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betsydevoss333Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (Photo: Gage Skidomore)

In a sweeping move this week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put student loan debtors at greater risk of high-pressure collection tactics for government-backed loans, according to Bloomberg:

Obama issued a pair (PDF) of memorandums (PDF) last year requiring that the government’s Federal Student Aid office, which services $1.1 trillion in government-owned student loans, do more to help borrowers manage, or even discharge, their debt. But in a memorandum (PDF) to the department’s student aid office, DeVos formally withdrew the Obama memos.

According to the report in Bloomberg, the Obama administration had taken action through the Department of Education to protect student borrowers from predatory loan collectors:

A recent epidemic of student loan defaults and what authorities describe as systematic mistreatment of borrowers prompted the Obama administration, in its waning days, to force the FSA office to emphasize how debtors are treated, rather than maximize the amount of cash they can stump up to meet their obligations.

Obama’s team also sought to reduce the possibility that new contracts would be given to companies that mislead or otherwise harm debtors. The current round of contracts will terminate in 2019, and among three finalists for a new contract is Navient Corp. In January, state attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, along with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, sued Navient over allegations the company abused borrowers by taking shortcuts to boost its own bottom line. Navient has denied the allegations.

Bloomberg notes the reaction to the move by the Illinois attorney general: "In a statement Tuesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is suing Navient [a large student loan debt collector for the federal government], agreed: 'The Department of Education has decided it does not need to protect student loan borrowers.'"


acaphoto (Photo: Ted Eytan)

The temporarily dormant GOP House proposal to restructure the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would result in large tax breaks being provided to for-profit insurance companies. That is the conclusion of a report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive multi-issue research center in Washington, DC. An IPS news release states: 

The House Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would give health insurance companies a huge tax break on their executive compensation, encouraging them to dole out even larger pay packages to their already overpaid top managers.

The plan would re-introduce a tax loophole that allows corporations unlimited deductions for executive pay -- as long as the pay is in the form of stock options or other so-called “performance” compensation. Obamacare eliminated this loophole for health insurance companies, imposing a strict $500,000 limit on deductions for the expense of each executive’s compensation. This set an important precedent for reducing taxpayer subsidies for CEO pay.

Among key findings in the IPS report, "The CEO Pay Tax Break in the Republican Health Care Proposal," are:

  • The ACA deductibility limits generated an estimated $92 million in additional public revenue in 2015 from just these companies (Aetna, Anthem, Cigna, Humana, and UnitedHealth). On average, these corporations owed an extra $3.5 million in taxes per executive.

  • This $92 million in savings from limiting pay-related deductions for just 26 executives is the equivalent of the average annual ACA premium subsidies for 28,500 Americans.


beardenAn example of a bear den for cubs. (Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife)

An Associated Press (AP) article verifies that the federal government will no longer be able to prohibit the hunting of previously protected "predator" animals, such as wolves and grizzly bears, on federal reserves in Alaska. This effectively gives hunters permission to kill newborn animals asleep in their dens. The AP reports:

The state of Alaska's toolkit for increasing moose and caribou numbers includes killing wolf pups in dens, shooting wolf packs from helicopters, and adopting liberal hunting regulations that allow sportsmen to shoot grizzlies over bait.

But when state officials wanted to extend "predator control" to federal wildlife refuges, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said no. And after years of saying no, the agency late last year adopted a rule to make the denial permanent.

Alaska's elected officials called that an outrage and an infringement on state rights. The dispute reached the White House.

President Donald Trump on Monday [April 3] signed a resolution approved by the U.S. House and Senate to revoke a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule banning most predator control on Alaska refuges.

According to the Alaska Daily News, Alaska still has some predator hunting controls, but the state will no longer be under a federal mandate to promulgate them. 


airforceone (Photo: gregde)

 Public Citizen, a progressive national citizens' advocacy group, recently issued a news release that noted:

President Donald Trump [is meeting now] with China's president, Xi Jinping, at Trump's Mar-a-Lago. Trump has made five trips to Mar-a-Lago, totaling 17 days, since taking office in January. At an estimated $3 million per visit, Trump already has racked up at least $15 million in taxpayer expenses in three months alone. If he continues at this rate, Trump will spend $60 million in taxpayer money on Mar-a-Lago trips in just his first year in office. In contrast, President Barack Obama's travel was estimated at $85 million-$96 million over eight years....

Enhanced security requirements for this visit with the Chinese president undoubtedly are adding to the total [of the Mar-a-Lago visit]....

Trump harshly criticized President Barack Obama for the costs associated with his vacations, but it's obvious that Trump's vacations will vastly exceed what Obama spent. Trump could use Camp David instead, saving taxpayers.

The approximately $3 million cost per trip to Mar-a-Lago was confirmed by a February article in Politico.


trumpworkplace(Photo: DonkeyHotey)

Women and LGBTQI employees of federal contractors will become more vulnerable under the revocation of an Obama-era regulation that provides them with more protections in the workplace. Mother Jones reported on the lamentable irony Trump revoked "parental leave and sexual harassment protections the week before Equal Pay Day," along with other rollbacks of workplace equity and justice:

[The Obama order] required companies with federal contracts to heed 14 different labor and civil rights laws, including ones aimed at protecting parental leave, weeding out discrimination against women and minorities, and ensuring equal pay for women and fair processes surrounding workplace sexual harassment allegations.

Last week, Trump revoked this order, leaving workers at thousands of companies [with federal contracts] much more vulnerable to a host of abuses from their employers -- and undoing protections meant to create more equitable workplaces for women.

GOOD reported that Trump's action will significantly weaken the workplace rights of LGBTQIA workers.


lie (Photo: Kathleen Conklin)

An April 4 email from the Courage Campaign -- a California-based grassroots organization -- warns that voter suppression by Republican state legislators is still going strong:

Republicans have ramped up voter suppression tactics around the country. In Wisconsin, local officials gave false information to voters. In Arizona and Mississippi, cuts in voting hours and locations resulted in voters waiting for hours in lines before casting their votes on election day. And stringent voter ID laws in six states around the country may have deterred hundreds of thousands of voters from turning out in 2016.

What's worse is that Republicans are openly gloating that their voter suppression strategies work -- especially those designed to prevent Black Americans from voting.

Our nation was founded on the belief that the government derives its power from the people. But voter suppression laws send a loud and clear message to marginalized citizens: your voice doesn't matter. When people feel their vote doesn't matter, they lose faith in the democratic process and stop showing up. This is why it's imperative that we stop Trump's voter fraud lies from creating more harmful voter suppression policies.

It's a marked contrast, the Courage Campaign notes, to Trump's repeated claim that there was rampant voter fraud in the presidential election. "His lie would almost be funny if it weren't so dangerous," the Campaign states.


peacefulprotest (Photo: Jackman Chiu)

Earlier this month, two protesters received three-day jail sentences for conducting a sit-in at Jeff Sessions' office on January 10, during the attorney general's confirmation hearing. The activists are members of Democracy Spring, a grassroots organization that focuses on democracy and political equality. A recent email from Democracy Spring states:

Kai Newkirk and Tania Maduro plead guilty to one count of unlawful entry.... The two were part of an eight-person peaceful protest calling on Sessions to withdraw his nomination for the position of Attorney General. This was the same Senate Confirmation hearing where then Sen. Sessions lied under oath to Sen. Al Franken, saying he "did not have communications with the Russians."

Newkirk, who served his jail time, noted in an email that it's ironic that his actions, which harmed no one, are the ones being punished:

This sentence serves as a very small reminder of the urgency of this moment of crisis for our democracy and our nation. Jeff Sessions perjured himself, lying under oath about a matter as profoundly important as the apparent interference into our election by an authoritarian foreign government. Yet he remains in the position of our nation's chief law enforcement officer, while peaceful action to defend our democracy is met with arrest and jail time. The integrity of the law has been undermined. Sessions should resign and be charged with perjury.

A video of the January 10 protest can be found on Facebook.



32730324780 36f77b1ce2 z(Photo: Ted Eytan )

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A Morning Consult/Politico poll released on March 29 indicates that most Americans want the Republicans to move on from their multiyear obsession with repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act; 51 percent of those surveyed want to end the legislative efforts to overturn the health care law while only 37 percent want the political battle in DC to continue:

After the GOP spent seven years railing against the Affordable Care Act but failed to pass an overhaul to the law last week, most voters want them to stop trying -- except the party base.

However, the exception of the Republican "party base" can still play a role in reviving the effort to dismantle Obamacare. That is because "Among Republicans, 62 percent of registered voters want reform efforts to continue, versus just 30 percent who think lawmakers should stop." Given that the Republicans control Congress and there are three major GOP factions in the House of Representatives -- conservatives, Tea Party members and GOP party-line voters -- it is likely that the jostling over repealing the Affordable Care Act will continue. Morning Consult sums it up: "After the GOP spent seven years railing against the Affordable Care Act but failed to pass an overhaul to the law last week, most voters want them to stop trying -- except the party base."


31985903113 b5bd1b6cf1 z(Photo: Laurie Shaull)

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Karen Dolan and Peter Certo of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) recently wrote a commentary contending that pundits and advocates are justified in calling for Jeff Sessions to step down as attorney general. Many are basing their clamor for Sessions' resignation on the revelation that he perjured himself before Congress by failing to divulge information about his previous meetings with a Russian ambassador.

However, Dolan and Certo are careful to point out that Sessions should have never been confirmed in the first place. Just take a look at his record prior to assuming office in the Department of Justice.

Sessions was barred from a federal judgeship in the 1980s due to concern about his racist attitudes. Dolan and Certo write:

As a senator, he voted to undermine the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and racked up a 20-plus year track record of opposing LGBTQ rights. He even voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and opposed adding crimes against gay people to the list of hate crimes.

Unsurprisingly, Sessions has a miserable 7 percent rating from the NAACP on affirmative action, and scores just 20 percent from the ACLU with regard to upholding civil rights.

Furthermore, he's wasted no time since becoming attorney general in putting as many brakes on the civil rights of Americans as he could in just a few weeks. He's got it out for everyone from people of color to transgender people.


deportationsstop32(Photo: GGAADD)

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An article in the Guardian US today describes the importance of the work that undocumented people do in the restaurant and food hospitality industry. Using Charlotte, North Carolina as an example, the Guardian US provides evidence that many people who are undocumented are performing critical work that is essential to the country's food supply, preparation and service:

There are about 7,000 undocumented people in Charlotte’s county estimated to be working in hospitality, such as restaurants, bars and hotels, according to the Migration Policy Institute [MIP]. (The national figure is around 1.3 million.) This suggests roughly one in ten people working in hospitality positions across the city are likely undocumented, according to 2014 American Community Survey data. And that’s not to mention the people who work in the city’s food supply chain: the state’s farms and fields employ another estimated 17,000 undocumented people, according to MIP.

It’s not impossible that restaurant food in a city like Charlotte could have involved an undocumented worker at every stage – from field, to truck, to processing facility, to distribution centre, to kitchen, to the waiter placing down a plate.

This phenomenon obviously extends far beyond Charlotte.

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