Boston MA: The media reform conference was just starting in Minneapolis when word bounded in from New York that the market dropped 394 points as oil prices rose, and to borrow an Iraq war word, unemployment "surged." The number of unemployed people grew by 861,000 in May -- rising to 8.5 million, a major jump even as the stats don't count people who have given up looking for work.
We need a National Conference on Economic Reform, and fast.
At the rate the markets are melting, President Bush, who has sought to compare himself to Churchill and Reagan (and occasionally to Harry Truman)--when he is not being a divine messenger, may leave office with the legacy of Herbert Hoover, the president who failed to see, much less stop, The Great Depression. His faith-based remedies have backfired.
For reasons I have been grappling with, the economic crisis is just not that compelling or sexy to the many progressives who are stirred into action by every ugly utterance by Bill O'Reilly, or any partisan burp in the war of words between Hill, Bam and Mac, to put the political race in the language of the writers of the NY tabloids.
Cheering on political personalities or mounting one more issue oriented e-mail campaign is certainly easier than confronting the economic and power imbalances caused by the structural conflicts in our economy.
Knock, knock, people, I am sorry to intrude.
As one of the early organizers of the media reform battle, I haven't lost any of my passion about the campaign to stop media concentration or keep the Internet free and the net neutral.
At the same time, the deeper crisis we are facing goes beyond a one-track issue-oriented focus.
It is astounding to me how few of us discuss the way economic and business issues are discussed, or connect with the fight against foreclosures and growing economic inequality.
Last week, it was reported that l out of every 10 homes are risk while we heard reports, OMG, about celebrities being affected in the Hamptons and Beverly Hills. Actually, the foreclosure rate is the highest ever recorded! The percentage of equity Americans have in their homes is now below 50 percent.
We cannot assume that the economic crisis is covered any better than the war, or electoral issues. In fact, just as our media was accurately accused by no less a manipulator than Scott McClellan of being "deferential enablers" on the war on Iraq, it played a similar role in covering the build up of the subprime/subcrime problem.
My own attempt recently to put the issue of financial news on the agenda at the Media Conference was met with indifference.
The Democratic primaries only barely touched on the financial crisis. There was far more buzz about sex, race, and religion than class and the colossal rip-off by Wall Street firms who "securitized" millions of mortgages.
Late last week, there was little uproar when Attorney General Mukasey, ruled out any major investigation of the scams that the bankers profited from. Some of us were too busy denouncing that other evil M -- Rupert Murdoch.
Where are the whistle blowers to expose a new wave of insider trading or to focus on the role of speculators in commodities that has led to a global food crisis? This has been reported -(NYT) "Oil futures surged to $138, fueling suspicions of a commodities bubble"--but not really investigated.
While economics bubbles pop and others are created, many of us seem to live in a bubble of detachment from the machinations of corporate power and how it is destroying the lives of millions of working families.
For weeks, I watched and read many economic reports on how the economy is coming back, and the crisis is over, until it became clear that it wasn't. Economist Nouriel Roubini reported at week's end:
"The complacency that took hold of financial markets - after the bailout of the Bear Stearns' creditors and the extension of the lender of last resort support of the Fed to systemically important broker dealers - is rapidly fading away as financial markets and financial institutions are again under severe stress."
Add to this reports that credit cards may be imploding next or that oil supplies are peaking, and we get a glimpse of a deepening crisis and tragically incompetent response.
Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis adds:
"Furthermore, banks are tightening credit because they have to. The FDIC is expecting a wave of bank failures. And then there is this not so trivial problem of $5 Trillion Hidden Off Bank Balance Sheets.
Those assets will come back on bank books, and when they do it is going to cause more shareholder dilution, and there will also be less lending. This was the biggest credit boom in history fueled by insane lending practices. A 30 year boom is not corrected in 6 months of pain."
Some bankers are petrified. Mitch Stapley, a Fifth Third Bank Executive, called this "A crisis of biblical proportions." He added, "I'm not talking New Testament biblical, I'm talking Old Testament hellfire and brimstone. This is the worst credit crisis we've ever seen."
The information about what is really going on is there, if you search for it. What's missing for many people is what it means -- the context and background that enables us to connect the dots and think about what to do. There are scores of financial bloggers out there but many political activists don't know who they are.
What's also missing so far is any serious fight back by politicians, candidates, unions and progressive groups. Economic justice is now just one of a long laundry list of issues. Bernie Sanders is talking about it; Barack Obama should tune in. He's been documenting the collapse of the middle class.
The failure of the Congress to enact any measure for relief on the foreclosure front or the Senate to pass a global warming bill underscores the paralysis in Washington. It's a check/checkmate situation, pathetic but real.
President Bush has already said he needs a "magic wand" (honest!) to stem the economic erosion. His administration helped create the problem but has no clue on how to solve it.
Help me answer this question I received from an Indonesian friend watching the American political spectacle on CNN.
"If Obama will be the US president - what will happen - will there be any significant change especially in regards to the economic collapse?"
What do you think?
Clearly, we have to pay more attention and ask ourselves what can be done, what should be done and what we can do. We have to press the politicians we support to push for economic justice.
The economy we save may be our own.
Mediachannel News Dissector Danny Schechter made the film In Debt We Trust (InDebtWeTrust.org) to warn of the crisis. He has just written Plunder, a book investigating the economic calamity we are in. Comments to email@example.com