Archive for the ‘Barak Obama’ Category

Book Review: Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein

September 21, 2011

I didn’t go to college right out of high school, I sort of relied on my boyfriend (ex-husband after a while) to  point me in the right direction  regarding  my political  thought development.  He was a philosophy major and economics minor in college.  What did I know of communism, socialism, Keynesianism or anarchism.  In fact, we were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies), and  our group’s philosophy was  anarcho-syndicalism.  That means we believed in  government owned by the workers—the people who made  things work, the producers.  You’d never know it if you got all your information from  privately owned media:  Google ‘worker collectives’, or even ‘Employee Stock Ownership Plans’ and you may find some successful examples.  In any case, the cold war was sputtering out, and would  continue to for another 20 years or so..more of a trading of insults than a war. In Chile, Pinochet had Salvador Allende killed, and the  fact that he was assisted by our CIA was no secret.  Our government was telling us citizens that Chile was not a democracy, because the wrong guy won.

While you are at it, Google “Marshall Plan” and you will find out that is NOT what the USA has been implementing since  we’ve decided to meddle in the economies of so many countries.

But what did it matter?  It was the 1970’s.  We had declared victory in Viet Nam and left. We could still make our rent &  other expenses on a week’s wages (as long as 3 of us split the rent) &  I didn’t think about health insurance, or saving for a rainy day.  I was too immature, too unsophisticated, to understand the economic system.  Fact is, due to the  entire  group of educational systems in the USA is a make work project for teachers, few of us know how economics works.  You can  ‘graduate’ from primary school and not know compound interest, how to start a business or do bookkeeping,  basic, vital economic concepts.  I found them teaching this stuff in Kenya in 1987.  I know I learned it in the late 1960s. What happened?  Why aren’t parents demanding that their kids be able to function?  Because they’ve been sold a bill-of-goods that their kids are educated if they major in liberal arts.  So much for that…when even a toxicologists can’t find a job, we know we are in trouble…We don’t even know what questions to ask about how our government spends out money.

Klein starts her history of how we allowed  Dubya (President Bush the 2nd) to not  provide immediate help to the  victims of Hurricane Katrina.  She describes how   we (American citizens…after all, having a democracy, WE are responsible for the mayhem)  support so many domestic companies and foreign leaders who really  don’t believe in democracy as we generally think of it.

She describes the orchestrated  overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973…the CIA assisting Pinochet with guns and money,  and destroying Chile.  Why did the CIA do this?  Even though he was democratically  elected, he nationalized  natural resources (the copper mines) for the public good.   Because Allende was a socialist and  Pinochet was a Chicago School free marketeer…. Really.  It’s a fact.  Sen.Bernie Saunders in Vermont is a socialist.  He hasn’t been offed because he doesn’t have that much power. How many of us knew what was happening with out tax $$$?

Is that an excuse?  Are we Americans off the hook? Do we really not understand why the rest of the world hates us?  But,  why individuals in the countries that ‘hate’ us want to take the gamble & try their luck here? Then, remember when Poland chose democracy & threw out the old communist regime?  Well, Klein painstakingly documents (copiously footnoted)  how  the World Bank/IMF insisted on an immediate sell off of  every state owned entity…and they(our government employees doing this on behalf of us..) did the same in Russia, South Africa,  Thailand & much of southeast Asia,  and now Iraq.  In Russia, the Communist Party  oligarchs were allowed to buy the  entities they ran.  In Iraq, they were prevented from bidding.  She  goes into detail how Paul Bremer, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld  totally destroyed the  all of Iraq, making it appear that Saddam Hussein  did this, when WE did this to them & the citizens there know it.  In fact, she describes how they started electing governing councils, and Bremer sent in our army to stop them from doing democracy on their own.

It is 2011 as I write this. President Obama  is either unable or unwilling to embarrass the rich, the Republicans, and bring vital change. Seems he  thinks  our  economic policy as we act and implement abroad is fine.   The American congress is now  deciding how, exactly, to dismantle the  home mortgage  interest & property tax deductions, and makes sure nobody can get by on the  social safety net of Social Security.  We’ve got a bunch of free market senators and representatives who do not know  either history or economics,  thinking—no—KNOWING —they are next in line for largesse.  Their  pensions will NOT be cut, and they will join the corporate boards of all the companies who will benefit by what Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize Winner, called,  a colossal transfer of private wealth into public hands. comparable to Russia’s giveaways to the oligarchs.    His book, Freefall (published by Norton in 2010) is also worth reading. He had been an Obama supporter…

Kinda makes you sick, doesn’t it?  There have recently been news reports (and it was on National Public Radio, which I believe  reports more truth than any other media in the USA) that  about 25% of Illinois homes (my state) are in foreclosure.  1 in 4.  This means so much. It means  a lot of wealth (equity) evaporated.  That money was what people were using to reinvest in the economy.  It’s gone.   If the rich don’t  throw around more,  the economy will never come back.  Not in 10 year, not in 20.   This is it.  Those are families who got dogs groomed, had their hair & nails done.  People who shopped for clothes as a recreational hobby! No more. Orthodontia for the kids?  Please…

You really can’t complain about what is going on  if you don’t understand what is EXACTLY going on.  The book  was published in 2007 by Henry Holt.  I am sure you can get it on Amazon if your local used bookseller (please support them, first, or  all you will have is Walmart & no choice in what is available for reading, except the internet), and if you want your kids to have jobs anywhere in the world, start emailing your elected officials–particularly your senators, representatives, & President Obama and tell them no more  defense spending or foreign aid until we reinvest in ourselves.  You’ve got nothing to lose. It’s all gone…

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The Ironies of Peace Corps

May 5, 2010

I was kicked out of Peace Corps.    Or, rather, my  position was closed early.  This happened because I was caught  DOING MY JOB.  No kidding.

I’ve been thinking of addressing this for  a long time.  It was a “bittersweet” experience, as they say.  I has been planning  to write about this, and  a recent college graduate  who has been thinking of  joining Peace Corp, thinking about an assignment in southern Africa,  was wondering about the experience.

Peace Corps is NOT in the  development business.  In fact, there is really no articulated mission statement that Peace Corps  promotes.  All they really use are sound bites and promotional slogans (“The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love,”  “Life is Calling, ”  that kind of thing).  In fact,  during out very brief stateside training for ombudsmen (none of us were teachers in my group, we were either medical professionals,  accountant/business development  specialists, or technical assistance providers), we were told that  when Peace Corps was sending  the first volunteers in the 1960s, volunteers were given ‘anti Communist’ (with a capital ‘C’) training, but told virtually nothing about  the  recent history of the country they were going to.  It was up to volunteers to learn on their own—and it still is.

This wouldn’t matter at all except that VSO—Volunteer Service Overseas—the European equivalent of Peace Corps, and the Japanese Volunteer  ARE  development volunteers, and see themselves  as such.  More sophisticated?  Less naive?  A more articulated mission?

In fact,  a high per centage of PCV  return to go to graduate school,  their own personal missions more defined, and with a more sophisticated view of what it means to volunteer and provide value as a human being to other humans.

Because I had  gone on a safari in Tanzania about 15 years before  volunteering, and had  gone to college  because of what I wanted to learn about the world, I did have a clearer view of my own role.  I was not going to  bring enlightenment or change things.  I kept telling my counterparts (I had 2 junior counterparts, and one at my  government grade level—unusual, as most volunteers  have just 1) that it was their country.  I could offer the pros and cons on decisions, but  ultimately—they had to make the decisions.  That said, it was because my  ‘grade level’ counterpart left unexpectedly for ‘further training’ in Israel, I was thrust into the politically sensitive position.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not supposed to be in politically sensitive positions, but  that’s what I was assigned:  to be a town planner  in the largest city   in Malawi:  Blantyre.  Briefly, I uncovered some major corruption that involved waste of water infrastructure.  It was affecting  economic development (job creation).  I got threatened by a Host Country National because I  sort of exposed his scam, and he happened to be a government employee.  He actually called the  Peace Corps Country Director, and threatened my life.  So, they sent me home. Only a few people knew the reason I was being sent home.  I has seen 3 medical personnel who had come in with me—quit—due to frustration at not having any resources, and no counterparts to train.  What kept me going was my counterparts.  They knew what was going on, but it would have been their lives on the line.  It was easier for ME  to say, “ The emperor isn’t wearing anything!”

I wrote about this for a paper I delivered to the African Studies Assoc. in the 1990s.  The German aid organization, GTZ, had donated the water infrastructure for both Blantyre  and Lilongwe, and there was plenty  available for  residential housing  AND  industrial development.  I mean, there was, before the Asians (mostly from West India) built their lavish housing over it.  I asked the British ODA (Overseas Development Authority—their USAID), who had been administering the town planning departments for Malawi, why they had allowed this…& never got a straight answer.  While they were ‘coordinating’ services for the Government of Malawi, it was inferred that the Asian business people had paid off the Malawi Congress Party.  But since this is inferred information, & there are no real records, it’s hard to tell.

So, in the process of looking for infrastructure maps, and not approving  illegal development plans, I sort of stumbled over how this worked—or didn’t— for the citizens of Malawi.

My  local alumni group, the Chicago Area Peace Corps Assoc. does not keep Returned Volunteers.  It is mostly a networking group for  recently RETURNED volunteers, those looking for jobs, or life partners.  They can be very insensitive to cultural differences, and I shudder to think how they  acted in the countries they served in.  For example, they  planned a volunteering event not only with a religious based organization, but on a Jewish Holiday.

It was another irony.  Most  Peace Corps Volunteers are Christian.   We nonChristians are used to accommodating the rest of the world.  A fellow Jew emailed me about how they planned a volunteer event on the first night of Passover, and it started a whole big defensive thing including the   politically correct responses as well as some rude ones.  Well, what can you expect?

I found, when I served, that  most PCV did not have a view of  contributing to the betterment of the world, but  were looking for adventure, or a spouse.  Peace Corps Volunteers are regularly assualted, raped, sometimes killed.  Granted, the ‘Third World’ is NOT a safe place, but Peace Corps Staff tends to brush off the negatyive.

The prospective volunteer asked if I’d do it again.  I told her that if I could swing it economically, I would.  Where else are you going to get an all-expense paid trip to live overseas, complete with health insurance—if you have virtually no overseas living experience. There are companies that ‘acculturate’ corporate employees who  are being ‘assigned overseas, but generally, they live in middle class enclaves with servants. There is nothing like living in  the communities, living with regular people , bargaining at the market.  You learn about yourself and your role in community affairs. You learn what works and what doesn’t.  Well, you can if you want to.  Or you can insulate yourself and hang with ‘ex-pats’ and ignore your hosts.