Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Guns, Where Art Thou? (Nah) or Do Low Turn Out Primaries Say Most Americans Have Lost Hope (Yup)

These are wierd times. Fox spins another senseless shooting by saying the shooter (and slasher) was struggling with sexuality issues, like hating enough to kill people randomly is not enough (whatever the reason). We need to address the impulses that escalate from mere thoughts of malevolence to acts of violence. If we ban guns, there still would have been deaths in Santa Barbara (he also used a knife). If we had banned ammunition, there still would have been deaths in Boston (home-made bombs). Many household chemicals can used in varying combinations to create toxins that could kill hundreds (or thousands). Whether we want to talk about it, the problem is mental health and addressing the causes and seeking solutions as a nation. Most well balanced individuals generally abhor violence and can seek out solutions. Even people with a lot of stressors (PSTD's, divorce, job stress, job loss, foreclosures, injury, illness, repossessions) can find coping mechanisms, but sometimes their efforts are not enough despite family, religion and or counselors. With the stressors there is the added problem of the anger going inward, which causes the stress to eat at the health of people, physically and emotionally. There was a saying that some vets coming backing from Vietnam had "as long as the guys were grumbling, the officers weren't going to get fragged" (e.g. being killed by friendly fire). Well as we have seen with Ft. Hood, things sometimes fall apart (the mental health professional was the shooter). Are we at that "the-grumbling-has-stopped" stage when we seem 10-20% of the people voting in primaries? As a nation we need to get more people engaged. Negative ads keep printers, bulk mailers and campaign professionals in business, but do they serve the national health? What can we do? We maybe need to sponsor public debates where people can meet and greet the people seeking to get elected. We need to address Citizen's United and its progeny cases. The problem is that the incumbents often hide behind their money and staffers to avoid discussions of policy and performance shortcomings. Volunteers sometimes see the obscene amount of suppression capital coming in don't make the calls or do the door knocking they used to. Some challengers get extreme to collect attention or compromise their passions and beliefs to get money from PACs or special interest groups. Most of the real people (that don't compromise) don't seem to get elected (must less re-elected). I recall a young African American man asking the question (when presented with a qualified African American running for office), "Will it really make a difference"? June 4 is another marker in the rising flood?

Monday, May 12, 2014


Benghazi Select Committee– Passage - Vote Passed (232-186, 14 Not Voting)

The House approved a resolution establishing a 12-member panel to examine both the events that led to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as well as the Obama administration's response to it and to subsequent congressional inquiries.

Rep. Paul Cook voted

The record--the super-committee [Benghazi Select Committee] is not needed as there are several committees in place to gather the facts to the extent they are not already known.
The New York Times’ Cairo bureau chief, and his team (the New York Times investigation, including extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack) found no evidence that Al Qaeda or another international terrorist group had any role in the assault, as Republicans insist without proof for more than a year. The report concluded that the attack was led by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s air power and by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam. That the CIA did not see a threat is ignored [a team of at least 20 people from the Central Intelligence Agency, including highly skilled commandos, was operating out of an unmarked compound about a half-mile southeast of the American mission when the attack occurred].

On Sunday talk shows, Representatives Mike Rogers and Darrell Issa disregarded The New York Times’ investigation &  Mr. Issa talked of an administration “cover-up” &  Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee called Benghazi a “preplanned, organized terrorist event” said based on 4,000 classified cables. If Mr. Rogers has evidence of a direct Al Qaeda role, he should make it public unless Rogers and Issa are going to disclose classified cables like Snowden did. 
Republicans, Democrats and others often confuse purely local extremist groups, or regional affiliates, with Al Qaeda’s international network (easy to do when you spend most of your time fund raising).
What we know is Benghazi tragedy is the result of a gross intelligence failure, something that has largely been overlooked in the public debate.  Yet, despite the C.I.A. presence and Ambassador Stevens’s expertise on Libya, “there was little understanding of militias in Benghazi and the threat they posed to U.S. interests,” a State Department investigation found. 
The C.I.A. supposedly did its own review. It has not been made public, so there is no way to know if the agency learned any lessons, so just maybe Mr. Rogers and Issa need to get back to Washington, D.C., convene a hearing for the CIA to bring their report to their existing subcommittees, BEFORE showboating, talk shows & at fund raising events and creating another committe with power to inquire into the Benghazi tragedy?


Research Tax Credit –Passage - Vote Passed (274-131, 26 Not Voting)

The House passed legislation that would permit companies that incur research and development expenses in the United States to deduct up to 20 percent of the amount in which their qualified research expenses exceed a calculated base amount for the current taxable year. It would also permanently extend and expand a tax break for university and corporate research expenses that expired in December 2013. Sixty-two Democrats joined all but one Republican to support the bill.

Rep. Paul Cook voted

Sounds good? Not really as the corporations ALREADY get a tax break for research and development as do the for-profit research entities attached to the universities and colleges. Why are we giving a double tax break to for profit corporations? It's not like they are in need of the break--its just another product of the corporate give away culture Paul Cook is part of. 
Bob (my position)--examine the need and look at the revenue stream created (and jobs we create HERE). Do we need the research and development done here and the jobs and manufacturing shipped overseas (so the corporations can get ANOTHER write off?).  Does this guy (Cook) have a brain or is he just another Boehner lemming?

An Argument to Restore Consumer Protections to Federally Insured Student Loans & Put the Government Back into Direct Supervision of the Student Loan Business--What say you?

[Excerpted from http://www.studentloanjustice.org/argument.htm]- 

Congress has removed bankruptcy protections, refinancing rights, statutes of limitations, truth in lending requirements, fair debt collection practice requirements (for state agencies) and  removed state usury laws from applicability to federally guaranteed student loans. Is the risk of higher default the problem? Even if there was a higher risk with regular consumer protection laws in place, is that bad? Why would we want to discriminate against our best and brightest?
Congress also gave unprecedented powers of collection to the industry, including wage, tax return, Social Security, and Disability income garnishment, suspension of state issued professional licenses, termination from public employment, and other unprecedented collection tools that are used against borrowers for the purpose of collecting defaulted student loan debt.  Punitive measures that make no sense and work against the very purpose of higher education it seems, even were it not for a poor job market created by sagging hiring quotas and flooding many professional manpower pools with liberally issued green cards.?
Concurrently, Congress established a fee system for defaulted loans that allows the holders of defaulted loans to keep 20% of all payments from borrowers before any portion of the payment is applied to principal and interest on the loan--in some economic models that is called skimming off the top.

In the absence of fundamental consumer protections the borrower's only available recourse is to submit to a hugely expensive "loan rehabilitation" process whereby they are forced to make extended payments (which are almost never applied to the principal or interest on the loan), and then sign for a new loan to which additional fees are attached.  This effectively obligates the borrower to a much larger debt than when the loan defaulted, often double, triple, or even more than the original loan amount, which seems insane...punishing our young men and women for getting an education because they are told by the college & our government that the job market will be there for them. 

This fee system and associated rehabilitation schemes have provided a massive revenue stream for a nationwide network of guarantors, servicers, and collection companies who have greatly enriched themselves at the expense of borrowers often creating unmanageable debt that debilitates, marginalizes, and ultimately relegates them to a lifetime of financial servitude and despondency in many cases, so it seems economic fuedalism is the grand plan of the banks and our government?

Analysis of IRS 990 filings of federal student loan guarantors proves without doubt that the income derived through this fee system is vast, as evidenced by not only the income of the guaranty agencies, but also by the salaries, bonuses, and perks taken by the executives who run them. This fee system is, indeed, the lifeblood of these organizations, who derive about 60% (on average) of their income through this legalized wealth extraction mechanism. Clearly, it is in the guarantors financial interest that students default on their loans. In fact, were there no student loan defaults, the guarantors would barely exist, so its' like the government has distorted the student loan law to create another type of long term bank bailout program?

Additionally, it is often in the financial interest of the lenders that students default. Large lenders derive income from not only lending and servicing operations, but also from collection assets (and even guarantor assets in the case of Sallie Mae) owned or controlled by the company. This leads to the common situation where a loan is defaulted by a lender, becomes vastly inflated with unverified and unchecked collection costs, and then becomes a revenue stream for the guarantor and collection company...all potentially owned (or controlled) by the very same lender! A defaulted loan clearly can produce far more revenue for the system. It is obvious that this structure gives the lender/guarantor/ collector entities a perverse incentive to default loans rather than providing customer service aimed at helping the borrower avoid default.

Indeed, Sallie Mae's own annual reports provide compelling evidence of dramatic profiteering from defaulted loans: In the 2003 annual report, The Sallie Mae CEO brags to shareholders in the opening remarks that the company's record earnings that year were attributable to collections on defaulted loans. The company's "fee income" increased by 228% between 2000-2005, while their managed loan portfolio grew by only 87% during the same time period.

It is a matter of record that lenders actually defaulted student loans without even attempting to collect on the debt! In 2000, Sallie Mae paid $3.4 million in fines as a result of the U.S. Attorney's office discovering that the company was invoicing for defaulted loans where the borrower was never contacted. Rather, records were fabricated to indicate that the borrower had been contacted. Similar cases were settled with Corus bank and Cybernetic Systems.

There is also some evidence that suggest this tendency to default borrowers is by design rather than a mere result of circumstance.  In 2007, an employee of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, KHEAA, contacted StudentLoanJustice.Org by email, and submitted that the agency managers had purposely marketed loans to poor, disadvantaged communities in the expectation that these citizens would default on their loans, thus be "on the hook" for the fees and penalties that would result-extractable through garnishment of the income sources mentioned previously. This  raises serious concerns, as it clearly implicates KHEAA in engaging in predatory lending.  The text of these communications was forwarded to the Department of Education, and it is unknown what, if anything, resulted).

Obviously, collection companies prefer that loans default.  Guarantors clearly share this preference.  That lenders and collection companies also share this financial motivation is sufficient, to characterize the lending system as predatory, since the lending system clearly has both motive and means to act in such a way as to encourage default, rather than being motivated to act in a way that avoids default.  

An unbiased observer should rightly object here, and point out that there is governmental oversight that should prevent this sort of activity.  After all, at the end of the day, these defaults must certainly be a drain on the taxpayer...right?  

Wrong.  It was reported in January 2004 by John Hechinger (WSJ) that for every dollar paid out in default claims, the Department of Education would recover every dollar in principal, plus almost 20% in interest and fees.  Further, supplemental materials in the president's 2010 budget show a recovery rate for defaulted FFELP loans of about 122 %.  This is the amount recovered compared to the amount of the loan at the time of default.
 Compare this recovery rate to that for defaulted credit cards, which is usually about 25 cents on the dollar, and one can see that defaulted loans are clearly not costing the Department of Education money.  In fact, simple, comparative analysis shows clearly that the reverse is indeed the case.  In other words: The Department of Education is making more money on defaulted loans than loans which remain in good stead.

Therefore, all entities involved: The lenders, the guarantors, the collection companies, and even the Department of Education  and its agents have a financial incentive for student loans to default...and this all is a direct result of the lack of consumer protections and the draconian collection powers that exists uniquely for federal student loans as described above.

Another reasonable objection, here :  The student loan default rate, as advertised by the schools, lenders, and even the Department of Education  are not inordinately high...they have stayed well within reasonable levels, at between  4% and 7%...so there must be something keeping the system well behaved, right?

WRONG. Despite repeated claims by the Department of Education, the student lending industry (andtheir army of lobbyists), and the universities that default rates are relatively low (ie 4%-7%), is a default rate that almost has no equal.  A 2003 IG report estimated that between 19% and 31% of 1st and 2nd year students would be put into default during the life of their loans. For community colleges, the range was between 30% and 42%, and for for-profit schools, was between 38% and 51% .  Simple averaging gives a default rate of more than 1-in-three.  Completely ignoring for-profit schools gives a 4-year university/ community college average of about 30%...These are perhaps high estimates, given the IG's predilection towards conservative estimates for budgeting purposes, but if even close (ie within 10 percent), paint a far different picture than what has been portrayed.

More recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that of borrowers leaving school in 1995, fully 20% had defaulted on their loans as of 2010.  This guarantees a "lifetime" (i.e. 20 year) default rate of something higher than that, and this is for borrowers who left school with a far smaller debt load, adjusting for inflation, and also describes borrowers entering the workforce during a far better economy.  Therefore, to say that the true, lifetime default rate is currently 25% is almost certainly a significant understatement.

In fact, given these data, one could argue with justification that perhaps 1 In 3 undergraduate student loan borrowers leaving school in recent years will default, or have defaulted on their loans. This is an extremely high rate that the Department of Education, lenders, and universities are loathe to acknowledge.  By way of comparison, this default rate is higher, likely, than the subprime home mortgage default rate, and has been for years.

That the Department of Education, the Schools, and the lenders all failed to inform the general public about the actual default rate for federal student loans is troubling, and provides further evidence that it was not in any of these entities interests to disclose this information, although at least for the Department of Education, there is a clear public benefit mission that should compel the loud, and unambiguous disclosure of this information.  That the public was not warned of the true likelihood of default for these loans cries out for explanation.  In the absence of any explanation from the Department for this omission, and in view of the financial return on these loans,  one can make a compelling case that this information was concealed from the public due to Institutional concerns that trumped the public interest...and one can only imagine the harm this caused unwitting borrowers and their families who made very significant borrowing decisions unaware of the true risks they were entering into.

How the lack of consumer protections causes inflation

There are too many bad outcomes that result from the Department of Education having their financial motivations misdirected to describe here, but one very significant result is that during the legislative process, when the schools, lenders, and their lobbyists pressure Congress to raise the allowable loan limits, the Department of Education is the only entity able, and obligated to act in the interest of the students by voicing objection to raising these limits based on defaults, indebtedness, and other feedback from borrowers that only they have access to, and mastery of.  Instead of voicing concern, much less objection to such proposals,however,  the Department of Education instead remains largely silent, despite their knowledge about the true default rates, etc.  This, again, is a key failure in oversight that effectively causes Congress to make decisions without the interests of the borrowers being represented (Of course the lenders and schools claim to have the interests of the students at heart, but their obvious financial motivations obviously discount their credibility on this claim).   Therefore, Congress continues to rubberstamp these legislative efforts, and the schools quickly raise their tuitions to reach the new lending ceilings.

If the Department of Education were seeing a material, financial loss with loan defaults, they likely would be far more assertive about the reasons NOT to raise the loan limits...and this would provide a critical check on the process.  But they have been largely absent from these debates, and their  misaligned interest is certainly the reason why.

So it must be agreed that lack of Department oversight contributes directly to Congress' repeated decisions to raise the loan limits, and we've already established the link between this poor oversight, and the removal of consumer protections. So undoubtedley, the removal of standard consumer protections has effectively allowed the schools and lenders to have their way with Congress on this issue.

Critics could argue that the established student advocacy groups should have stepped in to fill this role...and this is obviously a true statement...but the advocates will argue (disingenously, but nonetheless) that they did not know that defaults were as high as they were, therefore any objections from them (assuming they did object) were not strong.   And in fact the advocates have, as a matter of record, supported raises in the loan limits, repeatedly, citing the spectre of predatory, private loans as a reason.

Of course, the loud debate on the cost issue results in fingerpointing in all directions..."like a scarecrow in the wind" between lenders, schools, the Department of Education, the student advocates, and Congress.  But of these five entities, four were behaving as expected (i,e, schools pushing for raising the limits, advocates wringing their hands in the absence of defensible proof that things were going awry, lenders playing their part as the selfish, amoral entities they are understood to be, Congress debating what they are told, and ultimately voting based upon this debate).

The Department of Education, however, failed to fullfil its role, and did not disclose to the group the true magnitude of the default problem, as one would expect it to both during the legislative process and to the public generally.  Therefore they are clearly the party whose behavior can ultimately be questioned with strong justification.  Of course citizens have every right to be seethingly resentful and angered by the collective failure to point out that the students were being saddled with outrageous increases in student loan debt, but strictly speaking, the Department's failure is the only one with zero defense.  

This is a critical, unambiguous link that is never pointed out, but which is key- probablythe  key-  to explaining the rampant inflation we have seen in academia over the years.

There are related failures in oversight  at the Department of Education, as well, that collectively  indicate that the Federal student Aid office is for all intents a captured agency.. 


Congress, and the President,  should maybe assume the  immediate responsibility of fixing this systemically predatory system by returning the standard consumer protections that should have never been taken away in the first place & making the government the loan issuers and managers. Insodoing, The federal government will, once again, have a financial interest that student loans not default.

This environment will, ultimately compel the government to use its considerable influence to encourage the universities- in a serious and meaningful way- to both provide a quality education that gives the student the best chance for success, and also to do this at a reasonable cost.   Instead of looking the other way as Congress deliberates on whether to raise the loan limits yet again, the Department of Education will be compelled to object.  The Department will certainly discover the creativity to come up with meaningful tools for ensuring academic excellence, low cost, and ultimately, student success,..and these tools will work because the Department will want them to work., and  employ its soft and hard resources to that end.  

What say you??

Saturday, May 10, 2014


WHAT IS THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP (if you don't like to read a lot)??

TPP FAST TRACK BILL HAS BEEN INTRODUCED! Although it appears to be stalled, the negotiations are ongoing and we need to make sure our representatives in Washington-DC know that we won't stand for the Secret #TPP  or any form of #FastTrack. 
The Trans Pacific Partnership is our worst nightmare.. It will affect everything from GMOs and labeling/bans, food safety, environmental issues, public health, jobs, banking and finance, energy, the internet and much more and will give nearly unlimited power to the big corporations. Negotiated in secrecy by over 600 corporate advisers and with no input by us or our congressional representatives, the TPP is the proverbial nail in our economic coffin. It is surrendering our right as a nation to openly discuss and make national trade policy to a secret all-powerful negotiator who can strike a deal and force the US Senate to vote on the trade deal without having the power to see its details or terms first. A U.S. Senator cannot perform his or her duty to approve treaties or trade pacts without knowing the details of it, what it will cost us, what the losses to American job growth and wage structure will be.
HOW TO KEEP THE MESSAGING GOING to YOUR REPRESENTATIVES: Call your Reps! #VoteNOFastTrack! Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121 and send them an Email Regularly! http://www.contactingthecongress.org/ 
Thank Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid for Speaking Out Against the Camp-Baucus Bill & Urge Them to Oppose All Forms of Fast Track http://action.citizen.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=12421

Friday, May 9, 2014

Bob Conaway Receives the Endorsement of Evolve!! Awesome!!

I just received the following notice:
"Congratulations! Evolve’s Board of Directors voted to endorse you in the June 3rd Primary Election.    Feel free to list our organization on your website or campaign literature.  You can click here to see your name on the endorsement page of our website. We need more people like you in office in order to move California forward. Best of luck in your race!
Ben Grieff http://www.evolve-ca.org/ Evolve · 2017 Mission St, 2nd Flr, San Francisco, CA 94110"
List of endorsements: http://www.evolve-ca.org/june_2014_endorsements?utm_campaign=endorse_notify&utm_medium=email&utm_source=evolve
At Evolve's website you can get a glimpse of what they are about:
"Evolve was founded on the belief that there's a better way. Most of the significant problems we face have effective solutions that are not being implemented because of political infighting or the power of special interests. The answer is clear: we need to hold politicians accountable to real results that actually move our society forward. And that's what Evolve does. Through effective, smart organizing and grassroots issue advocacy we know we can make a difference and ultimately, leave our world a better place than we found it. Together, we can rekindle the promise that made California a golden state".
Again an AWESOME endorsement!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Dear Voters,
Our Social Security system has been under attack for decades. Since 2010, some members of Congress have been so intent on cutting your earned benefits that they’ve held hostage our nations’ credit, threatened to shut down the government, and forced Congress through a nauseating series of manufactured crises.
But benefit cuts aren’t the only way to dismantle our Social Security system. Congress has cut fourteen of the last sixteen SSA budget requests. These cuts are being felt, as the Social Security Administration has been forced to shutter dozens of field offices around the country, including in Barstow, Redlands and Corona.
That's why I urge people to sign the petition on CREDOMobilize.com. The petition says the following:
The American people own our Social Security system, including the offices in our neighborhoods, nobody has the right to close our local offices. Re-open Social Security offices in California!
Tell Congress: Re-open the closed social security offices in California.
The Social Security Administration is funded the same way Social Security benefits are—by payroll taxes that all of us pay (its NOT an entitlement folks!). Its expenses have no impact on the federal debt, and represent less than 1% of Social Security’s annual expenditures, but that hasn't stopped the current congressman (Paul Cook) Congress from from systematically defunding the agency.
Progressive columnist RJ Eskow wrote recently on the Huffington Post that “many disabled and elderly Social Security recipients depend on field offices, and the workers in them.” And as Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times said “They haven’t been able to cut benefits, so they’re doing the next best thing: making it hard for you to know what you’re due, and harder to get it when it comes due.”
The bottom line is, Americans came together to create the Social Security system to provide a basic, reliable foundation for retirement and disability. Closing field offices and making it more difficult to access benefits information is an attempt to dismantle that foundation. We have to 
fight back now to stop it.
Will you join me and add your name to my petition urging Congress to re-open the closed Social Security offices in California?
Tell Paul Cook by your support of the petition we have had enough and then vote his multiple public pensioned butt out of another pension farm.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Single Payer Is Better and Even Some Tea Party folks back it--Single Payer Lobby Day on May 24, 2014

We Need Medicare for All

In 2010, Congress passed and the Administration signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law.

Thursday, May 22, 2014, is national single-payer lobby day!

On Thursday, May 22, 2014, a number of organizations will be holding a lobby day for national single payer health care legislation in Washington, D.C.


In my travels over the past decade (before and after the Affordable Care Act passed), I have heard conservative republicans and progressive democrats express approval for a "Single Payer Plan"--why one asks?? 
Single Payer gives the patient and doctor the most freedom of choice (it's also a lot simpler and involves less government intrusion).
For many, the mandated insurance coverage misses the point that it should be U.S. policy that people get access to care they and their doctor chose, not insurance policy underwriters, claims adjusters and or claim administrators which may stand in the way of care needed.
While pre-existing exclusions are gone (in a fashion not so, as the people with pre-existing conditions are shoved into a created market-place, the performance of which is an unproven quantity), the govern ment has new found powers to distribute your medical and private financial data to County Social Service agencies for ongoing review of any subsidy application and award you may get to make the mandatory coverage's premium affordable. 
If those County Agencies get the data with errors in it (as they did with me), you have no recourse against the vendor that sends it with those errors (while they may be threatening prosecution for overstating your expenses or understating your income as they have the power to do in Section 8 Housing right now, even though I did not overstate or understate my income--in fact I never electronically signed the Cover California application authorizing them to proceed as I could not get a print out of the income and expense statement to verify the numbers). If you go back to the vendor that sends the erred report (e.g. Cover Calfornia), they don't respond so you can correct it. For some of us, the cost of the unsubsidized premium we are forced to buy, cannot be afforded. So unless you are already getting retirement, social security, SSI or state based disability, it seems you are screwed(I was).
I will try and work with the ACA, but the reality for the next year, I do not have coverage & will be forced to pay in all likelihood a tax penalty.