Last year I volunteered to make phone calls for the presidential candidate I felt most capable not only of defeating President Voldemort, but who could right all the wrongs being inflicted on our country by a political leadership that cares only for what it wants.
My candidate was Elizabeth Warren. I loved talking to strangers in other states about Liz.
Following the end of her campaign, I considered Bernie and Joe. People who supported Liz also support a lot of what Bernie espouses. However, the Trump administration’s inept response to the coronavirus pandemic became a metaphor for just how low our federal government has sunk and how Democrats will need to respond simply to make things seem normal again.
President Voldemort has hollowed out and misdirected the federal government to such a degree that he will rely on state governments to be the tip of the spear in addressing the pandemic. When he leaves office, the country is going to require years, if not decades, simply to return competence, integrity, and reliable service to the federal government.
I served for a decade as spokesperson for a financial regulator and feel confident in my views on how the financial markets and their government regulators run. I can speak with some authority on what President Voldemort has done to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). What happened at the CFPB is what happened across the spectrum of federal agencies.
(This government agency is the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, who also served as its first director. Just sayin…)
The CFPB’s founding mission statement read: “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives.”
Pretty simple and clear. Keep consumers from being fucked over. Which they were.
A reality that a lot of people do not want to admit is that they are being scammed by large financial institutions. Not all, but too many. Those institutions have smart, highly trained, and incentivized people working for them to figure out ways to bend rules, evade rules, and ignore rules to help squeeze every last nickel from you and me. And even nickels that have not yet landed in our pockets.
Did you hear the one about the national bank that selected as its mailing address a locale that received its mail a day later than other zip codes, just so they could increase their ability to charge late fees on payments?
Or about how the payday lending business model depends on people being charged late fees and rolling over their short-term loans in order for them to make any money? If customers paid the loans back on time, the payday lenders would go out of business.
Or that big bank that opened up – and charged – for accounts without their customers’ permission or knowledge?
It’s no wonder so many people would rather go to a check casher and pay exorbitant fees that are posted on the wall, than go to a bank, where all the fees are hidden away in fine print on lengthy legal disclaimers.
The reality that many people do not want to admit is that, when it comes to financial matters, they are not considered clients or customers; rather, they are “counterparties.” According to Investopedia, “A counterpartyis the other party that participates in a financial transaction, and every transaction must have a counterparty in order for the transaction to go through.” Notice: no mention of service or duty; rather, there is the assumption that both parties to the transaction bring roughly equivalent knowledge and resources to each transaction.
There is no way that you or I could ever, ever hope to have anywhere near the knowledge or resources as our bank, credit card company, stockbroker, real estate broker, or even the used auto dealer in your town. All of them have an unfair advantage over us in every single transaction.
The CFPB was created in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008 to help create a level playing field for the average American and the financial services industry. Since its founding in 2011, the CFPB has returned more than $12 billion to consumers through refunds and restitution. While other federal financial regulators focus on the safety and soundness” of the institutions, only the CFPB has “consumer protection” in its very name.
That is, until President Voldemort took office and appointed former congressional representative Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the CFPB. Usually, acting leadership’s job is to keep operations running smoothly until the permanent director is appointed. Mulvaney, who once called the CFPB a “sick, sad joke,” instead tried to take a sledgehammer to the agency as quickly as possible before the permanent director took over.
He changed the mission of the CFPB. The new statement reads: “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by regularly identifying and addressing outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome regulations, by making rules more effective, by consistently enforcing federal consumer financial law, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives.” (Emphasis added)
Those 11 words in bold turned the mission of the agency into one concerned with the interests of the industries they regulated and virtually unconcerned with protecting consumers. Anyone who tells you differently probably has their arguments tied to a paycheck from those industries.
Almost comically, Mulvaney attempted to change the name of the agency to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (BCFP). Anyone who knows anything about government would recognize this move as a transparent attempt to diminish the agency. The BCFP would viewed a stepchild of a larger agency rather than a co-equal with other federal financial regulators such as the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. And this name change would require a new logo. Not just on the building, but the website, the stationery, and the forms.
When folks realized that the name change would cost the agency between $9 million and $19 million and regulated companies more than $300 million, Mulvaney’s ploy became a sick, sad joke within the financial services community. Several media outlets, including the influential industry observer American Banker, announced that they would continue to refer to the agency as the CFPB. Mulvaney’s order was later reversed.
All sick, sad jokes aside, under the Trump administration, the actual work of the CFPB has successfully been diminished. According to a March 2019 report from the Consumer Federation of America, “under the leadership of Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, and more recently, Director Kathy Kraninger, enforcement activity at the CFPB has declined to levels that are either nonexistent or significantly below that of the prior Administration, even in the areas where consumer complaint activity is the highest.”
“Further, in addition to a decline in the overall volume of enforcement actions, this study shows significantly less monetary relief going to consumers. The CFPB returned about $43 million in restitution to consumers for each week of the Bureau’s first Director’s term in office. In the relatively few cases resolved since, this amount has plummeted to about $6.4 million per week under Acting Director Mulvaney and most recently dropped again to about $925,000 per week under Director Kraninger. The Bureau has not announced a single dollar of monetary relief in any of the high-volume complaint areas of credit reporting, debt collection, or student lending.”
In other words, the CFPB stopped pursuing the protection of consumers with the kind of vigor that we need.
It is worth noting that the director of the CFPB serves a 5-year term. Kraninger could remain in her position until 2024, literally doing nothing while Americans continue to get scammed.
We have been hearing and reading about similar acts of regulatory and oversight vandalism in other federal government agencies. Imagine what Betsy DeVos has done to the Department of Education; Ben Carson to the Federal Housing Administration; and several unindicted criminals to the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. Who in their right minds, possessing an ounce of experience, competence, and integrity, would want to work for the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security, or the FBI?
President Voldemort has staffed our government at the highest levels with an army of grifters and nincompoops who see their jobs as defending him — not the Constitution many of them swore to uphold – as well as eliminating or reducing the government’s influence in oversight and regulatory functions, which are intended to protect American citizens.
Which brings me back to Joe Biden.
In my opinion, among the next president’s top priorities will have to be restoring integrity, experience, and competence to the federal government. And with it, people’s trust in the ability of government to be a good influence in our lives. After all, the government is us, right?
I believe that Bernie has integrity and, through his long career in public service, a deep understanding of how government can work to the benefit of all Americans. Bernie’s agenda is about transforming government. So is Elizabeth Warren’s agenda.
However, viewing our federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as a metaphor, I believe that we are not yet in a position to address transforming government. That kind of work requires a lot of negotiation with Congress and careful management of the “fleet of aircraft carriers” that are the executive agencies, at which Biden is experienced and skilled. I believe that, even were the Democrats to retake the Senate, their political mood is going to point towards getting government simply back to a baseline. That is the political reality facing the next president, whether it’s Bernie or Biden.
And addressing that political reality is what Joe Biden has been addressing in his campaign and what he promises to do.
I also do not believe he will be able to actually achieve this goal because of the vast amount of damage done by President Voldemort and his cronies. However, what Biden offers is a start on the hard work that we so desperately need done now.
Consumer Federation of America: Dormant: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Law Enforcement Program in Decline https://consumerfed.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/CFPB-Enforcement-in-Decline.pdf
Vox: New CFPB director reverses Mick Mulvaney’s pettiest move as acting director https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/12/20/18150251/cfpb-logo-mick-mulvaney-kathy-kraninger-bcfp
CU Insight: Mulvaney Makes Change To CFPB Mission Statement https://www.cutoday.info/Fresh-Today/Mulvaney-Makes-Change-To-CFPB-Mission-Statement
Consumer Finance Monitor: Senate confirms Kraninger as CFPB Director https://www.consumerfinancemonitor.com/2018/12/06/senate-confirms-kraninger-as-cfpb-director/
Quartz: Mick Mulvaney’s full speech to bankers about “burning down” consumer protection https://qz.com/1261816/cfpb-head-mick-mulvaneys-disturbing-jokes-at-the-american-banker-association-conference/
Press Release: CFPB Releases Strategic Plan https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/newsroom/cfpb-releases-strategic-plan/