Archive for the ‘failed states’ Category

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.

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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.

 

2014: the Year of Ebola

October 17, 2014
a colorized version of G.P. Murdock's ethnic map of Africa

a colorized version of G.P. Murdock’s ethnic map of Africa

Right off, I am posting a link to Richard Preston’s online conversation: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/2cscg8/i_am_richard_preston_author_of_the_hot_zone_and/

He wrote his book, The Hot Zone, in 1992.    Just coincidentally, I recently came across a New Yorker (Dec.20 & 27, 2010) with Michael Spector’s article, “Letter From Cameroon:  The Doomsday Strain, viral hunting in Central Africa”—about the work of virologist Nathan Wolfe.  He attributes diseases jumping from  other species to humans due to  humans living too close to animals, and the prevalence of bushmeat (wild game) eating.

It’s not that simple, but yet it is. Ebola is a hemorrhagic  disease.  It’s ‘titre’ is very high and can penetrate membranes and wounds easily.  It then makes blood cell walls ‘pop’.  It is believed that the current  epidemic in West Africa  can be attributed to  fruit bats.  They are carriers of Ebola.
We need bats to pollinate fruit and sugar cane. They are not sickened by Ebola, but humans are.  Partly due to population density, partly due to poverty and the desire for protein, and  the complications of  lack of education, modern sanitation, and  way too few health car workers…we are now in a global crisis. It’s not just there.  It’s all over. The earth is one big place.
As Preston pointed out in his book, when something this devastating occurred  in Africa, traditionally, the disease victims would be abandoned and their housing burned after they died.  We are too  modern and enlightened to do that, and it might be the end of life as we know it.

“Entertainer” (notice the quotes) Chris Brown  bluntly put it as a form of birth control. Well, although his terminology is crude, it is definitely population crash.  The  environment can only hold so many  sentient beings.  But now  we’re in trouble.  The intelligent thing to do would be to  stop  transport—including human travel, not just from West Africa to anywhere (except for those  actively addressing the crisis), but ALL TRAVEL.  That would be the fair thing.  That won’t happen, as there are too many vested interests:  follow the money.  Look at what is happening:  although the  decision makers tell us it is a difficult disease to get, in the USA, 2 nurses who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, who ultimately died,  who were following a protocol—got the disease.  We learned that in Spain, a health care worker’s dog was ‘euthanized’. We don’t know if the dog was tested…but it is very possible  pets can  be carriers of the disease. We don’t have enough information  as of October 2014.

This is worse than sad.  It’s devastating for so many reasons.  I know I am not the only Returned Peace Corps Volunteer  who is hearing about what a lost cause Africa is.  I asked a friend who had been teaching in Liberia over the summer what his take was on Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Nobel Prize winner and president of Liberia.  He told me there is no electricity and no  plumbing in Monrovia, the capital. If you don’t have a generator, you don’t have electricity.  As for plumbing—can you imagine a city with no  running water or toilets?  You have to wonder, after all this time, how can this be?  How is it the UN, or the European community  hasn’t jumped right in?    How can a Nobel prize winner have no ‘pull’ to fix this? Liberia is clearly a failed state for the second time, and the result is an epidemic of Ebola, which could easily become global.

It does us no good to stop  travelers from West Africa, because Africans have always traveled overland.  In fact,  travel WAS  blocked from West Africa  to East and Southern Africa, by airlines in August…but Africans get around, and they can  get to  North Africa and take a ferry from Morocco to  Spain, or fly to South Africa and then fly on where ever…& this is why we have to bring travel to a halt for about a month or so.

We Americans will not be fooled by science.  We didn’t like the term ‘global warming’, so we changed it to ‘climate change’ and we still yawn. We are losing species every minute, but  we are jumping on the ‘single serving’ packaging revolution.   Let’s waste  in the name of convenience.

Because we  won’t do what needs to be done, it will be a matter of luck  who will die, or where the disease will spread next.  & this will give more fodder to those who  don’t think we should  do anything to limit population growth.  Mo information for women—no access to  contraception.  We have to ‘replace’ the ones who have died…when the  problem became a problem because too many are living too close together, and have such a desperate time getting protein.  Will we, who have access to information and technology, ever learn?

Uproar Over immigration

July 25, 2014

Three of my  four grandparents were immigrants.  When they immigrated, there  weren’t so many regulations or controls, If you could get transport into the USA…you were IN.  That’s how it went.  In fact, my father’s grandfather came over before  WWI, looking for work…leaving behind (in Germany) a wife with 6 kids, He said he’d send for her.  I’m not sure how long the interval was, but she ended up coming to the USA with 6 kids, to find her husband, and  later had twins.

Over 20 years ago, I dated an African man who was in the  USA to  get his Ph. D.  His government was paying for it.  He was ABD (all but dissertation).  he told me he was working on it (he was defending single party systems, saying that they had factions, and that was like having a multi-party system in government..), but  some time just before i met him, his country devalued  their currency, and his  scholarship was cut.  He was floundering.  he  wouldn’t prepare to defend his dissertation because  nobody would hear it.  his tuition wasn’t paid, and he didn’t have the money to pay it. He was  really opposed to  taking  short term employment until his African friends made it clear to him he had no choice.

I knew there was a program to repatriate Africans who wished to return to their home countries.  I tried calling the Immigration and Naturalization office in Chicago, and  the line was busy constantly—like the phone was off the hook. After weeks of this, I gave up.

I don’t know how many Americans are aware of this, but around WWII, when many Jewish refugees from Europe were attempting to get into the USA, Congress started tinkering with the rules. There are arbitrary  quotas  for virtually every country:  if you are a political refugee, you get special consideration. Same for economic refugees, people fleeing violence…but also, if you want to come and invest money in the economy here, you can JUMP THE QUEUE.  That’s how many  Europeans manage to  do this. Same with Indians.  This is true  for most countries:  they have rules that state you are investing (so you are not a drain on their economies), and you can get permanent residency status.

Some countries pay lobbyists to lobby our congressmen  on behalf of well  connected individuals.  This is how the bin Ladin  family had so many people living in the USA at the time of 911—and why they were protected by the Bush administration.  This is not hearsay.

 

So this year, 2014,  due to a rumor (when you are illiterate, or don’t have access to news media—or your GOVERNMENT CONTROLS THE NEWS), we’re having an influx of CHILDREN coming from Central America.  Not Mexico—but Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, fleeing violence.

The way this is being reported, it seems as though their parents are sending them…to find relatives and have a better  shot at life.   Unfortunately, this is only  about 10% true.  How do I know?  I have friends who have supported   development in  central American countries for over  40 years.  How many governments  have we meddled in or over thrown?     http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/18/refugee-crisis-border_n_5596125.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000010     How many dictators have we supported so  United Fruit could sell us cheap bananas?  I know…’we’ didn’t know.  We didn’t have a clue.  We don’t read newspapers, and  if we looked at a world map, we could not even find these countries.

You might notice no kids are coming from Nicaragua or Costa Rica.  Their governments are more stable.  That is not to say we  didn’t meddle. It is to say that we meddled more in the other governments and  the result  is that there is no confidence in the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador to  invest in infrastructure or to protect citizens from violence.   Heck, we have the same problems here in many inner city neighborhoods:  the plan  is really to contain violence to  neighborhoods we ‘disinvest’. so the developers can get cheap land and start over.

I am  sort of  shocked by the  many pro-lifers (people who believe in the philosophy of when life begins) who are protesting  the kids.  In most cases, a parent did NOT send them here.  A mother might have kicked the kid out or not been feeding the kid—but the daddy is long gone, In fact, many countries do not let a mother bring a child over a border unless she has permission  from the father—a guy she hasn’t seen since the kid  was conceived.  Remember—many of the mommies are barely literate.  These are also ‘Catholic’ countries.  Even if you could afford  birth control—there is none to be bought.  They all have informal sector economies.  For most of the kids—some as young as  four years old…who followed older kids— they just kept walking.

Interesting…nobody in Mexico  notices.  They were just ignored. Not their problem.  They were heading for us.  We are  protesting that we can’t afford them.  Somebody tell me what we got for the trillions of dollars we spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?  That money could have gone for schools and media infrastructure  in the USA and other places.  But Dick Cheney and Haliburton  knew who  to  impress.

I am not sure what the answer is  since we gambled  our future revenues away on Republican idiocy…with the tacit  approval of the Democrats…but we caused the problem.

So—here’s the REAL problem:  we are running out of clean water. Due to fracking, and pulling water out of aquifers without replacing it, we are in a crisis.  We know the solution is not just to be more conservative, but to quit breeding ourselves!  Yet, how many people in the USA have taken a high school biology or ecology class?  How many of us know  what population crash is?  Yet the media seems to glorify and honor  parents who choose to bear  over a dozen children!   18 kids and counting! What a miracle!  & they home school!  How many of those  future citizens are learning  actual  science?  Biology?  Ecology?   Physics?  That’s where our problem is—- not a bunch of desperate little kids!

On the Wrong Side of History: My recent trip to Viet Nam

June 6, 2014

Food sculture, Halong Bay, VN  Food Sculpture, North Viet Nam

 

I visited Viet Nam a few months ago.  It’s  taken me  some time to wrap my head around what I  experienced.

I  bet most people under the age of 50 don’t know anything about the “Viet Nam War” (what the Viet Names call “the American War”) which occured in the 1960’s and why we  fought there.  We never actually declared war on Viet Nam, but  we sent about a half million  people to fight, and we instituted a draft around 1969 to  compel young men to  join the military—to fight in Viet Nam.  Remember?  I do, I’m 60.  I remember coming home from school and seeing news of the war on TV every night.  We allowed our government to tell us a bunch of lies.  We allowed our government—& the pandering news media—to tell us we were fighting communism, and if we didn’t stop communism in Viet Nam, the whole of southeast Asia would fall (the domino theory).  The Viet Namese  ‘won.’  After all our fire power and expertise, they gained control of their own  country.  Not all Viet Namese were happy about that. Same as any country in the world.

So, when people ask why I went to Viet Nam on ‘vacation’, I  responded, “Well, we fought a war there.  I want to see what we were fighting over.”

Others  are curious because  they might want to retire there, or are interested in history.

There are very few traffic signals (what the British call  robots and zebra crossings) in urban Viet Nam.  Most people who have vehicles get around on  motor scooters.  You really take your life in your hands crossing the street. Best to do so in groups.  You also notice everyone wearing surgical masks.  Is it because they don’t want bugs flying into their mouths, or they want to avoid disease?  Not sure.  I was told a combination of both.  but enough with amusing first impressions.

Our guide, Tran,  had lived the history and was  very good at explaining it (Gate One Travel, which, by the way, I would highly recommend–particularly if your travel time is limited), but there is no getting around it. As Tran told us, Viet Nam has been at war for about 3000 years.  If it wasn’t the Chinese, it was the French, and then the Americans.  Why  did (or do) larger powers pick on Viet Nam?  Great location,  lots of arable land.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caravelle_Manifesto.  Why the link? It’s an interesting place to get some perspective.  Search Wikipedia,and you will get some jumping off points.  Lots of people don’t know that Indochina was a French colony.  Land was appropriated for rubber, fruit, and rice plantations.  Yes–appropriated.  There are about 30 ethnic groups in Viet Nam, and you have to give Ho Chi Minh his props—that he organized all these disparate, rural ethnic groups to work together and think of themselves as VIET NAMESE.  Remember, he did this without the internet.  He did this  by persuasion, as most people at that time (1950s and ’60s) were illiterate. They were also feeling oppressed by the French.  the French just barged in and took whatever land they could.

It’s important to understand the dynamic, and  what we  westerners  didn’t know( or understand).  The  biggest priority for Ho Chi Minh and his followers (really—mostly young people under 30) was land reform.  Between the French and the Chinese, there wasn’t much left for the native Viet Namese to even grow food for their families.  This is 1 reason it was so easy  to get  people to fight. They were desperate, and had nothing left to lose.  But more:  the west had divided  Viet Nam into north and south in the 1950’s.  The reason is still not totally clear ( side digression:  do we know why we fought in Afghanistan, if Karzai, who took our money, didn’t want us?  Are we sure we are  on the right side in Syria? Iraq? Ukraine?   Really?)  We told ourselves that the north was to be communist, and the south, with no clear leader, would be free.  Uh—free like democratic—compared to the north?  Free like capitalism—so the colonialists could come back and take what was not theirs?

I had so many questions. We started the tour in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon) in the south.  One of the first places we visited was the Cu Cin tunnels.We also visited an organic farm.  We asked how  most people made  a living in Viet Nam, and Tran told us that if they weren’t farmers, they were entrepreneurs.  Indeed.  We  visited fishing  villages, wood carvers, marble carvers, clothing and embroidery workshops (stull, hard to know how many were actually owned by the Chinese…).  So many self employed people in all the urban areas!  This is an irony, really.  This is a socialist country, but there are  probably more self employed  people in Viet Nam—per centage wise, than in the USA!

HCMC from Hotel, VN  In  historic Hoi An, Hue, and  Hanoi, many small shop owners.  While there are  large shopping plazas with  what we would call grocery stores,  they are sort of a blend of  a large ‘anchor’ ans many small vendors. It is amazing how many people  have small stalls selling  spices,  tchokes, hair ornaments and other junk jewelry, toys, tools, medicinal or first aid stuff, fruit, and clothing.  So…what is socialist about the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam?   Good question.  It seems to be the ownership of improved land.    Hoi An is  a world heritage site not far from DaNang.  It’s a beautiful, quaint old town.  Many expats, particularly from Australia,  now make their livings there.  I was able to visit with Cat Besch, who runs the Viet Nam Animal Welfare Association.  They have a small animal shelter,  and are trying to promote the idea of humane treatment of animals—and not eating your pet dog after you grow bored with it.  Seems that the Chinese, who have always been in Viet Nam, have brought the idea of eating  dogs to this mostly Buddhist country.  People will steal dogs, and sell them by the pound to restaurants.

In Da  Nang, a city along the China Sea, there are miles and miles of upscale housing developments. Huge high rise buildings with luxury interiors and amenities. We asked Tran who was buying all these condos.  He told us,’Rock Stars’, but there couldn’t be that many.  It has to be…the Chinese elites who can not buy  such luxury housing on the oceanfront in China.  As the British buy in the south of Spain and France, the Chinese are buying Viet Nam, and there is a lot of animosity.

Also in visiting the historic sites, we  learned a little more about how the  US became  so involved in Viet Nam.  Diem was, apparently a reluctant president.  He was a businessman who wanted to  expand his drug selling (cocaine, heroin) empire. His  sister-in-law was the power behind the ‘throne’.  Very integral to  understanding this was knowing that the elites in the south were Catholics, and they wanted to govern and exploit the  rural Buddhists peasants.  Diem was encouraged to  contact Cardinal Spellman  in Boston who, of course, had ties to the Kennedy family. With little more than connections, we got ourselves on the wrong side of history (more recently, when the CIA paid Achmed Chalabi $238,000 a week for intelligence, which turned out to be bullshit…in Iraq…everyone involved is off the hook for that war, except the American citizens who now have to support a bunch of war maimed soldiers…same in Afghanistan…).

Tran encouraged us to get Le Ly Hyslip’s book, “When Heaven and Earth Changed Places”, her view of how the war  affected her life as a child  growing up in Viet Nam.  Obviously, it was a vacation which caused me to do a lot of thinking,  There is a lot to see and experience in Viet Nam.  It’s not just  the jungle.  You can easily have a beach vacation and  not see  any of the rest of the country.  However, you’d miss so much.

Primary Elections: & We’re Going to Tell Others What’s Transparent?

March 28, 2014

Yep.  It is  March 2014, and we’ve had a primary election in Illinois.    That means folks voted on who their parties are floating as candidates for the general election  in November.  We had a  less than 15% voter turnout in my  precinct. That’s right:  of 690 registered voters (that has to be just about every adult in the precinct, which is about a  6 block area), 107 turned out.  I think about  20 voted absentee.  Not really sure. We did get the ‘early voter’ list (hello!  we all had 2 weeks to early vote, every day, 9—7…you could vote anywhere in the city at a time & day convenient  for you), but obviously, lots of people did not vote.

Here’s why:  those  with  the cash and political backing, who got enough signatures to file petitions to be on the ballot didn’t really connect with a lot of voters.  A Republican  running for governor,  Bruce Rauner, is known to be rich.  He talks a good game,and,  has spend thousands of $$$ on TV ads.  Pat Quinn, the  current governor & Democrat, has been a disappointment:  he is not very pro-active, and refuses to address a bloated budget. Our state is in the hole for  around a trillion $$$.  As I’ve stated before,  we  do not have enough Department of Agriculture inspectors, we have a huge make-work project in the  Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity/International  Trade Division (with at least 10 overseas offices duplicating what our federal government does), and  highly paid people  in charge of  overseeing amateur sports.  It’s ridiculous—especially  when we still have the pension fund crisis voted FOR three legislatures ago (meaning money was diverted from the pension funds for public employees—to  poorly thought out programs—& lets ask why  teachers were  never paying  into Social Security—really stupid—especially if your whole career is not spent in 1 school district).

Yep—that’s the mess we have in Illinois—or at least part of it.  Uh, so why do people not vote in primaries?  Aside from having to declare yourself (you have to declare a political party—tho you can declare unaffiliated & vote just in the referendums), lots of people don’t understand that taking a ballot is votingYou don’t have to vote for anyone you don’t know or don’t want.   That sends a message (however—shocking that the  media editors don’t publicize how many people took ballots and  don’t vote the candidates).  I was reprimanded by Democratic poll watchers in the last general election for reminding ballot takers of this fact. They don’t want people  to know that you don’t have to  vote all the races—or any of the races.  In fact, the way the ballot machines are set up, they will tell you you UNDERVOTED and spit out the  ballot—& you have to request an override & acceptance of an ‘undervoted’ ballot.

So much for democracy.

Let me start with  early voting  in nursing homes, however.  Sure, people  confined to nursing homes (& hospitals, actually) should be able to participate and cast their ballots.    But this is not exactly transparent.  What used to happen (as recently as 20 years ago) is that  someone from 1 of the parties would come in as a voter registrar and sign up EVERYBODY to vote  and nursing home administrators would vote all the ballotsWhy?  Often nursing homes have code and care violations (we’re talking Chicago—but I am sure this happens  most places) Our ‘dominant’ party in Chicago is the Democratic party.  Here’s how it works: you vote your residents the  party ticket, and we ignore your violations.

Things have changed a bit.  I am a Project LEAP (Legal Elections in All Precints) trained  judge.  LEAP no longer exists, but at one time they got money to train election judges the stuff  to watch out for that  the Chicago Board of Elections  (CBOE)  did not.  & there are still  problems that come up that  the CBOE  hasn’t trained judges to address.

What went wrong?  You are supposed to get to the nursing home by 8:45 a.m. to start the election at 9—but the board doesn’t send out their employees with supplies until after 8…so they are stuck in rush hour traffic and might not get to the home until 10.  You —nursing home judge—are paid a flat feet for the day…but considering this  has been the problem year after year, you’d think they’d send out the supplies the afternoon before—or starting at 5:00 a.m.?  That’s what they do for the general election. What are we missing?

We have over 100 people in the nursing home I was assigned to who requested absentee ballots. That means some  registrar went in their & got signatures.  Statistically, there is no way he could have gotten  legal signatures for all who applied—as  a huge  per centage are  demented/addled/confused—and were unable to sign their application for ballot.  They  are not blind.  They all ask for assistance. The only reason you can LEGALLY give assistance (and then, it has to either be someone the voter has requested— or a judge from each party) is that they can’t read/write/or speak English, or have a PHYSICAL DISABILITY.  Since when is confusion a physical disability? But those are the choices you are given on the affidavit.  That adds so much paperwork.  I am shocked that the news media  constantly ignores this issue.  So much vote fraud  is in nursing homes. But does the CBOE want to hear from ME, an experienced judge? No.

We experienced judges ask the NURSING HOME ACTIVITIES DIRECTOR (she is in charge of getting voters down to the  voting)  how many people are NON-AMBULATORY (meaning bed ridden). She told me there were 3—and the investigator from the state’s attorney’s office heard her tell me that.  Meanwhile, at this nursing home, we were assigned 10 judges!.  Only 4 had been to training, the rest had no idea what they were doing & just got in the way.

Now,  the Activities Director knows her residence. she knew how many would need assistance, and she  just didn’t arrange to have aids available.  When we have to assist (& remember–most  residents are ‘confused’), we have to read the entire ballot, slowly, to every resident—including all the judges running for office.  This takes  about 10 minutes or so per voter.  You might be able to remind them that taking a ballot is voting, and ask if they want to vote for judges, but  most do want to vote for judges.  Now, most regular, lucid  voters have no idea who the judges are.  As I do court watch, I at least have an inking of who  the judges are. This is how we get bad judges &  other bad  politicians.    Anyways….at about 11:45 a.m., when we should have been ready  to do all paperwork and turn in a report, the  Activities Director tells us that  about 2o envelopes remaining were from NON AMBULATORY RESIDENTS. Remember, I had asked first thing—& she had said 3. When I  confronted her & told her, “You told me there were just 3!”   She just smiled and turned around. These people were on  4 floors.  We had to send 2 teams of judges—and  personnel from the CBOE  and the State’s Attorney up with us.  We  judges each took 2 floors. Thankfully, nobody asked for assistance (keep in mind,  even though we judges explained to each resident how to do this—in front of the CBOE employees and the State’s Attorney investigator), the fact is, most  people  spoiled their ballots by not being able to follow instructions—which the  board will ultimately find out and toss). The CBOE  employee and state’s attorney lawyer agreed with me—that the Activities director screwed things up and added 90 minutes to our day.

Wait—there’s more!  It seems, remarkably, that our  local politicians forget an election is coming up.  I knew in January  that this primary was coming up, and started posting on Facebook and my listservs that judges were needed.  If you were interested in being a judge, contact the Chicago Board of Elections, as you would have to go for training. We had early voting for 2 weeks, but the weekend before the election, March 15 & 15, our alderman & committeeman for the Democratic party started posting on  our neighborhood listserv that there was a need for REPUBLICAN JUDGES. WTF? Why would Democrats be recruiting REPUBLICAN judges—and 2 days before the election?
The response? 
They were needed!  They were needed to be recruited in January and all through February!  If the Republican committee woman needed help, she should have asked.  Insane!  & I asked  about training, and the alderman said  the CBOE was doing training, Interesting—as I took the last training day I was offered.

Now, as I said, I work a precinct with  generally experienced judges. We have to be at the polling place to set up at 5:15 a.m.  They tell you this when you go for training, and it’s in the judges manual–the polls open at 6:a.m.  Yet we had an inexperienced judge who didn’t show up until 7.  She didn’t pay attention in class, nor did she read he manual.

We also had new equipment:  an electronic pollbook. .  Supposedly, every voter in the city had their data entered in—except, I guess, for 3 who came out, who were in our precinct, had voter registration cards, who were on the printed poll sheets, and  were in the printed application for ballot book (which the CBOE told us not to use).  The printer for the  electronic  book malfunctioned several times when we had voters waiting, as  did the  cards to activate voting on computer.   We of course, had to  plug stuff in to extension cords, but  the  main one doesn’t have an indicator light  to show whether it is off or on—and that caused problems.  Now, we were experienced, and the board assigns a student familiar with the equipment, and we got things  working ok without too much  confusion…but I know (from the poll watchers traveling around) that most precincts did not.

Then—at the end of the day, we are  supposed to CONSOLIDATE the  ballots—the printed ones from the  ballot counter with the  data from those who voted on the computer (the computer is  not just supposed to  diminish paperwork—which it does—but  the data is much easier to see and change—-so if you make a mistake when you are voting, you just go back, you don’t have to ask for a new ballot).  I have never been able to consolidate the ballots on the first try,  and sometimes  we can’t transmit, sometimes it is because of being in a basement, sometimes, it’s because we are too close to Lake Michigan (about 500 feet away—there are no transmitting towers), but this time,  while another judge was in the process of transmitting, another judge accidentally  turned off the power strip,and then we got a computer error when we attempted to restart it.

No matter…been there done that…I said we just take what we have to election central and they can  figure it out. We can’t. that meant the ‘form 80’—the  election results for our precinct which could not go to every political party—was  not totally filled out, Oh, well.

Because we had to schlep so much back to  ‘election central’ (we volunteers have to deliver  supplies and results) it turned out we were not the only ones who ‘forgot’ to bring the electronic book/peripherals, etc., and had to go back for it. I asked, “How about putting a day glo stick on this that says THIS GOES BACK?”  Of course, the judges laughed and agreed with me, but the poll watchers & the CBOE  employees laughed and  responded, “BUT IT’S IN THE MANUAL!”

So we don’t really know who  our precinct voted for.  With all the early voters and  people voting by absentee ballot—  including the nursing home voters,  and such a low voter turn out do you think  the snafus were statistically significant? I  hope you remember when George Bush beat Al Gore.

Is Social Security a Ponzi Scheme?

January 24, 2014

Well,  I  guess, if you consider the way the system works is that we take resources from  one group of people to  enrich another group of people, it is. Since most employees pay in, and not all who pay in live long enough to collect, it could be.    Should this be an issue?  It’s not like it’s a secret that it works on actuarial tables.

We are an urban society.  People no longer live on farms where they grow their own food, or with extended families.  We age and get to a point where we can not work.  In an ideal world, we would have all learned to budget and save money for a  future when we could not work.    We all would have made enough money  working at jobs top do so. We would not have had more children than we could support. We would have made enough to save for retirement.    We could have relied on our living expenses not rising—especuially land rents. Most of us have  learned that we should have  at least  six months of living expenses saved up  for an emergency.  Currently, many of our federally elected officials, not necessarily numerate themselves, who also get  pensions (http://www.factcheck.org/2007/12/congressional-pensions/)  have decided that it is more important to give military foreign aid  to foreign dictators, as well has support a bloated military budget (I do not begrudge soldiers, but  their paraphernalia  and ‘research’), than it is  to fund social security and medicare. Also, while they are complaining about the costs of all this–particularly medicare and medicaid, they do nothing to stop waste and fraud.

When  the Social Security system was initiated during the depression of the 1930’s,  urbanization  had started, and  many old people were losing their farms and  familial support networks.  Most people would NOT  save for retirement if not forced, nor could they make informed investment decisions.  We still are reluctant to even inform ourselves about budgeting, planning, and investing, and more reluctant to delay gratification.  I  continue to be shocked by people under  40 smoking cigarettes, and  people who carry a balance on their credit cards and can’t tell you what they bought.

Now, we hear from the media that the system is unsustainable.   A media controlled by old white men!  The issues are  that our population is not growing—we are not a population pyramid in this country, with many young people.  We are a population column.  At least that’s what they try to have us believe!  It’s too expensive to raise  more than  two kids for most couples.  In fact, most of the urban  world, better educated than  rural people, are choosing to  have smaller families.   The idea that the population is not growing to freed into Social Security is not  the problem, however—just an interesting and  goofy way of framing it.

The problem is that not all wages are subject to Social Security taxes.  The system is  never updated with the cost of living and inflation rxcept for pay-outs.   Were all income taxed, including capital gains, we’d be in fantastic shape.  In fact, if we didn’t allow the politicians to spend out tax dollars on military foreign aid, subsidies to  corporations, including farms, and wars—then claim we have a deficit—we’d be in phenomenal shape.  Also, since we are funding the system with inflated dollars, and salaries are more inflated than they were  when the system started,  were the system equitable,  there would be a huge surplus.  The irony is that the blowhards in Congress—who  do not pay into the system  once they are elected—but  get DEFINED PENSIONS, are telling us what to believe.  Chutzpah!

There is  one more issue: the many  dimwits with no skills, no entrepreneurial mindset, who’ve reached  almost old age, or  have spawned dimwit kids, who go on SSI.  Nobody counted on so many people gaming the system.  The fact of the matter is that if we didn’t pay these people to watch TV, drink,  smoke, and live on junk food, they’d be criminals—robbing us, or we wouldn’t be able to walk dow  a city sidewalk for the beggars.  It’s almost that way in my neighborhood now.    That’s why we have a welfare system–to prevent more of them from being  drains and endangering our lives. Some are good at gaming the system, and get physicians to cooperate. The rest become thugs.

Don’t let them get away with calling Social Security an entitlement.  If Congress can manage to  tax the interest your ‘earnings’ on a  savings account that is now  paying interest of .01%, they can manage to  make all wages/income subject to Social Security.

Show kids the math for life security.

November 1, 2013

I  read an article about Black Millionaires. It addressed the fact that most were entrepreneurial from a very early age and could  do the math.  That is, they could  do calculations quickly in their heads, and figure out if they were making money selling newspapers, shining shoes, walking dogs, mowing yards.  They taught themselves to be good calculators, and how to understand risk.

These people were ‘outliers’ as they  didn’t come from families  who were entrepreneurial….  but there is another  issue.  They had the math skills to do the calculations, and for some reason,  kids today aren’t getting those skills.

There is no reason that a nine-year old  doesn’t know multiplication tables by rote…except that the adults who influence him won’t spend the time insisting he sit down and  study them.  If you can’t do basic multiplication in your head, you are screwed. The first thing any kid should learn how to do is determine how many  diapers an infant goes through in a week, and  how much disposable diapers cost.  No joke.

I have friends who are elementary  school teachers who shrug at the fact that the kids they ‘teach’ can’t make change  for a dollar, and can’t read an analog clock.

We are in a crisis here.  Many of these kids may get into college, but they will drop  out, or graduate not knowing how to do anything.  This is why so many  people carry more debt than they can  pay off.

I started thinking about this, because I am thinking of retiring, and several  people who are financial professionals have told me I have made uncommonly  smart decisions with very little money.  Nice compliment, but  now the issue is that I can retire, but what about the many people around me who think that  they can live on Social Security?  How ‘secure’ will I be if all my neighbors are beggars—or criminals?  Why would this be so?  They will be desperate.

I see so many people  seeing homelessness as a top issue.  Certainly, capitalism and the idea of land speculation  really doesn’t work for  about 90% of the population—but that is not going to change.  so—why would  anyone just keep having children they can’t afford to house, feed, and educate?

If you have traveled in the ‘developing’ world, you know what i am talking about. They are camping at the gates of the rich, who have their own private security .

So, say your  local primary schools aren’t doing the job, and you are innumerate  and don’t have any math skills,  You live from hand to mouth, and want a better existence for your kids. What to do?  Google Khan Academy. Start there.  Good luck!

Say NO to bombing Syria

September 6, 2013

This is going to be quick.  I’ve had a really busy week.  My co-worker broker her wrist & can’t groom dogs….so I am   doing more than double what I usually do…& got a new tenant (and arranged to have trees trimmed so they don’t fall on the house,  donated a bunch of  linens & blankets to a ‘free store’ for the very poor,  arranging to help a local animal shelter…. etc, etc…& am lax on training my own dog…)..

I am shocked that John Kerry, a Viet Nam vet,  thinks bombing Syria is  a logical response to  Assad gassing his people.  I am shocked that President Obama  also thinks this is  logical—-when the rest of the world clearly thinks it’s NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS—OR— KNOWS RUSSIA & CHINA WILL RESPOND THEIR OWN WAY.  They  haven’t thought this through.

Possibly, bombing the airports and  seaports might affect something, but  strategic bombing strikes on civilians…what?  What is the expected outcome if we aren’t moving towards regime change?    &  how do ‘we’ (meaning the USA) know the rebels will treat the citizenry of
Syria any better than Assad?    How do we know that after our air strikes,  Assad won’t resume gas attacks?  Iraq has said they will attack Israel if we attack Syria.  Then what?

& while we’re at it—yes, the gas attacks are  horrible…but why is it ok for North Korea to starve it’s citizenry to death? Why do we still have the embargo against Cuba, which provides  medical care for all  its citizens, but get along fine with  England, another socialist country?

I am really   overjoyed that people are  contacting their  congress people in record numbers to ask questions…and we can  now see that Obama is not as progressive as his base  hoped him to be.

Bernie Sanders  of Vermont  has a current  running response on  http://www.youtube.com that I hope you will check out.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9xEuFcx0cY   I hope I can rant  on something else next week.

Book Review: Leap of Faith, by Queen Noor

August 23, 2013

Queen Noor  (the former Lisa Halaby) is my ‘agemate’.  I remember seeing photos of her  and King Hussein in the newspaper when their  engagement was announced.  I was fascinated that such a young girl ( she was 26 at the time) was choosing to marry such an ‘old’ man  (he was in his 40’s), even if he was a king.  I  also wondered if her father married her off.

Several years ago, I became interested in T. E. Lawrence.  He is  pretty much responsible for the modern Middle East.  So, when I got the opportunity to  read what  the queen had to say, and had the time, I decided to read her memoir.

She is a fascinating woman.  It was not merely chance that she met the king.  Her father was an aviation executive, and of Jordanian descent.  He was friendly with the King.    Lisa had gotten a degree in urban planning and architecture, and was working around the world consulting on airport design.  The king was an avid aviator, it so happened.  She was working for her father  and as a consultant in Amman when the king started pursuing her, but it was a love match.

Although Queen Noor grew up in the United States,  she was a global citizen.  She  took to her new role as wife and stepmother easily, or so she writes.  She  did much to  improve the welfare  of women and children in Jordan, but she was still a royal, and she writes easily of having homes in  England and the USA, as well as multiple residences in Jordan.  So, although she professes concern for the citizenry, she apparently had no problem  jetting around.

The important message from this book—and there is a message, is that  the king wanted peace, but he was saddled with Palestinian refugees and  a difficult Yassir Aarafat.  Also, A neighbor to the west, Israel, that kept encroaching on disputed land.

For those who did not know,  there were no countries here  until after World War I.  It was ‘Palestine’ with no geographic boundaries, because it was Ottoman Empire.  It was T.E. Lawrence, who had  worked on archeological digs  in the years before the war, who learned Arabic, who  worked with  King Hussein’s great grandfather so the
Arabs could rule themselves. One of the  compromises the  old King (or Sheikh) had made was to give a live of land along the Mediterranean to the Jews as long as  the Arabs had a port, thinking this would be Syria and Lebanon.  When Lawrence worked this out, with the  approval of higher ups in the British government (they wanted the cooperation of the Arabs to  get control of the Ottoman lands), he did not know the British had  already agreed to Sykes-Pikot, and were also selling him and the Arabs out to the French.

Were that not bad enough, because the Palestinians were not  the same ‘tribe’ (I hesitate to use the word–ethnic group would  be better) as the Jordanians, they wanted  control  of the land ‘deeded’ to them  between World Wars I  and II.  Many do not know this, but  in some cases, ‘Israelis’ bought land from the  Palestinians, , and in some cases they terrorized the Palestinians off their land.  It is hard for me —as a Jew—to say this—but it is fact.  And, after the 1967 war, they took  control of the disputed  land that was under Palestinian Control.

Ideally, Jerusalem should be a city/state, like the  Vatican, Republic of Srbska in Bosnia, or Lichtenstein, under control of neither Israel, Palestinians, or Jordanians, but  the King of Jordan, as the head of Hashemites, has historical  stewardship of the Mosque in Jerusalem.

Due to  ultra orthodox Jews and right wing hardliners having so much influence in  Israel, and their lobby in the USA, there is  slim chance of this happening, or  of dismantling settlements on the occupied lands—so there will be no peace. And, while many of the old Palestinians are now dead, they instilled in their children remembrance of what they lost.  It would also be ideal to allow the Palestinians to govern themselves. While there are many  educated Palestinians, they  got their educations  as exiles, & the  local population is not educated enough to manage without the help of the  rest of the Arab/Moslem world (that said, when many Palestinians are Orthodox Christians). However,  Israel would be in a terrible way, much less developed, were it not for the very active Jewish lobby in the USA, who are also philanthropists.

This tension was a constant  throughout Queen Noor’s life.  She really concentrates a lot on  her devotion to her husband, and  working for  women’s rights and economic development in Jordan, but says very little about her children.  The book is well-edited and  explains a lot about a  country most of us know little about.    It’s a good, captivating read, and I recommend it.