Nov 2012 15

by Nicole Powers

Occupy Wall Street offshoot StrikeDebt, a collective which aims to help free the masses from the bondage of debt, officially kicks off its Rolling Jubilee with a telethon tonight which will be webcast live from NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge at 8 PM EST. The fundraising event will feature a slew of progressively-minded celebs including comedienne Janeane Garofalo and Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead.

The Rolling Jubilee, which takes its name from the multi-faith tradition in ancient civilizations whereby slaves would be freed and debt forgiven, is essentially a people’s bailout. Working with industry experts, StrikeDebt aims to buy debt on the open market for cents on the dollar and then forgive it.

Within days of setting up PayPal and WePay accounts, StrikeDebt’s initial goal of raising $50,000 was exceeded. So far over 5,000 individuals have donated a collective total of over $200,000 – which is enough to forgive in excess of $4 million in debt.

Since 62% of all bankruptcies are caused by health issues, medical debt is at the top of StrikeDebt’s shopping list. Indeed, this morning the group announced via Twitter that they had purchased their first $100,000 of medical debut.

Because companies that own bad debt sell it for a fraction of its face value, for every $10 donation StrikeDebt gets they estimate they will be able to erase approximately $200-worth of debt.

Support the People’s Bailout and help StrikeDebt erase millions of dollars worth of misery by donating via WePay at

The 501(c) non-profit organization promises 100% of the money raised will go to the process of buying and abolishing debt, and that in the interests of transparency, a full accounting of funds received and spent will be reported on their website.

Watch tonight’s Rolling Jubilee Telethon via the embed below and follow @StrikeDebt for updates.

Watch live streaming video from lepoissonrouge at
Nov 2012 15

by Lee Camp

Okay, I’ll be honest. The Trans-Pacific Partnership sounds boring. It sounds really boring. I’m talking, really, REALLY boring. Like painting your grass so that you can watch the grass grow and the paint dry at the same time –– THAT kind of boring! But I will make it very NOT boring. And it will affect your life. So those are two reasons to not find it boring.


Nov 2012 13

by Sandor Stern

Regarding Your Lexicon…

I love words –– not simply because they have been the primary source of income throughout my career but when chosen well, I love the sound in my ear and the arrangement of letters on my page. I love them for context and intention. They are the primary source of primate communication. That is why I am so puzzled by your lexicon that twists and turns established meanings into contexts and intentions that are far removed from origins.

Let us look at some together.

DONATION – a gift usually to a charitable cause. We also give donations to non-charitable causes like political parties. People give $5, $100, $1,000 in support of the shared political viewpoint they hope will win the election. But what about gifts of millions of dollars? Are they gifts or investments? When the oil billionaire Koch brothers give tens of millions of dollars towards the election of an administration that favors more oil drilling in the USA, is that a donation or an investment? When casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson makes a multimillion dollar gift to elect an administration friendly to his casino interests in the USA and off shore, is that a donation or an investment? On the flip side, when trade unions offer millions of dollars to their political allies is that donation or investment? Aren’t the unions wanting an administration that favors the workers? Yes, the aim is the same for billionaires and unions; elect an administration that will further their interests.

But the purpose is so very different.

The billionaires act to increase their personal wealth; the unions act to directly improve the wages and working conditions for millions of citizens in their organizations and indirectly improve those conditions for nonunion workers by raising the bottom line. As I’ve written in an earlier blog –– what’s better for the economy, a billionaire buying one Bentley or 99 workers each buying Fords?

When individuals like Bill Maher (and there were many of them) give a million dollars to an administration –– is that an investment? How? What does he gain? He is offering money to an administration that seeks to increase his personal income tax. He is actually donating against his own best interests. He is donating for what he perceives is the good of the country. That for me is the established meaning of the word –– donation.

JOB CREATORS – self explanatory, right? The idea behind this shibboleth is that businessmen create jobs and that if the government increases their personal income tax they will have less money for job creation. Let’s be factual –– businessmen do not create jobs. Business, not men, creates jobs; and business is driven by a demand for goods and services. What sane businessman would hire workers if his business did not require it to meet product or service demands? The past five years have revealed the fallacy of the job creator label. The demand for goods and services has been poor and in order to create profits the “job creators” have been cutting back on expenses through hiring non-union workers while avoiding overtime pay, pension and health benefits by assuring their employees work less than 40 hour weeks. That reduction in payroll effectively takes spending money out of workers’ hands and reduces the demand for goods and services: a Pyrrhic Victory in the end. These are your so-called “job creators.”

On the flip side, the rant that “government does not create jobs” echoes from the far right. In fact, government is less dependent than the private sector in the demand for goods and services for job creation. Aside from the millions of workers in municipal, county, state and federal jobs, how about those jobs that government directs towards private enterprise? How about those companies that supply the armed forces? How about those companies that are hired to build roads, bridges, subways? Do you think that The Army Corp of Engineers has its own manpower to fix the structural disaster of Hurricane Sandy? Do you take your own trash to the city dump? Do you wash the street outside your house or investigate the burglary that stripped your home of valuables or the fire that destroyed it?

ENTITLEMENT – the dictionary meaning is “to furnish with proper grounds for seeking or claiming something.” It’s that simple –– “proper grounds.” Somehow you have twisted the meaning of the word so it has a connotation of getting something for nothing. And now both Social Security and Medicare are derisively viewed that way. Folks, this is not charity or welfare. “Proper grounds” involves citizens paying for these government administered plans through a lifetime of hard work. Those payments entitle you to reap the promised benefits. If you pay for auto insurance and crash your car, are you not entitled to have the insurance pay the cost of repair? If you pay for life insurance, is your beneficiary not entitled to collect? How about your payments for health insurance or house insurance? How about your payments towards your personal pension? All of these plans entitle you to the benefits offered. If you don’t pay a Social Security payroll tax of 6.2% (4.2% last year thanks to Obama’s tax cut) to match your employer’s contribution of another 6.2%, you will not receive Social Security benefits. If you do not pay a Medicare payroll tax of 1.45%, you will not receive Part A Medicare benefits unless you pay a premium of over $450 a month. And if you want to add Medicare Part B to your coverage, you will pay a monthly premium of $100 to $250 depending on income. These are the “proper grounds” for entitlement and there is nothing demeaning about it.

WELFARE – the dictionary meaning is “concern with the improvement of disadvantaged social groups.” Medicaid is one example of a helping hand from the government dispensing your tax dollars. But before you start screaming for the demise of Medicaid look at the requirements needed to receive that money. Your maximum monthly income cannot exceed $500 and your total assets excluding home, car and personal possessions cannot exceed $2000. Do you know anyone who earns $500 a month and owns a home and a car? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, you don’t scream about another helping hand the government dispenses. How about billions of dollars in “welfare funds” to oil companies like Chevron and Shell and agriculture corporations like Monsanto that earn billions in profits every year? Those welfare funds were originally intended to help small oil companies and farmers with the costs of oil drilling and produce competition. Now that money goes to the major corporations that lobby successfully to keep the welfare funds pouring into their coffers. So are these the “disadvantaged social groups” your party favors? That’s a far cry from a helping hand to a person with a monthly income of $500.

BIG GOVERNMENT – we know “big” and we know “government” but what exactly is “big government”? What exactly warrants your derisive hostility? Is it the size –– as in the number of people employed? Is it the intrusiveness –– as in regulations?

If size is your issue -–– the claim that federal employment has grown over the past years is not true. According to statistics from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management federal employment has actually declined by 2 million since the 1960’s. With regard to your cry to reduce it even more better be careful what you wish. People without jobs are people without spending money. Not only will the demand for goods and services drop but the cost to the government in unemployment benefits and various welfare benefits will rise while government takes a hit from a reduced base of personal income taxes. That is a lose-lose situation.

As for government intrusiveness –– you need to explain to me why a government is bad because it regulates banks, insurance companies, mortgage companies, drug companies, food suppliers –– and any other business that directly affects the well-being of every citizen. And please explain to me why your fury over the intrusion of federal regulations does not extend to your desire for government intrusion in your bedroom (contraception, abortion, same sex marriage) and the workplace (gender equality with equal pay for equal work).

Just asking.

Your inquisitive friend,


Related Posts
Dear Republican Friends: Regarding the Presidential Election
Dear Republican Friends: Regarding Your Hostility Towards President Obama
Dear Republican Friends: Regarding Your Candidate
Dear Republican Friends: Regarding Healthcare – A Tale Of Two Countries
Dear Republican Friends: Regarding Your Stand On Healthcare…
Dear Republican Friends: Regarding Your Stand On Taxation…

Nov 2012 13

by Lee Camp

It’s almost here. It’s almost time for that big shopping day each year when someone gets trampled to death as a thousand crazed zombie-like human beings scramble for the last few copies of the new zombie video game. And that’s the time when we all have to ask ourselves, “Are we progressing? Or is this a nation of children?”


Nov 2012 09

by Joanne Stocker, Kenneth Lipp and Dustin Slaughter

The baseball field behind Egbert Middle School is pitch black as our journalist team, led by Liam (who prefers his last name not be used), a Staten Island resident who swam flood waters to rescue neighbors as the nearby ocean swallowed his community, walk down an unlit street strewn with the detritus of Hurricane Sandy’s watery rage. Liam wants to show us what the neighborhood has been abuzz over: the site of what was a makeshift morgue, in the hopes that we might challenge what many here in Midland Beach see as an official orchestrated attempt to downplay Sandy’s death toll.

Midland Beach, a tight-knit working class neighborhood on the Island, has largely been washed away. What remains are uninhabitable homes and harsh utility floodlights that pierce the inky darkness to discourage looters, as unmarked police cars patrol the shells of former neighborhoods.

It is the closest to Hell any of us have ever been.

“It was in here,” he says as he beckons us to enter.

Taking just a few steps yields the stench of death. Like this smell, the truth of what happened here isn’t easily dismissed.

As with any story that spreads through a tight-knit community, especially in a disaster, there are inconsistencies and friends-of-friends third and fourth-hand accounts to rely on. Some say the flood victims, which rumor has it are to be found within the school, broke into the premises to seek shelter from the rising waters or the cold, only to meet with tragedy. Others claim that the bodies were found elsewhere and the school was used because the nearby Staten Island University Hospital’s morgue, with a capacity of no more than 50, could not handle the intake.

Rumors are natural, but this isn’t sensational gossip.

Earlier in the day, a New York City Housing Authority administrator [name withheld] at the South Beach housing development told us how her friend, a nurse, had been relocated to Midland after her hospital in Manhattan was evacuated. When we inquired specifically about the rumored school-cum-morgues, she said she could confirm that the school had been used as a morgue, and that the actual death toll was much higher. When we tracked down her friend, the nurse, she declined our request for comment. The NYC Housing Authority administrator later recanted her assertion over the phone, after telling us she had gone out to dinner with Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, and that she now accepted the official death toll of 18. However, the rumor was subsequently corroborated by an Egbert Middle School teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous. When questioned by us, she confirmed that the school wouldn’t open Monday morning because it was being used as a temporary morgue.

A sanitation worker and Staten Island local, holding his hands to his head in horror upon seeing the destruction on Cedar Grove Avenue for the first time, repeated again and again, “They’re lying,” – he was referring to the death toll. He told us of another New York Department of Sanitation employee, only 22 years old, who was part of a crew that “lifted 50 bodies into a front-end loader” in the Midland neighborhood just a day earlier. Workers from the Sanitation Department were a constant sight as they helped residents clean up debris.

The morgue rumor becomes even more disturbing when one takes into account the behavior of local press, such as the Staten Island Advance. In an early report, the Advance mentions a temporary morgue site off of Bedford and Mason Avenues – Egbert Middle School’s location – yet later Sandy reports in the paper make no mention of this. The Advance offered no retraction, but the makeshift morgue item was there…

And then vanished without explanation.

Contrast the reliable testimonies of Midland Beach residents with the strange behavior of the local press and adamant denials from local officials [see official statement] and one begins to see a narrative emerge: Regardless of whether Egbert Middle School was or is still being used as a makeshift morgue, the death toll in this forgotten borough that is a casualty of political expediency is likely much higher than officials would like the public to know.

We return the following day to volunteer where needed and talk to the people who call Midland Beach their home. It is the day of what was to be the 2012 New York Marathon.

“This is all Staten Island is to them – a starting line and a dump,” Chris Rich, a Staten Island firefighter tells us as he cleans up debris and mud from his gutted house. Throughout his neighborhood today, New York City marathon runners prance through decimated streets, leaping over piles of donations yet to be distributed, bringing severe congestion to a community just beginning to regain its senses after the catastrophe. To place it in even sharper relief, according to Rich, it was only that very morning that authorities had gotten around to removing three bodies floating in Bay Street Marina. One was tied to a pier to avoid it washing down shore. The person who reported the bodies was told that they would be left for the time being as efforts were to be exclusively “rescue” oriented, eschewing “recovery.” While the Staten Islanders were, and are, still counting their dead, they felt as if they were expected to indulge catastrophe tourism.

“These aren’t Christmas lights,” Rich says, appalled by runners and the attendant onlookers taking in the destruction and pausing for photographs with shell-shocked locals. “People are looking for their wedding rings…These people should be shot,” he says, referring to the vast number of runners who arrived on the island to jog the marathon despite its cancellation.

The ultimate cancellation of the New York City Marathon on Sunday, which would have started on the Island, was an empty political gesture. Michael Bloomberg, NY’s billionaire Mayor, had fought tooth and nail to satiate corporate sponsors and have the Marathon commence on time. He was forced to cancel at the eleventh hour, not out of respect for the suffering of locals or for prudent administrative reasons, but because the public outcry over the issue forced his hand.

Time and time again, we speak to residents who are disgusted by the marathon runners, who seemingly use the Islanders’ misery as a photo opportunity. Yet his decision to return at least two generators slated for use during the marathon to New Jersey once the event was canceled was the last straw for Rich. It is widely reported that these generators could have powered 400 homes – something Staten Islanders desperately need. Already their walls and floors are spawning mold and creating hazardous conditions that will likely render their homes permanently uninhabitable.

It is a cruel sort of political maneuvering. Residents in and around Midland Beach are left to fend for themselves as the Red Cross – as of last weekend – were still rejecting volunteers. Meanwhile FEMA was merely handing out business cards on Friday as they distributed food that could barely nourish families of two or more. We would later learn that fully-furnished, non-toxic FEMA trailers – at the time of this article’s publication – sit less than two hours away in a Wilkes Barre, PA lot.

One local nurse, employed by Columbia University, was denied an opportunity to volunteer by the Red Cross, ostensibly because she, an educated professional, could pose an insurance liability. “People are going to die out there tonight,” she said. When she tried to drive supplies over the Verrazano bridge, she was ID’d and then denied entry.

There is more, however, that sheds light on Bloomberg’s disconnected and cruel countenance upon those in whom he does not see a personal economic or political interest. A borough firefighter who prefers to remain nameless relates the story of how two nights ago the mayor personally ordered police at the 122 Precinct to either arrest or otherwise disperse volunteers who refused to cease relief efforts on Father Capodanno Boulevard, which runs close to the Lower Bay and was slammed by Hurricane Sandy. We ask him what he thinks the mayor’s motive is for doing so: “They [Bloomberg and his administration] didn’t want cameras coming down here and seeing people helping people, they wanted it to look like FEMA or the Red Cross was helping. The fact of the matter is, it’s not. Down here, it’s people helping people,” he says.

The 122 Precinct commander refused to obey Bloomberg’s order, instead ushering people off of the street and into a parking lot, away from any network news cameras. The consistent answer from Staten Islanders to Bloomberg’s misprision was a defiant self-sufficiency and tirelessly persistent community-mindedness.

It was clear that the only ones willing to be responsible for helping Staten Island would be its inhabitants. Local groups such as the Hallowed Sons, a collective of former firefighters and police officers, were seen on Cedar Grove Avenue, in the nearby town New Dorp, giving out hot meals. They were also organizing roving bands of teenagers, who, armed with dust masks and shovels, were helping gut uninhabitable basements and garages.

In Midland Beach, we come across Kelly, who arrived from Boston with a raft and shovels to help his uncle Mike save his home. After just four days, the garage was beginning to mold. Mike’s wheelchair-bound neighbor had died in the flood, despite the best efforts of those trying to rescue him. One of Mike’s daughters was out delivering supplies to others who, in their words, had it much worse.

Kelly offers to put us up for the night. “We have a generator and heat,” he says, as the men pass beer around. Their hospitality and determination is characteristic of Island residents. “Come back in a year, you’ll see a new house!”

Images: Dustin Slaughter, Kenneth Lipp, Joanne Stocker, Joe Fionda and Lex Hortensia

Nov 2012 08

by Sandor Stern

Dear Republican Friends,

Regarding the Presidential Election…

I’m sure you are feeling depressed over your candidate’s defeat. I don’t mean to gloat but I must confess I am deliriously happy. There are so many reasons for my joy.

Obama’s election means that in 2014 the Affordable Care Act will fully kick in and allow the USA to join the rest of the world’s more developed nations in offering a national health plan. This is not to say that the ACA represents the best plan this nation can offer but it is a major step towards universal health care.

It means that Medicare will not be gutted by a voucher system designed to do just that. The problems of Medicare will be addressed in a responsible way.

It means that the problems with Social Security will be handled without privatizing.

It means that Roe vs Wade will not be overturned and the government will stay out of every woman’s uterus, every couple’s bedroom and every person’s right to marry whomever they choose.

It means that women will not be ranked as financial second class citizens and will receive equal pay for equal work.

It means that Obama’s executive order allowing illegal immigrant children to be granted certain rights will not be overthrown and that the Dream Act will have an administration with a conscience to move it along.

It means that the elite 1% in this country will have to give up some of their enormous financial gain over the past 10 years in order to bring down the national debt.

It means that shipping American jobs to foreign countries will not give American companies tax breaks and that keeping those jobs here will be rewarded.

It means that government regulation will protect consumers from the avarice of banks, insurance companies and Wall Street.

It means that global warming will not be perceived as junk science and will be addressed as the real and dangerous problem it poses to the world.

It means that alternative forms of energy will trump oil drilling as a direction for our future.

All of these positive actions would have been impossible given your party’s published platform. I am so relieved.

On a more personal note, Obama’s reelection means that Ted Nugent will be leaving the country as he promised. As a final act of patriotism I beg him to take with him – Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Coulter, Rove and Trump. Given his hatred of Obamacare his final destination will be the only country remaining in the civilized world without a national health plan – Turkey. I wish him luck with his fundamentalist Christian ideology in that country.

Your friend,


Related Posts
Dear Republican Friends: Regarding Your Hostility Towards President Obama
Dear Republican Friends: Regarding Your Candidate
Dear Republican Friends: Regarding Healthcare – A Tale Of Two Countries
Dear Republican Friends: Regarding Your Stand On Healthcare…
Dear Republican Friends: Regarding Your Stand On Taxation…

Nov 2012 07

by Dell Cameron

Yesterday, American citizens from all walks of life gathered at polling locations throughout the United States with the hope of changing the course of their collective destiny. For over two hundred years, communities have been assembling in this fashion as participants in a great democratic experiment. For some, the polls are a responsibility, due to the lives they perceive have been sacrificed in order to protect their ability to cast their votes. Others vote out of conscious because it’s a privilege others throughout the world are denied. Yet, there are others who feel – with some justice – that no candidate is capable of accurately representing them and that abstaining from the vote is just as much their right.

Some Americans may still be unaware of the extreme transformations our democratic process has undergone in only a few recent years. The important changes to note revolve around the donation processes and the invention of external campaign committees that, in some cases, directly influence the outcome of political elections. In 2010, the Supreme Court arrived at the conclusion that the First Amendment clause, which provides all U.S. citizens with freedom of speech, also guaranteed that corporations had the right to make independent election expenditures. In a split 5-4 decision, laws such as the Taft-Hartley Act, which had previously prohibited corporate and union political donations, were deemed unconstitutional.

On the Supreme Court decision, Noam Chomsky, MIT Professor of Linguistics and author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy wrote, “On that day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government may not ban corporations from political spending on elections –– a decision that profoundly affects government policy, both domestic and international.” In Chomsky’s opinion, “Jan. 21, 2010, will go down as a dark day in the history of U.S. democracy, and its decline. “

What followed was an all out spending spree by corporations, unions and affluent individuals that dangerously altered the landscape of the American election system. During the 2012 cycle, spending by non-party affiliated organizations exploded. These organizations were often funded by only a handful of individuals and the number of individuals and organizations that were responsible for disclosing their donors dropped considerably in comparison to the previous election cycle. According to, a cycle-to-date spending analysis revealed that by the end of the first week of October, spending by these organizations was more than the previous 11 election cycles combined totaling $517 million.

So as we examine President Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney, the first question we should ask ourselves is who flipped the bill for his exorbitant $401 million campaign and what are their motives.

The top donor to Obama’s campaign was a man named Jeffrey Katzenberg, a Hollywood producer and chief executive of DreamWorks Animation. Katzenberg’s contributions to Obama’s campaign included a $2 million donation to the Priorities USA action super PAC, a committee formed by former White House advisors. Katzenberg is also a bundler for the Democratic party – someone who elicits major financial support for political purposes once reaching their own personal donation limitations. Katzenberg, like many Hollywood elites, was a proponent of the Stop Online Piracy Act, a widely unpopular bill introduced by Congressman Lamar Smith (D-TX) that was shelved in Congress in January 2012 after worldwide online protests erupted. Opponents of the bill claimed it threatened the integrity of the internet and was in essence an attack on online freedom of expression. Despite a number of threats from Hollywood elites, such as former Senator, now MPAA head Chris Dodd, after Obama withdrew support for the bill, Katzenberg remained a steadfast support of Obama’s campaign. The undeniably instrumental role Katzenberg played in the Obama 2012 campaign may foreshadow future support for a new SOPA-like bill on behalf of the White House.

Another billionaire who reached deep into his pockets for the Obama campaign was Jon Stryker, stockholder and heir to the Stryker Corporation, a medical equipment company based out of Michigan. Stryker’s contribution exceeded $2 million during the 2012 election cycle and has previously generously donated to the Democratic Party. The Stryker Corporation has been involved in a number of controversies with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Drug Administration, which included failure to meet FDA regulations, the falsification of documents and unlawful kickbacks to physicians in exchange for the use of their products.

It’s important to note that while the Obama campaign has taken advantage of the support provided to them by big-spending, individual backers, these types of contributions were much more prominent throughout the Romney campaign. Romney’s largest backer, a Las Vegas Casino owner, dwarfed Obama’s supporters by providing him with financial support exceeding $34 million dollars. Romney, however, did not win the election.

In light of the enormous financial support campaigns receive from individual backers and political committees, it’s not difficult to understand why some voters felt so disenfranchised this election cycle – and that the act of voting seemed to be an exercise in futility. How could anyone expect to find a candidate to represent their voice in government when the issues affecting them most aren’t being presented to the candidates in the form of multimillion dollar campaign donations?

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence, which stated, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Forty-nine years later, in a letter to William Branch Giles, he expressed his concern over individuals that, in his words, had “nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76.” He criticized the men of his time for leaving the intentions of American democracy behind in exchange for a aristocracy founded on banking institutions and monied incorporations that cloaked themselves under the guise of industry.

The dream of a perfect Democracy seems to have been abandoned in an age where hostile advertisements and televised debates intentionally exclude poorly funded third party candidates. With the acceleration of new laws that chip away at the foundation of a truly representative government, it’s important we remember as a country what we once had and fight ferociously to reclaim it.

Related Posts
A Question Of Courage: Journalist Faces Imprisonment For Exposing Corruption
Debate 2012: I May Be A Man…But I Got Women’s Issues Too