Judges across the United States are wiping away student loan debts worth, in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars, all because National Collegiate Student Loans Trusts has been unable to show in court that it owns the loans it says it does.
National Collegiate is composed of 15 different trusts, collectively holding 800,000 private student loans. Those loans add up to $12 billion, and more than $5 billion is in default, court records state. The private loans were made by banks, then sold to investors, and when the borrowers struggle to pay back these loans — which often have high interest rates — National Collegiate takes them to court; on average, at least four new collection lawsuits are filed every day, The New York Times reports, and more than 800 have been filed this year so far.
When borrowers don't go to court, National Collegiate almost always automatically wins the case, but when they do show up, most of the time judges throw the suits out because National Collegiate was not able to produce the paperwork proving it owned the debt in question. A 2015 audit of the company, organized by one of the financiers behind National Collegiate's trusts, looked at nearly 400 random loans owned by National Collegiate, and found that none had the proper paperwork documenting the chain of ownership. This is similar to what happened in the 2000s during the subprime mortgage crisis, when judges ruled in favor of borrowers, saying the companies could not collect subprime mortgage loans because the documents were either missing or forgeries.
The lawyer for Samantha Wilson, a 33-year-old mother of three, said when she was sued by National Collegiate, the paperwork was riddled with errors. She earned her degree in psychology from Lehman College in the Bronx and fell behind on payments when her daughter was ill and she had to quit her job. Documents claimed she attended a school she never went to, and a judge dismissed four lawsuits against her because trusts "failed to establish the chain of title" on her loans. Wilson told the Times she was "responsible" for the loans she took out and was prepared to pay them off over time, but "some of them I didn't take." In the end, $31,000 worth of debt was wiped clean. Read the entire report at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia
President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has at long last managed to convince a U.S. District Court judge to allow him to leave the Virginia condominium where he's been serving his detention in favor of staying in his home in Palm Beach Garden, Florida, The Washington Post's Spencer Hsu reports. Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates were indicted in October as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Manafort stands accused of massive financial crimes, including tax evasion, money laundering, fraud, false statements, and "conspiracy against the United States."
In early December, Manafort reached an $11 million bail agreement by pledging four properties — the Virginia condo and Florida house, as well as a Manhattan condo and a home in Bridgehampton, New York. (His Trump Tower apartment was apparently not valuable enough to make the cut.) But life in Florida will follow strict guidelines, seeing as Mueller's team views Manafort as a serious flight risk. For one, Manafort must "stay away from transportation facilities, including airports, train station, bus stations, and private airports," the documents stipulate.
Manafort additionally must obtain permission from the court for "any other domestic travel" and is "subject to electronic GPS monitoring," the judge ordered. He also has a curfew of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., which is stricter even than what is recommended for most high schoolers. As "teen parenting expert and clinical psychologist" Jerry Weichman recommends to Mom.me, "For juniors, [a curfew] between 11 and midnight, and between midnight and 1 a.m. for seniors."
Read the full documents below. Jeva Lange
Judge Jackson approves ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort's release pending trial to his Palm Beach County, Fla. home on $10M bond, secured by 4 homes, under nightly curfew, GPS monitoring pic.twitter.com/G6NWgec0Rs
— Spencer Hsu (@hsu_spencer) December 15, 2017
GOP Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), a holdout on his party's tax reform plan, flipped to a "yes" vote Friday, essentially sealing sufficient support for the bill to pass. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another hesitant vote, confirmed his "yes" earlier Friday.
"This bill is far from perfect, and left to my own accord, we would have reached a bipartisan consensus on legislation that avoided any chance of adding to the deficit," Corker wrote, but nevertheless "I believe that this [is a] once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive."
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) have had health problems that have kept them from voting in recent days. The GOP can only afford to lose two votes in the Senate for the tax legislation to pass. Read Corker's full statement below. Jeva Lange
JUST IN: Sen. Bob Corker announces support for GOP tax reform bill pic.twitter.com/Fp7v8wQ18F
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) December 15, 2017
Researchers in Germany have zeroed in on a new cancer-fighting tool: magnetic sperm.
Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research found that when sperm carrying a common chemotherapy drug were outfitted with what New Scientist described as "tiny, four-armed magnetic harnesses" and released near cervical cancer cells, the supercharged swimmers were able to eliminate 87 percent of the malignant cells they encountered in just three days. The harnesses "allowed [the sperm] to be guided by magnets," New Scientist explained, and thus more effectively reach the cancerous cells and deliver the medication.
New Scientist noted that sperm are a particularly convenient vessel for fighting illnesses associated with the female reproductive tract — like cervical cancer — because they have biological familiarity with the area. The researchers additionally hope sperm could be outfitted with medicines to combat endometriosis or ectopic pregnancies.
The most important takeaway though, per New Scientist, is that the use of these magnetized "spermbots" could make chemotherapy more effective and less painful for cancer patients, as more targeted drug delivery could reduce the amount of healthy cells lost to collateral damage — a common issue for people undergoing chemotherapy. Watch a video of the spermbots at work below. Kelly O'Meara Morales
In an effort to protect children from sexual abuse, Australia has put forth an interesting proposal: Catholic priests should no longer be forced into involuntary celibacy.
BBC reported that the Australian Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, a public inquiry panel convened to examine how children are exploited and abused within society frameworks like churches and schools, published that recommendation Friday as part of its final report after a five-year study. The panel claimed involuntary celibacy could contribute to "psychosexual immaturity" in Catholic clergy, which could in turn put children at risk.
Although the commission is careful not to claim that Church-sanctioned virility is the ultimate solution to ending child sex abuse, the report does note that celibacy "contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse, especially when combined with other risk factors." The commission also recommended mandatory reporting of abuse by those who work as early childhood workers, registered psychologists, and religious ministers.
The commission received over 40,000 phone calls and 1,300 written accounts of child sexual abuse from the public, as well as reviewed more than 8,000 cases since 2013. The commission found schoolteachers and religious ministers were the most common perpetrators of child sex abuse, and that Catholic priests accounted for over 60 percent of reported abusers in the religious community.
The president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart, said in a statement that child abuse was part of "a shameful past, in which a prevailing culture of secrecy and self-protection led to unnecessary suffering for many victims and their families."
Republicans made last-minute changes to their tax overhaul legislation Friday to win over holdouts like Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), CNBC News reports. Rubio told reporters Thursday he wouldn't support the legislation unless it increases the refundable portion of the child tax credit.
Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) confirmed the party will increase the refundable portion to $1,400, up from $1,100. "I believe that we're in a good spot and we should be able to earn his support," Noem said.
A spokesperson for Rubio's office said they hadn't seen the update, "and until we see if the percentage of the refundable credit is significantly higher, then our position remains the same." The GOP can only afford to lose two votes in the Senate. Jeva Lange
Cursing in public has been banned in the state of Virginia since before the Civil War. Even today, public profanity in Old Dominion is a misdemeanor that can cost you $250.
If you think that's some bullshirt, you're not alone, The Washington Post reports: Virginia House Delegate Michael Webert (R) wants to overturn this unusual law in the name of free speech. But Webert's plan could face some opposition in the state legislature, the Post explains, because "legislators who vote for repeal could stand accused of promoting profanity."
The profanity ban was actually ruled unconstitutional decades ago, but Webert has already failed to overturn it twice. Del. David Albo (R), a Webert ally in the battle over cursing, said the quest is difficult because people won't look at the issue in context. He compared profanity to flag burning — bans on which have been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court but still exist in Virginia state law — predicting that some politicians would use the issue to smear their opponents. "They're not going to explain the whole thing. For most people it's not worth it," Albo told the Post.
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union's Virginia affiliate, explained to the Post that although public cursing is only a misdemeanor, police "often" use it as an excuse to detain a subject, conduct a search, and then "arrest the person on another charge."
Webert has a more old-school way to punish foul-mouthed Virginians. "When I cursed, my mother told me not to and handed me a bar of soap," he said. "You shouldn't get hit with a Class 4 misdemeanor." Kelly O'Meara Morales
President Trump spoke at the FBI National Academy Graduation Ceremony on Friday, just hours after the White House claimed there is an "extreme bias" against the president among FBI officials. Trump himself had said earlier Friday that "when you look at what's going on with the FBI and the Justice Department, people are very, very angry."
On stage, though, the president told the law enforcement graduates, "You rarely get the recognition you deserve. With me as your president, America's police will have a true friend and loyal champion in the White House, more loyal than anyone else can be." Trump additionally disparaged conditions in Chicago — "what the hell is going on in Chicago?" he asked the audience — and said "we believe criminals who kill police officers should get the death penalty."
Clint Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute noted that the graduates Trump was addressing are "high level, strong performing state and local law enforcement officers from around the country," rather than FBI agents — "i.e. Trump's base." Watch a portion of Trump's comments below. Jeva Lange
— CNN (@CNN) December 15, 2017