Consumer Bureau Loses Fight to Allow More Class-Action Suits – The New York Times

“Senate Republicans voted on Tuesday to strike down a sweeping new rule that would have allowed millions of Americans to band together in class-action lawsuits against financial institutions.The overturning of the rule, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-to-50 tie, will further loosen regulation of Wall Street as the Trump administration and Republicans move to roll back Obama-era policies enacted in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. By defeating the rule, Republicans are dismantling a major effort of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog created by Congress in the aftermath of the mortgage mess.

The rule, five years in the making, would have dealt a serious blow to financial firms, potentially exposing them to a flood of costly lawsuits over questionable business practices.For decades, credit card companies and banks have inserted arbitration clauses into the fine print of financial contracts to circumvent the courts and bar people from pooling their resources in class-action lawsuits. By forcing people into private arbitration, the clauses effectively take away one of the few tools that individuals have to fight predatory and deceptive business practices. Arbitration clauses have derailed claims of financial gouging, discrimination in car sales and unfair fees.

The new rule written by the consumer bureau, which was set to take effect in 2019, would have restored the right of individuals to sue in court. It was part of a spate of actions by the bureau, which has cracked down on debt collectors, the student loan industry and payday lenders.”

David Lindsay Jr.:

This is a sad day for the American consumer.
Breathe the air while it is still clean,
and take the longer view for solace.
When the pendulum swings too far to the right,
guess where it swings next.

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Republicans Want to Sideline This Regulator. But It May Be Too Popular. – The New York Times

“Mr. Cordray says the criticism is a badge of honor. He believes the bureau’s work will have lasting ramifications.The bureau has curtailed abusive debt collection practices, reformed mortgage lending, publicized and investigated hundreds of thousands of complaints from aggrieved customers of financial institutions, and extracted nearly $12 billion for 29 million consumers in refunds and canceled debts.

This week, it began mailing out refund checks totaling $115 million to 60,000 people who had paid illegal fees to Morgan Drexen, a debt settlement company that collapsed two years ago.The agency has also rolled out the arbitration rule, and it has been putting the finishing touches on a rule that could reshape the multibillion-dollar payday lending industry.”

Making Sure Your Help Gets to Hurricane Harvey’s Victims – (Issues at the Red Cross) – NYT

“A 2015 investigation by ProPublica and NPR documented the Red Cross’s glaring failure to account for how it spent the $488 million it raised in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, including such basics as how many people were assisted and how much money was spent on overhead.”

The comments are helpful. There are endorsements for the Salvation Army, The Houston Food Bank, and religious relief organizations like the Episcopal Fund for Relief.

There is an endorsement for the United Way, and another comment criticizing it. Everyone agrees that we have to spend time at Charity Navigator or Charity Watch.

The Best Consumer Self-Advocacy Tool You’ve Never Used – The New York Times

“Even semiprofessional consumers like me run into our share of problems. These are particularly irksome, since we should probably know better than to find ourselves on the wrong end of a busted product or poorly delivered service.So this week, I’m pleased to share with you the single best tool I’ve ever found for getting my money back or my money’s worth. In fact, it has never failed me.

It’s called the Executive Email Carpet Bomb (E.E.C.B. for short) — a well-written message to the right group of corporate executives, whose email addresses are often pretty easy to figure out. A group of renegades at a blog called Consumerist first published the concept 10 years ago this month.”

The ‘Fix’ for Net Neutrality That Consumers Don’t Need – by Tim Wu – NYT

“In analyzing the attack on net neutrality, one looks in vain for the problem that needs to be fixed. Net neutrality refers to rules intended to ensure that broadband providers cannot block content or provide faster delivery to companies that pay more. The policy was put in place in the George W. Bush administration, where it enjoyed bipartisan support. In the years since, it has sheltered bloggers, nonprofit organizations like Wikipedia, smaller tech companies, TV and music streamers, and entrepreneurs from being throttled by providers like AT&T and Verizon that own the “pipes.” ”

Rule of thumb. If At&t and Comcast are for it, I’m against it. These jerks think customers are fleecing opportunities.

I recommend a video on youtube by John Oliver last year on this subject.

Here is a comment that I found helpful:

Jerry Xu

UK 1 day ago

Net neutrality is what encourages technological innovation and competition on the open internet.A s the article states, it means that the speed of internet that you pay for is the speed you get for all websites, all the time. How would anyone be opposed to that? Unfortunately, ISPs (internet service providers) such as your Verizons and your at&ts want to be able to get more money out of you and other online websites & companies by charging for the “fast lane” equivalent of internet connections, slowing down & throttling the connections of those who don’t pony up the money. The problem is that this so called “fast lane” of internet connections runs at literally the same speed as internet connections under the Net Neutrality laws. It’s not paying to run faster, it’s paying so you don’t get slowed down.

The point is, should Net Neutrality laws be abolished, ISPs like Comcast & Time Warner will be able to charge more monthly for internet services. So not only will consumer’s be charged the monthly/yearly fee for their internet, but they may be charged more for using certain online services like YouTube and Twitter. This is the internet equivalent of your electric company charging you extra for using it to power your desk fan. The company doesn’t have the right to charge you for what you use it for, only for the service itself. Furthermore, these ISPs most likely own TV & cable services & can dictate what competes & what doesn’t. Killing net neutrality kills the open internet.

Donald Trump’s Multi-Pronged Attack on the Internet – by Susan Crawford – NYT

“If there’s one thing that brings Americans together, it’s our hatred of the giant companies that sell us high-speed data services. Consumers routinely give Comcast, Charter (now Spectrum), Verizon, CenturyLink and AT&T basement-level scores for customer satisfaction. This collective resentment is fueled by the sense that we don’t have a choice when we sign up for their services.

By and large, we don’t: These five companies account for over 80 percent of wired subscriptions and have almost total power in their territories. According to the Federal Communications Commission, nearly 75 percent of Americans have at most one choice for high-speed data.

It’s about to get worse: President Trump’s F.C.C., under the leadership of its fiercely deregulatory chairman, Ajit Pai, wants to let these companies become even more powerful by letting them do whatever they want and allowing them to merge with one another.”

Hear Hear. Great piece by Susan Crawford.

Here is a comment I recommend:
Mark Thomason is a trusted commenter Clawson, Mich 6 hours ago
“My particular market has more choice. In the last few years, I’ve changed service to Wow, Comcast, and then ATT. Each time I changed because of arrogant abuse of customers that made it worth the considerable trouble.

I’m lucky to have these choices. They work for me. I’ve cut my bill by a third each time. It should be better, but I’ve got it a lot better than most.

From this I conclude that competition is key. We need more entrants to the market. We can have them, because as it happens I do, and it works fine.

Of course companies want monopolies. Of course they say they need them. Of course they say monopolies are inevitable. Of course those are lies.

The good news is that competition can be encouraged locally, not just top down from Washington. Cities can provide community WiFi service. Some have. Local companies can be set up. Public Utility Commissions are local, and they can have hearings and make rules.

If more people want better service, it can be done, and we don’t have to wait for Paul Ryan or Donald Trump to do it. That is an excuse. Go talk to your Mayor or City Manager. Button hole your County leaders at the Fourth of July parade. If you don’t know the problem, stop in to talk to the City Attorney at her office — she’ll welcome the billing opportunity and explain a lot.

You don’t have to sit there and just take it.”

114 Recommended

E.P.A. Chief- Rejecting Agency’s Science, Chooses Not to Ban Insecticide – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, moved late on Wednesday to reject the scientific conclusion of the agency’s own chemical safety experts who under the Obama administration recommended that one of the nation’s most widely used insecticides be permanently banned at farms nationwide because of the harm it potentially causes children and farm workers.

The ruling by Mr. Pruitt, in one of his first formal actions as the nation’s top environmental official, rejected a petition filed a decade ago by two environmental groups that had asked that the agency ban all uses of chlorpyrifos. The chemical was banned in 2000 for use in most household settings, but still today is used at about 40,000 farms on about 50 different types of crops, ranging from almonds to apples.”

Strawberries | EWG’s 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

I love my beautiful, inexpensive strawberries on granola, but this research means I have to forgo the daily poisoning.

Pesticides + Poison Gases = Cheap, Year-Round StrawberriesBy Bill Walker, Investigations Editor, and Sonya Lunder, Senior Analyst

“Americans eat nearly eight pounds of fresh strawberries a year – and with them, dozens of pesticides, including chemicals that have been linked to cancer and reproductive damage, or that are banned in Europe.

Strawberries tested by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2014 and 2015 contained an average of 7.7 different pesticides per sample, compared to 2.3 pesticides per sample for all other produce, according to a new EWG analysis.What’s worse, strawberry growers use jaw-dropping volumes of poisonous gases – some developed for chemical warfare but now banned by the Geneva Conventions – to sterilize their fields before planting, killing every pest, weed and other living thing in the soil.

For these reasons, strawberries are again on the top of the Dirty Dozen™ list for 2017. USDA tests found that strawberries were the fresh produce items most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues, even after they are picked, rinsed in the field and washed before eating.

If you want to avoid pesticides and don’t want strawberries grown in soil injected with nerve gases, EWG advises that you always buy organically grown berries. We make the same recommendation for other Dirty Dozen™ foods.”

Source: Strawberries | EWG’s 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

10 Household Cleaners To Avoid At All Costs – Organic Authority

“If you’re concerned about your health and helping the environment, your toxic household cleaners were likely the first to go. And for good reason. The household cleaning industry is largely unregulated and companies aren’t required to include ingredient lists for cleaning products, like they are for food, drugs and personal care products.Companies take advantage of that lack of regulation to make bogus claims about their cleaning products and to include toxic chemicals in their products without letting consumers know. Hidden behind vague terms or not stated at all, it’s hard to know just how bad these chemical concoctions really are for your health and for the environment.That’s why the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research organization known for its personal care product database, has created a new database that includes more than 2,000 household cleaners. The EWG ranked the cleaners based on how hazardous their ingredients are and how much information they include on their labels.The EWG plans to debut its EWG Cleaners Database in September 2012. In the meantime, the non-profit released a list of cleaners for its Hall of Shame. Take a look at some of the worst offenders the EWG has uncovered—so far.Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose CleanerPerhaps one of the worst because it undeservedly boasts the title “green”, this all-purpose cleaner from Simple Green contains 2-butoxyethanol, a solvent known to damage red blood cells and irritate eyes. Despite its “non-toxic” claims on its labeling, this all-purpose cleaner also contains a secret blend of alcohol ethoxylate surfactants; some chemicals in this family are banned in the European Union.

Even worse, the EWG notes that the company website instructs the user to significantly dilute this product when cleaning. Actually, Simple Green calls it “custom dilute,” as if it’s some fabulous product feature. Yet, the cleaner is packaged in a spray bottle that implies it can be used full strength, which means possible higher exposure to the toxic chemicals in this product. Awful.”

/10-household-cleaners-to-avoid-at-all-costs.html”>10 Household Cleaners To Avoid At All Costs – Organic Authority

Cancer warning labels on products: A cause for concern? – The Chart – CNN.com Blogs

By Elizabeth Landau CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

“For several months I have enjoyed recording digital music files through my keyboard, thanks to a simple device that connects it to my laptop. But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that the following label came with it: WARNING: This product contains chemicals, including lead, known to the State of California to cause cancer, and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.

I freaked out. How could a set of cables attached to a small blue blinking cylinder cause cancer? The USB connector and keyboard inputs seemed harmless enough, and I hadn’t felt obvious symptoms while making music. Was I risking my life for the sake of my four-person fan base?

So I called the company, M-Audio. Apparently, manufacturers have to put this label on certain products to comply with Proposition 65, a California law that requires a warning on anything containing lead or other hazardous substances found to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.”

Source: Cancer warning labels on products: A cause for concern? – The Chart – CNN.com Blogs

I just purchased an acrylic and latex shower mat, by Popular Bath, with the Proposition 65 warning on it. More on this later.