America and Greece: More Alike than Some Would Like to Admit

Veteran’s Day Morning in SoFla

This morning at Saint Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton, Florida we had a color guard and an acting officer in our U.S. military present both the American and Greek flag in celebration and honorance of Veteran’s Day.  As a congregation we sang in unison both respective national anthems with our hands over hearts. The speeches, music and unified revere for both nations created an emotional atmosphere.  It was a reminder that the United States and Greece are still bound with more similarities than we realize.

U.S. Presidential Election Redux: So Easy to Throw Punches

It’s less than a week since our nation had our elections and already the discussions abound as to how our country can move forward and actually tackle some of the immediate problems that affect our citizens: among some of the major topics being a sluggish economy, widespread debt in personal lives as well as the municipalities and the ongoing threats to our active military posts.

It was just a few weeks ago during the second publicized debate between President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney that Greece was mentioned in a less than favorable manner.  In short, Mr. Romney verbally attacked President Obama’s notions and policies as sending America down the path of becoming like Greece.  Just in case you missed it, this was a grave insult hurled at Greeks both in America and abroad.

Roots, Entanglements and Exercises

Documented and debated history points to Ancient Greece as the cradle of what we know as modern democracy today.  For instance, about 2400 years ago in Athens they would draw 500 names from the citizens of Athens (excluding women, children and slaves/servants) who would serve as the law makers and all eligible citizens were required to vote on proposed legislation and such—the formation of various city-states like Sparta and Athens were formed around 1000 B.C.

Fast forwarding to the 20th century, modern Greece entered World War II in late 1940 and the country itself suffered through a famine that killed thousands between the years 1941-42.  By January 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was persuaded to create a new 112nd Infantry Battalion to be based in Camp Carson, Colorado.  Incidentally, the number “122” had a symbolic meaning at the time representing 122 years of Greek Independence from the Ottoman Empire.  This battalion was comprised of Greek-Americans who would be sent over to help Greece as she fought against the Nazis’ occupation and such.

Whether it be by infused political and military philosophies, shared love of food and fun, the athletic contests of the Olympic Games and several articles that could be written on the subject matter we have in common—The United States and Greece have a historic love affair with each other that we can readily embrace or with weak arguments try to disguise the existence of such a liaison.

Dollars, Euros and Sense?

In today’s the New York Times, there is an article referring to Greece’s most recent struggle to face the specific realities of its current economic problems—“Friedrich Schneider, an economics professor…in Linz, Austria estimates that about 120 billion euros in Greek assets lie outside the country…representing an extraordinary 65% of the country’s overall economic output”.  The piece outlines the current idea to create an amnesty program for those who have evaded taxes in the past with a lure of a 15-20% flat tax on everyone. For more of the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/12/business/global/greece-renews-struggle-against-tax-evasion.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Here in America, the latest from newly re-elected President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have been trading sound bites on their hope that both sides can work together avoiding the infamous coined “fiscal cliff”.  Although President Obama should be able to garner support with House Republicans since he’s going into his second and final term and doesn’t have the political pressure to stay sole party line—in turn, Republicans should be willing to work the President for the common goal of bringing American back to financial health and onward.

From President Obama’s 2012 Campaign: How Do We Go “Forward”?

I’ve only mentioned a couple of items that both Greece and the United States have to tackle despite the general consensus of negative attitudes toward the government and the sparring respective political party factions.  When will the goal of government leaders become to harness power to work for positive change in the interest of their citizens rather than trying to convince their citizens as to why they are the better ones to have the power over their political opponents?

What Greece and the United States have shown in their respective election cycles and financial meltdowns is that a change in philosophical mindset and public discourse is happening whether those in governmental power recognize it or not.  Greece will forever hold a place in the United State’s history of a democratic influence and today the U.S. is linked with her still as we are trying to navigate this new ground of adjusting our economic policies and trying to energize our population to continue its education, creativity and overall American way.

Americans and Greeks alike have changed the course of human history when they summon the courage to go forward for the right reasons and sacrifice the wrong reasons to blaze a positive and resounding trail forward.

R. Saridakis Bean

Sources:

http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/articles/ossgreece.aspx

http://www.ancient-greece.us/democracy.html

www.wikipedia.com

www.nytimes.com

The What: Food and Money – The Tango Tangle

THE WHAT: FOOD AND MONEY  – THE TANGO TANGLE

My heart pinched inside my chest as I listened to the cashier’s announcement of the total price of my Publix grocery purchases.  “Absurd amount of money!” is the first reaction internally followed by a justification speech by the concerned mother/caretaker in me that knows it’s better to spend money on good food for my family even if it tightens the household budget in other areas.  This scenario repeats itself and the outcome is the same at least for me: I choose quality of food over cheapness and quantity any day.  What are the economic and environmental factors that any of us face today when making our food choices on a daily basis?

THE WHO

The perspective on who we’re buying food for obviously affects our choices.  Whether you’re single, married, living with roommates, with children, with elderly—all these groupings carry their respective needs, wants and overall themes.  Personally I can attest to the interesting blend of tastes I accommodate in my cooking and choosing of groceries as I have a husband, two boys under 4 years old (one an infant) and two octogenarians.  When I look around at many of my colleagues with children, it seems a majority of parents today are very sensitive to the question as to whether the produce they purchase is organic or not.  It turns out that there are some produce items that are more critical to buy organic like spinach and berries because of how porous the skin is and therefore easily absorbs pesticides.  Some websites you may find helpful for resource information:   www.organicconsumers.org , www.organic-center.org , www.non-gmoreport.com , www.healthychild.org , www.texasgrassfedbeef.com , www.centerforfoodsafety.org , www.chemicalfreekids.com , www.foodnavigator.com

THE WHY

Organic, non-genetically modified and local are some of the current buzz food words.  The term organic always makes me chuckle for a nanosecond as there’s hundreds of years of human evolution coursing through my blood that reminds me all food was once “organic” without the labeling.  It’s just that in the last century or so that our civilized societies started to meddle beyond what hybrid practices were in place already in agriculture.  It is interesting to note that recently many farmers are returning to using more natural methods in their crop and livestock management—part of it could be the increased consumer demand for organic products and another part may be that it has been found more cost-effective to use better sustainability practices on the environment when cultivating the Earth or animal stocks.  Again, my own battle is complicated when it comes to whether I buy organic, conventional or local food products.  I prefer organic but it’s not always available or cost-effective.  Local produce is desirable because I like supporting the farmers in Florida and it’s fresher with less gas emissions spent on its transport to my kitchen.  At the same time, a pint of blueberries from Peru may be farmed with the best ecological-friendly practices and taste better than the pesticide-laden ones from a few counties away.  Here are a few more resources that may be helpful:  www.farmigo.com , www.localharvest.org , www.slowfoodusa.org , http://foodnews.org/ , www.foodnavigator.com , www.environmentalhealthnews.org , www.biointegrity.org , www.localfoodswheel.com , www.greenling.com

THE WHEN

Sometimes I wish I were ignorant and just went to the store and was able to buy the cheapest of everything to feed my household.  The truth is irreversible once attained; I know what is best for my family’s situation and it happens to be a diet that contains the freshest fruit, vegetables, dairy, legumes, meats and then on to the grains, pastas and et cetera.  Making the conscious choice to use less canned products and other foods that contain more harmful ingredients in process/preservation means that our grocery bill is higher than it would be if I blindly chose based solely on cheap economics.  Not everyone thinks through what they buy when at the grocery store but it’s only a matter of time when many if not most of us will realize that how we eat is like a form of preventative medicine for our bodies.  The cost you may incur now can serve to defray future medical costs after years of eating products that can slowly sabotage your body’s ability to fight off infection and other illnesses.   Then there’s the question of the effect on our environment by our agricultural practices and that factors into many people’s choices of food economics.  Social impact in the form of “fair trade” practices is yet another factor weaving into our ethos as consumers of groceries for ourselves.  Some more websites for your personal research:  www.fairtradeusa.org , www.greenamerica.org , www.fairtraderesource.org , www.kidsorganics.com , www.rodaleinstitute.org , www.opensecrets.org , www.allergykids.com  , www.usda.gov , www.fda.gov

This blog post is woefully inadequate in addressing all the various facets involved in the economic and social challenge we face in our food purchases as the commodity prices continue to rise on a monthly basis.  I hope it at least helps in starting a conversation or a journey for information as this is an issue that will continue to grow in importance as we face upcoming agricultural changes and trade practices that can affect both the quality and quantity of our food in America particularly.

RVSB

 

$5.00 Per Gallon: What America May Pay For Auto Fuel If We Don’t Wake Up

$5.00 Per Gallon: What America May Pay For Auto Fuel If We Don’t Wake Up

I’m not claiming to be neither an energy specialist nor a bona fide economist but I think the latest developments in the political turmoil in the oil-rich nations across the Atlantic and beyond deserve our careful consideration.

SAME OLD REFRAIN

When we examine the last 30-40 years of international politics as it relates to the effect of war/upheaval/et cetera in these petroleum capitals of the world—oil barrel prices and such often rise without warning or constraint. Each and every time we Americans gripe and seem surprised even though for the most part we’ve escaped true debilitating price hikes and status quo cost of automotive gasoline at the pumps in some European nations.

DENIAL AND RESERVATIONS

What year is it again? 2011. Why are we still so reliant on fossil fuels in general? I fear it is for a number of very classic human flaws. One is definitely just because it’s the way we’ve always done things, despite all the technological advances we’ve made in a matter of a few decades—we are still “dinosaurs” in how we view our transportation needs. Second, since it is the most common source of fuel, it somehow manages to be cheaper in general than the initial start-up investment it would take to delve into renewal sources of energy. Third, American politicians, corporate giants and phobic environmentalists and/or crotchety landowners are the biggest blockades to our progress as an innovative energy leader of a nation.

REALITY BITES

A combination of volatile social factors resulting after the Tunisian and Egyptian political fallouts are causing a ripple effect that won’t be truly sorted out for years to come, yet Americans are already grumbling about the gas pump prices as we fill up our thirsty tanks. How many times do we need to learn this lesson? Relying on fossil fuels is not the best long-term investment for America regardless of wherever we may source them from (international or domestic).

PRIDE: SWALLOW IT

Change is never easy. Especially when it concerns our cash flow and the request for more of it is laid out. There has to be a collective effort by corporations, energy industry innovators, politicians and American citizens to willingly go forward with real changes in our consumption of oil to give way to newer, more sustainable sources of power for our transportation (just one of our many energy usage needs: think electricity, home heating, cooking, etc). As for countries like Egypt and Libya, we need to allow them the space to work out their futures without being a puppet to their oil drenched strings.

RVSB

Twenty and Thirty-Somethings: Lost and Stockless

As we’re barreling into the new year, finances are on many of our minds. In my personal experience, I’m continuously humbled by the state of our family’s budget. The more I focus on it and work at trying to help us save more and invest wisely, I find that we’re still making ends meet paycheck-to-paycheck and not able to invest at all.

I thought we were simply inadequate or careless until I began to pick apart all our expenses and found that overall we are trying our best and yet look like a hamster running in a confined wheel. Then I read an article in the January/February issue of Money magazine that stopped my loneliness in its tracks. You can research this magazine at http://www.cnnmoney.com and if you’re able to pick up a copy of this issue, the title of the article is: “The Young and the Riskless” by Hibah Yousuf and Penelope Wang.

The article goes into the latest startling statistics including the Investment Company Institute’s stat that “only 34% of people under the age of 35 say they’re willing to take substantial or above-average risks in their portfolios” and Merrill Lynch’s recent survey that found “more than half of those 34 and younger described their risk tolerance as low.

The reasoning behind such statistics and trends in our twenty and thirty-somethings is fairly simple and understandable. I call it a perfect storm that evolved over the past decade or more. It all began with the dot.com bubble burst, followed by the mind-numbing events of 9/11 with the housing market bubble and subsequent burst only to be followed by what could be termed as a domestic market meltdown that spread to the rest of the world markets in its peak 2008-2009. For those of us who graduated college only to be greeted with the white-collar antics of Enron or the hiring freezes by companies paralyzed by terrorism and Wall Street market volatility fears, you better believe that there is a part of us that would much rather trust a ceramic piggy bank than put any spare dollars into other’s hands and fates’.

Then there is the other obvious trait that plagues this group and that is the stunning realization that many of us are surviving paycheck-to-paycheck and then some are also buckled down by debt repayments, upside-down mortgages or trying to just save some money. We may not have the same experiences as those who grew up in the Great Depression era who went on to become America’s “Greatest Generation”, yet I would argue that we’ve been damaged in our own right by disillusionment in the financial system as well as work establishments.

What to do then? Should we fold it up? Blame the Baby Boomers above us or immerse ourselves in distractions (TV, video games, social networking) that numb the pain of the financial muck most of us are in if we aren’t privileged by independent wealth?

My goal is to be as productive as possible in helping others whether by deed or even little money helps like tipping service workers like waitresses well…I also strive to be creative with how I spend/save/invest money and hopefully I can help my own family to tread through these uncertain waters of our times where entire governments carry debts so outstanding that my own unborn child shall have debt due upon his first breath.

R.V.S.B.

Why Boycott BP? Don’t We All Still Drive Cars?

Short rant today: The countless stories in the news media regarding the BP oil spill/explosion disaster are keeping me in a constant state of heartburn.

Do we really believe that the BP executives met around a table earlier this year and decided that it would be a fabulous PR move on their part to create an environmental mess of epic proportions in the Gulf of Mexico that would include their own employees’ casualties?  Whether Republican, Democrat or Independent, do we honestly feel that our Mr. Obama, President of the United States, wants to be the fall-guy because of the economic and environmental repercussions resulting from this BP oil mess situation?

Here’s a few thoughts to consider:  While much of the news media and internet chatter drones on about how horrible BP is as well as the other oil companies are in regards to their effect on drilling the Earth for these fossil fuels–we all continue to step into our vehicles on a daily basis and drive.  Why are we so eager to take out our own guilt in a mad rage at the scapegoat of the hour: British Petroleum?

I’ve written in the past about personal responsibility and I will keep banging the drum on it because it really is what can change the world’s view on things like what type of energy sources we use for our modern-day travel.

For those who rail against Capitalism as a driving force in many of our world’s economies like the U.S.–why not harness the power you hold as an individual and just abstain from driving your car?  Sounds impossible? What if even half of the country stopped for a week from using their cars–gas stations would notice as would the oil companies who fuel those franchises.

Here’s my ultimate annoyance, it’s fine if you don’t like the way we use the fossil fuels and source them but biking naked in New York City in protest is the most unuseful and foolish thing to do.  We humans are smarter and I’m afraid we’re lazy and not brave enough to truly change our own personal behavior in order to help affect what makes us upset. 

Instead, it is easier for us to yell, point fingers and suggest dumb ideas like “boycott BP” because we are just as guilty for drilling in the water, in the wilderness, in the Arabic desert homelands…shame on us, myself included.

R.V.S.B.

A Study Report You May Have Missed This Week: Link Between ADHD & Pesticides

Good Thursday to all of you!  It’s been a busy week yet again in my personal orbit but I haven’t forgotten the one little Associated Press report I read in my local paper that had been stuffed/hidden in page 7a.  This was released back on Monday, May 17th, you can Google search to find it or just go to this Time publication link: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1989564,00.html

The title of the report simply describes it: “Study Links Kids’ ADHD to Pesticides”.  It turns out that a recent study has scientists buzzing about and clamoring for more research studies to be conducted on the possible health effects of pesticides on children.  A quote worth remembering from the study: “In the body, pesticides break down into compounds that ca be measured in urine. Almost universally, the study found detectable levels: The compounds turned up in the urine of 94 percent of the children.”

That’s right, whether or not the pesticides themselves can put our children at greater risk for health problems such as ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) is going to be up for more debate as more research studies is needed–however, the sad and sobering truth remains that we are absorbing these chemicals into our bodies when exposed and our children being smaller are really taking a hit physically.

Unfortunately, this particular report doesn’t determine/reveal how the children in the study were exposed to the pesticides: had they eaten food treated with it, breathed it in the author or swallowed it in their drinking water?

The findings that were published on Monday in “Pediatrics” have the lead author Maryse Bouchard from the University of Montreal saying that one way we can limit our family’s exposure to pesticides is to eat organic produce when available and scrub all produce to get external residue off (regrettably, some things like blueberries and strawberries will have the highest concentration of pesticides absorbed in the fruit-so do try getting organic fresh or frozen.)

For my own family, I do try when available to purchase organic produce, but it’s not always in the store right?  That’s probably why I also try to grow in my garden items that our family regularly consumes in our weekly menus so that I can control what the plants are exposed to.  But what about rain that may fall with pollutants from the atmosphere?  We have to temper our aversion to the reality that our human society is polluted whether we like it or not.  As consumers, we still have some power play left as we can guide the market to reduce its dependence on poisons such as widespread pesticide use.  However, we must educate and arm ourselves with information as to what we want ourselves and our families to be exposed to when eating certain products.  Ultimately, you make the choice as to what path your household will consume whether it be based on environmental or cost-effective terms.

Here are a couple of helpful online resources for your own personal research needs: www.organicconsumers.org , www.organic-center.org and www.heathlychild.org, www.chemicalfreekids.com , www.centerforfoodsafety.org , www.foodandwaterwatch.org , www.ewg.org  .

RVSB

A Housing Crisis Solution: Why Banks Could Do It But Won’t

In my local paper, The Palm Beach Post, Ms. Kimberly Miller’s Story on the top of the front page reads: “Loan forgiveness wave in sight?”  You can look at the piece yourself at: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/money/real-estate/bank-of-america-has-new-forgiveness-program-to-438657.html

In short, Bank of America announced yesterday that it’s unveiling a new program that may cut up to 30% off of mortgage loan balances.  My heart was racing as I started reading this article because I have been very adamant for a couple years now that the paralyzing effect of the housing bubble calls for an equally radical reaction from the banking institutions that doled out countless home loan that are now upside down with no end in sight.

Evidently, as Michael Sichenzia, president of Dynamic Consulting Enterprises in Deerfield Beach, Florida points out, the banks are facing the stark reality that it cost a lot to administer all these foreclosures rampant in our nation and despite politicians on both sides-there isn’t  slowdown in this trend, people are simply too tired and drained even if they have the funds to carry on with home loans that are of no benefit, especially for those who have to move out of an area and can’t sell.

I was actually hopeful until I reached the unfortunate caveat that every housing crisis “solution” has as its disclaimer: “To qualify, a borrower must prove financial hardship, be two months delinquent in payments, and owe at least 20 percent more on the loan than the home is worth.”‘ -source: Palm Beach Post, Kimberly Miller, http://www.palmbeachpost.com

Forcefully reading through the rest of the article I was fuming.  Again, it’s a “solution” that is not addressing the real issue.  Every few months the numbers released about delinquent loan holders reveals that many are repeat offenders in their delinquency.  These housing crisis solutions continue to target those who are “delinquent”. Why? Except for a marginal few, statistically speaking it’s a bad bet to continue to reward those who are not fulfilling their signed contracts.  At risk of being called a racist, why must we “ghetto-ize” ourselves in order to seek assistance? (note: I was born and raised in a mixed-race ghetto as a dark olive-brown Greek girl)

The whole “hardship” clause in all of these housing crisis solutions is flawed because it’s like pretending that there’s just a few people out there hurting when it’s plain economics that we all are in hardship-regardless of our social or economic class backgrounds.

I’m not excusing the fact that our real estate market got out of control as we entered the 21st century.  Certainly there is enough blame to go around from the selling agents, the over-eager buyers, the zealous mortgage brokers, the welcoming banking institutions, the “flippers” and so forth.  I personally struggle with trying not to regret our home purchase in 2005 as we did so in order to make sure we could sell it in Maryland when the time came for us to leave so that we could afford to buy real estate in my native state of Florida.  Whether it was for honorable or dishonorable reasons, many of us in America got duped by what was considered a sound investment of the Aughts decade.

Here we are today mired in the wastewater of “bigger than life” housing dreams, many already extinguished their credit lines in exchange for release from loan interest payments they couldn’t honor.  Then there are those in silent majority who every month pull out the checking book or queue their checking account to transfer the mortgage payment each month even though many of us may not even live in our property anymore.

For instance, my husband and I had to leave a year ago from the Washington, DC area to follow a job lead here in Florida.  Given the job market at that time, we had to leave even though putting our house up for sale was impossible unless we consented to a short sale.   When we found out the details on what a short sale was, my hair stood on end–it was reminiscent of the feeling I got when adjustable interest or no-interest rates on our mortgage were suggested to us years earlier, no thanks, there’s something not right about it.  For short sales, there was the possibility of your banking institutions “forgiving” the balance of the loan that you owe if you can’t sell your house for that amount but there was no guarantee that your credit line wouldn’t be affected and no details on for how long. We were finally able to rent out our house but at a loss that we still pay out at least $700 a month toward the mortgage, effectively stamping “BOOMERANG KID” on our foreheads until we pay down the mortgage enough to sell at its value or win the Florida lottery (which odds are better?).

Here’s my humble laymen’s proposal: we need to hit the “reset” button on this housing/mortgage loan industry.  If President Barak Obama claims that we can have “hope for change”, then this is my “We can” moment to rail upon.

By no means am I saying that the banking institutions shouldn’t make profit on us, in fact, I’ve always believed that Americans take it for granted that you can have something on borrowed money/credit.  What I am advocating is that our banking institutions take an ego hit and recalibrate all existing home loans to amount what the property’s value is currently. There should be a time frame set in place to help the overall recovery process; basically allowing for these loans to be equal to the property’s value and any variations in the next 3 – 5 years (or whatever the smarter economists and statisticians think may be best).

Although this would be a quickly felt financial shock on the part of the banks, I do believe it would allow for another chain reaction to occur almost immediately.  Just like a boat vessel performs better after barnacle and other underwater gunk removal, the real estate market would start to move more naturally again.  At the moment, it’s a feasting ground for some first-time home buyers and investors (many foreign, note) that are able to clean up on the short-sale and foreclosure landscape.  Finally, those that legitimately need to sell would have a better chance as they could list their property is for what it’s truly worth (attracting buyers) and upon sale would still make sure their lender is paid(bank is happy, not dealing with administrative sludge and cost of foreclosure or default).

This may seem like a pipe dream but I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility.  We have incredibly smart people in this nation that can work out the numbers and the parameters of a proposal like this to what could really be a viable option for our government, banks and citizens to cooperate on.

Plainly speaking, we who bought ought to pay the banks their due.  However, that needs to be balanced with a dose of reality-checking on the banks’ part.  Banking institutions should drop the idea of government “bail-outs” and instead get the government’s economists and statisticians to calculate the right equation for existing mortgage loans to be calibrated to the current value of the property.

Again, I don’t have a PHD in economics or the like, however as a meager English major, I hope someone reads this and passes on to people who can help make a difference in this housing crisis that our nation is crippled by financially.  If China can do whatever the heck it wants with its currency value, why can’t America step up and pull together on this one?  Consider this issue our “Victory Garden”, the problem that we all need to work on and get through.

As a final note, I do applaud Bank of America Corporation for at least attempting to make a step in the right direction.  Still, it’s not what they could do and I just wish they would.

RVSB

Wyoming Life

"God bless it and keep it wild"