Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

The secret sharer

leave a comment »

Thomas Drake’s unwarranted persecution provides an important indication of the direction the American government government is going, one in which citizens are not free to criticize or to expose government wrongdoing. Jane Mayer reports in the New Yorker:

On June 13th, a fifty-four-year-old former government employee named Thomas Drake is scheduled to appear in a courtroom in Baltimore, where he will face some of the gravest charges that can be brought against an American citizen. A former senior executive at the National Security Agency, the government’s electronic-espionage service, he is accused, in essence, of being an enemy of the state. According to a ten-count indictment delivered against him in April, 2010, Drake violated the Espionage Act—the 1917 statute that was used to convict Aldrich Ames, the C.I.A. officer who, in the eighties and nineties, sold U.S. intelligence to the K.G.B., enabling the Kremlin to assassinate informants. In 2007, the indictment says, Drake willfully retained top-secret defense documents that he had sworn an oath to protect, sneaking them out of the intelligence agency’s headquarters, at Fort Meade, Maryland, and taking them home, for the purpose of “unauthorized disclosure.” The aim of this scheme, the indictment says, was to leak government secrets to an unnamed newspaper reporter, who is identifiable as Siobhan Gorman, of the Baltimore Sun. Gorman wrote a prize-winning series of articles for the Sun about financial waste, bureaucratic dysfunction, and dubious legal practices in N.S.A. counterterrorism programs. [Emphasis added. This is the actual reason Drake is being prosecuted: he exposed incompetency in an authoritarian bureaucracy, which makes him an enemy of the state in the eyes of authoritarians. For authoritarians, the state can do no wrong, and those who point out when something is done wrong are enemies—cf. Donald Trump. – LG] Drake is also charged with obstructing justice and lying to federal law-enforcement agents. If he is convicted on all counts, he could receive a prison term of thirty-five years.

The government argues that Drake recklessly endangered the lives of American servicemen. “This is not an issue of benign documents,” William M. Welch II, the senior litigation counsel who is prosecuting the case, argued at a hearing in March, 2010. The N.S.A., he went on, collects “intelligence for the soldier in the field. So when individuals go out and they harm that ability, our intelligence goes dark and our soldier in the field gets harmed.”

Top officials at the Justice Department describe such leak prosecutions as almost obligatory. Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General who supervises the department’s criminal division, told me, “You don’t get to break the law and disclose classified information just because you want to.” He added, “Politics should play no role in it whatsoever.”

When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book “Necessary Secrets” (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, “Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon.”

One afternoon in January, Drake met with me, giving his first public interview about this case. He is tall, with thinning sandy hair framing a domed forehead, and he has the erect bearing of a member of the Air Force, where he served before joining the N.S.A., in 2001. Obsessive, dramatic, and emotional, he has an unwavering belief in his own rectitude. Sitting at a Formica table at the Tastee Diner, in Bethesda, Drake—who is a registered Republican—groaned and thrust his head into his hands. “I actually had hopes for Obama,” he said. He had not only expected the President to roll back the prosecutions launched by the Bush Administration; he had thought that Bush Administration officials would be investigated for overstepping the law in the “war on terror.”

“But power is incredibly destructive,” Drake said. “It’s a weird, pathological thing. I also think the intelligence community coöpted Obama, because he’s rather naïve about national security. He’s accepted the fear and secrecy. We’re in a scary space in this country.”

The Justice Department’s indictment narrows the frame around Drake’s actions, focussing almost exclusively on his handling of what it claims are five classified documents. But Drake sees his story as a larger tale of political reprisal, one that he fears the government will never allow him to air fully in court. “I’m a target,” he said. “I’ve got a bull’s-eye on my back.” He continued, “I did not tell secrets. I am facing prison for having raised an alarm, period. I went to a reporter with a few key things: fraud, waste, and abuse, and the fact that there were legal alternatives to the Bush Administration’s ‘dark side’ ”—in particular, warrantless domestic spying by the N.S.A.

The indictment portrays him not as a hero but as a treacherous man who violated “the government trust.” Drake said of the prosecutors, “They can say what they want. But the F.B.I. can find something on anyone.”

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, says of the Drake case, “The government wants this to be about unlawfully retained information. The defense, meanwhile, is painting a picture of a public-interested whistle-blower who struggled to bring attention to what he saw as multibillion-dollar mismanagement.” Because Drake is not a spy, Aftergood says, the case will “test whether intelligence officers can be convicted of violating the Espionage Act even if their intent is pure.” He believes that the trial may also test whether the nation’s expanding secret intelligence bureaucracy is beyond meaningful accountability. “It’s a much larger debate than whether a piece of paper was at a certain place at a certain time,” he says.

Jack Balkin, a liberal law professor at Yale, agrees that the increase in leak prosecutions is part of a larger transformation. “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state,” he says. In his view, zealous leak prosecutions are consonant with other political shifts since 9/11: the emergence of a vast new security bureaucracy, in which at least two and a half million people hold confidential, secret, or top-secret clearances; huge expenditures on electronic monitoring, along with a reinterpretation of the law in order to sanction it; and corporate partnerships with the government that have transformed the counterterrorism industry into a powerful lobbying force. Obama, Balkin says, has “systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the Bush Administration.”

On March 28th, Obama held a meeting in the White House with five advocates for greater transparency in government. During the discussion, the President drew a sharp distinction between whistle-blowers who exclusively reveal wrongdoing and those who jeopardize national security. The importance of maintaining secrecy about the impending raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound was likely on Obama’s mind. The White House has been particularly bedevilled by the ongoing release of classified documents by WikiLeaks, the group led by Julian Assange. Last year, WikiLeaks began releasing a vast trove of sensitive government documents allegedly leaked by a U.S. soldier, Bradley Manning; the documents included references to a courier for bin Laden who had moved his family to Abbottabad—the town where bin Laden was hiding out. Manning has been charged with “aiding the enemy.”

Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, attended the meeting, and said that Obama’s tone was generally supportive of transparency. But when the subject of national-security leaks came up, Brian said, “the President shifted in his seat and leaned forward. He said this may be where we have some differences. He said he doesn’t want to protect the people who leak to the media war plans that could impact the troops.” Though Brian was impressed with Obama’s over-all stance on transparency, she felt that he might be misinformed about some of the current leak cases. She warned Obama that prosecuting whistle-blowers would undermine his legacy. Brian had been told by the White House to avoid any “ask”s on specific issues, but she told the President that, according to his own logic, Drake was exactly the kind of whistle-blower who deserved protection.

As Drake tells it, his problems began on September 11, 2001. “The next seven weeks were crucial,” he said. “It’s foundational to why I am a criminal defendant today.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2017 at 12:37 pm

RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War

leave a comment »

Also read “Will America finally wise up to the Russian media war on our democracy?“, by Sarah Posner in the Washington Post.

Jim Rutenberg writes in the NY Times:

Martin Steltner showed up at his office in the state courthouse building in western Berlin. Steltner, who has served for more than a dozen years as the spokesman for the Berlin state prosecutor, resembles a detective out of classic crime fiction: crisp suit, wavy gray hair and a gallows humor that comes with having seen it all. There was the 2009 case of the therapist who mistakenly killed two patients in an Ecstasy-infused session gone wrong. The Great Poker Heist of 2010, in which masked men stormed a celebrity-studded poker tournament with machetes and made off with a quarter-million dollars. The 2012 episode involving the Canadian porn star who killed and ate his boyfriend and then sent the leftovers home in the mail. Steltner embraced the oddball aspect of his job; he kept a picture of Elvis Presley on the wall of his office.

But even Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. “They are demonstrating — ‘Save our children,’ ‘No attacks from immigrants on our children’ and some things like that,” Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office’s fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor’s supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin’s tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three “Southern-looking men” — by which she meant Arab migrants — had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

By then, however, the girl’s initial story was taking on a life of its own within the Russian-German community through word of mouth and Facebook — enough so that the police felt compelled to put out a statement debunking it. Then, over the weekend, Channel One, a Russian state-controlled news station with a large following among Russian-Germans, who watch it on YouTube and its website, ran a report presenting Lisa’s story as an example of the unchecked dangers Middle Eastern refugees posed to German citizens. Angela Merkel, it strongly implied, was refusing to address these threats, even as she opened German borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants. “According to Lisa’s parents,” the Channel One reporter said, “the police simply refuse to look for criminals.”

The following day in Berlin, Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party held a protest at a plaza in Marzahn, a heavily Russian neighborhood. The featured speaker was an adult cousin of Lisa’s, who repeated the original allegations while standing in front of signs reading “Stop Foreign Infiltration!” and “Secure Borders!” The crowd was tiny, not much more than a dozen people. But it was big enough to attract the attention of RT, Russia’s state-financed international cable network, which presents local-language newscasts in numerous countries, including Germany and the United States. A crew from the network’s video service, Ruptly, arrived with a camera. The footage was on YouTube that afternoon.

That same day, Sputnik, a brash Russian-government-run news and commentary site that models itself on BuzzFeed, ran a story raising allegations of a police cover-up. Lisa’s case was not isolated, Sputnik argued; other refugee rapists, it warned, might be running free. By the start of the following week, protests were breaking out in neighborhoods with large Russian-German populations, which is why the local police were calling Steltner. In multiple interviews, including with RT and Sputnik, Steltner reiterated that the girl had recanted the original story about the kidnapping and the gang rape. In one interview with the German media, he said that in the course of the investigation, authorities had found evidence that the girl had sex with a 23-year-old man months earlier, which would later lead to a sexual-abuse conviction for the man, whose sentence was suspended. But the original, unrelated and debunked story continued circulating, drawing the interest of the German mainstream media, which pointed out inconsistencies in the Russian reports. None of that stopped the protests, which culminated in a demonstration the following Saturday, Jan. 23, by 700 people outside the Chancellery, Merkel’s office. Ruptly covered that, too.

An official in the Merkel government told me that the administration was completely perplexed, at first. Then, a few days later, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, held a news conference in Moscow. Bringing up Lisa’s story, he cast doubt on the official version of events. There was no way, he argued, that Lisa left home voluntarily. Germany, he suggested, was “covering up reality in a politically correct manner for the sake of domestic politics.” Two days later, RT ran a segment reporting that despite all the official denials, the case was “not so simple.” The Russian Embassy called Steltner and asked to meet, he told me. The German foreign ministry informed him that this was now a diplomatic issue.

The whole affair suddenly appeared a lot less mystifying. A realization took hold in the foreign ministry, the intelligence services and the Chancellery: Germany had been hit.

Officials in Germany and at NATO headquarters in Brussels view the Lisa case, as it is now known, as an early strike in a new information war Russia is waging against the West. In the months that followed, politicians perceived by the Russian government as hostile to its interests would find themselves caught up in media storms that, in their broad contours, resembled the one that gathered around Merkel. They often involved conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods — sometimes with a tenuous connection to fact, as in the Lisa case, sometimes with no connection at all — amplified until they broke through into domestic politics. In other cases, they simply helped promote nationalist, far-left or far-right views that put pressure on the political center. What the efforts had in common was their agents: a loose network of Russian-government-run or -financed media outlets and apparently coordinated social-media accounts.

After RT and Sputnik gave platforms to politicians behind the British vote to leave the European Union, like Nigel Farage, a committee of the British Parliament released a report warning that foreign governments may have tried to interfere with the referendum. Russia and China, the report argued, had an “understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals” and practiced a kind of cyberwarfare “reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion.” When President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia visited the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, at the palace of Versailles in May, Macron spoke out about such influence campaigns at a news conference. Having prevailed weeks earlier in the election over Marine Le Pen — a far-right politician who had backed Putin’s annexation of Crimea and met with him in the Kremlin a month before the election — Macron complainedthat “Russia Today and Sputnik were agents of influence which on several occasions spread fake news about me personally and my campaign.” . . .

Continue reading.

I will point out that protecting us from such things is exactly the job of the government, and specifically the Executive Branch of the Federal government (now under President Donald Trump), and more specifically yet it’s the job of the FBI and the US military. Can they do their jobs? Apparently not, at least no so far, and of course the President is not going to push them to take on Russia—quite the contrary, as we have seen. So the Russians are getting an enormous payoff from their modest investment in tinkering with our election through propaganda. Of course, as the article observes, they’ve invested heavily in that area over several years and now are reaping the benefits of that experience and investment.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 September 2017 at 2:35 pm

‘I Smell Cash’: How the A.T.F. Spent Millions Unchecked

leave a comment »

Matt Apuzzo reports on corrupt practices in the Department of Justice (which occurred during the Obama administration):

For seven years, agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives followed an unwritten policy: If you needed to buy something for one of your cases, do not bother asking Washington. Talk to agents in Bristol, Va., who controlled a multimillion-dollar account unrestricted by Congress or the bureaucracy.

Need a flashy BMW for an undercover operation? Call Bristol.

A vending machine with a hidden camera? Bristol.

Travel expenses? Take this credit card. It’s on Bristol.

When The New York Times revealed the existence of the secret account in February, publicly available documents made it seem like the work of a few agents run amok. But thousands of pages of newly unsealed records reveal a widespread scheme — a highly unorthodox merger of an undercover law enforcement operation and a legitimate business. What began as a way to catch black-market cigarette dealers quickly transformed into a nearly untraceable A.T.F. slush fund that agents from around the country could tap.

The spending was not limited to investigative expenses. Two informants made $6 million each. One agent steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in real estate, electronics and money to his church and his children’s sports teams, records show.

Federal law prohibits mixing government and private money. The A.T.F. now acknowledges it can point to no legal justification for the scheme. But far from reining in the spending, records show that supervisors at headquarters encouraged it by steering agents from around the country to Bristol.

Yet no one was ever prosecuted, Congress was only recently notified, and the Justice Department tried for years to keep the records secret. The Times intervened in an ongoing fraud lawsuit over the activity and successfully argued that a judge should unseal them. The documents tell a bizarre story of how federal agents set up shop inside a southern Virginia tobacco business, and treated its bank account as their own.

At least tens of millions of dollars moved through the account before it was shut down in 2013, but no one can say for sure how much. The government never tracked it.

THOMAS LESNAK, a veteran agent, operated out of a government office building tucked behind a Burger King in Bristol, a small city near the intersection of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Colleagues regarded him as fast-talking and likable. When he met suspects, he always came off as the good cop.

Mr. Lesnak specialized in investigating tobacco smuggling, one of the A.T.F.’s core missions. Though cigarettes are available at any corner store, they are extraordinarily profitable to smuggle. That’s because taxes are high and every state sets its own rates. Virginia charges $3 per carton. New York charges $43.50. The simplest scheme — buying cigarettes in Virginia and selling them tax-free in New York — can generate tens of thousands of dollars in illicit cash. By some estimates, more than half of New York’s cigarettes come from the black market.

The A.T.F. tried setting up front companies to infiltrate smuggling rings, but with limited success. Gangs and cartels were too smart to deal with companies that appeared out of thin air. Mr. Lesnak had a solution: Rather than pose as a real company, go into business with an existing one.

In late 2006, Mr. Lesnak persuaded Jason Carpenter, an established small-time Alabama tobacco distributor, to open a warehouse in Bristol, become an informant and let the A.T.F. operate alongside him. “We basically merged ourselves with a tobacco business,” Mr. Lesnak said last year in a confidential deposition.

“The idea was, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” Mr. Carpenter said in a deposition. “And lo and behold,” he said, “they came.”

Would-be smugglers appeared, looking to buy untaxed cigarettes. Some offered cash. Others offered to trade stolen property or guns. Mr. Lesnak and Ryan Kaye, one of the agents involved in the operation, worked the floor. “It got to the point where we were, you know, warehouse workers as opposed to criminal investigators,” Mr. Lesnak said.

The A.T.F. allowed Mr. Carpenter and his business partner, Christopher Small, to conduct illicit tobacco sales in the hopes of catching criminals. Mr. Lesnak, Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Small declined repeated interview requests.

Normally, undercover operations run entirely on government money, from a government account that is reviewed by government auditors. But Mr. Carpenter was running a real company. Sometimes he worked for the government, sometimes for himself, and it was not always clear where the profits should go.

SO THE A.T.F. DEVISED A SOLUTION: When it was unclear where the money belonged, it went into a private account that Mr. Carpenter controlled. That kept the money outside the reach of Congress. Mr. Lesnak dictated all the spending and said he expected the government to balance the books at the end of the investigation. That never happened.

Mr. Kaye testified last year and was asked repeatedly who approved this arrangement and under what authority:

“I do not recall exactly who authorized that.”

“I wouldn’t call it ‘authorization.’ I would call it an ‘understanding.’”

“No authorization was needed.”

“I don’t know of a specific law that authorizes those specific activities.”

The secret fund became known as a “management account,” and word spread quickly among A.T.F. agents that if you needed something, Mr. Lesnak could get it without red tape. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2017 at 11:35 am

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

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

%d bloggers like this: