Thursday, December 7, 2017

Last Call For Who's The Boss?

I mentioned last week that the growing battle over the future of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was in full effect, as Richard Cordray left the agency to run for Governor in Ohio.  He left the agency to its deputy director, but Trump appointed his budget direct Mick Mulvaney to run the agency.

A federal court sided with Mulvaney, and within a week, the "Consumer" has all but been removed from the title of the agency, it's now very much the Financial Protection Bureau.

The defanging of a federal consumer watchdog agency began last week in a federal courthouse in San Francisco. 
After a nearly three-year legal skirmish, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau appeared to have been victorious. A judge agreed in September with the bureau that a financial company had misled more than 100,000 mortgage customers. As punishment, the judge ordered the Ohio company, Nationwide Biweekly Administration, to pay nearly $8 million in penalties. 
All that was left was to collect the cash. Last week, lawyers from the consumer bureau filed an 11-page brief asking the judge to force Nationwide to post an $8 million bond while the proceedings wrapped up. 
Then Mick Mulvaney was named the consumer bureau’s acting director. 
Barely 48 hours later, the same lawyers filed a new two-sentence brief. Their request: to withdraw their earlier submission and no longer take a position on whether Nationwide should put up the cash. 
It was a subtle but unmistakable sign that the consumer bureau under Mr. Mulvaney is headed in a new direction — one that takes a lighter touch to regulating the financial industry. The reversal is part of a broad push by the Trump administration to unfetter companies from Obama-era regulations.
Inside the agency, change has been swift. Mr. Mulvaney briefly stopped approval of payments to some victims of financial crime, halted hiring, froze all new rule-making and ordered a review of active investigations and lawsuits. Some, he has indicated, will be abandoned
“This place will be different, under my leadership and under whoever follows me,” Mr. Mulvaney said Monday about an agency that he previously denounced as a “sad, sick” example of bureaucracy gone amok. 
Mr. Mulvaney took over leadership of the bureau, created in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, less than two weeks ago. The abrupt resignation of Richard Cordray, the bureau’s longtime director, who had been appointed by President Barack Obama, set off an extraordinary public fight for control of the agency. The battle pitted Mr. Mulvaney, who was named acting director by President Trump, against Leandra English, the bureau’s deputy director under Mr. Cordray. While Mr. Trump can appoint his own director, confirmation could take months. Until then, the acting director is in charge. 
Last week, a federal judge ruled in Mr. Mulvaney’s favor, denying an emergency motion that Ms. English had filed to stop the White House from selecting a temporary director. The lawsuit is continuing. 
The bureau has been investigating Santander, the giant Spanish bank, for overcharging auto loan customers. Given the tenor of recent conversations inside the bureau, agency lawyers suspect the investigation could be shelved under Mr. Mulvaney, according to four people with knowledge of the case who requested anonymity to discuss an investigation. 
Raschelle Burton, a spokeswoman for Santander, said the company was not aware of any planned lawsuit from the C.F.P.B.

By the time the matter gets to the Supreme Court -- if they even bother to take it up -- Mulvaney will have long ended the agency's investigations and will have wrecked any hope of consumers getting their money back from the banks.

Mulvaney wasn't brought in to streamline the agency.  He was brought in to dismantle it.  And there's every reason to believe the GOP will find a way to eliminate the agency sooner rather than later.  Remember the Dubya days, where industry regulators were tasked to protect industries from lawsuits?  We're back to that with a vengeance.

But hey, this is what the country voted for, right?

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Michael Flynn is the gift that keeps on Robert Mueller, that is.  His major problem is he could never keep his mouth shut, especially when it comes to how smart he is.  And while conservatives point to the lack of conspiracy charges against Flynn so far as "proof" there was no Trump campaign collusion with Russia, the reality is far, far different.

Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, told a former business associate that economic sanctions against Russia would be “ripped up” as one of the Trump administration’s first acts, according to an account by a whistle-blower made public on Wednesday. 
Mr. Flynn believed that ending the sanctions could allow a business project he had once participated in to move forward, according to the whistle-blower. The account is the strongest evidence to date that the Trump administration wanted to end the sanctions immediately, and suggests that Mr. Flynn had a possible economic incentive for the United States to forge a closer relationship with Russia. 
Mr. Flynn had worked on a business venture to partner with Russia to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East until June 2016, but remained close with the people involved afterward. On Inauguration Day, according to the whistle-blower, Mr. Flynn texted the former business associate to say that the project was “good to go.” 
The account is detailed in a letter written by Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. In the letter, Mr. Cummings said that the whistle-blower contacted his office in June and has authorized him to go public with the details. He did not name the whistle-blower.

Remember, Mueller isn't the only investigatory body looking at Trump and Russian collusion, it's important not to forget that.  Yes, Mueller almost certainly knows everything that the House Oversight Committee, Senate Judiciary, and House Judiciary Committees know, but he's not going to leak anything directly.  Democrats on these committees, well, they made it clear that they're not bound by such fetters.

“These grave allegations compel a full, credible and bipartisan congressional investigation,” Mr. Cummings wrote. 
Mr. Flynn has been under investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election, for calls he made last December to Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time. Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the F.B.I. about the nature of his calls, during which the men discussed the sanctions that the Obama administration had just imposed on Russia.

In his letter, Mr. Cummings also said that his staff had been in consultations with Mr. Mueller’s team, which brought the criminal charge against Mr. Flynn. Staffers for the special counsel asked Mr. Cummings not to make the whistle-blower’s account public until “they completed certain investigative steps,” he wrote. 
According to the account detailed in the letter, the whistle-blower had a conversation on Inauguration Day with Alex Copson of ACU Strategic Partners, a company that hired Mr. Flynn in 2015 as an adviser to develop a plan to work with Russia to build nuclear power plants throughout the Middle East. Mr. Flynn served as an adviser until June 2016. 
During the conversation, Mr. Copson told the whistle-blower that “this is the best day of my life” because it was “the start of something I’ve been working on for years, and we are good to go.” Mr. Copson told the whistle-blower that Mr. Flynn had sent him a text message during Mr. Trump’s inaugural address, directing him to tell others involved in the nuclear project to continue developing their plans.

Clearly Flynn, as national security adviser, believed Russian sanctions would be eliminated under the Trump regime and that the projects he was working on, mainly these Russian nuclear plants in the Middle East, would be a cakewalk.

He of course was wrong.

Whether or not Mueller can prove that in court is something for another day, but the right is dreaming if it thinks Mueller and the various Congressional Committees are bluffing.  Again this is going to be a political fight in the end, and indeed the Flynn indictment is starting to make Americans realize that there's something fundamentally wrong with this regime, as a new CBS News poll finds.

Most Americans think former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's guilty plea and cooperation with the special counsel is a serious issue for the Trump administration, including a third of Republicans. But most Republicans see the Russia investigation overall as politically motivated.

Americans divide in their views on the Russia investigation: eight in 10 Republicans call it politically motivated, while three in four Democrats say it is justified. 
Some Republicans – just over four in 10 - do think it's at least somewhat likely that senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia, but they are less likely than Democrats to think that Flynn's guilty plea is a serious issue for the administration.
Overall, most Americans think the whole situation is an important issue to the country, but fewer Republicans think that.

Americans who think the Russia investigation is justified overwhelmingly see the Flynn matter as serious. But even the more than four in 10 who view the investigation as politically motivated also think the Flynn matter is a serious issue for the administration.

The big number in that CBS poll: 67% of Americans overall believe the Trump regime had improper dealings with Russia.  That two-thirds figure includes 43% of Republicans.  Two out of three Americans believe there was collusion, guys.  We're not at a critical mass where the GOP will drop support of Trump yet, but we're getting awfully close, and Trump knows it. 

This week in Trump's foreign policy proves that.

BREAKING: Justice For Walter Scott

Two-and-a-half years ago I predicted that former South Charleston cop Michael Slager would never be found guilty of murder for shooting unarmed black man Walter Scott in the back eight times as Scott ran away, and in a bystander's mobile phone video Slager appeared to plant "evidence" at the scene after Scott was killed. 

Slager plead guilty to a federal violation of civil rights charge in May after the jury in his state trial was deadlocked.  I had little hope that federal charges would amount to much, even though Slager was possibly facing a life sentence for murder one.  Slager and his lawyers obviously thought the same and they had every reason to believe that Slager would get off lightly, if serve any time at all.

Today a federal judge ruled that Michael Slager will be sentenced to prison for murder.

Former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager has been sentenced to 19 to 24 years in prison for the deadly shooting of unarmed black man Walter Scott. 
U.S. District Judge David Norton ruled today that the former officer committed second-degree murder and obstruction of justice. The judge's sentencing decision comes after Slager, who is white, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights offense. 
Slager shot and killed Scott on April 4, 2015, while Slager was an officer with the North Charleston Police Department. Witness video that surfaced shortly after the encounter appeared to show the moment Slager fatally shot Scott as he ran away. He was fired from the force after the shooting. 
Slager was charged in South Carolina with murder and pleaded not guilty. During the murder trial, Slager's attorney said his client shot Scott because he was in fear for his life. In 2016, the case ended in a mistrial. The state retrial and federal trial were expected to take place this year, but instead, in May Slager pleaded guilty to violating Scott's civil rights in federal court, ending the federal case against him and also resolving the state charges that were pending after the mistrial. 
The judge's ruling today followed several days of testimony, including from Feiden Santana, the witness who filmed the shooting, and Judy Scott, Walter Scott's mother.

I'm good with this, if not ecstatic.  There are federal judges that still can see obvious abuses of power by police in America and can deliver justice.  But keep in mind as I said recently that if Donald Trump has his way, federal courts will be packed with hundreds of new terrible right-wing judges with lifetime tenures.

And then black lives truly won't matter anymore.

Olympic Levels Of Trolling

I'm sure there's still readers out there who still don't believe that the Trump regime is taking orders from the Russians, but I'm going to make another case for that here: this week the Russians were kicked out of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea in February as the International Olympic Committee dropped the hammer on Putin and Russian sports doping in Sochi in 2014. The Atlantic's Julia Ioffe:

In rigging the Olympics, Putin got what he wanted—a successful event and a winning medal count—but the conspiracy that Russia needed to get there inevitably surfaced, and now 11 of those 33 medalists have been stripped of their prizes. Others will be given medals in their stead at Pyeongchang Olympics. Russian sport officials, like Mutko, are now banned from the Olympics for life. Russian athletes won’t be able to compete in Winter Olympics under their flag—athletes proven to be clean can compete under a neutral flag. In fact, neither the Russian anthem nor the Russian flag will appear in Pyeongchang.

In October, Putin, anticipating the IOC’s decision, said that this would be “a humiliation for the country.” Humiliation, a word echoed by many Russians when the punishment was handed down on Tuesday, the same word in the mouths of so many Russians in the wake of the Vancouver flop. Humiliation is a particular obsession for Putin, the fear of it informing his posturing at home and abroad. Before Americans spoke of making America great again, Russians spoke of Putin raising Russia up off its knees, a two-decade exercise of expunging the humiliation of the Soviet collapse. Sochi and the elaborate doping scheme used there was intended to do just that, to erase the humiliation of Vancouver, to show that Russia had restored its historic glory, to end the international mockery and disdain. Instead, like so many of Russia’s moves under Putin, it achieved the opposite. Yet again, the glitz turned out to be a sloppy front for the rot.

It may have been an impressive, FSB-orchestrated operation, but what did it get them? After Vancouver, Russia may have been smarting with the perceived humiliation of performing below their own expectations—but after Sochi, the Russian flag won’t fly at the next Olympics at all. Russian officials are busy denouncing this kind of Olympic Games as hopelessly “hobbled” and “not even the Olympics,” while others call for a full boycott by the clean Russian athletes. This wasn’t what Sochi was supposed to achieve. This is a humiliation far worse than Vancouver’s; this is pariah status. Except that Russia was already a pariah for its actions in Ukraine and for meddling in America’s 2016 presidential election, both of which made Russia’s position in the world more complicated, not less. If Putin is the omniscient mastermind many Americans imagine him to be, surely he would have anticipated this?

When I was last in Moscow, a military analyst told me that, after two decades of post-Soviet Western mockery, Russia had decided that, since no one in the West was going to love it, at least they’d fear it. But what comes after that, when the consequences set in and the fear turns to loathing condescension? Isn’t that … humiliating?

So where am I going with this?  The Olympic world humiliated Putin, so now Putin will do everything he can to turn the 2018 Winter Games into an international joke.  That apparently starts with the US suddenly floating the idea to drop out of the Olympiad.

Whether US athletes will be able to attend the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea remains an "open question," US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Wednesday night. 
The Winter Olympics are set to be held Feb. 9-25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The situation with neighboring North Korea, which has grown increasingly hostile while pursuing its nuclear ambitions, is "changing by the day," Haley said on Fox News, making the security of US athletes uncertain. 
Still, Haley said she believes President Donald Trump's administration will work to "find out the best way" to make sure the athletes are protected. 
"I think those are conversations we are going to have to have, but what have we always said? We don't ever fear anything, we live our lives," Haley said. "And certainly that is a perfect opportunity for all of them to go and do something they have worked so hard for. What we will do is, we will make sure that we're taking every precaution possible to make sure that they're safe and to know everything that's going on around them." 
Asked if it's a "done deal" that US athletes will be able to attend the Olympics, Haley said: "There's an open question. I have not heard anything about that, but I do know in the talks that we have -- whether it's Jerusalem or North Korea -- it's about, how do we protect the US citizens in the area?"

Suddenly, a day after the Russians were banned from the 2018 games in South Korea, the security of US athletes at the games is "an open question".  And if the security of the mightiest nation on earth is in question, maybe nobody else will be safe at the games either.  If the Trump regime may not send a delegation because of "security" then what do they know is coming? Maybe that makes everyone else nervous.  Maybe they shouldn't send delegations either, it's "too risky".

And suddenly it's not Russia being punished.  It's everyone, starting with host nation South Korea.

Putin may have his revenge.  And he may very well get it now if the US drops out of the Games.  Now, it's maybe a trial balloon, but I'm betting if the IOC were to change its mind about Russia, maybe the US would decide that the Games have to go on in the Olympic Spirit.

I can't prove of course that this is what happened, that Putin picked up the phone and called Trump and said "You need to threaten to pull out of the Olympics over North Korea".

But there are never coincidences this big at this level of the game.


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