Archive for the ‘failed states’ Category

Move on? Resist? What’s the Plan? 2017

February 24, 2017
Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, in 1992,  the country was  undergoing a big shift. There had been a president, who had named himself  life president, and had served, at that time, 26 years:  Hastings ‘Kamuzu’ Banda.  He was s dictator:   he terrorized the country.  He was supported by the Europeans & the USA because he was NOT a communist, and  he  supported apartheid in South Africa. About the only good thing he did for the Malawians was build a  decent road infrastructure.  The school and health care systems were virtually nonexistent.  It was a country run by elites. who went for medical care out of the country.  Malawi was socially stratified:  if you had a decent job and were literate, most likely you employed an illiterate servant to clean your house & probably cook for you. There was no way to improve your lot unless you were (or are) particularly ingenious.

Of course, I worked with elites.  They  two I worked with were honest, and had integrity.  Things were the way they were.  Pick your battles. but I explained to them that  democracy did not bring good government, but representational government.

And here we are, over 30 years later, and our  representational electorate has elected  a guy who lied, who had no plan, who  disrespects women, minorities, the handicapped…. people who are not white Europeans.  It will be interesting to see how  his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law works with the white supremacist  Bannon, who is a close advisor.  Really interesting….but I think they are sell-outs. I have some friends who I really lost respect for.  It’s one thing to think your friends are  uninformed—but to see they voted for the white guy because they believed ‘fake news’ (what we used to call lies….as ‘toxic assets’ were liabilities) and just didn’t like  or trust Hillary.   Was it because she was a woman?  Doesn’t matter—she actually got the popular vote. She won!  But due to the political mumbo jumbo of the electoral college, these former friends who voted for Trump think—really, that HE won!  It’s like saying 5-3=10!  So this is the new reality.

I fear for the environment.  Even the Clean Air & Clean Water acts were signed by Nixon—a Republican.  It is proven that when you offer free birth control and family planning information—the unplanned birth rate goers down, and the community prospers….but our rulers  really have a mindset that women should be punished for having sex—the punishment being raising  children, and this will lead to a surplus in labor.  Our economy can no longer absorb uneducated people—as it can’t absorb the educated ones! What other explanation can you  come up with for  defunding  Planned Parenthood or making abortion illegal?  It’s not like the people who make these laws are fostering or adopting orphans or kids in the child care system.

I also think  the Democratic Congress made the banking industry more accountable. Trump thinks it is too much regulation.  Education would  fix this, as kids would understand more, but with DeVos, they have demonstrated that  making sure kids learn math & science is not a priority.  it’s up to us…in the states…to work this out.

So, as a result of all this, I am much more in touch with my elected officials.  I let them know how I feel about everything.

But  are there  citizen movements emerging to develop strategies to  change it all back….or…?

While   I have big issues with the Affordable Care Act, the problem is with insurance companies, and it is time for Single Payer.  If Trump wasn’t flitting off to Florida every week, there’d be plenty  of money  for  people of all ages to buy into Medicare. You wouldn’t have to—you could still pay for private insurance if you really believe you’d get a better deal….but, having had to  deal with  health insurance a lot recently (Bursitis, and I was bitten by a dog), I can tell you, the government couldn’t make a bigger mess out of what things should cost & how hospitals get paid than the insurance companies have!

If we are going to ‘resist’ and make things better, we must educate ourselves, so we have talking points.  I want everyone who wants to make a difference get  4 books and read them.

  1.  The First is, “Lies My Teacher Told me, ” by James Loewen  You really have to understand American History, first, or you will be ‘condemned to repeat it.  It’s outrageous, what we learned in school and  what we think is real;

2. “Charlie Wilson’s War,”  by  George Crile.  Aaron Sorkin made a pretty funny movie by manipulating facts.  All of what Charlie did, and why,  is sort of ‘funny’ in an ironic way.  It’s important to understands what he did and who influenced him, as he changed history.  You will learn  that he actually armed what became the Taliban, ISIS, and all the others who hate  freedom;

3.  You ought to read a book on economic history.  “The Big Short,” by Michael Lewis, again, was a funny movie.  Not so funny  is that is our history, and he documents it and writes about it in a way you can understand.  Bottom line:  because we are  an innumerate nation, and so few of our schools teach  people real math and budgeting, our neighbors trusted the banks—even thought the numbers were right in front of them. We all lost, big time.

If this seems too convoluted, get a copy of Robert Reich’s book, “Aftershock.”  We could have saved ourselves, but Hillary didn’t make it engaging enough (that, and the Russians and FBI director Comey put the final nails in her coffin);

4.  Finally, how do we actually  get the hearts & minds?  You have to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point.”  We’re not going anywhere in a hurry unless we know the dynamics of social change.  In simple language,  this book tells us how it’s done.

Book Review: Charlie Wilson’s War, by George Crile.

June 3, 2016

The movie (created by people I would call the ‘dream team’:   director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts), came out in 2007… about 9 years ago.  This is the Wikipedia link to the review:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Wilson%27s_War

I came across the book (which I didn’t know existed) while traveling.  Crile was an amazing writer.  This is an absurd, almost unbelievable story. It’s actually a story about how ‘democracy’ works.

Do you remember where you were in the late 1980s?  I was in undergraduate school, working part-time grooming dogs,  and modeling for artists.  I had had a roommate who had volunteered with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.  Related to that, I had an FBI file.  That’s another story, which I blogged about previously: https://disparateinterests.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/how-i-got-my-fbi-file/ .

The reason  my roommate volunteered to work for the Sandinistas was because of our ‘covert’ was in Nicaragua.  President Reagan wanted to  help the ‘contras’—a really ragtag group of’ anti-communists’ with no real strategy to govern the country, fight communism.  Unfortunately for them, in spite of  Reagan and the CIA pouring money into training and paying soldiers, they  really weren’t getting support of the Nicaraguans.   They did not exist at all, but were a contrivance.  Apparently, not only were there  several other political parties besides the  Sandinistas, the Nicaraguans did not fear communism or socialism the way we Americans had been led to.

This only matters because the war was not ‘covert’:  the news media knew of it, as did many Americans, who  pressured Congress to cut off funding.  We all knew Reagan was not a deep thinker, and he allowed key players  in the Republican Party to set policy.  What this has to do with the story of Charlie Wilson, and the war in Afghanistan (also covert—and a secret to us), is that, at one point,  Oliver North/the Reagan Administration asked the CIA and the Appropriations committee to hide money for the Contras in funds earmarked for the mujahedeen in Afghanistan.  :”Wait!” you  shout.  “The mujahedeen?  Aren’t they the people  waging  jihad against us now?  Haven’t they been since…?”  Yep, You got it.

The movie  was written  as a comedy.  Charlie Wilson was a playboy congressman from Texas, whose constituents didn’t ask much from him.  Having served in the navy, and grown up during the cold war, he was  strongly anti-communist.  On the advice of a vivacious socialite, Joanne Herring, who had met the  president of Pakistan ( Zia ul-Haq…who had his predecessor assassinate…), Charlie, who sat on the Appropriations Committee in  the House of Representatives,  got money  appropriated for arms for people in  Afghanistan fighting Russians/Soviets.  The Russians were in Afghanistan to prop up a  socialist government.  As we believed at the time—and it could have possibly been true—according to the domino theory:  if the USSR got a foothold in  south Asia, they could dominate the world.  The reality was—and is—that Afghanistan —as a country—is a contrivance.  It is a geographic parcel of land within a border.  It will probably never be a country with a viable economy.  It is a failed state without ever really being a state.

Who writes our history?  Is it what we get in primary school history books?  Is it journalists who write news  reports and turn them into books?  No matter. At the time the CIA was  buying and providing arms for the Afghan rebels, I was a student working part time.  What I DO remember is that very suddenly, the Soviet Union fell into chaos, and the Berlin wall came down.  I don’t think many Americans understood why this happened.  All we really knew of the Soviet Union was that it was a dictatorship with no press freedom, and only of consequence to us insofar as their influence on other countries.  Crile  gives us a better understanding  of what really happened.

We have to  understand what we  did in the rest of the world.  While the do-gooders took to the Afghanis, who were not united in any way, and have proven to not be unitable, what the do-gooders did—with out tax money, was ignore their human rights record, ignore how they treated  each other—let alone women, and gave them the power to  terrorize us after they finished with the Russians.  As I write this, in early 2016, we have Syrian refugees fleeing the middle East, and a bunch of right-wing politicians calling them all terrorists…meanwhile ignoring the fact that  they supported the cause of all this.

Worse, the front-runner, Hillary Clinton,  the former Secretary of State, continued to allow the Pakistanis to hold us hostage, along with President Obama, so we could kill off Osama bin Ladin and temporarily slow down jihad leaders.  We are not going to stop how foreign aid is doled out unless we  organize for a radical shift in leadership (which is another reason I support Bernie Sanders). The   countries receiving it hire lobbyists, and the  companies manufacturing weapons also have a huge stake in  continuing the status quo.

Bernie Sanders has to get into Specifics Fast

May 6, 2016

I have always admired and respected Bernie Sanders—an American who is not afraid to say he is a socialist.  Face it, Capitalism doesn’t work  unless the Keynesians tinker with it constantly, and we are now at the tipping point, where  not enough Americans are educated enough to not have more children than they can realistically support, nor get the jobs to support them.  Our educational system is concerned with statistics, not  actually teaching kids to think, and we keep teaching an American history that is a big lie….but whatever.  Land rents (property taxes) and energy costs are way too high, and we keep sending our tax  dollars to  poorly thought out, designed, and monitored development projects, as well as military foreign aid. Since WWII, we’ve stuck our noses  where  they don’t belong, ‘fighting communism’, and have made every situation worse…and we are no safer, no better off economically, However, a very few rich people have benefited. The media  is a strong booster for this system, and we are not skeptical enough.

I live in a relatively well-educated, open-minded community, and most of my friends and neighbors really believe that  nobody likes Clinton or Trump.  Well, I know a bunch of people  think of an old Jewish guy as a joke. And—because  he is rich (and got that way ripping people off), they believe  Trump would be a good president because he is not a professional politician, and he says what  scared, poor white people want to hear.

Well, there are a lot of them. The only way around this is for Bernie Sanders to  start talking specifics. What budgets would he ask the House Appropriations Committee to cut, and which  would he give to?   Who does he think will support him? We have to know this, or the rest of the election year will just be a bunch of empty words.

We have over spent on the military—with not much to show for it.  Military foreign aid—which is now being used against us, foreign embassies (which do  little to  help actual American citizens), law enforcement and the department of justice, the war on drugs, perks for congressmen, Homeland Security…we all see waste all around us.  We see  congressmen earmark money for special interests.

Politics is the art of compromise. I am somewhat disappointed that Obama didn’t get it all done.  However, considering  we’ve had a Republican Congress, we got more than we would have  had either McCain or Romney won.  I am really not a fan of Hillary Clinton.  I would have had more respect for her had she left Bill.  Thing is, if Bernie doesn’t  get the nomination, we will lose ground if we don’t vote for her.  We have a chance to keep making  progress here. Neither Trump nor any  of the Republicans car about any of us.  They just care about money.  Capitalism can’t survive any regression and like it or not, we have to play in this system.

Those With a Vested Interest in the Status Quo are Asking us to Reject Sanders as Viable

April 15, 2016

Steve Chapman, a member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board,  wrote an Op/Ed piece in the Sunday Chicago Tribune telling us to reject Bernie Sanders because he hasn’t articulated his  plan for how he was  going to fund free college tuition or single payer health care, or break up the big banks.

Funny….nobody ever asked Reagan  how he was going  fix our economic mess (we got  trickle down economics).  Nobody  is actually asking any of the  other  political candidates that much, because  they all want to maintain the status quo.  All the  current candidates except Sanders want to  either maintain the status quo or take us back to the good ol’ 1950’s, when women and minorities had to ask permission from white men to do everything…and pollution was really pretty bad.

It appears that  the United States of America is still in debt to the Chinese, and  since we have a deficit, we can’t really add any new  programs—or—as they’d say, ‘entitlements’, and these  smug elitists even call Social Security—which we’ve  all paid into, entitlements.  However, the many double dippers  who work for the government—who collect a pension from  one job, but take another…that’s ok with them.

Now Bernie isn’t saying everyone who wants a college education will go to Harvard…but how is it that , say, Germany, provides free college education?  Or, that horrible socialist country, England, manages to provide free health care?

Could it be that those countries don’t give as much foreign military aid  to countries  as we do?  That they don’t incarcerate as many non-violent  criminals as we do?  What is going on?  Thankfully, due to the internet,it is easier for Americans to find out what our government budgets for …stuff.  It’s complicated, but anyone with a half way decent high school education should be able to  find out what we budget for foreign aid.    We don’t even get  goodwill for it.  I have alluded to George Crile’s book, “Charlie Wilson’s War”, in the past.  That book shows exactly how billions get spent by a few congressmen when nobody is paying attention.

Chapman uses Politifact to show that  we spend ‘only’  38% more than the Swiss do on health care.  Only 38% ?  That’s a huge  per centage.  Chapman also defends fracking for  making fossil fuels available cheaply…never mind what fracking is doing to  potable water supplies (or creating earthquakes).   I can’t believe  ANYONE would defend fracking unless they hold stock in a company which does it!  He also scoffs at raising the income tax rats for the uber-wealthy—when they were  actually very high during the Eisenhower years. True,what kept our  economy  ‘working’ was that women, blacks, and other minorities  would legally not need to be paid as much as white men, but let’s not quibble.   And lets not quibble that land rents—in proportion to income, were much lower.   As for regulating banks—we’re heading, again, towards credit default swaps as they are still not illegal—and who knows how many mutual funds contain them?

Here’s the thing—and this is important:  Sanders is speaking to concerns that many of us have.  And—even if he doesn’t win the nomination, he’s brought our concerns to the  table.  They  may be part of the Democratic Party platform. We all  know that  no matter what a president says, there’s still  Congress to contend with.  Thankfully—due to the internet and social media, we  are able to reach more like minded people. We won’t have Cruz doing away with the EPA, or making abortion illegal.  There are too many of us who  don’t want to go back.

A Trip to Africa Changed my Life: a continuation of the blogs on Malawi/Zambia 2016

March 11, 2016

busstation LuWhat does being a  developed country mean?  Why are some counties so poor, and others, which started on the road to development at the same time, doing so well?

These were  the questions I had when I traveled to Africa (Tanzania) for the first time, in 1985.  At the time, Tanzania had a 90+% literacy rate. So, why were there no roads, and if there was nothing to buy, why was inflation so  bad?
Being so inspired to learn the answer,  having seen people working incredibly hard with nothing to show for it, I returned to America, took College Level Examination Program Exams( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_Level_Examination_Program ),  enrolled in college, and started studying Africa area studies and international development.

The indicators of ‘development’ are : a literate populace,  access to health care and communication, infrastructure to aid economic vitality, a low infant mortality rate, and an ability  for adults to return to their communities the economic investment made in them.  So, how is it that Malaysia and Thailand seem to be doing much better than, say …Greece?  Or so many countries in Africa?

central malawi2The short answer is political will.  The answer gets more complicated  because of  western (oh, hell, American and the European)aid, which  keeps  people engaged in corruption and malfeasance in power.  These are sovereign states.  We have an embarrassing track record of intervening—in fact, in assassinating, elected leaders whom  WE (face it—our tax dollars at work) felt were governing not in OUR interests.    Yet, for all the meddling we’ve done, and the billions USAID has given, we don’t have  much to show for it. We don’t have to go back forever, but just to after the end of World War II.

But this is not what this blog is about. What I learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer is that  direct aid to communities, which you can  hold accountable, spurs more development than anything USAID or ODA have ever done.

I had been donating to several groups, and I wanted to see, with my own eyes, how they were doing.  Actually,  I wanted to see what they were doing with my donations.

Zambian Children's Fund Chishawasha School outside Lusaka

Zambian Children’s Fund Chishawasha School outside Lusaka

The first  place I visited was the Chishawasha primary school  in Chishawasha, just north of Lusaka.  Kathe Padilla had seen the poverty in the region, and  also knew how AIDS had devastated families. So, she worked with a local chief to get land set aside for  housing for orphans,  and a school.  Somewhat resembling the SOS Children’s Village model, where a house mother stays with a cohort,  with the assistance of the Glassco Foundation of Canada (http://glasscofoundation.org/ZambiaMainframe.php?page=OrphanageProject.htm),  Kathe had a compound, and a primary school built.  I have been sending books, art supplies, and other miscellaneous items to Kathe, who is in Tempe, Arizona, and she sends a container about once a year.  There are supporters in other parts of the ISA and Canada.  The school is a good size, and they even have a computer lab.  Kathe is also working with the extended families of the orphans on other income generating projects.  I am lucky enough to live in Chicago, and get just about everything I send  for free.  It  costs me about $100 a cubic meter to send the boxes to Kathe and the Zambian Children’s Fund by UPS.  I actually used to send  books to Malawi via M bag, but that program no longer exists.  In any case, I was

Buildings on the Chishawasha campus

Buildings on the Chishawasha campus

delighted to see that housing in such great shape and so modern, and the compound so  beautiful.  http://www.zambianchildrensfund.org/  Also, they have so many  helpful projects to help the community with economic development.

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA

I then went to Malawi, and I had planned to  volunteer with the Lilongwe SPCA (http://www.lilongwespca.org/ ). However, they had just moved, and  they were still a ‘work in progress’.  One way they support themselves is by running a veterinary clinic. Thy were quite busy the day I was there.  The number of pets they have for adoption at any one time varies.  They’ve had a litter of pups for  a couple of months, and they all seem to be well socialized. The kittens they had really needed more human interaction.  I had learned about  them via  http://www.Animal-Kind.org and was able to make several donations to them via Animal-Kind. They’ve unfortunately, had a communication breakdown, but they do get a lot of local support, particularly from expats, but also, from many local Malawians.  At their new  grounds, they will be able to have many more activities, including dog training classes, and they do educational workshops all over the country.  I felt my donations were well used.  Their   new compound is so large, they will be able to house volunteers who might come from outside the country.

mcv1Finally, I went to Malawi Children’s Village in Mangochi (http://malawichildrensvillage.org/about/).  I had been supporting MCV since  inception, with cash donations and  sending books M-bag.  I was a bit disappointed to learn that the books were packed up because they were in the process of moving the library from  one  room to another, but Vincent, the assistant manager, took  us (I arrived as  a few other people were there) on  a tour  of  the grounds.  They now have a secondary school, and  vocational training in bricklaying, carpentry, vehicle repair, and  a sewing/fashion workshop.  They produce a lot of nice items there, and I was able to purchase trousers and several small bags.  They also have made uniforms for local school children.  Attached to the compound is the Open Arms orphanage, which serves infants to age 2—until they are healthy enough to

Open Arms Orphanage at Mangochi

Open Arms Orphanage at Mangochi

return to their extended families.  Many of the babies have AIDS.  In fact, as I served in Peace Corps, there was a 20—90% incidence of HIV, depending on how close you lived to the road.  What kind of difference would this make?  During times of drought and starvation, girls will prostitute themselves for food, and truckers  take advantage of being away from home.  One must keep in mind that this is a somewhat polygamous society, so there  never really was a stigma regarding multiple partners (in spite of the influence of Christianity…and for the most part, both Zambia and Malawi are  very Christian nations:  you pick and choose what works for you…and of course, Jesus forgives your sins…). Malawi Children’s Village is very well-known now, at least in central Malawi, and I found it very gratifying to see how effective the programs are.

Lilongwe bus station

Lilongwe bus station

Partly due to culture, partly due to religious faith, and partly due to access, Malawi is a very poor country.  It is difficult for me to say that  Zambians  are better off, but being closer to Zimbabwe, which  is closer to South Africa, and being a larger country, there are more of the trappings of development  (at least in terms of infrastructure) in  Zambia than there are in Malawi.  I noticed more water pumps closer to the roads in Malawi than there were 20 years ago, and there is a much greater middle class population—-at least in both Blantyre and Lilongwe.  More people are wearing shoes, everyone has a cell phone, and all the women either are relaxing their hair, having extensions put on, or are wearing wigs.  Yet,  literacy has barely improved, there is still very little access to health care, and  rally, people ar  very cynical about their governments.  This is true of both countries.

Hippo in the Zambezi River

Hippo in the Zambezi River

There is  too much cronyism and corruption in both countries. When beneficial laws are passed, they are not enforced.  Except for  the hippos I saw in the Zambesi River, and the monkeys in the park, I saw no other wildlife.  This is a tragedy.  Wildlife tourism is a major foreign exchange earner for both countries.  People who come to see wildlife  support a lot of jobs in the hospitality industry.  If word gets out that there is no wildlife to be seen,  people with money will stop coming to  these countries, and there is virtually no other industries that can  be competitively developed to  support all these people.  We —in America—think we have a refugee problem now?  If we don’t do  something to cause the non-profits now supporting wildlife and environmental conservation to  develop more effective strategies for  educating Africans about the importance of their wildlife heritage, and influencing politicians, we are going to be facing another crisis.

 

 

 

Azungu, Where Are You Going?

March 4, 2016

This blog is about the logistics of traveling around Zambia and Malawi on my trip in Feb. 2016.

Nomadic Matt, a travel blogger, claims you can travel around the  world for $40 a day.  I believe that may be true, especially if you camp out,  or stay in hostels or dorms, eat frugally, and don’t move around that much.  My own costs turned out to be an average of $110.67 a day, and would have been $99 —even less—if I hadn’t stayed in a few places that were over $30 a night ( and hadn’t bought souvenirs or taken a special tour).

For my 17 days on the ground…Lodging cost me anywhere from free (the overnight in Dubai—very much worth doing!!!  Emirates airlines…),  or  $12—to  my big splurge at Fawlty Towers in Livingtone, which was $40 (and there are deals on bookings.com, and possibly  other booking sites).  total:  $293.25.   Incidental groceries/snacks cost me about $35—& that included the kilo (yes—kilo! ) of macadamia nuts I bought from street vendors in Blantyre.  Transport was  a shade over $150.  This was the minibuses and matolas.  My airfare was a shade under $1300, and the visas were $180 because I wanted multiple entries.  I spent  $200 or so on junk:  2 t-shirts from the LLSPCA,  $65 on a dinner cruise on the Zambezi,  extra on magazines, cloth, the tailor, a phone (which I could never figured out—Airtel chargers for calls that don’t go through, and for some numbers, you have to use either a 0 or a + before the number….better to use your own phone if you can make the sim card work).

I have learned from fellow travelers, if you can, do not book your flight in the United States.  Lots of people book via Dubai or Asia.

Bus station, Lusaka

Bus station, Lusaka

You can get pretty detailed maps of Malawi and Zambia (& I bet many other places) on Amazon.com.  Google maps are good for cities.  I traveled in a circle, which added to my costs.  In  hindsight, this was not really the smartest thing to do, but then, I was hoping to get  transport from Blantyre to Livingstone, and this was unavailable.  In fact, it is known that Intercape runs buses from Johannesburg to Lilongwe—but you have to book the entire trip—you can not book a segment.  The lack of transport from Blantyre to Livingstone (through Mozambique) made the trip very much more complicated than I wanted it to be, but that’s how it goes.  I had to go from Blantyre  back up to Lilongwe (via AXA bus), then take a Kobs bus back through Chipata down to Lusaka.  Neither AXA nor Kobs  take credit cards.  You have to pay in local currency.

Birdsnest Backpackers in Lusaka, Zambia

Birdsnest Backpackers in Lusaka, Zambia

So, here’s what I did:  1.  I flew into Lusaka, and stayed at the Birdsnest  backpackers, a low budget ‘hotel’ (rest house) for a couple of nights.  There is nothing to do in Lusaka, no city buses, only minibuses and taxis. I’m told there is a good zoo/botanical garden, but it would have required a very expensive taxi ride.  Lusaka sprawls. You’re in the countryside, but still in Lusaka.   I flew into Lusaka because I wanted to visit the Chishawasha School, which I have made donations-in-kind to for the past several years.  Nkole Chewe (the  manager of Birdsnest) and I went out there on Sunday.

2. From Lusaka, I took the Kobs bus to Lilongwe, It is at least a 12 hour trip.  I did get to see a good portion of Eastern Zambia, but there  was no wildlife.  That is how Africa is now.  I stayed at Mabuya camp, another low budget, but typically African  place, in Lilongwe.  From there, I went to

nearSalima3. Lifua Villagem near Senga Bay.  I did this via mini bus, bicycle taxi (about 1 km only) and matola.  This segment was the most nerve wracking of the trip, because I really didn’t know where  exactly I was going, just north of Senga Bay.  It was as remote as Malawi can be, except it was on Lake Malawi.  I spent the night at the Friendly Gecko, and the next morning went to…

 

Mua Mission

Mua Mission

4. Mua Mission.  Mua is also remote. I didn’t really want to spend the night, but I don’t regret spending the night.  There is a museum there— probably the best in the country, and I would not have gotten to Mangochi by night fall.

5.  In the morning, I went to Mangochi, to see Malawi Children’s Village, a well known place, now.  I got there via minibus, matola, then minibus.  It was more circuitous than I had hoped, as I wanted to go by 1 route, and the minibus driver dropped me at a matola on the way to Monkey Bay, but in the end, this was really more of  a ‘direct’ route.  I  got to   MCV about 2 or so, and got to see the compound, as well as buy some trousers and  some small bags.  I got to see Open Arms, the orphanage, as well.  That night I stayed at…

Palm Beach Resort, outside Mangochi, Malawi

Palm Beach Resort, outside Mangochi, Malawi

6. Palm Beach Resort. The proprietor, Mrs. Breitz, picked me up at Malawi Children’s Village.  It is a very nice place right on the lake.  I was going to try to get a minibus into Mangochi boma (‘city’—if you can call it that), but as luck would have it, a small film crew, at the suggestion of Mr. Breitz, gave me a ride all the way to…

7. Blantyre.   I just wanted to stop by Blantyre Civic, where I used to work, and  stop briefly at the  Blantyre SPCA.  I also got to see Limbe—what’s become of it.  I was in Blantyre from Saturday evening until Monday afternoon, when I took an AXA bus back to…

8. Lilongwe. I got in late Monday, and spent Tuesday getting my stuff back from the tailor, and also  getting some other  cloth.  I left early Wednesday on the Kobs bus to get back to….

Mabuya Camp, Lilongwe

Mabuya Camp, Lilongwe

9. Lusaka—another 12 hour ride back.   I just hung around on Thursday and got a…..

10. bus ticket to Livingstone early Friday. That was  a six hour trip.  I stayed in Fawlty Towers that night, and also went to the museum in Livingstone.   Livingstone really has a ‘suburban’ vibe, and I had a lovely dinner at a   restaurant called ‘Ocean’s Basket’, which I discovered is a small chain. On Saturday, I went to Victoria Falls park, where I spent a good  part of the day, and went on a dinner cruise in the evening—where I saw the main wildlife of the trip:  a few hippos in the Zambezi, and a heron in a tree.  On Sunday morning,

11.   I got a Mahzandu bus back to Lusaka.  It was air conditioned, and thankfully, not playing Christian music videos.  I  got back late  Sunday afternoon, to Lusaka and Birdsnest.  I was going to  go back to Chishawasha on Monday, but I suddenly realized my flight was that night!  So, that was the whole trip, and I will embellish the details in my

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

 

next blog post.

BTW– Azungu, wazungu, mzungu, nzungu…means ‘white person’. Not a slur or pejorative, it is what we are.  Black people are ‘people’:  Muntu or mto.  The ‘root word’ is dzungu—which means pumpkin. I bet some child called us ‘zungu’ and it stuck.

 

 

Innocents; Refugees are desperate.

November 20, 2015

I was going to write about something totally different, but due to the tragedies in Beirut & Paris, and the hysteria about accepting  Syrian refugees into the  USA, I have to  address this.

My fathers parents  were from Russia and Germany.  They were immigrants.  They weren’t refugees because they weren’t force to leave their countries. It was an economic decision.  My mother’s parents were  from England and Ukraine.  Similar circumstances.  I know part of the reason, aside from economics that they chose to come to the US was antisemitism.  I also have friends whose parents were refugees from Germany during WWII.  There’s a fine line between being an immigrant and being  a refugee, but nobody left their homeland and struggled to learn English and make a life for themselves because things were going so well in the old country.

Due to the bombings, and ISIS and militant Islamists in the news, out pointy-headed politicians have decided to not let any Syrians in until they can be screened better—to make sure they are not terrorists.

Here’s the problem—-it’s not logical, and here’s why:

  1.  It’s a known fact that many of the terrorists carry dual nationalities—with a home country (maybe Pakistan, maybe Iran…) and a European country.  If you pay enough, you can do this.  Even Americans can do this;
  2. Many have been traveling on tourists visas—or even  work visas.  They don’t have to be refugees.  They have plenty of money.  Many are highly educated, or have wealthy benefactors;
  3.   They are not bringing wives and children, and don’t have to bother with the slow refugee resettlement process;
  4. They are charming, they are smart, and they see our celebrities , like Miley Cyrus, or Rhianna, prancing around in their underwear, and they don’t  want that to happen to their countries;
  5.   Finally, as Santayana said, “…those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.”  This all goes back to Sykes-Pickot at the end of WWI, which  the British and Allies would not have won were it not for T.E. Lawrence organizing the Arabs, with the promise that if they helped to defeat the Ottoman Empire, the British would help them set up  modern governments.  Instead, the British  did Sykes-Pickot and gave Syria to the French—who wanted the  land, but did not fight for it.  Britain than proceeded to construct Iran, Iraq, and foment more problems in India before partition.  Our own CIA ousted  ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Mosaddegh) from Iran, a democratically elected leader  not on Standard Oil’s payroll, in favor of Shah Reza Pahlavi, a dictator, who, although he  was said to  have ‘modernized’ Iran (Persia), credit should have been given to Mosaddegh.  and the Shah was corrupt and benefited from the oil deal…the country did not;
  6.  We proceeded via  mass media—owned and controlled by old white men who had stock in  war benefiting companies–to convince ourselves we were fighting  communism in Viet Nam (we  actually allied ourselves with  Catholic elites who were opposed to land reform requested by the Buddhist majority), we had Salvador Allende killed in Chile for the benefit of another  dictator and business interests, and in the 1980s, the CIA got inner city youth addicted to crack cocaine to benefit businessmen in Central America.

We never learn. We’re always on the wrong side of history.  There is the cry that  we have to take  care of our own people first. Well, we are doing a piss poor job of it.  Refugee resettlement is a huge industry, particularly in Chicago.  They do a great job of lobbying.  Unfortunately, our homeless veterans don’t do such a great job of lobbying, nor do kids who age out of foster care. Also, because we allow the religious right  to oppose teaching  family planning in schools, we still have a lot of uneducated young mothers  who believe the rumor that they can get  public aid forever—or at least until they get their lives together. Heck—we don’t even teach them enough math or economics before they get pregnant to realize they can’t afford to rent a studio apartment on minimum wage—let alone have kids.

So, we can make the refugees a scapegoat, or we can be rational and start asking  our politicians, who are all over paid and have too many sycophants on their payrolls—what’s up with this?

Understanding the Greek Economic Crisis…or is it Chicago?

July 24, 2015

Don’t gloat.   Coming to a town hear YOU! You think malfeasance  isn’t happening where YOU live?

https://www.google.com/#q=California+Town+bankrupted+by+corrupt+officials. This is about Vernon California. apparently, their neighbors saw these guys getting away with  this, so: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Bell_scandal.  This is about Bell, California, where the town rulers, elected officials, bankrupted the town before the feds could save it.  You have to remember that lots of  actions are legal if they are not illegal. While we  are supportive of laws chasing drug dealers and addicts around,prosecuting welfare and food stamp fraud…. keeping lawyers employed—we are ignoring the important stuff …because it is boring until WE  get pummeled.

I was listening to an economics professor on the radio talk about what the problem is in Greece.  He said the Greek people aren’t lazy, but their  socio/political system is so inefficient, most Greeks work  2 jobs. He also  claimed that it wasn’t because  Greeks didn’t pay taxes—as the wealthy in all countries get away with not paying taxes.  However, in the USA & much of Europe, there has been a huge middle class that pays property taxes.  This is not the case in Greece, or many countries (it was not the case in Malawi when I was an urban planner in Blantyre in  the early 1990s, nor was it in Egypt—where  people were allowed to occupy unfinished buildings and not apply for  occupancy permits…so not be on the tax rolls).

The economics professor claimed Greece was in trouble because the European (etc) investors continued to  prop up banks making bad loans.  Bingo!

Sound familiar?  Did any bankers go to jail when they did that to  the USA in  2008 at the end of Dubyas years? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inside_Job_(2010_film)  Charles Ferguson’s  2010 documentary reminds us that—no—we Americans footed the bill.  Puerto Rico is going through the same thing (albeit partly because of being overly generous to her citizens)., but I live in Chicago, where our aldermen and state senators ‘borrowed’ from public employees  pension funds ( http://catalyst-chicago.org/2015/07/roots-of-the-chicago-teacher-pension-crisis/) for fripparies:  rodeos,  chandeliers, offices, statues, junkets….and never paid it back— or never put the $$$ in in the first place—taxes we paid!!! & we  stupid citizens not only have to pay AGAIN—but the assholes who did this are now receiving pensions themselves!  Here is the  right  wing take on our situation:http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2015/07/how_democrats_pillaged_chicago_toward_bankruptcy.html  It’s not just the patronage army, it’s our politicians.

In the past…before the internet…when things got so dire…there were revolutions.  This is how the socialists came to power in many places.  This may seem far afield, but Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren  keep calling for reforms.  The only way to  fight the  malfeasance is un-elect the  rascals and get ourselves a new set of rascals…and as citizens…support the government watchdog agencies and cut politicians pensions.

Didn’t I Already pay This Bill?

May 22, 2015

We’ve got a problem here in Illinois.  It’s unfunded pension funds.  In a nutshell, what happened was that tax money collected that was supposed to be earmarked for the pension funds was diverted to  the minutiae  that politicians often finagle for:  plug budget holes left by corporate tax breaks, funding of special pork projects, ‘expenses’ for legislators for whatever…and this has been going on about 20 years.  In addition to diverting funds collected,  the powers that be–apparently innumerate,  made  deals with hedge funds &  bond sales men, being promised a level of  return that not only didn’t stay flat, got to be negative due to fees…and now, we—again—have to pay.

Why do we have to pay again?  Because  public employees were promised pensions.  I don’t have a pension.  I’ve been self-employed most of my life, and I knew I’d have to take care of ME (again—why I  never had children), so I saved and invested.
But  these public employees were promised a pension…and…because they never paid into Social Security— they have no back-up.

Don’t get me wrong;  I do not feel ‘sorry’ for them that they made life choices to indulge themselves and not save  for the future. We don’t really know that.  They were told that if they worked at least a certain #  of years (is it 20?) they’d get a pension from the state.

I pity the employees who  just couldn’t take it anymore, or were otherwise dicked around, and  left those jobs.  Hopefully, they found other jobs  where the employers took out  Social Security.  But whatever. Our beef shouldn’t be with these employees (even if we do feel they are  over paid, underworked, and don’t deliver real service).  Our beef is with the politicians…but also the newspapers which endorsed them for election and re-election.

That’s right. The Chicago Tribune ran an editorial in the Sunday paper telling us citizens to look in the mirror if  we wanted someone to blame. Moi?  Why?  Did YOU—Chicago  Tribune—- and just about every other media outlet  not only  tell us we were irresponsible if we didn’t vote—and then ENDORSE these very politicians who voted to give themselves pay raises and divert the  tax money  from the pension funds?  We expected a free press  to be honest and give us information—not take the wrong side!

So  now our taxes—both income and property—will have to go up to make up for the shortfall…yet you all (politicians, the media…) still support  sports teams and artists (movie producers, festivals) with tax breaks, citing an amorphous economic multiplier!  chutzpah!

My only choice is to sell my home and move to a state that is better managed. but then, there is the issue of potable water.  We’ve known this was coming for over 50 years—yet our legislators have voted to allow fracking rather than give more tax incentives to renewable energy sources!

We citizens are a bunch of chumps.

Cutting the Budget to Make up for the Failure to Fund the Pension Plans

March 27, 2015

 

Bangkok topiary.  Not sure if their city workers have pension plans.  We do have street art in Chicago...and our pension plans are in crisis due to  inept politicians.

Bangkok topiary. Not sure if their city workers have pension plans. We do have street art in Chicago…and our pension plans are in crisis due to inept politicians.

Illinois—my state—is a perfect example of  voters not paying attention to what our legislators are doing.  It’s not that we don’t have ‘watchdog groups’, it’s that we have  major  newspapers  which are  edited  and published by  people who seem to be in collusion with  corrupt and inept politicians, and an uneducated populace that  ranks legislation right up ther with insurance: boring.

These same  newspapers—which endorse our politicians, have real chutzpah when, several months later, they  browbeat us citizens for voting for them.  Why they endorse these hooligans is anyone’s guess…or are they being paid off?

What got me going on this is that we are having a mayoral election  in about  two weeks (early voting has started).  It is a run-off between Rahm Emanuel—the incumbent, and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a county commissioner. Chuy  has a degree in urban planning, and has a lot of experience as an elected official.  He’s known as a neighborhood guy. He’s had some missteps (all of us have applied for  tax breaks we end up not being entitled too), but for the most part, he  doesn’t have wealthy friends in high places:   the 1% who want to do  business in the city and  make  deals behind closed doors.

Rahm speaks with authority.  Even though he has screwed us over:  he  promised to be transparent about the Tax Increment Financing money…and he immediately cut a deal with DePaul University —a private, CATHOLIC, endowed  entity…so they could build a stadium—& Rahm took  residential property OFF THE TAX ROLLS TO DO IT…even though he  promised is 1000 more police on the street, there are not, and even  though he closed  50 neighborhood elementary schools & diverted tax dollars to private charter schools…and in 4 years time has done NOTHING to address  the under funded pension funds for city workers (and we have a crisis at the state level as well).  He still seems to have more credibility than Chuy—because he  speaks with confidence—and because the local media present him as being a better choice. They ar not neutral, and the newspapers bury the  stories of shady dealings in the business section.

He’s turned the argument into the fact that Chuy has not come out with a plan, and he knows people fear that property taxes will go up. Yet,he’s put forth no plan of his own  and that’s ok with  major media.  It’s frightening.  It’s all marketing.  Rahm has the money to twist and obfuscate.

Knowing people who  work on the Garcia campaign, I’ve suggested that he  ask every alderman (there are 50) to give up 1 staff person. That  the  neighborhood  ‘development corporations’ (what  in some areas are  chambers of commerce) actually be put into aldermen’s offices—without a separate overlay of staff and expenses.  Raise fees, fines, and rates.  Hell,  there  are so many  businesses—particularly pet  industry businesses—that are not in compliance with current laws, and  they are being ignored.

Chicago Animal Care & Control  could easily double their adoption fees and nobody would complain.  We have way too many street fairs which really don’t  market  actual businesses that  pay property taxes (via rent) all that well, and  we provide free police  for those fairs and to all the sports teams when they have games in town.  Discretionary infrastructure money  could easily be cut by at least 30%.  In our ward, we have  voted on projects that have been nice—but would I rather have my taxes go up 30% to cover them?  Well, it looks like that will be the reality no matter who the mayor is.

A candidate  for mayor who withdrew due to health reasons, Karen Lewis, suggested taxing trades 1% at the board of trade.   Bunch of whiners—speculator/gamblers   talked of moving out of the city, Really? To where? Skokie?  I don’t think so.  I know from working  in a service business that most of the 1% hardly pay attention to what  frivolities cost.

Finally:  legalize  and tax marijuana…and release all those serving time for non-violent drug crimes.  It’s one thing to involve a weapon, and  another  to be in jail for being an entrepreneur.  We just can’t afford this  morality craziness.  It hasn’t worked and costs too much…and we can look at the examples of Washington  and Colorado.

Matt Taibbi has an excellent article in Rolling Stone  several years ago: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/looting-the-pension-funds-20130926

I urge  everyone to read it.  it’s not a mystery how this all happened.  We let them.