An excerpt from the above linked-to article by Jon Queally follows:
An independent investigation by journalists featured in the New York Times on Sunday offers an in-depth look at the way American corporations have used the inclusion of “arbitration clauses” within consumer contracts to strategically circumvent judicial review of their behavior and immunize themselves from class action lawsuits –”realistically the only tool citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices.”
“You can’t shoot someone or rob a bank and say ‘It’s OK, I have a contract.'” —Paul Wallis, Digital Journal
What the Times found was a pattern of legal dead ends for consumers seeking to find redress for perceived injustices due to various forms of corporate fraud and malpractice. Often buried deep within lengthy and difficult-to-read contracts that purchasers of products or services are forced to sign, legal experts say the injection of these arbitration clauses “have essentially disabled consumer challenges to practices like predatory lending, wage theft and discrimination.”
My online response to the top of post linked-to article follows:
This is interesting. I have discovered that Virgin Mobile has been robbing me. What can I do about it?
I can’t afford the data that I originally signed up for with Virgin. That’s my cell phone plan. I decided to buy my phone outright and change the plan. They ‘said’ that I could. Except that they did two things. The money I paid them, giving them my credit card number (repeatedly, which I find strange), for that purpose, they did not use for that purpose. But they didn’t tell me. Someone sharper about business matters than myself would have right away, after the first billing cycle (when my bill showed my phone money was being used as a credit), jumped on it. Although nothing looked right to me and before waiting too long, I enquired. Operators automatically assume (sincerely or otherwise) that ‘you’ have got it wrong. It tends to throw you off and makes you think that perhaps you do have it wrong. But they simply held my money, and each bill due they would deduct from the amount. They changed my plan, sort of and as I requested, to a non data plan, but they didn’t turn off my data. When I discovered that they had charged me recently ($72) for data I don’t use (I don’t toggle the data on), I pointed that out to an operator who automatically assumed I did so ‘by accident’. I told him that it shouldn’t depend on my word or their’s. The data shouldn’t be there. Because it is, they can just tell you that you ‘do’ owe the money because you ‘must have’ turned on the data by accident. As for my cell purchase, an operator some time ago, when I pressed him, came back and told me that I was right. I assumed that the problem would be fixed. It wasn’t and I just went through the same ordeal on the phone again with another operator.
You have too much freedom when you abuse it.
I’m reading “The Secret World Of Oil” by Ken Silverstein right now. Wow! There’s a section in it (“The Lobbyists: Louisianna”) that looks at something called legacy lawsuits. Ken refers to them as ‘so-called’. Oil and gas companies have been polluting all over the country for years, dumping and storing their ‘brine’ water recklessly. In fracking (See Josh Fox’s “Gaslands”), water used for fracking becomes hopelessly polluted. Then it gets dumped improperly and is a source of pollution. The industry gives it the innocuous name of ‘produced’ water. So, Same thing really. Brine water, namely water used by the oil industry, which ruins it, is ten times more salty than sea water. It’s highly toxic. The discovery process in class action lawsuits, launched by owners of properties that have been polluted with brine water, have revealed that from the beginning the industry knew what it was doing and anticipated that eventually they’d have to deal with fallout.
And how do they deal with the fallout? Ken Silverstein got an inside look when a powerful oil and gas industry lobbyist, Ginger Sawyer, accidentally confused him with another journalist, that one being pro industry and an editor in chief of a journal called EnergyBiz Insider. Ken got to interview Ginger, who surprised him by telling him what he assumed she wouldn’t want to tell him. He didn’t know right away that she had confused him with someone else. In fact, It was at the end of the interview that she inadvertently revealed that. Even so, She was pretty forthright in disclosing what she disclosed, which was that the industry, through lobbyists like her, were pressuring politicians and courts, successfully, to allow the industry friendly Department of Natural Resources to do end runs around people doing class action lawsuits, by getting the courts to direct claimants to submit their claims to the DNR, (rather than use courts) which would then examine them, along with the proposed solutions and the proposed solutions offered by industry and then impose settlement by simply choosing the best (invariably, ‘industry’) solution, helping to reduce costs (litigation) and bad press. Individual landowners have no hope of dealing with the oil and gas industry on their own due to costs, so class action lawsuits are the way to go. But here’s industry, using it’s mighty muscle to forestall that course of redress by owners of properties polluted by uncaring oil and gas interests.
It reminds me of Senator Obama’s “Class Action Fairness Act of 2005.” As recounted in “Hopeless – Barack Obama And The Politics Of Illusion,” edited by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank (includes over 50 entries by assorted writers, following Obama’s sorry career trajectory), Obama supported the passage of that Act that, come forward to 2009, would have provided the mostly black and other vulnerable and non white victims of the subprime mortgage scam who had their faces ripped off (as reported by Doug Henwood, who informed us that losers manning the phone banks looking for victims used to joke that they had ripped people’s faces off) and thought that they might get redress through the courts discovered that the Act impeded them. The Act actually provided protection for the ‘victimizer’, not the victims, as a plethora of interested parties, including fourteen state attorneys general, pointed out.
“The Senate also received a desperate plea from more than forty civil rights and labor organizations, including the NAACP, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Justice and Democracy, Legal Momentum (formerly NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund), and Alliance for Justice.” – page 17
Part of what they wrote included: “Under the [Class Action Fairness Act of 2005], citizens are denied the right to use their own state courts to bring class actions against corporations that violate these state wage and hour and state and civil rights laws, even where that corporation has hundreds of employees in that state… The federal courts are already overburdened. Additionally, federal courts are less likely to certify classes or provide relief for violations of state law.”
Finally, Ken sums up his interesting encounter with Ginger Sawyer with:
“But as I spent more time in Louisiana, I realized that Sawyer’s casual revelations weren’t merely the result of her erroneous belief that she was meeting with an industry sympathizer. Louisianans are by nature forthright, and that trait seems especially pronounced in oil industry officials. Trial lawyers usually felt at least a little defensive when I asked about how much money they made on legacy cases. Landowners felt compelled to tell me they were not enemies of the industry, and that it brought jobs and growth to the state. But industry people, as the long-time rulers of their domain who controlled, when it came to natural resources, everything between the sun and the ocean floor, didn’t feel defensive about anything. Running the show was their natural state of affairs, and they enjoyed privileges and status that were invisible to them. Doubt, self-reflection, and guilt were little known to them, and hence they censored themselves less than most people do, even when speaking to a journalist.” – page 212 of “The Secret World Of Oil”
“‘However, I say to the rest of you who are in Thy·a·tiʹra, all those who do not follow this teaching, those who did not get to know the so-called “deep things of Satan”: I am not putting on you any other burden..” – Revelation 2:24
“Arbitration Everywhere, Stacking the Deck of Justice” by Jessica-Silver Greenberg and Robert Gebeloff