January 30, 2012

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 by John Wellington Ennis | The Huffington Post

December 6, 2011, was a national day of action targeting homes facing foreclosure, organized by a coalition of community groups behind the movement Occupy Our Homes. Protests were held across the country, in cities such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Portland, OR, and more.

Actions included “reclaiming” houses that banks are leaving vacant, and “home defense” to stop banks from foreclosing and accept payments from the homeowners, which banks like Chase and Wells Fargo are refusing to do in some cases.

Some of the groups involved in the community resistance effort include ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment), The New Bottom Line, ReFund California, New York Communities for Change, Occupy Wall Street, Take Back the Land, SOUL (Chicago), SEIU, and The Coffee Party. [Read more]

January 21, 2012

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Citizens United

Though the manifold problems of money pouring into our campaigns have become a source of daily news and mounting public backlash, the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission is an opportunity to review how this transformative decision was reached – the perfect storm of politicized jurisprudence, corporate entitlement, and a narrowly tilted bench.

As Chief Justice, John Roberts has expressed such concern over corporate rights, one might think he was found as a boy abandoned, taken in, and raised by some corporations.  It was Roberts who directed the narrow issue of FEC penalties over ads for Hillary: The Movie to be rewritten and re-argued as a much broader debate over the right for corporations to spend money freely on third party advertisements.

The murky reasoning in the 5-4 decision is a swirl of citations to numerous codes that apparently somehow offer sufficient paradox that a century of laws passed by lawmakers over generations of Congress that restrictions on the federal and state level had to be knocked down, leaving almost no sense of legal authority on the subject.

How has this decision stood, two years later?  Well, people have literally been taking to the streets across the country in outrage over this decision and corporate influence on public policy.  In fact, this decidedly undemocratic ruling — five opinions against American law and overwhelming public opinion — has been such a galvanizing injection into the populace, Citizens United vs. FEC may prove to be the birth to an era of reform. [Read more]

January 11, 2012

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This year during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, amongst the corporate carpet bombing of branded swag up and down Main Street, there will be a venue for voices other than studio buzz machines, celebrity side projects, and gossip columnists. While the exclusivity of the Sundance Film Festival has long fostered start-up film fests to showcase other independent films alongside the star-studded lineup, this year brings a new kind of screening event to the cinephile maelstrom.

Filmmaker Donn “D.J.” Viola was struck by the odds of inclusion in the coveted landmark independent film festival: Out of 11,700 entries, only 180 were chosen, 1.538%. Parallel to the Occupy Movement’s empowering the bottom 99%, Viola sought to provide some kind of platform for the approximately 32 films made every day of the last year.

Going further, such a context could allow for more political films than might usually be included in the crop of Sundance selections. While Sundance has long been a strong supporter of environmental topics, the timeliness of a film festival is a unique challenge — where the transformative Occupy Wall Street movement sprung up in October and swept the national discourse, the deadline for submissions to Sundance was in September. [Read more]

January 8, 2012

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Sunday, Jan. 8, will be the final day of Mr. Brainwash’s Art Show 2011, an exhibition which has drawn thousands each day to behold the childlike imagination of Thierry Guetta. This abandoned industrial space also happens to be adorned with a significant contribution from the street art community of Los Angeles, after Brainwash allowed 20,000 square feet of the ground floor to be entirely covered with other people’s posters, paintings, stickers and spray paint.

This mammoth art show will not be viewable somewhere else down the line. In fact, after this last day of viewing, the building is reportedly slated to be demolished. Street art is not intended to last, and here it won’t even last inside an empty building.

And yet, it was the barren behemoth building that first drew Thierry Guetta to tackle it with his vision of graffiti-fueled pop art installations and wild remixes of celebrity iconography. In this exclusive short documentary, Thierry Guetta shares his dreams and travails of trying to turn a dilapidated factory into a Street Art Vatican.

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December 23, 2011

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When you’re Thierry Guetta, your biggest challenge may be how to top yourself. After an extravagant debut art show that drew thousands in 2008, and starring in the Oscar-nominated documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, there may be little else but to live the life of an artist whose work is in demand. But it might be Thierry’s trademark enthusiasm to take on much more than he probably should that inspires him to do anything.

And in the center of Los Angeles, just off Santa Monica and La Brea, he found an urban adversary worthy of his determination: an abandoned industrial complex, over 80,000 square feet. What first seemed like a Russian temple waiting to be christened became a never-ending barrage of repairs, inspectors and maintenance, while he was hoping to use it as an art studio rather than an urban renewal project. “I almost gave up,” he says wearily. “It was too much.”

But perseverance paid off, and the long announced Art Show 2011 will in fact be opening in 2011. This marks an art opening not just for Mr. Brainwash, but for the scores of street artists that were welcomed to decorate 20,000 square feet on the first floor of the Brainwash building. Over several days in October, Thierry threw open the doors to the public to decorate his walls with street art. The open house that ensued was dubbed a “Woodstock of Street Art” by venerable street art blog Melrose & Fairfax. Local street artists could work without fear of arrest, and also get to watch other artists work that they might not get to meet otherwise. Many older artists showed up and contributed pieces of art they had made, which they would not dare risk putting up on streets. This cavern of creative contributions is the setting for only part of Mr. Brainwash’s show. [Read more]

December 23, 2011

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Professor Lawrence Lessig discusses his new book “Republic, Lost” and our need to attack systemic corruption perpetuated through the lobbyist system.

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December 8, 2011

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Ron English MousemaskOver his career, Ron English has taken a love of pop art and transformed the aesthetic into his own vision of appropriating icons and subverting corporate cartoons with photo-realism. His outdoors work in murals, billboard takeovers, and brand parodies since the 1980′s is why English is considered to be a father of street art, bridging the wild style graffiti genre with gallery pop art impact. English has long established his distinct voice through childhood iconography with provocative social criticisms, and evolves as an artist into an ever-increasing number of directions. [Read more]

May 9, 2011

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An executive order being considered by President Obama would require companies bidding for federal contracts to disclose political spending they may now keep secret.

By Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger | LA Times

A lobbying battle is raging largely behind the scenes over a seemingly obscure executive order that could — if signed by President Obama — make public the political spending that many corporations can now keep secret.

Under the proposed order, all companies bidding for federal contracts would be required to disclose money spent on political campaign efforts, including dollars forwarded through associations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other private groups.

Election spending by such organizations soared to new heights in 2010, thanks in part to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, which allowed corporations and unions to make direct political expenditures. The majority opinion endorsed disclosure of the new political spending, but many groups have formed as nonprofits, which do not have to reveal their funding sources.

Since then, campaign finance reform advocates and their Democratic allies have sought to unmask the secret contributions fueling the groups, arguing that such spending allows wealthy individuals, corporations and other special interests to have an outsized influence on elections without voters knowing who is behind the effort.   [Read more]

May 9, 2011

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The Business Journal | Youngstown, OH

A new report to be released today will show one in 10 properties in three of the state’s largest cities have been in foreclosure since the beginning of the housing crisis, disproportionately afflicting areas with nonwhite populations, activists say.

The report, being released in advance of JPMorgan Chase’s shareholder meeting May 17, demonstrates as well that more than one out of every 20 housing units in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus have been lost in foreclosure and have became bank-owned property during the last three years, according to National People’s Action, which is unveiling the report.

Ohio is one of the states hardest hit by the epidemic of foreclosure and joblessness. More than 280,000 homes are expected to go into foreclosure in Ohio by the end of next year, putting families out on the street and depleting the local tax base, the activists said. The cost of JPMorgan Chase foreclosures to Ohio taxpayers alone is estimated at $5.4 billion. [Read more]

May 8, 2011

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By Kyle Daly | The Washington Independent

The Center for Responsive Politics revealed Thursday that corporate campaign spending has skyrocketed since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission decision in January 2010. The report comes at the same time as the first major state-level challenge to the controversial ruling.

In the run-up to the 2008 election, Citizens United, a conservative organization that has since aligned itself with the tea party, produced an attack film with the on-the-nose title Hillary: The Movie. When a D.C. court ruled that advertising and widely screening Hillary would be a violation of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, Citizens United took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Court ultimately determined that corporate expenditures on “electioneering” constitute a form of protected free speech, and that neither state nor federal law can bar corporations or non-profits from using general treasury funds to support or oppose a candidate.  At the time, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who lost his re-election bid in 2010 to tea partier Daniel Webster, called Citizens United “the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case.”

The Center for Responsive Politics now finds that, following the Citizens United decision, midterm spending on campaign ads and electioneering efforts by outside interest groups (including corporations, nonprofit interest groups and unions) has quadrupled. Moreover, 72 percent of spending for ads around the 2010 election came from groups that were legally barred from such spending before the Court made its decision. Although unions and liberal nonprofits have taken advantage of the ruling, outside spending from conservative groups is where the true growth has occurred. In 2010, election spending from conservative groups without direct party connections was up nearly 10 times what it was during the last midterm election cycle. At $190.5 million, it was also nearly double the $98.6 million that non-party-affiliated liberal groups spent on the 2010 election. [Read more]

May 8, 2011

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By Eric W. Dolan | Raw Story

Oil baron David Koch has made it clear he is no fan of President Barack Obama, but Wednesday night he provided a fresh reason for his anti-Obama views: the president is frightening.

Obama is “a hardcore socialist,” Koch told the New York Magazine at a spring ball, “and he’s marvelous at pretending to be something other than that, but that is what I believe he truly is, a hardcore socialist. He’s scary to me.”

Koch and his brother Charles are owners of the energy company Koch Industries. The brothers were principle financiers of Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker and the tea party movement. They are also supporters of free market groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Reason Foundation.

In addition to being a scary hardcore socialist, David Koch said that Obama deserved no credit for the operation that tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden.

“He just made the decision, it was obvious where the guy is,” he told the magazine. “He was one of the worst terrorists organizing attacks on the United States. I mean, no president in his right mind would not approve that decision to go eliminate him.”

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May 7, 2011

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By Spencer MacColl | Open Secrets

Unprecedented political spending. Secret donors. New ways for unions and corporations to spend money on politics.

An analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics reveals that the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling of January 2010 has profoundly affected the nation’s political landscape.

Effects of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

Corporations and unions both benefited from the ruling, being able to use their general treasuries to pay for independent expenditures for the first time.
[Read more]

May 7, 2011

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by Thomas Suddes | Cleveland Plain Dealer

Everyone has a “junk drawer” in the kitchen — a place to stow scissors and other odds and ends that you just don’t know what else to do with.

The Ohio House of Representatives has a junk drawer, too — House Bill 153. You think that’s Ohio’s next budget. But tucked between the 4,000-page budget’s dollar amounts and Revised Code bafflegab is a slew of ideas that, on their own, might never pass.

That fact is inconvenient to (supposedly) small-government Ohio Republicans, who for generations railed against Democratic “logrolling” — that is, winning votes for tough bills by slipping them into politically sweeter measures.

And make no mistake, even HB 153′s purported austerity is plenty sweet for the army of spenders that swarms the Statehouse like an 11th Plague of Egypt.  [Read more]

May 6, 2011

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Corporate interests are flouting election law by using anonymous donations, which are drowning out the voices and votes of working Americans.

By Kevin Zeese | Alternet

The 2012 presidential election year promises to be the most expensive ever and unless the Department of Justice does its job, it also promises to be have the most anonymous campaign donations in U.S. history. Unknown corporate interests will fund massive advertising campaigns against and for candidates but the voters will not know who they are or their real agenda. The Obama administration can prevent this further corruption of U.S. democracy by enforcing existing laws.

In the last mid-term elections we saw the evolution of a new form of campaign funding that avoided the disclosure requirements of the Federal Election campaign Law (FECA). The new approach was masterminded by Karl Rove and former Republican Party leaders through American Crossroads GPS. They created a non-profit organization under 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code — organizations that are not supposed to be primarily involved in elections — and used it to raise tens of millions in secret donations. In total, nearly $150 million was spent by these (c)(4) groups leaving voters in the dark as to the personal interests of the donors. We can expect that to more than double in 2012 if existing laws are not enforced. Indeed Rove has announced his group alone intends to raise $120 million for 2012.

A coalition of advocacy groups have come together as CampaignAccountabilityWatch.org, to fight back against Rove and others, such as the Chamber of Commerce and American Future Fund, to make sure that they do not violate campaign finance law in the upcoming election as they have done in the past. Our simple request to U.S. Attorneys, the Department of Justice and the Obama administration: enforce existing law.  [Read more]

May 5, 2011

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by Dave Jamieson | Huffington Post

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) have decided to pay tribute to state workers.

In Ohio, Kasich declared this week “Public Service Appreciation Week” on Monday. The same day, Walker announced a new public employee “recognition” program in Wisconsin. Given their high-profile battles with unions and state employees, plenty of people in the two states are wondering whether the olive branches are some kind of joke.

When “honoring Ohio’s thousands of public employees,” Kasich asked his fellow Ohioans to “reflect on all that our public employees do in our communities, and thank them for the invaluable work they do each day.” During his first four months in office, Kasich has made rolling back the collective bargaining rights of public workers a centerpiece of his administration’s agenda.

In response to the declaration, Ohio House Minority Leader Armond Budish (D) said in a statement that he had to “check my calendar” to make sure it wasn’t April Fool’s Day. He continued: “Do you thank teachers and firefighters for the invaluable work before or after you slash their wages and benefits?”  [Read more]

May 1, 2011

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By ERIC LICHTBLAU | New York Times

WASHINGTON, April 26th — So much for détente.

After a brief truce of sorts between the White House and business leaders, the top lobbyist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took aim at President Obama on Tuesday over an as-yet unannounced plan to force government contractors to disclose their political giving.

The lobbyist, R. Bruce Josten, said in an interview that the powerful business bloc “is not going to tolerate” what it saw as a “backdoor attempt” by the White House to silence private-sector opponents by disclosing their political spending.

“We will fight it through all available means,” Mr. Josten said. In a reference to the White House’s battle to depose Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, he said, “To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table.”

While no final decision has been announced, the White House has acknowledged that Mr. Obama is considering issuing an executive order requiring all would-be federal contractors to disclose direct and indirect political spending of more than $5,000.

The order could, for instance, force a military contractor or an energy company seeking federal work to report money it gave to the Chamber of Commerce or another advocacy group to help finance political ads and expenditures.  [Read more]

April 21, 2011

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Rep. Chris Van Hollen and his allies file a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission to demand disclosure of donors. Meanwhile, other Democrats are raising big contributions for 2012 advertising.

By Tom Hamburger |  Los Angeles Times

The White House and some of its allies in the Democratic Party are pushing with increasing force to unmask corporations and individuals that secretly contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to groups that influence election campaigns.

But it’s not yet clear that the efforts could have a substantial effect on the 2012 election — or that Democrats won’t exceed Republicans in attracting undisclosed donations to their own newly formed organizations.

Even as Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and his pro-reform allies filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Federal Election Commission demanding donor disclosure, other Democrats were raising substantial contributions for 2012 campaign advertising. And two former White House aides have been talking of setting up their own independent group that could include a nonprofit arm to shield the identities of major donors.

The White House railed against independent campaign spending financed by secret donations in the 2008 and 2010 elections. President Obama has emphasized disclosed and limited donations of the sort he raised at events in San Francisco and Los Angeles this week.

But now there is a growing consensus that Democrats should begin their own efforts to collect large-dollar undisclosed donations, or risk defeat.  [Read more]

April 20, 2011

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To build a just society, we must make America’s plutocrats very, very uncomfortable.

By Stephen Lerner | In These Times

This can be our moment. A new activism is emerging in the United States and abroad, where people, in unexpected places, are standing up to challenge the rich and powerful. From recent uprisings in Egypt, to young people and workers in Europe marching and striking against shortsighted austerity plans, to the battle of nurses, teachers, firefighters and community members in Wisconsin, and the sit-ins and occupations of banks starting around the country, a movement is starting to grow.

After being battered and on the defensive, we have an opportunity in the United States to go on the offensive to transform the economy and politics of our country and create shared prosperity for all. Corporations have $1.6 trillion in cash reserves and are making record profits. The CEOs of Wall Street and the big banks paid themselves record compensation and bonuses of $135 billion in 2010 ($7 billion more than in 2009). After trillions in bailouts, they are even bigger and more dominant than before the economic crash. Now can be our moment to build a movement that both captures the popular imagination and has a strategy to engage millions of people to improve their lives by harnessing:

  • The potential power of government to force banks to pay their fair share of taxes and renegotiate toxic interest rates that are sucking billions out of city and states budgets.
  • The potential power of homeowners and students to renegotiate unfair mortgages and loans, keeping millions in their homes and putting billions into the economy to create jobs.
  • The potential power of public employee unions to bargain and demand that government implements concrete proposals that would save billions by holding Wall Street and banks accountable.
  • The potential power of private sector unions to organize and bargain not just for existing union members but also to fix broken industries, and to alter business practices that exploit communities and pollute the environment.

To do this, we need to understand how our country and our economy got in the mess they are in, the opportunities we have missed over the last two years and the critical role we can all start playing to fix it.  [Read more]

April 12, 2011

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By Robert Wang | Canton Rep

GREEN — Diebold said Tuesday it had considered moving its headquarters and most of its local offices out of Ohio, but it would instead consolidate five of its seven area locations at a yet-to-be disclosed site in the Akron-Canton area.

Gov. John Kasich appeared at Diebold’s headquarters here Tuesday afternoon to announce that the company had accepted his administration’s offer of a $56 million package of tax credits, loans and grants to induce the company to stay.

“For the folks that are located in Akron, Canton (and) Green, this is a big save,” said Kasich.

Diebold President and CEO Thomas W. Swidarski said, “If it wasn’t for the governor’s aggressive stand and stepping up through this legislation, Ohio would not have been competitive enough for Diebold to remain here.”  [Read more]

April 9, 2011

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By Zaid Jilani | ThinkProgress

Last night President Obama and congressional negotiators cut a deal to keep the government running, cutting “$38.5 billion under current funding levels, per Republican demands,” and $78 billion below what Obama called for in his initial 2011 budget.

Yet as Republicans and Democrats continue to battle over the deficit within a political framing that includes taking aim at Pell Grants for low-income students — which Obama preemptively proposed to cut, calling summer grants “too expensive,” while Republicans want far deeper cuts than that — Head Start funding, and other programs from Main Street Americans, there is one group of Americans that seems to be getting away without having any sacrifices demanded of them: the very richest.

As this chart from from Wealth for the Common Good shows, the top 400 taxpayers — who have more wealth than half of all Americans combined — are paying lower taxes than they have in a generation, as their tax responsibilities have slowly collapsed since the New Deal era as working families have been asked to pay more and more:

[Read more]