Friday, February 21, 2020


Wells Fargo, the nation's fourth-largest bank, agreed Friday to pay a $3 billion fine to settle a civil lawsuit and resolve a criminal prosecution filed by the Justice Department over its fake account scandal.
Under pressure to meet sales quotas, bank employees opened millions of savings and checking accounts in the names of actual customers, without their knowledge or consent. Since the fraud became public in 2016, the bank has faced a torrent of lawsuits. The scheme lasted more than a decade, Justice Department officials said, and was carried out by thousands of Wells Fargo employees.
"This settlement holds Wells Fargo accountable for tolerating fraudulent conduct that is remarkable both for its duration and scope and for its blatant disregard of customer private information," said Michael Granston of the Justice Department's Civil Division.
Department officials said the bank took several steps to conceal the accounts from customers, such as forging customer signatures and preventing other Wells Fargo employees from contacting customers during routine surveys about their accounts.
None of the money to be paid to the government under this settlement will go to compensate victims. But officials said Wells Fargo has separately made efforts to compensate victims for potential losses -- such as fees they might have been charged or harm to their credit ratings, if any.
"We take seriously the rights of customers, creditors, and investors, all of whom were harmed by this conduct, where the bank was making up sales activities to get a competitive advantage over its customers," a senior Justice Department official said.
As part of the settlement, Wells Fargo admitted that employees were pressured to sell large volumes of new products to existing customers as a way of generating more business, often with little regard for a customer's actual needs. Bank employees began calling the practice "gaming," and it included opening accounts without a customer's knowledge, issuing credit and debit cards, and moving money from existing accounts to the fraudulently opened ones.
As part of Friday's settlement, the Justice Department agreed not to criminally prosecute the bank during the tree-year term of the agreement, provided that Wells Fargo continues to cooperate with government investigations.
The agreement was reached with the bank itself, not with any individuals responsible for the fraud. But last month, the bank's former chief executive, John Stumpf, was fined $17.5 million by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for his role in the scandal. Other former bank executives were hit with smaller fines.


There Is a Case for Bloomberg. It’s Just Bleak As Hell.

I, for one, don’t welcome our new oligarchic overlords. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Michael Bloomberg was, until a couple months ago, one of America’s leading advocates for racially discriminatory policingfinancial deregulation, and slashing Social Security and Medicaid benefits. The 77-year-old billionaire has an undisputed history of making sexist remarks to female subordinates and three active sexual-harassment lawsuits pending against his company. He endorsed George W. Bush at the 2004 Republican National Convention; campaigned with Rudy Giuliani in 2009; and spent $11.7 million on helping a pro-life Republican senator narrowly defeat a female Democratic challenger in Pennsylvania just four years ago.
In 2014, Bloomberg gave $3 million to Michigan governor Rick Snyder, the conservative Republican who presided over the mass poisoning of Flint’s water supply. The supposedly “socially liberal” billionaire’s rationale for backing a self-described “pro-life, pro-Second Amendment” Republican? Snyder was, in Bloomberg’s words, a guy “who took on the unions to get Detroit and Michigan going in the right direction. And he was re-elected despite being attacked by the unions.”
In other words: Michael Bloomberg has spent much of the past two decades publicly voicing contempt for core Democratic constituencies (young nonwhite peopleprofessional women, the poor, and labor unions) while undermining their policy priorities (flouting civil liberties protections for marginalized groups, bankrolling pro-life Republicans, championing draconian safety-net cuts, and lavishing praise on right-to-work laws). Meanwhile, the billionaire has also committed myriad affronts against Democrats as Democrats — not least, by opposing the party the last time it tried to prevent a lawless GOP president from renewing his lease on the White House.
Nevertheless, he is now one of the top contenders for the Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination. Since December, Bloomberg has gained 15 points of support among Democratic primary voters, enough to propel him into second place nationally, according to a new NPR/PBS/Marist poll. Another survey released Tuesday shows Bloomberg tied with Bernie Sanders for first place in Virginia’s primary. Polls of other Super Tuesday states have found the mogul surging into contention.
There are many reasons why Bloomberg has managed to overcome his unsightly résumé — 419 to be precise. The first 418 reasons consist of each individual million-dollar investment he has made in campaign advertisements, as part of a propaganda blitz without contemporary peer or historical precedent. The other reason is that Democratic voters value “electability” in their 2020 standard-bearer above all else.
If the 2020 primary were a fight over values, records, or sheer popularity among longtime residents of “blue America,” Michael Bloomberg wouldn’t have a prayer. Well-heeled moderate Democrats in the tristate area may have a genuine fondness for the man. But they account for a negligible fraction of the party’s primary electorate. Bloomberg has made himself competitive by martialing his mind-bogglingly vast fortune behind the message: “The only thing that can stop a bad billionaire with a giant campaign war chest is less bad mega-billionaire with a gargantuan campaign war chest.”

Mike Bloomberg is only electable if the 2020 election is buyable.

From most angles, the concept of “Mike Bloomberg, electability candidate” looks bizarre. The mogul is a short, 78-year-old non-Christian who speaks in a nasally monotone; all characteristics that no winning presidential candidate in the modern era has shared. And Bloomberg’s eccentric qualities aren’t merely superficial. He is an unabashed elitist who has publicly argued 1) that ordinary Americans can’t be trusted to pick their own soda size, and 2) that, while he could “teach anybody to be a farmer” or an industrial worker, the modern information economy demands a level of skill and “gray matter” that is much more difficult to inculcate in the average human being.

Meanwhile, nominating Bloomberg would potentially cost the Democratic Party two of its most precious electoral assets: Its status as the party voters trust most to protect entitlements, and (relatedly) its standing as the party that puts the interests of ordinary people above those of the wealthy. Bloomberg may occupy the center of the ideological spectrum within CNN greenrooms, Wall Street C-suites, and Davos after-parties — but in America as a whole, the “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” species of moderation that he has championed for most of his adult life is a rare breed.
Bloomberg’s corner is the one where all the dots aren’t.
Finally, Bloomberg is singularly toxic to the Democrats’ grassroots activists and labor groups. Yes, Joe Biden has committed no small number of sins against progressive orthodoxy. But Uncle Joe’s worst deeds aren’t nearly as recent or severe as Mike’s. Six years ago, Biden was not working to reelect an anti-choice Republican governor on the grounds that destroying Detroit’s unions was more important than protecting Michiganders’ reproductive rights or the city of Flint’s water supply. Biden went to bat for the big banks in the Senate in the early aughts; but he didn’t sic cops on Occupy protesters and progressive journalists less than a decade ago. Bloomberg would do far more than any other potential Democratic nominee to demobilize progressive activists, increase the Green Party’s vote-share, and accelerate the rightward drift of certain predominately white trade unions in the Midwest’s Rust Belt battlegrounds.
And yet, Bloomberg has nevertheless managed to convince a large and growing chunk of Democratic voters that he is, in fact, their safest bet. That Bloomberg’s exorbitant ad-spending has proven sufficient to sell voters on this idea — despite its facial implausibility — is ironically the strongest argument for the idea’s validity. Which is to say: The fact that Bloomberg has bought himself an aura of electability, against long odds, suggests that he just might be able to buy himself a general election victory, too.
Conventional wisdom holds that in an ultra-high-visibility presidential election, campaign spending eventually hits a point of diminishing returns. Hillary Clinton greatly outspent Donald Trump in 2016, after all. But Clinton’s campaign outspent Trump’s by a mere $768 million to $398 million. Mike Bloomberg is worth roughly $60 billion. Between his ad-spending and tactical donations to Democratic interest groups and down-ballot candidates, Bloomberg has already invested more than half-a-billion dollars into his long-shot primary campaign. Imagine what the 78-year-old mega-billionaire would be willing to spend were he a single election away from commanding the world’s most powerful state. No one actually knows what a $10 billion general-election campaign would look like, nor what political realities it could or could not change.

The mainstream media seems to have a soft spot for cosmopolitan plutocrats.

Bloomberg’s general election campaign would not only benefit from an unprecedented avalanche of paid media; it would also likely enjoy generous coverage from the mainstream political press. Bloomberg not only commands his own news media empire, but embodies a cosmopolitan, center-right worldview that is popular with a significant segment of cable news executives and talking heads.
To see one (arguable) illustration of the charity that Bloomberg enjoys from the Fourth Estate, consider this following sequence of events:
1) On Sunday night, Wisconsin’s Republican Party promoted a 2016 clip of Bloomberg telling students at the University of Oxford:
I could teach anybody, even people in this room so no offense intended, to be a farmer. It’s a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn. You could learn that … Then you have 300 years of the industrial society. You put the piece of metal on the lathe, you turn the crank in the direction of the arrow and you can have a job. And we created a lot of jobs. At one point, 98% of the world worked in agriculture; today it’s 2% in the United States. Now comes the information economy, and the information economy is fundamentally different because it’s built around replacing people with technology … You have to have a lot more gray matter.
2) The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reached out to the Bloomberg campaign before writing up the candidate’s remarks. And the campaign provided the paper with a supposedly (but not actually) exonerating bit of context. As the Journal-Sentinel reported:
In the video circulated on Twitter, Bloomberg says: “I could teach anybody, even people in this room so no offense intended, to be a farmer. It’s a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn. You could learn that.”

But the video deleted the first part of that statement, in which Bloomberg says, “if you think about the agrarian society (that) lasted 3,000 years, we could teach processes.”
3) Blake Hounshell, the editorial director of Politico, tweeted out the Journal-Sentinel’s story, writing, “Bloomberg was insulting farmers from 3,000 years ago, not modern farmers.”

Note: The only mitigating context the Bloomberg campaign could muster was a fragment that does not actually change the plain meaning of the billionaire’s remarks in any way. In the video that the Wisconsin GOP posted, it is clear that Bloomberg is discussing a progression from an agricultural age to an “industrial society” to an “information economy.” He cites this progression to argue that it is more difficult to find valuable labor for low-skill (and/or, low “gray matter”) people to perform in the modern era than it was in previous epochs. Bloomberg then explicitly invokes modern farmers, saying, “At one point, 98 percent of the world worked in agriculture; today it’s 2 percent in the United States.” He does not then add, “and the work modern farmers do is actually quite sophisticated.” His clear implication is that, while there is still some farming work for simpletons to perform, there is much less of it than there used to be.
Maybe in the full video of Bloomberg’s lecture, the billionaire clarifies that he has nothing but esteem for the intellectual capabilities of contemporary farmers and industrial workers. But in the Journal-Sentinel’s write-up, the only evidence offered for the assertion, “Bloomberg was not insulting modern farmers” is that a Bloomberg campaign representative said that he wasn’t.
And yet, the editorial director of America’s preeminent online political news publication endorsed the campaign’s spin unequivocally. And not only that — his instinctual credulity toward the Bloomberg campaign ostensibly led him to favorably misread phrase “the agrarian society (that) lasted 3,000 years” as “the agrarian society (that) ended 3,000 years ago.”
I don’t mean to pick on Hounshell. I consider Politico an indispensable resource, and he’s clearly done a fine job directing many aspects of its operation. We’ve all posted bad tweets. But it seems unlikely to me that he, or others similarly positioned, would have missed the thinness of Team Bloomberg’s spin in this instance, had it come from the Sanders campaign instead.
Thanks to the combination of Bloomberg’s heavy-spending, cable news’ favorable treatment of his candidacy (even as he’s declined to compete in the first several primary contests), and the aura of “moderation” that these have conveyed to the mass public, the billionaire currently polls about as well against Donald Trump as any other Democratic candidate. It is hard for me to imagine Bloomberg’s numbers holding up under scrutiny. But then, as already mentioned, it’s also hard to imagine what a multibillion-dollar general election campaign looks like.

The case for Bloomberg is weak and bleak.

So, it’s conceivable that Bloomberg could, in fact, buy himself the presidency. And once in office, his personal fortune could theoretically enable him to overcome other seemingly insurmountable political obstacles. In February 2021, Bloomberg will turn 79. What would a man with more than $50 billion — and only a few years left to live — be willing to spend on securing a legislative legacy? Is it inconceivable that Bloomberg could expand the boundaries of political possibility in the Senate, by promising the Joe Manchins and Lisa Murkowskis of the world giant dark money campaign contributions (and/or, extraordinarily lucrative sinecures for their family members at a Bloomberg enterprise of their choice) if they do his bidding? Can $2 billion in bribes buy president Bloomberg a more ambitious climate law than any other Democrat could hope to pass?
This is the honest case for Michael Bloomberg. It is an argument for Democrats to accept that the best that they can hope for in 2020 is benevolent plutocracy: There is no campaign capable of defeating Trumpism through organizing and reasoned argument, so best to let a billionaire drown it in an ocean of propaganda; there’s no mass movement capable of breaking through D.C.’s gridlock, so let’s see if Lisa Murkowski has a price.
I can’t tell you that this case is wrong. But I can say that we have little reason to believe that it is right.
Maybe Bloomberg’s money can bend our political system to his will; or maybe no amount of advertisements can convince Rust Belt swing voters to support a historically uncharismatic candidate who disdains their “gray matter.” Maybe president Bloomberg would use his awesome, unaccountable financial power to get sweeping climate legislation through the Senate; or maybe he’ll use it to gut the social safety net. Maybe casting our lot with our team’s racist, misogynist, instinctually authoritarian billionaire will save our democracy by keeping the ethnonationalist right out of power just long enough for its voting base to die off; or maybe doing so will extinguish the possibility of achieving genuine popular self-rule in the United States, as Bloomberg’s success inspires a series of super-rich imitators until we all become the subjects of Supreme Leader Bezos.
All we know is that we do not know. And if rallying behind the better of two plutocrats isn’t even guaranteed to “work,” on its own terms — if, to the contrary, there are many reasons to believe it would fail — why on Earth would we make that bet? Why roll the dice on beneficent oligarchy when social democracy looks like (at least) as safe a gamble?

Bloomberg and his fellow oligarchs lay down the law: Not a penny more in taxes


Many of the billionaires who own America and consider it their fiefdom have rallied behind one of their own, Michael Bloomberg, who last week announced a potential run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Bloomberg, the three-time former mayor of New York and founder of Bloomberg News, is himself worth an estimated $53 billion, placing him ninth on the list of wealthiest Americans. He let it be known that he was taking steps to enter the race pending a final decision to run, reversing his announcement last March that he would not run because he believed former Vice President Joe Biden had a lock on the nomination.
The immediate developments that triggered his announcement were the rise in the polls of Elizabeth Warren at the expense of Biden, the right-winger favored by the Democratic Party establishment and Wall Street among the current field of candidates. Polls show Warren leading in the first two primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire, while Biden has dropped into fourth place behind Buttigieg and Sanders.

The second event was Warren’s announcement November 1 of a six percent tax on wealth holdings above $1 billion as part of her “Medicare for All” plan. That tax is on top of a previous proposal to tax holdings above $50 million at two percent.
Neither of these taxes would be passed by either of the two big business parties, and Warren knows it. The same is true for Bernie Sanders and his similar plan to finance “Medicare for All” in part by increasing taxes on the rich. The two candidates are engaging in populist demagogy in order to divert growing working-class resistance and anti-capitalist sentiment behind the Democratic Party, where it can be dissipated and suppressed.
But the modern-day lords and ladies who inhabit the world of the super-rich are indignant over any possibility of having to give up a part of their fortune to pay for things such as health care, education, housing and a livable environment. And they are petrified at the prospect of popular anger against the staggering levels of social inequality erupting into revolutionary upheavals.
They do not fear Warren, a self-described “capitalist to my bones,” or Sanders, a long-standing Democratic Party operative, so much as the possibility of reform proposals encouraging social opposition. They want to block their candidacies so as to exclude the issue of social inequality from the 2020 election.
The levels of wealth wasted on this parasitic elite are almost beyond comprehension. Here is how economist Branko Milanovic put it in his 2016 book Global Inequality:
It is very difficult to comprehend what a number such as one billion really means. A billion dollars is so far outside the usual experience of practically everybody on earth that the very quantity it implies is not easily understood—other than that it is a very large amount indeed... Suppose now that you inherited either $1 million or $1 billion, and that you spent $1,000 every day. It would take you less than three years to run through your inheritance in the first case, and more than 2,700 years (that is, the time that separates us from Homer’s Iliad) to blow your inheritance in the second case.
And yet, there are 607 people in the United 
States with a net worth of over a billion 
Bloomberg, a liberal on so-called social issues such as abortion, gun control and the environment, is a vicious enemy of the working class. As New York mayor from 2002 to 2014, he attacked city workers, laid off thousands of teachers, cut social programs and presided over the biggest transfer of wealth from the working class to Wall Street in the history of the city. He expanded the hated “stop and frisk” policy that encouraged police to brutalize working class youth.
Last January he denounced Warren’s proposal to tax wealth above $50 million as “probably unconstitutional.” Echoing Trump’s anti-socialist propaganda, he warned that seriously pursuing the plan could “wreck the country’s prosperity” and pointed to Venezuela as an example of the supposed failure of “socialism.”
Over the past several months, at least 16 billionaires have gone on record opposing proposals for a wealth tax. This chorus has grown more shrill since the release of Warren’s Medicare plan.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, declaring that “freedom and free enterprise are interchangeable,” complained on CNBC last week that Warren “vilifies successful people.”
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose personal fortune of $108 billion places him second in the US behind Jeff Bezos (whose Washington Post has run a string of editorials denouncing wealth taxes, the Green New Deal and other proposed reforms), said last week, “I do think if you tax too much you do risk the capital formation, innovation, the US as the desirable place to do innovative companies.”
Billionaire Mark Cuban tweeted that Warren was “selling shiny objects to divert attention from reality” and accused her of “misleading” voters on the cost of her program.
Hedge fund owner Leon Cooperman, worth a “mere” $3.2 billion, appeared on CNBC and said, “I don’t need Elizabeth Warren or the government giving away my money. [Warren] and Bernie Sanders are presenting a lot of ideas to the public that are morally and socially bankrupt.” A few days later he announced his support for Bloomberg’s potential candidacy.
The New York Times, the voice of the Democratic Party establishment, has run a number of op-ed pieces denouncing Warren’s wealth tax proposal, including one by Wall Street financier Steven Rattner, who headed up Obama’s 2009 bailout of GM and Chrysler until he was forced off of the Auto Task Force because of corruption charges laid by the Securities and Exchange Commission. While he was on the panel, he imposed a 50 percent across-the-board cut on the pay of newly hired GM and Chrysler workers.
But for fawning toward the oligarchs, viciousness toward the working class and yearning for an authoritarian savior from social unrest, it is hard to beat this week’s column by the Times ’ Thomas Friedman, headlined “Why I Like Mike.”
Calling for “celebrating and growing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship,” he writes: “I want a Democratic candidate who is ready to promote all these goals, not one who tries to rile up the base by demonizing our most successful entrepreneurs… Increasingly the Democratic left sound hostile to that whole constituency of job-creators. They sound like an anti-business party… The Democrats also need a candidate who can project strength. When people are stressed and frightened, they want a strong leader.”
This is under conditions of record stock prices on Wall Street and ever rising levels of social inequality. A recent study by economist Gabriel Zucman showed that the richest 400 Americans now own more of the country’s wealth than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60 percent of the wealth distribution. The oligarchs’ share has tripled since the 1980s.
In their new book, The Triumph of Injustice, Zucman and Saez show that in 2018, for the first time in US history, the wealthiest households paid a lower tax rate—in federal, state and local taxes—than every other income group. Since 1980, the overall tax rate on the wealthy in America has been cut in half, dropping from 47 percent to 23 percent today.
The United States is not a democracy in any true sense. It is an oligarchic society, economically and politically dominated by a slim but fabulously wealthy elite.
The ferocious response of the oligarchs to the half-hearted proposals of Sanders and Warren to cut into their fortunes underscores the bankruptcy of their talk of enacting serious reforms within the framework of capitalism. The same goes for the pseudo-left organizations such as the Democratic Socialists of America and Socialist Alternative that have jumped with both feet onto the Sanders bandwagon, and will no doubt shift over to Warren should she win the nomination.
There is no way to address the urgent problems of health care, education, housing, the environment and war without directly attacking the stranglehold over society exercised by the corporate-financial aristocracy. Their wealth must be expropriated and put toward the satisfaction of the social needs of the working class, the vast majority of the population.
The corporations and banks must be taken out of private hands and turned into publicly owned utilities under the democratic control of the working class, so that the production and distribution of goods can be rationally and humanely organized to meet human needs, not private profit.
This is a revolutionary task. The key to its achievement lies in the growing upsurge of class struggle in the US and internationally. This movement will expand, but it needs a conscious political leadership.