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My views may not reflect the views of other Kenyans or even friends and family.  There are times when angst compels one to speak out.  I have become exasperated with continued official and media condemnation of Kenya’s handling of terrorism. The US had 1 in country attack on September 11, 2001 (aka 9/11).  I was in the US at the time and got asked by some how I knew to call family and say: I’m ok, we are likely to loose communication but I will find ways to get you info.  The protocol was no different that what got activated during the US Nairobi Embassy bombing on August 7, 1998. 

For those who don’t know Kenya, click here to get some perspective.  I was born in the US,  have a Kenyan father, Puerto Rican mother and have lived my life pretty much equally split among all 3 countries (as in physical time spent).  Belonging to a country for me is more cultural than geopolitical and yes, this inevitably leads to what some might construe as divided “loyalties.”  The only thing I can swear eternal loyalty to is goodness and those who want to pursue it.  Good intentions do not justify bad actions.  By the same token, putting down efforts and chastising must only be done when a more effective method has been demonstrated to work in the situation being discussed.  

Life in the US was completely altered as a result of 1 attack in 2001 (death toll 2,977).  Many would say constitutional safeguards were thrown out the window and the ramifications of extreme surveillance and the new security measures are still being understood.  

While no single terrorist attack in has killed as many as the 9/11 attack, Kenya has sustained the following in a country with a population (44,351,000) that is 14% of the United States (313,914, 040):

 August 7, 1998  US Embassy in Nairobi   213 killed, 4,000 wounded

November 28, 2002  Mombasa hotel bombing and plane attack   13 killed, 80 wounded

October, 2011 – April, 2013 Series of consecutive attacks throughout the country  68 dead, 344 wounded

September 21, 2011 Nairobi Westgate Mall attack   59 dead, 175 wounded 

January 2, 2014 Diani grenade attack   10 wounded

May 16, 2014 Gikomba market bombings  70 wounded

In addition, as of December 2014, 600,910 refugees account for 1.3 % of our population and no one denies a lot needs to be done to improve safety and living conditions in refugee camps.

Those who want to call themselves allies must wise up to the fact that many forces have been eagerly trying to drive Kenya towards socio-political collapse. Warning Kenya that attacks are escalating is like telling one bullets kill people: true but useless information.  We also don’t need to be told there is a crisis.  We are living it!

 



Despite shortcomings, Kenya has been the beacon of stability in East Africa.  All these grandiose criticisms/”expert opinions” can be directed at fixing the root cause of the problem: the failed states in Somalia and Sudan. Once that is fixed we can send people home and go back to focusing our scarce resources on internal stabilization matters.

Solutions are NOT theories such as the economic liberalization “help” that led to the further destabilization of former Soviet block countries. Solutions cannot be triggered only by self-serving needs like the concern for Ukraine only when oil pipelines are threatened. Solutions are given in a context appropriate manner at the time the need FIRST arises AND they solve the problem. Anything other than this is hype for the illusion of self-aggrandizement.

With respect to terrorism in Kenya, official intelligence from multiple governments have confirmed the sources. We are not idiots who believe all Somali’s are bad. I give Kenyan officials high marks for not making foolish official statements condemning all Muslims/Islamic people for the acts of lawless and banal groups that use “religion” as an attempt to legitimize their misdeeds. Using the religious label grants them the legitimacy they seek. Terrorists are despicable thugs and that is the only label that should be used. Naming such groups assigns a humanity that they do not deserve.  Everyone living in Kenya has the responsibility of contributing to safety and well being. Those who know of terrorist activities and fail to deliver information to authorities are not just failing their responsibility they are co-conspiring with despicable thugs for the sole purpose of promoting destruction.

There are those who like to boast and brag about being super powers. Such grandiose titles always fall short of incremental scrutiny. Power is accountability FIRST and authority second. Super Power requires SUPER Accountability. Most of us are content to wake up every morning facing a world of exponential change and increasing complexity with the hope that somehow our actions make this world a better place now and for future generations. Especially when faced with a future that we cannot yet conceive. Superior claims can only be made after superior success relating to the specific matter has been achieved.  Until then, cooperation is demonstrated through acts not words and public announcements.

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There is so much bickering about the minimum wage hike I’m wondering if people are forgetting that PEOPLE work jobs not machines???

When I planned my consulting firm Policy Analysis & Research Group, one of the principles I wrote down was that I would not pay anyone less than $15/hr for anything.  Overall, the lowest I paid was $25/hr with a firm billing rate of $90/hr (this was in Pittsburgh which boasts a very affordable cost of living).  The reason had little to do with economics.  I started a business because I got tired of small business clients telling me that I was a great consultant and helped them but I knew nothing about owning and running a business.  I decided to prove them wrong.  Well, they were right in a lot of respects. LOL!

Paying an employee first when you don’t know when you’re going to get your share is not exactly the most exhilarating feeling in the world when bills are due and collection calls are mounting.  I would tell clients, you need happy employees and they would ask, what about my happiness???  I had to find other things to make me happy because during those moments owning a business was certainly not a happy factor.  And of course, I had many an accountant tell me I had to “learn to manage cash flow” to which I’d answer, “show me the cash and I’ll make it flow!”  So, they would go through my books and say, “you don’t have any cash, why aren’t you out there selling???”  Me: “because I’m sitting here watching you find me cash.”  The biggest mistake I made was not understanding my customer base.  Once I developed a reputation for quality reports, I decided to turn me into a system that others could deliver only to discover clients wanted me not the system (even though they had no complaints about the results).  The dumbest mistake (my small business clients warned me when I announced the name of my firm prior to incorporating): too long of a company name!  It was so long I got tired of signing it on registration sheets and simply would sign PARG which meant nobody knew what the heck I was.  My biggest frustration was not being able to redirect the firm the way I wanted in the midst of a recession but then Porter’s firm went bust too so maybe consultants are “just like doctors” better at curing others than themselves.  Overall, best learning experience in the world!

The point of all this??? Many business decisions have nothing to do with economics and wage rates are one of those mixed issues.  You can’t pay people at levels that go beyond what you are bringing in.   However, setting wage rates only based on what multinational corporations want and then saying small businesses want this too is dangerous ground.  Most small business owners are not serial entrepreneurs or inventors (let alone multinational executives with stock options).  They are people who are pro-active, believe in being rewarded and rewarding others and want to make a difference for their family and their community.  They are the people you turn to when your daughter in college needs an accounting project for her final and nobody will let her touch their books.  They are the ones you can call when your son keeps bugging you about upping his allowance so he can get more girls.  Could you please give my boy a weekend job so he can pay for those movies,”fancy” dinners, gas and car insurance?  We used to be able to tell our children, go work for two hours and buy that dress/new video game instead of bugging me. Well $7.25 x 2 = $14.50 and suddenly we have kids asking, what’s the point of working???  Hearing the news about a recession and no jobs for many people doesn’t help.  You can’t tell kids go to college so you can get a good paying job when the first thing they ask you is, with which company?

These “trivialities” ARE macro issues (due to simple multiplication).  The following map by Bill Moyers shows that there is no state where you can work 40hrs at minimum wage and rent a 2BR apartment http://billmoyers.com/2012/04/02/making-the-rent-on-minimum-wage/ (then we wonder why kids don’t move out anymore).  In addition, costs pile up both in the long and short run (public assistance, crime rates, drug use increases by those trying to “escape”) http://hnn.us/article/153881.  Ironically, small businesses show more growth in states with higher minimum wage rates (maybe because people kind of like getting paid at a level they can pay bills with) http://www.businessinsider.com/raising-minimum-wage-small-businesses-retail-2013-2   And, there is data showing that a majority of small businesses are in favor of higher minimum wage (maybe this way folks can buy American again instead of offshore goods – funny how sentiment against minimum wage coincided with the increase in offshoring….hmmmmm) http://www.smallbusinessmajority.org/small-business-research/minimum-wage/  We can use voluntourism to help people in other countries to start businesses (also a great way to also give college kids a global education).  Let’s not forget bragging rights.  If we’re going to tell everyone that Capitalism is the best wealth generator for everyone and we’re the richest country, the proof is in the pudding and right now other countries have more pudding than we do http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/09/how-americas-minimum-wage-em-really-em-stacks-up-globally/279258/

However, the biggest reason is simply a human reason: 5yrs ago a friend and I were celebrating Mardi-Grass with a splurge lunch at a great seafood restaurant.  Our waitress was delightful but we would notice she would disappear to the kitchen area and come back looking very sad.  We got worried and asked what was wrong.  She explained it was supposed to be her day off and she had promised her 13yr old daughter that she would spend the day with her – a rare treat for her daughter.  However, an unexpected expense had come up at school and she decided she would come in to work expecting to make money on tips (restaurants are allowed to pay below minimum wage).  For some odd reason it was one of those days when no one showed up.  Her daughter kept calling to ask if she had made enough in tips to come home since salary was not the solution.  We asked how much she normally made in tips and how much she needed.  She told us she was making that sacrifice for $50.  Needless to say she got a $50 tip.  We thought we would just get an enthusiastic thank you so we left the tip and exited to avoid attention.  Instead, she followed us into the street and begged us to wait.  She ran back in and came back with Mardi Gras beads.  She asked if we would accept them as a gift because that day she learned people in the world really do care and she wanted us to remember her.    I still keep those beads and I still remember her face with tears of joy.  Now I’m on a quest to learn how to make small businesses recession proof so no one has to make a choice between work and spending time with their children…..This, is the REAL minimum wage!

 

 

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From childhood we are indoctrinated to believe that power and money are bad and turn us into bad people.  Phrases like, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” or “money is the root of all evil” fill our daily vocabulary, and worse still, our sub-conscious awareness.

The irony of all of this, and the danger, is that it turns us into helpless victims when the reality is, power and money are neither good nor bad, it is the choices we make on how we use them that determine their impact.  Even more important is the need to recognize that, if we buy into this philosophy, we surrender the power over our daily lives, we surrender the ability to impact the world around us, not because we are acting, but rather because we are failing to act.

Ok Cecilia, what are you really talking about?  Right now, everything:

  • surrendering our ability to create jobs for ourselves by saying it is only government or large businesses that can create jobs;
  • surrendering our ability to help each other out financially by saying it is only banks who can lend money to people;
  • surrendering our ability as adults to stop bulling in schools by hiring experts to solve the problem instead of telling our children AND children who are not our own that such behavior is 100% wrong and will not be tolerated;
  • surrendering our ability to stop the media from the constant spew of negativity and vitriolic confrontation by tuning in to shows that are full of intrigue and people shouting at each other or people plotting against each other or denigrating each other (aka reality tv and talk shows and murder shows and gossip shows)  when the simple way to change this tide is to watch (or do) something different;
  • surrendering our ability to uphold Constitutional rights on which the United States was formed by allowing extremists to call all Muslims terrorists or state than anyone who is in favor of upholding equality for ALL is a Nazi or a Facist, or failing to recognize that the Constitution calls for separation of Church and State so if homosexuals have a Civil Union (legal issue) it has no impact on whether they have a Religious Union (where each religion can impose it’s own moral bias while still allowing everyone else the freedom to have their own beliefs).

Yes, my list could go on forever and it is not limited to the US. Here are foreign examples:

  • accepting that corruption is just the way things are and paying bribes which not only surrender ones power but, worse still, finance the oppressors so they can gain more power at one’s expense!
  • electing politicians who are well known to take money from special interests (public or private) and spend all their time pandering to those special interests while ignoring requests tied to the one thing that enables them to hold elected office in the first place: your vote!
  • supporting political regimes, anywhere in the wold, which maintain their dominance by banning opposition or worse still, torture, imprisonment, and other acts of hostility or violence for the simple reason that it is “personally or strategically convenient” to do so at this particular point in time!

Of course I could go on forever but my focus is now adequately clear. Little wonder the world is in a mess and yet we lament as if it takes power or money beyond what we have individually available to change this.

It is time to abandon the false notion and to reclaim our personal power.

First and foremost is the need to recognize that emotions cause the release of chemicals in our body and nervous system.  Prolonged exposure to the same type of emotion (positive or negative) is as addictive as taking drugs such as cocaine. In the same manner a drug addict gets accustomed to the chemical stimulus of a drug and needs more of the drug/stimulus, our bodies intuitively realize the connection between our behavior and the release of chemicals and start reacting in a way that will generate the type of chemicals that have accumulated in the system. Hence, if the stimulus is constantly negative, we will do increasingly negative things;  if the the stimulus is constantly positive, we will do increasingly positive things.  For those unfamiliar with literature on this concept, here are some references:

CharmingHealth.com “Negative Thought Patterns could Instigate Addiction Tendencies” http://www.charminghealth.com/negative-emotions/addiction.htm

The Economist (Feb 12, 2004) “I get a kick out of you: scientist are finding out that, after all, love really is down to a chemical addiction between people.” http://www.oxytocin.org/oxytoc/love-science.html

HealthMad.com (Aug 12, 2007) “The Physiology of Anger” http://healthmad.com/mental-health/physiology-of-anger/

Additionz.com (emotional checklist for addicts: hint, if you find you have a lot of these symptoms, you need to find ways to start managing your emotions) http://www.addictionz.com/feelings_and_emotions.htm

As with anything in life, the goal is to maintain a balance.

The second step is recognizing when one is having a reaction that is based on fear (fear that if I help someone else I will not have enough for me, fear of being ridiculed, fear that if I accept a different perspective/behavior I will become the same way, fear of being retaliated against…).  As Frankin D Roosevelt once so eloquently and succinctly stated:

“the only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”

You can read the full and inspiring speech here http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2007/apr/25/greatspeeches

With respect to what one can do, an easy first step is to alter our behavior.  If we accept the falsehood that only certain people such as Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt, Mayor Bloomberg…have the power/money/both to effect change in this world, we miss the golden opportunity to make the most radical change of all – change in the world immediately surrounding us.

The most recent example of an unsung hero I’ve seen is Shirley Sherrod. Who? The woman who works for the US Dept of Agriculture, got fired because an extremist deliberately misrepresented her speech and claimed she was racist so nobody bothered to verify the truth, and, was then hired back when the very people she was alleged to have harmed publicly stated she was the one person who did something to help them.

Nobody has given Ms Sherrod a plaque, nobody has given her a medal.  How she stays sane and positive through all of this is a mystery to me, especially after hearing the famous speech during which she shared pieces of her life story:

It is about 43min long and well worth listening to.  However, for those who prefer reading or the Cliff Notes version, here are the highlights:

Ms. Sherrod grew up in the South (Baker County, Georgia) dreaming of moving to the “freedom” of the North because African Americans who had gone North would come and visit relatives showing off fancy cars and clothes.  Unbeknown to their Southern relatives, many Northerners were pulling a Gatsby move (borrowing and renting clothes and cars in order to create the illusion of wealth).

She grew up in a family of of 5 sisters with a father who, despite loving his daughters dearly, wanted a son so badly he gave all the girls boys nicknames.  When she was 17yrs old and filled with excitement about going to college up North, her mother got pregnant for the sixth time and her father announced to everyone this was his son.  He was right but never got to see his son because 2mths before his son was born, he was murdered in June of 1965 by a white man and, despite there being 3 witnesses, there was no conviction.  Being the oldest, Ms Sherrod had to give up her dreams of going to college up North and stay in Georgia to help her mother raise her siblings while also going to college.

Prior to this, the county Sherriff lynched her uncle (Robert, aka Bobby, Hall) in the early 40’s and, much to everyone’s surprise, an all white federal jury convicted him of depriving her uncle of his civil rights (murder against a black man would not stick on those days).  The Sherriff appealed his conviction to the US Supreme Court and the Court overturned the conviction on the basis that the appropriate charge was murder; the Court also issued a statement saying that, in order to convict of murder, intent had to be proven thereby setting the Sherriff free.  Details of the case Screws vs United States can be found here http://supreme.justia.com/us/325/91/case.html There are some who are attacking Ms Sherrod by saying her statements are false because the court records state that her uncle was murdered and do not state that he was lynched.  To such people I would ask: is murder by any other name any less deadly?  You are missing the forest for the trees.  The important issue is not the word that she used to describe the act but the fact that it took place and was sanctioned by a man who took an oath “to protect and to serve”! Why is it those words (protect and serve) are very conveniently missing from your rhetoric? Yes, there are many outstanding law enforcement officials who deserve to be highly praised but Sherriff Screws was certainly not one of them nor is such a heinous act defensible or excusable in any way.

When Shirley Sherrod graduated from college she again had hopes to leave Georgia but, the mystery of fate, her job opportunity came up with the USDA in Georgia.  By now she is fed up of living in Georgia and, understandably fed up with those who were white.  Fate or hand of God, a white couple (Roger and Eloise Spooner) are assigned to her for assistance because they were in danger of loosing their farm.  She did her duties per her job description and put them in the hands of an attorney.  Much to her surprise, the couple came back to her office after some time in sheer desperation.  The attorney had done nothing and they were certainly going to lose everything if she did not help.

This was the transformational moment in her life.  She suddenly realized poor white people were not treated any better than poor black people. She remembered stories told by her parents and other older adults that  Jim Crow laws in the South had be instituted because it was necessary to keep people working at extremely low wages and in horrible conditions in order to make profits.  The “benefits” gained from indentured servitude and slavery had to be preserved in order for this to continue.  However, after slavery was abolished the poor were beginning to band together and it was necessary to drive a wedge between poor whites and poor blacks so Jim Crow laws were put in effect in order to create the illusion of preferential treatment but the truth is that poor whites were just as exploited and oppressed, just in different ways.  All this came rushing back to her in a single moment and a rage lit inside of her because she realized that this white couple begging for her help was no different from any member of her family who had been victimized.  Ms Sherrod decided she would do every thing in her power to ensure that their rights were preserved.  She succeeded and the couple was able to keep their farm!

You can hear their gratitude in their own words

It was also at this moment that Ms Sherrod realized the fight is not a fight about race but a fight against those who continually use their positions of influence, money and/or power to spread fear, false information, and, to oppress others.  She realized the importance of taking action to undo such misdeeds in one’s daily life, not just through legislation or demonstrations.

I will end by saying this should be a lesson to us all in how to do the right thing in our daily lives (even when we are filled with hurt and anger).  I find it often helps to have a mantra as a guide during difficult times.  For me, the Rotary 4 Way Test is always helpful:

4 Way Test of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Let this be your guide the next time you have to Think, Say, or, Do anything.

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New York Times Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof is coming under fire for his May 22, 2010 commentary titled Moonshine or Kids?

Kristof starts his commentary by discussing poverty in general terms.  Specifically, he focuses on the issue of spending choices.  He asserts:

“…[I]f the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. Much suffering is caused not only by low incomes, but also by shortsighted private spending decisions by heads of households.”

This is not a new assertion. Others have said the same thing – the decision making habits of poor people tend to be focused on short-term gratification instead of long-term investment.

A more detailed elaboration of this point can be found in the work done by Dr. Ruby Payne through her Framework for Understanding Poverty.  Dr. Payne points out there are socio-economic biases in our “hidden rules of behavior.” Middle Class decision making is driven by work and achievement. Decision making by those living in generational poverty is driven by Survival, Relationships and Entertainment.

If I were to attempt to summarize Kristof’s argument, it would be as follows:

  1. Spending habits of poor people need to be examined
  2. Bad budgeting causes as much deficiencies as the lack of money
  3. Mothers are more likely to invest in their kids than fathers
  4. Microsavings programs should favor mothers over fathers

To substantiate this argument, Kristof cites a book he co-authored titled “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” There is also a website where people can get involved Half the Sky Movement.

Seems like a simple enough argument and not one you would think would draw a firestorm of controversy.  However, here is a sample of negative reactions:

“A blame-the-poor classic with particularly overt Calvinist moral messaging”

“This Week in Bad Advocacy”

“Are Poor Africans Bad Parents?”

The reason for all the anger???  Despite the fact that Kristof asserts he is talking about global poverty issues, he only gives one example in his commentary: a poor family in the Republic of Congo.  Most of the column’s real estate is dedicated to this one example which immediately begs the question, if one is trying to discuss global poverty, why is the only example mentioned one from Africa?

Western media in general (not just Kristof and NYT but other print and television media) seem to have only one depiction of Africa – its failures, corruption, starving children, irresponsible adults, ….Rod Chavis (UPENN African Studies Center) elaborates on these issues in his paper “Africa in the Media” (1998).  Little attention is given to books such as Africa Rising: How 900 Million African Consumers Offer More Than You Think or movies such as Africa Open for Business.  On the count of negative portrayal of Africa when there are negative examples from other areas, Kristof is guilty as charged.

Unfortunately, the focus on this one issue detracts from the validity of an extremely important issue:

What can we do to find ways to encourage those faced with generational poverty to make financial decisions that benefit them (instead of spending their money on goods and or services that benefit others)?

Kristof recommends focusing on women/mothers. This strategy has been proven to be effective but, if one continues with the assertion that fathers invest less in their children, it still does not answer the question: how do we incentivize fathers? If both parents are responsible for the child, should it not also follow that both parents must be empowered to more beneficial behavior?

While I do not like the way in which Kristof illustrates his point, I do have to thank him for attempting to generate national dialog on the issue of behavioral incentives.  You can read my reactions to his post by viewing Comment #377.  As is pointed out by AID Watch “[t]he efficacy of aid interventions depends very much on understanding the behavior of the poor”

If there is any strong attack I would leverage on Kristof it is the focus on mothers and microsavings as a “silver bullet” solution.  Poverty is as complex of an issue as the human beings which are trapped by its grasp.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, in order to succeed, we must start with what we have shown to be successful and build from there.  Mothers and microsavings are just a good a starting point as any other.

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Scientists: Gulf spill now far bigger than Valdez (Associated Press)
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gIXWYBTpLtSayJtg41LKXpxSxVPAD9FV8H980

  • Exxon Valdez 11million gallons
  • Gulf Spill 19million to 39million gallons (and counting)

Exxon Valdez impact
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill#Cleanup_measures_and_environmental_consequences

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/05/04/eveningnews/main6461218.shtml

Dead animals: 100,000 to as many as 250,000 seabirds, at least 2,800 sea otters, approximately 12 river otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles, and 22 orcas, as well as the destruction of billions of salmon and herring eggs

Slow system recovery: Almost 20 years after the spill, a team of scientists at the University of North Carolina found that the effects are lasting far longer than expected.[20] The team estimates some shoreline Arctic habitats may take up to 30 years to recover.

21 years later: Incomplete oil removal & devastation of herring fish stock (previously an economic staple for the area)

Total Impact of Gulf Spill (both short term and long term) = TBD.

The little we do know can be seen in this underwater video from ABC’s Good Morning America

Quote from Repower America: ABC News went underwater in the Gulf with Philippe Cousteau Jr., grandson of famous explorer Jacques Cousteau, and he described what he saw as “one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen underwater.”

We are resisting alternative energy sources and fuel efficiency mandates because….?????

Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!

Here is a resource if you want to be pro-active about preventing such problems in the future: http://www.climateprotect.org/

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It seems every time one turns on the news these days there is some sort of protest bordering on riot.  Media hype is feeding the frenzy but, most amusing, pundits are all sitting around in amazement asking: what is this about?

While I cannot speak for everyone, I will do my best to explain things.  Drawing on my training as a Public Policy Analyst, I will address issues in segments and start by peeling the outer layers of the proverbial onion in order to get at the core issues:

Vitriolic language (aka insults, screaming, racial slurs, etc.): As Fmr President Clinton said, this needs to stop.  Violent words can lead to violent actions and we have already seen the beginnings of this after the health care reform bill was passed.  People were spit upon, property was destroyed, bomb threats made to government representatives.  Individually a word or an insult does nothing.  However, when stress and tensions are high, an accumulation of such language can easily lead to its physical manifestation.  As human beings we are all linked and very susceptible to herd mentality.  Once the herd starts moving it is very hard to stop.  This is what soldiers describe as “the fog of war” or, ordinary people who end up involved in extremely violent acts such as genocide talk about when they say “the voices made me do it.”  For those who don’t believe this is true, perhaps watching the recent PBS documentary Worse than War will change your mind http://www.pbs.org/wnet/worse-than-war/the-film/watch-worse-than-war/24/ We all like to think we are morally superior and could never succumb to such insensibility but the truth is that every one of us is equally capable of good and evil.  This is why our parents always told us to be nice to others and to be kind with our words.

Misinformation: Somewhere along the line, it became acceptable to distribute erroneous information about political opponents.  Other than laments that this should not be done, no effort was made to pass regulations which penalize people for mass distribution of erroneous information.  Granted, Freedom of Speech is a First Amendment right even if the speech is loaded with errors.  An alternate solution would be having the media as watchdogs of the truth and have the media take the stance that they will not publish or broadcast anything that cannot be verified as true.  Instead, the media are the first to circulate campaigns of misinformation, with the appropriate disclaimers of course, but widely circulated nonetheless.  Add to this the freedom to publish enabled by internet blogs such as the one you are reading now, social media, talk shows, satellite radio…. The truth is that there is no longer any way to effectively police the information that is out there.  This, in my opinion is a good thing.  However, it also demands that we each take greater individual responsibility in not only verifying information but also examining the bias which produced the information (even an “unbiased” account is biased because it leaves out something in favor of neutrality).

Racial tension due to the first Black U.S. President: Oppression in any society leaves deep wounds which in turn lead to distrust, anger, and even hatred.  At the root of all the issues is a preference for only accepting or associating with “people who look like me.”  Until we learn to accept and see the humanity in all of us, whether we like someone or not, such tensions will never disappear.  Worse still, is the need to express distrust by hurling insults and threats. If the only way you can feel safe is by threatening or insulting someone else then the problem is not the other person, the problem is you.  As humans we also need to feel validated in our beliefs so we try to convince others that what we believe is correct.  When it comes to racism, there is no concern for whether what we believe about “others” is or is not true.  We just need to spread our beliefs hoping that the more they are spread, the erroneous information magically transforms itself into the truth because if it doesn’t, we have to admit that we are wrong and we can never admit to being wrong about our feelings towards “those people.”  Here are some examples:

Legitimate Anti-(Current) Government Issues: There is an old saying: even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day.  No truer words have ever been spoken and yet the media and pundits and politicians and Washington are priding themselves in dismissing the protesters as “crazy people.”  The truth is people are angry because they are being forced into things and being imposed upon but whenever they try to suggest alternatives, their suggestions are dismissed.  This would make anyone infuriated.  More so when the current President campaigned on the slogan “Change We Can Believe In.”  Many people did believe.  For the first time in US political history, a true grass roots campaign was mounted.  Social media was used and so were town meetings.  People spent inordinate amounts of time explaining problems so that these issues could be taken to Washington.  People were promised that, if elected, this President would continue to use the same communication mechanisms that were used during his political campaign in order to make policy in Washington.  A little over a year after the election, it is not only business as usual, all the mechanisms via which people were contributing during the campaign appear to have been shut off.  Republicans are to blame; Democrats are to blame.  To the average person, political finger pointing is irrelevant; the only thing that matters are results.  Here are examples:

1. Out of Control Spending: we are in the worst economic times since the Great Depression.  People are making heavy individual sacrifices – let’s cut back to one car instead of two even though we really need two cars; let’s go without new clothes; let’s cut back on the amount of food we eat.  Those are the voluntary choices.  There are also numerous involuntary choices such as bankruptcy due to medical debt and/or foreclosure due to lack of income which is in turn due to lack of employment.  Individuals cannot figure out how they are going to pay their personal bills and looming on top of this is a deficit that is so huge it will inevitably lead to higher taxes.  At this point, nobody cares which Administration caused the problem.  The only thing people care about is, which Administration is going to fix it? how? and how soon?  Most importantly, how much is the fix going to cost me?  This is the magic number that is never delivered from Washington.  Report after report after report and I can’t forecast how much I’m going to be paying for this in the future.  Budgets may be conceptual for politicians but they are very real for the tax payers.  Not acknowledging this (and by acknowledgement I am not talking about political lip service full of kind words and estimates but rather hard and solid numbers which can be used to hold people accountable) is disrespectful to tax payers and naturally stirs up anger.  Adding insult to injury are issues like earmark spending.

Earmark Spending: A recent CBS news report (click CBS news report for link) said that earmark spending is down in 2010.  Down???  Why is it happening at all???  If politicians want to show their good faith, the least they could do is stop spending on pet projects.  To put earmark spending in the common parlance, it is no different from when a parent gives a child a credit card.  Politicians fail to realize that, WE the TAXPAYERS are the ones with parental control over their spending habits (not the other way around).  If I gave my children credit cards and told them, you can use this to pay for your gas (utilities), your school fees (administrative expenses), and basic food and clothing (infrastructure), that’s it.  Anything else like entertainment (trips), non-essential expenses you need to find money that is not mine to pay for.  Off my children go and all of a sudden I get a bill for a Mercedes Benz in Omaha but my child is studying in Boston.  Huh????  What is this about?  Well Mom, Harry needed a Benz.  Who the hell is Harry??? None of your siblings are named Harry and I only gave birth to 3 children!  But, it is now on my credit card and I have to pay for it.  Haven’t finished recovering from that one and I get another bill for jet skis in Alaska.  None of my kids are in Alaska.  Call the credit card company, oh yes, that charge was authorized by your second child.  Now I’m on a war path!  Why are you charging jet skis in Alaska when you are in Florida???  Don’t they have jet skis in Florida???  Yes Mom but I was doing Lisa a favor.  What???? You see she helped me with my math homework so I bought her jet skis and she lives in Alaska.  At this point I’m seriously wondering if the death penalty applies to parents who justifiably murder their own children.  Surely I can find a Johnnie Cochran to defend me.  I start paying that bill as well when all of a sudden a third bill comes in.  This one is for a $10,000 trip to the Hague.  I know only one child could be stupid enough to make such an expense given what I’ve said to the other two so I call my third child.  What is this about???  Duh, Mom, it’s a $10,000 trip to the Hague.  I can see that, but who went on that trip???  I don’t know.  What do you mean you don’t know??? You made the charge!  Yes, but it was an anonymous trip.  A what???? An anonymous trip.  How can you have an anonymous trip, someone went on that trip, that someone exists and has a name, who is that person?????  Mom, just cool your jets….  No, I will not cool my jets!!!!!  With this example, it is perfectly clear why a parent would be infuriated to the point of rage and yet the commentary from media, pundits and politicians is that people have misdirected anger and are bitter.  Yes we are bitter but the anger is far from misdirected, it is very specifically and justifiably targeted.  Is murder or personal assault or destruction of property an option?  NO (even the Johnnie Cochran fantasy is not an option with one’s children)!  Unfortunately, unlike our children, we cannot revoke the credit cards so the only option left is to have public demonstrations.

2. Lack of Public Input and Transparency: The combination of computer and internet age is a fabulous thing.  We can share massive amounts of data from any location on the planet that has internet access (not just this country).  Computer programs can filter and sort the information instantaneously.  Some can even analyze it regardless of how complex – these programs can sift through text at light speed and pick up recurring themes and aggregate counts so that you know what issues are most relevant (this is one of the ways we monitor terrorist activity).   And yet, despite the fact that this technology is available AND used by our government, they do not use it to enable us to provide input.  How hard would it be to invite public commentary on each piece of legislation and have the same software that analyzes terrorist activity scan through for issues that are of greatest concern to people when it comes to health care????  Heck, there is enough evidence that our internet chatter is being monitored anyway so why not apply those same monitors to extract things that are related to public policy decisions???  Would that be too much like right?  Ok, so we want to maintain the appearance of formal participation.

  • First step, no more 2,000 page pieces of legislation which even the politicians involved in drafting say they do not read in entirety.  No piece of legislation (including supplements, addendum, annex, etc.) should be longer than 60 pages.  If complex national security briefs can be reduced to 1 page, the public has a right to have the legislation which it is affected by be reduced to 60 pages per legislation.  Language should be CLEAR. If a third grader cannot understand what is being said, it is not clear. This has nothing to do with literacy levels and everything to do with putting an end to the deliberate practice of making the simple complicated in order to confuse people.
  • Second, connections between lobbyists, government officials, corporations and vested interests must be disclosed.  Who they have worked for, how much they make, how much they are getting for representing XYZ, etc.  This way we know the bias of those involved in any given piece of legislation.
  • Third, each piece of legislation should go through public referendum.  If a matter is urgent, the time for public vote can be limited to 2 weeks (14days). For non-urgent matters, the appropriate time can be determined according to need.  We have enough modern technology and internet access that a 60 page piece of legislation can be read and voted upon by every citizen in this country within a 14 day period.  The job of legislators will be to craft the legislation and put it forward but it will be the responsibility of the citizenry to make the votes. This would also force legislators to slow down AND base legislation on public input. The counter argument is that on issues such as the TARP (aka Wall Street bailout) and healthcare, people do not understand the urgency of the issues.  People understood the urgency and complexity just fine.  Legislators were not listening to what people were saying – there are other ways of achieving the same goals which are very different from the solutions you are ramming down our throats.

3. Using Political Parties as an Excuse to Defer Responsibility: This is the one thing that has everyone fed up the most.  Democrats blame Republicans, Republicans blame Democrats.  In the interim what gets done?  Are there substantive debates on how we should solve problems? No. There is just a lot of heckling and finger pointing and “not my faulting.” As an example, with TARP, I will go out on a huge limb and say a significant number of Americans would have been ok with the amount of the TARP spending IIIIFFFF it had included a mandate that any institution accepting TARP funds would have to break itself apart so that it was no longer “too big to fail.”  What size is that?  According to one set of studies, $100 Billion (Bill Moyer’s Journal April 16, 2010 see transcript for comments by Simon Johnson) Any entity over $100 Billion needs to break itself apart.   Was this ever discussed before the TARP legislation was passed?  While I wasn’t privy to Congressional discussions, it has never been mentioned by any politician I’ve heard and yet such proposals abounded while this piece of legislation was being debated.  Same thing with healthcare reform.  The public was pretty much in unanimous agreement: the denial of health insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions is something that must be stopped; same thing with exorbitant costs for medical procedures. Yes we want the best healthcare in the world but does an ultrasound really have to cost $2,000 when you can get the same type of scan in a developing country for the cost of $40?  Why do we pay so much for medicines? How do we preserve freedom of choice while keeping a system that is affordable and that allows all equal access????  These are not a Republican or Democrat issues.  These are not debates  about Socialism versus Capitalism.  These are debates about alternative SOLUTIONS!!!  Using political rhetoric to avoid having a serious public discussion on what each solution actually entails is something that must come to an immediate end.

Am I going to join a public rally or march with picket signs and yell at the top of my voice to get myself heard?  No. While those methods are perfectly legitimate, they are not my personal style. I type on this blog and that is about as activist as I’m going to get. Hopefully somebody will listen during my lifetime. If not, the Library of Congress is now archiving Twitter messages. I’ll post a link to this blog on my Twitter account and perhaps in the future some one will read this and other voices of the time and put the comments into historical context.

In the interim, here are some interesting data:

PBS Newshour Map: Patchwork Nation

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/patchworknation/#/archive/?category=elections&map=tea-party-members-10k-residents

NBC/WSJ  Poll on government satisfaction

PeW survey April 18, 2010.  The report is titled Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor: The People and Their Government

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May 1, 2010 Update

Last night was the last episode of Bill Moyer’s Journal.  I have to admit it will be hard not being able to watch one of my favorite Friday night shows.  At the same time, change is a part of human life we must all adjust to.

In typical Bill Moyer’s fashion, his final show not only highlighted issues but also highlighted solutions.  I was extremely heartened to see examples of coherent, respective and inclusive populist activity.

http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04302010/watch.html

Since it would be better to showcase what people have said in their own words, here are my favorite quotes from this segment:

BARBARA KALBACH: We the people! You have to try to explain to people why certain things are an injustice to the population as a whole because if no one speaks out, nothing’s going to change.

LARRY GINTER: The preamble of the constitution says promote the general welfare. Well, does that sound like a government that’s hands off? That isn’t involved into the overall well-being of everybody in this country? So this idea of get government out of my life- I don’t know how that works. Because we’re supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. So how do I just take government out of my life? I am government!

LARRY GINTER: …As a Catholic, there’s one thing that I’ve always felt about the bible that was, to me, was the ultimate truth. And that is loving your neighbor. Did you find out any more about that rally we were going to have? If you truly love your neighbor, you’re going to make sure that that neighbor’s treated fairly. Because if that neighbor is taken care of and he knows that you care or she knows that you care about them, maybe just maybe they’re going to care about Larry Ginter. And that’s going to catch on.

JOHN BLASINGAME: You can fight. In fact, you’ve got a duty to fight. There’s some words to a song that get right to the heart of this.

(SINGING) You law abiding citizens, listen to this song. Laws were made by people and people can be wrong. Once unions were against the law, but slavery was fine. Women were denied the vote and children worked the mines. The more you study history, the less you can deny it. A rotten law stays on the books ’til folks with guts defy it.

These are definitely viewpoints I can stand behind any day!

Most importantly they remind us of our civic duty to keep government honest by first keeping ourselves honest (caring about everyone, not just ourselves) and second by speaking the truth out loud.

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May 20, 2010 Update

For some very interesting and pragmatic research approaches, see the work of Esther Duflo at the MIT Poverty Lab.

TED Talk: Social Experiments to Fight Poverty (Feb 2010)

MIT Poverty Lab Research Page

Her argument, which I wholeheartedly agree with and have been asking social science colleagues for a while:

Instead of applying theories on a broad scale, let us first use the same approach that is used in clinical trials (aka scientific method).

  1. Start with a hypothesis.
  2. Conduct experiments with a control group
  3. Document the results
  4. Analyze the data with particular emphasis on unexpected findings
  5. Guide yourself by the rule of thumb, a valid theory is both descriptive AND predictive (in other words, it does not just explain what is going on, it must also allow you to forecast/predict what will happen if you have the same inputs/variables).  This is an area where I personally believe the social science research to date has been sorely lacking.  Theories are highly descriptive but few, if any, are predictive.

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I originally wrote this post on September 12, 2009.  On April 28, 2010 Charlie Rose interviewed African entrepreneur & billionaire/Celtel founder  Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim (aka Mo Ibrahim) and I was delighted to hear him express views that are similar to what I posted.

Specifically:

  1. The need to distinguish between development aid and humanitarian aid (the latter being always necessary).
  2. Yes Africans need to be self-sufficient.  However, the need for African governance to improve does not mean that development aid to governments should stop.  More importantly, many of the same banks (e.g. Goldman Sachs) that are willing to make highly risky investments are not willing to take risks in Africa.  Capital is a necessary form of aid to any business endeavor.  Generic statements such as “Dead Aid” or “all aid to Africa should stop” are not helpful in creating the types of changes that need to occur in Africa.
  3. While assistance from the Chinese and others is always welcome, the Chinese must stop using their funds (public or private) to support corrupt or despotic regimes (Moyo has recommended that Africans turn to China for aid).

You can view the delightful interview here http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10985 (well worth watching as Dr. Ibrahim recounts how he achieved his business success in Africa).

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This topic has been at the forefront of debate for quite some time.  Many have asked for my opinions on Dambisa Moyo and her book Dead Aid.  I have not read the book but I have listened to interviews such as these: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXWIUg30Cpk&feature=channel

Overall, my summary opinion would be that, economists are theoretical and not experienced in hands-on implementation plus have a tendency to speak of their theories as if they were gospel.  Taken in this light, there is nothing new or surprising about what Moyo is saying: Governments in African countries (and other developing nations) tend to have high levels of corruption and, if aid is given through a mechanism that is highly corrupt, it does not do much to benefit the target recipients.  This has been said over and over again.  George Soros (also an economist by training although this one is a billionaire) launched his Open Society Institute http://www.soros.org/ because he realized that the corruption problems he witnessed in Eastern Europe were the same problems which exist in other parts of the world.   Let me also state that there is nothing wrong with theory.  We need theories to organize our thoughts and to create frameworks which enable dialogue and the exchange of ideas which eventually leads to solutions.  However, theories must not be promoted as solutions; they are abstract and theoretical.  It takes data, implementation experience, monitoring and evaluation to create effective solutions.

On a personal level, I have very vehement sentiments when I hear blame being placed on external entities (in this case donors providing aid and the celebrities who use their status to create awareness about problems).

First, I have to disclose a bias, I am a huge Bono fan!  He has always used is rock star status to talk about issues we would prefer to ignore (in the context of Africa, before debt relief and aid, it was Apartheid).  Celebrities are trend setters.  This is a well established fact and the top celebrities get paid millions upon millions to endorse products because of this fact.  Given a choice between a celebrity getting paid millions to tell me which lipstick to buy or which shoe to wear versus a celebrity who forgoes millions in income to use his or her status to create awareness about a social problem, I vote for the latter any day, any time, any where.  As for focusing on negative issues versus positive issues, problems are negative issues.  If you want to talk about a problem, you will be speaking about negative things.  The responsibility for positive stereotypes does not lie with celebrities, it lies with Africans.  It is up to Africans to talk about what is good or what positive steps are being taken to address the problem the celebrity is creating awareness about.

The issue of responsibility leads me to my second bias.  As a self-titled Responsibility & Empowerment Catalyst, I will always put the blame on personal responsibility first (perhaps it is Catholic upbringing and too many mea culpa confessions).  In my opinion, if aid is to blame for Africa’s problems, what are Africans responsible for?  Take the genocide in Rwanda as an example. Yes, external monies were funneled to various groups to purchase weapons etc.  However, was anyone involved REQUIRED to kill another human being?  Especially in the instance when people committed violence against members of their own family for being of the wrong tribe, how was this required?  If someone were to come up to you today and say, here is a gun, kill your first cousin whom you’ve known and played with since childhood because he or she is different, would you do it?  When things like this happen it really is not about tribe or socio-economic status or race it is about senseless hate.  Aid did not cause the genocide in Rwanda, Rwandans caused the genocide in Rwanda!  The same applies in the Congo, in Liberia, in Sudan, in Kosovo,……  If we truly want to have a proper debate about responsibility, we MUST first talk about individual accountability and responsibility.  We cannot create discourse which allows individuals to play the role of victim by blaming their actions on “I can’t help myself, someone else made me do this.”  Nothing I have heard thus far from Moyo even begins to touch on this issue.

At a practical and professional level, I need to preface my remarks with the three rules of thumb I was given during my undergraduate training in Political Science and a fourth which I learned on the job as a Public Policy analyst working in city government:

  1. Never complain about a problem unless you already have a solution that can be implemented.
  2. The devil is in the details.
  3. Follow the money.
  4. In God we trust, all others bring data.

I also must disclose that my professional bias is in favor of practitioners and not theoreticians.  Two examples of practitioners who have PROVEN track records in implementing globally replicable solutions that get people above the $1/day poverty line are Paul Polak www.paulpolak.com (use of appropriate technology) and Muhammad Yunus http://www.muhammadyunus.org/ (most recognized micro-finance model).

I must add that there are African versions of both.  I will focus on Kenya.  When it comes to appropriate technology there is Kickstart which has been successfully developing appropriate technology equipment for the rural poor since 1991.  On the micro-lending side Kenya has a strong Association of Microfinance Institutions which have been quite successful.  Two examples are Jamii Bora which is now schooling JP Morgan, and, Small & Micro Enterprise Programme SMEP (no website) which has been operating for close to 20 years and have seen street vendors who were given a loan of $200 15 years ago and now have a networth of $6million.

Would development aid dollars to such organizations be a waste of money???  The danger of focusing only on the failures is that it leaves little if any room to examine what has been successful.

Now to put the four golden rules in the context of the two examples raised by Moyo in the above video link.  In order to make things easier to read I have created a table and converted it to PDF format:

Cecilia_Wandiga_Reactions_to_Moyo

If after reading this you are feeling the onset of a migraine, you have just had your first Implementation 101 lesson.  We haven’t even touched upon getting the necessary players to the table, managing personalities, finding resources, etc.

Are the issues I raise insurmountable?  Absolutely not!  Solutions already exist all over this wonderful planet of ours.  However, there is a HUGE difference between selling books by issuing opinionated statements and actually creating effective and workable solutions.  I always welcome controversial dialogue.  It sparks debate, debate leads to the exchange of ideas, the exchange of ideas eventually (more often than not, as in 10 to 20 years) leads to solutions.

What we must all remain clear about is the difference between theoretical debate and actual implementation.  During theoretical debate we announce that the Devil is in the room and explain why this is a problem.  During implementation we have to shake his hand, dance with him, eat with him, listen to him, AND work with him.

Does Dead Aid appear to be equally as exciting of an idea now?

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