Category Archives: Banking & Lending Issues

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

Share Button

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

Share Button

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

Share Button

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

Share Button

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

Share Button

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

Share Button

‘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

Share Button

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.

Share Button

Leading US Retirees ‘Like Lambs to the Slaughter,’ Trump Labor Dept. Quietly Offers Up 401k Plans to Private Equity Vultures

“Private equity firms will now be allowed to access—and skim fees off of—the $9 trillion in 100 million workers’ 401(k) plans and IRAs.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-16-2020

Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder and CEO of Blackstone, at the Annual Meeting 2018 of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Photo; World Economic Forum/flickr/CC

With the American public’s attention consumed by the Covid-19 pandemic and mass protests against police brutality, the U.S. Labor Department earlier this month quietly gave corporate sponsors of retirement plans something they’ve been agitating over for years: a government green light to invest workers’ savings into funds managed by notoriously predatory private equity firms.

The move, announced on June 3 by Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, allows large managers of 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs) to put workers’ retirement savings into private equity investments that offer the possibility of huge returns—and devastating losses. Continue reading

Share Button

‘Conflicts of Interest Abound’: Progressives Sound Alarm as BlackRock Prepares to Lead the Fed’s Covid-19 Corporate Bailout Program

“We cannot afford to allow the interests of private corporations to supersede the needs of the American people and the long-term stability of our economy.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 5-11-2020

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink. Screenshot: CNBC

BlackRock, the largest asset management firm on the planet, has for years faced criticism and protests from progressives over its massive investments in fossil fuelsprivate prisons, and the arms industry—and now the financial behemoth is set to take on a leading role in the Federal Reserve’s sprawling coronavirus bailout program.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that BlackRock—which manages over $7 trillion in assets—will in the coming days help the central bank funnel “money into both new and already-issued corporate bonds, assisting the Fed in its recently adopted role as lender of last resort for businesses.” Continue reading

Share Button