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.
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 →
“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.”
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 →
Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and U.S. President Donald Trump met in March 2017 in the Oval Office of the White House. (Photo: Shealah Craighead/White House)
In a move called “twisted” and “absolutely awful” by healthcare experts, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Seema Verma said Tuesday that the Trump administration will encourage states to force work requirements on people enrolled in Medicaid.
In a speech to the National Association of Medicaid Directors, Verma explained her approach to managing CMS, which emphasizes deregulation and transferring more control to the states. Verma vowed to fast-track approvals of states’ proposals for amending how they implement Medicaid and denounced the Obama administration’s rejection of work requirements for Medicaid recipients, promising to “approve proposals that promote community engagement activities,” which she defined as “working, volunteering, going to school, or obtaining job training.” Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
This is exactly the type of atrocity that the United Nations vowed to combat in 2005, when it asserted a “responsibility to protect” civilian populations from genocidal violence. Yet, little has been done.
Why has “the responsibility to protect” failed, and can the Rohingya be helped?
Responsibility to protect
The “responsibility to protect” doctrine resulted from the humanitarian catastrophes of the 1990s: Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and especially Rwanda. The world struggled to balance respect for state sovereignty with the imperative to prevent the slaughter of civilians. In 2001, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty issued a reportredefining the problem. It stated that states had primary responsibility to protect their populations. But, if they could not or would not, then that duty could be exercised by the international community.
This concept was affirmed by the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit. However, my research on the origins and implementation of the responsibility to protect has demonstrated that this consensus was superficial. Many states, including the United States and China, gave lip service to a “responsibility to protect,” but were unwilling or unable to implement it. The conditions under which the responsibility to protect could be invoked remain deliberately ambiguous.
Words in action: Libya and Cote d’Ivoire
Despite this tepid support, in 2011, the United Nations authorized two operations in countries where civilians were at risk.
In Cote d’Ivoire, United Nations peacekeeping forces intervened to remove the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, who had lost an election and was using the country’s security force to attack civilians in an attempt to remain in power. U.N. forces helped oversee a political transition and maintain security. This intervention was widely seen at the U.N. as a success.
The other intervention was in Libya, after the country’s leader Muammar Gaddafi threatened to slaughter those who opposed his regime. The intervention – led by Britain, France and the United States – successfully prevented Gaddafi’s slaughter of civilians. But it also led to the collapse of his regime, his murder by rebel forces and continuing conflict in post-Gaddafi Libya.
Failure to protect
Despite humanitarian crises in Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, the responsibility to protect has not been used by the U.N. since 2011 to justify intervention. The Libya case helps to explain this: Once the intervening forces helped overthrow Gaddafi, Russia and China declared that the “responsibility to protect” was merely a pretext for the West to conduct regime change. Those countries have repeatedly vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria.
Implementing the “responsibility to protect” faces other challenges as well. One is that an intervention to protect civilians may encounter armed resistance from those who are committing the atrocities, as would likely be the case in Syria. A larger, more capable international military force would be necessary to defeat them. Many states will be deterred by the greater costs and risks of such an intervention.
Another challenge is that states and international organizations have multiple goals and priorities. They may not wish to jeopardize relations with the offending regime, or risk other national interests, in order to stop violence. They may even help the regime that is committing the atrocities, as the Russian government has done in Syria, to advance those interests.
Finally, a successful intervention may lead to a costly commitment to provide long-term security and relief – a “responsibility to rebuild,” so to speak. For most states, these potential costs of intervention far outweigh their willingness to act to save lives.
What can we do for the Rohingya?
All these challenges to implementing the responsibility to protect are evident in the Rohingya case. Myanmar authorities have resisted any international role in the crisis, raising the cost of potential intervention. In any case, other states have little interest in taking action. China is shielding Myanmar from pressure in the U.N. Security Council and is trying to pull Myanmar into its sphere of influence. President Trump has not made Myanmar a priority for American foreign policy. Russia, India and other states prefer to work with the regime to further their own interests in the region.
What can be done, then?
Economic and political sanctions against the Myanmar military are a possibility. But without Chinese participation, they would have limited effectiveness. Sanctions might also lead the Myanmar military to reverse recent democratic reforms in the country.
An alternative would be for the United States and other countries to sharply increase aid to Bangladesh, which is hosting the fleeing Rohingya civilians. They might also consider accepting some Rohingya as refugees. However, this could be problematic given the current debate on refugees in the United States and many other countries.
In the longer term, diplomatic and financial pressure, as well as the possibility of indictment for crimes against humanity, may convince Myanmar’s military leaders to cease the ethnic cleansing and allow some Rohingya to return. Unfortunately, no international cavalry is likely to ride to the Rohingya’s rescue.
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.
“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.
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.
Catalans did not take the news that Spanish Prime Minister will move to impose direct rule on their region quietly on Saturday. Nearly half a million people marched in Barcelona soon after the prime minister’s press conference.
Carles Puigdemont, president of Catalonia, joined the demonstration before a planned speech responding to Mariano Rajoy’s statement that pending the approval of the senate, which his party controls, he would remove the Catalan government from power and call for a special election in the coming months.
The protesters chanted, “Freedom!” and “Rajoy, Rajoy, so you know we are leaving!” Continue reading →
“Gerrymandering has no value in our democracy,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil and Human Rights. (Photo: Janai Nelson/Twitter)
Wielding signs that read “hands off our districts” and “you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your voters,” hundreds of civil rights advocates, lawyers, and lawmakers rallied in the nation’s capital Tuesday as the Supreme Court heard arguments in a landmark redistricting case that poses “the most serious challenge to gerrymandering in modern times.”
The case under consideration—Gill v. Whitford—is the result of a lawsuit filed by Wisconsin voters and the Campaign Legal Center in 2015 alleging that Republican-drawn state district lines violated the rights of Democratic voters. In 2016, a federal court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, arguing that the GOP’s district maps amounted to “an aggressive partisan gerrymander” and ordered the lines redrawn. Continue reading →