Saturday, March 14

Another twist for the unemployed: Debit card fees

I hate to see how big companies and even the government take advantage of the poor...

By Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- If you're out of work like Steve Lippe, who was laid off from his job as a salesman in January, you know you already have problems. But looking at the fine print that came with his new unemployment debit card, he became livid.

"A $1.50 [fee] here, a $1.50 there," he said. "Forty cents for a balance inquiry. Fifty cents to have your card denied. Thirty-five cents to have your account accessed by telephone."

He was quoting fees listed in a brochure that goes out to every unemployed person in Pennsylvania who chooses to receive benefits via debit card. He was given the option when he filed for jobless payments: Wait 10 days for a check or get the card immediately. Like most of the 925,000 state residents who received unemployment benefits in February in Pennsylvania, he chose the debit card and only then, he says, did he learn about the fees.

"I was outraged by it," he told CNN. "I was very noisy about it. I just couldn't believe it. An outrage is just too weak a word. It's obscene."

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 30 states offer direct deposit cards to the unemployed. Many of the nation's biggest banks have contracts with the individual states. JP Morgan Chase, for instance, has contracts with seven states and has pending deals with two others, according to Chase spokesman John T. Murray. About 10 states, the Labor Department says, pay by check only.

The National Consumer Law Center says fees range from 40 cents to a high of $3 per transaction, if the debit card is used at an out-of-network ATM. Most banks give jobless debit card users one free withdrawal per deposit period, which averages every other week in most states. But consumer advocates, including the Law Center, say the unemployed "should be able to obtain cash and perform basic functions with no fees."

A key Democratic member of the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees bank regulation and theTroubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), told CNN she agrees wholeheartedly.

"Fees should not be attached to unemployment benefits that the taxpayers are paying to help Americans," Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, told CNN. "Particularly, these fees should not be attached by banks that are getting TARP money and are being supported by taxpayer dollars."

CNN asked some of the major banks involved in the debit card program for a response. Spokesmen for JP Morgan Chase, Wachovia, Bank of America and Wells Fargo all directed us to the individual state governments for comment.

The acting secretary of labor and industry for Pennsylvania is Sandi Vito. Via e-mail, her staff invited CNN reporters to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where she was taking part at a public meeting at an elementary school. Afterward, she said, she would answer questions about the debit card fees.

But when the meeting ended, her staff said she was too busy to talk.
Her spokesman, Troy A. Thompson, spoke with CNN after Vito left.

"The distribution system for people getting their benefits has been improved by the use of debit cards, way above and beyond the distribution by check," he said.

The U.S. Department of Labor provided what it called "talking points" to CNN when asked for comment on the fee structure.

"States can do a better job negotiating fees with banks," the department said. "Many states have obtained terms far more favorable to claimants than those described in media reports."

In addition, according to the talking points, the Labor Department said it was aware states are offering unemployment debit cards for good reasons:

• It is less expensive for claimants without bank accounts because they don't need to pay check cashing fees.

• Claimants can use the card free at merchants and therefore don't need to carry excess cash.

• Generally, these cards are safer and more secure than checks.

"We will be working with states as they gain experience with debit cards to resolve these problems related to fees," the Labor Department said.

Friday, March 13

Time to Clean Up The Catholic House in Brazil

I read this on Topix today, and I'm still shaking my head at the stupidity of some factions of so-called "Christianity"...

Brazil is the world’s most populous Catholic country and The Roman Catholic Church welds a lot of power in here…

But in Brazil it is starting to look to many that the Roman Catholic Church in this country really needs to start getting the log out of it own eye before it gets the mote out of everyone else’s… And they need to do some cleaning of their house … before Brazilians come burn that house down for them…

This month the Archbishop of Recife, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, excommunicated a mother who gave her permission to doctors to perform an abortion on her daughter after the nine-year-old girl got pregnant as the result of being raped by her stepfather.

Doctors believed that the nine-year-old was too small to have twins and that going ahead with the birth would have put her life in danger.

The local Catholic hierarchy tried to stop the procedure anyway (which is allowed in Brazil only in cases of rape or to save the life of the mother), but when it failed to do so, the local archbishop decided to excommunicate the girl’s mother and the doctors.

However, the archbishop didn’t excommunicate the stepfather who is in jail now.

Archbishop Sobrinho defended his action and when asked why he did not excommunicate the 23-year-old stepfather, Sobrinho said: “He committed an extremely serious crime. But that crime, according to canon law, is not punished with automatic excommunication.

And the Catholic Church tells me as a lesbian I am immoral?
Helloooo… did these palhaƧos miss the part that said a nine year old child was RAPED and would DIE?

Read full story from

For more on this story, read Abortion Saves Raped 9-Year-Old Girl's Life: Vatican Excommunicates, Furor Among Brazil's Catholics

Tuesday, March 10

Muslim Head Scarf Raises Concern at Bank Woman asked to bank in back room

I don't understand how a woman's head scarf would require the bank employees to have her go into a back room. It would be different if she were wearing a veil, but they don't ask women wearing a head scarf over their curlers to go into a back room!!!

Updated 8:15 AM EDT, Tue, Mar 10, 2009
A woman's muslim head scarf leads to problems at a Maryland credit union.

CALIFORNIA, Md. -- A Muslim woman said employees at a southern Maryland credit union asked to serve her in a back room because her head scarf violated the institution's "no hats, hoods or sunglasses" policy.

Kenza Shelley, of Lexington Park, said in the 10 years she has used the Navy Federal Credit Union in the California area of St. Mary's County no one complained about her scarf, which covers her hair, until February.

Shelley said she complied the first time, but on Saturday she demanded to be served like everyone else and left.

A Navy Federal security official defended the policy to the Washington Post, saying there was a significant increase in bank robberies last year and the policy was designed to prevent armed robbery and identity theft.

Tom Lyons, senior vice president for security at Navy Federal ... said it would not be unreasonable for bank employees to ask customers who refused to take off their hats to move to a separate room so they could be identified.

"We want to be able to clearly identify who you are and make sure the transaction is safe," Lyons said. "This is a policy that applies to everybody in the branch. She wasn't singled out. . . . We tried to accommodate her and help her with her transaction and move on."

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations disagreed.

"Navy Federal's policy on head coverings clearly forces bank employees to impose a 'separate but equal' status not only on Muslim women who wear hijab, but on all those who wear religious attire," said CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina Rubin.

"The banking industry needs to come up with a standard policy based not only on security needs, but also on the religious and civil rights of customers," Rubin said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Washington

Wednesday, March 4

Sudan soldier: 'They told me to kill, to rape children'

If we (USA) must be in a war in another country, fighting someone else's battles, why isn't it somewhere like this? Why aren't we stopping atrocities like this from happening?

A woman left homeless by conflict in Darfur walks along railway tracks.

By Nic Robertson
CNN Senior International Correspondent

(CNN) -- I wanted to believe the man in front of me wasn't a rapist. I knew he was a former Sudanese soldier, I knew he wanted to talk about rape in Darfur. A humanitarian group working on Darfur issues had introduced him to us. They told us his testimony was important to hear.

Last year in Darfur aid workers told me children as young as five were being raped in the huge displacement camps that are home to several million Darfuris. In some camps, they told me, rape had become so common that as many as 20 babies a month born from rape were being abandoned.

As I sat inches from Adam --not his real name -- I feared the revulsion I knew I would feel at my own questions as I asked about rape and his involvement. I have interviewed rape survivors in Darfur. I have two daughters. I am a human being with a conscience. It would be hard to listen to his replies.

He told me he was conscripted by force in to the Sudanese army in the summer of 2002. He thought he was being taken for six months' national service and then would be released.

The conversation was slow going at first. We were both holding off from delving into the sordid details he'd come to discuss. His answers were short, he told me he got no pay from the army, only food and drink.

He said he was rounded up in an army truck from a market in Darfur and trained to kill. He said he was armed with Kalashnikovs and told to "shoot targets." Video Watch ex-soldier describe brutal attacks on children to Nic Robertson »

Then, he says, his officers told him "we will be taken to a patrol and then soon after that we were asked to join other people to go and burn and kill people".

That's when he says he realized he wasn't getting national service training, that in fact, he was being forced into war against his will, with his own people. "They are black," he told me, noting the difference between the lighter skinned rulers of Sudan and the darker farmers of Darfur. "I am black," he said, "this shouldn't be happening."

But, he said, worse than being told to kill his own people, was that if he tried to resist, he himself would be killed. "The order is that the soldiers at the front, and there are some people who are watching you from behind, if you try to escape or do anything you will get shot. The order is that we go to the village, burn it and kill the people."

It felt as Adam was beginning to open up a little -- not easy, given the topic, and the lights and cameras all around us. He was beginning to talk a bit more, answer questions with more than one or two words. But it was following a pattern: I'd have to lead the way. We were both waiting for the inevitable. How he came to know of rape in Darfur.

And that's when he said it. Video Watch warrant being issued for president »

He brought up the rape by himself. He was talking through a translator but his voice was quiet. I thought I heard anger, heard him slow and his voice drop: "I had no choice," he said "but I will say that I didn't kill anybody but the raping of the small children, it was bad" I knew this was going to be difficult and now it had begun.

What happens with the children, I asked. "They cry out," he answered. "And what happens when they cry out?" "Two persons will capture her while she is crying and another raping her, then they leave her there," came his reply.

Silence. "What do I ask now?" I thought. Be forensic. Get the story. This is important testimony, I reminded myself.

And so we continued, Adam describing in detail how soldiers raped girls as young as 12. How officers ordered them to do this to make people flee their villages, run away and never come back. Through all of this, Adam didn't once mention whether he actually had been directly involved in the raping.

He said he tried to desert the army as soon as he could, but was caught and tortured. He showed me the scars where he said he was tied down beneath a tree and officers set fire to tires above him, dripping burning rubber on his body.

Eventually, he said, he did get away, went to his sisters, tried joining the rebels to fight the army. But even there, his troubles were far from over. Incredibly, he said, the rebels didn't trust him; he was kept at their camp and only escaped when it was bombed by the army.

The end of his story, but we weren't really done. One more question.

Had he been forced to rape children?

"Yes I did, they were government orders," came his reply.

How many? "Well it didn't feel like raping, I was feeling very bad but as I was ordered, I had to do something. What I did was take off my trousers and lay myself on top of the girl but I didn't feel like raping, so I lay there for about 15 minutes."

I want to be sure I understand him. "So you didn't actually penetrate the girls?" I ask. No, he says, "because I had no feeling for it, my penis didn't actually wake up, so there was no actual penetration," he replied.

There were other people in the room, the translator, a cameraman, our producer Jonathan Wald, but I had forgotten they were there. My thoughts were entirely locked on Adam.

What more could I ask? I was emotionally drained. There was no way of knowing whether he was telling me the truth. Only in the measure of his voice was there a clue.

Here, sitting on an office chair, thousands of miles away from Darfur, the memories come flooding back. The many, traumatized women and children we've interviewed, distraught families, unable to protect themselves. The pain we put them through, to recount, to relive, their nightmares.

Each time, I've asked myself can I justify the suffering these questions cause? Each time, I tell myself it is only their own accounts that can cast light on the darkened corner of humanity they inhabit. Only their own accounts that can help break their cycle of suffering.

Time and again, though, it seems telling the world their stories has little tangible impact on their reality of their lives. And now I'm face-to-face with a man who says he was part of the suffering, albeit by his own account not complicit and not guilty.

I am left with the thought perhaps Adam's words carry even greater power. If his story is true -- and it mirrors other accounts emerging from Darfur -- then it implicates the government in these terrible crimes.

He says he has trouble sleeping at nights. I can understand why. He is not alone. Aid workers say millions of women in Darfur not only have trouble sleeping at nights, but live in fear of rape 24 hours a day.