Tailspin

Ready for your dose of black rage? Then check out How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars for Haiti and Built Six Homes, the scathing June 3 joint ProPublica/NPR report on the American Red Cross’s failure to launch in Haiti after collecting a metric assload of money. You could Google it but, well, here. Authors Justin Elliott and Laura Sullivan deftly outline the case that the American Red Cross just didn’t have the expertise to do the job, that it repeatedly misled donors about where the money was going, that it was practically colonial in terms of what jobs went to locals and which positions were reserved for Americans, and that it was generally a dysfunctional mess about the whole thing.

It’s infuriating on two levels. Okay, scratch that: it’s infuriating on a whole bunch of levels, but there are two salient ones. First, a lot of people dug deep for a big-ticket disaster when they may as well have been flinging dollars directly into the sea. Second, This is far from the first time that the American Red Cross has been dinged for dropping the ball like this, yet it’s still practically the default choice for people looking to donate. In fact, the American Red Cross gets an A-minus from Charity Watch. The mind boggles.

Right now, scads of the organisations that we grew up believing in are starting to look pretty shabby. I’m thinking of the deep cultural issues with the Mounties and their alleged involvement in Canada’s slow fall from democracy, as well as cultural inertia at Canada’s public broadcaster, and — well, the list goes on. As for our own Red Cross, it was in charge of blood services until the Krever commission recommended its removal in 1997 after recipients started developing Hepatitis C and HIV due to tainted blood. See a trend developing here? The system is broken; best practices are on the ropes because the bean counters are cutting like there’s no tomorrow. But the problem is that all the cuts are helping ensure that there’s no tomorrow.

So, what is the half-life of an upstanding organisation? How long does it take for a corporation to become too big to fail? Does a corrupt kind of inertia set in after a certain number of years, or is it related to size? The reach of its power, maybe? I have no idea, but I do recognise that it’s part of the same machine that’s mulching the middle class and shoving more power and money at the one-percenters. And honestly, you’d have to be either a saint or willfully ignorant to not be sick and tired of this crap.

In a recent Business Insider piece about Greece’s bailout vote, author Jim Edwards said that ‘Debt is not a guarantee of future payments in full. Rather, it is a risk that creditors take, in hopes of maybe being paid tomorrow.’ This is key, because it puts the power in a lender/borrower relationship back in the hands of the borrower. We don’t tend to think in those terms; we borrow money for a house or a car, or zing a credit card through the machine when we don’t have the cash, knowing full well that if we don’t pay it all back, a mega-corporation will tie us up and take our lunch. Okay, on the surface this doesn’t look like it’s related to the previous paragraph — but I’m talking corporate culture, here. The two are enabled by the same rot, no matter which executive suite we’re looking at.

The news isn’t all bad. For every few instances where Obama sells his people down the river on the TPP, there’s a US Supreme Court ruling that makes life easier for gays. For every move Nestlé makes on our right to clean water, an Avazz petition forces Lego out of bed with big oil or a Dutch landmark ruling shakes up the whole environmental equation. In Ottawa, Stephen Harper’s disastrously undemocratic regime is fraying at the edges, thanks to a Supreme Court that actually knows the law. None of this is enough to drive home a big civil-liberties win, but it just might keep the wheels on until people wake up and demand honest change. And for the record, the Canadian Red Cross collected just over $200 million and built 7,500 shelters in Jacmel and Leogane, according to the National Post.

We are consumers. We are voters. We are citizens in a new world that doesn’t even know where it’s going yet. And that sounds like power to me. Right now, it’s still largely untapped. How pissed off do you have to be to help change that?

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