Venezuela: An Explainer

Venezuela is suffering from severe food shortages, high crime rates, civil unrest, and an increasingly authoritarian executive. Many Venezuelans believe that President Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez before him mismanaged the economy, leading to the current crisis. Oil prices have fallen and business corruption from the business elite are also contributing factors (Council on Foreign Relations).

In January 2016, power in the National Assembly shifted towards the opposition for the first time since before the year 2000. President Maduro has been taking steps to consolidate his own power and strip the legislature from a lot of its power. He is also attempting to revise the country’s constitution by forming a constituent assembly of 500 members who would be responsible for its drafting. In October 2016, Venezuela’s Supreme Court put an end to the National Assembly’s power to control the economy. In March 2017, the judicial branch briefly dissolved the National Assembly, but undid this after international outcry. Maduro was successful, however, in preventing his main political opponent from running for office for 15 years.

These autocratic measures from Maduro, along with the economic and social problems civilians are facing, have led to massive protests and international condemnation, including threats of expulsion from the Organization of American States. As of May 2017, 80% of Venezuela’s population wanted Maduro to step down. Frequent protests have turned violent, living 29 people dead since March. The government has taken steps to appease the population without much effect. The minimum wage increased by 60% in May, but inflation is so high that people were still unsatisfied. Despite the protests, any removal of the president would likely come from the military. Maduro has adopted the “chavismo” leadership style from Hugo Chavez, which gives the military a large amount of prestige, power, and responsibility. Until they turn against the president, they will protect him from civilians and maintian his status.

Venezuela’s dependence on oil has made it vulnerable to economic shock following the fall of global oil prices. When prices fell from $111 per barrel in 2014 to $27 in 2016, Venezuela’s weak economy fell into a downward spiral. This led to a 12% drop in GDP and an 800% increase in inflation. Oil accounts for 95% of Venezuela’s export earnings and 25% of its GDP. With such a lack of economic diversification, Venezuela has left itself at the mercy of a single commodity’s performance in the global market.

The current situation in Venezuela stems from the combination of Hugo Chavez’s leadership between 1998 and 2013. Chavez was corrupt and anti-American, but was a successful populist who reduced poverty. He was elected in 1998 on a populist platform. He promised to tackle corruption and use Venezuela’s oil wealth to reduce poverty and inequality. As President, he helped the poor by expropriating millions of acres of land and nationalizing hundreds of private businesses. These policies, in addition to food and housing subsidies, health care reform, and education reform, reduced the poverty rate from 50% in 1998 to 30% in 2012. Chavez secured consolidated his power by manipulating the Supreme Court and eliminating one chamber of Congress and removing term limits through a referendum. Geopolitically, Chavez tried to align the Latin American countries against the United States. In terms of economics, Chavez unwsisely utilized price controls and import subsidies to keep prices low. Soon enough, Venezuela was unable to sustain this system until it fell into freefall when oil prices dropped in 2016. Despite these mistakes, Chavez remained popular until his death in 2013 and was replaced through an election by the strongest “chavismo” candidate Nicolas Maduro. Maduro’s Venezuela ranks 166 out of 176 on Transparency International’s Perceived Corruption Index. His government still controls over 500 companies, though most of them are operating at a loss.

Venezuela’s failing economy is now creating a humanitarian crisis. 85% of basic medicines are unavailable or difficult to obtain. Infant mortality rates spiked from 11.6 per 1,000 in 2011 to 18.1 in 2016. Maternal mortality also doubled since 2008 to reach 130 per 100,000. 30% of school aged children are malnourished, and to make matters worse, Maduro has blocked the opposition-led Ntional Assembly from seeking international assistance. Crime has also been on the rise. 28,749 homicides occurred in 2016, which is the highest level ever recorded. As a result  of these health and crime issues, 150,000 people left the country in 2016 (Council on Foreign Relations).

The Power of a Sewing Machine in Northern Uganda – Part I

Creating Jobs in Oyam District

Between 1986 and 2006, northern Uganda suffered a violent insurgency by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. In Oyam District where Global Health Network (U) works, most residents were forced to leave their homes and move into displacement camps. The population today has returned to over 300,000 residents but their outcomes in terms of education,  income, health remain very poor. Below are some examples:

Income – The average income per person is 70 cents a day, while the global extreme poverty line stands at $1.90 a day.

Education – 20,000 children from the district enter the first level of primary school, but only about 6,000 children finish primary school. 141 children complete secondary school.

Health – 191 out of every 1,000 children born die before the age of five.

To remind myself a human face within some of those numbers, I think back to meeting a woman named Molly who was 31 years old the first time I visited Uganda in 2013. She already had seven children and was planning for one more. Molly had been diagnosed with typhoid fever and had been prescribed pills that were offered for free at the nearest public hospital. The hospital was too far away for her to reach on foot, however, and she was unable to pay for a $5 repair that was needed to fix her bicycle. She told me she would wait one month until she had saved enough to fix her bike, then travel to the hospital for her free typhoid medication.

This story is exactly why poverty is so wrong. Five dollars was keeping Molly from free, life-saving medicine. So she would wait a month – while suffering from typhoid – to save up those five dollars. I spend a lot of time in rural Ugandan villages and I’ve met a lot of people who seem very happy. Their lives seem simple, but not necessarily bad. In fact, I often think about how aspects of their lifestyle would be an improvement on my own as an American. But then I visit a hospital or hear a story like Molly’s and I’m reminded about the terrible side of poverty. It’s not always visible, but it is unavoidable for just about everyone living below the extreme poverty line, struggling just to survive.

When Che Guevara traveled around Latin America as a young medical student, he met a woman with asthma and a heart condition but without any access to the required treatment for her illnesses. He concluded that failures in access to health care are the most striking and egregious results of poverty. Witnessing these failures is enough to make someone demand a better system that cares for the people who face them. He wrote about his feelings in his memoir The Motorcycle Diaries:

“It is at times like this, when a doctor is conscious of his complete powerlessness, that he longs for […] a change to prevent the injustice of a system in which only a month ago this poor woman was still earning her living as a waitress, wheezing and panting but facing life with dignity. […] It is there, in the final moments, for people whose farthest horizon has always been tomorrow, that one comprehends the profound tragedy circumscribing the life of the proletariat the world over.”

While I was visiting different villages in northern Uganda during my 2013 trip, the topic of potential income-generating activities came up quite a lot. After all, more jobs would go a long way in improving the statistics listed above – they would raise incomes, pay for children to stay in school, and pay for transportation and medicine for those who are sick. Many of the women I met told me that they would like to learn tailoring. There aren’t many jobs available in a rural village without electricity and with a labor force that is largely uneducated and untrained. But a mechanical sewing machine works just fine in a remote village, and you can even make things that people in rich countries might like to buy. So tailoring seemed like a good way to help these women of Oyam District make some money. The next summer, we brought some sewing machines to Adyege parish and taught women there to make canvas tote bags, which they sold to students at the University of California. Today, we’re making even more tote bags and T-shirts for university students. We’re looking for the right market, the right customers, and the right products to match these women with a job that can be sustained and can earn them money for their families.

Generating incomes can have a major impact that extends to the entire community. Furthermore, a full social enterprise can help fund an organization like Global Health Network (U) while providing jobs that supplement the health services the organization already offers. We’re starting off small, but meeting and working with the women who make these items provides more than enough inspiration to keep moving forward.

What is Going On in South Sudan?

Overview

There is a civil war going on in South Sudan. The war is being fought between two ethnic groups, which puts it at risk of turning into a genocide. The president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, is from the Dinka ethnic group, while former Vice President Riek Machar is from the Nuer ethnic group. These two men lead the factions that are fighting each other and thousands of civilians who have gotten in the way. President Kiir rose to power in 2011 after a referendum liberated South Sudan from Sudan to the north. Riek Machar was his vice president until July 2013, when Kiir fired him. Civil war broke out in December 2013 and lasted until a peace agreement signed between Kiir and Machar in August 2015. Violence broke out yet again in July 2016 between the government and opposition forces and has continued since.

A History of the Conflict

The conflict between the northern and southern regions of what used to be Sudan began before the country had even gained independence. Egypt and Britain gave up their joint rule in 1956 and a new government was established in Khartoum. While the north embodied a Muslim/Arabic identity, the south continued to follow traditional beliefs of its 64 ethnic groups. The north ruled according to its Muslim/Arabic identity, and the south fought back in a civil war that lasted from 1955 to 1972. The Addis Ababa Peace Agreement of 1972 awarded Sudan’s southern region some autonomy, but that autonomy expired in 1983. As a result, another civil war broke out and lasted until 2005. This war was fought by a group from the south called Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), of which Salva Kiir is now the leader. 1.5 million people were killed in the conflict. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement brought an end to the civil war and scheduled a referendum vote for secession of the south in 2011. The new nation of South Sudan was created as the outcome of this referendum in July 2011.

Civil War in the New South Sudan

The country’s president, Salva Kiir and vice president, Riek Machar did not get along and fell out in July 2013 when Machar was officially fired. Civil war broke out a few months later in December between Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group and Machar’s Nuer ethnic group. The violence was bad enough for the UN to make a rare decision to authorize peacekeepers to use force in order to protect civilians. The violence also prevented farmers from harvesting crops, which led to the worst food crisis in the world by July 2014. One third of South Sudan’s population (4 million people) were affected, and 50,000 children faced death by starvation.

The Latest Developments – As of December 2016

It seemed the conflict might end in August 2015 when President Kiir and Vice President Machar signed a peace agreement. Machar returned to the country in April 2016 and was once again sworn in as vice president. Unfortunately, violence erupted yet again in July 2016, Machar fled after he claiming that Kiir’s forces attempted to assassinate him, and Kiir replaced Machar with an army general as the new vice president. The fighting has spread into the southern region of the country. Kiir’s government is seemingly mobilizing militias to target civilians from particular ethnic groups there and throughout the country. The United Nations has sent in expert observers who have warned of an impending genocide.

Solutions

Adam Dieng, the UN Special Advisor on Genocide Prevention suggested an arms embargo to the UN Security Council as a measure to keep weapons out of the hands of the fighters. In December 2016, Samantha Powers from the US put forward an arms embargo proposal to the Security Council, but the proposal failed with eight abstentions. Other possible solution are sanctions against South Sudan, a regional protection force in addition to the UN’s 14,000 forces, and a hybrid court to hold those involved accountable for crimes committed.

Casualties

Before South Sudan was even created, all of Sudan had endured Africa’s longest running civil war. Today, things are as bad as ever in the 5-year-old South Sudan. 200,000 people are seeking safety in UN emergency protection camps. 3 million South Sudanese in total have been forced from their homes. 600,000 of these have fled across the southern border to Uganda. It is estimated that 17,000 children are fighting in various militias. The unrest has led to very poor health outcomes, with 10% of children dying before the age of five. Rape has been recorded on a massive scale, with 1,300 cases documented between April and September 2016 in Unity State alone. There have been 50,000 total deaths since 2014.

Side Issue –  UN Peacekeepers’ Failure

When the fighting broke out in July 2016, there was a particularly gruesome attack on Terrain Hotel in Juba. On July 11, government troops entered the hotel and began killing, torturing, and raping victims inside. Victims included western aid workers, UN staff, and other civilians. There was a UN peacekeeping camp less than a mile away, but the UN troops never came to the rescue. The failed response led to the firing of the Kenyan commander of the UN troops after less than six months in charge.

My Action Plan in Trump’s America

On Tuesday morning, I put on a bracelet that my grandmother gave me and a ring my mom gave me, because I wanted them close on the day we were going to put a woman in the White House. Although it was illogical, it just seemed wonderfully romantic that I would have a reminder of two of the strongest women I know on the day the glass ceiling was finally shattered. I haven’t been able to take those two insignificant pieces of jewelry off since.

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say or do or even feel. This wasn’t a normal election; it wasn’t a normal presidential candidate. I watched in shock like half the country, feeling like I couldn’t breath properly, as we somehow created a President-elect Trump.

To say it simply, I am completely heartbroken. To be clear, it is not because my candidate didn’t win, not because the glass ceiling is as strong as ever, not because Republicans now have control of all branches of government, not because the country is utterly divided, but because America embraced a person who opposes every positive thing I believe and feel about our country. I have broken down in tears more times than I can count over the last few days. It feels like an attack on the things we have fought for as a nation and supposedly hold dear, equality, freedom, compassion, basic common decency.

And yet, I fully recognize that this heartbreak is nothing compared to the fear that my friends of color, of the LGBTQ community, Muslims, and all immigrants feel. The fear that survivors of sexual assault and violence feel, the dread that I think all women feel somewhere deep down that if they were ever assaulted or raped that they won’t be believed. If you think any of these fears are dramatic, they are not. A hate-filled America is already rising.

If nothing else, this election has made me come to recognize the true encapsulating bubble in which I live. Not only from being a part of a very liberal generation or living in a state I could not be prouder of, but also from living as a straight white person in a time when I did not truly recognize the extent of my own white privilege until late Tuesday night. I was shocked by the results, shocked that this country was as divided as it is, shocked that it could be as ignorant and as unfazed to a racist, misogynist bigot, as it is today. My own naivety is what probably hurts me the most.

The morning after the election, my sister told me she had never felt more American, never felt so willing to fight for her country, to fight for what she believed. I could not have felt farther from that. I felt utterly defeated. Not only for all the reasons I have already named, but also for my own field, public health, a field that struggles constantly and consistently for equality, equity, and the improvement of lives, believing that small actions can truly change the world. This was a defeat of everything we uphold as basic principles of our work.

I don’t want this statement to be just a complaint or my own personal journal entry of all my feelings. This election made me hopeless and defeated, but I also know I can’t stay in that state for long. So this is my action list, a personal to do list to tell the government that they do not have, as Paul Ryan so joyfully put it on Wednesday, “a mandate” from the American people. I’m starting with the simple things that I can do, and those issues I feel educated enough on to properly and confidently articulate. Mostly, I’m starting with healthcare, simply because I know it, and that is enough of a start for me to act. I may not be fully motivated to take this on yet, but this is my first step and I encourage everyone to make your own list and take the first step too.

  1. Have an honest frank conversation, and try very hard not to yell my head off, at anyone who tries to tell me Trump will not repeal the ACA, or the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare). BECAUSE HE WILL. A number of news articles have said he has already gone back on his campaign promise and said he may just amend the ACA, which might be true. But this is so misleading it makes me cringe. The two aspects of Obamacare Trump wants to keep are minor, pre-existing conditions and staying on your parent’s plan until you are 26. These are crucial, but they are also bipartisan reforms that were discussed way before Obama was elected. Everything else, he wants to destroy, including taking away insurance from 20 million people who gained it through the marketplace, improvements in coverage of mental health care, and free preventative services.
  1. Educate myself on what he plans to replace Obamacare with. There are a few good explanations from the Wall Street Journal, Vox, and The Atlantic.
  1. Spam the hell out of Republican Representatives and Senators reminding them for the need for healthcare reform and declaring that they should not repeal the ACA until they have a replacement. If they absolutely insist on repealing the ACA, they need to replace it immediately. We cannot afford to leave 20 million people uninsured. I’m starting with the Republican representatives of San Bernardino and Orange Country, traditional red districts in Southern California that both went blue this election, for the first time since the 1930’s in the latter. They do not have a mandate at all and I feel the need to remind them of this. First and foremost, I’m starting with Ed Royce, the Representative of the district in which I grew up, who will soon receive dozens of emails and letters to his Brea office and Washington offices. For those in my hometown, here is his contact info: http://royce.house.gov/contact/getintouch.htm.
  1. Remind everyone that you can still enroll in the ACA’s marketplace. If you enroll now, you are guaranteed insurance through 2017, at least in states with their own marketplace, such as California. And one other thing to remind your representatives of, enrollments have surged since Tuesday night. Insurance = access to healthcare, remind your representatives of that everyday while they attempt to repeal it.
  1. I really can’t believe I have to say this, but declare over and over and over and over and over again that vaccines do not cause autism and smoking does kill, although Donald Trump and Mike Pence don’t seem to think so. I won’t even address this, because I will scream.
  1. Continue to advocate for syringe exchange and keep the federal government accountable to maintain the current funding allowances for harm reduction efforts. Without such efforts, we should prepare for HIV and Hepatitis outbreaks similar to that in Indiana.
  1. Educate myself on methods of birth control. I have a few wonderful yet ridiculous friends who always joke that I am their doctor. I realized this week, that this might be frighteningly accurate if/when Obamacare gets repealed and if Planned Parenthood gets defunded, as health educators will begin to be a very big source of health information for those who no longer have affordable access to physicians. Thus, I believe I have a responsibility to know the best and most accurate health information, especially in regard to women’s health. As many have said, IUDs will last for 5 years and are currently free with health insurance. There are 5 main types, learn about them.
  1. In that same regard, support Planned Parenthood. Women’s sexual and reproductive health under Trump and Pence are beyond terrifying.
  1. Lastly, this is not health related, but it’s simple. Support a free press by actually paying for it. I just subscribed to the New York Times, which cost me less than what I pay each month for Netflix.

This is a starting point and hopefully continually evolving. My actions are limited if they are alone, so make a list too, because it is the only way we can move forward.

Tonight, The United States, and the World

At this very moment, we are loosing everything we have fought for in the last 200+ years in the United States, all because of the presidential election. Equality, Freedom, Humility, Compassion, Peace. I have no other way of describing my feeling except by saying my heart is broken. No matter if she ends up with a comeback, there is a large majority that believes Donald Trump is a better presidential candidate than Hillary Clinton, and I honestly don’t know how to respond.

Is it because she used email on a private server that tons of the government employees have been doing for years? Because her foundation has helped thousands of people avoid AIDS and be vaccinated? Because she is a woman? I’m out of words, I am running out of feeling. My hope and faith have been crushed. I don’t know what to do, or what to say, or how to feel.

I woke up this morning, anxious but excited. Thinking we might just have a woman president. I thought of my beautiful mother, my beautiful grandmother, who both struggled to be equals, equals in business, equal in marriage. Who advocate for strong women, and also for humility and forgiveness. Who give their entire lives to their families, gladly giving themselves for their children and grandchildren, and strangers at times even. I thought that tonight I would call my mom with tears of joy, saying I wish grandma was here to see her stand on that stage and give that speech of progress, of hope, of love beating hate.

And now I’m in shock. Barely sitting here without bursting into tears. I’m praying, and crying, and trying to think how we will make it out.

As I walk to my car from work everyday, I pull my shirt up and my skirt down, I hold my keys between my fingers, and avoid taking my phone out. Everyday, I see men stare at me while I cross the street, holding my breath until I get to my car. I ask my friends to let me know when they get home because they have to walk to their cars or take an Uber by themselves. I comfort my female friends who are harassed on planes, on sidewalks, at work. I hear of campus rapes, and office sexual assaults, and I’m not surprised anymore.

We had made progress, we had levels of equality, we were trying to change the ways we view women, the ways we view men.

I can’t even try to imagine what will happen to minority populations. I am privileged to be white, to be of Middle Eastern descent, but have a pale face and a German last name. To try to fathom what this means for Middle Eastern people, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, Asians. I can’t think of it right now. I physically can’t bare it.

To think what this will do to the world is another factor. The DOW is already crashing, Mexican pesos are down, and that’s not even to mention that the Indian rupee is obsolete, even before the election. To talk of foreign aid, to talk of international development in Africa, and Asia, South and Latin America, and the Middle East.

To the effect on drug prices, on the anti-vax movement, on women’s health and reproductive care. I feel like I’m melting. I am just ranting now because I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know what to say or who to turn to.

I know there will be hope somewhere in this, that the sun will rise in the morning, and those in public health, development, and social justice will continue to fight as they always have and always will. But we need to reevaluate how we do that if this is actually going to happen tonight. How can we prevent this from ever happening again. How can we fight this. What can I do, but I am sitting her motionless.

 

Updates on Conflicts in Syria and Yemen and an Economic Overview by Jeffrey Sachs

By Evan Pye

This week I read news articles on Middle Eastern affairs, including the crises in Syria and Yemen. I also read an overview of the United States’ economy by Jeffrey Sachs. To begin with the Syria, it was a significant week because the US and Russia negotiated a cease-fire between Assad’s forces and the rebels. The purpose of the cease-fire was to allow aid supplies into the areas in greatest need. ISIS was not involved in the agreement, however, so there was no guarantee of safety for aid groups. The US and Russia agreed to take the time during the ceasefire to jointly target ISIS forces and an Al Qaeda affiliate group called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Meanwhile, the United Nations is making attempts to negotiate a settlement to the entire conflict with Syrian leaders in Geneva. The United States and Russia deeply disagree about the causes and potential solutions to the conflict in Syria. While Russia blames terrorist groups for destabilizing Syria, the US blames Assad and his mistreatment of his people. The common belief is that Russia is supporting Assad because he is a former-Soviet ally. While this may be true in part, this Foreign Policy article explains that Russia’s greater concern is a power vacuum left by Assad’s ousting. Russia sees a power-sharing solution in which Assad is still a leader a possibility, while the US does not. Other countries have more skin in the game than either the US or Russia. Turkey is fighting to stop ISIS from creeping up on its border and to restrain the Kurds from gaining too much power. Saudi Arabia and Iran are also engaged in a proxy war with very high stakes in Syria.

Jeffrey Sachs wrote this article on why ISIS persists in Syria, which explains the confusion that is going on there. With so many actors and so many enemies, it seems that nothing is really getting accomplished. Sachs explains that ISIS has only 25,000 troops in Iraq and Syria, and only 5,000 in Libya. Compared to fighting forces in the hundreds of thousands in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, it’s a mystery why ISIS hasn’t yet been thwarted in the Middle East. Sachs goes on to explain that ISIS persists because the countries involved in the Syria conflict have other priorities that are distracting them from eliminating ISIS. Israel considers the removal of Assad a greater priority than ISIS, because Assad helps Iran support Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which are paramilitary enemies of Israel. The US also prioritizes ousting Assad in Syria, because he is the last of the Soviet-friendly regimes in the region. The US has been fighting against these regimes since the 1990s (Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan). Saudi Arabia wants to oust Assad to weaken Iran as well, just like Israel. Turkey is equally concerned with weakening the Kurds, ISIS, and Assad. Russia is primarily concerned with removing ISIS, but they have also been targeting rebel forces trying to oust Assad. The United States could partner with Russia and Iran to eliminate ISIS in Syria, but the US refuses to lose focus on the fight against Assad. This multi-targeted approach is the reason Assad and the rebels are stuck in a stalemate in places like Aleppo, and why ISIS hasn’t yet been defeated despite its small fighting force.

Yemen was also in the news this week, because more civilians were killed by Saudi Arabian air bombs. So far this summer, 40 civilians have been killed. MSF hospitals, a potato chip factory, and a school have all been targeted so far by the coalition of Sunni Arab nations. The United States is also selling weapons to Saudi Arabia for this mission, which is drawing significant criticism. The article argues that the US is simply trying to mollify Saudi Arabia, because it is not happy with the release of sanctions resulting from the American nuclear deal with Iran. Saudi Arabia is attacking the Houthi rebels, who have taken over the capital of Yemen, Sana. The Houthis are Shia, and likely close with Iran.

Finally, a Jeffrey Sachs article about the US economy provided some reasons for pessimism as well as some solutions. America is experiencing a low annual growth rate (about 1.4%) and increasing inequality. In 2016, the top 1% of earners took home 22% of income. He is also pretty pessimistic about unemployment, despite the fact that the unemployment rate is a very low 4.9%. He provides another statistic, which shows that the ratio of overall employment relative to working age (25-54) is at 77.2% now, compared to 81.5% in 2000. Sachs also says that the budget deficit is contributing to a harmfully high debt and that the big ideas we’re coming up with (Internet, smartphones) aren’t having as much of an impact as previous big innovations (steam engine, automobiles). The two solutions he offers are a renewed focus on sustainable development (people, planet, and prosperity), as well as public investment in order to spur private investment.

Online Courses on World History & Sustainable Development

By Evan Pye

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been taking several online courses to learn more about world history and the sustainable development goals. I’ve been learning world history with John Green’s CrashCourse World History 2 on youtube. The course is based on theme rather than chronologically or geographically. Themes featured include war, disease, water, Islam, climate change, and money. I went through the entire first course on world history offered by Crash Course this time last year. I learned so much that I had missed in high school, and this second course taught me just as much.  

The most interesting lesson I learned from the second half of the “World History 2” course, and the lesson that may be most relevant to international development, is that democracies may not be the most effective (economically) form of government for developing countries. John Green points to Singapore and China as examples for his argument. The architect of Singapore’s new government was Lee Kuan Yew, who leads a very dominant political power that has the freedom to focus on long-term development objectives without any interruption. As a result, Singapore has very strong health, education, and social security systems. The country has emerged as an economic success story over recent decades. Of course, China is another example of tremendous economic growth under a non-democratic political system. Deng Xiaoping and the Chinese Communist Party implemented 5-year plans that allowed the Chinese government to appoint executives in China’s biggest corporations. This state-run industrial model is successful in some sectors, and not so successful in others. For instance, China is very good at building infrastructure, but not very good in entertainment or innovative industries such as filmmaking or software/tech. John Green explains that the state-run model might be helpful to developing countries that need to foster industry and infrastructure, but should maybe be replaced when a country is ready to transition to a service-based economy.

After finishing the World History II course, I signed up for a free online mini-course on the Sustainable Development Goals from Jeffrey Sachs and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The course gave an overview of the Global Goals and explained their origins. It begins with a 1972 UN conference in Stockholm, which was the first time development and the environment were discussed together. 20 years later, in 1992, the Earth Summit in Rio set goals to protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change. And then in 2012, the Rio+20 conference set the stage for the SDGs to replace the highly-successful MDGs in 2015. Sachs goes onto explain how the goals are highly inter-connected, how every country is responsible for creating its own tailored plan for achieving the goals by 2030, and how businesses and universities should serve as allies in this endeavor. While discussing the role of universities in the United States, Sachs refers to the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act, which allocated land in each state upon which to build public universities. This investment was meant to reap benefits by stimulating local economies and producing research and development to spur American progress.

I am particularly interested in the roles that universities have to contribute to global health and development. I think that for all the research that is conducted, there should also be an action component. Universities are filled with thousands of energetic, passionate, and curious students from the full range of academic departments – equipped with knowledge, expertise from their professors, and resources from their universities – capable of making a real difference. I think most of this potential is so far untapped, but could have a very significant impact on the developing world when it is.

Thoughts on Land Privatization and Community Creation

By Evan Pye

I’d like to talk about two things today: private land ownership and how to create “community” in today’s society. The first issue comes from a Crash Course World History video I was watching and taking notes on about Europe in the Middle Ages. The host, John Green, explained that until 1500, most land in Europe was shared by everyone and was known as the “Commons.” When monarchs began to distribute plots of land to the wealthy class, the new landowners removed peasants from their land, which drove the peasants into the city to beg or work menial jobs. These conditions reminded me of what I saw in Uganda during my summer trips there in 2013 and 2014. My classmates and I visited rural villages in the central district of Oyam. The villages were quite remote and consisted of small huts separated by large plots of land. When we asked the villagers if they owned all the land we saw, they told us that most of it was communal grazing land. No one necessarily owned it, but for generations the land was shared for animals to graze. The plots of land that the villagers we met owned were usually about one or two acres near their home. We were all struck at how much land was going un-farmed. Furthermore, the vagueness about who owned the land seemed to mean that no one could use it for growing crops and making a profit. This seemed very inefficient, but the communal land we saw can’t be utilized for agriculture unless it is legally owned and sold by specific families. It seemed that the legal structure is not set up to handle that kind of land distribution policy.

John Green explained in the Crash Course video that land privatization in Europe during the 1500s was harmful to the peasants who were removed from the land, but it led to great advances in agriculture. Green notes that since you no longer had to worry about someone else’s cow stepping all over your crops and eating them, you could focus on carefully planting seeds in rows. Land privatization gave farmers incentives to make more efficient use of their land and “experiment with new methods of food production.”

This history lesson reminded me of another article I read the other week about the purchasing of land in Africa by urban dwellers. Although legal systems have a long way to go, it seems many Africans have been able to buy up large plots of land that was previously known as communal grounds for local communities. They are unhappy with the upswing in “land grabs,” but it reminds me a lot of the land privatization that occurred in Europe. Perhaps the concept of communal land has been inhibiting African economic development, because it promotes an inefficient use of fertile land. If so, there could be a race in the next few years to “grab” fertile African land from communities that have had it for many generations. This may upset the social order but pay off in terms of agricultural output. And if a traditional lifestyle really is at odds with the most financially lucrative use of land, is the new system really worth it to improve economic conditions?

This question leads to the second topic of creating communities in today’s society. I was watching an interview with Louis Cole from his Youtube channel Funforlouis. I’m a big fan of his daily vlogs, so I was interested to hear his answer to the question of what he’s learned from traveling around the world and visiting so many different cultures. Louis told the interviewer that the biggest takeaway from his travels has been the difference between the communal/familial/tribal lifestyle of less developed regions of the world and the individualistic, high tech lifestyle of the developed Western world. Louis and the interviewer conclude that Americans and other Westerners have created a culture in which we don’t really need each other for very much, because nearly everything is available to us at our fingertips. The interviewer makes the case that communities only form when people truly need each other for some reason or another. And in the West (especially in cities), as the need for others diminishes, our connections with others diminishes. But we look around at our lives and realize something is missing. It’s that sense of communities that humans have lived with and valued for our entire collective history.

I think there’s a really important point being made in this interview. I think they’ve identified an issue that leads to so much of the mental illness that is present in our society and in our cities. Technology and advancement has satisfied so many of our needs, that the role of other people in our lives is becoming less important. This is, of course, a terrible consequence of high-tech convenience and social media. I think it’s a problem that has to be addressed and figured out, or else our entire society will suffer greatly at the hands of the technology we’ve created to “improve” our lives.

What I Learned from “Requiem for the American Dream” featuring Noam Chomsky

A few months ago, I watched and took notes on this documentary from Netflix. It features Noam Chomsky discussing his “10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth and Power.” These ideas are centered around the relationship between money and power in American politics. Chomsky’s thesis is that greater wealth leads to greater power, because elections are very expensive and American political powers need to appease their funders. In turn, greater power leads to greater wealth, because lawmakers create legislation that concentrates wealth for those who already have it. Legislative tools for this sort of behavior include tax policy, deregulation, and corporate governance rules.

In his “10 Rules” Chomsky refers often to civil participation and recounts the 1960s as the heyday of popular activism. People organized themselves and protested for the rights of women and minorities, and environmental protection. In response, the “masters of mankind,” (ie, the business and legislative sectors) worked to “financialize the economy.” This was accomplished through deregulation of the banks and the offshoring of production. During the 1950s to 1970s, there were no financial crashes, perhaps because regulatory systems placed checks on the financial sector and commercial banks were separated from investment banks. Also during the 1950s, Chomsky points out that the US was “the great manufacturing center of the world.” Indeed, manufacturing made up 28% of our GDP, while finance made up only 11%. In 2010, manufacturing accounted for 11% of our GDP, while finance made up 21%.

The reason that manufacturing accounts for so much less of our economy is free trade. American workers suddenly had to compete with lesser paid factory workers in the developing world. Chomsky paints this as a bad thing, although it seems to me it an inevitable outcome of globalization. It is easy to see, however, how unfair it is that low-paid workers are faced to compete as a result of free trade, while highly paid workers in the financial sectors remain protected from international competition for their jobs. Chomsky also points out that this job insecurity resulting from free trade makes it more difficult for workers to unionize or bargain for better conditions/higher wages. While I don’t think global competition for manufacturing is wrong, I see what Chomsky is saying about how harmful it is for American workers and how convenient it is for the “masters of mankind.”

The documentary has a section on taxes, in which Chomsky explains that taxes on wages and consumption has mostly stayed the same since the 1950s, while taxes on dividends and capital gains (which mostly go to the rich) have steadily decreased. Since the 50s, the marginal tax rate for the highest earners has decreased from about 90% to about 40%. Capital gains taxes alone have decreased from about 35% in 1970 to 18% in 2010.

Principle #6 really highlights the hypocrisy of neoliberalism in America. For the majority, market principles were encouraged to prevail. The government should help as little as possible, because the government is the problem, not the solution. However, in the 1970s, lobbying in Washington increased and deregulation of the banks began. Reagan furthered the policies of deregulation until he was forced to conduct the biggest bank bailout in history. Reagan left office with a major financial crisis that the next government had to bail out again. In 1999, commercial banks were separated from investment banks. The Bush and Obama administrations both had to conduct bailouts of their own, and the next financial crisis is looming, according to Chomsky. The point he is making is that a truly free market wouldn’t let the government bailout the banks when they fail – they would just fail and make room for new actors. The deregulation and subsequent series of bailouts highlights Chomsky’s argument that “there’s one set of rules for the rich, and an opposite set of rules for the poor.”

Principle #7 talks about the problems with our electoral system from a historical lens. The 1976 Supreme Court case of Buckly v Valeo determined that money is a form of speech. About a century before that, corporations were afforded personal rights. So in the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court case, corporations’ rights to spend as much money as they want on elections was upheld. This is obviously really harmful for elections, and is the subject of Lawrence Lessig’s Republic, Lost, which I am planning to read soon.

Principle #9 has a similar message to Fight Club, which is that consumerism is harmfully distracting us from the important issues in our society. Chomsky notes the power of public relations and advertising firms to distract us with exciting consumer products that are just barely within our financial reach. These products, mixed with entertainment from television and other technologies, make us feel fulfilled and more likely to ignore more significant matters. Even elections are run in this way. We are encouraged to follow a candidate for their character or their ability to inspire us, but we don’t often bother ourselves with the nitty-gritty details of their platform. In fact, the general population’s will has very little to do with what actually happens in our legislating process. We are completely disconnected from the laws that are made. We have no idea which laws are passing on a daily basis, and the majority of Americans would likely disagree with a great deal of them.

In turn, this disconnectedness leads to a distrust of our government. Conservatives take advantage of this distrust by espousing “small government” because “government creates more problems than solution.” The great thing about America, however, is that we are supposed to get together and decide on which rules we want to follow. Taxes and elections are our chance to support those rules. Unfortunately, we have grown to resent taxes, and to some extent even government, because we don’t know what’s happening to our taxes and we know we probably wouldn’t like it if we did know.

The answer isn’t smaller government, it’s just better government. This documentary offers a few solutions, like political activism of the masses the way they used to do it in the 60s. Another solution is reforming our electoral process. Yet another is staying informed about legislation that is being passed and the lawmakers passing it. We might not be taking full advantage of this “experiment in self-government” that Alexander Hamilton and Barack Obama talk about, but we do have the means to improve it. We’ve improved it so many times in so many ways previously, so we only need to become informed enough and organized enough and inspired enough to demand change where it is needed.

Global Affairs from “The Economist”

By Evan Pye

This week I read articles from various online sources and from a few recent issues of The Economist. I have access to an online version of The Economist through my university library account, and I decided to look through some of the articles for the first time in a while this week. I was really surprised at the quality of articles and range of subjects that the magazine covers, so I think I will spend at least the next week reading and taking notes on Economist articles.

I covered a lot of different articles and subjects this week, but they can be grouped into the categories of poverty alleviation, AIDS, and international politics. First, I learned about the current mobile phone market in Africa. Its rapid growth has led to 500 million mobile phone subscriptions, although the rate of growth is slowing. The mobile phone market contributed $153 billion to Africa’s economy in 2015, which accounts for 6.7% of Africa’s GDP. The biggest phone markets are in Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt, but growth in the next 5 years will be concentrated in Tanzania, Nigeria, and Ethiopia (Source 1). In addition to mobile money, mobile phone chargers are serving as a gateway into solar charger companies such as M-Kopa, which has sold 400,000 solar power kits in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania (Source 2).

Next I looked at poverty through the lenses of hunger and land ownership. The World Food Programme estimates that $265 billion are needed annually to eliminate poverty and hunger worldwide, the majority of which must be spent in rural areas. 800 million people in the world still suffer from hunger today. The WFP highlights social protections and rural/agricultural development as the keys to increasing the incomes of the extremely poor (Source 3). In terms of land ownership, The Economist wrote about how city-dwellers all across Africa are buying up rural land for lucrative farming businesses. Agriculture, if well-organized and done with large quantities of land, can earn more money that urban jobs or public sector jobs in Africa. For this reason, as much as ⅓ of Tanzania’s farmland is currently owned by city-dwellers. This new trend brings benefits as educated and legally-savvy urbanites are demanding more from their governments in terms of legal systems and infrastructure to support agriculture, many communities are pushing back against the large purchases that outsiders are making in their traditional, communal land (Source 4).

My global health news came in the form of an article explaining how much work the world still needs to do to eliminate AIDS worldwide. 16 years after a momentous AIDS conference in Durban, another conference was held in South Africa in July to examine the progress made. The good news is that 17 million people are now on AIDS treatment. The bad news is that 38 million people still have AIDS worldwide and 2 million people are still getting infected with HIV each year, down from about 3 million per year back in 2000. Progress has been good, but not good enough to make the goal of eliminating AIDS realistic any time soon (Source 5).

Finally, I read articles about politics in Zimbabwe and Brazil. In Zimbabwe, 92-year-old President Mugabe is being challenged through protests in the streets and online by a clergyman named Evan Mawarire. The public is joining in the protests, thanks to a terrible economy and a large number of public sector workers (teachers, police, army) whose paychecks are being delayed or even lost. The looming transition that will occur when Mugabe dies could be messy there. And in Brazil, I watched a Vox documentary about favelas, which were formed by slaves and immigrants. They are home to lots of crime and drugs, but also to creative examples of self-governance, as the government has basically abandoned these communities. Speaking of the government, I read that former President Luiz Lula da Silva will face trial soon regarding his bribery scandal with the state-owned oil company Petrobras. The scandal involves many other politicians, including Brazil’s current President Dilma Rousseff, who has been impeached and awaits trial as well. Da Silva was president from 2003-2010, and was popular for reducing poverty and overseeing strong economic growth during that period.