Demanding a Suspension of Remittance Fees During Disasters

_85611725_e26ea287-55ce-49b3-8ea6-b02ceba61ef7Newark   An 8.3 level earthquake hit Chile in recent days. The quake lasted three minutes. The tsunami carried boats from the port onto city streets along the coast. One million people were evacuated. Over 100,000 continue not to have electricity. Many are displaced. Amazingly, the death count has been relatively minor for such a tragedy with only eleven reported at this point. Many believe this may be due to progress in governmental response and the institution of tougher building codes since a 2010 earthquake killed over 500.

Several years ago when the tsunami hit Japan the focus was huge, damage immense, and attention riveting. Many are just coming back to their homes three years later in the worst impacted areas. Nuclear plants are still under observation and the existence of the plants themselves and the threats of climate change are heated debates.

In a global community what is the best response? Many will be moved to help, but families will feel special obligations whether it is Chile now, Japan then, Katrina ten years ago, or Aceh in Indonesia.

Sending money costs money. Big money. Even the Economist in a recent editorial and article chided the lack of progress by the G-8 and World Bank on reducing the fees to the 5% cap that was supposed to have been achieved years ago. They claim the average is 7.5% but that figure has little credibility given how much it leaves out of the calculations. There are regular reports of technological breakthroughs and new competitors, but many institutions have raised their rates claiming the costs of money laundering and terrorism legislation requires more scrutiny. The Economist called for reductions across the board, and ACORN’s Remittance Justice Campaign has long made that demand.

Can there be any better argument for reductions than disasters like Chile? A number of banks in Canada and the United States lowered or waived fees for transfers after the Japanese tsunami. Western Union and MoneyGram even said the right things for a bit. Where are they now?

Many are joining in a call for Western Union particularly to lead the way by reducing the cost of transfers to Chile during this crisis and time of displacement. Any of us that can need to raise our voices now.

ACORN and many other organizations have begun online petition drives among other tactics to get the message to the CEO of Western Union in Colorado to act now. Do whatever you can and sign the petition with us.

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How About a Better Deal for Philippines Disaster Relief from US Banks & MTOs?

Q113_Wu_Com_Typhoon_V1_Facebook_1200x627_EN_USNew Orleans  The typhoon that devastated large parts of the Philippines, in a Hurricane Katrina like disaster many are seeing as part of what we can expect regularly in the future from climate change,  is inspiring protests by poor countries at the UN Climate Change Conference and some corporate social responsibility, but, sadly nowhere near enough, especially in the United States.  

            Some banks have stepped up to do the right thing and have waived all transfer fees, most for a month from mid-November until mid-December.   There may be more on the honor roll, but from what I’ve found so far, it includes two banks in Canada, the BMO Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Scotland, there and presumably elsewhere, Wells Fargo is the only bank in the US that has stepped up, and the Noor Islamic Bank in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.   That’s all ACORN International has been able to locate.

Of the scores of money transfer organizations, Western Union has been the surprising hero here, though with exceptions.   In Canada, they are doing transfers to the Philippines for $1.00.   Interestingly, the Western Union website in the US seems to have waived fees completely, though it’s a mystery to me why they are charging a loony in Canada and nada in the States.  Regardless, cheers to them for doing what they are doing since MoneyGram, the other huge MTO, is charging $5 for a $100 transfer, which is hardly a bargain, and shows little heart in this crisis.

But, what’s up with US-based banks?  Why is Wells Fargo the only one of the big boys standing tall in the face of this tragedy?  Where are Chase, Bank of America, Citi, and the rest?

And, even more puzzling, especially in wake of the $1 charge by Western Union in Canada, are we starting to find out the real cost for these folks to do transfers?  

But, I digress.   The important thing now is for all of us to ask our banks to waive all transfer fees to the Philippines so that there can be real resources and financial help for typhoon victims.   Raise your voice for lowering the fees!

 

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Mandate Real Equity after Disasters with Democracy

New Orleans   Hurricane Sandy was tragic in every way that one can imagine, but it was also tragic in the same way that all “acts of god” reduce the scale of mankind’s hand in the environment as inconsequential in the face of nature.  In the wake of even larger devastation from Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast were protected by some as exotic and unique cultural oddities and roundly condemned by others as fools who tempted fate with every breath and got what they deserved.  Outsiders, and even some insiders, argued that whole expanses of the city, somewhat randomly, should not be rebuilt but allowed to return to cypress swampland and natural selection.  ACORN was accused at one point of “reckless endangerment” for joining our membership in fighting for the “right to return” to their homes and communities, when some felt they should be forced to seek high ground.

Earlier I predicted that one positive outcome to this terrible Sandy tragedy, since it occurred in New York City and the East Coast heartland of opinion and policy, might be discussion and debate about realistic policy and solutions for communities at the blunt edge of the collective climate change catastrophe.  Michael Kimmelman in his column in the New York Times entered the debate today in an interesting, though ultimately unsatisfactory way.

Kimmelman makes several points about dealing with the impact of the New York City disaster.  He believes “business as usual,” should not be the default mode, and criticizes politicians including President Obama for promising to help people rebuild.  He notes that in a democracy confronting a disaster that there are important issues of equity that have to be addressed, including potentially why gazillions will be spent protecting businesses in lower Manhattan Island and trying to bar rebuilding in the Far Rockaways, some parts of Staten Island, and other barrier locations.

This sort of conversation is a third rail of American politics, so it’s no wonder all presidents promise to rebuild and stick taxpayers with the tab. That billions of dollars may end up being spent to protect businesses in Lower Manhattan while old, working-class communities on the waterfronts of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island most likely won’t get the same protection flies in the face of ideas about social justice, and about New York City, with its open-armed self-image as a capital of diversity.   But the decisions ahead come down to nature and numbers, to density, economics and geology. Our relationship to the water can’t stay the same, and at the same time the city is not worth saving if it sacrifices its principles and humanity.  So the real test post-Sandy will be negotiating between the two.

At the same time that Kimmelman seems to “get it,” he veers wildly off the road in crediting anti-democratic formations, think China, and then read the recent article on railway construction in The New Yorker:

Our election cycle tends to thwart infrastructural improvements that can take decades and don’t provide short-term ribbon-cutting payoffs for politicians, which is why it’s a wry commonplace among engineers and architects that autocratic regimes make the most aggressive builders of massive projects.

And, then after such a good start at recognizing the issues, even raising the right question about whether or not in dealing with climate change we can “accomplish this in time and fairly?,” he veers dangerously and nostalgically towards Robert Moses, who epitomized autocratic and undemocratic development in a democracy!  He finishes by walking away from the very questions he asks:

Robert Caro wrote in the 1970s that Moses “bent the democratic processes of the city to his own ends to build public works,” albeit “left to themselves, these processes proved unequal to the building required.” “The problem of constructing large-scale public works in a crowded urban setting,” Mr. Caro added, “is one which democracy has not yet solved.”   And it still hasn’t.

What a complete barrel of bull we end up with in this short essay.  Hardly reaches any standard of hope for a good policy outcome, including both citing Caro for belling the cat and then rationalizing the “by any means necessary” rationalizations of all developers and self-proclaimed harbingers of “progress.”

And, you wonder why liberals get a bad name?  It’s because they understand the questions fully, and then run from the logic of their answers!

Why not embrace full equity, once you acknowledge the issue?  Part of equity is realizing from the beginning that resources are unequal therefore solutions will be inadequate unless the root imbalances are leveled.  In New Orleans to call for moving everyone out of the Lower 9th Ward (ignoring the blatant racism for a minute that was involved) to “higher ground,” and not reckoning with the fact that higher ground had suddenly achieved premium pricing and no one was talking about covering the bills to achieve this goal, effectively ended the conversation.  When we traveled to Tokyo and walked on areas a dozen or more feet below sea level and saw massive locks and super-levees, it was impossible to ignore that the astronomical values of land in Tokyo rationalized the investment in real protection.  Kimmelman both argues that money is not the problem, and that residents of endangered areas have to embrace “moral hazard,” as the bankers call it for other people rather than themselves, and accept the fact of cyclical destruction and rebuilding.

Why in a democracy does it not occur that if you want to move people out of danger you have to not only provide the full resources to do so, but create incentives and equity in the relocation?  If working class communities like living by the water, why in the name of “civic unity” are they not moved to safer areas near the water?  The answer is partially that it is more expensive and that these areas are too often enclaves of the rich, so we’re dealing with the “not in my backyard” phenomena.  But, either way, moral hazard is a definition in these times of inequity.    Housing projects are homes as well, but sometimes tenants embrace moving if they are really getting better and safer housing.

Thank goodness we have some democratic norms still to force business to be “as usual” until there is a full recognition that equity must be achieved.  Kimmelman proves that the right questions are starting to be asked, but also that we have a long way before we’re still willing to grapple with real answers and humane, democratic public policies.

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Global Public Sector Crisis and Clawbacks

FRANCE-PROTESTS/Mumbai It’s one thing to read the headlines about general strikes in France around the push up of retirement age for public service workers, but flipping the channels on BBC World News, which is the benchmark in India and elsewhere, I get the sense all of Europe is marching behind a union of protest as workers try to face down politicians in the global recession. In Great Britain commentators were labeling the strike as pro forma and more for show than strength, but the attack was real and the rage was righteous. In France unions were more clearly pitted against the government itself, and less resigned. In Germany there was push back as well. In the United States the precipitous fall in employment last month by 95,000 was driven by a public sector slashing of over 154000 jobs around the country.

Perhaps there should be more protest around the USA though that would require more solidarity. Union seem to have chosen to curb their voice nationally in favor of trying to impact the midterm elections, though no candidate anywhere to my knowledge is talking about a recovery plan for public employment or a bailout plan for city and state governments. Unions are trying to cut the best deal at the bargaining table in terrible times of

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