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Senator Warren- It Worked

July 21, 2014 | By Elizabeth Warren

Not long ago, I was at a McDonald's when a man came over, held out his hand and said he had been having trouble with a fee his bank had charged. It wasn't huge, but he said the bank should not have charged him. He called and argued, talked with customer relations, asked to speak to a manager -- and he got a big, fat zero.

Then he said he remembered about the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and told the bank he would file a complaint. They put him on hold and then came back and said they would reverse the fee. The agency worked.

Today is the fourth anniversary of Dodd-Frank, the law that established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- and the third anniversary of the date the CFPB became an independent agency. And in those three years, the agency has done a lot to help level the playing field:

The CFPB has forced big financial companies to return more than $4 billion dollars to consumers they cheated.
The CFPB has put in place rules to protect consumers from a whole host of dangerous financial products and to make sure that companies can't issue the kinds of deceptive mortgages that contributed to millions of foreclosures.
The CFPB has helped tens of thousands of consumers resolve complaints against financial institutions that cheated them.

Sure, there is a lot of financial reform work left undone. The big banks today are dramatically bigger than they were in 2008 and they are taking on new risks, and I think that means we need a 21st Century Glass-Steagall law to break them up. But I celebrate the progress we've had so far: When big banks have to listen to their customers a little more, the playing field starts to level out just a little bit more.


Crossing Borders


Last Tuesday, a crowd of angry people gathered on a road in Oracle, Arizona, a small town near Tucson. They’d heard that about fifty children from Central America—some of the unaccompanied thousands who have crossed the border in recent months—were being brought to a youth home nearby, and they wanted to turn them back. Then someone spotted a yellow bus down the highway. “Bus coming in,” Adam Kwasman, a Republican state legislator, tweeted. “This is not compassion. This is the abrogation of the rule of law.” With supporters and cameramen in tow, he charged toward the bus. It drove away, but not, Kwasman told a reporter, before he had got a look at the passengers. “I was able to actually see some of the children in the bus—and the fear on their faces,” he said. The reporter replied, “You know that was a bus with Y.M.C.A. kids?” Only slightly ruffled, Kwasman acknowledged that he had made “a mistake,” as did many amused headline writers (“ARIZONA POLITICIAN MISTAKES Y.M.C.A. CAMPERS FOR MIGRANT CHILDREN”).

Since last October, nearly forty-four thousand Central American children have been apprehended at the border, after making their way across Mexico; in the 2012 fiscal year, by comparison, there were about ten thousand. Many were fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador; their parents, fearing for their lives, had sent them north. Others were looking for relatives who were already in this country. As holding cells in detention centers filled up with small figures wrapped in Red Cross blankets, the situation presented a humanitarian crisis. That is why children were being sent to places like Oracle.

All this, according to Barack Obama’s critics, is his fault—the result of his unwillingness to protect the border. In 2012, after the Dream Act failed to pass, the President signed an executive order allowing undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country as minors prior to 2007, and who met certain other conditions, to remain here, at least temporarily. The children making their way to the border now don’t qualify, but their parents don’t know that, the critics contend. Another problem, as they see it, is the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, signed by George W. Bush, which says that any child from a country not adjacent to the United States—that is, not Mexico or Canada—who appears at the border unaccompanied must be given an immigration hearing. The purpose of the law is to see whether such a child has a legal right to stay, as, perhaps, a political refugee; for that reason, it is wrong to presumptively call the border children illegal.

The President has said that part of his plan for dealing with the crisis is to speed up those hearings; he has asked Congress for three billion seven hundred million dollars, emphasizing that the money would be used not only to shelter the children but also to facilitate deportations. (During Obama’s first term, the average number of deportations per year was close to four hundred thousand, compared with two hundred and fifty thousand under President Bush.) John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, said last week that the President would not get anything close to that figure unless changes were made to the 2008 law, which, Boehner said, was being “abused.” Senator Ted Cruz said that he’d require undoing the 2012 executive order as well.


The Last Hope for Extending Long-Term Unemployment Insurance May Have Just Gone Poof

—By Patrick Caldwell |

It's been seven months since Congress let long-term unemployment insurance benefits lapse, but last week only brought more bad news for the job seekers hoping that House Republicans might relent and allow a vote on extending benefits. When the House passed a temporary patch to the Highway Trust Fund on Tuesday, they tapped into an idea called pension smoothing to pay for the cost—an accounting trick that changes the formula companies use for contributing to pensions, but a necessary measure since Republicans in the House have refused to approve spending unless it's offset by new revenue. The only problem? That was the same mechanism Democrats had planned to use to pay for an unemployment insurance bill, leaving liberals at a loss for how to convince the GOP to get on board with an extension of unemployment benefits.

"The Republican majority says suffer some more families, you deserve it," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said outside the Capitol last Wednesday afternoon. "Stop fiddling while Rome burns, while these folks have nowhere to go."

DeLauro was one of a string of speakers at the fifth Witness Wednesday event, a regular gathering convened on the Capitol lawn by the Center for Effective Government to highlight the stalled legislation. At the event, a series of Democratic House members—including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)—and the heads of various nonprofits read letters from unemployed Americans calling for Congressional action. But there was a distinct lack of unemployed people in attendance to speak for themselves; as a spokeswoman for the Center for Effective Government told me beforehand, it's a constituency that typically lacks the funds to travel to DC to press their cause. (There are plenty of unemployed people in DC, of course, but they also lack elected representation).

The absence of widespread public pressure has been part of Democrats' problem as they push for renewing benefits. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), the sponsor of the House's unemployment bill, told me he doesn't think Republicans will budge unless public pressure mounts. "People outside of Washington have to get engaged. We can't fix it alone."



Louisiana Warden Considers End to Inmate’s Solitary Confinement After More Than Three Decades

By Blake Bakkila, Annabel Edwards, Edward Ferguson and Alexa Santos
The Medill Justice Project
Published: July 19, 2014

ANGOLA, La.—A man who has spent 35 years in solitary confinement—one of the longest stints in a U.S. prison—may soon be released into the general inmate population. In an exclusive interview today outside the gates of the largest prison in America, Warden Burl Cain of the Louisiana State Penitentiary said he is prepared to take Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore out of what is known as closed cell restriction if the inmate, who is 59 years old, no longer represents a safety risk.

“We will get him out,” Cain said. He added, “We’d rather him out. I need his cell. I’ve got some young people, predators, that need to be in that cell. When I can conclude he’s not going to cause me the blues, then he can come out of the cell.”

The warden’s remarks came as a result of an impromptu interview with students of The Medill Justice Project investigating Whitmore’s case and the issue of solitary confinement.

Cain, who oversees a prison of more than 6,000 inmates, said he would personally meet Whitmore, who was convicted of murder nearly 40 years ago, in the next two weeks to discuss the matter. If Cain, a devout Christian who talks about inmates’ moral rehabilitation, is convinced that Whitmore isn’t a threat, he said he will transfer the inmate in a matter of months. But first, Cain said he would monitor Whitmore’s letters and telephone calls to see if the prisoner has sincerely changed.

Last year, Whitmore filed by pen a federal suit in Baton Rouge against the warden and other prison officials, claiming his imprisonment in solitary confinement violated his constitutional rights, including the Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.


35 years is torture.

The Hexagon

Vortex and Rings

The Cassini spacecraft captures three magnificent sights at once: Saturn's north polar vortex and hexagon along with its expansive rings.
The hexagon, which is wider than two Earths, owes its appearance to the jet stream that forms its perimeter. The jet stream forms a six-lobed, stationary wave which wraps around the north polar regions at a latitude of roughly 77 degrees North.

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 37 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on April 2, 2014 using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 752 nanometers.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.4 million miles (2.2 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 43 degrees. Image scale is 81 miles (131 kilometers) per pixel.


Israeli shells hit Gaza hospital, kill four -medics

Source: Reuters

An Israeli tank shell hit the third floor of Al-Aqsa hospital in the central Gaza Strip on Monday, killing four people and wounding 16, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said.

The spokesman said the third floor housed an intensive care unit and operating theatres. Other shells had fallen around the hospital, he added, with officials calling on the Red Cross to help evacuate patients.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment. In the past it has accused Hamas Islamist militants of firing rockets from the grounds of Gaza hospitals and of seeking refuge in the buildings.

Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/21/palestinians-israel-hospital-idUSL6N0PW35M20140721

Mars rover Curiosity finds 'Lebanon' on Red Planet aka huge iron meteorite

NASA says its Mars rover Curiosity has come across its first meteorite on the surface of the Red Planet, and reports it's a whopper.

The iron meteor scientists have dubbed "Lebanon" is almost 7 feet wide, and sits next to a smaller meteorite tagged as "Lebanon B," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., reported.

The photos of the meteorites were released this week although Curiosity discovered the twin space rocks in May, JPL scientists said.

"Heavy Metal! I found an iron meteorite on Mars," Curiosity's handlers wrote on the mission's Twitter page.



Sam Brownback’s Kansas Catastrophe

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback should be coasting to re-election this fall. The soft-spoken son of a Kansas pig farmer is the conservative governor of a deep red state, and he’s running in a year when Republicans will likely have a national advantage over Democrats. Instead, Brownback is now fighting for political survival in what his detractors call the theocratic dictatorship of “Brownbackistan.”

If Brownbackistan were running surpluses with essential services humming along, the governor would probably be fending off rumors of a 2016 presidential run. Instead, he is locked in a tight race with the House Minority Leader Paul Davis, who led Brownback by 6 points in a recent SurveyUSA poll and has been endorsed by more than 100 current and former Republican officials. Last week, the Cook Political Report moved the November contest from a likely Republican win to a pure toss-up.

Wint Winter, a former state senator who has known Brownback since he was 14, is one of the Republicans backing Davis.

“I had hoped that it wouldn’t be as extreme as it’s been,” Winter told The Daily Beast of Brownback’s tenure. “I knew from Sam’s time in the Senate that he had a passionate affection for social issues, but what we didn't know was that Sam would use this state as crash test dummies for his own fiscal experiments. We have people in our group who are moved by different issues, but all of them come back to the fact that Sam did not have the right to use Kansas as an experiment.”

The experiment that Winter referred to is a sweeping income tax cut plan that Brownback enacted in 2011, which eliminated income taxes for small businesses, cut the highest income tax rates by 25 percent, and made smaller cuts for people with lower rates. Brownback has also signed bills cutting state budgets, declared that life begins “at fertilization,” and created an “Office of the Repealer” to eliminate state laws, regulations and agencies. He’s also ended guaranteed teacher tenure, and narrowed eligibility for welfare and Medicaid.



Monday Toon Roundup 3- The Rest







Monday Toon Roundup 2- The Cycle of Violence

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