Sunday, March 09, 2014


Maybe it’s just the company I keep (which is mostly online and thus necessarily framed) but I’m aware of much more intense and intentional effort to do something constructive about the state of the world.  It’s so bad, it can’t be ignored anymore. So much violence, so many incarcerated, so many rebellions, so much corruption, so many rules and so few of them effectively enforced -- some of them with side-effects that make them more damaging than the original prompting.  Should we be MORE alarmed that government at every level echoes helplessness and stubbornness and cluelessness?  Or can we assume there's one cause that runs through them all?

On the reservation we’ve been following the accusations that a former professor was embezzling and working kickbacks; in town we elected a mayor who made similar accusations here but turned out to be incapable of managing a council meeting; in the state we have a legislator accused of violence against his family -- and then there’s national and international scenes.

Warren Olney

Warren Olney’s “To the Point” from PRI is one of my dependable sources of optimism, not least because he will often engage people with quite different points of view but NOT to pit them against each other.  Rather to find the unities they share.  Most recently he had several guests who work in the African NGO realm, one of the most frustrating places on the planet to try to help people.  Recently I watched Madonna’s AIDS film,   “I Am Because We Are”  which was barbed by controversy, accusations that the little boy she adopted was not as orphaned as represented, demands to know her HIV status, elaborations of her early relationship with a man who died of AIDS.  The footage of slender 49-year-old woman with a gap in her front teeth walking in a Malawi village with a baby in her arms and a little fellow by the hand -- staged or not -- was moving.  How many people sat down and wrote checks is debatable.  Where would they send them and where would the money go?

And that’s part of the problem.  Celebrities who try to help get caught in accusations of bad motives, demands for more money, and opportunists who crowd in to “manage” in ways that celebrities are unsuited to do.  Tyrants get just as starstruck as anyone else.  But high-powered careers cannot be conducted from Malawi.  Superstars have to go home sooner or later.  

Anyway, no one is really sure what would help most with a problem like HIV.  Here’s the podcast version of the relevant program.  There doesn’t seem to be a transcript.    This is an hour-long program and not all of it is about Africa.  I’m sorry I can’t clip out the relevant parts, but I thought it was worth linking in case you’re interested.  The digest follows:

Should Western Values Be a Condition of Foreign Aid?
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has broad support in Uganda for a new law imposing sentences up to life in prison for homosexual acts. Nigeria and many other sub-Saharan nations also have anti-gay laws. Such harsh anti-gay laws in African countries have the US and other donors threatening to reduce foreign aid. Norway, Denmark and the World Bank have withheld or diverted some $110 million in aid. President Obama says the US is "reviewing ties." Is it right to withhold food and medicine based on acceptance of western values? Will attaching strings to foreign aid make targeted leaders stronger than ever? Will African soldiers continue to protect western interests? Finally, does aid do more harm than good by making nations dependent? Would the money be better spent to help them help themselves?
Heather Murdock
  1. Heather Murdock: Christian Science Monitor and Voice of America, @heather_murdock
William Easterly
  1. William Easterly: New York University, @bill_easterly
    John McArthur
  2. John McArthur: Brookings Institution, @mcarthur
    Dayo Olopade
  3. Dayo Olopade: journalist and author, @madayo
  1. Easterly's 'The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor?'
  2. Olopade's 'The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa'
I started to reformat this, but decided to leave it alone in hopes the links will transfer.  I’m not so much interested in Africa as I am looking for ideas about my own small town and the reservation, but I'm impressed by how young and bright these people seem.  What are the local millennials thinking? How much are they aware of experts on ag issues or government who are out-of-state?  (Some have found the state resources for small towns.)  Who are the Blackfeet voices who stand above the rest in terms of constructive ideas, inspired leadership, and general calm?

I’m not looking for Africa-specific, AIDS-specific, or even reservation-specific information.  What I want is structural, shift-able, re-framing, new insights.  I was struck by Bishop Tutu saying,  “Africa was once a place to go for refuge, an hospitable continent.  But now people are afraid to come here.”   (Not unlike the rez.) At the moment Uganda and Nigeria are dealing with HIV-AIDS by conflating it with homosexuality and criminalizing to the point of death sentences for people in either category.  (HIV is a blood disease.  Will they kill everyone who has blood?)  Broad-based emotional support for this attitude evidently has its roots in European religious homophobia.  But homophobia and neglect of the poor are supposed to be against modern “Western Values,” particularly among “Millennials,” the young adults. 

The liberal Scandinavian countries are so offended by the African attitudes that they are withholding financial help.  (Ironically, “aid.”)  This has invited investigation of the whole picture, including World Bank abuse, dictator indulgence, and general toleration of aid abuses.  Some of Africa uses Spanish Inquisition-type punishments while joining with US terrorist resistance, or so it is supposed.  But they themselves are terrorizing.  

Our choices seem to be between actual aid and the use of military force.  The two are entwined: militaries have the power to divert aid to their own uses.  Looting aid either physically or via bookkeeping is common everywhere on both ends of all funds.  One strategy has been to “earmark” money to go to specific efforts.  We used to do that in the church so that pledging could be directed to “the building fund” or “developing the choir.”  Of course, that frees up the other money to use for, say, the unpopular minister’s sabbatical.  In Third World places bookkeeping and monitoring just fails.  Another corruption was “tying,” for instance, paying to set up a transportation network that is funded on condition that they purchase Harleys to be the necessary motorcycles.

Murdock said something I had not heard before: back country impoverished indigenous people are not engaged in testing or clinic projects because they don’t know that there IS such a thing as HIV-AIDS.  When the people fail and die, they believe it is because of witchcraft.  They have no concept of viruses or any experience with Western medicine.  They DO know about MSM, though not the European ideas about what is “gay,” but they see it as a moral problem, a characteristic that should be criminalized at a capital level.  I expect that’s not too different around here.  But here they DO know who Madonna is and are more likely to listen to her.  But food aid’s relationship to ag support can overwhelm thinking with emotion.

Murdock, who seems to me much plugged into reality, says that big-shot experts get too fascinated by rules and money.  She suggests that it does not take money to simply point out that the strong should protect the weak rather than game them for money.  She takes the “fishing-not-fish” idea to the manufacture of HIV drugs -- why can’t there be local factories?  Is it so difficult to make a antiretroviral?  A lot of little things can go where a great big thing cannot.  An underground movement can be more effective than a public thing, but the dark side of the public goes underground.  Sometimes they meet in the tunnels.

We’re seeing the failure of governments that are based on boundaries.  Maybe they’re just pot-bound or gerrymandered, with aggressive, greedy people dominating without any intention or ability to protect people -- one of the important American values.  Some of these efforts everywhere are ingenious enough to work, in ways that can be seen.  But they are likely to be local and elemental.  They are not likely to be based on punishing scapegoats.

The Scapegoat

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