TBR News October 16, 2019

Oct 16 2019

The Voice of the White House Washington, D.C. October 16, 2019:

“Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.

When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.

I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.

He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.

He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.

It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not the place to discuss it.

Commentary for October 16:”Because of his erratic actions in the Mid-East, Trump and Trump alone is dragging the entire area into a chaos that will affect everyone on the planet. Seeing a wonderful opportunity, Putin moved into the uproar. It’s a pity the United States does not have a leader who leads his country as effectively as Putin leads his. Now Putin is moving south, into rich oil country, and gaining access to the Indian Ocean, an area the US does not want him interfering in. Diego Garcia is an important military base and when, not if, Putin sets up his new naval base on the Indian Ocean, he will be in a strong position vis-à-vis making useful observations of a once-secret military base.”


The Table of Contents

More government-approved ripoffs from poor Americans

  • Struggling Americans are haunted by zombie debt. Will you be next?
  • The Should-Be Solution to the Student-Debt Problem
  • Trump impeachment inquiry gathers pace as more officials testify
  • Trump sanctions fail to slow Turkey assault; Syrian troops move on Manbij
  • Russian and Iranian Mutual Assistance Treaty
  • An Open Letter on Zionism
  • The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations
  • Encyclopedia of American Loons


More government-approved ripoffs from poor Americans


Struggling Americans are haunted by zombie debt. Will you be next?

Tens of thousands of Americans have received demands to repay alleged overpayments of government benefits – often decades old – plunging them into a Kafkaesque struggle against a faceless bureaucracy

October 15, 2019

by Virginia Eubanks

The Guardian

This is what happens when the government targets you for zombie debt collection.

You receive a letter from your state’s department of human services claiming that you were “overissued” $4,132 in food stamp and cash benefits in the 1980s. Enclosed is a copy of the original overpayment notice they say they sent you when you were still listening to Madonna and Bobby Brown.

You don’t remember ever seeing it before.

The letter informs you that, since you didn’t respond immediately three decades ago, your 90-day window to request a fair hearing and contest the overpayment has closed. You now have a debt, and it’s past due.

The state threatens to refer this debt to the United States Department of Treasury, which has the power to withhold your federal tax return, your earned income tax credit, a portion of your military retirement pay – even your social security disability check. You are barely making ends meet, so the financial loss might mean doing without meals, a utilities shutoff, or skimping on medication.

If they can’t get the money from you, they will withhold your adult children’s tax returns. You read this correctly: the federal government will take your children’s money to resolve a 30-year-old alleged public benefits overpayment.

You have few options if you want to avoid this: you can pay the whole balance immediately, set up a monthly payment plan, or request an administrative review. But the process is impossibly Kafkaesque: you have to send evidence that you don’t owe the debt, so you’ll need to find three-decade-old pay stubs and household expense receipts. And who can do that?

If you’re lucky, you’ll eventually argue your case in front of an administrative law judge. But she’ll work for the very agency that sent you the letter.

have no right to free legal representation, so if you can’t find a legal aid or pro bono lawyer, you’re entirely on your own.

With quiet but devastating regularity, zombie debt notices are arriving at the homes of tens of thousands across the US – courtesy of the government and with the assistance of heavyweight tech companies. The Guardian can reveal that predatory policy changes, turbocharged by digital innovations, are producing a wave of aggressive debt collection that stretches back decades and targets the nation’s most vulnerable.

  • ••

Last year, Team 3335 found out about government zombie debt first-hand. The family calls themselves “Team 3335” because that’s the address of the brick-faced single-family home in Steger, Illinois, that shelters three generations: 50-year-old Star Kaminski, her three children and the family’s matriarch, 72-year-old Dreama Richardson.

When Dreama began to need more help with day-to-day chores, she and her daughter bought this modest place together, not far away from the public middle school where Star works as a librarian. It’s a little crowded, but Star sees that as a gift, not a sacrifice. She likes her family near; they meet life’s joys and challenges together.

Before the letter came, they were doing pretty well.

Then, last September, the Illinois department of human services, or IDHS, sent Dreama a letter claiming she had been overpaid $2,500 in cash assistance and $1,632 in food stamp benefits over a period of 10 months – in 1988 and 1989.

The agency alleged that Dreama failed to report teenaged Star’s income from a part-time job at Taco Bell, which pushed the household’s income over the earning cap for public assistance, making them ineligible.

Every 10 years or so since then, Dreama lost a tax return to service the “debt”, but she hadn’t heard from IDHS since 2007. Now, the state was looking to recoup the final $1,323 they said the family owed.

The household had 60 days to pay up, or they would withhold a portion of Dreama’s social security check – her only source of income – until the alleged overpayment was satisfied.

There was, however, a problem: in 1988 and 1989, Star wasn’t living with her mom or contributing financially to her household.

The “overpayment” was miscalculated. It was never a legitimate debt.

  • ••

In the private market, a zombie debt is a debt that is past its statute of limitations, not owed, paid in full, or otherwise contested, yet which has found its way into the hands of a collection agency intent on pursuing payment by any means necessary.

Those agencies are known to harass, threaten and trick consumers into paying out-of-date private debts, which they buy for pennies on the dollar. In 1977, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was passed to protect people against the aggressive tactics collection agencies use – calling at all hours, contacting employers, deception, publishing debtors’ names – and to require that creditors prove that a debt is actually owed.

Unfortunately for Team 3335, the “overpayment” they’re battling is government debt; they enjoy none of these protections. If private zombie debt is surprisingly easy to kill – asking a collection agency for proof the debt exists can often make it vanish forever – government zombie debt is just the opposite, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the most difficult times in people’s lives, over and over again.

  • ••

When Dreama received the letter in September 2018, she almost agreed to pay. In her 70s, beginning to suffer from memory problems, and on a fixed income, the notice frightened and confused her. “I didn’t understand,” she told me. “They explained it to me, but I still didn’t understand. How do you argue with the government? How do you prove something from 30 years ago?”

Written in her spidery handwriting in the margins of the September 2018 invoice for $1,323.18 is a repayment plan suggested by an IDHS representative: “Due 15th of month,” it reads, “$25.00.”

Before she wrote her first check, one of Star’s daughters found a handful of articles written by Mark Brown for the Chicago Sun-Times describing other women in their 70s and 80s receiving notices about long-overdue public assistance overpayments. Star contacted a Chicago not-for-profit that agreed to provide the family free legal aid. With their support, Dreama filed an appeal against the 1989 household composition error that created the overpayment “debt”.

Dreama’s attorney submitted a number of documents supporting her case, including a signed affidavit from Star’s ex-husband attesting that she was not living with her mother when she was working for Taco Bell. The Illinois department of human services sent a casework manager to testify, but submitted no evidence.

The hearing officer found for the state.

Hearing officer Sheila King wrote in her decision that because Team 3335 filed their challenge more than 90 days after the “mailing of the first notice of the department’s action” back in 1989, “the Bureau of Hearings does not have jurisdiction”. She dismissed the appeal, allowing federal debt collection to move forward.

If Dreama paid for a vacation with a credit card and then refused to pay, the credit card company would have to sue in order to collect. They would have to serve her with a summons and provide proof that she had received it – they couldn’t just mail a notice and assume it found its way into her hands. She could demand proof that the debt actually existed and ask to see a record of any payments already made. In Illinois, the credit card company would have 10 years to file a lawsuit to collect the debt, one of the longest statutes of limitations in the country.

None of these protections applies to Dreama’s alleged public benefits overpayment. There is no proof she ever received the 1989 notice. The state offered no evidence that her “debt” was correctly calculated. They insist they can go on trying to collect it forever.

To Star, it feels less like lawful debt collection and more like intimidation. “You don’t have the means to defend yourself,” she said. “They’re big bullies.”

It is unclear if a legal mechanism for garnishing Dreama’s social security checks actually exists. But Team 3335 is still nervous. “We worry about how mom is going to do without her money,” says Star. “If she wasn’t living with me, I don’t know where she’d be. Without one of us, the whole deck of cards falls.”

“It’s robbery,” she says, “from our most vulnerable people – our seniors. And it’s just not right.”

  • ••

Team 3335 is not alone. According to data obtained from the Illinois department of human services through an open records request, the agency sends out an average of 23,000 of these pre-offset notices every year.

Though the department denied in 2016 that there’s been any recent push to collect old debts, attempts to recoup are clearly increasing. In 2010, IDHS sent out 7,669 notices that they were referring overpayments to Treasury. In 2017, they sent 32,881.

Back in 1996, sweeping changes to the public assistance system shifted how the government views administrative error. Two new acts included provisions that redefined overpayments of any kind – whether due to agency mistakes, client error or fraudulent misrepresentation – as debt.

The acts expanded state agencies’ power to collect overpayments from future benefits, unemployment compensation and federal pay, pensions or income tax refunds. They also created new collection programs, including the Treasury Offset Program, or Top.

The process got a boost when, in the summer of 2008, the Farm Bill lifted the 10-year limit on collecting overpayments. That year, Top collected $3.3bn in federal non-tax debts, more than three and a half times the amount they collected a decade earlier.

And then, in December 2010, the Claims Resolution Act passed. This historic piece of legislation settled an unresolved court case in favor of 75,000 black farmers unjustly denied agricultural loans in the 1980s and 1990s. Ironically, tucked into its 801st section was a provision to increase the “collection of past-due, legally enforceable state debts”. It quietly expanded which debts could be referred to Treasury, from only those due to fraud to those resulting from unintentional errors.

At the same time, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 required states to consolidate and modernize their public assistance eligibility processes into streamlined, integrated digital systems.

The next year, in 2011, attempts by the Illinois department of human services to recoup overpayments rose by 475%. Over the next two years, collections soared. The addition of unemployment to the Top program in 2012 increased returns by $34.9m.

Then, in the same year, Illinois signed what would eventually be a $288m contract with the accounting and risk-management firm Deloitte to replace an older automated intake system with the Integrated Eligibility System (IES).

IES provides automated eligibility determinations for Medicaid, Snap and cash assistance. When the digital system processes claims, it searches various government and private data sources to verify income, household composition and other eligibility information, allowing the state to identify discrepancies that may be interpreted as overpayments. The state’s own auditors found in 2017 that IDHS “did not have appropriate controls” over IES: the system wasn’t following established policy, the agency couldn’t locate case files and other necessary documentation, 10-13% of eligibility redeterminations were overdue, and error-prone calculations were resulting in improper payments.

And yet, in 2013, Top collected $46.4m in Snap and unemployment debt for the state of Illinois.

  • ••

So how do the tens of thousands of people Illinois department of human services accuses of receiving overpayments every year respond? Some, like 75-year-old Tim Pegues, do everything in their power to pay, even if it means skipping meals to try to make good on a debt created by the government’s mistake.

Pegues went through a rough patch in the early 2000s after a relationship disintegrated. He ended up unhoused. By the time his eldest daughter found him in Indiana, he had walking pneumonia. Back in Chicago and in the hospital, a social worker helped him apply for cash assistance and food stamps, which stabilized his life. “I was doing good,” he told me in July 2019. “I got a chance to get back on my feet. I got a roof over my head. I’m being a man. That’s when I got the letter.”

We sat together on red couches in the basement of his small, cheerful house on the South Side of Chicago. Pegues was relaxing under a poster featuring Malcolm X, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela shooting pool. Despite a significant disability – due to a childhood injury, one of his legs is two and a half inches shorter than the other – Pegues worked for 30 years as a truck driver and raised four children.

On 28 March 2003, he received a letter from IDHS warning he owed the agency a $7,866 overpayment. They openly admitted that the overpayment was their error. “The agency inadvertently issued you cash benefits you were not eligible to received [sic],” the letter said. Nevertheless, it was Pegues’s responsibility to pay up. If he did not, they threatened to refer his debt to a private collection agency or withhold his tax return.

In a panic, Pegues called and set up a payment plan: $5 on the 25th of every month. At that rate, it would take him 131 years to clear the debt. Even this modest payment was a significant loss for him. “A lot of people don’t think $5 is a lot of money,” he said. “But if you don’t have it, it’s like a million dollars. It could be a meal: a can of pork and beans, a loaf of bread.”

He wrote the check every month for the next 16 years.

Then, he saw Mark Brown’s articles in the Chicago Sun-Times and came to the same conclusion as Star and her family: he wasn’t alone. “Come to find out that there’s maybe hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “Sounds like somebody got their hand in the cookie jar.” An email from Brown to IDHS triggered a review of Pegues’s case at the agency, and a few days later, he received a letter from the Bureau of Collections thanking him for his $5 payment in March 2018 and informing him that it was too late to appeal against the overpayment decision.

“Your only recourse,” the letter read, underlining the point for emphasis, “is to provide us with documentation to substantiate that your claims are not past due and/or legally enforceable or present your case to the circuit court.”

The letter concluded with a line Pegues interpreted as a veiled threat: “We will continue to accept your monthly payments. However, the agency will not accept your $5.00 payments as an official payment plan.” He was asked to call the office to “establish a repayment plan which will fit your financial situation” in order to avoid “future involuntary withholds as well as other collection action by the department of human services”. He called a lawyer instead.

With the attorney’s support, Pegues decided to stop paying the overpayment bill. He wrote his last check in June 2019. “The debt is still here,” he told me a few weeks later. “This’ll be the first month I don’t give them a dime.” I asked him how it felt to not write the check. “Good,” he said. “But I’ve been worried if they try to take my house away from me. I’m taking a chance, gambling. There’s a possibility that I could lose everything. It would be a shame for something I didn’t do.”

This is what puzzles Pegues most – why is he being held responsible for paying back an overpayment that the state admits is their fault? “The thing that I find is funny is that they told me what I was getting,” he said. “I didn’t pick it.” He had to be recertified as eligible to continue receiving benefits every six months. Each time the agency evaluated his case, they continued granting him benefits. “They kept on re-evaluating me, but they kept sending me money. Then I got that letter that I owe them $7,500.”

“You’re just barely swimming, and they put more water on you. And then they hand you a weight. It’s devastating. I’m 75, about to be 76, and the fights I’ve had wore me down. I’m tired. They keep saying you’re in the golden years, but I ain’t found no gold.”

  • ••

It’s hard for a reasonable person to see the point in a government agency harassing an elderly man for $5 a month. After the cost of billing and postage, appeals and case management, Illinois is losing money collecting from people like Pegues. That’s why state and federal governments are looking to new economies of scale offered by advances in predictive analytics.

Technology companies – including industry heavyweights such as IBM, Oracle and Lexis Nexis – promise to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to change the fraud detection paradigm. In general, safety net programs operate on a “pay and audit” system, releasing benefits and then ferreting out the ineligible or dishonest with frequent interviews and recertifications.

The new systems promise instead to predict fraud before payment occurs.

For example, Pondera Solutions, a company based in Fulton, California, says it can search massive public and private databases, comb through social media and use proprietary (and secret) predictive models to rank every single applicant to a government program “based on their risk for fraud”.

In Illinois, increases in government zombie debt recoupment follow technological shifts as well as policy changes. After the 2013 peak in collections, returns declined: Top collected $133.3m that year, but only $101.2m in 2017. But collections began to increase again in 2018, after IDHS rolled out a major technology enhancement to the Integrated Eligibility System in October 2017.

For applicants, the upgrade has been plagued with problems. Tens of thousands of families didn’t receive their Snap benefits during that holiday season. By June 2018, the system had a backlog of 15,000 nursing home residents waiting for Medicaid eligibility decisions.

While digital eligibility is a nightmare for public assistance applicants, it has been great at chasing down dormant debts.

  • ••

Andrew Dorliae, 44, lives in north-west Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in a neighborhood full of window tinting shops and Mexican restaurants. On his door is a sign that reads: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”

Before starting a home tax preparation business, Dorliae, a Liberian immigrant, was employed by Whirlpool Corporation, working his way up from assembler on a production line making refrigerators to inspector first class. In 2017, he took a $5-an-hour pay cut, from $21.43 to $17.40, to secure a weekend shift – 5am to 5pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday – that allowed him to be at home with his children at night and to go to school during the week.

But in early 2018, Whirlpool closed the weekend shift. The company offered him a five-day-a-week overnight shift instead: midnight to 7am, Monday through Friday. Dorliae told his employer of more than six years that there was no way he could fill this shift: his wife also worked overnights and his daughter had a health condition requiring night-time care.

In March, he received notice from Whirlpool: he had been terminated. He applied for unemployment insurance benefits with Iowa workforce development (IWD) on 5 April, was found eligible, and received $490 each week in May. Then, Whirlpool challenged Dorliae’s initial unemployment eligibility, contesting their responsibility to pay a portion of his benefits. On 11 June, IWD conducted a fact-finding investigation that reversed the earlier eligibility decision, finding that Dorliae voluntarily left Whirlpool “without good cause attributable to the employer”.

In an instant, Dorliae was found ineligible for benefits he had already received.

In the end, Dorliae won his battle with Iowa workforce development and his “debt” was not referred to Treasury. “I appealed every decision they made,” he told me, gesturing towards an inch-high stack of correspondence sitting on the desk in his tiny home office, a meticulous record of his battle with the agency.

He firmly denies that he quit his job at Whirlpool. “They offered me a shift which I could not do,” he said. “I didn’t quit. My job let me down after all these years. You must survive until you get back on your feet. That’s what unemployment is for.”

Dorliae understands IWD’s need to investigate applicants and pursue those who might take advantage of the system. But he is puzzled why the burden of proof that they do not owe Iowa an overpayment debt should fall entirely on applicants, who have no right to free legal representation and must navigate a confusing appeal system alone

“I applied for unemployment. You give it to me,” he explained. “Then, after the fact-finding, you tell me I owe. It doesn’t seem fair.” Giving back money you’ve already spent can be impossible for families with few financial reserves. Many low-income families plan their whole financial year around a tax refund. Losing it means not being able to fix the used car that gets you to work, no investment in education for the kids, not fixing the leaky roof or broken hot water heater. It is as if the agency is trying to take food back out of your children’s mouths, or, as Dorliae put it: “You owe what you have eaten.”

Reflecting on his experience, Dorliae said, “America is a good place. There is justice here.” But when I asked him if he would apply for unemployment again, he balked. “When they [investigate] you, you feel fear. It becomes very intimidating … I would be hesitant,” he said. “It is so demeaning.”

Despite Dorliae’s faith in the process, these are extraordinarily complex proceedings. His case was actually four cases occurring simultaneously. Dorliae had to keep track of each administrative law proceeding; meet deadlines for timely appeal; provide evidence of school schedules, commute times, medical conditions and communication with his employer; and attend near-constant telephone hearings. All for unemployment benefits totaling less than $3,000.

Dorliae is a paradigmatic tax professional: organized, detail-oriented, smart and confident in his ability to navigate mazes of legal and bureaucratic red tape. He did everything right, and he prevailed. But he is the exception and not the rule. Others I spoke to, like Kevin Christopherson of St Donatus, grew so frustrated and fearful that they just gave up.

Like Dorliae, Christopherson originally received unemployment benefits. An initial fact-finding confirmed his eligibility. Then his employer appealed and IWD reversed the eligibility decision. To Christopherson, launching another appeal seemed like an insurmountable hurdle. “It just seemed like they were all against me,” he told me in July 2019. “My mental state was really eating away at me. So I just forget about it.” Now he owes the state an “overpayment” of $2,275.

According to information gathered through an open records request, Iowa workforce development is currently using software provided by Lexis Nexis and Pondera to identify and pursue debts like Kevin Christopherson’s. For example, in late 2018, IWD ran the Pondera software to identify potential overpayments, and in October and November, sent out 20,000 “intent to offset” notices threatening to turn the debt over to Treasury for collection. Troublingly, in its contract with Iowa workforce development, Pondera characterizes “improper payments”, like Christopherson’s , as fraud.

The license for the Pondera software costs the Iowa workforce development $697,833.33 a year. Pondera also has claimed sizeable contracts in California, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, and reported in 2016 that it had doubled its revenues several years in a row.

  • ••

Andrew Dorliae fought the system and won. But was it a fair fight? Think of Team 3335. Imagine Dreama without her daughter’s help. Even with Star and an attorney in her corner, the possibility of Dreama’s social security check being garnished still looms. And what about Tim, who fears that any day they could come for his home?

For poor and working-class families, the financial burden of government zombie debt is potentially life-shattering. “If we want to stop evictions, we need to start paying attention to debt recoupment,” Alex Kornya, litigation director and general counsel at Iowa Legal Aid, told me. “The types of debts that tend to be the cause of evictions – perhaps more often than private consumer debts – are government debts, because the government can do more to you. They can cut more deeply into the reserves that you have to have to be self-sufficient.”

Representatives from the Department of Treasury and Iowa workforce development insist that the decision to enforce delinquent debt collection is a statutory mandate. “Once an agency certifies a debt,” a spokesperson from the Department of Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service wrote in an 11 October email, “the Fiscal Service is required by law to collect it.” Nicholas Olivencia, legal council for Iowa workforce development, wrote that “IWD, as well as every state, is required under Federal law to participate and enforce the Treasury Offset Program”. The Illinois department of human services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But agencies have more options than Olivencia suggests. The federal rules allow them to waive offset collection where it would cause economic distress. In fact, New Hampshire has done just this – in 2013, the state added a procedure to their administrative code so that individuals can request forbearance if a proposed tax refund offset will cause extreme financial hardship.

This option is open to all the states. “An individual may contact the agency if they believe the debt collection activity will cause financial hardship,” the Fiscal Service spokesperson wrote. “The agency may be able to compromise the debt or reduce the amount that can be offset.” But neither IDHS nor IWD has chosen to create policy that would allow forbearance or inform the public that the option exists. “[The agencies] made a conscious policy decision not to create a hardship waiver,” says Alex Kornya.

Perhaps it is hyperbolic to call the process of turning overpayments into debts extortion. And yet, the processes show disquieting parallels. As historian Joseph Bonica points out, the defining characteristic of extortion is the fear it produces, a terror so intense that victims feel compelled to give money “in exchange for emotional relief”. As he notes, this kind of rule by fear is simply despotism.

The fear that predatory debt collection produces is especially acute when the creditor is the government. It’s easy to feel like there is no remedy, no refuge, no neutral third party to whom you can appeal. That fear is amplified when your accuser is faceless and invisible, a few lines of computer code or a robot voice on the phone. Government zombie debt shifts responsibility for correcting systemic administrative incompetence on to the shoulders of our country’s most vulnerable people.

A people who feel preyed upon by government will not trust government. Those burned by predatory government debt collection will hesitate to use public services again, even when they are eligible and need agency resources to stay safe and healthy. This is not a negligible revenue gain; it is a debt we are accruing against our greatest national wealth, our people. And it is fast compounding interest.


The Should-Be Solution to the Student-Debt Problem

Income-driven repayment programs cover eight million borrowers, but they could be helping more if they were simpler and reached the people who needed them.

October 13, 2019

by Tara Siegel Bernard

New York Times

With more than 7.5 million student loan borrowers in default and nearly 2 million others seriously behind on their payments, there’s little question that the handful of federal programs designed to help struggling borrowers pay what they can afford aren’t working for everyone.

The idea is simple: Borrowers make payments based on how much money they earn. But these so-called income-driven repayment plans are mind-numbingly complicated. There are four different versions to sort through, all with slightly different rules. They can be tricky to get into and easy to fall out of, yet they’re becoming increasingly essential.

Enrollment in income-driven plans has grown to eight million, a more than fourfold increase from 2013, making it a crucial coping mechanism for a broad population of borrowers. But many of them carry higher balances, suggesting they pursued advanced degrees — an indication that the most at-risk borrowers, who often carry less debt, are not finding their way in.

“There was a narrative that this was going to, if not solve, significantly reduce, the problem around defaults on student loans,” said Mark Huelsman, associate director of policy and research at Demos, a public policy organization. “But we haven’t seen that happen.”

Haley Garberg, a newly married 33-year-old physical education teacher, has been in various repayment plans for nearly a decade. Her first job after graduating in 2008 paid $22,000 annually — a salary that didn’t come close to covering her living expenses and a $700 monthly loan payment. With her parents’ help, she made those payments for a couple of years. But she eventually called her loan servicer and managed to get into a plan that saved her nearly $200 a month — enough wiggle room to afford internet service.

Still, Ms. Garberg was living close to the edge. She moved back with her parents in 2013 to build up her savings as she also dealt with a rare breathing condition that required three surgeries over the following year. A $3,000 insurance deductible meant she had to take out a personal loan to pay her share of the bills, and when she couldn’t afford her inhalers, at roughly $300 to $400 a month, she would do without them. She switched plans again in 2014, and pursued a master’s degree in hopes of boosting her earning power.

“Income-driven repayment doesn’t care that you have 18 bills to pay,” she said.

First instituted 25 years ago, income-dependent repayment was expanded during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. It also grew more complicated. Borrowers must sort through an alphabet soup of income-driven repayment plans: I.C.R., I.B.R. (which comes in two flavors, new and classic), PAYE and REPAYE.

Monthly payments are often calculated as 10 to 15 percent of discretionary income, but one plan costs 20 percent. Discretionary income is defined as the amount earned above 150 percent of the poverty level, which is adjusted for household size. For a single person, the federal poverty level is typically $12,490, so single borrowers generally pay 10 percent of what they earn above $18,735. (After 20 years — sometimes 25 — any remaining debt is forgiven. So far, about 20 borrowers have remained enrolled long enough for that to happen, according to the Education Department.)

But the payment calculation is the same for all borrowers, and doesn’t account for local variations in cost of living. And, as Ms. Garberg discovered, it also doesn’t consider borrowers’ other costs.

“The assumption that nobody should be defaulting because we have I.D.R. is making the false conclusion that I.D.R. is affordable,” said Colleen Campbell, director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning research and policy group. Some borrowers with low incomes and low balances often don’t receive any relief because of a quirk in the formula, she said.

Once borrowers are in a program, it can be necessary they stay there: Interest still accrues on many of the loans, meaning those who make zero or low payments for many years can fall deeper in debt. To exit the program could mean jumping up to a higher payment than they had faced before enrolling.

There’s also the psychological toll of watching your debt increase — all while you’re trying to pay it down — that often goes unacknowledged.

“The name of the game is to get out of it as soon as possible,” said Natalia Abrams, executive director of the Student Debt Crisis, an advocacy group. “It’s pretty insidious.”

And experts believe the programs are not reaching the most vulnerable borrowers who could benefit the most.

Those in default don’t look like your stereotypical college student, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. Defaulters tended to be older, nearly half never finished college and their median cumulative student debt held was rather low, at $9,625.

Those enrolled in income-driven plans, however, have much higher balances: an average of $58,000 to $68,000, depending on repayment plan and loan portfolio, according to an estimate from Demos, the public policy organization. That suggests many enrollees may have finished four years of college and worked toward advanced degrees.

Many of the most vulnerable borrowers are probably unaware the income-driven plans programs exist, academics and other experts said, while others may have gotten bad advice.

An audit released by the Education Department in February found that the private companies it hires to service student loans failed to inform borrowers of their repayment options — and may have directed them to less attractive alternatives like forbearance, which allows borrowers to temporarily suspend payments. Another government report delivered similar findings last year, and five attorneys general have sued one of the largest loan servicers for, among other things, failing to guide borrowers into income-driven plans.

Even the repayment calculator provided by the Department of Education has been criticized by student borrower advocates who say it could scare away those who don’t read the fine print. It assumes the borrower’s income will grow 5 percent annually — roughly double the recent historical average — which can make the total cost of repayment look unrealistically high.

Borrower advocates have pushed for changes that would give borrowers more discretionary income and restrain the growth of unpaid interest. They have also suggested automatically enrolling severely delinquent borrowers in income-based plans and streamlining the process to recertify every year, so that borrowers don’t accidentally fall out.

There is broad agreement on making recertification simpler, because those who fall out face higher payments. In 2017, the government proposed easing the process by giving the Education Department permission to access borrowers’ tax information from the Treasury Department, which would save borrowers the hassle of resubmitting their income and other information every year.

There have also been government efforts to make the entire loan repayment process easier, which includes applying to these relief programs. The Education Department has long sought to create a one-stop portal for borrowers, but the loan-servicing industry has resisted.

There have been a variety of proposals to streamline the plans, including in the Trump Administration’s most recent budget, which called for a single income-driven repayment program that could make forgiveness easier to reach for some borrowers while potentially costing others more.  So far, no specific proposal for a single program has gained widespread bipartisan traction.

Student debt has been a hot topic on the campaign trail, with Democratic presidential candidates offering various proposals. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Senator Kamala Harris of California, for example, have all proposed varying levels of debt forgiveness. And last week, Joe Biden suggested reworking income-based repayment, including by eliminating payments and the accrual of interest for those making under $25,000.

For now, the hodgepodge of income-driven repayment plans remains a cumbersome but necessary tool for all types of borrowers — and far from a solution to the problem of widespread educational debt.

Ms. Garberg recently learned through a company called Summer — which helps students navigate the repayment maze — that she was eligible for lower payments through a different plan, called Revised Pay As You Earn, or REPAYE. That cut her payments to about $240 a month; so far she has paid down about half her debt.

But her recent marriage has added another variable to the loan calculus: her husband. She is nervous about how her payments will change once his income is factored in. And, for now, it might delay another plan.

“I feel like I can’t have kids until my loans are paid off,” Ms. Garberg said. “How do you pay for day care?”

Tara Siegel Bernard covers personal finance. Before joining The Times in 2008, she was deputy managing editor at FiLife, a personal finance website, and an editor at CNBC. She also worked at Dow Jones and contributed regularly to The Wall Street Journal. @tarasbernard


Trump impeachment inquiry gathers pace as more officials testify

State department official George Kent testifies in private

Hunter Biden admits ‘poor judgment’ but denies wrongdoing

October 15, 2019

by Julian Borger and David Smith in Washington and Tom McCarthy and Ed Pilkington in New York

The Guardian

Democrats continued their whirlwind investigation of Donald Trump on Tuesday as another witness testified before Congress, building momentum towards a likely impeachment of the president.

Trump sought to fight back by drawing attention to a TV interview in which Hunter Biden, the son of the former vice-president Joe Biden, acknowledged “poor judgment” in his business dealings in Ukraine but denied any wrongdoing.

George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state, became the latest official to appear in private before three House committees. In emails supplied to Congress by the state department inspector general, Kent expressed concerns about White House efforts to remove the then ambassador to Ukraine.

The impeachment inquiry is moving at dizzying speed. The Axios website noted that if everyone agrees to appear, Democrats will have interviewed 11 administration officials by the end of next week. Every witness has “bolstered the case against Trump”, Axios added, leaving White House officials demoralised or panicked.

In a press conference on Tuesday evening, the House intelligence committee chair, Adam Schiff, said House Democrats had “made dramatic progress in answering some of the questions surrounding that July telephone call” between Donald Trump and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Pelosi said the House was on a “path to truth” but said a full vote to authorize the inquiry was not yet necessary, despite White House criticism.

“There is no requirement that we have a vote. We will not be having a vote,” she said.

“We are on the path of fairness,” she continued. “We are not here to call bluffs. We are on a path that is taking us to a path to truth, a timetable that respects our constitution.”

The hearings have been held behind closed doors but Democrats may yet decide to publish transcripts. Trump, who has been leading his own defence, tweeted on Tuesday: “Democrats are allowing no transparency at the Witch Hunt hearings. If Republicans ever did this they would be excoriated by the Fake News. Let the facts come out from the charade of people, most of whom I do not know, they are interviewing for nine hours each, not selective leaks.”

The torrent of damaging revelations continued on Monday when Fiona Hill, a British-born former senior director for Europe and Russia on the White House National Security Council (NSC), spoke to the House committees for 10 hours.

According to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Hill described a sharp exchange on 10 July between the then national security adviser, John Bolton, and the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. It concerned the role played by Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor commonly described as Trump’s lawyer, in trying to persuade the Ukrainian government to open investigations into Democrats including Biden.

Hill said Bolton instructed her to tell the NSC’s attorney that Giuliani was acting in concert with White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, in a rogue operation with legal implications.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Rudy and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton instructed Hill to tell the NSC lawyer, according to her testimony.

She said Bolton had told her on an earlier occasion: “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”

Hill also testified on Monday about Trump’s decision, taken despite strenuous objections from aides including herself, to recall the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

The Washington Post reported that Hill had confronted Sondland over Giuliani’s activities, which were not coordinated with officials charged with carrying out foreign policy. Sondland is due to give his version of events on Thursday.

The impeachment inquiry was sparked by a whistleblower complaint filed in August that in part described a 25 July phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which Trump requested the “favor” of an investigation into Biden, a potential rival in the 2020 election.

Trump and Republicans have repeated unproven allegations of corruption against Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a gas company in Ukraine while his father was involved in international efforts to curb corruption in its government.

Breaking his silence over his business dealings in Ukraine and China, the younger Biden told ABC News on Tuesday he had allowed himself to become involved in what he described as “a swamp”. But he repeatedly denied ever discussing his foreign work with his father.

“In retrospect, I think there was poor judgment on my part,” he said. “I know I did nothing wrong at all, but it was poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is … a swamp in many ways.”

Several Democratic strategists have questioned the wisdom of Hunter Biden speaking out. The fear is that it might switch the focus away from Trump’s efforts to enlist the help of the Ukraine government and on to the president’s home ground: his unsubstantiated claims of corruption on the part of the Bidens.

The week could deteriorate rapidly for Trump, whose effort to rally defenders in his own party has been damaged by concerns about a growing disaster in northern Syria, following Trump’s abrupt pullback there, and a sense that major secrets attached to the Ukraine scandal are yet to emerge.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday afternoon, Giuliani formally notified the House that he wouldn’t submit documents demanded via subpoena by the Trump-Ukraine impeachment inquiry.

In a letter to the relevant committee chairmen from his erstwhile lawyer, Jon Sale, the inquiry was condemned as “an unconstitutional, baseless and illegitimate ‘impeachment inquiry’” and the subpoena called “overbroad and unduly burdensome”.

The government budget office said that it would not comply with the demand for documents, either.

The subpoena issued to the office of management and budget related to the delay in military funds to Ukraine.

That issue is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, in relation to allegations that Trump held back congressionally approved aid to Ukraine as a form of pressure to persuade the new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to investigate the Bidens.

Giuliani is also facing scrutiny over his dealings involving Turkey. On Tuesday the Washington Post reported that he had privately urged Trump to extradite Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Muslim cleric accused by Turkey of instigating a failed 2016 coup. It remains unclear why Giuliani would have pushed the issue, which is of great importance to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to the Post.

Vivian Ho contributed reporting


Trump sanctions fail to slow Turkey assault; Syrian troops move on Manbij

October 15, 2019


MANBIJ, Syria (Reuters) – Turkey ignored U.S. sanctions and pressed on with its offensive in northern Syria on Tuesday, while the Russia-backed Syrian army roared into one of the most hotly contested cities abandoned by U.S. forces in Donald Trump’s retreat.

Reuters journalists accompanied Syrian government forces who entered the center of Manbij, a flashpoint where U.S. troops had previously conducted joint patrols with Turkey.

Russian and Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts, and from a convoy of military vehicles.

Russia’s Interfax news agency, citing Moscow’s Defense Ministry, said later that Syrian forces had taken control of an area of more than 1,000 square kilometers around Manbij. This included Tabqa military airfield, two hydroelectric power plants and several bridges across the Euphrates river, it said.

In Manbij, Syrian troops were manning joint checkpoints alongside regional Kurdish militia (YPG), witnesses said.

A YPG official said Turkish-backed fighters were still 15 km north of the city. Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu agency said six civilians were killed and 13 wounded in three villages near the town of Jarablus in a YPG attack launched from north of Manbij.


A week after reversing U.S. policy and moving troops out of the way to allow Turkey to attack Washington’s Syrian allies, Trump announced a package of sanctions to punish Ankara.

But the measures – mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks – were less robust than fin

The Turkish lira, which had fallen on the expectation of tougher U.S. measures, recovered after the sanctions were announced, as did its bond and stock markets, with traders noting that Trump had spared Turkish banks.

Bilateral trade between Turkey and the United States is relatively small – around a tenth the size of Turkey’s trade with Europe. Washington’s most effective form of economic leverage would be to hinder Turkey’s access to U.S. financial markets, a step Trump has so far avoided.

In a potentially more damaging blow, German carmaker Volkswagen said it was postponing a final decision on whether to build a 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) plant in Turkey, citing concern over “current developments” after international condemnation of the incursion.

Following Trump’s announcement, the U.S. Treasury said on Monday it had sanctioned Turkey’s energy, defense and interior ministers, as well as the ministries of energy and defense.


Trump’s unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The withdrawal gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.

The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria. Its former Kurdish allies immediately forged a new alliance with Assad’s government, inviting the army into towns across the breadth of their territory.

The U.N. Security Council will likely meet on Wednesday to discuss the latest developments in Syria, diplomats said, the second such session since Turkey began its offensive.

Russian-backed Syrian government forces moved swiftly to fill the void left by departing Americans from Manbij west of the Euphrates river, which Turkey has vowed to capture.

“We are out of Manbij,” said Colonel Myles B Caggins, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Syria.

Trump’s pullout ends joint U.S.-Turkish patrols of the Manbij area under a deal meant to persuade Turkey not to invade and attack the Kurdish YPG, seen by Ankara as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish separatist insurgents in Turkey.

The YPG is also the main component of the SDF, which had been Washington’s key regional ally fighting Islamic State (IS) militants.

A Reuters cameraman on the Turkish frontier reported heavy bombardment on Tuesday morning of the Syrian border town of Ras al Ain where an SDF spokesman reported a fierce battle going on.


Trump has defended his reversal of U.S. policy as part of a plan to extricate the United States from “endless” wars in the Middle East.

But his critics, including senior figures in his own Republican Party, cast it as a betrayal of the Kurds, loyal allies who lost thousands of fighters as the principal ground forces in Washington’s battle against IS.

France said on Tuesday it would hold talks soon with Iraqi and Kurdish leaders to weigh how, amidst the upheaval triggered by the Turkish incursion, to secure thousands of foreign and regional IS militants held in Syrian camps and prisons.

Turkey says it aims to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia and create a “safe zone” where millions of Syrian war refugees now in Turkey could be resettled

The United Nations says 160,000 people have fled their homes as Turkish forces advance. The regional Kurdish administration puts the number of displaced at 270,000.

The U.N. Human Rights office said on Tuesday Turkey could be held responsible for war crimes by fighters under its direction, potentially including the assassination of Hevrin Khalaf, a leading Kurdish politician killed on the side of a highway on Saturday by gunmen who posted the incident on the Internet.

Turkish-backed fighters have denied blame for her murder.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said it had suspended most medical aid activities in northeast Syria and was evacuating all international staff in the wake of air strikes and violence during Turkey’s incursion.

Erdogan, who has pledged to continue military operations come what may, said Ankara was giving the world a chance to bring peace to the region.

“The international community missed its opportunity to prevent the Syrian crisis from pulling an entire region into a maelstrom of instability,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The European Union – and the world – should support what Turkey is trying to do.”

The Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory evacuated by Washington amount to a victory for Assad and his most powerful ally, Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swathe of Syria that had been beyond their grasp through much of its eight-year-old war.

Trump’s allies insisted Washington had not given its blessing to the Turkish offensive, and demanded a ceasefire.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg echoed that demand.

Additional reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry in Beirut, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Can Sezer, Behiye Selin Taner and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, John Irish in Paris, Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Peter Graff and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Mike Collett-White

Russian and Iranian Mutual Assistance Treaty

With the disruptive US withdrawal of troops from Syria and the subsequent abandonment of the Kurds to the tender mercies of the savage Turks (who have been fighting them for years), the political and military situation in the Middle East has drastically, and dangerously, altered.

Once the withdrawal of American troops began, the Syrian military moved into the area, in support of the Kurds and opposed to the Turkish military. The Syrians called upon the Iranians to assist them and also they asked for Russian military assistance and logistical support.

The Russians have negotiated with Iran to pour military supplies to the Syrian military, to include their very effective anti aircraft rocket system, small arms, ammunition and other military material and in return, the Iranian government has concluded negotiations with the Russians to permit the latter to establish a Russian-controlled naval base on Iranian territory and on the Indian Ocean.

The Russians have been leased, on a 90 year long-term basis, a small port at Pas Bandar. This is located at Gwandar Bay and is 44 nautical miles from the Iranian port of Chahbahar.

Russian personnel are being sent overland to the port, to man its defenses and port facilities, and Russian naval units are being prepared for transfer once the facilities are prepared.

The Russians expect the port to be fully operative no later than January 1, 2020.


An Open Letter on Zionism

October 15, 2019

by Rabbi Joel Timmerman

There are several millions of Jews living in the United States. The bulk of us are Reformed Jews. Nearly all of us consider ourselves to be Americans. We and our children are proud to have served in the American military and even prouder to be citizens of the one nation that has welcomed refugee Jews, fleeing from European persecutions, and permitted them free access to American society.

A much smaller percentage of American Jews are Zionists. They view themselves as Jews first, Israeli’s second and, perhaps, Americans third. Their complete allegiance is to the state of Israel and not to America. They send money to Israel and, when they have access to it, military and commercial secrets. They are the Pollards of this country. They do not represent the rest of us at all.

The State of Israel has always been a Zionist state. It was born in violence and hatred. Jews, mostly from Poland, invaded the Palestine area, killing and maiming anyone who stood in their way: Arabs, British soldiers, civilians and even high UN officials. Bombings, bank robberies, arsons and mass murder attended the birth of this state. One man, Menachim Begin, blew up a hotel full of people and was later made Chief of State!

The Zionists have fastened themselves onto the instruments of power in the United States, feeling, rightly, that American soldiers, and most importantly, money, will nurture their state and protect it from their many enemies.

Instead of making efforts to co-exist with their neighbors, Israel has constantly attacked the impoverished Palestinian Arabs and killed as many of them as they could. The IDF has had no problem murdering Arab men, women and children. It has had no problem destroying the homes and businesses of the reviled Arabs and their sole, stated aim, is to drive the Arabs out of their homes so that Jews can take them over.

How redolent this is of the attacks by the Nazis, the Poles and the Russians in recent times past! It is true that the abused child becomes the abusing parent and Israel has in truth become the National Socialists of the Middle East.

The Zionists have infiltrated the American government to a remarkable degree. They have gained an astonishing hold in the American mass media. CNN, Time Warner, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek and Time magazines and a host of other media giants are either owned outright by Jews or are under the control of Jews.

These mighty organs daily pour out a great stream of pro-Israel commentary while Jewish organizations such as the ADL and various other pressure groups, make constant, threatening demands on a subservient American legislative entity.

The fact that there are many Jews in America that view such blatant and ruthless manipulation with horror is never reported in the media.

We are the silent Jews although we outnumber the loud ones twenty to one. Our views, those of tolerance and moderation, are never seen in the media but the frantic, fanatic views of the hysterical Zionists receive daily, slavish attention.

The American pubic is not stupid but it has no voice to express its concerns. Faked opinion polls, pious statements about Israel as “America’s best ally” can be seen daily in all the major branches of the media.

Believe me, Israel is not America’s best ally. Through the Israel lobby, American leaders and legislators do as they are told. The consequences of refusal or worse, opposition to Zionist demands is orchestrated oblivion. Furious because President Harry Truman blocked the sale of weapons of destruction to the rampaging Zionists in 1948, Jewish money backed Thomas Dewey. An assassination attempt was launched by the Stern Gang against Truman but failed.

The British, the United Nations and the United States eventually let the Zionists have their murderous way in Palestine because they grew tired of the constant acts of savage terrorism which seemed to inspire the terrorists to even greater infamies.

These miserable, vicious and ideological creatures have nothing to do with the great majority of American Jews. We deplore their savage, manipulative behavior because we know from bitter experience that eventually the American public will become aroused and infuriated. When that dismal day comes, and it will come, all the rest of us will be held to account for the savage brutes like Sharon and his butchers. We will become the eternal victims of a population enraged by the ruthless and self-serving manipulations of a small, detestable handful of chronic fanatics. We will, at last, lose the respect of our colleagues, our neighbors and our friends and again, the eternal wandering will begin.


The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations

October 16, 2019

by Dr. Peter Janney

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal, Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment.

Three months before, on July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.

After Corson’s death, Trento and the well-known Washington fix-lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever.

The small group of CIA officials gathered at Trento’s house to search through the Crowley papers, looking for documents that must not become public. A few were found but, to their consternation, a significant number of files Crowley was known to have had in his possession had simply vanished.

When published material concerning the CIA’s actions against Kennedy became public in 2002, it was discovered to the CIA’s horror, that the missing documents had been sent by an increasingly erratic Crowley to another person and these missing papers included devastating material on the CIA’s activities in South East Asia to include drug running, money laundering and the maintenance of the notorious ‘Regional Interrogation Centers’ in Viet Nam and, worse still, the Zipper files proving the CIA’s active organization of the assassination of President John Kennedy..

A massive, preemptive disinformation campaign was readied, using government-friendly bloggers, CIA-paid “historians” and others, in the event that anything from this file ever surfaced. The best-laid plans often go astray and in this case, one of the compliant historians, a former government librarian who fancied himself a serious writer, began to tell his friends about the CIA plan to kill Kennedy and eventually, word of this began to leak out into the outside world.

The originals had vanished and an extensive search was conducted by the FBI and CIA operatives but without success. Crowley’s survivors, his aged wife and son, were interviewed extensively by the FBI and instructed to minimize any discussion of highly damaging CIA files that Crowley had, illegally, removed from Langley when he retired. Crowley had been a close friend of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s notorious head of Counterintelligence. When Angleton was sacked by DCI William Colby in December of 1974, Crowley and Angleton conspired to secretly remove Angleton’s most sensitive secret files out of the agency. Crowley did the same thing right before his own retirement, secretly removing thousands of pages of classified information that covered his entire agency career.

Known as “The Crow” within the agency, Robert T. Crowley joined the CIA at its inception and spent his entire career in the Directorate of Plans, also know as the “Department of Dirty Tricks. ”

Crowley was one of the tallest man ever to work at the CIA. Born in 1924 and raised in Chicago, Crowley grew to six and a half feet when he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in N.Y. as a cadet in 1943 in the class of 1946. He never graduated, having enlisted in the Army, serving in the Pacific during World War II. He retired from the Army Reserve in 1986 as a lieutenant colonel. According to a book he authored with his friend and colleague, William Corson, Crowley’s career included service in Military Intelligence and Naval Intelligence, before joining the CIA at its inception in 1947. His entire career at the agency was spent within the Directorate of Plans in covert operations. Before his retirement, Bob Crowley became assistant deputy director for operations, the second-in-command in the Clandestine Directorate of Operations.

Bob Crowley first contacted Gregory Douglas in 1993 when he found out from John Costello that Douglas was about to publish his first book on Heinrich Mueller, the former head of the Gestapo who had become a secret, long-time asset to the CIA. Crowley contacted Douglas and they began a series of long and often very informative telephone conversations that lasted for four years. In 1996, Crowley told Douglas that he believed him to be the person that should ultimately tell Crowley’s story but only after Crowley’s death. Douglas, for his part, became so entranced with some of the material that Crowley began to share with him that he secretly began to record their conversations, later transcribing them word for word, planning to incorporate some, or all, of the material in later publication.


Conversation No. 44

Date: Tuesday, October 29, 1996

Commenced: 8:45 AM CST

Concluded:    9:05 AM CST

GD: Good morning, Robert. How is life treating you?

RTC: Well enough, I suppose. Yourself?

GD: Not too badly. I heard from Corson who wants me to come back for a meeting with you and himself soon. He neglected to mention Kimmel for some reason.

RTC: Kimmel will probably be along to subject you to his brilliant interrogative techniques.

GD: Good. That ought to be entertaining. Corson mentioned the University Club.

RTC: Yes. Up on Sixteenth Avenue past the White House. We can have lunch.

GD: Is the food good?

RTC: It’s not the Jockey Club but it will do. Do you have any idea when you will come?

GD: Probably early in December. Willis Carto  wants to meet with me over the weekend in DC so we can get together just after that. I’ve been reading over this ZIPPER business and checking various dates out. Fascinating story, Robert, and hopefully it will make a good book. And before you say it, no, I won’t publish until after you’re gone. They were all of them into it, weren’t they?

RTC: Just a few of the top people, actually. We were talking about the Army plot to start a war with Cuba by attacking our planes and setting off a few bombs here. I believe we did talk about this.

GD: Yes.

RTC: Jim Bamford knows all about this. It’s called ‘Operation Northwoods’ and the plans are in the National Archives. I wouldn’t recommend your asking your friend Wolfe about it because he’d run to Langley with his tongue hanging out and then they would vanish without a trace. If you’re going to be here, I’ll give you chapter and verse so you can find them yourself. Oh and one other thing. You mentioned an Army file on top Nazis we used. Wolfe sent it to you?

GD: Yes, I got it from him.

RTC: If I gave you chapter and verse on it, would you confirm?

GD: Certainly.

RTC: Let me just find this…..always putting….here. ‘P&O file 311.5 TS, sections one two and three.’ Dated 1948. Is that the one?

GD: It sounds like it. I’m bad on numbers. Let me pull it out. Take about a minute.

RTC: Go ahead.


GD: That’s it.

RTC: That stupid son of a bitch had no right to give that to you. He’s playing both ends against the middle. When you come back here, could you make a copy and give it to me?

GD: I will do that.

RTC: That man is a rat, Gregory, a sewer rat.

GD: Don’t drag me into it, please. I never solicited it and he sent it to me so I would give him some Müller papers dealing with his employment by your people. Naturally, since I never asked for it, once it came and I read it, I pretended I never got it. This scared yesterday’s dinner out of him because he put his return address on it. He thinks some post office employee will find it and turn it over to the FBI. I think he’s afraid of going to jail.

RTC: He damned well ought to.

GD: Who knows, Robert? He might like it inside the big house. You know what they say, don’t you? If you can’t get a woman get a clean old man.

RTC: (Laughter)

GD: My, and such a lot of Gestapo and SD people, not to mention a few Einsatzgruppen people we transported here, gave new names and ID to and made them GS18s… I think Wolfe wanted me to publish this and embarrass the CIA and the Army. He can’t, of course, so he thinks he is very clever using me as a cat’s paw. And to show you how brilliant an operative he is, the thing came in a NA envelope with his name written above the return address. Is he typical of the type of pseudo-academics you use?

RTC: These are useless attention-craving idiots but useful in their way.

GD: As fertilizer in your garden? You know the old saying that those who can, do, and others teach? Fits them perfectly. I have been running into academics for years. Petty, puffed-up bags of shit who squall and attack each other with their purses over the most trivial things. And, of course, they steal from everyone and then call it research. I might cite the case of Stephen Ambrose, the wonderful historian. He published a book once called a ‘Handbook on German Military Forces.’ Problem was, the book had been published in 1945 by the War Department as TM-E 30-451. Of course it wasn’t illegal to steal it, page by page, because it was public domain, but after I brought this to the attention of his publishers, the next edition had certain credit corrections. He probably blamed it all on his careless typist. You know, I always recommend an Ambrose book because you can get three books for the price of one. Why ever do you use such slugs? I’ll bet that even now, Mortimer Z. Tinsley, PhD, DVM is working on a devastating attack on the Müller book. He probably teaches at some obscure school like Antelope Valley Teacher’s College, in the history department, and his doctoral thesis, which he stole in its entirely, was entitled ‘A History of Fraud in Bulgarian Bar Mitzvahs in the Nineteenth Century.’  He will point out that Müller died in 1945 and my book is fuller of shit than a Christmas turkey. Of course he’s prating about Dr. Heinrich Müller, not Gestapo Müller, but I’ll just bet The New York Times Sunday book section will carry a wonderful review of it. I love that section. They push forward deeply moving books about a black orphan boy raised in Georgia by two vegetarian lesbians and his poignant and deeply moving struggles to become a champion purse snatcher-cum-pimp in Hell’s Kitchen. The sort of silly shit that no one reads but the editor knows the publisher.

RTC: Oh, we do have our stable of weird people working for us. Did I ever tell you about the Pedophile Academy, Gregory?

GD: Are you speaking of Yale, Robert?

RTC: No, no we actually had one down at Camp Peary. Right near Jim Critchfield’s place. I don’t know if you are aware of it but we called it The Farm and it was supposed to be a secret training center for young agents. Anyway, Allen Dulles set up this training center down there for pedophiles. They were in training to seduce, molest and, most especially, photograph the young children of targets. Not only, Allen reasoned, would our graduates have a spanking good time but they could get wonderful action pictures of the wee ones to blackmail their families with.

GD: Sick.

RTC: One could say that. I understand they broke it up when one of the graduates nailed a Deputy Director’s son at a summer camp.

GD: Another boat trip?

RTC: I really don’t know. I heard he had a sudden heart attack. We do those very well, you know.

GD: I am aware. A French doctor invented the drug. The Gestapo used it internally and externally and through Müller, we got it. Is that what you’re talking about?

RTC: I think so.

GD: Müller told me that when he came to Washington, they were tossing people out of windows. Forrestal went crazy and they chunked him out of the sixteenth floor clinic at Bethesda. That’s the special floor where they keep Senators who flip out and run around the Mall in the nude.

RTC: I think it’s more of a drunk tank, Gregory. McCarthy was locked up there for a time.

GD: They should have put him out the window. Müller used to say that this showed no consideration for people passing on the sidewalk below or expensive parked cars. Imagine an overweight official descending ten stories onto your new Packard or worse, on your Christmas shopping wife. Think of the lost gifts, Robert, and you too will weep.

RTC: Gregory, you are a terrible person.

GD: I know that, Robert. I once put angel hair…you know, the spun glass insulation…into my sister’s underwear before a family dinner and she spent most of the time scratching her crotch and other unmentionable body areas right at the table. I told everyone she had crabs and she had to leave the table. I understand her swollen pudenda looked like an eggplant.

RTC: (Laughter) Gregory, you are really very bad. But entertaining.

GD: I know. Anyway, when I come back to see you I have some ZIPPER questions for you.

RTC: Yes, I much prefer a face-to-face. But, my God, not at the University Club lunch.

GD: Of course not.

RTC: If Tom Kimmel ever got wind of what we were up to, he would have my place raided.

GD: Oh my God, Robert, he might find the Swiss Music Box.

RTC: Speaking of that, it seems to be working. At least it scares off all the birds and every time I put it on, the dogs in the neighborhood howl like demons.

GD: Maybe the poor Swiss are soaking their embassy floor with urine. Did you ever think of that?

RTC: It did occur to me. But enough merriment for today. I have to get ready to go to the doctor’s office so I will speak with you later.

(Concluded at 9:05 AM CST)



Encyclopedia of American Loons

Lisa Goes

A.k.a. The Rev

With great ignorance comes great arrogance, and with regard to health and lifestyle issues few groups demonstrate the effect more spectacularly as the hive of conspiracy mongering, scientific illiteracy, critical thinking failure and delusional confidence that is the Thinking Moms Revolution. The website offers advice on all sorts of health-related issues based on information from crackpot sites like GreenMedInfo, Mercola, NaturalNews and a range of anti-vaxx sites, as well as nonsense conjured up by their own powers of intuition. No, seriously. This is an anti-vaccine group, and although their Manifesto states that “[w]hen it comes to helping others, Thinking Moms are short on opinion, strong on scientific data, medical facts, nutritional healing options and documented legislative history,” their “scientific data” bears approximately the same relation to scientific data as their mental processes bear to thinking.

Lisa Goes’s is the author of their manifesto, which pretty explicitly endorses a strategy of never questioning any crackpottery or woo no matter how ridiculous it might be – as opposed to anything promoted by Big Pharma or backed by evidence, of course – including homeopathy and energy medicine. Goes is also a hardcore and notoriously clueless anti-vaccinationist and has contributed to Age of Autism, where she has been pushing familiar autism biomed nonsense. Indeed, her involvement in the anti-vaccine movement is far more insidious even than that: Goes was, for instance, pretty heavily involved in pushing Alex Spourdalakis as a cause célèbre for Age of Autism and their crackpottery, and against what they initially saw as the evils of Big Pharma (which it wasn’t); more details here.

Diagnosis: No, thinking doesn’t have much to do with Lisa Goes’s antics. Not a person you should listen to under any circumstance.


 Jeff Godwin

Many fundies have warned us about the dangers of pop music. It’s really a calling card for the lunatic fringe of maniacal fundamentalist. And, as Johnny Marr puts it, Jeff Godwin belongs to “the lunatic fringe of the anti-rock movement” – indeed, Godwin doesn’t hesitate to call out his fellow anti-rock activists as closet rock fans and devil worshippers and has for decades been Jack Chick’s go-to-guy for information about rock music and popular culture – Chick published Godwin’s first three books Devil’s Disciples: The Truth About Rock Music, Dancing With Demons: The Music’s Real Master, What’s Wrong With Christian Rock? One thing that distinguishes these and his other books from those of other anti-rock writers like Jacob Aranza, is style. Godwin’s books are poorly written, unstructered and argumentatively incoherent hate screeds characterized by fuming rage and lunatic ravings, whereas Aranza could fool you for four or five seconds before you appreciate the howling insanity expressed by his otherwise grammatically well-formed sentences.

According to Godwin, rock and roll music (yeah, we know) traces its origins back thousands of years. Its rhythms were written by Satan and his demons and have, accordingly, a subliminal power to control a listener’s mind. Those rhythms eventually found their way, via Africa, into blues, jazz and other forms of African American music and the rest of us received this Satanic curse through African American voodoo culture. Indeed, one of Godwin’s main ideas is the “voodoo beat theory”: The rock beat has the same time signature as the human heart (no, he hasn’t listened to much rock music), and hence clearly hypnotizes and brainwashes listeners into accepting a message so evil that it could only be Satan’s.

It’s not only the rhythms, though; rock music is loaded with references to sexual behavior of all kinds, and therefore encourages fornication amongst youths and inspires lust and rage, as well as preaching “rebellion, hatred, drug abuse,” it encourages “mind decaying, death-dealing drugs”, in slang terms only understood by teens, “suicide, fornication and the dark things of Satan”. Of course, it is not only promiscuous sex that is being promoted, but abnormal sex, as epitomized by that nexus of darkness David Bowie, the “limp wristed king of the abnormal world of Homo Rock”. All screamed rock vocals are in fact inspired by the sound of the “homosexual penetration of the male”, and whip crack drum beats are just a gateway to filthy and unhibited homosexual S&M. The hypothesis tells you not so much about rock, but might tell you things you might not want to know about William Godwin

Of course, the actual messages have been backmasked (oh, yes), even though Satan’s presence has never required hiding. “I believe that even now Satan and his demons are blaspheming and insulting God and the Lamb with their horrible rock record covers and backmasked broadcasts from Hell,” says Godwin. As opposed to some backmask lunatics, Godwin doesn’t think Satan has snuck into the messages without their knowledge, however; rock musicians, producers and promoters are outright Satanists who maintain secret but deliberate alliances with Satan and his demons (“the Lord has also revealed to some Christians that incarnate demons from the netherworld actually are members of some of the most popular bands …”). How do they do the backmasking? Simple: Rock stars summon (literally) demons when they’re in studio to ensure hit records; the backmasked messages are merely the signatures of the supernatural presences. And once the demons have been brought into this world by the artists, playing a rock record is enough to call them up to possess the listener or anyone nearby. To say that “addiction to rock ‘n’ roll is a form of demonic possession,” is to make an understatement. And we’re not only talking about rock here: all of popular music is Satanic, since “NO ONE makes it big in secular music without selling out to Satan.” “We Are the World,” for instance, with its message of “Love is all we need” is wrong and demonic because “Jesus Christ is what this world needs!”

Finally, Christian rock is a diversion created by Satan.(!) The Christian content preached in Christian rock is feel-good, inoffensive religious messages and does accordingly not genuinely preach Christ, who according to Godwin is not this effeminate, mild and benevolent guy he’s sometimes portrayed as being; that mild and merciful guy is apparently a creation of Satan and good grief this guy is insane. A particularly sinister example is Stryper, as evidenced e.g. by their “To Hell With The Devil” album, which Godwin predictably (no, seriously: you must have seen this one coming) takes to mean “To Hell WITH the Devil”, which happens to be the fate of all Stryper fans, so there.

Accordingly Godwin recommends that parents should burn anything relating to rock in their homes immediately and double their daily prayer time. That’s the only way you can secure your home and your family from the gangs of roving rock-and-roll-summoned demons now during the final days of the Earth.

Diagnosis: Ah, yes. Another one of those who add a bit of color to life – probably harmless, but we should probably feel a bit of pity for him, at least until we realize that he really how unsavory of a character he really is.

Leslie Manookian

The Greater Good is an antivaccine documentary (and illustrative example of the pernicious genre medical propaganda film) that made its rounds in the expected circles, and were promoted by the usual group of conspiracy theorists and anti-science advocates (such as Joe Mercola and Barbara Loe Fisher). They even tried to push it on public schools. It is dealt with in some detail here.

The basic set-up is familiar, and the agenda clear:

Present some tragic stories of “vaccine injuries” to manipulatively appeal to the viewers’ emotions, without too much discussion of details to ensure that it is impossible to verify or falsify (at least one of the central stories has been demolished in court, thus giving the interviewees even more room to recruit the viewer’s empathy in their attempt to build a conspiracy theory targeted at Big Pharma, the courts, all of medicine, science and the need to evaluate evidence carefully; the other cases present no evidence whatsoever that vaccines are actually to blame for the tragic events beyond correlations that do not really seem even to be genuine correlations). Nor does it, of course, mention how vaccines prevented uncountable tragedies by eradicating small-pox and polio, since that doesn’t really fit the chosen narrative.

Create a manufactroversy by pitting a few real experts against a panel of pseudoscientists and conspiracy theorists, then editing he results to fit the desired narrative.

Then dismiss the real experts (but trying to make it seem like everything is fair and “balanced”) and plump for the conspiracy theories and the pseudoscience the “documentary” had built up to accepting all along.

The pseudoscientistst and conspiracy theorists presented as experts include:

Bob Sears, who has now firmly endorsed the anti-vaccine movement, and whose misinformation about medical issues targeted at parents is a serious cause for concern given his celebrity status. In the documentary, he primarily runs a blatantly dishonest toxins gambit and tries to claim, against better knowledge and judgment, that vaccines haven’t been sufficiently well studied for safety (This is false, and Sears knows it; he’s lying.)

  • Larry Palevsky, who writes articles for anti-vaccine sites and promotes and recommends a wide array of quackery and faith healing, including “acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, chiropractic, osteopathy, cranial-sacral therapy, environmental medicine, homeopathy, and essential oils, along with natural healing modalities such as aromatherapy, yoga, Reiki, meditation, reflexology, and mindfulness.” In the documentary, Palevsky pushes the toxins gambit for all its worth, since it’s a more effective means for scaring people without background in chemistry or medicine than being accurate or truthful; he even tries the breathtakingly intellectually dishonest “the vaccines didn’t save us”gambit.
  • John Green III, another anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist.
  • Christopher Shaw, a currently legendary, Canadian anti-vaccine crank responsible for several of the garbage “studies” frequently cited by the antivaccine movement.
  • Barbara Loe Fisher, the granddame of the anti-vaccine movement herself.

There are also a couple of lawyers (such as Kevin Conway), bent on misrepresenting the role of the vaccine court. It is also worth noting, if anyone had any doubts about what kind of “documentary” this is, that the end credits state that “this film was vetted by Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen, MD, FAAP and Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld, MD, FRCP for scientific and medical accuracy,” which is more or less like consulting whale.to. Dr. Rosen is an “integrative” pediatrician who is chair-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Complementary and Integrative Medicine and staunchly anti-vaccine; indeed, he seems to still think that thimerosal causes autism (though he is notoriously vague), which is an idea approximately as well-refuted as flat earth). You can read more about Dr. Shoenfeld here.

The producer, Leslie Manookian (formerly Leslie Manookian Bradshaw), is – apparently – a homeopath, which means she is about as ridiculous as you can get in the realm of pseudoscience (though she had the whereabouts not to list those qualifications on the filmmaker bio page), and has previously been active in the comment sections of vaccine-related blog posts. (She also used to list mercola.com, Mothering Magazine and the anti-vaccine website NVIC at the top of her list of vaccine information sources). After the “documentary”, Manookian has apparently become something of a mainstay at pseudoscience and anti-vaccine conferences, such as Freedomfest, and has been associated with the Weston A. Price foundation, a quack organization if there ever was one. In 2015, Manookian and the foundation’s Kim Hartke managed to get a piece of anti-vaccine propaganda posted as press release on CNBC’s Globe Newswire, consisting primarily of the old antivaxx shedding myth disguised as “news”. (It is discussed here).

Diagnosis: Apparently an influential figure in the antivaccine movement, Manookian is a crank through and through. Dangerous.

Sorcha Faal

Who is ‘Sorcha Faal? A Posterboy for Mental Health

Sorcha Faal turns out to be a nom de plume for David Booth, a retired computer programmer from New Hampshire who stirred up limited controversy in conspiracy circles  with the promotion of his book ‘Code Red: The Coming Destruction of the United States 2004.’ Booth claimed the book originated in a  “consecutive ten day dream he alleged he experienced in 2003 in which he saw a large sized planetary body pass close to Earth causing an explosion.  This was then built up into the story about ‘Planet X’ a heretofore unknown planet in our solar system  on a very long, elliptical orbit. In May 2003, it was alleged by the lunatic fringe that the non-existant “Planet X” would pass close enough to the Earth to affect it in some way, causing it to flip over (what many call a “pole shift”) and spur many other huge disasters. The end result was solemnly predicted be the deaths of many billions of people. There are a large number of web pages, chat rooms and books about Planet X and its horrible effects on the Earth. So the question is, does this planet exist, and did it come close enough to Earth in May 2003 and cause great catastrophes? Did an atomic bomb explode over downtown Houston, Texas, on December 25th, 2004 by orders of Paul Wolfowitz? Many internet readers were breathlessly informed of this by a Canadian masquerading as the “German Guy,” a purported senior intelligence official in the German BND. Houston still stands, undamaged, and as far as the mythical ‘Planet X’ is concerned, here is a comment from the official NASA website:

From the NASA website:

There is no known Planet X or 10th planet in our solar system. Scientists have been looking for about a hundred years. It was believed that such a planet was required to explain the orbital characteristics of the outer planets Uranus and Neptune. Many searches have been performed and, to date, no evidence of such a planet has emerged. In addition, better information about the masses of outer planets has also now shown that no other planets are necessary to explain the planetary orbits.

There also is no Sorcha Faal in St. Petersburg, Russia or Florida. None of the Russian scientific bodies listed in the Faal accounts, specifically the Russian Academy of Science, has any record of such a person

Jon Rappoport

Jon Rappoport is a deliriously insane “independent researcher” and blogger. According to his bio, he “has lectured extensively all over the US on the question: Who runs the world and what can we do about it?” For the last decade, however, he has “operated largely away from the mainstream” because, as he puts it, “[m]y research was not friendly to the conventional media.” Indeed. His independent research encompasses “deep politics, conspiracies, alternative health, the potential of the human imagination, mind control, the medical cartel, symbology, and solutions to the takeover of the planet by hidden elites.”

He is, for instance, a germ theory denialist, and in his post “Germ theory and depopulation” (discussed here) he argues that “[i]n general, so-called contagious diseases are caused, not by germs, but by IMMUNE SYSTEMS THAT ARE TOO WEAK TO FIGHT OFF THOSE GERMS” (yes, the capitalization is in the original). Indeed, “GERMS ARE A COVER STORY. What do they cover up? The fact that immune systems are the more basic target for depopulation and debilitation of populations.” The main tool is of course vaccines, which are weapons the nefarious powers that be use to kill off, well, it is a bit hard to see, partially because Rappoport’s post is mostly all-caps from there. At least HIV is a cover story as well.

He has a similar screed on flu vaccines on whale.to if that’s the kind of stuff you fancy reading. It is barely grammatical, but at least he gets his enthusiastic anger across rather well.

Currently Rappoport seems to write on various topics for InfoWars. Recently, for instance, Rappoport and InfoWars dubbed Rep. Tim Murphy’s bill seeking to reform the way the government addresses mental health services a “diabolical legislative package,” since Rappoport thought the legislation would require almost all children to take “psychiatric meds,” and that the bill will ultimately give the federal government “a monopoly of the mind.” Yeah, that’s the way he rolls.

Diagnosis: Hysterically crazy; and his influence is probably not quite as limited as his level of crazy should suggest.

Alyssa Shull

Alyssa Shull is a graduate of Oral Roberts University, and the founder of The Pink Lid, a conference for teen girls “about self-worth, identity, value, and purity.” We hope, for the sake of self-worth, identity and value, that the conference fails to have an impact among its intended audience (we care less about purity, and so should you). Shull has also written for the Religious Right magazine Charisma, being none too pleased with Beyoncé’s 2013 performance at the Super Bowl and pinning the blame on Satan: “Beyoncé has this beautiful gift, that the enemy (Satan) has twisted to use for his kingdom” and that her performance is further evidence that ‘we need to be aware of the devil’s ploys so we can resist them!’,” claims Shull. She also suggested that a woman is responsible for not “displaying her body to people” in a manner that “causes men to stumble”; evidently radical Islamists are way ahead of the US on questions regarding moral responsibility. For good measure, she also buys into the Illuminati sign nonsense: Beyoncé “danced in a way that should only take place between a husband and wife (well minus the Illuminati signs and the worship ‘I want to feel your energy’ part).” But then, Oral Roberts University doesn’t exactly teach people critical thinking or how to navigate the world in a manner sensitive to truth, reason and evidence.

Diagnosis: Just don’t listen to her nonsense, and you’ll be fine. Unfortunately, too many people do seem to listen to her.









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