Friday, October 24, 2008

Pilfering Pensions

As it is prone to do, oh....all the time, Argentina started a sh*tstorm this week that has regional and global implications.

President Cristina Kirchner announced plans for the Argentina government to take over $29 billion dollars in private pension plans, which will affect some 3.5 million retirees and workers. Cristina says it is a "strategic" move to shield Argentines from the global financial crisis.

The local Merval stock market plummeted on the news, dropping as much as 17% at one point on Wednesday; other markets in the region also slumped. Argentina's bond ratings fell, and its risk index jumped. Investors are worried about another 2001-like default. Many Argentines think the money will just go to stuff the state coffers.

It's another unusual and inexplicable political move by the Kirchners. As I said live on CNN International on Wednesday, people in Argentina have come to expect the unexpected; it's in their DNA.

I'm very curious to see how this latest move is greeted by citizens and lawmakers. I think people here are more than tired of government meddling in their affairs, and I don't think this initiative will have much support, or an easy road to approval in Congress.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"World Focus" on PBS

PBS Television in the U.S. launched a new, nightly international news program this week called "World Focus," produced by WLIW and WNET in New York and hosted by former CNN/NBC correspondent Martin Savidge.

Its aim is to provide in-depth global news to American viewers, something that has been in shorter and shorter supply in recent years, as most U.S. television networks have scaled down their overseas reporting, shuttering bureaus just about everywhere but the hottest war zones. As someone who continually has to convince U.S. editors that Latin America matters, I welcome this new outlet, and I hope it does well.

I worked with a "Worldfocus" crew that visited Argentina in August, producing and translating on two stories for producer Bryan Myers and correspondent Edie Magnus. The first story is about rising global food prices, and how they are affecting Argentines.
You can watch it here.

Voting Day

**UPDATE** Here's the link to the CNN story.

Yesterday, the U.S. Embassy here in Buenos Aires hosted "Voting Day" for U.S. citizens, who were able to cast their absentee ballots amid patriotic, non-partisan red, white & blue fanfare. Officially, 500 people showed up, but I would put the number even higher. I saw lots of friends and colleagues too.

It was a truly American day: jazz music filled the air, McDonalds food was scarfed, and the Starbucks coffee flowed like wine. Hell, there were even breakfast burritos available, courtesy of my buddy Jordan of California Burrito Co.

I didn't get to indulge in any of the treats, as I was working, not voting. I'm preparing a story for CNN International about Ex-Pat voters in Argentina, and I interviewed several from all walks of (American) life. I also conducted interviews in Spanish that are scheduled to air on CNN en Espanol. It was refreshing to hear so many different opinions and insights; meeting new people and hearing good (and bad) ideas on a daily basis is still the best part of my job.

Before I arrived, I was worried about finding supporters of both candidates at the embassy. In fact, the group was overwhelmingly pro-Obama, but there were McCain supporters there. It's immensely important to me to give both sides the chance to speak their mind, and I think I succeeded.

Photos courtesy of AFP & Charly Diaz Azcue.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Of Suitcases, Stocks and Sponsors....

I have been busy reporting for CNN this past week. First, about the $800K Suitcase scandal that is currently playing out in a Miami courtroom. Today, the woman who discovered the suitcase stuffed with cash, the lovely Maria de Lujan Telpuk (above), is in Miami testifying in the case. Telpuk went from being a homely customs officer at the Buenos Aires domestic airport (where I am pictured below) to being a Playboy cover girl (after some surgical assistance, of course) and now a stand-by on an ice-skating competition show in Argentina. I didn't have time to mention Telpuk in my CNN report, (I would have LOVED to, trust me), but her role in this bizarre situation proves yet again that truth is always cooler than fiction.

On Black Monday, September 29th, I did my first "live shot" for CNN International from the CNN en Espanol bureau here in Buenos Aires. It was the first live report I have done in some 8 years, dating back to my days at WCAX-TV in Burlington. It went well, and as the global markets plunged deeper that day, it became apparent that the story was gaining importance worldwide. Consequently, I was asked to do two more live reports that evening for the CNNI shows that are anchored out of Asia, and again the next morning with the anchors in Atlanta. Considering my location, I had been concentrating my reports on the Argentine Merval and Brazilian Bovespa indexes, so I was a bit thrown when one of the anchors in Hong Kong asked me to talk about the Mexican markets. I mentioned the close relationship (geographical, financial, cultural) between Mexico and the U.S. and then (tried to) coolly segue back into South America news. I think I pulled it off.

I also attended a truly awesome MTV party this week, a "pre-fiesta" for the MTV Latin American Music Awards that will take place in Guadalajara, ("Oh no, Guadalajara won't do...") Mexico on Oct. 16th.

These days, most of the bands that MTV promotes kind of suck, but I have to say that I was really impressed with Uruguayan rockers No Te Va a Gustar who have a kind of Fishbone/Fabulosos Cadillacs-vibe going on....perfect for a warehouse full of twentysomethings wearing purple afro wigs courtesy of Yahoo, while sloshing down free Quilmes and Cuervo ......gotta love corporate sponsorship.