Archive for the ‘Mo Ibrahim’ Category

Elephants…and the Availability of Family Planning Services

March 13, 2015
Me on an elephant in Thailand

Me on an elephant in Thailand

What do   most  Americans know about elephants?  They are big, they are smart (they never  forget),and they live long.  But, do most of us understand that their habitat is disappearing due to  human population encroachment, and  that those in Asia which  traditionally had jobs  are losing them to trucks? Do many people know that the ones still used, for  work—often entertainment—are either passed down in families…or actually mortgaged (and  they cost around $100,000)?

I learned about this when I traveled in India and Thailand.  In Thailand, there are several businesses that  are open to tourists in the Chang Mai area, that do elephant ‘shows’ of elephants playing soccer and painting. They address the  history of elephants in Thailand, and that  they don’t  want to lose  their elephants, but  need to find  something for them to do, and keep them healthy.  The  keeping and using of elephants as  beasts of burden goes back centuries in Asia, but  not so in Africa.

2 good books for learning about  elephants are, “Coming of Age With Elephants,” by Joyce Poole, and  “Portraits in the Wild:  Behavior Studies of East African Mammals,”  by Cynthia Moss.  Poole was a protege of Moss, and the Moss book, published in 1975, is dated, of course, but  anyone thinking of going on safari in Africa should definitely check it out, as  it is comprehensive and a good   entre’ into  wild animal behavior observation.

Why should any of this matter?  I have  been a proponent of animal rights/animal welfare for  most of my  sentient/conscious life.  I am not a vegetarian partly because my father was a meat packer when I was young.  However, I do eat  lower  on the food chain, and am conscious of my choices.  But enough about me.     I have blogged about  Armchair Activism, and one of our concerns  has always been  animals  exploited for entertainment.  Animals in zoos/aquariums, and circuses.  It’ one thing to train a dog.  Dogs have been domestic for over  10,000 years.  Dogs love to learn,and  many love to work.  Some of the Asian elephants have been from  domestic  bloodlines, but  from what I’ve read, this is a rarity,and they are still being captured in the  Asian forests.

We know  African elephants are still being slaughtered  for ivory, and, as I write this, in 2015, China has put a moratorium on  ivory imports (but this has not  been true in the rest of southeast Asia), and Robert Mugabe,  the president of Zimbabwe—one of the last old time dictators who will NEVER get the Mo Ibrahim prize for leaving his country in better shape than he found it, has been selling  elephants to  highest bidders.

The news came  down this week that the largest  circus in the US, Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey, is phasing out the elephant act.  Could be they finally got religion, and the ban on their use prevented them from  setting up shop in some major markets?   Or because they are old, and many are ill? This came about  not because elected officials  have such a high consciousness about animal exploitation, but because activists made a compelling case for why this  should not be allowed.  In case I am not getting my point across:  these are large animals, they are smart, they are under a great deal of stress, and they can be dangerous…and it is no  feat of intelligence on the part of humans to brutalize them.  It is a display of cruelty and  exploitation—hardly entertaining.

I guess the Felds—the owners of the circus,  saw that this scenario  was really bad for the bottom line.  It costs a lot  to  care for elephants.  People are starting to think about what is involved in  keeping  endangered species for entertainment.  The elephants in the circus are old, and they should be retired.

Most likely, if we can make our voices heard, the elephants will be retired to the elephant sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee:

This is a true sanctuary.  People are not allowed to visit—but you can go to the website & see how  they elephants live.  In fact,  zoos with elephants should  bring their  elephants living in  solitary confinement (as most are in zoos) to the sanctuary, and run the films  to explain to zoo goers  that this is much more humane, caring,  and ethical  than  what we  did before we knew better.

So I have to put this out there:  if the thought hasn’t crossed your mind already:  how can you  say you love animals—your pet animals, and  not  at least be concerned about  ALL ANIMALS?

We are at the moment of truth.  We’ve known for decades —at least 5—about habitat loss and human encroachment.  But do we know that  women in less developed countries still don’t have access to  family planning and education? That  my own United States government still gives foreign aid (mostly in the  form of military  equipment and expertise) to many governments that  don’t provide  public education, don’t train teachers,and don’t allow  women to have control over their own reproductive choices?  We give money to MEN who  make the decisions…and you can see they’ve done a piss poor job of it.  Women would choose to have smaller families, and there would be less habitat loss…and more room for wildlife, and fewer ecological disasters.

I urge  anyone who hasn’t seen it, to get a copy of the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War.”   It’s an entertaining  look—based on a true story—of how a politician who didn’t have  an opinion either way—was influenced.  I also urge you to read Malcolm Gladwell’s marvelous book, “The Tipping Point.”

With social media—yes, Facebook—we can now get out message out so much faster.  I  became reacquainted with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in  30 years, and he asked me what I had been doing.  I told him  about grooming dogs, training, Peace Corps.  He said he wished he could  do something. I told him   the  one thing he could do right now  was to start recycling his trash. Start there.  Start learning the issues.  Know who your elected officials are. They are not entertainers (for the most part), but  public servants.  Tell them what matters to you. Sign the petitions.  Anyone asking you for money—any nonprofit group—really do some research and make sure they aren’t  countering your values…but  go out of your way to help those  that  live your values, like the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.  If everyone gives or does just a little, it makes so much difference!

I am an anarchist. Let’s start with that.

August 31, 2012

Those  who know me would say, “Of course!”  Let’s get serious.  What does being an anarchist mean?  Are we the same as libertarians?  We share so many of the same values, it’s really hard to tell, but  the difference  is how we get to the end result of the government falling away. Karl Marx developed the theory that labor would organize itself, and labor unions would run the government.  That’s it in a nutshell.  As we Jews say, the rest is commentary.  This was at a time when labor was not really organized, and the thought was that labor would organize as industrial unions, not business unions, like what we actually have.

Anarchists  don’t believe in no government. They believe in small government—like the libertarians do.  We aren’t generally violent people, although the  writers of American history would have us believe Sacco & Vanzetti were  bomb throwers (it couldn’t possibly have been the police starting a riot…)

I came to anarchism through industrial unionism… syndicalism…and the Industrial Workers of the World. For those who don’t know anything about the Wobblies, you might get Patrick Renshaw’s book, or rent Warren Beatty’s movie, Reds (which is part documentary & interviews with old Wobs, as we were called).

We believe workers should run the economy…the government, and that the boss is useless.  I would general digress now about how difficult it is for dog groomers to work for non-dog groomers who are business owners, and who want to exploit our labor, but this is not why I am blogging about anarchism.

The problem is…that our needs in modern, urban, society are complicated and require full time oversight.  This would leave little time for economic activity to support our community’s needs:  planning, developing, and caring for infrastructure, energy resources, schools and education, health care, security, and information  communication  and distribution.

So—we have an overlay of bureaucracy to take care of  stuff’. They have to get paid, so we tax ourselves.

But then..the dynamic changes, and the politicians we elect seem to think that they really provide an added value, as do the employees they oversee that are working for us. They get much better benefits than the rest of us, including their pension plans…and the result is, of course, that so many government entities are now declaring bankruptcy.

I am an old lady now. The billions we could have spent on  teaching teachers to teach science, to provide health car  cradle to grave, to develop and renewable energy resources… we spend on the wars in Viet Nam, Nicaragua, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Bosnia, Somalia (but not Rwanda)…so people could be free?  We allowed the people we elected to underfund out schools,  pander to teachers’ unions (how ironic is this?)deny us health care as a human right (unless we live to be very old), bail out banks & AIG—the insurance company too big to fail—in place of environmental and economic security…what is this about?

We parrot that the USA is the greatest country in the world, and  we are, essentially, as bad as the Russians: buffoons to the rest of the world.

I am not sure what the solution is, but  now that we have the internet, I would think it would be easier for people to get more information and be a little skeptical about what we all think is the conventional wisdom.

Who Pays? What Does Being ‘Middle Class” Mean?

August 2, 2012

What does it mean to be ‘Middle Class’?  Does it mean you are not rich…but not poor? That you can pay your bills and don’t have more debts than assets?    That you can save money for retirement & can afford 1 vacation a year?

What does it mean when  journalists and reporters talk about the middle class…here and in other countries?

When I was in graduate school, over 20 years ago, I was shocked to learn that being considered middle class was actually based on your level of education.  Not your  income!  It had nothing to do with how much money you had.  Your level of education actually gives you some social/economic mobility.  That’s the important thing.

I had thought it meant  living in a house with electricity, running water, and  a phone. Also, having good health or access to healthy care.  Apparently, it doesn’t.  Nor does it have anything to do with the amount of debt you carry—-witness the many college students graduating  and carrying well over $50,000 in debt!

When I was in India, I was invited to the home (well, actually, the apartment, on the fifth floor of a walk-up) of a middle class couple. The husband and wife both had masters degrees, but no car, no refrigerator. That means they had to shop for groceries every day.  They DID have a TV…but heck:  I was  working in a squatter community where people didn’t have running water, but many households had TVs. You see, the men folk like to watch the cricket & ‘football’ matches…so owning a TV is more important than owning a refrigerator. I could only think , They both have masters degrees, and this is the best they can do?  500 square feet on the fifth floor, no air conditioning, no refrigerator?

I learned, as an undergraduate, some of the indicators that a nation was developing towards a middle class tax base.  They had to have a literate populace (in the 1970’s, Tanzania had a literacy rate of over  90%).  Most households had to have access to communications infrastructure.  They had to have access to at least primary health care.

The theory is…that if people have their basic needs met, they have the  social and economic mobility to create wealth, and a tax base that supports infrastructure that in turn—supports more  economic development. What a great theory.  Matter of fact, it is what all governments are based on!

Unfortunately, for us 99%, none of the economic theorists ever addressed what would happen if the overseers of our government infrastructure—our politicians—spent more than we took in:  on wars, toys, vacations, perks, PENSION PLANS for themselves that are better than Social Security.  & if we 99% had to pay more of a per centage of our incomes in taxes to support  such frivolity than we could save or spend on our own pursuits we would no longer be…middle class. Oh, wait, …it works ok in  the Scandinavian countries. Oh, right—they aren’t supporting wars, and corruption….

So…what do we do?  If we were smart, we would tax the rich.  In fact, the rich would either tax themselves, or get rid of the rascal politicians & get a new set of rascals—because the funny thing is….if  there is no middle class to buy what the rich sell…..there aren’t any rich, either. There is a limit to (economic) growth.

We are now, in the USA, at a terrible crisis. We’ve destroyed the  natural environment, &  are heading towards a population crash.  Too many dimwits have too many children, because they are clueless & this is the way they have always lived. The kids  aren’t learning anything useful in many urban schools, so they become criminals to survive.  Due to our    communications infrastructure, the predators among them can easily corrupt  and destroy naive middle class youth—& they do—with METH.

We really have to get organized to address this.

Government Employee Corruption

June 28, 2012

I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, over 20 years ago. I was an urban planner, & my task was mostly development control. The government  employees were not able to limit illegal developments of public buildings due to developers paying off politicians. So, they needed an outsider  who was not beholden to anyone to get  things straightened out.

When I first got there, my counterparts, honest young men, told me I didn’t know what it was like. I told them. “I am from Chicago. We have had a single party system for over 30 years, I know EXACTLY what it is like.”

But what I found was that the Africans are no more corrupt than anywhere else.  It’s the same where ever you go—except in the USA, the government employees often use legal loopholes to  steal.

Witness the front page story in The Chicago Tribune June 22, 2012, on how Craig Bazzani, a University of Illinois administrator– a vice president of business & finance who RETIRED IN 2002—managed to increase his  $300,000+ pension by about $42,ooo due to a legal strategy.  Well, it wasn’t illegal.  Unethical?  Obviously, the  Trib dances around this.  But that is what the reporters infer. The gist is that Bazzani was able to increase his pension by using a formula intended for police & fire personnel.  A change  in the state law allowed those in supervisory positions to  be eligible to  extra pension benefits. We generally call it double dipping.

Don’t forget, our state & federal legislators are also  entitled to  pensions based on their full pay at retirement (or when they get unelected), and  also, if they had other government positions, collect that pension as well. No vesting period for  politicians.  You work a day, you get a full pension.

&—this is why we can’t afford a ‘single payer’ health care system like other developed countries. What? European Union countries are bankrupt because of fee medical care?  No, European countries are bankrupt because their politicians also have bled the system—& in Greece, add to it that they don’t collect  property taxes from the  well heeled.

It’s great that we have a free press,. & that reporters have reported on this. Now what?  How do we go about changing this? Can we?  I mean, we can all try to emigrate to Norway & Sweden. but we object to how high they tax everyone, & the cost of living. Where can we go?

In her last book,  The Challenge for Africa, Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai addressed the problem of lack of government transparency &  respect for rule of law, and what Mo Ibrahim is doing to entice  heads of state in Africa to leave peacefully, honorably, and with dignity.  The reason Dr. Ibrahim  set up the award is because Africans generally don’t get pensions, or speaking engagements, or  write books.  They have no way to support themselves in retirement, and the  award  is an incentive to not hold on to power. So far, it hasn’t been that successful, and  some years it is not awarded.  But that is not  cogent to  my point.

Our politicians have enormous chutzpah, as do the employees  of our governments.  They have no incentive to not bankrupt the system, as they are making more money than they know what to do with.  They can gamble it away, invest in risky schemes,  award lavish gifts to family & church.  it’s their money.

Michal Lewis, the writer, has addressed  what has happened in California: that  local governments are collapsing. Soon, Illinois will follow.  Our politicians do not care, and have no incentive to care.  It would take reporters reporting on their  ineptitude  and sleaze every day.  Meanwhile  our governments will be bankrupt before the system is fixed.

I want to do something to make the world a better place

April 8, 2011
Topiary, Bangkok.  Tourism is a huge foreign exchange erner for the Thai people, and in spite o what you hear,  the government does invest in human capital.

Topiary, Bangkok. Tourism is a huge foreign exchange earner for the Thai people, and in spite of what you hear, the government does invest in human capital.

We Americans are a bunch of naive ‘do-gooders’.  We still think we have the market cornered on altruism and integrity.

I have to admit that I started out as a ‘do-gooder’ when I  started volunteering overseas.  As I learned more about the world, my motives changed.  I still  want to continue to volunteer, as I am not a sot-on-the-beach type of person, but I want to share some information  that affected me and that might affect you.

Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, said: “When the Europeans came, we had the land, and they had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the Bible.”

Several people suggested that I read Franz Fanon’s classic, The Wretched of the Earth.  Fanon was an  psychiatrist from Martinique, who was trained in France, and assigned to work in Algeria who  realized that those living under colonial rule suffered mental illness for trying to be free.  He also realized that there would be a false consciousness after any revolution, and that the neocolonialists would be worse than  the colonialists, because they were of the people they ruled.  That’s  the gist in a nutshell, but the book, published  in 1963( a difficult read) is worth reading, as Fanon was such a visionary.  It is particularly important for the  north American ‘do-gooder’ to read.  Then read, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” by John Perkins. Be a little skeptical about  what making the world a better place really means.

You can still find The Ugly American , by  Lederer & Burdick. It was published in 1958, and it is still  disappointingly accurate.

Familiarize yourself with how our U.S. government really works. Read  Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, published by Dee Brown  in 1971.  Embarrassing—but well documented and true.

Finally, before you go off to volunteer to make the world better, you must—ABSOLUTELY MUST—read Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe published in 1958.  It is a great story about how a community was changed by ‘do-gooders’.  It is a classic.

You can’t make the world a better place if you don’t know the issues that affect most of the world’s people.  Most don’t have access to clean drinking water. that is a huge issue.  It affects  health more than any other issue.  Most don’t have access to real information or  education. When I served  in Malawi in the early 1990s, less than 15% of households had access to a radio!

Most people in the world do not have access to affordable medical care.  That includes Americans.

Literacy is still an enormous problem.  Governments will not invest more than they have to, so they can maintain a cheap, placid labor force.

If you want to make the world a better place, think about what YOU have to offer. Can you teach anything?  Do you have any skills?  You can volunteer overseas.  Google “Cross Cultural Solutions,” or “Volunteer in Africa.”  Living in a place, for as little as 2 weeks, gives you a much different perspective than just traveling though.

Don’t waste resources. Turn off the lights. Really.  Make sure you don’t have leaky water taps.  Recycle and compost your trash.  Because we can afford to waste resources, the rest of the world can’t afford them.