Capitalism: A love story


I just finished watching Michael Moore's latest documentary and his commentary on the 2008 Financial Crisis. What Moore does best, in my opinion is not in his deep fact research or his witty megaphone antics outside headquarters, but rather, in the way he is able to narrate a story and string together biographies or normal, average, American families just trying to get by. He is able to adapt himself and weave his life story in order to get more "street cred".

In Capitalism: A love story his starting point begins in his hometown (perhaps his greatest muse) of Flint, Michigan, a city greatly affected by foreclosures and decaying industry, as his father, an assembly worker at General Motors for thirty years, has been witness to in his town. Some of the points of the movie are both heartbreaking and inspiring. One of the most difficult moments to watch in the movie, and a phenomenon I had been completely unaware of before, was the practice of companies taking out life insurance policies for their employees, without alerting neither their workers nor their short, profiting from their employees' deaths.

The strength of community "people power", an electric current that seemed to build up in the time period between the Financial Crisis in late 2008 and the swearing into office of Obama in 2009 included some wonderful moments. A more detailed understanding of the Chicago sit-in, as a result of a company laying off workers, with three days notice and without giving them due pay, was just one of the examples gaining wind in the country. People at the bottom of had always been told what to do, taking power in their own hands when they began to get fed up with how much they were being pushed around for the benefit of corporations.

A neighborhood taking back a house on the street to give to a displaced family after it had been claimed by a bank after going into forclosure were also equally inspiring. Suddenly it seemed many people in the country were questioning what was wrong and right and they structure of the system that could create unjust rules. People were choosing civil disobedience and a new wave of activism in communities was being born. It is all very powerful.

Moore also questions the attachments often made between Capitalism as being fundamentally American, therefore wholesome and even holy. His main argument is that capitalism as a system has actually proven to be at odds with our democratic political system.

I could go on forever, but PLEASE watch this video. In I believe his last state of the union, my favorite president, FDR, opted for a radio speech rather than one in person on a podium due to his ailing health (he would die later in the year). Nonetheless, he invited press to his home to make it a point that they filmed a very special announcement that he had to make. Somehow, this monumental footage was lost until Moore began doing research for his film.

Well, here it is, and it is amazing that the conversation and urgency FDR sees for having a second bill of rights to focus on economic rights as a realization of stability, security and happiness has taken so long to come back into dialogue. It saddens me to think that not so much progress has been made since this video was filmed by FDR. This 2nd bill would have made so that many of the problems people in America faced following the crisis, homelessness, joblessness, lack of healthcare, etc, could have been seen as denied rights.

Which one do you believe?


BP has a way with words. Check out one of its new youtube press releases, followed by a turtle rescue team member who claims BP is burning the animals alive.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

"Burka Ban" Approved by Spain Senate


Spain's senate has narrowly passed the "burka ban" in public spaces, a topic that has united party lines. While, no, I am not in favor of the burka, I do find the fact that this is occupying such an exhaustive amount of public time ridiculous. Like I said before, there are a whole host of more substantive public policy agenda items that would be a better use of time to work towards female empowerment of migrant Muslim women.

Some of the text from the act that was approved reads as follows, taken from an article today in El País:

"El Senado insta al Gobierno a realizar las reformas legales y reglamentarias necesarias para prohibir el uso, en espacios públicos o acontecimientos públicos que no tengan una finalidad estrictamente religiosa, de vestimentas o accesorios en el atuendo que provoquen que el rostro quede completamente cubierto y dificulten así la identificación y la comunicación visual, al suponer esa práctica una discriminación contraria a la dignidad de las personas y lesionar la igualad real y efectiva de los hombres y las mujeres".

Rough translation: the Senate asks the government to make the legal reforms necessary to outlaw the use in public spaces that do not have a religious purpose, of clothing and accessories that cover the face completely or make it difficult to be identified or impede visual communication, assuming that this practice is a discrimination contrary to the dignity of people and to the fulfillment of true and effect equality between men and women.

Interestingly, I had found an earlier article in the Sunday edition of El País by Ferran Balsells entitled "El problema no es el burka", where the the reporter interviewed several people in Tarragona, Reus, El Vendrell, smaller cities of Cataluña. One of the stories caught my eye. The reporter interviewed a social worker in Reus named Sergi who has been giving Spanish classes to muslim women in the area for ten years now and who said that the the isolation of these women who use the burka doesn´t get solved by throwing out the cloth, so to speak.

He notes that teaching in the class is quite difficult, that there are some women who have been living in the region for 11 years and are still unable to recognize their names to fill out a document form. He says that the problem is that they do not know how to read even in their own language-a cultural, more than a religious problem. In class, they identify themselves by the silhouette of animals that have been assigned to them at the beginning of the course. He asks "what use will it be that these women come without the burka? What will it serve?"

Sergi asks a very interesting point...what is the end goal of the banning of the burka? It should be a starting point to address a great many challenges that migrant Muslim women face coming to Spain, many of whom come from North Africa. To give you some figures from the CIA World Fact Book, the female literacy rates are as follows: Morocco 40% (2004 est.), Algeria 60%, (2002 est.), Tunisia (65%), Libya (72%), Egypt (60%). The average gap in the difference between male literacy and female literacy rates in these five countries is more than a 20% gap. Among low-income women, this rate must be even higher. What are our priorities?

Guardian Article on Pillaged Kuwaiti Treasures from Iraq War


The Guardian put out an article describing the many important pieces of artwork and historic treasures that were scavenged during the Gulf War. The first part of Martin Chulov's article is below:

In a spacious but frugal office in Kuwait, a glossy catalogue lists the dozens of reasons why Kuwait and Iraq are still at daggers drawn after all these years.

Sheikha Hussa Salem al-Sabah thumbs through the pages of the booklet, pointing out the most egregious cases – page upon page of priceless treasures looted by Saddam Hussein's invading army 20 years ago and still missing: a dazzling 234-carat emerald the size of a paperweight; a slightly smaller gem inscribed with exquisite Arabic calligraphy; Mughal-era ruby beads.

"The Iraqis still don't understand the damage they did to us, not just financially, but for our souls," says the daughter-in-law of Kuwait's emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who maintains the dynasty's heirlooms. "It was emotionally wrenching and still is."

Though many of the priceless treasures have been returned to the collection in the bitter decades since, up to 57 remain missing – perhaps lost for ever. At the National Museum across town, they report that the whereabouts of another 487 treasures remain unknown.

Many of the pieces, Kuwaitis believe, now form the core of private collections in post-Saddam Iraq and around the Arab world. To the victims of the 1990 invasion they remain the central reason of a failure to close the unfinished business of the first Gulf war – just as the second one is beginning to wind down.

In the seven years since Saddam was ousted, Iraq has been obliged to settle United Nations-prescribed debts of $43bn (£29bn), and compensations to private families totalling several hundred million dollars more, before being welcomed as a fully-fledged member of the so-called community of nations.

It is a burden that has proven difficult to bear for a brittle state still ravaged by war and chaos and deeply resentful of the fact that Kuwait was not invaded in the name of the current regime in Iraq.

To Iraq's wealthy southern neighbour though, neither 20 years nor the time after Saddam has diminished the desire to reclaim what was lost.

With a higher per capita income than most other Gulf petro-states, Kuwaitis remain sensitive to the claim that their residual hostility is all about getting even richer. "This is about principle," says Sheikha Hussa. "It remains a huge dilemma for us. The people here have a say in everything we do and the parliament does also. This is part of Kuwait's rights and we will continue to press them."

Locals vs. Tourists!


A very interesting study by Eric Fisher (link to the flickr album here) maps out visually an aggregation of snapshots to locations where tourists take pictures and where locals take pictures. Tourist "zones" come out as red hotspots whereas locals are transcribed in blue. There are several cities in the collection to take a look at, both in Europe, US and around the world.

Epcot and Disneyworld in Orlando is also part of the collection, curiously. It is not a surprise that Rio de Janeiro's hotspots tend to be concentrated littorally, rather than in the mountain areas that are where many of the favelas are located. I was curious to see if the famous Rocinha favela might be in red, since it is where most of the "slum tours" are run, but it isn't labelled on the map. Rome and Las Vegas are apparently completely overrun by tourists, with hardly any blue sections, while less popular destinations such as Milwaukee only have isolated red dots. I would have liked to see some cities from Africa or South Asia represented.



CaixaForum Madrid: Comercio Justo. Un producto, una historia


CaixaForum Madrid will be hosting an exhibition on free trade entitled "Comercio Justo. un producto, una historia" until August 28th. It will be accompanied by some interesting film screenings of related documentaries. Each starts at 7 pm. I am accompanying each with a link to its trailer. You can read the official press release, in Spanish, here.

22 de junio, China blue

29 de junio, En el mundo a cada rato

6 de julio, La pesadilla de Darwin

13 de julio, Oro negro

El comercio justo:
El comercio justo beneficia tanto a productores como a consumidores. A los pequeños productores de zonas empobrecidas, les ofrece la posibilidad de vivir dignamente de su trabajo. A los consumidores, les proporciona productos de calidad y la garantía del respeto a los derechos de los trabajadores y al medio ambiente. Comercio justo significa:

- Salarios y condiciones de trabajo dignos.
- Igualdad entre hombres y mujeres.
- Ausencia de explotación infantil.
- Respeto al medio ambiente y apuesta por la producción ecológica.
- Beneficios destinados a mejoras sociales de las comunidades locales.

El comercio justo apoya a miles de familias campesinas de los países en desarrollo, a la vez que da a conocer al público de los países ricos la realidad, muchas veces desigual, del comercio internacional.

Poem for the Airplane Window Gazers


I have been trying to discover some of the blogs on The Guardian, one of my favorite newspapers. They have a ¨Books Blog¨ apparently runs a ¨poem of the week¨segment. Today´s choice is wonderful for those of us who try to get inspired inside air cabins trying to juxtapose the serene beautiful outside the window (gazing at the landmasses below, the seldem top-down views of cloud formations) with the banal (plastic-wrapped silverware and bathroom queues). Cheers.

"Descent" by Frances Williams

The wing can hold the curve of the earth
Tucked like a pillow under its hard arm.

Australia is passing me her endless
Biscuit prairie, patch scrub trimming off

To curly beach. Peninsulas are sharp
As holly. And then a rash of salt lakes,

A strange pox, turquoise then urine.
At such altitudes, reassurance arrives

In the small white intimacy of plastic
Meals. My cheese cracker is bigger

Than Kangaroo Island. I measure the gap
Between hand and mouth as Melbourne

Fades to Adelaide. Between safety and
Danger, a continent surrenders its widest

Plan. Its dust is the colour of strong char.
Lower, and roads criss cross in grids, run

Straight and true, hold too fast to purpose,
Are thin experiments in meaning. Out through

The bushy tail of history, my travels blow
Sky high. Wherever you go, you're only

Ever you, my mother warned me. But
There again, perhaps she had an interest

In the retardation of the coming new.
The chord at my tail frays in wispy spray,

Slowly dissolves in the long white sun
Which laces the window with its ice.

At Perth the runway beckons as the future
Swiftly rises from the past. Local time

Greets me with a roar, my head held tight
In the playful bite of the world as carnivore.

2010 Global Peace Index


The 2010 Global Peace Index by Vision of Humanity is out, which surveyed 149 countries according to 23 indicators: perceived criminality in society, security officers and police, number of homicides, jailed population, access to weapons, level of organized conflict, violent demonstrations, level of violent crime, political instability, respect for human rights, weapons imports, potential for terrorist acts, deaths from conflict (internal), military expenditure, armed services personnel, UN peacekeeping funding, number of heavy weapons, weapons exports, military capability/sophistication, number of displaced people, neighboring country relations, number of conflicts fought, deaths from conflicts (external).

Seems that these indicators might provide for a bit of conflation between countries that often serve and provide resources as external peacekeepers and those that suffer from internal conflict, however it is an important study and an excellent resource. Some of the findings include the following:

Top ten countries (respectively): New Zealand, Iceland, Japan, Austria, Norway, Ireland, Denmark, Luxemburg, Finland, Sweden,

Bottom ten countries (respectively): Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan, Israel (Palestine not mentioned), Russia, Georgia, Chad, DRC

Top five risers: Ethiopia, Mauritania, Hungary, Lebanon, Haiti (which I assume is pre-earthquake)

Top 5 fallers: Cyprus, Russia, Philippines, Georgia, and Syria

The most peaceful countries had characteristics of:

• Well functioning government
• Sound business environment
• Respectful of human rights and tolerance
• Good relations with neighbouring states
• High levels of freedom of information
• Acceptance of others
• High participation rates in primary and secondary
• Low levels of corruption
• Equitable sharing of resources.

Overall, the World has decreased in its peace (although the United States has increased from 2007 to 2010), with 62% of the countries surveyed worsening in their GPI score. The only regions to increase on average were the Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

From the GCC, Qatar ranks highest at 15/149, followed by Oman at 23rd place and Kuwait at 39th spot. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Saudi Arabia ranks lowest at 107th place, not far from its neighbor Yemen at 129th. The only GCC countries to increase in their GPI since 2007 were Kuwait and Qatar.

Ever-increasingly xenophobic and evermore in economic crisis Europe, particularly many of the "Alliance of Civilizations" countries did not fair so much better in its improvements. Spain dropped from 21st place in 2007 to 25th in 2010, Italy from 33rd to 40th, Switzerland from 14th to 18th, Greece from 44th to 62nd, Turkey from 92nd to 126th (putting it in red), Germany from 12th to 16, although the United Kingdom (49 to 34) and France both improved (34 to 32). The Balkan countries also saw an increase in GPI.

For the full view of the country map, click here

World Cup-Themed Abayas


Some Saudi designers have taken to creating abayas that reflect the flags of the participating countries in the 2010 World Cup. This move, of course, has been met with contraversary, as the colorful abayas are considered inappropriate for the norms of the society. Nonetheless, I believe the issue underscores an important note.

The motive for buying these abayas is to support a team, and there are several female fans of football, and in general, overall sports in Saudi Arabia, a country that makes it very difficult for girls to participate in sports. I am including the original source for this post, coming from entitled "Abayas that mirror World Cup frenzy" by Diana Al-Jassem.

Speaking of the notion of religion, girls and sports, I am also including a youtube video for a movie trailer that I had meant to talk about earlier. It is about a group of young girls in Iran who dress up as boys in order to watch the World Cup qualifying match. The movie has been banned in Iran. FIFA had not made it easier this year by banning the Iranian girls soccer team from playing in August's inaugural Youth Olympics due to the issue of the headscarf. In May, to the happiness of the girls, who would otherwise not be allowed to play due to their country government's stance, were allowed to wear the hijaab as part of their uniform.

Kuwait, as I have written about earlier, also has been having debates on whether girls should participate in sports. Sports not only helps with instilling good a physical fitness regimen, but it also teaches youth about being team players, discipline and working towards a goal. What is wrong with that?