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Is #SocialMedia Ruining Our Culture?

Thom Hartmann is the #1 progressive radio talk show host in the US and NYT best-selling author.  Check out Thom’s website for showtimes.

 

Great News: CFPB Proposes Ban On Arbitration Clauses

capitol_280x222

CFPB Proposes Prohibiting Mandatory Arbitration Clauses that Deny Groups of Consumers their Day in Court

Bureau Seeks Comment on Proposal to Ban a Contract Gotcha that Prevents Groups of Consumers from Suing Consumer Financial Companies

MAY 05, 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is seeking comments on proposed rules that would prohibit mandatory arbitration clauses that deny groups of consumers their day in court. Many consumer financial products like credit cards and bank accounts have contract gotchas that generally prevent consumers from joining together to sue their bank or financial company for wrongdoing. These widely used clauses leave consumers with no choice but to seek relief on their own – usually over small amounts. With this contract gotcha, companies can sidestep the legal system, avoid accountability, and continue to pursue profitable practices that may violate the law and harm countless consumers. The CFPB’s proposal is designed to protect consumers’ right to pursue justice and relief, and deter companies from violating the law.

“Signing up for a credit card or opening a bank account can often mean signing away your right to take the company to court if things go wrong,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Many banks and financial companies avoid accountability by putting arbitration clauses in their contracts that block groups of their customers from suing them. Our proposal seeks comment on whether to ban this contract gotcha that effectively denies groups of consumers the right to seek justice and relief for wrongdoing.”

In recent years, many contracts for consumer financial products and services – from bank accounts to credit cards – have included mandatory arbitration clauses. They affect hundreds of millions of consumer contracts. These clauses typically state that either the company or the consumer can require that disputes between them be resolved by privately appointed individuals (arbitrators) except for cases brought in small claims court. Where these clauses exist, either side can generally block lawsuits from proceeding in court. These clauses also typically bar consumers from bringing group claims through the arbitration process. As a result, no matter how many consumers are injured by the same conduct, consumers must proceed to resolve their claims individually against the company.

Through the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Congress required the CFPB to study the use of mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer financial markets. Congress also gave the Bureau the power to issue regulations that are in the public interest, for the protection of consumers, and consistent with the study.

Released in March 2015, the CFPB’s study showed that very few consumers ever bring – or think about bringing – individual actions against their financial service providers either in court or in arbitration. The study found that class actions provide a more effective means for consumers to challenge problematic practices by these companies. According to the study, class actions succeed in bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in relief to millions of consumers each year and cause companies to alter their legally questionable conduct. The study showed that at least 160 million class members were eligible for relief over the five-year period studied. Those settlements totaled $2.7 billion in cash, in-kind relief, and attorney’s fees and expenses. In addition, these figures do not include the potential value to consumers of class action settlements requiring companies to change their behavior. However, where mandatory arbitration clauses are in place, companies are able to use those clauses to block class actions.

The CFPB proposal is seeking comment on a proposal to prohibit companies from putting mandatory arbitration clauses in new contracts that prevent class action lawsuits. The proposal would open up the legal system to consumers so they could file a class action or join a class action when someone else files it. Under the proposal, companies would still be able to include arbitration clauses in their contracts. However, for contracts subject to the proposal, the clauses would have to say explicitly that they cannot be used to stop consumers from being part of a class action in court. The proposal would provide the specific language that companies must use.

The proposal would also require companies with arbitration clauses to submit to the CFPB claims, awards, and certain related materials that are filed in arbitration cases. This would allow the Bureau to monitor consumer finance arbitrations to ensure that the arbitration process is fair for consumers. The Bureau is also considering publishing information it would collect in some form so the public can monitor the arbitration process as well.

The benefits to the CFPB proposal would include:

* A day in court for consumers: The proposed rules would allow groups of consumers to obtain relief when companies skirt the law. Most consumers do not even realize when their rights have been violated. Often the harm may be too small to make it practical for a single consumer to pursue an individual dispute, even when the cumulative harm to all affected consumers is significant. The CFPB study found that only around 2 percent of consumers with credit cards who were surveyed would consult an attorney or otherwise pursue legal action as a means of resolving a small-dollar dispute. With class action lawsuits, consumers have opportunities to obtain relief from the legal system that, in practice, they otherwise would not receive.

* Deterrent effect: The proposed rules would incentivize companies to comply with the law to avoid group lawsuits. Arbitration clauses enable companies to avoid being held accountable for their conduct. When companies know they can be called to account for their misconduct, they are less likely to engage in unlawful practices that can harm consumers. Further, public attention on the practices of one company can affect or influence their business practices and the business practices of other companies more broadly.

* Increased transparency: The proposed rules would make the individual arbitration process more transparent by requiring companies that use arbitration clauses to submit any claims filed and awards issued in arbitration to the CFPB. The Bureau would also collect correspondence from arbitration administrators regarding a company’s non-payment of arbitration fees and its failure to adhere to the arbitration forum’s standards of conduct. The collection of these materials would enable the CFPB to better understand and monitor arbitration. It would also provide insight into whether companies are abusing arbitration or whether the process itself is fair.

The proposed rules which the CFPB is seeking comment on would apply to most consumer financial products and services that the CFPB oversees, including those related to the core consumer financial markets that involve lending money, storing money, and moving or exchanging money. Congress already prohibited arbitration agreements in the largest market that the Bureau oversees – the residential mortgage market.

In October 2015, the Bureau published an outline of the proposals under consideration and convened a Small Business Review Panel to gather feedback from small companies. In addition to consulting with small business representatives, the Bureau sought input from the public, consumer groups, industry, and other stakeholders before continuing with the rulemaking. That process concluded in December 2015 with a written report to the Bureau’s director, which is also being released today.

The public is invited to comment on these proposed regulations when they are published in the Federal Register. Written comments will be carefully considered before final regulations are issued.

The proposal is available here.

The Small Business Review Panel report is available here.

The March 2015 CFPB report on arbitration is available here.

###
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit www.consumerfinance.gov

Iowa Supreme Court Upholds Spirit Of Open Meetings Law

Iowa Supreme Court photo 2013 No seats have been replaced since then

Iowa Supreme Court photo 2013 No seats have been replaced since then


Why wasn’t this ruling unanimous?

We congratulate the Iowa Supreme Court for ruling that governmental boards could not hold meetings via proxy. This they said violated the the open meetings provision of Iowa law.

If a majority of a board conveys communication on policy matters back and forth and in some way seeks to do this in a way that blocks the public from from these discussions it definitely violates the spirit of the law that sought to stop the practices of secret meetings with policy made in secret and without public input.

Briefly, the three members of the Warren County board of supervisors held individual meetings with the county administrator concerning downsizing. The county administrator then relayed information from those individual meetings to the other members. Thus he acted almost as a meeting facilitator even though there technically was not a meeting. Very sneaky and at that time technically not illegal, but certainly seemed on the edge.

America moved away from decisions made in back rooms long ago, or so they thought. Any attempt to circumvent the open meeting rules should be viewed as an egregious betrayal of the public trust. These supervisors were not elected to ignore the public input and purview.

It is strange that there was even a dissent let alone three. When lawmakers draw up laws they can’t possibly think of every conceivable way to get around a law. It is hard to believe that an Iowa Supreme Court justice could say “this specific instance isn’t listed in the law, so therefore meetings held this way are legal.’

Thank you, Justices, for a decision that keeps the public from being shut out of its right know what goes on in their government.

The Beautiful Arabs of Iowa by Amer Zahr

Comedian Amer Zahr

Palestinian-American Comedian Amer Zahr

Amer Zahr, popular Palestinian-American comedian, is hosting the first-ever live Palestinian-American comedy event at Carnegie Hall in NYC on February 5, 2016, called Being Palestinian Makes Me Smile. For more information or to contribute, click here. For tickets, click here. This blog post originally appeared on CivilArab.com. Used with permission.

by Amer Zahr

A couple weeks ago, I performed at the invitation of the Arab Student Association at the University of Iowa.  Yes, there is an Arab Student Association at the University of Iowa!  I was just as surprised as you are.

I really thought I would never have a reason to go to Iowa.  I mean, I never knew anything about Iowa except what I saw on TV.  OK, I never saw anything on TV about Iowa.  So, I really knew nothing about Iowa.

I was pretty sure that Iowa would produce a few Arabs.  Every town needs a jeweler and a gas station.  And I’m never surprised when I find a few Arabs in any small town.  You can drop us just about anywhere and we find a way to survive.

When I arrived at the airport in Cedar Rapids, I was immediately surprised when I looked at my iPhone.  Iowa had 4G service!  I then remembered that I had heard of this city before.  Cedar Rapids, Iowa is actually home to America’s first mosque.  Yes, Iowa!  The Arab community of Cedar Rapids has a story that is not much different from that of other Arab-American communities.  One guy from Lebanon came, hustled, made some money, and before you know it, the whole village is there.

Then I made my way about 25 miles south to the University of Iowa.  Now, I already knew the student leader that arranged for my visit to the university was an Egyptian-American.  He was a very nice Midwestern boy with olive skin and a funny name.  Imagine Aladdin, all grown up.

But it didn’t stop there.  In Iowa, there were Arabs from everywhere.  And I’m not exaggerating.

I met a beautiful couple from Morocco.  The husband is a French-trained chef and operates a popular creperie in Iowa City.  I know, crepes in Iowa!  He and his wife both run the restaurant, and though he came up with all the recipes, has all the culinary training, and has all the experience, she still lets everyone know that she is “the boss.” And although she said this many times in front of many people, he never objected.  As it turns out, Arab couples are just like any other.

Then I met another Egyptian-American who was a graduate of the University of Iowa and continued her career there as a coordinator at a domestic violence intervention program.  I don’t mean to burst Bill O’Reilly’s bubble, but Arab women aren’t just the victims of domestic violence.  As it turns out, they lead the effort to help prevent it, too.

Then, I met a Saudi Arabian woman who was studying dentistry at the university.  And she was gorgeous.  And I know many people reading this column might not know that there are gorgeous Saudi women since all we ever see on CNN are their eyes.  But take my word for it.  And don’t worry, I don’t think she is going to get in trouble with her family for appearing in my blog.  I’m sure they already know she is studying dentistry.

I met more and more Arabs.  I was overwhelmed.  I met a young man from Yemen.  His mother was actually visiting him in Iowa, all the way from Yemen.  I don’t think that’s a direct flight.  During my whole show, he sat with his arm around her and they laughed together.  I don’t think I’ve ever made Yemenis laugh, so seeing two generations laugh at the same time warmed my heart.

 

A Palestinian Applies for a Job at Starbucks (video)

 

There was a very loudly laughing Lebanese man in the front row.  He was one of my favorites.  As it turns out, he owns a successful engineering company in Iowa City.  After the show, I met a young Pakistani man who was one of his employees.  That’s right, Arabs employing Pakistanis in Iowa!  Someone should tell the Republicans that the economy isn’t that bad.

Oh, and the crowd had a bunch of Sudanis.  It turns out that Iowa City has a significant number of them.  And in a place like Iowa City, they get noticed.  They live there and occupy all kinds of professions.  There is actually a “Sudanese Center of Iowa City,” but don’t tell Sarah Palin.

Then I met some of my Palestinian people.  This always makes me extra happy.  I don’t mean to be biased, but we have an extra hurdle.  We always have to succeed wherever we go.  We have no choice.  We don’t have a Plan B.  We can’t mess up and go back to our country.

The first Palestinian I met was a PhD student studying Pharmacy.  She had completed her undergraduate studies in Jordan.  And Palestinians are in Jordan because… well, that’s a whole other column.  She made her way to Iowa because… Ok, I don’t know why she ended up in Iowa, but she seemed very happy to be there.

Then I met another Palestinian woman.  She was also getting her PhD (we Palestinians shoot for the stars).  Her specialty was genetics.  I think she is researching how Palestinians can genetically trace their ancestry in the Holy Land ever further back than the Jewish people.  Ok, I don’t know if she is researching that, but I can dream, can’t I?  She was sitting in the front row of the show.  And her laugh was infectious.  After the show, I met her and was surprised to hear that she had an accent.  It wasn’t Arabic, and it wasn’t Midwestern.  It was… Australian!  This Palestinian woman had made her way from Sydney to Iowa City to continue her education.  See, that’s what it means to be Palestinian.  We can travel from one home in Australia to another in Iowa, only to catch a small glimpse of Palestine along the way.

Finally, I met an Iraqi named Talib.

Talib was born in Iraq and was a teenager when America invaded Iraq in 2003.  His life changed instantly.  He went from a young man looking to embark upon his life in his homeland to a young man forced to leave his country in search of hope.  He told me something like, “I was living in Iraq, then one day America invaded, then the next day I had a gun in my face, and then the next day I was like ‘F&*k this.’ So I left.”  And when you really think about it, that’s why most Arabs immigrate to America anyway.  They eventually just say ‘F&*k this.’

Well, Talib had an aunt in, of all places, Iowa.  He found refuge in the heartland of the country that had invaded his homeland. And you wonder why we Arabs are so messed up.

In Arabic, “Talib” means student, or “knowledge-seeker.”  Well, Talib studies business, and is definitely putting his classroom lessons to work. My trip to Iowa ended in Talib’s hookah café in Iowa City.  As I sat there enjoying laughs with Iraqis, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Moroccans, Somalis, & Yemenis, I actually said something I never thought would escape my lips:

“I can’t wait to go back to Iowa.”

* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian-American comedian, writer, and speaker living in Michigan. He is also the editor of “The Civil Arab” blog and has written a book called “Being Palestinian Makes Me Smile.” In addition, he is an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit–Mercy School of Law.

Coming Attractions And Poetry For Sunday

Called an executive meeting with myself on the status of the quiz for New Year’s weekend. The quizmaster decided he wanted to take yet another weekend off. Not wanting to make him mad, an executive decision was made to give him yet another week off. He will be back next week or his contract will be reopened, if you know what I mean!

Meanwhile, we stumbled on a couple of interesting videos on freespeech.org. For those who do not have Free Speech TV on their cable can get it on their computers here. With the neutering of MSNBC by their new owner Comcast, FSTV seems to be the last bastion of progressive politics on TV and deserves our support.

From FSTV’s “Ring Of Fire”

The following is the beginning of an episode of “Bioneers.” Normally Bioneers is a half hour speech or interaction around science and the environment. I found this poetry to be captivating and inspiring and wanted to share it:

Happy New Year From Blog For Iowa!

happy new year 2016

Some Pictorial Memories Of 2015

Sorry folks, no quiz today. The old quizmaster has been making rather merry this week.

But lets take a slow walk through some illustrations from the past year:

And Happy Holidays To All

And Happy Holidays To All

starbucks cup

Lawrence eviscerates Republicans

fugelsang republicans love government

This Changes Everything

Hillary Clinton Walking to the Stage at S.T. Morrison Park, Coralville, Iowa, Nov. 3, 2015

Hillary Clinton Walking to the Stage at S.T. Morrison Park, Coralville, Iowa, Nov. 3, 2015

let'sbeclear

Fallon Hrdina

Demonstrators Filing into Rep. Dave Loebsack's Iowa City Office

Demonstrators Filing into Rep. Dave Loebsack’s Iowa City Office

five stages of conservative grief

five stages of conservative grief

Bernie on the economy

State Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City)

State Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City)

apathy quote

Death Of A Legend

Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

Reprinted with permission from the January 2016 issue of  The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter, available only in hard copy for $12/yr.!!  Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.

 

If that ____-sucking mother-_____ tries to bust my _____, I’ll ______tear him a new _____. –Mark Smith

At the end of November, a check for a subscription renewal and sustaining fund contribution arrived in the Prairie Progressive mailbox from Mark Smith, former president of the Iowa Federation of Labor. Smith died a week later at his home in Des Moines. He was 71.

Smith was many things: labor activist, former school board member, disability rights advocate, co-founder of the Iowa Policy Project, member of the American Federation of Teachers, provocateur, watchdog, bulldog, conscience, Chicago Cubs fan.  He perfected the popular image of a labor thug, cramming as many obscenities into his sentences as was linguistically possible. But his letters-to-the-editor were concise gems, skewering the venalities and hypocrisies of politicians and
corporations without wasting a word.

Over the years, Mark picked the right fights: Ipsco, right-to-work, Equal Rights Amendment, scope of bargaining, fair share. In the mid-nineties, David Stanley’s Iowans for Tax Relief was at its most powerful.  Stanley engineered a measure on the statewide ballot for a constitutional amendment that would require any tax increase proposed by the General Assembly to pass with a 60% majority.  Smith rallied the troops against what looked like a landslide. He won. So did the people of Iowa.

Smith knew that smaller fights were necessary, too. With his passing, who will make sure that elected officials, candidates, and publications (including the Prairie Progressive) who profess to be pro-labor always use union printers?

Smith was no saint. He wasn’t always right, and he could be a bully who brooked no dissent, but his legacy as a champion for working people is unassailable.

####

When the Obama administration rolled out healthcare.gov for the Affordable Care Act more than two years ago, the web site was widely mocked and panned as “botched,” boneheaded,” and “a disaster.” The Government Accountability Office concluded that the administration failed to provide “effective planning or oversight practices.”  In comparison, the Branstad administration’s attempt to move Iowa’s Medicaid program into private hands makes the ACA roll-out look like a masterpiece of flawless execution.

Contracts between the state’s chosen managed care organizations and local care providers haven’t been signed. Medicaid recipients have only received confusing information packets since Thanksgiving, with just a few weeks to pick a new MCO for services. Families, especially those with adult children who have received stable support for years, can’t get answers from the MCOs, the state, or their legislators, who have been frozen out of the process by an increasingly intransigent and dictatorial Governor who dismisses their concerns as “fear of change.”

560,000 Iowans and their families will be drastically affected by this massive privatization that Branstad announced less than a year ago, after never mentioning it during his re-election campaign. The Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services has to approve the state’s plan. Everyone from the Iowa Hospital Association, Iowa’s Democratic state senators, and Congressman Loebsack, to thousands of Medicaid recipients in Iowa, have written to CMS, urging them to stop this plan or at least slow it down to give families a chance to figure it out.

There is still time to add your voice by emailing andy.slavitt@cms.hhs.gov.

– Prairie Dog

Happy Holidays

And Happy Holidays To All

And Happy Holidays To All

And A Wish For A Hawkeye Victory.

I want to thank all those who take a look at our posts throughout the year. We do what we can to try to make sense of happenings in Iowa and the world.

If there has been one trend that sticks out to me more and more every year it is simply: the power of greed. Greed more than anything else seems to drive almost everything today. From starting wars and wasting our youth just so armament companies can make gazillions to the insane interpretation of the second amendment that seems to be only for the purpose of selling more and more guns.

We have politicians that openly take what are basically bribes now since United Citizens has taken effect. This rant could go for a long time.

However, everyone needs to take some time to be with family and to recharge. The winter holidays come at a great time to do just that. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Jule or even the good old Saturnalia be sure to enjoy this time.

And here is a wish that the New Year brings us a good president, congress and legislature that will have the real needs of the citizenry in mind.

Oh and a would it be too much to hope for a Hawkeye victory in the Rose Bowl?

ICYMI: What Exxon Knew

In case you missed it: One of the biggest climate change stories of 2015 has to be the uncovering of documents that showed that Exxon Mobil were quite aware of the damage their company and other fossil fuel companies were doing to the world’s climate. As a matter of fact Exxon scientists were often among the first to realize the coming disaster.

If you think this doesn’t relate to Iowa think of some of the ‘500 year floods’ we have had in the past couple of decades; think of corn burning up in tremendous drought; think of temperatures in the past week in the 60s in Iowa in December and what the consequences of a mild winter may be. Also think that this is just the beginning and our children and grandchildren will be paying greatly for the lack of political will to face these problems. Also understand that the lack of political will to face the coming crisis was greased with billions of dollars of “campaign contributions” to politicians who suddenly lost their political will with the huge dollars from the polluters.

We are facing a crisis of unknown proportions simple so that a group of billionaires could make more money.

The video was posted last Tuesday as news of Exxon’s complicity was revealed. As I seldom consume major media news I must say I have no idea if the story got much play. My guess is it didn’t, even as the Paris Climate Talks were under way at the time.

From the youtube.com entry for this video here is the list of corroborating documents:

Published on Dec 8, 2015
Newly released documents show that scientists at Exxon Oil Corporation conducted research on climate change and the greenhouse effect in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their conclusions were in accord with mainstream scientific groups in academia, NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Energy, showing that global warming posed a serious problem, with potential “catastrophic effects.”

Read the documents here: http://insideclimatenews.org/search_d…

Read the Inside Climate series here
http://insideclimatenews.org/news/150…

Read the Los Angeles Times reporting here:
http://graphics.latimes.com/exxon-arc…

Read the letter from Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll to Exxon:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/20…