Archive for the ‘business policies; free country; scams’ Category

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

February 24, 2017
Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Pledge of Allegiance

July 15, 2016

Odd topic, I know, but  there is a trending question on Facebook:  should we still make kids learn the  pledge?

My gut says, “No!”  We learn all these syllables: I pledge allegiance (what’s allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the republic(what the heck is a ‘republic’) for which it stands (what an awkward phrase!), one nation under God, indivisible (there’s a good one!), with liberty and justice for all.

Now, of course I know what it all means now, but I was probably in high school before I dissected it.  The pledge was originated by a utopian
Christian socialist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance

And refined and introduced to schools  in the  1940s.  On the one hand, it is good for kids to learn to memorize  something, but we have a problem  with teaching blind patriotism in the USA. What i think would be a better idea is putting the periodic table of elements to music and have kids memorize that.

We teach kids so much bs.  It’s stuck in my head that George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree (the Parson Weems  painting), and how Pocahontas saved John smith, what a bunch of hooey.  Yet, we  can’t manage to teach real history…like how white people took over  land  used by Native Americans, and slaughtered them.

We really have to look at what is taught in our schools.

The Big Short and Understanding Finance

December 25, 2015
My 2 flat in Rogers Park, Chicago's 49th ward.

My 2 flat in Rogers Park, Chicago’s 49th ward.

It’s Christmas Eve, 2015, and I went  to see “The Big Short.”  Although the movie was not well reviewed (Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune said that  financial markets were too complicated for the average person to understand. Hence, this movie was boring), I found it well scripted, edited, and acted.

Perhaps  it is because I, also, could see how over heated the real estate market was…and I will tell you  how.

In the mid 1980s, seeing that I would never get rich by grooming dogs, no matter how well I  managed my budget, I decided to learn about the mortgage market and selling commercial paper.  That’s right.  I learned that not just banks, but private investors bought mortgages and you really didn’t need years of college education to sell mortgages.  You just had to know the concepts of present value of future cash flow, loan to value—and the formula to  figure out what a cash flow was worth.  That was it.  Simple as that.  Yes, you need a special calculator to  figure this stuff out, but you can easily learn the formula in a few minutes.

I  learned, via audio tapes, that  brokers sliced up payment streams, and sold portions of mortgages.  You didn’t have to buy 240 payments (a 20 year mortgage), but could by payment 12, 18, 32…whatever.  How would you manage to get paid if the mortgage was sold or the mortgagee defaulted?  Ah, there was the rub.

I wondered how this could be legal.  Well, it was legal because it was not ILLEGAL, and frankly, most people who buy bundles don’t look that closely at what they are buying.  I mean, they don’t look at the value of the property the mortgage is on, trusting appraisers.  They don’t look at the credit histories of the borrowers.  The assumption was that someone was  checking out this stuff…but in reality, nobody was. It just seemed to risky for me.  The only way you could  make money was if you were  a lawyer, and even then, it was an iffy investment.

My niece learned the  mortgage business (and was a lawyer), and I called her about a mortgage because I wanted to lower my payments.  She got me a ‘no document’ mortgage, meaning I didn’t have to prove income.  At the time, I was earning under $30,000 a year, but my credit was good, and my  ‘loan to value’ on the house was very good, so it wasn’t a problem.  After a few years, I thought I could do better, and wanted to retire a line of credit which was never very transparent, and I could never get a statement  on how much principle I owed, so I , again, refinanced with a broker who got me  a mortgage based on the LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate—a rather bogus index used in the USA), which was  at 3%, but adjustable. The broker told me  the rate was very stable, and rarely fluctuated more than .25, but that turned out  not to be so, and within  six months the rate climbed from 3% to 5%, and I again refinanced.

I just love HGTV, and I loved the shows about house flipping and people house hunting.  What I was seeing, on those shows, was people were being approved for  mortgages with no or hardly any (2%?) money down, based on their incomes, not expenses, and clearly people were buying much more  home than they could afford.  But it was legal.

I was seeing this with some friends as well. I thought that this could not possibly go on.  People were trusting banks, were carrying too much debt on credit cards, and all that needed to happen was for energy prices to go up or people losing jobs for whatever reason, or becoming over extended (a good one was  investors buying a bunch of property, not keeping the property up, getting rent payments but not paying the mortgages on time because  that’s how  some people manage their finances).

This movie shows that—all of that—really well…and virtually all the practices that led up to this are still legal.   Our Chicago area schools are not really teaching finance, or compound interest, or budgeting…especially not in low-income areas…and we still have people thinking this is  just not an interesting subject.  These are the same people who don’t bother to  check out the political candidates positions online (easy enough to do, but they go for the bloviators), and don’t vote, anyways.  Then, they complain.

I had read excerpts of Michael Lewis’ book, and learned about Michael Burry (excellently portrayed by  Christian Bale).  This movie should be shown  to every highs school student.

Businesses Make ‘Make Work’ Jobs

December 4, 2015

When I was  a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi over 20 years ago, I  ‘inherited’ a staff of  about  20 to 30 employees. I tried to get a handle on  who they all were and what they did. Frankly, bureaucracies  are the same where ever you go…especially  when politicians are involved.  In any case, I had several people assigned to my department  whom I could not  see as doing anything that added value to making the city run smoothly.    However, the British had set up a system where  we  didn’t just file the files, but assigned the files an additional filing number, and in order to get a plot file…rather than going into the filing  room and getting the file, we had to go to a clerk who would look up  the file number for the plot records and then fetch the file for us…or not.  Files would go ‘missing’.  Even though you were supposed to  sign for a file, I  learned that  another department head was not signing, and just taking  files.  After all, there was really no way for an employee to make the  guy sign for the file…especially if the employee in charge was paid something extra.  After a few months of this, I, of course, insisted we  do away with this ‘system’ and refile by plot number—and perhaps we’d find some missing files (we did) or get a handle on what was missing.

But what to do with the superfluous  employees?  I went to the Human Resources guy, and he told me  I had to  go to the town clerk, as he could not move  people around. The Town Clerk agreed with me, but told me that if I had people I needed to get rid of, I had to find another department head and make a trade. The only way I could get rid of someone not working is if they died or left voluntarily.  The Town Clerk warned me that if I made a trade, I might get someone even worse than what I had.

In the USA a few weeks ago, I got a call from my bank (Ally Bank, for the record), as well as an email. They had an urgent matter to discuss with me.  I was told to ask for a specific employee.  Having had a not great experience  emailing (although I did email the person), I called.  Hilarity and frustration ensued.  I was asked my mother’s maiden name, my address (including the 4 digit suffix to my zip code), my favorite color, and my favorite singer—by three different people…but nobody could tell me why I was contacted. So now several people know  my confidential information. They asked me how many accounts I had at the bank. one.  Just one. Finally, after all this and being put on hold—about 20 minutes of my life…I was told that I used the wrong deposit ticket to make a deposit.  How did this happen?

I was running low on deposit tickets, so I emailed the bank to order more. I got an automatic response stating they would contact me. They did not.  After  three weeks, I CALLED THE BANK.  The customer service person told me to use the  sample ticket I got in my welcome packet (three years ago) and she would put in an order for more deposit tickets.  So I did that, since I had several hundred dollars in checks.  I thought I had the right routing number, but apparently, it was for an account style I had opened…and then changed.

So, my deposit was just sitting there on somebody’s desk—not deposited—until I told them I had only one account.  This could have been taken care of in less than five minutes if —when I was initially contacted, I was told I used the wrong deposit ticket.  It wasn’t like I was taking money out—I WAS PUTTING MONEY IN!

Think I am being picky?  I work with my hands.  If I have to hold a phone, I can’t work.  I don’t play games on either my phone or my computer. I am not putting outfits on my dog, polishing my nails, or watching YouTube videos learning to put make-up on. My time is precious.  By making  something complicated, it doesn’t make it more serious or important.

Here’s another good one:  the valve stem broke off one of my tires.  I got a flat tire.  My roommate, who  hasn’t noticed if I painted a wall a different color or  moved art around, noticed that I had a flat tire, and this was the reason.  He put  the spare on the car, but told me to have it fixed ASAP.  He told me it would cost about $30. So, I went to the  tire dealer, and, indeed, that was the cost…except the law since 2006 is that the computer in the car has to be reset, as it would indicate low tire pressure…and that cost over $140!  Why is this?  Up until about  20 years ago, car engines didn’t last that long.  In many cases, you’d get to 75,000 miles (sometimes less)m and you’d need a ring job, or a new timing belt, or another major repair. Well,  due to  Asian competition, everyone now makes pretty sturdy car engines. That’s not what’s going to go on your car. It’s going to be something smaller. Maybe the battery, or the tire.  The car repair  businesses can’t really make any money on small repairs, so, by having the  computer  and access to proprietary codes, and charging us for it, they can stay in business.

Where I currently work, a dog grooming business, we have  two  guys who bathe dogs. That’s all they do. Yes, they clean cages at the end of the day, but neither does anything they are not told to do. Hence, we are always running out of something, and the place is a mess. In theory, they are supposed to make our work easier and help us complete grooms more quickly.  The reality is, they slow us down.  Partly because  when I started grooming, I had to bathe a lot of dogs before I could get to clipping and scissoring, and partly because, traditionally, we’ve been paid commission,  my average dog bath takes about five minutes, and I get  the dog clean and the soap rinsed out, and I get the dog dried quickly.  Not these guys. We are constantly sending dogs back to be rebathed.  It takes them four times as long as it does me.  Not only  that, but they clock in, then stop for breakfast! Why  does my boss allow this?  He’s not a groomer and he justifies this because he pays them $11 an hour, and I am too ‘valuable’ to be doing this task.  It’s a false economy.

All this is make work.  None of this is adding value.  I don’t know that there is a solution as long as  people in charge  rise to their highest level of incompetency, and think the goal is job creation.

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?

3 movies: Rosenwald, Our Brand is Crisis, & Trumbo

November 13, 2015

I am reviewing these  three movies together because they are all based on true history  that we might not be exposed to otherwise.

I saw Rosenwald a couple of months ago.  It’s a documentary about Julius Rosenwald, who was an entrepreneur and  owner of Sears, Roebuck.  He was Jewish, and strongly believed in giving back to the community.While most  philanthropists at the time gave to noncontroversial causes, Rosenwald believed in supporting education.  He funded the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (I come from a generation who remembers people calling it the Rosenwald Museum), but he also funded Rosenwald schools, mostly in the southern US, for ‘underserved’  (black) communities.  If a community could find space and the people to build the school, Rosenwald provided the plans and materials.  Many  now  well-known civil rights leaders attended Rosenwald schools.  If you are interested in American history, civil rights, or philanthropy, this is a film worth renting, It is very well  written, edited, and produced.


The 2nd film is Our Brand is Crisis.  It’s a political movie,  produced by George Clooney, and stars Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thorton, and it is based on a documentary (about an election  in Bolivia) of the same name. That combination had me right there.  However, I did not enjoy the movie.  If you want to know how the sausage is made, you  might enjoy it, but all the political consultants are creeps.   It’s a satire, but hardly funny.  They help (with our State Department paying the bill) a discredited  leader make a political comeback.  It looks like a lost cause…and the wrong guy wins.  Sandra Bullock’s character gets a conscious in the end.  It is well written, directed, acted, and produced, but  pretty aggravating.  Mostly because it is true.

The 3rd movie is Trumbo.   It is based on the life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (who wrote Johnny Got His Gun,  and the screenplays for Roman Holiday and Spartacus).  Very relevant considering Bernie Sanders,  the only democratic socialist in Congress, is running for president.  For those who don’t know (because  hardly anything about that era  is taught in U.S. schools), after World War II—after we were allies with the Soviets against the Nazis, suddenly the mindset  of political leaders shifted to find a Communist threat.    In fact, during  the 1930s  Depression and through the war, many Americans were  Communists.  There was no  civil rights movement at that time, but it was brewing, and a significant number of  Black Americans were  Communist party members.  Significantly, so were many people in Hollywood, where  a congressional committee chose to focus.   Was this because so many in Hollywood were also Jews?  Or  able to  tell stories that would influence  people through entertainment?  In any case, Trumbo was  sent to prison for being in contempt of Congress, and  could no longer get work.  This  film is about how he and many other coped.  It could happen again, but  you  learn from how the story is told about how to get around it.  This is a very well done film.  I encourage  people interested in American history and Hollywood to see it.

Why ‘They’ Can’t Find Dog Groomers

August 14, 2015
Me doing a grooming demonstration for the North Central maltese Rescue annual gathering in  southern Wisconsin. This is the largest gathering of Maltese fanciers in the country!

Me doing a grooming demonstration for the North Central maltese Rescue annual gathering in southern Wisconsin. This is the largest gathering of Maltese fanciers in the country!

I have  several friends who work as consultants in the pet industry.  They network, they market.  One has extensive experience training dogs. Another has worked in dog businesses, but she has never trained a dog,

They both see the posts on Craigslist another sites where business owners post for dogs groomers.  They are wondering why these businesses can’t find  groomers.  Here are the reasons:

1.  The most competent dog groomers may or may not have learned at dog grooming schools, but  they keep up their skills or learn new skills by  networking with other fanciers and going to dog shows.  YOU want them to work weekends, when most dog shows take place.  They can make just as much money working out of their homes;

2.  You don’t offer a living wage. The average dog groomer makes about $30,000 a year: .http://www1.salary.com/Animal-Groomer-and-Bather-Salary.html   This all depends on demographics, the macro economy, weather, location relative to competition, etc.  You can see from the chart that some groomers do better, but many don’t.  You can go to a community college and become a pharmacy technician and make much more with a lot less stress. So, knowing this (most people who decide to become dog groomers do NOT know this, nor do they do any research…), why are people becoming dog groomers?  They think of them selves as  unique, artistic, independent, and want to work with dogs.  The schools will ‘teach’ you,  whether you have any common sense or talent.  These are private, for profit schools.  Nobody will know until you do a ‘test’ dog for them.  The big box stores will teach you themselves.  Do you  know what a living wage is in your area, or are you living with a parent or partner who pays all your bills?

3.  The employers, especially the ‘big box’ chains, think 1 groomer is just like the next. They  know a certain  number of employees won’t show up on time,  will not follow their rules,  may not thoroughly rinse a dog , clean the dog, or dematt the dog. Some will accidentally injure a dog.  All these employers care about  are profits per square foot or per hour.  Their business model is to  be cheaper and more available than a skilled artisan, and they are banking on the average pet owner not really caring about anything else.  If you dare question a fellow worker  or their store polices  regarding being safe or inhumane, you are out.

4.  These non-grooming employers have a ‘vision’ of how they want their businesses to  appear: business like. This has nothing to do with being safe or humane,because they  know most pet owners aren’t looking that closely.https://disparateinterests.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/i-got-fired-for-wearing-a-scarf-why-the-corporate-pet-stores-are-always-looking-for-groomers/

5.  Working conditions are poor.  often there is no place to park. Lighting might be bad. There is no dehumidifier, and often not enough dog dryers.  Some shops  allow dogs to run around, so the dogs are underfoot, pooping, and that is stressful.  People run in and out of your space and distract dogs.

6..  The experienced groomers know this and won’t be fooled again. they either leave the industry or groom our of their homes, getting clients by word-of-mouth.  Until the  managers and decision makers learn to respect groomers and treat groomers as skilled workers—or people stop spending money on getting dogs haircuts, there will be a mismatch.

Understanding the Greek Economic Crisis…or is it Chicago?

July 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Didn’t I Already pay This Bill?

May 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We citizens are a bunch of chumps.

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: http://www.elephants.com/

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!