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22 October 2011

Skype and Sensibility: Estonia Lives the European Dream


The Estonians, with little debt, an enthusiastic attitude toward Europe and a stoic approach to austerity measures, are a model EU nation in the midst of a crisis. They live in a digital republic defined by a business-friendly atmosphere and government transparency, an image that is attracting European expats.

When a Greek leaves a sunny country filled with olive trees, magnificent beaches and warm sea foam, when he leaves a place where summer lasts for seven months and moves to a country where he is held captive by a seemingly endless winter, it's bound to raise a few questions. Some relate to the country he has left, but his new home raises even more questions. And there is one question that affects both countries: Why is the one society driving people away, while the other draws them in?

Loukas Nakosmatis, a friendly, stout Greek with a three-day beard, the chef and owner of "Artemis," answers this question with an entire story, his own war of the roses. The 46-year-old began developing his business four years ago while he was living in Athens, he says. It involved importing flowers from the Netherlands -- mostly roses, tulips and a few exotic varieties -- on overnight cargo flights. He intended to sell them in Athens, a dusty city of stone walls and buildings whose residents are desperate for green plants and fresh flowers.

Nakosmatis signed contracts and statements of intent with three or four dozen flower shops that wanted to buy his flowers. The profit margin for flowers is large, says Nakosmatis, a factor of 10 or even 20 percent, and it would have been enough money for everyone, including the retailers and him as an importer. It sounded like a brilliant plan, at least on paper.

But it was a trap, he says. After a year, Nakosmatis had receivables of about €30,000 ($40,000), and after a year-and-a-half they had gone up to €45,000. Almost all of his buyers owed him money. They had recognized his weakness: He was under pressure to unload his product while it was still fresh. You have to sell a rose, says Nakosmatis, quoting a Greek saying, or it will sell you, because it dies.

His customers used every trick in the book. They would have him show up at their shops with a delivery van full of flowers when they knew that they would be away, or they would say that they happened to be out of cash and would promise to pay him later, on another day, or by the next Monday -- but then they kept putting him off, says Nakosmatis.

Moving to Estonia

The retailers soon took it for granted that they could buy his flowers on credit. In the end, 43 out of 46 flower shops owed him money. He eventually gave up hope and fled to Estonia, taking a series of detours to get there. His customers still owe him €45,000, which he owes his bank, which probably owes other banks.

He describes it as a chain reaction straight across Europe. But couldn't he go to court and sue his customers for his money? He laughs bitterly. You should only go to court when you can afford it, he says, quoting another Greek saying.

As he tells his story, Nakosmatis is sitting outside under a blue evening sky, with Elias, Kostas and Krikor, fellow Greek expatriates, in front of the "Artemis," a small street restaurant he has opened in the pedestrian zone of the Estonian capital Tallinn. The business is going well, and Nakosmatis has begun to pay off his debts. A waiter is serving the guests at the next table: souvlaki, a mixed grill platter, Ouzo and Greek salad.

It's one of the few summer evenings in Tallinn when it's warm enough to eat outside. Half of the dozen or so small tables in his restaurant are taken by Japanese, Finns, Danes and Dutchmen, but there are no Estonians. A meal at his restaurant is too expensive for them, says Nakosmatis. Then he describes the two Estonian women he hired as waitresses.

"They are hardworking, honest and never late," he says. The group of Greek men falls silent for a moment. "Strange country," says Elias.

The Little Things

Just what is it that makes such a country work? What's so great about Estonia?

"Muchas cosas pequeñas," or many little things, says Spaniard Naphtali Peral. He says that he established his company here in only half a day, mainly online. The record for establishing a company, he adds, is only 18 minutes. In other words, the government doesn't say: Hey, Peral, who do you think you are, starting a company, just like that? No, he says, the state actually encourages entrepreneurship, and says things like: So you have an idea, Peral! Go for it! And then he says that it takes him 20 minutes to prepare his semi-annual tax return, and that when it was time to slash the government budget, Estonia's cabinet ministers started with their own salaries.

"And they weren't making very much to begin with. I mean, these aren't the people who are filling their pockets," he says. "Some of them are really smart, capable people, who could earn a lot more in other jobs!"

Peral owns a small language coaching company. He gives courses, trains managers and advises film producers looking to work in the Baltic countries. Peral is from Almería in Spain's Andalusia region, where he completed high school and attended university. He says that a few of his fellow students were truly dim-witted -- and they were the ones who went into politics.

"And what did our politicians do the minute they were in office?" he asks. "They ordered themselves an official car. Likely a BMW … preferably with a chauffeur. And they smeared gel into their hair, bought dark suits and were constantly on the road, dedicating buildings, touring sites or giving important speeches that someone else had written. But in that time, they could just as easily have worked for the country and for the people who voted for them."

And is everything better in Estonia, Señor Peral?

"Well, for a Spaniard the people here are rather cold," he says. "I get more hugs and kisses on a single day in Spain than I do here in a year. On the other hand, the business climate is fair and open, and you can trust the police, politicians and bureaucrats."

'We Wanted a Transparent State'

But when one asks Juhan Parts, the country's economics minister, what makes Estonia different, he gives a short answer: nothing. Estonia, says Parts, is a small but perfectly normal country. It's so normal, he says, that it can be discussed in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.

In the middle of this year, two rating agencies, Standard & Poor's and Fitch, upgraded Estonia's credit rating. The country had a budget surplus of €115 million in the first two quarters, and it is expected to virtually balance its budget for the entire year. Government debt is about 6.6 percent of the gross domestic product, as compared with 120 percent in Italy, 160 percent in Greece and 80 percent in Germany. In the first two quarters of 2011, the Estonian economy grew at an annualized rate of 8 percent.

What could Greeks, Germans and Italians learn something from the 1.4 million Estonians?

"Learn? Now that's a funny thought!" Parts says. "Hey, what do you think about the table back there, under the trees? Go ahead and sit down. I'll get us some coffee. Do you want one of these chocolate things?"

Parts, a 45-year-old born in Tallinn, was the founder of his party, became prime minister and is now economics minister -- an unusual minister, at that.

The garden café is a self-service operation, so he gets in line and waits his turn. Then he orders two coffees and two chocolate pastries. He has come to the appointment alone, without a bodyguard, staff members or a spokesman -- and in his family car. "We want to keep expenses down," he says.

When Parts was prime minister, he had all ministers' bills, notes and files stored in electronic databases, creating Europe's first completely paperless cabinet table.

Parts is vigorous, blonde, and athletic, but seems tired. He tries to conceal a yawn, explaining that he and his wife have just had their fourth child and nights have been short. "Comparisons are always difficult," he says. "But when we had finally escaped from Soviet socialism, we were sick and tired of government centralism. We wanted precisely the opposite in all respects: We wanted a transparent state. A country that isn't constantly intervening, nationalizing businesses, placing a bureaucracy above everything and imposing rules on people in every respect."

Clearing the Way for Achievers

But doesn't the government have to help those on the losing end of social change? Parts sighs and pulls out a pack of Kent cigarettes. But when he sees the photographer about to take a picture, he hesitates and puts them back in his pocket, smiling triumphantly at the photographer.

Of course, he says, it's important to help a society's losers, the ones who are left behind. It would be wonderful, he adds, to have a fantastic healthcare system and offer social guarantees for every emergency. "But you have to have the money. We don't have it. Our average monthly income is €800. So we have to reflect on what's important for a society's development. It's the top performers, the successful ones. Ideas! Companies! Products! If all you do is administer, nothing comes of it. The state must clear the way for those who want to achieve something. That's the function of the state."

When the photographer leaves, he lights a cigarette, inhales and narrows his eyes. "I don't want to pass judgment on Germany or Greece. All I can say is that Estonia is contributing its part of the bailout fund, even though our average income is smaller than that of the Greeks. And that, by the way, is a bitter pill to swallow for many Estonians."

He puts out his cigarette and glances at the clock. "Hey, are you familiar with Skype?"

When the Soviet system collapsed almost exactly 20 years ago, the Estonians crept out from under the ruins, declared independence and reinvented themselves, making sure that their legal system, administration, legislature and economic system were as far from socialist as possible. It helped that in 1991 Estonia was run-down, insignificant and had a small population. The Estonians had nothing to lose.

First they privatized all government-owned businesses that were operating at a profit, and closed all factories that were not profitable. Then they attracted investors and tourists by transforming the center of Tallinn into a Medieval Disneyland, complete with cobblestone streets, bell towers and brightly colored townhouses and guildhalls. Today visitors stumble from restaurants to souvenir shops, buying gourmet chocolate, knit caps, reindeer salami and amber, even though there is virtually no amber in all of Estonia. Japanese tourists photograph peroxide-blonde waitresses in their medieval-style outfits, the Russians buy gold jewelry and the Finns come to stock up on vodka.

Estonia finally joined the euro zone this January. The euro had always been the country's declared goal. In the last few years, starting in 2008, the Estonians had fought their way through the worst economic crisis they had ever seen, triggered by the global financial crisis and the bursting of the local real estate bubble. The economy shrank by 14 percent in 2009.

Then three things happened. First, the government announced a harsh austerity program. The government bureaucracy was thinned out, healthcare and social services were cut back, and even the streetlights in Tallinn were switched off at 3:30 in the morning. Businesses reduced wages by up to 40 percent, with the promise they would be increased as soon as the economy improved. The government did not pump borrowed funds into the economic cycle. Instead, it did what economists call internal devaluation.

The second -- and oddest -- development here was that the Estonians stoically accepted these measures. There was no unrest and no protests.

The third thing that happened was the positive outcome of this blood, sweat and tears strategy. Last year, Estonia easily satisfied the Maastricht criteria. In fact, its government finances were sounder than anywhere else in the European Union.

The Shining Example

And while the rest of the euro countries tended to see the common currency as more of a curse than a blessing, the Estonians were unwavering. They celebrated the introduction of the euro. Today a tattoo artist named Elena, who works at the Viru Tattoo Studio, offers a special price of €45 to tattoo the image of the euro coin onto a customer's upper arm or neck. It takes 20 minutes.

"You have to see Skype," says the minister. "It's nearby. It's a real Estonian story."

Skype's offices are in a five-story building in a Tallinn industrial park near the university on the city's outskirts. The drab gray building couldn't be more inconspicuous, but it houses the think tank behind one of the wildest business concepts of the last decade: Why don't people make phone calls via the Internet? It would be much cheaper! And why don't people make calls the way the characters do on the TV show Star Trek, by simply looking at each other through a camera?

It took four Estonian software developers three years to write the complicated programs that made the idea a reality. Microsoft just bought Skype, and the concept, for $8.5 billion. Nowadays it's easy to log in to Skype and call someone in Australia for free. In March, about 30 million people were logged on simultaneously for the first time. Eight years after it was founded, the service now has 170 million users -- a communications club of sorts. Sten Tamkivi, Skype's general manager, was one of the first users. He even has a club membership number: User 59.

He is 33, pale, overworked and happy. Call me Sten, he says. Everyone is on a first-name basis here. On a tour of the company's enormous open offices, visitors see young men with ponytails and women with unusual glasses slumped behind laptops. Sten points out the pool table, where two men with goatees and Black Sabbath T-shirts are playing, along with the computer game corner. He also steps over children. Skype employees can simply bring their children to work. There are toys everywhere. Finally, Tamkivi shows us the company sauna. 

Throughout the tour, he periodically rattles off figures.

Skype is free, with the exception of a few special services, which provide annual sales of $800 million.

The network is the idea behind the whole thing, says Tamkivi. Those who participate, by logging in, form a node. Those who use the network are able to benefit from the computing capacity of the network. At the same time, users contribute to the network by making their computing capacity available to the network. This alchemistic trick is made possible by highly complex software, which operates in the background, tapping into all logged in computers, linking them and using them for transport operations.

Compressing, fine-tuning and optimizing, that's our job, says Tamkivi. The technical idea behind Skype is like a motto for Europe: By helping others, you help yourself. Is Skype something of a metaphor for Estonia?

'Europe Has Too Many Restrictions'

"We had no money, so we had to come up with something. We built our concept on three pillars: communication in networks, the idea of limitlessness, and the future. We started small and built up from there. The more people participate, the more powerful the network becomes."

What can Europe learn from Skype? He laughs. "Europe? I'm not smart enough for that sort of a question. I can't answer it as a Skype manager, only as a citizen of Europe. Well, in many European countries we have too many restrictions, prohibitions, lobbyists and people protecting vested rights. Countries must act as simply as people think, using the same principles," he says. "My great-grandfather, for example, was a farmer. When he planned his year from an economic standpoint, he looked at what he had, and what he could spend for seed, equipment and a horse. It was a very simple calculation: This is how I earn, and this is how much I spend. Realistic. When you grow up here, in this climate, you think that way. The next winter will come, even if you protest against it. But you still need naïve hopes and dreams."

What are Estonia's dreams about?

"I would say they're about Europe. We have always wanted to be part of it. Here in Estonia, we have always dreamed of Europe and believed in Europe," he says. "We thought: Scandinavia, Northern Europe, that's where we belong. That's our world."

Despite its successes, Estonia is not an economic miracle. The country has relatively few exports, mostly semi-finished products with little added value. Productivity is not particularly high, with Estonia's GDP per capita at about 40 percent of the EU average. The country wants to attract industrious Europeans, including hardworking people like the Greek restaurant owner, Loukas Nakosmatis, and the Spanish entrepreneur, Naphtali Peral. It wants everyone in Europe to know that there is a small, smart nation far in the north where life is good, even if earnings are not record-breaking.

The Smart Car of Europe

The man who is trying to inculcate Estonia with a faith in the future is tall, bald and athletic. He studied mathematics, founded companies, sold them and made lots of money. His name is Linnar Viik, and he is Estonia's image creator. He served as an advisor to the first government, in 1991, acting discreetly in the background.

In the early afternoon, Viik packs his two children into his black Land Rover and drives out to the Viimsi Peninsula, where his father lives.

A few years ago, after his divorce, Viik decided that he wouldn't work more than 100 days a year. He wanted to simplify his life and spend time with his children. It's worked very well so far, he says. He taught at the university after selling the software company he had founded in the 1990s. Today he sits on the boards of various Scandinavian banks that have invested in Estonia. He is also a collector of Stratocaster electric guitars and art.

It was Viik who came up with the image of "e-Estonia," a digital, fully interconnected, ultramodern country.

When Viik was studying mathematics, he knew that there were old Soviet-era computers the size of closets standing around in the institute where he worked. There were also three Bulgarian-made computers in the basement. He brought together the computers, made an appointment with the prime minister and made him an offer he couldn't refuse. He asked for the item in the government's budget that was reserved for photocopiers and paper. He used the money to buy a small carload of PCs, and then he convinced politicians to make their work paperless for two reasons. First, there were the savings his plan would generate. More important, however, was the symbolism of the project. WLAN zones were set up throughout the country. Viik had large traffic signs made that read: "Attention: WLAN zone!" The right to Internet access at public libraries was written into the constitution.

If Europe's old industrialized nations are like sedans, large, sedate and comfortable, Estonia was to be like the Smart car, battery-driven but bare-bones, without power windows.

In the evening, Viik and his children return from his father's house with four buckets of plums that they leave with his father, who makes plum jam and plum wine. He puts his children to bed and then spends a few hours at his laptop. The next morning, he attends a reception for the Dalai Lama at the Estonian Academy of Sciences on Toompea Hill, in the historic district. Then he takes the ferry to Helsinki to attend a board meeting at NIB Bank.

He returns promptly, one-and-a-half days later, picks up his children from school and serves them the lunch he has prepared: potatoes, vegetables and a little pickled fish. Viik is an image consultant who knows how image consultants are supposed to live. For dessert, he serves the pale green plums he and his children picked, the ones his daughter likes so much.

There Aren’t Enough Millionaires

By Kevin Williamson
 
 
The rich can’t fund our deficits.

This may sound like a liberal parody of conservative economic thinking, but let me put it out there: America’s problem is that the rich don’t have enough money.

There, I said it. Let’s rumble.

When it comes to the Scrooge McDuck set, the problem isn’t that they’re not rich enough, it’s that there aren’t enough rich — not enough to do what liberals want to do, anyway, which is to balance the budget by increasing taxes on them. Let’s deploy some always-suspect English-major math:

There are lots of liberal definitions of “rich.” When Pres. Barack Obama talks about the rich, he’s talking about people living in households with income of more than $250,000 or more, the rarefied caviar-shoveling stratum occupied by the likes of second-tier public-broadcasting executives, Boston cops, nurses, and the city manager of Lubbock, Texas (assuming somebody in her household earns the last $25,000 to carry her over the line). Club 250K isn’t all that exclusive, and most of its members aren’t the yachts-and-expensive-mistresses types.

Nonetheless, there aren’t that many of them. In fact, in 2006, the Census Bureau found only 2.2 million households earning more than $250,000. And most of those are closer to the Lubbock city manager than to Carlos Slim, income-wise. To jump from the 50th to the 51st percentile isn’t that tough; jumping from the 96th to the 97th takes a lot of schmundo. It’s lonely at the top.

But say we wanted to balance the budget by jacking up taxes on Club 250K. That’s a problem: The 2012 deficit is forecast to hit $1.1 trillion under Obama’s budget. (Thanks, Mr. President!) Spread that deficit over all the households in Club 250K and you have to jack up their taxes by an average of $500,000. Which you simply can’t do, since a lot of them don’t have $500,000 in income to seize: Most of them are making $250,000 to $450,000 and paying about half in taxes already. You can squeeze that goose all day, but that’s not going to make it push out a golden egg.

But like certain other exclusive clubs, Club 250K has an inner sanctum, a special club within the club, the champagne room of socioeconomic status. And that is Club 1: the million-dollar-a-year club. Not the millionaires’ club — lots of the people earning $1 million in any given year do not have $1 million in assets — but, still, a million a year, even in rapidly depreciating U.S. dollars, is not too shabby. But the trouble for liberals is, Club 1 is really, really exclusive: Only 0.2 percent of U.S. households have incomes that high, meaning that there’s only about 200,000 of them. And like Club 250K, Club 1 is bottom-heavy: There are a lot more $1 million men than there are $6 million men. And there are a whole heck of a lot more $6 million men than there are $60 million men.

You want to tax Club 1 to get rid of the deficit, you have to hit each of those 200,000 households with an average tax hike — not an average tax bill, but tax increase — of $6 million. And a lot of those Club 1 households don’t have $6 million in income to start with, much less $6 million left after the taxes they’re already paying.

Every time you raise the threshold for eating the rich, you get a much, much smaller serving of meat on the plate — but the deficit stays the same. The long division gets pretty ugly. You end up chasing a revenue will-o’-the-wisp.

So, what about Lloyd Blankfein and Charlie Sheen and Tiger Woods? What about these people? You can tax the striped pants off of them, but you won’t get enough money to balance the budget. If you’re doing it, you’re probably mostly doing it because it feels good. (And, yes, that does make you a bad person.)

Correction: You can try to tax the striped pants off of them. Lloyd Blankfein and Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen have a lot of discretion about when, where, and how they get paid. Lloyd Blankfein does not look at a pay stub every two weeks and shake his head sadly, and make sad little sighing sounds; guys like that do something about it. They move to low-tax jurisdictions. They defer. They incorporate. They set up enormous trusts to keep their ne’er-do-well nephews in boat shoes and gin and political office while avoiding taxes. They lawyer up. They will play the game, and they are better at it than you are.

So, how about taxing people who make less than $250,000? That’s probably whom you want to tax, since they are the ones who have the money (Counterintuitive, I know.) The Bush “tax cuts for the rich” cost the Treasury about $800 billion in forgone revenue; the Bush tax cuts for the middle class cost trillions – 2.2 of them, to be precise.

Repealing all of those Bush tax cuts, for rich and middle class alike, gets you about $3 trillion — over ten years. The deficit is running from a third to almost half that every year. Will not balance. Does not compute.

Just as supply-siders are naïve to think that tax cuts are going to magically empower us to grow our way out of this mess, progressives are naïve to think that there is some magically delicious pot of Lucky Charms at the end of the IRS rainbow that is going to get us out of this in some kind of obvious or straightforward fashion. No, tax cuts do not pay for themselves, but supply-side effects are real things, and jacking up tax rates to the level necessary to sustain current levels of government spending is going to have real economic consequences, some of which could in aggregate mean that you don’t collect the taxes you thought you were going to collect. This is doubly true when you already have the second-highest business-tax rate in the developed world and other significant economic challenges, like a backward K–12 education system making the work force less competitive and public infrastructure that is being neglected in favor of gimmicky political shenanigans.

Capital is sensitive — it just wants to be loved! — and it will go where the love is, where it can be fruitful and multiply. Setting trillions of dollars’ worth of it ablaze on the altar of Washington’s self-importance every year is not going to get it done, and there simply aren’t enough rich people for us to pillage or enough loot to make it all work. We have finally, as the lady predicted, run out of other people’s money.
 
— Kevin D. Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialismjust published by Regnery.

21 October 2011

Obama: By The Numbers

2016?  LOL!  You had better start worrying about Obama.

Obama: By The Numbers
1.  Unemployment rate has increased from 7.8 percent to 9.1 percent.

2.  Underemployment has increased from 14.0 percent to 16.2 percent.

3.  The average length of unemployment has increased from 19.9 weeks to
40.3 weeks. Median income has dropped from $52,029 per year to $49,445.

4.  The total number of jobs in America has decreased from 142.2 million to 139.6 million.

5.  The poverty rate has increased from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent.

6.  The number of Americans living below the poverty level has increased from 39.8 million to 43.6 million.

7.  The number of Americans on food stamps has increased from 31.9 million to 45.2 million.

8.  The average family’s annual health insurance premiums have climbed from $12,068 to a record $15,073.

9.  A gallon of gasoline has increased from $1.82 to a painful $3.66.

10.  And a gallon of milk has increased from $2.65 to $3.39.

11.  The inflation rate has increased from 0.7 percent to 3.77 percent.

12. The average single-family home value has dropped from $180,449 to $171,900.

13.  Annual spending has increased from an already mind-blowing $2.9 trillion to $3.8 trillion.

14.  He's added $4,304,419,138,020.14 to the national debt in 1004 days.  Bush added an atrocious $4,901,104,747,205.59 to the national debt ... in 2,921 days.  Bush bad.  Obama good.

15.  He deficit spends $4,287,270,057.79 per day.  Bush deficit spent a staggering $1,677,885,911.40.  Bush bad.  Obama good.

16.  Debt held by the public debt on 01.20.09: $6,307,310,739,681.66.  Debt held by the public debt on 10.19.11: $10,195,956,444,545.88.  Obama increased the debt held by the public by 61.66% - SIXTY-ONE POINT SIXTY-SIX PERCENT - in 1,002 days.  Bush bad.  Obama good.

17.  He lost the AAA credit-rating that he "inherited."

18.  Highest Misery Index since 1983 and it is increasing not decreasing as it was under Reagan.

#Occupy Democrats: Embrace This!

 

Florida mother of 4 and banker's wife abandons family to join Wall Street protesters

By KEVIN FASICK and BOB FREDERICKS


OTHERWISE ‘OCCUPIED’: Wayward wife Stacey Hessler left her banker husband and four kids to cozy up to Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Photo Dan Brinzac




A married mother of four from Florida ditched her family to become part of the raggedy mob in Zuccotti Park -- keeping the park clean by day and keeping herself warm at night with the help of a young waiter from Brooklyn.

“I’m not planning on going home,” an unapologetic Stacey Hessler, 38, told The Post yesterday.

“I have no idea what the future holds, but I’m here indefinitely. Forever,” said Hessler, whose home in DeLand sits 911 miles from the tarp she’s been sleeping under.

Hessler -- who ironically is married to a banker -- arrived 12 days ago and planned to stay for a week, but changed her plans after cozying up to some like-minded radicals, including Rami Shamir, 30, a waiter at a French bistro in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.

She swears she’s not romantically involved with her new friend.

Yesterday was a typical day for the pair, who woke up at 8 a.m. on their little patch of paving stone near the communal kitchen and dashed off to Trinity Church to wash up.

Hessler emerged an hour later, her brown hair in dreadlocks, wearing a T-shirt depicting Han Solo and Princess Leia kissing, and bearing the slogan “Make Love Not War.”

She got coffee and a granola bar from the protest kitchen before sorting laundry for two hours.

The unemployed Long Island native compared her decision to abandon her family to Americans serving in the armed forces.

“Military people leave their families all the time, so why should I feel bad?” a defiant Hessler said. “I’m fighting for a better world.”

She said she had been following the movement on Facebook, and the more she learned, the more obsessed she became with joining the demonstrators.

At around 11 a.m. yesterday, Hessler moved from laundry duty to park cleanup -- a four-hour detail from which she broke just once to give a troubled protester a hug at the “empathy table.” She also found time for a meditation session later in the day.

Hessler has spoken with her family -- husband Curtiss, 42; son Peyton, 17; and daughters Kennedy 15, Sullivan, 13, and Veda, 7 -- just three times since leaving them. “Friends are taking care of them,” she said.

Not everyone has supported her decision. “My mother told me I was being very selfish,” she admitted.

And her husband, a former Bank of America financial adviser who now works at a local Florida bank, is perplexed. “He says he’s working for ‘the Man,’ and I’m fighting against him,” she said.

After finishing her morning routine and afternoon chores yesterday, Hessler spent the evening attending organizer meetings and helping fellow protesters find sleeping spots.

Hessler herself bedded down on an air mattress at 12:28 a.m., ready to do it all over again today.

_____________________________________________________________

Scenes From Zuccotti Park: 'She Believes Everything Should Be Free'

The New York Post caught up with that dopey mother of the year we noted Friday. She's even stranger than first reported.
The Florida mom who ditched her banker husband and four kids to live in Zuccotti Park squalor is a hippie homemaker whose neighbors are horrified by her latest antics -- but are hardly surprised that she flew the coop.

Stacey Hessler, 38 -- a self-described “vegan freak” who’s into dreadlocks, roller derby and “unschooling” her kids -- acts like a self-obsessed college sophomore who never grew up, said a neighbor in her hometown of DeLand, Fla.

“I’m not disgusted she took off [to protest] -- because I’m not surprised,” seethed one next-door neighbor who asked that her name not be published.

“‘The Man’ she went up there to fight against is the bank where her husband works.

“She believes everything should be free,” the neighbor added.

The middle-aged flower child’s trip to New York to sleep under the stars with the Occupy Wall Street protesters was chronicled in The Post yesterday.

One angry neighbor said yesterday it was hardly surprising that Hessler would leave her kids behind and go radical.

“She’s very bizarre,” the neighbor insisted.

On her Facebook page, Hessler wrote about being a surrogate mom. She also boasted of a panoply of California-style beliefs.

She called herself a “radical unschooling mom of four, midwives assistant, roller-derby queen, rock-star musician, activist, dreadlock princess, African-bee keeper, organic vegan freak and a surrogate for the second time.”

Hessler has gotten even more hippie since she arrived in New York. In Zuccotti Park, she’s been sharing a tarp with a Brooklyn waiter and plans to stay “indefinitely.”

The waiter, Rami Shamir, vehemently declined to comment at his job last night.

While she doesn’t get much love from her neighbor, pals of Hessler clearly support her Occupy Wall Street outing.

One friend in New York called Hessler and her family “one of the most amazing and beautiful and loving families that I’ve ever encountered.”

The friend also explained how Hessler came to be part of the protest.

“She had been following this movement on her own through Facebook and YouTube and whatever, and she decided she wanted to come up to New York. And her family said, ‘Go, mom, go. This is what you want to do,’ ” said Lauren Napoli, 28, a waitress and home health aide.

“This is what she believes in, and she feels she needs to be here,” Napoli said. “She’s not being irresponsible.”

Napoli said Hessler and her tarp mate are not “bunking up in a little tent.”

“It’s not like that -- everyone who’s there, we’re trying to support each other, and when it rains you need to be under a structure.”

“I’ve been right next to her when she’s been on the phone with her kids,” she added. “It was [her youngest daughter’s] birthdahttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gify recently and she called and said ‘happy birthday.’ ”
Isn't that special. She called her daughter on her birthday. I wonder if she thinks the call was free? No word whether her flight back to Florida will also be free, or the divorce attorney.

Meanwhile, it's reported that a whopping 37% of the public supports these lunatics. That's odd considering they represent 99%, right? Maybe they should start chanting "We are the 37%" for historical accuracy.

Back in Manhattan, some idiot has scaled a 40-foot-high steel art exhibit and vows to not come down until Mayor Bloomberg resigns. Have a nice time up there, pal.





  
Has ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Been Sucked Into A Global Socialist Movement?     
 
Well, Well, Well, Who Didn't See This Coming A Mile Away?!?! The American Nazi Party Joins Occupy Wall Street


And, Now, The Communist Party of the USA Joins, Too:  First Brown, Then Red

  
  
  

The war in Libya is still a failure

 

Much of the world hails Moammar Gadhafi's death as a triumph for the West. But the war that toppled him remains misguided and illegal.

By Daniel Larison


Seven months after NATO's misguided war in Libya began, Moammar Gadhafi has been killed. While there has not been as much celebration of this in the West as there might have been before the Iraq war, the conventional wisdom seems to be that this outcome has proved the intervention to be right because it "worked." However, far from vindicating the decision to attack Libya, Gadhafi's bloody end represents much of what was wrong with the intervention from the start.

Instead of protecting the population of Libya — which is what the U.N. authorized — the West's intervention allowed the conflict to continue and consume perhaps as many as 30,000 Libyan lives, including many thousands of civilians, in addition to tens of thousands wounded and hundreds of thousands displaced. Rather than the "limited" war presented by the intervention's defenders, it immediately expanded into a policy of regime change. The official goal of protecting civilians was subordinated very early on to the real purpose of the war — namely, the destruction of the existing government and the elimination of its leaders.  

Contrary to the hope that Libya would provide a deterrent to regime violence elsewhere, the political fallout from the war has stalled any international response to Syria's crackdown. By exceeding the U.N. mandate they received in March, the U.S. and its allies have poisoned emerging democratic powers such as India and Brazil against taking any action in other countries. Libya has confirmed every skeptic's worst fears that in practice, the "responsibility to protect" is little more than a pretext for toppling vulnerable governments.

Libya has confirmed every skeptic's worst fears that in practice, the "responsibility to protect" is little more than a pretext for toppling vulnerable governments.

Equally troubling from an American perspective is the ease with which the current administration launched a war against a government that had abandoned its former hostility, renounced unconventional weapons and terrorism, and provided some degree of security cooperation to the U.S. Pariah states now have no incentive to negotiate similar deals with the U.S. and its allies, and they have clear incentives to acquire the means of deterring a future intervention. This reduces diplomatic and political options in coping with these states in the future and makes conflicts with some of them more likely.  

U.S. foreign policy has already become very militarized in the last decade, and the quick resort to the use of force in this instance significantly lowers the bar to justify future military action. The sidelining of Congress and the American public on the Libya war continues an increasing and unhealthy tendency of the executive to use military force without authorization or respect for constitutional requirements. The executive now appears to be free of all constraints as to when and how to use force abroad, so long as the action can be deemed a success. And there are evidently no consequences for openly waging an illegal war.  

The U.S. and our allies attacked a government that had done nothing to endanger international peace and security. It posed no threat at all to any NATO nation. No Western security interests were served by this war, and some may have been harmed as a result. Successfully deposing Gadhafi is bound to encourage future administrations to take similar risks. The U.S. and our allies may not always be so lucky in targeting such an unusually weak, isolated state.      

While Gadhafi's death will mark the end of Western military involvement in Libya, we should not assume that it means that Libya will not be wracked by violence for months or years to come. We should not forget that the worst of the post-invasion violence in Iraq came well after Saddam Hussein's capture and execution. Just as it was Iraqi civilians who bore the brunt of the war over the last eight years, it has been and continues to be Libyan civilians who are suffering the most from prolonged conflict.

When dictatorships are violently overthrown, their successor regimes tend to devolve into some form of authoritarian government. Political culture, weak institutions, and post-conflict disorder all make it unlikely that Libya will be that much freer in the years to come than it was under Gadhafi. As in Iraq, it is questionable whether the possible gains will be worth the real losses that have already been and will continue to be suffered. As in Kosovo, which is often wrongly held up as a model of "successful" intervention, the post-war regime is liable to be criminal and corrupt. Twenty years ago, the liberation of Eritrea and Ethiopia from the brutal dictatorship of Mengistu was an inspiring story that very soon degenerated into authoritarianism and war. There is no reason to think that Libya's story will be all that different.

#Occupy Animal Farm




Photo: Andrew Burton/AP


It began, as it so often does, with a drum circle.


All occupiers are equal — but some occupiers are more equal than others. In wind-whipped Zuccotti Park, new divisions and hierarchies are threatening to upend Occupy Wall Street and its leaderless collective.

As the protest has grown, some of the occupiers have spontaneously taken charge on projects large and small. But many of the people in Zuccotti Park aren't taking direction well, leading to a tense Thursday of political disagreements, the occasional shouting match, and at least one fistfight.

It began, as it so often does, with a drum circle. The ten-hour groove marathons weren’t sitting well with the neighborhood’s community board, the ironically situated High School of Economics and Finance that sits on the corner of Zuccotti Park, or many of the sleep-deprived protesters.

“[The high school] couldn’t teach,” explained Josh Nelson, a 27-year-old occupier from Nebraska. “And we’ve had issues with the drummers too. They drum incessantly all day, and really loud.” Facilitators spearheaded a General Assembly proposal to limit the drumming to two hours a day. “The drumming is a major issue which has the potential to get us kicked out," said Lauren Digion, a leader on the sanitation working group.

But the drums were fun. They brought in publicity and money. Many non-facilitators were infuriated by the decision and claimed that it had been forced through the General Assembly.

“They’re imposing a structure on the natural flow of music," said Seth Harper, an 18-year-old from Georgia. “The GA decided to do it ... they suppressed people’s opinions. I wanted to do introduce a different proposal, but a big black organizer chick with an Afro said I couldn’t.”

To Shane Engelerdt, a 19-year-old from Jersey City and self-described former “head drummer,” this amounted to a Jacobinic betrayal. “They are becoming the government we’re trying to protest," he said. "They didn’t even give the drummers a say ... Drumming is the heartbeat of this movement. Look around: This is dead, you need a pulse to keep something alive.”

The drummers claim that the finance working group even levied a percussion tax of sorts, taking up to half of the $150-300 a day that the drum circle was receiving in tips. “Now they have over $500,000 from all sorts of places,” said Engelerdt. “We’re like, what’s going on here? They’re like the banks we’re protesting."

All belongings and money in the park are supposed to be held in common, but property rights reared their capitalistic head when facilitators went to clean up the park, which was looking more like a shantytown than usual after several days of wind and rain. The local community board was due to send in an inspector, so the facilitators and cleaners started moving tarps, bags, and personal belongings into a big pile in order to clean the park.

But some refused to budge. A bearded man began to gather up a tarp and an occupier emerged from beneath, screaming: “You’re going to break my fucking tent, get that shit off!” Near the front of the park, two men in hoodies staged a meta-sit-in, fearful that their belongings would be lost or appropriated.

Daniel Zetah, a 35-year-old lead facilitator from Minnesota, mounted a bench. “We need to clear this out. There are a bunch of kids coming to stay here.” One of the hoodied men fought back: “I’m not giving up my space for fucking kids. They have parents and homes. My parents are dead. This is my space.”

Other organizers were more blunt. “If you don’t want to be part of this group, then you can just leave,” yelled a facilitator in a button-down shirt, “Every week we clean our house.” Seth Harper, the pro-drummer proletarian, chimed in on the side of the sitters. “We disagree on how we should clean it. A lot of us disagree with the pile.” Zetah, tall and imposing with a fiery red beard, closed debate with a sigh. “We’re all big boys and girls. Let’s do this.” As he told me afterwards, “A lot of people are like spoiled children." The cure? A cold snap. “Personally, I cannot wait for winter. It will clear out these people who aren’t here for the right reasons. Bring on the snow. The real revolutionaries will stay in -50 degrees.”

“The sunshine protestors will leave,” said “Zonkers,” a 20-year-old cleaner and longtime occupier from Tennessee. (He asked that his name not be used due to a felony marijuana conviction.) “The people who remain are the people who care. You get a lot of crust punks, silly kids, people who want to panhandle ... It disgusts me. These people are here for a block party.”

Another argument broke out next to the pile of appropriated belongings, growing taller by the minute. A man named Sage Roberts desperately rifled through the pile, looking for a sleeping bag. “They’ve taken my stuff,” he muttered. Lauren Digion, the sanitation group leader, broke in: “This isn’t your stuff. You got all this stuff from comfort [the working group]. It belongs to comfort.”

And as I spoke to Michael Glaser, a 26-year-old Chicagoan helping lead winter preparation efforts, a physical fight broke out between a cleaner and a camper just feet from us.

“When cleanups happen, people get mad,” Glaser said. “This is its own city. Within every city there are people who freeload, who make people’s lives miserable. We just deal with it. We can’t kick them out.”

In response to dissatisfaction with the consensus General Assembly, many facilitators have adopted a new “spokescouncil” model, which allows each working group to act independently without securing the will of the collective. “This streamlines it,” argued Zonkers. “The GA is unwieldy, cumbersome, and redundant."

From today’s battles, it’s not yet clear who will win the day: the organizers or the organized. But the month-long protest has clearly grown and evolved to a point where a truly leaderless movement will risk eviction — or, worse, insurrection.

As the communal sleeping bag argument between Lauren Digion and Sage Roberts threatened to get out of hand, a facilitator in a red hat walked by, brow furrowed. “Remember? You’re not allowed to do any more interviews,” he said to Digion. She nodded and went back to work. But when Roberts shouted, “Don’t tell me what to do!” Digion couldn't hold back.

“Someone has to be told what to do," she said. "Someone needs to give orders. There’s no sense of order in this fucking place.”