• new-leaderboard-searchamelia2016

Europe’s Refugee Dilemma

Merry Christmas Around the World?

Merry Christmas Around the World?

“People do not like to think. If one thinks, one must reach conclusions and that makes life complicated”, Helen Keller pointed out so poignantly.

I’m well aware that SearchAmelia is not really the platform anymore to discuss ‘worldly’ matters, but since we have departed our house for the preparation of a last farewell estate/moving sale and are now temporarily residing at the Inn for a couple of days before saying farewell, I felt that a personal take on the refugee crisis and the terrorism fall-out in Europe and the Middle East, could answer some of the questions my local friends, acquaintances and even family have been sending my way in recent months; especially the few that know of my brief encounters with the Middle Eastern problems some 45 years ago when I spent time researching the Palestinian problem in the Bekaa Valley’s ghettos in those days, resulting from a Palestinian revolt that was violently crushed in Jordan, sending tens of thousands of refugees to the valley.

My take on today’s problems maybe a little colored by those experiences, yet I still am of the opinion that the Daesh (acronym for “al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham.”)/Isil or Isis leadership should be eradicated now and without prejudice. Failure to do so by allied force, will only escalate their promise to make this a global threat.

If the following story is a bit long for you, you may want to play this Carlos Santana Live Concert in the background, knowing that it has always been my opinion that if you give a kid an instrument and teach him to play, he will very unlikely turn into a gun toting “Mexican criminal” Mr. Trump!

Why is Paris a Preferred Target?

First let me explain a few things about why Paris France is an often preferred target for Muslim terrorist. Today’s Parisians pay the price for atrocities committed by their leaders about 100 years ago (1918) when after World War I, the League of Nations (predecessor of today’s United Nations) gave France the Mandate over Greater Syria (including Lebanon). The first thing the French government did was extending the borders of the Mt. Lebanon province to include all of what is now Lebanon. This was done to enhance the political situation of the Maronite community who’s population would now exceed that of the Sunni Muslims in the new district. A very political move with harsh consequences, it would turn out.

The root of all evil to fester in the Middle East and parts of Africa comes from shifting tribal powers by arbitrarily drawing straight lined nation states with no consideration for who is being cut off from their historic roots. Colonial powers had a habit of doing just that.
If you are interested in a short data chronology of what happened in the Syria/Lebanon area between January 1, 1918 and now, go here.
The French today are paying the price for the political policy sins of their great grand fathers in the Middle East and their Grandfathers in Algeria and other parts of North Africa.

Where are Terrorists Grown?

The next thing to understand about extremism and violence is that the flame ignites usually in well educated and connected upper middle classes, where causes are formulated and over time taken down to the uneducated, disenfranchised and downtrodden of the world. Carlos “the Jackal” was the son of a lawyer, studied at the world renown London School of Economics and Lumumba University in Moscow, Rudi Dutschke who advocated “long march through the institutions of power” came from well established Berlin parents. The attempt on his life in 1968 in a way “created” Germany’s Rote Armee Fraktion, as founder Ulrike Meinhof, the daughter of two professors in Art History and languages, reacted to this attempt with the words: Protest is when I say this does not please me. Resistance is when I ensure what does not please me, will not happen anymore.

Andreas Baader was the son of a post doctorate historian archivist, his girlfriend and Red Army Fraction founder Gudrun Ennslin’s father was a pastor. Ernesto Che Guavara was an Irish/Basque descendant from a politically active rightwing family who became a doctor and revolutionary. Fidel Castro’s father was a first generation successful cane sugar farmer. Fidel’s catholic upbringing included numerous prestigious catholic schools in Cuba. In 1950 he graduated as doctor of law after which he co-founded a legal partnership that catered to poor Cubans. His beginnings were focused on improving the lives of the poor and the victims of corruption and abuse of power, soon after to be replaced by the awareness that absolute power corrupts as a minuscule part of what time perceives as evolution and natural progression.
There are numerous examples in old and recent history that tell the story of how social awareness is expressed. Revolution is just one way and it is always bloody and violent and creates refugee problems.

Attila the Hun and Gengis Khan are still vaguely known in Europe as two “conquerors” who pushed millions of refugees into Europe and actually changed the continent’s history entirely as one can witness even today, when the Germans are still called “Huns” by some.

Africa remembers Hannibal and Hatseputh and many others and if I were a native from the American continent I would mark Columbus Day as a dark day in my people’s history. By the way did you know that Columbus’ son was the first African Slave Trader?

More recently Napolean and Hitler‘s Wars of conquering moved millions from their native grounds and even today’s Israel is the result of a massive refugee exodus after World War II.

Perspective does not make the atrocities committed any less, but it makes the understanding a bit more palatable, without any form of justification.

Those who make it worse

In all ignorance currently sprouting from idiots that think they can bomb this problem away, I have news. You won’t. You couldn’t in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. Refugees are a problem of humanity and yes these people are with their back against the wall knowing that if more radical elements hide in their ranks, they will not find welcome anywhere and millions will die – children first. But don’t think they would not give up these radicals if given the opportunity to speak up in protection. Do we trust our governments to vet refugees properly maybe the 64 thousand dollar question to deal with, given the abject mission failure of organizations like the TSA?

One thing is however for sure, a hardline approach will finish everything America ever stood for and building walls on the borders is ludicrous, because once you’re down with Mexico’s borders, you may as well start with the Canadian border, considering the election of Pierre Trudeau’s son into the prime minister’s office recently.

Don't let fanatics turn them into terrorists

Don’t let fanatics turn them into terrorists

The Refugee Culture in Europe

Following is what I get in translation from my brothers and friends in Europe, living in Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels, Vienna, Copenhagen, Berlin, Rome, Beirut and Norway, who are all intimately familiar with and aware of the history of the middle east.

There’s a meme going around that the refugee crisis in Europe (the largest since World War II) is part of a secret plot to subvert the West.
Of course the locals in any country wouldn’t be happy about waves of foreigners pouring in. Especially if they’re poor, unskilled, and not likely to assimilate in the prevailing culture.
It leads to huge problems. Infrastructure gets strained. All at once more people are sucking at the teat of the welfare system. while the unwelcome newcomers compete for bottom-of-the-ladder jobs. Things easily turn nasty and then turn violent.
But the idea that the refugee crisis in Europe is part of a hidden agenda – rather than a predictable outcome – is at least a little strange. And it’s a notion that conveniently deflects blame away from the people and factors that deserve it.

As I shared in the beginning of this story, the civil wars in the Middle East have over many decades produced millions of refugees. In 1970/71 Lebanon took in several hundred thousand refugees from neighboring Jordan. I saw their camps in the Bekaa Valley and I knew that history would keep on repeating itself.
The ongoing civil war in Syria has now turned the country into a refugee-maker and Syria’s neighbors have reached the physical limit on their ability to absorb refugees.

That’s one of the reasons so many are heading to the West.
Lebanon has received over 1 million Syrian refugees. That’s an enormous number for a country with a population of only 4 million – a 25% increase. Jordan and Turkey also have millions of Syrian refugees. They’re saturated.

The number of refugees heading to the West, by contrast, is “only” in the hundreds of thousands. So far.

But it’s not just Syria that’s sending refugees.
Many more come from Iraq and Afghanistan, two other countries shattered by bungled Western military interventions.
Then there are the refugees from Libya. A country the media and political establishment would rather forget because it represents another disastrous military decision.

Actually, it’s not just Libyan refugees. It’s refugees from all of Africa who are using Libya as a transit point to reach Europe.

Before his overthrow by NATO, Muammar Gaddafi had an agreement with Italy, which is directly to Libya’s north, across the Mediterranean Sea. Gaddafi agreed to prevent refugees heading for Europe from using Libya as a transit point. It was an arrangement that worked. So it’s no shocker that when NATO helped a coalition of ambitious rebels overthrow the Gaddafi regime, the refugee floodgates opened.

When there’s war, there are refugees. It’s a one plus one outcome.
It’s a bit like kicking a beehive and being surprised that angry bees fly out. Nobody should be surprised when that happens. And nobody should be surprised that people are fleeing war zones in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

If Western governments didn’t want a refugee crisis, they shouldn’t have been so eager to topple those governments and destabilize those countries without a solid plan and timeline. The refugees should camp out in the backyards of the individuals who run those governments.

Also:

we should not forget to mention the Saudis. They were very much involved in the Libyan war and Egypt’s volatility. They’ve also devoted themselves to ousting the Assad government in Syria, for geopolitical and sectarian reasons.
Then there’s the war in Yemen that the Saudis have sponsored. It’s another mess the media don’t discuss often. But it will likely produce even more refugees.

The Saudis make no secret about not welcoming refugees, even though the Kingdom is a primary instigator of the wars that are forcing people to flee their homelands. One reason is the Saudis don’t want more people leeching off their welfare system, especially amid budget crunches from lower oil prices.
This brings up another interesting point. For the first time in decades, observers are calling into question the viability of the Saudi currency peg of 3.75 riyals per US dollar.

The Saudi government spends a ton of money on welfare to keep its citizens sedated. But with lower oil prices cutting deep into government revenue, there’s less money to spend on welfare. Then there’s the cost of the wars in Yemen and Syria.

There’s a serious crunch in the Saudi budget. They’ve only been able to stay afloat by draining their foreign exchange reserves. That threatens their currency peg.

The next clue that there’s trouble is Saudi officials telling the media that the currency peg is fine and there’s nothing to worry about. An official government denial is almost always a sign of the opposite. It’s like the old saying: “believe nothing until it has been officially denied.” In my opinion there is another refugee stream in the making, probably more shifted towards the US, considering their longstanding ties and investments.

If you have nothing, a welfare state is paradise

It’s no coincidence that the refugees are flowing to the countries with the most generous welfare benefits, especially Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Scandinavian nations.
If there weren’t so many freebies in these countries, there wouldn’t be so many refugees showing up to collect them. Humanitarian aid is one thing, but freebies that elevate them far beyond their lifestyles, is narcissism.
The whole refugee crisis was easily predictable. It was the foreseeable consequence of shortsighted interventions in the Middle East and the welfare-state policies of nearby Europe.

Instead of facing facts, blaming it all on a scheme to subvert the West conveniently deflects any responsibility from the authors of the mess.

If the individuals who run Western governments really wanted to solve the refugee problem, they would throttle way back on welfare-state policies and then stay out of the Middle East free-for-all. It’s really as simple as that. Of course Israel does not agree with me, as do fractions with financial interests.

I don’t count on the mainstream media to figure this out any time soon. They effectively operate as an organ of the State. I bet they’ll keep prescribing more of the same bad medicine that caused this crisis to begin with.
This will help to cover the tracks of the real perpetrators, and it will obscure other real problems. I expect the media to ramp up the “blame the foreigner” sentiment, as it helps the US and EU governments distract the anger of their citizens from failed policies, the sputtering economy and the shrinking of their civil liberties. From the politicians’ perspective, it’s a win-win. But it’s a lose-lose for citizens hoping for accountable government.
Bernie Sanders is starting to look a bit better to me. He’s old enough to give it one last shot to make a difference. Who knows.

Everybody Has a Hungry Heart

13 Candidates and Look who's in the middle!

13 Candidates and Look who’s in the middle!

There is so much to write about, yet there is so little interesting stuff in the mainstream media that does not fall short of just rehashing what others like the local bi-weekly deem earth shattering. The wisdom in Bruce Springsteen’s song Everybody has a hungry heart (for publicity) still rings very much true.

It’s too late to talk about the idiot county clerk in Kentucky who thought it more important to use her religious beliefs to defy a law, than just doing the job she was hired to do. It’s also last week’s news to re-distribute my opinion on a Muslim airline stewardess (yeah I know I PC date myself. So what!) who for religious reasons refuses to serve alcohol to a passenger.

I’m way too late to call governor Chris Christie a bozo of incredulous stupidity after he announced that he was going to ask Fred Smith of Fedex founder glory to develop a tracking system for visitors to the US, as a deterrent to overstay their welcome. He actually said: “We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in.”

Oh, I’m sure foreign visitors will be amused when getting a surgically removable bar code sticker slapped on their arm and they get tracked like in the good old Soviet Union.

As a presidential contender, Governor Christie would have been smart to first consult with the US Commerce Department’s “National Travel and Tourism Strategy” , which has set out to attract 100 million visitors by the year 2021, with a total estimated contribution to our economy of $250 billion (Note: that’s only $250 per visitor; a little low in my opinion considering that many come off an expensive transatlantic/pacific flight and will spend a minimum of 7 nights in this country. Ergo I’d like to find a copy of the book ” Vacation the US on $35 a day”.)

Moving on, it’s probably too late to get on the Trump Train, because the man by now has alienated at least half of the population, in spite of his questionable frontrunner position in the GOP. Do the math people and you will see there is no chance in hell he’ll get into the White House, and if he does by an act of sheer insanity, have your exit plan ready, because a Wall works both ways to keep people out and keep people in. Ask former East Berliners and Iron Curtain countries how that works.

So in search for earth shattering news I turn to the local bi-weekly and find the front page covered with a bold title that says that the “Horses on Cumberland could be removed or fenced.

Wow, hold your horses (no pun), what idiot came up with that idea? Who is trying to erect a statue for himself here?

One paragraph into the story however it dawns on me that Park service superintendent Gary Ingram, is a smart man, who is testing the waters, much in the same way as the City commissioners tested the idea of parking meters on the beach several years ago. “It’s not on the radar anytime soon,” Ingram said, thereby avoiding a huge backlash, while still indicating that at some point in the future the wild horses will be a part of the Cumberland history; just as much as the horses history is not really native wild.

The center part of the homepage (right in-the-fold as we would call it online) delivers two stories about land swaps and government indecision that already scream boredom straight off its headlines, so when my eyes get distracted by the story of a former local announcing a presidential bid at the bottom of the page, I get excited. Steve Comley, a Massachusets native who bought a condo in Piper Dunes North in the mid 1990s, calls our local paper on August 31 with the news that he just filed a bid to run for the 2016 presidential election. How exciting!

But then comes the frown of confusion as I read that it took 10 days to arrange for a phone interview about his reasons for filing. That’s a little odd. Was the Labor Day weekend such an obstacle for a more timely interview or is 10 days old news still news? Excitement level drops to luke warm. When I read in the Newbury Port News that his appointed campaign manager is Jesus Christ, my eyes start rolling back into my head and when his paranoia embraces the NRC and Nuclear Power lobby as omni powerful, my deepest sentiments start wondering why this person gets so many columns in our local newspaper. It must be cucumber time as we say in the Netherlands.

Doing a little more research on Mr. Comley I find a 2004 article from well-known islander Jack Healan in the Jacksonville Business Journal, shedding a one sided light on the pitfalls for Florida out-of-state condo-owners. Aside from once again observing how influential people use their version of economic benefits and employment to get laws passed, I only learn that Mr. Comley was at best a part time resident of the island. Reading on I learn that Mr. Comley has a beef with the security behind nuclear energy, that he uses the military bandwagon like any other ambitious politician and that he envies Donald Trump media savvyness. Boredom by this time is making me want greasy fast food and a chance to kick someone of perceived importance.

Mr. Comley is a boring man with a conservative streak and a heart in the right place and as confused as anyone these days about economy, international affairs, energy, environment and procreation, who indulges in the fact that GOP frontrunner the Donald (that nickname used to be reserved for Donald Duck, wonder what he thinks these days) agreed with one of his nuclear fear mongering statements.

Turtle News

So in desperation my eyes wander to the bottom of the newspaper, still anxiously looking for something more than propaganda and sales messages and I see a piece of news that attracts my attention: Our Turtle Season sofar has produced 201 nests with 12,192 hatches, almost 50% more than in 2014. In addition to being news, that would have been qualified as good news if I hadn’t seen a special on PBS yesterday that declared most Sea Turtle Species to be extinct within the next 15 to 20 years. WHY?

Well first of all, scientific research indicates that now anywhere from 1 out of 7,000 to 1 out of 4,000 hatchlings will make it to sexual maturity of the age of 10. Netting, ocean contamination, crimping beaches, debris, obstacles and plastic; there are so many human barricades, that turtles are doomed from the start.

Now there is another problem added to the situation: it is reported that due to global warming increase of about 2°F over the last 10 years, turtle nests on the beaches now produce many more female offspring than male; actually to the rate of almost 10 to 1.

So reality reveals that out of the harvest of 12,192 hatchlings, one to two would actually live long enough to start reproducing at around age ten. Yes global warming and the rising of sea levels is a very serious problem and will effect the way we live sooner, rather than later, especially on a small barrier island.

Back to politics and the games we play: Maybe I think too much – I have definitely been accused of that “shortcoming” on more than one occasion. Maybe I just see only the negative, and yes that too has been put on my plate more than once. Yet when I got that defining clear moment during the presidential debates on TV last night, I saw the best candidate to lead this country loud and clear. This candidate could and would bring back the times when this country was the undisputed leader, guided by probably the best task dividing, value supporting and respect restoring writing in the history of mankind: The Constitution. The fighter for freedom and the provider of opportunities for everyone. I saw Carly Fiorina’s power of the word, Donald Trump’s entertainment value, Ben Carson clear thinking and humanity, Scott Walker’s energy and will to try and take responsibility, Jeb Bush’s intelligent experience and Rand Paul with the guts, honesty and down to earth thinking that runs in the family. This country is too big to be sitting on the shoulders of one person, who carries the responsibility, even if his name would be Frank Underwood.

Main Street Program Getting Ready for Take Off

Florida Main Street Designation

Florida Main Street Designation

In a press release update from Community Development Director Adrienne Burke  it is reported that Fernandina Beach’s prestigious designation as a Florida Main Street community is well on its way. Being a Florida Main Street will enable Fernandina Beach to create greater economic stability, revitalization, sustainability, vitality, quality of life and civic pride through the historic downtown, the press release states.

What has happened since the designation?

The official organization, Fernandina Beach Main Street, Inc., has been formed with a Board of Directors and is seeking 501(c)(6) status. Establishing a separate non-profit board is typical of most Main Street communities. There are eleven Board members including: Chair Marisol Triana (Hola Cuban Café), Vice-Chair Adrienne Burke (City of Fernandina Beach), Secretary Regina Duncan (Chamber of Commerce), Treasurer Bobby Ferreira (Century 21), Ashley Phinazee (Colie’s), Steve Colwell (Fantastic Fudge), Arlene Filkoff (Community Redevelopment Area Advisory Board), Susan Mowery (Amelia Island-Fernandina Restoration Foundation), Bob Ramshaw (Hampton Inn), Gil Langley (Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau), and Laura DiBella (Nassau County Economic Development Board). Several members of the Board are also members of the Historic Fernandina Business Association. The initial Board terms are three years.

The first order of action for the Board in addition to establishing Board bylaws and procedures has been to solicit applicants for the position of Main Street Executive Director. Fifty-seven applicants from around the country applied for the position, and a hiring committee of the Board is working on final candidates to bring to the full Board for a decision. It is hoped the Executive Director will be on the ground in October. Citizens State Bank at 715 Centre Street has graciously donated office space to house the director’s office, and has made their conference room available for board and committee meetings.

Additionally, sponsors who have contributed to supporting the Main Street program are being contacted with updates and will be provided necessary organizational information for purposes of making contributions. The Main Street Board is extremely appreciative of sponsor support and community enthusiasm. It is anticipated that sponsors will receive recognition as promotional and outreach materials are created.

The Board is working on a website and creating a mailing list over the next month. Events and updates on the program will be added to the website, in addition to information on Board and committee meetings. Fernandina Beach Main Street already has a presence on social media, including Facebook and Instagram.
Also, part of the Main Street program involves technical assistance from the state. On October 6, the Florida Main Street Coordinator, Ronni Wood, will be visiting Fernandina Beach for the first site visit of the program.
In January, a technical team is planned to visit to assist with framing the program work around the four National Main Street goals:
• promotion,
• design,
• economic restructuring, and
• organization.
This technical work will help establish the priorities for the Fernandina Beach Main Street program.

How can you get involved?

Right now, the Board is issuing a call to action for volunteers who are needed to form committees around the four program goals. The committees are an active part of making the Main Street a success, and should expect to commit at least 8-10 hours a month on the committee. If you have the time and interest, please email Regina Duncan at regina@aifby.com and indicate which committee you are interested in: promotion, design, economic restructuring, or organization. Information on the four goals can be found at www.mainstreet.org under “4 Point Approach.” Approximately five to seven committee members are needed for each group.

If you don’t have the time to be on a committee, stay tuned for how you may be able to volunteer. Community volunteers will be critical to implementing committee and Board action items and helping ensure Fernandina Beach Main Street is one of the best in the state!

FURTHERMORE mark your calendars to join us on Wednesday, October 7th at 5:30 at Sheffield’s and the Palace Saloon when First Coast Magazine is hosting their first annual Masquerade Soiree, featuring local food, cocktails, live music, and masks galore! Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. A portion of the event proceeds will benefit the Fernandina Beach Main Street program. Purchase tickets at www.firstcoastmag.com/masqueradesoiree.

Lastly, be sure to like us at “Fernandina Beach Main Street” on Facebook, “FernandinaBeachMainStreet” on Instagram, and use #fernandinabeachmainstreet in posts. As a non-profit, donations are welcomed to help support the mission of the program and can be given at: http://www.gofundme.com/MainStreetFB. We thank you in advance! To volunteer or sign up for the mailing list, email regina@aifby.com.
For more information on the Florida Main Street program at the Department of State, visit http://dos.myflorida.com/historical/preservation/main-street-program.

Fernandina Beach Mainstreet designation is not yet listed on the DOS website, but that seems to be less of an oversight and more of a rapidfire profilation of the local chapter.

Have a Cigar !!

Just a little bit closer

Just a little bit closer

Almost unnoticed by the mainstream press, or so it seems, Cuba opened its Washington DC Embassy last Monday after 54 years of absence – and even more quietly the US opened its embassy in Havana, waiting for John Kerry to make some time to attend the official flag raising in a couple of weeks. Of course some hotheaded South Florida Cuban fossils protested loudly against Kerry’s statement that “although the two nations differ on basic issues ranging from human rights to political systems, both will be better served by engagement rather than estrangement”.

Leaving self-serving politician’s like Ross-Lehtinen, Calzon including even presidential contender Jeb Bush’s ignorant Tweet that “engaging with Cuba will only further legitimize the repressive regime” to stand in its own isolation, I would like to focus on the real culprit in the hen house, the trade embargo, a penalty the US often uses as a last ditch move to express its frustration with governments that are not willing to walk the politically ‘correct’ line. Interesting here is that the nincom-poops in Congress and their favorite economists in this country, still haven’t figured out the longterm consequences of embargoes in a geo-political sense.
For those who are actually interested in learning a bit more about how things really work, instead of eating the digested party-line crap that comes from Washington and mainstream media, here is a longterm view of what embargoes usually accomplish.

China’s Economic Embargo

The US embargoed China for 20+ years starting in 1950.
Together with allies in Europe and postwar Japan, we implemented the most thorough economic embargo ever on China at the start of the Korean War, which covered over 400 classes of products, including farm, fish and forestry products, fertilizers, coal, chemicals and metals, passenger cars, agricultural, industrial and office equipment and certain electronic and communications equipment. Trains and airplanes belonged to the “don’t even think about it” categories. The embargo lasted from 1950 – 1971. It taught China a lesson – whatever you don’t make, you don’t have.

Tricky Dicky changed that in 1971 when the U.S. Ended the Ban on China Trade .

The direct result is that today, China is the most embargo-resistant country in the world by far.

There is no other country, not the US, not Russia, as embargo-resistant as China.
If you want to know how big a lesson China had learned, just look at wheat yield development and the consequence of starvation. Not trying to point out the responsibility of policy decisions that starve millions of people to death, but when fertilizer is embargoed, and you don’t know how to make it yourself, well, you get to starve.
So here is a story to take into consideration when talking about normalizing relations with Cuba even though the scales are vastly different.

main-qimg-41442c44b5c5fceab2f2d30010a1389cThis is a reflection of the wheat yield per hectare in China between 1949 and 1999. Agricultural yield depends on three factors: irrigation, seed, fertilizer. China had irrigation and seed, but fertilizer was embargoed. In 1949 the yield was about 600 kg/hectare, and according to the US ambassador at that time, 3 – 7 million people in China starved to death every year before 1949. It was basically subsistence-level farming. The famous “Great Leap Forward” in 1958 – 1961 caused the little dip in yield you see on the graph from 1958 – 1961, which people blamed it on Mao’s wrong agriculture policy. Just a little dip, and mass starvation was the result. But once the embargo lifted in 1971 and fertilizers started flowing into China, the wheat yield experienced a 5-fold increase, from 600 kg/hectare to 3200 kg/hectare! Yeah, if the fertilizer had started flowing in earlier, China would not have been nearly so fragile that any policy mistake leads to mass starvation. But when fertilizer is embargoed, and you don’t know how to make it yourself, well, you get to starve.

The one country who helped China the most at that time was Russia. Russia probably won’t do so ever again, but back then it was a communist country and actually believed in just giving technologies to fellow communist countries for free. A lot of countries got their domestic industries started this way, but China, despite the fact that most of the population were illiterate, turned out to have benefited the most . Russia transferred 156 complete industrial lines to China in the 50’s and 60’s, including coal, iron, engine, tire, tooling, fertilizer, etc. Almost all of them are heavy industries that are out of date by now, but it’s like somebody has to move from elementary school to middle school to high school to university – without this transition, the Chinese would have a really hard time catching on to the more advanced technologies later. The Russians were really good – taught the Chinese hand-by-hand every step of the way.

Many people believed that was the result of the “trust-building exercise” of the Korean War, where over 200,000 Chinese lost their lives. This was the beginning of transforming China from a poor starving farm to a huge profitable factory.

Then as soon as the embargo was lifted, the Chinese government in the 70’s spent a lot of money to buy technology from Germany, France, Japan, and the other Western countries, and started building their own chemical and transportation industries from scratch. 20 years later, China had enough industrial knowledge to be able to reverse-engineer most of the stuff she ever laid her eyes on. The “market for technology” strategy later on, when the Chinese market grew big enough to be attractive, also helped moving a lot of production to China.

With the fall of USSR in the 90’s, the US and her allies started the “globalization”, basically move the low-margin businesses out of the country and keep the high-margin businesses (like finance, etc.) in. Well, China has a different take on this. After all, it’s the country that has been put under the most extreme embargo for over 20 years. She doesn’t care about money as much as whether she gets to have the stuff, because if there is any disturbance in the normal functioning market, you can have money but nowhere to buy the stuff. So she jumped enthusiastically onto the globalization bandwagon and yelled, “come, globalized your stuff to me! I’ll make it cheaply for you!”

Before the 90’s, the US, USSR, and China were the only 3 countries who had the industrial infrastructure to make stuff from scratch (ores, coal, petroleum, rubber) to finished products. Then USSR imploded and the US globalized. Now, China is the only one who can make 90% of all the world products from scratch to finish. It’s the most self-sufficient country in the world.

So now, if you put China under embargo again, the quality of life in China should by-and-large be ok, but it’s probably going to be a very fast way to put the brakes on 100% of global industries. The “made-in China” stuff is actually the smaller concern. I bet every industry will have at least some parts/tooling that are imported from China. Remember for a complex system with hundreds of components, it takes only one critical components missing to stop the whole production. You can replace them, but it’s going to take time, and it may require developing additional technology and industry know-how to get there. In the meantime, everything is going to grind to a halt waiting for parts.

China exports $2.3 trillions worth of products a year. 20% to the US, 20% to EU, and the rest goes to the third-world countries in every continent. There are over 100 US banks and tens of thousands of US-China joint venture companies in China. Conversely, there are tons of Chinese companies in every continent as well. A US embargo of China is frankly unthinkable, because it would hurt every single country on earth. On the other hand, when all countries work together, everybody makes money together.

The whole point of globalization is, that everyone will be dependent on each other and thus all of us will have the incentive to maintain the peace? Yeah I know…..it’s been a long time coming.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Dutch Show Courage

integratie

Integration is factual and real

My dearest old friend Ric, who six months ago moved from Amelia Island to Nashville sent me a Go Dutch story this morning with the request to offer my opinion. Rather than summarize the content of the email I would like to share it with you in its entirety and then offer my weighed opinion, however with one caveat; there is absolutely no comparison value available between the US immigration policies and the Dutch policies, because their political, cultural, religious and economic histories are utterly divergent.

Before I get into that however, here is the news story as it was sent into my inbox.

Go Dutch

The Netherlands, where six per cent of the population is now Muslim, is scrapping multiculturalism.

The Dutch government says it will abandon the long-standing model of multiculturalism that has encouraged Muslim immigrants to create a parallel society within the Netherlands … 
 
A new integration bill, which Dutch Interior Minister Piet Hein Donner presented to parliament, 
on June 16, 2015 reads:
 
”The government shares the social dissatisfaction over the multicultural society model and plans to shift priority to the values of the Dutch people.”
In the new integration system, the values of the Dutch society, play a central role. 
 
With this change, the government steps away from the model of a multicultural society.

The letter continues: “A more obligatory integration is justified because the government also demands that from its own citizens.”
It is necessary because otherwise the society gradually grows apart and eventually no one feels at home anymore in the Netherlands.
  
The new integration policy will place more demands on immigrants.
 
For example, immigrants will be required to learn the Dutch language, and the government will take a tougher approach to immigrants who ignore Dutch values or disobey Dutch law. 
 
The government will also stop offering special subsidies for Muslim immigrants because, according to Donner: “It is not the government’s job to integrate immigrants.”  (How bloody true!!!)
  
The government will introduce new legislation that outlaws forced marriages and will also impose tougher measures against Muslim immigrants who lower their chances of employment by the way they dress.

More specifically, the government imposed a ban on face-covering, Islamic burqas as of January 1, 2015. 
 
Holland has done that whole liberal thing, and realized – maybe too late – that creating a nation of tribes, will kill the nation itself.
  
The future of Australia, the UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand may well be read here..

READERS NOTE: Muslim immigrants leave their countries of birth because of civil and political unrest . . . “CREATED BY THE VERY NATURE OF THEIR CULTURE.”
Countries like Holland, Canada, USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand have an established way of life that actually works, so why embrace the unworkable?
If Muslims do not wish to accept another culture, the answer is  simple; “STAY WHERE YOU ARE!!!”
This gives a whole new meaning to the term, ‘Dutch Courage’ … Unfortunately Australian, UK, USA, Canadian and New Zealand politicians don’t have the .. guts to do the same.  There’s a whole lot of truth here!!!

End of email followed by a cryptic:
Han, what are your thoughts on this? R

Well where to start unravelling this ‘Ode to the Dutch Courage’.

First: This whole integration debate started back in 2011, so whomever added the June 16, 2015 date to the story is intentionally distorting a number of timeline facts. Also, contrary to what’s claimed, the values of the Dutch society have always played a central role in immigration integration policy, primarily because the Dutch Society has been a multicultural society since the 16th century, when it was the world’s leading trader. Because of its tolerance in many aspects of life, the country since has attracted numerous political and religious refugees, but also large numbers of prosperous traders and immigrants who moved or fled to the Netherlands over the centuries.

Second: The Muslim population in the Netherlands has traditionally hovered around 4-5% of the total population, especially since after World War II, many Moroccans and Turks came to work the heavy industries such as coal mines and steel works in search for a better life. They were always integrated into a Salad Bowl Concept that supported economic progress.COB_data_Netherlands

Get a real impression of origins of the 11% of the alien “Dutch” population from this map.

To open above dissertation with a sensationalist quote that implies that now because 6% of the Dutch population pays homage and tribute to Allah (it’s less than 5%, but who counts), the Dutch government decides to scrap multiculturalism from the societal palette, is a typical Fox News way of painting the canvas.

The reality is that islamic presence in Holland has for many decades been around the same percentage. Another reality not reflected in the sensationalist statement is that the Netherlands is probably the most progressive country on earth when it comes to gay rights, abortion, euthanasia (human life in general), legalized drugs, female equality and economic equality. And during the development of these human concepts, the country created economic support and cultural survival systems that need protection against abuse. No matter what a religion may preach about gays or the sin of euthanasia, you better be accepting of the concept if you want to move to the Netherlands.

So I would like to say that whomever presented this 4 year old story, should have spent a couple more hours researching what has happened since the summer of 2011. He/she would have found a much more tapered and careful introduction of melting Pot conceptuality with much consideration and respect for the parties involved.

Third: The voluntary immigration integration concepts around the world for centuries have been moving from a Melting Pot structure to a Salad Bowl structure and concepts in between.  When it comes to the integration of multicultural societies, intent is of major importance. Voluntary emigration/immigration carries the inclination that you are actually excited to accept the consequences of moving to an elected society and are expected to adjust to and adopt your new country’s kaleidoscope of lifestyle offerings. After a number of years living in that society, a natural progression usually takes place and over time you master the language, understand the economic, political and social systems, and you melt into the pot, which will become your childrens’ new national foundation.

The Dutch, always on the front lines to try something new, tried the 20th century philosophy inherent to the Melting Pot concept first, in the believe that in a framework of mutual respect, time’s slow simmering would supposedly integrate all of them. Well that’s not quite the case if you don’t control the floodgate. While countries like America, Canada and Australia saw the development of China Towns, Little Italys, Little Havanas, little Polands and German villages all over the place, each with their own distinct characteristics, power structures and increasingly limited respect for the laws of the land, the Dutch faced large scale cultural diversity in its small town industrial neighborhoods. It was much more an in-your-face experience for native dutch people.

integratiefaalasscher_grI grew up in a coal miners’ town in a wedge of industrial land between Germany and Belgium and every 3rd or 4th person in our small town society was either/or from a different country, religion, economic classification, creed or race. Respect was the first effort, patience the second, the third one was friendliness and the fourth one empathy. We mostly got along fine.
Another childhood memory was the one where we played ball with our friends in Germany across the barbed wire in the middle of the road that was the border between the two countries, less than 10 years after WWII ended. A smile, a wave and a friendly word went a very long way.

For everyone jumping to conclusions based on above dissertation, it’s important to realize that the Netherlands is a very small country (1/4 the size of Florida) but with a relatively large population of almost 17 million people and a history anchored in global trading, economic diversity, religious freedom and a highly educated population that rarely cuts off the power of communication.

Conclusion: several decades ago the Dutch decided to give the Salad Bowl Concept to the multicultural integration process a whirl and over time found that it wasn’t working too well either. So now it is back to the drawing board and instead of broad, magnificent gestures of stupidity to impress, the emphasis is on small workable solutions.

Fourth: To make a long story not much longer, this dissertation is 4 years old; it’s a work in progress; some Dutch support the melting pot concept, some support the Salad Bowl and some support elements from either one and reject other elements. Yet very few Dutchmen support the crude idea that anyone who doesn’t agree with the Laws of the Land should fuck off and go back to where they came from or call Muslims Camel Jockies or other atrocious, indignant expressions of life’s dark corners. It’s a general understanding that if all the almost 2 billion Muslims on earth would be members of Isis, humanity would already have ceased to exist. Keep that in mind. That’s how the second largest Dutch city of Rotterdam elected a muslim Mayor seven years ago, a man widely admired for his vision and leadership towards a future where discussions about Immigrant Integration will be a thing of the past.

Comparing the challenges the Dutch government is undertaking and the so-called courage to re-introduce Melting Pot elements, with the challenges here in America are slightly idiotic considering that the Dutch understood Islam long before North America had states with borders or Napoleon sold Spanish and Indian lands to Thomas Jefferson. Why? Because public-policy disasters are what you get when you apply rational, small-scale problem-solving logic to an inappropriately broad situation. Everything in America is too big to fail, which is why it often fails.

Greece Blinked First…

l'Histoire se répeteOh yes, everyone and their dead uncle has been commenting on Greece’s socio-economic dilemma this week, from the omni-intelligent economist Paul Kruger to billionaire Wilbur Ross and everyone in between. Since I was on vacation in beautiful downtown Charleston, I had time between morning coffee in the lobby and my beautiful wife awakening to face the day, to read up on Greece’s conundrum and the world’s follies in general.

More than 5 years ago Greece was in the news with the same topic – Being kicked out of the Eurozone for non-payment of debts. Politicians, as they always do until violence becomes unavoidable, rigged some idiotic financial constructions, put up a warning and went on their merry way.  On April 8, 2010 I made the suggestion to buy Greece with the money that came back from bailing out AIG, Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae, just about $380 billion. Of course nobody listened and the Government Zombies started kicking the cans down the street. A month later Wall Street was still riding the wave by pretending that an economy about the size of the economy of the City of Atlanta could really create an impact that would result in chaos.

A year later I wrote about a Trojan Horse called “Forlorn Hope” while European bankers and the IMF continued to hand out money to Greek banks to keep liquidity afloat for the Greek government to pay its employees and service some ridiculously entitling pension plans.

And so time turns to 2015 and once again Greece is on everyone’s lips. Failing a miserable $1.7 billion debt service payment is picked up by the media as a canary in the coal mine and blown out of proportion as if the world has reached doomsday. Pundits come up with a new word “Grexit” to portray horrible death scenarios for the Euro and the Eurozone. In the aftermath of this whirlwind idiocy, Eurozone members such as Italy, Portugal, Spain, even Ireland would probably create another acronym such as Gipsi, and attract a ton of experts to write opinions on why and how all these countries and their historic heritage will effect a Eurozone downfall.

Of course all the saber rattling from last week was just another attempt to confuse the people of Greece and possibly the rest of Europe and the world. Greek citizens did not realize what they were voting for or even recognize the short term consequences of being thrown out of the Euro, such as not having access to emergency funding to pay government workers and pensions. This is not a big deal in my book, but the country would also have to start printing its own currency again, a currency that would not have a lot of confidence initially. As a consequence they would face runaway inflation as a result of high import prices, yet ultimately they would start balancing their budgets on tremendous export opportunities and shaking off the chains of Eurozone imposed regulations. However the Greeks like the idea of the Euro as it attaches them to the modern principles of democracy. It gives them more clout for their money and it is an important political power tool.

So when they voted No last Sunday, they thought they were standing up against Germany’s demand for more austerity if they wanted to get another bail out. But here already is the first problem, Mainstreet Greece never gets the money that the IMF and other European banks have put into Greece. This money goes to overblown government structures, pension plan promises, banks and politicians. Greek businesses have not been able to borrow at favorable rates since all this crap began 7 years ago. Private individuals have not been able to attract affordable mortgages or start up capital. Yet on top of that they have been burdened financially and otherwise by the mountain of rules and regulations that come with a Eurozone membership.

Athens’ new socialist government knows it cannot move away from the rock and the hard place, so they will…. and did…. blink first, knowing that neither Germany’s Merkel nor France’s Hollande could. So Greece submitted a new austerity plan and a thousand promises and as a grateful consequence, the Eurozone will open its 2012 vault of bailout funds and kick the Greek Bankruptcy another year or two down the road.

International Fallout

It did however strike me as funny that in anticipation of the Greek induced renewed global chaos, (USA Today reports: Feds wary of Greece!) the Federal Reserve already indicated last month, that previously published interest rate hikes would possibly end up on the back burner for another cycle or two. Why getting investors and bankers nervous in America as long as the Gravy Train has a printing press in the Caboose? Especially since it also started to rumble on the other side of the globe , with China putting Shanghai’s stock market under Beijing’s control as it closed down trading on 51% of the companies in the Shanghai Composite after it lost $3.5 trillion in paper value over the past 2 months.

It was only a few weeks before that Chinese brokers were opening new accounts in record numbers. From farmers to hairdressers, everyone was itching to get a piece of the action, as the stock market soared. But the Chinese are not sophisticated stock market investors. They have only been at it for a few decades at best. So, they tend to get over-excited in both directions. Lots of moms and pops rush in, hoping to make their fortunes as speculators.

In China, there are more stock market gamblers than there are in the U.S. They often buy too high and sell too low.
So Bejing’s interference in the past week would be “normal” in the eyes of the seasoned investor, yet appalling in the eyes of about everyone else, as it fleeces the ignorants and transfers great amounts of wealth to the rich. In the 12 months leading up to the peak of the recent rally, Shanghai stocks gained about 150% and on June 12 started overheating because the real economy nowhere near reflects this rise. Result? A third drop totalling $3.5 trillion in paper wealth in a very short period of time.

Now to stop this “bleeding” the government unveiled a set of market interventions bigger than Washington’s TARP bank bailout package in the depths of the global financial crisis. Speculator/Investors tend to do dumb things in China or anywhere else in the world for that matter; and so do regulators.

In addition to cutting interest rates and reserve requirements for banks, regulators have suspended trading in a little over half of Chinese shares… eased margin requirements… ordered state-owned companies to buy back their own shares… and ordered state-owned banks to fund those buybacks.

If you do this type of heavy-handed manipulation in the private sector you may end up in jail, but as a government you can do everything you like and get away with it. N’est-ce pas? Beijing even promised investors that the Shanghai Composite will soon hit about 20% higher than where it stands today. Guaranteed, cross their heart, hope to die.

It’s the Economy Stupid

However, the trouble in China has little to do with the stock market. The trouble is in the economy. It is managed, controlled, and centrally planned. The authorities there are under increasing pressure to hold onto their power, their money, and their status.

The result: too much debt and shockingly bad investments.

And China’s feds are using every trick in the book to try to prevent an economic slump – just like in the U.S., Japan, and Europe. This has wide-ranging repercussions as China is the world’s biggest consumer of commodities and close to the world’s largest economy.
Global mining stocks have lost $143 billion – nearly 20% of their value – in the last 10 days. Crude oil prices have fallen, too. Some analysts now say oil will drop as low as $20 a barrel, acknowledging that this is also based on a nuclear deal in the making in Iran, which would open that country’s export opportunities to an already grossly over-supplied commodity.

Fact remains in this connected world, that if China goes into a recession/depression, we should expect, unlike Greece, huge effects on the rest of the world. Greece is only the selected front-line story in a global economy looking for answers on how to deal with debt. Extending annuities and lowering interest rates to the point where money has no intrinsic value, maybe a short term bandaid, but as populations age and smaller workforces need to pay for expanding numbers of retirees, economic growth as an answer to debt becomes impossible. That’s when true chaos will rear its ugly head and politicians are shackled and lined up at the guillotine.

Traditional Advertising is Seeking Burial Ground

Burial Procession

Looking for a Media Burial Ground

As the digital age is well on its way to oversaturate the world with equally useful and useless information, the result in general is that John Public is better informed and not as easily persuaded or fooled as in the past.
Because of this, traditional forms of advertising are now rapidly becoming obsolete as digital devices take up more of people’s time than television, radio, newspapers, magazines or any other form of infotainment.

This restructuring in the way consumers absorb and obtain information on companies, brands, products, and everything else has led to the birth of content (or inbound) marketing. Much of content marketing’s success is due to one key feature that sets it apart from other forms of advertising; valuable and useful information for audiences. But despite the resounding reception of content marketing by consumers, most small and medium sized companies, especially those operating on a local or regional level are still hesitant to switch gears.

And if this is you, it’s time to shift. If you have a blog sites, than start blogging relevant content
Below is a bevy of solid facts that prove that content marketing is not only valuable to businesses and communities, but necessary for overall growth and success.

The Rise of the Savvy Consumer

Many consumers conduct a decent amount of research into brands and products before buying in. Many individuals will simply not accept claims from anyone at face value (not even Facebook) and prefer to research the information themselves; information that is now at their fingertips. For this reason, content marketing is an extremely useful tool in convincing consumers that the products you are selling are worthwhile.

Today, 68% of consumers spend substantial time reading content from brands that they find interesting and may consider purchasing from. Additionally, 90% found custom content to be useful. Not only does content marketing provide consumers with additional information on a product or brand, but it also develops credibility, trust and a sense of personal relationship.
On a personal level it is baffling how many times I speak to people in phone calls, interested in staying at our Inn and when I answer their question on whom they are talking to, the conversation gets giddily excited because the guests reviews so often mention my breakfast talents (?) that potential guests already feel they know and trust me.

No surprise here as 70% of today’s consumers state that content marketing materials make them feel closer to the company while 82% of consumers feel increased positivity surrounding a brand after reading custom content.
These statistics are critical aspects of survival for any company, considering that one of the major factors consumers look for in a brand these days is authenticity. Today’s shoppers seek to develop a trust-based relationship with brands. Content marketing is so powerful in this regard that 78% of people believe that organizations who provide custom content are interested in developing positive relationships with them.

Truthfully, no matter what any marketer or business person thinks about content marketing, the proof is in the numbers, and the general population loves custom content. And this trend is only set to explode further as mobile use continues to climb.

The Rise of the Reactive Marketer

As much as consumers love custom content, marketers and businesses love it as well. There has been massive growth in the need for content marketing among companies over the past several years.
Today, 86% of Business to Business (B2B) marketers and 77% of Business to Consumer (B2C) marketers utilize a content marketing strategy. Additionally, 70% of B2B marketers create more content now than in the previous year. This channel of marketing has become so popular that 4 of every 5 marketing leaders have integrated content into their advertising programs.

th-1th

And these incredibly revealing numbers don’t end there either. Over the next 12 to 18 months, 80% of surveyed companies intend to increase digital marketing budgets while 24% currently allocate 50% or more of marketing budgets to content. It’s the bees knees, people.
Over the past year alone for example, the use of info graphics has skyrocketed from a meager 11% to an astounding 62%.
In 2014, video content for B2B marketing increased in use from 8% to 58%. To further this point, brands that generate 15 blog posts on a monthly basis (One every Two Days) typically average about 1,200 new leads per month. Impressive, don’t you think?

The conclusion here is pretty black and white. To put it plainly, content marketing is now the most effective and engaging form of advertising. The time to ditch traditional marketing plans is now. Content marketing is not going away any time soon and will only become more powerful and influential as time goes on.

Shoppers are simply no longer wooed by flashy ads, sexy images, or persuasive language. Consumers seek useful, unique, informative content on topics that are relevant to them.
The stupid lifestyle ads on TV, featuring 20 year olds talking about wrinkles and early aging risks are seen as hugely irrelevant. Although creating top-notch content may seem like it is daunting task for some, there is plenty of great information and a myriad of fantastic content creation tools and talent available.

Combine the knowledge of relevant content with the most popular mobile delivery systems and you’ll be set for the next 2 to 5 years. Don’t and your business will become an ancient relic; invest time and resources into content marketing and your company stands a much better chance for blazing a trail into the future, however short that may be considering the quick change of technology driven pace.

Taking Us to the Crossroad

An Avalanche in the Making

An Avalanche in the Making

Life is full of crossroads. In work, education, friendships, religion, love, crossroads are the landmarks that make us move forward or regress. Some of us ‘create’ these crossroads through conscious actions and choices, but many, too many in my opinion, depend on others to take them to a crossroad.

When my good friend Ronnie Stoots in his typical entertaining way shared the story about a Southern preacher complaining about one group of parishioners wanting him to pray them into heaven, while yet others blamed him for experiencing hardships. We had a good laugh when the preacher’s enlightened yet practical conclusion to the dilemma was: I’m taking them to the crossroads and whomever gets to them first may have ’em.

When I read Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman’s statement yesterday in the New York Times that “debt doesn’t matter to a Nation” I had to think about Ronnie’s preacher and smiled, albeit a very bitter sweet smile. If one of the Nation’s “leading” economists, one who has the eager ear of the White House and government, makes a statement like that and gets away with it, I think we are all standing on the crossroad of Poverty and prosperity, ready to be picked up by a vehicle with blinded windows, to be taken to destination anywhere.

Krugman, in his wisdom of guided economies, declares that debt on a micro level as in families and individuals, is bad and leads to poverty, but on a macro level like overall national debt, it doesn’t matter, because as he explains: “We owe it to ourselves.” Krugman must live in a different universe, one that turns national interests into a global collective interest where any debt is just money we owe to ourselves, and does not directly make the economy poorer.

I can not even begin to explain why idiots like him and Dick Cheney, who once declared that “deficits don’t matter either” and then lead us to a war in Iraq, get airtime from the incompetence of most of the media. But if the Western World, and its summit representative America, is going to war to defend a lifestyle that was build on the simple premise that hard work gives a decent life, the world current debt level of $200 trillion (McKinsey Report), $57 trillion of which was created in the aftermath of 2007/8, need only a spark of doubt about the underlying collateral value, to explode into something so much more devastating than the experience of the greater recession in 2008.

Really? $300 million for this?

Really? $300 million for this?

Not in 1.9 million years!

When a substandard Gauguin painting sells for $300 million at one auction and the rust bucket remains of a 1949 Talbot automobile sells for several millions at another auction, we may be getting close to the break line of a currency crisis.

And when people like Krugman think they can elevate economics to a science rather than an observation of human inconsequence in constantly changing blue prints, I get nervous. Especially when they get the platform to express their nonsense as truth to set your life’s compass by.

Oh yes I’m seeing the crossroad approaching in terrifying speed: poverty or prosperity. It may be 2016 election year, or it may not. With Paul Krugman as one of those at the steering wheel however, there is little doubt where we’re heading. He already sold us: lock, stock and barrel. He knows where his exit/extraction point is: at the crossroad directing traffic.

Welcome to the Machine Era has arrived

The many faces of the machine

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been? It’s alright we know where you’ve been.

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
What did you dream? It’s alright we told you what to dream.

A Wikipedia entry claims that Pink Floyd’s songwriter/bassist Roger Waters wanted to express his disappointment with the music industry when he wrote Welcome to the Machine for the 1975 release of the album “Wish You Were Here”. That is utter crap as a man like Roger Waters has and had much bigger fish to fry than a music industry that lacked a visionary business concept and social consciousness. I know that Waters addressed the empire and the corporation and the system of the world we were making for ourselves…the machine. We’re born, we’re “informed” (some call it education) and then we serve and reproduce and go into massive debt (this guarantees our further servitude) and then we tell our kids “welcome my son…welcome to the machine” and they in turn will do it all over again.

The signs have been there all along and definitely long before Julian Assange’s Wikileak or Edward Snowden came along and made some of us realize the threat was real. Without defining what the threat is, their revelations were only part of the story, and frankly not really the most important part.

The electronic surveillance machine is so much larger than their leaked indiscretions portrayed, including not just government abuses, but also massive commercial abuses. And guess what, the structure of this vile machine is in advanced stages of completion. It is in the stage where it can not only record and register, but it can manipulate and incentivize, it can punish and reward and it can create a world of insinuation that defies legal rights and protections. And that really is always the threat when such power comes into the possession of the wrong people. Discussions about the Constitution or Amendments thereof are declared unimportant in the name of public safety and protection.

Unfortunately it becomes a one-sided discussion if the machine is in the hands of the self imposed overlords. In return for their protection, you will eat the food they describe, drink the beverage they dictate, visit the doctors they favor, swallow the pills they prescribe, drive the cars they manufacture and accept the Hollywood dream as real.
Case in point maybe last weekend’s record breaking release of the movie American Sniper.
But before going into some more detail, here is a small memory lift that encapsulates the essence of the new surveillance machine to play in the background while reading on. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbifrXX2Ltw):

I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan, and I think they nailed this one in 1975 – 40 years ago on the album “Wish You Were Here”. There are two primary functions of this machine: full-life surveillance (“We know where you’ve been”) and persistent, deep manipulation (“We told you what to dream”). I could help but think about this last one, when I learned that the movie “American Sniper” broke all kind of records at the box office, while an internet related warning like “Blackhat” bombed sorely.

I increasingly think that it’s pathetic of me, trying to warn you that this machine of horror has already been built and that we are sitting right in the middle of it. I often think of hanging it up, as the general population’s interpretation of horror is apparently quite different from mine. And yes I’ve tried to put my head in the sand and abstain from writing, but then I think of the observation that contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in sand to avoid danger; only humans do that.

Yes, I know this is something many people don’t want to hear. Far too many are like the ones who complained to the prophet Isaiah, telling him, “Speak unto us smooth things.” But some things are not smooth… yet they’re true anyway.

And so here is the story once again Why Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more MUST Sell You and not always to the highest bidder.

Facebook—and all the other big, ‘free’ services—are selling your minds, thoughts, emotions, opinions and lives just like a butcher sells meat. And please understand: In our materialistic system, they have no choice. Not if they want to keep their quarterly numbers positive. Now also understand that I have no ideological problem with materialism. Capitalism which breeds materialism, has moved our civilization more forward in recent history, than in thousands of years previously. It is greed that creates the problem.

Think about this: Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram and the likes don’t charge a penny to you for their platform use. So if you’re a Facebook user, you are not its customer. Someone pays Facebook; those revenues come from somewhere, but they don’t come from you.
So if you’re neither the company nor the customer, then what are you?
Yep, that’s right—you’re the product. Facebook, Google, and their ilk are selling you to their customers.
And please understand that the free model gives these companies no choice at all. Their users won’t pay, and they have to make money somehow.

“That’s okay; a few ads won’t kill me.”

Facebook’s gross revenue is estimated at more than $1 billion per month. Google’s is approaching $4 billion per month. You don’t really think they get all that income by selling lame ads for tooth paste and concert tickets? These companies are selling you in far more sophisticated ways than that.
Back in 2009 Google’s boss bragged that “We know where you’ll be Tuesday morning,” and you can be very, very sure that they’ve been selling such information for the past five years and rest assured, they’re a lot better at it now.
Three years ago Facebook ran an experiment on 689,000 of its users, to see if it could alter their moods by altering the headlines they saw? The experiment was a resounding success?
They found out that it could alter people’s moods, making them happier or sadder as it wished. And Facebook found something else: those users would transfer those moods to their friends in a cascading effect. Do you really think Facebook hasn’t done anything with that information in the meanwhile? Do you really think Google hasn’t?

Turning up the heat a bit, both of these outfits are in bed with all branches of the feds, headhunters, recruiting companies and yes Facebook’s infamous experiment was partly financed by the US Army. Google is deeply intermingled with the US State Department (as well as other agencies). If you’re curious about this, read Julian Assange’s new book on the subject.

You Want Proof?

Step into Google’s shoes for a minute. Auctioning off little ads would never bring in billions per month; you’d have to find better ways of supercharging your ad revenue. This is what they do?
First, they tell their advertisers they can get ads and other actionable information to people the moment they expressed the first interest in their product. Seems like a perfectly sound move, but that moment came, was monetized, and went more than 10 years ago. So new ideas are needed to juice the quarterly reports.

Now what would you do in their shoes?

Guess what?! You learn how to implant desires in your users. And if you want to do it well, you do it in ways that are specific to each individual. After all, what works to manipulate me may be completely ineffective for you.
And that’s where we are now at this stage of the game. And when I say that these companies fulfill Pink Floyd’s lyric of “We told you what to dream,” I don’t mean that they tried to make everyone dream the same thing; I mean that they got your friend to dream things that will squeeze money out of her life… and that they’ll make you dream different things, things designed to squeeze money out of your life. They can distinguish, read profile, an adventurer from a homebody and create pertinent campaigns. Your profile says you’re a conservative, you’re targeted with ads about guns and conservative value products and opinions. Democrats get an entirely different scope of products and services.

Here’s how to prove this: Take your laptop to a friend’s house, or take your spouse’s computer i your own house. Both of you log in to YouTube, or Facebook, or Google. Notice how you’ll both see different screens. And that means that you’re getting customized environments and that’s already going on for more than 5 years.
So if you were Facebook or Google, why would you give people customized environments? Shall we really pretend that Google, Facebook, and the others are doing this as a public service?
Of course not; the purpose of everything they do is to generate more revenue. In other words, they’re manipulating you for their profit. That’s the only way they can make money from you. That’s why you’re not charged for an account. YOU ARE THE PRODUCT THEY SELL.

Facebook experienced an outage the other night that shut down Facebook and its Instagram photo-sharing service for about an hour. The company said that a change it made in its configuration systems caused the problem, while all the self proclaimed media experts went on record to state that Facebook’s real issue is to make more money. The release of2014 and 4th Quarter earnings of the social media giant saw a drop in earnings
However with almost a quarter of the world population subscribing to its service, I’ll leave you to understand where this is likely to go, and if you’re going along. Competitive pressures from other niche market provider may force FB to redirect or split its audience into multiple sub services, but don’t count on it to go away. Knowing the habits, preferences and whereabouts of more than 1.5 billion people and being able to manipulate their decision making processes, is way too much power to go away easily.

Ritz Carlton Perfect Partner in Kick-Off of Restaurant Week

Out of this world!

Out of this world!

As expected without an advance worry about bad weather, the Kick off of the the 2015 Amelia Island Restaurant week at the Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island last Thursday was as superb as it was fun.

The weather, dreary, cold and rainy did not change the plan to start off cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on Café 4750’s outside terrace as the resort staff had placed enough outside heaters to peel most layers of clothing away to the bare minimum. Cozy and lively the evening started with a selection of reds and whites of splendid palate teasing to be accompanied by some of the best southern flavored appetizers I have tasted.

The Braised Short Rib Stuffed Fingerling Potato with Chive Crème Fraiche came from chef Scotty Schwartz‘s (29 South) creativity with blending favors to perfection.

Roberto Pestana (Espagna’s chef/owner and comedian) produced a Fried Green Tomato Panini hors d’oeuvre, stuffed with Vegetables, Wild Mushroom and Spanish Goat Cheese served with Piquillo Pepper Aioli. The Ritz’s Singapore born new Executive Chef Andrew Yeo delighted our table with several repeats of a Beef Wellington production with Blue Cheese and Sea Salt, a simple art of perfection.
Ritz Carlton Alumni chef TJ Pelletier, these days co-owner of The Salty Pelican in downtown Fernandina Beach, took Southern cuisine to a whole new level with his Peekytoe Crab Salad on Carolina Gold Hoe Cake creation.
The hors d’oeuvres experience was a magnificent prelude to what was to come once we were seated.

Our table was graced with both Ritz Carlton General Manager Jim McManemon and PR director Joseph (Joe) Murphy, which showed how deeply and personally both gentlemen get involved in promotions like these and one of the remarkable discoveries this evening was the perfection displayed in pairing a selection of fine wines with the Southern fusion dishes served in this Tribute to Modern Southern Cuisine.

TJ Pelletiers opening course of Butternut Squash and Shrimp Bisque with a Southern Style Shrimp Po’Boy was expertly paired with a J Pinot Gris, while Roberto Pestana’s Panko encrusted Diver Sea Scallops over Lobster, Bay Scallop and Andouille Sausage Jambalaya, was beautifully enhanced by the intense bouquet of a Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay. But the next one up was a personal eye-opener! Having a large injection of French blood running through my veins, I can’t deny that it took a long time to accept that any other wines than authentic French could be of significance. But with the third course of Sherry Glazed Crispy Pork Belly, Tomatillo Relish, Bacon Powder, Collard Greens, crafted to perfection by chef Andrew Yeo’s team came a Californian Belle Glos “Meiomi” Pinot Noir that got my attention. So much that I went on the internet to learn more about this exceptional wine.

5 chefs

5 Chefs in great spirits

By the time the fourth course was announced by its creator Scott Schwarz, the gourmands that filled the cozy 4750 Café, were in a spirited and inspired mood only to be enhanced by the Braised Veal Cheek on Congaree and Penn Sweet Corn Middlins, Brown Butter Carrot Mousse and Hickory Smoked Almonds exquisitely paired with a Louis Martini Cabernet.
It was at this junction that I learned that the pairing of wines was done by general manager McManemon and I can only add “Chapeau” for a job well done.

Now I usually savor the hearty dishes on a menu without much consideration for desserts or even the digestives, but after repeated “confrontations” with the artistry of the Ritz Carlton’s Dessert king Sheldon Millett, I know better now. He usually pairs 3 complementing desserts on a plate that demands being photographed for its visual artistry. I wasn’t disappointed as his Key Lime Cream, Strawberry Shortcake and S’more Chocolate Sorbet was a delight for the eye, a explosion of flavor on the tastebuds and an assault on my New Year’s Resolution.

The atmosphere at this kick off event was relaxed and pleasant, the five presenting chefs showed a camaraderie of humor and pride and even more so than in the past, it was a fun event, which I credit to the approachable and entertaining manner of the Ritz management team. The service was as always impeccable, which was subtly recognized by management’s complimentary interactions with the staff, and most of all it was exciting to see how Amelia Island is still growing year after year in building a reputation of culinary excellence.

For more information about this year’s Restaurant Week check here.

 

Wine and Art Are Telling the Future

Silk screens that went for $82m and $70m each.

Silk screens that went for $82m and $70m each.

Signs that global warning is real are revealed by the top vineyards of the world. Signs that another financial crash is imminent are particularly revealing in the art world. And no…I’m not going to expand on potential telltale conclusions of what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri after last night’s Grand Jury decision. Even as I’m writing these observations of impending doom, I now know that today’s harsh news is tomorrow’s defiance. Austrian school economists can clarify perfectly why we’re financially doomed and Keynesian economists with Nobel Prize Awards will contradict that picture by giving more credit to happy spending consumers – Money for nothing and chicks for free! Just ride the roller coaster of life.

Vineyards and Climate Change

Important wine producers all over the world are looking into the longterm of their business and conclude that climate change may force them to relocate their vineyards 200 to 300 miles north or south of the current locations, depending on northern and southern hemisphere. Wine grapes, especially the fine ones, are finicky when it comes to heat, cold and rain. It has to be perfect, to create a great wine and the current locations around the globe see big problems in the next 20-30 years. Traditional vineyards are increasingly experiencing problems and big producers are buying vineyards in new climate zones. The Brown Brothers, one of the oldest and largest wine producers in Australia bought a vineyard 300 miles to the south of their current one on the island of Tasmania, because their current locations in Victoria are increasingly experiencing summer temperatures above 100°F. Argentinian and South African producers are also looking for alternative locations, while Oregon is becoming a more attractive alternative for California wineries. The 3 big ones in the the wine business, France, Italy and Spain are looking inside their own borders to move certain grapes such as Merlot, Shiraz, Pinot and others to test climate change impact. The Merlot grape might be doing better in the Normandy in twenty years, than in its current Bordeaux region. Agricultural production of various sorts is eying the wine industry as the proverbial Canary in the coal mine to gauge their future.

Art Insanity

Predicting the timing of a financial crash has become almost impossible since currencies have abandoned the gold standard in 1971, allowing central banks around the world to print money at their politically inspired whim, but there are telltales of excessive behavior, that can quite accurately gauge when a crash is imminent.
Contemporary art collection is one of those telltales. Collectors are insatiable and bordering on insane. Christie’s International in New York made auction once again history last week when it sold $853 million of contemporary art in two and a half hours. Christie’s beat its own $745 million record from last May , which in turn had beaten the $691 million record from last November. The Curve of Insanity continues as insiders obviously call it a very strong market.
To watch insanity unfold as people with too much money bid on crap for the sake of putting their excess money somewhere is almost criminal, but it also shows that we maybe getting closer to the edge of a reset.

Imagine Andy Warhol’s 7 foot silkscreen of a triple Elvis in a cowboy outfit (see Picture) fetching $81.9 million dollars and his “Four Marlons” (Brando) bringing in another $69.6 million and you know deep down inside that you’re looking at exploding insanity far beyond the decapitation of Louis XV in the French revolution. It’s almost like currency inflation stepping on a landmine ahead of the societal breakdown.

The auction house also reset records for artists like Ed Ruscha, Peter Doig, Georg Baselitz, Cindy Sherman and Cy Twombly. This last one completely escapes the realm of my sanity as his untitled, lasso-like cursived scribbles atop a blackboard-gray canvas sold for $70 million. Yes $70 million!!! And the winning bid came from Europe.

As always I try to find sanity in something, anything that at first seems unworldly, ungodly. So I research and found this essay on Cy Twombley the artist. After reading it I would understand a $10 million dollar bid in a competitive show off environment, but the other $60 million would still be senseless INFLATION in capitals. Let me know what you think, if anything.

So who were the bidders? American hedge-fund managers, bankers and broker/traders, European energy tycoons and bankers and Asian internet entrepreneurs raised their paddles for almost everything on the auction block— as invited guests of lesser means let out gasps of disbelief. Yup the Federal Reserves of the World’s insane monetary expansion has surely ended up in the hands of those who needed it most.

A Different Take on the Immigration Issue

The Young Ones watch Economic Opportunities from the side-lines

The Young Ones watch Economic Opportunities from the side-lines

The biggest competitors in the employment process are the young ones that graduate every year, eager to find a job of their liking and a chance to carve out a happy and satisfying life. Much more than immigrants, illegal or not, do they form a threat to the existing order.

With last week’s election turning the tables once again, Americans may think that the Democratic process was served well, without ever giving consideration to telltales that put things in perspective. Here are two telltales that should be considered of significant impact when analyzing the health of our democracy and the danger of miscalculating priorities. Nationwide only 36.4% of eligible voters turned out their preference last Tuesday. The State of Indiana broke the low record this year in a decades long slide down, with a 28% turnout while – one of the smallest states in the Union- Maine scored highest with 59%. Supposed democratic strongholds such as the heavily populated states of New York and California scored resp. a meager 29% and 32%. Florida scored above the national average with 43.1%, while in the hub of all national politicking – Washington DC – only could get 30.3% of the eligible voters interested to cast a vote.

The Telltales Behind the Numbers

One out of four voters this midterm was older than 60 while only one out of four in the age group 18 to 29 voted, two signs of special interest voting.

Yes, only about one in four 18 to 29 year olds voted in the midterms. Realizing they would get nothing out of it, 75% of young people steered clear of the polls. Young people are entering a different world from the one in which we set out, one that is still controlled to a large (too large) degree by boomers and the generation before us. And the obstacles for the younger ones are short of impenetrable.

Over the course of the past 5 decades, more and more people figured out how to use the government to get privileges and benefits they couldn’t get by themselves. Some are relatively small potatoes – such as special parking places, handicap stickers in Florida and electric wheelchairs for people who say they are crippled. Some are monster potatoes – billion-dollar security contracts, for example. Most people want to get something the easiest way possible. And the easiest way is often to pay a lobbyist to get a special deal for you… your industry… or your business, your community, your electorate.

Also typical of this attitude is that people want to protect their wages and lifestyles by imposing restrictions on new entrants. Licensing. Regulations. Professional certifications. Tons of paperwork that require expensive specialists to complete

In the largest sense this self interest protection is presented as the current Immigration struggle in the US, as they want to seal the borders so that foreigners can’t get in and compete honestly for jobs, easily forgetting that a speckle of time ago, we were all immigrants here. Human condition “dictates” that almost every industry and profession has its hustle – from import quotas, to subsidies, to labor rules. Like the trade guilds of Old Europe, they all try to keep their fees and salaries high by keeping out new competitors.” And don’t make a mistake here, the biggest and newest competitors to the marketplace here in the US are young people?

They try to enter the workforce and find doors shut. That’s why the unemployment rate among 20 to 24 year olds is twice the rate of unemployment for everyone else. In countries like Spain it’s now 50%!!!

Now push the program forward and the next economic domino piece to fall announces itself in ever growing dimensions.
“First-Timers Fade Further,” announces a real estate headline in the Wall Street Journal. Burdened with over $1 trillion in student debt… and denied access to well-paid jobs… young people can’t afford to buy “starter” houses. Would you?

Yes Europe, Japan and the US we have aging economies and are facing a similar, if culturally diversified, future.
Since 1974, the gross income earned by 25 to 34 year olds in the US, as a percentage of the median gross income, has fallen by more than one-quarter. This leaves more young people living with parents… or renting with room mates. Even supposedly successful young adults in TV sitcoms make you think that it’s a lifestyle choice rather than a financial one. Even the most enticing government incentives, like historically low interest rates to support buying, are not making a dent in this hesitation.
And this in turn affects another domino piece of much broader impact: the cultural sphere. Young adults approach life with much more reluctance, less engaged, less competitive, less likely to start new businesses… and less independent, ready to accept government largesse in the form of hand-outs, large and small, even if they come from politicians they don’t trust. That is a cultural shift that ultimately leads to anarchy as history has shown time and again.

What do they want? What do they expect?
Not only are they not rushing to buy houses, they’re also delaying marriage and when they get married they often limit the amount of children.

Good? Bad?

Only time will tell. But certainly it is different, and definitely a strain on a political ideology that is majorly based on participation and democratic process vigilance.
People vote their own interests and are far from ideologically pure. They vote for whomever makes the most convincing promises. This year it was the Conservatives with a big push from the 60 and older geezers who want free pills, a better retirement than they can afford and cheap cable TV.

The Huge Generational Disconnect and Starting Over at 60

Looking at the numbers of the future

Looking at the numbers of the future

I just watched 25 minutes of a presentation from Alex Daley, chief technology officer at Casey Research, about the future of IT and how on all levels all over the world IT movements are rapidly replacing old ways and means. Most of America still may think that the NFL or the NBA have growing entertainment value, but compared to the massive growth of online games, they’re just peanuts.  Watching this video as a senior who has been in online since the world wide web made its global entrance in the early 1990s, I have to admit that I’m running a bit behind a curve that seems to be speeding forward at dazzling speed.

But I can still see the implications and the disconnect…AND….the danger to keep looking at the world from an old school economic slant.

There is a world out there where the 2008/9 recession never reached, because revenues kept growing and growing to such extent that monetary crisis, inflation, deflation, national debt, unfunded liabilities, and the fear that we will outlive our means to sustain a lifestyle, have become irrelevant. And looking at how the younger generations have embraced and opened up to online entertainment technologies, even privacy protection has become circumspect, as in “you must have something to hide”.

Mostly however I see a huge generational disconnect between the economies of the past and the future, with the unfortunate side effect that our economic society of the past was anchored in trust, respect and loyalty, attributes which have no real meaning in the economy of tomorrow, because of utter disconnect.

As a philosophical economist ( I gladly leave the statistical ‘science’ part to the number crunchers) I cannot help but wonder how our boomer generation is going to finance current unfunded liabilities in the $100 trillion plus range (social security, medicare, medicaid), when tomorrow’s economic output can move anywhere at anytime without a moral consideration for geographic or ideological belonging.

Hindsight is 20/20

With luck and the right guidance, you may be the smart one who started a wealth-building plan in your 20s or 30s.  If not, you may find yourself in your 50s or 60s without a comfortable and secured nest egg in which case you join at least 40% of the US population who have not saved a penny for retirement.
So now the burning question becomes: “Is it possible to make up for lost time?”

I know quite a few people who are in their 60s and have no savings, no significant assets, and bad credit due to having had to file for bankruptcy while on top of all of that, everything is suddenly starting to go wrong with body and health, or so it seems. (the mind plays nasty games with your body, when a form of disconnect or desperation shows itself!)

So you may ask yourself: Is it even possible to save myself at this point?

The answer is yes. Not even a qualified yes – a very definitive yes!
You may at times be feeling run-down and beaten-up, (we cannot party like it’s 1999 anymore!), but your life at 60 is far from over.
Feeling depressed, overweight and uncoordinated? Time to work on good health.
Build physical stamina and personal productivity. It really is just a matter of intelligence and persistence.

And before I get to addressing your financial needs, let me give you a few examples of what some well-known people have been able to do in their 60s (or thereabouts):

Chaleo Yoovidhya, uneducated other than by life itself, invented Red Bull energy drink and started marketing it globally in the mid 1980s at age 62, making him a billionaire within 10 years.

Winston Churchill, who suffered from clinical depression his entire life became Prime Minister at the age of 65

Harland Sanders, better known as Colonel Sanders, was 65 when he started Kentucky Fried Chicken. As demand for his tasty chicken grew, Sanders opened a restaurant. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when she began writing her beloved Little House on the Prairie series. She went on to pen eight total books in the series – in addition to being a journalist.

• In 1954, at the age of 52, Ray Kroc opened a hamburger stand – when most people his age were retiring. Kroc revolutionized the fast-food business when this hamburger stand eventually became McDonald’s.

• Car icon and businessman Henry Ford was 60 years old when he created the first car assembly line.

• At 70 years old, Golda Meir became the fourth prime minister of Israel – and the first woman to hold the post.

• In 2004, at the age of 82, Robert Galvin, retired longtime CEO of Motorola, started Galvin Electricity Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to transforming and improving the nation’s power grid to 21st-century standards.

Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses) came to public attention in 1940, at the age of 80. She began painting in her seventies after abandoning a career in embroidery because of arthritis. She lived to be 101 and in the last year of her life painted twenty-five pictures. Her work “Sugaring Off”, became her highest selling work at $1.2 million. Quote: “Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be”

Harry Bernstein. At the age of 96, Harry Bernstein published his best-seller memoir “The Invisible Wall”. Quote: “If I had not lived until I was 90, I would not have been able to write this book,God knows what other potentials lurk in other people,if we could only keep them alive well into their 90.”

Nola Hills became a short-lived Guinness World Record holder as the world’s oldest college graduate at age 95 to be beaten out of that record in 2012 by 98 year old Twila Boston who graduated with a bachelor degree in American Studies. Shortly after Dr Allan Stewart, a 97-year-old retired Australian dentist, received his masters degree in clinical science from Southern Cross University – setting the newest world record for Oldest graduate. Loved Nola Hills quote: “I plan to seek employment on a cruise ship going around the world as a storyteller”.

There are thousands of examples more, but these suffice in telling the idea. As of 2009, the latest year for which information is available, persons reaching age 65 had an average life expectancy of an additional 18.7 years (20 years for females and 17.3 years for males). This means you have many more years to live well and thrive!

Simone De Beauvoir wrote the following in “The Coming of Age”

“It is old age rather than death that is to be contrasted with life. Old age is a parody of life, whereas death transforms life into a destiny. In a way, death preserves life by giving it the absolute dimension–“As unto himself eternity changes him at last”. Death does away with time.
There is only one solution if old age is not to be an absurd parody of our former life,and that is to go on pursuing ends that give our existence meaning – Devotion to individuals, to groups or to causes,social, political, intellectual or creative work – One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love,friendship,indignation,compassion.”

And I have always been partial to George Burns’ ageless observation: “Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous. When I was sixty-five I still had pimples.”

So What to Do About Your Financial Future?

The first thing I’d recommend strongly is to put some of the doom-and-gloom material that is out there in perspective.
Yes, debt burdens our world economy. And yes, that debt will be paid one way or another. So stop worrying about it.

The second thing I’d like you to do is to believe what I’m about to tell you: It is perfectly possible – even likely – to eliminate debt and acquire wealth within seven years IF you are willing to do the right things.

That seven-year term has always been a personal projection for me, especially when I looked in retrospect. It comes from what I’ve done many times over in my own life and what I’ve been able to help other people do many times over.

When you are young, seven years seems like an eternity. But at 60, you now know that it will pass faster than the 2,555 days it is supposed to represent. But if you multiply 2,555 days by 4 hours that you sleep less than others who “need” 12 hours of sleep including laying on the couch to watch TV, you just gained 426 days to be effective and involved in your health and financial well-being.
That’s why it’s so important for you to take this advice seriously and put it to work immediately. No procrastination permitted.
If you wait even a week to get started, you will find it easy to push it off another week and then a month, and before you know it, those seven years will have passed, and you will be in the same bind you are in now.

The third thing you must do is take responsibility for your future finances and well-being. This is not something you can simply agree to. You must make a serious review of what you’ve done in the past. And you must make a serious personal commitment to change.

The acquisition of additional income

Once your body is healthy and your mind is right (including your commitment to persist in this plan), you are ready for the first life-improving change. And that is the acquisition of additional income.

My argument is that you can’t get wealthy by investing alone. You must observe and if necessary curtail your spending, manage your money and allocate your investments wisely. Remember that you are trying to maintain a lifestyle without running out of money, which means you must also create extra income for yourself and your spouse. Whether that entails a job, a service, or development of specific skills (writing, photography, translation service, baby sitting, handi-work, seamstress, book keeping, concierge services, handicap transportation, shopping trips etc. etc.)
Bringing in extra income is the single most important way you can get rid of debt and become wealthy within seven years. It is the surest way you can get out of the financial pickle you are in and enjoy a comfortable, worry-free retirement.

Being 60-plus years old is not a problem. It’s an opportunity. You are older now, and that means you should be wiser. You should be able to use that wisdom to make good choices.

The Trilogy of Life’s Important Questions

Eye to Eye

Eye to Eye

As I’m quickly approaching the age the Beatles sang about in 1967 on the incomparable album St.Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (When I’m 64), I increasingly ponder the questions of life that I could, would or should have asked myself at a much younger age.
Over the years I have been able to narrow them down to three essentials:

1. What am I going to do with my life?
2. With whom?
3. And where?

I first came across this practical nutshell of wisdom several years ago, when I read an essay by rogue economist Bill Bonner. I thought it was pretty nifty then and I still think to this day, that it is  a neatly packaged piece of wisdom. Especially at almost 64, when precious time seems to be ticking away like a roll of toilet paper running towards the end.

Sure, at the beginning of each year, some of us, me included stop and consider the choices we have made, the corrections that need to be made – and the choices we can still pursue, however old we are – so that we can have the best possible lives, considering our particular circumstances.

Here are those 3 questions a little more in-depth.

What Are You Doing?

What?

What?

I guess it is never too late to ask, “Am I doing what I want to do? Is it giving me all of the benefits I want and need? How close is it to my perfect job and how do I accurately measure my progress.”
About 5 years ago I published an essay on this website titled: The Ballad of the Clock and the Compass, dealing with the fact that most people go through life by the seat of their pants, always answering to the urgent demands of the watch, without much regard for the direction of the compass. Sometimes I still catch myself doing that: getting involved instead of saying no, listening to whispers and promises that many times over in my lifetime were just that, allowing mediocrity to slip in where only excellence can prevail. I realize in those moments how strong early childhood influences are imprinted into subconscious behavior.

After all when I grew up, there were many existential and geographic limitations to life’s choices. We actually believed that anyone can be anything they want, right? Well, they can’t.

Had Steve Jobs been born in a different time – or just a different town – he might have spent his days as an illiterate sheep herd in the Swiss Alps. Had virtuoso guitar player Joe Bonamassa been born into a different family, without dad being a guitar player owning a music store, his life’s outcome would probably be different as well. As it was, he could pick up a guitar at age 4 and never look back.

Your circumstances matter

Steve and Joe’s real childhood had what mattered most: the opportunity to stumble upon what they were born to do, and to go completely bananas doing it.
Most of us however had to go about it differently and that usually started in early childhood. If you were lucky enough to have been born into a family that supported the ideas that children are fearless and relentless, need to question everything under the sun and live in a fantasy world without the limitations of reality, you probably figured out early what you wanted to do in life and set your compass accordingly. If not, you may find solace these days in the fact that the internet has given you access to the entirety of human knowledge, to get you closer to your passions.

Play. The first time baby Joe Bonamassa or Eric Clapton picked up a guitar, I doubt they seriously ran a cost benefit analysis. If you’re trying something out, don’t be in too much of a hurry to take it seriously. Aim to simply enjoy. The effort will come if the passion is there.

• Get reckless. If you really don’t know what you want to do, you’re going to have to try things you haven’t done yet. And you’re going to fail – a lot – trying many different things, most of which won’t work. Kids find this a lot easier because they don’t worry about consequences. They don’t have to worry about them. Parents do. Still I encourage you to do the same. Go ahead make it a proud part of your identity: start fearlessly trying as many things as possible.

• Question everything. You know how everyone knew the world was flat until it wasn’t? You have similarly limiting beliefs in your head right now – probably things like “artists can’t earn a living” or “I’m not smart enough to do this”. Maybe, but have you checked? Have you tried – really tried, like a gun is pointed at your kneecaps – to find an alternative? Most really successful people didn’t just find a way, they created one. And before you start working real hard on creating one, know this: “DO NOT FOR A SECOND believe it is enough to ‘work hard’. Hard work is not inherently a good thing. Hard work is a disgusting waste of your life when it’s thrown at the wrong things.”

• Ignore reality. You know how kids always dream of becoming astronauts, pop stars and giant transforming robots? Barriers don’t apply when you’re five years old. And whilst that seems like a stupid habit that you’d be wise to grow out of, if you’re not sure what you want to do, don’t be in such a hurry to shut your dreams down. Explore the impossible. Often it doesn’t lead to exactly what you’re after (say walking on the moon) but it finds something else instead (like a love of science that starts a whole career). You can’t know this in advance. Just dare to follow where your heart takes you.

Chances are, even if you don’t know what you want, that your childhood at least left you some hints. Are there things you think of fondly, but never find the time for? Start there.
Take a few moments now to think about it and take inventory of where you are today. It might help to look at this brief list that identifies what – at least for me – are the most important characteristics of the perfect job.

• I would be happy to do the work I do for free.
• I believe it has value – to me and to the people who pay me for it.
• It is fully challenging. It engages both the logical and the creative sides of my brain.

If you find that the “what to do” of your life is not perfect or still a matter of developing stages, don’t panic. If it involves paying the bills now, it is something we all need to go through. Our first responsibility, as moral citizens of the world, is to support the financial well-being of our families. Once that is on track you’re on your way to question things such as your work falling short in other areas – if, for example, it doesn’t challenge your intelligence and imagination – . If so, commit to making changes.

If you are lucky, you may discover an opportunity to create or slip or into your “perfect” job. More likely, you can move toward it step by step by making adjustments, as I did many times in my life. If you’re good enough at something, there’s a way to make it work by yourself. But don’t expect anyone to tell you what to do or give you permission.
One caveat: you have to be good enough, and you have to persist.

The Perfect Partner(s)

With Whom?

With Whom?

Initially I considered the question “with whom” to be about one’s spouse, and that is probably its original intended meaning. Looking back at the requirements of the process of establishing what you want to do with your life, it would be wise to wait as long as possible choosing a mate/spouse, in order to avoid much pain and heartache. It often turns out that early partners and their dreams do coincide with your journey towards accomplishing the life you dream about. But since that goes very much against human genetic behavior, modern reality is increasingly proving that you’ll end up with more than one domestic partner over a life time.

In this essay I’d prefer to point out the relevance of perfect partners in one’s occupation.
The people with whom you work – your boss, your partners, your investors, your colleagues and your employees – determine to a great extent both the satisfaction and the success you will have from your working life. If you stop to think about the work experience you’ve had, you will realize that much of the pleasure or pain you’ve experienced came from the relationships you had – your interactions with the people with whom you worked or work.

And you may think that you have no choice in these matters -after all, you can’t hire your boss, your client, your guest, your reader- but in fact, you can. In choosing the business or profession you work in, you are choosing your future colleagues, audience etc.
If you find yourself in a toxic work environment (say a work environment that is political rather than entrepreneurial), don’t hesitate to look for a better workplace.
And when it comes time to hire employees, don’t consider only their work skills and talents. Consider also whether or not you will enjoy working with them.
The following characteristics should help you choose the best possible partners:

• He/she respects you.
• You have his/her back.
• He/she has yours.
• You don’t expect him/her to change. You are happy with him/her as he/she is.

These four characteristics may seem obvious, but I managed to ignore them for part of my working life and got punished for it. Gradually however, I came to recognize how important it was for me to make good choices in terms of partners. Since I have committed to the belief that you may question someone’s performance, but you can never question any of the above 4 characteristics.

The Perfect Place to Live

Where?

Where?

Where you live and work is hugely important too. The physical environment you naturally prefer, very much affects your perfect life. (Do you love the mountains, the plains, the beach? Do you prefer big, bustling cities or tranquil little towns?)

When you are starting out, you may have to go where the work is. But as you move up the ladder, you will get more choice in the matter. This is especially true in today’s world, where in so many industries one can work remotely.
Consider, also, your commute. Some people enjoy spending an hour or more every day commuting. They use this time profitably to relax and listen to music or books on tape and so on.

Other people – like myself – prefer a very short commute. For instance, I have been living on small islands for the past 30 years, locating my office in my house or at a short walking distance.
And even more specifically, the quality of your immediate work environment – your office – affects the quality of your life. Since you are likely to be spending a big portion of your active day in that one place, make sure you like everything about it.
Your office should not be an accidental, junky place that has what you need. It should be a haven where you can work productively and a bit of paradise filled with art, photos and artifacts that give you pleasure.

Putting It All Together

Whether you are young or seasoned, beginning a career or enjoying a retirement job, you can always find good answers to all three questions.
But you do have to honestly conjure up your perfect life. And then begin the process of having it.
And if you think you’re too old to start something new than Google these senior citizens and learn what they accomplished later in life.
Jack Cover, Edmond Hoyle, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Takichiro Mori, Grandma Moses, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Tim and Nina Zagat, Winston Churchill, Socrates, Chaucer, Ogilby, Vaclav Havel.

More on this later.

Parental Welfare is as Bad as it Gets

bratI often catch people, friends, family  and acquaintances, in heated conversations about how this country has been turned into a welfare state, with millions of beggars living off the state’s coffers. Most of them in every day life, operate substantially to the right of the political spectrum. Most of them are sufficiently educated, hard working, god fearing family men and women with high standards of morality and respect. Many of them have children in early to grown adult categories and many have no clue that their behavior and actions steal from their kids’ futures.

If you’re thinking:”I’d never take anything from my children”, let me assure you I’m not talking about “borrowing” from their piggy bank or savings account. I’m talking about robbing your kids of the tools they’ll need to live ambitious, independent lives.

And that’s what I call “parental welfare.”

Parental welfare starts with something as simple as paying for your teenager’s gasoline without the need for any counter performance. Or it could be as damaging as paying the living expenses of adult children.
Parental welfare is like lifting weights for your children… and thinking they’ll get stronger for it. That’s exactly what you do each time you “deny” them an opportunity to struggle and learn how to do and earn things on their own.

Parental welfare is a form of theft of the worst kind as it robs your children of the same life lessons that taught you how to become an income earner or wealth creator. It robs your children of the motivation to succeed. It denies them the opportunity to find the joy of work. And it eliminates the productive pain that goes hand-in-hand with learning how to be self-sustaining adults.

Showering your kids with all that they desire is destructive. It turns young children into needy tyrants… who grow up to be needy, whining adult tyrants. Instead let your children work for their needs and desires outside of the obvious tools that come with parenting. And most of all….let them fail!! Be there to offer encouragement, but …do not ‘deny’ them the heavy lifting required to create productive lives of their own. It’s the only way to prepare them…even if you’re accused of “Tough Love”.