Archive | Corporate Statism

Nuclear radiation, the gift that keeps on giving

Oh, look. Radiation along the Fukushima rivers up to 200 times higher than the Pacific Ocean seabed:

Tokyo, 21 July 2016 – Radioactive contamination in the seabed off the Fukushima coast is hundreds of times above pre-2011 levels, while contamination in local rivers is up to 200 times higher than ocean sediment, according to results from Greenpeace Japan survey work released today.

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Please, daddy, please?

WHY NOT INDEED?

Looks like karma has really bitten them in the ass! GOP convention organizers beg Shelly Adelson to fill a $6 million shortfall:

CLEVELAND – Millions of dollars short and running out of time, organizers of the Republican National Convention have written an urgent request for $6 million to Las Vegas billionaire couple Sheldon and Miriam Adelson to cover the bills for next week’s festivities.

In a letter addressed to the Adelsons, obtained by POLITICO, the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee revealed the names of more than two dozen prominent corporations and individuals who have reneged on a collective $8.1 million in pledged donations.

The letter represents the most public acknowledgement to date that Donald Trump has directly cost convention organizers millions of fundraising dollars.

“Over the past couple months, negative publicity around our potential nominee resulted in a considerable number of pledges backing out from their commitments,” the letter says.

It goes on to list the companies and wealthy individuals who have withdrawn their financial commitments. Among those who have canceled their donations, according to the letter, are David Koch ($1 million), FedEx ($500,000), Visa ($100,000) and both Pepsi ($500,000) and Coca-Cola ($1 million).

New Jersey’s student loan program is ‘state-sanctioned loan-sharking’

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(Photo/Courtesy aboblist) by Annie Waldman ProPublica, July 3, 2016, 9 a.m.

Amid a haze of grief after her son’s murder last year, Marcia DeOliveira-Longinetti faced an endless list of tasks 2014 helping the police access Kevin’s phone and email, canceling his subscriptions, credit cards and bank accounts, and arranging his burial in New Jersey.

And then there were his college loans.

When DeOliveira-Longinetti called about his federal loans, an administrator offered condolences and assured her the remaining balance would be written off.

But she got a far different response from a New Jersey state agency that had also lent her son money.

“Please accept our condolences on your loss,” said a letter from the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to DeOliveira-Longinetti, who had co-signed the loans. “After careful consideration of the information you provided, the Authority has determined that your request does not meet the threshold for loan forgiveness. Monthly bill statements will continue to be sent to you.”

DeOliveira-Longinetti was shocked and confused. After all, the agency features a photo of Governor Chris Christie on its website, and boasts in its brochures that its “singular focus has always been to benefit the students we serve.”

But her experience with the authority, which runs by far the largest state-based student loan program in the country, is hardly an isolated one, an investigation by ProPublica, in collaboration with the New York Times, found.

New Jersey’s loans, which currently total $1.9 billion, are unlike those of any other government lending program for students in the country. They come with extraordinarily stringent rules that can easily lead to financial ruin. Repayments cannot be adjusted based on income, and borrowers who are unemployed or facing other financial hardships are given few breaks.

New Jersey’s loans also carry higher interest rates than similar federal programs. Most significantly, the loans come with a cudgel that even the most predatory for-profit players cannot wield: the power of the state.

New Jersey can garnish wages, rescind state income tax refunds, revoke professional licenses, even take away lottery winnings 2014 all without having to get court approval.

“It’s state-sanctioned loan sharking,” said Daniel Frischberg, a bankruptcy lawyer. “The New Jersey program is set up so that you fail.”

The authority has become even more aggressive in recent years. Interviews with dozens of borrowers, who were among the tens of thousands who have turned to the program, show how the loans have unraveled lives.

The program’s regulations have destroyed families’ credit and forced them to forfeit their salaries. One college graduate declared bankruptcy at age 26 after struggling to repay his debt. The agency filed four simultaneous lawsuits against a 31-year-old paralegal after she fell behind on her payments.

Another borrower, Chris Gonzalez, couldn’t keep up with his loans after he got non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was laid off by Goldman Sachs. While the federal government allowed him to suspend his payments because of hardship, New Jersey sued him, seeking nearly $266,000 in payments, and seized a state tax refund he was owed.

One reason for the aggressive tactics is that the state depends on Wall Street investors to finance student loans through tax-exempt bonds and needs to satisfy those investors by keeping losses to a minimum.

Loan revenues also cover about half of the agency’s administrative budget.

In 2010, the agency filed fewer than 100 suits against borrowers and their families. Last year, it filed over 1,600 suits. (Some could result from federal loans handled by New Jersey, though such loans make up just 4 percent of the agency’s portfolio.)

The cases are handled by debt collectors, who can tack on another 30 percent in fees on top of the outstanding debt.

Marcia Karrow, the authority’s chief of staff, said, “the vast majority of these borrowers are happy with the program.” She added that New Jersey’s loans had “some of the lowest default rates” in the country. But when asked to produce the annual default rates, the agency sent ProPublica and the Times data only for students with strong credit scores, making it impossible to calculate the overall rate. (Read their responses to our questions.)

A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie said the governor does not control the authority and declined to respond to questions about the loan program. But Christie appointed its executive director, Gabrielle Charette; he also has the power to appoint at least 12 of the agency’s 18 board members and can veto any action taken by the board.

Besides administering the loan program, the authority provides financial aid counseling, conducting hundreds of financial aid nights at New Jersey high schools, where it offers advice about paying for college, including pitching its own loans.

DeOliveira-Longinetti, who emigrated from Brazil and had long worked as a nanny while raising her son as a single mother, always knew that paying for college would be a challenge. Even after marrying her husband when Kevin was in middle school, she knew that their combined income would not be enough to cover the costs. But a friend told her about New Jersey’s program. That, along with a combination of scholarships, grants, and other loans, allowed Kevin to enroll at the University of Vermont.

Since her son’s murder, DeOliveira-Longinetti has made 18 payments to New Jersey. At $180 per month, she has about 92 to go.

“We’re not going to be poor because of this,” she said. “But every time I have to pay this thing, I think in my head, this is so unfair.”

For decades, states served as middlemen for federal student loans. Most of the loans were made by banks and were handled and backed by regional and state-based agencies as well as by the federal government. The arrangement was unwieldy, expensive and marked by scandal.

After Pennsylvania’s student loan agency lost a public records lawsuit in 2007, documents revealed that the agency had spent nearly $1 million on things like fly-fishing, facials and falconry lessons.

That same year, New Jersey’s agency was caught in what amounted to a kickback scheme. The state attorney general found that the agency had improperly pushed one company’s loans in exchange for annual payments of $2.2 million. A subsequent investigation by the state’s inspector general found that the agency was in “disarray.”

In 2010, Congress and the Obama administration decided to effectively eliminate the role of state agencies by having only the federal government lend directly to students.

Some states, like California, decided to downsize and transferred their federal loan portfolios. Others, such as Pennsylvania, won contracts from the federal government to service debt from the federal loan program.

But New Jersey chose a different path. In the years leading up to the end of the federal program, New Jersey sharply expanded its loan program, slowly replacing the federal loans it once handled with state loans. From 2005 to 2010, loans from the agency nearly tripled, to $343 million per year. Since then, the agency has reduced its loans by half, but its outstanding portfolio has remained roughly the same, about $2 billion.

Karrow said the growth of New Jersey’s program was simply a result of both the growing number of students and the rising cost of tuition. But in fact, college enrollment and tuition have not grown as rapidly as the program’s size.

Lawsuits on the Rise for the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority

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Source: New Jersey Courts Automated Case Management System (ACMS) and Archive Case Management Information System (AMIS)

While other states have similar programs, New Jersey’s stands apart, both for its size and onerous terms.

Massachusetts, running the next-largest program with $1.3 billion in outstanding loans, automatically cancels debt if a borrower dies or becomes disabled, something many other states also do. The program of the third-largest state lender, Texas, is half the size of New Jersey’s. And Texas offers a flat interest rate, a modest 4.5 percent, while New Jersey’s rates can reach nearly 8 percent. Some other state loan programs also have more flexible repayment options 2014 Rhode Island, for example, offers income-based repayment.

New Jersey, meanwhile, encourages students to buy life insurance in case they die to help co-signers repay. As an agency pamphlet cautions, “Are you prepared for the unthinkable?”

The agency, Karrow said, treats each instance of a deceased borrower case by case and tries to be compassionate, but, she added, “we must also meet our fiduciary duty to our bondholders.”

When consumer lawyers protested the program’s onerous conditions at a 2014 agency meeting, the agency, according to minutes from the meeting, said that giving borrowers a break would make the bonds sold to finance loans “less attractive to the ratings agencies and investors.

Indeed, in a recent bond assessment, the credit rating agency Moody’s cited the authority’s “administrative wage garnishing, which it uses aggressively” for “significantly higher collections” compared with other programs.

A New Jersey rule adopted in 1998 allows the agency to give borrowers in default a second chance by allowing them to become current on their account through on-time payments. But the agency has never granted a reprieve and instead cuts off contact with borrowers, leaving them at the mercy of collection firms.

Karrow said federal regulations prohibited the agency from offering such relief, but student loan experts disputed that assertion.

“There is nothing in the federal law or regulations that prohibits them from offering private loan rehabilitation,” said Mark Kantrowitz, a financial-aid expert.

The combination of a lack of flexibility, an unwillingness to discharge loans and the state’s power to seize wages has resulted in even “more intractable problems for our clients than predatory mortgages, deceptive car loans or illegal internet payday lending,” said David McMillin, a lawyer with Legal Services of New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal assistance to low-income state residents. “Many borrowers and co-signers find themselves facing a lifetime of debt problems.”

Given the lack of options, some New Jersey borrowers have resorted to declaring bankruptcy, even though, as is true of all student loans, their debt is rarely canceled. Declaring bankruptcy also makes it virtually impossible to secure a mortgage, lease a car or even use credit cards for years. But for New Jersey borrowers, such an extreme step at least offers a way to gain manageable monthly payment terms.

As a co-signer, Tracey Timony struggled to help pay off her daughter’s $140,000 in loans. Though the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority can seize wages or tax returns without court approval, it must secure a judgment to dip into borrowers’ bank accounts or place liens on their property. Instead of garnishing Timony’s wages, New Jersey sued her after her daughter defaulted.

“The agency is looking to put as much pressure on the borrower and be as aggressive as possible, and the way that you do that is you go after everybody that is liable,” said Jennifer Weil, a New Jersey student debt lawyer. “In case the garnishment doesn’t work, a judgment will help put pressure on the parents.”

Timony declared bankruptcy and got monthly debt payments that will rise no higher than about $1,000 a month, far less than what the agency had demanded.

“I never thought that sending my daughter to college would ruin our lives,” Timony said.

Few have felt the weight of the agency’s powers more than Gonzalez, the college graduate who was sued after receiving a diagnosis of cancer and losing his job.

He had borrowed the maximum he could in federal loans 2014 a total of about $30,000 for five years 2014 and paid for most of his tuition with loans from New Jersey.

“I felt so comfortable because it was the State of New Jersey,” he said. “It’s the state, my government, trying to help me out and achieve my American dream. It turns out they were the worst ones.”

Over five years, he took out over $180,000 in state loans. Unlike most other states, New Jersey does not impose a strict cap on loans to discourage overborrowing. One family, according to a recent state audit of the agency, took out over $800,000 in loans, more than five times the value of their home.

Gonzalez’s loans had a relatively high interest rate 2014 on average about 7.5 percent. At the time it seemed like a good investment. He graduated with an engineering degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and landed a job on Wall Street working as a programmer for Goldman Sachs.

But a few months after he started, unusual rashes began to appear on his legs and underarms. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and started radiation therapy.

After three years of cancer treatments, Gonzalez was also laid off.

He needed to take care of his student loans. The federal government and his private lenders all deferred his debt for at least six months.

Gonzalez expected New Jersey to do the same, but the agency refused, requiring him to pay at least $500 a month. With unemployment checks as his only income and burdened by continuing health expenses, it was too much for him.

He made no payments while the agency reviewed his case. In June 2014, Gonzalez moved to Florida to lower his cost of living. His health slowly improved and he started his own company, developing technology for small businesses. In his first year, he made just $26,000, but he started to pay back his federal and private bank loans.

On May 8, 2015, after months of hearing nothing, he received an email from New Jersey: His deferral request had been denied and his loan was being sent to a collection agency.

“Unfortunately, because of how the loan originated, the Authority is not in a position to offer forbearance or relief,” Robert Laird, a program officer at the loan agency, said in the email.

Terrified by what a default would mean for his credit rating, Gonzalez told the agency that he would stop paying for health insurance and use the money 2014 $200 per month 2014 to repay the loans.

The agency rejected the offer. “In the event that your doctor declares you total and permanently disabled, please keep me posted,” Laird told Gonzalez in an email.

One day in April, a stranger rang Gonzalez’s doorbell.

“Chris Gonzalez?” he asked. Gonzalez nodded. “You’ve been served with a lawsuit from the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.”

The suit demanded over $260,000 2014 about $188,000 for the original loans, nearly $34,000 in interest, and $44,000 to cover the fees of a collection agency’s lawyer.

Even if his business improves, Gonzalez has no idea how he will afford his ballooning payments.

“I don’t have money,” he said. “I am spending it all on my debt.”

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.


She’s not acting like a VP nominee

By on July 5, 2016 in Class War, Corporate Statism, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Elizabeth Warren wants to rescue your stranded 401(k) plan

But we really need someone to do things like this kind of thing, so I’d be okay either way:

“Last year was Comcast’s best year in nearly a decade,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in prepared remarks for a speech. “But while big telecom giants have been consuming each other, consumers have been left out in the cold — facing little or no choice in service providers and paying through the nose for cable and internet service.

Warren’s speech at a forum on monopolies came as part of her advocacy for greater enforcement of antitrust laws as American consumers pay higher prices for cable and Internet services than those elsewhere.

Warren cited the cable giant specifically, along with technology players like Apple and Google, the big airlines and Wal-Mart. While the Obama administration has blocked some deals, the U.S. has been through a strong period of business consolidation.

“Strong executive leadership could revive antitrust enforcement in this country and begin, once again, to fight back against dominant market power and overwhelming political power,” Warren said in the Capitol Visitor Center. “But we need something else too — and that’s a revival of the movement that created the antitrust laws in the first place.”

Yeah, unseemly is one way to put it

By on June 29, 2016 in Corporate Statism, Politics As Usual

There are few things more corrupt than the for-profit education industry, and the corruption is on both sides of the aisle. This may not be illegal, but it’s not exactly kosher, either:

As the Obama administration cracks down on for-profit colleges, three former officials working on behalf of an investment firm run by President Barack Obama’s best friend have staged a behind-the-scenes campaign to get the Education Department to green-light a purchase of the biggest for-profit of them all — the University of Phoenix.

The investors include a private equity firm founded and run by longtime Obama friend Marty Nesbitt and former Deputy Education Secretary Tony Miller. The firm, Chicago-based Vistria Group, has mounted a charm offensive on Capitol Hill to talk up the proposed sale of the troubled for-profit education giant, which receives more than $2 billion a year in taxpayer money but is under investigation by three state attorneys general and the FTC.

What stands out about the proposed deal is that several key players are either close to top administration officials, including the president himself, or are former administration insiders — especially Miller, who was part of the effort to more tightly regulate for-profit colleges at the very agency now charged with approving the ownership change. For-profit college officials have likened those rules to a war on the industry, and blame the administration for contributing to their declining enrollments and share prices.

There’s been talk of cutting off the federal money to any of these colleges who don’t meet certain standards, including the acceptance of their degrees in the marketplace. I wonder if it will ever happen.

Alligators, etc.

By on June 28, 2016 in Blind Justice, Corporate Statism

3S5X1787  Lazy Days

I remember being a kid and seeing “No swimming” signs at the local creek. We figured that meant it was okay to go wading, so:

When unspeakable tragedies occur, it seems to be human nature to ask the questions, why and how. Why did this terrible event happen? How could this have been prevented? When events seem so much out of our control, we want to feel that someone or something is to blame. We somehow take comfort in that.

When a toddler from Nebraska was swept away by an alligator while playing on a beach by a man-made lagoon at Walt Disney World in early June, the world was shocked, saddened and wanting to know how this could happen. Even though alligators are a known fixture in the state of Florida, most people would not expect that kind of danger at a prominent resort.

Initially, when the news first broke, as often happens with tragedies involving small children, people were quick to question the parents. However, as more information became available, it seems the incident was absolutely no fault of the parents.

According to eye-witnesses, the parents were within five to 10 feet of the toddler, along with many other people along the beach. The child was walking along the water’s edge when the alligator attacked and the shocked parents immediately attempted to rescue their child.

So now, the question is – could Disney have done more to prevent this incident? There were “No Swimming” signs posted around the man-made lagoon, but was that enough? Technically, the toddler was not swimming – only wading in very shallow water.

Guests vacation at these resorts and play on these beaches with the expectation that they are reasonably safe. The fact that Disney built this man-made lagoon and has knowledge that alligators can potentially be present and enter these lagoons, could be sufficient to prove liability.

However, because alligators are known inhabitants of Florida and because this is an extremely rare incidence, Disney may have a defense against a claim of foreseeability.

Attorney Peter Tragos commented, “This tragedy underscores the need for businesses and organizations to properly post warnings no matter how remote the danger may be.”

Since the attack, Disney has posted additional signs around all bodies of water on the property. In addition to the “no swimming” warning, there is also a warning of alligators.

Here Is A Fun Story Of Ivanka Trump Helping Her Dad Fleece All You Idiots

By on June 28, 2016 in Class War, Corporate Statism, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Ivanka Trump is writing a new book with tips for women to succeed in the workplace

Embed from Getty Images You always look at Ivanka Trump and wonder how she sprang from her father’s fetid and probably stumpy penis: she is really elegant and classy and has a low throaty voice and doesn’t talk like a particularly dull 11-year-old. She makes Donald Trump look, if not good, somehow, somewhat, better. So here… Continue Reading →

How will the TPP affect the U.S.?

By on June 20, 2016 in #OccupyWallStreet, Class War, Corporate Statism, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Environmental, Politics As Usual

An independent federal report on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) found that the trade agreement between 12 countries would have only modest benefits to the U.S. economy and job growth. The report was mandated by US law as a final step before President Obama could send legislature to Congress for a vote.

The highly anticipated report, conducted by the US International Trade Commission, was revealed on Wednesday. It predicted that by 2032 the TPP would likely increase the national income by $57.3 billion a year, just 0.23% more than what it would be without the trade pact.

This falls short of what private studies had projected would be an increase of over $100 billion annually, including a study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which in January of this year estimated an increase of $131 billion in annual real income by 2030.

While the report projected US exports would increase, imports would grow at a faster rate with free trade partners in Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam. Job growth would also be modest in the US with a projected addition of 128,000 jobs by the 15th year of the TPP’s implementation, which is only 0.07% greater than baseline estimates.

 

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, notes the unreliability of these types of projections because of their inability to account for future currency fluctuations and exchange rates.

Top White House trade representative, Michael Froman, who finalized the TPP at the end of last year, emphasized that the International Trade Commission report did not acknowledge the non-tariff benefits including measures to help American firms protect intellectual property, solidify more free and open Internet commerce and reduce the red tape and competition from state-subsidized foreign competitors.

“There has been tremendous focus on the impact on manufacturing,” said Joel Nied, the chairman of the Transactional Group of Price Benowitz, a US law firm that focuses on international business transactions, “but the agreement will have a profound impact on intellectual property protection issues for US companies as well.”

It is important to note that the US-led pact does not include China. Obama stated that the TPP is critical to securing US economic interests in Asia. The Pacific partnership includes Canada, Australia, Mexico, Singapore, Chile, Peru, New Zealand and Brunei, binding economies that constitute nearly 40% of global economic production.
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Midwives and malpractice

By on June 13, 2016 in Blind Justice, Class War, Corporate Statism, The Body Electric

Our lady the midwife Η κυρά μας η μαμή 1958

This Ben Whitley piece is not all that convincing to me. My experience is that doctors are all too eager to punish the same outcomes with midwives they would excuse in physicians. Birth isn’t 100% predictable, as ob-gyns are happy to point out when it suits them:

In light of what is being called the biggest malpractice settlement in 10 years, midwives and doulas are being called out by medical professionals and the general public for lack of training, as well as little recourse when things go wrong. If midwives want to practice as physicians then they should be prepared to carry the same risks as trained medical professionals.

Even though most births under the care of a midwife are successful, some do go wrong and can produce devastating consequences. The question must be asked, for the ones that do go wrong, could they have been prevented and, if so, do the injured families have any recourse for the malpractice?

An Oregon couple received a $13 million settlement for their son, delivered by midwives at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, in what is being called a botched water birth. This settlement is the largest in a decade for a hospital birth malpractice case.

The family’s lawyer, Rich Rogers said the couple was informed by the midwives that the mother was an ideal candidate for a safe water birth, when in fact she was not, due to the baby having an abnormal fetal heart rate upon entering the hospital.
Continue Reading →

Don the con, friend of the working man

By on June 10, 2016 in Corporate Statism, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Politics As Usual

Big Brother is watching You

What a despicable man he is:

During the Atlantic City casino boom in the 1980s, Philadelphia cabinet-builder Edward Friel Jr. landed a $400,000 contract to build the bases for slot machines, registration desks, bars and other cabinets at Harrah’s at Trump Plaza.

The family cabinetry business, founded in the 1940s by Edward’s father, finished its work in 1984 and submitted its final bill to the general contractor for the Trump Organization, the resort’s builder.

Edward’s son, Paul, who was the firm’s accountant, still remembers the amount of that bill more than 30 years later: $83,600. The reason: the money never came. “That began the demise of the Edward J. Friel Company… which has been around since my grandfather,” he said.

Donald Trump often portrays himself as a savior of the working class who will “protect your job.” But a USA TODAY NETWORK analysis found he has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades — and a large number of those involve ordinary Americans, like the Friels, who say Trump or his companies have refused to pay them.

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