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No Protection for Protectors: The GOP effort to kill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

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Gary Rivlin and Susan Antilla report in The Intercept:

Shortly after 10:00 p.m. on a Tuesday in late October, Vice President Mike Pence was summoned to the Senate floor. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had finalized a landmark new rule in July banning the forced arbitration provisions that banks and credit card companies commonly tuck into the fine print of agreements, barring their customers from joining class-action suits. House Republicans quickly voted to nullify the new rule, but weeks later, with a deadline looming, it was still unclear if the Senate would act in time. After intense pressure from industry and the Trump administration, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was finally able to muster 50 votes, and Pence was parachuted in to break a 50-50 tie. Politico called the vote “a blow to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” and “Republicans’ most far-reaching victory yet this year in their effort to roll back financial regulations.” CFPB Director Richard Cordray was even more blunt: “Wall Street won and ordinary people lost.”

The rule’s spectacular defeat marked a rare Wall Street victory over an agency created by Dodd-Frank, the sweeping financial reform law Barack Obama signed in 2010. The CFPB was barely five years old when Donald Trump was elected, promising to “do a number” on financial regulations. Just weeks into the new presidency, Sen. Ted Cruz declared the CFPB “an out-of-control bureaucracy” and introduced a one-page bill to abolish it outright. McConnell, then minority leader, had told a gathering of bankers in 2013, “If I had my way, we wouldn’t have the agency at all.” A dead or severely injured CFPB seemed a certainty in those early days. If nothing else, surely Cordray would get pink-slipped. “It’s time to fire King Richard,” exclaimed Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., shortly before Trump’s inauguration.

Yet Cordray is departing on his own terms, amid speculation that he will run for governor of Ohio. He announced on Wednesday that he expects to step down before the end of the month, and when he does, he’ll leave behind a vibrant, if profoundly embattled, agency.

His departure will be “a huge loss,” said Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform. If Trump appoints a new director who is indifferent, or even hostile, to consumer issues, she said, “It will be incredibly costly to the American public.”

This past summer, Cheklist, a trade magazine for check cashers and payday lenders, published a cover story about the frustration roiling fringe financial players. The CFPB was still a “nettlesome bureau,” its editor wrote, and not a single bill aimed at weakening the bureau had reached the president’s desk. Meanwhile, its aggressive enforcement actions against debt collectorscredit repair companies, and online payday lenders were continuing unabated. Just three weeks before Congress reversed the arbitration rule, the CFPB finalized another new rule that tightened restrictions around high-interest, small-dollar loans to stop what Cordray called “payday debt traps.”

Yet it’s not just smaller financial players who have felt cheated over the past year. Richard Hunt, who has been paid more than $1 million a year  by the Consumer Bankers Association, a trade group representing the country’s largest banks, including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase, expressed delight after the Senate killed the “ill-conceived” ban on mandatory arbitration clauses. But mostly, his organization has been left expressing disappointment. Thoughts of halting the CFPB have been replaced by angry pronouncements about its unregulated powers. “It’s a fact,” Hunt said in an interview. “It’s the most unaccountable agency in our government, period.”

In fact, the CFPB has emerged as that rare beast — a fast-moving agency that actually chalks up wins for average Americans. By the end of 2016, shortly before Trump took office, the 5 1/2 -year-old bureau’s enforcement actions against everyone from the country’s biggest banks to small-time debt collectors had already returned $11.9 billion to 29 million consumers. The CFPB had created a public database of consumer complaints against banks and other lenders, and had issued new rules governing everything from mortgages to student loans to the prepaid cards that millions of “unbanked” Americans carry in their wallets. A year ago, the bureau finalized new rules giving prepaid customers some of the same protections enjoyed by those who use credit cards. Pressure from the bureau also resulted in the end of several onerous practices by lenders, such as demanding full repayment on student loans if the parent who co-signed the loan died.

Through its complaint database, the CFPB has secured redress for more than 160,000 individual complainants, such as Gene DeSantis, a former TD Bank customer near Albany, New York. DeSantis, a consumer lawyer himself, nevertheless registered one of the 800,000-plus complaints the CFPB has received. While he was away for the winter, DeSantis had mail forwarded to his Utah home. But TD, he found, does not forward its bills unless a customer contacts the bank directly, even when a customer like DeSantis has arranged for the post office to do so, and so he missed a payment. After a surprise call from a debt collector, DeSantis said he called customer service but “never got anywhere.” Meanwhile, his late charges ballooned to $235 on his $136 missed payment. “If a person like me is rendered helpless, God forbid what the average person faces,” DeSantis said. Within a week of filing his CFPB complaint, TD dropped interest and penalties. (A TD spokesperson declined to comment on the bank’s refusal to waive the fees until the CFPB got involved.)

“Because of the bureau,” said Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending, “we’ve gone from, ‘Where does it say I can’t do that?’ to ‘You have a duty to treat customers fairly.’”

Even without Cordray at the helm, the problem that confronts Hunt and his frenemies running other financial industry trade associations is that the CFPB is simply too popular to eliminate. A 2017 poll by Americans for Financial Reform and the Center for Responsible Lending showed that 78 percent of likely voters believe we need tough rules and enforcement to prevent another financial crisis. Even among Republicans the ratio was 2-to-1. A poll conducted at the end of 2016 showed that, by that same 2-to-1 margin, Trump voters want the bureau left alone or strengthened. Its popularity seems to be one reason the White House has not waged the frontal war on the CFPB that its allies so sorely wanted. With Wells Fargo and Equifax exploding in scandal and their CEOs marched before Congress, anger toward Wall Street is almost as strong on the right as it is on the left. How, in that context, do you shut down an agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?

Industry’s answer has been a multimillion dollar, multi-front battle to discredit and defang the bureau, a war declared even before the enemy officially existed. Almost immediately after Dodd-Frank became law, a  . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more. It’s a lengthy and well-written article giving a history of the effort, strongly resisted by the GOP, to protect consumers.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2017 at 8:51 am

Is Roy Moore Guilty Beyond Reasonable Doubt?

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Mark Kleiman comments on the case against Roy Moore, but he does not mention that for years Moore repeatedly and flagrantly lied that he received no money from his charity, when in fact it has been confirmed that he was paid $180,000 a year for part-time work for the charity. So we know that Moore will not hesitate to lie, and to lie repeatedly, to make himself look good. That’s worth keeping in mind.

Kleiman writes at the Washington Monthly:

Leigh Corfman says that she was fourteen years old and waiting with her mother outside a courtroom before a custody hearing when Roy Moore, then thirty-two and an assistant district attorney, offered to stay with Corfman while her mother went into court. Corfman says Moore used that opportunity to get her phone number, and subsequently took her out on several dates. On one of those occasions, he took her to his home, undressed her down to her underwear, undressed himself to the same extent, fondled her through her bra and panties, and attempted to put her hand on his genitals.

If what Corfman says is true, Moore committed a felony under Alabama law (which hasn’t changed in the meantime). Moore says that none of it happened: “I never knew this woman. I never met this woman.”

Moore’s defenders say that he ought to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that a “mere accusation” (as Donald Trump called it) shouldn’t block Moore’s election to the U.S. Senate. “It’s just he-said, she-said” is the favored phrase. (Moore and his friends also want to ignore the three other juvenile but barely legal girls who say he took them out and kissed them.)

As Mitt Romney among others has pointed out, this is absurdly confused; it’s an attempt to apply courtroom standards outside their proper realm. No one thinks an ordinary political charge needs to be proven beyond reasonable doubt before voters take it into account, and there’s no reason why a charge that happens also to be felony should be any different. (Moore’s attempt, and that of his supporters, to blame the Washington Post for concocting “fake news,” while it might be effective political rhetoric, lost all of its logical force when the Wall Street Journal re-interviewed the Post‘s sources and found that all of them confirmed that the Post had accurately reported their statements.)

Even if this were a criminal trial, Moore might well be convicted. Leigh Corfman’s sworn testimony would be sufficient to establish a prima facie case. It would then be up to the jury to weigh the credibility of the accusation against the credibility of the denial and decide whether they were convinced, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Moore was guilty. Sometimes the jurors decide that they are so convinced, even if it’s simply the bare word of the accuser against the bare word of the complainant: in a mugging, for example, there may be no other witness or physical evidence. If the victim has no apparent motive to lie—while the accused has the strongest of motives, the desire to escape a felony conviction—it may not be unreasonable for a jury to decide that the accusation is convincing enough to convict.

But Moore’s position is actually much worse than that of our hypothetical robbery suspect.

Leigh Corfman is the only person who says Moore fondled her. But she’s not the only witness to the pickup outside the courtroom; her mother, Nancy Wells, was also there. And Nancy Wells corroborates that part of her daughter’s story; she recalls thinking how nice it was for this young gentleman to offer to take care of her daughter.

Moore, however, denies not just the fondling, but any sort of contact with Leigh Corfman at all. On that point, it’s not his word against hers; he is flatly contradicted by two witnesses, not one. And again, his motivation for lying is obvious, while theirs is obscure; Leigh Corfman, for example is a Republican who voted for Trump, which makes it less likely that she is trying to derail Moore’s political career on partisan or ideological grounds. (This is very unlike the typical date-rape case, where the defense is consent and the complainant may have strong reasons to want to deny that consent was given even if it was.)

Once a juror had convinced himself, based on the testimony of not one witness but two, that Moore was lying about the pick-up, then the maxim “Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus” would apply. As one standard jury instruction says, “If you find that any witness has intentionally testified falsely as to any material fact, you may disregard that witness’s entire testimony.” If the jury chose to disregard Moore’s testimony, then it would be left only with Leigh Corfman’s sworn word as evidence. The uncontradicted testimony of a single witness may easily constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2017 at 8:31 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Law

Roy Moore’s Disingenuous Defense

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“Disingenuous” in this case is equivalent to “dishonest,” but that’s a Roy Moore standard—recall how he dishonestly said that he received no salary from his charity when in fact he was paid $180,000 per year. Oops.

Charles Bethea reports in the New Yorker:

On Tuesday, Sean Hannity, who had been an emphatic supporter of the Senate candidate Roy Moore, gave the embattled Republican twenty-four hours to explain the allegations of sexual molestation and misconduct made against him by an increasing number of women in Alabama. Several women allege that Moore touched, pursued, or even assaulted them when he was an assistant district attorney in his early thirties and they were much younger—in one case, as young as fourteen. Moore allegedly approached some of these women at the mall in Gadsden, Alabama, where his behavior troubled many local residents.
“You must immediately and fully come up with a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies that I just showed,” Hannity said on his Fox News show. Hannity seemed particularly concerned about Moore’s fifth accuser, Beverly Young Nelson. When Nelson made her allegations public, on Tuesday, appearing at a press conference alongside her lawyer, Gloria Allred, she brought along an old high-school yearbook of hers that appeared to have Moore’s signature below a personal note. It read, “To a sweeter more beautiful girl, I could not say, ‘Merry Christmas.’ ” This yearbook note was intended to help corroborate Nelson’s claim that she and Moore knew each other, a claim that Moore has denied.
On Wednesday evening, Moore released an open letter in response to Hannity. It began by seeking sympathy. “I am suffering,” he wrote. Moore then attempted to cast doubt on the “false allegations” against him in a few different ways. Regarding Nelson, Moore referenced the accuser’s divorce, for which he was the presiding judge. Nelson, Moore wrote, “was party to a divorce action before me in Etowah County Circuit Court in 1999. No motion was made for me to recuse.” Moore went on to wonder at the notion that this “apparently caused her no distress at a time that was 18 years closer to the alleged assault,” while now, “talking before the cameras about the supposed assault, she seemingly could not contain her emotions.”
This morning, I corresponded with a prominent Alabama attorney who reviewed the filings in Nelson’s 1999 divorce case. Based on those filings, the attorney insisted, Moore’s claims in the open letter are “completely disingenuous.” Nelson, this attorney told me, “was never before Moore,” since the divorce was not litigated. Rather, as court documents show, the divorce was filed, continued, and then dismissed. “These are all unilateral actions by the lawyer for the plaintiff,” the attorney went on. “A lawyer for the other side never even appeared. It is doubtful that these documents were even given to Nelson.” In any case, the attorney told me, Moore, whose signature is only on the motion for dismissal—not the original filing or motion to continue—had no actual discretion over the case.
“When an agreed motion to dismiss is filed, Moore would have no discretion and have to sign,” the attorney continued. “Most likely, he never even looked at the parties’ names and Beverly had a different last name by then anyway.” The attorney concluded, “Moore’s lawyer’s statement that Beverly Nelson was before Moore in court and never objected to this circumstance was a lie.”
As ThinkProgress noted earlier today, the claim that Moore made in his statement was reiterated by his attorneys on Wednesday evening. “As it turns out, in 1999, Ms. Nelson filed a divorce action against her then-husband, Mr. Harris,” the lawyer Phillip Jauregui said at a press conference. “Guess who that case was before? It was filed in Etowah County, and the judge assigned was Roy S. Moore, circuit judge of Etowah County. There was contact.” ThinkProgress reviewed the case file, and concluded that there was no contact.
Nelson’s divorce attorney, Rodney Ward, still practices in Gadsden. He concurred with this attorney’s analysis of Nelson’s divorce case. “I reviewed my file, and there was no hearing set in front of Judge Moore,” Ward told me this morning. “Looking at a copy of the order, it looks like Moore didn’t sign it. It looks like it was stamped by his assistant.” Had Beverly Nelson known who the presiding judge was, Ward went on, “my client would have filed a motion to have the judge recuse himself, to have a different judge appointed. So I don’t even think she knew who the judge was. It was only, like, sixty days from the time the divorce was filed to the time it was dismissed. Maybe ninety.” Ward concluded, “If Moore is claiming that she appeared in front of him, I do not believe that’s true.”
Hannity, meanwhile,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2017 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Law

Oklahoma Tried the GOP’s Tax Plan. Now, It’s Electing Democrats

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Eric Levitz writes in New York magazine:

The backlash to the Republican tax agenda is already getting Democrats elected — in Oklahoma. On Tuesday night, 26-year-old mental-health counselor Allison Ikley-Freeman won election to the Sooner State’s Senate, in a district that backed Donald Trump by 40 points last November.

Ikley-Freeman did not win on the strength of her fundraising or political experience. She boasted little of the former and none of the latter. But like the three other Oklahoma Democrats who have evicted Republicans from state-house seats this year, Ikley-Freeman enjoyed one decisive advantage: She bore no responsibility for the regressive tax policies that had left the state in fiscal ruin.

Oklahoma was a low-tax state even before the 2010 GOP wave crashed over it. But tea-party Republican governor Mary Fallin and her conservative allies weren’t content with the low baseline they’d inherited. Like President Trump and congressional Republicans, Fallin believed that cutting taxes on wealthy individuals and businesses was the way to grow an economy, no matter what level those taxes were currently at, or how novel circumstances might change the government’s budgetary needs.

So, when global oil prices crashed in 2014, and took Oklahoma’s budget down with them, Fallin was unfazed. Faced with giant, annual revenue shortfalls, the governor didn’t just refuse to raise taxes — she cut them even further. Last year, the Sooner State found itself with a $1.3 billion budget gap — and Fallin responded by implementing a $147 million tax cut for Oklahoma’s highest earners, and preserving a $470 million tax break for oil companies that start new horizontal wells.

Instead of asking wealthy citizens and businesses to pay a bit more (or, in the former case, to pay as much as they had been previously), Fallin decided to strip resources from the state’s beleaguered public-school system. Between 2008 and 2015, Oklahoma had slashed its per-student education spending by 23.6 percent, more than any other state in the country. But Republicans felt there was still more fat to cut: While rich Sooners collected their tax breaks, Oklahoma schools suffered a 16.5 percent funding cut in the latter half of 2016. Many of the state’s school districts now make do with four-day weeks. Others struggle to find competent teachers, as the state’s refusal to pay competitive salaries has chased talented educators out of state or into other professions. Oklahoma’s health-care and criminal-justice systems are plagued by similarly draconian cuts. Bridges in the state are literally crumbling. Potholes litter roads.

But even this austerity has not been nearly enough to plug the state’s budget holes. Fallin and the GOP have become reliant on raiding emergency reserves to make up the rest. This has left Oklahoma profoundly vulnerable to the next recession. According to Moody’s Analytics, only three states are less prepared for a downturn, based on the gap between their actual reserves and what would be required to stay afloat.

This reliance on emergency, nonrecurring revenue sources has also ensured that the state will face a new budget crisis each and every year. In 2017, the shortfall came in at nearly $900 million, and Fallin lost her nerve. The governor has pushed for (largely regressive) tax increases to restore education funding. But the state requires a three-fourths majority to impose tax hikes, and there are more than enough tea-party zealots in the legislature to block any piece of progressive taxation.

This week, Republicans in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives passed an emergency budget bill in a special session. The legislation does increase taxes on oil production. But instead of raising taxes on the wealthy, or ending the state’s exemption for capital gains — as Oklahoma Democrats had proposed — Republicans opted to cut $60 million from state agencies, and drain another few million dollars from the state’s rainy-day funds.

Oklahoma’s overwhelmingly Republican voters do not like this idea. . .

Continue reading.

There’s a lot more, and it shows clearly that the Oklahoma GOP learned nothing from their northern neighbor’s disaster with lowering taxes. You’d think Huckabee’s policy failures in Kansas would have taught Oklahoma Republicans a lesson, but Republicans seem resistant to learning.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2017 at 12:14 pm

Et tu, Sen. Franken?

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Bad news for Democrats, and I’m sure Al Franken may well have Democratic company: sexual harassment tends to come from big power imbalances between perpetrator and victim and strikes across party lines (e.g., Harvey Weinstein).

Regardless of party, it’s bad behavior and should be stopped. Powerful people need to examine their behavior.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2017 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Democrats, Law

Federal judge says St. Louis police targeted protesters for retaliation

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

This is a pretty big deal:

A federal judge on Wednesday placed restrictions on the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, saying their conduct during recent protests had violated demonstrators’ constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry ruled that the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against St. Louis police “are likely to prevail on the merits of their claims” that their First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

The protests in question took place in September, following a “not guilty” verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a white former police officer who in 2011 shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black.

Perry found sufficient evidence that police arbitrarily declared an assembly unlawful even when there was no violence, and that there was “no credible threat of force or violence to officers or property” when police rounded up citizens, including journalists, on Sept. 17. After those arrests, the acting head of the St. Louis MPD declared that his department had “owned” the night, as his officers mocked protesters by chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Perry also said that officers had clearly retaliated against protected First Amendment speech because they didn’t like being criticized, and used chemical weaponry to suppress speech they didn’t like.

This seems to jibe with firsthand accounts of the protests. Police made mass arrests that swept up journalists, onlookers and even a black undercover officer, who was reportedly beaten. This also seems like one of those “How would we view this if it happened in another country?” moments. A judge just found the police guilty of using chemical agents on protesters because those protesters were criticizing the police. You can read the opinion itself at the above HuffPost link.

The disheartening takeaway here is that St. Louis County police seem to have learned nothing at all from Ferguson. When a protest begins, they’re still responding out of the gate with an overwhelming show of force. They’re still portraying protesters as the enemy, instead of citizens with rights that the police are obligated to protect. They still clearly see their own role as not facilitators of First Amendment rights, but as the countervailing weight when citizens choose to exercise those rights.

I don’t doubt that it’s difficult to be a cop assigned to one of these protests. I’ve seen the videos. I’ve seen the protesters screaming, taunting and insulting cops. But that’s also part of the job. Your job is to not take it personally. The job is to continue to serve and protect — and that includes those people who you think aren’t particularly grateful for it. That “Our streets” chant, the indiscriminate arrests and use of pepper spray, the mass show of force, the utter arrogance of the department leadership — none of that is going to make the job any easier. It’s all just more fuel for the fire. It means less trust in police to fairly and impartially investigate the next shooting. It means less deference to police authority, even for orders that may be perfectly lawful and reasonable. It means more anger when the next protest fires up.  The police are the state actors here. They’re the public servants. It’s up to them to win back the public trust. When you arrest and beat one of your own, and then try to claim that the undercover cop was “resisting,” you’ve lost all credibility. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2017 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

A New Orleans man waits in jail eight years on drug possession charges before the charges are dismissed

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Radley Balko has links in the Washington Post. Here are some:

  • Police departments around the country are fueling opioid hysteria, spreading myths and advocating for sentence enhancements.
  • A New Orleans man waited eight years in jail on a drug possession charge before prosecutors threw it out.
  • Meanwhile, a Louisiana judge has overturned the rape conviction of a man who served 45 years behind bars. He was convicted entirely by the eyewitness testimony of the victim, who identified him more than three months after the crime, and still appeared uncertain that he was her attacker.
  • So far this year, gun-related deaths of police officers are down 34 percent from last year.
  • Meet the Alabama man who spent five years in prison for soliciting a 14-year-old, as Roy Moore is accused of doing. Only in this case, the 14-year-old didn’t actually exist.
  • Three people sue Illinois deputy who once wrote, referring to civil asset forfeiture, that “All of our home towns are sitting on a tax-liberating gold mine.”
  • U.S. Sentencing Commission report finds that “Black male offenders received sentences on average 19.1 percent longer than similarly situated White male offenders during the Post-Report period (fiscal years 2012-2016), as they had for the prior four periods studied.”
  • Three white Georgia deputies are facing criminal charges for the death of a 58-year-old black man they had Tasered. Eurie Lee Martin was walking to his home when someone reported a “suspicious person” to police, at which point the deputies confronted Martin. The incident was captured on cell phone video, portions of which you can watch in the news report here.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2017 at 2:43 pm

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