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A Personal Experience With The American Justice System (Part Two)


I have received many expressions of surprise from readers of the of Latin law world that concern the costs and idiosyncrasy of the American justice system. I would like to make it clear that I have nothing against common law. In my view it lacks the objectivity of the Latin system, but on the other side it gives the possibility to judge each case more according to its specificity. Mind you, that Roman law did leave some space for the judge by introducing the principle of "equitas", which was the justice of every case.

What I really object to is that under the mantle of American Exceptionalism, United States institutions ignore other judicial systems. It is already known that the US does not establish an American military base – or enter into military operations with any country – if that country does not agree that American soldiers will only be tried by American judges, whatever the nature of the crime. A rape in Okinawa or the collapse of a ski cabin by a military plane in Italy. The fight of the State Department against the establishment of an International Court of Justice was on the basis that no American soldier should be submitted to other court than the American one.

This comes from what is publicly called in United Sates history as " American Exceptionalism". To quote James Howard Kunstler, it is part of the national identity, especially in the South of the United States (where most of the military forces' population comes from). 

"The Unites States is an exceptional country, and its citizen enjoy special graces from a Christian god because of their unparalleled good actions, which are the example of democracy and freedom for the rest of the world". I would like to add to this that American Exceptionalism's mundane consequence is the famous American Dream. Anyone who works hard can reach anything. And Obama is an example of the American Dream; son of a Kenyan father from a middle class family who became the President of United States of America. Although this is, however, a nightmare for many Americans, who believe that Obama is a Muslim and a communist. Only success by money is accepted for all quarters.

I wonder how many people have ever read the oath to become an American citizen. It is an extraordinary document, where you swear to forget your origins, your past, to be born anew, as an American citizen. I was in Washington at the celebrations for the bicentennial anniversary of the Independence of the American colonies from Great Britain.

 Part of this celebration was the oath-taking by a citizen coming from each country of the world. The President of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren, made a welcome speech, before they took their oath. And part of it was: welcome to the only democratic country of the world. I was wondering how the citizens of Sweden, The Netherlands, and other countries with impeccable credential of democracy, could take such oath?

Today's American Dream is becoming very elusive. But American Exceptionalism is quite alive in this presidential campaign, and one of the accusations against Obama is that he does not really believe in the exceptional destiny of United States.

It was the American wealth that has created the American lifestyle. But it is American exceptionalism that has given legitimacy to it. The last study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), comes with the dramatic finding: American citizens throw away 40% of the food they buy. This amounts to $165 billion dollars, which is three times the current budget for Development Assistance.

In other words, the average American family throws away $2.275 of food every year. It is the equivalent to 30 times the national budget of the poorest country of the world, Niger. If you go to a restaurant, and you ask for chicken, without the fries, the waiter will answer "sorry but the menu says chicken with fries", so I get them with the meal. If you do not eat fries, then leave them. I have been living with several American families; they shop once a week, on Saturday. What do they do? They empty the fridge and fill it again.

I was invited to the inauguration of the famous Twin Towers, destroyed on the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. I was very surprised to find out that there was only one light switch per floor. The engineer explained to me that to wire every floor for a number of switches for every room, was much more expensive than to leave the light on all night. Manhattan is one of the few places in the world where, when you fly at night, you can see all of the offices with the lights turned on during the night.

And let us not forget that when Bush the elder declared war on Iraq, his famous sentence was: "The American Lifestyle is not negotiable".

Now, Americans do this without any sense of wrong doing. They pay for that American lifestyle, they are all convinced that they are the beacon of democracy and good practices for the world, and that they go at great length to keep the world viable. A survey found out that the average American citizen thinks that the US spends between a minimum of 3% to a maximum of 10% of its GNP to help democracy , fight poverty, corruption, help woman, etc., in their development assistance. The figure is in fact close to 0,1%.

Which is what brings us back to the fact that to get the amount of $46.000 dollars from my beloved Colette's estate, in order to donate to the seriously undernourished children of Benin, it cost $15.000 dollars in legal fees, and it took several months and another several thousands of euros in costs. Let us say that Pavia's legal office would have agreed to give $500 dollars of their honorary to the dying children of Benin. It could have looked like a token gesture to you, but to put things in perspective, this could have gone a long way. Read the annex from the maker of the miraculously enriched food 'e'Pap', of which I send 11 tons every year to Benin. In fact, the shipment costs nearly as much as the food… See now how many children we could have saved with just $500 dollars?

This would not have been difficult to deduct from $15.000 dollars. For every dollar, you buy nine meals….with $500 dollars, you buy 4.500 meals… a child needs 30 meals to recover… in other words, that hypothetical donation from Pavia's legal office, while not meaning anything significant to them, would have saved 150 children from death. 


We are now witnessing an irreversible American decline (Romney cannot stop the decline of the North of the world, Europe and Japan included). We will have a continuous increase in the cost of energy and food, while at the same time two billion new people will come on Earth in the next forty years. Will the "American exceptional destiny" be able to guarantee and legitimize the American lifestyle? .

 

ANNEX:

Dear Doctor Savio,

A meal portion would be 50 grams (4 table spoons) and which is made up with 150ml of either milk or water to make a 200 gram meal of highly nutritious porridge. We manufacture and pack the e'Pap into 500 grams sachets which are then packed into a 20 kg bale for transport. The use by date of the product would be 12 months if stored in a cool dark dry environment. The product comes in 4 flavors (vanilla Banana Strawberry and Original. The impact on the patients will be dramatic especially of they are highly malnourished. I will send you under separate email some feedback from projects across Africa and more information on the e'Pap.

50 kilograms would deliver 1000 meal portions. 750 kilograms would deliver the 15,000 meal portions.

The cost of a 20 kg bale of e'Pap would be US$50 which would make a meal portion cost ex Johannesburg before transport of US$ 0.12 a meal portion and which would deliver many of the main nutrients one would get from a 10 course meal.

Yes the unit cost sending by container is considerably cheaper even though we did not fill the container. It is more expensive to send part loads which are consolidated with other cargo in a container. Obviously if we filled the 20ft container with 18 tons of product, the unit cost per ton would come down even more. We can put 18 tons in a 20 ft container and the cost for the container would stay the same. The key is to fill the container and then the transport cost is minimized. Also remember – for every ton – this makes 20,000 meal portions. What this means is that the 11 tons you sent to BENIN – you have sent 220,000 daily meal portions.
 

Basil Kransdorff
Ashoka Fellow
e'Pap Office
Econocom Foods cc
 29 8th Avenue (off 4th Street)

Melville.  2092
Johannesburg – South Africa

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*Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News. 

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