Lapse: A Chilling Metaphor for Worlds of Invisible People

Lapse: A Chilling Metaphor for Worlds of Invisible People

Lapse is a harrowing short film by the Australian filmmaker Scott Alexander.  The film transports viewers to the darkly sinister world of after-hours at a large, high-security inpatient psychiatric institution.  An on-call agency cleaning lady accidentally loses her identification card and then becomes lost in the hospital’s labyrinth of gloomy hallways.  Her plight goes from bad to tragic, as the film becomes a heart-rending exploration of the loss of personal identity, as well as the debilitating demise of control with which we are all confronted when unable to communicate with or to others.

The film stands as a chilling metaphor for the devastating contemporary plight of ever-growing numbers of people who have been rendered invisible by unbearable poverty, the suffering of chronic illnesses, excessively complicated political bureaucracies, and the vast powers of hugely wealthy financial institutions that use their forces to strangle both the poor and common working persons.

Lapse confronts the viewer with deeply agonizing images and issues, which undoubtedly will make you want to look away.  But please don’t.

Lapse: A Chilling Metaphor for Worlds of Invisible People

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AIG Greed Redux: John Law and the Mississippi Bubble

AIG Greed Redux: John Law and the Mississippi Bubble

A national outcry of public outrage has forced the Obama administration to take action on the large bonuses that AIG has given to a group of its executives. The bonuses that AIG has distributed went to the very group of employees whose risky trades brought the company to the brink of collapse. “It’s hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay,” Obama said at the outset of an appearance to announce help for small businesses hurt by the deep recession. “How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat,” the president said.

The whole debacle of the greed displayed by AIG, as well as by some large banks that recently received large sums of bailout money from the government, is reminiscent of the simultaneous collapse of both the French trading arm and royal bank in the early 1700s. That collapse has been described as “John Law and the Mississippi Bubble.” John Law was a Scottish economist who believed that money was only a means of exchange that did not constitute wealth in itself and that national wealth depended on trade. During the reign of Louis XIV, John Law set up France’s Banque Générale Privée (“General Private Bank”), which developed the use of paper money. Many have considered Law to be little more than a colorful con man, responsible for the Mississippi Bubble and the chaotic economic collapse in France.

Richard Condie’s 1978 animated short film, John Law and the Mississippi Bubble, offers up a history lesson about that sensational get-rich-quick scheme, which took place in France over 200 years ago. The film won the Best Film Award at the 1980 International Short Film Festival in Tampere, Finland. With economist John Law at the helm, the plan was to open a national French bank and exchange bank notes for gold at wildly inflated share prices to mask the fact that the country’s gold had been depleted in the building of Louis XIV’s palace. In the film, when the inevitable rush to cash in the notes takes place, poor John Law is left broke and broken-hearted.

It was one of the most sensational get-rich-quick schemes heard of in a long time, but it eventually burst over the head of its originator, John Law. This “rags to riches to rags” story, in which the plan was to open a bank and exchange banknotes (paper!) for gold at wildly inflated share prices, ends when John Law, having been cleaned out as a result of a rush to cash in the notes, is left broke and broken-hearted.

John Law and the Mississippi Bubble

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Wall Street Calamity: Stocks Crushed in Financial Freefall

Wall Street Calamity: Stocks Crushed in Financial Freefall

Stocks are Crushed in Financial Freefall

Stocks crushed,” is how CNN Money, employing all the descriptive restraint that it could, sees this morning’s disastrous economic landscape. The Dow Jones Industrial Index’ record 777.68 points (7%) drop yesterday was “the biggest one-day point drop in [its] 102-year history,” writes the Wall Street Journal. Washington “lawmakers groping for a resolution…..as they attempt to avoid economic calamity,” writes the New York Times, with all the urgency that two-thirds of the House Republicans and some 40% of the Democrats failed to muster yesterday.

At the same time, the banking industry continues what the Wall Street Journal is calling “a decade’s worth of consolidation in a matter of weeks.” Yesterday it was Citigroup’s turn to swoop in on some distressed financial institution, with its government-brokered takeover of Wachovia’s banking operations for $2.2 billion in an all-stock deal. Wachovia, the nation’s fourth-largest bank, wasn’t on the point of collapse but the government intervention based on its deteriorating condition – and the threat that posed to the teetering U.S. financial system – hammers home how “quickly once-mighty U.S. banks are succumbing to a growing mountain of bad mortgages and other loans,” says the Wall Street Journal.

Clearly, then, the headline from the world of politics and economics for today seems fairly self-evident: in the wake of the House of Representative’s failure to pass a bailout package for Wall Street, the Dow dropped by the largest point margin in any single day in history.

But as Sam Stein points out in The Huffington Post, that number told only half the story. Indeed, much of what transpired on Wall Street and in the halls of politics put a bookend on what now seems to the final – poor – chapter of the Bush administration’s economic record. On Monday, the Dow finished lower than when George W. Bush assumed the presidency: 10,587.59 on January 19, 2001 compared to 10,365.45 at its close on September 29, 2008.

The Stock Exchange Crash of 1929 and The Great Depression

Remembering the Stock Market Crash of 1929

The Great Depression: Hard Times

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