Monday, April 30, 2007

U.S. consumer spending rises by slowest amount in 5 months

U.S. consumer spending rises by slowest amount in 5 months
Copyright by The Associated Press
Published: April 30, 2007

WASHINGTON: Consumer spending in the United States rose at the slowest rate in five months in March while construction activity managed only a tiny gain, weighed down by further weakness in housing.

The Commerce Department reported that consumer spending on all items was up 0.3 percent last month, the slowest increase since a similar rise in October. Incomes rose by 0.7 percent, the fourth straight solid month of income growth.

Spending on building projects edged up a slight 0.2 percent in March as strength in hotel and shopping center contruction offset the 11th drop in housing activity over the past year.

The tiny 0.2 percent rise pushed total construction activity to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.19 trillion (€870 billion) in March, down 2 percent from a year ago, as the building industry has been hardhit by the slump in housing.

The spending performance in March was even weaker when the effects of higher gasoline prices were removed. After adjusting for price increases, consumer spending actually fell by 0.2 percent in March, the poorest showing since the fall of 2005 when the economy was suffering the aftershocks of Hurricane Katrina.

The weaker-than-expected performance in consumer spending was certain to add to worries that the economy could be in danger of stalling out if consumer confidence falters in the face or rising gasoline prices and a slumping housing market.

The serious slump in housing has been weighing on the economy for the past year with the government reporting last Friday that overall economic growth slowed to an anemic 1.3 percent rate in the January-to-March quarter, the weakest showing in four years.

In a further sign of the slowdown in housing, the National Association of Realtors reported Monday that sales of second homes were mixed in 2006. Purchases of investment properties fell a sharp 28.9 percent to 1.65 million units last year, down from a record 2.32 million investment sales in 2005.

However, sales of vacation homes rose by 4.7 percent last year to a record 1.07 million units, up from 1.02 million vacation homes sold in 2005. Sales of vacation properties and investment homes accounted for 36 percent of all existing and new home sales last year, down from 40 percent in 2005, which was the peak of the five-year housing boom, the Realtors reported.

The construction report showed that the 0.2 percent increase, slightly lower than the 0.3 percent which had been expected, followed a 1.5 percent jump in February, a gain that was attributed to better-than-normal weather during the month.

The spending report Monday showed that a price gauge tied to consumer spending was unchanged in March, after excluding the effects of gasoline and food.

This meant that core inflation as measured by personal consumption spending is up by just 2.1 percent for the past 12 months, much better than the worrisome 2.4 percent jump recorded for the 12 months ending in February.

The slowdown in inflation outside of energy should provide some assurance to the Federal Reserve, which is hoping that its 17 consecutive interest rate increases will be enough to slow economic growth slightly and keep inflation under control.

The Fed last raised interest rates in June 2006 and since that time has kept rates steady in hopes that it has done enough to trigger a retreat in inflation pressures. The Fed meets again next week, and the widespread view is that it will leave rates unchanged once again.

The 0.7 percent rise in incomes matched the February gain and followed a sizable 1.1 percent jump in January which reflected the one-time impact of huge bonus payments paid to high-income executives.

After-tax incomes were also up 0.7 percent although this gain shrank to just 0.2 percent when the effects of inflation were removed.

The personal savings rate remained in negative territory for the 24th consecutive month. The rate was a minus 0.8 percent in March, slightly better than the negative 1.2 percent recorded in February.

A negative savings rate means that consumers not only used all of their incomes for purchases but also dipped into past savings or increased their borrowing to finance purchases during the month.

Boston Globe Editorial - Lethal injection, revealed

Boston Globe Editorial - Lethal injection, revealed
Copyright by The Boston Globe
April 30, 2007

Though nearly all industrial democracies have abolished the death penalty, it survives in the United States, in part because the states where it is legal have sought to make it antiseptic. The era of public hangings is long over, replaced in America by an impersonal, well-guarded process that minimizes discomfort for the executioners and the public. But this decades-long effort to make executions seem merely clinical - culminating in the rise of lethal injection as the dominant method of execution - does not mean that prisoners are being put to death in a humane manner.

Indeed, a new analysis of executions in California and North Carolina suggests the opposite. Published in PLoS Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal from the Public Library of Science, it indicates that the three-drug combination generally used in lethal injections can result in a painful process of asphyxiation, during which a prisoner may be conscious. That possibility is heightened when technicians bungle the procedure. The study strips away the medical veneer and offers strong evidence that lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Methods capable of causing near-instantaneous deaths, such as guillotines and firing squads, have been rejected as stomach-turning. The electric chair, a method conceived as a quick, mechanical alternative, has proved repulsive in practice, and the brutality of lethal injection is becoming ever clearer, too.

There are many other reasons why the death penalty should be abolished: It does not deter crime; it is applied unevenly across jurisdictions and demographic groups; it is irrevocable, and the dozen-odd death row inmates exonerated by DNA evidence underscore the danger of executing the innocent.

Some advocates of the death penalty are untroubled by it, no matter how it might be carried out. But broader support for capital punishment surely relies on the perception that prisoners go to their deaths painlessly. This latest study tells states not to kid themselves; taking lives in the public's name can never be rendered quick or clean.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Still waiting for answers

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Still waiting for answers
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: April 29, 2007

Surely no one beyond a handful of the most self-deluded Republicans in Congress was surprised at the disclosure by George Tenet, the former intelligence director, that there was never a serious debate in the Bush administration about whether Iraq actually posed a threat to the United States.

It has long been evident that President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq first, and constructed his ramshackle case for the war after the fact. So why, after all this time, are people still in the dark about the details of that campaign?

For that matter, why doesn't the public know the full truth about Bush's illegal domestic spying program or his decisions on how to handle prisoners of the war on terror? And now there are new questions begging for answers - about the purge of U.S. attorneys and about campaign pep rallies in executive branch agencies that might well have violated federal law.

For six years, the Republican majority in Congress ignored the administration's misdeeds and pushed through laws that gave cover to some of Bush's most outrageous abuses of power. Now that the Democrats control Congress, they have opened the doors of government in welcome ways. But the list of questions just seems to grow.

We hope Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, enforces the subpoena of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss prewar claims about Saddam Hussein's long-gone weapons programs. Rice, who was national security adviser before the war, says she has answered every possible question.

Actually, we don't have room for all our questions. Just a few: Did she vet the briefing Bush got from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's rogue intelligence shop on Iraq's alleged efforts to acquire uranium? The CIA and the State Department thought, correctly, that the report was false. So why did Rice permit the president to repeat it to the world? Or did Bush also know what he was claiming was wrong?

The same applies to other claims about Iraq, including a false report about the purchase of aluminum tubes for bomb building, talk of mushroom clouds and fairy tales about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. When it became clear the intelligence was false, why didn't Rice make sure the public found out? Before the war, Rice was not in a post requiring Senate confirmation, but she is now. If she refuses to testify, the House should hold her in contempt.

It is imperative for Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to finish two remaining studies on prewar intelligence that his Republican predecessor, Senator Pat Roberts, had no intention of completing. The first, on the errors made by the intelligence agencies in predicting what would happen after the invasion of Iraq, is expected to be finished next month. The final piece of the report will compare what administration officials said about Iraq with the actual information they had. Both reports are essential for understanding how America got into this mess.

And then there are the questions about the purge of federal prosecutors. There is mounting evidence that many of the eight fired U.S. attorneys were punished for refusing to prosecute Democrats on phony election-fraud charges. Who ran this purge? And is it true, as it now seems, that others were rewarded for bringing weak corruption cases timed to close races?

Bush's supporters are already arguing that Congress' much-needed investigations are politically motivated and backward looking.

Actually, the baldly political act was the Republicans' refusing to do their constitutional duty of oversight for the last six years. Waxman said his panel issued four subpoenas to the Bush administration under Republican leadership. The same leadership issued more than 1,000 subpoenas to the Clinton administration.

As for looking back, Bush has hardly given up the habit of stonewalling Congress, or shown that he has learned the limits of his power. The war in Iraq not only continues, but Bush is escalating it and repeating many of the same myths about Saddam. America does not need any more myths. It needs answers.

Citigroup chiefs fear push for break-up

Citigroup chiefs fear push for break-up
By David Wighton in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 29 2007 22:09 | Last updated: April 29 2007 22:09

Senior Citigroup executives fear the world’s biggest financial services company could become the target of activist hedge funds that would press for it to be broken up.

The executives believe Citigroup needs to step up its investor relations and explain better to shareholders the value of keeping its businesses together.

Many have dismissed the possibility that Citigroup, valued at $260bn, could become an activist target. But one Citigroup executive said: “Even Citigroup is not too big. It’s not impossible.”

Concerns have heightened following the campaign by The Children’s Investment Fund, an activist investor group, to force the break-up of ABN Amro, the Dutch banking group. This has resulted in a bid battle between Barclays and a consortium of banks seeking to break it up.

Chuck Prince, Citigroup’s chief executive, is under pressure to boost its stagnant share price. Critics say the group is too big and complex to manage and that smaller specialist financial companies tend to perform better.

Tom Brown, a former Wall Street banking analyst turned hedge fund manager, says long-term performance would improve if the group were split into four: US consumer finance; international consumer finance; investment banking; and wealth management. There would also be an immediate increase in shareholder value if it were split into separately traded companies. Mr Prince argues that there is significant value in having the businesses together. But one senior executive said that strategy needed to be “articulated better”.

Mr Brown complains that Mr Prince “has ventured the view, without elaboration, that the notion of a Citigroup break-up is stupid”.

Allies say Mr Prince has provided detailed evidence on why the group should not be broken up – at a presentation in December in which he also outlined the many ways in which he is trying to get its business “silos” to work more closely together. The recently announced restructuring involves much greater sharing of support functions between the businesses. Some critics believe activist investors should move now before it becomes more difficult to split up.

Senior executives have heard rumours of activist interest focused either on a break-up or on Mr Prince’s leadership. But there has been no sign of stake-building on the share register.

Although Citigroup has an active investor relations programme, senior executives believe it needs to do more to reassure its biggest investors.

Gary Crittenden, the recently appointed chief financial officer, is meeting Citigroup’s largest shareholders to gauge feelings among its core investors. Many are frustrated at the slow progress of Mr Prince’s efforts to transform the group, but the share price has picked up recently, helped by the announcement of 17,000 job cuts and strong first-quarter figures.

William Smith, a persistent critic of Mr Prince, said the results had brought Citigroup’s chief “a little breathing room”.

Back-dating scandal groups at risk

Back-dating scandal groups at risk
By Francesco Guerrera, Brooke Masters and Daniel Pimlott in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 29 2007 22:11 | Last updated: April 29 2007 22:11

More than 40 US companies embroiled in the options back-dating scandal, including software makers McAfee and Novell, could be vulnerable to takeover by activist investors because of a side-effect of long-standing laws.

The new threat to some of the 140-plus companies involved in the options controversy comes at a time when cash-rich hedge funds and private equity groups are scouring the market for takeover targets.

An analysis by the Financial Times has found that 42 of the companies involved in the options scandal are at risk of being targeted by activists who could seek to remove their boards and gain control without launching a takeover bid.

The threat stems from a complex combination of state laws and financial regulations. Under laws in Delaware, the state where most US companies are registered, if a company does not hold a shareholder meeting for 13 months, investors can ask a court to call one.

At such meetings, a company can be banned from communicating with shareholders because the US Securities and Exchange Commission prohibits a group from issuing proxy documents if it has not produced up-to-date financial statements. As a result, activist investors could make proposals, such as removing directors, and the company would be unable fully to respond.

New York state has a similar provision, although it requires shareholders representing at least 10 per cent of a company’s stock to support the call for a special meeting.

Many companies involved in the options scandal have been unable to produce full results because of the options backdating scandal.

Comverse Technology, which has not held a shareholder meeting for more than 13 months because of probes into options backdating, is the first group to fall foul of the provisions.

It is under attack from Oliver Press Partners, a New York hedge fund, which wants seats on its board.

Comverse has asked the SEC to waive the ban on shareholder communications if OPP succeeds in calling a meeting.

“There can be no assurance that OPP or another dissident shareholder will not attempt to nominate additional directors or replace the entire board,” it said.

The SEC, which declined to comment, rarely grants such waivers.

Wolfowitz decries ‘smear campaign’

Wolfowitz decries ‘smear campaign’
By Krishna Guha in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 30 2007 21:09 | Last updated: April 30 2007 21:09

A defiant Paul Wolfowitz on Monday told a committee looking into whether he broke ethical and other rules in a pay-and-promotion deal for his girlfriend, said he had done nothing wrong and had no intention of stepping down as World Bank president.

Mr Wolfowitz – who appeared with his two attorneys – told the panel of bank directors “I will not resign in the face of a plainly bogus charge of conflict of interest.”

His comments were apparently also aimed at US political opinion. During testimony, Mr Wolfowitz lashed out against what he called a “smear campaign” that aimed “to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that I am an ineffective leader and must step down for that reason alone.”

The Bank president said that if he was forced out it would deter potential future candidates from taking the job and “send a terrible message that the Bank does not care about reform.”

Mr Wolfowitz is under fire for directing the Bank’s senior human resources officer to grant a large pay rise and other benefits to Shaha Riza, his partner, as part of a secondment package.

The investigating committee is expected to release its findings as to whether his conduct broke Bank rules or ethics codes in a matter of days.

Mr Wolfowitz insisted that he – and the ethics committee at the time – “acted in good faith.” He said “for the directors now to declare my actions to be improper and to criticise me would be unjust and frankly hypocritical.”

The core of the case against Mr Wolfowitz is that he went beyond the advice of the committee in awarding pay and other benefits to Ms Riza.

On July 27 2005 the committee proposed that she be seconded outside the Bank to satisfy bank conflict of interest rules and be given a (one step) promotion to compensate for the potential disruption to her career.

On August 11, Mr Wolfowitz instructed the Bank’s human resources chief to offer her a promotion plus a pay rise in excess of the normal maximum associated with such a promotion. The Bank chief also guaranteed 8 per cent per annum pay rises thereafter, and a presumption of promotions by one or two more ranks on her return to the Bank, subject to review by a committee whose membership she could veto.

The detailed submission by Mr Wolfowitz’s lawyers did not contain any dramatic new evidence.

However, his lawyers argued that he was simply trying to implement the ethics committee’s advice in complex and unfamiliar circumstances.

The lawyers claim – without providing any supporting evidence - that Ms Riza’s secondment was “in line with other World Bank settlement agreements.” They said it did not include everything Ms Riza asked for. The lawyers admitted that it was not approved by Roberto Danino, the Bank’s own general counsel, but said it was reviewed by an outside lawyer.

That lawyer said a “limited review” suggested it was “reasonable” in part to avoid the risk of legal proceedings. Mr Danino told the board that there was no serious risk of a successful lawsuit against the Bank, which enjoys quasi-diplomatic status.

Mr Wolfowitz’s stressed that the ethics committee considered an initial anonymous complaint about Ms Riza’s pay in early 2006 and decided that the complaint “did not contain new information warranting any further review.”

Mr Wolfowitz’s supporters argue that to revisit the issue now is akin to being tried twice for the same offence; critics say the board is entitled to reopen the issue and conduct a more detailed review.

A spokesman for Ad Melkert, the-then head of the ethics committee, released a statement on Monday stating “it was entirely Mr Wolfowitz’s decision to do exactly what he originally proposed not to do: to engage directly in personnel matters regarding his partner.”

He added “the ethics committee was not consulted, nor did it approve, the specific terms of the external placement including the large initial pay increase, the stipulation for subsequent annual increases, the stipulation for subsequent promotions.”

Refering to recent press reports, the Melkert aide said “Mr Melkert is extremely concerned that spokespeople for Mr Wolfowitz continue to misrepresent key facts, including the role of the ethics committee.”

Sunday, April 29, 2007

POLICE TORTURE AND MAYOR DALEY - Ignoring an injustice

POLICE TORTURE AND MAYOR DALEY - Ignoring an injustice
By Rob Warden
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published April 29, 2007

Richard M. Daley has eclipsed his late father in many ways, and assuming he serves out his current term, also will surpass him as Chicago's longest-serving mayor.

His legacy, like his father's, will be impressive.

Yet, like his father's legacy, his will not be spotless.

It will be marred by what he himself has acknowledged as "a shameful episode in our history" -- two decades of systematic torture of African-American criminal suspects by white Chicago police officers.

What went on -- plastic bags over heads; shackling to hot radiators; gun barrels in mouths; electrical shocks to ears, nostrils and genitals; cigarette burns to arms, legs and chests -- is now well known and has been cited repeatedly in court opinions and, last year, in a special prosecutors' report.

Not so well known, however, is Daley's own role in the scandal, first as Cook County state's attorney, then as mayor.

In 1982, Chicago Police Supt. Richard Brzeczek notified State's Atty. Daley in writing of credible evidence that Area 2 Police Commander Jon Burge and a group of subordinates had tortured a prisoner named Andrew Wilson.

Daley had the power -- and the duty -- to act.

He did nothing.

In 1983, Daley's prosecutors won the conviction of Wilson, who was sentenced to death. Meanwhile, the torture of African-American murder suspects continued. The result: Innocent men were convicted of murder while the guilty remained on the street.

It took years for the facts to penetrate the walls of official silence. The first major development came in 1987, when the Illinois Supreme Court reversed Wilson's conviction, citing "extensive medical testimony and photographic evidence corroborating the defendant's injuries" -- the very evidence Brzeczek had sent to Daley four years earlier.

In 1989, in a civil rights case brought by Wilson, dozens of other torture cases came to light, leading to an investigation by the Chicago Police Office of Professional Standards.

Then in 1993 -- four years after Daley became mayor and 11 years after Brzeczek informed him of the torture -- Burge was fired (with full pension benefits) after the police investigation documented that he and more than a score of subordinates had been torturing suspects since the early 1970s.

Despite the police findings, however, there was no criminal investigation until 2002, when the presiding judge of the Cook County Criminal Court, Paul Biebel, appointed two special prosecutors, Edward Egan and Robert Boyle, to examine the evidence against Burge and his men.

The special prosecutors' investigation took 4 years and cost Cook County taxpayers more than $7 million before ending last July with a 292-page report that concluded "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Wilson had been tortured but lamenting that "the statute of limitations bars any prosecution of any officers."

In a bizarre perversion of logic, the special prosecutors' report shifted the blame for Daley's dereliction of duty to, of all people, Brzeczek. And, at a news conference after the report's release, Daley condemned the torture, as if he were merely an uninvolved third party.

On Tuesday, the fifth anniversary of the special prosecutors' appointment, a group of civil rights organizations, lawyers involved in torture and other police brutality cases, legal academics, civil rights leaders and human rights advocates (myself among them) released a report critical of the weak official response to the scandal. The report pointedly laid out the facts regarding Daley's role.

After all these years, however, the only consequence for Daley will be the judgment of history -- shame in the eyes of posterity. When his life is chronicled for the generations that follow, his role in the torture scandal can neither be ignored nor judged kindly.

The pity of it is that he could have avoided the disgrace simply by doing the sensible thing -- the right thing -- when Brzeczek notified him of Andrew Wilson's apparent torture in 1982. Wilson had been charged, along with his brother Jackie, with the murders of Chicago Police Officers William Fahey and Richard O'Brien.

There was little doubt that Wilson was guilty -- or that he had been tortured.

At Cook County Jail, he had been examined by Dr. John Raba, the jail medical director, and found to be suffering from "multiple bruises, swellings and abrasions on his face and head," according to jail medical reports. After having Wilson's injuries photographed, Raba sent them to Brzeczek requesting "a thorough investigation of this alleged brutality."

The situation presented a conflict for Daley. Because his office was prosecuting Andrew Wilson, he could hardly investigate the police involved. All Daley had to do was refer the matter to the attorney general or the U.S. attorney and so advise Brzeczek.

Instead, according to the special prosecutors' report, he did nothing more than confer with his two top aides -- Richard Devine, the present state's attorney, and William Kunkle, now a Cook County Circuit Court judge -- and enter into a conspiracy of silence.

Brzeczek's letter went unanswered, and Daley's office proceeded to win Wilson's tainted conviction in 1983. Wilson was sentenced to death. After the Supreme Court reversed his conviction 4 years later, he again was convicted -- without his tortured confession -- and this time sentenced to life.

Meanwhile, at least 50 other credible torture allegations had come to light. Some of the victims, unlike Wilson, no doubt were innocent. Among the more egregious examples were Madison Hobley, Leroy Orange, Stanley Howard and Aaron Patterson, who were sentenced to death under Daley based on false confessions extracted through torture.

Those four men, who languished behind bars a total of more than 70 years before securing pardons based on innocence in 2003, were among nine innocent men sentenced to death and two dozen others sentenced to prison for crimes they did not commit during Daley's 9-year tenure as state's attorney.

Although for the time being the public remains largely oblivious to Daley's role in the torture scandal, the reality may begin to sink in as monetary damages from that period continue to soar.

To date, city and county taxpayers have coughed up more than $45 million to settle civil rights claims dating from Daley's time as state's attorney, plus an estimated $20 million in legal fees. And, on top of the $7 million the county paid for the special prosecutors' investigation, the city reportedly is on the verge of settling torture claims brought by Hobley, Howard and Orange for $15 million, lawyers involved in the case say.

History is unlikely to pass lightly over facts so plainly etched into the public record. Torture, it seems, is an indelible stain on the Daley legacy -- a damned spot that neither he nor his apologists can out.

Rob Warden is the executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.

Criminalizing a community - Ill-timed show of force raises distrust among innocent citizens

Criminalizing a community - Ill-timed show of force raises distrust among innocent citizens
By Teresa Puente
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published April 29, 2007

Imagine federal agents bursting into Water Tower Place or the Oakbrook Center mall in a crime sting. Imagine them holding up photos of white male suspects and comparing them with the white men present in the store. Imagine them kicking open the doors of the ladies room with their guns drawn.

If you were an innocent shopper or bystander in the mall, wouldn't you be outraged?

This is essentially what witnesses reported after a sting last week by federal agents at a strip mall in the heart of Chicago's Mexican neighborhood known as La Villita, or Little Village.

The authorities were searching for 22 people linked to a $2 million fake-ID operation. The suspects were charged with mail fraud, conspiracy and other crimes; two were charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

To be sure, the authorities should go after such criminals. But to do so in such a public way essentially criminalized the innocent shoppers and families in the strip mall, which includes a thrift store, a pharmacy and a health clinic.

The ill-timed and poorly-executed raid further fueled the raging debate over immigration. As Congress considers whether to give legal status -- temporary or permanent -- to the 12 million undocumented workers living in the U.S., immigrant-rights groups will take to the streets of American cities on Tuesday to call attention to the need for immigration reform.

Anybody who walks by this strip mall knows that in the large parking lot and nearby streets one can easily buy a fake green card, Social Security number or driver's license. Illegal vendors shout "Micas! Micas!" the Spanish slang for green cards. It has been that way for more than a decade.

In 1999, I reported on this in a Tribune investigation that focused on how gang members and an international organized crime ring profited from the sale of the illegal documents.

So why did authorities carry out this raid at this time?

Activists accused the government of using the raid to intimidate and discourage people from attending Tuesday's protest. U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald denied that.

"I can assure everyone the arrests had nothing to do with the rally that's upcoming," Fitzgerald said. "There is great debate going on in our country about the immigration situation. This case is not about that debate."

Instead, Fitzgerald said agents acted to prevent another murder and to protect national security.

But the agents could have gone after the suspects in their homes. If national security was the issue, then why has the open-air sale of these fake documents continued in and around the strip mall for so many years with little action by law enforcement until now?

I don't believe it is a conspiracy against the immigrant-rights protesters. But it is a case of bad timing and poor judgment. In the end, it actually will benefit the protesters by mobilizing the community organizations preparing for the event.

There's been talk that not as many people will come out for this year's protest compared with last year, when hundreds of thousands of people jammed the streets of Chicago and other U.S. cities.

This raid may be the political catalyst that the demonstrators have been waiting for. But instead of focusing their outrage on the latest raid, the activists should let people know that the overwhelming number of undocumented immigrants who would benefit from immigration reform are not criminals.

In the eyes of immigration officials, yes, they have broken the law. But the majority of the people are here simply to work and provide a future for their children not available in their home country. If you couldn't find work and had to feed your children, what would you do? How far would you travel?

The truth, as we all well know, is that we all benefit economically from the undocumented immigrant workforce. They labor in our fields and factories, clean our hotels and schools, build our homes and care for our children.

Without their cheap labor, the prices of produce and meat, the cost of hotels and restaurants and countless other services would rise. They do many jobs that most Americans wouldn't touch.

It would be impossible for immigration officials to round up and deport 12 million people in a raid. And three polls from earlier this month show strong support for an immigration policy that would create a path to legal, permanent residency and eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants.

The question remains whether there is enough political will in Congress to pass immigration reform. These proposals range from a temporary guest-worker plan supported by President Bush to legislation introduced by U.S. Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that would create earned citizenship as well as increase border security.

This week members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with Bush to discuss the immigration issue. But many Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are not taking the lead on reform. The Democrats need her leadership to move forward.

Meanwhile, the war in Iraq is overshadowing the immigration debate and capturing most of the national headlines. One raid or one day of national protest alone will not change the course.


Teresa Puente, a former reporter for the Tribune, teaches journalism at Columbia College Chicago.

Preckwinkle speaks, others hide

Preckwinkle speaks, others hide
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
April 29, 2007

It's time to create a special award for public officials who do the right thing. We can call it the ''Accountability 101 Award.''

Let's give the first one to 4th Ward Ald. Toni Preckwinkle.

Last week Preckwinkle was the only official -- elected or appointed -- willing to publicly talk about Antoin "Tony" Rezko. It's not that she enjoyed it. She didn't. But unlike senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, Mayor Daley or city Housing Commissioner Jack Markowski, Preckwinkle demonstrated that now-quaint virtue of public accountability. And did so in full public view.

In case you missed it, a recap:

Last week, Sun-Times reporter Tim Novak filled eight pages of this newspaper with an investigation of political powerbroker Rezko.

We already knew that Rezko was a major campaign donor to a host of politicians, including Obama and Daley. And we already knew that Rezko was under federal investigation in 2005 when he assisted Obama in acquiring a bigger yard for his South Side mansion. And we knew that last October, Rezko was federally indicted in an alleged state pension kickback scheme.

What we didn't know was that Rezko had for years been one of the city's biggest slumlords. That within days of Mayor Daley's first election in 1989, this Park District hot dog vendor who had no construction experience would begin getting $100 million in city, state and federal tax dollars and bank loans to provide affordable housing for Chicago's needy citizens.

While some residents of Rezko's buildings were shivering without heat because he wasn't paying the utility bills, Rezko still managed somehow to write checks to politicians.

Did I mention that Rezko's company made $7 million on those housing deals? Or that all 30 of his buildings were troubled, a number went into foreclosure or otherwise crumbled into vacant, boarded-up drug dens and eyesores? Or that we taxpayers are now stuck with the tab?

So it was only logical to go to public officials and ask how in the world this could have happened.

Daley, after all, is this city's boss of bosses. Obama had 11 of Rezko's buildings in his then-state Senate district. Markowski had been in the Housing Department for years overseeing Rezko's deals. And Preckwinkle had six of Rezko's buildings in her ward.

In behalf of the Sun-Times and NBC5 News, Novak and I requested interviews with all four of them.

To say we were shut down is an understatement.

The mayor's press secretary, Jacquelyn Heard, in a voice mail, dismissed our request out of hand, saying, ''What is the city's dealing with Tony Rezko? The answer is simple. None. During the time he did work with us . . . there was nothing to indicate a problem. . . . That's my answer . . . that's my response.''

Strike One.

Meanwhile, Markowski's press secretary Molly Sullivan gave us such a runaround, my head is still spinning. Finally, in an e-mail, she declared: ''Jack is not available to do this . . . '' In other words, no interview in person, on camera, never, ever. Markowski remains in hiding.

Strike Two.

And then there was Obama.

For five weeks, we tried and tried to get the Obama campaign to tell us anything, anything at all, about what the senator might know about Rezko's dilapidated, defaulted projects. No response for five weeks. Finally, at the 11th hour, some written answers arrived saying the senator was unaware of any Rezko problems even though Obama was a legal associate of the law firm that did a number of Rezko's deals.

But an interview? Not until after we physically chased after Obama last Monday.

Strike Three.

But, thanks to Preckwinkle, we weren't completely out.

Preckwinkle, like Daley and Obama, got tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Rezko. He was a supporter and friend, though not anymore.

Preckwinkle said she began to learn of problems with Rezko's buildings a few years ago from police who reported gang activity there. By that time, however, Rezko had already taken the money and run.

"I think, from a city perspective," said the alderman, "this is your worst nightmare."

Made worse, I would argue, by any public official who doesn't think he should be required to answer questions about it.

The very different faces of deportation - IMMIGRATION | One's a dying mom, another the driver in a deadly DUI crash

The very different faces of deportation - IMMIGRATION | One's a dying mom, another the driver in a deadly DUI crash
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
April 29, 2007

Deportations can break hearts. And they can bust brutal criminals.

For Maria Carrillo, who is terminally ill, deportation might bring death more quickly.

• Faces of deportation

For Javier Rico, deportation will be retribution for killing a young mother in a DUI crash.

Carrillo is in her last stage of fighting expulsion. Rico will be kicked out of the country after serving an eight-year prison term. Most of the nearly 7,000 people deported last year from the Midwest are from the Chicago area. Carrillo and Rico are two of the faces of deportation.

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Doctors told Maria Carrillo she has less than two years to live. But that's only if she stays on schedule with treatment for terminal colon cancer. As Carrillo's family deals with the prospect of her death, they struggle with another big concern, one that tens of thousands of people in the United States face each year: They are about to be deported.

Having nearly exhausted their efforts in a Chicago court to stay in the United States, the Carrillos could be sent back to a small town in Guanajuato, Mexico, by summer, ending the mother's medical treatments here.

"For us, this is very difficult," said Carillo's daughter Maria Elizabeth, 15, fighting tears. "If we are sent back to Mexico, we won't be able to do this. It is different there. We don't even know how we would get her treatments. We just ask for more time. We just ask that someone help her stay here longer."

Maria Carrillo, 45, is undergoing chemotherapy at a university hospital where her family has worked out a payment plan. If forced to leave, her family fears she'll die in months because of a lack of similar care in Mexico.

An immigration judge already has extended the case so many times that their next hearing, in Chicago in June, could be the family's last before being kicked out, according to their lawyer, Julie O'Grady.

"If her chemo is stopped," O'Grady said, "she'll die within six months."

The lawyer said immigration officials could use some discretion in this case, given the circumstances, but won't.

"It is outrageous," O'Grady said. "They have the power to administratively close these cases for humanitarian reasons. If this isn't the case, what is?"

Like others who enter the United States illegally, the Carrillos knew they were taking a risk six years ago when they came from Mexico.

Now, they are paying the price. Every member of the Carrillo family, who live in Indiana, will be sent back. Among them: Daniel Carrillo, 17, a star on his high school soccer team. The youngest, Cristian, 8, who doesn't speak Spanish well. And Maria Elizabeth, who at 15 carries the burden of being family spokeswoman, translator and coordinator of doctors and lawyers.

Just like more than 4,200 illegal immigrants in the Midwest last year, the Carrillos were among the non-criminals who were found out. But the way they were discovered is part of the tale of illegal immigration. Carrillo's two oldest sons were part of a fraudulent-document scheme investigated by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE. The two were deported in 2003.

"ICE showed a great deal of compassion toward Maria due to her medical condition and her responsibility as a caregiver to three young children," ICE spokeswoman Gail Montenegro said. "This family has been treated with compassion, has been afforded due process, and now the case is in the hands of an impartial immigration judge who will make the final determination."

Such cases are on the rise in the Midwest. In 2004, fewer than 3,400 people who were not criminals were deported from the Midwest region, compared with about 4,275 non-criminal deportations in 2006. That's a 26 percent increase. Overall deportations -- criminals and non-criminals -- are up, too, with a 10 percent jump in the Midwest in 2006 compared with 2004.

Immigrant families here illegally face a dilemma if one family member is discovered: Take a chance and stay, or return to their native country.

Jose Luis Delatorres, who has a 4-year-old son, now faces that decision. His wife, Maricela Samano, was among the 17 people arrested at Cano Packaging, an Arlington Heights candy warehouse, in March. Samano, who did not have legal work papers, is on track to be sent back to a rural town in the Mexican state of Michoacan.

Like many Mexican families who come here, the promise of a better economy drew Delatorres and Samano to the Chicago suburbs a decade ago. In Mexico, Delatorres said he couldn't find work to support his family. Here, an hour's salary is more than he could make in a day in Mexico, he said. Now, Delatorres, who lives in Palatine, said he'll likely return to Mexico with his son to join his wife -- and watch the life he has built for 10 years crumble.

"All our dreams are gone. We cannot be a family separated," Delatorres said. "We came to this country to work. We came here to find a new life. We aren't bad people. We came from a place where there is no life, there is no way to make a life for a family. Everything we've built is destroyed. All of our dreams have been destroyed."

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David Gorak has a different view of the issue. For Gorak, executive director of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration, deportations don't happen fast enough or often enough. The only way to maintain an immigration policy is to enforce the law, Gorak said. Those who complain their families are being torn apart have themselves to blame, he said.

"The federal government isn't breaking up anyone's family," Gorak said. "The sole responsibility lies with the individual who made the conscious decision to violate our laws.What kind of person would knowingly subject their child to the trauma that one can expect in the wake of an immigration raid? If you're looking for sympathy, there is none on our part."

Rosanna Pulido, director of the Illinois Minuteman Project, points to cases of illegal immigrants who break up families when they commit crimes. If it weren't for one illegal immigrant, Javier Rico, Pulido said, a young mother would still be alive.

"Let's talk about American families being separated," Pulido said.

Rico, living in Hanover Park, already faced a DUI charge when he was driving drunk in Hoffman Estates last year. Police said he was speeding and driving without headlights when he slammed into another car, killing 28-year-old Patricia Henneken, who had an 8-year-old son. Rico, now 26, had a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal standard for drunk driving.

He'll face deportation after an eight-year prison sentence.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement had a record year in 2006, deporting 189,670 illegal immigrants -- up 12 percent over the previous year. Nationally, more than 60 percent of those deported last year were from Mexico.

Still, the number of people deported pales in comparison with the estimated 12 million foreign nationals living in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Research Foundation.

Tens of thousands of those deported in 2006 alone were criminals. In a two-week span this year, ICE agents in Chicago deported criminals to India for aggravated criminal sexual abuse, to Lithuania for aggravated assault, to Nairobi for drug charges, to Barbados for murder and to Ivory Coast for battery. Criminals are taken to their home countries daily on commercial flights.

Few dispute expelling a violent criminal. What's more controversial are workplace raids. And those are growing more frequent.

In 2002, just 25 criminal arrests and 485 total arrests were carried out at work sites nationwide. Those numbers continued to go up every year. In 2006, they rose to nearly 3,700 total arrests.

The raids aren't random, immigration officials say. They're the result of long-planned criminal investigations, targeted at employers. But any workers who lack proper legal papers and are found on site are swept up, too, on administrative -- not criminal -- charges.

ICE's Chicago area sector recently stepped up efforts against employers who hire illegal immigrants. When those raids happen, agents aren't allowed to choose whom they arrest, said Peter Fahey, a group supervisor in the Chicago ICE office.

"We're fact-finders," said Fahey. "We don't take things personally. We're not allowed to. The main focus is going after the employer who is egregiously violating the law."

But when ICE moves in on a factory or restaurant, anyone who doesn't have proper documentation is arrested.

"We can't look the other way," Fahey said. "When we come across someone, it's a judge who decides that outcome. That's how we try to stay on a level playing field."

Cano Packaging, where Delatorres' wife works, was among recent targets. Cano hasn't been charged criminally. But court documents say ICE was probing whether Cano "was knowingly employing large numbers of undocumented Hispanic aliens not entitled to lawfully work in the United States."

One of the people arrested that day was 19-year-old Hector Trujillo. Trujillo, who is about to be deported, was raised with Mexican traditions and culture. But he hasn't been in Mexico since his family brought him here when he was 2 years old.

"He doesn't even know the country," said his mother, Romelia Trujillo. "He doesn't have anything there."

Trujillo is a Palatine High School graduate who most recently attended classes at Harper College while working full-time at Cano Packaging.

"He wasn't one of these boys in the streets," his mother said. "He never had problems with the police. They have him in a jail cell like he's some kind of criminal."

Trujillo is an example of the human consequences of deportations, said Cesar Romero, an official with the Mexican Consulate in Chicago. Over the last several months, families have poured in to his office, often in hysterics, after their family members were arrested at work, Romero said.

"All the women were very scared," he said. "They wondered about the children, they were in school, they were alone. When you look at the human side -- they call it collateral damage -- it's horrible."

Gorak disagrees. "You break the law," he said, "you pay."