Center for Global Justice presents
March 1 - 4, 2016
Film: “The Big Short” (A Docu-drama)
March 1 Tuesday at 1:00pm in Teatro Santa Ana
Talk: “Climate Change, War and the US Military” by Betsy Bowman
March 2 Wednesday at 11:00am in Sala Quetzal
Film: “This Changes Everything”
March 3 Thursday 1:00pm at Teatro Santa Ana
Talk: “Syria Unmasked” by James Paul
March 4 Friday at 1:00pm in Sala Quetzal
(watch video here)
The Big Short
by Betsy Bowman
It’s 2016 and the global economy is still suffering from the housing crash of 2008. “Did no one see this coming?” was the refrain heard from Buckingham Palace to Timbuktu. Well, actually a few people did see it coming. “The Big Short” chronicles four small groups of rogue traders who did see the crash coming and bet on it, or rather bet against it. This 2015 docu-drama is adapted from the 2010 Michael Lewis book of the same name.
Our first protagonist, an MD turned financial advisor/rogue trader, as early as 2006 actually looked at the individual mortgages making up Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) being sold in the capital markets and was shocked to see how many of them were in arrears. He knew that when the ARM mortgages reset the interest rates to higher rates in 2007 that millions of people would not be able to pay and the banks would foreclose on their mortgages making the mortgage backed securities fail. So he wanted to “short” them, i.e. to bet against them. With about $500 Billion in MBSs sold on the capital markets, he went to Wall St. to find an investment firm that would set up a vehicle by which he could “short” $100 million or $200 million of these MBSs.
Our second set of protagonists, two young math whizzes working in their parents’ proverbial garage were gambling in the stock market. They had turned a $110,000 initial investment into $30 million and had their sights set very high. They were laughed off by the Wall St. guys, but a friend and former investor-guru helped them when they inadvertently discovered the weakness in the mountains of MBSs on the market.
Our third protagonist, a true believer in capitalism and stock markets who wanted to right the world, was tipped off by a call to a wrong phone number in his office. He tracked the caller down and learned of the scam that was being perpetrated, i.e. worthless home mortgages were being bundled into securities and sold on the capital markets as AAA bonds. He and his small group of rogue traders also shorted the MBSs. The fourth protagonist, the caller to the wrong number, worked with a small group of rogue traders in a European bank and was on to the same scam. He was shorting the housing market.
The intertwined tales of these four sets of traders show that some did see the crash coming but most preferred to laugh all the way to the bank knowing that they wouldn’t be caught short (no pun intended). This is yet another docudrama that covers the insanely complex tale of how home mortgages crashed the world economy. We have yet to see a documentary on the $13 trillion dollar bail-out plan that Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke engineered to save the banks while sacrificing Main St., America.
Climate Change, War and the US Military
By Betsy Bowman
For forty years scientists have been warning of the warming effects of the continued burning of fossil fuels. Study after study, exposé after exposé, evidence of denial and cases of criminal obfuscation on the part of the petroleum industry demonstrate this beyond any reasonable doubt, and the US government response remains woefully inadequate. The planet is faced with death — the death of the oceans, mass extinctions of thousands of species of flora and fauna, extremely costly “extreme” weather events, and thousands upon thousands of needless deaths all due to governments’ and industry’s refusal to stop burning fossil fuels. Why? There are abundant alternative energy sources. There is no need to continue burning fossil fuels. A talk by Center for Global Justice co-founder Betsy Bowman offers one explanation: the US military and its contractors.
The US military is the largest user of fossil fuels on the planet. Fossil fuels are the only source of energy currently in use powerful enough to move armies, navies, air forces and associated equipment and personnel. After the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the inhabitants of the planet hoped for a “peace dividend.” It seemed that there was no longer any reason for societies to starve their populations of food, education, health care and welfare for the purpose of war preparation. And yet the war preparation has only accelerated and become even more expensive eating up over 50% of the US government budget, needlessly adding to the national debt. Why does the US need to maintain a global military force with its 1,000 plus military bases and the capacity to wage war in several different places at the same time?
Bowman argues that our government and the petroleum industry is forcing us to risk planetary destruction to maintain this capability. This is literally insane. What could possibly be driving global elites to this end? In a word, debt. Most of the mountains of debt owed by US citizens, US students, US corporations, the US government and others is denominated in US dollars. The US dollar as the world’s reserve currency protects those debts from being called or from becoming worthless. Foreign governments and/or industries who threaten to conduct business in a different currency have faced the persuasive powers of the US. First the economic hit men go in to change a given government’s or industry’s policies to ones that support the US dollar and the US economy; if they fail, the “jackals” or the “special ops” go in. If they fail, the US military goes in. We need only remember Saddam Hussein’s suggestion of selling Iraq’s oil in Euros in 1990. Today, Iran has suggested that it will sell its oil in Euros. We’ll see what happens.
I think the issue of stopping climate change means stopping the US military and stopping war. Nothing more, but nothing less. The transition from a world in which the US dollar is the only reserve currency is already well under way. The Euro, the Chinese Renimbi and the IMF’s “Special Drawing Rights” are all possible alternative units of value. The transition to a multi-polar, multi-reserve currency world can be negotiated peacefully. Or it can be violent with violent weather, drought, flooding, etc. We can welcome the four horsemen of the apocalypse as elites’ vainly defend the US dollar and their debts or we can demand peaceful negotiation to safeguard the future of the planet and humanity.
This Changes Everything
By Cliff DuRand
Much of San Miguel has read Naomi Klein’s book “This Changes Everything.” Now she has collaborated with her husband Avi Lewis to put it on the big screen in a powerful documentary. Filmed in nine countries and five continents over four years, “This Changes Everything” is an epic attempt to re-imagine the vast challenge of climate change. The film presents seven powerful portraits of communities on the front lines, from Montana’s Powder River Basin to the Alberta Tar Sands, from the coast of South India to Beijing and beyond. Interwoven with these stories of struggle is Klein’s narration, connecting the carbon in the air with the economic system that put it there. Throughout the film, Klein builds to her most controversial and exciting idea: that we can seize the existential crisis of climate change to transform our failed economic system into something radically better.
The good news is that clean energy is now often cheaper than coal, cheaper than gas, cheaper than nuclear power, sometimes even cheaper than oil. What that means is that solutions to climate change are more affordable than the problem. But that requires that we tackle the fossil fuel industries.
Unlike many works about the climate crisis, this is not a film that tries to scare the audience into action: it aims to empower. Provocative, compelling, and accessible to even the most climate-fatigued viewers, “This Changes Everything” will leave you refreshed and inspired, reflecting on the ties between us, the kind of lives we really want, and why the climate crisis is at the centre of it all. Will this film change everything? Absolutely not. But you could, by answering its call to action.
by Cliff DuRand
The civil war in Syria and its widening consequences have been capturing headlines throughout Europe and the U.S. Now you can get an informed report from an observer with in-depth knowledge. Dr. James Paul is author of the book “Syria Unmasked: The Suppression of Human Rights by the Asad Regime” and is a much sought after speaker these days. A political scientist focusing on international relations, he was director of the Middle East Research and Education Project and founder of the Global Policy Forum.
The Center for Global Justice is fortunate to be able to present a talk by Dr. Paul on the current conflict next Friday. In addition to the warring Islamist groups, James Paul will also tell us about non-violent secular groups like the Syrian Democratic Council. Although we seldom hear about such groups, in fact they have a big following on the ground in Syria.