Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's the thought that counts

This morning's paper had a dozen pages out of 32 dedicated to the Inauguration of Mr Hope. Impressive if only you consider that a 32-page edition is somewhat of a big publication for that paper.

This is just a reflection of the obssession we too have developped with #44. In fact, yesterday, I barely worked at all. My boss brought in his 13" mini tv (purchased just for the occasion, mind you) and we spent several hours captivated by the grainy transmission by a local, free tv station.

Truth be told, there was a tinge of bitterness for all of us, at my office. Here you have this man, talking about getting back to work and putting aside differences to dig a country out of financial (and social) trouble.

But we don't have that.

Instead we have a president who announced in his New Year's speech that, I quote, "2009 will be hard". That's it. No hope for tomorrow, no common goal, nothing.

I did learn the first lesson of 2009, though. Rinse Repeat is a goat. Not the hairy, horned beast, no! Rather the prophetic, divining mythical creature people are always talking about here.

See, he said things would be hard and practically the next day, we fell head first into a gas "crisis". Don't ask me what happened, I don't know. The fact is, gas stations were not selling gasoline at all for several days. No explanation, nothing, but clients were being turned away.

The government simply announced the new gas prices and transportation fares. Oh, don't bother looking for them on the ministry's website. Hasn't been updated since 2005. (Efficient, aren't they?)

Aside : The only pertinent information is that the price of diesel is the same now as it was four years ago.

Public opinion started saying that the gas distributors were trying to artificially raise the price of gasoline, in opposition to the government's decision. I heard this from everyone, from taxi drivers to coworkers.

The gas importers said that the government was taking too much tax on the gallon. I had a minor WTF moment because I just couldn't make the connection. What did high taxes have to do with closed pumps?

As one can imagine, the streets were empty. Empty, that is, except around the gas stations. I have the great misfortune of living within a few blocks of 2 gas stations, each placed near intersections. Do I need to draw you a picture? A friend of mine spent 4 hours just to buy a couple of gallons of regular.

Students were stuck in the country, having, as is customary, visited their families living outside of the capital. You could really tell that education was the number one business in this city. Whenever there is a holliday (or a gas problem), I can go from my bed to my desk under 15 minutes. Quite a feat, believe me!

But back to the goat. While we were still lost in the Land of Information BlackOut (our normal dwelling place around here), we go hit by another bomb.

Parliament was considering a bill to raise the taxes on cell phone calls from 4.70 gourdes to 8 gourdes. Not only that, but there would be additional taxes to be paid on local and international calls. And the cherry on the cake, incoming calls would revert to being paid, at the same rate.

Now, I'm still stuck on the fact that I've been paying my minutes 5 gourdes for the past, what, 3 years? Were did that 4.70 gdes come from, anyway? But to go back to paying incoming calls would just cancel the whole point of having a cell phone.

So, here's were the goat comes in. Sometime last year, Rinse Repeat commented a bit acidly that we could not legitimately complain of the cost of living when everyone on the streets here seemed to have a cell phone.

Let's stop here, shall we? Because I find it terribly disingenuous of him to make such a comment. Or is he forgetting that the government basically stoped giving people landlines 10 years ago? Even if you had the money, you got no phone line. And then, like a rabbit out of a hat, the first modern cell phone company opened and, like a Savior, offered cell those who could pay them.

Back then, yes, we paid for incoming and out-going calls. And it cost a LOT. The minimal prepaid card was 330 gourdes (about $8 US today). But did the government agency who oversees communications here care? No. Did the national phone company resume their services? Nope. Unless you were a business and could pay the proper...incentives, you got nothing.

Anyway, when the bill was made public, the outcry was such that Parliament had to scratch it. After all, the cell phone companies are the new, adjunct cash cows (with the national phone co) and the two major companies announced that they would have to lay-off a large number of employees, if not to shut down completely. That really scared somebody. Couldn't have been worry for our well-being, oh no.

So there are two morals to this story.

First, when Rinse Repeat speaks, one must learn to overcome one naturally disgust, if only to find out when to duck.

And second, the consummer is the loser, period. Put up or get out. It's lose-lose every time.

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