Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trump and Putin: more than bff's

Josh Marshall is a serious, fact based thinker and trained historian, not prone to speculative conspiracy theorizing, until perhaps today, but given his track record, and the facts he adduces in support of his hypothesizing, his concerns are worth consdering. And his concern is that at the very least,(to quote Godfather 3) Trump's ships sail in the same direction as Putin's.

Here's Marshall's nut graph:
To put this all into perspective, if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump's direction, combined withthis much solicitousness of Putin's policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration. And yet Putin is not the CEO of an American corporation. He's the autocrat who rules a foreign state, with an increasingly hostile posture towards the United States and a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons. The stakes involved in finding out 'what's going on' as Trump might put it are quite a bit higher.
There is something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence for a financial relationship between Trump and Putin or a non-tacit alliance between the two men. Even if you draw no adverse conclusions, Trump's financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a heavy reliance on capital infusions from oligarchs and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin. That's simply not something that can be waved off or ignored.
Read the whole thing and mull it over. If there is anything to this, I expect to see more delving into the complicated relations between Trump and Putin proxies.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Summertime spam from SCIRP

Even in the sweltering heat in North America, our Chinese friends from SCIRP can reach out and solicit manuscripts for their fake academic journals, in this case, the Journal of Environmental Protection. The best way to protect your own environment is to put the email in your trash.


Hope you enjoyed the two minutes fours days of hate from Big Brother the republican convention as much as I did:

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Apple, tree: Trump edition

Tonight, on my television (yours too, I bet) both CNN and MSNBC were running a Trump speech, live, under a "breaking news" banner. No wonder he doesn't have to care about fundraising to buy tv ads---they give it to him for free, though he cares enough about it being sufficiently 'huge' to play smoke and mirrors with the numbers (though it is also possible that his staff is so inept they are as clueless about fundraising reporting as they are about campaign finance law, as CNBC reports.)

This last conjecture, involving a mix of incompetence and corruption, gains some support from the behavior of one of Trump's sons.  Trump pere claims to give far more to charity than he actually does, according to publicly available records and reports from charities, as the Washington Post reported some days ago. That report needled Eric, one of the Trump boys, who seemed to want to demonstrate how close to the tree its apple can fall, as TPM reports.

"I’m just saying, Jesus Christ, why is this guy trying to f---ing kill us?" Trump allegedly told the Post's David A. Fahrenthold.
Fahrenthold had meticulously tried to find corroboration for Donald Trump's claims of generous charitable giving, contacting 200 charities associated with the businessman. The reporter found only one charity that received a donation, in the amount of less than $10,000.
Fahrenthold also went to lengths to reach Trump Jr., reportedly attempting to contact him over email, through his foundation, and on Twitter.
Trump took issue with direct messages the reporter left him on Twitter and for a blog postFahrenthold wrote raising unanswered questions he had about his father's donations.
"It’s disgusting. It is so disgusting what’s happening," Eric Trump reportedly told the journalist. "I’m saving dying children. We do tremendous good for people. And you’re sitting there tearing us apart."
Trump alleged that his father had given his own foundation hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in addition to the donations he had made directly to charities.
"My father has given me and my foundation hundreds of thousands of dollars. And he’s given other charities millions and millions and millions of dollars," Eric Trump said.
You could say baby Trump is a nice boy, if by 'nice' you mean 'out of control asshole', and if by 'boy' you mean 'thug'.

Trump: Baron of Bankruptcy

Trump's business success, such as it is, rests on two prongs: i) deception  ii) default. 
Mr. Trump created his business empire using what the economist Hyman Minsky called Ponzi financing. In that arrangement, debt is supported by rising asset prices; when those prices come down — in Mr. Trump’s case, the value of real estate — then creditors discover that the debt will not be repaid.
Professor Minsky wrote that Mr. Trump’s lenders “failed to recognize that the arithmetic of his cash flows was virtually identical with that of” developing countries. (my bolding)
Bankruptcy has been the building block for Mr. Trump’s wealth accumulation. Indeed, looked at in light of the presidency, Mr. Trump’s record in real estate development is almost entirely based on financing methods that are contrary to the laws governing the nation’s debt.
Few industries have as much direct contact with government as real estate. Public agencies issue building permits and certificates of occupancy and enforce zoning and environmental regulations. The typical developer tries to minimize government interference since it can slow down projects with requirements for community involvement, worker safety and sustainable construction.
In his dealings with government agencies, Mr. Trump has a long history of misleading public officials. One of his earliest deals involved the Commodore Hotel, next to Grand Central Station. When the hotel’s owner, the Penn Central railroad, went bankrupt in the 1970s, Mr. Trump, with the aid of his father’s political allies, acquired the right to redevelop the hotel.
As Wayne Barrett points out in his book “Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth,” banks were unwilling to provide financing for Mr. Trump to redevelop the Commodore unless New York gave him a tax abatement. The only way to get the abatement, Mr. Barrett wrote, “was to mislead the city into believing he already had the elusive financing.”
Mr. Trump displayed his agility with the truth when, as Michael D’Antonio notes in his book “Never Enough,” Mr. Trump deliberately sent city officials an agreement stating that Penn Central had designated him to acquire the hotel as developer. But it had only his signature, not that of the railroad.
Mr. Trump used this partly signed agreement to win the city’s support for his project, which he then used to get the Hyatt Hotel to invest in a new hotel (what’s now the Grand Hyatt New York). Mr. Trump later took pride in his manipulation and said, as Mr. D’Antonio reported: “They only asked to see an agreement. They didn’t say it had to be signed.”
After decades of deception and default, of incompetent management, of pulling his own money out of his deals after luring investors in, his many bankruptcies, screwing his investors and creditors, his refusal to pay contractors and vendors, I am mystified why anyone would do any business with this man, much less invest in one of his projects. Or why anyone would vote for him. Maybe his supporters figure that the US is heading to third worldom, and figure with Trump driving that train, at least the trip will be quicker and more entertaining. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

They're back: House gun legislation edition

The House is about to reconvene after a two week vacation. What's on the agenda? As little to do with gun legislation as possible:
Nearly two weeks after House Democrats staged a historic sit-in to demand action on gun control legislation, the Republican speaker of the House has agreed to hold a vote on a single gun-related bill: a measure to allow the attorney general to delay the sale of a gun to a suspected terrorist for three days, similar to a Senate measure backed by the National Rifle Association.

The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, slammed the legislation on Friday as “a toothless NRA bill that will do nothing to keep our communities safe”, and promised that Democrats would continue to fight for tougher gun control laws, including expanded background checks on gun sales.
“Americans are fed up with Republicans’ dangerous obstruction of bipartisan, commonsense gun violence legislation,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Paul Ryan refuses to meet with more than two democrats, for fear that a larger meeting might infect him with a reasonability virus:
The speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, called the Democratic sit-in a “publicity stunt” and a “low moment”, and told a Wisconsin news outlet last week that any future protests from House Democrats would not be handled “in the same way”.
“We will not tolerate this,” he said.
Ryan has agreed to meet on Tuesday with the Connecticut representative John Larson and Georgia’s John Lewis, two of the organizers of the sit-in. A Republican congressional staffer said Lewis and Larson had asked Ryan to meet the full Democratic caucus, but that Ryan agreed to meet only the two of them.
Ryan and his crew are 'investigating' house democratic violations of the rules the GOP has imposed. Maybe they will appoint a special prosecutor. Meanwhile, he had a group of citizens advocating gun control staging a sit-in the Capitol Rotunda, arrested. 
Eight protesters who lost families and friends to gun violence staged a short sit-in in the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday before Capitol Police led them away in handcuffs.
At about 12:15 p.m., the group sat down in center the Rotunda and began chanting, "No Bill, No Break," the slogan used when House Democrats occupied the House floor in late June to demand action on gun violence.
Some of the protesters held photographs of loved ones and signs with such slogans as "My daughter is not a political stunt."
           About five minutes into the protest, Capitol Police stepped in to clear the area. Within 10 minutes, they handcuffed the protesters and arrested six of the eight participants, a Capitol Police spokeswomansaid. They were charged with demonstrating in an area where it is unlawful to do so.
Who are these protesters that Ryan had taken away in handcuffs?
Weingart was two years old when his mother was shot and killed in front of him during adomestic dispute. Weingart's stepfather tried unsuccessfully to shoot and kill him too, but the gun malfunctioned.
Like Weingart, the other protesters were all friends or family members of victims of gun violence. They included Pat Maisch, who was at the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., and helped disarm the shooter who injured former Rep. Gabriel Giffords.
Maisch was arrested along with Cameilla Williams of Chicago who has lost 24 loved ones to gun violence;Christian Heyne, whose mother killed in a 2005 in California;Margaret Eaddy, whose son shot and killed; and Jeannette Richardson, whose son was shot and killed on New Year's Eve 2004.
As the protest continued, they each took turns saying, "My daughter [or my son] is not a political stunt."
One protester, Bob Weiss, had tears in his eyes and could only get out the words, "My daugher," while holding a picture of a young woman. Weiss'19-year-old daughter Veronika was shot and killed in the 2014 Isla Vista shooting.
"I came here today and I'm going to keep coming as long as I can to let the speaker, Paul Ryan, understand that red blood, human bones and flesh should mean more than green paper," said Nardyne Jeffries, 46, of D.C., referring to funds Republicans receive from the National Rifle Association. "We have the right to live safely in America"
Jeffries' daughter Brishell was shot and killed at the age of 16 in Southeast D.C. on March 30, 2010. Three others were killed and several more wounded in one of the worst mass shootings in the District.
"The children were black and they were in southeast Washington, D.C., and this is what happens every day in cities like this and Chicago," Jeffries said. "Chicago had 64 shootings last night but nobody's interested."
Well, the NRA is not interested. As a consequence, Paul Ryan is not interested.  The House GOP caucus is not interested. The Senate GOP caucus is not interested. But most Americans are interested. 

By Jove!

Thank you, NASA.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

New Jersey student loans: loan shark edition

Student loans have created an increasing burden on the lives of the young, and not-so-young. New Jersey's student loan program seems to be the worst of the worst---a program that Chris Christie runs, through his appointments to the agency board and his veto power over its actions. No doubt Tony Soprano and friends helped in its design.

This New York Times story opens with a bereaved mother whose college student son had just been murdered.
“Please accept our condolences on your loss,” a letter from that agency, the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, said. “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.”
Ms. DeOliveira-Longinetti, who co-signed on the loans, was shocked and confused. 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.
The loans also carry higher interest rates than similar federal programs. Most significant, New Jersey’s 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 — all without having to get court approval.
“It’s state-sanctioned loan-sharking,” Daniel Frischberg, a bankruptcy lawyer, said. “The New Jersey program is set up so that you fail.”
And that collection agencies make a bundle. As does Wall Streeter and the state loan agency itself.
Another borrower, Chris Gonzalez, could not 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 $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. (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.
Who is in charge? Well, Donald Trump's new bff, Chris Christie.
A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie said the governor did not control the authority and declined to respond to questions about the loan program. But Mr. Christie, a Republican, 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.
Consider the loan agency's track record:
A New Jersey rule adopted in 1998 allows the authority 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.
Ms. 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, ” Mark Kantrowitz, a financial-aid expert, said.
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 Ms. 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,” Jennifer Weil, a New Jersey student debt lawyer, said. “In case the garnishment doesn’t work, a judgment will help put pressure on the parents.”
Ms. 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,” Ms. Timony said. (my bolding)
It wasn't sending your daughter to college that has wrecked havoc on your life. It was borrowing money from New Jersey. Consider what happened to Chris Gonzalez, the lymphoma patient:
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, Mr. Gonzalez told the agency that he would stop paying for health insurance and use the money — $200 per month — 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,” Mr. Laird told Mr. Gonzalez in an email.
One day in April, a stranger rang Mr. Gonzalez’s doorbell.
“Chris Gonzalez?” he asked. Mr. Gonzalez nodded. “You’ve been served with a lawsuit from the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.”
The suit demanded over $260,000 — about $188,000 for the original loans, $34,000 in interest, and $44,000 to cover the fees of a collection agency’s lawyer.
Even if his business improves, Mr. 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.”
Gonzalez might find it easier to live with his cancer than with the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.