Is hunting moral? A philosopher unpacks the question

Three generations of a Wisconsin family with a nine-point buck Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Every year as daylight dwindles and trees go bare, debates arise over the morality of hunting. Hunters see the act of stalking and killing deer, ducks, moose and other quarry as humane, necessary and natural, and thus as ethical. Critics respond that hunting is a cruel and useless act that one should be ashamed to carry out. Continue reading Is hunting moral? A philosopher unpacks the question

Dengue virus antibodies may worsen a Zika infection

Revellers at a carnival in Sao Paulo wear mosquito masks in a reference to the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito, which can spread dengue and Zika on February 4, 2016. Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

The World Health Organization declared in November that Zika was no longer a public health emergency of international concern.

That doesn’t mean concern over Zika is over, but now that a link between Zika and microcephaly has been established, it is viewed as a long-term problem, which requires constant attention. Continue reading Dengue virus antibodies may worsen a Zika infection

Trump Hires an Adviser He Once Called an Untrustworthy Liar

A decade after deriding her as irresponsible and dishonest, Donald Trump has hired the controversial reality star-turned-political operative Omarosa Manigault to advise him in the White House. The incoming Trump administration announced Wednesday afternoon that Manigault will serve as assistant to the president and director of communications for the office of public liaison. Continue reading Trump Hires an Adviser He Once Called an Untrustworthy Liar

Fewer Americans Are Buying Guns Without Background Checks Than Previously Thought

Is the case for background checks for gun buyers gaining momentum? In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday, public health researchers from Harvard and Northeastern universities found that 22 percent of all gun sales in the past two years around the United States were conducted without background checks—nearly half as many as previously thought. The new study asked 1,613 gun owners about when and where they acquired their most recent firearm, and whether they were asked to show a firearm license or permit, or to pass a background check. Continue reading Fewer Americans Are Buying Guns Without Background Checks Than Previously Thought

Republican Congresswoman Discovers Her Followers Love Obamacare

With Republicans convinced they need to repeal Obamacare ASAP but unsure of how they want to replace it, Rep. Marsha Blackburn issued a public plea for help on Tuesday. The Tennessee Republican—and member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team—asked the Twitter masses to take a poll on whether they like the law. Turns out Blackburn’s followers are pretty big fans of the Affordable Care Act, with 84 percent of the 7,968 votes opposing a repeal of Obamacare.

Continue reading Republican Congresswoman Discovers Her Followers Love Obamacare

Read Deval Patrick’s Scathing Indictment Against Jeff Sessions for Attorney General

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick—who in 1985 worked on the defense team that represented three black civil rights leaders targeted by Sen. Jeff Sessions in the notorious voter fraud case from Alabama’s Perry County—has penned a scathing letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leaders urging them to reject his appointment as attorney general. Continue reading Read Deval Patrick’s Scathing Indictment Against Jeff Sessions for Attorney General

(2017/01/03) New congress, old war, scandals and the dawn of the climate movement (The best of 2007)

Edition #1068
Today we take a look back to 2007 in our second annual 10-years-hence retrospective spectacular!
Be part of the show! Leave a message at 202-999-3991

Show Notes

Ch. 1: Opening Theme: A Fond Farewell – From a Basement On the Hill

Ch. 2: Act 1: First female Speaker of the House – Countdown – Aired on BotL 1-9-07

Ch. 3: Song 1: Color in Your Cheeks – The Mountain Goats


Ch. 4: Act 2: First muslim in congress and first female Speaker – The Young Turks – Aired on BotL 1-9-07

Continue reading (2017/01/03) New congress, old war, scandals and the dawn of the climate movement (The best of 2007)

Trump And The Death Of Intelligence, Plus Obamacare Is Going Down Fast, Better Stand Up For Medicare For All Now

From The Pen–
Dear Friends and Activists,

As we prepare to bring you a new year of insights you will hear
nowhere else, if you want to stand up for truth and integrity, why
not consider making a heroic contribution, and you can even make it
recurrent by checking the box for that on this page.

Donations: https://www.utalk.us/?p=donate

The guy who skips out on most of his actual classified intelligence
briefings said over the weekend about the Russian hacks of Democrats,
“It could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people
don’t know.” Continue reading Trump And The Death Of Intelligence, Plus Obamacare Is Going Down Fast, Better Stand Up For Medicare For All Now

Nixon Revisited…pre-swearing treason…

And then, right as rain, you hear, “I really think that Trump will do a lot of great things and I’m all for him. And something something something. He was elected fairly.”

“…won fairly” comes across like the catch phrase – “Repeat This against the false argument that our racist and sexist and inane campaigns worked in conjunction with the racist electoral college and gerrymandering systems. The Constitution doesn’t guarantee  the premise that representation is based upon everyone’s vote counting the same.” It is probably supposed to work as a retort against thaT rump being the 2nd rat bastard in 5 elections to lose the majority of the vote.

They would say, if they had any historical perspective at all, that Nixon won a fair election even though many of us knew then that he had quashed Johnson’s Peace Process while promising a Secret Plan to end the war. Is that when he came up with the Peace with Honor crap? Who cares. We had worked hard to get people off the war, to force the President to change, and what, we get an incredible marketing campaign filled with lies.

Not any silly campaign lies. Lies that caused another million dead Vietnamese, another 20,000 dead and over 100,000 seriously injured Americans, uncounted Cambodian and Laotians dead and maimed, generations of people in all those countries crippled by the effects of Agent Orange, and destroyed infrastructure and the loss of potential for a complete generation…for what? It was obvious that he and the people he surrounded himself with were criminals and now we know that they committed capital T treason in order to get elected.

He and his cronies were known to be crooks and pirates before the 2nd election as well, but that’s not the point of this tirade against the mysoginist,

Then we have Reagan. What we learned from his first weeks in David Stockman’s book, and what we learned from the horrors that his crew committed in our name and with our money is reprehensible. And, let’s not forget that he drove the credit card up in ways that caused economic turmoil worse than what Nixon left us with, in the grand tradition of Republican chiselers. What they want and what they do is take the sweat from the lower classes and money from the middle classes and put it into the pockets of the handful of their junkie supporters. One could go on and on about the number of dead and the humiliation St. Ronnie caused.

Bush I hide his treasons and nefarious exploits quite nicely, as any ex-CIA director plutocrat with a Nazi grandfather should be able to do. Gruesome atrocities in Panama, killing more than died on the sacred 9/11, but in far more inhuman ways. Then there was the event that brought to scourge of Depleted Uranium to Iraq, against yet another friendly dictator that needed a lesson. Death around the world, from Pinochet to the American economy, yet again. His Savings and Loans scandal wouldn’t be matched until his son’s Enron cabal.  I can’t bring myself to write about how Bush I or II was fairly elected. Racism stands up in first place.

So, fuck trump and his backers and those who wish him well. He is just the latest, whether he was elected fairly, or not.

House Republicans Ditch Plan to Weaken Congressional Ethics Office

Following intense backlash, House Republicans on Tuesday voted to abandon a plan to significantly curtail the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics. The reversal comes less than a day after news that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) was introducing the ethics amendment.

Shortly before the amendment was officially dropped, President-elect Donald Trump criticized the timing of the effort, saying there were more important priorities to consider. He did not, however, say he opposed the amendment’s intention to gut the independent office.

This is a breaking news post. We will update when more news becomes available.

Source: Mother Jones Politics

Will Obama’s offshore drilling ban be Trumped?

Activists in Seattle practice for demonstrations against Royal Dutch Shell's plans to drill in the Arctic, April 17, 2015. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

President Obama gave environmental advocates a Christmas present when he announced in late December that he was banning oil and gas drilling in huge swaths of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. This action “indefinitely” protects almost 120 million acres of ecologically important and highly sensitive marine environments from the risks of oil spills and other industrial impacts.

President Obama acted boldly to conserve important ecological resources and solidify his environmental legacy. But by making creative use of an obscure provision of a 1953 law, Obama ignited a legal and political firestorm.

Republicans and oil industry trade groups are threatening to challenge the ban in court or through legislation. They also contend that the Trump administration can act directly to reverse it. But a close reading of the law suggests that it could be difficult to undo Obama’s sweeping act.

The power to withdraw

Congress passed the law now known as the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act in 1953 to assert federal control over submerged lands that lie more then three miles offshore, beyond state coastal waters. Section 12(a) of the law authorizes the president to “withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”

Starting in 1960 with the Eisenhower administration, six presidents from both parties have used this power. Most withdrawals were time-limited, but some were long-term. For example, in 1990 President George H. W. Bush permanently banned oil and gas development in California’s Monterey Bay, which later became a national marine sanctuary.

Kelp forests in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary support many marine species.
Chad King, NOAA/Flickr

President Obama used section 12(a) in 2014 to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay, one of the most productive wild salmon fisheries in the world. In 2015 he took the same step for approximately 9.8 million acres in the biologically rich Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Obama’s latest action bars energy production in 115 million more acres of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas – an area known as the “Arctic Ring of Life” because of its importance to Inupiat Peoples who have lived there for millennia. The order also withdraws 3.8 million acres off the Atlantic Coast from Norfolk, Virginia to Canada, including several unique and largely unexplored coral canyons.

Why Obama acted

In a Presidential Memorandum on the Arctic withdrawals, Obama provided three reasons for his action. First, he asserted, these areas have irreplaceable value for marine mammals, other wildlife, wildlife habitat, scientific research and Alaska Native subsistence use. Second, they are extremely vulnerable to oil spills. Finally, drilling for oil and responding to spills in Arctic waters poses unique logistical, operational, safety and scientific challenges.

In ordering the Atlantic withdrawals, Obama cited his responsibility to “ensure that the unique resources associated with these canyons remain available for future generations.”

Market forces support Obama’s action. Royal Dutch Shell stopped drilling in the Chukchi Sea in 2015 after spending US$7 billion and drilling in what proved to be a dry hole. Since 2008 the Interior Department has canceled or withdrawn a number of sales in Alaskan waters due to low demand. Shell, ConocoPhillips, Statoil, Chevron, BP and Exxon have all to some degree abandoned offshore Arctic drilling.

The Beaufort and Chukchi seas are zones of the Arctic Ocean off the coast of northern Alaska.
Mohonu/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Low oil prices coupled with high drilling costs make business success in the region a risky prospect. Lloyd’s of London forecast this scenario in a 2012 report that called offshore drilling in the Arctic “a unique and hard-to-manage risk.”

What happens next?

Critics of President Obama’s action, including the state of Alaska and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say they may challenge Obama’s order in court, in hopes that the Trump administration will opt not to defend it. But environmental groups, which hailed Obama’s action, will seek to intervene in any such lawsuit.

Moreover, to demonstrate that they have standing to sue, plaintiffs would have to show that they have suffered or face imminent injury; that this harm was caused by Obama’s action; and that it can be redressed by the court. Market conditions will make this very difficult.

The Energy Information Administration currently projects that crude oil prices, which averaged about $43 per barrel through 2016, will rise to only about $52 per barrel in 2017. Whether these areas will ever be commercially viable is an open question, especially since rapid changes are taking place in the electricity and transportation sectors, and other coastal areas are open for leasing in Alaska’s near-shore waters and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig Kulluk broke loose and ran aground near Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska as it was being towed to Seattle for winter maintenance in December 2012. This Coast Guard overflight video shows the harsh conditions along Alaska’s coast in winter.

Alternatively, Donald Trump could issue his own memorandum in office seeking to cancel Obama’s. However, section 12(a) does not provide any authority for presidents to revoke actions by their predecessors. It delegates authority to presidents to withdraw land unconditionally. Once they take this step, only Congress can undo it.

This issue has never been litigated. Opponents can be expected to argue that Obama’s use of section 12(a) in this manner is unconstitutional because it violates the so-called “nondelegation doctrine,” which basically holds that Congress cannot delegate legislative functions to the executive branch without articulating some “intelligible principles.”

However, one could argue that Obama’s action was based on an articulation of intelligible principles gleaned from the stated policies of the OCSLA, which recognizes that the “the outer Continental Shelf is a vital national resource reserve held by the Federal Government for the public.” The law expressly recognizes both the energy and environmental values of the OCS. Thus President Obama’s decision reflects a considered judgment that the national interest is best served by protecting the unique natural resources of these areas, while at the same time weaning the nation from its dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012 after signing an agreement with Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft. The companies’ joint venture to develop energy resources in Russia’s Arctic waters has been blocked by U.S. sanctions on Russia since 2014.
AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service

The section 12(a) authority is similar in some respects to the authority granted by the Antiquities Act, which authorizes the president to “reserve parcels of land as a part of [a] national monument.” Like the OCSLA, the Antiquities Act does not authorize subsequent presidents to undo the designations of their predecessors. Obama has also used this power extensively – most recently, last week when he designated two new national monuments in Utah and Nevada totaling 1.65 million acres.

Some laws do include language that allows such actions to be revoked. Examples include the Forest Service Organic Administration Act, under which most national forests were established, and the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which sets out policies for managing multiple-use public lands. The fact that Congress chose not to include revocation language in the OCSLA indicates that it did not intend to provide such power.

What can the new Congress do?

Under Article IV of the Constitution, Congress has plenary authority to dispose of federal property as it sees fit. This would include the authority to open these areas to leasing for energy development. Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation are considering introducing legislation to override Obama’s drilling ban. But Democrats could filibuster to block any such move, and Republicans – who will hold a 52-48 margin in the Senate – would need 60 votes to stop them.

On the other hand, Congress may be content to let President-elect Trump make the first move and see how it goes in court. If Trump attempts to reverse the withdrawal, environmental groups contesting his decision would face some of the same obstacles as an industry challenge to Obama’s action. It could be especially challenging for environmental groups to show that the claim is “ripe” for judicial review, at least until a post-Obama administration acts to actually open up these areas for leasing. That may not occur for some time, given the weak market for the oil in these regions.

In the meantime, this decision is a fitting capstone for a president who has done everything within his power to confront the existential threat of climate change and rationally move the nation and the world onto a safer and more sustainable path.

The Conversation

Patrick Parenteau does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Source: The Conversation

Trump’s immigration policies will pick up where Obama’s left off

In 2017, the Trump administration will likely continue and expand the Obama administration’s focus on removing immigrants convicted of crimes. Whether Trump will break ground for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico is far less certain.

Ramping up immigration enforcement by focusing on the criminal justice pipeline for removals has proven to be an efficient strategy. Immigrants in jail are not hard to find. And, removing criminals raises far fewer civil rights concerns than, for example, locating and removing laborers through the use of workplace raids.

Immigrants with criminal arrest records and convictions have few political allies and defenders. Resistance to their removal has not been as great as resistance to removing other groups of immigrants, such as undocumented college students.

That may explain why Donald Trump began his presidential campaign by claiming that Mexico was sending criminals to the United States, and promising to deport them en masse.

To increase crime-based removals, the Trump administration will probably seek greater state and local assistance in federal immigration enforcement. Under President Obama, these efforts led to the removal of a disproportionate number of Latino immigrants. My scholarship sheds light on how Trump’s immigration proposals may similarly affect Latinos.

‘Latino removal system’

President Obama’s administration prioritized removing immigrants who had been convicted of crimes. However, the U.S. criminal justice system is notorious for producing racially disparate results. African-Americans and Latinos continue to be disproportionately criminalized and incarcerated as they have throughout U.S. history, as described in Michelle Alexander’s powerful book “The New Jim Crow.”

As a result, the U.S. immigrant removal system yields similarly unequal results.

The Obama administration created programs that allowed state criminal justice systems to directly feed immigrants into the federal immigration removal system. That, in turn, made it possible for his administration to set removal records. In some years as many as 400,000 people were removed. During the eight years of his presidency, more than 2.5 million noncitizens were deported – more than during any other U.S. presidency.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement data show that, in fiscal year 2016, crime-based removals represented more than 90 percent of the noncitizens removed from the interior of the United States.

Under a program called Secure Communities, state and local law enforcement agencies shared arrest information with federal immigration authorities, and detained immigrant criminal offenders. Criminal offenders were then taken into custody by federal immigration authorities. In November 2014, the Obama administration replaced Secure Communities with the Priority Enforcement Program, which was somewhat narrower in scope.

Today, more than 95 percent of removals in the United States are of Latino noncitizens, despite the fact that the total immigrant population in the United States is much more diverse. Latino immigrants comprise only about 50 percent of lawful immigrants, and around 70 percent of undocumented ones. Because removals are so heavily skewed toward Latinos, some refer to the modern U.S. removal system as the “Latino removal system.”

Mandating state and local assistance

Trump is likely to encounter the same resistance that Obama did in working with state and local governments on immigration enforcement.

The Trump administration may seek to mandate state and local assistance in federal immigration enforcement. To do so, it might challenge “sanctuary cities,” as Donald Trump has done rhetorically. However, there is no firm definition of what sanctuary cities are – only the suggestion that they are not fully cooperating in enforcing immigration laws. Trump has threatened to defund such cities, a step that would seemingly require congressional authorization.

If Congress were to pass such legislation, state and local governments may be able to challenge it as infringing on the constitutionally protected authority of the states.

Needless to say, any challenge to sanctuary cities is likely to meet formidable resistance from some quarters. The California legislature already has been preparing a game plan for a showdown with the Trump administration on immigration enforcement. For example, legislators have proposed legislation that would limit information sharing with the federal government about immigrants.

Some state and local law enforcement leaders worry that immigrants lose trust in local police when they are perceived to be deeply involved in federal immigration enforcement. Loss of trust, in turn, can reduce the willingness of immigrants to help authorities combat crime. This concerns local police who say they need the cooperation of all people in the community, including lawful and undocumented immigrants, in reporting crime and aiding criminal prosecutions.

To that end, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order 40 limits police inquiry into the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses and suspects. The idea is to separate criminal law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement. Such separation is consistent with the Supreme Court’s finding in Arizona v. United States in 2012 that the federal government has the authority to admit and remove immigrants. And, ordinary law enforcement primarily is handled by local law enforcement agencies.

The new administration will also need to grapple with how local police involvement in immigration enforcement impacts the civil rights of Latinos. Such impacts are real. This year, a federal court found the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department in Arizona, in the guise of assisting federal immigration enforcement, had engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination.

These civil rights abuses show the potential costs of state and local law enforcement assistance in federal immigration enforcement efforts. The same risks will exist for the new Trump administration in 2017.

The Conversation

Kevin Johnson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Source: The Conversation

Instead of Trashing Homeless Camps, This City is Providing Them With Trash Pickup

It’s cleaning time at one of the several encampments set up in the shadow of the elevated MacArthur Freeway in West Oakland, California. More than two dozen tents in various states of repair sit in the musty space beneath the stark overpass. Axel, a black man in his late 40s who lives along the camp’s outskirts, pushes a broom across the sidewalk that serves as a front porch for his tarp-draped tent. After a few minutes of sweeping, the trash he has arranged into a neat pile is collected by Abby Harrison, who places it into one of the five shiny Waste Management trash cans circulating in the camp. In a little while, the cans will be arranged on the street bordering the camp’s southern edge, where they will wait to be emptied by a garbage truck.

The cleanup continues by the camp’s two portable toilets, where a man is gathering used toiletries for disposal and clearing the path for a pumper truck to back in. The truck arrives a few minutes ahead of schedule, and the driver hops out to quickly clean and service the porta-potties. The driver is gone after a few minutes of pumping and wiping, much to the relief of another man patiently waiting to use the facilities.

In many respects, this homeless encampment is like hundreds of other camps that have mushroomed in cities across America, especially in the West. But what distinguishes the camp beneath the 580 freeway is that rather than being targeted for removal, it’s receiving public services from the city of Oakland. Instead of razing the encampment, Oakland and Alameda County policymakers set up a pilot program that offers basic services to some unsheltered residents. This includes not just waste pickup and porta-potties, but a mobile health clinic and the placement of large concrete barriers to protect the camp from traffic. Oakland has also directed its social services and relief employees to work with the residents of the MacArthur Freeway camp to help them find permanent housing. Since the pilot started in October, city officials report that 17 of the camp’s 42 original residents have moved into stable living situations.

Garbage cans sit by an encampment beneath the MacArthur Freeway in Oakland. Matt Tinoco

This approach is unique, especially as many cities double down on anti-camping laws and controversial “sweeps”, often conducted under the guise of protecting public health. The process is familiar: Homeless people set up a camp, bringing with it trash, human waste, and sometimes crime. Neighbors complain, and, before long, the local government serves the camp’s residents with a notice to vacate. The camp is cleared, but it either moves or returns after a few weeks.

San Francisco’s municipal authorities cleared out a large camp of 250 people from beneath one of the city’s freeways earlier this year. In November, the city’s voters passed Proposition Q, which prohibits assembling a tent on a public sidewalk. As Supervisor David Campos explained in a September statement, “encampments are not a solution to homelessness. They are unhealthy for homeless people, and they are unhealthy for residents and businesses around them.” Yet homelessness advocates note that clearing out camps is often little more than a cosmetic solution.

Like Oakland, other cities have also experimented with an approach that moves away from simply removing homeless people. Though sweeps still occur in Seattle, the city has set up a partnership with religious organizations that allows some homeless people to live on the organizations’ property. (Nevertheless, 2015 motion that would have authorized city services like waste pickup at encampments died after Seattle residents objected.) Santa Barbara, California, has a “safe-parking” program that allows people who live in vehicles to park in public parking lots without threat of citation.

The Oakland pilot project is based on the understanding that if unsheltered residents have, at the very least, a reliable and sanitary place to pitch their tents, they can devote more time and energy to finding a more stable place to live. “Breaking camps apart takes them farther away from permanent housing,” says Alex Marqusee, a legislative analyst for City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the chief sponsor of the project in Oakland. “It’s opposite of the direction we want to go.”

“It’s like, where am I going to go?'” says Harrison, a black woman in her early 40s who lives under the MacArthur Freeway. “When I have to move it messes everything up. I get them people up in their nice houses not wanting to see any of this. I don’t want to see this. But I need to live, and it’s not like I want to live here.”

Source: Mother Jones Politics

Trump's Treasury Pick Excelled at Kicking Elderly People Out of Their Homes

This story originally appeared on ProPublica.

In 2015, OneWest Bank moved to foreclose on John Yang, an 80-year-old Korean immigrant living in Orange Park, Florida, a small suburb of Jacksonville. The bank believed he wasn’t living in his home, violating the terms of its loan. It dispatched an agent to give him legal notification of the foreclosure.

Where did the bank find him? At the same single-story home the bank had said in court papers he did not occupy.

Still OneWest pressed on, forcing Yang, a former Christian missionary, to seek help from legal aid attorneys. This year, during a deposition, an employee of OneWest’s servicing division was asked the obvious question: Why would the bank pursue a foreclosure that seemed so clearly unjustified by the facts?

The employee’s response was blunt: “You’re trying to make logic out of an illogical situation.”

Yang was lucky. The bank eventually dropped its efforts against him. But others were not so fortunate. In recent years, OneWest has foreclosed on at least 50,000 people, often in circumstances that consumer advocates say run counter to federal rules and, as in Yang’s case, common sense.

President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary has prompted new scrutiny of OneWest’s foreclosure practices. Mnuchin was the lead investor and chairman of the company during the years it ramped up its foreclosure efforts. Representatives from the company and the Trump transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

Records show the attempt to push Mr. Yang out of his home was not an unusual one for OneWest’s Financial Freedom unit, which focused on controversial home loans known as reverse mortgages. Regulators and consumer advocates have long worried that these loans, popular during the height of the housing bubble, exploit elderly homeowners.

The loans allow people to benefit from the equity they have built up over many years without selling their houses. The money is paid in a variety of ways, from lump sums to a stream of monthly checks. Borrowers are allowed to stay in their homes for as long as they live.

The loans are guaranteed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, meaning the agency pays lenders like Freedom Financial the difference between the ultimate sale price of the home and the size of the reverse mortgage.

But the fees are often high and the interest charges mount up quickly because the homeowner isn’t paying down any of the principal on the loan. Homeowners remain on the hook for property taxes and insurance and can lose their homes if they miss those payments.

A 2012 report to Congress by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said that “vigorous enforcement is necessary to ensure that older homeowners are not defrauded of a lifetime of home equity.”

ProPublica found numerous examples where Financial Freedom had foreclosed for legally questionable reasons. The company served several other homeowners at their homes to let them know they were being sued for not occupying their homes. In Florida, a shortfall of only $0.27 led to a foreclosure attempt. In Atlanta, the company sought to foreclose on a widow after her husband’s death, but backed down when a legal aid attorney sued, citing federal law that allowed the surviving spouse to remain in the home.

“It appears their business approach is scorched earth, in a way that doesn’t serve communities, homeowners or the taxpayer,” said Alys Cohen, a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center in Washington D.C.

Since the financial crisis, OneWest, through Financial Freedom, has conducted a disproportionate number of the nation’s reverse mortgage foreclosures. It was responsible for 16,200 foreclosures on government-backed reverse mortgages, or 39 percent of all foreclosures nationwide, from 2009 through late 2014, even though it only serviced about 17 percent of the loans, according to government data analyzed by the California Reinvestment Coalition, an advocacy group for low-income consumers. While some foreclosures were justified, legal aid attorneys say Financial Freedom has refused to work with borrowers in foreclosure to establish payment plans, in contrast with other servicers of reverse mortgages.

Experts say the companies are not entirely to blame for the wave of foreclosures. HUD oversees standards on most reverse mortgages. In the years after the housing crash, HUD’s rules evolved, creating a miasma of confusion for mortgage servicers. Companies say the new federal rules required them to foreclose when borrowers fell far behind on property and insurance costs, rather than work out payment plans.

OneWest’s rough treatment of homeowners extended to its behavior toward borrowers with standard mortgages in the aftermath of the housing crash. In 2009, the Obama administration launched a program to encourage mortgage servicers to work out affordable mortgage modifications with borrowers. OneWest, weighed down by several hundred thousand souring mortgages, signed up.

It didn’t go well. About three-quarters of homeowners who sought a modification from OneWest through the program were denied, according to the latest figures from the Treasury Department. OneWest was among the worst performing large servicers in the program by that measure. In 2011, activists protested OneWest’s indifference at Mnuchin’s Bel Air mansion in Los Angeles.

“We’re in a difficult economic environment and very sympathetic to the problems many homeowners face, but under the government’s program there’s not a solution in every case,” Mnuchin told the Wall Street Journal in that year.

Despite the controversy, Mnuchin and the other investors in OneWest made a killing on their purchase. In 2009, Mnuchin’s investment group bought the failed mortgage bank IndyMac, which had been taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation after the financial crisis, changing the name to OneWest. They paid about $1.5 billion, with the FDIC sharing the ongoing mortgage losses. George Soros, a Clinton backer at whose hedge fund Mnuchin had worked, and John Paulson, a hedge fund manager who also supported Trump, invested alongside Mnuchin in IndyMac.

In 2015, CIT, a lender to small and medium-sized businesses, bought OneWest for $3.4 billion, more than doubling the Mnuchin group’s initial investment. Mnuchin personally made about $380 million on the sale, according to Bloomberg estimates. He retains around a 1 percent stake in CIT, worth around $100 million, which he may have to divest if confirmed.

CIT has found the reverse mortgage business to be a headache. Recently, CIT took a $230 million pretax charge after it discovered that OneWest had mistakenly charged the government for payments that the company should have shouldered itself. An investigation of Financial Freedom’s practices by HUD’s inspector general is ongoing.

Yang’s lawyers at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid fought his foreclosure for a year. Though Yang had run a dry cleaning business in Florida and roamed the world as a missionary, working in North Korea, China, and Afghanistan, the bank’s torrent of paperwork had overwhelmed him. Yang didn’t speak English well. OneWest claimed it had sent him forms to verify he was living at his home, but that he never sent them back.

Under HUD rules, OneWest was required to verify that each borrower continued to use the property as a principal residence. It is a condition of all the HUD-backed loans in order to help ensure the government subsidy goes to those who need it.

But Yang can be forgiven for thinking that OneWest could not have doubted that he was still in his home. During the same period that OneWest was moving to foreclose on Yang for not living in his home, another arm of the bank regularly spoke and corresponded with him at his home about a delinquent insurance payment, according to court documents.

A Financial Freedom employee testified in the case that the department that handled delinquent insurance payments and the department that handled occupancy did not communicate with each other in those circumstances.

Source: Mother Jones Politics

Can’t keep your New Year’s resolutions – try being kind to yourself

Making New Year resolutions? Kalyan Kanuri, CC BY-SA

Many of us will start out the New Year by making a list of resolutions – changes we want to make to be happier such as eating better, volunteering more often, being a more attentive spouse, and so on. But, as we know, we will often fail. After a few failures we will typically give up and go back to our old habits.

Why is it so hard to stick to resolutions that require us to make effective or lasting changes?

I would argue the problem isn’t that we try and we fail –– the problem is how we treat ourselves when we fail. I study self-compassion, and my research and that of others show that how we relate to personal failure – with kindness or harsh self-judgment – is incredibly important for building resilience.

From early childhood, we are taught how we must succeed at all costs. What most of us aren’t taught is how to fail successfully so we can change and grow.

One of the best ways to deal with failure is to have self-compassion.

What exactly is self-compassion?

I define self-compassion as having three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring, understanding, and supportive toward ourselves when we fail or make mistakes rather than being harshly critical or judgmental.

Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, and connecting our own flawed condition to the shared human condition so we can have greater perspective on our shortcomings.

Mindfulness involves being aware of the pain associated with failure in a clear and balanced manner so that we neither ignore nor obsess about our faults. The three together combine to create a self-compassionate frame of mind.

Mindfulness is one component of self compassion.
Jack Ricchiuto, CC BY

A large body of research shows that self-compassion results in greater emotional wellbeing. One of the most consistent findings in this research is that greater self-compassion is linked to less depression, anxiety and stress.

In addition to reducing such negative mind states, self-compassion appears to enhance positive mind states such as optimism, gratitude, and curiosity. By meeting one’s suffering with the warm embrace of self-compassion, positive feelings such as happiness are generated at the same time that negative emotions are alleviated.

Self-compassion has been found to be an important source of coping and resilience in the face of various life stressors such as divorce, chronic health conditions, or military combat. It also reduces body dissatisfaction and even leads to healthier eating behavior (relevant to many New Year’s resolutions!)

Misgivings about self-compassion

If self-compassion is so good for us, why aren’t we kinder to ourselves?

Perhaps the biggest block to self-compassion is the belief that it will undermine our motivation. In parenting circles we no longer hold to the adage “spare the rod spoil the child.” When it comes to our own selves, however, many of us think that sparing the rod of harsh self-criticism will turn us into lazy, self-indulgent ne’er-do-wells. This theme constantly comes up in the workshops I teach.

Of course, the dynamics that go into motivating our children and motivating ourselves are quite similar. Let’s say your teenage son were to come home with a failing English grade. You have two ways to motivate him to try harder and do better next time.

You could admonish him and tell him how stupid he is and that you are ashamed of him. The other is, knowing how upset he is, you could give him a hug and gently ask him how you could support him in doing better next time. This type of caring, encouraging response would help your son maintain his self-confidence and feel emotionally supported. The same goes for how we respond to ourselves when we fail.

How does self-compassion increase motivation?

A growing body of research indicates that self-compassion is linked to greater motivation. Self-compassion has been associated with increased personal initiative –– the desire to reach one’s full potential.

Self-compassionate people are also more likely to adopt “mastery goals”, which focus on learning and mastering material to increase competence, and less likely to adopt “performance goals,” which are primarily concerned with succeeding to make a favorable impression on others.

While self-compassionate people have performance standards that are as high as those who are harshly self-critical, they don’t get as upset when they don’t reach their goals. As a result, self-compassionate people have less performance anxiety and engage in fewer self-defeating behaviors such as procrastination.

Not only are self-compassionate people less likely to fear failure, when they do fail they’re more likely to pick themselves up and try again.

A series of experiments by psychologists Juliana Breines and Serena Chen from the University of California at Berkeley examined whether helping undergraduate students to be more self-compassionate would impact their motivation to change.

In one study, participants were asked to recall a recent action they felt guilty about – cheating on an exam, lying to a romantic partner, saying something harmful, etc. –– something that still made them feel bad when they thought about it.

Next, they were randomly assigned to one of three conditions. In the self-compassion condition, participants were instructed to write to themselves for three minutes from the perspective of a compassionate and understanding friend.

The second condition had people write about all their positive qualities, and the third about a hobby they enjoyed. These two control conditions helped to differentiate self-compassion from positive self-talk and positive mood in general.

The researchers found that participants who were helped to be self-compassionate about their recent transgressions reported being more motivated to apologize for the harm done and more committed to not repeating the behavior than those in the control conditions.

Sustaining motivation through kindness

Another study in this same series of experiments explored whether self-compassion would directly translate into greater efforts to learn after failure. Students were given a difficult vocabulary test they all did poorly on.

This new year, try being kind to yourself.
Gexydaf, CC BY-NC

One group of students were given an instruction to be self-compassionate about their failure. The instruction said,

“If you had difficulty with the test you just took, you’re not alone. It’s common for students to have difficulty with tests like this. If you feel bad about how you did, try not to be too hard on yourself.”

Another group was given a self-esteem boost, which said,

“If you had difficulty with the test you just took, try not to feel bad about yourself — you must be intelligent if you got into Berkeley!”

A third group of participants were given no additional instructions.

The students were next told that they would receive a second vocabulary test, and were given a list of words and definitions they could study for as long as they wanted before taking it. Study time was used as a measure of improvement motivation.

The students who were told to be self-compassionate after failing the first test spent more time studying than those in the other two conditions. Study time was linked to how well participants actually performed on the test. These findings suggest that being kind to yourself when you fail or make mistakes gives you the emotional support needed to try your best, and to keep trying even when discouraged.

Kindness is the engine that drives us to keep trying even after we fall flat on our face. So this New Year, when you make and inevitably break your resolutions, instead of beating yourself up and then giving up, try being kind to yourself. In the long run you’ll be more likely to succeed.

The Conversation

Kristin Neff does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Source: The Conversation

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