The OB Media Rundown for 5/27/12

Austerity and ideology go hand-in-hand: Canada’s mass firing of ocean scientists brings ‘silent summer’

Canada is dismantling the nation’s entire ocean contaminants program as part of massive layoffs at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. [Chief researcher Peter] Ross told EHN that his main concern is the “wholesale axing of pollution research” that will leave Canada, and much of the world, without the scientific knowledge to protect whales, seals, fish and other marine life — as well as the indigenous peoples who rely on them for their traditional foods. Many scientists say the purpose of the move by the Canadian government is not just cost-cutting but to eliminate environmental rules and protect the oil and gas industry. The following is an essay that Ross wrote Thursday for EHN.
. . .

It is with deep regret that I relay news of my termination of employment at Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the loss of my dream job. It is with even greater sadness that I learn of the demise of DFO’s entire contaminants research program – regionally and nationally. It is with apprehension that I ponder a Canada without any research or monitoring capacity for pollution in our three oceans, or any ability to manage its impacts on commercial fish stocks, traditional foods for over 300,000 aboriginal people and marine wildlife.

Canada’s silence on these issues will be deafening this summer and beyond.

The US public school system is under attack

The US public school system, once a model for the world, is under sustained attack by the nation’s elites. Philadelphia, the latest casualty, is getting ready to sell off its schools – and their governance – to profiteers and snake-oil salesmen. We already know how this story ends.

The Philadelphia school system announced in late April that it was on the brink of insolvency and would be turned over to private operators, dissolving most remnants of democratic governance. Specifically, if the city’s leaders have their way, 64 of the city’s neighbourhood public schools will close over the next five years, and by 2017, 40 per cent of the city’s children will attend charter schools. These are are privately run schools that use public funds. Perhaps most disturbingly to those who value democracy and doubt the wisdom of corporate elites, the city will have no oversight of its own school system. Schools will instead be governed by “networks”, control of which will be auctioned off through a bidding process, and could be bestowed on anyone – including a CEO of a for-profit education company.

The situation in Philadelphia, which has received amazingly little attention from the national media in the US, offers a disturbing window onto what the US elite is planning for the rest of our public schools – disturbing because Philadelphia’s experience has already demonstrated that turning public education over to private entities will ultimately lead to its destruction.

Inequality wasn’t the answer: in fact, it was our downfall

There is a popular argument, put forward by Ben Broadbent at the Bank of England among others, that the UK’s unprecedented levels of household debt don’t matter, and won’t hold back recovery, because they have been matched by a sharp increase in assets.

That sounds right if you think of homeowners matching their rising mortgages against rocketing house prices. But NIESR found that, in fact, it was overwhelmingly the poor doing the borrowing through this period while the rich were accumulating the assets. Over the decade to 2007, for example, the bottom 10% of households saw their incomes grow by 17% but their spending rise by 43%. As NIESR puts it: “Given only a minority of the poorest are homeowners paying off their mortgage, it is highly unlikely this was counterbalanced by an increase in housing wealth.”

Without this borrowing binge, it is likely that consumption would have collapsed, and with it growth. And because many poor families are now hamstrung by unpayable debts, demand may be held back for years. So it seems rising inequality does matter – economically, as well as politically.

And it is this history – of decades in which lavish rewards accrued to the few while everyone else papered over the cracks with debt – that could make austerity impossible to bear.

Typical American Worker Would Need 244 Years To Match CEO’s Annual Salary

The average CEO made $9.6 million in 2011, even as workers’ wages remained stagnant and unemployment hovered nationally around 8 percent. Chief Executive Officers are being paid at the highest-ever rate since the AP started tracking the figure in 2006, according to a new report from the news organization.

But while CEOs may be reaping the rewards of higher profits and a growing stock market, very little of that achievement spreads as far as the average worker – or even the company’s stockholders:

Profit at companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index rose 16 percent last year, remarkable in an economy that grew more slowly than expected.

Most Americans think campaign money aids rich

Most Americans, no matter what their political party, believe there is too much money in politics and reject the idea that people should be allowed to spend what they want, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Thursday.

Seventy-five percent of Americans feel there is too much money in politics, and only 25 percent feel there is an intrinsic right to unfettered election spending, an argument commonly used by opponents of controls on campaign finance.

Almost the same proportion – 76 percent – feel that the amount of money in elections has given rich people more influence than other Americans, the online survey found.

The gay marriage excuse – in service of perpetuating the economic status quo

In Colorado, Democratic activists have cast Gov. John Hickenlooper as a great liberal for supporting same-sex civil unions, all while he loyally shills for oil and gas corporations. At the federal level, the Obama reelection campaign is doing the same, trumpeting the president as a progressive hero for endorsing gay marriage, all while he slow-walks tougher bank regulations.

Even on Wall Street itself, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has lately portrayed himself as a great humanitarian. As proof, he doesn’t cite any willingness to acknowledge financial-sector crimes. Instead, he cites his decision to become the Human Rights Campaign’s national spokesman for gay marriage.

Noting all this isn’t to disparage the push for same sex marriage (I’m a strong supporter!) – it is merely to spotlight a bait and switch whereby social issues are increasingly used to perpetuate the economic status quo.

Occupy Protesters Help Los Angeles Woman And Disabled Daughter Save Their Home From Bank Of America

Last month, Bank of America foreclosed on a Los Angeles woman and her disabled daughter. Dima Rodriguez had spent thousands of dollars retrofitting her home to accommodate her daughter – who has cerebral palsy – and fell behind on her loan payments. Bank of America gave her a loan modification, and even though Rodriguez had made her trial modification payments for a year, the bank sold her house at auction, right out from under her.

However, Rodriguez and her daughter will get to stay in their home, thanks to some help from Occupy Wall Street protestors:

Desperate, Rodriguez contacted several community groups including Occupy Fights Foreclosures – the battle to save the Rodriguez home began. Suzanne O’Keeffe, with Occupy Fights Forclosures, says the bank didn’t treat the Rodriguez family right. She charged they not only didn’t fill out the proper paperwork to foreclose, they waited too long. [...]

Educational Strike in Spain Brings Hundreds of Thousands Into the Streets


Students, parents and teachers from pre-school through university levels of the Spanish public education system went on strike to protest the massive cuts proposed as part of the government’s austerity program.

‘This is payback for Greece’

Asked whether it was “payback time” for Greece and other debt-ridden eurozone economies, [IMF chief Christine Lagarde] responded, “That’s right”, the newspaper said.

Greece in 2010 committed itself to a reform program in return for hundreds of billions of euros (dollars) in bailout funds from the EU and the International Monetary Fund to prevent a default. Many of the reforms are currently in limbo, however, as Greece awaits a new general election on June 17 after an inconclusive vote on May 6.
The IMF, along with European leaders, has said it will not bend on tough conditions attached to its loans to Greece, with fears rising that the debt crisis could culminate in a Greek exit from the eurozone.

Considering the bright lights of economic development in Greece’s future as a pariah/failed state

Greece is going to have get hardcore and creative about creating a new economy.  Since the monetary authorities intend to starve them and deprive them of oil, they must retaliate hard.  Greece has a number of options, and this is what Greece should do. You don’t play nice with people who are trying to cause a famine in your country.

• Greece has a large fleet.  Use it to strip mine the Mediterranean of all resources possible.  Yes, the Med is a fragile ecosystem.  If the other Euros don’t like it, they can not punish Greece, otherwise Greece will have to feed itself.  The Euros could send fleets, but as the British-Iceland fishing war proved, that’s prohibitively expensive.

• Start gun-running and other black market activities up.  European gun-running currently goes through Albania.  Greece has much better ports.  If the Euros don’t like it, they can militarize Greece’s borders at a cost much higher than feeding the Greeks.

• Become a full on black-hole for banking.  If anyone wants to store money in Greece, they can.  No questions asked, no forms needed.

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