Den­tists, good deeds and an­gels among us

Rome News-Tribune - - EDITORIALS AND OPINION -

From the St. Louis Post-Dis­patch

The Se­nate on Wed­nes­day yanked away one of the few re­main­ing tools that con­sumers can use when banks and other fi­nan­cial cor­po­ra­tions abuse their au­thor­ity and un­law­fully vic­tim­ize cus­tomers.

De­spite a grow­ing list of such abuses, the Se­nate voted 5150 to pro­hibit con­sumers from join­ing in class-ac­tion law­suits against those in­sti­tu­tions.

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence cast the de­cid­ing vote, which now awaits Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sig­na­ture. Repub­li­can mav­er­ick-wannabes — Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Ari­zona, and Bob Corker of Ten­nessee — dis­ap­point­ingly joined the pack on this one.

Rep. Ann Wag­ner, R-Mo., pre­vi­ously led the fight for pas­sage on the House side.

The ef­fect of their pro­hi­bi­tion is to force cus­tomers — folks like you — to deal in­di­vid­u­ally with very wealthy and lawyer­laden fi­nan­cial cor­po­ra­tions when dis­putes arise. You can­not band to­gether with other ag­grieved par­ties and go to court, even if there’s a demon­strated pat­tern of abuse by the cor­po­ra­tions af­fect­ing mil­lions of cus­tomers.

The Con­sumer Fi­nan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bu­reau, es­tab­lished af­ter the 2007-2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis to im­pose greater scru­tiny on the bank­ing in­dus­try, had de­ter­mined that manda­tory ar­bi­tra­tion clauses gave big fi­nan­cial cor­po­ra­tions an un­fair ad­van­tage over con­sumers.

Such clauses typ­i­cally are con­tained in the fine print of credit card or bank ac­count agree­ments.

The CFPB in July de­clared that banks could not re­strict cus­tomers from band­ing to­gether in class-ac­tion law­suits. It was a vic­tory for the lit­tle guy.

Be­cause of the Se­nate vote, big fi­nan­cial cor­po­ra­tions will be able to be­have with im­punity. The worst that’ll hap­pen to them is a few in­di­vid­ual cus­tomers will get dis­putes ar­bi­trated be­hind closed doors for a rel­a­tively small pay­out.

Con­sider a few of the re­cent scan­dals, such as Wells Fargo se­cretly open­ing credit ac­counts in cus­tomers’ names with­out their per­mis­sion, then billing them for the ser­vice. Or Wells Fargo billing car-loan cus­tomers for in­sur­ance they didn’t need or want.

Or Equifax, the cor­po­ra­tion that ac­cesses your en­tire fi­nan­cial back­ground to tell lenders whether you’re credit-wor­thy, al­low­ing a data breach that ex­posed roughly half of Amer­i­cans’ So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers and other vi­tal in­for­ma­tion.

What­ever harm con­sumers suf­fer in fu­ture cases will have to be hashed out in an ar­bi­tra­tion ses­sion in­stead of a court of law. The re­sults of such ses­sions are sealed, so there’s no way to know how the lit­tle guy fares against cor­po­ra­tions and their hordes of lawyers.

But rest as­sured, it’s an un­fair fight from the start, and that’s by de­sign.

Trump or­ga­nized his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign to ap­peal to the Reg­u­lar Joes and Janes out there who feel no one in Wash­ing­ton is fight­ing for their in­ter­ests. But when he signs this bill, it’s the Joes and Janes who will suf­fer. The Repub­li­cans have de­clared with this vote ex­actly who they’re fight­ing for: Wall Street fat cats.

So last week I get in to work and there’s an en­ve­lope sit­ting on my desk. Some­one has writ­ten on the en­ve­lope:

“He was the nicest man,” “and I re­mem­ber think­ing that if I still had my real teeth that I would love go­ing to see him be­cause of his sweet de­meanor and kind­ness. But I have false teeth any­ways, so oh well.”

The let­ter con­tin­ues to say that some time later the lady was speak­ing with a friend who told her about a kind den­tist who had pulled her teeth for free since she couldn’t af­ford it. She was in pain and he re­moved the tooth and “didn’t bother charg­ing her a thing for it, say­ing it was the least he could do to help out a fel­low hu­man be­ing.”

Turns out, the name of this kind den­tist was again “Ellington.”

Now I hap­pen to know a Dr. Kent Ellington who’s a den­tist here in town and who I think is a pretty cool guy and this sounds like some­thing he’d do. So I called him to ask if any of the lady’s let­ter sounded fa­mil­iar.

He said he does re­mem­ber tak­ing care of an older lady at the hos­pi­tal and wait­ing with her till her son showed up. And he said he can’t re­mem­ber the other lady specif­i­cally be­cause he has, on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, done den­tal work for peo­ple who need it but couldn’t af­ford it. He was sur­prised that the older lady would make such a big deal out of their en­counter when he thinks he did noth­ing spe­cial and that most peo­ple would help some­one in need.

But the lady’s let­ter was very clear on what she thought about him. She ended the let­ter by say­ing: “If you’re out there some­where Dr. Ellington, please know that I am thank­ful for your kind­ness to me and my friend who needed help with her tooth. I love you. Thank you from the bot­tom of my heart. God bless you and your fam­ily. You didn’t have to help me and you did for no rea­son.”

The other day I was talk­ing to a Rome Mid­dle School class about find­ing the “gold” in­side our­selves — the great things about our­selves that we can share with oth­ers. I told them it’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize those things in our­selves but it’s also re­ally im­por­tant that when we see those things in oth­ers, that we let them know. We’re al­ways quick to call peo­ple out when we’re un­happy with some­thing they’ve done. Let’s all (me in­cluded) be just as quick to let peo­ple know when they’ve done some­thing we ap­pre­ci­ate.

Now as y’all know from pre­vi­ous col­umns that my den­tist is Dr. Kyle Rush and I think he hung the dang moon and I wouldn’t dream of go­ing any­where else. BUT it sounds to me like Dr. Kent Ellington is a pretty great guy too and our com­mu­nity is lucky to have him.

We can all stand to be a lit­tle more pa­tient and a lit­tle more gen­er­ous and a lit­tle more gen­tle with our neigh­bors. Be kind to each other. We’re all in this com­mu­nity to­gether.

Let­ters to the ed­i­tor: Ro­man Fo­rum, Post Of­fice Box 1633, Rome, GA 30162-1633 or email rome­new­stri­

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