Since last fall, tens of thousands of migrant kids have streamed across the southern US border fleeing violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. When they arrive, many are held in overcrowded, unsanitary, and freezing-cold detention centers, and most are left to fend for themselves in immigration hearings because they lack legal representation. The US treatment of migrant kids might be better if the country had ratified an international treaty called the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. That document that would have required lawmakers to consider the "best interests of the child" in crafting policy. But despite decades of pressure from human rights activists, the United States has refused to sign on to the treaty, largely because social conservatives believe it would force Americans to give up spanking.
This kind of conservative opposition is one reason why the United States and Somalia are the only countries in the world that haven't ratified the child-protection treaty. While conservatives' fears of UN-mandated sex ed and spanking-free childhoods are largely hypothetical, the consequences of not supporting the treaty are now becoming ever more real as the US confronts the humanitarian crisis on its southern border.
Naureen Shah, a legislative counsel at the ACLU, says that if the United States had to conform to the convention's "best interests" provision, the White House and Congress would be pressured to prioritize reuniting kids with their family members in the US, instead of rushing to deport them. Ratifying the treaty could also spur the US to improve the kids' detention conditions so "they can get rest and access to education," she says, as opposed to languishing in "detention conditions that are almost criminal." Felice Gaer, the vice chair of the UN Committee Against Torture, agrees.
US law does not require undocumented children to be provided with an attorney to help them through immigration proceedings, leaving them vulnerable to judges rushing to send them back home. (President Barack Obama did recently request $15 million from Congress to provide some of the children legal counsel.) Under the treaty, children seeking asylum are supposed to be provided with legal representation, according to the panel that oversees implementation of the agreement. That's one reason why ratifying it might "put more pressure on the State Department to take a much bigger role" to live up to these obligations, Shah says. The Obama administration has technically signed the treaty, signaling symbolic support for its child protection provisions, but the Senate has not ratified it, which would require implementing the treaty into enforceable domestic law.
Ratifying the treaty isn't a sure-fire guarantee that migrant kids would get better treatment. After all, the United States is already in violation of other international humanrightstreaties it has ratified that prohibit the country from returning immigrants to countries where they will be tortured, persecuted, or killed, says Michelle Brané, an immigration detention expert at the Women's Refugee Commission. Many of the kids crossing the US border are fleeing targeted violence. Nevertheless, "if we signed onto this [children's] treaty," the ACLU's Shah says, "it would be even more crystal clear that the US has these obligations" to protect the child migrants. Right now, though, American politicians seem more interested in spanking kids than helping some of them.
Six years after the financial crisis, the largest US banks are likely still too-big-to-fail, according to a study released Thursday afternoon by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). That means that these massive financial institutions are still so important to the wider financial system that they can expect the government to bail them out again if they are close to collapse.
Even though the GAO study found that this advantage banks enjoy dropped off significantly in 2013, "this is a continuing issue," Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who has introduced legislation aimed at ending bank bailouts, told Bloomberg Thursday. "Too-big-to-fail is not dead and gone at all. It exists."
During the financial crisis, the government forked out $700 billion to bail out the nation's biggest banks. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform act imposed new requirements on Wall Street designed to prevent this from happening again. The law gave federal Wall Street regulators more authority to dismantle failing financial institutions, mandated that banks hold more emergency funds on hand, and required banks to submit to yearly stress tests to ensure that they can withstand another crisis.
How effective these measures have been in ending too-big-to-fail is still an open question, and subject to heated debate in the halls of Congress. Otherreports have found that even after Dodd-Frank, big banks still enjoy a huge advantage over smaller, community banks in terms of lower borrowing rates, thanks largely to the perception that they can't fail. Many investors believe the government will still bail out large, systemically important banks if they are again faced with collapse, whereas the economy can afford to lose a local bank or two. As a result, the biggest US banks benefited from a $70 billion too-big-to-fail subsidy in 2012, according to a March report by the International Monetary Fund.
On Tuesday evening, the federal government dealt a huge blow to McDonald’s, which has for over a year and a half been the target of worker protests and lawsuits over its low wages and questionable labor practices.
McDonald’s has long maintained that as a parent company, it cannot be held liable for the decisions individual franchises make about pay and working conditions. On Tuesday, the general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that this is nonsense, saying that the $5.6 billion company is indeed responsible for employment practices at its local franchises. That means that the company is no longer shielded from dozes of charges pending at regional NLRB offices around the country alleging illegal employment practices.
"McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the NLRB shows there's no two ways about it," Micah Wissinger, an attorney who brought a case on behalf of New York City McDonald's workers said in a statement Tuesday. "The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple."
The Fast-Food Workers Committee along with the Service Employees International Union has filed numerous complaints against the company with the NLRB since November 2012. Most recently, workers filed seven class action lawsuits against McDonald’s corporate and its franchises in three states alleging wage theft. The NLRB consolidated all these complaints into the case it decided on Tuesday, which focused on whether McDonald's corporate can be considered as a "joint employer" along with the owner of the franchise.
Since the fall of 2012, fast-food workers at McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC franchises around the country have been striking to demand a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. The strikes recently went global. Organizers say Tuesday's ruling will lend workers new momentum in their ongoing battle against the fast-food mega-chain.
If you put out a complaint box for customers of US banks and financial firms, you will get hundreds of thousands of complaints. That's what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—which was set up by Elizabeth Warren before she became a US senator—has discovered. And the bank that has drawn the most complaints is Bank of America. Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, and Citibank were other top targets of consumer wrath.
In June 2012, the CFPB launched a consumer help center where Americans can lodge complaints against banks and financial institutions they believe are ripping them off. The information in the center's data base is public. So you can tell which Wall Street entities provoke the most gripes. Ranked by number of complaints, the top five most reviled institutions are Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Equifax, which is a credit-reporting agency, JPMorgan Chase, and Citibank. Debt collectors, mortgage servicers, and student loan servicing companies also fall within the top 20. As of this weekend, consumers had filed over 265,000 complaints. Bank of America earned 38,833 complaints, Wells Fargo drew 26,055, and JPMorgan Chase was the subject of 20,057. Check it out:
These numbers show that bigger is not necessarily better. The number of complaints largely corresponds with the size of the bank. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo are the largest four US banks by assets. All other banks on the list above are among the 20 largest.
The majority of complaints targeting Bank of America—over 27,500 of them—concern mortgage practices, including foreclosure processing. In 2012, Bank of America, Citi, Chase, Wells Fargo, and Ally Bank—the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers—entered into a $25 billion settlement with 49 states and the federal government over the banks' use of faulty foreclosure documents. (Bank of America recently agreed to pay a fine of $16.6 million to the Treasury Department to settle allegations that it processed nearly $100,000 in transactions for drug traffickers between 2005 and 2009.)
Out of the 26,055 complaints filed against Wells Fargo—which is accused of directing minority borrowers into subprime loans in the lead-up to the financial crisis—close to 6,000 concerned issues consumers had with their checking or savings accounts, including complaints over fees and charges. In 2010, Wells was ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to customers for manipulating debit card transactions in order to rack up overdraft fees.
About 5,100 of the consumer complaints about Citibank concerned mortgages and foreclosures. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice slapped a record penalty on Citi for violations on the investor side of the bank's mortgage business. The DOJ fined Citi $7 billion for telling investors that the toxic mortgage-backed securities it sold in the mid-2000s were high-quality.
Over 3,700 of the complaints against JPMorgan Chase concerned problems with consumer bank accounts, including disputed fees. Last September, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered Chase to fork over $309 million to 2.1 million customers for charging them for services such as identity theft protection and fraud monitoring without obtaining consent.
Americans filed over 5,000 complaints with the consumer agency regarding debt collection, more than 27,000 over mortgage servicing practices, and north of 5,500 concerning student loan servicing.
Update, Friday July 25: On Friday, the House passed Rep. Lynn Jenkins' (R-Ks.) child tax credit legislation, which would expand the credit for upper-middle class American families. The bill received the support of 212 Republican and 25 Democrats.
On Friday, the House will vote on a Republican bill that ignores an expiring tax credit for millions of low-income families, while handing one to better-off Americans.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Ks.), changes the way the federal child tax credit works by raising the eligibility cap for married couples. At the same time, the legislation would allow a 2009 child tax credit increase for low-income families to expire at the end of 2017. Here's how that would play out in the coming years. A married couple with two children that bring in $160,000 a year would get a new annual tax cut of $2,200, according to an analysis by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). A single mother with two kids who makes $14,500 a year would lose $1,725 annually.
"The big winners would be the more-affluent families who would become newly eligible for the [child tax credit]," tax experts at the CBPP noted Tuesday. "The losers would be millions of low-income families who are doing exactly what policymakers often say they want these people to do—working, even at low-wage jobs."
Here's a look at how poor, middle-class, and wealthier Americans would be affected by the bill, via the CBPP:
A spokesman for Jenkins explains that the reason the bill ends up extending the child tax credit to wealthier Americans is that it gets rid of the marriage penalty, which treats a married couple's total income differently than the sum of two separate incomes. The way the child tax credit is currently structured, a single person making up to $75,000 is eligible for a full credit. But for a married couple filing jointly, full credit eligibility cuts off at $110,000 instead of at $150,000, the couple's combined total income. Jenkins' bill moves the full credit cut-off to $150,000. (As income increases above these thresholds, the child tax credit phases out slowly. Under Jenkins' bill, for instance, a couple with two kids could still get the credit if they make up to $205,000.)
Jenkins' office adds that the reason that the legislation does not extend the low-income child tax credit increase is that this provision doesn't expire until the end of 2017, and future legislation can address it.
But a Democratic aide familiar with the bill says this justification is disingenuous, adding that if GOPers wanted to extend the low-income provision, they would. All 22 Republicans on the House ways and means committee voted for Jenkins' bill, while all 15 Dems on the committee voted against it. "[Republicans] can say whatever they want," the aide says. But "they are prioritizing making permanent [all the tax provisions] that they want to be permanent, and getting rid of everything else." For instance, Republicans are already pushing to extend another tax measure that expires at the end of 2017 that is designed to help parents and students pay for college expenses.
The Democratic staffer adds that if Jenkins' bill were to become law, and the low-income provision were left hanging on its own, it would be very difficult to "galvanize Congress into action" to pass a separate extension for the measure. "What carries it along is that it's bundled together," he says. Chuck Marr, one of the authors of the CBPP study, agrees that the most obvious way for the House to extend the low-income measure would be to include it in Jenkins' bill.
Even if the legislation passes the House, the bill—which would cost the government $115 billion over ten years—has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.