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South Africa – A Canary in a Cage?

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

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Having come of age in the 1970’s, South Africa holds a special place in my heart.  Although I’d not been there before recently, the forced social separation by apartheid laws to reinforced White domination was a global disgrace, and I felt it. I signed petitions to get my college to divest from companies doing business there. Nelson Mandela’s political imprisonment was an international affront to justice that bothered me.

The spontaneous street protests in Soweto by Black high school student in the 1980’s was inspiring while the fact so many were shot dead shocked everyone.

And so  I celebrated along with the rest of the world when Apartheid was finally dismantled, Mandela was freed and the first free elections were held. It was a triumph of the human spirit over oppression and it sent a message of love and freedom to the world.

When my wife and I recently  booked a trip to South Africa, we were excited by the prospect of viewing great African animals in their natural habitat, but equally interested to see how this iconic country had fared during their 27 years of freedom.

The safari portions of our trip were spectacular, far exceeding our expectations. The landscapes, the plant life and geography were beautiful and so dramatic. All the people we met were friendly and welcoming. I felt I had come home to our mother continent where humanity itself was born.

Yet it was sad to learn how difficult the transition to self-rule has been for the people in this developing nation. We learned a lot about South African culture and it’s politics, much of which is just now seeping out to Western news outlets.

I can’t begin to do this topic justice from just a 12 day tour, but I can highlight some of my impressions.

Our tour guide on the trip was a brilliant, very engaging “colored” man (his term) who self-identifies as being from the Khoi-San tribe.

This is actually a joining of the names of two tribes indigenous to South Africa. The Khoi-San are genetically and linguistically among the oldest groups of humans on earth. It was they who Dutch settlers first encountered in 1656. Of course oppression and hardship followed the Khoi (or Khoe pronounced coy) and the San tribes throughout the colonial period under the Dutch, and then the English in the 1800’s.

After three-hundred years of colonial rule our tour guide, like most colored people in South Africa, is bi-racial with some Dutch and English ancestry. Colored people were oppressed in colonial times and still are today, although less overtly.

During apartheid, the designation of “colored” also applied to people from India who were brought there as slaves, and to any other group held in low esteem. If a black African wanted to appeal his designation as a colored person, a pencil was pushed through the person’s hair and they were told to shake their head. If the pencil fell out they lost their appeal.

The hope of inter-racial harmony and social unity that animated the successful struggle against apartheid in the in the 1970’s and 80’s has since given way to economic and political oppression by other factions. South Africa has among the greatest wealth inequality in the world.  In our guide’s telling, it is the black African immigrants from the North who mostly hold the reins of power, Among these are certain dominate tribes, such as the Zulu for one example. There is a social hierarchy among these black African tribes while middle-class white South Africans are not in power and colored South Africans are at or near the bottom.

The degree to which society is stratified along tribal traditions is evident in the parliament where everyone insists on speaking in their own dialect or language despite the fact that virtually everyone speaks English. This means everything said in parliament has to go through interpreters and is fraught with misunderstandings.

Not surprisingly, it is global corporations who appear to be pulling all the strings in South Africa. As we road in our bus for hours from one site to another we saw miles and miles of eucalyptus trees planted in perfectly straight rows awaiting lumber harvesting. We saw miles and miles of other single crop plantings as far as the eye could see. It was corporate industrial farming on a grand scale harvesting crops destined for international consumption. I couldn’t help but wonder what native species of animals and plants were displaced by all this cultivated land. I wondered if beautiful giraffes or lions had once roamed here. Does loss of habitat contribute more here to species decline than poaching?


The only small farming we saw was tiny gardens between certain shacks in huge, crowded shanty towns that dotted the lands outside the major towns and cities. On one side of the roadway you might see a square mile or more of closely packed shacks made of corrugated tin or wood planks with electric wires extending down to them like ribbons from a maypole. Sanitation is provided by long rows of outhouses along the periphery of these villages.

On the other side of the road you might see large gated communities of small, brightly colored masonry houses with modest flower gardens and a little driveway. There is razor wire on top of all the walls surrounding these communities. These four or five room homes were described to us as middle class enclaves. Only in the township of Soweto did we see a community where rich, middle class and poor housing existed in proximity.

Poverty is rampant everywhere, even in the wealth city areas. The unemployment rate in South Africa is currently approaching 50 percent. Crime has become an essential activity for survival among some South Africans. We learned that the country has an affordable and extensive railway system which is now plagued by long delays because robbers steal the electric lines to sell the copper.

Evidence of corporate industrial farming and its impact was just as evident in Swaziland, which is an independent nation within the northern mountain region of South Africa.

Here lives the only remaining sovereign king on earth. He disbanded the constitution when he took power and is the sole law of the land. A Western educated man with 13 wives, his most recent wife is just 19 years old. He is also one of the top richest men on earth living in a land of great poverty and very inadequate health care. Many people here still rely on medicine men when they are ill.

As we road through a rural landscape we passed hectors after hectors of sugar cane planted in neat, endless rows. Our tour guide told us all this sugar cane belonged to Coca Cola. Asked if the land was owned by the company we learned that all the land is leased to Coca Cola by the government, which is the Swazi king. Still, every child goes to school and has a school uniform. Parents who can afford it buy their child’s books and uniforms while poor parents apply for them from the government.

Back in South Africa the same is not always true. While every child is required to go to school and wear a uniform, in some rural farm areas there is a gap between sixth grade and eight grade. Parents who can afford it send their children to private 7th grade classes. Education stops at the 6th grade for those who can’t afford a private school. In this way there is a steady supply of laborers to work the fields.

Water resources have recently become a huge issue in Capetown, a city of twelve million people who are expected to run out of water sometime in April. Water conservation signs are everywhere, starting at the airport. In our hotel a four minute hourglass egg timer was glued to the shower stall to help guests take shorter showers. (Currently the recommended shower time is two minutes, not four).

Almost all of Capetown’s water comes from ground water reservoirs. So the environmental cause of this water shortage is a lack of rain due to five years of drought. But there are political causes behind the crisis as well. Endless squabbles and debates in the national government have resulted in years of delay in constructing a desalination plants.


I couldn’t get a clear answer as to whether there were sufficient aquifers under the city to dig municipal wells, but an hour’s drive south brought us to the wine district what water is abundant.

Here there were reservoirs filled with water as well as ground wells to irrigate the vineyards. There were lush fields of grapes in this fertile valley waiting to be picked and turned into that famous South African wine. Some of these vineyards are over 300 years old.

As my wife and I traveled around and observed all the contrasts and disparities, we got the sense we were not seeing South Africa backsliding towards it’s past, but rather a glimpse into our own future here in the United States. A future dominated by corporate servitude and stateless billionaires. South Africa, the cradle of humanity, is a place of awesome beauty and friendly, descent hard working folks. But the politics right now is frightening. The resources and economy of this developing country is increasingly falling under the control of private international companies and powerful foreign states, especially China. It is not unlike what we see happening here in the United States.

These are among my impressions, my cultural snap shots that a camera can’t capture. Since we returned home South Africa has been on our minds and in our hearts every day. A beautiful land. A beautiful people with high ideals and aspirations trying to find their way in a world full of economic wolves.


Is Rachael Maddow a News Anchor?

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Here is what a bias news watch organization has to say. I’ve added my comments. What’s yours? Please feel free to comment here.

Over the past several years, MSNBC has run a series of “Lean Forward” ads promoting its various liberal hosts’ television shows as well as the network’s numerous liberal causes. While many of them have been downright ridiculous…

I think of her more as a news commentator, or news synthesizer, who occasionally breaks important stories that are ignored by the mainstream news media. She and her producers report conventional news items, but they also search the internet for local news stories that should be of national interest, stories that are too often ignored. They do their fact checking and they develop their own news gathering contributions to these stories. They serve as both a filter and amplifier. The choice of stories they pursue does reveals a liberal bias which they take pains not to hide. But most importantly, they almost always get their facts right. They don’t make stuff up to fit a biased political narrative as happens on the Fox News network
But if you criticize Dr. Maddow for not being a serious news anchor, than what must we say about the utterly silly and insignificant news that serious “news anchors” toss out to their fickle public every day? Doesn’t this low information drivel make them illegitimate news anchors as well?

I no longer watch the “legitimate” news shows because these outlets are not providing me with the critical information I need every day to understand what’s really happening in our world. Too often they report as news the bias statements of people in power. They fail to connect the dots when local stories form national patterns. This latter problem is what allowed ALEC to fly so long under the radar of the main stream press,

Corporate national news outlets have their own agenda, and it is usually about market share and advertising dollars, not reporting news that might anger key market segments. If viewer share on the Rachael Maddow Show grew significantly, so would the pressure to conform to standards that would not risk loosing those viewers.

Some Minor Edits to The Declaration of Independence

[Please note, paragraphs one and two of the Declaration of Independence have been modified to read as follows]:

When in the Course of human Commerce, it becomes necessary for Businesses to dissolve the political bands which have connected Owners with national geography, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and a Free Market economy entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of international Competitors requires that we declare the causes which impel us to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, That all men are created for Commerce, that Corporations are endowed by their Creators with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Perpetuity, Market Liberty and the pursuit of Profits.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of Corporations, –That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of Commercial Interests, it is the right of business Owners to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to preserve and expand Market Shares. Etc, etc…

Thank you for your gracious consent to these changes.

A Simple Guide to American Capitalism

  • Give a starving man a fish and you’re a sucker. 
  • Teach a starving man how to fish and you’re a socialist. 
  • Sell a fish to a starving man for profit and you’re a capitalist. 
  • Tax a starving man for the fish he catches and you’re the government. 
  • Buy the lake, sell off all the fish in it for a quick profit and you’re a “private equity” capitalist (What man? I didn’t see a man!).   
  • Rent the lake for $1 from the Department of the Interior, sell all the fish in it to an international fish cartel that sells a fish back to a man for more than he can pay and you’re a petro-capitalist. 
  • Stock the lake with GM “franken-fish”, then sue a man when he accidentally catches one and you’re an agro-capitalist. 
  • Ignore a man trying to fish, pump all the lake water into plastic bottles, sell it by the case and you are a “Nestles” capitalist. 
  • Buy up all the shoreline around the lake, sell dock space through an owners association to a man so he can fish and you are a real-estate capitalist. 
  • Buy up the prettiest shoreline, sell fancy dock space to a man, charge him to fish from his fancy dock space and you’re a time-share capitalist. 
  • Buy and sell a man’s fish before he catches it (call it “fish futures”) and you’re a commodities trader.  
  • Sell insurance policies (call it “swaps”) to those who buy “fish futures” so they make money even if a man’s fish are tainted and you’re a hedge fund manager. 
  • Bundle a man’s tainted fish into “fish-backed” securities, disguise the smell, sell the bundles to pension fund managers, invest heavily in “swaps” payable to you when  everyone discovers the fish are bad and you are WALL $TREET.
http://www.DataDrivenViewpoints.com: Original post: January 10, 2012
Permission to reprint is hereby granted – Brian T. Lynch

U.S. Global Business Competitiveness Slipping

The World Economic Forum published a study on global business competitiveness that ranks 144 nations according to indicators in 12 categories.  We American’s sometimes inflate our greatness among nations.  With respect to our Militarily this is justified.  The United States represent nearly half of the worlds total military capability.  But on measures of national well being, ecology, human rights, health care, press freedom and many other critical areas we often fall short in comparison to other advanced nations.

Given how highly our politics regards U.S. business interests, you might assume our global business competitiveness makes us number one in the world.  Keep in mind as you read on that many of the specific measures that make businesses competitive are not in the best interest of ordinary citizens.  Business interests and  social interests are sometime opposed.

The business competitiveness  study categories and where the United States ranks:

          CATIGORY                                                            RANK  (Out of 144)

1.   Institutions         42
2.   Infrastructure       14
3.   Macroeconomic Environment     111
4.   Health and Primary Education      34
5.   Higher Education and Training        8
6.   Goods Market Efficiency       23
7.   Labor Market Efficiency         6
8.   Financial Market Development        16
9.   Technological Readiness       11
10.  Market Size            1
11.  Business Sophistication       10
12.  Innovation           6

Overall, the United States is very competitive, ranking 7th out of 144 nations.  This is a decline from last year, however, when we were 5th out of 142 countries.  Major reasons for the overall low marks can be found in our Macroeconomic situation, primarily our  government budge imbalance and huge national debt on which we were ranked 140th and 136th respectively .  Our gross national savings is also very low, with a rank of 114th in the world.  Still, confidence in America’s credit rating remains high, 89.4%, or 11th among the nations.

Looking at our strengths and weaknesses, in the Institutions category our top ranking was 5th in investor protections.  Our next highest rankings were in efficiency of corporate boards (23rd), intellectual property protection and ethical behavior of firms (both ranked 29th).  Our lowest ranking was on the business cost of terrorism (124th). Next lowest rankings were in the business cost of crime and violence, and the business cost of organized crime (86th and 87th).

We did better in Infrastructure.  We ranked 1st in available airline seats and 15th in telephone land lines.  Interestingly, mobile phone subscriptions were our lowest indicator (72nd) followed by the quality of our electric supply (33rd in the world).  Our transportation infrastructure didn’t fair much better (30th).

In the category of Health and Primary Education we had no malaria impact on businesses (1st) but the prevalence and business impact of HIV was high ranking the US 92nd and 90th in the world.  Also surprising was our low ranking on primary school enrollments (58th), infant mortality (41st) and the quality of our primary education (38th).

In Higher Education and Training we are doing well in post-secondary education (2nd) and the availability of research and training opportunities (9th).  We ranked 47th in secondary school enrollment and the quality of our math and science education.

In Goods and Market Efficiency we rank 9 and 10 in market dominance and buyer sophistication.  Our worst ranking is on the business tax rate to profit ration (103rd).

In the area of Labor Efficiency we apparently have  the lowest labor redundancy costs in the world (1st) and our hiring and firing practices are also great for business (8th).  The labor redundancy variable estimates the cost of advance notice requirements, severance payments, and penalties due when terminating a redundant worker. We also ranked 5th in the brain drain measure and 8th in the efficiency of our hiring and firing practices.  Our low rankings here were in the women to men ratio in the work force (we ranked 44th) and our cooperation in labor-employer relations (42nd) , perhaps no surprise give our ease and thrift in firing people).

In the Financial Market Development category we are very competitive in the availability of venture capital (10th) but weak on the strength of our banking institutions (80th).  Regarding the regulation of security and exchange, we also ranked low (39th) although it is unclear if this means we are over or under regulated.

In the area of Technological Readiness we ranked 8th in the number of internet subscribers yet 20th in the percentage of individuals using the internet.  We rank lowest, (43rd) on foreign direct investment and technology transfer.

Market Size, we remain number one in domestic market size (we buy more things) and number two in foreign market size.

In the category of  Business Sophistication we are third in the extent of marketing and ranked in the low teens on other measures, such as production process (13th) and local supplier quality/quantity (14th).

When it comes to Innovation, The United States is still doing very well.  We are ranked in the single digits on most measures, including University-industry collaboration in R&D (3rd), Availability of scientists and engineers (5th), Quality of scientific research institutions (6th), Capacity for innovation and Availability of scientists and engineers (both ranked 7th).  Our lowest ranking in this area was in government procurement of advanced tech products (15th).

Read more at:   http://reports.weforum.org/global-competitiveness-report-2012-2013/

TV Ads May Soon Target You Personally

DATA DRIVEN VIEWPOINT: How, as good citizens, can we ever expect to broaden our views and embrace our differences when everything we read, see on TV or hear in broadcasts are increasingly tailored to our current preferences?

“But these targeted ads are just commercial pitches for products we might want”, you say?

Maybe, but what we consume, what we produce and what we prefer not only derive from culture, it also drives culture changes.  The things we buy and the person we become have a transactional relationship, each influencing the other. So our purchases influence our attitudes and world outlook even as our attitudes and outlook influence what we want to buy.  Allowing broadcast media to so personally influence our buying habits likely has unseen consequences.

Coming in 2013 – targeted TV ads

BRobert Andrews
Nov 30, 20127:07AM


TV advertising remains healthy, but platform operators want a bigger slice of the pie. Next year, some will introduce targeted advertising to their set top boxes, promising greater granularity and more effectiveness to marketers.Just like with static display ads online, we have become used to seeing targeted video ads on the web, mobiles and tablets.

Now video ad targeting will come to the living room, when the UK’s two big pay-TV operators will soon start showing targeted ads to viewers in 2013. [SNIP]

The products

Leading provider BSkyB will trial-launch an NDS Dynamic-powered service to seven million set top boxes under the AdSmart banner by the summer, allowing advertisers to target 90 different demographic attributes. According to Sky

[SNIP]  Read more at the above URL address