When Home Is a Ferry Ship: An Influx From Ukraine Strains Europe | Big Indy News
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When Home Is a Ferry Ship: An Influx From Ukraine Strains Europe



The duty-free shop on Deck 7 of the Isabelle has been turned into a storage locker and pantry, with suitcases heaped in the perfume section and refrigerated display cases crammed with labeled grocery bags. The ship’s shuttered casino has become the go-to hangout for teenagers. And the Starlight Palace nightclub on Deck 8 is where women meet to make camouflage nets for Ukrainian soldiers back home.

“It makes me feel closer to them,” Diana Kotsenko said as she tied green, brown and maroon cloth strips onto a net strung across a metal frame, her 2-year old, Emiliia, tugging at her knees.

For the past three months, Ms. Kotsenko and her daughter have been living on the Isabelle, a 561-foot cruise ship leased by the Estonian government to temporarily house some of the more than 48,000 refugees who have arrived in this small Baltic nation since the Russians invaded Ukraine in February.

The ship, which once ferried overnight passengers between Stockholm and Riga, Latvia, is now berthed next to Terminal A in the port city of Tallinn, Estonia’s capital. Its 664 cabins house roughly 1,900 people — most of them women and children who come and go as they please through the ship’s cavernous cargo door.

The residents are a tiny fraction of the more than 6.3 million Ukrainians who have streamed into Europe. Their lot is a sign of the strains that the flood of refugees is having on countries that have mostly welcomed them.

Isabelle was leased from an Estonian shipping company, Tallink, in April for four months as an emergency shelter. But with nowhere else to put its residents, the government has extended the contract through October.

The shortage of homes for refugees is creating intense pressure across the continent and Britain. Low-cost housing is scarce, and rents are rising.

In Scotland, the government announced last month that it was pausing its program to sponsor Ukrainian refugees because of the lack of accommodations. In the Netherlands, scores of refugees have been sleeping on the grass outside an overcrowded asylum center in the village of Ter Apel. On Monday, the Dutch Council for Refugees announced plans to sue the government over shelter conditions that it said fell below the minimum legal standard.

Of all the challenges facing Ukrainians who escaped to safe havens, the most pressing is access to housing, according to a new report from the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation. The problem of finding longer-term accommodation is expected to only worsen given rising inflation, the report concluded.

“Early evidence also suggests that a lack of housing is a primary motivation for refugees to return to Ukraine, in spite of safety risks,” it said.

Governments — which were already struggling to house refugees and asylum seekers from other parts of the world — have set up emergency intake facilities, rented hotels and provided financial support to host households. But with reception centers overflowing, countries have been forced to scramble for other solutions. Schools, hostels, sports stadiums, cargo containers, tents and even cruise ships have become stopgap accommodations.

In Estonia, the government enlisted Tallink, which had leased out its ships in the past as temporary housing for construction projects, military personnel and events. One housed police officers during a Group of 7 meeting in Britain last year. Another was chartered during the global climate conference in Glasgow last fall.

The Scottish government turned to Tallink when it faced its own refugee housing crisis, and last week, the first group of Ukrainians moved into a Tallink ship docked in Edinburgh’s port.

The Netherlands, too, is using cruise ships. In April, 1,500 refugees moved into a Holland America Line vessel docked in Rotterdam. Last week, the government’s asylum agency announced that it planned to charter two additional vessels from Tallink for seven months.

The floating solutions have been greeted with skepticism or even hostility in some quarters. Before the Tallink ship arrived in Scotland, some news accounts breathlessly warned of the risks of a Covid-19 outbreak.

The Dutch government came under scorching criticism for a now-abandoned proposal to put refugees on a ship anchored off the coast in open water, making it difficult for people to come ashore.

In Tallinn, the Isabelle had been out of service because of travel restrictions since the pandemic began in 2020 before it was put to use for the refugees. Natalie Shevchenko has lived on it since April. She has searched for an apartment in town but hasn’t been able to find one she can afford.

A psychologist from Kyiv, Ms. Shevchenko has been working with mothers and children onboard, helping them adjust.

“When you live on a ship, it’s like a big community,” she said.

On a recent evening, a steady flow of people entered or left the ship after a brief pause at the security desk to scan their identification cards. On Deck 8, diners lingered over coffee in the Grand Buffet. “The food is good,” Ms. Shevchenko said. “There’s a lot of desserts, cakes and ice cream.”

In a lounge area, a dozen people sat in front of a television set watching the news from Ukraine. Cliques of chattering teenagers roamed the long decks or sprawled on chairs near the casino’s empty blackjack tables. Two floors below, near the staircase where strollers were parked, children spread out on the blue and white carpet to play games, while two giggling boys slid down a short brass banister under the watchful eyes of mothers.

Volunteers have donated toys, clothes and baby carriages, and have organized activities and excursions. On Deck 10, refugees can meet with social service workers. Bulletin boards around the ship were filled with announcements in Ukrainian about summer camp, free exhibitions, and language and culture courses. The newly named Freedom School is scheduled to start classes in Ukrainian and Estonian in the fall. Players from an Estonian soccer club came on board last weekend to lead a practice clinic.

When Ms. Shevchenko needs solitude, she escapes to one of the lower car decks. She shares a claustrophobic sixth-floor cabin and bathroom with another woman she did not previously know. The space between the beds is narrower than an airplane aisle. Bags, shoes and boxes are stuffed under the beds. A white rope crisscrosses the walls to hang laundry.

“Here’s our kitchen,” Ms. Shevchenko said, pointing with a laugh to a shelf with bottles of water and soda. A flowerpot, a gift for her recent 34th birthday from the Estonian psychologists she works with, sits on the windowsill.

“We’re lucky to have a window,” she said. Some cabins on lower decks don’t have one. It’s a problem for people who had to shelter underground in Ukraine, she said: “Some people have panic attacks.”

A few doors down is the cabin that Olga Vasilieva and her 6-year-old son share with another mother and son. The two women use the unfolded upper bunk beds to store toys, bags and snacks, and sleep with their children in the narrow beds below. Bigger cabins are reserved for families with three or more children.

One of the benefits of living with so many other families is that there are lots of children to play with. “He has so many friends,” Ms. Vasilieva said, turning to Ms. Shevchenko to translate.

Ms. Vasilieva wants to return home before the school year starts, but so far, it hasn’t been safe. Although she had two jobs in Ukraine, Ms. Vasilieva said, she doesn’t work now because she has no one to care for her son. She said she received roughly 400 euros a month from the Estonian government. About a hundred of the refugees work for Tallink, in kitchen and housekeeping positions. Others have found jobs in town.

Inna Aristova, 54, and her husband, Hryhorii Akinzhely, 64, who arrived in May after a hard trek from Melitopol, work in a laundry sorting sheets and towels. They haven’t been able to find an affordable apartment.

“I feel like a guest in this country,” Ms. Aristova said, “not home.”

Tears filled her eyes. Her most acute anxieties center on her 21-year-old son, who is in the army. She doesn’t know where he is, a security precaution, but they try to text or speak as often as possible.

“He is so young,” she said. “Every day I am thinking about him.” Ms. Shevchenko, who was translating, bent down to hug her.

In the Starlight Palace, Ms. Kotsenko and a handful of mothers and teenagers worked on the camouflage nets, cutting strips of cloth and attaching them. When finished, the cover will be sent to the Kherson region in southeastern Ukraine to hide tanks from Russian bombers.

Ms. Kotsenko also doesn’t know where her husband is stationed in Ukraine. She and her daughter escaped from the embattled city of Mykolaiv.

Another woman from the same city pulled out her phone to show Mykolaiv on a map. An animated red burst marked the spot, indicating heavy fighting.

She had just received a long text from her neighbor with a series of photos showing bloody corpses of people and dogs lying on the streets, killed by Russian shells that morning.

Some of the women Ms. Shevchenko has counseled have told her that they have decided to return to Ukraine. But, she said, what “you dream about your home” may not match the reality.

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Sister Patricia Daly, 66, Dies; Took On Corporate Giants on Social Justice



For years, Sister Pat and other environmentalists had urged ExxonMobil to take significant steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from its operations and products. In 2007, she proposed a resolution that called on that energy giant to set a firm date to report on its progress.

“We’re the most profitable company in the history of the planet,” she told Rex Tillerson, then the company’s chief executive (and later secretary of state in the Trump administration), at the company’s annual meeting, “but what will be our long-term health when we are really faced with the regulatory and other challenges around global warming?”

She added: “We are now, this company and every single one of us, challenged by one of the most profound moral concerns. And we have the wherewithal to respond to that.”

The proposal won 31 percent of the ballots, or about 1.4 billion shares, the largest tally for an ExxonMobil climate-change resolution. If not an outright victory, it was a page in a decades-long narrative that led ExxonMobil to put a climate scientist on its board in 2017. Three executives who recognized the urgency to address climate change joined the company’s board in 2021, nominated by a tiny activist hedge fund, Engine No. 1.

“The arc of her work led us to those victories by working from the inside and the outside,” John Passacantando, the founder of Ozone Action, an anti-global warming group, and a former executive director of Greenpeace, said in a phone interview.

In 1999, Vanity Fair named her to its Hall of Fame, applauding her as one who “translates belief into commitment and never backs down from a fight.”

Mary Beth Gallagher, who replaced Sister Pat as executive director of the Tri-State Coalition in 2017, said Sister Pat had not become frustrated when her resolutions were routinely voted down.

“She lived in hope,” Ms. Gallagher said. “We never talked about winning or losing. It was about raising consciousness and educating. If we’re not asking these questions, who will?”

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Families can make a tax-free rollover from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts starting in 2024



Maskot | Maskot | Getty Images

Americans who save for college in 529 plans will soon have a way to rescue unused funds while keeping their tax benefits intact.

A $1.7 trillion government funding package has a provision that lets savers roll money from 529 plans to Roth individual retirement accounts free of income tax or tax penalties.

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The House passed the measure Friday and the Senate did so Thursday. The bill heads to President Biden, who’s expected to sign it into law.

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The rollover measure — which takes effect in 2024 — has some limitations. Among the largest: There’s a $35,000 lifetime cap on transfers.

“It’s a good provision for people who have [529 accounts] and the money hasn’t been used,” said Ed Slott, a certified public accountant and IRA expert based in Rockville Centre, New York.

That might happen if a beneficiary — such as a child or grandchild — doesn’t attend a college, university, vocational or private K-12 school, or other qualifying institution, for example. Or, a student may receive scholarships that mean some 529 funds are left over.

Millions of 529 accounts hold billions in savings

There were nearly 15 million 529 accounts at the end of last year, holding a total $480 billion, according to the Investment Company Institute. That’s an average of about $30,600 per account.

529 plans carry tax advantages for college savers. Namely, investment earnings on account contributions grow tax-free and aren’t taxable if used for qualifying education expenses like tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

Retirement plan changes in the omnibus spending bill

However, that investment growth is generally subject to income tax and a 10% tax penalty if used for an ineligible expense.

This is where rollovers to a Roth IRA can benefit savers with stranded 529 money. A transfer would skirt income tax and penalties; investments would keep growing tax-free in a Roth account, and future retirement withdrawals would also be tax-free.  

Some think it’s a handout for the rich

However, some critics think the rollover policy largely amounts to a tax handout to wealthier families.

“You’re giving savings incentives to those who can save and leaving behind those who cannot save,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

A 2012 analysis conducted by the Government Accountability Office found the typical American with a 529 account had “much more wealth” than someone without: $413,500 in total wealth for the median person, about 25 times the amount of a non-accountholder.

You’re giving savings incentives to those who can save and leaving behind those who cannot save.

Steve Rosenthal

senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

Further, the typical owner had a roughly $142,000 annual income versus $45,000 for other families, the GAO report said. Almost half, 47%, had incomes over $150,000.

The new 529-to-Roth IRA transfer provision doesn’t carry income limits.

Limitations on 529-to-IRA transfers

While the new tax break primarily benefits wealthier families, there are “pretty significant” limitations on the rollovers that reduce the financial benefit, Jeffrey Levine, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant based in St. Louis, said in a tweet.

The restrictions include:

  • A $35,000 lifetime cap on transfers.
  • Rollovers are subject to the annual Roth IRA contribution limit. (The limit is $6,500 in 2023.)
  • The rollover can only be made to the beneficiary’s Roth IRA — not that of the account owner. (In other words, a 529 owned by a parent with the child as beneficiary would need to be rolled into the child’s IRA, not the parent’s.)
  • The 529 account must have been open for at least 15 years. (It seems changing account beneficiaries may restart that 15-year clock, Levine said.)
  • Accountholders can’t roll over contributions, or earnings on those contributions, made in the last five years.

In a summary document, the Senate Finance Committee said current 529 tax rules have “led to hesitating, delaying, or declining to fund 529s to levels needed to pay for the rising costs of education.”

“Families who sacrifice and save in 529 accounts should not be punished with tax and penalty years later if the beneficiary has found an alternative way to pay for their education,” it said.

Are 529 plans already flexible enough?

Some education savings experts think 529 accounts have adequate flexibility so as not to deter families from using them.

For example, owners with leftover account funds can change beneficiaries to another qualifying family member — thereby helping avoid a tax penalty for non-qualified withdrawals. Aside from a kid or grandkid, that family member might be you; a spouse; a son, daughter, brother, sister, father or mother-in-law; sibling or step-sibling; first cousin or their spouse; a niece, nephew or their spouse; or aunt and uncle, among others.

Owners can also keep funds in an account for a beneficiary’s graduate schooling or the education of a future grandchild, according to Savingforcollege.com. Funds can also be used to make up to $10,000 of student loan payments.

The tax penalty may also not be quite as bad as some think, according to education expert Mark Kantrowitz. For example, taxes are assessed at the beneficiary’s income-tax rate, which is generally lower than the parent’s tax rate by at least 10 percentage points.

In that case, the parent “is no worse off than they would have been had they saved in a taxable account,” depending on their tax rates on long-term capital gains, he said.

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Goldman grumbling grows for banking giant to sack CEO David Solomon



The knives are out for Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, and this time the people brandishing them aren’t the usual suspects — his junior staffers annoyed that they have to work late or come into the office several times a week.

Solomon’s problems are more serious and existential, I am told, and how he handles what can best be described as a revolt in some quarters of Goldman’s middle and upper management ranks could determine how much longer he stays in his job.

Solomon, 60, took the job in 2018 and was always somewhat of an odd choice to run the white-shoe investment bank that usually cultivated its leaders from within. He cut his teeth at a decidedly un-Goldman-like venue: the scrappy investment bank Bear Stearns (ultimately one of the causalities of the 2008 financial crisis).

He joined Goldman in 1999, as a partner, no less, because his deal-making chops allowed him to skip layers of management.

In other words, Solomon is an outsider at a firm with a wickedly insular culture. He has a quirky side gig as a DJ in the summer Hamptons party circuit. He’s also not one for small talk, and doesn’t consult with a lot of people before handing down his edicts. 

“He doesn’t breed a lot of love,” said one former Goldman executive who knows Solomon well.

Lots of people at Goldman don’t like him, and they’re letting their views be heard both internally and with pals at rival firms.

Solomon as a DJ
Solomon is an outsider at a firm with a wickedly insular culture.
David Solomon/Instagram

For the record: I’ve met Solomon and like him for his no-BS style. And until pretty recently, the numbers show him doing a great job. Goldman was running on all cylinders in deals and trading. Even as the market corrects, shares are up about 60% since Solomon took over as CEO in 2018 compared to around a 44% rise in the S&P during that time.

Goldman is still the top M&A shop, even widening its market share over rivals in that important business line. Solomon was the first among his fellow CEOs to see the downturn and enact significant layoffs to cut costs.

Still, the grumbling about Solomon is spreading to the managing director and partner class. High-priced Wall Street talent don’t call all the shots at any firm, of course. But Goldman’s MDs and partners have historically been a powerful force when the board decides the fate of current management, which makes Solomon’s hold on his job increasingly precarious as more and more of them defect from his camp.

David Solomon as a DJ
Solomon was the first among his fellow CEOs to see the downturn and enact significant layoffs to cut costs.
David Solomon/Instagram

Here’s how they’re building a case against him: Goldman’s longtime archrival investment bank Morgan Stanley now easily dwarfs Goldman in market value, $144 billion to $116 billion, continuing a trend that predates Solomon. That comes amid a slowdown in banking deals, Goldman’s bread-and-butter business, and Solomon’s home turf.

Morgan’s CEO James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues. Solomon’s effort to diversify was an overindulgence in something called Marcus, a digital retail bank launched by his predecessor Lloyd Bankfein that Solomon made his baby. So far, it’s been a disaster, so much so that Solomon has been forced to scale back, possibly on the way to winding it down.

Goldman, meanwhile, has missed targets in its recent earnings announcements, and more downward surprises could be in store as markets continue to wobble. Bonuses are down, in some places cut in half, albeit from the nosebleed levels of 2021.

Goldman Sachs headquarters
The grumbling about Solomon is spreading to the managing director and partner class.
AFP via Getty Images

Traders did well in 2022 because Goldman’s are particularly adept in profiting off turbulence, but part of their pool is being diverted to bankers to keep them in-house until the deal slowdown ends.

Since Solomon is a banker, he’s also being accused of favoritism, which in truth is a pretty lame charge, since bankers often subsidize trader bonuses when the markets aren’t profitable. Still, the Goldman trading department is powerful and can spark management change, as it has done in the past.

There’s also a question about Solomon’s allegiance to Goldman’s stand-alone culture. In its 153-year existence, Goldman has operated on the assumption that it would be the acquirer in any major strategic acquisition. Solomon’s experience at Bear, then one of the most transactional places on Wall Street, means he could be looking for a deal and not one that keeps Goldman in charge.

Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues.
Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman deftly expanded the firm’s wealth management operations, which provide steady revenues.
AFP via Getty Images

At a time when most Goldman insiders believe he needs to do a “transformational deal,” i.e., something big that allows it to better compete against Morgan Stanley and super banks like JP Morgan, there is speculation that Solomon might allow Goldman to be swallowed whole by, say, a big asset manager or bank if the price was right.

As best I can tell, this grumbling, though real, doesn’t immediately threaten Solomon’s job. Then again, there is something to be said for keeping your producers happy.

Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, was a notorious screamer and demanding beyond belief. Yet Welch knew how to nurture his people.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch
Jack Welch was a notorious screamer and demanding beyond belief. Yet Welch knew how to nurture his people.
Getty Images

“Jack could chew your ass, then put his arm around you and make you feel great,” one of his longtime executives, Bob Nardelli, once told me.

It’s why so many other talented execs chose to stay around under Welch, abuse and all, and left when his successor took over, watching GE implode from the outside.

Maybe it’s a good time for Solomon to take a page from Welch and start hugging it out.

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