk-show hosts, newspaper columnists, opposition parties and political analysts blasted the move, saying it was not in Argentina’s long-term interest to lie publicly and repeatedly about economic data. Inflation, economists say, probably totaled 15-20% last year, but Indec indicates the figure was about half that. The situation became so absurd that Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez even said “there is no inflation in Argentina.” After a public outcry, Kirchner had to correct his cabinet chief, confirming that “of course there is inflation.” But the president did nothing to dispel claims that Indec continued to manipulate data.

Today the agency and its data remain controversial. Yesterday Indec said January inflation totaled 0.9%, unchanged for the third consecutive month. Economists, as well as average Argentines, have scoffed at the figure, knowing it doesn’t reflect reality. Some economists even say the real number probably was closer to 2% or higher. More conservative estimates put the figure at around 1.2%. Whatever the case, it was interesting to see how the country’s top two newspapers reported the inflation data in today’s editions.

The headlines:

Clarin: In January, official inflation was lower than expected: 0.9%
La Nacion: For Indec, inflation is frozen at 0.9%

The subheadings:

Clarin: Transportation & tourism were the biggest increases
La Nacion: For the third consecutive month, the official agency released the same data for the CPI

If read carefully, both headlines seem to imply that the data released by Indec is not the only data available or the only data worth being considered. Clarin’s reference to “official” data lends implicit recognition to the idea that unmentioned “unofficial” data may also exist. Of course, this is a tacit reference to unofficial inflation estimates by private sector economists, most of whom blast Indec for being unreliable.

Meanwhile, La Nacion’s headline says that “for Indec” the inflation data was 0.9%. Here, too, is an implicit reference to outside inflation data. Though more subtle, La Nacion’s implication is that while “for Indec” inflation may be 0.9%, for others it may be different.

The first two paragraphs of Clarin’s story then gives a straightforward account of inflation that leaves out any mention that economists think the data is unbelievable. Clarin:

“Against all private forecasts and even surpassing the government’s own expectations, yesterday we learned that January’s inflation was 0.9%. The data released yesterday by Indec reveals that over the past 12 months retail prices have risen 8.2%. The increase in tourism-related services and the rise in public transportation costs (buses and subways) were the biggest increases in the categories that pushed consumer prices up.”

In contrast, La Nacion’s first two graphs were much more skeptical, giving readers clear reason to think the government’s numbers aren’t trustworthy. La Nacion:

“As if it were a broken thermometer, the official inflation data remained stuck at 0.9%. Yesterday the national statistics agency reported that the cost of living in January of 2008 rose 0.9% and, in doing so, repeated the index registered in November and December of 2007, despite the fact that Argentine consumers had to pay strong increases in transportation, tourism and some fruit prices. The official indicator was way below the estimates of private-sector economists who calculated the month’s real inflation at 2% and who tossed aside the hope that with new Economy Minister Martín Lousteau at the helm, Indec’s statistics would start to become more reliable. Moreover, Indec’s data was two-tenths lower than that from January of 2007 and, as a result, means that over the past twelve months inflation has totaled 8.2%”

The difference between the two articles becomes even more pronounced as they look at higher public transportation prices and ask why those prices didn’t have a greater influence on January’s inflation figures.

Clarin:

“However, private-sector analysts had estimated that the impact of the increase in bus and subway tickets would be greater. ‘What happened is that many years have gone by without any increases in those prices, so the public transportation category has been losing weight in the inflation equation, and so its impact hasn’t been very important,’ they explained in the government.”

Clarin then went on to give a little background and say that, in January, subway tickets rose 28.6% to 90 centavos while bus tickets rose 16.5% to 90 centavos. Clarin’s article continues but it does not say what the inflation data would look like if the index were updated to include a representative increase transportation prices. La Nacion’s story, in contrast, takes a more detailed look at the issue and shows readers what the inflation data would look like if the transportation price hikes had been given more weight.

La Nacion:

“The most polemical number from the report released yesterday was the transportation index. Private-sector economists had expected an average of a 22% increase in bus, train and subway tickets beginning January 1, which alone would have led to an increase of 0.8% in the cost of living in the first month of 2008. That is, for outside analysts, inflation in January would have had a minimal floor increase of 0.8% because of the of impact of the transportation category. However, Indec’s measurement was very far from reflecting that reality. For the official agency, the increase in public transportation was only 11.1%, which translated into an increase of just 0.28% in the cost of living for the month.”

Both newspapers said the higher transportation costs were partially offset by a 5.3% decline in fuel prices, but La Nacion gave this as the only explanation for why higher transportation prices didn’t further influence Indec’s data. La Nacion then cited more economists who question the government’s data:

“‘What Indec did with the transportation data is very crude and it constitutes the epitome of statistical manipulation because it minimizes the increase that we got in buses, trains and subways,’” said Osvaldo Cado, an economist with the consultancy Prefinex.”

La Nacion then continued to highlight possible flaws in Indec’s data:

“In the case of food there also were important discrepancies between the official data and that provided by private-sector economists. For Indec, the (food) category rose an average of 0.7%, led by higher prices for fruits and vegetables like onion – which rose 15.2% – and lemons (10.9%), although these were offset by declines in tomatoes (13.8%) and plums (13.4%). For private-sector analysts, the increase in food, in contrast, was much greater and, according to the consulting firm Tomadato, which collects supermarket price data, the basic cost of a basket of food rose 1.49% in January. Indec had said the costs of a basket of food had risen 0.78%, meaning a family of two adults would need to have (a combined monthly) income totaling 445.62 pesos to not fall below the poverty level.”

La Nacion then questioned the accuracy of Indec’s tourism price data:

“Another questionable category was tourism, which for Indec rose just 5.9%. ‘The tourism indicator reflects an evolution of pries that any person who has been on vacation knows is not real,’ said economist Pablo Rojo.”

La Nacion also said “the manipulation of the statistics also appears to have reached wholesale prices.” Finally, the La Nacion discussed a recent admonition to Argentina from the International Monetary Fund, whose chief has said that Argentina needs to have “a better appraisal of what inflation really is” in the country. “Obviously, for reasons everyone knows, the official Indec index does not reflect the way it goes.”

So what’s the conclusion from all this?

Beauty, so the saying goes, lies in the eye of the beholder. For Indec, it seems, so does truth, at least when it comes to reporting inflation data. This makes it all the more important for media in Argentina to be extra careful when writing about inflation. Journalists should go about doing their job with a healthy dose of skepticism. Indeed, they have to. If not, they would risk becoming no more than a tool, a mouthpiece for disparate interests in society.

“The purpose of journalism,” wrote Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in The Elements of Journalism, “is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing.”

To fulfill this task, the authors note:

  1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth
  2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.
  3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.
  4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
  6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
  7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
  8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
  9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

If journalists are to provide citizens with “the information they need to be free and self-governing,” reporters must give consumers the context and commentary necessary to interpret that information accurately. Given there is reason to believe Indec’s data are inaccurate, newspapers have a duty to remind citizens of this. Over a year has passed since Kirchner began tinkering with Indec, but this does not diminish the need to remind readers about the agency’s questionable practices.

Probably there is nothing more the government would like than for newspapers simply to report the data without commentary or analysis. But to do so would be an abdication of responsibility. Both papers have a duty to report the data and (if possible) whatever commentary the government offers about it. But they also have an obligation to put that data into context and let readers know if there is any reason to question it. In this case, Clarin failed to do this to the best of its ability.

(0)
 

How Clarin & La Nacion Report Indec Inflation

February 8th, 2008 | 11:14 AM

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The Argentine government lost a great deal of credibility last year when then-President Nestor Kirchner replaced a respected director of the national statistics agency, Indec, with a political appointee who turned the agency upside down and began publishing false inflation data.

Economists, talk-show hosts, newspaper columnists, opposition parties and political analysts blasted the move, saying it was not in Argentina’s long-term interest to lie publicly and repeatedly about economic data. Inflation, economists say, probably totaled 15-20% last year, but Indec indicates the figure was about half that. The situation became so absurd that Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez even said “there is no inflation in Argentina.” After a public outcry, Kirchner had to correct his cabinet chief, confirming that “of course there is inflation.” But the president did nothing to dispel claims that Indec continued to manipulate data.

Today the agency and its data remain controversial. Yesterday Indec said January inflation totaled 0.9%, unchanged for the third consecutive month. Economists, as well as average Argentines, have scoffed at the figure, knowing it doesn’t reflect reality. Some economists even say the real number probably was closer to 2% or higher. More conservative estimates put the figure at around 1.2%. Whatever the case, it was interesting to see how the country’s top two newspapers reported the inflation data in today’s editions.

The headlines:

Clarin: In January, official inflation was lower than expected: 0.9%
La Nacion: For Indec, inflation is frozen at 0.9%

The subheadings:

Clarin: Transportation & tourism were the biggest increases
La Nacion: For the third consecutive month, the official agency released the same data for the CPI

If read carefully, both headlines seem to imply that the data released by Indec is not the only data available or the only data worth being considered. Clarin’s reference to “official” data lends implicit recognition to the idea that unmentioned “unofficial” data may also exist. Of course, this is a tacit reference to unofficial inflation estimates by private sector economists, most of whom blast Indec for being unreliable.

Meanwhile, La Nacion’s headline says that “for Indec” the inflation data was 0.9%. Here, too, is an implicit reference to outside inflation data. Though more subtle, La Nacion’s implication is that while “for Indec” inflation may be 0.9%, for others it may be different.

The first two paragraphs of Clarin’s story then gives a straightforward account of inflation that leaves out any mention that economists think the data is unbelievable. Clarin:

“Against all private forecasts and even surpassing the government’s own expectations, yesterday we learned that January’s inflation was 0.9%. The data released yesterday by Indec reveals that over the past 12 months retail prices have risen 8.2%. The increase in tourism-related services and the rise in public transportation costs (buses and subways) were the biggest increases in the categories that pushed consumer prices up.”

In contrast, La Nacion’s first two graphs were much more skeptical, giving readers clear reason to think the government’s numbers aren’t trustworthy. La Nacion:

“As if it were a broken thermometer, the official inflation data remained stuck at 0.9%. Yesterday the national statistics agency reported that the cost of living in January of 2008 rose 0.9% and, in doing so, repeated the index registered in November and December of 2007, despite the fact that Argentine consumers had to pay strong increases in transportation, tourism and some fruit prices. The official indicator was way below the estimates of private-sector economists who calculated the month’s real inflation at 2% and who tossed aside the hope that with new Economy Minister Martín Lousteau at the helm, Indec’s statistics would start to become more reliable. Moreover, Indec’s data was two-tenths lower than that from January of 2007 and, as a result, means that over the past twelve months inflation has totaled 8.2%”

The difference between the two articles becomes even more pronounced as they look at higher public transportation prices and ask why those prices didn’t have a greater influence on January’s inflation figures.

Clarin:

“However, private-sector analysts had estimated that the impact of the increase in bus and subway tickets would be greater. ‘What happened is that many years have gone by without any increases in those prices, so the public transportation category has been losing weight in the inflation equation, and so its impact hasn’t been very important,’ they explained in the government.”

Clarin then went on to give a little background and say that, in January, subway tickets rose 28.6% to 90 centavos while bus tickets rose 16.5% to 90 centavos. Clarin’s article continues but it does not say what the inflation data would look like if the index were updated to include a representative increase transportation prices. La Nacion’s story, in contrast, takes a more detailed look at the issue and shows readers what the inflation data would look like if the transportation price hikes had been given more weight.

La Nacion:

“The most polemical number from the report released yesterday was the transportation index. Private-sector economists had expected an average of a 22% increase in bus, train and subway tickets beginning January 1, which alone would have led to an increase of 0.8% in the cost of living in the first month of 2008. That is, for outside analysts, inflation in January would have had a minimal floor increase of 0.8% because of the of impact of the transportation category. However, Indec’s measurement was very far from reflecting that reality. For the official agency, the increase in public transportation was only 11.1%, which translated into an increase of just 0.28% in the cost of living for the month.”

Both newspapers said the higher transportation costs were partially offset by a 5.3% decline in fuel prices, but La Nacion gave this as the only explanation for why higher transportation prices didn’t further influence Indec’s data. La Nacion then cited more economists who question the government’s data:

“‘What Indec did with the transportation data is very crude and it constitutes the epitome of statistical manipulation because it minimizes the increase that we got in buses, trains and subways,’” said Osvaldo Cado, an economist with the consultancy Prefinex.”

La Nacion then continued to highlight possible flaws in Indec’s data:

“In the case of food there also were important discrepancies between the official data and that provided by private-sector economists. For Indec, the (food) category rose an average of 0.7%, led by higher prices for fruits and vegetables like onion – which rose 15.2% – and lemons (10.9%), although these were offset by declines in tomatoes (13.8%) and plums (13.4%). For private-sector analysts, the increase in food, in contrast, was much greater and, according to the consulting firm Tomadato, which collects supermarket price data, the basic cost of a basket of food rose 1.49% in January. Indec had said the costs of a basket of food had risen 0.78%, meaning a family of two adults would need to have (a combined monthly) income totaling 445.62 pesos to not fall below the poverty level.”

La Nacion then questioned the accuracy of Indec’s tourism price data:

“Another questionable category was tourism, which for Indec rose just 5.9%. ‘The tourism indicator reflects an evolution of pries that any person who has been on vacation knows is not real,’ said economist Pablo Rojo.”

La Nacion also said “the manipulation of the statistics also appears to have reached wholesale prices.” Finally, the La Nacion discussed a recent admonition to Argentina from the International Monetary Fund, whose chief has said that Argentina needs to have “a better appraisal of what inflation really is” in the country. “Obviously, for reasons everyone knows, the official Indec index does not reflect the way it goes.”

So what’s the conclusion from all this?

Beauty, so the saying goes, lies in the eye of the beholder. For Indec, it seems, so does truth, at least when it comes to reporting inflation data. This makes it all the more important for media in Argentina to be extra careful when writing about inflation. Journalists should go about doing their job with a healthy dose of skepticism. Indeed, they have to. If not, they would risk becoming no more than a tool, a mouthpiece for disparate interests in society.

“The purpose of journalism,” wrote Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in The Elements of Journalism, “is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing.”

To fulfill this task, the authors note:

  1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth
  2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.
  3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.
  4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
  6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
  7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
  8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
  9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

If journalists are to provide citizens with “the information they need to be free and self-governing,” reporters must give consumers the context and commentary necessary to interpret that information accurately. Given there is reason to believe Indec’s data are inaccurate, newspapers have a duty to remind citizens of this. Over a year has passed since Kirchner began tinkering with Indec, but this does not diminish the need to remind readers about the agency’s questionable practices.

Probably there is nothing more the government would like than for newspapers simply to report the data without commentary or analysis. But to do so would be an abdication of responsibility. Both papers have a duty to report the data and (if possible) whatever commentary the government offers about it. But they also have an obligation to put that data into context and let readers know if there is any reason to question it. In this case, Clarin failed to do this to the best of its ability.

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Power Converters & Transformers In Argentina

February 7th, 2008 | 07:22 AM

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All of a sudden it stopped working. The green light faded to black and my fancy new cordless phone went silent. In a moment of stupidity, I had plugged the phone’s 110v base into a 220v outlet without a transformer. It was the umpteenth time this kind of thing has happened over the years. But I knew it wouldn’t be a big problem. I knew my friends at Alamtec would come to the rescue. If you’re an expat or a visitor, or if you just happen to own an electronic item bought abroad, Alamtec can help you make it work, or maybe even bring it back to life, here in Argentina.

Alamtec is the place to go if you need a converter or have a question about one. They can also get you a local 220v power supply that will give your foreign device the exact power it needs without having to use a converter. Easy as pie. They sell just about every kind of transformer on the planet and they can tell you exactly what kind of transformer you need. They’re honest and professional. Their prices are competitive. They won’t hassle you or sell you something you don’t need. So if someday you find yourself in a fix, you know where to go. They also sell all kinds of tools and electrical hardware.

Alamtec is located on Paraná 220 (near the corner of Peron y Paraná) in downtown Buenos Aires. Phone: 4371-1023. They’re open Monday-Friday 9am-7pm. Most of the year they’re also open Saturdays from 9am-12:30pm. They are closed on Saturdays during the summer (January-February). And if you’re in the mood to chat, they’re also available on Microsoft Messenger at: alamtecsrl@gmail.com

Ian Mount, a fellow expat and friend who has an excellent blog called Good Airs, wrote a hilarious piece about an experience he had at Alamtec. It’s well worth reading, especially if you’re new to Buenos Aires and are still trying to adjust to its quirks. You can see it here.

If you’re interested in other posts about retail, check out this one on Why Zara Is The Best Store In Argentina.

Link: Alamtec

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Shallowness Is The Only Refuge Of The Shallow

February 4th, 2008 | 10:05 AM

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“Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow” — Oscar Wilde

Gaby Alvarez had it all. Fame, fortune, friends, lovers, late night parties, red carpet events, VIP invitations, fast cars and drugs. He ruled the Southern Cone’s nightlife like casinos rule the Las Vegas strip. Bright lights, fancy flights, and loads of attention all focused on something that is fleeting and evanescent. Alvarez got a lot of attention, and he helped others get it, too. That’s how he made money. He was a PR person’s PR person, at least for the kind of PR people who like to see and, more importantly, be seen. He organized the best parties and events, and he was often seen inside the covers of magazines read by people who, like him, liked to see themselves inside the covers of magazines.

All of that changed on a hot Wednesday afternoon in Punta del Este last month. Alvarez and a male companion, Ariel Cohelo de Oliveira, were driving – speeding – along the coast near José Ignacio when their green Honda Civic spun out of control and thrashed into a motorcycle carrying Gloria Pérez del Cerro and Fernando Cicciardi. Like Alvarez, they were both Argentine. Cerro and Cicciardi, who were in their early 30s and were vacationing in Punta del Este, died upon impact, leaving behind shattered families on the western side of the Rio de la Plata.

According to reports of testimony later given to Uruguayan officials, Alvarez admitted to having consumed cocaine and three glasses of Vodka with lemon before the accident. What happened in the minutes prior to the accident is a subject of heated debate, intense curiosity and extreme condemnation.

At first, reports began to trickle out that Alvarez’s car, driven by Cohelo de Oliveira, had spun out of control after suffering a flat tire. But Cohelo de Oliveira later told Uruguayan officials that it was Alvarez, and not a flat tire, that caused the accident. He reportedly said that during a heated argument inside the car, Alvarez grabbed the car’s handbrake just as the vehicle was racing down the road at 120 kilometers per hour. This caused the car to spin wildly out of control and smash into Cerro and Cicciardi, destroying both their motorcycle and their lives.

Alvarez and Cohelo de Oliveira are now awaiting trial from within the confines of Las Rosas prison in Uruguay, not too far from the beaches where they had previously partied with some of Argentina’s leading celebrities, models and fashion figures. Juan José Benítez Caorsi, the Uruguayan judge overseeing the case, has reportedly said that “not even the Pope” could change his mind about keeping the two men in jail until the case is resolved. Both suspects have had little contact with the press and have said little publicly about what happened that afternoon. But Alvarez, exactly one week after the accident, managed to get an email out to friends, fans, followers and media observers. What did the message, from the public relations specialist, say?

The Argentine Post obtained a copy of the note, signed by Gaby Alvarez, and we’re posting it here for your consideration. It provides insight into the thinking of a person whose career flourished as he fulfilled the desires of largely vacuous people whose frivolous pursuits were – and continue to be considered – the epitome of success for those who value all things superficial.

If you expected the tragedy in Uruguay to lead Alvarez to change his tone and express contrition for what happened, you will be disappointed. There is no contrition to be found in this message. Nor is there any sense of empathy for the family members of those killed. No tears are shed, no generosity expressed, no apologies offered. What is expressed here is little more than raw, embarrassingly-shallow self-pity. It is a kind of self-pity that is voiced and camouflaged in the cowardly, cold-hearted and self-absorbed rhetoric of a PR expert in crisis-management mode.

Unfortunately, this crisis is far worse than any related to a single PR agent’s personal reputation. But it appears that Alvarez, the person allegedly responsible for causing the tragedy, is incapable of realizing that truth. At least he shows no evidence of doing so in this message (sent Jan. 30). The translation is our own. It is the original message, and not the translation, that sometimes fails to make any sense.

“Dear Friends,

One day a strong storm destroyed what took me a long time and a lot of work to build. That place that keeps the equipment we use, mainly in the summertime.

All of that work would become lost…and I felt the desire to die and I cried.

The storm having calmed down, a woman who I know came to me and offered me a strong hug. She gave me a rosary, and my anguish diminished in the warmth of it. It was a beautiful thing to find a flower in this place, in which I find myself because of an accident. That flower was the same as the one in The Little Prince. That hug, that rosary and that flower gave me my life back.

From here on out, I propose, like the ocean stars over deep waters covered by rocks, to move forward.

From here I send you my light, my peace, my love and my appreciation for your unconditional support. You have only one life and you have to enjoy it.

With all of my love, from Punta del Este, a person who will never forget about the kindness and warmth you’ve given me since the day I met you.

Gaby Alvarez”

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Argentina & Hofstede’s “Cultural Dimensions”

February 1st, 2008 | 03:48 PM

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Geert Hofstede is a professor emeritus of at Maastricht University in The Netherlands. Born in 1928 in Holland, he gained recognition for his anthropological studies of cultural differences across countries and organizations. He wrote Culture’s Consequences and Cultures and Organizations, Software of the Mind, among other works. But Hofstede, who once said “cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster,” is best known for his list of five cultural factors used to evaluate differences between organizations and nations.

The factors, roughly defined:

1) Power Distance Index: “The extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally….It suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders.”

2) Individualism vs. Collectivism: “On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.”

3) Masculinity vs. Feminity: “Studies revealed that (a) women’s values differ less among societies than men’s values; (b) men’s values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women’s values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women’s values on the other.”

4) Uncertainty Avoidance Index: “Deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man’s search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations.”

5) Long-Term Orientation: “This fifth dimension was found in a study among students in 23 countries around the world, using a questionnaire designed by Chinese scholars It can be said to deal with Virtue regardless of Truth. Values associated with Long Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance; values associated with Short Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and protecting one’s ‘face’.”

Argentines, according to Hofstede, don’t like uncertainty. Here is what he has to say about the Gaucho-praising, beef-loving, bife de chorizo-chewing, Tango-dancers:

“Argentina is similar to many of the Latin American countries…. The high Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) ranking of 86 indicates the society’s low level of tolerance for uncertainty. In an effort to minimize or reduce this level of uncertainty, strict rules, laws, policies, and regulations are adopted and implemented. The ultimate goal of this population is to control everything in order to eliminate or avoid the unexpected. As a result of this high Uncertainty Avoidance characteristic, the society does not readily accept change and is very risk adverse.”

Strict rules in Argentina? I’m not sure how accurate, if at all, this characterization is of Argentina. Congress is now considering a law that would force parents to give their newborn children two last names, one from each parent. That seems like an unnecessary state intrusion into people’s private affairs. Why should the government be able to decide what your child’s last name (or names) should be? Examples of such intrusion abound. My former boss and bureau chief had to file a suit against the government so he could give his children unique names. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Argentina does favor strict rules. If so, would it be reasonable to think that decades of political and economic instability have led Argentines to value certainty within the home and within their cultural traditions?

It would be interesting to know exactly when and how often the study on Argentine culture has been carried out. Hofstede began his comparative cultural studies in 1973, just as Argentina was in the middle of very dark period in its history. If the study were repeated today, would the conclusions be any different?

In contrast, Hofstede’s study showed the U.S. to be the most individualistic nation on the planet. No surprise there. But the U.S. also came up as as one of the more tolerant and respectful of cultural differences, presumably because of centuries of immigration and a diverse cultural makeup. Americans appear to welcome uncertainty, at least more than Argentines, ranking 43rd. Could it be that more than two centuries of political and economic stability have steeled them to uncertainty’s nerve-rattling nature, making them more accepting of it in their personal lives? It’s hard to say. And any conclusion, as with Argentina, would be a generalization.

Asian nations, led by China, seemed to be the best at delayed gratification and long-term planning. The U.S. ranked 17th in this category. I couldn’t find a ranking in this slot for Argentina, but certainly one the country’s troubles has been an inability to plan long-term. Most governments, including the current one, simply put out fires as they appear. They fail to leave a positive, long-term footprint on future generations.

You can see an interactive global map and make use of Hofstede’s “cultural dimensions” to compare Argentina with other cultures here. Draw you own conclusions about the map’s validity.

Link: Essay Criticizing Hofstede’s Ideas (PDF download)
Link: Hofstede’s Home Page

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