Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Other September 11th The Chilean Coup

We all remember where we were on September 11th, 2001.  I was getting ready for work, watching the first plane hit the first building. The news thought it was a small plane that accidentally crashed. I continued with my pre-work regimen when the second one hit and I drove to work dazed.

But how many of us remember September 11th, 1973? Chile-we hardly could find it on a map. The Vietnam War, Watergate...the US backed military coup was lost in all of that. 

The most striking part of it to me is that we share September 11th, as well as the amount of people killed, around 3,000 in both cases. In both instances, they were followed by heavy privatization (Walter Reed, our US military, the post office, etc., etc.) and the socialization of private debt.   Jose Pinera was in charge of the large majority of privatization and is writing glowing reports at The Cato Institute and never mentioning these were undertaken under a military dictatorship. A 17 year dictatorship. He neglects to mention the bailout President Bachelet gave to pensions. Or the commission expense ratios that take advantage of people. 

Some interesting background here or here.  It would take many books to really cover the topics, most won't be read because that is too time consuming of course. But id you can spare a few minutes to understand something of what has happened in Chile and the US and understand our commonalities, perhaps we can better predict our futures.

Many husbands and wives and children also kissed each other for the last time that day. But their days were followed by many more of detainment,  torture and murder.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The US Post Office and Chile's Correos

I love Chile but not their model of Friedman "free market" privatization. I learned to love the US Post Office after living in Chile....

I'm sure you've all heard the US Post Office is on the brink of default. Of course, they've been trying to privatize it for many years. But few people really know the US Post Office history. 

In 1775, Benjamin Franklin was the  first Postmaster General under the Continental Congress. It was established according to the postal clause in article one of the US Constitution and became the Post Office Department. It operated in much the same way until 1971. 

The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 abolished the United States Post Office Department, a part of the US cabinet, and created the United States Postal Service, a corporation-like independent agency.  Pub.L  91-375 was signed by President Nixon on August 12, 1970. The Act also called for the Post Office to be self supporting. So, it has been since that time. 

Going back to 1969, there was an outcry that the postal service spent too much money, needed to "run like a business" they know the drill. So they changed all that but they're ready to take it to next level.  Instead of a quazi-governmental agency, they would like to fully privatize it now. And people would always believe it's government run.  Think of all the other quazi-governmental agencies like Fannie Mae, now completely private corporations. That didn't go well at all, let's not do it to USPS. 

The recent problems with money-where did those come from? Well, it made sense when people said "email and the internet" but wait a minute. Under G.W. Bush in 2004, it was mandated that USPS pre-fund 75 years of retirement contributions in 10 years. Think about that. Imagine your employer said you must fund your entire retirement in 10 years. My retirement calculator won't allow a 75 year timeline so I chose 40. To save $500,000 in 40 years at 5%, you would need to deposit $338.81 a month. Now, just changing the timeline to 10 years-you would need to deposit $3,342.63  a month. And then it would sit there and gain more interest because you don't need it for many more years. Fredric Rolando said on PBS:

During the last four fiscal years, the Postal Service, with the recession that we have been through, the worst recession in 80 year, and the Internet diversion, still showed an operational profit of almost $700 million during that period of time. The $20 billion-plus dollars that you read about in losses is nothing more than a congressional mandate that requires the Postal Service, required the Postal Service to take all of their cash and put it into a pre-funding account.
The Postal Service actually has somewhere between $50 billion and $125 billion in their other funds that is not taxpayer money. They haven't used a dime of taxpayer money in over 30 years. And the Congress just needs to act responsibly and quickly to give them access to that -- those funds. 

And then I thought I'd check to see what the salary might be of our illustrious Postmaster general. You might be surprised to know he makes more than $800,000.  Senator Jon Tester in Montana would like to know why. (He is facing a Senate battle against money and power).  

 (U.S. SENATE) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester is demanding to know why the head of the U.S. Postal Service made $800,000 in total compensation while eliminating local Montana positions as the organization is dealing with a multi-billion-dollar shortfall. 

I would love to know why, myself. More than the President....turns out the "Postmaster" is actually a CEO, with "additional compensation". $

As a US expat in  Chile for three years, I can tell you Chile's privatized, Friedmanesque, "free market" experiment  failed and is especially evident in their post office (Correos). Some expats there did a little experiment and it took three weeks to send a package from one end of the country to the other. Do expats recommend Fedex or UPS in Chile-NO! They are predictably terrible there. Since there is no competition from the post office there, they are the only game in town. 

I asked a Chilena friend about the post office and mailing a package and she exclaimed "Oh Laura-no one uses the post office here! Send it on a bus". (People go to the bus and pick up packages). Expect things to go that way here as well. Not quite the Pony Express but rather close.  

One more thing, I loved my letter carriers both here in the US and in Chile. Jorge on his little red motorcycle (you have to pay for your mail there so give them a tip!). My mail carrier here brings the package to the door, with a smile and remarks I have a new cat. Letter carriers have saved lives-they are the ones walking the neighborhood. I'm not kidding, google 'letter carrier saves life' and you will find 2 million results. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chilean Miners-Wives and Mistresses

Everyone has heard the miracle of the 33 miners in Chile found alive, yet still trapped. The drama on the surface is less told. Divorce in Chile has only been legal since the end of 2004. Chilean men are macho men culturally. Men are men and women are women. I once saw a Chilean man sweep but he was only 30 or so and it was just that one day lol. Seriously, a Chilena friend was shocked that my boyfriend often made the coffee and even cooked dinner! Women there traditionally cook and serve food, do the dishes and do the cleaning. More women are going to work so it may get interesting. Anyway, with traditional roles comes "traditional" mistresses....from the Telegraph....

"Authorities at Camp Hope have had to deal with a rush of women coming forward claiming to be first in the Chilean miners' affections in order to receive government handouts.

At least five wives have been forced to come face to face with mistresses whose existence was kept from them by their husbands, who have been trapped more than 2,300ft below since a cave in on August 5.

One miner has four women fighting over him in an effort to claim compensation offered to the families of those facing between three to four months underground until a rescue shaft can reach them.

Government officials are considering asking the 33 trapped miners to name those they want to claim the benefits entitled to them in a bid to solve problems on the surface....

"Those that truly love their men have slipped away quietly not wanting to cause any more pain to the families but others are putting up a fight." Special welfare officers trained in marital issues have been brought in to provide help to women faced with their husband's infidelity.

One miner, who has not been named, has a first wife he never divorced, his live-in partner, a mother of a child he had several years ago, and a woman who claims to be his current girlfriend all visiting the camp."

The entire article here.

Marriage in Chile is complicated. There are at least four ways of getting married:

1) with joint property rights,

2) with separate rights,

3) the man owns it all or

4) the woman owns it all.

I think.

Perhaps because divorce wasn't legal, it is common for a couple to live as if married and never marry. You wouldn't know unless they were kind enough to tell you. But women in Chile don't change their name-although the children add their father's last name.So I believe it became popular to not bother with actual marriage.

Now divorce is legal. A friend there finally tracked down the husband that had been MIA for a couple years and had a divorce party. She proudly told me she was the first in her family to get a divorce. I asked her what her family thought and she said she had several female relatives that would like a divorce and were inspired by her!

And I told myself again, don't assume you understand Chile!

Friday, May 28, 2010

North Again...Being a Grandma changes everything!

I haven't blogged for a long time and felt I should post an update. I am back in the US with plans to return to Chile for periods of time. I have to say I didn't expect to miss some of the things here-I didn't even realize I missed so much. Strangely-although I never drank much root beer-I find it is a special treat now. Crazy. But I buy the store brand for 59 cents a liter and it makes me very happy.

I'm now a Grandma-and that changes everything....I can't begin to explain how precious this time is. There are many moments daily that are worth...everything.

Shopping. People in the US, you have EVERYTHING-and you have no idea. The shopping is beyond compare. Everything for every size of pocketbook is here. And many things are more expensive in Chile. There are so many choices-and if things don't get sold, they have sales. As you can imagine, many things are on sale right now. Yes, it can be expensive to live in the US but by applying a bit of ingenuity and frugality-and by taking advantage of what is inexpensive-a person can live for much less than I once believed. People at retirement have buying the house of their dreams. And I want to scream "DOWNSIZE-WHAT ARE YOU DOING??!!!" I understand families-that is tougher.

In Chile, I did learn a lot about frugality. Convenience food is either not available or ridiculously priced. Although I did pay nearly $8 for a jar of Safeway peanut butter, it wasn't often. I re-learned cooking and baking. I find myself to be sort of a cheapskate these days-but I also notice more good deals. In the US, fruit and vegetables may be on sale some time other than its season-in Chile, you must watch for seasons. And almost everything else was more expensive than I was used to paying in the states. Marketing in the US is so clever-which is why we are such good consumers. We want everything. Marketing is nearly non-existent in Chile in comparison. They are getting better(or is that actually worse?). Yet people there are fast becoming "good" consumers themselves. This is a little scary. Chileans buy a lot on credit with even less understanding of it than those in the US. And we know how that went.

I now notice many big and little differences between the two countries. Many likenesses as well. I still find that fascinating. Vehicles are generally tiny there and here-omigosh they are huge. Although after crazy Chilean driving-here they look positively well-behaved. I'm not sure anyone here in Denver, Colorado believes that but I keep telling people to "move to Chile, you'll appreciate things more!" I was ecstatic at my 20 minute DMV experience after spending countless hours in Chile with bureaucracy, getting a RUT#, ID card etc. Who could have imagined that would make my day?

In Chile or the US, it's the little things!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chile Earthquake 2010 Part II One week Later

Not all of Chile is like the images you see in the media. The media is showing the worst areas and the worst images for good reasons (areas that still need help) and bad reasons (more exciting headlines).

The photo is from several days ago-things are normal except for a few things like the skewed letters-It used to read "Fashion's Park"-the not so great English is "normal".

As most people know, the tsunamis caused much of the devastation, entire small towns wiped away. there's a lot of political sniping about warnings and whether people were warned quickly enough etc., etc.....but I know-and I have never lived on the coast but have visited coastal areas in Chile and Oregon-when an earthquake happens, as soon as you can run, you do. You can't wait for warnings. I read a story in which the grandparents saved their grandson's life by running to high ground. There is often little time to waste.

And the number of dead...truthfully, they don't know. Of course many fled the affected areas and many could have been washed out to sea and it is hard to know how many dead and how many missing until people are found or bodies discovered. Some of the numbers are here at the government site-they have apparently identified 279 dead. They say less but you will get different numbers in different places. The government said on Thursday the death toll, previously reported as 802, was unclear due to confusion over who was missing. Officials said they had identified 279 dead people, but were not sure how many bodies were unidentified.

I hate it that politics as usual as entered into this catastrophe so quickly.The Chilean earthquake hit just days before the landmark transition from outgoing President Michelle Bachelet to conservative President-elect Sebastian Piñera, and that is reopening old political fault lines that would better remain closed, says Peter M. Siavelis, director of Latin American Studies at Wake Forest University....Beneath Chile’s vaunted market economy is the perseverance of a historically powerful state,” Siavelis says. “Chile’s effective regulatory power, especially in the area of construction, prepared and built the capacity to both withstand and respond to such a catastrophic disaster in a way that a minimalist state could never have.” ...Of course the opposition and incoming government believe the opposite, that lives would have been saved had they been in power. Certainly, it is in the incoming government's coalition best interests to discredit President Bachelet because they do not want to run against her again in four years-she has been the most popular president in the history of Chile with over 80% approval ratings. The mayor of Concepcion has been the most vocal critic but it should be noted she is of the far-right UDI party(the party of Pinochet).

And the WSJ credits Friedman and laizze faire economics-what has happened to the Wall Street Journal???? Oh yeah, that's a Murdoch newspaper now.... the Huffingtonpost does a piece refuting the myth of Friedman's self named "miracle" a little. Friedman-style economic policies actually had Chile on a steep, downward path into Haitian-style privation. This is all ably documented by James Petras and Steve Vieux in "The Chilean 'Economic Miracle': An Empirical Critique". Under the guidance of the Chicago Boys, Pinochet concentrated wealth in the hands of the upper class, while wages and social services budgets declined. The authors similarly document a massive unemployment crisis in Chile during the Friedman period, which rose as high as 30%. Chileans generally credit Pinochet for putting more people in homes, but as a 1985 Mother Jones article points out, this was largely due to effective PR -- the housing rate under Pinochet "was actually slower than it was under" the two previous governments.

And wow, the banks. Greg Palast documents the carnage wrought by gangster speculators...

And Chile had the largest earthquake ever in 1960 which "took more than 2,000 lives and caused property damage estimated at $550 million (1960 dollars)." This happened in a much less populated Chile. Truly, I was unable to get what might be a real count-estimates of the dead in 1960 went as high as 5000. And I wonder if they counted the indigenous population.

But the above link has some nice historical photos, information and stories about the 1960 earthquake-it was caused by the same geological movement as the 2010 earthquake, so much of the information pertains as well.

Life is surprisingly normal here, although the isolated areas are still reeling from the quake. There are no longer even long gas lines or long lines at the grocery stores. The images you see are from the worst areas. It reminds me of effects from a from a really bad hailstorm we had in Denver back in the 80s.

A few random thoughts. people here get paid once a month on the first so because the quake hit just at the end of the month, people tend to be very low on food and supplies-hence the rush to the grocery stores afterwards. Always there are long lines on the first, worsened after the quake. But they also tend to stand very patiently in normally long lines to pay bills on the first too.

And one more link. "Chile has seen many earthquakes both before the 1960 record-setting temblor and after. Two very large contenders have happened on March 3, 1985, and another on July 30, 1995. These earthquakes both had a magnitude of about 8. Chilean earthquakes are not rare, nor are they small. Large earthquakes in Chile seem, through history, to occur about every 25 to 100 years. They'll continue as long as the Pacific plate continues subducting."

Things are normal here... except for those of us are a little more nervous with every aftershock(I hate the aftershocks and small earthquakes that I used to ignore). I'm glad I'm not on the coast....

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chile Earthquake 2010

As you know by now...

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP)-- A massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake capable of tremendous damage struck central Chile early Saturday, shaking the capital for a minute and a half and setting off a tsunami. Buildings collapsed and phone lines and electricity were down, making the extent of the damage difficult to determine.

The quake hit 200 miles (325 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Santiago, at a depth of 22 miles (35 kilometers) at 3:34 a.m. (0634 GMT; 1:34 a.m. EST), the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The epicenter was just 70 miles (115 kilometers) from Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city, where more than 200,000 people live along the Bio Bio river, and 60 miles from the ski town of Chillan, a gateway to Andean ski resorts that was destroyed in a 1939 earthquake.

We are about 40 miles SE of Santiago in the country and our area (according to El Mercurio) experienced an 8.0 magnitude.

We have had no power or phones or internet really until now. Here is my best recollection of my experience. The well pump went out the day before because of worn ball bearings so we still have no water except bottled. Can't believe that timing...

Friday night we went to sleep as usual around 12:30 but (as is not usual) I awoke in the middle of the night to the bed moving. Having experience the usual small tremors here in Chile from time to time (this is usual every few months), i knew this was different as the tremors grew stronger instead of quickly disappearing as is usual...In the past a small amount of shaking and some rattling that is over in seconds. But this one grew ever louder and stronger and it was as if the earth was undulating and vibrating at an increasing pace.This went on and I was waiting for it to stop-they always stop you see. But it didn't and by the time I knew this was the big one, the house and the ground were moving violently, not slowing, the noise was louder, a roaring of the earth and some of our many books falling, some glass breaking...many noises that I couldn't grasp in my non-Chilean gringa half asleep state. We stayed in bed by that time, knowing it was too late and hanging on to each other for dear life. It was pitch black (we have black out drapes so the nearly full moon won't interrupt our sleep) and the bed was wildly shaking, pitching...and there was so much noise I couldn't take in.And I was terrified but not just of this earthquake but truly I knew for those minutes the untapped, the unleashed power of the earth, of nature. Some will say "God" and "God's will" a lot but I don't see I was better to be "saved" over the over 700 that have died or the millions that are homeless. "There but for the grace of God go I.." -ha I say. It is luck. I hear of the old man clutching his dead wife and I know like the other Chilean older women, she probably went to church and was deeply religious. Chile is 80% or so Catholic-you commonly see people crossing themselves as they pass a church. We were just very, very lucky.

Some irony here, I had wished we lived in Santiago, where the "action" is...or on the coast. It turns out, this was a better place to be.

The house that was built here a couple years ago is perfect, no damage whatsoever. It is cement and brick design with heavy re bar throughout. Now we know how it will fare in an earthquake at least. we had only books toppled (but not the bookcase), the wine bottle on my bedside crashed to the floor(hey, nothing like a glass of good Chilean red wine before sleeping!) and some things scattered to the floor. A little clean up in the morning but really less than you would imagine. I keep my plates and glasses in the upper cabinets and not a one broke so (even though Chileans told me not to), it's okay after all.

There are many people looking for people and cell phones were mostly knocked out. Yes, cell phones and most people here use only cell phones. Google has a people finder here and Allchile is helping with the location of the missing here

Many messages like this... "am searching for info about my father Joop Wisse in Chillan.I am very worried about him, and want to know if he is alright." followed by messages of those looking and then....

"Thanks, the only thing i can do is sit and wait...and thats not easy.

I hope that my dad is allright and that i soon will hear from him.."

Some other assorted bits from stories:

President Michelle Bachelet said Sunday that the death toll had reached 708 and was likely to rise. She also issued an order that will send soldiers into the streets in the worst-affected areas to both keep order and speed the distribution of aid.She called the magnitude-8.8 earthquake “an emergency unparalleled in the history of Chile.”

I saw her speak on TV here and she looked so tired and sad.

Some 100 aftershocks were recorded in Chile of magnitude 5 or larger, according to the NEIC. The largest had a 6.9 magnitude. The Chile temblor's aftershock zone—the length of the affected faultline—stretches for 375 miles, far longer than the 37-mile aftershock zone in Haiti.

The aftershocks, although we haven't felt the 100 but there are many, are still frightening. A rumble, a slight trembling and I stop and wait...and hope...

Earthquakes are caused by friction between tectonic plates, which are essentially shards of the earth's crust. They slip-slide past each other, very slowly but inexorably. Sometimes they get stuck, then jerk forward again, producing a quake. The last big earthquake near this point on the faultline occurred in 1835—when Charles Darwin was sailing nearby—and had an estimated 8.5 magnitude. Since then, the plates at this location have been trying to move past each other, but have been locked in place. Over the ensuing 175 years, the stresses and strains gradually built up.

Some say the stress has been relieved now. Some say other parts will be more stressed. Some say volcanoes (Chile has hundreds) will become more active.

And finally, even though the earthquake in Chile was much stronger in terms of magnitude than Haiti's, it was not as bad for a couple reasons. The ground here in Chile is simply more stable and the shaking experienced was not as violent. the ground beneath Haiti "shook like jello". And what makes modern quakes particularly devastating are megacities located near seismically active zones. "Earthquakes don't kill people, buildings kill people," says David Wald of the National Earthquake Information Center of the USGS. And Chile is prepared to a much larger extent. "

We are organized and prepared to deal with a crisis, particularly a natural disaster," Rodriguez said. "Chile is a country where there are a lot of natural disasters."Calais, the geologist, noted that frequent seismic activity is as common to Chile as it is to the rest of the Andean ridge.

If you know Chileans, you know they have that inner warning system that made them jump out of bed and run outside as we shivered in our bed...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fall is coming to Chile as I Muse

I notice I haven't posted anything for quite a while so I will-although I'm not quite sure where this is going yet. Fall is in the air here-no rain yet but a few cloudy days. A friend farther south in Valparaiso tells me it is raining a lot. Only a few weeks ago, she was boasting about the lovely rain they have every afternoon while there was none here. And it was hot, in the 90s for days. The weather may dictate what part of Chile you like and it can vary a in central Chile, it is hot, very hot days and no rain for months. It's a Mediterranean climate but know what that really means...I really didn't imagine it meant no rain. But the nights are still cool, maybe the best sleeping I have ever done has been in Chile. Central Chile has a nice long growing season but you better make sure you have accessible water or everything will die. Water rights are not automatic here-they are bought and sold separately so make sure you have them. Don't assume that because your neighbor has utilities, you have access-research carefully. The way everything works is completely different here and common sense may not apply-Rule #1 This Is Chile.

Anyway, I feel that slight crispness that says fall is coming. I see red maple trees starting to turn red. The US is experiencing snow in 49 states I hear. Spring should be there in another month or so-I hope. For many reasons, we are returning to the US for spring and summer at least. I hate winter and am not fond of it here either. It is rainy and humid cold that permeates through your clothes right to your bones. The local folks are not fond of heat-I have yet to see central heating. People commonly wear coats inside and the women wear pantyhose under their jeans (and that works btw). There is rarely snow but a frost covers the ground every morning in winter. People are frugal here and we in the US could learn something about that. Some sort of middle ground would be nice. I have been told by Chileans that brag of a once a week shower(I'm assuming a "spit" or whore's bath in between) and am tired of feeling apologetic of my American ways of desiring frequent showers. I love showers. They make me feel good and perky and ready to take on the day. I really tried to adjust those are a couple of things that a big adjustment. Calefons are common here and are a great idea-instant hot water heater on your wall-a real space saver and endless hot water! The US has taken them and improved them. Definitely think its time has come.

The perfect life is to spend the warmer seasons in each country and that is my fervent hope. Chile is a second home but it will always be not quite home. When I go to the US, part of my heart stays in Chile. but I am US-made and part of me is always there. If only we could take the good ideas of both countries.