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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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Entries in Kansas City (5)

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

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
Jan062012

Will Occupy KC (still) Be Relevant in 2012?

By Jeff Johnson

YES

Who besides Occupy will lead the fight against excessive corporate power? Who else will lead the march to force government to represent its own people? Here in Kansas City, as elsewhere in the nation, Occupy has stood up and demanded change.

Before Occupy, before these people began sleeping in the parks, there simply was no voice loud enough to challenge the corrupt system of the ruling elite. Since then, at least among the informed, the conversation has changed. The principles chanted by the Occupation, including here in Kansas City, are now part of the political landscape.

The protesters at Occupy KC do not plan to give up just to become so much political history. Talk to those that have been Occupying Penn Valley Park, sleeping in tents in freezing temperatures, or those that work in the Direct Action and Media workgroups, for example, and they will convince you of their intention to keep fighting till real change is accomplished. What’s more, the mettle of these Occupiers is such that, as time goes by and they realize that their efforts are going unnoticed or falling flat, they will change their tactics. They have every intention of remaining relevant to Kansas City.

The relationship between Occupy KC and the City of Kansas City has been nothing short of remarkable. No arrests. No real confrontation of any sort. An honest-to-goodness, mutually-respectful cooperation. That by itself should put Occupy KC on the map.

Recently, Occupy KC sortof adopted the Kansas City Community Centers, because they recognized a need. Not content to just demonstrate and organize, they want to contribute immediately in a meaningful way. If Occupy KC wins not even one more convert from all of their future protest actions, at least they will have sent volunteers to help out the underfunded and too often ignored program that is supposed to serve the vulnerable youth of this city. If that isn’t an indication of relevance, then nothing is.

NOPE

Are you kidding? What difference can a bunch of naïve, preachy do-gooders make? The ruling class did not become the ruling class by accident. They have deliberately chosen their position, they have worked hard to arrange the rules in their favor, and it will take a lot more than illegal camping and monthly marches to reverse decades of the deliberate concentration of wealth and power.

Now, ideally, if these naïve do-gooders had to fight just the ruling class, they might have a chance, because, as one of their signs aptly explains, 99 to 1 are pretty good odds. Unfortunately for the Occupiers, though, their biggest challenge is convincing the 99% to join them.

The 99% long ago abdicated their role in government. They don’t even believe they belong in power. “What, tax the rich? That will scare the job creators!” “Participate in local government? No way. We’d miss the 6 o’clock news!”

No, Occupy KC doesn’t stand a chance against such wholesale helplessness. What’s more, the Occupiers are frequently their own worst enemy. Even if Kansas Citians were listening, Occupy KC consistently fails to articulate a clear message. Just some vague anti-capitalism rant. Useless to the working and the unemployed alike. Irrelevant to the poor. Irritating to the middle class.

Occupy KC is a piggy back protest, comprised mostly of permanent local activists, culled from various failed protests, jumping on the Occupy Wall Street bandwagon for their own agendas. Spend any time in their midst and you quickly realize they expend more effort fighting with each other than fighting their declared corporate enemies.

In short, the enemy is entirely too powerful, too smart and too prepared; the people simply have no interest in fighting for their fair share; and Occupy KC is doomed to self-imposed irrelevance at best, and to fatal infighting at worst.

MAYBE

The political irony of Occupy KC is that everyone in the 1% knows all about them, whereas vast numbers of the 99% have only the vaguest notion that Occupy even exists, and huge percentages have no idea what Occupy stands for. If Occupy KC continues like this, of course it will have no impact on the lives of Kansas Citians.

Not that they lack in potential. A bunch of really capable, intelligent, sincere people are associated with Occupy KC, and many influential people in this city are rooting for them. Heck, Henry Bloch sympathized with Occupy KC recently.

It’s just that, well, Occupy KC’s job is really hard. How do you communicate about complicated issues with masses of people who digest news in micro-bites? How do you compete with calculated misinformation spread by professional propagandists? How do you wage a war on monied politics with practically no money?

No easy answer. No answer at all really, yet. But it almost surely comes down to whether the Occupiers of KC can avoid excessive in-fighting , whether they can avoid costly confrontations with the city, and whether they can figure out how to unite effectively with other groups in Kansas City, on the Left and on the Right.

They must gradually increase their outreach, eventually to every neighborhood and every ethnic and socioeconomic group. They must focus, unrelentingly, on the common ground that all citizens who are not among the elite share: that power must be in the hands of the people; that everyone must pay their fair share; that those most helpless among us must be cared for; and that those in elected office should listen to citizens, instead of to money and privilege.

IF Occupy KC can bring such a focus to this community, it will achieve undeniable and lasting relevance.

Friday
Jan062012

Unequal political influence and citizen nonparticipation are the unforgivable sins of American governance

By Jeff Johnson

Our Constitutional Framers left a number of serious political inequality issues to be sorted out by later generations. One was slavery, a problem it took a civil war to resolve. Another was who should be allowed to vote, a right gradually expanded to include non-property-owning, non-white, non-males.

Yet another, and the subject of this article, is the issue of unequal political influence. Notwithstanding the sentiment expressed in the Declaration of Independence that All Men Are Created Equal, the vast majority of people in this nation have little influence over their government compared to those relatively few that exert disproportionate power.

There are two causes of this inequality, and the Occupy Movement is concerned with both. The first is that most people choose not to participate in their own governance; the second is that our campaign finance and lobbying systems allow a relatively few people to exert political influence well beyond their numbers.

The People Have Abdicated:

How to Engage Citizens in Their Own Government

Regarding nonparticipation as a cause of political inequality, a pillar of the Occupy Movement is the attempt to include people in the process of self-governing, through General Assemblies, Working Groups, and the leaderless organizational arrangement has been so derided. Occupy has, in its own political micorosm, created a structure, which if expanded on a national scale, could help solve the lack of participation in government that otherwise makes having a democracy irrelevant.

But that is a big if. To accomplish meaningful participation, the following must be overcome: people don’t care, they feel helpless; they don’t have time; and they are not informed.

The People Don’t Care, But They Can Be Inspired

People need to be inspired. Individuals like Tyler Crane, who organized Occupy Kansas City, and Mary Lindsay, who leads the local chapter of Move to Amend, are good examples who, through their immense energy and optimism, inspire others to get involved and make a difference. They are like missionaries of democratic action to the masses. We should assist and otherwise support such people who, because they are ordinary citizens and are impassioned about being involved in the community, can be highly effective at inspiring legions of otherwise complacent people to become more active citizens.

The People Feel Helpless, But They Can Be Empowered

People are convinced that they cannot make a difference; that they cannot compete with corporate political marketing. This contributes to a sense of cynicism, and discourages citizen involvement, which becomes a huge, self-fulfilling prophecy and a powerful gift from the people to the ruling class. Ratification of a constitutional amendment that would limit corporate control of campaigns will help greatly, and by sheer numbers, the people should be unstoppable. But modern political habits undermine the power of the people in two ways: divisiveness, and undervaluing local political involvement.

Unity vs. Division

Division tends to take precedence over unity. Political “discourse” modeled by media talking heads is factional at best and outright hateful at worst. And this counterproductive method is so pervasive through American politics that even groups that should unite do not because they are too stubborn to look past their own views.

If, for example, the Tea Party and Occupy were truly savvy, they would rush to align on the areas where they agree, get those things accomplished, and sort out the rest later, in the same manner that the Framers found enough common ground to write a Constitution while setting aside the trouble spots for the future. And yes, there are areas of agreement between Tea Partiers and Occupiers.

Ideally, our culture should establish a common sense rule of courtesy that every political discourse end by focusing on a point of agreement. This would reduce the animosity between people of differing views, and it would serve to reinforce the common ground. Sounds like pie in the sky, unless one thinks of it as part of a civics curriculum in school. Along with teaching how the three branches of government interact, we would teach young people how much more productive politically it is to always find common ground, instead of focusing entirely on where we differ.

Local vs. National

Another modern political habit that undermines the power of the people is the unfortunate tendency to undervalue local political action, especially as compared to national politics. People have limited time, and directing too much attention to the national spotlight detracts from the input people might otherwise have on their local scene. The Republican presidential primary contest is essentially American Idol, an apparently highly entertaining spectacle, but largely disconnected from the political reality of people at home.

When Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer spoke recently in Kansas City, he did not mention the Citizens United case as a threat to democracy. Nor did he emphasize the importance of voting for President. His concern was that people need to be “involved in their community’s life.” “Otherwise,” he said “the document, the Constitution, will not work.”

To ignore this warning, and to focus on division instead of unity, is to self-dilute to ineffectiveness the power that should be in the hands of the people.

The People Don’t Have Time, But They Can Be Accommodated

As admirable as is the dedication of local activists Crane and Lindsay, it is not reasonable to expect all citizens to devote as much time and energy to community action. Many people have very little free time available. How can these people participate meaningfully in their community’s life? A solution could involve tools such as social media and remote video in order to streamline involvement. Perhaps it is not practical to expect people to physically assemble in order to participate in the political process. The technology available to us, combined with the motivation and innovation of activists, should produce a method for large percentages of people to participate together, but remotely, in making decisions that affect everyone.

The People Are Not Informed, But They Can Be Taught

People cannot effectively participate in self-government if they are not properly informed on the issues. Civics instruction in American schools is inadequate. This should be a renewed priority. Students should understand the importance of involvement, and they should understand how the government is supposed to work and how they can participate.

Occupy should continue with Teach-Ins. It is a fantastic way to engage people in the process of becoming an informed citizen. As the Movement continues to organize, the Education Workgroups should increase in importance, and certain individuals should be tapped to regularly instruct. As people join, they often ask how they can contribute. One way to engage each person that wants to contribute is to give them the assignment of becoming well-versed enough on a subject of local political importance that they can instruct others on that issue. That way, part of an involvement in the Movement is an ongoing process of teaching each other.

Political disenfranchisement in this country is largely self-imposed. The solution is greater than legislation, Constitutional Amendments and court rulings. The solution to political inequality requires getting citizens involved in the political process.

Unless people participate in their community, and therefore know what the community’s needs and resources are, it will not matter whether corporations can or can not spend unlimited amounts to influence elections. We complain while the Supreme Court carefully protects the Freedom of Speech of Corporations. Yet, through complacency, we waste freedoms we are born into while Syrians die fighting against real repression.

The People Have Been Usurped:

Time to Counter Improper Influence in Government

Occupiers complain that too much wealth is controlled by too few people; that this extreme inequality of wealth gives unfair political advantage to the rich; and that corporate money and lobbyist efforts drown out the input of ordinary citizens in the political process. The perception by citizens that they cannot compete with corporate political marketing contributes to a sense of cynicism, further marginalizing citizen involvement.

The problems are stated accurately, but the solutions are not self evident. Regarding solutions, many within Occupy say that we should “get money out of politics”, and that we should – through a Constitutional Amendment – undo the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United and its precedent, that we should establish that “money is not speech” and “corporations are not people.”

The first idea – getting money out of politics – sounds appealing, but in reality is not a solution. The second – rejecting the Citizens United decision and its precedent through Constitutional Amendment – is a very good idea, but on its own would not solve our campaign finance and political influence problems.

There is no doubt that an unrestrained flood of money into elections is unhealthy for American democracy. But to say that we should fix campaign finance by “getting money out of politics” is as useful as saying that we should end obesity by getting calories out of food. Just as every sustainable diet still involves eating, so too, politics will always involve money. If Citizen Joe puts up a couple of signs in his yard saying “Vote for Schmoe,” he is spending money to support a candidate, and this should be protected speech. It should also be protected speech when a candidate wants (or his supporters want) to collect money so as to put up a bunch of signs saying “Vote for Schmoe.”

There is no good reason to prohibit reasonable political spending. The hard part is finding the healthy and workable middle ground between good-for-democracy spending and an unlimited torrent of corrupting cash.

Interestingly, the “middle ground” that Missouri has staked out allows unlimited contributions to candidates, but requires disclosure of who made the donation and where they work. So when potential Republican candidate for Governor David Pence received a $100,000 contribution last month, Missourians could readily see, via the state’s online database, that the check came from Capital executive Robert O’Brien. Those arguing in favor of Missouri’s unlimited donation scheme say that the money would get to the candidates secretly if limits were in place. This way, they argue, citizens know who is giving and how much, and they can evaluate the candidate based on his disclosed donors.

This arrangement that Missouri has settled on is presumably perfectly acceptable to our Supreme Court. Whereas, when Vermonters attempted to limit campaign donations, the court decided that their limits were too low and struck down the statute.

Congress and the states have over time made various attempts to strike a balance in reforming campaign finance. The courts have frequently interfered with those efforts. The recent Citizens United case is one of the most disruptive interferences, and one result is a chorus of proposals for a Constitutional Amendment to override this judicial limitation on campaign finance reform. Citizens United struck down a provision in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (also known as the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002) that prohibited corporations from using their treasury funds to pay for broadcast ads for or against a candidate within 60 days before an election (or within 30 days before a primary).

The modern lead-up to this controversy began in 1974 following the Watergate scandal. Congress passed the Federal Election Commission Act, which placed limits on political contributions and on campaign spending. In 1976, the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo let stand the FECA contribution limits, but struck down the spending limits because of free speech considerations. The Court also invalidated regulation of money spent on ads that do not explicitly suggest a vote for or against a candidate, known as “issue ads.” The political result of this “money equals speech” doctrine was that eventually large amounts of unregulated money were being spent during campaigns on ads that were obviously for and against certain candidates, but since the ads did not use specific phrases like “vote for,” they were legal. McCain-Feingold was passed in part as an attempt to close this “soft money” gap in campaign regulation.

In declaring this part of McCain-Feingold unconstitutional1, the Supreme Court chose not to distinguish between corporations and actual persons for the purposes of free speech in campaign spending. This case did not establish corporate personhood, but broke from a line of precedent that did allow for limitation of corporate intrusion into elections. And although it is true that getting money completely out of politics is impractical, and not even desirable, it is absolutely true that getting corporate money out of politics is critical. Justice Stevens wrote in his Citizens United dissent that “the Court’s opinion is…a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.”

Now, what is needed is an entirely new framework for financing elections if we want to level the playing field for potential candidates, and an entirely new set of rules restricting lobbying if we want to provide for meaningful citizen input in the political process. A campaign finance concept similar to what is known as Clean Elections is needed, and strict anti-revolving-door rules should be adopted, but this will require more than a Constitutional Amendment that overrides Citizens United, or that merely eliminates corporate money from elections.

This does not mean that it is a waste of resources to support, for example, Move to Amend, an organization promoting a Constitutional Amendment to declare that money is not speech and that corporations are not people. To the contrary, it is important that everyone support this and all efforts working toward ending political inequality imbedded in our flawed campaign finance system. However, a wider solution is needed, way beyond just addressing the Supreme Court’s limitations set by Citizens United v. FEC and Buckley v. Valeo.

Fn. 1. With the exception of Thomas’ idiotic partial dissent, at least the majority in Citizens United did not disagree with every portion of McCain-Feingold at issue in the case.

Friday
Jan062012

Spotlight an Occupier: Monroe Perez

By Tyler Crane

Monroe Perez is a loving father of two boys, a full time college student at Penn Valley with a double-major in engineering and alternative energy, as well as being a dedicated Occupier camping five nights a week. Monroe spent many years on the road traveling with a nomadic ministry. They traveled around to cities devastated by natural disasters, and upon arrival would assist in the clean-up and rebuilding of homes. Most notable was his time spent in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. There he helped rebuild homes in the Lower 9th Ward; one of the cities poorest and hardest hit neighborhoods, and one neglected by the Government and FEMA. Witnessing firsthand the carelessness of the government has led to a politically active life and involvement in the Occupy Movement.

Monroe Perez protesting at Occupy the Bridge on November 17th, 2011. Photograph by Beka Noble

Monroe joined the Occupation in Kansas City during the second week and he quickly took on the role of organizing and operating the comfort work group, a task well-suited to Monroe, as he is deeply concerned about the comfort and well-being of others.

The comfort work group is tasked with collecting and organizing donations such as clothing, blankets, and camping gear. Monroe has done amazing work at Occupy KC. He has clothed and sheltered many homeless people in Kansas City, many of whom have since joined the Occupation and have now become active in the Movement. These are the kinds of selfless acts that embody the essence of the Movement because they directly improve the quality of people’s lives, which is something that Monroe does daily.

One of my earliest memories of Monroe is of him walking around the occupation site offering back alignments and shiatsu massages. His intent was to help people relax, promote health, and most importantly to make people feel good. I knew then that he was an excellent addition to the growing Occupy family. For Thanksgiving, he organized the community to come together to provide dinner for all the Occupiers. He stated, “This camp has become people’s home, a place they can feel safe and included. I felt it was important to have a holiday dinner to build on that feeling of inclusiveness and family. I wanted to share that feeling of love.” He organized enough food to feed 40-50 people. The community showed their support by donating food which included three turkeys, a glazed ham, Tofurky for the vegetarians, side dishes, pumpkin pies, and dinner rolls. He organized all this out of the love from his heart and for the love of the people.

Monroe Perez gives a heartfelt speech in front of Bank of America at Occupy KC’s Death of the Social Safety Net Funeral March on December 30th, 2011. Photograph by Christian Soulliere

From his perspective, the Occupy Movement is a chance for middle America, for the oppressed people to come together to restore their voice in the American political system. It’s a chance to rebuild our communities and give back to the people who for too long have been neglected by a corrupt and greedy government. He envisions Occupy KC as a model for other Occupations to follow, a model of community building and compassion. Monroe stated:

“Without healthy, safe communities we fail. We have been failing, and its because of the systematic destruction of what our communities represent. This is why the Occupy Movement is so important. We are restoring the people’s voice. We are bringing awareness to so many issues and showing people how to get involved.”

I asked Monroe how long he planned on occupying. He replied:

“As long as it takes to create real positive change in our political system and until there is economic justice. It’s not fair for my family and myself to have to pay taxes while companies like GE do not pay anything, even after making billions in profits. It does not make any sense. I will occupy forever if it helps create a better world.”

He went on to say that everyone has something to offer to the movement:

“We all have unique skillsets and talents that often go unused in the current system. At Occupy, your talents as an artist, poet, carpenter, teacher, yoga instructor, preacher, etc…, these talents are not only welcome, but necessary to cultivate and create a better world for all. We need to learn how to work with one another’s skills. To not have one person do all the work, but to spread the load evenly, and the passion evenly so that everyone can be able to actually change something.”

Monroe encourages everyone to get involved and share in the process of creating a new and better way of co-existing. He is an inspiration and a motivator, a civic-minded activist committed to improving the lives of everyone around him.

It is for these reasons that Monroe was selected to be spotlighted. Your hard work and love for the Occupation has been a critical element of the Movement’s success in Kansas City.

Thank you for being a part of the Occupy family.