Thursday, December 24, 2009
So, without further ado, at the behest of Nicole, here is my list:
10. Coraline. Directed by one of Tim Burton´s disciples, this very creative work of animation is weird and fun on various levels. As A.O. Scott wrote in an article for the New York Times, the story focuses on how home and the concept of coming home, as did so many movies this year, and when the main character gets tired of her family and life at home, she enters a world that fascinates while scaring the hell out of the most jaded viewer.
9. Anvil: The Story of Anvil. A documentary that revolves around what happens to fame for most...it dries up all too quickly. And the mundane sets in. Directed by an avid fan of the Canadian heavy metal band that toured at one time, many moons ago, with the likes of Judas Priest, Bon Jovi and Anthrax, this is the story of love for something that seems like it will never love back. The stars, the two founding members of the band, are great to watch doing what we all try to do: not give up.
8. The Cove. I love documentaries, and The Cove loves back. It plays out like a crime thriller, but the plot is anything but played out. A group of environmentalists, techies, and thrill-seekers, do everything and anything to get into a place that no one in Japan wants to think about: a cove where dolphins are being butchered in cold blood, and sold as meat. The leader of this A-team, ironically, started the Flipper series that was immensely popular years ago. His sheer dedication to the cause is worth watching.
7. Disgrace. Based on the novel by J.M. Coetzee, this disturbing look at post-apartheid South Africa is a tour de force by John Malkovitch. He plays a college professor whose life is made up of cozying up to students and taking them back to his empty home, after divorcing his wife. One of these victims is a black student whose boyfriend finds out, and threatens to expose and/or beat the hell out of Malkovitch. So, fearing reality, he runs off to see his lesbian daughter, who lives in the middle of the country. There, life, in all its messiness, follows.
6. Departures. This film, which came out in Japan in 2008, actually won last year´s Best Foreign Picture Oscar. But it came out in the US, and Brazil, this year, so it counts on my list. It, like many movies from the Far East, is the story of family, and lacks much action. It makes up for it in real emotion, something that is never going to come out of a CGI-based blockbuster. The story centers around a guy who finds a job working for a very demanding boss sending people off to the next world. He learns how to help not only to reduce the suffering of those who are left behind, but to be proud of a job that is one of the least-wanted in Japan.
5. Sugar. The Dominican Republic, for anyone who knows anything about baseball, is a land of milk and honey for Major League scouts. It has, for years, exported more great players per capita than pretty much anywhere else. But, as in anything, only a few make it to the top. Sugar, one of the top prospects of the moment, is sent on an odyssey around the States, until he has to make a decision about whether this is all worth it.
4. District 9. As one review wrote: we have met the enemy, and he is us.
3. Gomorrah. The most un-Hollywood mafia drama ever made. Based on the investigative journalism of a Naples writer, who is now under witness protection. Life in and around the Camorra, Naples tentacle-like network of organized crime. Fascinating.
2. The Hurt Locker. As the movie says, for many: war is a drug. Sadly. The story of a US bomb squad...in Iraq. Not lacking in drama, obviously.
1. Inglourious Basterds. Any movie directed by Tarantino will draw varied critiques, and for good reason. Anything the overbearing diva directs is self-promoted and media-driven to death. That said, this film is a work of revisionist art. Whether it is the crisp and fast dialogue, the over-the-top action, or the wild plot, it does not disappoint. If you have held off from checking this out, give it a chance.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Below is a true story of healthcare. Names have been changed for purposes of anonymity.
Sifting through the Guatemala travel guide, I thought I might visit Tikal, the ancient ruins in the northeast part of the country, though the book alleged the trip might take eight hours by bus. Do I have that kind of stamina in a “chicken bus?” Copan, in Honduras appeared closer via the map and Dominga and I were investigating that possibility. Though, Honduras held symbolic and very real danger to Juliette, her best friend murdered there in 2001, just before September 11th, so I lightly peddled that with a whisper only hinting it might be a possibility. I left for Guatemala in three days, nearly frantic to learn Spanish, sit at the foothills of volcanoes in Antigua, and sip dark roasted coffee in the cool, sunny air from a Guatemalan roaster. My former colleague and good friend Dominga volunteered her time in “Guaty” and helped me find housing, she was the reason I decided on Guatemala instead of Peru or Chile or even Argentina. Guatemala is also cheap by any standard used in the Spanish speaking world, excited and desperate to leave the states I was walking on air to leave Jersey City. That was until Tuesday night.
Juliette, happy for me to finally abscond on a trip out of the country to improve my Spanish kept to herself and did not let on that something might be afoot, until fright, and insurance malfeasance brought it to the forefront. Tuesday night, November 3rd she looked nervous and angry and needed to vent. “I can’t do this.” she screamed. “What” I said as I shut-off Keith Olbermann. “Nothing, forget it.” “Tell me!” I said. “I am worried about the procedure.” Both of us uneasy, trying not to discuss this subject I said, “Why?” “Because it is surgery and it is scary! I don’t know where to go for the surgery or if insurance is even going to pay. I am overwhelmed!”
In early October Juliette entered UMDNJ, Jersey's premier medical center for her the first mammogram of her life. The pleasantries of aging and turning 40, she took these measures seriously. Only one year before Juliette travelled deep within New Jersey, near her hometown, for a routine eye check-up and found herself on a gurney undergoing emergency eye surgery. We thought she might go blind in the only eye in which she had vision. Thankfully, the eye stabilized, but it was scary and I thought Juliette might be experiencing PTSD and I needed to help.
At the hands of healthcare technicians during the mammogram they shoved her boobs into the machine like an animal. “Please be still” they told her. “Don’t move” as if they were preparing her for the abattoir. She left, somewhat humiliated, but not unlike millions of women in our lagging healthcare system, a system that punishes women frankly, for being women. She received a call, a few days later, the test proved “inconclusive.” “What does that mean?” she asked on the phone to the caller, a technician of some sort. “It means nothing,” she says dismissively, “except you have to come back in the office for another look; we need to do it again.” “Great” Juliette said, at least this time I won’t have my period!” Juliette, back on the train toward Hoboken in late October while I obliviously planned a getaway as far away from health insurance as might possibly be, the poorest country in Latin America the next week.
This time, however they held her in the machine while the radiologist stuffed her boobs back in there, edging closer, focusing a little more intently. They focused on the right breast; clearly called into the office not because the tests were “inconclusive” but instead shades of a “gathering of cells.” “There is a problem area, I see,” the Radiologist indicated. “It makes me curious.” “Well,” Juliette thought to herself, “your language is making me curious.” Juliette anticipated in the waiting room, as she gathered her belongings another “technician” ran after her frenzied before she left.
“We need to do an ultrasound,” she announced to her. “When?” Juliette asked. “Right now! Stay where you are.” Please undo the gown and stick your left boob out please.” she heard not ten minutes later, yet again. This was indeed a cattle call. Instead of being curious, this time he was worried. “You see this area that has a group of cells or in the medical field we call a mass.” As Juliette heard the words ring through her ears the Radiologist said, “You need to see a surgeon right away.” Juliette failed to mention any of this to me when she arrived home.
She left in a dizzying fright. Exactly a year ago she was told she might and likely will go blind until we fought to get the best care money might buy. The diagnosis changed quickly. One year later here we are again. She downplayed the new procedure, in the healthcare field called a “biopsy” as we discussed Antigua and all the fun I will be having in Central America. Juliette didn’t say the word “biopsy” until Tuesday night when she nearly lost her mind.
On Monday her personal physician discussed with her the need to have a stereo tactic needle biopsy all new words in her vocabulary. She recommended a doctor in Hoboken that she thought treated her patients “well.” Juliette called them Tuesday morning. “We don’t take Healthnet,” she said abruptly. Juliette mentioned to her, “Actually we are changing insurance on December 1st, to Oxford. Does that matter?” “Yes, we do take Oxford,” the rude young lady stated. “But, you may have a pre-existing condition now, so you want to check with your insurance company. You might not be able to get the procedure right away; it could take six to nine months.” She hung up the phone without a response. Juliette now in her own tizzy called her personal physician back.
“Don’t wait until December 1st, it is better to do this quickly. You want to find a center that takes both health insurances,” her doctor told her somewhat anxious. She called breast centers, in Hackensack, other parts of North Jersey, some of which took one insurance, but not the other, some took no insurance catering to a more “suitable clientele.” I called one myself after the frenzy. “We don’t take insurance,” they told me smugly. "Our clients submit to their own insurance companies. We focus on healthcare.” “Oh.” I said, ready to lay into her with all the fury of every uninsured American, my words worth the 40 million of us. I hung up the phone without a word.
This is where Juliette found herself on Tuesday night as I sifted through the Guatemalan travel guide. She explained to me, “It is a surgery.” The radiologist told her that about 20 percent of these procedures turn up to be cancer. I said, “What?!! Cancer? Who said anything about cancer?” Wednesday morning I decided Central America will wait, we need to find Juliette a place for this procedure. Juliette found it that morning calling every place she “googled.” St. Vincent’s, the hospital of her birth built a brand new Cancer Center in New York City. First, however I called American Airlines and “postponed” the trip. I called Dominga who understood, but we were both a bit disappointed. I told her, “Tomorrow I have to bring Juliette’s films to the St. Vincent’s Cancer Center.” I hung up the phone and whispered the C word to myself letting out a giant sigh, “cancer.”
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I said it the other day, and I feel the need to repeat it: the public does not yet understand that the government is about to order people to buy health insurance, with their own money. Yes, the government is about to order people to cough up hundreds of dollars a month each.
When the Republicans start using their toxic message-machine magic on this, and the public starts to understand that they are being ordered by the government to cough up a huge amount of money every month, Democrats had better have good hiding places, because things are going to get really bad out there.
This is the kind of policy that results when "centrist" Democrats give in to to the demands of Republicans and big corporations and the top 1% of the wealthy. Instead of just taxing the wealthy and corporations at reasonable rates and using the money to provide We, the People with health care -- thereby vastly improving the economy for ... the wealthy and big corporations -- they instead come up with a scheme to order regular people to pay for health insurance because they don't already have it because they can't afford it. - Dave Johnson - Open Left
Monday, October 19, 2009
But, not yet, first we toured medieval Chester, quite frankly the best part of the trip so far. The tour guide's accent was melodic, she pointed out the Chester Cathedral, dating back centuries and even more impressive in my opinion was the Roman amphitheater, recently discovered dating back to the 1st century, well before the English rooted the Romans out of England, passing the torch of skulduggery and oppression to the English. Case in point, our tour guide kept close to the vest a not so subtle lowly opinion of the Welsh maligning them with wit and humor. She pointed out the Chester clock faced in three directions, but not Wales because: "We won't give the Welsh the time of day." "Ok, so that's how it's gonna be?" as my friend Liz might say.
Our group now, fully in the mood for some new culture set out for "The Tass." She lay a block from our hotel that overlooked Edinburgh Castle. We might have been in a dream it was so beautiful, on the "Royal Mile." The Tass is everything we wanted it to be, a little Scottish Pub with Scottish music about ready to begin, we ordered pints, mine straight out of Glasgow. After a long day on the bus, it was just what the doctor ordered. We also ordered meals, most of us fish and chips. N. ordered the mac and cheese and I ended up with Shepherd's pie which was actually decent, a little too salty, but it made me thirstier. Mmmmmmm. We listened to some genuine Scottish music, though my American counterparts were a bit too rowdy for some of the patrons. "Stupid Americans." I know I heard someone say.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
I speak to the gentleman mostly before the dinner arrived, he was a lawyer, I tell him I am one too. We smile, "U.S. Marine Corps" he tells me. Uh-oh. "I work for the Public Defender," I spout out. A pause, I stab the tension with a question, "What do you practice?" It turns out, his long career began in the JAG corps, at many oversees bases, wherever they sent him. Recently, he was in Iraq early just after the invasion in 2003 to help set-up the sovereign government of Paul Bremer, the Coalition Provisional Authority; he oversaw the writing of the new free zones of Iraq, meaning pure capitalism, one of the only places in the world that this was practiced. He helped write the legal system of the new government and when that was done, he departed. A liberal he is not, but I was enthralled, and as a military man, he was respectful and kind. He also helped repatriate Haitians found on the high seas between Haiti and Florida, until the U.S. abandoned them and he oversaw their re-patriation in other countries, Suriname, Guatemala and El Salvador. I told him I did appellate work and he liked that and wanted to do that himself.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
We sit down, order some food from a nice young waitress and realize this is a bustling street in Fitzrovia, London. People of all ages, creeds, colors and religion walking down the streets. I contemplate suddenly, "I like London." It is a world class city with a world class culture, I eat my English breakfast and enjoy a great latte. Even N., with her Italian palate is happy, we discuss events with seat mates, one Brit yells out: "you idiot!" We look at him, "does he know about the luggage" I think to myself. A balding, polite looking man, as we look at him, we hear a screech of a car and a bike messenger almost hit, the cyclist keeps on without missing a beat. The Brit apologizes profusely for his outrage, "but these damn bikes" the second time we hear this criticism in a few hours.
The tube is a look into London's heart, the underground beating life into the city; as you sit, you hear every European language spoken and many other world languages, this is the European economic center. The tube is calmer than the subway in New York, people seem more relaxed, but no less cosmopolitan and chatter is heard easily as we make our way toward Heathrow. I hear a woman from Sardinia ask how to get to her street, a street I forget, many Londoners help, but none know. Finally, a large man tells her how to get there,excitedly, because it is his neighborhood, he seems eastern European and attempts to flirt with her, she allows it, but they go their separate ways, she a lawyer and he an art collector of some sorts. Another young woman speaks on her cell phone, she is mixed race and seems aware of her cell phone use, talks quietly as I try to hear the particulars of the conversation to no avail. We arrive at terminal 4 Heathrow and cross our fingers for a successful journey, it is nearly 5:15 PM London time and I can see N's patience waning. That bag is my savior.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Two hours before I placed two cold glasses in the freezer and at 3 PM they were ready. I opened my new favorite beer, Blue Point Blueberry Ale and we toasted our vacation, my 40th birthday, N's soon to be 40th birthday, our "honeymoon" and our eight years together. We were headed to the UK and Ireland, my ancestors homeland, on a tour, a risk yes, for sure, but we didn't really want to work ourselves, we wanted to be taken care of, so we found Irishtourism.com and booked a trip. "Show up" in London they said and we'll do the rest. Perfect.
The flight was non-eventful. 6:22 minutes in the air, not bad, and a good selection of all kinds of movies, from "Casablanca" to "Little Miss Sunshine." I watched them both. I can't read on a plane, hardly so I distract myself from the fact that we are travelling at 500 mph at least, 40,000 feet in the air and travailing the jet streams. Reading doesn't help. Humans versus nature, I think and both are pretty amazing. As we took off out of Newark, I saw the sun beginning to set over the horizon that seemed to stretch toward Michigan, I looked at Nicole and said that same sun will be rising in six hours over the horizon while we land in London, which when we did seemed to rise over Amsterdam. "That doesn't seem possible" she lamented.
We de-boarded the plane, and were immediately placed in a never ending line through customs. I was still excited. This was day two already. This is how the tour rolls. Day one is take off, day two is landing though, only seven hours the older. Technically, it was September 10th when we took off and September 11th when we landed, so it is hard to quibble. In customs we met a nice couple, Paul and April, older, retired, N saw the CIE tour bag and she asked them if they were there to join us. I told Nicole to leave the tour bags at home, "I won't be caught dead with them" I said. Sure enough, they were from Pennsylvania, but as April put it, "she is a Jersey girl and always will be." They were nice and we got along swimmingly, little were we to know, they would be the youngest couple on the trip, the closest in age to us. April said a couple of things about Obama, that he was trying to kill her with the death panel, but we ignored it, we were not there to talk politics. Eesh. We did agree that the banks were a bunch of money grubbing, scum bags so that was nice. So much for not speaking politics.
After Customs we grabbed our bags, N's bag one of the first down the baggage chute, mine seemingly on top of hers. No name tag, N said: "it must have fell off on the way down." "Whatever," I said, "let's go get our bus to the hotel, I need a nap." N couldn't agree more. We hopped on the bus as it was leaving Heathrow, though we were the first to sign up, they nearly left us there. Not a good start, N was none too happy, and lucky she was there to question them or we might still be there. We got on the bus, exhausted I started to feel a bit queezy, it was already 8:30 am, 3:30 am New Jersey time and I needed a bed. The driver, in his cockney accent pointed out points of interest in London, but they all appeared to be pubs, nothing eventful on the way from Heathrow to our hotel. He was jovial and we were not.
The driver, however boarded 20+ people in the bus and all of them seemingly getting off before us. Each stop occurring in downtown London, I was screaming inside, what the fuck?! I faced south as he drove and started to feel I may need a vomit bag, what to do? I undid my seatbelt so I could move a bit and it helped. Finally, mercifully we arrived at our destination, we met our tour guide in the lobby and we checked in easily enough, nearly 10:00 am now and I am barely standing up, at this point I am capable of robbery, mayhem, maybe even manslaughter if I don't get some sleep soon. "Robert" our tour guide asks me where my name tag is on my large Swedish looking bag, I brush it off and say, "it must have fell off in transit." He nods ok, tells us about a welcome drink at 6 PM and Nicole, me, April and Paul are off to our hotel rooms for a nap.
I sacked out quick, double beds, N happy so I won't snore on her. Nice. I wake up at 1 PM London time, a three hour nap and I am ready to meet the beautiful London streets. I moan, groan and say to Nicole: "we should probably rally" and be off. N wakes up pretty quick, agrees we should see London. She stumbles over me into the bathroom, a pretty nice hotel in downtown London, next to some beautiful pubs. I am really excited to see one of the world capitals, off for some pub food maybe, a pint. I slump my huge bag on a luggage table, the swedish crosses looking at me. I open it, still groggy from the plane, the long morning and the nap, I search for my stuff, but only find unfamiliar baggage. "Sweetie," I say, "where's my stuff?"
Monday, August 3, 2009
The Committee conducted an investigation into the
practice of health insurance rescission, and the results were alarming. Over the past five years, almost 20,000 individual insurance policyholders have had their policies rescinded by the three insurance companies who testified today: Assurant, UnitedHealth Group, and WellPoint.
Some of these answers are quite shocking.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Above is a video of a proteste outside of Mayor Peter Cammarano's home. I copied it from Hoboken 411 the site that covers the protest with the same zest they cover everything: like a vacuous, pee brained Hobokenite. I have not seen this many people gathered in Hoboken since the bars let out Friday night at 2:00 AM. Maybe people in Hoboken really are fed up with their government and they really want a change. The video is a bit crazy and the voters/citizens take it out on a Cammarano supporter.
I knew Cammarano a little bit, I first met him when I helped out with the Menendez campaign and he was so "pumped" for the campaign I knew there was something wrong with him. I said to him: "Menendez?" "Why are you here then" He said. I said the same reason I always support the Democrats because I don't want Republicans to win." He looked at me funny. He asked me what I did. So, I told him I am a prisoner reentry attorney helping to ease prisoners back into society. He looked at me like I had three horns on my head (it is part of the reason I like saying that). The rest of the attorneys looked at me funny too. He wasn't alone.
From then on, however I knew he was just another politician like the rest. He certainly had talent and was smart enough. I saw him at political meetings/voter protection meetings and everyone knew he was gearing up to run for Mayor. He was usually full of shit and said things to just be part of the conversation. He never recognized me though we worked together several times and we had several conversations. But, he would act like he knew me. I usually said something snarky and he just ignored me. He supported Clinton and I was one of the big Hoboken Obama supporters. No one in Hoboken liked that until Obama won and then all of a sudden everyone was a big Obama supporter from the beginning.
A friend of mine always told me: "Wait. He is going to get his. The Guy has skeletons." Turns out he was right. I don't think there is any question he should resign. He is innocent until proven guilty, surely, but there is a difference between being found guilty of a federal crime and doing something morally repugnant. Unless the government is lying through their teeth this guy took bribes and acted like a complete asshole. Whether the government has enough is a question, but the people of Hoboken already have and have had enough.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Several North Jersey politicians were arrested this morning on Federal Corruption charges. The suspects included newly elected Mayor of Hoboken, Secaucus Mayor, Dennis Elwell, Jersey City Deputy Mayor, Leona Baldini and Jersey City Council President, Mario Vega. Several Rabbis and politicians from New York were arrested as well.
Update: Below are videos of the men and women brought in and arrested for bribes and corruption. Harvey Smith, a New Jersey Assemblyman and recent mayoral candidate charged with taking $15,000 in bribes for building projects.
An Assemblyman and the Mayor of Secaucus arrested for $10,000 cash bribes
Louis Manzo, another unsuccessful Mayoral candidate in Jersey City and his brother arrested for $27,500 cash bribes for the campaign.
Leona Baldini, the deputy mayor charged with $20,000 cash payments
Other mayors in Ridgefield, NJ and Rabbis across New Jersey and Brooklyn charged with issuing the bribes and money laundering.
|Jersey City Council President Mariano Vega, Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, and Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt are led into FBI building in Newark|
Cammarano, the newly elected Mayor of Hoboken is charged with cash bribes of $25,000 including a cash bribe of $10,000 last Thursday!
|Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell led in handcuffs into FBI building|
If one thing is clear, the corruption and bribery charges just made it tougher for Corzine to get elected. But, someone who has appeared in local politics in Hoboken, NJ - everyone knows this goes on and no one will do anything about it. For our state to change and for the Democratic party to change, to a party that is interested in progress and the people this had to happen. The question is this enough? Or is a political hit job?
I am not sure, but it seems obvious much of these officials are going down.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
I think it is important to hear because this is why the hearings on Sonia Sotomayor were important because the Republicans were playing to these fears of "white working class people" that they are the aggrieved not people of color who have been discriminated against for 400 years in this country. It exposes the very real fear of many Americans about the election of Barack Obama and this Supreme Court nominee. Buchanan makes no bones about saying it out loud. Twenty years ago this would have been called racism. Today, in 2009 we have leaped back so far this is political dialogue.
For the record, I attended CUNY law school in Queens, NY easily the most diverse law school in the nation based on race, ethnicity, gener and sexual orientation. It isn't even close when you do the comparisons. The value of that classroom, to hear the voices of so many who are underrepresented in the mainstream dialogue will serve me for the rest of my life. Without it, I almost attended many other law schools, I do not know if I would have learned the same breadth and depth of knowledge and experience, in my opinion the most important part of being a lawyer is empathy, just as Barack said that he wanted in his choice for the Supreme Court. Empathy can bring down nations, cultures, my professor of Political Communication from Salem State theorized it is the very thing that brought eastern Europe back into the fold.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
But things are changing. One of those things, which most of the world up until now has lived on, is a certain economic dependence on the US. A poor country like Brazil would provide raw materials in exports, and import about everything else. The exchange was not very even-handed, and the big economy, namely the US, would name its price on everything from coffee to rubber to sugar.
Writing in Vanity Fair, Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stieglitz discusses how the Thirld World may view the future of their relations with the US. As he writes: In much of the world, however, the battle between capitalism and socialism—or at least something that many Americans would label as socialism—still rages. While there may be no winners in the current economic crisis, there are losers, and among the big losers is support for American-style capitalism...Colonialism left a mixed legacy in the developing world—but one clear result was the view among people there that they had been cruelly exploited.
Stieglitz makes a startling point when he describes how many of the same people who were put in charge of dealing with the crisis in Asia in the 1990s are now trying to get the US out of the huge hole it got itself into...a hole created by the same policies that the US hel over countries like Argentina and Brazil. The hypocrisy is not going unnoticed around the developing world.
The contrast between the handling of the East Asia crisis and the American crisis is stark and has not gone unnoticed. To pull America out of the hole, we are now witnessing massive increases in spending and massive deficits, even as interest rates have been brought down to zero. Banks are being bailed out right and left. Some of the same officials in Washington who dealt with the East Asia crisis are now managing the response to the American crisis. Why, people in the Third World ask, is the United States administering different medicine to itself?Many in the developing world still smart from the hectoring they received for so many years: they should adopt American institutions, follow our policies, engage in deregulation, open up their markets to American banks so they could learn “good” banking practices, and (not coincidentally) sell their firms and banks to Americans, especially at fire-sale prices during crises. Yes, Washington said, it will be painful, but in the end you will be better for it.
It isn`t as if all of these countries don`t want to America back on its feet. They have seen, as he writes, 200 million of the world move into poverty as a direct consequence of the crisis. But what they aren`t so keen on is the need to revert to some American-led paradigm in the future. And they are already changing the way they do things. From China to Brazil, countries in the developing world are taking concrete steps to de-link from the US, and create their own power structures.
As Stieglitz writes: We are no longer the chief source of capital. The world’s top three banks are now Chinese. America’s largest bank is down at the No. 5 spot. The dollar has long been the reserve currency—countries held the dollar in order to back up confidence in their own currencies and governments. But it has gradually dawned on central banks around the world that the dollar may not be a good store of value.
These steps are not what really worries Stieglitz, however. As he writes, he is more concerned about ideas. These countries may just give up on any concept of market economy: The former Communist countries generally turned, after the dismal failure of their postwar system, to market capitalism, replacing Karl Marx with Milton Friedman as their god. The new religion has not served them well. Many countries may conclude not simply that unfettered capitalism, American-style, has failed but that the very concept of a market economy has failed, and is indeed unworkable under any circumstances. Old-style Communism won’t be back, but a variety of forms of excessive market intervention will return. And these will fail. The poor suffered under market fundamentalism—we had trickle-up economics, not trickle-down economics. But the poor will suffer again under these new regimes, which will not deliver growth. Without growth there cannot be sustainable poverty reduction. There has been no successful economy that has not relied heavily on markets. Poverty feeds disaffection. The inevitable downturns, hard to manage in any case, but especially so by governments brought to power on the basis of rage against American-style capitalism, will lead to more poverty. The consequences for global stability and American security are obvious.
If, as he writes, there is not faith or trust in the overall system of trade and interconnectedness, or some some sense of shared values, things will not get better. If the US preeaches anti-protectionism, but puts made in USA clauses in proposals, nothing will improve. Countires around the world will close their doors to each other, and according to Stieglitz, democracy itself will be the next victim: In the developing world, people look at Washington and see a system of government that allowed Wall Street to write self-serving rules which put at risk the entire global economy—and then, when the day of reckoning came, turned to Wall Street to manage the recovery. They see continued re-distributions of wealth to the top of the pyramid, transparently at the expense of ordinary citizens. They see, in short, a fundamental problem of political accountability in the American system of democracy. After they have seen all this, it is but a short step to conclude that something is fatally wrong, and inevitably so, with democracy itself.
Brazil, in a specific example, exports only about 12% of its goods to the US. It has suffered much less than other countries around the world. It seems to have learned lessons that the US taught, but never took to heart. How can American companies, and its government expect the world to take anything that comes with made in USA at face value?
Friday, July 10, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
I have never read the book Freakonomics, but I got to thinking about what the book is about (I've heard). The book, from what I gather, links seemingly unconnected realities, creating or attempting to prove a causal link between one and the other. For example, people who eat low-fat diets are more likely to commit murder.
So, in light of the endless list of governors, such as the back-in-the-media Sarah Palin, I began to wonder if there would bew any way to link the demise of certain individuals to the fact that they made the decision to run for governor and then, somehow, got elected. In other words, the question I would like to know the answer to is this: is there an unusually high percentage of governors who have been forced to resign or been involved in some scandal when compared to other public positions, especially in politics?
Does being governor have the potential of ruining your life? Or is it just that, especially recently, and especially in the God-fearing GOP (but not only...remember New Jersey's own McGreevey hiring his Israeli boyfriend and then having his world explode?), governors just don't know how to avoid getting themselves into a whole heap of trouble?
Is there any governor who is immune to this epidemic of ineptitude and infamy? Is being governor contagious? All I know is that if I am in a statehouse in the next few months, I sure as hell will be wearing a mask. Forget swine flu...the real thing to worry about is getting to close to a governor.