25 February 2013

Planned health care changes put many in limbo

DAVID WAHLBERG | Wisconsin State Journal | dwahlberg@madison.com | 608-252-6125

Whether the 87,000 parents who would lose Medicaid coverage under Gov. Scott Walker's budget can afford private insurance in a government-subsidized exchange might be summed up by Jessica Jaglowski's uncertainty.

"We can afford to pay some kind of premium," said Jaglowski, a stay-at-home mother of three whose husband earns about $38,000 a year. "But if it turns out the deductibles and co-pays are high and things aren't covered, that could be a big problem for us."

The affordability of the exchange is one of several Medicaid-related questions being raised after Walker introduced his 2013-15 budget proposal last week.

Other questions involve reduced coverage for pregnant women and state benefits for 82,000 childless adults.

"There's a lot we don't know yet," said Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC for Health, a Madison nonprofit that helps people get health care.

Jaglowski's family has been on BadgerCare, the state's main Medicaid program, for five years. Walker's plan would shift her and her husband, but not their children, to the exchange.

They'd likely face a combined premium of about $95 a month — plus out-of-pocket costs of up to $4,200 a year when seeking care.

"I hope there's something affordable on the exchange, but I don't feel certain about that," said Jaglowski, of Milwaukee.

About 82,000 childless adults who make less than the poverty level — $11,490 for an individual and $27,570 for a family of five — would gain BadgerCare coverage through a partial Medicaid expansion.
But Walker plans to shift 87,000 parents with incomes above the poverty level from BadgerCare to the federal exchange. Enrollment is to begin Oct. 1, with coverage starting Jan. 1.

The state assumes about 80,000 of the affected parents would enroll in the exchange, said Claire Smith, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health Services.

But after the state added exchange-like premiums in July for 48,835 BadgerCare members who make more than 133 percent of the poverty level, 15,819 people affected dropped out by December, Smith said.

It was not known how many of them got other coverage or were uninsured, she said.

Democrats and health care advocates say a significant portion of the 87,000 parents losing BadgerCare won't be able to afford the exchange, leaving them uninsured and relying on expensive emergency rooms for care.

They also want the state to accept the 100 percent federal funding available to fully expand Medicaid to about 175,000 adults who make up to 133 percent of the poverty level, as allowed under the health reform law. But Walker and many Republicans say the full Medicaid expansion is too risky because federal funding might fall through, forcing the state to pay its usual 40 percent share for the new enrollees.

Walker said he's returning Medicaid to its "intended purpose as a safety net for the neediest."

Above poverty, but still poor

Jaglowski, 40, said she and her family aren't among the very neediest. They make a little over 133 percent of the poverty level.

But the insurance offered by her husband's workplace, an educational nonprofit, would cost them more than $14,000 a year in premiums.

"There's no way we could afford it," she said.

The family, including three children ages 2 to 7, hasn't had to pay a premium for BadgerCare.

Jaglowski said she's glad the exchange will be available, but she worries about out-of-pocket costs.

"We may be above poverty level, but we're still pretty low income for five people," she said.

Peterson said it will also be confusing for parents to have one kind of insurance on the exchange and for their children to remain on BadgerCare.

"It's important to keep parents and kids in the same health care if they can," he said. "This puts a big wedge in."

Change in pregnancy coverage

Another concern is reduced BadgerCare coverage for pregnant women.

Currently, pregnant women with incomes up to 300 percent of the poverty level get full BadgerCare coverage.

Walker's budget would give those making more than 133 percent of the poverty level only prenatal services, including labor and delivery care, Smith said.

The women no longer would be covered for postpartum care or dental care, said Sara Eskrich, health care policy analyst for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

"This is a disappointing change," Eskrich said. "The whole health of the mother, pre- and post-natal, has a direct impact on the health of the unborn child."

It's not clear what benefits the 82,000 childless adults would get under the state's partial Medicaid expansion, said Jon Peacock, research director for WCCF.

Smith said they would get "full" benefits, including mental health services. But childless adults covered now receive partial benefits through the BadgerCare Core Plan, which expires this year.

The federal government has to approve the state's changes, and "it's far from certain that Wisconsin's waiver for a partial expansion would be approved," Peacock said.

Smith said the state expects the changes to be approved.

Need to build infrastructure

Some wonder if the exchange will be ready to enroll people by October and start coverage in January, as required by the health reform law.

Insurance companies will offer various levels of coverage for individuals and small groups, with government tax credits available for people with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level.
Insurance plans wanting to participate must be certified by the end of July, said J.P. Wieske, spokesman for the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. They'll likely start applying in April, he said.

The federal government is setting up exchanges in Wisconsin and 25 other states that decided not to establish their own.

The government is preparing a website and hotline for people to enroll, said Kenneth Munson, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. People also will be able to sign up in person, he said.

By June, grants will be awarded to "navigators" to help consumers use the exchange, Munson said.

Participating plans will be reviewed to make sure they provide "essential health benefits," he said, and it's likely many plans will be available in Wisconsin.

"We're talking about insurers competing for business," Munson said. "It's hard to imagine insurers not offering policies for sale on the exchanges."

14 February 2013

Find out just how rich you are

Worried about not earning enough money?  Always concerned about making more?

Try some perspective.  The world's 225 richest people now have a combined wealth of $1 trillion. That's equal to the combined annual incomes of the world's 2.5 billion poorest people.

Visit: Global Rich List.

According to Global Rich List:

$30 could buy you an ER DVD Boxset OR a First Aid kit for a village in Haiti.

$73 could buy you a new mobile phone OR a new mobile health clinic to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda.

$2400 could buy you a second generation High Definition TV OR schooling for an entire generation of school children in an Angolan village.

13 February 2013

Drivel or Republican Vision?

Republicans have been accused of being out of touch with reality, of creating an alternate reality, and of being unaware of real Americans' hardships, and many other epithets, rest assuredly.  While the same can be said about most Americans' awareness of the rest of the world, Americans who on Valentine's day will buy diamonds that were torn from the earth by forced labor (by those whose limbs have been left in tact) and harvested through blood conflicts, Americans who sport clothes with tags that read "Made in Taiwan" or "Made in Vietnam" and are about the most international characteristic of 99% of the population of the entire Midwest, Americans who purchase the latest Apple product with little to no regard for the cheap labor that assembled the machines (or the tricky profit schemes Apple uses to maximize profit), Marco Rubio's response to the State of the Union address did little to dispel the notion that Republicans are quite clueless. 

The blindfold that covers their eyes and allows them to bellow at us with bravado and bluster to of course naturally accept their call for freer markets, lower corporate tax rates, and more growth through larger tax cuts may be rosy-colored but their coffers really see black.  That's the sound of high-financed lobbyists ringing the token bell.

Whether we believe that lower corporate tax rates would mean more money circulated within our shores is second fiddle to the fact that while most Americans have seen little to no growth in their wages, corporations have been raking in record profits.  No matter how the message gets parsed, no matter how many iterations it flows through the resulting whole of a re-explained trickle down economy is still just what it sounds like, voodoo economics.  And no matter what it's called, whether it's referred to euphemistically or boldly cited, or how it's explained, it's still just a mess beyond salvaging because it's a route that doesn't flow through or in this case flow down.  As has become intolerably obvious to most of us, over the last 50 years (it has been that long, just think about Hubert Humphrey's message) the wealth has accumulated at the top and has stayed there.

Any reasonable observer ought to question the central theme of Mr. Rubio's ideological backwash that a freer market would solve the nation's economic questions and put the country on the track of real growth, without regard to the 2-3% growth we've seen over the past few years.

Despite the partisan ballyhoo and sales pitch, a truly free market does not exist, never has, and never will.  Mr. Rubio and his fellow Republicans would never allow the federal government to drop patent laws or intellectual property in favor of open source information or a free flow of ideas.  Instead the government regulates which companies can produce merchandise and who owns those ideas.  Corporations hire patent lawyers en masse to file endless streams of patent claims on things that do not exist and very likely never will if they have their way.  In a free market, there'd be no limitations or sanctimonious attention paid to the protection of ideas that are locked away in aging files by aging filers in aging file cabinets in dusting aged offices.  There would have been no lawsuit between Apple and Samsung over the design and functionality of the Galaxy.

Likewise, in a free market, a company would save money by hiring cheap expendable labor preferably those that heal quickly or are too young to unionize and complain too much.  The perfect employees are those that cannot defend themselves, are nearly illiterate (hence the burgeoning child prostitution rings around the world), and are desperate for work.  A truly free market would indeed be rid of the hurdle of child labor laws or minimum wage mandates.

In a free market a company capitalizes on spending the least amount of money while selling the most merchandize.  Safety within a factory or place of business in a free market takes a back seat.  Witness the Apple plants in China. And heaven forbid were a majority of Americans to visit the sweatshops of Vietnam in places like Hue where the average work day is about 14 hours and the average pay is about 5 USD a week to see where those labels are actually sewn onto the shirts on our backs because then what would obese Americans wear to cover the negligent signs of overexcess?

But then Republicans would have to do away with OSHA, which many probably do want to have away with.  There could be no safety in work-force laws mandated by the government.  The safety of workers would be left to the devices of an amoral free market economy in which, many free market supporters argue, the markets would take care of themselves.  Consumers, that is people who buy the crap that capitalists invest their money in, would buy the products that are created with integrity.  Clearly this is exactly what has happened with De Beers, Nike, Apple, etc.  Instead just the opposite phenomenon has occurred.  Cheaply manufactured and cheaply built products out sell more expensive longer lasting products.  That's the business model of Walmart.  Buy cheap, sell cheap, earn more due to lower wages and planned obsolescence of manufactured goods, which ensures a returning share of buyers.  There are plenty of government regulations protecting Walmart's interest, let's be very clear about that. 

The Republican ideal argument of a free market is as far from reality as what most Americans are watching on their glowing blue-light electronic boxes right now, more than likely since it's a cheaply made programming alternative, known as "reality TV".  A free market would mean that while one car plant is assembling cars with safety belts, another manufacturer could pop up with the same design but sell a cheaper car without safety belts.  For reasons that are obvious to anyone who does not believe TV represents reality, corporations would never allow for a truly free market, likewise nor should we to be sure.  At present most of the corporate, patent, and intellectual property laws protect the massive corporations like GE from smaller ma and pa shops from snatching their ideas and underselling the big guys.

It's a pipe dream that Republicans are selling and they sell it hard because it sounds like they have something to offer, when really it's the same old schmooze and and the same old song just with a very slightly different dance.  In the end it's offering nothing new; it's status quo politics.  Mr. Rubio explained that he'd like to see more money being circulated, more growth through entrepreneurship.   But it's pretty difficult to attain that when most of the money that is supposedly circulating is essentially coagulating at the top in a way eerily reminiscent of the massive floating garbage patch in the Pacific.

To take just a brief sampling of a few occupations in America and their average earnings, look to the government for some interesting statistics.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics waiters and waitresses earn a median pay of $18,330 per year or $8.81 per hour.  CEOs and top executives meanwhile earn a median pay of $101,250 per year or $48.68 per hour.  Physicians and surgeons earn $166,400 per year or $80.00 per hour. Of particular interest in our increasingly service-oriented economy, cashiers earn $18,500 per year or about $8.89 per hour.   Quite a few politicians are aghast when workers beg for a higher federally mandated minimum wage.

The question that the information must beg from the incredulous fact checker has to be about who the Republicans are claiming will circulate the money.  Top wage earners have no interest in spreading their wealth amongst the lowest wage earners, that's been made abundantly clear, except in instances when tips are rewarded for servitude provided without overdone sycophancy perhaps; even in those rare circumstances generosity is easier to obtain from the typical RUF soldier than your run-of-the-mill Bob Parsons. 

Naturally we should all look upon the views expressed by Mr. Rubio and Mr. Obama with dubious certainty.  Mr. Obama's credibility has been severely damaged by the drastic overreach of his administration through its ever-expanding use of executive power and privilege.  But for posterity's sake at least his vision includes, even if only in rhetoric, a glimpse of the real plight in America - that of the impoverished and the defenseless.  But overall the messages are lacking of any authentic or compelling sense of urgency or call to action.  Yet, if America can't get some realism out of its elected leaders where will it come from?  There definitely ought to be no lack of clarity in our urgency to lump the Republican vision in with the so called reality of American Housewives Dancing Idol, or whatever new fad counts for "television" today, as dreadfully imperceptive.  I think I'll stick with Downton Abbey for a veritable illusion of reality.

12 February 2013

Media Reports on Walker BadgerCare Plans Disturbing

Milwaukee: According to media reports by Associated Press and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Governor Scott Walker will announce his decision Wednesday on whether to take billions of federal dollars to fill the holes in BadgerCare.  The information was initially leaked to conservative blogger Christian Schneider, who works for the right-wing Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.   

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Christian Schneider also say that Governor Walker will turn down the full Medicaid expansion, and pursue a “middle path.”

Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, made the following statement in response to these media reports:

“We know of no credible middle path that would result in guaranteeing coverage to low income Wisconsinites who currently fall between the cracks in the BadgerCare program. As far as we know, taking the new health care reform money for BadgerCare really is an all or nothing proposition, and has been treated as such by all credible health care experts across the country and the six conservative Governors who have already accepted the money.  Based on the fragmentary media reports we have seen, we are very concerned that spokespersons for the Governor are trying to pre-spin a decision that would that would have devastating consequences for the healthcare freedom and security of over 100,000 Wisconsinites.  We profoundly hope that these press reports turn out to be inaccurate.  If Governor Walker turns down billions in federal money for BadgerCare, there is no doubt that many Wisconsinites will die as a consequence.”

Walker to announce decision on Medicaid expansion

WI State Wire
Published: 26 minutes ago

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker plans to announce Wednesday his much-anticipated decision on whether Wisconsin will expand its Medicaid services to cover 175,000 childless adults as allowed under the federal health care overhaul law.

Walker signaled last week that he may strike a middle path, not fully embracing the expansion allowed under the law championed by President Barack Obama but also making it possible for more people to get coverage under the state's BadgerCare Medicaid health programs.

"I think there's more than just a black or white," Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a Friday interview about the choices before him. "I think there's variations."

Walker is among the last Republican governors to decide whether to move forward with the expansion. Six Republican governors, including John Kasich in Ohio, already have agreed to the expansion while 11 other Republican governors have turned it down.

Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie said Tuesday that the governor would announce his decision on Wednesday.

An outspoken opponent of the health care overhaul law, Walker previously declined to create a state-run marketplace for insurance providers, instead deferring to the federal government to create the exchange.

His decision on Medicaid expansion has been a tightly held secret within his administration leading up to the release of his state budget on Feb. 20. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Tuesday he had not been told what Walker's decision would be.

"I want to maintain the maximum flexibility for the state," Vos said, expressing concerns that the federal reimbursement rate to the state could be cut in future years, increasing costs.

Supporters of the Medicaid expansion pointed to an independent analysis by Wisconsin's nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released earlier this month that said the state could save nearly $66 million over three years by accepting the federal money under the expansion. The savings would come by replacing state money to cover childless adults with money from the federal government.

Democratic supporters have said that is too good of an opportunity to pass up.

An estimated 175,000 childless adults in Wisconsin were expected to qualify for Medicaid starting in 2014 under a full expansion as allowed under the law. To qualify, the household income must be below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $15,414 for an individual this year and $20,628 for a couple.

The federal government pays for all the expansion for three years, or $1.4 billion in Wisconsin, according to the Fiscal Bureau. After that, the federal reimbursement gradually declines to 90 percent. Through 2020, Wisconsin would receive nearly $4.4 billion in federal money, the Fiscal Bureau said.

Democrats and a broad array of labor groups, doctors, hospital, health providers and advocates for the poor have urged Walker to take the deal.

But Walker had repeatedly cited concerns about how much it may cost in the long run to pay for the expansion. While the federal government would pick up the tab for three years, costs to the state would gradually increase and eventually be 10 percent. Over four years, starting in 2016, new costs to the state would total about $133 million, the Fiscal Bureau said.

04 February 2013

Iran open to talks; Unfair labor practices of Whole Foods and United Natural Foods Incorporated

Monday, February 4, 2013

After a week of pause-inducing developments in Iran, the government has ostensibly tabled an option for open talks.  On the heels of the well-publicized launching, and subsequent questioning, of a monkey into space and the unveiling of a home-made stealth fighter plane, the Iranian Foreign Minister has intimated that the time has now become ripe for direct talks. 

Iran’s foreign minister says Iran is open to direct talks with the U.S. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran welcomes a renewed offer from the United States for direct talks on its nuclear program. Salehi's statement came on Sunday at the Munich Security Conference a day after Vice President Joe Biden said the United States is ready to hold bilateral talks "when the Iranian leadership, Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] is serious."

Salehi said that the United States should show an "authentic, fair and real intention to resolve the issue" and should stop making threats against Iran while offering negotiations. As foreign minister, Salehi does not have the authority to commit to talks with the United States, which is a decision made by the supreme leader, and western officials remain skeptical. Iran has repeatedly backed out of talks, and while Salehi said Iran looks favorably upon a proposal for another round of talks with the United Nations Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany on February 25 and 26 in Kazakhstan, it has not yet committed to sending a delegation.

If talks do resume at the end of February, it would mean the end to eight months of stalled diplomacy.

In the meantime, there's plenty for the morality police to monitor in the coffee shops of Tehran as many women have been feeling a little too comfortable in the dark vestiges of caffeine hangouts.  Loosing the hijab is still a punishable offense.

In other Iranian news, there may be a reason why those typically reliable email responses from Tehran have recently dried up.  There is a campaign underway to align Pres. Obama with an ancient villain of Islam.  The propaganda serves to act as a deterrent for those who may be tempted to communicate with Americans.  The advertizing campaign along with recent crackdowns on foreign journalists are indicative of the growing concerns over near-crippling sanctions.

Exposed: How Whole Foods and the Biggest Organic Foods Distributor Are Screwing Workers

United Natural Foods Incorporated, the largest wholesale distributor of organic and “natural” foods in the U.S., is currently under investigation for 45 violations of federal labor law.
According to a petition circulated by the International Labor Rights Forum, "In spite of record profits, United Natural Foods, Inc. has committed multiple violations of federal law including the unlawful replacement of workers at its distribution center in Seattle."

The petition has a relatively simple compelling refrain of a plea:
 Join us in calling on UNFI and Whole Foods to:
  • STOP promoting food conglomerates at the expense of small and local producers.
  • STOP undermining the organic standard in favor of the vague “natural foods” tag.
  • STOP putting profits over protections for working families


01 February 2013

Iran tells U.N. it plans to speed up uranium enrichment

 Natanz uranium enrichment plant
In a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency on January 23, Iran set out a plan to upgrade uranium enrichment centrifuges at its Natanz plant. Iran plans to upgrade from the IR1 centrifuge models developed in the 1970s into the IR2m which could accelerate enrichment by two to five times at Iran's main facility.

The number of new machines to be used is unclear, but it could be over 3,000, and the letter did not give a time frame. Iran's nuclear development program has long been contested -- the United States and other western countries have been concerned Iran is seeking nuclear weapons capabilities.

Iran maintains its program is for civilian and peaceful purposes. The IAEA has asked Iran for more technical and other information about the plans. The announcement came as nuclear talks have been delayed because Iran and six world powers (the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China) have been unable to agree to a location.

 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) visits the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, 350 km (217 miles) south of Tehran, April 8, 2008. REUTERS/Presidential official website/Handout

Egyptian Cleric Warns Christian Women: If You Don’t Wear a Veil You’ll Be Raped

A Salafi preacher in Egypt is promoting the idea of an anti-vice religious police force like in Saudi Arabia and says even Christian women should be veiled when they are outdoors, unless they “want to get raped on the streets.”

Reuters profiled the Muslim cleric, Hisham el-Ashry, who - while obscure - is finding sympathy for his opinions under Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood-led regime. Reuters reports:
"I was once asked: If I came to power, would I let Christian women remain unveiled? And I said: If they want to get raped on the streets, then they can," Ashry told Nahar TV last week.
Introducing a Saudi-style anti-vice police force to enforce Islamic law was "not a bad thing";, he said, and added: "In order for Egypt to become fully Islamic, alcohol must be banned and all women must be covered."
Reuters explains that Al Azhar, Sunni Islam’s top authority, and Dar al Ifta, the central authority on religious rulings, say religious practices should not be policed.

Even Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa rejects Hisham el-Ashry’s position. In a statement, he said: "This sort of idiotic thinking is one that seeks to further destabilize what is already a tense situation…Egypt’s religious scholars have long guided the people to act in ways that conform to their religious commitments, but have never thought this required any type of invasive policing."

While the Muslim Brotherhood rejects individuals getting involved in imposing sharia rules, it won’t rule out the government taking on that task. Muslim Brotherhood Spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan told Reuters: "The case of promotion of virtue and prevention of vice is within the jurisdiction of the authorities and not individuals or groups…It is not anyone's right to intervene."

Like Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the radical preacher warning Christian women to veil themselves lived for years in the United States, an experience that clearly did not moderate his views. El-Ashry moved to New York in the 1990s where he dedicated his spare time to converting Christians to Islam. Reuters explains:
“I went there with a dream to get a blonde girl and a big car,” he said in one of his televised interviews. “(But) I was advised on the plane to cherish my religion and not get taken by the USA or risk being spoiled and losing my faith.”
His religious convictions grew stronger over the next 15 years in the United States, he said.
“I had, thanks to God, guided many Christians to Islam. I can’t tell how many as I stopped counting when their number exceeded 100,” he said.
It was when he was working at a men’s clothing factory in New York that he became convinced that Egypt needed a Saudi-style anti-vice force.
“(My goal was) to make all Egyptians love it,” he said.
Now, el-Ashry is back in Egypt and continues his quest to convert new Muslims. In the fall, writer Graeme Wood described a series of meetings he held with el-Ashry over the course of a year in which the cleric instructed Wood on Salafism.

Wood wrote in The New Republic:
I NEVER ASKED MUCH of Hesham El Ashry, and Hesham never asked much of me. All I wanted was some conversation about religion and Egyptian politics with someone who had strong views on both. All Hesham wanted was one more chance to describe in grotesque detail the fate that awaited me and everybody I loved: Our skin would thicken, not with callouses but with soft, thin, tender layers, each more sensitive than the last. Eventually the accumulated layers would be miles deep. And then God—not my god, or the god of the vast majority of so-called Muslims, but the one true Allah, worshiped by Hesham’s fellow Salafis—would burn off those layers individually, savoring the pain until he reached flesh. Then Allah would restore them again, like Prometheus’s liver, so he could blister and rip them away for eternity.
“I hate you,” Wood quoted el-Ashry as saying. “I hate all Jews and Christians, anyone who is not a Muslim.”
Wood was introduced to el-Ashry by the son of the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, now serving a life sentence in the U.S. for his role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993. Wood writes that el-Ashry considers Abdel-Rahman to be his religious guide. Earlier this week, President Morsi told CNN he would like President Barack Obama to free Abdel-Rahman from U.S. custody.

El-Ashry moved back to Egypt and joined the Blind Sheikh’s movement. As a result, Egyptian authorities under deposed President Hosni Mubarak jailed and tortured him in 2000 and – according to Wood – told him he had to choose between exile or the death penalty.

Back in Brooklyn, el-Ashry worked as a tailor and continued searching for converts. In 2009, U.S. authorities expelled him for immigration violations. While waiting for his deportation back to Egypt, he claims he converted six detainees and one guard in a New York holding center.

Iranian Students Hit by Sanctions on Schools, Banks

By: Brett Cox, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)

Washington, DC - Iranian students are facing new obstacles to pay for college tuition and even to enroll in universities in the U.S. and Europe due to increasingly broad sanctions.
A university in the Czech Republic recently notified an Iranian applicant that, due to EU sanctions, the school would not be accepting any Iranian students, in a letter publicized last week.

Another notice, obtained by NIAC, was issued by an American university stating U.S. schools operating programs abroad received specific guidance that they were no longer allowed to enroll Iranian students in math, science, or engineering classes above introductory levels and could not admit any Iranian graduate students or faculty without explicit U.S. government permission. The notice said the restrictions were the result of sanctions passed by Congress last year-purportedly aimed at Iran’s nuclear program and improving the human rights situation. The notice warned that these restrictions may also come into force within the U.S. as the law is implemented. This is in addition to new visa restrictions against Iranian students included in the sanctions bill.

Additionally, it was revealed this past week that TCF Bank, which in December notified at least 22 Iranians students at the University of Minnesota that their accounts were being closed, has been under investigation by the Treasury Department and fined $10 million for incomplete monitoring and reporting of cash transactions.

Graduate student Alireza Asary was one of several Iranian University of Minnesota students notified in December 2012 by TCF Bank that their accounts would be closed. The University is currently working to help resolve eight cases.
(Photo by Jaak Jensen)

The revelation may provide clues as to why the bank moved to close dozens of accounts belonging to Iranian students in a potential act of discrimination.

Those closures, in conjunction with the Treasury investigation and penalty, may suggest the latest instance in which broad sanctions have raised significant risks and burdens on banks and companies engaging in legitimate transactions related to Iran. The pressures to enforce the broadening array of sanctions on Iran has created a “chilling effect” in which many banks and businesses have opted to end these legal transactions, including the sale of medicine and humanitarian goods, the provision of Internet communication software, and now the operation of bank accounts to enable Iranian students to pay for their tuition and study in the U.S.
In addition to paying the fine, TCF announced they had beefed up their “compliance program aimed at monitoring, detecting and reporting suspicious activities, as well as its other legal and regulatory requirements.” However, according to the Treasury Department, the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR) includes several exemptions to enable Iranian students to study in the U.S.

TCF Bank holds an exclusive contract with the University of Minnesota to sell checking accounts to students linked to their student ID cards and donated a $300 million football stadium, TCF Bank Stadium, to the school. But faculty members at the university notified the school administration that they would begin closing their TCF accounts and moving their mortgages to other banks in protest.

“We no longer feel comfortable having TCF be the responsible institution for our deposits,” wrote the faculty members in a letter to the university.

The apparent over-enforcement of sanctions in spite of legal exemptions aimed to protect against “unintended consequences” has so far led companies like Google and Go Daddy to deny their services to Iranians for fear of violating sanctions. The “chilling effect” has also led to alleged discrimination in the past, including reports that Apple employees refused to sell products to Iranians and Iranian Americans in a misplaced effort to enforce sanctions. Additionally, Canada’s TD Bank began canceling accounts last July, providing little explanation and no opportunity for customers to defend themselves. TD Bank eventually relented and reopened the accounts after significant public pressure.