Fishman: Good news in small doses 

I know bad news trumps good news any time, any day.

Paying $50,000 to a reputable search team for a new police chief and then not reading the fine print on numerous sexual lawsuits against the candidate?

This is good reading. Important reading. And unbelievably stupid, dimwitted and insulting to elected officials, innocent taxpayers and most of all Savannah’s city manager who made the final decision to, first, wine and dine to the nth degree the candidate in question, and, second, to tender a presumably generous offer to the guy.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. I mean, like, we wouldn’t notice or something?

How about firing the chief financial officer -- a woman of relatively short-term duration -- from a major hospital and letting the chief executive officer -- a man who knows where the bones are buried but who should assume full responsibility for everything at the institution -- off the hook?

And then, going one further, blaming indigents and foreigners and increased crime numbers for the deficit numbers posted by the hospital?

This is good stuff about an institution that’s never been shy about blowing its own horn - and spending millions to do so. And probably, if the truth be told, we can assumed it’s only the tip of the iceberg, right?

Then there’s the Florida representative caught with his pants down who, desperate for some good press spin, drops back to blame alcoholism, then predatory priests from decades past for his indiscriminate, inappropriate behavior in Congress.

Bring it on! Talk about a story with legs. Who would have thunk?

Then there’s a president, handed a sound thumping at the polls vis a vis Iraq, who has the nerve to turn around and start talking about increasing our troop support in Baghdad. Give me a break!

Important and trashy all at the same time.

The good news about all this gloomy and dispiriting news from 2006 is that we’re starting to broaden our ability to learn what’s going on in the world. Not from the usual dribbles and drabbles and spin-oriented press releases that pass as news in mainstream newspapers. Not through the talking heads of mouthpiece television robots.

But from new media sources and accessible outlets like truthdig.com, commondreams.org, dailykos.com, from iconoclasts such as Jon Stewart and Robert Colbert, from articulate crusaders and writers like Amy Goodman who is not going away anytime soon, from columnists Robert Sheer, Tony Norman, Molly Ivins, from past presidents like Jimmy Carter who with his book - Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid - continues to stretch our minds and lead the way.

And finally from a newly energized and reinvigorated Al Gore (who likes to refer to himself as “the man who used to be the future president of the United States”), someone who could have crawled into a dark and distant hole but instead reemerged with the very viewable, very timely film, An Inconvenient Truth.

But for my money the biggest story of the year was not the nailing of the Enron CEO but the simple and beautiful plan of a Bangladeshi banker and economist, Muhammad Yunus.

Yunus, whom few of us ever heard of, developed the radical idea that poor people know more about managing their money than rich people.

Following this out-of-the-box notion, which refuted all conventional banking procedures or thinking, Yunus opened his own bank and started giving out tiny, tiny loans to the poorest Bangladeshi, mostly women, for self-employment.

To qualify for a loan from his Grameen Bank, a villager could not own more than one half acre of land. With little collateral to go on, the loans were given in mutual trust.

And here’s the amazing thing. On Jon Stewart’s show -- of course -- I heard Yunus say that most borrowers, previously marginalized, ignored, discounted, disregarded and disrespected, paid the loans back.

From the PBS website I learned that in 1974 Yunus started teaching economics in southern Bangladesh in the midst of a terrible famine in which thousands were starving to death. Depressed by the inadequacy of the elaborate and elegant economic theories that were supposed to cure societal problems, this academic and intellectual scholar “began to dread his own lectures.

“’Nothing in the economic theories I taught reflected the life around me,” he said. “How could I go on telling my students make-believe stories in the name of economics? I needed to run away from these theories and from my textbooks and discover the real-life economics of a poor person’s existence.”

Since then Grameen Bank has provided $4.7 billion to 4.4 million families in rural Bangladesh. Today, 250 institutions in nearly 100 countries operate similar micro-credit programs.

For this, described in, Banker to the Poor, co-authored by Yunus and Alan Jolis, Yunus received this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

One good idea. One brave person. Sometimes that’s all it takes. But I wonder how much ink, how much coverage, this man received.

Bad news trumps good news, any time, any day.


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Jane Fishman

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