The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Now Protects Predatory Lenders

One of the few possibly good things to come out of the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008 was a government entity that existed solely to protect people from predatory businesses. It’s the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and it’s new Trump-appointed leader, Mick Mulvaney is unsurprisingly, a real piece of shit.

ProPublica’s Paul Kiel:

Last week, it dropped a lawsuit against a group of payday lenders that charged interest rates that touched 950 percent. The companies were associated with a Native American tribe, a common dodge the industry has used because it allows lenders to evade state interest-rate caps.

[…]

But in an email to CFPB staff today, Mulvaney laid out what the bureau’s new approach should be. He had “no intent in shutting down the Bureau,” he wrote, but said that his leadership would contrast sharply with Cordray’s approach of aggressive enforcement. The CFPB worked for all taxpayers, he wrote, and that includes “those who take loans, and those who make them” and “bringing the full weight of the federal government down on the necks of the people we serve should be something that we do only reluctantly.” Going forward, he wrote, there would be “more formal rulemaking on which financial institutions can rely, and less regulation by enforcement.”

Mulvaney also received big campaign contributions from the predatory lending industry. Of course.

If this pisses you off, too, you might consider joining a local DSA chapter.

Waking Up to An Incoming Ballistic Missile

A digital road sign from a few hours after the first alert//Jack Slater

Saturday, yesterday, my wife ran into the house a few minutes after 8 AM  and shook me awake with the news that a ballistic missile was incoming towards our home. She had received the alert via the emergency system on every smartphone. We didn’t know why my phone hadn’t sounded the alarm (my wife says I am a “very sound sleeper”) as far as I can tell, it was set to do so.

Here was the text of the actual alert:

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

Anyone who was watching TV also got this message:

My wife sheltered with our son, who was still sleeping, in the bathtub at the center of the house. I shut the windows and the doors, knocked on our neighbors door to try and make sure they knew, wished I had bought more supplies before the incoming attack, and then joined my family in the bathroom, hoping for the best. That it was a false alarm, that it would miss or be deflected, that we would at least survive the initial blast and then find some way to survive whatever payload the missile delivered. We weren’t really prepared for either nuclear or biological possibilities.

The alert didn’t specify which island was destined to receive the missile. We’re on Oahu, which you would assume would be the target because it has military installations.

We were lucky to find out via our senators, and the emergency management agency that it was a false alarm:

Even after finding out that it was a false alarm, I was terrified. What if this had been a sensor malfunction, and the same malfunctioning message had reached our national embarrassment of a president and convinced him that it warranted an immediate nuclear response? There was no way to tell what he would do, he’s been antagonizing other nuclear powers and  bragging about the size of his “Nuclear Button” like a five-year-old.

About 45 minutes after I woke up, the emergency management agency finally got a message out via the original alert mechanism and confirmed the false alarm:

Adam Nagourney, David E. Sanger, and Johanna Barr for The New York Times:

The false alert was a stark reminder of what happens when the old realities of the nuclear age collide with the speed — and the potential for error — inherent in the internet age. The alert came at one of the worst possible moments — when tension with North Korea has been at one of the highest points in decades, and when Mr. Kim’s government has promised more missile tests and threatened an atmospheric nuclear test.

During the Cold War there were many false alarms. William J. Perry, the defense secretary during the Clinton administration, recalled in his memoir, “My Journey at the Nuclear Brink,” a moment in 1979 when, as an under secretary of defense, he was awakened by a watch officer who reported that his computer system was showing 200 intercontinental ballistic missiles headed to the United States. “For one heart-stopping second I thought my worst nuclear nightmare had come true,” Mr. Perry wrote.

It turned out that a training tape had been mistakenly inserted into an early-warning system computer. No one woke up the president. But Mr. Perry went on to speculate what might have happened if such a warning had come “during the Cuban Missile Crisis or a Mideast war?”

The governor has apologized for the mistake, which turned out to be caused by bad UX in a drop-down menu. The best response our president had was to take a break, hours later, from golfing and go off the rails about a book that exposed his administration’s incompetence and internal distrust of his judgement. The rest of his administration was completely unprepared according to this article from Eliana Johnson:

A false warning of a missile threat in Hawaii sent White House aides scrambling Saturday, frantically phoning agencies to determine a response and triggering worries about their preparedness almost a year into the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump’s Cabinet has yet to test formal plans for how to respond to a domestic missile attack, according to a senior administration official. John Kelly, while serving as secretary of Homeland Security through last July, planned to conduct the exercise. But he left his post to become White House chief of staff before it was conducted, and acting Secretary Elaine Duke never carried it out.

Philip Bump for The Washington Post:

Consider his responses. First that statement, which has one obvious aim: To assure the American people that it wasn’t his fault that the false alert went out — it was Hawaii’s. Then, that tweet, which shows what was preoccupying the president at the moment. Not that one of the 50 states had been briefly wracked with terror after a mistake was made by the people whose job it is to keep them safe. Instead, an insistence to the American people that the media is “fake news,” which was probably a response to the reports that trickled out bolstering a story from the Wall Street Journal that Trump had allegedly paid hush money to a porn star with whom he’d had an affair.

That was the thing that Trump urgently wanted to clear up: The media couldn’t be trusted when it reported on him.

Trump could have tweeted as soon as possible that the alert was a false alarm, sharing that information with millions of Americans immediately. He could have additionally shared information about what went wrong, and assured people that he would work to make sure that no such error happened again in the future. He could, at the very least, have sought to offer some emotional support to the people of Hawaii. He did none of these. He has, as of writing, done none of these.

[…]

It’s also hard to imagine that Trump didn’t make the situation more stressful in another way. His constant prodding of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has dramatically increased the sense that a missile might actually be launched at Hawaii from that nation. During the past 12 months, we’ve learned a lot more about what North Korea can do, and we’ve heard experts describe Trump’s response as exacerbating, not lessening, the possibility of conflict.

The result is that there was actually one message Trump sent to Hawaiians on Saturday.

You’re on your own.

A Bitter Anniversary

Chuck Jones writing in the Washington Post:

At the Carrier plant on the west side of Indianapolis, we’re coming up on a bitter anniversary. One year ago this week, President-elect Donald Trump stood before hundreds of cheering workers and declared that he had saved our jobs from moving to Mexico. It was a symbolic moment that cemented Trump’s campaign image as a working-class champion — a blue-collar billionaire who would stand with workers, not CEOs.

I have been a worker at the Rexnord plant in Indianapolis for 48 years, and president of United Steel Workers Local 1999 for more than 30. As the leader of the union representing the Carrier workers, I was part of the negotiations with the company regarding the coming layoffs when Trump intervened. Standing in front of the president-elect at Carrier during Trump’s first victory rally after the 2016 election, I realized that he was delivering a powerful message of hope not only to Carrier workers, but also to all working people in America: You finally have a president who will fight for the interests of ordinary workers, Trump seemed to say.

A year later, we feel betrayed. Carrier has announced that more than 600 workers are being laid off, with the last line scheduled to work their final shift right after the holidays.

The workers at Carrier aren’t the only ones who feel victimized by Trump’s false promises. United Technologies, Carrier’s parent company, is laying off another 700 workers right up the road from the Carrier plant in Huntington. And Rexnord, another plant in Indianapolis, just closed its doors, too. Workers at both plants hoped that Trump would come to the rescue, but he never showed up.

Keep reading.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is Out

For the first time the only controversy around a Wolfenstein game isn’t about the violence, nobody cares about that anymore. It’s from the republicans who feel like they’re being attacked for supporting fascists like Trump.

GQ’s Joshua Rivera:

In moving the action to America, Bjork and MachineGames weren’t really out to comment on the current political climate. Work on The New Colossus began in 2014, and it’s a sequel to a game that began development in 2011. But current events have conspired to give the themes The New Colossus sets out to explore an uncomfortable relevance.

The game is reviewing well too, although I am not sure if this means that this is the end of Bethesda’s experiment with denying pre-release access to writers for review.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is out now for Steam on Windows as well as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Stop Using the Economic Value of Immigrants as Justification for their Defense

That’s Carmen Rojas’ headline to her very important article about writers calling for protecting people based on their income and spending:

When we frame the value of people through their ability to toil in fields, clean houses, cook in kitchens, and care for children, we as a country are choosing to value their work over their humanity. We must choose different in order to do better.

It’s Time For iOS To Allow Apps From Outside the App Store

Recently, Apple started removing VPN apps from their iOS App Store in China in order to comply with local laws. That may be something they have to do as a business, but it’s time to allow apps from developers outside of the App Store. Gruber:

To me, the more interesting question isn’t whether Apple should be selling its products in China, but rather whether Apple should continue to make the App Store the only way to install apps on iOS devices. A full-on “install whatever you want” policy isn’t going to happen, but something like Gatekeeper on MacOS could.

Keep iOS App Store-only by default. Add a preference in Settings to allow apps to be downloaded from “identified developers” (those with an Apple developer certificate) in addition to the App Store. In that scenario, the App Store is no longer a single choke point for all native apps on the device.

The App Store was envisioned as a means for Apple to maintain strict control over the software running on iOS devices. But in a totalitarian state like China (or perhaps Russia, next), it becomes a source of control for the totalitarian regime.

Gruber doesn’t think this will happen, but it should. These pocket computers are supremely important to communications and it’s well past time for Apple to open things up.

Sick Crowdfunding

Step 1) Never increase the minimum wage, which peaked in 1968 at (adjusted for 2014 inflation) $10
Step 2) Strip healthcare away from 32 million people even when they get it through their workplace.
Step 3) Invest in tech startups and profit on suffering!

Bloomberg’s Suzanne Wooley:

Crowdfunding platforms such as GoFundMe and YouCaring have turned sympathy for Americans drowning in medical expenses into a cottage industry. Now Republican efforts in Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare could swell the ranks of the uninsured and spur the business of helping people raise donations online to pay for health care.

[…]

With enough volume, the business of helping people raise money for medical care has a lot of profit potential. GoFundMe takes 5 percent of each donation, 2.9 percent goes to payment processing, and there’s a 30¢ transaction fee. Smaller sites, such as Fundly and FundRazr, charge much the same. YouCaring donors pay just a 2.9 percent processing fee plus the 30¢.

[…]

For more and more Americans, vying in a popularity contest for a limited supply of funds and sympathy may be the only way to pay the doctors and stay afloat. House Republicans passed a bill last month to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. As is, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, it would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured in 2026 than under the ACA. Even a law just resembling the bill is likely to raise the cost of health care for older and sicker Americans and for those with preexisting conditions, bolstering the medical crowdfunding business.

Call your represenatives.

Vox: “The Senate GOP health bill in one sentence: poor people pay more for worse insurance”

This is the single most important issue for many Americans today. The Russian interference into our elections is bad, but this could be imminently devastating to anyone who needs their health care to actually function. Ezra Klein:

If all this sounds a bit in the weeds, here’s the bottom line: Low-income Americans get less money to buy crummier insurance. In the GOP bill, the measure of what is affordable has gone up and the definition of what counts as decent insurance has gone down.

Gene B. Sperling and Michael Shapiro go over how this version of the health bill could destroy coverage for pre-existing conditions in The Atlantic:

As they argue for the bill, Republicans are going to claim that it will not allow insurance plans to discriminate against people because they have a pre-existing condition. But that just isn’t the case. The Republican plan may not allow insurers to discriminate against a pre-existing condition through the front door, but they’ve created a backdoor way in.

Call your senators.

The Times’ Catalog of Dear Leader’s Lies

David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson:

Many Americans have become accustomed to President Trump’s lies. But as regular as they have become, the country should not allow itself to become numb to them. So we have catalogued nearly every outright lie he has told publicly since taking the oath of office.

[…]

There is simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths. Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers. No other president — of either party — has behaved as Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.

Great work, I’d love to see everything from the campaign as well but I’m very happy to see a major news organization calling the Liar-in-Chief a liar instead of using mealy-mouthed words to pretend that it isn’t intentional.