Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's the PESO, stupid: Survivor Puerto Vallarta, Episode 5

I was having such a good time in Mexico that I had almost decided to stay here forever and never go home. But then the snake in the Garden of Eden reared its ugly head last night. Yikes! It was Montezuma's Revenge! Which wasn't as bad as when I had Osama's Revenge in Afghanistan or Saddam's Revenge in Iraq but it was still totally annoying.

Oh well.

Today I'm back to eating freshly-caught shrimp and enchiladas and pie. And fresh-squeezed orange juice.... And thinking how easy it was to get into Mexico and how hard it was to get into Iraq and how IMPOSSIBLE it was -- and still is -- for journalists to get into Gaza. But the most impossible place of all for journalists to get into is -- THE NEW YORK TIMES! I'm serious!

I just got done reading Richard Clark's summary of Joseph Stiglitz's article in Vanity Fair entitled "Bush's Hidden Economic Time Bomb". Good grief! The NYT comes out with a newspaper every single day of the year? That's approximately 2,658 issues of the NYT and how come the American public hasn't, with the glorious exception of Paul Krugman, been made aware of all of the stuff that Stiglitz is talking about? If the American public HAD been made aware of all this stuff, Bush and Cheney would currently stand a 50-50 chance of being LYNCHED. How about that!

You think not? Let me just quote you some quotes:

"In 2001, President Clinton left President [sic] Bush with a projected $5.6 trillion surplus. In just four years, President [sic] Bush turned that record surplus into a record deficit of nearly $4 trillion, a $10 trillion swing in the wrong direction," said the article, quoting a press release from Nancy Pelosi. So. Nancy. Shouldn't IMPEACHMENT be back on the table?

Inequality widened greatly in America, at a rate not seen in three-quarters of a century. A young male in his 30s today has an income, adjusted for inflation, that is 12 percent less than what his father was making 30 years ago. Some 5.3 million more Americans are living in poverty now than were living in poverty when Bush became president [sic]. America's class structure is rapidly heading in the direction of Brazil's and Mexico's." It's the PESO, stupid! Even the peso's value is rising in relation to the dollar. Good work, George.

Regarding the new bankruptcy boom, "
In breathtaking disregard for the most basic rules of fiscal propriety, the Bush administration continued to cut taxes even as it undertook expensive new spending programs and embarked on a financially ruinous 'war of choice' in Iraq. A budget surplus of 2.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which greeted Bush as he took office, turned into a deficit of 3.6 percent in the space of four years. The United States had not experienced a turnaround of this magnitude since the global crisis of World War II."

No one in America can afford to continue the "war" in Iraq. Our military is valiantly scrambling around over there, trying to make omelettes out of Bush's broken eggs -- and they are doing a good job of it -- but the truth of the matter is that if the international community doesn't help out here financially really soon, America will have hemorrhaged too many dollars in Iraq to continue and that will be that.

And exactly who is the vampire that is currently running our blood bank? America's first trillionaire, George W. Bush!

You want more stuff that the NYT should have told us but didn't? No problem. "
The president [sic] undoubtedly hoped the reckoning would come sometime after 2008, but it arrived 18 months too early -- as many as 1.7 million Americans are expected to lose their homes in the months ahead. For many, this will mean the beginning of a downward spiral into poverty. It will also mean greatly reduced spending, that would have helped keep the economy out of recession." Hey you can always buy a cheap house in the Sierra Madre of Jalisco -- ten miles from the nearest paved road. But money isn't everything in Mexico. The locals here actually have other values.

I'm not even going to comment on the next three paragraphs of quotes. Heck, I'm getting mental "Tourista" just reading them!

If you also take into account the costs to the economy from higher oil prices and the depressing domino effect that war-fueled uncertainty has on investment, and the difficulties U.S. firms face overseas because America is the most disliked country in the world, then the total costs of the Iraq war mount, even by a conservative estimate, to at least $2 trillion. To which one needs to add these words: so far.

"Had even a fraction of that $2 trillion been spent on investments in education and technology, or improving our infrastructure, the country would be in a far better position economically to meet the challenges it faces in the future, including threats from abroad. For a sliver of that $2 trillion we could have provided guaranteed access to higher education for all qualified Americans.

"In retrospect, the only big winners from the war have been the oil companies, the defense contractors, and al-Qaeda."

And then there's all that debt that Americans all are getting ourselves into -- both as individuals and as a country. The Japanese and the Chinese save all the extra money they can. Americans do not. The result? In a fist-fight between the dollar and the yen, which one of those guys do you think is gonna be the most buff?

"What's the impact of all this down the road?" the article continues. "The growth rate in America's standard of living will almost certainly slow, and there could even be a decline. The American economy can take a lot of abuse, but no economy is invincible, and our vulnerabilities are plain for all to see. As confidence in the American economy has plummeted, so has the value of the dollar -- by 40 percent against the euro since 2001." Forty percent!

"Just as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib have eroded America's moral authority, so the Bush administration's fiscal housekeeping has eroded our economic authority."

Geez Louise! Can't I even leave America alone for even a few days without it forgetting to do the dishes and destroying the furniture while I'm gone? Must I do EVERYTHING? Guess what, America? You need to clean up the house! And I do mean the White House and the House of Representatives.

PS: My visit to Mexico has caused me to think a lot about money. My parents both put themselves through college during the Great Depression of 1929. My mother worked full-time as a waitress. My father lived on walnuts. All this constant lack of money had an effect on their psyches. And on mine too! All I ever think about is money -- when I'm not thinking about pie, that is. And injustice of course. But I digress.

So. Down here in Mexico, where people are truly poor, I've been thinking A LOT about my attitude towards money. One doesn't need all that much money to survive. One doesn't need all that much money to be happy.

In America, I never shop at the mall. But if it did, would that make me happy? No. But what DOES make people happy? Feeling that their lives have meant something. I'd give every peso I own to believe that my life is well-lived.

My father lived on walnuts in the Great Depression of 1929 -- and it scarred him and it scarred me. Will the Great Depression of 2008 arrive and scar me more? It all depends. It depends on what will give me a sense of my own lasting value. And if my sense of self only comes from what I can buy at the mall, if a Great Depression hits again, then I'm in BIG TROUBLE. And so is America.

Or to quote Clark and Stiglitz, "
What is required is in some ways simple to describe: it amounts to ceasing our current behavior and doing exactly the opposite. It means not spending money that we don�t have, increasing taxes on the rich, reducing corporate welfare, strengthening the safety net for the less well off, and making greater investment in education, technology, and infrastructure."

And we also need to be figuring out ways to get a life. Why isn't the New York Times telling us how to do that instead of just telling us why we need to go to "war". It's NOT the peso, stupid, that should be controlling our lives.

It's funny but some of the happiest times I've ever spent have been in places with no running water or no cars or no electricity -- like Girl Scout camp when I was a kid or Mma Peter's home in a former Bantustan in South Africa or in Mexico or Berkeley Camp Tuolumne or even Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.
Heck, even Dick Cheney spends his most happy hours out in the woods! Although in his case he's just shooting lawyers....


Because I was doing something meaningful and trying to help make the world a better place.