Occupy’s New Offshoot Set to Cancel Millions in Medical Debts

Medical debt is the cause of 62 percent of bankruptcies, say organizers of Strike Debt, which threw last night’s offbeat fundraiser for their new “Rolling Jubilee.” Ordinary people donated enough money to collectively buy an estimated $5.9 million in bad debt in order to cancel it.

Revelers at the Rolling Jubilee telethon throw glitter after hearing that the group had raised enough money to buy $5 million in medical debt.  Photo by Stacy Lanyon

On the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street’s eviction from Zuccotti Park, celebrity and local performers donated their time for a “post-modern variety show” last night at Manhattan’s Le Poisson Rouge nightclub. They were there to raise money for what may be the most far-reaching project to grow out of the Occupy movement so far: a “bailout for the 99 percent” called Rolling Jubilee. Launched by Strike Debt, an offshoot of OWS, the Jubilee has begun erasing people’s medical debt by infiltrating the debt-collection industry.

Their tactic is to buy private debt the same way collection companies do—on the debt market, at tiny fractions of its original worth—and then cancel it in hopes of freeing debtors from their piled-up, defaulted medical bills. Organizers also want the action to bring debt servitude to the forefront of our national conversation.
Last night’s live-streamed spectacle, billed as the People’s Bailout Telethon, featured comedienne Janeane Garofalo, musicians Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth and Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, and a three-hour-long vaudevillian line-up of mariachi and magic, gospel and hip-hop, striptease and performance art. Comedy writer Lizz Winstead and cartoonist David Rees emceed the event, badgering a fluctuating online audience to donate money. With local Strike Debt chapters holding viewing parties across the country, there may have been close to 2,000 online viewers.

The event had been planned as a launch party for Rolling Jubilee, which opened its bank account on Friday, November 9. But as donations surged past the $250,000 mark—five times Strike Debt’s stated goal for the evening—the soirée took on the bubbly energy of a victory rally.

Continue reading the full story in YES! Magazine »

McKibben Spearheads Plan to Hit Dirty Energy Where It Hurts

Could 350.org’s aggressive new strategy bring an end to global warming?

Bill McKibben and about 1900 supporters raised their arms in support of the new 350.org strategy in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall on Wednesday, November 7. Photo by Paul Anderson.

In a bold change of direction for the movement to stop climate change, environmentalist Bill McKibben and his global advocacy network 350.org unveiled a new strategy this week in Seattle: chip away at the power of the fossil-fuel industry through a large-scale stock-divestment campaign modeled on the one which helped bring down South Africa’s apartheid regime in the 1980s.

All 1900 seats were sold out in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall on November 7, for the first stop on McKibben’s planned 22-city tour. The audience delivered multiple standing ovations as McKibben explained the strategy: to curb worldwide CO2 emissions and global warming by pushing universities and other institutions to purge their stock portfolios of oil, coal, and natural-gas interests. 350’s slogan for this tour is “Do the math.”

That math is simple but stomach-dropping. Global leaders who drafted the 1999 Copenhagen Accord—including leaders of the United States and China who are resistant to climate action—agreed that a rise of two degrees Celsius (about 3.5 degrees Farenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures is the absolute upper limit humanity can approach and still avoid catastrophic climate change. In order to stay within that limit, we can emit no more than 565 additional gigatons of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere. But fossil fuel corporations already possess oil, gas, and coal that would release 2,795 gigatons of carbon if burned. That’s five times the safe amount.

“Eighty percent of that,” said McKibben, “has to stay underground.”    Continue reading the full story in YES! Magazine »


Robert Pace and Amy Smith address demonstrators outside Smith’s shuttered home during an Avondale “Foreclosure Tour,” the first public action organized by Occupy the Hood Cincinnati.

A Madisonville couple who have spent the past decade fighting against predatory Big Bank lenders which tipped them into bankruptcy and foreclosure, might see their case go before the U.S. Supreme Court.  As they push their cause, they have found solidarity in a new community of activists battling foreclosure in Cincinnati.

Ten years ago, Demetrious Smith hoped to buy a building and work as a landlord after a non-work-related injury ended his 13-year career with General Electric. But getting financed on the strength of his monthly $1,182 disability check seemed unlikely. Then a postcard arrived in his family’s mailbox from a company called National Mortgage Funding, which promised home financing for anyone.

Smith, now 57, arranged an appointment and swiftly got financed for a $109,000 mortgage through ABN AMRO Mortgage Group Inc., for the home he still lives in with his wife Amy, 53.

He was staggered to find out it was so easy. “On Social Security income?” he says. “I thought: This is a blessing.”

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Breeding Ground

Pebbles spent eight years bearing litters at a Minnesota puppymill, before being sold at the Ohio Dog Auction. Photo by Konstantin Vasserman.

We’ve got three ‘02-model females,” the auctioneer began.

A seated crowd of bonnets and wide-brim hats peered down into the auction pit, where three small white dogs stood on a rug-covered table. A teenage boy held each one in place.

Auction lots 73-75, three Bichon Frises registered under the names Mandy, Crystal, and Pebbles, were shaking.

Maybe they felt cold, or maybe they felt scared. It was a January morning, their curls had been shorn off and until that moment they had been tasked with bearing litters of puppies in a large breeding facility known for its small cages, where they had probably never felt so many human eyes upon them.

Mandy’s ears froze into an odd crimp, as the auctioneer announced the starting price for her. There were no takers. The price dropped, then dropped again several times, and he gave up. Crystal, a runt, fared the same. The third, Pebbles, whose short legs bowed awkwardly around her tomato-shaped body, fetched a single bid: $5.

The three mothers were among 301 dogs who rode 900 miles last January inside cage-stacked semi tractor-trailer trucks, from Clearwater Kennel in Cushing, Minn., to the Farmerstown Sale Barn in the Amish town of Baltic, Ohio.

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Stopping Unnecessary Roughness ~ local group monitors national animal research

Michael Budkie has lasted 15 years in a career most people wouldn’t touch with a pooper-scooper: He studies the day-to-day life stories of animals stuck in laboratory experiments.

SAEN co-founders Karen and Michael Budkie. Photo courtesy of Dina Kourda

“That’s not exactly the Sunday comics,” says the 52-year-old from Milford, who has a degree in Animal Health Technology from the University of Cincinnati, and another in Theology from Xavier University.

After poring through medical histories and U.S. Department of Agriculture reports, Mr. Budkie, his wife Karen Budkie, 52, and a small investigative team comprising the nonprofit Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) aim their stones at several Goliaths of American industry.

Their goals: Hold accountable the defense, pharmaceutical and medical industries for their violations of the Animal Welfare Act. And let the public know what happens in animal labs.

In October SAEN unearthed records showing that a dozen musk oxen had died of starvation at a University of Alaska research facility. And last month the group released a list of the 20 U.S. research facilities that subject the greatest number of animals to painful experiments without anesthesia. In the middle of this list is Battelle Memorial Institute, a Columbus-based nonprofit company that does contract work for the Department of Defense (DOD), among others.

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Piatt Park Occupiers Arrested, Tents Dismantled

Screen shot of protestors at Piatt Park, shortly before 1am on October 21. Livestream at http://www.livestream.com/occupycincy

After midnight this morning, Cincinnati police arrested about twenty members of Occupy Cincinnati before a crowd of several hundred supporters, according to eyewitnesses.

The growing group of residents had been demonstrating against a system of “corporate welfare”–exemplified by the bank bailouts of 2008 and 2009–that they say tramples the interests of 99 percent of the U.S. population, while catering to the demands of the wealthiest and most politically influential one percent.

About twenty members of the non-violent, democratically-run group were arrested and their tents dismantled, four days after the movement filed a federal injunction against the City for the $105 tickets repeatedly issued to each occupier, nightly since the demonstration began.

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Scholars clarify activists’ paths

Readers, my apologies: technical problems prevented me from posting the following jottings last night.  I’ve decided to remain here in Uppsala, Sweden for a few days after the current conference ends, to catch you up on my findings.  Thanks for sticking around!  From yesterday:

Horses driven through Prague with a tourist carriage

I am rolling out of Dresden on a quiet train, halfway between Prague’s ICAS conference on “Reconfiguring the ‘Human’/’Animal’ Binary” and Berlin, where I’ll spend a night before flying to Sweden for tomorrow’s “Zooethnographies” papers.  It has been a gorgeous weekend, filled with sun and busty wood pigeons.

In the old, wood-and-light-filled Faculty of Arts at Prague’s Charles University, most of the 50+ presenters directly addressed the meeting’s theme: finding more nuanced and constructive new ways to look at human-animal relationships.

Existing “binary” notions like master-pet, hunter-quarry, consumer-resource, and intellectual-instinctual, were dismantled or dismissed for many of the same reasons that Gender Studies scholars have fought against the limitations wrought by using crude dichotomies like “virgin/whore” to define a person.

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Battle Rages Over Office of Environmental Quality

Residents at an Aug. 16 public hearing wore green to express their support for the Office of Environmental Quality.

Among a standing-room-only crowd at a former Catholic church in South Cumminsville, a swath of green t-shirts materialized Aug. 16 on residents opposing a budget proposal that would dismantle Cincinnati’s Office of Environmental Quality (OEQ).

The public hearing of City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee began with City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.’s presentation and defense of his proposal, and concluded only after 36 residents had responded before the committee. Council will vote on the plan Aug. 31.

Among those who addressed council, 18 spoke in support of continuing to fund OEQ, with two using the phrase “penny-wise and pound-foolish” to describe the proposal; none defended it.

“Why on earth are you even considering dismantling an office whose effect on the budget alone is positive, in excess of 25 times its cost?” William Messer demanded of Council.

City statistics reveal the single OEQ project of overhauling Cincinnati’s recycling program this year will save more money — $930,731 in 2011 — than the city expects to save by eliminating the office, which is estimated at $225,030 by 2012.

Continue reading the full story in CityBeat »

National whistleblower leaks 800 “model” bills to local activist

Aliya Rahman was contacted by a whistleblower from within the American Legislative Exchange Council, hours after organizing a Cincinnati protest in April.

Within two hours of helping stage a loud protest outside a spring convention of conservative policymakers, Over-the-Rhine resident Aliya Rahman got a telephone call that has now triggered a media groundswell.

“I have information about ALEC,” said a voice.

Six weeks earlier, 29-year-old Rahman had been a Miami Univeristy Ph.D. student and labor organizer who wondered why an Ohio budget clause threatening to deregulate wages and class sizes at her school, was coming so close upon the heels of a similar proposal in Virginia.

Then a link on Facebook got her attention.  A Wisconsin history professor had proposed that conservative bills arising simultaneously in multiple states, like those aimed at reducing workers’ bargaining rights, were rolling quietly out of a nonprofit group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

And ALEC was coming to Cincinnati.

Continue reading the full story in CityBeat »

This Little Piggie Gets Tortured ~ Kroger stops shipments, asks for probe

        A piglet at Iowa Select Farms’ Kamrar, IA facility.       Photo courtesy of Mercy for Animals

Three years ago, floodwaters engulfed Iowa and swept hundreds of pigs down the Mississsippi River, sparking a rescue effort that moved over 60 survivors to new lives on sanctuaries. When Iowa’s levees burst again last week, its pigs took the national spotlight once more to tell a different story.

A hard-to-watch undercover video from the Chicago- based group Mercy for Animals (MFA) was released on June 29, showing live piglets getting sliced, slammed and thrown across a building in a small Iowa town.

A former Iowa Pork Princess became its unwitting star, by assuring the undercover camerawoman that “pigs are very bouncy,” and then describing their flights through the air as “a rollercoaster ride for piglets.”

Continue reading the full story in CityBeat »