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.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Freeze foreclosures and heat up jobs plan, spirited rally tells Congress

By Pepe Lozano
People's Weekly World
Nov. 21, 2008

CHICAGO – Dozens of labor and community activists rallied here in front of the Federal Building Nov. 21 urging Congress to put a freeze on home foreclosures and to bail out Main Street, not Wall Street, with a stimulus package that includes a national jobs plan.

“We need Congress to take care of the needs of working people and not the rich,” said Carl Rosen, western region president of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. “What we need are policies that are going to keep people in their homes and that includes an immediate moratorium on foreclosures now,” added Rosen. “We need policies that are going to put people back to work. Working people need to earn livable wages so they can have real purchasing power again,” said Rosen.

Katie Jordan is the Chicago president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and said, “We’re here today in coalition with our partners to raise our voices concerning what is going on with the $700 billion dollar bailout plan for Wall Street,” said Jordan. “Big bankers are expected to benefit from this bailout but more and more working people are losing their jobs and their homes,” she added.

“Home foreclosures are a serious matter and our communities are devastated,” said Jordan. “People’s families are having to split up just to find shelter.” African American and Latino communities are the first and worst ones hit by the foreclosure crisis including the rising unemployment rates, said Jordan.

“Working people’s allies including the labor movement is urging Congress to fix this problem right away including making it a priority to pass the Employee Free Choice Act once Obama becomes president, so that workers at their jobs can organize a union and fight for better working conditions for all,” said Jordan.

Kristen Cox, a consultant with the Institute for Policy Studies, a non-profit think tank noted that homeownership is the number one source of wealth for many Americans. But because of historical advantages enjoyed by whites through the GI Bill and other government programs, the sub-prime mortgage crisis has disproportionately affected African Americans, noted Cox.

“The African American middle class is in danger of losing between $71 billion and $92 billion of wealth due to bad sub-prime loans,” said Cox. “This is an unprecedented transfer of wealth from one community that will have serious consequences for the economic mobility of African Americans.”

Chicago Jobs With Justice organized the rally in coalition with a number of local labor and community groups. The event was organized to call on Congress to issue a freeze on all home foreclosures and support Illinois Senator Dick Durbin in his efforts to allow judicial intervention in restructuring mortgage rates for affected families. Speakers at the rally are also calling for a job-creating economic stimulus package with massive investment in infrastructure rebuilding and mass transit expansion.

“We need a bailout for Main Street that creates jobs,” said Elce Redmond, an organizer with the South Austin Coalition Community Council. “This situation can be an opportunity to create good jobs and deal with global warming at the same time,” added Redmond.

The labor movement along with environmental activists and grass roots community organizations has come together to echo a growing demand that congress seize this moment to create a “green economy” by expanding and pushing conservation policies, noted Redmond. “Congress can simultaneously address climate change and create millions of green jobs. It’s a win-win situation,” said Redmond.

The rally concluded with a small delegation led by James Thindwa, executive director of Chicago Jobs With Justice that delivered a written statement to Durbin’s office.

Thindwa said millions of working families nationwide are becoming victims in a vicious predatory lending system and losing their homes.

“We will go up and deliver a letter to Senator Durbin urging him to continue championing the cause of workers and families,” said Thindwa.

“We want to offer him our support and urge other members of Congress to fight hard for a moratorium on foreclosures and a strong economic stimulus package,” he said.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dawn of a new era

A seismic shift, a watershed moment, an electoral landslide or the dawn of a new era. No matter what the turn of phrase, Nov. 4, 2008, will go down in the history books as the beginning of the end of the 30-year political reign of the ultra-right and its vicious pro-corporate agenda, and the end of a beginning of new politics in the United States of America.

Convinced by the power of one man’s arguments for hope, unity and change, his program and example, a 52 percent majority of voters rejected the old politics of fear, racism and red-baiting and elected Barack Obama the 44th president of the United States.

Perhaps it was historically inevitable that this country elected its first African American president. The dynamics of slavery, race and racism, together with the historic role of the African American freedom movement in helping propel the expansion of democracy for all people, have always been a central narrative to the making of America.

An accident of history, maybe, is the fact that in 2009 the country will celebrate the bicentennial birthday of another tall, lanky, transformative figure from Illinois: Abraham Lincoln.

In this age of 24-hour news cycles and instant information, when a seismic victory happens it’s important to take a breath and reflect even while celebrating. There will be analysis in the coming weeks in our pages and web site. We’ll be taking closer looks at the many different actors, issues and developments.

But here is an initial take, a basic framework to ponder and analyze such a momentous moment. This was a victory for the whole U.S. working class. And workers of all job titles, professions, shapes, colors, sizes, hairstyles and languages put their indelible stamp on this victory.

This is an important point to ponder, not only for people here in the U.S., but also for our sisters and brothers around the world. The U.S. working class is pushing for a new day — in which our country can be a good global citizen and not the “rogue state” the Bush administration has projected.

The most organized section of the working class — the labor movement — played a stellar role in this election, organizing more than 250,000 labor activists in critical battleground states. But it was its role in challenging and educating union members on racial bias, coupled with a program for economic recovery, that labor proved its invaluable mettle.

A powerful coalition of forces, inspired towards a new kind of politics, bubbled up from the ground of discontent sown by the authoritarian, reckless and greed-driven policies of the Bush administration. Union members and retirees of all races and the African American people as a whole joined with the emerging political might of Latinos — Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans and others — and with women and young people en masse to successfully challenge the power of the ultra-right. And the seeds of a renewed and strengthened Jewish-Black unity — historically so key to civil rights progress — are taking root.

Such unity — as President-elect Obama said — of “young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled” is an idea that has been grasped by millions of people and made into a material force shattering the Republicans’ “Southern strategy” and forcing this party of the reactionary right into a meltdown.

The election outcome represents a clear mandate for pro-people change on taxes, health care, the war in Iraq, job creation and economic relief, union organizing and the Employee Free Choice Act. Reform and relief are in the air. Their scope and depth will be the arena of struggle. The best thing the coalition that won this victory can do is to stick together and help the new administration carry through on its promises. We suspect an Obama administration will have to govern from the center with progressive and left voices included in the dialogue along with conservatives. The ultra-right and corporate interests will do everything in their power to limit, and even steal, the people’s victory.

Jubilation and celebration, yes, along with realization that the hard work is just beginning.

People's Weekly World
Editorial, November 8, 2008

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

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fighting racism and the Obama campaign

By John Bachtell

The article below, which is getting a lot of attention, reveals the impact of the influences of racism in the 2008 election campaign on voters.

Racial views steer some whites away from Obama

But there are some key missing elements as well:

1. In addition to the voter suppression (to which there is a growing counter movement), the McCain - Rove right wing extremists and the right wing hate talk shows are exploiting racism and fear as core elements of the campaign, blatantly and subtly in other ways. One need only look at the despicable text messages, the whisper campaign against Obama that he is a Muslim (and if he were, who cares?) - 30% of voters believe this to be true (according to the excellent piece by Kristoff in the NY Times). But more importantly, it's a proxy to push racist hate.

And the recent lying ad visually linking Obama with the former Fannie Mae director Franklin Raines, also African American are aimed at scaring whites about who will be handling the economy in crisis. In Michigan advertisements are being used to associate Obama with the ex-Mayor of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick. Reminiscent of the Willie Horton ad?

2. It is widely seen, as Rep. John Lewis put it, that the election of Obama is an extension of the Civil Rights movement. This is one of those great opportunities to strike a blow against racism, and for advancing social equality.

One of the things the poll doesn't refer to and something we're all well aware of is the Democratic Party presidential candidates have not won a majority of the white vote since 1964 (after which the "Southern Strategy" was employed). Some other polls indicate Obama is doing no worse among white voters than Kerry did. So that should give confidence there is a basis upon which to carry on this struggle.

As well as the fact that there is an unprecedented movement against the racist tactics of the McCain/ultra right campaign. Take the example of the labor movement, which is confronting it and the lies head on, beginning with the incredible speech by AFL-CIO secretary treasurer Richard Trumka to the USWA convention (since repeated elsewhere and duplicated by many other white trade union leaders at a state and local level). They have an organized approach to take this discussion to the entire membership, especially in the battleground states, to confront workers influenced by racism to put it aside and not vote against their class self interests. 10s of thousands of white, African American and Latino trade unionists are marching together into the battle ground states.

The following are well worth checking out:

Trumka on racism and electing Obama

Ohio labor: Obama will be a great president

Unions tackle race issue

$700,000,000,000 for what?

By John Wojcik
People's Weekly World
Sept. 25, 2008

CHICAGO — First, it was the shock. Then it began to sink in. Then came the anger.

In a little over a week the American people first heard of, then digested and are now grappling with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s and with the Bush administration’s demand that they hand over $700 billion of their hard-earned tax dollars to bail out Wall Street.

If comments of people on the street here are any indication, there is deep resentment about having to trade, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman put it, “cash for trash.”

Carolyn Preiss, a single mother of two, works as a teller at Citibank here — until October 15, that is, when she will lose her job. “How does this help me feed my kids?” she asked Sept. 20. “My job is gone, I’m laid off as of mid-October.” Preiss, who makes $12 an hour, said she hasn’t gotten a raise in a year. “They’ll tax my unemployment so that when I’m out on the street, even then, I’ll be shelling out money to some greedy bastard on Wall Street,” she complained.

Michael George and his brother Pete, both retired bus drivers, purchased a home together for themselves and their wives two years ago on East 74th Street. “The mortgage rate doubled this year to $2,400 per month and now we will lose this place,” George said as he swept the tree-shaded sidewalk in front of his house. “I haven’t figured out what we will do. I just don’t understand, though, what would be wrong with the bank giving us a better mortgage rate. I pay tax on my pension and they’ll take that money and give it to the idiots who made this mess. If I’m saving their asses why can’t I get a break on my mortgage?”

Carol Mueller, a waitress at a Potbelly restaurant downtown, was in the waiting room at Knapp Medical Center on Halsted Street, Sept. 20. She has a bleeding stomach ulcer that, she said, might soon require surgery. “I don’t know what to do, because I don’t have health insurance,” she said. “As it is I have to ask the doctor to prescribe the cheapest generic available. There is a drug that would work better but I can’t afford it.” Mueller said that she hopes Barack Obama is elected because “then we might get health care, but now with all this they’ll probable tell us there is no money left for health care — it’s all going to Wall Street.”

“The American people are faced with the choice of committing more than a trillion dollars of public money to rescue the financial system, or facing a complete collapse of the credit markets, and all the economic activity that lives on credit,” John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, said last week. “How will this be implemented? Will we finally help the millions of Americans losing their jobs, their homes, their health insurance and their pensions? Or will this be another bailout without conditions, leaving Main Street in crisis and guaranteeing that Wall Street’s crisis will continue in another form?”

Permanent solutions can only be found, Sweeney said, “in the economic program of Barack Obama — re-regulation of the financial markets, a government focused on creating good jobs by investing in infrastructure and solutions to the energy crisis, health care for all Americans, a government that will protect and improve Americans’ retirement security and a guarantee that American workers can bargain for their fair share of the wealth they create.”

Only days after the crisis exploded on Wall Street its potential as the ultimate “game changer” in the elections was displayed in polls that showed Barack Obama widening his lead over McCain and majorities blaming the Republicans and de-regulation of high finance for the crisis.

Obama told a crowd of 20,000 in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 21, referring to McCain and the Republican Party: “They said they wanted to let the market run free but instead they let it run wild. And now we are facing a financial crisis as profound as any we have faced since the Great Depression.” Obama, backing many in Congress, called for another $50 billion stimulus for taxpayers and for an overhaul of the financial regulatory system. He called also for an end to tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, an end to the war in Iraq and creation of millions of “green” jobs with massive investment of funds for that purpose.

In Green Bay, Wis., the following day, Obama declared, “We cannot give a blank check to Washington with no oversight and accountability when no oversight and accountability is what got us into this mess in the first place. This plan can’t just be a plan for Wall Street, it has to be a plan for Main Street. We have to pass a stimulus plan that will put money in the pockets of working families, save jobs and prevent painful budget cuts and tax hikes in our states.”

jwojcik @pww.org

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ramming through the bailout

By Sam Webb
National Chair, Communist Party, USA

Bush, Paulson make Dellinger look like a Boy Scout

As the Bush administration attempts to ram a bailout package of nearly one trillion dollars through Congress, it begins to feel like Colonel Sanders asking the public to trust him to take care of the chickens.

If it weren’t so damn serious, there would be something almost comical about it. Here we have the White House, which has squandered trillions of dollars over eight years, and its point man, Hank Paulson, fresh from 38 years of gaming the financial system while working at Goldman Sachs, insisting that Congressional leaders hand over a trillion dollars to them with no debate and no strings attached.

In this real life drama, Bush and Paulson make John Dillinger, the legendary bank robber of the Depression years, look like a Boy Scout.

Nothing to do with socialism

This is not “socialism for the rich,” as some have suggested. Socialist measures would thoroughly clean up and stabilize the financial system to be sure, but a socialist-led government would also place the good as well as the bad assets of the responsible parties (commercial and investment banks, private equity firms, and hedge funds) into the hands of a public democratically run authority. It would turn the Federal Reserve Bank, which during the Greenspan era was one of the main architects and cheerleaders of bubble economics (hi-tech, stock market and, its latest version, housing) into a publicly controlled institution. And it would bring those responsible to trial and penalize them appropriately, if convicted.

At the same time, a socialist-led government and its congressional allies would funnel money to homeowners and working people and enact special measures to assist communities of the racially oppressed, not to mention our rural towns. It would rebuild our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure, invest in renewable energy and green jobs, and bring the Iraq war to a quick end. It would also propose the people’s takeover of the energy complex, which has also turned into a cash cow of the wealthiest corporations.

Use common sense

Does it make any sense to give control of our financial and economic system for the indefinite future to the same individuals, who while gaming the system, got us into this mess in the first place? I can’t think of anything that is less democratic or goes against the grain of common sense.

In the money and banking textbooks that I read years ago, our financial institutions and system supposedly channeled idle money to productive uses – to new technologies and business startups, to build homes and create jobs, to invest in new plant and equipment, and to construct and renew our nation’s infrastructure, while extracting handsome profits all the while.

Looking back, it is fair to say that banks and investment houses did perform this function for a period in capitalism’s development, but that period has largely passed.

Finance capital’s rise and ultra-right rule

Indeed, with the rise to dominance of the extreme right and the reassertion of power by finance capital three decades ago, our financial system has operated more or less independently of other sectors of the economy, functioned largely free of any regulatory body, and grown exponentially.

Finance capital – in its quest to maximize its rate of profit – has drained dollars from the private economy (especially the manufacturing sector) and the public treasury into incredibly risky and speculative financial schemes; it has spawned a series of complex financial instruments and paper transactions which few understand, but fabulously enrich the buyers and borrowers of these exotic instruments, most of which have nothing to do with the real economy.

Finance capital has facilitated megamergers, takeovers and corporate flight to off shore locations; it has wreaked havoc on sovereign states and their economies, particularly in the developing world; it has without as much as a thought introduced enormous instability into the arteries of the U.S. and world economy, evidenced by the frequent financial contagions at home and globally.

And, it has been one of the main class agents to successfully engineer the biggest transfer of wealth in our nation’s history from wealth creators -- the world’s working people -- to wealth appropriators, the upper crust of U.S. finance capital, while leaving at the same time our nation with an astronomical pile up of household, government and corporate debt that cannot be unwound overnight.

In short, the reassertion of finance capital to a dominant position in the political economy of our country, which was only possible because of the right wing dominance of our nation’s political levers of power, has come at a heavy price for the American people and people worldwide.

Clinging onto power

And yet, despite this incredible wreckage, this almost incomprehensible corruption, this reckless speculation, these merchants of plunder, debt and hardship are still attempting to resolve this financial crisis in a way that continues to leave them in charge of the main levers of power and their wealth intact.

As I said earlier, this is not socialism. A more apt description is parasitic state monopoly-finance capitalism. According to marxism, the main mission of the state is to reproduce the conditions for the reproduction of the class structure and economic relations of capitalism. If I am not mistaken, isn’t this precisely what Bush, Paulson and team are doing now?

Arena of struggle

Of course, marxism also says that state is an arena of struggle. While the ruling class employs the state apparatus, including violence when necessary, to impose its interests on society, a united working class and people can successfully resist these measures from within as well as outside state structures. This was done in the 1930s and in so doing, secured important victories for the nation’s working class and its allies. It was also done in the 1960s and in doing so brought down the system of legal segregation. And we see it again today in the incredible efforts of millions of working people of all races and nationalities and their allies to elect Barack Obama and larger Democratic Party Congressional majorities in November. Indeed, it is a task that takes on even greater significance given the financial storm that is shaking our country.

For the moment however, the American people and their friends in Congress are faced with a first class challenge – to impose their own imprint on the way in which this financial crisis is resolved. Let’s have no doubt that our financial system can be stabilized and restored to its orderly functioning in a way that meets the needs of the American people and our country. But will take a fight!

Sam Webb is chairperson of the Communist Party.