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By Evan Harmon

KCPD warns Occupy KC to immediately take down all structures

Police officers from the Kansas City Police Department showed up at the Occupy KC camp in Penn Valley Park to inform the Occupiers that all structures, including tents, will no longer be tolerated. Read on…

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Tuesday
Mar272012

KCPD warns Occupy KC to immediately take down all structures

By Evan Harmon

Police officers from the Kansas City Police Department showed up at the Occupy KC camp in Penn Valley Park to inform the Occupiers that all structures, including tents, will no longer be tolerated. The cordial cops showed up at the park early Tuesday evening and politely warned members of Occupy KC that if they do not immediately remove all structures from the park they could be confiscated and trashed, including their personal belongings.

Facebook, Twitter, and email lists lit up soon after the police officers’ warning, eliciting support, confusion, and clarifying reports of the incident. “It seems to some of us that tonight is the night. 5 local officers showed, while 3 other cars and an suv stood on, the 5 officers left camp without giving detail as to when,” Occupier Shaun Lee reported on Facebook.

Officer Greg Williams, who led a ten minute discussion with the park’s Occupiers, clarified that structures such as tents are against city code, but sleeping bags are acceptable. “You have a right to be here. The tents do not. … Enjoy the park. It’s open 24/7,” Williams said.

Occupy KC has received similar warnings in the past, and confusion remains when, if, and how this latest warning will be enforced. When asked for a specific timetable, Williams said, “It can be enforced at any time. It could be five minutes.”

As of now, the structures that Occupy KC has put up at Penn Valley Park are considered abandoned property, according to Williams.

When asked what would happen if someone were to refuse to take down their structure, Officer Williams said they would be subject to arrest.

Occupy KC is currently deliberating how to respond to this turn of events.

Livestream video of the event

Friday
Mar022012

Letters to the Editor

Occupy Wall Street needs a message!

Occupy Wall Street needs a message! All I hear from these clueless idiots is that they are apparently pro-camping. Oh, and also something about a civic duty to protest social and economic injustice with rationally and empirically-based critiques of a political system that has caused unprecedented and ethically egregious levels of income inequality and a justice system that has failed to hold the perpetrators of the economic collapse accountable and instead fights for the corporate control of the democratic process rather than acting as a bulwark against it. It’s like, what’s your message people!? Do you idiots even know what you’re protesting?

–N.A. Sayers

Occupy Wall Street won’t shut up about their message!

The thing that irks me the most about those Occupy Wall Street characters is that they won’t shut up about their message! All those facts, figures, and insights are overwhelming, and I’m starting to wonder how long it is going to be before I am forced to believe something I don’t want to believe. I have a right to my own opinion, and when these Occupiers lord their oppressive logic, mountain of evidence, and convincing arguments over me they infringe on my First Amendment rights. And frankly, their constant reminders about the injustice and dysfunction of our political system just plain make me feel bad. What a bunch of downers! It is my sacred right as an American to jam my head so far in the sand that I can see the poor Chinese kids that sweatily stitch my Ed Hardy shirts. Well, wait, not that far. That would make me feel bad too.

–Will Phil Ignorance

Friday
Mar022012

What homeowners need to know about the $25 billion national mortgage settlement

By Mike Nickells

On February 9th, 2012 the U.S. government and the five largest banks agreed on a mortgage settlement of $25 billion. This money is to compensate the American public for the damages these banks caused due to their fraudulent servicing practices and foreclosure processes.

This is the largest multi-state agreement since the national tobacco suits in 1998. The settlement involves 49 of the 50 states, the only holdout being Oklahoma. The five banks are Ally Financial, Bank of America, Citibank, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo, which altogether service 60% of all mortgages in the United States.

The government is still conducting negotiations to add more banks to the settlement which could raise the overall settlement to as much as $45 billion. These negotiations do not include Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

A portion of the settlement will go to the state and federal governments, but most of it will go to former and current homeowners of the 49 participating states. The money that the federal government receives will go to the FHA Capital Reserve Account, the Veterans Housing Benefit Program Fund, and the Rural Housing Service. The state governments’ payments will be used to fund housing counselors, legal aid, and other similar programs determined by state attorneys general.

Here’s how the banks’ financial obligations are divided:

In addition to the financial compensation, the banks also have new restrictions stopping them from foreclosing on borrowers being considered for loan modifications, and home-owners will now have the right to appeal modification denials.

Compliance with all parts of the settlement will be overseen by Joseph A. Smith who will monitor this judgement. He can enforce the rulings on these banks with penalties of up to $1 million per violation and up to $5 million for certain repeat violations.

How much money is coming here?

$245 million of the $25 billion goes to Kansas and Missouri:

$155.5 million to Missouri homeowners

$40 million to the Missouri state government

$35.5 million to Kansas homeowners and

$14 million to the Kansas state government

Who is eligible and what can they expect to receive?

• People who have lost their homes to foreclosure between January 1st, 2008 and the end of last year are eligible to receive roughly $2000.

• People who owe more than their house is worth and are behind on their mortgage payments are eligible to have the principal on their loan reduced and a new lower interest rate.

• People that have kept up on their mortgage payments but are still underwater on their house are also eligible to have the principal on their loan reduced and a new lower interest rate.

Homeowners who are still current on payments but are underwater should move proactively on the judgement. This part of the settlement is in a use-it-or-lose-it condition. If the state doesn’t find qualified people to receive these funds it will be turned over to another state to use. However, all participants will have to be patient as the plan provides 30 to 60 days to select an administrator who would work 6 to 9 months with state officials and banks to decide on eligibility. The banks have three years to fulfill their obligations. This settlement does not prevent any claims by individual borrowers who wish to bring their own lawsuits.

How to find out if you are eligible

Homeowners will need to contact their lenders.

Ally Financial: 800-766-4622

Bank of America: 877-488-7814

Citibank: 866-272-4749

J.P. Morgan Chase: 866-372-6901

Wells Fargo: 800-288-3212

Every participating state also has a hotline to provide more information.

Missouri Hotline: 855-870-7676

Kansas Hotline: 800-432-2310

People can also go to www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com for more information.

Friday
Mar022012

Occupy KC takes on foreclosure crisis

By Jeff Johnson

Last month, activists from Occupy KC officially launched an Occupy Our Homes initiative to address the foreclosure crisis here in Kansas City head on. Occupations in other cities have had Occupy Our Homes direct actions underway for some time, and many people in Kansas City felt it was overdue for Occupy KC to get with the program.

Kansas City’s version will not be put together hastily, though. Over the past five months, Occupiers here have organized a string of demonstrations, marches, teach-ins, and forums, sometimes with little lead time. But this time it’s different.

Illustration by Joe Johnson

At the inaugural Occupy Our Homes meeting, facilitator Michael Enriques drew out from the roughly 20 attendees their ideas for long-term, intermediate, and short-term goals of the plan. The long-term goals included legislation, neighborhood revitalization, and other large-scale policy concepts.

Toward the end of that first meeting, some expressed a sense of urgency. “People are getting foreclosed on everyday,” said a new Occupy KC supporter. Having been inspired to get involved recently after getting acquainted with a home-owner that was on the verge of losing their home, this attendee appealed to the group, “We need to do something right away.”

But it was clear from the printed agenda, and the deliberate pace of the meeting, that this initiative was going to involve serious and thoughtful planning, starting with research. Considering the scope of the foreclosure crisis in Kansas City, that makes sense. It would be one thing to run out and occupy a home, maybe interfere with a foreclosure, and get some temporary publicity. It would be quite another if Occupy KC’s initiative managed to connect to long-range plans involving solutions that could help more than just a couple of random foreclosure cases.

A repeated theme was concern that the foreclosure issue has impacted minorities disproportionately, so this is one point that is likely to drive the local initiative. Whether the initiative will involve resisting evictions, negotiating loan modifications, or helping families occupy otherwise vacant homes (or all of the above) is still to be sorted out.

The Occupy Our Homes group meets weekly at 4 p.m. on Sundays at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 3800 Troost. All are welcome.

Friday
Mar022012

ALEC at the center of corrupt legislative process

By Evan Harmon

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has gradually carved out a powerful place at the heart of the legislative process in the United States. Founded in 1973, ALEC describes itself in its mission statement as “a nonpartisan public-private partnership” created “to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.”

Or to put it another way, as Wisconsin state assemblyman Mark Pocan puts it, “Alec is like a giant corporate dating service [for] lonely legislators and their special interest corporate allies.”

ALEC is a policy organization that drafts bills at exclusive triannual ALEC conferences which are attended by some of the nation’s biggest corporations and politicians from across the country. ALEC then makes these “model bills” available to state legislators so they can introduce them as their own. There is no way for non-ALEC members to know whether or not a bill introduced to a state legislature is based on one of ALEC’s model bills.

Florida state Representative Rachel Burgin was recently caught in the middle of this dubious process when she introduced a bill to reduce corporate taxes that inadvertently included ALEC’s mission statement in its wording, which had apparently been copied verbatim from ALEC’s model bill. Burgin promptly withdrew the bill and then resubmitted it the next day without the glaring connection to ALEC.

With members in all 50 state legislatures, as well as 85 members of congress and hundreds of corporations, ALEC’s true function might be best understood by considering where it gets its funding, almost all of which comes from some of the country’s largest corporations. ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Wal-Mart, State Farm, BP, AT&T, and Bayer are just a few of the members on its corporate board.

A recent file leak of ALEC model bills clearly reveals how this “public-private partnership” works due to the bills’ carefully-worded exemptions, loopholes, immunities, and tax breaks which benefit these powerful corporations’ profit-driven goals. In other words, these are not bills to, for example, turn a vacant lot into a community park.

ALEC bills consistently push profits over people, and toward that end, many of these bills are also anti-environment, anti-union, anti-regulation, anti-corporate-taxes, and anti-immigrant. In fact, ALEC is behind one of the most racist bills in recent U.S. history–Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach helped draft. Two of the many criticisms of this act are that it encourages racial profiling and that it consumes limited police resources by requiring police officers to determine a person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that he is an illegal immigrant.

SB 1070 was actually modelled on ALEC’s “No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act.” This model bill was privately drafted by an ALEC task force that included prison companies which would likely profit from the bill’s passage due to increased incarceration of illegal immigrants.

Due to the file leak, we now know that ALEC model bills have found their way into state legislation across the country.

Many are calling for this process of corporations writing bills that turn into state law to at least be a more transparent and democratic one. One group critical of ALEC, Government watchdog Common Cause, wants to revoke ALEC’s nonprofit designation due to its claim that it “spend[s] most of its resources lobbying, in violation of the rules governing nonprofit organizations.” And lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin are trying to pass the Alec Accountability Act, which would require ALEC to reveal where it gets its funding and to register as a lobbying organization.

Illustration by Marc Saviano

On February 29th, Occupy Movements across the country joined together in a mass protest against ALEC’s corporate members that seek profits over people and greed over democracy. They want corporations and their deep pockets to stop bending yet another of our nation’s democratic institutions to the whims of big business. Dubbed #F29 to match the action’s Twitter hashtag, more and more people are putting their money where their mouth is and working to improve the fate of Kansas City as well as their country.

Representative Pocan went on to say, “Alec operates best when it operates in the shadows. Once people find out that it’s really nothing but a front for corporate special interests you start to know that the ideas they put forward aren’t in the public good.”