Saturday, December 30, 2017

Startup Societies and Sustainable Development

The Startup Societies Summit Puerto Rico is taking place at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. on January 19-20, 2018.  This summit will “discuss solutions for Puerto Rico and raise funds for the Foundation for Puerto Rico, a non-profit dedicated to rebuilding the island.

“Our goal is to make self-sustaining economic zones in Puerto Rico focused on 21st Century solutions, putting Puerto Rico at the forefront of the green-tech revolution. We aim to not only raise funds for the rebuilding of Puerto Rico, but to set the stage for state of the art infrastructure and an entrepreneur-friendly environment. With some help, Puerto Rico can foster startup cities to rival Silicon Valley.”

Advertised attendees are investors, green tech entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), policy makers, media leaders, policy experts, Georgetown students, SEZ developers, and “block chain” experts.

Block chain experts are crypto currency developers. https://blockchain.info/

Special Economic Zones (SEZ) are located within a country’s national borders and their business and trade laws differ from the rest of the country. The explanation is that such zones include “increased trade, increased investment, job creation, and effective administration.” It is creating a mini-country within a country, independent of the sovereign laws of the land.

Joe McKinney wrote a blog on December 20, 2017, Rebuilding Puerto Rico, Tragedy Strikes, which described the financial and economic situation of Puerto Rico following the disastrous Hurricane Maria from September 2017, which had caused property damage estimated at over $100 billion and tremendous loss of life during and after the hurricane.

According to McKinney, Puerto Rico was destitute prior to the hurricane, due to its sovereign debt of $70 billion and unfunded pension liabilities exceeding $50 billion. The U.S. federal government’s $94.4 billion “care package” offset the hurricane damage. Housing assistance received $31 billion, $17.7 billion for the power grid, and $14.9 billion for healthcare. https://startupsocieties.com/ssf-blog

Acknowledging Puerto Rico’s “government lack of fiscal conservatism,” McKinney wrote how a $300 million contract with a Montana power company to restore the power grid fell through. He admits that “governance” is the main issue. “When rebuilding the economy, the problems of governance which originally caused it must be addressed.”

The Startup Societies Foundation (SSF) believes that “a green infrastructure must be built in Puerto Rico and the population must be made wealthier in knowledge, skill, and resources.” Humanitarian aid and financial help coming from U.S. taxpayers is expected.

Proposing to decentralize Puerto Rico, SSF suggests using special economic zones, eco-conscious societies, sea steading, and other means to control the island.

“Sea steading is a concept of creating permanent dwellings at sea, called sea steads, outside of the territory claimed by a government.” Proposed sea steads are modified cruising vessels, refitted oil platforms, decommissioned anti-aircraft platforms, and custom-built floating islands. https://www.seasteading.org/

“Eco-conscious societies” are environmentally friendly, nature-friendly, and green societies where sustainable development (SD), the lynch-pin of United Nations Agenda 2030, governs all decisions about human activity, services, laws, policies, and business activity, with reduced, minimal, or no harm upon ecosystems or the environment.

The immediate assessed needs for Puerto Rico were as follows:

1.      Electrical energy networks by turning to renewable energy sources.

2.      Infrastructure that will resist natural disasters.

3.      A stable, attractive business environment.

4.      Fiscal freedom from accrued debts, a.k.a. debt forgiveness.

According to SSF, “100 % green energy [possible by 2027] in the form of biomass, wave energy, and solar power remain untapped.” Immediate efforts to provide “communication should come by deploying temporary telecommunication balloons to establish basic telecom services such SMS and web browsing.” Puerto Rico could become a poster child of a “startup society.”

Through the powerful decentralization proposed by SSF, new property rights, new free markets, and new trade, “Startup societies will essentially be competing for patronage from citizens worldwide. What will happen in the long term in the startup societies' paradigm is that individual societies will specialize in their comparatively advantageous fields.” But countries are already using comparative advantage in international trade. www.startupsocieites.com/ssf-blog/2017/11/18/the-dutch-disease-the-resource-curse-and-other-dirty-economics-words

On the list of SSF problems are urban sprawl and farms. “Urban ecosystems are parasitic upon nearby nature by definition and are thus a large detriment to the environment at large. Megacities, megalopolies, and their sprawling suburbs and farms are a problem in the transition to startup societies.”

SSF proposes the use of CO2-binding concrete, artificial photosynthesis, and vertical integration such as the laudable architectural high rises in Hong Kong, “using height to create solutions for societies.” “Vertical farming, padding external building walls in specially engineered pollutant-recycling moss, the third dimension is an oft-neglected aspect of environmental sustainability.”

Eco-villages and eco-tech startups will “reformat the current settlements large and small” by a “handful of strong-willed people who may shake people out of the stupor of modern urban life.”

“The establishing of smaller, more localized jurisdictions will help speed up the competitive pressure mechanisms that will make citizen begin to convert their current structures into something resembling nature.” https://startupsocieties.com/ssf-blog/2017/12/11/environmental-impacts-in-the-startup-societies-world-what-can-and-should-be-done

According to SSF, startup societies may locate in disputed border territories, the wide-open sea, and even Antarctica. The chosen land must respect jurisdiction and follow U.N.’s Law of the Sea or the Antarctica Treaty. Then a status for the startup society must be created within the current legal framework of the current authority via sanctuary city or special economic zone. The current authority may be local, federal, individual (president), or a group (Chamber of Commerce). Lobbying and political maneuvering, persuasion through legal or fiscal means, will eventually help found a startup society.  The essence of government is fluid. It can be remade and reshaped into an infinitely more complex but also streamlined version of itself.” https://www.startupsocieties.com/ssf-blog/2017/12/1/how-you-yes-you-can-build-a-startup-society

Quoting data from the United Nations, the SSF blog mentions that half of the richest 10 countries in the world (GDP per capita) are city states such as Liechtenstein, Monaco, and Luxemburg and are easier to manage. The truth is that these city states produce absolutely nothing of economic value other than as beautiful domiciles for the rich, the famous, and the titled. https://www.startupsocieties.com/ssf-blog/2017/12/4/on-top-of-the-world-explaining-the-statistical-success-of-modern-city-states

Startup Cities is eyeing Terra Australis, Antarctica, the southernmost continent, with 5.5 million square miles, driest and coldest, populated by 4,000 people in the summer and 1,000 in winter, appealing to the frontier spirit of Americans to establish the SSF vision of tomorrow. The only problem is, the dreamers of IT, financial technology, and other visionaries, do not have what it takes to be a frontier man or woman.

According to SSF, Chile, U.K., New Zealand, Australia, France, and Norway use certain areas of Antarctica for scientific research but cannot exercise territorial sovereignty over the borders per Antarctic Treaty System of the 1960s.

Russia and the U.S. have a “Deep Freeze” unclaimed area between New Zealand and Chile. Abandoned but maintained stations in this “unclaimed area” are utilized in the summer months. Startup Societies might use untapped opportunity to colonize this area. There is plenty of “powerful winds, extensive sunlight, and possible mineral deposits [which] may make energy a trifling matter, with the right technology.”

SSF is convinced that Startup Societies are the “future” through “competitive governance, secession, sea steading, decentralization, and e-government.”

Competitive governance is “decentralized experimentation driven by entrepreneurs and mobility of people and ideas, new structures that solve protracted social challenges peacefully.”

The author, Aleksa Burmazovic, extolls the virtues of frontier exploration - “barren land out there ripe for people to turn into beautiful gardens of human achievement,” https://www.startupsocieties.com/ssf-blog/2017/11/16/terra-australis-is-antarctica-the-next-frontier

I was thinking about all the deserts on the planet with green oases and civilizations that had died years ago, and all the mirages generated from too much heat and hot air. I see Startup Societies as the techies’ newest scheme of U.N.’s Sustainable Development, Green Growth, Smart Growth re-engineering of our society’s future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas in the Trenches

One hundred years ago, on Christmas Eve, in a muddy and cold place near Ploegsteert, on the WWI front between Belgium and France, surrounded by no-man’s land littered with barbed wire and dead bodies, German and Allied soldiers climbed from their trenches to celebrate Christmas in what became to be known as the Christmas Truce.

It was a spontaneous rise of humanity celebrating their common Christian roots and faith. German soldiers placed makeshift Christmas trees on the bulwark.

Historian Stanley Weintraub wrote in his book, Silent Night, how soldiers, after agreeing not to shoot each other, sang carols in an odd fraternity of inveterate enemies turned into momentary friends by their common belief in God and the tradition of Christmas, Christmas caroling, and Christmas trees. Shaking hands, in the old Germanic tradition of showing that they were not armed, they shared cigarettes and food.

Extending the truce into Christmas Day, the combatants were able to dig graves, bury their dead, and hold memorials. Weintraub mentioned that one Scottish chaplain recited during the memorial the 23rd Psalm in two languages.

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters…” “Der HERR is mein Hirte; mir wird nichts mangeln. Er weidet mich auf greener Aue und fuehret mich…”

The chaplain was chastised by his Bishop who thought the role of the clergy in war was to drive the soldiers into battle and to tend to their passage into God’s kingdom.

Christmas 1914 became a day of fellowship, sharing food, trading uniform buttons, and playing soccer, a sliver of normalcy in a cruel and unnecessary war.

According to Weintraub, “No one there wanted to continue the war.” Threatened by senior officers, the troops returned to fighting, “went on with the grim business at hand.”

Remembering the truce in diaries and in letters sent home to their families, soldiers described those moments in time as a “marvelously wonderful” Christmas yet a very “strange” event. German and British troops even posed for pictures together.

It was a peculiar event because Germans, French, and British soldiers were killing each other a few hours earlier, yet for one day, they were celebrating the birth of our savior in the anemic glow of the lit Christmas tree, casting an illuminating shadow over the muddy trenches, their misery, cold, and pain. They were a group of men fighting for the economic cause of greedy elites who were home warm and cozy with their families, celebrating Christmas, while these grunts were dying for nothing.

Director Christian Carion portrayed the truce incident in his award-winning 2005 movie, Joyeux Noel, but on a much larger scale than it actually happened. He took poetic license in order to introduce fictional characters that put a face on the pain, suffering, and the short-lived joy. Officers and troops were punished afterwards for “fraternizing with the enemy.”

World War I was a cruel trench conflict, a special kind of hell on earth, when enemies dug themselves into trenches within earshot of each other, and barbed wire in-between. Soldiers were ordered from time to time over the top, to stand up and advance, which caused them to be swiftly mowed down by machine gun fire. And if machine gun fire did not kill them, they were gassed to death in their muddy trenches, where bits of bones and strips of uniform mingled with the wall supports around the frightened and shivering soldiers, praying to survive.

It is very likely that the men who enjoyed this moment of peace during an expression of the civilized “brotherhood of men” on Christmas Day 1914, died shortly afterwards in the sacrificial gun battles or by poison gas grenade explosions.

Christmas is our beloved tradition that no war or atheist will be able to obliterate. No commercialized elf on the shelf or Kwanza can squash and transform the meaning of Christmas.

Christmas and the celebration of the gift of Christ to the world will always live in the joyful anticipation of children around the world who, with twinkles in their eyes, believe. Christmas will survive in church carols sung around the world, in our faith, in our hearts, and in our homes.

No wars, no atheists, no communists, and no theocracy can stop the Christian faith-based tradition of Christmas welling from the trenches.

A Lucrative Technical School or a Four-Year College Degree?

The Ideologies that killed more than 100 million people last century are being praised at our universities today.”  - Turning Point USA

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find a skilled technician to fix anything. Everything is disposable – something breaks down, let’s buy a new one. There are fewer and fewer technical and trade schools and, even if there were more, American students are not interested in learning a trade. They have been conditioned by society and by their parents that, unless they get a four-year college degree, anything else is not worth their effort and time.

Technician and trade jobs are generally filled by foreign workers, legal and illegal because Americans are not qualified, nor interested in pursuing such jobs. When our home was completed and there were some problems, every company I called to fix something sent a foreign national. I counted twenty-seven individuals born outside of the U.S. who did not learn their trade in this country. How is that possible?

Germans have trade schools attached to most large companies and only about a third of high school graduates are interested in going to college even though college is free. They attend a trade school or a technical college. Those jobs pay well and are easy to find.

Why are American students not interested in studying something that would assure them employment when they graduate and the satisfaction of a job well done?

Why are American college advisors promising them a six-figure salary when they are pursuing majors in fields in which they have no chance of ever getting a job or making a decent living?

What good is your passion if there are no jobs to feed this passion? Why can’t their passion be pursued as an extra-curricular activity while doing something else that earns them a decent living?

Why have Americans been conditioned to think that a soldier wearing a helmet who defends his country should make way less money than an athlete with a helmet who defends and chases a football on a grassy field?

Students are advised to pursue majors in multiculturalism, postmodernism, feminist theory, gender studies, indigenous psychology, complexity theory, post-colonialism, ecological studies, Eastern thought, racial studies, and contemplative practices and traditions.

Unless they plan on becoming radical activists or community organizers with ANTIFA, BLM, Pink Hats feminists, and other such violent groups, they will find zero jobs but will have a huge baggage of debt hanging around their necks like an albatross.

According to Forbes, the total student loan debt of $1.2 trillion is negatively affecting the economy and those who owe thousands of dollars in student debt upon graduation with a diploma hardly worth the ink that it is printed on. One in ten graduates owes more than $40,000 in student loans. https://www.forbes.com/sites/specialfeatures/2013/08/07/how-the-college-debt-is-crippling-students-parents-and-the-economy/#376a43a02e17

The national debt clock counts student loan debt at $1.5 trillion, a much higher number than the $1.02 trillion credit card debt. With the median income at $30,592, one wonders how these students will ever pay back these huge school loans. http://www.usdebtclock.org/

Steve Odland acknowledged five years ago that, “Education is the great equalizer in this country. It is the facilitator of the American Dream. People can grow up poor, in an urban or rural setting, but can hope to pull themselves up out of poverty with education. Unlike many other areas of the world, America mostly is a meritocracy facilitated by education.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/steveodland/2012/03/24/college-costs-are-soaring/#5163c9281f86

Unfortunately that is not the case anymore in many areas of education where jobs no longer exist or are scarce as automation and artificial intelligence replaced the need for humans. Students are forced to live in their parents’ basement looking for that six-figure salary their advisor promised, eventually having to settle for baristas in coffee shops, retail associates, waiters, or protesters for hire.

Yet advisors keep steering students into majors that are totally useless in today’s world. At the same time, college costs escalate way beyond inflation rates to pay for inflated tenured professorial salaries, university trust funds, and athletic programs and expensive stadiums. I don’t see any liberals protesting the escalating tuition costs; they just want more money for education and school loans.

Who makes money from the 44 million Americans in debt because of student loans? The short answer is the federal government, banks, private investors, and Wall Street.

Before President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Higher Education Act of 1965, prospective students had to pay for education themselves from savings, a generous scholarship, or from an inheritance. Poor but smart people could not pursue higher education unless they made a personal loan.

Congress created in 1972 the Student Loan Marketing Association or Sallie Mae. Sallie Mae bought loans from banks after banks had loaned money to students, thus freeing the banks to make more loans. At the time tuition was much lower and much more manageable on an average salary.  

Congress decided in 1996 to turn Sallie Mae into a private agency thus giving it power to make its own loans, both federally guaranteed loans, as well as private loans with higher interest rates but no strings attached.

Sallie Mae became so large and powerful that in 2014 it turned its federally-guaranteed student loans into a new company, Navient, leaving Sallie Mae to handle only private loans. According to James B. Steele and Lance Williams, “CEO Albert Lord received pay and stock totaling hundreds of millions of dollars before he retired in 2013.”

Ninety percent of the $1.5 trillion student loan debt is held by the federal government as either original lender or a guarantor of a loan. The Department of Education has certainly become an enormous bank funded by taxpayers.

“In fiscal year 2014, students borrowed approximately $100 billion through federal loan programs.”  The highest default rate was experienced in consolidated loans both in 2014 (20.9%) and 2015 (21.2%).  In 2013, the default rate of such consolidated loans was 25 percent. http://www.edcentral.org/edcyclopedia/federal-student-loan-default-rates/

“The government earns as much as 20 percent on each of its loans” because it borrows money at a lower rate and lends to students at a higher rate.  According to the Government Accountability Office’s 2014 report, the government made $66 billion in profit from student loans made between 2007 and 2012. https://www.gillibrand.senate.gov/news/press/release/gillibrand-statement-on-new-gao-report-released-showing-federal-government-profit-of-66-billion-on-federal-student-loans-graduates-currently-saddled-with-over-1-trillion-in-student-loan-debt

Congress lowered student loan interest rates in 2013 but those who already had outstanding loans did not benefit from this “bonanza” of generosity. As most students can attest, it is easy to begin with a loan of $50,000 that balloons with compounding interest and penalties to over $125,000 in a few years.

The loan becomes unpayable when the student is unable to find a job or the job barely pays enough for the student to survive on because the worthless diploma they earned in utopian thought or women’s studies has not taught them any useful or marketable skills in the real world.

Filing for bankruptcy is hardly a fix since Congress has made student loans not dischargeable in bankruptcy proceedings except in very rare cases. Even in old age, the government can take as much as 15 percent of a debtor’s Social Security check in order to service an unpaid student loan balance.

Delinquent borrowers who have fallen on hard times are often surprised to learn that the government can make “administrative offsets” from tax refunds and disability checks.

How can the federal government ask U.S. citizens to pay back student loans when illegal aliens are getting their education free? Illegal aliens are “dreamers” but legal citizens are considered “racists” when questioning such liberal insanity.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that there are eight million loans in default out of 41 million loans and “one out of four borrowers are delinquent or in default on a student loan.” (p. 3) http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201509_cfpb_student-loan-servicing-report.pdf

According to Steele and Williams, the DOE hires debt collectors with taxpayer dollars to harass and collect from those who fell behind their student loans or cannot afford to pay them. These collectors make an estimated $2.1 billion in commissions.

It seems that it would be much less costly for taxpayers if these students did not receive so many loans to begin with, especially if their majors show that there are  no jobs available in the economy, their grades are poor, or simply scale back their indebtedness through write offs.

Counseling students the right way, without the profit motive in mind, would benefit students, the economy, and the taxpayers. But colleges plan to keep their student enrollment up, professors need their classrooms full, college financial advisors aspire to distribute as many loans as possible, and banks want profits.

Not every college student I have ever taught was really college material, motivated enough to succeed, or even enjoyed being in college. Some could have benefited from attending a trade school or a technical college.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Visit to the Trump International Hotel in D.C.

The Old Post Office and the Clock Tower
Photo: Ileana Johnson, December 2017
I had made mental plans to visit Trump International Hotel in D.C. for months. I was curious to see the Christmas decorations and especially the remodeling which kept the uber-lib D.C. residents up in arms – they hated the idea of a President who loved America and especially hated President Trump.

Located at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, in the Old Post Office building, the stately structure with its Clock Tower is now a five-star hotel, ranked number 8 out of 141 hotels in Washington.

The Old Post Office building was built in 1899 and had been used as the city’s main post office until 1914. Functioning as an office building afterwards, it was nearly torn down in the 1920s to make room for the Federal Triangle construction and again in the 1970s for the completion of this complex.

Flag in the atrium and Clock Tower
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Romanesque Revival 19th century U.S. architecture building, the third tallest building in Washington, was renovated in 1976 and again in 1983 when a food court and retail spaces were added.

The U.S. General Services Administration leased the property in 2013 for 60 years to a consortium headed by DJT Holdings LLC, a holding company that President Donald Trump owns through a revocable trust. After extensive renovations, the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. opened in September 2016.

After a car ride, a metro ride, and a short walk from the metro station around the IRS building, we found the actual hotel entrance. The fa├žade entrance towards Pennsylvania Avenue was blocked and so was the side entrance facing the metro station. The one entrance open towards the metro was actually the entrance to the Clock Tower. The Trump Hotel does not rent this historical part of the building.

Trump International Hotel atrium
Photo: Ileana Johnson
 
Taking the longer route to the entrance, around the IRS building adjacent to the hotel, we ran into a share-ride bike with several tourists. The biker was trying to explain that we have to go back when one young pedestrian passing by interrupted and said that we have to go down, down, until we reach the flames of Hades. Not passing up this golden opportunity to put an uber-lib in his proper snowflake place, I interjected, you must have been there, and that is how you know so well.

The Clock Tower seen from the atrium
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2017
 
The Clock Tower, 315 ft. tall, houses the Bells of Congress and rewards the visitors with panoramic views of the District of Columbia and its surroundings, albeit it restricted by dirty plastic windows and vertical wires.

After the thorough check of the contents of my purse, we took two elevators to the Clock Tower and I heard Romanian spoken by an older couple dressed entirely in black. Engaging in a brief conversation with them, I found out that they had escaped communist Romania 50 years ago and had settled in Ontario. I was disgusted hearing this couple praise Canada and its European style socialist nanny government.

I welcomed the frigid winds at the top and the spectacular circular view of D.C. I could breathe freely away from the two ignorant elevator passengers I had struck up a conversation with. The top was heavily guarded by uniformed young men.

With 263 luxurious guest rooms and suites, Trump Hotel had done a spectacular job of renovating the Old Post Office building and turning it into a classy destination.

Christmas Tree in the atrium
Photo: Ileana Johnson
 
Crystal chandelier
Photo: Ileana Johnson
 
The atrium was adorned with beautiful crystal chandeliers, a huge Christmas tree, cozy chairs and couches, a bar adorned with empty crystal decanters, a reception desk with its decorative collection of Swarovski crystal obelisks, the bathrooms fitted with gold-plated fixtures, The Spa by Ivanka, and BLT Prime by David Burke restaurant with a balcony seated area overlooking the atrium.

Above Benjamin’s Bar & Lounge was a huge American flag, visible from the Tower elevator, and a glass ceiling which reflected the Clock Tower in the golden waning sun.

Collection Box by Christmas Tree to benefit a children's charity
Photo: Ileana Johnson
 
Brioni boutique in the atrium
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2017
 
An elegant metal box by the Christmas tree was collecting donations for a local children’s charity, the company’s commitment to help those in need. A Brioni couture boutique in the corner of the atrium offered elegant Italian tailored menswear.

Swarovski crystal obelisks
Photo: Ileana Johnson
 
We sat in comfortable chairs. It was tea time and many customers appeared to have made tea reservations as they were drinking tea and eating bite-size confections from elegant silver trays. Other sipped on their favorite wines.

We were famished so we ordered food. My salad was passable, the lettuce was fresh and crisp but the chicken was on the dry side. His hamburger was good but certainly overpriced which was to be expected in a five-star hotel. My second cup of chamomile tea with lemon was awful as he used the same tea bag and the water smelled like bleach. The small dessert we shared was European delicious and very light.

Service was very poor. Our waiter practically abandoned us for the next table – the women ordered glasses of wine and my husband and I don’t drink. I found the staff rather dismissive and rude. But it was worth spending $100 on marginal food and service in order to experience the beautifully renovated historic building.

National Christmas Tree
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2017
 
We left the hotel for the next destination of our day trip – the White House Christmas tree. I was surprised to see how barricaded the area surrounding the White House was. I remember years ago, when Bush was president, we were allowed on the sidewalk beside the fence and take pictures.

The National Christmas Tree was lit by wires of light. The fifty smaller fir trees from each state circled the area.  A miniature train set with Victorian houses was running on tracks at the foot of the tree. I took pictures and we started back on the slow trek to the metro, the car, and the drive home to far away suburbia.

 

 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Grandma Elena's Socks

Sheep Grazing outside Grandma's village
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
Last week I gave away at the nursing home dozens of socks wrapped in red ribbon. Some people were happy to accept them, some were thankful, some were surprised, and some were even reluctant to take them as if they were a trick. Only after I explained why I was doing it, were they semi-smiling.

Americans today are so spoiled and so well-off when compared to other countries, they cannot possibly understand the poverty and the dire need we had growing up under communism, especially since schools and the main stream media today teach them how wonderful and romantic communism is.

I did not do it because people cannot afford socks on their own or the facility does not provide them with traction socks, but in memory of my grandmother who used to knit a couple of pairs of wool socks for me as a Christmas gift each year. My feet were really warm while I sledded down the hill all day long. Walking to school in knee high snow was also much more pleasant with warm feet.

I had a couple of ugly cotton pairs my parents had bought me. Made by the communist label, they were ugly, ill-fitting, and never stayed on right nor kept my feet warm.

Thank you, Grandma Elena, you sheared the sheep, you spun the best wool, dyed it, and knitted the best socks, mittens, hats, and scarves! Since I no longer know how to knit, I have to buy my daughter a hat since she likes to go skiing.

I am sorry the knitting skills died with you and your oldest daughters! On the upside, I still remember how to do counted cross-stitch and needlepoint, none of which are really helpful to keep me warm.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Collectivism and Social Engineering

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
A friend asked me recently if I found any similarities between the collectivist Home Owners Association (HOA) in the U.S. and living in communist Romania in cinder block apartments the size of the average hotel room.  We did have a different HOA in these reinforced concrete high rises, the Residents’ Association (Asociatia Locatarilor). Its governing board was chosen from the least outspoken residents who sometimes doubled as informers to the Security Police, reporting on the comings and goings of the residents and on their political statements made accidentally in ordinary conversations with neighbors.

The Residents’ Association decided when the water heaters were to be serviced, what kind of cold and hot water schedule we were going to follow, how much heat we received from the government mother ship, how much any repairs would cost, and how the due bills were to be divided evenly between all families, if the association would pay the electric bill for some widow who was behind on her dues, which mechanic they were going to hire to fix whatever was broken in the apartment complex.

In the egalitarian utopia, the total bill was to be split equally between all families, regardless of how many people lived in one apartment. Some had children, some lived alone and the consumption was vastly different but the contribution share had to be equal. It was similar at work; no matter how little effort a person put in, they were paid the same. The incentive died quickly when people realized effort and extra work did not count. But everyone expected that 13th salary at the end of the year – a bonus that few people deserved.

Residents had to take turns to sweep the hallways and the street surrounding the apartment complex. Forced volunteer work beautified the surroundings with flowers, grass, bushes, and trees, all with money from the residents.

The HOAs here are actually associations that residents willingly sign into in order to purchase or build a home. Those who volunteer for the board and are actually voted in are either busy-bodies, residents who like to be in charge, in control over “minions,” or those home owners who expect something in return or get a high from controlling other people and telling them what to do and how to do things with their own homes and properties.

HOAs were initially sold to home owners as a way to instill a sense of community, of belonging, for protection, and to preserve property values. I fail to see how paying a fee each month to maintain the club house and the swimming pool for the neighborhood children increases my property’s value when I try to sell it. The way I see it, the only benefits derived to me is garbage pickup and snow removal when that actually happens.

The HOA certainly does not deter crime nor protect the neighborhood even though they park a “security” car by the club house. It is a neighborhood joke as more and more cars are broken into and sometimes even stolen, and people robbed at gun point in the dog park. Crime has spiked since the Obama regime increased the number of illegals and refugees forcibly inserted into peaceful communities. Obama was determined to reengineer how we lived because we were not diverse, inclusive, and multicultural enough.

The covenant rules are so detailed that most contracts look like a huge tome. They tell us what color to paint homes, fences, mailboxes, whether we can or cannot grow vegetables, plant a bush, put an antenna on the house, build a deck, a gazebo, a patio, whether we can park our cars in the driveway, in the street, put up Christmas decorations, fly the American flag, etc.

Americans have lost homes because they did not comply with the strict HOA rules, were fined, refused to pay the fines, and were eventually evicted by courts from their own homes which were then sold in order to recoup the escalating fines.  

Florida Third District Court of Appeals ruled that homeowners don’t have the right to grow vegetables on their own properties. It is acceptable to grow grass but not something to eat. http://www.truthandaction.org/court-rules-citizens-dont-have-right-grow-veggies-on-their-own-properties/

In Colorado, one unfortunate family eventually lost their home and the husband’s good health after protracted and costly legal battles with their HOA because they had dared to complain about the neighbor’s dogs barking non-stop in the very adjacent home to their own bedroom window. It begs the question why builders would place a home so close to another. However, if we follow the development of property rights in this country and the Smart Growth policy promoted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) among others, we understand the world- wide U.N. Agenda 2030 which endorses tiny homes and small spaces, and denigrates suburbia as urban sprawl.

Some HOAs encourage and promote aggressive politics. In Reston, Virginia, a hotbed of uber-liberalism, yard signs appeared that read, “Hate Has No Home Here,” implying, of course, that, unless you agree with their liberal politics, you are a “hater.” https://lesfemmes-thetruth.blogspot.com/2017/11/have-you-seen-hate-has-no-home-here.html#more

As Tom DeWeese recently wrote, “Rail trails, walkable communities, complete streets, to help build ‘strong communities’ are all part of the grand NAR vision for America’s glorious future. Its vision of utopia – a beautiful, well-controlled community of high rises where shopping and jobs are within biking or walking distance or a quick ride on a quaint trolley. Wind turbines turn lazily in the background to supply all energy needs. There are no dirty smokestacks, no cars, no parking problems, no gridlock, and no sprawl. According to the vision, everyone is living in complete harmony.” https://www.thenewamerican.com/reviews/opinion/item/19850-private-property-rights-and-socialism-do-not-mix

Moving people into tiny apartments, most the size of a hotel room or a jail cell is a “chic” trend presented as a desirable option for someone who cannot afford a mortgage or rent on a decently sized apartment. Who wants to assemble and disassemble their furniture every day in order to have living space for different activities during the day?

One can rent an apartment in New York the size of a closet, 90 square ft., or a 250 square ft. apartment in California. You can call it the euphemistic term, “minimalism,” but we should call it what it is, forced social engineering into high-rise apartments.  But it’s worse in Japan, where rent is calculated in some highly desirable areas by the square inch.

To promote micro-living and sell the idea to Americans who like to live in normal sized homes, United Tiny House Association even has festivals around the country. http://unitedtinyhouse.com/

One can have a 128-square ft. apartment in Hong Kong but, if the rent is too high for you, you can opt for a sixteen-square ft. “micro-unit,” wire-mesh cages stacked on top of each other, where bed bugs are part of the package. The rent is cheap, about $167 per month. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/wealthy-hong-kong-poorest-live-metal-cages-article-1.1258661

I lived through this kind of controlled utopia under communism. The only people who rented or owned luxurious living spaces and expensive cars where the communist party apparatchiks. The Iron Curtain countries were among the most polluted countries in the world. The communists had no regard for human life, water, soil, or the air we breathed.  And we certainly could not go very far just by bikes, buses, and trains. What a fantastic way to control the comings and goings of the entire population, every aspect of their lives!

Kevin Williamson wrote in Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, “By the time the Soviet government collapsed, fully one-sixth of Russia’s territory had been rendered uninhabitable because of pollution and other environmental devastation.”

I still remember as a child the oil slicks in most of the creeks and rivers running through my hometown or the neighboring villages and the pungent smell of petroleum by-products coming from most lakes and bodies of water. When we hanged laundry to dry on the balcony, by the afternoon the clothes had a tinge of greyish powder which had deposited from the polluted air.

We had to travel to the mountains by train, sixty miles or so to escape the industrial pollution of my hometown and to breathe fresh air, that’s how little regard the Communist Party planners had for the environment and for what they were doing to our health.

We did not have a Declaration of Independence, all humans were not “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” we had whatever rights and responsibilities the dear leader said we had. The communist government had no limits on the power they had over each individual citizen.

The dear leader was always right and, if the minions dared to question or complain about anything, they became dispensable “units”. That is why 100 million people were killed in various communist regimes.

It rankles me when I see Millennials wearing Che Guevara and Mao t-shirts, while arguing that socialism is great. The numerous countries where socialism and communism were utter failures have done it all wrong, but, if they have a chance, they will do it the right way. If you ask them what the right way is, they stare stupidly into the camera like a deer in the headlights because they have no idea.

The communist party and their social engineers had moved many people off their small farms, confiscated their lands for co-operative farms and moved them into towns in high-rise apartments with elevators in some that stayed broken a lot of the time while others had none. The apparatchiks leveled their farm homes and forced the villagers to work in the fields for an equal share of the crop regardless of effort, with the communist party getting their lion’s share of each crop.

The elites of the party and their underlings occupied the beautiful villas they confiscated from those they considered part of the bourgeoisie, after they threw them in jail and left their families destitute to fend for themselves while their loved ones served as much as decades in hard labor camps for no fault of their own other than the fact that they inherited a piece of private property.

Private property is what gives us freedom yet the Marxist propaganda machine vilified anyone who owned something more than the next person. Uncle Paul served seven years for such offense and luckily survived but his family became destitute. The late Dr. Petrasovich was sentenced to 17 years of hard labor in a lead mine because he had a villa in the fashionable mountain resort of Sinaia. He survived his incarceration as well and was able to immigrate to the U.S.

Marxism indoctrinated its followers into the idea that humans, after intense forced education, will willingly give up their private property and thus forever eliminate economic inequalities that “allegedly created class conflict.”

Using force, Marxists tried to reengineer human nature, to force people to change the historical tendency to own land, whether be it through families, tribes, or individuals.  But they failed miserably. Humans are not that altruistic to give up everything in the name of “social justice,” a pie in the sky concept devised to entice the newbies to adopt the Marxist philosophy.

The desire to acquire and accumulate private property throughout one’s life and pass it on to heirs is an intrinsic part of our human psyche. Why else would we save for a rainy day, acquire land, real estate, why do we collect, and, in the more extreme cases, why do we hoard certain things?

Forcibly nationalizing industries, confiscating any private property, land, homes, paintings, jewelry, bank accounts, cash, cars, tractors and other farm implements, and distributing them to communist officials loyal to the dear leader was a recipe for disaster which expressed itself in the declining productivity, theft, and turning the citizenry into wards of the state, dependent on government for their daily existence and survival. The change was so drastic that, after many years of communist exploitation, people would wait on the government to tell them what to do next, that’s how brainwashed they were. Any incentive and motivation to do better, to do more that would benefit society too was dead.

Friedrich Hayek said that citizens motivated by the possibility of wealth, worked harder and beyond their immediate needs, thus bringing other benefits to society at large. Communist apparatchiks have used deception, coercion, and force to translate their goals into action. If millions who stood in the way or questioned anything had to die in the process, that was just collateral damage in the quest of utopian communism.

As we had constant shortages of everything because communists were not good at all at centralized economic planning, the people were turned into slaves to the state and as such, they became more materialistic and avaricious, hoarding in excess of what they needed. The communist party solution was not to improve economic planning using the free market supply and demand, but to adopt laws that punished hoarders, to institute the financial police, more rationing via coupons, and laws that prescribed how much each person could consume in calories per day.

People started stealing from their work and traded with others in order to meet their survival needs. If the state did not respect their property rights and stole everything they had owned, why should they respect the government’s property even though the state kept telling them, you are the collective owners of the means of production, if you steal, you are stealing from yourselves. They knew better, they had no claim to anything surrounding them, it was not their private property to be had, and it belonged to the communist party elites who could take whatever they wanted or needed.

The non-conformists such as my dad were silenced. People lost self-reliance – they had seen too many times when initiative was treated as a crime, so they started waiting to be ordered what to do next. The work ethic died quickly and the sense of civic and public responsibility disappeared as well. As an example, people would wait in their own homes while mounds of snow or mud were cutting off any possibility of egress from their village to the rest of the world. If an earthquake struck and people were buried alive, they also waited for officials to dig them out.

Dennis Praeger remarked that “socialism teaches its citizens to expect everything, even if they contribute nothing… they have a plethora of rights and few corresponding obligations.” Many citizens in Romania objected to being taxed after the “fall” of communism in 1989 and many still do today.

The rapacious materialism bred by communism translated into less charitable acts. Non socialists tend to donate much more to their fellow man in need. Socialists may donate to family but much less to others in need, they expect the state to do it all. We can see that in Democrat politicians today who are very generous with other people’s money. Margaret Thatcher said that socialism was great until they ran out of other people’s money.

 

 

 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Through the Fog of Time

The creek of our childhood Photo: Ileana 2015
As we age, humans tend to mellow out and nothing that had previously been that important matters anymore in the grand scheme of things. All struggles, frustrations, successes, victories, defeats, losses, and gains, dissipate in the fog of time. Regrets and memories of opportunities lost, of physical pain, of mental anguish and frustration diminish, replaced by arthritis, loneliness, and loss of loved ones. The struggle is still there for billions of others, very real and painful, but it seems almost irrelevant to us.

Romanians just lost their King Michael to old age, very old age, and their last hope that a monarchy might somehow right all the wrongs that had plagued the country politically was dashed and died with him. There won’t be another king. Some mourned him, most did not even know he existed nor cared. Like here, these citizens are part of the #resist movement yet they have no idea what they are resisting.

Yesterday I met one of my first cousins I adore (I have 27) and his lovely daughter Elena for lunch in a town nearby in Virginia. It was surreal. If you had told me 39 years ago that someday in the future, in a state far away, thousands of miles away from my former home in Romania, I would see one of my first cousins again, I would have been extremely incredulous and would have laughed, a physical impossibility.

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
 
Yet here we were, reminiscing about our childhood, how fast time flew, how my aunt passed away a week after a severe cough had plagued her for months, and the second stroke that killed my uncle while gardening. We compressed almost four decades of life, weddings, baptisms, burials, disputes, schools, professions, and family into two hours, surrounded by spouses, children, and grandchildren. Good food and beloved company are always relaxing.

He asked me about retirement, teaching, accomplishments, life in America, and it almost seemed like we were talking about someone else. What teaching accomplishments? It was just a job that paid me well. No teacher of the year for me and certainly no thanks for a job well done. I was not a Democrat, nor a communist, how could I possibly succeed in education and thrive? Mediocrity and collectivist politics ruled around me in academia. My cousin was shocked.

I told him about all the communists in education in America and he was almost incredulous. How could any rational human being possibly think that a Marxist ideology that killed 100 million people around the world can even remotely be considered in this beautiful country built on free markets, not oppression and tyranny?

My cousin had to work in difficult places around the world in order to bring home enough cash to build a beautiful villa for his family. Two of his three beautiful daughters moved to America, just like I did, in order to find freedom and opportunity for success that had been denied to many still in Romania, twenty-eight years after the “fall” of communism. They joined the five million other Romanians who immigrated around the globe in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

We talked about adjustment and assimilation, learning the language, becoming an American citizen and losing my Romanian citizenship, how it was so much harder for an older person to learn a new language and how little my mom learned in 37 years. Cousin Ionel learned Russian in school and found it much easier to learn and speak than the English language, even with the Cyrillic alphabet. Russian is very phonetic, it is pronounced the same way it is written, no wild variations as in the English language, he added.

We reminisced about fishing and swimming in the crystal clear river in his village, a river now so shallow that it looks more like a creek. The landscape was more verdant as more trees grew around it, seeded by the blowing wind. A nicely paved rural road now runs nearby, no more gravel roads, picking up dust every time the bus drove through.

Now every home has a nice car, food on the table, no lines, and a well-stocked country store, owned by his brother. The store stocks fresh meat and vegetables, frozen food, fresh bread, wine, sugar, cooking oil, flour, and anything a cook might need. There is even a gas pump on the side of the road. No gas station around it, just the pump. Bringing free markets to Romania changed the pastoral and isolated life for so many.

We talked about growing up. Cousin Ionel had three brothers and one sister. At meal time there was never enough to eat, it was a free-for-all. My aunt placed a large bowl of food in the middle of the table and the meal began after a very brief mandatory prayer, no portion sizes, whoever ate the fastest, got more to eat first. Poor Gigi, the runt of the family, was always left behind and hungrier than the rest. Even so, there was still not enough to nourish five growing children, we were still hungry and thin when we finished a meal, he said. I used to watch them eat so fast, wondering why my aunt did not give them each equal portions. As an only child, I only had to share food with my mom and dad. We were always hungry ourselves but I did not have to fight siblings at mealtime.

I looked at our table laden with food which we did not prepare but we could afford to pay someone else to prepare for us. Ionel and I never saw restaurant food when we were children and young adults. If it did not come from mom’s or grandma’s kitchen, we went hungry. Later in life, as we gained freedom of movement and our financial fortunes improved, we were able to taste our first restaurant meals and foods we’ve never known existed. Ionel is so cosmopolitan when compared to most people that he will eat any food put in front of him. He traveled around the globe through various jobs and sampled many cuisines and so did I.

It was sad to see him go, to say good-bye, almost as surreal as getting on a plane and finding yourself on the other side of the globe in mere hours. We were together for brief and happy moments, found our common roots, reminisced, but then we were lost again in the fog of time. A few photographs were the only proof that we celebrated today the memories from another life, far away from our humble beginnings.