Citizen Participation in Paterno and Banks Settle for Billions On Small Foreclosure Aid

Paterno    Every place is different whether town or country, but there’s something about waiting for a meeting to start in many countries that always feels the same.  My presentation in Paterno before the members of La Citta civic movement and many others who had been invited was scheduled for 7 pm.  I had been warned that we would not possibly begin until 730.  At 730 there were hardly 20 people inside visiting and smoking in the street.  When we finally began another 15 or 20 minutes later, most chairs were full and there were perhaps 40 as the president of La Citta introduced me.  By the time I started speaking at 8PM, there was a standing room only crowd, many of which finally had to stand behind me, and we might have squeezed 80 to 100 people into the room.  What do I know?!?

I made the case for citizens’ participation and the power organization and collective action could build, as I always do, citing examples from 40 years and experience around the world.  They were polite and attentive to the translation, and especially interested in what I argued was a unique opportunity that civic movements had to directly engage politics and access to the ballot in Sicily.  As always, it was the questions and answers that I enjoyed most, teaching me even as I got a better feeling for what was really on their minds.  They wanted to believe something was possible, but they were skeptical.  Paterno was a smaller city based on the agriculture all around them and they saw themselves under attack including by a new mall – Etnaopolis, I think it was called – on the outskirts of town that was squeezing small shops dry.  There was interest in our work in curtailing the growth of Walmart in Florida and our FDI Watch campaign in India. 

Access to banks, credit and loans are huge issues that I hear my friends talk about all of the time.  I was surprised when I mentioned our home mortgage and community reinvestment campaigns that there were not more questions about this.  I think this is more than skepticism and something more akin to cynicism now.  ACORN Italia or any future ACORN Sicilia will have to research this more thoroughly.

Some of our past victories against banks seem hollow as I read the headlines on the foreclosure settlement about to be announced by the government and driven by the hard work of the attorneys general in the states.  The number looks huge – $26 billion!  Unfortunately, it seems the relief for the borrowers who are “underwater” on their loans seems small compared to the huge number of families in this sinking boat.  Since the Obama Administration and the Treasury Department have been so weak and wimpy in this area, the AGs had little stroke in correcting past banking misdeeds to win more on writedowns, I suspect.  The relief to homeowners already screwed is mostly symbolic and almost an insult.  Some number of them will get $2000, but even that seems to be in payments over 3 years?!?  Are you kidding, $600+ a year for a couple of years hardly offsets having lost your home because of mortgage shenanigans from the big banks who are party to this play (Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citi, and so forth).  It is amazing how bad the banks have been in driving this recession, administering true and deep harm to families, being bailed out, and still largely getting away without huge consequences.  Meanwhile this new settlement, gives them a “get out of court free” card for future litigation.

I should feel lucky that people in Paterno didn’t ask me more questions about banks and credit.  I might have been embarrassed by the morning newspapers when they finally catch up on the 7 hour time zone change!

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Komen Continues and Whatever Happened to Assange?

Team ACORN Paterno Paolo Guarnaccia and Astrid V. Anselmi

Paterno     After days of heated discussions the leaders of La Citta finally saw that the sides might be divided on candidates for mayor but could be united on a democratic process for selecting the candidate.  Being able to put aside individual differences and preferences for the good of the entire movement is an important early test for organizational survival, especially under political pressure.  The meeting last evening ended early for a change and everyone left with a smile on their face rather than shouting last remarks.  These are all good signs.

Another good sign half-way across the world was the announcement of the resignation of the polarizing and controversial VP for public policy and former losing candidate for governor in Georgia and staunch anti-abortion campaigner and anti-Planned Parenthood advocate.  She left without either grace or surprise given the reversal of the defunding of Planned Parenthood under withering public pressure and outrage by women and some of their own affiliates.    It seemed important to her to say that the Komen Foundation was already moving on a Planned Parenthood ban before she came on the scene and took the job, and that, yes, she had advocated the defunding, but wanted to make sure everyone knew that every level of the organization had vetted and approved the decision all the way to the board and no doubt to the founder and CEO of the foundation.   

All of which just deepens the indictment of the Susan Komen Foundation and makes the case even more clear that the Georgian had been hired in all likelihood to take the right wing heat off of Komen, but then the deluge.  It seems clear that Komen is simply trying to shelter itself from the wind without any true core around its mission and means.  The founder spoke of learning lessons and recommitting to the mission to protect women, but I have to ask what that means at this point.  Out of $97,000,000 in grants to support women’s community health initiatives, $700000 to Planned Parenthood was already a paltry sum…less than 1% of the operation’s total funding.   When it comes to protecting women’s health, we all need an outfit that we can depend on come any weather, and Komen seems not to be ready to stand in the storm and take the gale.  The emerging organizations suggesting that there might be better ways and better places for donations to support women seem worth a good look.

There are other lessons here from the Planned Parenthood resistance to the defunding purges of the right and easily cowed liberals.  Outfits like Komen depend on the public as do corporations like Ford, which quickly distanced itself from the Komen mess.  If support for organizations unjustly attacked develops resistance, then those kinds of institutions and organizations are force to heel to some level of accountability.  More authoritarian, hierarchical and closed institutions like churches and private philanthropic foundations lack any accountability or transparency, so are immune to questions of fairness or justice when they desert organizations under scurrilous attack, like ACORN and others.  NPR might have support from the public but also depends on the government, and the ideological warfare in the halls of government is scorching the earth everywhere.  These are hard times.

And, hey, whatever happened to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, speaking of beleaguered operations.  I read a curious and contradictory interview in The Rolling Stone which made it virtually impossible to sort out if there was any future for the organization.  Assange jumped back and forth between coherence and a kind of conspiratorial, head over his shoulder attitude that couldn’t be helpful in saving the value of the operation.  Speculation is that his hearing in Britain was likely to result in his extradition to Sweden.  Not sure if there’s a future for this organization, no matter how valuable it has been around the world, if there’s no willingness to learn a way to communicate a better, clearer path to the future.

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