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GE hit on “tax dodging,” Durbin on budget cuts

A dozen community and faith groups will protest “tax dodging” by General Electric and call on Senator Dick Durbin to lead the charge for corporate tax reform to fund social programs in related actions tomorrow.

Protestors will deliver a giant “cease and desist” letter calling on GE to “stop dodging taxes while lobbying for cuts to Social Security” at GE’s Chicago headquarters, 500 W. Monroe, at 12 noon on Thursday, August 22.  They will demonstrate outside Durbin’s office at 230 S. Dearborn at 12:40 p.m.

It’s part of a national week of action “outing” corporate tax dodgers across the country by Chicago-based National Peoples Action.

Tax-free profits

From 2002 to 2012, GE paid $2.1 billion in federal income taxes while earning $88 billion in profits — a tax rate of 2.4 percent, far below the official rate of 35 percent — according to Americans for Tax Fairness.

In four of those years GE reported $22.5 billion in profits but paid no taxes — and received $4.8 billion in tax rebates, according to the group.

One way it accomplished this was by investing U.S. profits overseas, according to Huffington Post.

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Community groups cheer DeMarco replacement

Last week Chicagoans joined a national protest action at the home of Federal Housing Finance Agency director Edward DeMarco, demanding his resignation.

On Wednesday, President Obama responded to growing demands to replace DeMarco, naming U.S. Representative Mel Watt (D-NC) as his replacement.

“It’s long overdue,” commented Katie Buitrago of the Woodstock Institute.

“This is a good day for homeowners and families across the state of Illinois and a big step in the right direction for our economy,” said Rev. Marilyn Pagán-Banks of IIRON, a Chicago-area organizing network.

“We now encourage Congressman Watt to implement common-sense policies like principal reduction to bring relief to tens of millions of homeowners and to jumpstart the economic progress our country needs.”

Community groups and housing advocates have called for DeMarco’s replacement for over a year, faulting him for blocking principal reductions on mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the FHFA oversees.

They argue that reducing mortgage principal to reflect the fair market value of homes that since the housing crash are worth less than what homeowners owe would prevent foreclosures, stabilize the housing market, and boost the economy.

DeMarco has been “the biggest roadblock to our country’s economic recovery,” said Tracy Van Slyke of the New Bottom Line coalition, which has spearheaded a “Dump DeMarco” campaign.

At last week’s action, as 500 people from National Peoples Action gathered at DeMarco’s Washington D.C. home,  Reverend Cliff Parks of Illinois Peoples Action noted that Fannie and Freddie control over half the mortgages in the nation, including those of nearly 14 million  underwater homeowners.  (See video below.)

Elizabeth Scrafford, a DePaul student and leader with IIRON Student Network, read a resignation letter drafted for DeMarco, holding him responsible for 1,800 families facing unnecessary new foreclosures every day that he has delayed approval of principal reduction.

Watt is known as an early advocate for action against predatory lending, Buitrago said.

Noting that he faces an uphill battle to win confirmation from the Senate, Buitrago said Obama should consider installing Watt with a recess appointment.  The administration’s previous nominee for the post withdrew in 2011 after Senate Republicans refused to act on his nomination.

Republicans say they want a plan from the administration for eliminating Fannie and Freddie before they consider an FHFA appointment.  But IIRON and other groups are calling on Watt to “support the vital role [the agencies] play in ensuring housing opportunities.”

Check out “NPA knocks on Ed DeMarco’s door,” from April 22:

Second term: immigration, climate, foreclosures

Immigration reform, climate change, the foreclosure crisis: with some disappointment over limited progress on these issues over the past four years, local activists hope more will be done in President Obama’s second term.

While support for comprehensive immigration reform has broadened noticeably since the November election, immigrant rights groups are concerned over dramatically stepped-up deportations under Obama, which reached 409,000 last year.

They’ll march on Inauguration Day (Monday, January 21, starting at 11 a.m. at the Daley Plaza and rallying at 12 noon at the Federal Plaza) calling on Obama to declare a moratorium on deporations.

A moratorium would be a first step toward comprehensive reform, said Eric Rodriguez, executive director of the Latino Union of Chicago.

“We want the president to be on the right side of history,” he said.  “His second term will define his legacy.  Will he be the president who deported more people than any other in history, or the president responsible for championing inclusion and equality?”

Immigration raids are a constant threat in Chicago communities today, said Tania Unzueta of the Immigant Youth Justice League; just last week scores of local residents were picked up in raids on a factory and two gathering places for day laborers.  IYJL is working to support several families who have members in detention, she said.

“Obama says he wants to do the right thing and keep families together, but we aren’t seeing it in our communities,” she said.

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Bank fraud investigation hailed

President Obama’s State of the Union announcement of a new investigation into bank fraud represents a victory for community groups, said National Peoples Action on Wednesday.

“We’ve been calling for a full investigation for over a year,” said Liz Ryan Murphy of NPA.  “This is a big win, but we still need to see results.

“We need a complete investigation to get to the bottom  of what they’ve done, with penalties and restitution that are commensurate with the crimes.”

The Woodstock Institute also hailed the announcement.  “Making it clear that criminal activity in the financial sector will not be tolerated is necessary to restore confidence in the mortgage market and the broader financial system,” said Tom Feltner.

Obama announced that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will head a new task force looking into abuses in the mortgage origination and securitization sector.

Schneiderman’s appointment came as NPA and other groups (including IIRON in Chicago) expressed concern that the administration was pressing for a settlement in the robo-signing scandal that would release banks from legal claims covering a sweeping range of misconduct.  Schneiderman was among state attorney generals said to be raising similar concerns

Principal reduction

If it is narrowly focused on relieving claims arising from fraudulent foreclosure filings, a settlement could begin to bring relief to hard-hit communities in the form of loan modifications which reduce principal to reflect depressed home values, Feltner said.

Principal reduction is “a critical missing piece in the response to the foreclosure crisis,” he said.

NPA has argued that homeowners have lost billions of dollars of equity since the housing market collapsed due to the malfeasance of big banks, and that wholesale principal reduction would constitute a massive economic stimulus.

Both groups have called on the Federal Home Finance Authority to direct Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own 70 percent of home mortgages, to allow principal reduction.

Murray said Obama should replace Edward DeMarco, acting director of the FHFA, who has ruled out principal reduction.

The president “should consider a change in leadership” at FHFA, Feltner said.

Lakeview protest targets record bank bonuses

Lakeview residents plan to move $170,000 out of big banks Thursday as a protest against astronomical – and growing – executive compensation at big banks.

They’re targeting branches of JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America in an action planned for Thursday, December 15, 5 p.m.,  at Clark and Belden.

Lakeview Action Council members are among thousands of community activists across the country who have signed a letter to the CEOs of Chase, BofA, and Wells Fargo, calling on them to forgo bonuses and use the money to keep families in their homes, provide credit for businesses, and pay their fair share of taxes.

While media reports have suggested bank executives will face a pay cut this year, the New Bottom Line campaign analyzed compensation pools for the first three quarters of the year and projects that compensation will be up by 3.7 percent.

At BofA, despite heavy losses and plummeting stock prices this year, compensation setasides have increased by 7 percent, according to the group.

Last year JPM Chase CEO Jamie Dimon earned $10,400 an hour, according to NBL.

“These bonuses [represent] families facing foreclosure that can’t stay in their homes, taxes not paid, student loans not made.,” said Liz Ryan Murray of National People’s Action, which is part of NBL.   “These execs are rewarding themselves for damaging our communities and economy.”

Changes in executive compensation are credited with driving the high-risk investment strategies that crashed the economy three years ago.  With longterm unemployment and foreclosures still climbing, recovery is still a long way off.

But with the help of federal bailouts, big banks have recovered nicely; they currently sit on $2 trillion in cash reserves.  Rather than using the money to create jobs, they have spent lavishly on mergers and acquisitions, stock buy-backs, dividend payments, and executive bonuses, Murray said.

’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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