Archive for the ‘foreign policy’ Category

OMG!!!! We May Have a Socialist for President!!!

February 25, 2020

Saigon, Viet Mam. socialism….

Back in eighth grade, in the last century, we learned about socialism and communism. We pretty much were taught that it was the same thing. We were not taught anything about economics, but that these were forms of government. It wasn’t until I was radicalized (the Conspiracy Seven trial taking place in Chicago did a lot to convince me to educate myself) did I learn that ‘democracy’,  ‘dictatorship’, and ‘monarchy’ are forms of government. Those other terms are types of economic philosophies.

After reading Marx and Engels, I thought I was a Marxist, but as I matured, I realized that they were writing about the times and what they had experienced. We also learned that Marx never appeared to have worked a real job, and was supported by Engels, his father-in-law. That’s not really cogent, but it helps to have a context and realize that never has there been an ‘all or nothing’ economic system in any government.

What I did learn was that basic economics is basic economics. To have a business, you need materials, labor, overhead costs, promotion/’marketing, and profit. How much is allocated to each is a personal choice (unless you are a cooperative)…but without profits—a surplus, you can’t reinvest, and chances are, you can’t sustain yourself. It doesn’t matter what the economic system is. Add taxes to the mix—that’s where we get into controversy.

I have a degree in urban planning. That doesn’t make me smart, but it does mean I’ve explored what a public ‘good’ is, and why we need them to have economic vitality in our communities.

In the early 1900s in the USA, urban areas were becoming crowded, and due to population density coupled with no knowledge of disease vectors, people were getting sick with cholera, flu, all sorts of icky things. Lots of it had to do with no access to unpolluted drinking water, but sewage was a big issue as well. If you’ve ever visited a less-developed country (compared to the west—especially India), you still see people urinating and defecating all over. People with influence started addressing public health to elected officials.

Of course, the response was (as it is in Trump’s America) “Why should I care?” These politicians seemed to think that diseases would not affect them and their families. Well, they do. Nobody is immune to air and water-born diseases. That’s why you should care.

Do you think public education is expensive? Libraries are a waste? Public hospitals? How about roads, public water supplies, communications infrastructure? When public ‘goods’ as these things are called, are distributed equitably, you have less crime and less disease. The problem is, our politicians have always been racists, and public goods have never been distributed equitably.

Ther are some people, like followers of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, who think the invisible hand of capitalism always keeps things going smoothly—but it doesn’t. if you study environmental science, you learn about the ‘law of the commons’: the ‘commons’ used to be public area where people could graze livestock. What happened is that some wealthy people grazed more livestock than others on a finite parcel of land, pushing out poorer owners of livestock, and in the end, due to lack of stewardship, the ‘commons’ became barren and could support no livestock at all. That’s what happens when you don’t have laws reining in the  bulliesmore powerful.

The USA had gone through many economic depressions when capitalism got out of whack: goods became too expensive because the owners of the means of production valued exorbitant profits over the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. A particular cause was land speculation, but also gambling—I mean investing in a future of profit based on nothing real. if you look at the history of stock markets, the concept is there so people who have faith in a company or industry—without really knowing how those who manage the industries behave can share in profits. That’s for real. That doesn’t change.

When FDR became president, we were in a profound depression. There would be no way out without using the Keynesian idea of the government investing in the economy. Obama did this as well. But FDR floated the idea of Social Security for old people and paying taxes to fund it.

Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare law  https://www.medicareresources.org/basic-medicare-information/brief-history-of-medicare/ when Rep. John Conyers (rep from Michigan)actually introduced the idea of single-payer. Johnson & Congress knew the health insurance industry would NEVER ALLOW that & we got Medicare for seniors. The Health Insurance industry continues to lobby our congresspeople about how awful single-payer would be—-as though they manage things any better!

It appears Senators Jackson and Miller started the ball rolling for the EPA : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Environmental_Protection_Agency#History, signed into law by Richard Nixon. Lots of people younger than 60 do not remember how bad out air and water had been. Certainly, Trump doesn’t, but he was most likely living ina high rise or fed bottled water. No matter. Public health improved and our economy continued to thrive. That is, until speculators started an inflation bubble again.

In any case, these were all considered radical socialist ideas. And look: now we consider these ideas, investing in the public good, as rational, not radical at all. We have a homeless problem in our country. No matter what the cause—mental illness, drug abuse, poor planning…homeless people affect us all. We’d all be safer and healthier if we didn’t have people sleeping, urinating, and defecating on our streets.

So here we are, and it’s 2020, and  we have a bona fide socialist—Bernie Sanders—a Jew, no less, campaigning on public goods. We all know what he wants, and for many of us who have been affected by Trump’s far-right agenda, Bernie’s ideas sound better…except to the people who fled socialist countries, or who have been miseducated.

First of all, Bernie will have to deal with Congress, and if Mitch McConnell is still in the Senate, he won’t be able to do anything unless we also elect a Democratic congress. That’s a fact. Even so, everyone will ask, where will we get the money to implement our dreams?

I suggest we all start looking at our foreign aid budget which is put together by lobbyists. No joke. We give bazillions to both Egypt and Israel—which they repackage to win friends and influence other countries. Why should Israelis have single-payer health care & not Americans? You’d weep if you knew how much we’ve spent on the war in Afghanistan—and they still can’t manage a corruption-free democracy. I can go on and on:  https://www.newyorker.com/books/ask-the-author/ask-the-author-live-dexter-filkins-on-afghanistan.

Israel, England, and Sweden are socialist economies, and capitalism is thriving.  The socialist or mixed economies where socialism is not thriving tend to be one-party  states.  Google it.  So don’t tell yourself your choices are between sliding down a razor blade banister or being boiled in oil. Calm down….because if you choose to not vote,  we are giving  Trump four more years to ignore the countries needs, lie,  be corrupt000as he has proven to be…and destroy the natural environment, That last thing—y9ou know, the climate change thinging—we will never recover from.

 

 

 

Can RPCV Influence Foreign Policy?

January 1, 2020

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

In 1992, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer  (PCV) serving as a Town Planner in Blantyre, Malawi.  This was a very tumultuous time in Malawi history…the end of an era.  PCVs are not supposed to be in ‘politically sensitive’ positions, but there I was, tasked with encouraging residents of ‘traditional housing areas’ (unplanned, squatter communities) to organize to develop recycling programs,  working on development control issues,  enforcing planning guidelines,  and making sure regular city services were provided.   I also was tasked with taking over records and rent collections for public housing in my geopolitical area—‘Local Authority,” from Malawi Housing Corporation.   I was told to do all this by the ODA—Overseas Development Assistance. This was the British equivalent to  USAID funding  Malawi government operations.

Lots was going on.  The ‘European Community’ was putting pressure on Hastings ‘Kamuzu’ Banda to allow for a free press and to schedule multi-party elections.  Corruption, of course, was endemic.  Just about everything I did was being sabotaged by a government employee who feared I would uncover a major corruption plan that worked very well for himself and a few friends.    Business people who had ties to the Malawi Congress Party constantly complained that I was meddling. 

I tried to get others to take responsibility for some of my more unpopular, but clearly legal, decisions, but I was the only one who really was not in danger of being ‘disappeared’.

‘.

What I really wanted to do was make a difference.  I had two plans that would have really helped low-income residents of the city townships set their communities on the road to sustainability:   One plan was to give them rate (real estate tax) rebates for planting fruit trees and buying energy-efficient ceramic lined cookstoves.  The other was for them getting titles—  recording their plot ownership—with nobody being allowed to own more than one plot in a Traditional Housing Area (to prevent people from becoming absentee landlords).

Unfortunately, there was no political will.   With the squeeze on for political reforms, foreign aid was frozen.  The Malawi Kwatcha was devalued by over 30% (although government high-level managers were immediately compensated with raises), causing a general strike.

 I was finally threatened by a Host Country National, who complained directly to Peace Corps, because I had demonstrated that I had the capacity to take down illegal developments.

30 years have passed.  I visited Malawi three years ago.  Not much has changed, and what has changed has increased social stratification. Yes, more people have access to credit, but deforestation and overfishing are really taking a toll.  Social indicators have barely improved, but even very poor rural people have access to cell phones..

I believe that once most PCVs have a base in the place where they are serving, they realize that good intentions are not enough.  In some cases,  teachers are really making a difference.  In other places, volunteers are being used as  ‘place fillers’ or technical support, and underlying issues are not being addressed.

I started thinking about this again, just recently, when Ambassador Daniel Foote, our man in Zambia, said what needed to be said:  This is an excerpt from a report on National Public Radio:   ”…..  it started last month with this court ruling where they sentenced two men to 15 years in prison for having sex with each other. The ambassador said he was “horrified” by Zambia’s jailing of same-sex couple Japhet Chataba and Steven Sambaand.  The Zambian government basically told him to mind his own business. And Ambassador Daniel Foote then unloaded. He released a diplomatic statement, that I have seen, you know, few as pointed as this one was.

And he said that the U.S. had saved more than 1 million lives in Zambia with just its HIV programs, and then he went on to accuse the government of being hypocritical, of outright stealing millions of dollars intended to go to important welfare programs. He said that while the corrupt officials doing that don’t even get a slap on the wrist, two men having sex get 15 years in jail. And then he said that everyone should just stop pretending that the U.S. and Zambia have cordial relations.”

 

Long story short,  “…..Zambian President Edgar Lungu was seething mad, and he essentially declared the ambassador persona non grata, and the U.S. had to pull him out of the country.” Oh, btw (from Wikipedia) In 1992, Foote became a Peace Corps volunteer in Sopachuy, Bolivia.

We do-gooders, American citizens,  naively believe our foreign policy upholds human rights and fights corruption. We also believe we are donating money so people can get on the road to both economic and environmental sustainability.  This would be laughable were it not so tragic.  How can Peace Corps Volunteers serve in countries with so little regard for basic human rights?  Certainly, our gay brothers and sisters are not safe.

We all come to consciousness about what is ‘right’, ‘fair’ and ‘tolerable’ in our own time.  Many of us do not remember legal racial discrimination, or that inter racial relationships were illegal in many parts of the USA.  Many of us have never heard the expression that “Rights are never given. They are always taken.”

Going back a bit further, in the USA many women (and people of color) could not get access to contraception without the permission of a husband, or credit without a man co-signing (I have personal experience with this).

Now, many of us might laugh at how stupid and unfair, even counterproductive such laws were.  They were developed by (white) men who wanted to legally restrict those not like themselves.

Is there not a PVC who has not said, “If only the policymakers acted with integrity”?

Being from Chicago, where we had a political machine for over 60 years, I’m in no position to say whether a country is more or less corrupt than where I live.  Because I’ve traveled, I’ve experienced being with people who live in communities that have benefited by the mindset that when wealth is shared and opportunities are equalized, everyone benefits.

How can we tell where the policies of equalization work?  We can look at the improvement of social indicators since the end of WWII, with the correlation of the introduction of Peace Corps Volunteers into countries.  Why is it literacy rates, improvements in infant and maternal mortality, flourishing communications infrastructure,  and access to credit in places like Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and Costa Rica have improved life outcomes in those countries, as well as economic growth, but Nigeria, Mauritania, Malawi, India, and Bangladesh still have such a high percentage of people living in poverty, with no in improvement in social indicators?  Obviously, it is not just a lack of political will, but being rewarded with foreign aid no matter how corrupt they are.  We used to justify this because they weren’t ‘communist’ countries, but what does that really mean?

I’ve joked that the Danes should be in charge of all foreign aid, because, according to Transparency International, Denmark is the least corrupt country on the planet. hpps://www.transparency.org/cpi2018

Is it really too much to ask for transparency, a free press, and respect for RULE OF LAW?  Shouldn’t foreign assistance of any kind ( that is not humanitarian or crisis aid) be linked to accountability and ‘best practice’?

What good does it do us as volunteers when we ignore human rights abuses?  We look disingenuous.

Obviously, the Trump Administration, with his bloviating over the corruption in  Ukraine, isn’t really concerned about corruption in other countries, or even are own when  ‘swamp dwellers’ as most of us would have identified them have been put in charge of government agencies and purses.  Isn’t it time that we, who have served,  address our responsibilities as global citizens?

I am sure most of us who are not involved in the sausage-making wonder on what basis it is that funding is offered to any foreign country. The late George Crile, in his book, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” described in well-researched detail who got what and why over  30 years ago.  Not much has changed:  From the Rapid City, South Dakota, Journal, we got  an interesting piece of information that  Crile addressed: https://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/sd-republican-leader-receives-k-monthly-for-pro-saudi-arabia/article_b1352b18-3685-5515-b103-05f3536fcbbe.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=user-share&fbclid=IwAR0EnV8VdpFBTcT1uR3KjUDZxVu2_AVPMi5n_npBX9wKcvU5NOMXLYE8zQ8

Now, granted, Dan Lederman is not an elected official. He is merely a lobbyist for a foreign country and also happens to be the head of the GOP  in…South Dakota.  One has to wonder how he got connected to the Saudis, but never you mind.  This is how our foreign aid budget is allocated.   Can you say Quid Pro Quo?

Thankfully, now that we have the internet, it is easier for all of us to get this information in a timely fashion.  But  I also know that because so many  PCVs returned disillusioned, and feel that we can’t overcome this, they’ve become less politically active.

I think the ideas of accountability and sustainability, as well as respect for human rights should now be part of the discussion. We are invited by host countries to serve. We’ve demonstrated our value.  Shouldn’t Peace Corps state that this is what we want in return?

Refugee Children

June 22, 2018

I am generally uncomfortable around a gang of children.  I can manage  one to one conversations, but  a bunch of  kids under age 5 leaved me flummoxed.   There are a number of reasons I never had children of my own.  My parents  didn’t seem to be overly thrilled with the four of us.  I could see how much work a child would be, and what if I bore a handicapped child?  It was all I could do to keep myself afloat.  I had thought at some point I might foster, but when I looked at the economics of it, and the time constraints on all other activities, I knew I couldn’t manage this.

I was able to become a Peace Corps Volunteer because I didn’t have children.  In the country I served in, Malawi,  about 10% of the people living in country were refugees, mostly from Mozambique. And since everyone was dirt poor, it made no difference.  People farmed what they had as best they could.  I could not  imagine the strain of uprooting, the fear.  After I was out of Peace Corps, the Rwandan genocide happened, and there was ethnic cleansing in Bosnia,  I’ve met a lot of refugees.  You have to admire their determination.

But, in 2018, in the United States, the President—Trump—and the Republicans have turned desperate people into evil-doers.  I’ve met so many white Americans who think these people should ‘get in line’ & not cross ‘illegally’.  Americans  have no idea how many wealthy people ‘jump the queue’ and , while it is legal, they have often cheated people  in the countries they came from & continue to do so.

First of all, if you own a small business, you constantly meet foreigners who came ‘legally’ & overstayed their visas…who then finagle. Virtually all these people speak English and have  friends/relatives who might sponsor them, and they are mostly white, so they have a leg up.

Now, imagine you can’t read, and you don’t have access to a radio or TV…or the television stations are run by  your government.  You get all your info as either rumor or propaganda.  Men come to your community and know you are vulnerable, and they harass and threaten you and your children. Maybe your  husband has gotten into debt with them, or killed one of them, or caused 1 to lose a job. Your government won’t help you.  Worse, your government has been getting aid  from the USA (my government) to strengthen ‘civil society’ but has never been asked for an accounting.  The rumor is to go north to the USA ans ask for asylum.  You don’t know that there are ‘official crossing  points’.  You just go.  You are walking with  very young children.  Are you walking a mile?  No.  10 miles?  No.  You are walking hundreds of miles with kids, risking your lives, because  you would for sure be hurt or killed had you stayed.  You’re dealing with  finding food, a place to sleep, maybe transportation.  Gambling with the odds?  These people don’t know from the odds.  Can you imagine being this desperate?

Then, for reasons you don’t understand, you are separated from your children & told to wait.  So many Americans really believe these refugees knew they were breaking the law and would lose their kids.  Not true.  So this serves as no deterrent.

And can you imagine the terror of the children—some so small they can’t speak any language?  I remember the terror and panic I experienced  several times as a child. I am in my 60s and I still remember the physical feelings.

So, in the name or ‘rule of ‘law’ we have traumatized thousands of people for no other reason than enriching a  major GOP donor who charges my government over $700 a night per person to incarcerate them.

My government is raiding  Social Security & Medicare—-monies taken out of our paychecks for  security in the future, to pay for the  lavish lifestyle and  wants of their  leader…the president…and trying to make us think this all benefits us American citizens.  We should really be ashamed that we allowed the president to lie about this.

Vacations for Animal Lovers

May 13, 2016

Pariah dog sleeping at Ephasus in turkey

Pariah dog sleeping at Ephasus in turkey

My passion is  working with animals.  From  before I could read, I knew volume #7 of the Encyclopedia Britannica had the dog pictures.  I used to love  pulling it out and looking at the dog pictures.  Growing up, I lived in a very middle class suburban (Skokie) neighborhood, where, if people had dogs, they were behind fences.  If I saw someone walking a dog, I went crazy. Part of this obsession was because my parents wouldn’t let us have a dog until we were  mature enough to take care of one.  My father  owned his own business,and my mother  had four kids  under 7 years old. Looking back, I  totally understand the logic.  What happened, however, was that my sister and I  took every dog book we could find out of the library. We finally got  our first dogs when I was  nine-years-old.  We  taught that dog all sorts of things.  I took every opportunity I could find to work with dogs. I learned to groom dogs.  I have also titled my pet dogs in performance.  When you work with dogs, you learn your limits.  At one time, I wanted to own a kennel and have a bunch of my own dogs.  When I started working in kennels, I learned that it is  hard to give quality time to more than a few dogs. So many dogs need homes, and many without homes need advocates. What could I do?  If I fostered a dog, I would be cutting into the quality time I spend with my own dogs. and it would change the dynamic in our household.  So, I looked for opportunities where I could help others who  care for pets needing help.

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA. in Malawi

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA. in Malawi

There are many ways to help when you  can’t foster or adopt another pet.  Most shelter and rescues need help with accounting, marketing, and fund-raising, as well as recruiting  other volunteers.  Here in Chicago, I volunteer as a court advocate for  http://www.safehumanechicago.org  This means, when someone is charged with an animal related crime (neglect, cruelty, or dog fighting are the common ones), I go to court to make sure the judge knows that the community has an interest in this case.  Mostly, it is just being there.  We let the  prosecuting attorney know  we are there, and they make sure the judge knows we are there if the  courtroom is crowded. The police making the arrest also know that we are there.  This makes everyone take animal crime more seriously. Another thing I do is support pet rescues, especially pet rescues in  developing countries.  Now, due to the internet, where you can google ‘animal shelter/country, you can get linked up with  animal lovers in  most places.  In many places, you can even volunteer. I volunteered , via Cross Cultural Solutions, to work with a community based group in New Delhi, India, and some people told me about Frendicoes.  Friendicoes mostly does trap/neuter/release, and has a small shelter.  Virtually all the animals they have are pariah dogs and cats:  that is, they are true street  animals, and really not suited to be pets. Several years ago, I visited Turkey. Via networking, I was able to get in touch with  the people who run the Forest Sanctuary, outside Istanbul.  They had about 100 dogs at the time we visited.  Western Turkey is becoming very urbanized, but the Turks, for the most part, never  kept dogs in their homes.  Also, like impulsive people all over, many  buy dogs and tire of them.  Those involved in rescue are very pragmatic.  They do trap/neuter/release (and one reason for the  protest over loss of park land in Istanbul several years ago was not just  over loss of open space to a shopping mall…but loss of habitat for the street dogs and cats), but also care for  dogs at the Forest Sanctuary outside of the city. They work with a Dutch rescue, and ship many dogs suitable for homes to Holland. I’ve also  visited  ‘shelters’ in Hoi An, Viet Nam (http://www.vnanimalwelfare.org/category/slider/) , and both Lilongwe and Blantyre, in Malawi.  They all welcome volunteers.  Soi Dogs, in Thailand not only needs volunteers, but  people who can accompany a dog (as a courier)  from Thailand to the USA.  The Sighthound Underground and Galgos del Sol also need couriers, and you can volunteer to work in the Galgo kennel in Spain. There are also  animal shelters in more ‘vacation oriented’ places.  http://www.animal-kind.org  can put you in touch with  many shelters needing assistance.  So can Norah Livingstone: http://www.animalexperienceinternational.com/aboutus.html.  World Vets:  http://worldvets.org/volunteer/upcoming-projects/  has volunteer opportunities in  Central America and southern Asia.  If you are more the type who  just wants to observe, or maintain habitat, Earthwatch http://earthwatch.org/has programs, many involving habitat conservation or observation of animal behavior, overseen by scientists. Meeting  other animal lovers and sharing information is a great way to spend vacation time.

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.

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.

Start the year off right—support education of girls

January 3, 2013

I first because interested in development issues, and why  some countries are so poor, when I  took my first strip to Africa in the 1980’s.

Now, the issues is confused (I won’t say complicated) because you can’t just invest in education, as Julius Nyerere did in Tanzania.  You really have to invest in infrastructure for economic development, too.

I noticed the contrast between Tanzania & Kenya.  Years later, I witnessed the contrast between Thailand and Cambodia.

But I don’t want to make this too complicated.  I support several groups that  educate orphans in Africa, and there are a few I do not support.  However, it’s up to YOU to decide who is effective, and who is not.

Women’s Global Education Fund.  Google them. This was started by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Senegal & Kenya, and wanted to provide further educational opportunities  to girls who completed primary school.  The   American supporters are mostly in the metro Chicago Area, and hold a could of fund raisers every year. They do a great job, & provide scholarships to several girls every year.l  I like them, but they are  actually barely making a dent int he problem….unless they  would insist the girls return to their communities and educate more girls. They are not at that point yet.

Zambian Children’s Fund. Google them.  This  orphanage and school is in Lusaka Zambia and was started by an American woman, Kathe Padilla, who had visited there.  She pretty much single-handedly  got land, built a school and small home, and got  Americans to support the project.  But she also recognized that  the project had to be supported by the local community, so she worked to get their support, and after about 10 years, managed to get a local board to sustain the project, which also turned in to a vocational school and several income generating projects.  I’ve been sending them kids clothing, books, and  first aid supplies for years, and am happy to see them  thriving.

Malawi Children’s Village, in Mangochi, Malawi .Google them:  this project was started by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers a little over 20 years ago, initially envisioned as an orphanage. However, the people in the local community wanted to keep their extended families together, & asked for help with a school and water wells.  Because of this local community support, they  have a library, a vocational school, and every child who advances a grade in school has his or her school fees paid.  We will see in the next several years what the economic impact on the region actually is.

Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy in South Africa. Google it. It’s a paradox, really.  Oprah grew up poor, had a child as a teenager (it died), furthered her education  and was in the right place at the right time. I know she genuinely wants to give back, but now that she’s an elite, her thinking has become slightly clouded.
She picks and chooses the girls who attend this  school, thereby creating a class of elites. I doubt any of the girls who graduate will be as altruistic, but time will tell.

Link Community Development.  This is a nonprofit that started in Scotland.  The Sottish, via the African Inland Church, have always supported education in Africa.  However , he problem remains that  educational policy in most of Africa is very  bad.  It actually prevents leaders from emerging unless they have political connections. Link actually addresses issues of curriculum…in Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Malawi. I can’t imagine a less sexy but more important aspect of education than curriculum development. It’s just going to take a very long time to collect the data on the impact they  are making.  The problem with LINK, is that  they are not addressing  the problem of who co0ntrols the  educational system in each country, and the issues of  social status, and who is allowed to advance in school, what ethnic groups keep their children out of Western education.  Who makes sure the curriculum is not biased towards a Eurocentric/developed world view of what is important? Elizabeth Marshal Thomas addressed this very issue in her ethnography. Warrior Herdsmen, published in 1965.  Curriculum doesn’t matter at all if traditional people who can support themselves don’t trust what is offered, or find it irrelevant.

Now, you can send money and you can go visit  some of the schools and projects, but first…do you know how science and math are being taught in YOUR local school?  In Chicago, we have several charter schools and technical (Chicago Public Schools) that address math, science, and computer skills. We have The Young Women’s leadership Charter School,  in Chicago.  I suspect it isn’t an urgent issue to many of us if we don’t have kids in schools, but think:  if kids don’t learn life skills, they becomes thugs and a drain on society.  it is also statistically proven that when you educate girls, they have a profound impact on their communities…much greater than men have, because women do educate kids. Think about it.

Book Review: Travel as a Politcal Act, by Rick Steves

July 12, 2012

In 2005, I took a ‘package tour’ to Morocco with a company I had used before, to travel to Thailand. The Thai trip was the best vacation I ever had, because they guides were phenomenal.  So, based on that experience, I booked this particular tour.  Well, while the guide as  ok, he really discouraged  the participants from checking things out on our own.  I wanted to  visit a small market outside a bazaar, and he would not let me. Not only that, he  steered us to some less than ethical carpet and leather  dealers.  I was very discouraged.  Why didn’t I just  go out on my own instead of booking a tour?  I didn’t have that much time, and the travel arrangements  in country can be daunting.

Not all ‘package tours’ are like this. You can now check Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor and get good information.  Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw.

If you haven’t heard of Rick Steves, you don’t watch public television, nor are you interested in travel.  The guy is a genius. He turned his love of travel into  a great business, informing people, mostly interested in Europe, about how to find not just cheap places to stay and  interesting things to see and do, but how to really get the most out of their travel experience.

Published in 2009, with what I think of as a somewhat controversial title, I was immediately intrigues because….I don’t think of Rick Steves as the type to court controversy.  He doesn’t want to scare people.  He wants them to be adventurous.

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, myself, I feel travel is a political act if  you really try to take advantage of every opportunity.    I am recomending this book because  it’s a little class in  what kinds of things you should consider about your own values, and the  cultures you will experience while traveling. There are 9 chapters, and all are about places and issues that  are ‘oblique’ or ‘counter’ to  our  national mindset…particular his chapter on how Europeans  deal with drug abuse.

One thing that most Americans don’t understand is how heavily influenced our government policies are NOT by  us citizens, but by  organizations with an economic interest.

I also know that the economic interests use media in a more sophisticated manner than most people  realize.  We are   so subtly influenced about what is right and what is fair than we care to admit.

This book would be a great gift for anyone contemplating travel. It is  well written, easy to understand, has great photos, and gives great information in a very compact place.

T. E. Lawrence, The novel Exodus, and the history of Israel & the Middle East.

January 12, 2011

This is an update to a blog I  wrote on T.E. Lawrence last year.  I have since read another biography  of  him that  was  better footnoted  regarding the actual dynamics of what occured  during his service (during World War 1), and, at the same time, I was reading Leon Uris’ book , Exodus, which is a historical novel.

Have you ever taken a survey and been asked, “If you could meet any person  from history, who would it be?”  I never had a good answer for that until I read a biography (and since have read several) of T.E. Lawrence—-Lawrence of Arabia.

What an interesting man!  He was always haunted that his parents never married (his mother was the nanny his father ran off with—& had 4 more children with), and pursued a liberal arts education, dabbled in publishing, was an accomplished artist/illustrator, and  due to luck, fell into an early archeology gig in the Middle East.  He learned Arabic, because he wanted to know the people he was living among.

To know his story, is to know why things are such a disaster in the Middle East (for those of us in America, anyways).  He joined the British military  at the start of World War I  to serve his country.  He had extensive experience by then in the Middle East—what was then the Ottoman Empire, and he aimed to bring  the people of the region to cooperate with the British. Why?  He was convinced (misled?) that after the was over, & the region won from the Turks, that the Arabs would be allowed to govern themselves.  From reading several sources, it is somewhat unclear whether it was  the military, or the foreign office who misled Lawrence into believing that Feisal Hussein would be ruling what would become Syria.  For some reason,  2 well placed elitists, Sykes in Britain, & Picot in France, put together an agreement that after the war was over, France would have a stake in the middle east. There is no indication that the French shed any blood…it was an agreement between colonialists who felt that the Arabs were too immature as a race to govern themselves.

Due to the Sykes-Pickot agreement with France, the British handed over what was Syria & Lebanon to the French…for no good reason.  Then they proceeded to divide up the rest of the region artificially  partly to placate Lawrence and hand out spoils to his Arab friends.  Persia was divided into Iraq & Iran, India was carved up.  Afghanistan, which had never been a real place except to say it was the land surrounded by so many other lands, was  instituted as a ‘country’ as we know it.  It was never governable as a region.

Israel was developed. and there is a lot of evidence that the people Lawrence worked with had no problem with this part of Palestine being handed over to the Jews.  After all, there was TransJordan, and they thought there would be access to the Mediterranean Sea via Syria & Lebanon.  &—had that happened, that would have been the end of it. Peace in the Middle East. But the British handed over the area to France, and they were not going to let the  people their govern themselves.  What is also interesting to me is that while Uris’ book is a historicalnovel, and generally accurate, he really misinterprets the agreement that the Zionists came to with Feisal Hussain.  The Arabs sold the Jews  most of the land they bought—& willingly.  Of course, they did so thinking they would have Lebanon & Syria immediately.

You would think that the British would be embarrassed by this history, but  they’ve decided to forget their role in the  horror.

For some reason, the American government does not hold the British or French responsible any longer.  For all the money we’ve poured into the region, not only in terms of energy development, but  to keep them from killing each other (don’t get me started on lives —but people join the military on their own), we could be energy independent by now, and  we could also have universal health care like the British, French, & so many other countries.  Nobody knows why there’s a deficit. Hello!

You  would think someone in the State Department would have the integrity to say to the Israelis, “Look, what you have here is not a democracy, and you keep encroaching on the land of others. Why should we keep paying for this?  No more money!.  & you—the Egyptians—start collecting your property taxes. All along the Nile are little cities and towns with unfinished buildings.  Luxor  is shocking.  You allow this. You don’t tell the building owners to pay their taxes, that they’ve left the buildings unfinished long enough.  You send your physicians to the rest of Africa and import them from Malaysia.  No more money”.

Oh, what happened to Lawrence?  He was so embarrassed and demoralized by what his government had done to his friends, the Arabs, that he declined to work for the government.  He rejoined the  military  a couple of times as an enlisted man.  He actually did some inventing while serving.  He translated the Odyssey (and his translation is still widely read).  He wrote “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” and became a legend due to promoter Lowell Thomas.  He was ultimately killed in a motorcycle  accident in his early 40’s.

&—I think we all know how the Middle East turned out.

I Am Not A Very Good Anti-War Activist

October 26, 2010

Do you remember the Viet Nam War? It was the first war ‘televised’.  Little did we know how  news editors  manipulated images and feeds from the U.S. government to shape public opinion about the war.

For those of you too young to remember the Viet Nam War… Viet Nam had been a French colony, and when the French were edged out by the Viet Namese, the French actually convinced the U.S. government that  the country would go COMMUNIST unless we Americans aided the loyal opposition.

We had no idea how organized they were, or if they had real support throughout the country, but  it appeared they had support of the southerners, and so, there became a North Viet Nam and a South Viet Nam.  With no proof of anything, a few  key players convinced our politicians, and  our State Department thaw—with military support from the U.S., ‘we’ could win  what was actually a civil war, and prevent the whole Indochinese region from….’going communist’.

I got to thinking about this because I was listening to This American Life and the  very compelling  story, Iraq  After Us.  Here is the link, so you can listen yourself:  http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/416/iraq-after-us

We Americans are s arrogant. We are so cock-sure we are right and moral and  infallible.  We do a piss-pour job educating ourselves—and we admit it—but get into a frenzy when out politicians—most of whom are NOT deep thinkers and whom we don’t trust, convince us that we and our way of life are under attack, and we must kill them before they kill us.

So…what do we do?  We send muddled thinking volunteers who fall for this propaganda to get themselves either killed or mutilated, or mentally screwed.  We didn’t learn from the Viet Nam experience  (the fact is, that many of those who remember it are not respected.  We are written off as old and out of touch), and  the media plays into this.  Every soldier is a hero.  It isn’t their fault things go wrong.  They couldn’t get jobs and had families to support AND—they are protecting our way of life.

Our way of life?  You mean the right to go bankrupt when you  are unlucky enough to contract a chronic illness?  Or to be paying off school loans on a degree you were led to believe would always  guarantee you a job?  I don’t get it.  I really don’t.

What has actually happened is that people of marginal intelligence are being taken out of the gene pool …and the people left  to breed in the U.S, are …for the most part…draining our society, not contributing.   This is what the statistical evidence clearly bears out.

There used to be a group called The Coalition for New Priorities that demonstrated clear, statistical evidence that for the money we spent on wars & the military, we could be energy self-sufficient with much less pollution, and we could all have  access to free health care.  The current main stream politicians call them ….socialists.  I was hoping with Barack Obama we’d come close to addressing this, but someone has convinced him that pouring money down the corrupt manhole that is Afghanistan will lead to them being able to govern their own country—as a country—and for a variety of reasons (mostly economic, but also cultural) that will never happen.

During the  Dubya Bush administration—during the war on Iraq (remember—weapons of mass destruction) we gave something like $280.000 A WEEK to Achmed Chalabi) for intelligence .  It all turned out to be bogus. A bunch of lies.  Gee, I wonder who he knew & was able to convince the United States Government to pay him. Who authorized that?  Don’t you wonder?  He was not an American citizen.  He just thought he had a good chance of being president of Iraq.  Iraq—part of greater Persia & the Ottoman empire—was not a COUNTRY until the British made it so after World War 1.   It was, essentially,  no mans land, a bunch of city states.  It defies any sort of logic that we would still be  dying to prop up an idea in our minds that this could be an actual country…just to make it easier to  get their oil to drive our vehicles when we could have poured the same amount of money into research to have Prius type hybrids a decade earlier.

I have recently had to make a very poor compromise in voting choices to  keep the conservative Republicans from  turning back the clock on some of the good government changes that have occurred under Obama.  I should have voted for the Green Party candidates, but I felt I had to vote for the body politic & not risk going back to 8 more years of utter stupidity.

Thankfully, with the internet, it is easier to nag our politicians.  I urge anyone reading this to click the link above & listen to what we’ve done NOT TO A COUNTRY—but to innocent people for a half-baked idea.  We should all be embarrassed.  I sure am.