Who’s Afraid of Elizabeth Warren?

Quite a few people, and they have something in common. It’s not poverty.

President Trump has been good for America’s billionaires. He slashed corporate taxes, cut the top income tax rate and raised the total exemption for the estate tax, directly benefiting several hundred billionaires and their heirs. He’s placed wealthy supporters in key positions of government like the Commerce Department, rolled back Obama-era financial regulations and privileged the interests of favored industries — like resource extraction and fossil fuel production — above all else.

There are billionaires who oppose Trump, of course. But for the most part they aren’t class traitors. They still want the government to work in their favor. They still want to keep their taxes low, just without the dysfunction — and gratuitous cruelty — of the current administration. And they want Democrats to choose a conventional nominee: a moderate standard-bearer who doesn’t want to make fundamental changes to the economy, from greatly increased taxes to greater worker control.

Plenty of Democratic voters agree. But just as many have rallied behind candidates who want a more equal, more democratic economy. Two of the three leading candidates — Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — want new taxes on the wealthiest Americans and their assets. Sanders has the steeper tax but Warren is not far behind former vice president Joe Biden in national polling and leads the field in both Iowa and New Hampshire. With Biden struggling to break away from the pack, it looks like Warren actually could be the nominee, and anti-Trump billionaires are worried.

That’s why one of them, Mike Bloomberg, has floated a plan to run for the Democratic nomination. And why others have gone public with their attacks on Warren.
Mark Cuban, a billionaire investor, said Warren — whose wealth tax calls for a 2 percent tax on households with more than $50 million in assets and a 6 percent tax on households with assets of more than $1 billion — is “selling shiny objects to divert attention from reality.”

Another billionaire investor, Leon Cooperman, called Warren’s wealth tax a “bankrupt concept,” said it could “lead to inappropriate actions in the economy that are counterproductive” and warned that Warren is “taking the country down a very wrong path.”

“What she’s peddling is bull. Total, complete bull,” Cooperman said last week on CNBC, “That comes from someone who believes in a progressive income tax structure, who believes the rich should pay more.”

A few days later, Cooperman announced his support for Bloomberg’s potential candidacy.

Bill Gates also thinks Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax goes too far: “I’ve paid over $10 billion in taxes. I’ve paid more than anyone in taxes. If I had to have paid $20 billion, it’s fine. But when you say I should pay $100 billion, then I’m starting to do a little math about what I have left over.” He claimed that he was “just kidding,” but when asked if he would support Warren over Trump, he demurred. Instead, he said, he’d cast a ballot for whichever candidate had the “more professional approach.”

If there’s a prominent billionaire who hasn’t taken a public stance on Warren, it’s Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon. But he did urge Bloomberg to run for president earlier this year, perhaps a sign that he too is worried about the outcome of the Democratic primary.

All of this is understandable. As my colleague Patty Cohen notes, if Warren’s wealth tax had been in effect since 1982, Gates would have had $13.9 billion in 2018 instead of $97 billion, Bezos would have $48.8 billion instead of $160 billion, and Bloomberg would have had $12.3 billion instead of $51.8 billion. They would still be billionaires, but Warren’s tax would have taken a significant chunk out of their assets. And even if the wealth tax never became law, a Warren administration would still take a hard line on financial regulation, consumer protection and tax enforcement, key areas of interest for the super rich. It’s impossible to imagine a Warren White House in which billionaires would have the same access and favored status that they do with Trump.

Warren’s wealthy critics are right to be nervous. And they have a right to speak out against her. But Bloomberg’s potential entry into the race — and Tom Steyer’s ongoing presence — shows that they’re not just giving an opinion. They want assurance that the Democratic nominee won’t be too disruptive. They want a restoration of the pre-Trump status quo, not a revolution. They want a veto of sorts, a formal way to say that Democrats can only go so far with their plans and policies.

The only response worth making to this idea is to laugh. Despite voter suppression, unlimited political spending and the president’s attempt to solicit foreign interference on his behalf, this is still a democracy. The final say still rests with voters, with ordinary Americans who retain the power to shape our government. And if those voters decide to nominate Warren or Sanders instead of a traditional moderate — and if either of those candidates beats Trump, as is very possible — then the billionaires will have to learn to live with the people’s will.

Why the Trump administration has enraged flyers across America

The president wants to withdraw a sensible regulation about displaying baggage fees

FOR a president elected on a populist campaign message, Donald Trump is not doing much to make himself popular with flyers in America. On December 7th, the Trump administration announced that it was withdrawing a regulation proposed under Barack Obama to require airlines and other plane-ticket sellers to disclose baggage fees when customers begin the process of buying tickets. Airlines already have to display checked baggage fees on their websites. But the Obama administration’s proposal would have forced them to do so up front in the shopping process, so that travellers could compare the fees for various airlines and routes when choosing their itineraries.

The White House said in its announcement that the rules being scrapped had “limited public benefit.” In a statement, Elaine Chao, Mr Trump’s Transportation Secretary, said:

The department is committed to protecting consumers from hidden fees and to ensuring transparency. However, we do not believe that departmental action is necessary to meet this objective at this time.

Wells Fargo Is Dubbed a Repeat Offender and Faces New Wrath From Its Regulator

Bank was asked to respond on irregularities in its auto-insurance and mortgage-lending units

the bank conceded in a news release that for years it had forced nearly 600,000 customers who financed their car purchases with Wells Fargo to pay for collision coverage they didn’t need. The bank said about 20,000 customers had their cars wrongly repossessed. Those customers failed to pay the improper insurance charges.

 .. The enforcement action being weighed against Wells Fargo is a cease-and-desist order, the people familiar with the matter said. Also known as a consent order, it is among an array of formal enforcement proceedings the OCC can take when it determines that deficiencies in a bank’s operations are severe, uncorrected, unsafe or unsound.
.. Last year’s disclosure about the unauthorized accounts led the OCC to issue Wells Fargo a cease-and-desist order. The regulator levied penalties of $35 million in that September 2016 action
.. Several weeks after that, the OCC placed additional limitations on the bank, including preventing so-called golden parachutes for departing executives.
.. In the past five years, Wells Fargo has received four new cease-and-desist orders from the Comptroller of the Currency; in two of those actions, including the one involving the opening of unrequested accounts, the regulator assessed a total of $55 million in penalties.

The Real Reason for Republicans’ Silence on Donald Trump

Their fellow legislators have silently accepted his outrages in exchange for policies they’ve always wanted.

At his inauguration Mr. Trump said his presidency was about “transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American people.” But he and his allies in Congress are transferring power to Wall Street, fossil fuel companies, the chemical industry and other special interests, and are stoking an anti-populist bonfire to incinerate protections for consumers and workers.

.. On Tuesday night the Senate, with a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence, followed the House in voting to overturn a rule that would have allowed consumers to file class-action lawsuits against banks and other financial institutions, rather than be forced to take their disputes to arbitration.

.. Mr. Trump signed an executive order allowing insurers to sell skimpy health insurance plans that do not protect people with pre-existing conditions and that will destabilize the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces.

.. His administration shortened the open enrollment period when people can buy insurance policies for next year, and slashed spending on advertising and outreach efforts.

.. Congress overturned a rule restricting the ability of coal companies to dump their mining debris into streams and other waterways, threatening rural communities, forests and wildlife.

.. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, rejected a staff recommendation to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to developmental problems in children, and started the process to overturn the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era proposal to reduce planet-warming emissions from power plants.

.. Congress repealed a Securities and Exchange Commission rule that sought to expose and limit corruption by requiring oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments.

DeVos Halts Obama-Era Plan to Revamp Student Loan Management

The Obama administration sought to replace this labyrinthine system with a single entry point — a sea change in how student loan servicing would work. Instead of dealing directly with private vendors, all federal borrowers would gain access to their accounts through an Education Department portal, with standardized forms and processes. A single vendor would take the lead in creating the system’s interface

.. In October, the government narrowed the field to three finalists

  1. Navient; the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (better known as FedLoan);
  2. Nelnet
  3. Great Lakes

.. The winner was to be announced in February.

.. Navient is the biggest lightning rod. In January, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and two state attorneys general sued Navient, charging it with a long list of misdeeds.

.. a particular piece of guidance from the Obama administration she struck down:

  • that the Education Department should place great weight on a company’s track record when selecting student loan vendors, and should steer away from companies with histories of shoddy service or other problems.

.. that puts Navient — the nation’s largest federal student loan servicer ..

on stronger footing than it had been in bidding for agency contracts.

.. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau responded ..

borrowers “should be able to repay their debt without having to deal with illegal loan servicing practices.”

.. Navient’s size makes it a very strong competitor — once past performance is played down.

.. The loan servicer has tremendous power to guide them through repayment options. Some plans stretch payment periods out for as long as 30 years, and others help qualifying students get a portion of their debt forgiven. Strategic use of those paths can trim — or inflate — the sum that a student ultimately pays by tens of thousands of dollars.

Gorsuch’s big fat lie

With a shrewdly calculated innocence, Judge Neil Gorsuch told a big fat lie at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Because it was a lie everyone expected, nobody called it that.

“There’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge,” Gorsuch said.

.. We now have an ideological judiciary. To pretend otherwise is naive and also recklessly irresponsible because it tries to wish away the real stakes in confirmation battles.

.. party polarization now affects the behavior of judges, “reducing the likelihood that they will stray from the ideological positions that brought them to the Court in the first place.

.. If partisanship and ideology were not central to Supreme Court nominations, Gorsuch would be looking at more years in his beloved Colorado.

.. conservatives who regularly denounce “liberal judicial activism” now count on control of the Supreme Court to get results they could never achieve through the democratically elected branches of government.

.. They could not gut the Voting Rights Act in Congress. So Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s court did it for them. They could never have undone a century’s worth of legislation limiting big money’s influence on politics. So the Citizens United decision did it for them.

.. Gorsuch has done what economic conservatives count on the judges they push onto the courts to do: He regularly sides with corporations over workers and consumers. We can’t know exactly where the millions of dollars of dark money fueling pro-Gorsuch ad campaigns come from, but we have a right to guess.

.. it appears that the prior relatively pro-business conservative trajectory of the Supreme Court will now be restored.”

.. The nominee himself flicked away White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’s declaration to the Conservative Political Action Conference that Gorsuch “represents the type of judge that has the vision of Donald Trump and it fulfills the promise that he made to all of you.”

.. conservatives, including Trump, want the court to sweep aside decades of jurisprudence that gave Congress broad authority to legislate civil rights and social reform, along with environmental, worker and consumer protections. Gorsuch good-naturedly evaded nearly every substantive question he was asked because he could not acknowledge that this is why he was there.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Fights to Stay Alive Under Trump

While the future of the CFPB remains cloudy, Trump’s pick for Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, hinted it may, at the very least, need an overhaul.

.. “The biggest issue I have with the CFPB, I don’t believe they should be funded out of profits from the Federal Reserve. I think they should be funded out of an appropriations process.”

.. Mierzwinski scoffed at Mnuchin’s idea; “That is code for I want to kill the CFPB,” he said. For Warren, a funding shift would give the big banks more power. “The CFPB gets an independent source of funding – like every other federal banking agency in U.S. history – so that it can hold banks like Wells Fargo accountable without fearing budget cuts from big bank allies in Congress. If Mr. Mnuchin and others push to change the consumer agency’s funding source, they will be declaring loud and clear that they care more about pleasing big banks than protecting working families and the safety of our financial system,” she said in a statement to FOX Business.

.. Last year, the CFPB levied a record $185 millionOpens a New Window. fine against Wells Fargo (WFC) for creating upwards of two million phony customer accounts to allegedly meet sales goals. Prior to the fine, in 2013, the Los Angeles TimesOpens a New Window.reported the practices.