Category Archives: Housing

All Evidence Shows #GOPTaxScam Is Horrible. Only Question: Can It Be Stopped?

“No good can come of this plan unless you are wealthy or a corporation.”

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

Photo: LinkedIn

While informed critics and experts say they are now “running out of adjectives to describe how horrible” the GOP’s House and Senate tax plans are, the evidence continues to mount showing the manner in which the party’s overall approach is a gift to the rich and corporations at the expense of low- and middle-income families, millions of whom who will see their taxes actually go up while key social programs like public education, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will face massive cuts.


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With Trump Silent, Sanders and Dems Demand Aid for Iranian Earthquake Victims

“The U.S. has routinely offered to help the Iranian people in times of need. This time should be no different.”

Written by Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-17-2017.

A devastating 7.3 earthquake struck the Iran/Irag region, killing over 500 and leaving 9,000 injured. Image via Facebook.

As the death toll from the “horrific” earthquake that struck the Iran-Iraq border earlier this week climbs above 500, and as President Donald Trump remains entirely silent on the matter, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and four Democratic senators sent a letter on Thursday to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanding that the White House waive certain sanctions on Iran and allow aid to reach those desperately in need.

“After earthquakes in 2003 and 2012, the United States demonstrated its compassion and goodwill by offering assistance to the Iranian people and allowing private relief donations,” the senators wrote. “This time should be no different.”

While the 7.3 magnitude quake affected both Iran and Iraq, Iran bore the brunt of the overall destruction and casualties.

Under the current sanctions regime, Iranian-Americans living in the U.S. are prohibited from delivering funds to their friends and family members. As Al Jazeera reported on Thursday, several attempts by Iranian-Americans to set up fundraisers for Iran in the days following the earthquake have been stymied by U.S. Treasury Department rules.

“The way it is now, it is extremely difficult,” Tara Kangarlou, a New York-based Iranian-American journalist, said of the economic restrictions. “These are the moments that you realize how political tug of war are hurting ordinary Iranians.”

As for official U.S. government assistance, the Trump White House has been relatively quiet; the Treasury Department called the quake “tragic” in a statement to the Associated Press, but did not say whether the administration plans to mount any kind of response. Trump, himself, has not said a word about the quake, which Sanders and his Democratic colleagues noted was “the world’s deadliest of the year.”

In addition to killing hundreds and injuring over 9,000, a report from European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations found that the tremor damaged 12,000 buildings in Iran and Iraq.

Shortly after the earthquake struck, Sanders highlighted the “growing tensions” between the U.S. and Iran—particularly following Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran deal—and argued that providing relief to the Iranian people following such a devastating event “would be an important act of friendship.”

Read the senators’ full letter:

We write today concerning the recent earthquake that struck Iran on November 12. The latest reports indicate over 500 dead and thousands wounded, making this earthquake the world’s deadliest of the year. We urge you temporarily waive any existing restrictions that would impede relief donations in order to speed the delivery of aid.

While the earthquake affected both Iran and Iraq, most of the casualties are on the Iranian side of the border. After earthquakes in 2003 and 2012, the United States demonstrated its compassion and goodwill by offering assistance to the Iranian people and allowing private relief donations. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama both temporarily waived sanctions, and the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued general licenses to simplify aid delivery.

Under the Bush administration, an OFAC license authorized U.S. persons to provide cash donations to nongovernmental organizations, U.S. and non-U.S., assisting with relief efforts in Iran. At the time, OFAC also worked with aid organizations to clarify rules on donations of food and medicine and which Iranian entities could receive aid and eased banking constraints to ensure the timely receipt of donations in Iran. While we understand that a general license issued by OFAC in 2013 allows for U.S. nongovernment organization to deliver aid to Iran, we urge you make it easier for U.S. citizens to contribute to nongovernment organizations not based in the United States that are currently providing relief aid to earthquake victims in Iran.

Despite decades of animosity and no formal diplomatic relations, the United States has routinely offered to help the Iranian people in times of need. This time should be no different. We ask that you direct the Department of State to assist in aid efforts and to coordinate such efforts with OFAC and other relevant agencies in order to ensure aid arrives quickly.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your timely response.

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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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Why on Earth Is Trump Attacking Nation’s Nursing Home Population?

Proposed rule called “disturbing” new direction for federal agency which “should be protecting patients, not making it easier for facilities to harm them and cover it up.”

By Common Dreams. Published 8-7-2017

An elderly resident using a walker passes a golden retriever April 28, 2000 in the New Mark Care Center in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Don Ipock/Liaison)

“Why does Trump hate grandmothers?”

So asked Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) on Sunday as he decried a proposal from the administration that would prevent abused or mistreated seniors in nursing homes from getting their day in court, jeopardizing their health and safety.

Lieu’s concern and outrage over the effort is shared with fellow lawmakers as well as patient and consumer advocacy groups like Public Citizen, who said the effort to roll back protections from some of society’s most vulnerable people is just part of “a disturbing trend of the Trump administration attempting to reverse critical protections against forced arbitration,” which prevents individuals or groups of people from filing lawsuits or seeking damages for fraud, abuse, neglect, medical malpractice and other forms of wrongdoing. Continue reading

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What Is It Like to Live Without Running Water? Detroit Families Know

A recent study predicts that in the next five years, more than one-third of Americans will not be able to afford their water.

By . Published 4-11-2017 by YES! Magazine

Illustrations by Jennifer Luxton

Each day, Catherine Caldwell hauls three gallons of bottled water to her bathroom and two to her kitchen. She and her family use the water for flushing the toilet, washing hands, and— after heating it on the stove—cleaning dishes and cooking. For bathing, they head to her mother-in-law’s house a few blocks away.

The 44-year-old Caldwell, her husband, and two young grandchildren have been living without running water in their Detroit home for over four months. Every two weeks, they receive a delivery of water from a local nonprofit, We the People of Detroit. It’s the second time they’ve been without water services in the three years they’ve lived at the current residence. The short of it is this: They can’t afford to pay the bill, and the water company shut off their water. Continue reading

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Trump Seeks to Take Wrecking Ball to Division Between Church and State

Draft executive order ‘reads like the administration was challenged to see how many violations of the Bill of Rights can be contained in one policy change’

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-2-2017

A 2016 poll found two-thirds of Americans say churches and other houses of worship should not come out in favor of one candidate over another during political elections—but President Donald Trump wants to “destroy” the amendment that keeps it that way. (Photo: Peter Miller/flickr/cc)

President Donald Trump appears intent on demolishing the wall between church and state, telling an audience on Thursday that he will “totally destroy” an amendment that bars religious tax-exempt organizations from engaging in political activity—while his administration reportedly circulates a far-reaching draft executive order on “religious freedom” that effectively legalizes discrimination.

Trump told attendees at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday that he “will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” Continue reading

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‘Dangerous’ and ‘Dumb’: Trump Signs Executive Order Torching Regulations

“It will fundamentally change our government’s role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits”

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 1-30-2017

A demonstrator in Washington, D.C. holds a sign on Jan. 27, 2017. (Photo: Lorie Shaull/flickr/cc)

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday that aims to slash regulations—an action, advocacy groups say, that puts lives at risk.

The order—the latest of a flurry since he took office—states that “for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination,” fulfilling a campaign promise he made.

“For fiscal year 2017, which is in progress, the heads of all agencies are directed that the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, to be finalized this year shall be no greater than zero,” it adds. Continue reading

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A Message to Donald J. Trump

Inauguration (left,) vs Women’s March (right). Photo: Mashable (composite of EarthCam screengrabs)

You are now President of the United States of America.

We, the People, have already noticed a few things, and we’d like to tell you what you apparently are not being told by your “advisors.”

Your removal of the term “Civil Rights” from the White House website implies that these are no longer a concern to a man that was elected to serve ALL Americans, not just those that “look” like you.

Your removal of all information regarding Health Care from the same website implies that the health care of the people of this country is not important enough to you to even indicate what you plan to do now that measures have already been taken to effectively terminate coverage under the ACA.

Your removal of all discussion of Climate Change is a clear example that you are not willing to listen to science and reason when it comes to protecting America’s valuable resources for generations to come.

You attack through tweeting those that offend you, as though it makes you look “presidential.” It instead reveals the immature, narcissistic individual you are, one that must have instant gratification whenever a pimple in life appears on your ugly face of divisiveness.

You brag about assaulting women, and insult the victims of your misogyny.

You indicate you want the equivalent to a “Christian caliphate” in this country: emulating what the enemy is demanding makes one weak, not strong. Even 1st graders know that, Mr. President. It also validates what ISIS is doing.

You asked for military style parades during your inauguration, while veterans that have served go without medical care, homes or jobs. You have stated you intend to fly war planes over our cities to remind us that our military is great, while we feed homeless veterans living in our parks, the planes drowning out our conversations with them.

America is a nation of law. We are not governed by corporate organizational structures. You won’t get your way all the time, and you can’t scream “You’re Fired!” at everyone that sees things differently.

Your first act was to claw back a relief package for low to middle income mortgage holders that would have saved them on average $500 a year. That doesn’t sound like much money to you, but to the American people you are supposed to serve, it can make the difference between having a home and not having a home. You proved to these people your heartlessness right from the beginning of your term.

You claim to have a mandate. Let us remind you that you were elected by 46% of the vote, from which only 30% of the population even chose to participate in. This means, in fact, you hold office because only 14% of eligible voters in this country decided to vote for you, and many did so simply in objection to your opponent. This is not a mandate.

A MANDATE is what happened the day AFTER your inauguration, when the entire world sent you a rejection notice.

I expect you won’t like what I’ve said here, and so much so that you will try to shut this website down. That doesn’t matter, because you see, where I am is a place all of America is. You seem to think you hold the power to shut down the MINDS and CONSCIOUSNESS of every American, you DON’T. We won’t stop.

You seem to think that attacking media for reporting things you don’t like is your right. You appear to think that executive power includes control of the nation’s press. As an American and a journalist, let me remind you that your oath of office is to protect the US Constitution. You apparently are not familiar with that document, so here is the 1st Amendment to it, protecting the media from what you threaten them with. To act against the 1st Amendment is a violation of your oath and is an impeachable offense.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Shape up, or we will ship you out as easily as you were shipped in.

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America Has Unofficially Declared War on the Homeless

By Josie Wales. Published 12-23-2016 by The Anti-Media

Photo: Ed Yourdon from New York City, USA (Helping the homeless Uploaded by Gary Dee) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Police departments across the country have been ramping up raids on the homeless, stealing coats, blankets, and other personal items and leaving those on the street with no protection from the cold and rain.

The Homelessness San Diego Facebook page recently posted a video of city workers conducting an “encampment sweep” that was recorded by homeless advocate Michael McConnell. According to CW6, “the city says it routinely posts clean-up notices downtown as part of its regular weekly abatement schedule.

The Denver Police Department released a statement last Thursday evening defending police officers caught on video taking blankets, sleeping bags, and tents from homeless people and issuing some citations. Freezing temperatures didn’t stop the cold-hearted cops from confiscating the items “as evidence of the violations.”

The video taken by a bystander went viral after being shared by the ACLU of Colorado’s Facebook page. It was swiftly followed up by an open letter to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Denver City Council, and city officials. The letter, which expresses horror at the willingness of the local government officials to endanger the lives of the homeless, “demands that the City immediately (1) direct its police officers to cease confiscation of blankets and other survival gear possessed by people experiencing homelessness, (2) suspend enforcement of the Denver Urban Camping Ban through the winter months, using that time to explore alternative approaches to homelessness that do not criminalize people for having nowhere they can afford to live and (3) end the coordinated sweeps of people experiencing homelessness, whether they are conducted through police, public works, private security, all of the above, or any other means.”

This is not the first time Colorado authorities have come under fire for their brutal treatment of the homeless. In February of this year, Denver Law School released a report called Too High A Price: What Criminalizing Homelessness Costs Colorado, which examined the economic and social cost of the anti-homeless laws. According to the paper, “Laws that criminalize panhandling, begging, camping, sitting or lying in public, and vagrancy target and disproportionately impact homeless residents for activities they must perform in the course of daily living.”

Los Angeles deployed an entire task force to crack down on homeless people, imposing their own “encampment sweeps” in September. The ironically named “Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement” teams are supposed to help reduce the number of people living on the street, but they appear to be doing nothing more than turning those who are less fortunate into criminals.

The ACLU declared a small victory over the summer when it successfully defended the rights of a man charged with trespassing after trying to gain access to emergency shelter. According to Jessie Rossman, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts:

“Today’s landmark, unanimous ruling has affirmed, e.in the state high court’s own words that ‘our law does not permit the punishment of the homeless simply for being homeless.’”

Anti-homeless laws are cruel, unconstitutional, and create more hardship for those targeted, making it harder for them to get back on their feet. It is unthinkable to believe that stealing blankets and clothing from people living on the street is justifiable by any legislation, and it is terrifying to see law enforcement follow orders to do so without blinking an eye.

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

 

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Escalating the War on Low-Income Families

By Paul Buchheit. Published 8-22-2016 by Common Dreams

For the nation's poor, things are not getting better. They are getting worse. (Photo: Pixabay/CC0)

For the nation’s poor, things are not getting better. They are getting worse. (Photo: Pixabay/CC0)

Illinois Governor Rauner recently cut “Meals on Wheels” for seniors and at-risk youth services. Chicago residents were hit with a nearly 13% property tax increase. Some Chicago public schools could face 2017 cutbacks of an incredible 20 percent.

But six of Illinois’ largest corporations together paid ALMOST ZERO state income taxes this year. Full payment of their taxes would have exceeded the $1.1 billion Chicago Public School deficit. Continue reading

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