Tuesday, September 02, 2014
countercurrents | So if "we" gave away our jobs, gave away our major corporations, gave away our trade secrets, gave away access to the natural resources assumed to be the spoils of war, donated our military men to protect Chinese industry in Afghanistan and Iraq, and charged our taxpayers over a trillion dollars for accomplishment of these tasks, then who will determine the use of our nukes? A fair question, isn’t it? A nuclear war between the United States and Russia would likely leave China and our emigrated industry, the corrupters of Congress, untouched, at least physically, and would make it overnight the unquestioned dominant economic power in the world. So perhaps we cannot assume that our government is giving full consideration to the dangers to the US itself of nuclear war with Russia.
American politics of both parties at this time portray a nation bent on self-destruction. For instance, the Republican Party, which as a practical matter is the controlling party today, "is divided between the ‘hope America fails’ Republicans, who appear to actively want joblessness to rise to seek political gain, and the radical Republicans who adore Ayn Rand, like Paul and Ryan, who favor extremist economic policies that would make America fail ." Budowsky, " July 4 Infamy: Republicans Try to Destroy America’s Economy," http://www.laprogressive.com/republicans-destroy-economy/ And the Democrats, with as much or more support from Wall Street than the Republicans, elected a candidate for two terms whose political strategies (e.g. assertion of the existence of a Senate "super majority") have assured Republican control, whose name alone uniquely qualifies him to be controversial and misunderstood, and whose very first day in office was spent openly and deliberately rejecting central campaign promises that he could as easily have kept, "What Fools We Are,"
Has it not come to anyone’s mind that Wall Street may have intentionally engineered a politics of failure for the United States, and that the Republicans’ willingness to destroy the American economy is Wall Street’s as well ?
And how better quickly to engineer a lasting failure of America, than to steer it into a nuclear first strike after resettling the great corporations thousands of miles away, leaving them free to pick up the spoils in two or three newly-vacated subcontinents? Doesn’t that make this nuclear confrontation uniquely dangerous?
These are insane questions, and one who poses them must question his own sanity, but they are no more nor less insane than the question, to which we now casually assume the answer: "Aren’t Wall Street and the world’s political and corporate leaders steering us into ultimately catastrophic climate change?"
I don’t know what’s going on here, but I know the people had better regain control of the nuclear weapons, and fast.
Monday, September 01, 2014
peakprosperity | Two years ago, we interviewed Kirk Sorenson about the potential for thorium to offer humanity a safe, cheap and abundant source of energy.
He is an active advocate for developing liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) technology, the details of which were covered in our earlier podcast: A Detailed Exploration of Thorium's Potential As An Energy Source. That interview concluded with Kirk's observation that the West could have a fully-operational LFTR reactor up and running at commercial scale within a decade, but it won't, because it is simply choosing not to prioritize exploring its potential.
But that doesn't mean other countries are ignoring thorium's promise.
Kirk returns this week to relay what has happened in the thorium space since our last conversation. The East, most notably China, is now fully-mobilized around getting its first reactor operational by as soon as 2020. If indeed thorium reactors are as successful as hoped, the US will find itself playing catch up against countries who suddenly hold a tremendous technology advantage: Fist tap Dale.
osti | General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Engineer District, in late 1944 commissioned a multi-volume history of the Manhattan Project called the Manhattan District History. Prepared by multiple authors under the general editorship of Gavin Hadden, a longtime civil employee of the Army Corps of Engineers, the classified history was "intended to describe, in simple terms, easily understood by the average reader, just what the Manhattan District did, and how, when, and where."
The volumes record the Manhattan Project's activities and achievements in research, design, construction, operation, and administration, assembling a vast amount of information in a systematic, readily available form. The Manhattan District History contains extensive annotations, statistical tables, charts, engineering drawings, maps, photographs, and detailed indices. Only a handful of copies of the history were prepared. The Department of Energy's Office of History and Heritage Resources is custodian of one of these copies.
The history is arranged in thirty-six volumes grouped in eight books. Some of the volumes were further divided into stand-alone chapters. Several of the volumes and stand-alone chapters were never security classified. Many of the volumes and chapters were declassified at various times and were available to the public on microfilm. Parts of approximately a third of the volumes remain classified.
The Office of Classification and the Office of History and Heritage Resources, in collaboration with the Department's Office of Science and Technical Information, have made the full-text of the entire thirty-six volume Manhattan District History available on this OpenNet website. Unclassified and declassified volumes have been scanned and posted. Classified volumes were declassified in full or with redactions, i.e., still classified terms, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs were removed and the remaining unclassified parts made available to the public. All volumes have been posted.
Following is a listing of the books, volumes, and stand-alone chapters of the Manhattan District History with links to pdf copies.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
fox4news | An unusual respiratory virus is striking children in the metro in big numbers. Children’s Mercy Hospital is hospitalizing 20 to 30 kids a day with the virus. The hospital is as full now as it is at the height of flu season.
This is not the same virus we told you about several weeks ago that can cause meningitis. This one can cause severe breathing trouble. Children’s Mercy has seen more than 300 cases in recent days in kids of all ages.
Preston Sheldon’s mom says he seemed fine when she took him to pre-school Tuesday. But minutes later, the Grain Valley mom got the call. Her three-year-old son was having trouble breathing.
“You could see his ribs, and his stomach was pushing out really hard… I thought it was an asthma attack,” said Pam Sheldon.
But it was a virus that is inundating Children’s Mercy with patients.
“To be at winter census is quite unusual in August obviously. To see a virus we’ve not seen before is unusual, too,” said Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, an infectious disease specialist.
It is enterovirus 68. The doctor says it’s well-known around the world, but cases have not been seen in Kansas City before.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
ozy | The organization Soni directs, the National Guestworker Alliance, focuses on immigrants with temporary work visas. Hundreds of thousands come to the United States each year. Despite their numbers, they’re difficult to organize: transient, for starters; vulnerable and risk averse, besides. Guest workers don’t come here to make trouble. Because their visas bind them to one employer, quitting means deportation, or worse.
Soni has led guest workers to some of the ballsiest collective actions in recent history — the welders, for instance, ended up marching all the way to Washington, D.C., going on a hunger strike and catalyzing an uproar in India and the White House. A strike by Mexican crawfish-peelers — who’d been forced to work 16- to 24-hour shifts and threatened with bodily harm — changed corporate policy at Wal-Mart. Striking student guest workers at a Hershey packing plant led the State Department to rewrite certain visa policies.
More remarkable than all this, maybe, is what Soni thinks the guest workers represent: you.
“The guest workers and low-wage workers that I organize hold a crystal ball into the changing nature of work,” he argues. It’s part of a theory about the future of work that he’s elucidated in lectures at Harvard Law School, Soros-funded forums, on television and, soon probably, in a book. “What’s happening to low-wage workers is not just happening to low-wage workers,” he says .
What’s happening is the rise of contingent labor — temporary, part-time, gig-to-gig — and the lengthening of labor supply chains, like independent contractors and sub-subcontractors. In their wake, even American-born professionals have lost leverage. At universities, adjunct professors are paid per class, hired per semester. Lawyers who used to work at firms now contract for them. Sixty-four thousand Silicon Valley engineers just won a settlement against four tech giants who’d agreed not to solicit one another’s employees. To Soni, their plights all resemble guest workers’.
Friday, August 29, 2014
salon | Is there anybody who thinks he’s progressive enough today?
Nobody I know. Not even among the progressive liberals. Nobody I know. Part of this, as you can imagine, is that early on there was a strong private-public distinction. People would come to me and say privately, “We see what you’re saying. We think you’re too harsh in how you say it but we agree very much with what you’re saying in private.” In public, no comment. Now, more and more of it spills over in public.
There’s a lot of disillusionment now. My liberal friends included. The phrase that I have heard from more than one person in the last year is they feel like they got played.
That’s true. That’s exactly right. What I hear is that, “He pimped us.” I heard that a zillion times. “He pimped us, brother West.” That’s another way of saying “we got played.”
You remember that enthusiasm in 2008. I’m from Kansas City. He came and spoke in Kansas City and 75,000 people came to see him.
Oh yeah. Well we know there were moments in Portland, Oregon, there were moments in Seattle. He had the country in the palm of his hand in terms of progressive possibilities.
What on earth ails the man? Why can’t he fight the Republicans? Why does he need to seek a grand bargain?
I think Obama, his modus operandi going all the way back to when he was head of the [Harvard] Law Review, first editor of the Law Review and didn’t have a piece in the Law Review. He was chosen because he always occupied the middle ground. He doesn’t realize that a great leader, a statesperson, doesn’t just occupy middle ground. They occupy higher ground or the moral ground or even sometimes the holy ground. But the middle ground is not the place to go if you’re going to show courage and vision. And I think that’s his modus operandi. He always moves to the middle ground. It turned out that historically, this was not a moment for a middle-ground politician. We needed a high-ground statesperson and it’s clear now he’s not the one.
And so what did he do? Every time you’re headed toward middle ground what do you do? You go straight to the establishment and reassure them that you’re not too radical, and try to convince them that you are very much one of them so you end up with a John Brennan, architect of torture [as CIA Director]. Torturers go free but they’re real patriots so we can let them go free. The rule of law doesn’t mean anything.
The rule of law, oh my God. There’s one law for us and another law if you work on Wall Street.
That’s exactly right. Even with [Attorney General] Eric Holder. Eric Holder won’t touch the Wall Street executives; they’re his friends. He might charge them some money. They want to celebrate. This money is just a tax write-off for these people. There’s no accountability. No answerability. No responsibility that these people have to take at all. The same is true with the Robert Rubin crowd. Obama comes in, he’s got all this populist rhetoric which is wonderful, progressive populist rhetoric which we needed badly. What does he do, goes straight to the Robert Rubin crowd and here comes Larry Summers, here comes Tim Geithner, we can go on and on and on, and he allows them to run things. You see it in the Suskind book, The Confidence Men. These guys are running things, and these are neoliberal, deregulating free marketeers—and poverty is not even an afterthought for them.
usatoday | Often, if you wait long enough, an idea comes around. Back in 2006, I wrote a piece for Popular Mechanics on how the federal government's transfer of surplus military equipment to local police departments -- sometimes in very small towns -- was leading to "SWAT overkill."
My complaints didn't get much traction with either the Bush or the Obama administrations. But now, in the wake of what many consider to be an overly militarized police response in Ferguson, Mo., President Obama has ordered a review of federal programs -- in the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security -- to arm local police with military weapons.
Lawmakers -- from Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who quoted my 2006 piece in an op-ed in Time Magazine -- are looking at legislation to limit transfers. This is good. There's a role for SWAT teams in limited circumstances, but they've been overused in recent years, deployed for absurd things such as raids on sellers of raw milk. The problem is, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when you have cool military equipment, there's a strong temptation to use it, just because, well, it's cool. (Federal regulatory agencies have succumbed to SWAT Fever too.)
I don't entirely blame the police. If somebody gave me a Bradley fighting vehicle, or an Apache helicopter, I'd take it.
But blurring the lines between civilian policing and military action is dangerous, because soldiers and police have fundamentally different roles. Soldiers aim outward, at the nation's external enemies. Civil rights and due process don't matter much, because enemies in wartime aren't entitled to those. Nor are soldiers expected to be politically accountable to the people they shoot.
But police turn their attention inward. The people they are policing aren't enemy combatants, but their fellow citizens -- and, even more significantly, their employers. A combat-like mindset on the part of police turns fellow-citizens into enemies, with predictable results.
I sometimes think the turning point was marked by the old cop show Hill Street Blues. Each episode opened with a daily briefing before the officers went out on patrol. In the early seasons, Sergeant Phil Esterhaus concluded every briefing with "Let's be careful out there." In the later episodes, his replacement, Sergeant Stan Jablonski, replaced that with "Let's do it to them before they do it to us." The latter attitude is appropriate for a war zone, but not for a civilized society.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
researchgate | The principal thesis of The Rules of Animal and Human Populations is that both human and animal societies have distinct patterns of dispersal. These patterns affect the size of populations, and in humans, the very nature of economic and political systems. Thus, different land-use, planning and inheritance systems have different outcomes, with some systems resulting in sustainable steady-state economies, while others are geared to exponential growth, the ultimate price of which is collapse. Peeping ahead, clan-based communities, in the Pacific and New Guinea for example, where traditional land-use and inheritance systems are retained, people retain control over natural resources and do not commodify the land by buying and selling it. People strive to prevent, as best they can, natural resources from being alienated and destroyed. This contrasts with the fossil-fuel intensive Anglophone countries where almost everything which can be commodified, has been. These countries are facing a multi-dimensional environmental crisis that is likely to result in social breakdown and dislocation. When collapse does occur societies' property ownership returns to family connections with the land, and over time the family and clan system re-emerges. Newman hopes that people in the rapidly growing Anglophone societies may be able to regain these organic systems of social organisation as protection against the onslaught of global capitalism.
Newman argues that these seemingly unstoppable forces of population and economic growth which are leading Anglophone countries like the United States, Australia, Britain and Canada to overshoot, do not exist in the Western continental European systems. Europe's population is already too big and is causing environmental destruction, but natural attrition is downsizing the population to more sustainable levels. Writers like "Spengler", David P. Goldman, in books with melodramatic titles such as It's Not the End of the World, It's Just the End of You, (RVP, New York, 2011), raise an alarm about such a decrease in population, but ecologically it is really just the population returning to more sustainable levels. By contrast, countries such as Australia, through undemocratically imposed immigration, largely produced by the lobbying muscle of powerful ethnic and business groups (especially the housing/real estate lobby), are set to push their populations to completely unsustainable levels, paying no respect to environmental and resources crises such as peak oil. Part of the problem with Australia's runaway growth in population, Newman points out, is that people, as in other Anglophone countries, have little democratic power to defend communities from the assault of the forces of the market, by contrast to continental Europe where the state controls most of the land-use.
Anglophone countries have political and business elites dogmatically committed to unending economic growth and "progress." Progress has become a secular religion for them. In chapter 1 Newman subjects this religion of progress to a penetrating critique. Progress requires vast quantities of materials and energy, in the form of fossil fuels. What happens in complex computer societies if there is no longer abundant fossil fuel? Is freedom, democracy and "progress" in such complex societies a product of relatively cheap fossil fuel, and will these institutions disappear in the coming age of scarcity? Her answer is "yes", for democracy in the sense of full participation in decisions is more likely in small communities not based on techno-industrialism. She sees "peak oil" and the rapid depletion of other resources needed for techno-industrial societies to grow, as major forces terminating their lives.
If economists have been wrong about the ideology of progress, what else have they been wrong about? Chapter 2 of Rules of Animal and Human Populations discusses myths of fertility and mortality that have dominated contemporary anthropology, especially the idea that hunter-gatherer societies, supposedly lacking mechanical contraception, only maintain stable populations through Malthusian forces and violence, producing high mortality. Newman goes to considerable lengths in this chapter to show that modern anthropology has forgotten a massive body of evidence about "pre-transitional" societies, such as the Kunimaipa people in the highlands of Papua New guinea, who maintain stable populations through a variety of strategies such as breastfeeding for four or five years, abortion, infanticide and post-partum taboos. Other societies have used equally as innovative strategies to prevent women being sexually active during a large part of their adult life, including norms of premarital virginity, incest avoidance and other restrictions. For example, brothers traditionally shared one wife in Tibet leaving 30 percent of women without an opportunity for marriage. Surprisingly enough, even Malthus documented cases of stable populations in continental Europe at the end of the 18th century, such as the Swiss parish of Leyzin. There are, though, other important factors including incest avoidance and the Westermarck effect which Newman discusses in depth.
Newman advances a new theory about how incest avoidance and the Westermarck effect impact upon patterns of human settlement and population growth. Incest avoidance, the avoidance of inbreeding, is not limited to humans but occurs in many other organisms including cockroaches. Second, the Westermarck effect, first observed by 19th century Finnish sociologist Edvard Westermarck (1862-1939), is that incest avoidance also applies to people raised together independent of whether or not they are genetically related. The effect has been confirmed many times. Newman argues that contrary to received sociology, incest avoidance and the Westermarck effect are probably indistinctive norms in humans, a product of genetic algorithms underpinning human social organisation. Inbreeding avoidance occurs in many other species, including plants, suggesting that a mechanism such as hormones may be the generative mechanism rather than conscious calculations. In short; "hormones will deliver more or less fertility according to the availability of living space. Space (territory) required per individual will be affected by density and reliability of food distribution, and all of this will be mediated by some degree of incest avoidance/Westermarck effect, which is also related to social dominance." (p.83)
thelandmagazine | Over the course of a few hundred years, much of Britain's land has been privatized — that is to say taken out of some form of collective ownership and management and handed over to individuals. Currently, in our "property-owning democracy", nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06 per cent of the population,1 while most of the rest of us spend half our working lives paying off the debt on a patch of land barely large enough to accommodate a dwelling and a washing line.
There are many factors that have led to such extreme levels of land concentration, but the most blatant and the most contentious has been enclosure — the subdivision and fencing of common land into individual plots which were allocated to those people deemed to have held rights to the land enclosed. For over 500 years, pamphleteers, politicians and historians have argued about enclosure, those in favour (including the beneficiaries) insisting that it was necessary for economic development or "improvement", and those against (including the dispossessed) claiming that it deprived the poor of their livelihoods and led to rural depopulation. Reams of evidence derived from manorial rolls, tax returns, field orders and so on have been painstakingly unearthed to support either side. Anyone concocting a resumé of enclosure such as the one I present here cannot ignore E P Thompson's warning: "A novice in agricultural history caught loitering in those areas with intent would quickly be despatched."2
But over the last three decades, the enclosure debate has been swept up in a broader discourse on the nature of common property of any kind. The overgrazing of English common land has been held up as the archetypal example of the "tragedy of the commons" — the fatal deficiency that a neoliberal intelligentsia holds to be inherent in all forms of common property. Attitudes towards enclosures in the past were always ideologically charged, but now any stance taken towards them betrays a parallel approach to the crucial issues of our time: the management of global commons and the conflict between the global and the local, between development and diversity.
Those of us who have not spent a lifetime studying agricultural history should beware of leaping to convenient conclusions about the past, for nothing is quite what it seems. But no one who wishes to engage with the environmental politics of today can afford to plead agnostic on the dominant social conflict of our recent past. The account of enclosure that follows is offered with this in mind, and so I plead guilty to "loitering with intent".
|Washington Or Alabama - Who Is More Pro Science?|
science2.0 | Not all students returning to school this month will be up to date on their vaccinations and a new paper in Gender&Society by Jennifer Reich, a professor of Sociology from the University of Colorado Denver, correlates it to the class privilege of their mothers.
It's no secret that anti-vaccination hotbeds correlate to income and other lifestyle choices. Put a pin in a Whole Foods store in California and you can find a hotbed of anti-vaccine sentiment in the parking lot and surrounding neighborhood. In America, red states have overwhelming vaccine acceptance while blue states are where the problems are occurring.
The national averages barely tell the tale. The National Network for Immunization Information says that 3 children per 1000 in the U.S. have never received any vaccines - that used to be just religious fundamentalists but now it is common on America's wealthy coasts, with one school in California having only about 25 percent of children vaccinated. The number of un-vaccinated children has led to several recent vaccine-preventable outbreaks in the U.S., including measles and whooping cough.
Reich's paper affirms that children from higher income backgrounds and better educations have parents who intentionally choose to refuse or delay vaccinations out of a belief that they are protecting their children. Basically, they think vaccines are risky and want poor kids to provide herd immunity.
There are some poor kids who don't get vaccines, but that is due to lack of access to health care, not an anti-science mentality of poor parents.
There are some poor kids who don't get vaccines, but that is due to lack of access to health care, not an anti-science mentality of poor parents.
Reich says that "vaccine-refusers" are mothers who have the resources, education, and time to make decisions regarding vaccinations. These middle and upper class mothers instead rely on other intensive practices they see as rendering vaccines less necessary, such as breastfeeding, nutrition and monitoring social interactions and travel.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
newsinkansas | U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s struggle to pay off a loan for a car wash business hasn’t gone away.
On Tuesday, the Jackson County court clerk issued a wage garnishment order against Cleaver’s employer — the U.S. House — on behalf of Bank of America. The order instructs the House to withhold part of Cleaver’s salary to help repay more than $1.3 million he and his wife now owe the bank.
It’s the second time the bank has asked the court to garnish Cleaver’s wages for the debt, first incurred more than a decade ago. The bank’s first garnishment was processed in July.
Garnishment is a relatively common practice in debt cases, experts say. In a garnishment, a creditor asks a court to collect money from a third party to satisfy claims against a debtor.
“A garnishment is one of several devices available to a party that has a judgment, to collect that judgment,” said Kansas City lawyer F. Coulter deVries.
But garnishing the wages of a sitting congressman appears to be rare.
In 2012, part of the congressional wages of then-congressman Joe Walsh were withheld to satisfy claims of back child support, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The newspaper also quoted a House spokesman as saying child support payments had been withheld “over the years” from other members’ checks, but no specifics were provided.
It’s not publicly known how often congressional wages have been garnished for a loan debt.
Payroll services for House members are provided by the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer. A spokeswoman for the office declined to comment on the garnishment of Cleaver’s wages or the general history of garnishments in the House.
The press office of the House Committee on Administration also declined to comment.
Cleaver’s office issued a statement: “As the congressman and Mrs. Cleaver have repeatedly said, for almost two years now, they are working with Bank of America to meet their financial obligations, in a broad spectrum of ways, and that hasn’t changed.”
Cleaver, a Democrat, is a candidate for re-election to Missouri’s 5th District House seat this year.
He earns $174,000 a year as a congressman. In his last financial disclosure, Cleaver also claimed annual income of $21,976 from a pension agreement with the city of Kansas City and $9,664 from the Missouri Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
The disclosure covers 2012, so it doesn’t include Cleaver’s debt related to the car wash. His net worth that year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, was between $348,012 and $1,019,999.
A spokesman for Bank of America also declined to comment on the garnishment request, as did the bank’s Kansas City lawyer.
Tuesday’s orders also involved the employer of Dianne Cleaver, the congressman’s spouse. She is also considered liable for the $1.3 million debt. She works for Urban Neighborhood Initiative Inc.
The amount of money potentially withheld from Cleaver’s House paycheck to satisfy the garnishment isn’t clear. In general, federal law limits the amount that can be garnished to 25 percent of a debtor’s net wages or salary.
pitch | On the cover of Ingram's last month was a man named Steve Mitchem. The business publication was honoring him with one of its "Local Heroes" awards for philanthropic contributions — Mitchem has given $160,000 to the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City over the past three years.
Mitchem has led an interesting life. He moved to Kansas City in the early 1980s to pursue graduate studies at Nazarene Theological Seminary. He then worked as a traveling evangelist for two years before settling in locally as a full-time minister at the Church of the Nazarene. In 1990, Mitchem went secular, at least professionally. He retired as a minister and joined Tivol, the luxury jewelry company, as an associate at its retail space on the Country Club Plaza. He rose through the ranks and was named president of Tivol in 2005.
Here in Kansas City, that's a powerful, and surely quite lucrative, gig. Yet Mitchem left Tivol two years after being appointed to the post. A story at the time in JCK, a trade publication covering the jewelry industry, reported that he was resigning to "join his son in his loan business."
About that loan business: Technically it is dozens of separate companies, with many different names, but it adds up to one of the largest online payday-lending operations based in Kansas City, according to several individuals with ties to the industry.
"Steve was working down at Tivol on the Plaza, and these payday guys kept coming in every other month and buying Rolexes," a source tells The Pitch. "He figured out that they were basically printing money doing their online-lending businesses, and he wanted in on it. So first, he set his son up in the business. Then he quit Tivol and joined him."
Filings with the secretary of state's offices in Missouri and Kansas, plus a couple of lawsuits, help back up that account. In December 2006, Mitchem's son, Josh Mitchem, filed articles of incorporation in Missouri for a company called Platinum B Services. In 2012, Dustin McDaniel, the attorney general of Arkansas, brought a lawsuit against that company and PDL Support LLC, another company controlled by Josh Mitchem.
In the suit, McDaniel alleged that Josh Mitchem and his companies controlled a variety of LLCs, purportedly based in the West Indies federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, that were engaged in lending over the Internet to Arkansas citizens at interest rates as high as 644 percent. Arkansas law caps rates on consumer loans at 17 percent.
"The purpose of these LLCs is to make it appear as if the Defendants are not the actual payday lenders and to otherwise shield Defendants from liability from lawsuits such as the one brought by the Attorney General in this case," the lawsuit states. "The Defendants make the decisions concerning all lending operations from their offices in the Kansas City, MO area."
pitch | On October 25 of this year, a man named Del Kimball was served papers at his home in Mission Hills. The following day, Kimball's business partner, Sam Furseth, was also served in Mission Hills.
Kimball and Furseth head up a variety of online payday-lending operations, many of which are based in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, at 908 Baltimore. True to industry form, the names of these outfits are countless and constantly in flux. There's LTS Management (of which Furseth is listed as president on LinkedIn). There's Glacier Marketing. There also are DMS Marketing and the Loan Shop Online. Each is part of a turnkey business that markets, funds, lends and collects on payday loans.
Not a lot of sunlight finds its way into 908 Baltimore. Workers are prohibited from speaking with the media. No sign hangs outside the building.
"It's because the owners are afraid of shootings and retribution for their collection practices," says a former employee. "They keep everything as private as possible. There's no relationship between upper management and the rest of the staff."
Most people who operate and finance payday-loan businesses — whether brick-and-mortar shops, such as the ones seen on every other street corner on the East Side of Kansas City, or online companies like Kimball and Furseth's — have an elevator pitch prepared about the social utility of their services. The gist is that they're giving people access to credit that they can't get anywhere else.
Say your car breaks down. You need to fix it so you can get to work, but you don't get paid for another 10 days. A bank won't give you a short-term loan to fix your car. Nor will any government agency. So you take out a $500 payday loan against the check coming to you in 10 days. When that check arrives, the payday lender gets $575 from you. It's a high interest rate, but it got you out of a jam — assuming you settle that $575 right away.
But many borrowers can't or don't get out from under their payday debts as soon as the next check comes, and the knock against such loans is that they trap borrowers in a cycle of debt. Defenders of the industry tend to dismiss such instances as aberrations. But according to a July 2012 company overview from online-lending operation Evergreen Capital Partners LLC, repeat customers are one of its "competitive differentiators."
Kimball is the CEO of Evergreen Capital Partners, and Furseth is the president. They split ownership 50-50. The overview indicates that 174 people were employed by the company in July 2012. Its online loans range in size from $100 to $800, the overview states, with fees set between $15 and $60 per $100 borrowed.
"On average, repeat customers account for 40-50% of the Company's annual loans," the overview reads. "The Company's average customer will borrow ~$1200 (~3 loans) and repay ~$2350 over a 4-year timeframe. Margins on loans to repeat customers average 150% higher than loans to new customers."
To translate: The average person who takes out a loan from Kimball and Furseth ends up paying back double what he or she initially borrowed. Factor in the 500,000 loans that Evergreen Capital Partners says it has issued since its inception, and a picture emerges: Operators and investors can get pretty rich with a business model like this.
pitch | The new money started announcing itself at St. Ann sometime around 2008.
"It was most obvious at the school auctions," says one member of the Prairie Village Catholic church. (Like many people interviewed for this story, this source did not want to be identified by name.) "You'd see these cliques of people pulling up in limos, acting wild, dropping a lot of money on exotic two-week vacations and the other lavish items up for bidding. Or all of a sudden so-and-so has a brand-new Range Rover. Or so-and-so family is moving into some giant Mission Hills mansion. And you see it enough times and you start to go, 'Where is this money coming from?'
"And on one hand, it's St. Ann — this is a school and a church that serves Mission Hills and Prairie Village," the member continues. "You expect to see nice cars in the parking lot. But there was something so sudden and loud about this. It was this bizarre explosion of really extreme wealth."
Word trickled out: Some members of the church had become mixed up in the online payday-loan industry.
Payday lenders advertise their loans as short-term, emergency solutions. But every credible study of the industry has found that the high interest rates and fees these outfits charge are designed to turn the loans into long-term debt burdens on the borrowers. These parishioners were involved in various business interests that enjoy astronomical profits by lending to borrowers at interest rates that commonly reach unholy heights of 700 percent.
St. Ann's pastor, the Rev. Keith Lunsford, joined the parish in 2009, after replacing Monsignor Vincent Krische, who retired. "I don't have any firsthand knowledge of anybody at St. Ann involved in the payday-loan industry," Lunsford tells The Pitch.
But according to a number of people The Pitch contacted for this story, the presence of families who have amassed tremendous wealth through their involvement in online payday lending was, and continues to be, a taboo topic and a source of tension in the parish.
"It presented a moral conundrum for St. Ann," says a different parishioner. "Because there was all this money coming into the church through donations and through the auctions and, I mean, it was huge money. And gradually everybody realized that it was money that, if you trace it back to its root, came from poor people who were being taken advantage of, who were being charged crazy interest rates. So there were a lot of behind-closed-doors, hushed-tones conversations happening about it. People on the finance committee and the school board were talking about the morality of taking that money. But in the end, I think they just looked the other way." (Last year, the church reached an $8 million capital campaign goal to fund extensive renovations. It does not disclose specific donations.)