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.

Amelia Island Inns Cookie Tour 2011

2011 Cookie Tour at Amelia Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast

2011 Cookie Tour at Amelia Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast

I don’t know why I was surprised to learn that more than 500 tickets had pre-sold for this year’s Holiday Cookie Tour of Inns on Amelia Island, and actually witnessing the continuous flow of people between noon and 5pm yesterday, made me wonder how many more people had purchased the tour purely in a walk-on impulse.
At times it was standing room only at the beautiful Amelia Oceanfront Bed & Breakfast on Fletcher Ave.
Many tour guests decided to “hang-out” a bit longer right on the comfortable beach chairs and lounged with some cookies and hot or cold tea, while watching the waves roll in.
People seem to be coming from as far away as Bradenton, FL and as close as St.Marys, our Georgian neighbor to the north.

The Horse-drawn carriages in town and the Trolley and Taxi Services had a busy afternoon, keeping up schedules, constantly ferrying people between historic downtown and the two beach properties.

The annual Holiday Cookie Tour is organized by the Amelia Island Bed and Breakfast Association and gives visitors a glimpse of the history of the participating Inns decked out in Holiday Spirit and serving freshly baked cookies and afternoon tea.  The concept of Cookies, Christmas and Compassion not only highlights the peaceful, beautiful essence of the Holiday Season, enjoyed in mostly historic settings, part of the proceeds from ticket and book sales also benefits individuals and families in crisis in Nassau County through the tireless contributions of the Barnabas Center which receives parts of the Cookie Tour and Recipe Book sale proceeds.

The origins of COOKIES

Cookies were a big thing in my native Holland, which is often incorrectly credited as the birth place of cakes and its smaller version Koekjes (or cookies). Old Persia, where sugar was refined for the first time, was probably the real birth ground for baking cakes, but yes it was in Holland, where, in order to save dough, bakers first tried out the heat of their ovens with small pieces of dough, thus inadvertently creating cookies.

I remember growing up the many wooden molds Mom had stored in the cellar waiting for the Holiday Season to arrive. By late November she asked us to bring them and the cookie baking season began. For the next month, actually until Three King’s Day on January 6th, the house smelled like a fresh bakery, slightly differently flavored as the Holiday Season progressed. Speculaas en pepernoten were the first cookies in the line up. Typically made from white flour, brown sugar, butter and spices, which include cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper, almond slivers were often included in the dough. The Pepernoten were simply rolled into small balls and baked but the speculaas production was something else. The handcarved molds Mom had collected and/or inherited included small and large windmills, elephants, pirates, saints, horses, christmas trees, sailboats, noblemen and Sint Nicholas.
She baked batches for days in a row and with five sons and their friends constantly putting hands in the cookie jars, this was often not even enough. After St. Nicholas Birthday Celebration on December 6th, she took on taai taai cookies and gingerbread, often using the same molds.

Cookie Molds for Speculaasd and Gingerbread

Cookie Molds for Speculaasd and Gingerbread

Speculaas Cookie coming from machine crafted molds

As the month of December progressed Mom started preparing the cookies for the Christmas Tree. Many different shapes of chocolate, almond, sugar and butter cookies, all with a neat hole in the center, were hung all over the Christmas tree attached with red ribbons. The next part of Christmas baking concerned the Kerststollen, some of the richest, best tasting Christmas Bread you’ll ever taste. Because we literally lived under the smoke (coalmine stacks) of the German city of Aachen, (Aix la Chapelle) to the East and Belgium 15 minutes to the West, Mom also baked some Aachener Printen and Belgian waffles on occasion.
With the two days of Christmas behind us it became time to prepare for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day Traditions, which included Apple Beignets, Rum Soaked Raisin Dough Balls and Nonnevotten or Poeffels, the last one being naughtily tasty as the name comes from a Limburg Dialect and refers to a Nun’s Bottom, more precise because the shape reflects the bow Franciscan Nuns used to wear on their butts from the 16th thru early 20th century, in that part of the world.

Cookies on the Christmas Tree

Nonnevotten or Poeffelen

Nonnevotten originated near my hometown

Mom’s Holiday Baking Season ended with the preparation of Dough Balls for Three Kings Day, most  of them filled with a rum soaked raisin, (she made sure we slept good at night) – but in ‘Oliebol’ she exchanged the raisin for a hard pea or bean. The one out of her 5 sons who would get the bean or pea, was officially relieved from having to help taking down the Christmas Tree and the Holiday Decorations.

Oh sure we had Sweet, sweet Holiday Seasons back in the days with a huge variety of cookies at our fingertips, fresh and homemade.
Be prepared to find these Dutch traditions at the Amelia Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast during next year’s 2012 Holiday Cookie Tour, as TJ and I are going to be the new innkeepers as of January 1, 2012.

As Washington is Cowing America into Submission

Have we lost Common Sense as Introduced by the Founding Fathers?

If push does come to shove – history teaches us – government will not hesitate to clamp down on its subjects by whatever means necessary to preserve itself. History has also shown that the best way to mute resistance is to prepare its citizens ahead of time for escalating levels of police control. An enhanced law enforcement presence must be accepted as the new normal. But rest assured, it’s “for our own good.”

And that disclaimer can now be heard all over the nation, even though it has been used to hoodwink decent folk forever. The truth is that the application of this time-tested political axiom confirms that the more fearful people are, the easier they are to control. We’ve seen this principle at work for centuries in dictatorial, autocratic societies. Actually the North African Country of Libya just closed the door on another dictator coming off a forty two year term of suppression, who was brought down by what got him into power: pure violence and fear. In what is now recognized as the Spring and Summer of Muslim Dictatorial Liberation, 5 Dictators (Ben Ali, Mubarak,Saleh, Assad and Ghadafi) so far have been ousted by populations that wouldn’t take it anymore.

Yet, politicians here continually pass more intrusive laws; and “law enforcement” is empowered by them to take increasing liberties with our rights, content that the courts will back them up… which they have done, as spineless career judges hand them larger and larger cartes blanche to act however they please. The first ten amendments to the Constitution have been largely gutted and the things the Founding Fathers cared most passionately about have been tossed into the dustbin.

And now we’re told: that our homes are no longer safe from no-knock entries, habeas corpus is no longer the case and warrants be damned (precisely the abuse that most riled the American revolutionary colonists); that we should rat out our neighbors at the first sign that something is “amiss,” just as in any autocrat state you care to mention; and that it should be regarded as okay that warrants of all kinds are commonly served to good folks and normally law abiding citizens by gangs of helmeted thugs, covered with body armor and toting a dizzying array of lethal weapons.

Police Officers Once were Called Peace Officers

I remember when the police were called peace officers, as their job was primarily to maintain the peace. My older brother heeded the call and became an officer of the peace and saw the system changing in the almost 35 years that followed. He was happy when retirement afforded him to walk away with his life and his self respect as he noted over the years how especially in the bigger police forces, bullies became the preferred police man profile. Peace officers are dead, they are now law enforcement officers, and they are entering a war with a widening swath of the citizenry by order from the political establishment.

And as a consequence we have seen that the targets of overwhelming force are no longer just murderers, rapists and armed robbers. SWAT teams are now routinely dispatched to deal with bickering spouses, zoned-out pot smokers, parking ticket violators, jay walkers, and even those delinquent in loan payments. And as fear grows and arms possession increases, excessive action grows, even though it may seem odd that they’re going after ever less-violent people like children, seniors, women and even handicapped.
Yet it makes perfect sense if we accept that authorities around the country have gotten the message from Washington that a complacent populace is required. Just imagine what they can do to you, if the weak and the wary are not even sacred anymore.

Exposure Power of the Internet

The Internet reports many of these instances as they keep growing exponentially in numbers and ridicule.
Take, for instance, the case of Rawesome Foods in California, a private buying club dedicated to bringing the most wholesome, natural food products to its members. Does that sound like a criminal conspiracy? Not to all of us who are getting fed up by all the manipulated food that is on many Supermarket shelves these days. But it did to local and federal officials, who staged a joint SWAT-style raid on the club on August 6. Without a warrant, officers entered the storefront, seized cash, destroyed inventory, and jailed the club’s founder.
On October 6, two months later, almost 1,100 pages of “discovery” documents were presented in court proceedings, illuminating how government sponsored terrorism is trying to break the American Spirit.

The other day I posted a Big Brother story about the hundreds of thousands of cameras around the nation that follow us every step of the way, always ready to catch us in an unlawful act. Today I expose a counter balance on this troublesome development as millions of iPhones and Smartphones are documenting a rapidly increasing explosive confrontation in the making. One that shows law enforcement as it is used by politicians to create a docile population, and another one that potentially shows a growing population that doesn’t take it anymore

That the situation is getting tense is underlined by the fact that Law enforcement is now ordered to criminalize children. Yes, children.
No, I’m not talking about SWAT raids here. But in a way, this is even more insidious, because the effort is directed at teaching kids at an early age that Big Brother is always watching and that you’d better be sure you obey the letter of every law (as if anyone could possibly know what they all are) or you’re in for trouble with the Man.

The Summer of the Lemonade Stand Busts

A couple of summers ago we had our own little showdown here in Fernandina Beach, when icon Felix Jones was the target of “the Law is the Law” fascism. This last summer has been – and I swear I am not making this up – the summer of the lemonade-stand bust. Yep, children’s lemonade stands have been closed down in states all over the country, including California, Oregon, and Texas – and even, astonishingly, in such bedrock, sensible-values American heartland states as Wisconsin and Iowa.

And the latest of these hugely important police actions came in small-town Georgia just north of us here on Amelia Island in the township of Midland south of Savannah, where the local police chief advised three girls with summer vacation plans financed by the proceeds of a lemonade stand, that they had to cease and desist from selling their lemonade until they forked over $50 a day for a business license. Watch this news report only if you have a strong stomach and your outrage button is not easily pushed.  Mine is, as I envision my rage if law enforcement would come and shut down the many lemonade stands I have tried, during Saturday morning garage sales on our island.

That video is instructive in oh so many wonderful ways.
First, take a good look at the head cop as she explains their actions. “The law is the law” is about as close as you can get to “I was only following orders.” Squint your eyes a little. She’d look perfect decked out in SS lightning bolts, or maybe as a member of Ghadafi’s Amazon Squad. Wouldn’t she?
Next, consider the little girl who says, “… but we had to listen to the cops.” She’s learned her lesson.

Then there’s mom. I’m sure that if she were one of my regular readers that stand would’ve been up and running the next day, and every day until the police were forced to take those kids to court over this. But not in Midland Georgia. This mom is backing away from the issue, saying, “I’m trying to teach my kids good, and I don’t think it’ll teach ’em good if I keep on an’ on with this.” Right, the lesson wasn’t only for the children.

Finally, in addition to instilling fear of authority in our most impressionable citizens, there’s an added kicker to this incident. What better way to kill the entrepreneurial spirit in its cradle and set us up for the day when we all work for the state?

So here is my Question to all of you: What’s the point when we finally announce that we’re not going to take it any more? If that point isn’t when they go after our children, then there isn’t one and we’ve reach the end of the line.

In my opinion it all harkens back to founding father Thomas Payne and his 1776 publication of “Common Sense“.  We have lost our common sense; we’ve lost the true meaning of what it means to be an American and what freedom means.

No Freedom in the Nanny State of Mind

Ben & Jerry's Schweddy Balls Ice Cream Under Puritan Attack

I wasn’t sure whether to title this essay “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loose” or “Living in a Nanny State of Mind”. I decided against both because I’m beginning to learn that not a lot of people give a hoot these days. Would you be real upset if I told you that we’re on the threshold of losing one of the last freedoms we have left; the freedom to choose what’s on our dinner plate? That’s right, you’d better get ready to stick a fork in that freedom as well.

Margin Calls

Of course you don’t care about what’s happening far away from your doorstep. Why would you care that Denmark is now levying a fat tax on foods with saturated fats. Yeah you can still get it, but be prepared to pay through your nose.
Farm-fresh butter? TAXED!
Cheese? TAXED!
Meat? TAXED!
Bacon? Heavily Taxed and even then not for long anymore

Pretty soon, shoppers will be forced to load up on lower-priced substitutes, made of factory-processed soy byproducts and a lab full of dangerous chemicals—all in the name of good public health, of course. This sin tax is meant to help slash the risk of an early death!!!  Studies have shown time and again that people who eat normal portions of healthful natural animal fats and skip the sugars and other refined carbohydrates, have a much LOWER risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even early death.
But as I said, that is Denmark, so why would you care? But Denmark isn’t the only one leveling the sin tax. Hungary has imposed a tax on foods with high levels of sugar, salt, carbs, and caffeine. Denmark, Switzerland, and Austria have banned trans fats. And Finland, Romania, and Britain are all considering fat taxes as well.

And yes, those are all little countries in the Eurozone, so why would you bother?
Well you should, for several reasons. Number one, because I am originally from that side of the pond and have learned that politicians happily use each others initiatives like butter on bread. Copycatting in the name of human progress they call it. If it works in Denmark, it should work here as well, after all Danish people have claimed top positions in world surveys about the happiest people on earth. But those are margin calls, hard to understand for Americans. The Scandinavian culture embraces different values than the American culture. Scandinavian turn in certain right in exchange for others, essentially because rules and regulations based on size versus population, require different lifestyles. In a country like the Netherlands, one quarter the size of the state of Florida but with the same population, housing regulations based on space limitations may infuriate an American, but are perfectly acceptable to a Dutchman. Lifestyles have developed over many years, inline with personal freedoms and acceptable as common good.
In my opinion however no government has any right to legislate your food choices. Period.

And if we don’t hold on to our rights here in America, we’ll not only be next, but our government will accelerate the legislation beyond the speed of a bullet train.  Never mind that there is a humorless Group in Mississippi trying to outlaw Ben and Jerry’s “Schweddy Balls” ice cream , or that New York’s Mayor Bloomberg seems to think that salt should be outlawed, if Uncle Sam is going to be footing the bill for your healthcare under Obamacare, he certainly will assume the right to determine how you eat (and sleep and drink and exercise and you-name-it).

For everyone’s own good

Consider this your wake-up call. France is announcing a “sin” tax of its own: a dime-a-liter surcharge on sugar-sweetened sodas.
Now, I’m never going to defend sugar – it’s the single largest dietary contributor to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and an early death in all of Western civilization, but I’ll always defend your God-given RIGHT to make your own decisions about your diet, your health, and your lifestyle – a right governments around the world want to snatch right out of your hungry hands.
Case in point: France, where the soda tax is only the beginning.
In an even bigger Nanny State overreach, condiments like ketchup, mayo, salt, and dressings are being rationed and even removed from school cafeterias — while yet another new rule requires raw or cooked vegetables at every single school meal.
Put them together, and a kid who wants to turn something tasteless like haricots verts into a semi-edible side dish will have to smuggle in his own butter and salt.

In France the government claims that these restrictions are “for everyone’s own good” – and that they’re about making the people thinner and healthier. And that is absolute crap.
The French drink, smoke, and load up on fatty meats – and yet they’re actually among the thinnest and healthiest people in Europe. It’s the so-called “French paradox,” but there’s nothing paradoxical about it: All those things in moderation are actually GOOD for you if kept well balanced.

But leave it to the government to screw it up. And mark my words here, they WILL screw it up. The more they regulate what people can and can’t eat, the fatter and sicker the people will get.
After all, some of the world’s “top” scientists and nutritionists get it wrong on diet advice all the time — so what are the odds that some nitwit politician will manage to get it right?
I can give you those odds right here — and it’s spelled the same in French AND English: ZERO.

Think the Nanny State can’t happen here in the USSA?

Think again and pay attention because it’s already happening.
In New York, Nanny Mayor Michael Bloomberg has banned trans fats, pushed for limits on salt, and even proposed a soda tax like the one in France. And let’s not forget the city’s recent smoking ban that prevents people from lighting up OUTSIDE.
In California, San Francisco and Santa Clara have banned children’s meals with toys, like Happy Meals. A child’s first lesson in life: Don’t trust in mother when it comes to food choices – trust Big Brother instead.
In Baltimore, the city is handing out $100 fines to restaurants caught red-handed using trans fats. In at least one case it was because the cook chose the wrong brand of “healthy” margarine!
And in Washington, Mrs. Obannany is busily lecturing people on what, when, where, and how to eat. But of course, it’s “do as I say, not as I do,”  as she hesitantly admits her favorite food is French fries – and even says she “can’t stop” eating them… but don’t you dare eat a fry yourself!

Think you know where it goes from here? You’re not even close and I’m just getting started.

Thanks to ObamaCare, insurance companies and bureaucratic employers now work more closely with the federal government than ever – and they’re getting happily in on Nannyism. Pay special attention to the expression Pre-Existing Conditions, because it will be used every time you’ll put in a claim.
And the other side of the coin is that they now have “incentives” – aka discounts – for people who toe the party line: don’t drink, don’t smoke, join a gym, and lose weight. But let’s call that what it really is – because a discount for following some bureaucrat’s health rules is really a surcharge on anyone who doesn’t.
Some employers even refuse to hire smokers – and they’re getting away with it, inside of the law!

Throw in mandatory vaccine laws, school lunch regulations, red-light cameras, garbage monitoring, seat belts, helmets, gene testing and more and the Nanny State is no longer a figure of speech.
There is a song titled “A New York State of Mind”. From where I’m standing we’re looking into the future and it’s called a Nanny State of mind.

Knoxville’s World Fair and some AIP Nostalgia

Nostalgia and the passing of time

While doing some research for the Nassau County Economic Development Board for its new website, I ran into a story that the original Amelia Island Plantation was the brainchild of Charles Fraser, the famous Hilton Head Sea Pines developer/conservationist, who died in a boating accident in the Turks and Caicos in 2002.  Fraser had bought the land for a reported $4,650,000 and projected that in finished state the plantation would employ some 600 people. Not bad I thought, knowing that in 2010 there were 680 employees on the books of Amelia Island Plantation.

About two years after I had moved to the US, I met Charles Fraser through my business partner Dutch Consul Hans Beerkens. Fraser at the time was divesting himself from Hilton Head and Sea Pines and was involved in the organization of the Knoxville World’s Fair, more formally referred to as the Knoxville International Energy Exposition. During one of the dinners with Fraser, he told me that before getting involved with Amelia Island, he really had his eyes on Cumberland Island, where he had bought roughly 1/5 of the island in 1969. But when his bulldozers arrived to carve out a 5000 feet runway for the planned airport, the environmental community woke up, ultimately forcing Fraser to sell his stake and move one island to the south, where there was already an airport in place. Amelia Island Plantation was lucky to be born out of a much wiser and environmentally more conscious Charles Fraser. Sometimes things just fall into place even if it’s almost a lifetime later.
While checking back some facts however I ran into a New York Times article from 1982 that made me think of my partner Judie’s $260 spent on 3 admission tickets to Disney World last week. Even though I visited the Knoxville World’s Fair several times, I didn’t really recall the admission price, until the article reminded me: $9.95 for an adult per day and a two day ticket was $15.95.
Get this…Tickets to famous comedian Bob Hope’s performances were $13 and Johnny Cash could be seen for $11.
I smiled when I read the warning that “The traveler to this first World’s Fair in the Southeast should anticipate that the extravaganza could well cost a family of four more than $100 a day in addition to food and lodging.
Inflation or supply and demand at work?
And then consider this when the article claims that: Travelers should expect to pay from $60 to $125 a night for an average motel room with two double beds. Not much has changed there I would say. Again, inflation or supply and demand?
Another  piece of nostalgia? Eastern Airlines started a direct service from New York to Knoxville on May 1, the fair’s opening day. The round-trip ”super saver” fare was $314.
Obviously I could not stand the temptation to see how much that flight would be today: US Air was the cheapest with $396 and American most expensive with a price tag of $480.
Considering that 30 years have passed and just last year we paid more than $100 to see ventriloquist comedian Jeff Dunham in Jacksonville, it’s really everything pertaining to entertainment that seems to have exploded out of balance, while flying and accommodations are still for the most part regulated by the laws of supply and demand.
The Knoxville World Fair was hugely entertaining, much more in my opinion than Disneyworld, which I visited around the same time in 1982 in my “get to know your new country” effort.
The Direct Economics were a little off
The Fair lasted 184 days and attracted some 11 million visitors. The city of Knoxville spend almost $110 million to facilitate the Fair which (very roughly) calculates a break even proposition for the organization (11 million x $9.95). However the Fair put the city on the map, based on the assumption that its business community will make the money.
Another forgotten revelation to me was that the fair’s motto “Energy Turns the World” never was more opportune than now – almost 30 years later and allow me to smile over the article’s closing sentence: “Knoxville is served by Greyhound and Trailways buses but it does not have Amtrak rail service.” The More Things Change, the more they stay the same.
Here is the link again, if you’re into comparing how much we really have gained in the past 30 years. Enjoy.

We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place

The best and worst cities to live

The British sixties band The Animals had a great song in its line up beyond House of the Rising Sun. It was titled “We gotta Get Out of This Place”. I was instantly reminded of this song when I read that there was a new survey in the running last week, that lined up the saddest cities in the United States. So my question is: What makes a city sad? A lack of fluffy frolicking puppies? Burnt-out plants and buildings and vacant lots? Boarded up houses or limited access to great cupcakes and a McDonalds Happy Meal?

Measuring which cities in this country are the least content with life seems an objective pursuit, at best. Yet last month when the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index published their findings about which cities were the happiest, and turned Boulder Colorado out as the winner, according to the scientific wisdom that what goes up must come down, they also ended up with the other end of the spectrum. The miserable, no-good, down-and-out cities, where, clearly, not a soul can manage a smile and everyone walks around hunch backed with too much sorrow on their shoulders. Well maybe not quite that depressing since everything on this planet is relative, at least to someone who has traveled a bit further than the borders of this nation. Undoubtedly there are sad people in the nation’s happiest city as well as happy people in the saddest.

I must confess that I was kind of surprised not to find our little Amelia island on the happy list, but that’s okay, the poll may not have known that we have telephones here. But nonetheless, it’s interesting to see what the index came up with.
Based on the results of telephone surveys with a random sample of 352,840 adults, compilers of the index asked numerous questions about six sub-indexes: life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities. To determine how to include which cities, they used the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, which of course may be the culprit in surveys like these. In many cases, more than one city is included in the same MSA. Areas in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia were included.

The Results

The ranking used 188 MSAs altogether, here’s how they scored…number 1 being the most discontent of all.

10. Utica-Rome, NY . For the Life Evaluation index Utica ranked 176th, and came in 185th for Physical Health. Although for Basic Access, the area did fairly well with a ranking of 48th.
9. Prescott, AZ
People in Prescott predominantly ranked low in their feelings about Life Evaluation and Physical Health
8. Lake Havasu City-Kingman, AZ
Although this metropolitan area ranked 52nd out of the 188 for Emotional Health, the rankings for Life Evaluation and Physical Health were high on the discontent end.
7. Spartanburg, SC
Spartanburg ranked poorly for Emotional Health and Work Environment, and didn’t really rank very well on anything across the board.
6. Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC
This North Caroline area ranked poorly in the Life Evaluation and Basic Access questions, but came in right about the middle for Emotional Health.
5. Fort Smith, AR-OK
Fort Smith was basically highly unhappy in all areas, ranking between 152nd to 179th in the six categories.
4. Redding, CA
Leave it to Californians to be at the bottom of the list in many areas, but still rank in the top 30 percent for Healthy Behavior. As for Life Evaluation and Emotional Health, Redding ranked in the top of the worst.
3.Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX
The best this Texas metro area could pull off was 145th for Work Environment, while ranking pretty miserably for Healthy Behavior, Basic Access, and Life Evaluation. No wonder Janis Joplin had to get out of that place
2. Youngstown-Warren- Boardman, OH-PA
The Youngstown area ranked among the worst for Physical Health (186th), Emotional Health (185th) and Life Evaluation (186th).
1. Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH
Huntington-Ashland residents reported the worst Emotional Health and Physical Health of all 188 cities. The best ranking they eked out was 161th for Healthy Behavior.

Obviously the highlands of West Virginia – Kentucky and Pennsylvania bordering on Ohio are not good places to be.

Eric Burdon and the Animals were from the city of Newcastle in England, of the most depressed cities I have ever encountered in my life. He and the band got out of that place. And so can you.

By the way the tall guy on bass is Chas Chandler, who discovered, produced and managed Jimi Hendrix for a while in the mid sixties during his London days.

Wagner’s Law and the Theory of Consensus

Things are a bit upside down right now

We meet new people all the time. Last Tuesday my wife had an ad on Craigslist for a box full of Lego pieces. It had been sitting around the house for a bit, so it was time for Craigslist to the rescue. Within an hour she got a call and an other 45 minutes later, the potential buyer, Johnny, knocked on our door. As we were enjoying the start of happy hour and Johnny turned out to be a delightful man from Denmark who came to this country 13 years ago, we offered him a glass of wine and soon an interesting conversation unfolded. You see I love to converse with people that actually do understand and read more than what they get served in Newspapers and by Talking Headlines.

Johnny came to this country because he wanted to. He comes from a country that primarily exports knowledge and some cheese; his particular expertise is software programming. Even though Denmark is considered a socialist leaning society here in the US, it can nevertheless boast a high standard of living and being amongst the world’s happiest people for many consecutive years now.

Like so many expats, Johnny sees the United States for what it is these days; an empire trying to shake of the curtailing restraints of what once was a republic in search of democracy. Try to tell this to anyone out there in the streets and you will get the “deer in the headlight” look at best, or a fist lift followed by the misguided assertion that if you don’t like it here, you should leave.

Well I have been around the block on this continent for more than 30 years now, and I empathize with Johnny, because I am learning that many Americans know or at least have a gut feeling about all the things that are going wrong lately, but kind of feel helpless. In 2008 we tried to vote intelligence, after 8 years of village idiocy, which ended up in 2 full war commitments, and yet, the new wave Obama “intelligence” has now turned out to be a follower of the empire building fashion, ready to send American Troops anywhere in the world without even a effort of establishing a constitutionally required Declaration of War.

So our conversation with Johnny (and his girlfriend Renee who dropped by as well) turned to what the US does, besides the military obviously, with the taxes it collects. And even though we both left Europe at an early career age, mostly for tax reasons, we have to admit in hindsight that European Governments spend their tax collections primarily in line with Wagner’s Law. And that’s when our conversation became really interesting.

The American public debt – now at around $14.5 trillion dollars  – has been in the news a lot, but how we accrued it, who holds it and whether it really represents an acute problem is not well understood.

There’s an economic principle known as “Wagner’s law,” which holds that as a country gets wealthier, its tax burden tends to increase progressively. In this sense our growing public debt has put trillions into the pockets of the American people. Just think about it. Wagner’s law makes perfect sense in the following progression:

in a poor country, citizens are happy when they get a paved road; in a middle-income country, they expect a public school on that road; and in the wealthiest countries in the world, the public expects safe air-traffic control to guide them into an airport where they can catch a cab to a world-class public university.

As the expectations of what we want government to do rise, so do the tax revenues that are necessary to pay for it all. Everyone benefits.

Three Decades of National Debt Building

To give Adolf Wagner the proper economic credentials, at age 35 (in 1870) he took over the Chair of Staatswissenschaften (economics) at the University of Berlin, by that time not only the premier university in Germany but probably in the world.

 Wagner’s law holds true for every country in the world except the United States, where conservative economic discourse prevails.

About thirty years ago the Conservative Right convinced a lot of Americans that they could enjoy tax cuts without losing out on any of the services they’d come to expect. The Supply Economy Model would provide adequately. And that’s a big part of why our public debt jumped from $997 billion when Reagan took office to over 14 times that number today.

We could have paid for everything as we went through higher taxes but we didn’t. In 2008, the USA ranked 26th out of the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of our total tax burden (the share of our economy we fork over to the government), coming in almost 9 percentage points below the average of the group of wealthy nations. And what we are currently experiencing is the pendulum forcefully swinging to the other side.

Personally I have confidence that over time it will work out better for all Americans, but currently we are seeing an upside down state of affairs with a lot of experimental efforts that create more debt. The incriminating fact to recognize is however basic and simple: We thought we were financially ready to start living the good life about 25 years too early and some correction is due.

The National Debt increase is the only short term way to correct without extreme pain leading to chaos. All other options, except for total abandonment of the existing standards, were wiped out by the 2008 crash.

And in this context it is remarkable how little the average American knows about the national debt.

For example:
We’ve Always Been In Debt

Before the first session of the U.S. Congress came to a close, the public debt stood at more than $75 million, and since that time it has never been paid down. In 1835, we came close – that year, the national debt stood at just under $34,000.
 The last time the public debt decreased was in the mid-1950s, so every year since we’ve hit a “record high” debt in dollar terms.

But a better measure is how much debt we have in relation to our economic output, and that number peaked at around 120 percent of GDP during World War II.

• Contrary to Popular Belief The Chinese Are Not Our “Bankers”

The US National Debt

It’s become conventional wisdom that central banks in China and Japan hold a ton of U.S. debt. In The Hill last week, Tom Schatz, president of the conservative disinformation outfit known as Citizens Against Government Waste,  offered some typical fearmongering, writing that the public debt will not only result in “a lower standard of living for future generations,” but that “the Chinese, who own the largest foreign share of U.S. debt, will have the American people ‘working’ for them.

The reality is that, as of September 30, 2010, China held 9.5 percent of our outstanding debt. The largest lender to the U.S. government is the people of the United States – we own 42.1 percent of the national debt in the form of Treasury bills held in our pension funds, 401(K)s, etc.
And 4.6 trillion – about a third – is held by the government itself. Almost 18 percent of the T-bills outstanding are sitting in the Social Security trust fund, earning interest and making the retirement program incredibly secure despite all the claims to the contrary.

• Historically Republicans Left More Debt Than Democrats

Between 1960 and 2010, federal spending as a share of the economy has bounced around within a fairly narrow range of between 17.7 percent (under Eisenhower) and 21.8 percent (during the first George Bush’s term in office). Republicans are just as happy to spend, but they run on tax cuts, and the result is that since the middle of the last century, contrary to the “tax-and-spend” label, it’s been Democrats who are far more conservative when it comes to keeping deficits under control than their Republican counterparts.

Presidencies over the last 30 years had the following starting points:

Ronald Reagan started his term with total debt outstanding of 930 billion and increased total debt outstanding to $2.7 trillion. This is a 13.71% compound annual increase. He never balanced a budget.
Bush the Elder started his term with outstanding debt of $2.7 trillion and increased total debt to $4 trillion. This is a 10.32% compounded annual increase. He never balanced a budget.
Clinton started with total debt outstanding debt of $4 trillion and increased total debt outstanding to $5.6 trillion over two terms. This is a 4.2% compounded annual increase. He balanced his last three budgets.
George W. Bush started with $5.6 trillion total outstanding debt and increased total outstanding debt to $10 trillion. That works out to a 9.8 percent annual increase over two terms – Let’s not even mention balancing a budget.

That Obama’s first years have taken us to $13.5 trillion is alarming but not deadly – yet.

• Republic versus Empire

It’s ironic – or a testament to the influence of the conservative message machine on our discourse – that discussion of the public debt so frequently centers on “entitlements” like Social Security (which hasn’t added a penny to the national debt). After all, we’re still paying for Korea and Vietnam and Grenada and Panama and the first Gulf War and Somalia and the Balkans and on and on.
Estimates of just how much of our national debt payments are from past military spending vary wildly. Economist Robert Higgs calculated it like this:
I added up all past deficits (minus surpluses) since 1916 (when the debt was nearly zero), prorated according to each year’s ratio of narrowly defined national security spending–military, veterans, and international affairs–to total federal spending, expressing everything in dollars of constant purchasing power. This sum is equal to 91.2 percent of the value of the national debt held by the public at the end of 2006. Therefore, I attribute that same percentage of the government’s net interest outlays in that year to past debt-financed defense spending.

In 2007, when Higgs did that analysis, he came up with a figure of $206.7 billion annually, just in interest payments on our past military adventures. Yes it is expensive to be the World’s Policeman trying to disguise a agenda of the Empire Builders.

• Public Debt Is Not Just About Borrowing

While our public debt has allowed us to violate Wagner’s law, it’s important to understand that we don’t just sell bonds in order to borrow money. When countries with widely traded currencies like the U.S. issue bonds, they are considered the safest investments around, and are therefore issued, and purchased, regardless of the government’s cash-flow needs.

Johnny and I agreed, both natives from semi-socialist countries, that neither system or ideology of economic approach is ideal, but that Wagner’s Law should get a closer inspection, since paying taxes is no different than purchasing a car or home.
There is an expectation of value return attached to the payment, or else….

We also concluded that the surface on State Road 200/A1A is a disgrace and dangerous to anyone using it. In both our native countries upgrades and repairs to a road like that would have been executed several years ago.

Taxes and Value have a direct balance correlation and we both agreed that much of government’s poor performance here, is probably more a matter of poor planning and execution than ill will. We could be wrong of course but looking at the time it took to to finish repairing Fletcher Ave and the Amelia Parkway, I tend to agree.

Falling in Love with Amelia Island – a European’s Dream

The Horse and Buggy Pick Up at Mackinac Island

by Tim Burningham

Amelia Island is a very desirable location for many Europeans.  Originally coming from the British Isles, my wife and I decided that this was the right place to drop our anchor. We soon found that there were actually quite a lot like-minded Europeans that shared some of the same common business and social interests as we did.  So a small group of us started the European American Business Club. Now a year later the club is flourishing and we all believe that nurturing our European American connection is a good thing for Amelia Island and for the current European ‘infiltrators’.  I have a personal vision of what this special corner of Florida could become over the next decade – a 2020 vision for European Americans. I hear of many groups and business leaders that are studying the long term development of this island.  I hope they will consider the outsiders point of view which may be what is needed to influence and stimulate incumbent local politicians who just think about local interests.  So let’s consider these ideas:

Attracting the right people – there is no doubt that this community has a deep pool of creative, broad minded people with a wealth of experience that can be drawn upon to envision an even better long lasting home for existing and future residents.  We can become a caring community that nurtures our environment and cherishes our diversity…. not just a compound for the wealthy or potentially a depressed community falling into disrepair. We already have a rich blend of nationalities and cultures here.  We need to attract not just vacationers and retirees but professionals, trades people, budding entrepreneurs and a few more Europeans and Globalists in the mix!  If we attract the ‘right’ people with a similar vision for the island, good things can happen. They will demand improvements in education, medical services and facilities, transportation and a physical and technological infrastructure.

Stabilizing the property market – as we pull out of the gloom of the past few years and start removing all those  For Sale signs, this area has the potential of becoming one of the most desirable pieces of real estate in the South East.  The developers have to figure out how to allow the light commercial, port, tourist, retail and residential interests to co-exist.  We have a selection of farsighted real estate champions with international aspirations, that understand what it will take to shake up this property market.

No motorized traffic on Mackinac Island;why not the same onAmelia Island

Reducing our dependence on the automobile – we could lead the way in providing a more clean and efficient means of getting around.  Let’s start using our legs rather than sitting on our backsides!  The whole historic district could become a pedestrian zone similar to what has been created in most historic districts in Europe.  Wouldn’t it be great to walk to town on Saturday mornings with a shopping trolley, visit the market, chat with the neighbors, and have a pint at the pub just like we did in our villages back home!  Let’s get people on their bicycles and the walking trails. Why not start thinking about a light rail system that connects a terminal and parking lot at the bridge with the historic district, looping the island down Fletcher to the Plantation, stopping at the airport and back to the bridge.  Possibly collect a small toll for non residents, an annual road pass for residents and make sure the lumber truck drivers pay their fair share for beating up our roadways – the best means of traffic control – we shouldn’t pave paradise to put up more parking lots.  The 50 year master plan should reflect the phasing out of today’s automobile.

Creating a boating community – we are surrounded by beautiful waterways and marine life. How do we encourage the responsible development of this natural resource and allow the development of a couple of world class marinas as a destination for cruisers, sailors and day trippers.  With the right operators and charter companies we can attract visitors and their foreign currencies from as far away as Canada, South America and Europe. If you haven’t yet got the message on what these local waterways have to offer just talk to Captain McCarthy and take a river cruise to open your eyes.

Becoming an arts and cultural center – many great annual festivals are already flourishing such as the established shrimp and jazz fests. However new ventures have recently appeared inspired by Europeans such as the Blues Fest and Search Amelia fueled by Dutch blood, the Petanque America Tournament fueled by Belgian sweat,  and skydiving fueled by a flying Welshman.  We don’t have to visit too many restaurants in town to find good European cuisine and great European chefs. These events and locales attract the types of visitors that we want and should embrace – art lovers, music lovers, car enthusiasts, writer and readers, film makers and movier goers. The ultimate catalyst for concert goers would be the creation of an intimate, world class concert hall that would seat audience of up to 15,000. What a coupe that would be for Amelia Island.

If you share this type of outlook for our wonderful community come join us for a glass of French wine at our next monthly meeting on March 9th at the Beach Club and hear from our airport manager about what is in store for the local airport – they may not be ready to expand the runways to accept new Concord flights from London’s Heathrow Airport, but who knows what’s on the agenda!  You may actually think we are all a bunch of dreamers, but then realize what John Lennon was thinking when he wrote “Imagine”.  So let’s ‘imagine’ Amelia’s dream together.

by Tim Burningham – EABC

The Things that Shocked me Most this week

JP Morgan largest food stamp processor in America

Spending most of your working day on the internet is both enlightening and alienating, which essentially describes the Internet function in our lives these days. If you know where to look you can find the truth AND the lies and everything in between. Sometimes it is shocking, although that might be a big word put in the right perspective, and sometimes it brings explanations so simple and visual that it screams for widespread attention.
Here are some of my observations this week.

A Diet Unmasked as Urban Legend

After successfully following the Cabbage Soup Diet for a week, I lost 11 pounds, even though I understand that this is mostly water weight, I decided to look up its origins and find overwhelming scientific claims, that this diet, also known as Toronto General Hospital Diet, is “nothing but an urban legend.” Apparently it was already around about 100 years ago, during World War I, when American soldiers fighting in France had few other vegetables available and eating cabbage offered protection against scurvy, a deficiency disease caused by inadequate vitamin C in the diet. Armed with the knowledge that it not only worked for my wife and I to get a head start in our weight loss plan, I have decided that a 100 year old claim cannot be all bad, notwithstanding scientific “proof” that is is just a fad. You want to know more, here is the link.

One of my favorite Guitar Players Passes away

Gary Moore, who wrote and played “Still Got the Blues for You” and “Parisienne Walkways” into a daily staple in my music selection, passed away at age 58, while on vacation in Spain on February 6. If you ever wanted to possess a Blues Album (CD) that is filled with amazing songs and guitar playing, get his 1993 album “Blues Alive”. Gary’s passing was definitely one of this week’s shocks for me. Thank you for your fine tunes Mr. Moore, you’ve enriched my life greatly.

Having Too many Facebook Friends is linked to anxiety

Okay this one also shocked me, because once again it shows how we humans overrate ourselves. WebProNews reported that according to a new survey, the more Facebook friends you have, the more likely you are to feel stressed out by the site. ‘The results threw up a number of paradoxes,‘ says Dr. Kathy Charles, who led the study. ‘For instance, although there is great pressure to be on Facebook there is also considerable ambivalence amongst users about its benefits.‘ Causes of stress included deleting unwanted contacts, the pressure to be entertaining and having to use appropriate etiquette for different types of friends. ‘Like gambling, Facebook keeps users in a neurotic limbo, not knowing whether they should hang on in there just in case they miss out on something good’.

JP Morgan and the Distribution of Food Stamps

It is indefinitely shocking to find out that JP Morgan, one of the cornerstone Wall Street thieves of American prosperity is now making money from processing FOODSTAMPS. Yes that’s right. JP Morgan is the largest processor of Food Stamp to 37 million Americans. It’s a growth industry they proudly claim and with the help of our government they are making money off the misery they created. The phenomenon that explains how they can get away with this lies in the expression : The Revolving Door, describing how Washington and Wall Street practise Nepotism 2011 Style. My apologies for shaking my head in disbelief and softly whispering “Only in America!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgokq_nCmow

Jack Daniels puts the 2011 Deficit Discussion into Perspective

The ongoing austerity debate between parties in Washington about cutting the budgets, is beautifully explained in this short video with the use of filled Jack Daniels shot glasses. Kudos to those who can translate a complicated matter such as the budget deficits and the squabbles between Republicans and Democrats into a visual we can relate to, especially when we come home after another exhausting day looking for the numbing effect of a quick relief.Mr. Daniels to the rescue.

Have a Great Weekend.

Nothing Changed That Night

Paris Riots in May of 1968

As history keeps repeating itself, I realize that human behavior and shifts of power are totally predictable if you know the signs. A couple of days ago I shared with you that my New Year’s agenda included finishing at least one of the 3 novels I have been warming up for the past 16 years. Two of those are historic fictional action stories and one is an account of my “other” life between the Spring of 1968 and the Summer of 1985 and I titled it “Rainbow Runner”.

As I was reading an account of what happened in Belarus, a former USSR territory, on December 19, just three weeks ago, the description of what took place in the riots in its capital city of Minsk, took me back to Paris 1968, when a more “private” part of my life’s chapters started to unfold.
Eyewitnesses reported that things didn’t go over the edge that night on the streets in Minsk, because people are just in the first stage of anger and disbelief with their government, but I was thinking about how quickly things can change. The people were in a peaceful demonstration until the police started shedding blood and beating peaceful, unarmed people, including women. It reminded me of the amazing speed with which the “thin veneer of civilization” can be stripped away when the power of injustice spreads like a wildfire. It reminded me of that riotous afternoon in Paris in 1968 when a young teenager with a great skill in martial arts witnessed a young pregnant woman being beaten by no less than 3 gendarmes, and what followed changed his life forever.

And once again I realize that unprepared ignorance is an invitation to injustice and violence. No matter where you live, even in the United States, it’s dangerous wishful thinking to tell yourself, “It can’t happen here.”
From an economic point of view I can’t shake the insight that the old world order is rapidly going to change. Even if there is more physical wealth in the world today, in the form of factories, homes, powerful technologies, etc., there is also massively more debt. Governments – first-world governments and banana republics – are sliding towards default, and most individuals have little or no savings or have their savings tied up in a deflating gargantuan real estate bubble.

The plain truth is that we’ve already gone beyond the point of no return. There is simply no way the U.S. and Europe’s governments  can pay all their obligations without defaulting or destroying the dollar and Euro – which is just a different kind of default. There is no way around the fact that a lot of people will have to make painful adjustments.

I am not necessarily talking about violence, although no one should exclude that possibility. The human race has chosen that route too many times, to ignore the possibility. This year we are “celebrating” the start of the Civil War a mere hundred and fifty years ago, a dark chapter in a peaceful progress, I may remind you. But I prefer to think that most of the world’s wealth will still exist after the crash, but it will change hands.

Sound advice would be to start teaching Mandarin in schools because we’ll need it to do business in the new world after the crash – or to get a job as a servant, working for those who do learn to do business in the world after the crash.
Be prepared to accept that “it can happen here.” Maybe not this year, maybe not for several years, but when the real currency crash gets underway, it’ll be unstoppable, and it will destroy the status quo with a speed that will leave most people without any means other than what they carry on themselves.

And yes I know it is unsettling to sound an alarm; yet I don’t feel like apologizing for advising people to prepare. The only balance in human nature (at least so far) comes from a status quo of knowledge and power. Break the status quo or 50/50 balance and mayhem is on the horizon.
Therefor my mantra dictates liquidation, consolidation, speculation, creation and preparation and leave yourself enough space to diversify your political risk exposure – in other words, have a safe place to go other than the family farm, that we all ran away from to make it big in the city.

Be prepared in case the world fails to make it through chapter 13 in a reasonably orderly manner. Most of all learn how to become financially independent.

A Personal Christmas Story

The Full Cast of It's A Wonderful Life

My “step” daughter and her young Navy husband are expecting, which means that life is unfolding on a limited budget right now. But what amazes me is how this young woman, who during previous Christmases only seemed interested in the number and value of presents with her name on it under the the tree, has managed to match her long praised exterior beauty with a warmth and inner beauty that brings balance and happiness to the world.

The other morning we got an excited phone call to make sure we would be ready on Saturday morning at 11am to go to Jacksonville for a surprise Christmas gift from the two of them to us. My wife and I, usually quite busy with a variety of tasks on Saturday morning looked at each other and wondered what this could possibly entail. We played around with several thoughts as if we were shaking the Christmas present for hints or clues and finally settled on the assumption that it would be a Professional Photo Session of some sorts. Now my wife photographs beautifully, but I on the other hand, am happy if one out of a 1000 pictures turns out usable and does not need to be burned upon seeing daylight.

Still we were not happy about the idea as it would mean dressing up, hair treatment, shaving and a trip to Jax on a Saturday morning. Not good.

That same evening, she and her husband come over with a big Christmap wrapped cardbox and a big smile on their faces. The box is big but featherlight, so we look at eachother trying to stay upbeat and happy, but with a look of recognition in our eyes. Slowly we open the box and yes…. there is an envelop in that big box. As we try to mimick a smile of gratitude and surprise we rip the envelop open and find …two matinee tickets to the Alhambra on Beach Blvd for the Radio Show “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

Sheer delight, surprise and …yes, elation was the result. We had dodged the bullet of family portraits and we both enjoyed the several shows we went to in the re-opened Alhambra Dinner Theater. So yes, we had a date for Saturday even though “It’s a Wonderful Life” the movie, is an annually returning item on the Holiday Season movie menu.

Billy, Violet, Mary and Potter

The bigger surprise however was the performance. How can a “simple” Studio Radio Show these days manage to keep an audience glued to the stage? In a time when entertainment is so over the top that even the best musical performers in the world need visual floor shows, light effects and fireworks to keep the customer satisfied, how does a movie script interpreted as a Radio Show on Stage, even remotely expect to keep the audience interested for 2 hours?  Imagine 7 voice actors representing 31 movie characters and their dialogues and quick witted one liners, populating a 1948 radio station studio, decked out with a circle of special sound effect paraphernalia, operated by a true master of emotion and the coolest mother figure chick on piano. She was actually knitting during the dialogues.  Imagine the inside of a studio like Letterman’s Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway and a bunch of microphones, intended for each of the seven actors. Imagine big lighted signs pointed at the audience that lit up when Applause is required and a stage director who warns about on air time. Absolutely magnificent.

Even though I have seen the movie on quite a few occasions, I don’t think there was one moment in this radio play, that created confusion as to the logic of the story line. The actors, clearly stage performers as well, were so into character, even body shape and facial expression wise, that I could sometimes take my eyes of the action and see how they – even as their presence was not required – deeply lived each and every aspect of the play. George and Mary Baily, Billy, Mr. Potter, they were exceptional and I’m not saying this just because it is expected during the Holidays. They managed to put me back into our family’s living room when I was a kid and gave me both an amazing audio and video experience of a movie I know pretty much by heart.

Unfortunately the table in front of us had several young kids constantly studying their smart phones and not surprisingly never returned after the break. I think it is sad that they absolutely could not bring the creativity and respect to try to understand and admire how in 1948 radio brought entertainment and education. I’m all for technology, but these kids had all the signs of becoming victims of witless entertainment, delivered on a screen the size of a couple of postage stamps.

Multiple Character Man, Harry and fabulous George Bailey

Radio in 1948 was very much in your face. There were the performers and there was the studio audience and both had a role to play, to add to the atmosphere, which was delivered to family rooms across the nation.

I hope a Director will take it on to restage Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” from 1938, and I will stand first in line for tickets, even though I will miss the wonderful live commercials that sparsely intercepted the dialogue. I could actually see my father putting BrylCreem in his hair so many years ago.

I am sorry if this story makes you want to go and see the show, it is sold out solidly until it closes on Christmas Eve. As for the gift, it was by far the best Christmas present I ever received…and frankly I did get some great ones. It was an out of the park home run and knowing that it came from two young adults with a baby on the way and not too many pennies to rub together…well that made it special beyond plain gratitude.

A Push Chair that magically Turns into a Bicycle

Innovation and environment friendly the Taga

There is this website called newslite.tv which picks ups many creative ideas from around the world. They kind of undersell themselves with the by-line “it barely qualifies as news”, yet brings very entertaining topics. This morning my wife sent me a link to a new bicycle cq push chair, box-bike, grocery cart. We recently took on biking, as in pedaling across the island, followed  quick stops at the grocery store. I even go to meetings or take my video and still cameras in my back pack and pedal around. Love it, get lots of fresh air and exercise, but have to admit that sometimes I would need a bit more carrying space when I try to fit a bunch of specials from the store into my back pack.

So here is the introduction of some very creative thinking that came from that little country that I still call home at the north sea. As a kid I remember our  baker making his rounds twice a week with a box bike in which he carried his assortment of breads, cookies and pastry and especially on Saturday’s we made sure we were hanging somewhere around the house when he brought two dozen of his French bread pistolets. A bit of butter and some fresh cut ham and cheese (on special occasions with a touch of Apple Stroop (butter) in between and a $100 dinner of Chateau Briand and Pommerol with Chateau Petrus and main lobster as appetizer could not compete.

His baker’s bike looked like this one, which if you type in BAKFIETS in Google Images, you’ll find dozens of clever variations that recently are seeing a huge revival in European cities.
And that’s where TAGA fond its inspiration for this magnificent innovation of an old friend: A pushchair which can be converted into a child-carrying bicycle in just 20 seconds.


It is credited as an urban vehicle to suit your transportation needs and has become a hit with eco-friendly mothers across the world.
The universal appeal of the bike is actually uncanny, but not surprising. Taga was born as a global application of green energy and innovation. It was created by an international team with expertise in a wide range of fields, who had however in common parenthood, passion for bicycles and a desire for a product like this in their own lives.

City squares resemble old van Gogh and Vermeer scenery paintings

Cycling is a huge part of Dutch culture and cargo or carrier bikes, three-wheeled vehicles with wooden boxes in the front, are very popular as a way to travel with kids these day, sometimes even 3 or 4. The idea behind Taga was to take the carrier bike concept a couple of steps further and adapt it for the rest of the world.

At a price tag of about $2,250 a Taga Bike rivals India’s tiny Tatra automobile in price, but it appeals to eco friendly parents and the savings are obviously in the use. At one point it looks like a ‘normal’ pushchair but after a bit of twisting, folding and flipping becomes a fully functioning bike with a child-seat on the front.

While I love the engineering feat which is the pushchair-bicycle, I foresee one glaring problem in my case… I have no plans to have a young child anytime sooner or later.
I guess my wife sent me the link as a hint as there is one 10 month grand child and another one on the way. And guess what…their parents don’t do bicycles!

A Deadline is a Lifeline

A deadline is just one small but important step in a life's accomplishment

The question if the glass is half full or half empty is rhetorical at best as it usually involves one’s personal opinion on a problem or situation. So is a deadline. As I grow older I confront myself more often with the question:”Am I becoming the kind of person I wanted to be?” And even that turns out to be rhetorical.

I think it’s part of my perennial philosophy of living by the compass rather than the time piece. It’s part of painting life in broad strokes and colors of mutual agreement and acceptance (nature’s laws), versus how to fill in the details (human laws).

Considering our present day circumstances, I realize that we probably hit a snag right out of the gate, considering how divergent the world really is. People simply don’t agree on some matters, until confronted with the superior laws of nature.

Perennialists agree that enlightened people everywhere consent on certain core principles and these are handed down from generation to generation, through the ages, and across nations and cultures. They agree that compassion is a major part of successful living but they also agree that problems are life’s way of getting the best out of us. They are opportunities to grow. If we neglect the opportunity, we chance desperation without realizing that the sum of all of our experiences makes up our life.

In the West, we tend to think we’re living a morally good life if we are not doing anything to hurt anyone else. But perennialists are also concerned with what are we doing or not doing to alleviate the suffering of others.
There is a huge discrepancy between the Longterm Compass of Life and the Short term Watch of Everyday Life. One is based on a long term direction while the clock only functions as a deadline to pursue and accomplish certain steps. The Compass needs periodical reviews of the building of habits (weekly monthly, annually); the Watch needs deadlines.

Based on that philosophy I have come to see deadlines as lifelines.

They are the ultimate funnels that keep us on the track that was set out by our life’s Compass that fills in the broad brush strokes of education, family, philosophy, prosperity, health.

But I have also learned over the years that:

1.    Most people don’t like deadlines. They require a decision and a decision means risk. Deadlines force us to decide and/or act.

2.    Deadlines work. Products that are about to disappear, auctions that are about to end, tickets that are about to sell out–they create forward motion.

3.    Deadlines make people do dumb things. Every time people miss a deadline, they’ll use ornate, well-considered and thoughtful arguments as to why they missed the deadline. Never mind that they had two weeks or longer to comply or act… the last fifteen minutes are all they are concerned with. If it’s important enough to spend an hour complaining about, it’s certainly important enough to spend four minutes to just do it in the first place.

4.    Deadlines give you the opportunity to beat the rush and be ahead of the competition. Handing in work or an assignment just a little bit early is a sure-fire way to tell a positive story and get the attention you seek.

5.    When we set ourselves a deadline, we’re often lax about sticking to it. If you tend to do that, try associating it with an external reward or punishment. If you don’t make the deadline, your friend who borrowed $20 from you, can give it to a cause you disagree with…

6. Deadlines set by external parties have a much higher impact, that deadlines set by yourself.
If you accept deadlines for what they really are, a chance to stay on top of your life, they become lifelines that keep you on track of your long term goals and objectives.

Most of all deadlines will force you to focus on a life full of positive opportunities rather than allow you to accept short term up and downs you can’t control.

As Traveling Becomes Yet More Complicated

As we stumble down to chaos

Countries that have received Visa Waiver credentials (benefits?) from the US are in general countries whose citizens and governments are friendly with the USA, some even for as long as several hundred years ever since the dawning of the US, like the Netherlands and France. It is therefore a little strange that travelers from these countries are always used as the guinea pigs for potential screw ups.

One of those screw ups for example was that when the Visa Waiver program was introduced, immigration officers at will started crossing out the visas in many of the countries’ citizens passports. Under the claim that they did not need these anymore, potential 179 day stays were now curtailed to the 90 days that fit the Visa Waiver Program.

Well now Homeland Security and its TSA say it will no longer require travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries to fill out the arrival-departure I-94W form starting this fall. Nice. No more fumbling for a pen in a crowded airplane or airline crews running out of forms or even the risk of losing the stub that declares you’re in the country legally.

The form, normally filled out on the plane, will be eliminated with the introduction of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) at all U.S. airports by the end of this summer, said the Department of Homeland Security.
All travelers entering the United States (by air or sea) under the visa waiver program are required to hold a valid ESTA travel authorization. The purpose of ESTA is to allow DHS to pre-screen all Visa Waiver Travelers before they leave their respective countries. U.S.-bound travelers are recommended to apply for a Travel Authorization at least 72 hours prior to departure.
The visa waiver program is a U.S. government program that enables citizens and nationals from the 36 Visa Waiver Countries to enter the United States for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. The advantage of entering the United States under the visa waiver program is that you can travel to the United States on short notice without obtaining a visa.

And that is exactly what’s wrong with this “improvement”. A Visa is a blanket approval, it tells officials that you went through the screening process and admission is granted. What this program does is turn the clock back. Before you make your reservation you need to make sure you’re approved, however to get approved you need to fill out date, airline and code of your arrival. Anybody can tell me how this works???

The elimination of the paper form enables travelers to provide biographical, travel and eligibility information through ESTA prior to departure for the U.S. website information suggests.
The U.S. Travel Association even applauded the development. U.S. Travel CEO Roger Dow said eliminating the form will “help reduce confusion and increase the speed of processing for millions of our guests.” I wonder if Mr. Dow has ever imagined standing on the other side of the fence as a foreigner coming to visit? If so he would tell a different story.

Here are the facts: People from Visa waiver countries traveling all the time to the US should not have a problem theoretically as their faces and fingerprints are already multiple times stored in the data bases. New travelers however, first time vacationers or business people might just think this is a bit too much. No one is paying for a ticket without having admission approval. Admission approval however requires exactly that. Won’t go over very well. And for heaven’s sake let’s hope there are no computer screw ups or power outages. Imagine the scenario that Air France just landed an Airbus 380 with 800 people aboard, all visitors from Visa Waiver countries and… then the system shuts down.

No, travel just got  bit more complicated for this country’s friends. Just my opinion.

Economies of Scale Change Tourism Landscape

Jacksonville International Airport serving North East Florida

Large resorts have their attractions and fulfill an important role in the development of tourism destinations. It takes numbers to attract numbers and the chicken and the egg dilemma of airplane seats versus beds available is of utmost financial importance to any tourism destination, especially islands.

When I landed on St.Thomas in the US Virgin Islands in 1986 I carried a large backpack full of big resort marketing and development experiences with me from the Canary Islands and Mediterranean Islands, to the French Riviera and Dutch Marinas, but I had none of the experience needed to market small hotels, bed and breakfasts and guest houses.

Since I had planned to settle in the Caribbean for a while to pursue my passion of blue water sailing I had no interest staying in large and expensive resorts. My plan was to check out the various marinas and dry docks in the US and British Virgins for a suitable 40ft sailboat that would be comfortable and fast enough for a couple of years of cruising the islands.

So my guess was to go local and I landed in a Small Inn in the hillside of Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St.Thomas, called the Danish Chalet. Except for the danish that accompanied the cinnamon coffee in the morning, there was nothing Danish about the place, were it not that the US Virgins had been Danish until Uncle Sam decided it needed a sub base in the islands to protect the Panama Canal from German attacks in 1917 and bought them for $25 million from Denmark.
Some people in those early days tried to convince me that the Danes were the reason that traffic on these American islands move on the wrong side of the road, but since my roots are in Northern Europe, I just smiled and shook my head.

While boat searching, I stayed for about 3 months in the Danish Chalet and became real close with proprietors Frank and Mary, a retired couple from California, so close actually that when their daughter, who ran the election campaign for Bob Martinez for Governor of Florida in the fall of 1986, got married, they asked me to run the Chalet for several weeks for them.

View over Charlotte Amalie Harbor

You quickly learn a lot when you go hands-on

Since they were part of several local and regional small inn associations and the St.Thomas hotel association I often ended up going to meetings where I met all the beach shacks of old, those mom-and-pop guesthouses and small inns teetering on wooden foundations at the edge of the Caribbean shore, offering the minimum in basics but the maximum in island flavor. I loved them and their colorful proprietors, but as soon as the mosquitoes heard that my body was free, an air conditioned room with private bathroom became the first concession to luxury. Over the years, influenced by personal desires and acquired tastes, free Internet, plush towels and an ocean view balcony with a chaise lounge have become pretty much a standard.
Unless trade winds blow straight into your window as they come in over the Atlantic Ocean at 15-20 knots and fall down a mountain side into your bedroom, hot humid nights are hell.

For happy hour I still seek out the funky tiki beach bars and the aging local bartenders who spin creole/english and pour local rum concoctions, but I want a lot more these days. And I’m not alone, and fortunately, upgraded properties are accommodating the sizeable number of travelers who, like me, seek a menu that reads like a la carte.  .
In the early years I sailed the entire Caribbean and saw many magnificent jewels of small hotels and guesthouses whimper away as the owners did not understand that with a little investment in in-room luxury, they would have been able to withstand any economic downturn, but what is cute and adorable the first year, like a couple of lizards in your room because the sliding glass balcony door does not completely close, becomes irritating the next year.

Small Inns and B&B’s format the early rise of a Tourism Destination

Small inns are not powerhouses in the tourism trade; they don’t have the numbers to impress and attract massive tourism, let alone airlift. But they can be the icing on the tourism cake if they understand how the system works. For a developing destination they are the places where the early adopter portion of travelers recognize a Jewel in the Making. Islands like St.Barth and Anguilla in the West Indies would never have had a chance to stay exclusive high end destinations for as long as they did, without the island of St.Martin and its major commercial development, cruise ship port and $120 million dollar airport nearby that accommodates daily direct fights from all over the world.

The daytrip distance between Anguilla, St.Barth and St.Martin makes the entire area an attraction that serves both high end resorts, exclusive guesthouses and B&B’s and a large number of Small Inns.

The same goes for the touristic make up of Amelia Island and the region, yet it has not been explored nor accommodated to any degree at all. If Jacksonville Beach functions as the regions mass tourism destination, Amelia Island to the north and Ponte Vedra to the South (even as far as St.Augustine) offer the varying degrees of high end destinations.

The changing landscape involves touch and go destinations

The expectations of vacationers have matured and from here on will be constantly changing. Once arrived at their destination, today’s guests want variety and even the small hotels can offer it in spades if they share their knowledge of the destination and collaborate with unique attractions and service providers locally and in a daytrip distance.

For small properties to charge high end and succeed they need to know their clients (demographics) and markets (geographics). They need to know their customer profile long before they check in. Guests at the Ritz Carlton and Amelia Island Plantation have minimal connection to the guests who book the family-run guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. But having said that, as a result of luxury amenities built into the accommodations of larger resorts, the small properties that survive the downturns in normal travel trends and the stalled economy, have to constantly put money into their product and back it up with marketing. Simply replacing the floral bedspreads no longer cuts it.
Everything from spas to private yoga classes to organic breakfast menu items, flat-screens, free Internet and iPod docks have become pretty much basic. Green Globe certification sometimes rates higher on a guest’s checklist than does a 500-thread-count bedsheet. But how do you know?

The Fight over Price Points

Moreover, as the larger resorts are still experiencing a decline in demand due to the loss of incentive/meeting business, some are still applying discount rates to capture the transient leisure guest and as a result, the smaller hotels now find themselves competing with the larger ones for the individual traveler at lower price points. To end this uphill battle, there is only one true solution and that is market volume expansion. More visitors from more destinations.

Amelia Island as a tourism destination is still a bit like the rich kid in 11th grade wondering whether to step into the family business when he finishes his studies or venture out in the world to create his own path. The island could go its separate way and ignore that there is an international airport 30 minutes away or it can go the route of market volume expansion and acknowledge the existence. It can use Northeast Florida for its destination promotion or it can isolate itself as an exclusive self sufficient haven. I have watched the island of St.Barth in 35 years turn from exclusive, high priced rich and famous destination to a gateway for upper middle class tourism. Another 10 years and it will be just like St.Maarten which currently sees more than 2 million visitors per year on a 37 square mile island where the total length of all beaches combined is less than half of the beach length we have to offer here on Amelia.

I have learned that it is the nature of the tourism beast. The only, absolutely only, way to keep some developmental integrity is a long term development plan for Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach, that includes all aspects of the inevitable change from a fisherman’s village with supporting industries to a full blown tourism destination with a regional impact and maximized carrying capacities.

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