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The Obama tour

Marking the fifth anniversary of Barack Obama’s election as president, Forgotten Chicago is offering a tour of the Chicago sites from Obama’s life in Chicago.

Hosted by Pullman activist Tom Shepherd and historian Cynthia Ogorek, the tour will include talks with people who worked with Obama in his early years, including environmentalist Cheryl Johnson of People for Community Recovery in Altgeld Gardens, as well as Bea Lumpkin, who will discuss Obama’s role working to save the pensions of Wisconsin Steel workers.

Also presenting their reminiscences will be the owners of Obama’s favorite restaurant, Valois, and his barber of of 20 years, Zarif of the Hyde Park Hair Salon.

The tour will also address the burning question of where Obama’s presidential library will end up.

It takes place Sunday, November 10, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., departing from the Chicago Cultural Center.  The $59 ticket includes lunch at Valois.  Info at ForgottenChicago.com.

Obama’s base

Wondering how President Obama is doing with his base?  You could check with the $35,000-a-head donors at his 50th birthday celebration at the Aragon Wednesday night. Or you could check in Thursday morning with his original base, the members of the Developing Communities Project in Roseland, where Obama was a community organizer from 1985 to 1988.

DCP members will be celebrating the day with a birthday cake.  They;ll also get a progress report on the Red Line Extenstion, which the group has advocated for many years (CTA is completing an environmental impact study).  And kids from DCP’s summer organizing camp will give a presentation on their transit projects.

The party starts at 11 a.m. on Thursday, August 4, at Lilydale First Baptist Church, 649 W. 113th.

Housing crisis: action, inaction

So now the political ground shifts  dramatically in Washington, even as a tectonic shift approaches in Chicago.  Here, at least, members of the City Council have found a way to break a political logjam and do something about a serious problem facing their constituents.

With the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance stalled in the finance and housing committees since March despite backing by at least 23 council members, aldermanic supporters prepared a rarely-used motion to discharge to call it to a vote before the full council.  The ordinance would designate 20 percent of TIF funds for affordable housing.   (See last year’s Newstip.)

Hundreds of activists from the Sweet Home Chicago Coalition turned up at City Hall today to back Ald. Walter Burnett’s effort.  And the two committee chairs, Ed Burke and Ray Suarez, agreed to schedule a vote on the legislation no later than November 15, if a consensus on an alternative proposal isn’t reached by then.

This may be a sign of a more assertive and independent City Council as the Daley era comes to a close.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Obama administration is paying the political price for a sluggish economy – and the composition of the new Congress makes it even less likely that a significant jobs effort can be mounted.

There’s one way Obama could act to stimulate the economy – by requiring mortgage lenders to reduce principal on loans where homeowners owe more than their homes are worth.

That’s at least 15 million American families – 4 million of them are 50 percent or more underwater – whose overpriced mortgages are “absorbing billions of dollars that could be used for other forms of consumer spending – a drag on family finances, the housing market and the entire economy,” Don Lee writes in the Tribune.

“Banks convinced people their homes were worth an inflated amount and persuaded them to borrow against that amount.,” writes R.J. Eskow at Huffington Post.  Forcing homeowners “to pay them the full amount of that inflated loan, with no penalty to the bank for its role in that transaction,” amounts to an “invisible bailout,” he argues.

In the New York Times, economist Yves Smith points to an IMF study that “found that the persistently high unemployment in the United States is largely the result of foreclosures and underwater mortgages.”  He says a “process for major principle reduction” could come about “through coordinated state action or a state-federal effort.”

According to Liz Ryan Murray at National Peoples Action, though, the Obama administration has the tools to force banks to reduce principle, through its HAMP program and through other leverage including TARP and FHA insurance.

Of course, this would require the Obama administration to be significantly more assertive toward and independent from big banks.

The record isn’t strong on this.  Despite administration claims, HAMP isn’t working – even a top Federal Reserve economist recently called it a “failure.”  Foreclosures continue to rise.  The TARP inspector general reported that the program could actually be pushing people into foreclosure by loading back payments, penalties and late fees on homeowners who are denied permanent modifications after successfully completing trial mods.

Even homeowners who get a permanent modification can find themselves farther underwater – and thus more vulnverable to default in the future.

President Obama has downplayed such concerns, saying “the biggest challenge” is to avoid “wasting money on [homeowners] who don’t deserve help.”

On the face of it, this seems a strange statement from a leader who backed a $700 billion bailout of banks to save them from their own irresponsibility.

On top of that, in the wake of the foreclosure fraud scandal, Treasury officials admit that mortgage companies enrolled in HAMP “may be receiving taxpayer funds despite not having a legal right to the home or to the mortgage,” Huffington Post reported.  And “despite faulty or missing paperwork, the Obama administration allows mortgage companies to boot homeowners from the program, sticking the borrowers with massive bills that often leave them worse off.”

Fifteen million homeowners facing potential trouble certainly represent a threat to the stability of the economy, though writedowns would hurt banks’ bottom lines and executive bonuses.  And the money they’re spending on the “invisible bailout” is money that could be boosting the economy and feeding job creation.

From Roseland to Oslo

In Roseland, the Developing Communities Project – founded in 1986 under the guidance of a young community organizer named Barack Obama, who served as its first executive director – will host school and community leaders for a viewing of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at 1 p.m. at Langston Hughes Elementary School, 103rd and Wentworth.

And at a community event this evening, DCP members will view the ceremony and President Obama’s address, followed by a program calling on a focus on Greater Roseland for youth and community development, jobs and vocational training, and violence prevention (Thursday, December 10, 5:30 p.m. at Lilydale First Baptist Church, 649 W. 113th).

They’ll also be celebrating CTA’s approval of the Red Line extension, long advocated by DCP.

Times: Obama opposes cramdowns

The New York Times story on the Obama administration’s campaign to pressure mortgage companies to make affordable loan modifications contains this sentence, buried deep in the text:

“Some Democrats say the time has come to reconsider a measure opposed by the Obama administration: giving bankruptcy judges the right to amend mortgages as a means of pressuring lenders to extend reductions.”

Dean Baker points out that if this is true, it is big news.

Obama supported the “cramdown” proposal on the campaign trail last year, and in February he initially included it as the “stick” to go with the “carrot” of incentive payments in his Making Homes Affordable program, but it didn’t make the final cut.  Housing advocates have criticized his program as executed, sans cramdown, as inadequate precisely because it relied solely on voluntary participation by lenders; time seems to have borne this out.

But, as Progress Illinois (which has followed this issue closely) phrased it, Obama has exhibited a “reluctance to spend political capital” for the proposal.

In January he convinced chief sponsor Richard Durbin to remove the measure from the stimulus bill, in order to make passage easier; in May the White House offered no support when Durbin’s bill went down to defeat, with 12 Democratic senators voting the way the banking lobby asked them to.

Now the Obama administration is planning a “campaign” that will publicly name institutions that are moving too slowly on making loan mods permanent, hoping they’ll respond to the threat of embarrassment.  Really?  Banks?  Embarrassment?

The Center for Responsible Lending projects 9 million more foreclosures in the next three years, and if that happens, there isn’t going to be much improvement in the  economy (except maybe for banks) for a long, long time.

A letter to Obama

With the anniversary of President Obama’s election tomorrow, some of his staunchest supporters are waiting for action on key issues.  Foreclosures continue, unemployment remains high, and immigration and labor law reform is on hold.

“In many ways the undocumented ended up being made the bogeyman [of the health care debate] by Republicans, and got thrown under the bus by many Democrats,” writes Josh Hoyt of ICIRR at Progress Illinois.

“Meanwhile deportations have increased under the Obama administration, and it is unclear whether the political will to move forward on immigration reform will exist after the exhausting health care battle subsides.”

On Tuesday, November 3, labor, immigrant, civil rights and community groups are rallying across from Grant Park at the Spertus Institute, 610 S. Michigan, at 11:30 a.m. to  renew the push for change.  The theme is “inclusive health care reform and a progressive America,” and issues include health care reform, immigration reform, workers’ rights, LGBT rights, living wage jobs, financial regulation, action on climate change and creating a more peaceful world.

Local activists are signing a letter to President Obama “urging courage in moving forward on a broad range of challenging policy initiatives our nation urgently needs,” Hoyt writes.

“Too often, we work in silos, not seeing the humanity of others or the justice of their causes. But building an America that is fair and inclusive demands that we band together.”

‘This skinny guy’

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal visits Chicago’s Roseland community, where Barack Obama worked as an organizer 20 years ago.

“‘I woke up and felt better the day after he was elected, said Crystal Bell, 20, who carefully wraps a blanket around 1-year-old daughter Chiyah. ‘We made history. It felt like a new world.’

“But the old world remains. Bell said she works two part-time jobs, running a cash register at a Wendy’s and doing home child care. She struggles financially.

“Bell said her neighborhood is plagued with violence. In the last year, she said, two of her friends were shot and killed.

“‘He (Obama) can’t stop someone from shooting,’ she said. ‘But he can help make it better with gun laws. I hope he helps this unemployment, too, keeps his word.’…

“In Altgelt Gardens, longtime resident Dorian Gray smiles at the memory of Obama.

“‘He was this skinny guy, talked too much,’ he said.

“Now the ‘skinny guy’ is headed to the White House.

“‘What it changes is the way these younger black men look at things now,’ Gray said. ‘People 20 to 30 years old believed this would happen. I never thought in my lifetime that a black man would become president.'”

Ideas for Obama

President-elect Barack Obama faces tremendous challenges, and local advocates and organizers — many of whom have worked with Obama over the years — offer a range of ideas on how to make the bailout work, address the foreclosure crisis, target economic stimulus to jobs and better transportation, and move forward on immigration, education, media reform and campaign financing.

In addition, some express concern over the prospect of administration positions for local establishment figures Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett and Arne Duncan.

Read the rest of this entry »



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