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NBI Seminar: Child Custody and Visitation Rights: A Petition for Visitation and/or Custody

As I have posted recently (see here), I  had the great opportunity to lead (perhaps “teach”) a continuing legal education seminar hosted by the National Business Institute (a.k.a. NBI, see here).  The subject was “Family Law From A to Z” and I had opportunity to speak on two main topics in particular: Custody and Ethics.  I was joined by four other capable attorneys who each had their own topics to present.

Although NBI published the materials, I retain the ownership of the portions I wrote, which I will post here in this blog.

Copied below are the materials I wrote for the section entitled “Child Custody and Visitation Rights: A Petition for Visitation and/or Custody.”

Thanks!

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CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATION RIGHTS

  1. A. Petition for Visitation and/or Custody

Like nearly any other court case, all custody actions – regardless of how much custody is being sought (e.g.: primary, partial, or visitation, etc) – begin with the filing a complaint.  The Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure provide for a standard form for a complaint, which can be found in Pa.R.C.P. Rule 1915.15 and 1915.16.

The various county courts in the Philadelphia area offer forms for custody complaints, and they can be found at the following websites:

 

  • Elements of a Complaint

As one can see from reviewing the forms mentioned above, a standard complaint for custody is to include, more or less, the following information:

Unlike a civil complaint, very little additional information or advocacy needs to be included in the complaint for custody.  The opportunity to advance additional information and/or advocacy is when interacting with the opposing party or attorney and/or at a hearing scheduled pursuant to the filing of the Complaint.  The purpose of the custody complaint is merely to get the most basic information before the court: who the case involves, what the Plaintiff wants, and an assertion that no other court has jurisdiction.

When requesting relief in the complaint, it is important to use the proper language which best describes why the Plaintiff is seeking.  23 Pa.C.S.A. §5322 lays out the terms and their definitions.  Pursuant 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5322, the relevant terms are as follows (as quoted directly from the statute):

  • legal custody: the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions.
  • sole legal custody: the right of one individual to exclusive legal custody of the child.
  • shared legal custody: the right of more than one individual to legal custody of the child.
  • physical custody: the actual physical possession and control of a child.
  • sole physical custody: the right of one individual to exclusive physical custody of the child.
  • primary physical custody: the right to assume physical custody of the child for the majority of time.
  • shared physical custody: the right of more than one individual to assume physical custody of the child, each having significant periods of physical custodial time with the child.
  • partial physical custody: the right to assume physical custody of the child for less than a majority of the time.
  • supervised physical custody: custodial time during which an agency or an adult designated by the court or agreed upon by the parties monitors the interaction between the child and the individual with those rights.
  • In a statutory provision other than in this chapter, when the term “visitation” is often used in reference to child custody, and may be construed to mean:

(1) partial physical custody;

(2) shared physical custody; or

(3) supervised physical custody.

In the vast majority of case, the only issue in dispute is physical custody as, unless there is unusual and/or extenuating custody (e.g.: incarceration, absence, abuse), the parents of a child are both presumed to have a right to shared legal custody.  As defined above, physical custody is when a parent actually has a child personally with him.  By contrast, legal custody is the right of a parent to have access to, and make decisions regarding, important parenting and lifestyle issues.

It is also important to observe the fact that the specific definitions of/for the terms above do not always coincide with popular or colloquial usage.  It is very common for a client, when consulting with his attorney, to use one or more of the terms above without reference to its technical, legal, definition; therefore, it is important to discern precisely what a client is seeking instead of assuming even a vague familiarity, much less a fluency, with the terms mentioned above.  For example, many clients, when consulting with their attorney or filing a custody petition on a pro se basis, frequently indicate they are seeking “full custody” of their children, despite the fact that no such designation exists; similarly, they often refer to “sole custody” in the same way.  In addition, it is not uncommon for someone to use the term “visitation” when he really means “partial custody.”  So, it is important to discern what the client actually means sometimes despite the precise words being used.

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Speed cameras for Roosevelt Blvd. face hard road in Pa. legislature

I have been writing in opposition to traffic cameras for a few years now (you can find all of my articles and posts on traffic cameras here).  Evidently Philadelphia is trying to install speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard.  Thankfully the efforts to install them may not be fruitful as described in the article below.

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Philadelphia planners hope speed cameras will play a significant role in the city’s effort to make streets safer, but first, the technology needs to be legalized. 

The path to legalization might be a rough one.

The effort was the focus of a panel Thursday morning at the Center City law offices of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads that was equal parts policy discussion, rally, and fund-raising event. The event was designed to boost support for pending legislation to allow the city to install speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard.

“It is absolutely necessary, and I don’t know another way to slow people down,” said Republican State Rep. John Taylor of Philadelphia, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Philadelphia has about 100 traffic-related fatalities a year (93 in 2017), and typically 10 percent happen on the Boulevard, she said. Of the nine fatal crashes on the Boulevard last year, seven involved pedestrians.

If authorized, cameras would snap an image of any vehicle driving 11 mph over the speed limit. The fine would be $150 for a first offense. The Boulevard would have up to nine speed cameras along nearly 12 miles, advertised by warning signs every two miles.

The legislation has been approved by the House transportation committee, which Taylor chairs. The challenge, he said, will be convincing House leadership to list the bill for a vote. That would need to happen by spring to give time for a vote in this legislative session, he said.

And there’s another deadline approaching: Taylor, who has championed the bill, is retiring when his term expires this year.

Taylor also noted the political landscape in Harrisburg, which just completed a grueling budget process. The Pennsylvania House speaker, Republican Mike Turzai, is running for governor, and the majority leader, Republican Dave Reed, is running for Congress.

In that environment, he said, getting legislators to focus on a bill that will result in more speeding violations for their constituents is a tough sell. Taylor has combined the  authorization for cameras on the Boulevard with another proposal for the cameras to be used on highway work zones to protect workers, something he thinks will be more palatable to legislators.

The Vision Zero Alliance, which is pushing safe streets efforts in Philadelphia, has hired a lobbying firm, Arena Strategies, to promote the bill and pitched to business leaders at Thursday’s session the need for $50,000 to fund the effort, said Jason Duckworth, a developer and member of the Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance.

One of the most horrific crashes on the Boulevard killed a woman and three of her children. Samara Banks, 27, was crossing Roosevelt Boulevard with her sister and four children in July 2013 when she was struck by a car that had been drag racing. The driver of that vehicle was found guilty of homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless endangerment, though convictions on third-degree murder were later reversed by an appeals judge.

“There’s people who don’t agree with the speed cameras,” said LaTanya Byrd, Banks’ aunt, who spoke at Thursday’s event. “We all want our lives to be safe. I just feel like we need to do this.”

Byrd noted that some call the road “the Killovard.”

Among the opponents is Thomas McCarey of the National Motorists Association, who says speed cameras are primarily a revenue generator for government. Making roads safer, he said, could be accomplished by timing traffic lights differently, adding more traffic enforcement, and putting crosswalks underground.

The Pennsylvania bill is written to keep the cameras from being a revenue generator, said Jana Tidwell, a spokeswoman from AAA. It ensures that the contractor responsible for the cameras would not make more money if more violations are issued, requires signs posted on roads to warn drivers that speed cameras are active in the area, and specifies that all revenue would go to the state’s motor vehicle license fund, she said.

The speed camera program would likely be operated by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which is now responsible for the red light cameras in Philadelphia. Fifty of Philadelphia’s 134 red-light cameras are at nine Boulevard intersections, and violations have dropped there. Tidwell has said the cameras decreased right-angle crashes at those intersections.

The program, however, was marred by technical problems and mismanagement in 2016. Poorly calibrated cameras generated hundreds of thousands of false violations, which then had to be weeded out by PPA workers. That cost the agency $123,000 in overtime payments in 2016.

“Speed cameras will be an even bigger failure,” McCarey said. “Speed cameras won’t stop the 3 percent of wanton speeders endangering us all, only traffic cops can.”

Overtime costs were significantly lower in 2017 after adjustments made to the cameras, PPA officials said.

The National Transportation Safety Board studied the role of speed in fatal crashes and found it was a factor in almost a third of all traffic-related deaths nationwide from 2005 to 2014. The federal transportation watchdog recommended speed cameras as an effective way to slow down drivers, noting another study found the cameras reduced all crashes by 49 percent and serious injuries and deaths by 44 percent.

If the House passes the speed camera bill, it would need to go back to the Senate for a vote on amendments and then return to the House for a final approval before going to the governor.

By: Jason Laughlin, originally published on January 25, 2018 in the Philadelphia Inquirer and can be seen here.

 

 

 

Tactical Retreat: Lonely Man II

My friend and co-worker Brian M. Lambert has founded an online sketch comedy project called Tactical Retreat which you can find here on Facebook and here on Youtube.

As Tactical Retreat releases new videos, I will post them here.  So far, I have found them rather funny and clever and they seem to get better with each release.

Here are the links to Tactical Retreat‘s previously released sketches:

Some women don’t want reproductive rights. I’m one of them.

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Week which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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Many women are disgusted with the Republican Party, for not-so-mysterious reasons. That has left many liberals hoping for landslide victories in 2018 and beyond. They should moderate their expectations. As much as Republicans’ behavior offends many women, there will always be some women who find the Democrats more unpalatable still. And abortion is the biggest reason why. Some women simply won’t consider supporting a party that trumpets its commitment to “abortion rights.”

I should know. I’m one of them.

Pro-life women are not especially rare. About 38 percent of American women believe that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. Women have long been central to pro-life activism, marching in rallies and running crisis pregnancy centers. This can all be quite difficult for progressives to understand. Why would anyone want to be forced to bear children against her will? Why aren’t pro-life women interested in retaining control of their own bodies?

Too often, the left simply dismisses pro-life women as pawns of the patriarchylazy elitists, or victims of internalized misogyny. It’s tough to gain insight into anyone’s perspective if you begin from such unflattering starting points. So let’s approach the issue another way and ask: What do pro-life women actually value?

Virtually everyone appreciates that pregnant women have needs that must be considered when we’re crafting policy on abortion. There are significant differences, however, between a stance that looks to balance those needs against the interests of the developing child, and one that prioritizes the mother’s autonomy absolutely. However much they soft-pedal the gorier details, defenders of abortion rights are mostly committed to the second. That becomes pretty evident when they oppose any and all restrictions on abortion, and regularly decry the injustice of denying a woman her “right to choose.”

We can debate when exactly human life begins — but we cannot debate that it naturally begins inside the female body. Every one of us was, at some early point in our personal history, dependent on a human woman for physical survival. How then should we think about the rights and obligations of the “bonded” mother and child?

We could see them both as precious human beings deserving of legal protection. Our laws and mores could then try to balance those interests, valuing the developing child while still recognizing the mother as a person with her own rights.

Alternatively, we might note that the dependency relation only goes in one direction. The developing child is physically dependent on his mother, but she’s not dependent on him. Must she accept an involuntary relationship that potentially lays serious burdens on her?

Abortion-rights advocates note that only women can be saddled with these burdens, which hardly seems fair. Thus, it seems fitting to them that a woman be guaranteed access to abortion-providing facilities. It’s her body, and her right to choose.

The positions I’ve outlined above are clearly different. Nevertheless, defenders of legalized abortion seem anxious to combine them. In the ongoing debate over 20-week abortion bans, we are told again and again that late-term abortions are rare, emotionally fraught, and sought for serious reasons (probably involving a severe fetal abnormality). It’s easy to appreciate the rhetorical value of these reassurances. If women can simply be trusted to make morally serious decisions about their own pregnancies, the gulf between the autonomy-based approach and the balancing approach becomes inconsequential.

But pro-life women look at America’s abortion rate and simply don’t believe that the unborn are adequately protected by the wisdom of mother-knows-best. Here are the latest stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

In 2014, 652,639 legal induced abortions were reported to CDC from 49 reporting areas. The abortion rate for 2014 was 12.1 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, and the abortion ratio was 186 abortions per 1,000 live births. [CDC]

Most pro-life women understand that some pregnant women are in emotional turmoil, and may have grossly inadequate networks of support (perhaps in part because their connections largely assume that they can avoid the burdens of pregnancy through abortion). But we also know that women can simply be selfish, prioritizing personal goals over the very life of another human being. In light of those factors, it’s clear enough that the autonomy-based approach has costs. Pro-lifers deem those costs unacceptable. They aren’t fooled by casual references to abortion as “health care,” as though only one of the involved persons really counted.

Pro-life women tend to have strong convictions (both political and personal) about the preciousness of babies and children. They view themselves as having real and serious obligations to their offspring that extend well before birth. Many are mothers, perhaps to sizable families. They find tremendous meaning in their role as perpetuators of the species, and defenders of the weakest and most helpless of human beings. To these pro-life women, the language of “reproductive rights” is not empowering. It’s degrading and belittling.

It’s remarkable how little pro-choice feminists seem to appreciate this. The point shouldn’t actually be so confusing, given liberals’ sustained interest in identity as a foundation for self-worth. Choice can be pleasant sometimes, but it can also be maddening or insulting if the ostensible “options” ignore serious constraints or commitments. Are gays and lesbians typically delighted when traditionalists suggest that they could choose to marry someone of the opposite sex? Do the indigent enjoy being reminded that they are nominally free to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or get their finances in order? To someone with grave moral or material concerns, assurance of a “right to choose” can seem positively flippant. It just comes across as a callous reminder that they and their concerns are not taken seriously.

Progressive feminists aren’t likely to embrace this more traditional perspective on femininity. To them, the vocational view of maternity will always be “biologically determinist,” unacceptably centered on the body, and unreasonably restrictive to women. Even so, liberals might do well to reflect more deeply on a perspective that motivates millions of their female compatriots. For one thing, it’s just more polite to show respect for the things other people value. For another, it may turn out that women across the political spectrum really do have some widely shared interests, which might become more evident if the left stopped alienating so many with their aggressive stance on abortion.

By Rachel Lu and originally published in The Week on February 14, 2018 and can be found here.

 

Sexually permissive societies always fall, anthropologist says

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Tremer which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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Published in a highly underrated 1934 book called “Sex and Culture,” the anthropologist J.D. Unwin found a universal correlation between monogamy and a civilization’s “expansive energy.” His aim in the book was to test the Freudian thesis that advanced civilizations were founded upon repression of sexual desire, and a re-channeling of this energy through a defense mechanism Freud called “sublimation.”

A non-Christian, and as relativistic as any modern anthropologist, he insisted that he offered “no opinion about rightness or wrongness” concerning sexual norms. Nevertheless, among the 86 different societies he studied, he not only found monogamy to be correlated with a society’s strength, but came to the sobering conclusion that “In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence.”

In other words, once a society loosened its sexual mores and abandoned monogamy, it began to degenerate and would eventually dissipate away. So much for ‘permissive’ sexual attitudes being “progressive”; the complete opposite of the sexual regression described by Unwin in his research on his study of a society’s regression.

In his own words:

“These societies lived in different geographical environments; they belonged to different racial stocks; but the history of their marriage customs is the same. In the beginning each society had the same ideas in regard to sexual regulations. Then the same struggles took place; the same sentiments were expressed; the same changes were made; the same results ensued. Each society reduced its sexual opportunity to a minimum and displaying great social energy, flourished greatly. Then it extended its sexual opportunity; its energy decreased, and faded away. The one outstanding feature of the whole story is its unrelieved monotony.”

Sumerian, Greek, Roman, Babylonian, Moorish, Anglo-Saxon, and many other societies, all fell shortly after they abandoned sexual chastity. Sexual permissiveness would cause societies to decline unless and until their sexual mores became more rigid.”

The famous writer Aldous Huxley summarized Unwin’s research:

“Unwin’s conclusions, which are based upon an enormous wealth of carefully sifted evidence, may be summed up as follows. All human societies are in one or another of six cultural conditions: zoistic, manistic, deistic, rationalistic, expansive, productive. Of these societies the zoistic displays the least amount of mental and social energy, the productive the most. Investigation shows that the societies exhibiting the least amount of energy are those where pre-nuptial continence is not imposed and where the opportunities for sexual indulgence after marriage are greatest. The cultural condition of a society rises in exact proportion as it imposes pre-nuptial and post-nuptial restraints upon sexual opportunity.”

“In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence.” For Roman, Greek, Sumerian, Moorish, Babylonian, and Anglo-Saxon civilizations, Unwin had several hundred years of history to draw on. He found with no exceptions that these societies flourished during eras that valued sexual fidelity. Inevitably, sexual mores would loosen and the societies would subsequently decline, only to rise again when they returned to more rigid sexual standards.”

You can find the original article here.

https://www.tremr.com/Duck-Rabbit/sexually-permissive-societies-always-fall-anthropologist-says

Following the ‘Wiseman’ Standard in Pa. Custody Battles Is Unwise

Although the so-called Wiseman standard, the standard by which shared custody arrangements were determined, stood for many years, the recent Pennsylvania Superior Court case of P.J.P. v. M.M., 2018 Pa. Super. 100, has officially declared the Wiseman standard obsolete and no longer applicable to Pennsylvania child custody matters.

In the matter of P.J.P., a custody case, the father appealed a decision in the trial court regarding his petition to modify a custody order that he believed was not sufficiently favorable for his custody goals.

The father and the mother are a divorced couple who obtained a child custody order in April 2016. This order granted the mother primary physical custody of the child. In January 2017, the father sought more custody, specifically shared physical custody, and filed a petition to modify.

At the trial, in August 2017, the court made many findings of facts that are directly relevant to its ultimate decision to deny granting shared custody to the father. For example, when the mother has custody she sends the father many photographs and videos and encourages the child to call the father. By contrast, the father does not want to call the mother during his custody times and sends no photographs and videos to the mother. The mother further claimed, and the father admitted, that he has insulted the mother in the presence of the child. He also admitted to telling the child to be sure to look up the instant case on Google Scholar when he is older to know what happened during the case. The mother is also conscientious in ensuring that the father has nice gifts from the child for holidays and such, while the father makes only modest efforts to reciprocate. The parties also had disagreements over the procedure and process for dropping the child off at preschool in the morning. The mother claimed the father refused to get the child ready and just dropped him off at her house, while the father claimed the mother “unilaterally” changed the procedure. Co-parenting counseling was also attempted by the parties. Unfortunately, while the mother was trying to fully invest herself in said counseling, The father refused to meaningfully participate, and the counselor believed the counseling was “not going anywhere.” Of course, the father has a different interpretation of much of the above, but the court made its findings, which favored the mother, after a complete review of the facts, testimony and evidence.

On appeal, the father challenged the denial of shared custody, arguing it was contrary to the best interests of the child. The Superior Court first noted that the trial court made certain credibility determinations that were within its discretion. The court then mentioned that child custody is governed by 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 5328, which lays out 16  factors for the court to consider when making a custody determination. Superior Court observed that the trial court analyzed each factor and noted that most were either inapplicable or weighed equally for both; however, there were four factors (namely the likelihood to encourage and permit contact with the other party, availability of extended family, attempts to turn the child against the other parent, and the level of conflict and willingness to cooperate with the other party) which weighed heavily on the mother’s side. No factor weighed heavily on the father’s side.

The father argued that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to apply the Weisman standard. In Weisman v. Wall, 718 A.2d 844 (Pa. Super.1998), the court ruled that courts must make four findings when ruling on shared custody “both parents must be fit, capable of making reasonable child rearing decisions and willing and able to provide love and care for their children; both parents must evidence a continuing desire for active involvement in the child’s life; both parents must be recognized by the child as a source of security and love; a minimal degree of cooperation between the parents must be possible.” The father further argued that since he and the mother, in his view, meet the above four factors, shared custody should be awarded.

Superior Court ruled that the father’s reliance on Weisman is misplaced. As noted above, Weisman was decided in 1998 while Section 5328 became law in 2011. The court does not believe the difference between Weisman and Section 5328 is trivial. Specifically Weisman “required the court, before awarding shared custody, ‘to make at least a minimal finding that the parties were able to cooperate before awarding shared custody” while, under Section 5328, the court “must determine the best interest of the child by considering all relevant factors, including but not limited to, ‘the level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another.”’

Superior Court noted that the plain language of Section 5328 contradicts Weisman. Unlike Weisman, the court is not obliged to make any specific findings before awarding shared custody. Instead, the court must consider all 16 of the relevant factors, and poor cooperation need not be dispositive. In sum, therefore, Superior Court specifically described Weisman as obsolete.

Finally, the court explained that its citing to Weisman in the recent case of R.S. v. T.T., 1133 A.3d 1254 (Pa.Super.2015) does not belie the above analysis. In R.S., the court used the Weisman factors to supplement its own analysis where it seemed Section 5328 did not appear to lead to a reasonable conclusion in light of the available evidence. Moreover, the court in R.S. never once said trial courts “must” make Weisman findings. Instead, Weismanmerely holds persuasive value as the its factors have been assimilated into Section 5328.

Upon full review of the decision, it appears that P.J.P. has hammered the final nail into the casket of the Weisman analysis. Weisman, for all intents and purposes, no longer appears to be the law for Pennsylvania child custody.

Originally published in The Legal Intelligencer on July 5, 2018 and can be seen here.

The Post-Physical Economy and the Rise of Trump

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Splice Today by my old philosophy professor Dr. Crispin Sartwell from back in my Penn State days which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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His election was a narrow repudiation of the Clinton-Bush-Obama technocracy.

I’m going to take another crack at giving an explanation of Donald Trump, in an economic vein that also ends up as commentary on our culture. It has to do with the arc of a transition from an economy based in physical things and physical needs, to what might be termed a “technocratic” economy, a symbolic economy of information, messaging, narratives, branding, and the like. During the four previous administrations, this technocratic transition was pursued by conscious policies and embodied in semi-conscious leadership personae.

When the U.S. shifted from a manufacturing to a “service” to an “information” economy, circa 1970 to 2010, it was the result both of concerted policy and underlying cultural prejudice. When the people running our institutions imagined a prosperous, upwardly mobile America, they imagined people not having to do dirty jobs or physical labor. They envisioned a population of doctors, lawyers, executives, accountants, engineers, and brand managers. They envisioned a world of people like themselves. To be like them was self-evidently something everyone would desire.

They imagined the whole society as upwardly mobile in the sense, perhaps, that their own families had been. They wanted for the society as whole what they wanted for their children—to be, or to marry, a nice lawyer. Sweet, but an economic howler. There can’t be a viable economy consisting only of service providers and government bureaucrats: there has to be some sort of underlying production that generates the resources on which that sort of bourgeoisie feeds, and which serves the physical needs of physical creatures such as ourselves.

The approach to education is a key example of this transition. The argument, pushed relentlessly by Clinton, Bush, Obama, goes like this. People who graduate from high school make more money than people who don’t, but not as much as college grads. People with advanced degrees make more money still. The obvious conclusion: educate the whole population and everyone will make more money. Education is the key to economic productivity. If everyone had a post-grad degree, everyone’s income would be very high.

It’s a ridiculous idea, but one that’s pervasive to the point of cliché: the key is education. But even if there is a chance that, in isolation, an enterprising young person could improve his or her situation by getting more degrees, it might well be that if everyone headed in that direction, the economy would collapse entirely. There just can’t be an economy where nothing physical gets done, because everyone is sitting in a cubicle somewhere, managing, or thinking, or coding, or writing emails, or staring blankly at Facebook. Also, one might be rather dissatisfied with that cubicle as the destination of one’s journey to the American dream.

The entire educational system was re-thought on the basis of this non-insight. We started measuring the success of schools by graduation rates and standardized-testing scores. We tried to manufacture the sort of minds needed for the service and information economies, the sort of minds that can type on keyboards all day or successfully fill out forms or sit still in their office chairs or greet you on behalf of a government agency and send you whirling through the endless bureaucracies of like-minded and like-skilled standardized service humans. They wanted and still want to start educating children in this way at birth, and not turn them loose until 20 years later, when they’ve gotten their MA.

Oddly, however, our lives were all the time still conducted in the physical universe. Perhaps it seemed bizarre to Bill or Al or Barack that we still had to eat, or move our bodies from one place to another, or wear clothes, or employ furniture. They seemed to think they were preparing all of us to migrate to an abstract world. Nevertheless, we still needed all of that stuff. Not only that, but in the decades of pursuing this policy they haven’t gotten anywhere close to giving everyone a college degree or suiting us all to the information economy. Nor will they; nor can they; nor should they.

The mainstream political left, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, put everything on this picture. It was Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s rallying cry in the 1990s: a bridge to the 21st century, a transformed IT America. With the technocratic vision comes a whole syndrome of positions: leaning on experts, relentlessly emphasizing science and technology, paying abject homage to software billionaires, creating a three-way circulation between Goldman Sachs, Harvard University, and the cabinet. Then Democrats wonder how they lost the blue-collar vote. If you think it’s in the interest of blue-collar people, for example union members, to help the Democratic Party transform the economy and the values of the culture in this way, you’re willfully blind, whatever government benefits you’re offering. I think it was much closer to their rational interest to vote for Trump.

One strategy for realizing this impossible vision of a post-physical economy might have been to promote all native-born Americans to service-providers or IT consultants while importing a workforce for practical matters such as agriculture, transportation, building, mowing lawns, and so on. There has been some of that; fundamentally, that’s where those 11 million undocumented people came from. But the basic move was to shift manufacturing and even to some extent agriculture to other countries. The only way to have something resembling a service or information economy, or a whole workforce of professionals and cubicle-dwellers, is to outsource physical reality more or less entirely.

First, this sets up a situation in which your society of professionals is massively parasitic on a worldwide system of economic exploitation. And second, this is a solid formula for devaluing and immiserating a portion of your own population: the people who are unsuited to the cubicle, or just for one reason or another fall by the wayside in the mechanical march of robotic education. Such people fall out of the economy completely, or they continue in the physically-oriented tasks: we still have to build and fix things. But the dignity of that sort or work was massively under attack in the technocratic vision that valued education, keyboard-stroking, strategic messaging, and filling in little circles with #2 pencils above all.

That is, to a large extent, what led us to Trump. His election was a repudiation (extremely narrow, it is true) of the Clinton-Bush-Obama technocracy. The resentment was inevitable, rational: people who work with their hands had been devalued for decades; someone like Obama probably thinks in his heart that no one would be a carpenter if they could be working on an app or a rebranding, or delivering inspirational pabulum. I don’t think you need racial resentment to explain Trump’s success, though that’s there too.

Trump’s notion of bringing back manufacturing through restrictive trade policies and tax cuts is more, that is, than a set of economic recommendations; it’s the reversal of a set of vastly problematic economic and cultural transformations to a large extent imposed by governmental policy. These transformations did lead to a dramatic increase in illegal immigration, partly to do the sort of jobs that Hillary Clinton thinks Americans don’t want. Well, no one she hangs out with would want a job like that.

But I don’t think that the approach of restricting immigration more and more is a promising way to address the problem. If the American economy doesn’t require imported labor to be productive, then fewer people will come. That occurred during the economic downturn. Meanwhile, as much of the economic activity associated with large-scale manufacturing shifts to other countries, this sets in motion increases in productivity there that in the long run may find people staying home for the same sort of economic reasons that they previously migrated, especially as technocratic economies, in part because they have lost contact with the real world, begin to slump.

In particular, the idea of “merit-based” immigration, which is advocated by many Democrats, but now also by Trump as a way to express the racial aspect without expressing it, seems a wildly counter-productive approach. We want all the world’s software engineers and candidates for advanced degrees, and none of its craftsmen, farmers, or bricklayers. This envisions a re-doubling of the worldwide caste system. It’s a way to keep trying to build a fantasy economy that rests on information or litigation or something rather than real human bodies in a real world.

I think we should admit immigrants by need, not advanced degrees, and I think that a need-based immigration system would end up being far more economically viable in the long run, because it holds on to the possibility of fulfilling basic human needs domestically. Not our imaginary needs, our symbolic needs, our psychological needs, our self-esteem quotient, or our prestige, but food, clothing, shelter, and transportation.

Meanwhile, the economics of manufacturing have largely been replaced by the economics of government benefits. When you’re dropping that many people off the bottom in your alleged attempts to lift everyone to the MBA level, when your domestic economy isn’t making anything actual, you’re going to have an ever-growing group of people who cannot or at least do not find a place. An amazing number of Americans, for example, are collecting Social Security disability benefits; one of the disabilities that a lot of them suffer from is that they are not the right sort of people for the information economy. In addition, of course, our whole society is now physically dependent on the distant labor of people with no responsiveness to or input into our own economy or polity.

It’d be nice to restore a bit of the dignity of physical labor, and to puncture some of the dignity of technocratic bureaucrats. But whatever the dignity or indignity of this and that, we obviously will never be a planet of managers and code-writers, except as we verge on extinction. We’re still physical creatures in a physical environment. That’s a good thing about us, because mere human minds in a merely human environment—a high-rise office building, for example, or a social media site—tend to behave unspeakably.

A backlash against the technocracy was inevitable, if for no other reason than that technocrats don’t even talk like human beings. They don’t treat human beings like human beings either; the standardized-testing regime, characteristically for this whole value system, treats children as things, or as less than things. In a way, all Trump had to do was talk like a person. Also, many people were being “left behind” in the march of “progress”; they became irritated about that for good reasons. The kind of progress proposed yields an utterly empty, meaningless version of human life. And the basic economic picture rests on howling mistakes and can yield little but a long decline. And we’re liable to get our ass kicked in many dimensions by people who have maintained their contact with the material world.

Other than that, though, this technocracy thing has been great.

Originally published on January 22, 2018 and can be found here.

 

Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one on Paris/Virginia which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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Call it the “divorce assumption.” Most people assume that a person stuck in a bad marriage has two choices: stay married and miserable or get a divorce and become happier. But now come the findings from the first scholarly study ever to test that assumption, and these findings challenge conventional wisdom. Conducted by a team of leading family scholars headed by University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite,

the study found no evidence that unhappily married adults who divorced were typically any happier than unhappily married people who stayed married.

Even more dramatically, the researchers also found that

two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported that their marriages were happy five years later.

In addition, the most unhappy marriages reported the most dramatic turnarounds: among those who rated their marriages as very unhappy, almost eight out of 10 who avoided divorce were happily married five years later.

The research team used data collected by the National Survey of Family and Households, a nationally representative survey that extensively measures personal and marital happiness. Out of 5,232 married adults interviewed in the late Eighties, 645 reported being unhappily married. Five years later, these same adults were interviewed again. Some had divorced or separated and some had stayed married.

The study found that on average unhappily married adults who divorced were no happier than unhappily married adults who stayed married when rated on any of 12 separate measures of psychological well-being. Divorce did not typically reduce symptoms of depression, raise self-esteem, or increase a sense of mastery. This was true even after controlling for race, age, gender, and income. Even unhappy spouses who had divorced and remarried were no happier on average than those who stayed married. “Staying married is not just for the childrens’ sake. Some divorce is necessary, but results like these suggest the benefits of divorce have been oversold,” says Linda J. Waite.

Why doesn’t divorce typically make adults happier? The authors of the study suggest that while eliminating some stresses and sources of potential harm, divorce may create others as well. The decision to divorce sets in motion a large number of processes and events over which an individual has little control that are likely to deeply affect his or her emotional well-being. These include the response of one’s spouse to divorce; the reactions of children; potential disappointments and aggravation in custody, child support, and visitation orders; new financial or health stresses for one or both parents; and new relationships or marriages.

Marital Turnarounds: How Do Unhappy Marriages Get Happier?

To follow up on the dramatic findings that two-thirds of unhappy marriages had become happy five years later, the researchers also conducted focus group interviews with 55 formerly unhappy husbands and wives who had turned their marriages around. They found that many currently happily married spouses have had extended periods of marital unhappiness, often for quite serious reasons, including alcoholism, infidelity, verbal abuse, emotional neglect, depression, illness, and work reversals.

Why did these marriages survive where other marriages did not?Spouses’ stories of how their marriages got happier fell into three broad headings: the marital endurance ethic, the marital work ethic, and the personal happiness ethic.

  • In the marital endurance ethic, the most common story couples reported to researchers, marriages got happier not because partners resolved problems, but because they stubbornly outlasted them. With the passage of time, these spouses said, many sources of conflict and distress eased: financial problems, job reversals, depression, child problems, even infidelity.
  • In the marital work ethic, spouses told stories of actively working to solve problems, change behavior, or improve communication. When the problem was solved, the marriage got happier. Strategies for improving marriages mentioned by spouses ranged from arranging dates or other ways to more time together, enlisting the help and advice of relatives or in-laws, to consulting clergy or secular counselors, to threatening divorce and consulting divorce attorneys.
  • Finally, in the personal happiness ethic, marriage problems did not seem to change that much. Instead married people in these accounts told stories of finding alternative ways to improve their own happiness and build a good and happy life despite a mediocre marriage.

The Powerful Effects of Commitment

Spouses interviewed in the focus groups whose marriages had turned around generally had a low opinion of the benefits of divorce, as well as friends and family members who supported the importance of staying married. Because of their intense commitment to their marriages, these couples invested great effort in enduring or overcoming problems in their relationships, they minimized the importance of difficulties they couldn’t resolve, and they actively worked to belittle the attractiveness of alternatives.

The study’s findings are consistent with other research demonstrating the powerful effects of marital commitment on marital happiness. A strong commitment to marriage as an institution, and a powerful reluctance to divorce, do not merely keep unhappily married people locked in misery together. They also help couples form happier bonds. To avoid divorce, many assume, marriages must become happier. But it is at least equally true that in order to get happier, unhappy couples or spouses must first avoid divorce. “In most cases, a strong commitment to staying married not only helps couples avoid divorce, it helps more couples achieve a happier marriage,” notes research team member Scott Stanley.

Would most unhappy spouses who divorced have ended up happily married if they had stuck with their marriages?

The researchers who conducted the study cannot say for sure whether unhappy spouses who divorced would have become happy had they stayed with their marriages. In most respects, unhappy spouses who divorced and unhappy spouses who stayed married looked more similar than different (before the divorce) in terms of their psychological adjustment and family background. While unhappy spouses who divorced were on average younger, had lower household incomes, were more likely to be employed or to have children in the home, these differences were typically not large.

Were the marriages that ended in divorce much worse than those that did not? There is some evidence for this point of view. Unhappy spouses who divorced reported more conflict and were about twice as likely to report violence in their marriage than unhappy spouses who stayed married. However, marital violence occurred in only a minority of unhappy marriages: 21 percent of unhappy spouses who divorced reported husband-to-wife violence, compared to nine percent of unhappy spouses who stayed married.

On the other hand, if only the worst marriages ended up in divorce, one would expect divorce to be associated with important psychological benefits. Instead, researchers found that unhappily married adults who divorced were no more likely to report emotional and psychological improvements than those who stayed married. In addition, the most unhappy marriages reported the most dramatic turnarounds: among those who rated their marriages as very unhappy, almost eight out of 10 who avoided divorce were happily married five years later.

PAIRS in Virginia is an effective marriage counseling alternative to help couples restore clear communication, avoid fighting, diffuse anger, solve problems together and reenergize intimacy.  Our classes teach you the skills you need to sustain a happy relationship! Call 703-476-5644.

Excerpted from study by Linda J. Waite, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott M. Stanley.

The team of family experts that conducted the study included Linda J. Waite, Lucy Flower Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago and coauthor of The Case for Marriage; Don Browning, Professor Emeritus of the University of Chicago Divinity School; William J. Doherty, Professor of Family Social Science and Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Minnesota; Maggie Gallagher, affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values and coauthor of The Case for Marriage; Ye Luo, a research associate at the Sloan Center on Parents, Children and Work at the University of Chicago; and Scott Stanley, Co-Director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver.

You can find the Paris/Virginia article here and the entire study can be found here: does_divorce_make_people_happy

 

 

 

 

Millions Are Hounded for Debt They Don’t Owe. One Victim Fought Back, With a Vengeance

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one on Bloomberg which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

________________

On the morning a debt collector threatened to rape his wife, Andrew Therrien was working from home, in a house with green shutters on a cul-de-sac in a small Rhode Island town. Tall and stocky, with a buzz cut and a square, friendly face, Therrien was a salesman for a promotions company. He’d always had an easy rapport with people over the phone, and on that day, in February 2015, he was calling food vendors to talk about grocery store giveaways.

Therrien was interrupted midpitch by a call from his wife. She’d gotten a voicemail from an authoritative-sounding man saying Therrien was in some kind of trouble. “I need to verify an address to present you with your formal claim,” the man had said. “Andrew Therrien, you are officially notified.”

A few minutes later, Therrien’s phone buzzed. It was the same guy. He gave his name as Charles Cartwright and said Therrien owed $700 on a payday loan. But Therrien knew he didn’t owe anyone anything. Suspecting a scam, he told Cartwright just what he thought of his scare tactics.

Cartwright hung up, then called back, mad. He said he wanted to meet face-to-face to teach Therrien a lesson.

“I will,” Cartwright said, “and I hope your wife is at home.”

That’s when he made the rape threat.

Therrien got so angry he couldn’t think clearly. He wasn’t going to just let someone menace and disrespect his wife like that. He had to know who this Cartwright guy was, and his employer, too. Therrien wanted to make them pay.

At the same time, he worried that the call might not be a swindle. What if some misinformed loan shark really was coming for them? But Therrien didn’t have any real information he could take to the police.

Then he remembered Cartwright had left a number with his wife.

He dialed.

Somewhere—at the top of a ladder of dirty debt collectors that Therrien would spend the next two years relentlessly climbing—a man named Joel Tucker had no idea what was coming.

Earlier this year, I met Therrien, 33, at a Panera Bread restaurant in central Providence. He had reluctantly agreed to be interviewed, on the condition that I not reveal his hometown or his wife’s name.

Therrien had been caught up in a fraud known as phantom debt, where millions of Americans are hassled to pay back money they don’t owe. The concept is centuries old: Inmates of a New York debtors’ prison joked about it as early as 1800, in a newspaper they published called Forlorn Hope. But systematic schemes to collect on fake debts started only about five years ago. It begins when someone scoops up troves of personal information that are available cheaply online—old loan applications, long-expired obligations, data from hacked accounts—and reformats it to look like a list of debts. Then they make deals with unscrupulous collectors who will demand repayment of the fictitious bills. Their targets are often poor and likely to already be getting confusing calls about other loans. The harassment usually doesn’t work, but some marks are convinced that because the collectors know so much, the debt must be real.

The problem is as simple as it is intractable. In 2012 a call center in India was busted for making 8 million calls in eight months to collect made-up bills. The Federal Trade Commission has since broken up at least 13 similar scams. In most cases, regulators weren’t able to identify the original perpetrators because the data files had been sold and repackaged so many times. Victims have essentially no recourse to do anything but take the abuse.

Most victims, that is. When the scammers started to hound Therrien, he hounded them right back. Obsessed with payback, he spent hundreds of hours investigating the dirty side of debt. By day he was still promoting ice cream brands and hiring models for liquor store tastings. But in his spare time, he was living out a revenge fantasy. He befriended loan sharks and blackmailed crooked collectors, getting them to divulge their suppliers, and then their suppliers above them. In method, Therrien was like a prosecutor flipping gangster underlings to get to lieutenants and then the boss. In spirit, he was a bit like Liam Neeson’s vigilante character in the movie Taken—using unflagging aggression to obtain scraps of information and reverse-engineer a criminal syndicate. Therrien didn’t punch anyone in the head, of course. He was simply unstoppable over the phone.

When Therrien dialed the number Cartwright had left, a woman answered and said she worked for Lakefront Processing Solutions in Buffalo. She’d never heard of Charles Cartwright, though, and implied he must be some kind of freelancer or bounty hunter. Regardless, she said, Therrien could clear everything up by making a payment. Her records indicated that he owed a payday lender called Vista.

Therrien had indeed once taken out a loan, but he didn’t think it was from Vista. He’d been selling copiers at the time, and when his boss stiffed him on a $20,000 commission, he turned to an online lender to make a car payment. Therrien says he paid back the debt promptly. He was offended by the Lakefront woman’s suggestion that he was a deadbeat. “I’m a person who believes in personal friggin’ responsibility,” Therrien tells me. “I signed an agreement. And I fulfilled my obligation.”

On his laptop, Therrien started digging. He found a securities filing saying Vista had merged with a company called That Marketing Solution Inc. After paying a few dollars to an online people-search service, he got its president on the line. “You sold my personal information to a bunch of thugs,” Therrien recalls telling the man. “I want to know why, and I want to know what you’re going to do about it.” Within hours, the company provided a letter saying that Therrien had never borrowed from Vista.

Armed with proof the debt was invalid, Therrien turned back to Lakefront. More searches yielded a corporate parent, owned by two Buffalo men. Therrien called them, then their lawyer. When the lawyer stalled, Therrien bombarded him with more calls, at home and on his cell—enough to put Lakefront off him for good. (The parties eventually reached a confidential settlement, and Lakefront—whose name I found in a public record—declined to comment.)

By the morning after Cartwright’s call, Therrien’s fears of a psycho collector had been assuaged—no one had showed up at his house. But swatting down Lakefront turned out to be just the first round in a game of whack-a-mole. More collection agencies contacted him, his wife, his brother, even his grandparents. The calls made it clear to Therrien that an overarching force was at play. His name had to be getting on these lists somehow.

Each night, after his wife went to sleep, he cracked open his laptop to comb lawsuits, unearth filings, and uproot the owners of the agencies calling him. When he got names, he’d phone them, often surprising them at home, and make clear that he wouldn’t go away until they’d revealed who supplied their debt portfolios. “Here’s the deal,” he’d say. “I don’t really care about you. There’s a million guys like you out there. You’ll never get your money back. You might as well get blood out of it. Tell me what I need to know to put these guys in jail.”

Sometimes, Therrien would make a small payment on the fake debt, then check bank records to see where it went. He found people with convictions for counterfeiting, stock fraud, drug dealing, and child molestation. He started a spreadsheet, Scums.xlsx, to keep track. On weekends he’d harangue them from his couch while watching New England Patriots games. He used persuasion techniques he’d learned selling copiers, some drawn from a book called Getting Into Your Customer’s Head. On the phone, Therrien is a savant. He has an instinct for when to be a friend—one gruff payday lender tells me, sheepishly, that he simply doesn’t know why he speaks with Therrien so frequently—and when to be a bully.

Therrien would threaten to report the collectors to regulators unless they helped him figure out what was going on. “You are either with me in this, or you are against me,” he wrote to one man. Others he tried to shame. “If my intentions are right, I’ll have God on my side,” Therrien emailed one source. “You may not love poor people, but He does.”

The targets were shocked by Therrien’s doggedness. In their world, complaints are common, but most victims give up after being promised they won’t be called again. One shady-debt player tells me he suspected Therrien was an undercover federal investigator because he’d gathered so much information on his business. “It’s an obsession, it’s unbelievable, an outright vigilante crusade,” another says. “It doesn’t seem to equal the harm that was done to him.”

Therrien knew his fixation seemed odd. He didn’t tell his friends and family much about his nighttime activity. But the collectors’ threats brought back feelings of rage and fear that he’d struggled to suppress since childhood. He grew up in working-class Connecticut, where his father was a factory man and his mother had a series of part-time jobs. Therrien says they mistreated him and his brother, and he moved out at 16 after an incident he won’t discuss. He told me he regrets not doing more to protect his brother. (Therrien’s father is dead, and his mother denies she did anything wrong.)

In college, Therrien worked at a J.Crew store, where a customer spotted his talent for sales and offered him a job. Therrien makes a good living now, and he takes pride in being a more responsible person than his parents—paying his bills on time, going to church on Sunday, and taking care of those close to him. “If it’s just about me, I don’t particularly give a f—,” he tells me, with an incongruous laugh. “You call my wife, and you call my grandparents? You just opened up a door that got really f—ing ugly, and now I’m going to make sure that I just ruin your life.”

As more collectors yielded to Therrien’s persistence and talked, he dropped his pursuit of Charles Cartwright, concluding that it was an untraceable alias, and focused on understanding their business. Phantom debt, he learned, is blended with real debt in ways that are almost impossible to untangle.

Americans are currently late on more than $600 billion in bills, according to Federal Reserve research, and almost one person in 10 has a debt in collectors’ hands. The agencies recoup what they can and sell the rest down-market, so that iffier and iffier debt is bought by shadier and shadier individuals. Deception is common. Scammers often sell the same portfolios of debt, called “paper,” to several collection agencies at once, so a legitimate IOU gains illegitimate clones. Some inflate balances, a practice known as “overbiffing.” Others create “redo” lists—people who’ve settled their debt, but will be harassed again anyway. These rosters are actually more valuable, because the targets have proved willing to part with money over the phone. And then there are those who invent debts out of whole cloth.

Portfolios are combined and doctored until they contain thousands of entries. One collector told Therrien that he’d paid cash at a diner for a thumb drive with a database containing Therrien’s name. Some collectors told him they thought the files were partially legitimate; others knew their paper was completely falsified. Yet they continued to trade it, referring to the people they pursued as deadbeats and losers. The more Therrien learned, the more disgusted he grew with everyone involved.

His search for the ur-source rarely traveled in a straight line. For a time, Therrien focused on Buffalo,one of the poorest cities in the U.S. and a hub for the collections industry—home to agencies that work the oldest, cheapest paper. Debt collector is a more common job there than bartender or construction worker, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As Therrien wore down as many Buffalo collectors as he could, one name kept surfacing: Joel Tucker, a former payday-loan mogul from Kansas City, Mo. By the summer of 2015, Therrien was convinced he’d found his guy.

Therrien needed an ally inside the Kansas City racket. He found one in Frampton “Ted” Rowland III, a middle-aged insurance-broker-turned-predatory-lender whose company was listed as the original creditor for one of Therrien’s supposed loans. When Therrien called, Rowland said he was sorry—and kept talking. His life was falling apart. He’d been sued by the FTC over his lending practices, he’d lost all his money, and his wife was leaving him. Therrien sympathized. He sensed Rowland was a good man who’d made a bad choice out of a desire to provide for his family. They started to speak regularly, and Rowland told Therrien he blamed Tucker for everything.

Tucker had created the local industry with his two brothers. Scott, the oldest, was the brains. He’d served time in prison for a scam in which he’d pretended to work for JPMorgan Chase & Co. The middle son, Blaine, was popular and a talented musician. Joel, tall and handsome, was a natural salesman. But when he was 21, he was selling furniture and working at a mini-mart, so hard up that he got arrested for bouncing a $12 check. (The case was dismissed.)

In the mid-1990s, Scott opened a payday-loan store and gave his brothers jobs. Lending money to people who don’t have any is surprisingly profitable. In states where such stores are legal, such as Missouri, they’re more common than McDonald’s franchises. But in the 15 states where such stores are against the law, there are millions of desperate people willing to pay for fast cash and no one to give it to them. Scott pioneered what he thought was a clever legal loophole that would give him access to that market: He created websites that were owned on paper by an American Indian tribe, which could claim sovereign immunity from regulators. Those sites charged as much as $150 interest on a two-week, $500 loan—an annualized interest rate of about 700 percent.

The loophole was ridiculously lucrative. Scott’s operation generated $2 billion in revenue from 2003 to 2012. He bought a private jet and spent more than $60 million to start his own professional Ferrari racing team. Around 2005, Joel split to start a company that would allow anyone to get into online payday lending—supplying software to process applications and loans and offering access to a steady stream of customers. All the clients had to bring was money and a willingness to bypass state law. Word spread around Kansas City’s country clubs and private schools that if you wanted to get rich, Joel Tucker was your man.

With Tucker’s help, one property management executive and his son, a general contractor, started a lender that saw $161 million in revenue over eight years. An investor presentation from that period shows that Tucker was personally clearing tens of millions of dollars in profit per year.

One of his clients was Rowland, until the gravy train crashed in 2013. Under pressure from regulators, banks stopped doing business with the sketchiest payday lenders, making it hard for them to issue loans and collect payments. In 2014 federal authorities raided Rowland’s office, and the FBI began investigating the Tucker brothers. Blaine committed suicide by jumping off a parking garage in 2014; Scott was charged two years later with racketeering, and prosecutors called his tribal arrangement a sham. (He declined to comment.)

By the time Therrien came looking for Joel Tucker in the fall of 2015, he’d become a hard man to find. Twice divorced, he was moving from place to place, ducking his creditors. A booking photo from the time when he was briefly imprisoned for failing to show up for court in an unrelated lawsuit shows him with bristly gray hair and dark circles under deep-set blue eyes. Therrien couldn’t find a working phone number for him—not even when he reached his 81-year-old mother, Norma. She claimed not to know where he was.

Therrien’s tactics grew more intense, mirroring those of the debt collectors he loathed. As he had in Buffalo, he developed a network of sources in Kansas City, figuring out who hated whom and playing them off each other. He got a burner app that provided disposable numbers for his smartphone, with any area code he wanted. He called wives, widows, business partners, even a waitress who’d once worked at a restaurant the Tuckers owned. He’d have his sources drive by places where he thought Tucker might be living, to look for his car. He told one broker’s mother-in-law that she should investigate who her daughter was married to. Therrien acknowledges that sometimes he went too far.

By November 2015 he developed a simple theory. Tucker’s business had given him access to a huge database of people who’d applied for loans—including, just maybe, the one Therrien had taken out in his copier-selling days. What if, when Tucker was broke and needed money, he’d taken applicants’ personal information, invented loan balances, and sold the list as a portfolio of delinquent debt?

Therrien took his hypothesis to the FBI and FTC. His emails were breathless and confusing, but the authorities were patient, taking his calls and talking to him at length. It was clear they knew about Tucker, but Therrien got frustrated by what he saw as inaction. “There are millions of people out there being threatened daily by these actions and I’m doing my part to try and stop it,” he wrote to an FTC investigator in early 2016, begging him to hold Tucker accountable.

January 2016 saw a breakthrough: A former employee of Tucker’s agreed to arrange a call between him and Therrien to clear the air. Therrien couldn’t believe his unseen antagonist was willing to talk. So anxious he couldn’t sit down, he set up a recording device in his home office, put his phone on speaker, and called.

Tucker seemed hyper and defensive, telling Therrien that if any of the portfolios he’d sold now contained phantom debt, they must have been doctored after leaving his hands. “F—ing shame on them,” he said. “Wasn’t me. It had to have been them.”

Therrien was trying to hold back his anger, but his voice wavered. He wanted to impress Tucker, mentioning tidbits he knew about his business. Tucker didn’t understand why Therrien, this guy he’d never met, was so extravagantly invested.

“I’ll tell you why I care,” Therrien said calmly. “I’ll tell you why I care. I believe, and I’m just telling you what I believe, you sold my personal information 21 separate times. I’ve gotten close to 100 f—ing calls, and because I’ve gotten those 100 calls from scumbag collectors that you facilitated, I’m going to make sure that that kind of shit ends now.”

Tucker was incredulous: “You think this is my fault?”

“You got desperate because you spent two dollars for every dollar you had,” Therrien said.

“What are you talking about? Are you trying to micromanage my life? You don’t know jack shit about me.”

“I know what happened. You f—ing stole money from people,” Therrien said. “I’m giving you the opportunity to come clean.”

“I don’t know who you are, Andrew,” Tucker said. “Who are you?”

“A person that you f—ed with too many times.”

When Therrien played the tape for me, I was amazed at how fluently he channeled emotion—his own and Tucker’s—to get what he wanted. Incredibly, by the end of the half-hour call, Tucker was offering to help Therrien collect evidence about crimes committed by other people in the payday-loan business. “We need to get this stuff resolved,” Tucker said on the tape, with a sigh. “’Cause this—it’s not healthy for anybody.”

The two men started talking and texting a few times a week. “I think he has a mental illness that allows him to think he did nothing wrong,” Therrien told me. (Tucker didn’t respond to most of my emailed questions and kept putting off interview requests. “Lies are not stories,” he wrote in one email. He said that any debt he’d sold was legitimate.)

Tucker’s denials made Therrien hate him more, but Therrien masked his feelings to keep the conversation going. The one-year anniversary of his quest was approaching, and he wanted real evidence of wrongdoing—something Tucker couldn’t deny and officials couldn’t ignore.

Therrien soon obtained two crucial sets of documents to that end. In March 2016 he flew to California to meet a debt broker, who handed over some contracts Tucker had signed. Separately, Therrien received an email from the manager of a collection agency, to whose conscience he’d spent weeks appealing. The email, whose subject line read “Have faith in the good in heart,” included actual phantom-debt files, with names and Social Security numbers. The metadata yielded a new name: Rob Harsh, Tucker’s IT guy. (The author of the email died of a drug overdose a few months later.)

In May 2016, Therrien emailed his discoveries to the FTC. A lawyer replied right away: “Andrew, we need to talk about this.” Therrien also gave his intel to some private lawyers who were going after Tucker in Texas. They contacted Harsh, and in August 2016 he submitted an affidavit to the court. Harsh, who declined to comment for this story, testified that Tucker had asked him to manipulate a database of almost 8 million payday-loan applications, writing in a made-up lender and adding an amount owed of $300 for each person.

Therrien had been right all along.

Vindication didn’t make Therrien happy, not even when the FTC suit against Rowland’s company took a karmic swerve that drew in Tucker, directing him to return $30 million he’d received in ill-gotten profits from the business. Tucker told the court he was broke.

Meanwhile, Rowland was spiraling. He confided in Therrien that he was considering suicide, and one day that summer he called Therrien to say goodbye. “Don’t do anything stupid,” Therrien texted him afterward. “I may be callous with you lately but I still care and don’t want anything bad to happen.” Therrien told me he’d informed the police of Rowland’s plan and that they had intervened. But that October, Rowland shot himself. His death added to Therrien’s outrage at Tucker and other predatory lenders like him who hadn’t faced any real legal consequences.

Finally, in December 2016, the FTC sued Tucker for selling phantom debt. According to the regulator, everything had happened pretty much as Therrien imagined: Tucker had invented more than 7.7 million fake debts and sold them to a series of middlemen for $4.2 million. This September, a judge ruled for the agency, ordering Tucker to pay back that money on top of the $30 million he already owed.

The FTC has never credited Therrien, and Michael Tankersley, an agency lawyer, declined to discuss their interactions. But Tankersley told me that Harsh and the California broker were two key sources of information establishing Tucker’s wrongdoing.

Therrien, as usual, was unsatisfied. He was still getting calls from collectors, for one thing. And he felt that if he’d done a better job investigating, Tucker would be facing criminal charges—not a civil fine he’d never end up paying. Therrien has stayed in touch with the FBI’s Kansas City office. An FBI spokeswoman declines to say whether Tucker is being investigated, but three of his associates told me that agents had contacted them about his debt sales.

After the ruling against Tucker, Therrien heard from him for the first time in months, and they started talking again. Amid their conversations, which were recorded, Tucker’s brother, Scott, was convicted on all 14 charges he faced. Without directly asking Therrien to drop his vendetta, Tucker seemed to be pleading for mercy. “I’ve f—ing had enough harm done,” he said. “I’ve lost a brother. Got a brother going to prison. Put it this way, Andrew. I’m tired, buddy. I’m f—ing tired.”

“I’m tired too,” Therrien replied, “because I’m still getting harassed by these motherf—ers.”

By Zeke Faux in Bloomberg and can be found here.

 

Tactical Retreat: Nothing But the Kitchen Sink

My friend and co-worker Brian M. Lambert has founded an online sketch comedy project called Tactical Retreat which you can find here on Facebook and here on Youtube.

As Tactical Retreat releases new videos, I will post them here.  So far, I have found them rather funny and clever and they seem to get better with each release.

Here are the links to Tactical Retreat‘s previously released sketches:

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