Perspective

Something I’m never really sure Americans understand about this world we share. One of the reasons migration ( especially here ) is cresting so high these days is the technology wave we kicked off. Almost all of the necessities that a person needs are elastic and adapt to the local market and currency of a given country. Nearly all of our technology  ( thanks Copper prices! ) is inelastic. An I-Phone costs more or less than same ( often more, thx to markup ) in Mongolia , Honduras, Canada and Nigeria. A simply laptop is the equivalent of a year’s wage in many developing nations.

Happy people don’t leave their towns, family and country and march 2,000 miles through the desert. But we have ourselves to thank for a world where those said things are no longer enough for happiness. I am not saying we should reverse it, but perhaps these people scarring the hell out of children by protesting their buses should understand their perspective. They are chasing a life and wage where they can own a computer and an I-Phone- things that many U.S teens treat as a necessity. 

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Is the U.S destined to be mis-understood?

This is a question that has been kicking around my head since witnessing yesterday a very inquisitive Indian student who is studying up in Memphis.

He felt like America is a story of black vs white prejudice-lite when he was in Tenn. But when he was in D.C- the only black people he saw were in suits or preaching in front of Chinatown with microphones.  Then in New Orleans, he saw a segregation in terms of housing but black and white together in the business and public space.

After about 3 hours of a very patient African-American lady and I trying to help him better understand America- I fear he was just overloaded.

He had never factored in all the central and south Americans in D.C nor all the Mexicans out west and he totally forgot about the Natives. He still has never met a Mexican or a Native. 

We are so big and so diverse. How does any visitor really grasp our complexity? And if they don’t, I fear them going back to their country and telling everyone that all Americans are just like the state they visited. It makes my brain hurt. 

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Readjusting to America: when I think back about my return home via Europe and then back into the meat-grinder- it went something like this:

I can do this. This is MY country. 1. 2 and  ………………..!   halp? 
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RE: “Graduation advice for aspiring humanitarians”

William Moseley, Professor and Chair of Geography at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota has a real great piece up on Al Jazerra here: 

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/05/graduation-advice-aspiring-huma-201452883328467830.html

A couple of examples from my own experience in my little farming hamlet in eastern Europe. Cazangic, Moldova.

There has been a rash, like all of the developing world, of trends being chased by the local farmers, local government leaders and development professionals. When I was there, it was bio-fuel. The idea being that the leftovers from agriculture are 10x cheaper than the price of wood ( that is often cut illegally from protected forests )  and it just gets burned anyways at the end of harvest. 

The problem is that you need an expensive pellet maker to make it marketable and transportable. I am talking $10,000-$15,000 per machine. Or 10-15 years of savings by a local farmer. 

Littered around Moldova are unused or abandoned large refrigeration units for high value crops. Another trend from the past. Though refrigeration and pellet makers are awesome, they need to be approached methodically not because someone says its the “Newest AND Best Ever!”

What USAID and Millenium Challenge Corporation has done since is instead of peddling new ideas like a snake oil salesman with funding in toe- they have instead sunk most of their money into backing up loans via the local banks. While they still try to inspire local farmers with ideas- they let them choose what they want to truly do, and when they take out the loan, USAID is not only backing the loan but dropping the interest rate as well. 

A second example was my computer lab. Now understand, that Peace Corps is extremely strict on computer labs. Computer labs have a sordid past of rarely achieving the stated goals. The computer lab should not the goal, it is a tool to help expand the skills and abilities of the local teachers or community.  That said, it is extremely easy to fall into the trap of computer labs being the end goal.

Which is what many computer labs littered across the globe are. They sit there with no thematic programming and no real use aside from checking e-mail and surfing VKontakt or Odnoklassniki ( Russian Social networking )

After failing so many times I stopped counting, I finally settled on one goal. If I could show the teacher that these kids were super excited to use the computers and you can harness that excitement for educational uses- that would mean success. It took 6 months and only using the 4th graders but their love of “Mario Teaches Typing” finally won the day and at the end of school as we were transferring the computers over to the school permanently- the computer teacher and principal said to me that they wanted to continue the typing program and maybe some others if I could show them. Be-still my heart! 

Welcome to what it takes to “change” a very small part of a very small school in a very small village in a very small county in a small state in a small region of Europe.  $2,500 from USAID and 2 years of living in said community. 

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Dear Commentators RE: Russia\Communists

Please stop calling Russians and the separatists in Ukraine or Moldova: “lefty communists”. It makes you sound very uninformed. If you really wanted to, you could line up the Eastern European “Communist” positions and they would suspiciously line up greatly next to the U.S Republican platform- but the reality is a lot more complex.

One one hand, you might hear the desire to “socialize” or “nationalize” an industry- this is not Marxism. Far from it. This is about looting the company. Period. Russia technically has a “nationalized” gas company- but its not about lowering prices or increasing competition. It is about control and big bonuses for its executives. Different mechanism but same result as many U.S companies. 

Then,you might hear them passing anti-gay protest bills or anti-gay marriage bills- and to some degree- they do have some serious social issues but so does the U.S. The meter is only now tilting towards equality in the United States and much of Europe. It was not always so. And in many ways, it was Europe and the U.S that brought these issues to the fore in these societies- so in the “communist” mind- these are not issues of equality but rather issues of western interference.  While I was in Moldova, there was a town that not only banned gay demonstrations but banned the existence of gays and lesbians. He infamously told the newspaper, his city has no GLBT people and never has. I am sure he truly believes that. 

Eastern Europe is still figuring itself out but one thing they are not are left wing communists. If anything, our definition of left wing are the pro-American and pro-Europeans. God forbid those people ever heard some of the commentary I’ve heard here at home. 

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Captain America: the greatest of the greatest generation

I’ve been wondering for a while now if the reason Cap’ is so popular with everyone because the world is getting increasingly dangerous every day it seems. And, Captain America personifies what previously only existed in black and white photos:  our grandparents- the greatest generation. Yes, Captain America is fictional- but he is a real life representation of optimism and goodness that defined the Americans that fought that horrible war. 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has earned $224.9 million at the domestic box office, which makes it the top-grossing April release of all time in North America. The previous record holder was Fast Five, which brought in $209 million overall at the box office after it opened.

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Staggering ignorance

The amount of mis-information out there about the ACA|Obamacare sometimes scares me. How has our politics gotten so bad that we cannot even agree on facts anymore?

It’s really a rather simple program. If you make under $17,000 or there abouts- you now fall under AHCCCS\Medicaid and assets no longer count- so you can own a home, car etc. Think of it like the new version of COBRA except not paying out the wazoo while you search for a job. 

If you make over $17,000 a year, but don’t get insurance through your work - you can now buy it ( this was expensive and hard before the ACA ). 

On a sliding scale the government will pay part of your monthly costs directly to the insurance company.  But understand, YOU STILL get insurance through a private corporate insurance company.  Their rules, their processes etc etc.

At $17,000 a year, the government pretty much pays all of your monthly cost, but you are still responsible for any deductibles or co-pays. 

If you are married or have kids, these numbers change slightly. 

At $20,000 or so, you are still getting some nice subsidies, but it is not free. See the photos below. 

But UNDERSTAND, once you start reaching the $30,000+ , these subsidies are small. Sometimes, very small. 

The difference is now you can buy private insurance. You now have options besides COBRA or a catastrophic plan that gives you nothing until you pay a very high deductible. 

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