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

 

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"