Category Archives: Banking & Lending Issues

‘Sadistic and Depraved’: Trump Rejects California Request for Federal Disaster Aid to Recover From Catastrophic Wildfires

“That a sitting president—of any party—would deny their own citizens help during their time of greatest need, amid literal hellfire raining down on American cities, is beyond shameful.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-16-2020

Screenshot: CBS News

After repeatedly downplaying the catastrophic wildfires that have ravaged California in recent months and falsely attributing the blazes to poor “forest management,” the Trump administration this week denied Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request for federal disaster assistance needed to recover from the destruction the fires inflicted across the state.

The Los Angeles Times reported late Thursday that the Trump White House “rejected California’s request for disaster relief funds aimed at cleaning up the damage from six recent fires… including Los Angeles County’s Bobcat fire, San Bernardino County’s El Dorado fire, and the Creek fire, one of the largest that continues to burn in Fresno and Madera counties.” Continue reading

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First-Ever Analysis Reveals How America’s Top 100 Law Firms Are ‘Accelerating the Climate Crisis’

“Law firms write the contracts for fossil fuel projects, lobby to weaken environmental regulations, and help fossil fuel companies evade accountability in court.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-1-2020

Harvard Law School students demonstrated against a recruitment dinner hosted by Paul Weiss, a law firm representing ExxonMobil, in January 2020. (Photo: Aaron Regunberg/Twitter)

The top 100 legal firms in the United States “are accelerating the climate crisis” through their litigation, transactions, and lobbying on behalf of polluters, according to a first-ever report of its kind released Thursday by a newly launched law student organization.

Members of Law Students for Climate Accountability analyzed of tens of thousands of recent legal actions by the Vault Law 100 firms for the 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard, which grades firms A to F based on their work for fossil fuel clients from 2015 to 2019. Continue reading

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Confirming Progressive Warnings, Social Security Actuary Says Trump Payroll Tax Cut Would Effectively Destroy Program by 2023

“Trump’s disastrous plan to defund Social Security would eliminate retirement and disability benefits by 2023,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders. “That may make sense to the billionaires at Trump’s country club, but it makes zero sense to me.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-25-2020

Hundreds of union activists rally at the Minneapolis Social Security Field Office on Wednesday, August 27, 2014. (Photo: AFGE/Flickr/cc)

The Social Security Administration’s chief actuary estimated late Monday that eliminating the payroll tax would fully deplete Social Security’s disability and old-age trust funds by 2023, confirming the disastrous consequences progressive advocacy groups and lawmakers have been warning of since President Donald Trump threatened earlier this month to “terminate” the levy if reelected in November.

In a letter (pdf) to Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Senate Minority Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), SSA chief actuary Stephen Goss wrote that scrapping the payroll tax would “permanently” deplete the Disability Insurance trust fund by mid-2021 and the Old Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund by mid-2023 “with no ability to pay” the benefits afterward. Continue reading

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SEC Launches Probe Into Kodak After Warren Raised Questions Over Lucrative Covid-19 Deal With Trump

“If investors or Kodak employees were trading based on the unauthorized disclosure or discussion of nonpublic information, then it would appear to be a clear violation of securities law. The SEC should hold them accountable.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-4-2020

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons/CC

The Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday reportedly launched an investigation into Kodak after Sen. Elizabeth Warren demanded a probe of possible insider trading at the tech company, which gifted its CEO nearly two million stock options just a day before President Donald Trump last week handed the company a $765 million federal loan to produce generic pharmaceuticals to combat Covid-19.

“Good,” Warren tweeted in response to reports of the SEC’s investigation. “If investors or Kodak employees were trading based on the unauthorized disclosure or discussion of nonpublic information, then it would appear to be a clear violation of securities law. The SEC should hold them accountable.” Continue reading

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Landmark Measure to Repeal ‘Racist,’ Anti-Choice Helms Amendment Hailed as Step to a ‘More Equitable World’

“Abortion care is healthcare and healthcare is a fundamental human right.”

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-29-2020

Reproductive rights advocates on Wednesday cheered the introduction of the first-ever legislation to repeal the Helms Amendment, which has prevented millions of women across the globe from accessing safe abortion care.

Introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the “Abortion Is Health Care Everywhere Act” would rescind the 1973 amendment that blocks U.S. foreign aid funding for abortion and would help support comprehensive reproductive healthcare for women worldwide. Continue reading

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New Investigation Reveals How Fossil Fuel Giants Are Amplifying Militarized Police Forces

“This report sheds a harsh and needed light on the ways police violence and systemic racism intersect with the climate crisis.”

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-27-2020

Saint Paul, Minnesota police officers covered in riot gear march and line up during the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Xcel Energy Center.. Photo: Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons/CC

The same industries fueling the climate crisis and disproportionately polluting Black and brown communities across the U.S are bankrolling police foundations, groups which can help militarize local police departments.

That’s according to a new investigation from transparency group Public Accountability Initiative and its LittleSis project. Continue reading

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With GOP Refusing Urgent Relief for Main Street, Tens of Thousands of Shuttered US Businesses Now Closing… Permanently

Permanent closures now account for 55% of all closed businesses since March 1.

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-24-2020

Photo: Mike Mozart/flickr/cc

With Republicans in Congress intent on drastically reducing aid for unemployed Americans and altering the Paycheck Protection Act in the next coronavirus relief bill, workers across the country are rapidly losing hope that they will ever be able to return to their jobs, according to new polling.

A survey released Friday by AP-NORC found that while 78% of workers who were furloughed or laid off in the early days of the pandemic believed in April that they’d be able to return to work eventually, just 34% are optimistic about their prospects now. Just 18% have already returned to their jobs, and 47% say they no longer believe their old jobs will be available ever again.  Continue reading

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Poverty is a political choice

A UN Rapporteur has just delivered a withering critique of the international system.

By Stephen McCloskey  Published 7-9-2020 by openDemocracy

Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, 22 June 2018. | Flickr/UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The United Nations Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, has just released his final report, a withering critique of international efforts to eliminate poverty which he describes as the result of “longstanding neglect” by “many governments, economists, and human rights advocates.”

Central to his report are the institutional failings of the World Bank in getting to grips with the scale of global poverty, which it persistently underplays using the flawed measurement tool of an international poverty line, or IPL. The IPL, argues Alston, sets the poverty benchmark at way too low a level to support a life of dignity consistent with basic human rights. Continue reading

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‘The Public Has a Right to Know’: Fed Refuses to Release Documents on Fossil Fuel Industry’s Covid-19 Bailouts

“As the climate crisis demands an abrupt shift away from fossil fuels, the federal government should not be creating programs to bail out these polluters.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-9-2020

“The Federal Reserve was tasked with creating a massive program to protect workers’ livelihoods during an intense economic and public health crisis. We should, at the very least, expect transparency about how the program is structured,” said Food & Water Action attorney Adam Carlesco. (Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr/cc)

The Federal Reserve has missed a deadline to release documents requested by environmental group Food & Water Action in May to reveal the extent to which the central bank has used one of its major Covid-19 lending programs to rescue the faltering oil and gas industry.

“The public has a right to know if the Fed created an oil and gas bailout at the behest of an industry that has wreaked havoc on our air, water, climate, and potentially the global financial system,” Food & Water Action attorney Adam Carlesco said in a statement. “As the climate crisis demands an abrupt shift away from fossil fuels, the federal government should not be creating programs to bail out these polluters.” Continue reading

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Trump Friends and Family Cleared for Millions in Small Business Bailout

Beneficiaries of the PPP included a lettuce farming venture backed by Trump’s son, Kushner companies, and a dentist who golfs with the president. The figures were released after a lawsuit by several news organizations, including ProPublica.

By Jack GillumIsaac ArnsdorfJake Pearson and Mike Spies  Published 7-6-2020 by ProPublica

Businesses tied to President Donald Trump’s family and associates stand to receive as much as $21 million in government loans designed to shore up payroll expenses for companies struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to federal data released Monday.

A hydroponic lettuce farm backed by Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., applied for at least $150,000 in Small Business Administration funding. Albert Hazzouri, a dentist frequently spotted at Mar-a-Lago, asked for a similar amount. A hospital run by Maria Ryan, a close associate of Trump lawyer and former mayor Rudy Giuliani, requested more than $5 million. Several companies connected to the president’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, could get upward of $6 million.

There’s no ban on businesses connected to Trump’s orbit receiving money. Democrats added a provision to the CARES Act excluding government officials and their family members from receiving some bailout funds, but not those from the PPP.

The firms sought funding under the Paycheck Protection Program, one of the Trump administration’s sweeping pandemic relief efforts. Created in late March by the CARES Act, it allowed small businesses — generally, those with fewer than 500 employees — to apply for loans of up to $10 million. The loans can be forgiven if used to cover payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities.

The program paid out $521 billion to almost 4.9 million companies in an effort to provide relief for small businesses and their workers amid the sudden economic shock brought on by the pandemic. As applications slowed after the initial rush, $132 billion remained unspent, and Congress voted to extend the program.

After resisting releasing the names, the government bowed to pressure from critics and watchdog groups. On Monday, the administration disclosed only those entities that were approved by banks for loans over $150,000. A consortium of news organizations, including ProPublica, has sued the administration under the Freedom of Information Act to release the full list of recipients and loan details.

The program has been criticized for including some loan recipients, particularly large, publicly traded companies, and for favoring wealthier businesses that had existing relationships with banks. In some cases customers could essentially skip the line. Overall, however, many economists praise the PPP for having gotten billions to companies relatively quickly.

The New York Observer, the news website that Kushner ran before entering the White House and is still owned by his brother-in-law’s investment firm, was approved for between $350,000 and $1 million, data shows. A company called Princeton Forrestal LLC that is at least 40 percent owned by Kushner family members, according to a 2018 securities filing, was approved for $1 million to $2 million. Esplanade Livingston LLC, whose address is the same as that of the Kushner Companies real estate development business, was approved for $350,000 to $1 million. The company’s Chief Operating Officer, Peter Febo, responded, “Several of our hotels have applied for federal loans, in accordance with all guidelines, with a vast majority of funds going to furloughed employees.” The loans to Kushner-related companies were first reported by The Daily Beast.

In addition, up to $2 million was approved for the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, a nonprofit religious school in Livingston, N.J., that’s named for Jared Kushner’s grandfather and supported by the family.

In April, a bank approved a loan of between $150,000 and $350,000 for the Pennsylvania dental practice of Albert Hazzouri, who golfs with Trump and frequents Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida. In 2017, Hazzouri used his access to the president to pass him a policy proposal on club stationery on behalf of the American Dental Association. He addressed the note to Trump “Dear King.”

Hazzouri also leaned on his relationship with Trump in an unsuccessful bid to obtain a dentistry license to expand his business in Florida. Hazzouri didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment Monday.

Firms tied to the president’s children also stand to benefit from the program. A small indoor lettuce farming business applied for funds between $150,000 and $350,000, SBA data show. Trump Jr. had invested in Eden Green Technology, a vertical farming company just south of Dallas, whose co-chair, Gentry Beach, was a Trump campaign fundraiser.

Trump Jr. purchased his shares as Beach sought Trump administration funding for his other global business interests, ProPublica first reported in December 2018.

The company has said Trump Jr. played no role in running Eden Green and was brought in during “U.S. friends and family fundraising efforts.” A spokesman, Trevor Moore, said that the company “followed the standard procedure” in applying for the PPP loan and that “receiving it has provided for the preservation of 18 jobs.” It’s not clear how much Trump Jr. invested or whether he’s been paid any dividends since purchasing his shares. Neither Trump Jr. nor a spokesman returned a message seeking comment.

Monday’s list included a Manhattan law firm whose marquee attorney has fiercely defended Trump for almost two decades. Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP — whose managing partner, Marc Kasowitz, was at one point the president’s top lawyer in the special counsel’s Russia investigation — was set to receive between $5 million and $10 million from Citibank, data show. (The largest loan a company could seek was $10 million.)

Once dubbed the “Donald Trump of lawyering” by The New York Times, Kasowitz represented Trump in the Trump University fraud lawsuit. and during the 2016 campaign he helped keep Trump’s 1990 divorce from being unsealed. ProPublica reported three years ago that Kasowitz bragged to friends that he made between $10 million and $30 million per year.

A law firm spokeswoman said its employees have maintained their full salary and benefits thanks to the PPP loan and “substantial cost-saving measures and greatly reduced partner distributions.” The firm has about 400 employees, data show. She said neither Kasowitz nor the firm had any conversations with anyone in the administration about the loan. Other major law firms, such as Boies Schiller Flexner and Wiley Rein, also received loans.

The loans helped a hospital executive tightly linked to another Trump attorney and confidant, Rudy Giuliani. Cottage Hospital, a 25-bed critical access facility in Woodsville, New Hampshire, received between $2 million and $5 million in PPP loans. The hospital’s CEO, Maria Ryan, is a longtime close associate of Giuliani’s.

During the last few years, Ryan has accompanied Giuliani on trips to Jerusalem, where the two visited the Hadassah Medical Organization, and to London, where they attended a two-game series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Last September, Giuliani brought Ryan to a state dinner at the White House.

Ryan currently co-hosts a talk radio show with Giuliani called “Uncovering the Truth.” She has referred to Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, as her “business partner.” Cottage Hospital’s annual revenues typically exceed $30 million, according to its most recent publicly available federal tax return. Ryan’s salary, the last filing shows, is nearly $300,000.

“Mr. Giuliani has nothing to do with the PPP loan,” Ryan wrote in an email to ProPublica. “We applied like any other small business through our bank.”

The loan data released Monday does not reveal the $30 billion in loans that have been canceled. Nor does it provide specific dollar amounts, but instead ranges of loan amounts. Businesses that spend the money according to key provisions of the program, which mainly involve continuing to pay workers, will have the loans forgiven.

Last week, Trump signed legislation to extend the program until early August.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

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