Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Saturday, November 05, 2011

More Small Businesses Are Pulling Their Accounts Out Of Big Banks

Even in a tight credit market, David Meinert didn't think he'd have a problem getting funding from his bank. He was a model entrepreneur, with good credit and a profitable business earning $2 million in revenue. But when he applied for a relatively small $50,000 line of credit from Chase in late 2010, he got denied in 12 hours, with no explanation. "It was insulting and made no sense, even to the banker. And there was no one to even talk to about it," Meinert says. "It's frustrating that banks are getting billions of dollars in taxpayers' money and they're sitting on that money and not lending it to small businesses. If you're making less than $10 million, they don't care about you."

Meinert decided to turn his frustration into action. After 12 years with Bank of America and a year with Chase, he's switching all his business accounts to Seattle Bank. Like many small-business owners, he initially joined the big banks for no particular reason other than that they were conveniently located. Bank of America was the closest bank to his office and Chase was the closest bank to his office that wasn't Bank of America. He spent years enduring all the subsequent irritations -- outdated online banking systems, the revolving door of bank employees, increasing fees, a sense that he was more a number than a name -- with little more than an eye roll. But the credit line denial was a breaking point.

The 99 Percent Organize Themselves

In mid-October I spent two days and a night with Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. Since then I’ve read a barrage of advice for what OWS and its companion movements around the world should be doing. But I’ve been haunted by another question: What should those of us who are sympathetic to OWS (according to polls, roughly two-thirds of Americans are), but are not going to relocate to a downtown park, be doing to advance the wellbeing of the 99 percent?

I got one part of my answer as I groggily logged on to the web at 5:30 the morning after I returned home from Zuccotti Park. When I left the park, its private owner Brookfield Properties had announced it would clear the park “for cleaning” and enforce rules preventing tarps, sleeping bags, and lying down. Mayor Bloomberg said the NYPD would enforce those rules, effectively ending the encampment.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the eviction. When OWS put out a call for support, thousands of people began to converge on the park for nonviolent resistance to eviction. Unions called on their members to protect the encampment. The president of the AFL-CIO’s Central Labor Council lobbied the city to cancel the crackdown. Lawyers prepared to bring suit to protect the occupiers’ first amendment rights. City council members and other New York politicians lobbied the mayor to halt the eviction. Against all expectation, Mayor Bloomberg announced that Brookfield was abandoning the “cleanup” plan and the company announced it would try to reach an accommodation with the occupiers. The mobilization of supporters had forced the Mayor and the park owners to back down. I had my first answer to what the rest of the 99 percent can do: Protect the occupations.

The Audacity of Occupy Wall Street

A few years ago, Joe Therrien, a graduate of the NYC Teaching Fellows program, was working as a full-time drama teacher at a public elementary school in New York City. Frustrated by huge class sizes, sparse resources and a disorganized bureaucracy, he set off to the University of Connecticut to get an MFA in his passion—puppetry. Three years and $35,000 in student loans later, he emerged with degree in hand, and because puppeteers aren’t exactly in high demand, he went looking for work at his old school. The intervening years had been brutal to the city’s school budgets—down about 14 percent on average since 2007. A virtual hiring freeze has been in place since 2009 in most subject areas, arts included, and spending on art supplies in elementary schools crashed by 73 percent between 2006 and 2009. So even though Joe’s old principal was excited to have him back, she just couldn’t afford to hire a new full-time teacher. Instead, he’s working at his old school as a full-time “substitute”; he writes his own curriculum, holds regular classes and does everything a normal teacher does. “But sub pay is about 50 percent of a full-time salaried position,” he says, “so I’m working for half as much as I did four years ago, before grad school, and I don’t have health insurance…. It’s the best-paying job I could find.”

Like a lot of the young protesters who have flocked to Occupy Wall Street, Joe had thought that hard work and education would bring, if not class mobility, at least a measure of security (indeed, a master’s degree can boost a New York City teacher’s salary by $10,000 or more). But the past decade of stagnant wages for the 99 percent and million-dollar bonuses for the 1 percent has awakened the kids of the middle class to a national nightmare: the dream that coaxed their parents to meet the demands of work, school, mortgage payments and tuition bills is shattered. Down is the new up.

Tories sending signals they don't care about bilingualism

On Nov. 6, 1867, in first the speech of the first sitting of the House of Commons, John A. Macdonald called on MPs to elect MP James Cockburn as Speaker.

Joseph Dufresne, the Conservative MP for Montcalm, Que., rose to object.

Hansard reports: "Mr. Dufresne addressed the house in French, expressing his dissatisfaction at the nomination of Mr. Cockburn, on the grounds that that gentleman could not speak the French language. He thought it was to be regretted that, at the inauguration of a new system, greater respect was not shown to Lower Canada in this matter. He looked upon this as a matter of national feeling."

MPs ignored the national feelings of French Canadians that day, and picked Cockburn, which meant that unilingual MPs from backwoods Quebec could not communicate with the Speaker.

On Thursday, Conservative MPs voted to appoint Michael Ferguson, a unilingual New Brunswick accountant, as auditor general, ignoring the national feeling of French Canadians. The NDP and Bloc voted against and the Liberals walked out, a distressing departure from the tradition that the House unites behind the appointment of officers of Parliament.

Canada: A nice place to visit but you can’t apply to live here

Starting today, Ottawa will stop accepting applications for immigration sponsorships of parents and grandparents until 2014 in hopes of reducing a growing backlog.

In launching the first phase of an action plan to expedite family reunification Friday, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the federal government will take in 25,000 parents and grandparents in 2012, 43 per cent above its 2011 level. Meanwhile, fewer refugees, nannies and people applying to stay on humanitarian grounds will be admitted.

By cutting new applications and increasing intake, Kenney said he hopes to reduce the current backlog of 165,000 parents and grandparents by half in two years.

To relieve the pain of immigrants separated from their older relatives, Citizenship and Immigration Canada will start issuing the new Parent and Grandparent Super Visa on Dec. 1, which will allow members of that group to visit their families in Canada on a temporary basis for up to two years.

Occupy Canada: Media pundits vs. reality

The Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Canada protests seem to be occupying -- and perhaps unhinging -- the minds of media pundits -- at least, those who are mired in the dogma of "free market" fundamentalism.

One recent example from CBC Television came in the form of a personal attack on author Chris Hedges. A well-known American writer, Hedges had agreed to appear as a guest on the Lang O'Leary Exchange to discuss the Occupy movement. He was in the process of calmly and lucidly explaining that movement's rationale when interviewer Kevin O'Leary interrupted to dismiss Hedges as "a leftwing nutbar."

A second example, also from CBC TV, came from the October 13 edition of The National's "At Issue" panel. Along with two journalists, the At Issue panel consists of a senior advisor with a Canadian partner of the global public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, and the economically conservative commentator Andrew Coyne.

Herman Cain, Koch Brothers' 'Brother From Another Mother,' Defends Ties To Conservative Group

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain spoke at an Americans for Prosperity event Friday, and proudly claimed to be the "Koch brothers' brother from another mother."

"I'm proud to know the Koch brothers. I'm very proud to know the Koch brothers. They make it sound like that we have had time to go fishing together, hunting together, skiing together, golfing together," Cain told the audience. "Just so I can clarify this to the media, this may be a new announcement for the media: I am the Koch brothers' brother from another mother. Yes. I am their brother from another mother, and proud of it. You see, the reason that I am running for president, folks, is because I want to unite the United States of America, not divide the United States of America."

Billionaire oil magnates Charles and David Koch are the founding benefactors of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that admitted having controversial financial ties to the Cain campaign earlier in the week.

The Associated Press reported last month that the Cain campaign's deep connection -- or brotherhood, as Cain appears to contend -- to the Koch brothers could undercut the image he has tried to foster as a Washington outsider and businessman who is not part of the politics machine that is so often disparaged by the conservative base.

From AP:
Cain's campaign manager and a number of aides have worked for Americans for Prosperity, or AFP, the advocacy group founded with support from billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, which lobbies for lower taxes and less government regulation and spending. Cain credits a businessman who served on an AFP advisory board with helping devise his "9-9-9" plan to rewrite the nation's tax code. And his years of speaking at AFP events have given the businessman and radio host a network of loyal grassroots fans.
Cain delivered his address as reports continue to flow concerning allegations of sexual harassment brought against him during his time as head of the National Restaurant Association. Three anonymous women have claimed that Cain engaged in inappropriate behavior while he served as their superior. Two of them reportedly received generous settlements in the wake of the allegations. He has denied the allegations.

Source: Huff 

Larry Taylor, Texas Republican Lawmaker, Urges Insurance Company Not To 'Jew Them Down'

Texas Republican state Rep. Larry Taylor has apologized for urging an insurance association to do right by policy holders and not "Jew them down" at a hearing earlier this week.

On Thursday, Taylor spoke at a hearing on the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, encouraging the timely payment of claims to policy holders.

"Don't nitpick, don't try to Jew them down," he said, according to the Quorum Report.

Taylor then quickly tried to right ship, admitting "That's probably a bad term."

In a written statement after the hearing, Taylor said, "At a legislative oversight committee hearing today, I inadvertently used a phrase that many people find offensive. I corrected myself immediately when I realized what I had said. I regret my poor choice of words and sincerely apologize for any harm they may have caused."

Solyndra Subpoena Rejected By Obama Administration

WASHINGTON -- The White House Counsel's Office has formally rejected a congressional subpoena of documents relating to the $535 million loan guarantee that the administration shepherded for Solyndra, the now-defunct solar energy company.

In a letter to the chairs of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, Kathryn H. Ruemmler, counsel to the president, calls the request for documents made by House Republicans a "vast fishing expedition" and a "significant intrusion on Executive Branch interests."

"As written, [the subpoena] encompasses all communications within the White House from the beginning of this Administration to the present that refer or relate to Solyndra, and the subpoena purports to demand a complete response in less than a week," Ruemmler writes. "Thus, any document that references Solyndra, even in passing, is arguably responsive to the Committee’s request, and you reaffirmed this week that you intend for the request to be that broad. There is no basis for such a broad request beyond a “vast fishing expedition," as Congressman Dingell noted yesterday. Moreover, responding to such an expansive request would require the devotion of substantial resources to gather and review many documents that are of no legitimate oversight is itself an unreasonable burden on the President's ability to meet his constitutional duties."

Move Your Money Activists Prepare For Bank Transfer Day On Nov. 5

WASHINGTON -- While major banks pride themselves on "financial innovation," they always function in a way that stays fundamentally the same: They hold on to people's money and invest it until it's needed by the customer. The nature of those investments -- from 30-year fixed-rate mortgages for qualified home buyers to exotic financial products -- has varied over the years, but banks, no matter how innovative, need capital to make it all happen.

Over the course of the past two years, everyday consumers have been moving that capital out of large financial institutions and into credit unions and community banks. In 2009, major banks controlled 45 percent of checking account business, according to Mike Moebs, an analyst whose firm, Moebs Services, has been gathering publicly available data on banks for 28 years. He estimates that by the middle of 2012 at the latest, the big banks' share of that market will have fallen to a third, representing a loss of millions of customers and billions of dollars.

Canadian Immigration: Jason Kenney Announces Two-Year Moratorium On Applications From Immigrants' Parents, Grandparents

OTTAWA - The federal government is imposing a two-year moratorium on immigration applications from parents and grandparents, starting immediately.

But to make up for the restriction, it is creating a 10-year, special visa that will allow parents and grandparents of permanent residents to enter Canada multiple times as visitors and stay for up to two years at a time.

Ottawa is also going to allow in more parents and grandparents next year from the existing — very long — waiting list. The government is targeting admissions of 25,000 people next year, up from a recent annual average of 17,500.

As a result, parents and grandparents will make up nine per cent of the total immigrant inflow of about 255,000 next year, said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. That's up from the current six per cent.

But with increases for parents and grandparents, as well as previously announced increases in the numbers of foreign skilled workers and white-collar workers with Canadian experience, Kenney is reducing other targets to keep the overall immigrant pool at the same level as in previous years.

Tory crime bill is too tough on the provinces

Ottawa’s crime agenda could cost the provinces billions of dollars over the next few years, and those expensive chickens are now coming home to roost. Quebec and Ontario say they will refuse to pay. And who can blame them?

The tough-on-crime omnibus bill now before Parliament is hardly a sterling example of co-operative federalism. It is heavy-handed federal policy-making, which (along with some previous crime bills) will cost the provinces dearly – a subject of a kind that once exercised the Reform Party, a precursor of today’s ruling Conservatives. The provinces have had limited say, through discussions among attorneys-general and their deputies, in Ottawa’s plans, unlike, say, in health care, where major reforms and extra cash are typically put on the table at the same time.