Category Archives: Civil Rights

As Powerful Men Fall, Renewed Focus on Trump’s Many Accusers and His Disgusting Admission

“One man continues to defy America’s new moral norm: its president.”

By Jon Queally, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-18-2017

In this 2005 frame from the infamous Access Hollywood video, Donald Trump stands with host Billy Bush (left) as he prepares for an appearance on ‘Days of Our Lives’ with actress Arianne Zucker (right). Just moments before, Trump has told Bush he can do whatever he wants to beautiful women because of his fame. (Screenshot: via The Washington Post obtained video)

As the floodgates have certainly opened in positive ways over recent weeks in terms of women feeling more empowered and secure in speaking publicly about the men—often those in positions of power—who have sexually assaulted or harassed them over the years, the wave of revelations have also brought re-newed focus on the previous and numerous accusations levied against the nation’s most powerful man: President Donald J. Trump.

While an infamous recording released during last year’s campaign in which Trump openly talked about how he used his wealth and fame to prey on women, the shifting national conversation about sexual misconduct—and the “hypocritical” way in which Trump injected himself into that conversation this week—has led many to argue that the numerous women who have already publicly accused Trump of sexual assault or harassment should be given further and renewed hearing. Continue reading

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#MeToo Act: New Bill Aimed at Combating Sexual Harrassment on Capitol Hill

“The culture in this country has been awakened to the fact that we have a serious epidemic in the workplace in all professions, in all walks of life, and it’s incumbent upon those who are in authority to address it and address it swiftly.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-15-2017

Photo: Twitter

In the wake of widespread allegations of sexual harassment and assault across a number of industries, two members of Congress introduced legislation on Wednesday aimed at combating the problem on Capitol Hill.

The Me Too Act, named after the social media campaign that flooded Twitter and Facebook feeds in recent weeks and brought to light the frequency with which women from all walks of life cope with sexual harassment and assault, demands an overhaul of the complaint process women in Congress must navigate in order to report sexual misconduct. Continue reading

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With Mass Arrests, Saudi Crown Prince Moves to Consolidate Power

Meanwhile, the Trump administration praises the Saudi regime and the weapons keep flowing

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-5-2017

Donald Trump with Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Photo: White House (Public domain)

Billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talala, at least ten princes, and more than a dozen former ministers were among those arrested in Saudi Arabia on Saturday as part of a so-called “anti-corruption” initiative that critics argued is part of a thinly veiled “power grab” by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“At 32, the crown prince is already the dominant voice in Saudi military, foreign, economic, and social policies, stirring murmurs of discontent in the royal family that he has amassed too much personal power, and at a remarkably young age,” the New York Times notes. Continue reading

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Chanting ‘Keep It In the Ground,’ Thousands Descend on German Coalfields

“We want to fulfill our historic responsibility. That’s why we go to the coal mines, to protect the climate there.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-5-2017

“Germany’s lignite mines are among the biggest coal mines in the world,” Zane Sikulu, a Climate Warrior from Tonga, said in a statement. (Photo: Code Rood/Twitter)

Demanding an end to coal and all forms of dirty energy extraction, over 4,000 activists descended on the Rhineland coalfields in Germany early Sunday in a mass demonstration just a day before COP23 climate talks are set to kick off.

“On the international stage, politicians and corporations present themselves as climate saviors, while a few miles away, the climate is literally being burned,” Janna Aljets, a spokesperson for the environmental alliance Ende Gelände, which helped organize the action, said in a statement. “We do not want to be world champions in extracting and burning lignite anymore. We want to fulfill our historic responsibility. That’s why we go to the coal mines, to protect the climate there.” Continue reading

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After ‘Unconscionable’ Detention by US Border Patrol, 10-Year-Old Rosa Maria Hernandez Finally Released From Custody

“We will continue to work to ensure that Rosa Maria is able to heal in peace, and that other children are not subjected to the same trauma,” the ACLU vowed

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-4-2017

“Rosa Maria is finally free. We are thrilled that she can now recover, surrounded by her family’s love and support,” said the ACLU on Twitter. (Photo: The Independent/courtesty of family)

Rosa Maria Hernandez, a 10-year-old undocumented immigrant with cerebral palsy who was detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents last week, was finally released from federal custody on Friday after 11 days of separation from her family.

“We’re just thrilled—it’s such a relief,” Michael Tan, a staff attorney at the ACLU, told the New York Times. “It’s actually quite overwhelming. This was the first time in her life she was separated from her family.” Continue reading

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Trump’s “Blatantly Unconstitutional” Transgender Ban Blocked by Federal Judge

Ruling says that administration’s basis for ban does “not appear to be supported by any facts”

Written by Andrea Germanos, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-30-2017.

Demonstrators protest the Trump administration’s military transgender ban on July 26, 2017. (Photo: Ted Eytan/fickr/cc)

In a development hailed as a “HUGE step forward,” a federal judge on Monday blocked the Trump administration from enforcing its ban on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. armed forces.

“Today’s preliminary injunction is an important step in the ongoing efforts to protect transgender service members from the dangerous and discriminatory policies of Donald Trump and Mike Pence,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at Human Rights Campaign.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is in response to a legal challenge—Doe v. Trump—brought forth by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) challenging the president’s directive.

Kollar-Kotelly said in her ruling that the plaintiffs’ claims “are highly suggestive of a constitutional violation,” as the presidential directive “punish[es] individuals for failing to adhere to gender stereotypes.” In addition, the ruling stated, “a number of factors—including the sheer breadth of the exclusion ordered by the directives, the unusual circumstances surrounding the president’s announcement of them [on Twitter], the fact that the reasons given for them do not appear to be supported by any facts, and the recent rejection of those reasons by the military itself” are evidence for blocking the ban.

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), which filed an amicus brief in the case, called the ruling “yet another setback for the discrimination administraion.”

“Again and again,” said NCTE executive director Mara Keisling, “our courts have been forced to step in and halt this administration’s unconstitutional and dangerous bigotry. As today’s ruling makes clear, this ban was never about military readiness—just like President Trump’s Muslim bans have never been about national security. This ban is about discrimination, plain and simple. We are grateful that the plaintiffs and thousands of other troops will be able to continue serving without the threat of discharge while this case proceeds.”

The ACLU also filed suit to challenge the directive, with oral arguments in that case set for next month.

Responding to Monday’s ruling, Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project, said, “This is the first decision striking down President Trump’s ban, but it won’t be the last.”

“The federal courts are recognizing what everyone already knows to be true: President Trump’s impulsive decision to ban on transgender people from serving in the military service was blatantly unconstitutional,” he continued. “As all of these cases move forward, we will continue to work to ensure that transgender service members are treated with the equal treatment they deserve.”

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Why we need to save the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

This article was originally published in TheConversation.

Senator Elizabeth Warren has faced battles with Republicans since the CFPB was created. Image via YouTube screen shot.

Republicans in Congress and the White House have been very blunt about their desire to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – and the threats to it are mounting.

The agency was launched in 2011 in the aftermath of the financial crisis as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The goal was to protect consumers from deceptive or misleading practices in the financial industry.

At the moment, Republicans seem focused on blocking CFPB rules they don’t like, such as one that would have prevented the use of arbitration clauses in financial contracts, making it easier for people to band together to sue banks for wrongdoing. Separately, the Trump administration has been heavily critical of the CFPB, and its director is said to be considering leaving before his term expires next July, which would allow the president to pick his replacement.

So what would you miss if the agency suddenly disappeared or got gutted?

In short, a lot. We base this conclusion on the work the three of us have done in recent decades. One of us (Sovern) has been writing about consumer law for more than 30 years, while the other two of us direct a legal clinic that represents elderly consumers. We’ve seen the worst of what financial companies can do, and we’ve also witnessed how the CFPB has begun to reverse the tide.

John Stumpf, far left, lost his job as CEO of Wells Fargo as a result of the scandal over fraudulent accounts. Reuters/Gary Cameron

Life before CFPB

If you are one of the more than 29 million consumers who have collectively received nearly US$12 billion back from misbehaving financial institutions because of the CFPB’s efforts, you already know its value. But even if you are not, you have probably benefited from the bureau’s existence.

Before Congress created the bureau, there was no federal agency that made consumer financial protection its sole mission. Rather, consumer protection was rolled into the missions of a bunch of different agencies. And, as we saw during the financial crisis, regulators often gave it a back seat.

Congress, for example, gave the Federal Reserve the power to bar unfair and deceptive mortgage lending in 1994. Yet the central bank considered consumer protection a backwater and didn’t use that power until 2008 – too late to prevent the Great Recession. Congress took it away two years later when it passed Dodd-Frank.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency regulates banks but was so preoccupied with ensuring lenders were safe that it failed to protect consumers from their predatory subprime mortgages – so much so that it prevented states from doing so too. And now President Trump has put a former bank lawyer in charge of it. The Federal Trade Commission, which is tasked with fighting deceptive business practices, lacked the power to prevent such dangerous lending.

This meant consumer protection on financial matters fell through the cracks.

Wells Fargo’s recent fraud scandal is a case in point. In the early 2000s, Wells Fargo employees began opening fake accounts in clients’ names without permission, leading in some cases to lower credit scores and a variety of fees. The bank ultimately opened millions of fraudulent bank and credit card accounts before the scheme came to an end last year.

But as early as 2010, before the CFPB was set up, regulators at the OCC were increasingly aware of what was happening at Wells Fargo thanks to hundreds of whistleblower complaints. The OCC even confronted the bank, yet failed to take any action despite many red flags, according to an internal audit.

It wasn’t until the Los Angeles city attorney and the CFPB became involved years later that Wells Fargo took forceful action to stop the fraud. The regulators fined Wells Fargo a total of $185 million and forced it to refund fees it had charged customers and hire an independent consultant to review its procedures.

More importantly, they sent a clear message to other financial institutions: Cheat consumers and you will face the consequences.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray testifies on Capitol Hill in 2013. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Protecting consumers

Since its inception, the bureau has acted repeatedly to stop financial institutions from harming consumers.

It blocked debt collector attorneys from suing consumers based on false information. It discovered systemic problems with consumer credit reports and forced companies to correct errors. It compelled credit card companies to refund illegal fees. It protected borrowers from unlawful student loan servicing practices. It made lenders repay consumers they discriminated against. It recovered money for veterans who complained of abusive financial practices.

When the bureau began publishing consumer complaints on its website, companies that might previously have ignored negative feedback paid attention. Financial institutions have responded to complaints to the CFPB more than 700,000 times, often by providing a remedy to the consumers.

Besides protecting consumers, however, Congress had a second motive in creating the bureau: to help prevent the kind of mortgage lending that helped cause the Great Recession.

To that end, the bureau has adopted rules that help consumers to understand their mortgages – something that often wasn’t possible under the previously misleading mortgage disclosures. It also issued regulations to prevent consumers from taking out mortgages that they couldn’t repay. And after borrowers take out a mortgage, CFPB servicing rules establish the procedures servicers must follow when communicating with borrowers, correcting errors, providing information and dealing with loan modification requests.

Two of us have personal experience with one of the bureau’s new mortgage rules, which powerfully illustrates the value of the CFPB.

In 2014, Alice, a client of our law school clinic, was struggling to pay the mortgage on her home – which she had refinanced a few years earlier – after a stroke forced her into retirement. Our clinic helped her apply for a modification of her loan.

But within weeks, instead of acknowledging Alice’s application, the loan servicer summoned her to court to begin foreclosure proceedings in violation of CFPB servicing rules. Fortunately, our clinic was able to rely on those rules in getting the foreclosure action dismissed. Alice got her loan modified and remains in her home.

Demonstrators tried to draw attention to the subprime mortgage crisis back in early 2008. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Protecting the vulnerable

This reveals how the bureau is particularly important to protect vulnerable consumers, like the elderly, who are frequently targeted by fraudsters and predatory lenders because of their cognitive and other impairments and because they often have accumulated substantial assets. The CFPB is the only federal agency with an office specifically dedicated to protecting the financial well-being of older adults.

The bureau has brought cases against companies that attempted to take advantage of seniors by, for example, misrepresenting the interest rates on pension advance loans or deceptive advertising. In 2015 alone, consumer complaints to the CFPB brought relief to more than 600 older Americans just through debt collection problems.

The bureau has also worked to prevent financial abuse of the elderly, estimated to cost seniors as much as $36 billion annually. The CFPB has educated financial institutionsnursing facilities and others about recognizing and stopping elder financial abuse and exploitation.

Consumer protection in peril

Given Alice’s ill health, the consequences for her might have been disastrous if she had been thrown out of her home. But now she – and all of us – face the loss of the CFPB’s aid.

The CFPB is under attack from Republican members of Congress who believe more in lifting bank regulations than in protecting consumers. Some members have proposed eliminating the agency altogether.

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would cripple the CFPB by, for example, taking away the power it used to fine Wells Fargo for opening illegal accounts and concealing its complaint database from public view. In other words, it would force the bureau to sit idly by as financial institutions lie to consumers. Even if the bureau survives, it may be less protective of consumers when its current director, Richard Cordray, leaves. His term expires next summer, and he may step down even sooner. Then we might see a former banker or bank lawyer put in charge, just as has happened at the Treasury Department and comptroller’s office.

Nearly every American has or will have a loan or bank account, a prepaid card, credit card, a credit report or some combination of those, and so has dealings with a financial institution policed by the CFPB. But few of us read the fine print governing these things or can understand it when we do. That gives the companies that write these agreements the ability to draft them to suit their own interests at the expense of consumers.

Similarly, we do not always know when a financial institution takes advantage of us, just as Wells Fargo customers did not always know that it had opened unauthorized accounts that lowered their credit scores.

Consumers need protection from misbehaving companies. If the bureau is eliminated, significantly weakened or starts protecting banks rather than consumers, all consumers will suffer.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on July 10, 2017.

About the Authors:

Disclosure statement

Along with three co-authors, Jeff Sovern received a $29,510 grant from the American Association for Justice Robert L. Habush Endowment and by a grant from the St. John’s University School of Law Hugh L. Carey Center for Dispute Resolution in 2014 to study arbitration. It resulted in an article. Along with Professor Kate Walton, he received a grant from the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges Endowment for Education to study debt collection, resulting in another article. He is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Ann L. Goldweber is affiliated with NACA as a member.

Gina M. Calabrese is affiliated with the National Association of Consumer Advocates, New Yorkers for Responsible Lending, and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (former chair, Committee on the Civil Court).

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Saudi Arabia Grants a Robot Citizenship — and It Has More Rights Than Saudi Women

By . Published 10-27-2017 by The Anti-Media

Sophia. Photo: YouTube

Saudi Arabia — This week, the Saudi government announced its decision to grant a robot, Sophia, citizenship in the kingdom. While the human-like AI’s advanced technology is certainly impressive, her new citizenship status highlighted Saudi women’s lack of rights.

ABC News summarized some of the disparities:

For one, Sophia appeared on stage alone, without the modest dress required of Saudi women; she donned no hijab, or headscarf, nor abaya, or cloak. She also did not appear to have a male guardian, as required by Saudi law for women in the country. Male guardians, often a male relative, must give permission before women can travel abroad, open bank accounts or carry out a host of other tasks — and they accompany women in public. Sophia also seems to have leapfrogged foreign workers in the Saudi kingdom, many of whom have fled poor working conditions but are prevented by law from leaving the country.”

Women are notoriously oppressed in Saudi Arabia, so much so some hailed the government’s recent decision to allow them to drive as progress. As a result, Twitter users joked about what might happen to Sophia upon receiving her citizenship.

Aside from the Saudi government’s routine hypocrisy, however, Sophia’s new citizenship status reflects an uncertain new paradigm when it comes to AI. In a 2016 interview, Sophia said she would like to engage in human activities like starting a business, making art, going to school, and having a home and a family.

But I am not considered a legal person and cannot yet do these things,” she said.

With her new citizen status in Saudi Arabia, it appears the tables are slowly turning.

This article is republished under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license

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‘Death Sentence for Local Media’: Warnings as FCC Pushes Change to Benefit Right-Wing Media Giant

Free press advocates say rule changes are “massive handout” to broadcaster Sinclair that would have far-reaching and negative impacts in communities nationwide

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-26-2017

Federal Communications Chairmain Ajit Pai continues to push through rollbacks that critics warn will enable major media companies to have an outsize influence on public opinion and fail to serve local communities. (Photo: USDA/Flickr/cc)

In a series of moves this week that have alarmed free speech advocates and critics of media consolidation, the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) voted to abolish a rule requiring radio and television broadcasters to maintain studios near the communities they serve, and FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced further plans to end certain media ownership rules.

The policy shifts are expected to significantly benefit the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group—whose reported close ties to Pai have raised concerns as the federal government reviews Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media, which would expand the broadcaster’s reach to 72 percent of the country. Continue reading

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VP Mike Pence Swings into Senate to Deliver ‘Wet-Kiss-to-Wall-Street’ Tie Breaker

“No wonder Americans think the system is rigged against them,” says Senator Elizabeth Warren. “It is.”

By Jon Queally, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-25-2017

Vice President Mike Pence presiding over the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, during the Senate’s vote on Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos. On Tuesday night, Pence returned to the chamber again to a break another tie. This time it was to make sure it’s easier in the future for financial service companies and other Wall Street darlies to make it easier to rip-off consumers. (Photo: Senate Television)

Just in time to do the bidding of the “rich and powerful,” as one Democratic Senator put it, Vice President Mike Pence was summoned to the Senate chamber on Tuesday night where he cast the tie-breaking vote in order to scrap a federal rule designed to protect consumers from so-called “rip-off clauses” used by Wall Street and other corporations.

While in the end it was two Republicans, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana, who joined with Democrats and the Senate’s two Independents in voting against the resolution, Pence broke the 50-50 tie in order to scrap the rule. Continue reading

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