Obama – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.12 The Obama tour http://www.newstips.org/2013/11/the-obama-tour/ Tue, 05 Nov 2013 20:37:05 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7921 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.

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Obama’s base http://www.newstips.org/2011/08/obamas-base/ Wed, 03 Aug 2011 21:54:52 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4655 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.

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Housing crisis: action, inaction http://www.newstips.org/2010/11/housing-crisis-action-inaction/ Wed, 03 Nov 2010 22:49:25 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=2332 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.

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From Roseland to Oslo http://www.newstips.org/2009/12/from-roseland-to-oslo/ Thu, 10 Dec 2009 18:26:46 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=1066 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.

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Times: Obama opposes cramdowns http://www.newstips.org/2009/11/times-obama-opposes-cramdown/ Mon, 30 Nov 2009 21:46:47 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=1004 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.

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A letter to Obama http://www.newstips.org/2009/11/a-letter-to-obama/ http://www.newstips.org/2009/11/a-letter-to-obama/#comments Mon, 02 Nov 2009 22:34:51 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=885 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.”

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‘This skinny guy’ http://www.newstips.org/2009/01/this-skinny-guy/ Thu, 15 Jan 2009 23:13:00 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=392 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.'”

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Ideas for Obama http://www.newstips.org/2008/11/ideas-for-obama/ Fri, 07 Nov 2008 15:57:39 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=328 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.

Bailout and foreclosure crisis

Obama’s first challenge is making sure the recent financial bailout works. The National Training and Information Center is preparing a platform to present to the new administration, including a detailed focus on the bailout and the foreclosure crisis, said Gail Parson. A national network of community organizations with several affiliates in Chicago, the group gathers thousands of members in Washington D.C. every spring to press for action from federal agencies and lawmakers.

According to Parson, the group will call on Congress to establish an oversight board to review how the Treasury Department administers the $700 billion financial bailout. Banks receiving bailouts should be barred from lobbying or donating to congressional candidates, she said. And the Treasury Department must use the authority given it under the bailout bill to mandate broad-based, permanent loan modifications — including reductions of principal and interest.

“In our experience case-by-case loan modifications don’t work, and voluntary loan modifications aren’t working,” Parson said. She points to the large-scale outreach to trouble Indymac borrowers by the FDIC, which took over the bank earlier this year, as a model.

Parson applauds Obama’s endorsement of a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures, but goes further, calling for a suspension of all foreclosures until the loans involved can be investigated for fraud, deceptive and unfair practices, and disclosure violations. NTIC also supports amending the bankruptcy code to allow court-ordered loan modifications for primary residences. And given that a third of all foreclosures involve multi-unit buildings, provisions must be made to allow renters to stay in their apartments and continue paying market rent after foreclosure, Parson said.

NTIC calls for requiring banks getting bail-out funds to make credit available to the public, and also calls for restoring interest rate caps, pointing out that the elimination of those caps in 1980 made the subprime industry possible. They call for credit card reform and stronger anti-predatory lending legislation. And they call for modernizing the Community Reinvestment Act to cover investment banks, mortgage companies, and insurance companies — as well as affiliates of bank holding companies now exempted from CRA review. “CRA has been the most effective regulation in ensuring that low and moderate income communities get affordable and quality loans,” Parson said.

With four million families facing the possibility of foreclosure, this is not the time to be tearing down affordable housing, said DeAngelo Bester of NTIC’s Housing Justice Campaign. They call for an immediate moratorium on the demolition of public housing until full funding for federal housing programs is restored, and until a one-for-one replacement requirement is restored, he said

He adds that Obama should appoint a HUD secretary who “puts the interests of tenants and communities before the interests of developers.” How about Valerie Jarrett? “Absolutely not,” Bester says. He came up against Jarrett’s Habitat Company as a community organizer working with residents of subsidized housing on the West Side. “She is not the right person,” he said. “She has backed slumlords in Chicago.”

Jobs

The next major challenge facing Obama is the threat of a major recession. In some communities, things have been tough for a long time. On the West Side, the South Austin Coalition, working with NTIC and Chicago Jobs With Justice, has been arguing for a national jobs program for some time. “The violence plaguing our communities has a direct link to poverty and unemployment,” said organizer Elce Redmond. SAC has called for a massive, publicly funded program to rebuild infrastructure and build a green economy, with jobs targeted to the unemployed and underemployed.

The Chicagoland Green Collar Jobs Initiative, which includes nonprofit workforce development groups, is putting organizing muscle behind Obama’s program to create millions of green jobs for low-income people — wind, solar and biofuels, retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, expanding mass transit and rail, constructing a “smart” electric grid. CGJI spokesperson Paige Knutsen, director of sustainable development for the LEED Council, points to national Green For All leader Van Jones, who has heralded the rise of what he terms “Green Keynsianism” in the face of economic contraction, calling for a Green New Deal with a Clean Energy Job Corps.

Any federal jobs program — either a stimulus initiative focused on infrastructure projects or a green jobs program — should have a component for low-income people with employment barriers, said John Bouman of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. He describes a transitional jobs program with subsidized jobs combined with case management which transition into private employment.

Bouman also emphasizes more support for programs that help low-income workers make ends meet — child care subsidies, food stamps, transportation and utility assistance. “None of these is currently meeting the need,” he said. And he expects Obama and Congress to move quickly to enact an expansion of the State Child Health Insurance Program; earlier this year, President Bush twice vetoed SCHIP expansions passed by Congress. “That would establish momentum for a larger health care program,” he said, “and it would cover people during the couple of years it will take to get that.”

For the labor movement, the priority is passing the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure that could raise the living standards of millions of American workers by removing obstacles to union organization, said James Thindwa of Chicago Jobs With Justice. Under the measure workers could form a union by simply signing up a majority of bargaining unit members.

“It’s needed because over the past 30 or 40 years, corporate America has waged a successful campaign to weaken labor law enforcement,” Thindwa said. “Today an employer can violate labor law, fire workers trying to organize, and the penalties are so minimal, there’s no deterrent. It’s a slap on the wrist.”

Thindwa said many labor activists are “very, very disturbed” by the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff, especially after a massive union effort to support Obama’s campaign. Emanuel “was a champion of NAFTA, and those of us who fought NAFTA remember the role he played,” he said. “Perhaps Barack can have a salutory effect on him.”

Transportation

Others are focused on getting priorities right with transportation projects included in two stimulus bills expected in coming months — and especially in the reauthorization of the surface transportation bill, which comes up next year.

“We should be spending in ways that don’t make our problems worse,” said Brian Imus of Illinois PIRG, listing the economic drag of oil dependency and higher gas prices; growing, and costly, traffic congestion; and global warming. “If Congress is going to spend billions of dollars on transportation infrastructure, it should go toward projects that address those problems.”

That means giving priority to fixing existing roads and bridges over building new highways — which add huge long-term upkeep costs — and investing in transit, rail, and other alternatives. Transportation For America, a national coalition backed by Illinois PIRG and other local groups, has identified about $30 billion in ready-to-go infrastructure repair projects, grants to support struggling transit systems and help them acquire green vehicles, and projets to expand transit, address rail bottlenecks, and connect pedestrians and bicyclists with transportation networks, said David Goldberg. Infrastructure repair gets more employment bang for the buck than new construction, he said, because it doesn’t require costly engineering and property acquisition.

Such priorities should carry over to next year’s transportation bill, which could begin to look at revamping the funding structure, based on gasoline taxes and heavily weighted toward highway construction, Goldman and Imus said. “We need a new approach that looks at our goals,” said Mandy Burrell of the Metropolitan Planning Council. “We need to be expanding transportation options, not just moving people around faster.”

That could mean reconsidering the Prairie Parkway, the proposed new 37-mile billion-dollar highway connecting I-80 and I-88, cutting through agricultural and natural areas, said Stacy Meyers-Glen of Openlands. The newly reelected congressman there, Bill Foster, has said he opposes further federal funding for the project and is looking for ways to shift a $207 million earmark won by former House Speaker Denny Hastert for an initial five-mile stretch into improving Illinois Route 47, which already connects the two interstates.

That’s a less costly approach that wouldn’t crowd out funding for badly-needed improvements to the existing road network in the area — especially east-west connections between existing residents and employment — and it wouldn’t push development to areas where it isn’t desirable, said Meyers-Glen. “We need transportation to track good planning,” she said.

Smarter priorities would also mean backing off from construction of a new airport in Peotone, said George Ochsenfeld of Shut This Airport Nightmare Down. The airport itself could cost a half billion to a billion dollars, with another billion needed for new infrastructure to support it, he said.

“The existing roads can’t even handle the construction equipment, they need a new exit on I-57, and on and on,” he said. “We should put money into high-speed rail and fixing infrastructure that already exists, not unneeded airports,” he said.

(As a state senator Obama backed Peotone — along with the competing O’Hare expansion, which is moving forward while Peotone idles, lacking airline support and caught up in political wrangling.)

Rick Harnish of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association points to growing demand for Amtrak — and to Obama’s support for Amtrak in the Senate. “It’s particularly important to start expanding the railway network as fast as possible, and the first step is a large order for rolling stock, so they can quickly add seats and beds to existing trains and get service added to places where it’s needed,” he said. In Illinois one focus is making the Chicago-St. Louis train faster, with new signals downstate and fixes for chokepoints in and outside Chicago, he said.

The Chicago Metropolitan Planning Agency is bringing local civic groups together over the next few months to develop recommendations to reform federal policy toward metropolitan regions, said MPC’s Burrell. She said federal agencies tend to focus on congressional districts to the detriment of regional planning, and multiple agencies often fail to coordinate transportation, housing, employment, and environmental policies. Along with a New York State group, MPC is also co-hosting a “mega-regional” conference on planning for the Great Lakes on November 17 in Chicago, she said.

Immigration

Obama has supported easing obstacles to citizenship, including sharp fee hikes and onerous citizenship tests. He could reduce such obstacles through administrative measures with little cost, and he could push for funding for a national citizenship promotion effort along the lines of Illinois’ New Americans Initiation, said Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Obama has also criticized massive dragnet-type workplace raids and detentions as disrupting families and communities, Tsao said, and as president he could shift to more targeted enforcement actions. “A lot will depend on who [Obama] picks to head Homeland Security,” he said.

On immigration reform and legalization, “it’s the job of our organization and our allies to push the new administration to act sooner rather than later,” Tsao said. The increasing significance of Latino voters, who provided the margin of victory in several states and congressional districts, “could have an influence on the landscape for immigrant legislation.”

Education

Obama will be the first real education president, according to Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education. “He gets it,” she writes on PURE’s blog.

“He organized to help establish local school councils in Chicago, and supported them in Springfield. He held the top board position at a foundation whose mission was to improve educational opportunities for low-income, urban children. He stands up for parents and teachers. He understands that the No Child Left Behind Act is a disaster that needs immediate fixing.”

NCLB has “fundamental flaws” including overreliance on standardized testing, labeling struggling schools as “failing” and punishing them by withdrawing funding, Woestehoff said. Obama “has been out front on needing to change the way we assess students,” she said.

In September PURE and the New York-based group Class Size Matters released a letter to presidential candidates (pdf) calling for attention to school overcrowding and safety, smaller class sizes, a rich curriculum including arts, and parent involvement, “with progress evaluated by high-quality, appropriate assessment tools that are primarily classroom-based.”

While Obama has called for doubling federal funding for charter schools, the two groups argue that the proliferation of selective enrollment schools “risks creating wider disparities between the haves and have-nots…[W]hat is often advertised as increased parental choice actually means the ability of such schools to exclude our neediest students. The last thing our nation needs is a ‘trickle down’ educational system.”

Not surprisingly, PURE has opposed the suggestion that CPS chief Arne Duncan be considered as Obama’s education secretary, saying that position should be filled by someone with in-school experience who supports parent involvement.

Media Reform

The next president will face what could be “the mother of all consumer backlashes” early next year when TV signals go digital on February 19 and millions of households — perhaps 20 percent nationwide — lose their television signal, said Mitchell Szczepanczyk of Chicago Media Action. He cites shortcomings in the government’s voucher program for digital converters. Obama has vowed to smooth the transition.

He’ll also have a chance to reshape the Federal Communications Commission, where minority Democrats — who have fought losing battles for localism and against media concentration — will get a majority. Obama has spoken out for greater diversity in media ownership and has said he would step up anti-trust scrutiny of media mergers.

A larger challenge — effecting our economy and our democracy — is the need for a national broadband policy, Szczepanczyk said. The U.S. is far behind other countries in affordable and high-speed internet access, with one-third of households having no internet and another third limited to dial-up. Obama should follow through on his promise to enshrine “net neutrality” in law, preventing internet providers from favoring some kinds of content over others, Szczepanczyk said. Policies encouraging municipal and community internet — which have been opposed by telecom and cable companies — are needed too.

“The U.S. is turning into a digital backwater,” Szczepanczyk said. “We need to join other countries that treat the internet as a utility, not a commodity.”

Campaign Reform

“When Obama opted out of public campaign financing, he said the system is broken and promised to work to fix it, and that needs to be a very serious priority for him,” said Cindi Canary of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. This has been “a remarkable election, with far more public involvement than we’ve ever seen before” — unpredecedented voter turnout and “lots and lots of small donors” — and it presents an opportunity to “find creative ways to institutionalize small donor participation,” perhaps with public matching funds for small donors, Canary said.

She also proposes requiring free air time for candidates from TV broadcasters as a condition of their free broadcast licenses in order to cut campaign costs, level the playing field and provide better information on issues than TV news now does.

Government transparency and ethics is another area for action, Canary said. The new president should “take some of the work he’s done in the Illinois Senate and the U.S. Senate and take it several steps further,” including more stringent reporting requirements and donation limitations on lobbyists, she said.

Canary brings it back to the bailout: “As we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on these bank bailouts, we need to make sure it’s done in a transparent and accountable way.”

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