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Here we go again

The Donors Forum is warning of “an immediate series of drastic cuts to community services,” along with the loss of thousands of jobs in Illinois, unless Congress acts this week to head off spending reductions contained in sequestration.

While sequestration is “framed as an impersonal budget deficit fix for the future,” the reality is “these cuts will damage people now,” said Delia Coleman, public policy director of the group, in an e-mail.

Sequestration would mean $33.4 million less for primary and secondary education in Illinois, $24.7 million less for children with disabilities, and millions of dollars in cuts to pollution prevention, health and human services, public safety and domestic violence programs.

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The situation results from the political and economic miscalculations of President Obama, beginning with his embrace of deficit reduction as a priority in his first term, writes Robert Kuttner in American Prospect.

At stake, he writes, are the economic recovery and the success of Obama’s presidency.

“The automated reductions of the sequester are only the prologue to a decade-long drama, in which the economy faces one budget squeeze after another, all but guaranteeing a prolonged slump. Unless Congress repudiates the 2011 Budget Control Act, and President Obama blows up the entire paradigm that produced it, a fragile recovery will be the victim of budgetary masochism.”

Currently Obama is offering Republicans a “grand bargain,” in which he would trade $130 billion in cuts to Social Security benefits in exchange for tax increases on the wealthy.

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Warning on Social Security, Medicare cuts

Seniors, people with disabilities, and the poor shouldn’t be pushed over a “fiscal cliff” manufactured by politicians.

That’s the message of a coalition of senior, disability, community and labor organizations that is hosting an accountability sessions with local members of Congress, Tuesday, October 30, 4 p.m., at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington.

Representatives Danny Davis and Jan Schakowsky have confirmed their attendance, and others are expected, said Gary Arnold of Access Living.

Sponsors of the event include Access Living, Illinois Alliance of Retired Americans, IIRON, Jane Addams Senior Caucus, Jobs With Justice, and the Lakeview Action Coalition.

They’ll ask legislators to oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in any resolution of the impasse over the debt ceiling to be considered in Congress after the November 6 election.

Neither Democratic nor Republican proposals – nor automatic cuts set to go into effect if no deal is reached – are good options, said Tom Wilson of Access Living.

Democrats would reach deficit reduction goals with a mix of heavy budget cuts and increased taxes on the wealthy; Republicans have proposed only spending cuts.  A “sequestration” plan if no deal is reached would involve 8 percent across-the-board cuts in domestic and military spending.

“Any of the solutions they’re talking about would drive us right back into recession, throw a lot of people out of work, and send the economy into a downward spiral,” said Wilson.

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AG Madigan to back ‘maximum’ homeowner relief

At a rally with community organizations on Sunday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is expected to commit to pressing for “maximum” mortgage relief for underwater homeowners as part of the federal-state investigation into bank fraud.

She’ll appear with the regional organizing network IIRON on Sunday, June 10 at 3 p.m. at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 8441 S. St. Lawrence.  IIRON will also be unveiling a new Covenant for Economic Justice.

It’s a significant step for Madigan, who’s a member of an Obama administration task force investigating securitization fraud in the foreclosure crisis, organizers say.

Last year IIRON pressed Madigan to hold out for more money to help homeowners wrongfully foreclosed on in the robo-signing settlement by state attorney generals. Though the monetary settlement in that case was disappointing, grassroots pressure did result in limiting banks’ immunity from liability in the deal, said David Hatch of IIRON.

He said IIRON and groups including National People’s Action are calling for $350 billion worth of principal reduction for underwater homeowners.  An NPA report last year estimated underwater homeowners in the U.S. owe a total of $700 billion more than their homes are worth.

Stealth bailout

That’s a serious drag on the economy, these groups argue, taking hundreds of billions of dollars out of the consumer economy – and a “stealth bailout” of banks, which caused the housing crash through reckless and predatory lending practices, and which have received trillions of dollars in bailouts and backstops, most of which will never be repaid.

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Austerity in Chicago

As European voters increasingly reject the austerity program, community leaders here are proposing alternatives to Mayor Emanuel’s agenda of spending cuts and privatization– an approach they say hurts working families and stifles economic recovery.

“We are saying there are ways of looking at budget- and policy-making other than just cut, cut, cut,” said Michael Bennett, a sociology professor at DePaul University, one of the coordinators of a group of local activists and scholars meeting this weekend to develop a local public policy agenda “that gives priority to social justice, balanced community development, and responsible fiscal management.”

The Chicago Equity and Fiscal Policy Initiative will release working papers on the city budget, schools, community and the environment, and economic development and jobs, at a gathering with the theme Act Locally Chicago this Saturday, May 19, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Erie Neighborhood House, 1347 W. Erie.

“We have to focus just as much on neighborhoods as we do on downtown,” Bennett said. “It has not been balanced.”

The working papers and policy recommendations are aimed at starting a conversation, he said. One of their goals is to maintain public services that are threatened by privatization. They’ll talk about reallocating existing resources more fairly, and about longer-term solutions to raise revenues more sustainably.

Devastating

Their initiative reflects concerns that are widespread among community organizations.

“What’s happening under Mayor Emanuel is a microcosm of what’s happening around the world,” said Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative, a citywide coalition of labor and community organizations.

“Politicians are pushing austerity, saying the government has to cut spending, but it’s really devastating to the local economy and to people’s lives,” she said. “It’s the worst thing we can do in economically challenging times. For the economy to have a chance we have to invest in the public sector and public services.

“When you cut resources going to low-income families, you hurt the people who put money back into the economy most directly, she said. “And you end up paying through the back end: when you cut mental health services, it costs you more in hospitalizations, in incarceration.”

The city continues to “move resources out of the neighborhoods and into downtown,” she said, pointing to a $29-million city subsidy for a new office building in the West Loop announced this week.

Regressive

Emanuel has cut taxes on corporations (where profit levels are at record highs) while “focusing on revenue generation that saps working families – quadrupling water fees, installing speed cameras, higher fees and fines,” she said. “We’ve got to have revenue solutions that don’t hurt working families.”

Chicago’s fiscal crisis is compounded by several factors, said Ron Baiman of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. Locked in political stalemate, the federal government is cutting domestic spending, and the state’s budget crisis is exacerbated by a constitutional provision mandating a flat-rate income tax. (On top of that, Illinois is one of the top states for corporate subsidies.)

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Occupy Austin, Occupy Bronzeville

Occupy Austin and Occupy Bronzeville, joined by people from Occupy Chicago, will begin a new drive to occupy foreclosures at actions on the West and South Sides tomorrow.

They’ll rally with tenants of a foreclosed building who are resisting what they say are illegal attempts to evict them from a 12-unit rental building, just two weeks after foreclosure.

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’99 Percent’ vs. CME tax break

CME has been successfully bidding for the attention of Illinois politicians – and now regular folks are starting to notice.

On Tuesday, a statewide allliance is protesting at City Hall and then marching to State Senate President John Cullerton’s office to protest his legislation granting a $50 million tax break to CME, owner of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade.

On Wednesday, a coalition of community and labor groups will launch a campaign to derail CME’s tax break – and press for a small financial transaction tax on CME trades – with a march on protest at the Chicago Board of Trade and a stand with Occupy Chicago.

“It’s a shakedown,” said Mehrdad Azemun of National Peoples Action, of the new tax break.  NPA is one of several regional and statewide networks of community and church groups that are joining to protest the measure on Tuesday.

“Corporations as large as these need to pay their fair share, especially at a time when every day brings news of more cuts to state and city programs, more police stations being closed.”

He points out that just a few years ago, CME threatened to leave – and then promised to stay, after it received a $15 million TIF subsidy and millions more in property tax breaks.

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‘An amazing convergence’

It’s been a remarkable week in Chicago, a nonstop whirl of protests targeting the financial industry and government collusion with corporations, and demanding action on jobs, housing, and schools.

Coming Friday:  a rally for “jobs not cuts,” with MoveOn, Stand Up Chicago, Chicago Jobs With Justice and Occupy Chicago joining forces, at noon at the Federal Plaza.

Occupy Chicago gets much credit for capturing the public’s imagination – and for their 24-7 commitment and important organizational innovations.  But it was community groups and unions that staged some of the most dramatic and creative actions here this week.

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This could be the start of something big

New and old strands of youth, community, labor and peace organizing – voicing growing anger over the state of our economy and our democracy – will come together in a series of events here over the next week, with thousands expected for a major Columbus Day demonstration.

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