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Republic workers to visit ‘Bainport’

Workers from Chicago’s Republic Windows are joining Freeport factory workers fighting the outsourcing of their jobs by Bain Capital.

Republic workers attend hold a solidarity meeting on Sunday, October 21, at 1 p.m. at the “Bainport” encampment in the county fairground across the street from the Sensata plant on Freeport’s south side.

While Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has promised to “get tough on China,” he turned a deaf ear to Sensata workers’ pleas for his help to save their jobs from being outsourced to China, said Tom Gaulrapp, a 33-year employee of the automotive sensor plant.

Romney stands to profit from the outsourcing of Freeport workers’ jobs through Bain Capital stock he owns, and he continues to profit from Bain’s offshore holdings and tax avoidance strategies, Gaulrapp said.  The plant closing is now becoming an issue in the presidential campaign.

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Hondurans mark coup anniversary

Local Hondurans and human rights activists will protest at the Honduran Consulate, 4439 W. Fullerton, on Thursday, June 28 from noon to 2 p.m. to mark the third anniversary of the 2009 coup and demand an end to U.S. military support, including financial assistance and “boots on the ground.”

A deadly attack on Honduran campesinos travelling by canoe on May 11, apparently killed by Honduran police officers accompanying U.S. DEA agents in a U.S. State Department helicopter, reveals the “quiet escalation” of the U.S. military presence there, according to a June 11 Nation article.

While Latin American nations have refused to recognize the post-coup government, the U.S. has embraced it, with President Obama welcoming Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to the White House last October and Vice President Biden travelling to Honduras to pledge continuing support in March.

Obama’s 2013 budget more than doubles military and police aid to Honduras, according to the Nation.

The pretext is the war on drugs, but the vice president of the Honduran Congress estimates that 40 percent of the nation’s police are involved in organized crime, and other officials have exposed “narco-judges” and representatives of drug cartels in Congress.

Human rights abuses have continued to mount, with 22 journalists among hundreds of Hondurans killed, the AFL-CIO reporting “numerous murders” of trade unionists, and the UN reporting that “human rights defenders continue to suffer extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture” and other abuses.

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Rally for ‘Jobs Not Cuts’

A new coalition challenging the federal government’s budget priorities will hold a town hall meeting with three members of Congress Thursday night, then adjourn to join Occupy Chicago outside the Bank of America at LaSalle and Jackson.

The town hall takes place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 20 at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, with a press conference at 5:30 p.m.

Move The Money Chicago, which includes scores of community, peace, and labor groups, calls for a massive jobs program funded by taxing the rich and ending overseas wars.

U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, Jesse Jackson Jr., and Jan Schakowsky will speak at the meeting, along with local residents spelling out concerns – a public school teacher, a victim of foreclosure, an unemployed worker, and others, said Terry Davis of MTM Chicago.

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Forty years of women’s history

Jan Schakowsky and Heather Booth will join local leaders for a panel discussion celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Area Women’s History Council at 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 16, at the Prairie Production studio, 1314 W. Randolph.

Also participating are Maria Pesquiera, executive director of Mujeres Latinas; Jackie Grimshaw of the Center for Neighborhood Technology; Tracy Baim of the Windy City Media Group; and historian Rima Lunin Schultz, co-editor of  CAWHC’s biographical dictionary, “Women Building Chicago 1790-1990.”

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‘Housing is infrastructure’

With the still-growing housing crisis at the core of the sharpest economic downturn since the Great Depression, advocates called for affordable housing to be a key component of stimulus and recovery plans.

“Housing is infrastructure,” said Jack Markowski of the Community Investment Corporation, alluding to massive infrastructure investments planned in the forthcoming stimulus program. “It employs people. It provides the foundation to allow people to be part of the workforce.” And with a growing need for energy conservation, “it’s part of the green economy.

“We have proposals that are shovel-ready,” he added, speaking at a gathering of over 200 community housing practitioners convened by the Chicago Rehab Network at Roosevelt University yesterday.

Markowski called for tripling expenditures for the federal HOME Investment Partnership Program, which finances affordable housing production — at $2 billion a year, its budget has not been increased since 1990, he said — as well as for the $4 billion Community Development Block Grant Program.

U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky described efforts by congressional leadership to include $23 billion for affordable housing development in the stimulus package, including $10 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund to build or save 100,000 low-income rental homes over two years, as well as funds for more low-income rental subsidies, upgrading public housing units to green standards, and helping cities redevelop foreclosed properties.

Together the proposed spending would assist 800,000 hard-hit households and create 200,000 new jobs, she said.

Schakowsky also discussed efforts to require any further spending under the TARP financial bailout program to include at least $40 billion for foreclosure mitigation.

Participants in two panels expressed high hopes for the incoming Obama administration. “We need a HUD that wants to do housing,” said Andrew Geer of Heartland Housing.

Community Media Workshop president Thom Clark moderated the panel discussions.

Joy Aruguete of Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation emphasized the connection between affordable housing and a green jobs program, and Ted Wysocki of the LEED Council stressed the need for immediate training for green jobs.

Housing consultant Teresa Prim discussed the economic recovery plan proposed by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Steven McCullough of Bethel New Life called for “holding financial institutions accountable and making sure capital is flowing to the people who really need it…. We’re at the point where a large number of multifamily buildings are in trouble because of [lack of] capital flow.”

McCullough said the worker sit-in at Republic Windows last month could be replicated in multifamily rental buildings, with families refusing to move when buildings go into foreclosure.

“In Chicago we’ve seen overinvestment in high-end housing causing displacement, and in Washington we’ve seen that a top-down housing policy allows the bottom to fall out,” said Pat Abrams of The Renaissance Collaborative. “But we who work at the community level have an alternative to the top-down approach.

“Affordable housing is a community anchor,” Abrams said. “We must ensure that affordable housing, and especially rental housing, is the centerpiece of any economy recovery.”

Blackwater

September 16 is the first anniversary of the killing of 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square by Blackwater security personnel, and peace groups in states with Blackwater training sites have been marking the occasion with protests (though a Sunday demonstration by the Clearwater Project of Illinois was rained out.)

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Elders Living ‘Close to the Edge’

Social Security has dramatically reduced official poverty rates among the elderly, but many retired people still struggle to get by, living in the gap between the poverty level and what it really takes to pay daily bills.

A new statewide initiative to improve economic security for the elderly will be launched Monday, with the unveiling of an Elder Economic Security Index which measures the actual costs of basic expenses for each county in the state. Advocates hope it can be used to allign eligibility for public benefits with a more realistic measure of income adequacy.

The federal poverty level, developed in the 1960s, is based on three times a moderate food budget. But other expenses have skyrocketed in intervening years — especially housing and health care, according to Martha Holstein of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, who is coordinating the initiative in Illinois.

The new index, developed by Washington, D.C.-based Wider Opportunities for Women and the Gerontology Institute of the University of Massachusetts Boston, includes housing, food, transportation and health costs and measures them by local conditions, county by county.

It turns out that a retiree relying mainly on Social Security for expenses falls far short of what’s needed for a barebones budget, Holstein said.

The gap is greater for women living alone, whose Social Security is less due to segregation in lower-paying jobs and time out to raise families — and it’s greater yet for women of color, she said..

According to WOW, average Social Security earnings for single elderly women were just above the poverty level of $10,210 a year — and for blacks and Hispanics, they’re below that level.

An older woman living at the poverty level who receives all the public benefits for which she qualifies still falls significantly short of an adequate income, Holstein said.

For a third of the nation’s elderly, Social Security accounts for 90 percent or more of their income.

“People are living very close to the edge,” she said. “At the end of the month they’re running out of food.”

Dr. Claudia Fegan of the Woodlawn Health Center said that many of her elderly patients have trouble paying for their medications, even with the new Medicare drug plans. When they get to the plan’s “donut hole,” they have to pay out of pocket. “Medication for things like Alzheimer’s or seizures is very expensive — it can run $100 a month for each medication.”

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Peace Groups Want Blackwater Out

Local peace activists opposing a new Illinois base for military contractor Blackwater applauded this week’s decision by the University of Illinois to sever its ties with the controversial company.

The “exchange of services” agreement was inappropriate on its own merits, aside from the possible conflict of interest – with the director of the university’s police institute working as a contractor for Blackwater – that led to the agreement’s cancellation, said Dan Kenney of the Clearwater Project.

The university’s police institute is “a public institution training public servants,” Kenney said. “Especially with a company like Blackwater, with its history of disregard for any kind of oversight, its complete lack of any transparency – any company that’s not willing to be transparent shouldn’t be involved in training public servants.”

The Clearwater Project unites local peace and justice groups across northern Illinois – like the DeKalb Interfaith Network for Peace and Justice, to which Kenney belongs, and umbrella coalitions for Fox Valley, Sauk Valley, and the western suburbs. Earlier this month they protested at Blackwater’s new facility in Mount Carroll, Illinois, which opened in April (video here).

Clearwater calls for “shut[ting] Blackwater down in Illinois and the U.S.”

Kenney disputed published statements by company spokespersons implying that the facility is solely for police training; he expects it to train military personnel and private mercenaries, as the company’s North Carolina base does.

Kenney visited Blackwater North in April to ask about courses. “I told them I’m a teacher, I have no law enforcement experience,” he said. “They showed me a whole range of courses I could take. I said I don’t own a submachine gun. They said I could rent one.”

The facility’s website shows six “open enrollment” courses in various types of weapons, and four “law enforcement and military” courses, covering survival and sniping. It lists eleven shooting ranges, including a “combat town range,” as well as a “climbing/rapelling/shooting tower.”

Prospered with privatization

Founded in 1997, Blackwater has prospered in the war in Iraq, waged under the political leadership of long-time proponents of military privatization. According to Jeremy Scahill, author of a book about Blackwater, speaking in Mount Carroll this spring (video here), the proportion of U.S. military personnel to private contractors in the first Gulf War was 60 to 1; in the current conflict, it’s close to 1-to-1, with 130,000 private personnel providing security and support services traditionally conducted by the military.

Blackwater gained prominence when its personnel replaced U.S. Marines in protecting State Department staff; later the grisly murder of four Blackwater operatives in Falluja opened a new chapter in the war.

The families of the Blackwater employees killed in Falluja have sued the company for wrongful death, charging Blackwater with attempting to save money by sending them on a mission with inadequate staffing and weapons and unarmored vehicles. Blackwater has argued that subjecting its management to legal challenge would undermine the military effort. In February the Supreme Court rejected a Blackwater motion and sent the trial to state court.

After two years of congressional investigations into the matter were stymied, it was revealed in February that Blackwater was in Falluja providing security for a Kuwaiti subcontractor for military supercontractor KBR; Blackwater billed the subcontractor $2.3 million for its services, and KBR billed the military $19.6 million to cover the bill – a $17 million markup.

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, House oversight committee chair, says the cost of private security contrators is “significantly higher” than direct costs would be for the military.

Obama, Schakowsky Demand Accountability

In February, Senator Barack Obama introduced legislation to address issues of lack of accountability for military contractors like Blackwater, aimed at “bringing contractors under the rule of law.” Such contractors are “operating with unclear lines of authority, out-of-control costs and virtually no oversight by Congress,” he told Scahill, writing for the Nation. “This black hole of accountability increases the danger to our troops and American civilians serving as contractors.”

Also in February, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky introduced legislation requiring broad disclosure of the role of contractors, including their casualties and criminal cases and disciplinary actions they face – information she has sought without success.

“For too long, the Bush Administration has relied on guns-for-hire to carry out inherently governmental functions,” said Schakowsky. “Contractors have operated under a veil of secrecy, without a public debate about the nature and scope of their operations.”



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