Equifax Data Breach Demonstrates Everything Wrong With Modern Capitalism

 

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“Poverty and Misfortune Only Happen to Those That Deserve It”- Equifax Slogan

 

You ever fall behind on your credit card? Miss a car payment? Juggle some bills and end up paying your cable late, since their late fee was more affordable? Ever send in a rent check that ended up getting there a day or two after the 5th? If not, that’s legitimately great. You’ve done well. But for most people in America, the answer is “yes”.

And if that answer is yes, chances are that Equifax knows about it. They have that information. And now, thanks to a breach, hackers have the private information of 143 million Americans.

Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies, said on Thursday that hackers had gained access to company data that potentially compromised sensitive information for 143 million American consumers, including Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers.

The attack on the company represents one of the largest risks to personally sensitive information in recent years, and is the third major cybersecurity threat for the agency since 2015.

One question you might ask yourself is: why does Equifax even have Social Security numbers, man? After all, eligibility for Social Security is about the only thing in American life that isn’t based upon your credit score. That’s a good question, and the answer is because they want it, and we’ve become conditioned to giving away our Social Security number to any corporation that asks.

We put it on job applications for background checks, and one of the places that they check is with these credit reporting companies. I spent a few years working at a large background check company, checking criminal records, but we also did credit checks. It was a horrible, soul-crushing job, where you could check a box and deny someone employment because they boosted a candy bar once, or because they fell behind on their bills.

Think about the power that these companies have over you. Your whole life is wrapped up in credit scores, a history of your solvency, which impacts every opportunity moving forward. Companies like Equifax exist to make sure that you can never outrace your past.

Yes, it is good that people who didn’t make mistakes, who saved and were thrifty, are rewarded. It is also true that everything you do has consequences, and we shouldn’t set up society to reward grasshoppers who fail to prepare for the winter. Life has consequences, right? Equifax just tallies them up.

Except we all know that isn’t true. If you have money, then dumb decisions don’t have any consequences. If you don’t, making the same mistakes reverberates throughout your entire life. If you have money, you don’t have to make a decision on which bill to pay. If you work full-time and are still below the poverty level (as is the case with ten million workers) then you are going to end up with a bad score from Equifax.

That’s the life we have set up. Even if you work full time, have multiple jobs, you can be poor and struggling to get by. You’ll juggle bills, and your score will be bad. That can hurt future employment. It can make getting a house impossible. If you made mistakes when you were younger, and didn’t have the grace of wealth to bury those errors, you could be screwed for decades. The bosses have the power, and their spies are the credit reporting agencies, to whom we give over our lives. It’s no wonder so many people are on anti-depressants.

Want more proof that this is the perfect American scandal? The company knew about the breach for months before reporting it, obviously, because who cares about the affected consumers when stock prices might be affected. And that’s right: stock in Equifax has dropped. But don’t worry!

Three Equifax Inc. senior executives sold shares worth almost $1.8 million in the days after the company discovered a security breach that may have compromised information on about 143 million U.S. consumers.

Now, the company says the executives weren’t aware of the breach when they sold, but come on. These aren’t exactly credible sources.

This is it in a nutshell. Consequences for thee, but not for me. Our screwups end in golden parachutes and stock selloffs, yours end in zeroed-out opportunities. The grasshoppers are the winners here. We’ve sold our soul to the boss class, and to them its pocket change.

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Bannon, Trump, and DACA: Where The Worst Meet the Worst

I’m going to say something controversial: I don’t think President Donald Trump actually wants to ruin people’s lives. As much as he thrives on petty humiliations and breaking his self-made enemies (note: he’s not actually good at the latter), he doesn’t actually enjoy destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

This isn’t to say he has good ideas, or that he can’t convince himself its ok to do so, as in the case with Syrian refugees and most illegal immigrants. I think he likes the power, and is excellent and avoiding the ramifications of using it, especially if it reflects negatively upon him. But when faced with the idea of destroying DACA, he’s reluctant, which is why he’s punting.

He handed over today’s announcement to Jeff Sessions, who actually does enjoy this, but in the broader sense is giving it over to Congress, telling them they have six months to come up with a legislative solution for the 800,000 people eligible for Dreamer protection.

This actually makes sense. In theory, the legislative solution is the correct one. Most people in the country find it monstrous to kick these people out. Having permanent laws for them, protected by the Constitution, makes sense. That’s why President Obama spent years working with Congress to get something done, and they almost did, before the right wing revolted and Marco Rubio remembered he had absolutely zero courage.

It was only then that Dictator-for-Life Obamafuhrer established protections for a certain class of immigrants via executive order. This wasn’t a solution anyone liked, but since the alternative was to maintain a status quo that nobody liked until such a day came that the GOP wasn’t in thrall to the worst, it seemed reasonable.

And now? Now we have to hope that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell find the courage and skill to no longer be in thrall to the worst. Sessions and the odious Stephen Miller are I think they gambling on Congress to not be able to square the circle between the hard racist right and those who want cheap labor. And I think Ryan and Mitch are hoping that, with everything else they have to do, they can just sort of ignore this and let DACA die.

It isn’t ideal for them, but the hard right has made killing DACA a primary goal. Politico reports today that Bannon is gearing up for war, as he puts it, because he’s a baby-soft coward who thinks that blogging is akin to physical courage. They are ready to go after anyone who supports DACA or any version of it.

To me, that’s incredibly telling. Everyone eligible for DACA has been lawful, good members of their community, and ready to contribute to the United States (many have already literally served their country). While illegal immigration is a problem, almost no one thinks that deporting these children, many of whom don’t even speak the language of what Bannon would consider their “native” country, is a good idea. Their home is the United States.

And that’s the point. Cruelty, here, is the point–cruelty in the name of white nationalism. It is what animates Bannon, Miller, Sessions, and many of their voters. It is important enough to spook Ryan and Mitch, an even enough to give Trump pause. That Politico article contains the quintessence of Trumpism.

The president is buying himself time on a difficult matter and has complained privately to friends and associates that he has few good options. He doesn’t like ending the program for the “kids” but also chafes at hearing that “New York Democrats” are powering his administration, according to several people who have spoken to the president in recent days.

“Well, I don’t like ruining the lives of 800,000 kids, but on the other hand, some people are saying things about me I don’t like. What choice do I have?”

That he didn’t end it outright, and instead passed it to Congress to do so, is what passes for courage with Trump. We’ll see if the GOP can muster any of their own.

Last Chance for Net Neutrality

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Fight for it

I’m not an internet expert, or particularly technologically adept. Chat still blows my mind. Honestly, phones–not smart phones or cell phones, but just the technology that transforms the thoughts in our head and the vibrations in our throat into signals that can cross continent-spanning wires and then transmogrify themselves back into speech–still make me dizzy.  I don’t understand anything.

But I do know that net neutrality is a good thing from a liberal and a libertarian and a “get off my land” point of view. There is little counter-argument save for deception, misdirection, and flat-out lies. Do you want the internet to be democratic, or do you want it to be ruled by capitalism? That’s the only question.

And tomorrow is the last day for comments before the venal dork Ajit Pai tries to strike the final blow to the promise of the internet.

Comment! It might not do anything, but dammit, it might.

At one point, the internet was the home of libertarian weirdos and liberal dreamers. It was Thomas Pynchon’s fantasy world, this strange conspiracy-driven non-land, this battle ground where the lines that defined this country were broken and made jagged and impossible to follow. The lines always won, but we still tried to break them. We fought for the ideals that first imagined a new land out of unbroken forest. The internet was where the crushing waterwheels of conformity were overwhelmed by the floodwaters. It was the weirdest place, and it was a non-place.

And now it has been defined and delineated and emasculated by the worst of our capitalist dungeon-masters and our need for cheap entertainment. It’s been subsumed by the worst of our culture. In what seems like the final days, we realize something terrible and permanent: the internet didn’t change us. The internet amplified us.

But goddammit, it is still early. The battle has yet to be won. We can still fight. The sexless creeps that make up the Trump admin want to give it all away. They’ll probably win. But they don’t have to.  Comment. Fight. Keep things weird. Weird isn’t always great, but it beats the goddamn alternative.

We await silent Tristero’s empire. Or, at least, I do.

When the President Matters

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How many times over these last few horrible days have you heard a variation of the phrase “Donald Trump failed to act like the President when the nation needed it.” I’m guessing a lot. The POTUS faced universal and happily bipartisan outrage for his mealy-mouthed avoidance of the true nature of this weekend’s horror, for merely conjuring up vague images of violence and bigotry from “many sides”.

The condemnation was of course correct. This is a man who pulls out the knives for literally anything that displeases him, from Gold Star families to newscasters to suspected Islamic knife attacks in Turkey. For him to be vague was a deliberate choice.

What’s more, it isn’t like he has been reticent to plunge into matters of racial violence beforehand. Last year, after the horrifying and sickening murders of police officers in Dallas by Mich Johnson, Trump consistently repeated the lie that Black Lives Matters activists called for a moment of silence for the shooter.

There was literally no evidence of it. As far as I was ever able to tell, no one (not even O’Reilly, who also repeated this) ever even found like a stray comment on an obscure message board that could get conflated to BLM “calling” for a moment of silence. It was something that was just made up.

But that didn’t matter to Trump. So not only was he legitimately angry and sickened at the murders (as we all were), but he added to it an incredibly divisive and dangerous lie. Those are his instincts.

And then we saw his instincts again this weekend when he refused to condemn anything except vague violence. Yeah yeah, he gave a “firm” statement yesterday, but the damage was done. His white nationalist allies know whose side they are on, and they are emboldened because of it. They all know that yesterday’s statement was pro forma and forced.

There is a chance that their hands are forced. There’s a chance that Jeff Sessions, who grudgingly admitted that the car attack “met the legal standard” of terrorism, will have to crack down on white nationalist militias and gangs, because it is politically impossible not to. My guess is that not much will happen. My guess is that a conviction of the driver will be touted as a major win, and be used to say “get off our backs.”

This is why the President matters. His appointments and his priorities matter. Jeff Sessions matters. Trump’s de facto approval of white nationalism matters. His using the phrase “cherish our history” was a direct homage to the ostensible goals of the white nationalist movement, to protect Confederate monuments, because liberals are trying to erase white history, which is, of course, “our history”. He encourages them because his only political ideology above and beyond the cult of self is vague white nationalism.

But then, there’s that phrase: “when the country needed the President”. To me, that’s super pernicious, and it is shown to be so because of Trump. The country doesn’t need a father-confessor, and we shouldn’t pour our hopes and dreams into the Presidency. We shouldn’t have an elected public official be our moral guidance counselor.

That’s a problem we have had for generations, and it is dangerous. Sure, we’ve had some good compassionate people. Barack Obama was incredibly empathetic and eloquent, and could channel grief into something productive (like in his Charleston eulogy). George W. Bush wasn’t as eloquent, but was able to speak to the country in times of grief. Bill Clinton could do it well, but never seemed totally sincere; seemed more like a man in love with his voice. George HW Bush was distant and patrician and saw the Presidency as a job, not a calling. Reagan was a gifted storyteller.

And HW was the only one who served one term, because we have a need for the President to be the Boy Scout leader of the nation (that’s not the only reason he lost, of course). That need we have is sometimes filled when we have a Reagan or and Obama, but it clearly isn’t when we have Donald Trump, a paranoid racist tiny little man. Because then the opposite happens. We feel more adrift, and the worst get filled with even more passionate intensity.

But maybe that’s changing. Maybe that’ll be Trump’s one positive contribution to this country. No one even really expected Donald Trump to do the right thing. No one, I think, except pundits and other Green Room creatures, turned their lonely eyes to Washington. We know we can’t rely on him. We know we have to fight these bastards locally, city by city, message board by message board. Maybe breaking the feeling that the president has to be the best of us will make it matter less when we elect the worst of us.

 

The DOJ and “Affirmative Action”: Why Sessions Stays

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Donald Trump sucks to work for. He’s a ridiculous baby who demands a childish, movie-influenced version of loyalty that he thinks makes him a tough guy, but he squalls and blusters anytime someone is mean to him. He’s a blubbering dolt who loves humiliating people he has power over, and whose only commitment is to filling up his empty and endless vanity.  He can’t manage people, and is said to encourage conflict and backstabbing, not because it “brings out the best in people”, but because it creates the worst.

This was clear with how he treated Reince Priebus, calling him in to swat a fly, an example of deep cruelty only mitigated by the inarguable fact that Reince deserved to be humiliated. And it is clear with Jeff Sessions, who Trump routinely and publically humiliated for the crime of following the law.

So why does Sessions stay? Why doesn’t this respected former Senator hightail it out? It’s pretty obvious: so that he can enact the super-empowered racism that has been the driving force of his career.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.

The document, an internal announcement to the civil rights division, seeks current lawyers interested in working for a new project on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”

Yup. A lot of talk was how Sessions was gutting the DOJ’s civil rights department, that investigates discrimination, voter suppression, police brutality, and the impact of the endemic, even inherent, racism that runs through our country. But he isn’t entirely gutting it. He’s just turning it around to see how we can help white folks.

That’s the whole point of Sessions. Trump is clearly more famous, and more over-the-top, but Jeff Sessions has been the point man for white nationalism his entire career. It’s been his driving motivation and sole goal. His war on drugs is about locking up blacks.His assault on using science in criminal investigations is about making sure that prosecutors can lock up more people unencumbered by facts. His anti-immigration policies are about de-Mexicanizing America. His desire to suppress votes is about putting minorities back in their place. There isn’t a single policy that Sessions pushes that isn’t related to his white nationalist program.

That’s why he endorsed Trump early, and that’s why his endorsement mattered. It showed the other white nationalists that Trump was one of them, that it wasn’t just a game to him. That he meant what he said about Mexicans and about “law-and-order”.

That the pro-Trump media sided with Sessions in their spat says it all. Trump was upsetting the base, upsetting his core supporters by going after Sessions. And it certainly wasn’t because they were in favor of an independent investigation into collusion with Russia.

And brother, it certainly wasn’t because Jeff Sessions has made as the cornerstone of his career the alleviation of economic anxiety.

And that tells you all you need to know.

Utilities in Cairo Illinois: The Price of History

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Cairo Illinois, at the tip of the state where it flows into Kentucky, is where the Ohio and the Mississippi flow into each other, where two great river systems crashing their way through America join the east and the Midwest on the way to the Gulf. It a slow, languid area, more deep south than Midwest, a strange humid little pocket in a state dominated by farm concerns and the bulk of Chicago.

Cairo (pronounced Kay-Row) is far from Chicago, a northern Great Lakes city born of industry. Cairo is, and always has been, a river town, a transit point. It’s proximity to great shipping areas should make it wealthy, or at least well off. Or at the very least, alive. But Cairo isn’t. It is grasping and almost dead, with over 100 years of racial violence, mismanagement, and neglect having brought it low. It’s few thousand remaining residents are battered by greed, oversight, and disinterest.

And, because this is America, race. It has been tortured by the violence of our endemic, perhaps inherent, racism. And it remains that way. Race, and the long tendrils of history, have choked the life out of Cairo, leaving it a broken city, filled with paranoia and injustice. One symptom of that is incredibly high utility prices. This seems minor, or at least explicable, but understanding why is key to the whole thing.

If you want to understand this, you have to read this incredible series in The Southern Illinoisian by Molly Parker and Issac Smith. A 7-part series published this week titled “Why Are Electric Rates in Cairo So High?”, it seems like a simple question, or like a weird little quirky thing. But it isn’t. It is a complex and terrible story, and Parker and Smith truly dig into it, in some of the finest journalism I’ve read in a long time. It shows just how much history and modernity have conspired to make life in Cairo increasingly difficult.

You should really read it, but it comes down to simple math: the poorest people in the state are being charged the most for electricity.

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In Standing Up for Credit Card Arbitration, Jeb Hensarling Sums Up The GOP

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“I will stand to fight for the murderous octopus? Who’s with me?!”  -Jeb Hensarling, probably

One of the great success of the previous administration and the last Democratic Congress was the fight for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Republicans tried desperately to kill, and which has a mission to protect consumers from cheap swindlers, both penny-ante and multi-national.

Its initial chairperson was to be Elizabeth Warren, but knowing the kind of fighter she was, the GOP made its passage dependent on her not being allowed to take the chair. Think about that! And now you understand why she is such a target: they fear her.

But even without the Senator, the CFPB has been remarkably effective under Richard Codray, going after check cashing demons, shoddy loan operators, businesses that hide economic servitude in unreadable “user agreements”, and even big banks.

It’s the last two that bring the CFPB to our attention today, as they are standing up for class-action. Times? 

The nation’s consumer watchdog adopted a rule on Monday that would pry open the courtroom doors for millions of Americans, by prohibiting financial firms from forcing them into arbitration in disputes over their bank and credit card accounts.

The action, by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, would deal a serious blow to banks and other financial firms, freeing consumers to band together in class-action lawsuits that could cost the institutions billions of dollars.

“A cherished tenet of our justice system is that no one, no matter how big or how powerful, should escape accountability if they break the law,” Richard Cordray, the director of the consumer agency, said in a statement.

If you’ve opened a bank account or gotten a credit card lately, it has come with a Russian novel’s worth of fine print, and buried in there is language about how any disputes will go to arbitration, and barring you from taking part in a class action. Maybe you’ve never read it. I never have.

But barring class action has been a GOP goal for decades. It is an easy target for them: slimy lawyers on late-night TV clogging up our court systems with nonsense suits, leeching off poor retirees and the gullible. It’s a good caricature, but of course, the people they are leeching off happen to be victims.

Who are they victims of? Big corporations, mostly, who took their money or poisoned their water or choked their air. But these companies have deep pockets, and it is nearly impossible for a single person to go after them. They’ll spend all their money on lawyer’s fees, so they are forced to accept pennies on the dollar, or nothing at all. Students of history will recognize that this is known as a Trump, and it isn’t incidental.

It’s even harder if your bank “accidentally” charged you for an overdraw you didn’t commit, or signed you up for an extra credit card without your knowledge, or talked you into opening a nonsense account that you don’t need. We could be talking a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. That’s not enough to go to court on your own. You’ll spend all of that on lawyer’s fees. You’ll also, again not incidentally, spend all of it hiring someone to represent you in arbitration. So they make it not worth it to you, even though, for most people, those few thousand dollars could be life-changing. Most of us are always on the brink.

And that’s why the GOP hates class action. It allows the people to bind together, pool their means, and use that joint power to force companies to own up to their malfeasance and outright theft. And they hate that. You’ll hear people say that the GOP wants to break class action because class action lawyers support Democrats, but they only do so because Democrats support class action.

The GOP is deadset against it. In their radical and cruel ideology, there is no common good, and corporations should be able to do whatever they want to us. That’s why they support companies being able to literally take away our right to legal recourse against their crimes. Think about that. It’s the idea that giving a company money indemnifies them against anything they might do to you.

The CFPB changes that. And of course the GOP is apoplectic. They want to destroy the agency, because it is “rogue” and “out of control” for “doing exactly what it was set up to do.” The genius of the outfit is that it is designed to be immune from political pressure, which means it is, in Republican parlance, “unaccountable”. They can’t be seen as fighting for banks, obviously, so they have to protect us against the menace of…government. Jeb Hensarling shows how it is done.

Hensarling, of Texas (!), is one of the dark-horses for worst Republican. He’s a full-on wingnut, and, like most Republicans, he hates the common good. He perfectly shows the line of attack against the CFPB.

The rule “should be thoroughly rejected by Congress under the Congressional Review Act,” said Representative Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who has been leading the charge to weaken the agency. “In the last election, the American people voted to drain the D.C. swamp of capricious, unaccountable bureaucrats who wish to control their lives.”

Yup. He wants to protect people from capricious, unaccountable, life-controlling bureaucrats by giving more power to banks and credit card industries, and making them literally unaccountable.

That’s the GOP in a nutshell right there. Incredible cynics who think that government stopping businesses from stealing from you is a freedom-killer, but that banks being able to take away your right to do anything about it is real patriotism. It’s because they hate you, plain and simple.

What to Do?

Call your Congressperson. Tell them you support the work of the CFPB, and demand that it remain politically independent and empowered to pass regulations. This has worked with health care. Pressure them to fight for the CFPB just as hard, because if companies are unregulated, everything gets worse. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and our personal finances. It is nearly as immiserating as GOP health care plans. Fight for it.

Also, here’s a Petition to be sent to Congress. Make your voice heard!