The lure of the West and its subsequent disappointment (for some)

Here’s a thought: the very people who rail the most against the restrictions imposed by the state in autocratic countries, the most vocal opponents of such regimes, the ones who crave an escape to the West, are the ones who fare the worst after emigrating to free, democratic societies such as those in the Western world. You can think of it as an inversely proportional relationship between one’s dislike for a government or a regime and their likelihood of doing well in a freer, Western country that runs on capitalist principles.

They, unlike those who make their own little worlds at home in spite of the surrounding conditions, those who make the best of the situation, these vocal dissidents have let themselves be defined by what they perceive to be the restrictions of those societies. In other worlds, their lives have become dominated by what they criticize; they themselves have become the voice of those restrictions. Their very purpose of being is now defined by those societies: they live to criticize them. Because of this, their transplantation into a Western society would be fruitless. I don’t say this triflingly; I saw this happen first-hand.

These particular people would quickly find the faults in such a society (because they have become wired to do this) and would become dissidents of the West, criticizing the overt commercialism (for example) of such a society. They would find no solace in the freedom offered there and would instead resort to vocal criticism of the faults of that society. They would make poor use of the facilities of that society, they would contribute little or nothing to its betterment, but would instead fill their days with discontented moans. They’d likely pen editorials about the shackles of the West, etc.

If you want immigration success stories, you should look for those who can find the good in any situation, those who in spite of the conditions imposed on them, managed with what they had, provided good lives for themselves and those in their families, and were bright points of light in those autocratic societies. Get those people in the West and they’ll likely do the same, if not more, with the opportunities provided to them in those free societies.

Washington DC as seen from the top of the Washington Monument

Here’s how our nation’s capital looks if you climb to the top of the Washington Monument. It’s… monumental. I love the architecture and the way it’s been laid out. It is a pity that the ranks of the public servants have grown so much in recent times that certain government organizations no longer fit into the buildings originally designed for them. While some growth is understandable, there’s real, lasting value in the idea of a lean, simple government and a republic, not a democracy, as the US of A was originally created.

The pillaging of Romania’s natural resources

The following are a couple of examples of what’s going on in Romania right now.

Romania’s largest petroleum reserves (famous since WWII) were recently sold to OMV (Österreichischen Mineralölverwaltung Aktiengesellschaft).

Petrom, Romania’s state-owned petroleum company, now belongs to OMV, and every time I fill up my car at Petrom, the receipt says OMV Petrom. I talked to someone today who told me OMV sells roughly 4 Billion Euros of Romanian petroleum every year. And they’ve also got a contract to sell Romanian natural gas, of which they move roughly 2 Billion Euros’ worth every year.

That’s about 6 Billion Euros of sales from Romania alone (they have holdings in other countries and their total annual sales are around 23 Billion Euros per year).

Do you know how much Romania makes from these sales of its own natural reserves, per year, according to the contract drawn up by its own government? 100 Million Euros. That’s an incredibly paltry sum compared to the money OMV makes.

Could Romania have made more? Absolutely. Would OMV have paid more for the right to sell Romania’s oil and gas reserves? Absolutely. I think half and half would have been equitable. Did Romania even need to make a deal with OMV? No.

But when the political environment is such that you can pay a few million Euros to a few corrupt politicians and get the contract drafted with much more favorable terms, of course a corporation will take the easier way. Corporations are out to make money, not to watch out for the common good. Governments are supposed to watch out for the common good. In Romania, the government doesn’t do that.

Here’s another case.

You may have heard about a little region in Romania called Rosia Montana. It’s been famous since Roman times (two thousand years ago) for its gold reserves. It still is.

For several years, Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, a gold mining corporation with investors like George Soros, has been trying to get its claws on it. They’ve been promising all sorts of things to the Romanian government and to the local people in Rosia Montana, but they’ve met with unexpected and forceful grassroots resistance against the deal, and rightfully so.

When you look at the facts, the deal they want the Romanian government to sign is this: they get 96% of the finds and Romania gets 4% of the finds.

Someone’s getting thoroughly shafted and I bet it’s Romania itself. The Romanian government is ready to sign on the deal, because they’re thoroughly corrupt and select politicians stand to make millions, but lots of Romanians (and foreigners concerned with the environmental impact of the project) are saying no, so for now, the deal’s hotly debated.

Romania’s own president, Basescu, wants the deal to go through, because the gold found there will supposedly “replenish Romania’s gold reserves”. He’s either a moron or he stands to make a personal fortune if the deal goes through. If there’s “gold in them thar hills”, then for goodness’ sake, get some unemployed Romanian miners in those mines, take 100% (not 4%) of that gold and get it into the state vaults, pronto. What do you need Rosia Montana Gold Corporation for? Say you do need a foreign investor to help you mine the gold? Then make the revenue sharing more equitable! Again, half and half would be the right choice.

Naturally, the Romanian government would disagree, and TV pundits are talking the issue to death on all the news channels. Talk solves nothing. Ever since 1989, Romanian newspapers and independent TV and radio stations have been uncovering corruption after corruption in Romania’s political dealings, and oftentimes, they’ve given clearcut financial proof of the wrongdoings. Have any of the truly guilty gone to jail? No, some of their cronies went to jail, while the real bastards have gotten richer and re-elected. The judicial branch has never been able to convict and send to jail powerful Romanian politicians, in spite of all their corruption, theft of government money, manipulation of government contracts and… the list of crimes goes on and on.

On the other hand, and this is the saddest part, if these contracts with foreign corporations were equitable, do you think all that money would benefit the Romanian people? Do you think it would be used to rebuild Romania’s infrastructure and to spur innovation and small business growth? You’d be a fool to think so. After all, this is Romania, not Sweden, Norway, Iceland or New Zealand. Logic and rational thinking have no place here, nor does equitable behavior. All that extra money, all those gobs and gobs of extra money would likely line the pockets of the same bastards who are screwing the country right now.

I don’t know what’s to be done. Well, I do know, but my solution involves legal superpowers and weapons and I’m pretty sure it’s illegal in the EU and most of the countries in this world…

Modern lawn care: a lot of hot air

One of the things I strongly believe in is the need for manual labor, especially during these highly industrialized times. I believe such work yields better results and it keeps us grounded, in touch with the earth from which we ultimately draw our living. I dislike the “modern” methods of lawn care, where one uses hedge trimmers and leaf blowers to do a job which can be done much more adequately by simpler, manual tools such as a broom and a pair of hedge scissors.

Don’t mistake me for a luddite. I use lawnmowers when they’re justified, like when a lawn requires it, because of its size, or because it can’t be cut by a push-mower or a scythe. The scythe in particular is a great way to cut grass, and it’s also a great workout for one’s back and abdomen. It’s been around for millennia. It’s only been replaced by machinery during the last couple of centuries.

If you live in the suburbs, then this next picture should be familiar to you.

That, of course, would be landscaping day, or if you happen to live within a larger community that has a lot of lawns, this would be part of landscaping week, which would happen every month, or worse, during frequent rainfall, every couple of weeks. Every day of that period, the maddening roar of the leaf blowers would be heard all over the compound, gnawing away at your brain, making it impossible to take a nice afternoon nap, or to concentrate on a project.

I find it so inefficient to blow leaves around all day, for hours on end, when a pair of men with a couple of good brooms and some rakes would make short work of those leaves, with no noise at all, no pollution from two-cycle engines, and much less dust. I’ve often seen landscaping teams use tractors to mow little patches of grass where a push mower would have done just fine, or use hedge trimmers to walk for entire yards and trim little weeds here and there, when a man could have simply pulled them up by the roots.

I associated this sort of inefficiency, expense of petrol, noise and air pollution with the US, because so much gets wasted there these days, by people who feel entitled to everything the country has to offer, even though they offer little to nothing in return. So I was surprised to find the same waste had arrived in Romania, where my wife and I currently reside.

Here people still use scythes to cut the grass in the countryside. It’s a wonder to behold a good scythe-handler. A single man can make short work of an entire hillside in an afternoon. And it’s even more beautiful to hear the noise a sharpened scythe makes as it cuts through long grass: a metallic whoosh, coupled with a slight singing of the blade at the apex of its swing. Every other noise of nature is perfectly audible: the birds, the bees, the distant bleating of sheep, the breeze blowing through the grass and the edge of a forest nearby… It’s wonderful!

And yet, the noxious use of leaf blowers and hedge trimmers has found its way into Romanian cities, probably brought here through the export of popular American culture. Here, too, we can see workers parading through our street and through the city center with leaf blowers and hedge trimmers, making a huge noise of it all, for days on end. It’s such a pathetic (and polluting) spectacle. The noise is unbearable. Here we have tall brick buildings, built by the Saxons. These cities seem made for echoes. The wall of noise obliterates everything around. It bounces off the walls and can be heard hundreds of yards or kilometers away. It’s such a waste.

It was but a few short years ago that the city would hire scythe-men to come and cut the grass. In a few short hours, with a few swoops of the scythe, they’d be done, and someone would come after them to gather up the cut grass. It was peaceful and quiet. Now, we’re polluted with noise, and the blasted filthy smoke from the blowers and trimmers.

The sad part is that here, the public lawns found on streets and in city parks are not of the scale found in the States. They’re small. And Eastern European grass is soft. If one must use more modern machinery, they could easily switch to push mowers and be done in the same amount of time, without all the ridiculous noise and smoke.

Save the data!

Some of the most important technology programs that keep Washington accountable are in danger of being eliminated. Data.gov, USASpending.gov, the IT Dashboard and other federal data transparency and government accountability programs are facing a massive budget cut, despite only being a tiny fraction of the national budget.

Help save the data and make sure that Congress doesn’t leave the American people in the dark.

15 things about marijuana

I’m one of a growing number of people who think marijuana ought to be legalized. I don’t use it, but I just don’t think a substance less dangerous than coffee and alcohol ought to be illegal.

See the infographic below for some facts about marijuana. Here are a few:

  • It’s nearly impossible to overdose on pot. You’d have to smoke more than 800 joints, and even then, you’d die from carbon monoxide poisoning, not marijuana poisoning.
  • The American colonies grew the hemp plant to make clothing, sails and rope. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. Through the 1600-1800s, the production of hemp was encouraged and even required by law at times.
  • Studies done in the 1940s have shown that there is no link between marijuana and violence, sex crimes, insanity or addiction.
  • Marijuana is already legal in a number of countries such as Australia, Czech Republic, Finland, Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Argentine and Belgium.

15 Things Your Should Know about Marijuana

Audit Defense may not be worth the price

Just a quick note to let you know the Audit Defense service offered by TurboTax in recent years is probably not worth the price. It’s run by a company called TaxResources, Inc., and they say they’ll represent you to the IRS in case you should have any problems with your return, for the low price of only $39.95.

Someone close to me got to find out exactly what they give you in return for that $39.95 “peace-of mind” fee, when an irregularity popped up on their tax return. They’d made an accounting error, found it out, wanted to report it to the IRS on their own, but contacted these folks because, after all, they did pay for the service.

In the meantime, the IRS also found out about the error and contacted them. This is where the Audit Defense service should have shined. Instead, my contact got the run-around. The Audit Defense team weren’t willing to help them in a timely fashion, didn’t want to contact the IRS on their behalf like they should have done, and only ended up helping them — if you might call what they got help — after several written requests. In the end, my contact lost out on precious time, got extra stress they didn’t need, and will need to pay the IRS additional penalties.

It looks to me like the Audit Defense people failed on three of their basic promises: they didn’t step in right away to deal with the IRS, they didn’t handle the entire tax audit, and they didn’t keep IRS penalties as low as possible.

The name of the employee who “helped” my contact with their IRS audit was Joe Schricker, and the company’s name again is TaxResources, Inc. The service is advertised as Audit Defense on TurboTax, and my advice to you is not to get it.