Republicans and Wall Street are Sticking it to Consumers, Again

Wall Street, Greed

Jerry Waters, Contributor

In another blatant and shameless move to screw over consumers so that Wall Street can get away fraud without fear of meaningful punishment, the Republican-led Congress just passed a bill that would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for customers to sue banks without going through mandatory third-party arbitration.

The problem is that the people doing the arbitration are hired by Wall Street. Not exactly a disinterested “third-party”, are they? The other big problem is that these arbitration proceedings are done in secret and that they don’t have to follow the same procedures as a court of law.

This egregious legislation comes right after Wells Fargo Bank was caught red-handed signing up thousands of their customers for banking products without their knowledge. It comes on the heels of Equifax negligently allowing their customer’s data to be hacked and dragging their feet in notifying them and fixing the problem.

Also, this comes at a time when the Trump administration is doing everything it can to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) because it wants less regulations for banks and Wall Street. Republicans have this bizarre philosophy that it’s ok to screw people over if it’s buried somewhere in the fine print. They really believe that banks should be able to take huge risks with your money and that if things don’t pan out, you shouldn’t complain and you certainly shouldn’t try to hold financial institutions responsible. You know, buyer beware. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the last push toward deregulation lead right into the collapse of the housing market and into The Great Recession?

The CFPB rule would stopped banks from forcing customers to sign mandatory arbitration agreements and it would allow them to join together in class-action suits and file other types of legal challenges. Ironically, even if consumers had the ability to sue banks for fraud and other malfeasance, the banks still have a monumental advantage because they have armies of well-paid attorneys to defend them.

Of course, Republicans argued that the price of credit cards and banking would go up and that consumers would suffer if they had the ability to sue banks for their fraudulent practices. Republicans don’t want to talk about how banks routinely screw people out of money and get away with it. They don’t want to talk about how fines are usually a mere slap on the wrist or how blatant criminal activity by top executives is either ignored or rewarded with a giant gold parachute. Republicans really don’t want to talk about the crazy amount of cash they receive as campaign contributions from Wall Street.

Trump and his rich cronies hate the CFPB and they will continue to do everything they can dilute consumer protections in the market. When Richard Cordray, head of the CFPB, remarked, “Wall Street won and ordinary people lost.”, he was met with an unusually rude response from Sen. Tom Cotton who replied, ““The unelected Mr. Cordray issued yet another stupid regulation that would have hurt consumers, the people’s democratically elected representatives voted to stop the regulation, and now Mr. Cordray whines that Congress stopped his stupid regulation. It’s well past time for Mr. Cordray to resign and begin his long-expected losing campaign for Governor of Ohio. If he won’t, President Trump should fire him.” Yeah, it’s not too hard to figure out who Cotton is in bed with, is it?

Folks, this is just the beginning of Trump’s many gifts to the wealthy. As he continues his insane push for more deregulation, more people are going to be hurt and more consumers are going to get screwed.

You’re about to get trumped right in the….

Prosecuting cross-over voters just more Republican intimidation

voter, suppression

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and the Alabama Republican Party should be ashamed of themselves, but we know that they are incapable of shame. That would infer that they had some degree of political conscious. It would also mean that they wanted more people to participate in the election process given the dismal turn-out numbers, but their actions show that’s clearly not the case.

Last year, Alabama legislators in the Republican supermajority passed a bill making it a felony for voters who participated in a partisan primary to vote later in the runoff of the opposing party. There wasn’t any significant effort to educate voters about the rule change and it appears that 676 Alabama voters, all Democrats, unwittingly violated this absurd law.

John Merrill wants to put them in jail and ruin their lives with a felony conviction.

At every turn, Republicans have tried to make it harder for people in Alabama to vote. Obsessed with the fantasy of rampant voter fraud, they’ve passed voter ID laws which are nothing more than a poll tax. Now, they’re threatening to put in people in jail and label them as lifelong felons just because they may not have understood this new ridiculous law. This is nothing more than intimidation and another Republican ploy to keep poor and minority voters away from the polls.

Perhaps, it would be a much better use of Merrill’s time to expand voting rights. Maybe, we could increase early voting or change the election day to Saturday or Sunday so that people wouldn’t have to take off work to cast a ballot. It may sound crazy, but shouldn’t we be more focused on automatic voter registration instead of creating more barriers to exercising a fundamental American right?

If we’re going to have this stupid cross-over voting law, wouldn’t it make sense to register by party affiliation like they do in other states? Well, it would make sense unless you’re a Republican hoping to put some voters in jail as a way to intimidate Democrats from showing up to the polls.

Their efforts to suppress voting aren’t all that surprising considering the lengths they’ve travelled to implement widespread gerrymandering in Alabama. Since they can’t seem to win with their regressive policies, they’ve taken to rigging the system every chance they get so they can falsely claim they have a huge legislative mandate. It’s time for Alabama Democrats to make this a central campaign issue and call these cheaters out publicly as often as possible.

Alabama Republicans have been hard at work for years trying to suppress voting and gerrymandering districts because they know that demographics are rapidly changing. They know that their predominantly older, white male base is shrinking rapidly. They know that less people are falling for their faux morality and bogus family values platform. They know that if they make it harder to vote, less people will exercise their rights and that plays right into their nefarious plan.

We’ve got to do more than just make legal challenges. We’ve got to make sure that the people of Alabama understand how this is impacting them. We can do that by making sure the media covers this issue. We can also challenge our current leadership to discuss these issues publicly. We can’t be satisfied with voter suppression being third page news. It negatively affects everyone in the state.

John Merrill and his Republican cronies need to quit messing with our voting rights. Instead, he should be focused on doing his job, which should include making it easier for all eligible voters in Alabama to exercise their rights.

Jailing cross-over voters and giving them a felony record is a pathetic waste of taxpayer dollars and a travesty. Stop this insanity.

Drug Companies and Doctors to Blame for Opioid Crisis

opioid crisis

Clete Wetli, Contributor

Since 2000, over 200,000 Americans have died of opioid overdoses. Let that sink in. Yet, Big Pharma is still manufacturing opioids painkillers as fast as they can and doctors may as well be handing them out like bagged candy that goes into Pez dispensers. In the meantime, drug manufacturers have poured millions into lobbying Congress and have hired a slew of former DEA operatives to combat efforts to end the overprescribing of painkillers and their diversion to the street.

In the meantime, Americans are dying at unprecedented rate. If they’re not dying from the legally obtained prescription drugs in their medicine cabinet, they’re dying from cheap heroin obtained on the street often laced with fentanyl.

As Trump attempts to destroy Obamacare, he neglects to mention that one of the mandated, essential health benefits that he wants to abolish is the provision for adequate and affordable mental health care and substance abuse treatment. Prior to Obamacare, many health insurance policies did not cover behavioral health treatment or the coverage was demonstrably inadequate. It seems that the Trump administration’s answer is to levy harsher punishments on addicts rather than attacking the source of the problem- Big Pharma and doctors.

The legal system continues to stigmatize methadone treatment, and other forms of medical maintenance for addiction, in the face of all evidence that proves its effectiveness. Instead, a system has been created that penalizes people for trying to manage their addiction and, ultimately, become drug-free. The real culprits, the corporate pill pushers, are making billions off America’s pain. To them, addiction isn’t a disease, it’s a highly profitable industry.

As the Washington Post recently showed in the stunning article “The Drug Industry’s Triumph Over The DEA”, pharmaceutical giants have figured out how to beat the DEA and Congress at their own game by buying influence and offering high-paying jobs to the government employees who would expose them. The drug industry also looks at multi-million dollar fines as simply the cost of doing business because the fines are only a scant fraction of the enormous profits they make every single year. Obviously, they look at the death toll as just another cost of doing business.

In America, we are still fighting a failed War on Drugs by failing to address the root of the problem. We have resorted to mass incarceration for users, while continuing to allow drug manufacturers to get away with murder. We celebrate rich pharmaceutical company executives as winners and demonize addicts as losers with no chance for redemption. We fail to fund treatment. We spend more on interdiction than education. We impose harsh penalties for drugs like marijuana and equate it with heroin, while simultaneously creating more highly addictive prescription medication. We ignore evidence-based practices and worry more about assigning blame than finding solutions.

It’s clear that the problem will persist until America gets serious about changing the rules that allow drug companies to shower politicians with cash. Obviously, the death toll is something we’ve learned to live with, just like we’ve come to accept higher numbers of casualties in mass shootings. We’ve convinced ourselves that we’re somehow helpless and hopeless when it comes to solving these problems.

First, let’s stop the flow of pharmaceutical lobbying money to Congress. Second, let’s change the law so the DEA can stop drug manufacturers from flooding our streets with opioids. Third, let’s prosecute doctors who are overprescribing and making a fortune off addiction. Last, but most important, let’s demand that people have access to affordable mental health and drug treatment in their health insurance plans.

Not all drugs or drug addicts are the same and we’ve got to get smart about America’s drug use, abuse, and addictions. It’s time to go after those who are making the problem worse while laughing all the way to the bank.

Forget the “Just Say No” bullshit and try “Just Say Yes” to giving people an opportunity to recover.

Trump’s Sodomization of Evangelical Christianity

trump, evangelical, christian

Jerry Waters, Contributor

Irony is a weak and wanting description of the raunchy affair that Evangelical Christians are having with a man whose immorality is breathtaking and his ethics groundbreakingly perverse, the boorish Chauvinist, Donald Trump. He’s not simply the political religious hypocrite we’ve come to expect, he’s metaphorically, deliberately, and enthusiastically sodomizing Evangelical Christianity. The sad part is that they love every minute of it and they’re begging for more.

This was obvious at the Value Voters Summit recently that featured keynote speaker, Trump. The Summit was sponsored by the Family Research Council, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its relentless and bigoted attacks on the LGBTQ community. In fact, the material handed out at the event featured a pamphlet titled, “The Health Hazards of Homosexuality” designed to stir up animus against people with different gender and sexual identities. In Trumpian fashion, they have attacked the SPLC calling it, wait for it, a hate group.

Trump’s big nugget of wisdom was to announce that in America “We don’t worship government, we worship God” and that thanks to his unmatched covfefe, we can all say, “Merry Christmas” again. He said this malarkey during the same week he yanked insurance subsidies and allowed junk healthcare plans to flood the market. He’s just so Christian and it shows. Michelle Bachman said so when she pointed out that, when religious zealots ask Trump to pray, he unconvincingly says, “Sure”.

Evangelical Christians have invited Trump’s sodomy because they care more about amassing political power than the values they pretend to promote. If they sincerely held these solid, traditional Christian beliefs, then there is no conceivable way they could ever align with Trump. Even under the poor excuse of “all have sinned/ no one is perfect”, Trump remains an repentant heretic on every imaginable level. A cursory examination of his business practices, his personal life, his political agenda, or his media career all show him to be a horny, lying secularist whose only interests are juvenilely selfish and self-aggrandizing. Yet, the most vocally pious beg for him to defile them in the most obscene and public ways.

The Evangelicals are allowing Trump to sodomize their belief system because of their warped interpretation of the meaning of religious liberty and their unquenchable thirst for political power. To them, it is not the right of others to worship or not as they choose, it is, instead, the divinely granted right to discriminate and hate others that do not conform to their rigid religious beliefs and practices. In its most perfunctory form, it is unabashed condescension and, in its most vile form, it is the institutionalization of legal prejudice and enforced inequality.

People of faith should see this unholy tryst with Trump as a clear sign that their church is in peril. They should abhor how Trump has usurped religiosity for his own nefarious purpose. Instead, they seem to be swallowing his gilded bullshit with a long-handled spoon, praying that America will become a white Christian-only summer camp.

As horrible as Trump is as a person, it is diminished by the sins of Evangelical Christian leaders who are eagerly selling out their morality and ethics to an obvious charlatan. They prey upon the stupidity of their followers and they demonize others because they intrinsically know that’s what keeps their coffers full.

The Evangelicals are upset that church attendance keeps falling, but maybe they should look to their own leadership for the answers. Allowing Trump to pretend he is a person of faith may be the single most detrimental event for modern Christianity.

People of faith must open their eyes and say no to Trump. Agnostics and atheists must recognize the real and present danger that Trump and his strange bedfellows pose to America. They must come to the realization that he is the antithesis of all their values and ideals.

In the meantime, the sodomy will continue and the religious right will cherish its role as Trump’s subservient whore.

Let’s move Alabama from Worst to First

alabama, crossroads, worst, first

Charles Miller, Contributor

Every time a new national ranking of education, the economy, or health comes out, a lot of us say, “Thank God for Mississippi”.  We can always find someplace worse, but the fact is that Alabama is being hung out to dry. Our representatives in Montgomery are not doing anything to improve things. We’re the worst, when we should be first. We all know excuses are not good enough – Alabama can do much better.   I think the way we should react to news that students keep failing basic skills tests – it’s not the students that are failing, it’s the schools.  So, it’s apparent that it’s the politicians that are to blame, not the people who are stretched thin, just trying to make ends meet.

Speaking of education, Alabama is at, or near, the bottom in K-12 schools.  Take math scores for instance – the skill that matters most for technical jobs that pay well – Alabama is ranked 50th.  Our schools are also near the bottom in college readiness, leaving most of our students with little hope for a better future. What have our leaders done to Improve that? Nothing that amounts to anything significant.  We know that our students can do much better, and they do when given the opportunity – it’s our education system that is failing, not the students and not the parents.

On economy and jobs, we are at the bottom.  It’s as if Alabama refused to participate in economic recovery.  While the rest of the nation is rising, Alabama lags behind, but it’s not because people aren’t working hard, it’s because of lack of opportunity and a failure of leadership.   Our state is 48th in employment with just over half the potential workforce employed. We rank 48th in business environment, according to the Statistical Atlas, – and most of our representatives say they are “pro-business”.  We are not convinced.

We are being misled when we look at the “unemployment” rate.  Nearly half, who are not employed, are stay-at-home parents. Of course, that can be a good thing when it’s possible for one parent to earn enough to support the family. That’s not what’s happening. When earnings are so low, especially in rural areas, it is difficult for one working parent to make a living wage for their family. When median income is less than $24,000 that can be largely impossible.  Among young adults age 20 – 24, the unemployment rate is staggering at 15 – 13 %. Every day I hear from people who are cobbling together multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet.  So, it’s not surprising that a third of Alabama’s children live in poverty. That makes for a poor economy and a poor future for our state.

In health, we are predictably near the bottom again.  Our healthcare is some of the most expensive and our outcomes the worst. Tragically, Alabama is 50th in infant mortality and near the bottom in healthcare for children and adults.  It’s a bit of a puzzle, isn’t it?  We pay more and get less, live sicker, and die broke.  The worst thing about this is that healthcare is so politicized and our political leaders seem to lack the will to come up with practical solutions to make healthcare affordable and accessible.

Then, there is the grocery tax.  Only a handful of states charge sales tax on groceries and only three, including Alabama, apply the full rate to groceries to be consumed at home.  This unpopular regressive tax that hurts families could be eliminated and replaced by new sources of revenue that have broad public support, but again, our politicians lack the will to implement those solutions.  And that’s just one example of many taxes that hurt all of us.

There are solutions for all these issues and in the coming months I’ll be talking about them. But more importantly, I’ll be listening to the people who live with those kitchen table issues every day.  Too few of our representatives are really listening. Too many representatives are unwilling to discuss, let alone implement, innovative and effective solutions. We need new blood in the legislature to take Alabama from worst to first.

Trump Response to Puerto Rico is Simply Deranged

trump, puerto rico

Clete Wetli, Contributor

It’s tough to accept that there are still so many stupid peoples in our country that worship at the gaudy sham altar of Trump, but even if you’ve only got two brain cells to rub together, then you must admit that his shitty tweets to the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico are literally deranged. There is no justification or excuse for Trump’s words. There’s no apology or media spin that makes it any better.

We’ve painfully endured his obvious incompetence and unbridled narcissism for almost a year. We’ve watched the verbal diarrhea of lies spew from his lips every day since he soiled the oath of office. We’ve gasped as he and his staff have violated every code of ethics and sullied every governmental promise. Yet, his juvenile tweets disparaging the Americans in Puerto Rico has fully shown that his low has no limits, and that his conscience is nonexistent.

Donald Trump is legitimately and irreparably mentally ill. Professionals know this but don’t want to say for fear of political retribution. In your heart, you know this, too. He requires mental health care, and due to his age, it’s not likely to make any substantive difference. He is consumed with pathological narcissism (See DSM-V diagnosis) and he has no real, workable sense of morality. Trump has always been this way in his past and will always be this way until he dies. Aside from his twisted affection for his eldest daughter, Trump shows no love or loyalty to anyone but himself.

People are suffering and dying in Puerto Rico. Trump hasn’t listened to them and he is failing to help them. He’s made excuses and he’s pretended, like always, that his efforts have been a success in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Fuck, he’s angrily blaming the victims of a hurricane that destroyed an entire island. He’s vilifying a leader who’s waded through floodwaters to help her people. He’s beyond disgusting, beyond wrong.

He is ostensibly a fraud and truly a despicable human being. Folks can try to explain away his reprehensible past, but they’ll never be able to justify what he’s doing now. He is not worthy of an ounce of respect and he defiles the presidency. He is nothing more than a bully and nothing less than vulgar entitled prick.

After the charlatan was elected, so many people implored me to give him a chance; swearing that he would rise somehow to the demands of leadership. I honestly had no choice and I watched with deep skepticism. At every turn, he not only failed, he found new ways to profane our democracy and the institutions we hold dear. With Trump, there have been many straws that would break any animal’s back, but Puerto Rico is now the thing that truly shows the deep affliction of his character and the emptiness of his soul.

There is no redemption for Trump. No way to make it better. People are dying and suffering and he could care less about their plight. He is a cruel joke that shows the world the worst of our country and what happens when self-governance is placed in the hands of fools.

Half of our country didn’t even bother to vote. Half don’t even know that the people of Puerto Rico are Americans. They, like Trump, don’t really give a shit about anything but themselves. Trump knows better, but chooses only to do whatever will play to his base and bolster his brand. This is Trump’s America and it shows how fragile our democracy is and why we must never let this happen again.

My heart goes out to Puerto Rico. We must never forget Trump’s response. Hopefully, this is a turning point for our nation.