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Report from the G20: Of bankers, bonuses, bailouts and backsliding

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Pittsburgh -- Well, this is my second G-Summit -- and there are still more hard lessons to learn. Harder to swallow too, since life for the world’s poorest has become even more wretched since last July’s G8 in Italy. It’s an even tougher slog here, getting the needs of the neediest on the media’s agenda, let alone the attention of 20 of the world’s most powerful leaders – emerged and emerging.

Everyone’s obsessed with whether or not there should be some kind of cap on bankers’ bonuses.  Ok..hurrah..we’re all for that here in the anti-poverty ranks…but it ain’t likely to happen kiddo -- even if Obama himself chastised Wall St for paying out over $18 billion in bonuses while the economy was tanking.   Pretty galling when you realize that $16 billion is what’s needed to provide education for all.

Another big-ticket agenda item is “imbalances”….but don’t get excited.  They’re talking about trade imbalances that have helped throw the American economy askew.  Not the imbalances that leave over a billion of this planet’s citizens living on a dollar and a quarter a day.

I’ve been working with a coalition formed for this G20 under the banner “Let’s Change the World for Good”  (Not bad eh?  Hope you like that double entendre.)  It’s discouraging when you hear people like Privilege Hang’andu from Zambia tell how 99.8% of the assistance promised to developing countries is coming in the form of loans which distort local economies and re-create a debt cycle which was just starting to get chipped away.

But even worse…have you heard about “vulture funds”?  To paraphrase Wikipedia: The name is a metaphor comparing types of private equity and hedge funds to vultures patiently circling, waiting to pick over the remains of a rapidly weakening company or, in the case of sovereign debt, debtor country.   Read on and weep about some horrific cases in point.  The Sopranos couldn’t do it better than these guys.   And though there’s talk of killing these birds of prey, no one’s counting on anything significant happening here in Pittsburgh.

But I want to at least end with some faint hope for you.  Climate change is at last a buzzword here and there’s even some signs that it’s beginning to register with the privileged world, that their consumption of the planet’s resources has devastated the underprivileged.  It’s not much, but it’s a start…watch for/hope for some language in the Final Communiqué about ending billions of dollars on fossil fuel subsidies.  That could go a long way to creating truly sustainable, renewal energy alternatives.  The climate change activists are out in force here.  Good for them if they win even a small victory.   

Wow – did you see that incredible Greenpeace stunt on the Pittsburgh Bridge?  Talk about getting your message across.

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