Sunday, December 30, 2012

Do Not Underestimate the Value of Culture as a Power of Change

Hope and Change, Hope and Change, Hope and Change… Millions of Americans were chanting totally mesmerized. Change at the speed of light is here and accelerating. Hope is fading away. How did we get here so fast? It did not happen overnight. We just failed to pay attention.

We underestimated the value of culture as a power of change, irreversible change. We were too busy building nations and democracy in countries living by seventh century rules written in one book to notice that our culture was being changed from within and without, partly by theocratic and totalitarian cultures, partly by globalists, and their human tools and institutions, and partly by illegally-domiciled cultures.

You cannot change “hearts and minds” in a culture that values death more than life; you cannot absorb a banana republic culture with “family values” of God and the pursuit of happiness in which happiness is not self-generated but expected from a benevolent government.

Changing “hearts and minds” of nations requires time and arduous indoctrination. It is a process similar to underground water burrowing through stone, shaping magnificent rocks, tunnels, caves, stalactites and stalagmites.

“Cultura animi” as Cicero described it in “Tusculan Disputations” is the cultivation of the soul and mind. (“Animus” is Latin for soul or mind.) The American soul and mind have been cultivated in the direction of socialism for a long time. We are noticing the change now because it has finally come to fruition after more than a century of constant scholastic, moral, social, and political programming.

Culture encompasses the material culture of a nation and the non-material culture such as language, customs, traditions, and its unique identity. A culture exhibits a group-specific acquired behavior which can be changed over time with the right tools. A culture is multifaceted; it includes knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by humans as members of society.

W. C. McGrew defined culture as a six-step process:

  1. A new pattern of behavior is invented, or an existing one is modified.
  2. The innovator transmits this pattern to another person.
  3. The form of the pattern is consistent.
  4. The one who acquires the pattern retains the ability to perform it long after having acquired it.
  5. The pattern spreads across a population: families, clans, troops, or bands.
  6. The pattern endures across generations.
Language, a very important element of culture, is the direct expression of a people’s national character. Johann Gottfried Herder said, "Denn jedes Volk ist Volk; es hat seine National Bildung wie seine Sprache" (Because every people is a People, it has its own national culture expressed through its language). We do not have our own official language – the government and necessity have forced the use of two languages.

Immigrants, who have entered other cultures through time, have formed their own sub-cultures within the primary culture:

-         Core culture (Leitkultur or “lead culture” as the Germans termed it) - minorities had an identity of their own, but they supported the core concepts of the culture on which society was based

-         Melting pot – immigrant cultures mixed willingly without state intervention; such was the case of the United States until liberals intervened and changed it into “tossed salad bowl”

-         Monoculturalism – was adopted initially by some European states as a government policy to assimilate immigrants; it was deemed racist and nationalistic by ruling elites

-         Multiculturalism – immigrants preserved their cultures while interacting “peacefully” within one nation; France, Germany, and U.K. admitted recently that multiculturalism failed miserably in their countries; other European nations are struggling to survive as they are losing their identity, culture, and their countries to the “peaceful” immigrants

United Kingdom’s sociologists developed cultural studies influenced by Marxism. These studies, models, and lessons were incorporated and adopted by universities around the world and preached in thousands of classes every year. The core message was the same – socialism and Marxism are the wave of the future if society is to attain utopia and happiness. The entrepreneurial work ethic of capitalism was disdained and maligned.

We are in a globally-accelerated culture change period driven by these educational models, international trade, the socialist mass media, and the population explosion. Many inside and outside forces encourage and promote change through thinly veiled environmentalist and globalist propaganda indoctrination, economic, and political measures. Other forces resist change coming from cultural ideas and practices favoring socialism and Marxism, but they are outnumbered. New technologies and social conflicts also produce change by promoting new and peculiar cultural models that alter social dynamics in the utopian vein.
The feminist movement deeply affected gender relations and economic structures in the American culture, often in negative ways. Environmental conditions and groups caused cultural change through global warming brainwashing. War and competition over resources such as oil greatly impacted social dynamics and culture.

Cultural ideas were transmitted through diffusion (fast food across the globe, innovations, direct borrowing) and acculturation (acquiring traits). Individual like me who learned the language, history, customs, and traditions became assimilated into the new culture. Likewise, over many generations of students, trained College of Education teachers indoctrinated their pupils into the socialist mindset without much interference from the clueless parents who were often themselves products of the public school cultural modification curricula.

People who were born, raised, and grew old under oppressive communism, did not culturally understand any other way of living. They felt alienated when capitalism replaced communism. They did not know how to make a living, how to survive on their own and provide for themselves, they were still waiting for the communist regime to hand them their meager rations – it was not much, but it did not require having to think, having to provide for themselves a daily subsistence, or having to work. These elders wanted communist enslavement back because it was a certainty they recognized.

People who fled communism were not shocked that the Russians celebrated by the thousands Stalin’s birthday recently, in worship to his dubious and murderous achievements, having starved and killed 20 million innocents during his reign of terror in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). We know that a dependent and hopeless culture breeds helplessness.

The French are so unwilling to give up their culture of “welfareship” as Sylvain Charat calls it, that they have fallen hard into the “poverty trap.” France is going to allow doctors to “accelerate the coming of death” of French patients in the socialized medical care system, in order to fund their cradle to grave lavish welfare. What caused such a harsh change in the values of their culture?

Why are Americans allowing the dreaded 15-member “death panel” of Obamacare instead of trimming the government’s lavish spending and offering healthcare insurance to the uninsured in some other form? If some Americans want universal healthcare and gun control, why don’t they move to Cuba?

Why would a culture run household budgets in such a way that citizens are willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of their children in the future and the grandparents through euthanasia driven by medical care rationing in order that the parents live better in the present?

It should come as no surprise that the majority of Americans prefer a lazy lifestyle, dependent on government welfare for their every need as the only viable solution to daily living; they want a secular society devoid of faith, a society that does not think twice about killing the unborn as a form of contraception but builds crossing bridges for turtles, a society that does not seek justice for the murder of innocents but demonstrates to release infamous terrorists and criminals.

Americans who no longer share the values of the culture that was established long time ago, adhere to the culture of socialism/Marxism. The low-information Americans, who chanted for the promised hope and change, aspire for a culture of government dependency and entitlements in perpetuity.

Entrepreneurship is slowly replaced in the American psyche by “assistance-ship” through a barrage of constant cultural indoctrination by the academia, the media, and the government.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

U.S. and the World by 2030

“Its soul, its climate, its equality, liberty, laws, people, and manners. My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!"

                                   - Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Monroe, June 17, 1785

What will the world look like and what kind of country will America be in the next 15-20 years at the rate of the fast-paced involuntary and hopeless change that is aimed at pushing us “forward” to disaster?

The “unprecedented change” will drive “60 percent of the world’s population to mega-cities by 2030, and competition for food, water, and energy resources could increase the possibilities of violent conflict.” (Frederick Kempe, President and CEO, Atlantic Council)

“The United States must urgently address its domestic economic and political dysfunctions.” The Atlantic Council, a think tank, wrote a 57-page report, “Envisioning 2030: U.S. Leadership in a Post-Western World,” to “help prepare the Obama Administration and its global partners for unprecedented change.” (

The report predicts a future of “vast economic and political volatility, environmental catastrophe, and conflicting, inward-looking nationalisms that would be unlike any period that the United States has seen before.”  “President Obama will be setting the tone and direction for U.S. policy in a post-Western world.” (Atlantic Council, Executive Summary, p. 5)

As the powers that be are actively and speedily working to affect this outcome, the global order champions “predict” that wealth will shift from west to east. Learning Mandarin may be a good idea - China is recognized in the report as “the most crucial single factor that will shape the international system in 2030.” (Atlantic Council, Executive Summary, p. 7)

Is a post-western world a world without the United States as the economic superpower, benefactor, and military protector of the globe’s ungrateful nations? The 20th century economic guru of the liberal elites, John Maynard Keynes, said in 1937, “…the idea of the future being different from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behavior that we, most of us, offer a great resistance to acting on it in practice.”

The National Intelligence Council discusses in its December 2012 166-page paper, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” the mega trends, game-changers, Black Swans, and potential worlds in the next 15-20 years. (

Food, water, and energy sources will become problematic due to growing populations in emerging markets and policies adopted at home that favor expensive green energy, wind, solar, and biofuels, preventing exploration of existing cheaper domestic resources of fossil fueled energy. As one commodity becomes an issue, it will affect the supply and demand of the others. Water needs will grow by a predicted 40 percent.

Energy supply may be obtained from fracking. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking), developed in the 1940s, could extract oil and gas from shales at much lower cost. However, the environmentalists' objections over the contamination of water, earth quake generation, and methane emissions, have slowed down the use of hydraulic fracturing, particularly in Europe. China, with the largest shale reserves, does not have enough equipment and water to extract gas through fracking.

The EPA will set back any logical resolution to addressing human needs as it will interfere with its myriad of regulations via the Clean Air Act in the misguided effort to protect some tiny fish to the detriment of humans.

NIC modeling predicts that prices for agricultural commodities will rise, impacting poorer countries the worst as they depend on corn which is also used for biofuel. Crop disease, drought, and bad weather events could compound the problem. (p. 34)

Genetically modified crops could be the way to provide sufficient and affordable food and fuel by using transgenic technologies and precision agriculture via drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant crops, micro-irrigation, and hydroponic greenhouses. Pricing water for farmers in order to discourage waste could be implemented. Currently, farmers pay one-tenth of the price that households and industry pay for water. (NIC, p. 97)

Poverty will be reduced as the result of the U.N.’s efforts to re-distribute wealth across the globe to third world nations, carbon-taxing and punishing developed nations for their success. In U.N.’s view, the wealth created by the west was achieved at the expense of the rest of the world. These retrograde totalitarian regimes bear no responsibility for their endemic corruption and constant religious and tribal wars.

There will be a diffusion of power without hegemony, dominated by control of regional coalitions. China, India, Brazil will be major players. China will become the largest economy. Europe, Japan, Russia, U.S. will continue to decline. Countries like Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Turkey will remain “second-order players.”

Aging countries like Japan and Western Europe, who are committing demographic suicide by having less and less babies, below the replacement value of 2.1, will experience economic decline and loss of national identity. Russia will suffer population decline. An important factor will be the statistics of Russian men who die at relatively younger age because of alcohol abuse, tobacco, and related accidents.

There are 80 countries currently with a median age of 25 or less. Eighty percent of all ethnic and armed conflicts come from countries with youthful populations.  By 2030, there will be 50 countries left with youthful populations. Fertility rates in these areas range from 4-6 children per family. Clusters of projected youthful states are:

-          Equatorial belt of the Sub-Saharan Africa

-          Middle East

-          Americas: Bolivia, Guatemala, Haiti

-          Pacific Rim: East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands

-          Pakistan, Afghanistan, southeast Turkey (Kurds)

-          Israel (Orthodox Jews)  (NIC report, p. 23)

Rapid changes and a shift in power could overwhelm governments.  A “governance gap” may evolve that could be replaced by regional governance of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), a rich individual, or a group of powerful elites.

Natural disasters such as staple crop catastrophes, tsunamis, hurricanes, erosion and depletion of soils, and solar geomagnetic storms might cause governments to collapse. (NIC report on Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, p. 52)

NIC’s models show an augmentation of the global middle class, health care advances, new technologies, new communication, and poverty reduction.  NIC analysis predicts the most rapid growth of the middle class to occur in Asia - India and China. (NIC report, p. 9)

Pathogens crossing from animals to humans can and have caused political and economic turmoil.
Respiratory pathogens can travel very fast across the globe. Prion disease caused Creutzfeldt-Jakob in humans; a bat corona virus caused SARS in 2002. Black Death killed one third of the European population; measles and smallpox killed 90 percent of the native populations in the Americas; the 1918 flu pandemic killed 50 million worldwide. HIV/AIDS jumped to humans almost fifty years before it was recognized. TB, gonorrhea, Staphylococcus Aureus (staph) could re-emerge with a vengeance. Genetic engineering could release new pathogens in addition to those occurring naturally. (NIC, p. 14)

Nationalism is likely to intensify in regions such as East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East based on territorial disputes, religious beliefs, tribal vendettas, and theocratic ideologies. Although planners expected urbanization to promote secularization, the opposite occurred in many settings; it encouraged religious identity, particularly among Muslims.

NIC’s modeling sees Russia as fighting the battle of “integrating its rapidly growing ethnic Muslim population in the face of a shrinking ethnic Russian population.” The changing ethnic mix is already a source of growing social tensions. (p. 83)

The flow of human capital from the poorest countries, to middle-income, and to rich countries will cause social disruptions, unrest, and problems for urban governments. Increased urban population from internal migration and external immigration will cause food and water shortages. (p. 31)

Patterns of trade reveal the following major economic clusters: Europe (EU), Asia, North America (NAFTA), and Latin America.

Two-thirds of European trade takes place within the EU; NAFTA encompasses 40 percent of U.S. trade. East Asian intra-regional trade is 53 percent. Latin America intra-regional trade is 35 percent (excluding Mexico). Latin America is pursuing EU-type regional governance, the Union of Latin American Nations (UNISUR). (Atlantic Council report, p. 26)

National Intelligence Council’s (NIC) modeling for 2030 includes four potential worlds:

-          “Stalled Engines” (globalization stalls and interstate conflict grows)

-          Fusion” (China and U.S. cooperate; it does not look promising so far)

-          “Ginni-out-of-the-bottle” (U.S. is no longer the world’s policeman and pocketbook, inequalities explode, no more international welfare, some countries prosper, some countries fail)

-          “Nonstate World” (NGOs, multinational businesses, academic institutions, wealthy individuals, megacities such as those envisioned by U.N. Agenda 21 become the leaders; “increasing global public opinion consensus among elites form hybrid coalitions” – a page right out of the U.N. Agenda 21 goals)

The 2030 global modeling points to potential Black Swans such as Euro/EU collapse due to “unruly Greek exit causing eight times more collateral damage than the Lehmann Brothers,” nuclear war, WMD, cyber-attacks to the power grid and the Internet, solar geomagnetic storms, a democratic or collapsed China, a reformed Iran (wishful thinking), and global anarchy, if U.S. power collapses or retreats and no other power is willing, capable, or able financially to provide international order.







Saturday, December 22, 2012

Exit Tax

A former student who was passed over for an engineering position was lamenting the fact that corporations and politicians complain about the United States not having enough qualified science majors for hire in order to justify bringing into the U.S. lower paid engineers from emerging economies.

It is hard enough having a worthless liberal college degree with no chance of employment. It is much harder to understand how an engineer cannot find a job in this “growing and rosy” economy.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released the data showing that the third quarter GDP rose to 3.1 percent. That is fantastic news say the MSM pundits. We are rolling in recovery. Never mind that much of the increase came from government spending for national defense, restocking of business inventories, consumer spending in the form of durable goods such as cars and car parts, and the higher costs of health care and of mundane commodities such as food and gasoline. For proper disclosure, I must say that food and gasoline are no longer counted in the Consumer Price Index, a.k.a. inflation. We would not want these commodities that hardly anybody consumes to mess up the rosy economic talking points.

Aside from the fact that it is President Bush’s fault, what is a college graduate to do who cannot find a job or an unemployed engineer? Should they move back in with mom and dad, should they go on welfare, or should they live from savings or a trust fund? Living from special savings, a trust fund, selling stock, a house, a car, a motorcycle, or cashing out mutual funds sounds more independent, however, there are capital gains taxes that must be paid and these are going to go up significantly after January 1, 2013.

Many companies are paying next year’s dividends to their shareholders now in order to avoid a huge tax bill increase. Costco is paying out a special dividend of $7 per share to stockholders, for a total of $3 billion. “To pay for the dividend, Costco is going to sell $3.5 billion in debt and it will buy back some shares as well.” Taxes on corporate dividends are expected to go up from the current 15 percent to as much as 39.6 percent. Costco (warehouse store), Carnival (cruise ships), Brown-Forman (liquor) are borrowing money to pay these dividends called dividend recaps. (

Americans could migrate to other states without state tax or to other countries without confiscatory federal taxes. Gérard Depardieu did just that – he gave up his French passport and moved to Belgium. It was not that Gérard Depardieu, a beloved French actor who delighted people around the world with his fabulous acting and directing, is not patriotic; au contraire mon frere, he said, he had paid 85 percent of his income in taxes last year. He was just tired of being ripped off by France’s greedy socialist government who wanted to confiscate even more. After all, what is “fairer” or more “socially just” (to quote progressives) than to take from the “undeserving rich” who worked hard to create their wealth and income, and to give to the poor who are entitled to everything free for life, no effort necessary?

Americans could migrate and give up their citizenship or green card held for at least 8 years or more, but then, they have to pay the piper - exit taxes.

The Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008 (The HEART Act) applies to U.S. citizens who expatriate and long-term U.S. permanent residents who give up their green cards. The exit tax is levied on “unrealized gains on all assets in the U.S. and worldwide, including grantor trusts, as well as any future gifts or bequests to U.S. citizens and residents.” (

Eduardo Saverin of Facebook had already paid capital gains taxes before he decided to move his fortune out of the United States. The co-founder of Facebook is said to have saved $67 million in taxes by moving out. Unhappy with the outcome, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) proposed a bill to tax expatriates 30 percent unless they show that renouncing U.S. citizenship was not based on tax avoidance. The proposed bill, the “Expatriation Prevention by Abolishing Tax-Related Incentives for Offshore Tenancy (Ex-Patriot) would bar re-entry into the U.S. (

The expatriation tax appeared first in U.S. tax law as the Foreign Investors Tax Act of 1966 (FITA). “FITA introduced Sections 877, 2107, and 2501 to the Internal Revenue Code.” According to Stephen M. Moskowitz, Esq. and Anthony V. Diosdi, Esq., the computation is quite complex and includes income such as gains from the sale or exchange of stock and property, or debt obligations issued by a U.S. person or company. (

I came across a form of exit tax when I left my country. In order to receive a visa for permanent non-citizen residence in the U.S., I had to pay a tax for all the government benefits I had received in my first twenty years of life, schooling, medical care, subsidized concrete block housing, pot-holed road use, constant police surveillance, and other “services” I was not even aware existed or received. I was worried since I had no penny to my name and I knew I would not be able to leave without paying. The final figure was provided to me after months of deliberation and computation by the communist party apparatchiks – my freedom was worth exactly $160 U.S. dollars. I owned a Japanese boom box, it was the rage back then, which I sold quickly for $160, and paid my “exit tax.” This cleared my name - I did not owe anything to the government of Romania, for the communist care and education I had received. I was finally free.

The far reaching arm of the IRS may not be so cheap if American citizens run afoul of the proposed 30 percent exit tax. No matter how you exit the U.S., dead or alive, you are going to be taxed to the max. So, it is true, the only certainties in life are death and taxes.






Friday, December 21, 2012

The Salvation Army's Red Bucket

I love being a mom – it is my life’s biggest accomplishment. As it gets closer to Christmas, I miss the excitement, the togetherness, the giving, the bright eyes, and the sheer happiness my giggly girls exuded in expectation of Santa Claus. But I also miss the Christmas Angels, sharing with others the blessings from God.

Every year my daughters and I picked angel cards off the Salvation Army Christmas tree and went shopping for three mystery children who wrote to Santa Claus. It was fun hunting the wish-list items, wrapping them, dropping them off, and imagining the joy when the children opened their packages from the North Pole.

Today, on my way to the grocery store, I heard the bell and the Salvation Army bell ringer before he came into view. His presence on this balmy and sunny December morning reminded me of the day, long time ago, when April and I were the volunteer bell ringers at our local superstore. It was the coldest Saturday in a long, long time, 30 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact. It was so frigid that stores ran out of gloves. That never happened in the clement South even in December. We were bundled to the eyeballs, jumping in place to keep warm. Once in a while the store manager brought us hot tea. We were so delighted when the bucket was full – we could go home and warm up, happy that we had reached our goal, helping someone else less fortunate than we were.

Americans have always been very generous with their time, money, expertise, and help. My southern neighbors were exceptionally giving, rising to any occasion. Even those who considered themselves poor donated a dollar bill or a five because they knew that the Salvation Army distributed most of the money to the cause of helping, feeding, and housing Americans who were in need. There were no millionaire executives with the Salvation Army Church and no jet-setters among their ranks.

A former student, a double-amputee veteran, who lived in pain most of the time, struggling to walk, drive, and live his life on crutches, always volunteered in the Salvation Army kitchen – he  helped cook and serve hundreds of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. His altruism and stoic demeanor were inspirational to me. I knew how much pain he endured after many botched operations, yet he never complained. We helped him sometimes – I wanted my children to be ground in humility and sharing.

I looked the bell ringer in the eye as I squeezed my donation through the slot into the red bucket – it was almost full. I saw kindness and sadness in the momentary glimpse into his soul. I don’t know if he had a hard and painful life filled with obstacles. His toothless smile lit up his creased face when he wished me a Merry Christmas. A sudden sadness overcame me, I choked up, and my eyes filled with tears – I felt humbled; my Mom’s oft-repeated words echoed in my mind as I walked away into the store, “God keeps the world for the poor and the downtrodden.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Blue Jeans

When my future fiancé asked me what I wanted for my 18th birthday, I did not hesitate - a pair of American made blue jeans.

I was watching John Wayne westerns to improve my English skills and the cowboys, at least the celluloid ones from Hollywood, sported well-worn and seemingly indestructible Levis covered with chaps.

Blue jeans had become a status symbol of sorts in the poor Iron Curtain countries. It was not for the same reason Americans loved clothing fads – to prove that they were rich, trendy, and fashionable. We liked jeans because they represented freedom, exploration, and the ability to cross unchartered borders and territories. Jeans epitomized a physical freedom that we longed to have but were only allowed in spirit because, to our communist rulers, everything western was decadent and dangerously capitalist. Profit and capitalism were dirty words.

To make durable capitalist jeans inaccessible to the masses, no importation was endorsed. Black market dealers made huge profits by selling cheap knock-off denim pants smuggled into the country from Turkey and sold for $150 a pair back in 1977! Most people earned $70-80 a month, including specialized doctors. Stories were told of foreign visitors, approached by locals in the street, wanting to purchase the jeans they were wearing.

I was so excited that I would finally own a pair of denim pants, but not just any pair, blue jeans made in America, indigo blue denim with rivets, snaps, a metal zipper, and the famous Levi leather patch.

My birthday present arrived two weeks late. As usual under communism, the package was received at the post office downtown and the security police inspected its contents before I was allowed to pick it up. It took an hour to walk downtown but I did not mind this time. They opened the box and, to my surprise, it contained a vest and a matching skirt made of blue dyed soft material with a denim-like pattern. My elation deflated like a huge balloon.

My fiancé’s mother, Thelma Jean, a very caring and proper southern lady, thought blue jeans to be an inelegant 18th birthday gift for a young lady and took it upon herself to find material, a suitable pattern at Hancock Fabrics, and an enterprising seamstress willing to sew, subject-unseen, the matching vest and skirt in record time for $10. I knew the price because “rotten capitalists” had to declare the value of any gift package sent to communist citizens. The commies then assessed 40 percent custom duties. After a thorough examination of the contents to make sure that there were no subversive materials hidden, I took possession of my package and paid the equivalent $4, exchanged times 12 into the pegged Romanian currency, the worthless “leu.”

There is a very good reason why I cringe every time the TSA goons rifle through my belongings at the airport and frisk me. We were subjected to many unwanted bodily and purse checks during my almost twenty years of life under communism, including upon exiting department stores. It was always assumed that we were criminals engaged in stealing from the oppressing government that was actually robbing the country blind.

Always grateful for my gift, I took pictures with the unusual outfit on, sent it to my future mother-in-law and wore it a few times before it faded. My heart was still longing for a real pair of jeans.

On my 21st birthday, very pregnant with my first daughter, I went shopping with my friend June D. She was buying clothes in an old fashioned mom and pop store in our small southern town. I had told her the story of my 18th birthday blue jeans that remained just a dream. It must have struck a chord with her. When we finished, she dropped me off to my home and handed me a beautifully wrapped box. Inside was a brand new pair of indigo blue Wrangler jeans. I was very pregnant and unable to wear them yet but I was jumping with joy, on the inside. The price tag was mistakenly left inside: $20.

Every year since that time, I never forget to pay it forward. I have given away my expertise, translation services, food, toys, books, shoes, and clothes, especially blue jeans, to other legal immigrants like me. In my mind, jeans were the quintessential expression of the American pioneer spirit and of boundless personal freedom.


Friday, December 14, 2012

My Christmas Tree

As long as I can remember, my Dad came home every December with a scraggly blue spruce, fragrant with the scent of winter, tiny icicles hanging from the branches. The frozen miniature crystal daggers would melt quickly on Mom’s well-scrubbed parquet floor. I never knew nor asked where he had found it, or how he could afford it. His modest salary of $70 a month barely covered the rent, utilities, and food. Mom had to work as well to afford our clothes. Prices were subsidized by the government and salaries were very low for everybody regardless of education and skill. We had to make do with very little.

No matter how bare the branches of my Christmas tree were, it was magical to me. Two metal bars forged by hand helped Dad nail the tree to the floor at the foot of the couch where I slept in the living room that doubled as my bedroom. Our tiny apartment only had one bedroom where my parents slept.

Decorating it was a fun job every year since I made new decorations from colorful crepe paper. We had to be creative; we could not afford glass ornaments. We made paper cones covered with craftily rolled crepe paper and filled with candy. I hung small apples with red string, tiny pretzels, home-made butter cookies, candied fruit, raisins, and an occasional orange wrapped in tissue paper with strange lettering, coming all the way from Israel. Each year we bought 12 small red and green candles which we attached to the tree with small metal clips. We were careful to clamp them at the tip of the branch to keep the tree from catching fire when the candles were lit. The tree would live for two weeks before the prickly needles fell all over the living room floor.

One year I spent Christmas with uncle Ion and his wife. A gifted mechanical engineer, Ion could fix and build anything. He promised that he would fashion lights for his Christmas tree. He worked painstakingly for weeks, soldering tiny copper wires into bundles that stretched along the branches of the tree like a magical cascade to which he soldered at least 200 tiny bulbs sold as bike lights. It was a labor of love! When the wires were finally attached to a relay, the bulbs lit up like a waterfall. Nobody had such a fantastically blazing tree in the whole country. I was amazed at his dedication and craftiness and never forgot his fairytale Christmas fir.

We did not have a tree skirt but we used one of Mom’s hand-stitched table cloths. The whole apartment smelled like the fragrant mountains and, for a couple of weeks we forgot the misery that surrounded us. We lit up the 12 candles on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day.

Every night for two weeks, I would admire my enchanted tree until I fell asleep, wondering what special treat I would find under my pillow on Christmas morning. It was never much, but it was such a cherished joy!

Saint Nicholas Day was celebrated on December 6th. We really didn’t know much about the real St. Nicholas, Santa Claus’s namesake. St. Nicholas was a popular saint in the Orthodox Church and presumed the bishop of Myra in Turkey in the 300s. There were many legends of St. Nicholas - the more famous story that he was the son of a wealthy family in Patara, Lycia. When his parents died, he gave away his fortune. One such random act of kindness involved throwing three bags of gold through the windows of three girls who were going to be forced into prostitution.

On Saint Nicholas Day, I would put my boots outside the door, hoping that they would be filled with candy in the morning and not coals. Grandpa had a wicked sense of humor – he would sometimes fill one boot with sticks and another with candy and a chocolate bar.

Grandpa never bought a blue spruce - we cut a fir tree from the woods. We were careful not to cut down a tree that had bird nests in it. We decorated it with garland made from shiny and multi-colored construction paper. We cut strips, glued them in an interlocking pattern and voila, we had our garland. For ornaments we used walnuts and shriveled apples from his cellar, tied with Grandma’s red knitting wool.

The warm adobe style fireplace built from mud bricks mixed with straw cast a dancing glow on the tree decked with  tokens of food, something our heathen Roman ancestors did during the celebration of Saturnalia. On December 17, the polytheistic Romans celebrated Saturnus, the god of seed and sowing, for an entire week. As Christians, we celebrated the birth of Christ and the religious traditions in our Orthodox faith, in spite of the communist regime forcing the transformation of Christmas into a secular holiday.

On Christmas Eve, after we ate Mom’s traditional Christmas supper, roasted pork, baked chicken, sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls with ground meat and rice), and mamaliga (corn mush with butter cooked in a cast iron pot), we went to the midnight service at the Orthodox Church not far from our house. Sometimes it was a sloshy trek and other times it was icy and slippery. If we got lucky, a heavy snow would turn our walk into a winter wonderland with dancing snowflakes shining in the weak street lights. We had to bundle up well – the church was not heated and we circled it three times during the procession with burning candles in our hands. I always wore my flannel pajamas under many layers of warm clothes. To this day, pajamas are my favorite garment – cozy and comfortable, keeping my body warm.

I decorate my Douglas fir with beautiful lights and shiny ornaments now. My heart fills with loving memories of Christmases past and of family members lost who made our Christian traditions so special.

Butler on Business Radio Segment WAFS 1190

Lighthearted radio chat (8 minutes) with Alan Butler on WAFS 1190 Atlanta on 12-12-12. I come on at the 33 minute mark. Topic: personal stuff and a few minutes about my articles this week.

Radio Chat with Silvio Canto of Dallas on our economy and Obamacare, 12-14-12

My blogtalk radio chat with Silvio Canto on our economy, this day in history, and Obamacare, December 14, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Sliver of Soap

I took the thin layer of leftover soap and tried to stick it to a new bar I had unwrapped. I never stopped to think why I’ve always done this. I don’t throw away a bottle of liquid soap or a dispenser of lotion either – I cut it open and use up the last ounce.

I am not a miser or Scrooge on purpose - I think it goes back to the years of living under the communist regime when we were deprived of all basic necessities, things that Americans always expect to be plentiful and available. I never forgot the powerful lesson of need and deprivation.

The domestically produced “Cheia” soap was made of animal fat with a particularly unpleasant odor. We used it to bathe, to do laundry by hand, and to wash our hair. Few could afford the nicely fragranced “Lux” soap bar available on the black market or in foreign currency stores set up for visitors.

In a country where the medical system was socialized and “free,” in order to do their job right and supplement their meager salaries, doctors accepted bribes in soap, shampoo, deodorant, cosmetics, perfume, and other expensive and hard to find items.

Hotel maids brought home leftover soap, shampoo, or deodorant bottles that foreign guests discarded from toiletry bags when checking out.

The garments washed in “Cheia” soap and air-dried on clothes lines smelled like wet dogs. If that was not bad enough, by the time they dried, they turned grey from dust and other pollutants. In winter time clothes were stiff on the line.

Lacking bleach, we used to boil white garments on the stove in a huge cooking pot with melted soap in it, stirring occasionally with a stick to prevent clothes from burning. When garments faded, mom added a blue powder to the washing pot to revive dark colors.

We saw the communist apparatchiks take their laundry to the cleaners. We envied the luxury and secretly wished we could do it too.

We scrubbed dishes with a harsh white powder. We boiled water on the stove to launder bedding items. Sheets were scrubbed by hand in the tub until my young hands were raw – no latex gloves.

The iron was literally a piece of cast iron heated repeatedly on the stove - Grandma’s version had hot coals inside. I had to be extra careful not to burn the sheets or Dad’s shirts – they were too expensive to replace.

Because shampoo was very pricey and hard to find (it came packaged in small plastic squares for individual use), we washed our hair with “Cheia” in the sink. It was difficult to rinse the soap out completely; traces of whitish powder remained in the hair shaft and on the comb. We did not know hair dryers existed until we watched “Dallas” on TV. In winter time I bent over the gas stove, drying hair over the open flame – I am still amazed that my mane did not catch on fire – I did singe the ends sometimes and my eyebrows.

Americans can find such a wide and cheap variety of products; unappreciative of the abundance, always wanting more, they are unhappy and gripe about how poor they are. We would have loved to find just one brand of fragrant bath soap, shampoo, and toothpaste. What a luxury that would have been!

We did not fathom the existence of a washing machine much less of a dryer or of a dishwasher. Women today still hang laundry outside, nobody owns a drier. If they did, they could not afford the electricity, the rates are sky-high, and the power is insufficient to run appliances simultaneously. Many people own a front-loading washing machine but the clothes come out extremely wrinkled and have to be ironed. The fabric is rough to the touch, not soft. A fragranced liquid detergent replaced the unpleasant communist era “Cheia” soap.

Deodorant was also scarce and quite expensive. There was a very good reason why people smelled – hygiene and grooming were costly and a luxury. Many did not have running water in their homes or a bathtub; Turkish baths were available in bigger towns. Cosmetics and grooming products were astronomically priced for the proletariat - we were all equally poor and smelly.

Shaving was a luxury and few women owned razors – au naturel was the norm and nobody complained. Men looked disheveled because it was painful to shave with dull razor blades every day.

The ultimate in luxury and financial well-being was to afford a kinky perm in a beauty shop. Hair was burned in tight curls for months before it grew back healthy again. Women’s heads looked like sheep.

We are so spoiled in this country; people spend astronomical amounts for hair products, soap, cosmetics, deodorant, hair driers, laundry products, and machines that make life so much easier. Laundry services are affordable enough that many Americans can take their clothes to be professionally dry cleaned. The deprived society I grew up in would have been surprised at how little appreciation Americans have for their plenty.

I finally understood what my Grandmother meant when she used to tell us, every time we turned our noses to food or something she offered, “Are you tired of Good?”



Sunday, December 9, 2012

Silvio Canto Jr. Blogtalk Radio, December 7, 2012

My one hour chat with Silvio Canto Jr. of Dallas on U.S. economy and Obamacare.

"Addressing Our Debt Is a National Security Imperative"

I have written several articles on the national debt as the biggest threat to our national security. I have given numerous lectures on the subject and every time, during the Q and A time, professionals astonished me with their naiveté. Liberals always post unkind and downright insulting commentaries to my articles, accusing me of being a “tool” of the one-percenters and a paid advocate of the rich. Nothing could be further from the truth.

You do not have to understand all the intricacies of economics, the machinations, and the manipulation of statistics, the market speculation and derivatives to realize that, if you were to run your own household on a constant deficit that is quadrupling in four years, you are in terrible trouble and are going bankrupt.

Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is approximately $15.5 trillion but we spend $6.4 trillion at the federal, state, and local levels, making our gross debt to GDP ratio almost 106 percent. We are not Greece, Spain, or Portugal but we are on our way.  I use the word “approximately” because these figures change constantly. (

I realize that, unlike Greece, Spain, Italy, or Portugal, we can print or create our own currency out of thin air since we are still in control of our monetary policy via the Federal Reserve System while the Mediterranean countries must depend on the monetary policy of the EU, coming from Brussels.

The U.S. total debt is almost $58 trillion, personal debt is $16 trillion, mortgage debt is $13 trillion, student loans $932 billion and credit card debt $846 billion. The U.S. debt on interest alone is $4 trillion.

I realize that the student loans have been nationalized and President Obama has plans in place to forgive this debt in exchange for service in poor areas, after 5 years of minimum payment, or by an executive order. However, the overall taxpayers would be responsible to pay any forgiven student debt. How would the students and their parents feel when they paid off college debt without any help from Uncle Sam? Where is, as the liberals like to say, the “social justice?”

There is a level of debt that has been relatively constant and is a hot potato for politicians who want to be re-elected – unfunded liabilities. An unfunded liability is an expenditure that will occur in the future for which there are currently no reserves set aside or in a lock box – the money must be spent as it comes in as revenue. Revenue of course, cycles with taxation levels, booms and recessions in the economy, and the level of spending that the federal government is engaging in. The Social Security liability is almost $16 trillion, the prescription drug liability is $21 trillion and the Medicare liability is $ 84 trillion – a total of $121 trillion U.S. unfunded liabilities.

A very important question should be asked by any thinking American, can we afford the huge, not yet fully known cost of the unfortunately named the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) on top of these unfunded liabilities? Is the free market not the best alternative if we make needed changes to private plans such as portability across state lines, elimination of certain pre-existing conditions, and tort reform? Do we have the money to grow the federal government’s already out of control spending and to satisfy the ever increasing demand for entitlements from the winning electorate?

The Federal Reserve monetary base is approximately $2.7 trillion. The M2 money supply is $10.4 trillion (cash, savings, and small time deposits such as CDs). The Treasury securities (T-bonds, T-bills, and T-notes) add up to $1.2 trillion. The most bothersome part of the Federal Reserve Monetary Base is the currency and credit derivatives at a whopping $632 trillion. The most common types of derivatives are: forwards, futures, options, and swaps in underlying assets such as commodities, stocks, bonds, interest rates, and currencies. Since it is highly speculative, it is highly volatile as well, as witnessed by the housing crash based on investment in bundled mortgages of good and insolvent mortgages.

Uninformed liberals viciously attack and slander the credibility of people like me who report that our national debt is the number one threat to our national security.  Would they attack the one page ad (page A13) and its signatories as it appeared in the Washington Post on December 5, 2012, “Addressing Our Debt is a National Security Imperative.”

The message from the newly formed Coalition for Fiscal and National Security (, sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, asks that the fiscal cliff resolution by the end of the year should contain:

-         Stabilization of the debt as a share of the economy on a “downward path for the longer term” because our global leadership is threatened if we accrue national debt faster than we grow our economy

-         Substantial deficit reduction over the next ten years with “parameters for longer-term fiscal reform, including future levels of debt as a share of the economy, and a date by which the budget must balance”

-         Tax reforms to raise more revenues through “eliminating deductions, increasing rates and/or more fundamental changes to our tax code”

-         “Changes to entitlements on a sustainable long-term path”

-         “Changes to defense and other discretionary spending, while protecting the most vulnerable”

-         “Congress and the President should agree on an expedited process to enact legislation reflecting this framework in 2013, in the truest form of patriotism – putting our country first”

I am not privy to defense strategy but I see the rising military threat around the world and the anti-American sentiment coupled with terrorist attacks.  I believe in the Roman strategy of “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

I am skeptical of the Coalition’s last statement, “In our judgment, advances in technological capabilities and the changing nature of threats make it possible, if properly done, to spend less on a more intelligent, efficient and contemporary defense strategy that maintains our military superiority and national security.” Somehow, getting rid of a substantial amount of Marines and soldiers, mothballing naval resources, and cutting nuclear arsenal when others around the world are building more, do not seem like good ideas. I could be wrong.

The signatories to this coalition are former government officials who have served during eight Presidential administrations, Democratic and Republican, and “strongly believe that our long-term debt is the single greatest threat to our national security”:

-         Admiral Michael G. Mullen, Coalition Chairman and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

-         Samuel R. Berger, former National Security Advisor

-         Sam Nunn, former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services

-         Ike Skelton, former Chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services

-         Madeleine K. Albright, former Secretary of State

-         Harold Brown, former Secretary of Defense

-         Robert M. Gates, former Secretary of Defense

-         Paul O’Neill, former Secretary of the Treasury

-         Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve

-         James A. Baker, III, former Secretary of State and the Treasury

-         Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor

-         Henry A. Kissinger, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor

-         George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor

-         John Warner, former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services

What will liberals say who love entitlements and are unwilling to give up an inch of their cradle to grave mentality?  They believe that taking care of their every need is a birthright. They should not have to care for themselves as self-reliant Americans have done for generations. They are the Entitled Generation.

The problem is that the Entitled Generation is running the country into the ground. As Dr. Thomas Sowell so eloquently stated, “I have never understood why it is ‘greed’ to want to keep the money you’ve earned, but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money.” I would call it theft and enslavement of the producers.