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U.S. Republican presidential candidates published some outrageous assumptions about Europe these past weeks. Newt Gingrich claimed Europe is a ‘fundamentally wrong socialist state’, Mitt Romney said he can’t even find Europe on the map and last week Rick Santorum claimed in Holland we force elderly people to undergo euthanasia.

Respect is a two-way street my dear Americans, so here it goes: ten lovely European prejudices about the USA…

Americans like big things: big cars, big fridges, big TV’s, big guns. Needless to say most Americans are pretty big themselves.

Americans don’t like reading books. For them it’s enough to read advertising slogans. Americans don’t like listening either; a sound bite will suffice.

Americans love their religion and they hate Darwin’s evolution theory. They believe in a book that says the earth is only about 6000 years old and that Dinosaur fossils were left by God to test our faith.

Americans don’t like taxes so they work hard to get rich fast. As soon as they are (rich) they don’t have to pay taxes anymore.

Americans love democracy. Unless a country elects leaders the US doesn’t like. When  that happens the elections must have been a fraud, the country is automatically turned  into a dictatorship and is rife for an invasion.

Americans hate their government. They choose a new president and as soon as he’s installed they start obstructing him. They make sure none of his policies get ratified by congress and the senate and boo him for not keeping his promises afterwards.

Americans hate socialism. It’s remarkable how liberal means left wing in the US and right-wing in Europe. But there’s no left-wing at all in your nation. America has no left leg to stand on. No wonder your society is so unstable.

Americans love drugs. Regretfully it’s the wrong kind of drugs they love ; Americans like Ritalin, sleeping pills and Prozac and not the stuff that is actually fun to swallow or inhale.

Americans hate abortions but they love guns. Guns are the cause of countless retroactive abortions.

When American students fail at school they kill their classmates. Makes sense; failed students might have succeeded if their classmates wouldn’t have picked on them so much.

And to end this column I must add that Europeans at least recognize prejudices for what they are. Prejudices are half-truths. It’s a shame People like Rick Santorum can only get away with their outrageous claims only because the people who vote for him aren’t checking any facts.

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picture by Banksy

To me it feels like people all over the western world have surrendered to the economical crisis. They have surrendered because there seems to be no way any of our governments can do anything to contain the power of the financial institutions that caused this crisis. These banks, hedge funds etc, may have even caused it willingly and premeditated. And if so this may well be seen as an attempt to overthrow democracy.

Ever since the Reagan and Thatcher administrations in the US and UK were voted in, these institutions have seen their power grow in an ever increasing rate. Now these institutions have become so powerful they can keep our government hostage and make them do as they please. Their demand is ‘jump through our hoop; deflate the size of government, the influence of your voters, break the unions and surrender your rights as workers.’

All my life I hear people around me say that democracy is just a farce and that the real powers exclusively belongs to the rich and powerful. These fat cats always have their way in the end, at the cost of the common man. I had a gut feeling that might be right but somehow I refused to believe it, tried not to believe it.

But what’s the long term gain here? What do these people want? In the end it’s people who plan and execute these schemes, not some monster robot or something (at least I hope so…). Did they look at China with their mouths watering? Will authoritarian capitalism replace democracy? Do they want to create an ant farm where people just forget about the pursuit of their personal happiness, to forget about freedom? It may well be, since these institutions don’t feel a need to comply to the wishes of society as a whole anymore; they grew so far above the rest of us, this social elite.

But who do these people think they are? How on earth do they derive any happiness in destroying the happiness of others, in making the bulk of people into slaves again?

But even more important; do they really think they can get away with it? Do they really think we all dozed off behind our TV and computer screens, mesmerized by their ever increasing flow of commercials, unaware, sleep walking? Is there anyone in the USA who doesn’t have family or acquaintances who lost their houses? Is there anyone here in Holland who doesn’t know that it’s almost impossible to get a job with an indefinite contract anymore? And without such a job it’s not possible to even buy a house? Is there anyone who is not aware government downsize only benefits these same financial institutions, the insurance companies, banks and big corporations in expense of our rights?

I used to live in a country where people had a sense of solidarity, where people actually had a say in how this country was governed, where health insurance was almost free, where people cared about their cultural heritage, where children had access to good education and were not put into mammoth sized learning institutions, where people could stop working at the age of 58 making way for the younger generation.

And sure there were people who took an unfair advantage of these benefits, but aren’t those people the same kind who try to deprive us of everything good society gained in terms of social care? I really don’t care if these people call themselves left or right wing; vultures and  profiteers always come from all directions.

The most important question is what can we, common people, do to stop these capitalist whores in their tracks? Well what about this one:  what if we, the people start to refuse money that comes from workers in the financial sector? I don’t mean clerks or tellers, but the boys at the top who make the millions in bonuses. What if we just bluntly refuse to take their money saying YOUR MONEY IS NO GOOD. Your money is no good because it’s deprived from people who lost their homes, their jobs, and their livelihood. So I won’t clean your house, drive your car, protect you or aid you in any way nor will I sell you anything out of my shop. You made your choice to lie, cheat and steal your way to the top but now comes the time we as the masses have to stop you.

Sure there will be people who are still willing to be your slave and serve you, but what if we start refusing to serve those people also?  How long are you going to last? How long will it take before you learn the valuable lesson that you simply need us and you need us to be willing to aid you; you can’t force us. You can’t just kill us all…

It may sound a little bit naive and a bit like like the “what if they declare a war and nobody shows up to fight it” kind of thing, but still this might work. It will at least send a powerful signal that says NO MORE and says it in a non violent way.

And yes; you may laugh at my thoughts and dismiss them. But consider this: why would a man like Warren Buffet, who is rich and, as far as I know, also very smart, offer to start paying more taxes? Don’t you think he has considered that it may not take too long before the people, who until now always held the rich in high esteem, turn around 180 degrees and start seeing the rich and their greed as a problem that has to be tackled, because they stand in the way of us pursuing our happiness? Sure he has! And since he’s smart he knows that it’s better to pay a bit more in order to help solve this crisis and keep the high esteem intact. Better give in than to hold on to an amount of money he won’t be able to spend in two dozen lifetimes anyway.

To be the rich guy amongst too many poor; where the fun in that?

picture by add busters

The system of self-regulation by the market is highly acclaimed. Consumers are free to choose from a variety of brands and suppliers, brought to them by competing companies.

The company with the best product, that carries the fairest price, will automatically get ahead of its’ competitors. The only way competitors can react is by changing the price/quality ratio of their own product.

This mechanism will make sure that in the end we all will live in a consumer’s paradise and walk around with a happy face just like the people in commercials do.

What a nice fairytale this is….

My telephone subscription finally expires. After two years of grudgingly paying far too much I can start shopping for another provider. Prices have declined a lot in those two years. I won’t fall for the free phone that comes with a subscription again; this time I will go for a Sim card only, because a smart phone costs about 200 euros if I buy it myself. If I choose  a ‘free’ phone I pay about 50 euros a month extra for the subscription. A subscription that lasts 2 years; 24 months x 50 euros is 1200 euros! That kind of money will buy me a nice and long vacation.

By the way; the ‘free’ phone they gave me last time broke after only three months. I send it to my providers’ repair shop only to get returned. It’s not repaired since the repair shop detected water damage and the phone company doesn’t insure water damage. The phone never even got wet, but there’s no use trying to convince the costumer service of that. I had to buy a new phone and still paid the exorbitant subscription fee.

My doorbell rings, a sales rep from an electrical company is at the door. He starts telling me I can save a lot of money if I take a subscription with fixed prices in this era of ever-increasing prices for energy. The day before his visit I saw a TV show in which experts on economics talked about this hoax, so regrettably for him I’m a warned man. I tell him I’m not interested but he just goes on talking. I try to stay polite for about fifteen minutes but then I just throw the door in his face.

There are more irregularities in the energy market.  Price fluctuations are always calculated in favor of the provider; when oil prices go up your bill goes up immediately, but when they go down it takes a very long time for your provider to respond. Gas companies are even worse in this aspect; they only lower prices after oil prices have declined for several years, making them billions of extra dollars.

Same goes for the green energy hoax. You gladly pay more for clean energy don’t you? Until you find out that nuclear energy is also registered a ‘clean’ energy. The reason for that is real clean energy made with windmills or solar collectors isn’t available to fill the demand for it. And since nukes don’t spread greenhouse-gasses they are allowed to be sold as green energy. Fooled again!

In Holland you get the opportunity to switch to another health care insurance every year. That can save you hundreds of euros a year they say. It takes about a week to read all the different deals and the differences in prices are really minimal. So you choose for the cheapest of them and you pay extra every time you need any medication because you failed to notice some fine print.

At the supermarket one can buy a lot of detergents and as a good consumer you compare their prices. Some are really expensive and others are really cheap. The only difference you notice is the more expensive detergents smell a bit better and are dressed in brighter colors. In the end you choose with your eyes closed because you don’t like needing an hour to decide.

You start to realize you spend a lot of time reading liability, manuals, reports and consumer advice in newspapers, on TV or on the web about various products. And in the end you get screwed because no matter how well you try to choose, in the end you fall for the best known brand with the brightest package and the most appealing commercials. It seems as a consumer you’re nothing but a trained monkey.

A pseudo-science has risen on the subject of screwing people over in their choice for bare necessities and useless buys alike. That science is called marketing.

Did any products or services really become any better or cheaper due to the free market? NO they haven’t. The only result is a new class of fat cats who enrich themselves over the backs of consumers worldwide.

And what about the costumer focus and efficiency, that were promised? Forget about it! Call centers and costumer services are manned by teenagers who usually don’t have a clue about the product they represent, but are very cheap to hire. They are trained to go for quick results and sales only. Keeping costumers happy is not in the companies’ best interest anymore; profit margins increase if costumers are squeezed out of as much money as possible over a short period of time. Costumer loyalty is a thing of the past.

But what if I don’t feel like spending half my days comparing products and services that differ so little from each other in price and quality?

What if I see through the scheme of manufacturers and companies who are agreeing among each other to keep prices high even though that’s forbidden by law? Look at the telecoms market; we still pay about ten times more then necessary.

They can take their freedom of choice and shove it up their ass as far as I’m concerned. It seems to me this freedom of choice is devised only to fulfill the desire of grand industrials and utilities to screw their costumers under the banner of personal responsibility and completely stripped of any morals whatsoever.

The old idea of government controlled utilities seems a lot better to me. I want a good product for a fair price and a say in company policy through the ballot. I’m not interested in company shares. I want my government to see to it that I’m not screwed by the rich and spend my time doing the things I like doing instead of acting the consumer all of the time.

I want to buy detergents packaged in white boxes that just say ‘detergent’ without further inducements. I want commercial free television and radio stations and a town stripped of billboards and neon lights so I can see what my city really looks like again.

Can I please choose not having to choose?

(dit is de Engelse versie van ‘de terreur van de keuze’hieronder in het Nederlands te lezen)

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