Justice. Social Protest. Um- Whatever.

August 14, 2011

Watch THIS short CNN clip, or else just guess what I’m writing about…

 

Let’s see if I can put my disorganized thoughts into logical sentences:

At first I thought all these tents would fall apart within a few days because there’s no way anyone would take that seriously. They didn’t make any claims. Nobody knew what exactly they were complaining about and it seemed more like a spontaneous summer camp in the middle of a city rather than some big social demand for justice (whatever that word means to these people).

But then, more people signed up for camp, and soon enough, the whole damn country was going to camp, and soon they even started writing their own camp hymns and songs, and somewhere around the 3rd week or so we started to hear a demand here and there.

Let’s see, I heard something about the expensive rent that people are paying in Tel Aviv. Then I heard the kindergartens there are also expensive. Then the political left got involved. And camp froze. This was the first time a social protest hadn’t been assigned a hand. Was this a protest of those people with a watch on their right hand or the people without a watch on their left? Anyways, the left joined in. The right stayed out. For about 5 whole minutes till they realized that the left held out and hadn’t milked the cow yet.

So then the doctors remembered (50 years later )that they’re being mistreated and hopped on over to the barn. And soon enough, there was not a single individual in the state of 7 million that didn’t have some connection to this agricultural summer camp. By now of course the cow is dead, how much milking can one cow suffer?

And then, when I counted up the numbers and realized that everyone, literally all different sides of the political scale were complaining, I thought to myself- this democracy thing is actually working. It’s not that someone is feeding off the other. It seems we’re all suffering equally. I mean, they’re all protesting at the same protests- on the same side of the street, with the same slogans. They’re sharing tents.

So, I ask myself, what exactly can be a positive end to this summer camp? When all the parents come to pick up their kids, what can the councilors do so that the kids will tell their parents they had a great time? Should they lower the rent? Cause then the owners will be mad. Should they lower the taxes? Cause then people will be laid off and they won’t be happy. Should they pay the doctors more? Well, yes actually.

Finally, the million dollar question: are we being lied to? We’re told this is a social protest. A people’s cry for justice and welfare. But who are these people protesting for? Who are they demanding welfare for? FOR THEMSELVES. Hardly the altruism one would expect from people flaunting around the word ‘justice’ as if it were the word ‘and’. Hardly reasonable coming from people crying about capitalism and the free market.

Um, excuse me assholes– you’re so busy crying about yourselves that you haven’t even taken a moment to realize that the guy crying next to you is crying for the exact opposite thing in the same protest?

But, you know what? That’s not actually why they’re assholes. It’s not because they lied about it being a social protest. It’s not because they’re confused. It’s not because they’re getting louder now that summer camp is about to end.

It’s because NONE OF THOSE THINGS ACTUALLY MATTER. Even before I went to medical school, in my heart I always knew that putting a Band-Aid on a patient that just had a limb chopped off, simply won’t cut it. It’s easier, it looks nicer, it’s cheaper, lets us walk away quickly as heroes before the whole thing explodes, but hey- doesn’t really solve the original problem.

Oh No!! Can I really be saying that all these hundreds of thousands of people are so stupid that in all their yelling they don’t even know what the problem is??? Yes. I’m really saying it.

You know why taxes are high? You know who doesn’t pay high rent? You know who has subsidized transportation and education?You know whose paying for all of it?

I think you do.

And you know who has the highest unemployment rate in the world? Who doesn’t have the healthcare we’re complaining about? Who isn’t allowed to transport where s/he wants to go? And whose responsible but isn’t paying for it?

I think you do.

And if you don’t, it’s probably because those songs from summer camp have a much nicer tune to them.

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Movie Review With A Side Of Ca$h

March 3, 2011
Watching this year’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary “Inside Job“, just a few days after finishing Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine- The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, was both a good idea and a bad one:
  • On the bright side- they go very well together. My knowledge of behind the scenes/secret economics (aka- ‘capitalism’/aka- how the rich and powerful become even more rich and powerful) is pretty much maxed out.
  • On the dark side- my faith in any any major financial institution or financial decision maker has perished.
Inside Job, directed by Charles Ferguson and narrated by Matt Damon, deals with the causes of the recent global financial meltdown. The movie is well made, though, for economic amateurs such as myself, a bit hard to keep up with at times. It includes interviews with people ranging from government officials to chinese laborers to the President of Singapore, and does a god job presenting both the big picture and the small one.
However, there is one assumption underlying the movie that is never pointed out (I’m assuming that’s because to its makers it’s obvious). This assumption is that there is something inherently wrong with people making $485 MILLION dollar salaries, and striving to increase their profits even more. Though I also find this the highest level of moral corruption that doesn’t need to be said, a large sector of people- mainly people with outrageous sums of money- apparently don’t. Thousands of CEO’s across the globe run their conglomerates with one goal and one goal only- to increase profits. If that requires them to lay off thousands in order for their own salaries to increase by millions more, then so be it. If that requires them to help launder drug money, then so be it. If that requires them to abuse the rights of their “low level” employees in the name of “competition”, then so be it.
Some of you may ask- so what? so they don’t see any moral problem with their financial decisions. But I find that a huge problem. The fact that all us little souls are watching this movie and shaking our heads angrily when we see Merryl Lynch and AIG executives say and do outrageous things, isn’t the kind of “lesson learning” I would hope to see develop as a result of this well researched movie. I want to see these people brought up on criminal charges. I want the President of the United States to explain his insane appointments.
These all-powerful people, are not a target audience. They won’t be sitting in their billion dollar penthouse, with a golden bowl of popcorn, watching this movie and feeling guilty.
This movie turns out being something that outrages most of us, and while we’re busy being angry about the last 4 decades of economic corruption, they’re all coming back from their stimulus-package-bonus-money-funded-vacation, ready to do this all over again. Because they are all still holding their positions. And they all have one goal- to increase profits. And they already know how to do it.
So, after that introduction, here are some random thoughts I scribbled down while watching it:
  1. The Bush administration privatized every govt. job that could possibly be privatized-including financial regulation. The firms that then became in charge of regulation, decided there was no need for it, but were being paid by the govt. to do it. So, the govt. absolves itself of responsibility and these firms are receiving our tax money to enable these banks’ profits to grow from, for example, $30 million to $600 million.
  2. The whole issue of whether its moral for someone to be making 480 million dollars is a moral issue, not even a financial one (because obviously, financially, it works out pretty well). And this also relates to the whole business of companies outsourcing to the under-developed world: yes, maybe they can triple their profits if they move to Taiwan, but do their profits need to be tripled in the first place? These companies dont hire more people with the profits that they make, opposite! They fire people and take more into their private pockets. Not to mention they prevent 3rd world countries from ever developing a free-market of their own that is not (at least in it’s baby steps) completely dependent on foreign companies’ whims for increasing profits every other day. And worst of all, they assume the position of God, showing us that they are ever so kind as to donate 10% of their billion dollars, to helping those same communities off of which they are making these insane profits.
  3. You’ll notice that there are NO women at any decision-making positions in any of these firms. The reasons are (a) women take less risks so it isn’t profitable for the companies to promote them (b) whenever there are layoffs women are most likely first to go because they don’t bring in as many profits- both because the job demands coincide with their family/social responsibility (notions created and promoted by the very same people running these companies) and also because the only contact the men that run these companies chose to have with women is with prostitutes.
  4. Initially, even when everyone knew what was going to happen, no one from govt. (and even the federal reserve) intervened- therefore abiding to the capitalist commandment. There was no bailout. And I for one, don’t agree with the thinking that the reason those banks acted that way was because they knew they would be bailed out. The reason they behaved that way was because a small amount of powerful ppl were making all the decisions and had all the information, and they knew that regardless of what happened, even if the company went bankrupt, it wouldn’t affect them personally. They were making hundreds of millions of dollars. If the company goes under? they get appointed to govt. by Obama.
  5. The constant excusing of everything by saying “but in the long run its good for the masses”- yet another capitalist commandment- relies on one basic principle: that the people at the top making the decisions, care about the masses. The other issue is why any economist thinks he can sell us commoners this ridiculous notion. You don’t have to be a wizard to think to yourself: wait a minute, why would anyone devise a long-term profit system if he’s the chairman/president of something right now? why would that be in his interest? But then again, what’s considered “long term”? A decade? A century? The only long term model I currently recognize in economics is the ‘deregulated out-of-control’ model. This long term bullshit is an assumption proven time and time again to be wrong, and quite frankly is a ridiculous excuse.
  6. Now then, here we have powerful people that don’t “believe” in regulation and who have been fighting it for decades. Remember, Economics is as much a religion as is Christianity. The difference being that I can’t prove whether or not Jesus walked on water, I can however show that deregulation causes chaos, at the expense of the little ppl, hence making it difficult for those all-powerful CEO’s to convince anyone but themselves that deregulation is a good thing. But wait! Suddenly they’re knocking on the White House door asking to be regulated and for it to be done by giving them 700 billion dollars. Actually, they ddn’t ask so much as they extorted by threats. The beauty of the whole thing being, that the ppl in govt. that were in charge of stepping in to “regulate” this, were mostly former CEO’s of these companies, which means that (a) of course they’ll approve the bailout (b) they’ll make sure that even this money isn’t regulated– so it can be used to give million dollar bonuses instead of paying off company debt.
  7. And you know, the worse part is that people watch this film and start naming the bad guys, saying they’re corrupt, they’re criminals. But they are incredibly naive. The system enables it because capitalism relies on exactly this type of behavior to promote itself- Greed. Almost anyone that can make it into such positions would act that way. It isn’t just one man’s or 100 men’s crime, it’s a textbook-taught-crime.
  8. Finally, at the end of all this, the best point made in the movie, in my humble opinion, which I didn’t actually find to be surprising only once again-disappointing, is what comes in minute 82. If anyone for one second allowed him or her-self to think that these CEO’s and their conglomerates consider themselves subjects to the same rules, laws and logic that we all are subjected to- this point pretty much canceled out that naive assumption: a top ranking economist at Harvard is asked whether he doesn’t see a conflict of interest when economic professors that are educating generations of economists aren’t disclosing their finances, while many of them are on the payrolls of large firms and investment banks, that have a direct influence on the ideology being taught at economic faculties. He decisively answers that he sees no conflict of interest here. However, later on, when asked the same question about the medical industry- he could not agree sooner that of course there should be financial disclosure, otherwise it would be immoral.

Immoral.


Prelude to a Book Review

March 1, 2011

An introduction to what will be (in posts to come) my thoughts on Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism’.

Naomi Klein is a name I’d heard around but never quite looked into. That changed a month ago when I randomly caught a 20 minute lecture she had given on TED, titled: Addicted to Risk. I was so enthused by it that I immediately typed http://www.naomiklein.com into the URL-bar, and the first thing I saw was a quote by Rachel Maddow (whom I love!): “The only book of the last few years in American publishing that I would describe as a mandatory must-read. Literally the only one.” Well, that settled it. Next thing I know I’m staring at an “auto-confirmation” receipt from http://www.amazon.co.uk and 3 days letter the mail-lady is standing at my door with “The Shock Doctrine” in her hand (and 4 other books. I’m a junky).

Then, when sitting on the most boring train that exists in Europe (Szeged-Budapest, not recommended for life-lovers), I opened the book, peeped into the author info, checked what year it was published, who it’s dedicated to, what quote she chose to open with. So far, I wasn’t impressed.

After all that, there’s the Forward, which I elegantly skipped. There are 466 pages to read you know. And anyways, the only reason to ever read a Forward is if Alan Alda wrote it.

So, anyways, there I am on the train that hasn’t left the station yet, it’s snowing outside and ice is dripping on me through the window, the heat (located under the seat) is already making my calves sweat, and I have my iPod running on Lady Gaga (no, I am not ashamed to say that!)

Finally, I open the first page, my eyes fall on the very first words, and my dear readers- life will never be the same for me from this moment on.

Dramatic Pause.

Funny enough, though the book contains the word Shock at least 500 times, including in its title, this book did NOT shock me. Perhaps because I had already lost all faith in mankind  (be advised to read- MANkind) before I even squirted out into this world (tales of my late delivery can be heard from my mother. often.).

Anyhoos, to get back on track I will open with this statement: if you take all of the history books you’ve ever been taught at school and drop them off at your local illegal settlement to be used as lighting material for setting Palestinian cars on fire, and instead read these 466 pages- you’re good to go. To go to sleep. To go to work. To go on with your life. To go wherever it is you go, only this time- paranoid and able to prove it!

If reading the 900 page biography of China’s Mao gave me nightmares for a week, this book gave me a WTF feeling for a month. By page 7 of this wonder, I had already pulled out a pen and started marking down things that I am now able to divide into 3 categories:

(1) Unbelievable!/Wow!/I can’t believe they did that!/I can’t believe that actually happened!

(2) Good analysis of something

(3) Information worth remembering

So, since Naomi divided her book into 7 parts and drew conclusions. And since I am now a fan of Naomi (I’m already a twitter-follower and soon enough I’ll probably be “like”ing her on Facebook). I will use the same format for my review.

Easy for me. Easy for you. Not so easy for dear Naomi that wrote 90 pages of original material about each part.

Hence, I dedicate this song to her (replace “Ella” with “Naomi”).