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EditorBlog (1764)

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

elizwarrencfpbThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren. (Photo: Tim Pierce)

In the scrum of unsettling news about an administration and Congress that are enacting harmful right-wing measures on an almost daily basis, it is affirming to note when progress is being made. The Conversation recently ran an article about the important steps that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has already taken to protect consumers in the United States. The brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, the CFPB was included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that passed Congress in 2010. The agency opened in 2011.

One positive step the CPFB has taken is to ban the forced consumer arbitration requirements which are often included in the fine print of consumer agreements for credit cards, loans and other products offered by banks and financial institutions. These requirements have put a stranglehold on consumer efforts to recover fraudulently obtained funds -- and to reform the banking industry by allowing court cases seeking remedies to unfair practices. The ban represents a significant step in the struggle for a pro-consumer footing in relation to the financial industry.

In a July 10 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau news release, the agency announced,

a new rule to ban companies from using mandatory arbitration clauses to deny groups of people their day in court. Many consumer financial products like credit cards and bank accounts have arbitration clauses in their contracts that prevent consumers from joining together to sue their bank or financial company for wrongdoing. By forcing consumers to give up or go it alone – usually over small amounts – companies can sidestep the court system, avoid big refunds, and continue harmful practices. The CFPB’s new rule will deter wrongdoing by restoring consumers’ right to join together to pursue justice and relief through group lawsuits.

"Arbitration clauses in contracts for products like bank accounts and credit cards make it nearly impossible for people to take companies to court when things go wrong," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "These clauses allow companies to avoid accountability by blocking group lawsuits and forcing people to go it alone or give up. Our new rule will stop companies from sidestepping the courts and ensure that people who are harmed together can take action together."

The CFPB news release notes that the regulation applies "to the major markets for consumer financial products and services overseen by the Bureau, including those that lend money, store money, and move or exchange money.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

votetoday22The Constitution and its amendments establish the right to vote, not the right to suppress votes. (Photo: H2Woah!)

Last week, I wrote on how Trump's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity -- spearheaded by infamous former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach -- may be largely an effort to facilitate suppressing non-GOP voters in future elections. The commission has sent out letters requiring every state to submit individual voter registration information to it. How this will help ensure "election integrity" is anyone's guess. However, it may well place the executive branch in a more commanding position to recommend actions to Congress that will either remove non-Republican voters from the rolls or prevent Democrats and Independents -- many of them people of color, poor people, elderly people and students -- from registering to vote. The Guardian reports that the commission has extended its deadline for state data to be submitted, but there is no indication it is planning any major changes in its mission.

Many Republican actions, particularly at the state and the federal levels, are directly aimed at creating requirements that limit who can vote and who can register to vote. There is historical precedent for this, in that only white male landowners could vote in the years after the United States was founded, and other restrictions were imposed in later years, including the Jim Crow voting laws. Part of this thinking reflects the notion, among those who believe that our society is too multicultural, that only whites should be enfranchised. One can speculate that at least among some GOP voters, the promise Trump holds out of increased non-white voter suppression is part of "Making America Great Again."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

marijraceThe injustice of marijuana arrests in New York City. (Photo: keep_bitcoin_real)

Although Bill de Blasio pledged in his campaign for mayor to stop racial inequity in arrests for marijuana possession, a new report by Drug Policy Alliance, "Unjust and Unconstitutional: 60,000 Jim Crow Marijuana Arrests in Mayor de Blasio’s New York,"reveals that racial disparities in arrest are wide and persistent. When he became New York City mayor in 2014, de Blasio specifically targeted these bias arrests against people of color, saying as reported in Marijuana.com,

There have been, in some cases, disastrous consequences for individuals and families. It hurts their chances to get a good job, to get housing. It hurts their chances to qualify for a student loan; it can literally follow them the rest of their lives.

I think the fact that you will see fewer unnecessary arrests will be good for New York City as a whole. It will be good for New Yorkers of color and young people of color -- there is no question about that. We’ll see how the numbers come out over time but there’s no doubt in my mind it will be a very substantial impact. And for a lot of young people it means they will not have this reality holding them back; a summons is not going to affect their future. An arrest, could. And we want to avoid that unnecessary burden.

According to Marijuana.com, "After winning the mayoral seat, de Blasio and former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced in 2014 that anyone found to be in possession of less than 25 grams would be issued a court summons rather than an arrest."

MARK KARLiN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

energy efficientThe Republicans in DC are rolling back energy efficiency. (Photo: Andy Melton

At a time when the fate of the planet hangs in the balance due to human-caused global warming, efforts to accelerate the use of renewables and achieve energy efficiencies should be proceeding at a full gallop. Needless to say, the White House and Congress are fully favoring carbon-emitting fossil fuels over renewables, but they are also moving to reduce energy efficiency goals.

According to a June report by Public Citizen, a DC-based progressive advocacy organization, the Trump administration is dead set on making appliances, cars and other consumer goods potentially more harmful to the Earth. In addition, the deregulations would cost jobs and greater consumer expenses. According to a June 15 Public Citizen news release,

President Trump and his allies in Congress are seeking to eliminate energy efficiency requirements for appliances, automobiles and other energy consuming applications in an effort that will cost American families and consumers trillions of dollars over time, according to a new report issued today by Public Citizen.

“Trump’s decision to target efficiency initiatives discredits his claim that he withdrew from the Paris climate accord because of concerns that the deal would cost U.S. jobs. These programs unambiguously would help meet the goals of the accord and benefit the U.S. economy and yet Trump is still targeting them,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report, “Blinded by the light.”

Thus, not only are lives and the planet placed in increased jeopardy by the proposed actions, but they also represent a fattened bottom line for corporations at the expense of US consumers.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

betsydevos56Betsy DeVos enables for-profit colleges fleecing students. (Photo: Michael Vadon)

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is being sued for allegedly protecting the financial interests of for-profit colleges over the plight of students with excessive loans. As Politico detailed on July 6:

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia filed suit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday over her delay of regulations meant to protect federal student loan borrowers defrauded by their schools.

The lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in D.C., led by Massachusetts and joined by 18 other Democratic attorneys general, accuses DeVos of illegally delaying the regulations aimed at predatory colleges, which were finalized by the Obama administration and had been set to take effect on July 1.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

volvo32Volvo is helping the internal combustion engine become a dinosaur. (Photo: Allen Watkin)

A July 5 media advisory, distributed in conjunction with a news conference in Stockholm, stated it bluntly: "Volvo Cars, the premium car maker, has announced that every Volvo it launches from 2019 will have an electric motor, marking the historic end of cars that only have an internal combustion engine (ICE) and placing electrification at the core of its future business."

It should be noted that this is applicable to newly designed cars by Volvo in 2019 and will include both 100 percent electric cars and hybrids. In addition, current models will still be manufactured with internal combustion engines, since this commitment only applies to new Volvo designs. However, it is cause for celebration that an automobile manufacturer is outpacing many governments in moving toward vehicles run on renewable energy. Unlike the US under the Trump administration, some nations are also moving away from gas-powered vehicles: The Telegraph reported today that "France plans to outlaw all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040," according to its new environment minister, Nicolas Hulot.

In fact, the Volvo announcement represents a new intensified round for the emerging electric car market. 

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

voting763Trump's election investigation commission may really be a tool for voter suppression. (Photo: Amanda Wood)

If you think that Trump's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is an effort for him to try and prove that Hillary's 2016 popular vote victory of approximately three million votes was due to fraudulent voters, you are probably wrong. The demand of the infamous vice chair, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, for every state to turn over details of their voter rolls is possibly an attempt to capture the invaluable data for use by Republicans and Trump in upcoming elections.

The commission can't realistically be an attempt to reduce voter fraud, since voter fraud is an infinitesimal occurrence in the United States, as BuzzFlash has reported in the past. In January of this year, the Brennan Center for Justice published a study, "Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth," that concluded:

Most reported incidents of voter fraud are actually traceable to other sources, such as clerical errors or bad data matching practices. [Our] report reviewed elections that had been meticulously studied for voter fraud, and found incident rates between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. Given this tiny incident rate for voter impersonation fraud, it is more likely, the report noted, that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

After all, with modern sweeping data collection and pinpointing of voters for either party a reality, the information, if collected, will be a gold mine at the Trump team's disposal and a staggering advantage to Trump in his manipulation of democracy. Greg Palast has just pointed out in a July 4 advisory that despite protests by many Republican states, Kobach already has a good deal of the information through a national voter suppression project called Interstate Crosscheck that he oversaw as Kansas secretary of state, using state voter registration data provided to him by other Republican secretaries of state.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

bigboxstoresEmployees have a right to a predictable schedule and pay. (Photo: Mike Mozart)

The Oregonian recently reported that Oregon could become "the first state in the nation to mandate work schedule predictability for certain food service, retail and hospitality workers":

The bill would help on-call employees, including many earning low wages, who can have shifts added or taken away at the last minute....

The Fair Work Week Act would set work scheduling standards for the largest retail, hospitality and food service employers -- those with at least 500 employees worldwide. Starting in July 2018, those companies would have to give their Oregon employees written estimates of their work schedules seven days before the start of the work week. The notice requirement would increase to 14 days in July 2020.

The law passed the Oregon House this week after passing the state Senate. It is expected to be signed shortly by Democratic Governor Kate Brown. Some cities have already passed such laws -- including New York and Seattle -- but Oregon would become the first state to require fair scheduling.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

recreationalvehicleThe war on the homeless includes people who live in recreational vehicles in Palo Alto, among other cities. (Photo: Greg Gjerdingen)

the city of Palo Alto is one of many Bay Area municipalities trying to keep the less financially fortunate from residing in the town by outlawing people from living in vehicles parked on public streets for more than 72 hours. As Alastair Gee of the Guardian writes:

In a Silicon Valley town where the median home value is $2.5m, next to a university with a $22.5bn endowment, not far from a shopping mall with Burberry and Cartier outlets, they present an eye-popping sight: dozens of run-down RVs and trailers parked in a line along a main road....

Amid complaints from residents, Palo Alto has announced it will enforce a rule that bans vehicles from parking in the same spot for longer than 72 hours. The RV dwellers must accede -- they have few other options. Silicon Valley was recently ranked the second most inaccessible region in the country for low-income workers trying to find a place to live. Palo Alto’s minimum wage is $12 an hour, but someone would have to earn $42.69 an hour to rent a two-bedroom apartment while having enough left over for other necessities.

In a 2014 BuzzFlash commentary I stated:

Like the fine art that we presume hangs in the expensive homes of hi-tech moguls and senior staff alike, wealth buys visual images that delight the eye. Consistent with that, when leaving one's costly abode, the homeless are a visual blight to those who believe that money should not burden them with confronting economic and social disparities daily....

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

obamacare332The real death panels would be created by the House and Senate health insurance bills. (Photo: Kevin Simmons)

 BuzzFlash isn't funded by corporate advertising, but by readers like you. Help sustain our work -- make a donation now!

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that he did not have the votes to proceed with a "repeal and replace" bill shredding Obamacare and drastically cutting Medicaid coverage. Not having the votes to even proceed with debate on the bill, McConnell indicated that he would try to move the bill forward after the July 4 congressional recess.

Also on Tuesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent out an appeal to her email list asking people to call their senators and oppose the Republican replacement. Warren stated:

It [the Senate health insurance bill] lets insurance companies sell skimpier plans for higher out-of-pocket costs. It lets private insurance plans reinstate annual and lifetime caps on benefits for people who get really sick. And it guts Medicaid for the sick, for the elderly, for people with disabilities -- for people who have nowhere else to turn.

If the Republicans rip health care away from 22 million Americans this week in order to give billionaires a tax break, people are still going to get diagnosed with cancer. Seniors are still going to have strokes and heart attacks. People are still going to get hit by drunk drivers. Babies are still going to be born with lungs and hearts that don’t work.

I’ve studied this heartbreaking problem for decades. I know that if the Republicans pass this bill, more people -- even the most hard-working, responsible people -- will go bankrupt. Some will die.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 22 million people (and 23 million under the House version) in the US would lose access to health insurance if the Senate bill is passed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act enacted in the first Obama administration.

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