Archive for the ‘foreign poiicy’ Category

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.

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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.

 

 

 

The 2nd Blog About Going Back to Africa

February 4, 2016

I’ve been doing research almost every day on transport, say, from Mua mission to Mangochi (in Malawi), and places to stay.  Google ‘Lilongwe to Lusaka by bus.’   You can get Lusaka to lilongwe, but not the reverse. Traveling in inland Africa  is so …difficult. Roads are bad, transport is badly regulated, bus companies go out of business or  radically change their routes.

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

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

I paid for the airfare back in June 2015.  I did this after Zambia removed the requirement for a Yellow Fever shot. Having had 3…I would have gone to Hong Kong or  Costa Rica if the requirement was still in place (no word on Zika—now in the news…).

I sent my passport to the Zambian embassy for a visa in October of 2015—before the ‘holiday rush’, and checked the Malawian embassy website—still no visa needed. Apparently the requirements changed  just after I checked the website.  From $0 to $100.  How did I find out? By checking the Peace Corps Malawi Facebook page…someone just happened to post asking if anyone had trouble getting a visa!   This was now the middle of January, 2016.   So, I checked the embassy website again, and sure enough, yes, a visa is now needed. Why?  It’s only fair:  they charge  now for whatever country  charges their ‘nationals’ for a visa, and the USA charges $161.

So, I emailed the embassy.  All the emails bounced back. So I called…and they graciously returned my call, and told me, as the website says, they could get it done in 5 days…and to Fed Ex my passport.  I asked if I could get one at the border, and they said I couldn’t.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but I could picture having to get off a bus at the Zambian/Malawi border, and being asked for $100 & to fill out forms, and a bus not waiting,  and being stuck.

So, I got the application, flight info, photos, passport together and Fed Exed it.  This was on Jan.19.  It got to the Embassy on Jan. 20.  On Jan 28, I called to ask how things were going. Not well. Seems that—due to the blizzard that hit Washington, DC earlier in the week, the embassy had been closed, because the roads had not been cleared (let alone the sidewalks).  But, I was assured that  the passport would be sent out  on Friday, Jan.29.  But it wasn’t.  I checked the  Fed Ex tracking number—for the return envelope I had sent, and it was still sitting there!

Now, I’m frantic.  I can’t get on the plane without a passport.  I called my credit card company, Chase Freedom, because they insure  for ‘trip interruption ‘ when you pay on their card (my airfare).  Ah, no…they never heard of anything like this, but this wasn’t weather related as far as they were concerned. So, then I called the travel insurance company, WorldNomads.net, to see if I was covered.  No, If it is not explicitly listed  in their causes, no.  I am not covered.  I call Emirates asking about penalties for rebooking.
They tell me to call the travel agent to see about fees.  What to do?

I decided to call FEdEx and arrange a pickup at the Embassy for Monday morning. I even offered to pay overnight express.  Funny thing—they say the Embassy has already paid it on my tracking  number!  They just have not set it out!

Here’s the thing:  if your envelop is not ready to go, the Fed Ex driver will not wait.  Due to the embassy people being behind on everything, they  did not see that it was not picked up on Friday, then on Monday, they had a question about the address (I had it sent to a local receiver  due to my running around), but it finally got out Monday night.

So I have a few other questions & continue to email contacts in Malawi. What denomination bills should I get, as the exchange rate is Mkw 726.38 to  $1 USD…and do I need to bring my heavy  electric converter to recharge my cell phone.

You Can’t Miss it!

Since roads are often unmarked (but everyone knows what they are…)

Here’s an example of  directions I got for  Chishawasha Children’s Home outside Lusaka:

From Kathe Padilla: You will probably need to take a bus from the main bus station downtown out Great North road.  About 5 K out of Lusaka (going North) there is a
Police Checkpoint, where all the automobiles and trucks are checked.  A bus may or may not get checked, I am not sure.  Three K beyond that check point
on the left hand side is a large sign for the Chishawasha Children’s Home of Zambia.  It is quite a few years old by now, so it is looking old (presuming
it has not been re-painted since I was there in July of 2015).  Take that road (a dirt road named Minestone road, but there is no sign for the road) and walk
about 4 tenths of a kilometer and you will see the gate, which says Chishawasha Children’s Home and the school itself is visible from the road. FYI the school
is pink)  Go to the guard and tell them that Aunt Kathe invited you to come visit and the guard can direct you to the administration building.  You will want to
talk to Mary or Carol.
Another way of arriving at the same place is:  about 7 K from Lusaka (again on Great North Road a few K past the police checkpoint) there will be a large billboard sign on
the right side of the street for “Spinalong”.  When you see that sign look down the road (going North) toward the left side of the road and pick out the
tallest tree on the horizon.  That tree is located just at the road where you will need to stop (you should see the CCHZ sign before the bus stops).  Againwalk 4 tenths of a K and you will see the CCHZ gate.
Good luck.  It really is quite easy to find.
And….
Directions on getting to  Friendly Gecko Rest House, outside Senga Bay, in Malawi:
Public transport is pretty straight forward from Lilongwe to Salima, and you can get minibuses from the main bus station.  From Salima, you will want to take a minibus, truck, or whatever transport you find towards Senga Bay, but make sure to let them know you want to get out at the Lifuwu turn-off (parachute battalion)If you get lucky, you’ll find a truck going directly to Lifuwu.  If not, when you get to the turn-off you can hire either a bicycle taxi or a motorcycle to bring you to the village.  When you arrive, you can ask anyone where the azungu cottage is, or pay your taxi a little extra to get you to our guesthouse.
And here are directions to Malawi Children’s Village:
I asked:
I plan to  come from the north—from Mua Mission.  If you are closer to Monkey Bay, there is no reason for me to go all the way into Mangochi—especially if I  catch a matola. So—-once I get to Mua, should I take  M10 towards Malemba?”  Then, towards Mzima Bay, or south then towards Club Makolola?
Response: We are south of Monkeybay Mangochi road.  From Club Makokola we are almost 3 kilometers going south.  When you catch Matola just tell them you are dropping at MCV.  Everybody knows this place.  We are looking forward to meeting you soon.

The Blog About Going Back to Africa

January 29, 2016
a colorized version of G.P. Murdock's ethnic map of Africa

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

One of my friends said I had to write about this, as just arranging this trip has been an adventure.  I was  a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi in 1992.  I was a town planner. Peace Corps Volunteers are not supposed to be in politically sensitive positions, and I  actually tried getting another agency (NGO) to pick me up, but the times were  pretty tense, as the European Community was leaning heavily on Hastings Banda (Kamuzu) to allow multi-party elections and a free press.

My job was actually development control…and I was briefly given an assignment  financed by UN Development Programme to organize residents of traditional housing areas (that is, residents of urban communities which allowed  squatter housing, or housing that would not pass building codes) to  have control over their water supply…but that didn’t work out due to the Malawi Congress Party, as well as the Europeans leaning on Banda, and the funding was withdrawn in about four weeks.

In any case, I lived in Blantyre and  at one point, the  Government of Malawi —at least through the office of President and Cabinet, wanted me to take  an illegal action and confiscate some land people had title to.  So, it was stressful.  But now it is  over 20 years later, and I want to not only see how things are, but I want to visit some projects I’ve been supporting (Zambian Children’s Fund in Chishawasha, a bit outside of Lusaka), the Lilongwe SPCA, and the Malawi Children’s Village  outside Mangochi.  I will also visit several other projects, and Victoria Falls in southern Zambia.

 

I paid for the airfare ($1268.36, Emirates Air) back at the end of June, 2015. Yes, the airfare has gone down a bit over $200 since, because the price of fuel has fallen…but that could not be guaranteed, so I really didn’t overpay that much, and I spend the night in Dubai.

Doing research on getting transport had taken up a lot of time, as you can’t get any info  directly from the bus companies, or it contradicts what everyone posts on TripAdvisor and ThornTree/Lonely Planet.  That’s how it is. Unless you  join a formal tour company for a ‘safari’, which is extremely expensive these days, you have to be flexible about how you plan to get around. Thankfully, all the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) now have websites, and their people are very helpful about telling you where to stay and how to get there.  I will get into the itinerary.

I knew I had to get a visa for Zambia ($70 plus the certified letter costs), and I actually was thinking of going to Hong Kong this time  because I didn’t want to have to get another Yellow Fever shot—which was required for some time for visas to either Zambia or Malawi.  A Yellow Fever shot (I’ve had 3) will make you quite sick, and is not cheap—you have to go to a  specific travel medical center to get one, and they not only charge about $150 for the shot, but  $$$ for ‘overhead’.  No thanks.

So I sent my passport off to the Zambian Embassy, and it took them  about  two weeks, or did it?  I sent it USPS certified mail, and I got a notice that it was returned, but since I was not home, I had to go to the post office and stand in line…and then, it turned out the   mail person had ‘forgotten’ to take it out of the bag, so they told me they would deliver it the next day…and did not, so I had to go back on Monday, now having no receipt because I had signed it over, and they found it.  It was very stressful.

So, I’m set, just have to pack, but I am on Facebook (Peace Corps Malawi feed) & someone posts last week : “has anyone tried to get a visa to Malawi now that the rules have changed?” What?  A visa had not been needed for Americans or Europeans  since independence, but now the reciprocal deal is  that if  your country charges their nationals for a visa, they charge you (&  the US charges about $160 to Malawians)…so I tried emailing the embassy in Washington, DC, and none of their email addresses are  good. I downloaded the  application forms, and left a message—and the embassy called me back!  They said I could NOT get a visa at the border, to send my passport Fed-Ex and they would  process it & send it back!  So, that was $100 + the $55 to get it there and back.  HOWEVER, I will point out that the official Malawian Tourism site—run by the government—still has the old, inaccurate information on it.  What are you going to do?   What ended up happening is that I sent it, tried to track it, it got to the embassy, and…sat there because of the huge blizzard.  Most embassy offcies were closed, but I left a message and they told me a few people had gone in and would send it back tomorrow.

I’ve budgeted about  $3000 total for this trip. Some places are set up to take credit cards, which is good, and food and transport are still inexpensive by American standards.This is a 20 day trip including  air transit days. Minus the air fare, that’s $86 a day.  Can I do it?  We’ll see.

Big problem is  I am taking a lot of stuff to leave there. About  five  pounds of fabric to be made into clothes,  about 10 pounds of books  as gifts, and other odds & ends.  I never anticipate bringing that much stuff back, but if i can find  bone or malachite jewelry—or bowls, that would be nice.

So, this will be the last blog for a while.I will be spending all my energy getting around.

 

If I won the lottery…

January 15, 2016

Dash&meNov14There was recently a lottery prize that was worth over a billion dollars (or whatever it is after taxes….a lot of zeroes).  I don’t play the lottery.  I am not a gambler. I like to think I take calculated risks.  However, what would I  do if I had the  money  Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have?

1.  Pay off my mortgage and make a few cosmetic repairs to my house. It’s over 100 years old.  It’s not really laid out well, but it is in an excellent location, being steps from public transportation and Lake Michigan;

2. Set up a fund for the youngsters in my extended family to either pay for school or a business venture.  However…not to pay for something  frivolous. They’d have to submit a plan.  You can study philosophy or art history after you can earn a living doing something (more on that later…);

3.Set up a fund to assist OPEN  ADMISSIONS ANIMAL SHELTERS so they could care for all pets, not pick and choose who gets saved. That said, this fund would also fund humane education which would teach people interested about animal behavior and husbandry, pet training and grooming, but also on  affecting social policy, so we  could address the mindset that just because you have  just one dog (or cat, or whatever) to breed, it doesn’t mean you should not be responsible for the offspring.   I’d work to  create a fund to  make it a state law that says that if you advertise baby animals for sale,  humane people visit you to collect a ‘humane fee’, and so we have your contact info  (meanwhile chipping the animals for sale…) …so if the pets you sell  are given up, you either take them back or pay a humane group to take care of your responsibility;

4. Potable water is a huge problem in much of the world.  There are many reasons for this:  population growth, deforestation…and fracking.  I’d not only fund getting the word out, but I’d sink wells or develop rain water catchment systems in areas where the population agreed to make girls education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) a priority, and fund  that.  Too many resources have gone into boys…and look what a mess men have made of everything;

5.  I’d also fund a ‘No Birth Bonus Scheme’ in  these locations—paying women to not have more than 2 children.  There is NOT enough water to go around.  I’m not talking sterilization or abortion, I’m talking women making a choice  about resources;

6.  I’d put together a venture capital firm to help inventors with prototypes and patents for appropriate technology and pharmaceuticals;

7.  I’d create a fund so my neighbors could make their housing more energy-efficient and get off the grid;

8.  I’d pay a personal trainer to boss me back into shape.  I am actually pretty strong, but you never push yourself as much as a trainer does;

9.  I’d set up a fund for people with autism to take advantage of the new technologies available which make communication easier.

10.  I’d also set up a  fund for kids aging out of the foster care system, for them to get at least associates degrees or start a business. These are the forgotten in our communities…and often, they are destined to be poor, with  compromised social skills.

I am not much for luxury items.  For me, it’s important to have a functional kitchen, and I love my deep bathtub, but jewels and fancy clothes?  Not me.  I have a travel jones.

So, that’s what I’d do with a windfall.  What would YOU do?

 

 

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?

Planning a Trip to Africa for Winter 2016

August 7, 2015
a colorized version of G.P. Murdock's ethnic map of Africa

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

My first trip to Africa was Tanzania,  in 1985.  I found a guy who  booked camping safaris, and he suggested  Tanzania because (he said) “Nobody goes there.”  One reason  people didn’t go was because infrastructure was so bad…and I am told, 30 years later, it still is.  And I’ve learned there are many places in Africa where nobody goes.  I wanted to see the last Eden, which I was told would be gone by now…and it is.  It’s gone because of war, drought, poaching, and rapid population growth.

We Americans  think we know it all, and we think Africa has not developed because of tribalism.  That’s not the reason. The reason  Africa stays without infrastructure is elitism that is fostered by western donors.

There  has never been much material culture in Africa except for the coasts, where land was rich enough to support agriculture and social stratification, and trade was easy.  Go inland, and people are so poor due to  non-arable land, it’s all they can do to eek out a living.   Not much time  is left to pursue the arts.  On the coasts, you’ll find metal working (particularly West Africa), carving, even  bark cloth.  More inland, there is more performance and dancing.

What Americans tend to not understand is that women are the farmers in Africa, but the aid has gone to the men:  men who’ve frittered it away, gambled, drank and  wasted it….  with our help.  Women  do the framing, house keeping, and child rearing.  Men sit around and bullshit.

My 2nd  trip to Africa, to volunteer in Kajiado, Kenya, in Maasailand.  We were at a school run by the African Inland Church (Scottish Protestants), and in our enclave, there was a school for blind boys, a school for  physically disabled girls,and our boarding school for girls.  We went into town  to get some provisions.  I was waiting with a government official (an educated Maasai guy), and we were sitting in a restaurant drinking Fantas.  An older Maasai woman weaved over to the table and started talking to me.  Of course, I couldn’t understand her, and my friend said, “She’s quite drunk, actually.”  It wasn’t even 11 in the morning.  She couldn’t have been older  than 40, but it’s hard to tell.  In her younger days, she might have been the  mtoto sweeping out her boma or tending a fire, but she has kids…maybe even grandkids…to do that now. She had nothing to do but drink.  Where did these pastoralists get money to drink? Selling jewelry to tourists.

After graduate school, I joined Peace Corps, and was assigned to be a town planner in Malawi. At first, it looked like I was going to be sent to Mzuzu in the north, but when I got to training, I was told I was going to Blantyre.  BT was the industrial capital of the country.  It was a relatively old city, with a population  of  about 400,000 at the time, and it was essentially ‘planned out’ by the  Scottish/British. Due to a racist dynamic,  there were areas zoned where Indians could not  buy land.  However, they were clever, and due to their political organization, they ended up with the best infrastructure.  I had just gotten my masters degree in urban planning, and what a great place to see how things actually turn out.

AIDS was a huge problem in the  early 1990s. Due to government policy, less than 35% of the population of Malawi was literate, and fewer than 15% of households had  radios.  All information was via rumor. There was a 25 to 90% incidence of HIV, depending on how close you lived to a paved road.  There were many factors  causing this, but the main one was poverty.  It wasn’t like the USA and Europeans were not sending  development aid.  It was  just not  monitored and it was mis spent.

I was able to make a brief visit about  two years after my Peace Corps service, after there had been a multi-party election.  It looked like the economy had improved.  Many more women were having their hair relaxed (a large expense in households making under $4000 a year), and more people were wearing shoes.  However, the U N had moved in Somali refugees, and they walked around with rifles.

I have not been back in  over 20 years.  I have been supporting Malawi Children’s Village, the Zambian Children’s Fund (in Lusaka, Zambia), and there were  things I never got to see while I lived in Malawi.

I plan to fly into Lusaka, take a bus to Lilongwe (visit the Lilongwe  SPCA while there), get transport to Mua Mission to see their pottery works, get transport to Dedza to see Dedza pottery…then get transport  down to Mangochi to visit the Malawi Children’s Village.  From Mangochi, I hope to  spend a day in Blantyre & see what the Chinese are doing, Then catch a bus —I hope to Lusaka….but I may have to  go back up to Lilongwe and  go back around.  Then, back in Lusaka, I plan to make it down to Victoria Falls.

The roundtrip airfare with taxes is in the $1500 range.  $100 per day should be more than enough for expenses.  I am not going on a safari, but if anyone wants to join me, there will be an opportunity in Zambia.

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.