Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Torture victim fights for freedom

(We reprint the following article with the news of the arrest and indictment in Florida of John Burge, commander of Area Three Chicago Police Station where most of the torture took place for violation of civil rights.)

By Pepe Lozano

CHICAGO – Every day Mark Clements prays to God in his prison cell that one day he will be a free man. He has been incarcerated since 1981–27 years–for a crime he says he did not commit. A crime that Clements was brutally forced to admit to after Chicago police detectives beat and tortured a confession out of him. He was 16 at the time.

On June 17, 1981, at 2:00 a.m. a fire broke out in a south side building. Four people died as a result. Fire investigators determined it was arson. On June 25 police arrested Clements who was taken to a Violent Crimes Unit in what was then an Area Three Police Station where Clements says he was periodically chained to a wall and interrogated over 10 hours by four Chicago detectives who never contacted his parents.

Legally any minor under age 18 being interviewed by police must have a youth officer present. During his interrogation Clements says none were present until after he signed a confession. The law also requires that the parent or legal guardian of a juvenile be notified buy police when a youth is held. According to Clements the police never called his parents.

Clements affirms he was verbally abused with racial insults and suffered numerous beatings including to the genitals after which he made a false “confession” stating he set the fire.

During his trial Clements pleaded with the judge and said he was beaten and coerced into confessing and proclaimed his innocence. He told the judge that he signed the confession in order to stop the torture. At age 16, Clements was functionally illiterate.

At his trial Clements was assigned two public defendants who argued that Clements IQ was very low and that he did not understand his rights by signing a confession statement. Clements himself testified that he was tortured and although his lawyers tried to use his statements Clements and his supporters feel his lawyers at the time lacked the resources to press for a fair trial. His attorneys felt they could not corroborate his testimony on torture and the police would deny it.

There were no witnesses and no material evidence presented linking Clements to the fire throughout his trial. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to four life sentences plus 30 years.

The Burge connection

According to supporters of Clements and others like him the Chicago police under Commander Jon Burge from 1973-1991 brutalized most of at least 135 torture victims.

All the victims are African American males and their stories tell a consistent pattern of racial discrimination by the city’s police force. Electric shock to the ears and/or genitals, burning, suffocation, and mock executions were some of the most brutal forms of torture on these men who were beaten to sign confessions for crimes they say they did not commit.

Current Mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley served as Cook County States Attorney from 1980-1989 during the years Burge is being accused of leading such abuses as well as when Clements was tortured.

The Office of Professional Standards and the Police Federation issued reports recommending a thorough investigation on Burge and those under him in the early 1990’s. Burge was eventually fired in 1993 and till this day neither he nor any of the officers working under him accused of torture have faced criminal charges. Burge continues to receive a pension from the Chicago Police Department.

Edward Egan, a special prosecutor was appointed in 2002 to investigate the Burge accusations but after four years and seven million public dollars later he finally released a 292-page report confirming torture was evident. Two of the detectives who interrogated Clements have been named as people involved in torture under Burge in Egan’s report. Yet Egan refused to bring charges against Burge and others. Some feel Egan was biased because it was later revealed his nephew was a police officer under Burge.

Last year, the Cook County Board of Commissioners called for hearings of all the Burge victims including a federal prosecution of Burge and the determination that torture is a federal crime without a statue of limitations. The Illinois House of Representatives recently passed legislation to set up an innocence commission to review torture claims. The measure is currently in the Senate.

Meanwhile federal prosecutors led by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald are calling ten retired police officers before a grand jury to testify as to whether Burge and those under him obstructed justice by stating under oath that the Chicago Police did not use torture. If it is confirmed that such practices occurred, they and Burge could still be prosecuted on the federal level.

Before leaving office in 2003, former Governor George Ryan pardoned four of the Death Row 10, who said they were tortured under Burge, on the basis of innocence. Ryan commuted the sentences of the others to Life without Parole. All originally received death sentences and said confessions were beaten out of them, crimes they say they did not do.

In 2002 Attorney General Lisa Madigan was appointed as the lead prosecutor in the Burge torture cases. According to the Campaign To End The Death Penalty in Chicago at least 30 victims of torture remain behind bars based on false confessions. Madigan, they say, has the power to grant evidentiary hearings so that victims can present evidence of torture but she has not budged.

Clements side of the story

With the help of the prison library staff that noticed Clements was eager to be taught he learned how to read and write in prison. Very few prisoners have such opportunities today according to Clements supporters who say staff and collections at prison libraries have been slashed.

Today Clements continues to work tirelessly in seeking religious, community and legal support for a new trial in order to prove his innocence. Although Clements case has no direct relation to the Burge beatings, his case is currently on appeal in the Cook County Criminal Court and a legal team led by Timothy A. Nelsen is in his corner.

“I did not commit this crime,” said Clements in a written letter to this reporter. “I was not allowed to see a youth officer nor call my parents. I was beaten and tortured in my genitals twice inside a closet sized interrogation room. During the beatings I was called racist names,” said Clements.

“During the second beating and torture,” one detective said ‘since you like telling, tell this,’ as he beat me in my chest and stomach with his fist. He beat me in the thighs and shoulders and smacked me. He grabbed my private area and I cried and he squeezed really hard until I agreed to say what he wanted me to say to the states attorney.”

Clements said he told the states attorney what the detective told him to say because he was “scared he would return and beat and torture me.” Clements told the states attorney that he was abused but the states attorney “came in the room, took the confession and acted like I never told him what occurred to me.”

In his letter Clements adds, “It is very important to share this story and my fight for freedom. Why? I am one of the first Chicago police torture victims, but I had poor legal representation on the trial level and my lawyers did not interview one witness connected with this crime nor did they investigate the confession.”

“I was also found guilty because I was poor and did not understand the seriousness of the charges against me whatsoever. I believe had this been a teenager whose family had money he would not be in prison. I did no crime and I shake my head each day at how easy I was railroaded by a judge who is supposed to be honorable and fair. Where is the justice for the poor?” he asked.

“I do believe the criminal justice system discriminates when it comes to applying equal justice to the poor, African American and Latino men and women all over this country. I feel racism plays a role in over 60 percent of all cases in wrongful convictions and torture involving criminal suspects.”

Ted Pearson from National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression holds Mark Clements photo at July 18 rally in downtown Chicago. Pepe Lozano/PWW. Ted Pearson with the Chicago National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression is a friend and supporter of Clements and has been following his case closely.

Pearson said Clements legal appeal is moving forward and that his lawyers are making gains including doing a new and improved finger print analysis on the crime evidence. Recent court orders were also granted to Clements legal team in getting access to all documents of the case including information on the whereabouts of alleged witnesses who spoke with detectives at the time.

Clements story “indicates that these torture methods and beatings shows it was an on-going practice in the police department at the time and some argue it still happens today,” said Pearson.

“If police can beat a confession out of you then you don’t have any rights at all and nobody is safe when they can do this,” added Pearson. “It’s really a violation of our rights and they continue to get away with it.”

Meanwhile victims of police torture are behind bars, most of them innocent and African American, while police officers receive pensions collecting retirement, said Pearson.

In low-income communities where financial resources are poor and recreational programs for youth are limited including the lack of jobs, many residents throughout the city see the police as another form of oppression at times. Stories of torture and police brutality cases make many communities fear their presence and unfortunately taints the entire police department as community-wide suspicion grows. In the end as more and more police abuse cases emerge it makes it even harder for the police to work with and gain the trust of communities in order to confront crime.

“Our position is if a person was convicted based on a confession obtained through violence, torture or the threat of violence, they should have a new trial,” said Pearson. “Such confessions should never be allowed into evidence. In many of these cases there is no other evidence, and the victims of such abuse will be exonerated. The state would not try them again,” added Pearson.

Pearson hopes Congress will continue to issue federal restrictions on local police torture and hold such actions in legal contempt. Police accountability is extremely important and we need to restore confidence in the police who work in our communities, said Pearson.

The toll on all

Dozens of activists, community leaders and family members of prisoners who say they were tortured into making false confessions rallied in front of Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s downtown office, July 18, urging her to issue new trials for the wrongfully convicted including Mark Clements.

Exonerated Illinois death row inmate and leader with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty Darby Tillis addressed the crowd. “I know what it is to linger in a cell,” he said. “I spent 19 years on death roll and it’s a living hell.” Tillis added, “I’ve been beaten by police, kicked, knocked down and hit with a 357 magnum. These victims are human beings and like anyone else it’s time we get some justice.”

It is hard to say how many families in all throughout Chicago suffer the realities of police abuse especially with new cases everyday. But it is certain that dozens of families are fighting for their loved ones freedom including Clements’ mother. She is known as his biggest supporter and a long time activist who continues to fight for his innocence. Even despite her personal and bitter struggle against cancer she hopes to see the day where her son will be released. And in the end over time the physical and mental fight for freedom takes a heavy toll on the entire family of torture victims.

Mary L. Johnson was also at the rally representing her son Michael Johnson who has been in prison for 10 years “I’m doing time right along with my son, and I don’t want to see another mother go through what I have been going through,” said Johnson to the crowd. “As long as there is injustice we will be struggling and we will continue to fight,” she said.

In the meantime behind bars is Mark Clements who enjoys reading and says he stays busy working on civil rights and community issues and attends wrongful conviction meetings. He also leads a 30-minute segment on a Christian AM radio program hosted by his church.

“Change is coming,” says Clements. “I have suffered and I have paid my dues.”

Clements says he wants troubled kids in low-income urban neighborhoods to know about his story and his struggle.

“I want them to know the system will lock them up innocent or guilty, they don’t care,” said Clements.

Clements, who has spent his whole adult life in prison, hopes one day he will be a free man and get his life back.

Pearson and his group are encouraging supporters of Clements to write or call the office of Richard A. Devine who is the Cook County States Attorney at 2650 S. California, Chicago IL, 60608 (11th floor) or (773) 869-6209 and demand that he stop opposing the possibility for a new trial for Clements and other torture victims.

plozano @pww.org
August 18, 2008

Vote NO on Constitutional Convention!

The Communist Party of Illinois joins with the entire state labor movement and many education and advocacy organizations (http://protectillinoisconstitution.org/why.html) to recommend a NO vote on the Constitutional Convention.

Certainly there is a temptation to act because of frustration with the current legislative gridlock and the many things in the state constitution that are unfair and unjust. But opening the state constitution to a rewrite at this time opens the labor led people's movement to big dangers.

1. The same forces guiding the political process today in Springfield will likely dominate the crafting of a new constitution, resulting in the same infighting and potential domination by corporate interests and machine interests. The process will be opened for big business, corporate and other anti-labor forces and single issue organizations to sow confusion and change things they have been wanting to for some time.

For example state pension system, right to work legislation, etc.

2. Changes can be made to the constitution through an amendment procedure. In fact some groups already are discussing submitting an amendment to change the state tax system so education funding can be more equitable. This requires continuing to build the labor led movement to elect more progressive elected officials to the state legislature and governorship to make the necessary changes.

3. The process will be quite time consuming and costly - estimated at $80 million and stretching over a couple of years.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Chicago budget crisis - take it from the rich!

By John Bachtell

Here's a few random thoughts about Mayor Daley’s proposals to deal with the $469 million Chicago city budget deficit, the worst budget crisis in 20 years.

First, I think the budget crisis is real and will get worse given the deepening economic crisis, including the record jobless figures announced Oct. 1. I agree with his estimate that this crisis will last for several years.

Mayor Daley acts as though Chicago is in a bubble. But Chicago is not alone in this crisis, and cities, counties and states across the country are in the same dire straits. But this is a crisis that could be solved were economic and spending priorities at every level different.

Secondly, every single funding or program cut and tax or fee increase Daley proposes impacts working families. The 1,080 layoffs and decision to not fill another 1,346 vacant city jobs will severely impact city services, especially streets and sanitation.

I’m not one who believes you can provide the same level of services when you fire nearly 2,500 workers. No amount of “efficiencies” can overcome that hurdle, unless of course you mean doing away with privatization and the skimming inherent with it. The well-timed Daley tirade against some sanitation workers who were found goofing off is a cover to convince the public the cuts won’t make a difference. Then there are the padded payrolls with friends and contractor cronies of Daley.

The cuts in services come at a time when we should be demanding an expansion of services to residents and we need far more money for that.

Every proposed fee increase – downtown parking tax, sporting event tickets, overdue library books, ambulance fee increases, residential guest parking permits, more cameras to catch drivers who run red lights, slapping the Denver boot on cars with two tickets – will impact working families more heavily.

In addition we will be paying more for a ride on the CTA. And basic costs are skyrocketing for education, health care, housing and food.

Our schools are severely under funded (we parents are expected to spend a lot of time fund raising from each other and pay school fees in a growing instances); our roads, bridges and public transit systems are in dire need of repair and will cost billions to fix.

What I was waiting to hear from the Mayor was an announcement he was abandoning the neo-liberal policies of privatization, forced gentrification and tourism as the economic engine that he’s been foisting on the city as a model of economic growth. It’s a loser and has gotten working class neighborhoods into a fine mess, but it’s made a few people very rich.

I was waiting for one word about sacrifice by the immensely wealthy of our city – the huge corporations, including the Board of Trade and the Mercantile Exchange. I’m still waiting and since the powerful corporate forces have Daley in their hip pocket, I suspect I’ll be waiting a long time.

Thirdly, nickling and diming working class residents who are already drowning in bills will, not solve this budget crisis and the one faced by the state. The costs to run the city are too steep, and rising. It will just force working families to cut back on something else.

There are some ideas to take some money from the Midway or Skyway privatization schemes and the TIFF accounts. I'm all for that. But I don’t think it will be enough.

The budget crisis will be overcome by reordering national spending priorities so our cities and states get an infusion of badly need funds. And we can only do that by ending the Iraq war, cutting wasteful military spending and taxing the wealthy and big corporations.

Mayor Daley and every elected official ought to be leading a movement to join with states and municipalities across the country to demand emergency aid for our cities from the Washington DC.

In addition, Daley should lead the fight for a new national economic recovery act to radically expand the purchasing power of working people, a recovery act whose centerpiece would be a jobs program to create millions of new jobs rebuilding our infrastructure and opening our closed factories by manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels, etc. That would bring in a lot more tax revenues.

Daley ought to be leading the charge for raising the minimum wage and a living wage. That would be good penance for vetoing the Big Box Living Wage Ordinance, which would have lifted the wages of all big box workers. Instead the Mayor sided with Wal-Mart to drive down wages. This would have provided millions more in annual spending in the city.

Daley ought to be getting on the buses like thousands of other trade unionists and Chicago residents and go to the swing states to turn ‘em blue! That will be the first step in getting a new national economic recovery act passed and ending the Iraq War.

Daley out to be demanding the rich and corporations pay more in taxes. But Daley won’t.

Daley ought to, but Daley won’t since his policies are driven by big business. It’s up to the rest of us to fight for a way out of this crisis that puts the onus on them.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bravo, Sheriff Tom Dart!

Chicago - Bravo Sheriff Tom Dart! The Cook County sheriff stood up for justice and morality by announcing he would no longer enforce evictions on behalf of global banks and the mortgage industry. “That’s not part of our job,” he says.

It’s the sheriff’s office and courts that do the dirty work of the finance corporations when they make business decisions to clear out families from an apartment or house from some faraway corporate headquarters so they can put the property on the market again.

These are the same corporations that committed massive fraud and criminality by duping many of the same homeowners into mortgages they knew buyers couldn’t pay. They made off like bandits and ought to go to prison for it.

Recently Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced a settlement with Bank of America and Countrywide Financial that would allow tens of thousands of residents to stay in their homes. The suit had been brought on behalf of Illinois and California and 9 other states.

The settlement allows for a cap on mortgage payments at 34% of income and reducing interest rates and adjusting principal so borrowers don’t lose equity under their payment plans. Interest on some of the riskiest loans could be reduced to 22.5% a year.

Dart’s action comes as foreclosures in Chicago hit a record. The October 9 Chicago Tribune reported, “In Cook County, foreclosures are expected to reach a record high of 43,000 this year, compared with 18,916 in 2006. The sheriff's office is on pace to conduct 4,500 foreclosure-related evictions, compared with less than half that number in 2006. About one-third of those are rent-paying individuals.”

One of the problems, as Dart explained it, is one-third of evictions are being carried out against families who are renting in buildings that have been foreclosed on. The families have been paying their rent on time, but never receive notices of the impending eviction. Dart says the global banks don’t care if they are throwing families with children, disabled or senior citizens out on the street.

We need more of our elected officials to stand up to corporate corruption, criminality and greed, including the judges who issue the evictions in the first place. A moratorium on all home foreclosures would be a good start.

Cook County Sheriff: I won't enforce evictions

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced that his office would no longer evict tenants who have paid their rent to landlords under foreclosure. The action made national news. His statement is below:

As Cook County sheriff, I am responsible for running a 10,000-inmate jail, providing patrols to unincorporated areas and securing the courts.

But perhaps no part of our job is as difficult as the work done by our eviction units. On any given day, our deputies could be asked to throw a family out of their home, with all of their possessions left on a curb -- sometimes pilfered through by those living nearby.

Where mortgage firms see pieces of paper, my deputies see people.

Yet no matter how difficult they are, evictions are part of our job.

What isn't part of our job, however, is to carry out work on behalf of the multi-billion-dollar banks and mortgage industries.

Too many times, our deputies arrive at a home to carry out a mortgage foreclosure eviction, only to find a tenant -- dutifully paying their rent each month -- who is unaware their landlord stopped using that rent money to pay the mortgage. They had no fair warning that they were about to be thrown out of their home.

That's because, in many cases, the banks have done nothing to determine, in advance, who's living in the building -- even though it's required by state law. Instead, those banks expect taxpayers to pay for that investigative work for them.

That stops today.

We won't be doing the banks' work for them anymore.

We won't surprise tenants with an eviction order intended for their landlord.

I may be held in contempt of court over this. If that's the case, I'm willing to accept it though I believe most judges in Cook County share my desire to find a solution for this mess.

We're asking either the state courts or Legislature to order the banks to simply conduct very basic work before requesting an eviction.

I've come to this point after spending the last year trying to work with the banking industry, even asking the Legislature to pass a bill requiring them to -- at a minimum -- let us know if any children, disabled or senior citizens live at the home, so we can connect them with social services. That effort was killed by banking industry lobbyists.

Until the banking industry steps up and does the right thing, I won't continue to risk violating the law and open taxpayers to further liability.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Obama campaign shakes up Indiana

By John Bachtell
October 8, 2008

(a version of this article appears in the People's Weekly World)

Hammond - John McCain’s in real trouble. The state of Indiana which has not voted Democratic in a presidential election since 1964 and which George Bush won by 18% in 2004, is suddenly a battleground. Most recent polls show the race with Sen. Barack Obama a toss-up.

The dramatic shifts in voter sentiments here, especially among white working class voters are a microcosm of the changes sweeping the country. Dissatisfaction is running high with state unemployment at 6.4%, a 16 year high. The heavily industrialized north and cities across the state have experienced plant shutdowns. Rural poverty is growing and foreclosures widespread.

The mounting anger against Republican policies was already reflected in 2006, when Democrats captured three traditionally Republican held Congressional seats. And there is a tightening race between incumbent Republican Governor Mitch Daniels and Democrat Jill Long Thompson.

Grassroots election activity has generated an estimated 700,000 new voters to the rolls. Over 26,000 new registrants were added in heavily Democratic Lake County since the May primary alone. Some are predicting a record turnout of the 4.4 million voters.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 has registered over 6,200 new voters since the primary. As Northwest Indiana Division Director Alice Bush told the World, “It’s too late for McCain to expand his electorate. He did nothing to register new voters. He’ll have to rely on the old Republican base. It’s too late now to start.”

With a close outcome predicted voter turnout could be decisive. Here Obama has the advantage. McCain had taken Indiana for granted and been all but invisible until recently. He had no field offices, was relying on county and state Republican Party organizations and wasn’t advertising on television or radio. Now he’s scrambling to shift resources into the state.

Obama on the other hand has been steadily building a grassroots organization since 2007. “(He) was committed to Indiana from the beginning,” state Obama coordinator Jonathan Swain told the Chicago Tribune. “Meanwhile, Republicans have really taken this state for granted.”

The Obama campaign has 32 field offices and an army of volunteers including hundreds flocking in each weekend from Illinois. They are organizing precinct by precinct. Campus towns are abuzz with activity. The contested primary fight between Obama and Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton spurred incredible excitement and grassroots organization, including new voter registration. The campaign never ceased operation.

In desperation the McCain campaign has turned to voter suppression. A massive voter role purge of 2006 followed a new onerous voter ID law, since upheld by the US Supreme Court requiring one government issued photo ID to vote. The GOP also went to court to block the opening of multiple early voting sites in heavily Democratic Lake County.

The Obama campaign is also benefiting from an unprecedented mobilization of the state labor movement. The Indiana State Federation of Labor is carrying out an ambitious plan to reach the 400,000 union members and their families before Election Day. They identified 30,000 unregistered union voters and tried to register them all.

As union members were gathering around a pickup truck before their weekly canvass in Valparaiso, Jeff Chidester, Financial Secretary of Ironworkers Local 395 was quoted in the Indiana AFL-CIO Blog as saying,

"We're walking because these candidates stand strong with the union movement, and working Hoosiers. We need to let our members know who the good guys and the bad guys are when it comes to their pocketbooks. And when they receive the necessary information, we'll see the difference in November- but more importantly after November."

Paul Raush (USW Local 9231), is scheduling walks throughout Northwest Indiana up until the election and says, "We're hosting labor walks, phone banks, we're sending local union mail- we're making sure our members have every opportunity to get the information they need to protect their jobs and their livelihoods in November!"

In Hammond and other municipalities, teachers are walking the neighborhoods around the schools. They are speaking to the parents of their students to make sure they vote.

SEIU in Lake County has fielded 100-150 members on the street each weekend registering voters. They’re shifting gears to get residents to vote early. William Bates a retired Gary school worker and executive board member of SEIU Local 73 has been campaigning daily since before the May primary. He was part of the Heroes Campaign for Kerry in 2004 and told the World,

“We’ve been registering voters the last two months, mainly in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago but also in South Bend. We’re getting a very good response, including in South Bend.

For Obama to win, heavily unionized and Democratic Lake County, including the large African American population of Gary, will especially need to turnout in record numbers.

“There’s a lot of excitement. A lot of people that we’ve registered, if they turn out and vote it’ll make a difference. We are going door to door now making sure they do,” said Bates.

On October 4 some 500 volunteers turned up to canvass Hammond and East Chicago and knocked on nearly every door. According to canvassers, Obama is getting a strong response in the white and Latino working class neighborhoods in Hammond and East Chicago, with positive responses running at least three to one. Even in more traditionally conservative areas like the majority white working class suburb of Indianapolis, Fishers, Obama is drawing strong support. Bush carried Hamilton County by a huge margin in 2004.

The Obama campaign is expecting a real dogfight between now and November 4. Regardless of the outcome, Indiana will never be the same.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Midway Airport privatization - another rip-off of the public

By John Bachtell
Without much public discussion, the Daley Administration is set to privatize Midway Airport for $2.5 billion. The new operators will be Midway Investment and Development Co., a consortium of transnational corporations – Vancouver based YVR Airport Services that operates several large airports, Citi Infrastructure Investors, an arm of Citi Bank and John Hancock Life Insurance. The deal requires the approval of City Council, which meets next week.

Midway will be the first airport privatized in the US under a program initiated by Congress in 1996. About 100 airports are privatized around the world with about 12 global corporations competing for the spoils.

Unless stopped this will be a rip-off of a huge public asset and is an example of cutting off your nose despite your face. It begs the question - should public assets be used for the common good or sold off to then become instruments to maximize profits?

Privatization and gentrification have long been the Daley administration’s answer to economic development. It is a neo-liberal free market economic model applied to local development. Daley has plowed ahead with privatization of public schools, the Chicago Skyway and downtown public parking garages.

The economic pressures on Chicago are immense. Tax revenues are nose-diving in the current deepening economic crisis and are expected to worsen. Chicago, like most states and municipalities are facing immediate and long-term budget crises. The 2009 city budget is $450 million in the red and the city will layoff over 1,000 city workers to close the gap.

In addition the city pension fund is $10 billion under funded. Pension obligations of $475 million are 15% of the city’s operating budget, a situation also shared by states and municipalities across the country. It’s not clear to what extent city finances will be harmed by the meltdown on Wall Street.

Chicago is also burdened by continued airport financing, including general maintenance and upgrade to both Midway and O’Hare airports and public massive outlays that will be needed for the possible Olympics here in 2016.

Daley made the decision to get quick upfront cash to pay down the debt. Unfortunately in doing so he's selling off the future for the present. He is creating the conditions for worse economic problems, for a bigger budgetary hole future administrations will have to deal with.

Mayor Daley boasts the city will receive $2.5 billion for the 99-year lease to Midway Investment. But after covering a $1.3 Midway airport debt, the city will pocket only $1 billion, $450 million of which will go to the city pension fund and $450 million for infrastructure. That leaves $100 million left over.

The private firms who took over the airport will pocket annual airport revenues that topped $130 million in 2006. Over a 99-year span this would amount to $13 trillion in revenues. It is claimed the city doesn’t get anything out of Midway revenues. But if this were true why would a transnational corporation seek the deal?

That’s just for starters. Midway will no longer be a public asset whose main purpose is to provide a service to the public (aside from the private airline corporations that use it). It will now become a private asset whose purpose is to generate maximum corporate profits. To generate maximum profits, Midway Investment will be compelled to raise revenues and or cut costs.

Contrary to the claim that privatizing public assets creates greater efficiency of operation, the experience here and around the world has been the opposite. Privatization has led to rising fees and decline in service. The experience with most airport privatization in Europe hasn’t been pretty. In addition to skyrocketing prices in nearly every airport, the Campaign for Public Ownership in Britain states,

“(The nation’s) privatized airports are a national disgrace, with BAA preferring to fill space with retail outlets instead of providing adequate seating for passengers. At Heathrow’s new Terminal 5, there will be only 700 seats for an average of 80,000 passengers a day when it opens in March 2008.

“In their relentless quest for increased profits, privatized companies have not only consistently raised prices above inflation, but have cut back on their workforce and failed to adequately invest for the future. Short-term profiteering has replaced long-term investment, gravely affecting Britain’s long term economic prospects.”

As the Chicago Sun Times Lewis Lazare notes, “Anyone who has traveled through London’s busy, privatized Heathrow Airport in recent years may have gotten a taste of the future at Midway, if YVRAS and its partners do what they must to make money.
“One can barely turn around in any of Heathrow’s public departure lounges without bumping into one of the vast number of retail spaces – large and small – that have been stuffed into a finite space.”

While the Midway deal includes a cap and freeze on gate charges to airlines for six years, once that period is over those fees will begin to increase. The fees will be passed along to the flying public. In addition the price of everything at Midway – from food to parking fees will increase.

Midway investment will be forced to jam more flights into the airport, increasing congestion and noise, a prospect that troubles the surrounding community. In addition, while the deal includes agreements with the labor unions representing Midway workers, expect efforts to cut the workforce and services to the bone, speed up workers and reduce wages and benefits.

One can also expect pressure from the transnational corporations for additional governmental subsidies in various forms. For example a privatization law that passed the Illinois legislature in 2006 guaranteed property tax exemptions on Midway Airport to the new investors!

To see what privatization may mean for Midway one only has to look at what is projected for the Chicago Skyway, where the city received $1.8 billion from global corporations in return for a 99-year lease. Tolls have risen 50% since 2004. Parking at Millenium Park Garage has risen 31% since it was privatized (to Morgan Stanley) in 2006. Meanwhile city finances continue to decline.

What a sweet deal for the corporations, but it's no answer for the public!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Latinos: Now is the time to vote

By Pepe Lozano
People's Weekly World
Oct. 2, 2008

Latino groups and Spanish-language media companies are conducting a national campaign called “Ya Es Hora, Ve Y Vota,” which means “Now is the time, go and vote,” giving eligible voters tools to register online and telling them how to locate where they’re supposed to vote in November. One group, impreMedia, recently distributed nearly 1 million voter registration cards in seven states with large Latino populations. The media firm inserted 990,500 voter registration cards into its publications Sept. 26-30 in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas.

Organizers have been leading voter registration and education programs in Latino communities, explaining to people why it’s important to vote. The groups’ message will be broadcast on radio and television spots by media giant Univision Communication and Entravision Communications.

The campaign began two years ago in the aftermath of the massive nationwide demonstrations when millions of people marched in the streets for the rights of undocumented workers and immigration reform. The coalition emerged in order to engage Latinos and immigrant families in the electoral process. It promoted citizenship and aimed to register 1 million Latinos.

A record 1.4 million people applied for naturalization last year, bringing to life the immigrant rights slogan, “Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote.”

The campaign is leading get-out-the-vote drives throughout the U.S. as deadlines for voter registration are fast approaching.

“We have been mobilizing the Latino community especially after all the marches for immigrant rights in 2006,” said Laura Anduze, National Council of La Raza spokesperson and coalition leader in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

“We want to explain to people and especially legal residents in the Latino community about how important it is to become a legal citizen, to register and practice their right to vote,” she said.

“It’s important to convince Latinos to vote in order to increase our participation and express our voice on Election Day,” added Anduze. “We vote on issues that are important to us like housing, education and immigration,” she noted. A lot of immigrant parents are voting for the first time and hope to see the passage of the Dream Act in the next administration so that their children have equal opportunity to attend colleges and universities, she said.

The Latino community continues to fight against discrimination and for the rights of undocumented workers today, especially with the anti-immigrant rhetoric, said Anduze. “We need to continue to become a united constituency to get our voices heard. Our vote can ultimately swing this election.”

The group has launched a hip website targeting new citizens and especially young Latinos, bloggers and video makers — www.yovotare.org — which is serving as a one-stop portal to connect Latinos in voter registration efforts, provide voter information and education tools and increase turnout in November. People can also register online at www.naleo.org or call a bilingual voter information hotline at 1-888-Ve-Y-Vota.

“New voters are really the hope of this election and everybody knows it,” said Anduze. “Young people in the Latino community are really excited about this historic election and they are the ones who translate that information back to their Spanish-speaking parents and families.” And given the economic crisis, people are going to pay close attention to what McCain and Obama have to say, she added.

“So if you’re not registered to vote yet, please take two minutes to fill out the form and register and make sure you make your voice heard on Nov. 4,” Anduze said.

According to census figures only 47 percent of Latino voters turned out in the 2004 presidential election, compared with 60 percent of African Americans and 67 percent of non-Hispanic whites. This year a record-breaking turnout of more than 9 million Latino voters is expected, compared with 7.6 million in 2004.

Other groups involved in the “Now is the Time” campaign include the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, We Are America Alliance, the Naleo Educational Fund, Mi Familia Vota Educational Fund and Democracia U.S.A.

plozano @ pww.org