Monday, July 21, 2014

Handling money with a manual budget.

If you’d like an effective way to budget your income, try the arithmetic method. It keeps track of how much money you’ve spent throughout the month, and what expenses you still need to pay.

I use the arithmetic method because I’m on a fixed income and saving money to retire in Ecuador. That’s a personal top goal. Consequently other items take second place importance. I allocate minimal amounts in the secondary categories so as to save more. These amounts will be enough to cover the expense and no more.

You can use this uncomplicated budgeting system to plan for funding whatever needs or wants you have in your life.

It’s a manual system that monitors how you’re spending your money. It tells you in black and white if you’re staying within the budgeted amount for each category of expenditure. That’s why I like it. It tells me where I am. Knowing where I am means I can find wiggle room.

Unexpected expenses this month hit savings for Ecuador hard. I will be able to deposit only about 25% of its regular amount.  But I had to pay those surprise billings to stay on track and keep the house in order. Living is much like maintaining a home. It sometimes costs more than expected. The roof needs repair when it leaks. The car battery is dead. The printer ran out of ink. I know these unexpected expenses will happen; I know they slow down the rate of savings, but if I didn’t pay them I wouldn’t even be in a position to save to go to Ecuador.

In my personal budget, fourteen categories of expense are included.  I list them from top to bottom on the left hand side of a Word document. The list includes rent, food, gasoline, haircut, electricity; Mostly basic needs. One item is for miscellaneous expenditure.  One is for entertainment, which pays for Netflix. No way will I cut Netfix out to save $7.99 a month more for Ecuador. Then the amounts budgeted for the items are typed next to the items. The figures for the items when added exactly equal total monthly income. With receipt in hand after spending, I sit and find the category of expense for the receipt and subtract the charge from the amount in that category. I then see precisely how much remains at that time for that category for the remainder of the month.

I set aside $200 monthly for food, so I go to the grocery store weekly and buy no more than $50 worth of food. This month I set aside $50 for AT&T, but the bill was $46 so I moved the $4 surplus to the miscellaneous category.

Budgets reflect priorities. This week I added a new category. It will slow Ecuador savings by $120 a month but still to me it’s worth the expense. I hired someone from El Salvador to talk Spanish with me two hours a week at $15 an hour.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Seeds of Vietnam war planted sixty years ago.

In the 50s and 60s Americans looked at Russia and China and saw a frightening threat to democracy. The 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis for instance produced anxiety that exceeded common sense. The threat of nuclear missile exchange prompted school officials to order safety drills. Kids huddled under their desks with arms over heads. None of that would have spared those children from incineration. But it did teach fear of communism.

Flag of the Communist Party of Vietnam

I barely knew Vietnam existed in 1963. The bulk of Americans shared a same or similar ignorance, but top American officials for several years had been feeling threatened by a course of significance to France and Vietnam.  France had been losing its war to defeat a nationalist and a communist movement fighting for a liberated Vietnam. Excluding the nationalist aspect, American officials focused on the communist aspect. While the Viet Minh resisted French occupation of Vietnam for Vietnamese reasons, Americans in Congress and the White House labeled their struggle international communist aggression.

Vietminh victory at the battle of Dien Bien Phu convinced France to drop the effort to hold on to French Indo-China.   At the 1954 Geneva Conference, the signatories accepted a two year, temporary partition of Vietnam into North and South. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics during this time moved from north to south. The Geneva Accords specified an internationally supervised election take place in 1956 to unify the country and choose a president.

The 1954 Geneva Conference
The Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh had been fighting the French for the entirety of Vietnam, but agreed to partition in hopes it could achieve this aim without bloodshed. The United States refused to sign the Accord. American officials felt alarmed because to them French capitulation translated into communist expansion. The Eisenhower administration was hampered by blinders and apparently could not detect the difference between the internal affairs of Vietnam and what it deemed the worldwide threat of communist expansion.

Ho Chi Minh 1946
I was part of that American mentality. I felt patriotism entwined with anti-communism.  I felt my country was obligated to oppose communism anywhere in the world.

As were most Americans, I was ignorant. As long as were fed tripe dosed with fear of communism, we dutifully supported the U.S. policy of containment. Most of us believed our leaders told the truth to common citizens, and no one relished the prospect of being perceived as un-American or soft on communism.

As a super-power obsessed with its anti-communism, the United States intended to subvert Vietnamese re-unification. After all, it had not agreed to the terms of the Geneva Accord. President Eisenhower backed Ngo Dinh Diem, who declared South Vietnam an independent country. Diem then “won” a South Vietnamese referendum to top office by more than 95% of the vote. Although obviously fraudulent, the United States granted diplomatic recognition and allied itself with Diem’s government. Diem trashed the 1956 Vietnam-wide re-unification election by refusing to participate. Sources report he would have without almost a single doubt lost the election to Ho Chi Minh.

Ngo Dinh Diem
Sponsored by the United States, in 1955 eight nations formed an alliance called the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. (SEATO) Composed of Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and the United Kingdom---the allied nations agreed to collaborate to fight communism in Southeast Asia. The battle lines were drawn. The seeds that would grow into a harvest of tragically mistaken war were now planted.

At the Vietnam War Memorial



Monday, July 7, 2014

Carthage perishes by the hands of Rome

After the defeat at Cannae, after the initial shock, Roman strength of will to win the war fired to ever greater depth.

A reversal to Carthage occurred in Spain and it lifted the Roman mood. Although the win was not decisive, the Roman forces that had been fighting in Spain all this time defeated the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal. Hannibal met a rare setback in Campania. Syracuse was recaptured and Capua besieged. While Rome assaulted Capua, Hannibal did march on Rome, hoping to draw the legions away. But the soldiers pressed on and took the city back for Rome.

Hasdrubal, determined to aid his brother Hannibal, marched his army from Spain over the Alps and into north Italy, camping south of the Metaurus River. If the armies of Hasdrubal and Hannibal were to combine, its force would have constituted a massive body of men at arms. Rome might have been defeated. Ancient history in the Mediterranean would surely have changed dramatically.

Hasdrubal sent riders to Hannibal to announce his arrival; they were captured and his presence and plans were discovered by Roman forces further south, facing Hannibal and under the command of Consul Claudius Nero. He quickly conducted a forced march north with part of his army to converge with Roman forces under Marcus Livius near the Metauras.

Fearing to battle the augmented Roman Army, Hasdrubal attempted retreat. If he could ford the Metauras, he would have been able to engage the Romans from the river banks as they emerged from the water. But the river was swollen most likely from spring rain and melting snow. Despite a desperate search for a crossing, Hasdrubal found himself blocked with the river at his back.

The following battle was hotly contested; its outcome not predictable in advance. The Roman center was pushed back by fierce Carthaginian assault and massive, enraged elephants charging. Hasdrubal on the right with sturdy, loyal African and Spanish troops then attacked the Roman center while it was being held in check. Before the battle, Hasdrubal had positioned his least trained, most unsteady Gallic troops in wooded, hilly terrain on his left. The Romans tried to get at the Gauls, but could not traverse the steep hills. The Roman commander on this line, Consul Nero, subsequently not engaged, decided to detach half a legion. He circled them into the pitch of battle at the center and threw the Carthaginians into disarray at the height of the contest. With no hope of victory, Hasdrubal charged the Romans on his horse and was slain.

His head was severed and heaved into Hannibal’s camp many miles south. Thus did Hannibal learn of Hasdrubal’s entrance into Italy and the fate of his brother’s army. Hannibal is said to have remarked that I now see the fate of my country.
It would have been different but for the odds, the decisions of men and the force of nature.

But the battle at the Metauras was not mere Roman victory; it was triumph that sealed the course of the war. It settled which path of history the ancient western world would take and virtually assured the stamp of Rome on its future empire.

Hannibal remained in south Italy but contained and offering little further threat to Rome. During all this time, the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio had continued to wage war against Carthage in Spain. The Roman general in time conquered the whole of Iberia and was elected consul. With the consent of the Senate, he carried the war to Africa, embarking from Sicily.

Publius Cornelius Scipio
Carthage incurred repeated defeats at the hands of Scipio, until it called upon Hannibal to return and defend his homeland. The sense of relief in Rome must have been palpable. No more fierce and no more capable military leader had brought Rome so near to demise.

Hannibal and Scipio met at Zama in 201 BC and fought the final battle of the Second Punic War. Hannibal was soundly defeated. He reportedly lost 20,000 soldiers killed and 20,000 more to slavery. Carthage was not sacked, but Rome fixed harsh terms of peace and extracted much territory. The defeated enemy was ordered to pay to Rome about $250,000 a year for fifty years, and Rome ordered Carthage not to wage war without its permission.

No history of the wars between Carthage and Rome would be complete without the story of the Third Punic War. It began fifty six years after Zama. A Roman ally in Africa had been troubling Carthage with military incursions, yet Rome refused permission to engage in defensive operations. When Carthage fought back anyway, Rome invaded. It was the death of Carthage as a state or a power.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hannibal stuns Rome: The Second Punic War

If Carthage were to defeat Rome, it would have defeated Rome in the Second Punic War. Having recovered its strength after the First Punic War, and now with healthy respect for the Roman navy, Carthage was further expanding onto the Iberian Peninsula.  Rome was invading from the north. The trigger of open hostility again took form in the manner of an appeal. An independent Greek city in Carthaginian territory named Saguntum, allied with Rome, requested Roman help to counter a siege by Carthage. Rome agreed, and the war commenced in 219 BC when one of the most talented military leaders in history, Hannibal, launched an invasion of Italy via the Alps. With battle elephants and an army of more than 26,000, supplemented by Gauls, for 16 years Hannibal marched in Italy wreaking havoc on the countryside and defeating Roman army after Roman army.

The Romans met their first setback at Ticinus on the north side of the Poe River. During the next engagement at the river Trebia, Hannibal fooled the Romans. He feigned an attack and lured the Roman army to his side of the river, where it was overwhelmed by attacks on their front, rear and flanks. The Romans recuperated and interposed more forces between Hannibal and Rome, blocking two roads leading to their capitol city. Hannibal bypassed these routes and crossed the Appennine mountains, driving south through the marshes of Etruria. The Roman army followed, but Hannibal had laid a trap on the heights of the northern shore of  Lake Trasimene, over a passage through which the Romans had to enter to continue pursuit. The ensuing Carthaginian ambush [217 BC] killed 15,000 Roman soldiers and destroyed their army. Rome felt vulnerable. The Senate appointed a dictator named Fabius who ordered a policy of disengagement. Rome would harass Hannibal but not do battle. Some wonder why Hannibal didn’t march on Rome then and there. Instead he turned east and entered the fertile valley of Campania, laying waste with intent to provoke Fabius to battle. The dictator chose to block the surrounding mountain passes; Hannibal ordered a stampede of cattle with burning fagots tied to their horns up a mountain side, and the Romans guarding the pass fled at the unexpected and alien demonstration. Hannibal escaped, moving his army into Apulia, and Rome, disaffected with Fabian, selected two aggressive Roman consuls to pursue the war. The Italian cities remained loyal, and Rome raised armies anew.

Battle of Cannae

Eighty thousand Roman infantry and six thousand Calvary eventually drew opposite Hannibal in 216 BC at the small town of Cannae on the Aufidus River. Hannibal commanded forty thousand infantry and ten thousand calvary. He placed his weakest Spanish and Gallic infantry in front. On both flanks he put hardened African infantry. He positioned his Calvary troop on the left flank. When the legions attacked it drove the front line defenders back deep into the field of battle. The steady Carthaginian flank forces subsequently attacked and their Calvary circled and assaulted from the rear. The battle turned into no less than a massacre; in some circles seventy thousand Romans are reported to have been slain.

Every abode in Rome filled with gloom. No greater defeat had been inflicted in two hundred years, and Rome staggered at the loss of so many men.

Some Italian allies now switched allegiance. The Apulians, the Lucanians, the Samnites and the Bruttians declared for Carthage, as did Syracuse. Sicilian cities wavered in loyalty. The prosperous Italian city of Capua defected and Tarentum was deceived into Carthaginian hands. The king of Macedonia, Philip V, further threatened Rome by making an alliance with Carthage.

In the annals of history it appears clear. The question of whether Carthage might have defeated Rome is not idle. If it were, the debate would not continue today.  

To be continued next post...