Posts Tagged ‘good governance’

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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Book Review: Charlie Wilson’s War, by George Crile.

June 3, 2016

The movie (created by people I would call the ‘dream team’:   director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts), came out in 2007… about 9 years ago.  This is the Wikipedia link to the review:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Wilson%27s_War

I came across the book (which I didn’t know existed) while traveling.  Crile was an amazing writer.  This is an absurd, almost unbelievable story. It’s actually a story about how ‘democracy’ works.

Do you remember where you were in the late 1980s?  I was in undergraduate school, working part-time grooming dogs,  and modeling for artists.  I had had a roommate who had volunteered with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.  Related to that, I had an FBI file.  That’s another story, which I blogged about previously: https://disparateinterests.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/how-i-got-my-fbi-file/ .

The reason  my roommate volunteered to work for the Sandinistas was because of our ‘covert’ was in Nicaragua.  President Reagan wanted to  help the ‘contras’—a really ragtag group of’ anti-communists’ with no real strategy to govern the country, fight communism.  Unfortunately for them, in spite of  Reagan and the CIA pouring money into training and paying soldiers, they  really weren’t getting support of the Nicaraguans.   They did not exist at all, but were a contrivance.  Apparently, not only were there  several other political parties besides the  Sandinistas, the Nicaraguans did not fear communism or socialism the way we Americans had been led to.

This only matters because the war was not ‘covert’:  the news media knew of it, as did many Americans, who  pressured Congress to cut off funding.  We all knew Reagan was not a deep thinker, and he allowed key players  in the Republican Party to set policy.  What this has to do with the story of Charlie Wilson, and the war in Afghanistan (also covert—and a secret to us), is that, at one point,  Oliver North/the Reagan Administration asked the CIA and the Appropriations committee to hide money for the Contras in funds earmarked for the mujahedeen in Afghanistan.  :”Wait!” you  shout.  “The mujahedeen?  Aren’t they the people  waging  jihad against us now?  Haven’t they been since…?”  Yep, You got it.

The movie  was written  as a comedy.  Charlie Wilson was a playboy congressman from Texas, whose constituents didn’t ask much from him.  Having served in the navy, and grown up during the cold war, he was  strongly anti-communist.  On the advice of a vivacious socialite, Joanne Herring, who had met the  president of Pakistan ( Zia ul-Haq…who had his predecessor assassinate…), Charlie, who sat on the Appropriations Committee in  the House of Representatives,  got money  appropriated for arms for people in  Afghanistan fighting Russians/Soviets.  The Russians were in Afghanistan to prop up a  socialist government.  As we believed at the time—and it could have possibly been true—according to the domino theory:  if the USSR got a foothold in  south Asia, they could dominate the world.  The reality was—and is—that Afghanistan —as a country—is a contrivance.  It is a geographic parcel of land within a border.  It will probably never be a country with a viable economy.  It is a failed state without ever really being a state.

Who writes our history?  Is it what we get in primary school history books?  Is it journalists who write news  reports and turn them into books?  No matter. At the time the CIA was  buying and providing arms for the Afghan rebels, I was a student working part time.  What I DO remember is that very suddenly, the Soviet Union fell into chaos, and the Berlin wall came down.  I don’t think many Americans understood why this happened.  All we really knew of the Soviet Union was that it was a dictatorship with no press freedom, and only of consequence to us insofar as their influence on other countries.  Crile  gives us a better understanding  of what really happened.

We have to  understand what we  did in the rest of the world.  While the do-gooders took to the Afghanis, who were not united in any way, and have proven to not be unitable, what the do-gooders did—with out tax money, was ignore their human rights record, ignore how they treated  each other—let alone women, and gave them the power to  terrorize us after they finished with the Russians.  As I write this, in early 2016, we have Syrian refugees fleeing the middle East, and a bunch of right-wing politicians calling them all terrorists…meanwhile ignoring the fact that  they supported the cause of all this.

Worse, the front-runner, Hillary Clinton,  the former Secretary of State, continued to allow the Pakistanis to hold us hostage, along with President Obama, so we could kill off Osama bin Ladin and temporarily slow down jihad leaders.  We are not going to stop how foreign aid is doled out unless we  organize for a radical shift in leadership (which is another reason I support Bernie Sanders). The   countries receiving it hire lobbyists, and the  companies manufacturing weapons also have a huge stake in  continuing the status quo.

You Can Affect Public Policy

April 7, 2016

In my city (Chicago), an activist ( Cari Meyers/The Puppy Mill Project) managed to get support of some politicians (Susana Mendoza, City Clerk, and John Fritchy, Cook County Board Member)  and they managed,  a  little over a year ago, to  have a law passed banning the sales  of commercially bred puppies in city pet shops.  That is the gist of the law.  I am not sure if it is worded that…if a pet shop sells puppies and kittens, they must be sourced from bona fide shelters and rescues, or  if it just says….they can’t be bought from puppy mills.

I didn’t think I would see this come to pass in my lifetime, and many  humane activists were thrilled.  However, the law has been challenged in court and is not being enforced.  Is it the wording?  Because….there is no  definition of what a puppy mill is.  Most of us feel  a puppy mill  is anyone breeding pets just for resale, and not for the betterment of a breed or to improve a bloodline.  Some feel it is over  a certain # of breeding animals on site.

The reality is that the pet shops claim they are buying  animals from families, not commercial breeders (you’d really have to go into their records to check….and really, what kind of family is always having baby animals for sale if it is not a BUSINESS?).   1 huge lying scofflaw, Lane Boron,  has the audacity to be posting he has for sale a French Bulldog puppy from a rescue, neutering included.  Couldn’t possibly be true.

Obviously, we need a better law.  But before I get into what a better law might be, let me tell you how I found all this out.  I kept contacting Susana Mendoza, as it is her office which is supposed to send out inspectors to  shut these businesses down.  However, she would not take the report directly at her office. She insisted I call 311, the city  information/non-emergency line.  So…that’s what I did. the operators had no idea what I was talking about, and they  asked for all sorts of information (name of business, address,and phone number) and… a couple of weeks later I got a call from Chicago Animal Care  and Control.  Seems the city sent the complaint to them.  This was NOT a cruelty complaint, as I explained to the  CACC inspector who called. This was a BUSINESS VIOLATION complaint.    He told me, however, he was  going to inspect, but he didn’t know what the law was. So, I again, called   Susana Mendoza’s office, and  one of her staff people  filled me in on status.  Well, that’s fine, but we have another problem—being the city workers don’t know their jobs. The staff person told me to call my alderman. Really?  Like he gives a rat’s ass?  He doesn’t even own a pet.

Dash was returned to his breeder, Linda Larsen, because he chased the cat. I was lucky to get him. This is us at an obedience trial.

Dash was returned to his breeder, Linda Larsen, because he chased the cat. I was lucky to get him. This is us at an obedience trial.

So, we are in limbo on this….but this  is how the whole issue of puppy mills stands right now:  more and more pet shops around the country are seeing  that the activists are right.   I know this because I  susbscribe to several pet industry publications.  Pet stores might be able to source  healthy,well bred puppies from Hunte Corp, but bottom line is, no matter how physiologically healthy these pups are, they  are stressed out, not socialized, and they are still being sold as livestock to anyone with a credit card.  Ethical hobby breeders who love their dogs  do not sell for resale. It doesn’t happen.  In fact, there are many breeders who are  thisclose to being puppy mills, as they are commercial breeders….but they  would never think of selling for resale: they still want to meet the buyers—even if it is just over the internet—and they still want the dog back no matter how old it is if the buyer no longer wants it.  AND—-many of the  puppy mills are closing.  The breeders are retiring, they are being raided (even though we have yet to have a president appoint a USDA director who will enforce the laws we have), and, thanks to  social media, we can  probably get them closed down in the next several years.

What we are not addressing are the  breeders taking their place:  the backyard breeders which are  smaller puppy mills. They are all over  Craigslist, E-Bay, Amazon, and a few other selling sites.  Sometimes they post in  newspapers, but the internet is the new way to sell.  We have to get  them. Their dogs may or may not be  better cared for, but, because of their selling practices, these are the dogs that end up in animal shelters.  If we want this to be a NO-KILL NATION, we have to make sure there are fewer dogs.  To do that, we have to let these breeders know that we are on to them, and we intend to make them responsible.

So, I am drafting a law.  However, I have to get  politicians to  promote this law, and I have to get  activists—or at least people concerned about  humane treatment of animals and pet surplus—to  advocate for this law.

I am not a political science major, but I have seen what social media has  done in the past several years.  Sea World  is  going to stop breeding whales (and may shut down altogether) due to negative publicity.  Ringling Brothers circus is retiring its elephants,  people know it is gauche to wear fur, to buy products tested on animals, and  to give a live animal as a gift.  More people understand that people who   are habitually violent most likely started by being cruel to animals and they see the link.  Because so many of us have posted about these issues on Facebook, we are getting across.

A Trip to Africa Changed my Life: a continuation of the blogs on Malawi/Zambia 2016

March 11, 2016

busstation LuWhat does being a  developed country mean?  Why are some counties so poor, and others, which started on the road to development at the same time, doing so well?

These were  the questions I had when I traveled to Africa (Tanzania) for the first time, in 1985.  At the time, Tanzania had a 90+% literacy rate. So, why were there no roads, and if there was nothing to buy, why was inflation so  bad?
Being so inspired to learn the answer,  having seen people working incredibly hard with nothing to show for it, I returned to America, took College Level Examination Program Exams( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_Level_Examination_Program ),  enrolled in college, and started studying Africa area studies and international development.

The indicators of ‘development’ are : a literate populace,  access to health care and communication, infrastructure to aid economic vitality, a low infant mortality rate, and an ability  for adults to return to their communities the economic investment made in them.  So, how is it that Malaysia and Thailand seem to be doing much better than, say …Greece?  Or so many countries in Africa?

central malawi2The short answer is political will.  The answer gets more complicated  because of  western (oh, hell, American and the European)aid, which  keeps  people engaged in corruption and malfeasance in power.  These are sovereign states.  We have an embarrassing track record of intervening—in fact, in assassinating, elected leaders whom  WE (face it—our tax dollars at work) felt were governing not in OUR interests.    Yet, for all the meddling we’ve done, and the billions USAID has given, we don’t have  much to show for it. We don’t have to go back forever, but just to after the end of World War II.

But this is not what this blog is about. What I learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer is that  direct aid to communities, which you can  hold accountable, spurs more development than anything USAID or ODA have ever done.

I had been donating to several groups, and I wanted to see, with my own eyes, how they were doing.  Actually,  I wanted to see what they were doing with my donations.

Zambian Children's Fund Chishawasha School outside Lusaka

Zambian Children’s Fund Chishawasha School outside Lusaka

The first  place I visited was the Chishawasha primary school  in Chishawasha, just north of Lusaka.  Kathe Padilla had seen the poverty in the region, and  also knew how AIDS had devastated families. So, she worked with a local chief to get land set aside for  housing for orphans,  and a school.  Somewhat resembling the SOS Children’s Village model, where a house mother stays with a cohort,  with the assistance of the Glassco Foundation of Canada (http://glasscofoundation.org/ZambiaMainframe.php?page=OrphanageProject.htm),  Kathe had a compound, and a primary school built.  I have been sending books, art supplies, and other miscellaneous items to Kathe, who is in Tempe, Arizona, and she sends a container about once a year.  There are supporters in other parts of the ISA and Canada.  The school is a good size, and they even have a computer lab.  Kathe is also working with the extended families of the orphans on other income generating projects.  I am lucky enough to live in Chicago, and get just about everything I send  for free.  It  costs me about $100 a cubic meter to send the boxes to Kathe and the Zambian Children’s Fund by UPS.  I actually used to send  books to Malawi via M bag, but that program no longer exists.  In any case, I was

Buildings on the Chishawasha campus

Buildings on the Chishawasha campus

delighted to see that housing in such great shape and so modern, and the compound so  beautiful.  http://www.zambianchildrensfund.org/  Also, they have so many  helpful projects to help the community with economic development.

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA

Reception at Lilongwe SPCA

I then went to Malawi, and I had planned to  volunteer with the Lilongwe SPCA (http://www.lilongwespca.org/ ). However, they had just moved, and  they were still a ‘work in progress’.  One way they support themselves is by running a veterinary clinic. Thy were quite busy the day I was there.  The number of pets they have for adoption at any one time varies.  They’ve had a litter of pups for  a couple of months, and they all seem to be well socialized. The kittens they had really needed more human interaction.  I had learned about  them via  http://www.Animal-Kind.org and was able to make several donations to them via Animal-Kind. They’ve unfortunately, had a communication breakdown, but they do get a lot of local support, particularly from expats, but also, from many local Malawians.  At their new  grounds, they will be able to have many more activities, including dog training classes, and they do educational workshops all over the country.  I felt my donations were well used.  Their   new compound is so large, they will be able to house volunteers who might come from outside the country.

mcv1Finally, I went to Malawi Children’s Village in Mangochi (http://malawichildrensvillage.org/about/).  I had been supporting MCV since  inception, with cash donations and  sending books M-bag.  I was a bit disappointed to learn that the books were packed up because they were in the process of moving the library from  one  room to another, but Vincent, the assistant manager, took  us (I arrived as  a few other people were there) on  a tour  of  the grounds.  They now have a secondary school, and  vocational training in bricklaying, carpentry, vehicle repair, and  a sewing/fashion workshop.  They produce a lot of nice items there, and I was able to purchase trousers and several small bags.  They also have made uniforms for local school children.  Attached to the compound is the Open Arms orphanage, which serves infants to age 2—until they are healthy enough to

Open Arms Orphanage at Mangochi

Open Arms Orphanage at Mangochi

return to their extended families.  Many of the babies have AIDS.  In fact, as I served in Peace Corps, there was a 20—90% incidence of HIV, depending on how close you lived to the road.  What kind of difference would this make?  During times of drought and starvation, girls will prostitute themselves for food, and truckers  take advantage of being away from home.  One must keep in mind that this is a somewhat polygamous society, so there  never really was a stigma regarding multiple partners (in spite of the influence of Christianity…and for the most part, both Zambia and Malawi are  very Christian nations:  you pick and choose what works for you…and of course, Jesus forgives your sins…). Malawi Children’s Village is very well-known now, at least in central Malawi, and I found it very gratifying to see how effective the programs are.

Lilongwe bus station

Lilongwe bus station

Partly due to culture, partly due to religious faith, and partly due to access, Malawi is a very poor country.  It is difficult for me to say that  Zambians  are better off, but being closer to Zimbabwe, which  is closer to South Africa, and being a larger country, there are more of the trappings of development  (at least in terms of infrastructure) in  Zambia than there are in Malawi.  I noticed more water pumps closer to the roads in Malawi than there were 20 years ago, and there is a much greater middle class population—-at least in both Blantyre and Lilongwe.  More people are wearing shoes, everyone has a cell phone, and all the women either are relaxing their hair, having extensions put on, or are wearing wigs.  Yet,  literacy has barely improved, there is still very little access to health care, and  rally, people ar  very cynical about their governments.  This is true of both countries.

Hippo in the Zambezi River

Hippo in the Zambezi River

There is  too much cronyism and corruption in both countries. When beneficial laws are passed, they are not enforced.  Except for  the hippos I saw in the Zambesi River, and the monkeys in the park, I saw no other wildlife.  This is a tragedy.  Wildlife tourism is a major foreign exchange earner for both countries.  People who come to see wildlife  support a lot of jobs in the hospitality industry.  If word gets out that there is no wildlife to be seen,  people with money will stop coming to  these countries, and there is virtually no other industries that can  be competitively developed to  support all these people.  We —in America—think we have a refugee problem now?  If we don’t do  something to cause the non-profits now supporting wildlife and environmental conservation to  develop more effective strategies for  educating Africans about the importance of their wildlife heritage, and influencing politicians, we are going to be facing another crisis.

 

 

 

If I won the lottery…

January 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Innocents; Refugees are desperate.

November 20, 2015

I was going to write about something totally different, but due to the tragedies in Beirut & Paris, and the hysteria about accepting  Syrian refugees into the  USA, I have to  address this.

My fathers parents  were from Russia and Germany.  They were immigrants.  They weren’t refugees because they weren’t force to leave their countries. It was an economic decision.  My mother’s parents were  from England and Ukraine.  Similar circumstances.  I know part of the reason, aside from economics that they chose to come to the US was antisemitism.  I also have friends whose parents were refugees from Germany during WWII.  There’s a fine line between being an immigrant and being  a refugee, but nobody left their homeland and struggled to learn English and make a life for themselves because things were going so well in the old country.

Due to the bombings, and ISIS and militant Islamists in the news, out pointy-headed politicians have decided to not let any Syrians in until they can be screened better—to make sure they are not terrorists.

Here’s the problem—-it’s not logical, and here’s why:

  1.  It’s a known fact that many of the terrorists carry dual nationalities—with a home country (maybe Pakistan, maybe Iran…) and a European country.  If you pay enough, you can do this.  Even Americans can do this;
  2. Many have been traveling on tourists visas—or even  work visas.  They don’t have to be refugees.  They have plenty of money.  Many are highly educated, or have wealthy benefactors;
  3.   They are not bringing wives and children, and don’t have to bother with the slow refugee resettlement process;
  4. They are charming, they are smart, and they see our celebrities , like Miley Cyrus, or Rhianna, prancing around in their underwear, and they don’t  want that to happen to their countries;
  5.   Finally, as Santayana said, “…those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.”  This all goes back to Sykes-Pickot at the end of WWI, which  the British and Allies would not have won were it not for T.E. Lawrence organizing the Arabs, with the promise that if they helped to defeat the Ottoman Empire, the British would help them set up  modern governments.  Instead, the British  did Sykes-Pickot and gave Syria to the French—who wanted the  land, but did not fight for it.  Britain than proceeded to construct Iran, Iraq, and foment more problems in India before partition.  Our own CIA ousted  ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Mosaddegh) from Iran, a democratically elected leader  not on Standard Oil’s payroll, in favor of Shah Reza Pahlavi, a dictator, who, although he  was said to  have ‘modernized’ Iran (Persia), credit should have been given to Mosaddegh.  and the Shah was corrupt and benefited from the oil deal…the country did not;
  6.  We proceeded via  mass media—owned and controlled by old white men who had stock in  war benefiting companies–to convince ourselves we were fighting  communism in Viet Nam (we  actually allied ourselves with  Catholic elites who were opposed to land reform requested by the Buddhist majority), we had Salvador Allende killed in Chile for the benefit of another  dictator and business interests, and in the 1980s, the CIA got inner city youth addicted to crack cocaine to benefit businessmen in Central America.

We never learn. We’re always on the wrong side of history.  There is the cry that  we have to take  care of our own people first. Well, we are doing a piss poor job of it.  Refugee resettlement is a huge industry, particularly in Chicago.  They do a great job of lobbying.  Unfortunately, our homeless veterans don’t do such a great job of lobbying, nor do kids who age out of foster care. Also, because we allow the religious right  to oppose teaching  family planning in schools, we still have a lot of uneducated young mothers  who believe the rumor that they can get  public aid forever—or at least until they get their lives together. Heck—we don’t even teach them enough math or economics before they get pregnant to realize they can’t afford to rent a studio apartment on minimum wage—let alone have kids.

So, we can make the refugees a scapegoat, or we can be rational and start asking  our politicians, who are all over paid and have too many sycophants on their payrolls—what’s up with this?

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.

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.

Book Review: Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman

June 12, 2015

By now, most of us have heard of the TV show that is based on this book, and how Netflix  took a leap of faith to finance production of what is a web based TV show, but that is really not the story…nor is the dramatic TV series the story.

The story, very well told by Kerman, is about how she ended up in  jail and her experiences in jail.  For those who  do not know how a ‘white, blond, college educated’  woman ended up in jail…in a nutshell:  she was in a relationship with a woman who  was not running drugs, but who was transporting money for drug dealers.  She had so much cash to transport that she asked Kerman to  help her.  Kerman stopped doing it,  started a new life, and years  later, her  friend was arrested and implicated Kerman.

It is  more complicated, as lawyers are involved, of course, but ultimately, Kerman was sentenced to just over a year in a minimum security  penitentiary.  I think all of us are curious about what life is like for women in jail, and Kerman does a good job of  describing how women cope.  I learned a lot.  So did Kerman.

What really compelled me is my interest in Restorative Justice.  Incarcerating people is expensive, and it does not make communities whole.  I have  no objection to locking up  violent offenders.  I, personally, do not understand why child molesters do not serve life in prison, or why a police officer’s life is worth more than a civilians.  I do not think people who sell drugs or engage in prostitution (unless they are trafficking others) should be locked up.  Unfortunately, we can no longer afford to lock people up for being assholes, or for being stupid.

Indeed, many of the women Kerman met  were locked up, serving arbitrarily long sentences for either trusting some man, or defending themselves against a man.  Many women came from  broken families, mothers who were  drug addicts, absent fathers (who  weren’t working steady jobs anyways).  They were forced apart from their children.  Many could not read.

I knew a lot of this before reading the book, as I volunteer as a court advocate, and I  also have a sister who  does similar advocacy.  We, who think we are law abiding, and manage to stay out of trouble, think  of  the situation as  Us vs. Them, and that’s not how it is.

At the end of the book, Kerman gives information on how to reform the ‘justice’ system, and works for that. I strongly recommend this book as not just a good read, but as an entre into a world we think we understand, but don’t.  The Netflix series is not how jail is.

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.