« August 2010 | Main | January 2011 »

October 17, 2010

Inside Job: Pieces Explained, Now What?

Fundamentally, I agree with Nora Lee Mandel that for people who have listened to Planet Money or read books about the Great Recession, Inside Job will not provide new information on how the financial meltdown was created.

But since I've been getting most of my news consumption through the radio and podcasts, it was important to add the visual element, to put a face to the names, as it were. It's interesting that most reviews on Rotten Tomato are positive. I appreciate that Kenneth Turan in the LAT explained the director's academic origins:

Neither a film school graduate nor an ideologue, Ferguson is rather a well-connected academic who has a doctorate in political science from MIT, was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and has been a consultant for high-tech firms such as Apple, Intel and Xerox.
This explains a lot: from Ferguson's level-headed definitions, to his desire to damn the study of economics, rather than focusing heavily on government's collusion or ways that ordinary citizens can change the system.

To be clear, Ferguson's critique of economics was probably my favorite aspect of the film. It felt like a justification for my inability to "get with the program" in my International Relations courses, why I bristled at the idea that I needed to take economic courses to understand how humans, governments and corporations interact globally. The reality is that pretending that human interactions can be best explained by science is a terrible fallacy. Social sciences should put more emphasis on the social aspect of their disciplines and less faith in mathematical formulas.

For me, this documentary was another piece of evidence in an already over-flowing mountain. The US economy is rigged. Capitalism does not represent a fair playing field any more than any other economic system. Until we figure out a way to use political leagues, labor unions, and our governments to regulate corporations and support human needs, we will continue to be pawns in someone else's game.

It was frustrating to me that in an after movie discussion, a disgruntled union member challenged me to prove her union dues weren't going to election-related expenditures, rather than contacting her union local to explain where her dues are going. The bitterness on the left - the belief that the organizations we have to protect individuals are as corrupt as the rest of the system leaves people staring into their ice cream bowls, blaming the uneducated masses in the middle of the country.

Enough is enough. No organization is perfect, but I'd much rather be a union member than an at-will employee like I am currently. And while I care about the mid-term elections, while I am incredulous that people actually believe the results will be the same regardless of which political party wins, I don't think voting is the only responsibility of citizens. To create real democracy, we must be vigilant every day of the year. We must find ways to gather our voices, to be heard collectively.

That's why I'm a life member of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. I know that locally, nationally, and globally my beliefs are shared and that together we can make a difference. While our coffers will never be as filled as those of multi-national corporations, we have the moral and political will to create a world where the needs of all people are met in a fair and equitable manner.

Do I need a Poli Sci Ph.D or Matt Damon to explain to me how to challenge the financial system? No. I'd rather every person who was angered by the documentary to do something about it: to encourage their friends to see the movie, to give money to an organization she believes is fighting the system, to volunteer for such an organization, and ultimately, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. " - Margaret Mead

Other Reviews
To read how the other half thinks, check out Kyle Smith's review in the NY Post. Because, you see, morality does not apply to business.

Even the WSJ recommends the movie, though they falsely equate the anger you'll experience from viewing the evidence as a reason to join the Tea Party.

Wesley Morris at the Boston Globe really liked it, though I can't say I share his completely unfettered enthusiasm for the film. There were times I noticed I was watching a two hour movie, but I'm not sure that's entirely the movie's fault since I was sitting next to a woman who kept hitting me with her leg and her date who kept adding unhelpful commentary like "he's an Orthodox Jew."

I like Michael Phillips description of the movie as a funnel in the Tribune.

Predictably, Ebert loved the film. I enjoyed his personal elevator commentary.

Posted by cj at 1:16 PM | Comments (0)

October 12, 2010

Conflicting Values? Spiritual Guidance vs. Political Activism

I've been troubled for some time about the conflict between my political activism and my chosen spiritual leader. I tried to write an op-ed based on this tension for the WaPo America's Next Great Pundit contest. I didn't make the top 50, so I'm publishing it here.

As this round of peace negotiations unravels, the U.S. government should cut off military aid to Israel until it conforms with international law. Financial and political support from our country is the only reason Israel's forty-three year occupation of Palestine continues.

My spirituality is the bedrock of my political belief in the power of diplomacy and the importance of citizen engagement in the political process. I first learned in Hebrew School that it is my responsibility to heal the world; and like many of my generation I took that commandment to its logical conclusion – viewing myself as an unfettered agent of change, rather than a victim of anti-Semitism.

During a recent political discussion at temple, I was informed that there's no chance for peace until the U.S. and Israel cut off Hezbollah and Hamas from their primary funders in Iran. Therefore, I shouldn't be surprised, or scared, that a war against Iran will happen in the next year. According to the rabbi, the only way to get peace is through war.

Why attend a religious institution that espouses political beliefs so far from my own? I've been searching for a coherent spiritual tradition my entire life. Neither my explorations of alternative religions, nor my childhood at a conservative synagogue prepared me for the awesome power of a leader with an encyclopedic knowledge of philosophy, psychology, and religion. On my way to accepting my rabbi's Neo-Hasidic, Kabbalistic teachings, I've expanded my understanding of Plato, Freud, and even the origins of Islam.

I will never agree with him that "we are at war with an intractable enemy who has declared war on us." Nevertheless, I will continue to seek his guidance on moral and spiritual issues. And I will continue working to expand the place of ordinary citizens in global affairs, from the inclusion of women in conflict resolution per the mandate of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, to the abolition of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, to international recognition of two states in pre-1967 borders in the Middle East.

Posted by cj at 10:15 PM | Comments (0)