DC Report

The whole world could have been vaccinated already

The big drug companies are killing people.

I get to say this about the drug companies, now that President Biden has said that Facebook is killing people because it was allowing people to use its system to spread lies about the vaccines. There is actually a better case against the drug companies.

After all, they are using their government-granted patent monopolies, and their control over technical information about the production of vaccines, to limit the supply of vaccines available to the world. As a result, most of the population in the developing world is not yet vaccinated. And, unlike the followers of Donald Trump, people in developing countries are not vaccinated because they can't get vaccines.

The TRIPS Waiver Charade

The central item in the story about speeding vaccine distribution in the developing world is the proposal put forward at the WTO last October (yes, that would be nine months ago), by India and South Africa, to suspend patents and other intellectual property rules related to vaccines, tests, and treatments for the duration of the pandemic. Since that time, the rich countries have been engaged in a massive filibuster, continually delaying any WTO action on the measure, presumably with the hope that it will become largely irrelevant at some point.

Suppose that during World War II a military contractor developed a new sonar system to detect German submarines. What would we do if this company refused to share the technology with the U.S. government?

The Biden administration breathed new life into the proposal when it endorsed suspending patent rights, albeit just for vaccines. This is the easiest sell for people in the United States and other rich countries since it is not just about humanitarian concerns for the developing world. If the pandemic is allowed to spread unchecked in the developing world it is likely only a matter of time before a vaccine-resistant strain develops. This could mean a whole new round of disease, death, and shutdowns in the rich countries until a new vaccine can be developed and widely distributed.

After the Biden administration indicated its support for this limited waiver, many other rich countries signed on as well. Germany, under longtime chancellor Angela Merkel, has been largely left alone to carry water for the pharmaceutical industry in opposing the vaccine waiver.

I had the chance to confront the industry arguments directly last week in a web panel sponsored by the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (link included when it becomes available). It's always educational to see these arguments up close and real people actually making them.

The first line of defense is that the waiver of patent rights by itself does not lead to any increase in vaccine production. This is of course true. Vaccines have to be manufactured, eliminating patent rights is not the same thing as manufacturing vaccines.

But once we get serious, the point is that many potential manufacturers of vaccines are being prevented from getting into the business by the threat of patent infringement suits. In some cases, this might mean reverse-engineering the process, something that might be more feasible with the adenovirus vaccines produced by Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca, than with the mRNA vaccines. The manufacturing process for these vaccines is similar to ones already used by manufacturers in several countries in the developing world, as well as several in the rich countries that are not currently producing vaccines against the pandemic.

Another possible outcome from eliminating patent rights is that the drug companies may opt to do more voluntary licensing agreements under the logic that it is better to get something than nothing.

If manufacturers use reverse engineering to produce vaccines, the patent holders get nothing. They would be much better off with a limited royalty on a licensing agreement, even if it is less than they could have expected if they had been able to maintain an unchecked patent monopoly.

(Editor: Reverse engineering is how startup computer companies built "clones"of the early PCs or personal computers. They bought IBM personal computers and paid one set of engineers to take it apart and describe what they found. Then a second set of engineers used the descriptions to build a personal computer. Voila no royalties to IBM.)

The other route that suspending patent monopolies may open is one where former employees of the pharmaceutical companies may choose to share their expertise with vaccine manufacturers around the world. In almost all cases these employees would be bound by non-disclosure agreements. This means that sharing their knowledge would subject them to substantial legal liability. But some of them may be willing to take this risk. From the standpoint of potential manufacturers, the patent waiver would mean that they would not face direct liability if they were to go this route, and the countries in which they are based would not face trade sanctions.

Open-Sourcing Technology

While suspending patent rights by itself could lead to a substantial increase in vaccine production, if we took the pandemic seriously, we would want to go much further. We would want to see the technology for producing vaccines fully open-sourced. This would mean posting the details of the manufacturing process on the web, so that engineers all over the world could benefit from them. Ideally, the engineers from the pharmaceutical companies would also be available to do webinars and even in-person visits to factories around the world, with the goal of assisting them in getting their facilities up-to-speed as quickly as possible.

The industry person on my panel didn't seem to understand how governments could even arrange to have this technology open-sourced. He asked rhetorically whether governments can force a company to disclose information.

As a legal matter, governments probably cannot force a company to disclose information that it chooses to keep secret. However, governments can offer to pay companies to share this information. This could mean, for example, that the U.S. government (or some set of rich country governments) offer Pfizer $1-$2 billion to fully open-source its manufacturing technology.

Suppose Pfizer and the other manufacturers refuse reasonable offers. There is another recourse. The governments can make their offers directly to the company's engineers who have developed the technology. They can offer the engineers say $1-$2 million a month for making their knowledge available to the world.

This sharing would almost certainly violate the non-disclosure agreements these engineers have signed with their employers. The companies would almost certainly sue engineers for making public disclosures of protected information. Governments can offer to cover all legal expenses and any settlements or penalties that they faced as a result of the disclosure.

The key point is that we want the information available as soon as possible. We can worry about the proper level of compensation later. This again gets back to whether we see the pandemic as a real emergency.

Suppose that during World War II Lockheed, General Electric, or some other military contractor developed a new sonar system that made it easier to detect the presence of German submarines. What would we do if this company refused to share the technology with the U.S. government so that it was better able to defend its military and merchant vessels against German attacks?

While that scenario would have been almost unimaginable – no U.S. corporation would have withheld valuable military technology from the government during the war – it is also almost inconceivable that the government would have just shrugged and said "oh well, I guess there is nothing we can do." (That's especially hard to imagine since so much public money went into developing the technology.) The point is that the war was seen as a national emergency and the belief that we had to do everything possible to win the war as quickly as possible was widely shared. If we see the pandemic as a similar emergency it would be reasonable to treat it in the same way as World War II.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is what the industry representative saw as the downside of making their technology widely available. The argument was that the mRNA technology was not actually developed to be used against Covid. Its value against the pandemic was just a fortunate coincidence. The technology was actually intended to be used for vaccines against cancer and other diseases.

From the industry perspective, the downside is that if they made their technology more widely available, then other companies may be able to step in and use it to develop their own vaccines against cancer and other diseases. In other words, the big fear is that we will see more advances in health care if the technology is widely available, pretty much the exact opposite of the story about how this would impede further innovation.

I gather most of us do not share the industry's concerns that open-sourcing technology could lead to a proliferation of new vaccines against deadly diseases, but it is worth taking a moment to think about the innovation process. The industry has long pushed the line that the way to promote more innovation is to make patent and related monopolies longer and stronger. The idea is that by increasing potential profits, we will see more investment in developing new vaccines, cures, and treatments.

But these monopolies are only one way to provide incentives, and even now they are not the only mechanism we use. We also spend over $40 billion a year in the United States alone on supporting biomedical research, primarily through the National Institutes of Health. Most of this money goes to more basic research, but many drugs and vaccines have been developed largely on the government dime, most notably the Moderna vaccine, which was paid for entirely through Operation Warp Speed.

If we put up more public money, then we need less private money. I have argued that we would be best off relying pretty much entirely on public money. This would take away the perverse incentives created by patent monopoly pricing, like the pushing of opioids that was a major factor in the country's opioid crisis. It would also allow for the open-sourcing of research, which should be a condition of public funding. This could create the world the industry fears, as many companies could jump ahead and take advantage of developments in mRNA technology to develop vaccines against a variety of diseases.

But even if we don't go the full public funding route, it is pretty much definitional that more public funding reduces the need for strong patent monopolies to provide incentives. If we put up more dollars for research, clinical testing, or other aspects of the development process, then we can provide the same incentive to the pharmaceutical industry with shorter and/or weaker monopoly protections.

In the vaccine context, open-source means not only sharing existing technology, but creating the opportunity for improving it by allowing engineers all of the world to inspect production techniques. While the industry would like to pretend that it has perfected the production process and possibilities for improvement do not exist, this is hardly plausible based on what is publicly known.

To take a few examples, Pfizer announced back in February that it found that changing its production techniques could cut production time in half. It also discovered that its vaccine did not require super-cold storage. Rather, it could be kept in a normal freezer for up to two weeks. In fact, Pfizer did not even realize that its standard vial contained six doses of the vaccine rather than five. This meant that one sixth of its vaccines were being thrown into the toilet at a time when they were in very short supply.

Given this history, it is hard to believe that Pfizer and the other pharmaceutical companies now have an optimal production system that will allow for no further improvements. As the saying goes, when did the drug companies stop making mistakes about their production technology?

Has Anyone Heard of China?

It is remarkable how discussions of vaccinating the world so often leave out the Chinese vaccines. They are clearly not as effective as the mRNA vaccines, but they are nonetheless hugely more effective in preventing death and serious illness than no vaccines. And, in a context where our drug companies insist that they couldn't possibly produce enough vaccines to cover the developing world this year, and possibly not even next year, we should be looking to the Chinese vaccines to fill the gap.

China was able to distribute more than 560 million vaccines internally, in the month of June, in addition to the doses it supplied to other countries. Unless the country had a truly massive stockpile at the start of the month, this presumably reflects capacity in the range of 500 million vaccines a month. The Chinese vaccines account for close to 50 percent of the doses given around the world to date.

It would be bizarre not to try to take advantage of China's capacity. There obviously are political issues in dealing with China, but the U.S. and other Western countries should try to put these aside, if we are going to be serious about vaccinating the world as quickly as possible.

'Mistakes Were Made'—NOT Our National Motto

If a vaccine-resistant strain of the coronavirus develops, and we have to go through a whole new round of disease, deaths, and shutdowns, it will be an enormous disaster from any perspective. The worst part of the story is that it is a fully avoidable disaster.

We could have had the whole world vaccinated by now, if the United States and other major powers had made it a priority. Unfortunately, we were too concerned about pharmaceutical industry profits and scoring points against China to go this route.

Nonetheless, we may get lucky. Current infection rates worldwide are down sharply from the peaks hit in April, but they are rising again due to the Delta variant. It is essential to do everything possible to accelerate the distribution of vaccines. It is long past time that we started taking the pandemic seriously.

How to order plans for an untraceable plastic gun

A Texas organization, Defense Distributed, has posted plans online to help anyone—including terrorists and criminals—make plastic guns that can't be traced.

The move came after a Trump-appointed federal Judge Ryan Nelson wrote an April decision for the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals clearing the way for sales of the gun plans. Judge Robert Whaley dissented.

"Congress expressly precluded review of the relevant agency actions here," wrote Nelson, a longtime member of the Federalist Society.

Nelson ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging Trump rules allowing plans for 3D-printed guns to be sold on the internet.

Buyers of the gun plans don't have to undergo background checks. The guns don't have serial numbers so they can't be traced.

Our nation already has the 32nd-highest death rate from gun violence in the world, almost four deaths per 100,000 people in 2019. The highest death rate in the United States is the District of Columbia with 18.5 deaths per 100,000.

If deaths due to armed conflict are excluded, the United States is worse than even nations like Lebanon and Afghanistan. The countries with higher gun death rates in the United States are countries troubled by gangs and drug trafficking like El Salvador and Guatemala.

President Joe Biden has said he could take executive action to limit the availability of 3D guns.

In June, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced the 3D Printed Gun Safety Act which would prohibit distributing blueprints and instructions online for printing guns.

The State Department previously argued that the proliferation of 3D-printed guns could provide terrorist and criminal organizations with access to dangerous firearms. But under Trump, who had at least $16.3 million in help from the National Rifle Association in his re-election effort, the department flip-flopped.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia sued the Trump administration in January 2020 to block the plans from being posted online. They said 3D-printed guns would seriously compromise security in places like courthouses, schools, prisons, airports and stadiums that rely on standard metal detectors.

Arkansas native Cody Wilson, an English major who dropped out of law school, founded Defense Distributed. Wilson is also a registered sex offender because he pled guilty to injury to a child, a felony, in a case involving a 16-year-old girl. He can't buy or sell weapons at gun stores.

Defense Distributed contends that its blueprint files are a form of speech and efforts to block their release violate the First Amendment. Its supporters include the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The district judge, Richard Jones, had ordered a preliminary injunction in the case, writing that "the proliferation of 3-D gun files on the internet likely renders ineffective arms embargoes, export controls, and other measures used to restrict the availability of uniquely dangerous weapons."

How the Biden administration's foot-dragging is killing the arts

Few organizations suffered more than nonprofit performing arts venues in the past 16 months of the pandemic. Continued uncertainty surrounds reopenings, in part because of the achingly slow government response in delivering money needed to resume performances.

Unlike restaurants and bars, which have minimal costs to resume operations if they held onto their space and inventory, many performing arts venues say they can't just open up because they need money to rehearse, build sets, advertise, and produce events.

Live performance charities big and small are in deep financial holes. The Metropolitan Opera in New York faces a colossal shortfall of $150 million, Operawire reported. The Opera projected to bring in $49 million in box office revenue this fall, $88 million less than its earnings from the 2019-2020 season that was halted by COVID-19.

Live entertainment venues were among the first businesses to close, and they will almost certainly be among the last to reopen. Sen. Amy Klobuchar

This estimation last year came alongside Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb's prediction that it would take years for the company to rake in its usual totals again due to the bleak outlook for tourism, according to Operawire.

The Bootleg Theater, a staple of Los Angeles' arts and cultural scene for over two decades, was not as lucky. It was forced to close its doors just as the city began to reopen.

"We are in a public health and economic crisis, and the live entertainment industry has been particularly hard-hit during the coronavirus pandemic," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said on the Senate floor in December. "These live entertainment venues were among the first businesses to close, and they will almost certainly be among the last to reopen."

Half Closed

Almost half of the nonprofit arts and cultural organizations with in-person programming remain closed, and roughly half of those have no scheduled return date, Americans for the Arts found in a June 28 survey.

Many of those nonprofits said they lack funds to reopen. More than two-thirds of these lightly financed arts organizations said they expect that raising enough money to open the doors again will take three months or more, according to the survey.

In an updated report two weeks later, Americans for the Arts reported 39% of organizations with in-person programming still remained closed to the public. Most of these groups aim to resume in-person activities this year.

Many nonprofit theaters have no working capital. Like millions of cash-strapped Americans, they struggle from performance to performance, not unlike those who live paycheck to paycheck with no savings.

"When you produce a show, you're banking money to produce the next show," said Chris Serface, President of the American Association of Community Theaters.

Serface is also managing artistic director for Tacoma (Wash.) Little Theatre. "We've been dark for a long time, so we don't have that capital to just go ahead and produce a show again," Serface told me.

As if financial instability was not enough to endure, even though Congress appropriated money for live performance venues, so far only a trickle of cash flows to them, Serface and others said.

The Save Our Stages Act — a bipartisan bill spearheaded by Klobuchar and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) — was included in the $900 billion stimulus bill last December. It allocated $15 billion for struggling arts and cultural locales through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.

Slowdown at the SBA

The arts and similar grants, administered by the Small Business Administration, were supposed to be easier to apply for than the Paycheck Protection Program loans.

The rollout was shaky at best. Weeks after the early April start date, the SBA blamed "technical difficulties" for not approving requests and sending funds. SBA reported on June 9 it had issued grants to less than 1% of more than 14,000 applicants.

Christopher Mannelli, executive director of the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, N.Y., applied for a grant in April. It took two months for SBA to notify him that the agency had reviewed his paperwork.

"It's supposed to be emergency funding, and it certainly has not arrived in a timely manner at all — and all of us have emergency needs," Mannelli said.

The SBA's latest report detailed a significant improvement in the distribution of grants because the program got off to such an atrocious start.

The agency has distributed almost 4,000 grants since the earlier debacle at the beginning of June, according to its July 6 report. That's less than a third of the grants sought.

And aside from the bipartisan criticism voiced by Cornyn and Klobuchar of SBA for its botched implementation, there is no indication of more federal help soon.

"I fully expect the performing arts field to feel this is a two-to-three-year pandemic," said Tamara Keshecki, a research associate at UMass Amherst School of Public Policy. She is also on the New York Independent Venue Association board, which represents independent performing arts groups and organizations based in the state.

"It's not going to be like 'we got some grant money, we reopen, and everything goes back to business as normal,'" Keshecki said.

In June, Washington state lifted most COVID-19 restrictions, joining virtually all other state governments in allowing enterprises to function at full capacity. But Serface said that doesn't guarantee audiences will resume buying tickets.

His theater welcomed some people to its summer youth program at the beginning of July, but Serface said there's no way to predict how willing audiences will be to return.

Still, the Tacoma theater plans somehow to resume shows in the fall, when the production season usually begins.

"That's the big question none of us really know the answer to because it's different all across the country," Serface said. "There's a lot of variables that are making a lot of people nervous, and those are some of the struggles we're all going to face going forward."

New York throws a parade -- and essential workers say ‘Fuhgettaboutit!’

New York City threw essential workers a ticker tape parade along the canyon of heroes last week. And somehow, Gotham's gilded oligarchs were spared the unsavory sight of marchers in matching "I Saved Your Asses From COVID-19 And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt" gear.

Exhausted healthcare workers along with their counterparts in children's services, transportation, retail and other frontline sectors appeared too giddy about surviving the one-time epicenter of Covid and putting the worst of the ongoing pandemic behind them to pass up a well-deserved shot at the biggest block party NYC has to offer. Marching together, workers knew they deserved all the accolades the tired town could muster.

Yet even this most forgiving atmosphere where heaps of blue and orange confetti were periodically blasted from the backs of municipal pickup trucks couldn't obscure the level of worker resentment and anger roiling just beneath the highly produced pomp and pageantry.

Parade placards declaring, "Not All Heroes Wear Capes" and "Our Labor Saved Lives" carried an edge. Hearst drivers, embalmers and cemetery staffers made room on their proud banner for an impromptu "FDNY EMS Fair Pay Now!" sign.

As much as he would've liked, hapless outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio still couldn't get everybody on a float.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees' District Council 37 [DC 37, AFSME] — the largest public employees union in New York City with some 150,000 members — told Hizzoner just what they thought of his self-serving party by simply not showing up.

Other unions joining DC 37 in its parade boycott, including those representing the Fire Department's Bureau of Emergency Medical Services [EMS] as well as the United Probation Officers Association [UPOA], also had no stomach for the naked hypocrisy of patting bone-weary workers on the back while at the same time continuing to deny them fundamentals including pay parity, early retirement and a fair contract.

Fair Labor Contracts

"If the mayor wants to celebrate the frontline city workers who put their health and safety on the line to keep New York running at the height of the pandemic, he can start by ensuring every city worker has a fair contract that pays a living wage," the UPOA said in a statement.

Just a week before the "Hometown Heroes" parade, some 200 retired city workers took to the streets of lower Manhattan to protest a secretive backroom deal swapping out their Medicare healthcare plans with private Medicare Advantage ones costing them thousands of dollars a year.

"I worked 34 years," retired special education teacher and United Federation of Teachers [UFT] member Gloria Brandman said at the scene. "I was promised Medicare and supplements paid for by the city."

Still Waiting

Nationwide, frontline workers who risked all throughout the pandemic are still waiting for fundamental job protections, vital healthcare coverage, a $15 an hour minimum wage, the right to organize and enforceable workplace safety standards to protect them against the further spread of Covid and its emerging variants.

What they are getting instead is an economic ass-whooping consisting of stagnant wages, vanishing unemployment benefits and rising consumer prices.

The sweet confections baked into ticker tape parades and the like are meant to distract from all that pain and suffering while the country's elite continue to gorge themselves on the $1.6 trillion they've amassed during the pandemic.

In Detroit, for instance, the city's essential workers are being feted to "Thank You Tuesdays" at Comerica [Bank] Park, where home game festivities include special scoreboard shoutouts and base pads reading, "Thank You Frontline Heroes."

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, meanwhile, declared June 17, "Essential Worker Appreciation Day" and called on the feds to issue a one-shot bonus for frontline workers.

Liz Hanbidge, a state representative from Harrisburg, Pa., went even further this past spring, introducing a resolution in her state's General Assembly designating 2020 as "Frontline Workers Appreciation Year."

At least Hanbindge backed up the empty accolades with a proposal requiring large businesses to extend hazard pay to essential workers, along with a few other limited pro-worker measures including one offering supplemental payments to frontline workers still earning less than $15 an hour.

But elected officials aren't exactly shutting down traffic or breaking out the yellow vests in order to get working men and women in this country what they need for themselves and their families.

Embattled Governor

Back in New York, where embattled Gov. Andrew Cuomo is doing his best to create his own blue collar bone fides with a problematic new monument at Manhattan's Battery Park dedicated to essential workers, it's much the same thing.

Ahead of the July 7, "Hometown Heroes" parade, City Council Member Margaret Chin expressed her "hope" that "many eyes" have been opened during the pandemic about the "value of these [essential] jobs."

"As the city reopens we must continue to respect and advocate for these workers," the lawmaker, who represents many parts of lower Manhattan including Battery Park City, declared.

As we say in NYC — "That, and $2.75 will get me on the subway."

Hopes and prayers are nothing in the face of an oligarchic onslaught machine that exists to keep exploited farmworkers hidden and out of sight; hard-pressed Amazon employees too exhausted and afraid to raise their heads; and pretty much everyone else in the good 'ol USA in a permanent somnambulistic stupor.

Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and other vaunted captains of industry are among the few who always have their eyes wide open.

When the monied interests oppose unionization, livable wages and universal healthcare — they know it's not about the Benjamins. These economic royalists know it's all about preserving their lofty perches by continuing to deprive working men and women of economic autonomy, strength and power.

Of course, Bezos and the rest of the oligarchic elite have more than enough money to pay workers better wages and benefits [for crying out loud, they're shooting themselves into outer space]. What they absolutely can't afford, however, is to lift their boots off our necks. Not even a little bit.

Public exhibitions and monuments like the ones popping up during the vaccination rollout have always been very powerful tools — whether created to instill particular narratives in the minds of the masses favorable to the ruling elite or making the masses believe the ruling elite actually cares about the concerns of workers.

That statue of Robert E. Lee that recently came down in Charlottesville, Va., was erected a-hundred-some-odd-years-ago with a clear-eyed purpose. In this case, to obscure the ugly fact that the Civil War was fought to perpetuate slavery and not at all about protecting "states rights," "honoring southern heritage," or any other such nonsense.

And despite the genuine earnestness of the participants, Mayor Muriel Bowser's decision to allow "BLACK LIVES MATTER" to be painted on 16th Street in Washington, DC also sought to accomplish the ruling elite's aim of placating the masses without, you know, actually doing anything to stop fascist police from murdering unarmed Black and Brown people.

Either way, it seems like you still can't go wrong with a statue or parade if you want to try and keep the working class in check.

Trump-appointed election commission holdovers accused of delaying campaign finance cases

Holdover Trump election officials are trying to run out the clock on campaign finance cases, including a serious accusation that gun lovers secretly gave Republican leaders millions of dollars.

Charges against the National Rifle Association were leveled by the gun-control group founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a gunshot victim from Arizona.

The Federal Election Commission generally has five years to act on campaign finance violations. The FEC spent much of the presidential election year of 2020 not even able to meet because it didn't have enough commissioners and has an enormous backlog of cases.

"The court should not allow the FEC to capitalize on its years-long failure to act on these complaints by simply waiting out the clock," wrote the attorneys for Giffords, a nonprofit that sued the FEC in 2019 in federal court.

Trump appointees voted to dismiss a case against former Trump fixer Michael Cohen over his $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels

Trump appointees Sean Cooksey and Trey Trainor voted to dismiss a case against former Trump fixer Michael Cohen over his $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, citing the backlog of cases and the statute of limitations.

Trump appointee Allen Dickerson, Cooksey and Trainor cited the statute of limitations to dismiss a case about allegations filed in 2018 that the son of former Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, was paid to do social media consulting for his father's 2016 campaign.

"We believe the Commission is better served prioritizing other investigations," they wrote.

FEC head Shana Broussard and a commissioner, Ellen Weintraub, both Democrats, also voted to dismiss the case against Heller.

Giffords, founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot and seriously injured in a 2011 assassination attempt, sued the FEC. She said the commission failed to act on allegations that the NRA coordinated millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to Trump and other candidates.

Giffords wants a federal judge to order the commission to act on complaints filed with the FEC. The lawsuit says the NRA used a network of shell corporations to illegally coordinate spending millions with the campaigns of Trump and at least six other federal candidates, including Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)

"The allegations … constitute a substantial and ongoing threat to the integrity of the election system," wrote the attorneys for Giffords.

Giffords said the scheme funneled millions of dollars in illegal, unreported and excessive in-kind contributions. Giffords accused the National Rifle Institute for Legislative Action and the NRA Political Victory Fund of spending more than $25 million during the 2016 election cycle supporting Trump and distributing and placing those ads with the same employees who were placing Trump's own ads.

Other candidates who benefited from NRA scheme in 2014 were:

  • Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) who defeated Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan
  • Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Co.) who beat Democratic incumbent Mark Udall
  • Cotton who ousted Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor in Arkansas

In 2016, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) kept his seat with NRA help.

Hawley beat Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in 2018 in Missouri with assistance from the NRA.

Matt Rosendale challenged Democratic incumbent Jon Tester for the U.S. Senate in Montana in 2018 with NRA help but lost.

Rosendale was elected to the U.S. House in 2020.

FEC attorneys argued in 2020 that there had been no unreasonable delay in addressing the complaints and said that the commission was incapable of acting at that time because it didn't have enough commissioners.

In fiscal 2019, the commission started 31 investigations, at least twice as many as were opened in each of the previous six fiscal years.

Trump stuffed the commission with anti-regulation attorneys like Cooksey, previously Hawley's general counsel, and Trainor, who represented Trump's 2016 campaign.

The Supreme Court has permitted unlimited independent political spending by groups like the NRA on the theory that independent spending does not pose the same risk of corruption as direct contributions. Expenditures coordinated with a candidate are not considered independent.

Bradley Todd, one of the founders of a consulting firm named in the Giffords lawsuit, also worked as a consultant for Gardner, Cotton, Johnson and Hawley and as a media strategist for Tillis. Former NRA lobbyist Chris Cox, a friend of Todd's, is also named in the Giffords lawsuit.

The NRA accused Cox of fleecing more than $1 million from the organization from 2015 to 2019. He is cooperating with the investigation of the NRA by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

This is why a conservative Supreme Court is bad for America

The real disappointing impact of the Supreme Court decision upholding Arizona's voting restriction laws will be in the ripples, of course.

The two specific practices that the Supreme Court ruled as constitutional, overturning both the appeals court and district court that heard the challenge, will likely not change election outcomes in Arizona or other states, but the chill emanating from this case will encourage Republican-led states to crack down faster and harder on limits seen as aimed at minority, Democratic voters.

As The New York Times noted, "The decision suggested that the Supreme Court would not be inclined to strike down many of the measures" now spreading among states with Republican legislative majorities.

Legally, the importance of the decision is further eroding the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and shielding those seeking to make voting harder for minorities in the driver's seat.

Congratulations go to Donald Trump, proponents of the Big Steal, and a compliant Supreme Court bound either by its thinking of its conservative majority or over a reluctance to challenge states' rights. In any case, it has immediately become more difficult to put together challenges to any restrictive voting law.

From a racial viewpoint, the big hit to the Voting Rights Bill had come in 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, which overturned the law's Section 5 requiring prior federal approval of changes to voting procedures in parts of the country with a history of racial discrimination. But Section 2 had still allowed challenges after the fact.

Narrowing the Focus

This decision involved two kinds of voting restrictions in Arizona. One required election officials to discard ballots cast at the wrong precinct. The other made it a crime for campaign workers, community activists and most other people to collect ballots for delivery to polling places, a practice critics call "ballot harvesting." The law made exceptions for family members, caregivers and election officials.

Lower courts found that there was evidence to show that limits would affect Black and Brown voters more than Whites. The Supreme Court decided the opposite way, 6-3, voted along its own conservative-liberal split. It can only be a signal to Republican legislatures that there is no legal way to support more challenges to suppression laws.

Now, Congress is making clear that it cannot pass a necessarily bipartisan bill to keep these voter restrictions from spreading. By defining the issue before it so literal and legally narrow, Supreme Court justices are making clear that had the Congress passed such a bill, they would have been open to challenging the law rather considering Republican bad campaign practices.

What the Court apparently did not consider is how voting restrictions affect living while Black in America.
The decision, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., argued that the system in Arizona offers ample opportunity for everyone to vote, even if it seems to fall heavier on some people, and concluded that the state's interest in preventing voter fraud outweighs whatever overall disparate impact the law has.

As a Washington Post columnist noted, "The fact that voter fraud is almost entirely fictional did not disturb the justice."

Building a Pattern

Instead, the Court is following a map of reducing laws meant to maintain voting by all.
In 2010, the justices said corporations have the right to use their billions to influence elections. Since 2010, the Court has killed a public financing law meant to allow candidates relying on small donations to compete with self-financed millionaires and billionaires, squashed the heart of the Voting Rights Act, claiming it was no longer necessary because racism is pretty much over, upheld voter purges that disenfranchise thousands of voters and ruled that partisan gerrymandering, no matter how clearly it disenfranchises people, is beyond the ability of the courts to do anything about.

It is now accepted Republican outlook that if elections were fair, they would lose, we need new laws that tilt those states that accept the challenge to tilt the rules to make "voting more cumbersome, inconvenient and difficult, all aimed directly at populations they believe are more likely to vote for Democrats," argued that Post columnist.

On the same day, the Supreme Court decided by the same 6-3 line-up that California legally could not require charities soliciting contributions in the state to report the identities of their major donors. That requirement had drawn a challenge by Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a group affiliated with the Koch family, and the Thomas More Law Center, a conservative Christian public-interest law firm. They said it violated the First Amendment's protection of the freedom of association by subjecting donors to possible harassment by making the information public.
Again, the court is protecting conservative Republicans seeking to influence public elections. And, again, the court is ignoring the role that dark money plays in elections.

Just curious that these are all rulings by justices labeled as conservative.

Noting originalist here.

How Congress — and your wallet — subsidize the richest Americans

ProPublica scored a fantastic scoop when it obtained and meticulously analyzed 15 years of raw income tax data on the wealthiest Americans. This leak of Internal Revenue Service records is by far the biggest and most important tax news in the 55 years that I've reported on taxes.

Thanks to the leaker, we now know beyond any doubt that the endless claims America has a progressive income tax system are bunk. A progressive system means that the more you make, the greater the share of your income you pay in taxes. Back in 2005, I got the George W. Bush administration to acknowledge that the system stops becoming progressive near the top.

But, unfortunately, ProPublica shows that it's even worse than what I reported back then.

Working people pay a larger share of their income in tax than the wealthiest of the wealthy. The top marginal tax rate on labor income is almost double that of capital gains.

A system in which people who gross about $330 a week pay a much higher tax rate than someone who makes billions each year is not just regressive; it's an outrage.

Jeff Bezos, the richest man in America, paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011. He doesn't dispute that.

Bezos was not alone. Multi-billionaires Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg, Carl Icahn and George Soros all pulled off the same trick at least once in recent years, ProPublica reported after analyzing the IRS data. Warren Buffet pays less in tax than millions of Americans, something he and Soros have said is wrong.

Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and owner of the financial data and news business bearing his name, paid over five years an income tax rate lower than that of the poorest half of American taxpayers.

Bloomberg Pays Just 3%

On his income tax returns, Bloomberg reported making $10 billion. Yet, he paid just 3%.

The bottom half of income taxpayers averaged $17,200 of income in 2017 and paid 4%.

A system in which people who gross about $330 a week pay a much higher tax rate than someone who makes billions each year is not just regressive; it's an outrage. It violates principles of taxation that date to the Old Testament and ancient Athens.

I couldn't help but notice that my wife, a charity CEO, and I pay a higher income tax rate than Bezos, Bloomberg and Buffett.

By the grace of Congress, those billionaires get to take unlimited losses when they make losing stock investments while Jennifer and I—and you—can deduct only $3,000 a year. So even if my wife and I live into our 90s, we will die with losses we never got to deduct.

That's just the kind of unfairness Professor Dorothy A. Brown compellingly demonstrates in her insightful and readable new book The Whiteness of Wealth.

Until now, the Wealth Defense Industry—armies of accountants, lawyers and wealth managers who specialize in using trusts, tax loopholes, off-shore corporations and foundations to benefit their 0.05% clients—tricked people. They pointed to posted tax rates, not actual rates paid by the super-super-super rich, and asserted with cherry-picked data that the rich pay a lot.

Salaried Workers Pay More

The granular data ProPublica obtained proves that the tax rates Congress puts in the law and the tax rates people pay only match up for working Americans in the bottom 99.5%.

Congress taxes workers much more heavily than billionaire capitalists who, ProPublica showed, can live income tax-free.

All of the people ProPublica wrote about are white men. Professor Brown of Emory University shows how our existing tax system favors wealth above income and discriminates against Black Americans. The design of our tax system plays a significant role in the vast wealth disparities between white Americans and people of color.

ProPublica's reporting backs her up. It showed that for most Americans, annual income taxes far exceed yearly increases in wealth.

Good Debt

At the apex of American wealth, you can live tax-free, as I showed many years ago. That is thanks to rules favoring the rich, loopholes Congress refuses to close and minimal enforcement of our tax laws against the plutocrat class.

One simple technique is borrowing against your assets. Congress doesn't count that borrowed money as income.

For example: Let's say you're a 60-year-old founder-CEO holding $10 billion of stock in your company, which grows in value at a modest rate of 5%, or $500 million, a year. You determine that you can live comfortably on $50 million a year.

You then borrow that money, putting that much of your holdings up as collateral.

Do you see where this is going? You can borrow and live on $50 million a year every year for the rest of your life without paying a cent of federal income tax.

It gets better. The IRS determines interest rates on intra-family loans. The current rates are next to zero, less than even our modest inflation rate. Given that, why would anyone sell stock and pay a 20% tax rate to buy a yacht or a new jet when they can borrow against themselves almost interest-free and watch their stocks keep rising in value?

Hunting for the Leaker

The Biden White House announced late Tuesday that law enforcement is hunting for the leaker, who faces up to a decade in prison.

Whoever dared to do this should be hailed as a national hero on a par with Darnella Frazier, the fearless teenage girl with a steady hand who last summer recorded the slow, agonizing murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

We should be building statues to honor this leaker, if he or she is ever identified, just as we should erect one to honor Remy Welling, the IRS corporate auditor whose leak to me 17 years ago proved corruption in the Silicon Valley stock options system.

Thanks to ProPublica and its source, maybe Americans will at long last wake up and realize that our federal income tax, as currently designed, is a massive subsidy system for the super-rich.

And the source of those subsidies for Bezos, Bloomberg, Buffett, Musk and other multibillionaires? That would be you.

Crime looms large in the race to run the Big Apple

New York City's mayoral election is a one of a kind, one that draws more than its share of identifying Democrats both as candidates and voters. Candidates want to run a city that has held what the nation would adjudge to be generally progressive social views.

In a city where a steady hand toward small business recovery, homelessness, public transit, education and housing availability ought to dominate the airwaves two weeks out from the end of voting, crime is the hot topic.

How the city assures public safety is more complicated and nuanced than slogans and sound bites allow. Crime may not be the real issue.

Arguments in commercials, debates and social media home in on crime along with coverage that tries to elevate local crime reports into national questions. Various politicians, parties and -isms are seeking to make this election a wider referendum, pitting "defund police" believers against Back the Blue supporters.

"Fear of crime is back as a political issue in New York City. For the first time in years it could be a prime factor in who voters pick as their next mayor," The Associated Press reported matter of factly.

The lead in this contest is difficult to assess because of the number of candidates and the first-time use of a multi-choice ballot. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams seems to be ahead. He is a former NYPD captain, who spouts rhetoric about more targeted policing without a lot of specifics.

Several other candidates teeter in agreement to "get guns off the streets," while still trying to adhere to anti-stop-and-frisk thinking.

Of all of them, Maya Wiley, a former legal adviser to current mayor Bill de Blasio and once head of the civilian oversight police board, is most aggressive about looking anew at how police funds are spent.

It has become a slow-rolling sound-bite debate—as if there are only two choices and as if crime is the most important issue facing the city.

Without assured public safety, the general debate goes, we will not see the city fully rebounding from the pandemic.

How the city assures public safety is more complicated and nuanced than slogans and sound bites allow. Crime may not be the real issue.

Crime or Mental Health?

Yes, there is more crime in New York today than a year ago. Of course, a year ago, everyone was locked in at home. Comparisons, particularly when measured by percentages, are skewed.

Year after year, the number of shootings is up. There were 687 injured and 181 homicides as compared with the same period in 2019 (which is described as a whopping 50% increase). By comparison with the 1990s, however, those figures are way down.

Many of the most common types of crime in the city, including robberies, burglaries and grand larcenies, remain near historic lows, AP and others acknowledge.

A few very public shootings, including errant bullets injuring a toddler in Times Square and the fear of random misdoings in the subway, have boosted the public perception of rising crime. A plurality of voters surveyed in a recent NY1/Ipsos poll chose "crime or violence" as the biggest problem facing New York, with racial injustice and police reform also in the top 10.

Police and neighborhood groups are working together to respond to increased reports of guns being delivered into the city by vanloads.

At the same time, the increase of mass shootings nationwide keeps us from accepting that local situations may differ. Through the first five months of 2021, gunfire killed more than 8,100 people in the United States, about 54 lives lost per day, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research organization. That's 14 more deaths per day than the average toll during the same period of the previous six years.

Of course, if we really accept that premise, it begs the question of why we don't do something about limiting guns.

In My Neighborhood

This week, my wife and I dialed into our lightly attended Harlem neighborhood Zoom conversation with two police officers assigned to community outreach. It reflected some of what is going on in a wider sense.

The complaints aired were not so much about crime, or violent crime, as they were about the effects of drugs and homelessness on the streets – incidents of public urination, a guy stripping down, people congregating under the myriad scaffolded areas and a specific corner near three methadone clinics where people from across the entire city seem to congregrate. There were issues of discomfort and feelings of fear, if not actual crime.

Police expressed willingness to respond but did point out that there may be no actual crime involved. There have been nearly 30 arrests at that particular corner for drug selling in recent weeks. But there is an experimental program rolling out in which emergency medical treatment officers are paired with mental health specialists to get those with emotional problems into treatment centers.

Reports of "crime" or bad acts generally have gotten worse with waning pandemic restrictions.

Indeed, the police note that their very presence prompts lingerers at the corner to move onto less-trafficked nearby streets – with further complaints from those residents.The targeted corner resulted from efforts a year ago to clean up a similar intersection a few blocks away.

On the city's Westside, there was a very public debate over the use of an underutilized hotel where the city had sent homeless men. The individuals did not stay inside all the time. Soon normally tolerant Westsiders were complaining mightily about ugly confrontations, thefts and public urination. The city moved the men involved.

Burden on Police

There are no NYPD-equivalent homelessness and mental illness counselors. None of the candidates for mayor is talking about adding thousands of trained personnel to deal with homeless and mental illness.

So the burden for dealing with the results is falling on police to respond or to add lighting or patrols. There is little talk about what to do to reduce the city's 8,900 scaffolds, which keep the homeless out of police view.

Instead, there is fear talk about crime and violence.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights leader and frequent speaker in the policing issues getting national attention, fully acknowledges that crime and homelessness are issues in the city. "It is not true that those of us that want police reform do not also at the same time want to deal with crime," he told reporters last week.

Candidate Wiley would cut the police budget by $1 billion annually "and invest those funds directly into the communities most impacted by gun violence." A Wiley campaign ad shows police driving into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters last year. She says in the ad that it's "time the NYPD sees us as people who deserve to breathe," a reference to the deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd.

Candidate Scott Stringer, who calls himself a liberal, says he would cut at least $1 billion over four years through measures such as transferring mental health response to non-police crisis teams and reducing police overtime. Kathryn Garcia skips talking about the police budget but says officers' minimum age should be increased from 21 to 25 and new recruits should be required to live in the city. Andrew Yang backs a police residency requirement as well as beefed-up oversight of the department but rejects calls to defund the police.

Adams, an NYPD officer for 22 years talks of having been a victim of police brutality as a teenager. He rejects all calls for budget changes and wants more recruitment of officers of color and less racial profiling.

It's a lively debate, but perhaps unresponsive to what is prompting it.

European Union blacklists big banks

The European Union is shaking up the financial world by excluding a group of large banks from participating in the marketing of bonds being floated to help in the economic recovery of member states.

According to reports in various business publications, the 10 banks are being singled out because of their involvement in cases in which they were accused of manipulating bond and currency markets. In other words, they are being punished for misconduct.

These moves may not have a major bottom-line impact on the banks—which include U.S. giants JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. But the EU is sending an important message about corporate wrongdoing.


Large companies have come to assume they can essentially buy their way out of legal jeopardy by paying fines and settlements that have grown larger but arein still far from seriously punitive. As Violation Tracker documents, the big banks are Exhibit A for this phenomenon.

The database shows that the financial sector overall has paid more than $300 billion in U.S. penalties in the past two decades, far and away more than any other part of the economy.

Bank of America is at the top of the list of penalty payers, with $82 billion; JPMorgan, second with $35 billion; Citigroup, fourth with $25 billion.

Deutsche Bank on the List

Non-U.S. banks being singled out by the EU have also accumulated substantial U.S. penalties, apart from what they have paid elsewhere. For example, Deutsche Bank paid $18 billion and NatWest (formerly the Royal Bank of Scotland) $13 billion.

The EU's move is focused on a particular set of scandals in which these banks were alleged to have colluded to rig markets.

Among these are cases involving the manipulation of currency markets. In 2015, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland each paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements to resolve criminal charges brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Unlike many other situations in which large corporations are offered deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreements, the banks in this case had to plead guilty to the felony charges.

Yet there was little in the way of consequences beyond the penalty payments. The banks were put on probation, on the assumption this would cause them to cease their bad behavior. Yet all the banks continued to rack up regulatory violations in subsequent years.

€86 Million Hit

Reuters estimates that the blacklisted banks will lose out on about 86 million euros in syndication fees. This is a lot less than what the banks have paid in penalties. Yet, if banks begin to see that misconduct will cause them to be excluded from business opportunities, that may be more of an inducement to avoid corrupt behavior.

The dilemma for policymakers is that misconduct is so widespread in the financial sector that it is difficult to find service providers with clean hands. While excluding the 10 banks, the EU turned to a group of others to handle the debt issue. Those included the likes of HSBC and BNP Paribas, which have their own substantial corporate rap sheets. Perhaps a larger blacklist is needed.

This article is from Dirt Diggers Digest.

Congress is close to reversing this Trump-era lending loophole

Finally, there's something 52 senators can agree on: If a legal money lender is charging you Tony Soprano-level interest rates, you're at least entitled to know who they are.

The Senate voted 52 to 47 to repeal the so-called "true lender rule" that consumer advocates and plaintiff lawyers threatened consumers. It was a last-minute banking rule under the Trump administration that covers up who's really behind triple-digit interest rate loans.

If the House follows suit, which it's expected to do, many consumers will get a break they badly need.

The controversy is about non-banks using complex arrangements with banks to offer loans at stratospheric interest rates, and whether consumers were losing legal protections.

Non-bank lenders, like those in fintech (tech companies working in the financial services space), face limits by states on how much interest they can charge.

For banks, it's different. "Every state but New Jersey repealed their interest rate limits on banks," says Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC). Any officially chartered bank can charge whatever it wants.

By partnering with what are called rent-a-banks in the industry, the non-bank lenders can enable triple-digit interest rates on loans. The actual lenders funnel the money, and the profits, through a rent-a-bank, which puts its name on the document. But critics note that it's still the non-bank company that is really making the loan, which a court might find illegal if challenged by the borrower.

'Rogue Banks'

Most banks have a degree of self-control because it's bad for their image. "You don't see 200% APR [annual percentage rate] bank credit cards out there," Saunders says. But there are a "few rogue banks," she says.

"In recent years, new fintechs have emerged that partner with banks to offer responsible small-dollar loans at affordable rates," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in an April 28 Senate hearing on the subject. But, as he noted, partnerships with rent-a-banks are at unaffordable rates.

In an NCLC-hosted webinar, Shane Heskin, a partner in the law firm of White and Williams, discussed a client: a desperate restaurant that supposedly had taken a $67,000 loan at an annual rate of 268% from non-bank World Business Lenders. Heskin said that WBL gets 95% of the payments although rent-a-bank Axos Bank is listed on the paperwork. WBL did not respond to requests for comments. Axos said that it no longer had has a relationship with WBL, that the claim of keeping only 5% of profits "is not accurate," and that "[to] the degree Axos Bank has or had third-party relationships that follow this model, and in order to ensure full compliance with applicable law, we have exercised continuous oversight over third-party service providers pursuant to a rigorous compliance program specifically designed to meet the standards" developed by the OCC.

300% Rates

NCLC says there are non-bank lenders getting upwards of 300% rates.

Some people challenge the arrangements, saying that the non-banks are the real lenders and, so, should be far more limited in rates. That's where the rule passed in late 2020 by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), a federal agency that regulates banks, comes into play.

The "true lender" rule—which opponents deridingly call the "fake lender" rule—says that the bank listed on the loan agreement is always the true lender.

"The predatory lender creates the program, finds the customers, processes the applications, decides who they want to approve, the bank rubber stamps the approval, and then the bank sells the loan or almost all the rights to the non-bank lender," Saunders says. "The non-bank lender is doing almost all the work and making almost all the profits." But because the bank is listed on the original loan agreement, under the recent rule, it would be the lender to a court.

In Heskin's restaurant case, the defendants are already trying to use the OCC rule to argue that claims of a rent-a-bank arrangement are "completely misguided," according to a court filing. If Heskin was able to show that WBL was the actual lender, he could argue that state limits on interest rates would apply.

"This rule eliminated confusion, uncertainty and legal risk for banks and their counterparties to enter into the small-dollar lending space, and increased financial inclusion as well as expanded nationwide availability of credit on reasonable terms," read a statement from non-bank lender Opportunity Financial, commonly called OppFi. "This is crucial for the 150 million everyday consumers who need access to credit but are unable to get it through traditional lenders. Third-party partnerships between banking institutions and fintech providers are critical to expanding access to credit and provide best-in-class marketing acquisition, customer service and technology to assess risk beyond mere credit scores to facilitate broader small-dollar lending access."

But, as the statement also says, "it's important to note that we built a strong and thriving business over the course of many years prior to the rule being finalized just a few months ago, and we will continue to do so now." Perhaps rejection of the rule won't hurt OppFi, or other non-bank lenders, that much.

Those in the industry point to the cost of low-dollar loans, and losses from loans that are never repaid, as the reason for very high rates.

"Their default rates are high and that's the problem," Saunders says. "That's not an excuse for predatory lending. That's the reason it should be illegal. If people can't handle their current debts, high-cost debt is not the answer."

As for losses, the lenders "figured someone needed to pay 13 months on a 42-month period to break even, then it was profit," says Saunders. "Their goal was to find people to make enough payments to make a profit."

The Federal Reserve in a 2015 study noted that the break-even annual percentage rate, including writing off defaulted loans, for a $594 amount was, indeed, 103.54%. But when the borrowed amount rose to $2,000, the break-even was about 40%. At $13,057, the break-even APR was 16.25%.

In its financial report on 2020 operations, OppFi annual revenue of $291 million and net income of $77.5 million. That's an extremely healthy before-tax profit rate of 26.6%. Profits between 2019 and 2020 were up more than a third.

If for larger amounts a lender charges 50%, 70%, 100%, 200%, or more, on the whole, they're making good money. If a lender ensures a minimum amount of loan, the losses may not be as overbearing as they are often portrayed.

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