Sunday, September 25, 2016

Ponte Rialto and Canal Grande

Vaporetto stop on Grand Canal
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
We explored the maze of narrow labyrinthine streets (calli) and covered passageways (sottoporteghi) away from San Marco’s Square, took some wrong turns, crossed many small bridges, walked on narrow paths along the canals, and stopped to admire the windows of some shops. I took so many pictures and I thanked my patient husband with a Venetian silk tie and a leather briefcase. I was surprised how much of the service industry had been taken over by foreigners, especially Chinese and African Muslims. Some stores had signs in the window, stating that the business was not Chinese-run or owned. Never saw this development in all my previous visits. Usually it was obvious which businesses were owned by Italians because they were spotless and tastefully decorated with the traditional Italian flair.

Venice has 350 bridges, but her most famous and oldest stone bridge, Rialto Bridge, built in 1588-1591, spans the Grand Canal at its narrowest point and is the dividing line between sestieri San Marco and San Polo. Our destination, Ponte di Rialto, was under repairs since November 2015, with the traditional cloth draping the construction.

Ponte Rialto
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
The first bridge in Rialto was a pontoon bridge built in 1181 by Nicolo Barattieri and was called Ponte della Moneta (the bridge of money). As the Rialto market developed nearby, the bridge was replaced in 1255 with a wooden version which had inclined ramps to allow the passage of tall ships. Two rows of shops were built along the sides of the bridge during the first half of the 15th century. The money from rent was used to maintain the bridge. This “ponte” was partially burned during a revolt in 1310, collapsed in 1444 from the weight of people watching a boat parade on the Grand Canal, and collapsed yet again in 1524. It was time to rebuild it in stone. Famous architects like Sansovino, Palladio, and even Michelangelo proposed designs for a stone bridge that would replace the more precarious wooden construction. The winning design was that of Antonio da Ponte. The Rialto bridge remained the only means of crossing the Grand Canal until 1854.

Grand Canal
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
The Grand Canal winds on the same course of an ancient river bed of nearly 4 km long and as wide as 230 ft., through six city districts (sestieri), is spanned by four bridges, and is lined by 10 churches and more than 200 palazzos. Gondolas, food and trash barges, vaporettos, police boats, small boats, water taxis, and water buses cross the Grand Canal so often, it causes a constant wake. The waves lap against the buildings and the changing tides show the decay of the lower levels of the fastidious palaces. In its heyday, the Grand Canal was traveled by larger ships, past the opulent palazzos with facades so opulent and intricately designed like a table cloth of Burano lace. Palazzos displayed the wealth and social status of important Venetian nobility.

Canal Grande
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Today, any newly minted billionaire with 35 million euros to burn can own such a palazzo connected to the aristocratic families such as Mocenigo, Corner, Giustiniani, Grimani, Pesaro, and Pisani. Some Venetians still live in the ancestral home that belonged to their families for centuries but may or may not bear their name. Others have been turned into luxurious hotels, textile and glass manufacturing companies, or museums like Peggy Guggenheim’s art collection (Palazzo Venier).

Ponte dei Sospiri
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2005
A Venetian palazzo has two entrances, a water one and a land one, with the water entrance being the main façade.  The front has pergolas (balconies). The canal side level of the palazzo is seldom inhabited because of constant dampness. There is a water line with green slime, mold, and salt, showing the ravages caused by the ocean. Tiny spaces between palazzos on the land side are hidden gardens with Mediterranean flowers and wisteria. An occasional stray cat is perched on the top of the wall, looking skittishly at pedestrians.

Narrow and short passageway in San Marco's district
Photo: Ileana Johnson
From the vaporetto stop at San Toma, there is a cluster of palaces that belonged to the Mocenigo family, Ca’ Mocenigo. Seven doges came from this family. The poet Byron wrote his poem Don Juan while staying in Ca’ Mocenigo (1819-1824) and is said to have had an affair with the baker’s wife, “wild as a witch and fierce as a demon.” 

Another palazzo on the Grand Canal, Ca’ Foscari, is famous for having hosted King Henri III of France, and is now part of Venice University.

Gondola stop with gondoliers
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
One the more storied palazzos is Ca’ Dario, not because of its architecture but because it seems cursed. The owners, over five centuries, have been plagued by scandals, murder, suicide, bankruptcies, death by broken heart, and expulsion from Venice. The palazzo was, until recently, empty, as no prospective buyer would dare tempt fate and imminent calamity.

Ca’ d’Oro, which was bequeathed by the last owner, Baron Franchetti, to the city, houses now the Franchetti Gallery.  Baron Franchetti committed suicide in 1922 rather than facing an incurable disease. He had restored the palace to its original glory. Because the outside friezes were originally picked in gold, the name, Palace of Gold, stuck.

Stone Church in Erberia, Rialto
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Ponte Rialto is my favorite bridge to watch pedestrians from and to admire the gondola traffic. I have bought small souvenirs on the bridge for 22 years and walked down to the Pescheria, the famous fish market. I have picked fresh grapes before from the local vendors in Erberia and calendars from the foreign ones. I can always find a Romanian somewhere selling cheap souvenirs and t-shirts and Ponte Rialto is no exception.

Ponte Rialto Erberia
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Rialto is derived from “rivo alto” (high bank); it is Venice’s cosmopolitan center where banking and commercial exchanges took place for centuries. Even though Rialto burned to the ground in 1514 (the fire spared the stone church), it came back from the ashes like the proverbial Phoenix. The spot were Banco di Giro (1157) existed is now a bar called Al Bancogiro. Giro was a written transfer from one account to another, with no receipt issued because the bank’s register was the official record.  Armed escort moved the money at night to the mint.

Rialto's Erberia
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Rialto Bridge divides the city into two parts, the right bank is the San Marco side, Rialto di qua (this side) and the left bank is known as Rialto di la (that side). Vendor booths of every type crowd the banks and the bridge, a sort of “insect life” as Henry James described it.

The stone church, in the middle of Erberia (the fruit and vegetable stalls), San Giacomo di Rialto, is dedicated to St. James, the patron saint of goldsmiths and pilgrims. Going up the inclined cobbled-stoned street and up the bridge steps, there are many tiny gold and leather shops. The Erberia, the fruit and vegetable market, would overlook the Grand Canal if the view was unimpeded by other buildings.

Our favorite by-the-slice pizzeria is on the right bank of Ponte Rialto and the best jewelry store is at the top of Ponte Rialto. I have bought Venetian gold from the grandfather, the father, and now the two sons who own the tiny shop. We always have animated conversations in Italian and haggle over prices. This time we talked about politics and the invasion of “refugees,” occasioned by a lovely gold bracelet that featured charms with symbols of every religion.  Next to the pizza shop is a very busy gelateria with delicious assortments, an outdoor landscape painter who was selling his oil paints for 25 euros and a gondola station.

Ponte Rialto, right side
Photo: Ileana Johnson
I tried to buy Dave a hat from the Hard Rock Café on the bridge, a new addition since last time we visited, but he refused on account that the word Venice was printed in English instead of Italian, Venezia. It could be Venice, Florida or Venice, California, he said. As if the Hard Rock Café was authentic Italian, so out of place surrounded by history and medieval beauty. But then he did not want a gondolier’s straw hat either.

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Gondolas are as old as Venice, able to navigate the shallowest waters and the narrowest of canals. Turkish in origin, Thomas Mann described them as “visions of death itself,” made of eight different types of woods and covered with ten coats of black paint. The ornamental bow of steel represents the doge’s cap with the six prongs representing the six districts of Venice. Each gondolier decorates the interior according to their own tastes. In the 16th century there were 10,000 gondoliers, now there are only 400 and, for the first time, a woman gondolier. The license is issued after a test, is passed from father to son, and is only available to native Venetians. Gondoliers have their own shop with typical navy-striped marine-themed attire and round straw hats with a navy or red ribbon. A half hour ride can set you back 100 euros but, if you are lucky, the gondolier will serenade you. Their English is very good and some are college-educated who prefer the life of a gondolier and the much higher earnings.

Rialto, left side of Grand Canal
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
A famous son of Venice was composer, teacher, priest, and violin virtuoso, Antonio Vivaldi, son of a barber, Giovanni Battista, who played in the orchestra of San Mark’s Basilica. Antonio would stand in for his father from time to time even though he was very young. In the western world, everybody recognizes his masterful composition, The Four Seasons. In adulthood, fame found Vivaldi, but, as a priest, his image was tainted by the affair with Anna Giro, a local soprano. When he died, La Pieta, his church base in Venice, was restored, and his chamber music is played to this day. His home next door became the expensive Vivaldi Hotel.

The gondolier specialty shop
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Vivaldi’s church, La Pieta, is located in the Castello district, with the city’s best-known waterfront. Arsenale shipyards, with its walls and towers and the Naval Museum, is visible in the eastern part of Castello.

Arsenale with the lion
Photo credit: Wikipedia commons
The Arsenale is a naval school and shipyards today, and officers and sailors can be seen from ferries passing through. Arsenale, founded in 1104 as the Venetian military power, was Europe largest medieval shipyard. As the Arabic term of origin implies, darsina’a (house of industry), the arsenal was an industrial production line, 3 km of walled compound with dry and wet docks. The vaporetto line that used to go between the towers of the water entrance has been taken out of service. During Biennale, Arsenale is used for display space and visitors can see the inside unimpeded. Biennale is an exhibition of eccentric modern art which overloads the senses, an event that occurs every two years.  A beautiful 6th century B.C. lion seems to guard Arsenale in perpetuity.

Canal gondola waiting for hire
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
Life on the water seems glamorous to tourists, but it’s not an easy life.  Water buses, the famous vaporetti, ferry Venetians everywhere they want to go.  Everything is transported on water, trash pickup, supplies, food, police, firemen, ambulance help, even the dead. The speed limit cannot exceed 5 mph, with the exception of emergency services, but for Italians, legal limits are just mere suggestions. Gondoliers complain to no avail. 

Rialto Photo credit: Wikipedia
High-water sirens mean that the stormy sirocco winds are blowing. When tidal flooding occurs, the garbage remains piled on the canal banks – the trash boats cannot pass under bridges to carry the refuse to ships to be incinerated. Shop keepers place merchandise on higher shelves, locals put on rubber boots, and temporary boardwalks are put down immediately for pedestrians. The lagoon water gives character and uniqueness to Venice but at a price of constant flooding. The many projects to save Venice from sinking, including heavy concrete barriers that are raised far out at sea, have not saved the Serenissima yet.

Church of the Redentore designed by Palladio
Photo credit: Wikipedia
When we got tired of walking, we boarded the vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore, an island east of Giudecca. Part of the district of San Marco, the island is surrounded by Canale della Grazia, Canale della Giudecca, Saint Mark Basin, Canale di San Marco, and the southern lagoon.

Giudecca Island
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
The island was owned by the Memmo family. The island’s church, San Giorgio Maggiore was consecrated in 829 A.D. and a monastery by the same name was established in 982. The church was designed by Palladio; the nine bells of the bell tower ring in C sharp.

San Giorgio Maggiore Photo credit: Wikipedia

The island was donated by the Memmo family specifically to build the monastery. When the Venetian Republic fell, the monastery was suppressed and the island became a harbor built in 1812 and home to Venice’s artillery. Today it houses the headquarters of the Cini Foundation Arts Center, with its library; the open-air Teatro Verde finds its home here as well.

Next stop was the district Dorsoduro with Giudecca island and Isola Sacca Fisola. It has the highest land areas of the city. Dorsoduro has many landmarks such as Ca’ Foscari, Gallerie dell’Academia, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, many churches, ospedale Giustinian, and palazzo Ariani.

Dorsoduro has a world-famous Gelato Nico. As we sat under umbrellas on the golf side, a huge cruise ship, Celebrity Constellation, was towed so close to the shore by two tugboats, practically in front of our eyes. Thousands of people were lined up on the deck to see the sights of Venice.

We strolled on the island for a while, perusing a miniature boat shop, an antique store, and taking pictures of beautiful facades that are so uniquely Venetian, I felt transported into another time and another life.

Giudecca island had beautiful palaces with gardens but in the early 20th century it became an industrial area with factories, shipyards, and a film studio. After WWII, the industry declined and the area has returned to middle class status with some expensive homes. The Palladio-designed Il Redentore church is located here. The former Molino Stucky flour mill has been converted into a luxury hotel and apartments. At the opposite end of Giudecca is the famous five-star Cipriani hotel with gardens and a salt-water pool.

After strolling around Dorsoduro for a while, we took the water bus back to Lido island. At the end of the street from our hotel were cozy restaurants and shops. A huge monument dedicated to Italian fallen heroes of various wars was closed and under repairs. Everything around Venice needs constant repair and restoration due to the corrosive elements.

We picked a nice restaurant for dinner, Gran Viale, and feasted on the best menu turistico we’ve had so far. The atmosphere was cozy, the space tastefully decorated, and everything was spotlessly clean. We returned to our hotel, tired and in pain, ready for the next day’s adventure, Murano and Burano islands.












Monday, September 19, 2016

Mamaia Niculina's Parsley and Humble Self-Sufficiency

A water well by the cemetery
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2012
I wrote about relative paucity and poverty in this country, describing how the Census data does not take into account the generous welfare system in their poverty formulation, but strictly considers the annual income ceiling of a family of four.

Yet many “poor” in this country know how to milk the system, own a home, TVs, cell phones, cars, electronics, air conditioning, have cable, refrigerators, microwaves, food,  and other amenities that make life comfortable and worth living.

Most importantly, quite a few of the “poor,” are members of the generational welfare class. When compared to most countries, they are well off, do not work by choice, are not ashamed that they are kept by taxes from those who do work, and seldom assume personal responsibility for their poor choices in life.

The following story is a poignant case of real poverty. A sad video crossed my desk recently from the old country.  Two Romanian local policemen were accusing a tiny 84-year old lady of fiscal evasion because she was selling herbs and vegetables from her own garden to survive while corrupt politicians steal millions of other people’s money, with scant consequences.

Mamaia Niculina touched my heart and the heart of an entire nation with her humble resilience.  She survives proudly from day to day on a small pension and from the toil of her own hands. Gardening is back-breaking hard work for anybody but especially for an octogenarian. She travels 30 km twice a week to the capital Bucharest with two large bags, to sell parsley, squash, peppers, garlic, and other vegetables for one leu per bunch of parsley or one squash, about 25 cents.

Sitting on the sidewalk in a shabby chair, hunched over her precious bundles of parsley, a few peppers, garlic, and squash she grew herself, she smiles with pride when a buyer comes by and admires her harvest, crumpling one banknote in her wrinkled hands with fingernails caked with dirt. Every little bundle she sells buys her a loaf of bread, helping her survive from day to day, literally her daily bread. “You are just eating plain bread? Yes, plain bread. What can I do,” she answers with a clear voice.

The reporter shows Mamaia Niculina’s dilapidated home. She does not own much, her possessions and wealth can fit into a large shopping bag.  But she is proud that she can support herself through her hard work. She refuses handouts or anything she has not earned. Her home has seen better days; a few windows are broken and the roof leaks so much, it actually rains inside.

If she eats one serving of meat per week, she considers herself lucky, a real holiday in her modest house. She proudly shows the reporter her garden, a little plot of land with greens, beans, peppers, and squash.

By any standards, she is impoverished, like most elderly who have no family to help them or a social safety net to fall back on. She is truly a poor person who has fallen through the cracks of society. And she is not alone. Many older Romanians are forced to survive on very small pensions from the communist era, pensions that have not kept up with inflation.

Reforms are badly needed but, when corrupt politicians steal or misappropriate the allocated money for economic development and social programs, the elderly suffer the most.

She told the reporter from Antena1 that she prays that she’ll never be a burden on society and just drop dead when her time comes. The law, through the local policemen, is punishing her for trying to sell the fruit of her hard labor which helps her survive. She is considered a thief.

Criminalizing Mamaia Niculina’s survival is a stark reminder that the mighty State will come after people like her because she did not register with them, she was not regulated by them,  was not licensed by them, and she did not pay the agricultural lobbyists, the pipers of State.

Trying to survive, poor Mamaia Niculina became a “thief” of poverty on the radar of the local fiscal police who chased her away. She now spends most of her pension defending herself in court and fighting a land dispute – and the wheels of justice turn very slowly. Since her well ran out of water, Mamaia Niculina will no longer be able to plant a garden near her home. Physically and emotionally, she is an amazing octogenarian.



Sunday, September 18, 2016

Poverty or Conveniently Hidden Statistics

Great Depression Food Line
Americans in general are confused about poverty – people and economists define it differently. People who think themselves “poor” desire socialism and are perennially voting for their favorite Marxist Democrat while complaining endlessly how unjust and rigged the system is, how the Man keeps them down and how there is no equality and social justice. Nobody admits that personal responsibility and a failed work ethic might be the culprit of their own poverty.

To say that poverty induced by socialist dictatorships is hard to shake would be an understatement. Ask Cubans and Venezuelans about their lives in the workers’ paradise that Fidel and Chavez forced upon them while the two dictators stashed away stolen billions.

Lately, as the social justice, income disparity, income inequality, economic justice rhetoric intensifies, more global and Hollywood elites crawl out of the woodwork to confuse, agitate, and inflame the low information voters.

When almost 50 percent of the American public does not work and relies on some form of government welfare paid for by the other 50 percent of the working population, it is perplexing when former White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers states that “The U.S. may well be on the way to becoming a ‘Downton Abbey’ economy.”

Downton Abbey is a British television show that highlights a wealthy British family and their servants at the turn of the 20th century. It seems to me that the 50 percent of Americans that are already working have become unwilling servants to the other 50 percent on welfare whose main job is to vote for the same politicians who promise to deliver additional unearned income tax and “entitlements” by taxing the “rich” even more.

It is galling to hear people, who pay no taxes, work and get paid cash under the radar of the IRS, receive welfare, earned income tax credit, are paid by unions to show up and protest people who work for a living, screech that the “rich are not paying their fair share.”

Who is victimizing these people who consider themselves poor and downtrodden? If you ask them and their political representatives who became rich in office, voting and implementing policies that keep their constituents poor, it is the rich who are at fault. Personal responsibility in their bad choices are never mentioned.

The former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said, “I consider income inequality the most dangerous part of what’s going on in the United States.”

It is interesting to evaluate such statements now when America is plagued by huge unemployment, trillions of dollars of new national debt, anemic GDP growth, weak job creation, disastrous economic policies, out of control spending, devaluation of the dollar through constant quantitative easings, heavy corporate taxation which causes Congress-enabled overseas exodus of capital, government rules and regulations that destroy jobs and prevent the creation of new ones, and Obamacare, encompassing a huge portion of the economy and wasting trillions of dollars in the process of destroying the world’s best health care system.

To promote class envy and discontent, Saul Alinsky recommended class warfare, the division of people into wealthy and poor in order to make it easier to tax the wealthy with the support of the poor. Increasing the debt to unsustainable levels allows the government to increase taxes on the middle class, thus producing more poor people who are easier to control.
As strident rhetoric of income inequality comes from the left, even Keynesian economists recognize that reasons other than the progressive taking points in the main stream media are the culprits:

-          Differences in ability such as I.Q., poor health, and “entrepreneurial ability”

-          Differences in intensity of work

-          Risk taking

-          Compensating wage differentials (some jobs are more dangerous, unpleasant, demanding)

-          Schooling and other types of training

-          Work experience

-          Inherited wealth

-          Luck

Progressives view income inequality as a harbinger for poverty. This is not necessarily true because poverty is a relative term. A person who considers himself poor in one country can be rich in another. Consider some of the reasons for poverty:

-          Tyranny

-          Perennial welfare

-          Bad choices in life

-          Lack of education

-          Poor choices in degrees

-          Absence of middle class

-          No opportunity for success

-          No resources, living in a barren area

-          Suppression by rulers and government

-          Not willing or afraid to put forth the effort and time to invest in oneself

-          Comfortable in generational poverty status quo

-          Mental and emotional handicap or addiction

-          Mental illness (much homelessness is caused by mental illness)

-          Cultural factors, i.e., generational poverty

-          Social mobility or lack of mobility

-          Religious oppression

Pope Francis called on governments to redistribute wealth to the poor in order to curb the “economy of exclusion,” hinting at the “injustices of capitalism.” (AP, “Pope Demands ‘Legitimate Redistribution’ of Wealth,” May 9, 2014)

Americans are already the most generous nation with their time, money, expertise, food, medicine, and education for those less fortunate. We don’t need the government to step in and confiscate in a Stalinist fashion our hard work in the name of the ill-conceived and unjust Marxist brand of “social justice.”

People should not want someone else’s wealth or welfare on a constant basis, they should look for the opportunity to work for a better life, not expect crumbs from a tyrannical communist government or from a government beholden to crony capitalist corporatist interests.

The generous “government” welfare to those 50 percent low information voters who are elated with the current global status quo does not come just from the rich who pay plenty of taxes, but also from people who often work long hours every week, two or three jobs to make ends meet, and sometimes cannot afford to buy the very things welfare recipients purchase with someone else’s hard work. Additionally, what the government gives so liberally with other people’s money, it can certainly take away.

Progressives have worked hard to cause permanent physical poverty and mental penury in America, while discrediting and blaming capitalism for “income inequality:”

-          killing job opportunities for the poor (enacting higher pay for minimum wage jobs, creating Obamacare, pushing solar and wind energy against fossil fuels)

-          keeping poor Americans out of good schools (forcing them out of successful charter schools like the one in D.C. into public schools to appease the teachers’ union)

-          giving generous welfare that dis-incentivizes work and creating a Democrat plantation mentality (a destroyer of the human spirit and of the work ethic)

-          supporting and funding abortion and single mother households with government as the daddy in order to destroy the family nucleus

-          championing illegal immigrants instead of American workers

-          fighting for criminals, not the victims

-          indoctrinating our children into the enslaving tenets of Marxism and the religion of environmentalism

-          erasing any symbol of Christianity in our public life and promoting Islam to our young and impressionable children

-          destroying any symbols of patriotism that unite us

-          deconstructing historical truth to suit the progressive agenda

This administration is creating two Americas, one that works and one that does not work but votes for entitlements they have not earned. The plan is to reduce income inequality by debasing and punishing the successful through the forced redistribution of their wealth and income.

That is not to say that there are no Americans who do not genuinely need temporary or permanent help but have fallen through the cracks of welfare. It is people who know how to milk the system who benefit the most from the welfare largesse.

Being on welfare is not just the result of lack of a good education, bad choices in life, unwillingness to work, of a culture of entitlement (it is free and the government owes it to us), it is also a function of bad luck, personal injury, illness, and hard times during cyclical economic downturns.

The federal government uses personal income tax receipts to provide two-thirds of welfare funds, while state and local governments provide one-third from state tax receipts. Economically speaking, welfare is categorized as transfer payments.

The largest transfer of payments (welfare) goes to Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), housing vouchers, State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Keynesian economists thought that tackling poverty by giving the poor EITC income would not destroy their incentives to work. The federal government gave them a supplemental “grant,” proportional to earned wages. EITC began in 1975 but became more generous after 1993. (Baumol and Blinder, Economics, 2007, p. 458)

We do know how well EITC works since illegal aliens, using an IRS issued number to encourage them to file income taxes, have taken advantage of this IRS loophole, raking in $6.3 billion a year in tax refunds, claiming children who are not even residents or citizens of this country.

Cato’s Michael Tanner suggests that making people more comfortable in poverty (more food, housing, health care, free day care) and government dependence is a bad idea.  The quickest solutions to get out and stay out of poverty are simple – finish school, do not get pregnant outside marriage, get a job, any job, and stick with it.

Having spent more than $25 trillion on welfare since Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty program, “many Americans are less capable of self-sufficiency today than when the War on Poverty began.” The Heritage Foundation describes the pathway to self-sufficiency as work and marriage.

According to Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, “the welfare state should be reformed to promote self-sufficiency and require recipients of welfare to work or prepare for work as a condition of getting aid.”

In their article, “15 Facts about U.S. Poverty the Government Hides,” they explain that U.S. Census statistics about poverty “exclude nearly all welfare benefits,” taking into account only the poverty threshold for a family of four which in 2015 was $24,036.

The writers debunk leftist activist groups who talk about hunger when in reality “most of the poor do not experience hunger or food shortages.” Acknowledging that “poverty and homelessness” are often confused, Rector explains that “only 9.5% of the poor live in mobile homes or trailers; the rest live in apartments or houses. Forty percent of the poor own their own homes.”

In 2014 the U.S. government spent over $1 trillion on welfare for the poor and low income families. This figure did not include Social Security and Medicare, Rector said. Welfare in the form of cash, food, and housing was $342 billion.

Rector makes the case that “the Census counts poverty in the U.S. by ignoring almost the entire welfare state” which is generous by most measures. “The cash, food, and housing spending alone was 150 percent of the amount needed to eliminate all poverty in the U.S.” And even families in alleged “extreme poverty,” spend “$25 for every $1 of income the left claims they have.”

Eradicating poverty should be more than just streamlining welfare – it should be about fighting the real causes of welfare dependency: the breakdown of families, rejection of faith, truancy, dropping out of school, having babies outside of marriage, drug use, crime, and lack of personal pride, responsibility, and accountability for one’s actions. Spreading the wealth, the socialist goal, is a dystopia that will further enslave people into perennial poverty.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Misplaced Nostalgia

Photo: Ileana Johnson May 2016
Lately I’ve been nostalgic about my birth country, about Europe, wondering what would be like to live there again. Perhaps my nostalgia is surfacing because I am fast approaching old age and the ball of yarn called life is getting smaller and smaller.

Maybe I have misplaced nostalgia because my adopted country is in such turmoil and nothing seems to redress what people are complaining about. Life goes on, the sun comes up every day, the routine we take for granted continues, children must be fed and taken to school, people go to work, football season started again, and the masses are not restless as long as the welfare checks come in on time and the dependency faucet flows, tummies are full, the gas tank is topped, and illusory abundance looms like a Potemkin village.

I know, I can never go back home again because home is no longer there, but I still want to from time to time. Life has moved on and, I found out quite painfully, I am now a stranger in my own land. The something I was looking for, what the French term, “je ne sais quoi,” is no longer there. Many relatives I grew up with are now residing in the cemetery, others are as old as I am, with elderly people problems, bad socialized medicine and care, and some simply don’t care if I exist. But then most people’s relatives, far removed or close ones, could not care less if others lived or died. We are but a blip on the screen of life.

Four trips to my hometown and I have not yet been allowed to erect a marble cross on my Dad’s grave. His burial plot is marked by a simple wooden cross painted antique blue, with lettering long erased by the inclement weather and the sun. It’s not that I cannot afford to pay for a better cross, unlike years ago when I was financially broke, living on minimum wage.

I have gone as far as ordering a marble cross, paying for it, and hiring a priest to bless its installation. The most painful part was choosing what words to put on the cross that best represented my Dad’s life. I decided on his name, his birthdate, his death, and the phrase, “The best father who gave me life and let me fly far away because he loved me.” But that did not really tell the story of his life, the sacrifice he made at such an early age, he was 61 years young.

As the self-appointed remaining patriarch, Dad’s only living younger brother objected to Dad’s cross. Each time there was a different reason. He wanted a bribe because I was a “rich” American ripe for fleecing.  He said no during another trip because it would disturb my grandparents’ grave nearby, somehow the extra marble weight would be toxic and disturb their eternity slumber. On the third visit, he said, it would offend his wife who was buried in the same family plot even though she was family by marriage. And, the most unreasonable objection was that I did not help his pregnant daughter find a job in America and did not give her a place to live, rent free, in my house. Had she heard of anchor babies, she could have become a life-long ward of the government like everybody else born in a poor country who manages to cross the border illegally in the last months of pregnancy.

So I decided to erect a memorial here, in this country, where my Dad never had a chance to visit because his life was cut short by the very people who were supposed to give him a visa but refused.

It was futile to explain to his brother that we have 94 million Americans out of work, blue collar jobs are scarce, and I don’t personally employ anybody, I am just a retired teacher. To him, and to the rest of the world, America is still the land of plenty, of filthy-rich people; money grows on trees if you fertilize them with enough B.S., and welfare flows like milk and honey. 

There is a reason why illegals and refugees are brought here, we are told, they do jobs Americans don’t want to do and take whatever wages, without complaining. As our president said, “Americans are lazy.” Then these hard-working illegals send their paychecks to Mexico or to their countries of origin, while they live on welfare. America is a great country! Did anyone ask him, how it became the envy of the world if Americans were so lazy?

On the other hand, he may be right, I did see lazy locals in the morning on my way to work, sitting on their porches, laughing and enjoying themselves, drinking beer, while I was looking at my watch nervously to make sure I would be on time for my 8 a.m. classes.

Illegal immigrants who are often unskilled, illiterate, and on welfare, fare better medically than our own veterans do. They even get translators in hospitals for free and gender reassignment surgery. What a deal! At the same time, educated legal immigrants who want the opportunity to better themselves professionally in the United States are rejected when applying for visas because they happen to be the wrong nationality, religion, skin color, or we ran out of H1B visas. Why bring in immigrants who can contribute to the greatness of this country when we can bring the dregs of third world society to take our country down to size?

Progressives have been telling us that it’s high time to redistribute our wealth to the rest of the world, we’ve been well off for far too long, we owe the rest of the world their turn. If our children and grandchildren will live much worse than we, their parents, so be it, it is social justice to impoverish ourselves while supporting large families from countries that hate our guts and wish our destruction.  

As the most successful country in the world, we are no longer desirable. Hillary Clinton told the world half of Americans are a “basket of deplorables.” Academia keeps telling us, we are evil, primitive cultures are noble and good, and we should learn from them by serving their needs, by allowing them to rule over us with help from United Nations tin pot dictators.

The other half of Americans blindly look up to Democrats because they think they are wise; they’ve been telling us for a long time that we should emulate Cuba and Venezuela’s failed socialist/communist regimes or Europe’s failed multiculturalism.

Europeans seem so bucolic from afar, so much greener over the fence, healthy, and content riding their bicycles everywhere. Who wants to burn $10/gallon gas and choke Mother Nature to death when they can travel in style by trains that run on electricity generated by windmills?

The problem I see is that even my native country is turning into a basket case of European Union totalitarianism by technocrats. According to the SüdDeutsche Zeitung, France and Germany are preparing to synchronize plans for a joint European army.

Male Muslim refugees of military age are flooding everywhere, even beautiful Venice and Milan. One such refugee, screaming Allahu Akbar and making death threats to passengers for two hours, was deported from the U.K. to Venice. Why Venice, the historical jewel of the Adriatic, the open air museum of our western civilization? Italians have spent billions trying to prevent the sinking of its archeological treasures. Why bring the enemy inside?

I was wondering why so many Muslims were taking photos of Catholic churches around Venice and Milan on a recent trip. I saw women in burkas taking photos of churches from gondolas in Venice; I am sure it was for touristy reasons. After France24 reported on the failed attempt by an entire cell of Muslim women to blow up Notre Dame Cathedral, I understood, it’s a dry run for the open season on western civilization.

Communism was bad enough, but I don’t know what to expect in a huge banana republic like ours and I certainly don’t like European Union’s bureaucratic socialism run from its the facto capital Brussels.

I had misplaced nostalgia to revisit living in the country of my birth or some other place in Europe. I get frustrated because this country I’ve adopted is fast becoming a banana republic and few seem to care. Change is inevitable and expected; positive change is good but forced progressive transformation is another story.