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Youth to candidates: listen up!

Four hundred students from dozens of Chicago public high schools will meet Saturday at the Listen Up! Youth Convention to develop a youth issue platform to present to mayoral candidates at a forum next month.

It takes place Saturday, December 11 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at DePaul University’s Student Center, 2250 N. Sheffield.

The students come from Mikva Challenge programs in which they’ve planned civic action projects and volunteered in electoral campaigns and voter registration drives

They will deliberate and generate a list of top recommendations for the city’s next mayor to address, choosing among issues raised at the group’s Project Soapbox public speaking competition last month, said Brian Brady of Mikva Challenge.

A mayoral forum is planned for January 15.

This week Mikva Challenge launched, a forum for video messages to the city’s next mayor.

Happy Birthday, Granny D

The Supreme Court has come up with a heck of a birthday present for Granny D.

Dorris Haddock – Granny D — walked across the country to rally support for campaign reform 10 years ago, when she was 90 years old.  She turns 100 on January 24.

She writes at Common Dreams of the thousands of Americans she talked to on her trek who are “heartsick” over “the current state of our politics.”

Now “the Supreme Court, representing a radical fringe that does not share the despair of the grand majority of Americans,” is “open[ing] the floodgates to usher in a new tsunami of corporate money into politics.”

Granny D proposes more states follow the lead of Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine with clean election laws, provide public funding for candidates who agree to refuse special interest money .  She thinks public financing would probably save states money by reducing the corruption tax.  Senator Durbin has proposed such legislation in Congress (Maine is currently celebrating its tenth year of clean elections).

She also suggests voters in states with direct initiative enact laws expanding the definition of conflict of interest, barring elected officials from supporting any action that offers special special gain to a major donor.

That sounds like it’s aimed directly at Michael Madigan, but he’s really just the guy who works the system to his own advantage better than anybody else.  (Already Illinois gubernatorial candidates are finding loopholes in the new campaign law and taking money from state contractors, according to the Daily Herald.)   It was 150 years ago that a European observer called American democracy “a swamp of corruption,” and that swamp has only gotten more opaque and impenetrable since the rise of the modern global corporation in the last 50 years.  It’s a swamp where reforms and decent policies become hopelessly mired.

A big factor has been the soaring costs of campaigns conducted largely through television advertising – and big media are corrupted when their news coverage is skewed toward the characters who are paying them the most money – which is why Walter Conkrite’s proposal that issue-based coverage be mandated as part of the public interest requirement of broadcast licenses continues to make sense.

Things will get worse now. “The Court’s ruling could transform our electoral politics,” writes Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center. “During 2008 alone, Exxon Mobil Corporation generated profits of $45 billion.”  Now all limits on its political spending are lifted.  “With a diversion of even two percent of those profits to the political process, this one company could have outspent both presidential candidates and fundamentally changed the dynamic of the 2008 election.”

Obviously, including unions in this equation, as some sort of counterpart to corporate power, is missing the point.

The larger point is the myth of “corporate personhood,” which Justice John Paul Stevens takes on in his “powerful” and detailed dissent – CAC’s Xan White provides highlights.  CAC has also recently released a discussion draft of a report on the topic (pdf):

“Far from extending to corporations all the rights and freedoms people enjoy, under the Constitution from the founding on, corporations have been treated as uniquely powerful artificial entities created to fuel economic growth – that necessarily must be subjected to substantial government regulation in service of the public good.”

Reclaim Democracy has a good overview of the issue, with links to court rulings and lots of analyses.  The Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy is the group that first raised the issue.

“The Supreme Court’s expansion of corporate free speech rights under the First Amendment further entrenches corporate power in the law of the land,” says the Alliance for Democracy. “It is a stunning setback for American democracy and a crime against the rights of ordinary people.”

AFD is part of a campaign to amend the Constitution to explicitly establish that corporations are not persons entitled to constitutional rights, and “money is not speech.”  Call it the Granny D Amendment.

Walmart in polls and at the polls

[UPDATED]  Again with the polls — Walmart has a full-page ad in the paper today touting three polls showing over 70 percent support for a Walmart on the South Side.

Of course, the next question is not asked.  It’s this:  do you think Walmart and other big businesses should pay a living wage?

In fact, as Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative reminds us, when voters were asked the followup question, they responded overwhelmingly in the affirmative.

In voter referendums in 300 precincts during the campaign for a living wage ordinance in 2005 and 2006, voters supported a requirement that big box stores pay a living wage by margins in the 80 percent range.  Patel points out that support for the ordinance was strongest in African American precincts.

In 2007, when the living wage ordinance was a major issue in a number of aldermanic elections, supporters of the ordinance carried the day by a wide margin.

Those are the polls the politicians care about – and that’s why, for all the outrage of editorial boards and columnists demanding full deference to the world’s largest corporation, there’s a limit on what Walmart can do in Chicago.

Even Mayor Daley recognizes it, so far at least, declining to approve the 83rd Street Walmart without Council backing.  And whenever an amended redevelopment agreement for the site is brought forward, the Good Jobs Chicago coalition intends to ensure that alderman get to vote on adding a community benefits agreement guaranteeing decent wages and benefits, and local hiring and investment.  And all these people can count votes.

Good Jobs Chicago has been canvassing the 9th and 21st wards and reports residents are responsive to their message.

“People hear only one side of the story – that a Walmart job is better than no job,” said Latrell Smith, an organizer with Action Now.  “When they hear the other side, it hits them that $8 an hour won’t begin to cover basic necessities or get people off public assistance.  Almost everyone we talked to agreed it’s a good thing to set reasonable standards for the ‘big boxes.'”

Patel applauded Ald. Edward Burke’s proposal to require a living wage of companies receiving city subsidies (withdrawn Monday after business leaders objected), noting similar measures have been passed in Denver and Pittsburgh. “It’s a great way to make sure development is creating good jobs,” she said.

Judging from polls, the ones where voters vote, Chicagoans would tend to agree.

Preckwinkle and Peotone

Talking about economic development and “regional planning” – and no doubt eyeing a possible endorsement by U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. – Ald. Toni Preckwinkle has come out in favor of Jackson’s scheme for a new airport in Peotone.

Preckwinkle’s (rather far afield) support comes on top of Governor Quinn’s backing, which includes $100 million for property acquisition  in the state’s crisis budget and a promise to accelerate the process in his State of the State speech today.  Quinn actually got an endorsement from the Congressman in exchange.

Still, “there are so many obstacles,” said Peotone resident George Ochsenfeld of Shut This Airport Nightmare Down.  “The state is really broke – I mean really.  The airport industry is in a shambles.  And Jackson is damaged goods.”  The FAA has yet to approve a new airport, and there are still two competing plans.

Angry that his state representative wouldn’t speak out against the $100 million, Ochsenfeld is now a candidate for state rep in the Green Party primary in the 79th District.  He thinks he stands a chance come November – and he thinks his colleague in STAND, Judy Ogalla, has an even better chance to win the 40th District state senate seat; she’s running in next month’s GOP primary.

“Judy’s frustration with the state’s decades-long effort to build an unnecessary airport in the farm fields of eastern Will County was the catalyst for her desire to run for office,” says her website. “She has already stood up for her friends and neighbors in the path of the state’s favored project.”

Said Ochsenfeld:  “We’re closing down health services and social services — and we have $100 million to force people off their property?”

Airport opponents have held township offices in the area for several years now.  (For more see 6-12-08 Newstips.)

Candidates forum on County health system

One of the key issues in the race for Cook County Board president — maintaining Cook County’s crucial health services in a time of economic strain — will be the focus of a candidates forum tonight, hosted by the Emergency Network to Save Cook County Health Services.

Democrats Dorothy Brown, Toni Preckwinkle, and Todd Stroger; Republican John Garrido; and Green Party candidate Tom Tresser have agreed to attend, with Phil Kadner of the Southtown Star moderating.  The forum takes place at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, starting at 6 p.m. tonight.

In December the Emergency Network warned County Board members that rolling back the Cook County sales tax risks undermining efforts by the new independent health system board to improve the system’s cost-effectiveness.

Candidates will be asked for their views on maintaining adequate resources to fund the system – and if they support further sales tax reductions, how they plan to fund health services next year, particularly with one-time federal stimulus assistance expiring, said Lynda DeLaforgue of Citizen Action Illinois.

Candidates will also be asked their view of the independent board, which is currently set to expire in 2011.

Immigrant vote in Waukegan

ICIRR points out that the surprise upset of Waukegan Mayor Richard Hyde in yesterday’s election follows three years of work by immigrant rights activists there, who assisted 1,000 Waukegan residents in becoming citizens — and registered 1,000 new voters.  In a controversial move, Hyde signed the local police force up for a federal program to enforce violations of immigration status, raising issues of racial profiling and ultimately hurting the town’s economy, as immigrants left, businesses closed, and homes went into foreclosure, according to ICIRR.

Toxic politics

The inability of the Illinois House to pass a ban on toxic plastics in baby bottles demonstrates the damaging influence of special interests like the chemical industry — and the need for campaign reform in Illinois, according to Illinois PIRG.  The group is part of Change Illinois, which is holding a rally Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Thompson Center to demand legislation putting limits on campaign contributions.


Today’s fun figures:  Rod Blagojevich is one of over 1,000 Illinois public officials who have faced corruption charges over the past three decades.  And Illinois is one of five states that doesn’t regulate political contributions. 

Cindi Canary of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform thinks these are related.  At Progress Illinois she writes about Change Illinois, the new coalition of community, faith, business and labor leaders “working to restore accountability to Illinois government through campaign finance reform.”  They’re holding a rally at the Thompson Center on Thursday, April 9 at 10 a.m.

Still — why not go for public financing?  Other states are showing that it can pass, and that it works.  It’s a golden moment in Illinois.  And in D.C., Senator Richard Durbin has just reintroduced the Fair Elections Now Act, cosponsored by Arlen Specter.  (In 2007 it was cosponsored by Barack Obama.)  It would provide public funding for congressional candidates who qualify by raising a large number of small donations in their state or district.  That would reverse the current dynamic, where senators and representatives have to focus their attention on outside special interests rather than their own constituents. 

In the Nation, Nick Nyhart and David Donnelly of Public Campaign argue that it would also give us more effective and responsive government:  “The most critical matter before Congress and the White House is the economy, but other pressing issues demand attention as well: healthcare, energy, the global climate crisis, tax policy and government spending decisions. 

“Without exception, these are concerns over which longstanding vested interests stand to gain or lose hundreds of billions of dollars” — and “campaign donors have a heavy thumb on the scale.”  

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