Paraphrasing the words can make them resonate

I love quotes, but sometimes the quote has been paraphrased somewhat and it takes a slightly new shape. Quoting religious text is like that as the text has been translated and retranslated many times. In fact, the books of the bible were not all written in the same language. So, we should look for the gist of the point.

Regardless of religion, there are very meaningful guides that can be pulled from Jesus’ words.

– Treat others like you want to be treated, tops any list and can be found in other religious texts
– Take care of people in need as when you do you are honoring me
– Treat your neighbors well.

But, let’s not stop there. Mother Teresa said:

– Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody,is a much greater hunger than the person who has nothing to eat
– When she had doubts, she asked God to give her the strength to carry on.

Gandhi also spoke of helping people:

– a community’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its unfortunate ones

Martin Luther King said of hate:

– Hate is far more debilitating to keep up than love. When you hate, you are being destructive to yourself.

A Chinese proverb is used as the title to Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book “Half the Sky:”

– Women hold up half the sky (the proverb speaks volumes as does the book).

Finally, let me close with quoting lines from Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the wind.”

“Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry

Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”

Peace be with you all.

Let’s rise up

A terrific singer named Andra Day provided an anthem for women, but also forward thinking men as well. It is called “I’ll rise up.” Here is the final chorus which says let’s all rise up.

“Rise like the day
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I will rise a thousands times again
And we’ll rise up
Rise like the waves
We’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
We’ll rise up.”

There has been a building crescendo worldwide, but especially here in the US, to say women matter. Women are tired of being taken advantage of by sexual predators, violent and controlling partners and men in power telling them what they can do with their bodies. Women are tired of people ignoring or demeaning them when they complain or accuse a violator. Women are tired of kitchen table issues like equal pay and healthcare gettimg ignored. Women are tired of nothing being done about gun governance which takes to many of their children and themselves.

Women are tired of being kidnapped and trafficked as sex slaves or servants. And, more globally, women need to be supported for saying we are not a possession to be sold, beaten or killed and we need not go through genital mutilation to satisfy an archaic religious practice written by a men.

Now, is the time to rise up. Women are running for political office in tremendous numbers in the US. They are reacting to a misogynist bully who shows what leadership does not look like. Their global sisters are using the opportunity to make a stand.

Rise up and vote. Rise up and take a friend to vote with you. Rise up and make sure your family votes. Rise up and vote for equal rights for all, for our environment which is being destroyed and for our future which is threatened by existential crises like climate change, poverty and inequality. Rise up. It is time to make a huge statement. I am with you.

Keep on pushing forward ladies

Disillusioned by tribal politics and a President who has reduced civil discourse to a new low and untruthfulness to a new high, it was nice to get outdoors and participate in the second Women’s March in my city. My wife and I joined some friends and over 5,000 more marchers to hear important messages about pushing women and human issues forward.

I am very encouraged by the 26,000 women who have moved ahead with running for office. We need more women in all forms of government as they are woefully underrepresented. Some of the highlights from the speeches in addition to the above are as follows:

– while the push for equality was mentioned most, I was impressed by a Muslim American woman, Rose Hamid who spoke of equity, to value our differences in perspectives and not let fear of the unknown drive wedges between us. Hamid gained notoriety for sitting quietly in a Trump campaign event, until she was escorted out.

– I was appalled to hear a statistic that I had written about a couple of years ago continues to get worse – we have an increasing rate of maternal mortality around childbirth and our global ranking on this statistic is even more negative. A key driver is the lack of healthcare insurance access and education in too many areas of the country.

– I was troubled by the increasing statistics around domestic violence. Locally, the first four homicides of the year in my city were related to domestic violence. Men and women need to help women get out of relationships where signals are apparent. And, better education for boys and girls need to occur that violence is not the answer to relationship conflict.

– I am encouraged by the unifying voices from various fabrics of our culture regarding the need to treat everyone with dignity and respect. And, we must listen to each other and glean points of view. We are listening to respond, not hear.

– I am encouraged by the recognition to act and not just talk or tweet. One speaker said the quote, which may have been made by Rosa Parks, that “even the mighty oak tree was once a nut that stood its ground.” So, don’t worry if someone is calling you a nut.

I have often written about the tough-to-read book “Half the Sky,” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about the plight of women and girls around the globe. The Chinese proverb is “women hold up half the sky.” Not only is it the right thing to do, but treating women with dignity, respect and equality is the economic best thing to do. Otherwise, a country or area is competing with only 1/2 of its intellectual capital.

As our country enters its 104 consecutive month of economic growth and closes out its seventh consecutive year of 2 million plus jobs added, we should celebrate our economic success, but it is not bearing fruit equitably for everyone. Our economic classes have become more disparate and women remain relatively underpaid. Plus, with significant pay disparity, women are subject to more sexual harassment to keep better paying jobs or get better work scheduling for their parental duties.

So, let’s applaud this push by women. We will all benefit with more female voices being heard and heeded. That sky is heavy without the extra half holding it up.

 

Women have made huge strides, but why are too many still being raped and harassed?

Two different stories this week frame an important issue. First, I read an article that said 15% of undergraduate women who attended the University of Texas at Austin had been raped. That is appalling.

Second, Bill O’Reilly has been re-signed under another Fox contract. This is after a story of five settlements of sexual harassment claims were unearthed by The New York Times. It should be noted the network who signed him let go Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, for similar sexual harassment issues, but felt so badly they did not do it for “cause” and he was punished with a $38 million go-away settlement. Since O’Reilly has a following, his sexual harassment must be less relevant to the network.

These two stories come on the heels of the US Marine Corp sexual harassment scandal and the Baylor University football team rape scandal through a hostess recruiting program for players. And, we should not forget our President has admitted on at least two occasions that he sexually harassed or assaulted women because of his celebrity and power.

Women and girls are maltreated around the globe. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s powerful book “Half the Sky” graphically describes sexual slavery,  trafficking, mutilation, domestic violence, rape and second class citizen treatment. But, we have sexual slavery, trafficking, domestic violence, rape and harassment here in the Western world, too. Former President Jimmy Carter wrote of this in his book “A Call to Action,” which is an excellent follow up to the Kristof/ WuDunn book.

Western women have made huge strides in gaining more opportunity, yet the level of sexual maltreatment has seemingly risen. Perhaps, it is due to more rapes and harassment being reported. Or, maybe it is  due to women being framed as sexual objects though advertising, marketing and entertainment media. Sexual harassment and rapes continue to be a huge problem for the military (even before the Marine scandal) and college campuses.

What do we do about this? We need to say very loudly this is not right. We need to  come down hard on leaders and institutions who have looked the other way. We need to vote with our feet and not attend universities who don’t have their act together.

We should not vote for politicians who have maltreated women. I am still stunned that our President was elected after more of his sexual harassment was revealed. In my view, there were several reasons not to vote for him, but how could anyone do so after the Howard Stern interview and Access Hollywood tape became public?

To lessen this maltreatment, it has to have more than women’s voices behind the effort. All of us need to stand up to people and organizations that maltreat women or look the other way. Women hold up “half the sky,” so we all benefit by treating women like we want to be treated.

 

 

Everything is related

There is an old saying that when a butterfly flaps its wings, it can be felt as a gust of wind around the globe. The point is to say everything on our earth is related. We impact each other and our environment and the opposite is also true. Too often, we lose sight of this context, and we miss the bigger problems while solving some smaller problem.

Just to get the thought process going, here are a few interrelated issues that provide some greater context for our problems.

One of the greatest issues facing the planet is global poverty, including the United States. Poverty impacts many issues through lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of socio-economic mobility, greater crime, fewer role models, lack of investment in the local economy and, because of all this, lack of hope. If economic opportunities are minimal, crime can take its place. Note, poverty is an equal opportunity offender affecting urban areas, rural areas and now it is finding its way into the suburbs.

Another of our greatest issues relates to our resources for air, water and food. These are all exacerbated by climate change, which makes fresh water more dear, harms our coasts with encroaching seas made worse when hurricanes hit ashore, intensifies our drought areas, makes more frequent our forest fires, and impacts our fisheries and crops. Right now, with about 7 Billion people, if we consumed on average like a North American, there would not be enough resources. That should be telling and it will only get worse. When I think of renewable energy, I see it as a way not only to save our planet due to climate change, but as a way to preserve our fresh water which is used to create energy with fossil fuel or nuclear power, not to mention the huge amount of water needed to frack for natural gas.

It is not a surprise that Pope Francis has raised these two issues as his major concerns in his recent encyclical. He will be talking more about these when he comes to the US. Our leaders need to listen to what he has to say as his message is dead-on accurate. And, he relates the two issues, as people in poverty are more impacted by environmental issues and climate change. It should be noted a poor fishing village in Bangladesh went away with rising sea levels. Tens of thousands of fishermen and their families had to move to already crowded cities to find work they did not how to do.

But, I don’t want to stop there as there are two more issues that impact both of the above issues. First, global corruption is widespread and hits home in the US. It is not as apparent, but think of the amount of money to get elected in our country. These funders are buying influence. So, once the votes are cast, the average voter pales in comparison to the funders and their lobbyists. It has always been this way, but it is now heightened with the obscene amounts of money to get elected. Yet, it is worse in other places. Global poverty exists because leaders keep the money in their pockets, even money donated to help those in need.

Second, the maltreatment of women affects us all. The Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky is true. If a religion or cultural mores treat women as a possession denying opportunity, they are doing themselves a huge disservice. They are competing in a world with only half its resources. Women tend to be more collaborative than men, as men have a greater tendency to compete on more issues. I call this a zero sum game – I must win and you must lose. If you remember the movie with Russell Crowe called “A Beautiful Mind,” about the schizophrenic, but brilliant economist John Nash, he won the Nobel Prize for a theory called the Nash Equilibrium which is still used today. In essence, if we pursue goals where we all succeed to a degree, the whole group would be more successful than if we each tried to maximize our own profit. Treating women like chattel flies directly against Nash’s economic theory.

So, these are the biggest issues facing our planet in my view. They do relate to each other. Yet, we need to start addressing these issues on a concerted basis or we will not be living very nicely in the future. I would start with treating women better, as their ideas and commerce will help us fight the other fights. Yet, we need to start fighting those issues as well.

A Path Appears – Women and Children need our help

Our friend Debra (see link below) has written a review of the much-needed book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn called “Half the Sky.” This is one of the toughest reads you will ever take on as it discusses how women are maltreated around the globe. In addition to how awful it is to the women and children who are subject to this maltreatment including rape, sex slavery, genital mutilation, fistula due to births before the body is able, and domestic violence, it discusses the economic detriment to those communities. The book is based on the Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky, so if you treat them poorly, you are devaluing your economy, competing with one arm tied behind your back in a world that will leave you behind.

https://debrabooks.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/who-cares-about-poor-women/

Kristof and WuDunn have followed up their first book with one called “A Path Appears,” which expands on these issues, but discusses how we can make a difference. We can find a path forward to help women, children and communities in need and how it will do the giver as much good as the receiver. Attached is a New York Times review which provides a review and summary of the book. I have yet to read this book, but have seen the two authors interviewed on PBS Newshour as they discuss how each of us can play a role in helping others.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/books/review/a-path-appears-by-nicholas-kristof-and-sheryl-wudunn.html?_r=0

An additional book worth reading on this subject is penned by former President Jimmy Carter called “A Call to Action.” It leverages further the work of Kristof and WuDunn, but brings the arguments home to America as well as speaking to the global problem. While we are only beginning to give notoriety to sexual abuse in the US military and on our college campuses after long ignoring the problems, while we are finally highlighting the impact and prevalence of domestic violence toward women that occurs in our society, we are still largely unaware that we have a non-inconsequential sex trafficking industry within America. We have sex slaves being brought in from other countries in addition to the women stolen from within our own communities.

I have read Carter’s book as well and find his arguments and anecdotes compelling. It is also a difficult, but must read. Carter has been one of the best ex-Presidents we have ever had. He has done more good for humanitarian causes and his voice is a powerful one and full of substance. We should heed his, Kristof and WuDunn’s messages and begin to better address the maltreatment of women.

Our world needs stronger positioning of women. We see the wonderful examples with Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, Christine LaGarde, Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Prime Minister of Denmark, to name only a few, but need more. When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, while not the first female, she was the most widely known ambassador of the US and made a huge difference to the issue of helping women.

But, we cannot wait on more women to get in power. We all need to see the wisdom of treating women and children fairly and as we would want to be treated. We all need to see that if we devalue women, we are limiting idea creation, market opportunities and good governance in our country and communities. We all need to see that treating a human being like property is not in keeping with the overarching messages of religious texts or answering well the Christian question of WWJD? What would Jesus do? He would treat women like he would want to be treated.

Dialogue by Chicago – the more things change, the more they stay the same

Robert Lamm, of the wonderful band Chicago, penned a song more than forty years ago called “Dialogue” that could still ring true today. The song resonates with me and is one of my personal favorites of the band because of its theme and musicality, but also the fact Lamm and lead singer Peter Cetera sang it as a dialogue. Two guys talking about the problems in the world. Here are the words:

Are you optimistic ’bout the way things are going?
No, I never ever think of it at all
Don’t you ever worry
When you see what’s going down?
No, I try to mind my business, that is, no business at all
When it’s time to function as a feeling human being
Will your bachelor of arts help you get by?
I hope to study further, a few more years or so
I also hope to keep a steady high
Will you try to change things
Use the power that you have, the power of a million new ideas?
What is this power you speak of and this need for things to change?

I always thought that everything was fine
Don’t you feel repression just closing in around?
No, the campus here is very, very free
Don’t it make you angry the way war is dragging on?
Well, I hope the president knows what he’s into, I don’t know
Don’t you ever see the starvation in the city where you live
All the needless hunger all the needless pain?
I haven’t been there lately, the country is so fine
But my neighbors don’t seem hungry ’cause they haven’t got the time

Thank you for the talk, you know you really eased my mind
I was troubled by the shapes of things to come
Well, if you had my outlook your feelings would be numb
You’d always think that everything was fine

We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better
We can make it happen
We can save the children
We can make it happen

I heard this song the other day on the radio for the first time in a long while and listened with my daughter as we drove to school. I found myself pointing out how the song is sung and called a dialogue. She thought that was cool. But, it got me thinking about the words. The problems then still exist today. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We have a national and global poverty problem. I am glad Pope Francis is bringing attention to this more.

We have a national and global problem with how we treat women and girls. Former President Jimmy Carter’s said his new book “A Call to Action” on this issue is the most important mission of his life. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book “Half the Sky” speaks to these issues as well. I would add global poverty and how we treat women are linked, as woman hold up “half the sky” per the Chinese proverb used by Kristof and WuDunn. If you treat women poorly, in addition to their maltreatment, you are impacting half of your intellectual capital and economic value as a community.

Per my blogging friend George Dowdell, through his vast experience on a mission to help the impoverished, global poverty is also directly traceable to violence and corruption. Corruption takes the money that could be used to help others and violence is the mechanism to keep control and keep others down. These two seem to go hand in hand. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had a net worth of $81 Billion, while his constituents got by on less than $2 a day, e.g.

Throughout history, the “haves” have taken advantage of the “have-nots.” The “have-nots” do not have a voice or when they have, it has taken a huge effort over time to change the paradigm. It is only with this groundswell of effort that will help change the world. Per Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

So, back to Chicago’s song “Dialogue.” Re-read the final chorus that closes the song. It is repeated as a mantra over and over again. The influence of the “haves” is huge and, in the US has been made easier with recent Supreme Court rulings. The “have-nots” need that voice. They need those committed citizens that Mead and Chicago talked about.

How do we do this? One step, one block, one community, one city at a time. Find your passions and reach out to help others. But, don’t just band-aid a problem. Look to find ways to improve people’s lots in life. Become better informed through reputable news sources. Speak out against injustice or just start asking more “why” questions of leaders and people with strident views that seem harmful. Why do you think that? Why should we do that? Write letters, write emails, make phone calls. Go to events to educate yourself on an issue. Go to protest injustice.

Many of the leaders of efforts to help did not listen to naysayers and blockers who said they could not accomplish change. There is an old line about change. Get people on the bus that will help you make change, not hinder it. We are more powerful than me. So, enlist or join your efforts with others. The operative word is “we” – “we can make it happen.” But, it starts with me.

“I’m a Man” versus “I am Woman” – an interesting distinction on song lyrics

Two songs. Two very different songs. Muddy Waters sang in his wonderfully unusual style about his manhood in “I’m a Man.”  Several years later, Helen Reddy pronounced to the world “I am Woman.” These are two very different songs with different meanings based on the difference in men and women’s psyche and self-esteem. These songs may be one reason why Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” resonates with so many. Here are excerpts from each song, the first being from Waters, the second from Reddy.

Waters sang:  I’m a man

I’m a full-grown man. Man

I’m a natural-born lovers man. Man

I’m a rollin’ stone. Man-child

I’m a hoochie coochie man.

While Reddy sang: I am woman, hear me roar. In numbers too big to ignore

And I know too much to go back an’ pretend ’cause I’ve heard it all before

And I’ve been down there on the floor. No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes I am wise. But it’s wisdom born of pain

Yes, I’ve paid the price. But look how much I gained

If I have to, I can do anything. I am strong (strong)

I am invincible (invincible). I am woman

I recognize this comparison could be viewed as unfair, as one is singing about sexual prowess and the other is shouting to fellow women that they can do anything, so don’t let people deny you that chance. However, you don’t hear many songs with this kind of title about men which do not speak to sexual prowess. In other words, a man’s self-esteem could be viewed as too tied up in his perception of his sexual prowess. The movie with Jack Nicholson, Ann Margaret, Rita Moreno, Candace Bergen, Art Garfunkel, etc. called “Carnal Knowledge” was about this very point. When you do hear more impactful songs about men, it is usually about becoming a man due to events such as the one about “Patches” who had to grow up quickly after his father died or about men working hard in the fields or mines to feed their families. This is what being a man is about.

However, the reason for Reddy’s anthem is women, unlike men, have not received the opportunities and, in many cases, still don’t today. I am reminded to this day of three female colleagues that became prominent in their professions, who each started out as Administrative Assistants in the early 1970’s. They took the only viable job to get ahead that a man would dare not take at the time. The context of Reddy’s song is important as well, as it was at the very beginning of the women’s movement. Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem were just getting started when this song burst onto the scene. And, it should not be a surprise that it did become an anthem for the movement.

As a 55-year-old man, I have written about the concerns of many that unless a community, society or country embraces the equal rights for women, their economy will not flourish like it could. I recognize that some may flourish due to an abundance of a natural resource in their borders, but that wealth does not flow to everyone and, in some of these places, women are treated as chattel. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have written about this very issue in “Half the Sky.” You can access a post I wrote on this troubling book with the following link:

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/half-the-sky-turning-oppression-into-opportunity-for-women-worldwide/

Men don’t need to have songs written about “I am man, hear me roar” as opportunities have abounded. Men also have tended to have higher expectations that women also need to embrace more. That is Sandberg’s point in her book. Lean in as you deserve this chance just as much as a man does. Just today, I read an article by Catherine Rampell, an economics writer in the Washington Post, about women in college that would tend to shy away from a major where they earn their first “B” whereas male students would recover from a “C” with their esteem not as tarnished. Her point is the male student expected to succeed in the major more so than the female student who may have received a better grade.

So, let’s continue to look for opportunities for women, as well as teaching our boys what being a man really is all about. It is the same thing that applies to women – being responsible and being accountable. If we give women an equal opportunity, we are doubling our chance to succeed. These other countries need to know they are competing in a global world with at least one arm tied behind their back. As Reddy sang, the voices of women are “in numbers too big to ignore.”

You Don’t Own Me – Lesley Gore’s Anthem for Women Everywhere

Being the father of a teenage daughter, my wife and I try to raise our young lady to be self-sufficient and to not let anyone take advantage of her. Fortunately, she has a great sense of humor and can use it to diffuse people who are overbearing towards her or who may want to take advantage of a situation. With that context, recently we were watching one of those retro-look shows which focused on female singers from the 1960s. Lesley Gore had a couple of huge hits “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry” which are more the standard fare for teenage girls. Yet, amid those songs, she sang “You Don’t Own Me” which is extremely powerful whose words resonate for all women.

Ironically, the song was written by two men – John Madara and David White – but when these terrific words are sung hauntingly by Gore, it becomes her song. Here are the lyrics which are very straightforward.

You don’t own me, I’m not just one of your many toys
You don’t own me, don’t say I can’t go with other boys

And don’t tell me what to do
And don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display, ’cause

You don’t own me, don’t try to change me in any way
You don’t own me, don’t tie me down ’cause I’d never stay

Oh, I don’t tell you what to say
I don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you

I’m young and I love to be young
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please

A-a-a-nd don’t tell me what to do
Oh-h-h-h don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display

I don’t tell you what to say
Oh-h-h-h don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you

I’m young and I love to be young
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want

Since her version needs to be heard, I have included a link to enable you to do that.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=you+don+t+own+me+lyrics&mid=1A608AD222A0926A03DB1A608AD222A0926A03DB&view=detail&FORM=VIRE3

The song did resonate with many and was included in the movies “The Big Chill” and “Dirty Dancing.” Yet, it may have been heard by fewer people (than it should have) as Gore actually turned her back on stardom to go to college limiting her career and notoriety. She was born in 1946 as Lesley Sue Goldstein and sang “It’s My Party” in 1963 at the age of 16, the same age as my daughter is now. She turned down major contracts and eventually went on to Sarah Lawrence College in New York. To me, she may have been living the words to this anthem – “you don’t own me” and if I want to go to college, then that is my choice.

Having written earlier about Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s “Half the Sky” about the maltreatment of women around the world, this song had additional meaning. A link to this post is https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/half-the-sky-turning-oppression-into-opportunity-for-women-worldwide/.  I am not naive, so I know that women who are treated like chattel in some parts of the world would be killed or severely beaten if they uttered these words.That is the purpose of “Half the Sky” to tell these stories, highlight the bravery of the local champions who have rebelled against maltreatment and collectively give women a voice to say “you don’t own me.” Or, at a very minimum, I will not tolerate you treating me this way.

Yet, even in more gender egalitarian countries, the same words could be said. In the US, there seems to be a new onslaught to limit women’s reproductive rights, forty years after this issue was supposedly resolved. Here in the US, we have had over 26,000 women (and men) who have been sexually assaulted in our military ranks just last year, but only 3,400 of these sexual assaults came to trial. And, the solution presented yesterday is only a good first step, but will not solve the problem (listen to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand folks) https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/the-invisible-war-kirsten-gillibrand-has-it-right/. Here in the US, women still need the deserved opportunity to lead, be it in business or government. Here in the US, we still have insufficient protection for domestic violence victims, which is more about control and ownership. Here in the US, it should be OK to marry your Lesbian partner anywhere in the country. I could go on.

If you know this song, please relive it with me and share with others. If you don’t know it, give it a listen and, if you like it, share it as well. If you have not read “Half the Sky,” you should, but know this; it will be one of the hardest books you will ever read. If you don’t want to go down that path, at least click on the link above to my earlier post.

You don’t own me. Powerful words. Thanks Ms.Gore and Messrs. Madara and White.

The used and abused

There are several random events happening around the world that repaint an old picture that there has always been and will always be groups of people who are exploited for gain. Some of these events may not appear connected toward that purpose, but let me highlight a few, as we need to bang the drum and shout out to others, that this is not right and we need leaders to be more responsible stewards. As an old fart, I also have witnessed and grow weary of excuses that companies and governments give that try to mask helping out people with the real problems.

Bangladesh Garment Factory Collapse

This story is prima facies evidence of a much bigger problem that is not restricted to Bangladesh. After being told by the police to shut down, the factory leaders said to continue to come to work and now after the building has collapsed, there are hundreds dead or still unaccounted for. I heard a report that said there are likey 5,000 of these buildings in the area. At the heart of the problem is business tends to chase cheap labor, especially the textile business. It moved from England, to New England, to the Carolinas, to China, to Vietnam and to areas like Bangladesh with the purpose of getting very low labor costs. With that movement comes not only cheap labor, but cheap working conditions. The exploitation is pervasive and these people have no voice or few options to say I refuse to work in this hell hole that is about to fall down.

The sellers of cheap clothing and other products here in the US and other first world places have purposefully distanced themselves from this economic slavery. They do not want to be held accountable. They do not want to know how corners are cut by their suppliers. The only way to stop this is for the buyers to tell the sellers that this cannot be tolerated. We customers need to say we are not going to buy your cheap stuff until you clean up your supply chain and stop preying on people. We need to vote with our feet.

West, Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

This is another horrible tragedy and I feel for the community and the EMTs who were on site after the first explosion, only to lose their lives. Two major points are needed to be made. First, this is a key reason we have regulations. Yet, we need inspectors who need to be staffed and funded to do their jobs. We need people who are trained to go to places where accidents could cause fatalities. The problem is the inspectors get cut when budgets are cut and the small towns like this suffer. The plant had well beyond the acceptable limits of ammonium nitrate, which is explosive. The modus operandi is it is OK to cut the number of inspections of these small towns because their voice is not loud enough to be heard. These small towns have a high prevalence of low-income workers and not people who will make waves.

Second, I have not seen any discussion of this next point. Why did the town build a hospital, nursing home and a school so close to a fertilizer plant? Especially after the Oklahoma City bombing in the 1990’s where the damage was done using products that are held in the West fertilizer plant such as ammonium nitrate. To me, leaders were shortsighted. They should have laid out new development to be more distant from the plant, not so close. Maybe I am making too much out of this last issue, but we need leaders to be responsible planners. When they are not, people can be in harms’ way and not know it for years until it is too late.

Medicaid Expansion Issue

This issue shifts from the above paradigm, but only a little. There are numbers of conservatively led states in the US who have not agreed to accept federal money to expand Medicaid in their states. This is a part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that is designed to help the less fortunate in each state. The economics of the deal are very good and several other conservatively red states recognize this and are taking the federal money and expanding Medicaid. The others are states that actually need it the most – Mississippi, SC, NC , etc. – yet, the decision is a political pawn in a game with the President. The problem is the pawns get screwed in this, not the politicians.

In NC, over 500,000 people are impacted by this decision, Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Their politics matter not as poverty knows no political affiliation. Well, what does this have to do with poverty? Plenty. The number one reason for personal bankruptcy is the absence of (or limited) healthcare. A key reason to homelessness is the absence of healthcare. Many employees of restaurants and retailers, due to the near-minimum or minimum wage, cannot afford healthcare, so they opt-out of their employer’s coverage. I am sitting ten miles from headquarters of two retailers who both have less than 30% of employees enrolled in their healthcare plans. The Medicaid expansion would help many people in or near poverty, so when it is turned down, my question to those state legislatures is “what do you plan to do for these folks?”

Airline Furlough Reversal

Since the sequester was done, the first major impact felt by people was on delays in airline flights. Apparently, air traffic controllers and other personnel were told to be away from work one day a week (or furloughed) to save on budget costs. The goal was to do most of these furloughs before the heavier summer travel season. Note, there are many other cuts that have and are occurring in other service agencies that are designed to help people in poverty or who are elderly. Unfortunately, these are people lower on the totem pole and their voice is not heard.

Yet, our upper middle-income and above class were impacted by delayed flights. People who could afford to travel were delayed. Note, they did not lose services, they were just inconvenienced. The tragedy is these folks complained and action was taken.  We cannot help out a child in poverty whose Head Start dollars are being slashed, but we need to make sure a person in a suit and tie does not miss a flight. I am not the only one who has highlighted this – David Brooks, the conservative columnist made the same lament on PBS Newshour on Friday night. The “haves” are protected. The “have-nots” do not have a voice. It is OK to use and abuse these folks.

Concluding Remarks

Poverty is a global problem that exists even in the US. We have 50 million here in poverty. The world-wide problem is in the billions. Yet, we ignore the problem for the most part, unless it is so severe that it warrants what little attention we can afford it. Usually, money is used to band-aid situations to make us feel better. Yet, we have systemic problems that cause poverty which need to be addressed. One clear way is to make better avenues for women. I just started reading “Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and, per their findings, clearly there is evidence that if women can be given opportunities, poverty for both genders can be limited. They argue you can turn oppression of women into opportunity that will help a society flourish. Per a Chinese proverb, women hold up “half the sky.” If you ignore half the sky, then you are short-changing everyone.

Yet, we need to insist on fair wages and working conditions for all. We cannot tolerate the exploitation of workers, even in the US. We need to be more knowledgable of where we buy our clothes and where they get their supplies. We need to tell retailers, we will be willing to pay more to assure better wages and conditions will occur around the globe. At the very minimum, we need to insist working conditions are better and the places are inspected. And, we need to start with places in the US. We need better wages, too, but we also need regulations to make sure employers toe the line and do their part.

I heard a story about the BP Horizon Oil derrick that exploded in the gulf. People in the industry knew that BP was a poor operator and it was only a matter of time. The inspectors were also overworked and under trained and companies like BP funded boondoggles to befriend the higher up regulators. Yet, it was put simply the other day by a scientist on why we must be vigilant. An oil company is only as good as its worst operator.  There are so many along the Gulf of Mexico’s whose lives were forever changed by the oil spill. The “haves” made it through, while the “have-nots” suffered more. We owe it to people and our environment that we hold industry accountable. The same could be said for employers who get their supplies from people working in bad conditions. What happened in Bangladesh will happen again there and in other places.

Gandhi said a society’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its less fortunate. I believe this to be true. I am not asking for handouts for these folks. I am asking we treat them with dignity and respect, provide fair wages in safe conditions and let them flourish. They do not need to be kings and queens to make society better, but if more people are living with a higher standard of living, all of society benefits. The used and abused need not be commodities. They can become assets for us all. And, if we leverage those assets, then all of us will reap the reward.