Search Results for: Congressional Black Caucus

The Right Strategy For Black Friday

 

Black Friday is one of my favourite shopping holidays and it isn’t hard to see why. The deals are simply insane, but that doesn’t mean you should go out and carelessly spend all of your money. I recently found a great ebook about Black Friday and some of the best tactics to get the most from this once a year shopping event. Here are my tips for approaching the upcoming Black Friday.

Pick what you want

I think one of the best points made by the Black Friday ebook is that you should be prepared to have what you want in mind. This means going to try on a piece of clothing or trying something else out before you even consider buying it. It is best to have a list of things that you might want, so you can keep an eye on them during the Black Friday Period.

Budget

I think one of the best things that I like to do when budgeting for Black Friday is to budget an amount for things that I want (which we covered above) and to have a surplus for those things that are just too good to pass up. I think a budget is important for getting what you want and not overspending, especially when the temptation is there to buy any and everything possible.

Sign up to newsletters

Tracking the website of every retailer may not be practical, so a great way to prepare for Black Friday is to sign up the newsletter of a few retailers and to get the deals delivered straight into your inbox. Another benefit of this is that you may receive deals that are not actually available to the general public. Newsletter are a goo

Look at trends

Retailers are going to have similar trends in terms of deals and it is a good idea to note the ones that have the biggest discounts and this will give you an idea of where you should start to shop. Of course history does prove useful in this case.

Shop online

This is my top tip for Black Friday, I cannot tell you how stressful it is to shop on Black Friday in a retail store. It is just crazy and I would avoid it at all costs. Like we mentioned above, you should first try everything out or on and then know what you want and then when you see the deal during Black Friday you can pounce. This is so much more convenient that visiting many stores, because you have everything right at your fingertips. Shopping online is also going to mean that you get the best price possible.

The post The Right Strategy For Black Friday appeared first on Think Magazine.

Tagged

Luke Cage: Swiss Cheese Hoodie

MILD SPOILERS

The hoodie has as much to say about it’s wearer as, say, the white t-shirt does. By which I mean that, depending on context, it can say anything. The white t-shirt can imply clean, erotic, the worker – or a combination of all three. In the eyes of contemporary media, the hoodie largely suggests youth. Shady youth, someone not keen to reveal their identity because they are planning on robbing you or worse. Put the hoodie on a black man and it is pretty much akin to walking down the street in a striped jumper with a sack marked ‘swag’. Luke Cage is not set to change that perception, but it does make us reevaluate the role of the hoodie on screen. For the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, a black man in a hoodie in Harlem is not a suspect. In fact he’s a goddamn hero.

Luke Cage’s hoodie is very specific: a black custom made Carhartt fixed hood pullover lined in yellow. This particular style serves two functions. Firstly it frames actor Mike Colter’s face beautifully, something akin to a golden halo. Secondly it harks back to the Luke Cage comic introduced by Marvel in 1972. The comic was a knee jerk reaction to the huge rise of blaxploitation cinema. It was created by white scribes Archie Goodwin and John Romita, Sr. They were capitalising on a trend, whereas the TV series, headed by black showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker, attempts to reshape this concept into a genuiely representative black hero. Yet it remains true to blaxploitation roots. The soundtrack score by Ali Shaheed and Adrian Younge is almost campily referential, while costumes by Stephanie Maslanky have been updated as a reflection of contemporary Harlem. However Cage’s yellow lined Carhartt hoodie remains a nod to the gaudy chest exposing shirt he wore in the comic. In fact in episode 4 ‘Step in the Arena’, when Cage (then Carl Lucas) escapes Seagate prison, he plucks a yellow satin shirt from a washing line. Still with the cellular regeneration ‘tiara’ on his head, a permanent feature from the comic, he catches sight of himself in a car window: “You look like a damn fool” he mutters. In the following scene he dons the yellow lined hoodie for the first time, given to him by psychiatrist and burgeoning love interest Reva Connors (Parisa Fitz-Henley). In the timeline of the show, i.e. before the flashbacks, the first occasion Cage wears his hoodie is when he saves Genghis Connie’s restaurant from a protection racket. It’s his first premeditated ‘hero moment’. He may not have a hero costume as such, which is actually the key to Luke Cage’s appeal as champion of the street, but he is still recognised for his choice of apparel. Later in episode 12 ‘Soliloquy of Chaos’, citizens of Harlem come out in a display of solidarity for Cage by hoodies, some of which are ‘Swiss-cheesed’ with bullet holes. The hoodie is so heavily symbolic of Cage that you’d almost be disappointed if he rescued you wearing something else. It’s like if Batman decided to slip on a gas-mask and slacks for the evening.

Netflix's Luke Cage was costumed by Stephanie Maslanky, who also worked on Marvel's Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Note how the drawstrings are removed from Cage's hoodies. This helps continuity during filming as they would move frequently and change length between shots.
Netflix’s Luke Cage was costumed by Stephanie Maslanky, who also worked on Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Note how the drawstrings are removed from Cage’s hoodies. This helps continuity during filming as they would move frequently and change length between shots.

When we consider the way the hoodie has been utilised in film it’s primarily as a form of disguise – e.g. David Dunn in Unbreakable (2000), Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk (2008) and Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011). Occasionally it’s used as actual sportswear, in the likes of Rocky (1976) or Juno (2007), and occasionally as a hero silhouette such as Robin Hood (2010) and Arrow (2012+, TV). With Luke Cage the hoodie is often mentioned within the show itself (“Some dude in a hoodie rolled through”) and forms a strict sartorial barrier between Cage and hoodlum Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes (Mahershala Ali). Cottonmouth is a fresh incarnation of the early 1980s untrustworthy suit wearer. Even James Bond was ditching suits for casual wear at this point, a hangover from the scruffy seventies anti-establishment hero. Cottonmouth is too smooth and sharp for his own good. He wears his wealth like hoods of 1930s Chicago, only with less vulgarity. Cottonmouth lets the sheen and obvious quality of his suits do the talking instead. He’s basically saying, ‘I don’t need to try’. Interestingly, suits have never been more popular for younger men than now. Maybe because the hoodlum archetype is presently as revered for his wealth and power as the hero. To look good, to look ‘money’, you must aspire to wear a suit. What does Henry Hill do the moment he starts making money in Goodfellas (1990)? Buys a suit and flashy shoes that cause his mother to wince, “You look like a gangster!”. Luke Cage draws further attention to inherent aspirations of the suit when real life tailor ‘Dapper Dan’ aka Daniel Day makes an appearance. He fits Cage for a suit to attend Pop’s funeral. This is clearly viewed as a step up for the character. A freshly sewn, let’s-see-you-out-of-that-hoodie moment. Not that it lasts long as Cage is soon thrust back into physical action. Point of note, these fights occur after Cage has removed his very expensive jacket. Hard not to imagine this was a cost consideration for the show. Dapper Dan suits are not cheap, you know.

Luke Cage and Cornell Stokes aka 'Cottonmouth' (Mahershala Ali). Cottonmouth is marked out from the rest of his hoods by his immaculate tailoring. As enforcer Herman 'Shades' Alvarez (Theo rossi) instructs the remainder of Cottonmouth's cronies after Diamondback takes over, "Buy some new clothes. We're first class all the way".
Luke Cage and Cornell Stokes aka ‘Cottonmouth’ (Mahershala Ali). Cottonmouth is marked out from the rest of his hoods by his immaculate tailoring. As enforcer Herman ‘Shades’ Alvarez (Theo Rossi) instructs the remainder of Cottonmouth’s cronies after Diamondback takes over, “Buy some new clothes. We’re first class all the way”.

It becomes a running joke after a while, just how many hoodies Cage goes through as each new replacement is either shot or torn to smithereens. “I’m about sick of buying new clothes” he grumbles at one point. Cage even pilfers a hoodie from diminutive gangster Colon’s gym. If he had a mother in the show she’d surely knit him one for Christmas. That his hoodie also becomes part of the narrative was perhaps inevitable. When villain Willis Stryker aka Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) arrives on the scene, he discredits Cage by dressing as him and killing innocent people. Essentially this ‘disguise’ constitutes being a tall black man in a black hoodie. It works though; the tide initially turns against our hero. Not that this holds any water with Method Man (yes, really him), who happens to be shopping in a supermarket when Cage nips in to save the day. They swap clothes, with Cage donning Method Man’s camouflage hoodie (nothing like actual jungle camouflage for the urban jungle), which then incidentally kicks off the solidarity montage and subsequent waste of police time as they pursue every black man in a hooded top. It’s a quiet dig at the prejudice facing young black males every day. Connotations of hiding something still remain, but must a mystery always pertain to something bad? The hoodie both conceals and celebrates Luke Cage’s identity.

Stephanie Maslanky’s costume design for Luke Cage is some of her most important for the Netflix Marvel universe, simply because it so significant to the plot and happy to break the fourth wall. When Diamondback marches into Pop’s Barber Shop wearing his armoured Hammertech get-up, Bobby Fish (Ron Cephas Jones) immediately gets a jibe in: “What kind of Jean Paul Gaultier shit is this?” he mocks, “Are you a pimp Stormtrooper?”. There is an attempt to set Luke Cage within the real world, or as much as you can in a story about a man with impenetrable skin. The hoodie in Luke Cage’s is the norm. It is not used to evoke caution or menace. If anything the lounge suit is more affecting in this regard. Cage is the hero we would like to be; reluctant enough to be enigmatic, but ultimately steps up and does the right thing dressed in what is, at its most basic level, sportswear. “How many of these do you own?” sighs Fish seeing Cage in yet another fresh hoodie. He said what we are all thinking. Right before, “Whoever thought a black man in a hoodie could be a hero?”. Something else we were all thinking. Well, finally, the time has come.

© 2016 – 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.

The post Luke Cage: Swiss Cheese Hoodie appeared first on Clothes on Film.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Community Reinvestment Act and the Mortgage Loan Crisis

Burning house

The mortgage loan crisis of 2008 gave rise to the largest recession our nation has seen since the Great Depression. This time of economic failure was so bad, in fact, that the period became unofficially known as the Great Recession.

Immediately party lines were divided. Democrats pointed fingers at the Bush administration and Wall Street, while Conservatives pointed fingers at the government and borrowers themselves.

But there’s more to this tale than those who were around at the time of the plummet. We have to go back decades and work our way back to the present in order to discover the true root of the mortgage loan crisis.

American Culture

Before we dive directly into the mortgage loan industry and attempt to make sense of what went wrong, we need to have a firm understanding of American culture and how that transferred itself into the financial realm.

It was on January 31, 1865 that the U.S. House of Representatives passed one of the most important Amendments to our Constitution: the 13th Amendment. This addition to the Constitution not only escorted change into the United States, but it also acted as a symbolic herald of freedom that the entire world saw. The most powerful nation on Earth declared that all men, regardless of color, were free and equal. The concept of freedom won a massive victory on January 31 of 1865.

But, as we know all too well, laws are not always upheld.

American culture, particularly at that time, retained its heavily racist attitude. Whites continued to subjugate Blacks, and despite what our Constitution said, Blacks did not experience the same sort of freedom that their lighter-skinned counterparts did.

It wasn’t until nearly 100 years later, with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, that we began seeing true equality emerging.

Yet even after Brown v. the Board of Education, Rosa Parks and the bus boycotts, the restaurant sit-ins, the freedom rides, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, some of the population continued to preserve the notion that certain members of society were better than others.

This mentality, whether consciously or unconsciously, saw its way into the mortgage loan industry.

The Practice of Redlining

Throughout the mid 20th century, banks were rather blatantly denying various groups from financing mortgage loans based purely on the color of applicants’ skin and on their perceived financial background.

Banks would trace the boundaries of predominantly black neighborhoods on maps with red lines so that they could quickly delineate where populations existed that they should not lend to. Thus, this practice became known as “redlining.”

Redlining effectively locked Black families into neighborhoods and gave them little to no chance of ever migrating out. Many argue that it is due to this practice that those neighborhoods diminished in value and gave rise to the impoverished inner-cities that we know today.

Naturally, this discriminatory practice flew right in the face of the 13th Amendment and the Civil Rights Movement.

The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977

It was in 1977 that the Community Reinvestment Act was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, and it was this action that many analysts deem the start of the mortgage loan bubble.

The Community Reinvestment Act was a direct response to redlining and the practice of denying mortgage loans to Blacks and other minorities.

From the law itself, the wording from Title VII, Sec. 802 (a) is as follows:

The Congress finds that regulated financial institutions are required by law to demonstrate that their deposit facilities serve the convenience and needs of the communities in which they are chartered to do business. The convenience and needs of communities include the need for credit services as well as deposit services; and regulated financial institutions have continuing and affirmative obligation to help meet the credit needs of the local communities in which they are chartered

In other words, banks and lenders located in a certain area would be required to issue mortgage loans to a certain amount of applicants in that area.

The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 was not a bad move from a civil standpoint. Nobody should be discriminated against in any realm of life based on their ethnicity, color, gender, or religion. “Redlining” was in direct opposition to the heart and philosophy of the United States of America.

But the fact that the law essentially said that banks and lenders had an “obligation” to meet the credit needs of their corresponding areas opened up a Pandora’s Box of financially irresponsible practices.

As we soon learned, economic affirmative action does not work, and as the Community Reinvestment Act continued to encourage subprime mortgage loan lending, we saw our market grow more and more volatile.

Fair but Not Responsible

The Community Reinvestment Act was a self-enforcing law. With the passing of this bill, a CRA regulatory agency was created. They would assign Banks and lenders a CRA rating based on how many applicants in their local communities were approved for mortgage loans. A higher CRA rating did little for mortgage loan lenders, but a lower CRA rating was detrimental.

According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), “If a regulatory agency finds that a lending institution is not serving these neighborhoods, it can delay or deny that institution’s request to merge with another lender or to open a brand or expand any of its other services.” In other words, if a bank doesn’t comply with the Community Reinvestment Act’s demands, it will be destined to live a stagnant business life, which correlates to financial suicide in a capitalistic economy.

While the Community Reinvestment Act had noble intentions, and while it fostered fair lending practices, it did not promote responsible lending practices. In fact it did just the opposite.

The Bubble Began to Inflate

And so we entered the age of the subprime, and lenders began wavering on their responsible practices in order to provide mortgage loans for financially unprepared borrowers, simply so they could meet the Community Reinvestment Act’s demands in order to keep up with their competitors’ ability to expand and grow.

Then the government dove headfirst into the mortgage securitization business, encouraging Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—collectively known as government security entities (GSEs)—to purchase mortgages from lending institutions. As these GSEs continued to gobble up subprime mortgage loans, concern over their stability—or lack thereof—grew.

“We need a strong world-class regulatory agency to oversee the prudential regulations of the GSEs and the safety and soundness of their operations,” warned John Snow, Treasury Secretary for the Bush Administration, in 2003.

Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve during that time, sided with Snow, as he issued a warning at a Federal Reserve Committee Hearing in February of 2005. “[By] enabling these institutions to increase in size… we are placing the total financial system of the future at a substantial risk.”

But then there were those who disagreed.

Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, long supported the GSEs and their acquisition of mortgage loans. Frank became famous for vocalizing his lack of concern over the GSEs perceived problems in spite of everybody else’s growing panic.

“Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not in a crisis,” he said at a hearing in September of 2003.

And so the GSEs continued to swell in size, acquiring ownership of more than 70 percent of all newly originated mortgage loans. Onlookers sat helplessly on the sidelines as these two massive entities began shaking with pent up pressure. The Office of Management and Budget revealed that the GSEs had major accounting problems, and that they couldn’t keep up with the massive amounts of delinquencies and foreclosures that were occurring in the mid-2000s.

While the mortgage loan bubble was growing before the nation’s eyes, some, such as Frank, insisted on keeping their eyes closed.

“Those who argue that housing prices are now at a point of a bubble seem to me to be missing a very important point,” said Frank on the House Floor in June of 2005 two years after his denunciation of the GSEs being in a crisis. “Unlike previous examples we have had, where substantial excessive inflation of prices later caused problems, we are talking here about an entity: home ownership… Homes that are occupied may see an ebb and flow in the price at a certain percentage level, but you’re not going to see the collapse that you see when people talk about a bubble.”

Frank, a huge proponent of the Community Reinvestment Act, a vocal supporter of subprime mortgage loans, and a vehement advocate of keeping the GSEs unregulated, lead the charge into the realm of irresponsible financing.

And so Frank, who famously said, “I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing,” got to see his gamble play out.

What was kick started by the government’s demand for lenders to issue subprime mortgage loans to the financially unprepared, turned into the largest economic catastrophe our nation has seen since the 1930s. And when the “non-existent” bubble ruptured in 2008, it was the entire nation who got to pay for such a gamble as their home values, their jobs, and their retirements fell into ruins.

The Invisible Thief—Hacking, Loans, and Banks

Man with tweezers pulling the word password out of computer code

The days when bank robbers put on black ski masks, used shotguns, automatic rifles, specialists who are renowned for breaking into the most sophisticated of safes, loud intimidating shouts, and a paneled getaway van are slowly dwindling. The legacies left behind by Tarantino’s Mr. Pink, White, and Blonde are beginning to look dated and ancestral.  Rather, the financial thieves of today are taking a whole different approach.
 
Imagine if a robber could render himself invisible, effectively becoming untraceable and uncatchable. The thief has no need to be intimidating, he doesn’t need to take hostages, nor does he wait until night time when the bank is completely vacant. Instead, he strolls in and out whenever he likes, allowing him access to not only cash but any other bits of private information he may find interesting.
 
This isn’t a description of a science fiction movie plot, or something that may happen in the future. This has been a scenario banks and other holders of vital information have been attempting to protect themselves against for some time now, and unfortunately, as some believe, they’ve hit a cap that’s preventing them from protecting themselves any longer.
 
Keepers of Information
 
Banks hold some of the most important and sensitive information in existence: social security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, phone numbers, all linked to their corresponding names, addresses, and locations of consumers.
 
Even those who don’t keep their money in banks may have some of their personal information locked away in a digital file. When consumers apply for a loan, whether that be a mortgage, personal, auto, or any other type of bank-backed loan, they are required to disclose very private and sensitive information about themselves. That information is not deleted once the transaction is satisfied. Instead it’s kept on the bank’s records and stored in case a customer returns.
 
While the individual may not be able to access their own information—or even be aware a bank has it—there are others who might: others whose intentions are quite different than the consumer’s it belongs to.
 
The Invisible Thief
 
Today’s banks and financial institutions have to arm themselves against the invisible thief—the computer hacker. As the internet allows information to become more readily available with each passing day, computer users are learning how to “hack” at an increasing rate. Popular amongst high school and college-aged computer users, hacking is quickly becoming an out-of-control problem that is not nearly as easy to fight as many of the less tech-savvy believe.
 
“Last year there were more online bank robberies than there were actual on-site bank robberies,” said Sean Sullivan, a security adviser at internet security firm F-Secure, to bankrate.com. “Banks have become very proactive in protecting accounts from hackers, but it’s still quite a large problem. We see all types of new attempts every day.”
 
Hackers steal information, not goods. They conceal their identity through anonymous internet protocol (IP) addresses, and attempt to break through virtual security systems in pursuit for whatever bit of information they’re after. They can attempt their digital breaking-and-entering from anywhere in the world with a computer and internet access, and—perhaps the most frightening of it all—are becoming better at what they do than many government hired computer scientists and security advisers are.
 
Security is Breached
 
Huge corporations and even the government itself are having difficulty shielding themselves from this growing army of thieves.
 
Take for instance Bank of America, the United State’s largest financial institution. Earlier this year, a hacking group that calls itself “Anonymous” broke into B of A’s email database.
 
The hacking group claims to defend against any entity that infringes on the rights of others. In this case, B of A was targeted because Anonymous felt they were oppressing home loan holders. Anonymous gave to the public a huge pile of internal B of A emails that revealed unscrupulous home loan activity that the bank’s employees were participating in. From changing numbers on home loans to deleting mortgage loans all together, Anonymous exposed the criminal activity happening behind what employees believed were closed virtual doors.
 
B of A’s website also experienced a huge amount of downtime in October of this year. When four and five days go by and a huge corporation’s website is unable to stay standing, they’re usually the victim of a website barrage attack called a distributed denial of service, or DDOS, attack. “A site of that size should be expected to handle a huge volume with no trouble at all,” explained Steve Gibson, an internet security expert, to ABC News. “The only time we ever see anything like this is when some major site has upset a group of hackers.”
 
Even the government has proven to be vulnerable to hacker’s antics—but in the government’s case, it’s not just finances that are at stake. WikiLeaks, the website founded by the now infamous Julian Assange, was responsible for revealing sensitive information held by the United States Government. The website disclosed the inner workings of the government’s foreign policy, and even exposed the identity of undercover operatives.
 
Then, in a frightening display of power, another hacking group called LulzSec demonstrated their prowess when Black & Berg Security, a cyber security agency that claimed to have ties with the federal government and whose former About Page preached to offer security that “exceeds that of the NSA and Department of Defense,” offered a $10,000 reward and a senior security advisor position if their homepage was hacked and the image was changed. After a short time, an illustrated man with a top hat appeared on Black & Berg’s website, with the sentence typed in caps-lock, “Done, that was easy. Keep your money we do it for the lulz,” resting at the top. Black & Berg has since taken their website offline.
 
From emails and personal loans to the identity of spies and security firms, it seems nothing is safe on the digital playground most of us visit every single day.
 
We’re in Their Element Now
 
Like a fish out of water, the common computer user, despite what they may think, really has no clue how the internet or their computer works. There are layers and layers of computer code all working in unison to provide consumers with the aesthetic, user-friendly experience they encounter whenever they operate their systems. But computer hackers are the digital engineers floating through the internet grid with full knowledge of exactly what they are doing. Anytime an average consumer logs onto their computer, they enter a foreign land, skirting across the surface as an outsider. (Still don’t believe it? Right-click on this webpage and select view page source—all of that code is what makes this page display and operate the way it does).
 
While private businesses and governments have been the target of some hacking groups, it’s the common computer user who is most susceptible to a security breach.
 
Through the use of Trojans viruses, hackers can follow a bank user’s footsteps as they sign online to check out their balance or personal loan status. Then, as Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum hid in an alien craft to breach the mother ship in Independence Day, hackers conceal themselves looking like the customer, and nuke the customer’s bank account once they've safely passed security measures.
 
How do I Protect My Account?
 
There are a few steps proactive consumers can take to make sure their accounts are protected when applying for or monitoring their personal loans online.
 
In order to provide themselves with the most amount of protection, consumers should:

  • Never access their account or personal loan statements from a shared or public computer
  • Make sure the bank’s website begins with “https://” (the “S” stands for secure)
  • Never access a bank’s website from a third-party link, such as from an email that comes doesn’t come from the bank directly
  • Use anti-virus software and keep computer firewalls up and running
  • Carefully review all bank statements and report any suspicious and unapproved transactions immediately
  • Avoid non-reputable personal loan brokers and providers
  • Log out of every banking or loan monitoring session on any computer

 
If consumers do find themselves the unfortunate victim of hackers and digital theft, they should contact their bank and report the incident immediately. If the money stolen was from a consumer’s checking or savings account, they are protected under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, which limits a consumer’s losses to $50 so long as the theft is reported within 60 days.
 
When consumers are simply obtaining personal loan quotes, don’t input information such as social security numbers or bank routing numbers. Stick to providing public information, like names, addresses, credit scores and contact information. After receiving a personal loan quote (or a quote for any other type of loan), a consumer should contact the loan provider directly or wait for them to receive contact from the provider. Ultimately, don’t put sensitive information on non-reputable third-party sites.
 
By taking these self-protecting measures, consumers (regardless of their tech knowledge) can thwart the invisible thief’s efforts at getting access to victims’ accounts. Like buckling up in a car, consumers can use online banking in confidence, and can manage their online personal loans from the comfort of their own home so long as they adhere to the proper safety guidelines.

T2 Trainspotting: Nostalgia Trip

MINOR SPOILERS

Like any film with an extended period of time between the original and sequel(s), T2: Trainspotting (2017) is required to form an immediate connection with its audience. Twenty years have passed, yet we must feel accustomed to this world. For every element of change, something else must remain the same. We take comfort in what we know; it allows us to enjoy the new without fear of the unknown. If T2 had been released a couple of years after Trainspotting (1996), it could potentially have been set in Benidorm. Transplanting our anti-heroes from Scotland to Spain is fine when they are fresh in our conscious mind, but twenty years later we need a way back. In T2 this is achieved by location (still in Leith, Edinburgh), music and costume. Not much has changed in this respect, and what has we probably expected to.

Costume designers for T2 are Rachael Fleming, who returns from Trainspotting, and Steven Noble. Quite how the partnership worked in a practical sense I’m not sure, but everything on screen is entirely harmonious. Nothing seems out of place, even if certain choices feel more on the nose than others. It was clear during the making of T2 that everyone was treading a line between embracing nostalgia and being a slave to it. This aptly reflects the central characters; each familiar face is in love with a murky, misremembered past so unable to focus on a brighter future. Why does Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) return to Scotland in the first place? Because despite all the pain this period of his youth inflicted, on himself and others, it defines who he is. We can’t run from our past so we must make our peace with it.

Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Simon aka ‘Sick Boy’ (Jonny Lee Miller). Sick Boy is a Capitol City era hustler running a deserted dead-end pub in Edinburgh. But look at how he dresses – Sick Boy has aspirations.

Renton is the first of the old crew to make an appearance. Director Danny Boyle shoots the opening like a Carry On movie; snippets of life to show what everyone is up to before the meat of the plot kicks in. Renton’s look is one of the most subtle in terms of progression and feels the most authentic. In Trainspotting he was generally attired in skinny jeans teamed with grubby white trainers, tight baby tees and nondescript sweaters. The jeans worn by himself and Daniel aka ‘Spud’ (Ewen Bremner) were actually unpicked and restitched to make them even skinnier. This was not so much the beginning of the noughties hipster silhouette, as a way to make the cast look even more emaciated. Heroin addicts don’t eat much; they get high and look for the next high. Not a lot of nourishment. Renton’s new ‘lust for life’ is represented by a supposed keep fit lifestyle. The sports gear he wears, such as omnipresent retro-tinged track tops, serve a narrative purpose beyond simply updating his look. He teams with a green cargo jacket, slim jeans and pants and bomber jacket, plus a lot of crew and funnel necklines. He’s always casual. In fact the one time Renton puts on a suit it feels entirely wrong. He can’t wait to be out of the thing. Apart from the brief suit moment, Renton’s look remains consistent throughout. There is one glorious scene where Renton returns to his childhood bedroom, strips down to reveal a slim-fitting tee and proceeds to dance like an off-his-gourd nineties clubber. The only thing that’s changed is his waistline. Consider Renton’s still unaltered bedroom though; it’s surrounded in 1970s posters and memorabilia. He was out of his time way before 1999.

This longing for harmony is best illustrated with Spud. Poor old Spud, he hasn’t changed; he’s still on smack, neither gone or going anywhere. His look tells us everything we need. He is perhaps our easiest way into T2. We know him, so we know where we are. Compare this kind of welcoming familiarity with another sequel that took nearly two decades to happen, The Godfather Part III (1990) and it’s evident just how important a visual safety net is. The Godfather Part III was made 16 years after the The Godfather Part II (1974), which is set predominantly in 1958 while The Godfather Part III is set in 1979. The rub is that aesthetically The Godfather Part III is so far removed from its predecessor, especially in terms of costume, it is difficult to think they are even from the same family. Al Pacino looks completely different as Michael Corleone to the point where he is hardly recognisable. In all honesty, for many years I actually thought The Godfather III was set in 1990. There are practically no identifiers in terms of costume – in fact some of the clothing seems almost purposely representative of the late 1980s. How and why this was the case I don’t know. Whether this was the choice of costume designer Milena Canonero or director Francis Ford Coppola, it must have been a conscious one. The public, however, reacted with disdain. This was not their Godfather. Cleverly T2 recognises this idea and gives us the broad strokes we need to feel comfortable. Spud, just on the T2 movie posters alone, is our guiding hand. Some things have changed, but you can still rely on Scotland’s most resilient drug addict to be wearing those amber lens sunglasses.

Renton, Sick Boy and Daniel aka ‘Spud’ (Ewen Bremner). Note Spud’s filthy Dunlop Green Flash trainers – he’s a penny-poor smack head, but very much the black comedy movie version. He’s more like the cool student you wanted to be.

Spud is the most distinctly styled member of the Trainspotting group, although his overall look is more all encompassing than, say, Simon aka ‘Sick Boy’ (Jonny Lee Miller), who is signature defined. Yet each Spud outfit remains true to a mid-1990s resurgence for 1970s clothing. The nineties became hugely important in augmenting a vintage revival for post mid-century attire that eventually peaked around ten years ago but is still popular today. The first time we see Spud is during a montage of his outlandish ensembles, each glimpsed for only few a seconds. He sports everything from a seventies polyester shirt to sheepskin coat to formal waistcoat worn as a singlet vest. The suggestion here is that Spud has never had any money (apart from the £4,000 Renton left him which he blew on smack), so instead buys clothes from charity shops. However it’s been a good twenty years since these types of era specific garments would turn up in charity shop without being snagged by a vintage boutique first. Or are we to believe that Spud has not updated his wardrobe in the slightest? (Bremner does wear some of his actual costumes from the original Trainspotting). Or perhaps Rachael Fleming and Steven Noble were aware that these characters might be experiencing real issues but are basically symbols of a bygone time of hedonism that engulfed us all heading into the new millennium. Yet they are not cartoons, even if Spud is closest to caricature. If you’re going to dress like an actual junkie, you’d wear crummy sweatpants and a soiled sweater; if you’re going to dress like a ‘cool’ junkie you dress like Spud. Somehow a man who vomits repeatedly into the plastic bag he is trying to suffocate himself in, and then subsequently over his best friend, remains a style icon. Spud is Tyler Durden, if Tyler Durden was a smackhead from Leith.

With Spud the most cartoonish of the set and Renton the most organic, it’s Sick Boy who fulfils our ‘aspirational blackmailer about town’ quota. He’s all about chasing the coin and wants everyone to know this. Sick Boy may have primarily worn pastel tees in the original film, but on that iconic poster image he’s flashing a suit. He’s the one we were all watching when we should have been watching Renton. Now Sick Boy is all business, and so says his virtually unchanging wardrobe of grey suits or grey trousers teamed with black vest or polo shirt, black shoes or sandals and Gucci web belt. He’s a wide boy geezer with a yuppie parody coke habit and innate need to be the big shot. Sick Boy is a collector; his flat overflows with DVDs and shiny tech. He likes to acquire new things, which is somewhat at odds with his regimented style. Yet his look is the only part of life he can control. Likewise he still dyes his thinning hair sunshine blonde – it’s what we expect to see as an audience and what feels true to him as a person. He says he wants change in his life, but how much really? For Sick Boy it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

Trainspotting’s resident hard man, Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie (Robert Carlyle) wearing his signature argyle knit v-neck sweater. Most important for Begbie’s established look, he’s wearing it without a shirt.

Spud’s familiarity is important, as is Sick Boy’s, and to a lesser extent Renton’s, but what about Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie (Robert Carlyle)? His 1980s ‘terraces’ garb from the first film sparked a minor fashion trend for whippet thin hard men. Yet Begbie his been in prison for twenty years and escapes at the start of the film. Clearly he needs to remain inconspicuous, but double denim and a pastel yellow argyle Pringle is not going to hide you anywhere but a golf course. Unlike Spud, whose 1980s suit and Dunlop Green Flash trainers can be enjoyed as a pleasingly out of context throwback (in T2 he wears this ensemble to a memorial in the middle of nowhere), Begbie, arguably the most terrifyingly real character in Trainspotting, must at least attempt to remain hidden. We need those Pringle sweaters again, but they will have to be drip fed because Begbie can’t be in our face; he has to creep up in those shiny black penny loafers.

There is a wonderful moment in T2 when Begbie finally abandons his halfhearted disguise in public. He removes his fisherman’s hat, grey zipper jacket and dark lens sunglasses inside a nightclub to reveal a most fabulous grey and pink knit argyle v-neck sweater. We just knew he had to meet Renton in the next sequence. Dressed in this hideous v-neck, wine golf pants, white socks and black loafers, classic Begbie is all ready to kick off. Fleming and Noble brought Begbie’s terraces look back without causing us to question the idea too much. Yes it doesn’t make much sense in a narrative context (did Begbie forgo laying low and decide to go shopping in a darkly lit TK Maxx?), plus it’s not like any of his old wardrobe would even fit now either. No, this was taking a creative liberty to please us. It’s obvious it pleased Danny Boyle too; just note the way he lovingly takes in those black loafers and milky white socks. It’s as if Begbie is moonwalking across the camera.

This is the beauty of T2, in many ways, but particularly from the point of view of costume; it’s not necessarily about what we should see but what we expect to see. It’s an aspect The Godfather Part III got so drastically wrong. After such a long gap between a much loved film and its sequel we need stability. Show us a new world through the eyes of familiar characters. Comfort us. We don’t want change, we want evolution. We needed to see the return of Trainspotting’s feckless four looking, for want of a better phrase, exactly the same but different. Bravo T2, you did nostalgia right.

T2 Trainspotting is currently on general release.

© 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.

The post T2 Trainspotting: Nostalgia Trip appeared first on Clothes on Film.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Circumventing the Vote for Personal Loan Protection

Man standing in front of silenced crowd

When it comes to protecting the public from poor personal loans and predatory lenders, what are we, as a nation, willing to sacrifice? Despite what the individual’s opinion may be, the president has answered that question for us this week with a disturbing response: personal loan protection should be granted at the cost of our government’s checks and balances.
 
During a short break in which the Senate did not meet, the president evoked a constitutional right that allows him to appoint an individual into a position of power without the need for Congressional approval.
 
Richard Cordray, the newly appointed director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), assumed his position, and in his wake there is an army of fuming Republicans outraged at the president’s actions.
 
What is the CFPB?

The CFPB came to fruition as a result of the Dodd-Frank Act and was established in 2010 in response to the housing bubble implosion. The purpose of this bureau is to protect borrowers from abusive and predatory lending practices, particularly in the arena of home loans. But it’s not exclusive to the mortgage loan arena, as it is also designed to monitor payday loans, auto loans, and other forms of borrowing—it basically oversees any and all types of personal loans.
 
This sort of financial protection agency sounds like exactly what the country needs—particularly as we stand in the wake of a ruined economy, hurling blame at the rich, the poor, and everybody in between. But the Republicans in Congress have been blocking the president’s nomination for a director of the CFPB from being appointed. As seen earlier this month, the Senate struck that nomination down in a majority vote of 53 to 45.
 
But it’s not the personal loan protection the country would receive that Senate Republicans fear.
 
“This notion that we’re against consumer protection, that we’re trying to gut the CFPB is just silly,” said Sen. David Vitter in a report by the Los Angeles Times.
 
Rather, certain congress members are concerned over the fine print that awards this organization power.
 
A study sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was conducted earlier this year, gauging the public’s response to the creation of the CFPB when some of those fine print clauses were revealed to them. An alarming 64 percent of the population said they would be less likely to support the creation of the bureau—despite the fact that the CFPB is supposed to be rewarding them with personal loan protection.
 
What the survey revealed to its testing population was that the CFPB’s director would be granted a startling amount of unchecked power.
 
For instance, the director has the sole discretion over half a billion dollars of government money and needs no congressional approval over how to spend that money. That means a single person has the authority to spend $500 million of the taxpayers hard-earned money without any sort of oversight whatsoever.
 
Additionally, the director also has the unchecked ability to ban full products or features of products that he deems unfair. This would ultimately allow the director and whoever stands by his side the full authority to rid their competitors from the market. When a single man has such authority, lobbyists will begin making his life one of royalty in no time at all. It should come as little surprise when personal loan practices of those with the most money are upheld by the all powerful director.
 
As the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConell explained in a public statement, “The CFPB is poised to be one of the least accountable and most powerful agencies in Washington… it is subject to none of the checks that independent agencies normally operate under, and will have an unprecedented reach and control over individual consumer decisions.”
 
When Something Stands in Your Way… Go Around It
 
Despite the fact that Senate Republicans have been voting against the nominated director from taking position, President Obama bypassed the need for any future vote and performed what’s known as a recess appointment.
 
According to Article II of the Constitution, the president is permitted to “fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.”
 
In Article I, Section 5, clause 4 of the Constitution, it states “Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days.” Citing this section, some would say a recess only occurs after three days of congressional inactivity.
 
According to Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, “Both the Clinton and Obama administrations have acknowledged that recess appointments are not allowed if Congress has met in the last three days,” alluding to the fact that President Obama agrees (or agreed at one time) with the three day definition.
 
While the constitution doesn’t definitively define what a “recess” is, or how long the senate must be out of session in order for a recess to have started, history has set precedent. According to an article on recess appointments done by the Senate in December of 2011, “The shortest recess during which appointments have been made during the past 20 years was 10 days.” This industry standard points at the 10 day mark for defining a recess.
 
Whether a recess is defined by three days or 10 days or more, it matters not… The Senate met the day before the recess appointment of Cordray.
 
“I Refuse to Take No for an Answer”
 
A recess appointment after one day of Senate inactivity raises a red flag to those monitoring the executive branch—particularly given the fact that the Senate has already voted against this measure and gave a proposed list of reforms they wanted to see applied to the CFPB before they would change their vote.
 
“President Obama, in an unprecedented move, has arrogantly circumvented the American people by ‘recess’ appointing Richard Cordray as director of the new CFPB,” said Republican Sen. Leader Mitch McConnell in a public statement. “This recess appointment represents a sharp departure from a long-standing precedent that has limited the President to recess appointments only when the Senate is in a recess of 10 days or longer.”
 
Jay Carney, President Obama’s press secretary, presented a rebuttal, saying, “When the Congress refuses to act, the president will,” according to a Bloomberg article.
 
But Congress did act: it voted against the nominee.
 
“We are left to wonder why the president is unwilling to work with Congress,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, in a public statement.
 
“It’s clear the president would rather trample our system of separation of powers than work with Republicans to move the country forward,” said John Boehner, Speaker of the House.
 
But the President appears to have little concern for such worries, as after the recess appointment he told an audience of 1,274 people, “I refuse to take no for an answer.”
 
The Heart of the Matter
 
With the country in financial shambles, the reason why the president wanted the director to be instated was so the CFPB could begin its duty of shielding the country’s citizens from predatory personal loans. That’s understandable, and commendable. But the problem, and the real heart of this matter, is that he circumvented the branch of government that serves as a check and balance to his own branch. In order to afford the public protection from unscrupulous lenders and poor personal loans, the president shunned the Senate’s vote and concerns, and exploited a loophole in the Constitution—successfully defiling the very heart of our government and democracy as a whole.
 
Rather than recess appointing his own nominee after a mere 24 hours of Senate inactivity, the correct course of action would have been to listen to both parties’ ideas and come to some sort of mutual agreement on what to do with the current structure of the CFPB. That way, the public would receive its financial protection, disclosure protection, and personal loan protection from an organization that both parties of the government condoned and established together.
 
While the country received a director of an organization that’s meant to keep subprime lending practices and bad personal loans to a minimum, we relinquished the very thing that makes our country what it is—the democratic process of voting.

A Superweapon in the Payday and Auto Title Loan War

superweapon missile rack

A powerful piece of legislation is pending before a House subcommittee. If passed, it would affect every state and every prospective short-term borrower in the Country. Perhaps more specifically, it would affect the ongoing battles that are raging in cities, counties, and states between the pro-regulators on one side and short-term lenders on the other.

H.R. 6139, also known as the Consumer Credit Access, Innovation and Modernization Act, would give various lenders the ability to obtain a federal charter. This federal charter would grant them the power to sidestep regulation that hinders, limits, or even bans certain lending activity—such as payday and auto title loans—within individual state borders.

A payday loan is a short-term loan where a borrower is lent money but expected to repay on their next payday. An auto title loan is a short-term loan where a borrower’s vehicle equity is used as collateral in order to borrow money. In the event that a borrower can’t repay their auto title loan, their lender can repossess the vehicle. Both of these types of financing are arguably toxic forms of lending that trap low-income and poor credit borrowers in cycles of debt. Many states, counties, and cities consider these to be predatory lending.

Those same states, counties, and cities have developed legal frameworks that protect consumers from these forms of predatory lending. Should H.R. 6139 pass, then states that regulate or prohibit payday and auto title loans would see the veritable floodgates reopen and helplessly watch lenders triumphantly reinvade—provided these lenders have a federal charter.

A federal charter is essentially Congressional approval of a group’s mission, authority, and activities. As their name implies, federal charters grant wide-reaching operational permission to certain organizations, such as the American Red Cross and the Boy Scouts of America. Over 100 organizations and groups have obtained a federal charter.

Naturally, states decry H.R. 6139as a violation of their regulatory powers.

“This proposed legislation is an end run around Arkansas consumers and our State’s constitutional protections against usurious lending practices. We oppose any effort on any level to allow these kinds of businesses back within our borders,” said Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel in a press release.

41 states have joined together in a letter asking Congress to kill the bill which they say would preempt states from cracking down on short-term predatory lending—such as auto title loans. The letter is the work of 41 state attorneys general that wish to warn Congressional leaders of both parties—such as Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner—about H.R. 6139’snegative effects.

“This joint effort among attorneys general underscores the importance of killing this federal legislation that would provide no significant protections for consumers and have unintended consequences,” said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller in a press release from the Office of the Indiana Attorney General.

Even politicians from within Congress have joined their attorneys general colleagues in voicing their opposition to this legislation of superweapon-scale.

“H.R. 6139 claims to help minorities, when in fact it would hurt them disproportionately by enabling predatory lending,” said Congressman John H. Conyers in an interview with the Washington Informer. “Far from helping these communities stay in the mainstream banking system, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency charter would push them further into the economic margins.”

The bill is currently under review by a congressional committee. Time will tell if the committee decides to send it to the House or Senate where a superweapon in the short-term loan war may finally be deployed across the entire country.

GOP lessons from the latest round of brutal town halls

BLACKSTONE, Va. — An overflow crowd here was eager to take on Rep. Dave Brat, the conservative Republican who just weeks earlier needled liberal protesters in his district and groused about all the women “in my grill” over GOP plans to repeal and replace Obamacare.

But with a plain-spoken approach — and a format that didn't revolve around live-fire questions from the combative crowd — Brat offered his colleagues a potential blueprint for defusing tense constituent town halls that have bedeviled his Republican colleagues as they’ve been swarmed by protesters.

As a restive crowd grew outside the Blackstone Herb Cottage, Brat’s staff collected constituents’ questions on index cards and handed them to the local mayor, William Coleburn.

Rather than field questions directly from constituents, Coleburn read their submitted queries aloud, and then Brat went to work. He plowed through his message, grinding through a hail of boos and heckling from the crowd but never veering from his bottom line: regulations are burdening the economy, Obamacare is failing — and tax reform is slated for April.

In the end, he walked away smiling.


“I’m having fun,” the conservative Republican said as the crowd of hundreds hurled insults. “I like having debates.”

Brat’s tactic prevented him from coming face to face with Ginny Bonner of Henrico, who said five of her six immediate family members have pre-existing conditions, including a son with long-term asthma and a daughter recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

“She would be uninsurable” without Obamacare, Bonner said in an interview.

Brat, an economist who often highlights his Ph.D. pedigree, knows he doesn’t have much of a numbers problem in his district, where he won 58 percent of the vote in November. Small pockets of supporters, some donning “Brat Pack” shirts, joined the town hall and led a small cheering section before and after his event.”

“I think this was a mob. It wasn’t a crowd genuinely interested in political discourse,” said Richard Roberts, a Culpeper resident who has supported Brat since his first run in 2014, of the crowd of protesters. He urged Brat to take heart that the bulk of his district doesn’t share the liberal displeasure that was on display on Tuesday night.


His town hall, like many other GOP events around the country in recent weeks, had become a target for liberal activists, including the newly formed Indivisible, which has generated huge turnouts at lawmaker events. In some respects, liberals are attempting to recreate the tea party fervor that swept Republicans into control of Congress in 2010. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) saw a similarly hostile crowd at her Tennessee event on Tuesday as well.


“We’ve been talking about this issue since 2010,” Blackburn said as constituents pressed for more details on the as-yet-unwritten Republican plan to replace Obamacare. “We have been working on this nonstop. … Our goal is that each and every person will have access to affordable health care.”

In Iowa, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley got an earful from more than 100 constituents who vented their opposition to Trump’s agendas well, packing town halls to decry his support for repealing Obamacare. Chris Petersen, a pig farmer, even delivered a gift for Grassley: Extra Strength Tums.

“You’re going to need them in the next few years,” said Petersen, 62, a self-described progressive Democrat with insulin-dependent diabetes. “People are disappointed.”

And in Mariposa, California, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock faced more than 600 people, many of them shouting and waving protest signs. McClintock said he supported withholding federal funds from sanctuary cities — and possibly his own state — and rolling back environmental regulations that are “choking off the American economy.” And over and over, McClintock — who a few weeks ago was escorted by police out of a town hall — clashed with protesters over repealing Obamacare.

Recent elections, McClintock said, have given the GOP a “very clear mandate” to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to which protesters yelled, “Show us the plan!” for its replacement.

In Blackstone, though, protesters seemed determined not to let Brat deliver an uninterrupted answer. They waved red placards every time Brat said something they disagreed with, and several detractors played “Brat Bingo,” tallying up common refrains used by the lawmaker in his constituent meetings. Some shouted at him to stop hawking books, when he mentioned his writings a few times. Others accused him of lying or being misinformed when he decried Planned Parenthood and refused to expound on the science of climate change.

Coleburn repeatedly pleaded with the crowd to remain quiet so Brat could finish his answers, and a few times, Brat seemed flustered by the persistent harrying.

“I’m in the middle of answering, but I kind of lose my focus when everyone’s yelling ‘answer the question,’” he scolded.

In a lighter moment, he asked if anyone in the crowd knew a good joke. “You!” several shouted back. In another bizarre moment during a discussion of religious freedom and Judeo-Christian values, a protester wondered aloud whether Brat — who at one point raised ancient Greek philosophy — worshiped Zeus. He ignored the barb.

A Brat spokeswoman said the decision to allow the mayor to read questions off note cards, rather than take them directly from constituents was meant to get to as many questions as possible.


"Our staff just collected the cards and let the mayor pick and read them at his discretion," said the spokeswoman.

And many of the questions were pointed and critical, seeking Brat's views on potential collusion between Trump and Russia (he supports a congressional investigation), wondering where Brat gets his daily news (everywhere), and whether he denies climate change. (No. “Climate changes all the time.”)

Brat leaned heavily on his persona as an anti-establishment stalwart to help find common cause with a crowd that was virulently anti-Trump as well.

“I took on my own leadership over the last two years on fiscal responsibility,” he noted at one point. He also drew cheers when he pledged to look into a provision that House Democrats sought to use to force Trump to release his tax returns. When some constituents shouted at Brat for noting he has several friends who are bankers, Brat noted that he isn’t exactly a darling of Wall Street.

“If you missed the memo, I raised like $150,000 for my race and beat someone with $5 million,” he said, referring to his upset win over then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary in 2014.

And he seemed to relish infuriating his sharpest critics, at times comparing their brusque tactics to Trump himself.

“Some of you are as boisterous as Trump,” he said, as he prepared to exit the event. “But I loved every minute of it.”

Jennifer Haberkorn, Paul Demko and David Siders contributed to this report.


Auto Loan Borrower is Victim of ‘Sexual-Scandal Blackmail’

Answering machine with phone off the hook

A car loan borrower named Larnell Pillow is accusing his lender of destroying his marriage over missed payments.
 
Pillow took out an auto loan from a company called Prestige Financial Services when he had a stable job as a crane operator. He made timely monthly payments, and grew close to his lender, revealing personal information in casual talk. One piece of information disclosed to the lender was that Pillow had a girlfriend.
 
But this seemingly trivial fact was important because Pillow also had a wife and kids.
 
When Pillow lost his job, his girlfriend paid a few of his auto loan bills. But when Pillow wasn’t able to acquire money and he fell behind on his loan, the harassment and blackmail began.
 
When harassing threats failed to yield payment, the lender called his house phone and left a message naming Pillow’s girlfriend. That message was received by Pillow’s wife, prompting her to gather the kids and leave.
 
Pillow confronted the collection agent about the message and the agent allegedly replied with, “Now we know a pressure point to use on you.” Leveraging such a “pressure point” is what David Boyd, Pillow’s attorney, calls “sexual-scandal blackmail.”
 
Pillow never satisfied the auto loan payments so he surrendered the car to Prestige, and now his wife purportedly wishes to divorce him.
 
“[The calls] turned my world upside down. I’d lost my job. Then I lost my wife and kids. It’s just the domino effect,” said Pillow in the interview.
 
Prestige Financial Services refused to provide comment to the ABC News reporter, saying “Prestige Financial Services has not yet been served with a copy of the complaint and it is not in a position to address the merits of the lawsuit. Prestige does not comment on pending litigation.”

Trump’s Russia problem dogs Republicans at town halls

BLACKSTONE, Va. — There’s another topic besides Obamacare animating town halls across the country this week: Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia.

Constituents and liberal activists are demanding to know what GOP lawmakers are doing to help or hinder investigations into the president’s ties to Moscow and Russian interference in the 2016 election. The scrutiny suggests the firestorm over alleged ties between Russian officials and members of Trump’s campaign and administration has spread well beyond the Beltway.

“I am very concerned about the Trump administration and his ties to Russia,” a woman told GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley in Garner, Iowa, on Tuesday — winning huge applause from the overflow crowd when she said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from any investigation.

Grassley replied that Sessions, his former Senate colleague, should listen to ethics experts, but added that if the rest of his constituents largely agreed, “I’d be happy to pass that along to the people involved.”

The attention on the issue back home could increase pressure on GOP lawmakers to pursue a serious and far-reaching probe. The controversy will also test how far Republican are willing to go in openly challenging the new president, who has consistently dismissed the matter as “fake news.”


Lawmakers on recess don’t have that luxury, after last week’s abrupt resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn over his communication with Russia’s U.S. ambassador and a steady stream of intelligence leaks that have raised questions about how much deeper Trump’s links to Russia might go.

In fact, some Republicans sought to seize on the issue as a rare opportunity to find a bit of common ground with critics, who have been haranguing them to take a tougher line against Trump and his policies.

"Our legal authorities should investigate and follow the rule of law wherever it leads," said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), earning cheers from an otherwise hostile audience in sleepy Blackstone, Virginia, on Tuesday.

The issue is far from the top priority for most town hall attendees, who have been flooding Republican events to register fury over the GOP plans to repeal and replace Obamacare. Stoked in part by the newly formed Indivisible, a liberal activist group hoping to devise a tea party-style wave of energy from the left, the protests have largely focused on the potential threat to millions of Americans’ access to health insurance.


But many people have also used the events to highlight other concerns with the Trump administration, from its flawed rollout of refugee travel restrictions to, most pointedly, growing reports that Russian officials conferred with Trump associates repeatedly during the 2016 presidential campaign.


Multiple committees in Congress have already launched probes into Russia’s efforts to tamper with the election, but Democrats have raised concerns that those Republican-led panels will be insufficient to investigate the president and his associates. Democrats have called for an independent commission or a bipartisan select committee — calls that have been rejected so far by GOP leaders.

When one woman asked Rep. Marsha Blackburn whether she would support an independent commission to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia, the Tennessee Republican sidestepped the exact question by noting the House and Senate intelligence committees are moving forward.

“I support them doing their work and getting to the bottom of what happened,” Blackburn said, generating rare applause from the packed crowd.

Even where lawmakers didn’t hold public events, several constituents — often egged on by liberal activists — tweeted to seek their views on Russia investigations.

Though these lawmakers generally drew applause for their calls to scrutinize Russian interferen
ce in the 2016 elections, they also set limits. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) took a question on Russia from his Mariposa crowd on Tuesday as well. But he told reporters later that he saw “nothing unusual” about Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador, which, contrary to Flynn’s initial statements, included discussion of U.S. sanctions against Russia.

And in Virginia, Brat rejected a suggestion for an independent investigation into Flynn's relationship with the Russian ambassador, which Trump has defended as above-board.

“There’s no allegation of wrongdoing with Flynn,” he said as the crowd quickly turned on him again. “You don’t get to throw spaghetti on the wall.”

Kyle Cheney reported from Blackstone, Virginia; Jennifer Haberkorn contributed reporting from Iowa Falls and Garner, Iowa; Paul Demko contributed reporting from Fairview, Tennessee; and David Siders contributed reporting from Mariposa, California.


Short-term Loans Face Opposition in North Carolina

North Carolina flag painted on a fist

Several North Carolina lawmakers, including Attorney General Roy Cooper, are joining together in opposition of short-term loan lending within the state.

Back in 2001, North Carolina passed a law which shut down payday lending within the state causing the last payday lender to close in 2006. Unfortunately, this law did not stop the federal loophole that permits banks to offer short-term loans that are essentially the same thing as cash advances.

Regions Financial Corp has exploited this loophole through its Ready Advance program. Under the short-term loans offered through the Ready Advance program borrowers must repay their debt within 10 days via direct deposit through their bank accounts. Regions Financial Corp charges $1 in fees for every $10 lent.

Lawmakers, including Black Caucus Chairman Floyd McKissick, have written to the President and CEO of Regions Financial Corp, Grayson Hall, demanding him to end the Ready Advance lending program.

Regions Financial Corp has drawn the ire of consumer advocates that claim its short-term loans offered through the Ready Advance lending program are little more than high interest debt. North Carolina state law prohibits financing like cash advances within its borders. However, federal law allows banks, such as Regions Financial Corp, to lend such financing based upon the laws of the state in which the bank is based. Regions Financial Corp is based in Alabama, which is cash advance friendly.

“The effective interest rate on these loans drastically exceed the long-standing interest and fee limits on loans under $10,000 in our state. High-cost, short-term balloon loans like these sharply increase the financial distress of families under economic strain, and for this reason the legislature has chosen to prohibit them in our state. I therefore call upon you to stop offering these loans in North Carolina,” wrote McKissick, according to the Charlotte Post.

Cooper, along with other state attorneys general jointly call for Congress to stop bills they fear would weaken states’ ability to regulate and prohibit predatory lending, including short-term loans like cash advances, car title financing, and even prepaid credit cards.

“Payday loans trap borrowers in an endless cycle of debt, and that’s why we fought so hard to end payday lending in North Carolina. We have a long history of standing up for consumers and successfully fighting predatory loans in our state, and Congress needs to respect our decision to ban high-interest loans,” said Cooper.

Despite Regions Financial Corp arguing that they provide a service to the community, McKissick strongly voiced his belief that such programs are damaging to communities.

“Regions markets these loans as help for occasional emergency cash needs. However, families facing an income short-fall on the day the loan is made are highly likely to be short of cash at their next payday, when the loans plus fees and/or interest are due,” said McKissick.

Mortgage Refinance Loans Market May Affect the Election

A house made of money with a vote above it

Homeowners are being aided—and more importantly courted—by the Obama Administration in the pivotal months leading up to the Presidential election. By strategically using the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to lessen the financial burden that mortgage borrowers are under, the Obama Administration has made a decisive move in rallying favor with voters for the upcoming election.

The vast majority of homeowners and mortgage loan borrowers are middle class citizens that have a respectable amount of political awareness. With the nation still mired in the ongoing recession, homeowners and borrowers of mortgages are eager to take any opportunity they can to save money and pay less on their monthly mortgage bills. Resolving to curry favor with them, the Obama Administration imposed FHA price cuts on mortgage insurance premiums, which resulted in a wide-sweeping impact on the lives of many Americans.

Mortgage insurance premiums are the amounts that borrowers pay, usually on a monthly basis, for their mortgage insurance policy. Lenders are protected by mortgage insurance premiums in the event that a borrower defaults.

FHA Changes

The FHA price cuts on mortgage insurance premiums took effect on June 11. This prompted a refinancing rush by the millions of borrowers whose mortgages are insured by the FHA. Applications for government mortgage refinance loans reached an all-time-peak in mid June 2012.

“Borrowers seized the opportunity to lower their mortgage rates without increasing their FHA premiums,” said MBA vice president of research Michael Fratantoni of the Mortgage Bankers Associations (MBA).

If 3.4 million borrowers end up saving money, they may have to thank the Obama Administration for its FHA changes. From a strategic point of view the Obama Administration is likely hoping that these borrowers will remember the President’s influence on the FHA when borrowers are in voting booths or filling out ballots.

The price cut savings came in the form of two reduced fees. Under the new initiative, the fee known as the upfront mortgage insurance premium dropped from 1 percent to 0.01 percent of the loan’s balance. The second fee—the annual mortgage insurance premium—was cut by roughly half to 0.55 percent of the balance from 1.15 percent.

How Will Borrowers Benefit?

It is estimated that 3.4 million borrowers who have FHA mortgage refinance loans that were originated on or before May 31, 2009 pay over 5 percent annual interest.

That means there is a potential 3.4 million borrowers who, should they opt to take the Obama Administration’s FHA price cuts, will likely see 5 percent of annual interest shaved off their mortgages.

In March, the White House declared that lowering mortgage fees could help 2 million to 3 million mortgage refinance loans borrowers save an average of about $1,000 each year. This projected figure could be even higher since it does not include the savings generated by paying a lower interest rate, which, for the past two months, have been resting at historic low levels. If 2 million to 3 million borrowers save money, that could very easily equate to 2 million to 3 million votes for the incumbent president come November.

“It’s like another tax cut that will put more money into people’s pockets,” said President Obama at a news conference in March where he announced the plans adding that he did not need Congressional authorization to make these changes.

Without Congressional oversight there was little opportunity for Republicans to hinder the FHA changes. Additionally, lessening monthly mortgage payments at a time when most Americans are having financial trouble—or at least financial worry—is somewhat difficult to cast in a negative light by President Obama’s political opponents.

Despite the impact of these changes, this isn’t the first time that the FHA has acted on the housing market. In the past, the Obama Administration cut the cost of obtaining mortgage refinance loans through the creation of the non-traditional streamline program.

Refinancing through the FHA streamlined process allows most qualified FHA-insured borrowers to save on average about $3,000 a year or $250 each month according to estimates by U.S. housing officials.

November Approaches

The mortgage refinance loans rush could not have come at a more politically sensitive time.

The presidential election looms on the horizon as the nation continues its economic struggle. By aiding Americans in times of need the FHA has done a great service to helping out many households who may have been barely able to keep their head above water.

The surge in applicants for mortgage refinance loans can only confirm the fact that the country is still facing tough times, or, at the very least, that people still actively looking to save money wherever they can. This lowering of rates and hopefully the lessening of a financial burden may be an electoral boon to incumbent President Obama.

It remains to be seen if relieved and thankful borrowers will turn out to vote for his re-election. Other factors, such as the unemployment rate, may speak louder than any FHA policy change could ever hope to.

For those interested in pursuing a mortgage refinance loan, obtaining a mortgage quote can be done in as little as a few minutes with new internet tools.

An Escape Route on the Horizon for Student Loans

Escape route exit

Private student loans are the bane of many borrowers, especially when compared to the more consumer-friendly federal student loans. While neither federal nor private student loans can be discharged through bankruptcy, private loans almost always carry higher interest rates and harsher late penalties.

Even if students compare student loan quotes online before borrowing, the fact that private college loans carry such high repayment terms and aren’t dischargeable through bankruptcy is having a major impact on our jobless graduates.

But regulators have begun to take notice of that impact.

A recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Department of Education suggests that Congress should revise bankruptcy laws in the face of the ongoing recession. These revisions would include the option for borrowers to have their private student loans be terminated through bankruptcy proceedings.

The Downside of Bankruptcy

While no one—even indebted students—ever hope to file for bankruptcy, it can be a necessary evil for many.

The effects of bankruptcy are never pleasant. With bankruptcy come higher interest rates for future financing opportunities—that is, if bankrupt borrowers even qualify for a loan.

Bankruptcy consequences even follow borrowers to their personal lives. Some employers frown on applicants with bankruptcy histories, and reports of friends and family scoffing at bankruptcy filings are not all that uncommon.

What’s more is that these effects don’t just last for a few weeks or months. The black mark of bankruptcy stays on credit reports for up to a decade.

The Medicine of Bankruptcy

Despite those downsides, current and former students with debt and dismal job opportunities might consider bankruptcy if laws were changed to help them. This is particularly true considering that some have debt in excess of several hundred thousand dollars.

“The issue has gained a lot of attention and support as people become more aware of how different and more dangerous private loans are compared to federal loans, and how little recourse private loan borrowers have if they hit hard times,” said Lauren Asher, president of the California-based Project on Student Debt, in a Baltimore Sun interview.

Prior to the 1970s, both private and federal loans were able to be terminated through bankruptcy proceedings. Unfortunately for many today, Congress made federal loans restricted from bankruptcy in the ‘70s, and later made nonprofit agency loans exempt from bankruptcy in the 1980s. To take advantage of this change, many lenders became nonprofit in order to make their loans invulnerable to bankruptcy.

Today, only a very potent legal argument of “undue hardship” can cause a student loan to be discharged.

A recent—and rare—example was when a Baltimore judge discharged $340,000 in student loans. The borrower won this ruling after being physically disabled with a disorder that prevented her from regular employment.

The Truth May Be in the Middle

Interestingly, the CFPB and Education Department’s report failed to find any benefit to consumers as a result of the 1970’s bankruptcy changes for student loans.

Understandably, lenders are not pleased about the possibility of bankruptcy changes to their currently non-dischargeable loans.

“We made a contract with students to repay their loans and that’s how the banking system operates,” said Richard Hunt, president of the Washington-based Consumer Bankers Association.

Hunt predicts that there will be a rush of bankruptcy filings for private student loans if rules change. He also predicts that should laws be changed and banks continue to lend private student loans then, “there is no question [students] will get an increase in interest rates.”

Offering a middle-of-the-road approach, Sallie Mae has supported a bankruptcy option but only after payments have been made for five to seven years.

Desperate—or shrewd—new grads with high debt and limited assets could theoretically file for bankruptcy shortly after graduating. Sallie Mae’s President, Jack Remondi, reminded a congressional hearing that this theoretical situation—which is quickly becoming a “probable” scenario—was precisely the reason that student loans became exempt from bankruptcy to begin with.

Sallie Mae argues that if private loans should become dischargeable through new bankruptcy laws then so too should federal student loans since the financial difficulty graduates face does not hinge on whether their loans are federal or private.

Awaiting the Future

Despite Sallie Mae’s argument, financial difficulty is indeed more prominent with private student loans.

Borrowers in debt and without a job have several options, provided they are borrowers of government-backed loans. They can apply for deferrals, forbearance, and repayment flexibility. There is even a path for public service workers, such as educators, to obtain loan forgiveness.

Private lenders brutally refuse to offer any sort of options.

“That is the main case why private loans should be discharged,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org.

Kantrowitz said that if lenders knew that student loans borrowers could file for bankruptcy then lenders would be far more eager to work with borrowers.

Private loans also house a less-known downside. They lack the interest rate caps that federal student loans have. It’s these private financing options that are almost completely to blame for recent news stories of the countless borrowers with debt over $100,000.

Case in point is the story of Katherine Lord from Milwaukee. She accrued $140,000 in student loan debt while going to law school—nearly all of which were private.

“Maybe I didn’t do as much research as I should have,” she said in a Baltimore Sun interview. “At the time, there just wasn’t great counseling on whether or not to take out private student loans.”

Lord attended law school in 2005—a few short years before the devastating recession—in Indiana before moving to Washington for employment. While her job prospects in Washington didn’t meet her expectations, her bank generously deferred her private loan payments for six months. However, once the deferment period ended, her monthly payments revealed themselves at over $800—more than her monthly rent.

Despite eventually finding temporary employment, the tidal wave of the recession swept away Lord’s job. She has been unable to find work since, and now, at age 34, she has been forced to move back in with her parents. While this former law school grad has managed to repay her $15,000 federal loans, her parents were forced to refinance their home to help make her private loan payments.

Lord believes that a bankruptcy option would give much needed help to borrowers who are trapped by private loans.

“If it had been an option, I know I would have considered it,” she said. “I understand just how drastically bankruptcy would affect my life, but at least I would be the one primarily affected, not my parents.”

Payday Loans and the Bible

Old Bible

Depending on translation, the word “money” usually appears in the Bible more than 120 times. If the words wealth, gold, silver, poverty, usury, stealing, and debt are included in the count, that number grows significantly.

In fact, the Bible contains more passages about money and possessions than heaven, hell, or the return of the Messiah. There are 500 Bible verses on prayer and less than 500 on faith, but more than 2,350 on money and possessions, according to Crown.org, a Christian organization that offers advice on money-related issues.

With such emphasis on money, possessions, and debt, anybody familiar with the Christian Bible would undoubtedly agree that the religion considers these themes to be very important to the faith.

Couple that importance with the themes of love, acceptance, and forgiveness that the religion’s figurehead, Jesus Christ, preached, and most would likely come to the conclusion that lending and Christianity can only co-exist under controlled and careful circumstances.

But if that’s the case, how can some Christians associate themselves with, what some call, a predatory industry? How has a recent study found that payday loans are more prevalent in areas of dense Christian conservatism?

What are Payday Loans?

If you lend money to any of my people who are in need, do not charge interest as a money lender would. –Exodus 22:25 NLT

Payday loans are the most prevalent form of short-term financing available. They’re a type of financing that borrowers can get almost instantaneously, regardless of their credit score. Due to this disregard of financial history, borrowers from all walks of life can secure payday loans with little more than a postdated check and a bank account.

But the problem with payday loans is that they come with very steep fees. Borrowers can usually expect to pay around $15 per $100 borrowed. However, this repayment is due on a short-term—usually on a borrower’s next payday, hence the name of the loan.

If borrowers find they’ll be short on cash come their next payday, then lenders usually offer what’s called a “rollover.” Rollovers occur when a borrower takes out a second payday loan to repay the first.

However, when a borrower begins rolling over their payday loans, they often find themselves tumbling down a rabbit hole of debt. With each rollover, the bill due on their paycheck grows, and they find their demand for a rollover even higher.

As they sink further and further into this debt trap, the borrower watches his or her paychecks dwindle with each successive rollover.

This mechanism that’s inherently built into the way payday loans work is what has consumer advocates up in arms. Due to the fact that those who are financially stable have access to other types of financing, and that typically the only people interested in these loans are those who are in poor financial situations, consumer advocates believe that payday lenders are naturally predatory.

Predatory lending and evoking usurious fees are arguably one of the furthest things from Christ’s teachings about loving and helping those in financial need.

An Ironic Finding

Better to have little, with godliness, than to be rich and dishonest –Proverbs 16:8 NLT

Professors Christopher Peterson and Steven Graves, from the S.J. Quinney College of Law and California State University, Northridge, respectively, hypothesized that the church would agree that predatory lending practices are against Christ’s teachings. They hypothesized that “given the biblical condemnation of usury, there would be aggressive regulation and less demand for payday loans in [conservative Christian] states,” according to an interview by Newsweek.

But what they found was the direct opposite—at least statistically speaking.

“We [mapped payday lenders] nationwide, and once of the patterns that started to emerge was a lot of density in the Bible Belt and in the Mormon mountain West, and so we started to try and come up with some way to think about that carefully,” explained Peterson in the interview. “We also created an index that measured the political power of conservative Christian Americans…. What’s interesting and surprising to us is that we found a strong correlation between the number of payday lenders within a geographic area and the political power of conservative Christians within a state.”

Feel free to read the professors’ findings in their report, Usury Law and the Christian Right.

 ‘Why is it legal there?’

Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye… -Matthew 27:5 NLT

The professors suggest that conservative Christian states are more permissive of this industry and have been less restrictive with their regulatory laws—but say that they are not arguing that the reason for the large amounts of payday lenders is because they are in conservative Christian states

“But in a sense, that just begs the question: it’s legal there… why is it legal there?” Peterson said in the interview.

With so many Bible verses on money lending, on treating the poor with respect and love, and on avoiding usury, how could states with conservative Christians in power allow the rampant spread of payday lenders within their borders?

Peterson says the answer to that question is more of political speculation, but he believes it is largely due to the fact that conservative Christians aligned themselves with the conservative Wall Street businesses in the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, Christians have since become more tolerant of big business practices, so long as those practices don’t infringe on the social issues that Christian politicians feel strongly about.

In other words, if big businesses (payday loan lenders) avoid getting involved in social issues, conservative Christian leaders will stay away from opposing legislation that will hinder big businesses.

But by allowing big business to run rampant, conservative Christian leaders have subjected the people they govern to the hostile wasteland of predatory lending. While something should be said for personal responsibility, and the repayment of debts, the intentional preying upon the poor is simply unacceptable—at least from a Christian’s standpoint.

Wandering Stars

I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. –Jude 1:4 NLT

Then there are those on a whole different plane: those who try to use the Bible to deceive and trick those around them.

Paydayloanprayer.com, a website that claims to offer “Christian payday loans” for those times when borrowers “feel like Jonah,” attempts to bind itself to the Christian faith in a manner nothing short of disgusting.

Consider the atrocious example of when one could use a “Christian” payday loan, as stated by Stan B., the supposed secretary of the company: “Sometimes, when you black out and bring home some girl from the bar whose name you can’t even recall, and she robs you while you’re still passing out drunk, you need some quick cash to get you back on your feet.”

The website hosts a plethora of articles that continue with the religious rhetoric, calling opponents of their industry the Devil, saying that their services are miracles, and alleging that the accessibility of payday loans proves God exists.

…They are the shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness. –Jude1:12-13 NLT

Religious or Not, Why do Payday Loans Exist?

Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Scientologist, Agnostic, or Atheist, most everybody borrows money at some point in their life. Regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, many encounter financial difficulty as well. Payday loans exist because there’s an extremely large demand for short-term financing that will disregard credit score history.

Without such a service, borrowers would be forced to either circumvent the law or approach illegal loan sharks—which often prove to be far less forgiving than even the steepest of payday lenders.

Despite their demand, however, payday loans need a fix.

Until an alternative is devised, there needs to be tighter legislation on usurious fees, rollovers, and predatory advertising tactics. It’s surprising—and admittedly disappointing—that those who read and base their life on the teachings of one of the most popular religious texts don’t see this and don’t stand up for their brothers and sisters who are in financial trouble. 

Payday Loan Legislation to Stop the Wild West of the Lending Market

Cowboy silhouette

Jeff Merkley, a Senator for the state of Oregon, announced a piece of federal legislation he hopes to propose to congress that would greatly limit the practice of payday lending throughout the country. Merkley sent a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) director, Richard Cordray, for support in his quest to limit payday loans in the United States.

“Millions of Americans are affected by the abusive and deceptive payday lending practices across our country and over the internet,” the senator said in a press release. “While Oregon is lucky to have state legislation in place to stop the worse [sic] practices, there are still loopholes and offshore websites that are dragging Oregon families into black holes of debt. We have to bring order to the Wild West of the lending market.”

A New Sheriff’s in Town

Merkley’s argument that online payday loan lenders are exploiting his state’s citizens isn’t an exaggeration. Online and offshore payday lenders have been preying on citizens across the nation, charging exorbitant interest rates and late fees, even when certain states already have laws protecting their residents from such practices. Since the online lenders can operate anonymously or from a location that bars legal repercussion, they continue to volley their offers to the unsuspecting, leaving legislatures fuming and frustrated at the inability to prevent such actions.

In the senator’s three-step proposal, he hopes to tackle the issue of disclosures, loopholes, and oversight.

According to the Merkley’s press release, lack of disclosure helps online payday loan offers mask the true identity of the lenders, making it hard for both consumers and law enforcement to accurately identify who is behind the website. When these anonymous lenders’ identities are hidden, they often provide debt collectors with private consumer information. In turn, that can lead to collectors defrauding consumers into paying debts that they don’t owe.

If the senator’s legislation is passed, he hopes to close all loopholes that currently allow offshore payday lenders to operate and even garnish the wages of unsuspecting borrowers in the United States. The power offshore lenders have is so immense that some legal lenders located in the country are now trying to structure the operations to make themselves appear offshore.

Finally, the legislation hopes to hold banks to a higher standard and force them to support healthy banking practices. This is particularly important since an increasing number of traditional lending institutions are now beginning to offer payday loans, or similar variants.

In support of this three-pronged attack on the payday loan industry, Angela Martin, the executive director of the non-profit Economic Fairness Oregon, said “It’s an unfortunate truth that each time we find a way to help people on to more of their money, there’s a new tactic or scam aimed to strip them of it. This is why it is so important for us to have strong and vigilant leadership on issues of consumer protection.”

Current Leadership on Consumer Protection

The current head of consumer protection is the CFPB, a new agency that was formed under the Obama administration. Headed by Mr. Cordray, the CFPB has begun its extensive campaign against unscrupulous activity taking place throughout the entire financing industry. From mortgage and auto loans to student and payday loans, the CFPB is attempting to leave no stone unturned.

In his letter to Director Cordray, Merkley claims that over 75 percent of payday loans are originated to cover the principal of an existing payday loan. Additionally, around 12 million borrowers are caught in long-term debt from financing opportunities marketed as short-term solutions.

To stop such predatory practices, the senator hopes the CFPB will “act quickly” and “establish strong national rules to stop unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices.”

The letter was not only signed by Merkley, but also by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii).

Will the Wild West be Tamed?

While Merkley attempts to bring order to a wild and chaotic industry, his broad sweep is far too general and all-encompassing to be implemented—at least in the current, albeit early, form of this proposal.

Regulating illegal payday lenders, offshore online lenders, and atrocious interest rates are fine; few would disagree with that. But the letter addressed to the CFPB is filled with flowery language, lack of citations, and sensationalist claims. Not all lead generating sites act as shady intermediaries, selling users information on the black market. Consumers in need of short-term financing are not “likely” to find themselves worse off than if they never used a payday loan. And payday loans don’t inherently impoverish many American families (they certainly can prove to be a means to that end, but such an end is often achieved by irresponsible borrowing as well).

That being said, Merkley’s proposal is interesting, and it’s nice to see some state representatives getting behind meaningful and needed financial reform. It will be exciting to see how this proposal evolves as it readies to become actual legislation.

Authorities End Spree by Payday Loan Scammers

Scammer with phone to ear

Authorities from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a successful first-of-its-kind investigation that led to the thwarting of a multi-million dollar payday loan scam that sucked money out of U.S. citizens on threat of arrest and use of intimidation.
 
The scam performed was one put on by callers from India who obtained personal data from payday loan websites, said Steven Baker of the FTC, according to The Associated Press.  They then placed more than 20 million calls over the last two years, and demanded between $300 and $2,000 per phone call, according to an FTC press release.
 
 
California-based businesses, American Credit Crunchers LLC, and Ebeeze LLC, are allegedly involved in aiding these international callers, and has since had their accounts frozen by the FTC.
 
The FTC received upwards of 4,000 complaints about the payday loan debt-collection scam. The complaints claimed that the callers were very aggressive, threatening, and foul-mouthed, some of whom identified themselves as agents of a nonexistent government department called the Federal Department of Crime and Prevention, reported the AP.
 
JanLaree Dejulius, and employee at a Las Vegas university’s office, claimed she received a call from one particular scammer who called himself Officer Black. Black knew that one of Dejulius’ relatives took out an online payday loan, and failed to pay it back. The caller threatened Dejulius with arrest if she didn’t pay on her relative’s behalf.
 
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll pay you—whatever it takes (not to get arrested),” said Dejulius at a news conference in Chicago, according to the AP. “I consider myself savvy, but I fell for it.”
 
The 57-year-old university worker eventually forked over $763 to this scam ring.
 
Others were faced with different forms of intimidation, ranging from threats of lawsuits to threats of calling borrowers’ bosses and requesting payment from them on the borrowers’ behalf.
 
Baker advises anybody who is contacted by a debt collector to request a written notice with debt amounts and names of payday loan creditors. The FTC official told the AP that debt collectors never have the authority to arrest anyone.
 
Dejulius, who has since learned from her experience and wishes to stop others from undergoing something similar, advises victims not to give in.
 
“Call them on it,” she told the AP. “Call their bluff if you know you haven’t taken out a loan.”
 
With several thousand calls hitting U.S. citizens, such an enormous amount of international calling activity is something authorities claim they have never seen before. They attribute such activity to the fact that international phone calls are cheaper now than they ever have been before, unlocking the possibility for scammers to afford such an approach.
 
While this particular scam has been caught and stopped by the freezing of funds, authorities fear there are other scams by other groups that are currently targeting payday loan debtors.
 
“We think it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Baker told the AP.

Occupy Student Debt Seems to be a Flop

Man falling down over a hurdle

Last month, the Occupy Student Debt (OSD) campaign launched, and cause enormous vibrations in the media world. Articles and news stories erupted, some expressing support and others in opposition to the radical pledge this group was trying to fulfill.
 
What exactly was this pledge? To rally the masses of students and graduates who are in debt as a result of student loans, and collectively default on their payments.
 
According to the OSD, the nation should default on their student loans because, in their opinion, education is a right, not a privilege. Consequently, the government should fund all educational endeavors made by its citizens.
 
“I signed because not only do I have student debt, but millions of people in this country are struggling under the debt burden caused by just the want to be educated, and I believe, like the campaign, there should be a free educational path for people who would like to go from pre-K all the way to PHD,” said a New York University graduate named Susanne, featured on the front page of the OSD’s website.
 
The campaign's threats, however, were not to be made a reality until they received one million signatures on their website. Signatures could come from students, education faculty members, or non-debtors who support the movement.
 
After nearly a month and a high amount of publicity, the OSD has received 2,472 student signatures, 451 faculty signatures, and 604 non-debtors signatures, for a grand total of 3,527 signatures.
 
“Defaulting is considered a financial felony that will continue to haunt you. Student loans are not something you can easily walk away from, and defaulting is hardly the same thing as missing a credit-card payment. It really is a black mark,” explained Carl Van Horn, a Rutgers University professor, to CBS News.
 
With the OSD lacking for over 996,000 signatures, it appears the nation recognizes how awful that black mark really can be. The radical ideas of such a campaign may have proven to be too much of a risk—even for those who have stood by the Occupy Wall Street’s campaign since its start in Zuccotti Park.

More bruising for BlackBerry

April 3 - BlackBerry maker Research in Motion is being sued for patent infringement by a Dutch company. Conway G. Gittens reports

Atlanta’s first black news anchor Jocelyn Dorsey recalls making history

Over 40 years ago, Jocelyn Dorsey become the first African-American news anchor in Atlanta. Now, she is part of the Georgia Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and WSB-TV’s Director of Editorials & Public Affairs.

Recently, Dorsey gave an interview with Cox Media Group for Black History Month in which she recalled the difficult journey she went through as the first black news anchor.

“It was a very difficult time for me,” she said. “The audience had to get used to me, which was a very interesting journey.”

“They weren’t used to seeing African Americans on TV, especially behind an anchor desk,” she explained before going on to describe how one of the most unexpected controversies was over the way she wanted to style her hair.

“I decided I was gonna have an afro and they really weren’t used to seeing that and that created quite a stir. It was very controversial,” she said. “Now, people look at it and probably laugh about that but at the time people did not want to see that type of ethnicity on the air and I got a lot of backlash from it.”

Last year, as Dorsey was inducted into the Hall of Fame, members of the US House of Representatives gave her tribute as well.

“Jocelyn is a professional who shines in the spotlight, who deserves the fame and acclaim, but the reason she lasted 40 years in a tough business is because she loved the people and the institution she served.  We could feel it, and we loved her back,” said Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

 

Tagged , , , , ,

Enel trying to silence Greenpeace Italy to hide deadly coal habit

The biggest coal user in Italy is trying to silence Greenpeace Italy for telling Italians the company’s coal plant emissions kill 366 people a year — about one person every day.

This kind of attack isn’t new. Big, rich companies often try to use the courts to stop groups such as Greenpeace from revealing the health and environmental impacts of their activities.

In this case, power giant Enel has filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace Italy. It wants the court to order Greenpeace Italy to black out its website showing the impacts of its emissions.

Those impacts are huge.

An independent analysis of data determined that the air pollution from Enel’s Italian coal plants kills about 366 people a year.  Including the company’s entire European fleet brings the number of deaths to more than 1,000.

Enel is Italy’s largest carbon dioxide polluter and the fourth largest in Europe.  The company had emissions in Italy of 36.8 million tonnes (mt) of CO2 in 2011 and had total emissions in Italy and Europe of 78 mt CO2, up from 68 mt a year earlier.

Enel Italy's largest carbon dioxide polluter

Greenpeace Italy has estimated that the damages from its coal-fired emissions in Italy alone are €1.7 billion a year.

The company has presented no factual arguments whatsoever to dispute these claims. Instead, it is trying to silence Greenpeace’s science-based criticism by setting loose a team of corporate lawyers.

The calculations Greenpeace Italy has used for its campaign are based on data and methodology from the European Environment Agency, the top EU official on environment. The study looked at air pollution from all industrial facilities in Europe, including Enel’s plants.

Greenpeace Italy commissioned Dutch independent research institute SOMO to adapt the methodology of the EU agency to the thermal power plants of Enel to determine the number of deaths caused by its emissions.

The findings didn’t please Enel.

In addition to asking the court to black out the website showing the impacts of its dirty emissions, Enel wants to bring some financial pain to Greenpeace Italy. It wants the court to impose fines of 10 thousand euros for each day of non-compliance to any provision of a possible injunction.

So far it hasn’t gotten an injunction. The first day in court on this lawsuit was Tuesday, June 26, 2012. The court reserved its decision.

Greenpeace Italy’s position is that its statements are not defamation because they are based on facts that were properly checked. ENEL was even given the opportunity to check the accuracy of these calculations. And so far the company has not disputed the basic accuracy.

Greenpeace Italy’s freedom of expression should be protected and the website should remain online. Greenpeace International supports this speaking out against major polluters.

This isn’t the first time that Enel has tried to use a big hammer to silence Greenpeace Italy. Several years ago, Enel threatened to sue Greenpeace Italy and Greenpeace International for  €1.6 million in compensation for following peaceful protests at the company’s dirty energy facilities. Demanding huge sums is another way big companies try to frighten off critics.

This new request for daily fines, a website blackout, an injunction – all of this makes clear that Enel wants to stop Greenpeace Italy from speaking out, from exposing its dirty secrets. What big company wants its death statistics out there for all to see?

The truth is coal emissions kill people, whether Enel likes the message or not.

Enel trying to silence Greenpeace Italy to hide deadly coal habit

The biggest coal user in Italy is trying to silence Greenpeace Italy for telling Italians the company’s coal plant emissions kill 366 people a year — about one person every day.

 This kind of attack isn’t new. Big, rich companies often try to use the courts to stop groups such as Greenpeace from revealing the health and environmental impacts of their activities.

 In this case, power giant Enel has filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace Italy. It wants the court to order Greenpeace Italy to black out its website showing the impacts of its emissions.

Those impacts are huge.

 An independent analysis of data determined that the air pollution from Enel’s Italian coal plants kills about 366 people a year.  Including the company’s entire European fleet brings the number of deaths to more than 1,000.

 Enel is Italy’s largest carbon dioxide polluter and the fourth largest in Europe.  The company had emissions in Italy of 36.8 million tonnes (mt) of CO2 in 2011 and had total emissions in Italy and Europe of 78 mt CO2, up from 68 mt a year earlier.

Enel Italy's largest carbon dioxide polluter

 Greenpeace Italy has estimated that the damages from its coal-fired emissions in Italy alone are €1.7 billion a year.

 The company has presented no factual arguments whatsoever to dispute these claims. Instead, it is trying to silence Greenpeace’s science-based criticism by setting loose a team of corporate lawyers.

 The calculations Greenpeace Italy has used for its campaign are based on data and methodology from the European Environment Agency, the top EU official on environment. The study looked at air pollution from all industrial facilities in Europe, including Enel’s plants.

 Greenpeace Italy commissioned Dutch independent research institute SOMO to adapt the methodology of the EU agency to the thermal power plants of Enel to determine the number of deaths caused by its emissions.

 The findings didn’t please Enel.

 In addition to asking the court to black out the website showing the impacts of its dirty emissions, Enel wants to bring some financial pain to Greenpeace Italy. It wants the court to impose fines of 10 thousand euros for each day of non-compliance to any provision of a possible injunction.

 So far it hasn’t gotten an injunction. The first day in court on this lawsuit was Tuesday, June 26, 2012. The court reserved its decision.

 Greenpeace Italy’s position is that its statements are not defamation because they are based on facts that were properly checked. ENEL was even given the opportunity to check the accuracy of these calculations. And so far the company has not disputed the basic accuracy.

Greenpeace Italy’s freedom of expression should be protected and the website should remain online. Greenpeace International supports this speaking out against major polluters.

This isn’t the first time that Enel has tried to use a big hammer to silence Greenpeace Italy. Several years ago, Enel threatened to sue Greenpeace Italy and Greenpeace international for  €1.6 million in compensation for actions against the company’s dirty coal plants. Demanding huge sums is another way big companies try to frighten off critics.

 This new request for daily fines, a website blackout, an injunction – all of this makes clear that Enel wants to stop Greenpeace Italy from speaking out, from exposing its dirty secrets. What big company wants its death statistics out there for all to see?

 The truth is coal emissions kill people, whether Enel likes the message or not.

Black Hollywood

Black Hollywood In the age as today you just cannot be a racist bustard You might have to pay the price if you do

Wii U doing well in pre-orders

Nintendo’s upcoming Wii U console is doing well when it comes to pre-order numbers, according to retailer Game.

In fact, over in the US, retailers are certainly reporting a frenzy of Wii U reserving, and indeed Gamestop has actually gone as far as to close down its pre-orders for now.

Game in the UK hasn’t gone that far, but has issued a statement to Nintendo Life when the website enquired as to how Wii U pre-sales were going.

Game said: “As expected with such a highly anticipated announcement of Wii U, we’ve had lots and lots of interest. Pre-orders are exceeding expectations with the black console proving the most popular so far.”

So they are “exceeding expectations,” and the more expensive Premium black console is the most popular choice.

That isn’t surprising, given that the premium pack is only £50 more, and comes with Nintendo Land – which a lot of folks will want to buy (plus you also get 32GB of memory instead of 8GB, and other goodies including a stand for the console).

The Wii U will go on sale at the end of November, with the Premium black console priced at £310 by Game, and the white standard edition at £260 (Amazon has both at a tenner less, currently).

Tagged , , , , ,

For Now, Reality Reels In Milo Yiannopoulos

The past few days have been anything but pleasant for Milo Yiannopoulos.

During his press conference Tuesday, the right-wing provocateur announced his resignation from Breitbart News where he served as a senior tech editor for the website. This followed on the heels of him being disinvited by sponsors of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) where he was scheduled to be a featured speaker this weekend. Shortly after, publishing house Simon and Schuster’s conservative imprint Threshold Editions canceled the June publication of his book, Dangerous.

For those of you who are unaware of who Milo Yiannopoulos is or what he said, let me break it down for you. It was recently discovered that, in an interview last year, he concluded that sexual relationships between adult men and teenage boys could be “beneficial.” He did not stop there. He said that, in some cases, such sexual relations are often “hugely positive.” He was not done yet. He opined that in many cases these older men often help younger boys “discover who they are.”

Understandably, condemnation from across the political spectrum was swift. In fact, many of his fellow employees at Breitbart threatened to resign if Yiannopoulos was not terminated for his remarks. During his press conference, the alt-right flamethrower offered a quasi-apology and awkward defense of some of his commentary, blaming his current predicament for “deceptive editing” in addition to his tendency to use “imprecise language.” He went on to say that he absolutely does not support pedophilia and that he had been the victim of sexual abuse as a young child.

Well, thank goodness he believes that pedophilia is criminal and is unacceptable. Secondly, if he was, in fact, the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of perverted and unscrupulous men, this was terrible and he deserves our sympathy. That being said, then it is inconceivable to me that Yiannopoulos could harbor even the most remote belief that sexual relationships between adults and children are healthy. They are not, period!

Yiannopoulos is not the only guilty person in this sordid saga. It was widely known that he had a history of making outlandish, abrasive and offensive comments about marginalized groups of people. Yiannopoulos, a Greek-born, British-raised, half-Jewish, gay man, had no problem denouncing, denigrating and disrespecting others. In fact, he seemed to take perverse and sadistic delight in doing so.

He was all too eager to engage in the dirty work for many people on the conservative/political right as he hurled vicious and salacious attacks on immigrants, Muslims, certain Blacks (in particular Black Lives Matters), gays and lesbians (despite being openly gay himself), transgendered people, Hispanics, feminists, women in general, people with disabilities, and all those whom many on the political right and far right in particular harbor intense disdain for, view with a politically and socially jaundiced eye, and see as “the other.”

What would normally be seen as Yiannopoulos’ own disqualifications for acceptance among many people in this group was overlooked and he was given a pass. These are the people for whom racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia are very acceptable. In fact, such vices are often par for the course.

The “inclusion” afforded to Yiannopoulos was only temporary and came with strings attached. The provisions being that he genuflect to his alt-right audience and financial benefactors. That he never speak ill of true, genuine racists, anti-Semites, homophones, xenophobes, and others who revel in intolerance and that he stick it to the left by increasingly ramping up the acerbic, acid-tongue rhetoric. By pleasing his masters, he would be well compensated from right-of-center business groups to college conservative student groups to conservative political organizations. Such psychological adoration came to an abrupt halt upon the recent disturbing and sordid revelations.

Supporting Yiannopoulos was never about free speech. The organizers who pulled his invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Committee and the publishers who canceled his lucrative book deal at Threshold Books did so because they found his outlandish comments about children abhorrent and indefensible, and rightly so. However, as long as he skewered other marginalized groups, his rhetoric was tolerable. The level of hypocrisy is foul. All parties — Yiannopoulos, CPAC and Threshold Books — have egg on their faces and blood on their hands.

No one should feel too sorry for Milo Yiannopoulos. Despite whatever temporary setbacks he may face, he is very likely to rebound and land on his feet, whether as a reconstructed public figure or as a well-paid, behind-the-scenes propagandist. In our current, divisive political climate, mischief and opportunism, in particular, political mischief and opportunism often produces ample financial dividends for those who brazenly and shamelessly are willing to sell themselves to the highest bidder. If his past behavior is any indication, Milo Yiannopoulos is well suited for such a role.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A Look at the New Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012: HR4170

Piggy bank standing on college books

Last week U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke of Detroit introduced HR4170, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012. The congressman’s bill seeks to forgive student loans for borrowers who have made payments equal to 10 percent of their discretionary income for 10 years. The bill is still in its infant stages, so there is surely a long, obstacle-ridden road ahead of it, but such a proposal would have the potential to relieve education loan borrowers across the nation of a massive and crippling burden of debt.

After discipling under anti-debt financial planner Dave Ramsey, Clarke, a Democrat from Michigan recently elected to the House of Representatives in 2011, has structured his platform on the thinking that Americans should strive to live debt free.

“It’s time for Congress to stand up for the rights of student loan borrowers,” the representative said in a Congressional hearing. “It’s time to forgive these student loan debts.”

A History of Impossible Suggestions

Clarke is often criticized for being too extreme with his proposals. Before HR4170, Clarke proposed the Detroit Jobs Trust Fund bill, which seeks to rebuild Detroit and create jobs for the unemployed. While the goal behind the bill is very admirable, the practicality behind the execution of the bill is anything but.

In order to fund the Detroit Jobs Trust bill, Clarke has asked Congress to return all the last five years of federal tax dollars paid by the citizens and businesses of Detroit back to the city. Detroit could then use the estimated $10 billion to pay down its debt, develop new jobs, return old jobs, improve education, and improve the city’s infrastructure.

The Detroit Jobs Trust bill, while good-intentioned, fails to recognize the fact that there are many distressed cities in the nation. If Congress sets the precedent of returning federal tax money to one of those cities, then the others will expect similar treatment. As the national debt soars out of control, and government spending increases, the country cannot afford to return tens of billions of dollars to cities across the nation looking to correct themselves with federal aid.

Similarly, the Student Loan Forgiveness bill may carry a similar noble intention, but be plagued with an impossible plan for execution.

Debt Skyrocketing Out of Control

However, those afflicted with the curse of student loans would likely agree with the congressman’s proposal—particularly as student loan debt tips the $1 trillion benchmark and now surpasses even the outstanding national credit card debt.

Students everywhere are taking to the streets and saddling themselves with picketing signs to protest the rising cost of education and the growing problem of student loan debt.

The 99 percent have become home to radical- and ordinary-thinking students alike, and a host of websites publish the tragic stories on a daily basis of young adults who have had their finances crushed by the problem of uncontrollable student loan interest.

Some economists and experts even fear this skyrocketing debt is giving rise to yet another economic bubble. And if a bubble is forming from student loan debt, the very last thing our recovering economy needs is to suffer another explosion on par with last decade’s mortgage crisis.

If the nation’s newly educated had their debt wiped free, it may very well save us all from such a crisis—but is mass forgiveness something that’s even feasible?

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

The problem with forgiving all debt after 10 years of paying 10 percent of one’s discretionary income is that it does not relieve the debt crisis, but rather moves it around. Debt exists because money that should be present is not, and thus is borrowed. Debt doesn’t magically come to existence just to plague those without money. Rather, it’s a voluntary service we all get ourselves into willingly (except for the national debt, but that’s a different beast altogether).

If Congress approves of a mass forgiveness program, the student loan debt crisis doesn’t go away—it shifts over to the lenders. In the case of federal student loans, those lenders will be Sallie Mae and the government itself.

Sure many who are disheartened and upset with the financial industry may want exactly that—to “stick it” to the 1 percent—but before making rash decisions, it’s important to consider all possible implications.

Imagine lenders getting taxed with the $1 trillion bill. They originally lent that money so that students could essentially “purchase” a degree. But if lenders were told they would not be getting paid back, they would essentially have spent a trillion dollars on nothing: no degree, no future job, and no lifetime of increased wages.

Assuming Sallie Mae could stay in business, future generations would probably find it much harder to qualify for federal student loans—if such financing even continues to be offered. But more likely, many lenders (particularly the small guys who have long practiced good business conduct and who played no part in the recent financial crises) would cease originating federal loans since Sallie Mae would probably refuse to tolerate paying for the nation's education, and the government certainly won't be in any position to continuously take on students' debt. It would be impractical for any source to continue backing federal student loans.

There's no such thing as a free lunch, and making a simple proclamation such as, "Your debt is forgiven!" does not make debt disappear. Rather it's shifted from one source to another, and it still must be paid back some way or another.

But who knows: when riddled with debt, man will go to whatever lengths he must to remedy his situation. When in dire straits and looking for relief, sometimes the selfish idiom, “Better you than me,” starts to sound very appealing.