Multinational Monitor

OCT 2001
VOL 22 No. 10


Payday Profiteers: Payday Lenders Target the Working Poor
by Kari Lydersen

Renting to Owe: Rent-to-Own Companies Prey on Low-Income Consumers
by Jake Lewis


The View from Below
How the U.S. Working Poor Don’t Get By
an interview with
Barbara Ehrenreich

Migrating from
Exploitation to Dignity
Immigrant Women Workers and the Struggle for Justice
an interview with
Miriam Ching Yoon Louie

The Community Development Credit Union Alternative
an interview with
Clifford Rosenthal


Behind the Lines

Wartime Opportunism

The Front
Easy on Sunday Morning - Poverty and Mental Health

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


The Front

Easy on Sunday Morning

Washington, D.C. politics revolve around issues related to corporate power — from trade agreements to the minimum wage, from environmental protection to antitrust enforcement.

But a new study conducted by Essential Information, the publisher of Multinational Monitor, concludes that the Sunday morning television political talk shows fail to touch on corporate power concerns. The environment, labor rights, corporate welfare, corporate crime and victims’ right to sue corporations go virtually unmentioned on the Sunday talk shows.

“Sunday Morning Political Talk Shows Ignore Corporate Power Issues,” by Justin Elga and George Farah, finds that topics loosely related to corporate power make up only 4 percent of the discussion topics on the talk shows [see].

Elga and Farah’s conclusions are based on a review of every transcript of Meet the Press, Face the Nation, The McLaughlin Group, and This Week aired between June 1995 and June 1996 and during the last six months of 1999.

The report also highlights the shows’ near total exclusion of newsmaker guests from the ranks of labor, environmental, consumer, anti-corporate globalization or other public interest groups.

The shows’ almost exclusive preference is for presidential candidates, high administration officials or Congressional leaders — though former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed was a frequent guest when he headed that right-wing lobby.

Horserace politics dominate the political gabfests, with corporate power shunted to the sidelines.

Elga and Farah juxtapose what topics were and were not discussed on the shows:

“During the June 1995 - June 1996 period,” they note, “Colin Powell was the topic of Sunday morning conversation 47 times, corporate crime 0. Travelgate was an issue 27 times, whereas corporate welfare was mentioned once in a list of Clinton’s accomplishments. The shows discussed O.J. Simpson 16 times, environmental matters 0. They talked about the Christian right nine times, but never about consumer issues such as bank charges, phone charges or HMO abuses. ... Roundtable pundits argued about Oliver Stone’s ‘Nixon’ on two occasions but never discussed renewable energy, redlining or blockbusting. The shows never even mentioned the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or foreign aid, but one show made the weather, complete with a guest from the National Weather Service, the center of discussion. Only a single program, This Week, so much as discussed the telecommunications bill and media mergers, which relate closely to the owners of these Sunday programs.”

In the first six months of 1999, they report, “Aside from the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, the most discussed issue concerning corporate power was HMOs and a Patient Bill of Rights, ranked 26, well after Ken Starr, the Middle East peace process, the controversial Brooklyn art exhibit, Egypt Air Flight 990 and Jesse Ventura. The only other issues concerning corporate power discussed during the second half of 1999 were free trade with China and the Microsoft antitrust case. The McLaughlin Group also devoted a segment of a single episode to urban sprawl.”

“Instead of addressing consumer issues, environmental matters, corporate crime, the IMF, the WTO, labor rights or the minimum wage,” they write, “shows devoted time to topics like the women’s World Cup soccer victory, a moon landing tribute, Jerry Springer’s possible senatorial campaign, a heat wave, Tina Brown’s kickoff party for Talk Magazine, mail order brides, father’s day and football player Reggie White’s religious views.”

Elga and Farah do not account for this state of affairs but they permit themselves some speculation.

“Is it too much to suspect that corporate influence over the networks, the shows and the guests in part explains the remarkable omission of issues related to corporate power?” they ask. “Multinational conglomerates own the networks, major corporations sponsor specific shows, businesses regularly pay celebrity journalist lecture fees, and massive corporations fund the campaigns of the guest newsmakers.”

The report focuses attention on the 1995-1996 price-fixing scandal surrounding the food company Archer Daniels Midland.

Developments in the scandal, including the settlement and payment of what at the time was the largest price-fixing fine in U.S. history, regularly made the front pages of the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. In September 2000, New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald published a book, The Informant: A True Story, about the ADM scandal that was widely reviewed and characterized as being “as engaging as a Grisham thriller.”

“Despite the high drama of the corporate saga, the leading Sunday morning political talk shows … all failed to say a word about the scandal” during the times when the story was earning banner headlines in the leading U.S. newspapers, Elga and Farah report. “Instead, the Sunday morning roundtables focused on the state of the Republican Party, Ross Perot, Dole’s campaign, Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton.”

The report notes that Archer Daniels Midland is a huge advertiser on NBC (The McLaughlin Group, Meet the Press) and sponsors Meet the Press and This Week — and longtime This Week host David Brinkley is now a paid spokesperson for ADM. The report asks, “Might this account in some measure for the shows’ failure to mention the ADM scandal, despite its simultaneous newsworthiness and entertainment value?”

Although many dismiss the Sunday talk shows as entertainment only, and not to be taken seriously — Eleanor Clift, a regular panelist on The McLaughlin Group, once called the show “the Superbowl of bullshit” — Elga and Farah demur. “While it may be accurate to describe the shows as full of bluster and bombast, it does not follow that they are no more politically consequential than professional wrestling (Jesse Ventura notwithstanding),” they write. The report notes that the talk shows are watched by journalists and policymakers in Washington, and that they work to frame news coverage and political debate.

Top Twenty Issues On Sunday Morning Talk Shows
June 1996 - June 1996

1. Presidential elections
2. Congressional warfare over balancing the budget
3. Colin Powell
4. Bosnia
5. Welfare reform
6. Whitewater and Travelgate
7. Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America
7. Bob Dole
9.Shutting down the government
10. the state of the Republican Party
11. Pat Buchanan
12. Abortion
13. Steve Forbes and his flat tax
14. O.J. Simpson
14. Affirmative action
16. China
17. Ross Perot
17. Discrimination and racism
17. The Middle East peace process, Israeli elections
20. Immigration
20. Income Tax Reform

Top Twenty Issues On Sunday Morning Talk Shows
June 1999 - June 1999

1. Presidential elections
2. Hillary Clinton and the New York Senate Race
3. Budget surplus and tax cuts
4. George W. Bush's personality and history
5. Pat Buchanan
6. Clemency for Puerto Rican FALN members
6. John McCain and campaign finance reform
8. Waco investigation
8. Chinese espionage at the Los Alamos nuclear lab
10. JFK Jr.'s death
10. Al Gore
10. The Reform Party
13. Nuclear test ban treaty
13. Columbine shooting and gun control
15. Jesse Ventura
15. Brooklyn Art Museum exhibit vs. Mayor Giuliani
15. Egypt Air Flight 990
15. Barak and the Middle East peace process
15. Bill Bradley
15. Monica Lewinsky and Kenneth Starr
15. Kosovo
15. Terrorism

— Robert Weissman

Poverty and Mental Health

Bangalore, India — Health experts are sending out an international alert that mental health problems are dramatically increasing worldwide, with the World Health Organization (WHO) warning that depression is set to become the main cause of disability by 2020.

WHO has focused this year’s World Health Day (October 10) on mental illness, raising the question: what triggers mental health problems?

In India, where the number of cases of clinical depression and anxiety is rising even more steeply than elsewhere, opinion is sharply divided on whether poverty is the main cause — a debate sparked off by a study by Dr. Vikram Patel of London’s Institute of Psychiatry.

Patel’s 1996 study, “Poverty, Inequality & Mental Health in Developing Countries,” an updated version of which has been published in a book, investigates the relationship between poverty, disability and depression in the Indian state of Goa. He found that more than 40 percent of adults attending primary health care clinics had a common mental disorder (CMD) such as anxiety or clinical depression. Women were two to three times more likely to have CMDs than men.

The study concluded that relative poverty, disability and gender were strongly associated with these disorders. According to Patel, poverty is an important “risk factor:” clinical depression can be triggered by adverse life-events such as physical illness, housing problems and unemployment.

“Being poor means you are more likely to experience such events and you will have fewer resources to draw upon,” Patel says. “The relationship between impoverishment and mental illness is bi-directional. Thus poverty can lead to mental illness which can worsen the economic circumstances of the person and their families.”

Not all mental disorders are increasing in India. Patel specifically attributes India’s growing incidence of anxiety and clinical depression to rising inequality, as witnessed in many other developing countries.

The latest WHO report on mental health, “Stop Exclusion, Dare to Care,” agrees. “Mental disorders occur in persons of all genders, ages and backgrounds ... poverty, war and displacement can influence the onset, severity and duration of mental disorders.”

However, Dr. Mohan Isaac, head of psychiatry at India’s prestigious National Institute of Mental Health and NeuroSciences (NIMHANS), points to the resilience of India’s family and social support networks. He cites numerous studies of schizophrenia which have shown better recovery results in developing countries like Nigeria and India, largely because of their strong social support systems. Isaac adds, “In the midst of poverty people still live a sane life; otherwise 38 percent of this country living below the poverty line would be mentally depressed.”

Patel concedes that the humor and spirit of those living in conditions that the rest of unequal India might buckle under, indicates how well the poor are able to cope. The challenge for public health researchers, he argues, is “to identify the protective and nurturing qualities in those who do not become depressed when faced with awful economic circumstances ... to help and prevent mental health problems.”

What everyone, including Patel, agrees on is that women are at greater risk, although experts offer different explanations. Dr. Sanjeev Jain, associate professor of psychiatry at NIMHANS, says: “There is a tremendous amount of depression in women. They tend to internalize situations.”

Others argue that depression and low self-esteem among women is due to factors in the home such as a lack of identity, and domestic violence and abuse. “We’ve come across a tremendous amount of suffering in women in the training sessions we impart,” says Dr. Thelma Narayan, a community health worker who is helping to formulate health policies at both national and state (Karnataka) levels.

There are no recent studies in India on the extent of CMD, but the National Human Rights Report 2000 says 20 to 30 million people “appear to need some form of mental health care” — about 20-30 percent of the population.

India’s National Mental Health Policy was formulated in 1982 using a model developed by NIMHANS. The policy envisages decentralized training in mental health for rural health workers, provision of basic drugs, developing a mechanism for community awareness and monitoring of the whole policy. The government only began to implement it in 1995, but there is practically no awareness of common mental disorders among health professionals in rural areas or among the sufferers themselves, says Dr. Ali Khwaja of Helping Hand, a Bangalore-based counseling organization.

Countrywide, there are only 37 government-run mental hospitals, 3,500 psychiatrists, 1,000 psychiatric social workers and 1,000 clinical psychologists — all serving a population of one billion.

The government view on the availability and cost of drugs for primary health centers is yet again optimistic. Anxiolytics, a common drug to treat depression, is said to cost less than the treatment for tuberculosis. Dr. K. Sekar of NIMHANS cites an India and Pakistan study last year of rural patients that shows that half a month’s wages of approximately $16 goes towards treatment.

But, “treatment need not always be a medical response,” says Dr. Jain, reiterating that family and community support systems need to be reinforced.

Patel agrees, saying, “Preventative strategies aimed at strengthening protective factors in local communities may be a more sensible investment of scarce resources than duplicating the extensive health systems of the developed world.”

— Keya Acharya, Third World Network Features/PANOS


The October 2001 Lawrence Summers Memorial Award* goes to the Australian intellectual property office.
In May, the patent office issued a patent on a “circular transportation facilitation device” — the wheel — to John Keogh, a patent lawyer who filed the application to show how overbroad a new Australian patent law is.

Source: Nathan Cochrane, “Melbourne Man Patents the Wheel,” The Age (Australia), July 2, 2001.

*In a 1991 internal memorandum, then-World Bank economist Lawrence Summers argued for the transfer of waste and dirty industries from industrialized to developing countries. "Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs (lesser developed countries)?" wrote Summers, who went on to serve as Treasury Secretary during the Clinton administration. "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. ... I've always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly under polluted; their air quality is vastly inefficiently low [sic] compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City." Summers later said the memo was meant to be ironic.


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