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Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

Trump administration doesn’t want investment advisers to have to act in the best interests of their clients

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Now why on earth would they oppose a rule requiring investment advisers to act in the best interests of their clients? I suppose they want to make it legal for investment advisers to profit by advising bad decisions. Am I missing something?

Sylvan Lane reports in The Hill:

The Labor Department is seeking an 18-month delay of an Obama-era rule for investment advisers, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

In response to a lawsuit over the rule, agency officials told the court they have asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to delay implementing the rule until July 2019.

The rule places tougher standards on financial advisers, creating a legal requirement that they act in the best interests of their clients. The rule requires advisers to tell clients when they get a commission for selling certain investment products. It is intended to prevent advisers from hiding conflicts of interest that could hurt each client’s bottom line. The rule was set to go into effect in in January 2018.

Business lobbying groups and the investment industry fiercely oppose the rule issued in 2016 under former President Obama, arguing it would drive up the cost of financial advice and push many Americans out of the investment market. They have challenged the rule in court.

But progressive lawmakers and consumer watchdogs have defended the rule, which is prized by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta oversaw a review of the rule but decided earlier this year that he had no legal basis to delay or amend the rule on his own.

Investment advisers had been bracing for the rule’s implementation but could get a reprieve from the OMB.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2017 at 4:10 pm

Trump mocked Obama for three chiefs of staff in three years

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Julia Manchester has an article in The Hill:

President Trump’s decision to dismiss Reince Priebus as his chief of staff on Friday has drawn new attention to a past tweet criticizing former President Barack Obama for going through a number of chiefs of staff. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2017 at 10:39 am

Obama’s top 50 accomplishments as president

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Quite a list, compiled with a brief comment on each, by Paul Glastris and Nancy LeTourneau in the Washington Monthly. It begins:

In March 2012, we compiled a list of what were, at the time, President Barack Obama’s greatest achievements, to accompany our cover story, “The Incomplete Greatness of Barack Obama.” Today, at the end of his second term, Obama’s legacy is far more complete. Indeed, items from the original list—such as increasing national service opportunities, creating the Race to the Top education reform program, and expanding stem cell research—fell off in order to make room for new ones.

But his legacy is also under threat. Donald Trump and the new Republican-dominated Congress have pledged to undo much of what the president has achieved, including repealing the Affordable Care Act and reversing important executive actions on immigration and climate change. So it is with this caveat that we offer the following updated list of Obama’s top accomplishments.

1. Passed Health Care Reform

After five presidents over the course of a century failed to create universal health insurance, signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. More than twenty million Americans have gained coverage since the passage of the law, which provides subsidies for Americans to buy coverage, expands Medicaid eligibility, and prohibits insurers from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions. The uninsured rate has dropped from 16 percent in 2010 to 9 percent in 2015. The law also mandates free preventive care, allows young people to stay on their parents’ policies up to age twenty-six, and imposes a ban on annual and lifetime caps on benefits.

2. Rescued the Economy

Signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 to spur economic growth amid the most severe downturn since the Great Depression. As of October 2016, the economy had added 15.5 million new jobs since early 2010 and set a record with seventy-three straight months of private-sector job growth. The unemployment rate, which hit a sustained peak of about 10 percent in 2009, has dropped to 4.6 percent as of November 2016.

3. Passed Wall Street Reform

Signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010 to re-regulate the financial sector after its practices caused the Great Recession. The law tightens capital requirements on large banks and other financial institutions, allows the government to take them into receivership if they pose a threat to the economy, and limits their ability to trade with customers’ money for their own profit. Dodd-Frank also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to crack down on abusive lending and financial services. By the end of fiscal year 2016, the CFPB had handled nearly one million consumer complaints and taken actions that resulted in $11.7 billion in relief for more than twenty-seven million consumers.

4. Negotiated a Deal to Block A Nuclear Iran

Led six nations in reaching an agreement with Iran that requires the country to end its nuclear weapons program and submit to a rigorous International Atomic Energy Agency inspections regime in exchange for lifting global sanctions. The deal—which resulted from first toughening sanctions against Iran—also blocked Iran’s pathways to building a bomb, slowing down the development time for a weapon from three months to one year if Iran were to break its commitments.

5. Secured U.S. Commitment to a Global Agreement on Climate Change

Provided key leadership to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which produced the
2015 Paris Agreement, a commitment by 197 nations to reduce global carbon emissions and limit the global rise in temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius.

6. Eliminated Osama bin Laden

In 2011, ordered the Special Forces raid of the secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in which the terrorist leader was killed and a trove of al-Qaeda documents was retained.

7. Ended U.S. Combat Missions in Iraq and Afghanistan

After an initial troop surge in Afghanistan, brought home 90 percent of the nearly 180,000 troops who were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan when he took office, leaving only a small contingent of forces to assist the Iraqi and Afghani militaries against insurgents and the Taliban. The withdrawal from Iraq created the vacuum that ISIS has filled. But, recently, without redeploying ground troops, the U.S. has helped the Iraqi military in reversing ISIS’s gains.

8. Turned Around the U.S. Auto Industry

In 2009, injected $62 billion (on top of the $13.4 billion in loans from the George W. Bush administration) into ailing GM and Chrysler in return for equity stakes and agreements for massive restructuring. By December 2014, the car companies had repaid $70.4 billion of the funds, and the Center for Automotive Research estimated that 2.5 million jobs were saved.

9. Repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’’

Ended the 1990s-era restriction and formalized a new policy allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military for the first time.

10. Supported Federal Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages

Decided in 2011 that the federal government would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricted federal marriage recognition to opposite-sex couples. In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key portions of the law as unconstitutional, allowing married same-sex couples to finally receive federal protections like Social Security and veteran benefits.

11. Reversed Bush Torture Policies

Two days after taking office, signed an executive order banning the so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques used by the CIA under President Bush and considered inhumane under the Geneva Conventions. Also released the secret Bush administration legal opinions supporting the use of these techniques.

12. . . .

Continue reading.

It will be interesting to read the list of Trump’s top 50 accomplishments, if he gets that far.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2017 at 5:55 pm

U.S. Agency Moves to Allow Class-Action Lawsuits Against Financial Firms

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At last consumers are protected from forced arbitration (which the banks love: they get to pick the arbitrators, so small wonder 99% of arbitrations are decided in favor of the banks). Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery report in the NY Times:

The nation’s consumer watchdog is adopting a rule on Monday that would pry open the courtroom doors for millions of Americans, restoring their right to bring class-action lawsuits against financial firms.

Under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule, banks and credit card companies could no longer force customers into arbitration and block them from banding together to file a class-action suit.

The change would deal a serious blow to Wall Street and could wind up costing financial firms billions of dollars.

More immediately, its adoption is almost certain to set off a political firestorm in Washington, where both the Trump administration and House Republicans have pushed to rein in the consumer finance agency as part of a broader effort to lighten regulation on the financial industry.

Continue reading the main story

Under the Congressional Review Act — a 1996 law that had been rarely used before the current Congress employed it to reverse 14 rules from the Obama administration — lawmakers have 60 legislative days to overturn the rule blocking mandatory arbitrations. The rule could take effect next year.

The Chamber of Commerce and other pro-business groups have belittled the rule as nothing more than a gift to class-action lawyers, who tend to be Democratic donors.

But as much as Republicans deplore the consumer protection agency, they may find it difficult to kill a rule that could have wide populist appeal. Across the country, judges, prosecutors and regulators have decried arbitration clauses for allowing corporations to circumvent the courts and for taking away the only tools citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices.

The rule is one of the signature efforts of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created in 2010 as part of the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul to safeguard the rights of millions of Americans in the aftermath of the mortgage crisis.

At a time when Dodd-Frank has come under attack, the arbitration initiative from the consumer finance agency — which operates independently from the Trump administration — is a provocative stand against the prevailing political tide in Washington.

Indeed, the rule is largely unchanged from when it was issued in draft form in May 2016 and the agency began soliciting comments from industry.

It is that kind of independence that has drawn particular ire from Republicans.

Last month, the Treasury Department issued a report recommending that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau be neutered, accusing it of regulatory overreach and calling for the president to be able to remove its director, Richard Cordray.

Supporters of the agency say arbitration is exactly the kind of issue that requires independence from corporate interests.

The rule will unwind a series of brazen legal maneuvers undertaken by major American companies to block customers from going to court to fight potentially harmful business practices.

“These clauses allow companies to avoid accountability by blocking group lawsuits and forcing people to go it alone or give up,” Mr. Cordray said in a statement.

Over decades, financial institutions, led by credit card companies, figured out a way to use the fine print of their contracts to force consumers into private arbitration, a secretive process where borrowers have to go up on their own against powerful companies with deep pockets.

Prevented from banding together in a class and pooling their resources, most people simply abandon their claims entirely, never making it to arbitration at all.

The new rules could change all that when it comes to consumer finance. While the protections would not apply to existing accounts, consumer could pay off old loans and get new accounts that would fall under the new rules.

The new rules do not explicitly outlaw arbitration, but industry lawyers say that they will effectively kill the practice. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2017 at 4:42 pm

Russian Election Hacking Was Very Serious and Very Widespread

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Kevin Drum posts in Mother Jones:

A few days ago the Intercept got hold of an NSA document outlining Russian plans to hack directly into voting operations throughout the US:

Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.

Today Bloomberg reports that this was just the tip of the iceberg:

Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

….Such operations need not change votes to be effective. In fact, the Obama administration believed that the Russians were possibly preparing to delete voter registration information or slow vote tallying in order to undermine confidence in the election. That effort went far beyond the carefully timed release of private communications by individuals and parties.

As we all know, last year the Obama administration tried to promote a bipartisan declaration that voting equipment was “national critical infrastructure,” which would have given the FBI and others more authority to investigate and deter Russian hacking. This failed because Mitch McConnell didn’t care about Russian hacking. He cared only that public acknowledgement of Russian hacking might somehow hurt Republicans. Mitch is quite the patriot, no?

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 11:23 am

Pay attention to Donald Trump’s actions, not his words

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Zachary Karabell writes in the Guardian:

There’s an emerging consensus that the presidency of Donald Trump has radically altered the warp and woof of American life. His supporters – which make up at least a third of all Americans – believe that he has accomplished great things in the past four months. His detractors, who are legion, see more harm than good in his record thus far.

What remains striking about Trump, however, is how much of the push back against him is provoked by his words, and how Americans are prone to ascribe weight to those words. This is not a Trump phenomenon. It is a very American one, stretching back many years, and starkly evident during Obama’s tenure just as much as it is during Trump’s early months in the White House.

In short, we pay too much attention to words and not enough to action. We have a cultural tendency to assume that words, political words, are reflections of reality, when very often they are not.

The decision to withdraw from the Paris accords is a case in point. That was immediately lauded by the Trump base and decried by most everyone else as a dramatic action. In terms of the symbolism of US global leadership, it is, but in terms of consequences for the environment it is not.

American soft-power may be damaged by Trump’s rhetoric, but progress toward a less carbon intensive future will likely not be dentedby that decision. The Paris accords are voluntary and non-binding, and much of the movement in the United States towards reducing emissions has come from and will continue to come from major states such as California, large multinational companies such as GE and small businesses that see the economic advantages of using renewables.

Trump’s words suggest major changes in American policies toward emissions, when even if the US does end up withdrawing from the accord in 2020, which is how long it will take to withdraw, the reality is that forces other than the federal government are driving us toward a lower carbon future.

Then take immigration. By most accounts, the first months of the Trump administration have created a widespread climate of fear among the millions of undocumented immigrants who live in the United States. That fear stems from the harsh rhetoric from multiple voices in the Trump administration, including from the president himself and the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, combined with numerous stories of deportation raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice).

The shift in tone is undeniable. What is also undeniable is that the first months of deportation policy under the Trump administration don’t differ greatly from the deportation policies in place during Barack Obama’s first term.

Between 2009 and 2013, there were more deportations than at any other
point in American history, close to 3 million people. Many have noted that, under Obama, authorities made a point of de-emphasizing non-violent undocumented immigrants and allowing them a degree of protection from deportation. But according to Ice records, about half of all deportations in those years were for non-violent immigrants.

It is true that immigration policy changed during Obama’s second term, with much greater emphasis on criminal immigrants. But it is equally true that the actions of his first term should have created widespread panic that deportation was a clear and present threat.

Yet while many Hispanics, who tended to be more directly affected by these harsh immigration policies, were critical of Obama’s immigration approach in his first term, they remained supportive of him and positive about his administration overall. Unlike Trump, Obama’s soaring and inclusive words created a culture of hope that served to offset the way his actions were perceived.

Deportations under Obama were rarely emphasized; Obama didn’t brag about them

or draw attention to them. He emphasized instead the country’s healing from the Great Recession and its move away from the military entanglements of the Bush years. He spoke in uplifting tones about America and an inclusive vision for the future.

Deportations weren’t the only disjuncture between words and deeds. Between 2006 and 2011, fencing and barriers were constructed along nearly 700 miles of the US-Mexican border; some of that began in 2006 under a law passed by Congress that then-Senator Obama voted for. It was not the big, beautiful fence touted by candidate Donald Trump, but it was wire, and fence, and concrete and cameras and it did cost billions. Here again, Obama did not trumpet its construction, or point to it as an example of America first. But it was built nonetheless.

Words can calm or agitate; they can uplift or depress; they can motivate or enervate. But in politics, they are not tantamount to action. The fact is that the immigration actions during Obama’s first term should have produced a climate of fear, while the actions during Trump first few months have arguably generated more fear than the actions themselves warrant. In both cases, words are driving our collective sense of reality out of proportion to the actions taken.

Under Obama, supporters listened to the words and discounted the actions, while opponents often discounted the words and focused on the actions. Under Trump, the only difference is that both opponents and supporters take his words as indicative of far more action than is actually the case.

This isn’t just an Obama-Trump phenomenon. For much of the 1950s, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2017 at 1:12 pm

D.E.A. Misled Overseers on Deadly Honduras Operations, Watchdogs Say

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Disgusting story about the DEA, which seems to feature in a lot of disgusting stories. Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

The Drug Enforcement Administration misled the public, Congress and the Justice Department about a 2012 operation in which commando-style squads of American agents sent to Honduras to disrupt drug smuggling became involved in three deadly shootings, two inspectors general said Wednesday.

The D.E.A. said in response that it had shut down the program, the Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team.

Under the program, known as FAST, squads received military-style training to combat Taliban-linked opium traffickers in the Afghanistan war zone. It was expanded to Latin America in 2008 to help fight transnational drug smugglers, leading to the series of violent encounters in Honduras in 2012.

A scathing 424-page joint report from the inspectors general of the Justice and State Departments underscored the risk that Americans accompanying partner forces on missions in developing countries, ostensibly as trainers and advisers, sometimes drift into directly running dangerous operations with little oversight.

The report focused on the first shooting, on a river near the village of Ahuas on May 11, 2012. A boat collided with a disabled vessel carrying American and Honduran agents and seized cocaine. Gunfire erupted, and four people on the boat were killed.

The D.E.A. said at the time that the victims were drug traffickers who had attacked to try to retrieve the cocaine, but villagers said they were bystanders. The inspectors general found no evidence to support the agency’s version, disputing a claim that surveillance video showed evidence that the people on the boat had fired on the disabled vessel.

“Even as information became available to D.E.A. that conflicted with its initial reporting, including that the passenger boat may have been a water taxi carrying passengers on an overnight trip,” the report said, “D.E.A. officials remained steadfast — with little credible corroborating evidence — that any individuals shot by the Hondurans were drug traffickers who were attempting to retrieve the cocaine.”

The inspectors general also rejected the D.E.A.’s insistence at the time that the operation — as well as two others, in June and July 2012 — had been led by Honduran law enforcement officials. The review “concluded this was inaccurate” and said D.E.A. agents “maintained substantial control.”

In the shooting on the river, the report said, a Honduran police officer did fire a machine gun from a helicopter at the boat, but an American agent directed him to do so. In one of the later missions, American agents shot to death smugglers they said had refused to surrender who they feared might be reaching for weapon.

Indeed, the report said, only D.E.A. agents, not the Hondurans, had the necessary equipment to command the operation and had direct access to intelligence. Rather than taking orders from Honduran police, the agents gave “tactical commands” to the Hondurans during missions. Accounts of all three shootings, it said, showed that agency leaders “made the critical decisions and directed the actions taken during the mission.”

The D.E.A. refused to cooperate with the State Department as it sought to investigate what had happened in Ahuas. Michele M. Leonhart, then the agency’s administrator, told the inspector general she had approved that decision because subordinates told her there was no precedent for the State Department to investigate a D.E.A. shooting and it might compromise its investigations, the report said. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2017 at 6:50 pm

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