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.]

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Brian Topp, Jack Layton Adviser, Emerges As Front-Runner To Lead NDP, As Former Leader's Funeral Planned

OTTAWA - One of Jack Layton's closest advisers is emerging as a surprise front-runner to pick up the torch from the fallen NDP leader.

Party president Brian Topp is receiving a lot of encouragement to join the impending race to succeed Layton, who died on Monday, insiders say.

Topp is one of the key architects of Layton's success and was among the last of Layton's tight-knit inner circle to speak with him before his death.

Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair, Layton's deputy leader, is widely considered the only other prospective candidate to have a serious shot at taking Layton's place.

Canada can't afford to attend Expo 2012 in South Korea, Heritage Minister says

Canada has officially declined an invitation from the South Korean government to participate in Expo 2012, saying it can't afford to attend the World's Fair.

Officials at the Korean embassy in Ottawa confirmed Tuesday they received a letter last month from Heritage Minister James Moore sending his regrets that Canada will not participate in the event.

Korean embassy spokesman Heon-jun Kim said the Republic of Korea tried its best to convince Canada to attend Expo 2012, but was not successful.

“We tried very hard to persuade them to participate in the event next year, but we have to respect their decision making,” he said. “We are really sorry about that. We really worked hard to invite them.”

Mr. Moore's July 14 letter said the federal government is committed to other things.

Mitt Romney, Dark Prince of Oligarchy, Battles the Demons of Democracy

The gaffe-prone candidacies of Michele “Elvis” Bachmann and Rick “C’mon, Men, Let’s String Us Up Some Bernanke” Perry, and the slapstick non-candidacy of Sarah “Two If by Sea” Palin, are merely the cheap theater of an ill-defined Republican presidential race. The real drama of the 2012 race continues to come from the CEO party’s CEO candidate: Willard Mitt Romney.

It is Romney, the buttoned-down professional who was born to the corporate class and remains its truest exemplar in the current contest, who framed the 2012 debate as starkly it ever will be with his sincere declaration that “corporations are people.”

Romney gets it.

There’s a class war going on in America.

And the dark prince of oligarchy has taken a stand.

Provoked by a grassroots activist who refused to take spin for an answer, the GOP’s CEO candidate revealed why he is running.

Corporations need unapologetic and aggressive representation not just in the judicial branch but in the executive branch of our federal government.

Rick Perry: Governor for Sale

There’s a saying in Texas when someone has the swagger of success without the accomplishments to back it up: He’s all hat and no cattle. Put another way: he’s acting like Texas Governor Rick Perry (R).

Perry has been elected governor three times and has proclaimed his state a model worth replicating at the national level. Yet Texas has the highest number of residents without health insurance in the nation, among the worst-ranked food stamp programs, one of the highest child poverty rates, the lowest percentage of residents with a high school diploma and one of the highest teenage birth rates. These are stats that deserve swears, not swagger.

Texas’s political system is also as brazenly capable of corruption by money and special interests as that in Washington, and unabashedly so.

Ford likely to accept nurses this time

Councillor Doug Ford signalled Tuesday that Mayor Rob Ford will accept a second provincial offer to pay for new public health nurses even though he rejected the first.

In a motion he presented at a meeting of council’s budget committee, Doug Ford endorsed the hiring of three new nurses on the condition that the city eliminate their jobs if provincial funding ever expires.

The motion was an implicit acknowledgment that his brother made a mistake in opposing the hiring of two new nurses in June. Rob Ford had justified that decision by arguing that the city would eventually have to pay the nurses’ salaries.

Health board chair John Filion and others said Ford was wrong. Regardless, Ford could have addressed his concern with a motion like Doug Ford’s rather than rejecting the nurses outright.

Bill McKibben and the Fight to Stop the Tar Sands

In a defiant act of civil disobedience, protestors stage a sit-in at the White House to implore Obama to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

At 11 a.m. on Aug. 20, 65 people, many dressed in their Sunday best, walked single file across Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House gate and turned their backs to it, facing Lafayette Park. This group of peaceful protesters is in Washington to petition for U.S. President Barack Obama to prevent construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

As the crowd of protesters formed, a well-briefed police squad cordoned the area with black fences and yellow tape. By Parks Service regulation, a person holding a sign, or a group of more than 25, may not linger in front of the central White House sidewalk longer than 10 minutes; after three warnings, the Parks Police cuffed and led people, one-by-one, away to Anacostia to process them for central holding.

Covering Up Wall Street Crimes: Matt Taibbi Exposes How SEC Shredded Thousands of Investigations

An explosive new report in Rolling Stone magazine exposes how the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission destroyed records of thousands of investigations, whitewashing the files of some of the nation’s largest banks and hedge funds, including AIG, Wells Fargo, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and top Wall Street broker Bernard Madoff. Last week, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said an agency whistleblower had sent him a letter detailing the unlawful destruction of records detailing more than 9,000 information investigations. We speak with Matt Taibbi, the political reporter for Rolling Stone magazine who broke this story in his latest article, "Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes?"

Source: Democracy Now! 

Over 160 Arrested in Ongoing Civil Disobedience Against Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline

Fifty-two environmental activists were arrested Monday in front of the White House as part of an ongoing protest calling on the Obama administration to reject a permit for the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline project, which would deliver Canada tar sands oil to refineries in Texas, and rather focus on developing clean energy. An estimated 2,000 people have signed up to hold sit-ins and commit other acts of civil disobedience outside the White House every day for the next two weeks — 162 have already been arrested since Saturday. Also joining the protest are indigenous First Nations communities in Canada and landowners along the Keystone XL pipeline’s planned route. An editorial in Sunday’s New York Times joined in calling on the State Department to reject the pipeline, noting that the extraction of petroleum from the tar sands creates far more greenhouse emissions than conventional production. Meanwhile, oil industry backers of the project emphasize what they say are the economic benefits of the $7 billion proposal. As the Obama administration remains undecided whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, we speak with Bill McKibben, who joins us from Washington, D.C., where he was released Monday after spending two nights in jail. He is part of Tar Sands Action, a group of environmentalists, indigenous communities, labor unions and scientific experts calling for action to stop the project. "This is the first real civil disobedience of this scale in the environmental movement in ages," McKibben says.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Goldman Sachs Stock Drops After CEO Hires Defense Attorney

Reuters reported Monday afternoon that Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein has hired the high-profile defense attorney Reid Weingarten. Goldman later confirmed to The New York Times that "Blankfein and other individuals who were expected to be interviewed in connection with the Justice Department’s inquiry into certain matters raised in the PSI [Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations] report hired counsel at the outset." It's not immediately clear what charges Blankfein might face, but based on what little we know about the DOJ's investigation into Goldman's role in the financial crisis and PSI chairman Sen. Carl Levin's past statements, however, perjury seems highly likely. Regardless, stockholders's concern was reflected in a 5.9 percent drop in Goldman share price after the new broke.

Pasco couple fear losing home to foreclosure for paying mortgage too early

NEW PORT RICHEY — Seventy-year-old Sharon Bullington may lose her home because she paid her mortgage a week early.

That may not make much sense to the thousands of homeowners who are behind on their mortgages in Florida. But it seems it does to Bank of America, which has filed to foreclose on Bullington and her husband, James, 78, who is terminally ill.

"It's like death to me," Sharon Bullington said, her voice quivering on the phone Friday. "My husband is bedridden. It's almost more than I can bear."

Rick Perry Connects Civil Rights Movement To Fight For 'Freedom From Overtaxation'

During a stop in Rock Hill, South Carolina over the weekend, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry connected the civil rights movement to a fight being waged by Republicans for lower taxes.

"Listen, America’s gone a long way from the standpoint of civil rights and thank God we have," said the Texas governor. "We've gone from a country that made great strides in issues of civil rights, I think we all can be proud of that. And as we go forward, America needs to be about freedom. It needs to be about freedom from overtaxation, freedom from over-litigation, freedom from over-regulation. And Americans, regardless of what their cultural or ethnic background is, they need to know that they can come to America and you got a chance to have any dream come true because the economic climate is gonna be improved."

The remarks came in response to a question from a reporter asking the Texas governor to weigh in on the significance of Rock Hill to the country's civil rights history. The reporter noted, "This year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Friendship Nine sit-in."

Child Labor Rule Released By White House After 9 Month Delay

WASHINGTON -- After much delay, the White House has finally released a proposed rule that would update child labor regulations in agricultural work. Put forth by the Department of Labor last fall, the rule had been stuck in red tape at the White House for nine months, angering workplace safety advocates who said the regulations need to be modernized.

Although the rule still has not been made public, public health officials believe it will restrict minors from engaging in certain dangerous work activities on farms and perhaps grain facilities. As reported last week by HuffPost, safety advocates claimed that recent accidents involving juveniles may have been prevented had the rule not been held up at the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

“[A]fter so many tragedies involving young workers, OMB finally came to understand the pressing need for this regulation," Justin Feldman, a worker health and safety advocate at watchdog group Public Citizen, said in an email. "At this point we’ll have to wait for the text. I understand that OMB made changes to the Department of Labor’s proposal and it remains to be seen whether or not the revised proposal will be as robust as the original."

Paul Ryan Tries To Create Tax Loopholes For His Biggest Donors

WASHINGTON -- House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has for months argued for closing tax loopholes as a way to pay for his proposed tax cuts. But it turns out he has a penchant for creating those same loopholes when it comes to helping out his biggest donors.

Since unveiling the House GOP budget in the spring, Ryan has been touting provisions aimed at ending tax loopholes and deductions in exchange for lowering tax rates in general. "We're talking about keeping revenues where they are, but having a better tax system to collect those revenues with an eye on economic growth and job creation," he said during an April interview on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

He added, "You have to remember, the people in the top tax brackets are the ones who enjoy most of the loopholes and deductions."

But a look at Ryan's record since he was elected to Congress in 1998 shows that he has tried to create an array of special loopholes for his top contributors, whose interests range from air fresheners to fraternity housing to beer.

Fed's $1.2 Trillion In Financial Sector Loans 'A Classic Case Of Moral Hazard'

During the 2008 financial crisis, when the nation's banking system seemed on the verge of collapse, President George W. Bush authorized a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry. The U.S. Treasury implemented that program, known as TARP, in an effort to stave off economic catastrophe.

At the same time, and in the years that followed, the Federal Reserve was undertaking its own rescue operation, in the form of private, previously undisclosed loans to banks and other institutions -- lending as much as $1.2 trillion, nearly twice the amount of the Treasury bailout, according to a data analysis performed by Bloomberg News and published on Monday.

The scope of the Fed's private lending had previously only been guessed at, but figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Bloomberg News show that the nation's central banker issued loans to more than 300 institutions between August 2007 and April 2010, including over 100 loans of $1 billion or more.

While the Fed's loans likely helped to prevent a complete implosion of the global banking system, analysts say they fear the loans may have contributed to an atmosphere of complacency on Wall Street. Banks that received emergency cash infusions during the crisis may now believe the Fed will always be there to bail them out of trouble, the thinking goes.

"It is a classic case of moral hazard," Dimitri Papadimitriou, president of the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, told The Huffington Post.

The Federal Reserve itself had argued that the details of its emergency loans should be kept out of the public eye, claiming that the reputations of the firms involved could suffer if they were seen to be taking money from the government in order to stay afloat. Many of the banks that borrowed from the Fed had previously appealed to the Supreme Court to keep those records secret.

However, an invocation of the Freedom of Information Act forced the Fed to release more than 29,000 pages of documents, revealing the extent to which the financial sector relied on Federal Reserve dollars during the worst days of the crisis.

Given the extraordinary size of the loans, the public has a right to know what happened, said David Jones, an executive professor at the Lutgert College of Business at Florida Gulf Coast University.

"It's completely valid at some point to say, 'Who did the borrowing?'" Jones told The Huffington Post. "It was appropriate, under this special set of circumstances, to divulge the information."

Among the largest borrowers were Bank of America, which borrowed $91.4 billion; Goldman Sachs, which was in debt for $69 billion; JPMorgan Chase, which borrowed $68.6 billion; Citigroup, which borrowed $99.5 billion and Morgan Stanley, the biggest borrower of all, to which the Fed loaned $107 billion.

In addition, the Fed issued sizable loans to a number of foreign banks, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, which borrowed $84.5 billion; Credit Suisse Group, which borrowed $60.8 billion and Germany's Deutsche Bank, to which the Fed lent $66 billion. Nearly half of the 30 largest borrowers were European firms, according to Bloomberg News.

While the amount of lending that took place is remarkable, some argue that the Fed's error was not in issuing the loans, but rather in doing so without setting stronger policy reform conditions for the money.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told The Huffington Post that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke could have attached a "quid pro quo" to the emergency loans -- stipulating, for example, that the money would only come through if the banks agreed to do business in a less risky way going forward.

"This is the moment all the banks were on their backs," Baker said. "The Fed ran to the rescue and got nothing in return."

A previous disclosure in December found that the Fed issued $9 trillion in low-interest overnight loans to banks and other Wall Street companies during the crisis. The $1.2 trillion figure represents the peak amount of outstanding loans, which occurred on December 5, 2008, according to Bloomberg News.

Some critics contend that while the Fed was right to support the financial sector, the government didn't do enough to help ordinary citizens who were also seeing their wealth evaporate during the crisis.

Papadimitriou told The Huffington Post that the Fed issued many of its biggest loans during the Bush administration, and that "they didn't appear to have any difficulty supporting the financial sector, but very much difficulty supporting the real sector, households."

Consumer spending suffered and unemployment spiked in the wake of the financial crisis, and the economy remains weak today. Output is low, consumer confidence is down and millions are still out of work -- factors that have some economists worried about the possibility of a double-dip recession.

The TARP bailout, led by the Treasury, was the subject of much popular ire when it occurred, since it was seen as a case of the government throwing money at the financial sector at the expense of everyday Americans. Similarly, the Fed's $1.2 trillion in emergency loans were primarily aimed at keeping major financial institutions on their feet.

"One would assume banks are too interconnected, you have to help all of them," Papadimitriou said. "But if you take households in total, they are also all interconnected. They are also too big to fail."

Source: Huffington 

Attorney General of N.Y. Is Said to Face Pressure on Bank Foreclosure Deal

Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, has come under increasing pressure from the Obama administration to drop his opposition to a wide-ranging state settlement with banks over dubious foreclosure practices, according to people briefed on discussions about the deal.       

In recent weeks, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and high-level Justice Department officials have been waging an intensifying campaign to try to persuade the attorney general to support the settlement, said the people briefed on the talks.

Mr. Schneiderman and top prosecutors in some other states have objected to the proposed settlement with major banks, saying it would restrict their ability to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing in a variety of areas, including the bundling of loans in mortgage securities.

But Mr. Donovan and others in the administration have been contacting not only Mr. Schneiderman but his allies, including consumer groups and advocates for borrowers, seeking help to secure the attorney general’s participation in the deal, these people said. One recipient described the calls from Mr. Donovan, but asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.

Not surprising, the large banks, which are eager to reach a settlement, have grown increasingly frustrated with Mr. Schneiderman. Bank officials recently discussed asking Mr. Donovan for help in changing the attorney general’s mind, according to a person briefed on those talks.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Donovan defended his discussions with the attorney general, saying they were motivated by a desire to speed up help for troubled homeowners. But he said he had not spoken to bank officials or their representatives about trying to persuade Mr. Schneiderman to get on board with the deal.

“Eric and I agree on a tremendous amount here,” Mr. Donovan said. “The disagreement is around whether we should wait to settle and resolve the issues around the servicing practices for him — and potentially other A.G.’s and other federal agencies — to complete investigations on the securitization side. He might argue that he has more leverage that way, but our view is we have the immediate opportunity to help a huge number of borrowers to stay in their homes, to help their neighborhoods and the housing market.”

And Alisa Finelli, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department. said: “The Justice Department, along with our federal agency partners and state attorneys general, are committed to achieving a resolution that will hold servicers accountable for the harm they have done consumers and bring billions of dollars of relief to struggling homeowners — and bring relief swiftly because homeowners continue to suffer more each day that these issues are not resolved.”

Terms of the possible settlement under consideration center on foreclosure improprieties like so-called robo-signing and submitting apparently forged documents to the courts to speed up the process of removing troubled borrowers from homes. Negotiations on this deal have been led by Thomas J. Perrelli, associate attorney general of the United States, and Tom Miller, the attorney general of Iowa.
An initial term sheet outlining a possible settlement emerged in March, with institutions including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo being asked to pay about $20 billion that would go toward loan modifications and possibly counseling for homeowners.

In exchange, the attorneys general participating in the deal would have agreed to sign broad releases preventing them from bringing further litigation on matters relating to the improper bank practices.
The banks balked at the $20 billion figure. And the talks seemed to stall over the summer, as Mr. Schneiderman and a few other attorneys general — Beau Biden of Delaware and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, for example — questioned aspects of the deal.

Mr. Schneiderman began objecting a few months ago to the proposed releases barring future litigation, declining to participate as long as they were included.

“The attorney general remains concerned by any attempt at a global settlement that would shut down ongoing investigations of wrongdoing related to the mortgage crisis,” said Danny Kanner, the spokesman for Mr. Schneiderman. His office has opened several inquiries into mortgage practices during the credit boom.

Representatives for the four big banks declined to comment. Mr. Schneiderman has also come under criticism for objecting to a settlement proposed by Bank of New York Mellon and Bank of America that would cover 530 mortgage-backed securities containing Countrywide Financial loans that investors say were mischaracterized when they were sold.

The deal would require Bank of America to pay $8.5 billion to investors holding the securities; the unpaid principal amount of the mortgages remaining in the pools totals $174 billion. Lawyers representing 22 institutional investors, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, BlackRock and Pimco, contended that the deal was favorable.

This month, Mr. Schneiderman sued to block that deal, which had been negotiated by Bank of New York Mellon as trustee for the holders of the securities. The lawsuit contends that the deal could “compromise investors’ claims in exchange for a payment representing a fraction of the losses” experienced by investors and that it had been negotiated without the knowledge of all of the holders of the securities.

The lawsuit angered Bank of New York Mellon, and as Mr. Schneiderman was leaving the memorial service last week for Hugh Carey, the former New York governor who died Aug. 7, an attendee said Mr. Schneiderman became embroiled in a contentious conversation with Kathryn S. Wylde, a member of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York who represents the public. Ms. Wylde, who has criticized Mr. Schneiderman for bringing the lawsuit, is also chief executive of the Partnership for New York City. The New York Fed has supported the proposed $8.5 billion settlement.

Other investors in the Countrywide mortgage pools who were not part of the settlement talks between Bank of New York Mellon and Bank of America have called the terms inadequate.

Characterizing her conversation with Mr. Schneiderman that day as “not unpleasant,” Ms. Wylde said in an interview on Thursday that she had told the attorney general “it is of concern to the industry that instead of trying to facilitate resolving these issues, you seem to be throwing a wrench into it. Wall Street is our Main Street — love ’em or hate ’em. They are important and we have to make sure we are doing everything we can to support them unless they are doing something indefensible.”

Mr. Schneiderman declined to comment on the encounter.

Mr. Schneiderman has opened an investigation into Wall Street’s mortgage machinery, especially examining whether loan documents were provided to the trusts as required under securitization contracts.

The New York attorney general’s office has hired Lynn E. Turner, former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission, as a consultant on the investigations, people briefed on the inquiries said.

Damon A. Silvers, associate general counsel for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., is also serving as a special counsel on a pro bono basis. Both men declined to comment.

Source: New York Times 

New York Fed Director Kathryn Wylde Provokes Accusations Of Conflict Of Interest

NEW YORK -- A director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who is supposed to represent the public, has provoked criticism that she has a conflict of interest as she defends Wall Street against the state's top law enforcer.

Kathryn Wylde, deputy chair of the New York Fed's board, challenged state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's opposition to a proposed $8.5 billion settlement between Bank of America and a group of investors -- leaping to the defense of the financial industry -- according to remarks quoted Monday in The New York Times.

Wylde's day job is president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit that is funded by dues from its partner companies, which include the very banks involved in the talks to settle claims over hundreds of billions of dollars in soured home loans. This role compromises Wylde's ability to represent the public as a bank regulator, said research analyst Christopher Whalen, who, along with analyst Barry Ritholtz, called for Wylde to resign.

"I'm just appalled," said Whalen, who is managing director of Institutional Risk Analytics. "She is a public director of a Federal Reserve Bank, and she's not supposed to behave this way. She is not an advocate for the industry."

"If she wants to be an advocate for the big banks," he continued, "then she ought to step down."

Wylde, whose duty at the Fed is explicitly "to represent the public," said in an email that she is not a bank regulator, that she does not have a conflict of interest and that her role as a New York Fed director is "to provide input to the Fed on regional economic conditions." Despite the fact that the New York Fed itself regulates banks, its board does not, Wylde explained.

She noted that the companies involved in the mortgage settlement talks are just a few of the "several hundred" partner companies of the Partnership for New York City, adding, "They leave their institutional identities at the door and work with us on challenges facing the city and state." (Wylde has blogged for The Huffington Post.)

"Unlike Detroit, where the industry is cars, and Texas, where it is oil, in [New York State] the primary industry is finance," Wylde said in an email. "The people of New York all share in the suffering due to lost tax revenues and reduced economic activity when our major financial institutions are weakened. That is why support for these institutions, insuring balance in the discussion, is very much in the public interest in NY."

Wylde's compensation from the Partnership, whose partner companies include institutions that are regulated by the Fed, was more than $466,000 in 2009, according to a filing with the Internal Revenue Service.

Rules on the New York Fed's website state that directors like Wylde may not "be officers, directors, or employees of any private sector bank or bank holding company."

"The purpose of these rules is to ensure that Reserve Bank directors will be drawn from diverse backgrounds and that various viewpoints will be brought to bear," the rules say.

A spokesman for the New York Fed declined to comment.

Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, moved to block the Bank of America mortgage settlement earlier this month, claiming in court documents that another bank, acting as a trustee representing the investors, committed fraud.

The trustee, Bank of New York Mellon, knew the mortgage-backed securities created by Countrywide Financial, the lender that BofA acquired in 2008, were defective, but it essentially looked the other way and didn't inform investors, Schneiderman claimed. The deception that investors say was committed by Countrywide is only part of the story, according to the attorney general's court filing.

Schneiderman asked a judge to reject a settlement that BofA had reached with BNY Mellon this summer. The $8.5 billion prize would amount to less than 4 percent of the roughly $220 billion of unpaid principal that's still outstanding on the securities, according to a recent Bank of America filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The attorney general's court filing also noted that the job description of the state's chief law enforcer includes "protecting the economic health and well-being of all investors who reside or transact business within the State of New York."

Schneiderman's intervention surprised many in the financial community, who had expected the settlement to go through.

BNY Mellon called Schneiderman's allegations "outrageous, baseless, unsupported by fact and law." But for further comment at the time, the bank referred reporters to none other than Wylde. On Monday, a spokesperson for BNY Mellon declined to comment on why the bank did so.

A couple weeks later, Wylde encountered Schneiderman at a memorial service, The New York Times reported Monday.

Wylde told the attorney general, "It is of concern to the industry that instead of trying to facilitate resolving these issues, you seem to be throwing a wrench into it. Wall Street is our Main Street -- love 'em or hate 'em. They are important and we have to make sure we are doing everything we can to support them unless they are doing something indefensible."

A spokesman for Schneiderman declined to comment on Wylde's remarks. In response to the Times report, Ritholtz, who is chief executive of the quantitative research firm Fusion IQ, wrote a blog post calling for Wylde to resign.

"I do not know if Ms. Wylde understands what her proper role should be, but clearly she is somewhat confused," Ritholtz wrote. "She appears to be far more interested in representing the banks than the public."

Wylde disputed that characterization.

"The Fed really had nothing to do with any of this," she said in an email. "I jumped to the defense of an important NY employer and that is really the story."

The partner companies of the Partnership for New York City include BofA, BNY Mellon and BlackRock, which is one of the institutional investors involved in the mortgage securities case. The New York Fed is also one of the investors.

Other partner companies include Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase -- all of which are regulated by the New York Fed.

In May of 2009, a director of the New York Fed, Stephen Friedman, resigned from that board because of an appearance of a conflict of interest.

Friedman, who was also a director of Goldman Sachs, purchased shares in the investment bank even after a technical change in September 2008 placed the company under the Fed's regulation. Friedman had gotten a waiver from the Fed that allowed him to own Goldman shares.

But the existence of the waiver apparently wasn't enough to ease the public's concern. Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, called the stock purchases "deeply disturbing," according to a Wall Street Journal report at the time.

"I have been in compliance with the rules," Friedman said in a resignation letter, but "my public service motivated continuation on the Reserve Bank Board is being mischaracterized as improper."

"The Federal Reserve System has important work to do," he said, "and does not need this distraction."

Source: Huffington 

Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Arrests Mount As Climate Activists Push Obama

WASHINGTON -- Waving signs and chanting "Yes we can," scores of protesters were arrested outside the White House Monday as they called on the Obama administration to block approval of TransCanada's Keystone XL oil pipeline.

As of Monday night, 162 people had been arrested, detained and released. Organizers say more than 2,000 volunteers have signed up to participate in the sit-ins in shifts, which began over the weekend and are slated to run through Sep. 3. Dozens more are expected to be arrested Tuesday.

Frustrated by the president’s inability to get comprehensive energy and climate legislation through Congress, climate activists are pressuring Obama to take action on the proposed $7 billion pipeline project by refusing to sign-off on a permit for its construction.

If approved, the Keystone XL pipeline would pump 700,000 barrels of heavy crude from Canada's tar sands to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. For perspective: Obama recently released 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over a 30-day period.

Advocates of the pipeline say its construction will create jobs, while critics cite concerns over greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a history of leaks at an existing TransCanada oil pipeline known as Keystone 1.

The White House has emphasized that the decision to issue the permit rests with the State Department, which is expected to complete its review of the pipeline by the end of the year.

"The State Department is assessing the project on behalf of the federal government," said White House spokesman Clark Stevens. "That process is ongoing, including receiving important input from the public and stakeholders."

But author and environmentalist Bill McKibben said activists are holding Obama -- not Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- accountable.

McKibben said protesters "spent a lot of time talking about how one of the last times many of us had been sleeping on the floor was when we'd been out campaigning for Obama and how much we hoped that he would do something to remind us why we were so enthusiastic." McKibben spent two nights in jail after being arrested for civil disobedience on Saturday. "This time [Obama] has a clear shot to do it; we'll see."

The jail time came as a surprise to McKibben and others who expected to be fined $100, not detained for two nights in a cell.

Another protester released Monday was former Army Lt. Daniel Choi, who was previously detained after protesting the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

"It's a small price to pay now rather than a larger consequence in the future," Choi told HuffPost. "We're fighting just as we did with 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"

With Obama on vacation and the media focused on developments in Libya, some fear the demonstrations won't command much national attention. But McKibben insists the message will be heard.

"The people who've carried this fight for three years are indigenous people on both sides of the border who have a huge stake in it because it's on their land, and farmers and ranchers from places like Nebraska," he said. He called some of the protesters "Johnny-come-latelys," adding, "It wasn’t until I sat down and read Jim Hansen’s analysis of how much carbon was in those things that I understood that this was not just a national issue, it's a global issue of the first order."

Source: Huffington 

Welfare Reform Leaving More In Poverty

Sasha Mandel says she never imagined going on welfare. But her plans for a career and the independence she craved ran headlong into a pair of unforeseen developments -- an unplanned pregnancy at 18, and the worst job market since the Great Depression.

In April 2009, freshly unemployed and devoid of savings, Mandel reluctantly walked into a state office in Phoenix to apply for welfare. Her caseworker was sympathetic, swiftly arranging emergency food aid along with cash assistance. But she was also clear on the limits of that relief: Under the terms of Arizona’s welfare program, Mandel could draw a welfare check for no more than three years.

That timeframe was about to get shorter. This April, cash-strapped Arizona tightened the limit on welfare payments to two years. Mandel learned about the change when she received a letter from the state in June. She was only a few weeks away from exhausting her benefits.

“That letter," she said, "it just said to me that they decided to change the rules when the game for single mothers is already really, really hard."

Fifteen years after President Clinton joined with congressional Republicans and affixed his signature to a law that “ended welfare as we know it” -- imposing a five-year time limit on federal cash assistance for poor families, while allowing states to set shorter limits -- the social safety net is failing to keep pace with the needs of struggling Americans, many experts say. Millions of single mothers are falling through the cracks, scrambling to support their families with neither paychecks nor government aid.

Welfare reform, one of the hallmark events of the Clinton presidency, was supposed to be a healthy tradeoff: Single mothers who had grown dependent on government checks would instead go out and work. The federal government gave the states lump sums of money, known as block grants, to create programs that would prepare, prompt and push poor single mothers accustomed to living on welfare into the workforce, providing job training, resume-writing tutorials and subsidized child care.

But the time limits on cash aid were enacted in the mid-1990s, in the midst of one of the most vibrant job markets in modern times. Today, with nearly 14 million people officially out of work and jobseekers outnumbering available positions by more than four-to-one, the logic of those reforms is being overwhelmed by the reality of a stark shortage of paychecks, experts say.

“Today, everybody is expected to work,” said Sheila Zedlewski, an economist at the Urban Institute and co-author of an institute study released last week that examines the consequences of welfare reform during the recession. “The problem is finding a job is incredibly hard.”

Since the beginning of the recession in late 2007, the nation’s unemployment rate has increased by 88 percent, while welfare caseloads have grown just 14 percent, according to the Urban Institute report.

Experts say this disparity reflects the inadequacy of remaining welfare programs in the face of a veritable epidemic of joblessness. During a period of national distress, fewer and fewer people have been able to secure help to meet their basic needs, according to the report.

Between 2007 and 2010 -- just as the economy was contracting and joblessness was rising, generating greater demand for public assistance -- welfare caseloads dropped in 13 states, according to the Urban Institute report. In Arizona, which faced a particularly powerful blow to its finances in the form of a sustained plunge in housing prices, the welfare caseload dropped by 48 percent during that timeframe.

Many of those who advocated for ending welfare as an unlimited entitlement say the change has been beneficial -- the share of single, never married mothers in the workforce climbed from 62.9 percent in 1996 to 72.4 percent a decade later, according to federal data.

“Poverty rates are still lower and work rates still higher than before welfare reform,” said Ron Haskins, who played a key role in shaping the policy as a senior Republican congressional adviser, and who is now co-director of the Brookings Center on Children and Families. “In that sense, welfare reform has been a success.”

But as Haskins acknowledges, the reforms have never managed to address the barriers confronting a small subset of welfare recipients with very limited education, significant physical and mental health problems, or unhealthy children, preventing them from entering the workforce.

The share of people who both live in poverty with no reported income and lack welfare assistance has changed significantly since welfare reform. In 1996, 1 in 8 single mothers fit this profile, according to Zedlewski. By 2008, the most recent year for which this data is available, that figure had climbed to 1 in 5, she said.

In the early days after welfare reform, many states enacted stricter time limits, Arizona included, and beefed up programs offering subsidized child care -- a crucial component for single mothers required to work. The budget crisis assailing states has prompted many states to effectively roll back these programs.

States around the country are slashing cash benefits, reducing time limits and, in some cases, imposing strict work requirements on welfare applicants, said LaDonna Pavetti, an expert on welfare who works at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The practices also make it very hard for parents already dealing with a job crisis, a disability or other complications to qualify for cash aid, she said.

In the 2000s, states also began shifting federal funds that could be used for cash benefits for single mothers to cover other costs. Some of the money went to cover the cost of child care or transportation assistance. But large shares were also used to fund state child welfare agencies, which frequently don’t get all the resources they need from states.

In 1997, the first year the reforms took effect in most states, Georgia used 73 percent of its federal welfare block grant to provide cash aid to poor families, according to data the state reported to the federal government. By 2009, the most recent year for which complete data is available, Georgia spent just 11 percent of its block grant on cash aid. Spending in Florida, Texas and Arizona plunged by similar margins.

The impact of these cuts is easy to discern: Far fewer poor families are being given cash assistance. In 2009, Georgia and Texas each provided cash aid to less than 10 percent of poor families, according to the Urban Institute report.

"You have so many people who were pushed off welfare who didn't find work in the beginning, and today there are so many people who can't get welfare at all," said Peter Edelman, a Georgetown University law professor who resigned from a senior position in the Clinton administration to protest the President's decision to sign welfare reform into law. "As an anti-recessionary tool, welfare as we know it today is useless."

Edelman compares the paltry expansion of the nation's welfare rolls during the recession -- from about 3.9 million families in 2007 to about 4.4 million families in 2010 -- to what happened to the food stamp program. During the same time period, food stamp program participation rose from about 30 million households to 44 million, reflecting real levels of economic need.

"What we've done is make things worse," Edelman said. "There are now people who cannot find work, and who can not get welfare."


When Mandel walked across the stage at her high school graduation in Phoenix in the spring of 2008, she was walking into an economy that was already in the midst of a punishing downturn.

She soon managed to secure a receptionist job at a doctor’s office in a Phoenix suburb for $10 an hour. Getting there entailed riding the bus nearly two hours in each direction. But she was pleased to be employed; pleased to have what she considered a “good-paying job” for a person fresh out of high school.

Two weeks later, she found a second job in downtown Phoenix helping to organize fundraisers for a nonprofit that works with the disabled. It paid $9 an hour and involved its own hour and a half bus commute.

Mandel had survived what she described as an unstable childhood, which included a move from California to Arizona when she was 13 so that her mother could follow "some man." She spent her high school years living in a group home. The state placed her there after her mother was sent to prison, she said. (Mandel said she doesn’t remember the precise charge.)

Given that background, Mandel said she was particularly keen to establish her own household, and she was clear that money was something she was going to need. But two months after her high school graduation, Mandel found out she was pregnant. The baby’s father, her high school boyfriend, already had one child. The relationship ended before Mandel delivered. She is awaiting a court date at which she hopes he will be ordered to pay child support, she said.

In early 2009, physically drained by her long commute, she quit her suburban doctor’s office job to focus full time on her fundraising responsibilities in Phoenix. She took satisfaction in working with the disabled. But the recession took a toll on fundraising -- and in March 2009, she was laid off.

“I know they really liked me," Mandel said. "I really loved that job, but they couldn’t afford to keep me."

At the time, Mandel, who speaks in chirpy sentences punctuated by nervous laughter, was living in a drama-filled, crowded house just outside Phoenix, staying with a friend’s family. She was seven months pregnant and cognizant that competition for jobs was fierce. Yet she remained confident she would find a job.

But her spirits soon took a blow as she launched her search for work. At an interview for a restaurant job, her status as a single mother quickly emerged as a disqualifier, she said.

“The manager just told me, ‘Why would I hire you when I have like 10 people with college degrees and no children who want this job?’” she recalled. “’They aren’t going to need to leave when there is a problem with day care.’ That really opened my eyes. I didn't stop looking, but I kind of knew I might not find anything.”

Mandel applied for unemployment benefits. But as a part-time worker who had been with her past employer for less than a year, she did not qualify.

One morning in late March 2009, she went to a central Phoenix welfare office, waiting two hours for her turn to meet with a caseworker. Eight months pregnant, she lumbered into her caseworker’s paper-jammed cubicle and confronted a barrage of questions.

Where was she living? (By then, in a transitional homeless shelter.) How much money did she have in the bank? (None.) What had she done to try to find work? (Looked and looked, to no avail.) Who was the baby’s father? (A man who was working part time and could hardly pay his own bills.)

By the end of the interview, Mandel had a debit card that enabled her to immediately draw the electronic equivalent of food stamps. As far as the state was concerned, she was a woman in crisis.

The social worker explained that in a few weeks, she would begin receiving $210 per month in cash assistance.

“They told me that it would only last three years so I would have to use the time wisely,” Mandel said. “She was real clear about that.”

Since that warning, Mandel has been on so many interviews that she said she has lost count. Each one requires a bus trip -- usually half an hour or more -- or asking a friend for a ride. The sorts of jobs she is now willing to take have expanded: “Absolutely anything that’s legal and pays.”

She has had a few short-lived jobs. In the fall of 2009, Mandel secured a three-month internship with a local nonprofit helping other young people plan and execute their path to higher education. She was hired as a nanny, but two weeks later her employer lost his job and could no longer afford her time. She was nearly hired to work at a community center, but she failed the required math test.

Between jobs and failed job applications, Mandel has participated in job search and training programs assigned by her caseworker -- a requirement to keep her cash assistance and the day care voucher provided by the state of Arizona.

“I’d like to work," she said. "But it’s like, where are the jobs?”

When her welfare benefits ended in July, so did her child care voucher, putting her in the ultimate single mother catch-22: Without a job, she cannot afford child care, and without child care, how can she work?

Last week, Mandel skipped a job interview for the first time in two years because she was unable to arrange child care. Toddlers are not well received on job interviews, she said.

She was was busy moving into a new, low-cost South Phoenix apartment that the city helped her secure back when she still had her welfare benefits.

Keeping her apartment requires that she find a job in the next six weeks. She will need to cover her $468 monthly rent and her $72 cellphone bill, not to mention the cost of day care, bus passes and the inevitable clothing she has to buy for her growing 2-year-old daughter, Nevaeh.

“I’m not really sure what I can do,” she said. “I’m looking everywhere for an escape. Well, some kind of job."

Source: Huffington 

Congress Has an Answer for Public Wrath: Eliminate Town Halls

Congress' approval rating—currently 13 percent, according to Gallup—is at a historic low, and its disapproval rating, at 84 percent, is at a historic high. Many Americans eagerly awaited Congress' August recess so they could use town hall meetings and other public appearances to  give their elected officials a piece of their mind. There's just one problem: most of Congress isn't scheduling any town halls. None. Zilch.

The think tank No Labels called the offices of all 430 active members of Congress and found that 60 percent of them weren't scheduling town hall meetings. According to No Labels' analysis, more Democrats than Republicans are shutting themselves off from their constituents: 68 percent of Dems and 51 percent of Republicans hadn't planned a town hall during Congress' weeks-long summer break. (Click here to see if your representative or senator is planning a town hall or not.)

Not to be ignored, angry citizens, at least in one high profile district, have taken action to get some attention. Last week, a handful of unemployed constituents organized a sit-in in GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's office in Kenosha, Wisconsin, while 100 protesters picketed outside. Ryan in particular has drawn heaps of criticism for his plan to eliminate Medicare as we know it and refashion Medicaid into a state-based block grant program. In the end, Ryan's staff had police remove the protesters from the office, which was done peacefully.

Paul Ryan has made himself available during the recess—but for a price. That's right: Ryan and other lawmakers are now charging constituents to attend public events and ask them questions. Ryan wanted $15 a head. Rep. Dan Quayle (R-Ariz.), Politico reported, is charging $35 from attendees who want to ask him questions over a catered lunch at a Phoenix law firm. Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) also wants money—$10 a person—to attend an his event, which is hosted by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Why the ticket price? At the very least, it's a way to weed out the unemployed and financially burdened, who are also the most likely to give lawmakers an earful for the dismal state of the labor market and sluggish economic recovery. As Scott Page, a twice laid-off worker who participated in the sit-in inside Paul Ryan's office, told a local blogger, "I don't have $15 to ask Rep. Ryan questions, so I guess this is the only means I have to talk to him."

Full Article
Source: Mother Jones 

You Have the Right to Remain Silent…After Questioning

Anyone who has ever watched a cop show on TV knows how Miranda rights work. After a suspect is apprehended, the arresting officer alerts that person to his or her rights—specifically, the right to remain silent and the right to legal counsel. The warning protects suspects from incriminating themselves and the state from later introducing inadmissible evidence.

Easy enough, right? Well, it's never been that simple for immigrant noncitizens, whether they're legal permanent residents or undocumented. When noncitizens are arrested by, say, local law enforcement, they are read their rights like anyone else. But when they're picked up by immigration officers (Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents), there are separate but similar Miranda-like procedures those officials must follow.

At least, there used to be. On August 11, in a surprising and precedent-setting decision (PDF), the country's highest administrative tribunal on immigration decided that noncitizens arrested without a warrant do not need to be read their rights until after entering formal deportation proceedings—that is, until well after questioning by immigration officers. From the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision:
Until an alien who is arrested without a warrant is placed in formal proceedings by the filing of a Notice to Appear (Form I-862), the regulation…does not require immigration officers to advise the alien that he or she has a right to counsel and that any statements made during interrogation can subsequently be used against the alien.
The nonprofit American Immigration Council's Legal Action Center was quick to condemn the ruling. "This decision epitomizes the substandard system of justice that's been created and imposed on immigrants in the United States," said Melissa Crow, the center's director, in a statement. "The Board's ruling renders the advisals practically meaningless and makes immigrants less likely to remain silent when questioned and less likely to assert their right to counsel."

The case deals with a legal US resident from Guatemala who was caught by Border Patrol officers in 2004 trying to sneak his nephew into the United States. In the eight hours that passed between his arrest and the initiation of formal proceedings, the man "admitted that he knowingly used his son's birth certificate to try to smuggle his nephew into the United States." The man was ordered removed from the country, and the case was in appeals until the BIA handed down its ruling, deciding that the eight hours of detention did not qualify as the start of formal proceedings.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Crow said that both the timing of the ruling and the decision itself were unexpected. "To give you a criminal-case analogy, it would be like not receiving Miranda rights until indictment," she said, adding that while it was her understanding that the lawyer in the case was planning an appeal, "there's not a lot of wiggle room" at this stage in the process.

Bill Hing, a law professor at the University of San Francisco and a contributor to the ImmigrationProf blog, says that while the ruling is important, it might not change the reality for many noncitizens apprehended by ICE. "The truth is, even before the decision, the vast majority of people the Border Patrol or ICE believed to be deportable never got advisals of right to counsel," he says. "Most of the time it wouldn't make a difference. [Authorities] know the people have a criminal record or that they're undocumented."

But, Hing says, asking for counsel often means fielding fewer questions from immigration authorities. In some cases, then, an advisal at the time of arrest could make the difference between being deported and being released. "If they don't have enough information to prove you're deportable," he says, "they give you information about counsel, or they let you go." Without that advisal, detained immigrants are more likely to reveal incriminating information—and more likely to be deported.

Still, the decision has drawn little attention, and in a way, that makes sense. Few people understand the BIA, and last week was a big one for other immigration-related news: On Thursday, the Obama administration announced that it will review 300,000 pending deportation cases, and earlier in the week a federal judge ordered the release of hundreds of "embarrassing" emails that highlight the Department of Homeland Security's doubts about its controversial Secure Communities program.

Source: Mother Jones 

Youth Unemployment In Canada: New Model For Employment Centres May Be Leaving The Young Behind

Tracks, a non-profit employment centre in Collingwood, Ont., has always welcomed job-seekers of all ages. But in the past year or so, there is one group that hasn’t been showing up as often as they used to: youth.

It’s part of a broader trend that has reportedly seen employment services for youth reduced at a time when that demographic group stumbled into record-breaking joblessness levels. And critics say that part of the underlying issue is a change to government policy that has taken the focus off youth unemployment.

As Tracks executive director Roy Spiegelberg explains, the decline in the number of young people walking through the door -- which he estimates at about 20 per cent -- is due, at least in part, to an influx of adults.

All-encompassing surveillance or 21st-century citizenship?

It's time to re-imagine the role of both citizens and government. We need a future where governments are more permeable and where citizens are better equipped to govern themselves.

In many ways, the process to re-imagine citizenship and governance seems to be well underway. Citizens are newly empowered by online tools, and governments seem to be evolving in order to facilitate deeper civic participation. Sometimes, that process is expressed through enlightened governments opening their activities to the public, such as when the city of Vancouver adopted its openness motion. Other times, the catalyst for this change comes in the form of public pressure in reaction to a poorly thought-out government decision.

The latter appears to be at play concerning the Conservative Party's impending online spying legislation. I've written before about how the legislation, if passed, will allow a range of "authorities" to use the Internet (including mobile devices) to collect our private information without a warrant. For example, if you post something on a website that also houses a comment from someone a security agent is concerned about, your private data could be caught up a digital dragnet and entered into an Internet registry of private data.

Now, no one stands in Stephen Harper’s way

Jack Layton would have been the first person to calculate the political consequences of his passing, and those consequences are profound.

The most powerful voice championing a socially democratic future for Canada is stilled. The one person to meld, or at least paper over, the implacable contradictions within the NDP caucus is no longer there to listen, cajole and, when needed, knock heads.

Every party opposing Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in the House of Commons is leaderless, affording him the kind of political space for action that few prime ministers, if any, have enjoyed.
Someday, from somewhere, a voice will rise to challenge the Conservative hegemony. It could have been Jack Layton. But now it must be someone else.