Tuesday, December 30, 2008

End corruption - take corporate money out of politics

The brazen corruption of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is detestable. But some would ask - what's the big deal? Chicago is renowned the world over for corruption by machine politics, gangsters and moneyed interests. Corruption is rampant in US politics and is "American as apple pie."

The larger issue then is the unregulated corporate money that has corrupted politics generally in the state government and that gave rise to the “pay to play” system. Without a change in that system there will be more George Ryan’s (previous governor now in prison) and Blagojevich’s.

That system is one of unregulated campaign finances, in which those seeking state contracts or jobs (the pay to play) are able to contribute without restriction. Illinois is one of only six states — along with Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Virginia — that has no limits on contributions. Nearly all states and the District of Columbia impose some restrictions on the size of campaign contributions, and most ban direct giving.

Some have tended to focus on the large contributions of a few unions. But the overwhelming source of money given to Blagojevich is from private corporations and wealthy individuals.

Blagojevich raised $58 million in eight years – the most ever by a candidate for governor. The Chicago Tribune said 75% of 235 contributions for $25,000 came from people or organizations that had received favors from Blagojevich, such as contracts, board appointments, favorable policy positions and regulatory actions.

The Sun-Times said 20 companies gave a combined $925,500. These firms were paid or had contracts for $365 million by state government.

In her testimony to the Illinois House Special Investigative Committee, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform director Cindi Canary said, “Illinois places no limits on the size of campaign contributions and no restrictions on the transfer of money between committees.

“Instead of limits and restrictions, Illinois requires only disclosure. If a public official wants to leverage governmental authority to generate campaign contributions or if a private party wants to use campaign contributions to influence a public official, Illinois’ campaign finance law does nothing to prevent attempts at corruption.”

ICPR supports HB 3497 (Osterman-Coulson), which would create a system of limits for all candidates, parties, and PACs for all state and local offices in Illinois.

A new Ethics Law, while limited, will go into effect in 2009 to curb “pay-to-play” deals. The law will prohibit companies that do business with the state from giving money to state officers who oversee their bids or contracts. This is the law, which President Elect Barack Obama strongly urged State Senate President Emil Jones to support, and which Blagojevich opposed. There is strong speculation that Blagojevich had been rushing to collect large donations before the law went into effect, and the “auctioning” of the US Senate seat was part of that effort.

Ultimately what's needed is a system of publicly financing of all elections - federal to state to local.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Statement on Gaza by Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (Jewish Peace Group)

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Who among us has not watched in alarm and anguish as the crisis has unfolded in Gaza and southern Israel over the past two days? Close to 300 Palestinians have died and hundreds more are wounded -- both Hamas militants and ordinary citizens. More than 120 rockets have been launched into Israel, with one man killed.

Though some Israeli action is an understandable response to continued rocket fire from Hamas, and the idea of contained surgical strikes may be compelling, these airstrikes represent a huge escalation of the conflict -- a crisis that may end in a wider war in which many more Palestinians and Israelis die in the weeks to come.

The now familiar sequence of escalating mutual hostility, invasion, and withdrawal without security arrangements has never worked -- in Lebanon, the West Bank, or in Gaza itself. The United States and the entire world community must intercede to help reestablish a ceasefire, put an end to rocket attacks on Israel, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Brit Tzedek calls on President Bush to initiate an international effort aimed at negotiating an immediate ceasefire. Such a ceasefire must halt all attacks from both sides and allow humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

Further, we call on President-elect Obama to make clear that he will, as President, urgently assert US leadership to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.

Today, black smoke spirals over Gaza as the hospitals fill with the wounded. Israelis stay close to bomb shelters and 7000 reservists get ready for a possible ground assault. If the international community fails to swiftly establish a durable peace, the consequences will be dire. The current hostilities in Gaza may be only the beginning.

There is no doubt that Israel has the right and the obligation to protect its citizens. But Israel's only hope for survival as a secure and democratic Jewish homeland lies in a diplomatic -- rather than military -- solution, and in a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Steve Masters, President, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Diane Balser, Executive Director, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

National Office
11 E. Adams St. Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Ph: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

CPUSA Condemns Gaza Attacks

Issued by the Communist Party, USA

The Communist Party USA (CPUSA) emphatically condemns the continuing Israeli air strikes in Gaza, which have left hundreds dead and over a thousand wounded. The hundreds of Israeli air strikes have been carried out with a total disregard for the safety of civilians and institutions and are the latest phase in a campaign to blockade the economy of Gaza and deny the people access to basic necessities. Israel's disproportionate response to the resumption of the Hamas rocket firings into Israel after the six-month ceasefire agreement expired, dramatically underscored the Bush Administration's sidetracking of diplomatic efforts and negotiations. In fact, the US government has provided the basis for Israel's military action with continued military aid and supplies.

The Communist Party of Israel has suggested that the current Israeli attacks are a demagogic move related to the current electoral campaign in that country, as well as perhaps being intended to present the incoming Obama administration with a fait accompli, making it more difficult for Obama to adopt a new approach to the Israel-Palestine issue.

The CPUSA denounces the Bush administration for the verbal and material support it is now rendering to the Israeli aggression. We condemn all attacks on civilians whatever the cause or intention. We call on all peace-minded people in the U.S. to demand an end to the Israeli air strikes, end threats of a ground assault into Palestine, along with an end to Hamas rocket attacks, and to call on the incoming Obama administration to make a radical change in US policy on the Israel-Palestine issue, and to pressure the Israeli government to return to honest negotiations toward a two-state solution.


1. Contact the White House to protest the attack and demand emergency negotiations for an immediate cease-fire. Call 202-456-1111 or send an email to comments@whitehouse.gov.

2. Contact your Representative and Senators in Congress at 202-224-3121.

3. Call upon President-Elect Obama to pursue a new U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine and send a message at www.change.gov

4. Join one of the many local actions protesting the assault on Gaza.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

End the attacks on Gaza!

Reprinted below is a release of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee:

Act now to end the strikes on Gaza!

The civilians in Gaza need your help now!

Washington, DC | December 27, 2008 | www.adc.org | The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) calls on the United States and the international community to take immediate action to pressure Israel to end its attacks and stop the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Reports indicate that Israeli air strikes today alone have killed 205 People in Gaza and have left over 400 more hurt. These strikes come after several weeks of a tight blockade which left many of Gaza's 1.5-million inhabitants without sufficient food, water, fuel or medicine.

Let your elected representatives know that this course of action taken by the State of Israel is furthering a humanitarian disaster and an immediate suspension of hostilities on all sides is necessary to reinstate the ceasefire. Further, the collective punishments of the population of Gaza will not likely lead to security for Israelis. According to numerous surveys, similar attacks in the past have only served to garner more support to the extremist elements of Hamas and renewed rocket attacks on Israel.

Contact Your Elected Official Today and Add Your Voice to the Growing Number of Americans Calling for the Immediate Lifting of the Blockade and Siege of Gaza. Click here to find your representatives and contact them now about this ongoing crisis!

Also contact President-Elect Obama and ask him to issue a statement calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities on http://change.gov/page/content/contact

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Republic Sit-in ends; workers declare victory!

By John Bachtell
People's Weekly World
On-line edition
Dec. 12, 2008

CHICAGO — Workers occupying Republic Windows and Doors declared victory after they unanimously voted to approve a settlement reached after three days of negotiations with the company and Bank of American, its chief creditor.

“The occupation is over,” said Armando Robles, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Local (UE) 1110 president. “We have achieved victory. We said we will not go until we got justice and we have it.” UE represents the 250 production workers at the plant.

The settlement totals $1.75 million and provides workers with eight weeks of pay, two months of continued health coverage and accrued and unused vacation pay. Money from Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, which owns 40% of the company, will be placed in a separate fund to administer the payments.

"This is about more than just money, said UE Western Region President Carl Rosen. “It's about what can be achieved when workers organize and stand up for justice."

The workers weren’t able to save the plant, which will close. However, UE Director of Organization Bob Kingsley announced the creation of a new foundation dedicated to reopening the plant starting with seed money from the UE national union and the thousands of dollars of donations to UE Local 1110's Solidarity Fund that have come in from across the country and around the world. The fund will be called the “Window of Opportunity Fund.”

The occupation started Dec. 5 when it was shut down after the company’s main financier, Bank of America, refused to extend a line of credit. The occupation became a symbol of workers across the country struggling with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and what’s seen as a failure of the federal bailout of banks and financial institutions. The day the occupation started, the U.S. Labor Department said 533,000 more jobs were lost in November.

The action created a storm of outrage because Bank of America recently received a $25 billion bailout package from the federal government, but decided it wouldn’t go to keep manufacturing operations running. When the company skipped a Dec. 5 meeting with the United Electrical Workers’ union (UE) and Bank of America, the workers unanimously voted to stage a sit-in.

“These workers are to this struggle perhaps what Rosa Parks was to social justice 50 years ago,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said. “This, in many ways, is the beginning of a larger movement for mass action to resist economic violence.”
The action against some of the most powerful economic forces in the nation generated worldwide solidarity and support including from President-elect Barack Obama, who called the workers’ demands “absolutely right.” Food, money and solidarity messages poured in and area unions, religious and community activists demonstrated daily with the workers.

Many solidarity actions were part of the Jobs with Justice Coalition People’s Bailout Now Week of Actions Dec. 7-13. A group of religious leaders in town for a meeting of Interfaith Workers Justice rallied at the plant Dec. 9.
“We’re here to stand with these workers to support them in their struggle for justice,” Rev. Nelson Johnson told the World. Johnson is co-president and board member of Interfaith Worker Justice and vice-president of the Pulpit Forum in Greensboro, N.C.

“People need to work and this is no time for the banks or the company to betray the interests of the American people who made this [bailout] money available for moments precisely like this one that should directly benefit the workers here,” said Johnson.

The company, maker of vinyl windows for the home construction market, had employed 300 workers at the factory, including 250 unionized production workers, for 45 years. The firm started as a family operation but now the Wall Street behemoths Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank, have controlling interest in the company.

Republic closed the factory with three days notice when Bank of America refused it a $5 million line of credit. As chief investor, BA has effectively controlled the company’s finances. The abrupt closure clearly violated the federal WARN Act, requiring employers to give 60 days notice of a mass layoff (Illinois state law mandates 75 days) or pay the workers and continue their health benefits for that time.

City, county and state officials called for breaking ties with Bank of America if they don’t release funds so the workers could receive what they were owed. They also called for an investigation into what Bank of America is doing with the bailout funds, perhaps investing in overseas operations but not in the United States.

“The government gave $25 billion to BA. They are supposed to work with businesses to keep them open, not shut them down,” Lalo Munoz, 54, told the World. Munoz, a machine operator, had worked at the plant for 34 years.

Others see the banks and corporations as taking advantage of the financial and economic crisis to break unions, shed worker benefits and pensions. UE spokespersons say Republic, which received millions of dollars in city subsidies, bought a similar plant in Iowa. Speculation is production will be restarted in the non-union Iowa plant. The role of the banks in this decision is not known.

“The workers want Bank of America to keep the plant open and the workers employed,” said UE Western President Carl Rosen. “There is always a demand for windows and doors. But with Barack Obama’s stimulus proposal, there will be even greater demand for the products made by Republic’s workers. It doesn’t make sense to close this plant when the need is so obvious.”

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Solidarity pours in for Chicago workers occupying factory - Obama says demands 'absolutely right'

By John Bachtell

Chicago – Solidarity is pouring in for 250 workers who have been sitting-in for three days at Republic Windows and Doors, including from President-elect Barack Obama. The company closed abruptly Dec. 5 because Bank of America (BA), its chief investor, refused to extend a $5 million line of credit. BA recently received a $25 billion bailout from the federal government.

The workers are owed $1.6 million in vacation and severance pay and health benefits the company refuses to pay. They started sitting in Dec. 5 after the company didn’t show for a meeting with the union and BA.

“When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right,” Obama said Dec. 7 while announcing his new Veterans Affairs director. “What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.”

The National Rainbow PUSH Coalition led by Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered a truck of food for the workers Dec. 7. A line of union and community activists joined the workers in passing the food into the factory where it was divided up.

Jackson told the angry workers it was “wrong to bail out the banks and not the workers” and hailed their courage and example for the labor movement. “You have followed in the great tradition of Dr. King, Cesar Chavez and Rosa Parks to fight until some answer comes,” he said.
Jackson noted there has been “too much silence and not enough resistance for too long. Workers need to start to show resistance to fight for jobs, health care and justice.”

“If workers don’t take a stand we’ll all be out of a job,” Robert Simpson, President of Chicago Coalition of Black Trade Unionists told the World. “We in CBTU have been saying this for years. It’s about showing some solidarity and coming together to keep these jobs.”

Simpson added, “It would be a big mistake if we didn’t do something to save the auto industry – saving millions of jobs, health care and pensions, the whole nine yards. It’s time for the labor movement to come together.”

Simpson said he thought the action by the workers and the solidarity they were getting “sends a signal of concern to the incoming Obama Administration of what’s happening out here. He saw for himself during the campaign the suffering people were enduring. We are fighting for things he has said he will do. The people will be supporting him.”

James Thindwa, Director of Chicago Jobs with Justice told the World the failure of Republic and Bank of America was an important lesson, “If the free market is failing, then workers need to run the plants.”

“We are very heartened by the wonderful acts of solidarity,” said Luis Lira, who was standing security at the factory entrance. Lira, 39, has been working at Republic for 16 years. “It’s surprised us. We never thought we would get all this support from the rest of the world.”

Meanwhile many of the workers, who are represented by United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), feel the company has ulterior motives for shutting the plant down. Ron Bender, a second shift worker noted Republic held “monthly town hall meetings to communicate with the workers. These ended in August and then they started removing equipment and materials from the factory.”

“A few weeks ago the removed an entire production line. Today it’s in storage in a lot on the south side. We want to know why they did this,” said Bender.
The workers are determined to stay until they get everything owed to them. Donald White said, “With all the publicity, we hope it’s a wake up call to all the companies. We need to give workers more power and maybe we can keep our jobs.”

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Billions for Bank America – zero for workers

By John Bachtell

CHICAGO — Workers at Republic Windows and Doors in the Goose Island neighborhood began occupying the plant Friday morning Dec. 5 to regain pay for lost vacation days after the plant was abruptly closed.

They plan to continue the occupation until the results of the next round of negotiations with management on Dec. 8 are known.

Bank of America (BA) is chief investor and controls the day-to-day finances of Republic Windows and Doors, a manufacturer for the home construction market. BA refused to extend a line of credit and as a result the company was forced to close its doors December 5. Three hundred workers were thrown onto the street. This action came on the heels of a $25 billion emergency bailout of BA from the federal government.

On December 3th 100 Republic Windows workers, their families and supporters picketed BA Chicago headquarters on LaSalle Street. The workers, represented by United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) stretched a city block as they marched beneath the ornate bank columns and carried signs saying, “Billions for BA, $0 for workers” and “You got your bailout, we got sold out.”

According to Armando Robles, a maintenance employee and local union president, “Just weeks before Christmas we are told our factory will close in three days. Taxpayers gave Bank of America billions and they turn around and close our company. We will fight for a bailout for workers.”

The mostly Latino and African American workers are demanding at a minimum, the bank allow the company to pay worker vacation pay and other monies owned under WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act). BA instructed the company not to issue payments. In addition, the union is demanding the company comply with the requirement to give 60 days notice before closure of a workplace or 60 days pay in lieu of notice.

But the union believes the jobs can be saved. The company has said the closure is due to the deepening economic crisis and especially in the housing and construction industry. Orders have plummeted and according to the company, declining revenues would have ended in bankruptcy.

But according to a UE spokesperson, while the company’s new construction sales have suffered due to the slowdown, sales of replacement windows have remained steady. CEO Rich Gillman had just told the union that they company had customers willing to buy windows and they could stay in business if BA continued financing.

Observers say BA’s callousness is a clear example of the need for greater regulation of the bailouts being extended to Wall Street banks to prevent such outrageous acts of abuse.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Time to build a new mass movement for a peace economy

By John Bachtell

It’s hard to overestimate the change Nov. 4 has brought in its wake. We have entered a new era, with a new political dynamic calling for new tactics to advance the agenda shaped in the course of the campaign to elect Barack Obama.

The election of Obama was, among other things, a massive demonstration for peace and an end to the Iraq occupation. For those in the organized peace movement who were part of this victory, what role will they now play? Some peace activists who were not part of the broad Obama-led coalition for change ironically are now saying they feel betrayed by some of his Cabinet appointments. But regardless of the personalities, the new Obama administration cannot be “Clinton’s third term.” Times have changed and the job of the peace movement is to seize the new opportunities.

New tactics needed for new realities

In any case, rushing to gloom-and-doom conclusions about Obama’s nominees ignores new political realities.

First, the elections were an expression of a huge shift in public opinion. Voters rejected the neo-con policy of a new “American Century” that sought to reverse eroding U.S. influence at the barrel of a gun. They desire a new type of foreign policy. The new administration was elected with this mandate.

Second, it ignores new global realities — declining U.S. power and emergence of a multipolar world. Military aggression is not a sustainable foreign policy in these circumstances. A sizeable section of U.S. monopoly capital recognizes this.

Third, the U.S. is in a profound economic crisis affecting its ability to conduct costly new military missions or even sustain its military might at present levels.

Fourth, the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” an ultra-right ideological prop which exploited the public’s real fears of terrorism and fueled a massive military buildup, has lost its effectiveness.

Finally, the powerful movement to change domestic and foreign policy is putting its stamp on the course of events. Every elected official must acknowledge it; many are products of it, were elected by it and interact with it.

Funding a progressive agenda means cutting Pentagon spending

The incoming Obama administration is launching an ambitious agenda including a massive economic recovery program, creation of millions of jobs to “green” the economy, universal health care and more funding for cities and public education. These policies are popular and will be tremendously costly. But with the economic crisis and its severe budgetary constraints, everyone is asking: how will they be paid for?

Aside from continued deficit spending and taxing the rich, the obvious answer is the military budget. And the Nov. 4 victory created new opportunities for a change in policy here.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) unleashed a firestorm before the election by calling for a 25 percent cut in military spending — about $150 billion annually.

“If we are going to get the deficit under control without slashing every domestic program, [cutting the military budget] is a necessity,” declared Frank. “The Pentagon is probably the most wasteful organization in the federal government and people have given it a pass for years.”

The U.S. spends more on the military than the rest of the world combined. U.S. military spending is $1 trillion a year — $825 billion in direct expenses, including on the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, and $230 billion to repay interest on past military expenditures. This accounts for an astonishing 57 percent of federal discretionary spending, doubling since 2000.

This is clearly unsustainable. Even leading military strategists recognize there will be a paring of expensive weapons systems and other cutbacks. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, among others, is planning a new campaign on this issue.

Mass grassroots campaign needed

There are new possibilities to build a majority “bottom up” movement to demilitarize the economy. Such a movement will require broad, flexible tactics and will need to embrace mainstream political forces, including moderate Democrats and Republicans and elements of the military itself. Unity will be needed to defeat a powerful military industrial complex, a support base of the ultra-right. This should be seen as a central task of this new era and will fit with the expansive reform agenda Obama has signaled he will initiate.

A first step to building broad unity is maintaining and broadening the peace majority to make sure we end our occupation of Iraq and help Iraq get back on its feet. A second initial step could be to press for the elimination of expensive weapons systems carried over from the Cold War that many agree are unnecessary boondoggles. Obama has indicated he wants to increase troop strength but also wants to review weaponry.

Peace activists need to keep in mind that the public holds contradictory attitudes toward military spending. A 2005 Program on International Policy Attitudes survey showed 65 percent of Americans were open to cutting the Pentagon’s budget. When the full extent of military spending is understood, they are willing to cut deeply. Large majorities support scrapping space-based and nuclear weapons altogether. Seventy percent desire a new non-confrontational, multilateral foreign policy that promotes action through international institutions and economic assistance.

On the other hand, a majority supports a strong, internationally engaged military, which maintains bases overseas especially on the soil of U.S. allies. This majority needs to be convinced that cuts will not sacrifice the nation’s security.

People can be won when the full waste, corruption and profiteering of the military budget is exposed. A 2008 General Accounting Office audit documented the enormous and scandalous waste involved in every advanced weapons system, with hundreds of billions in mushrooming cost overruns, aggravated by Bush’s privatization policy.

The Institute for Policy Studies has crafted an alternative military budget of $213 billion that eliminates needless weapons systems and mountains of waste, corruption and super-profiteering by military contractors. Such a military budget is defense-oriented instead of offense-oriented, based on a foreign policy that emphasizes diplomacy and multilateralism.

Military spending hurts the economy

The public is more supportive of military spending cuts when the money is redirected to social needs. This could be effectively tied to jobs creation demands for funding specific local infrastructure projects. Broad alliances can be built with states and municipalities who are drowning in debt, delaying needed construction projects and cutting essential services.

And military spending on non-productive weapons retards economic development. A 2007 Center for Economic and Policy Research report shows in the long run, higher military spending has a negative effect on economic growth, and fuels inflation and higher interest rates.

"It is often believed that wars and military spending increases are good for the economy," said Dean Baker, an author of the study. "In fact, most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment."

Military spending supports roughly 5 million jobs. Therefore well-planned conversion to non-military-related jobs will need to take place in areas that depend on military spending, as the fight on domestic base closings showed. A 2007 study by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier at the University of Massachusetts showed more jobs are created with $1 billion spent on health care (+50 percent), education (+106 percent), mass transit (+131 percent), construction (+49 percent) and even tax cuts (+26 percent) compared to the same $1 billion spent on the military.

Create political backing for the administration to move

A campaign for a new type of foreign policy and to slash the military budget will inevitably confront the same powerful military industrial complex and ultra-right forces that drove the Iraq war policy, military buildup and aggression. These forces will place tremendous pressure on the Obama administration and Congress. Public opinion must be mobilized to create the political climate necessary for the new administration and Congress to carry out new policies.

The peace movement was a major factor in changing public opinion on the Iraq war and must play the same role if we are to convert to a peace economy. Only a majority united movement for demilitarization will make it happen.