Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Identity Theft and Data Breaches

Identity thieves have victimized 12.6 million Americans in 2012 to the tune of nearly $21 billion. Eighteen percent of all Federal Trade Commission complaints received that year involved identity theft. More complaints were lodged in 2012 when compared to 11.6 million in 2011 and 10.2 million in 2010. (Javelin Strategy and Research, 2013 Identity Fraud Report: Data Breaches Becoming a Treasure Trove for Fraudsters, February 2013)

Globalization and the world wide use of the Internet have allowed thieves with actual, stolen, or cyber identities to engage in highly sophisticated crimes involving credit card fraud, bank fraud, immigration fraud, medical use fraud, and employment fraud.

Identity theft was not a federal crime prior to 1998. Congress passed the Identity Theft Assumption Deterrence Act (P.L. 105-318) which made identity theft a crime, established penalties for those engaging in such fraud or planning to defraud, and confiscation of property used in the pursuit of identity theft. The FTC established a Theft Data Clearinghouse in 2000 which recorded all consumer complaints data. (Kristin Finklea, Identity Theft: Trends and Issues, CRS R40599, January 16, 2014, p. 4)

The Congressional Research Service makes a distinction between identity theft and identity fraud even though people use the terms interchangeably. Identity fraud is described as an umbrella term referring to crimes “involving the use of false identification – though not necessarily a means of identification belonging to another person.” Identity theft is the “specific form of identity fraud that involves using the personally identifiable information of someone else.”

Flores-Figueroa v. United States brought clarification to the issue of identity theft vs. aggravated identity theft in the Supreme Court decision. It was important that “in order to be found guilty of aggravated identity theft, a defendant must have knowledge that the means of identification he used belonged to another individual. It is not sufficient to only have knowledge that the means of identification used was not his own,” the crime had to be executed “knowingly.” (Congressional Research Service report, R40599, January 16, 2014, p. 3)

The Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act (P.L. 108-275) established penalties for aggravated identity theft with additional penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment when the fraud was connected to other federal crimes.

Additionally, Congress passed the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act of 2008 (Title II of P.L. 110-326) for restitution to theft victims for time and effort spent recovering their good name.

To coordinate 17 federal agencies fighting against identity theft, President Bush signed Executive Order 13402, “Strengthening Federal Efforts to Protect Against Identity Theft, establishing the President’s Identity Theft Task Force. (71 Federal Register 93, May 15, 2006)

Even though the use of Social Security numbers in government documents and the private sector has been curtailed, 50 million Medicare cards still use SSN as identification. Changing to a different Medicare identifier has been estimated to cost between $255 million and $317 million. (U.S. Government Accountability Office, Medicare Information Technology: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Needs to Pursue a Solution for removing Social Security Numbers from Cards, GAO-13-761, September 2013, p. 2)

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458) “prohibited states from displaying or electronically including SSNs on driver’s licenses, motor vehicle registration, or personal identification cards.” (CRS Report R40599, p. 24)

Several agencies are tasked with fighting identity theft:

-          FBI through its Financial Crimes Section with 20 theft task forces
      -          United States Secret Service which protects financial infrastructure and payment systems

      -      United States Postal Inspection Service which identifies thieves who use the postal service    for their criminal activities and educates consumer groups

-          Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General (stolen or misused SSNs are put under fraud alert in credit files, earning records are checked and fraud, waste, and abuse identified)

-          Immigration and Customs Enforcement (searches for identity theft that involves documents and benefits fraud via the 2006 ICE created Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces located in 19 cities in the U.S.)

-          Department of Justice (prosecutes identity theft cases found during investigations by various agencies)

Once a person’s identity is stolen, criminals use it to commit credit card fraud by changing the billing address of the victim, opening new accounts in the victim’s name, eventually destroying their credit rating and emptying their bank accounts. Skimming devices installed at cash registers steal customers’ account information when they make purchases. I became such a victim when I used my debit card to pay for food in Portland, Oregon and in Alexandria, Virginia.

Using a person’s information, thieves can create fake birth certificates, licenses, and Social Security cards in order to apply for and receive government benefits in a victim’s name. Fake identities and passports are created for illegal aliens traveling to and living in the United States.

Furthermore, using identity theft, criminals can obtain jobs or medical services for which they are not entitled. The victim’s credit rating is adversely affected, cannot file taxes, or cannot find future employment. One method used to empty bank accounts or find personal information is by email phishing.

Last but not least are the frequent data breaches by hackers around the world who steal large stores and companies customers’ credit card and personal information, often including medical records. Financial services industries are better at guarding their customer information database, however, information resellers are not bound by stringent restrictions. Limited research suggests that 12-27 percent of identity theft results from data breaches.

Butler on Business, April 30, 2014 Identity Theft

My ten minutes with Alan Butler on Identity Theft. I come on at the 43 min. mark.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Amnesty, American Values, and Economic Dependency

Ellis Island Immigrants
In the ongoing battle about amnesty for illegal aliens, one recurring theme has been “these are not American values,” meaning that we have to bestow citizenship on these people who broke our laws because they are already here, we can’t send them back, it’s un-American. This question should be asked, what are the American values the proponents of amnesty on both sides of the isle in Congress are referring to?

Being a law abiding American who lives by American values is clearly spelled out in the Declaration of Independence and in the U.S. Constitution. George Washington warned us that we must defend our values and laws from “the impostures of pretended patriotism.”

Let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap – let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; - let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice.”

What are these American values? Americans believe that all men are created equal and God endowed us with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These values are self-sufficiency, not dependence on government, personal responsibility, respect for the law, hard work, family, Judeo-Christian values, and equal opportunity for excellence, not forced quotas, nor forced equality by government redistribution of wealth under the guise of the communist mantra of “social justice.”

Preying on our sympathy, kindness, and generosity to foreign nations, we are being guilted and forced to be generous with lawbreakers by awarding them citizenship because they jumped a fence, swam across a river, or walked through the hot desert, putting their lives in peril, defying and disrespecting our borders and our laws.

This amnesty is forced on the American people at a time when we can ill-afford to be generous, with millions of Americans unemployed, underemployed, and on welfare, facing the fundamental destruction of our healthcare.

Legal immigration laws should be written to augment the interests of the American people and to defend the vital interests of the United States, not the interests of the illegal immigrant who broke our laws.

Are the new American values having 50 percent of our population dependent on welfare while expecting a financial entitlement from the labor of the other 50 % of the population who works hard to support them through burdensome taxation?

What are the children of the entitlement state, including illegal aliens, going to do when there are no more taxpayers to steal from? Having escaped third world impoverished socialist countries, illegals come here not to assimilate into our culture but to demand “full communism because they value a fair society and social justice.”

What was wrong with the old immigration system when we enforced the borders and enforced the law? What was wrong with immigrants coming here to obtain a green card and work legally? What was wrong with them going back home after they finished school or work? What was wrong with upholding the law, the sovereignty of our country?

Why is the system broken? Is cheap labor for crony capitalists so important that we no longer enforce the law, we are allowing illegal aliens to flood the country and surround us via the southern border with Mexico, while people who are not so lucky and live across oceans are waiting patiently for visas, going through proper channels, doing the legal paperwork?

Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security Secretary, said on ABC’s “This Week” that “Immigration laws or any other law needs to comport with American values. One of those American values is respect for human dignity. I also believe one of those American values is respect for the sanctity of the family unit.”

Perhaps we should point out that the family reunification program which accounts for approximately two-thirds of permanent immigration to the United States each year was designed for legal immigration by the Immigration Act of 1990. In 2001, the former INS had an application backlog of 3.9 million people awaiting family reunification visas.  Top countries in this category were Mexico, Philippines, China, India, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Colombia, Jamaica, and El Salvador.

Secretary Johnson is contemplating a modification to the “priority list” by giving amnesty to illegal aliens who have not committed “serious crimes,” to include those who have re-entered the U.S. after being deported previously and those who fled immigration court proceedings. It is interesting to note that one third of inmates in U.S. jails are illegal aliens.  Why should these illegals have priority over the 4 million legal immigrants awaiting the resolution of their backlogged visas?

In the meantime, illegal aliens have received $4.2 billion in earned income tax credit in the previous year for children who did not necessarily reside in the U.S., using Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITIN). ITIN was designed by the IRS to encourage illegals to pay taxes but created instead a Pandora’s box of entitlements for illegal aliens, including allowing them to mix easier into our society and to vote illegally.

Brooks County, Texas, with a land mass twice the size of Manhattan Island, has four deputies to protect the American residents under “assaults every day and every night” by illegal immigrants that liberals call euphemistically “paperless/undocumented Americans.” Rescuing illegal immigrants and picking up the bodies of those who don’t make it across has brought the county to the brink of bankruptcy.  According to ALIPAC, “129 undocumented immigrants were found dead just in Brooks County in 2012, which is more than triple the number who were found dead in the county just six years ago.” The more discussion of ‘amnesty’ in Washington, the more immigrants risk their lives to come to the U.S. now, especially from Central America.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush described instances of illegal immigration as “acts of love.” Perhaps he was referring to those who enter illegally or those who overstay legal visas in order to earn money to provide for their families back home. Brandon Darby describes “35 Acts of Love” in his recent column in They include targeted assassinations, human trafficking, drug smuggling, border patrol killings, assaults with rocks and bullets, rapes, and other heinous crimes.

Dr. Rich Swier wrote, “In a report released by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) the impact of providing College Tuition subsidy for Illegal Aliens (HB851/SB1400 a.k.a. in-state tuition) will be that approximately 5,000 legal students will be displaced in Florida higher education institutions by illegal alien students.” Among these are the newly amnestied “Dreamers” who voted in the November 2012 election.

American citizens have a right to decide who becomes a citizen. But, according to Ann Coulter, “liberal judicial activist” Justice Brennan wrote a footnote in his 1982, 5-4 opinion on Plyler v. Doe which gave us anchor babies. That act alone nullified our right to decide who becomes a citizen. “Combine Justice Brennan’s footnote with America’s ludicrously generous welfare policies, and you end up with a bankrupt country.”

With 16 major chains closing or planning on closing stores across America, Staples, Office Depot, Radio Shack, Albertsons, Safeway (Dominick’s in Chicago), Abercrombie and Fitch, Barnes and Noble, J.C. Penney, Toys R Us, Sweetbay Supermarket, Loehmann’s, Quiznos, Sears and Kmart, Ruby Tuesday, Red Lobster, and Ralph’s, more Americans will be unemployed, having to compete for jobs with 12 million potential amnestied illegal aliens and their extended families, while tax revenues that support welfare dependency will decrease.

Why must we dilute the composition of our society so much that our votes no longer count and America is changed fundamentally into a hodge-podge of unassimilated ethnic groups who do not care about our country’s future, traditions and history? Does anyone remember Rome’s history?












Monday, April 28, 2014

Butler on Business, April 23, 2014

My 10 minute commentary on EPA biggest land grab of our land via waterways. I come on at the 43 minute mark.

Butler on Business, April 16, 2014

The land grab at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Nevada. I come on at the one hour and six minute mark.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

On Being a Parent

I was one of those parents who worked two jobs her entire career to indulge my children. I wanted to make sure they never had to suffer like I did in my childhood under the oppressive communism with its equally miserable and impoverished masses. I now know that I made mistakes from time to time. I should have said no more often in my effort to make my children’s lives easier and better.

I did not parent from afar by sending in a monthly, court-ordered child support check. Nor did I disappear without a trace only to resurface when the kids became adults. I took full responsibility for my babies from the time they took their first breath into this complicated world. And it was painful to see them go into the world to seek their place in life. They were my pride and joy, the very essence of a life worth living. I felt rich beyond imagination because they were and are to this day my greatest accomplishment.

I was not the modern mom who makes children “her friends.”  Children have their own friends, they need a parent. I did not allow them to spend nights in strange homes whose occupants I did not know nor vetted.

Some parents today are so inadequate and libertine, allowing drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and sex into their homes on the premise that kids are going to do it anyway, they might as well provide a clean and safe environment to engage in risky behaviors. A son who posted a message recently on Facebook, that “he had the worst life ever,” got a bizarre response from his mother, “what wrong, bro? Go listen to that song by grandmaster flash.” What can I say about such crass and irresponsible parenting skills?

I was not a helicopter parent, hovering every moment over my children’s daily activities. Neither did I physically over protect them by making them wear helmets while playing for fear of injuries. Helmets were intended for bike riding not for turning them into sissies afraid of their shadows. They skinned their knees, bruised their shins and their egos, got up, dusted themselves off after a good cry, a kiss from mom, bandages if necessary, and went outside to play again.

I never believed nor demanded that students receive awards that they did not deserve nor earned. I was not the liberal parent who wanted a plaque or a certificate of participation for their mediocre kids.

I did not force my children into activities that they were not interested in just because it was the rage and all the other parents were exhausting their untalented kids to do. My children had time to be kids and play outside, exploring nature.

I loved my children, protected them, cared for them, took them to school, and did homework every night with them patiently although I was exhausted from my two jobs. I cried myself to sleep many nights, overwhelmed by the huge responsibility of being a single parent. Stoic during the day, I never let anybody know the turmoil inside my heart and my mind.

I taught my children to be compassionate and giving with those who were less fortunate than they were. One of my daughters took that to heart so much, she always gave away all her food and personal possessions and started all over many times.

I was the parent who took children to school every morning until they were old enough to drive. Sometimes I ran late picking them up from school but the gifted teachers kept them busy. I took them to softball practice, soccer, band practice, and picked them up at 2 a.m. when returning from band trips. Nobody asked me if that was something alien to my culture. I spent days and nights in the emergency room with feverish and very sick kids, worrying and praying that they’d be healthy again.

I logged thousands of miles driving to college to attend their concerts, recitals, Christmas Madrigals, awards ceremonies, white coat ceremony, to take them to the hospital when they got pneumonia, life-threatening infections, when they wrecked cars and were suffering from whip-lash, seldom missing my day job duties.

I bought them cars when they were old enough to drive, 15 years old in Mississippi. They were good and responsible drivers. They went on vacations to the beach, on Europe trips, to the zoo, and to museums. I wanted them to have a home, food, medicine, decent and comfortable shoes on their feet, and clean and warm clothes.

I was so proud of providing a home for them even though they always complained that it was too dated. My parents lost their home when I was very young. It was confiscated by the communist regime.  I never had a home after that or a room to call my own so, when I bought our house that was built in 1960, sturdy and durable, I was elated!  And, as a bonus, it had a tornado shelter, something we needed every week in the tornado alley where we lived. The “dated” quality of our home gave me comfort and reassurance that older things were built to last. The happiness of home ownership was almost as respectable as paying the house off 18 years later through very hard work.

I should have never felt guilty when I could not afford the very expensive Cabbage Patch Dolls or the latest electronic gizmos, but I did. I should not have felt inadequate because my kids were left out of activities and parties in a community in which a foreign parent and grandparent who did not speak English was a source of exclusion. But my kids felt slighted and left out; they were embarrassed and I understood their resentment which I could not fix.

I should not have felt bad because my kids did not want to have birthday parties with their friends at our house because Grandma did not speak English and it made their friends uncomfortable.

I should have never tried to fix all their problems for them. At times, that was a disservice to their understanding that the world is not rolling over backwards to please them. I should have taught them more how important family is, knowing where your roots are, where you came from, and where you are going.

I should have bought them less stuff. I should have emphasized more the need for compassion and the need to share their precious time in life with those who are truly worthy of their love and care.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Flying South for Spring

From the moment I left the house, I did not know what I was going to find on my journey. This time I left at 3 a.m. and I discovered that, even at such an early hour on Easter Sunday, the roads were not exactly clear in the suburbs of Virginia, the capital of congestion and perennially clogged highways and interstates.

On my way south, my airline ticket offered a convoluted route via the windy city. Once aboard the plane, having escaped the unnecessary frisking of the TSA, I started perusing the in-flight magazine – they’ve never disappointed me, bursting with colorful ads, magnificent stories of faraway romantic places that look so much more fascinating in glossy photographs than in reality, and the usual environmental propaganda. This time it was all about “green” coffee, sustainability, community gardens, and U.S. Airways’ one world alliance (part of the merger with American Airlines) that is supposed to compete with Delta Sky Team’s. The name “one world alliance,” meant to help “international travelers better connect with their world locations,“ gave me shivers.

An elderly gentleman seated next to me, a physician, was bemoaning the state of medicine today and how it was Mitt Romney’s fault (he said it at least three times during our incipient conversation) and how people in Chuck Grassley’s office wrote the Affordable Care Act. Not one time did he call the bill Obamacare or blamed those who passed it in the middle of the night. I was irritated and ready to do verbal battle. I don’t know how, but I am always finding myself seated on airplanes next to liberals. I can tell by the way they dress, they behave, the way they hog the arm rest, and how they invade the floor space with their bulky carry-ons and computers. Normally there is no conversation with such people but he started it.

He confirmed my suspicion that he was a Democrat. He told me that he had to stop accepting diabetic patients with Medicare because the reimbursement was under $9,000 per year and he felt like a criminal having to justify to Medicare every penny spent on diabetic supplies. As much as he wanted to help patients, he was fed up with Medicare. And of course, it was Mitt Romney’s fault.

I explained to his seemingly deaf ears that Medicare was stripped of $619 billion over a ten year period precisely to fund Obamacare. He was appalled that insurance plans were so expensive now, could not understand why, but thank God for subsidies, and was hoping that we will soon have a one payer system just like in the UK because it works so well there. He had no problem with the rest of the working country subsidizing insurance for those on welfare, illegal aliens, and Muslims or other religious groups that find insurance abhorrent but demand free healthcare.

I was listening perplexed - I did not want to insult this person I just met. I chose my words carefully, I had to bite my tongue several times, and it was very hard to listen to his outrageously ignorant claims. He became increasingly uncomfortable and, had the plane not been full, he would have changed seats gladly to get away from my logical descriptions and explanations of the disastrous Affordable Care Act that is going to destroy our stellar healthcare. We parted ways hurriedly, and I barely had enough time to hop on the next flight, the last leg of my journey.

After bumping my head because I am taller than the overhead bins on a Canada jet, I happily deplaned on the tarmac of my beloved South, crossing my fingers that my luggage had made it as well. It was a gorgeous morning, cool and not humid, early enough to have breakfast and grits.

I accepted the strange car that the rental agency had reserved for me and whispered under my breath that I hoped it won’t fall apart at the seams. Our secretary had bought a Kia years ago and it had been a lemon from day one. This one was a stylish silver grey and had Soul written all over the black interior. Peripheral visibility was poor and it had lots of blind spots. I clutched my cross and said a silent prayer before I drove off. The roads were not crowded at all, nothing like the congested roads in Virginia with the motto – Welcome to northern Virginia, there will be delays. At times, the highways were almost empty for miles. My eyes were filled with the lush green vegetation, the colorful symphony of wild spring flowers, the hilly landscape, and flocks of animals grazing peacefully in fenced pastures.

The sky was liquid sunshine blue, crisscrossed by what appeared to be airplane vapor trails that did not dissipate for hours. It was so strange, I took a few pictures. I would not have noticed them except the small airplanes making these trails were quite noisy overhead. I don’t understand why some trails dissipate immediately and others take hours.

I stopped in my former hometown to visit the house I owned for 24 years. The street was lush with blooming fuchsia and white azaleas, bathed in sunshine and happy bees. The back of my former home looked like a solid green jungle with vines completely covering the brick steps and strangling the remaining trees. Renters never take good care of someone else’s property. I could no longer see Tiger’s grave; it looked entombed in tons of overgrown weeds, unpruned bushes, and kudzu. The azaleas and rose bushes, narcissus bulbs, tulips, and daffodils had long been obstructed and covered by a green mass.

A weak meow brought a furry surprise from a bush, the black and white kitty I had rescued years  ago and named Princess. She followed me down the driveway, into the street, trying to hop inside my car as I was getting ready to leave.  My neighbor promised to take care of her six years ago when we moved, and he had kept his promise. She remembered me and allowed me to pick her up and shower her with hugs.

The old high school building was empty and up for sale. The local furniture store that has been in business for 50 years was closing its doors. The street I took to work every day for 20 years was the same. It took me five minutes to get to the university. The expertly-manicured lawns were green already and the old trees bursting with flowers. The giant magnolia remained untouched by violent storms. Everything was deserted, save for the gate guard. Even the cafeteria was closed. I was disappointed that I would not get to see Mama Dee, every student’s cafeteria confidant and advisor. She greeted them for breakfast and lunch every day with the same words, “How you doing boo?.” Chef Fidel’s miniature garden had been replaced by bushes and flowers.

The Tombigbee waters seemed placid. I wondered if the resident gators were still hiding in the fishing holes along the banks.

Driving to Tupelo, Elvis’ birthplace, was like putting my mind on cruise control – I knew every road, pasture, home, farm, and gas station along the way. Nothing seemed changed, time stood still. Towns lost mom and pop businesses, national chains moved in, some homes were abandoned and shuttered, but churches were full on this glorious Easter Sunday. I was back in God’s country - everything was closed except for the chain bookstore. Liberals need their place to drink coffee and read free magazines.

Okolona seemed deserted. A few cars drove by slowly. Life seemed so calm and gentle, a welcome simplicity punctuated by the buzzing of bees. I almost expected to see the roads rolled up for the day.

The Turners welcomed me into their home with open arms and hugs – I had not seen them in a year. Lois had prepared her wonderful Easter meal. Life has not slowed her down much. She is just as lively as I remember her the first day we met in 1978. Harold, our WWII hero and veteran of the Battle of the Bulge is 92 years young. He stands tall, moves with purpose and energy, and still drives his truck to the store. He helps with occasional repairs at the flower shop, getting down on his knees better than most young people.

Harold delighted us with one of his war stories. His troops were returning exhausted from overseas and stopped for the night in the Civil War Cemetery in Fredericksburg where they rolled mats and slept on the ground between graves. As a treat for dinner, Harold had prepared them five sweet potato pies with potatoes he had bought from a local farmer. Some of the soldiers were not familiar with the tasty southern dessert but enjoyed it nevertheless. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drive to Fredericksburg without thinking of Harold’s soldiers bunking for the night in the cemetery.

Time flew by and I had to say good-bye once more. I don’t see my adopted family often anymore but they are always in my heart and prayers. Without their advice, guidance, and loving acceptance, I would have never been able to adapt to this country when I first arrived. With their loving encouragement, I became a proud American by choice.

I stopped in Tupelo for a fill-up at the same gas station on top of the hill, not far from Baskin Robbins. A young man with a toothless grin said, “You ain’t from around here.” Yes and no but I miss it dearly. It is the free and patriotic America I discovered and loved when I first arrived. It has not changed that much in this charming southern town. I did not want to tell this smiling and welcoming man that I live in a place where America has changed irreversibly - nobody speaks English that much among the tower of Babel of unassimilated immigrants. People speak a language that admires primitive third world cultures and promote Spanish and global citizenship in schools. Children learn at an early age to hate themselves for being Americans. This man would not understand why progressive Americans speak the language of socialism and communism. This world I see every day is so far removed from the South, it is an alien and anti-American world ruled by crony capitalists and progressives.

The sun was setting behind me in glorious pink, purple, and orange hues. As I drove east, I took in the landscape with the eyes of a child who discovers something cherished and I breathed the fresh air of temporary freedom before returning to the stifling and suffocating alien world of the northeast that crushes the American spirit for financial gain, power, and glory.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Uncle Ion and Grandma's Orchard

A story from my upcoming book, “Death or Rebirth of Communism?”

In the fall of 2012 I was on a mission to see my Dad’s last three surviving siblings, two sisters and a brother. I wanted to visit uncle Ion, my Dad’s youngest brother, first. Had my Dad lived to a ripe old age, he would have probably looked very much like his sibling. When they were kids, Dad helped raise Ion and was his role model, especially after Grandma Elisabeta became a widow with eight kids at such a young age.

Ion turned 78 in 2013 and lived in Grandma Elisabeta’s house in Popesti, not far from the bustling city of Ploiesti, the center of the oil industry during the communist regime.

I drove the rented VW-Jetta through the sloping hills, dangerously close at times to the narrow ledge that separated the road from the deep ravines. The asphalt made it a quick and smooth journey unlike the long and bumpy ride of my childhood in the rickety communist bus that ran only twice a day, carrying a few workers back and forth to the village from their factory jobs and the occasional visitor to the city who needed medical attention. The Diesel engine fumes choked us through the open windows or the cracks through the doors. I could see the ground running along the route through the small rust holes on the floor board. The commies did not care that we rode like rodents in a rusty tin can. They had fancy and shiny Russian made Volgas with state paid chauffeurs.

We were thrown all over the bus every time it hit a pot hole and there were quite a few. Deep ruts cut during a heavy downpour by big rigs dried into uncomfortable and hard to navigate jarring tracks. When the road was muddy, the deep ruts made by previous vehicles stalled the bus. The men got out and pushed until the wheels stopped spinning and the bus got traction again. Nobody cared that they were caked in mud; they were already dirty from their factory jobs. I always felt bad for them. At least in the drab grey apartments in the city we had a tub and a sewer system. Even if the water was not running or was cold, we could carry buckets from other streets or we could heat it on the stove as long as the natural gas had not been turned off. We felt like royalty because we could bathe once a week. The poor villagers had to carry water from wells far away. It was thus precious, used for cooking and drinking. People went to bed dirty and got up the next day and dressed in the same clothes. It was hard work doing laundry by hand at the river.

Cousin Gigi's country store
I drove by the stream where we bathed in summertime and washed our clothes. Nothing seemed to have changed that much. The landscape is easily recognizable – I can almost see myself running through the tall weeds followed by my cousins, racing to be the first one in the cold water. A couple more hills and I arrived in the center where the bus stop used to be. It’s still there, clearly marked by a shiny painted sign. Across the road, the small state-run store that sold mostly alcohol, sugar, flour, corn meal, and a type of dried up pretzels called “covrigi” is gone, replaced by a new building with a modern fa├žade, large windows, and a neon sign. It was so frivolous and verboten to have large windows during the dark and energy-starved era of Ceausescu’s tyrannical communism. I stopped and peered inside. Neon lights, ads on a flat screen TV, a large freezer and a refrigerator held any imaginable item a convenience store would have and some. To my surprise, cousin Gigi owned the store. Still a relatively young man, his entrepreneurship paid off in the free market system. Remnants of the old communist system remained in the bribery and the overt political corruption. Gigi sold t-shirts, rented DVDs, meats, fish, cheese, dairy, candy, oil, wine, pastries, canned goods, and other foods that villagers could only dream of once. Abundance was here within their grasp. The second floor held a cozy restaurant/bar that served local dishes and beer.

Homes looked larger, more substantial, better maintained, with a car parked up front and intricate wrought-iron fencing; yet most still did not have running water. What was the point in having a bathroom with a tub if there was no sewer system or a septic tank?

Some houses looked shuttered, the owners gone somewhere in the European Union working hard for a year to bring home euros, save them, buy a car, pay for a wedding, buy a few pigs, cows, goats, or add another floor to the villa.

The steep hill in front of me had been blacktopped as well – no more trudging through mud. A few goats were grazing in the ditch, having escaped their enclosures. I decided to walk uphill to uncle Ion’s house. It was the same I had remembered. The weathered wood fence hid the tall fruit trees and the grape vines. The rusty metal gate looked like it had not been painted in years. A clothes line ran parallel with the gravel walkway and sported a few plastic grocery bags hanging out to dry. Nothing is discarded; everything is still reused, rewashed, repaired, and refurbished, just like under communism when nobody could afford to be wasteful.

Grandma's house
The house was the same stucco, half painted white and the other half a bright teal. Huge cracks along the side made it look like it was leaning. The wooden door was also painted teal. The small porch banister was peeling teal paint. I spent many days on this porch watching nature unfold in front of me, listening to the buzzing of bees, and counting bright stars at night. It was on this porch that my Dad’s and Grandma Elisabeta’s coffins were placed before the last journey to their resting place in the village cemetery. I peeked through the window of the room where Grandma used to sleep. The furniture was nicer and was very familiar; it was the furniture that belonged to my parents. Perhaps Dad had willed everything to uncle Ion. The packed dirt floor I knew, expertly swept by Grandma Elisabeta every day, had been replaced by poured concrete, covered by a handmade wool rug.  A crucifix with prayer beads was the only ornament on the wall. It was Grandma’s favorite; the beads were made of polished garnet and blessed by the Mitropolit, the leader of the Orthodox church.

I checked the other room, nobody was inside, it looked like a kitchen/storage room full of jars, bottles, dishes, and various small tools. I turned around, ready to leave, when I heard the creak of the metal gate. A very thin old man with hollow cheeks walked towards me. It was uncle Ion. I recognized his bright blue eyes. Half of the children inherited Grandma’s beautiful blue eyes and the other half had green eyes like my Dad. Uncle Ion was wearing tattered clothes and his pants were held up by a string. I flinched in dismay. It was Sunday and he did not look like he worked in the garden. I knew he had a good pension but he never spent it on himself – he supported his unemployed daughter and her two children. Unemployment hit hard the former communist countries like Romania who joined the European Union in 2007. Uncle Ion was too old to take advantage of the new economic opportunities; he was satisfied with his pension. His daughter quickly became the typical product of the European entitled welfare nanny state. I felt sorry for uncle Ion - I wanted to go buy him some clothes but he proudly declined. He was happy and content in his self-imposed poverty like a penitent monk.

Happy to see me, almost incredulous that I was there after 25 years, he kept digging in his pocket looking for his glasses that were obviously lost. We sat on the steps for a few hours, talking and remembering all relatives, dead and alive. My husband was a bit overwhelmed, not because he felt left out when he could not understand our conversation (he got the jest of it) but because this level of poverty, need, and misery was alien to him. He could not understand why people have not made more progress in 25 years since the “fall” of communism, why the former commies still live so well and are in charge, while ordinary people like uncle Ion were still so very poor? My hubby did not understand that uncle Ion chose to live this way because he wanted to support his daughter who did not work, and his grandchildren.

I tried to convince uncle Ion to let me erect a marble monument on my Dad’s tomb. Ion’s wife Angela is buried on the same plot and I offered to carve her name and photograph on a double monument. Ion refused my offer. As the only surviving senior male of the Apostolescu clan, he was de facto owner of the cemetery plot and I could not convince him unless I bribed him generously. Bribery still greased the wheels for everything in a country where most citizens learned to survive for forty years under communism through bribery, “borrowing” from work, and barter – old habits die hard. I would have offered whatever monetary compensation he was asking for but I knew the money was not going to benefit him in any way. I resented the lack of industriousness in young people and the entitled attitude that they were too good or too educated to work on menial or ordinary jobs.

Uncle Ion started to cry when we stood up to leave, it was almost dark. Last time I saw him he was young, vibrant, and defiant. He would have moved mountains to protect and care for his family. He had aged and mellowed a lot but was the same lively character with twinkly blue eyes. He picked a few plums and peaches from Grandma’s orchard and stuffed them in a well-worn paper bag, handing it to me. It was Grandma’s routine when I went for a visit. She always sent me back to the city with a bag full of fruits and vegetables. The purple plums were plump, juicy, sweet, and fragrant just as I remembered them in my dreams, scaling fences and climbing trees in the orchard and picking my own fruits.

I turned around and gazed at the silhouette holding on to the garden gate. I wanted to sear this moment into my memory. I was not sure if I would see uncle Ion again. In the twilight, his smile looked eerily similar to my Dad’s when I last saw him. He waved good-bye as the car sped off and my childhood orchard disappeared from sight.

On the drive back to the city, I gave the wheel to my husband. My eyes were filled with tears of regret and longing for a time and life that no longer existed, for family members who were now just a loving memory. I was distracted by the running landscape, the sheep and goats crossing the road, the orange sunset, the pungent smell of crushed grapes, and the cherished images of people and places playing through my mind’s eye.

Ten minutes with Silvio Canto, April 19, 2014

My ten minutes with Silvio Canto on the yet again postponed Keystone XL pipeline.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lessons Learned and Lessons Missed from the Attempted Land Grab

The recent standoff at the Bundy ranch in Nevada has taught us many lessons, but the most important one was missed. We learned that the government will do anything to private citizens in order to grab land and private property either under the guise of protecting an “endangered” desert tortoise that is actually overpopulated, or getting rid of “feral” and destructive “trespassing cattle” grazing the land for generations, cattle that are in the way of developing a $5 billion Chinese solar panel plant (ENN), and the exploitation of rare earth elements in the larger adjacent area.

Mr. Bundy was too stubborn, the last rancher standing in Clarke County, Nevada, clinging to his inconvenient “feral” cattle, his agreement with the State of Nevada, with the BLM, his “prescriptive rights,” and his ranch.  I thought cattle were domesticated, not feral, and were raised for beef consumption.  

Mr. Bundy may or may not owe the $1 million in grazing fees. The case is not clear-cut on either side and may go all the way to the Supreme Court. If someone trespasses or uses someone else’s land for at least five years without the owner of the land taking legal action, that person can claim prescriptive rights. In Mr. Bundy’s case, twenty years have lapsed since payment of fees have been in question.

Mark Levin explained in his April 11th broadcast that “Bundy had agreements with the State of Nevada before the BLM claimed jurisdiction.”

The sad lesson was how innocent animals were hurt and no animal protection agency stepped forward to protest their treatment, how people were manhandled, tazed, frightened by fully armed and menacing agents, and how massive, extreme, and expensive was the government’s response to one farmer who allegedly has not paid $1 million in grazing fees. How many people are currently in court that have embezzled other people’s money, or have failed to pay money owed to the federal government, yet have not received the Bundy treatment?

Another lesson missed was that the federal government has huge land holdings, particularly in the southwest. Lord Monckton mentioned in his article that “almost one-third of the entire 2.3 billion acres in the country are owned by the federal government.” He is of the opinion that there should be a statute of limitations on civil debt, including the right of use.

The BLM citing alleged environmental damage by the Bundy Ranch was not credible because ranchers grow up caring for the environment that provides their livelihood. They are not likely to abuse the land or any property that sustains them and their families for generations.

The other important lesson missed was that putting so many ranchers out of business, coupled with other variables, is having a negative impact on the price of beef. U.S. cattle inventory is at a 63-year low for several reasons. William Hahn of USDA explained that “cow numbers were down… and the lower supply meant higher prices.”

U.S. is the world’s largest beef producer and Texas is the leader. Demand from China and Japan for U.S. beef has increased. Supply is tight, “everything produced is consumed.” Dry seasons, increased cattle feed prices due to grain use for ethanol are some of the variables affecting supply and beef prices. Wrangling Mr. Bundy’s cattle with helicopters and exhausting some to death certainly would not help the price of beef.

Ranchers are happy with the higher prices but consumers are looking at an increase of 5-10 percent for steak this year and 10-15 percent for ground beef. Consumers can switch to cheaper priced meats. Economists call this the substitution effect. Restaurants are cutting beef portion size and increasing their prices.

According to USDA, “beef and veal prices, which are already at or near record levels across the country, rose 4 percent in February and are up 5.4 percent over this time last year. As the largest monthly increase in beef prices since November 2003, this reflects, in part, an increase in exports, a decrease in imports, and further reductions in the U.S. cattle inventory.” http://www.ers.usda.gove/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings.aspx#.UOvOfVevbwt

Replenishing the beef supply is not easy nor quick. It takes two years for cattle to be ready for slaughter.

There is an environmental push against meat consumption because cow flatulence produces methane. Methane is one of the gases which environmentalists blame for global warming. To mitigate such “pollution,” environmentalists would like to impose a flatulence tax per head.  

The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that animals emit greenhouse gases through flatulence and belching and pollute the air. The EPA is considering charging any farmer with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle, or 200 pigs an annual fee of $175 for each dairy cow, $87.50 for each beef cattle and $20 per pig.

To influence and discourage the public to consume meat, a study from the Netherlands by Monique van Nielen of Wageningen University claims that “too much animal protein is tied to diabetes risk.” The study was done ex post facto, looking at dietary data from 11,000 select people who developed type 2 diabetes and 15,000 people without diabetes.

The study should have randomly assigned subjects to eat varying amounts and types of protein. This would have given a better indication if “too much animal protein is tied to diabetes risk.” Instead, the study looked at the diets of people who developed diabetes and those who did not. There were so many other variables besides meat consumption that were not controlled in the study.  

The Diabetes Journal discussed the effect of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet on blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes in a 2004 study.

The last and most important lesson about the Bundy land grab standoff in Nevada is heightened awareness to other land grabs, specifically what House Appropriation Committee Chairman Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky) calls “the biggest land grab in the history of the world” that would have a “profound economic impact” and it “would absolutely freeze economic activity in this country.”

What Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky) refers to is the joint EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers March 2014 proposed rule, Waters of the United States, to spell out which streams and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act.

During the Congressional budget testimony last week, it was revealed that Waters of the United States would give the EPA authority over streams on private property even when the water beds are dry or have been dry for a long time.

The EPA website posted the rule for a 90-day commentary period. The science behind the rule has not been completed. Yet EPA claims that “the proposed rule will benefit businesses by increasing efficiency in determining coverage of the Clean Water Act.”

The Assistant Secretary of the Army for civil works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, opined that the nation’s waters and wetlands “are valuable resources that must be protected today and for future generations.”

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy stated that the EPA and the USDA are going to regulate 56 farm practices so that farmers no longer need to ask questions whether their activities are considered exempt under the Clean Water Act.

“The proposed rule will:

-          Preserve current agricultural exemptions for Clean Water Act permitting, including:

-          Normal farming, silviculture, and ranching practices. Those activities include plowing, seeding, cultivating, minor drainage, and harvesting for production of food, fiber, and forest products.

-          Upland soil and water conservation practices.

-          Agricultural storm water discharges.

-          Return flows from irrigated agriculture.

-          Construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds or irrigation ditches on dry land.

-          Maintenance of drainage ditches.

-          Construction or maintenance of farm, forest, and temporary mining roads.

-          Provide greater clarity and certainty to farmers.

-          Avoid economic burden on agriculture.

-          Encourage the use of voluntary conservation practices.

-          Be consistent with and support existing USDA programs.”

Congresswoman Murkowski and many farmers are troubled that the EPA, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), USDA, the Department of Energy, and the Army Corps of Engineers would gain so much power as to dictate grazing rights, food production, farming activities, animal husbandry, and the use of water and energy on private lands.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Butler on Business, April 9, 2014

My discussion with Alan Butler about my recent trip to the Smithsonian National Natural History Museum, the recipient of the almost-complete T. Rex fossil and all the global warming propaganda I found there. I come on at the 43 minute mark.

Butler on Business, April 2, 2014

My two segments with Alan Butler on Cannibalism in China and Martha Boneta's latest indignities by the conservative easements environmentalists. I come on at the 28 minute mark.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Liberals and Progressives, Telling Other People How to Live Their Lives

Liberals and progressives (LPs) like to control and micromanage other people’s lives. They consider themselves the ultimate arbiter of every facet of our existence. You could say they are the proverbial busy-bodies. You can ignore the busy-body down the block. But, if you ignore liberals and progressives who have the power of the HOA, of violent protests, of boycotts, of the law, of the purse, and of the police behind them, you do so at your own peril.

LPs may be a minority of the population but they have their tentacles deeply embedded into the majority and into our national psyche, driving the message and the conversation and squashing dissent with labels of bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and islamophobia.

Americans are trained to comply peacefully, follow and respect law and order, no matter how badly conceived a law may be. After all, 435 chosen ones have voted and decided and 316 million subjects must obey.

The LP unholy alliance takes over our children at an early age in pre-school, telling them how to think, what to think, what to believe in, whom to recognize as ultimate authority, feeding them a manufactured history that would shame them into hating who they are instead of being proud of their heritage.

The LP alliance teaches our children intolerance of divergent opinions, racism, inappropriate sexuality, worship of primitive cultures, and staunch divisiveness in the stated propagandizing pursuit of equality, social justice, and fundamental transformation into an environmental utopia ruled by Mother Earth.

The LPs manipulate the main stream media and force upon the majority the perverted messages from the drug culture of Hollywood, the narcissistic lot who think of themselves as heroes and instant experts because they can act on stage or memorize lines on celluloid.   

The LPs dilute our Christian faith, the importance of family, tamper with our definition of marriage, and are responsible for the death of millions of innocent unborn children who want to live but are slaughtered through legal abortion.

The LPs control our medical care, our doctors, our hospitals, whether we are treated or not.  If we are good little Americans, pliant to their wishes, and cough up as much of our wealth as possible, they may let us be.

The LPs tell us what size houses we can build, where we can build them, how many stories tall they must be, and how densely populated the area.

LPs dictate what cars we can drive, how fast we can drive, and what kind of fuel we can use. LPs have already made plans to replace as many drivers with riders on light rail and on buses, preferably walkers and bikers. Corridors are being built and allotted to bus use only. Connecticut is a case in point.

LPs control what lands we can own, which ones we must give up to the federal government for re-wilding, where we can go camping, fishing, boating, and for recreation. There are specific areas for such activities, with very strict rules and regulations.

LPs instruct us where we can farm, what to farm, what we can feed our cattle, where we can graze our cattle, and how we can mitigate the impact the cow flatulence has on the levels of methane gas in the atmosphere.

The LPs know better what kind of energy we should use, no matter what the cost to us, which land must be used for solar power generation and wind power generation, no matter how many bird species are fried or killed, or no matter how many cattle ranchers or humans are displaced and hurt in the process.

LPs calculate how much water farmers are allowed to get from aquifers, rivers, and lakes. Wildlife always has priority over human life. A delta smelt, a desert tortoise, or a snowy owl have preference over the lives of millions of humans.

LPs decide through taxation how much money we should keep from accumulated wealth or earned income. It is unfair to the unsuccessful and the welfare-minded to have less money and wealth than the hard-working and the successful do. Social justice must prevent that from ever happening. Why should a doctor make more money than a grocery store clerk? Could it be that doctors study for 12 years to train in their profession?

LPs like to tell us what to eat, how much to eat, how much sugar, salt, and protein from meat. After all, a meat diet is bad for our health and cow flatulence contributes to global warming. Vegans live better and healthier lives, we are told by various “studies.” We are also informed that we grow more than enough vegetables on this planet to feed 7 billion humans. Do we?

LP billionaires now control the education of our children through Common Core, a bewildering way of thinking that will turn us back a few decades until the rest of the third world can catch up with us and we become good little equal global citizens, living in equal dumbed-down miserable existence.

LPs control politics, politicians, judges, the Supremes, and everyone else in between who like to have a life-long cushy job with no accountability to those little information voters who elected them time and time again.

Pretty drama queens from unknown districts relish in abusive power to make disastrous policies for 316 million Americans. Minions pay homage to the beauty that got them through school and through an election to such a powerful position in the world. They can’t help but wonder - how stupid are these people who put me here? Could they not see right through my ignorant background? Did they not know that I was a C and D student and have not learned much in school? But I’m on top of the world now and I can do whatever I want, nobody can stop me because I am an unstoppable politician for life.

The LPs arbitrate our water supply, pick our energy policy, control our food prices, make decisions about our roads, and select our agricultural production through subsidies. They are the feudal lords who told their subjects they could not hunt the animals in the forest because they belonged to the lord of the manor.

The LPs control our immigration policy, who comes into our country illegally, how many benefits they get immediately upon setting foot on American soil, free medical care, free college tuition, and other rewards not available to American citizens.

LPs determine amnesty and the ultimate fate, survival or demise, of our culture. They will be responsible for our country’s morphing into a regional fiefdom of the global elites.