Weekly Audit: Wall Street Destroyed $8 for Every $1 Earned

 

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Tonight, President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. A major theme of the speech will be jobs and the economy. Let’s hope the president spares a few minutes for Wall Street reforms that might prevent a repeat of the economic collapse that we’re slowly starting to recover from.

As Kai Wright points out in ColorLines, the State of the Union is the unofficial kickoff of the 2012 election season:

The still churning foreclosures and mounding debt in black and brown neighborhoods don’t suggest a stabilized economy anywhere except Wall Street, but let’s set that familiar fight to the side for now. The point is that whether we’re talking about creating jobs or seating district court judges, the time for making policy is gone. Starting tomorrow night, it’s all talk until we vote next.

Amy Dean of Working In These Times shares Wright’s skepticism. With the Republicans in control of the House and the Democrats hanging on to the Senate, we’re looking at a legislative stalemate until the next election. Dean argues that activists should use this lull in the action to refocus their organizing at the grassroots level.

Wall Street destroyed $8 for every $1 it earned

In AlterNet, Les Leopold asks why bankers are earning such huge bonuses while the financial system is in disarray. According to standard economic theory, your compensation reflects the value of your work. Yet, according to Leopold’s back-of-the-envelope calculations, the financial sector has destroyed $8 worth of wealth for every dollar it earned over the last 5 years. His estimate includes the wealth-destroying impact of the subprime mortgage crisis and other epic Wall Street blunders.

The free market might not be as generous with bankers as the current system of government bailouts. If financial firms were allowed to fail, Leopold notes, bankers who drove their own firms out of business wouldn’t get paid. However, under the current “too big to fail” rules bad decisions lead to taxpayer rescues, not unemployment. So, the bonus checks keep rolling in.

Social Security switcheroo

James Ridgeway of Mother Jones predicts that Obama is gearing up to cut Social Security:

Having “retooled’’ his Presidency for a more open accommodation of the center right, Obama will soon be overseeing the battle to launch a dismantling of the Social Security system. [...] Without entirely destroying the popular program, he will support cuts that go beyond anything that should rightly happen during a Democratic administration.

Ironically, Ridgeway notes, our current Democratic president is to the right of many of yesterdays conservative Republicans. The legendary arch conservative Sen. Robert A. Taft (R-OH) was a staunch defender of Social Security. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower spearheaded the largest expansion of Social Security in the largest expansion of benefits in the history of the program.

Michelle Obama and Wal-Mart

Michelle Obama has enlisted the world’s largest corporation (and largest grocer) in her Let’s Move! campaign against childhood obesity. George Warner of Campus Progress takes a closer look at the skewed economics behind the “Nutrition Charter” signed by Wal-Mart last week. Amongst other things, Wal-Mart pledged to cut added sugar in its products by 10% by 2015; make healthy food more affordable; and develop a “nutrition seal” to alert shoppers to ostensibly healthier foods.

Yet, Warner notes that Wal-Mart is contributing to ill-health by employing a massive workforce at less than a living wage. Even if Wal-Mart follows through on its relatively modest pledges to promote healthy eating, it continues to put its own workforce at risk of ill health simply by paying them poverty-level wages. Studies show that for every job a new Wal-Mart store creates, it destroys three existing jobs, which paid an average of 18% more.

Poverty is one of the strongest predictors of obesity and poor diet.

Beck vs. Piven, Round 2

Last week, the Audit covered a bizarre right wing trend of demonizing 78-year-old CUNY political science prof Frances Fox Piven for an article she wrote in 1966. Glenn Beck and other leading lights of the right claim that Piven’s 45-year-old article is being used right now by liberal elites in their sinister plot to violently overthrow capitalism.

Piven is receiving death threats by email; and death threats are popping up on Glenn Beck’s website, including: “Snap her little chicken neck. This pinko filth needs a long dirt nap.”; “Somebody tell Frances I have 5,000 rounds ready.”, and “We should blow up Piven’s office and home.”

In actuality, Piven’s article argued that everyone who was eligible for welfare should sign up for benefits in order to expose the structural flaws in the system. Say what you will about the plan, it was non-violent. It involved a lot of paperwork. Far from overthrowing the federal government, Piven sought to usher in a federal guaranteed federal income as an alternative to the patchwork of state and local welfare agencies doling out benefits.

Matthew Rothschild reports in the Progressive that the Center for Constitutional Rights has sent a letter to Roger Ailes of Fox News asking him to reign in the anti-Piven demagoguery.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Special Report: Haiti After the Quake + How to Help.

By Alison Hamm, Media Consortium Blogger

Over 100,000 people are believed dead after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck near the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, on Tuesday afternoon. The quake buried countless buildings, from shantytowns to the presidential palace. All hospitals in Port-au-Prince have been leveled or abandoned. The United Nations headquarters and the city’s main prison have collapsed as well. Thousands of residents are homeless and without food, water, or electricity.

On the ground in Port-au-Prince

Haiti is in a state of chaos, as Kayla Coleman reports for Care2. “The streets…are flooded with the rubble of collapsed buildings and displaced people. … The earthquake has destroyed much of the already fragile and overburdened infrastructure.”

Because all hospitals have been destroyed, there is nowhere to take the injured. According to Coleman, the United Nations says it will immediately release $10 million from its emergency fund to aid relief efforts.

Haiti before the earthquake

And though Americans are now paying attention to Haiti in the wake of this disaster, little to no attention was paid to the “daily chaos and misery” that plagues the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, as James Ridgeway writes for Mother Jones. “It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that on any ordinary day already resembles a disaster area.”

Ridgeway also cites a 2006 New York Times report that details how the Bush administration helped destabilize Haiti in the years leading up to the 2004 coup.

Ridgeway writes:

“For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. When I was there you could find the children just outside Cite Soleil, the giant slum, living in the garbage dump, waiting for the U.S. army trucks to dump the scraps left from the meals of American soldiers. There they stood, knee deep in garbage, fighting for bits of food. As for the old, they people every street, gathering at the Holiday Inn at Port-au-Prince in wheelchairs, waiting at the doorway in search of a coin or two. They have no social safety net. And nobody with any money—no bank, no insurance company, no hedge fund, no mutual fund—ever makes any serious investment in the country.”

Will prevailing attitudes towards Haiti change?

At RaceWire, Michelle Chen writes that Haiti, a place “where buildings have been known to suddenly collapse on their own, even without the help of a natural disaster,” was still trying to recover from the severe tropical storms last spring that leveled hundreds of schools and left tens of thousands homeless.

Now the situation is desperate. “There will be an outpouring of sympathy across borders, a spasm of humanitarian aid,” Chen writes. But “will there be an attitude shift in the power structures that have long compounded natural disaster with politically manufactured crisis?”

‘Supporting the right kind of aid’

For those in Haiti, outside help is crucial. The country is in need of search and rescue volunteers, field hospitals, emergency health, water purification, and telecommunications. To ensure that you are supporting the right kind of aid—”the kind that builds local self-resilience, strengthens the local economy, and fosters local leadership,” as Sarah van Gelder details for Yes! Magazine—donate to one or more groups with a proven track record, such as Doctors without Borders, Grassroots International, Partners in Health, and Action Aid, among others.

Hip-hop artist and Haitian native Wyclef Jean has led efforts to help Haiti for years through his charity Yele Haiti. Jessica Calefati at Mother Jones reports that Yele spends $100,000 a year on athletic programs for Haitian children and helps feed 50,000 people a month with food donated by the UN. When Jean received word of the disaster, he immediately acted, sending a “flurry of tweets” for people to donate $5 by texting 501501. He has already returned to Haiti to help.

How you can help

For more details about how you can donate effectively, check out Yes!, Mother Jones, Care2, and The Nation’s roundups. You can also watch Free Speech TV’s action update video for more information.

GritTV aired a segment on Haiti featuring Danny Glover, Marie St. Cyr, and a performance by the Welfare Poets. The video (below) covers the devastation in Haiti after the quake as well as the state of the country prior to the crisis:

How not to help

For an example of how not to help in a time of crisis, take a look at televangelist Pat Robertson, who claimed yesterday that the quake was Haiti’s payback for a “pact with the devil” that slaves made to obtain independence from French colonials. As a rebuttal, Afro-Netizen points out how Haiti’s liberation greatly benefited the United States, and Tracy Viselli at Care2 writes that “if there is a god, Pat Robertson is one of the devil’s pied pipers.”

More coverage of the crisis

For more information about relief efforts in Haiti, what you can do to help, and some historical context, check out the below list of coverage by Media Consortium members.

  • Video from the Real News Network on how World Bank policies led to famine in Haiti.
  • Garry Pierre-Pierre of Inter Press Service reports on humanitarian efforts of Haitian-American leaders in New York.
  • Monica Potts explains why Americans should concentrate on our policies toward Haiti for The American Prospect.
  • Erin Rosa at Campus Progress writes about Ansel Herz, a young journalist that is on the ground at Haiti.
  • Video from The UpTake of President Obama’s pledge to send aid.

This post is a special report on Haiti and features links to the best independent, progressive reporting by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. For more updates, follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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