Adonis Diaries

Archive for May 2011

“Arab Spring” revolts overflowing to Southern European States:  Are we confusing causes and catalysts?

In the last four months, I published a dozen articles on the “Arab Spring” revolts related to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Greece…One of the posts is:

I stated that the non-violent and determined revolt in Egypt is the revolution of the century and will spread to every State, even to so-called democracies that fail to reform their election laws, entirely biased toward the elite oligarchic classes.

The sit-ins popular uprising in the main squares of Capitals in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, and Ireland are displaying banners and panels that read:

“Let those liable for the financial crisis pay the bill”

“We are people and NOT market places”

“You steal the money, we take over the streets”

“We want real democracies!”

“The ambitions of a few are destroying the dreams of all of us”

“Democracy is not voting for the one who ends up robbing you dry”

“I don’t want for my children to pay for my Real Estate mortgage”

“Finally, we are wide awake. They won’t shut us up and the street is ours.”

“A revolt is also feasible in Spain…I want nothing for myself.  For the people I demand everything”

“For a true democracy now.  There exist a more just world for all.”

“Romans offered bread and games. Currently, bread is not delivered and doing politics is the circus”

The widespread insurrections disclose this popular consciousness: “We refuse the international financial monsters to dictate and overpower the democratic political systems.  The international financial behemoth is not to the interest of the common people or directed to sustainable growth and economic and social stability.”

After four years of the worldwide financial crisis, the only parties that benefited from the calamity are the banks and investment financial institutions, coupled with outrageous bonuses to managers that coincide with drastic budget cuts.  Budget cuts are not affecting military spending but social services in national health coverage, affordable schooling, retirement benefits, security for the jobless people, opening new opportunities for the small enterprises to thrive…

Apparently, the healthy worldwide insurrection is not about to abate and will continue as long as election laws are biased toward the elite oligarchic financial classes.  People consciousness has come to term that sustainability for survival must satisfy basic conditions:

First, if most States are growing by accumulating more debts and incurring higher budget deficits, using worthless currencies, especially the dollar, it is time for drastic long-term cuts on military spending and expensive programs targeting the maintenance of the well-being of the 1% elite richest classes around the world.

Second, the rich classes have demonstrated total irresponsibility to the survival of the downtrodden.  You cannot digest the fact that the expenses of keeping vegetative rich people means the death of millions of children less than 5 year-old.  Life expectancy should account for the children dying before reaching 5 years!

Third, the causes of the insurrections are not the rise in prices of basic food ingredient, due to feeding cows and manufacturing “clean” energies, but to untenable political systems that rob the common people from effectively sharing in political decision-making.  The people in Bahrain and Libya didn’t revolt for lack of affordable food!  The people in Spain, Portugal, and Italy are not invading the public squares for lack of food.  The Syrians demonstrators have spread a banner saying: “We are not hungry, thank you.  We want to change our undignified status for the last 40 years.”  Prices and shortages of food… are the catalysts and not the cause.

Fourth, the causes of the insurrection are for just and fair election laws that permit the common people to share in the decision-making.  People in the Arab World have been suffocated being considered as chattel.  People in Southern Europe are into upheaval because their “democratic Systems” have failed to include the voice of the youth, their wants, and wishes in the equations, which are entirely written by the richest oligarchic elite classes and amoral technocrats.

Fifth, the financial crisis was not because of the subprime financial tool (a catalyst), but because of the whole financial structure that was unregulated and people’s taxes spent on “stabilizing” fragile financial institutions at the expense of the well-being of the majority of citizens. (To be continued).

Note: You may read

A marketing lesson from the apocalypse

It is strange but true: Almost all apocalyptic predicators in the last four decades are generated in the USA, with rare exceptions.

The American evangelist Harold Camping, 80 year-old, was baffled that his prediction of the second coming of Jesus failed in May 21:  He had spent $140,000 on distributing panels all over the world.  Harold, the telepredicator, is unphased: “My fresh computations are reporting the event to October 5.” 

A follower of Camping, Keith Bauer, travelled 4,830 kilometers to California, to join Harold on a mountaintop, for the great expected trip to paradize!

Do you recall the Davidian followers who died in Waco (Texas)?  They gathered to wait for David Kuraich’s prediction of the coming of Jesus.  Members of another cult drank poison in California to reaching heaven on a predicted date.  Almost 900 members of an American cult were found dead in Brazil, in anticipation of the date of the second coming… and on.

Two years ago, members of Russian cult deliberately confined themselves in caves for 6 months, expecting the coming:  They ran out of food and water and had to emerge to the daylight.  Their guru didn’t join their craziness, but the Russian government sent him to an asylum facility.  I am wondering:  Why the US is failing to send all their doomsday predicators to prison?  Is predicting a second coming part of freedom of expression or predicators are eligible to doing profitable business out of the candid fright of the cult members?

Seth wrote: “How does one market the end of the world? After all, you don’t have a big ad budget. Your “product” is something that has been marketed again and again through the ages and it has never worked. There are significant peer pressures not to buy it…

And yet, every time, naive people succumb. They sell their belongings, stop paying into their kid’s college fund and create tension and despair.

Here’s the simple lesson:

Sell a story that some people want to believe. In fact, sell a story they already believe.

The story has to be integrated into your product. The iPad, for example, wasn’t something that people were clamoring for… but the story of it, the magic tablet, the universal book, the ticket to the fashion-geek tribe…there was a line out the door for that. The same way that every year, we see a new music sensation, a new fashion superstar. That’s not an accident. That story is just waiting for someone to wear it.

And the some part is vital. Not everyone wants to believe in the end of the world, but some people (fortunately, just a few) really do. To reach them, you don’t need much of a hard sell at all.

Too often marketers take a product and try to invent a campaign. Much more effective is to find a tribe, find a story and make a product that resonates, one that makes the story work.

That’s the whole thing. A story that resonates and a tribe that’s tight and small and eager.  I hope you can dream up something more productive than the end of the world, though.”

No need to breath freely: We still have to cross safely the doomsday prophesy of 2012.  There is no need to despair:  It cannot resolve the climatic changes and the poisons in Earth fresh water rivers, or the dwindly of fresh water supplies.  Mankind needs to get his collective intelligence together and unite against the elite oliogarchies around the world.

Placebo is neutral and inexpensive? Think again!

Placebo are supposed to have neutral effects in double-blind experiments on the effects of medicines, and they are thought to be very inexpensive products.

First, do you know that 80% of published peer-reviewed clinical research failed to describe the contents in ingredients and the components of placebo used in the experiments?  Fact is, placebo are not mere sugar, plain water, saline solutions… They do have ingredients “considered to be safe or neutral” by the researcher.  Remember the case of olive oil used as placebo while cod oil was the medicine of cure?  They both lowered cholesterol level!

Second, placebo are not cheap!  Placebo are usually more expensive than the actual manufactured medicine to test.  The placebo has to exactly resemble the medicine in form, shape, color, consistency, taste, credible in the logo and inscriptions… The pharmaceutical manufacturer has to redesign a new product for small quantities:  Thus, placebo are far more expensive than normally budgeted in the research grant. 

Actually, a new field is emerging for graphic designers called “placebo designers” with objective of finding creative and credible placebo.

Third, autosuggestion that placebo is the proper medicine has demonstrated to be a potent factor in the cure of many patients.  For example, in 17% of the cases when patients were informed to be taking placebo, it had a positive influence.  Fabrizio Benedetti used saline solution on Parkinson patients.  The activities in the corresponding cerebral region diminished significantly:  The trembling ceased.

Do you know that between 2001 and 2006, the number of “faked medicines” on the market that didn’t reach phase 2 in the testing (limited number of patients experimented on) increased 20%?  That marketed faked medicines that didn’t pass phase 3 increased 11%?

Do you know that the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry revealed in April 2011 that 20% of medical practitioners administered placebo on their patients without the knowledge of the patients?  That 35% of the prescribed medicines had low weak doses of potent ingredients?

Using placebo in chronic patients, familiar with the taste and consistency of the real medicine, generate negative counter-reactions in the mind of patients and called “nocebo”:  The chronic patients are no fools and can discriminate a placebo from normal medicines; they are used to taking regularly particular medicines. 

The role of autosuggest is very important in curing patients.  Consequently, unless the clinical experimenter is thoroughly aware of the types of illnesses that can be cured by autosuggest, if he fails to factor-in this variable in controlling the experiment, the results would be confounding:  Further investigations, analysis, or redoing the experiment with a reviewed design would be required.

Note:  Idea extracted from an article in the “Courrier International”

Part 2. Why the “Arabs” in the US are the most educated and the richest?

The latest statistics performed in the US, generated from the latest census, have sent shock waves in the US communities because of widespread discrimination of “Arabs” in the medias.  The statistics demonstrated the following facts, relative to the 5.3 million US citizens of “Arabic” descent:

1. 61% of the US Arabs earned the highest university degrees versus 30% of the average US citizens. The Arab citizens are mainly Lebanese (40%), Syrians (12.3%), Egyptians (12%), Palestinians (6%), Iraqis, North Africans… earned the highest university degrees versus 30% of the average US citizens

2. The average “Arab” in the US earn $54,000 versus $43,000

3. 57% of the “Arabs” in the US own single family homes versus 43% of the average ratio.

4. The Arabs in the US hold the highest posts and the most private businesses than the other US minorities, including European, Japanese, and Chinese.

John Stewart Kenneth said:

“The Arabs are starting to scare us with their intelligence and competitiveness.  Even our thinking are challenged and changed.  Once opportunities for freedom, justice were available to the US Arabs, they advanced in accelerated speed.  The US Arabs came from poor countries and reacted to their former indignities in their original countries by showing us to the second rank in our society.”

Moses Naeem, founder of “Foreign Policies” in the USA wrote an article saying: “Why Arab descendents are more successful than most ordinary US citizens?  Why are they more intelligent and richer? Why in such a hurry?”

Indeed why?

First, we need to differentiate among the Arabic speaking people, if explanations are to get to target.   The “Arabs” mentioned in the statistics are 70% from the Levant or Near East States (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine).  This trend is not restricted to the US: it is predominant  in Europe, Latin America, Australia and in most developed countries where “Arabs” had to immigrate to.

Simply because of the availability in opportunities for “freedom and justice”?  Is it that simple?

It is more complicated than this simplistic concept monopolized by the Western States.

The first immigrants at the turn of the century to the US were Lebanese and Syrians, called “Turks” because they held Ottoman passports at the time.  Immigrants had bought tickets with the intention of specifically “going to America, the USA”.

Most of them were diverted to Africa, Latin America, and to islands by ship captains, for efficient turnover of customers, at every port.  They were fleeing economic hardship, before starting to immigrate for political reasons after WWII.

The most educated and well-to-do among immigrants went to Palestine, and particularly to Egypt at the turn of the century, where they were the vanguard in creating daily presses, translating scientific research and the newer technologies,  and disseminating the notion of freedom of expressions and promoting the values of Western Europe in matters of democracy, republic, equality, constitutional political systems, and justice to all under the law…

In the 20’s and 30’s, Lebanese settled in Palestine:  Business was brisk, schooling was expanding and needing educators, and agricultural lands were relatively inexpensive compared to Lebanon.

People in the Levant and Egypt were, since antiquity, the backbone of civilization for millennium.  They remained the source of civilization and culture during the Islamic hegemony for 9 centuries after 640 AC.

Basically, the Levant was a crossroad to all the immigrants fleeing from the east, due to wars or economical hardships.  In period of coming calamities, the settled immigrants in the Levant would venture further westward, around the Mediterranean Sea basin.

These historical facts may not be relevant to the subject matter, but it is worth mentioning.  The human brain is flexible and adaptive:  Any second generation immigrant, supported by a network of extended family, from any origin he happened to be, is likely to succeed in communities with vast available opportunities in education, work, and sustainable and stable law and order institutions.

Why the Arabs of the Levant in the US are being so successful?

Never under-estimate the delicious varieties of the Lebanese cuisine:  “satisfy the stomach, and abiding by customs and traditions would follow“.  The immigrants constituted tight family communities, and barely diverted from the guidelines of visiting frequently and sharing in the frequent festivities.  The second generation witnessed the hardship and determination of their parents for securing the best education and immersion in the local communities.

The extended family community kept the children close to the nucleus and got all the practical and financial aid they needed to succeed.  Everybody in the extended family shared in the expenses and the success  stories.

Traditionally, what were considered good educational disciplines were engineering, medicine, and law.  Most important of all, babies drank politics from early childhood:  Political discussions were scenes of heated debate and the world was its theater. Thus, you are brought up to know a lot of geography and history.   Learning more than two languages was a must and communication is not a major problem.

The Levant immigrants have high feeling of competition and drive to acceding to higher status compared to the neighbors (whoever is the neighbor):  Humility is not their strongest trait (not many earned Nobel Prizes!)

The Levant immigrants are not famous for creating sustainable institutions, associations or organizations. It is these frequent gathering of the extended family, for one occasion or another and sharing good food, that provide the basis for this large network of “soft power” among acquaintances for referrals and disseminating intelligence pieces of new programs, policies, and regulations that facilitate grabbing opened opportunities to wants and wishes.

Note:  With the influx of immigrants from the Levant countries, Egypt became the main State for writing Arabic books and magazines.

In the 1950’s Lebanon became the printing press for the region. It is thanks to the Iraqi people, the most voracious readers that the cycle of writing and publishing flourished.

It is because the Iraqis were the most learned in the region that Iraq had to be destabilized, invaded and dismantled…

“What did I learn from blogging?” The blurred line between writing and publishing?

I read a post a week ago and it reminded me to rethink why I am at it, after 2,200 articles published.  The post read:

“Today marks one month since I started this blog, so I decided to take a minute and reflect on what I’ve learned in the past month.  I’ve posted every week day since I started, which I find amazing.  Quite a few people read what I write, which I find even more amazing.  And some even share what I write with their friends, which I find amazingly amazing.  Mostly, I’m shocked at how easily I’ve fallen into this process and how much I value it. But I’ll try to narrow it down to three specific observations I’ve made about the past month.

1.  Writing has become an important part of my day

I look forward to the time I set aside to sit and write down my thoughts.  I’ve journaled on and off over the years, but this is different.  Journaling doesn’t really require coherent thoughts.  It’s more like emptying the contents of my brain onto paper.  That’s part of this process, but now I have to make sure it makes sense.  And that’s important (for you and for me.)  It helps me organize the thoughts that swirl around in my head and gives me a feeling of peace when I’m done.  I can say to myself, “Whew, now I get it.”  Or, “Hmmm, I haven’t quite figured this out yet, but that’s ok, because I’ve put my questions into questions.”

2.  I haven’t run out of things to say

For some of you, this is a surprise, because I can be very quiet at times.  For others, it’s no surprise, because you know that when I get started, I have a lot to say.  I’m sure there will be a day when I find myself thinking, “What should I write about today?”  But I’m not there yet.  I find myself looking at the world and my thoughts as opportunities to say something.  This might be a result of turning off my “inner evaluator.”  (Well, it’s not turned off completely, but it’s much quieter than it used to be.)  You know that voice that says,  ”You can’t say that, it might make someone mad.”  Or, “Are you sure you want to say that?  What will people think?”  Or the ever popular, ”You don’t want to say that, people might not like you.”

I love what Jon Acuff has to say about getting past this feeling.  I read it on his blog a couple of months ago and it’s stayed with me ever since.

90% perfect and published always changes more lives than 100% perfect and stuck in your head.

The things you create and actually share will always out perform the things that stay stuck in your head or your desk or your laptop. You might love the ideas you have inside you. You might be blown away by how awesome they are, but if you don’t share them, it doesn’t matter.

A moment of honesty here – there have been occasions in my life where I’ve said to my husband, “Can you believe how smart I am?”  Granted, I’m always brought back down to earth quickly, but the thought crosses my mind.  And I know the world doesn’t usually think I’m awesome, but take my word for it, it feels great to write down an awesome thought and put it out here for people to read.  Even if you don’t think it’s as awesome as I do (which you probably don’t), leaving it stuck in my head is just frustrating.

So, as long as I have thoughts in my head, I’m going to have something to write about.  Because now I know the power of putting them on paper (or a computer screen) and sharing them. Thanks, Jon, for helping me realize this!

3.  I DO care if you read

When I started this blog, I said it was about taking action.  The action being the writing of blog posts.  I said it would be okay if nobody read them because I wanted to concentrate on the action of expressing myself.  Well, I still value the process of expressing myself (see numbers 1 and 2 above) but I also care if you read what I write.  I love the feeling that something I wrote spoke to someone – made them think about something in a new way, helped them know that someone else feels the same way, or made them laugh.  It’s a form of connection.  And I like it.  I especially like it when you let me know what you think.  So leave comments.  Share links.  Tweet links.  Write them in paint across the side of your car.  Writing is solitary.  It’s great when you know someone else is at the other end to receive your words.

So thank you for spending the last month with me.  Thank you for reading.  Thank you for sharing with your friends.  Thank you for your comments and feedback.  I’m not sure if this blog has met your expectations.  I’m not sure if it’s met mine.  But that’s another lesson in itself, isn’t it?  Why would this need to meet anyone’s expectations?  It can grow in whatever direction it wants to – just like the trees that are my inspiration.”

This section is for my reply and comments.

Social platforms, particularly specialized in publishing the written texts, offer vast and quick opportunities to publishing for free and freely and thus, encouraging writing.   The new medium have blurred the lines between the need to write and the purpuse of publishing.

Writing is the ultimate form for consolidating personal awareness and conscious individual reflection on life, the universe, and earth survival.  As we go on adentures, the experience of the trip does not gel into consciousness if we fail to note down our diary of the experience and document the adventure.

Publishing what we write carries public responsibilies.  It is important to realize that, once your writing goes into print, your moral liberty is restricted: It entered the domain of others’ moral values and ethics, and you have to take responsibility of what you published.

Thus, there is a difference between writing for your own pleasure and publishing.  Publishing your work carries a public function that you are doomed to shoulder. There is no such thing as publishing for “Art sake” or for style sake: If you have to publish, at least, have a political position that has germinated.   Most of the times, every thought, idea, or action disseminated to the public connote a political undertone. There is always an implicit mission that permeates the published work.

If we have to publish it better be worthier than silence.  The need to commune with the reader presumes a good level of honesty and a will to care. The ultimate mission is to communicate personal struggles; how you overcame shortcomings, the attempts and challenges that obstructed your journey to personal discoveries, and the many ways to succumb to our frailties and limitations: There is an implicit purpose to express and describe the journey, since we don’t need to reach the goal as long as we are on the journey’s track.

The reasons and topics for writing are limitless.  There are subjects that agree with your reflection and need to be disseminated; they need to be read; and the more frequently they are published in different medium the better; thus, it is your duty to re-edit and comment on these articles, translate them to other languages.  If the article does not match your view, after good reflection, it must be commented and replied.

The more you write, the closer you are to taking the decision for serious introspection:  What you believe in, agree with, disagree with, constitute the reality:  Reality is your own model of the world, the universe, society, values, ethics…

Unconsciously, I started publishing early short poems, expressing emotions and feelings.  I upgraded by publishing my diaries, and followed it with as serious attempt of introspection (autobiography) as the best means to put into context my current positions and views. 

As I did my due diligence of expressing frankly and candidly my shortcomings and the context of my life, upbringing and personal experiences, I felt ready to comments, reply, and publish all kinds of articles, giving preference to views out of my comfort zone and “controversial”.  I had this urge to constantly be curious about all topics and get acquainted with various point of views.  I had to keep up my due diligence in upgrading my knowledge and reflecting deeper on the problems and difficulties facing people around the world and within my own community.

It is your right to disseminate your conviction and fight for what is right: Just be aware that you have the responsibility to do your due diligence.  Do not be afraid of exposing your dreams, plans, and programs that you conceived in your sleepless nights:  Get them in writing!

Note: You may refer to

What is the future of public health in Chicago?

Commissioner Choukair said in the commencement address: “During my tenure at the Chicago Department of Public Health, which has been about a year and a half so far, I have stressed the importance of focusing on public health strategies that effectively address the actual causes of death, rather than what is found on a death certificate.

Groundbreaking work done by McGinnis and Foege at CDC in the early 1990’s, and fine-tuned since then, demonstrated that the actual causes of death are largely related to individual health behaviors and social circumstances — not genetics, not access to health care.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of CDC, looked at these, took it all in, but then went further and asked:  “now that we have a better understanding of the actual causes of death, how can public health, charged with improving the health of the population, best intervene?”

The most effective interventions, at the base of the pyramid, address the social determinants of health and the way that our society is structured.  Taking this approach to heart, I challenged our team at the Chicago Department of Public Health to develop a draft of a public health agenda that best meets this current understanding of effective public health interventions. And while our emphases have been near the bottom on the pyramid, I recognize that there is a need for effective programs at each level.

If you follow Chicago government, you might know that Mayor Emanuel committed to releasing a public health agenda for the City of Chicago in the next 100 days.  Our public health agenda is a blueprint for action intended to serve as a framework for a focused, yet comprehensive, approach to how the Chicago Department of Public Health will lead and work with partners to improve the health and well-being of the people in Chicago.

Our public health agenda:

  • identifies priorities to guide our public health work over the next five years;
  • sets measurable targets, achievable by 2020, to improve the health and well-being of Chicagoans;
  • sets policy, programmatic, educational, and public awareness strategies that can be measured and monitored; and
  • serves as a vehicle to engage communities, partners, and other public health stakeholders in health improvement efforts.

The priorities presented in this agenda were identified through an assessment of public health data and resources, as well as current or potential stakeholder involvement. Reflecting a multi-tiered public health approach, for each priority area, this agenda presents strategies organized into three sections:

  • ·      Policies, including regulatory changes and laws that will be pursued to improve the public’s health;
  • ·      Programs and services that will be delivered, and
  • ·      Education and public awareness

I am sure it is no surprise to anyone if I share our priorities with you. I am talking about Obesity Prevention, Tobacco Use, HIV Prevention, Teen Pregnancy Prevention, Cancer disparities with a use case on breast cancer disparities in Chicago. I am also talking about heart disease and stroke, about violence prevention and about access to healthcare among others.

These are exciting times in Chicago. In 97 days, our City will have a clear public health agenda. We will have a focused set of priorities. We will make our targets public. We want the public to hold us accountable.

Chicago invests around $200M every year in our public health system. We owe it to Chicagoans to do our best to stretch those dollars and get the best return on investment. This is my commitment to you today. As you get ready to start the next phase in your career, I call on all of you to join me in this journey. I guarantee you it will be a lot of hard work but a lot of fun and we will get a healthier city.

 There are many ways to have an impact on health:

  • ·      Treating the sick –
  • ·      Preventing the illness in the first place through screenings
  • ·      Population-based prevention strategies

I hope in your work in public health, regardless of the setting, you keep in mind the concept of the “third revolution” (Breslow) in public health. Now that we have made significant progress in addressing communicable disease (first revolution) and made progress in chronic diseases (second revolution), we are poised to embark on the third, where communities are healthy and the goal is promoting health and not just preventing disease: “Health promotion reaffirms considering not only how to avoid being sick, a negative concept, but also how to expand the potential for living, a positive view: The main difference between health promotion and disease prevention is the premise of health promotion regarding health as a resource of everyday life”.

We all know the impact of clinical medicine on public health.  To promote health, we need to think beyond just clinical medicine. We have to be involved in social policy.  All social policy is public health.  Fiscal policy is health policy.  Education is public health. Housing is public health.

Perhaps in your schooling, or on your own, you saw the film “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?” Through four hours of excellent documentary film making, it makes crystal clear what needs to change in our society if we are going to be truly healthy:

  • ·      It’s less poverty
  • ·      It’s quality housing
  • ·      It’s quality education
  • ·      It’s viable communities filled with resources geared to the needs of the particular population

I grew up in Lebanon in the midst of a civil war. I saw the impact of violence on individuals, on families, on community and on the whole country. I suffered the impact of violence myself.  I saw the impact on my own family, in my own community.

In medical school at the American University of Beirut, I spent time seeing patients in Palestinian Refugee camps in Beirut. I talked to so many people who lived their whole lives in an environment where I might not choose to live.  I saw firsthand the impact of forced migration on health.

In Houston, at Baylor College of Medicine, I trained in a community health center serving mostly Mexican immigrants who struggled to make a decent living. I learned about homelessness by providing clinical services to people living in shelters, under bridges, in cars and on the streets.  I saw firsthand the impact of poverty and lack of housing on individuals.

In Rockford, at Crusader Community Health, I served as a medical director of a community health center network. I learned about more migrant communities. I learned more about public housing. I learned more about HIV/AIDS.  I saw firsthand the impact of poverty on different communities.

At Heartland Alliance for Human Rights and Human Needs, I worked with immigrants and refugees on the North side of Chicago. I also worked with many of the Heartland Alliance global health team:

  • ·      the team working on HIV Prevention among Men who have sex with men in Nigeria
  • ·      the team working on sexual and gender-based violence in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq,
  • ·      the team working on torture and trauma treatment in Momostenango, Guatemala
  • ·      the team working on Maternal Child Health in Patzcuaro, Mexico
  • ·      the team working on child soldier reintegration in Srilanka

I visited with some of these sites and learned from the Heartland staff and most importantly I learned from the participants in these programs.  What I learned from all of these experiences is simple.

To empower individuals to achieve their human rights, and to empower communities to achieve their potential, we cannot think about health care alone. We have to think about healthcare. We also have to think about housing. We have to think about economic security. We have to think about legal protections.  This is what public health is all about.  This is what we need to address as public health people.

I hope that with your public health education and approach you will keep in mind that a healthier society is a society where healthier choices are the default choices.  A healthier society is a society where children have good schools to attend, and safe neighborhoods to play in.  A healthier society is a society where parents have enough resources to provide their children with a rich experience in life.

What do you need to do to be a better person?  What will you do to build a healthier society?  How can you contribute to social justice?  What role will you play to advance human rights?  Join me today in dreaming big for our communities.  I always did. I always will.

Note:  This is the third part of a commencement address of Chicago Commissioner Choukair.

Speakers lucubrations at TEDx meeting at LAU Beirut, May 26, 2011
I attended another gathering of TEDx.  This time, Patsy, William, and the committee for organizing a TEDx Beirut this September, have decided to hold it at LAU Beirut, the new business school building.  The idea was to expose, promote,disseminate, and associate as many participants in the coming TEDx event.  Thus, once a month, a major meeting, called TEDxBeirutSalon, showing a few TEDx speakers and commenting on the topics will be in a university campus.  The three other Thursdays will be at Patsy house in Awkar.  Reine, a teacher of English and Ethics at LAU, facilitated and coordinated this first “Salon”.  Over 100 showed up, among them 30 LAU students.
I felt a good vibe among these young people, and refrained from commenting as I wished to do on many topics.

The first speaker, (I tend to forget names, though many in the small auditorium considered him top in statistics and adulated him), exposed by animated graphs the trends of the US, England, Japan, India, and China since 1858 in life expectancy versus average income.  The speaker said that in 2048, India and China will surpass the US, Japan, and Western Europe States in life expectancy and average income. 
Apparently, these countries have preserved data since 1858 and could be compared.  Anyway, the  year 1858 coincided with the defeat of Indian uprising against the British colonial power, the defeat of China in the Opium War (opening China market to European product in exchange (bartering method) of opium manufactured in India, and the coertion of japan to opening its harbors to US and European merchant ships.  And in 1858, Queen Victoria talked to the US President via the new invention the Telegraph.
First, the speaker didn’t clarify whether data on life expectancy were homogenous among all countries.  For example, were children dead before age of 5 included in the samples?  Were people living to be 60 and over, functional, relatively healthy, or practically dead and needed to be fed in their bed for another ten years?
Second, how average income were computed?  Were income standardized to match the cost of living?  Is $100 in India of the same worth as $1000 in the USA from 1858 till now?…  Anyway, if we standardize the notion of income, we can conjecture that the trend for the lower 20% classes is a flat line to all countries.  We can also conjecture that the trend for the richest 1% of the population is basically the same among all countries.  What make a difference in the trend are principally the lower middle-class section that represent 60% of any population. 
Third, average income is not a good indicator.  For example, poor Bangladesh, neighboring India, with half the average income is better than India on human development indicators as defined by the UN.  A couple of years ago, I had read an extensive article in the French monthly “Le Monde Diplomatique”, showing exactly the same graphs.
Derek Sivers’ funny 3-minute speech “How to start a movement” could have been a basis for heated opinions, but we were ready for a coffee break. Derek showed a video of a group of people on the beach.  A youth, top naked, starts dancing alone.  Another clothed youth join in the dance.  Pretty soon, most of the viewers hurry to participate in a haphazard dance, just not to feeling left out from the crowd.  Derek said: “If no one joined the first dancer he would be labeled a nut case; but, as another fellow joined in and another, then the top naked dancer is a leader, and worse, a movement was set in motion!
This is the kind of speech that get people “excited”, as if a new discovery was invented.  Youth who does not demonstrate to be a nut-case is usually not a normal youth.  Youth not joining the first nut-case is not a normal youth.  The notion of leader in that context is not applicable.
If someone did his due diligence, studied, read a lot, went on adventures, reflected on his experiences and constituted “expert convictions or opinions”, and then, decided to recall his youth craziness and energy and acted out a nut-case scenario, and happened to have youth join in, then he is promoted a leader momentarily.
The irony is that, although youth are the backbone for any movement, it is the “matured” new followers who grab the administrative and managerial positions.  The youth are expected to just “follow” and stop acting crazy!

As William wrote: “I don’t believe a leader is someone that people follow. In Derek’s talk, what the first lone nut did is simple. He showed everyone that nothing bad will happen to him if he danced on the beach. No consequences. Of course this by itself doesn’t start a movement. People will not get up and start dancing just because he did. There’s another secret ingredient.

Everyone got up and started dancing because they all really wanted to dance in the first place. And because they were afraid… no one did it.  A leader is born when he does something that a lot of people already want to do. He uses himself as an example and abolishes the fear. People do what he’s doing not because he’s telling them what to do. It’s because he’s showing them that it’s OK to do what they’ve always wanted to do. He creates a safety net. If something goes wrong, he’s the one most likely to suffer the consequences. And so the followers feel safe.

And so this changes the concept of a leader and follower. A leader doesn’t lead, and a follower doesn’t follow. They’re just people doing what they’ve always wanted to do, but wouldn’t (Mostly out of fear).  The TEDxBeirut team isn’t doing this because our curator Patricia is telling us what to do. We’re doing it because each one of us already wanted to do it so much.”

The third speaker demonstrated that car technology is advancing:  We can let the car drive us wherever we want, at any dangerous road, and be safer than if we decided to be in control.  He said: “The number fatality for youth is car accidents.  One day, we will be wondering why we drove car.”  Indeed, if there are efficient and inexpensive public transports, why anyone but nut drivers would purchase, maintain a car, pay traffic tickets, be exposed to humiliating policemen, be incarcerated in prison for reckless driving, and spend half his income on a private car?

Feudal system adopting modern financial schemes:The case of Island vote on referendum.

In 2007, the average income of the around 350,000 “citizens” of Island was 60% higher than the average US citizen, and was ranked 5th in the world.  The gas guzzling 4*4 were crowding the streets.

Iceland was a feudal system for 600 years, an extension of the kingdom of Danmark. Cold-water fishing was the main income generator.  Before 1940, 14 families represented the feudal system: They supplied the elite classes for the political, economical, and financial institutions.  The 14 families were known as “the Octopus”.

During WWII and after, the economy of Iceland boomed, thanks to the US “Marshall” economic and financial plan, the establishment of an US military base to servicing the NATO in Western Europe, and for enjoying a highly educated small population.

By 1980, the government had instituted vast public social services, financed by taxes, and competing in quality with Norway, Sweden, Danmark, and the Netherlands.  The local oligarchies was taking care of the “citizens”.

The “Octopus” dominated all the major sectors in transport, import, fish export, banks, insurance… The Octopus was represented by the “Independence” political party that controlled the medias, the army, the police force…

In the 70’s, students in law and business published the daily “Locomotive” and this daily managed to break through the Octopus monopoly in politics.  After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Locomotive brought to power David Oddsson.

In 1998, Iceland had three public banks.  Oddsson reigned for 14 years as PM:  He privatized the three major banks.  The banks were headed by members of the Octopus families: The Landsbank representing the IP party, the Kaupthing  representing the CP party, and the Glitnir, servicing the small enterprises.  The banks acquired assets over 100% of Iceland GNP in 2000.  The assets jumped to over 800% of the GNP in 2007, second after Switzerland. 

Oddsson carried out a “liberal” economy, lowered the tax and TVA rates, and the citizens could borrow up to 90% of their income.  The financial oligarchy took over the political structure.  In 2004, Oddsson headed Iceland central bank!

Iceland was vying to become a major international center for financial transactions.  The three banks borrowed from one another to repurchase shares in their own societies. 

In the decade 1990 and 2000, Island political regime facilitated the job of private interests to enacting public laws and regulations that encouraged financial institutions to balloon the financial sphere of activities.  This financial system imploded even before the financial crisis of 2008.  The dynamics of Bubble economy was taking hold.

In 2006, the financial press started criticizing the stability of the financial institutions in Iceland: The three banks were having difficulties getting loans from the financial world market to sustain growth and maintaining liquidity.  Iceland deficit grew to 20% of GNP in 2006.  The stock exchange “capitalization” in 2007 was 5 folds the level of 2001.  The central bank could not have rescued the banks in times of crisis.

The financial crash of 2008 pressured the government to re-nationalize the 3 banks.

The hot question is: “Is there a legitimate institution linked to popular sovereignty that is capable of opposing financial institutions supremacy?”

April 10, 2011:  60% of the citizens of Island answered “NO” in the referendum for paying back deposits made by British and Netherlands depositors into the private bank “Icesave” in Iceland.  They had answered “NO” in 2010 by 93%.  The Financial Times wrote: “It is now legitimate to advancing the citizens’ interest before banks.”

What is the financial Icesave scheme? 

In 2006, the three banks were hard-pressed generating fresh money to resume new acquisitions and reimbursing their debts.  Icesave is basically an internet service attracting deposits, at lucrative interest rates that traditional banks would not offer.  Over 300, 000 British and Netherlands private depositors were lured into this scheme. 

Within 18 months, universities, police associations, and even the Audit Commission of London were enjoying early high income.  The entities of Icesave were agencies and not affiliate and thus, under the control of Island authority and not the European Union economic Space.

Another financial tool used was what was known as “Love letters” since the credits are simple promises for repay.  The mechanism is for the three big banks to selling credits to smaller regional banks, which they deposit at Iceland central bank for fresh guaranteed loans.  This tool is generalized internationally and the big banks opened affiliates in Luxemburg and use the EU central bank.

Two weeks after the fall of Lehman Brothers, Iceland is facing a serious situation:  the currency is in free fall, the government buy 75% of the shares of Glitnir Bank, and Britain freezes the assets of Landsbank.  Joblessness climbs to 9% and Iceland witness a reverse immigration of the workforce, back to their country of origin.  The IMF imposes the constraint of reimbursing the debts of Britain and the Netherlands for any further loan extensions.

In October 2009, the Parliament of Iceland agrees to repay $5.5 billion, or 50% of the GNP, in the years 2016-2023.  But the government changes tactics and demands a referendum for validating the parliament decision. 

Basically, what the referendum said: “Send the bill back to whoever made your finance deficit worse”.  I could understand that logic if the international financial institutions made loans to the poorer States governed by oligarchies, dictators, and absolute monarchs who never mean for the money to be invested in society and human development. 

The case of Iceland is highway robbery:  It was intentional never to pay back the deposits, and it was done by the government who had nationalized the three major banks.

Note:  The information were taken from a thorough article published in the French monthly “Le Monde Diplomatique.  The article was written by Robert Wade and Sila Sigurgeirsdottir.

Four years later:  World Financial and economic conditions deteriorating

In 2010, the US witnessed economic growth of 3.2% , customer consumption growth of 4.4%, and a doping increase of export of 8%.  Normally, the US should have paid this monetary creation with hyper-inflation, worse than what Germany experienced in 1920.  Chairman Ben Bernarke declared this year, 2011: “The US economic growth is deteriorating”.  What is happening?

In 2011, the world is experiencing unbriddled speculations that madly increased the prices of basic food ingredients, industrial interests sacrificed in Europe, and the Arab world witnessing massive upheavals.  The people in Spain, Portugal, and Greece are emulating the Arab tactics for non-violent sit ins in main locations and demanding reforms in the priority of budget cuts:  Shifting the focus from benefiting the rich classes to the common people.

The rest of the world has decided to counter-attack constructively to US monetary policies of dumping worthless dollars.

Since the dollar is still the world currency reserve, it is the rest of the planet that is subjected to inflation.  Edouard Tetreau, an ex-financial analyst consultant, wrote an essay “As the dollar kills us” affirming that the dollar is currently the main enemy.  The French Edouard said: “In order to relaunch its economy, without paying the price, or tightening its budget cuts, or fighting inflation, the USA managed to export all the problems to the rest of the world.”

If the US can sustain a budget hole of $1.4 trillion in 2010, quickly reaching two trillion in 2012, the Federal Reserve (US central bank) was conducting a ludicrous monetary policy:  It loans to banks at real negative interest rate and keeps the money press in full work.  The FED has surpassed China in February as the number one holder of US Treasury Bonds.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is admitting: “Four years after the financial crisis, confidence in the stability of world banking system still need to be entirely restored.”  What Ben Bernarke qualified as as “the worst financial crisis in world history” did not generate any penal sanctions to Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan.  Actually, these falty financial institutions received bonuses for the crisis.

Three years of G20 meetings and reunions conserved intact the flammable system.  Andrew Cheng, first counselor of the Chinese Commission on banking regulation said:  “it is a case of the financial institutions capturing and dominating the political systems in the developed States.”

China decided to react constructively of the worthless dollar by focusing its growth in its internal market: Agricultural lands, infrastructure, ports, mining, social development…

Edouard Tetreau suggest that the rest of the G18, excluding US and China, that weight twice heavier economically and financially counter with the following remedies:

One: Delocalization and reforming the market of essential prime agricultural and energetic products, which are actually based in New York and Chicago.

Two: Assuming the instoration of financial and commercial protectionism to challenge the dumping of US dollars and Chinese social dumping.

Three: Delocalization, outside the US, of the World Bank and the IMF.

Four: Replacing the dollar with a real world currency.

Note:  Edouard Tetreau published “20,000 billion dollars” in 2010.




May 2011

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