Sunday, December 24, 2006

Want to change the system? Educate females!

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006, divided into two equal parts, to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank for their efforts to create economic and social development from below. Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights. Over many thousand loans they've found that the most effective and wide-reaching in their successes have been those loaned to women.

Another example written up by Nicholas Kristof in today's NY Times is about an elementary school in rural Cambodia initiated with American funds raised from an elementary school in Redmond, Washington. In addition to the initial funding, they regularly carry on e-mail communication with the students at both schools. Without schooling, Cambodian girls are ripe to be kidnapped and placed into the sex trade. Kristof bought two such prostitutes out of their brothels only to follow up and find that one returned and the other was pregnant and a ward of her village.
Building schools doesn't solve the immediate problem of girls currently enslaved inside brothels - that requires more rigorous law enforcement, crackdowns on corruption and outspoken diplomacy. But in the long run no investment in poor countries gets more bang for the buck than educating girls. Literate girls not only are in less danger of being trafficked, but later they have fewer children, care for their children better and are much better able to earn a decent living.
Every study shows that female literacy has a direct coorelation with fertility rates. Girls' educational achievements have a direct influence on the timing and number of their children: educated women have fewer children, and have them later. Today, some 400 million adolescent girls stand on the brink of adulthood. If many choose to delay childbearing, even for a few years, they will enhance their health, education and employment prospects.

Here comes the rant. There are so many areas in our lives where a bit of investment in strategic areas can have such a great impact on the future that it's almost criminal to NOT make those investments. For sure it's immoral! Instead we are wasting our resources in Iraq and through governmental inefficiencies and corruption. We have to change our priorities to focus on reducing poverty, fighting rampant diseases (like Altzheimer's and AIDS), educating females, attempting to curb environmental crises, providing fair and equal health care, and expanding communication everywhere. We're all in the same boat!

Manipulation Is Manipulation No Matter How You Spin It

Where do you all those political consultants go when the election cycle is over?

They do commercial work for large corporations. Although they have to moderate their techniques, manipulation is manipulation no matter where or how you spin it.

Consider CEO salaries. During the Clinton years a law was passed attempting to put a ceiling on the disparity between CEO and the average employee salary difference and make salaries more performance-based. It also put the burden of monitoring and officiating on the board of directors. But shortly after the law was passed (1993) so many loopholes were found that, for a paltry $5,000 consulting fee, any tax lawyer or accountant could document how a particular corporation and their board of directors met the requirements of the law (but not the moral implied law that was intended). So the serious disparities have continued undeterred. The anecdotes of seemingly ludicrous CEO pay never stop; every week a fresh batch of fat cats parade as examples of capitalism run amok.

When the head of a company gets $200 million for his severance package but was fired for lack of performance there is a riple effect throughout the corporation and the business world. Loyalties diminish; schisms widen; paranoia increases; profits are wrongly used (in this case $200 million of profits); and hopes for a better life working within that corporation are dashed. By the way, you and I are paying a good portion of that $200 million because it's tax deductible to the corporation.

Call in the spin masters to try and mitigate the damage. Release the information around Christmas time when no one is paying attention; release information slowly and in confusing terms; obfuscate. One form of obfuscation is to commission an economic analysis of how CEO's (and their top-5 team of similar highly paid executives) enhance corporate performance and support their outrageous pay. There are a lot of non-profit economic think tanks and universities that can use the commission money AND, if you don't like what they write, trash it and find another one that reports what you need it to say. Release those studies around the same time as the damaging information is released. Now THAT'S obfuscation!

It's sad and shameful that things aren't improving and that spinmasters are exacerbating the situation by clouding the facts. It's immoral that this year's top paid CEO got $254 million (Forbes). That's 7,000 times greater than the average salary for his corporation! SEVEN THOUSAND TIMES!

I think it naive that the new Democrat Congress will make any inroads in this area but I'm forwarding a copy of this blog to my congresswoman and two senators just in case.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Let's Take Annihilation Out of the Equation

In reviewing candidates and issues for the 2008 Presidential Election, the Iraq situation - as distinguished from the fight against international terrorism - is and will be the leading topic, even if it's in hindsight. Here's my thinking:
  • Nothing dramatic is going to happen in Iraq except a steady slide downward.

  • Democrats and Republicans will go along with the Iraq Study Group's 79 proposals and negotiate with President Bush and new Secretary of Defense Gates some semi-satisfactory actions that will slowly take effect.

  • As Senator Feingold recently said: "Unfortunately, while the Iraq Study Group's report recognizes that the Administration's policy is not working, it doesn't correct the myopic focus on Iraq that has so dangerously weakened our national security."

  • Israel is likely to continue it's paranoid policy of self-preservation at any cost, periodically signaling their neighbors to seriously worry about being attacked.

  • Iran is getting a free ride (and it's fervent wish to merge all Shiites into one region) while all of this is going on and making the most of it by outrageous provocations, threats and proclamations.

  • Hezbollah is progressively taking over (and likely to succeed at taking over) the entire government of Lebanon.

  • No leader anywhere - within the U.S., at the UN, or worldwide - is passionately proposing a solution... any solution.

  • There's no chance of Congress withholding funding of additional Iraq expenditures so the saga will continue, properly funded. Perhaps with more attention to veteran's costs and benefits.

  • The King of Saudi Arabia is worriedly saying that the region is ready to blow up. What he didn't say is that in addition to Wahhabism being the State Religion of Saudi Arabia, it was he and the previous King that started, funded and provided instructors for the 15,000 +/- religious Madrases schools that populate the Muslim world and provide a breeding ground for worldwide radical fundamentalists.
Everyone is threatening everyone with annihilation, often nuclear annihilation. So... what would happen if we took annihilation out of the equation? What if some passionate statesman somewhere - perhaps at the UN, perhaps here in the US - were to make a comprehensive suggestion that Iran AND Israel get rid of their nuclear weapons and that the UN not only verifies the removal but also promises to secure and protect both countries and the surrounding region? Imagine an Al Gore-type statesman presenting and proposing his Iraq solution with similar passion, data and clout.

If the nuclear alternative were eliminated, would people then have no choice but to sit down at the table and honestly talk?

Every candidate for president, Rep, Dem or whatever, I look for that passion, that plan, that suggestion or set of ideas, that intensity and strength of character to pursue this goal until it or something better actually happens. Senator Feingold has dropped out of the race; Howard Dean isn't going to run either... I've got to admit that nobody thus far qualifies. But I'm hopeful. Perhaps naively so.