Safety measures too ‘costly’ for Walmart

Officials at the retail monster couldn’t afford emergency exits at the Bangladesh factory where more than 100 workers died in a Nov. 4 fire. Too cash-strapped, it seems:

… In a meeting last year, Walmart officials decided against agreeing to pay suppliers more so that they could upgrade their manufacturing facilities and pay for the costs of safety improvements. “Specifically to the issue of any corrections on electrical and fire safety, we are talking about 4,500 factories, and in most cases very extensive and costly modifications would need to be undertaken to some factories,” Walmart officials said in documents obtained by Bloomberg News. “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.”

More than 300 Bangladeshi garment factory workers have died since 2006. Walmart reported a 9 percent increase in third-quarter net income, earning $3.63 billion.

Sandy, the capitalist storm from hell

I didn’t realize the real FEMA aid available to homeowners is more debt. Glen Ford:

For Wall Street, every disaster is an opportunity to make debt slaves of the victims – if the victims have enough resources to pay back the banks. If those struck by natural calamity are too poor to become assets on the bankers’ books, they’re pretty much on their own – even when a public agency is in charge of disaster relief.

A new report by a group called Strike Debt, described as an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, says federal disaster aid in the wake of Hurricane Sandy is largely built around ensnaring storm victims in debt. Titled “Shouldering the Costs,” the study concludes that the burden of recovery from disasters is being shifted to the individual. “Federal aid programs,” says the report, “require victims to first apply for loans before qualifying to apply” for aid from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And before the feds will even consider making Small Business Administration loans in a disaster, they require that the victims first go to a commercial bank, where the interest rates are much higher.

To the average citizen, this seems illogical. Why place a hurricane-struck small businessperson in deeper financial trouble by forcing her to take on even more debt? What kind of disaster relief is that? Very good logic, if the intention is the serve the banks. The unwritten rule of government under capitalism is never to compete with private business – even in disasters. Therefore, the first job of government is to withhold low interest federal loans from victims with good credit, in order to protect corporations’ chances to profit from the disaster. Only if the private banks reject you will the Small Business Administration offer “direct loans” at lower rates.

After a victim qualifies for consideration for a federal loan, her “credit-worthiness” remains key. About half the applicants are rejected. Since Blacks and other racial minorities tend to have worse credit ratings than whites, the federal policy has the effect of widening already existing racial disparities. The storm’s impact on Blacks and browns is magnified by federal disaster relief policies.

The Occupy-related activists say FEMA and the Small Business Administration steer homeowners to loan programs, rather than grants. However, many homeowners in the impacted areas were already underwater in terms of their mortgages, and the storm has further devalued their neighborhoods and, therefore, their property. “By only offering loans to already struggling homeowners,” says the report, “FEMA and the SBA shift the burden of disaster to individuals and send profit to the loan servicers…. Homeowners have no way out of these properties other than foreclosure. The only practical option is to take the chance on taking on more debt.”

Although capitalists rant and rail against public sector, the reality is that the United States government is their loyal servant, always careful to let corporations cherry-pick every possible bit of profit before using public funds to help the people in times of disaster. And even then, the banks will always get their cut.

Econ4 on housing

This is the group of progressive economists who are trying to move the conversation away from the economy as an entity and back toward its effect on people.

You can read the statement here:

We are economists who think that the economy should serve people, the planet and the future.

Four million families have lost their homes to foreclosure in the Great Recession. Today another four million or more face the same fate. This devastation was triggered by unscrupulous financiers and exacerbated by government policies that put banker bonuses ahead of homeowner solvency.

Some blame families for foolishly pursuing the American Dream of homeownership. They think government assistance for banks is OK, but homeowners should be left to take “free-market” medicine.

Some claim that the solution for the housing crisis is to extend and pretend, to perpetuate make-believe values on bank balance sheets rather than to modify principal based on real housing prices. These policies may be a dream for bankers, but they’re a nightmare for homeowners.

We oppose treating the nation’s housing as a bundle of assets to be sliced, diced, flipped, and bailed out in pursuit of inflated profits and bonuses.

We call for reality-based, ethically grounded housing policies that restore stability to families and sanity to markets.

We call for mandatory partial reductions of mortgage principal whenever this can keep a family in its home. We call for America’s best run housing non-profits to be paid to provide the counsel required to determine when such modifications will work. We call for civil and, when necessary, criminal sanctions on banks and loan-servicing companies whose employees intentionally obstruct implementation of mandated loan modifications.

We call for amending bankruptcy laws to restore pre-2005 rules that protected families and communities from bank depredations.

We call for immediate return to the rule of law by requiring those who seek to foreclose to demonstrate they have the proper title and rights to do so – with stiff legal penalties if they ignore the law.

In response to recent moves by the top 1% to buy distressed housing and convert it to rental stock as absentee landlords, we call for local, state and national standards to protect families from predatory rental practices.

We extend our support to all who are working in the private, non-profit, and public sectors to promote access to affordable and stable housing as a human right of families and an asset for communities.

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